The Heart of Jesus Christ for Me – Dane Ortlund

Last week I was delighted to interview Dane Ortlund about his wonderful new book, Gentle and Lowly (Crossway).  In this clip Dane speaks about the heart of Jesus toward us as we struggle in this life.  I am sure you will find Dane to be such an encouragement!

To see the full interview, which is well worth it, please sign up to the Cor Deo Online mailing list and we will give you access when it is released later this week.  Click here to sign up.

Sitting Alone

In John 6, Jesus appears to have a public relations disaster.  He starts the chapter with a huge crowd and an event that will become a favourite of children’s Bible story books – in fact, the only pre-passion narrative that makes it into all four Gospels.  But he ends the chapter with a question mark hanging over his core disciples and a poignant reference to one of the twelve being a devil.

How does it all go so “wrong” for Jesus?

The passage begins with a huge crowd gathering with Jesus and a reference to the forthcoming Passover feast.  He takes five barley loaves and two fish (a poor person’s food) and turns it into more than enough (a proper feast).  The response of the people seems to be on target.  They start asking if he is the Prophet anticipated in Deuteronomy 18, and they want to make him king.  From a human standpoint, it looks to be a successful operation at this point.

Overnight Jesus sends the disciples on ahead and takes a creative shortcut across the lake, ready for the morning crowds.  The morning crowds are yesterday’s crowd, plus some others from Tiberias, and they come looking for something.  Jesus cuts through the hype and identifies what they want – another free lunch.  But this is insulting to Jesus, who actually came to give eternal life.  How often do we petition Christ for the petty things, while ignoring the far greater gifts that he wants to give us?  It is certainly not wrong to pray about the little stuff, for he does care for everything, but when we only care for short-lived comforts, while ignoring his greater giving goals, then we insult him.

Along the way Jesus critiques the Jewish idea that Moses had given them the miracle bread from heaven, when in fact it was the Father.  Then, instead of making himself the new Moses that they referred to in verse 14, Jesus makes himself the bread from heaven, sent to save and sustain the people.  He will turn none away, will give them true life, and will raise them up on the last day – a past, present, and future package of assurance from God. (See vv35-40, for instance.)

This only makes the Jews grumble about him.  How can he be the bread?  They wonder if he is talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  Rather than backing away from the physicality of this misunderstanding, instead Jesus goes along with the language of eating and drinking.  (Remember how people have already misunderstood the temple language in chapter 2, the new birth language in chapter 3, and the living water and food language of chapter 4.)

I suspect Jesus wasn’t expecting to be understood in reference to the later ordinance of the Christian church – communion, Lord’s Supper, or whatever your church calls it.  Rather, I think he may well have been thinking of the Passover meal.  The people were expected to eat all the flesh of the lamb, as well as drink all the “blood of the grapes.”  It was a special meal, an “eat-it-all-because-we-are-leaving-in-a-hurry” type of feast.  It celebrated the Passover lamb, provided to rescue the people and let them live in the face of all that was happening in Egypt that night.

Jesus could have been misunderstood as speaking of flesh eating and blood drinking, but I suspect that was not the issue.  Actually, what he meant was also insanely challenging.  Just as God had provided a way for the people to live through the Passover back in Egypt, so now there was a new Passover coming.  This new Passover was for eternal life.  The provision was costly and there was an implicit demand in the meal.  Jesus was effectively saying, “It is all about me, I am giving everything for you…make me your everything.”

Jesus was the whole lamb, the drink, everything.  At the next Passover he would make it clear that his body was being given and his blood was to be shed.  What was most offensive to human sensibilities was not the potential misunderstanding of eating flesh and drinking blood, but instead the absolute nature of Jesus’ offering and implicit demand.  He gave everything, so make him everything.

We humans are not fans of such absolute expectations.  We’d rather blend our options.  The crowds certainly felt uncomfortable and quickly dispersed.  The popular vote was lost in a day.  Maybe ten to twenty thousand people left and just twelve remained.  Jesus spoke truth and they didn’t like it.  He turned to the twelve.  “What about you?  Want to go too?”

Peter’s response is reflective of our situation too.  We have been drawn to a place of belief.  We are blessed not only by knowing Jesus, but also by knowing there is no alternative!  “To whom shall we go?”  Peter’s response is spot on.  “You have the words of eternal life.”  He certainly does.  But those words are not popular.

We live in a world where people live in fear of saying something that will receive the backlash of irrational intolerance and hatred.  To stand for truth is as unpopular as it has ever been, and there is no longer a Christian-worldview majority ready to affirm and support us in these times.  Instead it feels like everyone is fleeing the scene and chasing empty alternatives.  Will we leave him too?  To put it bluntly, where would we go?  This world has no viable alternatives to Christ.

And so we sit, almost alone, before Jesus.  Do we want to follow the crowds and reject Christ and the God he came to reveal?  It would certainly feel easier to follow the population, for the popular vote is never with God.  But honestly, we would do well to follow Peter’s pathway here… “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus gave everything for us to have eternal life.  Will we make him everything and follow him, even if nobody else will?

Feeling Flat?

When the Covid-19 crisis rolled across Europe in March, everything changed.  Maybe you found the experience overwhelming, or challenging, or perhaps even invigorating.  Somehow, when crisis hits and our adrenaline surges, we tend to lean on the Lord and find ways through the situation.  But after adrenaline there is always a settling period, when it is the most normal thing in the world to feel emotionally flat.  Maybe by now you have arrived there too?

Two Types of Feeling Flat

When we feel flat we tend to have lowered motivation and energy.  We may be doing less, but somehow feeling more tired.  We feel a loss of creativity and initiative.  Flatness is not a new feeling, but having so many of us experience it at the same time is slightly unusual.

“I’m feeling flat” is something I’ve heard a lot recently.  But there is another type of flatness that is perhaps more concerning.  It is the unconscious flatness that we don’t tend to recognize in ourselves – we don’t spot it in the mirror.

Unconscious flatness could be called spiritual coasting.  Coasting is where you disengage the motor of the car you are driving and allow past momentum and present circumstances to roll the car forwards.  This kind of driving is dangerous.  It changes the braking and steering in the car, but perhaps most concerning is that it can give a false sense of security.  After all, the engine noise reduces and the car keeps moving forwards.

We need to respond when we are feeling flat, especially when we become aware of this unconscious flatness, or spiritual coasting.

Responding to Feeling Flat

The typical human response to feeling flat will not be spiritually healthy.  We may default to distraction, to self-recrimination, or to laziness.  That is, we can fill the void with busy work, new pursuits, or entertainment.  We can beat ourselves up with the “I need to try harder!” kind of self-coaching.  Or we can settle into our flat state and get comfortable.  Typical human responses will tend to be self-oriented and spiritually unhealthy.

What should we do when we understandably feel flat or discover we have drifted into a state of flatness?  Our emotions are great indicators of deeper realities in our hearts, and they should be prompts to connect relationally – with others, and with God.

When we feel flat, we tend to pull back from others.  Living through a pandemic only reinforces that possibility – it is a government-mandated withdrawal!  But spiritually we need to connect and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in whatever way we can (even if that means using Zoom!)

Most of all, we need to re-connect with Christ.  We need to spend time with Him, because only Christ can invigorate our hearts and stir life in us.  And yet our default fleshly response will be to pull in the opposite direction.

Let me share one thing about Christ that may encourage you to bring your tired and emotionally flat heart to Him in these days.  I want to point to two passages and focus particularly on what they teach about how Christ cares for the weak and vulnerable.  Does going to Christ mean accessing the ultimate personal trainer who can shout the loudest?  Not at all.

