All posts by Sean Jefferies

Her Majesty’s God-squadders

An incident just this past fortnight in London got me thinking.

 

Making a long story short, a street preacher named Olu, near Southgate tube station in London was reported to the police for being ‘Islamophobic’. Reportedly (according to @CConcern) a Muslim member of the public took exception to what this elderly Nigerian street preacher was saying, called his Bible the equivalent of something that can be found in the words where bears go, and became threatening. The police arrived to move the street preacher along, he refused to move and they arrested him under the charge of breaching the peace. Apparently, he was also too loud, but one cannot speak quietly on a street corner and be heard.

 

After one of the policeman whipped the Bible out of the street preacher’s hand, he asked the policeman not to take his Bible, to which the policeman replied that he should have thought of it before being racist.

 

http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2019/february/christian-radio-personality-uncle-charlie-dead-at-84-ndash-these-were-his-powerful-last-words

 

Leaving aside the question of whether the police or the street preacher could have handled the situation better, I tried to remember what it was like living in London for the 14 months that I was there.

 

It was 1999 going into 2000, a different time: Tony Blair was Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, Austin Powers was only just getting to wow audiences with his wacky brand of risqué humour, ‘9/11’ wasn’t yet part of our jaded lexicon.

Fish, chips, Mary Poppins, bad weather…London. Also good memories.

I think I get the British outlook: the humour, the pride in a common language and thousands of years of history. I never had a single encounter with a bobby on the beat that I can think of but the impression I get is that policing has changed between back then and now.

 

I don’t remember bumping into too many street preachers, but I do remember being in attendance at a market at Walthamstow – if memory serves. Without any self-consciousness, people were flogging their fruit and vegetables at the top of their lungs.

 

Stand on a street corner in Bellville on any given week-day and you will hear ‘guardtjies’ emitting similarly loud decibels as the taxis try to get customers. In any sense of the word, that would be considered disturbing the peace, much like this nameless street preacher at Southgate. And yet in Walthamstow, in those circumstances, it was perfectly okay.

 

It’s very much an issue of interpretation. However for this to have unfolded on a London street in the way that it did seems like a step in the wrong direction.

 

If I understand Brits at all, they are generally polite, love sports and dogs, appreciate a dry humour, don’t shy away from a moderate level of raunch, have an unfailing sense of fair play and standing up for the underdog, think religion to be a little strange, but nevertheless tolerate it as long as they can launch humour at what they call God-squadders:

 

“evangelical Christians whose members are generally thought to be too forceful in trying to persuade other people to believe as they do”

 

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/god-squad

 

For what I interpret to be a mild embarrassment at religious things, Brits are generally tolerant I think of bumbling vicars and kindly priests. And even God-squadders.

 

British Christianity has also produced some of the most influential people in my life: Matt Redman, Richard Bewes and Paul Blackham. The British and Foreign Bible Society has spread the Gospel tirelessly. Holy Trinity Brompton and the Alpha Course has had a huge impact. Like a rubber ball that has been flung to the far corners of the world with the message of salvation for the rest of the world, the rest of the world has come bouncing back, like a rubber ball, to preach the gospel in London.

 

It’s a very pleasing symmetry.

 

Meanwhile, Olu didn’t get fazed, he was de-arrested and found his way back to the same spot at Southgate. But of course.

Philadelphia

I must confess to being a ‘word nerd’. When the preacher last Sunday at church referenced ‘philadelphios’ as a word describing brotherly love in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the logical part of my brain immediately began a cross-search coming up with other cultural references.

 

The city of Philadelphia in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the first capital of what was then the new country of the United States of America. From the time of the First Continental Congress, there have in fact been nine capitals where Congress have met. Washington D.C. isn’t even sloppy seconds, but merely the final home of Congress.

 

https://www.senate.gov/reference/reference_item/Nine_Capitals_of_the_United_States.htm

 

Congress signing the Declaration of Independence is memorialised by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as depicted in the 2004 movie ‘National Treasure’.

 

Philadelphia’s less genteel side is depicted by one of her pugilist sons in the award-winning 1976 movie, ‘Rocky’.

 

Back to Thessalonica: Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that the Christian community there was taught by God how to love one another. Christ also specifically taught that Christians are recognized by their mutual love.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+4%3A9+-+12&version=NIVUK

 

That’s supposed to be a mark of Christians in world full of darkness. That everyone will know that we are disciples by way of our love for one another.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+13%3A35&version=NIVUK

 

I briefly squirmed when the preacher suggested that non-Christians are studying the lives of Christians to see whether they are any different.

 

Who might possibly be studying my life? What difference could it possibly make that I live the best I can for Him? At least as far as those who are not following God are concerned? I know they may shake their heads and tsk tsk when I stumble, but could the converse be true?

 

Perhaps it’s not even about me as I tend to be reductionist and bring things down to a personal level. Perhaps its about the Christian community as a whole; the relationships that we have with each other, that work, that are practical and sacrificial.

