Sunday, 26 September 2010

Understanding God

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 26th September 2010.

Nobody can really understand God. He is the creator of the universe, we are puny transient creatures with limited minds. “There is no searching of his understanding.” (Isaiah 40:28)

But God has revealed himself to us in ways that we can understand. He wants us to take the trouble to understand him.

God has told us that one day the whole earth will be full of God’s glory (Numbers 14:21).

What is the glory of God? There are two aspects to God’s glory:

1. his moral glory – his character.

2. his physical glory.

These two aspects are each seen in Exodus 33 and 34. Moses asks to see God’s glory; God tells him no one can see his physical glory and live, but he hears a voice proclaiming God’s moral glory: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.”

Psalm 19 shows both aspects of God’s glory: verses 1 to 6 describe the wonders of creation, and the following verses describe his wisdom.

God chose Israel as a nation to show forth his glory: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)

This covenant was later opened out to include people of all races who are faithful (Galatians 3:28-29). There are those with whom God will make his covenant (e.g. Psalm 103:17-18), and those with whom God will not make his covenant (e.g. Psalm 50:16-23). God will make his covenant with those who are faithful and obedient.

Jeremiah 9:24: “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”

If we reflect the moral glory of God now (by following Christ), we can live in the hope of reflect reflecting his physical glory in the future, when Christ’s faithful are given immortality on his return. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The meaning of the Last Supper

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 12th September 2010.

At the Last Supper before he was crucified, Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. You can read of it in Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:19-20.

Jesus’ body was given and his blood was poured out to seal a covenant between God and his people. A covenant is an agreement. Let’s look at two covenants in the Old Testament as examples:

Genesis 15:18, a covenant between God and Abraham where God promised to give the land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants.

Exodus 19, the covenant between God and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai where they promised to be his people and he promised to be their God.

Both these covenants were sealed by the blood of animal sacrifices.

The Old Testament is largely the story of how Israel failed to keep their side of the covenant. You would expect this to mean that God would respond by refusing to honour his side of the covenant, but he didn’t. In Jeremiah 31:31, God promises to make a new covenant – people might fail to keep their side of the covenant, but he will forgive and keep his side.

This new covenant was also sealed by the blood of a sacrifice. Not this time an animal, but the blood of God’s own son, whom he willingly gave to reconcile us to himself.

God offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We agree to be his people. We cannot live up to our side of the covenant, but God will accept our faith, by his grace. This is expressed in Romans 3:23-24: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are justified freely by his grace through redemption in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 – as well as showing the covenant between God and his people, the bread and wine show the unity and fellowship between his people.

The evidence is that the first Christians shared the ‘communion’ bread and wine whenever they could as a sign of their faith and fellowship; soon it became established as a service that was held on the first day of the week.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Baptism - a matter of life or death

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 5th September 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Baptism – a matter of life and death! It does seem to be a bit of serious title doesn’t it? But from the Bible’s perspective, that is exactly what it is. The Bible teaches quite simply that:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.”

So it does seem to be black and white that if we believe
– and we will discuss what we need to believe in a little later on, coupled with the act of baptism we will somehow live and not die.

And those are incredibly powerful words of hope for us because if there is one thing certain in this life is that all of us, without exception will die at some point.

Now this evening I would like us to think about what baptism means and I want to come at the subject from the Bible’s perspective because it is the Bible which sets out the principles concerning it.

The Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God which can teach us truthfully on such matters.
As the letter of Timothy tells us “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

Not only can the Bible tell us why and how baptism came about, but we can be instructed on how it is relevant to you and me in the 21st Century. Because out in the world I would suggest there is quite a confused picture of baptism.
If we were to ask the question to anyone on the street “tell me what you can about baptism?” pretty much everyone would associate it with water and a belief in Jesus and the Bible.

They may not be able to tell you what it means and why it happens, but baptism is widely understood to be associated with the life of a Christian. And they would be right. But there is a confused picture about baptism out there.

A lot of people will claim to have “been baptised” as a child, and what they are actually talking about is them being christened and sprinkled with water on their foreheads.

