The Big Picture
Sermons 17th June 2018, HC, followed by Connect Service.
Mark 4:26-34 Good News Translation (GNT)
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 Jesus went on to say, “The Kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. 27 He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. 28 The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the head, and finally the head full of grain. 29 When the grain is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 “What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?” asked Jesus. “What parable shall we use to explain it? 31 It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world, and plants it in the ground. 32 After a while it grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants. It puts out such large branches that the birds come and make their nests in its shade.”
33 Jesus preached his message to the people, using many other parables like these; he told them as much as they could understand. 34 He would not speak to them without using parables, but when he was alone with his disciples, he would explain everything to them.
Ephesians 3 Good News Translation (GNT)
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, pray to God. 2 Surely you have heard that God in his grace has given me this work to do for your good. 3 God revealed his secret plan and made it known to me. (I have written briefly about this, 4 and if you will read what I have written, you can learn about my understanding of the secret of Christ.) 5 In past times human beings were not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets. 6 The secret is that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God's blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.
7 I was made a servant of the gospel by God's special gift, which he gave me through the working of his power. 8 I am less than the least of all God's people; yet God gave me this privilege of taking to the Gentiles the Good News about the infinite riches of Christ, 9 and of making all people see how God's secret plan is to be put into effect. God, who is the Creator of all things, kept his secret hidden through all the past ages, 10 in order that at the present time, by means of the church, the angelic rulers and powers in the heavenly world might learn of his wisdom in all its different forms. 11 God did this according to his eternal purpose, which he achieved through Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 In union with Christ and through our faith in him we have the boldness to go into God's presence with all confidence. 13 I beg you, then, not to be discouraged because I am suffering for you; it is all for your benefit.
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God's people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
20 To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: 21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3 (The Message translation)
1-3 This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
4-6 As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!
14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
Paul’s prayerThe “Big Picture”
On Look North yesterday we saw that Bradford Art Gallery getting a large Rembrandt portrait on loan, but that’s not what I mean by “the big picture”.This is when you step back from the detail of something, and see the whole thing. You look at the whole garden, rather than just one flower, which might have faded, or been eaten by a snail (ours!).
One way to see the big picture is to read about it in a fresh translation, which avoid familiar phrases. Hands up if you’re familiar with “The Message” version, by Rev Eugene Peterson. Eugene Peterson, a church pastor and theological college teacher, said
“I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn't read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant, and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become 'old hat.”
Is that you? Is the Bible “Old hat”, or is it perhaps difficult, irrelevant?
Here in a letter to young churches in Asia Minor Paul writes about God’s “Big Picture”, God’s plan for humankind:
1. How do you feel about this “plan” of God? (verses 1-11)
– a plan to bring all people, (both Jews and non-Jews), into a Father-child relationship with Him, through faith in Jesus Christ, to become members of God’s family.
The Message translates verses 5-6 as follows: (Peterson avoids technical terms like “Gentile”, and routinely translates “Gospel” as “The Message”. He translates the word “secret” (in our GNB) as “mystery”, better!):
“The mystery is that people who have never heard of God (“gentiles”) and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message (“Gospel”) is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.” (Eph 3:5-6 Message)
Do you see how he drops the terms “Jew” and “Gentile”, in favour of “outsiders and insiders”.
So, whether you find the Bible distant and irrelevant, or whether you are so familiar with it that it has lost its impact, I hope by hearing this well-known but rather difficult passage in a new way may help you in your Christian life, or may point you in the direction of committing your life to Jesus, is you have never done that before.
So the “Plan” began with God choosing one group of people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews, to be in a relationship with him. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt (the Exodus), gave them His laws (the Torah), and then saw them disobey him, and suffer the consequences, in the form of exile into Babylon in around 600 BCE. Throughout Israel’s history prophets spoke and wrote messages from God, and other writers wrote hymns (Psalms) and Proverbs. These promised a Messiah, a “Redeemer”, who would come and rescue humankind from its fate (e.g. Isaiah 53).
So, the second part of The Plan was the coming of the Messiah. Christians are convinced that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth, in early 1st century CE. But it was not so much the Messiah’s life, pure and exemplary as it was, but his death that was key to The Plan. Jesus in his death would work through all the previous sacrifices God had given the Jews.
