Exalting Christ

                “Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.  But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

                                                                                                                                                John 12:30-33

                In their book Preaching the Cross, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jn., and C. J. Mahaney argue for a recovery of cross centred preaching in the Christian Church.  This is that one central theme which is able to give power to the proclamation of the Gospel.  It is at the heart of the Gospel of John as the task of Christians everywhere.  In our text Jesus calls us to exalt Him by lifting Him up from the earth.  We preach a crucified redeemer, who was raised from the grave and who is now ever living to make intercession for us.  Three times in his Gospel John returns to this theme of lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ.  He does so in John 3:14ff when he writes,

                “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

                Or in John 8:28 when he comes back to this same theme,

                “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the father taught me.”

                In our text the Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in His cross the judgement or crisis of the world will take place.  What He means is that it will be that one event in which all sin will be judged.  Satan’s hold on this world will be broken.  For all who will receive it forgiveness will be offered in the Cross.  Nothing is more important than to proclaim this message.  We must ask however what this will look like in our churches.

                John Piper in his chapter in Preaching the Cross, “Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God” quotes extensively from Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield regarding his proclamation of the cross of Christ.

                “Yea…that we shall see the great Head of the Church once more…raise up unto Himself certain young men whom He may use in this glorious employ.  And what manner of men might they be?  Men mighty in the Scriptures, their lives dominated by a sense of the greatness, the majesty and holiness of God, and their minds and hearts aglow with the great truths of the doctrines of grace.  They will be men who have learned what it is to die to self, to human aims and personal ambitions; men who are willing to be “fools for Christ’s sake”, who will bear reproach and falsehood, who will labor and suffer, and whose supreme desire will be, not to gain earth’s accolades, but to win the Master’s approbation when they appear before His awesome judgment seat.  They will be men who will preach with broken hearts and tear filled eyes, and upon whose ministries God will grant an extraordinary effusion of the Holy Spirit, and who will witness “signs and wonders following” in the transformation of multitudes of human lives.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1970)

                This is what the Apostle John is calling for in his Gospel.  We must be praying that God will raise up people who will exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming the cross centred message of God’s transforming grace.

One Day

                “One day Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the Temple gate called beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going up to the Temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John.  Then peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave him his attention, expecting to get something from them.  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into the Temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:1-8

                What a wonderful passage of Scripture.  Luke has been presenting the account of the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost.  After describing the powerful scene of the events of that day and Peter’s first Christian sermon followed by the conversion of three thousand people, Luke then gives us, in chapter 2:42-47 a description of the routine life of the Church.  He describes how the LORD was working powerfully among His people bring people daily to salvation.  Part of his description focuses upon certain sigh miracles which the Apostles where used to accomplish.  These were miracles which demonstrated that the LORD Jesus Christ was in fact God’s promised Messiah come to redeem for Himself a people.  The miracle was meant to bring people to faith in Christ.  Usually such a miracle pointed to Biblical teaching which was meant to be believed and obeyed.

                Luke begins chapter three with a clear connection to this teaching at the end of chapter two.  “One Day,” is the way this chapter begins.  Luke is telling us that this will be an illustration of the type of things that the LORD was doing.  In looking at this miracle we are immediately confronted by several facts about the New Testament Church. 

  1. This Church was committed to prayer.  It was the time for prayer at the Temple and Peter and John were on their way up to the House of God to pray with others.  They had come to understand that there was nothing more important than communion with God in Christ.  They knew that God answered prayer in the Name of Jesus and so they availed themselves of every opportunity to pray.  What place does prayer have in your life or Church? 
  2. The sign miracle glorified the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  This was its purpose.  The LORD dealt with the crippled man’s real need.  He was begging for money.  What he needed was healing.  It was this that the LORD gave to him through the ministry of the Apostles.  The whole event pointed beyond just a restoration to health however because the man’s response I the praise God and to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.  Luke makes this clear in the third chapter.  What we are called to be and to do as Christians must always point to that one who can meet the deepest needs of our lives.  We are called to live out a faith that is centred upon the LORD Jesus Christ as the Messiah who delivers us from all that separates us from communion with God. 
  3. The text breathes with faith.  Peter and John are revealed as men who have faith in the power of the LORD Jesus Christ to answer prayer and fulfill His promises.  So too is the crippled man revealed to be a man who comes to faith in Christ.  Are you finding that you are increasingly being called to a life of faith?  For this is a key point in God’s plan for our discipleship. 

A Christmas Message

                “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:20-21

                  Christmas is the time when we focus our attention on one of God’s great promises.  This is the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  Isaiah and Matthew point us to this promise when they write, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bring forth a son and you will call him Immanuel, meaning God with us.”  (Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23)  This tremendous promise changes everything about the lives that we live. 

