ACST 34: Christ: The Teacher

jesus_teaching Systematic theologies usually contain a section – like this – on Christology. They usually divide that section into two parts: the person of Christ (where they discuss his nature) and the works of Christ (where they describe what he has done). There is an issue that falls somewhat between these two categories which is often missing: the teachings and commands of Christ. One does not really know someone else unless one knows that person’s message. For that reason, it is helpful to spend some time learning what Jesus taught while among us.

Jesus affirmed that his disciples were right in calling him “Teacher.”[1] He came not just to die on the cross but also to share God’s word with humanity. The messages that he taught explained the heart of the scriptures, and charted a new path for us all to follow. He also taught about our future. Both the path we are to follow in obedience to his teachings and the hope that his teachings gave us are called the same thing: the kingdom of God.

Savior of the World

Christ taught that he is the savior of the world. He answered the question that he posed to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?”[2] “With keen anticipation, he guided the conversation toward the crucial issue of their understanding of his identity. … He knew that their eternal destiny and the success of his mission on earth depended on their accurate perception of him and his ministry.” [3] Likewise today the church needs an accurate understanding of who Jesus was and is. Jesus provided a clear picture of his identity, but it takes faith to keep that picture in one’s mind because there are plenty of substitute pictures of Jesus that contend with it.

“This same question rings down through the centuries. ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ ‘Is He just a man?’ ‘Is He a religious prophet?’ ‘Is he a great moral teacher?’”[4] Jesus taught that he was more than that. The angels declared when he was born that he was “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”[5] The people saw and heard him speak and do miracles and then proclaimed “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”[6]

Jesus said it this way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[7] By so doing, he placed himself above every prophet, every sage, every guru, every religion, every philosophy, and every political movement. If one’s goal is a relationship with God, then Jesus Christ is the only way.

God has given bread to sustain us from heaven, and Jesus Christ is it. Jesus said “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”[8] He was talking about the hope of eternal life which no normal bread can offer. If we eat bread from the local bakery, we will hunger again. But God offers a bread that promises eternal sustenance. The manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness was a sign promising that gift. Jesus was the gift. The manna sustained the temporary lives of the Israelites. Jesus will sustain us permanently. The Israelites accepted the manna by eating it; we accept Christ by believing in him.

Other teachers have claimed to have insight from the divine, but Jesus claimed more than that. He said “I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”[9] His knowledge of God was not learned through meditation or study. It was the result of an eternal relationship with his Father. What he taught us can be trusted because it came directly from the source.

Other teachers have claimed to have solutions to the world’s problems, but Jesus claims to be the solution. He said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[10] The darkness that threatens to destroy this planet is no problem for him. He is the light, and his followers have access to that light for their journey. He is called the light of life because the end of the journey will be eternal life. The metaphor of light speaks of both the path we follow today, and the hope we have for eternity.

Christ claimed to be of an entirely different category than all the other inhabitants of this planet. He said “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”[11] If his claim was not true, and he was just another human being and nothing else, then there is no salvation and no hope for humanity. If he is merely one of several who are divinely inspired, then he is a divinely inspired liar, because he claims more of himself than just insight.

God has a flock in this world and as the world’s only savior, Jesus is both the way into that flock, and the only one who can shepherd it. He said “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”[12] He also said:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.[13]

Some have suggested that there is wiggle room for some other saviors in this statement. But consider this evidence to dispute that claim: There is one shepherd and one flock. The one shepherd owns all the sheep. The sheep of other folds are owned by the same shepherd. They are simply not situated in the fold at present. This would suggest that Jesus is referring to people who would come to faith after the time of his speech recorded in John 10. They would come to faith (or into the fold) the same way these did. They would trust in Christ as their savior. At the end there are not several ways to God, but one flock, one shepherd.

What of those others who claim to have a way of salvation, and invite the world to follow them instead of Christ? Jesus calls them hired hands. They do not own the sheep, and when danger comes they flee, and fail to protect the sheep. Jesus was not like that. He faced the danger head on, went to the cross, and laid down his life for the flock. There is only one good shepherd.

Salvation from Christ is by means of resurrection from the dead. He is the savior from death. Many people in Jesus’ day assented to the concept of a future event where people would be raised from the dead. That was a correct theological assumption. But Jesus challenged the people of his day to connect that concept with himself. He was the savior because he was to be the one who does the raising on resurrection day. He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”[14]

Jesus was not promising that believers will never die. The phrase “though he die, yet shall he live” makes that clear. Death will come to us all at the appointed time, and believing in Christ does not change our mortality. Lazarus was a case in point. He was asleep in Christ, and would have remained in that state until the resurrection day. But on the resurrection day, Lazarus would live. To prove that reality, Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. He has power over death.

