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Archive for November, 2010

Did Jesus Do Miracles?

November 29th, 2010

Did the miracles happen?

  • Jesus is well-known for his miracles  or the “mighty works” – not just as a good teacher.
  • We have to come to terms with the miracles. As Western, 21st century people, we try to ignore them – we find ways to escape them or suggest a sense of exaggeration. Like they are legends with inflated stories – well-meaning people wanting to make Jesus look great.
  • People try to pass off the stories as Chinese whispers – legends passed on and added to over time, like Robin Hood. But this won’t do to explain it away – we’ve looked already in previous sessions at how the gospels are well-documented, trustworthy historical documents, which kept to the original facts. Luke is one of the finest historical documents we have.
  • John the Baptist – incredibly well-known and respected in that day – and yet the historical books show not one trace of a miracle. This discounts the idea that popular teachers got inflated with miraculous stories.
  • Jesus’ enemies accused him of doing miracles by the power of the devil – they were trying to explain them away because they were actually happening. They didn’t deny that Jesus was really doing miracles.
  • If these stories were fabricated, the disciples would have come off better in the accounts – but they are not very favourable towards them. They often got it wrong – awkward and embarrassing stories. It’s easy to trust these accounts.
  • Someone (unknown to us, not one of the 12 disciples) was trying to do miracles in the name of Jesus – shows that all across the region Jesus was associated with spiritual powers.
  • It’s bad history to suggest these things were made up. Why then would people believe it was made up? Anti-supernaturalism – ruling out supernatural things – saying they don’t happen at all, like fairy tales. So we fit the evidence around that. But is this reasonable?
  • You can’t scientifically prove these miracles Jesus did – they’re part of ancient history. But does it mean they’re not true? The problem is that not everything can be proven using scientific methods, for example – the very notion that something isn’t true if it isn’t proved scientifically – this statement can’t be proven scientifically! It’s another leap of faith, an assumption.
  • There is an awareness that there is power, a miraculous power. We can take the miracles as history.

Why did Jesus do the miracles he did?

  • Motivated out of tremendous compassion.
  • Feeding 5,000 people from one person’s lunch – wanting to feed them and look after them.
  • So many examples of the mercy and pity and compassion of Jesus – he was always showing it.
  • Look at the way Jesus treated outcasts and those rejected by society, e.g. healing lepers, physically healing a socially outcast woman – those who people couldn’t go near because they were “unclean”.
  • We don’t fully understand how set apart from us God is – how we can’t just waltz on up to him. Bodily diseases like leprosy are symbolic of how unclean we are and how untouchable God is. And yet Jesus showed himself as willing and wanting to help.
  • Example of woman whose back was bent over for 18 years – a terrible infirmity, which would have also been humiliating. The religious leaders cared more about looking after animals on the Sabbath than people, like this woman – saying she shouldn’t be healed. Jesus sees that this is not right – it’s so wrong, not how his Father intended things
  • The man who asked Jesus what he must do to have eternal life – Jesus looked on him with love. The same with us – we don’t fully know how much he looks on us with kindness, love, mercy and compassion – he is full of it!
  • Jesus also did miracles for other reasons:

1.     To teach as a parable, e.g. the fig tree that Jesus curses – seems harsh, but he’s really trying to show something symbolically – that God’s people, the people of Israel, are unfruitful and God will judge them.

2.     To show that we can do miracles with faith in him.

3.     To show his authority – his power to forgive sin.

4.     To show the glory of God, to show how glorious he is. We were designed by God to know the glory of God, to be satisfied by his glory. Any other glory we pursue will ultimately disappoint us.

5.     As signs of his kingdom. The world is under darkness and under the power of the evil one, the devil, who is real (not some mythical cartoon-figure), who hates God and hates people. We can see there is evil in the world – and that’s why Jesus came – to destroy the works of the devil and bring in a new, right kingdom – of peace, goodness and wholeness. Jesus won the greatest victory – one day he will completely eradicate sin and sickness and death, bringing in the fullness of his kingdom. We get a taste of it on earth with miracles that happen now. We are all invited into this eternal kingdom, and get to witness signs of it.

Was Jesus Black/White, Rich/Poor, Right/Left?

November 24th, 2010

Luke 12:13-34. Jesus says a number of shocking things – he doesn’t fit into the boxes we put him in. We try to fit him around our agenda but it doesn’t work, because he is the Lord and centre of everything. Jesus is the cornerstone that was rejected – not the conveniently shaped stone we want – but the foundation we all need to build on. Throughout history there have been many ways Jesus has been put into boxes.

1. Was Jesus White or Black?

  • We all have an idea of what Jesus looked like – in the western world we have a view of a white, blonde-haired Jesus, whereas in places like Africa, Jesus is pictured as black.
  • Jesus and Christianity do not belong to any one particular ethnicity or culture.
  • In heaven there will be people from every race, culture, language – a fully diverse people.

2. Rich or Poor?

  • Jesus was a skilled manual labourer – would have earned quite a respectable income for his culture. He came from Nazareth, a town which was generally poor, and his parents also showed themselves to be poor (e.g. in the temple, they offered 2 turtle doves – the sacrifice for poor people).
  • When Jesus was a travelling preacher, it was custom to be kept going by the donations and financial support of others – he was not wealthy, but neither was he destitute.
  • Jesus and his disciples often got by financially completely by faith.
  • There are 2 popular versions that people have got behind – the wealthy Jesus or the poor Jesus. The first camp say rich is good and poor is bad; the second camp same the reverse.
  • But there was no evidence that Jesus was wealthy – no evidence for prosperity theology. But in the other camp, being poor doesn’t make you holy.
  • You can be rich for good reasons – because of hard work, wise handling of finances, integrity, etc. and you can be poor for bad reasons – squandering your money away. But you can also be rich for bad reasons and poor for good reasons.
  • The point is that it’s our attitude to wealth, not wealth itself, that is important. It’s about what you do with the money you have – do you give generously or do you hoard it all for yourself?
  • Money is a terrible deceiver – it makes you think you’re safe and secure, when ultimately you’re not.
  • It’s not a sin to accumulate a lot of money, the same way it’s not a sin to sleep with a sword hanging over your bed – it can just be very unwise and risky.
  • When Jesus talked about the poor being blessed and receiving salvation, what he means is that the poor seem to have a head-start in realising their need for God as they are deeply aware of their needs – whereas the rich think they already have all they need and are content with that.
  • God doesn’t need us – we need him! We are all “in the red” with God – we need him to pay our spiritual debt against him.
  • Money ruins our perspective and takes us away from trusting God.
  • We never have enough money!
  • God knows what you need – he can be trusted to provide. And with that comes real peace, security and rest. He has your back – he will always provide for you.
  • We can give generously with joy, because we know we’ve found something better than riches – Jesus. You deal with your money in the right way when you meet him.

3. Left or Right (Political)

  • This has also been passionately debated through history – was Jesus left-wing or right-wing?
  • In some ways Jesus was right-wing: he knew the ultimate problem is within the human heart (the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart). Jesus said no-one except God is good and we are all evil. So many human decisions/solutions completely ignore the wickedness of the heart.
  • But Jesus did not promote complacency.
  • In other ways, Jesus was left-wing: he brought about the revolution of God’s kingdom and fought for social justice. He was revolutionary about how people can change – not by rules but by a new birth and a changed heart through meeting Jesus.

Ultimately, where you treasure is there your heart is. Jesus is worth everything – you see that when you meet him. You find something better than your own preconceptions, better than riches – Jesus himself.

A Church For a New Age

November 17th, 2010

Amos 9:5-16; Acts 15:6-21

The book of Amos speaks about God’s judgement of His people – it paints a big picture of Almighty God. But alongside the promise of judgement is the promise of restoration. The key verse is  v.11 – the “booth” or tabernacle of David – one day the people of God will live with God in the new heavens and new earth.

