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Messiah mints
Don't worry, when Jesus breathes on you, it's always minty fresh

Many will be preaching on John 20 over the next two Sundays.  Often the question comes: "What does Jesus mean in John 20:23?"  Let me give you the context.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  (John 20:19-21)

How do we understand this?  Can Christ's followers run out into the street and address passers-by: "Forgiven... forgiven... UNFORGIVEN... forgiven"?  Is Jesus promising a heavenly underwriting of any and every act of forgiveness?

No.  Verse 21 interprets verse 23: the disciples will forgive just as Christ has forgiven.  How has Christ forgiven?  On the basis of His death and to be received by faith.  How should the disciples forgive?  On the basis of Christ's death and to be received by faith. So as the disciples declare Christ and His forgiveness in the power of the Spirit, the world's response to their message will be its response to Christ (which, in turn, is its response to the Father).

Jesus has already taught them this in John 14.  When Judas (not Iscariot) asks why Jesus will only appear to the disciples, Jesus essentially answers: "I don't need to appear to the world.  I don't need to go on a resurrection roadshow to the nations.  You need to go on the roadshow and take my teaching with you. The world's response to my teaching will be its response to me. So go in the power of the Spirit and take my words with you..."

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)

Even before His death, Jesus has taught His disciples how it's going to unfold.  So in John 20, when He comes and breathes His Spirit on them, He's saying: "Now's the time.  Go and testify. And as you go with my message, my forgiveness goes with you."

So does this verse endorse the willy-nilly preaching of an abstract forgiveness, divorced from the Forgiver?  No. But it does give us great confidence as we share the words of Jesus.  As we offer the apostolic gospel in the Spirit of Christ we are offering divine mercy.

This verse should not so much produce confessionals as confessors of Christ.  But those confessors of Christ (which I hope is all of us) ought to know the power and privilege of offering Jesus.  To confessing Christians and to seeking non-Christian we hold out the Christ in whom is all forgiveness (Col 1:13f).  We don't just speak about forgiveness, we speak forgiveness itself, because, by the Spirit, the Forgiver Himself is given through the gospel.

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Below you can watch Richard Dawkins speaking in advance of the 2011 KJV celebrations. He makes the case for being steeped 'to some extent' in the King James Bible.  If we don't know the KJV we are 'in some small way barbarian.'  But he ends by saying:

it is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource.

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej1auSuVM-M&feature=player_embedded"]

Notch it up as another Dickie Dawkins classic.  But before we laugh and point, let's make sure there aren't three fingers pointing back.

You see, because he's talking about the bible the stupidity of his position is obvious.  Of course it's ridiculous to view the bible as first a cultural resource that religion then hijacks.  Any fool knows that the bible is originally, purposefully and most meaningfully a religious text (or if you don't like 'religious', say 'spiritual' or 'theological' or even 'Christian').  It is evident (but not to Dawkins) that the essence of the bible is appreciated only when it's treated according to its true theological nature.  And that to read it through atheistic lenses is the real hijacking.

But Dawkins' inability to appreciate the bible according to its true nature is only one more example of his inability to appreciate the world according to its true nature.  The whole atheistic project follows exactly the same line.  It says that everything is most ultimately a physical, chemical, biological, historical or cultural artefact, let's not allow 'religion' to hijack it.  But to pretend you are honouring the world by treating it non-theologically is just as ridiculous as pretending to honour the Word by treating it non-theologically.

The only reason we don't see its foolishness is because we have, to some extent, bought the double-decker atheistic approach.  When it comes to the world around us we pretty much assume along with the atheists that there are brute facts that are perfectly understood in non-theological terms and that we then work with this raw data to make our theological (or atheistical) pronouncements.  And even if we do dare to wear some theological lenses to view the world, we have a slight guilty feeling that maybe we are hijacking a properly non-theological reality.

But no.  You've got to begin by treating the Word theologically.  And you've got to begin by treating the world theologically.  And it's best you do so in that order.

It's those who fail to see the world according to its essentially theological character who hijack it.

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On Monday I got up to give an evangelistic talk.  I was expecting there to be Luke's Gospels for all (NIV translation).  There weren't.  No worries, it's a short parable (the Lost Coin), I'll just read it out from my ESV Pocket Bible, right?  What could go wrong?

So I read the first verse of the parable:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?"  (Luke 15:8)

And then I read it again.

And then I translated it into English for them.

NIV's got:

‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

See the difference?

I really like the English Standard Version, but sometimes I wish they actually used Standard English.

