restorying faith and values

Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Saturday, August 20, 2016

With God, Love Trumps Power

Read a Book 
The number one question people throw at God is, "But what about suffering!?"

The usual answer starts with "God is all powerful" and leads to God cannot do the illogical and thus will not control people because He values their freedom of choice. This is the "God didn't create robots" line of thinking...

There is another answer Christians can use. A better one for this question, I think. (a better one, all round!) It starts from a different foundation. 

God is Love.

Starting from "God is Power" implies God's power is His primary attribute and thus where He operates from - a position of power.

Starting with Love - which is more Biblical: "God is Love" (1 John 4:8) - leads to a similar conclusion but from a very different foundation. Rather than saying God cannot do the illogical we say God cannot do the unloving.

Because all of Creation is a created in and sustained by His love, the uncontrolling nature of our all-loving God is universal, not just personal...

 I could go on, but I'll leave you to think on these things!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Family

We humans care about those we love. We give our time, energy and resources to help make life better for those whom we consider family. As the social structure of the world has changed over the past, we have regularly redefined family.

A few thousand years ago, my family was my blood. I cared about you if I had the same parents as you. From this time in history we get the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”

A few thousand months ago, my family was my people. We believed the same thing. We lived the same way. We were a tribe. We looked, acted and thought in similar ways.

A few thousand weeks ago, my family was my country. We had national pride. We ate the same food. We spoke the same language. We shaped our family borders through war and law.

A few thousand days from now – sooner, I hope – we will realise we all come from the same planet. Killing them is killing us. Hating you is hating me. We need each other because we are each other.

We are family.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chaplains Are a Safe Place

Dear One and All,

I am a School Chaplain in two primary schools in Melbourne, Australia. I love being involved in making a difference in the lives of students, staff and families! Much of what happens through chaplaincy is funded through people like you who want to see schools have the influence, mentoring and care of chaplains. I am employed by ACCESS Ministries and would love for you to help keep myself and other chaplains like me doing what we love!

Please click on the Pic or the Link below to make a difference.




https://www.accessministries.org.au/support/donate-to-access-ministries/lets-all-support-school-chaplaincy

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Embracing God: Study 6 - Millennium & End of Sin: The End of the Dragon’s Tale



Study 6 - Millennium & End of Sin: The End of the Dragon's Tale

Scholars have said there is nothing in Revelation that is not also in the Old Testament. Many of the references are direct and obvious quotes or rewordings. Other phrases and ideas are vague enough that they require detailed knowledge and careful study of the Old Testament. The study of the Dragon in Revelation is one of the primary themes in Revelation. Let’s explore this ancient story carefully!

Read Revelation 12:1-2
How is the woman dressed? Does this remind you of any story in the Old Testament? (Genesis 37:9)
What is the woman doing? Why? (Genesis 3:15-16)
In the second study – about Creation – we saw this ‘first prophecy’ of mankind. How does this story retell the prophecy?
How does the Dragon story combine the Genesis curse and the promise?
What twist exists in the story of Jesus’ birth that adds something unique to the curse/promise? (Isaiah 7:14)

Read Revelation 12:3-4
Who does the Dragon represent? (Rev 12:9)
Why is there conflict between the Woman and the Dragon (Genesis 3:15)
Who do you think the Woman represents? (Isaiah 54:5-6)
How did the second half of Rev 12:4 play out in reality (Matthew 2:7-8,16)

Read Revelation 12:5-6
Who was the Son of the Woman?
Read Psalm 2 and reflect – what might this section of the Dragon story brought to mind for ancient hearers?

Read Revelation 12:7-9
What result did ‘setting his sights too high’ have for Satan?
How does this remind you of our first study? (Review Isaiah 14:12-19)
What is the Dragon’s goal? (Rev 12:9)
Who is Michael? How is Michael vs Satan going to play out? (Daniel 12:1)

There’s a lot that can be said (and has been in these studies) about the time between the Fall in the Garden and the Return of Earth to the perfect pre-fall state. As we live through the final hours of this Earth’s suffering, we are experiencing the death throes of the Dragon as he thrashes about – knowing that his time is short (Revelation 12:12). We explored the Victory March last week – as Jesus returns in the clouds of Glory to claim those who have claimed His gift on the Cross – and this week we explore what happens after the Second Coming.

In our third study we saw that the Day of Atonement was key to understanding the meaning and purpose of the Death of Jesus on the Cross. In the middle of that day, there were two goats. The first was sacrificed for the cleansing of the Sanctuary – This first goat represented Jesus who took the weight of the confessed sins of the entire world for all time and died as a sacrifice for us all. The second goat received both hands of the High Priest as all the gathered sin from the cleansing of the Sanctuary was transferred to its head. This act – only on the Day of Atonement – was the final act of removing sin from the Sanctuary – sin which had already been forgiven during the past year of Israel’s confession was now removed entirely from God’s presence.

In the Old Testament Sanctuary, the sacrifice of the second goat was the only time both hands were placed on the head of a sacrifice. It was also the only time the sacrifice did not die immediately after receiving the weight of sin upon it. At this point on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest had already purified the people and the Sanctuary. This Goat - representing Satan after the Second Coming – was sent walking with the blood of all the deaths from all offerings of the year upon its head. While the first goat took the punishment, the second goat took the blame. The entire metaphor holds together here only if that goat, guilty as charged, never returns and ultimately dies. This goat is not purifying anything. He’s not playing any role in forgiveness for sins. He is merely taking what doesn’t belong to God or His people – Sin – away from them both.

While the second goat was merely a metaphor, Satan deserves his time in the desert. He is the guilty party for all of sin. He is the tempter, the dragon, that old snake the Devil. He deserves – and will receive – the blame for all sin.

Read Revelation 20:1-3
What is this passage describing? What do you think it will be like for Satan?
As we saw in last week’s study, there are no humans alive on the Earth after Jesus’ Second Coming. Those who believe in Jesus have gone to the place he prepared for them. Those who do not believe are destroyed by the brightness of His coming.
How is this humanless state of planet earth like a bottomless pit for Satan?
How long will Satan be in this ‘locked up’ state? (Rev 20:2)
Without anyone to deceive – what will Satan do for so long? (go even more mad!)

Read Revelation 20:11-15
What happens after the 1000 years are finished?
What process occurs for every person who has not accepted Salvation? (Rev 20:12)
Then what happens to them? (Rev 20:13-14)
How do we know that this judgement and death does not happen to the Saved? (Rev 20:6, 15)
What is the difference between the First and Second Death? (John 11:25-26)

Conclusion and Call

Read Revelation 21:1-4
What is your favourite part of this passage?
Do you think this time of eternal peace will mean more to us or God? Why?
What do you think this will be like?
What excites you most about the new Earth?

