Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

1 John 1:1-4 – The apostolic privilege

John reminds his readers of the great privilege of the apostles, which was to have spent time with Jesus in a particular manner. His description makes clear that the apostles had a close, instructive and contemplative relationship with the Saviour. They had ample opportunities for discovering who Jesus was in order to be competent conveyors of his message, which was about God and the plan of salvation.

In addition to reminding his readers of that privilege, John also presents his information about Jesus in an attitude of worship – he is overwhelmed by the greatness of his Master, Jesus Christ. One of the heresies that John was responding to in this letter denied essential aspects of the person of Jesus, and John here is reminding us that responding to such errors should not only be done accurately. In addition, the defender of the truths about Jesus should do so with a spirit of adoration because they describe his deity. Why is accuracy and adoration important when speaking about Jesus? John’s answer from this passage would be straightforward – a person cannot have fellowship with Jesus without them.

So what does John say about Jesus? First, the apostle states that Jesus is eternal, that he has existed from the beginning. Second, John states that the eternal God became a real man.

Third, John states that Jesus is the word of life. This description would include natural life and Jesus as creator had spoken the universe and its range of creatures into existence and since then had kept them in existence. The title also indicates that Jesus is the source of spiritual life, and that he provides from himself the experiences and the ability to have them that all his people, and angels, have. Further, this title reveals that Jesus possesses the life of God and that he enjoyed eternal communion with the Father.

Fourth, John states that he and his fellow apostles saw Jesus reveal those three aspects of life when he was with them. On many occasions, they saw the power that Jesus had over the creation and how he was able to give life to those who had died. They also Jesus give spiritual life to a wide range of people including themselves and observed the radical changes that receiving such life brought about. And they observed the extraordinary manner in which Jesus interacted with the heavenly Father.

Fifth, John states that he and the other apostles had been given the great privilege of testifying to the greatness and grandeur of Jesus Christ. John had been doing so for almost six decades and he had never become tired of engaging in it. And here he is as an old man declaring the same message that he had first announced when he was a young man. His example tells us that there is enough in Jesus Christ to sustain the longest ministry and no one needs to go elsewhere to find supplements to that message.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Acts 28:11-31 – A Fitting Conclusion

Luke records how Paul reached Rome and the welcome he received from the Christians on his arrival. Perhaps some of them are mentioned in the last chapter of Romans as receiving greetings from Paul when he wrote that letter several years before. Maybe they were believers that he had not known anything about previously. Whoever they were, we can see the priority they gave to expressing brotherly love to one who was a prisoner in the eyes of the law.

Paul felt obliged to explain to the Jewish leaders in Rome why he was there in case they had been misinformed about the reasons for his arrival. Their response, while revealing a lack of information about him, highlights the universal antipathy of Jews to those of their number who had become Christians.

A special day conference led by Paul confirmed that this was the case among the Jews in Rome. It looks as if some were convinced in an intellectual sense that Jesus fulfilled what was said in the Old Testament about the promised Messiah. Yet even those who were convinced did not seem to appreciate Paul’s assertion that the salvation provided by Jesus included blessings for Gentiles. Although it looks as if Paul’s efforts in Rome commenced with a disappointing start, yet he was marked by confidence that the cause of Jesus would flourish.

Luke indicates that this was the case during the next two years as Paul used his rented house as a base for spreading the faith. No doubt, this growth was part of God’s preparation of his church there for the troubles that would come upon it through the policy of Nero.

Luke’s account does not take us to that period. It looks as if he regarded Paul’s arrival in Rome as the fitting conclusion to his account. The author had indicated that eventually Paul would stand before Caesar, and now he was in Rome we are told that he did not waste his time while waiting for that trial. Instead he pursued relentlessly the cause of Jesus and, as he tells us in Philippians 1, even the Praetorian Guard heard the gospel. It is not hard to see what Paul’s priority was, the extension of the kingdom of Jesus.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Acts 28:1-10 – Paul in Malta

In Malta, the large number of people who escaped the shipwreck were treated with compassion by the inhabitants. Their response was unusual, which says something about how visitors and people in need were treated at that time in history. Who can tell the difference that Christianity has made to society?

Paul himself participated in the gathering of sticks for the fire. This is unlike what many ecclesiastical leaders would do today. Perhaps he did it because he wanted to help or maybe he did so in order to be able to speak to some of the locals about the gospel. After all, he usually became all things to all men in order to win some.

It is not clear if the snake came out of Paul’s bundle of sticks when he put it on the fire or from somewhere else on the fire. If his bundle, it could be that we have here an example of Paul’s poor eyesight in not having seen the viper. In any case, the Lord in his providence allowed the creature to bite his servant, and he allowed it in order to introduce his name to the community.

