Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Gospel of Reconciliation, Part 1 - The Supremacy of the Son

As we continue to work through the concept of the gospel, we find Colossians 1.21-23 that discusses the gospel in connection with being reconciled to God through Christ. We need two parts here to work through this passage as we have to back up a bit and look at the great hymn to Christ in Colossians 1.15-20. This message of reconciliation comes after a very important theological section of the letter discussing the supremacy of Jesus over all creation. I think it is necessary to look at that portion of the letter before moving to the reconciling work of the gospel.

Colossians 1.15-20

This hymn to Christ begins by telling us about Jesus’ relation to God – Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Just as the first man and woman were made in the image of God, they were made in the image of Jesus, who is the physical representation of the Creator.

The next section deals with Jesus’ relation to creation – he is the first born of Creation. We have to unpack that a little bit. A group of early Christians believed that Jesus did not exist from the beginning, but that he was the first of God’s created beings. They had a slogan, “There was when he was not.” This was a very serious misunderstanding that the early church met to discuss and denounced this view (these “believers” were called Arians, after Arius. This view is still present in the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses). The term “firstborn” does not necessarily mean that Jesus was the first created being, but has the sense that he had temporal priority to creation, that is, he existed before creation. It also has the sense that he is supreme over creation. We see this in Ps. 89.27, where David is called the firstborn as he is appointed the most exalted king of the earth (but not the first born creature). The orthodox understanding of Jesus being prior to creation and supreme over creation is bolstered by the next section of the hymn in that Jesus is actually the agent of creation.

The hymn states that “in him all things were created.” In fact all things have been created through him and for him. This denotes that all things were created in the sphere of him. Just as when we become believers, we move from the realm of being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” It appears in this verse that at the beginning, all things were created “in Him.” This implies that something has gone wrong (as Paul will later talk of reconciliation).

Jesus is the head of the body, the church. This implies, of course that he is the leader, the controlling influence over the church, once again stressing his supremacy. The terminology can also suggest that Jesus is the “source” of the church.

In completing the “firstborn” analogy, Jesus is not only the “firstborn over all creation” but he is the “firstborn from the dead.” Jesus is the first human to truly experience the sting of dead and to be raised. His resurrection was different than other instances of being brought back to life in the Bible (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, for examples) in that his resurrection shows us in what manner all of those who have been reconciled through Christ’s death will share. Paul has previously stated that we will bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor. 15.49) as we share in the resurrection of Christ. It was because of his conquering death that he has supremacy.

Christ’s supremacy is due to the fact that God was pleased to allow all of his fullness (every essence that composes God) dwells in Christ (present tense). The fullness of God in Christ allows us to be reconciled to God. God reconciles us to himself by allowing the physical representative of his image (Jesus), who possesses all of the nature of God himself, to shed his blood on the cross.

This aspect of shedding blood on the cross is called “making peace”. This sounds like sacrificial language. God makes peace with us through the death of Christ on the cross.

Just as Creation was made in Christ, something has gone wrong and creation needs reconciliation between itself and its creator. And this is not just the need of humans, but of everything (see Rom. 8.19-23). F. F. Bruce puts it this way: “The fullness of the divine energy is manifested in Christ in the work of reconciliation as well as in that of creation…this reconciling activity is applied particularly to redeemed humanity, but here its universal references comes first into view.”

Thus, the reconciler is the visible image of God, exists prior to creation, is over creation, creation was made in him, through him and for him, he is the example of our resurrection and he contains all of what God is. Jesus’ death has made peace with God somehow through the shedding of his blood.

Monday, April 27, 2009

World Wide Leader?

If you watched ESPN this weekend, only a few things happened:
There was only one baseball series: The Yankees at the Red Sox.
Only one college player was drafted: Mark Sanchez
Only one basketball series: Boston and Chicago.
If anything else happened, you had to find out about it somewhere else.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brotherly Love

Been kinda into Oasis lately. Really like "Shock of the Lightning" off new release. Saw a great quote from Noel Gallagher about his brother Liam:
“He’s rude, arrogant, intimidating and lazy. He’s the angriest man you’ll ever meet. He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.”

