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Archive for August, 2011

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Continuing the theme of turning the parables right-side-up again, here’s the latest from the King’s English on “The Pearl of Great Price”…

….

Recently a friend emailed me with a question.  He’s not yet a Christian but he’s been attending bible studies for a while.  The previous night they had used Christian-sounding language that he didn’t understand.  He wrote:

“They asked me if I had ever ‘given my life to God.’  I was unsure.  What does that mean?  Is it in the bible?”

I wonder how you would respond?

Every evangelical sinew in my body twinged: “Of course you need to give your life to God! What is a Christian if not someone who has given their life to God?? As it is written in the book of…”  Hmm.  That’s funny.  I’m usually pretty good at citing bible verses.  I can proof-text in my sleep.  But it took me a long time to come up with any “giving-your-life-to-God” language.

Eventually a couple of verses in Romans sprang to mind (6:13; 12:1).  But both of them assume that becoming a Christian has happened.  Even in these verses, “giving your life to God” is the response to salvation, not the way towards it.

And far, far more, the Scriptures speak of Christ giving His life for me! That’s the great theme of the bible. Whatever offerings we make to God, the good news is the other way around.  He offered His life for me!

With that in mind, let’s read a couple of parables that Jesus told.  And let’s see how to understand them:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:  Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)

Here is how I usually hear these stories explained:

The ‘treasure’ / ‘pearl of great price’ is Christ.  There He is – precious but passive.  Inert.  Waiting.

The ‘man’ / ‘merchant’ is us.  We are the spiritual seekers.  Active.  Adventurous. Sacrificial.

And – well done us! – we sell everything to gain the treasure of Jesus.

But I wonder whether such an interpretation misconstrues all the literary clues of the passage.  More worryingly, I fear it misconstrues the very nature of “the kingdom”.

“Treasured possession” is a famous way of describing the people of God (Exodus 19:5).

“The man” who is active throughout the parables of Matthew 13 is not us but Christ.

At the same time we are consistently represented by impersonal and passive objects (i.e. the soils).

If these were two parables about us finding Christ they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves.

Given these facts, surely the most natural interpretation is this:  Christ is the Man who gives everything to purchase 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.

“For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

We are the purchased treasure, not valuable in ourselves but only in our Redeemer’s eyes.  He is the Glorious Giver, we are those bought at a price.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

And yet… what happens when we opt for the first 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.

What do we say to this?

Well, first, we ought to read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t our first assumption be that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same?

Second, we ought to understand the fundamentals of the gospel.  Isn’t it Christ who seeks and saves what is lost?  (Luke 19:10)  And don’t we love only because He first loved us?  (1 John 4:19)

Third, we ought to think about the nature of kingdom living.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but it flows from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love.  There is a great danger of over-burdening the Christian when we insist that they play the role of the electing, rejoicing, sacrificing Seeker.  I learn my true place in the kingdom when I realise that I am not Chooser but chosen.  I am not Lover but beloved.  I am not Redeemer but purchased.  I am not Seeker but found. Then my heart is won, then I treasure Christ, then I rejoice, then I consider all things as loss for His sake.  But such a reaction is always just that – a reaction.  Christ is always the self-giving Actor.

So what did I say to my friend?

I told him that every Christian ought to say “I belong to God.”  If my friend couldn’t say that, then he probably wasn’t a Christian.

But here’s how we belong to God.  Not by “giving our lives to Him.”  Instead we look to Jesus on the cross and there we see the most incredible truth: He has purchased me at an incredible cost.  Keep looking there until you are won by His love.  Whatever response we make at that point is belated.  The ultimate and eternity-defining truth is this: He gave His life for meOf course I belong to Him.

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Jesus – the Good Samaritan

I posted this on the King’s English today….

It’s one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told.  A beautiful stranger helps a man left for dead when his own people disdain and forsake him.  Those who ignore his sufferings are Levites and Priests – the holiest of the holy.  The stranger is a Samaritan – from that race of hated half-breeds to the north.  Nonetheless he shows incredible compassion.  And Jesus ends with that famous imperative: “Go and do thou likewise.”