But Jesus made another point. His other statement to Martha was not a contradiction to what he had just said. He had already established the context of his promises to Martha, and that context was resurrection day. It will be on resurrection day that Jesus will raise to life those (like Lazarus) who believe and die. Jesus’ other statement pertains to those who believe and are still living on the resurrection day. Those people who are living and believing in Jesus when he comes to raise the dead “shall never die.” Instead, they will be made immortal without ever having gone through death.

Entering His Kingdom

The metaphor Christ used most to explain spiritual things was that of the kingdom of God. Christ is king in God’s kingdom. Christ explained how to enter his kingdom. To enter his kingdom is to believe and follow Christ as the kingdom’s king, and to be prepared when that kingdom comes to earth to rule over the planet. The kingdom of God is not a metaphor for heaven. Heaven is where God is, but the kingdom of God is about where God wants to be. His throne in heaven is secure, but it is on earth that Satan’s rebellion had dared to supplant God’s dominion.

Jesus claimed that it is possible for human beings to become part of God’s kingdom today. He called it entering the kingdom. In a sense, what he was talking about is a kind of insurgency. People who have entered God’s kingdom before it comes to earth are like rebels. They live among the established nations but their allegiance is to the coming kingdom. Their goal is not to destroy the kingdoms of men, but to promote and recruit for the coming kingdom and its Lord.

There were a number of groups in Jesus’ day who thought that in order to enter the kingdom one had to be just a little bit more righteous than the next guy. So they established rules to follow to make sure everybody could tell the difference. The problem is, Jesus warned, those super-spiritual groups did not make the cut! He said “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[15]

The Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day tried hard to live up to God’s expectations. If human effort could accomplish the task at all, they would certainly have been granted a passport. But they failed to recognize three theological truths. First, sin is a problem too difficult for anyone to handle without divine intervention. Second, God has provided an atoning sacrifice for the sin problem in the death of Christ. Third, only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit can a person overcome the sinful nature and reflect the righteous life God requires for citizens of his kingdom.

Jesus taught that in his day most people would reject his way into the kingdom and try to get in some other way. But he urged his listeners to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”[16] He did not mean that it is hard to “become a Christian.” Lots of people “became Christians” in his day, as they do today, only to fall away when their faith is tested by adversity. Entering the kingdom involves more than that.

Jesus taught that there would be many who claim to be his followers but would also fail to enter the kingdom. He said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[17] Christ requires that we enter his kingdom through a process of repentance (like a spiritual death) and faith that he describes as a spiritual rebirth. He said “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” [18] To be born of water is natural birth. To be born of the Spirit is a supernatural rebirth that enables one to live according to the principles of the kingdom that Jesus taught us to live by.

Living in His Kingdom

By teaching those principles, Christ explained how the subjects of his kingdom are supposed to live. Central to living Jesus’ way is the doing of good works as a witness to the new life within. He tells his followers to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[19] But, unlike the super-spiritual groups of his day, Jesus warned against doing good works just for show. He told them to “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”[20] A good work is only a true good work if it springs from the Holy Spirit within, and is done for the benefit of others, not to put notches on one’s spiritual belt.

Miracles are expected as kingdom citizens go about their lives. Jesus said to his disciples “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” The idea is not that we have to build up our faith until it gets strong enough. Just a little faith – the size of a mustard seed – will do. What matters is not the size of our faith but the power of our king. We are citizens of his kingdom, so when the king wants a mountain moved, nothing is going to stand in his way. What our king requires of us is the courage to stand before the mountain and risk making fools of ourselves by telling it to scram.

Living in the kingdom means making the kingdom itself our priority and all other things become second place. Here is how Jesus put it:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.[21]

Notice that Jesus compares citizens in his kingdom to the other nations of the world. God knows the people in the nations and he sees to it that they get the things that they spend their lives worrying about. But citizens in Christ’s kingdom are to seek the kingdom itself, and not to get caught up in the rat race for those insignificant things, like their next meal.

