As Zechariah calls the exiles home, he sees two explanations of why they went to Babylon.
Read Zechariah 5.
Zechariah began with God’s promise that he would return to reign over his people if they returned to him from Babylon (1:3). Like a married couple getting together after a separation, it’s important that they don’t just repeat the mistakes of the past. They need to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes (1:2-6).
God promised he would restore his leaders for the community, the high priest and the Davidic king. They would lead God’s people to rebuild the temple where God would be present among them and lead his people (Zechariah 2–4).
But why did God send them into exile in the first place? That’s what the two visions of Zechariah 5 address.
Continue reading “Why exile? (Zechariah 5)”
Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:
Continue reading “Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)”
What do you see when you look at people?
When you look at people, what do you see? Original sin, or original kingdom?
Since at least the fourth century, theologians have described the essential human state as original sin. Adam and Eve lost their pure identity and become corrupt, so the children they produced received their corrupted nature. Their children passed on this corrupted nature, so every human is already corrupted at birth. On this view, the whole of humanity is corrupt: conceived in sin, sinful by nature at birth, forever doomed, unless God does a work of grace to change an individual’s status.
But that doesn’t match what Jesus saw in people. The disciples thought people were pestering Jesus, so they stepped in to triage and divert the less significant ones: the children. Jesus said they were seeing the children the wrong way. Literally translated, Jesus described the children like this: The kingdom of heaven is such (Matthew 19:14).
That’s a very different view of what it means to be human.
Continue reading “Original kingdom, or original sin? (Matthew 19:14)”
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Prophets see things. When John the Baptizer saw Jesus approaching, he saw “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Did you see that? If I hear Scripture as a story about me, I may substitute a message that Jesus takes away my sins. That’s not what John said.
Imagine a world where sin has gone — where the Lamb has taken away the sin of the world. What’s it like? What do you see? Continue reading “Hope for the world (John 1:29)”
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”
So what’s it like at your place during the lockdown? Too quiet? Too noisy? Bored kids? Angry adults? Binged the whole series already? Missing friends? Missing income?
The goal is to keep safe at home, but home is not a safe place for everyone. Our tensions are stretched by fear. If your place is fine, spare a thought for those who are struggling. One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. For men it’s about one third that rate. So, if your church has 200 adults, 33 of them will have experienced partner violence. Know who are they are? How are they doing? Continue reading “Supporting families during lockdown”
How you love tells us how you use power.
Language expresses culture. Abusive language rises in a culture of abuse. “F. you” is so common that we no longer hear it as a curse, wishing sexual abuse on someone.
Four-letter words are the language of power and humiliation — a graphic verbal image of the powerful forcing themselves on the humiliated. It’s a snapshot of what’s wrong with the world, the culture of injustice.
There’s a world of difference between genuine love and screwing people over. Continue reading “Sex and power (Ephesians 5:1–5)”
What we say reveals who we’re speaking for.
Want peace on earth? There’s a message that can deliver it. No, it’s not “Everybody try harder!” It’s the announcement that the hostilities are over because God has rescued humanity from the warring factions of evil, into the reign of his anointed. That’s the good news of salvation.
Words matter. Continue reading “The scent of your words (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2)”
Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.
Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”
Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.
I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.
Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.
The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this: Continue reading “The scandal of George Pell”
Yesterday Steve McAlpine posted on the scandals that keep recurring in our mega-churches. He wants to help us break the cycle by recognizing the shape abusive leadership takes:
The recurring central theme to these scandals is the manner in which a concerned, godly eldership is first enervated by an increasingly toxic church leader, then replaced by that church leader, before finally being excoriated publicly by that church leader, with the new leadership on stage leading the tomato throwing exercise. …
That’s the pattern. It’s that simple. You could throw it in with the seven or so Hollywood standard movie scripts that exist and it wouldn’t look out of place, so step-by-step, formulaic it is.
Why does this keep happening? Steve offers two suggestions, and I’d like to take this further. Continue reading “Those mega-church scandals”
If the gospel isn’t a message about personal guilt, why did Jesus commission his followers to announce “repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name?”
