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Why Waitangi Day?

Waitangi Day and Joshua 9

February 6th is Waitangi Day. Waitangi means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?  What words or emotions do you associate with Waitangi Day? Did you every think, however, that as a Christian you have a unique insight into Waitangi Day?

In public media, Waitangi Day is about lots of shouting, angry posturing, throwing T-shirts, spitting and shouting – did I mention shouting? Personally, I have been on marae on Waitangi Day and have only experienced fun and food.

So, what do they shout? “Honour the Treaty!” As a Christian “honour the Treaty” is the correct thing to say – but in a constructive and honourable way. How so? Because Christians on both sides – Maori and British – were deeply involved in seeing the Treaty signed and believed it was the right thing to do before God. More than this, they viewed it like a biblical covenant, and hoped that it would speak of the greater covenant between God and man in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Explanation: In the Bible we have a story that explains why honouring the Treaty is the right thing to do. But, before we look at it, let’s just remind ourselves what the Treaty of Waitangi/Tiriti o Waitangi is. In summary it is a legal covenant between most of the Maori chiefs and representatives of the British crown. The Treaty established a British Governor of New Zealand, but recognised Maori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave Maori the rights of British subjects. Unfortunately, the English and Maori versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so people don’t agree 100% on exactly what was agreed.

The Treaty was signed because more and more Europeans were coming to Aotearoa looking for cheap land. In the early 1800’s only a few Pakeha lived here, and the most influential ones were Christian missionaries like Henry Williams. Most missionaries did not want NZ being colonised by Europeans, believing that Maori should be left to govern themselves with protection from Britain. However, because colonisation was already happening, men like Williams and Hone Heke agreed to support the Treaty. In Britain Christians lobbied their government to treat the ‘natives’ as equals. In fact, it was said that the missionary Henry Williams merely needed to ‘lift his little finger’ and none of the chiefs would have signed.

So, a majority signed according to the suggestion of the missionaries. The treaty was written without lawyers in four days, translated into Maori by Williams and his son overnight, and signed a day earlier than planned by Governor Hobson still wearing his dressing gown! As each chief signed, Hobson shook their hand and said, “He iwi tahi tatou”, meaning, ‘we are now one people’. They believed that they were doing the right thing before God and that it legitimised Britain’s claim to sovereignty and would protect Maori.

However, it was the missionaries who were the first Pakeha to start saying, “honour the Treaty.” What has caused us a headache today was the rejection of the Treaty by land-hungry colonisers, the unwillingness of the settler government to acknowledge the Treaty, and the unjust confiscations, and outright thefts of Maori land. Today less than 7% of land in NZ is owned by Maori.

So, that Bible passage?[1] Well it is a story of a dishonoured treaty that was dishonourably made. (Joshua 9) As the Israelite army took over the land of Canaan, the Gibeonites figured that they had zero chance of surviving. So they pretended to be from another country, and went to the Israelite leaders and requested a protection treaty. The Israelites (including Joshua) got sucked in, and made a covenant with the Gibeonites, not realising they were Amorites.

This treaty was soon put to the test (Ch. 10) when the other Amorite cities in the area formed a coalition to attack the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites called on the Israelites to honour the treaty and help defend them – which the Israelites did.

And then we hear no more of them – until 200 years later when David is king of Israel. The land suffers a severe famine (2 Samuel 21) and when David enquires of the Lord, he hears that it is because his predecessor Saul has failed to honour the treaty with the Gibeonites and had almost annihilated them.

David called the Gibeonites and asked them what he should do to honour the treaty, and they suggest the execution of seven of Saul’s sons. David carries out this grisly justice, but spares one of Saul’s grandsons, a certain Mephibosheth. Why? Because David had made a personal covenant with Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan. And God? He removed the famine curse from the land that he had put in place because of the dishonoured treaty.

What can we learn from this Bible account? Are there parallels?

