Friday, September 28, 2012

Does Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

This week I'm preaching on Matthew 21:12-17. The passage is familiar to us all as Jesus goes into the temple and turns over the tables of the money changers.


This question dawned on me: Does Jesus cleanse the temple?

I don't mean to question the historicity of the act, rather the nature of what Jesus did.

(1) 'Cleansing the temple' implies that there was a minor problem with the temple and that all Jesus had to do was get rid of the greedy people abusing the temple.

But notice that in Matthew, Jesus' justification for his actions is a quote from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

As a good rule of thumb, whenever the Old Testament is quoted you should always look at the context of the Old Testament.

Isaiah 56:6 “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; 7 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” ...
10 His watchmen are blind,  All of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; 11 And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.  
Jeremiah 7:9 “Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, 10 then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—that you may do all these abominations? 11“Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the LORD. 12 “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 “And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, 14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15“I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim. 

These two passages juxtapose two themes: (1) The LORD returning to His people to bring them grace and mercy. (2) The temple (in Jeremiah's day) was so far gone and the people we so dependent upon it in false dependence, that it would be judged.

Jesus was, I think, also confronting the religious leaders of his day. Consider how both Isaiah 56:10-11 and Jeremiah 7, is a rebuke on the false leaders who were leading the people astray.

In this respect, I agree with N.T. Wright in his Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus was like the prophets of the Old Testament who was enacting something symbolically. Jesus was not cleansing the temple as a fix of what was wrong, Jesus was prophesying the destruction of the temple.

"Cleansing [the Temple] is not enough; what is required is destruction -- not simply because a new Temple must be built, but because the present one is utterly corrupt." (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p.419).

(2) Jesus saw himself as the one ministering the deliverance the downtrodden needed just as YHWH said he would do. Consider this, immediately after overturning the money changers, we read "14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them." This is not a free floating act unconnected to the symbolism of what Jesus has just done. 

Jesus is doing something like what Isaiah 56:8 speaks of "The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, "Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” He is gather the lowly and needy. Those excluded from the courts of the temple because of ceremonial uncleanliness, like the eunuchs in Isaiah, were now cleansed and restored.

Jesus is offering a more powerful salvation than the Temple offered. It may hint at his replacing the Temple. Jesus, not the Temple, is the one around whom the eschatological people of God will gather around. This puts those loyal to the temple on the wrong side of the work of God. Jesus' quote of Psalm 8:2 in response to the leaders' indignation makes this clear.

Thus, Jesus doesn't cleanse the temple, he symbolically enacts it's destruction. This destruction was fulfilled in AD70 by the Romans. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The prodigal son returns...

I repent in dust and ashes.

I know the blog has been sparsely populated with writing for the last couple of months (many thanks to J. Mark Fox for his faithful weekly content!). So in accounting for my last six weeks, I want to offer all of you my explanation and apology. And then, if you decide to forgive me, I'd like to ask three things of you.

In mid-August, I unplugged and left sweltering Omaha with my family to spend a week with my grandparents in Boulder, CO and the surrounding areas. To be honest, every time we go out to Colorado we renew our pact to move out there some day, and this trip was no different. It was a wonderful time to detach from all the obligations at home and just relax with the wife and whelp.

In the meantime, my church back in Omaha (Redeemer Church) was full-swing in the process of moving into our own building. We had been a mobile site church (pack it in, pack it out every week) for the first five years of our life so this was/is a very exciting and momentous period in the church's life. Needless to say, when I returned from vacation there was a backlog of things that needed to be done and I've been playing catch-up ever since.

This past Sunday was our grand opening in the new building and the Lord blessed us in having a record attendance, a disaster-free service, and fruitful response to the gospel preached and the community groups starting that same week.

So I offer an apology for my absence and, if accepted, I would make three requests of you:

1. If you are in Omaha . . . come and visit us! We believe this new building is a blessing and a tool that God has given us to reach more people and be more effective with those who are already attending Redeemer Church.

2. If you are a church planter . . . offer your wisdom. All of us are doing this for the first time, as far as church planting is concerned. So I am under no delusions that we've got it all figured out or that we even fully anticipate what may be coming down the pipe. So if you have words of wisdom, words of warning, or words of encouragement, I'm all ears!