Christ taught us to seek the kingdom for two reasons. First, the kingdom of God is going to manifest as dominion over the whole universe when Jesus comes again. To seek the kingdom is to strive to be in that number when the saints go marching in. Nothing should be a higher priority than being there. Second, to seek the kingdom is to allow the king to live his life through you. It is striving to live the way of life expected of a kingdom citizen. That is a full-time job. No wonder that Jesus added to his counsel that we should not fear because the Father wants to give us his kingdom.

Living in the kingdom is simply a matter of obeying the commands of our king. Jesus gave us those commands as part of his teaching ministry. The Great Commission from Christ includes the order to pass on those commands to those we bring into the kingdom. Jesus told us to make disciples by baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to “observe all that I have commanded you.”[22]

It is amazing how the church teaches about so many things, and even exegetes the texts of the New Testament, but so often ignores these foundational principles – the ones found in the commands of Christ. The commands can be summarized as follows:

1. Make your choices based on God’s permanent realities, rather than the world’s temporary ones. Invest your life in eternity.

2. Put Christ and his kingdom first in your life. Be devoted to him.

3. Be genuine: don’t pretend to be something you are not, and don’t forget who you are in Christ. Be what you claim to be.

4. Trust your heavenly Father to take care of your needs, and to win your battles. Rely on God to do what you cannot do.

5. Keep in contact and communication with God through prayer.

6. Concentrate on learning, living and proclaiming the truth.

7. Expect the power of the Holy Spirit to make up for your weaknesses and insufficiencies. Be used by God to fulfill his will.

8. Live in expectancy because the king is coming! Be alert, and ready for his arrival.[23]

Besides these, and foundational to them are the two greatest commandments from the Old Testament (that we should love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves). The third greatest commandment is that which we call the Great Commission, that disciples of Christ should make more disciples of Christ.

Enemies of His Kingdom

Christ denounced his enemies as well. It is interesting to see who is on that list, and who is not. Caesar, the emperor of the Roman world, is mentioned in 19 verses of scripture, but Jesus never calls him his enemy.[24] In ancient times a prophet would identify God’s enemies by pronouncing a woe upon them – a kind of prophetic curse.[25] Jesus pronounced woes upon his enemies, and so identified the enemies of his kingdom.

Counted among the enemies of Christ’s kingdom are those places where the gospel is preached, but the people respond with indifference or rejection. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”[26]

The miracles accompanied the message, but for the inhabitants of those cities, the miracles were not enough. They refused to seek the kingdom about which Jesus preached. They probably prided themselves on the fact that a great prophet had been among them, and enjoyed telling stories about his miracles. But on the judgment day, the ancient enemies of God’s people to the north – Tyre and Sidon – will fare better than them. Even Sodom will suffer less.

Also counted among the enemies of Christ’s kingdom are the people, institutions and things that cause sin. Sin cannot endure where Christ’s kingdom reigns, and Christ’s kingdom cannot abide where sin reigns. Jesus said:

“”Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”[27]

Any system (whether political or religious, economic or social) that encourages sin and tempts people to transgress God’s will is set against the gospel and against the kingdom of Christ. These are all identified by Christ as his enemies. Christ taught that we cannot escape the temptations because we will have to live in the world and so we will have to operate within those systems. He said “it is necessary that temptations come.”[28] But he warns us not to be part of the problem. He said “woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” People will not be judged for the sinfulness of their society, but they will be judged for their personal contribution to it.

If the number of woes applied to them is the standard of judging who gets the “worst enemy status” then the Pharisees and scribes win that title. Jesus pronounces seven woes against them in Matthew 23.[29] From what Jesus said about them, it is clear that what made them kingdom enemy #1 is their hypocritical attempt to replace God’s kingdom with one that looked righteous on the outside, but was corrupt within.

In the kingdom of God, our biggest enemies are going to be the groups that want to be our friends. They will want to snuggle up to us and work with us on community development projects, and things like that. They will want to join with us in community minister’s organizations, and will praise us for our social welfare programs. But they will draw the line at proclaiming Jesus as Lord. When push comes to shove, they will show themselves our enemies, because they are his enemies.

Equipping His Church

As a teacher, Christ equipped his disciples to lead the church. The church was not a mistake. It was Christ’s intention to found it, and he spent years of his earthly life preparing the people who would lead it. On one particular occasion, he brought his disciples together and pointed out how the Gentile rulers lead by intimidation and domination. He told his disciples “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[30] Christ himself was to serve as the example for Christian leadership. He taught leadership with a towel and wash basin.

He trained by discipling. That is, he did things and his disciples watched, he said things and the disciples learned – and eventually it was their turn. When they were ready, he set them loose to preach and cast out demons. They did what they had learned.

