Archive for March, 2016


Transplant News

human-organ-for-transplantSo we just got back from the appointment at Royal Melbourne with the transplant specialist. A transplant is still on the cards even though a donor didn’t come back from the international registry. The first option is a transplant from donated umbilical cord blood, which they’ve done a search for. The backup option is to still use my sister as a half match, which apparently is still a very good option and has been quite successfully done overseas. We’ll know which way we’ll go and have a date for he transplant in the next two weeks.

A transplant is not without risks, however. 15% of people die from complications relating to the procedure. There is also a small risk of scarred lungs, disfiguring of the skin or permanent weight gain. It’s also a long process, with many weeks of me feeling particularly sick. So it’s not an easy path, but it dramatically improves the likelihood of being cured of leukemia. But the doctor is quite upbeat about how I’ve been tolerating the chemo so far, as well as throwing out the standard line about how young and fit I am. (It’s been many years since I’ve been called young and fit). So morale is high again now that we have a clearer picture of what lies ahead (many more months of treatment).

Reflections on Matthew 26:57-75 Read the passage

The trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin was a farse. It was illegal to hold trials at night under Jewish law. Two witnesses were required to successfully prosecute a defendant, which is why they paraded a series of false witnesses against Jesus, trying to get a charge to stick. In the end the high priest short circuited the whole process and addressed Jesus directly. Jesus wasn’t obliged to respond but again shows his willingness to drive the whole process forward to the cross. When asked if he’s the Christ, he took the opportunity to up the ante by quoting Daniel 7:13, the cosmic presentation of the Messiah in the OT (v64). Given our discussion of chapter 24 we also see Jesus connecting his coming death, resurrection and ascension with the coming of the Son of Man.

Immediately following is the account of Peter’s threefold denial. Ironically, as Jesus is being punched and told to prophesy (v68), Peter’s denial is fulfilling Jesus’ previous prophecy. Peter’s denial is particularly pathetic and damning on a number of levels. It’s under the scary gaze of the servant girl that Peter begins his denials (v69). Peter’s curses in v74 are probably aimed at Jesus rather than himself (there is no ‘himself’ in the original). All of this happens after Peter was so adamant that he would never abandon Jesus. It must have been a very long weekend for Peter. Yet if Peter can be forgiven then surely there is nothing that we can do that God is unwilling to forgive. Peter’s denials remind us of the significance and power of what Jesus is in the process of doing in the courtyard of the high priest… dying for the sins of the world. To hold that your sins can’t be forgiven is to claim that Jesus’ death lacks power. So don’t you dare to think that God can’t forgive you, but come to him in repentance believing that Jesus’ death is everything he claimed it to be.

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Counts keep going down

1024px-dc-9_reduced-gravity_training_aircraft_-_going_downLooks like I’m still on the downward slide at the moment with my blood counts still going down. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going home any time soon. One complicating factor is that our daughter Isabella may have the chicken pox. If that’s the case then I won’t be able to go home until our house is clear of the disease. Potentially that might mean I miss the next window to go home altogether. That’s a bit of a depressing thought, so please pray that she doesn’t have the pox. Tomorrow is the appointment at RMH where we discuss transplant options. Hopefully by the end of that meeting I’ll have some clue as to what future treatment might look like. If we don’t go ahead with the transplant then it looks like I’ll be doing chemo until around September.

But hospital life is not that bad. It still feels like a nice hotel in many ways. The food has been getting to me a bit, but if I give up needing to like the food then it is still quite tolerable. Given that people survive 10 years in a Thai prison, I have little to complain about. I’ve been trying to be as productive as I can. As well as reading I’ve started working on my next sermon series on Abraham. Hopefully that’ll ease things for when I finally get back to work.

