Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Discipleship Considered

As we enter 2010 let us return to our series on 'Discipleship'. We have already considered why we should become disciples:

1. For love of the Saviour.

2. To be worthy of the One who saved us.

3. To glorify God.

4. For the salvation of souls.

5. For the 'well done' of the Saviour.

6. For the victor's crown.

Now let us continue with the qualifications of discipleship.

A Disciple Must Have a Commission.

1. The General Commission

Under the initial phase of the Messianic mission of Jesus, those who were His disciples were sent out with clear instructions. "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near'." (Matt. 10.5-7) And because they were representatives of Israel's Messiah they were equipped to perform the appropriate Messianic attesting signs, which they did.

After His resurrection, to accommodate the new circumstances, He revised their instructions. He commanded them to take the gospel everywhere, to the end that all people should have the opportunity to be saved. He instructed the eleven to go, teach and baptise all nations. The Revised Version of the Bible changes the word 'teach' to 'make disciples of'. His words, as they were given on another occasion (recorded in Mark 16.15), called for preaching the gospel to every creature. Preaching in His Name among all nations is the theme of Luke 24.47. Our Lord's last words before His ascension are recorded in Acts 1.8. They are, perhaps, the most famous missionary text in the Bible, and a command to bear witness in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.

The orderly progress of this testimony was to be in Jerusalem, where the apostles were at that time, then in the surrounding area and the adjoining region, and finally to the far places. The most comprehensive commission is found in Acts 26.16-18. Christ appeared to Paul for the purpose of making him a minister and a witness among the Gentiles. He was made responsible "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance."

While the great commission was directed initially to the apostles of the Lord, we must believe that discipleship includes the injunction to preach the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ to everyone who will give us a hearing. If the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost, and disciples are now His representatives, then we must follow in His footsteps and seek to win those who are lost. It seems self-evident that discipleship must take on board 'the great commission'.

Next time we will look at 'the particular commission' for individual disciples.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Discipleship Considered 2 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered 2 (Continued)

We now return to our series of blogs on discipleship. Here are a few more reasons why invidividuals may wish to embrace the path of service for Christ.


It seems redundant to say, but the spirit of the disciple must be in tune with the spirit of his/her Master. When Jesus said, "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20.28; Mark 10.45), He vocalised a burden for souls that reflected the heart of the Father. He also said, "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19.10). In a similar manner, when the disciple has a burden for souls, he/she truly reflects the heart of the Saviour and demonstrates that he/she is a true follower of the Master. Evangelists, whose specialised work is the salvation of souls, are one of God's gifts to the Church (Eph.4.11). Furthermore, all Christians are encouraged to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim.4.5).


There is nothing quite as comforting as having the satisfaction of a job well done. Of knowing within yourself that you did your best and the result was as good as you could possibly have made it. If this is then endorsed by your peers, then deep joy; but if it is confirmed by the Saviour Himself; to have Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt.25.21,23), O what glory! Martin Luther wrote: "there are only two days in my diary' today and that day".


Then there is this other aspect. Paul, illustrating his own path of discipleship wrote; "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown" (1 Cor. 9.25). Then speaking at the end of his life, having completed his race, having finished his course, and having fought his fight, he also wrote; "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day" (2 Tim. 4.8). James joined in with; "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (Jas.1.12). And Peter; "and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Pet.5.4). Leaving aside what these individual crowns mean, it is clear that they are not simply given to those who are believers and little more. Crowns reflect either a position of authority or victory, and these described by the New Testament writers are for those who have been faithful in service. Jesus, our fore-runner and example, was crowned when He completed His course. The writer to the Hebrews summed it up, "... we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour" (Heb.2.9)

Next time we will look at the disciple's commission.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feast of Dedication

Feast of Dedication

Since we have now entered that period of the year in which the feast of dedication is celebrated, perhaps it would be appropriate to offer a blog on the subject. This year the festival is from the evening of the 11th December to the evening of the 19th December.


After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided among his generals. Palestine was first administered by the Ptolemies of Egypt, but later they were under the rule of Syria, which was then ruled by the Seleucid dynasty. These followed a policy in which all nations under their control should be fully assimilated into their empire. One king, Antiochus Epiphanes, aggressively pursued this policy, and sought to achieve it by the destruction of local culture and religion. The observance of Jewish laws and customs was made illegal, and the Temple in Jerusalem was made into a pagan shrine.

In the years 165-163 B.C. a revolt was incited by a priest in Modin called Mattathias. Led by his son Judah, called Maccabee (from the Hebew meaning 'hammer'), the revolt was a great success. Antiochus was defeated and all the lands of Judah reclaimed. Although Israel went on to exert increased political power in the region for some one hundred years, the country fell to the Romans in 63 B.C.

Hanukkah, which means 'dedication' is a remembrance of the Maccabee's victory and the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in the aftermath of the revolt. In the Talmud, the story is told of a miracle that took place when a single jar of pure oil (that was needed to light the Menorah in the Temple) lasted for eight days, when under normal circumstances it would have only lasted for one day. It is this that is the background for Hanukkah being known as the festival of lights, and gives rise to the lighting of the hanukiyah, the eight day lamp, or eight branched menorah.

The Customs of Hanukkah

Hanukkah Lights

There are two main aspects to the Hanukkah lights. The first, 'pirsumei nisa' means to publicise the miracle, which requires the lights to be put in a place where they can be seen, such as in a window.

The second, 'leshem mitzvah' means that whatever is done to fulfil a commandment should not be used for any other purpose. This means the candles that are lit for the exclusive purpose of the festival are not to be used as a light source. Thus the eight candles are lit with another candle, the 'shamash', which is kept apart from the others.

The order of the lighting of the candles was a matter of debate. Rabbi Shammai recommended that you light all eight candles on the first day of the festival, and then reduce the number by one each succeeding day, whereas Rabbi Hillel suggested that you begin with one candle on day 1, and then two on day 2, and so on. Generally, this is the order that is followed.

