Friday, November 30, 2007

About to Graduate

Thought about you might want to do next year? Something to do with your degree? Somethings with enough money to keep you in clothes you like. Something enough money to keep you comfortable though at least...

How about, instead you embark upon what could be the most important year of your life, and do Relay? Relay is a sulf funded, disciplship in a student context ten month programme. Grace saturated and Christ centered.

Rosemary has some questions for you...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pullman and the church

Phillip Pullman says this:

As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it's a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny. How they have the bloody nerve to go on Thought for the Day and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they'd be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches."

So what do Christians say about that? We don't have to say anything about that. Narrative is not normative. Things done by Christians don't make them representative of the Christian faith. The persecution and tyranny and cruelty committed by the church over the ages is wrong...but by what standard is it wrong? Why is slavery wrong? Why is genocide wrong? No because atheism is right, but because the Gospel is true. There is no standard of truth outside the absolute standard of the truth of the Gospel, and the supremacy of Christ. Voddie Baucham says more about this here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

coffee plus Bible

i love students! here's what ine said over a coffee and Isaiah 10 this afternoon:

'i'd be appalled at a God who didn't hate sin'.

Brilliant, the Word is doing it's work!

my iPod and my church

Isn't life a bit odd these days? On my great-grandfathers generation, most people never left their locale, never mind their country, everyone worked within walking distance of where they lived and whole vallages went to church together. My granddad's generation probably saw more radical change than anyone, from horse and trap to man on the moon, the whole lifespan of man travelling at the speed of sound and more international travel than you can shake a stick at. I guess it was the first world war that changed so much. The great war started with a cavalry charge and ended with the death of hundreds of thousands of men in the saturated, muddy fields of France. The world wasn't such a small place any more. People met people from other places, they lived and worked together. They fought another world war together. The arms race started, the arms race ended, America was nearly nuked, America nearly nuked it's enemies. Life in the last eighty years has really changed beyond all recognition. I, to my cultural shame, can not really imagine a world without mobile telecommunications, i mean, how did anyone ever talk to anyone else? How were last minute plans ever changed?

What has any of this got to do with anything? Well not much, only this. We live in an age of unprecedented information sharing, and i love that. I love the availability of online sermons and resources. I love that people like Desiring God and Mars Hill make their resources available for free. I applaud them for that. I really like that i could fire some words into Google and come up with preaching on just about anything, from just about anywhere. Thats progress, thats the church serving The Church. I guess.

We need to watch out though, for the hidden pitfalls in this. (can you look out for something thats hidden?) We're now in a time where it's possible to be 'part' of a local church from the other side of the world. If you were in Sydney, you could never darken the door of a building but still be regualrly fed by good preaching on your iPod. If you woke up late on a sunday or simply didn't fancy it, thats ok, wait until monday, it will all be online, if not from your own church, from somewhere else. Local church by proxy.

Now, not for a single moment do i think that listening to preaching from the internet is a bad thing. The bad thing isn't the itself, it's the person, it's what the person does with it. If, in our endevour to be fed by preaching from sources other than our church, we lose our lustre for the local church itself, we've really defeated the object. I love to pack my iPod with truth, but i never want to prefer that to being in the community of the local church. My local church are my family, they're the people who i do life with. I need to be careful, we need to be careful that in our pursuit of preaching and truth from the wider sphere we don't miss or minimise where God has put us, for the reason God has put us. Our local churches.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Manners and the Gospel

I'm loving reading the epistles at the moment. The solid, clear and Christ centred doctribe that nflows through them work on my heart as few other parts of the Bible do so regularly. In those ancient letters there is so much to learn, to study, to enjoy. What i really love about reading the through almost back to back is that you start to notice things that are the same.

Paul was obviously, amongst many other things, a man of manners. He'd been brought up well. He was, quite apart from that, someone who alwyas saw and gave thanks for the grace of God at work in the churches that he wrote to. Even the Corinthians, even a church that immoral that he such a complicated relationship with, he still thanks God for. Thats the case in almost all the letters we have in the new testament. Galatians is a striking exception.

Paul starts this letter by introducing himself, making sure the Galatians are aware that his calling is from God, not from man, as that will be important later on. He even says 'grace and peace to you' in the introduction. He has great feelings for the people reading this letter. They need to know who he is, they need to know grace and peace.

