Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Revelation 7: God is able to save his people, All his people.

 

preached at HopeWhangarei Presbyterian Church  as part of our Revelation: Eternal hope in the face of present difficulties series. recoding of message is available  on this link https://anchor.fm/hope-whangarei/episodes/6-3-2022-Howard-Carter---Revelation-7-e1f9p6h/a-a7h9ia6 

We are sadly used to seeing it, in the face of war disaster and trouble. That frantic flight of people trying to get away desperately heading for safety. We've seen it again this month on our TV screens as people flee from the Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. 

We may remember the grainy black and white photo of People clambering up to the roof of the American embassy hoping for a seat on the last helicopter fleeing Saigon in 1975.

Similar scenes at the airport in Kabul last year as the Taliban swept back into power in Afghanistan.

The ongoing plight of refugees streaming across the Mediterranean to escape poverty, persecution war and conflict in inadequate boats, some making it or plucked to safety by navy vessels others perishing. We’ve seen it and it is one of the horrific faces of suffering in the world. A lottery of who will be saved?

Maybe less sever but closer to home and more relatable, we all have heard the tales of personal hardship, suffering and sorrow as people have not been able to get places in MIQ to come back to New Zealand as our border has been closed because of COVID. Maybe you and your family have been affected by that…The numbers are limited …. Who will get in.

Revelation 6, speaks of the Lamb of God opening the seals on the scroll with evil coming forth, war and pestilence, famine and poverty, natural disaster and martyrdom, and it finishes with the people asking who can be saved from these trials? Who can get airlifted, get away safe. And instead of a deafening silence or an inadequate under resourced rescue effort, Revelation 7 in two visions tells us that God is able to bring his people through times of trial, God can be trusted to save his people, all his people.

The chapter starts with those words ‘after this I saw” remember we are not looking at a timeline of events here but John describing his vision. And it does seem that this passage is almost an interlude in the flow of the book. We have six of the seven seals opened on the scroll and then all of a sudden the scene changes, the theme changes. But as I’ve alluded to what is said by these two visions is significant and important, an answer to the question who can be saved. It’s full of encouragement for John’s first reads and us. God is able to save his people… all his people.

The first vision happens on earth. It consists of a vision of five angels. John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. A metaphorical way of looking at the whole earth and the winds coming from all the different directions. It’s the first and only time they are mentioned in the book and they are restraining the wind from doing damage. Which of course has not been mentioned at all so far, or will it be... However we get the picture of the calm before the storm. Things are put on hold for a specific reason. The fifth angel goes about with the seal of God and puts a seal on God’s servants. Marking them as belonging to God. We are not shown what that entails or that process. Elsewhere in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 1:225:5Ephesians 1:13-144:30 the Holy Spirit is seen as a seal of God on those who believe, a pledge that people belong to God, that we have been redeemed. Later in Revelation we see the beast mark all those who worship him, but here God has marked his people out first. Before it all happens.

Now John hears the angel say the number of those sealed was 144,000 from every tribe of Israel and we have a list of twelve tribes with 12,000 from each. We see the tribes listed. In a list that is unique in scripture it starts with Judah, rather than Rueben, the oldest, showing the importance of Judah as the tribe Jesus came from, Both Joseph and his son Manasseh are said to be tribes, but Ephraim the other son of Joseph recorded in Old Testament lists is not mentioned. Neither is Dan, Dan may be left out because early on it was associated with idol worship in the Old testament, and in some Jewish though the anti-messiah was supposed to come from that tribe. But it’s a complete list of twelve tribes.

Now 144,000 is one of those numbers and moment in the book of revelation where there are many different ways of interpreting what it means.  If you’ve had Jehovah witnesses at your door they used to make a lot out of this number. Saying it referred to 144,000 Jehovah witness who had been taken up to heaven before 1935. Others see it as refereeing to specifically Jewish believers who will be spared during the trials that are to come, or more specifically will be or have been saved from the destruction of Jerusalem.  Others tie it in with the idea of a rapture that these saints are going to avoid the trials that are to come. They are the fortunate ones who will get a place on the plane.

Another interpretation, which I believe, in my humble opinion, fits the best, is just as four corner of the earth is a way of speaking about the earth in its entirety, 144,000 is also a symbolic number which conveys meaning rather than a literal number. It is 12 x 12 x 1000 and it conveys the idea of completeness, 12 is a number of completeness and we have a complete number from each of the twelve tribes the compete family, multiplied by 1000 which marks again the idea of completion and totality, we’ll strike it again with the idea of the 1000 year reign. Is it a literal 1000 years or does it mean that it has come to completion? God seals all his servants all his people before the times of trial, before the coming winds of change and trouble blow.

Here are some of my thoughts why. Firstly, as I’ve already said the numbers have significance as meaning total or all encompassing, secondly, that to limit it to the Jews only goes beyond the New Testament idea of the people of God are both Jew and Gentile together. Thirdly in the text those sealed are simply called the servants of God, a generic term, not Jews.  Fourthly, we now move to a second vision, this one in heaven, and we see standing before the throne, those who have endured and overcome who are a crowd too big to number, people from every, nation, tribe, people group and language. God is able to save his people all his people.

Numbering them according to the tribes, may also be a sign that these people will not be saved from the trials that are to come but are being sealed so they can face what is to come. In numbers the tribes were counted by the number of fighting aged men, and here we may catch a glimpse of God’s servant being prepared for the conflict that is to come. As we move through revelation we’ll get into some of the different understandings of things like the rapture, millennium, tribulation and the raft of different ways of looking at it. But the key thought is ultimately God will save his people all his people.

So let’s move to the second vision, again we see it’s a different vision because John says after these things I saw in verse 9. The scene has now changed and john is back in the throne room, and there he sees a multitude beyond counting. I don’t know if you ever caught up with Donald trump saying he has more people at his inauguration that the two million who were present for president Obama’s inauguration. With the internet battle between photos taken from the same place on both occasions, but here the crowd stretches outwards and outwards, people from all nations, tribes, people groups, languages are included, this is beyond massive. The language used coveys totality  and completion. They are dressed in crowns and white robes. They hold palm branches, a sign of victory and celebration. Interesting that John’s gospel is the only one to mention palm branches in his narrative of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. It’s a hint that ties these writing together. That triumphant entry is seen as a foreshadow of the procession in heaven. The multitude cry our ‘salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb” here those redeemed by God acknowledge that it God who has saved them, that it is the lamb who by his sacrifice has redeemed them. The cry is no longer Hosanna (save me) it is in the past, salvation belongs to our God.

At this john sees the rest of the heavenly court fall down and worship. The angels and the twenty four elders. They agree with the multitude Amen… they give praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, thanks is a unique feature of the list in this chapter, it may look to thanking God for those he has redeemed,  and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever, amen”. An affirmation that God has done it.

Then we have the vision explained by a question and answer with one of the twenty four elders. Who asks these in white robes who are they and where do they come from?’. John lets the elder tell him. Those in white are the ones who have persevered in the great tribulation. Who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.

The word translated tribulation here causes us some difficulties, as people think that it refers to some end days event, and it may focus on that, but for the readers of John in his day they were aware of the coming trials they faced, like we too are aware of the difficulties we and other Christians face round the world face.  But this vision shows that through those times through any coming time that God has and will save his people all his people.

The second thing is the idea of the blood of the lamb cleansing the robes. Now I know there is a genre of hymn that talk of a fountain of blood that cleanses us from sin. But the blood of the lamb refers to Christ’s death. The death of the lamb. It may go back to the Passover idea of the blood of the lamb on the door post. But it affirms very strongly it is in identifying with the death of Jesus that we are redeemed. There is a sense that here are all the people who have endured following Christ to the end, be it their death in persecution of old age. They are cleansed and saved by God’s power through Jesus death. It is easy to think of salvation as simply saying a [prayer as an insurance policy, but here, and I’m showing my reformed bias, the idea of those around the throne are those who persevered to the end. Saved by Christ alone, by faith alone, but who persevere in that faith. That saving act changes everything.

