Jesus Christ, Superstar?

Superstar

Currently Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, is playing in the Grand Opera House, Belfast. This production presents a complicated triangle of relationships between Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. It focuses on the final week of Christ’s life – with much artistic licence (to be kind) – and creates the impression that this man Jesus is losing control of the movement he has begun. mary-martha-and-jesus-1354812-mThis leaves Mary Magdalene trying to calm and reassure Jesus, while Judas goes to the Roman authorities for help. To be honest, it is quite a pathetic picture of Jesus Christ and I imagine if you went to see this that you would conclude that Jesus Christ is not a superstar!

The reality is that the Bible presents Jesus in a very different light. The Gospel according to Matthew was written by one of Jesus’ own disciples. By all accounts he was a quiet disciple, but he had a magnificent ability in writing. Through his pen we have an awe-inspiring, verbal portrait of Jesus Christ. In this book of the Bible we find Jesus Christ, Messiah.

Genealogy (1:1-17)

Matthew’s Gospel begins rather tediously for western readers: a list of unpronounceable names, otherwise known as a genealogy. However, for Matthew’s original audience this would have been a most intriguing introduction.

This list of names found in the first seventeen verses is Matthew setting out his stall, so to speak. He is stating at the very beginning that Jesus is the Messiah. In most of our translations Matthew’s Gospel account begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 ESV). The word Christ is actually the Greek word for Messiah. Messiah, which means anointed one, contained the idea of the coming/advent of a promised one. Matthew is telling his readers that the promised one – Jesus – has come.

This is achieved through the use of titles. In verse 16, Matthew speaks of Jesus ‘who is called Christ’. He is giving Jesus the title Messiah. In addition to this Matthew has told his readers that Jesus is the son of David (this is a messianic title) and the son of Abraham (possibly a messianic title, but also displaying Jesus’ as the answer to the promise of Genesis).

This is topped off by Matthew presenting a stylised reading of history with three sets of 14 generations in the genealogy. By doing this Matthew shows that the culmination of Israel’s history is found here in this child, Jesus ‘who is called Christ’.

Confession (16:13-20)

Matthew moves on from Jesus’ birth to the beginning of his ministry and the amazing teaching which he delivered. But at the centre of his book Matthew returns to remind his readers that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised one.

This takes place through a discussion with his disciples. Jesus asks them, ‘who do people think I am?’ To that they answer, ‘one of the prophets’. Jesus then asks, ‘Who do you say I am?’ And their answer, through the mouth of Peter, ‘the Christ’.

This is the first time that this has been said – all along the reader of the Gospel understands this, but here now the disciples have come to this realisation.

Even though they are correct, they do not fully understand what this means. Many expected the promised one to come triumphantly and overthrow Rome, bringing political and physical salvation only. Jesus addresses this, reshaping who the Messiah is, and what he has come to do. After their confession ‘Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed’ (v. 21 ESV).

Questioning (26:63-64)

Again Matthew moves on to deliver more of Jesus’ teaching, but at the climax of his Gospel he returns once again to who Jesus is.

Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest before the council, and being put under an oath he is adjured to ‘tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God’ (v. 63). Jesus answer is a veiled affirmative, ‘you have said so’ (v.64). Jesus accepts the title Messiah, just as he accepted it from the disciples, but he is also careful to ensure he does not endorse the misconceptions that the High Priest and the council had regarding the coming, promised one.

What is significant about this final proclamation of who Jesus is, is that it takes place at the highest court of Israel – in the most public of places!

The revelation of who Jesus is has progressed from the readers in chapter 1, to the disciples in chapter 16, and finally to Israel as a representative whole in chapter 26.

Messiah

The Bible does not present a troubled figure, in turmoil because of his rapid ascent to fame. The Bible presents Jesus as, among many other things, the one who was promised long beforehand. Matthew is careful to use Jewish titles and concepts to present Jesus as the fulfilment of all the Old Testament.

Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is the anointed one.

Many people, not just Andrew Lloyd Webber, will try to recreate Jesus and adapt him to serve their purposes. Indeed, many Christians do so – angry Christians speak only of Jesus overturning tables to justify their anger, weak Christians speak only of Jesus loving and forgiving nature to justify their license, legalistic Christians speak only of Jesus’ ethical teaching to justify their new law, and so on and so forth.

Jesus cannot and will not be restricted to these partial images (or in Webber’s case, a false image) of his person. He must be appreciated for who he is in all his fullness.

For Matthew, that is best understood in the title Messiah.