That may or may not have been that last time they have actually been across the threshhold of a church but in their minds, whether or not they are practising christian or not, being christened as a baby has somehow put a tick in the box and they somehow are “alright with God” so if anything untowards happens the christening can act like some kind of insurance policy.

This is a quote from the Code of Canon Law which states:
“Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay.”

There are other groups who view the practice as simply a welcoming in to the church that they belong to. It may be seen as a family tradition, that is what is done for every new family member.

There are other groups who believe in full adult immersion in the waters of baptism. i.e that a person has to be an adult and has to be fully submerged in water and it is this which constitutes true baptism.

Now my aim this evening is not to dismantle and attack other people's beliefs on the subject because I’m sure many people will have their owm opinions on the subject but as I say simply to find out what the Bible teaches on the subject because if it truly is a matter of life and death, all of us out of self preservation should take it seriously.

So where do we start?

The first thing to note is that the disciples of John the baptist and Jesus were instructed by them to be baptized and to baptize others. Baptism in all Biblical records is closely associated with those who respond to God, to His word and to His ways.

Let's have a look at where baptism starts to take place in the Bible and I’d like us to go to the new testament and to Matthew 3 verse 1. This is the first mention of baptism in the Bible and it is taking place by John the Baptist, a prophet who heralded the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 1:

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

So there is a number of things we can learn here.

Firstly: repentance goes hand in hand with baptism.It was baptism of repentance. Repentance is about a regret for previous things we have done. So the act of baptism somehow marked a change in a person from regretful things.

Secondly: It was about being prepared for the Kingdom of heaven. How would be manifested? In the Lord Jesus Christ who would begin to teach the people about the kingdom to come.Of which the act of baptism would somehow make people acceptable.

Thirdly: The people were baptized in the river Jordan, a river which runs right through the country of Israel. They were not sprinkled with water. They actually went down into the river and they came up out of the river. If we look verse 16 of the same chapter and to the account of Jesus’ baptism, we read that he did the same thing. Verse 16: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.”

In fact when we look at the literal meaning of the word ‘baptism’ it fill out the picture for us of what actually happened. The word baptise, comes from the Greek word ‘baptiso’, it is used in the sense of immersion. It means to dip or plunge in liquid so that the whole thing is fully under and is fully covered. This is important for us to keep in mind because of what it represents. And we shall come on to this in a moment.

It's interesting to note in the first occurance of baptism, there is no mention of people being sprinkled with water and there is no mention of children being baptised here. Infact quite the contrary. As we have sayed the act of baptism was accompanied by repentance and an acknowledgement of regret for previous wrong doing. In other words, it required someone old enough to have the capacity to be able to do this.

Whilst we are in this chapter I think its worth pointing out that even the Lord Jesus Christ himself thought it was needful to occur. That it was vital to his existence and really it proves the point that if we truly profess to follow the Bible then it is neccessary For those who say they do follow the Bible
but haven’t been baptized are actually in error.

From these beginnings, the practice is carried out by the church for example in Acts 2 verse 41, where we read about the people who received the gospel from Peter, “that the people gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.”

Understanding this concept of repentance is the first step to understanding what baptism is all about. As we have said, there is an acknowledgement by the recipient that they are going to turn their life around from the life they were living to a new a different life. There is an acknowledgement that the life they had been life is one that is contrary to God. That they have been ‘in sin’ and they want to make a new start. Primarily it is understanding how that we as human beings are under a curse of sin and death. That sinfulness come naturally to us. If we turn to Genesis 2, we can see how this originally unfolded.

Now it's not the story of creation that I want to concentrate on here, I just want us to look at the consequence of disobedience unto God. God said don’t eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and they did. Chapter 2 verse 17, we read the LORD’s warning to Adam and Eve: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Turn over the page to Genesis 3 verse 19, this is the LORD talking to Adam after he had disobeyed God: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So the LORD’s response for disobedience is unequivocal. Sin equals death and because you and I are the offspring of Adam and Eve, we have inherited the same free will as they and the same curse too.

We may think that it is a bit unfair, after all it wasn’t you or me that disobeyed God in that instance in the garden, but doing what we want to do as opposed to what God wants us to do comes naturally to us because of the way that we’ve been made.

We are inherently sinful and because of that we’re all touched by the same curse given to Adam. We return to the ground after our 70 or so years and become as dust as Adam did.

It all seems to be a pretty depressing picture but if we read on we find that not only were Adam Eve cursed, they were given a way back from sin by the Lord covering their sin.

Verse 21 we read “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Although this was a literal covering for their nakedness, it showed an important principle that in order for sins to be done away with, there had to be the shedding of blood.

It was if to say that sin is so grevious to the LORD that needed something as serious and meaningful as the shedding of blood in order for sins to be forgiven. And
this is a core principle which runs right through scripture and which manifests itself in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

Baptism really pivots upon Jesus Christ. In the passage we took in Matthew we saw how John called on people to be baptized. Why? because of the coming of the kingdom of God revealed in Jesus’ ministry.

The Lord Jesus came into the world to cover the sins of the world once and for all, not by the blood of an animal like in the garden of Eden, but by his own blood in his crucifixion.

The Lord had to undergo such a cruel death because it was a demonstration of the highest price paid for sin being done away with once and for all. As Hebrews 9 confirms, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins”. John the Baptist recognised and witnessed to the work of the Lord Jesus because he is recorded as saying in the gospel of John chapter 1:29 speaking of Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.”

Right at the very start we mentioned that being baptized was associated with “belief” in something. We read “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..." The belief that it is talking about is the belief in the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. That in his death and ressurection our sins can be covered once and for all.

We read in the gospel of John chapter 3 verse 17 speaking of the minstry of the Lord Jesus: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

So although we have seen that the LORD God is true to His word and mete out punishment on those who are disobedient, He actually is a loving and merciful God who is not willing that any should perish. He sent His Son into the world to give man a way whereby he might be eternally redeemed from sin and death.

Belief in the name of the Lord Jesus is integral to the process of baptism. Something which is born by many scriptural passages. We don’t need to turn them up but I will just mention a few of them.

The apostle Peter in preaching to the people in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost says in Acts 2:38 “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

The apostle Paul preaching in Ephesus a little later on says pretty much the same thing “ In Acts 19:4 we read: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

And so it goes on.

How can belief in the Lord Jesus Christ be a means to save us from sin and death? The answer lies in the life of Jesus and his death on the cross. When we consider his life we are introduced to a man that had the same nature as ours because he was born of the Spirit and of a woman, a descendent of Adam and Eve. His father was God and his mother was Mary and therfore he inherited the same capacity for sin as us.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that he was made in a similar way to us, we read that the Lord suffered in the things he was tempted by...he was in all point tempted like us, yet without sin.” To put it simply, the Lord Jesus experienced all the desires common to human nature.

He knew of the things the LORD God wanted him to fulfill and he chose to supress his own desires, rejecting them in favour of faithful obedience unto God. The significance of this and the implications are far reaching. For the first time in the history of mankind, there was a man who was without sin, he had the capacity for it and yet he conquered it - because of this he was the perfect sacrifice to take away sin and death once and for all. The Lord Jesus’ perfect life of obedience, unto the cross was the ultimate offering for sin, it was the perfect expression of love and obedience and it was the vital atonement for mankind’s sin that would ultimately destroy sin and death forever.

Being baptised is often called being ‘in Christ’. It sounds like a bit of a strange thing to say that when we are baptised that we are ‘in Christ’ or we have ‘put on Christ’, but this is how the LORD God sees it. We are brought into a new relationship with the Father and Son, we have become members of the Lord’s family.

The apostle Paul expands upon this new relationship that we can obtain when we are baptised in writing to the Galatians. If we just turn to Galatians 3 verse 26: Here the apostle is writing to a new church in Galatia and is introducing them into the fact that if they are baptized into Jesus, then they can inherit the same promises given to all those who are faithful to God. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

We are all part of the family of the God through the Lord Jesus Christ. We have fellowship one with another in the way we are all brethren and sisters in Christ. We have fellowship together as we encourage one another on the path to the kingdom. That fellowship manifests itself in the partaking of the bread and wine week by week to remember what has been achieved for us by the Lord Jesus.

The apostle Paul goes further elsewhere and talks about us being part of the body of Christ, of which he is the head.

Now when we looked at the meaning of the word “baptism” we mentioned that full immersion or being completely submerged in water is a symbolic act and this is exactly what it is.

Baptism is a type or a kind of ‘shadow’ of what the Lord went through in his sacrifice. The Lord was crucified as we have discussed but he was also raised from the dead and made immortal and free from the curse of the garden of Eden. He wasn’t worthy of death because sin wasn’t found in his perfect life. Similarly, if we are baptised it is a kind of reenactment of what the Lord went through - it is a symbol of death and resurrection to newness of life. The further writings of Paul in Romans 6 bears this out. If we just turn to Romans 6 we can see how this symbology works in the case of baptism, and it also explains further this idea of being “in Christ”.

Beginning Romans 6 verse 4: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

Now that may appear to be a complex passage but actually it is rather simple. The act of baptism is a symbol of dying to an old way of life and rising to a new life in Christ. The old man, the man of the flesh, the old way that we have lived our lives has been replaced by a new way, a new creation, one that is in Christ doing the things God would have us do.

If we continue to do those things, by the grace of God we can look forward to the same prospect given unto Jesus, raised from the dead and granted immortality. When will this take place? When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven after he was ressurected he sayed he would come back in the same way he went to restore the kingdom. For those who have died before that happens there is the prospect of being raised from the dead as Paul says we will be changed into the likeness of the Lord.
What a wonderful prospect this is for us to look forward to!

If we are raised as a new creature in the waters of baptism we are expected by God to live like a new creation unto the LORD and not continue in the way we have been living. If we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:15 it bears out the point of what is expected of us. How that because Jesus died for us we have responsibilty to that sacrifice.
Verse 15: And [that] Jesus died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we [him] no more. Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

This doesn’t mean to say that when we are baptised we stop sinning, this plainly doesn’t happen because we still are made up of sinful human flesh with the same desire to do what we want to do. God does not automatically change us in some miraculous act when we come up out of the waters of baptism and believe in His Son. Now will He regard us as sinless because of the sacrifice of his son. We have to realise that although we can take these steps to being right with God, there is nothing we can do that warrants us being made sinless. God’s mercy and forgiveness in his grace can come about by certain conditions. The prime condition is that people who come to Him through Jesus recognise the truth about themselves and that they acknowledge it is only through Jesus sacrifice that we can come near.

It is also in our resolution to live a new life not continuing to do what we want to do but fulfilling the commandments of Jesus.

If we continue to commit the same sins, and lead the same type of life as before, then we are in danger of taking God’s grace and His forgiveness for granted and we are making a farce of the whole institution and we will receive judgement for this.

Hebrews 10 verse 26 says: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”

These are pretty strong words but really in reinforces the point that after we are baptized, it is not the end of the story for the believer. We have to ensure that we truly are making an effort to turn our back on our old way of life. That we are not walking in our old way of life and only paying lip service to a life in the Lord Jesus. The grace of God depends upon the resolution of our hearts.

Finally then:

We have see how baptism acomplishes three things.

1) It provides a cover that blots out past sins by forgiveness.
Being in Jesus provides a basis for fellowship with God and with each other as we share in fellowship.

2) It provides a means of access to God’s mercy, nsuring continual forgiveness of sins after baptism when those sins are confessed and forsaken.

3) And it of course fulfils a commandment of Christ.

We have also seen that full adult immersion in the waters of baptism by someone who acknowledges their sinfulness and repents of it in the name of the Lord Jesus can only be the true biblical teaching on the matter.

The question for you and me is, if baptism is the only means whereby death is not the end of the story for us. If it truly is a matter of life and death, then we need to do something about it.