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Friday, 15 December 2017

Meet the Nativity.

Thank you to David Robertson who introduced me to a series of videos produced by "Speak Life" - an organisation that I have known for many years. The videos are available on YouTube, but I plan to publish them here, on my blog, over the next few days. I just know that you will enjoy watching them - I trust that they will speak to every heart. Ignore the date mentioned at the end!!

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

So, when was Jesus really born?!

Less than a fortnight to go - and it will be Christmas Day. That, of course, as everyone knows, is the day on which the Baby Jesus was born. Well, actually, there are two mistakes in that statement! First of all, there are very many who do not know that this day celebrates the incarnation of the unique Son of God - coming into the world that He had created, in the human flesh that He had created. Many, sadly, seem to think that it was when "Santa Claus"(aka "Father Christmas") was born; or that it is just another excuse for a break from work, parties, special food, loads of alcohol, and presents.

The second error in the statement is that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th. Many will claim that we simply do not know the date of that momentous event, but accept that Dec. 25th. is one of the least likely contenders. However, it is possible to deduce, if not the precise day, certainly a very limited period in which the Christ-child was laid in an animals' feeding-trough.

As I have been discovering over the past few years, one of the problems we face as disciples of that same Jesus is that, too early in its life, the church lost sight of its Hebraic roots. It may be said to have started with a Hellenistic ("Greekised") Jew named Philo of Alexandria who lived from about 20 BC until 50 AD - covering the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus. It was he who, through those who followed his teaching, introduced Greek philosophical ideas into the the church from its earliest days. This led to a departure from the Hebrew mindset, which was totally different from that of the Greeks.

So, we find that if we revert to Hebraic thinking, we can indeed, place the birth of the Lord Jesus to within a week or two! How may we do so? Well, let's start with the record of Luke where we find, in the first chapter, the account of the birth of John, who was to be known as the Baptiser. Zacharias, John's father, was a priest on duty in the Temple in Jerusalem (N.B. the cult of Islam had not yet even been dreamed of!). Luke records that "Zacharias was a member of the Abijah division of the Temple service corps." (1:5; Living Bible Translation). Scholars can show us that this division served in the month of Tamuz - the fourth month in the Hebrew calendar. Elizabeth, Zacharias' wife, conceived shortly after his encounter with the archangel Gabriel (v.24) and, in due course, gave birth to her son.

However, after six months of Elizabeth's pregnancy, a young girl named Mary - a close relative of Elizabeth - also conceived supernaturally. In her case, the conception was even more amazing, as no man was involved. Rather, she conceived through the activity of God the Holy Spirit (v.35). Her conception may be dated as during the month  of Shvat and, nine months later, the Child was born - in the month Tishrei. This is the time of year which, in our Gregorian calendar, is marked by the period of September/October. 

Tishrei is also the time of the year when the Jewish people celebrate Succoth - the Feast of Tabernacles. Is it merely a coincidence that John, in his account of the Gospel record, states that "... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth;" (1:14), when we know that the word translated "dwelt" is the equivalent of "tabernacled"? We would also note that the original Tabernacle - the forerunner of the Temple - signified the presence of YHWH, the Covenant Name of God, with His chosen people.

I am learning, in these days, to try to see the Scriptures of both the Tanakh (the "Old Covenant") and the Brit Hadashah (the "New Covenant") with a more Hebraic mindset. It doesn't just help me to realise that Yeshua (Jesus) was born at a specific time in the Jewish calendar. It also helps me to understand more of what God would say to me, and us, in these end times. Glory to His Name.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Advocate

The third volume in my "Getting to know you ..." series is almost ready for publication. Regretfully, it will now be into the new year before it is available - too late for a Christmas gift! It is a devotional commentary on the letters of the "beloved disciple", John. Early in his first letter, the apostle makes an amazing statement: "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (2:1).

I am reminded of an incident concerning President Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America or, to be more precise, his son. Apparently, in those far-off days, it was pssible for anyone to come and seek a meeting with the President. One day, a soldier entered the large room, outside his office, and sat down among the many who were waiting to see Mr Lincoln. Shortly afterwards, the President's young son, Tad, came in and was immediately attracted by the soldier in his uniform. Approaching the veteran, he noticed that he had lost an arm in the war. 