Then the elder goes on to speak of the benefit of being washed in the blood, redeemed by the lamb. They are before the throne of God. This amazing picture of being welcomed in and able to stand pure and forgiven before God’s throne. Serving him day and night in the temple. There are lots of pictures and scriptures that come to mind there. In 1 peter that we are living stones built into the house of God, serving God with the thanksgiving offerings. Again in peter that we are a royal priest hood. It also ties it back to the 144,000 who were referred to as the servants of God. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them forever in his presence, the idea of dwelling in the house of the Lord, from psalm 23 and John 14 in my Father’s house is a mansion for you. We will see this fulfilled in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22. But the servants of God will know this shelter and presence as they endure and go on.

Never again will they be hungry, never again will they be thirsty, picking up Jesus words about being living water in John 4. Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied. The promise of Psalm 121 of the sun not harming them. Then we have this wonderful image of the lamb who is at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. He will wipe away their tears. There will be an end to suffering and a time of joy.  The lamb will bring them through it all and to this place of renewal and refreshing.

Ok let’s bring it all together,

These two visions show that from beginning to end God is able to mark out his people and save them and bring them to be with him in heaven. God is able to save all his people. As the seals on the scroll are opened and we see the hardships and difficulties we can trust God that he will lead us through, he will ultimately save us, the shepherd is the lamb. Jesus has lead the way through death into new life. We may face war, pestilence, martyrdom, natural disasters poverty and famine, but God is the one who knows who we are and Jesus is with us as our shepherd and will bring us through, to be with him and the lamb, to a place of shelter, thanks, refreshment and joy. God will save his people, all his people. 

It gives us confidence and comfort to keep living out our faith as we face the trials to come. The first martyr in Acts, Stephen as he is being stoned sees the same vision John speaks of. He see Christ on the throne, and it turns that killing into witness and victory. Yes there will be hardship and sorrow pain and tribulation, as this world passes away, but be encouraged God is able to save his people all his people. We are sealed as his from the beginning and we will be with him in the end.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Worship in Heaven, living on earth (Revelation 4)

 


This is the first in a series of messages looking at the book of Revelation at HopeWhangarei. it is message  preached as part of a series  using a preaching team, where three preachers give messages over a three week period at our three worship sites. So on my blog will only be  my portion of this series. however if you want to follow our whole series you can do via our website  https://hopewhangarei.nz/sermons/ 


Today we start the second part of our journey through the book of Revelation, leading into Christmas we worked our way through the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, chapters 1 to 3. Which constituted the first vision that John had. It was important for us to focus on them because one of the things it does is ground this most difficult of New Testament writings to a definite time and place. Revelation is a letter, like most of the other new testament books, written to those seven churches in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, as they face difficult times and increased opposition and persecution from outside the faith. John calls it a prophecy and while we may think of  as being about foretelling what is to come, at the heart of the biblical understanding of prophecy is that it is God’s specific word for a specific time and place. We need to understand what it meant and said to its original audience so we can interpret it and apply to our own. What makes it more difficult is that John calls it a revelation or an apocalypse which is a literary style or genre, where the message is presented through vivid visions, with symbols and images, weird and wonderful beasts, numbers with meaning, where history is painted out on a cosmic stage and scale, not as a linear chain of events. A genre that is foreign to us, but to its first century readers may have been more common and understandable.  This book has been a playground for idle speculation, fear mongering and end of day’s countdowning… but also a great source of encouragement and comfort to the church down through the ages as they and we have faced difficult times similar to the ones faced by its first readers.

Today we look at chapter 4, which Gordon Fee says is possibly the greatest chapter in scripture to preach on, as it gives us this amazing picture of the heavenly worship, Fee says it is only bettered by chapter 5 where we meet the Lamb of God, and Lorne has the honour of preaching on that one.

It’s the start of a new vision for John. In apocalyptic writing words like I then saw, then it was shown to me are ways of moving from one thing to another. A bit like scene changes in movies. John starts here in verse 1 by saying after this refereeing us back to his previous vision. A vision that starts in chapter one of the risen Jesus standing amidst the lampstands that represent the seven churches. AS Jesus speaks to each of the churches, we have a sense of his presence and his being with them, the focus is on the immanence of God, Immanuel God with us. Jesus sees and knows their deeds, he is able to reward them for their perseverance, even Laodicea where it seems Jesus has been forgotten, he stands at the door of the city and knocks, wanting to come in and dine with his people. In the midst of all that the church is facing from within and outside, encouragement comes from the fact that the risen Jesus is with them, close and moving amongst them. It is the same for us as we deal with the issues from within and without the church, false teaching, unlove, persecution, finding ourselves being lulled to sleep, that Jesus is with us by the Holy Spirit, he sees he cares he knows, he speaks and he longs for us to repent and to persevere, and will reward us.

Then John speaks of what he now sees. There is a door before him which leads to heaven, and he is called up into the heavenly throne room. We may think that heaven is a long way away, out there off beyond the physical galaxy, but here we see that it is right close by. In Isaiah 6 the prophet Isaiah is in the temple and suddenly like the curtains being opened at a theatre he finds himself in the very throne room of God. For Jews of his day that would seem natural as the temple was the place that God dwelt with his people. Ezekiel an exile on the banks of the river kebar suddenly finds the heavens opened and he sees a vision of God’s throne moving from Jerusalem to be with the exiles in Babylon. Our celtic forbears used to talk of thin places, usually associated with worship, where the veil between the physical and the heavenly is thin. The cross is that thinnest of places. Here we see that heaven is close by, and what is even more encouraging is that such a thin place was even the island of Patmos where John was imprisoned, even the time of Isaiah as Jerusalem faced  siege and military threat, even with the exiles in Babylon, even with us here and now, in our joys and sorrows. Heaven is near. We do not serve a distant disinterested deity.

John is invited by Christ, the one with the voice like a trumpet in his initial vision, to come into the throne room and he will be shown what is to come. Before we get to that John gives us a vivid description of what he sees in heaven.  Maybe our eyes would be drawn to the central figure on the throne, and John struggles to describe what he sees when he looks there except that it is like precious jewels shining in the light. The three stones mentioned may have meaning or more likely they represent every precious stone. In Ezekiel 28:13 the king of tyre is said to be covered in all the precious stones and that is represented by these three stones. The key image is of God as Paul describes him in 1 timothy 6:16 God dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see”.

In front of the throne are twenty-four lesser thrones, on them sit twenty four elders, clothed in white with crowns upon their head. The description of cloths and crowns bring us back to the promises of the letters to the seven churches where those who overcome are seen as receiving a crown, a wreath, and being clothed in white. Twenty-four is seen as representing the totality of God’s people, his Old Testament people Israel represented by the twelve tribes and his new testament people by the apostles. 

John continues describing what he sees, he sees a lampstand with seven lamps which we are told represent the seven spirits of God. There is much debate over what the seven Spirits of God mean. In Isaiah 11 in a prophesy about the Branch of Jesse it talks of the Spirit being on this messianic figure in seven different ways, likewise in Romans Paul speaks of the seven different ways that the Spirit ministers to God’s people. In the vision of the seven churches we see the spirit being shown by the lampstand to be with the seven churches, and seven of course if God’s number representing perfection. What we are supposed to realize is God’s Spirit is present before the throne.

John also talks of a Crystal sea. It may be a reference to the sea or large bowl of water that was in the temple, part of the temple furniture and described in 1 Kings 7 beside the altar. Isaiah does not mention it in his vision of the heavenly throne room but it maybe for him that it was simply furnishing he would expect. Others wonder if this does not represent the sea which in Jewish thinking was a force of chaos. In Ezekiel it is out of the ocean that the terrifying beasts arrive but here in the throne room of God, even this murky chaotic force lies still and crystal clear before the throne of God almighty. As a created thing it serves the creator.