The candles should burn for at least 30 minutes. If a candle goes out, there is no legal obligation to relight it, but it is considered a good thing to do, i.e. it is 'hidur mitzvah', an enhancement of the mitzvah.

Hanukkah Blessing

There are blessings to be said at Hanukkah. They are as follows:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the light of Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has performed miracles for our ancestors in olden times and in our times.

And the Sheheheyanu recited only on the first night:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and brought us to this happy season.

After the first candle of the day is lit, it is the custom to recite the prayer Hanerot halalu, "These lights that we kindle for the miracles, for the wonder, for the salvations, and for the battles You performed...," and sing the hymn Maoz tzur yeshuati, "O stronghold, rock of my salvation".

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Discipleship Considered 2 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Why should we become disciples (Continued)

4. For the Salvation of Souls

It seems redundant to say, but the spirit of the disciple must be in tune with the spirit of his Master. When Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), He demonstrated a burden for souls, that reflected the heart of the Father. He also said, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In a similar manner, when the disciple has a burden for souls, he truly reflects the heart of the Saviour and demonstrates that he is a true follower of the Master. Evangelists, whose specialised work is the salvation of souls, are one of God’s gifts to the Church.3 Furthermore, all Christians are encouraged to do the work of an evangelist.

5. For the ‘well done’ of the Saviour

There is nothing quite as comforting as having the satisfaction of a job well done. Of knowing within yourself that you did your best and the result was as good as you could possibly have made it. If this is then endorsed by your peers, then deep joy; but if it is confirmed by the Saviour Himself; to have Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21,23). O what glory! Martin Luther wrote: “there are only two days in my diary; today and that day.”
6. For the Victor’s Crown

Then there is this other aspect. Paul, illustrating his own path of discipleship wrote; “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Then speaking at the end of his life, having completed his race, having finished his course, and having fought his fight, he also wrote; “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:8) James joined in with; “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12). And Peter; “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Leaving aside what these individual crowns mean, it is clear that they are not simply given to those who are believers and little more. Crowns reflect either a position of authority or victory, and these described by the New Testament writers are for those who have been faithful in service. Jesus, our fore-runner and example, was crowned when He completed His course. The writer to the Hebrews summed it up, “… we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9).

To be continued

Monday, November 23, 2009

Discipleship Considered 2

Discipleship Considered 2

Why Should We Become Disciples?

Here are some suggestions to answer the question, ‘Why should I become a disciple of Christ?’ – they are in no particular order.

1. For Love of the Saviour

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Love is expressed, not simply in words, but also in actions – God loved – so He gave. Similarly, Jesus expressed His love for a lost humanity by His actions. “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2 (NRSV)). In like manner, we serve Him, because we love Him, and we love Him because He first loved us.

Rabbinic Judaism offers a place of honour and dignity in the coming kingdom for those who follow the routines laid down for them. There are set prayers and times for fasting. The food they eat, the way they cook, the dishes they use, the way they dress, all have to be in conformity to the published code. There are regulations that impact on every facet of Jewish life. But if you ask them why they do it – they will first respond – ‘it is in this way I can show my love for God’. This is excellent motivation. And this must be one of the most important elements in our discipleship. We do it because we love Him.

2. To be worthy of the One who saved us

To be the bride of Christ is the destiny of the Church. Now espoused to Him (2 Cor. 11:2), she is by and by to be presented by Him to Himself (Eph. 5:27). As the future bride of Christ we have a high destiny, and those who are true disciples long to be united to their Lord. As a bride prepares herself for her wedding day by making sure everything is as perfect as can be, so they, by performing acts of service that reflect the Spirit of the Saviour, are transformed from one state of glory into another, thus being conformed to His image and so being made compatible with the God they adore. Paul expressed it perfectly. “But we all … are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

3. To Glorify God

Paul wrote: “… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Christians for centuries have sought to follow this advice. The Westminster shorter catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” and gives the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. It supports the first half of this answer (man’s chief end is to glorify God) with the following proof texts:

“I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore” (Ps. 86:12).

“Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified” (Isa. 60:21).

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

“For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).

“You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honour and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

As Christians, we recognise that God is working His purposes out in accordance with His own will. This is designed to redound to His glory. One day all creation will join the heavenly host to sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest’. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to recognise this overarching aim of God, and seek to promote it. In this matter we must embrace an essential principle, that while God is prepared to bless us, and be kind to us, He is not our servant. He is working in His own way towards His own ends. Man is not the centre of the universe – God is. And our own experience will be greatly enriched if we recognise this. Ptolemy’s model of the solar system had the sun revolving around the earth. While this held sway, some scientific disciplines were unable to advance. Copernicus’ model put the earth in orbit around the sun. This was a great step forward and science benefited substantially. Worldliness follows Ptolemy’s model and puts man at the centre – but godliness follows the model of Copernicus and puts God at the centre. If we are able to place God at the centre of our lives, to realise He does not revolve around us, but we around Him, then much will fall into place. This is certainly a Biblical concept, and since He is a beneficent God, then all things will work together for good. Let us not be like Ptolemy and make earth central – that path leads to discouragement and difficulty. We must be like Copernicus and make heaven (the sun) central, and then all things will fit in their proper place. Then we will be embracing Paul’s injunction to do all things to the glory to God.

More next time

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discipleship Considered 1 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

But can God use me?

In Biblical terms discipleship incorporates service – indeed service is a major ingredient – so the question must be raised – can God use me? Just to ask the question is un-nerving. Why would the omnipotent God use me? Can I really be a representative for Christ? Does the Bible give me any confidence to believe that the Lord would actually allow me to work for Him? It is true that Jesus called disciples, but weren’t they special? Well, they were special inasmuch as they were committed to following Him, but apart from that, they did not have any talents that rose above others of their generation. They actually seem very ordinary – mainly men from the fishing community of Galilee. They became extra-ordinary men because of their communion with the Saviour. They accompanied Him and saw the life that pleases the Father lived before their eyes. They heard His teaching, could follow His example, and obey His instructions. When, subsequently, they showed bravery and spoke with wisdom even though as the Sanhedrists observed “they were uneducated and untrained men” it was evident “that they had been with Jesus”. (Acts 4:13) Yes, Jesus can use anyone - if they are willing. The incarnate Son of God issued an open invitation - “If anyone desires to come after Me” (Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23).

