Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘King’s English’ Category

It is written

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

Click for source

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!’

Read Full Post »

The heavens opened

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

Click for source

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.

Read Full Post »

Baptism of fire

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

Click for source

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?

Read Full Post »

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

Click for source

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Click for source

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.

Read Full Post »

Shining light

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

Click for source

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)

Read Full Post »

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

Click for source

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.

Read Full Post »

Click for source

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.

Read Full Post »

I’ve finally got my act together.

Scriptural Devotions all indexed and referenced here.

Sermons and talks all indexed and referenced here.

Bit cross-eyed now…

Read Full Post »

The one year edition of the King’s English is out now.  All 365 devotions in one volume, from “In the beginning” to “Alleluia”.

Now available in three formats…

As a paperback: £13.95

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

As a hardback: £21.99

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

(Get 20% off your order if you quote the code “FELICITAS” before 14 December)

Also available as a Kindle…

From Amazon.com: $3.09

From Amazon.co.uk: £1.93

.

Read Full Post »

Purchase these quarterly devotionals in time for 2013.

And coming very soon – an all-year version.  365 readings in one volume – a great Christmas gift.

Stay tuned for more details.

Read Full Post »

Filthy Lucre

When I began the King’s English, I was looking forward to covering this phrase.  I only realised today that I never did!  Well here it is, finally.

Filthy Lucre

On the surface it’s a quaint archaism.  But it speaks of a deadly trap.  “Filthy lucre” is used four times in the King James Bible and in each case it refers to a grave temptation for gospel ministers (1 Timothy 3:3,8; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2).  Eg:

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. (1 Peter 5:2)

The KJV follows Tyndale in leaving the Vulgate’s lucrum untranslated.  Lucrum is the Latin word from which we get “lucrative”.  It just means profit.  The underlying Greek word is a compound word meaning “unclean gain”.  So here’s what we’re being warned against: unclean gain, base profit, filthy lucre.

The repetition of this biblical warning should make us think.  But it rarely does.  Many times people have joked with me: “What attracted you to the ministry? It can’t have been the money!”  Everyone has a good laugh.  Everyone except the Apostles.  They were worried about ministering for the money in the first century.  What about in the twenty first century when Christianity is big business?

Listen to John Bunyan illustrate the dangers of lucre.

Then CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL went till they came at a delicate plain, called Ease, where they went with much content; but that plain was but narrow, so they were quickly got over it. Now at the further side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill a silver mine, which some of them that had formerly gone that way, because of the rarity of it, had turned aside to see; but going too near the brink of the pit, the ground being deceitful under them, broke, and they were slain; some also had been maimed there, and could not to their dying day be their own men again.

Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over against the silver mine, stood DEMAS (gentleman-like), to call to passengers to come and see; who said to CHRISTIAN and his fellow, “Ho, turn aside hither, and I will show you a thing.”

CHRISTIAN. What thing is so deserving as to turn us out of the way to see it?

DEMAS. Here is a silver mine, and some digging in it for treasure; if you will come, with a little pain you may richly provide for yourselves.

HOPEFUL. Then said HOPEFUL, “Let us go and see.”

CHRISTIAN. “Not I,” said CHRISTIAN; “I have heard of this place before now and how many have there been slain; and besides, that treasure is a snare to those that seek it, for it hinders them in their pilgrimage.”  (Pilgrim’s Progress)

It is indeed a snare and a hindrance.  So how can we avoid it?

At heart, we must recapture a vision of the Generous Father.  Our God treats nothing as a means to some other end.  It is His eternal nature to love the other.  First His Son, and then, through His Son and by the Spirit, He loves the world. “God so loved the world He gave” (John 3:16).  He is a Fountain of life and love whose glory is to pour Himself out.  His activity is not mercenary.  He’s not in the whole “creation-salvation game” for what He can get out of it.  He commits Himself to us for the sake of committing Himself to us.  Because this is the kind of God He is.  He genuinely loves to give and He gives to love.

Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life and of ministry. Immanuel Kant wasn’t so far off really.  Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good.  If even God does it, then it must be the good life.  But such living is the fruit of the gospel.  It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.

So when I’m tempted to minister for “shameful gain” (NIV) or “filthy lucre” I should not be surprised.  It’s actually a perennial temptation.  But look first to the Father, poured out in Jesus.  I have all I need in His generosity. And look, secondly, to “the flock of God which is among you.”  They are not means towards further gain.  They are my “crown” and “joy” (Philippians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:19).  They are my reward – a reward far greater than that snare and hindrance: “filthy lucre.”

Read Full Post »

Armageddon

Armageddon is well known in our culture as the “final battle” for the future of the planet.  But the way people imagine this battle differs greatly from the biblical reality.

According to Hollywood, “Armageddon” is a special effects punch-up where the outcome is doubtful right up to the last minute.  According to the Bible, “Armageddon” is all build-up and no follow-through.  It’s a case of “first round, first minute” for the good guys!

Before we consider it, we’ll set the scene in the book of Revelation.  If you like, you can skip the outline below, but it shows some of my “working” for why I consider “Armageddon” the way that I do…

Outline of Revelation

In Chapter 1 John sees a vision of the risen Christ.

In Chapters 2-3:  Christ addresses seven churches.

In Chapters 4-5: As a slain Lamb, the Son approaches the enthroned Father and takes the scroll from His hand – here are the title deeds to creation.

Then we have the largest section of Revelation: from chapter 6 to chapter 20.  This shows the unravelling of the scroll.  Jesus, the Lamb, unfolds God’s history.  These chapters show us the history of the world from Christ’s first coming until His second.

And so chapters 21-22 show us God’s new world – the new heavens and new earth.  This is the ultimate “happily ever after”.

Most people think of Revelation as a book about the future, yet the great majority of the book tells us about the present. What we see in chapters 6-20 are are 7 action replays of this history from different angles.  So we see…

Chapter 6: The opening of the seven seals.

Chapter 8-11: The blowing of the seven trumpets.

Chapters 12-14: We meet the unholy trinity:  the Dragon (Satan), the Beast and the False Prophet (his earthly intermediaries).  We also meet the anti-church: Babylon.

Chapters 15-16:  The pouring out of the seven bowls of judgement.

Then we see the defeat of the four evil forces…

Chapters 17-18: The destruction of Babylon (the false church)

Chapter 19: The destruction of the Beast and the False prophet.

Chapter 20: The destruction of Satan.

Armageddon

Some may not agree with my outline, but it seems clear to me that these are not seven consecutive scenes of judgement.  Here are seven “action replays” of the same reality viewed from different angles.

One of the reasons I take this view is because of “Armageddon”.  There are three final “punch-ups” narrated in Revelation.  They correspond to the defeat of Babylon, the defeat of the Beast and False Prophet and the defeat of Satan.  Either God fails to eradicate evil twice but gets it right on the third attempt, or all three descriptions are true descriptions of “the end.”

If that’s right, then the “Armageddon” passage is one of three angles on the same last battle.  See if you can spot the common theme in all three tellings:

[They were gathered] to the battle of that great day of God Almighty…. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.  (Revelation 16:14-17)

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him.  (Revelation 19:19-20)

Satan shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

Did you notice the common theme?  There is a menacing build up followed by a complete non-event of a conclusion.  There’s stockpiling of weapons, there’s amassing of troops, there’s sabre-rattling.  But the minute God’s had enough – it’s over.  There’s a knockout punch before the bell has sounded.

Evil is not an equal and opposite force which gives God a run for His money.  As we saw with “the bottomless pit” – darkness is no match for light.  Emptiness is no match for fullness.

Do you worry about the future?  Does it seem like the darkness will win?

Take heart, the Lamb wins.  When push really does come to shove, Armageddon is no contest!

