Why the Disciples didn’t tell Parables… or did they?

ImageThe main teaching methodology used  by Jesus to the masses was parables. Symbolic and analogous stories with deeper spiritual meaning. It is interesting when we get to the time of the Apostles that we do not find them using the same method. Instead we find them in more direct proclamation and apologetics. Why was this?

I think the first thing to say is we actually don’t have much evidence of actually how the apostles taught. After the Acts of the Apostles we enter into different literary genres (letters and apocalyptic prophecy). However we do have the Acts of the Apostles. It is helpful that both Luke and Acts are written by the same author as we have a direct comparison. The reason that we have no parables recounted in Acts is not simply because of a different author.

Before I get to my hypothesis as to why we find no parables, I just want to make a point that I think is important in New Testament exegesis. There has been an approach to this subject that I believe drinks too heavily from 19th century higher biblical criticism, and what I mean is this, we examine each piece of literature in the New Testament independent of the other parts and as such we seek (for some consciously, for others unconsciously) to drive a wedge between Jesus and the Apostles (in particular Paul), both in terms of message and methodology. I believe the greater joy and profitability in New Testament exegesis is to mine areas of synergy. We all know the individuals were different, with varied educations and experience, but as believers we should believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. To seek out the divine is more profitable than not, after all isn’t that why we follow Jesus?

With this in mind I think it is important to put ourselves in the mindset of the early apostles. They had been given the Great Commission from their master. A command to make disciples, teaching them everything he taught. My hypothesis (and I know it is largely from silence) is that the disciples did this. They taught what Jesus had taught them; meaning that they told parables…. Jesus parables. The other parts of Acts and indeed the letters are simply commentary on the teaching of Jesus. If this was the case then the New Testament writers (Luke in particular) would find no need to repeat what had already been written. However it was important to gather some of the Apostolic commentary on Jesus teaching which would add to our understanding of the teaching of the master.

It is also very probable in my opinion that the Apostles told their own parables, which were perhaps not directly building on Jesus points and therefore were not included. So there you have it… I believe the apostles did tell parables.

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Church History Bites – Why Palestine is Anti-Semitic

a_palestine_map_jesus_timeTranscript: The teacher in Ecclesiastes is correct that there is nothing new under the sun, how often do we look back into history so that we can learn Short Lessons from Church History is a podcast devoted to small bitesize chunks of history, which are designed to give you the aha moment that we all love in history. “I never knew that”. and hopefully a few tips to help us grow in wisdom and devotion to Jesus.

Today we look at the question of why the name Palestine is Anti-Semitic.

Many Bibles printed in recent years have had helpful Maps at the back. One of those maps in recent years has been a map entitled Palestine in the time of Jesus. However the truth is that Palestine never even existed in the time of Jesus. So where exactly did the name Palestine come from? Well many people are familiar with the first Jewish Revolt which saw the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD. People are less familiar with the second Jewish Revolt which occurred a little over 50 years later. Between 132-135 AD the Revolt also known as the Bar Cochba Revolt was eventually cruelly put down by the Romans under the Emperor Hadrian. After the revolt was crushed the Emperor expelled the Jews from the city of Jerusalem, had the city plowed like a field and rebuilt as a Roman city named Aelia Capitolina. The province of Judea was also renamed. Hadrian chose a new name based on the ancient enemies of Israel.

If we remember back to the beginning of the monarchy in Israel, we remember the leader of the Hebrews – the prophet Samuel and Kings Saul and David fought against a iron working people called the Philistines. They were eventually vanquished, but it was these enemies that Hadrian sought to revive by spitefully naming the province of Judea after. In Latin, the lingua franca of the Roman World this name became Palestina, which we know today as Palestine.

The trouble with this naming is that in the Abrahamic Covenant that we find in Genesis 13 God says he will bless those who bless the descendants of Abraham and will curse those who curse, and that word curse includes the meaning of making light or ridiculing Israel. As a result it is important if we are using the name Palestine that we first understand where it came from and secondly if we do have to use it, use it in a way that does not repeat the insult against the Jewish people.

Thank you for listening and join us again for another short lesson from church history.

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Have we been sanctified or are we being sanctified?

RecycledThere has been much confusion on the intertubes recently over the word sanctified. I have been told that I am now completely sanctified and completely perfect. Is this true? Well, in the New Testament the word sanctified means to separate or make holy for God. Thus most references to the word sanctified occur in the past tense because the day we were legally justified before God we were also at that moment set apart for God and made holy, and in this sense we were completely sanctified.

However neither the word nor the concept of sanctification are limited to the past tense. We find examples of believers “being sanctified” in the present tense (Heb. 2:11, 10:14). The difference here is confusion between the legal position of believers and their living condition, while we are legally perfect and receive the imputed righteousness of Christ, believers still live in a fallen, sinful world and must continue on in the sanctification process to gain the imparted righteousness of Christ. Paul prays that believers might be sanctified completely (1 Thess. 5:23, Eph. 5: 26).

Perhaps the confusion arises related to another more technical word “mortification”. Although the “old man” of sin was put to death on the cross, we are still called to “put to death” (Rom. 8:13, Col. 3:5) the deeds of the flesh. Paul tells us our sanctification is found in “abstaining from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3). The power of sin was put to death and we do stand completely justified before the Father. However we cannot deny that we sin and if we do sin we must repent and put to death those deeds. And if we do this God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Finally our sanctification will be complete when our bodies are glorified. Then we will completely set apart for God and that point we will be “once saved, always saved”.

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Justification might not be the whole Good News – but it is the best news you will ever hear in this life.

The CrossToday is Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – surely the most solemn day in the calendar of the Jewish people. It is also a day that we remember the perfect atonement that took place. Jesus/Yeshua died on a Roman cross so that through His blood our sins could be atoned for and we could stand righteous in the sight of God.

The cross is perhaps as foundational as you can get in terms of the Gospel. In the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the cosmic plan of redemption and the way of redemption for each individual collide in the bloody murder of the Son of God.  Yeshua’s incarnation was good news of the highest order. God had become man and not only that but he had blended the expectation for a Messianic, son of David with the God/Man identity. That was certainly good news – the solution had arrived and was evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the gospel that Jesus preached around Galilee. But the coming was only the beginning of the Good News, for without the fullness of the plan (coming to seek and save the lost), I as a heathen gentile would still be dead and lost in my sins. I am not dead.

Justification is not the fullness of the Gospel, it does not factor in the Good News that the Son of God will come to rule and reign upon the earth, making all things new where there will be no more tears, sickness or sin. But justification is one of the best pieces of news you can ever hear in this life. The fact that Jesus died on a cross for your sinful condition AND for your sinful actions means that we can come to him in repentance and faith and have our old life washed away. The amazing exchange we have been given is that we can give Jesus our life of sinful mistakes and religious striving and be given in exchange a life of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. He took our life and gave us His. This exchange, if we understand its implications must have world shattering consequences for us as believers.

And that is why on this day I want to remember again and let the fact that “Jesus died for my sins” not become a trite cliché. But rather the start of another conversation of thankfulness to the one who still dwells with me through His Spirit.

Thank you Jesus

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The Difference between Magic and Miracle

Protective Sterling Silver St. Christopher Medal Pendant

“The righteous shall live by faith” was initially a prophetic declaration by the prophet Habakkuk, this truth was then seized upon by the Apostle Paul as a cornerstone of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In two letters where the Apostle is trying to emphasize the radical nature of the free gift of righteousness that Jesus Christ has given believers through His death and resurrection Paul quotes the scripture. As he is writing to the Churches of Galatia who are in danger of succumbing to the religious obligations of the Judaizers Paul declares

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11)

Again when Paul is writing to the Church in Rome emphasizing that Gospel of Righteousness is a free gift for both Jew and Gentile alike he returns to this theme

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”. (Romans 1:17)

This was a critical message for the early church where returning to Jewish religious obligations as a means of atonement was a constant concern. It was a concern, not simply because of the specific nature of the threat of the Judaizing influence, but because attaining a right standing before God on the basis of our own religious works is an inherent temptation in all fallen human nature. Not only is it a temptation, but it is at the heart of every religious system as man reaches out to God and tries through his own ethics to attain right standing with the divine.

It is no wonder that the recovery of the message that the Gospel of Jesus is not based on such works righteousness, but rather as a free gift through faith became the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The tenets of Sola Fide and Sola Gracia stood in stark contrast to the religious penitential system that had built up in the Roman Catholic firmament. The bumper sticker asserting it is about relationship not religion is correct. The righteous do not live by religion, the righteous live by faith, always have and always will.