Is there a cost to discipleship?

But before you commit yourself, there are some things you should know. As we have already intimated, there will be a cost – Jesus talked in terms of self-denial and carrying a cross. This is important. He made sure that no-one followed Him under false pretences. To those who came to hear Him, He laid out the cost of discipleship in clear terms. For a disciple of Christ, His claims are the highest. And since there can be no going back, we need to be sure before we begin. His advice was – ‘count the cost’. Let us enlarge the Luke 14:26 reference:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-33).

The thrust of this passage is the advice to count the cost of discipleship before embarking on that path. But when we read it the word ‘hate’ in the first sentence somehow catches our eye and requires an explanation. Placing it in the overall context of the gospels it is illuminated by the teaching of the Saviour Himself. He said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37-38). ‘Hate’ then does not equate to hostility or enmity, not even dislike – it is used as a comparative to emphasise that our love for Christ should be greater than our love for any other. In other words, that which is expressed here is the requirement that the love of Christ has to be placed above all other loves and commitments. The word ‘hate’ is used in a similar manner in the Old Testament, where in Gen. 29:30–31, Jacob’s greater love for Rachel (29:30) is phrased as hating Leah (29:31, RSV). This kind of commitment is, no doubt, worrying to the modern mind; but we should not be too concerned. What will become clear is: a person who commits himself or herself to Christ will develop a greater love for both neighbour and family. And we have been through it before, for this kind of wholeheartedness was required at the beginning of our Christian walk. We entered the family of God by throwing ourselves on His mercy. The Christian life has never been one of half measures.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Discipleship Considered 1

Discipleship Considered 1

First Considerations

What we have from God is a life to be lived. It began with a birth and continues with growth. And like natural life - education, good practices and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle are what are required. In the early years, parents make sure that their child has a healthy diet, rest and regimes designed to strengthen the growing body and quicken the developing mind. But in the course of time, all activities will take on a different hue – they will be designed to prepare the child for independence. For there must come a time, sooner or later, when the child takes responsibility for his/her own life. Similarly, as new-born Christians our early years should be devoted to acquiring good, healthy, spiritual habits and a godly lifestyle. The Bible says of Jesus that He: “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” (Luke 2:40) Once He passed the age of twelve (His character formed although not yet finished) He took responsibility for His own life. It was at the time when, in the Jewish culture, a boy became a man. Then, attending His first Passover in the Temple He said, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)

The purpose of this blog is to refresh our commitment to Christian character, the kind of character of which Jesus would approve. It is the path of discipleship and it is not an easy path to tread – there will be no offer of a short-cut to spirituality. We know of no baptism (or other experience) that will transform you into a super-Christian overnight. There are no quick fixes. But for those who are prepared to develop good Christian character, much is available to them – certainly a fulfilling life and a service for God.

The choice is yours

When Jesus made the offer of discipleship He put it in very strong terms, stronger certainly, than we would do today. In some cases, He made discipleship the equivalent of salvation. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:23-25). Then again: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). While we must understand the texts in the light of the historical Messianic offer that Jesus made to the Hebrew nation, it is still difficult to weaken them to accommodate a more watered down discipleship for the twenty-first century.

Remember – no excuses!

It may be, at this stage you might be saying, ‘I don’t think I can change, I’m too old’; or, ‘I’m too set in my ways’; or ‘I have too many commitments – family, church, and employment – to be able to take on the responsibility of discipleship’. Jesus was aware of the human tendency to make excuses and warned against it – so we should be aware that it might lead to a troubled conscience later. Those that have such opportunities to follow but reject them may live to reflect on ‘what might have been’.

Let us take responsibility for our own spiritual lives and not find excuses for our failures: just think how they will sound if expressed to Christ at his judgment seat.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that I didn’t embrace the path of discipleship, but I didn’t have the time’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life did not come up to the standard expected of a Christian, but I had this besetting sin, and I had no power to change’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life did not glorify You, but it was the way I was brought up - my childhood formed my character, and I couldn’t change’.
‘I am sorry, Lord, that I didn’t do more for You but the whole culture into which I was born was anti-Christian, and there was no way I could swim against the tide’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life was less than perfect but my fallen nature would not allow me to do the things I would, and often compelled me to do the things I did not want to do’.

‘I am sorry, Lord, that my life was a disappointment to You, but the Christian life was just too difficult. I was not strong enough’.

The example of Jesus

Jesus never shied away from the will of the Father. At no stage did He ever have any other ambition; at no stage did He say it was too difficult; and at no stage did He say, ‘I cannot do it because the whole world is against me’. He set his mind to do all that the Father required, and He accomplished it because He made use of the resources placed at His disposal; the help and leading of the Spirit of God; the wisdom and insight of the T’nach; and the strength and encouragement He received when in prayer fellowship with His Father. What we need to emphasise is that everyone can be a disciple. Everything changed when we became a Christian. Old things passed away and everything began fresh. We are not slaves of our environment, or our upbringing or our culture; we are new creatures in Christ and can live for Him.