Reflections on Matthew 26:47-56 Read the passage

This is the account of Jesus’ arrest. Some quick reflections:

  1. v52 is a significant verse for understanding the non-violent nature of Christianity. Christianity is not advanced by the sword, nor does it promote violence. While God has given the sword to the governing authorities (Rom 13:4), he has not given the sword to ordinary Christians. Christianity is advanced through the preaching of the gospel, not through coercion or violence. This is not so with Islam, for example. The sword is given to the Muslim to advance the cause of Allah. Violent coercion was a hallmark of the early expansion of Islam and much of it’s latter expansion as well. That’s not to say Muslims cannot be peaceful people, but it is a fundamental difference between the two religions.
  2. We see the failure of the disciples. They all left and fled (v56). Jesus doesn’t excuse this behaviour. It was in his words a ‘falling away’ (v31), an apostasy. Jesus is betrayed, abandoned and walks the path to the cross alone.
  3. Jesus was not powerless in his arrest. He was not a victim of Judas’ betrayal or overwhelmed by the large crowd with swords and clubs. He points this clearly out to Peter: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” In fact Jesus is the one in control throughout this whole episode. He orders Judas to get on with his task, he restrains Peter from his violent response, and he facilitates the escape of his disciples (something highlighted more in the other Gospels). Jesus is doing the will of his Father (v39). He is fulfilling Scripture (v54,56). The whole way through his arrest, trial and crucifixion we see Jesus drive the events onward, in control even in his own execution. As the cliche goes, it was not the nails that held him to the cross, it was his love. We might say it wasn’t the crowd or betrayal that got Jesus arrested, it was his determination to do the will of his Father, and his desire to fulfill Scripture. Jesus, only a moment earlier overwhelmed in soul to the point of death, is now driven, determined to tread the path to the cross. Ultimately, the will of the Father and the Scriptures teach us that Jesus went to the cross for us. For you and me. That’s a powerful thing to notice. Jesus was determined to save you, at the greatest personal cost. Good to know when things don’t seem to be going our way, when God’s purposes and plans in our life aren’t clear, when the storm clouds are gathered and things seem dark. We can stand firm on this truth. The determination of Jesus’ love for us. We know God loves us, not because everything is going well in our life, but because Jesus went to the cross for us.

Watching and Waiting

shutterstock_155822504Still in hospital, just watching the counts and waiting until Thursday. My neutraphils spiked up to 0.8 from 0.4 today, but that may be the steroids that I’ve started taking again that are used to reduce the side-effects of the chemo I had yesterday. I’m feeling good, although I’ve noticed my aerobic capacity is reducing. I struggle to maintain level 1 on the exercise bike without my pulse rate elevating, whereas only a few days ago I was managing level 3 or 4. All part of the reducing number of red blood cells. So far my side-effects have been less than the first time around, and God-willing it’ll stay that way. They’re talking about the possibility of going home in a couple of days, but we’re still not sure if my levels are going to keep going down. The next big event is the appointment at RMH on Thursday.

Reflections on Matthew 26:36-46 Read the passage

Here we see a picture of Jesus that’s shocking. Jesus has never lost it before, but now he’s overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (v38). What is it that has Jesus undone? It’s the prospect of drinking ‘this cup’ (v39). What’s he talking about? In the OT the prophets talked about the ‘cup of God’s wrath’. It was picture language for the anger of God, often poured out on the great nations and empires of the world. The picture was of a horror brew, filled with the strongest alcohol, that would bring the one who drank it to utter and catastrophic destruction. The cup of God’s wrath is the punishment for the sin of the world, and Jesus is expected to drink the cup down to its dregs. And it terrifies him.

jesus-in-gethsemaneIn his time of trial Jesus brings with him his three best friends, and calls on them to keep watch and pray (v38, 41). This is the same word from chapters 24 and 25. Now is the time for the disciples to keep watch, the abomination that causes desolation is about to happen. We have reported here small portions of Jesus’ prayers, probably what Peter heard before he fell asleep each time. Jesus first asks if it’s possible that the cup pass by (v39). What would happen if the cup passes by Jesus? We drink our share. We drink the full consequences of our sin. This is the amazing thing that Jesus is contemplating – taking our sin upon himself and suffering the full consequences in our place. A horrifying consequence for him, but something he is willing to do if the Father wants.

