Apr 192017

When the Prime Minister announced yesterday that she was calling a General Election one of the inevitable PM calls electionquestions that arose was how this related to her frequent statement that there was no need to hold one until 2020. Some commentators spoke about a U-turn, others about broken promises, while – among others – there is a recognition that people change their minds as circumstances change.

And, this is something we are having to get used to in many areas of life. A football club chairman expressing complete confidence in their manager leads to speculation as to how soon the manager will go while – back in politics – a Prime Minster expressing full support for a Minister starts speculation as to who will replace them.

This reminded me of an event in the life of Jesus (recorded in John 7) where the question arose as to whether he was going to go to Jerusalem to join in the celebration of one of their annual festivals. His brothers – who didn’t believe in who he really was or in what God had called him to do – encouraged him to go, to take a public role, to show his followers what he was capable of (John 7:2-5).

But Jesus was aware that the religious leaders wanted to kill him (John 7:1) so it wasn’t safe for him to go with them. While it was alright for them to go it wasn’t right for him:

You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.’ (John 7:8)

But then, after they had gone he did go – not publicly as they had wanted but in secret (John 7:10).

So what caused him to change his mind, why did he do what he said he wasn’t going to do?

I think the key is in the phrase “my time has not yet fully come” – Jesus wasn’t going to act according to his brother’s agenda, nor even according to his own agenda, but according to what his Father told him to do, according to what would please his Father. He has previously made this explicitly clear:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

So it’s reasonable to assume that between telling his brothers that he wouldn’t go to Jerusalem and choosing to go his Father had made it clear that this is actually what He wanted him to do.

The situation hadn’t changed – he was still in danger of being taken and killed – but he needed to be doing what his Father called him to do. And so he gets up to teach, stuns the crowd with what he says (John 7:14-15) and then as the feast drew to its close he stands up and calls out to everyone who will hear, offering them life and hope and God’s presence.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:37–38)

John 737–38 [widescreen]

Whatever the Prime Minister’s reasons are for calling a snap election it seems that what was motivating Jesus is fairly clear. He wasn’t concerned about his own personal safety, he wasn’t concerned about what those in authority would think of him. Rather he was totally committed to doing what his Father asked of him and prepared to do whatever he could to bring others into a refreshing, living relationship with God.

A much more important question than how we will respond to the issues of this general election is how we will respond to the offer of “life as it is meant to be lived” from Jesus – an offer he made then and continues to make today.

And another important question – for those of us who have made that commitment to follow Jesus – is whether we are prepared to live in a similar way to how Jesus lived and seek to follow what God calls us to do in every part of our lives whatever it may cost us, whatever the implications may be.


Mar 192014

A couple of days ago I was reading an article by NT Wright (published in 2002) where he makes a challenging assertion:

The very existence of the church is an affront to the principalities and powers in general (Ephesians 3:10) and to Caesar in particular, because here within his empire is a growing king-spadesgroup of people giving allegiance to a different lord—as Luke says, to ‘another king’ (Acts 17:7). The church, through its exodus-shaped life (1 Corinthians 10:1–13), is also a revelation of the true God. Paul’s strong pneumatology, which he does not retract in the face of muddle, sin and rebellion in the Corinthian church, ensures that he sees the very existence, let alone the obedient life, of the church as a vital sign to the world of who its rightful God and Lord now are.

N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 246.

In this article, as he frequently does, Wright is making the point that the gospel message of Jesus as Messiah and lord is a direct challenge to Caesar who was, himself, claiming to be the lord of the world.

In Paul’s day, the communities of people who believed in Jesus were relatively small and could have easily been dismissed as politically insignificant but this didn’t prevent Paul proclaiming his message that the man who was crucified by the Romans had been brought back to life, demonstrating the validity of his claim to be Messiah and Lord, and that his authority was supreme.

Over the centuries those belonging to the Christian church were persecuted, the Christian church became the state religion of the empire, the church became a powerful political organisation and then – in most countries – its influence declined. Now, in some countries Christians are oppressed, in others the church is part of the establishment, in others the church is free to exist and worship but isn’t seen as significant in public life.

If Paul were still writing and speaking I think he would be accused of making the same claims – in whatever context he found himself – that there is another king and that this king is Jesus (Acts 17:7). And I think that one of the challenges facing the church today is that we have allowed ourselves, in many cases, to forget that this claim is true and that it should powerfully affect all aspects of our lives. And, as a consequence, we are not being the positive influence for good that our contexts need us to be.