More next time

Monday, October 26, 2009

Discipleship Considered (Intro)

Discipleship Considered (Preface)

I was raised in a Welsh valley at a time when most people treasured a ‘good name’. They valued integrity, honesty, sincerity, goodness, fidelity, courage, justice, industry. It was important to be considered virtuous and kind. They had this in common with much of the U.K. and to some degree it was a reflection of Christian values. But now, in many ways, things have changed, especially in business. It seems for the majority of people, it is now thought more important to be successful, rather than virtuous. The wise man of Israel, Solomon, suggested that people usually pursue power, pleasure and possessions. Certainly, there are some who deem themselves successful leaders, and who measure it in these terms. The public often consider successful living in these terms also, although pleasure and possessions are highest on the list. Unfortunately, this culture has invaded the Church. Some ministers, who themselves seem to be successful, preach a gospel that suggests a Christian should be healthy and wealthy. They sometimes offer a God who will be your personal banker, doctor and counsellor and suggest there are actions that you can take that will unlock untold riches for you. There are experiences available that will turn you into a super-successful individual. And, in many cases, the people that offer these benefits have personality – they are good communicators; but some are not far removed from the charlatans that sold indulgences in the Middle Ages. At that time, and in that culture, sins could be forgiven for a sum of money. Make a few changes to that ancient heresy to accommodate the differences in culture, that is, don’t offer forgiveness but replace it with prosperity and the doctrine is still around today.

Personality does not compensate for lack of Christian character

One of our problems is that some of the flourishing churches with the largest following are led by people who, while they are personable and project a successful image, are morally weak. In those countries where the ‘health and wealth’, ‘name it and claim it’, doctrines have had their most fertile ground, evangelists arose who made large promises in return for a contribution towards what was loosely called, ‘the Lord’s work’. But, in the view of many, it was style without substance. Some have had very public falls. They had got by on personality for decades while inherent Christian character was lacking.

God looks at the heart

When Samuel was directed to Bethlehem to anoint a new king of Israel he made the mistake of looking at the outward appearance. Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, was a most imposing figure of a man, with a name that would suit a king of God’s chosen people. But he was not God’s choice; his heart was not tuned to the spiritual. Samuel’s mistake has given us a very memorable verse of Scripture. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The key to service has always been, and will always be, a heart that reflects the concerns of the Lord. As we are aware, God’s choice at that time was David, who already had a heart hunger for God. Paul interprets the Old Testament narrative in his speech at Pisidian Antioch. He said, God “raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will’” (Acts 13:22).

The problem, of course, is not new. Jesus complained that the Pharisees were totally concerned with appearance while neglecting inner righteousness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27, 28). So serious was this hypocrisy that a case could be made to argue that it was the root cause of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. Certainly, both Sadducees and Pharisees pursued power, pleasure and possessions to the detriment of honesty, integrity, virtue, honour, and fair-play.

It is true that we need to have leaders who are good communicators, and who can influence people, but these are secondary, not primary traits. If the character is insincere and duplicitous, in the end no amount of rhetoric will help. In my opinion, only goodness gives energy to relationships, employment, family and church life. The lives of the Pharisees were focussed on the outward – “that they may be seen by men” (Matt.6:5; 23:5 (see also Matt.6:2; 6:16)) as Jesus said. A life focussed on the outward may fool fellow believers, even Christian leaders, but will only end in tears. You have to pay the price that Christianity demands, day in and day out, to achieve inner peace and benefit from the blessings provided by the Saviour

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Mercy of God (Continued)

Did Jesus show mercy?

We believe that Jesus was God incarnate, that is God in human form, walking the roads of Israel. If that is the case, did He demonstrate this divine attribute. In other words, did He show mercy while here on earth? The answer is ‘most definitely’. Many pleaded for mercy. The two blind men cried, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matt. 9:27) A woman also cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” (Matt. 15:22) And ten lepers also “lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13) This was repeated many times. (Matt.17:15; Matt.20.30 for example). All these received what they asked for.

A Comparison

If we have to compare ourselves with someone else, there was One who met the standard that God demands. He is, of course, Jesus Himself, the only One who lived a perfect life. God said of Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; 12:15; 17:5) If we meet His standard then we might have stood a chance. But even that is out of reach, because He wasn’t born a sinner, but we were. Our problem is twofold.

1. We are not good to start with. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Our parents were sinners and we are sinners. (We sin because we are sinners). Everything reproduces after its own kind. Our first parents were sinners … “In Adam all die”. (1 Cor.15.22)

2. Secondly, we have picked up bad habits. We are such liars that we cannot even tell the truth to ourselves. The Bible says “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.(1 Jn 1:8) (We are sinners because we sin). “For all have sinned” (Rom.5.12)

A Well-Known Conversion

Although Charles Wesley had been trained for the Anglican church ministry and had been active in religious activities, there came a time when he realized that he had never personally experienced God’s love and mercy. He had a crisis experience on May 20, 1738, as he met with a small group of Moravian believers in the Aldersgate Hall in London. That evening he wrote in his journal: “At midnight I gave myself to Christ, assured that I was safe, whether sleeping or waking”. In 1741 he included in the Wesley hymnal a Stevenson hymn that reflected his experience:
Depth of mercy! can there be,
mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners spare?

I had long withstood His grace,
long provoked Him to His face,
would not hearken to His calls,
grieved Him by a thousand falls.

But then the verse:

There for me my Saviour stands,
holding forth His wounded hands;
God is love! I know, I feel,
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Charles Wesley, composer of more than 6,500 hymn texts, entered heaven on the basis of the mercy of God. And he could point to a day (May 20, 1738) when it happened.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Christianity Considered 6 (Cont)

The Mercy of God (Continued)

In our last blog we mentioned that the only entry into heaven will be through the mercy of God. But there are some that might decide not to trust in the mercy of God but to rely on the value of their own lives - their character, their good works, etc. For example, many Jewish people believe God has a scales, and He will weigh their good works, and weigh their sins, and if their good works outweigh their sins they will be O.K. They are not looking for mercy, they are looking for justice. Be careful! This is a dangerous path and it leads to destruction. Shakespeare wrote: “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation”. Even the best of us cannot gain acceptance down that road.

Some examples of ‘good works’

Think of Mr. George Muller who gave himself to look after hundreds of orphans in Bristol.