 

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community like that? Perhaps, without trying to look like it, the non-Christians are studying us. Twirling their moustaches, squinting to see and studying us.

 

We are all part of intersecting communities. My particular ‘spider-web’ map includes my nuclear family, my extended family, my team back at corporate, Sharks supporters, Durbanites, my ministry family at Ambassadors, my home group on Monday nights.

 

And of supreme importance: part of a family of Believers, amongst whom we all are to function in brotherly love.

 

Philadelphios.

Community snapshots

We should know how to love one another. I must confess that my nature is to be solitary, or at the least very limited and discriminating in the lengths that I go to in being part of gatherings of people. In being hesitant I may miss out on both giving and receiving encouragement.  Check out this list that John Piper put together showing in what ways we are to love each other:

 

(A mere sampling)

 

We are to

  • Love one another with brotherly affection
  • Outdo one another in showing honor
  • Instruct one another
  • Bear one another’s burdens (this is a meaty one)
  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
  • Encourage one another

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/treasuring-christ-together-part-2

 

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians acknowledges that they know how to love one another, but just to add that little bit extra in. Almost to make sure.

 

Brotherly love amongst Believers is like heat. You can measure an absolute zero (minus 273 Kelvin) but there is no such thing as a maximum amount of heat (that I’m aware of). It can always get a little bit hotter.

 

We can always go that extra degree in loving one another.

 

I’ve come to a realization that as Christians we can ‘phone it in’. In other words we can be remote and say all the right things and ‘do community’ without really engaging.

 

An example: in the 1986 movie Highlander, Sean Connery was asked to record the voiceover to the beginning of the movie and apparently recorded it in a bathroom. It sounded fine to the producers over the phone and they signed off on it. Connery only even spent seven days on set and the movie doesn’t suffer for it, I suppose because some classic Bond charm and a Scots accent can cover a multitude of production sins.

 

http://mentalfloss.com/article/66939/15-immortal-facts-about-highlander

 

The church is a far more lasting and important endeavour than mere entertainment, so it’s good to take it seriously. What stands out to me is the idea of us bearing one another’s burdens, the type of things that only families are – or supposed – to do.

Artillery

Monday was a day of battle.

 

Artillery shells were getting lobbed my way. Fired at different intervals but all causing shock waves converging on Monday morning:
CRACK! The reverberation from a member at church who died in her prime…
…WHAM! The four learners killed tragically at Hoerskool Driehoek, out of the blue…
…BOOM! I sat through a viewing of the newly released drama about what Kermit Gosnell did to babies born alive, part court-case drama, part documentary, all horror…
In quick succession…report after report of bad news and evil going unpunished…State Capture…Eskom playing silly games with the public.
It’s a litany of HE (High Explosive) shells, very much like Billy Joel evoked in his song protesting that we (the human race) didn’t start the fire, that it was always burning since the world’s been turning. For the record, Billy was wrong; we sure did start the fire.
It’s been a long time since I’ve so much as thought of the term ‘spiritual warfare’, but I sure felt like I was in the midst of warfare on Monday morning. But, you may ask, why are disparate events, especially random accidents, evidence of spiritual warfare instead of simple chance?
I look at some of the things getting to me, and yes, they are things which the enemy didn’t necessarily cause. Tragedy happens all the time and there may be no spiritual component to it.

  • A walkway collapses in Vanderbijlpark.
  • A movie chronicles the banality of evil disguised as reproductive choice.
  • A government entity is playing chicken with the public after the money has by all accounts been squandered on a stunning level.
  • A corrupt family of businessmen buy off a country and wield their influence for all to see, for years without consequence.

But I know the enemy is able to weaponize these things and lob them at Believers. If the imperative behind bad things happening is the intent to steal, kill or destroy, I also know where it comes from.

 

Cranberry cooler by candlelight…thanks to the corruption in Eskom

Scripture clearly teaches that the Christian is on the front lines. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians references the reality of the battle we are in.
‘Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes’ (6:11, NIV). In other words, there is something we can do about it.
Our struggle is against ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (6:12, NIV). In other words, the way to perceive the battle, or do something about it, is spiritually.
Our enemy flings ‘flaming arrows’ at us (6:16, NIV). Like something out of The Guns of Navorone.
Paul’s instruction to the Christian references our weapons, worn on our bodies as Roman armour.
The sword as the word of God. Praying in the spirit. Precisely the model of spiritual warfare that Jesus used to resist the enemy. He was always quoting Scripture, always in prayer. And the enemy could not overcome Him. I think of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray and among many other things to pray about, we are to pray daily that He would ‘deliver us from evil’. I’m certain we have heavenly back-up we often know nothing about, hampering the ability of our enemy to harm us.
Practically speaking, we’re constantly thinking under pressure. Instead of acting, we’re reacting. The enemy attacks using hellish artillery with little warning, taking the initiative and forcing the Christian to scramble for a response. In theory, the longer we’re engaged in battle, the better at it we become. Veterans.
https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/never-give-in-never-make-peace

 

I must confess I get confused and bewildered with the campaign. God is in control of – and the originator of  – the overall plan. I’m responsible for my particular area of operations and must simply execute the tactics (the means to obtain the objective) and leave the planning up to Him.

