Category Archives: New Testament

Introduction to Incarnation Guest Series – The Incarnation In September?

Pleased to Dwell v3This month I will be offering a first on this site – a series of guest blogs from a variety of great contributors.  This month marks the UK release of my new book, Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus).  So I decided to ask some friends to offer a brief post on one aspect of the Incarnation of Christ.  I am thankful to each one that is writing in this series and hope that it will help stir our thinking about the importance of this vital subject.

This week we will have guest posts from either side of the Atlantic, with John Hindley and Darrell Bock looking at one Gospel each.

For more information on Pleased to Dwell, please take a look at TrinityTheology.net.  It is possible to pre-order in North America and to order in the UK.  I also have links to several vendors (all of which will give a percentage to our ministry support fund).  Enough about the book, let’s ponder the Incarnation together!

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What does the Incarnation have to do with preaching when we are not in December?  Everything.  Unless, of course, we are talking about some kind of preaching that is neither biblical nor Christian.  Biblical preaching preaches God, and we can only know God in the person of Christ.

Every Sunday of the year people need to hear from preachers who are captivated by Christ.  As Mike Reeves puts it in his new book, Christ Our Life:

“No wonder the gospels record so many who were amazed and astonished by him, as if they were witnesses to a volcano: his presence was an apocalypse, a cataclysm, an earth-shaking upheaval of all things.  God with us!” (22)

The Incarnation is not the whole story of the Christian faith, but it is critical to the whole good news that we get to preach each week in our churches.   According to Robert Letham:

“The incarnation is the indispensable basis for union with Christ.  Since Christ has united himself to us in the incarnation, we can be united to him by the Holy Spirit. In itself, the incarnation of the Son of God does not unite us to him, for by itself it does not accomplish salvation. . . . Christ’s union with us in the incarnation is the foundation for our union with him, both now and in the eternal future.” (Union With Christ, 40-41)

So whatever passage we may be preaching,  may our listeners always listen to a heart gripped by the good news of the God who has stepped into our world!  We need to keep our hearts pointed toward Christ, and we need to point our listeners outside of themselves too.

It is too easy to reinforce the fallen tendency to fix our gaze navel-ward . . . top tips, great suggestions, keys to successful effort-based religion.  But the Gospel is a call to each one of us to lift our eyes from the death of self-absorption, and to look to the One who fully reveals the Father’s heart to us:

“We get spiritually bored.  But Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for eternity.  Our boredom is simple blindness.  If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.  In every situation, for eternity.” (Christ Our Life, 9)

Isn’t that a great thought?  The Father has always been totally and completely satisfied in Christ.  But somehow we find Jesus boring?  Either there is something wrong with Christ, or with the Father, or maybe the problem is with me.  Would it not be a great way to start the week: with our hearts crying out to God, that by His Spirit He would give us a greater glimpse of His Son this week?  With that kind of week behind us, bring on the opportunity to preach again next Sunday!

Let’s be sure to keep our internal orientation appropriately pointed outside of ourselves.  We will only ever find life, and love, and joy, and peace, and satisfaction, and rest, and meaning, when we look to Christ, who is our life.  We might easily affirm that life is only to be found in God, since He created us.  But that can still feel distant.  Praise God that because of the Incarnation, we look outside of ourselves, but not into some speculative realm of darkness.  God is not distant.  We look toward the God who became one of us, to dwell with us, because he so wanted to reach us and draw us into a wonderful union with Him forever.

The Father shared the Son, and the Son came and shared his relationship with His Father.  What more could we ask?

So as we think about Christ, it is not “that Christ is a model;” — he may be that, but more importantly, “first and foremost he is the Saviour of the helpless.  And his salvation is not about God, from a distance, lobbing down some sort of help, some ‘grace'; here, God graciously gives us himself and his own life.  God is the blessing of the gospel.  God with us.”  (Christ Our Life, 38)

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Nazarene!

imagesMy friends over at uniontheology.org have a sample chapter from Pleased to Dwell.  It ponders the significance of the label “Nazarene” – not only for followers of Jesus, but first of all for Jesus Himself!  While you are there, take a look around the site, it is already a great resource and there is more coming all the time.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway (UK)

Pleased to Dwell v3If you are in the UK, please click here to enter the book giveaway on Goodreads.  By the way, this is a useful site to engage with if you read books.  The more of us preachers who get on there, the more we can benefit from each other’s mini-reviews, ratings, etc.

If you are in North America, there will be a book giveaway closer to the release date of Pleased to Dwell (slightly later than UK release date).

