Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Excerpt taken from an article entitled Beyond Probation:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, the light of the first day of the new creation dawned. Something deep within the fundamental fabric of the cosmos changed. The Son of God reclaimed his former glory and the world has never been, nor will it ever be, the same again. The exaltation of Christ commenced with his glorious resurrection as the Firstborn from the dead. Forty days he showed himself to his disciples with convincing proofs until he was received by the Shekinah cloud of the divine glory. He ascended into heaven, approached the Ancient of Days to receive his kingdom, took his seat at the right hand of the Father, and broke the seals of the scroll of history. He now reigns from heaven, with all authority and dominion, waiting until all his enemies are made his footstool. And he will come again to judge the living and the dead, to present to himself his Bride, the church, bodily transformed into his likeness without spot or wrinkle. The exaltation of Christ began at the resurrection and it continues eternally into the future.
– Lee Irons

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I found this quote (well, Michael Horton found it actually) on the centrality of preaching the cross.  This is from a Roman Catholic priest…

If the pulpit is not committed to this utter centrality of the Cross, then our preaching, however, brilliant, is doomed to sterility and failure. We preach the Christ of the Mount; we preach the Christ of the healing ministry; we preach the Christ of the sublime example; we preach the Christ of the Social Gospel; we preach the Christ of the Resurrection but rarely, if ever, do we preach the Christ of the Cross. We have evaded the very heart of the Christian message. In our preaching we tend to decry the human predicament, the turmoil of our lives, the evil in the world, and we wonder if there is a way out. The Way Out is staring us in the face. It is the Way of Christ, the Way of the Cross. – Fr. James Feehan Preaching Christ Crucified: Our Guilty Silence p.19

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What is light? In our culture, the throbbing glow of plasma screens, neon signs, and halogen-illuminated billboards constantly barrages our senses.   During the holidays this is taken to the nth degree as we’re  inundated by the dazzling array of Christmas lights, holiday candles, shining stars, and Rudolph’s glowing red nose. Do you see what I see?

But, what is light? Is it something that glows in the dark and fills our heart with a warm tingling feeling? Is it something that wells up within us and makes us know that all is well? Or is it something that shines on our world and lights up what would otherwise be darkness? What I’d like to assert in this blog post is that not all kinds of light are the same. Roughly, there are two kinds of light: True light, and false light.  And one is the counterfeit and forgery of the other. And yet they’re both difficult to distinguish because they both appear to humans in the form of LIGHT.

As created beings, we are inherently drawn to light.  We are enamored by it and become transfixed by it.  What is it about the flames of a camp-fire? Or the waves from a TV-screen? (Even if we really don’t want to watch it, our eyes are irresistibly drawn to its constant beam.) A crude example from the animal world would be the moth — mindlessly crashing itself into the porch light.

However, my favorite example is the Angler Fish. The setting is total darkness. And out of the pitchest blackness of the ocean’s depths shines this little light glowing in the dark. And all the little fishes find comfort in this little light. They’re drawn to it. Indeed, they’re enamored and entranced by it.  And yet, little to they realize that their little light will spell their doom. It has drawn them by its glow and yet failed to reveal to them the scary predator lurking in the periphery of the picture. Rather than leading them to freedom, it has trapped them for devouring.

And how much is our life like this?  We’re enamored and entranced by the little lights in our lives.  By the glowing beams of warm feeling which offer themselves to us to make us feel good (for awhile). They promise us happiness and we believe them. And yet this is totally different from the concept of light that we get from Scripture.

In Scripture we get an idea of light which (rather than merely entrancing us by its glow) actually lights up our whole world so that we no longer are in darkness but can walk in broad daylight.  The Gospel of John gets at this:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Peter experienced this when he was set free from prison:

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. (Acts 12:7)

The Biblical concept of light is not something that glows in the inner recesses of our hearts, but which illuminates all of creation.  Even when God set the stars in the heavens (and Paul calls Christians to shine like stars in Phil. 2) they are not meant merely to shine so that we can feel good looking at them (think Hollywood) but so that they can shed light upon this earth.

And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth. (Gen. 1:17)

Indeed, the fact that men have any life in them at all, any light at all — so that they can live and move and have their being — is because Christ is their light. This is true even for unbelievers.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Of course, the world has never realized this.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11)

Not only has the world not believed, but (because of the rulers of the air) they have erected their own ‘lights’ instead; lights which neither illuminate the world or lead people in the way of life (who is Christ). Rather, these lights are more like glow-sticks; fun to look at, but leaving everyone still in pitch darkness.

