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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 7 – Greater Works

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
John 14:11-12

Greater Miracles?
It is perhaps unfortunate that some translations say, "believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." It is true that the underlying Greek word can be used of miracles but it is more generally used for non-miraculous acts.

The problem with introducing the concept of miracles into this passage is that it tends to lead to the assumption that Jesus is suggesting believers will do greater miracles than Him and that is not what we see in our lives or even in the Acts of the Apostles.

We do see some apostles doing some amazing things but nothing can surpass Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days.

Some will contend that the word "believe" in this passage provides the context in which greater miracles will be done, but it is hard to see how we can say Paul was lacking in belief. And while he certainly did raise at least one person from the dead (Acts 20:7-12), he cannot be said to have done greater miracles than Jesus.

Greater Works
So, what works have believers done that are greater than those of Jesus?

To start with, Jesus confined His ministry to a very small area approximately the size of the country of Wales (in the UK) or the US state of Massachesetts. In 2000 years the ministry of the church has literally gone global. There are still some places unreached by the gospel, mostly in the Muslim and Communist world. But even these are not beyond the arm of Christian TV and radio (find out about such broadcasts HERE).

Jesus healed many people during His three years of ministry, but His followers have reached millions with healthcare needs. For example, blindness caused by leprosy can easily prevented by an operation costing just £35 (to find out more go HERE).

Jesus gave 5,000 people a meal using one child's packed lunch. The cost of one family's pizza delivery could pay for vocational training for a Christian woman in a Muslim country so she can gain an ongoing income to provide her family with food for years to come (more HERE).

What we do doesn't have to be spectacular in order to be great. God has blessed us with the ability to touch the world in amazing ways and our belief in Jesus is our motivator.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 6 – Jesus’ Return

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

So far we have looked at the 5 terms of the New Covenant which are our responsibility: to love one another; to come to the Father through Jesus; to love Jesus; to remain (abide) in Jesus; and to tell others about Jesus.

Though these may not always be easy, they are not complicated. They are simple enough for a child to understand. It is beautiful that the Christian faith is not about keeping a specific set of rules and regulations which are onerous or burdensome. They will all flow from love for Him.

So now we come to the first thing Jesus says He will do for us.

Coming Back
Much of the New Testament makes reference to Jesus coming again for His church and that is surely past of what He is referring to in this passage from John's Gospel. Whereas followers of other religions are not offered the certainty of heaven by their faith, Christians have the promise of Jesus, not only that we will be with Him in heaven, but also that He is preparing it for us.

I find it staggering that almighty God should accommodate His home to suit us. That is love.

Tender Care
But this love is also extended to us at our greatest point of weakness - the time of our death. These words of Jesus don't simply speak of a time, possibly long distant, when He rends the heavens and comes down. They also declare that as we leave this life He will come to us to escort us Home.

We need not fear the moment of death because we will not be making the journey alone. Jesus Himself will come to us personally and take us to be with Him and the Father forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Terms Of The New Covenant Part 5 - Tell Others About Jesus

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Jn 15:26-27

Jesus expected, indeed required, that His followers tell others about Him. Part of being in a New Covenant relationship with God is getting other people in on the plan. The business world calls this network marketing. It is the most efficient form of advertising because satisfied customers are the best advocates for a product or service - they are naturally enthusiastic and their friends and family trust their judgement.

But sharing the Good News of salvation from eternal death is so much more than network marketing.

The morning after a became a Christian I was telling everyone. Most people simply gave me one of those skeptical looks - the suggestion that their thoughts were, "ok, she's finally flipped." My father took me out for coffee to try to establish whether I'd become a Mormon or a Moonie.

As far as I can tell, the words I said in those first few weeks had no positive impact at all.

Over the years, and not being a gifted evangelist, I have found less embarrassing ways to tell others about Jesus, While my husband has done sketchboard evangelism on street corners I have written, blogged and spoken in ladies' meetings. I have endeavoured to teach my children to pray. I have tried to offer practical help to those in need. And when the opportunity has come and I have been asked why I do the things I do, I have explained (1 Pet 3:15).

My favourite quote from St Francis of Assisi is:

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

I don't believe God expects all of us to be street preachers. In fact there have been times when I've wondered if God would rather some of us shut up occasionally - like the man in the pedestrian precinct I heard declaring loudly, "there is a difference between regenerate and unregenerate." Really? What on earth did that mean to the ordinary people of a small market town in South West England?

We are all uniquly made in the image of God and just as the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, so must we ... but in our own unique way. So I debate with Atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims on Facebook while others in our church distribute newspapers, visit homes for the disabled, or speak to strangers on buses.

In our own ways each of us bears witness and God can use our abilities to reach different people and bring more into Covenant Relationship with Him.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Terms Of The New Covenant Part 4 - Abiding In Jesus

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean (pruned) because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

It sometimes baffles me why translators make the decisions they do about precisely what words to use to express the original Greek or Hebrew text of our Bibles. This passage is a case in point.

As you may guess from my use of the words in brackets above the word translated as both prunes and clean have the same root. The underlying Greek word is katharos from which we get our English word cathartic, meaning cleansing or healing.

As participants in the New Covenant we have already been grafted in to Jesus the vine because He has cleansed us. Our job is simply to remain in Jesus or, as other versions put it, to abide in Him.

The obvious question which follows is, what do I have to do to abide in Jesus? The wonderful answer is that, like an engrafted branch we simply have to rest where He has placed us, allowing the sap of the Holy Spirit to flow through us, producing leaves and fruit.

Remember what Jesus said earlier:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

We find this idea of resting and abiding foreign to us. We think we have to do something to validate our salvation. But the gospel is that Jesus has done everything we need.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet 1:3)

We don’t have to try to abide in Jesus or do good things. It becomes our nature to bear fruit:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10)