The trouble with the cross is that it’s a counter-intuitive solution for the sin of the world.
The evil in God’s earthly realm is the rejection of his divine authority, people grasping power for themselves and using that power to deceive and dominate each other. It offends our sense of justice, so we want revenge. We can’t sit by and do nothing, but taking matters into our own hands and fighting back only perpetrates the cycle of violence.
We want God to act against evil, to put down his foot and crush it so it can’t continue. God doesn’t. God doesn’t act violently to overcome violence. God doesn’t use force against force. God does not control evil by doing evil against evil-doers.
So what does God do to deal with the injustice in his realm? He enters his unjust realm as one of us. He meets face-to-face with the rebellion against his reign, the people who will do anything to take divine power into their own hands. God confronts evil, from a position of powerlessness. Continue reading “The counter-intuitive wisdom of the cross”
Open Exodus 15:1-21.
What makes a great song? Lyrics that voice what you feel? Rhythm that moves you? Layers of rich harmony? Chord progressions that take you places?
A song rang out over the MCG at the final siren on 29 September 2018. It was the song every Eagles fan wanted to hear. The right song in the right moment sweeps you up and carries you like a raft on a white-water stream.
The first song in the Bible was that kind of song — the greatest victory song you could imagine. We waited 65 chapters to hear it. There’s only been one mention of a song, a song Jacob turned down. After 20 difficult years, Jacob slipped away quietly, rejecting the party Laban offered with mirth and song pretending everything is okay (Genesis 31:27). Our world is still full of escapist songs that don’t quite ring true.
Finally we get the true song, the authentic celebration. The song celebrates the moment they were released from serving Pharaoh to serve a new king. With his chariots on the sea floor, Pharaoh had no power to enslave them again. You can’t stop the music: Continue reading “The significant song (Exodus 15)”
Open Exodus 14:1-9.
Freedom! The Israelites are no longer Pharaoh’s slaves. They’re marching out of Egypt with a new identity: the people of YHWH! Their king is present in cloud and fire. He leads them south towards the Sinai Peninsula. There they will discover his character, and covenant with him to be his people.
But … there’s a problem. See that dust rising into the northern sky? It’s gaining on them. At chariot speed. The Middle East’s most powerful army is coming to take them captive again. Continue reading “When it feels like a dead end (Exodus 14:1-9)”
Dial 000, we teach our kids. There’s always someone there. If the threat is physical violence, the police will save us. If the threat is fire, the fire brigade will save us. If the threat is medical, the ambulance will save us.
Government provides these services, including 000. So thank God for governments. They are his servants, authorized by God to save us from a whole range of violent threats.
We rarely think about that when we talk about salvation at church. There we use the word saved to mean being saved from personal guilt or from condemnation in the afterlife. We use the same word to mean two completely different things, without stopping to think why. We can do that because we segregate the secular and religious dimensions of life into isolated compartments.
Continue reading “Who will save us?”
It won’t do to imagine salvation as a personal experience, unconnected to the woes of the world. In the Bible’s story, salvation is not relief from personal guilt. Salvation is God saving his people from enslavement to evil, from the crushing affliction we experience under rulers like Pharaoh. Salvation is God rescuing his creation from evil, into his reign. Continue reading “Salvation is bigger than you think”
Open Exodus 6:2-7.
Who governs the affairs of the world? That depends who you trust. Fox News would give you a different answer to China Press, Aljazeera, BBC, or Spiegel.
Truth is, none of the world’s leaders have the kind of control they’d like us to believe. There’s another hand behind history, beyond the best laid plans of mice and men.
Pharaoh was the biggest name in Moses’s world. At least, that’s what Moses thought. Until he learned the name:
Continue reading “The Saviour revealed (Exodus 6:2-7)”
What do you do when evil won’t let go?
Open Exodus 5:14 – 6:1.
Remember the time you tried to sort things out, only to make it worse? Moses knew that feeling.
He delivered God’s message to Pharaoh: “Hands off my people! Release them to celebrate with me in the wilderness.”
Pharaoh reacts like any self-serving tyrant: he comes down like a ton of bricks on those who dare to imagine themselves outside his control.
To stop them dreaming about freedom under YHWH, Pharaoh tightens his control over them. They won’t have time to dream of holidays and festivals: Continue reading “When it feels worse (Exodus 5:14 – 6:1)”
Movies reflect culture. If that’s true, the church doesn’t have a future.
Think back over the movies you’ve watched recently. What part did the church play?
If it’s there at all, it might be complicit with evil. Or it could be a symbol of something we’ve left behind, an artefact of the past. Continue reading “Does the church have a future?”
We recognize oppression, but where’s the liberation?
Open Matthew 12:22-29.
Any closed system, left to itself, runs down. Entropy is a law of nature. You don’t have to do anything for dust to build up in your house or for your garden to fall into disorder.
But earth is not a closed system. Enormous amounts of energy arrive from the sun. On a clear day, it’s about a kilowatt of energy for every square metre. Without it, we’d freeze. Plants and the whole ecosystem thrive on that incoming energy.
There’s another kind of energy as well, one that isn’t measured in kilowatts. Bette Midler was wrong. God is not “watching from a distance” while his realm deteriorates and spirals into disorder. His creative power sustains us each day. Our heavenly sovereign is restoring order to his troubled realm.
The sun powers our ecosystem, but it’s the Son who restores creation under God’s power, as the kingdom of God. Continue reading “Out of darkness (Matthew 12:22-29)”
How does the kingdom of God relate to the message of salvation?
In my student days, I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It’s embarrassing, but I remember saying, “That’s not a canyon; that’s a huge cliff.” I expected to see another cliff on the other side of the canyon. Eventually, somebody pointed it out: “See over there, 18 miles in the distance, that’s the other side.” I had totally failed to understand the scale of the canyon.
Salvation can be a bit like that. It’s so much more than we take in at first. For 500 years, we’ve stressed that it’s all of grace, nothing of human merit: by grace alone, by faith alone. We know it so well:
Ephesians 2:8–9 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
How does salvation relate to the kingdom? That’s an important question if we are to understand the gospel Jesus preached, i.e. the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16). Continue reading “God’s kingdom and salvation”
What is the gospel? Tim Healy explains.
Tim Healy has just been appointed Senior Minister of Riverview Church in Perth, Western Australia.
Almost twelve months ago, Tim preached a rich message on What is the Gospel? We tend to focus on one little aspect. As Tim explained, it’s so much more than we think.
Check it out.
Faith is allegiance to Jesus as king. And once you see him as king, the stories of Israel’s previous kings take on fresh meaning.
Open 1 Samuel 10:26 – 11:15 and Matthew 5:29.
Matthew Bates releases a new book next week: Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. What an intriguing title! The faith that saves is not believing doctrines about how salvation works. The faith that saves is giving allegiance to King Jesus, recognizing the person who saves the world from evil and brings us back under God’s reign. Wow!
People who don’t understand Jesus’ kingship are often puzzled by how the New Testament writers used the Old (e.g. Jesus fulfils what?). The puzzle is resolved into a clear picture when you see Jesus as the king who finally brings Israel’s stalled kingdom to fulfilment, restoring God’s kingship over Israel and over the nations. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfil them. Nothing God decreed would disappear from the story until he fulfilled it all (5:17-18). Continue reading “Why the right eye? (Matthew 5:29)”