This false light appears like true light, and thus (even for the Christian) is hard to distinguish.  They both seem similar in substance.  And what Christian would ever suspect light?  Isn’t light always pure and essentially good? Certainly it’s not something to ever question or criticize? And yet Scripture tells us,

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)

Because of this many Christians are lead away to believe their ‘inner light’ is the truth of God, when really it is a counterfeit deception. This kind of thinking demonstrates how much we in the West are influenced more by Plato than by Judeo-Christianity.

As C.S. Lewis aptly put it,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

It is essential that we, as Christians, learn to discern what is true light and what is false light.  We must be taught from Scripture and by the Holy Spirit to distinguish the “light of the world” from its forgeries.  If the light of the world is not Christ, it is no light at all.

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promiseI’ve been reading through Michael Horton’s God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, and am finding it very refreshing.  One of striking points he makes is that in the scriptures there are really two different kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional.  He says, “Some demand unswerving obedience as a condition of their fulfillment, such as the covenant made by the people at Sinai,” (p. 20) and yet others “announce a divine promise” (p. 36).  The idea that God is a promise-making, and a promise-keeping God, should all the more become dazzling in our eyes when we realize just what kind of promises our God has made! These “one-sided” promises (p. 41) — that God has done everything for us — “it is finished” and all we’re to do is look to him in faith and believe.    What a foundation for our assurance! What a mighty fountain of joy and gladness and worship, that “he has done these things and they are marvelous in our sight.” But Horton says, “In our day, as in others, the truth that we are declared right before God on the basis of someone else’s “covenantal loyalty”…namely, Christ’s — is under attack” (p. 18). Here’s the Hort:

“Carriers of the legalistic virus in Galatia and elsewhere were not faulted for having a positive view of the law, but for failing to recognize that its purpose was to lead God’s people to Christ. By seeking to attain the everlasting promise of life through the temporal and conditional covenant of law, Paul’s opponents were actually excommunicating themselves from the true Israel. Not only their explicit sins but their confidence in their own obedience revealed that they were “cut off” from the only one in whom they could be found acceptable. For them, at least, Sinai could only be the emblem of the condemnation that awaits them, since to be “under the law” is (for those who violate it) equivalent to being cursed (Gal. 3:10).

While the principles of law and promise agree on a number of points, they reflect intrinsically different types of covenants. Personal obedience to commands is a radically different basis for an inheritance than faith in a promise. While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. Every covenant has two parties, and we assume the responsibilities of faithful partners, but the basis of acceptance with God is the covenant-keeping of another, the Servant of the Lord; and because of his faithfulness, we now inherit all the promises through faith alone, as children of Sarah and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The new Covenant announced by the prophets long ago included both justification and rebirth, imputed and imparted righteousness, forgiveness of sins and a new heart that thirsts for God and his glory. Yet (…) the second side of the coin (a new heart) is the result of the first (justification and forgiveness of sins). As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement (Gal. 3:1-4). In the New covenant, all of the blessings have Christ and his obedience as the only ground qualifying us as heirs. Not some of the blessings, but all of them, are comprehended “in Christ.” That spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification. While our status before God (justification) is distinguished from our inward renewal (rebirth and sanctification), our status cannot be separated from our inward renewal even for a moment. Thus, because of God’s sworn oath by himself, the justified sinner will also be one who perseveres against doubt, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil, one day inheriting by that same royal grant rest from all warfare.”  (p. 75-76)

That God has promised and he will not change, indeed has kept his word unto his own hurt — the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.  This is a breath-taking, mind-blowing, heart-rending and life-altering doctrine.  God has done everything! He has justified us and regenerated us so that we can know that we are justified. And what are we to do? Believe. And what do we get? Eternal life? How do we know? God has promised.

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himweproclaimI’ve started reading Dennis E. Johnson’s ‘Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures’. So far I’ve been very impressed.  His writing is both clear and eloquent (something that is nice).  Johnson’s aim is to set forth ‘redemptive-historical’ preaching as, not only a legitimate form of preaching, but the most biblical, apostolic, form as well.  In doing so, he will have to deal with various substantial arguments to the contrary (the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is still somewhat controversial in reformed circles). So, from engaging the more liberal ‘seeker-sensitive’ movements as well as other conservative paradigms, Johnson attempts to point out some of the weaknesses that have taken hold in contemporary evangelical preaching.  Anyway, I was somewhat intrigued to see him first take aim at Jay Adams, the well-known pastor-counselor-theologian (nouthetic counseling) and his emphasis on the ‘practical steps’ towards Christian growth.  Johnson’s criticism is quite constructive and (I think) quite deep.

