The nature of the atonement

The link will take you to an essay answering the question: What precisely lies at the heart of the Biblical metaphors of the atonement.

The atonement is the theological term for the saving work of Christ by which he made peace with God for us, so that we can be forgiven and know Him. No small matter!

Read the essay here


Do we have to sing in chapel?!

The short answer is: yes!

But why do Christians sing? There are a few good reasons:

  1. Any community when it gets together tends to sing

I don’t just mean religious communities … think of the striking doctors on the picket lines with their chants, the environmental protesters marching through London or even Anfield or Goodison Park on a weekend.

So with chapel – we sing as an expression of our belonging to a community – to encourage one another in our faith.

2. It’s good for you… and actually quite fun

Again to borrow the football example – if it wasn’t fun to sing together, people wouldn’t do it! If it didn’t help you to feel belonging or a sense of community, it wouldn’t happen.

So with chapel – if you join in, I can guarantee you will enjoy the hymns much more than if you mumble along with your head down.

3. Because Christians have something to sing about and someone to sing to!

Read the words of Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Striking doctors sing about how horrible Jeremy Hunt is. Environmental protesters chant about rising sea levels. Christians sing about and to the Lord – because he is worth it!

  • He is the Lord
  • He is the creator
  • He is our shepherd
  • He is Good
  • He is loving
  • He is faithful

And those are just a few short reasons that the psalmist gives for why we should ‘Sing to the Lord’. If you know Him, then you have a lot to sing about.

Life to the full

This week in chapel we thought about Jesus’ statement – ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full’. (John 10:10). What did he mean?

We thought that it must be a comment about (at least) two things:

  1. The quality of life following Jesus

Following Jesus means to know God. Earlier in those verses in John’s gospel Jesus talks about being the gate for the sheep. (By the way, are the sheep, not particularly complimentary if you have ever seen how stupid sheep are). We enter by Jesus into the knowledge of and life with God. What could be better than knowing and being known by the creator of this world, whom we can call God?

2. The duration of this life

Following Jesus means to know God forever! 

There is a verse in the book of Ecclesiastes (3:11) which says this: ‘God has put eternity on the hearts of men [and women]’. We all long for an eternity. I shared in chapel an example from my own life where someone in the year above me in school died very suddenly, and how although most of my class mates were not religious, there was a refusal to accept that his life had just ended. Instead he must have been ‘looking down on us’ and ‘happy up there’.

Eternity is on our hearts; we all long for it. And Jesus offers us life to the full – life knowing God forever.


Mad, bad or God?

This week in chapel we looked at the account of Jesus healing a paralytic in Mark’s gospel which has to be one of my favourite in the gospels.

You can read it here in case you are not familiar with it.

From this story I draw two lessons:

  1. Jesus challenges us over our greatest need

We all have needs – this paralytic man needed his legs to work again! However the first thing Jesus did was to forgive him his sins. Here Jesus shows us something of his priority for us in our lives – not to be wealthy and healthy and prosperous – but actually to be restored to a right knowledge of God.

2. Jesus teaches us about his identity

‘Only God can forgive sins’ – the Pharisees and teachers of the law understood this very well, and it makes good sense. If I offend someone in my maths class, then only they can forgive me, not anyone else! And so if by our sin we offend God, which we do, then only he can forgive us.

So Jesus’ forgiveness, and proof of his divine power by performing the remarkable miracle of allowing this man to walk, teach us about his identity: he claimed to be God.

C S Lewis, of Narnia fame, was an atheist in his early life and became a Christian in his 20s. He wrote:

‘I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ This is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the kind of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, or is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.’

Mad, bad, or God. What do you say?

Who put the colours in the rainbow?

who put colours annotated

This was the amusing annotated hymn sheet found on the chapel floor this week. We were thinking about God as creator, and a witty student had decided to annotate the hymn by giving scientific answers to the question of who made the world.

Unfortunately our oh-so-clever friend has missed the point of talking about God as creator. It is not that God and science are opposites, or in the boxing ring with each other; in actual fact some of the finest scientists in history and to this very day are believers in God.

I don’t disagree with any of his annotations – it is quite true on one level that the refraction of light puts colour in the rainbows, or that ‘our respective parents’ made you and me. However his answers don’t go deep enough for me. Without believing in God as creator here are three problems that I see:

  1. Without God, we must believe in chance. We are forced to reckon with the order and beauty that we see around us all being the product of an incredibly (and I use the word in it’s literal meaning) small chance collision between two atoms.
  2. Without God, our morality starts to unravel. If we cannot refer to a higher authority, then the basis on which we build our societies and moralities crumble, for we are all free to make up our own ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.
  3. Without God, we have no ultimate purpose. A common question of humanity is this: why am I here? What is my purpose? This is a question that science cannot answer. Science can answer very well the ‘how’ questions of life. Bad science is science that starts to offer explanations for why things are as they are, for our purpose as humans. The God of the Bible gives us a clear answer to this question of our purpose in life.

The Wisdom of the cross

‘The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1: 18

At first glance the cross might seem foolish at the very least. Barbaric even. Why do Christians have a symbol of execution round their necks or at the front of their places of worship? Why would anyone follow somebody who died the death of a common criminal?