From the moment sin entered our planet, God had a plan to solve it. We are now living just moments from that plan reaching the second of three major waypoints. The first, and most important, was the Death of Jesus in our place. The second, drawing ever closer, is the promised return of Jesus to claim those who have accepted the gift of eternal life. The third and final waypoint is the one we studied tonight – the end of sin, Satan, death and pain. Forever!
A day is coming when God will cleanse and perfectly recreate planet Earth. He promises that He will make His home here with us! Do you want to see this amazing day?

Prayer

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Embracing God: Study 5 - Second Coming: Eager Living



Study 5 - Second Coming: Eager Living

As we learned in the study about the sanctuary, the blood of the sacrificed animals prepared people to understand the sacrifice of Jesus. The Sanctuary on Earth was also a great illustration of what would one day take place through the Cross. Just as the Sabbath is tied to this great day of atonement, so is the second coming of Jesus.

Read Hebrews 9:23-28
Where did the plan/model for the tabernacle on Earth come from? (Heb 9:23)
What was accomplished by the sacrifice (blood) of animals? (Heb 9:23)
What ‘far better sacrifice’ was made to cleanse the Heavenly Sanctuary? (Heb 9:23)
Where is Jesus, now? What is He doing? (Heb 9:24)
How powerful was the death of Jesus? What did it accomplish? (Heb 9:25-26)
After death, there are two possible outcomes: Judgement or Salvation. It is our choice which we receive. How do we demonstrate our belief that Jesus took the Judgement we deserve and that we await ultimate Salvation? (Heb 9:27-28)

Those who eagerly wait for the return of Jesus live with assurance of Salvation because of their faith in His atoning sacrifice on the Cross. They live in the belief that the same God who would offer His son as a perfect sacrifice in their place will also send Him to claim them as His own.
The lifestyle of one living in the hope of the Second Coming is one of eager anticipation. Knowing they are soon to receive the ultimate reward of eternal life with their Creator and Redeemer, they tirelessly spend their time telling others of the soon coming King and the eternal reward He brings with Him. And, unwaveringly, they invite and implore their friends and family to be ready.

Read Acts 1:6-11
When the Holy Spirit enters God’s people, they receive power to do what?
Why is it important to be telling the story of Jesus to the world as we wait?
How will Jesus return? What will it look like?

Read Matthew 24:26-31
The first time Jesus came as a baby quietly born in a stable. How is this time different?
What do you think Matt 24:30-31 will sound like? Look like? Feel like? Describe the scene…
What is the goal of this second visit to Earth?
Where will he take these ‘chosen ones’?

Read John 14:1-3
Why might our hearts be troubled before Jesus returns? (death of loved ones, suffering, sin)
What is Jesus’ advice for those of us who worry about life?
What promise did He make to those who have chosen Him?
When will Jesus return to get us?

When Jesus is ready, when all is prepared for us, He will return to Earth in glorious splendour. This time not as a baby in a manger surrounded by animals but as a King on a throne surrounded by angels. The Second Coming of Jesus will show his true nature to the entire world.
And it will change everything!

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
What promises are in this passage?
What happened to Jesus after the Cross? (resurrection)
How does this give us hope for the Second Coming? (Eternal life is secure – even for dead believers)
What story of the future are we to encourage each other with until we see Jesus return?

Conclusion and Call

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
This is the story we are to repeat to our friends, family and ourselves as we eagerly wait. What part of this ‘end time mission statement’ stands out for you? (take an answer from each person in the circle)
Do you want to live in the light of knowing Jesus is returning to claim His people?
Do you want to live like someone living in the dark or the light? What will you do? (1 Thes 5:8)
God chose not to pour His anger on you but to save you through Jesus. What do you say?
Christ’s death and resurrection guarantee that eternal life is possible! What do you say?

The last two verses in the Bible speak to and for all those who believe Jesus is coming back for them.

Read Revelation 22:20-21
What do you say?

Prayer

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Embracing God: Study 4 - Sabbath: The Rest of the Story



Study 4 - Sabbath: The Rest of the Story

As our previous studies have shown, Sabbath is tied tightly to the identity of God’s people.
In the first Creation story, Sabbath features as the day humanity is to celebrate being created in the image of God by worshiping Him faithfully from week to week on the day he set aside.

In the Sanctuary system, Sabbath played a special role – particularly on the Day of Atonement of which God said, “It will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you” (Leviticus 16:31). This “Sabbath” was on the 10th day of the 7th month – the Day of Atonement. Clearly, this would not always be a Saturday but God calls it a Sabbath nonetheless. And a very special Sabbath. If the people of God were not fully committed to the careful observance of “denying themselves” on this day, the High Priest would die within the walls of the Most Holy Place as he attempted to minister on their behalf. This yearly day of Atonement was a foreshadowing of the amazing gift of eternal atonement made by Christ on the Cross.

It would stand to reason that when type met reality, things would change. Rather than fading into non-importance, as some would suggest, the Sabbath rest of the people of God swelled in meaning and purpose with Jesus’ life and death. The perpetual Day of Atonement in which we now live creates in us and through us a Sabbath reality that is beyond any understanding available before the event of the Cross. 

Let’s explore this Biblical and historical background so we can launch fully in understanding and action into the new Sabbath of the present.


Blessed Rest…. Creation/image

Read Genesis 2:1-3
How did God celebrate the finish of His creative week?
What do you think Adam, Eve and God did on that Sabbath?

Read Exodus 20:8-11
To whom was this passage being presented? (Exodus 19:25)
What had they been doing for the past 400 years?
Why do you think this commandment starts with the word “remember”?


Rest we Forget… Freedom

After spending 40 years in the desert, Moses repeated the 10 Commandments to the Israelites as they were about to conquer the promised land. The wording changes – particularly in the Sabbath Commandment.

Read Deuteronomy 5:12-15
What follows the word “remember” this time?
Why is this important?
How is the Sabbath a day of Freedom, today?


In God We Rest… Jerusalem falls

Read Jeremiah 17:19-27
What were they doing that God wanted them to stop? Why?
What was promised if they honoured the Sabbath?
What was promised if they dishonoured the Sabbath?

Read 2 Chronicles 36:11-21
How did the people’s treatment of the Sabbath impact their lives?
How important is the Sabbath to God?


Heart of the Sabbath… Jesus & Sabbath Kingdom Activity

Read Matthew 12:1-8
What are some things in this passage that are examples of missing the point of Sabbath?
What does Jesus see as the most important thing to do on Sabbath?
What would a Sabbath ‘well kept’ look like based on this passage?

Read Luke 4:14-21
What is Jesus teaching here?
How did Jesus bring the things in this passage into reality?
Does this passage describe what you think Jesus was like?

