• Service times

    Services times are:

    Saturday night 7:30 pm for our Chinese/English service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

    Sunday 10 am for our English language service (Senior Pastor Jeff Whittaker).

    Sunday 11:30 am for our Chinese (Mandarin) language service. (Pastor Daniel Choi.)

  • Contact details…

    Physical and postal address:
    4 Inverary Avenue,
    Epsom,
    Auckland 1023,
    NEW ZEALAND.

    Email:
    epsombaptist@gmail.com

    Telephone:
    (0064 9) 6306010

    Contacts:
    Rev. Jeff Whittaker
    Pastor Daniel Choi

  • Church Officers…

    Church Treasurers: Christina King and Li Ying

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

    Church Deacons: Anne Bartley, Ian de Stigter, Kristy Choi, Willa Hui, Donglan Zhang and Alfred Zhou.

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Armageddon

Armageddon: a word that stirs the popular imagination with visions of must-win battles between the good guys (typically humanity as a whole if the enemy is galactic and alien, or our side if the enemy is the military force of a different religion) and the bad guys. And the way the plot line runs out is predictable, with the good guys winning after an epic struggle. Most of these scenarios are loosely based on the Bible verse from Revelation 16: 16: And they assembled them (‘them’ are the kings of the whole world) at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmageddon (that is, the Hill of Megiddo).

It’s one thing for Hollywood to conjure up spectacular apocalyptic battle scenes for block-buster movies. More alarming is that extremist Christian and Muslim fundamentalists want to precipitate exactly this situation, with the belief that their side will win a final and decisive battle that will usher in the end of the world with themselves (Christians or Muslims – because the other is viewed as the real enemy) vindicated by God as on the winning side of history. It is no surprise that one of the aims of ISIS has been to lure Western (considered by ISIS to be Christian) military forces into just such a showdown.

All this is actually a distortion of what the Bible teaches about this geographical place.

290px-תל_מגידו

The modern-day Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. Now the Megiddo National Park, it is a World Heritage Site. (Tel: An archeological mound)

In the book of Joshua, we read that Israel invaded the land of Canaan. Joshua is recorded as having conquered the king of Megiddo. However, as Bernhard Anderson notes in his ‘The Living World of the Old Testament (4th Edition),’ the Israelites only managed to entrench themselves in the central hill country, and could not dispossess the Canaanites of the plains. The most strategic area under Canaanite control was the Valley of Jezreel. Running through this valley was the main commercial route from Egypt to Mesopotamia. Guarding the pass into the valley was the Canaanite fortress of Megiddo, the scene of many decisive battles. Israel’s economic life was threatened as long as the Canaanites controlled this strategic pass.

In the time of the Judge Deborah, a victory by the waters of Megiddo over several local kings was achieved (Judges 5). But the victory is ascribed to God. Rain bogged down the Canaanite chariots, removing their strategic advantage. Israel’s military leader Barak oversaw the mopping up operation, but the victory was God’s. (This is ironic, as the Canaanites worshipped the weather God Baal. On this occasion, the forces of Baal are routed because of a weather event.)

Later, during the reign of Solomon, and with Megiddo now in Israelite hands, Solomon appointed a high official (Baana) to Megiddo (1 Kings 4), and rebuilt its walls (1 Kings 9). Still later, and with Israel now split into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah), Megiddo features again as the place where King Ahaziah of Judah dies. Ahaziah had been visiting King Joram – son of the notorious king Ahab – of Israel while he (Joram) recuperated from military injuries. A coup against Joram occurs; Joram is killed, and Ahaziah dies from wounds at Megiddo as he attempts to flee the coup plotters (2 Kings chapter 9).

Still later in the monarchy period, and during the reign of (good) King Josiah of Judah, battle looms between the Assyrians and Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt. Josiah decides to fight Neco’s forces at Armageddon. Neco warns Josiah that this is not his battle, and to stay out of it. Josiah ignores this, and dies at Megiddo (2 Kings chapter 23, 2 Chronicles 35).

Can you see the pattern that is emerging? This pattern is one which John the Revelator would have assumed that the readers of his apocalypse (Revelation) would recognize in his allusion to Armageddon in Revelation 16:16. The pattern seems to be this: Armageddon is a place of judgment of national leaders and their empires. Further, it seems that the victories achieved at Armageddon belong to God, God exercising judgment through the exigencies of historical processes. The decisive verse of Revelation 16:16, placed as it is within the judgment of the seven bowls of God’s wrath and their resonance with the plagues of Egypt, suggests that it was the Pharaoh who contended with Moses who is first in view of this judgment despite the action not occurring at Megiddo. This Pharaoh becomes a type of arrogant and oppressive leaders who, together with their people, come under God’s judgment.