No covenant is perfect. The Gibeonite covenant should not have been made. The Gibeonites deliberately misled Joshua, and Joshua and the leaders failed to properly investigate their claims. It was also an imbalanced treat between the power of Israel and the vulnerability of the Gibeonites. With the Waitangi Treaty, although all parties involved denied trying to deceive anyone, the reality was that a primitive tribal people were dealing with the might of the British Empire. In 1847 Henry Williams wrote, ‘As I  did  explain  the nature  of  the  treaty  in 1840,  I must  continue  to  explain,  in  self  defence;  for  I must  not  be accessory to such deception, but continue to stand upon the treaty alone.’ However, in spite of their high aims, mistakes were made and later governors and NZ governments ignored the Treaty.

God takes covenants seriously. The missionaries and Christian chiefs signed the Treaty like a biblical covenant – a bond in blood. It was seen as a sacred pact before God, like God’s covenant with Abraham and the one with us founded on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Israelites take this covenant with the Gibeonites deadly seriously – they stake their lives on it, and so should we.

Dishonouring treaties brings a curse. David was the king who had to deal with the curse that resulted from Saul dishonouring the Gibeonite treaty. The famine occurred under his rule, not Saul’s. We today have to deal with the dishonourable actions of land theft and unjust and large-scale land confiscations.

Justice needs to be done. Here the might of the Israelite nation at the height of its power bows to the grievances of a complaining minority group. Sound familiar? They willingly set things right. I think that we as a nation have been attempting to do that. Obviously the millions of hectares taken cannot be returned, but money and apologies help somewhat.

Both are subverted by a higher treaty. Remember the Mephibosheth bloke? He was the semi-crippled grandson of Saul who was spared symbolic justice. Why? Because his father and King David where best mates and sealed their love by making a covenant with each other (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:16, 42). This covenant of love overrode the Gibeonite peace treaty.

 As I said, the principal movers and shakers behind the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi were God-fearing Maori and Pakeha whose lives had been changed by Jesus.  And, while this truth doesn’t remove the need to honour the Treaty and to do justice, it does show us a higher way of humility and forgiveness. Mephibosheth was spared because of the life-saving love of Jonathan for David. You and I are saved because of the life-saving love of God in Christ Jesus.

At the end of the day, we are all covenant-breakers and ‘dishonourers’ of God’s treaty – ‘do this and live, disobey and die’. Our sin brings the curse of death, but Jesus dies in our place through his covenant of love on the Cross. This is a reality that I believe lets each of us as Christians – Maori and Pakeha – rise above the anger, fear and resentment that surrounds so much talk today. Therefore as God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus, so we also are empowered and freed to forgive each other as Maori and Pakeha bound to God by a covenant of love – a better and eternal way.

[1] This parallel was first suggested in an article in The War Cry, 1983.

What did the Christmas Angel Say?

Here’s a thought: Who should get to enjoy Christmas? Definitely not naughty children, according to one popular song. Let me quote the lyrics:

‘You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.’

What a horrible song. Santa Claus (apologies St Nicolas!) is some sort of anal obsessive who hates crying children and keeps a list of their misdemeanors. Furthermore, he will only reward perfect kids with, I presume, a present. Counts me out. What about you?

I’ll stick with the Christmas Angel, thanks very much. Let me quote from Dr. Luke:

‘In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is  Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favours!” When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”’

– Luke 2:8-15

What’s the big deal? Well, its the recipients of this message. You see, at the time of these events, shepherds were not considered good people. My Rienecker & Rogers Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament has the following entry: ‘Poimen, shepherd. Shepherds had a low reputation and were looked upon w. great suspicion.’ In other words, shepherds had one loyalty, and that was to their sheep. They weren’t considered to be good honest or ‘nice’ people.

So, what did the Angel of God have to say to these ‘not-so-good’ folks?

Don’t be afraid, I have good news for everyone

Why would the angel tell them not to be afraid? Well, firstly, this isn’t one of those fat little cherubs with fluffy wings. This is a real angel.   Secondly, it says, ‘An angel of the Lord stood before them.’  When people saw an angel, they knew that their time was up – especially if they had been naughty. When God pays a visit there is good reason to be scared because he could be coming to judge you.

But not today, not on Christmas Day. God has sent his angel with good news – the gospel.