The last thing John sees before the action in heaven is described are four living creatures, with eyes and wings, with different faces one of an ox one of a lion, another of a man and the last of an eagle. Much of the symbols and things we see in Revelation are described and mentioned in the Old Testament, for John’s Jewish readers steeped in the scriptures they would have grasped their significance. Similar living creatures appear in Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly throne, they each have the four faces and a different number of wings. Celtic Christians have used these creatures as symbols for the gospels, depicted in the wonderful illuminated book of kells. Commentators see them representing all living things before the throne. The ox are the domesticated animals, the lion is king of the wild beasts, the man reminds us that we too are creatures, and that is quite humbling, and the eagle represents the birds. For the biologists amongst us we may say, hey what about fish and insects, but it is very much a reflection of the Jewish world view at the time. Here creation is before the throne of God actively involved in worship.

That leads us from a description of what is around the throne to the worship that happens around the throne. The living creatures constantly worship God. Saying Holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come”. The focus is on the transcendence of God. Holy, God is totally other, separate and pure light. Spirit to be worshipped in spirit and truth as Jesus says in John 4.   All powerful. The vision we are looking at will go on to look at the rise and fall of the kingdoms and powers of this word, the actions of spiritual beings, but it starts first and foremost with the assertion that God is almighty. The eternal nature of God is also at the centre of their praise, we are so used to this idea of God who was, who is and will ever be’ that we forget its amazing power and wonder. God has always been, but is not stuffy and old fashioned but is now, present and reigning today, and as we face the future we can do so with the assurance that God will continue to rule and to reign.

Whenever the living creatures worship, it tells us the elders fall to the ground, casting their crowns before him, and worship as well. You think we do a lot of standing and sitting in our services… they say ‘You are worthy to receive glory, honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”. NT Wright reflects on the difference between he worship of the living beings and the representatives of the people of God is the word ‘because’, the psalms tell us we join with all creation, all creation worships its creator, but the 24 elders, the people of God are the ones who worship with knowledge and reason, they see the power of God, his worthiness, that he has created all things, that he sustains all thing by his prevenient grace.

That’s the vision, what we see and the action that is described to us… But What does it say to us.

Well,  it points us to the sovereignty of God, as we start a vision of what is to come, we are drawn into the presence of God. God on the throne. You’d think that as John contemplated what is to come that we may have started with the roman emperor on the throne, what is going to happen to God’s people in Asia Minor is going to be dictated to by Rome, however here we see that the real power, the real control, the one whose purposes and plans and kingdom will reign is our heavenly father.

The repeated name for God in this chapter is the one who lives for ever and ever. It is in the worship of the living creatures it’s repeated twice, in v 9 and 10. It is what gives us encouragement and hope, kingdoms may rise and fall, and they do and will continue to But God’s rule and reign, God’s kingdom is eternal. It invites us to look up from what we see around us to grasp a bigger picture, an eternal perspective. As the book of revelation goes on we will see that we live in this time between Christ’s coming and his return and that will be a time of difficulty and strife, But God is the one who is in control, god is the one who is able to keep us and bring about his purposes and plans. We are living in the longest reign of an English monarch, but it too will come to end, but God is still on the throne.  Psalm 2 encapsulates this by talking of the nation’s raging against God, but God is simply amused, he will establish his King and his kingdom.  We live in the time between the all ready.  In Jesus God’s Kingdom has draw near, and the not yet, awaiting its final consummation. But we live with the hope and assurance that God is on the throne and is working out his plans and purposes.

As I came back to work this year, I came back with a sense of dread almost of just another COVID year. This season we find ourselves in my scripture reading for that first week, which I shared in the pastoral letter was Psalm 62, and as the Psalmist turns to encourage his readers to have the trust and hope in God that he has even as he has faced difficult times, he says he knows these two things about God. He has heard God say that Power belongs to Him and that with God is constant love. In  the first two visions  in revelation as God’s people are to be encouraged by both those things, God is close and with us, in Christ, in what we face as individuals and a community of faith  and as we see the movement of  wider history, we know God is eternal. All powerful and sovereign.

 As we move on and look at all the weird and wonderful and frightening things in Revelation, we need to hold on to that truth. We do not fear what is to come. As we live out our lives in the midst of pain and suffering, uncertainty, change of today , we  do so without fear,  Christ is with us, god is sovereign, let us join with all creation and all heaven in worship…

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Light dawning in the dark (Isaiah 9)

 

link to audio of this message preached December 19th at HopeWhangarei. 

When we lived in Napier, I took up bike riding and I used to cycle from our house at Westshore, around through Ahuriri and out along the Marine parade cycle track to Clyde and back. Except for the height of summer  I would start in the dark and at some stage along the journey the dawn would break over the pacific ocean and the sun would rise out of the sea. On clear days it would be a wondrous golden glow over the blue of the ocean, on overcast and Rainey days it would turn the clouds and the dark ocean silver, either way the panorama and beauty of countryside and coastline and city around me would become visible.

The idea of light dawning in the darkness is a very evocative picture. It is one of hope and new possibilities. It can seem as if all the difficulty suffering and strife or the broken relationships and the brokenness and evil of the world and within us are like the pitch black of night. Maybe you’ve had nights where things you’ve done wrong, or decisions you have to make, or the stress and strain of life have left you tossing and turning, or even as Geoff New spoke about a couple of weeks ago you find yourself wrestling with God. The night feels endless, then the dawn comes, the possibility of hope.  Psalm 30:5 sums that up well for our experience and for the context of the passage we are looking at today when it says.

For his (God’s) anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

The context of Isaiah 9, this passage which we so rightly associate with the coming of Christ, and use in advent, is that for Jerusalem and Judea it was a time of doom and gloom, they had sinned and rebelled against God and were facing judgment.

 Ahaz was the king, 2 kings 16 tells us he was a king who did evil in the eyes of the LORD. Even stooping to sacrifice his son in the fire, worshiping the Gods of the nations that had been driven out of Israel. Judah was in a difficult position politically, the northern kingdom Israel and Syria had formed an alliance and were getting ready to come against Judah. Ahaz had some decisions to make, he could form an alliance with either Assyria or Egypt, the super powers of his time, or he could simply trust in god to save his people. This is where Isaiah’s prophecies from chapter 7:1- to chapter 9 come. Through the birth of three children Isaiah speaks to the king and tells him that he should trust in God to deal with Israel and Syria, not to look to other gods nor to alliances with other kingdoms, but the God of Israel.

In chapter 7  Isaiah’s son Shear-Jeshub is to remind the king that a remnant shall remain. Then we have Immanuel, a child born to a virgin or a maiden, reminding Ahaz that “God is with us” that he and Judah can trust in God to save them, name and a prophecy which Matthew tells us is fulfilled in Christ,  and then finally in chapter 8  Isaiah’s other son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means quickly to the plunder, was a sign to Ahaz that before the boy could say mother or father, that Syria and Israel would fall, that Ahaz should trust in God.

Ahaz of course ignores Isaiah, and make an alliance with the Assyrians, giving them all the gold and silver in the temple and setting up an altar in Damascus to honour the  Assyrian king. Judah finds itself condemned and under God’s judgment, in the gloom and dark of the situation and their own rebellion against God, Isaiah now turns to give them hope. Hope which again is wrapped up in the birth of a child.

Lets look at the passage.

Verse one tells us that the land that is humbled will again be lifted up and honoured. God’s judgment is not his final word. The areas mentioned here, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali and galilee of the nations, the area where Israel usually first met the rest of the world, a place of mixed settlement, and the way of the sea beyond the Jordon would be honoured. These areas has been the first to fall to Assyrian domination and they would be the first to see the light of God’s salvation. Maybe jumping the gun here but Matthew quotes this verse at the beginning of Jesus preaching ministry in this very area. Here is the light dawning amidst the gloom in the very places Isaiah had prophesied.