Read Full Post »

Bottomless pit

The word in Greek is “Abyss.”  Jerome’s Vulgate left it untranslated.  John Wycliffe rendered it “the pit of depnesse”.  But it’s been William Tyndale’s turn of phrase that has endured: “bottomless pit”!  Rightly, the KJV decided it could not improve on Tyndale.  The phrase occurs seven times, all in the book of Revelation (where sevens abound!).  Take this representative example:

They had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11)

The sense of the “bottomless pit” (or “abyss”) is an unbounded chaos.  Infinite emptiness. An immeasurable depth.  Limitless nothingness.  This place of destruction and corruption is highlighted at the beginning and end of the Bible.

In the opening verses of Scripture we read about a void opened up in the creation of heaven and earth:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)

“The deep” is the Abyss.  And its presence is felt in the second verse of the Bible!

God, having created a reality beyond Himself, is faced, not with a mere extension of His divine being, but with something very distinct from Himself.  God is light but here is darkness.  God is full but here is an emptiness. In creation there is something beyond God which needs enlightening and filling full.  This is what the work of creation involves.  Over the six days God forms and then fills the universe, acting redemptively upon what is, by nature, “without form and void”.

God separates light from darkness and sea from dry land. He divides and adjudicates – “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11).  God’s creative work is all about undoing the abyss. He brings light, fullness and form – bounding the boundless.

Yet somehow there is a sphere that stands against the spreading goodness of God.  There is an abyss.  And it does not stand on an alternative foundation.  The only true  foundation can be the living God.  Whatever stands against God cannot stand on anything substantial.  No, God’s enemies have nothing to stand on.  Their realm is groundless – a bottomless pit.

Think about this negative reality.  The realm of evil is not an equal and opposite kingdom.  It is darkness, somehow resisting God’s radiant light.  It is a boundless emptiness, somehow resisting God’s glory filling the earth.  It is rebellion without a cause.

Sin and evil have no ultimate foundation, no reasons, no footing.  They are madness.  Those swallowed by the bottomless pit can only keep falling.  Think of the tragedy: it’s one kind of death to fall far – it’s another to fall forever.

What hope is there in the face of this abyss?

Paul writes to the Romans to tell them that we have no hope against the powers of darkness.  None of us can ascend to heaven and none of us can plumb the bottomless pit.  But Christ has come down from the heights.  And He has risen from the abyss:

Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep [the abyss]? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)  (Romans 10:6-7)

We don’t have to climb up to heaven and we don’t have to climb out of the bottomless pit.  Christ has done it all.  He is the Radiant Light of the Father.  He is the Spreading Goodness of God.  And He has come to plunder Satan’s house (Mark 3:27).  He has entered into our darkness and risen to bring us home.

We cannot reason with evil – it’s insanity.  We cannot climb out of the bottomless pit – there is no footing.  But Christ has done it all.  We need only trust Him and He’ll turn our pit to paradise:

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

Read Full Post »

Once and for all

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”

Lady Macbeth’s line is one of Shakespeare’s most famous.  In the first act of Macbeth she helps her husband to murder the King.  By the end of the play she is in mental torment and eventually takes her own life.  In her final scene she is before a doctor and cannot cleanse her conscience.

Out, damned spot! out, I say!… who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?   What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!  

The Doctor says “What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charg’d. …This disease is beyond my practice.”

Shame and guilt is a disease.  And it’s a disease beyond the practice of 17th century doctors.  It’s beyond the practice of 21st century doctors.  Taking away our guilt and shame is beyond every power on earth, even – and perhaps especially – religion.  But in Hebrews 10 we learn about a “once for all” cleansing that contrasts starkly with the old religious ways.

In verses 1-4, we’re told that even God’s own religion did not cleanse people from sin – it only reminded them of sin.  Every day the blood of animals was shed, yet everyone knows that animals can’t pay for sin.  Every year there was a grand theatrical performance called the Day of Atonement.  The High Priest had a starring role and there was a scapegoat. You confessed your sins over the scapegoat and there were sacrifices and at the end it was pronounced that God was “at one” with Israel.  But… the next year they did it all over again.  They weren’t cleansed from their sins, they were only reminded of their sins.

