Isaiah 59:8.  ‘’Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood.  Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths; the way of peace they have not known.’

Matthew 5:9. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

On May 15th 1527 in the Austrian Imperial city of Rottenburg, Michael Sattler, an Anabaptist, was tried for the crime of heresy.  Nine charges were laid against him, and for several of them he might have been burned, but the ninth was the most damaging:  ‘He says that if the Turks invaded the country, we ought not to resist them, and if he approved of war, he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the Turks, notwithstanding, it is an important matter to set the greatest enemies of our faith against us.’

Yet Sattler was by no means abashed.  In his defence he stated,  ‘If the Turks should make an invasion, they should not be resisted, for it is written: “Thou shall not kill.”  We ought not to defend ourselves against the Turks and our persecutors; but earnestly entreat God in our prayers, that He would repel and withstand them.  For my saying, that if I approved of war, I would sooner march forth against the so-named Christians, who persecute, imprison and put to death the pious Christians, I assign this reason:  the Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith, and is a Turk according to the flesh; but you, wishing to be Christian, and making your boast of Christ, persecute the pious witnesses of Christ and are Turks according to the Spirit.’

Needless to say, Sattler’s defence did not go down well.    At that time there was great fear of the Turks under their leader, Suleiman the Magnificent who had recently conquered most of Hungary and in 1529 would lay siege to Vienna.  Sattler was executed in a most cruel and barbaric fashion.

This episode came to my mind as I read a book given to me by one of my daughters as a Christmas present.   Warlike Christians in an Age of Violence by Dr Nick Megoran (Cascade Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4982-1959-4).  The title is obviously a play on Ron Sider’s book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  Dr Megoran is not a qualified theologian, but a Reader in Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University where he is also an honorary Chaplain.  He is a member of a Baptist church and the book reveals him to be a conservative Christian of a Reformed persuasion.  The book is subtitled, The Evangelical Case against War and for Gospel Peace.

Receiving the book put me in mind of 2003, when Prime Minister Tony Blair was leading the country into the Second Iraq War.  My three children, who were then in their teens or early twenties, all took part in the massive demonstrations against the war, but I would not go with them.  My reasoning was firstly that I could not believe that Blair would go to war unless he had absolutely certain evidence that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and the intent to use them, and secondly that Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 tell us that governments are responsible protect the nation and that they ‘bear the sword’ in order to do so.  In retrospect, I believe I was reading those verses too literally (more on that anon) and deeply regret not adding my voice to the opposition to the war at that time.

Megoran is at pains to stress that he is not proposing ‘liberal pacifism’ but Gospel peace.  He states, ‘The whole life [on earth] and teaching of Jesus and the apostles is utterly incompatible with warfare and we are commanded to follow his example.’  He cites Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ understanding (1) that war is a consequence and manifestation of sin, and wartime Bishop George Bell’s insistence (2) that the Church’s function during war is ‘at all costs to remain the Church.’  By this Bell meant that the Church of England in particular must not be merely a rubber stamp for what politicians decide but to preach the ‘Gospel of peace’ (Acts 10:36; Eph. 6:15).

We have to be careful here; the peace that the Lord Jesus Christ gives is ‘not as the world gives’ (John 14:27).  It is something much more than the mere absence of war (Rom. 5:1).  Yet our Lord  never promoted violence to gain His ends:  when the people wanted to use force to make Him king (John 6:15), He departed from among them; He rebuked James and John who wanted to destroy those who rejected Him (Luke 9:54-56), and would not allow His disciples to defend Him in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:51-54; John 18:11).

Megoran is eager to separate ‘Gospel Peace’ from the ideas of Pacifism and Nonviolence.  Pacifism, he says, displays a ‘naïve optimism in the possibilities of advanced humanity to overcome violence.’  In this, pacifism is humanistic and evolutionary and has been shown since the last war simply not to work.  Nonviolence is the philosophy espoused by Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King and used by them to great effect.  ‘It is based on a theory that even brutal regimes depend on the cooperation of the population and can thus be weakened if this cooperation is withdrawn.’  However, it is not specifically Christian, and depends for its success upon a degree of conscience in those it opposes.  Thus it failed in Tianenman Square in China, and its failure to soften the Syrian regime of President Assad led to the horrific civil war of the last several years.

‘Gospel Peace,’ says Megoran, ‘is based solely on God’s revelation to humanity through Jesus Christ, testified to in the Bible.’  It is surely impossible to imagine that the Christ who taught Matthew 5:38-48 and acted as described in 1 Peter 2:21-24, ‘leaving us an example,’ would ever advocate violence.  The problem, he claims, is not understanding our Lord’s teaching, but following it.  He quotes Kierkegaard who declares that “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible.”

Megoran then goes on to look at warfare in the Old and New Testaments.   The battles and massacres in the Old Testament have been fertile ground for the ‘new atheists’ such as Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.  At the same time they (the battles and massacres) have also provided many with an excuse for supporting wars.  Megoran shows that in the First World War, as in others, both sides were claiming God’s blessing on their cause and praying to Him for victory.  His answer to this second group is to say that Israel’s wars were nothing like the wars that so-called Christian countries fight today.  Firstly, Israel was usually outnumbered; in the case of Gideon’s army (Judges 7), God instructed him to make his forces so ridiculously small that no one could suppose that they won by their own power.  In another case, victory was based upon Moses stretching out his arms in prayer (Exod. 17), and in two other instances, the Israelites were not called upon to fight, but merely to stand firm (Exod. 14:13-14; 2 Chron. 20:17).  Secondly they were forbidden to use the latest military hardware—horses and chariots (Joshua 11:6; Psalm 20:7).  Thirdly, the Israelites were forbidden to make military alliances with the surrounding nations (2 Chron. 16:7-9; Isaiah 31:1).  Those Christians who support warfare should really be advocating these methods.

Megoran is slightly less sure-footed when it comes to answering the ‘new atheists.’  He rightly points out that the massacres recorded in Joshua were for the purpose not of politics or economics, but of holiness, but the Crusaders might have pleaded the same thing as they massacred the population of Jerusalem in 1099.  I think it may be better first to see Israel’s conquest of Canaan as the judgement of God upon those wicked people (Gen. 15:16; Deut. 9:5) and then to take the view of the Puritan John Owen that under the Mosaic Covenant, the kingdom of God had the appearance of an earthly nation, Israel, into which the Messiah was to be born and was therefore involved with wars against its neighbours, but that since the coming of our Lord, and the going out of the Gospel to the nations, that kingdom ‘is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight…..’ (John 18:36).  Christians are among the nations, but our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  We obey the laws of the country in which we live and pay its taxes (Rom. 13:1-7), but our ultimate obedience is to the Prince of Peace (Acts 5:29).

Megoran makes particular reference to two sayings of the Lord Jesus.  The first is Matt. 10:34. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”  He tells us that the text was used by Thomas Aquinas to justify Christian participation in warfare.  But this can hardly be sustained since the immediate context is that of family life (v.35ff).  Its meaning, quite obviously, is that becoming a Christian can bring one into conflict with family members, and ultimately we must put Christ before even family.

The second text is Luke 22:36, 38.  ‘“….And he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”………..So they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.”  And He said to them, “It is enough.”’  This is rather more difficult, but again the context of v.37, where the Lord Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53 to prophesy His own sacrificial death, and the fact that when Peter did use one of those two swords to defend Him, He rebuked him, saying, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52), means that is far more sensible, says Megoran, to see the word ‘sword’ as being metaphorical.  ‘The meaning is that in the circumstances that are about to arise, the eleven will need all the courage they can muster’ (William Hendricksen).  When the disciples misunderstood Him once again, and supposed that two swords among eleven would be sufficient to defend themselves, the Lord Jesus cut the discussion short.  “Enough of that!”

Megoran goes on to look at the attitude of the Church down the ages towards warfare.  I was interested to learn that the attitude of the Early Church Fathers was totally against it.  He gives quotations from Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian and Lactantius.  The latter described Christians as “Those who are ignorant of wars, who preserve concord with all, who are friends even of their enemies…….It will not be lawful for a just man to serve as a soldier….[as] it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal” (Divine Institutions 6:20).  He quotes the Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hypolytus as declaring, “The catechumen or believer who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.”  Tertullian accused Christians in the army of pretending they could be servants “Of two masters, of God and Caesar” (De Corona ch. 12).  Megoran also mentions three men who were martyred because they refused to be inducted into the Roman Legions because of their Christian faith.   My only criticism here is that Megoran has taken most of his quotations from other modern writers.  It would have been helpful to have the references directly from the ECFs.

On the other hand, it has to be said that John the Baptist did not tell the soldiers who came to him for baptism to desert (Luke 3:14) and we are not told that either the centurion whose servant our Lord healed Matt. 8:5ff) or Cornelius (Acts 10) was instructed to leave the army.  But neither are we told that Zacchaeus was told to stop being a chief tax collector, despite the appalling reputation that profession had at the time.   It may very well be that soldiers, after they had trusted in Christ, found their profession incompatible with their new-found faith.  That is certainly the impression gained from early Church history.  For a much later witness, Megoran quotes C.H. Spurgeon as declaring:  “To see a soldier a Christian is a joy; to see a Christian a soldier is another matter.  We may not judge another man, but we may discourage thoughtless inclinations in the young and ignorant.  A sweeping condemnation would arouse antagonism, and possibly provoke the very spirit we would allay, while quiet and holy influence may sober and overcome misdirected tendencies.”

Megoran goes on to show how the situation changed after Constantine became Roman Emperor and Christianity became first accepted and quite soon the official religion of Rome.  After AD 416, only Christians could serve in the Roman legions.  Church leaders became dazzled by their new-found official status, and Athanasius was found declaring that it is “Praiseworthy to destroy the enemy.”  Moving swiftly to the 19th and 20th Centuries, we find senior clergy on both sides of a war blessing their own side’s troops and declaring the conflict ‘just.’  Time is given to consideration of ‘Just War Theory,’ something that began with ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero and found its way into Christian thinking with Augustine.   If such a theory has ever been workable, the era of total warfare, guerrilla wars and weapons of mass destructions make it exceedingly difficult to put into practice.  Former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara is quoted as saying that if America had lost World War II, he might well have been tried as a war criminal.

Megoran then tackles the most vexed question of all:  what about Hitler?  How should the world confront an evil dictator bent on conquest and slaughter, if not by war?   This question is particularly poignant as I write this (April 13th 2018) because at this very moment Britain, France and America are deciding how to respond to President Assad of Syria and his use of chemical weapons.  Megoran seeks to answer it by suggesting that the seeds of Hitler’s rise go back to the empire-building of the great powers in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Not every reader will agree with him, but it is sobering to read his accounts of the activities of the British, French, Americans and Japanese during those years.

Megoran also gives some accounts of successful non-violent opposition to Nazism and suggests that if these had been repeated on a larger scale, Hitler might have been resisted successfully.  But granted that he was not resisted in that way, we are left wondering what Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain could have done in September 1939 short of going to war and what might have been the consequences of Britain not doing so.  We are also left to wonder what might have been if Mussolini had been forcibly prevented from conquering Ethiopia in 1935 and Hitler from taking over the Sudetanland in 1936.

However, summing up, I believe that this book is important reading for every evangelical Christian.  It is hard to see how soldiering can be an appropriate calling for a Christian and we must surely do better than having some pope or archbishop pronouncing this or that war ‘just.’  We must insist with Lloyd-Jones that war is a manifestation of sin, call for peace at all times and above all things preach the Gospel of the Lamb who was slain, ‘Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.’

(1)    D.M. Lloyd-Jones: Why does God allow War?

(2)     G.Bell: The Church’s Function in Wartime.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: stpowen | March 26, 2018

Penal Substitution and the Trinity

Isaiah 53:5. ‘The chastisement for our peace was upon Him.’

John 10:18. “No one takes my life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  This command I have received from My Father.”

Since writing on the subject of Penal Substitution a few months ago, I have been accused on a Chrisian discussion forum of “Destroying the Doctrine of the Trinity” (as if I could!) by suggesting that Christ was the recipient of the Father’s wrath and more especially by suggesting that the Son was ‘forsaken’ by the Father. There have been amazing textual gymnastics to make Mark 15:34 say the opposite of what it so plainly does. In the early Church, the reality that there is one God in three Persons (not ‘members’) was safeguarded by speaking of a single divine ‘substance’ shared by Father, Son and Spirit. This substance is simply what God is, the thing that makes Father, Son and Spirit divine without implying three deities.

The Lord Jesus tells us that He and His father mutually indwell each other (John 14:11; c.f. also John 10:38; 14:10, 20). The technical term for this is perichoresis. This implies both union and distinction between Father and Son. One of the many problems with polytheism is the idea that different deities may make different demands of people and compete with one another as we see in the poems of Homer and Hesiod. Within the Trinity this is avoided, not because the Persons fortuitously happen to agree on most things, but because they must agree, for they are one God. The idea therefore that on the cross the Father inflicts a punishment upon the Son that He is unwilling to bear, or that the Son draws from the Father a forgiveness that He is unwilling to bestow is a non-starter.

But there is also a distinction between the Persons. Without it, it would be ridiculous to talk of a distinct Father, Son and Spirit at all, and it would be impossible for them to relate to each other as separate Persons as the Scripture teaches they do. But if Son, Father and Spirit are all fully Divine and equal in their possession of all the Divine attributes (e.g. holiness, wisdom, truth etc.), what distinguishes them? The answer is their asymmetric in their relationship with each other. The Father is in a relationship of Fatherhood to the Son and the Son is in a relationship of Sonship to the Father. The Son is everything the Father is, save that He is not the Father, the Spirit is not the Son and so forth.

It must surely be agreed that God’s actions reflect His nature. He does what is holy because He is holy; what is good because He is good. Therefore God’s nature will be reflected in the actions of each Person of the Trinity and both unity and distinction between the Persons will be reflected in what God does.

So the actions of the Persons reflect their unity. In John 14:10-11, the Lord Jesus teaches that His works are at the same time His Father’s works and this is grounded in the Perichoretic Union. In John 5:19, He testifies that ‘Whatever He [the Father] does, the Son also does in like manner.’ The fundamental unity in their actions mirrors the fundamental union of their Persons.

On the other hand, the actions of the Persons reflect their distinctions. The Bible teaches that the Father sent the Son, and that the Son willingly obeyed the Father (John 10:15-18; Philippians 2:5-9). Father and Son send the Spirit, but the Spirit does not send the Father. The work of the Trinity in salvation is outlined in Ephesians 1:3-14. The Three work in perfect harmony to accomplish their single goal, but their roles are quite different.

In order to represent this unity and distinction between the Persons, Augustine taught that the Father’s actions are not without the Son and the Son’s actions not without the Father. That seems to work rather well. Augustine affirmed that while the Persons of the Trinity do not perform the same action in the same way, nevertheless they do not act independently of one another– their respective contributions to any given activity are inseparable.

So it is not meaningless to say that God the Son propitiated God the Father. The same Person is not the subject and object of the verb. Nor does the fact that the Father exacts a punishment borne by the Son mean that they are divided or act independently. Their relationship is asymmetric, but they are mutually and inseparably engaged upon two aspects of the same action with one purpose– the salvation of guilty sinners while satisfying the justice of the Triune God.

I now want to look at the Lord Jesus being ‘forsaken’ on the cross. First of all I want to repeat what I said above. We must never imagine that God the father imposed upon the Son any burden that He was unwilling to bear. On the contrary, He declares, “I delight to do Your will, O My God….” (Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 10:7; c.f. John 4:34; 6:38). Nor should we imagine that on the cross, the Son extracted from the Father a mercy that He was unwilling to give (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). On the contrary, on the cross, ‘Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed’ (Psalm 85:10).

We should now consider the various references to the Lord Jesus drinking a cup. In Mark 10:38, He asks James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Then in Gethsamene, ‘deeply distressed and troubled’ Mark 14:33), He cries out to the Father, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, 42 etc.), and then in John 18:11, “Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” It is clear that this cup is something horrific which the Father requires Him to drink. He knows all about it, has willingly (see above) agreed to drink it, but as the cup approaches, He is filled with dread and horror at the anticipation of it. On an night when it was cold enough for a fire to be kindled in the courtyard of the high priest’s house (Luke 22:55), the Lord Jesus sweats copiously (Luke 22:44)– the psychosomatic response of a human to impending trauma.

So what is this cup which the Lord Jesus must drink? The O.T. tells us; it is a cup of judgement and wrath against the wicked. ‘For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain down and drink’ (Psalm 75:8). ‘For thus says the LORD GOD of Israel to me, “Take this wine cup from My hand and cause all the nations, to whom I send you to drink it. And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them……..”‘ (Jeremiah 25:15-32).

As one reads on, it becomes clear that this judgement is for the whole world to drink. See also Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:32-34; Habakkuk 2:16). So why should the Lord Jesus drink this cup? Mark 10:45 tells us, He came, ‘To give His life as a ransom for many;’ to drink the cup destined for sinners in their place. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed {lit. ‘handed over.’ Gk. paradidomai) to the chief priests and to the scribes; and the will condemn Him to death and deliver [Gk. paradidomai] Him to the Gentiles [lit. ‘nations.’ Gk. ethnoi], and they will mock Him and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’

Now compare with Psalm 106:40-41. ‘Therefore the wrath of the LORD was kindled against His people, so that He abhorred His own inheritance. And He gave them [LXX paradidomai] into the hand of the Gentiles [or ‘nations’] and those who hated them ruled over them.’ So for our Lord Jesus to be handed over to the nations is tantamount to being delivered over to God’s wrath. Christ gave His life as a ransom for many, being handed over to God’s wrath in the place of many. The ransom is, of course, not money, but a life being given up in death, and pain being suffered in the place of others who would otherwise suffer the pains of hell.

[For much of the article so far I have drawn on Pierced for our Transgressions by Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach (IVP, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84474-178-6)]

So now we can look at our Lord’s cry of dereliction. ‘Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the sixth hour. And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”‘ (Mark 15:33-34).

We will first look at the supernatural darkness that came over the land. There are several places in the O.T. where darkness denotes God’s wrath and judgement, especially connected to the ‘day of the Lord,’ e.g. Joel 2:31; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:14-15 and particularly Isaiah 13:9-11 (quoted in Mark 13:24-25). so the darkness indicates the righteous anger of God, but against whom? The Lord Jesus Himself tells us that it is against Himself. ‘Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered'”‘ (Mark 14:27). The quotation is from Zechariah 13:7 which makes it perfectly clear that God Himself is the One who will strike the Shepherd. The Lord Jesus was made sin, and God’s righteous anger against sin was poured out upon Him instead of us, with His full knowledge and consent.

We now come to the dereliction of Christ. As I have said elsewhere, I cannot accept that “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” can possibly be read as “My God, My God, You haven’t forsaken Me.” Nor can I accept that David, who is described as a prophet in Acts 2:30, was actually a false prophet in that he made an error in Psalm 22:1 (c.f. Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Nor is it a case of ‘God forsaking God’ any more than God prays to God (e.g. John 17). The Son prays to the Father, although the Father does not pray to the Son, and on the cross, the Father temporarily forsakes the Son. To be sure, we need to be careful here. We must not suggest that the Father was not present at Calvary for the very good reason that He is Omni-present. ‘”Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Declares the LORD’ (Jeremiah 23:23-24; c.f. Psalm 139:7-12). Rather it means that the Son, who had enjoyed the constant and closest possible relationship with His Father, now lacked completely any sense of His presence until the sun appeared once more and He cried, “It is finished!” The Greek word tetelestai can also mean, ‘It is paid’ (c.f. Matthew 17:14) or ‘it is accomplished (c.f. Luke 9:31). In fact, our Lord’s cry meant all those things. The ransom was paid in full, reconciliation between Man and God was accomplished, and His suffering was about to be ended.

This forsaking of Christ is an integral part of the atonement. Christ ‘is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.’ His is a complete salvation. I shall not be condemned for my sins because Christ was made sin for me. I shall not suffer the pains of hell because Christ has suffered them on my behalf on the cross. I shall not be shut out from the presence of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9) because Christ was shut out from the felt presence of His Father on my behalf.

Posted by: stpowen | November 1, 2017

The 1721 Initiative

Ephesians 4:11-16.  ‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head– Christ…….’

There is a new movement in Christian unity being promoted in Britain.  This is the 1721 initiative https://1721.org.uk/  based on our Lord’s prayer for unity in John 17:20-23.   Its stated objective is to ‘spread unity between different churches and Christian groups across the UK.’  Its chief achievement seems to have been to unite various professing Christian conferences and festivals together, but it also seems to have the support of various denominations and to be spearheaded by the Evangelical Alliance.

The idea is that all evangelicals should repent of their differences and unite around the E.A. ‘Basis of Faith’ http://www.eauk.org/connect/about-us/basis-of-faith.cfm , that churches supporting the initiative should display the 1721 logo and pledge to work together.  It all sounds rather super.

My unease stems from a number of sources:

First, the abridged nature of the E.A. basis of faith.  It is not that it is heretical in any way, but it is very brief.  For example, Article One states the truth of the Trinity, but it does not mention the distinction of the Persons.  It does not support the modalism which is the default position of so many professing Christians, but neither does it challenge it.  This is further seen in Article Three which covers the authority of the Bible.  It reads,   ‘The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.’  My problem here is that the Bible is made the ‘supreme’ authority, not the sole authority, and that there is no mention of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  It is far too easy for churches to pay lip service to this article and yet to give authority to other voices, such as fallen human reason or extra-biblical prophecy.  It will be remembered that in Revelation 13:11, the beast out of the sea had ‘two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.’  It claimed the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb, but spoke the words of Satan (Rev. 12:9): ‘Did God really say……./’  The E.A. Basis of faith is a ‘lowest common denominator’ document; it is not in any sense heretical, but it is quite insufficient to guide the Church of Christ in these difficult times.  Something firmer and stronger is required, but, alas, the constituent bodies would not be able to accept it.

Secondly, my own experience with churches adhering to the E.A. basis of faith causes me concern.  I was a member of such a church for many years, becoming more and more concerned as the Gospel was increasingly sidelined, and the preaching became less and less Bible-centred.  It is some years since I attended that church, but although it contains several fine Christians, I do not believe the Gospel is truly preached there these days. Yet its membership of E.A. goes completely unchallenged.  I believe that the E.A. membership contains many churches of this sort.

Thirdly, I was involved at one time with an initiative to provide a Christian worker to the local secondary school.  All members of the committee had to accept the E.A. basis of faith.  However, these same members eventually voted to remove that requirement and open the organization to members of Churches Together.  There was no commitment among E.A. members to their own published standard.  The school initiative was never hugely successful, but now, in my opinion, is more a hindrance than a help in bringing the Gospel to the local schoolchildren.

Fourthly,  most E.A. churches are deep into Churches Together.  In my experience their commitment to evangelicalism is no more that skin deep.  If the promoters of the 1721 Initiative vowed to end their association with C.T. that would be a forward movement, but no such action is proposed, nor will it be forthcoming.

Let me say at this point that I am in no position to judge every church that is a member of E.A., and nor do I wish to do so.  I’m sure there are many excellent, conservative, Bible-believing churches within its ranks.  I am merely giving above my personal experiences.  I do not believe them to be unique, but I shall be very happy to learn that they are less common than I fear they may be.

Fifthly, the organizers of Word Alive separated themselves from Spring Harvest some years ago precisely because of the latter’s alleged lack of commitment to Biblical standards.  Now, both organizations are joined together in this new initiative.  So what has changed?  Has Spring Harvest raised its standards of Gospel faithfulness in recent times, or will the organizers of Word Alive be repenting publicly of their erstwhile judgemental separatism?  I think we should be told.

I am all for love and cooperation between Gospel churches.  As a member of a FIEC church I am committed to it, and my church has cooperated with two E.A. member churches in recent times.  These churches were ones we knew well and we were confident that they shared our commitment to Biblical faithfulness.  But the way to Gospel unity does not lie in a downgrade of doctrine to a lowest common denominator; surely Church history teaches us that?  I quoted from Ephesians 4 at the head of this article.  The way to unity is in ‘the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry’ and ‘the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith……’ (Eph. 4:12-13).  In other words, ordinary Christians need to be taught to a higher standard rather than having the level of doctrine reduced to a point where important truths are sidelined or forgotten.

 

Posted by: stpowen | October 28, 2017

Three Talks on the Reformation

Three talks on the Reformation were given in Exmouth recently; two by myself and one by my Pastor.

The first is entitled ‘Martin Luther:  the Man and his Message.’

The second is ‘The People’s Reformation in England.’

The third is ‘The Reformation’s importance for today.’

They can all be accessed here.

http://www.scottdrivechurch.org.uk/events.html

Posted by: stpowen | October 23, 2017

The Theological and Biblical Basis of Penal Substitution

Isaiah 53:6. ‘We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, into his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’

Galatians 3:13. ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.’

First, a definition: ‘The doctrine of Penal Substitution states that God gave Himself in the Person of His Son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty of sin’ (Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffrey, Ovey and Sach. IVP. ISBN 978-1-84474-178-6).

The doctrine of Penal Substitution  has encountered much opposition over the last several years.  Having debated it extensively on a discussion forum recently, I thought it would be a good idea to write my thoughts out in depth and present them here.  The temptation is simply to quote Isaiah 53:5-6 and finish there since these verses seem perfectly clear and comprehensive to me. However, since more evidence seems to be required, I give it below. This is quite a long post but I make no apology for that; the doctrine is so vital for the proper understanding of the Christian faith that it is worth spending some time upon it.

Penal Substitution is rooted in the character of God as He revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding with goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty.”  Immediately the question arises, how can God be merciful and gracious, how can He forgive iniquity, transgression and sin without clearing the guilty? How can He clear the guilty if He abounds with truth—if He is a ‘just Judge’ (Psalm 7:11)? How can it be said that, ‘Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed’ unless God can simultaneously punish sin and forgive sinners?   The answer is that ‘God……devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him’ (2 Samuel 14:14). Those means are Penal Substitution. “Learn ye, my friends, to look upon God as being as severe in His justice as if He were not loving, and yet as loving as if He were not severe. His love does not diminish His justice nor does His justice, in the least degree, make warfare upon His love. The two are sweetly linked together in the atonement of Christ” (C.H. Spurgeon).

Right at the start of the Bible (Genesis 2:16-17) we have a direct command to Adam, Adam, the ‘first man’ (1 Corinthians 15:47): ‘And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”’ The command is accompanied by a penal sanction– death.  Yet we know that in the Bible death is not restricted to simply the end of existence. ‘….It is appointed to men to die once, but after this the judgement’ (Hebrews 9:27).

In Genesis 1:28, we see that God blessed His creation; marriage, child-bearing and work are specifically mentioned in that verse as part of this blessing. But at the Fall in Genesis 3, the blessings are turned to curses. Childbirth is marked by pain, the marriage bond is marred, and work becomes hardship and struggle, with death as the final inevitable result (Genesis 3:16-19). These are penal sanctions by God; they are His righteous response to sin. Sinful men and women are not going to live in a perfect environment; every aspect of it has been marred by sin. ‘For the whole creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope’ (Romans 8:20).

So both our lives and our deaths are subject to the curse because of sin. We learn from Romans 5 that Adam was our federal head—what he did, we have done in him. Therefore just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned…..’ (v.12). God’s curse extends to mankind because we are every one of us sinners (e.g. 2 Chronicles 6:36). We read in Psalm 7:11 that ‘God is a just Judge [therefore whomever God punishes for sin must be guilty of sin], and God is angry with sinners every day,’ and in Proverbs 17:15 we learn that ‘he who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to God.’

 So we come to the necessity of Atonement. We must be very careful in saying that God cannot do something, but the Scriptures tell us that God ‘cannot deny Himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). In the light of Proverbs 17:15, God surely cannot become an abomination to Himself by justifying guilty sinners without a penalty for sin! Be it said that God is under no obligation to show mercy to sinful humans; the angels who sinned had no Redeemer but were ‘cast down to hell and delivered into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgement’ (2 Peter 2:4). But if God, ‘according to the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:5), has decreed mercy and salvation for certain sinful men and women, it surely cannot be at the expense of His justice. Someone must pay the price and satisfy God’s justice and His righteous anger against sin.

In the Scriptures we have the concept of the mediator, one who might fill up the gap between the outraged holiness of God and rebellious man (Isaiah 59:2). Job complained, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, and that we should go to court together. Nor is there any mediator between us who may lay his hand on us both.” But mediation requires a satisfaction to be made to the offended party. We see this is the book of Philemon. Here we have an offended party, Philemon, whose servant has run away from him, perhaps stealing some goods as he went; an offending party, Onesimus, and Paul who is attempting to mediate between them. Onesimus needs to return to his master, but fears the sanctions that may be imposed upon him if he does so. Paul takes these sanctions upon himself: ‘But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay…..’  (Philemon 18-19). Whatever is wanting to propitiate Philemon’s anger against his servant and to effect reconciliation, Paul the mediator willingly agrees to provide. In the same way, the Lord Jesus has become a Mediator between men and God (1 Timothy 2:5).

In 2 Corinthians 5:19, we learn that God does not impute trespasses against His people; in Christ; He has reconciled the world [believing Jew and Gentile alike] to Himself. How has He done this? Through the Mediator Jesus Christ. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us….’ (v.21). The Lord Jesus has taken our sins upon Himself and made satisfaction to God for them. Therefore the message of reconciliation can be preached to all.

A similar concept is that of a surety. This is someone who guarantees the debts of a friend and must pay them in full if the friend defaults. There are several warnings in the Book of Proverbs against becoming a surety (Proverbs 6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18), since one is making the debts of one’s friend effectively one’s own, yet we read in Hebrews 7:22, ‘By so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.’ More on that verse presently.

In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were made to God for the sins of the people. We read over and over again that creatures to be offered had to be without blemish (Leviticus 1:3 etc., etc.). ‘It must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no effect in it’ (Leviticus 22:21). Given that He is the fulfilment of the O.T. sacrifices (Hebrews 9:11-15 etc.), the physical perfections of the sacrificed animals speak of the moral and spiritual perfections of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19 speaks of ‘….the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.’ So it was necessary for the Lord Jesus to live the life that Adam failed to live– the life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will (Psalm 40:8). And this ‘Active Obedience’ is not a notional thing; it had to be lived out in the most practical way. Hence, ‘immediately’ after His baptism, ‘the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness’ (Mark 1:12-13) for an encounter with Satan. He must succeed where Adam fell.

God’s law makes two inexorable demands: ‘Do this and live’ (Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12), and ‘The soul that sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4). The first demand our Lord has met in His perfect obedience. He was made ‘under the law’ (Galatians 4:4) and fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). His obedience has been placed to the credit of His people (Romans 5:19) and they are now made ‘the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For the second demand, we need to look again at Hebrews 7:22: ‘By so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.’ Christ is specifically designated in Scripture as ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45) and we are told that the first Adam was a ‘type [or ‘figure’] of Him who was to come’ (Romans 5:14). ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). All those in Adam perish in their sins; all those in Christ are united to Him in His perfect righteousness.

Who are those ‘in Christ’? Those He came to save; those who were given to Him by the Father before time began. “Christ came not to strangers but to ‘brethren’ (Hebrews 2:11-13). He came here not to procure a people for Himself, but to secure a people already His” (A.W. Pink).  There are many supporting texts for this, e.g. Matthew 1:21; John 6:39; 10:27-29; 17:2, 6; Ephesians 1:4. Christ is united federally to His people. They are ‘chosen in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4), ‘Created in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:10); ‘circumcised in Him’ (Colossians 2:11) and ‘made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). But as Surety, the Lord Jesus must also pay the debt of His people, and if they are to be freed from their debt, He must pay the very last penny (Matthew 5:26).

So we come to the concept of the cup of God’s wrath. In Gethsemane, our Lord prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). What was this cup which the Lord Jesus dreaded so much to drink? It is the cup of God’s wrath. ‘For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red. It is fully mixed and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drink’ (Psalm 75:8; c.f. Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 13:13; 25:15; Ezekiel 23:32-34; Revelation 14:9-10 etc.). It represents God’s righteous judgement against a wicked world. This cup the Lord Jesus must drink down to the very dregs. All the wrath and punishment due to those whom He came to save was poured out on Him. ‘And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6). ‘Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree….’ (1 Peter 2:24). ‘It pleased the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief’ (Isaiah 53:10). Why would it please the Father to bruise or crush His beloved (Luke 3:22 etc. ) Son? Because by His suffering, the Son magnified God’s law and made it honourable. Sin was punished in full, so that God ‘might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26).

We learn in the Scriptures two things that the Lord Jesus became on our behalf. He became sin ‘for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and He became a curse ‘for us’ (Galatians 3:13). First, He became sin. ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ So God the Father made the sinless Christ to be sin on our behalf. What does this mean? Well, it does not mean that Christ was made a sinner; He was never that! It means that all the sins of God’s elect were imputed to Christ– that is, laid to His account (c.f. Isaiah 53:6), and He has paid the penalty for them (Isaiah 53:5). At the same time, His perfect righteousness and obedience to His Father’s will are credited to us who believe.   This is what Luther termed the ‘Great Exchange.’ The sinless One made sin, and sinners made righteous through the cross.

It has been suggested that Christ was not made ‘sin’ in 2 Cor. 5:21, but a ‘sin offering.’ There are three reasons why this suggestion should be rejected:

Firstly, hamartia, the Greek word translated ‘sin’ never means ‘sin offering’ in the New Testament, though it sometimes does elsewhere.

Secondly, hamartia occurs twice in the verse, and it would be strange if it had two meanings in one sentence; but to say, “God made Him who knew no sin offering to be a sin offering for us” makes no sense.

Thirdly, in John 3:14, the Lord Jesus declares, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up……” The reference is, of course, to Numbers 21:8-9, where Moses made a ‘fiery serpent,’ lifted it up on a pole, and everyone who looked upon it was cured of snake-bite. The serpent is clearly some sort of type of the Lord Jesus, but what sort? Well where do we see in Scripture a red, fiery serpent? Well in Revelation 12:3, we are introduced to ‘A great fiery red dragon’ who, in verse 9, is seen to be the serpent, alias Satan himself. So how is Satan a type of Christ? He is a type of Christ made sin for us. The Lord Jesus manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 2:8). The primary satanic work was the luring of mankind into sin. Christ was made the very epitome of sin for us, figured by the brazen serpent, and paid the penalty of His people’s sin in full, so that ‘the accuser of our brethren…..has been cast down’ (Revelation 12:10). Satan can no longer accuse Christians of sin because Christ has taken away their sin debt, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14) marked tetelestai, ‘Paid in Full’ (John 19:20; c.f. Matthew 17:24). Therefore ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is he who condemns?’ (Romans 8:33-34).

Next, we come to Galatians 3:10-13. God’s law pronounces a curse on law-breakers: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (v.10; c.f. Deuteronomy 27:26; James 2:10).  We ourselves are cursed, for none of us have continued in God’s holy law. But, ‘Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law….’ How has He done that? ‘…..having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”’ (v.13; Deuteronomy 21:23). In God’s law it is written, so, as Luther says, ‘Christ hung on a tree; therefore Christ was accursed of God’ (Luther: Commentary on Galatians).

So what does it mean to be ‘accursed of God’? Let Paul answer first: ‘These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thessalonians 1:10).   And then the Lord Jesus: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4-5; c.f. Matthew 25:41). So what does hell feel like? Well, we may think of darkness, pain and, according to Paul, separation from the presence of God, save perhaps for His abiding wrath. We may add, perhaps, the mocking and abuse of others (c.f. Isaiah 14:10-11). All these things came upon the Christ. Of the pain it is hardly necessary to speak, save to note that it could not be diminished in any degree. Our Lord was offered wine mixed with myrrh, but He would not take it (Mark 15:23); it was an analgesic, but He must suffer the full agony of sin and the wrath of the Father against sin.

Of the darkness, we note that, ‘When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour’ (Mark 15:33). By this time I suppose that the two thieves had fallen silent; the crowd had dispersed; even the Pharisees had got bored with mocking and gone home, and John had taken our Lord’s mother into his own house (John 19:27). The Lord Jesus hung alone—so utterly alone that about the ninth hour He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Hitherto, He had enjoyed the closest imaginable relationship with the Father (Mark 1:11; 9:7; John 8:29; 16:32). Even in Gethsemane, when He was almost overcome with the prospect of the horror that was approaching Him, the Father sent an angel to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). But now, on the cross, His greatest extremity He must endure alone. He was ‘made sin’ and the Father, whose eyes are too pure to look upon sin, turned away from Him. I know that some people find this hard to accept, but it must be true because the Holy Spirit has preserved His words for us. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Psalm 22:1-2). Although it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it was the ‘night season’ for darkness had fallen upon the land, as if to hide the shame of the God-man made sin. For those hours, as a Man, He was quite literally God-forsaken.

But at the end of the ninth hour, the sun came out again. God’s outraged justice had been satisfied; propitiation had been made, save for the actual act of dismissing His spirit which followed almost at once. God could now be ‘just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus’ (Rom. 3:26). The way to heaven was now wide open, the veil was torn asunder, the one acceptable sacrifice for sin had been made.

One question remains to be answered: how could Christ’s suffering, which lasted just a few hours, pay an infinite price? How could an infinite punishment be borne in a finite time? The answer is that an ordinary person, even if their sacrifice were acceptable to God, which is isn’t, would indeed need to suffer for an infinite period. But the Lord Jesus Christ was not an ordinary person. Just as sin against God is especially heinous because of His infinite worth and goodness, so Christ’s propitiation is of infinite value in the eyes of the Father because of His own infinite worth. Therefore the sufferings of Christ were infinite in value because He is infinitely worthy. Scripture attests that ‘by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10:14). Finally, the Father’s satisfaction with Christ’s atonement is proved by the fact that He raised Him from the dead.

 

 

 

Posted by: stpowen | June 28, 2017

The Turning of the Tide?

Psalm 85:5-7. ‘ Will You be angry with us forever?  Will you prolong Your anger to all generations?  Will you not restore us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?  Show us Your mercy, LORD, and grant us Your salvation.’

Daniel 9:2-3. ‘In the first year of [Darius’] reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.  then I set my face towards the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes……’

It has become axiomatic that the Church in Britain is in terminal decline and that it is only a matter of time until it becomes utterly insignificant.  Particularly, we are told that young people are quite indifferent to religion and that the numbers to be found in churches are tiny.

Those of us who ponder these matters have never wholly believed this narrative.  Whilst it is true that numbers in liberal churches are in free-fall, those in evangelical churches, regardless of denomination, have remained steady and even grown slightly.  However, I must admit to surprise and delight when I read the following article in the Sunday Telegraph of June 18th.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/17/one-six-young-people-christian-visits-church-buildings-inspire/

At first the statistics seem strange.  We are told that 13% of 11-18 year-olds say they are regular churchgoers, and 21% describe themselves as ‘active followers of Jesus’ so 8% actively follow the Lord but don’t go to church.  A moment’s thought resolves the puzzlement.  These 8% have somehow become Christians but are prevented by their parents from attending a place of worship.  The good news is that these young people will soon be going to University where they can join the Christian Union and join their friends in church on the Lord’s day.

As a member of the Gideons, I suppose I should not be so surprised.  When we visit schools and offer copies of the New Testament to the children, the acceptance rate tends to be over 90%.  20% of children who had professed Christ said that reading the Bible had been important to them.  Other surveys reveal that young people tend to be depressed and likely to self-harm;  large numbers of them admit to suicidal thoughts.  Little wonder then, when secularism, homosexuality and gender issues are being forced upon their young minds, that they should seek for a better, purer way of life and teaching that has the ring of truth.

‘Said the swallow to the sparrow, “I should really like to know

Why these foolish human beings rush around and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the swallow, “Well I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me.”‘

One of the most interesting things in the survey is the number of children (13%) who said that visiting a church had been an important factor in coming to Christ.  Perhaps such a visit was the first time they had seen Christianity as a living faith rather than as just another subject to be studied.  Surely therefore churches need to be proactive in contacting schools and inviting them to visit?

So, is this the turning of the tide?  Is God, having passed by two generations, about to revive Britain once more?  It would be rash to conclude so on such slender evidence.  Yet more evidence is out there.  In University towns, there are always two or three big churches which have large numbers of students attending.  These young people are the politicians, the BBC producers, the film-makers and opinion-formers of tomorrow.  No doubt great trials lie ahead for the churches of Christ, as the secular establishment and the homosexual lobby seeks to bend them to their will, but perhaps the tide has turned.

So what do we do about it?  Do we sit back and wait for God to do His stuff and change the nation?  By no means!  When Daniel realised that the captivity of Israel was coming to an end, he went to prayer.  So must we, urgently, fervently, constantly, ‘until…righteousness goes forth as brightness and …salvation as a burning lamp’ (Isaiah 62:1).  I have posted several times about the Concert of Prayer initiative, and it is several years now that evangelical churches of several denominations and none have been meeting together once a quarter to confess the sins of the nation, as Daniel did, and to pray for revival.  The next such meeting will be on either July 1st or 8th.  Readers living in East Devon are more than welcome to come to Scott Drive Church, Exmouth between 10-00am and 12 Noon on July 8th and join in.  Who knows if God will not answer our prayers more quickly than anyone expects.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

‘Then Hezekiah and all the peole rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly’ (2 Chronicles 29:36).

Posted by: stpowen | May 10, 2017

The ‘Behold Your God’ Course

The ‘Behold Your God’ Course

Isaiah 40:9.  ‘O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain;  O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, left up your voice, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”’

Eph. 3:17-19.   ‘…….That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’

Some things are too good not to share.  For the past several weeks, I and ten other people from my church has been involved with the Behold Your God study course.  We are at present about half way through, but the course has been so beneficial so far, and yet seems to little known in Britain, that I feel I ought to waste no more time in telling my readers about it.

Behold your God has been written and is presented by John Snyder, Pastor of Christ Church,  New Albany, Missouri, USA.  It appears that while studying for a PhD at the University of Wales, he attended the Heath Church in Cardiff and was greatly influenced by its then minister, the late Vernon Higham.  Snyder writes, “Behold Your God is born out of a desire to see the glory of God manifested once again among His people.  This workbook consistently brings us into contact with God’s magnificent self-revelation in the Bible and helps us to apply these descriptions of Him to key areas of life.  The study requires serious contemplation of those Scriptures which most fully unveil God, aiding the reader to acquire a biblically informed understanding of Him who is beyond comprehension.”  Snyder sells himself short here.  The studies are immensely challenging, and will, if the participant is prepared to commit himself to the work required, confront him with the Person of the Triune God in all His holiness.

The course consists of 13 DVDs, one of which is introductory.  It is also necessary for each participant to buy a workbook.  It would be possible, but not ideal, to use the workbooks without the DVDs; it would not work to use the DVDs without the workbook.  Each DVD covers one topic, and consists of a 10 minute biographical sketch of an historical Christian figure associated with the topic, a 35 minute sermon by Snyder, given to a group in his church, and then 10 minutes or so of extracts from interviews with contemporary Christian ministers, presumably chosen for their suitability by Dr Snyder.  These include well-known figures like Paul Washer, Richard Owen-Roberts and Conrad Mbewe, two elderly Welsh ministers, Andrew Davies and Dr Eifion Evans (who has gone to Glory since the interviews were conducted), and two younger American Pastors, Jordan Thomas and Anthony Mathenia.  All these men’s comments are pertinent and helpful.  My group was unanimous in thinking that Paul Washer was particularly helpful.

The twelve DVDs, and the subjects of the biographical  sketches are as follows:-

  1. Beholding God: The Great Attraction!   A.W. Tozer.
  2. Beholding God: Clearing the Way for our Return.   Timothy Dwight
  3. Beholding God in the Bible. George Muller
  4. Beholding God in the Face of Jesus Christ. Samuel Rutherford
  5. Beholding God in the Work of Salvation. George Whitefield
  6. Beholding God and the Response of Personal Holiness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne
  7. Beholding God: Restoring Worship in our Lives.  Charles Spurgeon
  8. Beholding God and Evangelism. Daniel Rowland
  9. Beholding God and our Christian Service. Amy Carmichael
  10. Beholding a Lessor God? Charles Finney
  11. Beholding God: Avoiding the Lies of Pragmatism.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  12. Seeking the God we are Beholding. Jonathan Edwards

The talks by John Snyder are challenging and well worth hearing in their own right, but the best part of the course is the workbook.  Before listening to each DVD, the participant should have completed five days of study.  It is possible to run the course weekly, but we have found it better to run it once a fortnight to give a chance for those with busy lives to take the necessary time to do the various exercises and answer the questions.  The course is too important to be rushed.

Before the first day’s study, the student is confronted with the question, ‘Are you willing to adjust your life to whatever God reveals of Himself in the coming days?’ As we have seen, Session Six covers  the subject of personal holiness, which is as important a subject of any on the course.  Day one in the workbook starts by quoting Isaiah 6:1-3 and Exodus 15:11, and then establishes the root of God’s holiness:  He is separate from all else.  No one else is like Him.  We are then instructed to read Job 15:15-16; 25:5-6 and to summarize what the verses say about God’s relationship to the stars, the heavenly beings and earthly humanity.

We are then pointed to 1 John 1:5 and Habakkuk 1:13a to see God’s holiness and separation from all sin, and then told to summarize Psalm 5:5-6; 7:11-12 to see how God responds to sin in mankind.  We are told, ‘Few passages shock man-centred church members more than these.  We may find that we are uncomfortable with a God who is this holy…….yet there is no other God.’

Day two covers the positional and practical holiness of the believer.  We are shown from the introductions to Paul’s letters that regardless how much the Christians in the churches may have struggled with sin, they are always regarded as ‘saints:’  set apart for holy purposes ((Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1 etc.).  We are instructed to write down God’s action and purpose in Eph. 1:4; 5:25-26; Col. 1:21-22; 1 Peter 2:24; Titus 2:14.  We are saved for holiness.  We are pointed to Col. 1:13-14 and told,  ‘A Christian may at times behave as he did prior to conversion, but he can never go back to existing in the old realm  The transfer to a new kingdom is a finished work.  In heaven it will not be more complete.  We are holy in our position; and that position before God is the reason why a transformation in our behaviour is possible.  If we do not start here, we will go astray in our religion.’

We then move to an introduction to practical sanctification.  We are pointed to our state by nature in Job 15:15-16 and then to God’s great work of regeneration in the famous New Covenant texts of Ezek. 36:26 and Jer. 31:31, 33.  We are then instructed to copy out Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; 1 Thes. 5:23 to show how God works within the believer to transform him in character and practice.

Days three and four are entitled ‘Looking unto Jesus.’  It is explained how the Lord Jesus is the foundation of our holiness, and that we look away from the world and fix our eyes upon Him (Heb. 12:1-3).  On the negative side we are pointed to Phil. 3:3-11; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:7-10, and on the positive side to 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 2:1-3:11.   We are given this quotation from Matthew Henry:  ‘We have no sufficient strength f our own.  Our natural courage is as perfect cowardice, and our natural strength as perfect weakness; but all our sufficiency is of God.  In His strength we must go forth and go on.  By the actings of faith we must fetch in grace and help from heaven to enable us to do that which we cannot of ourselves.  We should stir up ourselves to resist temptations in a reliance upon God’s all-sufficiency and the omnipotence of His might.’

One of the very helpful applications from these pages is the idea of a mental screen-saver.  On a computer screen the screen-saver is the image that comes up when the computer is not being used.  We should make the Lord Jesus our mental screen-saver so that whenever we are not engaged in work or other important activities (or even when we are!), our thoughts should naturally turn to Him, to meditate pleasantly upon His perfections rather than allowing unwholesome images to flood into our mind.

Day five is entitled ‘a God-ward Life’ and it covers ‘slippery slopes along the narrow path’ such as self-indulgence; the danger of legalism, and our motivation for our pilgrimage which is, of course, our love for the Lord Jesus and our desire to be as like Him as it is possible for a redeemed sinner to be.

I hope this brief summary of one chapter of the workbook is sufficient for the reader to see how Christ-centred and challenging the course is.  As I write this, my group is a little more than half-way through the course, but already it is possible to see in many of them an increased love for Christ, a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and a greater desire for holiness.  I believe the course will be exceedingly beneficial for those who have been saved quite recently and are in need of further discipling and also for older Christians whose zeal for the Saviour may have begun to cool.

 

Further details, and the first week of the course may be found on the website www.beholdyourgod.org  American readers may buy the DVDs and workbook from the website, but in Britain it may be purchased on the Banner of Truth website.

 

 

‘Woman, behold your son…….Son, behold your Mother.’

From a sermon preached on Mothering Sunday, 2017.

Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.’

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

Taken from a sermon preached at a Mothering Sunday service at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, 2017.

Usually on a ‘Mothering Sunday’ service, we break off from whatever series we are doing, and look at a special ‘Mothers’ Day’ text.  But at present we are preaching through the words of the Lord Jesus spoken from the cross, and it seemed to us that the verses John 19:25-27 which were read just now are very suitable material for ‘Mothers’ Day’ because they show to us very clearly the heart of a mother, and also how the Lord Jesus kept the fifth Commandment, ‘Honour your father and mother.’  So let’s read those verses once again.

It will be good first of all to look at the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Like her Son, she was already well-acquainted with grief.  Right at the start, when the angel Gabriel was sent to give her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, we read that she was ‘troubled’ (Luke 1:29).  And no wonder!  A great honour it was to be sure, but it was fraught with difficulty and even danger.  She was betrothed to Joseph, and this pregnancy could be construed as adultery for which the law of Moses specified death.  So her response to the angel is both obedient and courageous.  “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Then ten or eleven months later, she and Joseph come to the Temple to present the baby Jesus to the Lord, and an old man named Simon approached them and made this prophecy. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  Strange words, signifying great privilege but also great sorrow.  At the cross they became, for Mary, tragically true.  Just a short time later, they became refugees in Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intentions.  Then, as her Son began His ministry, she must have witnessed the virulent opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious hierarchy, that would lead Him to the cross.

John 19:25-27.  ‘Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother………’  How can we imagine the grief of Mary as she saw her Son hanging on the cross?  The sword had indeed pierced her own soul.  She was the one who had first planted kisses on the brow that was now crowned with thorns.  It was she who had held those hands and guided those feet which were now nailed through to the cross.  And here she is at the foot of that cross, powerless to save, unable to help.

Yet what she can do, she does.  She doesn’t run away and hide; she doesn’t scream or yell.  She stands by the cross.  Whatever comfort she can give to the Lord Jesus in His agony by her presence, that she will give.  The crowds are mocking, the thieves are taunting, the priests are jeering, the soldiers are callous and unfeeling, but she will be there for her Son.  All but one of the disciples have deserted Him and run away, but while He has life, nothing will take her from Him.

Yet we need to note that Mary is just an ordinary woman.  She knew perfectly well that she was a sinner like the rest of us and needed a Saviour (Luke 1:46-47).  Mary would have been the first to object to the adoration and semi-divine status given her by the Church of Rome.  We may observe and learn from her character, her submission to God’s will for her and her love for her Son, but we should certainly not be induced to worship her in any way.

In this connection, it might be as well to mention something remarkable in the Scripture.  The Lord Jesus never addresses Mary as ‘mother.’  I’m sure He did in private, but if so, it is not recorded, and the reason for that is plain to us who live 2,000 years after the event.  It was not for any lack of reverence or affection, but rather to give no Scriptural basis for giving to Mary that pagan title, “Mother of God.”

Vs. 26-27.  ‘When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom Jesus loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.’

I want to look now at how the Lord Jesus, even in His dying agony, kept the Fifth Commandment, and the example He gives us.   The Commandment is found both in the Old and New Testaments.  ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you’ (Exod. 20:12, repeated and expanded in Eph. 6:1-3).  This command goes far beyond simply obeying one’s parents’ bidding, though that is certainly included.  It embraces love, affection and gratitude, exemplified by respect and care.  It is by no means only addressed to young people.  It is to them first, but the word ‘honour’ looks beyond the obedience required of the young to the love, care and devotion to be given by grown-up children to their aged parents.  In these verses, we see the care given by the Lord Jesus to His mother.  Mary was, no doubt, a widow by this point.  We read nothing of Joseph after the end of Luke 2, and it would have been very odd if Mary had been invited to the wedding at Cana without her husband, had he been living.

There was, of course, no Social Security in New Testament times, and life could be very difficult for widows unless they could be cared for by family members (Hence the poignancy of the plight of the widow of Nain in Luke 7:11ff).  However, God makes clear several times in the Bible His concern for widows and orphans, and the poor in general (eg. Psalm 68:5; 1 Tim. 5:4, 8).  The Lord Jesus sets us a divine example in this respect; first as a child (Luke 2:51), and now as an adult.  Knowing that He must shortly depart from the world, He makes arrangement for the care of His mother.

Why does our Lord’s choice to look after Mary fall upon John?  For we know that Mary had had other children with Joseph after our Lord was born (cf. Mark 6:3).  Well, where were they?  None of them came at this terrible time to support their mother in her grief.  Also, we read that at this point ‘Even His own brothers did not believe in Him’ (John 7:5), although it appears that at some point before Pentecost (Acts 1:14), they came to faith, and one of them, James, went on to become a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Gal. 1:19) and is generally believed to be the writer of the NT letter that bears his name.  But now they were nowhere to be found.  The Lord Jesus had declared, ‘Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and My mother’ (Mark 3:35).  The will of God was that they support their mother in her time of trial and they were not there, but someone else was- the disciple whom He especially loved.

A modicum of Bible detective work will reveal that John was Mary’s nephew, and therefore first cousin to Jesus.  Look again at v.25 and then compare it with Matt. 27:55 and Mark 15:40, and you will see that Mary’s sister who stood by her at the cross was called Salome, and she was the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  Salome and John were there for Mary at her time of greatest need, so Jesus knew that they would be the ones to care for her afterwards.  We might add that John’s family appears to have been reasonably prosperous and therefore able to add Mary to the household.  They had a fishing business that was large enough to employ others (Mark 1:19-20) and were people with connections (John 18:15).  But no doubt John’s spiritual qualifications were the most important.  All the apostles had fled the previous night (Mark 14:50).  Not one had stayed and supported Him at the hour of His greatest need.  Yet there was one who had repented of his cowardice and had returned to be present at the foot of the cross to show that he was not ashamed of his Master.  All te apostles were forgiven for their desertion, even Peter, who denied three times that he even knew Jesus;  but John, who first returned was given the honour of caring for his Lord’s mother.

Furthermore, because ‘From that hour the disciple took her into his home’ (v.26), he would have had the joy, a little later, of running back from the empty tomb to tell his aunt the amazing news that her Son had risen from the dead (John 20:3, 10).  The last time we hear of Mary, she is with the disciples, her other sons and the women, no doubt including her faithful sister Salome, ‘Continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1:14).

To close, there is a verse in connection with motherhood which is especially precious to me.  It is Isaiah 49:15.  ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you.’  The love of a mother is a very wonderful thing, and one would suppose that it is impossible that she would forget her own child, but that was exactly my experience.  My mother suffered from a virulent form of vascular dementia towards the end of her life and could recognize neither me nor anyone else.  I don’t know how people cope with that sort of grief who don’t know the Lord, but I was comforted and sustained, not least by this verse.  However deep a mother’s love may be, God’s love towards His adopted children is greater.  ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and though the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour’ (Isaiah 43:1-3).  The love of God is not there as a lucky charm, but as a love that will see you through the very hardest part of life, will never leave you not forsake you, and at the end will bring you to Himself and wipe every tear from your eyes.

 

 

Posted by: stpowen | February 14, 2017

Petition to Ban Abortion on the NHS

Proverbs 24:20 (NIV). ‘Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who guards your life know it?  Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?’

Jeremiah 1:5. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’

There is an on-line petition to stop abortions being performed on the NHS.

Whilst I don’t imagine for a moment that such a petition will be successful, it is an opportunity for Christians (and others) to show their opposition to the mass-slaughter of unborn children.  It would be wonderful if a million signatures could be obtained so that the petition might be discussed in Parliament.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/178191

Posted by: stpowen | February 11, 2017

Why do You Speak to Them in Parables?

 

Matthew 13:10-17.  Why  do You Speak to them in Parables?

Psalm 78:1-2.  ‘Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ear to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.’

Matthew 13:9.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth.  www.scottdrivechurch.org

I am taking verse 10 as my text:  ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’   Matthew 13 contains seven parables, at which we shall be looking over the next few weeks, but we thought it might be helpful to ask the question that the disciples ask:  “Why parables?  And what on earth is a parable anyway?”  Also, since the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is mentioned quite often in Matthew 13, it might be good to take a look at what that term means.

So what’s a parable?  You’ve probably hears the saying, “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”   That’s not a bad definition.  Parables take themes with which ordinary Israelites would have been familiar- farming or fishing, for example- and use them to illustrate a spiritual point.  Some are very short- the parable of the hidden treasure in verse 44 is just one verse- and some, like the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel,  are much longer.  Some are allegories- one thing represents another.  For instance, in the Parable of the Sower, the seed represents the word of God, the pathway is this and the thorns are that; one thing corresponds to another.  But others aren’t allegorical and if you press the details too hard you will miss the point of the parable.  Someone might listen to the Parable of the Sower and think to himself, why is that sower so stupid?  Why is he chucking the seed on the pathway and in amongst the weeds where it’s never going to grow?  The farmer would sack him in five minutes!  If you want to know why, you’ll have to come back next week when we look at that parable in detail, but the point is, if you agonize over the details, you will miss the point.  But the simplest definition of a parable is that it is a story that illustrates a teaching.

The next question is the one posed by the disciples; “Why do You speak to them [the people] in parables?”   I suspect that the disciples themselves didn’t understand the Parable of the Sower.  Mark’s Gospel records the Lord Jesus as telling them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?”  (Mark 4:13), and in a moment He explains the parable, but it seems that the disciples were ashamed to admit their ignorance, so they ask a different question; why are You speaking in parables?  They had also heard the close of the parable:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” and perhaps were thinking, what’s that all about?

So here’s the question for you:  do you have ears to hear?  Sunday by Sunday, as the word of God is preached to you, do you have ears to hear?   To be sure the preacher has a duty to explain things clearly and simply, but are you taking it in?  And if you aren’t, do you come and ask the preacher about it afterwards, or get a book out of the church library and study it for yourself?  Are you bothered whether you hear or not, or does the word go ‘whoosh’ over the top of your head, or in one ear and out the other, and you don’t get it and it doesn’t trouble you that much whether you get it or not?  Do you have ears to hear?

Now this isn’t a question of intelligence.  You’ve heard of William Wilberforce, the man who helped bring an end to the slave trade.  Well he was very good friends with the Prime Minister, William Pitt.  Pitt was a man of colossal intellect, having become Prime Minister at the age of only 24.  Wilberforce was a Christian, but Pitt was not and Wilberforce longed for him to be saved.  Hearing that a well-known evangelist would be speaking in London, he invited Pitt to go along with him to hear the man.  As the evangelist spoke, Wilberforce was thrilled- surely now his friend would be saved.  But as they left the auditorium, Pitt turned to his friend and said, “You know, Wilberforce, I have no idea what that fellow was on about.”  He had the brains to understand, but he didn’t have ears to hear.  He didn’t understand and he didn’t care enough to find out.  For ’the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he understand them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14).

So as the crowds walked away, perhaps they asked one another, “What did you make of those stories?”  “Well, I couldn’t make it out.  It was all about some mad sower chucking seed all over the place.  I’d be out of business in five minutes if I carried on like that!”  He doesn’t get it, and it doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t get it.   Parables are a judgement on those who heard the wonderful teaching, saw the amazing miracles and still did not react.  They didn’t want to believe.  We read in 12:24 that the more miracles the Pharisees saw, the more they hated Jesus and ascribed His works to the devil.

We read in John 1:11 that ‘He came to His own’– His own Jewish countrymen- ‘but His own did not receive Him.’  They were interested for a short while, but then they turned away.   ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.’  Is that you?  Have you heard the wonderful teaching of Jesus and has it struck a chord in your heart?  If so, give God the thanks, because it is all over Him.  ‘For to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.’  It is God who has opened your eyes and caused you to see, and you have been born again, ‘not of blood……’  It doesn’t matter if your parents were Christian or not; ‘nor of the will of the flesh……’  It’s not something you could do by the strength of your own fallen will; ‘nor of the will of man…….’  No human third party- not the words of the preacher, the incantations of the priest not the ministrations of the social worker- can get you right with God.  ‘But of God.’  It is He who has opened your blind eyes, un-stopped your deaf ears and caused you to see and hear the Truth.  So ‘blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear…..’  (V.16).   Blessed are you for coming into this little church with no great resources and no fancy music, because you hear the word of life here and you know it’s the word of life, and you keep coming and you’re learning and you’re growing in the faith.  In John 6:66-68 we read of many of Jesus’ disciples turning away, and He asked the twelve, ‘“Do you also want to go away?”  But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”’  Is that your position today?  That in Christ and no one else are the words of life?  Then blessed are your eyes and blessed are your ears for they have seen and heard the truth and believed it.

So there is an element of judgement in the parables.  Because people deliberately close their eyes and ears, Jesus is going to make it even easier for them not to listen.  ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…….’ (Romans 1:18-21).  They are without excuse, because the very world they live in should tell them something about God, but they are not troubled to find out, ‘and their foolish hearts were darkened.’  The result is that ‘…..Whoever has [a God-given desire to know God] to Him more shall be given and he shall have abundance, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him’ (Matt. 13:12).

There is another reason for these parables.  The last six in Chapter 13, and several others, begin ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…..’  These are called, appropriately, the ‘parables of the kingdom.’  So first of all, what is the kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God)?  The Bible teaches that there are two ‘ages.’  This present age, and the age to come (cf. Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:29-30 etc.).  The age to come is the kingdom of heaven.  But with the coming of Jesus, the age to come has broken in upon the present age.  ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Matt. 4:17).  The kingdom is constantly expanding (Matt. 11:12), and if you are a Christian today, you are in the kingdom (Col. 1:13; Phil. 3:20).  This is what theologians call Inaugurated Eschatology.  Already the kingdom is here, but it’s not yet evident to all.  We are still living in Britain or wherever, and we obey her laws and pay her taxes.  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s……..’   But as Peter says, we are ‘sojourners and pilgrims’ (1 Peter 2:11) in this world; our citizenship is in heaven.  And however it may seem in Britain today,  the kingdom of heaven is steadily advancing all over the world- in China, Africa, South America, and even Iran.  Even in the midst of the most brutal oppression, forceful men and women are laying hold of the kingdom.  At the present time, the Gospel is making the greatest strides in history.  The mustard seed s growing into a mighty tree.

But at the time that the Lord Jesus Christ was on earth, people were puzzled; they had questions:  if the Kingdom is here, where is the sign of it?  Why are so many people rejecting it?  Why is it so small and insignificant?  Why are there still wicked people about?  Why are the Romans still ruling Israel?  What benefit is there in being in the kingdom of heaven?

So these parables are there to answer these unasked questions.  Why are people rejecting the Kingdom?  Well, it’s like the parable of the sower; only certain people come and stay.  Why is the Kingdom so small?  Well, it’s like a mustard seed or like yeast.  Why isn’t the Kingdom ruling in power?  Well, it’s like a field with crops and weeds, or like a fishing net, and things don’t get sorted out until the end.  What’s the point of being in the Kingdom?  It’s like finding treasure or a pearl of great price.  I won’t go into any more detail because I don’t want to spoil the next few sermons, but maybe you have similar questions.  Why are there so few people in church?  Why doesn’t God just come and sort everything out?  What’s the point of being a Christian?  Why don’t I feel happy? If you have questions like these, God willing, these parables of Matthew 13 will give you the answers.  But you will need to have ears to hear and eyes to see.  A long time ago, Gene Pitney sang a song called “Looking through the eyes of love.”  You need to be looking through the eyes of faith, not to see something that isn’t true, but to see the truth- to see Jesus, crucified, risen, acended, and reigning in heaven so that not one hair will fall from your head without His say so.  He is the One of whom all the prophets speak.  There are dozens and dozens of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Him.  From Isaiah’s Suffering Servant made a sin offering for His people, to Jeremiah’s Seed of David who is the Lord our Righteousness, to Ezekiel’s david Shepherd of the Lord’s flock.  And you can look at Jesus with the eyes of the world and say, ‘Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55).  Or you can look with the eyes of faith and hear His teaching with the ears of faith, and fall down at His feet like Thomas and cry, “My Lord and my God!”

Listen to this prophecy of Isaiah in Matt. 13:14-15. Hearing you will hear and shall not understand;  and seeing you will  see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing and their eyes they have closed……..’   Is that you?  Do you hear but it doesn’t go in?  Do you see Jesus as a great teacher but nothing more?  Are you just going through the motions and it’s all just going in one ear and out the other, and it doesn’t both you that it does?  “Well, I couldn’t make quite make out what Martin was saying today, but the hymns were very nice and so was the coffee and the chat afterwards.”

Or are you blessed because they really do see the Saviour and your ears blessed because they hear the words of life?  You have such wonderful advantages over the people in O.T. times. (v.17).  The O.T. prophets saw Jesus dimly (1 Peter 1:10-12); they had all the information ut they didn’t have the full picture.  When they looked more deeply, they saw that their prophecies were not so much for themselves as for us, that we should see this amazing picture of Christ in all the Scriptures.  And they longed to see the reality of it- they longed to see the Messiah they spoke of- but they didn’t in their own lifetimes.  But we look back where they were looking forward and we have the full picture in our Bibles.  Woe to us if we fail to find the Saviour with all the information we have been given!

Lastly, is there someone thinking, “I really want to become a Christian, but I just can’t get my head around it all; things just don’t seem to fit into place.  Maybe I’m not one of the ‘elect’ and no matter what I do, I won’t be saved.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Listen to the Lord’s promise in Deut. 4:29.  ‘You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul,’ and again in Matt. 7:7ff.  ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you….’  So take Him at His word; seek, ask, knock; be one of those who is not content to leave your church not having understood the sermon.  Stay behind and ask your minister about what puzzles you.  Pray for understanding, get a commentary out of the library;  ‘Be transformed,’ says Paul, ‘by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2) and sure enough, you will find the Saviour, and with Him, eternal life.  For ‘if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’ (Luke 11:11).

 

 

 

 

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