Category Archives: Bible

Cobblers Column: What would Jesus say to Ched Evans?

For the Dagenham programme on 17th Jan.

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After much speculation, Oldham Athletic have announced that they have decided against signing striker Ched Evans to play for the club, after staff and their families were, quite appallingly, subjected to threats from members of the public who disagreed with their initial decision. Evans was not a usual signing. He was convicted in April 2012 for rape, and was released on license in October last year after serving half of his five year sentence.

A lot has been written about him in the last few weeks with questions and arguments varying widely. Should he be allowed to continue his career as a professional footballer? Whatever happened to criminals having served their time? Or are some crimes so bad, that convicted criminals should be barred from certain prestigious professions? Should finding work post-prison be dependent on an apology and admission of guilt? Others are questioning whether his actions actually were rape in the first place. As I said, the arguments are aplenty and I’m not going to rehearse them all here. Needless to say, this whole sorry situation, so easily avoided, has ruined his life as well as that of the woman involved. For the purposes of this column, I am assuming that the jury made the correct decision in finding Evans guilty.

As a minister, it is my job to apply what the Bible has to say to us in real life situations. What would Jesus say to Ched Evans? And what would Jesus say to us in regard to the story?

There is an incident in the Bible where a woman was brought to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery, which was against the religious laws. They wanted to stone her to death (or at least to trap Jesus into saying so). It is worth noting that the man caught committing adultery with her was not accused, exposing the double-standards of the people involved.

The woman is scared and awaits her judgement. Jesus shows compassion, whilst at the same time, upholding the law. First he says “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”. Hearing this, her accusers started drifting away, aware that they too are guilty of something or other. Soon there was no-one left to condemn her. Jesus then turns to the woman and says “I do not condemn you either, go and sin no more”.

There are a couple of points here. First, the woman appears to be repentant – she is sorry for what she has done. Second, Jesus forgives her, but expects a change of lifestyle. So the good news for Ched Evans is that forgiveness and rehabilitation are possible if he is willing to repent, but the response to forgiveness is to change. None of us know the contents of Ched’s mind or soul, however, we have not heard much in the way of repentance from Evans, who maintains his innocence. Added to this, the actions of his supporters in harassing the victim are despicable. Ched needs to “call off the attack dogs”, admit his part in the saga, and commit to a new way of life. But the invitation from God to a new life free from the past is there for him as it is for all of us.

There is another interesting application from the Bible story above. When Jesus said “let those without sin cast the first stone”, the people, previously out for blood, started drifting away. There is another part of the Bible where Jesus is talking about judging others, and is quoted as saying “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

We may not have committed rape, or been convicted for anything, but the likelihood is that we have wronged others or messed up in some way or another. There are parts of our own lives that need addressing – this goes for everyone.

The point is not that we shouldn’t judge others, but before we judge others, let’s take a good hard look at aspects of our own character and work on those. This is likely to make us more compassionate and forgiving towards others.

Let’s hope that the guys continue their good form and make light work of Dagenham today!

Cobblers Column: Referees, Robert Peel, and Christmas

NTFC vs Bury on boxing day

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Today we welcome players and fans from Bury who have made the 150 mile Boxing day trip to Sixfields. There are some Cobblers connections in the Bury squad. Left-back Joe Widdowson made 75 appearances for us over two seasons, whilst target man Clive Platt, who unfortunately had to retire earlier this season due to persistent injury, scored seven times in 47 appearances. Chris Wilder’s assistant Alan Knill is a former Bury manager too, saving them from relegation in 2008 and then taking them to a playoff final the following year.

I have to confess, after last seasons home tie against Bury, where we lost quite comprehensively, I thought we were all but relegated. Huge credit has to go to Chris Wilder and the team for gaining 13 points from 18 in the last six games of the season.

Bury is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Robert Peel, former Prime Minister and the person responsible for introducing police to the streets of the capital. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 resulted in 100 constables hitting the streets and, although initially unpopular, they did succeed in cutting crime rates.

Of course, the footballing equivalent of the Metropolitan Police are the referees and assistants. I’m sure we all agree that this is a near impossible job to do perfectly, as we all see decisions that we wouldn’t agree with.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t need the police, or referees, at all, and everyone always played by the rules? Think what society would be like if we lived like that! Sadly, it is part of human nature to want to bend, stretch, or break rules when they are presented to us. We all want to do this to some degree, and dislike having outside limitations placed on us. The story of Adam and Eve, disobeying God in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the Bible, illustrates that it is in our  nature to rebel in some way. They had everything going for them but still decided to go their own way.

For those who break laws, the court system dishes out penalties and punishments, graded to the level of the offence. Football has it’s series of warnings too, with suspensions coming for amassing yellow or red cards. After the suspension, theoretically you have clean slate and can begin again.