Motivation for Connection

Isaiah 42:1-4 is the first of Isaiah’s famous “Servant songs.”  At first glance it could look intimidating.  After all, three times it declares that this servant of the LORD will establish justice on the earth.  Surely one who is tough on crime will be overwhelmingly powerful and intimidating?  But not so.  Verse 2 tells us that he is not full of himself, nor does he demand everyone’s attention.  And verse 3 describes his way of dealing with the weak:

                         “a bruised reed he will not break,

                                         And a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”

That is the kind of God that motivates me to lift a bruised and tired heart up toward him.  Feeling flat?  Connect with the only one who can be fully trusted with your heart.

That truth is painted in narrative colour in John 21.  The adrenaline of the first Easter has faded and seven of the disciples are back in Galilee, heading out to fish for the night.  Whatever their motivation, I am sure that part of the issue was that they felt flat.  Read the chapter and watch Jesus care for them.  He could have criticized, shouted, corrected, berated, or chastised them.  He didn’t.

Instead, Jesus gently reminds them of their calling to ministry by miraculously filling their nets with fish, again.  He gently reminds them that he will continue to provide for them by lovingly preparing a barbecued breakfast, a God-given meal of fish and bread, again.  He gently re-established Peter’s position within the group by re-affirming his shepherding role.  In this chapter he reminds them of their calling to evangelism and edification ministries, he reminds them of his ability to continue to provide for them, and he even grants Peter his desire to die for Jesus – only this time with a 30+ year warning.  The content of his teaching is powerful and challenging, but his manner is gentle and tender.

This is the kind of God that can motivate us to lift our flattened hearts up toward him.  Dare to connect with the only one who can be fully trusted with your heart.

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I have recently been adding highlights from John’s Gospel to my YouTube channel:

Resolved: No Resolutions

resolved2To finish this week of posts I want to re-visit one I wrote two years ago and develop it slightly.

Resolved: To make no New Year’s Resolutions for me to do, but to cling to the One who is at work in and through me according to His perfect plans for 2015.

A while back I really enjoyed reading the masterful biography of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.  It is fascinating to see the early resolutions of Edwards give way to a mature spirituality that was delighted in and by Christ later in his life.

Let’s face it, there are so many good resolutions that we could make as we head into another New Year.  Bible reading commitments, wider reading plans, personal prayer schedules, pursuit of ministry training ideas, grow theologically intentions, find a mentor strategies, evaluation and feedback gathering plans, sermonic self-improvement schemes, pastoral ministry visitation goals, personal fitness/diet/exercise/rest regimes, family scheduling tactics, and on the list goes.

All of these would be good ideas.  But making these determined and resolute teeth-clenched-and-muscles-flexed kind of personal commitments may well not be the best way to go.  That is, if we aren’t the autonomous self-made individualists that our culture and our fallen world like to convince us that we are.

Our life and ministry is much more about response to God’s Spirit at work in our lives than it is about our responsibility to act like the god of our own lives.  We are not the captain of our own destiny.  We are not sheriff of Me-ville.  We are lovers defined by who and what we love.  And as those who know and love the Triune God, we are in the best possible place to face a new year of uncertainties, trials, complexities and challenges.

My loving response to God’s love for me will result in some determined lifestyle choices and evidences of personal discipline.  This will also be true in my married life too – my loving response to my wife will look disciplined and diligent.  But I won’t talk about it in those terms.  At one level there is no real sacrifice involved in responding to the God we have.  Yes, it may look costly at times, but from the perspective of a captured heart?

As we head into 2015, let’s hold all our resolutions with a very loose grip, but squeeze tightly on the hand of Him who holds us, our families, our ministries and our year ahead in the palm of His hand.

Can we even begin to imagine what our Lord might do in us and through us in 2015?  Exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we ask or even imagine . . . and certainly more than we can achieve by our own self-determined productivity and improvement plans!

 

Dane Ortlund – Life As It Was Meant To Be?

OrtlundDane Ortlund is Senior Vice President at Crossway.  He is the author of several books, most recently Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (August, 2014).  I really appreciated Dane’s A New Inner Relish and so am eagerly awaiting my copy of his new book.  In this Incarnation Series guest post, Dane prompts us to re-think Jesus’ miracles in light of the incarnation.  (Dane’s books are available via 10ofthose.com (UK) & christianbook.com (US) as well as all other good book retailers!)

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In his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” C. S. Lewis spoke of the incarnation as ‘the humiliation of myth into fact.’ He wrote that

what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid—no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee.

The Word, the Logos, the central meaning of the universe, the integrative center to reality, the climax and culmination of all of human history, that which summoned solar systems into instant existence—at just the right time (Gal. 4:4)—became a baby. The night Christ was born in Bethlehem, Chesterton wrote, “the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”

He became a man. The one true man. All that you and I experience Jesus experienced, with the exception of sin. Therefore to question whether Jesus led a normal life as we do is to put the whole point backward. His was the only normal life the world has ever seen. We are the abnormal ones.

When Jesus performed miracles he was not doing violence to the natural order. He was restoring the natural order to the way it was meant to be. People were not supposed to be blind but to see. People were not made to be lame but to walk. Legs are supposed to work.

In this sense Jesus’ healing miracles were not supernatural. They were miracles, to be sure—but they were re-naturalizing miracles. This fallen world is sub-natural. Jesus is the one truly human being who ever lived. The incarnation does not give us a hypothetical picture of how we would be able to live if only we were divine. It gives us an actual picture of how we are meant to live, and one day will, when we are once again fully human.

Bruce Fong – Inspirational Incarnational Influences on Expository Preaching

a9a01de9-2aa2-44ea-a921-0f1077786e8b-220My first ever seminary class was with Dr Bruce Fong sixteen years ago.  It was such a joy to walk through half the Bible under Bruce’s contagious laugh and delight in the Scriptures.  We have both changed jobs a couple of times since then, but he is now the Dean of Dallas Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus.  Bruce blogs regularly on brucefong.com.  As we continue this series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell, Bruce shares with us some thoughts on the difference the Incarnation makes to expository preaching.

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Every preacher is challenged to build a bridge between the sermon and the souls of people.  These two worlds of earth and eternity were stunningly linked by the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was incarnated at His birth.  The Scriptures tell us that He gave up the expression of who He was as the Son of God in order to identify with mankind and ultimately sacrifice His life on their behalf.  This incarnation of the Christ to be Jesus of Nazareth is a model for every preacher to do the same.

When an expositor successfully follows the example of Jesus’ incarnation they ultimately blend culture with the Gospel by way of four emphases.  He modeled each of these qualities in His coming to earth. They are humility, a new mind, a renunciation and a new identification.

First and foremost of these incarnational elements is Christ’s example of being sent to be born as a human.  He did not argue, complain or resist the Father’s plan.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became human so that He could die as a substitute for sin in our place.  The expositor lives a humble life in compensation, Spartan lifestyle and public affirmation.

Second, somewhat related to His humility Jesus Christ demonstrated a new way of thinking.  His incarnation led to an existence that was never self-absorbed.  He did not worry about losing public status but instead was absorbed with an unending interest in His assigned mission, bringing the Gospel to the whole world.  In the same way expositors by virtue of their mission selflessly bring attention to their Lord.

Third, before Christ came to earth as a Galilean Jew He first “emptied himself”.  This was a sacrifice.  He renounced His status, his independence and his immunity.  Voluntarily He set aside what was rightfully His.  Pride and the pursuit of fame has no place in the life of an expository preacher who is following the incarnational model of the Savior.

Fourth, Jesus had a genuine solidarity with man by becoming a true human, sharing in the limitations of flesh and blood, through both life and death.  He lived among the people, embraced them and served them.  Expository preachers will be more effective when they live among and embrace the people to whom they bring the Word.

The incarnation that Jesus followed and modeled is our example of His devotion for us.  Furthermore, it is the example that should be the driving motivation for every expository preacher.

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?

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.