The Messenger – Summer 2019

Tower of the Flock
Scientism
The Miracles of Jesus
The Chase
Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild?

Tower of the Flock

Joan Osborne

Q:      Why were the shepherds the first people to be told about the birth of our MESSIAH?

A:       Because these particular shepherds raised and cared for the lambs that were offered at the Temple in Jerusalem, and Jesus was the Ultimate, Perfect, Unblemished, Passover Sacrificial LAMB, as set out below:

The first declaration of the Good News of the Redemptive Gospel of Jesus made to Israelites, outside of the immediate family of Jesus, was given to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks, in the fields outside Bethlehem.

The Church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdal Edar (Genesis 3521 and Micah 48). Migdal means tower, and Migdal Edar means Tower of the Flock.

This area on the outskirts of Bethlehem is also mentioned in the Talmudic writings. According to the Talmud, all livestock in the area surrounding Jerusalem “as far as Migdal Edar” were deemed to be holy and consecrated, so could only be used for sacrifices in the Temple, in particular for the Peace and Passover sacrifices.

This means the shepherds in the fields off Bethlehem in those days, were serving the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Covenant.

Suddenly the New Covenant was announced with a glorious, vibrant spectacle of sound and colour, heralding their long awaited MESSIAH, who was to be the ULTIMATE PASSOVER LAMB.

As Luke records the event in chapter 2, verses 13 and 14: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising GOD, saying “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased to dwell.”

These shepherds knew intimately how valuable and important unblemished Passover lambs were, so because of their deep understanding regarding sacrificial offerings, their hearts were prepared and ready to receive the awesome and exciting news announced by the angel, who said “to you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is MESSIAH THE LORD” (Luke 2 11).

Therefore these shepherds went with haste into Bethlehem and found the baby JESUS with Mary and Joseph; their response was one of great joy, and they returned to the fields glorifying and praising GOD for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them by the angels (Luke 2 20).

Scientism

Bob Driver, Priest in Charge

Scientism can be defined thus: “The reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge”. So what is this scientific form of knowledge?

Well, scientists observe phenomena; they make hypotheses based on what they have observed; they test those hypotheses by experiments; then they draw conclusions. (Then 10 years later, another scientist comes along with quite a different conclusion because new information has come to light).

The result of all this enquiry is our world as we know it today; brilliant technology, medicines, x-ray machines, MRI scans and so on. This, and this alone is the way to knowledge.

Religion is not science. Therefore it’s just a lot of nonsense which can be disposed of on the ash heap of history. It is mere pre-scientific superstition. That in a nutshell is the general message we get from contemporary scientists who also claim to be atheists, Hitchen, Dawkins et al.

But just think about this carefully. Scientism itself is logically incoherent. “When”, asks the Bishop of Los Angeles, Fr. Robert Barron, “when did you observe or experimentally verify that all truth is scientific truth?”

There are of course, many ways of knowing that are not scientific – think Art, Philosophy, Literature, Poetry……..  Robert Barron refers to the “Myth of Origins”. By that he means the idea that science emerged only from a long struggle with the “dark age of religion and superstition” – just look they say, at Galileo and his treatment by the church authorities.

But the facts are different. Science emerged BECAUSE of religion, not in spite of it!  Where for example, did Copernicus, Newton and Tycho Brahe learn what they did? That’s right, at church-sponsored universities.

Let’s look at the theological assumptions which underpin science. Science and scientists assumed (a) The world is NOT God, and (b) the world is intelligible, otherwise we wouldn’t be trying to find out about it. If you imagine the world is divine as in some nature-mysticism schemes or new age ideas, then you will worship the world, you won’t bother measuring and analysing it with theodolites and trigonometry.

Modern day science emerges because the world is not God. Science must also assume that the world is endowed with intelligibility, it has structure; astronomy assumes there are laws governing the rotation of the heavenly spheres. Biology assumes life has meaning and purpose, has order behind it.

These assumptions of science come then from religious belief. If God, as Christians believe, created everything, then the world cannot be God; but because God has made it, everything has some sort of sign about it of God’s intelligence. “In the beginning was the Word, the Logos” – the logic, the divine mind, the divine intelligence without which scientists would never go looking for intelligibility.

Scientists like Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and Mendel were devoutly religious people. Gregor Mendel who did much early work on genetics, was a monk. The “Big Bang” theory was developed by Georges Lemaître who was a priest. None of them saw any problem about being religious and being scientists. The Vatican funds two observatories, one at Castel Gandolfo in Italy, the other at Tucson, Arizona.

There should then be no dispute between science and religion. Where there can be dispute of course is when science becomes detached from religion and is used for evil purposes. Religion itself can be used as a pretext for evil, but then it would no longer be religion would it.

The Miracles of Jesus

This article is based on some of the material contained in a sermon given by Tony Poole on 9th September 2018.  It was held over to this issue of the Messenger, because of the wealth of other material offered for the spring Messenger.

The gospels include accounts of the miracles of Jesus.  Not all Christians find miracles easy to accept.

Even some commentators had their doubts about some of the miracles, like the feeding of the four thousand and the five thousand.  Firstly, commentators weren’t unanimous whether there were in fact two feedings, or just one that was remembered differently by different gospel writers. In addition, comments were made like: “Quite possibly the crowd had all brought their own picnic lunch with them; they were encouraged to take it out and eat it and share it when Christ started distributing the seven loaves and some small fishes. The real miracle was therefore, the willingness of the people to stop being their normal selfish selves, and to start sharing their food with one another.” 

So let’s have a look at miracles. The first point to be made, is that it is not so much the action which is miraculous, as the timing.  Medical science can do some small miracles in our own time.

For example, I had cataracts removed from both of my eyes (as have some of you).  The result is miraculous!  The increase in colour, and the clarity of sight, is totally brilliant. I wasn’t completely blind when I had the cataracts removed, although I couldn’t legally drive, and if I hadn’t had the cataracts removed I would eventually have gone blind, as my mother did.  Similarly, if I hadn’t had 5 stents put in my coronary arteries over the last 20 years, by now I would be dead.  My father got angina at the same age that I did, just over 30 years earlier.  None of what they did to me had even been invented when he got angina, and he lived a miserable life on Wolferine, and died 10 years later at the age of 68. 

Through recent developments in medical science, mankind has been given a little bit of insight into a few of God’s laws of human nature.  Because Christ was God’s son, he had all of those laws, at his fingertips.

So secondly, I believe Jesus’s miracles were achieved without breaking life’s natural laws, which are largely beyond our comprehension at this stage.

Thirdly, I believe that each miracle was an act in prayer, between God and Jesus. That was why Jesus said so often, after doing a miracle, “Don’t tell anyone.”  On the face of it, that seems counterintuitive. Jesus’s message would surely have benefited from having the miracles shouted from the rooftops, by a person who was not otherwise involved in his ministry. That certainly seems to have been the case, when word of a miracle did leak out.  But from Jesus’ point of view, it wasn’t anyone else’s business; miracles were a work of prayer, between Jesus and God.

Fourthly, every miracle was restorative. When a dead person was restored to life, they presumably lived a normal life, which meant they died again eventually.  When a blind person had his sight restored, he did not see better than anyone else, or further, or see in the dark, or have x-ray vision, or live longer, etc.  He or she was merely restored to how they were, or should have been, before the miracle.  It was the same with all the miracles. Jesus never made a superman!

Lastly, Christ only performed miracles on humanitarian grounds. He healed the sick and the blind, because they were sick or blind. He took pity on the dumb, he fed the hungry, he replaced an ear that was severed, and he restored innumerable victims of demons; when he calmed a storm, it was to save the people in the boat; all of his miracles were done for humanitarian reasons.  We too, can share in this sort of miracle; Jesus tells us how, in Matthew Chapter 25, 31 – 46. I will leave you to read that section again for yourselves.

The point I am making is that the miracles were performed for the right reasons. Compare them with miracles for the wrong reasons, as set out in the first 11 verses of Matthew’s Gospel:

The devil came to him and said “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”.  In his response, Jesus didn’t say he couldn’t turn the stones into bread, or that he didn’t want to turn the stones into bread; his retort was that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God”.

Again, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple. For it is written ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’.” Again, Jesus did not say “I can’t throw myself down,” or even “I don’t want to throw myself down”, but rather “It is also written, do not put the Lord your God to the test”. He was not seeking to impress, or seeking glory for himself.

He was shown all the glories of the world, and was told “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship the devil”. Yet again, there is no question that Jesus could not have done just that; but he instead replied “Away from me Satan, for it is written ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

The point is that all of these occurrences would undoubtedly have been miraculous, but they weren’t the sorts of miracles that Jesus would ever contemplate performing, because that would have been to perform miracles for the wrong reasons.

Two last points about miracles.  Firstly, they are different to magic.  Magic has no basis in logic. It is not real. It is based on trickery, on sleight of hand, on illusion.  There is no place for magic in the Church. Whereas miracles are based on the same laws of nature which everything else is based on; but those miracles were and still are, by and large well in advance of our ability to comprehend how they were done.

And secondly, there might have been one other right reason for each miracle. At age 12, on his journey back home again from visiting the temple, Jesus got temporarily lost, then restored again, to his parents.  There is no further reference to him in the New Testament until near the beginning of his public ministry, at about 30 or possibly even 33 years of age. Theories abound, but we do not know with any certainty where he was or what happened to him for the intervening 18 – 21 years. 

All we know is that he worked as a carpenter (which means he made furniture), and he acquired an immense knowledge of scripture, which convinced him that he himself was the Messiah, the fulfilment of scriptural prophecy.

While preaching and teaching, his task must at times have seemed fruitless. The people he gathered around him misunderstood his message time and again, the church hierarchy scorned and hated him (in fact he got more sympathy from Herod than the high priest), and at the end all he had to look forward to was death. When everything around him was apparent chaos, failure and uncertainty, the miracles he could do may have been important to him, as confirmation that at all times, and in all ways, he really WAS the son of God.

Study of scripture convinced Jesus he was the Messiah, the 40 days of temptation confirmed it, and the miracles that he continuously did, endorsed it; Christ was the divine Messiah.

His miracles, therefore, may not have been for our benefit, so much as for his.

The Chase

Joan Osborne

The following question was asked in a recent edition of the well-known TV programme “The Chase” screening most nights on TV 1 at 5.00 – 6.00 PM.     In the Christian Church, what Bird represents Jesus Christ?

(a) The Dove    (b) The Puffin   (c) The Pelican?

The correct answer is given at the bottom of the page.

Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild?

Tony Poole

Well, so says Charles Wesley’s hymn, written in 1742, and sung in almost every Church throughout the world at Christmas time.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity;
Suffer me to come to Thee.
Fain I would to Thee be brought –
Gracious Lord, forbid it not;
In the Kingdom of Thy grace
Give a little child a place.
Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art;
Live Thyself within my heart.
Lamb of God, I look to Thee –
Thou shalt my example be;
Thou art gentle, meek and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.
Now I would be as Thou art;
Give me an obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind;
Let me have Thy loving mind.
I shall then show forth Thy praise,
Serve Thee all my happy days;
Then the world shall always see
Christ, the holy Child, in me.

That hymn was written more than 275 years ago. The Collins English Dictionary, and the Webster’s American Dictionary, both agree that “meek” has changed its meaning since 1742. Now it means “weak”, “submissive”; whereas it’s previous, now obsolete meaning, was “gentle”. 

In other words, “gentle” and “meek”, as used in the title of the hymn, were originally synonyms.

Was Jesus in fact gentle?  At times, yes. The New Testament has a number of references to his gentle nature; here are just six of them:

  1. The first 10 verses of the Beatitudes, as recounted in Matthew 5 3-12, undoubtedly show the gentle side of Jesus, evidenced by his outpouring of care for those in need.
  2. In Matthew 11 29, Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
  3. In Luke 18 16, he drew the small children to him, with the words “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as them. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”.
  4. Again, in Luke 22 27, Jesus said “For who is greater, the one who is at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves”.
  5. In John 13 5, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet; the job of the lowliest slave in the household, with no rights at all.
  6. The gentleness of Jesus is absent from Acts 8 32 & 33, a chapter about the persecution of the early Church, until the eunuch reads the prophetic passage from Isaiah, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

In the gospels, in the epistles, in Acts and Revelation, and in many of the prophetic writings in the Old Testament, there are references to the gentleness of Jesus.

But there are also references to other of his personal traits, including righteous indignation.  Here are two of them:

1. One of my favourite episodes in the Bible occurred when Jesus entered the Temple with a “whip of small cords”, and drove out the money changers and other traders, who had turned the Temple into a money-making racket, instead of a house of prayer. This episode is recounted in Matthew 21 12 – 13, in Mark 11 15 – 17, and in John 2 14 -16. (There is discussion among some commentators, that John may have been describing a separate cleansing incident, because he places it so close to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Others disagree, maintaining there was only one cleansing).

The Temple was a place of sacrifice for the Jews. Sacrifice meant the offering back to God that which God created, whether in the form of wheat or grapes, doves or lambs, or money, depending on the purpose of the family sacrifice. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, sacrifice was also made on behalf of the nation itself.

The “racket” Jesus uncovered went like this: A family brought its sacrifice to the Temple, where it had to be inspected by officials to ensure it was of high enough quality to be acceptable as a sacrifice, according to the law. If the object was rejected there were substitutes available at a price. When the head of the family offered payment, his money was rejected because it was the usual Roman coinage. The Roman coins could be exchanged for pure Temple currency; again, at a price.

It has been suggested that, as a matter of principal, offerings would always be rejected as sub-standard, and payment would always be demanded at an inflated price and in temple-currency.

So something meant to be holy, special, unique, had been turned into a series of crooked commercial transactions. Jesus was furious. There’s no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” in the mind of the gospel writers, when describing this incident. Jesus, whip in hand, drives out the crooked merchants, many of whom it is believed were priests.

I’ve never actually taken to the clergy of a parish with a “whip of small cords”, although I must confess to being sorely tempted on at least one occasion; instead I took the coward’s way out and publicly left that Parish never to return while those clergy held office. “Biblical Precedent” may not have been accepted as a legal defence in Caesar’s court of law!

One more example of Jesus’s righteous indignation:

2. Read again the whole of Chapter 23 of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus accuses the teachers of the law and the Pharisees of exalting themselves, and six times says “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites”; and then goes on to also call them “blind guides” (twice), “blind fools”, “blind men”, “snakes”, “brood of vipers”. This is a stinging condemnation of those people who considered themselves to be religious leaders. Nothing “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” about this passage!

Whether Jesus is speaking from his gentle nature, or with righteous indignation, depends in some cases on the context in which he spoke. We have already identified his gentle character in the quotation from Matthew 1129, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.

In Matthew 713 & 14, he states “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

While perhaps not actually uttered in righteous indignation, the tenor of this second quotation, and the tone of the material around it, make it much more of a warning than the former one.

So Jesus could be described as a gentle person, but he could also be described as a person filled with righteous indignation at times. To be exclusively preoccupied with his gentle nature could lead one to overlook the stern warnings in much of what he said. Did Charles Wesley therefore make a mistake when he penned his early hymn?

Charles Wesley was in fact a prolific hymn writer, composing and publishing about 6,000 hymns in his lifetime! 150 of his hymns are included in the current Methodist hymn book Hymns and Psalms (including Hark the Herald Angels Sing,) and in the American Church Hymn Book (including Jesus Lover of My Soul). Many other Churches have included some of Wesley’s hymns in their collections. His well-known hymns include “Arise my soul arise”, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”, “Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown”, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, and “Depth of Mercy, Can it Be”. The theme of many if not all of Wesley’s hymns is Christ’s atonement for our sins.

The contestant knew this answer, because he admitted for many years he had been a chorister, and had come upon this explanation among the many facts he had learnt as a chorister.
A brief history of Charles Wesley is quite interesting. He lived into his 81st year (from 1707 to 1788). He was one of nineteen(!) children of Samuel Wesley and Susanna Wesley, nine of whom died at childbirth and one shortly afterwards. His father was an ordained Minister in the Anglican Church, and Charles followed his father and his older brother John in taking holy orders. Charles and John Wesley founded the Methodist Church, although they did not always agree on matters theological, and on his deathbed Charles maintained he had always lived and died an Anglican, and his body was buried in 1788 in an Anglican churchyard.

It would be disingenuous to judge his theology just on the words of “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild”. The error is not Charles Wesley’s but ours, by interpreting Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild as representing the whole of Wesley’s Christian thinking. There are many aspects to Christianity; far too many to keep in mind at any one time. Wesley was highlighting just one aspect of Jesus’s personality in this hymn. There were other aspects of Christ’s personality which Wesley and others highlighted in their (other) hymns.

Answer: The Pelican. In times of famine, the Pelican pecks its own breast to feed its chicks. Jesus also feeds his own with his Body and Blood in the bread and wine of communion.