Tyrants or tempests? From what does Jesus save? (Matthew 14:22-33)

“Jesus saves” from what? Tyrants (systemic injustice)? Tempests (natural disasters)? Transgressions (personal guilt)?

Open Matthew 14:22-33

Some disasters are manmade. We hurt each other in our families, businesses, and communities. We’re harmed by war, racism, the injustices of power. We also face disasters beyond human control: cyclones, earthquakes, pandemics. Which kind does Jesus save us from?

Matthew 14 answers that question.

Continue reading “Tyrants or tempests? From what does Jesus save? (Matthew 14:22-33)”

Solving the world’s problems

What God is doing is effective: it will transform the world.

You might think it’s always off, but Eurovision really is off this year (2020).

That didn’t stop a Dutch team using a computer to generate a new Eurovision song. They fed it input from previous Eurovision hits and from social commentary site Reddit. Reportedly, it wrote a song “that crescendos as a robotic voice urges listeners to ‘kill the government, kill the system.’”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t create those ideas. It reflects what people say. There must be quite a few anarchists reacting to the oppression and systemic injustice in the world for AI to produce that song.

Unfortunately, many of us in church don’t think of sin like that. I think of sin as my faults, the ones for which I need forgiveness, because that’s how I get saved. We lose the world-transforming power of the gospel when we reduce it to a story about me and how I can get my forgiveness. Sin isn’t just a problem in each individual. It’s the oppressive power that dominates the world, causing all the wars, all the social devastation, all the problems the anarchists react to.

Jesus acknowledged the oppressive power of sin, but offered a very different solution. The problem with “kill the government, kill the system” is that it adds fuel to the fire, feeding the cycle of violence. Jesus’ radical idea was to replace the cycle of violence (the power of sin) with God’s reign.

Jesus took no sword to Caesar. He took the cross from Caesar. Continue reading “Solving the world’s problems”

The powerful God who reigns in weakness

What does it look like when Jesus unites humanity under his leadership as the kingdom of God? For the church today, that might be the most important question, because that’s our identity, and it defines our mission.

Firstly, this is a radically different kind of politics. We’re accustomed to the world of party politics. The Liberal Party seeks power from and for the business owners. The Labor Party seeks power for the workers. The Nationals seek power for the landowners, and so on. Within each party are factions (left, centre, right), each seeking to gain more control of the party, in the hope of their party controlling the country.

Then there’s the division of countries, with different political systems: democracy, socialism, monarchy, republic, and so on. On the world stage, countries fight for self-interest. Looking back, history looks like struggle of the species, a political “survival of the fittest.” The strongest beasts survive to rule the world, and the winners write history (compare Daniel 7).

The Bible describes an alternative story of politics. Earth’s true sovereign — the king we sideline when we grasp for power, fight wars, and subjugate each other — takes the side of the suffering, not those who cause their pain:

Continue reading “The powerful God who reigns in weakness”

Saviour of the world

“This man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42)

An International Red Cross survey found “millennials are nervous about their future and see cataclysmic war as a real likelihood in their lifetime.” Add catastrophic fires and climate disaster, and it’s not hard to see why many people live in fear.

Does the gospel address our global fears? Or is it about how to escape from a world that’s likely to blow up? Is Jesus merely a personal Saviour? Or is he the Saviour of the world? Continue reading “Saviour of the world”

Jesus as Saviour

What do we mean when we call Jesus “Saviour”?

Would you describe Jesus as your personal Saviour? That’s good, but that’s only a tiny fraction of what the Bible means when it calls Jesus Saviour.

Let’s try a story. What’s your favourite spy movie? You know those ones where our agents have been incarcerated in a foreign land and condemned to death. With meticulous planning, satellite intelligence, and drone support, we send in the commandos to bring them home. Commandos are the “saviours” in our culture.

The gospel is that kind of story, with more intrigue and less gunfire.

Continue reading “Jesus as Saviour”

The counter-intuitive wisdom of the cross

An Easter meditation

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”

The significant song (Exodus 15)

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)”

When it feels like a dead end (Exodus 14:1-9)

Pharaoh’s pursuing army

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)”

Who will save us?

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?”

Salvation is bigger than you think

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”

The Saviour revealed (Exodus 6:2-7)

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)”

When it feels worse (Exodus 5:14 – 6:1)

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)”

Does the church have a future?

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?”

Out of darkness (Matthew 12:22-29)

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)”

God’s kingdom and salvation

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)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 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”

Tim Healy, “What is the gospel?” (reprise)

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.

Why the right eye? (Matthew 5:29)

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)”

Who is the saviour of the world?

Who do you trust to sort out all that’s wrong with the world? It matters where you place your faith.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say that he is the rightful ruler of all. Every power, every authority, every government answers to him and is under his direction. Jesus is not saving souls to take them out of this world to a disembodied existence in the sky. He doesn’t plan to leave this world to the devil. Continue reading “Who is the saviour of the world?”