Or Dr. Thomas Barnardo who did a similar work in London.

Or William Booth who dedicated his life to charitable works, and founded the Salvation Army.

Or Brother Andrew who founded ‘Open Doors’ and distributed Christian literature to those who needed it.

Or William Wilberforce who was a philanthropist and helped to abolish the slave trade.

Or Helen Roseveare who established maternity and leprosy care in Africa.

Or Robert Raikes who started Sunday schools which by 1903 were attended regularly by over 6 million children.

Or Andrew Reed, a London Minister who founded the Royal Hospital & Home for Incurables.

Or Dr. Annie McCall who founded the Clapham Maternity hospital in 1889.

Or Elizabeth Fry who started the Institute for Nursing Sisters in 1840.

All of these have gone to heaven, but not one of them got there because of their good works. They all asked God for mercy. And we are not even as good as them. If they couldn’t get in on the basis of ‘good works’ what chance have we.

A parable
Generally, when we compare our lives with others we usually make sure that the comparison is in our favour. Jesus told a parable to illustrate the problem. There were two men who went to the Temple to pray. One looked for acceptance on the basis of his good works. The other asked for mercy. The religious man prayed. ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ (Luke 18:11,12) Notice how he compared himself with those who were worse than himself (extortioners, unjust, adulterers or traitors). And notice how he lists those elements that he thinks will get him brownie points with God – fasting and tithing. He is seeking acceptance on the grounds of his goodness. But the other man … “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13) This man is not asking for justice – he is asking for mercy. And he is asking wholeheartedly, with eyes lowered and a knowledge of his condition. Jesus said, only one of them went home justified. Can you guess which one? That’s right, the tax-collector.

It is essential that we trust in the mercy of God.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Christianity Considered 6

The Mercy of God

Returning to our series 'Christianity Considered' we should examine the subject, 'the mercy of God'. That God is merciful is a fundamental truth of Christianity. It is a major subject of the Bible. The lid of the ark of the covenant that was housed in the Jewish Temple was called 'the mercy seat', because it represented the throne of God which is also called a mercy-seat. There are many references to the golden lid of the ark (the mercy seat) in the Old Testament, 26 in all, mostly in Exodus (from 25.17 ff). It is the background to the text that refers to the throne of God in the book of Hebrews: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. (Heb 4:16)

Why should we examine the subject, 'the mercy of God'. Because it will only be by the mercy of God that we will enter heaven. So we rejoice in the mercy of God, but we must make sure that we have a right understanding of it. Let’s ask some questions.

If everyone who gets into heaven, gets into heaven through the mercy of God, will everyone get into heaven?

Well, the answer to that is No! Not everyone will go to heaven. The Bible says: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment” (Mt 25:46), and again, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”. (Jn 3:18) So some will not be recipients of the mercy of God. This must mean that there are some conditions fixed to the mercy of God.

What are the conditions fixed to the mercy of God?

Well, Isaiah wrote: Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon”. (55:6,7) Here then is the first condition – mercy has to be sought. This will mean turning around, turning toward God. And the way to seek it, is to seek God. And Isaiah says, do it now!!!

Then added to that, is the fact that you have to mean business with God. Joel wrote: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness." (Joel 2:13,14) This text again emphasises that the mercy of God is freely available, but only when you seek it wholeheartedly. God’s mercy is a city of refuge for the penitent, but by no means a sanctuary for the presumptuous. You cannot enjoy the mercy of God without asking, and asking wholeheartedly. You will not receive mercy automatically.

Why is God so serious about being merciful?
Because of the cost. The basis of mercy is justice. It is not issuing a pardon on no grounds, that is, just because God is kind. Rather, it is because He has satisfied His own righteousness by providing a worthy substitute. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us", (Eph 2:4) "… demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) That’s why God can show mercy.

The mercy of God cannot be enjoyed without satisfying the justice of God.
The justice of God could not be satisfied without the death of Christ as our substitute.

So for an individual to enjoy the mercy of God, they have to acknowledge that Christ died for them. Paul wrote: “… the Son of God … loved me and gave Himself for me”, (Gal. 2:20) because –“God did set forth (Christ) a mercy seat” (Rom. 3:25) (Young’s literal & Darby)
More next time! Good wishes to you all!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Books by Bryan

New Book

Discipleship Considered (or Christians who make a difference)

It has been suggested that I let all you fellow bloggers know that as part of my ministry I am a published author. My latest book is on the subject of Christian discipleship. Here is a short description from the rear cover.
"The call to discipleship which was familiar to evangelicals of a past age is seldom heard today. This book places before all those who have been blessed with the salvation provided by the Son of God, the challenge of Christian living and the need to follow in the footsteps of the Master. The book asks and answers the question, ‘Why should we become disciples of Christ?’ It then examines what is entailed in discipleship. It suggests that it will require the full use of one’s abilities, energy and resources. Thus the cost may appear to be heavy, but the quality of life will be special and the rewards immense. The Lord still speaks today to those who will listen: 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him … follow me.'"
It is available from me for £6 (six UK pounds) (post and packing included).

There is companion volume with an evangelical emphasis. It is called:
Christianity Considered

‘Christianity Considered’ is a book suitable for those enquiring about the Christian faith. It has chapters on the following subjects.

1. Is the Bible trustworthy?
2. Who was Jesus?
3. Why did He die?
4. Did He really rise from the dead?
5. How did they become Christians in Bible times?
6. How can I become a Christian?

This one is available from me at a cost of £5 (five UK pounds) (post and packing included).

Other titles available.

‘The Miracles of the Messiah’

Almost two millennia ago, a group of Jewish leaders obtained the execution of a young man, Jesus of Nazareth. The death of this young Jew has had implications for the whole of humankind ever since. This book seeks to re-examine the events of those days and place them in the culture of the period. It will seek to answer the following questions:

Did Jesus of Nazareth provide evidence that He was the true Messiah of Israel? If He did, why then did they reject and execute Him?