“Despite Adams’s insistence that the gospel is foundational because spiritual growth cannot begin until one has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, does not his emphasis on concrete steps for pursuing behavioral change have the potential of drifting over into a moralism that draws attention so overwhelmingly to believers’ duties that Christ’s grace is obscured, at least in the impression left on his listeners? If the preachier attributes “stalling” in one’s sanctification to faulty methods rather than to feeble faith and failing motivation, might he not emphasize self-discipline at the expense of grace, and make duty displace grateful love as the engine that drives the pursuit of holiness?

Although many preachers who aim to edify Christians might not concur theoretically with Adams’s banishment of evangelistic preaching for the corporate worship service, yet in practice many pastors approach their weekly preaching with the assumption that few unbelievers will be present, and therefore Sunday preaching’s task is to summon the faithful to greater faithfulness in daily living. But… When Christ’s redemptive work is treated as an implicit backdrop to the sermon rather than an active character in the drama, three categories of listeners in the congregation may be misled. First, the unchurched who may be present (whether or not the preacher expects them) have their stereotypes of Christianity reinforced, and come away more firmly persuaded that Christan faith is a system of duties comparable to Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Marxism, or some secular self-improvement program.  Second, even if the pastor’s (pessimistic) assumption that unconverted adults are not present is correct, covenant children growing up [in] the congregation may pick up the signal that being a Christian is really “about” what one does and refrains from doing, with trusting Jesus as merely a prelude to the main event. Finally, Christan believers, who should (and probably do, in their “heart of hearts”) know better, may find their joy in Christ and assurance of God’s love clouded by a vague sense that the Father’s delight over them (though not their eternal destiny) hangs contingent on their progress in the struggle against sin and for love and justice. ”  (Pages 41-42)

What do people think of Dr. Johnson’s assessment?  I’d love your comments.

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Or is he? Maybe you don’t hear this a lot. “He’s such a great preacher!” Or, “You should listen to him he’s outstanding!” But I’ve heard this kind of sentiment enough in the past that I am just know attempting to look at it a little more seriously — a little deeper.

Just what makes up good preaching anyway?  Do people really know?  Do Christians really know how to determine what makes up a good sermon as opposed to a poor one? Can they tell what constitutes good preaching over against lousy preaching? Is it a no-brainer, no-duh, kinda thing?  Do people just readily have answers to these questions?  Or is it not that simple? (Now, let me be clear.  I’m not asking of people know how to be critical per se.  Most of us can do that.  But do we know how to rightly be critical.  That’s the question.) I am becoming more and more convinced that many, if not most, evangelical Christians don’t know how to judge for good preaching.  And that’s a serious matter.

Recently I was struck by a sermon in a way that I’m not sure I often am. What do I mean? Well, what I’m going to say might not sound very mind-blowing, but at the present, I doubt that I’ve learned anything this big in a long time.

Let me explain.  So I was visiting a church, and the preacher was preaching a regular expositional sermon. And let me just say he was not very good (at least not in my books anyway).  From the very outset I found myself unimpressed and a little bored.  Furthermore, it appeared he lacked various qualities.  For example, he didn’t exude a passionate seriousness (a criteria perhaps I’ve made up in my mind). He seemed to lack the “priestly” quality that I was looking for (again, a somewhat nebulous, experiential, category).  Overall, I guess you could say, he was just plain normal. So, I found myself critiquing the preacher as I sat through the sermon… “Well, he should do this.” Or, “Boy, someone else could do a better job at that.”  You get the picture… Old hat, right?

But then, along the way, I started ‘listening’ again (more attentively) to what he was saying —  to the WORDS that were coming from his mouth (as opposed to ‘looking’ at the man’. And in fact, they were not outstanding words.  They were very plain actually. Nothing that was out of the ordinary at all.  Indeed, nothing that any flesh would be impressed by or attracted to.  But yet here is the all important, definitive characteristic — he spoke the truth! What do I mean my that? Don’t pretty much any and all preachers preach truth? I mean, as long as their not heretics… “Brenden, what are you driving at?” Let me explain: He was speaking the word of Christ. He was preaching Christ! He was declaring very simply the Gospel.  The simple, unadulterated, words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed clearly for all to hear.  These words were not mixed, but they were free.  The free grace of the gospel was not equivocated, nor withheld, but pronounced unabashedly and unashamedly. Oh how much the world needs to hear these words.