 

Typically I don’t get it right.

 

I get overwhelmed with the emotional investment that is inherent in the idea that we are in a campaign with eternal consequences. I cannot feel what He feels, but He must feel deeper about it than me. I cannot understand His battle plan, especially in a larger context, but without question He understands His plans, better than I ever could.

 

I just have to follow my orders.
The strategy is to save the lost and preserve Christians for heaven.

The tactics are spreading the message and resisting evil.

The strategy, the state of this eternal, spiritual war, is up to Him.

 

If I were to give myself a pep-talk shaped like a boomerang I would say the following:
You utilise what you know (which is little) to buttress against the unknown to present the imperfect (yourself) for battle whose victory and end is perfection.

 

I frequently ask whether my concern for the lost – those who need to believe the message – is conceit on my part. Or is it half-hearted obedience? Or posturing? A kind of virtue signalling where I text my reputation of caring for everyone to see?

 

I don’t really want an answer as to how selfish I really am, or in other words – how far my heart goes in buying into this battle, this grand strategy of salvation that involves saving lives. That question is like the mythical monster in the closet that creeps out in the dark to scare the child.

 

He has seen the answer to the question. He has laid His hand upon me anyway. God has night-vision.

Applause for all the wrong or right reasons

On the most recent anniversary of the 1973 Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision, the State of New York passed a bill essentially allowing abortion up until birth.

 

https://www.faithwire.com/2019/01/23/new-york-senate-erupts-in-applause-after-passing-horrific-late-term-abortion-bill/

 

The Babylon Bee, a satirical Christian website, imagined a demon applauding with the legislators as this bill was signed.

 

https://babylonbee.com/news/demon-lord-clearly-visible-in-new-york-senate-chamber-applauding-legalization-of-abortion-until-moment-of-birth

 

This bill greenlights what is evil. From a Christian point of view, there is no equivocation. The most shocking part of the whole thing was the applause. Articles online use the modifier of ‘thunderous’ when referring to the applause.

 

To my mind that applause is a direct mockery of God and His work of creation. And one should not mock God. It doesn’t end well.

 

What is His heart like? I look at Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+15%3A3+-+7&version=TPT

 

What does heaven erupt in applause over? A sinner who repents. A soul who turns to God. And I imagine this presupposes the soul being born in a body. I imagine this applause would be ‘thunderous’ and sustained. God saves. Sinful man destroys.

 

I know which action I’m going to applaud.

Testimony

This past month at church, as they do every now and then, someone was asked to give their testimony.

 

Its systematic and of more interest, it’s personal because everyone’s journey to faith is different and individual. A testimony is a compelling account of how a person came to be a Christian.

 

This latest testimony at church got me wondering what I would say if I were to be asked to deliver it to the congregation. It’s vaguely entertaining to me because it is my story told from my point of view and if nothing else, I do find myself entertaining sometimes.

 

I sarcasm.

 

One of my earliest memories is attending what I think was some kind of youth service at Montclair Methodist church. I looked it up and to my pleasant surprise, the church is still in ministry. There was an altar call (to come forward to accept Christ), and we were siphoned into the kitchen, off the hall, where I remember my sister was there too and I sat on a kitchen counter. There we did business with God. It was long ago and I only remember snippets but I remember it all the same.

 

http://www.mmc.org.za/gallery.php

 

Time passed and I found myself in high school, not having carried that initial commitment into being deliberate and consistent in living as a Christian.

 

I got an invite to watch the ‘Power Team’ at The Lord’s Place in Brickhill road (now Sylvester Ntuli Road) in Durban central. It was 11 October 1991.

 

Yes, I’m one of those guys who remember dates. Those annoying date nerds.

 

The hairstyles were big, the Soviet Union was dismantling. The Power Team were pumping iron, punishing telephone books, wooden beams and handcuffs, and preaching.

 

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5gkvjn/evangelical-freak-show-the-power-team-were-christian-superstars-of-the-80s-456

 

I remember that the place was a former cinema with a floor sloping down to where the screen used to be. They had taken out the cinema seats and packed it with rows of regular plastic and metal chairs. Actually, all these years later I don’t remember the feats of strength but I remember the syllogism that the speaker used from C.S. Lewis; that Christ could not have been a moral teacher but that he made deeper claims (namely being God) and that given that He could only have been one of three things: liar, Lord or lunatic.

 

I chose Lord and the rest is history. Actually, I rather like movies. Movies have a language that I understand: a beginning, middle and end; plot devices like MacGuffins that move the story forward; Flashbacks that pause the action and give context to broaden the viewer’s emotional connection to the protagonist (the main character). It strikes me as neatly ironic that my faith story starts in a cinema.

Little old ‘moi’

Actually, I’m not the protagonist in this movie, God is. I’m merely a supporting character (if small) in this ensemble in which God is the director of this Meta-narrative.

 

Other MacGuffins have moved my story along at vital points.

 

In 1997, I joined a year-of-your-life program called Ambassadors that selected young adults to attend Theology classes and journey around Sothern Africa as missionary trainees, doing ministry. I remember thinking that this would provoke my spiritual maturity into the stratosphere, but it didn’t quite turn out like that as I had a fellow Ambassador on my mind, and she and I were complicated.

 

In spite of this distraction, we did some good and made memories. It was actually a dry season for me but it taught me that we should just focus on the task, the mission and keep going. Looking back on it, it looks better than going through it at the time.

 

I remember being in London on a working holiday in 1999 and seeing everyone else paired up and me still single, but receiving a verse which I believed was meant for me, from Joshua 24:15, … “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD”. I had to wait almost a Biblical 7 year period like Jacob before I met my wife. We married in 2007. This time taught me to wait, although I was not happy in my patience, I had to learn to wait.

 

A major point in my life was 11 June 2011 when my sister died. I had been a presumptuous Christian, believing that God knew how important my family was to me, that He would save them all and we would be raptured simultaneously. This is obviously not what happened.

 

Since that day at Montclair Methodist where we did business with God, my sister had backslidden somewhat but I remember when our congregation was still in the school hall in D’Urbanvale and Bishop Frank Retief had preached and she had gone up afterward to collect a ‘Meet Your New Manager’ booklet.

 

This was after she had already gotten ill in 2009. In one of the long spells in hospital, she told us how he had a dream, more a phrase in a dream, Onward Christian Soldiers. Which is the testament to her that me and my brother now work on: a blog called Onward Christian Soldier.

 

I was very simplistic in my faith when I was younger. Flashback to early 1990s when my Dad was not saved and I had Scripture verses stuck up all over my room and one morning he delivered my morning coffee and read out loud one of the notes on my wall, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and immediately I thought of the verse in Romans 10 where it says that those who confess Jesus with their mouths (and believe in their hearts) will be saved. Around that same time, I remember praying for my unsaved family and once I got so burdened I wept like a crazy chick during a Rom-com, and I realized that God had given me a glimpse of his passion for the lost and his burden for them.

 

Following my sister’s passing, my brother got more serious with God and my parents got saved and went Baptist.

 

I learned that the rapture was not an escape hatch from the troubles of this life. Jesus promised trouble. I confess I developed a nasty habit of f-bombs in the stress of that time, the coming to terms with it and the grieving. I learned that He is still there, that the mission is still on and that holy living is hard.

 

I have flashbacks that remind me of His long-term presence, I suppose you could say His abiding presence in my life. Memories of times when I was not a happy camper and weighed down and then something unexpected and pleasant would happen in the midst of an uncomfortable situation.

 

I remember once I went back to Durban on holiday and wanted to visit with some old school friends. Me mate Angus and I went to find our mate, Lee, this crazy Welshman with a glass eye, but he wasn’t home. We then went to find our mate Clinton and drove out to his house only to find he wasn’t home and had gotten married and didn’t tell us. But Clinton’s brother Wade was there. We were all unemployed and Wade had cabin fever and a guitar and we just hung out and sang worship songs. It taught me that we are family and we need each other deeply.

 

I remember being in a banana plantation in White River while on Ambassadors, alone and feeling down. The missionary aviators were taking off in their silver bird with the other Ambassadors inside it except me and Craig. They couldn’t find me and I missed out on a flight, but I was actually meeting with God in that plantation and more importantly He met with me, as real as anything. I had the better deal. I learned that God is close to His children.

 

I remember being in London on a Saturday morning, alone in the apartment, watching Little House on the Prairie and seeing God’s grace manifest in a simple story about adoption. I learned something of how God sees His adopted children, namely us.

 

God is better than a writer, a filmmaker, and an artist all rolled into one creative mind and I couldn’t make up a story like this.

Helderberg

The snake warning gave me some pause. Thankfully we didn’t see one
Not bad for a selfie…only our chins are missing
Perfect; not a sound of civilization, but there was cellphone coverage
Almost certainly not signed by God himself…his fingerprints are on everything else
The way forward is up
Beautiful morning
Its harder than it looks
Its looks very serious but these are our ‘enjoyment faces’. We enjoyed the morning, knowing that we were going back to our respective wives: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28)
Our summit on the Protea trail
The Dome and West Peak is a serious ‘Meneer’
Last Sunday on the way to Betty’s Bay. Made me think of James 3:5: “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
The sun waiting for us
A nice shady spot
Hike done and dusted; a bunch of gray beards
A little bit of sampling after the hike. Water with hopps and barley. Jesus: ” “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:13b – 14)

Part 7: It is finished

If you had to take a flight to visit Jerusalem and journeyed to the Temple Mount, you would not actually find the Temple. You would find the Mount, a foundation that would indicate something substantial was once there.

 

In Jesus’ day, it would have been quite the sight for those who set eyes upon it. According to historians, the white stone and gold overlays of the Temple were just about enough for the people of that time to wish they had Ray Bans.

 

After entering Jerusalem in the week leading up to Passover, Jesus spent the working part of the day teaching in the Temple, retiring to the Garden of Gethsemane to camp out in the evenings.

 

The Temple must have seemed like it would last forever, solid, permanent. It seems from inferences in Scripture that the Temple had almost become an idol. If you think about it: if a household idol a few inches high tucked into an indoor nook, why not a building itself? Jesus remarked in Matthew 23:16 that the religious leaders swore by the gold in the temple. Speaking against it as they erroneously thought Stephen (the first martyr) did was tantamount to blasphemy.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+23%3A16&version=NIV

 

Some of the disciples called Jesus’ attention to the awesomeness of the Temple and it probably took their breath away when He prophesied that the building would be violently disassembled.

 

This is the setting for what is called the Olivet discourse. As I would have done, they asked him for more details. The prophecy sets the scene for the near term as well as far into the future. In less than 40 years, the Romans would besiege Jerusalem. During the fighting, the Temple caught fire, melting the gold. In order to retrieve the gold, the Romans had to break apart the building and separate the rocks. Nobody just leaves gold lying around, unrecovered. The Romans may have been cruel but they weren’t stupid.

 

Just as Jesus prophesied.

 

This discourse is apocalyptic stuff and evokes Hollywood’s biggest disaster movies with comets and giant tidal waves. Interestingly, when Jerusalem was in fact surrounded in 70 A.D. the Christian population of the city fled with the result that very few Christians were caught unawares. They would have clearly known about this prophecy. Unfortunately, many Jews were not aware of this prophecy and some 1.1 million Jews were killed and around 97 thousand taken captive by Rome. In God’s timing, that is prophetically, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is connected with the end of the age.

 

Apocalyptic literature sometimes brings out the loony in people. I’ve read of a group called the Millerites who did precisely the opposite of what Christ instructed. They are symptomatic of many groups in history who have obsessed with date-setting. In the case of the Millerites they were certain that October 22 of 1844 was the date for the return of Christ. History has called it the ‘Great Disappointment’. When I originally read about this group some years earlier, the authors painted the picture of a bunch of people who went all-in, donned white robes and ascended the apex of the hill in the town, expecting a trumpet blast.

 

In one of the choicest trolls, the town drunk, Crazy Amos, blew a loud blast of a trumpet sending the Millerites into an apoplexy. Old Amos laughed thoroughly at his own joke, so we’re told.

 

Jesus instituted a new covenant while observing Passover. Passover literally signified the Angel of Death that passed over the houses of the Children of Israel while they were slaves in Goshen in Egypt. Observant Jews would sample bitter herbs to remind them of their status as slaves, and salt water as a reminder of their tears. At the Passover feast, Jesus and his disciples gathered around what has come to be called the ‘last supper’.

 

To keep them safe the Children of Israel were commanded to kill a lamb and apply the blood to the doors of their homes. The Angel of Death would see this and spare the home.

 

Jesus would have known he was about to go to death and his blood be shed to keep people from destruction, to provide rescue, a deliverance. A new dimension and deeper meaning to an already deep meal, laden with significance.

 

Bread…’this is my body,

 

Wine…’this cup is the new covenant in my blood’.

 

A new covenant, a Brit Chadashah, which his disciples (us, Christians) are to commemorate. We are not instructed to commemorate his birth or life, but his death.

 

That evening finds him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It would have been easy for Judas to find Jesus as he had been there a few nights in a row. Perhaps they were not the only ones, as Jerusalem would have been full of pilgrims. However, that’s just speculation.

 

I find Peter to be one of the most frustratingly human of the disciples. At the table Jesus reveals to Peter that the devil had apparently put in a request to target Peter, but that Jesus had also prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus seems to have known that Peter would blow it, but that he would ‘turn back’.
 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+22%3A31+-+32&version=NIV

 

 

Peter was all over the map in these hours surrounding the crucifixion. First he tells Jesus that he is willing to go to jail for him and even die. When the soldiers come for Jesus, Peter is not content to take it, then dishes out a bit of hurt on Malchus’ ear. Then follows Jesus to observe what happens next, denies Him three times, and then – his faith a little battered but still there – encounters Jesus once again after his resurrection (John’s account) turns back just as Jesus prayed it would happen and strengthens his brothers.

 

Jesus knew Peter would stumble, but he also knew that Peter’s faith would not fail and that Peter would be back.

 

The trial and the charges were a set-up, a travesty full of illegality, lying witnesses, shifting charges and multiple jurisdictions. Jesus actually stood trial four times: under Annas, under Caiaphas, Pilate and he was also examined under Herod’s authority.

