The faith of Enoch (Hebrews 11:5-6)

Enoch walked into God’s presence without dying. That’s inspiring. He’s the second example of faith in Hebrews 11.

Enoch’s relocation into the heavenly realm is intriguing. What did he see when he got there? How is that world different to this one? Where are the dead? Why is there so much evil in this world? How will God sort out the sufferings of his people and bring justice to the world? What can we learn from Enoch?

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The faith of Abel (Hebrews 11:4)

A fresh take on Abel’s faith.

There’s no shortage of sermons and podcasts on faith, on how to receive by faith, or how to protect ourselves with the shield of faith. But do you recall any sermons on the faith of Abel?

Who wants to follow in Abel’s footsteps? Whatever faith he had, it didn’t end well for him.

I did find a message where Abel’s faith tops the list. Abel is the prime example in Hebrews 11:
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Didn’t Cain win that one? Why start a faith message with the loser? What was different about Abel’s faith?

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What faith expects (Hebrews 11:1–3)

Is faith still relevant today? Or does it belong to a bygone era when Christendom ruled? Many who depended on the church to sustain them are seeing their faith crumble.

Does faith make sense anymore? Is it reasonable to believe for something better when there’s so much wrong? In the face of the whole gamut of crumbling relationships from personal despair to social anxiety and global conflicts, we need a very secure basis to hold on to faith.

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On the coronation of King Charles III

Why did the Church proclaim Charles as God’s anointed?

You’d need to be 70 to have seen the coronation of a British monarch before. The nature of the coronation ceremony came as a surprise to many. It was an Anglican church service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Justin Welby acknowledged King Jesus as the king of kings, and called on Charles III to do the same. Submission to heaven’s reign matters: a king who humbles himself and pledges to live as a servant of the heavenly throne is more likely to treat his people with grace than a ruler who believes all power rests in his own hands.

The big question the coronation raised for me is this: Is Charles God’s anointed? Is that the good news the church is called to proclaim?

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Formed in God’s story: Leviticus – Joshua

This is part 3 of a survey of the Torah and historical books, looking at how we are Formed in God’s Story: Genesis–Esther.

We saw that all people belong to God, but in response to the nations going their own way God promised his own nation to show what they’re missing (Genesis).

We saw God freeing Jacob’s descendants from bondage to human rule, forming them into a nation under his leadership through the Sinai covenant (Exodus).

This third part describes life in the kingdom led by the Lord:

  • How were the people to live as a nation that honours its sovereign? Leviticus answers the holiness question.
  • What if his people don’t follow him? Won’t that wreck God’s plans? Numbers addresses the faithlessness question.
  • What about the next generation? Deuteronomy deals with the generational issue.
  • What about the nations that already occupied the land God promised them? Joshua confronts the territorial issue.

So, here are the notes for part 3, covering these four books:

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Covenant or kingdom?

What’s at the heart of the gospel? Kingdom? Or covenant?

We’re God’s kingdom. That defines the relationship between heaven and earth. God is sovereign; we are his creatures in the earthly realm that is governed by heaven. Our relationship with God is that of king and kingdom.

Or maybe covenant is the unifying theme? There’s no shortage of theologians who see it that way. So who’s right? Is it kingdom or covenant?

Both themes run through Scripture, but they’re not competing. Kingdom is established through covenant.

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Formed in God’s story: Exodus

[Updated 2023-05-05: Podcasts added]

God desires to rescue his earthly realm from the powers that oppress us because of lust for power. Pharaoh is the example in Exodus. God saves the descendants of Jacob, forming them in a nation to show the other nations what God intends for us all: how it works when we live under his wise and caring leadership.

But not long after his people agreed to live in covenant relationship with their heavenly sovereign, the whole relationship was compromised by their unfaithfulness. That’s when they discovered the faithfulness of God: his persistent, caring, uncompromising faithfulness kept on rescuing them.

Eventually they provided the holy space for God to live among them and lead them. The final chapter of Exodus celebrates God’s glorious presence as he leads the people who recognize his kingship.

It’s how the world should always have been: God living among us and leading us.

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Looking for a city (Hebrews 11:10)

Why was Abraham looking for a city? He already had one.

Augustine knew: our faith leads us to “the city of God.” Faith may be seeking understanding, but that’s not all. Faith seeks embodiment as a city under God.

Abraham knew: By faith, Abraham … went … for he was looking for a city (Hebrews 11:10).

Did you ever wonder why he lived like that when he already had a city?

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Formed in God’s story: Genesis

Update 2032-04-29: podcasts added.

If you’ve been around church for any time, you’ve heard of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his sons. You’ve probably heard debates about creation and evolution. You know about the snake and the fall. You may have heard of Nimrod or the Nephilim, or compared our time to the days of Noah.

These topics are in Genesis, but they are not the message of the book. Why was Genesis written? What is the theme at the core of the book? What is this book doing at the start of the Bible’s narrative?

Genesis is far more than a collection of fascinating stories. There’s something grander going on, a narrative that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So what is it? How does the story work, and where is it going? Here’s the macro story, the big picture of how the story flows in Genesis, what it says about God and us, and how this draws us into the whole Bible narrative:

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When faith is a struggle (Hebrews 10:37–39)

In this series, we’ve talked about losing faith, changing faith, searching for faith, and finding faith.

Habakkuk 2:4 underpins several NT discussions of faith: the just shall live by his faith (KJV) or the righteous person will live by his faithfulness (NIV). We’ve seen how this applies to Jesus’ faith, gospel faith, our faith and our struggle with evil.