My friend Tim Healy has responded with a great question. We’ve been emphasizing that the gospel of the kingdom is good news of the restoration of God’s kingship, liberation of the earth through his anointed ruler (Christ, our Lord). Over the last 2000 years, the Western church has veered towards a message about individual guilt. We need to recover the blazingly good news Jesus announced and enacted.
Here’s Tim’s question:
Continue reading “Forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47)”
How does Jesus’ gospel differ from the way we present the gospel today?
Jesus announced good news. He was good news because he restored God’s kingship (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). He was good news for those who’d missed out (11:5). He was good news for the whole world (26:13).
To announce the gospel is to announce Jesus — God’s anointed ruler (Christ), Son of the heavenly sovereign (Mark 1:1). The way Jesus told it, proclaiming the gospel sounds like this: “It’s time! God’s reign has arrived! Turn to his authority! Place your trust in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15).
Unfortunately, that’s not the gospel presented by many Evangelical/Charismatic churches today. What passes for the gospel sounds more like the story of a naughty child.
It goes something like this: Continue reading “The naughty child story”
Ever worried you’ve committed the unpardonable sin?
Open Matthew 12:30-32.
You’re a baptized follower of Jesus, but you’ve blown it. Like, really blown it. Have you messed up your one chance to be saved? Have you committed the unpardonable sin? This question has troubled believers for 2000 years.
Are some sins unforgivable? How about these words from Jesus: Continue reading “What’s the unforgivable sin? (Matthew 12:30-32)”
Christians are far too quick to label people as “sinners.” Do you know how Jesus applied this label?
When we label people as sinners, they feel insulted. We’re calling them a dirty name. Why do we do it? Typically it’s because we want them to feel guilty, so we can offer them forgiveness. Is that good news? Or is it trading in guilt? What did Jesus do?
Let’s find out. There are only 7 or 8 occasions where Jesus used the word sinner. A survey of when and how he used this label is very revealing. Continue reading “When did Jesus label people “sinners”?”
Why did the poor old tax collectors get such a bad rap in the New Testament?
Open Matthew 9:9-12.
Remember when you faced that tax bill? How did you feel? It wasn’t like, “Wonderful. Now I can contribute to educating children, providing health services, enabling law enforcement, building roads and infrastructure and a bunch of other things to help our community.” Not likely.
Now imagine taxes are being levied by an occupying force. Your taxes are paying the army that killed some of your family and is crushing your people. How would the Dutch have felt under Nazi occupation during World War II? How do Iraqis feel under American occupation today? How would Jewish people have felt under Roman occupation in Jesus’ time? Continue reading “What’s with tax collectors? (Matthew 9:9-12)”
Why did Jesus talk about sin much less than we do? Is there something we should learn from him?
Open Matthew 9:2.
As you read the Gospels, are you learning from Jesus? To be a disciple is to become like the Master. Watch what he did that’s different from what we do. Close the gap where our understanding and practice doesn’t match his.
That’s especially important when it comes to the gospel. When people today present the gospel, we tend to start with the problem, identified as sin. We present Jesus as the antidote for sin, and then we ask people to sign up so they can have the benefit — the forgiveness of their sins. Sound familiar? Trouble is: that’s not how Jesus did it. Continue reading “What about sin? (Matthew 9:2)”
The city of Sodom is an image of sin in the Bible, but not in the way we use the word in English.
In English, the name Sodom is associated with a particular kind of sexual sin. Why are we preoccupied with one aspect of Sodom’s sin? That’s certainly not what Sodom connotes throughout the rest of the Biblical narrative. Of the 48 references to Sodom, you’d struggle to find a handful that focus on sexual sin.
Continue reading “What was the sin of Sodom? (Genesis 19)”
Genesis 3 is strange to our ears. Why is there a talking snake? Why is the creature called crafty? Why is the snake craftier than the other animals? Ultimately the story is all about who rules, but we need to deal with some of these issues so we can get to the main point.
A common response is to say, Continue reading “Who’s in charge now? (Genesis 3:1-14)”