Armageddon, then, is not the place where Christian or Muslim heroes duke it out establish who God favours in the end. In my view, God has chosen humanity in Christ at the cross, and has called us to live out his way of peace. ‘Armageddon’ awaits those who eschew the way of peace and arrogantly choose to subjugate those unfortunate enough to come under their oppressive control. As the Bible says: Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

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Thirty pieces of silver…

The image of ‘thirty pieces of silver’ has established itself in Christian, and indeed in Western, lore as a byword for betrayal, for selling out. Coming from the Easter story of Judas offering to betray Jesus, it’s interesting to find that the image was not new at that point. A little research on the internet throws up numerous discussions about the thirty pieces of silver, and what they signified already in the time of the New Testament writers.

judas-brought-again-the-thirty-pieces-of-silver-to-the-chief-priests-and-elders

And so, one finds discussion on the thirty pieces of silver that Zechariah – in a difficult piece of prophetic writing (Zechariah chapter 11) – suggests is the dismissive value that the leaders of Judah put on God’s shepherding care. There is the reference in Matthew 27 to Jeremiah’s purchase of a field for this amount (although the Old Testament precedent cannot be found), the price being linked to that required to redeem someone (presumably from slavery). And then there is the statement in Exodus 21: 32 of 30 shekels as being the value of a slave. [Of course, it is not certain that ‘pieces’ are ‘shekels.’ Nevertheless, there does seem to be a significant usage of thirty units of money.]

Now, this is probably familiar material to many of you. But I want to push things a little further. The original events of Easter were set around the annual Passover festival, when Israel gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. So, what are Israel’s leaders doing paying a slave price – whoever may be considered to have been bought – in the midst of a celebration of rescue from slavery? Does not this expose them to self-condemnation?

In fact, I think this points out that judgment does not fall on any of us because we fall short of standards we know nothing about. I think that we all stand with Israel’s leaders, and are found to be sinners because self-interest over-rules a commitment to higher principles that we openly espouse.

Thank God that all this sin, for all of us sinners, was taken to the cross by Jesus Christ and its condemnatory power destroyed there.

Structure in the book of Romans…

Romans is a fascinating book, and rightly regarded as hugely important for its presentation of Paul’s theology. Arguments about meaning, themes and structure abound. And so Bishop Tom Wright states (in his commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible series) …it remains the case that anyone who claims to understand Romans fully is, almost by definition, mistaken. That be-as-it-may, reading Wright’s commentary, particularly his analysis of Romans chapter 6, sparked for me an investigation into a possible structure underlying the book.

book-bible-romans

My thesis is this: I believe that Paul has presented theological arguments based on ideas corresponding to events from Israel’s history. Further, at each point, Paul shows God’s impartiality with regards to Jew and Gentile. And faith remains the major key to unlocking Paul’s ideas. Let me illustrate my thesis as follows.

Text                                       Theme (from NRSV)                  Comments on the relation to Israel’s history

Romans 1: 1 – 7                    Introduction.                              Importance of faith introduced.

Romans 1: 18 – 32                The guilt of humankind.             Refers to CREATION & HUMAN BEHAVIOUR BEFORE THE FLOOD.

Romans 2: 1 – 16                  The righteous judgment of God.   Refers to God’s universal judgment through the FLOOD.

Romans 2: 17 – 3:20           The Jews and the Law. None is righteous.  Challenging a sense of privilege that might come from NOAH’S exemption from the Flood and its consequences.

Romans 3: 21 – 31              Righteousness through faith.        JESUS IS THE NEW ARK.

Romans 4: 1 – 25                The example of Abraham. God’s promises realised through faith. ABRAHAM AND GOD’S PROMISES. (Abraham as the universal example of how to approach God.)

Romans 5: 1 – 21                Results of justification. Adam and Christ.  Refers to God’s rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt through MOSES.

Romans 6: 1 – 23               Dying and rising with Christ. Slaves of righteousness.  Escape through the RED SEA. Becoming the PEOPLE OF GOD through redemption.

Romans 7: 1 – 25               An analogy from marriage. The Law and sin. The inner conflict.  THE GIVING OF THE LAW AT SINAI.

Romans 8: 1 – 38              Life in the Spirit. Future glory. God’s love in Jesus Christ.  Alludes to what God intended for his people as they occupied the PROMISED LAND.

Romans 9: 1 – 29              God’s election of Israel. God’s wrath and mercy.  God’s JUDGMENT of his people while living in the PROMISED LAND.

Romans 9: 30 – 10: 21     Israel’s unbelief. Salvation is for all.  EXILE, and crying out for SALVATION.

Romans 11: 1 – 21           Israel’s rejection not final. The salvation of the Gentiles. All Israel will be saved. RETURN FROM EXILE IN BABYLON.

Romans 12: 1 – 12          New life in Christ. Marks of the true believer.  Living as the newly redeemed people of God BACK IN THE LAND.

Romans 13: 1 – 14          Being subject to the authorities. Love for one another. An urgent appeal.   Living under INTERNAL EXILE (with an external focus to state and neighbour).

Romans 14: 1 – 15: 13   Do not judge another. Do not make another stumble. Please others, not your selves. The gospel for Jews and Gentiles alike. Living under INTERNAL EXILE (with an internal focus on the people of God).

Romans 15: 14 – 33      Paul’s reason for writing so boldly. Paul’s plan to visit Rome. PAUL: An outward focus of concern for the church (including the role of Paul’s famous collection).

Romans 16: 1 – 27      Personal greetings. Final instructions. Final doxology.  PAUL: An inward focus of concern for the church in ROME.

(Apologies for the ‘table.’ I could not get the table I had prepared to copy into WordPress!)

Now, I may be exercising my faith in seeing this structure in the book of Romans. It does have an advantage in that chapters 9 to 11, so often considered a large gloss by another author, fits right into the pattern.

Anyway, may you be blessed as you wrestle with the book of Romans, and the ideas and truths that are so important to our Christian faith.