Advertisements

Top Five Books on Preaching

Let me begin this post, as I did my first ever Top Five books post, by saying these books will not guarantee a perfect sermon!

Nevertheless, reading books on hermeneutics, application, and theology in relation to preaching will aid us to better handle God’s Word. I hope and pray that these books will help us to become unashamed workmen, correctly handling God’s precious Word for the good of His people

1. Bryan Chapell – Christ-Centred Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, (2005).

This is arguably the definitive book on preaching. It is a well researched, thoroughly informative and beneficially comprehensive text-book. Chapell succeeds in covering all the important areas of sermon crafting – exegesiCCPs, illustration, application, overarching point, titles and subtitles.

I believe that it has been fundamental in the re-emergence of expository, book by book preaching and for that we should be exceedingly grateful.

The constant search for Jesus from all Scriptures is of great benefit too for Christian preaching. However, the most helpful aspect for me personally was the idea of a ‘Fallen Condition Focus’. Chapell asserts that every passage addresses a fallen condition, and that seeking out this fallen condition focus gives us the big idea of a passage, giving the theme of a sermon and helping with application. I felt this helped to bring cohesion to my sermons.

2. Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert – Preach: Theology meets Practice, (2012).

This is a hugely helpful book as it is the best of two men’s preaching experience and skill condensed into one very readable book.

The final chapters of the book are one sermon from each man annotated by the other, and with follow up comments from the author of the sermon. This was a great insight into the thinking that goes on behind the final sermon and very intriguing to see one preacher critique and commend another.

The golden nugget from this book was undoubtedly the idea of preaching every book of the Bible from three levels. The high altitude consisted of the idea of preaching one sermon on the whole book. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Dever’s books The Message of the Old Testament and The Message of the New Testament. The middle altitude is working through a book in chunks – for example chapter by chapter for the epistles or bigger sections for books like Exodus or Isaiah. This allows more time to digest the message of a book while still moving through all of it. Finally, the lowest altitude which is slowly moving through a book literary unit by literary unit, sometimes just a few verses each sermon. This allows detailed exegesis to be present in the sermon and a great opportunity to open a congregation’s eyes to the textual work behind a sermon.

3. Dale Ralph Davis – The Word became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts, (2009).

It is arguable that there is no better preacher on the Old Testament than this man right now!

This book is brief, and restricts itself to helping us preach Old Testament narrative.

While this approach may seem narrow, it is a vital one. Old Testament narrative is traditionally the genre of Scripture used to teach our children in Sunday School, kids clubs and youth groups – and sadly it is often taught with a moralistic slant. Therefore, Davis offers us a helpful corrective.

There are certain drawbacks to this book (primarily it’s length – it is short and much more would be welcome from Davis on this topic). Perhaps one which many will find difficult is Davis’ comfort in preaching a sermon from the Old Testament without mentioning Jesus. He offers a robust defence for his position, and although he may not win you over it is beneficial to be challenged to ensure how we get to Jesus from the Old Testament is legitimate.

4. Albert Mohler – He is not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, (2008).

This book is not so much a practical help on preaching, but more along the lines of the theology behind preaching, and thus the confidence which should underlie our preaching. This is a good book to read if you feel that your preaching is a bit flat, or that your hearers do not appreciate your effort.

God is not silent, he is communicating and he has chosen to do that through stumbling, struggling preachers like you and I. What a comfort! What and encouragement! What a privilege!

Is there any higher task than communicating God’s message to his people? I dare say no, especially with the encouragement that God is not silent.

Additionally, Mohler’s insights on culture are always beneficial.

5. John Carrick – The Imperative of Preaching: A Theology of Sacred Rhetoric, (2002).

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a grammar book after reading the contents page, and while the titles of the chapters don’t illicit much excitement this is a very helpful book for those who desire to think deeply about constructing their sermon.

There should be many aspects to our preaching – indicatives, imperatives, exhortations, etc. Carrick dissects these aspects to our preaching and gives biblical and historical examples of that type of preaching. Having a sharper distinction between our exhortations and our imperatives will only be good for our listeners as they understand the truths they must accept, the commands they must obey and the joy which ultimately follows.

There are hoards of books on preaching – some excellent and some not so excellent. However, I am convinced that time spent reading any of the above books will not be time wasted. Indeed, it will be time spent to the benefit of both yourself and your listeners.

