The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Expect the Unexpected

I’ve been really SLACK! I do apologise. I haven’t even finished the Sermon on the Mount series. I’ll have to just post what I’ve done some time.

I started a series on Jesus’ miracles which makes for a very interesting study. I think most modern westerners are so overcome with the occurance of a miracle, we don’t go the extra step and ask, “what does this mean?”, “what does this teach us?”, “How  does this inform the way we relate to Jesus?” Yet, these are the precise reasons why Jesus wrked miracles. So in this series, I’m assuming the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles and their heavenly origin. What I went to ask the question, “what do these miracles reveal about Jesus, and, how are we to respond to him”.

I have also decided to include the NIV traslation of the Bible in a bid to make life easier for readers.

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The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion

Psalm 4

Answer me when I call to you,

O my righteous God.

Give me relief from my distress;

be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?

How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Selah

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;

the Lord will hear when I call to him.

In your anger do not sin;

when you are on your beds,

search your hearts and be silent. Selah

Offer right sacrifices

and trust in the Lord.

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”

Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.

You have filled my heart with greater joy

than when their grain and new wine abound.

I will lie down and sleep in peace,

for you alone, O Lord,

make me dwell in safety.

Prayer

Lord, we can often find ourselves in circumstances that are hard to overcome. Particular when we endure insult upon insult, injury upon injury, pain upon pain. So we ask you, gracious Lord, to show us your goodness. May our hearts abound with the joy of knowing you, and may we have peace and refuge in what you have surely promised. As we come to look at Jesus’ miracle at the wedding, may you bless us with a fresh understanding of who your Son Jesus is.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen!


John 2:1-11

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Expect the unexpected

What do we expect from Jesus? I reckon most people expect on of two things from Jesus. Either people expect Jesus to give them a whole bunch of rules to follow to make God happy; or they expect Jesus to run around and fix every problem they have in life. Kind of like a ‘pocket Jesus’ they can whip out when things aren’t going right. In this miracle Jesus shows he’s not about either. Instead, Jesus shows he’s about something much, much bigger.

I think most of us have been to a wedding, and it’s normal to have wine or beer or some sort of alcohol. Can you imagine being at a wedding and running out of wine. How embarrassing would that be? Well, that’s the situation we find Mary, the mother of Jesus, in. It’s likely that Mary was on the catering team, and in an effort to avoid severe embarrassment, she turns to her eldest son to provide for her. That’s what they did in those days! It just so happened that her eldest son was Jesus.

Now you might think that having Jesus for a son would solve every problem you would every have. Think again. Mary is in for a rude shock as Jesus does something no respecting son would ever do. He denies Mary any motherly claim she has over him. Mary’s expectations of Jesus were offbeat, and she had to approach her own son differently from what her  culture determined. Mary had to shift from seeing her son as someone who had obligations, to someone she had to trust in the most trying of circumstances. Why? Because Jesus was obliged to God the Father. God the Father had determined what Jesus was to do, and everything else had to conform to what God the Father had determined. All Mary could do was trust Jesus, and let him call the shots with out any obligation. There’s a sense that Mary leaves the situation in the hands of her son, not expecting any particular outcome as she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The thing is, it’s not that Jesus didn’t want to help his mother. He did! But it was crucial that his mother, and everyone else with him, had the right kind of relationship with him. Jesus did provide more wine for the wedding, not just any old wine that you give to people when they’re already drunk, but the best wine! And he did it in a way that showed people what he was about.

In Jesus time, people had this funny idea that they could make God happy by washing their hands. They got this idea from the Old Testament law. Jesus uses the jars that were used for washing hands by getting the servants to fill the jars with water. Plain, ordinary water. But when they took some of this water to the head organiser of the wedding, the water had miraculously turned into wine. By doing this, Jesus showed that he was replacing the task of following cold hard rules with the enjoyment of being in fellowship with him. And this new fellowship involved trusting Jesus. This was a profound moment for Jesus mates who struggled to understand who this man was that said to them, “follow me.” Jesus shows himself as the one who would change the way people approached God.

As I have thought about this passage, I have been struck by the severe embarrassment that Mary was facing, and Jesus’ audacity to strip Mary of all motherly claims over him right at the moment of her agony. But I think this parallels much of our Christian experience. We’re struck by one crisis, and when we’re trying to deal with that crisis, something else hits us. And in our hearts we say, “Oh Jesus! What are you doing!?” We ask him to do one thing, and something else happens. In effect, Jesus was saying to his own mother, “Trust me! Believe in who I am.” Jesus says the same thing to us today, “Trust me! What I have to offer in fellowship is far better then whatever you are worrying about.”

What can we expect from Jesus? We can expect Jesus to bring us into a right relationship with himself where we trust him and submit to him as our Lord. And he will do whatever it takes to get us there, even if it hurts. Trust him! It’s worth it!

© The Student’s Desk, 2008

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August 15, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Miracles of Jesus | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Message for 2008

Read Philippians 2:1-11

Meet your Saviour!

As Christians, we talk about how Jesus came to save people from their sins. For this reason, I keep on reminding us of the importance of believing and trusting in Jesus. But, how do we know Jesus can save us? How do we know that Jesus can sympathise with us? How do we know that Jesus can meet us exactly where we are in life, and raise us up to eternal life with him, forever? 

I mean, Jesus was born 2000 years ago. That’s a long time! He was born in a different culture, in a different country, in a different time in history. How could Jesus possibly know about life in Australia in the 21st Century? What would Jesus know about drug dependant young adults, alcoholic parents, pregnant teenage girls living with their boyfriends, mortgage repayments, machines that don’t do what they’re suppose to? What would Jesus know about being disabled, and being stuck in a wheelchair with a speech impairment? What would Jesus know about my life??? 

Jesus knows all there is to know about not just your life, but everyone’s life. When Jesus came into the world, he was born fully human. Not part human. Not a modified human. But fully human, with all the difficulties that it entailed, yet without sin.  

Jesus knew what it was to be poor. Do you know what Jesus’ first bed was? A cattle trough (Luke 2:7)! A wooden box that only a few hours before big, dopey animals were slobbering in. Later on in his life, someone came running up to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go!” Jesus effectively told this man, “Mate, I got nowhere to go. Foxes and birds are better off than me!” (Matthew 8:19-20). Jesus knew what it was to be poor.

Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated. He spent so much time teaching he disciples, and so often they’d look at him, “huh?” At the start of his ministry, he teaches in a parable. At the end of the parable, Jesus effectively says, “Unless you have understood this parable, you’re not going to understand anything else. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Later on, the disciples came to Jesus, “err, please explain?” (Luke 8:8-9). How frustrating! Or at the end of his ministry, when after three long years of teaching his disciples about God, one of the disciples said “Jesus, show us the Father.” (John 14:8). Had it all gone in one ear and out the other? Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated.

