Tag Archives: gospel

This we know – how?

The last Sunday after Trinity is often kept as Bible Sunday, and we read Colossians 3:12-17, which has some important things to say. We begin by recognising that we are “God’s chosen people”. God is indeed kind: seeing the impossible state we were in our rebellion, the Son comes, not just to teach or demonstrate, but to die for our sin and open our way to life in heaven.

This we know from scripture.

Paul moves on to the consequences of the gospel. The life we are to live is a response to what God has done, and what God is, and is to be a life powered by the Holy Spirit. There are many ways this works out, and we are given an example in verse 13.

This we know from scripture.

There is to be love, and peace. Peace not from an easy life, but from confidence in God, a firm foundation, knowing where we shall end up (even if not the details of the journey to get there)

This we know from scripture.

The message of Christ is to live with us. Teaching about life, truth, and good news – still important for us, when many understand little or nothing of it. Once again, I am encouraging you to look at a passage, and see how it works for you and your life. Where do we get this from?

This we know from scripture.

Everything is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus”. This is not a “formula”, but the source of power, and the spirit in which he lived. How are we to avoid the pitfalls, including sentimentality, mistakes, and the conflict of personalities?

This we know from scripture.

I hope this run through Paul’s instructions has been encouraging and helpful, but especially that they have taken you back to what he actually said. Scripture is not like the Mona Lisa – precious, but to be locked away, examined only by experts, and carefully guarded. Scripture is like a favourite tool, to be kept at hand and used often, valued for is effectiveness and practicality.

“No longer for ourselves alone”

Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never visited – and, usefully for us, it sets out the message he preached. That message centres on Jesus, and on the good news that God has acted to rescue humans unable to save themselves. Let me take you through a little of what he says before today’s epistle. Paul claims that at least some of God’s character is clear in creation – but that there has been a general rebellion against God and living his way, and as a result there is guilt. The trouble is, it is not just “them”, it affects “us” too. Those who knew the Old Testament Law – 10 commandments and more – simply knew their failure in more detail. By Romans 3:10 he can say “No one is acceptable to God”, – and that is serious .

So what’s the answer? Clearly not a set of rules, not a greater effort to be perfect. The good news is Jesus, who offers himself as a sacrifice for our sin. The acceptance we cannot earn we can accept as a gift, received by faith. Paul then goes on in chapter 4 to show how this worked out in Abraham. It was, he insists, Abraham’s faith, and not his achievements, that made him God’s friend and won his place in Jewish and Christian history.

So we come to chapter 5, and today’s epistle (we read Romans 5:1-11 ). Faith in Jesus, trust in his sacrifice for us, bring us reconciliation to God. It doesn’t mean we shall have an easy life – in fact it can bring persecution and suffering – but even then we shall have hope. When we think that Jesus died for those who were his enemies, we see something of God’s love.

This is not widely understood in our culture (perhaps not in any culture). Many people seem to think “Don’t worry about sin, it doesn’t matter, God won’t make a fuss!” But it does matter, and it separates us from a just and holy God. The answer is not forgetfulness, nor greater effort to be perfect – the answer is the sacrifice of Jesus, a gift we accept by faith. God does for us what we cannot do.

So what does a Christian life look like in these terms? Let me pass on a story:

Disillusioned with the view of God she had been taught, Karema began searching for spiritual answers as a young graduate. The wonder of God humbling himself and coming into the world as a man, sharing our experiences and pain, was crucial in Karema’s journey of accepting Christ as her Saviour. 

When her community learned of her belief in Christ, Karema realised she was in danger and fled her home country. She is now ministering to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, meeting practical needs and teaching the Bible to those hungry for spiritual truth, as she was once herself. 

Karema shared her story. She says, “They asked ‘Why are you so kind to us, what is behind this?’ so we explained how Jesus had put in our hearts to go and help the strangers.”

That sort of story is challenging to us, but I think it rightly understands the gospel. In the Thanksgiving prayer at the eucharist (Church in Wales, Lent) we say: “By Jesus’ grace, we are able to triumph over every evil, and to live no longer for ourselves alone, but for him who died for us and rose again.” It was living “no longer for herself alone” that raised the questions Karema answered with the story of Jesus.

To simplify . .

