Friday, February 27, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-27 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (6) Jesus will return and restores the Kingdom

So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Acts1:6-11

Jesus ascended and He will return.

This passage links the return of Jesus to the "restoration of the Kingdom to Israel."

During the time of Christ, this expectation was highly politicised. The restoring of the Kingdom meant ousting their Roman Oppressors and seeing Israel reach the empire-like glory and majesty that it had when David was their king.

This was not a new expectation: the fervent hope and expectation that the Messiah would come and restore the Kingdom is found throughout the Old Testament. But in the Old Testament this expectation is richer and fuller and more beautiful than political power.

The Old Testament hopes and dreams are pointedly expressed in what the scholars call "eschatalogical prophecy." Eschatology has to do with the study of the "end of things." It has to do with the belief, hope and expectation that history is on its way to a definite conclusion and that there is a plan to it.

If the birth, incarnation, crucifixion and death of Jesus represent the steps of His humble descent into our humanity, then the resurrection, ascent, return, kingdom restoration and final judgement represent His rightful steps to His glorious enthronement and King and Lord of all.

Old Testament eschatology powerfully depicts the healing of a broken and sin-infected world with images of:
- The lion laid down with the lamb
- Trees bearing fruit along the river of life with food for feeding and healing
- Nations streaming to the glorified temple for worship
- And many other beautiful pictures.

Revelation 21 makes this hope even clearer:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

The ascension is part of Jesus' plan to restore all things!

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Thursday, February 26, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-26 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (5) He prepares a place for us

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going."
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John14:1-6

There's not really much to add to this beautiful passage...

Imagine the picture Jesus is sketching for us here:
It's the picture of an innkeeper or housewife preparing a place for a special guest. It's an intimate and personal action.

Heaven is not about "becoming one with the cosmic consciousness" - the picture Jesus paints is of a place of being where individual attention is paid, where people matter and troubled hearts can be comforted.

To take this a little further:
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords has ascended into heaven and took His seat at the right hand of God, but when Steven was being tried by the Pharisees and about to be stoned we see something very special: "But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus _standing_ at the right hand of God." (Acts7:55)

Why is Jesus standing?

Maybe it's because He's just come back from preparing Stephen's room...

"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John14:27)

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-25 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (4) He prays for us

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews7:23-25

When the (now) late Edwin Pons(*) retired, we asked him to conduct a retreat for ministers in the Port Elizabeth Presbytery. He conducted a very meaningful day long retreat and shared what had been his greatest comfort in a long and very fruitful ministry.

His comfort came from this idea that the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the victorious Son of God, prays for us and that His prayers for us come from His experience of our pain and heartache: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin." (Heb4:15)

Edwin had us meditate on this thought:
Jesus (think about who He is and what He did)
our great High Priest (think about what this role entails)
prays (think about what is involved in sincere prayer)
for me!! (My "stuff" matters to Him)

Think about it: Right Now - Jesus (along with the Holy Spirit in us) is praying for us - with understanding and sacrificial priestly love.)

Go through the rest of the day comforted by this amazing thought.
Jesus, our great high priest, is praying for you!

* Edwin Pons was one of the most well-loved and able ministers in our denomination. He was a past moderator, planted many churches, including Port Alfred which he planted with Glen Craig after his (Edwin's) retirement. I remember him as a warm and godly man who opened his home in Kleinemond to hungry theology students (and their girlfriends!) whenever they came to preach in the newly planted Port Alfred Preaching Station.

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-24 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (3) He sends the Holy Spirit

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
... 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts1:4-8

Jesus' ascension marked an important transition: the coming of the Holy Spirit. Up until this point, the Holy Spirit came upon kings and prophets temporarily for specific purposes at specific times.

Because Jesus was able to make a full sacrifice for our sins and pay for our guilt, it is now possible for us to be indwelt by His Spirit. When Jesus "sat down" at the Father's right hand (indicating that His work was complete) He could send the Holy Spirit to indwell us in a way that had not been possible since Adam and Eve sinned.

Because of the completed work of Christ, we are able to receive the power of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on a redeemed world to do great and beautiful things in believers, in the church and in the world.

The prophet Joel put it beautifully:
"And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel2:28-29)

When Jesus was having the Last Supper with His disciples and preparing them for His death, resurrection and ascension, they were distraught at the idea of His departure. But Jesus comforted them with these words:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John14:16-19)

In essence Jesus is saying: "I'm going so that you can have something better!!"

We've received a beautiful gift through the ascension!

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Friday, February 20, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-20 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (2) Humanity celebrated

Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." John20:27

God with scars?
Seem unthinkable?

That's the incredible thing about the resurrection and ascension. Jesus took our humanity into the Godhead. As Michael Card sings: "He'll be known by His scars."

We keep thinking of heaven as spiritual - that we'll float around as disembodied spirits. But Paul describes physical death as the planting of a seed: "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1Cor15:42-44)
Did you see that? "It is raised a spiritual BODY!" The plant is a continuation of the seed.

If you want to know what heaven will be like, look at Jesus (Paul says that Jesus is the "firstfruits" of eternal life.) A physical body that could touch and be touched, that could eat with His disciples, yet could appear behind locked doors. A physical body but without limitations.

The incredible thing is that Jesus ascends into heaven with something He had taken on 33 years previously - our humanity. The God family (which we call "the Trinity") now has humanity integrated into it.

Jesus could have discarded our humanity like a dirty rag saying "I'm glad that's over with." But in an amazing and beautiful act of love and divine accommodation, He has maintained His link to our humanity as He continues to be our Great High Priest.

This is great love!

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Thursday, February 19, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-19 [Apostle's Creed] Ascended (1) Job Done!

The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews1:3

He ascended into heaven.

Ascension day used to be a public holiday in South Africa but now each year we have to make a special effort to observe Ascension Day, which, in my mind, is not a bad thing because instead of just seeing it as a day off, we have to think about _why_ we're going to such effort.

Did you know that there are seven significant truths about the Ascension?
The Ascension means that:
1. Jesus completed His Ministry as our faithful High Priest.
2. Jesus takes our humanity into heaven and the God-head
3. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit
4. Jesus intercedes for us
5. Jesus prepares a place for us
6. Jesus will return and restores the Kingdom
7. Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

Jesus is our Great High Priest. A significant portion of the letter to the Hebrews explains this. Being both God and Man, He represented God to us and then as a sacrifice for sin, He represented us to God.

The ascension into heaven and being seated at God's right hand is an indication that His sacrifice was accepted, that His offering was complete and that His work is done.

On the cross Jesus said "It is finished."
The Ascension and being seated at God's right hand is the conclusion of the matter. It is God saying "Come sit at my right hand my son - your work is done!"

We could describe Jesus' work with three C's: The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown. The ascension is a culmination of all the enthronement psalms we read in the Old Testament. The Ascension is the announcement of His success and His victory. The ascension is the announcement that He is our great High Priest and King.

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-18 [Apostle's Creed] On the Third Day

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures 1Corinthians15:3-4

Why the third day?
Without getting into technical debates about whether this is a literal 72 hour period or 3 days or parts thereof, the bottom line is that in the OT three days is a framework that appears often and that the three day period comes to symbolise a breakthrough or climactic event after the period of struggle and uncertainty.

Here are some examples:
* Abraham travelled for 3 days with Isaac before coming to the place of sacrifice - where Isaac is spared!
* The baker and winetaster had dreams that Joseph interpreted and these dreams were fulfilled on Pharaoh's birthday three days later.
* Joseph kept his brothers in prison for three days before allowing them to return home to fetch Benjamin.
* The Israelites prepared for three days at Sinai before Moses went up to receive the law.
* Three days after David wasn't allowed to fight for the Philistines he returned to Ziklag and found they had been raided by the Amelikites.
* Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days.
* A sick Hezekiah waited for 3 days to hear whether God would grant him extra life.
* Esther fasted and prayed for 3 days before going to the king.

These examples illustrate the point that three days had become symbolic of a period of waiting and then a dramatic event - often involving salvation would take place.

This is not unlike the symbolism of 40 days which is a period of testing and preparation. Today is Ash Wednesday and maybe it is good to start the 40 days of Lent with the assurance that He rose on the third day. There is a clear salvation event at the end of our wait!

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-17 [Apostle's Creed] He rose to break death's hold

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
" `I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken. Acts2:24-25

The creed is brief in its treatment of the resurrection: "The third day He rose again from the dead." (We'll talk about the third day tomorrow.) The creed is brief about the resurrection because there was no debate, no uncertainty, no doubt. Jesus rose from the dead. PERIOD.

Today there is much debate and nuancing around the resurrection. There are those who deny the resurrection, those who spiritualise it, and those who argue that He lives on in our memories but we need to return to the simple confident clarity of the Creed: He rose from the dead.

In contrast to the creed, which is the belief statement of the church we have the founding sermon of the Church that was born on the day of Pentecost. (The creed is a catechism for believers, whereas the sermon is evangelism.) Peter, filled with the Spirit, preached the sermon which brought 3000 people to conversion*. His sermon spends one verse on the incarnation (v.22), one verse on the crucifixion (v.23) and twelve on the resurrection and the Old Testament passages that anticipated it. (v.24-36)

Resurrection was the heartbeat of the early Church!
"God's not dead - He's alive!"
"It is IMPOSSIBLE for death to keep its hold on Him."
"You can persecute me, feed me to the lions our stone me as a fanatic but my God has conquered death."
The early church recognised that death was a defeated enemy and lived with power, hope and confidence!

In some ways our modern-day focus on the cross can inadvertently leave us with a historical martyr-based faith. We can land up with a picture of a tragic victim God who died on in our place. We're often left with an overwhelming sense of guilt and responsibility that is bereft of the hope that resounded through the early church: It was _impossible_ for death to keep its hold over Him!!!

But Jesus is not a victim - He is a victor.
Our faith is not cheap triumphalism - Our God has entered into the deepest recesses of our pain and frailty and has OVERCOME!

* This is a trend throughout the New Testament. Resurrection is emphasised in gospel preaching and taken as a given in the epistles (with exceptions in 1Cor15 and one or two other places.) Resurrection was proclaimed and explained and extolled to unbelievers and accepted as a norm by believers.

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Friday, February 13, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-13 [Apostle's Creed] He rose (3) so we'd be more integrated

Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Luke24:39

In Graeco-Roman times, particularly under the the philosophical influence of Plato, the view was widely held that there was a qualitative divide between physical and spiritual. The body was seen as a prison for the soul and so the idea of a physical resurrection was unattractive to the thinkers of the day. (Have a look at Paul's Areopagus audience walking away when Paul mentions the resurrection in Acts 17.)

In the OT a much more integrated picture of reality emerges. Alan Hirsch notes that in the Pentateuch one verse will speak about approaching the temple while the next verse is about how to rescue your donkey that has fallen into a pit. In Old Testament thinking life is an integrated whole and all of life needs to be lived under God's rule.

The fact that Jesus has physically risen from the dead has profound implications for our theology and understanding of the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday I spoke of the division of sacred and secular and how this can lead us to be so heavenly minded that we can be of no earthly use. If Jesus rose physically then it means that our physical bodies matter. It means that it matters that we feed the hungry, that we clothe the naked. It means that I must look after my body and conserve creation, because although our bodies and creation are made new, we will still have them and the habits we learn now are the habits that we will take with us.

The early church was plagued by a heresy called Gnosticism, which, in one of its guises, suggested that because our bodies were temporary, Christians could do what they liked with their bodies (including sexual immorality and gluttony) because it didn't affect their spirits.
Recognising and embracing a physical resurrection (which the gnostics didn't) would make one think twice about these lifestyle choices.

In a nutshell then, Jesus' physical resurrection emphasises the redemption of ALL of life, not only a "spiritual" component. ALL of life has been bought back from the brokenness of sin. It's our job, then, to tackle hunger, pollution, addiction, abuse and all the things we might be tempted to avoid if we said "Oh but this physical stuff is only temporary!"

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Thursday, February 12, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-12 [Apostle's Creed] He rose (2)

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mark16:6

"See the place where they laid Him."

The New Testament is just full of these little phrases that naturally point to and take for granted that Jesus' resurrection was a physical one.

-His body wasn't lying where it had been placed.
-Thomas could touch His wounds.
-Mary could cling to Him.
-He ate food.
-He broke bread with the two on the Emmaus road.
-He walked with Peter on the beach and I'm sure they'd have noticed if He didn't leave footprints!!
-The early Christians, like Stephen, faced death with hope, courage and joy.

There are many who have difficulty with the physical resurrection of Jesus. They would prefer to settle for some kind of "spiritual" resurrection. But this is a poor substitute that robs the gospel of its incredible vitality, hope and power.

Most of the resistance to physical resurrection comes from two key issues:
1. Physical resurrection (and ascension) sets Jesus apart from every single other religious figure or guru. It moves Him from being a martyr and a great example to being the Son of God who will return in glory.
2. It profoundly challenges the divide between physical and spiritual that has been with us since Plato. This divide allows us to perpetuate the division of "sacred" and "secular". It means that Christians can allow themselves to be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use. (More on this tomorrow...)

Jesus' physical resurrection is taken for granted by the NT. It IS important for our understanding of Jesus, the gospel and our life, both now and eternally. Let's treasure it, celebrate it and rely on it.

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-11 [Apostle's Creed] He rose (1)

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Luke24:5-6

To kick off our thoughts about the Resurrection, I can think of no better place to start than a song/poem written by Matt Maher but based on a sermon by John Chrysostum (349-409AD)

You can listen here:

"Christ Is Risen"

Let no one caught in sin remain*
Inside the lie of inward shame
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love
And bled for us
Freely you bled, for us

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!

Beneath the weight of all our sin
You bow to none but heavens will
No scheme of hell, no scoffer's crown
No burden great can hold you down
In strength you reign
Forever let Your church proclaim

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
Our God is not dead, he's alive! he's alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave

Rise up from the grave...

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

EMMDEV 2015-02-10 [Apostle's Creed] Descended

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans6:23

Today we get to one of the most difficult and contested parts of the Apostles' Creed: "He descended into hell/the dead."

There are are couple of things we need to note about this phrase.
1. The very earliest forms of the Creed don't have this phrase.
2. The Nicene Creed, which is our next oldest creed doesn't contain anything similar to this phrase.
3. The word used for "hell" (Greek "Hades") could also be translated as the "realm of the dead" which is very similar to the Hebrew word "Sheol" rather than the Greek word "Gehenna" which is used for the place of eternal judgement and punishment.

There are two directions that interpreters take with this phrase:

Some argue that Jesus, after enduring separation from God on the cross, (remember His cry: "My God my God why have you forsaken me?"), and having obtained our forgiveness ("It is finished!") still had to go to hell where He:
1. Steals the keys of death and hell from Satan and/or
2. Preaches the good news to those who died prior to His coming.

Another group point out as Paul does that the wages of sin is death and that this includes physical as well as spiritual death. On the cross Jesus already endured spiritual death and now He submits to physical death, but as David predicted and Peter confirmed: "The Holy One did not see decay." (Ps.16:10 & Acts2:27)

Without getting into too many technicalities*, my preference is for the latter explanation rather than the former which raises too many difficulties.

What's the bottom line?
The bottom line is that Jesus' journey in humanity's shoes was a complete journey. He was born, He lived, He suffered, He died and the idea of descending into the dead is an indication that He didn't swoon into a coma, but that He really did physically die. This makes the resurrection very very very significant.
(Technical stuff...)
Calvin and most conservative scholars take the same (latter) route while some conservatives like Grudem go even further and suggest that the phrase should be left from the creed. To argue the former that Satan held the keys of death and hell accords too much power to Satan. Furthermore the suggestion that Jesus preached to the spirits in hell is based on 1Pet3:19 "through whom (the Spirit) also he (Jesus) went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built."
Here the obvious question would be "Why only those who lived in Noah's time?"
In the context of ch.3 Peter is talking about sharing the gospel at all times in word and in action (see v.15) It would be better to understand v.19 as talking about a pre-incarnate Jesus appealing through the Spirit and Noah's actions to the pre-flood masses. This also better explains Peter's paralleling the flood to baptism creating a very clear "then and now" scenario.

Theo Groeneveld theo @

You can see past EmmDevs at emmdev[dot]blogspot[dot]com/