Jesus knew what it was to mourn. When one of Jesus mates died, Jesus actually wept. Even though Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, and he went to Lazarus’ tomb specifically to do so, Jesus felt all the pain, all the anger, all the confusion of seeing a loved one die. (John 11:35). Jesus knew what it was to mourn. 

Jesus knew what it was to be angry. He went to the temple one day and was utterly disgusted by what he saw. The temple was where you want to pray to God, offer sacrifices, and learn about God. Instead of a prayer place, Jesus found a market place! (Matthew 21:12-13). Can you imagine trying to have a church service in the middle of the local shopping centre at Christmas time? It would be utter chaos! People coming and going in every direction, noises drowning out every word and thought. This would be the kind of scene Jesus came across. Is it any wonder Jesus got angry? 

My personal favourite is Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood. Not that the Bible says that Jesus had a speech impairment. In fact, Jesus probably had good, clear speech. But he wasn’t always understood. Like when he told his disciples to be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples thought he was upset with them because they didn’t have any bread with them. He wasn’t talking about bread! He was talking about the teaching of the religious leaders of the time (Matthew 16:5-12). Or when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the need to be born again. Poor Nic was scratching his head wondering how a grown man could crawl back inside his mother’s womb! Jesus wasn’t talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth (John 3:5-8). Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood.

Jesus knew what it was to be betrayed. Do you know who gave Jesus over to the authorities? One of his best mates who had been with Jesus from the beginning, Judas (John 18:2-3). You think you know a guy, don’t you? 

Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus begged his disciples, “please, stay up and pray with me.” Yet every time he went back to his disciples, he found them sleeping (Matthew 26:36-46)! The next morning another of Jesus closest mates, Peter, would deny that he knew Jesus at all (Matthew 26:69-75). Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. 

Jesus knew anxiety like none of us can imagine! As he prayed that night, alone, drops of sweat came from his head that looked like blood (Luke 22:44). 

Jesus knew what it was to be rejected. For a time, Mary and Joseph had to hide with Jesus in another country, so he wouldn’t be killed by the local governor (Matthew 2:13-15). He was rejected by the very people who he grew up with when he tried to tell them about the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:53-58). Occasionally he was rejected for healing people and doing good (Matthew 12:10-14). Not to mention his rejection at the end of his life when the crowds shouted in anger at the top of their voice “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matthew 23:18-23). 

Jesus knew what it was to be abused. As he was being led to the cross, people spat on him, struck him, taunted him, called him names, and made fun of him (Matthew 27:17-31). 

Jesus also knew what it was to have a body that doesn’t function. Joni Eareckson Tada who suffers from paraplegia realised Jesus knew exactly what it was to have a body that could not move when he was fastened to the cross, unable to move (Matthew 27:42). 

Wherever we are in life, Jesus knows about it. There is nothing that we will experience that Jesus has not. Jesus has been there, he’s done that, and he is able to meet us in that place, and help us. 

So know you might be thinking, “ok, I get the idea that Jesus experienced all there was to being human. But, what can he do about my situation?” Jesus can do plenty, because Jesus is also fully God. God himself (Mark 2:7). That same power that created all things from nothing – that formed the earth, put the stars, sun, and moon in their places, that filled the sky with birds, and the land with animals and made plants and trees grow from it, that breathed into a handful of dirt and created a man (Genesis 1, 2) – that same power is in the person of Jesus. The power to re-create! 

We see this in Jesus’ ministry. He heals the sick (Mark 1:29-31; 3:3-6; 5:24-34; Luke 5:12-13; John 4:43-53), raises the dead (Mark 5:38-42; Luke 7:12-16; John 11:32-44), drives out demons (Mark 1:24-26; 5:1-13), restores sight to the blind (Matthew 9:27-31), hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb (Mark 7:32-37), and makes the lame walk (John 5:5-9). He feeds the hungry (John 6:1-5), welcomes sinners and outcasts restoring relationships (Luke 15:1-2). Not just once or twice, but a continual part of his ministry. Miracles were an every day event with Jesus. Yet, all this was just a foretaste of his future ministry, because at that time, Jesus will come and restore all things, even you and me. It will be a re-creation. 

This ministry has already begun. It began on the cross. By Jesus dying on the cross as he did, Jesus remained absolutely obedient to God in a way that none of us can. And because of Jesus’ obedience, a way has now been established to cancel sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:12-14). Because of this, the most important relationship has been restored – our relationship with God. 

It’s by Jesus that people stand or fall with God. Because of Jesus’ obedience, God has made Jesus the authoritative figure when it comes to our relationship with God. There is no alternative. On that day of the great restoration, everyone, regardless of what they believe or think about Jesus now, will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord!

Well what about you? Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do you believe Jesus is able to meet you exactly where you are in life, with all the warts, and all the difficulties, and all the shortcomings? Do you trust in Jesus promise of restoration? Not just in the future, but now, knowing your sin and wrongdoings have been dealt with once and for all, and you are able to enjoy a right standing before God now?

This is what the Bible proclaims about Jesus. Let us be encouraged by this, and be comforted by God’s love for us. That Jesus was born, fully human, fully God, that we may enjoy eternal life with him.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saved by Grace!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 111

At this time of Easter, Lord, we pause to remember that you sent Jesus to pay for our sins, in our place, and raising from the dead to new life. Lord, even if we’ve heard the story of Jesus death and resurrection 100 times before, may it spark a new passion in us. May we long for the new life Jesus has won for us. As we consider again the story of Moses, and how you saved your people from the Egyptians, may it serve as a picture of what you have done with Jesus for us.

In Jesus name we pray.

Saved by Grace

Read Exodus 12:1-13

Last time we talked about the 10 plagues of Egypt, and we said that by these 10 plagues, God was showing that he is all knowing, all doing, and all powerful. He is God almighty! This time, I want to focus on the last plague of Egypt, the plague of death as a picture of how God saves people. It’s also a picture of how Jesus has saved us.

The last plague God set upon Egypt was by far the worst. This meant every first-born, whether animal or human, would die. It was a terrible thing to have happened! Every house in Egypt would’ve tasted death – whether a person or an animal. We might wonder how can God do such a thing! This is the point I want to focus on.