The second time Jesus prays, there is a change in tone. He seems more resigned now that it will be necessary to drink the cup, that there is no other way. What tips the balance? The failure of his best friends. They couldn’t even support him for an hour. They didn’t have his back, they weren’t able to conquer their own weak flesh (v41). It will be necessary for Jesus to suffer and die, and here he shows us his perfect obedience to the Father’s will. It’s an amazing picture of obedience that Jesus shows us. His love for the Father, his love for us leads him to the single greatest act of self sacrifice in human history. In this he becomes our model in the face of temptation. Our trials will never compare to his, but they can still feel intense and overwhelming. Yet faith calls us to trust God and submit to his will, knowing that his ways are best, always. It also reminds us that our continual failures to trust God in the face of temptation have been paid for when Jesus drank the cup for us.

Remission!

remissionI got the good news yesterday. There are two kinds of remission, based on the sensitivity of the test. When they take the sample from my bone marrow biopsy they first put some of it under the microscope and look visually for cancel cells. If, after a sensible period of time, they can’t find any, then they call that the first level of remission. But it’s not a very sensitive test. There could still be more cancer in the sample that just wasn’t picked up in the microscope. The second level of testing is to test in the sample for products from a gene associated with my cancer, the Philadelphia gene. It’s called cytogenetic testing. If no proteins associated with that gene can be detected in the sample ,then that’s the second level of testing. It’s more sensitive, and so more complete. That doesn’t mean that there’s no cancer in my body, but it does mean that they couldn’t detect it this time around.

That doesn’t mean no more chemo. I go across to the RMH on Thursday for the next interview with the stem cell transplant experts. I’ve already heard that there’s no donor on the international register that matches my tissue types, so I don’t really know what they’ll want to discuss next. I suspect other alternatives will be a whole lot riskier than the standard procedure so we’ll need wisdom in weighing those up. But it’s good to know that the chemo has worked. Thank God for such wonderful staff here: doctors and nurses, and the decades of accrued wisdom in the medical profession that has led to such effective treatments. Pray for wisdom and trust as we head towards an uncertain future (isn’t that how we all live?). But we know that God is good an in control, so we continue to trust in him.

Reflections on Matthew 26:31-35 Read the passage

Just a short passage today. Jesus predicts the total failure of all his disciples. It’s an extraordinary thing that there are no heroes among the disciples. No one stands up when it counts. They all fall away. They all flee. Peter, the most likely candidate, keen to put his credentials forward suffers the most humiliating of failures. Peter, chief spokesman on Pentecost, is also Peter who failed most spectacularly to do what he claimed he would: ‘die with you [Jesus]’ (v35). ‘Fall away’ here (v31,33) means to be led into sin, to become apostate, to stop trusting Jesus, and that’s what every disciple did. When push came to shove they all failed.

Have you ever wondered why the Gospels record such dramatic failures by the very witnesses who brought the message? Here’s some reflections:

  1. No one comes to Jesus on their own merit. Even those who had the best chance to make that claim, the disciples who toiled and followed him three years abandoned that claim when they abandoned Jesus. The twelve were apostles only by grace, and we are all followers of Jesus only by grace.
  2. Denying Jesus is not a good enough reason to believe you can never be a Christian again. If Jesus accepted back eleven of the twelve (Judas had already hung himself), including Peter who took his denial to the next level; if Jesus saved Paul the one who killed Christians for a hobby ,then he will forgive you. But don’t presume upon that forgiveness. Throw yourself on God’s mercy and get about following him again right now, just like the apostles did.
  3. This is an incredibly embarrassing story. Why would they ever record it? Because it really happened. No one makes up a story like this. When we make up stories, we make ourselves look good, or at least a little better than what really happened. No one goes out of their way to smash their own credibility. Yet that’s exactly what the disciples did. So we can have a very high degree of certainty that this passage really happened. But that begs the next question: What changed the disciples? We know that the disciples didn’t stay cowards, but actually became courageous preachers that couldn’t be stopped even when tortured and threatened with death. In fact we have a high degree of certainty that many of them were executed brutally for their witness. People don’t just transform overnight for no reason. As the Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide says,

    If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself.

