13 August 2020
Courses and Events
THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
- PART 2.
Leviticus 19:18 reads, “
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”
It is easy to see why the expert in the law wanted to debate this text. At the very least it seems to imply an obligation only to fellow Israelites, and even there, they may be further points of limitation to be argued.
In response Jesus tells a parable which, from the outset was radical, in the figures of the priest and the Levite he presents his hearers with the very religious professionals from whom neighbour love would be expected. He places them in the setting of the dangerous road through the harsh environment between Jericho and Jerusalem. This is a context of personal peril from bands of robbers who hid in the Judean hills. Jesus thus creates a situation where the interpretation of neighbour love is in question – is simply doing nothing and minding one’s own business a failure to love? There may have been all sorts of questions in the mind of the expert in the law with his desire to fine-tune obligation to the law. The obvious inference is that the priest and Levite had ritual duties that required them to be ritually clean. Did not their choice to pass by reflect a higher obligation towards God? Then there is the question of what manner of man the victim was. What could, strictly, be said to be the obligation of an observant follower of the law in this sort of situation? There is plenty of room for self-justifying debate.
Then, to be really incendiary, Jesus introduces a Samaritan into the situation! The natural thing would have been to make the victim a Samaritan to clarify how far the obligation of neighbour love extended. This is precisely where the exclusiveness, purity and superiority of Judaism would have been asserted and defended. But Jesus doesn’t cast the Samaritan in this obvious role, but rather as the one who takes action on this issue of neighbour love. He is not constrained by rabbinic case law, he simply follows the dictates of compassion, even at considerable risk and cost to himself.
By this switching of the obvious roles, Jesus changes the narrative from “who should I consider as my neighbour?” to “who behaves like a neighbour?” This leaves no wriggle-room for legalistic self-justification. Then Jesus, as a consummate rabbi, casts the question back to the expert in the law, “Which do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” In the face of this illustration of simple compassion, he is left with no escape route. He has to say, even though it was no doubt through gritted teeth, “The one who had mercy on him”. As the final hit, Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” It is a parable which, two millennia later, has lost none of its discomforting power!
By making a Samaritan the hero of the story, Jesus pricked the bubble of Jewish prejudice and their sense of superiority. Sure, Samaritans had many off-beam beliefs, and their lineage was a mixture of Jewish and Assyrian, but that is not the point in this instance. Compassion has no racial or doctrinal limits. Jesus asserts a radical ethic that the obligation to neighbourly behaviour extends to everyone and goes beyond just choosing not to do harm, but to active service and compassion.
I am sure a lot of those who heard this story left angry with Jesus. The way Jesus asked them to identify with the heart attitude and actions of a Samaritan would have stuck in their throats and rubbed them up the wrong way. That is precisely the point! Jesus wanted to discomfort them and to challenge them to extend their sense of compassionate obligation beyond their own race and nation, and to do so, not just in theory, but in practical and costly action.
Did the expert in the law leave resentful and entrenched in his prejudice and his self-righteousness, or was he humble enough to learn? The fact that this parable has been preserved means that at least some of Jesus’ followers were open to taking its lessons on board. More to the point, are you and I humble enough to truly hear it and to recognise where we fail to be a neighbour and where we choose to ignore individuals and leave them to their plight?
The man lying in the road is a victim and powerless. He is unable to be instrumental in his own rehabilitation. Victims can easily be ignored precisely because they are unable to press their claim. Also the fact that choosing to truly see them generally involves time, effort and cost, makes it easier for us to look the other way and to find justifications for our inaction. Jesus challenges us to get beyond our comfortable ways of limiting obligation and to recognise the heart and intention of God. He wants us to be asking not, “How little can I do?” but “How much can I do?”
Rob Taylor, 12/08/2020
THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
- PART 1.
What does this parable have to teach us? Parables always have a “sting in the tail”, how does this one hit home for us, challenging our assumptions and discomforting us? The place we are invited to start is with the “expert in the law”. Who was this man and what was the orientation of his heart? How was he positioning himself in relation to Jesus? Was he open to learn or was he wanting to publicly exhibit his superior learning, his better grasp of truth and the orthodoxy of his religious constructs?