As terrible as the plague of death may have been, God was gracious in his judgement. God did provide a way out. This was the last night God’s people were to spend in Egypt and be established as their own nation. They were to mark this occasion with a commemorative meal of roast lamb which they were to celebrate each year. Now God told his people to take some of the lamb’s blood and paint it on the doorframes of their houses. That sounds a bit gory doesn’t it? But blood would be a very important symbol, and we’ll find out why in a minute. God promised that when ever he saw a house with lamb’s blood on the doorframe, he would pass over that house. His judgement would not come upon that house, and no animal or person in that house would die. So there was a way to escape God’s judgement.

I also want to add that there was no favouritism here. God did give his instructions to the Israelites – his people. But this doesn’t mean that everyone who was an Israelite would be saved, and everyone who was an Egyptian would be judged and suffer the plague of death. I suspect on one hand there would’ve been Egyptians who had seen the first 9 plagues, got wind of the 10th, and did what the Israelites had been told. On the other hand, there would’ve been Israelites who would’ve thought this is all a bit beyond the pale and ignored God’s instruction, and ended up with death in their houses. God’s grace demands a response. Those who did what they were told and painted blood on the doorframes of their houses did not suffer death.

God’s judgement against the Egyptians isn’t the last judgement God will make. There’s another judgement coming, a final judgement, and it will be greater and more terrible than the one in Egypt. This time, God will judge the whole universe! But God has provided a way out – Jesus.

The night before Jesus died, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover – the same meal that the Israelites used to remember the way God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians. It was a party! But Jesus does something special on this occasion. He takes the symbols of the meal, and applies them to himself. Instead of lamb’s blood on doorposts turning away God’s judgement, it would be his own blood on a Roman crucifix turning away God’s judgment.  Our response is not to paint lamb’s blood, but to believe and trust in Jesus. Just as the people in Egypt escaped God’s judgement by responding to his provision of grace, we too will escape God’s judgement by responding to his provision of grace in Jesus.

So with the story of Moses, we have seen how God can work from the most impossible of situations. We have seen when God acts, it’s not always in a way that we may expect. Sometimes we end up doing things we don’t want to do. We have seen that God is all knowing, all doing, and all powerful. And today we have seen today that God is also judge, but out of love for his people, he provides a way out of his judgement. At Easter we particularly remember how God provided Jesus as our way out – a way out of his final judgement.

God is a gracious God who loves his people very, very much. All he wants from us is to respond by loving him back.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Biblical Theology, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Behold your God and Saviour!

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Editor’s Note:

I have been privileged personally to study the 10 Plagues of Egypt, and to understand something of God’s greatness and all sufficiency. I began to write a much more extensive work on this piece of history of God’s people, however it was distracting me from my formal studies. I hope in the next few months, I’ll be able to complete the work and publish it on The Student’s Desk. For now, here’s the devotional…

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Isaiah 45:22-25

Lord, hearing your word spoken through Isaiah we often forget how great you really are. Even when we do think about your greatness, we hardly grasp how great you are. We call you ‘Saviour’, and yet go looking into other things to provide for our needs which are just so insignificant compared to you. As we look at what you did in Egypt many years ago through Moses many years ago, allow us to understand something of your greatness, and that you control all things. Let us know that no matter how big or how small something may be, we can come to you with it, and you have the authority to deal with it.

In Jesus name we pray.

Behold your God and Saviour!

Read Exodus 6:1-9

Or extended reading Exodus 7 – 12

Last time we talked about how God was sending Moses back to Egypt – the last places Moses wanted to go! – and bring God’s people from Egypt where they had been working as slaves.  God was about to save his people.

Now when God saves people, he doesn’t do it just for the fun of it, or just to be kind. When God saves people, he does so to establish them in a relationship with himself. In order to have a right relationship with someone, it helps to know a few things about them. The same goes for God. Ask around today and you’ll find all sorts of crazy ideas about who God is that have little to do with what the Bible says. Perhaps one of the most popular notions of God is someone we carry around in our back pocket to be whipped out every time we want something – not unlike a credit card! When we have what we want we tuck him away, safe and sound, and forget about him until the next time we want something.

So we come to the problem in Egypt. God’s people had been immersed in Egyptian culture and Egypt beliefs for 430 years – twice as long as Europeans have been in Australia. It’s estimated the Egyptians had some 80 gods, each with there own responsibilities and powers. It was believed that it was these gods who made Egypt the great civilization that it was. Such thinking was intolerable to God because it was a lie. If God was going to his these people as his most treasured possession (Exodus 19:5),  they would have to know just who he is.

God did this through 10 great miracles, or what is often known as the ‘10 Plagues of Egypt’. Perhaps at one level, we may be tempted to think this is God ‘chucking a tanty’. But these miracles are precisely controlled and deliberate in what they reveal about God. In the mist of these catastrophes, we find God exercising mercy and grace. God could have snuffed out Egypt like a candle. But it was God’s concern that the Egyptians also knew who he is. So these plagues are much more than God giving the Egyptians a good spanking for enslaving his people. As the severity of the miracles increases, the Egyptian magicians and officials begin to realise the God of these foreigners is not airy fairy idea or some localised deity, but the Lord of the universe and is greater than all the 80 gods of Egypt put together. Even Pharaoh began to crack under pressure but was too stubborn to yield.

The 10 plagues that God sent included blood, frogs, gnats, flies, sickness of livestock, skin disease, hail, locusts, darkness, and death. Now some of those sound pretty aweful. But by doing these things, God shows that he’s more powerful then anyone else, and that he alone is God. From these 10 plagues, God demonstrates the he is the one that sustains nations, the earth and the universe; he controls life and death; he has authority over new life and resurrection; he is the one who provides health; he is the one who controls the weather; he is the one who provides food and clothing; he alone is the eternal God. He is God almighty! All knowing. All doing. All powerful. All we need is to submit to God.

This has great significance for us as there isn’t anything God can’t handle. God is much more than someone we whip out of our back pocket every time we need something. We have what we have because of who God is. Further more, he wants each of us to know him in a personal relationship. God hasn’t saved us for the fun of it. He has saved us for a personal relationship with himself. Therefore we ought to be thanking him for all that we have, and going to him with all our concerns. In this way, we come to know God better and better.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

March 9, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God has a plan, but…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 145:1-13

Lord we can easily forget how much you love us, especially when things don’t seem to be going our way. But we know Lord that you are God who’s constantly at work to draw us even closer into a relationship with you. Help us to see your works, to marvel at you mercy and love, that we may praise you, and tell everyone else just how great you are!

In Jesus name we pray.

God has a plan, but…

Reading Exodus 3:1-10

Last time we left Moses as a young boy growing up in the Royal household of Egypt. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, and we had hoped this Moses would change all that. But now, many years later, we find that Moses is living in Midian which was at least 400km away, by horse or by foot. Moses has settled down with a wife, and has a good life. Further, Moses had no interest in returning to Egypt because his own people don’t respect him, and Pharaoh would probably take his head for killing an Egyptian. Things don’t look good for God’s people. Has God lost the plot? Was the birth of Moses just a false hope?

