Continuing The Reflection On the Cross

    “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Luke 6:40

In continuing to reflect upon Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain I am seeing more clearly that Jesus is calling His disciples to follow Him as He is making His way to the cross.  In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus states that “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it.” 

Such a life is lived out in a world that is hostile to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How are disciples of Christ to respond to such a trying life?  Jesus calls His disciples to respond with Agape, which is the love of God towards us demonstrated in the cross of Christ.

Such Agape is lived out on account of the preciousness of the object loved.  It is not a response to our perception of what the object may be able to do for us.  It is defined as the love of God towards us.  God did not chose to love us on account of His belief that we might be able to do something for Him, but simply because we are precious to Him.  As Paul writes to the Romans,

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:5-8)

He loved us and chose to reconcile us to Himself through the cross of Christ simply because He deemed us to be precious.  We do not know why we are precious to Him, but we are and that fact brought the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross for us.  On account of Christ’s great love for us we love Him and His people.  We therefore exalt Him constantly in our lives.  We exalt, or worship Him truly, as we approach Him as the crucified one.  This is what it means for us to truly worship Him.  Norman Grubb on page 55 of “The Law of Faith” puts it this way.

“The biggest challenge to faith in our day doesn’t come from atheists denying God but from believes diminishing Him — treating him with cosy familiarity, praying to Him as though He were our Old Pal Upstairs or singing choruses which portray Him as a well-meaning simpleton.”

Real worship recognises that the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe has deemed us to be precious and therefore He reconciled us to Himself even though we are unworthy of such love.  He then calls us to love what He loves, even though the object loved is not worthy.  We simply love because God has declared that person to be precious enough for the Son of the Living God to go to the cross in order to reconcile them to Himself.  Such love is the fruit of the holy Spirit in us.  It becomes in us the expression of the Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  It is this love that our broken world needs so desperately today.

Trusting Christ

“So He said to me, “This is the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.  What are you, o mighty mountain?  Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.  Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it!  God bless it!’” 

                Then the Word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this Temple; his hands will also complete it.  Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things?  Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.  (These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.)””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:6-10

                Over the past fifty or sixty years it seems as if the Christian Church here in the west has fallen on hard times.   By nearly every measure we use we seem to be in decline.  Fewer people are attending worship services, our influence is declining, and hostility to our beliefs is increasing.  For many, there is a growing longing for those glorious days of the past when things were so much better.  We pray for revival, which is a vital necessity at all times.  We engage in personal evangelism, trying to lead as many as possible to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Still we find ourselves feeling increasingly out of step with the world around us.

The question we must confront in our present situation is whether our current struggles are really that unusual.  Recent research shows that we live in a time when there is an abundance of persecution directed against Christians.  We know that there have been other times in which there has been a lot of hostility directed against the faithful.  The Bible describes an abundance of times when believers have faced hostility for their faith.  One such time was the time described by the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah where the Temple was being rebuilt by those who had returned from the exile.  It was being rebuilt while the believers were facing an abundance of hostility.  For believers like Zerubbabel, the descendant of King David who was a leading figure in the Hebrew community it must have seemed to be a hopeless task.  What was he to do in such an environment?

It was here that God’s Word came to him reminding him that the task was not his, it was God’s.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”  There was only one way the task was going to be accomplished and this was through the gracious working of God’s Spirit.  This is not to say that Zerubbabel did not have tasks that he must carry out in faith.  He did in fact have many.  The assurance he was given however was that God was at work in this task to which he had been called.  God assured him of the ultimate success of his work.

As we examine the few verses that head this page we see that God’s promise is that the rebuilding of the Temple is an example of something truly significant that God is going to do in the future.  The Temple is a step along the way to an incredibly powerful event which was even then drawing close.  This was the building of the Kingdom of God through the coming ministry of the Messiah.  God’s promise to Zerubbabel points ahead to this great event.  The struggle that God’s people returning from the exile were facing was in fact the same conflict that the Son of Man would face when He came and which we are currently are facing in our time as we testify to His gracious gift to us.

In each case the solution to our dilemma is the same.  This is to put our faith in that thing which God is doing in the Christ.  At all times success is guaranteed because it is the Sovereign, All Powerful God who is doing the work.  Therefore we are called to prayerful obedience to God’s call to service.  He has called us to testify in every place that He puts us to the wonderful grace that has been given to us in Christ.   The question is this; do we truly believe that the Spirit of God is actively at work in us, through us, and around us, accomplishing God’s great purpose in Christ?  If we believe this truth will we follow Him into the difficult places He leads us, sharing the love of Christ with those whose lives are broken and corrupted by sin?  This has always been God’s plan of redemption.