However there is another temptation that is inherent in fallen human nature that draws us away from living a life of faith and it is this that I want to examine in a little more depth. It is the pursuit of magic. Many will object that this is not a real threat to any believers that they know. Witchcraft and occultism are indeed a growing temptation for a small minority of our community, but it is not as big a challenge for believers as the problem of works righteousness. I would agree. However witchcraft and occultism is merely an overt extreme, for the temptations towards magic do not start with spells and potions.

Let me start the examination of this problem with a question: what is the difference between magic and miracle? Both involve an outside force breaking into “natural” process and producing a remarkable outcome either through speeding up “natural” process or by producing something that would otherwise be impossible. From the externals magic and miracle look quite similar. In truth the outcome might look the same. You may object that miracle comes from God and magic does not, but I want to submit that the heart of the problem with magic doesn’t come primarily from the source of the power that is released (although please understand me that seeking power from demons is dangerous, sinful and extremely unwise), but rather the main problem of magic comes from deep impulses within the heart of man. The heart that pursues magic doesn’t ultimately care where the power comes from, so in one sense the power source doesn’t matter. Indeed the “magic-seeking” heart may be seeking power from God and this is where the problem comes for believers, for I want to contend that living by magic is as much an antithesis to faith as living by religious observance, and yet many believers are prone to fall into this temptation.

Let’s take a few biblical stories as examples to try and tease out this magic seeking impulse and explain it in more depth. The first story took place during the time when the Judges led Israel. Israel were fighting against their arch-enemies the Philistines. We learn in 1 Sam 4:

 Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines… And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”… As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

 10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured…

The “magic-seeking” heart is at core selfish. It seeks power through “religious” practices and often through physical objects that can be seen and handled. In this story the military leaders of Israel (Hophni and Phinehas, the evil sons of Eli) knew that God’s presence resided in the ark of the covenant, they therefore called for the ark to be transferred into the camp of the Israelites. Unfortunately for the Israelites, they were not seeking God in their fight against the Philistines, they were seeking power from the “magic box”. It was not YHWH who was going to save them it was literally the box that would save them. Here we see the magic-seeking heart in full motion. Hophni and Phinehas were not living faithfully before YHWH, they just wanted to beat the Philistines, they wanted power, they wanted easy answers and they thought that the magic box would give that answer. Interestingly the Israelites had been given many warnings about diviners and sorcerers, yet here we see them trying to use God in like manner. The ark had simply become a magic charm. You cannot manipulate YHWH in the presence of His glory and it is not surprising that the Philistines subsequently captured the ark and Hophni and Phinehas were killed.

This is not the last time we encounter this “magical” approach to power either in scriptures or in church history. We see it again in the New Testament in several places. In Samaria a man by the name of Simon (who also happened to be a magician) saw the power of the Holy Spirit and offered money to receive such power. Peter’s denunciation of his actions was quick.

“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 

Likewise in Ephesus under Paul’s ministry we are told that “extraordinary miracles” were taking place. At this time we pick up the story where “Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva” were attempting to perform like miracles by speaking what was to them a magical formula “I adjure you by the name of Jesus whom Paul proclaims”. God presence was manifest in Ephesus and in the presence of His glory God will not be manipulated by magical charms and formulas, such that we find the demon in the possessed man whom they were trying to minister to answered them “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

This example of the sons of Sceva is a startling confirmation of what Jesus had previously taught in the Sermon on the Mount

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23)

In this verse Jesus gives us the startling information that because the name of Jesus has inherent power it is actually possible to use the name of Jesus as a “magical formula” and it will work. This is shocking news to self-serving, self-deceived and  power-hungry hearts (and I am thinking firstly of myself when I say this). We all want answers to our pain, our needs and our ambitions, we all want answers quickly and we all live in a world of “seven secrets to a better life”. We yearn for the short cuts. We long for formulas. Humanity always has. And this is not just a modern phenomenon, throughout history we have looked to charms (relics, crucifixes, anointed objects and places) rather than seek the face and the hand of YHWH.

The righteous will live by faith. Having faith in the Genesis 1 God means that miracles will happen. God has shown time and time again throughout the scriptures and throughout history that He longs to walk and work with His people. He longs for us to ask, to seek and to knock in prayer. He longs for us to understand the position he has given us and the blessings that come from that position. Yet too often we seek the power independent of the relationship, we want our pain medicated, our pride soothed and the power released now. Faith is an ongoing trust in the absolute ability of God and one element of biblical faith that is consistent throughout scriptures is waiting. Will we learn to wait upon God, will we learn faithfulness/faith or will we succumb to the easy answers of magic, which are ultimately no answer at all. The righteous will live by faith – always have and always will.