Similarly, many people may not realise that it is possible to have a clean slate in terms of life’s failures too. There is a mistaken perception that God is all about rules and punishments, making us feel guilty when we don’t reach the mark, but the reality is very different. Our human nature means that we are never going to be able to live an entirely blameless life, however hard we try. There will always be something that we’ve messed up however big or small. The Christmas story tells us that God doesn’t want us to be continually fretting over these things. By being born as a human, in Jesus, God identifies with us and comes close to us in the midst of all humanity’s imperfections. When we mess up, we get a clean slate with God.

It’s also good news that each 90 minutes gives the team a new opportunity to go out there and impress. What better Christmas gift to Cobblers fans can there be that a hearty win today!

The Poor in the Gospel of Luke – an addendum

A few years ago I did a blog series going through the gospel of Luke, discussing what it said to us about the poor (which can be found here). Having recently re-read this series as part of some sermon prep on the same theme, I found (with the help of a commentary) some important additions from chapter 7 of Luke.

John the Baptist is in prison, shortly to be beheaded, and he is having doubts. He knows he is the one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the way for him, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the one, or it there is another to come, presumably for his peace of mind. This is Jesus’ response.

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21-23

“Good news is proclaimed to the poor.” A question here would be to ask, who is the poor? Another would be, why is this incident placed here in the gospel? Just before we have two accounts of miracles by Jesus. The first is the centurion who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his servant (7:1-10). He exhibits his faith by saying to Jesus “Just say the word and by servant will be healed.” Following that is the account of jesus raising the dead son of a widow, brought back to life off his funeral bier (7:11-16). After the incident with John the Baptist’s disciples, we have the description of the Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house when a woman who “had lived a sinful life” came in, began crying over Jesus feet and then poured expensive perfume over them – during the meal! (7:36-50)

It is well known that Jesus called to him those who were on the edge of society. In this chapter, Michael Wilcock (from the BST commentary) argues that all the recipients of Jesus grace in these accounts were poor in some way. The centurion was a Roman, and whilst probably materially well-off, he wouldn’t normally have had access to the synagogue, the temple, or Israel’s God. In this sense he was socially poor as he was from the wrong ‘tribe’. The widow was facing material hardship. Her husband had already died at some point in the past, leaving only her son to be a wage earner. In the days before social welfare, families would have been the last line of support before financial hardship, and now her son has died too. Jesus not only reaches into her grief but alleviates her poverty at the same time.

In the final passage, the ‘sinful woman’ was spiritually poor. By being labeled “sinful”, she would have been on the edge of society, and most respectable people would have avoided her. She cries over Jesus’ feet and Jesus proclaims her sins forgiven, and declares “Your faith has saved you”.

So we have the socially poor, materially poor, and spiritually poor all encountering the Kingdom of God in Jesus, with the latter being declared ‘saved’. This reminds me of one of the Lukan Beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (6:20). Jesus’ understanding of the word ‘poor’ goes beyond the material sense that we often associate it with.

Here and elsewhere, Jesus talks about “preaching” or “or claiming” good news to the poor. Yet it is evident from his actions that this also involved practical help. The Kingdom of God comes where gospel words are supported by actions, and actions by words.

Are we listening?

I’m in the middle of reading Jeremiah. He had been talking about the fall of Jerusalem for decades, but no-one was listening. Finally, with the Babylonians at the gates of the city, he is approached for advice. First king Zedekiah. God sword to him through Jeremiah is that the city will fall, best for him and his family if he surrenders, then his life and the life of his family will be spared (Jer 38). Zedekiah listened, but didn’t heed those words. When the Babylonians captured him, they killed his family in front of him and then put out his eyes. (ch 39)

A few months on and everything Jeremiah has said has come true. You would have thought that his credibility would rise. And it had – risen enough for him to be consulted. Unfortunately not enough for his words to be heeded. Again a delegation of officers escaping the Babylonians came to him, headed up by Johanan son of Kareah, an army officer. They ask Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for guidance over whether to flee to Egypt or to sit out the occupation in Judah. Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’” Jer 42:10-12

He goes on to say that if they go to Egypt, the Babylonians will surely follow and overthrow Egypt as well. Once again they ignore his advice, dragging Jeremiah to Egypt with them.

Twice, the leaders have consulted God (through Jeremiah) but not obeyed. in both cases they have already got a plan and consult as a way of gaining a Divine approval of what they were going to do anyway. Don Carson has this to say on the subject:

“Most movements that spring up from the fertile soil of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God too deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the ways we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods….”

Think crusades. Think the angry street preacher pronouncing hell and judgement. He goes on:

“God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (with either never arise, or, if the do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people top be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorise out tearless harshness and ruthless condescension”

Think Westboro Baptist Church with their tasteless picketing.

“There wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God that what we need to sanction our preferences.”

Are we asking God to bless what we are going to do anyway, or are we seeking his will on it, even if we don’t like it?

Don’t say a word.

20.8.04 Blythburgh Free Range Pork Free Range growers.I came across two stories from Jesus’ life in my reading this morning (in Mark 5). The first is the restoration of the demon possessed man, the one known as Legion, and the second is the raising of a little girl back to life –  the daughter of Jairus the synagogue ruler. We recently thought about the second passage in one of our family services at our church.

Jesus is on the Gentile side of Lake Galilee when he encounters the man with the demons. They recognise Jesus as once and beg him for mercy. After the demons are expelled (into a local herd of pigs), the man who is restored is given the commission to “go home and tell them about how much the Lord has done for you, how he has had mercy on you” (5:18)

After a quick boat ride back across the lake, Jesus is teaching a crowd when Jairus comes and begs him for help. Jesus is now on the Jewish side of the lake and Jairus holds a respected position in the faith community. By the time Jesus gets to Jairus’ house the little girl has died, but Jesus encourages them to have faith and he goes into the house and raises her back to life. Then comes the instruction “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this” (5:43).

So  – two miraculous events, but differing instructions on whether they are supposed to talk about it. Why would he say one thing to one person and another to the other group?

In a way, I can understand Jesus telling Jairus’ family not to say anything. Jesus was already having trouble moving around the area due to the large crowds that wanted him to heal. Gods new kingdom has come. Jesus is demonstrating how the world should, and will eventually, be. There are a number of things, including death, that are not as they were. The world is turned upside down as will be demonstrated ultimately through Jesus death and resurrection. His whole life (and death and resurrection) is a testament to that, not just the miracles. Jesus knows that  a yearning for great and flashy miracles does not result in a secure faith.  The result is people always wanting to be amazed instead of a more secure step-by-step everyday faith.

But I also wonder (and I’m just thinking aloud here) whether part of the difference had to do with the audience being Gentile on the one hand, and Jewish on the other. Religious on the one hand, and non-religious on the other. God often uses miracles to get people’s attention. Many people have had divine intervention to get them started turning their lives around. After that, once on the right path and walking securely with God, the miraculous become more infrequent. Perhaps Jesus expects the Jews to recognise signs of the new kingdom coming in, not just in the miracles he does, whereas the gentiles perhaps needed an added reason to start looking towards Jesus. (Interestingly, their first reaction to Jesus was “Please go home, we’re scared” – 5:17 ). Maybe I’m wrong here, but I wonder if new converts to the faith experience more miraculous signs in their early faith than those who have grown up in the church. (I have no evidence for this, it’s just a hunch based on hearing testimonies and anecdotes). Is this for the same reasons perhaps?

I remember hearing John Piper speak  on suffering, and he noted that in the book of Acts the disciples and followers were given a command to spread the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” There were many miraculous signs given to the early church too. Yet by the beginning of chapter 8, pretty much all believers were still in Jerusalem. It took persecution and suffering to get them out into Judea, Samaria and further afield. Miraculous signs are great, and we are encouraged to pray for them, but a walk of faith through suffering is often a more powerful testimony than a miracle.

Only sleeping

jarius daughterSome thoughts/questions on the account in Mark 5:35-43 of Jesus raising a young girl from death back to life.

– Jesus is demonstrating his authority over death, to add to the other authorities that Mark presents. The girl is not raised with any magical formula but with a very normal “Up you get!” – the sort of thing a parent might say to a child who they are trying to wake up from sleep. To him this is normal and well within his power.
– In spite of this, there is no sense of triumphalism, with Jesus again reminding people not to tell anyone about it (as he does after a good number of miracles). Could this be because great miracles alone are not the basis of faith, but a secure walk in his footsteps. Miracles alone may lead to a shallow faith, always wanting to be amazed. He wants engaged followers who are always listening and acting.
– But what about all those who die that Jesus doesn’t raise? Off the top of my head, in the gospels I can only think of Jarius’ daughter, Lazarus, and the widow’s son whom he raises to life. There must have been many others who died. Of courses, Jesus’ own resurrection from death is different, defeating it, coming through the other side and initiating a new order of things, unlike Jarius’ daughter et al who were restored to the old order.
– Therefore, part of what he is demonstrating is the initiation of a new kingdom, when all the usual foes and fears (including death) get turned upside down. In this sense it is a signpost to his own resurrection and this overcoming of death is open to all, not just those he happened to meet and raise in the flesh.
– I’m also thinking a little of the final scene from the Disney movie frozen, where love conquers death.

Accusation

Green MambaFrom one of Nicky Gumbel’s talks:

If it’s the Holy Spirit pointing out something that’s wrong in our lives, he will be very specific. We’ll know what it is, and we can repent about it and deal with it.

And after that we’ll feel at peace.

If it’s condemnation, it’s a nebulous feeling of guilt we don’t know quite what we’re feeling—that’s the accuser. Because St. Paul writes: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.