Thursday 10 February 2011

First Things First

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I was preaching at Mitchley Hill Chapel last Sunday and was asked for the notes to my sermon. Becaue I rarely use notes when preaching, I have had to reconstructe them, hence the delay. If you would like to hear the two messages, they are on the church's website. Here are the biblical references for the evening sermon with some brief annotations.

The Lord Jesus delivered his Great Commission to his disciples in AD33: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matthew 28:19).

Luke’s version of the commission is: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46,47).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts1:8).

So what happened after that? We know the gospel was preached “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria” but was “repentance and remission of sins” preached to all nations?

Most, if not all, biblical scholars are agreed that Saul of Tarsus became a follower of Jesus in AD35, about two years after the twelve apostles had been entrusted with the Great Commission.

Saul first visited Jerusalem in AD38, three years after his Damascus Road experience: “... after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days” (Gal 1:18).

Fourteen years later, in AD52, Paul made a second visit to Jerusalem. On that occasion he went for the express purpose of explaining his ministry among the Gentiles (i.e. “the nations”): “After fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem … and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles …” (Galatians 2:1f).

While in Jerusalem, “James, Cephas, and John … gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor…” (Galatians 2:9f).

This means that, almost two decades after the Great Commission, only one apostle was reaching out to Gentiles! Paul had a unique ministry. In Romans 11, he described himself as “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13).

After Saul met the risen Messiah on the road to Damascus, the disciple Ananias, was told to “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15f).

Later in his life, when giving an account of this experience, he told King Agrippa about his call to “‘the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you …’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision…” (Acts 26:17-19).

In Jerusalem, Peter, James and John “… they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:9).

Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles began when “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:1,2).

Paul, the only apostle to the Gentiles, set out with Barnabas and, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and … when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (Acts 13:3-5).

The first mission to the nations began in the synagogues of Cyprus, and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles consistently followed the pattern of Romans 1:16. Although Paul told Agrippa that he “did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision… “(Acts 26: 19), at face value, it seems that he did disobey the heavenly vision because although he was sent to the Gentiles, he always preached to the Jews first. Why? Because the gospel “is the power of God for salvation … to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16).

In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabbas again “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue” (Acts 13:14) and there he declared: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first ...” (Acts 13:45f).

In Iconium “… they went together to the synagogue of the … a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believe” (Acts 14:1f).

At Philippi, “on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the [Jewish] women who met there” (Acts 16:12f).

In Thessalonica there was “a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures … Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘… Jesus is the Messiah’” (Acts 17:1ff).

At Berea “they went into the synagogue of the Jews … [the Bereans] received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:10f).

“While Paul waited for [Silas and Timothy] at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews … and in the marketplace daily” (Acts 17:16f).

In the capital city of Gentile learning and culture, Paul’s spirit was provoked when he saw the educated, cultured Athenian intellectuals worshipping a multiplicity of gods, yet he first of all reasoned in the one place in Athens where there were no false gods, the synagogue.

In Corinth, “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:4f).

Paul “…came to Ephesus, and … he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (Acts 18:19).

Even when Paul arrived in Rome, where there was a church, his priority remained unchanged:
“After three days …Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: “Men and brethren … for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:18-20).

Contrary to what we imagine, mission in the early Church was to the Jew first. In fact, eleven apostles (twelve, if you count Matthias) took the gospel to the Jews almost exclusively and did not feel they were in any way disobeying the Lord’s great commission. The one apostle who was specifically commissioned to take the gospel to the Gentiles out of necessity preached the Good News to the Jew first.

Today, we take the gospel to the Gentiles first and secondly, if at all, the Jews. In fact, some even question whether we should preach Jesus to the Jews at all! When did the gospel stop being to the Jew first?

The tragic truth is that the Church forgotten a basic principle of evangelism and mission, that the gospel is (present tense) to the Jew first. All the promises of Messiah were made to them. All the promises of redemption in the Hebrew Scriptures were addressed to them. The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31ff was promised to “the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. The Church must recover this vital principle of mission if it is not to be guilty of disobedience to the heavenly commission.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The True Tabernacle

Last Sunday, I preached at Mitchley Hill Evangelical Church in Surrey on John 1:14. The ministry was received enthusiastically and the church is featuring the notes on its website. In view of the fact that my approach to the text was unusual, I thought readers of my blog might appreciate seeing the ouitline. I plan to write more fully on the subject as soon as I find the time but for your meditation and edification, here is my outline. You can listen to the sermon on the church's website.