This is the message that Isaiah now brings in verse 2. A light dawning in the darkness. Light of course in scripture is used to describe God. God would bring light where there was only darkness. Inv3 instead of the shrinking and defeat, sorrow and pain of the Assyrian oppression, there would be  a prospering of the nation and an increase of Joy. The metaphors that are used to describe this joy are that of the joy of harvest. Maybe the gardeners amongst you can relate to that. After all the tilling of the soil, the weeding, watering, cold snaps, wild winds and pests, there is the harvest. The second metaphor is the picture of soldiers dividing up the plunder. War is over the battle has been won. Maybe after unsurmountable odds, many of what Winston Churchill called ‘our darkest hours’ through pain and sorrow, final it is over victory has been won. Maybe those famous photos of crowds in London and New York’s time square in 1945 on VE and VJ day give us a glimpse of that joy.

Verse 4 gives us a historical example of how God would bring this reversal, this light in the dark. Isaiah points to the time of Midian where God used, Gideon and three hundred men, with trumpets and torches, light in the dark, to wrought an army of 10,000 Midians. This light this salvation would be as unexpected and so obviously God’s doing as that. The yoke of oppression would be lifted. Assyrian kings often gloated about the heavy yoke they placed on their conquered kingdoms. Again looking through the lens of Jesus we see that the new ruler would also have a yoke but his was easy and light.

Verse 5 then gives us an image of an end to war. This light would not use the conventional tools of this world to bring about salvation, and restoration rather the image here of war itself ceasing.

Then we see that just like Immanuel was a sign of God’s abiding presence God’s light and salvation being through the birth of a child, a son. A new ruler in the line of David. The words and titles that are given to this son, show us that this is not simply another king in the dynasty but there is something special and important about this son, this child to be born.

He is called the wonderful councilor, as opposed to the bad council of the Kings who had gone before and lead Judah down a disastrous path into the judgment of God … Mighty God, while the kings of the nations around Judea were starting to be considered god like, for jews there was one God and the passage points very much to this son being the embodiment of Immanuel God with us. Everlasting father, again while kings were considered as being fathers to their people this goes beyong hyperbally to focus again on the messianic hope of the people.  Prince of peace: The hope of shalom, not just the end to conflict and strife but the restoration of relationships, with God and with one another. A kingdom of peace and prosperity based on God’s righteousness and justice. This son and his kingdom would be an everlasting one.

The passage finishes with an affirmation that this salvation this light this new kingdom, would not be achieved by earthly powers or means, but rather it would the Lord’s doing the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. We may think of God as detached and dispassionate, but here we get  the picture of a God who is jealous and zealous for his people, wanting to bring them back to himself, full of passion and compassion, that while they had rebelled against him and sinned, and were going to be rightly judged, God was not finished with them, his purposes and plans his salvation would be achieved.

On one level this passage can be seen to be fulfilled in Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, which 2 kings 18 tells us was a good king, there was no king in Judea like him, he returned Judea to following the Lord.  Isaiah’s prophecy was a birth announcement for this new king, full of hyperbole and hope. While Hezekiah’s faithfulness and trust in God is an example of the way the Davidic kings should act he does not fit the bill, despite seeing God’s miraculous intervention, Judea and Jerusalem face turmoil and strife throughout his reign. After a meeting with envoys from Babylon Isaiah tells him of the impending fall of Jerusalem to Babylon to which Hezekiah replies with what are his last recorded words “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” we must look beyond Hezekiah.

The book of Isaiah as a whole covers the period of the reign of king ahaz right through to the destruction of Jerusalem and finishes after chapter 40 with words that look forward to the return from exile and the reestablishment of Jerusalem. The passage in Isaiah 9 was seen as part of the hope of what God would do in that restoration time. The hope for Jerusalem being the capital of a restored and purified Israel. Yet we know from history that the hopes and aspirations for that restoration were different and difficult. So this passage became part of the messianic hope of Israel, that God would indeed send a son of David to establish the kingdom of God. 

Matthew quotes this passage as Jesus starts his ministry, in the area which Isaiah had said salvation would first dawn. Pointing us to the fact that the ultimate fulfilment of this passage is in Jesus. Jesus is the long awaited son given for our salvation, the light that has come into the world. One of the principles of biblical interpretation is that a passage in the Old Testament can’t mean something different to what it meant in its context when it is quoted in the new. This passage does exactly that as it is fulfilled in Jesus. We like Judea like Ahaz are lost and in the dark because of our sin and rebellion from God. Like Judea because we have not listened to God and gone our own way we stand in a place of judgment. But underserved, unlooked for, not by human means, God has shone the light of his salvation into our darkness. As john says in the prelude to his gospel… his introduction of Jesus on the vast canvas of eternity…the light of the world has come. It came not by military might or by powerful persuasion but in a child, in Jesus a son sacrificially  given. A son who is the wonderful councilor. . In our staff meetings at the moment we are reading through john’s gospel and this week we heard John 5:19 where Jesus says he only does what he sees the father do, and then later in John 12 it says “ I only say what the father  has commanded me to say.” What wonderful faithful council. God almighty, the embodiment of God with us Immanuel. The everlasting father, God himself in human form, dwelling amongst us, the prince of peace, the one who by his life, death and resurrection has reconciled us to himself, to God as our father and to one another in him. One who is raised to life again and is now seated at the right hand, whose kingdom is eternal. It was not done by human hands but by the grace and love of God, the zeal and passion, of God for all his people, all of us. Passion of course is the word we use to describe that last Easter week in Jerusalem… The great light has dawned in the darkness of our sin and inhumanity, both individually and as a society and world, it is the source of the greatest joy, of the harvest, and of the battle won.

But like with the extended time of Isaiah we live in the tension between the already and not yet. Yes, the light has come in shines and brings life to all who will recognize their need for god’s forgiveness, turn to Jesus and are saved, we experience the peace and prosperity and righteousness and justice of the reign of God. God has done it, as Jesus said on the cross it is finished. But not yet we still live in a world that loves the darkness, a broken, sinful, and hurting and hurtful world that needs to know the light that has been sent in Jesus. So Christ sends us out as light bearers, as lamps to show people the true light that has come into the world, to be ambassadors of this son’s kingdom and government. Who is Immanuel present and reign in us by the Holy Spirit. Who is passion filled for the people of this world.  In Jesus Christ the light of the world has dawned, and in our present darkness we are called to all that light to shine through us on the coastlines and country and people around us.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Wrestling with Women and silence in the church

 


Here is a link to an audio recording of this sermon. 


When my daughter Bethany heard what passage I was preaching on she sent me a link to an article on satirical Christian website Babylon bee. It was satirizing the phenomenon of publishing houses producing study bibles for specific targeted audiences, men, women, couples, outdoor types etc. The article was supposedly reporting the launch of a new study bible by a well know publishing house. A new study bible for women, with well over 30,000  well researched notes that would help women understand what they read and live out God’s will for their lives if they simply followed the little numbers after any verse- printed in pink of course. The punch line and why this was relevant to us today was that all the notes said the same thing “Go and ask your husband to explain this[ referencing  verse 35 in today’s reading.  Its satire but it does challenge us about how the passage we had read today is to be understood and applied.


Our Winter sermon series this year is called Her story, Her Voice; Women in the Bible. My contribution to this series, is called Women in Leadership in the New Testament: the Silent Witnesses and Silencing Passages. What we are doing is looking at the issue of Women in Leadership in the church by going back to the New Testament and seeing the evidence, like the names of women in romans 16 and elsewhere, of the involvement and acceptance of women in leadership by Paul. Then seriously looking at the Pauline passages in scripture like 1 Timothy 2:5-11 and the one we had read to us today, that seem to be anti-women in leadership.

I know it’s hard going, we need to acknowledge that there is a split theologically over this issue. There are complementarians who believe that men and women were created in the image of God, saved by Christ, filled with the Spirt and given gifts but have different roles and women’s roles in church leadership are limited. That has been the traditional view. There are egalitarians who believe men and women were created in the image of God, saved by Christ, filled with the Spirt and given gifts and are free to exercise those gifts in any situation and position God calls them to. Both sides want to be faithful to scripture.

