See post for November 1, 2020 with the Bible study on this theme
Calling for order
In every age, God has raised up people to speak, act and go for Him, and they have a single, straightforward task: to call for order.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is a familiar figure to us, calling for order. It is not his (or her) order. It is the order of the House and the parliamentary priorities and protocol, and it is a call that comes with the authority of the House, especially when debates get out of hand or members pursue their own agendas instead of speaking within the allotted time, to the matter that is tabled. It is necessary to have a robust means of reviewing and restoring.
Parliament has its traditions, established over hundreds of years, and it changes slowly. It is not about innovating, but following the existing pattern and doing it well.
In spiritual life, there are similarities but some different values. In particular, God is always ahead of us, “doing a new thing”, Isaiah 43:19 and calling us to catch up. So His call for order is to review and renew — and rediscover His order.
In the OT we meet the prophets — on a mission to prevent Israel sinking spiritually to become just another pagan nation, losing their holy identity and protection as God’s chosen people and being overrun by one of the neighbouring pagan kingdoms. For two or three hundred years of deteriorating leadership and forgetting the covenant, Micah, Joel and subsequent prophets called the people back, warning them graphically of what would happen if they didn’t listen to God and turn back to Him. He would be sending His Messiah, an Anointed One who would be a descendant of the renowned King David, and He would establish a new rule of peace and experien ce of God.
The Good News of the kingdom of God
In the NT we meet Jesus — more than a prophet, the Messiah and Saviour. His call to review and renew is about the law and how it is fulfilled with His coming to become the new order of the kingdom of God. In this new order, God’s justice and righteous working enters the hearts of men and women. The obedience which the law called for, becomes innate rather than learned, the good fruit of a life lived in relationship with God. What Adam had and then lost, becomes restored by Jesus who is like a Second Adam with the unique power to deal with the sin and independence, and restore fellowship with God to any and every person who would turn to Him.
New life and mission in the power of the Spirit
After the Resurrection of Jesus, there is a big shift. The New Testament falls into two halves — first the teaching of Jesus, and then the life of Jesus and His Spirit. The teaching of Jesus bridges the end of the Old Testament era and brings the first experience of the kingdom of God in His person. Then after His death and resurrection this changes to living the teaching of Jesus. There is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised, not just on a particular anointed prophet or key person, but on all who respond to the revelation of who Jesus is and believe in Him. Now it is not about keeping the laws and participating in the rituals, or even striving to obey some difficult teaching like “be perfect” and “turn the other cheek” and “as we forgive those that trespass against us”. Now it is about living it out, with these things evident as the good fruit of lives submitted to Jesus and enabled by His Spirit. In the NT letters we see Paul, Peter and John encouraging believers to live this new life and make good choices, while Luke gives us a fascinating account of how the church grew and spread in Acts, which is like a timeline into which the various letters to churches can be fitted.
Three passages of Scripture
Three particular passages of Scripture teach us about God’s call to review and renew, from these three different perspectives.
Micah is an early prophet who sees with prophetic clarity (Micah 3:5-12) how the spiritual decline in his nation is not going to play out well. It is a challenge to the complacency and pride of the court establishment, and its cabal of self-styled prophets, and holds up to question whether God is with them in their increasingly corrupt and harsh rule. It’s the same challenge to church denominational establishments, which hold the high ground of church custom and practice, but sometimes are less than spiritual — and inflexible in considering the challenge of taking the message to today’s people in new ways that connect with them.
The story about Jesus’ challenge to the teachers of the law (Matthew 23:1-12) addresses another group of people who considered themselves superior, and who acted out their imagined status in a number of ways, with ostentatiously different dress and the use of honorific titles. Jesus delivers a stern warning about parading such affectations and expecting to be treated with deference, telling the crowd that the one Teacher they needed was the Messiah, to whom they all related equally as brothers. Then He delivered one of His most enduring teachings — and sayings: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus’ warning about religious self-exaltation still stands. Since the Reformation in the 1500s every hundred years or so there has been a divine ‘review and renew’ movement resulting in significant revivals in the 1700s with the Wesley brothers, Charles Simeon and others, the 1800s with the birth of the Salvation Army, Spurgeon and other great Victorian preachers and an explosion in church planting and buildings; and the charismatic renewal of the later 1900s with its missional emphasis, new church streams, and the Spring Harvest and New Wine gatherings attracting very large numbers. Each one of these has been something of a grass roots movement, breaking out of formality — and hierarchical disapproval, like the bishop who told John Wesley, “Enthusiasm, sir, is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing indeed.” Which summarises the tension, takes us back to what Jesus said to the religious leaders, and reminds us what God is constantly reviewing and renewing in our time.
Paul, as we have observed, is concerned about living the message, and his efforts to show himself and the message to be of a whole and therefore authentic, seem strangely contemporary (1 Thess. 2:9-13). There was a sharp distinction in Greek society between those who used words, and those who worked with tools. Paul did both. The hardships he had suffered in the cause of the gospel, and being seen to meet hatred with love and grace, showed the power of God working through Him, rather than the trappings of authority loved by the Greeks and Romans. This teaches us about first living as good news to others, which then earns us some credibility with others, to talk about the Good News of Jesus and His kingdom.
How not to do it, how we are to do it
We have been entrusted with the greatest, most life-giving and most hopeful good news ever — but we face into an audience hypersensitive to hypocrisy and weary of style without substance. Jesus has told us how to bring it off. We are to be servants, humble but confident in God, and allowing Him and not men to do the exalting.
Return to November 1 post