The judiciary – time for a shift

Before making a few comments on the issue of the judiciary in Spain, and how it has been a prayer focus for us since late last year, I will pull wider to explain (hope not to justify!!) why we would be praying into this. Personal faith, and enabling people to discover real personal faith is very important to me, but over the years understanding that a) the Gospel message is much wider than that, and b) the body of Christ has a responsibility to enable the world to be the ‘best, though fallen, world it can be’ has pushed me to a context beyond the church, and an emphasis in prayer beyond ‘salvation of souls’. (I tend to use the term ‘body of Christ’ rather than ‘church’ as the latter often communicates a specific model with a focus on congregation and gathering. ‘Body of Christ’ is much more fluid, and I suggest is often more useful terminology as it cannot be colonised by a specific model.)

I believe in a spiritual world that involves demons, the devil etc., though my belief is more practical than theoretical. In other words even if that world does not exist as per classic charismatic understanding and there was no personal devil, I would still believe in spiritual powers. Those spiritual powers operate in and through the institutional constructs, so we have powers in the heavens above and powers on the earth beneath (maybe as Wink expresses: the interiority and exteriority of powers). Those powers will oppress people so that they are unable to find their true calling (sin = the tragedy of never discovering why one was born), and to blind the eyes of those who do not believe so that they cannot see the glory of God as revealed in Jesus. Shifting the influence of those powers is beneficial in itself as it will free people up, and will reduce the influence of powers to blind. Oppression is the bais of our fallen world, but freedom and justice is reflective of heaven’s presence on earth.

I maintain then there is value in and of itself in promoting, campaigning for, and praying for a release of justice. Intrinsic value and a means of clearing the heavens for an increased revelation of God as revealed in Jesus.

The Constitutional Court, Madrid

We have been aware that in Spain the judiciary has been corrupted. Appointments made by the government; cases against the government and judges can be moved off the case. The checks and balances are not present. One of the top lawyers, globally recognised, Baltasar Garzón, was disqualified of judicial activity, for overstepping his boundaries (or pushing hard into government scandals!). To date we have gone to all the national courts in Spain, the most recent one being the Constitutional Court, to pray. As always it is not possible to draw a straight line proving effectiveness. That is one of the wonderful aspects of prayer – it might have happened anyway, and it might have happened because of some other activity…

Four recent nationally impacting events have encouraged us greatly (I posted two of them as ‘news snippets’):

1) The Valley of the Fallen where some 30,000+ are buried, many of whom were prisoners of war, or died in the Civil War, has been a focus for us. We visited there in 2015,and were very happy (as well as highly amused) when Danny Mateo went there and danced where we had prayed. It is amazing when one looks for fulfilments in the world to what has been declared (‘dancers who dance upon injustice’) rather than to the church, how many fulfilments there really are. There is now a significant move forward in removing the bodies and re-burying them in family plots.

2) An impromptu road block was made to one of the roads into Catalonia. The result was arrests with the charge of ‘terrorism’. There was no violence involved, it was a protest. Terrorism would carry up to a 30 year sentence. Crazy… but that is the level of control. The result was the judge through it out. Come on you judges, justice is your standard not control through sentencing.

3) Madrid is a major focus of course for us (still waiting to hear if we will be able to buy the apartment there we looked at – all 18 foot x 13 foot: but in the Spirit a spacious place). There have been some great shifts in the city, with evictions from homes to the streets not occurring unless there is alternative accommodation,a nd the city debt has been reduced year on year. (We still have more work to do on that as the government has now taken a large part of the debt the mayoress and her team have worked hard on to reduce and claimed it as their own to be redistributed where they choose.) Madrid, the Communidad (wider area around Madrid, one of 17 divisions of this type in Spain), had a very politically strong leader. A short while back she was exposed as having a CV (resumé) that claimed a Masters degree that she did not have. Past history would tell us that she would ride the storm. Even when this first came out, we were told repeatedly by Spanish people that corruption is endemic and that this will not shift, and she will not resign. She held on for 36 days and then resigned. A small sign of a shift.

