With Me

Luke knew how to write a Gospel.

pm-132x132Okay, all four of them did, but of late I’ve been looking at Luke.  I’ve been struck by his personal attributes of tenacious attention to detail and his tender awareness of people.
As a physician and man of science he was a diligent researcher who sought out the eyewitnesses and compiled an orderly presentation of what actually happened.  And yet as a physician and provider of care he must have been a sensitive listener who cared for the lowly participants in the events and offered a caring awareness of people that could easily have been treated as insignificant at that time.
So as I’ve read his Gospel I’ve become aware of his double tendency to offer pairs.  He offers pairs of people to corroborate that something was true.  He also offers pairs of people to compel the reader to personally feel the truth.  So he used pairs to convince, but also pairs to convict.  What’s the difference?

Pairs to Convince

Luke's gospelIn Bible world evidence was always considered as stronger if there could be two witnesses to something.  With two or three witnesses a matter is established.  So Luke was diligent in chasing pairs of eyewitnesses or writing pairs of events that would reinforce the truthfulness of something.  You can notice this especially in his opening and concluding chapters.
In the birth narrative and in the Passion narrative, Luke piles on the pairs to establish the truth of what happened.  Gabriel announced two births, there are two songs of praise in that first chapter, two elderly witnesses welcomed him into the temple courts, etc.
And in the passion?  Luke offers two pairs of trials (two Jewish and two Roman) with two authorities declaring Jesus innocent (Herod and Pilate), two heavenly portents witness from above to the import of this man’s death, two sets of two men get a close up view of the crucifixion (Simon/Centurion as bookends with the two criminals either side), two sets of eyes observe his burial place, two angels were at the tomb, twice the message of his resurrection was spoken, two sets of eyes came to check the tomb, two people were on the road to Emmaus, etc.

Pairs to Convict

But Luke has another tendency when it comes to pairings in his Gospel.  I suspect he got this from the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus seemed to like pairs and Luke loved to report teachings omitted by the other gospels that feature pairs of characters as a teaching point.  Luke likes twos because it not only serves to convince readers of the truth of an account, but also because pairs serve to convict readers of the truth of where they stand before Christ.
Think of Mary and Martha – a convicting little account!  Then there was a lost sheep and a lost coin, setting up the story of a man with two lost sons.  Luke tells us of the Rich Man and Lazarus, as well as two men heading up to the temple to pray.  All stories that boil things down to two types of people that offer an enlighting and challenging contrast.
So is it accurate to suggest that Luke uses pairs to convince in his opening and closing, but pairs to convict in between?  Not quite.  Take a look at Luke’s crucifixion narrative.  The heart of the account is found in Luke 23:32-43, and there Luke zeroes in on two participants.  In the midst of all the noise, the crowds, the soldiers, the mocking coming from all sides, there Luke focuses the reader on two criminals crucified either side of Jesus.
Two other Gospel writers mention them, but Luke puts them up front as a feature and then focuses on an interaction between them and Jesus.  It is as if he turns the spotlight onto these two so that as we read of Jesus dying we are forced to compare and contrast these two.
Matthew is overt that both of them hurled insults at Jesus to begin with, but by the end Luke is clear that they are as distinguished as the two sons of Luke 15, or the two men who went to the temple to pray.
One mocks Jesus and implicitly offers Jesus a deal – you rescue us and I’ll treat you as the Messiah.  In many ways he is saying exactly the same thing as the crowd around.  The religious folks were mocking the notion of Jesus being the Messiah and the secular folks were mocking the notion of Jesus being a king.  The cross makes no sense to the people of this world.  Furthermore his criteria was clear – you serve my needs and I’ll consider “serving” you.
The other man rebuked him and had a different perspective.  He recognized the judgment of God on his life and the innocence of Jesus, as well as Jesus’ anticipated progression into kingly power and rule.  He went against the crowd and treated Jesus as who he actually was.  He didn’t offer feigned praise on condition of temporal deliverance, but rather communicated, in effect, “I don’t care about my needs and circumstances if I can have you.”
As we head towards Easter this year I am convicted by that contrast.  It is easy to slip into the world’s cynicism toward Jesus and the cross.  It is easy to start to see Jesus as a heavenly genie in a bottle, a fairy godmother, a butler on high . . . and as long as he blesses me temporally, then I will treat him as significant.  May that never be!
Instead may a close up view of the cross this Easter stir all our hearts to cry out, “our circumstances matter nothing if we can just be known by you!”  And then the wonder of Jesus’ promise to that man, and to us: “Today you will be with me!”  The location to come also becomes secondary in comparison to the relational wonder of being “with Jesus.”

~ Peter

 

You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo UK
 
Dr Peter Mead
pm-132x132Peter is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.

Evangelising Me

The human problem is far greater
and deeper than we’ve ever imagined.

pm-132x132Not only are we all guilty before God, but we are also dead-hearted toward God and we don’t have His Spirit uniting us with Christ or with each other.  This was not God’s design.  He made us to live in the freedom of guiltless fellowship with Him, our hearts being stirred continuously by the Spirit so that our lives might be lived in the abandon of response to the love of God.
The problem is profound, but the gospel is truly a glorious solution to all of this. In Acts 13 we find Paul in Pisidian Antioch (modern-day Turkey).  He preaches a biblically saturated sermon in a Jewish synagogue, urging the listeners to trust in the risen Christ for forgiveness of sins and justification.  He warns them not to reject the message and the writer describes Paul and Barnabas urging the new believers to “continue in the grace of God.”
So the grace of God was the emphasis, referring to the forgiveness of sins and justification.  The focus is on the guilt being dealt with because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Simple trust in his work at Calvary makes it possible to be legally justified. A clear conscious.  A record wiped clean.  Satan may bring up memories and guilt, but we are free of that if we are recipients of God’s grace.