A right understanding of this subject is necessary to be able to appreciate how one decision, taken by a relatively small number of men in a small, middle-eastern country, could have affected countless generations of people ever since.

'Miracles of the Messiah' is available from me at a cost of £8 (eight UK pounds)(post and packing included).

‘The Messiah and the Feasts of Israel’

The Feasts of the Lord were placed in the calendar of the Hebrew nation as a prophetic timetable of God’s redemptive plan. Israel, in celebrating the spring cycle of feasts was compelled to look back to their deliverance from Egyptian slavery and the giving of the Torah.

But these feasts were not only memorials of great acts of God in the past, but also finger-posts to future events when Messiah would come. For the Messiah would die a substitutionary death at Passover, be buried at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, be resurrected at the Feast of Firstfruits, and pour out the Spirit of God from His place of ascension at the Feast of Weeks.

Moreover, the prophetic timetable has not yet run its course, for the fulfilment of the autumn cycle of Feasts is still to come. The Messiah will return at a future Feast of Trumpets, judge the Jewish nation on a coming Day of Atonement, and initiate the Millennial kingdom at a Feast of Tabernacles. Let it be known that God is still the Lord of History and He is working His purpose out as year succeeds to year.

‘Surveying Scripture’

Both Testaments of the Bible fall comfortably into five blocks. ‘Surveying Scripture’ examines each block and lays out the main theme of each group. There is a section on each of the following :

The Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy) (5 books);
History (Joshua to Esther) (12 Books)
Experience (Job to Song of Songs) (5 Books);
Major Prophets (Isaiah to Daniel) (5 Books);
Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi) (12 books);
The Gospels (Matthew to John) (4 Books);
The Book of Acts (1 Book);
The Pauline Epistles (Romans to Hebrews) (14 Books);
The General Epistles (James to Jude) (7 Books);
The Book of Revelation (1 Book)
This one is available from Bryan at a cost of £6 (six UK pounds) (including post and packing)
Orders can be sent by email to 'bryan@bryansbiblestudy.co.uk'

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Christianity Considered 5 (Cont)

Some Notable Conversions

In our last blog we looked at the life changing experiences of an Ethiopian Statesman, a Jewish Rabbi and a Roman Centurian. This time we will look at a couple of Bible conversions of those with more humble employment. First a Non-Jewish business woman, called Lydia.

In Acts 16, there is the narrative of Lydia, a business woman who sold cloth for the making of garments. The record carries a telling remark—that the Lord opened her heart. (Acts 16.14) This allows us to remark on something that might have been overlooked. That the heart needs to be affected by the gospel, as well as the intellect. Paul said, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. (Rom. 10:9) For it is “with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Rom. 10:10)

What does it mean ‘believe in your heart’?

What gets affected when you believe in your heart, as compared to just believing with your mind? We will return to the example of Saul.

His conscience was affected. He was under conviction. The Bible says it was as if he was kicking against the goads [sticks used for prodding working animals].

His understanding was affected. He realised that the Jesus he was persecuting was the risen Messiah and Son of God.

His will was affected. He yielded to Jesus and began to follow Him.
It changed his whole life - his ambitions, his character, his relationships, his whole perspective on life.

Note the connection between heart and tongue.

If we truly believe in the heart we will confess with the tongue. These last verses demonstrate the connection between heart and tongue. As the heart believes, so the tongue speaks. Those that believe in Jesus as their Saviour will confess Him before others. Look how Paul gave his testimony, even when faced with hostile crowds. (See Acts 22.3ff; 26.6ff)

The Philippian Jailer and his family.

Returning to the Acts of the Apostles, there is yet another conversion that would interest us. That of the Philippian jailer. (Acts 16) Paul and Silas, witnessing in Europe for the first time, were the victims of anti-Semitism. They were beaten and imprisoned unlawfully, yet they remained in good spirits and sang hymns while held in an inner cell. Then there occurred a small earthquake, which released their manacles and opened the prison doors. The jailer, thinking his prisoners had escaped, was prepared to commit suicide, rather than face execution for dereliction of duty, when out of the darkness the voice of Paul assured him that all the prisoners were still there. The jailer, realising the earth tremor was a divine intervention, fell down before Paul and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded with the kernel of the Christian message, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved”. The gospel message, then, is simply the requirement for individuals to believe in the person and work of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus.

While Paul’s answer was simple and to the point, we can from our perspective and with the Scriptures available to us, suggest the following as the larger message, of which Paul’s response was the distilled essence.

Jesus is His human name, therefore we are to believe in the virgin birth and impeccable life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Christ refers to His office as Messiah, in which work He was required to die for the sins of the world. Therefore, we are to believe in His substitutionary death at Calvary.

Lord refers to His current position at the right hand of the throne of God. To be saved we need to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ.

A postscript in respect of the people of Berea.

Paul on his travels proclaimed the gospel in a place called Berea. As a result the Bereans received an honourable mention in Luke’s narrative. They are described as noble because they did not just take Paul’s word as gospel truth, but searched the Scriptures to confirm every detail. May I suggest that this be our practice, that we constantly search the Scriptures to see whether our pastors and teachers are providing us with the unadulterated Word of God. If Paul was subjected to such scrutiny and the Bible commends those that did it—how much more we. Remember, God has promised a blessing to those that read His Word.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Christianity Considered 5

Experiencing the Gospel

So far in this series we have considered the facts of the gospel. That there was an individual named Jesus of Nazareth, that He was God walking this earth in human form—That He died on a cross at the hands of the Jews and the Romans—that He rose from the dead and returned to heaven in bodily form. Now we need to consider the experience of the gospel. We must look at those examples presented to us, of people whose lives were radically changed, when they placed their trust in what Jesus did when He lived, died and rose again.

