Monthly Archives: December 2014
Reading – John 1:1-14
John 1:11-14 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Whose son are you? Who do you belong to? To whom do you belong? Whose child are you?
In the movies people are often labelled as son of a something or other! You can use your imagination – especially if you are a cowboy movie fan.
We’re a funny old community – those of us who have made New Zealand as our home. Very strange really.
It’s a bicultural nation. Made up of people of the land, and people of the treaty.
It’s fast becoming one of the most multi-cultural places to live, especially in this city.
So you often have to write down your ethnicity, when you fill in various forms. And that too makes no sense, because of the fact that you may be recognised as an ethnic European who was born in Africa, for example. And a permanent resident here.
John’s gospel today divides the world into two different groups. Listen to verse 11 and 12:John 1:11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
- His own – who did not receive him. Jesus was Hebrew, Semitic, born into a Jewish family.
- Those who received and believed – who become children of God.
This new family identity does not depend on ethnicity or language, or even citizenship or permanent residence.
Verse 13 continues: John 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
A Spiritual birth. A spiritual identity. That’s the key.
In Chapter 3 John records the words of Jesus as follows: John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
A better translation is this from the NRSV: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
“Above” – refers to God of course – we are to be His children.
Who are you then? Who do you belong to? Which of these two categories? Those who receive Him or those who don’t?
If you haven’t figured that out – this is a good time to do so!
Christmas carols tell the story well.
O little town of Bethlehem – a favourite by Phillips Brooks – has these lines:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
And then there’s this great carol by Charles Wesley:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Whose child are you? This last verse refers both to resurrection life and new birth!
When you’ve figured that out – then your life’s purpose is redefined – things can never be the same again.
What wonderful news this Christmas! What a wonderful faith!
Readings: Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16; Matthew 2:4-6 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)
Video: Part 2 of “Te Rongopai – 200 years of the Gospel in New Zealand, 1814- 2014” with Dr Stuart Lange
Available here: http://nzchristiannetwork.org.nz/te-rongopai-dvd/
So what is so attractive about Jesus?
- For New Zealand
- For Maori
- For us today
As the 200th year of the gospel in NZ approaches, what can we say about the heart of the message?
Samuel Marsden writes in his journal: After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down at the signal given by the motion of Korokoro’s switch which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans, it being Christmas Day, I preached from the Second Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and tenth verse: “Behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”
And then he says this: In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand; and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.
What made this message so attractive for the Maori who were part of the first generation who heard it?
Perhaps the answer is muddled – yes there were benefits of having these settlers and their missionary message – a written language, education and skills development, and tools and guns.
The truth is that many people come to Christ seeking other things while at the same time seeking Him! Look at these examples:
- The so called “Rice Christians” are a good example – people who come to faith while being helped in poverty or other practical needs.
- Young people who go to church to meet the girls or boys (marriages ensue – they did in the past anyway and still do).
- Immigrants come to make friends. And to learn English!
- People are served in Mission (for example mainly music and Messy Church families) who may come along at first because of their children and a programme – and God willing, they may come to believe.
- And we are not exempt. We sometimes focus on what we need or can get. Sometimes our prayer lists are like shopping lists!
We go straight into prayers of supplication – praying for God to meet needs, heal people, and bless our programmes and services.
The acronym about prayer that has been around a long time is A C T S
- Adoration 2. Confession 3. Thanksgiving 4. Supplication Asking for needs to be met and programmes to be blessed, (supplication) or praying for others, is at the end. Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving are sometimes conspicuously absent!
- And people come to church because they’re lonely – and they find family and community.
AN ATTRACTIVE COMMUNITY
I think it was the change in COMMUNITY that made the message so attractive when the gospel was first preached in New Zealand. Just as it does today.
And at the heart of that community is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep! The Good Shepherd who forgives those who kill him because “they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34 – And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.)
This Jesus the shepherd King is a very attractive person.
What, then, was the impact of Christianity on life in NZ? How did things change?
- It ended the ceremonial eating of enemies – because the Gospel values the life of all people – as does the Old Testament. We are all created in the image of God.
- It presented forgiveness – which ended the revenge killing or UTU that they saw as a form of justice. The story we heard today about the man whose daughter was killed and he sought forgiveness rather than revenge is a powerful case in point. The results of that one incident were remarkable.
- It offered a relationship with Jesus, the good shepherd, who lays down his life for His sheep, and who ultimately is also the judge of all. It’s a different kind of accountability.
- God ultimately would be their shepherd king. It’s a different kind of kingship.
We’re strong on the shepherd today – and sometimes weak in our understanding of Christ as King or Ruler.
