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All hell distilled

…shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? (John 18:11)

All hell was distilled into that cup and he must drink it to the last drop…  He alone of the sons of men had the measure of the sin he must take upon himself.  He alone knew sin in its every reach and extent, and the absoluteness of God’s wrath against it, seeing in the cup all the fullness of sin and the Father’s holy judgment against it… to be cut off from communion with God his Father as if himself a sinner… when he before the world’s creation was eternally enfolded in the Father’s love… (McDonald, H. D., New Testament Concept of Atonement: The Gospel of the Calvary Event, Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1994, page 30)

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One of the most helpful things I read in 2014, a few days before it ended:

When people have doubts about the truth of Jesus, don’t send them away to seek special messages from God. Point them to Christ.
Why? Because this is where God breaks in with his revealing power. He loves to glorify his Son! He loves to open the eyes of the blind when they are looking at his Son! 
God does not reveal his Son to me by coming to me and saying, “Now, John, I know that you don’t see anything magnificent in my Son. You don’t see him as all glorious and divine and attractive above all worldly goods. You don’t see him as your all-satisfying treasure, and you don’t see his holiness and wisdom and power and love as beautiful beyond measure. But take my word for it, he is all that. Just believe it.”  No!
Such faith would be no honor to the Son of God. It cannot glorify the Son. Saving faith is based on a spiritual sight of Jesus as he is in himself, the all-glorious Son of God. And this spiritual sight is given to us through his inspired Word, the Scriptures.
(John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, p. 65-66, some emphasis added)

So we should not expect that as an unbeliever lies on his bed or sits on his sofa thinking of nothing in particular that the Spirit will suddenly fly in the window, raise him from the dead, impart repentance and faith. It will be as he considers Christ. As he listens to the Word or as he mulls it over in his mind.

So the great command in the New Testament is not “Be born again” and is rarely even “Believe” but more “Behold” – look at the Son in the pages of Scripture and as you do so the Father will very often be pleased to open your eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Christ.

So preaching is important.

And particularly preaching that paints a picture of Christ.

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It’s a Saturday morning, there’s a somber mood sweeping across the whole village. There I was among the mourners.

Reality is dawning on the mourners that actually they won’t be seeing their loved one again. In a few hours’ time, she’ll be laid six feet under and that is it… gone forever never to be seen in this life again. That’s the moment you realise that however much you, as a mere mortal, love someone so much, you can never bring them back to life again. Death is indeed an enemy!

At this time of bereavement, the family and friends of the deceased need nothing short of comfort, consolation and support. And there’s a way in which if you belong to a church congregation, you can definitely, almost certainly know that the church will be there in full swing to provide this kind of support.

All was going on well, with tribute after tribute pouring in, until something happened; When time came for the ‘church’ to take over and conduct the service and eventually bury the dead, they were nowhere to be seen! They had boycotted the whole thing because apparently the family didn’t play by the rules like no playing of music, no speeches, burial be at 9 a.m. e.t.c. So the best thing they could do was leave. What a disappointment! Is this how the ‘church’ behaves?? Seemingly, the church is more important than the people! But what really constitutes the church if not Christ and people!!

My disappointment wasn’t because they failed to give a proper send-off, we buried my aunt, 2 of us conducted the service. My disappointment was because of 3 things:

  1. Failure to Bear Witness for Christ

Romans 12:15b teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn.” And our Saviour Himself, in John 11:33 “When He saw her [Mary] weeping, & the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His Spirit and greatly troubled. ” He couldn’t hold it in “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

The ‘church’ here failed to witness for Christ. What does the Bible teach us about death & mourning? And how can we represent Christ to a watching world? Jesus is deeply moved & greatly troubled by Lazarus’s death and the weeping of those who were there… He identified with them… He didn’t shut Himself from the realities of the messy world around Him, which death is part of. This is exactly the reason why He came on earth, to restore this fallen world. Funerals provide a huge opportunity to speak of this Christ & His Mission and also to show people what the heart of Christ is. This we do not in theory but in practice.