A man with a fork in a world of soup? Brilliant!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Gospel Must Be Obeyed

We are continuing our study of "the gospel" at Mizzou tonight. Our topic tonight is "The gospel must be obeyed." At several points, the apostles make it clear that there are consequences for disobedience to the gospel.
In the context of discussing those who persecuting the believers in Thessalonica, Paul talks about the judgment that is coming on those persecutors.
2 Thessalonians 1.8 – He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

This states that the gospel is something to be obeyed. We also see this from the apostle Peter, once again in the context of believers being persecuted.
1 Peter 4.17 – For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household (Peter is discussing those who are suffering for the faith according to God’s will); and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

There are those who do not obey the gospel. And they seem to be persecutors of believers and they will be judged most severely. Both of these verses discuss the negative outcomes of not obeying the gospel. There is another verse that discusses the positive example of obedience to the gospel. Paul writes to the Corinthians, commending them for their financial gift to believers in need in Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 9.13 – Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, people will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.
As we read that verse, obedience seems to flow out of one’s acceptance of the message concerning/from Christ. Okay, we are supposed to obey the gospel, but what exactly are we to obey? Up until now, most of our understanding of the gospel has been about Christ. What specifically are we to obey?

If we remember back to our second lesson, one of the first messages from Jesus concerning the gospel was repentance –
Mark 1.15 – The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.
The word “repent” means to change your mind. It often had the connotation of a new relationship with God that impacted all spheres of life. It dealt with the question of one’s standing before God. This repentance was calling for obedience to the will of God; trust in God and the rejection of false gods; it was turning aside from everything ungodly. What would it look like to be obedient to the will of God? If we believe that the gospel message is centered in the fact that Jesus is the King, then we should be obedient to his commands. How could we do that?

How do we let these verses inform the idea that we should “obey the gospel”?
Mark 12.28-31 – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.
John 13.34-35 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 14.15 – If you love me, keep my commands.

We see here that an essential element of a study of the gospel is that it must be obeyed. There are consequences for those who do not obey the gospel. Obedience to the gospel entails repentance and striving to live according to Jesus’ commands and the most important of those commands are to love God and to love one another.

E-Book on College Ministry

Ben Hines is a friend who recently took a year long journey visiting college ministries across the country. He has written a e-book to discuss his findings. It's free and download-able in several versions (including a mobile version). You can find it here. I've read through most of it and even got a chance to look at a few chapters in advance. I think it is a very helpful look at a broad spectrum of college ministries. The opening line says alot to me, "This is a book about missions." If you go to the site and download the book, let me know with a comment on this blog.
Reaching the Campus Tribes

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Introduction to Simply Christian

First, Wright explores four areas which in today’s world can be interpreted as “echoes of a voice”: the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.

Part two lays out the central Christian belief about God. Christians believe that there is one true and living God, and that this God, revealed in action in Jesus, is the God who called the Jewish people to be his agents in setting forward his plan to rescue and reshape his creation. As he works through chapter 2, we discover that the voice whose echoes we began to listen for in the first part become recognizable, as we reflect on the creator God who longs to put his world to rights; on the human being called Jesus who announced God’s kingdom, died on a cross, and rose again; and on the Spirit, who blows like a powerful wind through the world and through human lives.

This leads naturally into Part Three, where Wright describes what it looks like in practice to follow this Jesus, to be energized by this Spirit, and above all to advance the plan of this creator.
What is the point of the church? The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is enormously important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life. We’re called, here and now, to be instruments of God’s new creation, the world-put-to-rights which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus’ followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents.

Wright does not attempt to differentiate between the many different varieties of Christianity, but tries to speak of that which is, at their best, common to all: it is simply Christian.

Enjoyable Book: Simply Christian

I had recently been invited to a few “Doubt Days” on college campuses. These are opportunities to gather inquiring students to discuss questions of faith and Christianity. I had already been exposed to some of the more popular books on apologetics (books like Lee Strobel’s series). I was looking for some more thoughtful books on questions of the faith. I read Keller’s Reason for God and really enjoyed it. I didn’t learn anything new, but Keller expresses thoughts on faith and Christianity so well. He asks and answers so many great questions. This must come from decades in a secular culture where he is bombarded by attacks on the reasonability of Christianity. I had heard some good things about N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian but I was not interested. The subtitle turned me off (Why Christianity Makes Sense). I thought at its basic level, Christianity doesn’t make sense and I didn’t want to read another Evidence that Demands a Verdict. However, I saw it in a used book store for $6 so I picked up. I enjoy Wright’s writing and his lectures so I knew it wouldn’t be a waste of money. And I was correct. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is different than Keller’s book which I thought was a little more topical in explaining specific doubts. Wright, on the other hand, provides a more narrative structure to Christianity, walking through the story of the Bible and how it relates to the “four echoes of a voice” that are common to almost all of us. I highly recommend this book and I am praying for an opportunity to work through this book with a new believer or a seeker.
I will probably be providing a few thoughts that I gleaned from this book in the next few weeks. Not an extensive review, but I found a lot of insightful comments and thoughtful ways of explaining matters of Christianity that I will share with you here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Awesome Reference Site?

Ever wondered where a certain place that is mentioned in the Bible might be in today's world? Go to this site.
Look up the places reference point in the Bible and then you can click on a satellite photo of the region.
I like it, but I'm different.

The Gospel Announced to Abraham?

In this lesson, we discuss how the gospel message was announced to Abraham. Galatians 3.8, "Scripture foresaw that God would justify the gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."

There was an issue in Galatia (a region where Paul planted churches): does a Gentile need to become a Jew in order to be a Christian? The group known as the Judaizers said “Yes, Gentiles need to become Jews first” (meaning that Gentile men need to be circumcised to ensure that they were considered Christians). In Galatians 3, Paul “strenuously objects” to this line of thinking. To Paul, there were no external actions that could be taken in order for one to be considered a follower of Jesus. It was an act of grace received by faith. The Judaizers probably appealed to Abraham. They (the Jews) were children of Abraham. They may have even referred to several passages in Genesis to make their case.
Reference 1: Genesis 12.3 “…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” That is, the Gentiles will be blessed through becoming family members of Abraham.
Reference 2: God then makes a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17.9-11 and the sign of that covenant is circumcision of the males.
The Judaizers put it together: God made a covenant to bless all people through the family of Abraham (even the Gentiles); Jesus is a son of Abraham; the sign of membership in Abraham’s family is circumcision; thus, in order to become a member of Abraham’s family (the family chosen by God), the Gentiles must become circumcised.
This does not mesh well with Paul’s “grace by faith” salvation message. Paul will also appeal to Abraham and he will also appeal to Genesis to make his case.

Galatians 3.2 – salvation is from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is received by faith, not by observing the Law (symbolized by being circumcised).
Abraham is indeed the model here: he “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (verse 6 appealing to Genesis 15.6). In Paul’s eyes, Abraham’s right relationship with God was on the basis of his belief in God’s promise, instead of his deeds or even his obedience to the Law. His righteousness came before he was circumcised and came centuries before the Law of Moses.
The Gospel – the reference to Genesis 12.3 was indeed the announcement of a future day of salvation for the Gentiles. It is the gospel announced beforehand. Scripture announced the gospel message to Abraham and it provides the model of how one is brought into Abraham’s family (salvation). Abraham’s salvation/justification before God was dependant on his faith; therefore those follow Abraham’s example, and believe the promise of God by faith, are belong to Abraham’s family of faith (they are saved by their faith as was Abraham).

Basically, Paul appeals to Abraham’s faith, which is credited to him as righteousness, and notes that this covenant is the gospel. Abraham was saved by believing in the promise and it came before the sign of the covenant (circumcision Genesis 17) and it came before the Law.

Therefore, according to Galatians 3.1-14, the gospel is the message that salvation is the reception of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is received through faith in the message concerning the redemption of Christ. This message was announced to Abraham and the message of the Gospel includes salvation to all people and from the beginning, salvation (a right relationship with God) was achieved by faith. Salvation is not about following the Law (and it never was).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Gospel and the Resurrection (part 2)

I think it is important to note that the records of Jesus' resurrection appearances are part of Paul's gospel.