 

Good Friday

the-park-21My first ever Good Friday in hospital. Well, sort of in hospital. While my counts are up I’ve been getting out most days and went for a wander today in the Carlton Gardens again. Such a beautiful place put there by people with forethought far beyond ours to plant trees that would grow into a forest of ancient beauty and tranquility. I couldn’t help noticing as I passed the Exhibition Building how we’ve lost so much when we stopped decorating our things with the splendour of nature. The skyscrapers in the background are impressive, but it’s the garden that I choose to sit and dwell in.

I read through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion with my room mate this morning. It was our little Good Friday service. I’ll reflect on those passages shortly. It’s interesting how we can be in church for many years and yet react to God’s word differently. One person I read the Bible with noted the familiarity of the passage and brought up vaguely connected multi-faith recollections of their travels. Another person in our room deeply missed their Bible and pestered the staff until they got one. For them the Bible was equally familiar, but also the fragrance of life. They had found that since they had terminal cancer they had grown a new love for God’s Word. Two people familiar with the word, but two very different loves for the word.

Reflections on Matthew 26:36-27:61 Read the passage

Jumping ahead to a Good Friday passage, let me just quickly reflect on one thing I still find so striking about how the Gospels present the crucifixion, which is particularly the case in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a focus on how Scripture was fulfilled.

Several times Matthew directly or indirectly points out fulfillment (26:54,56;27:9-10). More than that, though, Matthew tracks a lot of details which don’t seem particularly significant, except that they fulfill Scripture. Jesus’ death was no accident. It wasn’t even the inevitable consequences of challenging power and tradition. It was the culmination of a plan announced centuries ahead of time. It was God’s master stroke telegraphed ahead through 2000 years of national history. Matthew doesn’t want us to miss the connections, which fill out the unique moment with oceans of meaning imported through those channels. When we go back and read those texts (I’m thinking of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and the like) we see the emotional richness and significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. I remember one Bible study with a lady looking into Jesus where we ran through those passages and saw their fulfillment in one of the Gospels. Us Christians in the group were excited to see the proofs of Scriptures centuries before fulfilled in the crucifixion. What we hadn’t noticed was that the lady was brought to tears through the emotive richness of the passages we’d been plumbing. Those passages bring their own powerful truths.

Incidentally, and by no means as important, one thing that really shocked me was just how brutally Matthew drives the nails into the Jews as God’s special people. I can think of two times that Jesus slammed his current Jewish generation for their rejection of him (12:45; 23:35). He has explicitly said he will take away from the Jewish nation the kingdom of God and give it to another (21:43). But Matthew explicitly records the oath of the crowds: “His blood is on us and on our children!” (27:25). This is shocking from the Jewish author of this book. After millennia of atrocities committed against Jews we recoil at such anti-Jewish sentiment. But this isn’t racism. This is critique from the inside. The Jewish Messiah was murdered by the Jewish people (with the able help of us Gentiles), and the Jewish people no longer command special place at God’s table. Entry into God’s people is not by birth or race, but by the faith of Abraham, which generates a new people, from every tribe, nation, tongue, including Jews. That makes a couple of things look instantly silly as far as Matthew is concerned: Christians giving money / support to national Israel as if it was God’s chosen political entity, and the Vatican declaring that we don’t need to evangelise Jews anymore because they’re saved by Judaism. The ripped curtain of the temple (27:51) marks the end of Judaism as a pathway to God.

 

A Day Out

our-locations-melbourneOne of the strange things about the chemo cycle is that you get odd opportunities to venture out of hospital for the day. Simone and I got to spend a good few hours wandering through the Botanical Gardens yesterday, a part of Melbourne we hadn’t explored before. It was good to get out and great to spend some time together.

It also gave some time to process together our latest bit of news. The initial search of the donor registry has returned no matches. The doctors here at St Vincent’s say that will be unlikely to change in the next week before our appointment at the Royal Melbourne with the transplant specialists. So it looks like no donor, maybe no transplant, but we won’t know for sure until next Thursday. What does this mean for the long term? No idea. Too early to tell. What we do know, though, is our hopes weren’t pinned on a donor, they’re pinned on the good God who is in charge of all things. Nothing is outside his plans and though each turn we take in the road is a surprise, we know we’re treading the path that he has laid out for us. And he is with us all the way. So please keep praying: for a donor, for wisdom for the doctors, wisdom for us, and patient trust in God’s goodness.