Read Isaiah 61:1-3
What would a place look like if this prophecy was fulfilled?
How does it bring God glory when His people are blessed?
If this passage was your mission statement, what would you spend your time doing?


Conclusion – Sabbath Attitude

Thinking back to the beginning of this study, the Sabbath attitude present in the hearts of those living in the perpetual Day of Atonement begun at the cross brings about a new way of living and loving. What does this Perpetual Sabbath-attitude look like when lived out?

Read Isaiah 58:1-14
What stands out to you in this passage?
What kind of ‘fasting’ pleases God? Fasting is ‘denying yourself’ something – usually food. What ways of ‘denying self’ are mentioned in this passage?

What is the difference between a self-centred Christian and a God-centred Christian?
How does the Sabbath act as a reminder of who we are meant to be?
How is the Sabbath a day of delight for those living this way?

Sabbath is a day to remember.
A day to remember that we are created in God’s image.
A day to remember that we are free from slavery to sin.
A day to remember that God’s Kingdom serves God, not self.
A day to remember that Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, came to bring mercy.
And, ultimately, Sabbath is a day to remind us to live this way every day.

We are God’s image-bearers selflessly showing mercy and joining Jesus in His mission to ‘so love the world’ by being willing to give up our lives in the hope of seeing His Kingdom Come, His will done – on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

This is what it means to be a people of the Sabbath.

We don’t keep the Sabbath; the Sabbath keeps us.
It keeps us living as reflectors of the image of God.
It keeps us claiming forgiveness rather than guilt.
It keeps us focused on serving rather than being served.
It keeps us speaking mercy rather than judgement.
It keeps us holy by doing good rather than being good.
The Sabbath keeps God’s people on task, on track and on fire.



Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Embracing God: Study 3 – Sanctuary: Rites for Wrong




Study 3: Sanctuary – Rites for Wrong 


Introduction: The Sanctuary was a place of forgiveness. It started with blood and ended with holiness. All year long, the blood sacrifices would come into the temple and then, on the 10th day of the 7th month – the day of Atonement – everything would be cleansed and holiness would reign among the people and priests for a time. Until it all started over again. And again. And again.

Then Jesus came.


Read Romans 5:6-11
How does this passage make you feel? Why?
What state were we in when Jesus died for us? Why does this matter? (v6,10)
Why is it important that we were ‘still sinners’ when God sent His Son? (v8)
What has the blood of Jesus done for us? Why is that important? (v9)
What restored our friendship with God? What comes with that friendship? (v10)
We are friends of God! How does this new relationship change the way we live? (v11)


The Old Testament Sanctuary
Before Jesus came, God demonstrated his plan for reconciliation through a system the people participated it each year. It was called the temple. When God’s people were wandering around the desert, God gave Moses a plan for a mobile temple called the Sanctuary. Just as the people had tents they would set up every time they stopped travelling, the Sanctuary was God’s tent where the priests made sacrifices for the people – to cleanse them from their sins – because of God’s instructions. These personal sacrifices could happen anytime the Sanctuary was set up.

Once the Israelites settled in Canaan, they built a temple out of stone and built a fixed Sanctuary at its centre. There were many rituals, rites and items in the Sanctuary used in the forgiveness process. Amazingly, each and every one of these things represented the ultimate and complete sacrifice made on the cross by Jesus – God’s Son.

Once a year, both when they were travelling and once the temple was fixed in stone, there was a special day called the ‘Day of Atonement’ in which everything was ‘made right with God’ through an entire day of purification rituals. This ‘Day of Atonement’ was designed to return God’s people, priests and temple to a perfect relationship with Him. On this day all of the sins of Israel were forgiven and then the sins were removed from the Sanctuary and sent walking – literally! Let’s have a look.


Read Leviticus 16:1-2
What had happened that caused God to present careful rules for coming into His presence?

Why was God so serious about how people acted in His presence? (sin cannot exist in God’s presence. If it is enacted, it will destroy the sinner.)

Read Leviticus 16:3-5
What must Aaron (the High Priest) do before entering the sanctuary? (bathe, clothes, bring sacrifices – two goats, one bull-ram)

Read Leviticus 16:6
What did this sacrifice (of the bull-ram) accomplish? (purified himself and his family)

Now that he is clean, dressed right and ready – the first sacrifice ensures he is totally right with God before entering the sanctuary.

Read Leviticus 16:7-10
What is the purpose of the two goats?
(one is a sacrifice for the sins of the people)
(one is sent walking with the sins accumulated in the temple that year on it’s head – at the end of the ceremony – to purify the sanctuary for the next year)

‘Azazel’ is one of the most mysterious words in the Bible. It only appears on the Day of Atonement and nowhere else in any ancient literature. Therefore, it’s meaning is unsure. What do you think ‘azazel’ means? (‘the goat that goes away’ or ‘scapegoat’)

What does the goat sent walking to Azazel accomplish?
(In effect, the sins of the people are symbolically cast into the realm beyond civilization, to become the property of a being who is the antithesis of the God of Israel.)

Read Leviticus 16:11-16
Why were each of these steps so very important?
This is the most dangerous part of the day. Aaron enters God’s presence – the Most Holy Place. Each year, when Aaron came out of the Most Holy Place alive, how do you think he felt?
What did this part of the day accomplish? (purify the Most Holy Place, entire Sanctuary [tabernacle])
What was it purifying God’s house from? (the sin and rebellion of the Israelites)

Read Leviticus 16:17-19
What did putting blood on the altar accomplish? (purified Israel from sin [goat] and his family [bull])

Read Leviticus 16:20-22
All the sins from the people that day and all the sins accumulated in the Sanctuary that year were now figuratively ‘on the hands’ of the High Priest, Aaron. What does he do with those sins? (both hands – not through the HP, all other offerings were one handed! – but from him onto the goat.)

Where did the sins from the purified Sanctuary go? (into the barren desert – to Azazel)

With Christ as our High Priest and the sins of the world forgiven on the cross, we are now living in the heart of the perpetual literal Day of Atonement. The High Priest was right with God, the Sanctuary was cleansed (Daniel 8:14), and now we await the time of the second goat – when all the sins of God’s people, reconciled throughout history in the Sanctuary of Christ’s love will be placed on that old goat, the Devil, and he is sent walking for the thousand years between the second and final (third) coming of God to this world. We are living in the presence of God because of the lifesaving rites and righteousness of His Son.

With such forgiveness and reconciliation with God available, how can you take the temple to the people in your life, today?

