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.

 

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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/

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).

 

 

 

 

Posted by: stpowen | January 28, 2017

Some Thoughts on Holocaust Day

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
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What makes a man living a perfectly decent life in Germany in the 1930s become an S.S. guard in a Death camp? And then, if he isn’t caught and tried, become again a decent sort of chap once again for the rest of his life? What makes a Hutu living in Rwanda suddenly hack to death his Tutsi neighbours with whom he has lived peacefully for years? What caused the genocides in Ottoman Turkey and Bosnia? The answer is found in Jeremiah 17. The Holocaust needs to be remembered, not because it is unique, but because it isn’t. The veneer of civilization over the world is remarkably thin, even in the West, and if we think something similar couldn’t happen here, we do not know our own hearts.  Indeed, something similar is happening here; over eight million unborn children slaughtered since 1967, and how few there are who raise their voices in protest.
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The antidote is found, not in another veneer- that of ritual Christianity- but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the New Birth where God promises nothing less than a Divine heart transplant: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them’

Posted by: stpowen | December 24, 2016

‘See He Lies there in a Manger…..

……..Who once made the earth and sky.

Down from heaven He’s come a stranger;

Newly born, yet born to die.

Hands almighty, now lie helpless

Round His mother’s finger curled;

Lips so gracious, now yet speechless,

Soon will speak to all the world.’

[Graham Harrison]

 

First of all, may I apologize to my longsuffering reader, for the lack of posts these last many months.  I had expected that retirement would give me the opportunity to increase my output on this blog, but alas!  The opposite has happened.  Over the past year or so I have increased my responsibilities in my church and also within the Gideons organization.  Also, to my shame, there is no doubt that I have slowed down somewhat in my activities to match my slower way of life.  However, I do not intend to abandon the Marprelate blog, so I hope to be posting regularly once more in the coming year.

The past year has been one of many surprises in the world.  The hearts of many people  seem to be failing them for fear (Luke 21:26), especially at the prospect of ‘Brexit’ and President Trump, yet the Christian should not be shaken by earthly events, especially at this time of year.  ‘For this reason the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8), and there is no doubt whatsoever that He will in God’s good time.

 

A very merry Cheistmas to all who visit this blog!

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