Reflections on Matthew 25:14-46 Read the passage

Here we now have two very clear last day judgement passages connected to the coming of the Son of Man. Does that mean the coming of the Son of Man is about Jesus final return after all? To work that out we need to nail down what we know. We know that Jesus has come in his glory already and is seated on his throne (v31). For example, Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Peter says in Acts 2:33 that Jesus has already been ‘exalted to the right hand of God’, and Stephen sees Jesus seated there in Acts 7:55. So Jesus has come to his glorious throne beside the Father. But there is now a gap in the action. The next logical step, now that Jesus has come into his kingdom, is to judge the world. But God in his great mercy holds off that next step. Instead he has sent out his messengers throughout all the earth to preach the gospel of his kingdom (Mt 24:14). Once that mission is complete then final judgement will come.

The parable of the sheep and goats talks about the nature of that judgement. Many see this parable teaching salvation by works – the amount that you do good works for others dictates whether you are a sheep or a goat. I won’t spend long in the parable, but the key to whether you are a sheep or a goat is how you respond to “one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” (25:40). We know previously from Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus has in mind here his apostles (11:25; 12:50). While God cares deeply about how we treat all people, it’s particularly our connection to his gospel mission that determines our eternal future. Do we welcome those who bring the gospel, and therefore accept the gospel? We are sheep. Do we ignore those who bring the gospel and therefore ignore the gospel? We are goats. Our response to the gospel decides our eternal fate, just as the rest of Scripture teaches: salvation by faith.

I have been reflecting on the parable of the talents (v14-30) a little longer, and wanted to reflect on some things I’d noticed.

First, the ‘talents’ is a really unhelpful verbal connection, because in the parable a ‘talent’ is just an amount of money. It’s like dollars. We can easily allow the English language crossover to tell us the parable is about the natural abilities that God gives us, our talents. This parable is not about our talents. Well, not just our talents. To work out what a talent is we need to read the parable. The master entrusts his wealth with his servants and then departs from them (v14). He gives differing amounts of his wealth, but all are to do the same – make a gain (v20, 22). They were to do that by trading (v16-17). So the master entrusts his business to the servants and expects them to do the business in his absence, making a gain. Doesn’t sound like our talents anymore does it? What has Jesus entrusted to us in his absence? The gospel (24:14). We are expected to invest in the gospel to see the kingdom grow. We have different opportunities, but what is key is that we are good and faithful in seeking to grow the gospel by seeing Jesus’ kingdom grow: more people saved, and Christians strengthened and encouraged – disciple-making disciples.

Second, what is it that leads the third servant to bury the money? It’s a twisted view of his master. He says he knows that Jesus is a ‘man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.’ (v24). This is true. In fact that’s exactly what Jesus has entrusted us to do: sow the seed of the kingdom that he will reap. The wicked servant sees that as a harsh thing to do and instead quakes in fear, hiding the money instead of getting on board with the mission.

Third, notice the results. The good and faithful servants share in the joy of their master (v21, 23). They will be put in charge of many things (glorious reign in heaven?) and share in the joy of the completed mission. The wicked servant is cast out and what he has is given to others.

What should we make of this? We don’t need to fear judgement. Our eternal destiny is not based on our performance as evangelists, but on our knowledge of Jesus, one which he graciously gives us through the gospel. The wicked servant knows Jesus wrongly. In fact he doesn’t really know Jesus at all. We who do know Jesus delight to take every opportunity to share his gospel, though we know that it’s tiring, scary and hard. But it’s also a privilege, and we look forward to sharing in the happiness of our Lord.