“Love Believes All Things” 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love: Misinformed And Misplaced

The first recorded letter we possess from Paul to the church in Corinth explores a diverse range of topics and issues. In his letter, Paul answers many of the Corinthians’ questions as well as offering sage wisdom at crucial junctures. He also discusses controversial matters such as the practice of spiritual gifts in the church and reminds them of the inestimable importance of the reality of the Christ’s resurrection. But perhaps the most well known part of this letter is Paul’s famous discourse on love. In this context – of questions, controversies, and quarrelling – Paul seeks to reorient the attention of his readers to the heart of all their problems: misinformed and misplaced love.

In spite of living almost 2000 years after Paul and the Corinthians we still face many of the same controversies, questions, and concerns – as well as more unique to our own age and culture – yet our most significant problem remains unchanged: we do not love as we should. This is particularly apparent in the manner we address many of the issues that face us. In light of the Corinthians’ sectarian spirit which predisposed them to show favouritism and malign those with whom they disagreed or disliked (cf. 1 Corinthians 3), and our propensity to follow in their footsteps, Paul exhorts them, and by extension us, to be a people possessed by love who “[believe] all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NRSV) of others.

Love That “Believes All Things”

The Greek words Paul uses here shed light on what he expects of Christians: “[Love (agapé)]… panta pisteuei.” love2Pisteuei, derived from pisteuen, carries an ethical sense denoting confidence (or trust) in the goodness of others, so we could legitimately translate Paul’s words here as: “Love… always trusts that others are acting with the best intentions.” Consequently the NIV translates Paul’s phrase as, “[Love]… always trusts.” This calling to, from a heart controlled by love, believe all things, or always trust, is chiefly a summons to develop a gracious attitude towards others, most notably, towards those with whom we disagree; its essence is: to believe the best of others. Calvin elaborates on this in his Commentary on First Corinthians,

“as we are naturally spiteful, we are, consequently, suspicious too, and take almost everything amiss. Love, on the other hand, calls us back to kindness, so that we think favourably and candidly of our neighbours…
…Love believeth all things not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon — not that he divests himself of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage of — not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black from white. What then? He requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian [person] will reckon it better to be imposed upon by [their] own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong [their] brother [or sister] by an unfriendly suspicion.”

Love always trusts that others are acting with the best intentions, it believes the best of them. Love seeks to judge people and situations in best possible light, to give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, Paul’s summons to believe the best of others is inseparably connected with his surrounding panta (always) ecphoneses: “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV). As well as trusting that others are acting with the best intentions, Paul calls us to act in their best interests, desire the best for them in the future, and to never give up on them. Consequently, Paul is asking far more of us than merely our begrudging acceptance of others but rather a persistent commitment to their well-being and flourishing, even of those with whom we disagree or simply do not like because they too are our neighbours or our Christian brothers and sisters. Therefore, what Paul has in view here is an entire transformation of self because, as Calvin has noted above, we are by nature suspicious of the good intentions of others; we are inclined to think worse rather than better of them. For example, in conversation do we consider what people are saying in the best possible light, or do we immediately interpret them negatively? When hearing news of others, whether great or small, do we “rejoice with those who rejoice [and] mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV), or are we envious of their success and relish in their disgrace? On social media, are we quick think well of our friends and acquaintances or do we jump at any chance to judge them? And harshly. Is our first instinct to give others, even those we perceive as enemies, the benefit of the doubt, or have we already judged them as guilty before hearing them out? Shouldn’t we rather extend to others the grace we would want extended to ourselves?

Love, On The Other Hand…

Are we so forgetful of God’s grace to us in Christ? Have we ascended so far above our fellow believers, and our neighbours, even our enemies, that we consider ourselves unassailable and therefore beyond reproach? If God responds to our faltering obedience with grace, and with a love that delights in our best intentions and efforts. And if he knows our many weaknesses and yet loves us all the same. If God always acts in our best interests, desires the best for us, and never gives up on us. Then surely it becomes our duty to act thusly with those with whom we come into contact whatever the medium. For this is how God has treated us, he has showered us with grace upon grace: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV).

Our thoughts and actions towards other betray us for the cynics that we are. We would rather extend suspicion instead of grace, misanthropy in place of kindness. We are not, in any way, deserving of God’s grace and kindness. But still he loves us. And it is his love that will transform our distrustful hearts into hearts which seek to believe the best of others intentions, to give them the benefit of the doubt. His love enables us to freely and prodigiously share the love he has lavished upon us with others as we repent of our cynical attitudes and rest in God’s love towards us in Christ.