With that in mind let’s look at the passage in 1 Corinthians 14, with particular focus on verses 34-35, which call for women to be silent in church.

Context

Paul is writing to the Church at Corinth, one with a particular set of issues and challenges. This passage is the conclusion to a section that starts in chapter 11:1-15 concerning public worship. It started with Paul affirming that both men and women can pray and prophesy in church, this was part of the tradition Paul passed down to the church in Corinth. The issue was keeping the socially understood appearance and relationship for men and women ( we looked at that last time). He then goes on to talk about the issue of poor and rich, free and slave and communion. Making sure when they met that the slaves were waited for and catered for. The last three chapters 12, 13,14 are about spiritual gifts. That all gifts are given by God for the whole body to use for the common good. The way in which they are to be used is in love, and finally in the present chapter that they were to be used in an orderly way which reflected the nature of God- as the God of peace. Prophesy-proclaiming Gods word was the more useful gift as it was good for instruction, correction and revelation. It seems that at Corinth worship was a chaotic affair with people all speaking in tongues and speaking over each other.. It finishes with Paul talking about the fact that his teaching was accepted by all the churches. That sets the context.

Content

Verse 34 and 35 say that Women should be silent in Church, they are not allowed to speak.  Then it goes on to expand on this by saying if they want to enquire about something, affirming once again the theological education of women, let them ask their husbands when they get home. Now in Greco roman society and Jewish society women married early and it was the norm for women to be married. There are reasons for Women’s silence given, the first is they must be in submission according to the law, the second is that it is shameful for women to speak in public.

Blanket ban internal problems

Some have seen this passage as a ruling for then and all time that women should not speak in an official capacity in public worship. However there are some difficulties with that view.  Internally, Paul normally refers to the Old Testament when he uses the word Law, however we know of no such law in the Old Testament. Coupled with the idea of being shameful it may be talking about the conventions of the time, where women speaking in public was not the norm, usually a women would speak in their home or if it was in public usually through their husbands. How are we to understand that with the norms of our own culture and time.

It is difficult to have that interpretation within the context of the passage. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that women can speak, they can pray and prophesy. It’s tied into the traditions he, Paul has passed on to the church at Corinth. Also it goes contra to the teaching Paul has just given on the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are for the whole body, he’d even said I wish all of you would prophesy, you’d all proclaim the word of God. Now almost as an afterthought we have this ban on women speaking.

 It does not make sense in the wider context of the scriptures where we have women speak and proclaim. We have the women at the resurrection told to go tell. We have the woman at the well go and tell the people of Samaria that she thinks she has found the messiah, she is named Photini in the eastern orthodox tradition and acknowledged as an Apostle. We have Deborah, Miriam and Huldah women prophets in the Old Testament. The list in Romans 16, Paul actually meets Aquila and Pricilla at Corinth… it’s the only time aquilla is mentioned first, because he is a tent maker like Paul, that is how they form a relationship. Everywhere else Pricilla is mentioned first meaning she would have been seen as the more significant of these coworkers of Paul’s.

A TEXTUAL Interpolation

Some see these verses as a gloss or an interpolation, a later addition to the text. That is rare in scripture but this could be a possibility. We don’t have copies of the book that do not contain these verses. However in some texts they are found after v40. Removing them from the chapter does not impact the flow of Paul’s argument. In the New Revised Standard Version they are put in brackets to acknowledge there maybe this issue and in the NIV there is a foot note which acknowledges that in some texts they appear after v40. On a technical level analysis of the wording and structure has lead some to question whether Paul wrote it.  But as Gordon fee who supports this view says, until that is proven we actually need to take them as serious.

The other view of these verses is that Paul is dealing with a specific issue at Corinth, it is not a blanket ban. The focus of Paul’s argument is order in worship.  The worship at Corinth seems to have been quite chaotic people speaking at the same time. The women are not the only ones told to be silent and in submission in this passage. Tongues speakers are told to be silent unless there is an interpreter in v 28. People are encouraged to keep themselves under control. One person was to speak at a time. Likewise, prophets are told to be silent if another is speaking, they are told a prophets spirit is subject to the control of the prophet. So whatever the disruptive thing that was happening amongst the women Paul gives the same imperatives. Keep quiet, be under control, and be in submission, not to men or to husbands but to yourself. To have self-control which is spoken of in the law…There is an appropriate way of going about things, like for example if you want to know something ask your husband at home.

There are many theories of what the specific issue was.

One thought is because women married early and did not have much formal education they were excited with the new freedom they had in the church and wanted to learn so would ask their husbands questions while others were speaking. Which was a no no in greek public speaking. Added to that they could have been seated separately men and women, like in synagogue worship, so they would have shouted out to their husbands across the room. I went to a Samoan Church one time and was amazed to see women and children seated on one side of the church and men on the other. What maybe more relevant was that a woman sat in the middle of the kids with a stick and when ever the kids whispered to each other or acted distracted she’d tap them with the stick and motion them to come and sit next to her. Keeping this social orderliness. The owmen may also have been disengaged from the worship and simply been chattering and talking. Remember it was a new thing for them to be included as equals in worship. On a practical level People often wonder where were the women in the feeding of the five thousand as it only records five thousand men. Men would sit in ordered rows to listen the women’s section would have all the kids and be a sea of movement and all abuzz.

Another view is that this is talking about the congregation carefully weighing the prophesy that was given. Women could prophesy but could not be involved in the more authoritative process of discerning and teaching. It wouldn’t be right for a women to be involved or to publically question the validity of a message given by their husband.  Again the issue at Corinth was a lack of structure so to impose such a structure is arguing from silence. It also puts discernment on a level above the gift of prophecy which goes contra to Paul’s teaching.

One scholar suggests that because the chapter focuses on prophecy there would have been women new to the Christian faith who would have thought that Christian prophet were like pagan oracles. Where the oracle would only speak in response to questions asked by those present. Often it was on personal matter, to do with life and decisions that needed to be made. Paul is telling them not to do this as Christian prophets speak at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, as one commentator puts it no human needs to prime the pump. The personal things they asked about were better discussed with their husbands at home.

In the end the biblical data is too limited to give a definitive answer. Eugene Peterson in his message paraphrase tried to encapsulate this understanding of dealing with a local issue of disruptive behavior when he translates the passage Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking.”

All these ideas have merit and difficulties. It is hard to be dogmatic on eitherside of the argument simply from this passage.

Ok how do we wrap that all up and bring it bear today.

Well I love the positive emphasis about theological education for women and by implication for men as well. Education that goes beyond go and ask your husband... That wouldn’t work in our household which I think reflects todays society well. We both have formal theological training and University education. We both have wisdom and understanding to contribute. I’ll ask kris about stuff and she’ll ask me…In our reformed tradition wanting people to know the scriptures understand them and apply them it is why we focus so much on exposition of scripture, opening it up and explaining it, so we can encounter the living word of God, Christ, in the written word, the scripture theough the spoken word, preaching, prophesy. It’s why in our missional plan we encourage Connect groups they are a great place for men and women to learn together… We are blessed with very good resources online and in print, more than ever before… mind you we need to be careful because we are challenged with a whole plethora of different interpretations and theological understandings as well in our information age, we need wisdom to navigate them. All the heresies and controversies there have ever been are alive and well and living on the internet.  Including the whole spectrum of understanding on the issue of women in leadership.

The second thing is that we need to order in worship. Doing things in a way which focuses on love and allowing people to use their gifts. That’s why I really like seeing people come forward and use their gifts in service and in our services. Affirming the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, of allowing men and women to pray and speak and encouraging them not to be disruptive. If there is that disruptive element then like with the passage we read today we need to have church discipline, note its for both men and women… maybe the pendulum has swung too far to the ordered, one commentator said that he thought Paul might think we’d ordered our self to sleep, we do need to have open times for people to use the more spontaneous gifting’s. 