Preparing His Church for Suffering

As a teacher, Christ prepared his disciples for the difficulties they would face as well. He let them know that they would not always have the honor of his personal presence among them. He told them “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.”[31] They would need to learn to face the challenges that they would face without his personal counsel. Instead, he would leave them with the third person of the Trinity: the other counselor.

It was he, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them as they faced trials and persecution. Jesus assured them that “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”[32] He would also help the disciples to remember and take in the tremendous lessons that Jesus had taught and the significance of the events the disciples witnessed. Jesus said “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”[33] And because Jesus suffered in doing God’s will, they understood it when they suffered themselves.

His Role as Messiah

As teacher, Christ predicted the events concerning his own life, death and resurrection. There were no surprises with him. Everything that happened in his life was scripted and pre-measured to fit God’s plan. Perhaps the disciples did not quite make the connections when Jesus promised that “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”[34] but Jesus repeated detailed descriptions of his crucifixion to them several times.[35] And after his resurrection he made the connections by going back to the Old Testament scriptures and showing how his death and resurrection were necessary.

His Return as Messiah

Christ also predicted current and future eschatological events. He understood his times, and marveled that those around him did not. He told them “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”[36] He spoke of his own generation in Jerusalem, and how they were going to suffer God’s judgment because so many would reject him.

He went on to describe that judgment in detail in his eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives. He called them God’s “days of vengeance” upon Jerusalem.[37] Little did his listeners know that in a mere 40 years, those days of vengeance would come. Jesus predicted that Roman armies would surround Jerusalem.[38] The armies of Rome laid siege to Jerusalem and starved it for a matter of years. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed.[39] That fateful event happened in 70 AD. He also predicted that the Jews would undergo another exile, being scattered in other nations, trample underfoot by the Gentiles until God’s vengeance is completed. It happened just as he predicted.

The great teacher of the future was just as accurate when he described the age that precedes his second coming. We are living in that age now, so it is easy to see the signs all around us that Jesus called birth pains.[40] Birth pains all have two things in common: they are intermittent, and they indicate that a birth is happening. The signs Jesus mentioned are: false Messiahs, warfare and its threat, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of believers, and divisions among families because of Christ. These realities have been with us intermittently for the past two thousand years.

But Jesus was even more specific in his predictions. He described his second coming in detail as well:

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.[41]

…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.[42]

It is clear from these predictions that Christ is going to come physically, visibly and gloriously. His return will be a time of great joy for those who have entered his kingdom, but terrible distress and shame for those who have not. Like Jesus, the church should encourage believers with the hope of the full deliverance we will experience at the second advent, and also warn unbelievers of the great calamity they will face if they are not found in him.

Scope and Balance

The Teacher taught the kingdom of God, as the king’s rule present and continuously expanding in the lives of believers, and also their future hope. Christian teaching should seek the same scope and balance.


[1] John 13:13.

[2] Matthew 16:15.

[3] Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 169.

[4] Dan Story, Defending Your Faith: Reliable Answers for a New Generation of Seekers and Skeptics. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 75.

[5] Luke 2:11.

[6] John 4:42.

[7] John 14:6.

[8] John 6:35.

[9] John 7:29.

[10] John 8:12.

[11] John 8:23.

[12] John 10:9

[13] John 10:11-16.

[14] John 11:25-26.

[15] Matthew 5:20.

[16] Matthew 7:13-14.

[17] Matthew 7:21.

[18] John 3:5.

[19] Matthew 5:16.

[20] Matthew 6:1.

[21] Luke 12:29-32.

[22] Matthew 28:20.

[23] See Jefferson Vann, The Commands of Christ (http://commandsofchrist.wordpress.com/).

[24] Matt. 22:17, 21; Mark 12:14, 17; Luke 2:1; 3:1; 20:22, 25; 23:2; John 19:12, 15; Acts 17:7; 25:8, 11f, 21; 26:32; 27:24; 28:19.

[25] Num. 21:29; 1 Sam. 4:7f; Isa. 3:9, 11; 5:8, 11, 18, 20ff; 6:5; 10:1; 24:16; 31:1; 45:9f; Jer. 4:13, 31; 6:4; 10:19; 13:27; 15:10; 22:13; 23:1; 45:3; 48:1, 46; 50:27; Lam. 5:16; Ezek. 2:10; 13:3, 18; 16:23; 24:6, 9; Hos. 7:13; 9:12; Amos 5:18; 6:1, 4; Mic. 2:1; 7:1; Nah. 3:1; Hab. 2:6, 9, 12, 15, 19; Zeph. 2:5; 3:1; Zech. 11:17.

[26] Matthew 11:21-24.

[27] Matthew 18:7-9.

[28] Matthew 18:7.

[29] Matt. 23:13,15,16, 23, 25, 27, 29.

[30] Matthew 20:26-28.

[31] John 7:33.

[32] Luke 12:12.

[33] John 13:7.

[34] John 12:32.

[35] Matt. 17:12; 20:19; 26:2; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15.

[36] Matthew 16:2-3.

[37] Luke 21:22.

[38] Luke 21:20.

[39] Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6.

[40] Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8.

[41] Luke 21:25-28.

[42] Matthew 24:29-31.

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Goodbye, Takanini

Taka_TakaniniChurch It’s 12pm Auckland time, Sunday, January 30th, and I have just preached my last sermon at Takanini Church (for a while anyway). On Wednesday Penny and I get on a plane and go back to the U.S.A.

It has not been a peaceful year. We have had four funerals. Particularly, the loss of our friend, pastor David Burge, in July was devastating to the church. David’s sudden battle with leukemia was the reason Penny and I decided to come to New Zealand. Not only had he served here for many years, many of his family members (including wife Tarnya and eight children) attend here. The church bears the mark of David’s style: down to earth, humorous, and unique.

I will remember Takanini church as the place where Penny and I learned that we can still function in pastoral ministry. We had been teaching people how to pastor for thirteen years at Oro Bible College in the Philippines. But God sent us from there to here. We went through culture shock again, but it was not so bad this time, partly because New Zealand is more like the U.S.(as far as climate and culture are concerned), but mostly because we knew to expect the unexpected.

One thing I didn’t expect is the way Takanini church managed to contain so many talented and committed people who are “plugged in” to personal ministry. Several people of various ages make up a worship team that offers genuine worship in a variety of styles every Sunday morning. some members run their own missions programs, here and elsewhere. It was our honor to serve with elder Gary Schache, who manages oversight of the ministries of the church, and puts together the worship services. We were also joined by his father, Ernie, who came on as elder on the same day we joined the team. Ernie is providing exceptional leadership while still serving ACGC as a missions ministry manager.

We have also appreciated getting involved in the lives of several young couples who are in the hectic days of raising large families. The phrase “never a dull moment” comes to mind as I think about how the families of Takanini show what it means to serve Christ in a world where just meeting everybody’s needs is a challenge. Penny and I are almost past the child-rearing phase, and are learning the ropes on the grandchild-spoiling phase. We will remember with admiration the families of Takanini.

We are going to miss Takanini church. Our ministry here has enhanced our ability to serve Christ, and the friendships we have gained here have enriched our lives. God bless you, Takanini church.

Harmonious Living

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Romans 12: 14-18 ESV

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

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I’m really grateful for the part that the LORD has allowed me to play over the past few months in the ministry at Takanini Church. It has been a time of growth and increasing clarity for me, and I hope that I have been able to help you in some ways too. As I began to think about my last message here, I became concerned – perhaps a bit more concerned than usual – about the content of those messages. I think the LORD led me to one of those KEEP ON passages because as Penny and I leave New Zealand and Takanini Church transitions, these ideas will help the church to remain stable in a time of change.

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The context of this morning’s text is first century Rome. Paul is writing as a way of introducing himself and his message to the Roman Christians. He anticipates a ministry there, and he wants people to be ready. Paul was a spirit-filled Christian man whom God used mightily. If we are not careful we might presume that wherever Paul went the seas divided and everyone got along. That was not the case. According to Acts and the Pauline epistles, everywhere Paul went there was controversy, misunderstanding and strife. And Paul was not the exception. The letters of Peter, John, James and Jude also show that the first century church was not the ideal. Fortunately for us, the first century churches went through numerous battles. I say that because epistles like Paul’s to the Romans addresses those problems with real solutions.

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Usually Paul spends half of each of his letters addressing some doctrinal issues, then spends the other half on practical issues. Today’s text is within that second half of Romans. He had already made his point that everyone is equal in that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. Then he made the point that Christ’s death on the cross was the means God used to offer redemption for all of us.

There were basically two types of people in Rome who had accepted God’s redemption through Christ. There were Jewish believers who realized the Jesus was the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament, and so accepted him as their Lord. There were pagans from the other nations of the Roman empire who accepted Christ as well. The problem was, these two types of Roman Christian did not always get along.

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It is in that context that Paul gives the church this command: “Keep on living in harmony with one another.” Perhaps if Paul were a modern-day church growth expert he would have analyzed the situation in Rome and said: “Look, guys, you are too different. What you should do is split into two different denominations. The First Messianic Jewish General Conference can keep its traditions and target other Jews in the community; the New Gentile Church of Jesus can concentrate on the pagans who are hearing the message about Jesus for the first time.” But Paul did not say that. He had in mind for the Roman churches to sing their different tunes in harmony with one another.

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How does a church or group of churches live in harmony with one another without compromising their diversity? One of the keys is found right here in today’s text. Paul tells the Roman Christians to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (14). Where is this persecution coming from? The church was being persecuted by the Roman government during this time, and they were also being persecuted by Jews who had rejected Christ as the Messiah. Can you see how an undisciplined mouth could have caused disharmony in the churches at Rome? Cursing Caesar would have been insulting all Gentiles. Cursing the Jewish persecutors would be insulting all Jews. The best reaction: bless your persecutors.

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Secondly, Paul tells the Roman Christians to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (15). He’s telling the people to not remain spectators in their community’s life. They need to adopt one another as family, and get involved in each other’s lives. Believers are a family and it will not do for a family member to forget your birthday or anniversary, or to not attend your funeral. Often we think the easiest way to keep harmony is to restrict the time we have around each other. That is not what God wants. He does not want his family only meeting for an hour or two every Sunday, and then retreating into the safety of our own foxholes!

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Thirdly, Paul tells the Romans “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited” (16). He encourages the church members to stay low enough on the totem pole so they can still see everybody. Jesus had proclaimed the same message with a wash basin and a towel. In the first century Roman church, both major factions had reason to take pride. The Jews could have pride in their biblical heritage, while the Romans could have pride in the fact that they did not stand on tradition. Either way, pride could destroy the church’s harmony, and thwart its mission.

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Fourthly, Paul warns against the spirit of revenge. He says “Repay no one evil for evil” (17). He wants them to avoid payback, because it never accomplishes anything but disharmony. It is wise to overlook an offense. Notice that Paul assumes that people are going to do evil things. Remember, this is a church context. There is no church anywhere that is immune to people doing stupid, childish, evil things. If you are still looking for such a church, you can stop now. You will not find it. I think God allows those kinds of things to happen in our church communities because he is looking for us to be wise enough to obey this command. When his people turn the other cheek, he is glorified.

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Finally, Paul says “give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all” (17). Disharmony happens because I want to play my instrument and I don’t care how it is going to sound when you are playing yours. The trouble is, a church is not a solo concert. It is an orchestra. The music has to come from all the instruments, and it has to harmonize in such a way that all the music together sounds good. Even the greatest of all conductors cannot make an orchestra work if the musicians do not have respect for each other, and cooperate.

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I want to tell you that it has been a great honour for me to teach in this pulpit and to be a part of this community for the past year. I am convinced that Takanini Church has what it takes to share the light of Christ’s gospel and lead people to him. I am also convinced that Satan is looking for an opportunity to spread disharmony and discord here, just as he was in Rome. That is why I chose this as my concluding message.

LORD, guard us from disharmony. We commit ourselves — so far as it depends on us, to live peaceably with all.

Reflecting on the past 15 years

Image000Way back in 1990 Hal Patterson asked us if we would consider training to teach at Oro Bible College. We told him that God was not through with us at the church we were pastoring but we would call him when that ministry came to an end, figuring it would be 10+ years and he would forget. 3 Years later God called us beyond that local church so we called Hal. We trained for missions. Then in Feb of 1996 in North Carolinas biggest ice storm we met with the executive council. As they say the rest is history.

In the past 15 years we have counseled, witnessed in foreign languages, did spiritual warfare with those oppressed by demons, helped the poor and hungry at our door, taught theology, Bible and even PE., climbed mountains and went into squatter areas of cities in the name of Christ. We have prayed for nationals and watched God change lives. If that was not enough the Lord helped us manage a field and orient missionaries to living in foreign cultures. We preached, taught, prayed . We sweated through tropical heat and were chilled by New Zealand winters without central heating. We have survived and made friends and disciples in his name in many places.

It has not all been glamorous. Watching our children leave home to go to the US was a gut wrenching thing we endured. There were times of civil unrest. Terrorism almost ended one of us. If that was not enough, we and the children came down with tropical diseases. Tiredness, spiritual dryness and loneliness mocked us. However God is and always has been faithful. If we had to do it all over again we would do the same thing.

As we come to the end of our time as AC Missionaries we reflect that we are not the same people we were in 1996. We are now part American, part Filipino, part Kiwi. Our desire to serve Christ wherever he calls is still with us and we pray continually for those who are lost in the remotest parts of the earth to come to know him. With that we leave with one question, “Who will go for HIM.”

-Penny Vann

The Heart of Zephaniah (3:8-15).

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{For audio mp3, click here.}

Zephaniah 3:8-15 ESV

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed. 9 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. 11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. 12 But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, 13 those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.” 14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.

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We have been spending some time in the OT prophets. Over the past few months we have been looking at these ancient books and trying to see what God’s reaction is to us in the present. We have found that the messages of the prophets are quite relevant.

Zephaniah is labeled a minor prophet since it is one of the shorter books. Its prophecies are very much like those of the major prophets. There is a series of oracles which foretell God’s judgment upon the nations that surrounded Judah. Then, there is a final oracles of judgment against Judah itself. Then, in its final chapter the future blessings are revealed

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The name ZEPHANIAH means hidden of Yahveh. I think the name is especially appropriate because of this blessing section of the book, part of which serves as today’s text. Hidden behind all those pronouncements of judgment and destruction is the hope of a bright future for God’s people. Also, just as the judgments came on all the nations, including Judah, the future blessings will belong to all the nations, including Judah.

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The context of Zephaniah’s message is very significant. It was during the reign of Josiah, so there were some in Judah and Jerusalem who were submitting to Josiah’s reforms. But like all revivals, not everyone revives. There are still too many ethnic Israelites who are inwardly pagan. Because of this, judgment is going to fall on Judah as well.

But the good news is: God is in control. He is going to restore not only Judah and Israel but all those Gentile nations as well. Hidden behind this message of gloom is the message that the creator is going to re-create the planet.

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What will be is hidden. It is like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Zephaniah’s messages of blessing is a way for us to see what God intends for our own future.

The recreated us will have new speech. Verse 9 (NET) says “Know for sure that I will then enable the nations to give me acceptable praise. All of them will invoke the LORD’s name when they pray, and will worship him in unison.” Verse 13 says “those who are left in Israel …shall… speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue.” Our tongues will be transformed – and that means that our hearts are also. The tongue only says what is in the heart. God is longing for the day when the whole creation prays, praises, and worships him in truth. It will happen. It is our future.

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God says “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.

But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. ” God wants a people who humble themselves, and seek his face. In fact, the only way to get into God’s future kingdom is by repenting and throwing yourself on the mercy of God. Those who are proud of their achievements need not apply. Jesus said “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt.23:12).

You have to remember that it was Satan’s pride that caused rebellion in the first place. Christ is our model. He came as a servant.

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God says that his new people “seek refuge in the name of the LORD,” “they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid,” because he “has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” Those of us who are fortunate enough to have won the life lottery do not have to live our lives in fear. We have to realize that most of the world is not so lucky. God wants true peace for the entire planet. He created this world to thrive in peace. The wars and conflicts among us are the result of sin.

Someone has said “war is hell” and that is not true. But it is going to take hell – the real hell – what the Bible calls Gehenna – to destroy the war. Zephaniah gives his listeners a glimpse into a future without fear. That future belongs to those of us who seek refuge in the LORD’s name today.

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God tells his people “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” I want you to understand that the normal human state is ecstatic joy. Remember that when he first created us, God put us in Eden, which was a paradise. The toiling, pain, sorrow, depression and death all came as a result of judgment. Why is God telling Zion to rejoice? Because “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” God intends on taking away from us all those “normal” things that make us miserable. I don’t think we are going to have to learn how to worship and praise and sing aloud for joy. I think it is going to be spontaneous. What is more, our celebrations are going to make us want to celebrate more and more. That is what we have to look forward to.

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This week we have been looking at a portion of scripture that reveals a small glimpse of what life in God’s eternal kingdom is going to be like. I hope it has whetted your appetite. I don’t know where you stand before God today – no one knows for sure but you and him. What I do know is that the eternal life that God offers those who take refuge in him is worth it.

