I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “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.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.


A few weeks ago, I received an email from a guy who calls himself an Evangelist. He wanted to challenge me about Bayside Church, and other churches, closing down services during the Global Pandemic. He wrote:

What about God’s word “do not forsake the gathering together of the saints and do so more as the day draws nearer”!! We have already obeyed man over God and now discovered it’s all a lie to take. [sic.] Freedom from the people and increase fear and the control of the government to usher in one world order. Please challenge people to fight injustice and choose God Over man including church. Pastors should not have closed their church’s. So many people look to you ??? Don’t be a coward brother !! Set example Expose injustice and ungodly anti christ agenda

I get quite a few kooky messages, most of which I ignore, but I thought I’d address this one as it contains so many fallacies that are being spread around at present. Fortunately, in Australia “there appears to be little or no appetite to go against the various Public Health Orders in each state. Our largest churches such as Hillsong are meeting online, and church leaders have committed their networks to understand and follow the rules, seeking advice from Health Authorities where something is unclear.” (Quoted from Eternity Newspaper).   I believe the Australian church has got it right.

Meanwhile, in the USA

In the USA, there’s been a slightly different approach. Even though most churches have abided by government guidelines, a small, vocal group of pastors has “begun to bristle at government-imposed restrictions on their worship.” (Quoted from The Atlantic). 

Some have reopened; others have sued for their right to gather, claiming the restrictions are unconstitutional and a threat to religious freedom. A few others refused to shut down at all.

History Repeats

Sadly, much of this is history repeating itself. During the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic, many of the same measures were put into place that we’ve seen during COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing, personal hygiene, and closing of places of public gathering. While most people complied, some saw this as some sort of insidious agenda of State control and bucked the system. It was the second wave of the Spanish Flu that killed the most people. One thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history!

Churches that sue for their rights and their religious freedom do nothing to advance the good news of Jesus. The Gospel calls Jesus’ followers to “not [look] to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:4).

The Spanish Flu wasn’t a threat to religious freedom, it was a threat to public health. COVID-19 is the same. After 1919, churches and other public gathering places were reopened once again, and the world moved into The Roaring Twenties. Closures, wearing masks, and social distancing were temporary measures aimed at bringing communities through a health crisis with as few casualties as possible. Same today!

Some churches bristle because they are not deemed “an essential service” like liquor stores! As a Christian and a pastor, I think the church is essential, but I know I stand with the minority. The closure of church gatherings is not about being essential. It’s about restricting the congregating of people and the spreading of a very contagious virus. Whatever you think of liquor stores, people don’t congregate there.

Church at Walmart

In the US, a church group recently decided to resist the trend and have a service at a Walmart pharmacy to protest that pharmacies were open but churches were closed:

The singing of my African American brothers and sisters is stunning, and I hope no one was infected with COVID-19. Only time will tell. It should be remembered, though, that when people sing (or talk loudly like preaching), they spray out a shower of secretions. According to fluid physics expert Professor Con Doolan, these aerosol particles remain suspended in the air, potentially spreading coronavirus. If you’re standing too close to an infected person when they cough or sing, you could breathe in the particles they have projected into the air (see article). 

And so, while I see so many people cheering on this church, if their actions cause sickness and death are they really singing God’s praises? Would God be pleased or saddened by the behaviour of his children?

Other churches who defied the US Government faced significant backlash from neighbours. One woman stood outside a church and held up a sign that read, “you killed my grandma.” Is this the testimony of the Gospel the church wants to communicate to a world that God loves and for whom Jesus died?

Listening to God not Man

The most well-known church to defy the government is John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California. 

Their statement is convincing on the first read with lots of scripture verses to enforce their argument.

Itt’s important to remember that the church is not being restricted by Government unnecessarily. For example, no one is telling churches and Christians not to preach the Gospel as the authorities did to Peter and John: “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

If the Government ever banned us from speaking and teaching about Jesus, I would respond in the same way the apostles did: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

This not the case today even though Grace Community Church says it is. All churches can preach about Jesus and teach God’s Word. There are no restrictions placed on us in this regard.

So, that’s what we’re doing at Bayside Church, and we’re seeing people come to Jesus and grow in their faith. We’re helping the underprivileged with groceries and cooked food. Church members are keeping in touch with one another and serving one another. The church is alive, healthy, and vibrant.

It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently is missing the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!

The Near Future

Once this current crisis is over, restrictions will be eased, and small gatherings will once again be safe. Before the resurgence of COVID-19 in Melbourne, Bayside Church was about to restart gatherings of up to 50 people. Many of our Connect Groups were already meeting in-person, and we were looking at doing some meetings outdoors with more significant numbers. If the current restrictions work, we should get back to that in a few weeks.

While church buildings are an incredible asset, we need to remember that the church is people, not buildings. I appreciate the excellent facility that Bayside Church works from and gathers in, but it’s important to remember that the church did very well for the first three centuries with no building at all.

During this pandemic, Christians are blessed with technology that helps us stay in touch with one another. While this ultimately is no substitute for in-person meetings, it’s better than nothing.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, some pastors wrote letters and Bible studies for their congregations and posted them in letterboxes. Today we meet on Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom. I’ve had Bayside Church people tell me they have never felt so connected with Christie and me and with their church.

The building may be closed, but the church is open!

Unlike the other religious people of Jesus’ day, he lived up close and personal with people. He associated with those who respectable pious people would usually shun, and it eventually got him killed.

Jesus came near

He got into the trenches – he got his hands dirty.

He walked and talked with people.

He wasn’t afraid of being a part of their lives.

