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Posts tagged ‘grace’

A Christmas Reflection…

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I wonder how your Christmas was? Did you give gifts to others, even though they may or may not have deserved it? Did you receive gifts, even if you deserved them or not?

This year we had a grace Christmas… We gave gifts to a few people we know… My wife received a couple of gifts from a couple of people at her work place… We received cards from people as gifts and we valued them all as if they were gold because people took time to write them… But apart from that, nothing… But this is being told neither as a complaint or as a plea… This is being told, because many people around the world, including Christians didn’t even get a card from anybody for the celebration of the birth of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It is also a reflection of God’s grace… God gives, gives more and gives even more still… Yet rarely does He receive – particularly the totality of lives who claim to follow Him… His demands are easy to identify if you claim to follow Him… He wants all of your life – not just the parts you want to give Him… Is it difficult to do? Yes! But that is one reason we were given the Holy Spirit – to help us become more like God the Son, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, whose death and resurrection we celebrate at Easter and whose sacrificial death we remember in the Communion or Eucharist…

In this new year of 2014, please do desire to give over to Jesus, who is to be your Lord & Master, those areas of your life you are holding back on?

8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

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8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

Acts 15:13-35

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James, the brother of Jesus and writer of the epistle of James, was not an apostle. He delivered the coup-de-grace to the Judaism argument with a direct appeal to the Word of God. God had already spoken on the matter! Quoting Amos 9v11-12, James reminded them that the prophet had declared that ‘David’s fallen tent‘ was be restored and that this would involve the in gathering of all the Gentiles who bear the Lord’s name’ (Acts 15v16-18). This is fulfilled, James says, in all that Peter had described (Acts 15:14). The church of Jesus Christ was all along intended to encompass both Jew and Gentile and, one by one without discrimination, they are brought to the same faith by the same Lord. The gospel is for all nations. This, James showed, was ‘the mind of God”, in the Scripture’.

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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Acts 15:1-4 “Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all things that God had done with them.

At its beginning, the apostolic church was one church under the unitary leadership of the apostles. It had an expanding eldership, often called presbyters, bishops or overseers.’ From earliest days, the church had a simple but well-defined order. Elders and deacons were set apart to their particular tasks, as we saw earlier in Acts 6. Members were received upon profession of faith and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were administered. Discipline was exercised, in which members who had fallen into sin and remained unrepentant were excluded from the church. The church was never individualistic: that is to say, people did not suddenly decide to ‘join’ or ‘leave’ the church, as is too often the case in modern churches. The church was a corporate entity, in which pastoral oversight and spiritual authority were exercised by the leadership. A leadership raised up by the Lord and set apart according to a church policy mediated by the divinely inspired guidance of the apostles. This did not mean that there was neither controversy nor the threat of disunity. From the beginning, problems arose which needed to be resolved with pastoral, spiritual and judicial authority.

It is therefore no surprise to find, early on in Church history, a question arising about the nature of membership in the church and to see the matter being dealt with through the collective leadership of the church, the apostles and elders, who met together in a deliberative assembly (Acts 15v6).

The problem arose because some men from Judea came to Antioch and promoted the view that circumcision, according to the law of Moses, was necessary for salvation. ‘They were opposed by Paul and Barnabas. The church must have been seriously upset by the dispute. There was no final resolution and so help was sought from the church in Jerusalem, still at this point the heartland of the Christian church, from which the problem had come in the first place. Paul, Barnabas and some other believers were reputed to take the case to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

It is impressive to see the orderliness and seemingly good spirit in which they sought to deal with the dispute. This is reflected in the way the news of the conversion of Gentiles was received along their path. The church was one church, united in a glorious obsession with the gospel and the conviction that there is one truth by which the people of God are to be guided and ordered in one, undivided body. Every theological and practical controversy potentially threatens the unity of the church. In this case, the issue was fundamental to the meaning and application of the gospel itself. The intense conservatism of some of the Christian Jews was expressed in an insistence that certain regulations of the Old Testament law be required of non-Jewish converts as prerequisites for their recognition as members of the church of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, the so-called ‘Judaizing controversy’, which, notwithstanding the action of the Jerusalem Council, continued to dog the progress of the apostolic church and was to be he target of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. The heart of the matter is the tendency to add to the Word of God in defining who is, or is not, a Christian and thus expand the scope of what makes for a credible profession of faith to take in all sorts of unbiblical rules and requirements. The ‘Judaizing’ Christians in Antioch did not want to add some new man-made tradition of innovation, but desired to keep certain elements which had been God’s will for the Old Testament church.