In an age that celebrates cynicism we should recall Calvin’s words, “Love, on the other hand, calls us back to kindness, so that we think favourably and candidly of our neighbours.” And consider afresh Paul’s summons in his discourse on love, “[Love] always trusts.”

A Caveat On Discernment

“To love at all,” observed C.S. Lewis, “is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves, p111). It is to risk, as Calvin put it, being “imposed upon” – to be taken advantage of – and consequently to be made to look foolish in the eyes of others. However, as Calvin notes, love that always trusts that others are acting with the best intentions and chooses to believes the best of them – giving them the benefit of the doubt – does not divests itself of prudence and judgment, that it may be the more easily taken advantage of. Love wants to believe the best of others and trusts they are acting with good intentions, but love also takes the time to understand each situation and determine which course is the most loving and wise because “love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV); love doesn’t act rashly.

Often love and discernment are perceived as being pitted against one another, as though the more loving a person is the less discerning they must be. And vice versa. However, the reality is much different. Love is discerning but our natural cynicism easily masquerades as discernment. We must, therefore, with God’s help, endeavour to understand what is controlling our heart: love or cynicism? A heart controlled by love immediately wants to help but takes the time to listen and evaluate how it may be of service, whereas the heart controlled by cynicism immediately looks for an excuse. Consequently, in spite of our very best efforts to be loving as well as discerning, there will be times we are taken advantage of. We are only human and we can’t know every facet of a situation. In these circumstances it will be more to our benefit, and God’s glory, that we have, given our limited understanding, chosen the path of love because, in the end, “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV).  As Calvin concludes,

“[Paul] requires here, as I have already said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian [person] will reckon it better to be imposed upon by [their] own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong [their] brother [or sister] by an unfriendly suspicion.”

Tips for Using Social Media

This is the final post in a four part series exploring the Christian’s approach to social media. Over the previous three weeks we have considered both the dangers and benefits to using social media and I shared my thinking for whenever I come to use social media. This week we will end with four brief tips for using social media.

 ∼

Pray

As God continues to mature me spiritually I am quickly learning how pervasive prayer should be in our lives. While going to a weekly prayer meeting at church, or setting aside particular portions of your day or week for extended prayer are good exercises, prayer should not be limited to this. Rather, prayer should be something which is natural, familiar and common in our lives; something which takes place frequently.

To that end the first tip for using social media is prayer.laptop-computers-1446068-m

I think that we should pray before creating social media profiles/accounts. I don’t think we should be asking God should we have an account (because I think we are unlikely to get a clear answer for that question), but rather we should pray that God would give us wisdom as we use it and see fit to bless our witness through social media.

However, even more than that – we should pray before we post things on social media. This is not an hour long prayer meeting, but a simple pause to consider and ask God’s blessing. Of course if we pray in Jesus’ name we will not be praying for things we shouldn’t be on this front.

Our use of social media would be much more edifying and honouring if we prayed about it.

Reread

The second tip is closely connected to the first tip; stop and reread what you are going to post.

This simple and practical step will aid against some of the dangers we mentioned in a previous post. Speed is one of the greatest dangers with social media, but pausing to read what we have written immediately restrains the speed with which we can use social media.

Perhaps even ask someone else to read it before you post it (especially if it is something more substantial than a tweet). This kind of practice will help us avoid causing offence, hurt, and division and protect us from damaging our witness.

Question

Thirdly, and perhaps as part of rereading our posts, we should always question ourselves about what we are sharing on social media.

The particular question I believe we should be asking ourselves is ‘why?’ Why am I posting this?

This question immediately goes to the heart of our motivation for using social media in all its guises. Do we post for approval from friends, or to gain more followers, or simply to vent our anger and make people listen to our points of view, or maybe we just want to post that picture to catch everyone’s eye and be the centre of attention.

So many selfish and sinful motivates can creep into our hearts without us even realising. Therefore, it is important for us to always question ourselves (this is relevant for all of life not just social media).

Remember

Finally, never ever forget the world is watching.

No matter what privacy settings you have on your social media account people from all over the world can see what you are posting whether you like it or not!

It is very difficult for someone to take our profession of Christ as our Saviour seriously when we have been posting pictures of ourselves in questionable places, or tweeting comments about explicit TV programmes that we’re watching, or sharing gossip which should not be shared, and so on and so forth.

Our social media personas must match who we are in real life – otherwise we are hypocrites. Remember that lots of people see what you post – the people you want to see it and the people you don’t want to see it.

For what it is worth that is my present commentary on social media complete.

There is much more that could be said and should be said, there are things I have overlooked on purpose and others that I have overlooked unknowingly. It is a topic which will need revisited as social media and the telecommunications of our world continue to develop. However, it is neither intrinsically good, nor intrinsically evil – it is simply the world we live in and as Christians we must use it for the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

This is the third post in a four part series exploring the Christian’s approach to social media. Over the previous two posts we have considered both the dangers and benefits to using social media. In today’s post we will look at how I use social media, and finally, next week offer some tips for using social media.

 ∼

I am going to hold my hands up right at the beginning of this post and acknowledge that I don’t always live my life in the way that I often call others to live their lives. As a Bible teacher (in a variety of capacities) I inevitably teach things that I don’t always implement in my own life. This is the constant tension that all Bible teachers face. However, this is not for a lack of trying.

Perhaps you’ve read the previous two posts, then watched my activity on social media, and come to the conclusion ‘That guy doesn’t do what he says – he talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk’. I would have to agree, at different points in time I do indulge in some of the dangers of social media and neglect the benefits.

Therefore, I am not holding myself up as a perfect example – nor am I going to attempt to defend my use of social media. I am merely going to offer a glimpse into my thinking as I set about using social media.

Facebook and Twitter

To begin with you will probably have noticed that I have predominantly spoken about Facebook and Twitter. That is because they are the only social media accounts/profiles that I have.

To some extent this has been a conscious decision – I have restricted myself to some social media profiles so as to restrict time and effort invested in them. There are just too many – linkedin, snapchat, whatsapp, myspace, pinterest, google+, flickr, vimeo, instagram and so on. In an attempt to keep a check on my investment in social media I have restricted myself to these two accounts (which I have linked in order to get it close to only one account).

There are then three things in my mind as I use social media:

  • Keeping family and friends up to date – I am now married and so no longer live with my parents. I also live in a town where none of my family members live (except for a brother and sister). Therefore, I am keenly aware that it is easy for people to lose track of where I am at and what I am doing. Whenever I think about social media I think about keeping people up-to-date with what I am doing. Primarily I do this through photographs rather than written updates – but it gives those people a feeling of being involved in my live. (This works both ways, as it also allows me to keep up to date with their lives).
  • Entertainment – I also use social media for entertainment. I enjoy being kept up-to-date with the latest developments of my football team, or watching humorous videos, or reading interesting articles, or having a laugh at what friends and family have got up to. Social media can be great fun and so I use it for my enjoyment and entertainment.
  • Serving others – I also like to try and serve others through social media. One of the primary ways in which I have sought to do this is through posting quotes. I have found myself in a privileged position in which I have enjoyed a lot of time to read – not all Christians enjoy that privilege. Therefore, I have sought to serve others by giving them good snippets of books that they might not come across, or don’t know whether it is worth their while investing time in reading that particular book, or just to encourage someone reading through their newsfeed.

Gospel Convergence

Another element of social media that I have allowed myself to become involved in is blogging. There are two reasons for which I began blogging.

Firstly, I began blogging for my own benefit. Blogging has helped me develop a discipline of writing. Ultimately I desire to pastor a church and to be involved in preaching and teaching. This requires good communication skills. Writing has been an element of communication that I have found difficult. In light of this I saw blogging as an effective way of developing a discipline and skill in writing. As you laptop-computers-1446068-mcan see that is still a work in progress. It is not just the skill of writing which is important though, it is also the ability to think through topics, issues and portions of the Bible. For almost a year and a half now, pretty much every week I have considered a specific topic for the blog. This has encouraged me to make time to think about the issue I am writing on. This has benefited me greatly in the use of my mind and cognitive abilities. All of this is subsumed into the desire simply to broaden my abilities and to continue to seek and test what gifts God has granted me.

Secondly, I began blogging for others. This may sound a little presumptuous; however I think that it is important to recognise that all Christians are equipped in some capacity to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. As I observe church culture in Northern Ireland I realised that almost everything in it originated from the USA. Now this is not inherently a problem, but I feel that it is not always easily transferable to our culture and context. I felt it important to have people from our context to speak to our context. I love the church, despite all its foibles and follies. I want and desire other Christians to love the church. Therefore, as we set about beginning the blog I was convinced that I wanted to be involved for the good of the church. It is also nice to see some positive publicity online for the church too!

I am not a perfect example of how to use social media – but this is a quick glimpse into how I attempt to put into practice the principles laid out in the previous two posts.