• 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 Treasurer: Ann Guan

    Church Secretary: Margaret Whittaker

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

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.

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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.

Looking at prophets (again)…

My blog from a couple of day’s ago – ‘The calling to be a prophet’ – prompted a response in the form of a couple of questions and a comment, viz: First, were the prophets confined to a certain period of Israel’s history? Second (and this is related to the first), what do you think a prophet (satisfying your description) would look like today? [Since most nations weren’t necessarily founded on a covenant with God, I would assume that the message would be for the church rather than for the nation the prophet lived in (otherwise the ‘diagnosis’ stage wouldn’t seem very valid).]

First, Israel’s prophetic ministry runs from Moses through to Jesus and John the Baptist, and beyond. That said, prophetic activity in Israel was concentrated from the time of Amos (around 750BCE) through to the post-exilic period. Interestingly, this corresponds to the so-called axial age, the period in which the universal religions arose independently around the world, and the stress in religion seemed to move from collective ritual to individual responsibility and participation.

To the implied question as to whether there were – are – prophets in the New Testament era, the answer is affirmative. The apostle Paul mentions prophecy in some of his letters. In 1 Thessalonians 5: 20, he instructs that the words of prophets are not to be despised, but instead tested. (It seems New Testament prophets were as unwelcome as Old Testament ones.) The covenant against which the New Testament prophet conducts his/her diagnosis is of course the new covenant enacted in Christ and sealed with his blood at the cross. Here, though, a difference arises. The Old Testament covenants contained curse clauses for disobedience to the agreed conduct expected in the covenant. The New Testament teaches that Christ took upon himself the curse of disobedience, destroyed its power through dying on the cross, and now offers forgiveness through his resurrected life.

I wonder, then, if the role of the New Testament prophets was to remind the churches to which they belonged what living ‘in Christ’ really entailed. This is a far cry from attempts to predict the future that are sometimes presented as prophetic activity, and a far cry from many of the so-called ‘words of knowledge’ that accompany some of today’s prophets. (I do know a man who, when converted to Christ, became aware that the internationally known pastor through whose ministry he had come to faith was interfering with boys. He shared his concerns with another pastor, but was ignored. Decades later, he was vindicated.)

As to the idea of the universality of covenant, the death of Christ at the cross and his subsequent resurrection is considered to usher in a covenant with the nations. We read hints of this sort of universality in the book of Isaiah, where First Isaiah’s prophecies seem to cycle through addressing the people of Judah and Israel, then extend out to the surrounding nations, before encompassing the whole of the created order.

1-19-Martin-Luther-King-ftr
Anyway, after that detour, we arrive at the second question: What would a prophet look like today? In answer, I’ll give two examples. First, Martin Luther King Jnr was a prophet. Interestingly, in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ King mentioned his reluctance to take up the role he had advocating for civil rights in the US, and then listed four steps required by any non-violent campaign. These were: Collection of the facts to determine whether injustice exists; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. I think that these four, together with his acknowledged reluctance to be so involved, correspond pretty well to the five marks of a prophet I wrote about a couple of days ago. King was assassinated. My second example is Bishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador. Romero was apparently chosen to be Arch-bishop of El Salvador because he was considered ‘safe.’ Certainly, his initial ministry emphasis was on piety and moral issues. But all that changed when a close friend was killed by gunmen acting for the rich elite of the country. Romero became a fiery prophetic voice in that land, fearlessly advocating for the poor. He also invited the oppressors to join the poor in the kingdom of God, to find their true place amongst believers. He became a martyr when shot celebrating the mass.

Romero headshot

So, dear correspondent, I trust that answers your questions. I think it poses a challenge to all who take upon themselves the name of ‘Christian.’

The structure of John’s Gospel…

As this year got under way, I began a sermon series on the gospel of John for our Sunday morning services. I had already been working my way through John’s gospel in my devotional  – Lectio Divina – reading. Aspects of my reading in the first few chapters piqued my curiosity, especially as relates to the figures of John the Baptist and Peter. An intriguing thought then emerged from my times of centering prayer. And so, I decided to explore an hypothesis: That John’s gospel is written as a chiastic structure. 