How could that which was good and holy until Jesus came again, become an improper imposition afterwards? The answer had already been given explicitly and also implicitly in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Samaritan and Gentile believers (Acts 8v7; Acts 10v45-48). The maintenance of an Old Testament regulation (in this case, circumcision), when it had been replaced by a distinctively New Testament ordinance (baptism), was equivalent to imposing a man-made tradition even though God had originally given it to his people. Why? Because God had made it clear, through the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, that baptism was to be the ordinance of incorporation with his people for the whole New Testament era, until its culmination in the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 28v19; Acts 2v38). The transition period of the first-generation church of the apostles, however, made sensitive and difficult matter with which to deal. Jewish Christians still attended services in the synagogues and observed the ceremonies at the temple (see Acts 21v26 for an instance of the involving the apostle Paul). Only with the destruction of the Temple in AD70 would the ceremonial aspects of the Old pattern for godliness decisively recede from the practice of church.

On arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch were welcomed by ‘the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them’, This gathering evidently consisted of the leadership (apostles and elders) and many of the membership, including those convened were putting forward the requirement that Gentiles ‘must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’ (Acts 15v5-6). This was the context for discussion of the issue.

The Jerusalem Council, as it has been named, was a group of ordained elders together with the apostles, The significance of this council, beyond the immediate decision which was made, lies in the fact that the apostles did not make the decision for the church, as could well have been expected of men of their unique position and gifts, but participated, for the purposes of this decision, as elders with the other elders, albeit as the ‘first among equals’, It is for this reason that the Jerusalem Council is the great prototype of ‘synods and councils’, whether congregational or Presbyterian, ever since. Having convened for that purpose, the apostles and elders’ engaged in a deliberative discussion of the issue referred to them by the church in Antioch, namely, whether the Judaistic proposition that circumcision and a commitment to keeping Mosaic law were to be required of Gentiles (Acts 15v7). There was free debate and no papering over differences. The apostles let the elders speak before they joined in, thus showing the way for the future, when their uniquely revelatory gifts would be gone,

Furthermore, it is clear, from what is said later, that their goal was to know the mind of the Holy Spirit in the matter (Acts 15v28). The Jerusalem Council is a reminder to the church of Jesus Christ to go back to God’s way of seeking the mind of the Spirit on the issues confronting the doctrinal purity and the practical peace of the body of Christ – namely, by God-appointed elders in deliberative assemblies. The way the discussion unfolded in Jerusalem is the most vivid recommendation for God’s way to solve the church’s challenges,

Peter arose after much discussion, and proceeded to demolish the Judaistic viewpoint with arguments drawn from his own experience of ministry to Gentiles. He first described the conversion of the Gentiles as the work of God (Acts 15v 7-9). It had been God, not himself, who had determined that, through his lips the Gentiles might hear the message of the gospel and believe. It was certain that God had accepted them, because He had given the Holy Spirit to them, just as He had to Jewish believers; and this was proved by the Gentile Christians’ faith, which was no different from their own (Acts 15v9). He then rebuked those Jewish Christians who would insist on human works – in this instance, circumcision and the law – as necessary for salvation (Acts 15v10). They should have known better! Their fathers could not bear the ‘yoke’ of the law. It could not save them. They could not keep it. To suggest that this same yoke is necessary to being recognised as a true believer in Christ was, in effect, to deny their own profession of Christ as their Saviour! Worse still, it was to trying to test God – that is, to challenge God’s ability to save lost people by grace through faith in Christ alone!