But thanking, no encouragement. Instead, 'i am astonished' he starts. Something here has clearly gone wrong. Paul's focus is away from thanking and praising from the off. There is something that is far more pressing on his mind, far more important than niceties, something even that may cancel out the truths that he would share with them in that part of the letter anyway.

And what's happened? It seems that the Galatian church has turned away from the Gospel Paul preached to them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord. The only real Gospel, the only way of salvation. Paul doesn't mince his words here. He's not entered a popularity contest, but rather is driven onwards by a fierce belief in the centrality of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. He reminds his readers that there is no other Gospel. He goes even further than that, pointing out two things in verse 8. Firstly, this Gospel is not from him, and secondly, that anyone, including angels, including himself, who preaches a contrary Gospel is to be accursed. These are strong words.

We really see here an insight into Paul's mind, the centrality of the gospel and the depravity of the human heart. Paul was driven by a love and commitment to the Gospel. Nothing else shone as brightly in his heart as Christ and Him crucified. He loved his churches, and they needed to know this message. It wouldn't do to water it down or sanitise it. People will only be saved this way. There is nothing else for the church to build on other than the Gospel. That really is it. Good music, fancy PA and AV presentation, soothing messages, great buildings...none of it is as important as the Gospel. Take it all, build churches of cold brick and uncomfortable wooden benches, use a OHP rather than a cinema doesn't matter, but give us the Gospel. And lastly, we need to see how quickly we can fall away from the truth. It seems that people at the moment are forsaking the Gospel as quickly as they can, for whatever reason they can think of. The Gospel dies on the alter of popularity, or trendyness, or better attended meetings. If Paul could foresee a time when he possibly could move from this message, then there's no reason to think we never would. We must guard our hearts, stir ourselves, read the Bible, and pray. All the time. And the church at Galatia probably didn't think they were moving that far from the truth, because after all, surely the Jewish laws are compliant with Christianity. And almost unaware they say that Christ died for nothing. Because if we move away to a false Gospel this is what we do.

Cross plus, is only ever cross minus.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

John 11:1-45

(this was my script from thursday night at Surrey's mostly what i said, although if memory serves, the ending was very different)

In my third year at uni I lived with a guy named Dave, a great guy who was very Godly and a lot of fun. On a Tuesday we used to have our nine am lecture together on American history. After that I’d go home, and he’d have lectures un till about 4pm. I remember one time leaving him with the words ‘Dave I believe in you’ as I went home and he trudged to some politics seminar. And that sentence has been troubling me ever since. I love words, I love how they sound and what they mean, I think English is the best language in the world for that. But what did I mean? Dave I believe in you? Did it mean that I gave mental assent to the fact I thought Dave existed? That’s a pretty stupid way of encouraging someone. Or did I mean something else?

Belief is a big topic at universities today, but in some ways the idea to believe something has been robbed of it’s meaning. Exclusive beliefs, like the Gospel, are considered outdated and stupid, and open mindedness to believe anything, no matter how those things contradict each other, is lauded.

Belief is a big issue for John. He even tells us that he wrote his account of Jesus’ life and death so that we would belief. He recorded this account of the death and raising of Lazarus so that we would believe in Jesus. But does that mean giving mere assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God? Does it just mean signing up to these things and going on with life as normal? Well, lets turn to the Bible and have a look at the last miracle that John records before Jesus’ arrest..


Mary and Lazarus and Martha all knew Jesus. It was the Mary who had anointed His feet, so they already had something of a relationship. When we read verse four Jesus doesn’t seem that concerned does He? You can see the ‘but’ at the start of verse four contrasts Jesus reaction with the concern of Lazarus’s sisters. Or is it just that Jesus doesn’t think that this illness will lead to death, as we see later in verse four? He says this illness will not lead to death, it will be for the glory of God, so that the Son of God will be glorified though it. It’s interesting to note two things here. How the glory of God is manifested and illustrated though the Son of God being glorified, and how Jesus wants to do all things for His Father. He’s just heard His friend is ill, but His first thought is how His Father will be glorified by it. And that His Father will be glorified by it. This part of the story ends on a strange note though doesn’t it? It seems that John is suggesting that Jesus’ lack of action in coming to see Lazarus is a product of His love for Martha and her sister and Lazarus. The first word of the verse six in the ESV is ‘so’, which links Jesus love for the three, and His decision to not come straight away. The NIV translation really lets us down here, choosing to use ‘yet’ at the start of verse six rather than ‘so’. Yet of course makes it sound like it was in spite of his love for them that He did not come, whereas the ESV makes it sound like it was because of His love for the three that He did not come, which, as we’ll see as the story moves on is far closer to the truth. Jesus reaction makes us think that there must be something bigger going on in the illness and eventual death of Lazarus than we realise, and also that, as far as Jesus is concerned there is something much more important, than health, or even, since Jesus knew in His omniscience that Lazarus was to die, life.