This whole system was a shadow of the coming reality (v1).  The real atonement was achieved when Christ came into the world (v5-10).

There is a true and willing Sacrifice who steps forward amidst the bloodshed of the temple and says “Enough! Here I am.  I’m the Reality to which these shadows have pointed.”

 

Jesus, our Scapegoat, died the death of every slanderer, every pornographer, every bully, every murderer,  swindler, adulterer, terrorist… every sinner.  And now

we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  (Hebrews 10:10)

That phrase “once for all” is so precious.  Understanding it will transport you from the shadow-lands of guilt and perpetual striving to the freedom of Christ’s finished work.  Therefore in the next paragraph, Hebrews lays out the stark difference between the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and the shadow of the old covenant (v11-14).

The old sacrifices were continual, Christ’s was once for all

The old sacrifices were powerless, Christ’s was completely effective.

The old priests stood for their constant work, Christ sits having finished the work.

Do you realise the wonder of Christ’s finished work?  Do you understand that, through Him, you are made holy “once for all”?

The final paragraph will help us (v15-18).  Here the writer returns to his favourite passage – Jeremiah chapter 31.  He proclaims the glorious truth that our “sins and iniquities God remembers no more.”

Imagine debts piling up.  You pay off one credit card with another.  It snowballs and suddenly you’re £90 000 in the red.   The debt collectors are after you.  You don’t answer the phone, you pretend you’re not in.

Eventually you get some financial advice.  They tell you to phone the credit card company and explain your situation.  You pluck up courage and give your details over the phone.  Then you begin to make excuses… “Now, about the £90 000, I’ll try to pay it back, I just need some time…”  The woman on the other end of the phone says “We have no record of any debts in your name.”  You ask her to double check.  She double checks, “We have no record of any debts in your name.”

If you’ve trusted Jesus your Scapegoat, those are God’s words to you today.

Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)

Don’t live in the shadows.  Don’t try to clean yourself up.  Remember you’ve been cleansed through the cross of Christ – once and for all.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. 7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  (Psalm 130)

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

A two-edged sword

In modern speech a “double-edged sword” is a powerful weapon that “cuts both ways”.  It’s an argument or feature or technology that has a clear benefit and a clear liability.  It’s something that both advances your cause and the cause of your opponent.

But the bible’s usage of the term is a little different.  You see God’s “two-edged sword” cuts only one way.

“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

Here’s a radical thought: God’s word is a two-edged sword.  And when God wields it, it cuts in only one direction.  God’s word is not judged by us.  God’s word judges us.  We do not assess it.  It assesses us.  We do not interpret it.  It interprets us.  We do not master it.  It masters us.

Have you ever encountered the piercing quality of God’s word?

Last year I was preparing to help a friend in a court-hearing.  We were building our case, establishing our cause, marshalling evidence and feeling more and more justified.  And then I read just six words from Proverbs:

Do not bring hastily to court. (Proverbs 25:8)

It cut to the heart.  And it brought to mind other verses about the dangers of pursuing adversarial legal action (e.g. Matthew 5:25-26; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).  God’s word came home.  It discerned the thoughts and intents of the heart.  I could tell you many other “piercing” moments and I’m sure you could too.

So often we come to God’s word seeking “discernment” about our future, about our choices.  We seek to “discern” correct theology, or just to “discern” a little dose of spiritual inspiration.  But all of those motives are about us discerning the word.  Or us discerning truths through the word.  Do you see the problem?

God’s word discerns us.  We are in the firing line.  We might consider the word to be our object of study.  But no, we are the objects of the word’s study.  We are the ones to be scrutinized.

Is that your attitude as you approach the word?