To check out my hypothesis, I listed all the chapters and against each one wrote out the headings included in my NRSV translation. I then began to see if there were any obvious matches, and I believe there are. For example, one can match the feeding of the 5000 in John chapter 6 with the account of the Last Supper in John 13. Another match is that between the call of the first disciples in John 1 and the resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples in John 21, both stressing the importance of seeing.

At the heart of this chiastic structure is John chapter 9. This chapter starts with the healing of the man born blind, and finishes with Jesus teaching on sightedness versus blindness. Within this context other important themes from John’s gospel emerge: Belief in Jesus, Jesus as one sent from the Father, obedience to the Father’s will as more important than ritual observance. (The illustration below shows my take on the chiastic patterns in the middle part of the gospel.)

Chiasm John 2.2.14 copy

Now, a simple investigation via your favourite search engine will show that chiastic structures are found everywhere in the Bible. Arranging text in chiastic patterns seems to be a common technique for writing memorable text. But no-one, from my research of a number of commentaries, has ever claimed that John’s gospel has been arranged chiastically. Am I seeing patterns where in fact none exist? I don’t think so. And the preaching series has certainly made the gospel of John come alive in a new way for myself and my listeners. Maybe you could check out my hypothesis for yourself, and see if the gospel doesn’t open with new horizons of vision.

God gave them up…

Down the years, I have sometimes had to confront people over behaviour inappropriate to their Christian confession. This is always a very difficult exercise; I have never found a person who welcomes such confrontation. One argument sometimes used as a defense is: God hasn’t beaten me up about this, and so it must be OK.

Such an argument actually means that the person has not understood how God works with human beings. It buys into the cultural caricature of God as an ever- present ‘cop’ just waiting to whack us for behaviour that’s bad enough to annoy God. I think the reality is much more sobering. In the book of Romans, Paul suggests that, when people obstinately refuse to live appropriately, God simply steps back and allows them to have their way. Of course, the result is often not good for the one who thinks that the lack of restraint from God’s Holy Spirit indicates divine permission. The language that Paul uses is: God gave them up… It draws – as does much of Paul’s thought in Romans – from the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 32: 30 Moses is reported as telling the people of Israel that military defeat to lesser enemies had been a sign of God’s giving up of his people to their determined foolishness.

Image taken from the blog-site 'The Apartment,' in a blog entitled 'Glory, Honor, Evil and Foolishness.'

Image taken from the blog-site ‘The Apartment,’ in a blog entitled ‘Glory, Honor, Evil and Foolishness.’

All this tells us that seasons of spiritual struggle are to be welcomed. They mean that God is active in our lives, and seeking through persuasion – and thus not coercion – to help us choose pathways that bring us to greater blessing, the more abundant life. The thing that should alarm us is when a course of action that seems to have been checked before suddenly seems to be given the green light. We need to then beware in case we have been given up to experience the rewards of our own folly.

Patterns in Matthew…

The middle chapters of the book of Matthew exhibit some fascinating patterns. Let me start with Matthew 11, and the incident where some disciples of John the Baptist approach Jesus with a query from John. John, they tell Jesus, is puzzled. It seems that John is no longer sure that Jesus is the One he thought. The puzzlement is because of the way that Jesus has been exercising his ministry. Jesus tells John’s disciples to reassure John by quoting some verses from Isaiah that back up Jesus’ unexpected ministry direction. In Matthew 14, these disciples of John are back, telling Jesus that John has just been executed by Herod. I see in this communication a sad challenge to Jesus; a suggestion from these disciples that somehow Jesus’ lack of solidarity with John is at least partly responsible for John’s death.

Here is where I see the pattern start. Jesus immediately seeks to find a place to withdraw to. To me it seems that he wants to mourn for his cousin John, but also to reflect on the question: Is the way I’m doing ministry the right way? But, Jesus is sought out by crowds of needy people, and ends up ministering. Healings, exorcisms, teaching… These call him out, and he pours himself out for the people. And then comes controversy, arguments with various persons and groups whom Jesus has managed to annoy or threaten, In response, Jesus again seeks a lonely place in which to pray. This then is the pattern. 1) Attempted withdrawal. 2) Ministry to the crowds who won’t leave him alone and seek him out. 3) Justification of his ministry approach as he ministers the all sorts of needs. 4) A controversial engagement with those – including his disciples on occasion – who challenge Jesus and what he is doing. And then the pattern repeats. Interestingly, along the way Jesus’ understanding of the scope of his mission is enlarged, extended. The encounter with the ‘Canaanite’ woman is a key to this process. And, rather than being a strange stand-alone story, I see the transfiguration from Matthew 17 as another attempted withdrawal similar to that that Jesus will make in the garden of Gethsemane just prior to his own execution.

transfiguration-of-Jesus

Chapter 16 introduces a twist. By this time, Jesus realises that, although his approach to ministry has developed in a direction quite different to that of John the Baptist, he cannot and will not escape John’s fate. Death lies ahead for him as well. And so, in verses 24 – 28 of Matthew 16, Jesus is described as challenging his followers with the fact that following him will require that they live with the cross as a daily threat or reality.

And how might that be lived out? Chapter 18 has Jesus teaching his disciples on how to live together as the community of his people, what taking up one’s cross on a daily basis might involve in the reality of everyday life. I’m about to preach on Matthew 18 this coming Sunday. What a challenge!

Confession and the Kingdom…

Following is a piece written by Dr. Martin Sutherland, Academic Dean and Vice-Principal at New Zealand’s Laidlaw College, and member of Epsom Baptist Church.

The scene in Matthew 11:2-6 where John the Baptist sends his disciples to quiz Jesus has always intrigued me. John came preaching a ‘gospel’ of fire and repentance and then endorses Jesus as the one to consummate this visitation of God. But all Jesus seems to do is heal people! Has John backed the wrong horse? Jesus responds by pointing to signs which are clearly associated with the Messiah, but John must still have been left wondering.

Any doubt is removed by the end of chapter 12.

In a series of unprecedented and unmatched incidents, Jesus provocatively takes the argument to the Pharisees. He flouts the Sabbath rules over plucking grain (1-8) and then healing a man at the synagogue (9-14). Each time it is as if he has deliberately set up a confrontation. He thumbs his nose at the religious authorities and then embarks on a mass public campaign of messianic healing (15-21). This is too much for the Pharisees. They brand him as devilish (24). The situation is now, literally, irredeemable. Jesus not only destroys their logic but brands them arch-blasphemers, a nest of snakes. The unforgiving are now the unforgivable (31-32).

Just to make clear the enormity of what he is doing Jesus even declares a new society, a new family (46-50). Nothing of the old order continues the same. This gospel forces choice. It turns the world upside down. Jesus will be a branded man hereafter. John has his answer.

This is clearly a key moment in Jesus’ public ministry. Crucially it all turns on his first response to the Pharisees. What does God want? Law? Purity? Sacrifice? Only if they are expressions of mercy (12:7). But this chapter forces us to think far deeper than outmoded customs and rules. Jesus drives to the basic building blocks of community. Even family is denied any absolute place. All must be subsumed under this radical gospel of mercy and love.

The church is called to be that new community, no longer defined by law and ritual or even natural loyalties. Sadly, our natural default is to become a new version of the Pharisees. Here confession is crucial. Why is it that we have a tradition of laying our self open to the mercy of God? Surely;, because as individuals we are conscious of our own failings; but it’s also to remind us of our corporate sin. It is easy, too easy, too comfortable, to settle back in the warm bath of clear-cut religion – religion with rules, with payment, with sacrifice, religion where we can maintain our default power structures under a veneer of spirituality. This isn’t the gospel. The gospel breaks rules, forces choice, challenges assumptions.

When we come to confess, we open ourselves to the disruptive possibility that the Holy Spirit might actually make something new of us. Be careful what you wish for.