Your Saviour, Christ the Lord, has come today

The good news is that the Saviour of the world has come.  Ever since our first parents fell into sin, mankind has looked for rescue from the death-dealing condition of the human heart. So, God has promised a Saviour. He promised that to Eve in the garden, that her child would crush Satan’s head and in so doing would injure his heal.  700-years before the prophet Isaiah had prophesied, that: ‘…the virgin shall conceive and have a Son, and shall call his name ‘Immanuel’.” Immanuel means, ‘God-with-us.’

The good news of great joy for everyone is that the Saviour who has come is Messiah/Christ the Lord. Do you need to be saved?  Here is God’s chosen one, the only Saviour of the world.

Your Saviour is a baby sleeping in a manger

This is where it gets really challenging for you if you are tough guy.  You see, if I was in a fight I would want a big strong gangsta to rescue me. If  I was having psychological or drug problems, someone with a beard, glasses and a clipboard. If financial problems, someone in a flash suit and with a big cheque book. What about sin issues?

The Christmas angel tells us that our Saviour  of the world is a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a hay manger!  This shows us that it is a miracle, and humbles us to trust him, God sent his Saviour as a newborn baby, helpless and weak in a manger, and who died helpless and weak on the cross to wash away your sin. Only a humbled sinner will buy that.

Glory to God and peace for God’s people

God does this because he is glorified and we receive peace. (v.14) To glorify God means to exalt him, say “that’s awesome of God” and lift his name high. Jesus clearly stated this later, when he defined his life-mission in this prayer: (John 17:4) “Father I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”  You see, Jesus’ life and death brings glory to God because it shows how wonderful God is in saving sinners.  In the gospels we read again and again that people ‘glorified God’ when they saw what Jesus did and said.

Christmastime is a season of good news for Jesus God’s Saviour has come. It isn’t just for good kids (or adults), but for every person, whoever they are, who recognises that they are lost and need to be saved.

How ANZAC Day Preaches the Gospel

It is ANZAC Day again. New Zealand and Australia pause to remember and respect the memory of those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our country and the freedom of other countries. It is a day when you hear many tales of individual heroism and national solidarity in the fight to defeat aggressors and tyrants in the world. I personally find the day poignant as I reflect on my father who served in WWII, and both my grandfathers who served in WWI.

 

Sometimes Christians can get a little confused about how to respond to this day. Some of us are uneasy with the talk of ‘heroes’ or the ‘glorious dead’ because that makes us think of Christ’s glorious death for the world. Certainly, none of my forefathers considered themselves heroes or glorious. Some of us are uncomfortable with the Christian hymns and biblical passages that are used in the public meetings by complete non-Christians. Sometimes we are disturbed by the focus on the idea that others sacrificed themselves for us. For others it may be simply that we appear to be glorifying something horrific and painful.

 

But, I want to argue this morning that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this things, but instead should grab hold of them to discuss the gospel with folks. And, this morning I want to grab hold of the idea of the death of others for our country, and use it to explain the gospel from Galatians.

 

Galatians 1.1-5

In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia he writes about the fact that they have added religion to the gospel of Jesus. They have received Jesus by faith alone, but now people are starting to say that the Old Testament practices of circumcision, special diets, and other laws are essential if a person is going to be right with God. Paul calls this ‘another gospel’ and condemns it outright as wrong and dangerous.

 

Instead he wants them to understand that they have received the Holy Spirit only by faith in Christ. He explains this in the opening verses, saying that, we receive God’s peace by grace, when we trust in Jesus who sacrificed himself because of our sins and delivered us from the rule of evil – all as God had planned long ago.

 

How is this relevant to ANZAC Day?

 

Today we live in peace by God’s grace

 

A strong theme that runs through ANZAC Day memorials is peace. We talk of the wars as a necessary evil to safeguard the peace and prosperity of free peoples. Kiwi soldiers were killed and maimed in their thousands for the people of France, Belgium, Italy and Britain. Why? So that they, and we, could live in peace.

 

Paul explains the message of the gospel in a similar way. In his greeting he speaks God’s grace and peace on his readers. How? They can have grace and peace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This peace comes from God by grace – a free gift. It is peace with God and with our consciences. It is peace of mind and heart, which is far more precious than peace of body or society. He can greet these people with peace because it is theirs through Jesus.

