Monday, 17 November 2014

Life of Peter: Called to learn

Exeter Temple Bible Message notes
Sunday 16th November 2014
Bible Readings:     Mark 8 27- 9:4
Following Jesus was a learning process for Peter involving many changes in his outlook and in his attitudes.   
1.  Understanding Jesus’ identity                                                                          
During a wave of popular opinion Jesus dared to ask some questions to test what people and his disciples had really understood about his true identity.
The questions were asked at Caesarea Philippi, an entirely Gentile town situated along the northernmost border of Israel. Three temples stood in the region; to the Syrian god Baal, the Greek god Pan and the Roman godhead Caesar.  Jesus wanted to know if the people and the disciples understand what separated him from those gods and how they understood him in the light of their own Jewish tradition.
The answers “Who do people say that I am?” reflected differing opinions which reflected a good opinion of him. However they were incorrect.
"They had good thoughts of Him, but not right ones; a high opinion of Him, but not high enough."  (Thomas Scott)
The most crucial thing that Peter and all the other disciples needed to do was develop their understanding of who Jesus really was so the second question, “Who do you say that I am” was a much more important question.
 “What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”  A.W. Tozer
What we think Jesus determines how we value him and how we treat him.
Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!
 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9  
Our salvation hangs on the right confession about our Lord Jesus Christ. To confess that Jesus is Lord is to acknowledge that He is the Master, the Boss and the CEO of our lives. Is that your view of Christ?
Jesus response “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven.”  Revelation from God is absolutely essential to recognize and to truly confess Christ.
“God who made the light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:6
Simon hadn’t come to this conclusion about Jesus all by himself.  It was a moment of revelation.  
We need to remember this when we feel that we have to work everything out about Jesus. We never will because our personality, our life experience will put our own spin on him. 
If we really want to know who Jesus really is then we need to ask God to show us by his Spirit.  Of course when you know what Jesus is really like you will know what God is really like too.
Asking the Lord to reveal truth to us does not mean we remain passive.
Just as you can’t expect to see a painting if you won’t open your eyes, you can’t understand the things of God if you won’t open your mind and your heart. 
The way that the Father primarily reveals truth to us is through the Bible.  He uses the Word as an instrument and in order to benefit from it we need to pick it up and use it.  But we will only understand what we are reading or hearing from it if we ask the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding and make it live for us. 
This is equally true when we gather in for worship and fellowship, whether that’s here on Sundays or perhaps at Home league, during devotions at a music rehearsal, in home group, wherever…
A preacher has responsibility to make what they say as understandable as possible but in the church everyone has the responsibility to open themselves to the Holy Spirit for him to reveal specifically what he wants them to know. 
Understanding who Jesus really is requires the revelation of God but also our desire to see, to know to find.  The Bible promises
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)
2. To cope when God’s plans are different to ours.
In Mark 8:31 Jesus began to teach on the nature of the Messiah as the suffering servant, explaining that this means he, Jesus will suffer and die.  Peter had developed in his understanding of the identity of Jesus but he had to learn how to cope when God’s plans were different to his own.
In Matthew 16:21 Peter’s reaction is immediate, “Never Lord. This will never happen to you.”
Now instead of blessing Peter for receiving revelation from God Jesus tells him that he is being used by Satan and doesn’t have the mind of God at all. 
The Bible shows us that we need to expect that God’s plans can be different from our plans.
 “His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Isaiah 55: 8-9  
“There is a way that seems right to man, but the end of it is destruction.” Proverbs 14:12
 “The Lord’s works are mighty and that senseless man has no understanding of them.” Psalm 92:5-6
Jesus word to them centred around one word, MUST. It is not a proposal for them to discuss but a plan for them to accept.  
Learn to expect that God’s plan will often be different than your plan.
When we are faced with a “Matthew 16:21” situation, where we don’t understand the mind of God it is important that we don’t give a verse 22 response. “Never Lord, this won’t happen!”
When Jesus plan differed from Peter’s plan, then Peter develops a spirit of rebellion against the person he has just declared to be the Christ? Peter actually took Jesus to one side and told him off. The word took in the Greek is a verb that carries the implication of having a right to do something. Peter took Jesus to the side and told him off as if he had every right to do so.  When God’s plan is different than ours it t is best to ask questions, not make statements.
Things may have turned out differently for Peter if he had asked for instruction rather than jumping the gun and rebuking the Messiah.   Peter thought that his words declaring that he would not let Jesus be harmed to be the greatest display of love to him that he could express but trusting him would have been better.  Peter’s version of love would have stopped salvations plan.
3. To delight in the presence of Jesus
In the light of his hard teaching on the cost of discipleship Jesus knew that his leading disciples need a fresh experience of God.
On the mountain Peter, James and John saw something of how Jesus would look when he went back to heaven and when he comes again.  Peter and the others are awestruck and terrified.  God spoke through this experience and confirmed what Peter had confessed earlier, that Jesus was the Son of God.
Peter delights at being in the presence of Jesus even when he doesn’t fully understand.
The usual message given on the passage is to make people aware that mountain –top experiences don’t last and we shouldn’t try to re-live them. But sometimes our real problem is that we won’t climb the mountain with Jesus because it takes effort and it looks dangerous and we are fearful of the unknown.
Individual Christians will find different things that drawn them to Jesus, e.g some the tenderness of Jesus, others his power and authority. The remarkable thing is that the homely Jesus at tea with Zacchaeus house is the same Jesus who tramples the grapes of wrath.  Sometimes we need to let go of a cosy image of a gentle Jesus and sometimes we need to let go of an image of a Jesus who we think knows nothing of our situation because he lives in the glory in heaven.  We need to let Jesus take us where he wants to take us so that we can really see and understand who he is, that he needs all our attention and that the extent of his love, power and glory is much, much more than we think it is.    
We need to invite Jesus into our lives but also dare to walk into his life and let him take us with him.  Jesus might want to take us up some mountains and it’s no use saying, I prefer the beach.
God Bless

