26. Spiritual Expressions

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

26. Spiritual Expressions

1 Cor 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

Eph 2:10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God-centred: at the beginning of the previous study I spoke about focusing on what church was all about, summarized in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people’ your second priority, and we started considering the first of those two things, the need (often taken for granted and therefore not practiced) for being God-centred. This, we said, should impact every expression of our relationship with the Lord and our ministry, and noted how obedience is to be virtually the key starting place for both of those. Now I am aware that this is all about vision, and although these are not things we want to spell out in a brief mission statement, they are nevertheless the realities that we need to keep before us. So rather than plough on into ‘building people’ we need to flesh out some of the aspects of the Christian life and ministry, seen under the magnifying glass of this part – “Being God-centred”.

Spirit-Led: I fear if you go into many churches and randomly ask people in the congregation, what it means to be Spirit-led, you would receive a lot of blank looks, because I have rarely heard it preached upon and taught. Surely we need to build a people who are open to the Holy Spirit, who are learning to sense/listen to Him and respond to Him, producing leaders who lead in the ways of the Spirit, who can be an example and go ago ahead (that’s what leaders do!) in the Spirit.  Surely we need to encourage our people who are unquestionably people of the Word and of the Spirit, to feed and drink and then feed others and enable others to drink, being seen to be people stepping out in faith and in the Spirit and trusting God to turn up, not being afraid to get it wrong.

Spiritual Expressions (Disciplines): If we are to be God-centred, God-focused, we also need to major on Prayer, creating meetings that do not just utter words but who learn to listen to God and then pray out of what they hear. We should encourage leaders to always be at them, and encourage the church to be at them, and give it high profile at every opportunity

In Preaching, we need to focus on who we are rather than ‘this is what you do’ to build assurance, confidence and faith, challenging people to rise to a vision of ‘this is who we ARE and this is therefore what we can rise to’.  i.e. we motivate by preaching grace not law, vision not vices, hope not guilt, reaching up, not driving up. Beware teaching ‘law’ (more Bible reading, more prayer) but instead show attainable goals that build faith. Again and again, can we place an emphasis on being God-enabled in this, rather than just intellect driven.

In Teaching encourage our leaders and then our flock, to be well read, both in the Bible and outside it, feed people and give them a strong base for their belief, also equipping them to resist the thinking of the world, knowing who and what they are and why, to give a springboard to ‘becoming’. As above, again and again, may we motivate by grace and flow out of our relationship with the Lord, being God-orientated at all times.

In Worship, can we encourage expressive and involved and Spirit-inspired worshipping and, as the Spirit is allowed to move, be seen to be an initiator, enabler, a totally involved follower.

The Problems of Leadership: Our greatest failure is to look to people who are successful in the world. I can remember in my youth being in a church where the diaconate of twelve men trouped out of a door at the front of the auditorium with the Minister, twelve men in suits, twelve men at the top of their game, bankers, lawyers, accountants and the like, and the church was proud to have such men at the front. But there were at least six problems with that. First, these were committee men, men good at running organisations, not organic bodies like the church. The church is the body of Christ and he is its head and the Spirit is its energizing and directing force.

Second, there is a great deal of difference between a business man and a spiritual leader. One might suggest that being a deacon is merely being a servant who helps administer the practical side of the church (see Acts 6) but actually the Biblical requirement is that they be filled with the Spirit (back to God again!). The other thing, in my past experience in that particular denomination was that deacons sought to exercise power and authority (in the role of elders) without having either the calling or equipping for that. We’ll look at this in detail later in the series. Third, these men were so proper, so respectable, that I am sure none of them would have dared step out in the Spirit if He might encourage them to do something ‘undignified’.

Fourth, this respectability drove such a wedge between them and the poor people who they were supposed to be serving. Some might say their lives were so different from some of the poorer members of the church (past tax-collectors and sinners?) that they would hardly know how to communicate with them. Fifth, and this goes back to an earlier study in an earlier part, humility was often lacking in these men, so not so good examples of Christ-like servants. Sixth, perhaps associated with this, these men could be seriously opinionated and so when there was a difference of opinion, politics came into play, and church is not the place to play politics. Now all I am doing here is showing from a past example what church leadership should NOT be like. Where the emphasis is on God, on serving and obeying Him, being those who respond to His Spirit and who are filled with the Spirit and with gifts of the Spirit, these things above, tend to disappear.

True Leaders: Now this may not be something that you want to work into your vision materials but it is, I suggest, nevertheless, stuff you want to hold before you as you think about ‘church’. What is a true spiritual leader? First of all, in general outlook, they are not someone who is perfect but someone who knows who they are in Christ, what their calling is, where their resources are, what their limitations are, and what they do when they fail.  I suggest, as far as God is concerned, they will be people of prayer and people of the word. Generally they will people of faith, people who listen to God and who respond to Him, people who are filled with the Spirit and are led by Him, people of vision seeing possibilities that are realistic in God and in the light of the people available, people of humility but who are not afraid to lead with the calling they have in God.

One would hope that they are hungry for God and when tiredness, weariness and exhaustion blunt that, they have the wisdom and humility to step back, sit down and get refreshed. They will recognize availability in the flock and will encourage people to recognize the gifts God is giving them, encourage them in those gifts and maybe even pray for them for those gifts to be released.  They will not be one-man ministries and they will not lord it over others as a CEO but will act as the chief servant being an example to all (see Jesus in Jn 13). We could no doubt add to that list (and may do in subsequent studies) but for now that should be enough to help refocus on the nature of this body we call the church and those who lead it. More will come later but there is just one more thing that needs mentioning here in this context.

Accountability: Leaders need to find spiritually mature (if possible) people who are for them, inside the church, to whom they can be accountable as they share with them, making opportunities for them to sit and listen to, question and encourage them. ‘Outside people’ cannot do this because they will not be there on the ground to watch and be there in it (and our natural tendency with ‘outside people’ is to only share with them things we are comfortable sharing).  ‘Insiders’ should be given permission to be honest, which doesn’t mean you have to follow everything they say but go away and weigh it – and you are more likely to get a realistic assessment. This is simply a safety measure and where it is real and there grows a close and open relationship, it will help guard against the temptations that the enemy would bring that has caused the downfall of so many leaders who did not have that protection.

And So? We have been considering how we can make the church what it is meant to be – a living expression of a relationship of people with their God, something that goes beyond simply mouthing words, and becomes reality that not only blesses the Church but also reveals the Lord to the onlooking world. May that become how it is for your local church and mine. But if we said the starting point for ‘church’ is making the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, we said, second, making ‘building people’ our second priority and that is what we will move onto in the next and concluding Part on ‘vision’.

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65. Strengthened by Grace

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  65.  Strengthened by Grace

Heb 13:9b   It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.

Relevant? I suspect that for many of us, when we come to a verse like this we think it is of little relevance because it talks of something – ceremonial foods – that was part of their lives back then when this was written but is not something for today. Fair enough. However, as this verse has stayed on my radar I conclude that actually it is very important for our lives today. Perhaps we should deal with the Jewish-Christian context language and pictures that are used, first of all, and then go on to see modern parallels for us as Christians.

Clean? I like the version of verse 9 that says: Your spiritual strength comes as a gift from God, not from ceremonial rules about eating certain foods—a method which, by the way, hasn’t helped those who have tried it!”  i.e. there were various of Moses’ Laws that referred to clean or unclean foods and, although people like the Pharisees insisted these were important, they didn’t seem to work very well and Jesus insisted that ‘cleanness’ was about an inner thing not an outward observance and, anyway, keeping those rules had not produced a holy people.

In the Tabernacle? But then our writer says something even more irrelevant by today’s standards: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (v.10) Pardon? What does that mean?  Well the priests ate at the altar and so in this analogy the writer says we have a place where we eat (or fellowship) with God that those who served in the tabernacle in the Old Testament under the old covenant, could not eat. They went through the outward rituals (like the cleansing and worshipping rituals) but in reality that did not seem to bring them closer to God.  Our ‘altar’ is the Cross. The physical altar was the place where the sacrifice was offered and the NT teaching is that Christ was the ‘Lamb of God’ offered for the ‘sacrifice of sins’ that we have considered previously. Altars have no place in Christianity for they are reminiscent of the old covenant.

Blood & a Carcass? He goes on, “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.” (v.11)  It gets worse!  But remember this was originally for a Jewish-Christian congregation, so let’s try to understand how they would have understood it. Yes, there were two parts to this procedure. The blood of the animal, which represents its life power, was taken into the Most Holy Place to say to God, a life has been given to allow this access. That was to prefigure the work of Christ, giving up his life on the Cross. But then the remaining physical body of the animal was taken outside the camp and burned there, almost as if to say, the physical body of this creature is of no importance, it is its life that is important.