 

Jesus sacrificed himself because of our sins

 

When he mentions the name Jesus, Paul quickly explains how he gives peace – he ‘gave himself for our sins’. At ANZAC Day we also hear a lot about people giving themselves for others. Our soldier forefathers sacrificed their lives on the field of battle for their families, friends and fatherland. For this we are deeply grateful.

 

Jesus, on the other hand, sacrificed himself not just for his friends, but also for his enemies. Paul says here that it was ‘for/because of our sins’ that Jesus came into the world and died on a cross. Jesus repeatedly describes his ministry in those time – ‘the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many’ – and it is this ransom idea that prevails. The thought is that our sins condemn us before God and separate us from his blessing. As Peter says in 1 Peter 3:18 ‘Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…’ Just as the priest in the OT had to over animal sacrifices to cover the sins of the people, so Jesus offers himself (Heb.9:13-14) to God once for all.

 

Jesus’ sacrifice rescues us from the rule of evil

 

Wars should be about justice overcoming evil. For example, WWII impresses on us the fact that that the democratic nations were in a life and death battle for freedom. The bloodthirsty fascism of the Nazi’s, the lunacy of Mussolini, and the fanatical imperialism of the Japanese spurred men and women to enlist in what had become a fight for survival. We needed to be rescued from their evil rule.

 

The gospel of Jesus is the same. Paul says that Jesus gave himself for our sins ‘to deliver/rescue us from the present evil age.’ When you read the Bible it explains that we live in an age dominated by sin and ruled – to a greater or lesser degree – by Satan and his forces. Jesus came, and by his birth, death and resurrection, ushered in a new age of the Spirit, otherwise known as ‘the age to come’ or ‘last days.’ In Colossians Paul explains: (1:13-14) ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (14) in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.

 

A Christian, therefore, is someone who has been rescued out of an era and way of life that is conquered and controlled by evil, and now lives under a new rule or government. They have a new identity and existence that is under Christ’s power and authority.

 

This is God’s plan and for his glory

 

One of the interesting things about war history is to read about the planning and negotiating that went on behind the scenes. For example, in WWII New Zealand government policy was, ‘where Britain goes, we go.’ Australia, on the other hand said, “Stuff you, we’re bringing our boys back to defend Australia from the Japanese!” Then there were the meetings of the ‘big four’, Britain, America, Russia & China. They had a plan, even if they couldn’t agree on it all the time.

 

The gospel happens according to God’s plan too. It wasn’t some random, last minute, stop-gap decision to try and outwit Satan. It was planned by God from eternity (Eph.1:11) – ‘according to the will of God our Father’ (v.4). This is comforting to know, because most of us can’t plan beyond our next meal, let alone our eternal destiny! God’s sent the Son, – it was his will- and the Son gave himself to redeem us from slavery to sin.

 

So, who gets the credit? On ANZAC Day we give the credit to the soldiers who fought and those who died. We say, “We will remember them.” We don’t say, “Wasn’t that wonderful of us to let our grandfathers and fathers go and risk their lives for us!” So also, God get all the fame and glory for rescuing us from sin and Satan – forever. As Paul declares, ‘To whom (God) be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (v.5)

 

Conclusion

So, this ANZAC Day and after, honour those men and women who risked their lives and those made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. More importantly, however, honour God for sending his Son Jesus who suffered and died that we might live. He gives you peace because he gave himself for your sin and has rescued you from Satan’s control. He deserves all the credit. Remember him.

Finding Encouragement in the Midst of Discouragement

Introduction:

Everyone feels discouraged at some time. Have you? It might be your health, your job, your marriage, your family, your church, or even your living situation. As we return to work after the holidays, you may be feeling that your holiday wasn’t quite as good as you had hoped, or simply that it is over, and you are back to the daily grind.

When we read through the Bible we encounter plenty of discouraged people. The biblical writers didn’t try and gloss over their struggles, but instead wrote about them and gave the solutions.

Firstly, meet some other discouraged souls

We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find people who are down in the mouth:

  • Israel: things haven’t become better quicker. (Num.11: 1-6) Here we see Israel deeply discouraged as they wander in the desert. They are sick of eating manna, and can’t see any end in sight. Sometimes that is how you and I feel – life is a treadmill and nothing ever changes or improves, like sickness, pain, limited finance, and problems with kids, and we get despondent.
  • Moses: overwhelmed by life (Num.11:10-15) Israel’s discouragement was catching, as is often the case, and Moses ends up down in the dumps too. Because there are no secrets when you’re all living in tents, Moses hears the weeping and complaining of the people (10), and the burden gets to him (11), and he ends up feeling suicidal (15). Why? Moses felt alone in his position, and that he alone had to try and fix all the problems of Israel by himself. Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes we feel stuck – in our work, at home with the kids, – and no one to help us.
  • Elijah: loneliness/remnant (1 Ki. 19:1-4) God has just performed a miraculous sign through Elijah, but it has resulted in unparalleled hostility to God’s servant. Everyone wants to get Elijah, and he feels lonely and vulnerable. “The prophet’s depression here reached its lowest point. He was still suffering from the reaction of overstrained feeling; he was weary with nights and days of travel; he was faint with the sun’s heat; he was exhausted for want of food; he was for the first time alone – alone in the awful solitude and silence of the great white desert. Such solitude might brace the soul in certain moods; but in others it must utterly overwhelm and crush. Thus the prophet at length gave way completely – made his prayer that he might die – and, exhausted sank, to sleep.” (Albert Barnes)
  • Job: overwhelming personal tragedy and suffering. (Job 10:1) Job is a man who has suffered incredible bereavement, sickness and financial ruin. He has got every reason to be discouraged, and the people closest to him think that it is so bad that he should just kill himself (2:9). Some of us experience incredible difficulties in life – everything that could be wrong is wrong, every sickness that could afflict us is visited upon us, and even those we love can only shake their heads and wonder how we keep going.

So, from these people we see we’re not alone in feeling discouraged at times. We also see that there are many different causes to our discouragement, as there was with the saints of the past. What remedies can we find?

Secondly, consider the remedies for particular discouragements (as above)

Starting with the last of these individuals and their discouragements we will find the particular remedies they need:

  • Job: seeing God’s sovereign control. As Job suffered the unbearable discouragement of bereavement and ruin, he also suffered false accusations of some hidden sin in his life. As his friends wrongly concluded, why else would God do this? For Job, the light that shone on his situation was when God revealed his sovereign plan for Job’s life, and Job could say, “I know that You can do all things…”(42:1ff). Once Job sees that, everything improves.
  • Elijah: a meal, sleep, and reminder you’re not alone. Sometimes the solution to your discouragement may be a lot more mundane. God simply gave Elijah him a good meal and a sleep (he was obviously run down) (19:5-8), and then reminded him that he wasn’t alone in his fight of faith, but there were 7,000 others who served God (18). So often we are discouraged when like Elijah we are tired, stress, and navel-gazing, that is, holding our own little pity-party. Getting out and seeing other believers is encouraging for us when we feel discouraged through loneliness and hostility.
  • Moses: sharing the load. With our poor overburdened leader Moses it was a matter of sharing the load. God delegated his Spirit to seventy others (Num.11:16ff) to help Moses. Sometimes we’re simply trying to do too much. As they say, writing cheques that the mind and body can’t honour! When we fail to live up to our expectations discouragement easily overtakes us and we see only our failure, not our successes.
  • Israel: contentment and thankfulness. Finally, Israel needed to learn contentment. They were complaining about having to eat manna (4ff), but as God points out, if it was quail, they would eat it till it ‘comes out their nostrils’ (19)! So, even as they eat the quail God strikes them with a plague because of their unthankful discontent. Sounds like NZ today. Contentment with what we have can go a long way to avoiding discouragement and then murmuring against God’s goodness.

Finally, be encouraged by the hope of Christ

In Hebrews 12 we read a surprising passage designed to encourage Christians to persevere in their faith. The author calls his readers to ‘run’ the Christian race set before them with endurance, ‘looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith.’

Then, he describes the state of Jesus’ mind as he faced the cross, that it was ‘for the joy set before him’ that he was able to ‘endure the cross and despise the shame.’ In anticipation of the deep joy that would be his as he saved his people from their sins, as he looked forward to his reward.