Read 2 Corinthians 5:14-19
What does the ‘old life’ and ‘new life’ mean? (v14,15)
How does it change? (v15) (selfishness to Christlikeness)
Who do Christians life for? How are they new people? (v17)
What ‘gift from God’ did we receive? (v18)
Who is the initiator of our reconciliation: us or God? (v18)
What does that ‘gift’ of friendship lead to initiate in our personal relationships? (v18)
What is ‘wonderful’ about the message of reconciliation? (v19)

Read 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
How do these two verses sum up this study? (v20 our call, vs21 perfect sacrifice)

Leviticus is at the heart – the middle – of the books of Moses.
Leviticus chapters 1 – 15 are focused on blood and how to apply it.
Leviticus chapters 17 – 27 are focused on holiness and how to maintain it.
Leviticus 16 – The Day of Atonement – is the apex and tipping point between sin and salvation, blood and holiness, justification and sanctification. How does this compare to the cross? (the cross is the tipping point in reality, the Sanctuary was the example)


Conclusion:
Reconciliation between humanity and God has always been in God’s hands. He chose to forgive us for our sin. He chose to establish a plan of reconciliation to reach out to us. He designed the Sanctuary to exemplify His plan for forgiveness. He sent His Son to enact His plan for forgiveness. Every time the plan of reconciliation emerged, God initiated it.

From that place of applied reconciliation, God calls us His ‘temple’ and our actions are the actions of His ‘priests’ – acting on behalf of God to enact the work of reconciliation which God, again, began within us. God’s ‘priests’ (us) are called to continue the work of reconciliation between humanity and God - firstly within the camp (between sinful believers and God, as in the OT Sanctuary system) and then to the wider world of those who do not yet know God due to the gift of His Son – the perfect blood sacrifice.

Now, bought with the blood of Christ, we live in the reality of the Sanctuary’s work in our lives – as holy because He is holy. Each and every act of reconciliation that we initiate is an act of God’s holiness in us and through us.

We are living in the perpetual Day of Atonement – bringing at-one-ment between God and fallen believers, God and those who have yet to meet Him and between God’s image-bearers and fellow image-bearers (interpersonal forgiveness).

This life of bringing forgiveness is a work we are truly cut out for! We were saved from certain death by the Reconciliation of God for us through His Son Jesus. And now we are called to enact and encourage reconciliation in every relationship in which we have influence. When relationships break down, the deceiver is delighted. When relationships are healed, the Creator is exalted. We are relationship reconcilers.


Call:
Do you want to take seriously God’s Sanctuary mission to make things right in the world?

Will you commit to being a reconciler on a world filled with brokenness?

Will you accept the challenge to be God’s reconcilers, today?


Prayer

Friday, May 27, 2016

Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Exploring the "So What?" of being a Seventh-day Adventist in today's World.

What do I believe? Why does it matter?


Series Introduction:

The purpose of this series of six Bible studies is to explore the thematic reasons I find the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Jesus and His mission for the church to be the most compelling option available to myself as a thinking and passionate Christian today. 

Before we get into this study, I think it imperative to declare here – at the beginning of all things – the primary reason I find an Adventist understanding of Scripture to be the most engaging and inspiring: The Great Controversy. This phrase "The Great Controversy”  is the Adventist phrase for “The Story of God” beginning long before the Bible was written and ending well after it’s conclusion.

The Bible is the story of God’s presence, plan and purpose for Earth. While there is so much more to God than what we could ever fathom, the Bible introduces us to a God who reveals himself to us through us – His people, penning His inspired Word. This was His strategy in ancient times and it continues to be His strategy today – using fallible people to do His Self-revealing work on Earth. God’s Kingdom on Earth is revealed and developed through His people.

The Great Controversy is the epic narrative constraining and compelling God’s will and work on on Earth. There is a problem called Sin. There is a solution called Salvation. There is a process called Reconciliation. All of these are demonstrated in and motivated by the story of God as revealed in the Bible. This is a story, entirely, about God’s love for His ultimate creation – Humanity.

God loves us. We Sinned. We fell out of love with Him but His first love for us has never wavered.
He is doing everything within His power to reconcile us back to Himself.


This is His story.

--- XXX --- XXX --- XXX ---

Embracing God: Why I’m a Seventh-day Adventist

Discussion Guides: (I'm writing and discussing these weekly with the Ringwood Adventist Youth.)





Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Embracing God: Study 2 – Covenant: Order from Chaos



Study 2: Covenant – Order from Chaos

Introduction: Life without God is Chaotic. By entering into covenant with God, life is given order, purpose and relationship. By living to fulfill the covenants you have agreed to – in God – you are given identity, community and eternity.

Creation – A Covenant of Image Bearing

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
What patterns do you see in the creation story? (Evening/morning, good/very good, Day 1-3 environment, Day 4-6 filling environs)
How is this a journey from chaos to order?
How is the ‘creation of man’ different in pacing and content? Why?
What does it mean to be ‘the image of something’? (Gen 1:27: Idol, Engraved coin)
What is the covenant (agreement) God gave mankind? (Gen 1:28) Why is this important?
How is Day 7 different? Is the 7th day ‘good’, ‘very good’ or what? (A unit of time ‘blessed’)
So, in this environment (day 1-3) of all the objects made (day 4-6) one is created in God’s image (humanity) and given a holy sanctuary in time (Sabbath) in which to worship the Creator. How does our ‘image bearing’ quality make us uniquely able to worship?

Matthew 22:15-22
What reason did Jesus give for the coins belonging to Caesar? (picture and title stamped on it)
If Caesar’s image means the coins are his, what does “Give to God what belongs to God” imply? Whose image was stamped onto humanity at Creation?
In the Roman times, every coin was loaded with idolatrous images of Roman rulers whom they worshipped and pagan gods. Before coins, every pagan God had a shrine – an Eikon (Image) entombed in stone – to worship. But our God has living breathing Eikons who stop time each week. Rather than a God set in stone, we worship a living God during a time set in stone – the 7th day of each week, for eternity! When we do this – stop time to worship – we declare our God is the Creator. We are created in His Image and we, like Him, are very much alive.
As His image bearers, how do we “Give to God what belongs to God?”
How does the Genesis 1 Creation Week story declare our Covenant of Image Bearing? What does it remind us to do? What is our Covenant – our agreement with God? (To care for Earth and Celebrate the Creator on Sabbath).

Marriage – A Covenant of Companionship

The Second Creation Story (Genesis 2:4-24)

It would be one thing if there were two creation stories in two separate books of the Bible, or even a few chapters away from each other. But, writing them right next to each other tells you one thing – these are meant to be compared and contrasted. So, let’s do it. We saw what the first Creation Story taught us – Image Bearing Humanity and Sabbath Celebrations of the Creator. But, what about this second story? Is it different? If so, why? What are we to learn from the similarities? What are we to learn from the differences? There’s only one way to find out … Let’s get into it!