“The only building ever constructed upon this earth which was perfect from its very beginning and outset in every detail, and never again needed attention, alteration, was the tabernacle in the wilderness … Every single detail was designed by Almighty God, every part had a prophetic, redemptive and typical significance.” (M. R. DeHaan, quoted by Philip Graham Ryken in his commentary on Exodus, Crossway Books, page 813).

The worship of the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob consisted of pitching their tents, building their altars and calling on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8; 26:25; 33:19,20).

When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he pitched his tent (Tabernacle) among them, they built an altar and called on his name. When Israel came into the land God had promised them and began to live in permanent dwellings, God also began to live in a house of stone, the Temple.

Detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and an elaborate system of rituals and sacrifices was also ordained with a professional priesthood to attend to the worship of God.

The Tabernacle was the house of God. It was the meeting place of heaven and earth. In Exodus 40, as the Tabernacle was raised and dedicated, the glory of God descended and entered the Holy of Holies.

The Tabernacle proper (the tent) was situated in a courtyard. It was 30 cubits long (45 feet), ten cubits wide (15 feet) and ten cubits high. Inside, the tent was divided into two sections: the Holy Place, where the priests went daily to perform their duties, and the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies). The two sections were divided by a thick curtain and the High Priest alone was allowed to go beyond that curtain or veil once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).

Seven pieces of furniture paved the way from the gate of the outer court of the Tabernacle to the Holy of Holies: the bronze altar of sacrifice; the bronze bath or laver; the golden table containing the “bread of the Presence”; the seven-branched lampstand, or Menorah; the gold altar of incense; the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat of God.

This furniture was laid out in the form of a cross. The twelve tribes camped round the Tabernacle in the shape of a cross. When the blood of the Passover lamb was daubed on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite homes in Egypt, the one who painted the blood did so by making the sign of the cross. The cross has always been way to God and the means of rede3mption for God’s people.

Exodus 40:33-35 says: “And [Moses] reared up the court round about the tabernacle and … finished the work. Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”

In John 1:14, John tells us, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt [literally, “tabernacled”] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

John chose his words carefully. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled” among his people. John intended to show us in his Gospel that the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Word of God, and that Jesus is in fact the true tabernacle in whom the glory of God shines. In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.

First of all, John does something none of the other Gospel writers does. He presents to us Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. By so doing, he takes us inside the gate of the true Tabernacle to:

1. The Altar of Sacrifice (Exodus 27:1-8; 38:1-7)

John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. See also 1:36: Behold the Lamb of God!”

The lambs that atoned for sins were sacrificed on the bronze altar just inside the gate of the Tabernacle courtyard. By identifying Jesus as the sacrificial “Lamb of God”, John is taking us to that altar.

2. The Basin/Laver (Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8)

The second piece of furniture in the Tabernacle was the bronze laver, at which the priests bathed themselves daily before commencing their duties. The recurring motif in John chapters 2 to 5 is water. Water that is better because it is turned into wine; water that reaches the parts the water of the Tabernacle could ever do.

2:1-11: “…When the master of the feast tasted the water that had now become wine … This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.”

3:1-8: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

4:1-30: “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water swelling up to eternal life.”

5:1-9: “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda … One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty eight years.”

3. The Table of “Shewbread” (Exodus 25:1-9; 37:10-16)

The theme of John 6 is the feeding of the multitude and Jesus’ declaration that he is the “bread of life”.

6:35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

6:41: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

6:48: “I am the bread of life.”

6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

In the next chapter, John concludes his theme of Jesus the True Bread with what might seem to us to be a throwaway line but which would have had great significance to his first-century Jewish readers. Jesus the “bread of life” was born in Bethlehem which, in Hebrew, means “House of Bread”.

7:35: “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet’. Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some said, ‘Is the Messiah to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Messiah … comes from Bethlehem?’”

4. The Menorah/Seven-branched Lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40; 37:17-24)

From chapter 9 of John’s Gospel to the end of chapter 16, the dominant motif is light, a motif that corresponds to the Menorah in the ancient Tabernacle. Light is a symbol of truth and chapters 13-16 comprise the longest recorded discourse in the Gospels by Jesus, as he teaches his disciples.

9:5: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:39: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

11:9,10: “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

11:43,44: “When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’.”

12:35,36: “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

12:44: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

15:26: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

16:12-14: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

16:25: “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.”

5. The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10; 37:25-29)

A beautiful little gold altar stood before the curtain which sealed off the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Here, the High Priest prayed for the people wearing the breastplate with twelve precious stones attached to it so that he carried the people of Israel on his heart (Exodus 28:29). In his prayer in John 17, Jesus carried his people through all ages on his heart before God.

17:9: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

17:20: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

6&7. The Ark of the Covenant & the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:10-22; 37vv1-9)

21:17: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

According to the Hebrews 9:11,12, “Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Jesus’ revelation to Mary that he would ascend to God is John’s way of telling us what the writer to the Hebrews tells us. Jesus would ascend to heaven, where he would pray for his people and enable us to have a more intimate relationship with him than when he was on earth in the flesh. For that reason, Mary must not cling to the old fleshly relationship.

In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of Jesus as the fulfilment of all that the furniture of the Tabernacle symbolised. As the Lamb of God, Jesus is our atonement and the source of forgiveness; as the fulfilment of the laver, he provides inner cleansing and inner refreshment and satisfaction; as the “bread from heaven”, he feeds and sustains us in himself; as the “light of the world” he is the perfect light, by whom we find the father (14:6); as our high priest, he bears us on his heart and constantly intercedes for us in heaven; after his resurrection he physically ascended to the Holy of Holies in heaven where, as it were, he sprinkled his atoning blood. Whatever we need, Jesus is the answer. In him, heaven and earth meet. He is our perfect Tabernacle, whose glory we see in the pages of the Fourth Gospel.

Friday 4 February 2011

Egypt: A View from Israel

I don't know what the political landscape in Egypt will look like tomorrow but if you thought you’d heard all possible viewpoints on the situation in Egypt, the following comment from Israeli, Baruch Maoz, presents a chilling addition.

In a mailing sent today, Maoz charges the Obama administration with “reckless naiveté” in its meddling in the internal affairs of Egypt “The US role in promoting the massive demonstrations which took place in Egypt over the course off of last week”, says Maoz, “has yet to be fully revealed.” The following is taken from Maoz's essay:

US Administration officials have spoken very publicly about the smooth transition to a new government in Egypt, toward which they are working and have taken extensive behind-the-scenes action to “move that process forward,” as a US national security spokesman chose to put it. Top members of the Obama administration stated on Thursday their desire for the embattled Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, to leave office and for negotiations to begin “immediately” with his political opponents. US National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, admitted that U.S. officials have also discussed with Egyptian officials “a variety of different ways” in which a new government could take shape.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden talked with recently-appointed Egyptian Vice President, Omar Suleiman and pressed him to ensure that “credible, inclusive negotiations [with opposition political groups] begin immediately”. On Thursday night the U.S. Senate gave unanimous approval to a resolution calling for Mubarak to “immediately begin an orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system, including the transfer of power to an inclusive interim caretaker government, in coordination with leaders from Egypt’s opposition, civil society, and military, to enact the necessary reforms to hold free, fair, and internationally credible elections this year.”

Happily, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not told Egyptian military leaders to pressure Mubarak to step down, US officials insisted when speaking to CNN. “That’s not his role,” one official explained. Mullen is, however, trying to encourage the Egyptian military to maintain security, not to move against peaceful protesters and to restrain the violence so that it does not escalate. Meanwhile, the CIA has set up its own task force to monitor the crisis.

According to Nicholas Burns, a former Clinton State Department official, the Obama administration is handling the Egyptian crisis relatively well. “We’ve got to stand up, as the president is doing, for reform and democracy,” Burns told CNN. The U.S. government needs to “use our influence behind the scenes, and we’ve got a lot of influence there with President Mubarak to move him towards a fast transition.”

Strangely, the American Left has either supported the overt meddling of the Obama administration in the internal affairs of another country, or has been completely silent on the issue. One wonders how the Left would have reacted had President Bush still been in the White House.

Obama and his administration have spoken up in the name of morality and of liberal principles, calling on the besieged Egyptian President to uphold the freedom of the Egyptian people to demonstrate. They have done so only because they can smell blood – Mubarak’s blood. Their lofty liberal ideals led them to say not a word about the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, for example (of course, Saudi Arabia has plenty of oil). Where was the morally courageous, overt American support for the protesters in Iran following the latest round of election frauds, which resulted in the re-instalment of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as president?

Allies of the US in the Middle East have expressed concern regarding America’s sense of loyalty. Governments have expressed anguished concern over the role the Obama administration has played vis a vis President Mubarak, a close ally of America for three decades.

American assurances seem to be written on ice. Whom will American betray next? Treaties and alliances are, ultimately, built on trust. If one or both of the parties are not expected to live up to their undertakings, relations collapse. State Department officials have admitted that various regional allies are now concerned. How quickly might the United States turn on them if protests begin in their countries? As a result, Western influence is waning, America is viewed as an unreliable partner and threatened regimes are looking elsewhere for support. The West, with America at its head, can no longer serve as a stabilising force in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Only a fool would dare think that the present unrest in Egypt, or elsewhere in the Middle East, will result in a stable democracy. No such entity exists anywhere in the Arab-Muslim world. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would prefer to play a role similar to that played by the Hezbollah in Lebanon; at least for a time. The Lebanese Government is wholly under the control of Hezbollah, which has but a third of the Governmental portfolios. In this way, Hezbollah can hide behind the mantle of a non-radical Government, while exercising all the powers that their position accords them. [N.B. It should not be forgotten that the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat because he signed a peace treaty with Israel, a treaty that has remained intact for over thirty years. Mike Moore]
Obama and his administration speak much of “the will of the Egyptian people”. An internet posting from Egypt has this to say:

Please don’t believe what the international media is saying! There is a plot to topple the president, and Egyptians do not want that. I have been on the streets with many hundreds of thousands, probably even millions, who want stability, dialogue, and change with Mubarak until the elections in September. There are forces taking advantage of the situation and twisting facts and figures to portray to the international community a distorted image to topple the government.

The vast majority of people in the streets in peaceful demonstrations (I speak as an eyewitness because I took to the streets myself) are carrying banners saying things like:

• Yes to stability. Yes to Mubarak

• Give change a chance.

• We are sorry Mr President. We accept dialogue, we trust you.

• No to El-Baradei! No to the Muslim Brotherhood!

• We are the Egyptians. Where is Al-Jazeera? Let them come and see.

• No to corruption! No to vandalism!

• We got what we asked the president for. So why are people still in Tahrir?

We met with people who were in the original protest in Tahrir square … saying: “we got what we asked for, and now we accept Mubarak’s changes and proposals.”

I left the street with my wife around 4:15 pm, and the numbers in the neighbourhood of Mohandessin where we were gathered had swelled to easily over a million. As we drove home we saw the same slogans on banners all over the city, on cars, on walls, on shop windows. We learned that similar demonstrations are taking place ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, IN MAY DIFFERENT CITIES. THIS IS THE CRY OF THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT THAT IS BEING TOTALLY IGNORED BY THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS MEDIA.

Is this on purpose??!!! I am perplexed!!! I am wondering: How come CNN, the BBC, and others are reporting ONLY the anti-government protests as the voice of the people? This is not JUSTICE. This is not the TRUTH. … Only a few people (hundreds?) are still there from the original protesters. They have been slowly replaced by other HIGHLY ORGANIZED GROUPS. They all have the same model of cell phones. They all have the same blankets (eye witnesses). THESE ARE NOT THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT. Some witnesses claim that they don’t look Egyptians, and don’t sound Egyptians (different accent, different dialect). THIS IS A BIG ORGANIZED COUP TO TRY TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THROUGH THE MEDIA THAT EGYPT WANTS MUBARAK TO GO, AND THE MEDIA IS PART OF THE DECEPTION.

This is TYPICAL OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERS, AND EVERYBODY IN THE STREETS OF CAIRO KNOWS THIS. We heard people on the streets saying that the plot to take over the country is now clear. THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS. The escalation of violence in Tahrir square is because of this. Egyptians who love Egypt, the millions that took to the streets yesterday, want this to end. They fully understand that president Mubarak is between a rock and a hard place, that he cannot quench the unrest in Tahrir through the army, so the people want to go to Tahrir to disperse the crowds there by themselves.

This is NOT what Egyptians want! I am an Egyptian. My wife and I were on the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday in support of the current regime, and we saw millions on the streets. If Egypt falls, then neighbouring countries are going to fall one after the other. Please help us uncover the deception and spread the truth. Please share with everybody.

President Obama has said, “To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny, and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.”

Will he hear this voice?