Category Archives: Specific text

David Murray – Rehearsal for Calvary

murray__005_400x400David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary.  He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.  David is the author of Christian Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page (USA Link).  You can read his blog, HeadHeartHand or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray.  David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 1 to 18 years old.  I am thankful to David for contibuting to our Incarnation Series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell. Here, David takes us back to the book of Judges and points our hearts to Christ:

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Judges chapter thirteen opens with the nation of Israel suffering under the reign of the Philistines. In the middle of this a woman is suffering under her own personal grief: she is barren.

Into this national and personal sorrow the Son of God appears as the angel (literally “messenger”) of the Lord appears to this woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine occupation. His appearance is such that she describes him as a man of God with a very awesome appearance, like the angel of the Lord. Neither the woman nor her husband yet realize that this is more than a man.

Manoah, her husband, prays that the messenger might return to give them more instruction on how to raise this promised son. God listens to Manoah’s prayer and the messenger returns to give them further instruction. During this second encounter, Manoah offers a meal to their guest, not yet knowing exactly who their guest is. The angel of the Lord refuses to eat, but tells Manoah to make an offering to the Lord.

A Wonderful Name

When Manoah asks the visitor for his name, he receives this enigmatic response: “Why do you ask My Name, seeing it is wonderful?” or beyond comprehension?

What a puzzling response. What sort of man claims that his name is beyond comprehension? Remember that throughout the Old Testament, names are very significant indicators of character. There is something special about this man with a wonderful name.

A Wonderful Act

As the flames begin to consume the sacrificed goat, Manoah and his wife are amazed to see the messenger step into the flames and rise up to heaven!

What was he doing?

As the pre-incarnate Son of God we may say that He was “practicing” or “rehearsing” His future sacrifice of himself, when in real human nature he would ascend heavenwards.

They immediately fall on their faces for they realized that this had been THE Angel of the Lord. As is often the case, this recognition often comes only after the Angel has departed.

A Wonderful Faith

Although a great fear takes hold of Manoah because he knows that no one can see God and live, his more believing wife comforts him with this thought: If God had really intended to kill them, he would not have accepted their offering nor given them the great promises he had.

It’s amazing to think about the Son of God’s ascension in the flame of this sacrifice as a picture of his ultimate sacrifice at Calvary. We often read in the Bible of God’s delight in the sweet smell of sacrifices to him. How sweet must Christ’s ultimate sacrifice have been: the perfect, spotless lamb. And yet how horrific the experience for Christ himself.

There He stepped not into the flames of a burning goat, but into the flames of an angry God. He did not just rise heavenwards in a few brief moments, but stayed in the fire until the divine flames burned themselves out on Him.

A Wonderful Question

No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, His name shall be called Wonderful. Who can fully comprehend the mystery of God manifest in the flesh, and sacrificed in flames? Yet, let us keep asking Him, “What is your name? Tell us more about yourself, that we may honor you.”

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Peter Comont – Jesus Wept

comontPeter Comont is  the Senior Pastor of Trinity Church Oxford, a new church plant in heart of the city of Oxford.  He is involved with several initiatives to teach, train and nurture the next generation of leaders including Living Leadership, the Porterbrook Seminary and the South Central Ministry Training Course.  Peter and I met at a conference in Asia several years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations during those days.  In today’s Incarnation Series guest post, Peter offers us a really helpful reflection on the subject of the incarnation, God and what constitutes an authentic Christian life:

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During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus wept (John 11:35)

For the writer to the Hebrews the tears of Jesus are important.  His incarnation was not just bodily, whilst somehow his mind and heart remained serenely immune to suffering.  Rather he identified with our human condition in all its dimensions, including the emotions.

That full identification was important for our justification as the writer to the Hebrews makes plain.  Jesus became fully human to stand in our place as both a priest and a sacrifice for our sins  (e.g. Heb 7:26-27).  But in Hebrews 5:7 the mention of Jesus’ tears emphasises that his priestly role also involves a profoundly emotional connection with us.  In Jesus, God comes alongside us in all the rich complexity life.  Because of his tears he is able to ‘deal gently with us’ (Heb 5:2).  Because of his tears others knew he loved his friend Lazarus (John 11:35-36).  The tears of Jesus are witnesses to a deep emotional connection between God and man.