No. For all this time God had been in tune with what had been going on. God had been hearing the cries of his people and is about to act, and another great miracle of the Moses story occurs: God speaks to Moses from a burning bush that wasn’t being destroyed by the fire. Now that might be telling us something in itself. Even though God’s people were going through all kinds of suffering, they weren’t going to be destroyed. And God was about to tell Moses how.

God is going to send Moses to Egypt to bring his people out. WHAT!? God’s people didn’t respect Moses last time, Pharaoh wants him dead, and God wants to send him packing back to Egypt!? Besides all that, Moses has a good life Midian. Surely God’s lost the plot this time!

Have you ever been in a position where you’ve been asked to do something and you don’t want to? What happens? You give every excuse you can think of not to do it, and then some! Well this is what Moses does with God. It sounds like a teenager having an argument with their parents! Listen to the excuses:

Excuse #1: ‘I’m nobody!’ Well that’s a fib to start with! He was raised in the Royal Court after all. Besides that, Moses wasn’t doing this on his own. This was God’s work, and God was going to be with him every step of the way.

Excuse #2: ‘I’ve got no authority!’ That was true. So God told him his name which referred to his relationship with his people, and meant he loved them very much.

Excuse #3: ‘What if they ignore me!?’ God enabled Moses to perform 3 different miracles that Moses could perform at any time to show he was more powerful than the Egyptians. Now that’s someone you don’t want to ignore!

Excuse #4: This is my personal favourite – “I have a speech impairment!” That doesn’t wash with God either. God promises Moses he’ll help him speak, and give him the words to say. And if that wasn’t enough, Aaron his brother could speak for him.

Poor Moses. He just ran out of excuses, and not long after, he was packing for Egypt. The hope of Moses bringing God’s people out of Egypt was still very much a real one. But we’ve learned some important things today. 1) God never forgets about his people. 2) God uses the most unlikely people to achieve his purposes. And 3) when God does use people, he gives them everything they need to do what they are asked.

So we can trust God, even when things seem out of control. And if we’re to be part of the solution, God will provide everything we need to do his work.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moses: The Beginnings of Hope

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Introduction

In this series of devotions, we take a flying overview of the story of Moses. It’s an incredible story of the way God brings about his purposes out of hopeless situations. God really is God of the impossible. A feature that should stand out to us is time. Often we expect God to fit in to our lifestyle of instant coffee and microwave dinners, and get frustrated when God doesn’t seem to be responding to our prayers. However, God’s plan for his people would span the life of Moses, and the final acts of deliverance would only be experienced by the next generation. Not only that but the story of Moses is part of a bigger picture that began 4 generations ago when God promised Abraham that he would become a father to a nation, and that nation would be God’s own people. It was a promise that would culminated in the person of Jesus, and wont be fulfilled until his return. Who knows what God has in mind for our lives, and the purposes he has for not only us, but for generations to come! The story of Moses in a microcosmic way shows us how God brings about his ways by intimately working through people in ways we would never think of. The story of Moses teaches us to be patient and wait upon God’s timing; to marvel at the way God works and to have complete confidence in him; and ultimately, look to God for our salvation.

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 121

Lord we can look at the world sometimes, or what’s even going on in our own lives, and feel intimidated, even scared. We can feel frustrated Lord, labouring day in and day out, and not get anywhere. So it is a great comfort to know that our help comes from you. That we’ll never find you sleeping, you’re always watching over us, keeping us from destruction no matter how difficult life gets. Lord these truths are so evident in the life of your people. As we look at the story of Moses, help as to be amazed at the way you work, and to know we can have our trust in you.

In Jesus name we pray.

The beginnings of hope…

Reading: Exodus 2:1-10

Sometimes we find situations that are just hopeless. It may be an event we’ve heard on the news, or it may be circumstances in our own life. And there appears to be no way out. No matter how hard we think, and try to fix the problem, we’re stuck there. But I want us to know that God knows when we’re stuck, and he does care deeply about us. Even when it seems nothing is happening, and we’re getting frustrated, God is at work to solve our problems in ways that we would never think of.

It’s at such a time in the life of God’s people the baby Moses was born. This was around 1,500 years before Jesus. Let me paint the scene: God’s people had migrated to Egypt and had become a large number of people – there were thousands of them! The King of Egypt, Pharaoh, began to worry about how many foreigners there were in his country. He was worried that one day they’d all run-a-muck and take over Egypt. So he hatched a plan, to stop this from happening. He had all God’s people put into slavery where they were forced to do hard work. But that didn’t work because they just became more and more numerous. So Pharaoh came up with another plan that was even worse than the first. Pharaoh was going to have every new born baby boy killed by throwing them in the river. NASTY! He did this for 2 reasons: 1) so little boys couldn’t grow up to be big soldiers and fight him, and 2) so that the only men the girls could marry would be Egyptians. God’s people were in serious trouble, and they couldn’t do anything about it.

But God was at work, and miracles were happening. A baby boy was born, and his mother was able to hide him for three whole months. Can you imagine trying to hide a baby with all the noise they make??? But then she got one up on the Egyptians. She made it look like her baby was thrown into the river just like all the others, but somehow survived the ordeal. Then who else should find the baby then Pharaoh’s daughter? Uh oh! This baby is a gonner for sure! There’s no way the Pharaoh will allow his daughter to keep a foreign baby! But no. Pharaoh’s daughter had pity on the baby, and took him to be her own. The plan has worked. Pharaoh’s daughter believed the baby had been thrown in the river and gave him the name ‘Moses’.

But we haven’t heard the best part. Moses’ sister is standing at a distance watching all this happen. Now royalty never bring up their own. They always have nurses or nannies to do the job for them. So Moses’ sister goes running up to Pharaoh’s daughter and offers to get a nurse for her. Pharaoh’s daughter says, “yep, go get one!” But who does Moses’ sister get? Mum! So not only does Moses get to live, but he gets to be raised by his Mum in the Royal Court. So Moses is going to get the best education, the best food, and the best lifestyle. The only catch is, Moses’ mum can’t let anyone know who she really is. But that’s ok, because there’s a much bigger issue at stake – the rescue of God’s people. We’ll get to see how Moses’ childhood plays a big part in this in the coming weeks.

Well so far, God’s people are still stuck in slavery. They’ll be in slavery for a while yet. In fact, things are about to get a whole lot worse for them. But already we have seen God busy behind the scenes setting up something big, even though we might be wondering what baby boys have got to do with people in slavery. For this reason, we can be confident that God is at work, even though it may not look like it. So we ought to be praying to God about the things we struggle with. We ought to be patient and wait for his timing, and his purposes. Because whatever God has in mind will be far better than what we could ever imagine!