Two days pass, then Jesus decides it’s time to go to Judea. The disciples are aghast at this. The reason they are in the north is because the last time they ventured south Jesus was nearly killed. The time away clearly hasn’t dimmed the situation, as the disciples are clearly worried for their and Jesus’ life in they venture south again. As often happens, Jesus answers their question not entirely in the way you might expect. Verses 9-10 have a two level application or meaning, one to the disciples, and one to Jesus Himself. Jesus is safe as long as He walks in the daylight of obeying His Father’s will. As long as He is doing what His Father requires of Him, no part of the plan will fail. It’s only if He ignores the Father’s plan that He’ll stumble. And the same applies to the disciples as well. Jesus will only be with them a little while longer, they must walk in the light, with Him, while they can, because night time is coming. The time has come and the decision made, they must go to Judea. Still the disciples aren’t altogether on board. Look at verses 11-12 with me. Notice the switch from ‘our’ friend to ‘I’ go to awaken Him. Jesus is clear in His own mind that only He will have any impact on the situation. The disciples misunderstand, however, thinking that when Jesus says ‘asleep’ He means it literally, as John notes to us. The Jesus speaks to them plainly in verse 14: Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to Him. Again we see the slightly odd point that Jesus is making that it is somehow good that Lazarus has died, and that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it happening. He seems quite confident that if He had been there He would have stopped it, and yet He seems glad that He wasn’t. the clue we get from verse 15 is that it’s so the disciples may believe. Jesus knows that He’s entered the last few days of His earthly ministry, so His disciples must have their faith in Him strengthened, they must know who He is. Verse 16 could just be doubting Thomas again, but His words, even if fed by misunderstanding come across more bold and courageous than doubting.


Mary and Martha obviously come from a well known family given there were many Jews who had come to console her. This was not a regular occurrence. Martha’s words in verse 21 are not those of rebuke but those of grief and faith. She knows ths power and the uniqueness of Jesus would have had a bearing on the death of her brother. She knows that He is somehow more powerful than death. Look at verse 22 with me. Even now she knows that Jesus and God, His Father have a unique relationship, and that, as she says, ‘anything you ask from God, He will give it’. The death of her brother, whom Jesus loved, has not cost her her faith in Jesus. Look at Jesus question in verse 23. This verse has been described as a ‘masterpiece of ambiguity’. Martha would have believed in the resurrection on the last day. She would have had no problem assenting to the fact that Lazarus would rise then, as she demonstrates if you look at verse 24. But Jesus means more than this. We’ve seen already that His motivation and goal here to for God to be glorified through the Son of God being glorified. God would of course be glorified by the resurrection on the last day, but by then it will be too late to believe in Jesus. So what does Jesus mean? He wants to move Martha from an abstract faith in the last day event to a personal faith in Him. We move to verse 25, the centrepiece of this story, the thing that John wants us to believe, probably the reason why he records that incident. How does Jesus start moving Martha from an abstract faith to a personal faith. He tells her: I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he shall die, yet he shall live. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus makes an outrageous claim. Not only will it be He who raises people on the last day, but there is no life, is no resurrection outside Him. None. Jesus is it. There is no life, and no eternal life after death outside of Him. He doesn’t just bring resurrection, as Martha may now suspect He’s about to, but He is the resurrection. But does that actually mean in a practical sense? Do they mean they mean the same thing? Well Jesus explains what He means in the second half of verse 25 and the first half of verse 26. Jesus is the resurrection, therefore ‘whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall He live’. That’s the resurrection, although we will die, we will live. We will live forever worshipping Jesus in unimaginable joy and pleasure. And that’s not available outside Jesus. And what does Jesus being the life mean? It means that, verse 26 ‘everyone who lives and believes in me, shall never die’. People who believe in Jesus, who embrace Jesus as all they have that is good, will never die. And often in the Bible, including here, death means more than decomposition. If Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die as Genesis 2:17 tells us. But they didn’t die straight away did they? They lived for hundreds of year after. Was it just a slow acting curse, or did ‘die’ mean something else. Where were Adam and Eve? Outside the garden, away from the presence of the Lord. And that’s what death means here. Those who have the life that Jesus offers will be with Him forever. They shall never die, but shall live eternally in Heaven. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, there is no life, there is no chance of heaven without Him. This is a controversial statement and will probably be illegal to say in a few years, so I’ll repeat again Jesus words while I have the chance: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus, though He dies, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die. Do you believe this, Jesus asks Mary. Do you embrace this truth and want to make it your all? Mary dies believe. She does believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.


This section starts with mary repeating the same faithful statement as her sister. Look with me at verse 33: when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Deeply moved is a poor translation here in both the ESV and the NIV. A closer translation to the original Greek would be ‘outraged’. Jesus was outraged at the unbelief of the people and their mourning as if there was no hope. And yet as we see in verse 35, which says simply ‘Jesus wept’. Jesus also felt great empathy with these people. That mix of pure anger and pure empathy would be impossible in a normal person, but not in Jesus. Look with me at verses 36 and 37: so the Jews said, ‘see how he loved him!’ But some of them said ‘could not he who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept this man from dying?’ Even Jesus, perhaps especially Jesus, had doubters around Him and following Him. We shouldn’t expect it to be any different for us.

Then Jesus moves in front of the tomb, and asks for the stone to be taken away, but Martha is still struggling to catch up with what’s going in. she says: Lord by this time there would have been an odour, for he has been dead four days’. Jesus responds by taking her to the point of the illness and death of Lazarus: he says, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God’. This is not an explicit claim to divinity by Jesus but a no less shocking claim that what he is about to do will bring glory to God. Jesus ramps this up again in verses 40 and 41 when he prays to the Father saying ‘I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they would believe you sent me’. There are two things to notice here I think. One that as already suggested in this story, the death and resurrection of Lazarus had been planned long ago, because as we see in verse 4 it was for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’ and the second that Jesus and the Father have this unique relationship. Jesus said ‘I knew’. He’s talking past tense. This was arranged and agreed. All we need now is the action. Jesus is trying to lift His listeners eyes to the Father with these comments. He’s not playing to an audience.

And then the event in verses 43 and 44. The dead hearing the voice of Jesus. That’s why He had to call Lazarus by name, otherwise all the dead within earshot would be up out of their graves. See His absolute authority over death here. Lazarus was dead, but he came out of the tomb. See the comparison with Jesus resurrection here. Lazarus had to stumble out of the grave still wrapped in his grave clothes, Jesus’ clothes were neatly folded. Lazarus was stumbling, Jesus was walking. Jesus resurrection was different, He would never die again, but Lazarus would. The resurrection of Lazarus was a pale imitation of what was to come, on the third day after Calvary, and on the last day. But it was a sign, and rightly, as Jesus was mere days away from arrest now, a climactic sign.


So what are we to make of this story today. The point is clear. There is no life, there is no resurrection to life after death other than through faith, through belief, in Jesus Christ. It’s trendy now, especially among our generation to focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, or Jesus teaching or Jesus example. But Jesus did not come to just teach, or to politically lobby, or to bring some sort of earthly kingdom to fruit. He came to save us from the unbearable wrath of God directed towards us because of our sins, He came to bring life. If you spend time looking at the Gospels, particularly John’s Gospel and miss this, you miss the point. And the point could not be clearer from this passage. If we are to hope in, or expect life and resurrection, we must have faith in Jesus, in His death and His resurrection. In His taking our punishment on the cross. Taking Lazarus’ punishment was the only way He could raise Him, and taking our punishment on the cross is the only way He can raise us. We need to believe this. We should rejoice in the truth that Jesus is the resurrection, that in Him we are secure…

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Colossians 1:18-25

(this is the script of a talk i did at RUCU on wednesday evening)

As always with the Bible, we need to be aware of the context that Paul was writing into, as it’s easy to look at this text and just work out what the application is to us. Not that that’s wrong, but there’s much more than that. Paul was writing into a church that had been shaken by what we now call the ‘Colossian heresy’ for fairly obvious reasons. The exact nature of this heresy is disputed over, but the basic gist of it is that the people are not fully saved by Christ’s work on the cross, because Christ is not sufficient, and that because of that they must add works to ensure their salvation. There was also some teaching the body and spirit were wholly separate entities. This passage breaks up quite nicely into three parts: Christ the Lord of the cosmos from 15-17, Christ the head of the Church from 17-19, and Christ our saviour from 19-24.

Paul starts by drawing his readers’ attention back to Jesus. And who is Jesus; look at verse 15 with me: he is the image of the invisible God. Paul reminds his readers, and by extension us tonight that Jesus is exactly God. The only difference in type between Father and Son is that the Son is visible, and the Father invisible. Christ is the image of the invisible God. They of course differ in roles within the Trinity, but Christ perfectly reflects the life and character of the Father. And in this sense He is the most fully human person that ever lived. Humanity was designed by God to be the perfect self expression within His world. And Jesus was that. Paul continues, still in verse 15: the firstborn of all creation. Firstborn is a word we don’t really use anymore. It certainly doesn’t mean, ‘born first’. There was never a time that Christ was not, as we’ll see later on. Firstborn means most important, heir, the one who will inherit what is His Fathers. And of course we know this to be an excellent word to describe who Jesus is. Paul starts to answer the Colossian heresy, by painting Christ’s full divinity and full humanity all at once.

Christ then is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. How do we trust this? Why is He the first born over all creation? Look at verse 16. For (or because) by Him all things were created. So the picture of Christ gets bigger. By means of Him, or in Him, all things were created. So from this we can see, as previously mentioned, that Christ was there at the beginning. And not only was he there, but he was part of the process. Not only a spectator but a major player. God made the world in Christ. He made all things though Christ look again at verse 16 with me ‘in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible. Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. We’ll stop there just for now. Paul now addresses the more spiritualistic side of the heresy in Colossae. The bit that said that there were spirits and angels to be worshipped, the bit that taught that what you do with your mind and what you do with your body are different. Paul’s list of what was created in Christ is really comprehensive here, when he says all things, he really means in. On heaven or on earth, visible, invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. Colossians, you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Reading Christians you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Don’t try and tell me that the Bible isn’t relevant!

Lets turn our attention now to the last part of verse 16: all things were created through Him and for Him. We’ve seen how all things were created though Him, which we’ll come back to in a very exciting way soon. But it’s those two words ‘for him’ I want to zoom in on now. All things were created for Jesus Christ. That is a stunning statement and one that in a few years might get me into trouble for saying; I’m excited about that day. All things exist for Jesus Christ. For His enjoyment. For His glory. For His good pleasure. For His good purposes. There is no reason for the continuation of culture other than to make Jesus know and enjoy Him forever. The only reason Jesus made the sun rise over us this morning was for Himself. There is no reason for the continuation of Reading University than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for the continuation, certainly, of RUCU other than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for my continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Christ known. There is no reason for your continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Him known. This is humbling to hear, but it should liberate us and fill us with joy. This is what the whole council of scripture teaches. We need to get our minds under it. This is particularly relevant for the original readers as Colossae was destroyed in an earthquake and never rebuilt less than 10 years later.

Paul’s not done yet, look at verse 17 with me…it starts with ‘and’…there’s yet more to come. Christ is before all things. He is more important and worship-worthy than all things. Listen up Colossians. Jesus is more important than all the rubbish you are trying to incorporate into worship, because he was before it. He is the root, get back to Him. Look at the second half of verse 17 ‘and in Him all things hold together’. We are totally reliant on Jesus. All things hold together in Him. The sun and moon, the sky itself, gravity, the orbit of the earth, you, this building…it’s all held together in Christ. How vast is Jesus! How incredible is power, how foolish of the Colossians to doubt His effective work, how foolish to think that worshipping anything else has any point. How stupid of us to do the same, to be satisfied with less than all that God is for us in Jesus. And he is for us, as we’ll see.

We now move Verse 18 says: ‘and He is the head of the body, the church’ Christ is the Lord of the church, the head of the church. Here Paul moves from creation to God’s new creation. Christ is the head of the church, he is in charge of the church, He leads and guides the church. Paul uses this expression to indicate the churches organic dependence on God. The body without the head is useless. As we’ve already seen the cosmos is dependant on Christ, and so is the church. Paul wants to Colossians to realise that as soon as they leave Christ, they lose their head…and it’s really game over. Look at the second half of verse 18 with me ‘He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. Paul again, relentlessly pushes the point that Christ is before all and the beginning of all. There is no word for ‘and’ in the Greek, so Jesus being firstborn from the dead is not an extension of this point, but part of it. So the word ‘firstborn’ linked so closely with the word ‘beginning’ meaning source in the Greek, indicates that though Christ’s resurrection is presently unique it will become the first in a long line of resurrections of believers from the dead. Christ has won the victory over sin and death, He is the source of the victory that we one day will take part in. And why is this? Look at the end of the verse 18 ‘so that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. So that in life, and in death, Christ might be the first, and most important. And He is isn’t He? The most important man who ever lived in this life, and the centre point of Heaven. And as verse 19 tells us that ‘the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him’. Paul again swings his sword against the Colossian heretics who denied Jesus’ full deity. This is why he is pre-eminent, because in Him dwells the fullness of God. There is nothing in Jesus that is not divine, nothing divine that is not in Jesus. When we work this out and let it mould our lives and our evangelism, the world looks a very different place. Don’t move from this, as the Colossians would, but make it your bedrock.

Now you may well ask at this point. ‘well that’s great and all, but why should this Jesus care about me? What’s this great, Holy God got to do, or want to do with me? I’m so glad you asked. Lets look at verse 20 together: and (so God was pleased to) through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through His blood on the cross’. You see, I hope, as Paul wanted the Colossian church to see, that Jesus has to be all these glorious divine things for His blood to make peace, for His blood to reconcile all things to God. Now Paul’s use of the phrase ‘all things’ needs some attention here, because we know that not everyone will be saved in the end. Christ’s blood shed on the cross is sufficient for all things, all peoples and all sins, but efficient for the sins of those who will be saved. So it’s not to say that those who are not saved are somehow out of God’s reach, but that their sins were not punished on the cross, only the sins of those who would be saved. Now, I would love to spend more time talking about this, and I will if you want to grab me at the end, but something far more important has just hoved into view. Lets go through verse 20 together slowly ‘through Him (that is Jesus), to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross‘

So how has God reconciled people to Himself? By the blood of Jesus on the cross. How has God made peace with evil, perverted, fallen, sinful people like you and me? By the blood of Jesus on the cross, by punishing Jesus for the sins we have committed that we might know God. Now this, is called penal substitution, or propitiation. And maybe you’ve heard that penal substitution is under attack from the liberal fringe, maybe you’ve read the books and articles, listened to the preachers who are attacking this doctrine. Now I don’t understand why on earth this truth is under attack, because, and here’s a little secret, it’s the best bit of the whole Bible. It really really is. And it’s right here in Colossians 1. Paul needs to Colossians to see it and get so that their hope and confidence might be in it. And I want you to see it and get it so that your confidence is in it. People say that they don’t like because it’s too violent. Yes! This is how God feels about sin! Violently. This is good news. If we lose this doctrine, we’ve lost the holiness of God. If we lose this doctrine we lose all our assurance that we’re saved, or that Heaven is even a place we want to be. There is one God, one problem, one mediator. Defend this doctrine. Proclaim it. Live under it.

But so what? What has any of this got to do with me? It’s got everything to do with you, the wholeness and fullness of Christ’s life and death has everything to do with the Colossians, and with you. Look at verse 21 and 22 with me: and you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. So, we were once alienated. Hostile in mind and doing evil deeds. We will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach, because, and here comes penal substitution again, of Christ’s death on the cross. Please don’t get bent out of shape here, it’s easy to look at this verse and think ‘well I’m not holy, blameless or above reproach’ and I hope that is what you’re thinking. But don’t confuse justification with sanctification. This is what Christ has made us, and how we will be at the end, we will be those things because we are justified. We can become sanctified and like these things because we are justified and will be like these things. So these verses should give us great hope and confidence, and grounds to fight our sin every step of the way. We will be holy, blameless and above reproach all because of Him. Colossian Christians, Reading Christians, you need nothing other than Christ’s blood shed on the cross for you to be saved and live the Christian life. Nothing. So don’t look for it. This is why Paul talks about what we will become when we are before Him, so that the Colossians can start to see evidence of that in their lives at the moment. And hopefully so can we.

Paul continues and concludes in verse 23. Lets read it together. ‘in order to present you holy, blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope you have heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.’ The Christian faith is given and completed by God. From God’s point of view genuine faith is assured of continuing to the end. From the human point of view Christians discover whether their faith is genuine only by patient perseverance. The best sign of past conversion, is present convertedness. How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we be sure that Christ’s atoning work on the cross applies to us? How can we not waste our lives? By not shifting from the hope of the Gospel which we heard. This is Paul’s plea to the Colossian Christians. Don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel. You’ve seen what a great hope, great God and great Gospel we’ve got. Don’t move.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who was minister of St Peter’s Dundee in the nineteenth century before his death at the age of 29 puts it like this:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus name
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The future of justification

I have, i think, shown remarkable restraint in not buying Piper's new book 'the future of justification' sooner. It'll be much cheaper in america, so i will endevour to pick it up from there when i'm over in a couple of weeks. I'm very excited about it right now. I'm really enjoying 'the mission of God', and 'five festal garments' which i'm reading at the moment, and i've got three or four books lined up to read, but they all may have to take a back seat when i get my hands on this.

You can read of review of it here. Piper is responding to NT Wright's view on justification, this is my favourite quote:

What I appreciate most about Piper’s book most how biblically based it is. When Wright declares “What I’m saying is in the Bible,” Piper both graciously and devastatingly meets him in theological disputation on Wright’s own terms – biblical exegesis. While Piper does briefly appeal to theological work accomplished by others, including the founding Anglican theologians who wrote the Thirty-Nine Articles, Luther’s colleague Philipp Melanchthon, the framers of the Helvetic confessions, the Westminster divines, and Westminster’s Richard Gaffin (not to mention CREC pastor Douglas Wilson and Piper’s own theological assistants at Desiring God), Piper establishes his arguments primarily on extensive scriptural exegesis rather than standing on the shoulders of a tradition that Wright routinely criticizes.

The rest of this week will be taken up with proper blogging. I'm preaching at RUCU tomorrow night, and University of Surrey CU on thursday night, so they'll show up sometime. I've also been mulling over some thoughts on Galatians 1 and 2 Chronicles so they might show up eventually as well. If i type it, i have to do it!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Facebook apologetics

This is my response to a question posed on facebook: 'if all of scripture if God breathed, why don't we still obey the commands in Leviticus?' It was partucularly in reference to Lev 20:13, Lev 20:18 and Deut 22:23-29... i don't think it's perfect, but it's a start:

I think there are four points i’d like to make:

1) Jesus, after his ressurection told His disciples that all the Old Testament was about Him. All the law points to Him, and he fulfills is all. That includes Leviticus, which you quoted from. So somehow the laws that you pointed out were fulfilled in Christ, and point towards Christ.

2) The law was given to Israel to communicate to them the holiness of their God (our God, THE God) and to show them and help them to live distinctive lives as a nation. Indeed it was their failure to be distinct that meant that God judged them and took them into exile in babylon. Circumcision that you mention is a particularly good example of this, as it was intituted as a mark of the covenant that God made with Abraham. We no longer need to cirucmsize our children on the eigth day because Christians how have the Holy Spirit working in them as a mark and deposit of our faith. In the same sense this is what we need to know the holiness of our God, and be distinct (hopefully) as a people. The old agreement written on stone has passed away, the new agreement is written on our hearts and will last forever.

3) At the sermon on the mount Jesus sums up the law in two commands: love God, and love your neighbour. Jesus cuts down the hundreds of laws and commands in the Old testament to just two. But the question arises ‘how can God claim to be consistent and then change these things?’ Firstly, because the plan ALL ALONG was to have Jesus crucified to fulfill the law, glorify God and bring people into relationship with Him. The obediance of Christ in fulfilling all the law has now been imputed into Christians, so that they are counted in Him to have fulfilled the law. Which makes sense of the commands of the sermon on the mount to love God and your could we not given all that Christ has done for us?!

4) Paul says in his letter to the Roman church that the reason Israel failed to fulfill the law was because they persued it as though it were by works, by what they could do to impress God, rather than by faith, that is by wholehearted, humbling reliance on God. So it is not that God is unjust in giving the law, or that no one in the old testmant was saved, because many were as they persued it by faith...but that Israel got it wrong. They got God wrong, and His law wrong. Christ got both of those right, He is faithful where we are not, He is our substitute.
I was once told that we need to read the OT through the lense of Christ. Thats what i’ve tried to do here, i hope it’s been helpful…