He placed infinite worth on every human being.

“The common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37)

He saw everyone as worthy.

He was merciful and deliberately went to places where mercy was needed – and provided it.


Jesus was the life of the party

He wasn’t a party pooper. He turned water into wine when the wine ran out.

He accepted an invitation to Matthew’s party even though there were undesirables present.

Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, but he was neither.

He was holy and blameless.

He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.

He mixed with the people of the world but didn’t compromise with the world.

Jesus was an unexpected God

He didn’t fit into a stereotypical religious box.

Jesus looked for ways to free people from rules and bondage.

His yoke was easy and his burden light.

He lived and taught the law of love – love of God and love of neighbour.

He humanised the poor and demonstrated God’s incredible concern for their well-being and, in doing so, decried those who ignored or dominated them.

He spoke directly to women, something men would not usually do.

The gospels show Jesus speaking to women, and doing so with tenderness and kindness.

His ministry was largely supported by the financial offerings of women.

It was to women that He made his first post-resurrection appearances.


Jesus came close

Not only did he heal lepers, he also touched them – the most unclean people in Jesus’ society.

He used children as an example of what the Kingdom of God is like.

He spoke to, loved, and healed his racial enemies like the Samaritans.

He even spoke of a Samaritan as being “good.”


Jesus taught everyone is included

He helped Israel’s oppressors. Centurions and tax collectors were not exempt from Jesus’ kindness and attention.

He even called a tax collector to be a disciple and write the first gospel.

He taught us to love our enemies and revealed what this looked like.


In the words of the apostle Paul, even though “he had equal status with God he didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion” (Philippians 2:5-8 MSG).


Jesus is God in human form

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14)

He lived, worked, and ministered amongst people ~ and he still does.

Jesus has a body on earth – the Body of Christ.

It’s you and it’s me, reflecting his nature wherever we are.




As you’re probably aware, Israel Folau’s Australian rugby union career appears over (see report) after a three-person panel ordered that the Wallabies star’s four-year contract be terminated as punishment for his breach of the players’ Code of Conduct.[i]

My purpose in writing this blog is not to criticise Israel Folau. I’ve watched some of the videos of him speaking at his church, and he appears to be a genuine young man who loves Jesus and the Bible. He certainly believes he has done the right thing by his faith, and no amount of money can persuade him otherwise. I admire that.

My intention with this blog is to ask what those of us who identify with the Christian faith can learn from Israel Folau, especially as we look at what the Bible says about how we should share our faith.

Consider Audience

I believe the most important thing for Christians is to discern who our hearers are.

The Bible teaches that different people need to hear the Christian message in different ways. The apostle Paul changed his method and his message depending on who he was speaking to (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Israel Folau has 364,000 followers on Instagram. I imagine that many people who follow him do so because he’s a rugby superstar. Some will be Christian, others won’t be. He has a mixed audience, and so his message needs to be delivered with wisdom, understanding where they are at and making the message suitable for their hearing.

Jesus did this. When he taught in Synagogues, he read from the Scriptures and preached the Word of God. Why? Because his audience believed in God and were looking for the Messiah. They were “low hanging fruit” ripe to be picked. But at other times, when he was speaking to a mixed crowd, he told stories that people could identify with. He tailored his message to his audience (Matthew 13:11).

Consider Gospel-Readiness

Acts chapter two tells the account of Peter and the apostles in the Temple Court on the Day of Pentecost. The audience was comprised of people who were in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast. They were believers looking for the Saviour. Out of a crowd of up to 250,000 people, 3000 became followers of Jesus on that day. Many others converted over the following months and years.

When you’re speaking to people like that, then a blunt message about sin and repentance is what they’re ready to receive. Unbelievers may not be prepared for that kind of communication, and they are repelled rather than attracted to the Gospel as a result.

Consider Communication Style

The apostle Paul also had a habit of going to the Synagogue first – a practice he started as soon as he got saved (Acts 9:20).[ii] But, when his audience was different, he changed the way he communicated. For example, the Philippian church was made up almost exclusively of gentiles, and so, when he wrote a letter to that church, he included no quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Why? Because they had no frame of reference. Paul’s purpose was communication, and he chose to build bridges with his audience rather than erect walls!

He did the same when he visited Athens (see Acts 17:16-23). While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to meet him in that city, “he was deeply disturbed in his spirit to see that the city was full of idols”. You’d think that would be a good time for Paul to do some street preaching, wouldn’t you? Standing on the street corner yelling the Gospel to people walking past, telling them they’re a bunch of idolatrous sinners who needed to repent or go to hell.

But Paul didn’t preach. Instead, he went to a couple of places where he would find some people who were at least interested in listening to him, a place where he was permitted to speak. “He reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks” (verse 17).

Next, he got into a debate with a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus [where] all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Sounds like a great place to preach the Gospel. But even there, Paul was respectful, and not critical, of their culture and religion.

Remember, the day before he was “deeply disturbed in his spirit to see that the city was full of idols.” But he didn’t allow his disturbed spirit to overflow in a rant against sin. He demonstrated the utmost respect for them by saying:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

He went on to share with them about Jesus’ resurrection, but he did this by quoting two of their most respected philosophers, Epimenides and Aratus. The story of the unknown god also taps into their popular history of the day (see my blog Race, Culture & Religion).

Consider Respectfulness

Paul taught on being sensitive and discerning towards other people in chapter 14 of his first letter to the Corinthian church in which he classifies people into three groups – believers, unbelievers, and inquirers. Inquirers, or the unlearned, refers to someone who is not fully initiated into a religion. Christian people would do well to discern who they are communicating with before they speak, write, or post on social media.

Israel Folau’s meme on Instagram, based on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, was written to a church community, to believers. Paul was addressing behaviour inside the church, not outside. He was correcting an extremely immoral situation in the church in which a man was having an affair with his stepmother. Incest was considered the worst of sins in the ancient world, and Paul was horrified that this was happening in the church and that people were actually proud of it. He wrote to correct this and remind them not to be deceived, “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

Paul didn’t write a letter to the City of Corinth, nor did he write it to be read out on street corners (or to be posted on social media). He wrote it to correct the poor behaviour of Jesus’ followers who should have known better.

Consider Good News

Unbelievers and inquirers need to hear the good news about Jesus in a way they can receive it and when they’re ready for it. It’s interesting to note that the words “repent” and “repentance,” from Acts to Revelation, are only used to address a group of Jewish believers or a church. Repentance is essential, but people need to hear the Gospel FIRST. They then ask, what should I do? That’s when you tell them.

The apostle Peter puts it this way, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Paul reminds the Roman Christians that it’s God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience that leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4). He tells Timothy that, “opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25).  

In his letter to Titus, Paul encourages him to teach the churches he leads the truth of Scripture, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive (Titus 2:10b). This is because “the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people (Titus 2:11). Salvation is for everyone, and no one should be put off the good news of the grace of God by the bad behaviour of God’s people (Titus 2).

Consider What’s Attractive

According to McCrindle Research, one of the repellents to religion and spirituality is “hearing from public figures and celebrities who are examples of that faith.”

A famous Christian may believe they are doing God’s work by posting random verses from the Bible on social media, but the likelihood is they’re turning a lot of people away. The top attractor to Christianity is “seeing people who live out a genuine faith.”

If we genuinely want to see people come to Jesus and discover his love, grace and forgiveness for themselves, we need to learn to live out our faith in a better way.


[i] Rugby Australia Code of Conduct:

1.3 Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.

1.6  Do not make any public comment that is critical of the performance of a match official, player, team official, coach or employee/officer/volunteer of any club or a Union; or on any matter that is, or is likely to be, the subject of an investigation or disciplinary process; or otherwise make any public comment that would likely be detrimental to the best interests, image and welfare of the Game, a team, a club, a competition or Union.

1.7 Use Social Media appropriately. By all means, share your positive experiences of Rugby but do not use Social Media as a means to breach any of the expectations and requirements of you as a player contained in this Code or in any Union, club or competition rules and regulations.

1.8 Do not otherwise act in a way that may adversely affect or reflect on, or bring you, your team, club, Rugby Body or Rugby into disrepute or discredit…

[ii] See also Acts 13:15, 42; 14:1; 17:2; 18:4; 19:8


Whenever there’s an election, I’m reminded of how little some quarters of the church have learnt how detrimental it is to the Gospel when churches and church leaders make polarising political statements.

While I’m all for Christians engaging with politics, or standing for political office, the church as a whole MUST be above politics, non-partisan, and stick to its central message – the good news about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Anything that clouds that message is an enemy of the Gospel.

Too Political

Several years ago, the Barna Foundation commissioned research amongst young adults (16-29) to find out why they didn’t engage, or ceased to be involved, with a church. One of the six reasons given was that the church was “too political”.[i]

So, I find it gobsmacking that some church leaders are still making politically divisive statements and actions even though the evidence is in that this harms the cause of Christ.

Christian Values?

Last week, I saw a post on a pastor’s Facebook page encouraging their followers/congregation to, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!”  I realise this reflects many conservative Christians’ views, but my question is, what message does this send to people in that church who may disagree? What about people who do vote Labor or Green and still love Jesus? What about people in the broader community who are considering Jesus and the Church but are then put off by this statement? Isn’t the Gospel inclusive or do you have to change how you vote when you become a Christian? Also, why is it “righteous” to vote for a conservative party?

This same leader posted the attached chart compiled by the Australian Christian Values Institute.

The Christian Values Checklist informs voters of what each political party stands for on various issues. The report concludes that, if you’re a real Christian, you’ll vote for Christian Democrats, DLP, or Rise Up Australia. If you can’t stomach any of these parties then Australian Conservatives, the Nationals or the Libs would be your choice. But whatever you do, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!”

Let’s examine those Christian values. Predictably they’re what you’d expect from conservative Christianity in Australia which has been highly influenced by American evangelicalism. In this tradition, the two main things Christians should focus on are anything to do with abortion or gay people (stop both as much as you can). While the chart helps you understand what various parties advocate on these issues, I can’t help notice the things that are missing. Are not refugees, the homeless, those living with a mental illness, and victims of domestic violence unworthy of the Christian vote? Why are Indigenous people and foreign aid absent? Didn’t Jesus say that the Gospel was good news for the poor? And which party/parties would have the best policies in place to help those on the margins of society? It also appears that poverty and the environment were added on as an afterthought! Maybe I’m wrong, but are they less important than opening parliament with Christian prayer for example?

And consider what’s been happening lately with Liberals in Victoria claiming “the party’s religious right is stacking branches with Mormons and Catholic groups in a drive to pre-select more conservative candidates [who] are often motivated by “single issues” like same-sex marriage or euthanasia. Members of conservative parties, including Family First and Australian Christians, have also been recruited,”[ii]as have people from Pentecostal Churches. Imagine the outcry if these same Christians found out that branches were being stacked by Muslims.

Last week, “the Liberal candidate for the inner-Melbourne seat of Wills … resigned over anti-gay comments … In comments on a conservative right-wing “Christian” blog post, Peter Killin said he would’ve voted against the preselection of Goldstein MP Tim Wilson because of his sexuality and described the homosexual lifestyle as ‘distressingly dangerous.’”[iii] I know Tim Wilson, and he’s a fine man with a passion for serving his local electorate. He responded very graciously by saying he would, “turn the other cheek and leave judgment to others.”

I realise that several candidates have been dropped from various political parties in the last few weeks, for all sorts of appalling behaviour, but when this conduct comes from Christians who want righteousness to reign, I feel compelled to speak out against such hypocrisy.

Stand for the Gospel

Let me repeat, I’m all for Christians engaging with politics, or standing for political office, but the church as a whole MUST be non-partisan. The Gospel is good news for ALL people (Luke 2:10). The church never does well when it’s in charge, it’s not meant to rule nations and manipulate political systems, it’s intended to proclaim a message of reconciliation with a God who loves people and a Saviour who died and rose again to bring forgiveness. I appeal to my fellow Christians and pastors to never lose this focus and to please stop muddying the waters.


[1] Kinnaman, David and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters.

[ii] https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-30/victoria-liberals-religious-right-branch-stacking-fears/8667756?pfmredir=sm

[iii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-01/federal-election-2019-liberal-candidate-advocates-against-gay-mp/11063002


During the early months of Jesus’ ministry, he was seen as a teacher (Rabbi) who travelled around the Galilean countryside teaching in their synagogues. People loved Jesus right from the start. His message was fresh and insightful and often came with a demonstration of the power of God in signs, wonders, and miracles.

On one particular occasion, Jesus returned to Nazareth, the small rural town of about 400 people where he had been brought up. “On the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21).

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Jesus for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he was teaching them from the Scriptures, so they were focused on him and secondly, Jesus had stopped reading halfway through a sentence, and they probably wondered why.

Focus on the Good

We don’t know what Jesus taught the people that day. For whatever reason Luke didn’t deem it essential to record the sermon, just the text, and to let us know that Jesus had told the people that this 700-year-old portion of the Hebrew Bible was fulfilled in their hearing on that day!  Wow!

The fact that Jesus stopped reading the Isaiah prophecy halfway through a sentence was very profound. Those in the congregation who knew their scriptures well would have realised that Jesus didn’t complete Isaiah’s sentence: “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God.” There’s no comma or full stop after the word “favour”.  Jesus just stopped reading, rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.

Jesus came to declare the beginning of a period known as “the year of the Lord’s favour.” It’s worth noting that favour is spoken of as a Year whereas vengeance is a Day. These are symbolic rather than real periods, but it’s encouraging that favour lasts a long time whereas vengeance or judgement passes quickly. Jesus didn’t come to bring judgement – he warns of it as a future event, but his emphasis is on the favour, which is the good news, the gospel.

To realise more deeply what Jesus is referring to, it’s helpful to have some understanding of the Hebrew calendar. The Torah mandated a seven-year agricultural cycle for the land of Israel, something which is still observed in contemporary Judaism (Lev 25:10). Every seventh year was to be a Sabbatical year in which the land was rested. No ploughing, sowing or harvesting was to be undertaken. The fields would rest and then be ready to produce crops from the next year, and the cycle would begin again. Then every fiftieth year was to be a Year of Jubilee (or year of the Lord’s favour). It was a sacred time of freedom and celebration when everyone received back their original property, non-commercial debts were cancelled, and slaves would return home to their families. Clearly, this was very GOOD NEWS for many people.

A Modern Jubilee

In modern terms, the closest thing we have to a jubilee is an amnesty. In 1996 the Howard government responded to the Port Arthur massacre by allowing owners of illegal firearms to hand in weapons without penalty. “All up, more than 700,000 guns were removed from the community and destroyed. No other nation had ever attempted anything on this scale” (The Age). More than 50,000 guns were collected at the second amnesty in 2017. Usually possessing an illegal firearm would incur a penalty, but not during an amnesty. That’s what Jesus declared by his statement about the year of the Lord’s favour – a time when we can literally hand over all our sins, and mistakes (that would usually incur a punishment) with no questions asked and no penalty to pay. That’s the time we’re in right now – living in God’s favour; our debts have been cancelled, our sins are forgiven, and past offences are forgotten or overlooked.

The year of God’s favour is a whole new age in which God lifts his people out of their distress. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are continually living in his favour. While I was meditating on this a few days ago, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me that Bayside Church is coming into a Year of Favour – not 365 days but rather a new beginning, a fresh start. Christie and I are so excited about this. We’ve shared it with the church board and staff, and now I share it with you too. May I encourage you to draw close to your church at this time and benefit from all the Lord is doing.

I’d love to have a dollar for every time I’ve heard the words, “I just want to be happy.”  And I hear those words more and more as we increasingly become an individualistic, self-focused society.  Sadly, this phrase even comes from the mouths of Christian people as if happiness is somehow God’s perfect will for all of His children.

Now, if the will of God intersects with your happiness then all well and good, but Christians should not live with that expectation.  Consider this, if Jesus had made his choices based on happiness he would never have gone to the cross: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”[1] Jesus calls his disciples to follow this example, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”[2] The answer is NO.

But we’ve been duped, conned by the happiness myth spread by Western culture and bought into by a modern, Western distortion of what is called Christianity but is, in fact, a poor reflection of the genuine article.  It’s “a different gospel, which really is no gospel at all,”[3] because the real gospel works everywhere and for everyone, not just those of us lucky enough to live in a prosperous, developed country, and not just by those whose lives happen to be going well most of the time.  It’s interesting that books inspired by the “Happiness Gospel” don’t seem to sell that well in countries like North Korea, Iraq and Syria.

The true gospel of Jesus has a cross at its centre – a cross to be taken up daily by Jesus’ followers.  The cross is something we die on – die to our selfish desires and motives, die to the need always to be right, and die to the pursuit of happiness when it takes us outside the realms of God’s will and purpose.

For example, I’ve had many conversations in recent years with people who’ve told me they are no longer happy in their marriage. The husband/wife they were once in love with they love no longer, and some of these people have chosen to leave their spouse and children because “I just want to be happy.”  Now, I realise that some marriages get to a point where they are beyond repair, and my intention here is not to condemn those who have gone through (or going through) a marriage breakup or divorce.  However, I do want to challenge the easy “out” I hear from some people all for the sake of personal happiness. [b]

Every marriage, including mine, goes through tough times.  It’s during these times that I go back to my vows and remind myself of what I signed up for: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others till death do us part.” These vows, which are easy to say but hard to live by, recognise that there will be times when happiness is absent from a marriage.  If we’ve bought into the cult of happiness we’ll find reasons to quit when life gets hard, but if we’ll take up our cross and stay faithful to our vows, there’s something on the other side of such obedience that outshines happiness by far, and that is JOY.

Happiness is based on happenings – life happens to be good.  I’m financially secure, things are going well with my husband/wife, my children are behaving themselves, work is satisfying, and my life is conflict free.  But when one or more of these things change my happiness vanishes and I want to get it back.  I just want to be happy!

Joy, on the other hand, is not dependent on circumstances, it is a gift from God.  Author Rick Renner puts it this way, “The Greek word for ‘joy’ is chara, derived from the word charis, which is the Greek word for ‘grace.’ This is important to note, for it tells us categorically that chara is produced by charis of God.  This means ‘joy’ isn’t a human-based happiness that comes and goes … Rather, true ‘joy’ is divine in origin … it is a Spirit-given expression that flourishes best in hard times. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, the Thessalonians were under great stress due to persecution; yet in the midst of it all, they continued to experience great joy. In fact, the Greek strongly implies that their supernatural joy was due to the Holy Spirit working in them. Paul even called it the “the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Nehemiah tells us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”[5]  The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [6]  It was joy, not happiness, that got Jesus through his suffering and brought him into an excellent place.  What joy God’s people miss out on when they make short-term decisions to get happiness but miss out on long-term joy because of those decisions.  I encourage you to allow God to form you through the tough times and you’ll come out the other side refined, mature and full of joy, to live a life beyond happiness.

It’s important in the tough times to know you are not alone, there is a community to support and walk with you.  Consider talking to someone and sharing what you are going through – friends, family, connect leaders, pastors, your GP and counsellors.

The Careline – ph 03 9583 2273

Beyondblue – ph 1300 22 4636

Lifeline – ph 13 11 14


[1] Luke 22:42

[2] Matthew 16:24-26

[3] Galatians 1:7

[b] https://baysidechurch.com.au/divorce-and-remarriage/

[4] Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Rick Renner

[5] Nehemiah 8:10

[6] Hebrews 12:2


Last week I posted on Social Media some concerns I have about certain comments Christian leaders have made to the media about ethical and moral issues.  In my post I upheld everyone’s right to free speech as well as the right of people to disagree.  What followed was a lively discussion.

My question on Facebook though was this: “do these sorts of comments tend to alienate people from the Christian message?”  When Christian leaders speak out on ethical / moral issues does it draw people towards God or away from Him? Does it attract or repel?  These are vitally important questions for Christians and churches to answer.  What is the church’s FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message to communicate to those who are not Christian, and when does our other messaging cloud our main message?

Let me put this another way:  Most churches (be they Catholic or Protestant or neither) hold to the doctrine of eternal hell: that those who don’t accept Jesus’ sacrificial death and eternal life-giving resurrection will be eternally separated from God and tormented forever, without the possibility of a second chance.  Will people go to hell for supporting abortion or euthanasia or same-sex marriage or will they go there for rejecting God’s salvation through Jesus?  In the light of your answer to that question, what is the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message the Church needs to communicate?

If you were to ask non-Christians what the church’s view of same-sex marriage is (or abortion, or Euthanasia or….) they’d be able to tell you: the church is against it.  If you asked those same people what it means to be a Christian they’d probably tell you it’s about being a good person and going to church.  What that reveals is that the Church collectively, and Christians individually, have largely failed to communicate the true gospel to people who so desperately need to hear it.

The apostle Paul summarises this wonderful message of good news in his second letter to the Corinthians. In writing to this church he reminds them of what happened when they first believed in Jesus, “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  The church’s FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT message to non-Christians is the message of reconciliation. Reconciliation is being restored to friendly terms – we were once enemies of God but because of Jesus we are reunited with Him.  The original Greek word Paul used meant to change money. In Jesus hostility is exchanged for friendship.

Why do Christian people (including pastors) so often count people’s sins?   Does this draw people towards God or away from Him? Sadly, I think it repels rather than attracts.   Any message that clouds the message of reconciliation compromises the gospel we are to uphold. God sent Jesus to save, forgive and bring people back into a relationship with Himself. That has got to be the message Australians hear from Australian Christians – including pastors.

It should be noted that Corinth was one of the most evil and sexually depraved cities of the first century, and the apostle certainly addressed the importance of purity in the church community, but he also made it clear that the church is not called to be the moral policeman to the broader society: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world… What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 12-13).  What a very different message those outside the church get in Australia (and other Western nations) in this day and age.

Some of the people who commented on my Facebook thread reminded me of how important it is for people to repent.  I agree, repentance is a vital step in the salvation process, but it’s not the first step.  Many people aren’t ready to repent; they’re not even considering the Christian faith as an option, and a large reason for this is the messaging they get from the church.  In his letter to the church at Rome Paul wrote that it is God’s kindness, tolerance and patience that lead people to repentance.  That’s right, kindness, tolerance and patience not moral blustering and judgmental attitudes.  One attracts the other repels.

Others reminded me that Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery to, “Go and sin no more” (John 8).  Indeed He did say that to her, after He’d dispensed of all her hypocritical accusers and chosen not to condemn her Himself.  As the only sinless man Jesus is the only person qualified to tell someone to leave his or her life of sin.  The rest of us should walk very gently with our fellow sinners.

This week another famous Christian brought a message of good news to the thousands gathered for the One Love Manchester concert.  He’s a young guy who hasn’t always lived up to the “Christian standard.” It seems to me that its taken a few years for him to wrestle with his faith and his fame, but two weeks ago Justin Bieber posted three words on his Instagram page, “I follow Jesus.”  To the massive crowd in Manchester he said, “God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil.  God is in the midst no matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst, and He loves you and He’s here for you.”

Now THAT’S the sort of message Australians should be hearing from our well-known Christians. THAT’S the kind of message that has the ability to attract people TO Jesus rather than repel them from Him!

It’s one of the oldest life truths known to the human race. Jesus taught it, but it predates him by almost two thousand years and is found in every world religion.  It’s the ultimate key to a fruitful and satisfying life.  Of course, I’m speaking of The Golden Rule (TGR); the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.

TGR is first found about 2000 BC in ancient Egypt in The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.”  In 1440 BC The Hebrew Scriptures stated, “Don’t oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9) and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  Over three millennia later that statement would be a good one for Aussies to get a hold of in our treatment of refugees!

Various philosophers then picked up TGR.  In 5th century BC Greece, Socrates wrote “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.”  Plato said, “May I do to others as I would that they should do to me.”   Aristotle, Seneca and Philo also wrote about TGR.

The twelve classical world religions all contain TGR.  Judaism is the oldest religion to embrace it: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).  Buddhism: “a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” (Samyutta Nikaya v. 353).  Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5:1517).  Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths).  Imagine the impact in the world right now if the pseudo-Islamic groups like the so-called Islamic State, the Taliban and Al Qaeda got a hold of this truth!

Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Jainism and Sikhism all state the golden rule in various ways.

What has been known, taught and practised for thousands of years in various religions and philosophies has now been embraced by modern social psychology as stated in The Law of Reciprocity.  When someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.  One psychology website asked the question: “Have you ever noticed that you feel compelled to do something for people who have helped you along the way – even if they haven’t asked you to?  There’s something very powerful at play that causes this phenomenon.”  This site also taught about intent: “If your intent is to give so you get something back then your motive is wrong.”

Jesus put it like this, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, living by this one rule of life is like living up to the entire Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians refer to as The Old Testament).

Inbuilt into this law of life is what I call the golden question and the golden answer.  The question is, “how do I want to be treated?”  And the answer, “that’s how I’m going to live!”  Jesus taught some practical ways of living out TGR in everyday life (note the progression):

  • Do not judge others, so that others will not judge you.

The word “judge” here means, “to pick out by separating.”  In other words, Christian people – or anyone who chooses to live by TGR – will never single out a particular people group and treat them differently to the way they would treat others.

  • Do not condemn others, and others will not condemn you.

“Condemn” means “to pass sentence upon.”  If you live by TGR you won’t pronounce a punishment on those who are different or who have a differing opinion.

  • Forgive others, and others will forgive you.

Forgiveness is the opposite of condemnation.  Instead of passing judgment you choose to pardon, to release others and to set them free.

  • Give to others, and others will give to you.

The implication here is that instead of giving judgement, condemnation and unforgiveness, TGR encourages us to give the opposite and to give it generously. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

While I certainly don’t always get it right, I do believe TGR is the best way to live.  It’s also a good thing to bear in mind as we interact with others in society and could be a good gauge in helping us do the right thing when we face various ethical debates and dilemmas.  Instead of wanting everything “my way” what would be the best way to act for the benefit of others?  How can I treat others as I would like to be treated?  After all, it’s how God has chosen to treat each of us in Jesus.  Jesus died for us “while we were yet sinners” and has given us his undeserved, sacrificial, no-strings-attached, self-giving love.  How should this truth impact the way we treat those who haven’t yet come to Christ?

That’s just one of the many questions Christie and I have been asked over the last few years since getting to know Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two of the Bali Nine.

It’s been quite a journey – a very difficult one at times – made often harder because we’ve had to answer the same questions several times.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind answering questions if it helps someone gain a better understanding. I’m not looking for everyone to agree with me, but I have been amazed at the amount of hatred poured out even from some quarters of the Christian church – you know, the people who are to “love their neighbour as themselves” – those people!

Firstly, let me make it clear that Christie and I were not looking for something else to do.  We were actually taking a few days in Bali to rest after a particularly busy and stressful time. While we were there we met up with some old friends.  During our time together they told us of the work they were doing inside Kerobokan Prison and would we like to join them for a morning.  Little did we know that meeting Andrew Chan on that morning would lead to all that has taken place since.

So, here are some of the common questions and themes we have been asked along with what I hope will be helpful answers.


They’re just drug traffickers. Why bother with them?

It’s true. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were part of the Bali Nine who attempted to bring over eight kilograms of heroin into Australia.  We “bothered” with them because we got to know them and love them.  We were amazed at their sorrow for what they’d done and for the way they were demonstrating that sorrow – not just by rehabilitating themselves, but also in working hard to help reform others.  We “bothered” with them because Jesus “bothered” with us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God actually did not wait for you and me to get our act together, He didn’t wait for us to reform or rehabilitate – He demonstrated the full extent of His love for us while we were still sinners.

It’s amazing how some having received God’s forgiveness can then be so unforgiving towards others.  Jesus addressed this hypocrisy in the parable of the unmerciful servant (see Matthew 18:21-35).  I’ve had people say to me, “Those guys don’t deserve mercy!”  My response to them has been, “I couldn’t agree with you more!”  No one deserves mercy.  By its very definition it is something we DON’T deserve.  Mercy is “compassionate kindness shown toward an offender or an enemy.”

Someone wrote this comment on Facebook, “What sort of a church are you that think these druggies are heroes. They knew what the law was and they broke it. Not the first time they did it but at least it was their last. Get on with life.” 

The answer to that question is that Bayside Church is a church that is doing its best to show mercy, kindness, compassion and grace to all people – even people who make massive mistakes!


They knew the risks. They deserve what they got.

Yes, there are BIG signs at Bali airport warning travellers of the penalty for drug trafficking.  The Bali Nine probably did know the risks but they were young.  Did you make any mistakes when you were young?  I know I did!

Recent research into the teenage brain shows some very interesting outcomes.  Consider this quote from the online Health Encyclopedia, “It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is … good judgment isn’t something he or she can excel in, at least not yet.  The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 25 years old or so.  In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part.  In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing. That’s why when teens are under overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

It’s fairly evident to me that Andrew, Myuran, Matthew Norman and the others weren’t thinking of the consequences.


What about the people who would have been hurt or killed by those drugs?  Aren’t you being soft on justice?

No, we’re not being soft on justice.  I’m glad every member of the Bali Nine were caught.  I wish all drug traffickers are caught and brought to justice.  I wish those who are behind the trafficking of drugs were caught and brought to justice too – not just the drug mules.  I used to use drugs and I know all about their harmful effects.  I lost some of my closest friends to drug overdoses.  As a pastor I have seen the devastating effects of drugs, not just on the users but also on their families and friends.

In regards to Andrew and Myuran, the request was that their death sentences be commuted to life sentences so they could continue their work of rehabilitating other prisoners.  Soft justice was never considered.  A life sentence in Kerobokan Prison is not soft justice.  If one thinks it is they should visit a prisoner there.

The eight kilograms of heroin didn’t make it into Australia, but many other drugs do.  Those who use drugs need to take responsibility for their habit and seek help to become free of addiction.  Blaming a drug supplier for your habit is like blaming a barman for your drinking problem.


You’re a hypocrite. Why are you just advocating for those two? What about everyone else on death row?

This has got to be my all-time favourite.  Apparently we are hypocrites because we only spoke up for Andrew & Myuran and not ALL the people facing the death penalty around the world.

While I personally advocate against capital punishment in all circumstances (mainly though Amnesty International), Christie and I got to know Andrew and Myuran personally.  It was because of our friendship with them that we advocated so strongly for them.  Having said that, the two guys have asked that their deaths not be in vain and that we would all continue to advocate against the death penalty to eventually see it abolished in every nation.


What about helping…. (Insert other people in need here)?

Why are you helping drug traffickers? What about … the poor, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, aborted babies you name it.

One person – who doesn’t know me very well – called me a “one-issue guy.”  If they knew Christie, me and Bayside Church they would know that statement is completely untrue.  As a church community we are very engaged in helping the poor, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the orphans and widows.  We can’t solve all the world’s problems but we can make a difference.  Have a read of this article for some very good comments on this question:



How do you know they are really rehabilitated?

Some have suggested they were just pretending to be reformed so as to get a lesser sentence.  Others have said, “They wouldn’t have changed if they weren’t caught.”  Of course no one knows what would have happened if Andrew and Myuran weren’t caught.  The fact is they were caught and during their 10 years in Kerobokan Prison they demonstrated by their words and actions that they were genuinely changed men.  Christie and me and hundreds of other people have witnessed this rehabilitation firsthand over many years.

A great example is the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.  John Newton was a slave trader – a trafficker of people.  He later became a Christian and a pastor.  There’s not a person on this planet that has met John Newton – he died in 1807.  How do we know that this man who was an infidel and engaged in immorality and people trafficking was genuinely reformed?  How do we know he wasn’t pretending?


Are you against the death penalty in all cases?

Yes I am.  I believe I have to be consistent in my belief, which has changed over the years.  I used to be very much for the death penalty but not any more.  There are many reasons for this that I will save for another blog.

Let me give you two reasons here.

Firstly, when Andrew & Myuran and the other guys were executed, a Filipino lady named Mary Jane Veloso was also going to be shot.  The Indonesian government was going to execute an innocent woman – if the guilty person had not come forward at the last minute Mary Jane would be dead now.  The death penalty always risks killing the innocent.

Secondly, the death penalty punishes the innocent family and friends of those executed. Looking into the eyes of Andrew and Myuran’s families was heartbreaking.  Seeing their grief and sadness over the loss of their loved ones was unbearable.  As I said earlier, I am not into soft justice, but I don’t believe that killing a person for their crime is just.


Aren’t you just doing this to promote your own ministry?

I could think of much easier ways of promoting my ministry if I ever got an inclination to do that.  One guy wrote this about us on Facebook, “The applause of man will be their only reward.”  I can honestly say that neither Christie nor I am interested in people’s applause.  This has actually been a very difficult and tiring journey with much opposition.  I do, however, appreciate our church community at Bayside Church, many other Christians (as well as lots of people who don’t share our faith) and the media who have stood strong to help Andrew and Myuran and to advocate for their lives to be spared.


Isn’t it time to move on?

Look into the eyes of the family and say that!


There are over 100 references of the word “gospel” mentioned by several authors in the New Testament.  But it wasn’t a new word that they made up to describe what was accomplished and offered by Jesus.  It was a well-known word in classical Greek (euangelion) referring to a message of victory, or other political or personal news, that caused joy!  It was a word that was commonly used by people in the Roman Empire.

When Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44BC in the Theatre of Pompey, a period of political unrest followed.  The Roman Republic struggled for a time in civil war until Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian (later called Augustus) took the throne in 31BC.  Caesar Augustus is the earliest figure of the Roman Empire mentioned in the New Testament as he was the emperor during the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2).

Caesar Augustus was called the “son of god” who was the great “Saviour” of the whole earth through bringing an end to civil war and ushering in the Pax Romana (200 years of “peace” to Rome).  The themes of freedom, justice, peace and salvation permeated his reign. Whenever the great deeds of Augustus were proclaimed, they were presented with the Greek term euangelion.  His deeds were celebrated with poems and inscriptions, coins and images, statues, altars and structures.

An imperial quote stated, “All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year … the birthday of the god [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news (euangelion) concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth].”

Caesar is depicted as having been born, and therefore as human, but also in some mysterious way, he is also divine.  The poet Horace put it this way: “upon you [Augustus] however, while still among us, we already bestow honours, set up altars to swear by in our name, and confess that nothing like you will arise hereafter or has ever arisen before now” (Epistles 2.1.15-17)

So to summarise: Augustus was seen as a god in human form who ushered in a new era of peace. He was called the son of god and the Saviour. His birth changed the calendar and his deeds were celebrated as good news, or gospel, that brought joy to people.  In the midst of this, Jesus was born – the one referred to as the Saviour, the Son of God who would bring peace and good news that will cause great joy for all the people (see Luke 1:35; 2:10-14).

No wonder the introduction of the Christian faith brought such a clash of cultures that resulted in Rome persecuting Christians for the best part of 300 years.  Author Edward Gibbon put it this way: “By embracing the faith of the Gospel the Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offence. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred.”

Throughout the centuries the radical teaching of grace and love by Jesus and His followers has continued to create a clash with the culture of the day – and life today is no different.  In this age of entitlement, the “like me” generation that is looking for its “best life” clashes severely with the teaching of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Emphasising only the internal aspects of the gospel has raised up a generation of selfish consumer-Christians who stop at Jesus being their “own personal Saviour,” while neglecting the fact that the gospel is not just something you experience – it’s something you live!  The gospel of Jesus is not just about “me” – it’s about “us” and it’s about “others.”

When Jesus began His ministry He did so by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  He presented the gospel – a message of victory that caused joy!  Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus taught that living the gospel message would mean that He and His people would bring:

  • Good news to the poor
  • Freedom for the prisoners
  • Sight for the blind
  • Freedom for the oppressed

He finished the reading by saying that the gospel was a proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour.  Interestingly enough Jesus stopped reading halfway through a sentence.  The next line says, “and the day of vengeance of our God.”  Jesus announced that this was the time when God is willing to accept people.  The original word refers to an amnesty – a general pardon for offenses, often granted before any trial or conviction, as well as an act of forgiveness for, and the forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.  What wonderful news Jesus proclaimed for all people.  All of us who have been changed by the gospel are carriers of good news that should bring great joy to others.

I’ve always had a fascination for archaeology – especially when it reinforces the truth of the Bible – so a recent article in the Christian Post really caught my attention.

The article reported:  “A team of scientists and scholars claim to have discovered the world’s earliest-known version of the Gospel, dating back to the first century A.D., which was found on a sheet of papyrus used to make an ancient mummy’s mask in Egypt.”  It is thought to be a written portion of the Gospel of Mark, that possibly dates back as early as 80 A.D.

The mask was discovered by Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia.  He explains, “that most ancient Egyptians, that were not pharaohs nor part of ancient Egypt’s elite social class, were mummified with masks made out of used sheets of papyrus because that was the most cost efficient way for the families to preserve the bodies of their loved ones.

“Because papyrus itself was so expensive, the families often used sheets of papyrus that had already been used to write on.  Evans further explained that many pagans, who had no respect for Christians, often used Christian writings to mask their dead loved ones, because they deemed the Christian writings as “trash.”

As a new technique was discovered that allows scientists to undo the mummy masks without destroying the centuries-old ink, scientists have been able to uncover many different secular and religious documents.”

Evans explains, “It was from one of these masks that we recovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that is dated to around 80 A.D.  We could have a first century fragment of Mark for the first time ever.”  Also in the discovery are some first-century Christian sermons.

Presently, the oldest surviving copies of Scripture are dated to the second century, between the years 101 to 200 A.D.”

Evans said Brill Publishers would publish the documents uncovered later this year.

The exciting thing about this discovery – and many others like it – is that it backs up the credibility and reliability of the Christian faith.   As archaeologists make further discoveries, it will encourage our faith to know it rests soundly on truth that was articulated two millennia ago or even longer.  It also helps us to “defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 3).