  1. Failure to Present the True Hope found in Christ

Look at Jesus at Lazarus’s funeral. He would do more that just weep. He went ahead and raised Lazarus back to life. Of course Lazarus died again later but here Jesus was giving us a sneak preview into what He will do. He will later on go to the cross, die, be buried and after 3 days rise again, thus opening the way for us to enjoying eternal fellowship with God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Funerals are a great evangelistic opportunity. This is the opportunity that the Church has. Use that setting of funeral and death to speak about One who died to defeat death and thus give us hope beyond the grave.

  1. False Teaching

Yes, this is the genesis of the whole saga. The ‘church’ in question here is actually well known. I know in Kenya we don’t like calling by name but we know them- the Jehovah’s Witness. The thing here is not just about refusal to mourn with the family or bury the dead- it goes much deeper. What of causing some of the children to also skip the burial of their own mum!! And how about going and locking themselves in one of the sons’ house to ‘pray’ when people are waiting for you to speak to them!! How about being totally secluded from ‘the world’ and not wanting anything to ‘defile’ you! It has to do with what they actually teach (which is a thing for another day). Is this really biblical Christianity?

It’s either they are representing Christ wrongly and they need to be corrected or the Christ they are teaching is not really the real Christ, or both- if their actions are anything to go by!

Remember Christ’s warning,

“Be careful… Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees & the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6).

A little yeast affects the whole lump of dough and given some time, you’ll see the dough ‘rise up’ never to flatten again. That is what false teaching does.

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The teaching that we are all “little gods”, based on Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34, has been around for quite a while and seems to be on the rise particularly in Kenyan universities so perhaps it’s worth making a couple of comments and links here.

The key verses are quite tricky in a number of respects but particularly for two reasons:

  1. Who are the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82?
  2. Why exactly is Jesus quoting the Psalm in John 10?

But what is abundantly clear is that these verses cannot possibly mean what many popular teachers today use them to mean – that Christians (those who are in Christ) are gods in the sense that we can speak things into existence, we can speak with the authority of the Creator to rebuke diseases, declare blessings, bind disasters, change reality.

Apart from the fact that this is patently bonkers (when is the last time you stilled a storm or created a galaxy?) and sounds very much like the original temptation in the garden (Genesis 3:5), a good look at the context shows that the overall tone and message of both Psalm 82 and John 10 is 1) condemnation of the ‘gods’ and 2) the exalting of the one true God.

  1. The ‘gods’ here are being judged not applauded. The emphasis is on their guilt and powerlessness not their greatness and strength. Precisely the opposite of the way the texts are used by Word of Faith preachers.
  2. The only one being exalted in both passages is the true God. In Psalm 82 He is the one who judges (v1) and who will judge (v8). In John 10 the one in the spotlight is Jesus Christ making a unique claim to be God from God, the Son who is one with the Father, a claim for which he is very close to being stoned for blasphemy.

But what about those initial two questions? What exactly is going on in Psalm 82 and John 10? Well I’m not sure but here are a few things I’ve found and gleaned from others (you’ll need a Bible open at this point).