Read Genesis 2:4-6
What would the world have looked like?
Why would there be two stories that seem so different? (Different teaching purpose)

Read Genesis 2:7-9
What does God make the man from?
What makes the come to life? What does he become? (Living person ‘soul’)
Where did God ‘place’ the man?
What was in the middle of the Garden?

JUMP! Read Genesis 2:15-17 – Skipping four verses, we find to the logical next point in the story.
Why has God put the man in the Garden?
What warning does God give the man?

BACK! Read Genesis 2:10-14 – Now let’s look at the interjected verses
What was there LOTS of in the Garden? (Water)
What does lots of water create? (Fertility, beauty)
The author is really slowing the story down – between the tree and the command – to show the reader something. Why put these four verses here? What is the purpose of the Garden of Eden?

Read Genesis 2:18-20
What problem does God decide to solve? (Adam is alone)
What does God do to solve the problem? (creates animals)
Does this seem strange? Why doesn’t it work?
What do you think God is creating within Adam before creating Eve? (desire)
How has the author been creating the same frustration/desire within us? (by stretching this second creation story out - almost painfully – between the creation of Adam and Eve)

Read Genesis 2:21-22
Why does God use one of Adam’s ribs? Isn’t it just dirt anyway? Why not just make a woman?
How do you think Adam felt when he finally saw Eve?

Read Genesis 2:23-24
“At Last!” – did you feel the same? Why?
How do you like Adam’s Song? What’s your favourite part?
What emotions could you feel in the song?
What is the punchline in Genesis 2:24?
What does this second creation story teach us about humanity? (marriage is worth the wait!)
What does it teach us about finding a spouse? (it is a time consuming and worthy pursuit)
What does it tell us about God’s involvement? (He takes pride [and time] in growing relationships)
What does this second creation story teach Covenant of Companionship?

Conclusion and Call: Chaos to Order

Think back to the first Creation Story: How does the Covenant of Image Bearing show chaos becoming order?
How does Sabbath celebrate this Covenant?

In the second Creation Story: How does the Covenant of Companionship show chaos becoming order?
How does Marriage celebrate this Covenant?

God created you in His image. Would you like to Covenant with Him by promising to bear His image in a world of Chaos – showing care for Creation and celebrating Him as Creator each Sabbath?

God created you with Companionship in mind. Would you like to Covenant with Him to – like Adam in the Second Creation Story - struggle through the Chaos of waiting – waiting for the person that completes you as a perfect Companion in marriage?


Prayer

Saturday, May 21, 2016

SSS521 - Upon this Rock


In Matthew 16:16 Peter articulates the key article of Faith for the early Christian church. 

“You are the Messiah, 
                the Son of the living God!”


This declaration by Peter is not the first time this idea has shown up in the book of Matthew. Other characters seeking Jesus’ help, healing or wisdom have said as much. One key story – in which all the disciples worship Jesus and declare His divine nature is found in Matthew 14:33. Having seen Jesus walk on water and still a raging storm – they all fall at his feet, worship Him and say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” The unique thing happening in Matthew 16:16 is that Peter formulates it as a statement of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." This is the core tenant of the Christian faith - and upon this Rock of Truth the church is built.

In His reply, Jesus makes it clear that in that moment Peter’s heart was right with God. They were in right relationship and God’s Word was able to flow through Peter. In telling this story about Peter, Matthew is giving the reader further understanding of ultimate verse of the Beatitudes (Matthew 7:21-23) in which Matthew shows that the most dangerous thing for a human to have is a knowledge of Jesus without a relationship with Jesus. Jesus explains there will be people who believe they should be welcomed into His Kingdom but are not. Why? Because He didn’t know them. They were doing miracles, driving out demons and prophesying – all in the name of Jesus! But Jesus says, “I never knew you!” To follow Jesus faithfully we need two Rocks: To know the "Rock Hard Truth" about Jesus and have a "Rock Solid Relationship" with Jesus. Truth without relationship becomes an anvil of pride tied around your neck, pulling you into the depths of the sea – where all sin ends up, in the long run!

Just moments later – in the hearing / reading of the Gospel of Matthew – Peter is chastised by Jesus for bringing up an old temptation that is very real for Jesus. Just as the Devil said in Matthew 4:9 – Jesus can have the entire world without dying. He just needs to bow the knee to someone other than the Father. This was Satan’s ultimate temptation. Dying isn’t easy for anyone – particularly the Son of God who is sinless and undeserving of Death. Peter telling Jesus to stop talking about Death and that “this will never happen to you!” caused Jesus to call Peter Satan.

Not because Peter was Satan. But, because he was speaking words Satan had spoken – and providing a temptation that Jesus knew all too well. This verse should clear up, for anyone wondering, whether Peter is the Rock on which the church is built. Not at all. One-minute Peter speaks from God, then he speaks for the Devil. Peter is just like you and me – human. The only thing worth building your faith on is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

After rebuking Peter, Jesus turns to the rest of the disciples and says (Matthew 16:24) that anyone who wants to be a true follower of Jesus must put all selfish ambition aside, pickup your own cross and follow in His footsteps. Our cross is to pair ourselves with Him – being yoked with Jesus. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus calls the disciples to take His yoke (understanding of Law) on themselves and to leave their own understanding behind. This is how we combine Truth and Relationship. If we choose to keep relying on ourselves and our own personal goals, we will be tied to our own list of achievements for our sense of self and personal value. If, on the other hand, we choose to put Jesus’ yoke around our neck we will be guided into His Kingdom through truth and humility – by letting Him lead us – like one ox yoked to another who knows where he is going and what he is doing.

Matthew isn’t done explaining the Rock to his readers just yet. In Matthew 17:1-9 we are, again, taken back to the final temptation. It says that Jesus takes Peter, James and John and led them up a “high mountain.” The last time the phrase “high mountain” was used in Matthew was when Satan took Jesus up a “high mountain” to show Him all that could be His if He would only bow down. Nobody would need to die. Jesus only needed to kneel before Satan and all power over Earth would be given to Him (said the Devil, of course!). But this time, on THIS “high mountain” Peter, James and John watch as Jesus is lit from within, Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus and then a bright cloud envelopes them and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.” The disciples fall on their faces – like in the boat – worshiping. Then Jesus goes over, touches them and tells them to get up. All has returned to normal and Jesus stands alone with them.

It's fairly clear. Jesus is the way to the Kingdom. This is no homeless, wandering vagabond with a few good ideas. This is the Messiah, the Son of God – and those who follow Him are following the God of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and living within the pleasure of God by worshiping His Son, Jesus Christ.

Matthew really leaves no room for any other interpretation of “upon this Rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18) than this: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God and He alone defeated death and the Devil! Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Rock.

