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Archive for May, 2010

Want fresh joy?

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD

Isaiah 29:19

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Revelation 4 shows the 24 elders casting their crowns before the throne (Rev 4:10).  Though these have been given by the Almighty Father Himself, all the elders can think to do with them is throw them to the ground in His presence.  We can almost hear them singing Psalm 115 as they do it: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”

The love and faithfulness of the LORD has raised them to incalculable honour – robes and thrones and crowns.  Yet they gladly abandon all back to Him. Verse 10 is like a freeze-frame of the life of heaven.  All honour given and all honour returned.  It’s an everlasting circle of deference and praise.

On Trinity Sunday we remember that this is not simply the life of the future.  And it’s not simply the dynamic of the creature and its Creator.  This eternal deferral to the Other is the everlasting life of God.  The Father commits everything into the hands of His Beloved.  The Son casts His crown before the Father, desperate that all honour be ascribed to His Name.  The Father lifts Him up and establishes Him as King over all.  The Son hands all power and authority back to the Father.  And the Spirit inspires and empowers this loving reciprocity.  Heaven is nothing but a participation in this other-centred glory.

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A sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39.

Audio of 30 minute versionAudio of 15 minute version.

Drawing Near

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God.

Here’s the picture that Hebrews has been building up for us for the last ten chapters.  The Most Holy Place was the dwelling of God Himself.  It was the centre of the OT tabernacle and in it was the ark of the covenant – the LORD’s very throne.

But of course the whole Old Covenant system kept the people away from God’s presence.  One thing in particular – the curtain, mentioned in v20 – it had guardian cherubim embroidered into it to remind people of the guards protecting the way back to Eden.  You are a sinner and God is holy, holy, holy.  There’s no entry through here.  Not unless you’ve got a great sacrifice and a great priest.

Well then v19 speaks into this whole system and says “Come on in!”  It’s extraordinary.  Hebrews says, walk with CONFIDENCE into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Almighty.  You could imagine the Old Testament priests appalled, running along behind us in their robes saying “You can’t go in there!  Are you even Jewish?”  “Nope” we say.

“And where’s your sacrifice, I don’t see a sacrifice.  And where’s your priest, you need a priest.”  And we say the blood of the LORD Jesus has been shed, is that a good enough sacrifice.  And He is our great High Priest, appearing for us in heaven right now, is that a good enough priest?  Yes it is and so we DRAW NEAR to God.

This command to draw near is repeated seven times in Hebrews.  It’s a major theme.  It says “draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near.”  Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice, His priesthood is the perfect priesthood, draw near with confidence.

And you think, well I can’t, can I?  I get tongue tied in the presence of earthly authorities.  I make a fool of myself in the presence of minor celebrities.  I feel small and awkward and ashamed in the presence of human greatness.  Can I really draw near?

Yes, v22 goes on:

draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

There is a FULL assurance that comes from faith.  When we see Jesus, arms open on the cross, we see just how approachable He really is.  He assures we can draw near and we trust Him.  Not only that He sprinkles our hearts with His blood.  The blood of the OT sacrifices were sprinkled on external things to say “This sacrifice has outwardly cleansed these things.”  Christ’s sacrifice goes deep – it cleanses even our wayward and sinful hearts.  No more guilt – it’s all been laid on Jesus:  He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.  The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.  And by His wounds we are healed.  No need for guilt.  Christ has paid for it all, cleansed it all, removed it all.

And our bodies are washed with pure water.  In between the altar and the holy place of the tabernacle there was a massive basin where the priests washed before entering the holy places.  Jesus has taken us through that washing into God’s presence.  And for our part, baptism is the symbol of this deeper washing.  But as we stand before God no need to feel out of place, no need to feel uncertain, no need to feel guilty, no need to feel impure – Christ has cleansed us.  Draw near.

But what does that actually mean?  What does it look like to ‘draw near to God’?

In Hebrews 10 there are three important contexts we need to bear in mind as we draw near:

The holiness of God

The suffering of the Christian life, and

The need for community

(more…)

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Been talking marriage stuff with other couples recently.  Some thoughts on spouse-speak:

  • Husbands are called particularly to love.  Wives called particularly to respect (Ephesians 5:33)
  • In sin, spouses will speak the opposite of what their spouses need.
  • Therefore in anger a husband’s words will kill and a wife’s will emasculate.
  • The damage of harsh words is like thrusting a sword (Prov 12:18) – fast, sharp, devastating, wound-making
  • The good of healing words is like planting a tree (Prov 15:4) – slow, deep, seemingly ineffectual but incredibly fruitful

When you add all this up you get husbands who fail to plant seeds in their wives because it looks so ineffectual.  Wives then feel untouched by their husbands and in turn cool from them.  Here you have a breeding ground for resentment that will build until the knives come out.

Instead we need to engage in the ongoing work of seed planting – “I love you.”  “I’m proud of you.”

For more on men, women, words and planting seeds – these thoughts are always bouncing around my head on the issue.

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Finally!  JW’s knocked on my door this morning.  First time ever.  An older guy and a younger Polish woman.

So I threw some Gen 19:24 shapes their way. “To which Jehovah are you witnessing, the LORD out of the heavens or the LORD on the earth?”

The woman seemed quite interested.  The man said “Trinity?  Rubbish.  Paul refutes the trinity in 1 Corinthians 11:3.”  So we went to 1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

“How does this refute the trinity?” I ask.

“Well,” he explains, “God is the head over Christ which means Christ is less than God.”

I say “So the Father is the head of Christ the way I’m the head of my wife?”

“That’s right”

“Let me ask you, Is my wife less of a human being than me?”

“Yes” said the man.  “N..” said the woman and then changed it to a faltering yes.

I check I’ve heard them right.  “So my wife is less of a human being than me?”

“Well,” reasons the man, “you make the decisions.  You’re in charge.”

“Mmmm and so I’m a greater being than my wife?”

“That’s right” said the man.  The woman frowns.

I turn to her and say “You realise you’re in a cult don’t you.”

The man grabs her by the arm and they start to make their escape.

“Keep reading the bible and keep thinking about marriage,” I call to her as they move down the street.  “You know women are equal to men… AND JESUS IS EQUAL TO GOD!”

Don’t think they’ll be back any time soon.

But it goes to show that Arians are misogynists whatever the PC gloss.  And of course misogynists are Arians, whatever the Christian gloss.

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Happy Friday

“You some day”

“No choice”

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If you ever say Amen it’s usually a response to what someone else has said or prayed, right?

And it’s usually after what they’ve said, right?

And only if it’s really good do you repeat it: ‘Amen, Amen!’, right?

So it’s an affirmation that someone else has just spoken truth (Amen is straight from the Hebrew for truth).

But when Jesus comes along, what does He do?  He gives Amens to His own sayings: 30 times in Matthew alone!  And in John’s Gospel He gives a double-Amen to 25 of His own teachings!

e.g. Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life (John 5:24)

What’s Jesus doing by prefacing His teaching with ‘Amen, Amen’?  Well let me put words to what this means.  Jesus is basically saying:

“You don’t stand in judgement on my word.  I won’t even wait for your Amen.  Your Amen could only ever be the faint echo of my own Amen!  You do not and cannot stand in judgement on my word.  Before you’ve even heard a syllable of it, I tell you on my own authority that this is truth.  This is the only authentication or approval these words ever could or should have – my own.  This is true because I say it, not because you have some vantage point from which to assess these words.  Let my Amen recalibrate everything you consider to be truth.  You must simply accept my words as the gold standard of truth because it is I who speak them.  In short: It doesn’t matter what you think – this is the truth, deal with it!”

Who speaks like this?  Only God’s Faithful and True Amen (Rev 3:14).

Imagine if our bible reading, our theology, our apologetics, our Christian obedience was shaped, not by whether we thought in all good conscience we could give our Amen to Christ?  What if we stopped trying to assess Christ’s word with our Amens and instead simply received His Amen in glad submission?

May we hear His word in the Spirit in which it was spoken – as truth itself. (John 17:17)

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