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Archive for March, 2008

Moving house

Hello all, I’m moving house tomorrow.  Apparently broadband won’t be up and running at the new place for another two weeks (which will limit my blogging opportunities)!  But if you need your fix of ‘Christ the Truth’ why not go to my website

Here’s one of the more central pages which links to five papers I wrote on doctrine of God stuff.  It’s a series called the ‘God who is…’  I wrote these about 5 years ago for a church doctrine of God course.  I’d definitely change the third paper (too philosophical (while trying to be anti-philosophical!)).  But here it is for what it’s worth. There are plenty of other sermons and papers on the site too.  Enjoy.  I’ll be back blogging when I can…. 
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THE GOD WHO IS… 

Revealed in Jesus

We meet the Living God only in Jesus. He is the sole point of contact between God and the creation. Theology cannot begin without Him nor continue outside of Him. We must be radically and self-consciously Christ-obsessed. This is the mark of Christian theology, distinguishing it from all human philosophy and theistic supposition. Taking every thought captive to Christ is the means by which we will defend true knowledge of God against the countless philosophical accretions which threaten the Church. click here for more 

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Three Persons United

Our Christian life begins when we meet the Father in the Son and by the Spirit. The Christian life is, from first to last, a life lived in and by the Three. The Trinity is not special information for the advanced believer. The God we know is the Three Persons united in love. There is no ‘more basic’ truth to God than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no real God beneath or beyond the Persons. All talk of the Living God must therefore be about the Persons. Understanding them and deepening our fellowship with them in their relations and roles will be the very stuff of our Christian lives. click here for more 

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Bigger than you think

Since God is the Three Persons united, we must not imagine some fourth ‘substance’ that is somehow more foundational than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We must not enquire into impersonal ‘attributes’ or ‘essences’ as though they are the bedrock realities upon which the Persons are founded. We understand God’s attributes only when we understand His Triune ways and works as revealed in Jesus. We must not come to the Word of God with our philosophical notions of God’s attributes and then fit the Persons into these idolatrous moulds. As the Father reveals His character in the Son and by the Spirit then we can see the power, love, wisdom etc of the Living God. Allowing our doctrine of God to be shaped in this way will open our eyes to a God who is bigger than we could ever conceive. click here for more 

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Love

The Living God is Persons in loving, committed relationship. His will for our life is to be swept up into this eternal love affair and to be agents of His love for the creation. If our doctrine of God is fundamentally impersonal, our Christian lives will consist of duty-bound Pharisaism. If we understand the Passionate God then our lives will begin to conform to the total love of heart, soul, mind and strength which Jesus models and commands. click here for more 

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Proclaimed by Moses

The Scriptures do not introduce us to God and then to the LORD and then to Christ and the Trinity. Revelation does not progress towards Christ – it begins with Him. Moses and the Prophets proclaim the same Triune God as Jesus and the Apostles. From Genesis 1, the Trinitarian Gospel of the LORD-Messiah is front-and-centre as the focus of all Biblical revelation. In this paper we will briefly run through Genesis and Exodus to see how Christ is proclaimed as the One and Only revelation of the Unseen LORD. click here for more .

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It’s common to hear people speak of the death of Jesus as simply according to His human nature.  This is insisted upon because it is assumed that His ‘divine nature’ could have nothing to do with death.  It’s less common to hear the same people trumpeting the resurrection as simply according to His human nature.  Why?  Because the resurrection is tied in the closest possible way to Christ’s divine identification:

He was declared with power to be the Son of God, by His resurrection. (Rom 1:4)

God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)

For many it seems that the death of Jesus is quite a human thing.  And His resurrection something more divine.  But this is wrong.

First, Jesus death is considered similarly to be an identification of Jesus’ divinity:

e.g.  “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM WHO I AM.” (John 8:28)

Second, Jesus divinity is not spoken of as separate from His humanity at any point, including (and perhaps especially) His crucifixion:

They… have crucified the Lord of Glory. (1 Cor 2:8)

In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”  (Rev 5:12)

Third, the whole of salvation – incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension – is accomplished by the Man Christ Jesus.  And at the same time He is never anything less than the eternal Word of the Father.

Fourth, we just don’t have a high enough view of Man.  Man is the true ruler of the cosmos (Psalm 8).  Man is the Head of creation.  Seated on the throne of the world is Man – and this has always been God’s intention.  Though Adam was a corrupted and corrupting king, even so God showed the importance of man.  God took Adam’s rule very seriously. He tied the destiny of the whole creation to the actions of this king.  And now with Adam’s Lord – the true King, the heavenly Man (1 Cor 15:47-49) – comes the restoration of all things:

Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead came also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22).

Adam and Christ

Christ’s work in reversing Adam’s failures could be nothing other than the work of Man – true Man.  And at the same time His triumph could be nothing other than the triumph of God – redeeming, reconciling, ruling.  To be true Man can never be at odds with ‘the divine nature.’  The divine nature shines forth at its strongest in this Man – the Head of the New Creation.

So this easter rejoice in Man restored.  Rejoice in the true King and Head who summed up all your Adam-ness and put it away for good.  He rose up again as King, bringing His Kingdom with Him.  His resurrection renewed Himself, His people and the whole earth. 

In the meantime you have your flesh from Adam and your Spirit from Christ.  You are, for now, the scene of an almighty struggle.  You groan.  Creation groans.  The Spirit of God groans.  But when Christ is revealed so too will His Kingdom be revealed.  You and the whole earth will be reborn and renewed under the rule of Man.

Praise God

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Gethsemane

He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  (Matt 26:37-38)

He fell with His face to the ground and prayed.  (Matt 26:39)

“Abba, Father,” He said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  (Mark 14:36)

Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death  (Heb 5:7)

 “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matt 26:42)

Perhaps no bible story has had more impact on me than the account of Jesus praying in Gethsemane.  It haunted my teenage years especially.  It said to me: ‘This is what honouring God looks like.  This is the epitome of religious devotion – overwhelmed to complete prostration, loud cries and tears, commitment to the point of death.’  And I attempted to emulate this.  Not in practical, daily ‘thy will be done’ service – no, no!  Instead I would attempt to re-enact Gethsemane.  I’d sneak out of the house at night and find somewhere really scary – a forest in dead of night was best.  And I would literally fall on my face and ask God to take my life, to make me His servant, to do whatever He wished with me.  (Of course I imagined that His wishes would be awful, dark and painful).   Nonetheless Gethsemane had taught me that this was the way and so I’d try (unsuccessfully) to work myself up into some kind of hyper-serious state of emotional sincerity.  I was massively aware that I was falling short of offering the required… what?  devotion?  gravity?  sacrifice?  Whatever was needed, I was painfully aware of lacking it.  But I made my dramatic teenage offering and waited for the results.  But no angel came to comfort me.  No spiritul blessing was poured out.  No command from heaven.  Just an overwhelming sense that heaven was silent and my devotion was clearly not sufficient to rouse Him. 

And, over time, my response to this was ‘God doesn’t want me, I don’t want Him.’  I wandered from Him for years.  But it was Gethsemane that brought me back.  Because all of a sudden I saw what should have been most clear all along.  I’m not at the centre of Gethsemane!  I’m sleeping with Peter, James and John.  I’m the weak, flesh-driven, good-for-nothing follower who cannot stay awake even for one hour.  But Christ!  He prays to the Father.  He intercedes for His worthless, pathetic friends.  He offers to drink their cup.  And suddenly it all fell into place.  Christianity was not about me burying my face in the dirt for Him.  He buried His face in the dirt for me.  It’s not about me stooping low enough to be worthy.  It’s about Him stooping lower still because I’m not.  I don’t offer my life to a silent heaven.  The Man of heaven offers His life for a silent, sleeping, sinful me.

Gethsemane is good news.  There’s so much more to be said.  But perhaps it’s said best by my favourite preacher on this my favourite passage:  Click here for Mike Reeves on Gethsemane.  Well worth the free registration!  Check it out.

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In talking about Allah as an idol the question comes ‘If Allah is a false god, does that make him nothing? something? a demon?’  I think Paul might say yes to all three questions:

“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Cor 8:4-6)

Idols are nothing says Paul.  But then he goes on to say they are not just called ‘gods’ but are gods. And then in chapter 10 he says pagan sacrifices are offered to ‘demons’. (1 Cor 10:20).

So are idols nothing? something? or demons?  It seems like Paul is saying ‘all three.’  How can that be?  Well it’s important that we take seriously the language of ‘gods’ (little ‘g’) and ‘demons’.  (Ex 15:11, 1 Kings 8:25, Deut 10:17, Ps 82:1; Deut 32:16-21 – thanks Otepoti for these).

I think false gods are demonic. Their ‘nothingness’ is not a non-existence but rather an ontological lack. They are like a gaping hole – a nothing where there should be a something. A hole is not non-existent but it does have its existence in being a deficiency, a denigration. They are not unreal or non-existent. They are just ‘nothing.’ Their whole power and being is in being a negation.

Think of how John describes light and darkness. Light is something.  Darkness is not something – certainly not like Light is something.  Darkness is not unreal or non-existent but it still depends on being not light. On one hand it is a terrible power (a fearful something). But in another sense it is nothing – its whole existence is an existence in negation. I think idols are like this.

But again this is not to say the forces behind these dumb idols are impotent. Far from it – they have a fearsome dark power. Think of Deut 32

“16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. 17 They sacrificed to demons, which are not God–gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. 18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. 20 “I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful. 21 They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols.”

Here these gods ‘recently appear’.  They are ‘no god’ and ‘worthless idols’ but nonetheless they are ‘gods’ – ‘demons’ even.  Can we say then that objects of worship that are not God are nothing in themselves but become spiritual realities when worshipped.  Demonic forces (which, again, are ‘dark’ forces – having their being in negating what is True) inhabit dumb idols when we invest them with power.  When we seek life in what is dead it is not a neutral spiritual issue – the powers of darkness are involved.

 So yes, idols are nothing.  And something.  And demons. 

What say you?

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Today I listened to this talk by Robert Reymond addressed to men in the ministry.  If you are a minister of the word, listen and be humbled.  If you know a minister of the word, listen and learn how to pray for them.

The talk finishes after 47 minutes, the Q&A afterwards isn’t particularaly illuminating, but that 3/4 of an hour is holy fire!  Now I know I’ve spoken against completely identifying holiness with ‘the quiet time’ and there’s a bit of that here, but do yourself a favour and listen in.

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Some wonderful quotes which he used:

Robert Murray McCheyne on the congregation’s greatest need:

My people’s greatest need is my own personal holiness.

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A prayer of Luther’s:

Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon You Word. Use me as Your instrument — but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

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John Newton on the terrible dangers of pride:

While human nature remains in its present state there will be almost the same connection between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp. 

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These are thoughts that I’ve been sharing over at Between Two Worlds on a post called Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammed?

My answer?  Of course not.  Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let’s let Allah define himself:

“He does not beget nor is he begotten.” (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let’s respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol – anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying ‘Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah’??! Never!

The question for the nations is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ But ‘What god do you believe in?’ Whether you’re evangelizing in north Africa or north America “God” cannot be assumed.  In fact “God” is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the ‘Baal’ analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be ‘the transcendent Creator’ and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in ‘God as infinite transcendent Creator.’

To this I replied… 

3) We don’t say “Baal is called ‘Lord’ and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship.”  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the ‘infinite transcendent Creator’ is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say…

A) ‘Transcendent Creator’ is more foundational to God’s being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the ‘Transcendent Creator’

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you’ve made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius’ error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was ‘ek tes ousia tw patri‘ (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some ‘bedrock’ notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let’s not define Jesus out of full deity before we’ve even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first – Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. ‘Transcendent Creator’ is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his ‘transcendence’ – by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

‘Transcendent Creator’ is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it’s not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian ;-)   I replied with these points…

4) In terms of theological method, “Christ alone” is not a Barthian novelty!  It’s difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: “No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

To this let’s add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let’s add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying ‘Barthian’!

5) Nicea’s “The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does – unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN’S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point – there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering ‘Creator’ more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you’ve helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth?? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won’t she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said ‘the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let’s be clearer on this whether we’re evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides – why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place??  Let’s tell them, ‘The god you had thought existed was not God – let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you’ve imagined.  His name is Jesus and He blows your god out of the water!’

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Human religion and the gospel

Human religion is man justifying man before a watching god.
The gospel is God justifying God before a watching humanity.
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In thinking of Substitutes for the Spirit I was surprised at how many I came up with.  But then again, we all know what the Scripture says is the antithesis to the Spirit. Therefore we know that susbtitutes for the Spirit can be summed up in one word – flesh.  Thus we know

  1. These substitutes will be with us from cradle to grave
  2. They will stick to us like skin to our bones
  3. They will pervade every area of life
  4. They will be selfish alternatives to everything the Spirit is trying to lead us to
  5. They will seem far more natural than the Spirit-led path
  6. They will appear as a counterfeit Spirit-led path – (not every spirit is from God!)

In fact they will appear as the seemingly harmless desire to serve myself – whether in moral or immoral ways.  And so they are at war with my soul. (1 Pet 2:11).  It’s often occured to me that maturity in the Christian life consists largely of identifying these desires of the flesh as precisely that. 

We can identify Spirit-led passions.  They will be:

  • Christ-centred
  • Word-based
  • other-focussed
  • cross-shaped

 How are we to identify fleshly thinking?  Ephesians 4:22 is interesting:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires

Three questions occur to me regarding the ‘old self’ / flesh:

  1. What are the desires of your flesh?  What exactly is the ‘old self’ telling you about what you need / what you should pursue?
  2. How is this old self deceiving you?  Phrase the desire as a blatant lie: e.g. “Your identity/worth/righteousness lies in people thinking you’re funny/attractive/clever/’helpful’.”
  3. How has this fleshly existence corrupted you?  Think how ugly it has made you.

Always, though, the underlying pursuit/lie/corruption of the flesh is my attempt to establish a righteousness of my own. (Phil 3:1-11).  Ultimately the flesh tells me to be justified before heaven and earth on my own account.  Therefore the power which alone is able to mortify my flesh is the gospel.  Because the gospel tells me ‘Before and apart from any works, I am clothed in Christ.  My whole identity, status, reputation, past, present and future is taken out of my hands and hidden entirely in Christ.’ 

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

 To live by this gospel word is to live by the Spirit.  And it is to crucify the flesh.

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We have endless substitutes for the actual, dynamic, personal presence of the Spirit in our thinking.  Here’s a sketch of just a few off the top of my head.

Of course, many or all of these are means by which the Spirit works.  Yet if they are cut off from the Source they have no life in them:

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Doctrine of Omnipotence

An a-topic, abstract power is assigned to God, equivalent to a similarly ill-defined notion called ‘sovereignty’. This is all rather than the active and immanent Person who is God’s Power – the Spirit of Christ.
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Doctrine of Omnipresence

‘God is everywhere’ becomes a substitute for the indwelling personal presence of the Spirit
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Doctrine of Omniscience

This happens, for instance, when the living nature of the Spirit-breathed Word is replaced by a doctrine of God’s omniscience in the original authorship of the Bible.  What is side-lined is a doctrine of the Spirit as the Dei loquentis persona (God speaking in person).  Instead the spotlight falls on God’s omniscience in inspiring the text thousands of years ago such that it would speak to every generation.  A fossilization of the living word?

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Assurance found in moral performance.

Romans 8:16 says ‘the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’ Few preachers I hear teach that we should seek our assurance in the fellowship we have with the Spirit.  Usually we’re encouraged to look to our works.

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Fellowship of believers

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor 13:4) is not a Spirit-generated church-fellowship! Yet so many take it in this way. No, just as the love of God is an enjoyment of God in His love and just as the grace of Christ is an enjoyment of Christ in His grace, so the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is fellowship with the Spirit!
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‘Now but not yet’. 

We often speak of this age (truly) in terms of absence and in-between-ness. We live in between the comings of Christ. This is all absolutely correct and vitally important. But let’s not forget the presence! This is the age of the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence is the ‘now’ in the ‘now-and-not-yet’.  Let’s remember Jesus said ‘It is for your good I am going away… if I go I will send Him to you’! (John 16:7).

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Fruit of the Spirit

At one time I was praying through the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and using these nine characteristics as a moral checklist.  I confessed my lack of fruit and prayed for more.  One day I was doing this and got a picture in my mind of the Holy Spirit coming to my door laden with a big basket of fruit and me saying to Him ‘Thanks Spirit, just leave the fruit and I’ll see you later.’  I was praying for fruit when I should really have been praying for the Spirit Himself.  These fruit grow organically from a relationship with Him.  Let’s desire Him and not simply His gifts.

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Application in preaching

So much preaching advice assumes that it’s the preacher’s job to bridge the gap between text and congregation.  Surely it is the Spirit’s work to drive home the Word to our hearts!  How often preaching is thought to really live when the preacher ‘applies’ the text to Monday morning and the ‘nitty-gritty’ of life.  Yet the Spirit, in living power, makes the Word alive and applies it to our lives in ways more nuanced, powerful and incisive than any preacher could.

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Human advice

In the realm of guidance
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Human aptitude

In the realm of gifts
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Apologetics

In the realm of evangelism
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Strategy

In the realm of Kingdom-work
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Oratory skill

In the realm of preaching

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Grammatical-historical method.

Text critical tools give the meaning of the Bible, not the Author Himself

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Any more we can add to the list?

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Fear not little flock

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

We think of ourselves as battle-weary soldiers, securing the kingdom for a grudging commanding officer. The Good Shepherd calls us little sheep who are given heaven and earth by a happy and generous Father!

Now if that doesn’t revolutionize our prayers, nothing will!

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It’s been very sobering to study the wrath of the Lamb this week (Rev 6:16).  Here are seven thoughts (of course seven!) that occurred to me this week while preparing to preach Revelation 6:

  1. This is not so much the anger of the great king against rebels. This is much much worse. This is the anger of the Lamb who was slain to save rebels. This is the anger of the meek and humble Saviour who stretched out His arms to a disobedient and obstinate people. This is the anger of the One who longed to gather His children under His wings but they were not willing. This is the anger of the bloody sacrifice who poured out His life just to redeem and forgive such people. Those who will be sent to hell have not only rebelled against a mighty King, they have trodden on the slain Lamb. They have spurned their only Saviour, who wept and sweated and bled for them. They have hated and trampled on Christ crucified.   And they will not stand on the great day of His wrath.
  2. The great day of His wrath comes after a long wait (Rev 6:17).  He is indeed ‘slow to anger’. (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; cf Rom 3:25; 2 Pet 3:9)  And both the anger and the slowness are good things. It would be terrible if the Father or the Son flew off into a rage without warning. But it would also be terrible if they never got angry – the evil of this world, and particularly the evil of rejecting Christ is damnable. So His wrath is a very good thing.
  3. We are meant to draw nearer to the wrathful Lamb, not flee further from Him.  It is the unbelievers who run from the Lamb in His anger (v15-17), it’s the believers who run to Him.  (Cf Psalm 2:12).  As we read of His wrath we are tempted to draw back, but instead we should press closer, ask, seek and knock even more.  His anger should in fact make us draw nearer – if we do, we will find Him to be our Refuge.
  4. Anger is not the last word.  Revelation 6 clears the way for Revelation 7.  “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.”  (Hosea 6:1-2)
  5. It’s vital to see that the Father is not the only One angry at sin!  Sometimes we can imagine that the cross is an angry Father being placated by His Son who really isn’t that bothered about sin.   “Jesus loves you, don’t mind the Father, He’s cranky!”  It’s at this point that people suppose that true trinitarian theology is opposed to penal substitutionary atonement.  But no the Father and Son are not divided in their attitudes to sin.  The Son is Christ precisely because He loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Ps 45:7).  Rev 6:17 speaks of ‘their’ wrath – Jesus is just as angry at sin as the Father. And He suffers in Himself the fullness of His own divine anger at sin.
  6. Chapters like Revelation 6 show us just how intense Christ’s sufferings were. Here is the magnitude of the wrath which Jesus faced on the cross. The Lamb faced His own divine anger at sin – an anger that shakes the creation to its very foundations. When we read of Jesus sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane and overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He is feeling in Himself the dread of all those who say to the mountains ‘Fall on us and hide us.’ After studying Revelation 6 we should have a bigger picture not only of judgement day but also the cross.
  7. We are tempted to measure hell by our sins. Passages like this tell us to measure our sins by hell.  (Spurgeon used to say this often).  What do I mean? We tend to think of our sins as trifling matters and then we read about the terrible judgement of God and think it’s over the top. That’s backwards. We should read about the terrible judgement of God and then think – that’s what my sin deserves. Don’t measure hell by your sins, measure your sins by hell. And then rejoice that the Lamb intercepted His own wrath and hid you under His altar, the cross. (Rev 6:9)

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This never made it into my sermon ‘Why the Cross?‘  It’s a side thought raised by the question why God doesn’t simply forgive us…

Forgiveness is always costly. Whenever people say ‘Why doesn’t God simply forgive?’ I often wonder what they mean by the word ‘simply’. Anyone who says forgiveness is simple has clearly never tried it. Forgiveness is always painful, costly, messy, heart-wrenching. Forgiveness always involves sacrifice.

Look at this verse from Proverbs:

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Have you ever been in an argument where you’re exchanging harsh words with another. And, as this verse describes it, anger is being stirred up and stirred up and stirred up. In that situation what is it like to answer a person with genuine gentleness? They speak harsh words to you – what’s it like to answer with gentleness. It is painful, it is hard, it is a sacrifice. It is not just water off a duck’s back. It’s not a simple matter of forgiving and forgetting – it involves sacrifice.

And this proverb describes it is as a sacrifice. You see the phrase ‘turns away wrath’ is a special phrase in the bible that’s almost always associated with sacrifices. It’s sacrifices that turn away wrath – anger is turned away from you because it’s turned on the sacrifice. And this verse says: if you’re in an argument and you answer someone gently it’s like being a human sacrifice. If we’ve ever tried it, we know that’s how it feels. Forgiveness is always sacrificial.

And nowhere is this more true than at the cross. In the bible, the cross is described as the place where Jesus turns away God’s wrath. At the cross the wrath of God is turned away from us and turned onto Jesus. So think of the cross as the place where all our harsh words against heaven are met by the gentle answer of Jesus. His grace heals and restores us but it’s costly to Him. The cross is the costly, sacrificial forgiveness of God. But there really is no forgiveness that’s not sacrificial.

Think of it from another angle.  When Jesus tells us to pray ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ the prayer literally is ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ Our sins are like debts. Now if you cancel someone’s debt – that’s great for them. But the debt doesn’t just vanish. There’s still a cost – it just means that now you bear the cost, rather than them. It still hurts, it’s still costly, it’s still sacrificial to forgive.

So again, think of the cross as the place where all our debts to God are cancelled – it’s wonderful for us. It’s massively costly to God – He absorbs the debt, He makes Himself liable, He pays off our arrears. That’s the cross. It is free and full forgiveness for us, but it is a costly, sacrificial forgiveness, for God. Because all forgiveness is sacrificial.

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“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (Revelation 6:1-2) 

Is the first horseman Jesus?

  1. He comes at the head of his own judgements
  2. He rides a white horse (Rev 19:11)
  3. He’s given a crown (divine passive?)
  4. He conquers emphatically (overcoming, He overcomes) – cf esp Rev 2:26f; 3:21; 5:5 and 17:14

Or is he a counterfeit Jesus – conquering in a bad way?

  1. The beast also conquers (Rev 13:7)
  2. The beast also is ‘given power’ to do so (Rev 13:7)
  3. The powers of evil often mimic (and distort) the good (the beast speaks like the Lamb – 13:11; the dragon has a seven-fold crown – 12:3)
  4. Christ is not among the four horseman of Zech 1:7-11 – He is the Angel of the LORD to Whom they report (but that’s for another post ;-))

 Or is he something else?

I am truly undecided on this.  So let me ask two questions:

1) Who the heck is the first horseman of the Apocalypse?

2) If I’m still asking this question on Sunday (not unlikely!) what should I say from the pulpit?

One thing I’m not keen on saying is ‘It’s not really important, people can get too hung up on biblical details, especially in Revelation, let me tell you a story about a missionary instead.’ 

Anyway, any help gratefully received!

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Read this at Inhabitatio Dei.  How awesome is that?!

And if you haven’t already read Halden’s beliefs page, check that out too.  Refreshing stuff.

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I posted recently on the importance of trusting the Son of God in hard times, not simply the sovereignty of God.  These thoughts have arisen again as I’ve been preaching on Revelation 4 and 5 recently.  It’s pause for thought to see John weeping aloud in the very throne room of God! (Rev 5:4)  Heaven without Christ is hell!

Good thing the elder in heaven didn’t comfort the way we ordinarily do… “Do not weep, haven’t you seen the throne?  It is very impressive isn’t it?”  John has seen the throne.  He is weeping in the face of it!  No the comfort for John is the Lion-Lamb – Christ.  He is the One who turns weeping into cosmic praise.  Let’s make sure our comfort is similarly Christ-focused.

 Here are my sermons on Revelation 4 and Revelation 5 if you’re interested.

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