3. If you are inclined to pray . . . pray for us. Pray for our lead pastor Lee. Pray that he would be faithful to the Word, faithful to the gospel, and faithful to his call as the shepherd of our church. Pray for the elders that we would be wise in all issues: business, personal, spiritual, and operational. Pray that we would be faithful to plant, faithful to water, and that God would give the growth.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don’t be ashamed of the gospel

In his second letter to the young pastor, Paul says to Timothy, in so many words, “Do not be ashamed of Jesus’ name. Or of His people. Especially those who are persecuted because of their boldness to proclaim the very truth that you are also to proclaim!” There has always been a temptation to avoid association with Christ if it means we may be persecuted. How many of the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested? All of them. How many believers stood with Paul in Rome when he was put on trial for his life? Not one. We may have a hard time understanding the context of severe persecution because people in the U.S. are not arrested for preaching the gospel and talking about Jesus. Not yet.

We all rejoiced over the release of Pastor Yousef in Iran two weeks ago. He had been imprisoned for three years, waiting to die for preaching the name of Jesus. I praise God that there was an international outcry. But the story may not have an ending yet. Last week, I read that a similar thing happened in Iran in 1993. A pastor was arrested and sentenced to die, and the bishop of his denomination initiated a successful international campaign to get the pastor released. The bishop was executed three days after the pastor was set free. Six months later, the pastor was also executed.

There are Christians all over the world who understand what it means when Paul says, “Do not be ashamed of me, His prisoner.” Michael Ramsden, who works with Ravi Zacharias, speaks about Christ in closed countries every year. Ramsden often says, “There is no such thing as a closed country if you are willing to die for the gospel.” Ramsden was recently invited to speak on Christianity in a country hostile to the gospel. The Christian organizers of the event prayed that there would be an opportunity to present the gospel, not just an academic lecture on the tenets of Christianity. While Ramsden was speaking, a young religious leader was standing in the back with his arms crossed, searing a hole into Michael with his eyes. At the end of the lecture this young man raised his hand and said, “There is something that no teacher or scholar in my religion has been able to answer for me. I want to know why you Christians think that Jesus had to die on the cross.”

Michael was ecstatic about the question. It was an answer to the prayer of the organizers. But he was nervous, too. Because he knew that to answer that question, he would have to say that their entire religion is wrong on a fundamental level about who Jesus is and what he did on the cross. As Michael Ramsden was about to answer, his host grabbed his arm and said, “Michael, answer very carefully. It is one thing to die for sharing the gospel. It is another thing to die for sharing it poorly.”

Perhaps some raw honesty is needed here. The vast majority of Christians in this country tend to be embarrassed when they see someone preaching on the sidewalk. Or witnessing to strangers and handing out tracts in the park. Or even bowing their heads at a restaurant to pray before a meal. We flee persecution of any kind, even if it means we compromise the truth of the gospel through our shame. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus or the truth and life only he can give. Without the gospel, there are no answers.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Theologian Trading Cards: 5 Years Later!

Well its ooooonly been five years since I first published some samples of Theologian Trading Cards here on Christians in Context. The blog was only a few months old at the time, when I remembered an idea I had come up with while sitting in the seminary lounge. Not seriously expecting it to go anywhere, I thought the blog would be my chance to see what people really thought about the concept. So out came photoshop to take a stab at creating some samples- long story short- there were more people who loved the geeky awesomeness of this idea than I had originally anticipated, so I decided to try pursuing the idea with a publisher, and the rest is history....

I have to say that this project turned out to be much more fun (and much more work) than I ever would have anticipated. I learned a great deal; about publishing, and about church history and theology of course. What an experience!

In any case, now that the release is finally coming up in the next couple months (November 20th), I thought I would offer readers a brief update, along with an offer and a request. This set was birthed on the blogosphere- bloggers literally gave it life, and I thought I'd offer some copies for bloggers to review the final product. Hopefully the finished cards will be met with the same enthusiasm that the first samples were met with and people enjoy the set as much as I have enjoyed creating it... but then again who doesn't love baseball cards and theologians- its a match made in heaven...or perhaps a double play (excuse the bad humor please)! If you host a blog, or perhaps write for a print publication and you'd like to receive a galley set of Theologian Trading Cards to review, please send us a note via email through the "contact us" tab in the sidebar. If you would, please also leave a comment in response to the post, so we know the email is coming. Once we correspond with you and make the arrangements, a copy will be sent off in the mail.

