Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
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
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.
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
Monday, November 23, 2009
Why Should We Become Disciples?
1. For Love of the Saviour
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
3. To Glorify God
“I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore” (Ps. 86:12).
“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).
Saturday, November 14, 2009
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:
Friday, November 6, 2009
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’.
The example of Jesus
More next time
Monday, October 26, 2009
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.
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
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.
Friday, October 16, 2009
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.
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)
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:
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.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Think of Mr. George Muller who gave himself to look after hundreds of orphans in Bristol.
Friday, September 25, 2009
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.
Why is God so serious about being merciful?
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)
Friday, September 11, 2009
Discipleship Considered (or Christians who make a difference)
‘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?
Other titles available.
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:
'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’
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.
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 :
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
“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.
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 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.
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?
A final question
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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)