May Update - 2022


Welcome to my Romans 15:8 blog for May. As we approach the celebration of Pentecost, followed by Trinity Sunday, there is much to reflect on and share. I hope that this blog (and the wider 15:8 network) is helpful for us in leadership as we seek to uphold key values and convictions relating to Israel, the Church, our mission and Jewish-Christian relations.

Teaching Reflection of the Month

It was my turn this month to provide some of the teaching notes for the sermon resources that are sent out each week from Christ Church, Jerusalem to Church leaders and preachers around the world. The notes are based on the set readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. I would like to share with you the notes for Trinity Sunday (12th June):

Readings from the Revised Common Lectionary:

Isaiah 6:1-7, Psalm 29, Revelation 4:1-11, John 16:5-15

  • Isaiah 6:1-7

The people had mocked the ‘Holy One of Israel’ (5:19), but as a result of Isaiah’s call and his subsequent prophetic ministry, this mockery and lack of faith would be challenged, while those promoting such mockery would be called to account. The call came in the year King Uzziah died (740 BC).

This dating by a death is unique, as no other prophet does this, but Isaiah does it twice, once here and again in 14:28. King Uzziah was in many ways a righteous and good King yet, as he died, he was in a state of isolation and separation from God and the people. He suffered from leprosy and had been judged for his pride and arrogance (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21).

In this sense, King Uzziah’s death is symbolic of the problems and plight of the nation. Yet God is not silent, for, in this moment of death, God gave Isaiah a powerful revelation and words to speak: words full of promise, new life and grace. In the following sections of Isaiah, we see the triumph of grace and the promise of redemption, which is embedded in judgement.

In verse 3, the focus is on Holiness and the threefold repetition of the call is to emphasise God’s infinite Holiness. Also, as we focus today on the Trinity, this call may well give us an insight into God’s unity within tri-unity. In the one Divine Being there are three ‘persons’ or individual subsistences, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are the same in terms of substance or essence, but distinct in terms of subsistence or existence. Maybe the quote from St Bernard of Clairvaux is worth reflecting on at this point- ‘How can plurality consist with unity, or unity with plurality? To examine the fact closely is rashness, to believe it is true piety, to know it is life, and life eternal’. {As this Sunday is Trinity Sunday, I recommend the following books as helpful resources for preachers exploring key aspects of the Trinity: Walking an Ancient Path, by Alex Jacob (Glory to Glory Publications, 2016), The Jewish Trinity, by Yoel Natan (Aventine Press, 2003) and The Trinity - An Essential for Faith in Our Time, by Andrew Stirling (Evangel Publishing House, 2002).

In verse 7, a live coal touches Isaiah’s mouth and lips (and takes away his guilt), which has parallels with the call of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 1:9). This emphasises that all true prophets need to be cleansed, reconciled with and empowered by the LORD. In this act of cleansing and empowering we have a glimpse of substitutionary sacrifice, which holds together insights of atonement, satisfaction and propitiation.

  • Psalm 29

The traditional Hebrew title for the Psalms is Tehillim (praises), but many of the Psalms are Tephillot (prayers). The Psalms help us to both speak to God in prayer and speak (or sing) of God in praise. This Psalm (a Psalm of David) is a vibrant example of a song of praise.

The opening verse is a summons to all beings in the heavenly realm (this links back to Isaiah’s vision) to worship the LORD. These words echo the liturgy of the Temple (see 1 Chronicles 16).

The praise flows from the understanding that the LORD is the King of creation, whose power, beauty and majesty are proclaimed by storms and thunderbolts.

The Psalm concludes with the affirmation of God’s sovereign rule and the proclamation to bring peace and blessings to His people.

  • Revelation 4:1-11

John is the power and presence of the Spirit (:2) who is invited into the throne room of heaven. This has parallels with Isaiah’s call and with Moses, who is called up to Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) to receive the commandments.

John begins to try to describe that which is beyond words; he writes of the utter awesomeness of what he sees and hears in terms of the reflected brilliance of precious stones, lightning and thunder. The four living creatures John describes are very similar to those in the vision given to Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1).

The four living creatures (:8) continually offer up their songs of praise, which connects back to Isaiah 6. The focus on the past (who was), present (and is) and future (is to come) repeat the opening greeting given in Revelation 1:4. This focus reminds me of the acclamation of praise that is offered in most Holy Communion celebrations when we declare, ‘Messiah has died, Messiah is risen, Messiah will come again’. This acclamation unites Christians across traditions, times and cultures, reminding us that we are rooted in time. First, our faith looks back to the redemptive acts of Jesus. Second, our faith is rooted in the present, namely in the reality and presence of the risen LORD and the outworking of daily discipleship shaped by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Third, our faith is rooted in the future, namely the Second Coming of Jesus and the full consummation of God’s Kingdom promises.

The final emphasis on the future (is to come) may well be an expansion of the Divine Name, as revealed to Moses at the start of the Exodus (Exodus 3:14-15). {For a further study into the Divine Name I recommend the book by R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011)}.

The reading from Revelation concludes with the celebration and acknowledgment that God alone is worthy of worship. The focus here on creation leads us back to the very beginning (Genesis 1).

  • John 16:5-15

Our Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday is this intimate section of teaching by Jesus about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows that he probably has less than 24 hours before His crucifixion. In this context of concern, fear (John 14:27) and grief (16:6), Jesus talks directly about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will do many things, He will convict (or will expose the guilt of the world) the world of guilt (:8), He will guide the disciples in the ways of truth (:12), He will tell about what is yet to come (:13) and He will glorify Jesus.

In verse 15 once again we see the close and ‘inter-related’ relationship of the Father, Spirit and Jesus. The final verse (:16) tells of a time (a little while) when the disciples will see Jesus again. Some people suggest this refers to the Second Coming, but on balance I see this fitting more the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

As we reflect on this, let us pray that we will all have a renewed vision of the majesty of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May we also have a growing openness to yield our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is not a gift from God to compensate for the absence of Jesus, but rather the Holy Spirit is a gift from God to confirm the presence of the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus in His people today.

Ministry News Update

This month I had the challenge and privilege of being interviewed on the Radio 4 Sunday programme (15th May). The interview/discussion focused on issues that arose from the service of repentance and commitment on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford. This service took place at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford on 8th May. I felt that the interview went well and I see this as a good advocacy opportunity for CMJ. Thank you to those who prayed for me and for those who listened in and gave feedback.

The next edition of News and Views (Issue 2, 2022) will have a major article on the Oxford Synod event and my reflections on this.

Book Review

Last Days & End Times, Peter Sammons (Christian Publications International, 2022)

(The review this month is my preface to the book Last Days & End Times. Peter Sammons is a long-term friend and a CMJ supporter!)

The central acclamation of the mystery of faith, ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again’, unites Christians across traditions, times and cultures as we proclaim the Gospel, while we worship, share bread and wine, and seek to be faithful disciples within the complexities of life. This acclamation reminds us that we are rooted in time - the past, present and the future. First, that our faith is rooted in the past, namely in the redemptive actions of Jesus (Yeshua), especially His atoning death. Second, that our faith is rooted in the present, namely in the reality of the presence of the risen LORD and the outworking of the gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Third, that our faith is rooted in the future, in what is yet to be, namely the Second Coming of Jesus and the full establishment of God’s Kingdom promises.

It is this future dimension and direction of travel that is often lacking in Christian teaching and proclamation today. Therefore, this book is timely, important and valuable, for it carefully and reflectively explores what the Bible teaches about the Second Coming of Jesus and the consummation of God’s promises.

Peter Sammons writes with a clear reverence for and obedience to the Biblical texts, focusing on key texts such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation. Space is also given for a careful study of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24. In dealing with these texts, the author aims to help prepare disciples of Jesus to live faithfully today and to be ready for what lies ahead. The author does this without being overly dogmatic and approaches this with caution. He understands that there is no definite detailed ‘road map’, yet does not hold back from stating what he sees as the clear truths of the Bible, namely a pre-millennial structure. It is for readers to carefully study and reflect, then decide to what extent they find such a structure compelling and convincing.      

I am particularly thankful to the author for the emphasis placed on affirming Israel’s central role in the outworking of God’s purposes and promises. This is a foundational Biblical truth that is sadly often ignored or misplaced. Sammons also shares many other significant insights. First, in terms of making connections between the seven Biblical festivals and the ministry of Jesus and His promised return and rule. Second, providing a clear distinction between the ‘Last Days’ and the ‘End Times’. Third, providing a focus throughout on the Gospel and how the coming events of the ‘End Times’ will impact upon the Gospel, the Nations, the Jewish People and the ‘Church’.         

Sammons is surely astute in realising that exploring such major issues can easily lead into many side issues and nuanced controversies. Such side issues and controversies seem only to divide and confuse. I think that the author succeeds in avoiding being drawn into these issues and being unhelpfully side-tracked. He does this by seeking to focus on clear signposts and key questions, and for this reason many will benefit from this thoughtful and challenging book. I am certainly one of the many! As one of the many, I have gained new insights and I also have several new, emerging and pressing pastoral, political and theological questions. However, above all, I have a renewed trust in God and His Gospel, the Gospel of the crucified and risen LORD, which brings grace and truth and enables us to cry out ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus’.               

Monthly Memory Verse

‘He who testifies to these things says, “Yes I am coming soon”. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus’. (Revelation 22:20) NIV Anglicised edition, 1979.

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