4) A case has just been closed relating to 5 men who repeatedly raped a young woman of 18 years of age in Pamplona during the San Fermin festival of 2016 (the ‘bull running’ festival). One of the judges wanted the men acquitted, and the outcome was that this was not rape but sexual abuse – reason being rape has to involve both violence and intimidation!! There has been such a massive public outcry with the streets erupting. The verdict is a disgrace, but something is rising, and (sadly) the redemptive element of this atrocious verdict is that there is a push from the streets for justice.

Gayle wrote to Roger and Sue Mitchell who were with us during some of the above situations:

The streets filled immediately. Particularly Madrid and outside the justice courts. Full of young women, and old, and men declaring the end of this crappy patriarchal system that violates woman. The images very moving.
I thought of the woman Menina statues going out all over MADRID and then real living women out everywhere in the thousands. So moving.
The government is going to re-look at the case due to public pressure. The movement is strong. So alive. So angry and raw. And so going to bring about change.

Prayer releases street movements for justice. Together they bring about change in the powers (heavenly and earthly). In this we rejoice and gather fresh energy.

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Why Did Dirk Willems Turn Back?

I owe a lot to the teachings and approach of Anabaptism. I have been deeply impacted by their prioritisation of the Gospels when it comes both to the practice and doctrine of the Christian faith. I did not take the ‘oath’ when serving on a court jury due to their teaching. It was not as simple as a law – Jesus said do not swear (an oath), so we do not swear, but an understanding that as followers of Christ our ‘yes’ has to be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ to be a ‘no’. Our allegiance to Christ means we are truth-tellers and to put ourselves under an oath would be to suggest that it is Christ + an oath for us to be truth-tellers. I am aware we live in the world and have to find a way through on situations, so I am really not sure what I would do if I lived in a country that asked for allegiance to a flag. An Anabaptist approach really says our allegiance is to Christ and therefore to the whole human race.

There is a story told that is very challenging of Dirk Willems who could have escaped but turned back to help his pursuer, and as a result was soon to be martyred. Not only am I challenged by ‘what would I have done’, but the interpretation of the event. Would I have interpreted it as God has delivered me, and went away praising God? I cannot but believe he did the ‘right thing’, even if I would have done the opposite. The challenge remains, often in small, non-life-threatening situations as to how I respond, and how much my faith in Christ enables (gladly obligates) me to live in a distinct counter-culture way.

(Below is from: https://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/article/why-did-dirk-willems-turn-back/)

1569 was a bad year to be an Anabaptist. The Martyrs’ Mirror lists a number of martyrs that year, some of whom lived close enough to Dirk’s home that he would surely have known of their deaths. I imagine the prospect of death was constantly with him, a steady part of his inner life. I imagine he frequently asked himself, “What would I do if …?” or, more likely in his circumstances, “What will I do when …?” His ruminations must have been shaped to a great extent by the teaching of the little Anabaptist fellowships, one of which met in his home. With arrest and death ever-present dangers, Anabaptists spent considerable time preparing one another to meet them.

Late in the winter of 1569, Dirk Willems of Holland was discovered as an Anabaptist, and a thief catcher came to arrest him at the village of Asperen. Running for his life, Dirk came to a body of water still coated with ice. After making his way across in great peril, he realised his pursuer had fallen through into the freezing water.

Turning back, Dirk ran to the struggling man and dragged him safely to shore. The thief catcher wanted to release Dirk, but a burgomaster – having appeared on the scene – reminded the man he was under oath to deliver criminals to justice. Dirk was bound off to prison, interrogated, and tortured in an unsuccessful effort to make him renounce his faith. He was tried and found guilty of having been rebaptised, of holding secret meetings in his home, and of allowing baptism there – all of which he freely confessed.

“Persisting obstinately in his opinion”, Dirk was sentenced to execution by fire. On the day of execution, a strong east wind blew the flames away from his upper body so that death was long delayed. The same wind carried his voice to the next town, where people heard him cry more than seventy times, “O my Lord; my God”. The judge present was “finally filled with sorrow and regret”. Wheeling his horse around so he saw no more, he ordered the executioner, “Dispatch the man with a quick death.”

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Betrayal leads to the cross

The cross is a complex issue. Years ago I heard Tom Wright say he was teaching Sunday School to children and he asked them to come up with the reasons for the crucifixion. Eventually the varied answers from the group came back. Some picked up on those (bad) Romans, others on the jealousy and opposition of the Jews, others went for forgiveness by God through the cross. Perhaps overstating things he suggested that between those kids they held together what theologians had been unable to. The reasons for the cross were manifold.

Sin of course meant the cross. Some interpret that as the wrath of God had to be appeased as he cannot look on sin… I am suggesting though that sin at every level meant the cross took place. The sin of Empire, for Jesus suffered the death of the rebel against Rome, the sin of the alignment of religion and money / compromise (better one die than they come and take away our freedoms and this place), the sin of wrong valuations – 30 pieces of silver is what this is worth (how many ways are there to kill people through unjust trade deals?). One more I have been thinking about is betrayal. The betrayal opened the door for the high priests and Sanhedrin to hand Jesus over to the powers. I don’t know if betrayal was necessary for the cross, but what is sure is Jesus drank the cup of betrayal to its finish.

Betrayal, let down, shafted, stitched… in whatever form or shape it comes it is part of what shapes humanity and its sorry state. Stemming from a devaluation of others (hence the irony of valuing the transaction at 30 pieces of silver).

What a potent combination – money, religion, compromise, false alignments, and the anticipated punishment of the Jewish state by Rome. They are all there as part of the cross. But seemingly unlocked by betrayal. Far from the idea that Judas was predestined to betray is the thought that betrayal opens the door, the deepest of which comes from those on ‘the inside’, and Jesus knew from the beginning who it was that would betray him.

If we safeguard ourselves against betrayal (not possible!!) we will be forever putting limitations on the effects of the cross.

Thus endeth my pleasant thought for the day!

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Elect… in Him

This will be a quick blog to suggest the easiest way to understand election. By easiest of course I mean the biblical my way. From as far back as I can remember I had always struggled to understand election as some chosen and others not. The Armininian position of elect according to foreknowledge was at least a softer option. In that approach God did not influence the choice but simply knows beforehand who would respond (normally also the Greek view of timelessness was also part of the package, so God knowing everything without being the cause of the knowledge). The Calvinist position was effectively the reverse of that – so that foreknowledge was based on pre-determination simply never sat easy for me. It seems the Calvinist position reversed this because ‘the sovereign will’ of God has to be preserved. His power and will being pre-eminent.

It seems unlikely that Scripture suggests a literal understanding of Adam and Eve as the first human pair but rather to understand them as either simply representatives of humanity or probably better as some sort of prototypical analogy to Israel as the chosen nation. They stand in unique relationship to God, as God’s representative (image) on the earth. As such they have a responsibility. Chosenness comes with a task responsibility. The task was to flow out of a relational understanding, for the task was to be carried out as representatives of God. God appears in the garden as the Gardener (an insight from Ray Mayhew). Hence the beautiful phrase from Mary to the unrecognised risen Jesus ‘I thought you were the gardener’! How God appears in the original creation and how he appears in the New Creation. God does not appear in the garden as the despot, dictator nor even as king. He walks in the garden as the gardener. The task is not to rule but it is to rule in a certain way. By getting hands dirty, serving, cultivating, nurturing. Hence, with the choice of the disciples Scripture says Jesus first chose them to ‘be with him’. If there is no ‘being with’ the manner in which the task is performed will not be understood. Jesus explained that in a very strong way when he said miracles will even be done in his name but his confession will be he never knew the person performing the miracle.

Election is to task, but it is vital to understand how the task is to be carried out.

This election to task I understand is at the heart of Israel’s reason for being. Israel (and then the body of Christ) is called as the royal priesthood. That which comes to serve the nations, to represent God to them and them to God, to enable them to become the best (most redemptive) version of what they can be, where in mutual co-operation and partnership something of heaven appears within creation. This is a vision not of transformation with the church triumphant, but of transformation with the body of Christ present as salt (throughout) and as light (not to be looked at but to enable others to have clearer sight). The church is vital, and triumphant but not over others but triumphant in completing the task.

Election is in him

Chosen in him before the foundation of the world.‘ The language is precise. This is not an expression of arbitrary election but of election that is in him. I parallel this with the confession of a Jew. A Jew was chosen in Abraham and a date can be attached to this before the birth of that Jew, say 1800BC. The individual Jew is not the primary chosen one. Abraham is the chosen one, he is the elect one. The Jew is chosen in him. Because the Jew is in Abraham the Jew is chosen. And the Jew can date that… way back in time. Likewise the believer is chosen in Christ. Jesus is the chosen one, the believer is chosen in him. When… way back in time!! Even before the foundation of the earth for Jesus is the eternal chosen one. The moment a person is in Christ they are chosen. When did that choice take place? Before the foundation of the earth. Whoever is in Christ is chosen. The predetermination is not over some choice to save some and not others, but that those who are chosen (those who are in Christ) will be conformed to the image of Jesus. Jesus is the chosen one, those in him are pre-destined, they are caught up in his destiny, and therefore will be conformed to his image.

I have used the above parallel between Jew and believer, but we should really push this a little beyond that. The focus of Scripture is not primarily on individuals, but on a corporate people. It is a ‘we’ not an ‘I’. ‘We’, the nation of Israel, ‘we’ the ekklesia are chosen, elect. The corporate reading of Scripture opens new vistas. So, in reading Romans, Daniel Kirk suggests the sense of ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ is not a statement of the evil-ness of humanity, but if we read it as ‘both (Jew and Gentile = the entire world) have sinned…’ that we will better get Paul’s argument, ‘to the Jew first, then to the Gentiles’.

Summary: election is

  • coporate not individual
  • to fulfil a task
  • in him, he being the chosen one.

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Interpretation of words

Prophecy that speaks of our enlarged, brighter future is not too difficult to accept, and of course even easier to ‘weigh’! A while back we were given a word about property and how it would be bigger than we were thinking with more space to do certain things and to have space for others. A great word as we were aware that to get property in that location would be quite a challenge. The word spoken carried weight.

We are (hopefully) closer now than ever to the realisation of that possibility and if certain things work out the end-result will be a place smaller than we were originally aiming for! If it comes to pass, was the word wrong, or did we miss things along the way through a lack of response? Of course both or one of those elements could be correct, but we have become so aware that a word releases expectations based on one’s understanding at the time. The final fulfilment is often different and is part of what God uses to re-educate us.

We came to this area to look for property at the end of 2013 following a dream Gayle had of us living in ‘Calle Azahar’. Azahar, at the time, was an unknown to us Spanish word meaning ‘orange blossom’. After researching Azahar streets in Spain (including visiting some) we understood that we were to be looking along Costa Azahar and drove much of it over four days looking for a connection. We found nothing till we came to the end of those days and came to our current location. The next morning I woke early with the conviction we would put an offer on three places, the third one would be accepted, and that it would be a grace package. I understood this to mean that each offer would be higher than the one before. So eventually the final offer would cost more than we would be comfortable with.

My previous understanding of ‘grace package’ would have been that it would cost us less that we thought. And that is not an unreasonable interpretation, but in this case the opposite was to be our expectation. I did not understand it at the time, but shared it with Gayle. We did offer on three places, including making an offer of the asking price on the second property! The agent we worked with said that in 14 years he had not come across the response we were getting. The offer on the third place was 70% higher than the offer on the first place. The third offer was also initially refused, but we let it hang there for a few weeks. In that time of waiting we had a call from Michael Schiffmann who explained that there were three angels ready to work with us for different purposes. We connected with the one that was going to enable us to leave Cádiz and within the hour the phone rang. The agent said I don’t know what has happened but you have the property.

In that experience we had to understand and embrace that a ‘grace package’ for us in that situation meant it would cost us more than we had thought. The emptier our pockets were the more we would need God’s grace provision. Our expectation had to change, and so the interpretation changed.

I think there are words we miss because we cannot allow our expectations to change and receive a fulfilment different to what we expected. Re-education is so necessary.

‘Property that will give you a larger space than you are thinking…’ We have confronted the Mammon issue. Mammon declares who can do what, who can live where, and apparently Mammon has not been keen to let us enter certain doors. We had one slammed on our faces at the turn of the year. Since then our prayer became – space, Lord, just a gap we can squeeze into… Prayers reflect what is changing in us; they can also help lead us in a direction. ‘Space Lord, just a gap…’ maybe began as a response to the door slammed. Maybe our faith took a knock, but the prayer has enlarged over the weeks. ‘Just a space, a hole, a gap… so that we will have a leverage point to make space for those who need space in the city.

Huge shifts take place from the smallest of places. Leverage points. Signs that point beyond themselves to a reality, and signs that draw the reality they point to into the location where the sign is.

Maybe we are missing it, maybe we are those of little faith, but our conviction is from a small space we can open space way beyond what we were originally thinking. Even if we are now wrong in that interpretation, any prophecy that speaks of blessing, enlargement etc., will see us blessed (God is good and generous) but the desired outcome in the heart of God is that through us for others. The very process of ‘through’ will enrich us. God does not use someone as an uncared for channel, but as a deeply cared for person he goes beyond them to enrich others.

We are looking to a soon fulfilled word… and fulfilled with space beyond what we were thinking, but we will turn to thank God whatever the size of our ‘property’ when we see those who need space find space. Fulfilments beyond what we were thinking before receiving a word and fulfilments beyond former expectations of what that word meant.

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A straight line? Of course

I am where I am because of the journey I took. Now that is so profound I almost need to take a breather. It is, of course, an obvious truism, but what we do not always own up to is that we could not have predicted back then where the journey would lead us. Steve and Kathy Lowton are here with us for a week with their two youngest, and meeting with them seems to always bring about a sense of ‘this is where we have come from’. One year ago we met them in Madrid, there over Gayle’s birthday, praying into the politics of Spain and Europe we coincidentally met a British political journalist. It was when we there that Steve’s statement that ‘Scotty still believes what he has always believes’ came out, provoking a few posts on that theme.

Twenty years ago I travelled to Leeds (the Lowtons home city) and met with a group of church leaders from across the city. I had been praying for weeks for invitations to come from the cities of the UK. I saw that there really was ‘the church in the locality’ that had been positioned there for the wellbeing of the locality, for its transformation. One morning while both asking for cities to open and also expressing my frustration with nothing shifting, I sensed the Lord prompt me with the thought as to how many cities I could travel to at one time. Obvious answer ‘one’. So my prayer changed that morning to ‘Lord open up one city to me.’ Within a short period of time Steve called me and invited me to come meet with those leaders. Something connected, and Leeds opened her door. From there I never asked for an invite, but from that city one after another opened, and for the next 10 years I travelled with others in that way.

Calendar

Twenty years ago (March 1998) I donned sackcloth, as one would, and clothed in that way was graciously invited to address a conference. I knew that something catalytic was taking place in those years. Convention had got us to where we were, but the ‘train’ was terminating there. If we wanted to move forward we would have to get off the train, put on new clothing, the clothing of humility, step beyond the walls we had built and we would find travelling companions that we had not met before; that we would move beyond relationships birthed out of common identity and discover relationships for the sake of territory.

Those months were formative for me, but far more formative than one realised. Looking back there was a ‘before’ and an ‘after’.

