As best as I can understand it, the theme of the Old Testament is that God created mankind and placed us on this earth with a great purpose in mind. There are hints, but only hints, that part of that purpose was that we would be a testimony of His love and kindness to the angels that had rebelled. Many times God appeared on earth, in human or angelic form, and talked with those who were endeavouring to accomplish His purpose. He guided and supported them with many manifestations of His power and glory. But in the end it was evident that mankind was not strong enough, or wise enough, to do what God expects of us.
The theme of the New Testament is that God never expected us to do it in our own strength and wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us a way of life that looks a lot like weakness. Jesus Himself submitted to the outrages of those who were powerful according to the measure of this world, and overthrew them by the power of love and forgiveness. The apostle Paul saw how the power of God could only work in us when we are weak, and said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
We often speak of the armour of God as described by Paul in Ephesians chapter six. Do we realize that this armour is only effective when we lay down our own armour? Isn’t this the significance of David taking off Saul’s armour and laying it aside before he went out to meet the giant? He told Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”
Goliath saw nothing but a sling in David’s hand, but David was clad with the whole armour of God, invisible to human eyes, yet more powerful than any weapon of human warfare. We are powerless against the giants of our day if we face them in our own strength and expect God to provide a little supplementary force. The message of the New Testament is that we must put off every vestige of human strength and trust only in God’s strength.
The whole world is in a mess. What can we do about it?
The answer Jesus gives is :
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
That’s counter-intuitive isn’t it? Our intuitive response is to answer anger with anger, hatred with hatred, violence with violence; guns with guns. But that always leads to more anger, more hatred, more violence, more shootings.
Some people say that citizens need to be armed to defend against the rogue element in our society. But the shooter at Uvalde was wearing a bullet proof vest. And where is a teacher going to keep a gun so that it will not get into the wrong hands, yet be instantly available when a threat arises? And how is a teacher to know the difference between rowdiness and a life-threatening situation?
There has to be a better way. The way of love and peace may seem weak. It is entirely possible that we may get hurt while countering evil with love and peace, yet they are still more powerful than any weapon used against us.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds
After the resurrection and before Jesus departed from this world, He told His disciples “As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21). Just a few simple words, so clear and plain that we are apt to miss their implication.
The Father sent Jesus into the Jewish nation to teach and portray the kingdom of God, a kingdom of truth, righteousness, peace and love. The political and religious forces of the day could not stand the message and conspired to get rid of the messenger.
Jesus rose victorious from the grave and now expects people who have experienced his grace and salvation to carry the same message into a world that is just as hostile. The whole world is in a mess and the Christian will be tempted to get sidetracked into fixing the world. But that has never worked and never will work. It cannot work because the problem with the world is not corrupt and misguided people, though there are enough of those, but the real problem is the powers of darkness which manipulate the affairs of this world.
Christians are called to teach and portray a different kingdom, with different values. We should not expect that to go unnoticed by the ruling forces of the realm of darkness. There will be opposition, attempts to deflect the Christian’s efforts to a different approach that will not be a threat to the realm of darkness. Persecution is not a barbaric relic of the past, it may well be the lot of Christians today who bear witness to the light in a world that loves darkness.
Hymn writer E. Margaret Clarkson understood this reality when she penned the poem So Send I You, which was later set to music by John W. Peterson. Here is the fourth of the five stanzas:
So send I you to to leave your heart’s ambition, To die to dear desire, self-will resign, To labour long, and love where men revile you, So send I you to lose your life in Mine.
-copyright 1954 by Singspiration, Inc.
E. Margaret Clarkson was born 1915 in Melville, Saskatchewan and grew up in Toronto, where she taught school for 38 years. She wrote So Send I You in 1937 at the age of 22.
The Israelites were witnesses to miracle after miracle in Egypt and for a few hours believed that it was really God’s plan to lead them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The evening of the first day they came to a road block, the Red Sea was in front of them, with no way to cross. Soon they saw the dust f the Egyptian army pursuing them. Their belief evaporated.