Lastly, while I believe the fight for equality is important and significant, I can’t help but feel the Christian understanding of ministry is mutuality. Working together, using the gifts we’ve been given, being the people, men and women that God has created and recreated us to be.   I’m excited when I see teams working together men and women, intergenerational, multi-cultural like our Alpha team for the furthering of the gospel. In the end the flow of scripture is not about who can or cannot speak but about being coworkers in Christ, to the glory of God.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

this could be fraught, women in leadership and what Paul taught (1 Timothy 2:8-15) in the series Women in Leadership in the New Testament: the silent witnesses and the silencing passages.

 


While I was preparing for this message on the radio on consecutive days were debates about women in leadership. One day it was about women speaking on the marae at Waitangi, bought about because our political parties both have women leaders. I loved the fact that the prime minister as a woman could speak at the porch gateway to the marae because that was the domain of the God of Peace… a name for our God, the one true God in 1 Corinthians 14. Maori were reluctant however to change their Tikanga to allow for women to have equal speaking rights. Then next day was an interview about women being trained and released into leadership in the rural sector. The issue of women in leadership is an important one in our society and within the Church.

This is the second message in the series Women and Leadership in the New Testament: the silent witnesses and the silencing passages which is my contribution to our wider winter sermon series Her story, Her voice women in the bible. In our first talk we explored the silent witnesses to Paul’s acceptance of women in leadership in the early church. But we also need to look at the passages that seem to be, and have been used, as Anti women in leadership.

The passage that we are looking at today “has been used unrelentingly as a proof text to swiftly and decisively squelch the ministry of women in fellowship” (John Zens, 2012).In one book I read for this sermon today it was noted that this had been used this century to defend the firing of a women Hebrew professor from a very conservative Seminary in the states. She could not have a position where she taught and had authority over men. Likewise it has been pointed to as proof that Paul and scripture are anti-women, and so should be dismissed at best as archaic and irrelevant, and at worst as harmful and dangerous.

The passage is also acknowledged as being difficult at many levels “Contextually, culturally, linguistically, grammatically and conceptually’. Big words, big issues. We need to dig deep and wrestle with it. Because in the end it has a lot to say to us that we might not hear if we simply either write it off or quote it to reinforce our own preconceived ideas … Can I say that there are many different interpretations of this passage, I’ve found that choices about words and meaning are often made depending on which view of men and women you hold.  You will understand which side of the argument I am on as we go through this. 

When it comes to the Epistles in the New Testament we need to realise that the key to understanding is that they are occasional. They are written to a specific occasion a specific time and a specific place, to a context. We need to understand it in that context before we can start to apply it. The context of the whole of Paul’s letter to Timothy is that Paul has left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with false teachers and teachings that are disrupting the Church and its witness. It would be great if we had a comprehensive understanding of what those false teaching were, but we only get glimpses from what Paul tells us, its influence however needs to be kept in mind all the time.

Paul starts dealing with this false teaching by addressing the impact that it was having on public worship and prayer life of the Church. This passage is a continuation of Paul’s teaching which started in verse 1 with a call to prayer for all people, because God’s heart was for all people to come to a saving knowledge of the truth through the one God and one mediator between humanity and God Jesus Christ who gave his life as a ransom for all. There is a universality of that prayer, all people, men and women, Christ died for all, men and women. We come to saving knowledge the same way, men and women. But also a very strong call of the uniqueness of the Christian faith, through the one God and mediator.Then Paul had gone on to deal with the demeanour of the people who prayed, both men and women. He told men to lift holy hands and pray without anger or dispute. He adresses women, that when they pray, again affirming their participation in public worship and prayer, they should not adorn themselves with jewelry, braided hair styles and in appropriate clothes their focus should be on their lives and good deeds. In the worship of the goddess Atrimus in Ephesus women would adorn themselves in their jewelry and finery and with new hairstyles as a way of reflecting their status in society and curry favour with their deity, it seems that this was carried over into the church. Paul is saying it is not about your outward appearance but their heart attitude shown in how they treat others, that what mattered in prayer. Sadly this passage has been applied in ways that are oppressive to women, like the dress code at Gloriavale in New Zealand. On the other hand we don’t often hear of men being told their prayers are invalid if they do not stand with raised hands when they pray. The emphasis in this passage is on the heart attitude of the prayer.

Then Paul moves on to say. “ A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” The first thing we should note is that Paul wants women to learn. In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus he had said he wanted the whole body to learn and grow into maturity and fullness to be equipped for every good deed (Ephesians 4). The gospel and New Testament Church was different from its Jewish and some pagan systems in that it saw women learning in religious matters as important. It was important that men and women together knew the scriptures and the gospel and how to apply them in life. The education of women has been at the forefront of the missionary movement in the nineteenth century, and one reason Christianity has had such an impact in many countries. Women’s education is still an important issue in the world today.

The word that the NIV rightly translates ‘quietness’ has been translated in other places as in silence. It has been used to effectively silence women, from speaking and taking part in public worship. The word quietness here is the same as the word “quite life” that Paul had used as the reason why we should pray for people in authority, in 1 Timothy 2:2 so we could live a peaceful and quite life, which were the best conditions for the church to grow into all Holiness and godliness. It’s not about silence it’s about a lack of conflict and trouble, the right environment to learn. Submission here has the idea of not all women being submissive to all men, rather it is the right attitude for learning, like silence in a library,  it’s not to men per se but to the word of God, to the gospel and apostolic teaching. Jewish Rabbi’s disciples needed to have the same attitude when they learned to be quite and also to be in submission to the torah and their teacher. We are going to look at this concept in more depth when we look at 1 Corinthians.

Martha’s sister Mary is the example of what it means to be a disciple and a learner in Luke 10:38-42. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus, a technical term by the way for being a disciple, and engaged in learning. It shows that Jesus was comfortable with Women as disciples and in the public space of the house, which in Jewish and roman society was predominantly the preserve of men. Now it’s likely Paul said this because there were women present who because of the influence of false teachers and were not willing to listen, in fact in 2 Timothy 3:6-7 Paul talks of a group of women who were gullible and under the influence of the false teachers who were always learning but did not come to a knowledge of the truth. They were not willing to accept the apostolic teaching, you can imagine how that would impact public worship.  They would be argumentative and disruptive.

Lets move on… “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man, she must be quite.”

Firstly the flow of scripture in the gospel and New Testament is towards equal involvement of men and women in leadership and the mission of the church.  As we saw last time…The women were the first to hear the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Men and women were together in the upper room at Pentecost and received the infilling of the holy spirit which Jesus said would enable them to be his witnesses. Paul’s own ministry practices elsewhere in scripture show us that Paul was in actual fact comfortable with women in leadership. Of importance here is that in Ephesus, Pricilla and Aquilla, had been teaching and had taught Apollos the truth about the gospel. Paul uses the same title co-workers for them, her, as he does for Timothy and Titus. In light of that how do we understand Paul now saying I do not permit women to teach?

The word do not now permit has been argued over as to whether it is a blanket ban or more along the lines of in this situation, or now I do not… It is in the present tense…  had Paul changed his practice?  It also follows in a line of words where Paul had said I want, I want and I now do not permit, none of these is an imperative they are not a command. That’s important and how you interpret that is at the heart of how this passage is applied.

We then need to consider what Paul is not permitting. There are two things here teach and have authority over a man. The word for authority here is unique in the New Testament cannon, it’s not the usual word for authority. It has negative overtones about authority in its uses in other early  literature. It only becomes more common and takes on a positive vibe after Constantine makes Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in 312 AD. Which may reflect that desire in roman society for order and hierarchy.  The word can mean be dominant or domineering. Paul does not permit a women to teach in such a way that she is trying to get what she wants and dominate men, she needs to be quite, which again is the word not for silent but peaceful, and in order. Women teaching and dominating men would have been looked down upon by roman and Greek society and Jewish society as well and would be detrimental to the spread of the gospel. Just as that dominating attitude towards women is detrimental to the gospel in our day and culture.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul would not allow women to dominate men, because in his letter to the church at Ephesus as Paul had addressed the Roman household code his teaching had been Ephesians 5:12 submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.  There is a mutuality about that, that revolutionizes the Roman household code from an imposition of a strict social order into loving service. Perhaps the best way of looking at this idea of authority is the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 20:25 where he tells his disciples not to be like the gentile rulers who lord it over each other, rather they were to learn to be the servant of all. So is it women per sae that Paul is against or is it the way this group of women in Ephesus were behaving contra to the Christian understanding of servant leadership: Co-workers together? The Christian understanding of leadership is service, and in our Presbyterian Church that is a group activity, co-workers together. We are suspicious of the danger of power being in the hands of a single person or even a single group without checks and balances. Robert k Greenleaf published a book called ‘servant leadership’ in 1977 which started the revolution of looking at leadership in society and business, his ideal of leadership came from Jesus and is a flat leadership structure of people committed together to working for a common goal and the common good. This issue of power and dominance is still with us today…Over the Christmas holidays I read a couple of books on issues to do with power and toxic cultures in church, and the idea of leadership being mastery and dominance was seen as resulting in abusive cultures and in particularly sexual abuse from key leaders towards women.

Then Paul goes back to the genesis story… For Adam was formed first, then eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbirth’. The hierarchical understanding of this passage, is that Paul is asserting the primacy of men, because in the second creation story in genesis men were created first, (in the first creation story it simply says God created man in his image both male and female)…and because eve listened to the serpent that women are easily deceived and not as spiritually smart as men, so relegating them to the domestic sphere of childbirth and caring for the family. Again social context is important. Firstly from 1 Timothy 4:3 we see that some of the false teaching was around abstinence and not being married, in 2 Timothy 1:17-18 Paul talks of two false teachers who had said the resurrection had already come, there is a sense here that the group of women were seeing that married life and childbearing were no longer part of that new resurrection life. The other side to this is that the main religion in Ephesus was the worship of the goddess Artimus, or Diane, Ephesus was world famous and dominated by the temple of Artimus, a large portion of its wealth came from that, (you can see that in Acts 19). In that religion priestesses were dominant, it was a religion where women dominated men and Artimus was also the one that women prayed to for safety in childbirth. The hair styles that are mentioned in verse 8-10 were associated with this worship as well… displays of wealth and sexuality were part of their worship and it was said their prayers were wrapped up in their hair. So Paul is working on two fronts here, not to say that women are inferior to men, but probably to remind that group of women that they were not above men, the creation story is used as a leveler. In fact in the myth about Atrimus and Apollos the two twin god children of zeus, much was made of the fact that Artimus the female was born first and here Paul maybe countering that from the bible. The false teachers were very caught up in myth and genealogies.

 

While there is some debate over the childbirth part, saving her is not the being saved in terms of being put right with God, which is only by faith in Christ, that does not make sense and on a different pastoral level a misunderstanding of this passage can have horrible and damaging impact on childless couples. The wider understanding of the word saved is in play here to mean physical safety. There may have been a fear for women who had been part of the Artimus worship, as most pagans in Ephesus would have been at facing pregnancy without that reliance on pagan prayer… kind of like in modern times facing pregnancy without modern medicine… and one of the main reasons women died in that time and culture was in child birth, but it is God who is with them in that situation.   At the same time Paul is addressing the fact that this normal God given role of the women is not to be abandoned.

In the end Paul’s hope for women is that they may continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. The same thing that Paul wishes for all the church. Faith that invisible relationship with God, made possible for all through Jesus Christ, reflected in love, how we treat those around us and holiness a life that is consistent with the one God whom we worship, very relevant if Paul is dealing with the remnants of Artimus worship for pagans recently converted to Christ. Propriety gives the idea of self-control, which is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

After this passage Paul goes on to talk to Timothy about setting up elders in the Church. He says they are to be the heads of households. Which in Roman times were more usually men, although we have a few example where this is not the case like Lydia’s in Phillipi, and also Chloe’s people in Corinth and even Martha and Mary who invite Jesus round to dinner. This reflected the society of Paul’s day. Today however, our western society and its understanding of the place of women is very different than it was in Paul’s day. How we understand and apply Paul’s teaching has been and is still hotly debated and can and does have an impact on the gospel.

Paul’s focus is on the mission of the church, God wanting all people to come to a saving knowledge of the truth. The gospel has been welcomed in to many places because Christians were and are prepared to teach women. In many places round the world there may be good reason for caution in the speed of which women are welcomed into public leadership, as in Paul’s day, having many women teachers is a society that did not permit women teachers would have been counterproductive, today it may still endanger them and the church. But in the west as Philip Towner finishes his commentary on this passage says “too little too slow could neutralize the church’s impact on society just as effectively.” In the end we are called to be co-workers in the gospel, working together not looking to dominate each other and have our own way.


much of this material comes from two sermons I gave back in 2018 

on verses 8-10  https://howard-carter.blogspot.com/2018/03/a-pleasing-and-attractive-attitude-for.html

 on verse 11- 15 https://howard-carter.blogspot.com/2018/03/this-could-be-fraught-women-in.html 



Tuesday, June 15, 2021

One gift for all ( Acts 2) A pentecost message




A Message which was preached at the combined service of HopeWhangarei at Pentecost. A large part of this message is a reworking of an older sermon... 

here is the link to an audio recording of this message 

 https://anchor.fm/hope-whangarei/episodes/23-5-21-Howard-Carter---One-Gift-For-All-e11d9qt/a-a5lbfi7 


Today we celebrate Pentecost, A Jewish harvest festival but also the time when as the Church we celebrate the coming of the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit on those first believers on what is often called the birthday of the Church. What we want to look at today is the fact that God has given all who believe in Christ a gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell with in us and fill us with the presence of God. You see you and I are God’s spirited people. The very presence of God dwells within us. I love stain glass window art. I really like the dove in this window over here, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, from the gospel narrative where at Jesus baptism it tells us the spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove.  I love the way the light shines through that window in the late afternoon and puts this wonderful kaleidoscope into the body of the church. The spirit of God poured out on us all, on all who believe in Christ.

 Over the period between Easter and Pentecost we’ve been working our way through a series looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church Today. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the ways in which God is present with us to empower us and enable us and equip us as the church to bear witness to Christ through word and deed in the world.  We did that by looking at the passages in the Epistles which have a list of Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each list different and each list telling us something about the purpose and use of the gifts. No list definitive but showing us the breadth of God’s gracious enabling of his people. Not shopping lists or wish lists of things that could make us appear more spiritual but to be humbly used for the benefit of all.  We looked at Romans 12 and saw that all the different Gifts were given so that we could effectively serve God and love one another, many gifts one service, in 1 Corinthians 12 we saw two list of the gifts and saw that while there were many Gifts they were given by the same spirit, they were he way in which God was able to act and speak to and through his people,  Then we saw in the second half of that chapter that there were many gifts but one body, we are all given different gifts and they are to be used together for the common good. In 1 Corinthians 14 we saw that these gifts were to be used in love to build up the church, and given some practical love soaked guidelines for their use in public worship.  In Ephesians four we saw that God had given ministry gifts apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers and pastors so that the church could grow into maturity in Christ, lacking in nothing and being about the kingdom of God. In 1 Peter 4 we were encouraged to use these gifts more and more for the glory of God.

sometimes I think that our understanding of the Holy Spirit and the gifts the Spirit gives is like one of the stain glass windows at St John’s in Rotorua, where I worked. The gifts of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were represented by triangles of different coloured glass in the windows at the top of the church. The sun was supposed to shine through the upper windows and through the glass triangles and down on to the congregation, symbolising that the Gifts the Holy Spirit were for everyone, not just what was happening up the front. The problem as that the sun never shone through on a sufficient angle for that to happen. There was a disconnect between them and the congregation, which I felt was symbolic for a lot of us of a disconnect between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and our own lives. What I want to do today is use Acts 2 as a way of addressing a lot of the issues around that disconnect. I want to do it in a very 21st century way.  If you go on to websites you’ll often see a FAQ page or frequently asked questions page and I want to provide us with that today.