The writer then explains the application: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” (v.12) Jesus’ physical body was taken outside the city and there he was crucified in a place of disgrace, as a criminal. It appeared, we might say, that God was giving up on the body of Christ, allowing it to be destroyed just like the old covenant practice, but in reality what was happening on the Cross was that Christ was giving his eternal life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, taking our punishment there.

The writer concludes this little cameo of doctrine by saying, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (v.13) i.e. let us identify with Christ, accepting (contrary to the derision of the world) that his death on the Cross bought our forgiveness.  The preaching of the cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18 JBP version) It is that simple.

Back to Grace: So now we need to come back to our starting point: It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods.” (v.9b) We, like the Old Testament saints, need strengthening, need encouraging. The Old Testament believers resorted to sacrifices and offerings to get their consciences right before God and yet somehow it left doubts and the overall picture of the spiritual life of Israel throughout the Old Testament is mostly not good.

Today we have these concrete facts declared throughout the New Testament – that Christ died for the forgiveness of sins on the Cross, a specific historical event, the specific plan of God for our salvation. This comes to us freely so that we have to do nothing but accept the truth of this. THIS is what grace is all about so when the enemy comes against us with doubts and fears, we simply turn to the facts of the Gospel and rely on them.

No ‘Doing’ to Impress God: Now the problem is that many of us like to DO things to make us feel right with God, so we resort to such things as ‘trying to be good’ or ‘performing religious rituals’ (Sunday by Sunday) or ‘trying to make up for our bad aspects’ (doing charitable things) but the truth is that when we do that we put ourselves on a par with those Old Testament people worrying about ceremonial food. We look to ‘things’ to put us right with God, but Christianity is all about receiving freely from God.

If you are trying to be good to get on God’s good side, if you are going to church to get on God’s good side, or if you are doing charitable things to get on God’s good side, then STOP IT! Simply believe that He loves you and is for you and HAS made you right with Him through the Cross, and believe that He HAS given you His Holy Spirit who is the source of all power, all wisdom, all guidance, and all teaching. Learn to listen to Him and enjoy the wonder of being His child. Amen? Amen!

19. Superficial Religion (2)

Meditations in Colossians 2: 19:  Superficial Religion (2)

Col 2:18    Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.

When we arrive at this sentence we clearly come to Paul poking at the Gnostics who we have referred to before and, among other wrong teaching, believed in ‘special’ knowledge, mystical knowledge coming from mystical experiences. They were another of the ‘add-on’ cults for whom the basic Gospel and the apostolic teaching was insufficient. They need something more, special experiences and special knowledge that came through such experiences. Paul warns against such people and says, Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.”  Although they make out that they are spiritual Paul says they are unspiritual. ‘Spiritual’ comes from accepting the Gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament. If you fail to accept that, you are unspiritual despite whatever spiritual noises you might make!

You see these people can appear so spiritual and with an appearance of humility but in reality it is false and a show put on to deceive you. These people even went on about angels and how we ought to worship them, and yet angels are simply revealed in scripture as servants of God.

Paul’s worry about these people is that they will come to the Colossians and “disqualify you for the prize.” Paul expanded this when he wrote to the Philippians: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)  A prize is given at the end of the race. The prize Paul has in mind in these instances is the right to live in heaven with God in eternity and that right is only given to the children of God who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

Although Paul is always so positive in his teaching, this is one of those rare times when he hints at the negative, the possibility of losing that right to a place in heaven, hence the word, ‘disqualify’. Some people object to the idea that someone can lose their salvation and suggest that a person who wholly backslides was never properly converted in the first place, but this instance shows us a way whereby that can happen in a very real way. Consider what Paul is warning against.

First he is warning against wrong thinking because that is what is at the heart of this warning. These Gnostics, who he is warning the Colossians against, were not born again believers. They did not believe in the God of the Bible that the apostle John describes as love (1 Jn 4:8,16). They did not believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father, who died for the sins of the world. They did not believe that salvation came through faith but by special knowledge. As a result their lives had not been transformed at conversion and they did not have a living relationship with God through Jesus and did not know the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Now what we must realise is that wrong thinking leads on to wrong behaviour and that has been included in a measure in the paragraph above. But if these Gnostics rejected all the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament it was because of their wrong thinking. This thinking said that man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil and is contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit and therefore good. Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly. This ascetic form of Gnosticism is the what Paul will be speaking against in the following verses.  Paradoxically, this dualism also led to licentiousness. The reasoning was that, since matter – and not the breaking of God’s law – was considered evil, breaking his law was of no moral consequence. So bizarrely in these people we find a mixture of harsh asceticism on one hand but amoral licentiousness on the other, both of which are seen in their behaviour. Both are person-centred and both reject the New Testament apostolic teaching. If the Colossians rejected the Gospel and the apostolic teaching as it came to them and went on to accept the teaching of the Gnostics, then clearly any talk of relationship with God would be quite unreal and as they have abandoned the Gospel they have utterly abandoned their salvation, present and future. This is a very real and genuine loss, hence Paul’s concern and his efforts to warn them.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, do we realise how our behaviour is linked to our thinking? Then  can we be honest about what we genuinely believe for, to go the full circle, what we believe will be revealed by the way we live. A serious thought.

17. Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

Meditations in Colossians: 17. Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

Col 1:9   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Commentators and translators appear to struggle a little with the word before our highlighted words. Our NIV says ‘through’, some others say ‘in’. I mention this because ‘through’ seems to suggest ‘comes via the means of’ while ‘in’ suggests that ‘His will is found in the midst of all spiritual wisdom. The latter makes wisdom etc. the starting place in which God’s will is found, while the former makes it simply a channel for comprehending God’s will. Perhaps it is a moot point and maybe we’ll consider both.

Let’s take the former first. Paul wants them to come to know God’s will and they will do that as they comprehend spiritual wisdom and understanding. When they work with spiritual wisdom and understanding they will come to see God’s will. In the latter approach, when they comprehend God’s will, they will see that it is full of spiritual wisdom and understanding. In the former it is a means of arriving at God’s will; in the later it is a description of God’s will. As we said, it may be a moot point and whichever it is, it makes us realise the importance of spiritual wisdom and understanding as far as God’s will is concerned. So let’s examine the phrase.

‘Spiritual’ immediately puts us in to the realm of God. Spiritual says this is not human wisdom and understanding; this is not what you or I could dream up. Wisdom means the knowledge of ‘how to do’ and spiritual wisdom is all about how God works, how things work in the kingdom of God, how things work pertaining to our salvation, how things work in the spiritual world. Understanding means insightful appreciation of the meaning of things so we go beyond the surface appreciation of bare facts, beyond how to do things, on to why things work as they do.

Remember Paul has been saying, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” i.e. we want you to come to the full knowledge of God’s will for you as you learn how all these things work and the Holy Spirit applies specific things to you. Putting it like that, imagine a great pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding that encompasses everything we suggested in the above paragraph, and as we come to see it, realise what we are seeing, and come to appreciate it, it is as if the Holy Spirit shines on parts of it and applies it specifically to us, so we come to realise how He wants to change us, in what specific ways He wants us to become like Jesus, and what sort of activity He wants to lead us into to serve Him and minister to the body of Christ, the Church, and to the world.

I think that picture brings together the two possibilities we considered first of all. The understanding of His will for us comes via the means of us considering this pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding (revealed through His word by His Holy Spirit) and as we see the contents of the pool so He applies parts of it to us. The moment we put it like that we find we are into the second understanding, we find His will in the midst of the pool of spiritual wisdom; they are in reality the same.

You may feel this has been a somewhat convoluted argument but I hope behind it all the basics shine through:

  1. God wants us to come to realise His will for us.
  2. As we (and He in us) work to understand how He generally works – the facts, the ways and the reasons for His activity – we find He also applies parts of it to us for our specific lives.
  3. Out of His ‘general will’ (how He works generally) emerges His ‘specific will’ for us.

For instance we come to learn about spiritual gifts, what they are and how they work and why He uses them, and then we find the Spirit emphasises some particular gift in us, which He not only emphasises but increases in us, and we find we ‘have’ a particular gift which may develop into a particular ministry.

To take a completely different aspect of God’s heart, we may learn that He has compassion for the poor, the weak and needy. That is His ‘general will’ but then we find almost a burden building within us about these things and we realise His care and compassion is growing within us that prompts us to reach out to those who are poor and needy ad before we know it, that is the main thrust of our service, which may develop into a full blown ministry of caring for the under-privileged.

Spiritual wisdom becomes the beginning, the means and the end, to us perceiving His will for us, and entering into it. We don’t merely ‘know about’ this particular facet of His will, but we ‘know it’ in as far as we have taken hold of the facts about it, we have been taken on to see how they work, and we have been moved to realise how it all works together. The final phase is when we enter into it by doing the things we have seen. We are then living and working in His will and to His glory.  Hallelujah!

20. Revealed

Short Meditations in John 3:  20. Revealed

Jn 3:21   But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

What a package of truths in this verse! “Whoever lives by the truth.” There is within this an assumption that there is something called ‘the truth’. Trying to be spiritual be might say it is Jesus, but there may be an even bigger meaning of it. The truth, The reality must surely be existence as God designed it, not as sinful human beings perceive it and distort it by wrong living. Coming to a place of total integrity, total honesty is what coming to God is about, for in Him there is nothing false, nothing pretend, nothing artificial, just utter goodness.

The person who is seen to live like this with this outlook on life, comes to Jesus, comes to God and allows the searchlight of His knowledge to reveal; this person “comes into the light”. They are revealed, they are displayed for what they really are, warts and all as they say, and yet redeemed, for it is only such a person who can do this. Without the knowledge of redemption, of God’s incredible love-directed work through Jesus on the Cross, each and every one of us would scuttle into the shade, under cover, into the darkness, as we saw in the previous verse. Knowing what we are like, if there was no saving grace, we would run and hide.  It is only because we have come to realise the wonder of His love, working through the Cross, that we dare come to the One who is The Light, and allow his light to shine on us and reveal us for what we are.

Now when this happens something becomes clear: sinful men and women cannot be something ‘other’ unless it is a work of God, hence, “so that it may be plainly seen that what has been done has been done through God.” This is it, when we live in the truth and come to the light, others will see and know the truth – we are what we are because of God, because there is no other explanation. Which is why Jesus taught, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)

Truth and light go together which is why John was to write in his first letter, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6,7) If we live by the truth and the light of Jesus shines on us, in us and through us, then that light will be one of the things that knit us together and enables us to fellowship together. In the absence of truth and light, real fellowship cannot happen.

5. Twofold Birth Required

Short Meditations in John 3:  5. Twofold Birth Required

Jn 3:6    Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit

Previously Jesus had said, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Thus now he explains that that means two sorts of birth, a natural one where the natural baby had been protected in water (in the womb), and now a spiritual one where the Holy Spirit surrounds and fills a person. Some suggest that the reference to water speaks of baptism but it is surely far more likely that Jesus parallels natural birth with spiritual rebirth. (The other interpretation is that Jesus means to be born again you need to be baptised in water and in the Spirit. Although true I think the simple parallel here is of natural versus spiritual rebirth and we will see that in the coming verses)

There is within this something far more obvious that we need to note in this illustration. One of the biggest problems that every human being has is that they are stuck with Sin, this propensity to be self-centred and godless. But we also have an ongoing sense that there is something better that we could be. Thus we find shelves of books on self-improvement in bookshops, or courses you can go on to improve yourself. People want to be different but for all their trying they know that still they are those people prone to getting it wrong and failing. Trying harder doesn’t seem to get us there.

More than this, people have a sense of the divine possibility, or a spiritual possibility, and thus we find all the religions of the world with most of them reaching out through various means to touch the spiritual – but failing, for the material cannot contact the spiritual. We need a part of us changing so that it can make contact with God otherwise we are just fruitlessly reaching out into the void. Somehow we need help from outside us to meaningfully be able to touch God.

However else we might put this, the simplest way is to say we need a new start, but not just a new attempt at doing things differently but our very being changed to be able to operate on a spiritual level as well as a material level. Unless the source of everything spiritual – God – can do something in us and actually change us, we will never be able to relate on the spiritual level despite all our yearnings.

This spiritual birth that Jesus is hinting at has to have its origin with God because we cannot do it ourselves. The best we can do is try harder but that will never enable us to move in the spiritual realm. No, we need God to do something in us that makes us spiritually receptive, able to communicate spiritually, able to communicate with a two-way communication with God Himself. This is what Jesus is working towards as he prompts Nicodemus.

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.