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Old Testament | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Official launch of The Student’s Desk website

Yes, I’ve occupied this little corner of cyberspace for over a year, but after a bit of creativity and allot of hard work over my summer break, today marks the official launch of The Student’s Desk website.

The main aim of the website is to provide a written word ministry in teaching the Bible. But it’s also a personal website. So you’ll find a bit of information about me, and a few other bits and pieces, including other ministries that I’m involved with, and updates about my studies.

The Student’s Desk also has facilities so you can subscribe and get notifications via email of updates, and make donations securely if you’re so inclined.

Most of all, I hope this website will provide a source of encouragement and teaching to many.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Site News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beliefs Page

Page added – Beliefs

Here I outline concisely what my core beliefs are as a Christian so visitors may know the theological framework for my papers.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Religious, Site News, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And when you pray…

(Matthew 6:5-13)

As a Christian of a number of years, I have heard much talk on prayer. Most of it I agree with, some I don’t, particularly what I heard as a child. One point I will always agree with is that prayer is not only important, it is essential to the Christian life. For it is by prayer that we commune and interact with the living God. But I also believe fervently, the Church, us as Christians, needs to evaluate with great care to whom are we praying and what are we to pray for.

These are the issues I want to address, and I’m going to do it by examining the model of prayer that our Lord gave us, commonly miscalled “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” found in Matthew 6:9-13. I say miscalled because if you want to know The Lord’s prayer, you’ll find it in the Garden of Gethsemene the night before Jesus was crucified (John 11). But that’s on the side.

This is what Jesus taught his disciples:

 “‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’

We shall consider Jesus’ model under two main headings – Two whom are we praying, and what we ought to pray for.

To whom are we praying?

Jesus commences his model by first addressing who it is we are praying to. And it’s important to recognise God for who he really is. Because what you think about God will determine how you pray, and how you relate to God. So Jesus outlays three things about God we need to bear in mind when we pray, that he is our Father, he is in heaven, and he is holy.

Our Father

There has been a movement in recent times to substitute the title ‘Father’ for something else. Particularly by people who have had a bad father figure as a child. They find a title like ‘close friend’ more acceptable. Now, if you have had a bad father figure as a child, I don’t mean to trivialise, or brush your hurts away to one side. Your hurts are legitimate hurts, and they need to be dealt with – and properly. But I do believe it is important to address God as Father because 1) He tells us too. This is the way God wants us to relate to him. And 2) calling God a ‘close friend’ doesn’t quite cut it. It doesn’t adequately describe the relationship he has with us.

You see, for a friendship to commence, the two people need to have something in common. Something they are both interested in. In recent years, I’ve become quite good friends with a married couple who both have cerebral palsy. That friendship didn’t start instantaneously, or automatically. In fact, on my first camp, I spent a good deal of time talking Don, but at the end of camp, we both went on our merry way and didn’t talk to each other for 2 years. That friendship only got started when I turned up in my Suzuki 4WD at another camp. Lo and behold, Don owned one too, and we became interested in each others cars. Now the relationship has moved on from cars, and on rare occasion, we discuss something other then cars, much to wife’s relief.

But with God, it’s different. God did not sit us down at a local café, to suss out our likes and dislikes over coffee. Our relationship with God is much more instantaneous then that. Our relationship is more like one between a child and their parent.

See, when I was born, Dad didn’t whisk me off to the hospital cafeteria to discuss my aspirations in life over lunch to decide whether or not he wanted to be my father. There was an instantaneous relationship that took place. The moment I was born, Dad knew I was his Son, and somehow, as baby’s know, I knew he was my Father. And there is no other person you can have this kind of relationship with, no matter how close you are to them. Except God.

Since God is our Father, he is personal. God is not some mystical force we need dial our psyche into. Nor is he some cosmic tyrant who we need to keep happy, or keep badgering until he gives us what we want. No. He is God our Father. He is close. He knows what we need before we even ask of him, as Jesus says just prior to giving us this model “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). He is intimate with us. He is concerned for you. He is concerned for what is going on in your life. He’s concerned for your needs. So then we might well pray, “Our Father.”

In heaven

God our Farther is in heaven. He is eternal. He is powerful. He has authority over every facet of life. He is the one who controls the universe! He is not constrained in any way, shape or form unlike us. Have you ever tried standing on the beach facing the waves and yelling out “STOP! BE STILL!” Do you think the waves would listen? We have very limited ability. But Jesus could. He was God, and he had authority over the wind and the waves (Mark 4:37-39). Since God is so powerful, because he has such authority, he is able to answer our concerns.

Let me tell you a story: A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having my car stolen. My beloved Subaru – as clapped out as it was. At the time, I had a personal friend who happened to be a police officer. Because he was a personal friend, he was concerned for my predicament. He wanted to see me get my car back. But because he was a police officer, he also had authority over the issue, and was in a position to help recover my car. He knew where all the car dumping sites were, and went looking around. He knew what paperwork needed to be done, and did it. My mate was a person of authority, and because of it, he was able to help. Similarly, God is prepared to hear our prayers as a Father. But he’s also powerful to answer them. So then we may well pray “Our Father in heaven”.

Hallowed be your name

Thirdly, his name is hallowed. God is holy, he is pure. There is no blemish in his nature. He is fit to be God. It is a concern of mine that sometimes we personalise God so much that we start thinking he’s just like us. We turn God into some kind of ooshy gooshy, God loves all, kind of celestial Santa Claus, and forget that he is totally different from ourselves. God is pure, we’re sinful. There’s no greater divide then that.

The prophet Habakkuk proclaimed: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (1:13). The disciple Peter when confronted with the person of Jesus begs, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Peter knew where he was at. Which bring me back to my first point. If our relationship with God depended on a cup of coffee, it wouldn’t get started at all. There is no common ground between us and God. There is nothing we are both interested in. We are utterly self-centred, God is utterly other-centred. Yet, this is the God who brings us into his holy presence, and initiates a relationship with us. And this is the God we pray to. A God who is concerned for our needs and concerns. A God who is powerful to act. A God who’s holiness demands our humble repentance. And since God is holy, so to must our prayers be holy. When we pray, we must have in the forefront of our minds who it is we are praying to. And in the light of who God is, we must give careful consideration what we are to pray for.