Love Your Enemies

     “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other also.  If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:27-31

In continuing an examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain we are led into a reflection on just what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The sermon is directed towards the disciples of Jesus.  They have been called to follow Jesus to the cross.  His teaching which is given to them here will point out just what it means to be a disciple.  They are to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Jesus.  All of their lives, their relationships, their purpose, will now be centred upon the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Ross Hastings in his book, “Missional God, Missional Church” writes,

“In sheer grace, again, when the risen Christ comes to them He does not do so with condemnation.  He comes instead with outstretched arms and words of shalom upon His lips.  How precious was the real presence of Jesus for those disciples–the same yet different Jesus.  There was a continuity of identity.  He was still fully divine and fully human, yet there was a discontinuity with respect to the nature of the humanity.  This picture is a strong encouragement for Christians in Churches that have lost their way missionally because they have lost their centre in Christ.  Instead of discussing the glories of the risen Christ, they now squabble over carpet colors and who’s in charge of what and how much money should be given to whom.” (Pages 123 – 124)

For Hastings a Church which has lost its focus upon the crucified and risen Christ has ceased to be a Church.  Jesus calls His disciples into a lifestyle of Agape love, which the Scriptures make clear can only be lived in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  That is the way that our mission work is carried out.  That is the way that we truly live as the Church in this hostile world.  I will be reflecting more upon this in the coming weeks.

Advancing the Gospel

“Yes and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

                                                                                                                                                Philippians 1:18b- 19

The Apostle Paul is writing a very joyful letter to the Church in Philippi, and dealing with some of the difficulties that he has been facing.  As he writes this Paul gives us the proper, Biblical perspective on the circumstances that we face in our lives.  As believers we are called to love and glorify God with every aspect of our lives.  At times it seems as if this is impossible on account of the overwhelming nature of our circumstances.  When we look at the context of what Paul writes here we discover his perspective, which must become ours if we expect to enjoy the love of our God.  Paul’s perspective was Gospel centred.  The one question that he wrestled with was whether the Gospel would be advanced by his circumstances.  The facts were that he was imprisoned, chained to a guard, and prevented from freely serving the Lord.  For us such circumstances would be an intolerable hardship.  For Paul they served to advance the Gospel cause.  So he rejoiced in them.

The Prophet Jeremiah calls us to a different perspective on life from what is normal for us.  He writes,

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man 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.”

                                                                                                                                                Jeremiah 9:23ff

In the book of Job we read,

“Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.  Why do I put myself in such jeopardy and take my life in my hands?  Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; I will surely defend my ways to His face.  Indeed this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before Him!”

                                                                                                                                                Job 13:13-16

                The Job quotation hints at the defence which Paul gives for his ministry.  No matter what happens to him he is praying that the purposes of the Gospel will be advanced through his life or his death.  This is the joyful approach that we are to take to our circumstances.  Our prayer and our commitment must be that the Gospel purpose will be advance by what we are facing.

Reflections On The Cross

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”  Luke 6:22

This week I have begun a reading of “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge.  (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2015.)  This marvelous book is leading me into a deepening reflection on the cross of Christ.  Some of these reflections I hope to focus upon in these Blog Posts over the next few months.  Rutledge makes the powerful point that Christ Crucified is really central to the whole life of the Christian Church.

Today I just want to include a couple of quotations in order to sharpen our focus on the life that we are called to as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“This chapter has been about the primacy of the cross.  We have not yet said enough about the godless nature of it; that is the subject of the next chapter.  Episcopal v=bishop Philip Rhinelander, in the “Faith of the Cross”, summarizes for us the astonishing but insufficiently noted fact that the first Christians were determined to make the godlessness primary:

“If ever mortal men found a real hero on this earth, those men were the disciples.  They, indeed, were hero worshippers.  Then think of the horrid shock and shame which overwhelmed them at the Cross.  It was no splendid martyrdom for a great cause, no glorious conquest won at the cost of life; no epic to be sung and celebrated.  No, the Cross was simply an utter overthrow, a speechless failure.  It was all sordid, cruel, criminal, a gross injustice, and intolerable defeat of good by evil, of God by devils…..  He, their hero, their chosen leader, He was numbered with the transgressors.  He was cast out with a curse upon Him.  Think how loyalty would burn to right this wrong, to clear His memory, to save His reputation, to prove that gross outrage had been done to Him, to magnify the life so that the death might be forgotten…. But nothing of the kind seems to have occurred to the Evangelists.  They literally glory in the Cross…. They are clear, with an absolute conviction, that the best and most wonderful thing He ever did was…to die a felon’s death, between two robbers.  It was their hero’s greatest heroism that He was executed as a common criminal.”

To summarize then: the crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection is given its true significance.”

At the beginning of the next chapter Rutledge quotes from Kenneth Leech from “We Preach Christ Crucified”.