What is he saying? That, the joy beyond the cross was so much greater than the suffering of the cross and the shame of being crucified like a despised criminal, so that Jesus could go through it. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a breeze or a mere nothing – it was suffering and shame – such that, beforehand he pleaded with his Father to be spared it, and sweat drops of blood in the garden. But, the joy was so much greater, that he was able to endure the cross, and count as nothing the shame.

Is this your understanding of what it means to be a Christian? There is deep, unspeakable joy on the other side, such that your current sickness, marital struggles, stresses at work, financial woes, problems with your kids, need of a bed, etcetera, etcetera, will all seem as nothing and well-worth it for the joy of faithfully persevering in your relationship with the Lord Jesus?

It’s THAT time of the year again!

Well, it is THAT time of the year again. Obviously I am referring to Christmastime.

How do I know that it is going to be Christmas soon? Because the shops are already smothered in tinsel, the endlessly repeated ‘Christmas muzak’ is playing in the malls, and my letterbox is becoming inundated with Christmas-themed junk mail.

What have all of the above got to do with Christmas, you ask. Nothing, actually. The Fat Man in the Red Suit says, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, the retailer says, “Buy! Buy! Buy!”, and the brewer says, “Drink! Drink! Drink!” – but, nothing is heard about the real reason for the season.

In contrast, over 2000 years ago, God sent his angel to tell some low-class shepherds watching their flock of sheep in a paddock near Bethlehem about the first Christmas. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is  Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:10,11)

It puzzles modern readers as to why the angel’s first words encouraged them to not be afraid. This is because we don’t realise that the Shepherds had a reputation for dishonesty and promiscuity, like lots of people today. Therefore, the angel reassured them that it had come with ‘good news of great joy’ rather than fearful words of judgment.

Notice also how the good news is ‘for all the people.’ Too often we get the impression that the good news about Jesus is for a few ‘frozen chosen’ who meet ‘religiously’ every Sunday, and who keep the Ten Commandments. The fact that the angel’s announcement came to the shepherds is significant, and then the reminder that it is to be good news for all the people of planet earth is something we need to recapture this Christmas. Are you a human? Then the good news about Jesus coming into the world to save his people from their sins is for you too.

One would have expected the shepherds to head off to the nearest palace or finest mansion to visit the Messiah of God. Instead, he is wrapped warmly and laid to sleep in a manger. Such a humble entrance for the King of the Universe. However, this very humility gives us hope. It reminds us that this is a message not just for the religious and important, but for ordinary unbelieving people like us. It is a message for you.

Merry Christmas!

The Bible: history or fiction?

Is the world of the Bible history or fiction, fact or myth? Does it really matter? If we were talking about The Lord of the Rings, for example, it doesn’t matter that the whole story is based in a fantasy world. In my opinion, it is the mythical element that makes the stories of Tolkien so attractive.

But, what about a religion that claims two billion followers? What about other religions? If we take Mormonism, for example, you have a whole book that purports to describe historical events in actual places, but no independent archaeologist has been able to find a shred of evidence to support those claims. We should have found evidence of Israelite and Egyptian migration to North America – Hebrew and Egyptian inscriptions, pottery, plant and animal remnants. So far, no archaeological evidence for the world described in the Book of Mormon has been found.

In contrast, Craig Evans in his little book, Jesus and His World (Westminster/John Knox Press: 2012) describes in detail how the physical evidence discovered over the centuries supports the story of the Jesus’ life in the gospels. He describes Sepphoris, a town within view of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth (a ‘city set on a hill’) as a thoroughly Jewish place. Prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70 CE), there is no evidence of pig bones, Roman coins, pagan idols or temples. All of these things are located post-70 AD (CE). Jesus, therefore, was not influenced by Roman mystery religions, or by Greek Cynics, as some have tried to suggest. The archaeological evidence is exactly as the New Testament describes it.

Contrary to the claims of some, Evans describes the evidence for the existence of synagogues at the time of Jesus, just as the gospels describe. He moves on to show that an illiterate Jesus is harder to explain than a literate one, that the people (Pharisees) and issues (Judaistic exclusivism) that Jesus came into conflict with are all real, and that the burial narratives of the gospel align exactly with the archaeological evidence we have today on first century Jewish burial customs.