Some theologians like to talk about God’s impassibility, suggesting that he does not suffer or feel pain.  Though this may have some truth to it in a limited technical sense, the Bible’s picture of Jesus, – who is the ‘exact representation of [God’s]  being’ (Heb 1:3) – points in a different direction.  Christians believe in a God who is deeply and emotionally engaged with all the joys and trials of our world.

The Bible also describes the Christian life in deeply emotional terms.  There is joy (e.g. John 16:24), but there is groaning too (Romans 8:18-27).  To be adopted as sons of God means to be united with Jesus, as we cry out Abba father (Romans 8:15 cf Mark 14:36) experiencing the same range of emotions that Jesus displayed on earth.  Both the joy and pain of our life now can be true manifestations of being united with Jesus.

Jesus shows us that an authentic Christian life is not shorn of emotion, nor is does it need to fear painful emotions, because they are both part and parcel of our present life as adopted sons of God.  Thank God that the Son of God wept.

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Glen Scrivener – Incarnation: The True Turning Point

Glen-321A-300x267Glen Scrivener is an evangelist with Revival Media.  He writes about evangelism and theology at ChristTheTruth.net and his evangelistic book, 321, comes out in the autumn: three-two-one.org  Glen visits us at Cor Deo for a day during each season of the programme to talk gospel together with us and it is always a real help.  As we continue this series to mark the release of Pleased to Dwell, here is Glen on the significance of the Incarnation for the Gospel and how we communicate it to others.

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The centre of evangelicalism is the believer’s “choice for God” – that’s Diarmaid MacCullogh’s opinion, Oxford’s Professor of Church History. When he made this claim during his “History of Christianity” on the BBC, I howled in protest, throwing pillows, shoes, the cat – anything – at the TV screen. Surely the professor has it backwards. It’s God’s choice for us, right? Surely it’s Jesus – the Chosen One – coming down, not us – the mighty decision makers – choosing upwards.

But as the episode unfolded I realised that it wasn’t the Professor who had gotten it backwards – it was evangelicalism. MacCullogh was just being honest. He was describing the movement as it is – not as it ought to be. And who can deny that, on the ground, the actual centre of gravity for global evangelicalism is “our choice for God”?

Think of sermons on Luke 15 and ask where our attention lies today. If an evangelist preaches a “message of salvation”, where will the emphasis be? More often than not, we focus on the prodigal in the pigsty. The sinner must make “a choice for God.” Compare this with the theology of the early church. Where would they see salvation in Luke 15? Primarily they would speak of Christ’s opening parable. God the Son is the Good Shepherd seeking out His lost sheep. Through His incarnation, He takes up our humanity, through His death He takes responsibility for our sins, through His exaltation He marches us – now perfected – home to the Father.

We must learn from the incarnation that salvation is a case of “God coming down.” Therefore, where is the turning point in our relationship with God? Is it our turn to God – praying the sinner’s prayer, for instance? Surely, more profoundly, it’s God’s turn to us in Jesus. Where is the renovation of our human nature? Is it our decision to get right with God? Surely it’s Christ’s decision to hoist us on His shoulders and carry us home. If this is true, what kind of evangelists ought we to be?

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Darrell Bock – Lessons About the Incarnation from Luke 1-2

darrell_bockToday’s guest post in the Incarnation Series is from Dr Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary.  As well as Darrell’s great commentaries on Luke and Acts that I have appreciated so much over the years, be sure to check out The Table – a weekly podcast on God, Christianity and Culture.  His latest works are the co-authored Truth in a Culture of Doubt (UK Link, USA Link), and Truth Matters (UK Link, USA Link).  I am grateful to Darrell for offering this succinct post on the Incarnation in Luke 1-2 as we mark the release of Pleased to Dwell.

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God keeps his word. In Luke 1-2, this is the theme that surrounds the incarnation. Jesus’ birth is shown to be part of a divine plan that involves both John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus’ birth is shown to be superior to John. John is a prophet, while Jesus is Son of God. As hard as some of what the angel says to Mary is about how the child will be born, the refrain is that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Three hymns sing out the refrain that God keeps his Word. Mary’s hymn speaks about how God lifts up those who fear him in line with covenantal promises made to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah’s hymn highlights God’s visitation to his people showing mercy to the fathers and keeping the covenant (Luke 1:68-75). Simeon’s hymn affirms that the psalmist’s eyes have seen the salvation of God when he sees the baby Jesus (Luke 2:30). The child is light, revelation to Gentiles and glory for Israel (Luke 2:32), for God has kept his word to deliver his people.