My sin, O the bliss, of this glorious thought,

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

Our “criminal record” before God is such a serious issue, but it can be wiped clean by the grace of God.
So what about the rest of the problem?
Does this passage only point to the legal, but not the relational problem?
The passage goes on to describe Paul’s return the following week and concludes with a summary from verse 49.  The word of the Lord spread through the whole region, but as was typical, the reaction of the non-responsive religious folk drove Paul and Barnabas away.  But the story ends with this: “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
This is the fruit of the grace of God at work.
It was not merely legal, as amazing as that is.  It was relational too.  These people who had been dead in their hearts are now filled with the Holy Spirit and their hearts are alive to God with overflowing joy.  There is the legal and the relational, the forgiveness and the friendship.  That is the grace of God – big enough to deal with the whole problem!
I know my tendency is to allow the gospel to reduce to a merely legal and forensic offer.  If I am witnessing to someone else or preaching, I do okay – that is, I know that it is more than that and try to communicate the richness of forgiveness and real union, true relationship with Christ.  But, personally?  I think I tend to let the gospel shrink as I live my own life.
That is, it is easy to allow my gaze to be drawn by lesser attractions, and it is easy to go quiet in my relationship with God and start walking through the day apparently alone, and it is easy to start to see myself as just a sinner saved, technically, legally, in my status, by God’s wonderful justification.  I don’t think this is what it means when it speaks of continuing in the grace of God.  I certainly don’t think this is what it means to be filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel is amazingly good.  The world needs to hear it.  And as we live out our Christian lives, our hearts need to hear it too.

~ Peter

 

You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo UK
 
Dr Peter Mead
pm-132x132Peter is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.

Three Versions of Divine Marriage

The Bible’s favourite analogy for
the relationship between God
and His people is marriage.

Three Versions of Divine MarriageWe have certainly mentioned this before on this site.  God’s great plan is to call out a bride for His Son from a fallen and sinful humanity.  God’s great promise throughout the Bible is that you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
It is a beautiful image.  I want to ask, though, what image comes to mind when we consider the Christianity we are presented with and experience?  I want to offer three human level pictures to highlight the variety of versions of Christianity:
1. The Legal Marriage.  In this version of marriage, the focus is on the legal status.  She was given an opportunity to trade in her problematic past for a new name, a new status, and a new set of benefits.  Her past debts were wiped when she said, “I do.”  She really appreciates all that her spouse did for her back then, and she tends to look back to the beginning of the arrangement.  On anniversaries and perhaps many other times during the year, she looks fondly at the marriage certificate and remembers her status change.
Legally she is his and she is thankful.  She spends her days trying to follow his instructions and she looks forward to the day when he returns from his business trip (he is working on a building project for now).  When he returns she hopes he is satisfied with how she has performed in his absence.
2. The Mythical “Marriage.”  This shouldn’t really be called a marriage, more of a chase.  There is this absolutely perfect and amazing being out there and I am chasing.  It is a bit like the Bible has hinted at a possibility, and others have spoken much of the offer of a blind date with a supermodel of a God.
So I chase.  I know that if I can just find the right conditions, if I can just get myself into the right state, then maybe, well, there will be this connection.  It will be so amazing I won’t be able to describe it to you.  I don’t know if it will happen, but I will chase hard.  In fact, I may end up pretending there have been some mini-encounters just to fit in with others who are chasing the same mythical mystical union, but who hint at more success in their quest.
3. The Beautiful Marriage.  Two people met and he pursued her heart.  She knew she wasn’t deserving or beautiful, but she became convinced of his love for her.  She found herself trusting him more and more, loving because she was first loved, and responding with delight at his proposal that they spend the rest of their lives together.  Legally their union transformed her status, removing her debts, giving her a new name and identity.  But her gaze is not on the marriage certificate.  Her gaze is on her husband.  Her ears and heart are always open to hear his heart speaking through his words.
It isn’t just her status that is changed.  She is changed.  As the years pass she becomes more and more beautiful.  It doesn’t seem to be that he loves her because she is beautiful, but that she is more beautiful because he loves her.  There are “firework” moments of connection, but they are like the icing on a good cake, they aren’t the whole thing and they aren’t the focus of a constant chase.  A lot of the marriage is spent in the nitty-gritty realities of daily living, of companionship and conversation, of living through the tough times together, as well as the good times.  It truly is a beautiful marriage.
So What? God made marriage a picture of his relationship with his people, a picture for the world to see and be drawn toward.  But does God want the world to be pondering all three types described here?  Is it any surprise that the enemy seems to work to fill the world with people chasing the elusive experience for the pseudo-marriage of a mythical ideal union?  Is it any surprise that many marriages are corrupted into a purely legal status change that lacks any real intimacy, union or relationship?
It is the beautiful marriage that God is both using as his illustration and offering us in his Son.  Legal?  Of course.  Ecstatic?  Perhaps at times.  But profoundly relational, hearts bonded, shared lives, intimate by communication at the heart level, united by the Spirit into a wonderful oneness.  Think about what human marriage could be and should be, then consider the implications for what Christian faith could be and should be.  I am my beloved’s and he is mine – what a delightful privilege!

~ Peter

 

You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo UK
 
Dr Peter Mead
pm-132x132Peter is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.