And so it is generally assumed that this is a simple morality tale.  We conclude that Jesus wants us to copy this good ethical practice.  Or He wants to break down racial divides and show that love is the heart of it all.  Or…  what is the point of this parable?

Well read it for yourself – Luke 10:25-37.

And first notice the question that prompts the story.  The lawyer asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (v29).  When Jesus finishes the story He asks the crowd who was neighbour to the one left for dead? (v36).  Therefore the key interpretive question is this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? The Levite? The Samaritan?

None of the above.  Not first of all.  First and foremost we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from hisperspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  This is the first clue – we are 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 (which in biblical imagery is an earthly counterpart to the heavenly Zion).  He is heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (notice the 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 is stripped, plagued (literally that’s the word in v30), abandoned and half-dead.  Here is the man’s precidament.  And Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  No, no hope there.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a ‘certain Samaritan’?  (Notice how the ‘certain’ mirrors the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  This Samaritan is the answer to the fallen man.

And this man is nothing like the religious.  In fact he would 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 is used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), this story and the father in the Two Sons (Luke 15:20).

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, fallen man.  Now read from v33:

As he journeyed, [he] came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.  (Luke 10:33-35)

So there you are in your half-dead wretchedness.  Religion has been no help to you, but this beautiful stranger does everything.  He comes near, takes pity, heals, carries, cares and pays for it all.  A penny was a day’s wage (Matthew 20:2).  The inn keeper is given two pence.  We therefore assume that when he “comes again” it will be the third day.  Then he will bring to completion the work he has begun.

Are we in the picture? Have we put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man?  Have we appreciated the love of the good Samaritan?

Well then, now:

Go and do thou likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the compassion of this loving Outsider.  Then go and do likewise.

This is not a simple morality tale.  The centre is not our resolve to be good samaritans.  The Centre is Christ Himself.  If we miss Him in any part of Scripture we turn gospel into law and blessings into curses.

But when we see Jesus… well, that’ll preach!

I was like a wounded man

Jesus came all the way down.

On a Friday evening, He died on a Roman cross

Early one Sunday morning He got up

How many of you believe – He got up?

Thank You, for being a Good Samaritan

Thank You, You didn’t have to do it

Thank You, for taking my feet out of the miry clay,

Thank You, for setting them on the rock

Thank you, for saving me,

Thank You, for binding up my wounds

Thank You, for healing my wounds

Thank You, for fighting my battles

Did He pick you up?

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Happy Friday

 

Trim from Petey Boy on Vimeo.

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Homer's Scream

The first human emotion after the fall was fear – Genesis 3:10

The first human emotion after birth is fear.

The most common biblical command is ‘Fear not’.

Which gives you the idea that fear is a major part of our emotional life as fallen creatures.  But of course, we hide it under a thousand pseudonyms.  Here are a few phrases we say all the time.  In italics is what we really mean.

I’m not mechanical/sporty/mathematical

I am insanely threatened by this challenge to my competence

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I’m not really a people person

The thought of others getting close terrifies me

 .

I’m not much of an admin person

Facing up to daily responsibilities fills me with dread

 .

I’m not that tactile

I’m terrified of human touch

 .

I don’t like people making a fuss over me

It feels intolerably dangerous to have attention

 .

I’m more of an ordered person

I must protect myself from the chaos

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I’m just shy, that’s all

One wrong step in public and the embarassment could kill me

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I don’t go for flashy clothes

I’m petrified of having the eyes of others on me

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I like to look good

I’m afraid of being invisible

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I’m quite competitive

I can’t bear to be a loser

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I don’t like all that competitive stuff

I can’t bear being appraised

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I like to chew over my decisions

I’m petrified of doing it wrong

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I tend to decide on the spot

I’m petrified good things will be taken away

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I’m just a practical person

I fear mystery

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I’m not really a practical person

I’m terrified of being shown up in the ‘real world’

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Sermon on the Book of Job

Sermon Audio

What consolation do we offer suffering people?

Worse things happen at sea?  Count your blessings?  Lightning doesn’t strike twice?  At least you’re not being shredded by industrial machinery and flung into an acid bath?

