Archive for the 'Stephen’s Articles' Category

One Hope

I’ve just been hearing about this year’s Spring Harvest gathering in the UK. Spring Harvest is the largest Christian conference in Europe, attended by about 45,000 people, and subscribes to The Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith.

This year the theme is One Hope – focussing on what it means to have a hope that is ‘steadfast and certain’ in a society where change is the only certainty. Here is what their website says about this years theme:

As we unpack the Big Story of God, we’ll discover how HOPE is central to the Christian faith. We’ll also discover what Jesus being the hope of the world really means. And how embracing Jesus – and the hope he offers – changes how we live and brings new vitality to our faith. Hope is God’s big idea.

I was raised in a denomination that always stressed the importance of getting doctrine right. Sometimes this emphasis on defining the ‘saving truths’ ended up in quarrels and useless arguments about fine points of doctrine and the denomination divided over questions such as whether the dead will be raised mortal or immortal, whether the Kingdom will be over the whole earth or only the land of Israel, whether sinlessness is theoretically possible, whether the judgment will be at Mt Sinai or Jerusalem, and whether the bread for communion should be leavened or unleavened. All these things seemed very important at the time to the people involved, yet subsequent generations and others not involved in the immediate conflict often see these questions as trifling differences. They might be interesting to discuss, but certainly not important enough to divide over, or even to argue about.

We’ve recently been discussing the timing of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. My mind went to one of the key characters involved in Jesus’ burial.

Joseph of Arimathea did not have a moment to waste. He had approximately three hours to arrange and expedite the burial of Jesus. By Roman law the body of a criminal would normally be disposed of ignominiously [1]. “The Roman law was that a convict, after execution, might not be buried: the crucified, in particular, were left on the cross until beasts and birds of prey devoured them. Guards were mounted on duty at the cross to prevent kinsfolk or friends from taking down a corpse and burying it; unauthorised burial of a crucified convict was a criminal offence. The emperor or his officers might, exceptionally, grant kinsfolk or friends authorisation to bury the convict.” [2]

Why Jesus suffered


At this time of the year our minds often go the question “Why did Jesus have to die? Was there no other way for God to save mankind?”

The death of Christ is often explained either as a debt being paid – that is, His death paid the price of our sin – or as one innocent person dying in the place of other guilty people who have been condemned to die (that is, as a substitute). These are two different metaphors, but they often get confused and used together in explaining the ‘atonement’, or how Christ’s death brings about our salvation. It’s one thing to speak about a ‘debt’ being forgiven, but to then mix this up with a capital punishment for a criminal offense would be to confuse the metaphors.

It’s Maundy Thursday already here in Australia – the anniversary of when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples the night before His crucifixion.

This message is to share some thoughts on the origin and meaning of the “bread and wine” symbolism used at the last supper, especially in the context of first century Judaism.

During Jesus’ last meal with His disciples He prayed over bread and wine and said “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19–20). For many Christians, especially Gentile (non-Jewish) believers, that could only mean that Jesus referred to himself: Bread and wine were tokens of Jesus body and blood. To many Christians later in history these words would mean that the bread and wine literally became His body and blood when believers consumed them.

I was raised in a denomination which took some comfort in the fact that only a tiny number of people held to their doctrinal distinctives and that “the Truth” had been hidden from almost all Christians. After all, didn’t Jesus say “Many are called but few are chosen”?

Indeed, in two places in Matthew’s Gospel we read of Jesus saying these words (Matthew 20:16; 22:14). Yet this saying appears to be contrary to the idea of God’s overflowing generosity which we see repeatedly throughout Jesus’ teachings. It appears that Jesus is saying that only a small number of people are actually chosen by God to enjoy His Kingdom and that even many of those who respond to His invitation will be rejected. This is so radically different from the rest of Jesus’ teachings that we need to look at this saying carefully in its context.

The subject of the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit has been raised earlier on this blog, but I’d be interested in discussing it further.

Ephesians 4:7-12 explains the reasons why the gifts were first given.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned
it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”

On hell and grace

I have been thinking for some time that the conditionalist/annihilationist understanding of hell (which is shared by several denominations as well as some individuals in mainstream denominations which might ‘officially’ hold the traditional view) is more in keeping with a Grace-based understanding of the Gospel than the traditional view.

One of the cornerstones of the Gospel is “God is love” and “God so loved that He gave … that we should not perish”. Another cornerstone is that God is gracious and it is His pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

Gifts and rewards

Following on from my last post about grace being at the core of Jesus’ Gospel, I’d like to comment on gifts and rewards in His teachings.

It’s clear from the Gospels that Jesus’ primary purpose was to preach “the good news of the Kingdom” and that He commissioned His disciples to continue preaching this message.

It might seem strange then that in a letter that has been described as “the Gospel according to Paul” – the letter to the Romans – there is no mention at all of the kingdom. On the other hand, while Jesus rarely used the word “grace” we find it is one of Paul’s favourite subjects. In Romans Paul used the word “grace” at least twenty times, although never using the word “kingdom”. Did Paul preach a different message? This is hardly possible, especially since we read in Acts that while in Rome he “boldly and without hindrance preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31).