What we ought to pray for…

Your kingdom come

Jesus’ model of prayer continues with ‘your kingdom come’. Now what’s a kingdom? We don’t really talk about kingdom these days. A kingdom is simply this, the realm or area that a king dominates or rules. And we, as Christians, talk about God as being king. But how is God king? How does God rule? How does God’s kingdom come?

I guess when we think about God’s kingdom, we think about the final day when Jesus will come back and establish God’s kingdom on earth. At least, that’s what comes to my mind. And we are right in thinking that, and that day should be engraved on the forefront of our minds. But, there is also an immediate sense of God’s rule today, right here, right now. In that we are being renewed in the image of Christ. As we study God’s word, the Bible, and it impacts our hearts and our minds, and come to know what it means to live as Christians. As we meet together, and spur each other on in the Christian life. As we sing songs, as bad as some of us may sound, in worship and praise of God, there lies the Kingdom of God, breaking into a fallen and sinful world, and having an impact.

It is a concern of mine that we as Christians seem to have lost the fervour we ought to have for God’s kingdom. Our society isn’t short of things to keep us busy. There’s always something to occupy us. And when our friends and family demand time and energy from us, we have a tendency to tell them, “just wait till I get this done, maybe next week.” And that’s fine, we need to be doing that to each other. We’re not all superman. But the trouble is, in our heart of hearts, don’t we say that to God?” “Just let me finish my studies.” “Just let me establish my business”. “Just let me buy a house.” “Just let me compete at the next Olympics.” “Just let me get married and have kids.” “Not just yet Jesus. Just let me get this done, then I’m yours Lord, all yours.”

And this kind of thinking comes out in what we pray for: a better job; maybe a job in the first place, a more powerful car, a bigger house, more money. Now these things may be important to pray for. Maybe you own a 2 bedroom house, and kid number 3 is on the way. Maybe you’re in a job where your boss treats his pet dog better then what he does you. We all have needs and desires, and there is nothing wrong with that. In Philippians 4:6 the Bible commands us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” But something has gone amiss when we are so focused on our needs and our desires that we loose sight of God’s kingdom. When loose sight of our personal relationship with Jesus. We loose sight of his return. When we are more concerned about seeing our shopping lists fulfilled, then God’s kingdom fulfilled.

As Christians, we’re to be primarily about God’s Kingdom. Know Jesus is coming back. Expect the breaking in of God’s kingdom and God’s rule, now, in your life, and the lives of others, and in the future. So then we might well pray “your kingdom come”.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Once we have appreciated something of the character of God, and the nature of his kingdom, what are we going to do about it? How do we live Christians lives in a sinful world?

It worries me when people make simplistic solutions to complex questions. Living out Christian lives and enforcing Christian values takes much care and consideration. What’s your position on Stem cell research? The “War on Terrorism”? Environmental issues? Economic issues? Even within your own relationships?

These are all very complex issues and just a sample of what we encounter as Christians. If we’re to have an influence in such areas, we need to have thought through, and prayed through these with great care in the context of God’s kingdom. So then we might well pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Give us today our daily bread.

In our society, we tend to be fiercely independent when it comes to looking after our needs. We store up vast amounts of wealth for our retirement, buy investments properties for that little bit extra, and buy shares for our kids. And there is nothing wrong with that. We ought to be good stewards of what God gives us. But something has gone wrong if we as Christians have our entire security bound up in what we can do for ourselves. Quite plainly, it is God who sustains the entire universe and us. It is declared in Revelation 5:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” And again in Acts 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

It is because God exists we have what we have. If God were to disappear into some mysterious vacuum, do you know how long we would last? The moment God disappears, we disappear at that same moment.

So then, how can we dare assume, it is to our own ability that we are sustained. I am constantly surprised by the way God provides for me. Whenever I need something extra, the money always comes from somewhere. A cheque in the mail, or some extra work. It crops up every time. Maybe some of you have had simular experiences. God provides. He’s the one sustains us. So we ought to ask him for our daily needs, and not simply be looking to our stockpile of wealth, if we happen to have one.

Even for us who are on pensions, it’s easy for us to think that all our needs have been taken care of. The government will give us security. But no. While the government might be the one handing out money, God’s working behind the scenes, providing for us.

Praying for our needs and the needs of others gives a front row seat in God’s theatre of creation where we are not only the spectators, but the participants as well. By praying for our needs and interacting with God exposes us to the awesomeness of creation, and the character of God who made it. So then we might well pray “give us our daily bread”.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

This is quite difficult to understand, and I didn’t understand it until the other week when I was studying the relationship Israel had with God in the Old Testament.

Why do we need to ask God to forgive our debts, or forgive our sins? Hasn’t our sins been done with when Jesus was crucified for our sins, died, buried and rose from the dead? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus made a once for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:2, 10)? Well, yeah. So why ask for further forgiveness?

Simply for this reason, we’re not yet perfect. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we’ve stopped offending God. Don’t get me wrong. Our relationship with God is secure, make no mistake. Our place in heaven is secure, have no doubt. But they’re not secured by our capacity to maintain that relationship with God. They’re secured by God’s willingness to maintain that relationship with us.

Think about this, if you held a grudge against everyone who offended you, or rubbed you up the wrong way, even the slightest amount, how many friends would you have? If you’re like me, you wouldn’t have any friends. So in order to maintain our friendships, and other relationships, we exercise a certain amount of forgiveness toward each other. And we ask God to do the same. Maintain that relationship, forgive our sins.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What a strange request this is – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. What could Jesus possibly mean?

This section on prayer is part of a bigger sermon we call The Sermon on the Mount. And much of the sermon is addressing religious hypocrisy – going through all the religious motions, without any heart conviction. Or saying one thing, and doing another.

Towards the start of his sermon, Jesus says this, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20).

If you think that’s a heavy going statement, you’re right! Who were these Pharisees? Who were the teachers of the law? They were the good guys! They were the guys that did everything right. They went to church each week, they prayed, they fasted, they gave money to the poor. If you had a question about the Bible you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. If you needed advise, you went to a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. And to all this religious activity, Jesus says NOT GOOD ENOUGH. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What was the problem? The problem was it wasn’t from the heart. It was all just a show. They weren’t being genuine with their faith. And this is the evil Jesus is instructing us to pray against. We still have this problem today. No matter which area of Christianity you come from, it’s easy to get so caught up in the religious side of things, you actually leave God behind. And all God wants from you is a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship.

You might come from a high Anglican or Catholic background where there’s allot of emphasis on tradition, sacraments, and church authority. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from a Charismatic, or Pentecostal background, where the emphasis is on emotion, and music of performance production standards. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Or you might come from an evangelical background, like the low Anglican, and Presbyterian churches where there’s an emphasis on theology, knowing the Bible and evangelism. But when you take all that away, who are you before God? Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

Or even in my case, where I spend hours studying the Bible, when you take away my theology books, and talks, and assignments, and all the bits and pieces I busy myself with, who am I before God? Do I have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

It’s an important question to ask – Do you have that heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God? Toward the end of his sermon, Jesus says this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21-22).

And to that, we may hear other questions: “Did we not go to church every Sunday?” “Did we not pray?” “Did we not give to the poor?” “Did we not help out people with disabilities?” Jesus continues, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with doing good things! As Christians, we ought to be doing such. But fundamentally, Christianity is about you and God, heart-to-heart, face-to-face. And everything we do, all the good stuff, needs to stem from that relationship. If we don’t, and we’re just going through some religious routine, then we’re settling for second best. Not only this, but we’re ripping God off as well.

Jesus knew about this. Jesus knows we get hung up on other stuff. That’s why he tells us to pray against this temptation and evil.

Now I’ve pointed out the main points in Jesus model of prayer, I wish to point out some things that aren’t in this model.

There is nothing in this model of prayer to require you to assume a particular position. There is nothing in this model of prayer to suggest there are better times to pray then others. There is nothing in this model of prayer that requires you to pray in a particular place. There is no benefit to be had with praying in a church building, or in front of a statue. Not even a fence post, for those who remember the events at Bondi. Neither is there any advantage in going on a pilgrimage half way around the world.

Neither is there a requirement to even verbalise your prayers. You know when you have a time of open prayer in a group, and there’s an embarrassing silence before the person who closes, closes? When I meet with the people at the Spastic Centre, I actually let that silence go a little longer. Allot of those people can’t speak. But that doesn’t mean they can’t pray.

God is an incredibly intimate God. He is our Father, He is mighty, and he is holy. God wants a heart-to-heart, face- to-face, personal relationship with us. How do you pray? Do you use a particular model or mechanism? When you boil it right down, prayer is about you and God talking stuff over. Not you, God, and your parents. Not you, God, and your friends. Not you, God, and your church – although we can and should pray with all these people as a community of believers. Prayer, fundamentally is about you and God. Are you concerned for God’s concerns? Do you have a heart-to-heart, face-to-face relationship with God?

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Vilification in Australia

Synopsis:

The following essay addresses the issues of religious tolerance in Australia. It briefly explores the ethical theory that makes religious pluralism and multiculturalism possible before rejecting this theory for its incompatibility with Christianity. An alternate ethical approach is then developed based on the Bible exploring Old and New Testament attitudes to alternate belief systems, and their theology behind them. It is found that the Old Testament had little tolerance toward alternate belief systems, while the New Testament was more tolerant, though not within the church. The reasons given for this are the identity and mission of Israel, and the theological changes that occurred with Israel being personified in Christ. On the basis of these theological changes, there is now no biblical basis for the suppression of other belief systems, yet still recognises the need to limit religious freedom, though finding a basis for such demands without a Christian framework may prove difficult.
——
Australia is recognised as a country with ethnic and cultural diversity with no state religion.[1] This implies that within Australian society there is representation of a large variety of beliefs and religions. As such, civil values include the ‘respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual’ and ‘freedom of religion and secular government’.[2] That is, Australians are able to choose to practice any religion of their choice, or none at all, and not to harbour intolerant attitudes to other religious groups. Australians are also to share equality under the law regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion or political background.[3]  Such civic values pose interesting questions for those who believe the Bible as the authoritative word breathed by God, and wish to advance Christian beliefs and values. Issues of maintaining the exclusive claims of the Bible and advancing Christian beliefs in a multicultural and pluralistic society come with difficulties. While falsehood is a concern for those who are zealous for their beliefs, fairness between religious groups also needs to be maintained so that one group does is not subjected to vilification by another, or one group is shown favouritism over another. The underlying issue is in such a pluralist society is one of truth. Religious intolerance would restrict the advancement of falsehood, although this would also imply the advancement of Christian beliefs and values would need to be forfeited. Religious toleration would not restrict the advancement of falsehood, although presumably, Christians would share equal opportunity to advance their belief and values. Hence a tension exists between the claims of the Bible, and the rights of an individual. In order to establish an ethical response from a biblical perspective, the Bible’s attitude toward other religions in both the Old and New Testaments needs to be considered. However, it is also necessary to consider the ethical theory which has developed the contemporary values of Australian society.

The ethical theory which multiculturalism and pluralism have come from is most likely situation ethics as many of the features are consistent. Joseph Fletcher developed the theory in response to the failures of legalism and antinomianism.[4] The principles of this ethical theory are: 1) pragmatism – the criteria for discerning right answer is love. This principle is recognised in the representation of tolerance between belief systems. 2) relativism – the avoidance of absolute statements. This can be clearly seen in with religious toleration as it does not recognise any one group of having the truth in any absolute sense. 3) Positivism – that a person comes to faith through the exercise of reason or free will. 4) Personalism – the benefit for people is prioritised.[5] It is these measures which allow differing religions to co-exist. Such an ethical theory presents difficulties for Christianity. To be able to resolve these difficulties, a biblical ethic needs to be developed.

According to Song, The Christian church historically has not been tolerant of other belief systems. He cites Augustine arguing for the ‘use of coercion for the sake of the salvation of souls’; Thomas Aquinas arguing that the of ‘rites unbelievers and Jews should not to be tolerated’, and that heretics should be ‘constrained both for their own sake and the protection of others’; and John Calvin maintaining that part of the purpose of civil authority ‘included the protection of the outward worship of God and the defence of sound doctrine and the standing of the church’.[6] John Stott also mentions briefly the atrocities committed in the Spanish Inquisition as an indication of the intolerance that has occurred historically.[7] The commands in the Old Testament for the destruction of the Canaanites and their religion (Exodus 23:23-24; 19:1; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 31:3-5) have been used in the middle ages to justify such intolerant positions.[8]

However, to use a deductive method to apply Scripture to the contemporary context has serious faults. Such methods do not give consideration to the context in which the Scripture was written, thus allowing the Scripture to be applied any way the reader sees fit; and neither does it give consideration to the contemporary context where the Scriptural and contemporary contexts can be compared and contrasted. Rather, before Scripture can be applied and thus deducing an ethic, a biblical theology of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, through which the Old Testament is to be understood, must be developed.