Clearly he came to engage in rabbinical debate, as was the custom of the time. He engages Jesus with a question, which was how such debates were conducted, so this doesn’t necessarily show that he was open to learn. He may simply have wanted to cross intellectual swords with Jesus and posed his question to invite him into the fray. He was recognisably an “expert in the law”, which means people saw him in those terms and he saw himself as a man of expertise and religious status. This would, almost certainly, have given him a lot of confidence regarding his understanding of Judaism and, particularly all the Talmudic precedents, interpretations and complexities.
He begins with a big and defining question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In itself it is a good question, probably the most important question we human beings can ask in order to rightly position ourselves with God. In equally good rabbinical style, Jesus answers the question with one of his own, thereby inviting this expert to share what he knows.
The answer the expert in the law gives is interesting. He doesn’t get side-tracked into secondary into secondary issues of belief and practice, but gives the summary, taken from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that represents good rabbinical doctrine. For the observant Jew, however, the law was all about how to live, rather than simply theoretical understanding. So that is where Jesus, very legitimately, then takes the discussion: “Good, go and do that and you will live.” Doing it is, of course, the crux of the matter.
To begin with the expert in the law is to be invited to recognise something of ourselves in him. He was a “well versed” believer with a whole system of understanding of his faith by which he was able to order his life and shape his practice. He had very well developed “lenses” by which he interpreted his religious beliefs and understood God and his ways. Yet here, could he but see it< was the Messiah, indeed God the Son, standing before him! If ever there was a time and place to be humble and very teachable, this was it. It comes down to the crucial questions of sight: What did he see? What did he think he saw? What did he think he knew? Was he aware in any way of how much he didn’t see and didn’t know? And the stinging one for us: How much are we like him?
The problem with religious expertise is that it makes us think we can see a lot, yet the very fact that we are dealing with God and his ways should alert us to how little we see. His very expertise may have made this man blind to the One who is the very source of life and truth standing right in front of him! In how many ways are you and I like this man in the way we treat our grasp of truth and the weight we place on our own assumptions?
The correct statement of the priorities of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself” is so huge that it should utterly humble and overwhelm us, showing us our shortcomings and our need of salvation. The only way a person can be comfortable with these awesome commands is to find ways to reduce them and limit their extent. This is what the expert in the law was seeking to do. It is all too easily what we seek to do as well when we read passages like those in the Sermon on the Mount and find it hard to let them simply mean what they say. We instinctively seek to buffer ourselves against their challenge to our privileged lifestyle, our materialism, our complacency, our aversion to suffering for the gospel, our pursuit of comfort and safety, our lack of deep compassion and the absence of fervour for God in our hearts. It is easier to ignore or reinterpret Jesus words in these hard passages.
The expert in the law wants to limit the extent of his obligation to love his neighbour and to reduce this fundamental command to fine points of rabbinical opinion and debate. Instead of hearing its call to humility, he wants to justify himself. That is telling. When I find myself impelled by the urge to justify myself, I need to beware! It is such an instinctive reaction. It turns us towards ourselves and, in the process, closes the door to spiritual transformation. To justify myself is, effectively, to maintain that I am fine as I am. One of the beatitudes is translated “How blessed are those who know their need of God.” I want to be in that company!
Rob Taylor, 11/08/2020
The Journey of Hope - Thirteen
1 Peter 1:3-9
The opening chapter of 1 Peter is one of my favourite portions of Scripture. In it Peter expresses an exuberant overflow of praise in response to the glorious inheritance that God has prepared for all who place their faith in Christ. He rejoices in all that we have gained access to by the new birth of the Spirit. In the light of these huge affirmations, I find myself wondering how limited my grasp is of the fullness of Christ’s salvation. Certainly, when I first responded to the gospel I had very little insight into this. We each begin in much the same way as a new-born baby enters life. Yet as I think back on my own first (admittedly dramatic) response to Jesus as Saviour, I did immediately know that something huge and supernaturally initiated was happening within me, and it didn’t take long for the implications of that to begin to change and reshape my life in all sorts of ways. Now, over 40 years on, I am still discovering more of the fullness of what the Lord has initiated within me.
New birth brings us into the realm of all that is eternal and glorious. It brings us, mysteriously, into the completion and fulfilment of all things. It brings us to the centre and essence of the heart of God. All of this is what is implied in the Apostle Peter’s phrase, “a living hope”. It is not a hope that somehow exists within your or my consciousness. It is a hope that is completely located in the place of its fulfilment, and that is what makes it a “living hope” – a hope that is already full of life. New birth puts us in the place where the huge hope of salvation in Christ is fully realized – it locates us there!
By this living hope we walk amidst the things that are eternal, that are unchanging and that are completely secure in the heavenlies. We discover that this is now our home and our glorious inheritance. There is a discovery for each of us that this is now who I am and this is the proper focus of my life. Knowing this, knowing who we are, knowing all that is securely ours in Christ, shields our hearts, anchors our emotions and stills our anxieties. This hope that is undergirded by faith locates our very being in the ultimate fulfilment of the great epic of redemption that God has accomplished through Christ. We live bathed in the light of glory. That is what Peter tells us here – can we really take it to heart? Can we know it as our daily reality? Can it be like a constantly bubbling brook of joy within us that no external threats or contingencies can quench?
Peter is, in his way, picking up the theme of hope in what is unseen that has been spoken of in the Hebrews texts we have looked at. He sharpens it by alerting us to the fact that something real and radical happened in our lives through this new birth into a living hope. Though Jesus is unseen, this living connection enables us to know him and to love him more and more. What is important is that we grasp that the experience of faith means that our hope is not ephemeral or content less. It is already the experience of “inexpressible and glorious joy”. Hope contains within itself the fulfilment of what is hoped for. Hope brings us into the presence of these vast and glorious realities of eternity and into the substance of the inheritance that is kept in heaven for us and that is of infinitely greater worth than gold. Hope gets its content from what is already happening as you and I are receiving the end result of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
Rob Taylor, 03/08/2020
The Journey of Hope - Twelve
In my life there is so much that I hope for, but which is totally beyond my circle of influence or control. I imagine that is true for all of us. Many of these are related to the immediate concerns and uncertainties of life in this world, but hope ranges far beyond that into the greatest questions of life: All of eternity and our destiny within it, a longing for the richness of existence in the new heavens and new earth, the restoration and enrichment of all relationships, the experience of unclouded, loving closeness to God. All of these are the ultimate things we long for, yet which are entirely out of our hands. They are not incidental things; our whole future is bound up in them.
From this perspective we see how crucial hope is. Into this depth of hope the author of Hebrews speaks, recognising that hope is closely bound up with our faith. Faith gives us confidence in what we hope for. That confidence is born of the assurance conveyed both by the promises of Scripture and our confidence in the character and purposes of God the Father and Jesus our High Priest. It is never about confidence in ourselves and our own righteousness. We need always to focus our gaze and our attention in the right place.
All the while, however, within this earthly life, we don’t get to see these huge things we hope for, and that we trust God has securely in store for us. So, hope-filled faith has to hold its assurance in the certainty of what we do not see. This, says the writer of Hebrews, is what the ancient heroes of the faith were commended for. This is what, in Abraham’s case, was counted to him as righteousness. That calls us to recognise that trusting completely in the faithfulness of God is really important!
So here we are in these uncertain days of pandemic and large-scale social change, alongside all sorts of vital hopes for our destiny, relying totally on faith and trust in God. Many would dismiss these big hopes that we hold in salvation and heaven as foolish delusions. We can point to nothing tangible, yet we hold onto hope in the God who we believe has made himself known to us, but whom we cannot see. It is all about faith. Yet God really values and affirms those who hold to faith in this way. In John 20:29 Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.”
This text says that “Faith is the assurance (hypostasis) of what we don’t see.” “Hypostasis” can refer to the essence of a thing, or a strong conviction attaching to that thing. So, this passage could be saying that faith somehow conveys to us the “essence” of what we hope for, almost in the sense of a foretaste, or a down-payment, both of which are analogies which are used elsewhere in the New Testament. Alternatively, it could be talking about faith producing a firm conviction of heart enabling us, somehow, to “take hold” of these unseen objects of hope. Probably both allusions are intended. Hope-filled faith both gives a sense of the presence of what we hope for, and generates a deep confidence in the substance and faithfulness of God’s promises.
Always true hope stands on the foundation of the reality of the God “who comes and is not silent (Psalm 50:3). That is the hope we are invited to know deep in our hearts.
Rob Taylor, 30/07/2020
The Journey of Hope - Eleven
Two elements carry over from the previous passage in Hebrews: confident certainty and the key role of Christ our High Priest. This portion of Hebrews begins by talking about the confidence we have to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus. To read this through the eyes of the Jewish recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, is to see how utterly revolutionary it is.
The earthly Holy of Holies could only be entered by the High Priest once a year after a whole process of ritual cleansing and accompanied by much ceremonial. Even with this, the High Priest always entered with trepidation. So, this picture of each believer being able to enter freely and with full confidence into the place of God’s glorious and manifest presence is amazing! This is the accomplishment of the atoning blood of Jesus!
The author of Hebrews is not ambivalent about our confidence in our standing with God, taking it as a given. It is simply used as a preface: “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter, let us draw near.” In this process the author of Hebrews re-emphasises the basis of our confidence and our hope – this hope that has been referred to as an “anchor”, secured in the inner sanctuary.
We have this clear and indisputable confidence because the very body of Jesus has become the curtain through which we have admission to the Holy of Holies. You and I can come into the presence of God in utter security if we come through Christ and in Christ. He is the great High Priest over the house of God. He deals with the issue of our sin and guilt and opens up an unprecedented and living way to the Father. The assertion of this passage in Hebrews is just as earth-shattering as that in Romans 5 which claims that being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have this repeated assertion of certainty through the atoning accomplishment of Jesus.
This is our hope. This is the anchor for our souls. It is secured in the heavenly realm beyond all the afflictions, uncertainties and weaknesses of our experience in this life. It summons us to really secure our hearts beyond our short earthly lives, and to live with one foot already in the realm of eternal fulfilment. It assures each of us that our sin does not define or determine our future. You and me, together with all our “stuff”, are not the most important factor – Jesus the High Priest is. His accomplishment on our behalf is what really counts. We need to get our eyes off ourselves and onto that.
Within that right perspective, crucial change can then happen in each of us. With my sin atoned for I can draw near to God, and why wouldn’t I? Surely, fellowship with God Almighty is what our hearts most desire. Furthermore, we can come to God with sincerity and without the hypocrisy of an approach based on our own merits. We can come to God with “our hearts sprinkled clean” by the blood of the perfect sacrificial offering. When we draw near through Jesus Christ, our High Priest, we are not subject to any condemning voice of failure or debt before God. If the way to God is so wonderfully open, then surely we should come eagerly! Surely we must avail ourselves of all that Jesus has done for us. What an insult to his loving grace if we don’t!
At the core of our hope is this realization that there is nothing uncertain or insubstantial about what Jesus has accomplished. It is also not just some theoretical concept – it is a “living hope”. His intention is that it should hold us secure and shape our lives. Can you and I live with an unswerving focus on this eternal hope, confident in the promise of God? And, in living thus, can we impart encouragement and renewed commitment to others to also live accordingly?
When we live from this secure centre, the natural outflow is “love and good deeds”. Security in God, if it is truly appropriated from within the Holy of Holies, does not result in complacency, but will liberate our hearts to live according to God’s perfect design for our lives. The exhortation to “consider how we may spur one another on towards love” speaks of all relationships restored and filled with grace. And then “good deeds” speaks of all the activities of our lives flowing from a renewed heart and drawing us into faithful stewardship of all the abilities and material resource that God has entrusted to us. That is the fruit of the hope through Jesus our wonderful and eternal High Priest.
Rob Taylor, 10/07/2020
The Journey of Hope - Ten
The first thing this passage alerts us to is that God wants to give us clarity and certainty. He wants to “make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear”. God does not deal with us in ambiguous ways. For instance, in 1 John 5:13-14 he says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” It is so encouraging to know that there is no ambivalence in God. He wants us to be secure in him and secure in the certainty of the salvation he has won for us.
God’s promises are utterly trustworthy because they rest on the unchanging nature of his purpose. God keeps a totally steady course towards the fulfilment of his purpose in creation. There may be all sorts of interference from Satan’s rebellion and human wilfulness and sin, but God is unswerving. He wants us to know that and find our security in it. He wants to give you and me every clear reassurance as heirs to what he has promised. God’s promises are not fragile. Nothing constrained him to make his promise to Abraham and all his heirs in faith. God freely chooses to do so. Further, God did not make his promises in ignorance, so that he might later retract them in regret. God is in no way disillusioned with his creation, with humankind or with you or me personally. He wants us to be clear about that; his purpose is unchanging.
Out of the sheer goodness of his heart he has secured a magnificent inheritance for all his people, making us his heirs. God is so committed to his purpose that he has sealed it with an oath. How important it is that we truly know who God is, that we gain an insight into his heart and that, in doing so, we stand in certainty. God is utterly truthful and his purposes are steadfast. There is so much encouragement for us when we firmly grasp hold of this. It is a hope that God intends you and me to have as a firm foundation to our faith and a security for our eternal destiny.
The writer of Hebrews gives us this wonderful image of hope serving as an anchor for our souls. An anchor keeps secure and steady that which would otherwise be blown all over the place, or drift with the tide. We each need the steadiness of resting in God’s secure promise. God’s clear and unchanging purpose is meant to keep us firm. We all know that, left within the vicissitudes of our own fickle humanity, we are insecure and variable and our motives are unreliable. We can find no security so long as we look to ourselves. My hope is not in me!
The anchor that holds our hearts and our faith secure is fixed in the inner sanctuary of God, “behind the curtain”. That speaks of its location in the Holy of holies, in the place of God’s throne. Furthermore, the writer makes it clear that he is not speaking of the earthly Holy of holies, but the true throne room of heaven. This picture of the promise anchored within the Holy of holies, makes a connection with the acceptability of the atoning sacrifice that is offered on the altar of God. On the earthly altar, that sacrifice had to be an unblemished lamb. It was not the Israelites who had to be unblemished – they could not be for they were tainted by sin. It was their sacrificial representative that had to be unblemished. Ultimately this is true of the perfect eternal atoning sacrifice – Jesus.
You and I are sinners with no worthy claim before God – that is a given. Our anchor is not our own ability – a ship can not somehow anchor itself on itself! Our anchor is in the Holy of holies where the complete and sufficient atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ blood secures for us a full and sufficient salvation. God wants us to know this and to be completely anchored by it. This is, and has always been, his firm and unchanging purpose.
In holding this hope firmly we are enabled to know that nothing in all creation, nothing in this sin-ravaged world and nothing in our own deceitful hearts has the ability to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. As we engage with life and all the uncertainties of this world from the basis of this secure hope, we need not be subject to fear or prey to anxiety, knowing that we are heirs of an amazing and eternal inheritance. God is utterly good. Eternity will not be clouded by a single regret or unfulfilled desire. We are absolutely safe in him, our eternal High Priest.
Rob Taylor, 07/07/2020
The Journey of Hope - Nine
With the coming of Jesus has also come the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Paul saw this more clearly than anyone else in his generation, and, pretty much, any subsequent generation. He states, “The grace of God has appeared”. The ultimate gift of God, completing us, fulfilling us, transforming us and restoring us, has come with the coming of Jesus and remains with us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On my own we are unable to say “No” to ungodliness. We need the inner presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus for that, and, even then, we need to be taught. He teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness. He teaches us to recognise the snares of temptation for what they are. He teaches us to take every thought captive. He teaches us to discern the spirits at work in any human situation. He teaches us to know the authority we have in his name to resist Satan. We need to be taught these things and to grow in our understanding. Are you and I apt learners? To be a disciple is to learn from Jesus. It is to know and follow him as out great Teacher, or Rabbi. He, for his part, is continually seeking to teach us through the indwelling presence of his Spirit – what a privilege!
By Jesus’ coming there is more than sufficient grace available for us to live a “self-controlled, upright and godly life”. By his formation of us we are increasingly enabled to live as those who are truly freed from the enslavement of sin and from its voice of condemnation. Paul makes it clear that the fulfilment of God’s righteousness through the abundance of his grace “has appeared” and is here. Yet, even as we can know that, and, by the Spirit experience the foretaste of glory, we yet wait in anticipation for the blessed hope, which comes to its fulfilment with “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ”. What a wonderful affirmation! We wait for that which will undoubtedly come to pass. We look forward as those who already “possess” what we hope for.
In that sense it is a “blessed hope”. Merely to hold this hope in our hearts by the Holy Spirit brings blessing to us. Hope conveys blessing because it opens us to the fullness of God’s grace that “has appeared”, and is ours in Christ.
Rob Taylor, 06/07/2020
Rob Taylor, 26/05/2020
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