We tend to forget when we think about the incarnation that the arrival of Jesus is part of a plan God had and that he represents the keeping of promises and divine commitments made long ago. This is why Luke 1:45 says of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” John 1 calls Jesus the Word, but Luke 1-2 argues that in Jesus God kept his word. God is faithful. Underneath all that is the incarnation that comes from God stands God’s faithfulness to keep his pledge and to perform his word.

The coming of Jesus means God can be trusted to care for us for in Jesus’ coming that is exactly what God has done––just as he promised he would do. As God is trustworthy, all that is left for us is to trust his promise and live with hope.

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John Hindley – Let the Wine Flow: The Incarnation in John 1-2

Mail AttachmentToday’s post, by John Hindley, launches our Incarnation Series.  John is pastor of BroadGrace Church in rural Norfolk (England) – www.broadgrace.org.uk.  John authored the really helpful Serving Without Sinking (UK Link & USA Link) and has another title coming out next year.  He is an Acts 29 Europe church planter, is married to Flick and has three little ones.  I haven’t met John yet, but hope to soon as I hear good things about the Christ he has preached to student groups in this part of the country!  Pleased to Dwell finishes in John 1, so why not start there with this post from John Hindley?

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 ‘“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.’ – John 2v10-11

From what John says, I estimate that Jesus made around 600 bottles of the finest wine as the first sign he did. The first miracle Jesus did was to save a wedding party from fizzling out. This comes after John has stressed the wonder of the incarnation. When you read John 1, the great introduction to the gospel climaxes in verse 14, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’.

John is setting up his gospel to display the wonder of the eternal God, the Word, the One from the Father’s side becoming a man so that we might be drawn into the family of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By the end of John 1v18 we are left amazed and wondering what such a God-man will do. Then John shows us Jesus gathering a ramshackle bunch of disciples, creating furious mayhem in the Temple, confusing a leading theologian, sitting in the dust by a Samaritan well, healing without consideration of religious custom and feeding hungry crowds. John lifts us to the heavens in his portrayal of Jesus in chapter 1, and then shows us an incarnate Christ who is very… human.

The miracle at Cana is perhaps the most strange. This first sign seems almost flippant. The issue is not a paralysed man or grieving widow, there is no demon confronted or sinner comforted. The issue is an embarrassing lack of wine at a party. Jesus response seems almost reckless. Verse 10 tells us people had already been drinking. Jesus seems more concerned that the party goes well than he does about the risk of drunkenness. This wedding points forward to his great marriage of his Bride on the cross and the coming wedding supper when he returns, as made clear by this being  the ‘third day’ in verse 1 and  not yet ‘his hour’ in verse 4.

But more simply, this Word made flesh is a God who wants to be with us. A God who wants to draw up a stool alongside us, pour us a drink and know us, love us and draw us to himself. I have not thought enough about the incarnation, but what I see shows me a God so good, so close, so loving and so generous that I want to think more, and know him more.

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Everybody Hides

fortress2[Originally posted on Cor Deo] Psalm 46 is always a highly valued text in times of war.  Which is probably why, for a while now, we haven’t heard too much about it.  Maybe we should?

In the past the news of an impending threat would come in the form of a breathless messenger coming from the next town.  Today we live with constant video access to every corner of the planet.  The net effect of this constant stream of information tends to be that we carry on with our own lives while getting drawn into non-news and entertainment, but with true news having little effect on us.  But every now and then the news does get our attention.

If we are looking beyond what the mainstream media chooses to highlight, there are some very disturbing things going on.  And when the news is genuinely disturbing, perhaps it is time to break out Psalm 46 again.

Overview of the Psalm – The Psalm falls nicely into three stanzas, each marked with a contemplativeSelah to give us pause for thought.  The first stanza begins with a launching idea that is then picked up in a refrain finishing the second and third stanza.  As far as Psalms go, this one is clear and simple.

It begins with the big thought that God is our refuge and strength, an always accessible help in troubling times.  Consequently, we will not fear.  Then the writer lists a set of natural disasters that would rock anyone’s world – earthquake, mountains moving, raging seas, etc.  I don’t think he is pondering natural disasters, so much as describing a hypothetical upheaval of all that seems stable.  Even if the whole created order were to return to utter chaos, we will not fear.  This must mean that the nature and character of God is more trustworthy than even the solidity of the mountains and the boundaries of the seas.  Selah.

With the first three verses laying the foundational thought, the writer then becomes overt about the threat of war.  He describes the tranquility of the city of God where He is reigning and present.  And just as our hearts calm to ponder what it will be like to finally live with God, suddenly verse 6 stirs us with the news that all around the nations are going crazy like a raging sea and slipping mountains!  The hypothetical collapse of creation stability is the experienced reality when it comes to the geo-political changes in the world.  But, immediately our perspective is checked with the realization that one word from God and the whole planet could be melted.  Therefore, we do not fear.

The refrain is beautiful: The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  The LORD is the God who makes promises and keeps them – He cares about continuing to care for us.  He is strong – He is the God of angel armies.  If you have ever watched a well-drilled group of soldiers march past, it is intimidating.  Even a relatively small number.  Now imagine an angel, the kind that could kill 185,000 human soldiers in one night.  Imagine two.  Ten.  One hundred.  Imagine a number so big you could not count it, and that is the army of heaven, and our God leads that army, and He is with us.  Therefore He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

The final stanza offers an invitation to come and look at what God has done, and implicitly, to anticipate what He will do.  He ends wars that seem overwhelmingly threatening.  He topples powerful foes that seem to strong to resist.  And finally in verse 10, God instructs the raging armies and belligerent power-hungry rulers to stop!  Stand still.  Be quiet.  Hush.  And know that He is God.  He will be exalted by all.

The perspective shift is powerful.  The raging nations and growing armies and plotting terrorists and geo-political upheavals are all very small compared to the utterance of our God.  He is the God of angel armies and He is with us.  He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

When the threat really rises, everybody hides.  The question is, where do we hide?

Hiding Option 1 – The only good option is to run into the most powerful player in current history.  If it is clear who will win in the end, why not join them?  We know the end of the story, but often it is hard to not fear when the circumstances feel so grave.  Often it is hard to not fear when God doesn’t seem to offer immediate deliverance to everyone who is suffering for being His.  What if I have to face more than discomfort for my faith?  What if my life is threatened, is He still a fortress?  Think back to three men in Iraq two and a half millennia ago.  Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn’t in the moment of this particular trial, we won’t bow to your statue.  Were they foolhardy?  Or were they gripped with the greater reality that the all-powerful God of angel armies was with them, so that even in death, they had confidence that they would be with Him?

Hiding Option 2 – The most pervasive option around us today is often known as “hiding our heads in the sand.”  It is pretending there isn’t a threat.  I recently visited Auschwitz and was sickened to think that people could somehow be oblivious to the hideous evil of that place.  If only they had had social media and smartphones, then everyone would have known.  Actually, don’t people still hide from things today?  The media seem so committed to diverting attention – whether it be spinning a story, or shifting from genocide to Hollywood, the media are experts at making the potentially best informed of all time into a number and dumber generation.  But we can’t simply blame the media.  We can do it to ourselves.  We are more than capable of hiding from reality.

There may be other reactions, but these seem to be the big two.  As the news stirs fear within me, will I distract myself with little things and pretend all is well, or will I run into my fortress – the God of angel armies, the God who has chosen to be with me?

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Preaching and Paradigms

PAradigmWhen we preach, we don’t simply present a truth, make an offer, or demonstrate the relevance of an ancient text.  Every biblical passage is a heavenly assault on the unquestioned assumptions of a fallen world.  That is to say, we don’t really live in a neutral world with some evil “out there” and some good information in the Bible.

The truth is that our entire world is upside-down.  Every cell in this universe is corrupted by the fall.  Yet we love to live in the myth that we are objectively evaluating a normal reality.  Then when extremes come before us, we are the arbiters who can discern what is extreme and what is not.  This results in people listening to the Bible and trying to find something relevant, rather than hearing the absolute revolution it speaks into our fallen, me-first, self-loving, circumstances-determine-mood, world.

So when we preach, what are we doing?  Sure, we are presenting the truth of the passage.  We are inviting people to meet the God who reveals Himself in His Word.  We are showing that the ancient text is more relevant than anything we hold to be truly contemporary.  But we are also bringing a heavenly critique of all that we believe to be normal.

Tomorrow I am preaching Psalm 46.  It is a wonderful Psalm of comfort for people fearing the destabilization brought by human enemies.  The LORD of hosts is with us, He is our fortress.  That changes everything.  He will utter and war will be defeated forever.  Here we are, understandably concerned by what we see going on in the world, perhaps even fearing for our future and our children’s future.  But the Bible challenges assumptions we don’t even recognize, and as we encounter the message of a passage like this one, we find our whole paradigms recalibrated to the reality we can’t see.

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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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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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