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Sowing to the Spirit?

Sowing-Spirit-281x300In Galatians Paul makes multiple references to keeping in step with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit, etc.  What does this mean for your listeners?  What does this mean for you?  This post, hosted on Cor Deo, is a short introduction to a vital, yet neglected, subject.  Please click here to go there.

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Review – Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vols 1&2

KeenerActsCraig Keener’s Acts: An Exegetical Commentary is a vast and incomplete piece of scholarship.  It is vast because in print form it is over 2100 pages.  It is incomplete because these two volumes only cover up to Acts 14:28.  For the purpose of this review, I am looking at the digital version on my Logos software.  I have not read every page, of course, so this is not a full scholarly review.

Keener is meticulous.  Anyone who has used his previous commentaries on Matthew, John and Revelation will know that.  This can be highly beneficial, or at times, frustrating.  Almost two-thirds of the complete first volume is introductory material covering such issues as genre (zeroing in on Acts as a work of ancient historiography), historical interpretation of Acts, Acts and Paul, the speeches, the author, audience, Luke’s perspective on women and gender, etc.

Once you get into the commentary proper, you start to see the fruit of his socio-historical approach.  The format and layout is relatively straightforward (i.e. no complicated internal structures that require skipping around to find what you need, but at the same time not much in the way of helpful textual layouts as some of the more modern commentaries are offering – such as Schnabel’s on Acts, for instance).  As well as relatively straightforward, it is also long.  Keener appears to have a meticulous tendency that leads to a massive project like this one.  Every detail is engaged and discussed.  Other scholarship is engaged and discussed.  At times it feels like everything is engaged and discussed.

This is where my having the works on Logos makes a difference to me.  Rather than flipping page after page and scanning tons of text, I can find what I want to access very quickly on Logos.  For instance, I can right click on the commentary and then select “search this resource.”  Then I can search in just this commentary with something as simple as “Stephen’s speech” and immediately have access to the 71 occasions Keener refers specifically to Stephen’s speech.

Equally, with a work of this magnitude, I find it helpful to have the table of contents showing on the screen.  Thus I can expand and contract sections to locate the specific section I want to see.  I can also get a sense of how long the section is before I just start reading (very useful in such a long piece of work).

I suggest that if you are preaching through a Bible book, then you should have access to a couple of the better commentaries on that book.  With Acts, I am putting Keener’s work into my top two or three resources to check (alongside Bock and Bruce, which are excellent and shorter!)

If you want to find out more, click here to go to the Logos page for this resource.

(Full disclosure: I am grateful to Logos Bible Software for providing the resource for this review.)

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Amazing Grace

amazing-grace-292x300A few weeks ago I had a very encouraging conversation with a thrilled believer. She had read a book about God’s grace and it was a delight to see her so stirred by what she saw there. She described how amazing it is that even though she was so guilty, the judge has paid the full price of all her sins – every last one of them.

This young lady was obviously in the afterglow of her encounter with a clear presentation of God’s grace and the wonder of forgiveness. I could have celebrated with her and probably lived off her excitement for a few days myself, but I was slightly concerned.

After the amazing miracle of forgiveness, what comes next? Some would say that the new believer needs to be instructed in the code of conduct that comes with their new status – after all, privilege brings responsibility. Others would say that the new believer needs to get used to living in light of their new status. Which way is correct? One? Both? Neither?

The amazing grace of the sacrificially benevolent judge has a profound and life changing impact. But how deep does that impact actually go?

What if the afterglow of the great gift of grace fades? Then the new believer will surely drift back into increasing sin, only now with assurance of sins forgiven. This kind of ‘free ticket’ would be a dangerous situation. A gospel of grace that is purely focused on a change in status is dangerously incomplete.

Consequently, does the new believer need training in a new code of conduct to bolster the status of being forgiven and also to protect them from themselves? I don’t think we have to jump there so quickly.

As I enjoyed her excitement about the judge’s remarkable grace I shared another dimension of the gospel story. I said, “You know, it is even more amazing than that,” she looked at me quizzically, “the judge forgave you, and he also proposed to you.” Her eyes widened. She hadn’t thought about it that way.

We discussed the ongoing wonder of being the bride of Christ, the ongoing impact of having your heart enlivened to the delight of knowing and loving him, the ongoing intimacy of being united to him by the indwelling Spirit, and so on. The gospel gives us lots to ponder!

Let me put this in different words to make the same point. If the New Covenant is merely a status change, then it is not enough. The newly forgiven individual will need some kind of external control mechanism and freedom restriction because their natural inclination to sin will soon break through and take charge.

But if the New Covenant is not only about the legal record, but also about the love relationship, then maybe we have a different situation. What if the New Covenant included provision for transformation of the heart, an inside to out supernatural change? What if the New Covenant included provision for the restored presence of the Spirit forging an intimate marital union between the believer and Christ? If this were included then perhaps the newly forgiven individual should be set free to live life to the full in the responsive joy of their new relationship with Christ.

That is an exciting prospect, but surely there would still be an inclination to sin alongside that new inclination to please God? Indeed the flesh versus Spirit tension is a reality we all experience. That is why our understanding of sanctification is so important.

It is easy to see sanctification as our follow-up work, our responsibility in light of the blessing of salvation. But this shifts the new believer’s gaze right back onto themselves. The message easily becomes ‘trust Christ for salvation and then look to yourself as you strive for your sanctification.’ Paul was no fan of this idea, no matter how well it was couched in biblical language.

Walking in step with the Spirit is about living in the reality of the New Covenant – not only learning to live in light of our new legal status, but also growing in our new relationship. The ongoing mechanism for growth is not self-determination, but response to the Son as the Spirit reveals him to us and stirs our hearts to love.

However we phrase it, the bottom line is this: our understanding of sanctification needs to be as God-centred and Trinitarian as our understanding of salvation.

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Satan Hates the Holy Spirit

satan-hates-the-holy-spirit-300x300I think this might just be a blind spot in contemporary theology.  We know that Satan hates God and marriage and evangelism and even church planting.  But I have never heard anyone reference his hatred for the Holy Spirit.

As I ponder this idea I see more and more evidence to support the statement used as a title for this post. Sure, there is the obvious logical agreement: Satan hates God, the Holy Spirit is God, thus Satan must hate the Holy Spirit. However, affirming the logic of a statement is not the same as pondering the implications. So why does Satan hate the Holy Spirit and how is this seen in everyday life?

You can see the work of the enemy as you consider both the cults and secular society. In the cults there is always an undermining of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity – God is twisted from a gloriously loving tri-unity into a monadic power-broker (often seen as a devilish antagonist). In secular society the idea of God is also twisted into a perversion and caricature of reality and the convicting work of the Spirit is undermined by persistent indoctrination in the lie of autonomy and guiltless existence.

Now, what about in the church? Surely once people become believers the enemy’s attack on the Spirit becomes fruitless, doesn’t it? I don’t think that is the case. Does the enemy stop attacking marriage once we are saved, or does the antagonism increase? Are we not tempted to sin once we are believers? Of course not, so I suspect there is a consistency here.

So how does the role of the Holy Spirit suffer in respect to spiritual warfare? What is the enemy’s strategy to undermine the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives?

It seems to me that Christians tend to feel a pull in one of two directions, both of which are away from the reality of the Spirit’s work. Both pulls negate the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person rather than a force, and both distract believers from a wonderful and central element of the Christian life.

The first pull is to turn the Holy Spirit into a power-focused force. The Spirit becomes the fuel for Christian living and sometimes the fuel for spectacular displays of personal anointing. Undoubtedly there is truth in the mix here, but the corruption seems to come in respect to the emphasis and direction of focus. The power, or lack of it, tends to become the emphasis in Christian life and ministry. People caught up with a power-caricature of the Spirit tend to focus either on the Spirit, or on themselves.

The second pull is to turn the Holy Spirit into a silent and benign figure. The Spirit is assumed to be at work in the normal things of church life by means of, well, various means. Undoubtedly there is truth in the mix here as He is surely at work as we read the Bible, hear preaching, etc., but the corruption seems to come in respect to the emphasis and direction of focus. The emphasis in Christian life and ministry seems to shift to habits and personal commitments. People buying into a means-caricature of the Spirit might tend to be focused on themselves and their diligence.

The pre-eminent role of the Spirit is that of a communicator, specifically, relational communication between the Father and the Son, between God and us, and between us in the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is primarily concerned with the power of love, not some sort of love of power. He pours out God’s love into our hearts and baptises us into Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is profoundly Christlike. He gifts us to build up the body of Christ that we might point each other to the head, who is Christ.

That’s the key issue with the Spirit – he wants to lift the eyes of our hearts to Christ. And that is why Satan so despises the role of the Spirit. By forcing the focus onto ourselves, or even onto the Spirit himself, the enemy seeks to undermine the Christ-ward gaze of true Holy Spirituality.

Perhaps this a factor in the strange phenomena of otherwise great Christian writers offering solid and helpful books, yet somehow many of them seem to remain blind to the importance of the Spirit in their discussions of living the Christian life, pursuing sanctification, living out Christian marriage, parenting or church ministry.

The Spirit seems to be a blind spot for many. And where the Spirit is relegated or twisted in some way, then the bottom line will always be a drift towards an autonomous and self-driven “spirituality” (which was The Lie back in Genesis 3, of course).

Perhaps we would do well to ponder the spiritual attack against the Holy Spirit. I suspect that if we were to ponder this, then we would find our hearts drawn to Christ. This is the goal of the Spirit, as well as the great fear of the enemy!

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The Missing Dimension – Part 2

hermeneutics2Yesterday we looked at John 5.  What a chapter.  Jesus was accused of encouraging Sabbath breaking.  He turned that charge into one of apparent blasphemy, then proceeded to defend himself against the accusation.  For ten verses he laid out truths about life-giving and judgment in respect to his relationship with his Father.  Then from verses 30-47 the defendant turned prosecutor as he went after his accusers with a sequence of witnesses that not only defended his position, but highlighted the culpability of his accusers.  It is wonderful legal drama.

At the climactic moment in that sequence, Jesus poked his accusers in the chest in respect to their handling of the Bible.  They searched for top tips in order to receive glory for each other, but they were blind to the revelation of God through his Son in the Old Testament.  They cared for horizontal glory rather than vertical glory.

This raises an issue we should ponder.  When we study a Bible passage, not least when we are preparing to preach.  We need to be alert to a couple of realities:

1. Look for God’s self-revelation, not just for life advice (or even for a sermon).  Wonderfully, our God wants to be known much more than we naturally want to know him.  And we need to recognize that our natural tendency will always be to not see him, but to default back to seeing the Bible content as material for our sake.  Some naturally default to intellectual curiosity, others to intellectual skepticism, others to life coaching tips, etc.  Whatever the default nuance may be, the default orientation will be toward self rather than toward God.  Only as he stirs our hearts and gives us a taste for knowing him will we discover the delight of pursuing the God who first pursued us.

2. As you look at Jesus, he looks at you.  Jesus does not remain simply the object of our curiosity.  As we study him, he turns that around to study us.  As we accuse him, we find ourselves convicted.  As we probe his character, we find our own character probed.  The shift from defendant to accused found in John 5 is a shift we experience all the time if our eyes are him.  This turns Bible study into a glorious conversation, if we are willing to engage in such.

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With Me: Luke’s Easter Narrative

3CrossesbI have just written a blog that underlines one of Luke’s tools in his Gospel writing – he loves to use pairs.  Actually, he uses them for two reasons and if you are preaching from Luke this Friday or Sunday, you should be aware of this key feature in his wonderful Gospel.  To read the article, click here.

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Guest Series: Preaching Wisdom – Part 6

wisdom1Guest blog: My good friend, Huw Williams, has offered this series on preaching wisdom literature.  Huw is the pastor of the International Church in Torino, Italy, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Here is his personal blog.  Thanks Huw!

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And to finish off the list . . .

6. Be aware of who is truly wise. Step back and think of wisdom literature as a whole genre for a moment, consider the dynamic that is going on. In it’s simplest form it is this – a wise person is offering his wisdom to someone who is less wise. Remember this is not the same as knowledge or information, it is personal not abstract, it is applied in the complex situations of life, and we all stand alongside Rehoboam while the offer is made – who will we listen to – wisdom or folly?

The wise person comes to us in the written word, as a person of authority, of greater wisdom, or greater experience of what it means to live in God’s world, and in God’s way. That wisdom runs right through Proverbs, it is what is being searched for in books like Ecclesiastes. Think of the massive climax towards the end of Job when God breaks into the discussion with His wisdom – it’s huge, isn’t it? In wisdom literature, the wise person offers their wisdom for us to benefit from, freely. Can you see where this is going? Wisdom finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Cor 1:26-31:-

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

That’s why I said earlier in the week that when we get into wisdom literature, it can seem as though those big themes of the Bible have been laid aside for a while. They haven’t been, but we might need to work a little harder to see them and we need to need to be very wary of preaching wisdom in a way which is purely focused on temporary benefit for us. Proverbs are too often preached as “super-tips” for a better life now only. Be wary of approaching Song of Solomon in a way which only celebrates human sexuality in this life. Watch out for an understanding of Job that gives answers to suffering in this life without lifting our eyes to eternity. Let’s not preach wisdom in a way which only celebrates His gifts without lifting the eyes of our listeners to the wonder of the giver.

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