 

Let’s have a quick look at Acts 2 first. It is the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised and the start of the mission of the church as witnesses to Jesus. Basically it is split into three parts. the first details the events that took place as the spirit came upon those first believers gathered together.  It outlines what happened and peoples response. The central part of the narrative is Peter’s sermon where he explains what is happening and preaches about Jesus. The third section of the narrative is the peoples response, about three thousand were saved and then a concluding description of how this new community, God’s Spirited people, lived together being lead and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 

The first frequently asked question is ‘Do all Christians need to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit for every one or just the certain chosen few? Is it essential or is just an optional extra like leather upholstery and racing strips on a car?

While we’ve been addressing that throughout this series, it is good to look at it again. The answer is yes it is for everyone. Look at the flow of things in Acts 2 it starts by says all the believers were gathered together (About 120), all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, men and women, in this case all of them spoke in tongues. When the crowd gathers it is the apostles, Peter and the elven that stand up to speak, that is the gift that they have been given, so they use it. They have been training for this moment with Jesus, the narrative ends with people living in a way that reflects the Holy Spirit’s presence in their midst, in all of them with the love they have for each other.

The other important answer to this question comes from the passage that Peter quotes from the prophet Joel, that he says is being fulfilled that day. That God would put out his spirit on all people, and it is a comprehensive list… men and women, regardless of socio-economic status ‘on your men servants and women servants as well, all would speak God’s word or prophesy… and regardless of age… young would see visions and old would dream dreams, and you can choose for yourself which category you are in. 

 WE are all to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. As Paul says ‘ he anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ 2 Corinthians 1:22

The second FAQ is ‘was it just for the people then, just to get the church kick started you know and it’s not for us today. I mean we have the New Testament?’… when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit the church is split along those lines, those who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for then and there but they’ve stopped now and those who believe that it is for all people at all times.

Focusing on what we have read to us today, Peter finishes his sermon by saying that those who repent and believe in Jesus will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That it is a promise for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ Some have seen this as saying it’s for the first couple of generations of Christians, which is a literal interpretation, but it is more likely a way of talking about it being for all generations to come. For all who God shall call.

People who talk of the gifts not being for today often point to the second half of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul talks of tongues ceasing and prophecy ending… when the perfect comes. They see that as meaning the New Testament scriptures. It is hard to write back into Paul in one of the earliest letters which is included in the New Testament canon that he would see a time when we had such a collection.  He was writing to a church that had people who believed that the kingdom of God had come in its entirety and they were like heavenly spiritual beings and he has to remind them that this is not the case; they are to look forward to a greater fulfilment when Christ returns.

The fullness of the Holy Spirit, its presence and the gifts are for us today.

Another FAQ is … when you talk about the Holy Spirit we are bit worried you mean all the weird and wonderful stuff that seems to go along with it at ‘those churches’. do we have to become like them?

In Acts 2 there are very real manifestations that go along with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The wind, the tongues of fire everyone speaking in languages of all the nations gathered on that day. This was an important event an epoch changing event. The wind and the fire are symbols of the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament, the speaking in a language that all could understand was   a sign that this was God pouring out his spirit so that the people of God could and would witness to all the nations of the world, this was the revolution of God grace for all, so it was appropriate. We do tend to forget that the focus of the narrative is on what happened to God’s people and we see they had boldness to preach about Jesus. The majority of this passage is about peter explaining the scriptures and pointing people to Christ. The other thing is that it ends with a summary of the life of God’s Spirited people in Jerusalem.  The signs of the presence and moving of God’s holy Spirit are not really all the weird and wonderful stuff, but people repenting and turning to God, a hunger for God’s word, an increase in a dedication to worship and prayer, unity and love; shown in generosity and hospitality, a genuine and practical concern for the poor, a renewed passion for people to come to know Christ, and yes that God does move in signs and wonders.

I think we’ve just gotten to a point where we are not used to God being God in our midst… in one edition of the voice of martyrs magazine, one Syrian pastor who has stayed in Syria during the war there, talks of the church being full, and many Muslims coming to faith 80-90% of them because they have had a vision or a dream… one man asked to become a Christian after a dream where he was drowning in a river and a man came along and hauled him out, he wanted to become a Christian because he just knew it was Jesus… Closer to home.. My Mum, who was about seventy at the time,  shared a vision she had in church one day, she was in vast fields of the most beautiful wild flowers, and she saw a man in the middle of them, that she just knew was Jesus, and he looked at her and said, ‘I know all these by name’. Affirmation that we are all known. But can I say that the most common thing I experience when I pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit is an overwhelming sense of God’s peace and love, which I think is the most amazing and awesome thing… God presences himself with his people as he has promised. Christ is with us to the end of the age as he said he would be.

Ok let’s move on our next FAQ is ‘Is being filled with the Holy Spirit a one off experience that you need to be prayed for to receive or is it an ongoing day to day relationship?”  

In Acts chapter 2 it is a new experience a new encounter with God. We don’t know what the experience of the three thousand who came to faith that day. There are others like that in Acts, when the gentiles receive the spirit in acts 10, and throughout history as well times when God has met people and poured out his Holy Spirit in a new and fresh way, the Pentecostal movement, look back to the Azuza street revival in 1906 as the place where the renewal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit happened for them. You could look at the welsh revival… there have been times of great revival and outpouring of the spirit in our own Presbyterian Church as well. In fact one church historian talks of the Presbyterian Church being born in the fires of revival. However We receive the Holy Spirit when we become followers of Jesus Christ. It is what brings transformation God comes and dwells within us. Paul talks of walking with the Holy Spirit, an ongoing day to day encounter with God through the Holy Spirit as the way in which the Christ-like fruit of the Holy Spirit are produced in us. Even when he says ‘be filled with the Holy Spirit, in the Greek it is in a tense which means be filled and keep on being filled by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it’s best to leave the last word on that to Jesus. We are so used to his words on Prayer ‘ask and it will be given, knock and it will be opened, seek and you will find’ that we forget that it finishes in Luke’s gospel by saying ’How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’. When we pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit it is that we want them to know that presence more and more and have their lives filled more and more by God’s presence. When that happens in our own prayer life or in a meeting or gathering, it is God’s good grace to give it to us. In fact when we pray for that it is not the manifestations that happen that are the important thing But that we can trust God keeps his promise.

So I think the answer is yes, it can be an experience and it is an on going relationship, ask and you will receive. Keep on asking and receiving…

Lastly ‘How may I be filled with the Holy Spirit?’

The answer is that if you love Jesus Christ then Ask and you will receive. AS we’ve looked at the scriptures the amazing thing about the New Testament is that because of what Christ has done for us , God wants to live in us, God wants to fill us with his presence by the Holy Spirit, it’s simply a matter of asking him and believing that he will do what he has promised.  God will give us a fresh touch of his love, empower us to witness for him, fill us so much with his presence and reveal his word to us that it will flow out of us. WE will be so filled with God’s love and presence and joy that our vision of what is and what should be will be shaped by that, our dreams filled and directed by Christ. Our actions and reactions become more and more Christ-like, more and more Spirit enabled and gifted, and Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God will be our vision.


When I was preparing for this message I came across a white dove in the guttering of the Church. Sitting right above the stain glass window there. They fly round the street here all the time. Maybe we are happy with the Spirit out there, but God wants to pour out his spirit more and more on his people on us so we will know his presence and  to enable us to live and witness to him in the world he loves.

 I’m handing back to Lorne now and we are going to respond to what we’ve heard by bringing our tithes and offering to God, and praying for the world. Then I am going to lead us in a prayer for ll off us. That we may be filled afresh with god’s Holy Spirit, to enable us to live as God’s spirited people in this world and to be about Christ’s mission in the world he loves. All of us.