“In order to speak of the crucified God we need a theology of  abandonment, of dereliction, of an alienation so profound that it can only be expressed in a language marked by paradox and by great daring and risk.  The crucifixion of the Son of God by one of the most advanced civilizations in the ancient world does not seem to be an acceptable or reasonable method of redeeming the world.  There is something so outrageous and obscene about it that the agony of Gethsemane becomes the only comprehensible part of the whole saga.”

I hope this leads you into your own profitable reflections on Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

A Great Old Hymn

“Then David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am I, O Lord God, that you have brought me this far?  And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant.  You have looked upon me as though I were the most exalted of men.”

                                                                                                                                                1 Chronicles 17:16-17

                Richard Cecil in The Life of John Newton (edited by Marylynn Rouse, Published by Christian Focus Publications, 2000) writes in Appendix 7 regarding Newton’s great hymn “Amazing Grace” that it was written to accompany a sermon on the above Scripture passage.  This was a sermon in which called God’s people to an attitude of mind that expressed real gratitude to God for all of His blessings to us.  Newton entitled the hymn “Faith’s review and expectation”.  The original expresses real hope and gratitude to God, responding in faith to the marvellous grace given in Christ.

Here is the version which Cecil preserves for us.

“Faith’s Review and Expectation

1 Chronicles 17:16-17

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)

                That saved a wretch like me!

                I once was lost, but now am found,

                Was blind, but now I see.

 

                ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

                And grace those fears relieved;

                How precious did that grace appear,

                The hour I first believed!

 

                Through many dangers, toils and snares,

                I have already come;

                ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

                And grace will lead me home.

 

                The Lord has promised good to me,

                His Word my hope secures;

                He will my shield and portion be,

                As long as life endures.

 

                Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

                And mortal life shall cease;

                I shall possess within the veil,

                A life of joy and peace.

 

                The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

                The sun forebear to shine;

                But God, who called me here below,

                Will be forever mine.”

Psalm 26

    “I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells.”          Psalm 26:8

Wayne Jackson, in his “Examine me Lord — A Study of Psalm 26:Christian Courier”  quotes from George Rawlinson (1812-1902) regarding Psalm 26 that it has “all the notes of David’s style, is full of his thoughts and imagery, and is allowed to be his by almost all critics” (1950, 192).  He argued that the Psalm belongs to the time when the ark was at Mount Zion.  There is certainly nothing in the Psalm to suggest otherwise.

The Oxford scholar contended that a literal rendition of v. 8b is “the place of the tabernacling of your glory.”  In the wilderness, the place of God’s “glory” was in the tabernacle’s “Holy of Holies” (Exodus 40:34; Numbers 14:10).

That last thought caught my attention.  The glory of the Lord tabernacled in the House of the Lord.  It was there that He was revealed in all His awesomeness.  The focus is on the revelation of the Lord’s Nature as the one who redeems His people.  Earlier in the Psalm David writes, “For your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in Your truth” (Psalm 26:3).  That word Tabernacle refers to the Lord dwelling among us.  It caught my attention because it reminded me of the prologue of John’s Gospel where we read John’s testimony regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the Only Begotten, of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  The word translated as dwelling in John’s Gospel is actually the word tabernacled.  What David was pointing to in Psalm 26 became reality in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Christ we see the glory of God revealed, full of grace and truth.  What a tremendous, faith building promise from God.  Here is grace and truth that exposes our sin and atones for it in His cross.  Here is our reconciliation with God through His shed blood.  His call to us is that we receive His grace through faith in Christ.

 

Looking Ahead in Faith

 

                “The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for man or linger for mankind.  The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which mauls and mangles as it goes, and no one can rescue.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 5:7-8

                In reflecting upon the closing of the fifth chapter of Micah’s prophesy one thing becomes abundantly clear.  This is that the Prophet is looking ahead to the age of the coming Messiah.  Micah is describing the characteristics of the Kingdom of the coming Messiah as a perfect fulfillment of the covenant blessings of God to His people.  In Genesis 12:2-3 God says this to Abraham.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.”

That promise was deeply rooted into Micah’s consciousness.  As he thought and prayed about the situation that Judah faced in his days Micah could not get away from the thought that an all powerful, faithful God would not make a promise to His people that He could not, or would not keep.  All that they were about to face would serve to lead to the fulfillment of this promise.  They would be scattered into exile.  Many of them would not return, some would but others would remain scattered.  God’s promise would remain true.  When the Messiah came and set up His Kingdom they would be part of it.  Micah focuses his attention upon it and he sees three key points which must guide our understanding of the Lord’s purposes for those who are part of His Church.

1)      The remnant will be like dew from the Lord.  In Palestine the dew is heavy, and during the dry season it is a great blessing.  It comes without our working for it.  So too does the grace of God come upon us as a consequence of the Kingdom of God.  Wherever we are there is blessing upon the people.  Christians are a blessing as they pray for and minister to the people they encounter.

2)      The remnant will be like a lion among us, mauling and mangling all it encounters.  Again the image suggests something which is uncontrollable.   Having the Church among us brings us to a point of decision.  How we respond to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it lived and proclaimed by His people will determine how God treats us.  To reject Him is to experience a cursing, a judgment from God.

3)      Micah goes on to say that the final element of this Kingdom of the Messiah will be that the people of that Kingdom will be refined by God.  He will remove and destroy everything that we find ourselves trusting in that is not Him.  At the heart of the Gospel is the call to repent and to seek first, and only, the Kingdom of God.  That is, to seek Him alone.  We live in a culture that seeks so many other things.  Our hopes, dreams, and security are anchored on all kinds of “other things”.  We must seek Him alone.

Micah saw this for us.  He calls us to really be part of the Messiah’s Kingdom.  There really is no other way forward for us.

Real Health

“Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.””  Luke 5:31-32

Miroslav Volf, in his book Free of Charge (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005) writes about grace and forgiveness.  In a powerful chapter asking the question “How shall we forgive?”  Volf presents a moving description of just what real humanity is all about.  The Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us a genuine humanity in His Incarnation.  He became fully human while remaining fully God.  He then went willingly to the cross in order to die for us.  As Volf writes,

“Christ died to remove the stain of sin that sticks to me as long as I live.  Christ died in my place.  I don’t need to die to be freed from sin.  And because Christ died, I also don’t need to die when I forgive, when I unbind a sinful deed from the person who committed it against me.  Indeed, it would be preposterous for me to think that I could ever do such a thing — die as a substitute for my neighbours sin.  When Christ died, we all died in Him.  But my death is only my own, it can never be another’s.  In regard to the sin of another, as in regard to my own sin, Christ does everything alone.  When I forgive an offense directed against me, I don’t die, and therefore I don’t forgive exactly as God does.”

As Volf goes on he explores our calling to be fully human, even as he demonstrated that we are unable to be so.  We are sinners in need of the forgiveness which Christ gives us through the Cross.  His gracious gift to us leads to forgiveness and freedom from sin.  Volf had earlier described the way in which his own parents had lived out the reality of a costly forgiveness when they forgave those whose inattention had led to the death of their son Daniel.  Our forgiveness cost God the death of His only begotten Son.

When Jesus calls Matthew to become a disciple he opens Himself up to the Pharisees who in their self righteousness thought that a Tax Collector could never be a saved person.  In this attitude these Pharisees were demonstration their own inhumanity.  How often do we demonstrate the same thing when we look upon others, whether it is a person who has wronged us, or a certain group or nationality, or even someone who has behaved in a way that can only be defined as reprehensible by any standard we could ever apply.  Such people are defined, by us, as outside of salvation.

These are the very people however who Jesus went to the cross for.  All they need do is hear His invitation to come to Him, just as Matthew did.  They are to come in repentance and they will receive forgiveness from Him.

What a precious, forgiving grace He purchased for us on the cross.  The question is will you repent and believe in Him so that you might be forgiven and made to be fully human?

 

 

 

An Invitation

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?”

                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Every Wednesday evening between the beginning of September and the end of June a group of us gather at First Baptist Church Brampton for a Bible Study.  It is such a joyful and wonderful thing to share together with a smaller group of Christian brothers and sisters a time of fellowship and prayer, while we look more deeply into the message of the Scriptures.  In the past few months we have been exploring the book of Psalms.  In this book we encounter the call of God that we might come to Him for refuge.  Refuge is found in faith and in prayer.  It is also found in our trusting in God’s Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here we find the promise of a coming Messiah who will be eternal God come as a human being to serve His heavenly Father.  He was to be born into the town of Bethlehem, and would be of the family of David the King.  The Psalmist tells us that this Messiah will lead His people into a deep and rich experience of the peace of God.  It is wonderful to discuss together the way in which this promise became living reality in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus Himself points to promises like this as He describes the purpose for which He has come.  The Apostle John records that Jesus taught that He is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for His sheep.  The Psalmist pointed to that very thing as being at the heart of the Messiah’s ministry.  In His Cross and Resurrection we are reconciled to God.

As the Apostle Paul writes about this reality in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 he tells us that in these great promises of God we encounter the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the message of the Gospel God brings both judgement and hope into our world.  What our experience of it will be is determined by how we respond to the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we by faith put our trust and obedience in Him we discover that He is our Savoir, who brings into our lives the abundant grace and love of the Gospel.  If we reject Him by refusing to believe in Him then to us He becomes our judge.  The question is ‘Who is He to you?

Come and join us, if you can on Wednesday nights at 7PM so that you can share in the blessings we are experiencing in our Bible Study.