LORD, we have decided to be in that number when the saints go marching in to your eternal kingdom. Our lips thirst for the purity that you offer for them. Our knees bow to you, we offer our lives for your service in imitation of king Jesus. Our hearts are longing for the peace and joy that cannot be taken away. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

ACST 33: Christ: The Union

Jesus  C-438 Since the incarnation, Christ has possessed two complete natures, fully incorporated into his being. He is not a half-man, half god hybrid. He is 100% human and 100% God. His deity is infinite, and was never lost – even when he walked upon earth as a human. His humanity began at his incarnation but it too is eternal. He will never cease to be our human savior. This union of the two natures, or substances, is referred to as the hypostatic union. The term comes from the Greek word hupostasis, meaning substance.

The author of Hebrews uses the term hupostasis to express how Christ is the exact imprint of the Father’s nature.[1] The ESV study Bible explains “Thus the Son is identical in substance to God, being himself fully God. In all attributes and abilities, the Son is exactly like the Father.”[2] Already this work has shown that Christ possesses both deity and humanity. It remains to explain why that is necessary.

God’s Plan

It was God’s plan from the beginning that the eternal Logos would become a human being and dwell here on earth with other human beings. He came down among us so that we could see his glory, a glory that only he and the Father share.[3] He became one of us because that was the way to the cross. As Paul put it “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[4] God’s plan required that the Logos retain his full deity while also becoming fully human.

Our Need

Humanity needed a redeemer who was one of us, “yet without sin.”[5] We were in a catch-22 situation. We could be redeemed from sin only by a sacrifice who identified entirely with our species. The sacrifice had to be human. But the catch was that our entire species had been defiled by original sin. Paul told the Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[6] What we needed was both necessary for us to provide ourselves, and impossible for us to provide for ourselves.

God stepped in with his grace, and with himself. The Son of God became a Son of Man. With that one step of grace, it became possible once again for humanity to receive eternal life.

Not a Third Thing

Some have suggested that Christ was actually a fusion of God’s Spirit (the Logos) with human flesh (Jesus). They imagine that Jesus was a tertium quid (Latin for third thing). The Christian church has argued against this idea. One example of this idea was Eutychianism.[7] This view held that Jesus’ human nature was overwhelmed by that of the divine Logos, and the result was a divine being who was different in nature from the Father. In its attempt to preserve the distinction between Christ and the Father, it denied what the Bible says about both.

Not Two Different Persons

Others, seeking to preserve the similarity between Christ and the Father, suggested that the human Jesus and the divine Logos were two separate beings. This idea is attributed to the Nestorians.[8] Again, historically, such ideas have been rejected by Christianity because they do not fit the biblical facts. If Christ were two separate persons, then the human half could not have been sinless enough to die for our sins.

So What?

The significance of the Christ’s two natures in his one being cannot be overstated. When the eternal Logos became flesh he added humanity to his divinity permanently. This was an act of divine grace, and shows how valuable humanity is to our creator. God so loved the world that he divested himself of the prerogatives of his divinity – though still retaining his divine nature. He became obedient even to the point of taking on mortality, though he did not deserve it. He embraced mortality and the cross for us.

There are no human analogies that could explain exactly what the eternal Logos did at the incarnation. Perhaps one that comes closest is a physician who infects herself with a disease in order to cure the disease. Humanity itself was a disease, and it had infected the planet. Christ humbled himself to become one of us in order to affect the restoration and healing that was needed. So Paul says that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[9]

Having Christ’s Mind

Paul gives his explanation of Christ’s becoming human in the context of encouraging the Church at Philippi to become more Christ-like. He tells them…

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.[10]

The mind that Christ had is the one that believers can have. It is a mind that cares more about helping others than about looking out for number one. It is a mind that is willing to sacrifice what one deserves so that others can get the grace that they do not deserve. Paul says that this mind is ours in Christ Jesus. It is that mind, and the selfless actions it produces, that will lead this fallen world back to its creator.


[1] Hebrews 1:3.

[2] ESV Study Bible, electronic edition (Heb.1:3).

[3] John 1:14.

[4] Philippians 2:6-8.

[5] Hebrews 4:15.

[6] Romans 3:23.

[7] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eutychianism

[8] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorianism

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[10] Philippians 2:4-15.

memory lane

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In case anyone is interested in missions history, some of our older newsletters (going back as far as 1999) are available here.

We want to thank those of you who have supported us with your prayers and gifts over the past fourteen years. Your support opened the doors for effective ministry, and has not been forgotten.