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Archive for September, 2008

Some blogging encouragement

I checked my spam the other day and found great encouragement:

Well I think you are a genius and the post is marvelous.

Brightened my day no end.  The fact that it came from a man calling himself “Penis Enlargement” is neither here nor there.  I have instructed my filter to allow all such positive comments in future.

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Anyone else sick of the whole ‘Christ in the OT’ debate?  Man… some people just go on and on.

I’m announcing a new hobby horse – Christ in the NT.  In fact I think this is where you really see a preacher’s Christ-centredness.  We’ve had the rule drummed into us by now – Thou shalt ‘bridge to Christ’ at the end of an Old Testament sermon.  But does this ‘bridge’ come from convictions regarding Jesus the Word or is it simply a preaching convention that we slavishly follow? 

Well you can probably guess at the answer by listening to a preacher’s New Testament sermons.  Now I fail at this all the time but I think the challenge for all of us is this: Is Jesus the Hero of the sermon on the mount or Mark 13 or the gifts passages or James?  And the issue for this mini-series – what about the parables? 

Last time I looked at Matthew 13:44-46.  Who the man?  Jesus the Man.  He seeks and finds us and in His joy He purchases us.  All praise to Him.  As Piper likes to say ‘the Giver gets the glory’ and in this parable (contra Piper’s own interpretation of it) Jesus’ glory is on show as He gives up all for His treasured possession – the church.

In this post we’ll look briefly at the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37 

First notice this: the teacher of the law asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’  This prompts the story.  At the end of the story Jesus asks Who was neighbour to the guy left for dead? (v36).  So now, think about this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? Levite? Samaritan?  No.  Not first of all.  First of all we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from his perspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  Here’s the first clue – we’re meant to put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man.

Why do I say ‘fallen’?  Well the man’s fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He “goes down from Jerusalem (this earthly counterpart of the heavenly Zion).  He’s heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the man “falls” among robbers.  He’s stripped, plagued (literally that’s the greek word), abandoned and half-dead.  That’s the man’s precidament and Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  Nope.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a ‘certain Samaritan’ (mirroring the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  He’s not at all like the religious.  In fact the one who ‘comes to where the man is’ happens to be someone who’d equally have been shunned by the priest and Levite! 

Yet this Samaritan ‘had compassion’ (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated ‘he was moved in his bowels with pity’, is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it’s used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), here and the father in the Two Sons (Lk 15:20).  More about that in the next post.

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and for emphasis we are twice told about him ‘coming’ to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized man.  Now read v34:

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Now I don’t have to tell you what these things mean.  You’ve got blueletterbible – you can do your own biblical theology of oil, wine, etc.  But remember you’re meant to be putting yourself in the position of this fallen man, left for dead, unaided by religion, healed by an extraordinary stranger and awaiting his return.  Are you there?  Have you felt those depths and appreciated those heights?  Well then, now:

You go and do likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the healing of this Beautiful Stranger.  Then go and do likewise.

Or… leave Jesus out of it.  Spin it as a morality tale and end with “Who was that masked man? No matter – just go and do likewise.”  

See how important ‘Jesus in the NT’ is?

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Free to follow

Not sure it ever happened (happy to be contradicted), but what a good illustration as heard in this morning’s sermon by Neil Green (my vicar).

Abraham Lincoln was once at a slave auction.  A young girl was being sold, naked but for her shackles.  Lincoln was so distressed by the thought of her being bought by any of the rabble present that he bid for her himself.  As the price went up and up, Lincoln continued to outbid the rest and eventually he paid top dollar for her.  The girl was brought to Abe, petrified of what a man who paid so much would want with her.  Lincoln took off his great black cloak and clothed her saying ‘You’re free.’ 

The girl couldn’t believe it.  She said ‘You mean I can go?’ 

He said ‘Yes’. 

‘I can marry anyone I want?’ 

‘Yes.’  

‘I can work anywhere I like?’ 

‘Yes’ 

‘I can go anywhere I please?’ 

‘Yes.’  

‘Then,’ she said, ‘I will go with you.’

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So what are these parables about?

Matthew 13:44-46: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

I remember John Piper taking quite a long time (in Desiring God??) to argue that the man is us, the treasure is Christ and so we should joyfully give up all for Him.  In fact I often read or hear Piper returning to these parables and this interpretation of them.  I think it’s at least emblematic of three Piper distinctives:

1) treasuring Christ

2) joy as the atmosphere and motivation of our wholehearted service.

3) the gospel is not about Christ making much of us but freeing us to make much of Him

 

Now I have learnt as much from John Piper as I have from any contemporary Christian leader and I thank God for him.  Funnily enough though, it was his own arguments concerning the parables that convinced me of the other interpretation.  That is, the seeking man is Christ (just as Christ is the man throughout Matt 13), the found treasure is the church (eg Ex 19:6) and the world is the field (just as the world is the field throughout Matt 13).  Perhaps what tipped the balance most for me was the thought: if these were two parables about us finding Christ (rather than the other way around) they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves. 

If this second interpretation is correct then it’s about Christ giving all to buy the world so as to possess His church.  He is the great Seeker and He is the great Treasurer.  He is the great Rejoicer and He is the great Sacrificer of all. 

What happens when we go with the Piper interpretation?  We become the great seekers, we are the ones who treasure, we are the great rejoicers and the ones who sacrifice all.  The weight is thrown back onto our shoulders.  Now to encourage us in this gargantuan work, this sustaining power is held out to us: We are told to prize and value and esteem and treasure and glory in the inestimable value of Christ.  In that joy will we find the strength to give all for the possession of Christ.  But we are assured that this is the way it has to be because the gospel is definitely not about Christ making much of us.  It’s about us being freed to make much of Him.  In fact I think it’s this conviction (grounded in Piper’s views of the self-centred divine glory) that underlies his interpretation of the parables.

What do we say to this? 

Well, first, just read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t we assume that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same? 

Second, ask questions about the gospel.  Isn’t Christ meant to be the active one?  Aren’t we the ones acted upon?  The lost who are found?  And don’t we love because He first loved us?

Third, ask questions about the nature of God’s glory.  In the radical othercentredness of the triune life, isn’t God’s eternal glory precisely in making much of the Other?  Isn’t it entirely fitting that this immanent love spills over in the economy of grace such that God is indeed glorified in His self-emptying exaltation of His people?  When we understand the trinitarian glory of God, don’t we then realize just how glorifying it is for Christ to make much of us?  (And even to do so when people don’t respond!)

Fourth, ask questions about the nature of the Christian life.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but doesn’t it flow from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love first?  Doesn’t it overburden the Christian to put them in the role of the electing, sacrificing seeker?

Just some questions.  Let me state again, I’m a Piper fan.  I’ve listened to hundreds of talks, read loads of his books.  Once I even described myself as ‘a big fan’ to his face (bowel shudderingly embarrassing!). 

It wasn’t even my intention to write about Piper.  This post was meant to be the introduction to a mini-series on Christ in the parables.  Well, it is that too.  This is part one.  Christ is the man.  He is the merchant. 

There.  Point made.

Up next, the Good Samaritan, then the Two Sons.

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Blog Gold Dust

He doesn’t blog as often as some, but when he does he’s up there with my absolute favourites.  Andy Mason is consistently thought-provoking, Christ-centred, biblical, pastoral and stuffed full of grace through and through.  He’s been blogging more than usual this month – check it out!

On the subject – what golden nuggets am I missing as I plod around the blogosphere?  Have a look at my blogroll and see if you think there are any glaring omissions – always glad to be pointed to the good stuff. 

(btw I’m sure you’re all grown up enough to know that I don’t always agree with those on my blogroll.  I think it’s healthy to read beyond our own theological circles.  Maybe that’s why some of you read me!)

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Barcode Gun or Magnum?

In this post I’ve been thinking about how we tend to pray before evangelistic efforts

Often the prayers we say will sound something like:

‘Lord, open hearts in advance of your gospel. Prepare people now so that later we will come across those upon whom your Spirit has worked.’ 

If this is how we think then we’re basically conceiving of the gospel as a necessary instrument to salvation but it’s not really at the heart of the action.  The action happens in some prior (wordless) event.  The gospel word merely comes as confirmation of a previous display of divine power – it’s not the power itself.

 

On this view, the gospel is like a barcode gun. 

We zap a hundred people and – glory! – we discover that five had been slipped the right barcode in advance. 

The gospel here is confirmatory of a change that has happened elsewhere.  As I’ve said, it reveals a prior power.  It’s not the power itself.

 

But there’s another way to see the gospel.

The gospel is like a magnum!

The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  Proclaiming the good news is unleashing divine power.  We fire off a hundred rounds of the gospel and a hundred people have felt the power of God – whether for their salvation or their greater condemnation.

The gospel does not merely confirm a prior mark placed on a person. The gospel makes the mark!

 

So as you go out into the world with the gospel, let this affect your confidence, your reverence and your prayerfulness: It’s not a barcode gun you carry – it’s a magnum. 

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No worries

From this sermon on Luke 12:1-12…

What is the most common command in the Scriptures? 

Fear not.  Do not be afraid. Hundreds of times in the whole bible – the message is repeatedly given “Don’t worry.” 

But we do.  All the time.  About everything.

I bet if I asked you to make a list of things you were worried about at the moment, you could reel off at least five without thinking about it. If I gave you enough time you’d fill a sheet of paper with worries.  We are fearful people.  And Jesus knows us.  So He keeps on persisting with this teaching, till maybe some of it sinks in. 

In Luke 12 we are told not to worry 6 times:

 

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid

 

…Don’t be afraid

 

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry

 

22 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life

 

26why do you worry?

 

32Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

The repetition tells you – we’ve got a problem with fear.  But it also tells us, Jesus has a solution to fear. 

But Jesus’ solution to fear is different to our gut reactions to fear. 

We usually have one of two gut reactions to fear.  One reaction is to take the Nike logo to heart – Just Do It.  You’re afraid, so what, just do it.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell us that.

Everytime He says ‘Don’t be afraid’ He gives us a reason not to be afraid. And in this chapter it’s always one of two reasons.  He says ‘Don’t worry, God is very powerful.’ Or He says ‘Don’t worry, God loves you very much.’  He’s very powerful, He’s very loving – those are reasons not to worry and Jesus wants those truths to sink down into our hearts until the worry goes.  So Jesus does not say ‘I don’t care if you’re afraid, just do it.’  Jesus wants to address our fears, He wants us to examine them and to replace them with a confidence in His Father’s power and love.  

The other reaction we have to our fears is simply to run from them.  If our first reaction is the stiff upper lip, this reaction is the cowardly retreat.  Our fears dominate our lives so that we never do anything scary and we just live very dull lives, never risking anything. 

Sometimes I’ve spoken about fears and people have said to me ‘I don’t fear anything.  I’m not the kind of person that gets worried.’  My next question is – What risks do you regularly take?  When do you make yourself vulnerable to others?  How do you engage with and serve this broken world?  When have you tried to get new initiatives off the ground?  How often do you back a cause that won’t necessarily be popular?  When do you take moral stands? And this is the one that really bites:  How often do you speak up for Jesus even when it won’t be popular? 

Inevitably the answers to those questions are – I don’t.  A person who says they have no fear is almost always a person who is very controlled by fears.  They live a life of humdrum mediocrity, with very few highs, very few lows, they don’t speak out for Christ, they don’t stand up for Him, they don’t give their hearts and their service to others, they surround themselves with safety and comfort and in fact every aspect of their life is controlled by fear.  The cowardly retreat from fear is very common.  It’s in all of us.  It’s what stops us from being the radical disciples that Jesus calls us to be.

We’re not the people we want to be because of our fears.  It’s not that we’ve looked at the way of Jesus and said ‘I’d be perfectly happy doing that, I just don’t really fancy it.’  We’ve looked at it and said ‘I can’t do that – I’m petrified of living that life.’

And that’s why Jesus keeps coming to us saying – ‘Follow me and don’t be afraid’.  He doesn’t say ‘Follow me and stuff your feelings’.  And He doesn’t say ‘Don’t bother following me if you’re scared.’  He commands both: ‘Follow me and don’t be afraid.’

And this puts us onto one of the deepest truths about fear.  Freedom from fear does not come by staying safe.  Freedom from fear comes as you put yourself in danger.  It’s so counter-intuitive which is why we so rarely experience freedom from fear.  We try to find freedom from fear by avoiding all conflict and danger.  But you don’t find peace there – not God’s peace anyway.  You find God’s peace on the front lines.  God’s peace comes in war.  Freedom from fear comes as you take up your cross daily and follow Jesus to Golgotha.

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For more, go to my sermon on Luke 12:1-12

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