I can see how I am where I am. I can see that ‘Scotty still believes’, yet so much has changed. Back in 1998 as cities began to open I could see a straight line. Prayer and the prophetic would open things up, salvations would abound and a new manifestation of ‘mega church’ would come, church across a region, not necessarily mega in the sense of mega congregations but mega in the sense of the united body of Christ across an area. I no longer expect nor hope for that. One interpretation could be that I have lost hope along the way… another is that virtually all expectations are misplaced, that the fulfilment is different to the expectation.

Ten years ago in this month I was making a crazy mental mind shift. I was working much more in mainland Europe and anticipated that at some level I would make a move in that direction. I had travelled just a little to Spain; then because of a relational commitment I tentatively committed myself to a one year (temporary) change of address. To a place I had never travelled to – Mallorca. Within weeks I had visited Holy Island and maybe connecting with the ancient Celtic saints as clear as any audible voice could be I heard – you are not going for 1 year but for 3. Stepping outside my geographical setting was one aspect, but a three year move meant the acceleration of the process of stepping outside my easy-to-define church work. Twenty years ago dressed in sackcloth I could not see what would be my changing context of 10 years ago. And from that vantage point I could not have seen our focus of today. Looking back – a straight line. But this has been no predictable straight line.

There are always key relationships and influences along the way. Change comes from heaven and our response but human interactions and also the contextual situations are the means through which changes are provoked, catalysed or confirmed. Steve & Kathy represent two people among scores of others who have been very important. But Gayle has been more than a travelling companion, and a while back I had a dream that I was to receive an impartation of youthfulness ‘because I was with Gayle’. The important part for me was not that the final phrase was incidental, but that I had to ensure I was with her. Of course we are with each other, but the key for my future was to be with her. The priority was the ground she was standing on, and I know that she has helped catalyse more changes in me these past (almost) 10 years.

Not really a straight line, and at the times of unexpected curves on the road, and particularly the times when the wheels come off, it seems ultra important to respond to what the Lord is doing inside us. Even if those times are well represented by the Jonah and the sea monster experiences. Those three days of change in the belly of the whale so prepare us for the 3 days of walking our Ninevah with the message the Lord has given.

Expectations of 20 years ago have given way to expectations of ten years ago. Today those are manifesting as a hope for the transformation from the effects of the deep history of this land, the opening of Europe for something that will resonate deeply with the Pauline gospel. Helping lead people to finding faith in Jesus, prayer for shifts, prophesying to the powers – all remain central… but the context has enlarged beyond anything I could see 20 years ago. It seems the ‘train’ of 20 years ago terminated, and other transport became available, but those methods of transportation likewise have come to a stop. This is the time to walk, let the land rise up to greet us, look the Babels in the eye, for if humility has been embraced at any level, we will not be seen so easily in return, and through the multiplicity of the small at grass roots, and the richness of diversity that results from journeys of 20, 10 or 2 years we can gain sight that will give us energy in return for this next phase.

By the end of 2020 our expectation is that there will be much more of a level playing field. That the contexts in which we will find ourselves will not be so weighted against us due to the excess of historical buildup, that we will not be pushing up hill but the pushes will move something forward.

Twenty years ago as a young 42 year old I stepped out; now as a only-slightly-not-so-young 62 year old I can still hear the passion of heaven for this world. Expectations are still present for these next 10 and 20 years. I will of course claim yet again that I arrived there following the ever-so-obvious straight line. Then a slight pause for reflection will show there were some amazing curves in that road, and will also reveal that some old connections and some people I have not met to date were incredibly influential in provoking just enough flexibility to change.

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Does not remain the same

Resurrection: continuity and discontinuity. Jesus, rises, not someone else. His body can be touched, he can eat. He is recognised. Clearly there is continuity. But there are changes. He appears and disappears from sight. He eats not to stay alive, maybe indicating that eating is always about more than satisfying hunger, but each time we take food we are ‘guests at his table’. Continuity and discontinuity at a personal level. And also at a corporate level.