If it’s not, perhaps that’s because you’ve forgotten that God’s word is “quick” – in other words, it’s “alive.”  When Hebrews speaks of the Word – it has in mind a personal Power working through the Scriptures.  Just listen to how the verse continues:

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.  (Hebrews 13:13)

The “Word of God” in view is the Judge of the World.  Hebrews is speaking of the eternal Word, the Lord Jesus.  This living Word encounters His people through the Scriptures as they’re proclaimed today (Hebrews 13:7).  But because the Word is a Him, Scripture reading can never be impersonal.  To open up the Word is to be opened up by the Word, who is Judge of all.

In these verses we learn that it’s not simply judgement day that uncovers.  Whenever we encounter the Living Word of God we are judged.

“Brilliant” you respond, “Just what I need!  More judgement in my life!”

Ah but, the judging word is not the final word.  For those who belong to Jesus, judgement could never be the final word.  Christ Himself has taken the judgement on the cross.  And as our great High Priest, He has brought us sinners through the sword of judgement and into the presence of God our Father.

That’s why the verse continues:

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

What a roller-coaster!  Cut to the heart, then lifted to the throne.  This is a true experience of the Word of God.  First exposed, then covered by His blood.  First pierced, then healed.  First judged, then saved.  First brought to our knees, then raised through the heavens.

Do we ever impersonalise the Word of God?  Do we ever domesticate God’s Word?  Do we ever get stuck in the judgement and fail to appreciate the salvation?

Remember that God’s Word Jesus only exposes so He can cover.  He only cuts so He can cure.  He only brings low, so He can raise up.  Let us expose ourselves to His piercing.  Then let us come boldly through His priesthood.

Read Full Post »

Click for source

In the space of one verse Paul gives us two – if not three – phrases:

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Both “fighting the good fight” and “keeping the faith” have become well-known.  If we added “staying the course” then we’d have a trifecta of famous phrases.  In a way, that’s not surprising. Paul means to be memorable here.

This is the last chapter of the last letter he wrote.  Tradition has it Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD67 and here is the epitaph he chooses for himself.  He’s a fighter, a runner, a perseverer.  And as he comes to the end of his life he inspires us all towards the same.

Paul is writing to his spiritual son Timothy, passing on the baton of gospel work.  Crucially, he was the last of a dying breed.  He had met with the risen Christ and been an eye-witness of His glory.  Soon there would be no-one left on earth who could say that.

So as the church’s last foundational apostle, how does Paul encourage the next generation?  Chapter 2 gives a sense of his burden.

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.  Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.  (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul knows that his eye-witness testimony will not die out with him.  In verse 2 he envisions four generations of gospel ministry.  From Paul to Timothy to Timothy’s trainees to their trainees.  On and on it goes until it reaches you and me.

But, of course, it doesn’t stop with us.  We too will commit this gospel message to others.  And they to others, and so on.  The saying is true: “God’s grace always runs downhill.”  It applies to proclamation too.  In fact grace and proclamation are almost synonyms.

From Christ’s exaltation and the Pentecostal outpouring, there has been a gospel flow which has reached even us.  Now we are caught up in its movement.

As I say this, though, I might be conjuring up the wrong kind of imagery – fountains and babbling brooks and floating along.  Paul’s imagery is much more robust.  How does it feel to be gripped by this gospel and pass it on?  Like a soldier, like an athlete, like a farmer.

Like a soldier – enduring, obedient, single-minded.

Like an athlete – compelled by a vision of the crown, striving to play things as they’re meant to be played.

Like a farmer – patient, hard-working, but enjoying the fruits of his labour.

All of these callings involve unglamorous service, sacrifice, hard-work and perseverance.  But they also promise victory, crowns and harvests.  This is the long-termism Paul seeks to instil in Timothy.  After the exhaustion and self-sacrifice comes the prize.  And the prize is worth it.

Paul asks us to meditate on these portraits.  But only because he has been meditating on them so deeply.  As he writes his epitaph he returns to these same three visions: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

He goes on…

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:8)

Here is the prize.  Just as Paul has participated in Christ’s sufferings, so he will participate in His glory.  Christ’s life had a shape – cross and resurrection.  The Christian life will have that same shape – suffering and glory.  And Paul is now retiring from his hard-working soldiering, running and farming.  Now he’s entering into his victory, his crown, his harvest.  Truly he’s being “promoted to glory!”

