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Atonement

September 23rd, 2015
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The early church was influenced by the the synagogue liturgy, and the rituals of the Jewish home. The NT bears witness to the fact that the liturgy of early church included psalms, doctrinal hymns, spiritual songs, praises, confessions of belief and creeds, readings, biblical teaching, thanksgivings, prayers, blessings and charitable giving.

It was also influenced by the Temple. The Temple in Jerusalem had (by the time of Jesus) become the focal point of Israel’s whole life: everything was oriented and organized around it. By the first century, this temple liturgy had developed into an exacting and precise ritual. The Hebrew word for “sacrifice” is qorban, the root meaning of which is “coming near.”

The sacrifice was the means for Jews to draw near to God at the Temple.

Although the Temple was destroyed in 70AD, the church used the symbolic insights from the temple liturgy.

They understood that Jesus fulfills all the sacrifices and it is through his one and eternal sacrifice, given once and for all we draw near. In fact when one reads Hebrews 8-10 the Day of Atonement was a very powerful backdrop to the Christian claim about the power of his sacrifice.

 As we have said in previously for the Jewish faith:

The holiest day is Yom Kippur, known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths. This day is separated from all other days by additional rules and observances in keeping with its profound holiness. The holiness of persons, of objects, of time and of space all converge on Yom Kippur, because it’s only on this most holy day that the most holy person, high priest, enters the most holy of holies, the innermost shrine, and performs a ritual upon the most holy of objects, the mercy seat and ark itself once a year.

 So to have Jesus as being greater than this sacrifice, on this special day by this special Israelite upon the very special items, which is the teaching in the book of Hebrews, was saying an awful lot.

In fact it culminates the claims throughout the book of Hebrews: Jesus is greater than any prophet, he is greater than Moses, he is greater than any high priest, he is greater than Abraham, than the whole levitical system, greater than the Day of Atonement and all that took place on that day.

Everything before him is temporary and passing. He alone is permanent. Everything is now centred on him.

As you read Hebrews 12-13 you will also hear this temple imagery coming through.

Reflect on:

Jesus in his suffering and death is the inspiration for our lives to be willing to follow him and share his suffering and death.

We are to trust our Father in his disciplining of us.The same message we hear in Revelation.

We belong to the uncreated existence of God. Our covenant with God is not formed at a earthly created mountain. Thus we have a permanent future.

Our worship is outside the physical Temple, it is with Christ in the humility of his sacrifice for us. Jesus is our Most Holy Place, our atonement.

To truly worship is to offer a sacrifice of praise, to do good and share with others: this is now the sacrificial system of the new way.

Sermon

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is pivotal to the book of Revelation. It is the foundation of our hope in all the distressing realities of this passing chaotic world.

Revelation 1:17-18

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

 I was thinking about how powerful that is. Hades being like Sheol in the OT—the place of the dead. It was seen symbolically as being closed off –a place deep in the earth, that no one returned from, It represented hopelessness – a place of silence, darkness, in effect nothingness.

So for Jesus to say he has the keys to unlock and release means that we should not fear what men can do to us. Also it means it means he can forever lock up his enemies.

We hear this in scriptures like Matthew 16:18

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

 This could be understood offensively or defensively. Jesus can release us from death or death cannot destroy the life he gives us.

and Ephesians 4:8

 This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

Again we see this freeing of those held captive in death.

Thus whatever we see in this physical world it is temporary and the eternal is what Jesus is for us.

And what he is for us is our Atonement. He reconciles us to God.

 NT Wright on Revelation which we saw last time:

 John believed in the God of the Exodus, the God who sets slaves free. A huge amount of his book, as we have seen, was built up on the basis that what God did in Egypt he will do again, this time on a cosmic scale — and that the basic act of slave-freeing has already taken place with the sacrificial death of Jesus. ‘With your own blood you purchased a people for God’ (5.9). That’s Exodus-language, buying-slaves-to-set-them-free language.

 The consequences of our sins is death. So a powerful idea to understand atonement is being set free from sin and death by the blood of Jesus.

 We read that in Revelation 5: 9-10

 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God

 The connection between Christ’s slaughter and his worthiness to open the scroll is made explicit. Notice that this blood is the cost of us being purchased for God. Sometimes the word ransomed is used as well.