1. The Prophetic Mandate (Our Vision):

i) Eden:

  • Adam walked with God and was able to hear God and minister to God on behalf of creation. He had authority on earth to expand Eden – the cultural mandate.
  • But Adam sinned and the fellowship was broken.
  • But from Genesis to Revelation, we are shown that God is restoring this and wants to dwell again with His people.

ii) The Tabernacle:

  • The dwelling place for God and His glory on earth.
  • The tabernacle of Moses on Mount Gibeon was about rules and rituals, but the tabernacle of David on Mount Zion was about being able to freely enter and worship God – a foretaste of the New Covenant of grace.

iii) The Temple:

  • This was God’s next dwelling place for his manifest presence.
  • However, with the second temple there was no presence of God – just rituals and religion. God wanted a restoration of the tabernacle of David.
  • When Jesus was on earth He said the temple would be destroyed but that He would rebuild it after 3 days. He was talking about Himself – He identified Himself with the temple, of God dwelling with man – and the resurrection after 3 days.
  • The coming temple was not one built with stones, but with people – the Church.

iv) The Church:

  • We are being built into a temple, experience God and His presence and power, by the Spirit.

2. The Prophetic Pivotal Point (Our Theology & Practice):

  • This is where the passage in Acts comes in. The era of the early church, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Jews were adding to the gospel – that Christians had to obey the Old Testament laws.
  • Here we see displayed the following:

i) Relationship leadership:

  • The leaders discussed this issue – whether new Christians should obey the Law of Moses.
  • v.16 – James quotes Amos – the restoration of David’s tabernacle, the covenant of grace, no more sacrifices or rituals.
  • The church are to fulfil the cultural mandate – to take the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

ii) Operational power

iii) Defining grace

iv) Missional vision

3. The Prophetic Process (Our Lessons from History):

  • There is a process with promises being fulfilled. Things in history have happened in order to get us further towards that end fulfilment of the mandate and of the restoration.
  • 3 key words from the last 30-40 years: revival, renewal, restoration.
  • We are restoring the Church – building right. God has a bigger plan than just little pockets of revival.
  • What God does in one generation is different but all part of the big plan.

4. The Prophetic Challenge (Our Commitment):

i) Expect to grow – the fruit of restoration

ii) Expect the Spirit – He is given to us to reach out to others, not just for our benefit

iii) Build the church

iv) Change the city – rebuild the city, take Eden into it, release the captives, see people restored to God

v) Expect stability

Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

November 8th, 2010

All of us hear/see the message of the resurrection through a particular set of “lenses” – our own opinion and worldview. Even if you don’t care about the resurrection, that is still a lens – one that believes it doesn’t matter or affect your life. The aim of this message is to challenge some of those lenses.

1 Corinthians 15:1-9 – this is part of a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth, addressing some issues they had with the resurrection. Here in Brighton there are many popular lenses.

1. “Scientific” response

  • This says that the resurrection is impossible because people don’t rise from the dead.
  • People with this lens with explain away the resurrection as Chinese whispers, started by fans of Jesus – that his story got greatly exaggerated into legends.
  • But one problem (of many) with this is that scholars will say that it takes generations and generations for legends like these to form, as well as a lack of historical evidence. However, the Gospels are agreed by historical scholars to be excellent historical evidence, and the first one (Mark) was written around 50-60 AD – not anywhere near long enough for a legend to evolve.
  • Paul also talks about how Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time in his letter to the Corinthians – most of whom were still alive at the time of writing the letter, so people could check with those eyewitnesses to validate their story.
  • There are several keys facts that the majority of historical scholars (most non-Christian) will agree on:

i.      Jesus’ death and burial. He was crucified and died on the cross – the spear that was put in his side proved he was biologically dead – and he was buried in a tomb.

ii.     Empty tomb on Easter Sunday

iii.    Appearances of Jesus – many people claiming to have seen him

iv.    Testimony of the Jesus’ disciples – they preached the death and resurrection of Jesus with confidence and most died for their beliefs. Pascal: “I tend to take notice of witnesses who have their throats cut.” 10 out of the 12 disciples ended up being martyrs.

  • Two people firmly did not believe in Jesus – his brother James and the apostle Paul, who went around persecuting the Church. But they ended up turning around and living their whole lives for Jesus, proclaiming his death and resurrection.
  • We have to deal with this information!
  • People conjure up explanations for these facts – e.g. they got the wrong tomb, or the disciples stole the body. But you have to deal with the fact that the disciples died for this – why would they lose their life for a lie? Also the authorities could’ve put an immediate end to Christianity (they sure wanted to) by simply producing the dead body of Jesus – but they couldn’t!
  • Or people will say that Jesus somehow didn’t really die. This is ludicrous – most people didn’t even make it past the flogging stage but died then. How can we honestly think that Jesus survived the flogging and the crucifixion, and somehow burst out of his grave clothes which were tightly wrapped around him, and move aside the heavy stone from the tomb, and beat off the Roman guards?!
  • This leaves us with the only logical explanation – that Jesus really did die for our sins and he rose again to give us new life.
  • So many people have become Christians from studying the evidence of the resurrection in an effort to try and disprove Christianity!
  • If you disbelieve in this evidence then it follows that you can’t believe in a god of any kind at all – at least this is a consistent viewpoint. But if you do believe there is a god or spirituality, how will you account for this?

2. Personal response

  • This viewpoint says “OK maybe it did happen, but how does it affect me and my life?”
  • Interestingly, a lot of people in the “scientific” response camp will fall into this view once they are presented with the solid case of evidence.
  • The resurrection matters so much – it’s the most important thing! Because of these reasons:
  • It means we have to take all the rest of what Jesus said and claimed seriously. They are surely the words of life. Otherwise we shouldn’t pay attention to him. But he does offer us true life! He can be trusted because what he promised came true.We all care about something – justice, right/wrong, the environment, etc. But why care about these things – or anything – if Jesus didn’t rise? Life would be without any meaning or value – it will all just burn up one day. We need to understand that this message was first preached to Jews and Greeks – both who had their own problems with the resurrection, one being that the physical creation is good and that God wants to not just get rid of it, but to restore it. And Jesus is the firstfruits of this new creation – of the physical creation resurrected and made perfect.
    • Christians believe that life matters and know that one day it is going to be restored and made right again. That is why they have been at the forefront of the creation of hospitals and schools – because life matters.
    • Tragically, the single largest cause of deaths among men aged 18-35 in Brighton is suicide. So many people have no meaning in life. But the resurrection gives us HOPE.

    Why Did Jesus Die?

    November 4th, 2010

    Huge crowds followed Jesus – there were healings, dead being raised, people set free. Jesus made remarkable claims about himself – saying he was the only way of life. The religious leaders began to hate him for it, because in their eyes it was blasphemy. They looked for any excuse to start a rebellion against him.

    Jesus was crucified and died to bring salvation for all the nations – this was God’s plan of rescuing and saving the human race.

    Luke 23:32-43 records the account of Jesus on the cross with the 2 thieves on either side of him – we can gain a lot from examining this.

    1. The easiest mistake we can make

    • Like the first thieve and the crowds, we can have Jesus right next to us and totally miss him – who he really is and what he came to do.
    • The Jews thought God would/could never die in weakness but would come in power and overtake the Roman government. They thought no good could come of Jesus’ death.
    • Sometimes we come to Jesus because of an urgent/immediate “need” – career, relationships, money, health – like he’s a genie in a bottle. It only leads to emptiness if he gives us what we want, because we find we’re still not satisfied. We need to come as sinners, not sufferers.
    • We miss the fact that Jesus came to give himself to us, not to fix our life how we think it should be fixed. We need Jesus at the centre – he is what will fulfil us.

    2. The hardest admission

    • We have to admit we are sinners – we come to God as a sinner, not a sufferer. This is the hardest admission to make because it means we have to let go of our pride and be vulnerable.
    • The second thief was mocking Jesus with the rest – and then dramatically became Jesus’ advocate.
    • The tipping point comes when we are under pressure.
    • When we become vulnerable and open ourselves to the gospel of grace, we receive the real thing.
    • It’s not about attaining moral standards – this just leads to pride or despair/anxiety, treating God as if he owes you for how “good” you are.

    3. The greatest gift

    • Jesus wants to forgive us immediately if we will turn to him – see how quickly he did for the second thief. Jesus is so fast to respond to our admission.
    • The second thief gets it, then the Roman centurion does.
    • Jesus paid the greatest price to give us this – it was his choice.
    • He takes our imperfection – our guilt and shame – and we get his perfection in exchange!
    • When you’re convinced you’re loved, you will live a completely different life! You’re the spiritual equivalent of a billionaire; why would you care about losing a £10 note? You’re loved and accepted by the only one who matters – why care about those few people who reject you or don’t like you?
    • We don’t need to fear death – Jesus has made the way of eternal life. Because he resurrected, we know we will also because we belong to him!