Welcome to the first Romans 15:8 blog of 2022. I would like to begin by offering thanks to two groups of people. First, thank you to those Church leaders who have joined the Romans 15:8 network in the past few months. The network now consists of 197 members, which is encouraging to all of us. Hopefully we will have many more sign-ups in 2022 and I would ask you to encourage others to sign up. If we can each introduce one new person this year, we will have (if my mathematics is up to the job) 394 members in place at the start of 2023! Second, thank you to all who prayed for me during my sabbatical. I will share a full sabbatical report in my next blog.
Teaching reflection of the month
Recently I was invited to preach on Mark 9:30-37. Let me share a few insights from this text. Hopefully this will raise some challenges and provide encouragement for all of us as we study these verses.
Verse 31 sets the context, namely that Jesus prioritised teaching His disciples. This reminds me that in ministry we all need to make priorities to establish some structures and maintain boundaries. Without this, it is likely that we will be swamped by the urgent demands of others, the incessant lure of new initiatives alongside the fickleness of our own desires. We need time to listen to Jesus, to study and to reflect. My recent sabbatical is testimony to this truth.
Within this teaching, Jesus speaks of His death once again. This is the second prediction of His death (the first is found in Mark 8:31, with the third in 10:33). The momentous event of His sacrificial death was not easily received or understood by His disciples, hence the need for Jesus to speak plainly on this issue at least three times.
The reality and significance of His death were not easily received or understood because the disciples were wedded to a traditional expectation of a victorious and conquering Messiah. The suffering on the cross, the reality of being condemned, mocked and handed over to the Gentiles (Mark 10:33) had no place within their ‘Messianic success narrative’.
Their narrative is partly reflected in their own arguments (:33), embedded in their hopes and concerns about who has power and who is the greatest. Jesus responds to this by focusing on a child (a similar teaching occurs in Mark 10:13-16). He takes the child in His arms (a description only found in Mark’s account - see also Matthew 18 and Luke 9) and begins to teach. Jesus, in good Rabbinic style, sits down (:35) to begin to teach and shares His thoughts on servanthood and welcome.
What can we learn and apply from this example of the child? I think most Christian teaching will focus on the following four main themes - all of which I think contain some wisdom:
First, the challenge for us is to be like children, regarding their ‘positive qualities’, such as humility, innocence, spontaneity, vulnerability and trustfulness.
Second, the challenge for us is to think deeply about greatness. For a disciple of Jesus, to be great is not about having power, winning arguments or impressing people. Greatness is found in focusing beyond yourself, with greatness rooted in welcoming those who are not viewed as great by your culture, those who are outside of the ‘inner circle’, and those who need a welcome.
Third, the challenge for us is to see that the essence of true greatness is found in service, namely service to God and to others.
Fourth, the challenge for us is to see the value of children. Jesus’ love and care for children is a model for us and our communities. Throughout the Bible we also see God’s covenantal faithfulness, often described as that of a relationship between a parent and a child. See, for example, Hosea 11:1-4 and the response of David in Psalm 131.
In conclusion, I understand that Jesus subverts conventional understanding of greatness and power. As disciples of Jesus, we stand firm against using power to establish our own worth, or using power to measure the value of others. In Jesus we see the ultimate subversion of power through His death on the cross. He laid down His life, with He who knew no sin becoming sin in order to make atonement for sin. Within this, we begin to glimpse the amazing redemptive love of God, His love for me, for you and for all.
Ministry news update
I am delighted to share with you that, on Thursday 21st October 2021 at Rochester Cathedral, the first ever service took place to celebrate the identity of a Jewish Believer in Jesus within the Church. This service was based on the liturgy produced and promoted by CMJ. Sometimes we may say that an event was significant, while we would very rarely use the word historical, but, on this occasion, both descriptions are true! A full report of this event will appear in the next edition of News and Views.
I am also pleased to report that the latest edition (Issue 47, 2021) of the Olive Press Research Papers has been published. It was written by Fran Waddams and focuses on the Damascus blood libel. It is an excellent paper and it has generated a great deal of discussion. Spare printed copies are available (contact CMJ at Eagle Lodge if you would like copies sent to you). This paper will be available to download from the CMJ UK website shortly.
Jerusalem Bound - How to be a pilgrim in the Holy Land by Rodney Aist (Cascade, 2020)
This is not an easy book to categorise. It is not a traditional guidebook for visitors to the Holy Land, nor is it a book that deals primarily with the history, politics or culture of the Holy Land (however Chapter 6 provides a very helpful overview of the history of the ‘Christian Holy Land’, from New Testament times until the present day). Rather, it is a book that explores the essence of what it means to be a pilgrim. Aist defines pilgrimage as a “exercise in transformation” and as “practical theology”. Pilgrimage is therefore rooted in “Christian formation”. Aist draws upon his considerable experience as a scholar (specialising in pre-Crusader pilgrimage), church leader and cross-cultural traveller.
Aist begins by attempting to explore key issues around pilgrimage, drawing upon the example of Abraham. Other Biblical examples are used, and I found his focus on the journey of the Magi (Matthew 2) to be very perceptive, proving to be a helpful resource for two Christmas sermons!
The book seeks to root pilgrimage within an authentic and radical Christian discipleship. Issues relating to the differences and similarities of being a ‘tourist’ and a ‘pilgrim’ are helpfully explored, along with issues of motivation. Aist asserts, by quoting Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), that “the grace of the Holy Spirit is not more abundant in Jerusalem than elsewhere”, yet the value and significance of Holy Land pilgrimage is clearly affirmed and celebrated.
I would strongly recommend anyone who is preparing to visit the Holy Land for the first time as a ‘pilgrim’ to read this book. It also provides a useful ‘reflective tool’ for those who have been privileged to have made many such ‘pilgrim journeys’ over the years. In addition to this book, my own Olive Press Research Paper Pilgrims’ Progress (Issue 12, 2012) may also be useful preparatory reading (this paper can be downloaded free from the CMJ UK website).
As I said, I would strongly recommend this book, yet I found that at times Aist’s reluctance or inability (based perhaps on lack of knowledge or theological convictions?) to affirm the significance of Israel’s restoration within the purposes of God made this book seem somewhat limited in its outlook and perhaps ‘hollows out’ some of the ‘theological richness’ of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Monthly Memory Verse
The verse this month is also the CMJ UK membership verse for 2022. Each year CMJ UK selects a verse for the year. Over the past ten years the following verses have been chosen. Sometimes the verse has been taken as the teaching verse for the conference sermon.
2013 Deuteronomy 18:15
2014 Luke 19:10
2015 Jeremiah 31:31
2016 Jeremiah 29:11
2017 Ecclesiastes 4:12
2018 Hebrews 10:23
2019 2 Corinthians 3:7-8
2020 Isaiah 2:5
2021 Jude 1:21
2022 Romans 3:25 (MJFB)
God set forth Yeshua as an atonement, through faith in His blood, to show His righteousness in passing over sins already committed.