Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lessons Learned from the Crucifixion


Search the Scriptures


Study 59 --- Luke 23:32-43

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed
at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ
of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine
37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


Comment:
We can learn a number of lessons from this passage:

First, we see Jesus as a model for our lives in his words of forgiveness. Human beings were created to reflect God’s character in their lives. This idea of reflection or imitation is repeatedly taught in the Old Testament. For example, Leviticus 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Or, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I have run into people who excuse their lack of forgiveness on the grounds that they cannot forgive as God forgives, because they are not God. But a key concept in the ethical teaching of Scripture is that human beings are created to reflect God’s character in their lives. Jesus is surely a model for us when it comes to forgiveness, for he teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Second, we see a false theology of glory in the words of Jesus’ opponents. First the rulers, then the soldiers, and then the criminals all give their counsel: “Save yourself.” The words are demonic, for if Christ would have saved himself, we would have perished forever, and God’s gracious plan of salvation would not have been accomplished.

I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that this counsel continues to be part of the theology of glory that Luther opposed. A theology of glory is a theology that says that we ourselves will ascend into heaven by something we do. The enemies of Jesus were counseling him to save himself by his own power. Whenever we are told that we must save ourselves by our own goodness or reason or deeds or piety we are buying into a demonic theology of glory. The truth is that we are saved by the cross of Christ, and not by anything we do. We ascend to heaven when we believe the gospel, not when we try to save ourselves.

Third, we see what is involved in the conversion of a sinner. Jesus is crucified between two criminals. One not only dies, but enters into hell. The other dies, but enters into paradise. How did this criminal, who had lived such a wicked life that he deserved the death penalty, enter into paradise with Christ?


  • First, the man was convicted of his sin. He came to realize what he deserved from the hand of God. He says, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” Until we see ourselves in relation to God, we will never truly see ourselves. But when we see God’s sovereignty, holiness, and purpose for our lives, then we begin to see our rebellion, corruption, and the failure of our lives. Only then do we become candidates for God’s grace/favor.

  • Second, the man was convinced that Jesus was Lord/King. He may not have perfectly understood the substitionary atonement or the relation of the two natures of Christ, but somehow he came to believe that Jesus was the King who would soon establish his kingdom. That faith in Christ, imperfect though it may have been, was enough to bring him into God’s kingdom.

Fourth, we see that Jesus came to take away the effects of sin. Jesus’ use of the word paradise is noteworthy. It is the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word for garden.

Our first parents lived in the garden of Eden in fellowship with God, but were forced to leave because of their sin and rebellion. Jesus came to bring us back into fellowship with himself and his Father through his work on the cross. The great barrier to that fellowship with the triune God is sin, but at the cross our sin was laid on Christ, so that we might be forgiven, justified, and restored to fellowship with our God.

For those who place their faith in Jesus as King, asking for his mercy, everything changes. Forgiveness is granted. Fellowship with God is restored. Death is no longer to be feared, for it has become an entrance into paradise.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Original Sin and New Spiritual Health in a New Representative


Reading:

1) Catechism

7 Q. Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?

A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are born sinners --- corrupt from conception on.

2) Scripture

Jeremiah 17:9:

The heart is deceitful above all things,

and desperately sick;

who can understand it?

Mark 2:17: And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Romans 5:18-19: Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

Comment:

Have you ever been sick with the flu? It’s awful isn’t it! Your body aches. You feel sick to your stomach. You have the chills. When you finally feel better, what a relief! It makes you thankful you feel good most of the time!

But what’s the real problem when you have the flu? The real problem is the virus that’s attacking your body. The virus is causing all of these awful symptoms. This is a picture of what sin is like in our lives! The virus is the original sin within us that makes us turn away from God. The symptoms of this original sin are actual sins, that is, the sins we actually commit --- the transgressions of God’s holy laws.

Original sin is like a virus in our body. It is an anti-God attitude we are born with. We’ve inherited this anti-God virus from our first parents. Original sin is 100% contagious. Adam and Eve have passed it on to every human being brought into the world.

Can we be cured of this awful disease? Thankfully, we have a doctor we can go to for healing. His name is Jesus. He came to call sinners like us to himself. When we come to him by faith, the healing process begins.

But is it fair that Adam sins, and we inherit the sinful nature from him? Adam was the head or representative of the human race. He represented us, and in a sense we were with him when he sinned. This is the way God created the human race.

But now we have a new representative and head when we come to Christ Jesus by faith. Jesus represents us with his perfect sacrifice and righteousness, and in a real sense, we were with him when he died and rose (see Romans 6:1-14). In Christ our head, his righteousness is imputed to us to us to free us from guilt, and imparted in us to make us more like himself. Everything we receive from Adam in a negative way, we now receive in a positive way from Christ!


Discussion: What is original sin? To what does the catechism compare original sin? What are actual sins? How do actual sins and original sin relate to one another? Who can help to cure us from original sin and actual sins?


Prayer Starter: In your prayer come to Jesus by faith as your new representative and head, asking him to begin to heal you from your sins by his imputed and imparted righteousness.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Choice with Momentous Consequences



Search the Scriptures


Study 58 --- Luke 23:13-31



13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”



18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.



26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”



Comment:



First, notice the sinless nature of Christ. Verses 13-16 emphasize that Jesus is not deserving of death. Jesus is the spotless lamb of God. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord taught us that a sacrifice must be without blemish. If Jesus goes to the cross as our sacrifice to take away our sins, then he must be sinless. Both Pilate and Herod are used by Luke to make this theological point.



Second, notice that unlike Jesus, all of us are worthy of death, i.e., eternal separation from God. Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” is used by Luke to picture the human race. Barabbas is guilty of insurrection and murder. These are our crimes against God our Father. We have rebelled against his loving rule of our lives by his Word, and if it were in our power, we would remove him as King so as to rule ourselves. Such crimes are worthy of not only physical death, but eternal death, for they are committed against infinite majesty. It will take the eternal Son of the Father to redeem the guilty sons of the Father.



Third, notice that the innocent Christ suffers for the guilty human race, so that we might be released. Barabbas is released while Jesus is condemned. Jesus suffers the penalty we deserve, and thus he satisfies God’s justice so that we can receive God’s mercy and favor. Luke is showing us that Christ is our substitute, who brings guilty sinners into the grace and peace of the heavenly Father.



Fourth, notice how believers enter into Christ’s sufferings. Simon of Cyrene is probably mentioned by name because he and his family were known in the early church. His sons’ names are mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, and Paul greets one of Simon’s sons at the end of Romans. By carrying Christ’s cross, Simon symbolizes the Christian life. We too are to take up our cross to follow Christ. While our sufferings are not redemptive, as Christ’s were, we are allowed the privilege of suffering for his sake. Rightly seen, suffering for Christ is not a burden but a privilege. Philippians 1:29 turns our way of looking at things upside down: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”



Fifth, notice how Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurate a new era of redemptive history characterized by judgment and the urgent need of repentance in response to God’s grace. In verse 28 Jesus tells the women to weep for themselves and for their children. Why? Because a time of judgment will soon be upon the world, which calls for the sorrow of repentance.
When will this time come? It certainly came when the Romans besieged and overthrew Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But in a deeper sense the time has already come and will fully come at Christ’s return. At his trial Jesus was judged, but in judging Jesus the world judged itself. The world, and our sin, has shown in clearest light what we think of the true God and the Son he sent. Unless we take advantage of God’s patience to repent and turn to Christ, we will face the ultimate judgment of hell.



We must all make a choice with respect to Jesus. Our choice will determine whether we live under God’s gracious favor or judgment, now and for all eternity.

The Purpose of Our Journey


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism:

6 Q. Did God create people so wicked and perverse?

A. No. God created them good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that they might truly know God their creator, love him with all their heart, and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory.

2) Scripture:

Psalm 139:13-16:


13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Comment:

Q&A 6 teaches us that:

Human beings are made by God.
Human beings are made like God.
Human beings are made for God.

We are made by God, who creates each of us in our mother’s womb. We are made like God, because we were created in his image for rule and relationship. We are also made for God. This is what the catechism tells us when it talks about knowing, loving, and living with God.

Knowing God is something that happens as we learn about Jesus. Jesus is described in the New Testament as the perfect picture of God. Jesus explains and shows us what God is really like. This is why Jesus could say to his disciple, Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Loving God is something that also happens as we come to know Jesus. We love God because he first loved us. Jesus showed us God’s love when he came to this earth to save us from our sins. In love God’s eternal Son became a man. In love God’s Son lived a perfect life of obedience to his Father. In love the Son went to the cross to bear our sins, so that we might have eternal life.

Living with God is something that happens when we belong to Jesus. People look for happiness in all the wrong places. The right place to look for happiness is in living in fellowship with Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. Jesus is our Lord, companion, friend, and God on the journey of life. Living with him and the heavenly Father brings us joy.

Knowing God, loving God, and living with God is the way to true happiness. But even more, it is the way to bring praise and glory to our triune God. This is what we were created for!

Discussion: How does Jesus help us to know God? How does Jesus help us to love God? How does Jesus help us to live with God? Why were we created?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer ask the Lord to help you to truly know, love, and live with
him for his glory.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Fear of Death Removed and Trust in the Heavenly Father

After reading the story below about the courage of this British soldier and his utter lack of concern about death, I thought of this Q&A from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q & A: 42

Q. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

A. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

With this view of death in Christ, our fear of death should certainly be lessened. Then, if we consider that our heavenly Father watches over our lives and knows all our days, there is great reason to trust him as the One who gives us our earthly life and takes it when he sees fit. From Q&A 26:

The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ his Son.

I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.

From the Telegraph in Britain

A Royal Marine who received the George Cross for "a supreme act of heroism" after he jumped on a hand grenade to shield his comrades says he would repeat the action again to save the lives of others.

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent Last Updated: 1:45AM BST 24 Jul 2008

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1488655367/bctid1685880216 http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1139053637

L/Cpl Matthew Croucher, 24, was described by the head of the military Sir Jock Stirrup as the "exceptional among the exceptional" for the actions which saw him receive the highest gallantry award.

His mother Margaret and father Richard, said their son's modesty meant they had only found out about the grenade incident after it appeared in the newspapers a few weeks after the incident in February.

"My reaction was 'That's simply Matthew'," his mother said. "There have been so many incidents in private life where he has always put people first."

During a covert pre-dawn patrol to investigate a Taliban bomb factory the Marine walked through a tripwire that sent a grenade rolling to the ground.

Realising it would have covered his three other comrades "head to toe" in shrapnel the Marine jumped chest down onto the bomb.

But a split second later he realised his injuires would be less if he took the blast in his back and rolled over.

After the announcement of the award L/Cpl Croucher recounted the seconds he spent lying on the bomb waiting for it to detonate.

"I had that horrible feeling in my stomach like when you were younger and in loads of trouble. It was a feeling of horror, lying there waiting for it go 'bang'".

"It took only four or five seconds to go off but it felt like an eternity. I thought that was the end."
He added: "If I had my time again I would probably do the same thing.

The action required "extraordinary clarity of thought and remarkable composure" his citation read.

The commando decided not to seek "protection for himself but to attempt to shield the other members of his team from the impending explosion".

Showing a "complete disregard for his own safety" the commando was "quite prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow Marines".

Miraculously the Marine's Osprey body armour and contents of his backpack saved him from the lethal shards.

The section commander, Cpl Adam Lesley, who was standing up, suffered a shrapnel wound to his nose and L/Cpl Croucher received a bleeding nose but refused medical evacuation.

L/Cpl Croucher said the incident was one of about a dozen in which he had come close to death after serving in Afghanistan and in Iraq three times.

He had been in roadside bomb that did not properly detonate, a rocket propelled grenade attack and had a bullet hit the butt of his rifle during a firefight. The Birmingham-based serviceman, who runs a risk management business while also serving in the Royal Marine Reserves, has been in more than 100 contacts with the enemy and accounted for at least a dozen Taliban during his tour of Afghanistan last year.

The George Cross ranks alongside the Victoria Cross as the highest decoration for acts of gallantry.

The only difference is that the GC is awarded for acts not in the presence of the enemy, but the level of heroism required for the two honours is the same.

A Post from Dr. John Currid about the Martyrdom of Hugh McKail

Hugh McKail

I have mentioned a number of times in this blog that one of the main reasons that the covenanters in Scotland of the 17th century suffered so much was because they refused to acknowledge the English king and that he was the head of the church. The persecution was severe; in fact, the covenanters called it "the sifting time." How did these men, women, and children face such bloody times?

Hugh McKail was a covenanter preacher who was sentenced to death for his views of Christ as the only king. As he approached the scaffold he sang Psalm 31, and the crowd who was watching the proceedings began to sympathize with him. As he mounted the steps, the people began to groan and mourn, but he turned and said to them, "Friends and fellow sufferers be not afraid, every step of this ladder is a degree nearer heaven." At the top he said, "And now I do willingly lay down my life for the truth and cause of God, the Covenants and work of Reformation, which were once counted the glory of this nation: and it is for endeavouring to defend this and extirpate that bitter root of prelacy that I embrace this rope."

His final words were these: "As there is a great solemnity here, a confluence of people, a scaffold, a gallows, people looking out of windows; so there is a greater and more solemn preparation of angels to carry my soul to Christ's bosom . . . Farewell father, mother, friends and relations; farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon and stars; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death! Into Thy hands I commit my spirit." At the age of 26, Hugh McKail gained the martyr's crown. There is only one king, and that is King Jesus; and that is worth dying for.

Background Information on Hugh McKail:

December 22, 1666 • Hugh McKail Hanged after Terrible Torture


When Hugh McKail dragged himself up the scaffold for his hanging, on this day, December 22, 1666 he did so joyfully. The twenty-six-year-old Scotsman was eager to enter eternal life with God and he told the crowd so.

"Now I leave off to speak any more with created beings and begin my communion with God, which shall never be broken off. Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, the world and all delights! Farewell meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon and stars! Welcome, God and Father! Welcome, sweet Lord Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, God of all consolation! Welcome glory! Welcome eternal life! Welcome death!"

His final speech made such an impression that some think it was the reason that soldiers soon after that began playing their drums loudly whenever a Covenanter tried to say a few last words from the scaffold.

Hugh died for his faith. Ordained at twenty as a Presbyterian preacher, he held his pulpit only one year. King Charles II was determined to force the Scots into an Episcopal form of worship. As a consequence, he threw many staunch Presbyterians out of their pulpits. Hosts of Scots had signed a covenant vowing not to allow destruction of the Presbyterian church or to allow the government to control the Scottish church. They were called Covenanters. Hugh was one of the Covenanters.

Hugh angered the authorities by preaching a sermon against their persecution in which he said that the Scriptures give abundant "evidence that the people of God have been persecuted, sometimes by Pharaoh upon the throne, sometimes by a Haman in the state, and sometimes by a Judas in the church."

For these bold words he had to flee to the European continent for three years. Eventually he returned home and was living quietly in Galloway. What brought about his downfall was joining a band of Covenanters when a rebellion broke out. This was owing to government outrages. For instance, the king's men tortured people who did not have the money to pay taxes. Hugh's decision to join the troop was a mistake; he was weak from illness and could not keep up with them.

Captured, he refused to tell who the others were or to incriminate them by saying that they had plotted their uprising in advance. To get information out of him, he was tortured with the boot, a painful device in which a metal wedge was hammered against the leg bone. He passed out from pain when the bone split, but did not give the desired information.

Following a further hearing, he was sentenced to death. After the sentence was carried out, the crowds learned that Charles had ordered a reprieve.** Hugh should not have been killed, but sold to the American plantations. This created great anger, because it was widely believed that Archbishop Burnet of Glasgow kept the king's letter a secret so that the Covenanters would die.--------
**According to Taylor (cited below), the records of the King's Privy Council show that such a letter was sent.

Bibliography:

Rusten, E. Michael and Rusten, Sharon. The One Year Book of Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2003.
Smellie, Alexander. Men of the Covenant. Revell, 1903.
Taylor, James. The Scottish Covenanters. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., nd.
Wylie, James A. History of Protestantism. London, Paris and New York: Cassell and Company. http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/ History.Protestant.v3.b24.html

Imaging God: Rule, Relationship, and Dependence


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism:

6 Q. Did God create people so wicked and perverse?

A. No. God created them good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that they might truly know God their creator, love him with all their heart, and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory.

2) Scripture:

Psalm 8

8:1 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,

7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Comment:

Q&A 6 of the catechism teaches us that:


Human beings are made by God.
Human beings are made like God.
Human beings are made for God.

Some people in our world deny that human beings are made by God, but some also deny that humans are made like God. Some people see human beings as no more valuable than a snail darter or a groundhog. In their view, we are just another animal which has evolved and is part of the food chain.

God’s Word teaches us that human beings are creatures who are unique among all of God’s creation, because we are made in God’s image. We were created to reflect God’s character in the world. The Lord, who is the Great King, created Adam and Eve as his king and queen (subject to his will). Together they were to rule and care for the world, while displaying his glory in the world.

The Lord gave us a privilege that even angels don’t share! We were created in the triune God’s image. As the Father, Son, and Spirit exist in a relationship of love from all eternity, so human beings were created to reflect this love in our relationships, first toward God, and then toward others.

Relationship and rule—this is what defines us as human beings. We were created to be in relationship with the Lord first of all, and then with our fellow creatures who bear his image. We were also created to rule on our Father’s behalf, under his good and gracious rule.



One last point from Psalm 8. Psalm 8 begins and ends with the same words: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" When a psalm or other section of literature is framed like this with the same words, it is called an inclusio. The inclusio is there to emphasize something important through repetition and the theme of the section it frames.


But "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth," comes as a bit of a surprise in a psalm that is about man! How do we explain this? What the psalm is teaching us is that we cannot define man apart from God, and we cannot bring God glory without a child-like dependence on him. The psalm is teaching that man rules and brings God glory by his child-like dependence on and his filial fellowship with the heavenly Father!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Insightful Post from Lionel Windsor and the Sola Panel: Nowism

"At the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair."
---from Pilgrim's Progress
Lionel Windsor


There is an insidious and dangerous teaching that I've noticed creeping in to my church, threatening my Christian hope, and stifling my evangelistic effectiveness. Up to this point, it hasn't had a catchy title.1 But I want to correct that. I'm going to call this teaching ‘nowism’, from the English word ‘now’, meaning the present age.



Are you a nowist? How do you recognize nowistic tendencies? It's not so much seen by what you
profess but by how you live. The fundamental feature of nowism is the tendency to live for this world and to forget about the glorious new heavens and new earth that God will bring about when Jesus Christ returns.



It's not a particularly new teaching; there were nowistic teachers in the Apostle Paul's day. In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, we read about Hymanaeus and Philetus who taught that the resurrection had already happened. Presumably, they were teaching that all of God's promises (particularly his great promise to restore the dead to life and to bring a final judgement and restoration of this fallen world) have actually been fulfilled in this present age. Paul saw their nowistic doctrine as destructive and gangrenous, bringing hopelessness, death and destruction, eating away at the body of Christ, poisoning and killing—because it robbed people of their true and glorious eternal hope in Jesus, and stopped them from trusting in him and being prepared to suffer while they longed for his return.



But nowism is alive and well today too. There are nowistic books, spreading like gangrene through Christian bookstores, and therefore Christian homes. You could take the title of Joel Osteen's book Your Best Life Now as a classic expression of pure nowism. But you also see it in that plethora of books that seem to assume that God's plan for your life is primarily directed towards helping you with your weight loss, your business sense, your church attendance numbers, your marriage and family life, your kids' education or your coffee making skills—as if the resurrection has already happened.



It's not surprising that nowism is becoming influential in Christian circles. Bad teaching always ends up conforming to the pattern of the world. In the early 20th century when moralism was the rage, much of the evangelical false teaching involved an unhealthy emphasis on ‘holiness’. But now the mood has shifted. There aren't many holiness teachers around any more. In my part of the world, at least, nowism seems to have taken over. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we live in times of unprecedented economic prosperity. Many of us have careers; all of us have peace and social security. Nobody need starve in our country. If we want heaven, we can get it now; it comes on a stick in the ice cream section of the local supermarket! In fact, most of us have quite a lot to lose when Jesus returns, and we don't have much reason to be very keen to see him come back and spoil it while we're all enjoying ourselves so much. At least he could wait until the kitchen extension is finished and we get back from the overseas trip!



Ironically, there's also a kind of prosperity paradox going on. We have this ‘great life’, but we also have less time to live it. To maintain the lifestyle, to maintain the big houses, to keep the backyards, to further our careers and to fulfil our dreams, we're working longer hours and feeling more exhausted. We're so busy because everybody else is competing with us for this good life too. There's that relentless competition which drives rises in property prices and soaring rents—which drives the need to work harder and longer just to keep up with the Joneses. And that combination of a great life and an exhausting schedule to maintain it means that we have no time for the future—at least not for the future that matters.



So we've become consumed with questions of now (or, at most, the next few decades): what job should I get? How can I make sure my kids are happy and fulfilled at school and home? What superannuation do I need? What diet will enable me to extend my life? And so, despite our professed orthodoxy, we Christians are becoming (bit by bit through our desire to conform to the world and through our own desires and yearnings) nowists.



In my next post, I'll write a little about how we can counter this insidious false teaching, and what it might mean for our evangelistic efforts.



1 The theologians have a boring name for it: ‘overrealized eschatology’

A Helpful Post from Phillip Jensen

Christ Intercedes

From The Dean >>
“It is finished”, cried Jesus as he died. His death brought to an end Satan's reign of sin and death. Jesus had endured the suffering for sin to the uttermost. He had learned what it meant to be obedient to his Father in a sinful world. He had been made perfect or complete as the sacrifice for our sins.

As he died and the curtain in the temple was ripped in two, the way to heaven was opened up. For the sin of the whole world was paid for, in that one death. This was the “one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world”.

It was never repeated - for it could never be repeated. It was never repeated - for it never needed repeating. Jesus sacrificial death was sufficient for all sin for all time. To repeat the sacrifice implies that there is something insufficient in Jesus' sacrifice. There is nothing lacking. “It was finished.”

Whereas the Jewish priests stood daily offering the same sacrifices that would never take away sins, Jesus offered himself once for all to take away all our sins. And Jesus did not stay standing at this post daily offering sacrifices but sat down at God's right hand - having completed this perfect sacrifice and waiting for his enemies to be placed under his feet.

And in finishing this work, he finished the necessity of priestly sacrifices forever. No longer do we have mediators making intercessions for us. There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity - Jesus Christ our Lord who gave himself as a ransom for all.

The finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary is a very great and important truth. It is vital that we continue to teach it. For natural religion is always trying to find a place for human contribution to salvation. People always want to do something for which they can claim credit. People always imagine that they are able to make amends for their sins. People foolishly think that they can make God their debtor by doing sufficient good works as to be able to demand reward from him.

But whenever there is an addition of human effort to the work of salvation - the sacrifice of Jesus is undermined. If Jesus' work was unfinished or incomplete then we have no assurance of salvation or forgiveness.

However, there are a couple of aspects of the work of Christ that are unfinished.

There are the sufferings of the Christ that are being filled up by the persecution of Christians. For as we suffer we share in the sufferings of Christ, and Christ himself suffers. On the Damascus road Paul was asked by the risen Christ “why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Many years later, this same Paul could say about his own sufferings that he was “filling up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions.” (Colossians 1:24).

But more important still is the ongoing work of Christ interceding for his people. For having willingly offered the perfect sacrifice in his death - Jesus our great high priest rose from the dead to sit at God's right hand. There he does the priestly work of intercession on our behalf. He pleads our cause to God as our advocate and mediator. (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25).

The intercession that Christ makes with his Father on our behalf is never our innocence or even mitigating circumstances. His plea before the Father is his own sacrificial death on our behalf - turning aside his Father's wrath on our sinfulness. For his death was a sacrifice of propitiation - turning aside God's righteous anger. Thus the Apostle John wrote: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2).

As our advocate he makes intercession for us. Jesus intercessory work is not a new or different ministry that he is engaged in. His continued work is the application of his finished work. For he pleads his own finished payment for sin on our behalf.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Post About Devotion to Jesus Alone from Dr. Currid

Who is King of the Church?

When we examine candidates for the gospel ministry in presbytery often the first question we ask is, "Who is head of the church?" Many simply answer, "Jesus". In reality, I would argue that one needs to be more specific and say, "Jesus alone." The fact is that many of our Scottish Covenanter ancestors were martyred over that very issue in the 17th century.

One of the great antagonists against the covenanting church in Scotland in those days was a cruel, barbaric man named Claverhouse. His desire was to remove every Covenanter from this scene of time. He is well known as the murderer of John Brown. Alexander Peden says of his friend John Brown, "Brown was a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with." Claverhouse attempted to have John Brown take the Oath of Abjuration, but Brown refused to take it, "declaring as every true Covenanter did that they knew no king but Jesus Christ" (Horne, Torchbearers of the Truth, p. 90). Claverhouse then said to Brown, "Go to your prayers, for you are going to die." Brown's prayer was so moving that Claverhouse's soldiers refused to lift a hand against Brown; Claverhouse killed him himself.

Claverhouse, after the dreadful deed was done, turned to Isabel Brown, and said, "What thinkest of thy husband now, woman?" She replied, "I thought much good of him and now more than ever."

And, so, when we ask the question at presbytery of our ministerial candidates, "Who is the head of the church?", we hope and pray that they answer, "Jesus alone." That would have been the answer of our forebearers such as John Brown and other Covenanters like him!

Beautiful Words and Message from In All Honesty

in all honesty

refuge

Posted: 21 Jul 2008 09:02 PM CDT

I had two very different morning walks early this year. One cold, one hot, miniatures of an unsettled summer.

The first walk was on a bleak and chilly morning. Leaden clouds moved restlessly across the dreary sky. A single crow flew high and lonely against the grey. Above me towered a dead gum, smooth bark the grey-white of old bones and limbs grotesquely contorted, clutching at the sky with twigs like blackened corpses' fingers. All that was missing to make it a truly cliched portent of doom was a flock of ravens cawing ominously from its branches.

I'd just read these words about Jesus and the day he comes to bring judgement:

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation
1:7)A day of terror and anguish for many:

They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him
who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath
has come, and who can stand?" (Revelation 6:16-17)

How frightening must Jesus' anger be, if people would rather have a mountain fall on them than face him!

The second walk was a few days later, under a blazing blue sky. Sweat trickled down my back, promising a sweltering day to come. A gusty north wind carried the acrid odour of a distant bush-fire. Dry leaves skittered rattling across the hot bitumin of the car park, and crested pigeons fled chattering into the shelter of the trees. The air was oppressive, full of the threat of fire.

It reminded me that the safest refuge in the inferno of a bush-fire is the place which has already been burnt black by the flames. When God's anger burns against sin, there is only one safe place: where God's anger has already spent itself. In Jesus, whose pierced hands still recall the day he bore the anguish of the cross in our place, that we might escape.I know, when God comes in his just judgement against our rebellion, I don't want to be crying for a mountain to hide me. I want to be hiding under the wings of Christ:

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take
refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1)

I want to look on the one who was pierced for me, and not mourn, but rejoice.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Frivolous Man and a Silent Christ


Search the Scriptures --- Study 57 Luke 22:63-23:12


63 Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. 64 They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65 And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.


66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”


23:1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”


6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.


Comment:


First, notice the rage of the human heart against God. The Son of God was beaten, mocked, and treated with contempt in our text. The unregenerate heart hates the Lord and his commands. The commands of our Creator strike our unredeemed hearts as intolerable chains, from which we must free ourselves.


This contempt for the Lord and his rule in our lives is irrational. The Lord is the fount of all blessing and goodness in the world. He exists in eternal love in his triune being. He desires what is best for his creatures. His commands are not burdensome (1 John 5), but a delight, for they reflect his holy and blessed character.


But despite the Lord's goodness, men distrust and hate him without cause. If we have any love for the Lord Jesus and God our Father, it is only because God's grace has done a work in our hearts. By nature, and apart from the gospel, our hearts are not inclined toward the Lord and even rage against him.


Second, notice the place Jesus now occupies. Jesus says in verse 68 that "from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God." Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. He rules over all things. He is the King and Judge over all people.


The Jewish leaders, Herod, and Pilate all conspired to judge Jesus. But the Father vindicated Jesus by his resurrection and ascension, so that the tables are reversed. Now Jesus stands as Judge over all people. In judging Jesus, Pilate and the others, in effect, judged themselves. We can do the same.


What place have you and I given to Jesus in our lives? Have we repented to give him a place in our lives that corresponds with reality? The reality is that he is ruling at the right hand of the power of God.


Third, notice that the Christian message is grounded in history. Jesus died on April 2, 33 A.D. and was raised on April 4, 33 A.D. during the time that Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod ruled in the region of Galilee. A pavement in Jerusalem has been uncovered bearing the name of Pilate. The events Luke relates are real history.


The Son of God came to accomplish salvation for us, but in order to do this he had to become a man in real time and space, so that he might bear our sins in his body on the tree (cross). In order to unite us to himself, God had to become man, bearing our punishment for sins.


Arius was a heretic in the fourth century who denied the deity of Jesus. Others in church history have denied the humanity of Jesus. But in order to unite us to himself, Jesus had to be fully God and fully man in one person. Only this kind of Savior could take away our sins and unite us to God.


Last, notice how Jesus fails to respond to Herod. This shows us the danger of taking a trivial attitude toward Jesus, which fails to take him seriously.


Herod wanted to meet Jesus, but he wanted to meet him for all the wrong reasons. Herod was a frivolous man who wanted to be amused and amazed by Jesus. All he wanted from Jesus was to see a miraculous sign. Herod had no interest in Jesus' teaching, nor in Jesus as the Savior from sin. Pilate wanted Jesus to entertain him and amaze him with a miracle.


Maybe the application we can draw from this is to be careful about why we are seeking Jesus. The reverent way to come to Jesus is to acknowledge his rightful place as Lord of all things, including our lives. The reverent way to come to Jesus is humbly asking him to be our Savior who cleanses us from our guilt. The reverent way to come to Jesus is to acknowledge that he has all power, but we have none, so that we ask him for his grace and power to live a life that pleases him.


Today many are seeking entertainment in the church. Others are seeking miracles. This is what Pilate was seeking too, but Jesus did not respond to him with a single word. Kent Hughes speaks about the "debiblicizing of the church" in our day. In other words, the words of Christ are disappearing. Could it be that Christ's silence is his judgment on a frivolous church that is preoccupied with entertainment and a quest for miracles? Such frivolity leads to the loss of Christ's word in the church.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Good Post from Derek Thomas and Reformation 21 on Knowing God

A week in Peru and an entire week teaching systematic theology (39 hrs of lectures in five days) has left me short of breath. Both have been exhilarating in ways that constantly challenge. The latter comprised mostly of the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of God. What emerged for me was a reaffirmation of four central issues:

First, that the knowing God is our greatest privilege. In the middle of a discussion on the validity or non-validity of listing and classifying the attributes of God in a certain way (natural versus moral, communicable versus incommunicable etc), I turned and found myself saying, "But this is not merely theoretical; I know him!" "Jeremiah 9:23, 24: "This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD."


Second, knowing God is what God promises in his covenant. In that passage in Jeremiah 31, which sometimes gets in the way of paedo- and credo-baptist fellowship, the prophet says: they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:34). Knowledge formerly given in fragmentary fashion, through intermediaries of prophets and priests, now comes to every believer. Every New Testament believer is a prophet and a priest and a king!


Third, knowing God is at the center of what Jesus came to do. He came to "exegete" God to us (John 1:18). The things committed to the Father have been made known to the Son and he has shown them to us (Matt. 11:25-30).


Fourth, studying the doctrine of God is what makes us holy! "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Eph. 1:17).


Just think: when they first decided to print J. I. Packer's Knowing God they only printed 2,000 copies! Over a million copies later, the book keeps on going.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Triune God's Intricate Design of the World



Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism:

6 Q. Did God create people so wicked and perverse?

A. No. God created them good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that they might truly know God their creator, love him with all their heart, and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory.

2) Scripture:

Genesis 1:10, 12, 17-18, 21, 25, 26-31:

10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”


27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Comment:

Sometimes people blame God for all of the suffering and sin in the world. But Genesis 1 teaches that God created the world, and that he created it good. We can’t blame man’s sin or the effects of man’s sin on God. God is good.

Q&A 6 and Genesis 1 teach us three important truths about ourselves as human beings:

  • Human beings are made by God.

  • Human beings are made like God.

  • Human beings are made for God.

The fact that human beings are made by God is denied by many in today’s world. Evolutionists say that somehow we just evolved by a process of time and blind chance. But the creation is too complex to believe in this sort of evolutionary myth. The more science learns the more we realize how intricately designed the world is.

Listen to just one example of this intricate design of the world by the Lord:

“The DNA Double Helix is one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. First
described by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, DNA is the famous molecule of genetics that establishes each organism's physical characteristics. It wasn't until mid-2001, that the Human Genome Project . . . presented the true nature and complexity of the digital code inherent in DNA. We now understand that each human DNA molecule is comprised of chemical bases arranged in approximately 3 billion precise sequences. Even the DNA molecule for the single- celled bacterium, E. coli, contains enough information to fill all the books in any of the world's largest libraries.”

Discussion: After creating certain things, we read that God saw that his creation was good. Why do you think he changes this to “very good” in Genesis 1:31? What accusation do people often make against God, and is it true? Discuss the complexity of each DNA molecule. What attitude does it create in your heart about God?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer thank the Lord for creating you and caring for you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Lord's Look

Search the Scriptures --- Study 56 Luke 22:47-62

Luke 22:54-62: 54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

Comment:

I have been meditating on verse 61: "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter." What was the result of this look? Two things:
  • Peter remembered the word of the Lord.

  • Peter wept over his failure.

One danger we face when we read Scripture is our tendency to speculate about matters not revealed to us. It would be easy for us to fall into the temptation of trying to "imagine" what kind of look Jesus gave Peter. But the fact is we do not know, and if we speculate about the nature of Jesus' look, our speculation will take us away from the text and its meaning, and ultimately the Lord revealed in the Word.

Instead of speculating about things not revealed to us, it is better for us to focus on what is revealed and the context we are given in the passage. The context, of course, are the events of Christ's passion and Peter's failure in the midst of our Lord's sufferings.

Why was Peter weeping? What was he weeping about? Surely he was weeping over the self-discovery of his sin and weakness. Surely he was weeping about his failure to stay true to his Lord. Surely he was weeping about his failure to love Jesus, which must have seemed to Peter, instrumental in his Lord's imminent death.

Isn't this self-discovery of our sin and weakness necessary for all disciples of Christ? By nature we are proud and self-sufficient. When we learn of our lack of strength and the depth of sin still lodged in our hearts, it is a terrible discovery. When we discover how fickle and changeable our commitment to our Lord truly is, it grieves our hearts. When we consider that our Lord was on the cross because of our sins, we begin to discover the true heinousness of our sin.

Although this self-discovery is painful, it is necessary for our spiritual healing. It begins when the Lord looks upon us in his all-knowing gaze. As John 2:25 says, Jesus "knew what was in man." The Son of God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our sin and weakness. And, it is actually his grace in our lives, when he looks upon us so that we might discover something of our sin and depravity too.

This process of the self-discovery of our sin involves the Word of the Lord. It was as Peter remembered Christ's words that he was convicted of his sins. The Word of God acts as a mirror to show us ourselves in relation to the glory of God that is revealed in Christ. As the Word shows us God's glory, then we see our sin, and our hearts break with sorrow. But this sorrow is good, for it leads us by grace back to the Lord, who suffered and died so that we might always live in his blessed presence.

Strangely enough, now that we have focused on the text and context of Peter's failure and our Lord's cross, maybe we now can say something about Christ's look. Although we still should not speculate about Christ's facial expression, we can say that it was the look of the incarnate Lord who knew Peter, loved Peter, and was already working to restore Peter. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ that he does the same thing in our lives, if we are his disciples.

Discerning Good and Bad Teaching in Christ's Church


One of the things that grieves me is the lack of discernment among professing Christians. We live in a time when thousands flock to hear bad, and even, false teaching, while faithful teachers encounter all kinds of problems for the sake of the gospel.


I suppose this may not be a problem new to our day. The apostle Paul was nearing the end of his life when he wrote 2 Timothy. One would expect that the end of Paul's ministry would bring an outpouring of thanks from the Christian community for many years of faithful preaching of the gospel. Instead we find increased suffering in his life, and the abandonment of those who should have poured out their love and thanks to the Lord for him. In 2 Timothy 1, the apostle writes, "You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me." And, in chapter 4 he tells us that "Luke alone is with me."


Paul died alone, nearly abandoned by everyone. But, then, so did Jesus. The apostle was given the high privilege of imitating Jesus and suffering for him.


But just because the Lord can bring good out of evil, doesn't mean that we should abandon faithful ministers of the gospel. How much better it would be for us if we would learn to support those faithful ministers of God's Word and turn away from those who teach falsely! But, this takes discernment. Below is a post from Gavin Perkins and the Sola Panel on the need for discernment when we hear God's Word:




We've recently had some American friends staying with us. They sing Hillsong music in their church back home, and so they wanted to check out the church.


So what did we make of the night? If you ignore the issue of whether it's an appropriate expression of coming together in church to listen to an excellent (and I mean excellent!) rock gig, then much of the night was fine. Although, it was a bit disturbing when the ‘altar call’ was given before the talk in response to the music.


It's been a while since I visited Hillsong Church, and I've got to say the song lyrics are far more Christ-centred than I recall. The other big thing that has changed is that Hillsong now shows virtually no signs of its Pentecostal heritage. There is no tongue speaking, slaying, healings or ‘holy laughter’. In fact, in stark contrast to a typical Pentecostal church where you really don't know what's going to happen from one minute to the next, my strong impression was that someone was sitting up in a control box with a detailed running sheet down to the second! Anything that looked improvised seemed to me to be feigned.


At the end of the night, following the calls from the mosh pit for encores and some good old early-90s-style crowd surfing (I'm serious), one of the song leaders declared that “This was the best weekend we've ever had at Hillsong”.


So what was the message from God's word on this greatest ever weekend? Let me try to summarize Brian Houston's talk:


The theme was given: “God's heart for your house”.


He began with the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:25-31 whose “job it was to put people in the hold.”
We then focused in on verse 31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”


Household. Hold: limiting, holding back, holding against. “You don't see what the house holds because of what holds the house back.”A house holds potential and opportunity. But that potential (what the house holds) is often not realized because of what holds the house back. “We mustn't live our lives under the power of the past.” Things have happened in the past in your family, but don't let that hold you back. Because, Galatians 6:10, you are now part of the “household of faith”.


“My father could never see my potential. He always talked about my brother. He didn't see what his house held.”


“90 years ago Nelson Mandela's mother couldn't see what her house held as that baby was born.”


What is holding you and your household back from its potential? Rid yourself of the negativity and the past, and walk into what your house holds.


Households can also be positive things. See Joshua 24:15: “[A]s for me and my household we will serve the Lord.”


My American friend described the sermon as “without a doubt the worst sermon he had ever heard” (read his thoughts ). And that was on a weekend which, we were told, was the best ever at Hillsong.


On top of the atrocious handling of Scripture, and the fact that Houston completely ignored the change agent in the passage (Jesus), the message itself was nothing more than Oprah/Robbins dressed up in (barely) Christian language. In fact, given a choice, I would rather listen to Oprah or Robbins. At least they are up-front about what they're doing.


In the week afterwards, I had two questions


  • Why do believers stay at a church that doesn't teach the Bible?

  • If the sheep know Jesus' voice, does the fact they stay show that they are not sheep?

  • Why do believers at good Bible teaching churches often defend Hillsong so strongly?

  • Is that just the pseudo-charitable tolerance fad, otherwise known as lack of discernment?

  • Can someone please help me with these questions?

What is this you/You have done?


Reading:

1) 5 Q. Can you live up to all this perfectly?

A. No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.

2) Genesis 2:15-17: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:8-13: And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

John 18:33-35: So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

Comment:

After Adam and Eve sinned by rebelling against God’s command not to eat of the tree (Gen. 2:17), the Lord confronts the first couple with a number of questions. He asks Eve, “What is this you have done?” (Gen. 3:13a). In a similar way, when Jesus was on trial, Pilate asked Jesus a number of questions. Pilate asks Jesus the same question the Lord asked Eve: “What is it you have done?” (John 18:35b).

What the first couple had done was to rebel against God. They tried to take the Lord’s place as king. They tried to usurp his throne. Instead of being ruled by the Lord through his words, they decided to rule themselves. They rebelled by disobeying God’s word. They tried to take God’s place by becoming like God (Gen. 3:5), so that from now on they would determine good and evil for themselves. No longer would they look to God’s word for direction. Rebellion and pride were at the heart of Adam and Eve's sin.

When Jesus went to the cross, two charges were brought against him. The first charge was rebellion. This accusation is stated in John 19:12, when the Jews say, “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” The second charge against Jesus was pride. The Jewish leaders state this accusation in John 19:7, when they say, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

Do you see how Jesus is accused of the same charges as Adam and Eve in the garden? Both our first parents and Jesus were accused of rebellion and pride.

The only difference, of course, is that the charges against us are true, but the charges against Jesus are false. Jesus was not guilty of rebelling against Rome and he certainly never rebelled against his heavenly Father. Jesus was truly God himself, but instead of exalting himself, he humbled himself to become a man and our Savior.

When Jesus died, he was dying for our sins of rebellion and pride. This rebellion and pride are what Q&A 5 refers to when it talks about “a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.” This pride and rebellion of our hearts has led to the distortion of our emotions. Instead of supremely loving God, who is worthy of our love, and instead of loving our fellow human beings who are made in God's image, our emotions of love and hate have become fixed on the wrong objects.

Discussion: What were the two main sins of Adam and Eve in the garden? Why do you think Jesus was accused of the same sins as Adam and Eve? What natural tendency have all people inherited from our first parents?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer, thank the Father that he sent his Son to pay the penalty for our crimes of rebellion and pride (trying to take God’s place by ruling ourselves).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Original Sin and Actual Sins: Root and Fruit


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism:

5 Q. Can you live up to all this perfectly?

A. No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.

2) Psalm 51:1-5, 17:

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Comment:

David sinned in a terrible way. First, he committed adultery with his neighbor’s wife, breaking the seventh commandment of the Ten Commandments. Second, he tried to cover up his sin before the eyes of others by having the husband, who was named Uriah, put to death.

It appears as though David managed to keep his sins somewhat hidden from human eyes. But though people don’t always see our sins, God does. The Bible tells us that the Lord knew about David’s sin, and it displeased him. In 2 Samuel 11:27 we read: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”

Psalm 51 was written by David as his confession of sin to the Lord. The Lord is great in grace and mercy, but he does require that we confess our sins before him in order to receive forgiveness. As long as we remain unconcerned, unrepentant, and without sorrow over our sins, there can be no forgiveness.

One of the things David learned in his life is what he tells us in Psalm 51:5:

“Surely I was sinful at birth,

sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

David learned that he sinned because he was a sinner. Just as an apple tree produces apples, and a peach tree produces peaches, so sinners commit sin. In other words, David learned that his actual sins were produced by his original sin. What do we mean by actual and original sin?

Actual sins are the sins we actually commit. David actually committed the sins of adultery, deceit, and murder. But original sin is the tendency we are born with and even possess when are conceived in our mother’s womb. Original sin is our tendency to dislike God’s authority in our lives. Original sin is our tendency to follow our own minds and hearts, rather than God’s will and word. David learned that his actual sins, like adultery and murder, were produced by the original sin in his heart.

Which is worse, our actual sins we commit or the original sin within us? Surprisingly, our original sin within us is worse in God’s eyes, for it is the cause of our actual sins. A good example of the relation of original and actual sin is the flu. When you get the flu you have symptoms like vomiting, headaches, achiness, and chills. But the symptoms are actually caused by a virus. The virus is the real problem and the cause of all the symptoms. In God’s sight, our original sin is the worst sin in our lives.

How humbling for us is this doctrine of original sin! But thankfully, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:7 and 1 Pet. 5:6).

Discussion: Describe actual sin and original sin. Actual sins hurt other people, but what is the deepest cause of our actual sins (look at verse 4)?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer, thank the Father that through the work of his Son on the cross that all of your sin, both actual sins and original sin are forgiven and blotted out according to his abundant grace and mercy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bible Grammar 101: The Three Uses of the Law



Reading:

1) 4 Q. What does God’s law require of us?

A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22 --- Love the Lord your
God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind
and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.


2) 1 John 5:1-3: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.


Comment:

We talked about the importance of learning the difference between the law and the gospel (see earlier posts on Q&A 3). The law shows us our sin and the misery or consequences sin brings. In contrast, the gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the benefits he brings. Learning the difference between the law and gospel is like learning our ABC’s, for it is basic to understanding the Bible.

Another basic teaching which should be a part of our biblical grammar is what we call the three uses of God’s law. In school we have to learn the rules of grammar. We have to learn how to use commas, periods, colons, and semicolons. We have to learn about nouns, verbs, and pronouns. The three uses of God’s law is a basic truth we have to learn if we want to learn the Bible so that we can know and love the Lord and his ways.

What are these three uses or functions of God’s law?

1. The first use is called the civil use. Governments enact laws to restrain people from things like stealing, murder, and lying under oath.

2. The second use is called the pedagogical use. In this use the law shows us our sin and its results. Questions 3-11 of the catechism concentrate on this use of the law. The law functions to show us our sin and our need of a Savior. By pointing the way to Christ, the law functions like a pedagogue or schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.

3. The third use of the law is what we call the didactic (teaching) use. The law not only shows us our sin, but it also shows us, in Christ, God’s will, i.e., how to live a life that pleases our triune God. The law teaches us God’s will in Christ because we have to remember that all the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in him. Therefore, Old Testament laws must be seen through the lens of their New Testament fulfillment.

Discussion: Can you name and describe the three uses or functions of God’s law? Can we apply Old Testament laws directly to us as Christians, or do we first need to consider their fulfillment in Christ and our new situation as those who live in what the apostle calls the “fulfillment of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11)?

Prayer Starter: In your prayer, thank the Father for giving us his commands or laws, so that we can know what pleases him in Christ. Ask the Father to work a love for his will and his Word into your heart as his son or daughter.

Christ's Protection of His People


Search the Scriptures: Study 55 Luke 22:31-46

Verses 31-37: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Comment:

Satan's desire was to destroy the faith of the apostles. The "you" in verse 31 is plural. The enemy of souls wanted to prove that the disciples were really chaff and not wheat. In other words, the enemy's desire was to cause them to fall in such a way that they would never again get up.

In some ways, Peter's fall would be the worst. He fell from the height of leadership among the twelve. Therefore, his restoration is symbolic and instrumental in the restoration of all the apostles, except for the betrayer (Judas).

As disciples of Christ, our preservation is not found in our own strength. Instead it is found in Jesus' intercession for us. He is the author and sustainer of our faith, and our faith is the hand that takes hold of Christ and his atoning work on our behalf. The reason we continue to believe (for without faith in Christ we fall without chance of rising) is not due to our intelligence or strength, but only due to the Lord's gracious power. How wonderful that Jesus prays for his people---for you and me!

I remember the advice of my pastor when I was in my 20's in the midst of many doubts. His advice was simply, "Don't give up---don't give up on Christ." Proverbs 24:16 says that "the righteous man falls seven times and rises again." Under the new covenant, Christ's people are given a spirit of repentance and faith that we continue to exercise over and over again. The way we begin with Christ through faith and repentance is the way we live with him until he takes us home (Col. 2:6). We live in union with Christ in his dying (repentance) and rising (faith).

Verse 37 gives us the basis for our continued repentance and faith. Jesus died to open up an ever-flowing fountain for our cleansing. "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness" (Zech. 13:1). "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7).

Verse 37 also gives us the key that unlocks the meaning of Christ's cross. Jesus refers to Isaiah 53, which serves to show us the meaning of his death. He died as our substitute. He was numbered with rebellious sinners, so that rebellious sinners like us could be numbered with him as his own. He endured the judgment and condemnation we deserved, so that in him we might receive blessing and favor instead.

There is no other way to avoid God's judgment than through the judgment Jesus endured on the cross. The holy God must judge sin. We live in a moral universe. One day there will be an accounting. In that day our only hope will be that our Judge has borne our judgment for us and in our place. Praise his wonderful name!

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