The friendly soldier talked with the lad for some time, with no idea as to his identity. He eventually told Tad that he hoped he was not waiting in vain, as he needed to see the President about a very important matter. "That's no problem." the boy exclaimed. "He's my father. I can get you in!" He then ran off and gained admittance to the inner office using a private entrance.

Eventually, a secretary came into the room and notified those who were waiting that the Chief Executive had only a few minutes left, and that he could not consult with anyone else that day. Everyone left the room - except the soldier. The aide assured him that it was useless to wait. The man replied, "The President's son was here, and he has assured me that I could see his father." "You mean little Tad?" asked the aide. "Yes", came the reply. "Well then, you will indeed get in, for he loves that boy, and always yields to his wishes!"

As a disciple of "... Jesus Christ the righteous.", I have Him as my heavenly Advocate. He is the Father's "... beloved Son ..." with  Whom He is "... well pleased." (Matt.3:17; inter al). With Him constantly pleading my cause, I may be assured that each request will be heard - and answered in accordance with the Father's will and purposes. Has He not said that: "... whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you." (John 16:23)? The greatest, most influential Advocate will see that my prayers "get in". 

Is He your Advocate? He can be. If you wish to know more, please feel free to contact me using the e-mail address at the head of the blog.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Scottish Saltire.

Here in France, every day is dedicated to one of the "saints" of the Church of Rome. Of course, as I frequently point out, when we turn to the written Word of God, we discover that every true disciple of the Lord Jesus is a saint. Yes, you are reading the words of "St.Brian"!!!

However, today being November 30th means that today's "saint" - Andrew - is also celebrated in Scotland. He is, after all, the patron saint of the country. There is one legend that states that he actually visited Scotland, and preached there. However, whilst that is certainly not an impossibility, other legends are more likely.  One of these claims that, in A.D. 345, Saint Regulus (also known as St.Rule) was instructed by an angel to take some relics (bones) of Saint Andrew from Patras, in modern Greece, to a far-off land. He eventually arrived in Fife on the east coast of Scotland, where he founded the settlement now known by the name of the apostle. Another version recalls how in the 7th century, Saint Wilfrid brought the saint’s relics home with him following a pilgrimage to Rome. The Pictish king, Angus MacFergus, subsequently had them installed at his new monastery of Saint Regulus at Kilrymont, later renamed St. Andrew's. It is unlikely, however, that we shall ever know for certain what the precise link is.

When it comes to the national flag of Scotland, we are on somewhat firmer - if still tenuous! - ground. When Andrew, one of the apostles and brother of Peter, was being crucified by the Romans in A.D. 60, it is said that he believed himself unworthy to be crucified on a cross like that of his Saviour, and so requested that he hang on a ‘saltire’, or X-shaped cross which became his symbol.

Another legend links the adoption of Saint Andrew’s cross as Scotland’s national flag. This recalls that, in A.D. 832, on the eve of a battle between a combined Picts and Scots (Highlanders and Lowlanders. "Sassenachs" are, properly, Lowlanders, and not the English!) army and an invading army of Angles led by King Aethelstan of East Anglia, Andrew appeared to the Pictish king, Óengus II (Angus) and assured him of victory. The following morning a formation of clouds gathered against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, depicting a white saltire that was visible to both sides. The omen inspired the Picts and Scots to win a famous victory over the Angles of King Aethelstan and so the white cross on the blue background was adopted as the national flag of Scotland.

Following Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Declaration of Arbroath officially named Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. However, it was not until 1385 that the saltire appears to have become the official national flag, when the Parliament of Scotland agreed that Scottish soldiers should wear the white cross as a distinguishing mark. In such times flags and banners were important to identify opposing forces in heat of battle.

Whilst its exact origin may have been lost in myth and legend, the flag of Scotland is generally regarded as one of the oldest national flags still in modern use.