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:14-15)

Needless to say, I was cut to the quick.   By the end of the sermon, I was moved in a way that I haven’t been in a long time. Why?  Was it because I hadn’t heard the gospel message before?  No, certainly I have — and recently, in fact, all the time.  Indeed I’ve been surrounding myself with so many, and of such quality, gospel preachers as never before. And so now let me finally get to the heart of  why this sermons struck me so much.

Even as a began listening to the words, and hearing the gospel freely preached, I began thinking in my mind.  “You know this isn’t all that bad.”  “You know this would have been really useful for me… say… last year, or maybe even a few months back”  “In fact, you know, I bet this is really good for… say… a lot of these people sitting in the pews around me.” “Especcially these young kids” “Wow, I’m sure this is so useful to them”  “But for me?”  “Well, I don’t need this message today do I?” “I don’t need this particular, simple, gospel message, specifically right now, in the very midst of whatever it is I’m going through right now.” “Do I?” “Surely something else would be helpful, more meaningful, more edifying, more instructive, more a means of grace to me right now than…than the Gospel.”

Oh such blind idolatry! It was as if God spoke to me through that sermon.  Saying, “What are you looking for?” “Here are my words for you today”.  “Here’s my Son Christ for you today.” “Take” “Receive” “Freely He’s given.” “Freely take and be strengthened by my grace”.

Oh that’s so helpful. That’s preaching.  That’s good preaching.  It brings one to worship.  And to think that it could be that simple, so simple, in fact.  In 1st Corinthians Paul talks about the “foolishness of what was preached”(1:21).

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (2:1-5)

I want to make one more connection before wrapping this up.  The Apostle Peter said in his first letter, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Pet 4:11) Now I don’t know if Peter meant this passage for preachers in particular or for everybody in general. But, if this is at all the case in general, how much more should it be the case for ministers? Thus those who preach should do so as preaching the very words of God. Furthermore, according to our reformed understanding of the idea of a “presbyter,” a presbyter is one who “stands in” for Christ, and in a sense represents Christ before the congregation.  Well, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t these things go together? Standing in for and speaking the words for Christ?  Thus, the minister stands in for Christ, and in the place of Christ, speaks for Christ, as if speaking the very words of Christ.  This all makes sense.

I don’t know about you guys, but I find this an epiphany. I always knew (or have come more and more to believe) that there is a certain high importance to the preached word in the life of the Christian and the church.  Indeed the reformed view of the priority of preaching is something I’ve believed.  And yet now it makes total sense.

And this is why we understand the ‘preached word’ in particular to be a “means of grace”. Let me tell you folks; all that other stuff — the criteria in my head, my criticisms — all that doesn’t really matter.   What took place was very simply what I understand the reformed faith to teach; that the minster (who stands in for, and represents Christ) preaches the word of God as if they are the very words of God.  He is to preach the word of Christ – the gospel – that free and glorious grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.  That’s a means of grace.  And that’s good preaching.

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Here is something I was reading today from John Owen:

The Father himself loves us. In John 16:26, 27, Jesus said, ‘I do not say that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came foth from God.’

Bot doesn’t Jesus contradict himself? Has he not plainly said, ‘I will pray the Father for you’ (John 14:16)?

Jesus had spoken many gracious words to his disciples. He had given them many comforting and faithful promises. He had revealed heavenly truths to them. So they were fully convinced of his great love for them and that he would continue to care for them. They knew that he would not forget them when he had gone from them back into heaven. But now all their thoughts were on the Father. How would he accept them? How would he treat them?

Jesus, in effect, says, ‘Don’t worry about that. I do not have to pray that the Father may love you, for this is his special attitude towards you. He himself loves you. It is true indeed that I will pray the Father to send you the Spirit, the Comforter. But as for that free, eternal love, there is no need for me to pray for that, because above all things the Father loves you. Be fully assured in your hearts that the Father loves you . Have fellowship with the Father in his love. Have no fears or doubts about his love for you. The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you.’

– John Owen, Communion with God.

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