Good Friday?

In thinking about the day we call Good Friday, I sometimes wonder why we call it that. The message, when I attend church in an hour will be about the death of Jesus on the cross. It will be about his sacrifice for our sins. This morning, I want to go back to the beginning and look from there. Right back to Genesis 3. Before that, we see that God creates everything. At the end of creation, he creates humankind. Our creation is different in that God stops and decides that he will make us in his image. We are not divine, but our existence somehow reflects to the universe what God is like. A divine self portrait, if you may. And he created us naked. Somehow God uses us, including our physical bodies, to reveal in a way which we can see what the invisible God is like.

But it didn’t stay like that. In Genesis 3, we see that things go wrong. A character described as the serpent convinces the humans that they can be like God by taking the knowledge of good and evil for themselves. What they discover is that, when looking at each other, they were already like God in the best possible way. The feeling of exposure that being naked brought caused them to make fig leaf aprons and hide when God came looking.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

They didn’t want to be naked before God, so they made excuses.

But today is Good Friday. What does this have to do with that.

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[e] and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

God’s pronouncement of judgement on the serpent includes this. The offspring was Jesus and naked, he was nailed to a Roman cross. Our word ‘excruciating’, means from the cross. He went through that because God wanted us back. That love and that is why today is Good Friday.

Made in the Image

A question that I’ve had stewing in the back of my mind is, What does it mean to be made in the Image of God? It was spoken about in the churches I grew up in, but there was never a big focus on it. If it was spoken about at all, it was our abilities as humans to be creative, make decisions, to love, etc. If our physical bodies were mentioned at all, it was that because God is spirit and therefore invisible, then the Image of God in us is in the spiritual/mental capacities that we have.

As a teenager, my grandmother suggested that, as well as my normal Bible study, to try and read through the Bible every year. I have tried to do this. I have done this in multiple translations over the years. This was just a read through, with no notes or study guides. That was part of my other Bible study. Doing this gives a big picture view of the Bible.

It was out of reading through the bible like this that my question began. Particularly as it’s recorded in Genesis 1. It falls at the end of the account of the physical creation. God has created the universe and the world. He’s created all the animals in the sea, in the air, and on the land. Then he stops and we read these 2 verses.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

The definition of the Image of God which I’d been taught seemed true, but incomplete. What particularly struck me was the poem in verse 27. Hebrew poetry is a little different than English poetry. English poetry has a repetitive rhythm and rhyming words which fit the rhythm. Hebrew poetry has, at its simplest level, pairs or triplets of ideas which speak to the same theme. The last idea is the main one. The first 2 lines speak about being made in the Image of God, the main idea is that gender is an integral part of the Image. I couldn’t get away from the thought that what creates gender is genetics. I couldn’t get away from physicality of the Image of God in us.

In future posts, I intend to explore the question, What does it mean to be created in the Image of God? Also some of the implications of being created in the image.

Thirteen men walked into a room.

The church I belong to is one where we celebrate communion or the Lords Supper every week. We do not have a set liturgy that we use. We do not hold that communion must be led by someone who is ordained. A number of years ago when I was studying with the Australian College of Ministries, I was asked to lead communion. It was a different congregation than the one I currently call home, but it was a part of the same denomination. The following is what I shared.