Ezekiel 34 today speaks of a coming Messiah who will rule. He is the shepherd King. The New Testament passage today – when the wise men as Herod where to find Jesus – this is what they say.
Mat 2:4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Mat 2:5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
Mat 2:6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
We need the shepherding part – we get that – but we also need to do things right! We need justice – fairness – discipline and accountability.
Over the past weeks we have looked at the mess of the Old Testament and the kings that looked after God’s people, under Saul, David and Solomon – and then those various kings of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.
Douglas Stuart, an OT specialist who writes a commentary on Ezekiel, has this to say:
Throughout the Israelites are referred to as God’s flock, and the special focus of the allegory is on the kingship (here “shepherds”) in Israel. The history of the monarchy was not a proud one. Of forty-three kings from 1051 B.C. to 586 B.C., only David, Hezekiah, and Josiah were solidly, consistently loyal to God in their leadership of the nation. Eight or nine of the other forty did some good, while the majority were rascals.
In order for the new age to come, one absolutely necessary development had to be the abolition of the monarchy as it had functioned historically and the establishment of a new kingship that would truly carry out the Lord’s wishes.
This passage, then, is antimonarchical—not in the sense of being against kingship per se, but in the sense of being a rejection of the kingship that Israel had known for so much of its history. A new age was coming. The old monarchy had to go. A new Davidic kingship would characterize the restoration.
In verses Ezekiel 34:1-2 it is evident that the problem with kings in the past is that they were selfish. In the allegory of the passage, they “fed themselves” as opposed to the flocks (the people of God). Living off the people’s productivity and wealth (Eze 34:3), they did not seek to help the nation, but rather ruled as despots for their own advantage (Eze 34:4).
Well that was quite a long quote! In short – It’s not surprizing that the prophet Ezekiel’s words condemn the leaders of the nations of Israel and Judah. They were in it for themselves often.
Christians today are also accountable when they don’t live out the Gospel message.
And let’s face it. Jesus – the shepherd king – descendant of David – models a self-sacrificing kingship. A servant leadership.
We need to model our lives on his humility (see Philippians 2) and his servant-hood (Mark 10:45).
We are not part of a physical Israel today.
But the church is the NEW ISRAEL – not with a promised land but a Kingdom that we are to usher in through our lives, message, and example, living under the shepherd-king Jesus.
And as leaders we too are accountable – we need to do what is right! Otherwise we are no better than those abusive shepherds of Ezekiel 34.
Our leaders are to be the right kind of shepherds of God’s people today. (One can understand the rage of people against abuse by religious leaders who carry a shepherd’s crook as a symbol of their role of protection.)
It’s important to remember that elders in our church tradition also have a shepherding role as co-shepherds with me as the pastor.
I know that people refer to me as a teaching elder here. It’s quite a dated model really. The biblical model in Ephesians 4 is that of pastor/teacher. And if you were here at my induction, you would know that I was inducted into a pastoral charge. It’s a challenging role. I am pastor first. The feeding and care of the flock is my responsibility, with others to share the load.
As an aside – sheep can sometimes be quite difficult.
ACC figures early this year give an indication of claims by people who work with animals in New Zealand.
Guess where most injuries to farmers come from? Cattle first. Sheep second!
BY THE NUMBERS:
❏ Cattle: 2262
❏ Sheep: 1612
❏ Deer: 86
❏ Horses: 1285
❏ Other: 721
❏ Animal Carcasses: 52
So when we meet later today to nominate new elders – let’s remember the calling to be like the shepherd king Jesus. We are his co-shepherds.
Not only should the gospel be good news to us – but we need to be good news to others as we care for them. As we seek to protect them too. And most importantly as we help them to allow the Word of God to be fruitful in the lives of those we care for.
Paul’s most challenging line to elders in the New Testament is when he leaves the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
Act 20:25 And now, behold, I know that you all will see my face no more, among whom I went proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Act 20:26 Therefore I testify to you on this day that I am pure from the blood of all.
Act 20:27 For I did not keep back from declaring to you all the counsel of God.
Act 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.
Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Act 20:30 Also men shall arise from your own selves, speaking perverse things in order to draw disciples away after them. (MKJV)
The NIV translates verse 28 as follows:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
As we move closer towards the celebration of the arrival of the Gospel in New Zealand 200 years ago on Christmas Day 1814, let’s give thanks for those missionaries who taught, nurtured and shepherded those early converts to Christianity.
We thank God that the story of the Good Shepherd impacted their lives and brought about communities of harmony and restoration, of forgiveness and mercy. We also give thanks to those many Maori in the early years who shared the good news throughout this country.
May our lives continue to reflect the love of Christ, the ruler and shepherd of His people.