                In thinking about this I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

                “But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

                                “The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

                 This message of Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas celebration.  Here we find a hope which is firmly rooted in the promise of God to redeem us so that we will live in His land eternally.  Praise God for His great love for us.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

A Call To Faith

““Go,” He told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 9:7

                C. H. Spurgeon once gave an illustration of the Providence of God which helped me to see the truth that the Apostle John is proclaiming in this ninth chapter of his Gospel.  Spurgeon told of a time in which he was preaching in a large temporary structure which had been set up for his preaching outside of London.  Several hours after the final service was over, when everyone was out of the building it collapsed on account of an extremely heavy snowfall.  Spurgeon used this event to introduce an exposition of Matthew 10:30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  In this message the preacher explored the doctrine of the Providence of God and called his hearers, and I might add his readers as well, to a vibrant faith in the Lord (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Volume 5, pages 370 – 371). 

                It seems to me that this illustration helps us to understand the point that John is making in John 9:7.  The chapter is leading us to a key question which is asked in the second half of the 35th verse, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  How John does this is by telling the story of a man who was born blind.  The reason for his blindness is so that the work of God might be done in his life.  Every circumstance is leading to this one key point that we might come to believe in the Son of Man.  In the text at the head of this reflection we see the instruction which Jesus gives to the man born blind.  He is to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  John explains that this name means Sent.  There is a richness of biblical meaning behind the instruction which is meant to confront us with the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ and the purpose of His ministry.  He has constantly been referring to the fact that He has only been doing the work of the One who sent Him, namely the Father.  Now he confronts this blind man with a command.  The Pool of Siloam was located in the southern part of Jerusalem and was fed with water from the Gihon Spring at the base of the Temple Mount.  If we are inquiring about the reasons why Jesus would issue this command we would first be confronted by the fact that it would require and act of faith on the blind man’s part.  What is the content of that faith however?  It is entirely possible that Jesus is confronting us with a Biblical testimony about who He is and what He requires of us.  The name Siloam refers to the name Shiloah which is referred to in Isaiah 8:6-8. 

                “Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River – the King of Assyria with all his pomp.  It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.  Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land.  O Immanuel!”

                The context of these verses is Isaiah’s confrontation with King Ahaz who is the representative of the House of David to which an eternal promise has been made.  Ahaz is an unbelieving King who is facing a crisis and looking for worldly solutions to it.  Isaiah calls him to believe the promise which the Lord has made.  In Isaiah 7:9b and 7:14 that promise is spelled out clearly for the King.  “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  Ahaz is to believe the Lord’s promise.  The Redeemer is coming.  He will be clearly recognised as God with us.  Isaiah in these chapters keeps going back to this word.  The one who will come to redeem us will be God among us.  He will be sent by the Father to reveal the nature of God to us.  He is the One who is sent.

                Jesus sends the blind man to the Pool called Sent.  As He does this he is confronting the blind man with a decision.  Will he receive the gently flowing waters of Shiloah or will he turn to the world?  This same choice is put before everyone else in this chapter.  It is also put before you and me.  Will we recognise who Jesus Christ is and receive Him?  Or will we turn to all of the worldly schemes that promise us so much but deliver so little?  What will it be?

A Christmas Blessing

                This past Advent season has been a time of reflection for me upon the theme of the Incarnation of our LORD Jesus Christ.   This Biblical theme is established in the Gospels in a number of ways, and is a call to real faith.  Matthew tells us the story of the crisis which Joseph faced when he received news of Mary’s virgin pregnancy.  As he meditated on how he should respond to such news Joseph was led to God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah.  This word was to be understood and obeyed, and this is exactly what Joseph did.  What a wonderful example Joseph sets for us as we face the various trials and crises of our lives. The Word was Isaiah 7:14, in context, the prophesy of the coming of Immanuel.  In Isaiah’s context King Ahaz is called to “Take heed, be calm, don’t be afraid, and don’t be discouraged.”  In verse 11 he is called to be established in faith.  It seems that Joseph is called to the same thing.  He obeys God in faith. 

                The lesson for us is that we must respond to the crises in our lives with obedience to the same Word from God.  We are to, by faith, receive the life that Immanuel offers to us.    This is in fact the message of Christmas.  God became flesh and came to dwell among us in order to redeem us.  This redemption must be received by obedient faith.

                It seems to me that Phillips Brooks expresses this response of obedient faith beautifully as he writes in his Christmas Hymn. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

                                                                O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!

                                                                Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by:

                                                                Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;

                                                                The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

                                                                For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above,

                                                                While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,

                                                                And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

                                                                How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!

                                                                So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

                                                                No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,

                                                                Where weak souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.

                                                                O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

                                                                Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

                                                                We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

                                                                O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

                Have a very merry and blessed Christmas.