The Hosea Scripture, ‘on the third day he will raise us up’, indicates that his resurrection was the resurrection of Israel. And because it was the resurrection of Israel there is continuity and there is discontinuity as far as corporate identity is concerned. The second sign of the arrival of the kingdom (resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit) was promised to those who repented, for the promise was for ‘them’, for all those who saved themselves from that corrupt generation (Acts 2:39,40). The crisis had truly come as far as the apostolic preachers were concerned: refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and the fate will be to be ‘utterly rooted out of this people’ (Acts 3:23), clearly indicating that those who refused the Messiah will no longer be viewed as part of ‘the people’ (Lev. 20:3, 5, 6).

A strong perspective to say the least. But the strength of it is in proportion to the intervention of heaven through the life of Christ. ‘Born of a woman, born under the law’, coming to his own who do not receive him, punished by the twinning together of Imperial and religious powers, but vindicated by heaven.

The very title ‘son of God’ is not a title indicating divinity. Israel was God’s son, called out of Egypt, and Jesus is declared ‘son’ by the resurrection (Rom. 1:4). He is raised as the one true Israel, the one and only truly human one.

The ‘people’ called to be a sign of the age to come, to image themselves (imagine) not on the Imperial powers of the day but on the radical horizontal outworking of a devotion to a God who is not in the image of any Pharaoh nor Caesar, that son had failed. The Son comes and overcomes, even death cannot hold the Author of life.

Such life is so strong that everything has to be redefined. There is continuity – the call continues; there is discontinuity – those in Christ are the children of promise, the descendants of Abraham. It took a while for there to be an outworking of where the Gentiles fitted in the scheme. It seems the early days were spent in seeking to provoke as many (Jews) from the broad way that would only lead to destruction and on to the narrow path that would lead to life. Those early days were spent in persuading Jews. They knew they could be part of the ‘people’, but only if they came through the door of life.

This is not ‘replacement theology’ but Christocentric theology. Christ at the centre of all of God’s purposes redefines everything. Those in Christ have to pick up that calling to be imaged by God for the sake of the world, to be signs that both point to that reality and as signs bring that reality ever closer. Salvation from… is important, but salvation for… is what defines the ‘people’. A Christocentric definition does not necessarily condemn all Jews (and Paul wrestled with that one), nor does it condemn all those outside of Christ. A judgement to come will decide on those issues! It does not condemn, but it calls from that tomb for all who through their obedience to Christ, can humbly line up to be counted among the ‘people’.

Israel, today, cannot be whitewashed for treatment of those who are their neighbours. Any such, unthinking response cannot stand the test of any biblical prophet, and one can only applaud the recent comments by Pope Francis for his public rebuke.

The tasks that lie ahead are enormous; the energy flowing from the tomb though is more than necessary for the fulfilment of the task. The early call was to the Jew; now we understand the call is to one and all for there is no Jew nor Greek, but ‘all’ are in Christ.

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The third day

He was raised on the third day, ‘according to the Scriptures’, so goes the early confession of the believers which we can read in 1 Cor. 15:4. The Scripture has to be Hosea 6:2

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

That Scripture, relating to the resurrection has enormous ramifications for who are the ‘chosen’ people, and one that I will get to in the coming days. Alongside that Scripture the other central text given as a ‘sign’ is that of Jonah (Matt. 12: 39,40).

No sign will be given.. except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.

I like the NRSV translation above – not whale but ‘sea monster’. I am really not sure that Jonah literally existed and there are certainly some ’embellishments’ in the Jonah text (3 days to cross Ninevah!!), and we certainly have no need to defend the historicity of the story to get its significance. Mission, was the significance and mission to the nations, even to the ’empire’ of the day that stood (as all empires do) against God’s outpoured, ridiculously generous, love.

The sea monster (the one who re-appears in Revelation maybe?) vomited Jonah up and out. He vomited him up and out not back into the place of comfort and certainly not of escape but into the launching pad for the nation(s). The sea monster could not hold him.