Let us be about building a Rock Solid Relationship with Him so that all the Rock Hard Truth about Him, the Law and the Prophets lead us into the Kingdom instead of leaving us outside – wondering what we missed. Those left outside in Matthew 7:23 didn’t get the facts wrong. They knew everything there was to know about God, the Law and the Prophets. It’s not that they missed out on knowing something. They missed out on knowing someone. Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. Without Him there is nothing beyond death. No Jesus, no life.

Know Jesus, know life.

Build on this Rock!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Embracing God: Study 1 - Character: Pride Before the Fall vs Humility Before the Cross



Study 1: Character - Pride Before the Fall  vs  Humility Before the Cross

Introduction: Two Kings – One Devil. In two different times and places, in the lives of two different kings, two Godly prophets show where prideful power comes from and where it leads.

The King of Tyre – and his guardian cherub

Ezekiel 28:1-10   
Who is this talking about?
What positive are revealed about the King of Tyre?
What does God have against the King of Tyre?
What character trait put this king into God’s bad books? (pride)
What will happen to this king, according to the prophet? (die)
How does this prove that the King of Tyre is not a god?

Ezekiel 28:11-19   
The prophet shifts focus from the King to the source of all prideful thinking. Who?
What positives are revealed about this ‘guardian cherub’ - Lucifer?
What does God have against Lucifer?
What character trait put Lucifer in God’s bad books?
What will happen to this ‘cherub’ according to the prophet? (death in ashes)
How does this prove that Lucifer is not like God?

The King of Babylon – and his shining star
Isaiah 14:3-21 records a song the prophet says the people of Israel will sing about the King of Babylon. Similar to Ezekiel’s prophecy about the King of Tyre, this King also has Lucifer embedded into his story – this time the beginning and end focus on the Earthly King, sandwiching the Devil in the middle. This passage reveals the true nature and agenda of Lucifer.

Isaiah 14:12-15
To what does the prophet compare Lucifer? (a falling star)
What prideful things did Lucifer say to himself?
What will be the ultimate result?
Why do you think prophets juxtaposed Lucifer with evil Kings?
What character traits did they share?
How does pride lead us into a downward spiral and ultimately a pit?

Two Humans – One God

Genesis 3:1-19
Do the words of the serpent sound familiar to the two “King” stories? How?
Who shows up in the middle of this story, just like the two “King” stories?
How did the serpent convince them to eat the fruit?
What does God have against the man? The woman? The serpent?
What results came from their actions?
Genesis 3:15 is called the “protoevangelion” – the first good news. How is this verse the first telling of the good news of what Jesus is going to do?

Pride vs… ?
Have you seen an example of “Pride before a fall” in your life or the lives around you?
What is the answer to pride? How can we defeat it?

James 4:10
How much of what happens in the universe is seen by God?
What does this text tell us about being exalted by God? What must we do?
How can we humble ourselves?

Philippians 2:5-11
How is this the opposite of what caused the Fall of both Lucifer, his angels and humanity?
When humans live God’s way who is revealed in their Character? Who shows up in their story?
What did Jesus do for us? Why?
What impact will our lives have when Jesus is in the middle of our story?

Conclusion and Call
The Protoevangelion – the first good news in Gen 3:15 – was that Satan’s head would be crushed. How did Jesus’ action crush Satan’s plan?
Pride à Fall à Humility à 
     No God à Death (Judas)
                   vs
Know God à He lifts you up (Peter)

When pride shows up in this world – like in the stories of the two Kings – whose nature and plan is being revealed?
When humility shows up in this world – whose nature is being revealed?
Would you like the humility of Jesus to crush the pride of the Devil out of your life?
Let’s pray now and ask Jesus to fill us with His humility so that pride and selfishness has no place in our lives!


Prayer

Friday, May 13, 2016

SSS513 - Kingdom Crumbs


In chapters 14 and 15 Matthew serves up three stories about crumbs with a few teachings thrown in, like salad and vegetables, to round out the meal and fill the plate. But make no mistake, the theme of these two chapters is the Kingdom of God being served up so the hungry might be filled, the hurting might be healed and the dead might have life.

These two chapters are focusing on the banquet feast of the Kingdom of God. There are two stories of mass feedings with meager supplies. Both times Jesus takes what’s available, gives thanks and then, without making a fuss, tells the disciples to “Feed the people.” Both times there are left overs.

But, I’m getting ahead of the story. Before each meal, there are healings. Jesus walks into one crowd and the other walks up to Him. The first crowd is on the shore, Jesus has compassion and he goes ashore and heals them. The second crowd discovers him sitting on a mountain and rushes to him –  with their lame, blind, deformed, deaf and dumb – and he healed them all. The difference between the two crowds was their heritage – and the size of the baskets they brought to the banquet.

The Israelites followed Jesus’ boat from the lakeshore hoping for an audience with Him. In compassion He went to them – although, as a people they failed to recognise Him time and time again. His compassion knew no bounds and when He saw the need – even of His fickle fellow Jews – He provided all He had to meet all they needed.

The Gentiles flocked to Him because of the testimony of those who had met him previously. Mark tells us this was the same place where Jesus healed two demoniacs. They went to their homes and towns. They told their Jesus story. And when Jesus returned the people rushed to Him and begged to touch the tassels of His robe, such was their faith. They fully expected to be prostrate before Him as He walked by – and then they could just reach up from their humble lowly place and touch the hem of the Master’s garment. Instead, Jesus sat down – at the level of a child – and healed all who were brought to Him.

After the two stories of healing we read about the feedings. In the first feeding, the quantity is precise – five loaves and two fish – and the result is a filled multitude and 12 baskets of left overs. In the second feeding, the quantity is unsure – seven loaves and a few small fish – again resulting in a filled multitude and 7 baskets of leftovers. The meat in Matthew’s Kingdom crumb sandwich is completely missed in the English word “basket” and yet it is the entire point of these two stories.

Before we explore these baskets – and the amount of crumbs they held – we need to visit a lady with a demon possessed daughter. She is a Gentile. Jesus is a Jew. She knows her place – lower than the Master’s tassels – but puts herself under the table instead. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter. At this point in Matthew’s Gospel he is hoping the reader is starting to get the point that whenever Jesus gets cryptic, He’s talking about the Kingdom of God – the new Kingdom of God. She begs from a distance. Jesus keeps moving. She gets closer – crying out in prayer for her daughter’s healing – She says, perhaps quoting Psalms, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” She knew Jesus for who He truly was. Jesus keeps moving. Finally, the disciples beg him, “Quiet her!”