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Life of Peter: Called to Follow

Exeter Temple Message notes 9th November 2014
Bible Readings:  Mark 1:14-20   John 1 35-42

Preachers can sometime give the impression that becoming a disciple is something we should do out of a duty of gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us despite the fact that living with him is a bit boring and takes the fun out of life.  However the first disciples were captivated by Jesus and Simon later called Peter is no exception.  He followed Jesus for a number of reasons.

a) Relationship rather than religion. 

Religion can be about bricks and mortar, budgets and job descriptions - programs and denominations, rules and boundaries.  When Jesus came to Simon Peter He did not ask him to accept a concept or adopt an ideology, a philosophy or an institution.  He just kept on talking about Himself. “Follow Me,” “Come to me, come with me, come after me,”
b) Refreshing attractiveness of Jesus                

There will always be people in our lives who will ask us to go with them, follow their lead or make a claim upon our allegiance.  However their asking and our going are not automatic. There must be something about them that strikes a chord with us, which attracts us to them.                    
Surely Jesus must have had a refreshing attractiveness about Him.  Sometimes the image that is presented of Him is of someone nice, inoffensive and deadly serious.  We forget that in three years ministry He was accused of going to too many parties, changed water into wine, called the Pharisees and Sadducees names, told jokes, said that Capernaum was worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, cursed fig trees and behaved in a disorderly manner in the Temple.   