 We see a similar figure of speech in the word “redemption.” That was the word people used to get friends and relatives out of slavery. They bought them back; that is the literal meaning of the word “redeem.” Jesus bought us with a price, Paul says, but we should not think that anyone actually received that payment. It is a figure of speech. The Old Testament says that God redeemed the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, but he certainly did not pay anyone in order to do it. It contains the idea of being set free from slavery to sin/death.

 The Bible describes Jesus as a sacrificial lamb. John the Baptist called him the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John1:29). The apostle Paul says that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Passover lambs were also associated with escaping slavery and death.

 He dies so that we do not have to die.

 persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

This is universal in its effect.

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.”

The ransoming of the saints here is not primarily from something (e.g., sin or death), but to or for something: to be a kingdom and priests serving God and reigning.

 And how did Christ save us?

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Message for the Day

Sermon OT 4

September 20th, 2015
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The Former Prophets is the historical narrative, which happens to feature kings and prophets as characters in the narrative.

The Latter Prophets, those are the books of prophetic oracles that bear the name of the person who gave the utterance, or the oracle.

The Hebrew word for prophet is  navi, and the word navi seems to mean one who is called, or perhaps one who announces. That’s important because it signals to us that a prophet is someone who is called by God to proclaim a message, to announce something.

We could call it “apostolic prophecy.” An apostle is merely a messenger. The word “apostle” means messenger, one sent with a message. So apostolic prophecy — this refers to messenger prophets. They are called by God and charged with a mission. They can even be elected against their will. They must bring the word of God to the world. It is not their word or ministry.

This is very different from prophets who are consulted by a client and given a fee to divine something. This is God now charging a prophet with a message to a people.

So these apostolic prophets are the instrument of God’s desire to reveal himself and to reveal his will to his people.

The navi, the prophet, was addressing a very specific historical situation and was addressing it in very concrete terms. He was revealing God’s immediate intentions as a response to the present circumstances.

And the purpose of doing this was to inspire the people to change, to come back to faithful observance of the covenant. So in reality the prophet’s message was a message about the present, what is wrong now, what has to be done to avert the impending doom or to avert a future calamity.

Prophecy and kingship are closely connected in ancient Israel. And this is going to be very important. You’ll recall, first of all, that the king is the anointed one of Yahweh, and it’s the prophet who’s doing the anointing. And that makes the connection between kingship and prophecy quite strong.

Again, prophets not only anoint kings, but they also announce their fall from power. They are kingmakers and king-breakers to some degree. Also, you have a remarkable theme that runs through so much of biblical narrative, and that’s the theme of prophetic opposition to kings. Every king had his prophetic thorn in the side. So you have Samuel against Saul. You have Nathan against King David.

You have other prophets, Elijah, of course, against Ahab, Micaiah against Ahab. You have Elisha against the House of Ahab. Jeremiah is going to also stand against the king quite dramatically.

Like the kings of Assyria, the kings of Israel and Judah employed prophetic guilds. And in many cases these court prophets, who were in the king’s employ, were little more than endorsers of royal policy. Yes men.

So on numerous occasions we see these professional prophets, these royal prophets, at odds with God’s true prophets. They [the latter] are truly proclaiming the word of God and not just endorsing royal policy. And they proclaim it whether the king wants to hear it or not, whether the people want to hear it or not.

Another role is very well-illustrated by the prophet Nathan. Nathan is the classic example of a prophet who serves as the conscience of the king. In 2 Samuel 11-12, we have the dramatic story of David and Bathsheba. You know the story.

But not even the king is above God’s law, and God sends his prophet Nathan to tell the king a fable.

 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

Nathan wasn’t struck down on the spot. He escaped with his life after this accusation. It shows the subjugation of the king to Yahweh, to Yahweh’s teachings, to Yahweh’s commandments, to Yahweh’s true prophets that we don’t hear that Nathan is carted off, but instead David acknowledges his guilt and he repents. He doesn’t escape all punishment. For this deed the child of the union does in fact die, and there’s a great deal of future strife and treachery in David’s household as we know, and the Bible does blame a good deal of that on the deeds, these terrible sins of David’s.

Another role that we see prophets playing in this section of historical narrative is that they are zealous for Yahweh.

You find it particularly in Elijah and Elisha. The Elijah stories are found in 1 Kings 17-19 and 21. The Elisha stories appear towards the beginning of 2 Kings 2-9 and a little bit in chapter 13.

We will quickly refer to Elijah as he is important in the NT transition period.