What difference would it make if each of us who are follower of Jesus recognised the authority of Jesus over our lives, if we were prepared to leave everything and follow him, if we were prepared to submit our desires and goals to what he wanted?

What difference would it make if all our churches fully recognised that Jesus is king, that his agenda is agendawhat is important – not ours – and he invites us to be part of his mission in the world instead of us inviting him to be involved in ours?

What difference would it make if each of us and each of our churches recognised that Jesus is king in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities? And that he calls on us to be his representatives in those places and among the people who live and work there?

What difference would it make if we recognised our responsibility to speak out and act against those things which are wrong and unjust in our nation when those things go against the authority and kingship of Jesus?

salt and light

Jesus, famously, called on his followers to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Commenting on the idea of being salt, the late John Stott said this:

God intends us to penetrate the world. Christian salt has no business to remain snugly in elegant little ecclesiastical salt cellars; our place is to be rubbed into the secular community, as salt is rubbed into meat, to stop it going bad. And when society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach the non-Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: where is the salt?

John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 65.

There is much more to be said about the role of those who have chosen to follow Jesus in how we can recognise, proclaim and demonstrate that Jesus is king – whatever our society would tell us. And I hope to pick this up again in later posts. But, probably more importantly, I hope to continue to work out what the lordship and kingship of Jesus should mean to me and what part I can play in being salt and light in his world.

Mar 142014

A couple of days ago Jo, my wife, nottingham castle
and I were in Nottingham and spent some time looking round Nottingham Castle.

The original castle was built in 1068 and after being burnt down and redesigned over the centuries was converted into a museum and art gallery in 1875.

We walked around the grounds and came across a small plaque which claimed to mark the spot where the English Civil War had started in 1642 when King Charles 1 raised his flag and called for people to rally round him.

civil war plaque

This marked the start of a terrible chapter in English history as the country was divided over whether to follow the King or to support Parliament.

Four years later it was all over – the King had been defeated and the Parliament forces had won.

But I wonder how long the scars affected lives and families and communities, as divisions had to be healed and senses of betrayal had to be dealt with. Those who had been spies and informers would have tried to blend back into society while those who had suffered at their hands could easily have looked for revenge.

And it made me think about something Jesus once said to those who were thinking about following him.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34–36)  

These are words many of us do not often, or easily, associate with Jesus. And we need to recognise that elsewhere he speaks about the peace he came to bring and the peace he offers to his followers. So what was he saying here, what did he mean?

It comes down to the question of loyalty – to whom are we loyal, who receives our greatest allegiance? In the Civil War, brothers who supported different sides in the conflict would still have been brothers but their allegiance to King or Parliament could have taken a higher priority and so the family would have been divided.

And the point Jesus is making is that he is looking for that first place of allegiance, that primary loyalty, in those who call themselves his followers. For many Christians today, at least those living in the West, the choices are less stark. They can choose to follow Jesus and their families or friends may think they are strange but it doesn’t always cause bitter division (although sometimes it can).

I have a friend who isn’t able to go back to his own country due to fears of what would happen to to him for being a Christian. I have another friend who was really concerned about how his family would respond when they learned that he had decided to commit himself to Jesus. For these people they had to answer the question of where their priorities lay and decided to follow Jesus while recognising the cost.

But what about those of us who don’t experience the divisions and breakdown in relationships that Jesus speaks about? Does it sometimes result in us not living the lives he is calling us to live?

In the passage I quoted above, Jesus goes on to talk about the priority he is looking for and it is clear he isn’t expecting half-measures:

  • He is looking for us to love him more than we love our parents and our children (Matthew 10:37)
  • He is looking for us, each day, to be prepared to suffer for him as he suffered for us (Matthew 10:38)
  • He is looking for us to find fulfillment and satisfaction in his plans for our lives as opposed to our own plans (Matthew 10:39)

These are hard, tough commitments but Jesus is totally serious in what he is calling for.

Tom Wright, commenting on this passage, refers to the example of St Francis:

leaving his wealthy home despite his father’s fury, to go and live a simple life of imitating Jesus as much as he could—and setting an example that thousands still follow today

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15, p.122.

And there are many examples throughout history, and probably many examples we each know today, of people who are prepared to respond positively and joyfully to the call of Jesus and find the fullness of life which he came to bring. And there are many of us who are prepared to sit on the sidelines and watch such people as opposed to taking up the challenge for ourselves.

If Jesus were to raise his flag in your street, in your place of work, in your church, amongst your friends how would you respond?