To understand the purpose of the commands to destroy the Canaanites and their religion, consideration must be given to God’s relationship to the world, and Israel’s role in that relationship. The Bible asserts first and foremost that there is one God who made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This allows for ethical simplicity in that humanity is not answerable to competing authorities, thereby causing confusion. Rather, there is one God to whom humanity must give an account (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:20). Secondly, the world has fallen into sin through the rebellion of humanity (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:21). Instead of destroying what had been spoilt through sin, God chose to redeem creation (Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:23). It is the second point that is most crucial, as it is within this that the program of redemption of Israel and God’s commands to Israel are to be understood. Israel was raised by God out of slavery in Egypt in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, and would become the people in the land as a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The way Israel would fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant was through her identity and moral obligations (Exodus 19:4-6). As a kingdom of priests, the entire nation of Israel assumed a mediatory role between God and the nations. It would be through Israel that the nations would come to know God and come to God. This implicated Israel’s moral obligation as a holy nation. In order to fulfil her mission as a kingdom of priests, Israel had to remain distinct from the other nations. This had implications for not only Israel’s religion, it also had implications for every aspect of her nationality. Israel’s distinctiveness ought to be attributed to her mission rather then her race. It would be through Israel’s nationality and relationship to the other nation that God would be revealed.

If the nation of Israel was to be a blessing to all nations, it seems contradictory that God should command Israel to destroy the Canaanites. However, Wright asserts that God’s blessing in eschatological terms and “… does not eliminate his prerogative to act in judgement on particular nations…”[9] Similarly, the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants did not prevent God from taking against future generations of Israelites in judgement. In fact, the destruction of the Canaanites was consistent with Israel’s mission. The purpose of God exercising judgement was that the God would be known (Ps 9:16; 59:13; 83:16-18; Isaiah 26:9; Ezekiel 11:10-12; 12:16), and making God known was part of Israel’s priestly office. The Canaanite nations and their religions contravened the first principle of biblical ethics by denying their accountability to God by worshipping a plurality of god’s which is inconsistent with the assertion of Scripture. This needed to be demonstrated historically. It should also be noted that it was not only the Canaanites who were liable to such judgment. In similarly manner, those within Israel who worshipped other gods were judged (Deuteronomy 13), and should the nation as a whole disobeyed the decrees set by God, they would be ‘vomited’ from the land as the Canaanites were (Leviticus 18:24-29). At the very least, these commands are not to be thought of as ‘racist’ or a basis for religious bigotry. Rather, they should be perceived as having their primary concern in the revelation of God.

However, despite the biblical-theological framework given for the Old Testament, these commands can not be directly applied to modern pluralism and multiculturalism for two reasons. Firstly, these commands were directed against a particular people group, and lack application to any other people group. The most likely reason for this is the destruction of the Canaanites had been anticipated from the days of Abraham for their sin (Genesis 15:16 [referred to as Amorites]). Secondly, in the course of redemptive history there has been a shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation. While Israel defined the people and the locality of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, they failed in their mission through sin and rebellion (Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-21). It was only when Israel was personified in Christ that the identity and mission was fulfilled. Therefore, the people of God and the locality of the revelation of God is no longer political or national, rather they have been personified in Christ. It is Christ who has become the blessing to all nations, and not a political initiative. For this reason, Jesus refrained from political activity (John 6:15) and separatism (Luke 15:1-2; Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 5:25-34), taught extensively that the Kingdom of God is not what people expected (Matthew 13:1-52), and that it is not of this world (John 18:36). However, Christ did make political comments (Mark 12:14-17; John 19:11). Instead, he advanced his kingdom through preaching and teaching (Mark 1:38).

This shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation influence the New Testament church. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church found to be lobbying political pressure, or suppressing a people group or belief system outside their own. While it needs to be acknowledged that the first century Roman Empire did not allow for such political lobbying, and the church’s numbers were small in comparison, the theological reasons based on the person of Christ cannot be overlooked. The result in influence was different belief systems became an opportunity to explain the gospel (Acts 17:16-34), and while partaking in sacrifices offered to idols is forbidden, eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol then sold at market is left to a question of conscious (1 Corinthians 10:18-33). Therefore, a greater extent of tolerance is present in the New Testament.

However, this new founded permissiveness does not allow for theological ambiguity. The Old Testament’s concern for the people of God was for their purity of life and doctrine, and the New Testament share’s the same concern. Throughout the New Testament, reprimands can be found against those who live impurely (1 Corinthians 5; James 3:5-12), and those who would introduce false doctrine into the church (Galatians 5:1-12). Leaders of the church are also told to guard their doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 2:1). Such instruction is not extended to those outside the church.

The fact that these instructions do not extend to those outside the church does not deny the relevance of the gospel to them or the impending judgement against them. However, it is no longer the prerogative of the people of God to enforce this judgement as it was in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is now Christ’s prerogative to execute God’s judgement (Matthew 3:12; 25:31-34).

Considering that the Old Testament expectations have been fulfilled in the person of Christ, who now is the only one who has the prerogative to execute God’s judgement, there is no biblical basis for justifying religious intolerance against non-Christian groups. Anti-vilification laws for religion should be understood as compatible with the Christian ethos, not because of the legitimacy of other belief systems, rather, because of the limitation of jurisdiction of the church. Instead, the church ought to focus its attention to its own purity of life and doctrine. Yet, this does not mean the church ought to be isolationist in its attitude since the New Testament church was involved with welfare (Acts 6:1-6). Apart from this, it is very difficult to deduce from Scripture how rights to religious expression are to be limited. Clearly the church can not indorse such practices as murder, mutilation or infant molesting. Yet without a Christian basis it is difficult to refute such practices. In Australia, such practices have been outlawed, so there is a basis for agreeing what is ethical. However, there are issues, such as homosexuality, on which there is no agreement in law. In these situations, the New Testament church simply aimed to persuade people’s opinion through appeal (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). While there are difficulties in such a method, this is perhaps the best way the Christians can advance their beliefs and values, while maintaining the dignity and respect for others.

Bibliography:

 

Adam, P. H. J.                   ‘Jesus’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

                                          Becoming an Australian citizen. Commonwealth of Australia, 2007.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Pluralism’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Hill, Michael.                      The how and why of love: an introduction to evangelical ethics. Kingsford, Australia, Matthias Press, 2002.

Sherlock, C. H.                  ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Song, R  J.                         ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Stott, John.                         New issues facing Christians today. London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999.

Vardy, Peter and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics. London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    ‘Old Testament Ethics’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

© The Student’s Desk


[1] Becoming an Australian citizen (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007), 1, 5.[2] Becoming an Australian citizen, 5.[3] Becoming an Australian citizen, 6.[4] E. D. Cook, ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 794.

[5] Peter Vardy and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics (London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994), 125-126.

[6] R  J. Song, ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 851.

[7] John Stott, New issues facing Christians today (London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999), 55.

[8] C. H. Sherlock, ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 448.

[9] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 473.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Essays, Ethics, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment