Archive for the 'Big Story' Category

The Big Story - Part 12

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Big Story - Act 5 Scene 3:

The Church at the End of the Ages

with Roger Kirby



There is a marvellous unity to the Bible story even though it was written by many different people over many hundreds of years.

It began, after the Creation, with a garden; it ends with a garden city in Revelation 22: 1 – 4 : “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

There are two great differences between them: the garden has only 2 people in it; the city is full of people, all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Only God walks in the garden; the Lamb walks with him in the city and the people walk by the light of the lamp, which is the Lamb. Wow! And triple Wow!

Unfortunately I find it difficult to write this chapter because there is so much disagreement about how we should understand what the Bible says about the End of the Ages. That Jesus Christ will revisit the scenes of his triumph, his death on the Cross, is beyond doubt. What will happen to us is much less clear.

The popular picture seems to be of us sitting on the clouds, playing harps, but that is an old idea from a few hundred years ago and is not the Biblical picture at all.

About 200 years ago the idea was spread about that when 1 Thessalonians 4: 17 says “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever,” means that the Lord will come halfway to earth to collect his people and take them back to heaven with him in what is called the Rapture.

But that is not really the picture here. The scene reflects what happened if Caesar visited a city in one of his outlying provinces. The people of the city would come out to greet the Emperor and then escorted him on into their city. Caesar kept going in the same direction; it was the people who reversed their direction. Yet in the popular teaching of the Rapture it is the Lord who reverses while the people keep going in the same direction! I cannot begin to unravel which is correct. Fortunately Jesus himself said: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And we should heed that warning.

The book of Revelation is a an uncertain guide here for there are so many ways to understand its amazing images, but it is useful to illustrate what the more straightforward parts of Scripture say.

Nowhere is more straightforward than the book of Romans and there we read in 8: 18 – 23 : “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

This says that our final destination is not heaven, floating in the sky, but here, on earth, part of the New Heaven and New Earth.

And that is what the book of Revelation also says in 21: 1 – 3: “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

When John was writing he said that there would be 144,000 people there – a big enough number that all followers of Jesus might expect to be included but not so big that all might presume to be included. (I have ignored the distinction between those described as of Israel and the great multitude. In this age we, the people of God are all Israel. ) That number is 12x12x10x10x10. If he was writing today he would have needed to add 2 more 12’s and 2 more 10’s to get a number slightly bigger than 2 billion so that we might all hope to be present but not presume on it. See you there!

This is what one writer has called ‘life after life after death’. ‘life after death’ is our immediate presence with the Lord which is what Paul meant when he wrote Philippians 1: 21, 23b: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”. Unfortunately this is what there is so much argument about.

Our ultimate goal is beyond dispute as Revelation 22: 1 – 5 says: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”


So what?


This is the promise for all of us that believe in Jesus and seek to follow him. It is hard to get your mind round how the New Heaven and New Earth could possibly be. Sitting on clouds is far easier to think about, but this is what Scripture and therefore the Lord tells us.



It will be obvious to you that I have left out many things that could be included in the Big Story of the Bible. I think the really interesting one is that last Scene where I thought about the church NOW. We should not, and cannot, replicate any of the previous scenes ourselves. We can only live now. How we behave, how we act, how we serve is inevitably bounded by the world we live in and who we are. The important thing is to worship and serve the Lord within those bounds. For many of you, many of us, that means working with Dave in the WOW church, on the Internet. The Lord is Worthy-Of-Worship indeed. Our way may well be in this very new, very different, very important development. Go to it!

The Lord bless you.






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The Big Story - Part 11

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Big Story - Act 5 Scene 3:

The Church Today

with Roger Kirby



Yes, I know! The church today is not really part of the Biblical story in any direct way, but there is another chapter to come on the Church at the End of the Ages and it would leave rather a long gap to say nothing about the in-between times. All of church history could be here but that would be far too much so I will only say anything about one previous event: the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, of some 300 years ago that has affected so much of our present Western culture. More of that later.

We live in an amazing and very exciting period of church history. There are more Christians of every sort alive today than ever before; in fact, more alive now than all that have ever lived and died; one third of all the people on the earth. This is mainly because of the recent huge growth of the church in Africa, South America and, to a lesser but increasing extent, in Asia. At the same time the old core areas of the Faith in Europe and North America have declined somewhat, so the centre of gravity of the World-Wide Church has moved south and east. At last the glorious vision of Isaiah 43: 6, 7 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up! ’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back. ’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” is being fulfilled as the followers of Jesus now make “disciples of all nations”.

One other remarkable factor is worthy of note. For the first time since the days of the Roman Empire there is one language understood through nearly all the known world. Then it was Greek; now it is English. It is not the language spoken by the most people as their mother tongue but, thanks to the Internet, it is the most widely understood language. And hey! – you guys and girls out there and listening to this are at the very forefront of this great development. Congratulations!

Of course, being a partly human institution not everything in the World is perfect. Obviously, resurgent, militant Islam is a concern. How is an essentially peaceful faith (in spite of some bad mistakes such as the Crusades) to react to an aggressively warlike one? That dilemma has never been satisfactorily resolved in these nearly 2000 years of the church.

How deep in spirituality and knowledge are all those billions of Christians? In one country I was in I was reliably told that there were so called ‘Christian villages’ where not one single person in the village knew who Jesus was! Where were all the people from the better developed Christian world who should have been out there teaching them?

Then there are all the deep problems in Europe and North America that stem from the Enlightenment. 300 years ago in Europe, men, fed up with the interminable religious wars of the previous century, turned to human reason as the best judge of what is right or wrong. From that move has come the modern Western idea that each person is autonomous, that is - able to make up his or her own mind about how to live, whether to believe or not, and what to believe. The result has been apathy to faith in Europe and consumer oriented churches in North America. Both have led to a sad decline in true faith and personal commitment.

So what?


That is a hard question to answer when these words may be read or heard in so many different places by people in so many different cultures and circumstances. Let me repeat what I said before to try and hammer it home (!): we, Dave Roberts and all his band of helpers, are trying to use the new opportunities that world wide interconnections and the use of the English language open up so effectively in the service of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Make sure this is made as effective as possible. Tell other people how to connect to Dave’s sites. Share what we say and write with other people. Translate as much of it as you can into your local language, if that is not English, and then spread it as wide as possible. By all means and in every possible way join in this great enterprise of the World-Wide Church and our little corner of it. May the Lord bless you as you do so.



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The Big Story - Part 10

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Big Story - Act 5 Scene 2:

The Church of the Ages - Temple and temples

with Roger Kirby



We traced through the story of the decline of Israel before Jesus appeared in terms of their loss of a place where God dwelt. If we now pick up the story of the great Temple in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus we find some fascinating things. John, in his gospel, tells the story of the cleansing of the Temple at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (the other gospel writers put it much later in his ministry which may be because Jesus cleared it twice or John was more interested in the theological meaning of the event than its timing). Mark’s account is even more interesting. He tells the story in the middle of another story, clearly relating the two. The other story is about the fig tree, which as Jesus and his disciples walk into Jerusalem they see is barren which is no surprise because it is the wrong time for figs. Jesus curses it, which seems a very odd thing to do unless it is for some other reason than its lack of fruit. Then the next time they pass it, the day after Jesus cleared the temple, they see it has completely withered away, much to the disciple’s puzzlement. Two interlocked stories like this are a fairly common device in Mark’s Gospel. The story of the fig tree is clearly saying that the Temple is now no use, like the tree with no figs, and will therefore wither away.

The extent to which the people of Jesus’ day centered life on the Temple is amazing. We read that: “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” In a mixed family party that was probably 5 days walking each way – a considerable time not to be working and earning. John in his Gospel records Jesus going up to Jerusalem on several occasions. Life in 1st century Israel revolved around the Temple building to an astonishing extent. They clearly thought that God was there, and more accessible there, than anywhere else. It was what some people would call a ‘thin place’, that is a place where it feels much easier to get close to God than most places because heaven and earth have only a thin gap between them (which isn’t really the case but it can feel that way if we are somewhere where we have often met with the Lord).

Put those two things together – what Jesus did to the fig tree and the centrality of the Temple – and we see that he was striking at the very centre of all that they believed in. That is why the main accusation against Jesus at his trial was “this fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days” and that was the basis on which he was condemned. It was when Stephen said, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands” that he ran into serious trouble and his death. The whole Jewish system, priests, sacrifices, forgiveness of sins etc. depended on the Temple.

In fact the Temple only lasted less than 40 years after Jesus cursed it before a Roman army destroyed it in AD 70. Various groups of zealots had risen in revolt in such a disorganized way that they fought each other on the steps of the Temple while the besieging Romans watched in amazement. Eventually the Romans broke through into the city and the Temple precincts and there was a horrendous massacre. The prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled quite terribly.

What then was to replace the temple? Paul answers that question in Ephesians 2 when he says, “you are fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” A better temple built of human beings – you and me – has replaced the physical Temple, built of stone. WOW!

Elsewhere Paul says, “we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’” quoting Old Testament passages. Paul is using the plural. It is the people of God together who are the temple but, of course, it has to apply to each one of us individually as we live and walk around. So the ‘thin’ places where people can come close to the Lord now are the presence of the Lord’s people – you and me! Double WOW!



So what?

Can we live up to the challenge that presents? We could never do so by ourselves and of ourselves. This is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes in to the experience of every one of us. Fortunately Jesus made promises to his disciples, and to us through them. Linking together some of the things recorded that he said in John chapters 14 – 16 we get, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. When he comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you and when I send him to you he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

That has been the challenge to the people of God for nearly 2000 years now. How well they have lived up to that challenge has been a mixed story down through the centuries. Sometimes the whole idea that there is a great resource for those who profess to follow Christ has been all but lost. Sometimes it has been found and used to the great enrichment and growth of the people of God both corporately and individually. We, I think, live in one of the better periods, looked at world-wide.

Are you, am I, a good temple, a thin place, where earth and heaven come close together?



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The Big Story - Part 9

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Big Story - Act 5 Scene 1: The Early Church

with Roger Kirby



The story is not finished. We are ourselves part of it. Mark begins his Gospel by calling it the “beginning of the Gospel” perhaps hinting that there was a lot more to come after he had finished writing. If so we are part of the continuation of the Gospel. The first 20 chapters of the book we call the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to 3 main themes: the giving of the Holy Spirit to all the followers of Jesus; the understanding that the Christian Way is open to all: Jews and Gentiles; and the spread of the Good News round all the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. All these are very important for us. The remaining 8 chapters of the book are concerned with various legal arguments surrounding Paul and his work. These were important to Luke writing to encourage his patron, Theophilus, to follow the Way but are far less important for us.

First then: the gift of the Holy Spirit. You are probably familiar with the way in which the Spirit was initially given to the 120 immediate followers and companions of Jesus. In Jerusalem this, and the subsequent occasions when the Spirit was given, was followed immediately by the gift of Baptism, thus closely associating the two events. Only when Philip went to Samaria, an area of people despised by the Jews of Jerusalem, and they were converted and received the gift of the Spirit did the Jewish leaders begin to realize that the gift was going to be given to Gentiles as well as Jews and that therefore they were going to have to be baptized as well. The situation was formalized through the experiences of Peter with Cornelius, not without some vocal opposition.

The problem was that a nearly impenetrable wall had been built around Judaism so as to define it as the only people of God. This wall had 3 elements: circumcision, the food laws and Sabbath keeping. Some, perhaps many, of the believing Jews in Jerusalem wanted to insist that Christian converts had to keep within that wall. But the Holy Spirit was clearly not confined by the wall. We can summarize the situation by inserting the ‘wall’ into what Paul said in Romans 3: “God demonstrated his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. … For we maintain that a person is justified by faith even outside the wall.” Which then becomes very similar to what Paul said in Ephesians 2: “For he himself has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

In tracing through the way in which people were given the gift of the Holy Spirit we see that the Christian Way is open to all, Jew and non-Jew alike - which is just as well for us as probably most of you who hear or read this will not be Jews!

An important but usually overlooked episode in the life of the early church is the time Paul spent in Arabia that he mentions in Galatians 1. We may reasonably guess that he spent his time there in a Jewish seminary which had a complete set of what we call the Old Testament scrolls and gave himself a PhD course in ‘The significance of Jesus in Old Testament prophecy.’ When he had finished he had worked out a complete theology of the meaning of all that had happened since the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist in Galilee. Unfortunately we never get to read his complete thesis but only the snippets that were appropriate in the letters he wrote reacting to specific situations in the young churches. A naturally dynamic person, energized by his studies, Paul embarked on his amazing life work of spreading the Good News and planting churches throughout what are now Syria, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Rome. What a man! What a gift! What a Holy Spirit!

So what?


None of us have more than a tiny fraction of the intellect and dynamism of Paul but we do all have the same Holy Spirit within us that he had. Our problem, therefore, is to determine which fraction is ours. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12: 4–10 : “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.” And as Paul did not say but would have done had he lived today: to another gifts of music to lead worship, to another the gift of letter writing to Christians in danger or difficulty, to another the gift of teaching children to love the Lord, to another the gift of helpful visiting, to another the gift of using modern communications to transmit the Good News and so on. Then he would have said as indeed he did in verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”

And what about you? What is your particular gift? Think about it; pray about it, use it.


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The Big Story - Part 8

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Big Story - Act 4 Scene 3: The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus

with Roger Kirby



The most difficult part of the Big Story of the Bible to talk about is the Resurrection of Jesus. The big question is ‘did it really happen?’ All those of us who live in the modern Western world are in a culture that says it did not. The primary reason for this is that our culture says something is only true if it can be replicated. If an experiment carried out in the USA is true it must be possible to repeat it in Australia for it to be legitimate. And, of course, the return to life of the dead Son of God is the ultimate event that cannot be replicated. The assassination of Julius Caesar cannot be replicated either, but many national leaders have been assassinated in recent times so that is a near enough repetition for that ancient event to be accepted as having truly happened. But the resurrection of a man from death is another matter altogether. How do we get out of this problem?

Part of the answer is that this is not science but history. History never exactly repeats itself, either in the event or its description. We must not, and cannot, treat historical events in a scientific way. Also we have to challenge the underlying assumption that the possibility of replication is always necessary. We see a beautiful sunset and admire it but it can never be replicated. A person’s love for their spouse can be neither explained – why this person and not that person – but is none the less real and cannot be replicated. Many, if not most, of the good things in life that we enjoy are beyond replication. The attempt to say that the resurrection, the best attested of all ancient events, did not really happen is a philosopher’s trick to try to stop people believing. The Biblical attestation is complete and total. When Paul says: “Jesus appeared to 500 people at the same time”’ he was obviously implying “if you don’t believe me go and find one of them and ask them”! Those who say the resurrection was, and is, impossible have to explain what happened in or near Jerusalem to cause such an explosion of growth of a movement which did not exist in AD 1, but was thriving so well 100 years later that there are many non-Biblical references to it. Also why would those who had been close to Jesus have been prepared to die for an idea and his teaching if they knew them to be lies?

The resurrection of the Son of God is a fact. What did it mean? What did it achieve? Where and how does it fit into the over-all story? Two words used by computing people are useful here: verification and validation. You probably don’t know them. Let me explain.

Verification is the process that checks a computer program does what it should do, that is, that it fits the specification. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of Man (of Daniel’s prophecy), and the Son of God. So far he had only his good works, his healings, his exorcisms, his miracles and his words to back up that claim. His return from death 3 days later, as they counted, 2 days as we count, verified all his claims. He was the Messiah, he did fulfil prophecy, he was the representative figure of the nation that Daniel talked about; he was in some mysterious yet definite way the embodiment of the Lord God walking on this earth.

Validation is the process that shows that a computer system works, it is useful, it does what it was intended that it should do. Paul says in the last verse of Romans 4 that “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. The first part is easy to understand – Jesus died to redeem us from the guilt, penalty and power of sin. But “raised for our justification” is not so easy. If we translate it “raised to make us righteous”, which is legitimate for justification and righteous come from the same Greek word family, different though they are in English, things become easier. If Jesus had not been raised there would have been no continuing life force available for his people. The last verse of the next chapter says that Jesus died that “grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The resurrection of Jesus has brought eternal life, the life of the Ages, to his people, life that depends on the Spirit that is the possession of all those who belong to Christ. As Romans 8: 9 says “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” . Because Jesus rose from the dead this story does not end here: there is still another Act to go: the story of the Church, including the story of you and me.

The final part of the story of Jesus on this earth is his Ascension. Only Luke tells us of it, twice, most fully in Acts 1: 9, 10 “After he said this, he was taken up before their – the apostles - very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” In so doing Luke was pointing out that Jesus had gone to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on high thus having all power and all authority. Matthew says the same thing more directly in his last chapter as John does in his second last chapter when he reports Thomas calling Jesus “my Lord and my God”. (The end of Mark’s Gospel is probably lost.)

So what?


We live in the power of the resurrection interpreted to us by the Holy Spirit. We are servants/slaves of the Lord of Creation. Paul says in his letter to the Colossian church: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”. The resurrection is the promise to us that death is not the end. There is something more to come. The Jews always expected a resurrection at the end of time. The surprise to them was that one man was raised ahead of time as the first fruits; the first fruits promised an agricultural community that the rest of the harvest would shortly come.

We may not be agricultural people living in the country but the same is true for us, town and city dwellers though we may be. Christ has risen; one day – so shall we. Yippee!



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The Big Story - Part 7

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Big Story - Act 4 Scene 2: The death of Jesus

with Roger Kirby


And so we come to the pivotal moment of history. It is hard to know what to write about it. In all probability anyone and everyone who listens to this, or reads it, will know the details of what happened and if I am telling the story of the Bible this is perhaps not the best place to go into the detail of what the death of the Son of God on the Cross meant. What I am going to do, therefore, is try to relate the great event to all that has happened in the Great Story so far.

We started with Creation. The fundamental point of Genesis chapter 1 is that men and women are made in the image of God and therefore are uniquely endowed with conscience and insight into all that surrounds them and happens to them. If we are made in the image of God then it follows that it is possible for God to walk this earth in the form of a man, as indeed he did in Jesus, the embodiment of God in human form. He died as the Son of God and as a human being.

Next came the Fall, when mankind started to show their persistent tendency to disobey God and to fail to live well with each other. Jesus did not sin. The writer to the Hebrews says: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are —yet without sin.” Jesus died, falsely accused of plotting to destroy the temple, committing blasphemy and threatening insurrection against Rome. None of those things were true – at least in the way those who heard him interpreted them. This was the pivotal moment when the Fall was reversed – at least in potential.

The commission and promise given to Abraham were designed to begin the process of calling the whole world, all mankind, back to obedience to God the Lord. The great commission then moved on to his family and then the 12 tribes of Israel.

They were redeemed out of Egypt to show the power of redemption and to set them on the long and difficult path of obedience to the Lord that they had in their midst as they travelled through the wilderness.

But they failed. They began to fail at the very beginning, in the episode when they worshipped the golden calf as their saviour from Egypt - and from there it was all downhill. Eventually the visible presence of the Lord in the centre of the nation had to be removed from them. It could get no worse. All they were left with was the promise of a man, a Messiah, anointed of God, who would, they thought, restore them as a kingdom and a nation.

But when the Messiah, Jesus, came he had quite other purposes and plans. They did not recognize him, largely because those purposes and plans were so very different from those they expected him to have. He was not a warrior leader. He did not challenge the hated Romans. He was a peaceful bringer of healing, who taught the value of peacefulness, calm, good inter personal relationships and love; all these things were part of the Kingdom he was introducing; all would only be attained by submission to the Lord God and to himself. He taught that the way up to communion with the Lord God was down to service and faithfulness.

All this strange and entirely unexpected mixture of attributes came together in the person of the prophet from Galilee, Jesus. The move back to God away from the primeval sin of mankind had started with one man, Abraham. It had continued through, first, one family – that of Jacob/Israel, then 12 tribes, the nation of Israel. But they had all failed miserably through many centuries to carry out Abraham’s great commission so it came back down onto the shoulders of just one man, the perfect, obedient Israelite, Jesus. Only he could atone for both the original Fall and the consequent failure of all men and women to live in true obedience to the One and Only Lord God.

This was the Glory of the Cross. That was the deepest depths of degradation, but in it we see the Son of God, God himself, lifted up for all the world to see, to follow and obey.

Ever since mankind has struggled to express the full meaning of what happened there. Two main ideas have dominated: atonement and victory. Atonement is to make a satisfactory payment for something done wrong, in this case a sacrifice. It makes what was separated ‘at one’ (as the word suggests), in this case to bring together the sinner and his Lord in spite of the fact that one is sinful and the other pure and holy. Victory, expressed in the Latin tag ‘Christus victor’, represents the idea that at the Cross Jesus conquered all that was against mankind. This could only be in potential as sin is clearly still rampant in the world; and in potential as the final victory for the believer will only be achieved on death and entry into the life after death.

So what? We live in the shadow of the Cross. A very old hymn says:
“What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?"

It is hard to think of a better way of putting it than that. Another hymn says:
“In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o'er the wrecks of time;”


And we can do no better than that - Glorying in the Cross. An amazing thing to do. Funny how many people wear a miniature of a scaffold round their necks and churches put a replica high on their building! But that is part of ‘the way up, is down’. As we do that glorying we shall find that our hearts and minds are strangely warmed. Thank you – Jesus, Lord and Saviour.


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