How complicated does it have to be? In a world where so much is complicated – technology, getting help, simply handling the everyday things we use – do the big questions have to be endlessly complicated as well? What about the decisions? Perhaps not. Paul writes (in today’s reading, 2 Timothy 2:8-15)

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

a simple summary – and a good one. Paul is chained as a prisoner, but seems to think imprisonment worthwhile, in the hope that his efforts and endurance will help others to find salvation – “safety” – in the same way, through Jesus. His concern with outsiders comes from Jesus, and is a reminder for us. He doesn’t tell us where “the saying” comes from – a hymn, a bit of worship text, a poem?, but is underlines his point:
Jesus is our focus, a leader reliable enough to follow through death to life beyond. (You have to be very sure of a leader to go on that campaign with him!) He reminds us of the importance of enduring, of keeping going – for it is those who continue their loyalty to him who will gain the benefit.

But Jesus is not like us in being possibly unfaithful. He keeps faith, whatever we do, and that is part of the difference. Jesus is remembered as the one who was raised from the dead – the great evidence of God’s approval of the man and his message. His pioneering of that journey is vital.
Jesus is also a descendant of David – not just the Messiah (“Great David’s greater Son”, to quote a hymn of ours), but one who, coming in that tradition, fulfills and advances it.

So is it all that simple? “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel” 2 Tim 2:8. Yes, and no. Yes, that is a good summary, and it does tell us where we should be focussing and who we should be following. No, because it is a summary, and to understand the summary you need to read the whole argument.

Paul goes on to that in verse 14 “avoid wrangling over words”. There are 2 sorts of discussion:

  • one is a point scoring contest, an attempt to win. It can go on for a long time as people twist words, facts, anything
  • another involves careful listening, building with others a deeper and better picture of an important reality.

Paul knows only too well how pointless the first is. Words are terribly inexact things, but they are the best means of communication we usually have. There is a danger in using them – of confusion, of point-scoring competition, of giving the wrong picture, an inaccurate picture, a picture that looks OK to me but has a totally different meaning for the other person.

You see the dilemma, and its solution. We try to work out our faith, to understand at the deepest level we are capable of. But when we are in danger of getting too clever, or too totally confused/bemused

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

That instruction can be given without qualification

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel”

2 Timothy 2:8

Managing your “isms”

How are your “isms”? I don’t mean rheumatism (though I hope that’s not a problem!), but the human systems and theories which sometimes threaten to take over our lives. They can be political: conservatism, liberalism, socialism. Or religious: catholicism, evangelicalism, liberalism, pentecostalism. All have something good to offer, but there is danger if the “ism” becomes more important than the life you should be living with its help.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae (a place now in Turkey). We are reading Colossians 2:6-15. They had 2 problems. One was a group of Jewish believers, who wanted Christians to follow every detail of Judaism. The other was a group who wanted to mix Christian faith with other religions and philosophies. They dabbled in astrology and the occult, and talked about special exercises and disciplines to achieve “spiritual maturity”.

Paul isn’t having any of it. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving“. Christian life begins in receiving Christ as Lord. I hope you understand that it still does. There is no true version of Christian faith which does not put Jesus in charge – of me, my life, ambitions, morality, money . . .

And having started in that way, we go on “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” – there’s your “isms”, and the danger of being kidnapped by them.

Against the force of “hollow and deceptive philosphy, which depends on human tradition” (NIV), Paul insists on Christ ” For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Christ, in charge. Christ supreme over all spiritual forces. Christ who had set us free, when we were helpless.

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

Of course these false teachers would have been much more flattering than Paul, with great sales pitches. But they threatened the gospel – the good news, about a Father who loves us, and encourages us to ask (for the good of all in the Kingdom, not our personal advantage).

Isn’t it strange how people are much the same, despite 2000 or more years of cultural and technical change? We still so easily get taken over by what is popular with our friends. We still invent new “isms”. Much of that is fine, if Jesus is Lord, and our lives are built on that loyalty and on obedience to Him. But “isms” so easily take over. Be careful, and mind how you manage your “isms”!

Spiritually Advanced?

Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul wrote a letter to a small town in modern Turkey – and it still has something to teach (it supplies Sunday readings for 4 weeks!). Colossae: Founded on trade in sheep wool – fleeces dyed purple with a cyclamen based dye. The Church, with Gentile and Jewish believers, was established by Epaphras, probably himself converted in Ephesus. But there was a problem in the Church in Colossae; they were getting their faith wrong, in a way which mattered. We won’t worry too much about how they wanted to improve on the gospel, but let’s look at what Paul said in Colossians 1:15-28.

First, 1:15-20. Its all about Jesus. Jesus is how we see what God is like – is God remote, severe, judgemental, or is God a pushover, a sugar–daddy? Well, the answer (to those and lots of other ideas) is – look at Jesus. Get to know the stories about him. He’s friendly (to all sorts of people), very human, but also powerful, and has deep understanding and sympathy.