Jesus stops and enters into dialogue with the woman. He talks about the first Kingdom saying, "I was sent to Israel." Finally able to catch up with Jesus, she crumples to the ground and reaches for his tassels, “Lord Help ME!” Then, reflecting on the common practice of keeping pet dogs in the house, Jesus says, “It’s wrong to take the children’s bread and feed it to their pet dogs!”

Quick on her knees, the woman replies with a truth of the ancient world, “Yes, Lord, but everyone feeds the crumbs of that same bread to the dogs once the children are done!” In a world without puppy chow, the pet dogs ate last at the masters table.

Jesus laughs. I’m not sure if you can hear it but I sure can! “Too right, woman! Your faith is great. As much as you have asked, you have received!" And from that moment her daughter was cured.

Jesus contrasts the woman’s faith with the few crumbs typically left for the dogs. It’s not just falling off the table like left over crumbs, it’s pouring onto the floor and bursting out the door of the house and into the streets of the Gentiles – much like the Kingdom of God.

Matthew is ready, now, for the next mass feeding. Again, healings come first. Three days later, Jesus suggests that the people might be getting hungry. The story follows the pattern set by the first one. The disciples are asked for what they have. Jesus thanks the Father for it. The disciples distribute it. This time seven baskets remain. This time its Gentiles being healed then fed. This time it’s the people who, like the woman of ‘great faith’ have been healed to a man, woman and child. And this time there are a lot more left overs.

To our ear, it’s less. 7 is less than 12. But look again. The first story – with the 12 baskets – says just that in Matthew 14:20. Twelve baskets full. The second story – with the 7 baskets – says …  (have a look at Matthew 15:37, it’s more fun if you see it yourself!)… Seven LARGE baskets full.

How large? Before we answer that – lets talk about the 12. The Greek word used for those baskets is a basket the size of a lunchbox. The 12 disciples, busy feeding the crowd, probably hadn’t eaten. Collecting the leftovers, they each had a basket of fish and chips to fill their hungry bellies. Israel was fed. Sufficiently.

Now to the 7 baskets. Remember how Paul escaped from the men who wanted to kill him .. In a large basket – lowered by a rope? That’s the word used here. 7 man-sized baskets of crumbs. The translation 'large baskets' is understated to say the least!

The Kingdom of God is no longer restricted to Israel – it’s being served to anyone who needs God’s grace – whether your need be for a slice of His Divine mercy or a basket full of Kingdom crumbs so big you can climb in, eat until you are full and then fall asleep in the basket of His love.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

SSS507 - Kingdom Shift - SS Bonus

Sabbath School Starter - May 2-7


 * - Teaching a great Sabbath School lesson - *

* - Teaching Plan - *


Kingdom Shift

Right after Matthew wraps up Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist – “Yes I am the Messiah, have a look at all I’ve said and done so far.” – he presents two short sections that make it abundantly clear that Jesus had every reason to shift the focus of His Kingdom from Isreal to the World.

In Matthew 11:20-24 – Matthew reveals Kingdom Lost
In Matthew 11:25-30 – Matthew reveals Kingdom Gained

It a huge shift. From the Kingdom of failed expectations to the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom Shift illustrated in the story of Jesus entering the world that parallels the story of what happens in our lives when Jesus enters.

The people expected the Messiah to punish the oppressor, eradicate the corrupt. But instead, Jesus empowers the oppressed and encourages the humble.


Kingdom Lost

Matthew reveals Jesus’ Kingdom Shift by first focusing on the ever present reality of God’s Judgment. The Kingdom of God is a careful juxtaposition of God’s Law and God’s Love. One Bible Commentary says, “God’s judgment is at the center of Jesus’ proclaimation of the Kingdom of God and keeps it from becoming a message of harmless love.”

Matthew tells story after story – packed tightly – of Jesus doing miracles in town after town and being received with apathy. Instead of falling over backward when the King of the Universe returned His created people to healthy body and mind (back into the ‘image of God’ in which they were created) the people of Karazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum shrugged their shoulders and said, “Yeah, that’s what healers do. Heal people. Blah blah blah.”

In Matthew 11:23 Jesus compares them to Satan falling from Heaven when he drops some references to Isaiah 14:13-15 by saying, “Will you be exalted to Heaven? No, you will be brought down to the place of the dead!” (NLT) This short section – Matthew 11:20-24 – demonstrates why God’s Kingdom was taken away from Isreal and given to those passing by the banquet feast.

Jesus shows that how we receive Him, His presence in our lives and the changes He brings to the world will result in our connection or disconnection from Him – judgment comes to those who ignore the Kingdom of God as it moves across the surface of the deep bringing order from chaos. Jesus’ Kingdom is recreating the world by healing the broken, blessing the poor, empowering the powerless. Behold, He is making all things new!


Kingdom Gained

And this newness is built on the humble. In Matthew 11:25-30 we join Jesus for prayer. There are only a precious few of these moments in the Gospels. When Jesus prays, we should be listening with a desperateness to understand.

In this section we see Jesus shifting his focus from those who deserve judgment to those who giddily go about the Kingdom’s business. Jesus starts His prayer by thanking His Father for hiding his Kingdom from the “wise” and revealing the Kingdom of God to the “childlike”. To demonstrate the foundation of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought about, Jesus spins a reversal of Daniel 2:20-23 where Daniel thanks God for giving wisdom to the wise. The word Jesus uses for childlike is just as easily translated “simpleminded, uneducated or stupid.” Jesus is praising His Father that the Kingdom has been taken from those who believe themselves wise enough to grasp God’s ways and given to those who hug it tight like a teddy bear and squeeze for all they are world.

As Jesus was walking around in the first century there was a movement of ‘holy men’ called Essences who believed God came to people through understanding. By being wise you could grasp God. Jesus used one of their favourite verses as background for this prayer and then flipped it completely upside down saying it pleases God to give His Truth to the ones in kindergarten rather than those in the combined lesson pontificating knowledgeably on the wise things of God.

Once Jesus finished is tiny prayer, he moves onto a statement about His authority in the world. One commentator called Matthew 11:27 a revealing of “The entire mystery of Christ” while another said it was “the most precious pearl” of Matthew’s Gospel. Why? Because within it we see into the workings of the Trinity. Only God knows Jesus. Only Jesus knows God. Jesus reveals God to those who He chooses. He has authority to do this because His Father has given him authority over everything. It’s at once cryptic, creative and contemplative.

Finally in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus presents a Rabbi’s call. In Jewish circles – particularly the circles of the religious – a leader’s “yoke” always referred to his way of approaching the Law of God. When a Rabbi invited others to “settle in next to me under my yoke” he was saying, “Come join me, think like me, act like me and become like me.”