Neither could death hold Jesus. God raised him, and maybe death spewed him out in reaction to that impartation of divine life. Life entering the place of death meant there was a holy reaction.

Resurrection re-configures Israel (Hosea) and restores why there was a chosen people. God’s huge ‘yes’ to humanity is testified to in the resurrection. Those ‘in Christ’ are commissioned not to be separate from those not yet in Christ, but are ‘spewed up’ out of the belly of the sea monster ready to go to Ninevah. Ninevah might not be as big as we think, but to cross it will truly take three days. The journey across takes three days, the time in the belly of the sea monster, it will take the entire history of our bondage, and our death to that system to travel across our Ninevah.

For Paul his Ninevah was the entire Imperial lands of Rome. He likewise was blind for 3 days (Acts 9:9) in that transition out of his religious bondage and deception until he could truly see light.

We all have our ‘three days’, and often experience repetitive cycles of three days, but on the third day without short-circuiting it, we are ready. Spewed up as always by the system. On the dry land, the place God separated from the waters for humanity to care for: dry land that has been polluted, Ninevahs that have been built on it. But the ‘Jonahs’ are coming!! Jonah sought to get to the ends of the Empire (Tarshish / Cádiz) to escape. Paul sought to get to the ends of the earth (Spain). He did not aim for the religious centre. That was truly ended at the cross. The Temple curtain ripped. That was the end. The third day, post-vomit is the beginning.

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A ‘YES’ from heaven

What a day to look forward to… the hope, because of the faithfulness of God, that the righteous will rise to participate in the age to come, to be with God when he comes to put all things right. Then right in the midst of the place that was to keep that hope alive, Jerusalem / Israel, probably as the day dawned, Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. That he died was not disputed, that his body could not be found in the grave was not disputed, but the implications for Israel and for the world? Those implications were just too much for many. Deny he had risen – the disciples had stolen the body – otherwise they had a major issue to face.

There would have been no controversy worth arguing about if the disciples claimed that Jesus was alive beyond death. Life after death was not a focus nor that controversial, but resurrection was both the hope and the controversial element that raised enormous questions. Crucified by the Romans, the death penalty for sedition and rebellion against the state, seen through Jewish eyes as confirmation that he was a blasphemer, cursed of God being all those who ‘hang on a tree’. For the early Christians to state that this Jesus had been raised by God as an affirmation of his faithful life was an affront. Within a short while Saul of Tarsus was pursuing all deviant Jews who had come to believe this about Jesus. At one level it would not have concerned him what the pagans thought, but for Jews to believe such a thing would only bring yet more judgement on Israel, therefore in line with his passion for holiness he set about imprisoning and even sentencing to death such believers.

The resurrection, human life in bodily form, was God’s huge affirmation of Jesus: he declared him to be the son of God in power through the resurrection, but it is more than an affirmation of Jesus, the resurrection is the hugest affirmation of humanity. For humanity to be in the image of God and set in creation was a strong affirmation, but to raise Jesus bodily is an affirmation of the fitness of humanity to participate in the age to come, and goes beyond even that creational identity. The ‘yes’ echoes around the walls of the empty tomb. God is for humanity… God wants to spend time, for ever, with humanity.

Because of the resurrection:

  • We must have a high theology of and for humanity.
  • We have a firm assurance that what we see around us is not all going to burn up. Through the fire, yes, but through the fire.
  • We recognise a new world has appeared for those who can see it. That new world is calling now for those to inhabit it with the values of the age to come. That original great Easter morning opens the door to the great new world that is coming, and is here.
  • We see all of life that affirms dignity, well-being and relational health as resonating with values that heaven responded to that morning. We cannot elevate the ‘spiritual’ above the ‘mundane’. The strength of heaven is so invasive that God is found wherever we travel.

What a day… what a hope… what a provocation to LIVE now, to sown now for then.

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