And perhaps we think to ourselves – that’s wonderful for Paul, what about for us?

Well he says that all of us can likewise share in this glory.  And the way he phrases it is telling.  He does not say “This crown is for all who have soldiered as hard as I have.”  He does not say “This victory is for all who have run as hard as I have.”  He does not say “This crown is for all who have persevered as valiantly as I have.”  No, the crown is for those who “love his appearing.”

If we simply love Jesus.  If we simply want Him – then we will share in His glory.

It’s just that those who share in His glory, will also share in His suffering.  That’s not the price we pay – it’s the privilege of living His life in this world.  Paul on his death bed wouldn’t have it any other way.  And if we see things rightly, neither would we.

So then, as you long for Christ’s appearing, as you pass on His gospel hope, meditate on your calling:

— the soldier

— the athlete

— the farmer.

Anticipate the glory of Christ’s return

— the victory

— the crown

— the harvest.

And know that one day too, you will be able to say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Read Full Post »

Itching ears

Click for source

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

One of the most pervasive myths of the modern world is this: We think we know what we want.  We think we know what’s best for us.  And we think we ourselves are the best judges of these matters.

The truth could not be further from this common misconception.

In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom spoke a frightening truth:

“All they that hate me love death.”  (Proverbs 8:36)

The natural state of the human heart is to be estranged from Christ our Wisdom.  And in that perverse condition our desires are completely twisted.  We hate the Fountain of Living Waters and we love the pit of curses and death.

Therefore what do we look for in our moral and spiritual guides?  The truth?  Never.  Not naturally.  Instead we look for leaders who will tell us what we want to hear.

Notice how Jesus put it: “Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” (John 8:45)

Jesus doesn’t say ‘In spite of my truth telling you don’t believe.’  He says ‘Because of my truth-telling you don’t believe.’  We are not naturally oriented to truth.  We flee it when it’s spoken.  Instead we ‘turn to fables’ as the Apostle Paul put it so memorably:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

An “itching ear” is such an evocative phrase.  Itches aren’t just satisfied by scratching – they demand to be scratched.  They only seem to increase if they go un-heeded.  Paul says our ears are like this.  We don’t merely like to hear pleasant lies, we demand to hear them.  And Paul says there’s always a ready supply of phoney prophets who will scratch us where we itch.  It’s not just a problem for the last days.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the same reality 8 centuries earlier:

This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, “See not;” and to the prophets, “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”   (Isaiah 30:9-11)

I don’t think Isaiah is imagining that the people are articulating these words.  I’m not sure any Israelite was literally saying “speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.”  It’s just that they would not put up with God’s word, they reacted angrily to the truth of the gospel but warmly to the “smooth things.”  At an unspoken level they had struck a deal with the false prophets – “Tell us what we want to hear, and we’ll give you an eager audience.”  In every age people have found such a deal attractive.

Therefore we must question this myth of the modern world.  We do not know what is good for us.  As the Proverb says “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5).  We don’t know ourselves very well.  We don’t know what we need.  We need The Man of understanding to tell us the truth.  We need truth to come to us from the outside.  The kind of truth we would never conceive ourselves.

The truth that says we are utterly lost and damned in ourselves but completely loved and redeemed in Jesus.  The truth that leaves our own desires and schemes out of the equation but takes up our cause anyway.  The truth that puts us to death on the cross and raises us up in resurrection.

Don’t trust your natural itches.  Don’t pursue the lies that puff you up.  Listen to the truth from beyond.  It will burst your bubble but, then, it will give you a hope you could never have dreamt of.  The truth from which we flee is the most extreme but wonderful news in the world.  It’s far worse than we’d ever feared – but far greater than we’d ever imagined.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »