Its confession time. I didn’t mean to do it. I know I should not have done it. Every week I carefully avoid looking but this Friday I did. I don’t know what possessed me. I put it down to mid-life crisis. My eyes just wandered and there it was, the most enticing, the most tantalizing, the most tempting job offer I have ever read in the Church of England Newspaper.
“It’s True Adelaide is a great place… No doubt you’ve read about Adelaide’s fine weather, fine beaches, fine food and fine wine. Its all true! South Australia wants people who see their future in its progressive climate. The archbishop of Adelaide welcomes enquiries from clergy wishing to minister in parishes and schools. Find out more about South Australia at www.southaustralia.com. Send your expressions of interest to…” and then it gave the address.
When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, how large was the remnant of Israel?
God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17-18). Through the history of God’s people recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures we see the Lord blessing and cursing his people according to their faithfulness (Deuteronomy 11:26-28; 2 Kings 17). Sent into exile first into Assyria and then into Babylon, on each occasion only a remnant returned.
So when Christ died on the cross, how large was the remnant? Where were the remnant who had acclaimed Jesus the Messiah just a week earlier on Palm Sunday? Where were the disciples? Where was Peter and the other Apostles? Who were present at the cross when Jesus died? Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother and the Apostle John. Did they understand what was happening? Were they singing ‘When I survey the wondrous cross”? No, they were weeping. They did not understand.
When Jesus died on the cross he was the sole remnant, the sole faithful remnant of Israel. This is crystal clear from Isaiah 53.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Read verse 6 again. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
When Jesus hung on the cross he was Israel. The remnant was reduced to one man, who died and three days later was raised to new life. In the resurrection narratives we read how Jesus forgives, restores and recommissions his remnant. First, of his apostles (John 20-21), and then after his ascension and bestowing of the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people of many nationalities were added (Acts 2:41). By Acts 4:4, the remnant had grown to more than five thousand men.
The promises God made to Abraham have and are being fulfilled in and through the Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation provides a vision of there ultimate fulfilment.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Was the coming of Jesus the fulfilment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham? The Scriptures are clear:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The remnant of God’s chosen people are saved by grace through faith and faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, not race, not law, not works, but grace through faith.
When you think of ‘membership’ what comes to mind? It probably depends on how exclusive or expensive the membership is, or how badly we want it. There are arts societies, sport associations, health clubs, university alumni and professional bodies. The list of ‘memberships’ is endless, and your wallet is probably full of plastic to prove it. Some memberships are open to anyone who can pay the fee while others are exclusive and by ‘invitation only’. For many people, their membership provides a rich social life in which friendships and common interests can be pursued and shared. What may surprise you, however, is to discover that ‘membership’ is a Christian word. It appears in the Bible to describe how we become members of God’s family. The apostle Paul writes,
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)
The Cross. It struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s ruthless means of control. Excruciating torture. Prolonged agony. Humiliating death. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging. After this initial punishment, you carried your cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution. Besides the physical pain there was also the psychological torture. Because crucifixion was a public form of execution. The crosses were located by the roadside or at a crossroads. There was no hiding.
You were exposed to the jibes and insults of the people who passed by. Stripped naked, you were bound to the cross with cords and fastened with nails like these here. Roman nails, 2000 years old. Finally, a placard called the titulus bearing your name and your crime, was placed above your head. You would not die of hunger or thirst, but might hang on the cross for days. To breathe, you must stretch upward and stand to take the weight on your legs and off your arms and chest. So if your legs were broken, death would come mercifully swift from asphyxiation.
On a recent flight I read an article in the airline magazine about a rather unique watch called a Tikker. It doesn’t just tell you the time – it tells you how long you have left to live. The author of the article, Ben Hamersley writes, “Do you have any idea how long you have left, well, actually? In total? To live? I do. It’s counting down on my wrist as I type this. I have, according to my watch, 44 years, ten months, five days, six hours, ten minutes to go. Even less by the time you read this, of course, and the information is coming to me every time I glance at my wrist. I’m wearing a Tikker watch, calibrated against my date of birth, nationality and other pertinent things, and displaying a forever depleting time left to my, actuarially predicted, statistically average, time of death. The brainchild of Fredrik Colting – a Swedish former gravedigger…” Fredrik obviously had plenty of time on his hands. We all do, and one of the things I love to do on a flight is watch the map of the world going by and the timer ticking down to the arrival time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one for our life journey? Fredrik hits the nail in the coffin by observing,
The Book of Isaiah, written around 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ, is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Why is that? 754 of Isaiah’s 1292 verses are predicting the future. That means 59% of Isaiah is prophecy. Isaiah contains 11 direct prophecies concerning Jesus and it is cited or alluded to in at least 50 NT passages. Why? Lets find out. Isaiah 53 is so explicit in predicting what happened to the Lord Jesus it doesn’t need much by way of explanation. Indeed it became so obvious that Isaiah was referring to Jesus after he was crucified and rose again from the dead, that, as the Church separated from the Synagogue, Isaiah 53 was no longer read as part of the Jewish lectionary. There are five paragraphs, each of three verses, and it begins in chapter 52:13.
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role (52:13-15)
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life (53:1-3)
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering (53:4-6)
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death (53:7-9)
The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection (53:10-12)
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)