 

In a twist of irony, and to secure a death penalty under Roman law, the priests accused Jesus of rebellion against Rome. When offered the choice of whether to free Barabbas or Jesus, the crowd chose Barabbas, who was in fact under arrest for rebellion against Rome and incidentally murder.

 

One aspect of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is familiar in 2019: the power of the mob. Pilate overlooked procedure and legal principles because the mob threatened to get out of control if he didn’t follow through with a crucifixion. Pilate wasn’t scared of the mob per se, Roman soldiers could brutally and efficiently do some killing. Sentencing Jesus to death was simply the easiest way to satisfy the mob, immediate mass bloodshed avoided.

 

I could provide innumerable examples of people in authority or business making irrational decisions to satisfy a mob, or avoid being called names and accused of bias. This it seems has not changed much in the intervening years.

 

Scourging was apparently a legal preliminary to every Roman execution except in the case of women, Roman senators or Roman soldiers (except if they were deserters).

 

The details are uncomfortable when reading the text. The depiction of it in Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ are beyond words.

 

Jesus would have suffered through a betrayal, the scattering of his disciples, a sleepless night, the anguish of what he knew awaited him, scourging (which often killed people outright), and a strenuous walk to the site of the cross, carrying the cross-beam part of the way.

 

One of the criminals with whom Jesus was crucified appears to have been the first soul to believe and enjoy the intercession of Jesus in the new covenant that Jesus commemorated at the last supper, as Jesus promised him that that very day he would be in paradise.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+23%3A+40+-+43&version=NIV

 

The repentant thief also records a deathbed conversion, illustrating that people can, even at the last second, turn and be saved.

 

Luke’s gospel doesn’t record the words, but John’s gospel does:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+19%3A+28+-+30&version=NIV

 

Everyone amongst Jesus’ disciples and followers thought it was over. It wasn’t over but it was finished. Complete, accomplished.

Certain similarities are evoked at the resurrection of Jesus: Angels announced it, and they told people who were some of the least influential in society; in the case of his birth, shepherds, in the case of his resurrection, women.

 

The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out but the show that he was no longer there. By accompanying some disciples on the way to Emmaus after his resurrection and suddenly appearing in their midst back in Jerusalem, it shows that Jesus in his resurrected body was not inhibited by normal physics.

 

At his ascension with the disciples looking on, Jesus in his resurrected body shows that he was not inhibited by gravity either. Interestingly, Luke in his follow-up book, Acts, has the following additional information:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+1%3A+10+-+11&version=NIV

 

He’s coming back to the same spot on the Mount of Olives. The text tells us Christians what we ought to be busy doing. A lesson the Millerites could have benefited from: get busy with being an influential Christian and the return of Christ will happen when it’s supposed to.

Part 6: Christodoulos

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem – where he knows what awaits him – and he passes through the town of Jericho. At the time Jesus travelled through the town, Jericho was known for its olives and balsam (fragrance), roses and palm trees.

 

Other historical sources suggest that Jericho was a base for approximately 12 thousand priests and Levites in service of the temple. After all, Jericho is a moderate distance from Jerusalem: 46 kilometres.

 

http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/from-jerusalem-to-jericho

 

It was however somewhat dangerous, as Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan alluded to. As it stands, in 2018, the best years of Jericho lie in the past. The population is approximately 18 thousand at the most recent census, with only 1% being Christian. The primary sources of income are actually banana groves and tourism. Interestingly, there are two sycamore trees at different locations in Jericho which are reputed to be related to the tree which Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ day, climbing a tree was beneath the dignity of a man in society. However Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus more than he was concerned about what people thought of him. In fact, he had two strikes against him: he was short (think Danny De Vito) and this coupled with his status as a chief tax collector (and being hated as such) meant that people probably saw him as a malignant dwarf.

 

Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home but it strikes me that Zacchaeus did not refuse. The Master knocked on the door, but he also opened the door and shared a meal with Christ.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+3%3A20&version=NIV

 

The religious professionals and the broader community were not happy with the move, but we see that Zacchaeus was transformed. Jesus discerned things better (as usual) than conventional wisdom in a community. Zacchaeus freely offered half of his wealth (which was probably significant) and offered restitution for the cheating he had done before.

 

From Jericho, all that remained before Jesus reached Jerusalem were the speed bumps of Bethpage and Bethany and the people assumed that Jesus’ ministry would take on political importance, that he would raise an army of followers and free them from Rome. He told them a parable to sort out the misconceptions and illustrate what the rule of the Messiah was to look like.

 

A Nobleman prepares to go to a distant land to be made king.

 

Jesus didn’t just make this scenario up out of thin air. Apparently, the parable echoes a historical incident where Archelaus, the son of Herod, upon the death of Herod travelled to Rome to seek the Emperor’s approval of him succeeding his father. This was essential as Herod ruled by Rome’s consent. The Jews sent a delegation to Rome to urge that Archelaus not be made king. In any event, Augustus named him as ethnarch, not king, emphasizing his dependence on Rome.

 

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-Archelaus

 

In Jesus’ parable, the Nobleman gives money to ten servants to invest. When he returns from being made king, he asks for a report. The point is not the money, it’s that the servants take what the Master has given and they do something with it. It’s not about money, but about character as a servant.

 

As believers we are Christodoulos (servants of Christ). We have all been given something, something we can use in the Kingdom.

 

In the parable, the Nobleman-made-king deals with his servants first and then deals decisively with the rebellion against him by those who should be his subjects.

 

The reward for being a good servant is more responsibility.

 

On arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus cleanses the temple from the traders and money-changers. If the religious professionals didn’t have a reason to hate Jesus until then, they did after that. He then returns and engages with the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the Law.

 

They all tried to get him to incriminate himself, asking leading questions. Should the Children of Israel pay taxes to Caesar? If he answered in the affirmative, he would be a betrayer of the people for recognising Rome, if in the negative, they would snitch on him to Rome to say that he was a rebel.

 

Whose image and inscription was on the coin? Augustus Caesar. National and civil duties were owed to Caesar. The people after all were using his coin in their trading and Rome ruled over that province. But Jesus also delineated what people owed God. The people of God are dual citizens.

 

I pay taxes and fulfill the requirements of the state as far as I’m aware and able. I’m a South African, but I’m also a citizen of the Kingdom. On South African currency is the crest of the government and the visage of Mandela. In my soul however is the inscription of the King of heaven. This is true for all Believers.

 

The Sadducees asked Jesus a leading question using their favourite talking point in that they didn’t believe in a resurrection. They used a ridiculous hypothetical of a woman who had been married to seven brothers from oldest to youngest who all died, leaving her a widow.

 

Seven brides for seven brothers is a charming musical. One bride for seven brothers is a sad country song devised by scowling Sadducees to illustrate a point in error.

 

Whose wife of the seven would she be after the resurrection? None of the above, as Jesus explained, because they did not understand the nature of the world to come.

To him all are alive

Jesus then quotes Moses who addressed the God of ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. At the time of Moses, Abe, Ike and Jake were long gone, but as Moses observed, to God they were alive. Even the Sadducees were impressed with the answer.

Part 5: Sheep

I’ve always had a fascination with the return of Christ, and I think so too do many in the church. Although to be fair, it’s easier to pay attention to the timing of His return rather than the more practical concern of what we are to be doing when he returns.

 

Midway through the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to a guy obsessed with material possessions about a rich man who thinks he has it all but is unaware of his life being finite.  On a given evening, (Luke 12:20) God tells this guy that his time is up and that he can’t take all his possessions with him. It’s clear from the parable that the guy didn’t give thought to eternal things. In the end, he didn’t have any crop, barns and goods and his soul was dead.

 

Directly following this, Jesus tells his followers that they should not worry about food and clothes; “life is more than food and the body more than clothes.” (Luke 12:23). We are more than mere animals.

 

Not to impugn their business model, but have you ever considered that Woolworths (S.A.) caters for those who are very cognizant of food and clothes? Even I shop at Woolworths from time to time, however for some people, having clothes or food items branded from Woolies is an obvious source of pride.

 

Jesus reminds his disciples that the Father takes care of birds and provides beauty for wild grass and lilies, which beauty is not necessarily even seen and noticed by people. God’s care extends to all parts of creation, and if He takes care of them, He will take care of us.

 

Jesus refers to God feeding the ravens (Luke 12:24); basically these birds are part of the same genus as crows. Ravens are typically larger than crows. I don’t like crows and so I’m sure I wouldn’t like a larger-than-average crow-type bird. Mainly because they are scavengers and have a call like a witch with a bad case of laryngitis. And yet God feeds them. They don’t have a system for processing food or storing it and yet as my friend Craig always used to say, you don’t see many skinny birds.

 

Jesus further tells his disciples that giving to the poor secures treasures in heaven and our hearts follow our treasure (Luke 12:34).

 

What I get from this chapter is not to worry about the basics, that God has it covered. I need to be focused on what Jesus tells me is important: working for the Master, knowing that He could return at any moment.

 

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.” (Luke 12:35 – 37a). We are to be heavenly minded, not earthly minded.

 

Jesus provides the example of a homeowner who, if he knew when a thief would try break in, would prevent it (Luke 12:39). The way to be on guard against a thief is to live in a constant state of readiness.

 

I’ve always been fascinated with the USAF guys hooked into NORAD, who at a moment’s notice and with properly formatted orders in hand can send missiles aloft toward an enemy. And that’s just dealing with nuclear attack and defence. The return of the Master is a somewhat bigger deal with greater impact than mere nukes.

 

Peter asked Jesus whether this teaching about being ready applied to everyone or only his disciples. Jesus likens the believer to a manager; a steward in charge of whatever God has given him or her. For myself, I have a family, a job, responsibilities, and I need to do the best that I can, being vigilant, knowing that it’s to Him that I will give an account. It’s my heavenly Father’s business, and I’m managing a branch of the franchise (to put it in business terms).