This is what Paul understood when he wrote these words from 1 Corinthians – plenty of people around him were telling him how mad he was for speaking about Jesus being crucified – and yet he persisted, claiming that the message of Jesus’ death was not just powerful, but wise as well.

How can we go from seeing the cross as something which is crazy and foolish, to something which is wise?

I want to suggest that it is when we find our place in the story.

  1. The cross was something done by us

Who killed Jesus? The candidates are numerous:

  • The Roman soldiers who actually hammered the nails into his arms and legs
  • Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, whose decree it was that condemned Jesus to death
  • The crowd in Jerusalem who bayed for Jesus’ blood

They all share their blame. But the Bible is clear that so too do we.

The Bible teaches that ‘the wages of sin is death‘ (Romans 6:23). Death entered the world because Adam and Eve, and every human since, has ‘sinned’. That is, they have turned away from God and served their own interests and desires.

Jesus however did not deserve death, because he did not sin. He lived a perfect life. However he went to his death in order to make it possible for all people to come to know God. The famous words of a hymn put it this way: ‘it was my sin that held him there[on the cross], until it was accomplished’.

However the cross is not a massive guilt trip, it is actually a huge gift:

2. The cross was something done for us

The crux of the matter is that Jesus was doing something for us that we cannot do for ourselves.

The cross is all about enabling people – like you and me – to know God

No matter what I do, I can never get to God. No amount of good works or rule keeping will make the rift between God and I better.

But Jesus opens up a way for us to know God. He lived a perfect life that we can’t live and died the death we deserve… taking on himself the sin of the world, making it possible for anyone to come to him for forgiveness.

He acted a little like a substitute does in sport … you’re flagging and can’t make it to the end of the match – you call on the sub!

Well Jesus is willing to stand in for us – to take our sin and the consequences of it on himself and put us in his righteousness so that we might go free to know God and love him for all eternity.

I can never be good enough for God. Not ever. Not even close!

But at the cross – here is the wisdom of it – Jesus was doing something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. So that if we trust in him and in his death, we can know God.

I wonder how do you see the cross? Something to worth thinking about this Easter time amongst the bunnies and the eggs.


The wise ear

Who is it that you listen to in your life? Who really has your attention? Who calls the shots? Maybe it is your parents, or your friends, or another relative…

The Bible says a lot about listening… Here are three reasons from the book of proverbs that we should listen up:

  1. None of us have made it

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice (Proverbs 12:15)

If we are wise then we understand that we haven’t ‘made it’. None of us have ‘arrived’. We are not and will never be the ‘finished article’.

‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence’ so said Vince Lombardi, an American football coach from the 1960s.

He understood that they would never actually get to be the perfect American Football team – there is no such thing – but that the process of aiming high would ensure they were, if not perfect, very good.

What would that process involve? Listening of course. How else could you expect to get better?

It’s the same for us, whether it be in our studies or in our sport or in how to live life… we can all do better job of listening, because none of us have made it. We all need advice.

  1. So you don’t look silly

To answer before listening – that is folly and shame (Proverbs 18:13)

I’m sure we’ve all been in that class, maybe we’ve even been that kid, who gets handed a sheet that we think is obvious what to do with …. And before we’ve bothered to listen to the instructions from the teacher, we’ve cut it up, or started to write on it or whatever it might be.

To answer before listening, that is folly and shame. It makes you look a bit silly! The same thing goes when we are having a disagreement with someone. If we just give our opinion without even listening to the other person, chances are we will be the ones with egg on our faces.

  1. To gain knowledge

Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27)

This one is obvious really isn’t it. Especially in school. If you don’t listen to those around you, you won’t learn. Pretty straightforward; it is wise to listen.

Jesus cares how we listen as well. He told a story about a wise and a foolish man, one who listened and the other who didn’t:

24 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7: 24-29)

The two men both hear the words of Jesus, but they aren’t both truly listening.

The wise man was a listener, but the foolish man wasn’t.

The wise man heard the words of Jesus and put them into practice, but the foolish man did the opposite – he heard the words of Jesus but did not put them into practice.

Jesus tells a parable to illustrate this.

The wise man is like a solid builder. He checks out the area in south Liverpool where he wants to build a house, and he chooses a lovely firm, rocky soil to bury his foundations down deep into. His house won’t budge. And sure enough when storm Gertrude or whatever it’s called comes, his house stands firm.

The foolish man was an awful builder. He chose to build his house on the sand on the banks of the Mersey! What a fool. Of course, as soon as storm Gertrude struck… the wind, waves, rain, …his house came crashing down.

The foolish person in life is the person who doesn’t listen. The wise person is the one who does.

Even more though, what Jesus is saying is that if you don’t listen to him, then you are a fool. As foolish as a man who builds a brand new house on shaky ground. But that if you do, then you are wise.

Jesus came down to earth from heaven and was God in the flesh. He taught as only God could. He loved as only God could. He healed as only God could. He lived as only God could. He was only around for about 33 years and most of his active public life occurred in the last 3 years of his life.

He taught about God and about how to know him. Thousands flocked to hear him. The gospels record that many went away sad, because they realised that Jesus wanted them to change too much. Others however went away happy because they heard Jesus words and did what he said.

Jesus was not one to mince his words. He said it plain. Maybe his words would be worth listening to after all…