  • The main choices for the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 are a) bad judges; b) fallen angelic powers; c) all Israel under judgement. The first choice seems to fit well with the accusation (v2-4) and with the context in John’s gospel where ‘the Jews’, usually referring to the Pharisees and synagogue authorities (see John 9), are doing something very similar to the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – not judging rightly. The second choice (dark heavenly powers) makes sense of the opening line about the gods being in the divine council and is the interpretation taken by John Piper. The third option (all Israel) notices that Psalm 82:6 goes on to say “sons of the most high” and notes that the language of God as the Father of Israel begins in the book of Exodus (cf.  John 8:41). So the judgement in Psalm 82 may be talking about the Wilderness generation who were destroyed. This is Don Carson’s understanding. Notice, none of these options for the ‘gods’ is ‘faithful Christians’.
  • More important than the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 is the God mentioned at the beginning and end. I’m seeing a lot of connections with Psalm 2. You have a God who sits in heaven (Ps. 2:4; 82:1), you have wicked rulers (Ps. 2:1-3; 82:2-4), you have a judgement declared from heaven (Ps. 2:5-6; 82:6-7) and you have one who will judge and inherit the nations (Ps. 2:8-9; 82:8). So I’m increasingly thinking that maybe the God at the beginning of Psalm 82 is the Father, the Most High, and the God at the end of the Psalm is the Son. Which then gives a lot of bite to Jesus’ quotation in John 10 and fits with his claims there.
  • In John 10 Jesus seems to make some kind of linguistic connection between himself and the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – the simple point being that it is possible for Scripture to use elohim beyond just referring to the Most High God. But more importantly he contrasts himself with the ‘gods’ in that he is not merely one ‘to whom the Word came’, he is The Word who has come (John 10:35-36). – Jesus is making a how-much-more argument – a claim beyond being one of the ‘gods’, that he is the Son of God, one with the Father. And so the ‘gods’ continue to try to kill him for making such a unique claim to be God.

More resources:

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munugishsignThat’s the motto of Munguishi Bible College, Arusha, Tanzania. Isn’t it brilliant? Recently they met together as a college staff team and went back to basics, looking at the Bible, looking at the Bible storyline and asking these great questions about what pastoral ministry and mission are all about:

  • Mungu ni nani?
  • Katika duniani, Mungu anafanya nini?
  • Kanisa ni nini?
  • Huduma ni nini?
  • Wachungaji ni nini?
  • Huduma ya wachungaji ni nini?

This was the college principal’s summary of what they came up with:

to be brief – God is saving people, holding off Jesus’ return to give more people a chance for repentance.  Jesus is calling to his sheep, by his Spirit and through his Word.  As his servants declare the gospel, Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and respond in faith.
If that’s all true – what should we as pastors do – surely its to maximise the preaching of the gospel, and shape our ministries around seeing people meet the Lord Jesus in his word.

That’s saying a lot in 80 words!

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LedSpirit_Slide

We’ve argued before that preaching that is led by the Spirit will be Bible-driven preaching. Now to add another thought that should flow naturally from that but is worth stating on its own: Spirit-led preaching is all about Jesus.

At least things point in this direction:

1. The content of the Spirit’s Word

Taking it that the whole Bible was written by the Spirit it’s interesting to look at the balance of mentions of the different persons of the Trinity. In the Old Testament there are about 14 references stating or implying the fatherhood of God and roughly 90 mentions of God’s Spirit. When it comes to the Son, there are around 25 theophanies (which I take to be the pre-incarnate Son), 52 references to ‘the Angel of the Lord’ (again I would take to be the Son) and somewhere over 300 explicit messianic prophecies. This is without beginning to try to enumerate the thousands of references related to typological offices (e.g high priest), characters (e.g. David), events (e.g. Passover) and objects (e.g. tabernacle). Jesus was not twisting things when he said (John 5; Luke 24) that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms are all about him.

Then coming to the New Testament, there are 128 references to ‘the Spirit’, 243 explicit references to ‘the Father’ (beside hundreds of references to ‘God’ where God the Father is implied), and 950 mentions of ‘Jesus’ (not to mention hundreds of separate references to ‘the Son’, ‘Christ’, ‘Lord’, ‘Son of Man’ etc.).

Now admittedly statistics are a very crude indicator but this should immediately give us some sense of who the Spirit is most keen to talk about. He talks relatively sparingly about himself. Some have called him a “shy and retiring spirit” or “the elusive person of the Trinity” (this may be one reason why there is so much controversy about the doctrine of the Spirit – there is simply not a huge amount of biblical data). The person the Spirit seems most keen to write about is Jesus. If we imagine the Spirit as an artist, we might say that he doesn’t go in for self-portraits in a big way, his great work is a massive mural of Christ.

2. The Spirit’s stated work

The night before he died Jesus gave the most detailed explanation of the Spirit and his work that we have (John 14-16). J.I. Packer gives a great summary:

The Spirit… would be sent, said Jesus, “in my name” (14:26), that is as Jesus’s courier, spokesman, and representative… the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ… the Spirit would make the presence of Christ and fellowship with him and his Father realities of experience for those who, by obeying his words, showed that they loved him (14:21-23)… Again, the Spirit would teach… and the Spirit’s way of teaching would be to make disciples recall and comprehend what Jesus himself had said (14:26)… the Spirit would attest Christ in the manner of a witness… (15:26; 16:8-11)… Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14)… a floodlight ministry… It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always, “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”

3. The apostles’ Spirit-led preaching

The Spirit was given that the apostles would bear witness to… Jesus (Acts 1:8).

On the day of Pentecost there is a spectacular outpouring of the Spirit, Peter is filled with the Spirit, his hair is on fire, he stands to preach an expository sermon on a text from Joel, a text which is one of the clearest Old Testament passages about the Spirit… surely we’re going to get a sermon on the Spirit – if ever there was a time for an exposition on the doctrine of the Spirit this is it… but no… “Men of Israel, hear this: JESUS” (Acts 2:22). And this most Spirit-filled of sermons continues with a relentless focus on this Jesus – his life, death, resurrection, exaltation. The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once (v33) as a confirming sign of Jesus’ exaltation and his identity as the Lord of David and the LORD of Joel.

You get the same pattern again and again in Acts – Peter is “filled with the Spirit” and preaches about salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:8-12), Stephen, a man full of the Spirit, gives a Bible overview focussed on Jesus (Acts 6-7), Philip is led by the Spirit to preach from Isaiah “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8). We find the same pattern in the ministry and letters of Paul.

So a couple of questions:

  • When did you last hear a sermon series on the Spirit?
  • When did you last hear a sermon series on Jesus?

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Raising the snake

bronze snake

What’s your favourite gospel verse?

We all love John 3:16 but the gospel is even clearer a couple of verses earlier:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus is taking us back hundreds of years to the time when the people of God have just been rescued out of Egypt and they’re wandering around in the Sinai desert and grumbling against the LORD – throwing his grace back in his face.  God sends venomous snakes into their camp; they start biting people and people are dropping dead all over the place.  And the people come to Moses and say, “Please pray that God will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prays for the people and something very weird happens – God doesn’t take away the snakes, he said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

Now that is a weird story.  But Jesus is saying that is exactly why I’ve come – I’m going to be the snake on a pole who’s going to save you from the plague.  The sinless one will become sin for us so that we can be called righteous (2 Cor. 5:21). He will rescue us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). As he hangs on a tree he will become the problem – become us, sinful flesh, corrupt humanity, evil and curse. The bowl of God’s wrath will be poured out upon that sin and curse and corruption until the bowl is completely finished.

And how do we receive that rescue, that salvation? Just as the Israelites in the desert did – simply by looking. Believing in the Son means recognising the obvious fact that I’m cursed, infected, perishing, in a desperate helpless state like the snake-bitten Israelite, and looking at the Son hanging on the Cross, being my sin, being me, perishing instead of me – and as I look I live, now and eternally.

So if that is the gospel, what is gospel ministry? Surely it is simply to lift up Christ crucified so he can be looked upon; to paint word pictures of Christ crucified before people’s eyes so that they can see him and live (Gal. 3:1). John the Baptist is a brilliant model of this. He doesn’t point to himself, he points to the Light (Jn. 1:7-8). He doesn’t try to ‘be Jesus to people’ – again and again he says “I’m not the Christ, I’m not the Lamb of God, I can’t do anything for you, I can only get you wet, go to Jesus over there, he’s the one who will be the sacrifice for your sins.” John is like a new Moses, lifting up Jesus, pointing to him as the one way of escape from the plague. 

And he absolutely loves it:

Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3:29-30).

John’s joy is ‘complete’, goes off the scale, overflows when Jesus is the centre of attention, when everyone is running to Him, looking at Him, finding their joy and salvation in Him. That’s being a servant of the gospel. That is why the ‘i’ in iServe is small. And that’s what ‘Raising the Bar’ is all about…

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