June 2011

Jesus, the image of the invisible God

Series: Who is this Jesus
‘He is the image of the invisible God’. Colossians 1:15
Many years ago I read a book called ‘Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions’ written in 1884 by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott. Although it was intended as a satirical comment on Victorian society, I found in it a powerful description of the interaction between different dimensions. Abbott’s Flatland is a world of only two dimensions, width and length but no height. Living on this 2D plane are various geometric beings such as squares, triangles and circles. Abbott describes how they would perceive each other only as lines. From their 2D perspective a triangle would appear as a straight line which appeared darker and denser in the middle. A circular being would also look like a straight line but it would also have a denser middle while each end would appear blurred and undefined. Do you get the picture?
A sphere touches Flatland & appears as a circle
Above the plane of Flatland is a three dimensional being, a sphere. From his higher dimensionality he can see all of Flatland and he can also choose to intersect it at any point, even right inside one of its geometric residents. For as long as the sphere is above Flatland its beings cannot see it because they do not possess the dimension of height. However, the sphere decides to intersect Flatland. As he passes through it he is first perceived of as a single point. Then, as more of him intersects the 2D plane the residents see him as a line which grows wider and wider. Once the spheres circumference has passed through Flatland he appears as a shrinking line, then a point, then nothing.
We live in three dimensions of space, so if a higher dimensional being, like an angel, where to intersect our reality, it would most likely enter suddenly as a point of light, and then appear something like us.
God the Son did not merely intersect our 3D world, instead He chose to incarnate as a human being. In Flatland terms that would be like the sphere becoming a circle and living on the 2D plane. Why would he do this? He would do this so that the residents of the lower-dimensional world would be able to see him, hear him, and relate to him.
Jesus, motivated by love, came into our dimension as one of us
The Lord Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, incarnated into our limited dimensions of space and time so that we could see Him, hear Him, and relate to Him. Of course He had another mission as well, and that was to pay the outstanding debt of sin by dying on the cross. You see, He needed to die as a man so that all who believe in Him could live in the higher dimensionality and timelessness of the Kingdom of God.
During His short lifetime on Earth, the Kingdom of God equivalent of Flatland, Jesus presented the Godhead to humanity. He came to show Himself to us; He was, and still is, the image of the invisible God. As the residents of Flatland could not see the sphere until it entered their world, so humans could not see God until He entered our world. Jesus said, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus made visible what was previously invisible to us in the sense that He revealed to us God’s nature and character by displaying the values, priorities, and purposes of the Godhead. When Phillip, one of His disciples asked to see the Father, Jesus responded with, “don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So here is the question; is there any other way that a human being can know God other than through Jesus? Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus is the one who makes the Godhead known to us, and according to His own words, He is the only way a human can know God –”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We can know something about God from nature and religions but we can only KNOW God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. I would be interested to hear from you if you have other ideas about how we can truly come to know God other than through a relationship with Jesus.

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Jesus be the centre

Series: Who is the Jesus?
‘Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders’. Revelation 5:6
We often used to sing ‘Jesus be the centre’, a lovely song with sincere lyrics: ‘Jesus, be the centre, be my source, be my light, Jesus.’ The problem is though, that the words may reflect our perception but they do not reflect reality. Jesus cannot be the centre because we wish Him to be – He IS the centre. Many may choose to deny this, or be ignorant of this truth, but this does not change reality.
When Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven He continued to live in transformed bodily form. He is not just a memory of a man who once was, He is alive and real, and at the very centre of reality. This is why John the revelator described Jesus, the Lamb of God, standing in the centre of the throne. This why the book of Acts records how ‘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. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”’ (Acts 7:55-56) This is why we must understand that Jesus IS, not was, or even will be, the living centre of all things.
So the centrality of Jesus, Christocentricity, is not just a concept, it is a term that describes a relationship with the living lord. To be Jesus-centred is therefore more than singing or theologising about Him, it is about relating to Him as the central person in our lives and in our churches.

The Bible is our inspired reference to who Jesus is and what He is like, but the Jesus it speaks of is not pressed between its pages like a rare but dry flower from the past. Nor is the Jesus the Bible describes a religious icon or a historical artefact. Jesus is alive! He is as described in the scriptures but He is not a literary character, He is a living being.

Religion honours a historical Jesus and studies His teachings in order to determine laws for living. Relationship seeks to know Jesus, to learn about Him from the ‘then’ of scripture so that He might be real to us in the ‘now’ of living. To acknowledge that Jesus is both alive and central to life is to talk to Him, minister with Him, make joint decisions together with Him, and to experience daily life with Him.

But here is the problem – how do we make the transition from an intellectual knowledge of the historical Jesus, to a real relationship with the living Lord? I am going to explore this question in the Blog posts that follow but in the meanwhile I would really value your insights – what do you think are the key components to making this transition from religion to relationship?

Jesus, be the center by Michael Frye

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Jesus and Copernicus

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings’. Malachi 4:2
I wasn’t much of a student at school, but I do remember some of the things my teachers tried to get into my head. For instance, I remember the intriguing story of how Copernicus dared to think differently, and as a result succeeded in turning cosmology inside out. Up to that time the scientific community thought that the earth was the centre of the solar system, and that the sun, moon, and planets revolved around her. In about 1510 Copernicus wrote a thesis in which he contradicted Ptolemy’s notion of a geocentric solar system. His careful observation and calculations had revealed that the Sun, and not the Earth, was at the centre of things. The Sun did not revolve around the Earth; instead the Earth and the other planets revolved around the Sun. What a shock that must have been to the scientific world. The religious world also went into shock and immediately declared it a heresy to claim that things did not revolve around our world.
The Earth as the centre of the universe

We chuckle now, and shake our heads condescendingly, but in a sense much of the church still lives in a pre-copernican spiritual solar system. The Bible declares that the Son of God is the centre of all things, yet many Christians stubbornly hold to the notion that they themselves are the centre. Why do I say this? I say this because so much of current theology and practice is about us, instead of about Jesus. In the evangelical church we decry humanism and liberalism yet we so often preach, write, and attempt to live out an essentially self-cantered faith system. In their book ‘The Jesus Manifesto’ Len Sweet and Frank Viola write, ‘We live in a day where what sells best in the Christian world are books, sermons, and television programs that are aimed directly at you – This Is Your day, You Are the Reason for the Season, Becoming a Better You, It’s Your Time, The Me I Want to Be, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and similar titles orbiting around the Youniverse’.
Phrases I sometimes hear are, “I must discover my spiritual gift”, “what is my purpose?” or “Nobody recognises my ministry. Don’t they know who I am” – I, my, and I.  The biblical response is “You are in Christ Jesus, that’s who you are. Your purpose is to know Jesus, be like Him, and help others to do likewise. Jesus’ gifts to His church will manifest through you as and when He wills it”. The way to resolve our lack of self-worth, life direction, or functionality is to focus on Jesus and not on self. In copernian terms this translates to “focus on the Son in the centre of the universe and planet You will orbit wonderfully well”.
Do you think this is all rather judgmental or critical? I don’t mean to be and I know that I too am part of the problem because I am part of the church. However, I do think that much of the current Christian planetary arrangement is more a Youniverse than a Him-cantered Son-system? What does your life-planet orbit around?

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Jesus’ five minute slot

Series: Who is this Jesus?
‘And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy’. Colossians 1:18
In the church I am part of, we oversee a number of micro-churches. These are small groups of people who, for a number of different reasons, do not appreciate larger church meetings. A member of one of these house churches was invited to attend a pastors’ fraternal in his area. At his next simple church gathering he recounted the following story. The pastor of a large church had shared that while he was preparing a very busy and tightly timed program for his Sunday service, he had sensed the Lord Jesus saying, “but where am I in all of this?” The pastor then said, “I thought, ‘you are right Lord’, so I gave him a five minute slot in the service.”
The natural response of a Christian to this story is to either doubt its authenticity or to shrug it off with a pitying “Shame on him, but that’s not the case in my church”. Of course the phrase ‘my church’ gives the lie to the claim, doesn’t it? I attend a local church, in fact I am the Lead Elder/Senior Pastor of that church, but it is not MY church. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and that includes its every local expression. I understand this, but how do I apply this reality to the way the church functions?
Our normal Sunday service has three main components: Social interactions like sharing and notices; worship interactions like singing, praying, ministry in the Sprit, the offering, and so on; and Word-based interactions like preaching and prophecy. The actual order of service mixes these components and presents them in various combinations each Sunday.
Where is Jesus in all this? Well, if He is not the focus of the preached word, in a fairly direct sense, then we can’t really say that He is ‘in’ the preached word. If the singing is not predominantly to Him, and not just about Him or His benefits, then in what sense is the worship Jesus-cantered? It is a good exercise to go through the titles of the songs we sing to see which are to Him, which are about Him, and which are essentially about ourselves. Even the notices and sharing can lack Christocentricity (Jesus-centeredness) if they are just about the churches activities, or what we have received or experienced.
Of course the church is made up of people, so what about you and me; how central is the Lord Jesus to our lives? Is He the dominant, central person, focus, and presence in our lives when we are not ‘at church’? Or does He get a five minute slot in the busy schedule of our daily life?
In the next several posts I will be developing the idea of the centrality of Jesus because I feel that there is an urgent call to us at this time to acknowledge that Jesus is at the centre of all things and to live accordingly. Dr. Len Sweet contends that the church is suffering from JDD, Jesus Deficit Disorder, but do we as individuals not also suffer from the same malady I wonder?

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.