As Evan’s points out, often ‘significant’ archaeological funds might not be anything more than a coin or piece of pottery. If they are lucky, the scholar may have a text that can be studied alongside the finds (e.g. Troy and the Iliad). The ideal is to have a text that describes people, places and dates that that the evidence supports, and in the New Testament, that is what we have. We have a massive amount of archaeological evidence and an immaculately preserved text.

 

Happy Easter Bunny – Brethren!

Say this with me:

‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven; and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy universal Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting. Amen.

That is the Apostle’s Creed, the faith all Christians confess. What about Easter, do you confess that too?

Each year when Easter comes around we try to figure out what to make of it. Looking at what others do for guidance doesn’t always help either.

On the one hand it seems that those who consider themselves secular are the truest believers. They have been talking about Easter holiday plans for months, stockpiling chocolate eggs,  and busy sharing recipes for gluten-free hot-cross buns.

On the other hand you have some who consider themselves the truest believers and who reject any observance of Easter because they see it as at best a secular celebration, and at worst a heathen festival. These look down their noses at their ignorant and corrupted fellow Christians who should know better than joining in with semi-pagan festivals.

Then there are those who take the opportunity to meet on Good Friday to contemplate the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, leaving with sadness, but returning on Easter Sunday to celebrate and rejoice in the resurrection of his Son. “He is risen!”

I guess that is what I’ll be doing this coming Easter weekend…and every Lord’s Day. Join me. ‘I believe in God…’

Do You Love the Church?

A friend recently gave me a small book with the title: ‘Loving the Church; God’s people flourishing in God’s family’. The author, John Crotts, points out that over the past couple of decades there has been a good focus by Christian leaders on the family which has unfortunately devalued the church.

Some ‘family-focused’ Christians have decided to abandon the church in favour of their families. Others have replaced ecclesiastical authority with ‘patriarchalism’ (think Abraham, long beards, long skirts etc.)  that will only tolerate the local church in so far as it is willing to conform to the demands of the family.

Whatever your views on the family, it is true that the church gets a hard time. If it isn’t just family-focused theology, there are the demands of parachurch organisations on their members time and loyalty, or straight out modern individualism – me and God.

Do you love the church? In a passage normally trotted out in pre-marriage counselling sessions, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’ (Ephesians 5.25). Jesus loved, and we may assume, loves the church – your church and mine. Jesus loves Trinity Church, and died for her.

As I get older I come to love the church more – warts and all. Sure, churches can infuriate, and even get it so wrong that they become ‘synagogues of Satan.’ However, that doesn’t give the Christian the right to abandon the church. Why? Because Jesus loves the church. The church is the place where my faith gains visible expression, and my weaknesses are helped by my brothers and sisters. I cannot walk this pilgrimage alone.

It is also, as pastor Bill Hybells has pointed out, the only ‘organisation’ that Jesus as left on the earth. According to Hybells, ‘the church is the only hope of a dying world’.

Therefore, to reject the church is to reject the love of Christ, and to abandon the world to its death. Something to think about.

See you next Sunday!

Merry Xmas Everyone!…have a Fish

It is THAT time of the year again, and love it or hate it, you’ve got to get though it.

You may be a bit shocked that a Christian would leave the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas by writing: “Merry Xmas”. Some Christians actually get pretty upset about it, like they get upset about all sorts of things.  I do that deliberately (not to annoy people!)  so that I have the opportunity to explain what the “X” stands for.

In ancient times, when people made their own copies of the Bible or wrote about God, they often wrote in the Greek language. When you go back and read those documents, you will see X’s all through the text. Why? Because it is a short hand way of referring to Jesus the Christ.

You see, in Greek, the letter Xi has the same sound in English as our ‘Ch’, so Jesus Christ looks something like ‘Iesou Xristos’…which leads me on to fish!

Sometimes, when you’re driving around town, you see cars with fish stickers on them. Why? Because in Greek, the word for fish is ‘Ichthus’ (IXTHYS), short for ‘Jesus Christ God’s Son our Saviour.’

Now, that is way more awesome than a fat guy in a red suit on a hot day saying: “Ho, ho, ho!” Think “X”, think “fish” and you have the gospel.

Confused?

Meri Kirihimete