To make any action, however righteous in itself, an instrument of the justification of a sinner before God, when God has made it plain by precept and actual experience that it is by grace alone through saving faith in Jesus Christ, is to contradict the very essence of the gospel! Faith is in a category all of its own. Faith is not a ‘work’. It is, to be sure, the act of the human heart casting itself upon the Lord, but it is pre-eminently the gift of God as Paul later says so that no one can boast (Ephesians. 2v9). Rising to a glorious crescendo, Peter declared emphatically the very heart of the gospel (Acts 15v11). Salvation is by grace alone, both for Jews and Gentiles. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11v30). There is no place for the yoke of a law, which could only condemn us!

The two missionaries, whose labours had largely occasioned the controversy, supported Peter with testimony to the miracles attending the ministry to the Gentiles. These showed that God was working among them, as he had among the Jews. Then, as we shall discover next time, James speaks and the church goes forward in unity! Thank you.

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11. 12 Days to Christmas – Messiah’s Proclamations

Day 11. Partake – Twelve Days to Christmas – Messiah’s Proclamations

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Please do read Isaiah 61:1 – 11; Isaiah 63:1-6

In this passage from Isaiah 61 through to Isaiah 63, we have two contrasting certainties. They can be found in Isaiah 61:2. The two certainties are “the year of Yahweh’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God”. There will be the year of favour and the day of vengeance. The year of honour, as we shall see has already started. We don’t know when it will end, but we know that it will. The day of vengeance will be in the future sometime. Again we don’t know when that will be either. But we know it will all happen quickly, suddenly and without warning (Isaiah 60:22). Therefore people need to be ready and alert! The time of when it will occur is not known, but it is known who will end it – Almighty God.

Messiah’s Good News

The Servant Messiah speaks without being introduced this time, and is the preacher in the year of the Lord’s favour. This preaching is probably a referral to the rams horn that ushers in the Year of Jubilee as established in the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 25:8-55). The Servant Messiah’s preaching will usher in a time of grace, justice and freedom – just as the ram’s horn introduced the Year of Jubilee. The phrase to “proclaim liberty” is used in both the year of Jubilee and in this the year of the Lord’s favour. This proclaimed year of the Lord’s favour starts when the Messiah comes the first time and will cease when He returns again. The word year, is not a fixed period of time as we know it, but is rather symbolic of an extended period of time. This Servant Messiah is anointed with the Holy Spirit of God. This Good News was to be preached to the humble, the poor and poor in spirit – the Good News is news of freedom, liberty, grace and justice! The comfort they will receive should the offer be taken up, is one of being released from condemnation for sin through the Messiah’s offer of forgiveness – that is grace! Because of this grace, three things will be occur for these people who have accept the offer, here referred to in Isaiah 61:3 as “trees of righteousness” : they will display or reflect the Lord God’s glory and splendour; they will be priests of the Lord God service; and will inherit all things!

Messiah’s Grace & Justice

What is the outcome and result of grace? We see it in Isaiah 61:7-9. Almighty God’s grace, available only through the Messiah, will bring bountiful blessing, ecstatic joy and a rich inheritance instead of shame, dishonour and exile. Grace may well be free but it is not cheap. What was the price? The relationship bridge to God that is the Messiah, is only through the Messiah’s suffering atonement as described in Isaiah 53. Isaiah moves to justice quite naturally therefore, for grace and justice are like twins – they go together naturally. Justice is grace in action just as much as it is the judging of those in sin (Isaiah 61:8). Liberating people from sin freely (grace) is as much a part of justice as punishing those who reject the gracious offer of pardon and continue to live sinful lives. Grace and justice are also available, because God is always full of grace and justice and this is seen in the new covenant He makes with those who have heard this Good News proclaimed by the Messiah and responded by taking up His free offer.

This Good News of the twins Grace and Justice brings an offering of thanksgiving and praise (Isaiah 61:10-11)! Clothed with salvation from and through God’s Messiah, robed with the righteousness of God’s Messiah! And because God has done it for this one man, He will ensure that all those who respond from all nations will also be like that in a responsive praise and Godly righteousness.

Messiah’s Vengeance

We have been warned in Isaiah 61:2 that not only will the Messiah usher in the year of the Lord’s favour, but He will also bring vengeance with him. People today don’t like the word vengeance because it conjures up images of maliciousness and vindictiveness. This vengeance is wrought by Almighty God as punishment for people’s personal sin against Him. His anger is a righteous anger and a wrath borne of holiness. His judgment will be final and also universal – every people of every nation of all time. In particular, however, those who would persecute, mock, abhor and reject those who have taken up God’s free offer of grace through the coming Messiah.

How is Jesus this Messiah?

In Luke 4:16-20 at the beginning of His public ministry at a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus quotes this passage from Isaiah 61. This tells us that the year of the Lord’s favour has commenced. But note from the passage in Luke, that he doesn’t quote the full scripture. He stops in the middle of reading a sentence, just as soon as He says “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”, rolls the scroll back up. Why does he do that? It can only be because while now until He returns, is the year of the Lord’s favour, the day of judgement and vengeance will wait until that day in the future – when those who are His followers will enter the City of God and those who rejected Him will have vengeance wrought against them.

Jesus went around, as we know, proclaiming the same Good News Isaiah writes about (Matthew 9:35, Luke 8:1). Jesus proclaimed in his words and his life about God’s love, grace and justice. When he healed the sick, forgave sins, gave compassion on the poor, spoke and ate with the outcasts, Jesus Christ embodied this message of grace, justice and freedom. When, as we saw on a previous day, death on the cross was the act of atonement required by God in order to punish the sins of the world, Jesus Christ did not shirk back from doing that.

As for the day of vengeance, nobody talked about hell and God’s judgement more than Jesus. But God is always reaching out, coaxing people to accept His free offer of grace, if people will only humble themselves and ask for it. God’s offer of freedom is still available in this the year of the Lord’s favour. But one day, the day of judgement will come and then it will be too late. That is why Jesus commanded with some urgency that His followers would tell all nations of this Good News, Isaiah wrote about. A Good News of salvation, grace, justice and freedom.

Jesus, reinforcing what Isaiah ahs said, tells us that the day of vengeance is for those who reject the Good News he preaches and lives (Matthew 10v14-15). God’s Day of Judgment is coming said Jesus (Matthew 12:36). What’s more, Jesus said in John 5:22-23 “For the Father judges no one, but he has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He who doesn’t honour the Son doesn’t honour the Father who sent him.” Jesus claims here to openly be the Messiah, the long awaited for chosen One! An even more overt statement by Jesus on judgment can be found in John 9:39, “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” Jesus tells us that the punishment will be both physical (Matthew 5v29-30), and in the soul (Matthew 10v28). This vengeance will consist of everlasting fire and punishment (Matthew 25v41-46) and will be Constant and outer darkness (Matthew 8v12). In other words, those rejecting the Messiah Jesus Christ, will face a lonely, impersonal God-less void. All this will happen when Jesus comes again, not as a baby like last time, but in glorious splendour.

But for all those who accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah and have grasped hold of the Good News message of grace, justice and liberty, there will be another place. According to Jesus, this heavenly city of God is only for those who are righteous (Matthew 5v20). In doing so, he concurs with Isaiah. This righteousness is not their own, but the robe righteousness declared upon them through the Messiah.

This heavenly city of God, Jesus proclaims to us is a place of ecstatic Joy (Luke 15v7-10), total peace (Luke 16v19-25) and a reward (Matthew 5v11-12) – all themes we have heard in these books of Isaiah and Zechariah.

There is one more study to come. As this is released on Christmas day, you may wonder why. My reason for doing so, was that yes we celebrate Jesus Christ coming to earth as a baby. Yes, His incarnation whereby God took on human flesh in the human form of Jesus Christ is important. That iw when the year of the Lord’s favour commenced. But that is only half the story, because this Jesus Christ is coming back again in splendorous glory, in order to gather all those who have responded obediently to the Good News of God’s grace, justice and freedom. For those, the heavenly city of God awaits. But for those who reject Him now, He will reject them and the day of vengeance proclaimed in Isaiah will be a terrible day. That is why even as it is now the year of the Lord’s favour; it is not too late to respond obediently to God’s free grace. It is also not too late for you, if you are already counted as one of the Lord’s followers to tell others of this free offer and the rewards of acceptance and consequences of rejection.

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