God’s got a plan?  Gotta keep trusting?

Here’s my favourite:  “Nothing a resurrection won’t fix.”  Now that’s consolation.

Job is the story of man.  Therefore it’s also a story of terrible suffering (and of terrible human comfort).  But in the end we learn that there’s nothing a resurrection won’t fix.

Job 1 – Wooded Place, East, Upright Man, Animals, Satan ruins everything.
Remind you of anything?

Satan’s place: Planet earth
Satan’s premise: People only love God if they’re paid.
Satan’s power: Under God’s. The leash is as long as the LORD decides.

But upright man prevails and Satan’s premise is (for once!) proved untrue.

Job 2 – Not just wealth and family, health too. Here come the “Friends”.

Their silence is the best thing they offer.
The trouble comes when they open their mouths.

Job 3:1-5 – How would you summarize? “I wish I was dead.” That’s not sinful!

Burden of Job’s speeches: I really am upright, I really am suffering!
There is such a thing as innocent suffering.
Bad things really do happen to good people just as good things happen to bad people.

Job 4:7-9 How would you summarize? “What goes around comes around!”

We all fall into this fleshly way of thinking.  We like to imagine we’re safe if we do good.  In fact most of our goodness is simply suffering-insurance.  That’s why innocent suffering offends us so much.

Job 8:1-6 Summarize?

Job 11:13. Summarize?

 Job 12:1! Sarcasm is great!  16:1-3; 26:1-4

Job 16:16-21 In the midst of suffering we need to know our Witness; Advocate; Intercessor; Friend!

Job 19:17-27: Redeemer; Earth; Flesh; See.

Job 38:1-11,19-21: The LORD shows up!  Not with a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on!

Whirlwind!  He humbles Job, makes him see: We can’t weigh it up. We can’t play God:

Job 42:1-6: Job never gets an answer to his why questions (he asks 20 times).

We are simply not in a position to do suffering calculus.  We should leave it to the LORD

Job doesn’t get a neat answer.  Instead he gets an experience of the LORD and he gets resurrection!
That’s what we really need!

Job 42:7-9 Notice Job’s title: “Servant”. Prays for friends, makes sacrifice, accepted.  Remind you of anyone?

This really is the story of man, taken down through Satan into suffering and death, but raised up again through the righteous Servant of the LORD.

Have you been prayed for by Jesus?  Have you claimed His sacrifice for your own?

Job 42:10-17 Twice the original. Not just Eden regained – the world glorified.

Redemption – Jemima: Sunshine. Kezia (Cassia): aromatic. Keren-Hapuch: little makeup box.

There’s nothing a resurrection won’t fix!

 

 

 

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Sermon Audio

Powerpoint

We love to judge.

George Carlin once noted a universal rule of the road: Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot.  And everyone who drives faster is a maniac.

To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot.  To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac. But one rule applies to all:  My speed is just right.

Two weeks ago the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and many other news sites and blogs have reported a hoax as fact. The hoax was this: Internet Explorer users are less intelligent than those using other web browsers.

It is a lie that has spread like wildfire despite the thinnest of fabricated “evidence” produced by a website cobbled together in the last month. Why did this lie find such instant and universal acceptance (amongst the web-savvy anyway)? Because we love to judge.

David Cameron shortly after the riots said that pockets of our society are not just broken but sick.  Pockets?

Rioters; Politicians; Police; Media

We feel superior, but you know what they say?  When you point the finger at others, you have three fingers pointing back.

Jesus says:

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. 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.”

Jesus says there’s two realities you can buy into.  Either Judgement and condemnation; or Giving and forgiving.

Jesus tells us the currency that God deals in.  Verse 36:

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (Luke 6:36)

He is in the forgiveness game.  What game are we in?

(more…)

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Have you heard this one before?  I’ve just come across it.  Wonderful words!

1. Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus, a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Moment by moment I’m kept in His love;
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

2. Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment, I’m under His care.

3. Never a heartache, and never a groan,
Never a teardrop and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne,
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.

4. Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus my Savior, abides with me still.

Words: Daniel Whittle; Music: May Moody

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I’ve had many discussions under the title of “Christ in the Old Testament.”  But perhaps the issues would be seen more clearly if we labelled the debate: “God in the Old Testament.”

And actually, the fact that those two titles sound quite different tells you everything you need to know about the dire Christlessness of evangelical God-talk.

We (and I include myself here in my knee-jerk western deism) imagine that there’s a bed-rock deity called “God” who is obviously the God spoken of in Genesis.  And then we discuss whether the Patriarchs also knew this shadowy figure called Messiah.  And we debate how Messianic certain discrete verses are, and to what degree the author was aware, and to what degree the first audience was cognisant of specific promises and appearances, etc, etc.  But we almost never challenge that view of “God” which we all signed off on in the beginning!

Thus from the outset God is defined as – essentially – ‘the God of monotheism’ (broadly conceived) and Christ is defined as a nuance to a more foundational divine reality.  Then we spend all our time debating how clear the nuance was!

But what if, from the beginning, Elohim was not the god of Aristotle!  It’s a shocking thought I know, but let’s run with it.  What if He makes all things by His Spirit and Word and says “Let us”?  And what if this is not something that needs to be kept in check by a hermeneutic that expects only the omnibeing?  And what if the LORD God stoops down and breathes into Adam’s nostrils and what if, under the name “Voice of the LORD”, He walks in the garden in the cool of the day and encounters the couple as a divine Person.

How much clearer Adam saw God than us!  Without the “benefit” of our western theistic presuppositions, he sees the “very God from very God.”  He doesn’t think in that exact language, but he certainly doesn’t think in unitarian categories either.  To think of “the Son” as something extra to his simple belief in “God” betrays disturbing assumptions about who we think “God” is.

Who is this “God” for whom the Son is an addendum?  Why on earth are we beginning the Scriptures with that “God”?  And if the primary truths about God are unitarian, is our own faith primarily unitarian, just with a Jesus nuance?

The question is deeper than “Christ in the Old Testament.”  It’s deeper even than “God in the Old Testament.”  It’s the question of God.  Which explains why the issue can get quite heated at times.  But also why it’s so crucial.

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Happy Friday

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grace

‘Isn’t it wonderful that we’re now under grace?’ they enthuse.

‘Sure is,’ you say.

And then they explain what they mean by ‘grace’ and you wonder what it is they’ve really found themselves ‘under’.

Here are 10 common misconceptions.

1. Wahey!  Isn’t it great that God has lowered the bar?  He used to care about loads of stuff.  Now it’s just a few things.  You know, important stuff.  We don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  Just the big stuff.  Yay.

2.  Hurrah!  Now we obey God out of gratitude for what He’s done, which is an entirely new concept.  Thank God we’re free from the law, which obviously was only ever about stoic duty and nothing to do with gratitude for past salvation (Ex 20:2).  Now that we’ve got gratitude it means all legalism is a thing of the past.  So long as we’re grateful.  Properly grateful mind you.  Grateful enough to empower a whole heap of obedience.

3.  Phew – now we don’t have to get hung up about the laws of the land.  So don’t you dare ask me to pay my parking ticket – you legalist!

4. Isn’t it great – it’s not about duty-bound works, it’s all about love.  Of course the law had nothing to do with love.  Nasty law.  Now, as long as we stress love we’re avoiding all forms of legalism.  Speaking of which – what is your love-meter reading today?

5. Grace is about treading that tight-rope between legalism and licence.  It’s getting the balance just right between celebrating our freedom and not indulging it too much.  Cos, you know, we’re forgiven, but let’s not go crazy.  Let’s live in grace which is the safe middle-ground between moralism and immorality.

6. God used to be fierce and judgemental now He’s chilled and sweet.

7. God used to be about pragmatics, now He’s just into dogmatics.  He used to be interested in deeds, now He’s interested in creeds.

8.  Legalism is all about obeying the law in my own strength.  Grace is about obeying the law in God’s strength.  Grace is the fuel for my car.  It keeps me going towards the destination.  It’s a heck of a long drive but, Praise Jesus, there’s fuel in the tank.

9.  Discipleship used to be important but now it’s about grace.  Which means… you know.  Not really discipleship.  More… you know… grace.

10. It used to be about my works.  But now it’s about my faith.

No, non, niet, nein!

In the flesh it was about your work.  In the Spirit it’s about Christ’s work.  That’s the difference.  Not so much “works versus faith” as “you versus Christ”.  It’s His work.  His redemption.  His Person in Whom all the promises of God are yes and all the laws of God are fulfilled.   He defines the realm of grace.  Not abstract qualities like gratitude or lovingness or certain mental states – all of which might be worked up apart from Jesus.  Neither is it about God’s own disposition softening in His old age.  And neither is it about the absence of certain obligations, from the state or Scripture or conscience or Christ or wherever.

It’s about the kingdom of the Beloved Son in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and over to which we have been delivered apart from any merit of our own (Colossians 1:13-14).   It’s the position we find ourselves in – sealed by the Spirit into Christ, hidden in Him at the Father’s right hand – lavished with mercy and honour and kindness, our old man crucified and put away, His Spirit put within us.  A new realm, a new Master, a new Power, a new freedom, a new destiny and we’ve done nothing to deserve it.  And it’s all real and it all holds true not by my own workings but by the Almighty Father’s, who raised Jesus from the dead and raised me up with Him.

Grace is not like a new and improved religious programme that’s a bit nicer, a bit less draconian – less duty, more love and groovy vibes.  Grace is the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus expended on your behalf while you do nothing but cause His death.  It’s the mighty resurrection of Christ in which you are swept up to glory entirely apart from your own efforts and merits.  Grace is where you find yourself – in Christ – and you’re in Him not because but in spite of yourself.  Now compare with the 10 misconceptions above.

How do we get it so wrong?

Perhaps my favourite verse:

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.  (Galatians 2:20)

I don’t know any better way of explaining biblical grace than the David and Goliath story – here’s an older post on it. Or just click the grace tag for more.

Which of those 10 misconceptions do you hear most commonly?  Any more to add?

 

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In the King’s English I have a chapter on “Ye must be born again.”  Here’s a key paragraph:

At Christmas, Jesus was born into flesh-life.  On Good Friday He put flesh-life to death.  On Easter Sunday, He rose up to Spirit-life. Therefore on Easter morning Jesus was born again.  He’s the One to go through flesh-life and into Spirit-life in that ultimate sense.  He’s the Pioneer of the new birth.  He was born once from the virgin womb, and born again from the virgin tomb.

Let me justify that statement, because to speak of Christ’s new birth seems nigh on blasphemous to some people.  It can sound like I’m suggesting Jesus needed to “get forgiven of His sins” or “become a Christian.”  But that’s not what I mean.

I am not impugning Christ’s spotless perfection.  Christ is not a sinner – though on the cross He became sin.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

But here’s the thing: on Easter Sunday, the Bible speaks of a significant newness regarding Jesus.

Romans 1:4 says “through the Spiritof holiness [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God.”

Jesus was already the Son of God, but Easter “declared” Him to be so with power.

Colossians 1:18 says Jesus is “Firstborn from the dead.”

Jesus was already Firstborn (Colossians 1:15) but He was not Firstborn from among the dead until Easter morning.  This was very much a new birth for Jesus.

1 Timothy 3:15 says Jesus was “justified in the Spirit” (referring almost certainly to His resurrection).

Again, He was always righteous – indeed He is the Righteous One.  Yet He is vindicated to be so when He rises from the dead.

1 Peter 3:18 says Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit.”

Once more, Jesus is the Living One – indeed He is the Author of life.  But His resurrection marks a movement from flesh-life to Spirit-life.  In other words, there is a movement from the life He took on in incarnation to the glorified humanity He receives in resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15 is a sustained meditation on this resurrection reality.  First comes the natural body then the spiritual (v44).  The fact that we pass from natural to spiritual is because Jesus is the Firstfruits (v20-23).  He is the Pioneer of this movement from flesh-life to Spirit-life.

In this sense I say that Jesus pioneers the new birth.  He passes through death and judgement (a death and judgement which He did not deserve).  He comes out the other side in glorified, resurrection life.  And the new life He offers to us is a participation in His new life.