The Lord knew how to protect Paul in the most dangerous of situations. Of course, Paul knew that he was going to get to Rome because the Lord had told him, yet here was a situation when the fulfilment of a promise seemed to be in danger. While the onlookers imagined the viper had been sent as a judgement from the gods, he merely shook it off his hand. His manner indicates his confidence in God. The response of the people indicated that they were superstitious when they imagined that Paul was divine. It is unlikely that Paul would have allowed that opinion to persist.

The Lord also opened other doors in Malta. Although only there a short time, Paul had contact with the governor and with the diseased through his apostolic gift of healing. No doubt he would have told them where the power of healing came from.

It is obvious from this account that the Lord had Malta in mind when he arranged the storm that caused Paul and his fellow travellers such turmoil. We need to bear in mind the possibility that God has plans of great good as outcomes when we go through the storms of life.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Acts 27 – Paul at sea, but not all at sea

Paul is now on his journey to Rome as the ambassador of the permanent King with a message for the temporary one called Caesar. Unlike Caesar, Jesus not only controls the lives of people, he also is in charge of the elements, including the sea. So would we expect Jesus to give his ambassador a comfortable voyage, the ancient equivalent of a business class ticket, or would he use the voyage to prove the credibility of his word? Luke goes into great detail concerning the answer to that question.

While the good doctor mentions in detail the words that Paul spoke about the storm, he also mentions in little asides other opportunities that the apostle had to speak his Master’s word. Although this journey is not one of Paul’s missionary journeys he had the opportunity when the ship called at different places to preach to Christians and others living there. I suppose we could say that Paul, while fulfilling the big task of getting to Rome, did not forget the smaller opportunities that came his way.

The story informs us how Jesus can ensure that subsequent providences will confirm the message he gives to his servant even about non-spiritual activities. We can see this was the case with what happened to the ship and the people on board. And we should observe how Paul cared about the physical needs of those on the ship even although they had not responded to his message. After all, he had prayed for them (v. 24), and often prayer and compassion go together.

What does this frightening period of storms at sea say to us about Jesus. Here are three brief thoughts. First, Jesus can take us through storms, no matter how fierce they are. Second, Jesus often takes us through storms to fulfil a particular purpose he has for us. Third, Jesus can use storms to get respect for his ambassador from those who are not believers.

Paul challenges us to trust in God and pray to him as we proceed through our lives. The apostle knew that he would get to Rome, although until he prayed during the storm he did not know if this boat would take him there. While we may not experience an angel delivering the answer in such a specific manner, we should still make prayer a priority.

No doubt, this experience helped Paul prepare for whatever troubles lay ahead of him in Rome. Even as Paul travelled through the storm, Jesus was continuing his work of transformation in his servant and preparing him for his future.  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Acts 26 – Paul deals with two rulers at once

Paul here speaks to a third ruler in Caesarea about the role he has as a servant of Jesus. As with the previous two – Felix and Festus – he shows respect for the authority of Agrippa. He tells his experience as a devout Jew who has discovered that Jesus, whom he once opposed very fiercely, is the fulfilment of the prophecies given in the Old Testament about the Messiah who would bring spiritual blessings to both Jews and Gentiles through his resurrection from the dead.

How did Paul know that Jesus was the Messiah? Because he had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus that totally changed his career and led him to travelling the world on behalf of his risen Lord. In front of Paul was a dignified royal party composed of Agrippa and Bernice and their retinue, sharing the stately space with Festus and his officials, but their display was nothing in comparison to what the apostle had seen on the Damascus Road when the exalted Saviour appeared and spoke to him. When you have seen the Greatest, what effect will seeing the temporary great have on you?

If a Christian had been listening in to Paul’s defence, that believer would have regarded the apostle’s words as a masterly description and defence of his calling. Sadly, the two main listeners were not impressed: Festus thought that Paul had gone mad despite his great learning and Agrippa responded with disdain at Paul’s attempt to persuade him to become a Christian through a short address. The best sermon can fall on deaf ears and dull minds. Nevertheless, they agreed that Paul had not broken any laws and should not be punished.

This conclusion raises the issue as to the possibility that Paul had been hasty in making his appeal to Caesar. One could say in response that Paul did not know at that time that a third opportunity would be given to him, so what he did was the correct response in his circumstances. And it is also the case that Jesus the Lord, in his providence, could have arranged for Agrippa to have been present at the second hearing and shared his opinion then with Festus, and perhaps together they would have released Paul. The fact is that Jesus wanted Paul to go to Rome and bear witness before Caesar. It is good to know who is in control.