Elijah the Tishbite — which means that he comes from the city of Tishbeh in Gilead, which is the other side of the Jordan — Elijah is a very dramatic character. He comes across the Jordan. He’s dressed in a garment of hair and a leather girdle. We associate Elijah most with the battle with the cult of Baal and Asherah. This had been introduced by King Ahab to please his Baal-worshipping queen, Queen Jezebel.

And as his first act, Elijah announces a drought. He announces a drought in the name of Yahweh. Now, this is a direct challenge to Baal, because Baal is believed to control the rain. He’s believed to control the general fertility of the land and life itself.

So Elijah’s purpose is to show that it is Yahweh, and not Baal, who controls fertility.

We have very good evidence that Baal was in fact worshipped in the northern Kingdom right down to the destruction.

Jezebel, Ahab’s queen, kept a retinue of 450 Baal prophets and was killing off the prophets of Yahweh. And by the same token, Elijah is equally zealous for Yahweh. He refuses to tolerate the worship of any god but Yahweh, and he performs miracles constantly in the name of Yahweh to show that it is Yahweh and not Baal who gives life.

For example, he raises a dead child; he multiplies oil and flour and so on, all of this in the name of the Lord to show that it is Yahweh, and not Baal who has true power.

The conflict between the two cults, the Yahweh cult and the Baal cult, reaches a climax in the story in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest. We have to remember that a severe drought has fallen on the land, which Elijah attributes to God’s punishment for Ahab’s sin in introducing Baal worship on a broad scale.

Now, Elijah is hiding from the king, who’s very angry with him for declaring this drought in the name of God.

After three years he returns to Ahab. “ 1 Kings 18:17 -21

17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”

18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

You’re hopping between two opinions.

So it seems that at the popular level there is no problem with integrating these two cults. He’s met with silence. So Elijah prepares for a dramatic contest. Two bulls are slaughtered, and they are laid on altars, one an altar to Baal and one an altar to Yahweh. And the 450 prophets of Baal are to invoke their god and Elijah will invoke his God to send a fire to consume the sacrifice. The god who answers first, or the god who answers with fire, is truly God.

So the Baal prophets invoke their god morning to noon, and they’re shouting, “Oh, Baal. Answer us.” And the description that follows is wonderfully satirical.

But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up.
1 Kings 18:27-29
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”( or But he may be in conversation, or he may be relieving himself [in the bathroom], or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.”)

28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

So more hours have gone by and still there’s no sound and none who responded or heeded. And then it’s Elijah’s turn. Elijah sets up 12 stones to represent the 12 tribes; he lays the bull out on the altar. He then digs a trench around the altar and he orders water to be poured over the whole thing so that it’s completely saturated and the trench is filled with water. This is going to highlight, of course, the miracle that’s about to occur.

And then he calls upon the name of the Lord, and instantly a fire descends from God and consumes everything: offering, wood, stone, earth, water, everything. And the people prostrate themselves and declare, “Yahweh alone is God. Yahweh alone is God.”

The prophets of Baal are all seized and slaughtered. Elijah expects an end to the drought, and a servant comes to report to him that “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising in the west,” and the sky grows black and there’s a strong wind and a heavy storm, and the drought is finally over.

The language that’s used to describe this storm is the language that’s typically employed for the storm god Baal. It drives home the point that Yahweh is the real god of the storm, not Baal. Yahweh controls nature, not Baal. It’s God who is effective; Baal is silent and powerless, and Israel’s choice should be clear. Yahweh should be the only God for Israel, just as he is for Elijah, who’s name El-i-yahu means “my God [Eli = my God] is Yahweh.”

So Jezebel is pretty upset and she threatens Elijah with execution. He flees into the desert, and he will spend 40 days and 40 nights on a mountain called Horeb, or Sinai. That, of course, is the site of God’s revelation to Moses.

Moses also spent 40 days and 40 nights there, and many scholars have pointed out the numerous parallels between Elijah and Moses.

Elijah is in great despair at Sinai. He wants to die. He feels that he has failed in his fight for God. And so he hides himself in a rocky cleft, and this is also reminiscent of the cleft that Moses hides himself in in order to catch a glimpse of God as God passes by. Similarly, Elijah hides in a cleft where he will encounter God.

1 Kings 19:9-12:

9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

This was the mountain that was the source of Israel’s covenant with God. But whereas the earlier theophonies there at Sinai had involved earthquake and wind and fire, the narrative here seems to be making a point of saying that God is not in the earthquake and the wind and the fire. He is in the lull after the storm.

This might then be providing a kind of balance or corrective to the preceding story that we’ve just had of Mount Carmel, Elijah on Mount Carmel. God may be the master of the storm, and Elijah dramatically demonstrated that, but he isn’t to be identified with the storm in the same way that Baal was. He’s not a nature god, and he’s known only in silence. A kind of awesome vocal silence.

In the theophony then that follows to Elijah, God instructs Elijah to return. He has to leave Sinai; he has to return to the people. He has work to do; he has to foment revolution in the royal house. This task is one that Elijah will not complete. His disciple Elisha will end up completing it. But the importance in this scene is its emphasis on God as the God of history rather than a nature god. Israel’s God acts in history; he’s made known to humans by his acts in history.

His prophet cannot withdraw to a mountain retreat. He has to return and he has to play his part in God’s plans for the nation.

So we have looked at the role of the prophet: the apostolic messenger. He is sent. That could mean prophetic opposition to the monarch, to the king, to be a sort of God’s watchdog over the king.

They are like the conscience of the King.

They are zealous for Yahweh, returning people back to the covenant.

Yahweh is the God of history. And the prophets are involved with changes to history.

This was unique in the ancient world.

The story of the OT prophets reaches its climax with John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is the transition from the the end of the OT to the coming of the new order in Jesus Christ. He is like an OT prophet in that he brings a message from God and he is exclusively zealous to the covenant. His miraculous birth reminds one of Samuel. And he comes in the Spirit of Elijah.

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Message for the Day

The Return of Jesus Christ

September 15th, 2015
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First message

I mentioned earlier this year that many people in our culture recoil at the idea of God’s wrath. The well-known theologian, Miroslav Volf, once did too, until he experienced the brokenness of the world in some of the most horrific ways. In his book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, he writes:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature.

That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where over 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage?

By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love (138-139).

It is the same as one recoils in almost disbelief at the evil of the 3rd Reich when you viit the Jewish museum in Darlinghurst.

God hates sin and how it distorts our human purpose to be his image bearers to the whole creation. When we hate and kill, or enslave and exploit, we are forgetting what a human being really is.

Genesis 9:6
“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind.

When we read about the trumpet blasts in Revelation8-9we have to remember that this is apocalyptic language.

 What is “apocalyptic”?

The word “apocalyptic” itself to refer first and foremost to a way of writing, what you might call a literary convention. Some writers chose consciously to evoke the cosmic or theological meaning of events in the space-time world by means of a sometimes complex system of metaphors.

The mistake is to take it literally and thus develop all sorts of strange scenarios.

The book of Revelation borrows its metaphors (Notice the word like) very heavily from the OT (some say 300 references, especially from the Pasover-Exodus events) as well as some from the world of the first century. Just as God set free his people from the dominant power of its day, so the Sovereign God will do the same for his church.

 We need to place ourselves where the hearers of this book were. The early church has faced some major challenges to its wold view. Depending on one’s view of when this book was written, it has seen the cataclysmic fall of Jerusalem under the power of Rome and no return.

 It is in a world of disorder in which evil seems to triumph. Where is the promised new order under the kingdom of God?

 Read Revelation 8-9.

 We have read powerful imagery that the order of things will be deeply disturbed. It is apocalyptic language. Did you notice the word like.

 The final trumpet sounds with: Revelation 11:15-19

 15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”

16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.
18 The nations were angry,
    and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.

This heralds the glorious coming of Jesus Christ as King of kings. and Lord of lords. This world will soon be put right.

 This is amplified with 7 plagues. The church should not doubt who is in charge when Jesus said ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”.

 Revelation is to fill the church with hope no matter how long they wait till Jesus comes. God is sovereign and nothing will prevent the vindication of his people, no matter how they suffer in this world.

 NT Wright states “…the whole point of the book. Jesus himself won the victory through his suffering, and so must his people.”

 Sermon

 What is the centre of the Book of Revelation?

 I think this is a very important question.

We can put ourselves in the centre and so we speculate about church eras or who are the two witnesses or when these things will occur. We become dramatic about ourselves.

1. Jesus is the Lamb at the Centre of God’s Throne

Revelation 5:6-14

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

John’s locates Jesus within the divine identity. For John, Jesus is no demigod nor mere creature, Jesus is worthy of praise due only unto God Almighty.

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Message for the Day