Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Echoes in Scripture – Elijah and Jesus

23 January, 2018

I’m struck by the parallels and contrasts between Elijah’s reaction to Jezebel’s threat and the events which followed, recorded in 1 Kings 19:1-8, and Jesus’ response in the Garden of Gethsemane to his impending arrest and crucifixion.

  • Elijah flees in fear from Jezebel with his servant into a wilderness.
  • Jesus – having set his face like flint to end his earthly journey in Jerusalem at the cross – walks with his disciples to a garden, singing a hymn.
  • Elijah then goes on alone a day’s walk into the wilderness.
  • Jesus goes on alone in the garden, a stone throw away from his closest three friends.
  • Elijah prays that he might die, and then falls asleep.
  • Jesus, in agony of soul, prays for three hours surrendering himself to the Father’s will, remaining awake whilst he closest friends were overcome by sleep.
  • Elijah is strengthened by the angel of the Lord to travel forty days to the mountain of God.
  • Jesus is strengthened by an angel to face false arrest, the ensuing trial and sentencing, culminating in crucifixion at a hill called Golgotha, meaning Place of a Skull.

The points above are the main things that grabbed my attention as I read 1 Kings 19:1-8. Below are some follow-on thoughts as I looked forward into Elijah’s story.

  • Later, Elijah is taken up into heaven, his mantle falls to his successor Elisha to complete the task God had given to Elijah.
  • Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus is taken up into heaven, and his disciples are anointed by the Holy Spirit to continue Jesus’ work on earth.
  • Elisha went on to do twice as many miracles as Elijah.
  • Jesus said to his disciples, recorded in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” These greater works are open to anyone who has faith in Jesus, and examples might include people being healed as Peter’s shadow fell over them and as they came into contact with handkerchiefs and aprons that paul had touched, and Philip being ‘teleported’ from a desert road to a city about 30 miles away.

These are thoughts that stirred me as I read 1 Kings 19:1-8 in my new daily Bible Reading and asked God to speak to me. I don’t necessarily go hunting for it, but I always get captivated when I hear echoes of Jesus’ story in the Old Testament.

What do you think? What other reflections of Jesus do you see from the life of Elijah?


Rethinking the Nativity

26 December, 2017

What do you see when you think of the Nativity scene?

The traditional scene features the baby Jesus lying in a manger in a stable because there was no room at the inn, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, their donkey and some other animals, shepherds and their sheep, three kings bearing three gifts, a star above the stable, and angels filling the sky. Perhaps something like this:

Source: see reference 1

This is a composite picture drawn from the Bible… or is it?

In the description in the gospels of the scene of Jesus, there is:

  • No Inn – “no room for them in the inn” is better translated “no room for them in the guest room”. “Guest room” is a more accurate translation of the Greek word kataluma in Luke 2:7. Homes at that time often had a guest room, which typically was a small room build above or to the rear of the main, combined, living and sleeping area. Given the culture, it is unthinkable that Joseph would have stayed in an inn when he had relatives in his home town. But there was “no room in the guest room” – perhaps because it was already occupied by other relatives that arrived during the census – or, more likely, because there wasn’t enough room in the guest quarters to accommodate an imminent delivery.

Source: see reference 2

  • No stable – there is no mention of a stable. Luke’s account states that Mary placed Jesus in the manager. A “manger”, of course, refers to a feeding trough of sorts for animals. But managers were found in houses of that time and place, as domestic animals were brought into the lowest level of the home in the evenings for safety. The main living area was slightly raised from this entry level, and the manger would often be simply a depression in the floor of the main living area, which animals could access from where they were. So I see the baby Jesus lying in a manger, yes – not in a stable – but in a family home.

Source: see reference 3

  • No donkey – no mention of a donkey. It’s an assumption that this is how a pregnant Mary would have had to travel. This could be correct, but there were other options, some safer and more comfortable.
  • No animals – no mention of animals, though any animals belonging to the household may – following the arrival of the newborn – have been brought into the home for the evening.
  • No kings – magi (wise men, astrologers, astronomers), but not kings. And that there were three is an assumption based on there being three gifts.
  • No star – the magi that followed the star to Jesus arrived AFTER Jesus’ birth, up to, but no more than, two years later – hence Herod tragically ordering the killing of all boys, in Bethlehem, aged two years and under (Matthew 2:16). And certainly no star or magi at a stable, as Matthew 2:11 states that “On coming to the HOUSE, they [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
  • No angels – the angels appeared to the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
  • No wintertime – no time is explicitly specified in the Biblical texts. However, based on when shepherds would be “watching their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8) – i.e. Spring through to October – Luke’s account of Elizabeth and Mary’s pregnancies, a case can be made for Jesus being born mid to late September, in the Jewish month of Tishrei (- see this article for more info:


What a different Christmas scene we have. Jesus born in a home, almost just like any other baby in Israel, with mother and baby tended by Joseph’s female relatives. But with a surprise visit from shepherds a short time after the birth.

William Thomson – a Presbyterian missionary to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine – wrote in 1857:

“It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region.”

Does it diminish the meaning at all? Not to me. It makes more sense to me to read the text again without the clutter of all the other elements. There’s a power in the simplicity and ordinariness of it all. If it wasn’t for the shepherds, perhaps no one except Joseph and Mary would have known. (Luke 2:1-20)

This new scene, as I now come to see it, resonates more readily and more deeply with me – because, for me, it is a better reflection of the Biblical account. And in that context, as the following to quotes state, it brings Jesus nearer still to our everyday lives.

New Testament scholar and Anglican cleric, the late Richard France, wrote:

“The problem with the stable is that it distances Jesus from the rest of us. It puts even his birth in a unique setting, in some ways as remote from life as if he had been born in Caesar’s Palace. [But] the message of the incarnation is that Jesus is one of us. He came to be what we are, and it fits well with that theology that his birth in fact took place in a normal, crowded, warm, welcoming Palestinian home, just like many another Jewish boy of his time.”

Professor of New Testament, Dr Tim Geddert, suggested that:

“A new reading of the text… challenges us to open our own living rooms for Jesus, making room for him not in the barn… [or] once or twice Church Services or maybe Christmas Eve and Christmas morning… but in our living rooms, right where the family lives, where the pets roam, where we work and sleep and play and eat – even when our homes are packed full of guests. … After all, they called him Emmanuel, God with us.”

Emmanuel, God with us.

One more reflection: This ordinary scene in an ordinary home in Bethlehem is interrupted somewhat by the arrival of the shepherds that same day to find “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (see footnote) – which, according to an angel that appeared to them whilst tending their flocks at night, was a “sign” for the shepherds in finding the “Saviour”, “Christ the Lord”, who who was born that day in Bethlehem, “the town of David”, (Luke 2:11).

What is interesting to me is that, by divine providence, the circumstances of his birth meant that Jesus:

  • The promised Messiah who would sit on David’s throne was born in the town of David.
  • The Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread.
  • The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was born in a town known for providing sheep for sacrifice in the Temple in the neighbouring city of Jerusalem.

So what do you see when you think of the Nativity of Jesus? Does it matter? And does it make a difference for you?


To conclude, to help us reflect on the meaning of the Christmas event, here are the words of the angels to Mary, to Joseph and to the shepherds announcing the nativity of Jesus:

“Do not be afraid, Mary… You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30-33,35)

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)

[To the shepherds:] “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. … Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-11,14)



The angel said to the shepherds that “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

In what way was it a sign? Was it so unusual to find a baby in a manger, and therefore it would be evident that among “all” the newborn babies in Bethlehem, this was the one? Or did a “sign” signify something else.

I asked Professor of New Testament, Dr Tim Geddert, about this. This was his reply:

‘Concerning the shepherds finding the baby, based on the angels “clues” . . . Yes, given the population of Bethlehem it would be quite UNLIKELY that two babies would be born in the same week, perhaps in the same month. Some have calculated that Herod’s murder of the Bethlehem babies could have killed about 20 babies. If that is anywhere close to correct, that is about 1 a month. On the other hand “sign” does not really have to mean “clue to help solve a puzzle”. It can be a “sign” like, for example “the sign of Jonah” and other “signs” in Scripture (miracles in John, etc.) that are not so much clues for a puzzle, but pointers to meaning.’

If the “sign” of the “manger” was a pointer to a deeper meaning, perhaps it alludes to Isaiah 1:3 – “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s [master’s; Lord’s] manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Perhaps there was an ox and a donkey beside the manager after all!



  1. Photo sourced at:
  2. Rev. Ian Paul (2017) “Jesus was not born in a stable (honest!)”. (Blog post) See:
  3. Timothy J. Geddert (2007) “Enriching our Christmas Traditions”, a chapter from the His book “Double Take: New Meanings From Old Stories”.

“And who is my neighbour?”

9 July, 2017

In light of the divisions in American society that have been exposed and heightened by the US presidential elections, it may be a good time for followers of Jesus Christ to ask again the question: “And who is my neighbor?”

A lot has been written and said post-election, often in an attempt to deepen understanding on both sides. But there’s a real risk of “preaching to the choir,” talking past each other or reinforcing polar positions.

This article attempts to shift the balance of conversation from the horizontal plane to the vertical one. In other words, the intent is to promote our dialogue with—and particularly our response to—our Lord, without undermining our discourse with one another. In a time like this, we need to hear God speak into our situation and to make a right response to him.

To help us with this opportunity to hear God, let me ask you to slow down, reflect and complete the following sentence:

“The group(s) of people I seem to have the most wariness/anxiety over, fear of, or irritation/anger/animosity towards is/are ____________.”

What group do you have the most wariness over, fear of, or animosity towards?

The Shocking Samaritan

Now back to the question… “And who is my neighbor?”

The first time that question was asked, Jesus replied with what is now known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We need to consider Jesus’ response carefully and deeply. But we need to make sure we read it in a way that shocks us like it did those who first heard those words.

The Samaritan in the story was anything but good from the viewpoint of those listening. They were despised, compromised, dishonest, treacherous, contaminants in society, and to be avoided as far as possible.

As New Testament scholar, Prof. Tim Geddert explains:

Jesus’ strategy [in responding to his enquirer] was not to pick a perfect example of merciful loving-kindness and let him demonstrate the right way to treat people in need. Jesus’ strategy was to shock his hearers by taking the least likely candidate… As surely as we link the adjectives “good” or “merciful” with… “Samaritan”, the Jews… would have supplied adjectives like “hateful”, “unclean”, “religiously-perverted”… Perhaps the parable still has the power to shock… if we try to imagine whom Jesus might have lifted out as his hero of compassion today.

Tim Geddert, Double Take: New Meanings from Old Stories

Who Offends You Most?

So how about, instead of ‘Samaritan’, we substitute in:

  • Blinded Trump supporters or blinkered Clinton advocates;
  • White evangelicals who “compromised the faith” by voting for either one of two morally-disqualified candidates, giving their vote away by nominating a third candidate or a write in, or not voting at all;
  • Supposed Christians who by their voting choices are inciting racism and misogyny or promoting corruption and fetal homicide;
  • Christian leaders who have (in essence) taken the Lord’s name in vain, used the Bible for partisan purposes, and – by failing to discern the underlying societal issues – have undermined the credibility and witness of the church;
  • Ignorant, conservative, working-class white males, or equally intolerant liberal elites with no empathy with the common working man;
  • Blacks, Hispanics, or minority groups who expect handouts, take our jobs and undermine our culture;
  • Immigrants (legal or illegal) who are an economic drain on – and a major security risk to – our once great nation;
  • [Your response to the sentence completion exercise above].

Choose a group that is most unlike you, most offensive to you—and then re-read the encounter between Jesus and this God-fearing lawyer who wanted to justify himself (Luke 10:25-37).

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

“Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

“And who is my neighbor?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him.”

“Go and do the same.”

In other words, let us go and show mercy (in heart and in action) on:

  • Those most different to ourselves;
  • Those that we feel justified to look down upon and erect barriers against;
  • Those we think would judge and despise us.

It’s interesting what Jesus does here. In his reply to the question “And who is my neighbor?”, he refused to look at the merits of the “Other”. In fact, Jesus led the lawyer to answer his own question. I trust we have done something of that here.

As he so often does, Jesus—whilst remaining deeply practical—moves matters on to a higher plane. He lands the coin on its edge. It wasn’t about who was right or wrong, better or worse. And it certainly wasn’t about who was in or out of our obligation to love. It was—no, it still is—about us Loving God by Loving Others. Jesus moves it beyond our viewpoints, debate and discourse. And made it about our love and our actions. Not how worthy the Other is, but how WE ARE toward the Other.

It’s interesting – hopefully impactful – to note that it inconvenienced the Samaritan to show mercy. He had to change plans and go out of his way. It cost him both time and money.

Here’s the kicker: In a situation where we are missing each other in the discourse—when we hear Jesus speak—the question becomes, “How will I respond to my Lord?”


This blog post was first published at Missio Alliance under the title ‘Asking “Who Is My Neighbour?” After the Election’ on 9th December 2016.

The Word of God in the life of a person

28 May, 2011

In order to understand the importance of reading and studying the Bible for growing in our Christian lives, we need to understand the nature, purpose and workings of the Christian life. The essential nature of the Christian life is all about enjoying a restored right relationship with God our Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ and by the enabling for the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:3-14). Our old life was one of a wrong and broken relationship with God that resulted from sin. Sin, in its essence, is being self-centred rather than God-centred (Isa 53:6). However, our new life in Christ – as we truly embrace Jesus Christ as Lord – is one with God at the very centre, where He takes the highest place.

When we become Christians, we did not sign up for a club, a society, a denomination or a church – we signed up for a person, the Lord Jesus (Phil 3:7-11). Being a Christian by definition is being a follower of Christ. The essential purpose of the Christian life is to follow Christ in that relationship and to find our place is His purposes (Phil 3:12-14), which involves making Him and His salvation known to the earth and seeing His kingdom established in our lives and that of others.

The Christian life works when we use every God-given means to benefit from and enjoy all that Christ purchased for us at the Cross and has been made available to us by His Spirit (Rom 8:31-32). Once God is at the centre of our lives, then the Bible, God’s written Word, must automatically also come to the centre of our lives. God and His Word are intrinsically linked (Psa 138:2); Jesus is the personal Word of God, and the Bible is the written Word of God, and the Christian life does not work well if we try to take one without the other. We cannot grow in our knowledge of God except by growing in the knowledge and application of His Word. We cannot know what Jesus has purchased for us at the Cross other than by knowing it from the Bible, made alive to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot even properly know ourselves except by God’s help through His Word. Furthermore, our love for Jesus is expressed and made real by our obedience to His Word (John 14:23).

The Bible makes it clear that once Jesus has become the foundation, the Rock, of our lives, we grow and build on that foundation by living according to His Word, i.e. by hearing and doing what He says (Mat 7:24-27). In the natural, we need food and nourishment to grow. In the Christian life, God’s nourishment for us to grow is in His Word. The Bible is pure milk for the new and young believer, a staple of bread for daily living, and solid food for those who are mature (1 Pet 2:2-3; Mat 4:4; Heb 5:11-14) – in other words, the Bible contains what we need to grow no matter what stage we are at in the Christian life.

Once we give the Bible its proper place in our lives, studying and applying it, then it can become to us all that it has promised to be. Some, but by no means all, of these blessings and benefits are listed below:

  • It reveals to us the nature, character and attributes of God, showing us the One we desire to know intimately and be like (John 5:39; Luke 24:27).
  • It reveals God’s calling and purposes for us in this life (Mat 28:18-20).
  • Living by it results in a growing revelation of Jesus and intimacy with Him (John 14:21).
  • It reveals to us the will of God and thereby enables us to pray effectively (1 John 5:14-15).
  • In living by it, we will be established and blessed (Psa 1; Mat 7:24-27; James 1:22-25).
  • It washes and cleanses us (John 15:3; Eph 5:25-27).
  • It ministers healing to us from God (Psa 107:20; Prov 4:20-22).
  • It accomplishes the purposes of God (Isa 55:10-11).
  • It reveals our heart (Heb 4:12).
  • It shows us who we are, by correcting our wrong thinking, character and behaviour, and revealing who we truly are in Christ Jesus (Jam 1:22-25).
  • It teaches us all that God has promised us in Christ (2 Cor 1:20).
  • It is able to save those who receive the Word of God (2 Tim 3:14-15; Jam 1:21; 1 Pet 1:23).
  • It instructs, corrects, reproves and trains us in righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
  • It directs us (Psa 119:105).

As well as receiving these benefits of the Bible for ourselves, we also learn about our privilege, responsibility and capacity to pass these on to others (Mat 10:7-8; Mat 28:18-20).

In addition to teaching us by instruction, the Bible also teaches us powerfully by life examples. Seeing other people’s experiences with God creates in us a desire for more and inspires us to pursue and enter into the same. The Bible is a window into the unknown. The Christian life is about reaching out for where we have never been before in our relationship with God and our journey with Him. The Bible informs us of what can be, motivating us to press on and lay hold of all that for which Christ laid hold of us (Phil 3:12-14). Without the Word of God, it is easy to settle into a less-than-God-intended, man-made version of Christianity. However, through the Bible made alive to us by the Holy Spirit, God continually calls us into pursuing Him and His great purposes, and beckons us to reach out to become all that He has made us to be.

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