How come we are so rarely like the God we follow?

Yesterday I was teaching a Latin Link Stride Orientation group on "Latin American History and its Relevance to Today's Mission." I was struck again by the irony of how Christianity--both in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms arrived in Latin America. Without wanting to perpetuate the so-called "Black Legend", the Conquistadores were pretty brutal. There was little grace and humility towards the indigenous people who were enslaved and slaughtered. Even great men such as Bartolome de las Casas could not halt the brutalization. The Protestant missionaries didn't arrive with military force but rather financial force and political backing.

The Twentieth Century saw some of the most brutal regimes exploit and murder its own people. Between 1976 and 1983 the Argentine government kidnapped and murdered in the region of 30,000 people. Yes, not too many 0s, 30,000! Many of the Latin American governments were backed by the US government. The UK also has blood on our hands. The Truth Commission in Brazil are yet to hear from the UK about its involvement in the training of Brazilian military interrogators in psychological interrogation techniques.

Latin American governments were often supported by both Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches as well.

When we  think about the Christmas story it is such a contrast. Maybe we know the Nativity story too well. The shock that the saviour of the world would come to earth as a helpless baby, born to a single mother, who came from a peasant family, betrothed to a manual worker, in a country oppressed by the Roman Empire doesn't shock us, but it should.It is crazy!

When we see the rest of Jesus' life we come to see that this God is different. This is our God. Is this not typical of who he is, demonstrating his greatness by coming to this world, in this way and ultimately saving his world by being executed as a criminal in the most brutal way.

This Christmas I am re-examining my own life to ask, am I following the servant saviour or the conquistador?


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Great Commission - part 4 - (being Sent as Jesus is sent

John 20:19-23
This final commission is not well known at all. John Stott said that this was the least popular commission because it was the most difficult to fulfil in an adequate way.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

So why was it most difficult? Well, because the measure of our engagement in mission is Jesus Christ. Verse 21 could be translated, "in the same way the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." In that case, the model and measure of our being sent is Jesus'. The sets the bar very high. It is no wonder Jesus assures them that he is truly risen, gives them the Holy Spirit and blesses them with peace! They would need it!

We need to ask, however, in what way was Jesus sent? We ask this in order to measure the effectiveness of our "sent-ness". Good exegesis requires that we look first to the Gospel John. It is beyond this blog post to do a adequate study but read John's prologue (John 1:1-18) and ask, who was Jesus, what was he sent to do, and what does that mean for us?


Great Commissions - part 3 (Witness to the Messiah)

Luke's Great Commission

Luke 24:44-49 can be said to be a watershed for the whole of Luke/Acts. It is the place where various strands come together from the Gospel and disseminate out into Acts. In this passage the nature of the mission is spelled out more fully and “synthesises Luke’s theology of the gospel and propels the reader into the follow-up account of Acts” . For this reason, then, this section is an excellent starting point for our reflections on Luke's Great Commission. David Bosch, South African missiologist says that this passage reflects “...in a nutshell, Luke’s entire understanding of the Christian mission: it is the fulfilment of scriptural promises; it only becomes possible after the death and resurrection of the Messiah of Israel; its central thrust is the message of repentance and forgiveness; it is intended for‘all nations’; it is to begin ‘from Jerusalem’ it is to be executed by ‘witnesses’; and will be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit” Transforming Mission, p. 91.

As we can see, there is lots in this commission to reflect upon. I want focus briefly on the issue of suffering and witness. As you will probably know. the Greek word for "witness" is marturia, from which we get our English word "martyr". The fullfilment of the promises of the Old Testament are brought about by the suffering of the Messiah and the protagonists of this mission are witnesses. This seems to suggest that suffering and Christian mission are intimately and even inextricably linked.

If the Messiah had to suffer then so will his followers.

I would suggest that Middle Eastern Christians would be better than I to talk about this. See Andrew White @vicarofbaghdad on Twitter.


The Great Commissions - Part 2 (Preach the Gospel)

We begin with Mark 16:9-20. Mark's emphasis is mission as "Preaching the Gospel to all Creation.

Most versions of the Bible will have a variation on the following sentence just before Mark 16:9. "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20." This is true and it does seem that these verses seem to be a mish mash of the other commissions, however, because it is in harmony with the rest of Mark's gospel I think we can take this as Scripture and learn from it.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

There are some important elements to highlight here. Firstly, the mission in Mark is described as "preaching the Gospel". Mark begins his Gospel with these words, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Clearly for Mark the Gospel or the Good News (grk euanggelion) is very important. Jesus comes preaching good news.


The Great Commissions - part 1

Last week we looked at 4 important constants in discipleship: responding to the great invitation; making the great confession; doing the great commandment and ending with Matthew 28:16-20, fulfilling the great commission. We saw that making disciples of others is part of being and disciple as well as baptising (including into a community) and teaching to obey everything that Jesus commanded.

Because Matthew 28 is often referred to as the "Great Commission", it is sometimes assumed that it is the only commission. There are actually at least 3 others in the Gospels. This week we will take a brief look at these other three commissions. Tomorrow we will look at Mark 16, Wednesday we will consider Luke 24 and Acts 1 and Friday we will briefly examine John's commission in John 21.

The importance of the fact that there are different emphases in the models of mission that the New Testament proposes in the different Gospel accounts should not worry us. It should encourage us that God is a God diversity and not conformity. There are different ways of doing mission! It liberates us to creativity in the diverse ways we can take part in God's mission.


Constants of Discipleship - part 6 - Saturday Sammary

Respond to the Great Invitation (Come to me – Matthew 11.25-30).

Make the Great Confession (You are the Christ – Matthew 16.13-28).

Obey the Great Commandment (Love God & Love Neighbour – Matthew 22.34-40).

Fulfil the Great Commission (Make Disciples of all Nations – Matthew 28.16-20).


Constants of Discipleship - part 5

The final “great” of the week is a bit of an obvious one. It takes us back to where we started, making disciples in Matthew 28:16-20.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 This is such a famous passage and one much loved by missionaries and mission specialists. There are a few things I would like to highlight however. Firstly, Jesus commissions his disciples in Galilee. Matthew has already referred to this region as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 5:15; cf. Isaiah 9:1). Jesus chooses to commission them not in the powerful centre of religious practice: Jerusalem but from semi-pagan Galilee. Secondly, doubt was part of their discipleship experience as it will be for us. Thirdly, discipleship based upon Jesus’ own authority not upon our own. Fourthly, the primary command is to make disciples of Jesus wherever we go. Fifthly, baptizing is the command to incorporate the new disciples into a community of faith. Sixthly, obedience to the teaching of Jesus is only possible when the discipler also obeys the commands of Jesus. Finally, the presence of Jesus is only promised in the context of obedience in mission.


Constants of Discipleship - part 4

Our third “great” of discipleship is found in Matthew 22.34-40. Jesus is debating with the Sadducees and Pharisees.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Great Commandment is to love God and love neighbour. This is a huge statement that Jesus makes that the Law and Prophets are summed up by these two laws.

Jesus is quoting from two Old Testament passages here. Love the LORD your God is from Deuteronomy 6: it is the famous Shema which every pious Hebrew should say daily.

If we look at the context of that passage we see how Moses is saying that this love should be with their whole being. The heart is the seat of their will. The soul is that which makes you live. The strength is what makes you able to act. And this law should be passed on to the next generation; it is to be talked about in the home and outside the home, in the morning and the evening; it is to govern everything they see and everything they do in their personal lives; it is to govern their family lives (door posts of houses) and it is to govern their social or political lives (gates). The love of God and His law is to be all consuming. This is also the disciple’s responsibility. We are to love God with everything we are and have; in what we do and say.

Love of neighbour comes from Leviticus 19, which in my Bible is headed “various laws”. That is not very helpful! There are various things, however, that we can say. Firstly, the command to love your neighbour comes at the literary centre of the chapter in verse 18. This is illustrated in the graphic if you click here. The whole chapter is summed up by the words “love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Secondly, there is a theological reason given for the command to love you neighbour. Throughout the chapter there is a refrain which appears 13 times as “I am the LORD” or “I am the LORD your God”. This is part of the most important phrase at the beginning of the 10 commandments, I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt (Exodus 20:1). The reason that the Israelites should love their neighbour is because the LORD had rescued them. The reason for a disciple to love their neighbour is the salvation we have in Christ. Finally, and leading on from this, is that almost every one of the 10 commandments is restated in this chapter. So the content of that love of neighbour is found in the 10 commandments.


Constants of Discipleship - part 3

Yesterday, we looked at how we need to come to Jesus, recognizing our need of rest and taking on his purposes in the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven. Today we will explore how all disciples need to make the Great Confession (Matthew 16:13-26).

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

In this passage Matthew focuses on how being a disciple means to confess Jesus, not only as saviour but also as Lord. Mark and Luke, although they contain this story, they do not have such a full account and do not contain all four important Christological titles: Son of Man, Christ, Son of God and Suffering Servant. Additionally they do not explicitly use the word “disciple” as Matthew does here (vs. 25).

I do not want to go into the meaning of all these four titles that Matthew uses but want to briefly focus on the final one which Jesus expands on: the Suffering Servant. Jesus relates His own suffering to the suffering of His followers. If a person wants to be a disciple of this Rabbi, they should not expect honour, fame and power but suffering, pain and death. But paradoxically this is the only way to life.