 “Jesus mesmerized them, captivated them, intoxicated them, made them laugh, made them hang awestruck upon his every word, made them feel a million dollars. Absolutely nothing would be allowed to stop them going with this man who was the first real man they had ever met, a man full of God.”   Richard Giles

c) Reliability of his teaching.                                                                                 
When someone offers us something - we are not always sure of either the validity of their offer or their ability to deliver.
“Was Jesus reliable?
In Mark’s gospel the way the story is presented makes it look like Jesus just happened to be passing by, spotted two likely candidates for His mission and by this chance encounter asked them to join up. But actually when we piece together the other narratives about the calling of the first disciples it happened a bit differently.
From what we read in John 1.35-42, this wasn’t the first time Simon Peter and his brother Andrew met Jesus. Andrew had evidently been following John the Baptist and was impressed when John said of Jesus, "Look the Lamb of God!" (v. 36) He had already spent a day with Him and he was keen to share this great discovery with Simon Peter.  A meeting was arranged.
After John was put in prison, Jesus moved from Nazareth went to live in Capernaum and started preaching.  Simon and Andrew lived in Capernaum and it is highly likely that they heard Jesus preach. In other words Andrew and Simon had time to make an assessment of Jesus before this definite decision to leave their jobs and become disciples.
Simon was not as impulsive as we sometimes make him out to be. We cannot accuse him of an emotional whim in saying yes to Him. 
What really impressed the first disciples and the crowds was that Jesus spoke with an authority, a natural authority flowing from total integrity, the mark of someone who doesn’t just know about God but who knows Him. 

d) The reality of a supernatural God                                                                

When they were near Jesus, they sensed God was near. When Jesus spoke it was as if God was speaking. When Jesus came upon a need He didn’t sympathise He called upon God to meet the need and the need was met, often in miraculous ways.  When Jesus faced evil He faced it with the confidence of God and conquered it. 
f there is nothing supernatural happening in our midst we can call ourselves a club, a society, a discussion group or a charitable organisation but we cannot call ourselves a church.   
Being around Jesus means that we are put in touch with the reality of a supernatural God.  What is happening among us, what positive changes are taking place in some of us and in our circumstances and lives that we cannot account for apart from God Himself being at work?  If they are not happening is that because we have pushed Jesus to the margins rather than him being our focus?

e) Room for ordinary, unqualified people

Having come to the conclusion that Jesus had all the qualities needed to fulfil all Peter’s dreams about the coming of a new kind of faith and his hopes about the coming of the Messiah,  Simon then has to ask, “Why would such a man be interested in having someone like me as His disciple”. 

Simon was an ordinary person. He was not trained in the Jewish religion, as the Scribes or Levites or Priests. He was not a Rabbi, a Pharisees or a Sadducees. He was a fisherman. That didn’t mean he was stupid or gullible but in calling Simon it is as if Jesus wanted to make a statement that anyone could be used by Him for His purpose. Jesus wasn't looking for the "cream of the crop." He was looking for ordinary people.

"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble."  
1 Corinthians 1:26

What have we done to the message of Jesus Christ that He has ceased to be good news for many people? 
Maybe because instead of magnifying him we have reduced him, thinking we are making him more palatable and less demanding. 

It is time to recognise not only who Jesus was in his own day, despite the failure of his contemporaries recognize him but also who he is and will be in our own. “He came to what was his own wrote one of his greatest early followers and his own people did not accept him. That puzzle still continues. Perhaps indeed it has been the same in our own day. Perhaps even his own people this time not the Jewish people of the Western world have not been ready to recognize Jesus himself. We want a religious leader not a king! We want someone to save our souls not rule our world! Or if we want a king someone to take charge of our world what we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace just as Jesus contemporaries did. But if Christians don’t get Jesus right what chance is there that other people will bother with him?”

“We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience and Easter itself to a happy escapist ending after a sad dark tale. Piety, conscience and ultimate happiness are important but not nearly as important as Jesus.”

(Simply Jesus NT Wright)

 We have reduced the spell-binding mystery of union with God and each other through the irresistible seduction of the bride of Christ, to a cheery, Sunday morning therapy session where the main question put to newcomers is: “Did you like it?” as if it were a meal at a restaurant or a newly released movie.”  (Geoff Ryan)