I'll trade you two John Calvins and a Tertullian for you review!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Train yourself for faithfulness

There’s really no way to describe it in 600 words. It’s one of those “you had to be there” things. I will serve up an appetizer in this short space and then tell you how you can get a bigger helping if you want it.

Sixty-five families came from 10 states, from as far away as Texas and Washington. One family from Indianapolis got up at 1 a.m. and started driving to make it here on time.

Some stayed in hotels. Two stayed in motor homes. Many of them stayed with families in our church, taking over bedrooms or sprawling on couches or air mattresses. Then, for three days, they gathered with the Antioch family to hear about the family-integrated church. They wanted to know more about what a church looks like when it doesn’t divide the family at the front door. They wanted to hear about how dads are encouraged and taught to follow what is perhaps the most important principle in the whole Bible when it comes to the spiritual health of a family: “Fathers, teach your children.” They wanted to hear a mother’s heart as Cindy shared a message entitled, “Two ways women can serve with grace and creativity.” They wanted to meet others from around the country who have the same vision they do. They wanted to hear about discipling teens, helping them to navigate the dangerous waters in that time of their lives. They wanted to hear about how families can be more effective in evangelism, reaching the lost with one of the most powerful tools we have been given: hospitality. They came to hear about how they can plant a church in their own community. There were 26 families who said they live in an area where there is not a family-integrated church within driving distance.

They followed that with, “We are willing, if the Lord leads and brings us other families who have the same vision, to start a church in our community.” The 65 families in attendance came from different denominations, rural and urban neighborhoods, southern, northern and western states, and were young and old, large families and small. They came to explore the theme of the conference, “Training for Faithfulness.”

The weekend was not without its challenges. One Antioch family that was hosting a family of 11 from South Carolina lost their power Friday night for several hours. They managed. We had to ask the people at the conference Saturday to “only flush the toilets if absolutely necessary, and bucket-flush them at that!” as the sheer number of people was putting a strain on the system. We managed … with the help of two hastily ordered Porta Johns. But mostly, the weekend was packed with one opportunity after another to grow in faith, to get to know brothers and sisters in Christ we had never met, to help answer questions, and to simply be the church, embracing and loving those whom God had sent to us.

A good friend and former member of Antioch gave the closing message of the conference, challenging us that training for faithfulness includes taking care of our physical bodies. Jeff Akin said, “Do what you can to live as long as you can,” by taking care of the one body God has given you. As Paul says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

That’s a sampler. If you want more, keep an eye on the Antioch website (www.antiochchurch.cc) over the next month. All 15 messages from 10 different speakers will be added.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Monday, September 10, 2012

A four-year journey finds a beginning

It was four years ago when I first met Brian and Karen. Like many people across the nation, they had the desire to be part of a church that doesn’t divide the family at the front door, where families worship together, and where young people are part of the body, not a separate entity with their own agenda.

Many call this the “family-integrated church” model. I wrote a book about it in 2006, where I told the story of how God had transitioned Antioch Church from program driven to family-integrated. Brian and Karen read the book (and other materials about the model), and it resonated with them. He was serving at the time as a college minister in Ohio, but a heart’s desire to be a pastor of a family-integrated church was growing in him. After serving as a pastor in New Hampshire, Brian and Karen moved to Burlington to join us. He said to me when they arrived, “We are hoping that we can start a new family-integrated church out of Antioch.” Some might hear that and read, “This guy wants to come in, get to know the people, and then steal a handful of families to take somewhere else … why, he’s a sheep rustler!” But that’s not the way we saw it.

We had planted a church the year before when five families were sent out to start Cornerstone Bible Church in Asheboro. Two years before that, we sent two of our families to join with a new work that a church in Raleigh was planting in Pittsboro. So, we were excited that God was preparing us to give birth again. We told God in the early days of Antioch that we didn’t have any interest in seeing how big we could get. He gave us a desire to follow the model set forth in the church that was in the Antioch of the Bible, as described in Acts 13. They were a sending church. They believed in multiplication, not addition.
 
So, when the Spirit spoke and said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,” they did not hesitate. They laid hands on two of their best men and sent them out to plant churches. Had those two men refused to go, or had the other leaders refused to send them out, would the church at Antioch have “exploded with growth” and become the place that everybody wanted to go to for miles around? Maybe. But that’s not what the Lord wanted. Not for that church, anyway. Not for us, either.

It took four years for the church plant to become a reality. Longer than Brian had hoped, and much longer than he had expected. There were earlier attempts to get the church plant off the ground, but the timing was just not right. Some families looked at it with interest in the beginning, but then they faded. Others said they were praying about it, knowing that it would mean leaving behind what was comfortable and established, and going to a place they did not know, where there would be months and maybe years of hard work to lay a foundation.

In the end, six families joined with Brian and Karen’s family to start Savoring Christ Church in Greensboro. They had their first meeting last Sunday evening at the Piedmont Baptist Association’s gymnasium — just off the Lee Street exit at 2009 Sharpe Road.

Want to go? I know Brian and Karen would love to meet you. They are grateful to God that their four-year journey has found a beginning. J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gospel Coalition: "Uncritically Missional"

Eric Tonjes has written a challenging piece over at the Gospel Coalition blog that I'm sharing at length. You can read the entirety of the piece here: "All Dressed Up and Nothing To Say".
For example, I occasionally read "missional" publications, and for all their insistence on dialoging with culture, what I see mostly applauds it. I hear lectures about finding God in Sex and the City, horror movies, and mass-market hip-hop, but after having found God there no one seems to notice the sexual scars, splatter porn, and glorified thuggery. I try to have conversations about art or music or best-selling novels and discover that many Christian friends still cannot wrestle with them in a cruciform way. Put simply, we have lost our sense of cultural critique.

I understand that many of us are reacting to being told something that was once wrong is now okay. Teetotalers sometimes turn into drunks once they're allowed to have a pint or two. Many of us seem to have an angry little fundamentalist minister on our shoulders still chastising us for worldly pursuits, and we're doing everything possible to avoid considering he might be just a little bit right. The problem is, while a call for cultural engagement set us free from a moralistic avoidance mentality, cultural engagement has too easily been replaced by acculturation.

Put another way, Christians ought to be engaged with culture so we can challenge it, remake it, and—at times—bear prophetic witness against it. We, like our Savior, walk in the world as witnesses to a greater world to come. To be in it, but not of it. Instead, what started as putting on our suits to get in the door has turned into an attempt to blend into the crowd. We are all dressed up with nothing to say.

Monday, September 3, 2012

God loves a cheerful giver

Why does the Bible instruct the followers of God to give? It is not because God needs our money. He owns everything and has no need. He even said, “If I needed anything, I wouldn’t ask you!” It is also not because the church needs it. The church does need the people who are a part of it to give, but it is sustained by God. The church I visited in the bush of northern Kenya last month has no “budget” to speak of, but its founder and its sustainer is God.

No, the reason why we are called on to give is so that we will learn to be like the giver, God himself.

Paul wrote two chapters of his second letter to the Corinthian church to urge them to give generously. The centerpiece of his argument is this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

God gave more than we could ever imagine and certainly ever repay when he gave his Son to the world as a sacrifice for sin. Will we learn to love like that through our own giving? Will we also learn to do so cheerfully? Because here’s an interesting truth from Scripture: God loves a cheerful giver.

A little girl was given a dollar and a quarter by her mom on the way to church. She was told she could put either one in the offering plate and keep the other. On the way home, the mom asked what she gave. The little girl said, “I was going to give the dollar but right before the offering, the preacher said God loves a cheerful giver, and I knew I would be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter.”

I don’t think that is exactly what Paul had in mind. But wait. What does that mean, “God loves a cheerful giver?” God loves everybody, right? So why did Paul say this? I was praying about that last week, and my mind went to Jesus’ words, “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” God seeks those who worship him in spirit and truth. God loves a cheerful giver. If God seeks worshippers, I want to be found by him doing just that. If God loves cheerful givers, I want to be loved by him doing just that. That will require faith.

Giving is an act of faith in God’s abundant provision. This is why most give sparsely or not at all. If they were able to be honest about it, they would have to say, “I am afraid if I do this, I will not have enough.”

A pastor had this conversation with one of his members who happened to be a farmer. “Brother Bill,” he said, “If you had $1,000, would you give the church $500?” Bill said, “You know I would, pastor.” Then, the pastor said, “If you had two pigs, would you give the church one of them?” Bill replied, “That’s not fair, pastor! You know I have two pigs!”

It’s easy to sing “Take My Life and Let it Be,” and even the verse that says, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold …” but it is much harder to live that song. It requires faith. And obedience.
How about you? Are you learning to love like God does through faithful and cheerful giving?

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc