From very small beginnings, the church in Ephesus grew in such size and significance that within just three years its impact was felt not only in that city but across the entire region of Asia (modern-day Turkey)!… Fortunately, the New Testament provides us with more detail about this church than any other, so that we can learn from their success and take heed of the dangers they faced. The story of this church – told in a series of short dramatic episodes – is ‘a tale for our times’, and as we read it afresh, dig deeper and look behind the scenes we discover the heart of God for our churches, our cities and our regions…
The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
In previous articles we have discovered that the kingdom of God is different from every other ‘kingdom’. The two verses quoted above reveal another – major – aspect that makes the kingdom different: it is a spiritual kingdom – it’s “in the Holy Spirit.” The essential nature of the kingdom is spiritual, which means there is nothing natural or human about it. It’s vital we realise this: the kingdom of God must not be equated with any man-made systems or philosophies. No nation, government, political or social ideology represents the kingdom of God. Jesus made this abundantly clear when he told Pontius Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not of this world…my kingdom does not have its origin here’ (John 19:36). Since the kingdom is spiritual – and God is spirit (John 4:24) – it requires a spiritual experience to enter the kingdom and to live in it. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes into the equation; as the third Person in the Trinity He puts the kingdom of God into effect in us, and He empowers us to express it.
Jesus said that in order for us to enter the kingdom of God we must have two births: a natural birth and a spiritual birth. He called this spiritual birth being “born again”; it’s a term widely used by Christians to describe the means by which we become believers. We often stress that when we are born again our sins are forgiven and we begin a new life, and that we are guaranteed a place in heaven. That is all wonderfully true; however, Jesus mentioned the new birth only once and He placed it in the context of entering (or seeing) the kingdom of God:
I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he can’t see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
So, every Christian has been born twice! My natural birth was in October 1952; a new person who had never lived before came into the world. My spiritual birth was in April 1966; when I received Jesus as my Lord I was born again and a new person – a new me – came into being! That is what actually happened; in the moment I became a Christian the Holy Spirit came to live within me and made me what the New Testament calls a “new creation”:
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
A new creation! Not the same sinful person patched up, constantly trying their utmost to attain to the required standard: but a brand new person. Somebody who has been born – again! This is marvellous: when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts He comes to live the kingdom of God in us. Now I must admit I had little or no idea that I’d entered the kingdom of God at that moment when I was born again. I became a Christian because I did not want to go to hell. But the fact is that much more happened to me than I realised: I became a citizen of God’s kingdom! And if you’re a Christian then you also are a citizen.
Why a New Birth?
It’s important to ask why God requires us to have a spiritual birth so we may enter the kingdom and live in it. The answer is found in Romans 14:17 – “the kingdom of God is righteousness…” God is righteous and holy, and therefore His kingdom is essentially a righteous, holy kingdom. Righteousness is the hallmark of God’s kingdom:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. (Psalm 89:14)
Your throne, O God is forever and ever, and righteousness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; that is why God, your God, has anointed you above your companions with the oil of joy. (Hebrews 1:8-9)
Therefore, only righteous people can live in God’s kingdom. And that is our immense problem: every human being is naturally born unrighteous, we are sinners by nature:
There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
Without God’s intervention we stand no chance at all; we cannot make ourselves right with God. It’s utterly impossible for us to change ourselves. But in order for us to be part of the kingdom we have to get rid of our sin and become righteous. We have to become new creations; we must be born again by the Holy Spirit. That’s the amazing miracle of the new birth that Jesus talked about! The Holy Spirit takes away our sinful nature and lives in us with the righteousness of Jesus. And so, we now qualify to live in the kingdom of God as fully righteous citizens:
God made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5:21)
God’s purpose in saving us isn’t just to get us ready for heaven one day. His salvation plan flows from his kingdom plan; our new birth by the Holy Spirit launches us into God’s kingdom purpose – to fill the earth with a people just like Jesus!…
The opening verses of Hebrews tell us it was “through the Son” that God “created the universe” and now “sustains everything” (1:2-3); and that when all created things have perished, He will “remain forever” (1:11), because He is “always the same” (1:12). The final chapter of Hebrews repeat this staggering truth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
The way we see and relate to Jesus will determine everything else. How do we think of Him? Pray to Him or worship Him?… And however we answer, and whatever His many other awesome attributes, He is always the same. Theologians call it His ‘immutability’ and it’s an anchor to our faith: God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) does not and cannot change. He is the same, all the time. And therefore He is completely consistent and totally trustable. If He could change, the universe would be open to chaos and we would be lost. But He does not and cannot! In fact, as the apostle James tells us: “With Him there is no variation” (James 1:17). Unlike anybody else, Jesus Christ is the same, all the time – and that great truth is of the utmost significance!…
To put it another way, and to give us a helpful image of His immutability, He is The Rock! As Jesus explained, wise people build their house on Rock (Matthew 7:24); indeed, Jesus (the wisest of all) is building His House – the Church – on Rock (Matthew 16:18). We can build our lives and our churches on Him, because He is unchanging, unshifting, immovable; “the same yesterday, today and forever”. So, let’s dig a bit deeper to discover what He was like “yesterday”, because that’s what He’s like today and will be like tomorrow. Let’s consider three ‘yesterdays’:
Firstly, if we go back to the very beginning, we see that the Son of God did not begin to exist in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago; that was when He took on flesh, but He had always been and He will always be! He is eternal! That’s why those verses in Hebrews 1 tell us that it’s through Him all of creation came into being – a truth also declared by Paul (Colossians 1:16-17) and John (John 1:3). And Jesus calls Himself “the Originator of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14). God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit created the heavens and the earth, and did so from things that didn’t exist (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3). And He’s just the same today: He creates by His Word and He sustains all He creates, and He can do new, creative and miraculous works in our lives!
Secondly, we discover that Jesus appeared on earth at various times in the Old Testament; even before His incarnation, the Son of God made Himself known to mankind. Some of these ‘theophanies’ are more obvious than others, but consider for example: When Abraham returned from battle he met Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who is described as the “king of righteousness” and “king of peace”; one “having neither beginning of days nor end of life”, one “resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:2-3)! When Jacob wrestled “a man” who blessed him, changed his name and told him he’d prevail, he knew he’d “seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). When Moses led God’s people through the wilderness the Rock that brought forth water “was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). When Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol, the king sees a fourth man in the furnace with them who “looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). And when Isaiah “saw the Lord” enthroned in the Temple (Isaiah 6) it was none other than Jesus (John 12:41). Here and elsewhere Jesus is present to find, meet, come alongside, intervene and provide for His people… And just as He was yesterday, so He is today!
And then thirdly, when He took on flesh and walked amongst us He gave the most complete manifestation of His unchangeable nature. Having declared “before Abraham was even born, I AM” (John 8:58), He made seven powerful “I am…” statements to show us what this meant: (1) “I am the Bread of life” (John 6:35,48) – sustaining, nourishing; providing, refreshing, satisfying us. (2) “I am the Light of World” (John 8:12, 9:5) – banishing darkness, removing fear, making things plain. (3) “I am the Door of the Sheep” (John 10:7,9) – giving access to the Father; guarding, protecting, keeping us safe. (4) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14) – caring, leading, feeding, healing; devoted to His flock. (5) “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25) – carrying our sin and sickness, triumphing over death, empowering us to live Spirit-filled, overcoming lives. (6) “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:16) – all our wisdom, the answer to every dilemma, the key to every breakthrough. And (7) “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1,5) – joining us to Himself and one another; and enabling us to be fruitful all the time… This is JESUS – the Great I AM, the Son of God, the Christ – who is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever!
Jesus is the same today as when He created all things, and when He appeared in the Old Testament, and when He walked on earth. He is exactly the same this year as last year, or your best year ever! He does not change. He’s the same day or night, and whatever the season, and whatever we face. He’s the same whether His church is gathered or scattered. He doesn’t change when we change; He doesn’t deviate when we go off-track. He cannot love us any more or less! He is always good, all the time. He was all-sufficient for Abraham, Moses and Daniel and his friends; and for Paul and Peter and John – and He’s all-sufficient for you and me! He never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And therefore we can anchor our lives to Him, build our churches on Him, and find total security in Him! There’s a Rock on which we can stand. He is unchangeable, and that changes everything!….
In Part 2 we will see that this Unchangeable Person has an Unshakeable Kingdom, but before you move on why not take some time to consider what the unchangeable nature of Jesus means for you at this time?
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2, 6)
The foundations upon which we build our lives and churches are more important than we could ever imagine. The strength and success of anything depends on what it stands upon; the health of the roots will always determine the quality of the fruit. Even our attitudes and reactions, and our perspectives on things will be profoundly affected by what we hold to be true. And in times of challenge or uncertainty we need to know what we can depend and rely upon – think how often King David’s psalms express his trust in God “the Rock”.
Solid foundations become the anchor-points and reference-points in our lives – the unshifting truths we embrace and to which we will return again and again, and on which we build so much more. This mini-series of three article focuses on three great truths that are fundamental to our lives and our churches.
In the first, we consider the fact that Jesus is UNCHANGEABLE. The Bible describes Him as “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and this of course has profound implications: all that He was in the past He is today, and will be forever; and all that He did before He can do again! We can rely on Him and build our lives on Him, which is exactly what He invites us to do (Matthew 7:24-27).
In the second, we see that Jesus has a Kingdom that is UNSHAKEABLE (Hebrews 12:28). The Kingdom of God is everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for everyone, everywhere (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). And, whilst so many other things are uncertain and unstable, God’s Kingdom remains utterly unshakeable – there’s no better place to be!
And then in the third article, we focus on the fact that Jesus has commissioned and empowered His Church to spread the good news of His Kingdom everywhere! This is our urgent task and mission, and it is UNSTOPPABLE until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14). We conclude by looking at a true story (Acts 3:1-11) that helps us make this mission practical in our own cultures and contexts .
Jesus never changes, His Kingdom is never shaken, and His mission will never fail – and holding tightly onto these three great truths will keep us properly anchored and focussed. It’s my prayer that these three article and the accompanying video messages will be a great encouragement to you! Part one starts here…
Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here).
A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6). Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37). Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then! So, how are they to be understood? There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:
First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction. It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).
Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14). It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice. The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it. Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16).
Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else! The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism). By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow. It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.
It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers. Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)… The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.
Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’. Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church. What a wonderful salvation!…
One of the most important conversations of all time occurs in Matthew chapter sixteen! After about two years of His public ministry – during which He’d healed the sick, cast out demons, fed multitudes, raised the dead, taught with authority, calmed the storms and forgiven people their sins – Jesus asks His disciples who people think or say He is (Matthew 16:13), and they respond by summarising the most popular public opinions: that He’s a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah, or maybe another of the prophets (16:14)…
But then Jesus turns the question on the disciples themselves, those who’ve been closest to Him, who’ve travelled and shared meals with Him and witnessed these things first hand, and asks: “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (16:15). This was no longer about public opinion. Now the focus was on their personal conviction. And without hesitation, Simon-Peter steps forward and is the first to reply: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (16:16).
Jesus’s joy at Simon-Peter’s response seems almost palpable! And His next words are about to change Simon-Peter’s life forever: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (16:17). Peter’s conviction that Jesus was the Messiah wasn’t just the result of seeing His miracles and hearing His teachings, and it certainly wasn’t a belief instilled in him by his family or his fellow-disciples. Flesh and blood alone could not convince him. It was a revelation from God! He knew Jesus was the Messiah because God had revealed it to Him.
The same is true for everyone who knows Jesus is the Messiah: we believe it because God has revealed it to us! Think about it: however you came to know Jesus; whatever the circumstances; whenever it happened; whoever was involved in sharing their testimony or faith with you – your conviction and belief actually came about because God the Father was at work revealing the truth to you. Be assured: He wanted you to know; you heard it from God!
Jesus continues: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (16:18). This is the ‘first mention’ of the church (ekklesia) in the Bible. And notice what happens here: Simon-Peter has confessed the truth about Jesus’s identity (“You are the Messiah”) and in response Jesus proclaims the truth about his identity (“you are Peter”). The word ‘Peter’ is petros meaning ‘a rock’, or a ‘specific piece of rock’ and in those few words Jesus declares something essential that Peter will need to remember as the story unfolds – Jesus thinks he’s a rock; Jesus believes in Him; and Jesus will use him in the foundations of His church! This was Peter’s true identity. In the same way, it’s only when we confess the truth about Jesus that we begin to see our own true identity, and begin to see how Jesus wants to use us in what He’s building.
In declaring that He will build His church “on this rock”, Jesus is referring not to Peter himself but to the revelation Peter has received and confessed. The ‘rock’ in this case is not petros but petra – meaning the ‘bedrock’. This is vital: the church is built not a man (Peter, or anyone else) but on the foundational bedrock of the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah! It’s as we believe and confess this truth that we’re born again and become part of His church (see Romans 10:9). Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation and the Cornerstone of His church (see Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11), and anything built on anything else is doomed to failure, as the story of the two builders dramatically illustrates (Matthew 7:24-27).
This conversation and this revelation lived with Peter for the rest of his life. It defined his identity and shaped his ministry. And in the next article we will look at what happened when he preached it to crowds of thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)…
Theology is ‘the study of God’ and for Christians it’s a dynamic pursuit; we can know God because He makes Himself known and by His Spirit He leads us into all the truth! So, in this first series – GENESIS 1-3 & THE ROOTS OF THEOLOGY – we explore the opening three chapters of the Bible and discover what they begin to tell us about the big issues that affect everyone, everywhere, every day – including: God and His cosmos, man and his mission, Satan and sin, and God’s wonderful plan to restore all things…
This series is in 4 parts:  In PART 1 we look briefly at the creation account of the opening chapter, and see that God first “formed” and then “filled” all things, creating order and beauty, and blessing growth and multiplication.  In PART 2 we see that the beginnings and roots of all our major doctrines are found in these three chapters, we look at the overarching “eternal purpose” of God, and at what the Bible tells us about the fall of Lucifer and his angels.  Then in PART 3 we look in more detail at the nature of temptation and sin and the catastrophic consequences of Adam’s fall, before discovering that whereas God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3, He clothed and covered Adam and Eve, and banished them from the Garden to ensure they wouldn’t live forever in their fallen state.  Finally, in PART 4 we see that the work of Christ, the “last Adam”, deals with all the consequences of the first man’s Fall and brings about about the restoration of all things. We discover that on the Cross, Jesus triumphed over sin and death; He cast-out the ruler of this world, revealed God’s glory and brought forth His Church (Jn 12:23-33) – and thus made a way for all the blessings of Eden to be fully restored in the Age to Come (Rev 21-22)!…
ROOTED is an opportunity to dig deeper into God’s Word. It’s a study of the Scriptures in the power of the Spirit. It will help strengthen our foundations and roots, as we explore vital truths that shape the way we build our lives and churches. In this INTRODUCTION we consider the importance of firm foundations and of God-given limits or boundaries.