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Cornelius’ Journey in the House of Prayer for All Nations

warning_inscriptionMy name is Cornelius. I am a Centurion in the Italian Cohort. I have been stationed in a remote Roman province called Judaea. I was initially resistant to this posting, but in recent years have become very interested in the God of the Jews. I pray to him all the time, give money to the poor and I do feel somewhat more peaceful for doing so.

I recently traveled inland from my posting in Caesarea to the Antonine Fortress in the Jewish Holy City of Jerusalem. I was eager to experience Jerusalem, the place that all Jews consider blessed. My interest was heightened when I discovered the Antonine Fortress is placed next to the Jewish Temple. I could finally pray in the temple of the Jews to the Jewish God. I knew from my time in Judaea that worship of YHWH was an incredibly serious business to the Jews and that while I might not be able to enter into the inner courts of the temple as a Gentile there was an outer court reserved for Gentiles to pray.

I entered through a gate to this court (which I believe has been called “The Way”) and what I experienced was quite a sensory overload. The Gentile Court which was reserved for Gentile worship didn’t exactly look like a place a worship it looked more like a bustling market. Many tables had been erected with different exchange rates being offered for exchanging Roman coinage into the Temple coinage. As I looked at the exchange rates the changers were offering I can only say that I was glad not to be exploited in such a gross manner. Everywhere people were exchanging money, then buying doves, pigeons and lambs. It was not exactly the quiet place of devotion I had built up in my mind. I looked for a place to pray, but it seemed like every inch of the place was being used.

 The architecture of Herod was impressive Greek Doric columns throughout the temple, I was impressed with what Herod had accomplished and yet I kept walking toward the main place of worship the Jews were moving towards with their newly acquired animals intended for sacrifice. Suddenly I encountered a startling sign. It read

No Foreigner

Is to go beyond the balustrade

And the Plaza of the Temple Zone

Whoever is caught doing so

Will have himself to blame

For His death

Which will follow

 I now understood the passion the Jews had for their worship of YHWH. It went as far as murdering foreigners to keep them out of the places of Holiness, which was really the place being used for prayer.

 I left with a heavy heart. I would continue to pray to the God of Israel, but I didn’t know if the God of Israel would hear me. The Jews obviously thought there was no place for Gentiles to worship and their court designated for the Gentiles to pray was nothing but a cruel idea if a Gentile (perish the thought) should actually want to pray to YHWH.

I was heartened recently when I heard that a Jewish prophet had become so angry with this situation that he overturned the moneychangers tables, saying that this was supposed to be a House of Prayer for “All Nations”. I had heard that the intention of the Promise that God made to the Jewish Patriarch Abraham was that every family on the earth would be blessed through the Jews and be able to worship YHWH. I believe YHWH is the God we Gentiles must come close to and worship and I think that the Jewish Prophet who cleared the temple had the right idea. Maybe one day all nations, from every family, every group, every language will worship this God. I pray it comes soon.

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Were the Confusion of Languages at Babel a Curse or a Blessing in Disguise?

ImageSome people jokingly ask the question what language will be spoken in heaven. Is it English, Chinese, Hebrew or Aramaic? Humanity speaks about 7000 living languages on the earth today and throughout history this number increases dramatically (I’m pretty sure I would have a hard time understanding an Englishman from the 13th Century). The Bible tells us this confusion of languages came about due to the united effort of humanity to oppose God by building the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. God confused the language of man and humanity was dispersed across the face of the earth.

The division of humanity into language groups must have felt like a curse and still often does today. But the confusion of languages was actually not a curse, it was actually a divine mercy, its initial purpose was to disperse humanity that they would fulfill their mandate to fill the earth, but the ultimate aim is even more glorious.

What seemed initially to be a bad and painful judgment of God ultimately will work for thegood of all humanity and the glory of God. Heaven (contrary to some belief) will not be a homogenous group of peoples. We will not all be made Jews, speaking Hebrew. Every nation, people group, every family, every dialect and language will be there. God delights inbringing diverse people, gifts, skills and languages together to make something beautifully and lovingly united for His glory – this is what the new heavens and the new earth will feel like. We still speak different languages, but will be united in one song – what a glorious picture and an encouragement to go learn another language

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