In the previous verses (Matthew 11:20-28) which we have just explored, Jesus revealed his yoke. His interpretation of God’s Law calls down judgment on those who expect the Kingdom but do not embrace it when it arrives, it empowers the simpleminded with the wisdom of the Kingdom and it is built on Jesus’ deep connection to His Father and His teaching to those who are under his yoke – to whom he reveals God.

A Rabbi only called followers after a long training period. Once he knew these were the best of the best he would say to a select one or two – follow me and I will teach you my yoke. Jesus throws this completely on its head.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Wow. I hope you see it. Jesus has opened the Kingdom of God to the highways and byways. The spiritually rich and famous have made their excuses and are not attending the Father’s Kingdom Party for His Son. The servants of God (like Matthew in writing this Gospel) are calling out to those struggling to take the next step – spiritually and physically – and promising them rest in Jesus. He will take the burden of feeling ‘less-than’ off your shoulders and give you rest. He will teach you gently and humbly. You will find rest for your very soul.

Jesus’ yoke is a perfect fit and the study load is light. Because He bears it all. You know all you need to know when you know Him. The rest – and you will want the rest – is just icing on the cake.

Come one, come all. Bring your brokenness, your unworthiness, your simpleness – and celebrate life under the yoke of one who has been broken, felt unworthy and lived the simple life.


Friday, April 29, 2016

SSS429 - Matthew - The Kingdom of God

Sabbath School Starter - May 2-7


 * - Teaching a great Sabbath School lesson - *



The Kingdom of God

As we explore books of the Bible it is important to remember that these are texts written for a purpose. They are from a time and place and, while they may be powerfully meaningful in our time, their original purpose was to speak to the world in which and to whom they were written.

Matthew is a narrative structured to lead to a point by presenting the life, teachings, miracles and death of Jesus. Recognising the fact that Matthew is told as story leads us to ask: Why is he telling this part of the Jesus story? What is he teaching at this point? Where is he heading? While the book of Matthew is an accurate record of the life of Jesus, it is also a reconstructed telling of that life – told for a purpose structured and in a purposeful way.

There are six basic sections in the book of Matthew and in defining those sections we will see the author’s intent and purpose for writing his narrative of the life of Jesus.

Part 1: Matthew 1:1-4:16 – The Character. We are introduced to Jesus as the leading character of the book and, indeed, of the entire plotline of the Bible.

Part 2: Matthew 4:17-11:1 – The Plot. Jesus introduces us the “Kingdom of Heaven” as a workable and in fact necessary replacement worldview for the people previously caught up in the Kingdom of this Earth.

Part 3: Matthew 11:2-16:20 – Personal Conflict. Responses to Jesus. Doubters scoff. Haters hate. Believers question. The “Kingdom of Heaven” as described and demonstrated by Jesus doesn’t meet the expectations of anyone – whether they were for or against Him.

Part 4: Matthew 16:21-20:34 – The Goal. Jesus introduces “The Cross” as the difference between the Kingdom of this Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven.

Part 5: Matthew 21-27 – Kingdom Conflict. Jesus’s Kingdom of Heaven is put to the test as a worldview and is pushed to the wall. Seemingly it fails. Jesus is crucified. The Kingdom is defunct.

Part 6: Matthew 28 – Death Concurred. The Cross is applied in a new way due to the Resurrection. No cross has ever been followed by life. An empty tomb demands a new look at the entire narrative. What does this Jesus and His Kingdom mean to you and me? How does it have Authority in our lives?

So, what is the point of the book of Matthew? To prove the Kingdom of Heaven – in which the cross and empty tomb feature – is the new reality of the people of God. The new Israel.

To help his readers take this leap, Matthew writes specific things. He chooses carefully which statements of Jesus he will include, which miracles of Jesus he will include and which stories about Jesus he will include.

Matthew 11:1-15 is a prime example. John the Baptist, who declared Jesus the Lamb of God and baptised Him, now languishes in prison and doubts his gift of prophecy. He sends his followers to ask Jesus if He really is the promised Messiah. Jesus response is: tell John what you see, tell him what you hear. Matthew the storyteller reminds the reader: Tell doubters what you saw in chapters 8 and 9! Tell them what you heard on the mountain in chapters 5 to 7. And tell them (chapter 10) the pep-talk Jesus gave His disciples before sending them out to apply all He said and all He showed them! It’s happening! Tell John, the Kingdom of Heaven is here! He was right!

Then Jesus goes into a little sermon about John. In effect, He says God’s people have been listening to prophets for eons and John is the ultimate prophet in that kingdom. But there is a new kingdom being inaugurated right now – the Kingdom of Heaven – and anyone who believes and joins up to this kingdom is more significant than any prophet in the previous kingdom. John the Baptist was the final preacher before the coming of the Kingdom of God. Not only was he right, he was on to something so big it was going to change the world. And change is hard – for everyone!

Jesus’ Kingdom seems like a great idea to many of us, today. But back then, they wanted freedom from Roman oppression. They looked back to their forefathers being liberated from Egypt and expected that kind of freedom again – only better, longer – the eternal Kingdom of God on Earth. But instead, they got beatitudes and healed beggars. The poor were blessed and the Roman oppressors were seemingly ignored. Jesus suggested that welcoming persecution made you a Kingdom citizen rather than destroying your enemies. His Kingdom was about hearts, not pocketbooks.

Jesus took the purpose of the Temple – reconciliation – and put it into the heart of each believer. Our bodies became the Temple of God and we – each and every one of us – became the priests overseeing that temple. A Kingdom of priests. The reconciled became reconcilers.  

No wonder it was hard to understand. No wonder John questioned Jesus. It wasn’t just a new idea – it was a return to an old idea. God was building His final Kingdom by reclaiming His first temple – the people created in His image. In Genesis, God put us at the heart of the Garden – Humanity: a garden temple crowning His work of Creation. Now, He reclaims us through the death and resurrection of His Son and places us at the nexus of Creation today – the highways and byways of this world – Humanity: a temple on every corner.

Even today, the pious balk at the core idea of the Kingdom of Heaven for which Jesus lived, died and lives again. This Kingdom – the new Kingdom of God that Jesus started and which grows like a rock flying in from outer space preparing to crush every Kingdom set up by mankind – is one based on the many rather than the few. A Kingdom of priests – living temples, each of us, revealing God’s image to the world.

The success of this Kingdom comes from the healing power of Jesus’ death and resurrection being applied by millions of believers on the ground all around the world. As we believe, we are changed. As we are reconciled with God, we begin reconciling with others. Such a Kingdom cannot be stopped. And it never will be!

Today’s leaders, religious and political alike, need the Kingdom of God to be about buildings, infrastructure, money and power. But, instead, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. Go and tell John. And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me.’

That is what the Kingdom of God really, truly, honestly looks like.

And that’s what Matthew’s story is about.