Hebrews also quotes Habakkuk 2:4, right before the big “faith” chapter (Hebrews 11). But the quotation in Hebrews is problematic, different how Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.

The differences are due to translation. As a sermon delivered in Greek, Hebrews uses the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) just as most preachers use our English translations for sermons each Sunday.

But how are we to respond if Hebrews relies on a mistranslation? Does that mess with our faith?

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How the resurrection of God’s anointed changes everything (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)

“The resurrection changes everything.” That’s the message we hear as we celebrate Easter. What do we mean? Was this really the point in history when everything began to turn around, when God began restoring everything he intended in the beginning?

Yes, it is that central. The earliest Christian creed declared this of primary importance: that Messiah died on account of our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he has been raised up on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Maybe your translation used the world Christ rather than Messiah. Both words mean “anointed.” But “Christ” can only refer to one person, so that disconnects it from the many kings in the Scriptures who were messiah. We lost that in translation.

The point of this early creed is Jesus as the anointed in continuity with the Scriptures. Let’s look to the Scriptures to see how this works.

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Approaching Easter

Meditations for Holy Week, from Matthew’s Gospel.

As we approach Easter, you may appreciate some readings on Jesus’ final week: Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.

If you can only do one, try the first one, Two Powers. It surveys Matthew 21–28 from a fresh angle: the conflict between temple and king.

These two powers, both anointed by God, were often in conflict in ancient Israel. After the exile, God restored the temple but not the kingship. This disparity was the main theme of the prophet Zechariah: two olive branches (Joshua and Zerubbabel), with the high priest wearing the crown until the king finally rides in on a donkey. Then the shepherd is struck down, before God’s reign is restored to all the earth. Several times Jesus quotes Zechariah to explain what’s happening to him. Holy week makes brilliant sense from this perspective: it’s all about people rejecting God’s authority, and how he rescues the world in the Son he raises up.

If you want more, choose what’s relevant for you from these posts on Jesus’ final week according to Matthew’s Gospel:

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Formed in God’s story (free course)

[Last Update 2023-05-05: Podcasts from Week 2, and notes for week 3 added.]

How well could you explain the big arc of the Bible’s narrative? Could you piece together the Old Testament story from its creative beginning in Genesis to the postexilic Persian pressure of Esther’s time?

I’m preparing a sweeping 6-week overview of the Torah and historical books, and you’re invited. If you’re in Perth Western Australia, let’s get together. If not, you can still download the notes each week to catch the wind of what God is doing.

Formed in God’s Story: Genesis to Esther covers the 17 foundational books that provide context for the Psalms and Prophets. This is the backstory for Jesus’ mission (Matthew – John), our mission (Acts – Jude), and the restoration of all things (Revelation).

This is God’s story, but we’re not merely binge watching it. We’re living in it. We’re being formed in God’s story.

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Finding faith

It helps to know what we’re looking for.

Our friends’ dog went missing a few weeks ago. They searched all the places near their home, checked with neighbours, phoned friends, and posted pictures on social media. Several days later, one of their friends saw a ‘found dog’ notice at a shop and recognized the dog from the Facebook photo.

If you’re searching for faith, it helps if you know what you’re looking for. Would you like to know what kind of faith Jesus is looking for?

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How faith has changed

When Luther said we’re saved by faith alone, he did not mean we’d be alone in our faith.

No, it’s not just nostalgia; faith really has changed.

Long ago, people believed what their community did. If your culture was animist, Buddhist, or Christendom, that was your faith.

All that began to change when an Italian pointed his telescope to the planets and told his community he no longer believed we were the centre of the universe. The keepers of the faith told Galileo he wasn’t allowed to believe that. Their attempt to control him undermined the credibility of the Church’s faith. Galileo became a kind of unofficial saint of independent belief.

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Losing faith

Losing faith is heart-breaking. Relationships rely on faith. When trust dissolves, relationship does too. That leaves us feeling isolated, and it’s hard to trust again.

That’s just as true of our relationship with God. Aussies are facing a crisis of faith. Most of us no longer identify as Christian. Many say they have “no faith.”

Crisis might not be the right word. This is no sudden disaster, like a bushfire or a flood. It’s more like a climate change: rising sea-levels of unbelief gradually eroding our faith. Europe experienced this last century. America has yet to feel the full impact.

Perhaps we don’t lose faith, so much as misplace it. “Believe it enough, and all your dreams will come true,” Disney sings. And then we grow up to discover that I am not the centre of the universe, and it wasn’t designed to fulfil my dreams. Disillusioned I feel when my illusions evaporate.

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The oldest Bible fragment in existence

2600+ years old.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

This priestly blessing (from Numbers 6:24–26) is the oldest fragment of Bible text ever discovered.

It was inscribed on a silver plaque or amulet, rolled up like a scroll, and buried more than 2,600 years ago. That’s almost 700 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden!

Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay found the two silver objects in 1979 while excavating a tomb in Ketef Hinnom, less than a kilometre southwest of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

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What makes Christian prayer distinctive?

Across cultures and religions, people pray. How is Christian prayer different? The question helps us clarify our faith.

Christian prayer has its roots in Judaism: one God, no idols, covenant relationship between the heavenly sovereign and his people on earth. We saw how the distinctive basis for prayer in Judaism is this reliance on God’s revelation of himself and his faithfulness towards the people who are called by his Name.

That’s the background for our Lord’s Prayer. In synagogues across Galilee, Jesus would have joined in this Aramaic prayer:

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