Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Power of Prayer

Johann and Louise: Training Disciples to Make Disciples in Southern Africa

It was the largest Puffadder I had ever seen!

And boy, was he mad. The room was full of people who seemed more or less oblivious to his presence, and I knew that if I didn't act quickly, someone would be bitten. A bite from a Puffadder is lethal and often leads to death.

I lunged forward and grabbed him by his neck, keeping a very firm and tight grip to prevent him from biting me! He hissed angrily and began to coil his body around my arm in an attempt to pull his head out of my hand. He was strong and I knew it was only a matter of time before he managed to pull himself free. I looked around helplessly, not knowing what to do. Just then two people came up beside me. In their hands they had a cord...a threefold cord...which they looped around the snake's neck and pulled tight. The snake was instantly rendered harmless and I let go and these two people took him away.

Then I woke up. It was a dream...but what a dream!

The Lord showed me that the threefold cord was the prayers of our supporters...while Satan tries so hard to undermine the work of the ministry, seeking to discourage us, to hurt and harm us, to distract us by making us focus on the many negatives in our is the faithful prayers of our supporters that prevent him from doing his diabolical worst.

Yes, of course we need financial support...but oh how much more do we need your prayers! We simply cannot...and I know this sounds like such a cliche...but truly, we cannot do what we do without your prayers!

In this dream, God has shown me that without you, Satan would harm are our rope holders, as William Carey put it...our threefold cord holders...and we are truly grateful.

Thank you.

All our love
Johann and Louise

Support Us
Johann and Louise spent two years helping to develop the St. Frumentius Seminary in Gambella, Ethiopia. At present, they are mostly working in Southern Africa where they are serving in seven southern African countries, although they continue to work with the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa as well as other southern and northern African countries, through engaging in a disciple making movement in order to grow the body of Christ. They are partnering with J-Life and other like-minded ministries. This ministry is massive and has the ability to reach thousands.
We are sent  through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, a missionary sending community, engaging in building relationships with the worldwide church to experience the broken restored, the wounded healed, the hungry fed, and the lost found through the love and power of Jesus Christ. 
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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Signs of nearness but unknown time

Matthew 24:32-41; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:28-33

Both Matthew and Mark have what scholars call a “transition passage” at this point in the Olivet Discourse where He purposefully moves from one subject to another in an attempt to answer the two questions posed by the disciples at the beginning of this section. Luke does not have this transition passage in his retelling of the event, but stays on the topic of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Before we look at this transition passage we need to remember that the disciples’ question had two reference points. The first had to do with the destruction of the Temple predicted by Jesus that sparked off this discussion. The second had to do with the end of time or the Second Advent of Christ. It is also helpful to remember that the disciples use the Greek word parousia when asking about His return…in the first section of His reply Jesus consistently used a different word, erchomenai, except in verse 27. This difference is not clear in translation. However, from the transition passage on, Jesus began to use the word parousia. Also two words are used for ‘end’, sunteleia and telos.

Why is this important? This is important as it indicates that there are two distinct forms of reference in this passage, one looking forward to the end of time and the Second Advent and the other towards the end of a very specific historical event that served to vindicate our Lord’s claims of Messiahship. As we have discussed this in the prior sections, we will not rehearse these important grammatical indicators here. Let it suffice to say that we must be aware of Jesus’ choice of words in His reply as it helps us see the different time references, one within the lifetime of that generation (plus minus 40 years) and the other at an unknown point in the future.

It is also instructive to note that Jesus used two very different illustrations as transitional aids. The first has a clear sign that something is about to happen. The fig tree heralds the coming of summer. So everything Jesus had said up to this point served as a sign of the first ‘end’ – His coming on the clouds of judgement as the triumphant King and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. This addressed the ‘when’ part of the disciple’s question. But in stark contrast with this the illustration following indicates that there are no signs of the return of the travelling man. The verses in between these two illustrations make the difference clear.

Both Matthew 24:34-35 and Mark 13:30-31 function as concluding statements that seem to point to an end to the previous discussion. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place.” Then both Matthew24:36 and Mark 13:32 begin with a subject matter transition grammatical structure device used to mark off new material, peri de, translated ‘but of, concerning, or regarding’ (see the use of this device in Matthew 22:31; Acts 21:25; 1 Corinthians 7:1, 8:1, 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 5:1). By using this device Jesus was clearly shifting gears, as it were, by reaching back to the disciple’s second question. Having dealt with the first, He now moved on to deal with the second. As such these verses introduced new material. Jesus left the AD 70 prophecy with its many signs behind and began to address His unexpected…no signs…Second Advent (Matthew 24:36-25:46; Mark 13:32-36).

“But of that day and hour…” “However, no one knows the day or the hour…”

What is interesting to note here is that Jesus, in His limited knowledge as the Son Who chose to live His earthly life never more than Man, knew the temporal markers (note the plural use of “days” as opposed to the singular specific “that day”) for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but He did not know the timing of His own Second Advent! The signs that would mark the timing of the imminent events to come upon this generation are lacking when it comes to that day and hour. Here it seems that the word ‘this’ stands in contrast with the word ‘that’. In the second section there is no imminent temporal indication such as in the first (this generation) – rather Jesus seems to anticipate an unknown and distant future event.

Also, in the preceding sections, Jesus was at pains to inform His disciples concerning historical events they would ‘see’ so that they might be able to know when to leave the city and flee into the Judean hill country. But here no one, including angels and Jesus Himself, know when that very particular day of His Second Advent would occur. Thus the first section urges the disciples to be ready to flee…in the second there is no such opportunity for escape…rather there is just a call for obedience, faithfulness, diligence, and continuance in the faith.

Again, in the previous section, there was a distinct possibility that people seeing the signs could be misled to believe that they were safe by false prophets and false messiahs…but in this section under review, the Second Advent is shown to be something unmistakably visible to everyone and, as such, any attempt at deception would be impossible. Also, the social circumstances are contrasted as the first section reveals a time of great upheaval, chaos, and uncertainty, whereas the second section indicates a time of tranquillity – life as usual continues right up to the unexpected arrival of Jesus…people are marrying and eating and drinking and working – just like at the time of Noah.

Throughout the Church era there have been people who were convinced they were living in the “last days”…but they were mistaken. Even there are many, one example will be sufficient. In 1918, the Rev Arthur Walkington Pink, a British Bible Teacher who served as a Pastor in the United States, wrote:

“Brethren, the end of the Age is upon us. All over the world, reflecting minds are discerning the fact that we are on the eve of another of those far-reaching crises which make the history of our race…Those who look out on present conditions are forced to conclude that the consummation of this dispensation is at hand…The sands in the hour glass of this Day of Salvation have almost run out. The signs of the Times demonstrate it. ‘But,’ it may be asked, ‘Have not other ages, as well as the present been crowded with signs of distress?’ Undoubtedly…They unduly magnified the evil, and erred in their calculations…But today, the Signs are so plain they cannot be mis-read, though the foolish may close their eyes and refuse to examine them. What these Signs are we have shown at length in chapter six and if the evidence there furnished has not convinced the reader that the Lord is at hand, then there is little hope that any further arguments drawn from Scripture will do so.”[1]

Pink was wrong. Others have been wrong…sincerely wrong…but wrong nonetheless.

We would do well to learn from these historical errors. Final dates and times are known only to our Father and we are not called to speculate about when Jesus will return…we are called to be witnesses to the reality of Jesus present reign as the one who has gained victory over sin and death, who has overcome the world and its ruler, who has triumphed over principalities and powers of darkness, and who has led captivity captive.

[1] Pink, A W, The Redeemer’s Return, Calvary Baptist Bookstore, Ashland, KY, 1918, 318-319.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Coming of the Son of Man

Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27

Two things were drummed into my head during hermeneutics classes at seminary: “context is king” and “Scripture must interpret Scripture”. What my professors meant was that the Bible is one Word that remains consistent in its message from the opening chapters to the closing chapters and if we are to be faithful in being messengers of the message, we must be diligent in ensuring that what we convey is what it actually says…and not what we or others think it says or ought to say, for that matter!

These two principles are vital in the understanding of our present texts. If we fail to see the larger context…the origin of the prophetic language used by Jesus in these verses…and if we fail to understand the meaning of these statements in the light of their use in other parts of Scripture, we will fail to interpret correctly what Jesus actually said and meant at the time.

The first thing to notice is the time-designate that governs this passage. In Matthew 23:36 Jesus said that the judgment He described would fall on the generation alive at the time. A few verses later, He repeated this: “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34) What things? The things we are about to consider in this study. May we not be guilty of twisting the clear meaning of Scripture to suit ourselves!

In the previous study we saw that, in Scriptural and historical context, the “great tribulation” referred to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus now stated that immediately following this cataclysmic end of the old order something earth-shatteringly dramatic would happen. Let’s look at what Jesus said exactly as He said it as recorded by Matthew:

Immediately after the affliction of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then will wail all the tribes of the land, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory; and He will send His messengers with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather His elect out of the four winds from (the) ends of (the) heavens to (the) ends of them.[1]

Was Jesus referring to a literal cosmic event or was He using prophetic or proverbial language that would have been understood and correctly interpreted by those hearing Him at the time? Personally, I believe the latter and I hope I will be able to demonstrate why as we look at the rest of Scripture. At this point, may I remind the reader that the Jews at the time were well versed in the Scriptures…most of them knew a large part of the Old Testament by heart. Unlike most modern followers of Jesus, they would have been able to recall an entire passage or book or biblical motif or teaching simply by hearing one or more sentences of Scripture. So, we need to ask ourselves, where in the Old Testament is the sun, moon, stars, and general cosmic upheaval mentioned?

My first point of reference is the dream of Joseph in Genesis 37:9-11. “Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. ‘Listen, I have had another dream’ he said. ‘The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!’” (Italics mine) Note that his father immediately understood what this dream meant as he said in verse 10, “Will your mother (the moon) and I (the sun) and your brothers (the eleven stars) actually come and bow to the ground before you?” This dream is later fulfilled when they all actually bow down before Joseph, by that time seated at the right hand of Pharaoh in Egypt.[2] This seems to indicate that the sun and moon and stars could be used to symbolically portray those in authority in a family setting at least.

However, it seems that this figurative understand also applied to other authority figures. Isaiah applied this imagery to Babylon and Edom when predicting their destruction (Isaiah 13:10, 13; 34:3-5). Ezekiel used the same figures of speech when describing the fall of Egypt (Ezekiel 32:2, 7-8). Joel also applied this to Israel (Joel 2:1, 10). So, we need not resort to strange literal interpretations of Jesus’s words in this case…He was simply using prophetic imagery to indicate the overthrow of an authority.

It is important to note at this point that, grammatically, what appears (or what becomes apparent) is the “sign” and not the “Son of Man”. “Then Christ defines what the sign signifies: it is the sign that the Son of Man is now in heaven. That is, this sign (whatever it is) will signify that Jesus is in heaven above – despite the Jewish authorities and rulers of the temple killing Him (Matthew 16:21; 20:18; 26:3-4, 59, 65-66; 27:20), sealing His tomb (Matthew 27:62-66), and denying His resurrection (28:11-15).”[3] Jesus spoke about this reality being visible to those who condemned Him to death in Matthew 26:64, “And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

In this statement, it seems that what Jesus was saying was that those condemning Him to death would “see” Him seated at the right hand of God by His coming on the clouds of heaven. It is interesting to note that at this point the High Priest declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy. Why? Because he knew Jesus was quoting from Daniel 7:13 (see also the response of the Jews in Acts 7:56-57 when Stephen used this verse in reference to Jesus). “Coming on the clouds” was an image used only of God coming in judgment (cf. Psalm 104:3; Isaiah 19:1). It is an image, I believe, that has its origin in the Exodus. In Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt, God guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud. When the Egyptians pursued them and seemed to have trapped them on the shores of the Red Sea, this pillar of cloud moved between the two opposing forces. Just before dawn, the Lord looked down from the cloud and judged the Egyptians while protecting and liberating the Israelites (cf. Exodus 14:19-25).

What does this have to do with Jesus’ statement in our passages? The Jerusalem leaders and Temple authorities had condemned Him to death and were actively persecuting His followers. A careful reading of the letter to the Hebrews indicates that many Jewish believers at the time were tempted to abandon their faith in Jesus as it seemed that the Old Testament system was still firmly in place and, as such, there was nothing to suggest that Jesus was, in fact, reigning as King. But it is the destruction of the vestiges of the old order that vindicates all of our Lord’s claims about Himself and it effectively removes any obstacle in the way of spreading the Word in the minds of those who were in doubt.

It is in the judgment of Jerusalem, the fulfilment of Jesus’ words, that He is shown to be King reigning at the right hand of God with authority over both heaven and earth. In this sense, those who had rejected Him, the Cornerstone of the New Temple (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-7), would ‘see’ that they had been wrong. This would fulfil what was written by the prophet Zechariah 12:10, “They (the family of David and the people of Jerusalem) will look on Me whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only Son.”, and predicted by Jesus in Matthew 26:64, “…you (the leaders of Jerusalem and Temple authorities) will see the Son of Man…”, and in Matthew 24:30, “…there will be deep mourning among all the tribes of the land.”[4]

In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus indicated that in Him the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 61:1-2 was fulfilled. This imagery was drawn from the Year of Jubilee legislation found in Leviticus 25. At the onset of this Sabbath year, a trumpet would be sounded according to Leviticus 25:9. All those who had lost property could return to their land at this time. With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, both enemy and follower would finally see the reality of the Jubilee fulfilled in Christ. Now the messengers of the reigning King of kings could continue to go announce the greater liberation from slavery to sin and to gather (note the use of the same word in Matthew 23:37) His elect or chosen ones from the ends of the earth (cf. Matthew 21:43; 22:9; 28:19; Acts 1:8).

There was a reason why Jesus prefaced the “Great Commission” with the words, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”  It is only because Jesus is presently reigning at the right hand of God that we have a message to proclaim at all.

[1] This is my translation directly from the Greek text.
[2] Just as an aside: Most scholars will agree that Joseph is a ‘type’ of Christ…that his life and ministry foretells that of the coming Messiah.
[3] Gentry Kenneth L, The Olivet Discourse Made Easy, Apologetics Group, Draper, VA, 2010, 111.
[4] The Greek word ge is consistently used by Matthew to mean Israel, Matthew 2:6, 20, 21; 27:45. Also, the word fulai is only used twice in Matthew, here and in Matthew 19:28, where it specifically refers to the tribes of Israel.