Michelin Man

bloating88kg! That was my weight last night. But it’s not fat and it’s certainly not muscle. I came in at 83kg, which was a little on the tubby side for me on Thursday. The 5kg is fluid. I’ve had one to two bags hanging since Friday and my kidneys have a tough time processing all that out the other end. So I’ve got bloated ankles and a growing face. I’ll probably get landed some diuretics this morning which will speed up the process and keep me tied to the toilet. I’m a bit nervous to take the diuretics as last time I suspect it messed with some of the fluids they give me (Mesna – don’t get confused with Mensa!) which keep my bladder walls from spotting blood, a side-effect of the chemo. Otherwise, apart from some subtle changes to my taste buds, I’m largely side-effect free. Please keep praying for a donor. Still waiting on that front.

Reflections on Matthew 25:1-13 Read the passage

Again another passage linked to the coming of the Son of Man that I’ve always taken to be talking about waiting for Jesus’ return, rather than relating to the death, resurrection and ascension.Supporting the idea it’s about the second return of Jesus is the strong note of judgement at the end, having the door closed to them and Jesus pronouncing those terrifying words, ‘I don’t know you’ (v12).

On the other hand there are some intriguing connections with the garden of Gethsemane. The virgins are to wait until midnight (v6), and soldiers come for Jesus in the garden at midnight. Jesus tells his disciples to keep watch (26:38,40,41), using the exact same word as the end of this passage (v13). That word only appears in Matthew’s Gospel in chapters 24, 25 and 26. The disciples fall asleep instead of watching, just like the virgins in the story. All very intriguing connections. I’m not sure which way to go. Perhaps the rest of ch 25 will help clear things up.

Waiting is an important part of Christian living. We wait for Jesus return and we don’t know when he’ll come back. We must be ready. Waiting is good for us, though. It’s not an arduous duty but a joyful, hopeful anticipation. The idea of wandering from the faith to have some ‘fun’ away from Jesus, gambling that you’ll return to him before you die or he comes back is the height of foolishness. Not only is it an incredible risk, but you won’t find the joy, contentment and hope in the ‘fun’ away from Jesus. That is a lie of the devil. True contentment, joy and hope is found in him alone.

Insomnia

InsomniaI had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. The many interruptions of the nurses, the frequent need to go to the toilet and the effects of the truckload of steroids I’m on all conspired to rob me of a lot of sleep. Still I seem to be able to somehow function this morning. If I suddenly becomes incoherunt you mes no why. Otherwise I’ve been tolerating the chemo well, much like the first round, and collecting a healthy supply of fluid in my feet and on my face again.

Reflections on Matthew 24:45-51 Read the passage

I’ve always understood this passage in the past about waiting for the return of Jesus to judge. There is certainly an aspect of judgement here in the passage. But given the strong link in v45 to the previous verse with the word ‘then’, we must first see this passage directed to how the disciples will await for Jesus’ resurrection. That’s not to say that there is no application for how a faithful slave awaits his master. As we progress into chapter 25 I suspect we’ll see the ramifications of the coming of the Son of Man teased out over a much longer time period. This might give a second breath of life to this passage for us. Of course all divisions like this are artificial and make it harder for us to see the passage in its context and therefore see its full meaning.

How did the disciples await the Lord’s resurrection? They hid. They didn’t go about the Lord’s business, but also didn’t beat one another either. Mercifully their wait was short. All four Gospels record not even a glimmer of faith among the lot of them as they waited. Nothing but despair. But God was merciful, the time was short, and their mourning was turned to rejoicing. We wait differently. We wait in hope, knowing that Jesus is alive, has ascended to the right hand and will come again to bring us home and set this world right. We wait in hope.

Back on the chemo train

ugly120_the20jianghe20coal20railway20chinaI started chemo again last night and have just been hooked up for the second bag today. Another six bags to go after that. They’ve talked about the option of going home in between day 4 and 11, but given the way that my neutrophils (immune system) tanked over those days the first time around I think that may not be wise. But a free hospital bed in Melbourne might be a good opportunity to explore more of the city for some of those days.

I didn’t get a great sleep last night: a combination of being woken by the nurse, setting off an alarm accidentally by sleeping on a cord, and having enough steroids flowing through my veins to fix a horse. All part of the journey and not a big deal given I can just jump back in bed any time I want for a nap during the day. Since I’m feeling good I’m back at trying to make the most of my days for study. I’m currently reading The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G. K. Beale which I’m thoroughly enjoying. At night I’ll watch some TV or just some stand up comedy on youtube. Since there’s rarely anything worth watching on TV it’s a lot of youtube comedy. Look up Tim Hawkins if you want to see a very funny Christian comedian.

Reflections on Matthew 24:29-44 Read the passage

We continue our way through this difficult and controversial passage. Like yesterday it’s helpful to find some things that we can nail down for sure to help us work out the rest, some keys. By way of reminder, yesterdays keys were (you might want to check back there to refresh:

Key 1: The disciples’ question(s) (v3)
Key 2: The abomination that causes desolation (15-21)
Key 3: v34 “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

To this list we can add Key 4: the coming of the Son of Man. The coming of the Son of Man is an event found in Daniel 7:13-14:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority,glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Notice the direction of travel of the Son of Man. He goes from earth to heaven to meet the Ancient of Days (God the Father). The coming/appearing of the Son of Man is about going to God, not coming from God to earth. The traditional interpretations of our Matthew passage assume the Son of Man goes from heaven to earth, the opposite direction. If this is a mistake, and I suspect it is, this changes dramatically what these verses are about. Let’s have a quick scan together of what becomes of the passages as a result:

v29-30 are about the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The supernatural darkening of the sun refers to the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and all nations mourning his ascension is emotional language to describe the significance of Jesus going to the right hand of the Father where he will be the judge.
v31 refers to the sending out of the apostles and their later converts to proclaim the gospel to the planet. The word ‘angel’ in the original language is the exact same word as ‘messenger’. Only context decides which English word to use.
v32-35 the antagonism of the temple precinct as well as Jesus’ rejection of it are signs that the climax is coming. All these events (even the destruction of the temple) will happen within a 40 year period. Most will happen within the next two months.
v36-41 is all about Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It will catch everyone by surprise (even the disciples!). The results will be divisive – some will enter the kingdom, some will reject it. This division will have eternal consequences.
v42-44 keep watch in preparation for Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. The key word ‘keep watch’ which occurs twice in this passage (v42,43) also occurs three times in the garden of Gethsemane (26:38,40,41). The only other time the word appears in Matthew’s Gospel is in 25:13, which we’ll look at in coming days. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. In fact I think that’s a strong point in favour of this interpretation.

What does this all mean? It reminds us of the colossal significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It also gives us insight into the distress of the disciples during Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and burial, something we can easily overlook. But despite the distress, and the humiliation, Jesus’ crucifixion was no defeat, but the greatest victory of human history, a master stroke, a genius move that brings us into a new age. What do we do during this age? Look to the glorified Son of Man and gather in the elect. We set our eyes on Christ and we look for opportunities to spread the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus, all the while strengthening and encouraging our fellow Christians to stand firm in Christ and continue in the mission.

Particularly this reminds us of the importance of church. Church is the gathering of the elect, which is what this age is about. Church is not an optional extra or something for Christians to consume or endure. It’s a chance for us to be part of the gathering of the elect. What’s your attitude to attending church? Do you go to church because of what you get out of it? Do you endure it because it’s a duty? Or do you go to encourage your brothers and sisters to keep on going? Even just your attendance can be a great encouragement to others, especially if you’re struggling to get to church.

It also reminds us of the importance of mission. This age now is characterised by the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. This is a prerequisite to the end of this age, as Jesus says “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (24:14) Mission is not something for people in other countries, or people with special gifts, it’s for every Christian. We can all share some aspect of the gospel of the kingdom, even if it’s just our own story of the impact of Jesus in our life. And we don’t do it alone. We can work together with our Christian friends, making your friends my friends so that they can see more people impacted by the gospel, and so we can use our differing gifts in evangelism to complement each other.

Back on the Ward

st_vincentI’m back in hospital now as of yesterday. I’m about to have another bone marrow biopsy and then start cycle 2a of my chemo, which is identical to the first round of chemo I had. That will involve 4 days of receiving chemo drugs and then a 7 day break and a final chemo bag. I tolerated these drugs well last time so I’m anticipating doing the same again. I’m in a new room of four and have met the other patients. (Even as I type one patient has left and another arrived). I’ll have to wait my turn again for a window spot, but that’s to be expected. My time at home was great, and a timely reminder that the four walls of the hospital are not the be all of life.

