April 2014

Jesus, the Gate of Heaven

Series overview: Over the last year or so I have written a lot about Jesus-centeredness in general and Jesus-centred biblical interpretation in particular. In this latest series of posts I am taking a passage of scripture and demonstrating how these concepts work in practice. The text I have selected is from John chapter One.
Read the previous blog post here.

Jacob’s awestruck response to his encounter with the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus (Genesis 28:16-17) is very relevant for us today. He said “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven”. In my previous post I pointed out that in John 1:51 Jesus made it clear that He himself is the gate of heaven, the way to heaven, the interface between the earthly and the heavenly.
In Colossians 1:15 Paul calls Jesus ‘the image of the invisible God’, and in 2:9 declares that ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’. The writer of Hebrews confirms this with the words; ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the face of the triune Godhead. He is the manifestation of God to humanity. Jesus Christ is therefore central to all we believe and practice. But how aware of this are we, and how do we give effect to this glorious truth?
The centrality of Jesus is not just a matter of acknowledging that Jesus made salvation possible for us. He is not simply a historical book-mark between the Old and New Testaments. No, Jesus is the living focus of the church and of every Christian life. Among other things this means the following:
Jesus must be the interpretive key to the Bible – we need to understand scripture form a Jesus-centred perspective. The starting point for our theology needs to be what Jesus said and did. All of our understanding of the entire Bible needs to be informed and transformed by what Jesus reveals of the nature and character of the Godhead. I have written much about this in my book ‘Truth is the Word – restoring a lost focus’.

Secondly, If Jesus is truly central to our Christian lives then we will focus on developing a personal relationship with him. The essence of the Christian faith is not rules and regulations, or law, or theology, or tradition… it is a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

At a corporate (church) level, the centrality of Jesus must affect how we pray, share, minister and sing. Our songs should be predominately about him and to him rather than just about how good we feel because of what he has done for us.
Our preaching and teaching too should be focused on Jesus. The late 19th century Baptist minister Dr A.J. Gordon told a story about a Jacob-like dream that transformed his preaching ministry. It was late on a Saturday night and he had not yet completed his sermon preparation. He was fretting about what the congregation would think of his ill-prepared message, but he was so tired that he fell asleep right there at his desk. As he slept he had a vivid and compelling dream. He saw himself standing in the pulpit just as he started to address the people. A stranger walked into the auditorium and sat down next to one of the church deacons. As he preached Dr Gordon’s eyes kept going back to this stranger for there was something familiar and compelling about him. At the end of his message he asked the congregation to join him in prayer and when he opened his eyes the stranger had gone. At the conclusion of the service he hurried over to the deacon and asked, “Who is that man who was sitting next to you?” The deacon looked greatly surprised and responded, “O, surely you recognised him, it was the Lord Jesus.” Dr Gordon recalled that from that moment on he never again worried about what his congregation thought of his sermons, and he never again short-changed his preparation; all he cared about thereafter was what Jesus thought of his messages. He had come to realise that Jesus, by the Spirit of Christ, is present at our church services and is listening to all we say and observing all we do.
In my next post I will develop Jacob’s response a little more fully….

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Jesus makes it all clear

Series overview: Over the last year or so I have written a lot about Jesus-centeredness in general and Jesus-centred biblical interpretation in particular. In this latest series of posts I am taking a passage of scripture and demonstrating how these concepts work in practice. The text I have selected is from John chapter One.
If you have not yet read the preceding post, get it here.
Nathaneal’s dramatic declaration is recorded in John 1:49; “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus’ response to this is both enigmatic and dramatic; “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Just a moment before Jesus had said of Nathanael, “In truth, here is an Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” 
These two strange statements both point to a significant incident recorded in the book of Genesis. Jacob was at first a deceitful man who tricked his brother Esau out of his birth-right by deceiving their father. As a result he was on the run fearing for his life. He arrived at a place called Luz and camped there for the night, sleeping with his head on a rock he found there. Genesis 28:10-17 records the remarkable dream experience he had in that place. He saw a ladder spanning earth and heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Standing right there beside him was the Lord who introduced himself with the words, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” How we know that no one can see the face of God the Father and live (Exodus 33:20) but we also know that Jesus is the face of God that we can behold and find life (John 6:46). This then is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ standing next to Jacob, and this was the scene to which Jesus was pointing Nathanial, and us. I say ‘us’ because, significantly, the word ‘you’ that Jesus uses twice in John 1:51 is in the plural and not the singular tense. First Jesus addresses Nathanael as an Israelite in whom there is nothing false – an allusion to the deceitful Jacob whose name was later changed to ‘Israel’, and then he points us to the story of his encounter with Jacob at Luz all those many years ago.
This is what Jesus was saying to Nathanael, and to us; “I am the stairway to heaven; I am the gate to heaven; I am the interface between heaven and earth. I am the one Jacob encountered and I am the one alive today. I am the way (John 14:6); I am the gate (John 10:9).” After Jacob had encountered Jesus at Luz he said; “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

So far in this series of blog posts I have been demonstrating how a knowledge of the Old Testament helps us to appreciate the full depth of what Jesus said and did, and this is why I have titled this series ‘Jesus-centred biblical interpretation’. The simple model for a Jesus-centred hermeneutics is to start with what Jesus said and did, then go into the Old Testament to see why he said and did what he did, and then go into the balance of the New Testament to appreciate how to understand and apply what he said and did.

In my next post I want to pick up on an application of the John 1 and Genesis 28 texts.

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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.