Thirteen men walked into a room. . . . Is anyone waiting for the punch line? . . . But I’m not telling a joke. Thirteen men walked into a room. Within 24 hours, two of them were dead. Both of them had chosen to die. One’s reason for choosing to die was selfish. The other’s was totally selfless. Both died covered in shame. One tried to deal with the shame of his actions by taking his own life. The other carried the world’s shame on himself as he died. Thirteen men walked into a room. A rabbi and the twelve disciples he had chosen. They had walked into that room to eat the feast called Passover. They were remembering God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. When God turned them from a group of people into a nation. He declared them to be his chosen people. As God led them to what he promised would be a good homeland, he made a covenant with them. This was about a special relationship with him. It was God’s idea and it was at his expense. There wasn’t anything extra special about them which caused God to choose them. Actually they showed themselves to be an untrusting, slow to learn, stubborn and rebellious. Yet God chose them. Their constant rebellion and unwillingness to take God at his word demonstrate God’s grace and love in an undeniable way. When thirteen men walked into that room, Israel was no longer a free nation. The Roman legions occupied their promised land. The Jews were longing for God to deliver them . . . again. They were waiting for a Messiah, a deliverer from God. He would free God’s people again. Most hoped it would be political freedom. They longed for their own kingdom again. It was believed that the Messiah would restore the throne of David again. You’ve probably guessed by now, the rabbi was Jesus. He was descended from David. He performed many miracles, healing people, and in the process giving many the ability to work and support themselves. When he started to preach, he announced the arrival of the kingdom of Heaven. He was the Messiah, but he wasn’t political enough for some. John records that after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus had to escape the crowd because they wanted to make him king by force. At his betrayal, Peter thought it was OK to use violence to defend him, yet Jesus had just told them that his kingdom was based on service and not power. In Luke 22: 19-20 we read, ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’The new covenant was a new kind of relationship with God. God was making a new people for himself. And like the old covenant, it was at his own expense and it cost him the life of his own son. But you may be asking, “You mentioned 2 people dying?” The other was Judas. Like many, when Jesus called him, Judas followed. But something wasn’t right. In John 12 it is revealed that Judas was the treasurer of the group and that he was helping himself to the money. Judas may have thought that Jesus was the Messiah, but it seems that he was in it for himself. It’s possible that part of Judas’ motivation for betraying Jesus was that Jesus wasn’t acting the way Judas thought the Messiah should act. And when he realised that his betrayal had brought about a death sentence for Jesus, his guilt and shame drove him to take his own life. Through communion, we celebrate the new covenant in Christ’s blood. We need to ask ourselves, “Do we really understand what it means to be God’s people?” God wants a real relationship with us, one which is his idea and cost him dearly. I need to ask myself, “What kind of Messiah do I want Jesus to be?” Do I want a Messiah I can manipulate to suit my wants, or will I let him be my saviour and King? Think about this as we take the emblems. If the servers will come forward. Take the bread when you get it remembering Christs sacrifice for us. Hold the cup and we’ll drink together, remembering that we are God’s chosen people. Bought at great expense to himself for a relationship which is his idea. Let’s pray 

A question of Modesty

I saw a video on YouTube in response to the reaction to a song by Matthew West called Modest is hottest. The response the video was addressing had come from a “progressive Christian” source. The response had criticised the song as being too restrictive. There was more to it than that. The makers of the video believe very strongly in scriptural authority. I’m with them on that. But I felt that they were rejecting the criticism because of where it was coming from. This post comes from my response to that video. It was 6 months in the making. I have expanded on my response a little, but it is basically what I posted. I am including the lyrics to the song to give a little context to my post.

“Modest Is Hottest” by Matthew West

Dear daughter, it’s me your father
I think it’s time we had a talk
The boys are coming round ’cause you’re beautiful
And it’s all your mother’s fault
And I’ve been trying hard to raise you up right
No drinking, no smoking, no swearing
But your old man’s got a little more advice
When it comes to the clothes that you’re wearing, listen

Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

If I catching you doing dances on the TikTok
In a crop top, so help me God
You’ll be grounded till the world stops
I’m just kidding, no I’m not

‘Cause modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish, a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

All the parents be saying their prayers
That all their girls, they’ll be wearing more layers
Moms and dads round the world, yeah, they’re on their knees
Lord make them more like Jesus and less like Cardi B

No offense to Cardi B
I’m sure she’s a really nice girl and Jesus loves her but I just think…

Modest is hottest, the latest fashion trend
Is a little more Amish and a little less Kardashian
What the boys really love is a turtleneck and a sensible pair of slacks
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad
What the boys really love is a one piece with a raincoat over that
Honey, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad
Trust me, modest is hottest, sincerely, your dad

I agree that the song is meant to be humorous. But the conversation surrounding it is not. I’ve been involved with parts of the Australian purity movement for a number of years. I’ve participated in and facilitated groups trying to help men with porn addictions. I’ve found these programs have been helpful, for a time. Then when temptation returned, I fought it until I reached some tipping point of weakness then I was back to square one. You may ask what this has to do with “Modest is Hottest”. I shared that to create context for my observations. A comment was made regarding Progressive Christians saying that modern society had a sexualised view of the human body. The response in the re-written lyrics seemed to be saying, that’s the way it is, just go with it. Unlike Progressive Christianity, I do believe in the authority of scripture. The Bible says what it says. We have to deal with it. What makes me uncomfortable is the modern use of the word “modest”. The words translated as modest in the Bible aren’t speaking about clothing and as far back as the 1828 Websters dictionary, the definition of modesty didn’t mention clothing, but behaviour. 1 Timothy 2:9 is the verse which commands women to dress modestly and is often used to command covering up. But in context it is talking about not making life a fashion competition. Verse 10 commands them to dress in good works. Modesty is not about clothes. I have heard from multiple sources that if anyone owns more than 1 change of clothes, they are in the top 10% of wealthy people globally. We live in a world of mass production. Before that every part of clothing manufacture was by hand and time consuming. From ploughing to planting to harvesting to processing the fibres to spinning to weaving to dying to making clothes. Clothes were really expensive. Only the really wealthy could afford multiple clothes and the extremely poor would likely have none. No running water meant that bathing and washing was done outside for the vast majority of people. Unless of course you were wealthy enough to afford people to carry the water to your house. Though you were dressed for most things, nakedness wasn’t unseen and didn’t hold the moral shame that it seems to hold these days. It was the use of nakedness which made it shameful, not the nakedness itself.