I think part of the misunderstanding on this issue involves a misconception about salvation.  At a popular level we understand salvation fairly Christlessly.  We imagine that getting saved means “getting zapped” by God.  It’s something that lands on sinners by the power of the Spirit and brings them to God.  And Jesus is not really a part of the equation. Therefore since Jesus isn’t a sinner in need of ‘getting saved’ we see no role for Jesus.  This Spirit-centric view of salvation leaves Jesus out of regeneration.

But salvation centres on Jesus.  He works it.  Through His doing and dying we are saved.  And the Spirit seals us into Him.  Thus salvation is located in Christ.  If we have eternal life, it’s His eternal life.  If we have righteousness, it’s His righteousness.  If we have a new birth, it’s His new birth.

Another problem in our understanding is conceiving of the “new birth” much more narrowly than the Bible.  Remember that heaven and earth will be made new (e.g. Isaiah 65:17).  In Jesus’ words, there will be a “regeneration” of all things (Matthew 19:28).  It is not simply sinners who need the new birth.  New birth is required for the whole old order.  And only Jesus can bring it to us.

Here’s how He does it.  Jesus enters into the world and takes on our flesh.  He takes responsibility for this old world by standing at its Head.  He takes the old world and the old man down into death.  But God raises Him by the Spirit to newness of life.  As Firstborn from among the dead He offers us a share in His Firstborn-ness (if I can put it like that).  As Firstfruits He offers to graft us in to His fruitful new life.  As Risen One, He offers us new birth into His living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

That’s the sense in which Jesus was born again.

Make sense?  Convinced?  Let me know.

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Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,  but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake… Jesus said to them: “Take courage! I AM. Don’t be afraid.”  (Matthew 14:23-27)

There He is – communing with His Father on high.

There are His people, buffeted by the waves.

What does He do?  Simply pray for them?  Give advice from a distance?  No, He joins them.

He walks through the storm and treads on the abyss and does everything in His power to be with His beloved.  Fighting through the powers of chaos, He declares His divine name – I AM.  Here is the One who descends into His people’s affliction to bring them out.

So take courage.  Fear not.  The I AM has come to bring us home.

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Here’s my Acts 6:1-7 sermon audio.

But this two and a half minute video from Walter Brueggemann says what my sermon says far better and more concisely.

My sermon text is below…

(more…)

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From the latest King’s English post:

God does not send His Son in order that He might love the world.  It is not that God can love the world once the Son has redeemed it a bit.  No, in all its darkness and unbelief God loves the world andtherefore He gives His Son.  We are not saved so that God might love us.  We are saved because God loves us.

Therefore when we see Jesus given to us, it is not the sign that we are, in principle, now loveable.  It is the proof that we are in fact loved.  The Gift doesn’t purchase the love, the Gift proves the love.

Do you feel that God loves you?  Look again at the Gift of the Son and you will see the Father – the Father of Jesus and yourFather.  See this Gift given to you and remember that He is yours not because you are good – you aren’t; not because you were receptive – you weren’t; but because of God’s own prior and indomitable love.  See His nature expressed in Jesus.  See Him spread His arms, though it cost Him His life, and know that this is the love of God for you.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son

For similar thoughts, see He rescued me because He delighted in me.

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Shame and Strength by Emma

Do you ever feel ashamed?

Not embarrassed.  Not ‘oh dear, that was awkward’.  Not discomfort. Shame.  The sort of word you lift out of the vocab box with kid gloves.   The real deal.  That deep, burning in the pit of your stomach, I want to turn myself inside-out and climb into the wardrobe and cover myself in coats and put my hands on my head and then screw my eyes tightly closed and shrink a bit more.

Shame is one of those feelings that can’t possibly apply to anyone but you. It stalks the weak and the weird.  Normal people can shake it off with the raindrops. But for those with something to hide, it sticks and it grows and it whispers and bit by bit it eats your strength until you’re too tired to fight it and you lie down and say, yes.  You’re right.  That’s me.  I am that thing…. read more

 

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Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Justifying Our Lives Away by David Zahl

…Self-justification, therefore, is not only about protecting high self-esteem; it’s also about protecting low self-esteem if that is how a person sees himself.

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Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are they that mourn

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

The salt of the earth

Ye are the light of the world

Hiding your light under a bushel

Every jot and tittle

Hell fire

Turn the other cheek

Going the extra mile

Love your enemies

Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth

Our Father which art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done…

Give us today our daily bread

Forgive us our debts

Lead us not into temptation…

For thine is the kingdom…

Where your treasure is there will your heart be also

Ye cannot serve God and mammon

Take no thought

Consider the lillies…

Seek ye first the kingdom of God

Judge not that ye be not judged

The Mote and the Beam

Pearls before swine

Seek and ye shall find

Do unto others

Strait and narrow

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

By their fruits ye shall know them

Building on sand

 

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Happy Friday

Sometimes I worry that my fascination with looping betrays a lurking modalism deep within. Then I think, no, it’s recapitulation baby. Bring it on.

Language warning for Reggie…

More looping here.

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“I preach grace” says the earnest Pastor.  And deep down you suspect he means “I preach law with a smile.”

Such pastors often confess to problems in communicating their ‘grace gospel’.  You see, strangely enough, enquirers have difficulty with the concept of ‘appropriating grace’.  The preacher says ‘salvation is a free gift.’  They, naturally, wonder what on earth that looks like. So the preacher replies with greater vigour ‘Just receive the free forgiveness and trust that you have been forgiven.’  When that draws a blank the pastor reverts to a series of cliches, each more abstract than the last – “The door has been opened, walk through the door… You’ve got the cheque marked ‘forgiveness’ – cash the cheque.”

“Cash the forgiveness cheque?  What cheque?  And where? And who’s the banker?  And where’s my receipt?”

The Bible presents things a little differently.  Take John 3:16 for instance.  The gift we are to receive is Jesus.  Grace is not basically a concept or property.  He is a Person.  Doesn’t this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of ‘receiving grace as a free gift.’  We’re really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus – the gift of His Father.

Rev 3:20 – There’s not a ‘free gift’ standing at the door, waiting to be unwrapped.  There’s not a gift certificate to be opened saying “IOU 1 eternal life”. There is Jesus standing at the door.  And when you let Him in He doesn’t just hover in your lobby assuring you of your forgiven status, He eats with you in intimate fellowship. That is what saving faith looks like.  That is how a person becomes a Christian – not by assenting to a concept of forgiveness or vicarious atonement but by receiving the Person in Whom forgiveness, atonement and life is offered.

The same point is made in Colossians 1:13, 14. It is the Son in Whom redemption is offered – which is the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is redemption – the transference of a person (who is still a sinner!) from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. This deliverance is offered in Jesus. We must be introducing people to the person of Jesus not the concept of change (or even of redemption or deliverance). We don’t believe in redemption per se – we believe in the Redeemer.

Three implications:

First, in the Lord’s Supper we ought to take ‘This is my body’ seriously.  Transubstantiation is not the answer but neither is memorialism – we don’t simply receive tokens of good stuff.  We receive Christ in the supper.  He Himself is the Bread of life who nourishes, not remembrances of grace.

Second, in personal chats let’s talk about Jesus.  Not just what we’re learning, not just our blessings or struggles but Jesus.  How it strengthens the heart to hear His name on another’s lips!  He is received by us again and again as we hold out His word to one another.

Third, in preaching, we can be bold to offer a free salvation to sinners because we’re not offering a blank cheque but marriage to a Bridegroom. We hold out the word of life to people who are hardened sinners, people who still love darkness and who don’t actually have a resolve to ‘Go God’s way’.  Because, of course, without Christ how could they?  Often the objection then comes: ‘You are promoting licence.  You can’t offer forgiveness to people who don’t show signs of repentance.’  Here’s the thing though – we’re not offering a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.  We’re holding out Christ Himself to sinners.  If we simply preached an abstract ‘forgiveness’ then licence is almost guaranteed (whatever the state of the hearer).  If we preach Christ it’s out of the question.

This is a reworking of an older post

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