So much for the brief history lesson!! The question that may legitimately be asked is "So what?"! To answer that question, I would point to what we really do know about Andrew. As I have already stated, he was the brother of Peter, who became the leader of the apostle band after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. However, he was so different from his brother! Whilst Peter jumped in with both feet (sometimes in his mouth!), Andrew preferred to stay in the background. Whilst Peter was comfortable speaking to crowds of thousands, Andrew was more of a "personal worker". 

Of course, it was Andrew's "one-to-one" approach that brought Peter into contact with Jesus! (see John 1:41). He was also the one to whom Philip went some Greeks told him that they wanted to speak with the Saviour (Jn12:20ff). And he was the one who had discovered that a young lad had a packed lunch, and brought the boy to Jesus so that thousands could be fed - with loads to spare! (John 6:1-14). He didn't acquire that information by making a public announcement!

Not too many of us are gifted to be a Peter, or a Paul. All of us, surely, if we dare to claim to be disciples of Jesus, ought to be Andrews - people who don't hog the limelight, but who are willing to speak about Jesus to just one person (even if that person is a biological brother!); people to whom others - including co-workers - are willing to turn for assitance; people who are able to get down to the level of a child - and then discover that that same child holds the resources that we need, if we are willing to turn them over to Jesus.

Quite a man was our Andrew! Of course, he is also considered to be the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Barbados, and the ancient Italian town of Amalfi (south of Naples), in whose cathedral, it is claimed, the apostle's remains are entombed.

May each of us endeavour to emulate him, in at least one of his attributes - to the glory of our common Saviour.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Four Gospel records.

It was quite recently that I saw the question: "Why are there four Gospels?" My first response to that question is that there are not "four Gospels", but four accounts of the one Gospel - the Good News about Jesus, the Christ. However, the question is still a valid one: "Why are there four Gospel records?"

The simplest answer comes from the world of policing, where officers will endeavour to obtain as many witnesses as possible to any crime, or incident. Doing so ensures that they have as complete a picture as possible of what happened. Each witness will provide evidence that comes from a slightly different perspective than that of other witnesses.

Chronologically, Mark was the first to write the Gospel record, followed by Matthew, and then Luke. In these three records, known as the Synoptics, the emphasis is on the human nature of the Lord Jesus; in John, the last to be written, the emphasis is on His deity. However, we then discover that each was written for a different "audience"! Matthew wrote especially for Jews; Mark for Romans; Luke for Greeks; and John for disciples of Jesus. All four wrote for the whole world.

In Mark, the Lord Jesus is depicted as the Servant of God; in John as the Son of God (God the Son). In Matthew, He is portrayed as the Ruler of men; in Luke, as unique among men. Matthew and Mark provide the record of His official glories; Luke and John show His personal glories, as Son of Man and Son of God. The 19th century French philospher, historian, and writer, Ernest Rénan, described Matthew's account of the Gospel as "the most important boook ever written", and Luke's account as "the most beautiful book ever written." (although I would certainly not subscribe to many of Rénan's other views!)

Marks record may well be described as "the most concise book ever written"; while John's record surely deserves the description of "the most heavenly book ever written."!

I came across this, anonymous, poetic piece in one of my reference books:

"Matthew - Messiah, Israel's King, sets forth, by Israel slain;
but God decreed that Israel's loss should be the Gentiles' gain.
Mark tells us how, in patient love, this earth has once been trod
by one Who, in a Servant's form, wasyet the Son of God.
Luke, the  physician, writes of a more skilled Physician still, 
Who gave Himself, as Son of Man, to save us from all ill.
John, the beloved of Jesus, sees in Him the Father's Son,
the everlasting Word, made flesh, yet with the Father One."

Why are there four Gospel records? So that the fullest possible picture might be provided of the One Who came that you and I might have - if we choose to accept it - eternal life. Not "pie in the sky when you die", but the very life of the Creator of all that is, in you, here and now!

So the really important question is: "With all of that information, have you accepted His wonderful gift of salvation from sin, and a life so new that it is described as being "born again"? 

And, if not, why not?!