 

What does a good manager look like? Treating those in my area of responsibility well, being of sober and consistent habits, not being worldly. In other words, love, spiritual focus and self control.

 

Further on in Luke, we see the Father’s heart for the lost (chapter 15). This is the reason behind why the Christ had to be born and why he had to go to the cross; this is what it’s all about: the lost.

Naturally, the religious leaders, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were dismissive of Jesus hanging out with sinners and sharing meals. They muttered about it (Luke 15:2). Here we see the heart of the religious class of the day juxtaposed with the heart of the Father. In the parable of the lost sheep, the man who owns the sheep leaves the 99 grazing and goes off to look for the one sheep that is lost. And he doesn’t give up until he finds it, and then he carries it back and rejoices with his friends and neighbours.

 

The heart of the Father for a single lost soul is extraordinary. He notices the lost. It’s merely a parable but I imagine the 99 sheep left in the pasture were in safe hands. Perhaps the angelic equivalent of a Reaper drone equipped with Hellfire missiles for any deluded wolf who tries to mess with the sheep. Regardless, the emphasis is on the lost sheep.

 

This is the Father’s heart, and in 2019 I want it to be my heart too.

 

 

Part 4: On Mission

In his account, Luke selects the occasion of Jesus reading Scripture in his local synagogue in Nazareth to summarize Jesus’ purpose and ministry.

 

Jesus had been baptized by John and full of the Holy Spirit, had been led by the Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil. Its directly after this, and by way of context, that Jesus attends the synagogue and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read aloud. Jesus finds this particular passage:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18 – 19, NIV)

 

It gets everyone’s attention, they’re all looking at him and then he tells them that this passage is being fulfilled in their hearing, there and now.

 

Jesus is the real deal but he’s grown up in Nazareth and so they all think they know him and that this is simply chutzpah.

 

The year of the Lord’s favour signifies that the kingdom has come, salvation is proclaimed. Many scholars in Israel had been expecting a political kingdom but Jesus was interested more primarily in liberating people from their sin.

 

Jesus moves on from Nazareth and proclaims the kingdom (Luke 4:43, 44). By the 8th chapter of Luke, Jesus is going from town to town proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and ‘The Twelve were with him, and also some women…’ (Luke 8:1, 2). Then Jesus called the Twelve together and ‘gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God…’(Luke 9:1, 2). He had showed them how to do it, and now it was their turn to go out.

 

Jesus instructed them to essentially travel light and enjoy the hospitality of people they would end up staying with on their circuit of Galilee (Luke 9:3 – 6).

After the apostles returned they gave Jesus a report back and the group withdrew to a town called Bethsaida, however they didn’t manage to remain alone and a large crowd showed up. Which was fine with Jesus as he preached the kingdom. This is the time where the miracle of the feeding of the 5 thousand takes place.

 

The apostles have just returned from doing ministry and Jesus miraculously feeds 5 thousand people, and its been just over a week and Jesus has been transfigured on the mountain, and this is where they start to remind me of myself. They’re unable to:

 

  • Cast out a demon (Luke 9:40)
  • Understand Jesus’ stated purpose to go to the cross (Luke 9:45)
  • Refrain from arguing about who is the greatest (Luke 9:46 – 48)
  • Distinguish confederates from opposition (Luke 9: 49 – 50).

 

Sometimes when you look at the guys that Christ selected as apostles and see how in-artful and fumbling they were, and basically how much of a hot mess, you wonder.

 

But then you read Luke and Luke’s second book, Acts, and you read about how these apostles finish and they finish strong. And you realise Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. These were they guys that would take the church into the second century. And here we are in the 21st century.

 

The feeding of the 5 thousand is the only miracle (besides Jesus’ resurrection) recorded in all four of the gospels. This was just after the apostles had returned from their circuit of Galilee and withdrew to Bethsaida. Apparently there is a plain near the town of Bethsaida criss-crossed by streams where there would have been grass and sufficient space for 5 thousand people to spread out in groups.

 

Late in the afternoon, the Twelve suggest to Jesus that he disband the gathering so that the people can find themselves dinner and lodging and when Jesus suggests to them that they feed the crowd, you can almost hear the incredulity. Evidently they had taken an inventory of the food on hand and took stock of the 5 loaves and 2 fish. In fairness, I would not have imagined that a miracle like multiplying food could take place, so I can’t be too hard on the Twelve. Earlier Jesus had sent them out and told them to accept hospitality from those who would shelter them on their circuit and now it was their turn to be good hosts and think about the needs of the crowd.

 

Scripture doesn’t explain how the loaves and fishes multiplied except to record that Jesus gave thanks and broke the food in pieces and gave it to the disciples who gave it to the people. I’ve watched hundreds of movies and if I were filming this scene, I don’t know how I would show the multiplication. Astonishingly, there were twelve baskets of leftovers.

 

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51).

Hanging over even this time of ministry, Jesus never forgot where it would all end: at a cross. That is of course until resurrection morning.