For the Colossians, Jesus might have been the start, but they wanted to “improve” this faith in one way or another. Paul isn’t having that. Jesus continues in charge, superior to the powers of heaven. It is Jesus who died to set us free, it is Jesus who is head of the Church, the source of its unity – an important point, because of division. [And whether you are a new Christian, or have been in Christian things for years, you don’t get away from needing Jesus, and the forgiveness he gives].

Then, verses 21-23 talk about how that affects the Colossians. Their past had been one of alienation – led astray by the false values of a corrupt society (does that sound familiar?). But Jesus (yes, focus on him again) had intervened to set them free by his death. They are not being allowed to get away from the physical – because of their delight in the metaphysical and “spiritual”, Paul ties them down to the actual, bodily death of Jesus. Their future depends on their holding on to their initial commitment to the gospel they once heard and accepted.

After the central and continuing importance of Jesus, and God’s purpose for the Colossians, Paul talks about his own role. He sees himself as entrusted with a message – not some secret knowledge to be passed on to initiates, but the gospel taught to believers openly. That is your message, too. If you know what Jesus did and does, don’t keep quiet about it. The glory is not some religious experience, but the presence of Christ among believers – the new life they share, and in which they grow in holiness and service.

There are lots of people who need to know these things: Jesus has to come first – in Church, in my life, in the way I do faith. There are many round us who forget, or don’t know, that without Jesus death for us, we are lost in the false values of a corrupt society. And there are those, even in religion, who do not remember the responsibility we have of sharing the gospel message, and living and working for it – even when that means suffering.

Why?

There are many ways of asking “Why?”.  The small child who endlessly repeats the question to each attempt at answer infuriates, and raises suspicions that attention is more important than an answer.  Yet for Christians, it is a sign of success when someone without faith starts to ask “Why are you bothering? Why are you doing this for me?”.  It is also a good question for Christians to ask at Eastertime: “Why is this happening? Why do others care about what I think or do?”

John’s gospel gives us an insight into the life and ministry of Jesus.  He takes us through both the success of his teaching and healing, and the pain of his passion and death.  But it is only in chapter 20 that he comes to the question “Why?”, with a clear answer, “these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.

John 20:19-31 has shown us the disciples receiving both new hope and authority, then Thomas finding answers to his doubt, and the gospel writer summing up his purpose in writing.  The hope is that we who read the gospel now will see Jesus as the one promised to bring life to a climax, and that not in a merely intellectual way, but as the recipe for life as it is meant to be.

Like the repeated question of the small child, that needs us to do more than find the right words.  We have to pay attention, to engage, to change.  It is much easier to find an excuse not to – but then we miss out.

Bible

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus as part of the Bible Sunday gospel (Matthew 24:30-35).  But what is the significance of that? Context is important. You may remember that the Bible says “There is no God” – but you do need to look at where, and what it means.  The whole quote is better ‘Fools say to themselves, “There is no God!” ‘ Psalm 14:1, and 53:1

So what is the context here? This text comes from a chapter about persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final judgement. Each of the first three gospels has a similar section, and in each it is difficult to separate the parts about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD from the parts about the final judgement at the end of time.

This text is important to both: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Christians needed to know in the first century, when everything was falling apart in their world, that God was faithful and reliable. In the twenty-first century we also need to know that.

But we might ask, which words matter? Three things come from scripture:

  • We need to know a simple statement of gospel: Because of God’s love and Jesus’ death, there is life, forgiveness and hope for any and all who will admit their failure and need, and turn to Jesus’ Way. (its not the precise words that matter, but the message)
  • Secondly, the words which describe what it means to live as a disciple ( / follower / student) of Jesus. The stories which tell us what he is working at, and how we need to learn, obey, and relate to one another . . Words to guide us in Christian life are valuable.
  • And particularly from this passage, we might add as part of that, words of support for hard times and tight corners. Jesus insists that God will “gather his chosen people” 24:31 at the end. Or you might think of promises about not being alone, of your prayer being heard, or of not being tested beyond the possibility of resistance. These are important words of scripture, but they need to be known and understood. Exaggeration will lead to disappointment and disillusion; ignorance to despair; right hearing will equip and encourage us for life.

Again, you may remember that Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (Old Testament scripture) to the devil in the wilderness – and the devil also quotes or rather misquotes scripture – context and meaning matter!

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” says Jesus Matthew 24.35. We must understand, from the context and comparison of text with text, what is meant. Then we are equipped.