It is Luke who provides us the most information in this respect, in the fifth book of the New Testament called, ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. The first seven chapters deal with events in Jerusalem after the ascension of Jesus. It details the birth of the Christian Church, with thousands converted and Peter at the heart of it all. It is right that the great sweeping movement of the Spirit of God should be recorded and we should be aware of the way the Church was born. But for our purpose we are more interested in how the gospel influenced individuals rather than large groups, and Luke, the consummate historian, includes in his record how the gospel changed the lives of individual men and women. For example, in chapters 8, 9 and 10 we have evidence of the effect of the gospel of Christ upon three men, an African statesman, a Jewish Rabbi and a Roman centurion.
The African Statesman.

Here is a man, evidently a person who had embraced the religion of the Jews, returning to Ethiopia where he held high office in government. He was in his chariot reading a scroll of Isaiah the prophet—that is, a portion of the sacred writings of the Jews. He had been up to Jerusalem to attend a festival, and bought the scroll while he was there. Philip, himself a new Christian, met with him and asked if he understood what he was reading. He was reading that part of the Isaiah prophecy that said, "In His humiliation He was deprived of justice. Who can speak of His descendants? For His life was taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:33,34) The Ethiopian asked Philip, "who is the writer referring to?" Philip explained, Isaiah was speaking of the Messiah who was to come and die for the sins of the Jews and the sins of the Gentiles, for “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; … And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. (Isaiah 53:5,6)

The Ethiopian, already educated regarding the Jewish Messiah—it had been the main subject of conversation and speculation while he had been in Jerusalem — was able to understand the principle of the substitutionary nature of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Israel. He asked if he could become a Christian, and be baptized. Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” (Acts 8.37) The African responded in the affirmative, and was baptised there and then.

Emphasised in this conversion are certain important ingredients.

1. At the heart of the encounter is the Scriptures—he was reading his Bible.

2. The message he heard from Philip was regarding the substitutionary death of the Messiah upon the cross.

He demonstrated he had grasped what was involved and embraced it by asking for baptism (a rite that demonstrates a new start).

The Jewish Rabbi.

Saul of Tarsus, Rabbi and special envoy of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, was given letters of authority to extradite and imprison any followers of Jesus who had fled to Damascus. He himself was to execute the extradition warrant. He was on this mission, and had almost reached Damascus when he had a traumatic experience. He was blinded by the glory of God, and heard a voice speaking to him out of heaven. It was Jesus Himself, asking “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He fell to the ground and acknowledged that Jesus was alive and the true Messiah of Israel. He became a follower of Christ from that day on.

Emphasised in Saul’s conversion are the following.

1. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, robed in the glory of God.

2. That He was alive and the resurrection really did take place.

3. Saul also demonstrated his commitment by being baptised.

The Roman Centurion.

The third conversion is that of Cornelius, a soldier in the employ of Rome, who was a ‘God-fearer’. He already had some knowledge of the Jewish religion, and demonstrated his generous disposition by acts of kindness and gifts of money to the local synagogue. Peter was instructed to visit him and preach the gospel. Peter, initially reluctant to visit a non-Jew, finally acceded and began to explain to Cornelius and his household something of the person and work of Jesus, the Messiah. But before Peter could come to the end of his sermon the Spirit of God had fallen on the assembled company, a clear witness that they had been accepted for salvation. This Gentile household was the first among the non-Jewish population to embrace Christianity.

The main points to identify here are as follows:

1. The Spirit of God (everyone in the household was affected by His presence.

2. The ascension of Christ because the Spirit of God was only available as Cornelius and his household experienced it, after the return of Jesus to heaven.

And again, the decision of the household members was seen in the rite of baptism. (Acts 10.47)

In summarising these three important personal conversions, there are some things to remark on.

The Bible makes them representative. The group is made up of a Jewish proselyte, a Jew and a Gentile. They also represent the three main population streams that rose from the sons of Noah, i.e. Ham, Shem and Japheth. If they are representative, I would suggest that the main ingredients needed to bring a soul from darkness to light, from death to life must be included here. So let’s pull the central features of the three experiences together.

The main features of the three experiences

(1) The Scriptures (the Bible, the Word of God), which was the both the start and the heart of the conversion of the African statesman.

(2) The Person and Work of Christ.

(i) In the first narrative, Philip preached to the Ethiopian the truths concerning ‘Jesus’, especially explaining the crucifixion since he was reading from Isaiah 53, the prophecy of the suffering servant of Jehovah.

(ii) In the second, Saul asked, ‘who are you, Lord?’ and was told, ‘I am Jesus’. This put the resurrection of Christ at the heart of the conversion. He had encountered the risen Christ, even though previously he had been convinced that stories of the resurrection were a fabrication of the imagination of the disciples.

(iii) In the third, Peter speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus to the household of Cornelius, but it is His ascension that is the background to the gift of the Holy Spirit which was enjoyed by the Roman centurion and his family in the third of the three examples. (See Acts 2.33)

(3) The Spirit of God is active in all conversions, and is especially highlighted in the third of the above examples.

It could be that these are the essential elements in any true conversion.

In respect of the Word of God, Paul wrote, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. (Rom.10.17). It is the Bible that provides the information that enables an intelligent response to the gospel.

In respect of the person and work of the Lord. Jesus, Son of God, died, was buried, rose again and returned to heaven so that those who personally accept His substitutionary death might also have eternal life and join Him in heaven.

In respect of the work of the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “Except a man be born of … the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. (John 3.5) It is the Spirit of God that enables a spiritual response to the appeal of the gospel.
In the next blog we will look at one or two more examples of people that embraced the gospel and had their lives changed for the better.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Christianity Considered 4 (Cont)

Jesus rose from the dead

But what kind of being was He?