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch – so the saying goes.  The LORD begs to differ:

Isaiah 55:1-3 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

A free lunch is exactly the kind of thing our heavenly Father provides.  After all, if we ask for bread, will He give us a stone?  If we ask for an egg, will He give us a snake?  (Matthew 7:9-10)  No, He gives us free sunshine, free air, free water, free life.  His very nature is to offer us free sustenance.

How does this sustenance come?  Through His word.  Notice how the LORD says “Listen, Give ear, Hear me.” Whatever God has for us, it’s dished up in the word.  See verses 10-11:

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Just as rain brings grain, so the word brings food to us.  The purpose for which God sends his word is to bring life.  It’s like rain on a parched land.  It makes people dying with thirst to bud and flourish.

Back in verse 3, simply to hear this word brings life to our souls.  Why?  Because through God's word we receive His “faithful love promised to David.”

Now think about that!

In the words of the King James version, He offers "the sure mercies of David" to peoples and nations.  He invites the world into His covenant with David.

When Isaiah wrote this, King David was long dead.  Yet all Israel knew that David foreshadowed the true King of the Jews.

In Isaiah 9, we read about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace who reigns on David's throne.  Christ is the true David and Isaiah knew it.

In Isaiah 11 he prophesies about Christ as the shoot of Jesse.  The Messiah is the Ideal David, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.  He is a Cosmic King to bring justice and righteousness to the world.

Thus "the sure mercies of David" refers to the Father’s covenant love for His Son.  This is what God wants to give us: He wants the world to enjoy His love for Christ.

In Isaiah 42, we read about how the Father feels towards Christ:

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

Those are the sure mercies of David.  That’s the Father’s everlasting love for His Son.

From all eternity the Son has been the true David – the Anointed King.  He is the Father’s everlasting delight and He pours His Spirit without measure onto Christ.

This is the everlasting covenant.  These are the sure mercies of David.  They’re all found in Jesus.  And in God’s word we are given Christ for free.

That’s why we read our Bibles.  That’s why we have preaching.  That’s why we encourage each other with the word.  Because in God’s word, God’s Son is offered.  And He is Bread for the hungry.  He offers Living Waters for the thirsty.  All without money and without cost.  We simply “listen” / “give ear” / “hear” our Father and through the gift of Christ our souls will live.

Why listen to God's word?  To feast on Christ.

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This is taken from the introduction to my Isaiah talks

It's also the theme of my latest devotional's preface

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Thanks so much to Matthias Muller for making this available and Theo Karvounakis for reading the Koine Greek!

The Koine Greek (Textus Receptus) audio Bible is now available for download for all who have already learned Greek but don't mind getting used to modern Greek pronunciation (100% native). Freely you have received, freely you shall give...

437MB, 260 chapters, 27 folders, 20 hrs, 48kbps mp3s, £0.00, value - infinite.

Add it to your dropbox for simple download and spreading. It’s meant to be public domain. Glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Download Koine Greek Bible via Dropbox

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The videos are coming as well but take longer.

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Koine Greek New Testament (audio)

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At the Cor Deo Conference on Saturday (mp3s to follow) there was a great question on Bible reading.  It was addressed to Ron and he both answered at the time and has written some more thoughts here.  I thought I'd add my two-pence, because, well, that's what I do.  Whether invited to or not.

The question of disciplines arises whenever you emphasize God's approach to us in Christ, over and above our approach to Him.  Well then, people ask, what place does our devotional life have?

I attempted to answer that with the preface to my own devotional, but let me put it another way.

On Saturday I spoke of the difference between a medieval system of salvation and the gospel announcement of Christ as Saviour.  Bible reading happens in both paradigms.  But in the system, it's a rung on the ladder.  In the announcement paradigm, it's a revelation.

Here's the thing - when I haven't read my Bible for a while and/or when I'm in a bit of a spiritual slump, the devil plays a brilliant trick on me.  He adopts the voice of an earnest religious devotee and says "Ah Glen, what a pity you're so far from God.  But not to worry" he says, masquerading as a spiritual adviser, "two weeks of solid Bible reading and you'll be back on top of your game."  Ug, I think.  And so I slide deeper into my spiritual sulk.

The system paradigm just doesn't get me reading.  But what if I realize the gospel?  What if I tell myself, "Closeness to God does not lie on the other side of two weeks hard graft!  Closeness to God is IN JESUS.  And that's where I am.  Let's pick up this gracious word and be reminded."

If I'm believing in the system, I might open the Bible but only to receive a lecture, or a to-do list.  More often I'll leave it closed.

If I realize I've already arrived, you never know, I might just open the Bible, eager to receive Christ!

 

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Some friends of mine in London are beginning a 120-day Bible read-through on April 15th.  Check out the plan here.  And here's their explanation...

At the age of 67 George Müller started to read through the entire Bible 4 times a year. He continued that for 25 years until his death, which means he read through the Bible more than 100 times in his life. Likewise it was said of John Bunyan, author of pilgrims progress, that his blood was "bibline". In whatever place you cut Bunyan, he bleeds the Bible because he was able to relate every situation in life back to God's word. And also Charles Spurgeon once said that he found the Bible more thrilling after having read it through 100x than at the first time. Men like these are the inspiration to read through the whole of Scripture in less than a year. So on 01.01.2012 a group of people started out to see what it was like to read through the Bible in 90 days and - they loved it. But because most of us got behind at some point we thought we make it a bit easier and share the experience with more people. B120 is a more moderate attempt to follow George Müller's example by simply trying to read through the Bible in 120 days.

Throughout those first three months a few significant realisations emerged: the Bible can be read through in less than a year and be great fun! But some might say; "What good is that supposed to be? If I rush through the Bible I won't be able to take everything in! The Bible is special and shouldn't be read like a novel." But let me say something to that.

a) A reading plan was created with the help of an audio Bible which is always a very slow reading speed. Based on those times, one has to read about 32-40 minutes a day, to get through the Bible in 120 days. No rushing is needed. People who want to read through the entire Bible usually have two psychological barriers to overcome if they use the standard 365 days reading plans. A big book with 1189 chapters on the one hand and a long time commitment with the goal at a far distance for most of the time on the other. B120 brings the desired goal 3x closer without making the daily reading commitment unmanageable.

b) It's a myth that with slow reading you will take in 'everything'. Actually on average a person only remembers about 10-15% of what they read afterwards. Repetition works far better. Therefore slow reading is more in the category of meditation than reading. But in order to mediate well, you need to have a good amount of context or you will read things into the passage, that the Holy Spirit never intended. We all read the Bible through the glasses of our own experiences, theological bias and cultural presuppositions. Starting out with broad reading helps to wipe those glasses clean so that through the context we get a better view on what the Holy Spirit actually intended to say to us. First we assemble the borders of the jigsaw puzzle and after that we find the correct place for the details inside much more securely.

c) It's easy to only read your favourite passages and books and avoid others. But just as expository preaching protects the congregations from only hearing the favourite topics of the preacher, so broad Bible reading protects the Christian from focusing on his theological hobby horses and making big issues out of what the Bible considers small issues.

d) B120 takes discipline because the flesh hates spiritual truth. And it takes effort because it takes a bit of time every day. Therefore it's done best in community. When you share the same reading plan with other people, you can naturally and regularly bring the Scriptures into the conversation. You teach each other by sharing insights and sharpen each others attention for details because your friends asked questions you didn’t and vice versa. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 comes alive.

e) The Bible is both the word of God and the words of men, which were used by the Holy Spirit to pen down exactly what He intended to say. There are different ways of engaging with the Scriptures; meditation, memorisation, study, and the most basic and foundational is reading. It would be wrong to focus on Jesus' deity at the expense of his humanity and why would it be any different if we only engage with the divine revelation, at the expense of treating it as a book, written in human languages. Most of the Bible is stories and letters. Give it a try and add novel-style reading to your Bible study tools.

Lastly, f) Tim Keller said, in order to see Jesus in all the Scriptures you got to know it really well. First you need to get yourself familiarised with the big storyline, before you recognise it in the types, shadows and allusions. Then Luke 24:27 comes alive as well.

Many more reasons are to be found on http://b120.bible-reading.org/

Because it's great, to read together, let's also start together on the 15th of April 2012. Many who hear of it here in London get really excited. Of course it's up to you, if you have the time, when you start etc. Neither is it meant to be a religious cool-club or Christian elitism. Far from it. To us it has been an eye-opener and I hope you will just as much enjoy it.

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Keep "Father", "Son" and "Son of God" in Bible translations.

Western missions agencies Wycliffe, Frontiers and SIL are producing Bibles that remove FatherSon and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims.

Read and sign this petition.  Then pass it on, facebook, blog, retweet.

Also...

For Brits, here's an e-petition to put the world-wide persecution of Christians on the map for our government.

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