Then the Red Sea parted in front of them, the water piled up as huge walls on either side leaving a path of dry land for them to leave Egypt behind. When the Egyptian army followed, the wheels came off their chariots. There was tumult and confusion until the whole army was on that path through the sea; then the walls of water collapsed and they were all drowned.
The Israelites were now home free, an open way before them to enter and take possession of the Promised Land. Moses took a census of all the men twenty years old and up and came up with the number of 603,550. But only two of those men actually made it into the Promised Land.
What happened to the others? It turned out that their greatest enemy was not external, but internal. The Bible calls in unbelief. The Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before 603,548 of those men died. Then Caleb and Joshua and the sons and grandsons of the others marched into the Promised Land and claimed it as their heritage.
This is a lot more than a story for little children. It is included the Bible as an example and warning to adults. There are dangers all around us in this world; they are not imaginary, they are very real. Yet none of them will prevent us from making it to the Promised Land. Our greatest enemy, the only one that will leave us dead on this side of Jordan, is the unbelief within us. The New Testament is in the Bible to show us that Jesus has opened the way to have victory over the enemy within.
Christmas is supposed to be white, isn’t it? Here in Canada we expect to have snow on the ground at Christmas time and many of the Christmas cards we receive feature snowy scenes.
Yesterday I began to wonder what scenes people in the southern hemisphere put on Christmas cards. So I asked my wife, “What kind of pictures do people in Australia have on their cards?” “Ayers Rock,” she said. Well why not? A huge rock formation in Australia has as much to do with the birth of Jesus as does snow on the ground in Canada.
Yesterday evening I heard the crunch of tires on snow and then there were young people from church on our doorstep singing carols. Now that does have something to do with the birth of Jesus. Not the snow, but the carols and the good will.
The third stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks says
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
None of the important people were informed that a baby was about to be born who would turn the world upside down. No religious leader, no political leader had a clue of what was about to happen. The angel Gabriel spoke to a teenage girl in Nazareth who was preparing to get married and forever disrupted her life. The angel then spoke to the man she was about to marry and disrupted his life.
Then the emperor in Rome decreed that everyone needed to be enrolled in the tax register. That meant that Joseph had to return home to Bethlehem; he probably had some property or inheritance there. He took Mary with him and they came to this town of about 300 where everyone knew each other and Joseph was no doubt related to them all.
The Bible does not mention an inn, an innkeeper or a stable. Hospitality is a given in this country and the young couple would have been warmly welcomed. But when it was time for the baby to be born, the upper room was too small for such an affair. Help was called, a midwife and other ladies of the family and the baby was born in the courtyard below, where the animals were kept, and laid in the closest cozy place for a newborn, the manger. Then a group of excited shepherds appeared, telling how their night’s rest had been disrupted by the glorious light of God, angels had announced that Messiah was born and told them where He would be found.
It didn’t take long and the story began to be embellished, supposedly in ways to help us understand what had happened. Mostly they transform Jesus into a poor, helpless, rejected baby who is no threat at all to our comfortable attitudes and habits.
But He did disrupt the history of the whole world. He wants to disrupt our lives, too. For each of us there should be a before and an after; the way we lived and thought before we knew Christ and the way we think and live after we truly came to know Him.
As the apostle John begins telling the gospel story, he identifies Jesus as the Light of the World. Then he says “There was a man named John,” referring to another John, John the Baptist, and says of him, “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”
Two thousand years later the world still needs someone to bear witness of that Light. That would be you and me, all who live by faith in Jesus Christ. Are we finding it difficult to do that? Or do we think people don’t want to hear? Perhaps we have become too much at ease in the world as it is, forgetting that it is a wilderness of woe. A good starting point is to realize that most people around us are not happy with the way life is going for them. They think there must be a better way, they try to find it, but they don’t really know what it is they are looking for.