So, Peterson, in The Message, translates Ephesians Ch. 1, verses 7-8 as follows:
“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.” (Eph 1:7-8 Message)
God’s plan is seen in Jn 3:16, a verse we hear every time we celebrate Communion –
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (Message, Jn 3:16)
God’s love for the world he had made was so great that he decided to send his only Son, Jesus, to be a sacrifice, akin to the Passover Lamb, who would die one behalf of all people, to pay the price for their rebellion (sin).
We sang “Before the throne of God above” – and the most telling line in that for me is:
“And God, the just, is satisfied
to look on Him , and pardon me”
That in a nutshell is “substitutionary atonement”, one of the ways of understanding the Cross. It this it is the key point. Jesus, on the Cross, carried on his shoulders all the wrong I, and you, have ever done, and took the consequences – he died.
And that reminded me of a great Old Testament passage about the Messiah – Isaiah 53 verse 6, where the prophet writes:
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all. (NLT)
And in the Massage version, less literal, but containing the essence of the meaning, with poetic emphasis:
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him. (Message)
As evidence that this was true, God raised Jesus from the dead, and he was seen alive by over 500 witnesses. You could say the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact. My Scripture Union daily reading on 6th June was this passage – the notes included the following:
“The resurrection of Jesus is not fiction, not an idea dreamt up by the early disciples. There were plenty of eyewitnesses many of whom were still alive. None of them were expecting it, so it’s hardly wish fulfilment on their part. They all believed that Jesus had died and were massively surprised when he rose.
It’s not that they were primitive, superstitious people; they knew as well as we do that dead people don’t come back to life. But this was different, a one-off event where God did something totally new. There is good solid historical evidence for the resurrection. We can confidently believe that it happened.”
(John Grayston, former Director of Theology at SU, now retired.)
That’s the Plan – God created this world, populated it with people, chose a small group to bear His Name and follow His ways, but they failed! But the plan allowed for that – God sent His Son Jesus, to live and die and rise again, all for us.
2. Paul prays for the people of these churches around Ephesus.
Before he left the earth, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, a third part of God, who came at Pentecost with the effect of empowering God’s people, but even this was prophesied by the OT Prophets Joel and Isaiah, who wrote:
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people…But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:28-9)
“I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. (Is 44:3)
Jesus himself said of the Holy Spirit that he would “guide them into all truth”. (Jn. 16:13). Paul writes in our passage (verses 14-16, Message Version)
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in”. (Eph 3:14-16 Message)
We thought about the Holy Spirit last month at Pentecost, and on Trinity Sunday, but we really need to be aware of the Holy Spirit all the time – because the Holy Spirit enables us to behave like Jesus, to love others, to be sacrificial, to know God’s will.
Being a Christian is a day-to-day matter of living like Christ. “What would Jesus do?” is a good slogan, but it needs a bit of thought when there is nothing in Scripture about, for example, medical abortions, or should we do the lottery?, or how do I decide what to wear?
The Message goes on in verses 17-19 with Paul’s prayer for them AND FOR US:
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love (“rooted and grounded in love”), you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-19 Message)
Paul summarises the section in this prayer – that we may base our lives on love, Christ’s love, and will live the most fulfilled of lives. The more literal translations say “comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…”.
And he closes his prayer (v. 20-21) with (Message version):
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia!
Oh, yes! (Eph 3:20-21 Message)
And that’s it! There’s much more of course in this chapter, but this is the main thing I want to share with you, that God’s plan, hatched through his amazing love for us, his creation, was to send Jesus as the Messiah, the rescuer, to live and then die FOR US on the cross, be raised to life, and to send his Holy Spirit to enable us to serve him.
“How would you explain God’s plan to a teenager or a neighbour?[“How does the version / translation of the Bible affect our understanding of God’s Plan?Discuss The Message version.”]
What does Paul pray for us? Pick just one thing from vv. 14-19 which means the most to you. Why did you choose this? Now using Paul’s prayer as your guide, pray in your groups for one another and for your church.