To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, HOPE . . .

(This is part five in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping PeopleWalk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

We threw out the anchor, but nothing changed. At the age of thirteen it was my first year as a sailor in an old wooden sailboat which we bought with everything needed including an anchor. Except that it wasn’t really an anchor. More of a tin of beans filled with concrete and a hook. We threw it out as a last attempt in too strong a breeze for inexperienced sailors. It didn’t help. Yes, we remembered to tie a rope to it, but it didn’t help. It was not a good anchor.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . ” Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV)

The Bible describes hope in Jesus as a good anchor. But is it? Are there other anchors, or even better anchors, for our souls?

Can science be an anchor for the soul? On the one hand science provides good reason for hope. Having a son with Type 1 diabetes, I am very hopeful that a cure will be found someday. I am also hopeful that the technology will get better while scientists work toward that cure. My hope in both these things won’t be realized without scientists doing their thing! On the other hand, hope in science cannot be an anchor for our souls for at least two reasons.

First, nothing kills hope like what we learn from scientific discovery. Centuries of scientific observation tells us that we will not be alive for very long. Even as we attempt to extend our lives through better medical care, scientists tell us that the universe will not always be life permitting. Ultimately there is no hope for humanity if science is all you can base your hope on.

But more importantly, science cannot tell us everything about everything. Science has its limits. For example, scientists cannot teach us the facts of history. As a scientist, if you knew nothing about airplanes, you could, by observation, figure out how they work. However, you will never know about the many people, engineers, designers, and test pilots for example, who were behind the evolution of the airplane. Scientists can tell us a lot about how things work, but we rely on historians to teach us about the who behind things, the creators throughout history.

Science cannot teach us about things beyond the reach of the telescope, microscope, or any other instrument used to “observe” things. It cannot discover spiritual realities. Going to a scientist to learn about spiritual realities is like going to an auto-mechanic for heart surgery. Sure, the mechanic may know something about the heart, but heart surgery is not her or his expertise. Going to science to learn everything about reality is like buying a house off the internet based only on photos of the outside. There is much that can be learned from those photos, but there is so much more to learn. Science provides too narrow a view. There is so much more that cannot be seen or measured. Science cannot be a good anchor for the soul, for it is far too limited in the truths it can discover.

So religion is the anchor for our souls, right? Well, not so fast. Perhaps I might start my own religion. Let me begin with the promise that you will live forever if you give me $1000. Will you buy in? Why not? You know you will die and I will be $1000 richer! Placing your hope in my made-up religion is unreasonable. Placing our hope in any made-up religion is unreasonable. Every man-made religion, even though it may contain elements of truth, is not going to be reliably true in the things that really matter. The religious leader may point to things the scientist could never discover. But the religious leader may be far from the truth in what he thinks and says. Mere religion cannot be a good anchor for our souls, for it can be unglued from reality.

In what can we anchor our souls if neither religion, nor science, provide good anchors? The question turns out to be not “in what” but “in Whom?” Hope in Jesus Christ provides a good anchor for our souls for it is grounded in realities that science cannot discover, and reality religion cannot reasonably point to.

Hope in Christ is grounded in realities that cannot be observed, and which therefore scientists could never discover through science alone. There is no hope of finding just the right camera or instrument to be able to see God. But God has revealed Himself to us throughout history, to the patriarchs, people, and prophets of Israel, then supremely though Jesus. Through scientific discovery we may infer the presence of a creator, but we cannot discover the truth about the fall of humanity and God’s rescue operation. However, God can reveal it.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:18 (NLT)

But how do we know that all this Jesus-talk is not just more made-up religion divorced from reality? Unlike man-made religion, hope in Christ is grounded in realities that have been observed. It is based on real events experienced and observed by real people, many people. For example;

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

The call to trust in Jesus is not a call to believe what one man claims to be true without providing any evidence for its truthfulness. It is a call to trust what many eyewitnesses were testifying to and willing to die for. It is a call to trust that the New Testament exists for good reason, not because a few people were trying to create a religion that would get them killed, but because so many people were responding to the events around Jesus, including his resurrection. It is a call to trust the reality of God as experienced through His presence as recorded in the Bible. It is a call to study history. There is a long history of God revealing Himself and people experiencing Him.

Our hope in Christ is also a hope that neither science nor religion could provide:

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever . . . Hebrews 6:19-20 (NRSV)

The talk about a curtain, inner shrine, and high priest relates to Old Testament symbolism around the presence of God. The temple, the “Most Holy Place” within the temple, and priesthood all symbolized God’s desire to be with people, but also the impossibility of a sinful people being able to approach, and so be fully with, a holy God. So there was a sacred space and a whole lot of rigmarole to teach people about holiness and the Holy One. Enter Jesus, who being God the Son, is the only One Who could dwell fully in the presence of the Father. He became our “high priest”, meaning that He is the mediator between ourselves and God. Through His death and resurrection Jesus did what religion could never do. He also did for us what we will never be able to do despite the wonderful advancements being made through science. He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. Neither science, nor religion, can do that.

As a church we are called to help people walk with Jesus in hope. We do that best by living as people of hope, anchoring our hope in Jesus while always being ready to say why:

. . . you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

 

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TO THE GLORY OF GOD . . .

Why does Calvary Baptist Church exist? Why does any church exist? What is our primary purpose? There may be quite a number of answers to this question based on mission statements and what you see churches do. But is there a purpose which is common to all churches whether they think they are accomplishing it or not, whether they articulate it or not in their mission statements?

There is. Jesus get us on the right track on discovering it by his prayer in John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come; . . .”. Given that this prayer occurs just before his arrest, trial, death, burial, and resurrection, what might you expect next? Perhaps ” . . . save Your people, reconcile Your people to Yourself”? What he says is, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Of all the great things we can say about the work of Jesus on our behalf, his primary purpose is the glory of God. Of all the many things we can say about churches and what they are and do, their primary purpose is the glory of God. If God’s glory is central to Jesus, it is central for us!

We are reminded of our primary purpose most Sundays as we conclude our worship service. Those who attend Calvary Baptist in Cobourg will know that I tend to use this same benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis added)

I might have chosen the “Aaronic Blessing” as my favourite, the one that goes, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .”, but I have not. And for a reason. We tend to think that we attend church to glorify God, then we leave with the expectation that God will bless us in the week ahead. I think we have it backwards. We are blessed as we gather to worship, and we leave to bring glory to God with the week ahead. Even as we hear my favourite benediction from Ephesians, we may still be wrapped up in us. We may concentrate on what God can do in our lives; that is, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” While that is important and sometimes we will need to focus on that, we can remember that God’s power in our lives is not the central thought of this benediction. The glory of God is.

But doesn’t “glory in the church” mean “here in this place”? There were no buildings referred to as “churches” when Paul wrote this, so no. The word refers to the people. This is not “glory in the church building”, but rather “glory in the people who are the church.” Snoop Dog gets it right with the opening words of his latest album; “Church, say Amen”. He is speaking to people, not a building or an organization!

How do we bring glory to God as a church? What does that even mean? To roughly quote one Bible teacher; “the very existence of the Church brings glory to God”. The existence of a rescued people brings glory to God. The existence of a redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled people gives glory to God. There are many small churches like our own which may feel quite beat up over not being able to offer this, that, or the other program. There is no shortage of guilt in smaller churches for not measuring up and giving proper glory to God. However, the existence of any group of Christians, no matter the form of worship, or how well they are organized, or how many programs they can offer, already brings glory to God! That is not an excuse to not pursue excellence. But it is an encouragement.

That being said, is Ephesians 3:20,21 a prayer or a resolution? Do we hear this benediction and think, “God, we pray You make Your glory happen in us this week?”, or do we think “God, our resolve is to make Your glory happen in us this week?” Let us think again of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. God in His sovereignty made it happen. Jesus was arrested, suffered, executed, buried, raised, and he ascended, all by the sovereignty and to the glory of God. However, Jesus was also resolved to stay the course as we learn from his prayer later in Gethsemane:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

We do well to make our benediction from Ephesians a prayer in dependance upon God while we also watch for opportunities to participate in God’s work as His glory unfolds.

We do have some guidance while we watch for those opportunities. One definition given for glory is “giving God his proper place”. We cannot do that if we are trying to take his place. We have bad examples of giving glory to God in Adam and Eve who were quick to want to be just like God. We have good examples of giving glory to God including John the Baptist who pointed beyond himself to Jesus (John 1:27,303:30). Unfortunately, we often find it easier to talk about ourselves than about God. In the same way, we likely find it easier to talk about our church than God: “we have the best music, the best programs, the least boring pastor, try us, you’ll love us”. While we will want to aim for excellence, we do not want our tag-line to be “I’m lovin’ it”.  We will not give God his proper place if we are trying to get into his place, and take the glory for ourselves. God is glorified when we take the place he has prepared for us. Our best opportunity to glorify God is not in the loudest and most professional sounding rendition of the hymn “To God Be the Glory”, but in often-quiet, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-filled lives.