It was not uncommon in biblical times for those who did smelly dirty work to remove their clothes when working. There are ancient artworks of fishermen and agricultural workers working naked, presumably because they can clean their body more easily than their one change of clothes. That would keep their clothes clean and stain free for all the times when they need to be clothed, which was most of the time. But back to the song and its aftermath. I don’t have an issue with clothing in the sense of how much skin is covered or uncovered. But when it is designed to stimulate my imagination in a sexual sense, then it is a problem. I read recently of a teacher telling a class of boys that a woman in a skimpy bikini can catch your eye more than the same woman with nothing on, because the imagination often paints a more powerful picture than the real thing. And well, Cardi B’s dance moves sometimes look like one half of a sex act. When body language, including the way they are dressed, is trying to communicate sexual availability, then that is really immodest. The same kinds of behaviour in a turtle neck and jeans is still immodest. When God created us in his image, he did it gendered. That means that our bodies are as much a part of the Image of God as anything else. The “one flesh” of marriage reflects the unity in the Trinity in a physical way. Modern immodesty defaces that physical image. It’s as though I walked into the Louvre with a marker pen and drew glasses and a moustache on The Mona Lisa.

Modesty was always an attitude and a behaviour rather than a code of dress. The song actually doesn’t disagree with that. But our naturist friends can be perfectly modest according to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, while wearing nothing but the suit they were born in. And someone in a turtleneck and slacks could be immodest by the same definition. We need to be modest no matter what we are wearing. Or not wearing.

Hitting the beaches.

In the lead up to this time of year, we go into the shops and all the music is Christmas carols. What is a white Christmas, anyway? It’s summer in Australia. Decorations are out. Advertisers do their best to make us spend money. We are led to believe that how much we spend is directly proportional to how much we love people. We see Santa’s everywhere. Sometimes we see nativity scenes. Nice clean displays of Mary and Joseph, a baby in a manger, wise men, shepherds and sundry farm animals. People put Christmas lights on their houses. Churches put on special services where we tell people that God loves them and Baby Jesus was born. It’s all very nice.

But how many of you are like me and spend Christmas feeling like you are missing something. There is so much happening that you don’t have time to stop and think about it. At this time of year, I feel like “stop the world, I want to get off.” So much of how we do Christmas, is so nice. But was it? A baby was born. But what’s the point? I want to go back to the start.

In Genesis 3 we read about the first humans having a conversation with a serpent. During that conversation, the serpent convinces the woman that the knowledge of good and evil would be good and make them like God. We could ask the question, why is that a problem? Knowing something back then implied experiencing, not just the head knowledge we have today. But the con was that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. God had created them to trust him for that knowledge. The man and woman, who had been created happily naked, suddenly felt exposed.

God confronts them then announces the consequences. The consequence which points to Christmas pertains to the serpent.

Genesis 3:15  And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

The woman’s offspring would be Jesus. We look at the nice nativity scene and we have all good feelings. But from heaven’s point of view it was D-Day. In the battle to restore the damage of that first rebellion, boots were now on the beach. The beach head was established. It may have looked nice, but the conflict was real, and deadly. The Roman ruler Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of 18 months in the town of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby. He and his parents were refugees in Egypt until Herod died. Three decades later, he was nailed, humiliated and naked to a Roman cross in an attempt to silence the message he had been preaching. But unlike so everyone else who the Romans killed something happened. He didn’t stay dead. The soldiers who’s been ordered to guard his tomb were bribed to lie about what they saw. The first named witnesses were a couple of women. Which is interesting because women weren’t considered good witnesses back then. But we know who they are. The first readers of the accounts could have tracked them down.

But what does so this have to do with Christmas. At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus birth. When God became one of us. We think about God’s love and the baby saviour. But from heavens perspective it was the start of the ground invasion. This baby was the offspring spoken of in Genesis 3, and in dying and coming back to life, defeated the serpent.

Now that’s good news. The guilt of human rebellion can be forgiven. The exposure they felt can be undone. The broken relationship with God can be restored.

It makes you think. But more importantly what are you going to do about it?