I’m still waiting for a donor for the stem cell transplant. When that’s worked out I’ll have a clear indication of when the treatment will finish. Right now we’re kind of treading (chemo) water waiting for the next phase of treatment. Please pray for a good match with a willing donor.

Reflections on Matthew 24:1-28 Read the passage

This is the start of the hardest passage in Matthew to understand, so don’t feel bad that, having read it, it seems to be a bit tricky to work out. Generally most people have understood the passage to be referring to one or more of the following options:

  1. Jesus’ return at the end of time (known as the parousia)
  2. The destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70AD
  3. The death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

How could we possibly decide?

There are a few keys to working it out, although let me say that I’m not particularly nailed down to one position yet, but I do have a favourite.

Key 1: The disciples’ question(s): “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (24:3). The disciples are asking two questions: When will the temple be destroyed? What is the sign of your coming and the end of the age. Notice the disciples assume that the temple will be destroyed when Jesus comes in his kingdom and the same event will mark the end of the age. We know now that that’s a mistake. We know that the end of the age didn’t occur when the temple was destroyed. We also know that the destruction of the temple didn’t mark the beginning of Jesus’ kingdom. Also the coming of Jesus’ kingdom was not at the same time as the end of the age. What was one event in the disciple’s mind turns out to be three different things.

Key 2: The abomination that causes desolation may be mysterious at first, but it also marks a “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” That cuts out the destruction of the temple as what Jesus is talking about. While it was a distressing event it hardly meets this criteria.Jesus death best fits, an event of unique eternal cosmic significance, as the creator of the cosmos is murdered by his own creation. Possibly some future event may fit this description, something yet to come, but again it would be hard pressed to compete with the death of Jesus for significance.

Key 3: is actually outside the bounds of this passage, but is significant for its understanding. v34 states “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” This puts a timeframe on when the fulfillment of the events must be: sometime within the first century. Attempts to reinterpret this verse to remove that time constraint push the bounds of interpretation beyond what the words reasonably mean. This rules out option 1 as a possibility, since it’s been nearly 2000 years since these words were spoken, far greater than a generation in timing.

The three keys lock us down into option 3, which is not the traditional interpretation of this passage, which by now you will be guessing is my favourite of the three. The greatest challenge to option 3, however, are the details. Do they really fit? But we should always move from the known to the unknown when understanding a verse. Let’s take the details in a couple of steps.

First, verses four to fifteen speak about the lead up to the end of the age, the last part of the disciples question. Jesus gives the characteristics of that time period, in the form of a warning to the disciples (Watch out – v4) and a sign before the end of the age: “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations”. That’s pretty straightforward and not too controversial.

Second, v15-28 refer to the time of Jesus’ death until his resurrection. One of the strongest problems for this reading is that the details don’t all match up with what the disciples actually experienced during the time. None seemed to be pregnant (v19). No one seemed to present themselves as a false Christ. But apocalyptic language (which this passage is) doesn’t aim to fit every detail with perfect correspondence with events. Often the details create a ‘vibe’ or the emotional significance of what’s happening without the details perfectly corresponding to the events themselves. The language shows a distress, urgency and uncertainty that are extreme for the disciples to endure. This certainly matches the distress, urgency and uncertainty of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, burial and resurrection. The disciples took the advice to flee and I imagine their stress levels were through the roof as they hid in the inner room praying that the Romans weren’t the next to knock on the door.

Verses 27 and 28 are perhaps the hardest. My current thinking, far from certain, is that v27 is saying that Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension will not be a matter of rumour, but a concrete and even famous historical event, and v28 draws the disciples attention to his corpse as a location for his appearance to take place.

I suspect many of you are reading these ideas for the first time given that this interpretation is relatively recent and so deserves suspicion and intense scrutiny. Like I said I’m not firmly wedded to it, but it’s a current favourite. Love to hear your thoughts as we engage together on this difficult passage over the next few days. These links give some more flesh to the view and you might find them helpful: link 1, link 2.