• Jesus appeared:
o To Cephas (Peter)
o To the Twelve
o To more than 500
o To James
o To all of the apostles
o To Paul (as of one untimely born).

The gospel is tied up with the experience of a human being who literally died and who came back to life and appeared to human beings. This points to the objective reality of the Resurrection. He “was raised” and he “was seen.” Paul’s point seems emphatic. The resurrection of Jesus was not a form of “spiritual” existence. This was not a vision experience. Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions.

The appearance to James, how significant was that?
John 7.2-5 – But when the Jewish Feast of tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Galatians 2.9 – “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.” James, the former non-believer and scoffer, is now mentioned as a pillar and listed with two of Jesus’ most prominent apostles, Peter and John.
I think it is important that Paul mentions this appearance to James. I believe that James was not a believer in Jesus until he encountered the resurrected Jesus. This is what changed James. The scoffer becomes the devoted.

Paul’s appearance? Acts 9.1-15, this was no mere vision experience. Paul puts it in the same league with Jesus’ appearances to Peter and the 12 (John 20, Luke 24.36-42).

Back up: believe in vain? This gospel message of Christ dying for our sins and, literally, being raised to continued life, is what we count on as true and effective and we must hold fast to it. We must remain in it or it will be useless to us. If we do not believe this, then our faith is useless (see 1 Corinthians 15.12-19).

The Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15: Christ, literally, died for our sins (in accordance with previous revelation) and was raised and physically appeared to his followers. This gospel message saves us. If it is not true (specifically the resurrection of Jesus), then our faith is useless and we are still in our sins.

The Gospel and the Resurrection (part 1)

I didn't count on this when I laid out this series for our Gospel study at Mizzou, but this passage falls on Holy Week and is perfect for the lead up to Easter. We are looking at the concept of the Gospel in reference to 1 Corinthians 15.1-8.

Paul’s discussion of the Gospel to the Corinthians is centered on the resurrection. Paul seeks to remind them of the message that he preached to them and which they received.
The content of Paul’s Gospel:
• Christ died for our sins (according to the Scriptures). We have to ask: What Scriptures? There is no specific reference that the Messiah would die for the sins of the people, but we have to take seriously the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52.13-53.12. In this passage we see that the “Servant” of God was “pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (53.5); “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53.6); “the Lord makes his life an offering for sin” (53.10); “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (53.11); and “he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53.12).

• He was buried and was raised on the third day (according to the Scriptures). Jesus had compared his upcoming death to the ordeal of Jonah being in the great fish for three days (Matt. 12.39-40, thus an appeal to the OT. He later refers to the only sign that he will give them to attest to his standing and relationship with God is the sign of Jonah, perhaps a miraculous return from being “dead” for three days?). We can also appeal back to the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah. We have seen that his was “crushed for our iniquities…cut off from the land of the living…assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death...” Yet, “he will see his offspring and prolong his days…after he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…” There may also be a reference to the idea of the Rabbis that the body starts to suffer decay after three days. We see in several messianic Psalms that were applied to Jesus, that God’s “holy one” will not see decay (Psalm 16.8-11/Acts 2.27, 31-32). (There is also a reference in Hos. 6.2: “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” This verse was not used in the NT as a proof text for a third day resurrection, but it was used by the rabbis of the 2nd C. in terms of resurrection.)

When it comes right down to it, there are no explicit, exact OT references that fulfill these words of Paul. But the NT writers believed that the OT as a whole bears witness to Christ and his work.

I will post more about this passage later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gathering of Early Church Leaders

I was doing a little research for a lesson I was preparing on the Trinity and I dug into one of my old church history texts (The History of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez). I was inspired by the thought of the scene at the Council of Nicea and I thought I'd post some notes on the meeting. These notes come from Gonzalez' book (pp. 162-163).

The First Great Council of the Church, at Nicea in 325, must have been an awesome sight to behold. The emperor Constantine called for the gathering of bishops from all parts of the Empire for the most part to deal with the teaching of Arius (that Jesus was not pre-existent and that he was the first created being). Some of these bishops had recently been imprisoned, tortured or exiled and bore on their bodies the physical marks of their faithfulness. Here at Nicea, for the first time, they had before their eyes physical evidence of the universality of the church.
Eusebius describes it in his work Life of Constantine(3.7):

There were gathered the most distinguished ministers of God, from the many churches in Europe, Libya and Asia. A single house of prayer, as if enlarged by God, sheltered Syrians and Cilicians, Phoenicians and Arabs, delegates from Palestine and from Egypt, Theban and Libyans, together with those from Mesopotamia. There was also a Persian bishop, and a Scythian was not lacking. Pontus, Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Phrygia sent there most outstanding bishops, jointly with those from the remotest areas of Thrace, Macedonia, Achaia and Epirus. Even from Spain…The bishop of…[Rome]…was represented by his presbyters…

This was a great universal gathering of believers who just had recently been allowed the freedom to gather together and discuss the importance of true doctrine and the nature of Christ. This would set the tone for orthodoxy for some years to come (although the battle over Arianism would not end for almost 60 years after the council).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Great CD - Great Bargain

I am currently enjoying Neko Case's latest release "Middle Cyclone." She has one of the greatest female voices in pop/rock music today and is an excellent songwriter. My favorite song off her new release is "This Tornado Loves You" where she describes herself and her desire for someone who doesn't love her back as a tornado tearing up the country side. Sample it and you won't be disappointed.
If you really want a treat, her last cd "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" is available on Amazon for $2.99. It is even better, I think, than her new one. Highlights: "Hold On, Hold On", "John Saw that Number" (gospel song, best song on cd), and "Star Witness".
Seriously, you got 3 bucks to spare and want some new music? Treat yourself.
Here's the link: Neko Case

Somewhat Surprising

I would have never guessed this, but the free Kindle version of the TNIV has been downloaded more than the free Kindle version of the ESV.
Go here to see the results
TNIV is 7th while the ESV is 20th. (There is actually another version in between, "God's Word" Translation). I think it is impressive that all three are in the top 20 (the price tag may help that.)
I have both TNIV and ESV on my iPod touch.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Great Question

I got a question from Colin M. recently during our study of Romans 1. If Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, why did he spend so much time appealing to the Old Testament to support his positions (especially in light of the fact that he did not directly appeal to the OT in his speech on the Areopagus in Acts 17)? I've got a rudimentary answer but I need to do some fact checking first. I'll get back to you soon.
Some of my initial thoughts: where there were synagogues, they seemed to be bases of operations for the mission work of Paul; there were Jews in these congregations; the apostles looked to the OT as the authoritative revelation of God's word and Paul was just steeped in the narrative and teachings of the Old Testament and where ever he went he would use what he knew and believed to be authoritative to base his teaching in.
More thoughts: Judaism was a legal religion with holy writings that some Gentiles would have been familiar with; some of the initial Gentile converts were God-fearers (that is, Gentiles who had a strong affinity to the Jewish religion) and the people of that day were more open to religious matters, it wasn't compartmentalized like it is here in western culture.
I may do some more research and post again on this.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gamblers for Jesus

Did you know that there was a class of people during the early days of the church known for their risk taking? They were called the “parabolani.” They voluntarily undertook the care of the sick and the burial of the dead. They received their name from the fact that they risked their lives (paraballesthai ten zoen) in exposing themselves to contagious diseases. The Greek word behind the phrase "risking his life" is paraboleuesthai. It is a rare word related to gambling. William Barclay says it means to stake everything on a throw of the dice. It is also related to the word parabolani, the gamblers. These were Christian men and women in the early church who risked their lives visiting prisoners and those with infectious diseases and burying those who died of illness. There is ministry outside the church unto a sick and hungry world, waiting for Parabolani who will make themselves available to God and say, "Lord, here I am. You equip me, give me everything I need. There is then no excuse why I cannot be available to you for this need."