Welcome to the second Romans 15:8 blog of 2021. I am writing this a day after the Prime Minister announced the ‘road map’ for the journey out of the current Covid related restrictions. I am sure we are all united in hoping and praying that this journey will be successfully completed. One interesting footnote from my perspective is that the day which has been set for the final level of restrictions to be removed is June 21st. This also happens to be my 60th birthday. A coincidence some may say, but surely not!
I hope you enjoy this latest blog. If you know other Church leaders who would like to sign up do please encourage them to do so. It is a real blessing to see this network expanding.
With warm greetings and shalom,
Ministry News Update
This month has seen a number of significant ‘online’ teaching events, including the CMJ Reps conference with teaching input from David Pileggi, Daryl Fenton, Beno Pileggi and myself. In addition to this there was the Holocaust Memorial service with input from Susanna Kokkonen, Ray Lockhart (CMJ UK President) and Kelvin Crombie. A full report about these online teaching events and the Holocaust service will appear in the next edition of News and Views.
Also, this month saw the publication of my new CMJ book - Thinking Aloud! For more information please visit the CMJ UK shop page.
This month there is a bit of a change in terms of my book review/recommendation. I am not sharing from the area of my recent studies into Hasidism (see both January 2021 and December 2020 blogs), but from a very assessable biography of C.S. Lewis. The biography is by Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis – A Life - Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013).
McGrath sets out not to praise or condemn Lewis, but to understand him. He helps us to do this by weaving together insights from his early years, his ideas, his writings and his relationships. I found the section dealing with the timing and context of his conversion to be very moving and faith-building.
For most evangelical Christians, C.S. Lewis is honoured as the greatest Christian apologist of the Twentieth Century. This insightful biography will help you see why and also to understand the man, who was indeed an eccentric genius and a reluctant prophet - but was also so much more as well!
Monthly Memory Verse
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God - the holy dwelling place of Elyon. God is in the midst of her, she will not be shaken, God will help her when morning dawns. (Psalm 46:5-6). Verse quoted from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible - Tree of Life Version.
Teaching Reflection of the Month
This teaching material continues to be based on sermon notes for Christ Church, Jerusalem. This month the lectionary readings are for the third Sunday in Lent (7.3.21). Readings (Year B) Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22. Plus additional ACNA reading - Romans 7:12-25
Introduction and Common Theme
We continue our journey through Lent (see notes from the first Sunday in Lent for introduction to Lent and some reflections upon Lent and a possible link to the Jewish liturgical calendar) and a key focus of these readings is upon the revelation of God. Namely how does God make Himself and His ways known?
At the heart of both Judaism and Christianity is the understanding that faith is revealed by God. Faith is not something we discover from within ourselves (although there is an emphasis on our personal seeking for the truth) but rather it is our response to God’s grace displayed through revelatory acts. In Biblical Judaism there are three core revelatory acts, namely creation, the covenant with Abraham and the Exodus with a focus on the giving of the Torah. Christianity affirms and celebrates these three revelatory acts and adds the fourth decisive act namely: the person and work of Jesus the Messiah, especially His deity and humanity, reflected perfectly in His incarnation, His sinless life, His proclamation of the Kingdom, His atoning sacrificial death, His resurrection, His ascension, the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit and His promised return.
Reading 1- Exodus 20:1-17
The opening verse (:1) is the foundation for what follows; it is because of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt that the people of Israel are called to obey the commandments. God’s saving action is the catalyst for everything. All the history of Israel which follows on from here, and the emerging of the Church are due to the gracious acts of God.
The first three commandments are linked to the people’s relationship to God. We see here a total and radical monotheism. Following on from this the focus of the commandments turns to ethical living within human relationships, beginning with the gift of the Sabbath and concluding with a deep honouring of and respect for neighbours.
Reading 2- Psalm 19
God reveals His glory and His works through creation. This truth is affirmed in Romans 1:19-20 as Paul sets out the message of the Gospel.
Psalm 19 completes the ‘circle of praise’ begun in Psalm 18. Here God is extolled for the gift of creation (:1-6) and following on from our Exodus reading, the gift of the Torah (: 7-11).
The sun (:6) is not to be worshipped as was the case in many pagan communities of the ancient Near East (see Jeremiah 8:2, Ezekiel 8:16 etc.), but rather the sun is part of the created order, it is the ultimate metaphor of the glory of God (see Psalm 84:11 and Isaiah 60:19-22).
Reading 3 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Paul here is writing to the early Church community in Corinth- probably from Ephesus in the year 54-55. The focus here is on the cross and the crucified Messiah. It is here that God is fully known. This revelation overturns the assumptions and desires of those who seek human wisdom or miraculous signs (:22). Note here that the preaching of the Gospel is not foolish, but the message of the gospel is viewed by many in the world as foolishness.
Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 (:19), here the so-called ‘wise’ in Judah are denounced for their plan to seek an alliance with Egypt, while facing the threat of Assyria. Paul may also have had in his mind, as he writes these words, the teaching of Jesus as recorded in Luke 10:21-22.
The overarching point here is that all human devised systems of philosophy are flawed – God does not intend that people will know Him through human wisdom or philosophical endeavours, but through the Gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah.
Reading 4- John 2:13-22
As Jesus clears the temple courts He is confronted by those (:18) who demanded a sign which will affirm His authority for such a radical action. In His response to this He points to the greatest revelatory action which will occur, namely His resurrection from the dead. The true meaning of His reply is only understood by His disciples after His resurrection (:22).
The claim here by Jesus that He is the true temple (dwelling place of God), and the misunderstanding around this (see Mark 14:57-59 and 15:29) is almost certainly what led to His arrest. It may also be what is behind the charge against Stephen (see Acts 6:14).
This reading is one I often share and teach from while taking visitors to the temple steps in Jerusalem. It is from it that we begin to see how Jesus redefined and challenged many prevailing Jewish ideas about the temple. Also this reading leads us to explore more about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The highest description or definition of being a Christian is, I believe, presented in 2 Corinthians 6:16; “For we are the temple of the living God...” From this text theologians declare that Pneumatology is imminent Christology. Or in other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the work of the risen Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit is not therefore a gift from God but is a gift of God. In one sense the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the risen Jesus. The Holy Spirit is therefore poured out into our lives not to make up for the absence of the risen Lord but rather to confirm His presence, Christian theology teaches therefore that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the gifts of the ascended (glorified) Jesus.
Additional ACNA reading- Romans 7:12-25
Paul continues with his personal testimony and shows the struggles and grinding frustration of seeking to do what is right (based on a commitment to the gift of Torah) while being aware of the power and presence of sin. In this Paul shows us that there is a process at work – a process from justification, through lifelong sanctification to the goal of holiness. However one may view or explain this process, the central reality is “Jesus Christ our Lord!” (:25).
About the Author: The Rev Alex Jacob is the CEO of CMJ UK. A full biography can be found on the CMJ UK Meet the Staff page.