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Archive for June, 2013

It is written

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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Matthew 4:1-11

After His baptism, Christ is driven by the Spirit into the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11)

In His battle with Satan, Christ is like Adam, like Israel and like David.

Like Adam, the devil tempts Him to doubt God’s word and eat.  And like Adam the fate of humanity rests on His shoulders.

Like Israel, He is called ‘Son of God’, and goes through the waters straight into a wilderness trial.  Yet where they caved in to temptation over 40 years, Christ would be the true Israel, resisting temptation over 40 days.

Like David, He’s just been anointed and now faces a giant, man-to-man, whose 40 days of taunts reproach the God of Heaven.  And like David, Christ’s victory would mean victory for His people.

Adam failed.  Israel failed.  But Christ, the anointed King goes to battle for His people.  He steps up as Adam – the True Man; as the Son of God – the True Israel; as David – our Spirit-filled Champion.  And through apparent weakness He slays the giant who has dismayed and defeated us at every turn.  His triumph is our triumph.

Let’s watch the battle unfold…

Round 1:

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.  (Matt 4:3-4)

The devil assumes that Jesus can produce miraculous bread in the wilderness.   This is what the Son of God has always done (e.g. the Bread of Heaven, Exodus 16).  And it’s what He would do again (Matthew 14 and 15).  But in those cases, the Son of God provided bread for others. In doing so He proved Himself to be the true Bread, torn apart to feed the world (John 6:48-51).

Jesus feeds others – but will not feed Himself.  He has come to die – and a death far worse than starvation.  He does it to feed others.  Thus He says: I entrust Myself utterly to My Father, knowing I can abandon everything to Him and live.

Round 2 echoes the first:

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone”. Jesus said unto him, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”.

The devil, like so many of his servants, is a preacher.  He knows enough of the Bible to know that the Psalms proclaim the Son of God.  So he says to Jesus – “Psalm 91, as everyone knows, concerns the Son of God.  If that’s you, then you’ll be able to perform this celestial bunjee jump and the angels will catch you.”

But Jesus rejects this PR stunt.  He has come to hurl Himself down – and not simply to be dashed on the stones of the temple courts.  He came to hurl Himself into the great Abyss for us.  At His arrest He explicitly refuses the help of angels to prevent it (Matthew 26:53-54).   As Son of God He must die on that cross and though 12 legions of angels are on 24 hour stand-by, the Scriptures must be fulfilled.  The Son of Man must go as it is written– He must die.  Jesus refuses to test His Father. He will obey Him, even to the point of death.

Round 3:

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) – not by right but by popular choice.  The world follows him and his lying, self-serving, death-dealing ways.  So Satan offers Jesus the chance to form a coalition government.  Satan says, “Let’s not be enemies.  To dethrone me (Genesis 3:15) –will cost your life.  Let’s rule the world together.  Forget the painful business of eradicating evil – there’s another way. Compromise and avoid the way of the cross.”

Despite the Devil’s words, Jesus will receive the Kingdom from His Father, not the devil.  Instead of bowing to Satan, He will crush Him.  Though it costs Him His life, Jesus will never compromise with evil.  His heart is wholly committed to God His Father and so His heart is wholly committed to the cross.

Christ proves Himself to be exactly who the Father declared Him to be.  He is the beloved Son of God because through every temptation He serves others instead of Himself.  The true Son of God proves Himself divine through His utter self-giving.

This is the power that defeats the ultimate Egotist.  Everyone else in the history of the world has failed Satan’s tests.  No-one has ever walked the way of the cross like this. But the True Son of God did.  And Satan is sent packing.

As we read of ‘the master tempter’ and the ‘Lord our righteousness’ going head to head, we are not participants, only spectators.  We watch like David’s brothers watched when their champion went out to fell Goliath.

Christ’s temptations are not, basically, a three point primer in spiritual warfare.  They narrate for us the actual victory of our Anointed Champion.  Jesus is not foremost our Example.  He has taken our humanity to Himself, He has become Himself the true people of God and He has won victory on our behalf.

In our own temptations we must not look within for the power to fight.  Instead we must point ourselves, and the accuser, to Christ and His victory.

‘Yes, I am tempted Devil.  And yes I have fallen, times without number.  But it is written – “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”  (1 John 3:8)  In Him I claim victory!’

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Happy Friday

Some ukulele love…

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The heavens opened

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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Matthew 3:13-17

For us it’s a description of rain (cf Genesis 7:11).  For Ezekiel it enabled him to see “visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).  In the Gospels, the heavens open for Jesus in order that He sees the Spirit descend:

Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:  And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matthew 3:16-17).

As Jesus unites Himself to our life in baptism, He is affirmed as the Christ, the Son of God.  Entering our humanity does not cost Him His divinity.  Joining us in our estrangement has not distanced Him from the Father.  No – the Gift and love of the Father continues to pour down on Him.  And the veil that separates us from God is torn down for Jesus.  He walks under an open heaven.

In fact, Scripture doesn’t say that the heavens were closed again for Jesus.  Perhaps we are to infer that, from then on, the heavens were always open to Him.  Certainly He always had the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.

But then on Good Friday, He cried out: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:45-46).  The heavens were black and silent before God’s Son. And yet at that very moment, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51).  The heavens were shut for Him, yet opened for us!

Now, with Christ risen again – vindicated by the Spirit and ascended into heaven – He invites us to be baptised into His life.  In Christ we too have the Father’s love and the Spirit’s anointing.   Which means this: today you walk under an open heaven.

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Baptism of fire

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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Matthew 3:1-12

When the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were decimated at Gallipoli, it was said to be a baptism of fire.  Much less tragically, a baptism of fire might refer to a stormy first year of marriage or a difficult first match for a football manager.  It is the birthing of something new through affliction.

John the Baptist preached that all of us need a baptism of fire.  In fact, he argues that fire will either be the birth or the death of us.

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  (Matthew 3:10-12)

According to verses 9-10, the whole Abrahamic tree is headed for the flames.  In fact, Israel stands at the head of a human race destined for fiery judgement (e.g. Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8).  And, according to verse 12, Christ the Judge will burn up all the unfruitful “with unquenchable fire.”

So with the flames beckoning, what are we to do?  Fight fire with fire!  Verse 11: We must be baptised by Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  What does that mean?

Well the next thing to happen is for Jesus Himself to be baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17).  The Messiah joins the queue of sinners at the Jordan river.  As the Abrahamites confess their sins and repent, Jesus goes to the head of the queue and is baptised Himself.  He identifies with the bad trees who recognise themselves as such.  But instead of burning them down He comes in solidarity, to be with them and for them.  Jesus is baptised into our kind of life.

And He carries that solidarity with us throughout His life.  Indeed He carries it all the way to the cross.  There Jesus stands at the Head of Israel – the Head of the human race – and He bows His head to the fiery judgement we all deserve.  He is consumed on the cross – offered up as a whole burnt offering.  He endures the unquenchable fire… and comes through the other side.  Interestingly, when John sees Him in Revelation he says “his feet [were] like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” (Revelation 1:15).  Jesus bears the fiery judgement owed to us, and He passes through it.

On the other side of the furnace, Jesus offers us His own baptism.  He was baptised into our kind of life – and now we can be baptised into His kind of life.

If we accept His baptism, we will not escape the fires of affliction.  We will, as the Apostle Paul writes, fellowship in His sufferings, (Philippians 3:10).  But with Christ, this baptism of fire will truly be a birth.  In Him, the flames are not deadly but only refining.

The whole world is heading for the flames.  But will the fires be our birth or our death?  Will we be baptised into the Suffering Christ or will we face the furnace alone?

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I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 2:1-11

Here’s a phrase, like “David and Goliath” or “the writing is on the wall“.  It doesn’t strictly occur in the Bible.  Instead it arises as a short-hand to describe a famous story.

It’s the first of Jesus’ miracles as recorded by John.  And verse 11 tells us the purpose of it: Jesus “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

As a guest at this wedding, how might Jesus have felt? Engaged couples at another wedding can’t help but have a critical eye for detail.  When the service orders are smudged, they make a mental note not to make the same mistake.

Jesus, as the ultimate Bridegroom, has His eyes firmly fixed on the wedding banquet at the end of history.  He longs for the day when He will be united to His bride, the church.  As such, perhaps he could have sympathised more than most with the “ruler of this feast” (v9). He and the bridegroom were presiding over an unmitigated disaster.

In modern weddings if the wine runs out it’s a little embarrassing.  In the first century however, it was utterly shameful – a reflection on the groom and his family.  Unless Jesus can step in, questions will be asked not just about the groom’s hosting skills, but also his ability to provide for his new bride.

Jesus acts – but with reluctance (v3-4).  Not because he isn’t concerned for the groom – but because “manifesting” His glory will release the handbrake on His public ministry.  It will set in chain a series of events that will lead to the cross.  Nonetheless He rises to the occasion.  And He does far more than anyone could ask or imagine.

Consider first, the quantity of wine produced:

“six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece (v6).”

A firkin is about 10 gallons.  So that’s around 150 gallons or 570 litres of water.  Jesus turns it into the equivalent of 760 bottles of wine.  And, as the “ruler of the feast” calls it, it’s “good wine” – not plonk (v9-10).  Jesus proves Himself to be the true Bridegroom and Ruler of the Feast.

Isaiah spoke of the days of the Messiah in which

the LORD of hosts [shall] make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.  (Isaiah 25:6)

And Amos promised that:

the mountains shall drop sweet wine.  (Amos 9:13)

Here, in little Cana, the Messiah floods this wedding with a “feast of wines.”  It is one aspect of the “glory” which Jesus manifested here: wine represents the new age of the Messiah’s reign.

But wine also means blood.  Indeed, from Genesis, wine is called “the blood of the grape” (Genesis 49:11).  At the end of His life, Jesus would pick up a cup of wine, saying “This is my blood.”  (Matthew 26:28).

In this miracle, Jesus has transformed water used for “the purifying of the Jews” and made it into the blood of the grape.  The old cleansing ritual is gone – replaced with a reminder of blood.  In this way Jesus brings in His new age of blessings and feasting.  Through His blood, He makes us clean and brings us to the ultimate banquet.

The bridegroom from Cana failed to provide.  He is a picture of all us failing husbands.  But in inviting Jesus to their wedding the couple got something right!  The Bridegroom from heaven does not merely make up the shortfall.  He floods them with a superabundance of new life and true cleansing.  He provides lavishly and lovingly for His bride, the church.  And He makes us hungry for that Wedding Feast to come.  Without Jesus we’re drinking water.  With Him, it’s the finest of wine.

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I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 1:29-51

John the Baptist was a wild and holy prophet whose mission in life was to prepare the way for the LORD Jesus.  John was foretold in the Old Testament as one who would cry out in the wilderness and introduce Jesus to the world.  (Isaiah 40:3ff; Malachi 3:1)  So, when his big moment came, what did John say?

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Think of all the ways John could have described Jesus.  He could have said “Behold the Word of God”, “Behold the Christ of God”, “Behold the King of God.”  “Behold the Priest of God”, “Behold the Light of the World,” “Behold the Heavenly Bridegroom”, “Behold the great I AM”.  But here’s what John thought we needed to know first:  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Behold the Sacrifice.  Behold God’s Bleeding Victim.  That’s the most fundamental introduction to Jesus.

Remember Genesis 22?  It’s 2000BC and Abraham is walking up a hill in the region of Jerusalem with “his son, his only son Isaac whom he loves.”  He’s told to put a knife to his son as a sacrifice of atonement.  Isaac asks, “Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”  Abraham replies: “God Himself will provide the Lamb.”  And on that occasion, the LORD provides a ram.  The ram dies instead of Isaac.  But from that day onwards that mountain was called “The LORD will provide”(Genesis 22:14).  What will the LORD provide?  The Lamb.  The LORD will provide the Lamb on that mountain in the region of Jerusalem.

Fast forward 500 years to the first Passover.  The LORD’s final plague on Egypt strikes both Egyptians and Israelites alike.  He passes through the land and strikes down the firstborn son of each household – unless a lamb dies instead.  The blood of this lamb must be painted on each household’s door with hyssop.  Then they will be saved.  Israel is redeemed by sheltering under the blood of the lamb.  And Passover becomes the most important festival of the calendar.

500 years on, we’re listening in to a prayer of King David.  He’s just committed adultery and murder and in his famous Psalm 51, he’s praying for forgiveness.  He says to God “Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” (Psalm 51:7)  God has hyssop it seems.  Does God also have a Lamb, a sacrifice that averts judgement?  David prays with confidence, knowing that the Lamb of God can cover even his sins.

Fast forward another 500 years and Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah: He would be led ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’.  In this way Christ would be sacrificed to bring us peace.

Fast forward another 500 years.  We are on the hillside outside Bethlehem.  And the angels appear, not to dignitaries, butto shepherds.  Just as Norfolk is known in Britain as the place that rears our Christmas turkeys, Bethlehem was known as the place that produced Passover lambs.  The angels are telling them: Do you want to see a real passover lamb?  Hurry to the stable!

Now come forward 33 years and Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  It’s the tenth day of the first month – and as all of Israel are bringing their Passover lambs into their houses, Jesus enters into God’s house.  On the 14th day of the 1st month, while everyone else is holding their Passover meals, Jesus is hosting His last supper.  He’s meant to be carving the lamb and passing it around.  But there is no lamb on the menu – not that we’re told of.  There is a Lamb at the table though.  And on that Friday, Jesus is slaughtered.

No wonder the Apostle Paul says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

No wonder the Apostle Peter calls us redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The Apostle John hears the song of heaven, and it’s the Lamb they are singing about:

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”  (Revelation 5:12)

In fact, Revelation has a wonderful phrase that’s repeated: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” (Rev 5;6; 7:17).  The throne represents the power and authority of God.  And Jesus our Lamb is at the centre.  Where do we see the Godness of God shining at full strength?  In the slaughter of Jesus, our Lamb.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne.

Do you ever worry that behind lovely Jesus lurks a stern God ?  Do you ever think that the cross was a nice gesture from the Son, but who knows about the Father?  No: Behold the Lamb.  When you see Jesus your Lamb you see to the very centre of the throne – the very centre of God.  God’s eternal nature is revealed in the Lamb: bleeding for you.

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Shining light

I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 1:19-28

Surely the adjective “shining” is redundant when attached to the word “light”?  After all, what else does a light do  What can it do except shine?

Surely there’s no such thing as a light that doesn’t shine.  Well Jesus, as we’ll soon see, speaks of people who “put their light under a bushel” (Matthew 5:14-15).  Christians are the light of the world, and yet many are lights that do not shine.

Not so with John the Baptist.  He is described by Jesus as a “shining light.”

“Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.”  (John 5:33-35)

How did John shine?  Was it through his talents? Yes, he was talented(Matthew 11:11), but that’s not why he was a shining light.  Was it because of his achievements?  No, the very opposite.  John shone by pointing away from himself entirely.  In paintings which depict John, he is identified by his pointing finger.  This was the secret of his radiance – he pointed to Jesus.

Jesus tells us the secret of John’s brilliance:  “he bare witness unto the truth.”  As John 1 says:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light…  The true Light, which lighteth every man… cometh into the world.  (John 1:6-9)

Christ is the uncreated Light of the world.  John shines as he points away from himself to the true Light.  John’s light is not a light that draws attention to itself, rather his light spotlights the true Light.

We’re all meant to shine (Matthew 5:15) but John shows us the way.  We’re all witnesses (Acts 1:8) but John is the ultimate human witness.  And what do we learn from his example?  We learn to point away from ourselves to Jesus.  We shine the most, when we forget ourselves and turn to the true Light of the world.  May his self-appraisal be ours:

I am not the Christ. (John 1:19)

I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, (John 1:23)

[The] shoe’s latchet [of Jesus] I am not worthy to unloose. (John 1:27)

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

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I’m on holidays – so this week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

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John 1:1-18

Tom Torrance was an army chaplain in World War Two.  He claimed that the number one question soldiers asked him was this, “Is God really like Jesus Christ?”

With bullets flying and lives on the line, this is what they needed to know.  Why? Because if God is like Jesus then, ultimately, it’s going to be ok.

For this reason, it was Torrance’s greatest joy to point to verse after verse in the bible that said: Yes, God is exactly like Jesus.

One of the places he opened up was John chapter 1 and verse 1.  It’s a phrase we thought about yesterday:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Before there was anything else, God was there with His Word – and His Word could also be called “God.”  God has always had a divine Communication.

Words communicate.  They express.  They reveal.  It follows that the Word is the Expression of God.  Everything God wants to say is wrapped up in this Person called “the Word.”

Who is this Word?  Verse 14 declares:

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.  (John 1:14)

The Word is the Christmas baby!  Born of Mary and laid in a manger, the Word is Jesus.  Or maybe it’s better to say that Jesus is the Word.

Jesus did not begin His existence in Mary’s womb.  As He stood before the Jews of the first century He declared, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:56)  He has always existed along with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  He has always been God’s Word.

To know what God is like, we must see Jesus.  Everything we hear Jesus saying and everything we see Him doing, reveals God the Father.  As Jesus draws near, stoops to our level, loves, heals, touches, teaches, suffers, bleeds and dies for us, Jesus shows us God.

Lord Byron once said, “If God is not like Jesus Christ, then God ought to be like Jesus Christ.”  But God is exactly like Jesus- because Jesus is the Word.

I like to put it this way: Jesus is God-sized.  And God is Jesus-shaped.

Firstly, Jesus is entirely God-sized.  He is the eternal Word of God, there in the beginning, the Craftsman of all creation.  You cannot think too highly of Jesus!

And God is entirely Jesus-shaped.  In the words of one archbishop “God is Christ-like and in Him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all!”  Any God we imagine who is not like Jesus, is not God.

This is what it means to say that Jesus is the Word.  He is the Explanation of God.

What does it mean that He was “made flesh”?

If someone has just been particularly callous we might ask them, “Where’s your humanity?”  When we do so, we’re trying to tap into their sympathy.  We want to stir up love for their “fellow man”.  Here “humanity” is synonymous with “compassion.”  A person without “humanity” is a person without a heart.

Does God have sympathy for humankind?  Does He love us – or have a heart?  Yes.  Because, incredibly, He has humanity!

The Word “was made flesh.”  The eternal Son of God became man.  A member of the Trinity became a member of the human race!

And our verse really wants to drive that point home, so it uses a word that’s shockingly base.  “Flesh”.

In latin it’s the word “carnis”.  It’s the source of the word ‘incarnation’. And, less impressively, the origin of chilli con carne.  A.k.a. chilli with meat! That’s the sense of the word ‘flesh’ here.  The Word became meat.

Ask a biologist to describe humanity and they might use the phrase ‘homo sapien’.

Ask a philosopher to describe humanity and they might say ‘a rational animal’.

Ask a butcher to describe humanity and they might say ‘carnis’, ‘flesh’, meat!

When Jesus came it was not in a dreamy visitation.  He didn’t float 6 inches off the ground or don a halo. He didn’t descend like a deep sea diver, wearing a man-suit.  The Word did not ‘put on’ flesh, ‘enter’ flesh, ‘borrow’ flesh, ‘hide behind’ flesh ‘get diluted’ in flesh.  The Word was made flesh.

God has humanity.  And His name is Jesus.

If a king remains on the throne and never climbs down, that’s one kind of greatness.  But there’s another kind too.  It’s the greatness of the King who climbs down, who humbles Himself and who condescends to join His people.  And what about a King who descends even further – becoming a slave, serving His people in poverty, suffering, fighting, bleeding and dying for them.  That’s another kind of greatness entirely.

Think of an adult who speaks to a toddler while towering over them.  And now picture one who stoops down to their level.  Or imagine a homeless man, drunk and lying in the gutter.  One ‘helper’ gives advice from on high.  Another lies down in the gutter, speaking face to face.  This is the gutter-level glory of the Word made flesh.

He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.  He came into our situation to invite us into His situation.  He entered our family – the human race – so that we can enter His Family – the Trinity!  He, the Son of God, became flesh, so that we who are flesh might become sons and daughters of God.

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I’m on holidays – so for the next week I’m simul-blogging the King’s English here.

John 1:1-18

One of the most common questions about prayer is this: “Should I really pray to God about such and such?”  Sometimes we feel that “bothering God” with the minutiae of our lives is beneath the majesty of the Most High.  Surely God is too lofty to consider me? What He wants are grand acts of devotion, not needy requests.

This is nonsense – but we all fall into such thinking.  That’s why we need the Apostle John to revolutionize our thinking.  Listen to the opening phrase of His Gospel::

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1)

John takes us to the ultimate beginning: Genesis.  The God who was “in the beginning” was not Word-less but Word-full.  Indeed it is by the Word that He has made all things.  But God and His Word go way back – before creation.  God has never been without His Word.  He has always had Another alongside Him.

This “Other” is “with” Him (v1) and “in His bosom” (v18).  Verse 17 names Him most clearly as “Jesus Christ.”  But there are three other names by which He is known in this chapter: the Word (v1), the Light (v4) and the only begotten Son (v18).

We could spend years considering what such names mean for Jesus.  But, for now, let’s explore what this means for the God in Whose bosom Jesus has ever dwelt.

It means that God is eternally Speaker/ Shiner /Father.  Rewind the tape into the depths of eternity and you will only ever see the Speaker communicating His eternal Word, the Shiner radiating His eternal Light, the Father begetting His eternal Son.

This is wonderful news, because these three qualities are quintessentially outgoing characteristics.   God is not first God (in all His Godness) and then Speaker / Shiner / Father.  No, God has never been anything other than Speaker / Shiner / Father.  God is other-centred, to the depths of eternity and to the core of His Being.

Someone who grasped this and its profound pastoral impact was the puritan Richard Sibbes.  He wrote:

“God’s goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness. . . . If God had not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world.  The Father, Son and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves and enjoyed one another before the world was.  But that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation nor a redemption.  God useth his creatures not for defect of power, that he can do nothing without them, but for the spreading of his goodness. . . ”

God is a Speaker, a Radiating Light, a Father, a Fountain and a spreading goodness.  He is not first concerned for Himself and then complaisant to the needs of others.  His whole being is condescension!

Remember this next time you pray.  God’s life and being are directed outwards.  We do not exist as a distraction from His divine glory.  We’ve been birthed by that glory – an outgoing glory that delights in affirming and upholding the other.

He is more committed to listening than we are of praying.  More desirous of helping than we are of help.  His “goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness.”  So now, speak to your Father who loves you more than His own life.

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Happy Friday

ht @nateclaiborne

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Moving away from morsels

small_food_portion1

[Repost from 2011]

Last night we had a home group bible study with the folk who have graduated from Christianity Explored.  Here’s what we’ve been studying:

Week 1: Galatians

Week 2: Ephesians

Week 3: Philippians

Week 4: Colossians

Last night was week 5:  Romans 1-4 (though we stopped at the end of 3 because everyone was blown away!)

When I tell them that the other home groups study half a chapter at a time they are amazed!   “But that’s like stopping after three paragraphs of a letter!” they exclaim.  That is precisely what it is!

Everyone prints off the chapters for that week and reads them with a pen to hand.  They circle things they don’t understand and underline things they love so they come to the evening quite well prepared.

In the studies we just read a big chunk and then discuss, read a big chunk then discuss.  We’ve been getting through 4-6 chapters in a night.

Some outside the group have been impressed by it, but also have raised valid concerns:

Question: How long can you keep this up?

Answer: The bible’s a big book.

Question: Not many people could lead a study of a whole book of the bible, doesn’t this concentrate leadership in the hands of the trained few?

Answer:  Actually it puts the bible in the hands of everyone.  People have really taken responsibility for trying to get a handle on the passage before the meeting and they’ve been great at answering each other’s questions.

Question: Not many people could field the range of questions that would be generated by study of a whole book.  Leaders might be caught out by the number of different topics that could arise in any given week.

Answer: Schedule in some weeks every now and again where you tackle the most recurring topics from the last couple of months.

Question: Won’t this mean you miss nuances and details?

Answer: Yup.  But you’ll be revisiting the same material a lot more often too.

Anyway, I commend it to you.  Not least because last night was devastating.  We began in chapter 15 to get some context and then moved through Romans 1 to 3 the way it was intended.  It crushed us to dust and then lifted us up in Christ.  I can’t now imagine spacing that out over three weeks!

My advice: move away from the morsels.  Get stuck in!

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9781596386341m

WTS is offering Ian Duguid’s “Is Jesus in the Old Testament?” as a free eBook until 26 June.

GET IT HERE

You might think the book is free because it’s only one word – a resounding ‘Yes!’  But actually, we can be grateful there are a further 39 pages of material from Ian Duguid.

Here are some highlights:

This little booklet contends that Christ is present throughout the Old Testament. He is not merely present through a physical appearance here and there, or through the right interpretation of this or that Old Testament prophecy or type, but he is there on every page as the central theme and storyline of the entire book…

…According to Jesus and the apostles, then, when you interpret the Old Testament correctly, you find that its focus is not primarily stories about moral improvement, calls for social action, or visions concerning end-time events. Rather, the central message of the Old Testament is Jesus: specifically the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow—both the glorious resurrection of Christ and the glorious inheritance that he has won for all of his people. Certainly, understanding this gospel should lead to a new morality in the lives of believers. It should motivate and empower us to seek to meet the needs of the lost and broken world around us and should engage our passion for the new heavens and the new earth that will be realized when Christ returns. But the heart of the message of the Old Testament is a witness to Christ, which centers on his suffering and glory, his death and resurrection.

…The ministry of Christ in his suffering and resurrection is thus the central focus of the whole Old Testament: he is the one toward whom the whole Old Testament is constantly moving, the one for whom as well as by whom it exists [emphasis mine].

The Old Testament is not simply the record of what God was doing with a motley crew of religious misfits in a land in the Middle East, far less a catalogue of stories about a series of religiously inspiring heroes. It is the good news of the gospel that we have been called to declare to the nations, beginning in Jerusalem and continuing until the message has been heard to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Well said. There are just a couple of points I would put differently though (I’m sure Duguid’s devastated!)

Firstly, the book mentions the presence of Christ in the OT, which is a marked improvement on some OT theologies, but in practice Duguid doesn’t demonstrate the fact or make anything of it.

The verses he quotes (p6-9) about the NT’s assessment and use of the OT don’t simply say that the OT is about Christ. They also speak of OT saints consciously trusting Him. The importance of this is well put by David Murray:

I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of [the “types and trajectories”] tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.

Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

Secondly, at points the book seeks to guard us from making direct Christian applications of the OT text (keeping us from allegory and moralism). But the kinds of warnings given sit, at times, uncomfortably with the NT’s own assessment and use of the OT. Paul seems more comfortable with allegory and direct moral application than Duguid is.

I think this is important for many reasons, but one is well put by Tim Chester in his book “Unreached.” (I don’t have it to hand so I’ll paraphrase.) Right towards the end, Tim speaks of gospel ministry in non-book cultures. In such environments he’s often struck by the way people apply the bible’s truth directly to their situation in a way he’s been trained not to do. But upon reflection, Tim concludes that this direct immediacy to Scripture’s voice is, in fact, the way the believers in the bible actually handle Scripture. The non-book culture is closer to the bible’s own hermeneutic than the systems which preachers often learn.

If Tim is right – and I reckon he is – then it calls into question complicated systems of OT interpretation. If we’re going to reach non-book cultures, can we really insist on passing the OT text through the stages which p13 outlines?

I remember listening to a fascinating lecture at Oak Hill by Don Carson. His subject was the OT quotations of Hebrews chapter 1.  His mission was to demonstrate that these OT texts were originally not ‘concerning the Son’  but that now they were about Him. That’s why the lecture was 2 hours long. It took all that time for him to run us through the steps of his argument. Like I say, it was fascinating. Carson often is.  But why did it take 2 hours to say what Hebrews takes no time to say: i.e. that Psalm 45 is “concerning the Son”?  It seems to me that these kinds of systems steal the bible out of the hands of the ordinary Christian and make us all jump through hoops of which Jesus and the apostles seem unaware.

Having said this, there are certainly OT interpretations that are false. It’s not a case of “any road to Christ will do.” But you see, it’s the very idea of needing a “road to Christ” that reveals the real problem. I contend that the OT, in all its detail and historical contingency, is already and consciously a witness to Christ. Christ is already the Light illuminating the path. And He is the Way, not just the destination.

As an example of false interpretation, Duguid refers to a writer who allegorizes from the tabernacle’s tent pegs – half in the ground, half out – to the need to proclaim the whole of Christ’s atoning work – He was dead and buried (beneath the ground), but also risen and ascended (above it)!  Yes indeed that’s a false use of Scripture.  But it’s not that he found the wrong “road to Christ” and learning a better system would give him a better road. The problem is: he didn’t take the Christ-centred origins of the tabernacle seriously enough. If I want to talk about Christ’s death and resurrection, I don’t need to take a road from the tabernacle. In the tabernacle we are already witnessing a profound proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection.

At which point, the heart of Duguid’s book – showing the shape of the OT and re-telling its redemptive story – becomes a great help to us.  Indeed we need to know about prophets, priests, kings, the temple, the sacrifices, the significance of Adam, of Israel, of David, etc, etc. Inhabiting this world is essential for understanding the Scriptures rightly.  I’d just want to add that the Christian significance of these things is the Alpha as well as the Omega point.

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With all that said, Duguid’s book is a stimulating and useful read. For me though it highlights the need to insist on Christ’s presence and promises as well as the patterns of the OT’s “redemptive history”.

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One-Forever

Union with Christ is “everywhere in Paul’s letters but almost nowhere in our churches.” Rory Shiner wants to fix that and “One Forever” is a terrific tool for the job.

In 77 – count em – 77 pages of crystal clear, garden fresh prose Shiner takes us from creation to new creation, demonstrating the centrality of union with Christ.

The material began life as a series of talks to students (see here **) and that origin shows in its relaxed tone and lively humour. He manages to quote from (among others)  Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Karl Barth and John Owen while maintaining a light touch and a simplicity of delivery.

The chapters are as follows:

1. Glory be to God for dappled things: creation
2. Into the far country: incarnation
3. In Christ you are a new creation: salvation
4. Before the throne of God above: justification
5. In which we face some playground bullies: union and sin
6. United to the body of Christ: church
7. Union with Christ, resurrection and the end of the world

Time and again Shiner returns to an illustration I’ll be nicking forthwith – the airplane. See here:

At various points the plane illustration helps him explain salvation, assurance and justification in such helpful ways.

Think about salvation… when you’re in – what happens to the plane, happens to you.
Think about assurance… if you’re in the plane it doesn’t matter how full of confidence or doubts you are, you’re gonna get home.
Think about justification… we’re not interested in some legal fiction of imputed ‘air miles’ –  if you’re “in” you’ve actually arrived!

The book is rich and warm and my only criticism is it’s over far too quickly. Please can we have more of such books that grapple with the core of our faith in fresh and engaging ways!

10ofthose are doing a special deal on One Forever until Sunday night (thanks Jonathan!). Get it NOW for the special price of £4.49: CLICK HERE.

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** I know what every cricket fan will say… yes he does bear a striking resemblance to Ricky Ponting. But try to get over that, ok? Let’s be grownups please.

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Episode 12 of the Evangelist’s Podcast

Has the truth of the bible been compromised? Has the text been changed? How can we trust it when there are so many variances in the manuscripts?

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DOWNLOAD

[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP012.mp3]

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In the podcast we reference a fascinating debate between James White and Bart Ehrman here:

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Road-to-EmmausAt Ed Stetzer’s Blog he’s about to host a series of posts on Christ-centred preaching. The contributors are

  • Dr. Daniel Block (Wheaton College)
  • Dr. David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Walt Kaiser (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Bryan Chapell (Grace Presbyterian in Peoria, IL)

I’m looking forward to David Murray’s contribution but first up to bat is Daniel Block who’s posted the first half of his contribution here.

Block begins by saying that not enough people wrestle with this issue since they basically neglect the OT. “Because they preach primarily, if not exclusively, from the New Testament their preaching is almost by definition Christ-centered.”

I’m not convinced. Why should preaching from the NT be “by definition” Christ-centred?  I’ve certainly heard my fair share of Christless sermon on the fruit of the Spirit, the Jerusalem council,  the pastoral epistles, even the sermon on the mount. No-one should have to endure such things, but many of us have.  A sermon is not rendered Christ-centred because it’s derived from the Greek, rather than Hebrew Scriptures.  (Read here for more on Christ in the New Testament).

Block goes on to list some benefits of ‘Christ-centred preaching’, the first of which is:

  1. Christ-centered preaching has a long history, beginning with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers (especially Luther), and extending to more a recent revival Christ-centered preaching in some circles

This is a heck of a concession for Block to make! How will he out-argue this hermeneutical tradition that traces back to reformers, fathers and apostles!?

He doesn’t say. Not in this post. Instead Block moves to his own misgivings about Christ-centred hermeneutics:

Christo-centric preaching often morphs into a Christo-centric hermeneutic, which demands that we find Christ in every text.

Notice how Christ is being spoken of here? An item of knowledge located in some texts (and not in others).

Instead Block wants us to have a grander vision of the sweep of God’s revelation. He writes: “The Scriptures consist of many different genres and address many different concerns. Not all speak of Christ.”  Again – how is Christ being considered here?  One concern among many.  I’m sure Block would say that He’s the ultimate concern (he wants a christotelic hermeneutic – one that ends up with Christ).  But I can’t help feeling that the vision we need to expand here is our vision of Christ Himself. 

Block’s second misgiving about Christ-centred hermeneutics is this:

Christ-centered preaching may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture.

Well there might be folks with a low view of Scripture snipping out of their OT’s everything that they can’t squeeze into some narrow Christocentric hermeneutic. I’m sure things like that happen. But let’s be honest, preachers pull that kind of fast one with both testaments don’t they? And isn’t it also possible that those who take Block’s protests to heart end up reflecting a low view of Christ.  After all He is called the Image of the invisible God, the Word of the Father, the Radiance of God’s glory, the Exact Representation of His Being, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the One Moses wrote about. If we don’t reflect that Christ-centredness in our handling of God’s revelation then can we be said to be properly handling God’s revelation?

But of course, there’s a way of doing both.  There’s a way of having the highest regard for Scripture and for Christ. It means reading the Scriptures as already and intentionally Christian. If you do so you can honour both Christ and Scripture and you are never asked to trade one off against the other. But, of course, to do so is to concede that the OT Scriptures just are Christ-centred in all their historical particularity.

Block says that Luke 24 is misunderstood to mean that all the Scriptures do concern Jesus. It’s just that, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus ran through the particular verses that did actually refer to Him. Presumably then the vast majority of the Old Testament does not “concern Him” in the Luke 24 sense. I suppose that kind of reading is possible but it doesn’t deal with any of those solus Christus verses above.

Block then says “Few proverbs in the book of Proverbs speak of Jesus.” Well the proverbs themselves only come after 9 chapters of deep theology in which the royal son is introduced to Wisdom. And, emphatically, Wisdom is not introduced as the accumulation of pithy aphorisms but the personal co-Creator of the universe in Whom is life and grace. The royal son is invited to feast with Wisdom and then out come the pithy sayings.

This example from Proverbs might help to clarify what I mean by Christocentric hermeneutics. I’m not talking about allegorizing from an isolated verse and making an improbable leap to the cross. I’m taking the proverbs very much in context, seeing their source in Christ and also expecting to see a certain cruciformity to them as I read them individually (e.g. Why does a gentle answer turn away wrath? I will wonder aloud, Prov 15:1).  All of them flow from Christ and are shaped by Him – the Righteous Royal Son in whom all the treasures of Wisdom reside (Colossians 2:3)

Finally (for this initial post), Block contests:

Rather than clarifying many First Testament texts, Christ-centered preaching may rob them of both their literary quality and their spiritual force.

I grant that this is indeed a danger. But it’s a danger inherent in all preaching, no matter what the preacher’s hermeneutical grid.  We’ve all got a grid and therefore we’re all in danger of missing what’s there in order to preach our system.

But is there a grid that is given by the Scriptures themselves? Surely the answer is Yes, and the fact Block lists ‘the apostles’ as teachers of the christocentric hermeneutic gives the game away.

If we follow them then our conviction will be that the OT Scriptures in all their concrete details and historical particularity are already Messianic through and through.  Isn’t that the grid that’s going to make you delve deepest into the OT and herald Christ from every passage?

Let me finish by pointing again to Nathan Pitchford’s brilliant short article on the Reformer’s Hermeneutic. He shows how, for the reformers, the literal meaning was the Christ-centred meaning.  Today, however, the “literal” meaning has come to mean “the naturalistic” meaning which is kept separate from any centre in Christ.  He finishes by showing 6 ways the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

Read the whole thing

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Eph5 Wedding

Ephesians 5:19-33

There is to marriage a:

– Foundation

– Filling

– Family

– Fact

– Flow

TEXT

AUDIO

[audio http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/Eph5Wedding150613.mp3]

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Happy Friday

Enjoy this Partridge pilgrimage. This Partrimage. This Pilgrimartridge. This Partrimiligrimage.

Bad language ahead…

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grunewald_crucifixion

Adapted from an earlier post

I’m all for trinity.  Trinity this and trinity that.  Clicking on my trinity tag is like typing Google into Google – you may just BREAK THE INTERNET.

But here’s the thing – “The Trinity” does not reveal God.  Jesus reveals God (might I add, by the Spirit).  That’s the trinity.  But “The Trinity” is not the image of the invisible God.  “The Trinity” is not the Mediator between a Distant-Power-God and today’s agnostic enquirer.  Rublev’s is not the Icon of the unseen LORD – Jesus is.

Today Christians are awaking more and more to the wonder of trinity and that’s very exciting.  Without trinity there is no gospel.  There is no other God but Jesus with His Father and Spirit.  And, in Jesus, we participate in that divine nature.  These truths need shouting from the rooftops.

But… in our excitement to lift up the wonder of the intra-trinitarian life, there is a danger.  The danger is that Jesus might not be the Way in to “God is love.”  Instead natural theology provides the in. The argument runs something like this: “We all know that love is lovely, well wouldn’t it be nice if God was love in just the way we all understand love….”  See the danger?

A million Facebook profiles speak of “Love” as ultimate.  But 1 John 4 has in mind a very particular kind of love when it describes the love that God is (1 John 4:8-10).  The love which God is shows up in propitiatory sacrifice.  Christ crucified is the Image of God.  He shows us the poured-out-life of eternity.  Trinitarian love is cruciform love.

This means we don’t have to be amazing orators, waxing lyrical about perichoresis and such.  In order to be trinitarian, here’s all we need to do:  We need to point to the Jesus of Scripture.  We don’t need to paint verbal Rublevs so much as paint Jesus in biblical colours.  We just need to hold Him up in His true identity: He is the Christ, the Son of God.

If you want to be trinitarian, obsess yourself with Jesus.

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