Why does Calvary Baptist exist? Calvary Baptist church exists for the same reason as every other church, which is no less that the same purpose for which Jesus did all he did – for the glory of God!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

He is Risen! But Mark’s Ending is Strange Indeed.

Mark has spent fifteen chapters telling us about Jesus, his life, his teaching, his miracles, his arrest and execution. If that were the end of the story we might consider it to be a great tragedy. But Mark goes on to tell us more:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)

The strange thing is, most Biblical Scholars agree that this is all Mark tells us about the resurrection. Everything from verses 9 and following are considered to have been added later and so Mark’s Gospel ends here. This might make us wonder how confident we can be that we have the original accounts about Jesus. Has the Bible been changed so that we can not have confidence in it?

Actually, differences in ancient copies increase our confidence that what we have is close to the original. We have no original manuscripts of any ancient document, yet scholars in Classics departments have  great confidence that they are working with accurate copies of Greek and Roman writers. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents is far better than any ancient writer. We have way more copies, they date closer to the time, and we have many translations plus quotes from ancient teachers that match up to the manuscripts. Despite the variations, the manuscript evidence gives us great confidence in the Scriptures. They also, along with changes in language and style of writing, help us say with confidence that verses 9 and following were not in Mark’s original account. Thankfully, handling venomous snakes never caught on in our Canadian Baptist churches anyway.

But if Mark’s account of Jesus ends with chapter 16, verse 8, what are we to make of the ending?

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:7,8 (NRSV)

What are we to make of the lack of resolution? It ends with women frozen in fear and trembling rather than doing as the angel requested. Mark’s Gospel account seems to end on a note of failure. It is unresolved.

Perhaps the story of Jesus remains unresolved for you? You appreciate how Jesus is an inspiring figure in history, but when you hear that the tomb is empty and Jesus has been raised, well, you are not sure what to do with that. Many people have this experience of being unresolved in their thoughts about Jesus.

As we consider this lack of resolution, there are a few things for us to consider:

First, anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark knows that the story does not end with fearful women keeping the news of Jesus’ resurrection to themselves. Even without the other Gospel accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John, the fact that you can read Mark is evidence that the resurrection was not kept secret. It did not end in failure.

The original readers of Mark’s Gospel may have been acquainted with Peter or the other apostles, and would therefore know that people who seemed to fail in the pages of Mark’s account, are now on mission. They are now willing to be killed for their testimony that Jesus lives.

Even today, anyone reading Mark will generally be aware that the news of Jesus’ resurrection has spread far and wide. Christianity has stood the test of time, has weathered many storms, has attracted all kinds of people, and for those who do the research, has had an incredible and positive impact in the lives of individuals and upon societies alike. The silence and fear at the end of Mark’s Gospel account was not the end of the Gospel of Christ.

This is good news for us when we fail, when we have those moments where we seem to be stuck in silence and fear. God’s work will never be stuck, God will always deliver on His promises, even when we seem to get in the way.

But if you are unresolved in your thoughts about the resurrection of Jesus, then you need to know that your lack of resolution will not stop God from doing what God has said He will do. You may remain unresolved in your thoughts on what actually happened on that fist Easter morning, but God the Father remains resolved to rescue people through the death and resurrection of God the Son. You have the opportunity to respond. You have the opportunity to follow where the evidence leads.

Second, with Mark ending at 16:8 we can also note that the last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NRSV)

The tragic death of Jesus takes centre stage in the Gospel of Mark. The resurrection of Jesus is not given near as much attention. But the resurrection of Jesus confirms that the death of Christ is effective. Without it, Mark’s Gospel would be a tragedy. But since Jesus has been raised, Mark’s Gospel is good news. There is forgiveness of sin. There is reconciliation with God. There is no resurrection Sunday without Good Friday and Good Friday is not Good without resurrection Sunday.

Finally, Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly because the story goes on. More important than finding out what the women do next now that they have discovered that Jesus is alive – what will you do next?