Granted that Mary and the disciples met with someone, and granted that it was Jesus raised from the dead. But was He the same as before? Others had been raised from the dead, even after three days and three nights in the tomb, but it was only an extension to their earthly life. They died at a later date. What is different about this resurrection? What is different about this existence? Paul said it was the first of its kind. Jesus was the ‘firstfruits’ of this new experience. (1 Cor.15.20,23) By using the word ‘firstfruits’ he indicates that the raising of Jesus, while being the first, would be followed by others. And his examination of the whole subject illuminates the issue before us, for he asked and answered the questions that we are considering. He asked:

“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”

Paul says, what happened to Christ will happen to those who are His disciples. Those who are ‘in Christ’ will also know, at a future date, a similar resurrection. As Jesus was raised to die no more, so also those that are Christ’s, for He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body”. (Phil. 3:21) The word is transform. We are to be transformed—but from what—to what? Paul answers by describing the differences between a terrestrial body and a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:42-44) Using the image of a seed being sown, he lists the contrasts between our current earthly bodies, and the body we will enjoy after the resurrection.

“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory;
it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

The new body will be immortal, glorious, powerful and spiritual, in contrast to the weak, decaying, mortal frame that we currently occupy. This is a remarkable contrast but has he got any evidence? Does he know of anyone who has gone through this transformation? Yes. Jesus! Paul says our new body will be like “His glorious body”. John, the beloved disciple, said, “we shall be like Him”, that is like the resurrected Jesus. (1 John 3.2) Well, let’s re-examine the eye-witness testimonies and ask some pertinent questions.
Where did He get His clothes?

The resurrected Jesus always appeared fully clothed, but brought through no clothes from His earthly life. He was crucified naked, (His regular clothes were taken by the Roman soldiers), and the grave clothes He was buried in were left in the tomb. This suggests that the spiritual body can either clothe itself, or give itself the appearance of being dressed. Even to the degree that to one, He was thought to be a gardener, to others He was thought to be a traveling Rabbi, and then again to others that He was a fisherman. And all these were His close companions.

Why did they not recognise Him at first?

There is something different, indeed something new, about the resurrection body. So much so, that though they saw Him, yet they did not know Him. But then, when He did or said something familiar - then they recognized Him. This applied, even to those who knew Him well.
Here are some examples.

Mary thought the stranger near the grave of Jesus was the gardener—initially not recognising Him. But when He said her name (the something familiar)—then she knew it was her Lord.

The two on the road to Emmaus spent some considerable time in His presence thinking He was a visitor to the area. Yet when He accepted their invitation to share a meal with them and said grace (the something familiar), they recognised Him.

The disciples in the boat did not recognise the stranger on the shore until they were instructed to repeat what they had done when Jesus had first called Peter (the something familiar). Then they were aware that it was Jesus.

And though He kept company with the disciples for nearly seven weeks, sometimes in public, He was never seen/recognised by any unbeliever. How remarkable!

How did He travel?

His body was a spiritual body. With the spirit as its engine, it appeared and disappeared at will. It travelled at His bidding anywhere and everywhere. He was seen in Jerusalem and Emmaus and Jerusalem again and Galilee and Jerusalem yet again, sometimes with hardly any time interval between. He entered rooms that were locked, without opening doors or windows. Even the force of gravity could not hold Him. Such are some of the abilities of the resurrection body.

A final question

Why is the resurrection so important? We will let Paul answer it. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty”. (1 Cor. 15:13,14) In other words, no resurrection—no salvation. But Christ did rise, and become the first to conquer death. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Christianity Considered 4

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

In our last blog we had come to the end of the initial appearances of the resurrected Christ in Jerusalem. But He had left them instructions to go to Galilee. This is where they saw Him next.

In Galilee

Seven of the disciples were fishermen. Peter led them back to their old occupation on the sea of Galilee. He was still distressed that he had denied his Lord when Jesus was in custody, so he had decided to leave the service of the Messiah and return to his business as a commercial fisherman. But although they fished all night yet they caught nothing! Did the Lord have a hand in ensuring their net was empty? Certainly in the morning a stranger on the shore asked them if they had caught anything. The answer was ‘nothing’. The stranger was, of course, Jesus, though still unrecognized. When instructed to fish again by casting the net on the other side of the boat, they immediately netted a shoal of mature fish. At this point they realised the stranger was none other than Jesus, their Lord and Master. When they finally reached shore He had a meal already prepared for them.

An appearance to a large company of His disciples.

The rendezvous in Galilee that Jesus had previously promised was not only for the eleven but for all the disciples. Although the number of His followers was no longer large, nevertheless some 500 gathered together at His invitation. Here, after assuring them that He had all authority, He gave them the famous instruction: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
The Appearance to James

There was yet one more individual that Jesus had to meet. That was His half-brother, James. James would become an important member of the Christian community and lead the Jerusalem Church. We do not know when the resurrected Jesus met with him, or what the Lord said to him, but we do have Paul’s assurance that it happened. (1 Cor.15.7)

The Ascension

There is one more recorded resurrection appearance, that to the apostles when He ascended from the mountain overlooking Jerusalem. He gave His closest followers some last instructions and then rose from the earth, passing out of sight in the clouds. (Acts 1.9)

There was no doubt He died!

The Bible records for us the details of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. How He was first beaten to within an inch of His life, then dragged a mile up a mountain to be crucified. He was executed there, and the Roman execution party ensured that He was dead before they allowed His body to be taken from the execution stake. He was buried and remained in the tomb for 3 days. There was no doubt He was dead!

There was no doubt He rose!

Then He was seen alive again!

By one on her own, by two together, by a group of 7, a group of 10, a group of 11, a group of 500.

He was seen in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening.

He walked with them, He talked with them, He ate with them He taught them.

He showed the marks of the crucifixion to them.

He spent a little time with some, and a long time with others.

He was seen in poor light and He was seen in good light.

The universal testimony of the followers of the Messiah—He is alive—even though some of them had initially been very reluctant to believe. The record bears all the marks of eye-witness testimony. And the Bible alludes to many more appearances, saying, “After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God”. (Acts 1:3) There was no doubt He was alive again!