We cannot force people to see the light. Force is characteristic of the realm of darkness and we cannot use the means of the enemy of the light to bring people to the light. The first step, then, in being witnesses of the Light, is to be sure that we ourselves are wholly living in that Light.
I am not that Light. I can, and should, speak the truth boldly. But I must remember that it is the Holy Spirit that leads people into all truth, not me.
I should contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; that is I must be steadfast in maintaining its truth, despite opposition. Yet I must not be quarrelsome, for I am not the one who delivered that truth to mankind.
I must demonstrate the reality of the faith by loving everyone as God does; even those who are opposed. I don’t know what is in people’s hearts. God knows; He will judge; I don’t need to.
Truth, or a convincing approximation of the truth, can satisfy the mind for a time, but it leaves the heart longing for something more. True faith that works by love will satisfy both heart and mind and draw people to seek fellowship with others whose hearts and lives demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit.
Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore–and this in the Name of One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which He passed through this world like a flame.
Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction.
Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon dogma–dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man–and the dogma is the drama.
Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual human record of futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.
Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in world history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection.
-Dorothy Sayers, excerpts from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. This is a collection of 16 articles, mostly written during World War II, collected and republished in 2004.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4).
When Christians discuss this verse they often take it to mean that Jesus is saying “I am disappointed in you because you’ve lost that loving feeling.” The question then is how to tell if we’ve lost that loving feeling and what to do if we have.
What if it really means “I am disappointed in you because you’ve found somebody new?” What if love for Mammon has become more important than love for our Saviour?
It happens so subtly. Mammon offers immediate gratification and we don’t consider what this short-term benefit might do to the long-term relationship with our Lord. The first time we do it, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, so we go on, getting deeper and deeper into this adulterous relationship with Mammon.
Soon our attention is wholly taken up with the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, honour and pride and we forget the reason why we first entered into a relationship with Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)
Forty-five years ago there was a city-wide outreach in our city based on the theme “I found it!” The slogan was purposefully vague so as to engage all churches who called themselves Christian.
The purpose of the slogan was to prompt people to ask “What did you find?” To which the answer was “New life in Jesus Christ.” This answer encompassed a wide range of possibilities of what the new life could be or how it could be attained.
The campaign was ambitious, including billboards, bumper stickers, radio and TV spots, mail outs and a newspaper supplement with testimonials from the whole Christian spectrum. Members of all denominations made a door to door campaign to distribute New Testaments to every home. They were ready to answer people’s questions and to ask them if they had found it or were interested in hearing more about finding it.
The whole effort was so vague, like a gray fog over the city, whose origin or meaning could not be discerned. The slogan was deliberately vague to get past the resistance of the populace and the media to all things Christian. So vague that we couldn’t clearly articulate what we were trying to get past their resistance.
“I’ve found it!” just didn’t resonate with people like another well-known slogan of the day: “Things go better with Coke!” We knew it was all over the day we saw a bumper sticker that read: “I stepped in it!” and laughed. We had tried so hard to appeal to everyone that there was no message left.
Evangelism that talks about Jesus but doesn’t try to make disciples, what good does it do? Discipleship means discipline. People willingly discipline themselves for a sport or a cause that they believe in. If Christian faith is not worth self-denial and discipline, why should anyone be interested?
If we are so afraid that people will find Christianity offensive that we try to water it down, it has no power to change people’s lives. Perhaps we should consider the success of Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup. W. K. Buckley freely admitted that it tasted awful, but said it worked. They have used advertisments that showed a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture and proclaimed: “You’d have to be really sick to take that stuff!”, followed by the question “Are you sick?” That is effective advertising.
Jesus didn’t try to sugar coat his message. He was gentle to the sinner who repented, yet blunt with the self-righteous. He seemed to look for ways to confront the scribes and Pharisees with the emptiness of their law, it’s lack of power to make a difference in the lives of sinners.
The result of wimpy evangelism is not wimpy Christians, it is make-believe Christians or outright atheists.