Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Cross Has Said It All

In a world that likes to exalt man and speak of his advances and goodness, the cross doesn’t make sense.
In a world that likes to say we are all victims but no one’s guilty, the cross is a foreign and alien concept.
For many it belongs to a bygone era when humanity didn’t understand itself and needed the idea of a God and religion to help it on it’s way, but today we supposedly know better, we’ve advanced beyond these things.
Not only are there those in the world who struggle to understand the message of the cross,  there are those in the church too.
The idea of penal substitution (that Christ was crucified for our sins, in our place, bearing ourpunishment) is sadly falling out of favour. At one time it would have been liberals, but now some evangelicals are raising their doubts more it would seem from an emotional point of view than a scriptural one.
It troubles our personal sensitivities that someone should have to die for us, and in such an awful way, and as a result it’s becoming increasingly popular to speak in terms of ‘identification with our suffering and pain,’ a ‘moral influence upon us,’ or/and a ‘victory over sin and satan’ – a death you’ll note that has no reference to God.
The pride of man likes the idea that he’s pretty good and can pull himself up by his own efforts, that he can improve on his situation, each of which the aforementioned offer. But the Bible just wont have it – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and totally unable to save himself or herself.
Memory Loss
The problem is we have memory loss. We have forgotten how grievous our sin is, we have forgotten how far we have fallen and it’s consequences and power in and over our lives, and how it separates us from God. Sin has caused a huge rupture in humanities relationship to God and completely messed up his own psyche, and it’s evidence is seen all over the place no matter the amount of education or social welfare etc..
An identification with our suffering and pain though comforting is insufficient, a moral influence is good but completely inadequate to get me, you, out of this mess, and a victory over sin and satan is great but how will that moment in history help me if that is all that there is to it? I need a cross that speaks a bigger and stronger word than that, a cross that radically goes to the root of the problem and gets me out of it.
The Cross Speaks
The cross speaks of God coming and taking human flesh not simply to identify with us, or provide us with a good example, or tell us that sin and satan have been defeated, but of God’s great power to go to the heart of the issue and provide a substitute who would take our very sin and bear the judgement of a Triune God on it.
I put it that way deliberately – it was a Trinitarian affair, it was the business of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not one over and against an unwilling other. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This plan had it’s origin in the heart of the Trinity, a truly staggering plan in which the ‘chastisement or punishment of our peace was upon him’ as Isaiah says prophetically by the Spirit.
As Paul says, ‘Christ died for our sins.’
A cross that is not penal carries no great salvific message, it simply gives me a form of moralism – I nearly wrote a moralistic gospel, but such would not be good news!
Isaiah says:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed himstricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquitiesupon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us allYet it was the will of the LORD to crush himhe has put him to grief; when his soulmakes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:4-6, 10)
The cross has to do with God and man.
He bore and was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
He bore our chastisement/punishment.
He was wounded for our healing.
He paid the price for all our sin.
He was stricken, smitten by God – it was God who put God in flesh to grief.
It was God in Flesh who made an offering for all our guilt.#
The Cross has Said it All
The cross has said it all. It is a full word, complete and sufficient in every way.
This truly is a saving gospel. It is this gospel that has been the good news to many a soul down through history, thousands upon thousands, indeed millions of them. Yes, as this gospel is preached he shall continue to see his offspring (those who believe) and be satisfied!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Passion of Christ

Passion Week
This week we are in the run up to Easter and the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and what a story!
The story we have to tell is not a stand alone story, but one that is part of a much larger story that finds it’s origins in the heart of the Triune God in eternity past and carries forward to eternity future.
In between we have creation and the fall into sin, a fall so catastrophic that it required a massive rescue plan quite outside the scope of man, a plan that would lead to the calling of a man called Abraham, a family and a nation, through whom ultimately the heavenly Rescuer, the Saviour, Jesus, would come.
At the right time he was born of a virgin, taking on real human flesh, flesh just like our own – the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘he had to be made like us in every way,’ and Paul says he was ‘made under the law,’ and as the church father Gregory put it ‘the unassumed is the unhealed.’ It had to be the real stuff. God in flesh with man residing. Very God and Very Man. With us and for us.
Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and learned obedience by the things he suffered.
He ate and drank, he grew weary and slept.
He knew joy and sorrow.
He was tempted in all points as we are.
He lived close to the Father, talking to him and listening to His voice; He only did what he saw the Father doing.
He walked and taught and healed and delivered in the power of the Spirit.
He fought the devil at every turn, and beat him back and down all the way.
He lived your life, my life, the life we should have lived, and he did it completely.
Then he took our sin and it’s consequences…. this was to be no mere example of love, not just some moral influence, or just a victory over Satan, it was to be the death of death in the death of Christ. It was substitutionary. It was penal.
And for that reason the run up to Easter would be dark and full of passion. The devil had fought against it all the way, and he thought he had him….
The garden carries the aroma of death, it’s in the air…. God in Flesh sweats as it were great drops of blood…. this is real agony…. so much so that God in Flesh prays, ‘Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me…’ the weight and consequence of sin is huge…. though he knew that this was what he was born for, suddenly the weight of it bears down upon him in the weakness of human flesh….
‘Nevertheless’ he prays ‘not my will by Yours be done.’ The final act of surrender. The course is set….

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Spirit-filled Life

A Spirit-filled life
Our tendency in the West is to make everything a matter of the mind, and therefore a matter of comprehension, rationalism, security and safety that manifests itself in utter predictability.
I find myself wondering why some want to say that to be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with the Word as what Paul says in Ephesians 5:18 “be filled with the Spirit” and Collossians 3:16 “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” are one and the same thing. Are they really?
There may be parallels, but they are not the same.
Christianity was never meant to be about a mere intellectualism – a rational comprehension to a certain number of facts faithfully believed. Now please don’t hear me wrong or read the wrong thing into this the Word is vitally important, studying it is important, without it we have no sure foundation or compass, but are we really hearing what it saying when we say that both the texts above are one and the same thing?
Christianity is about a spiritual dynamic….
To be a Christian is to be born from above, of the Spirit (John 3).
To be a Christian is to be possessed by God – without him dwelling in us we are not Christians (check out Romans 8).
To be a Christian is to know the Spirit witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God (Romans 8).
To be a Christian is to experience the love of God being poured into our lives by the Spirit.
To be a Christian is to be sealed by the Spirit.
To be a Christian is to know the Spirit giving us access to the Father.
To be a Christian is to know real fellowship with God by and in the Spirit.
To be a Christian is to know righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
To be a Christian is to know that I am joined to the body of Christ – a dynamic living community who corporately experience the presence of God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)
To be a Christian is to be led by the Spirit – a supernatural dynamic of relationship with God.
To be a Christian is to know that I am not limited to my ability to comprehend the text as God is able to reveal and teach me by his Spirit (Ephesians 1:17).
To be a Christian is to know the power of the Spirit enabling us to live brand new lives.
To be a Christian is to know that when we fall short the Spirit will also convict us of sin.
To be a Christian is to know the Spirit continually pointing us to Christ.
To be a Christian is to know that we can also quench the Spirit as he seeks to work through our lives.
To be a Christian is to know that whatever our creation gifts maybe we are not limited to or by them as he gives gifts of the Spirit.
To be a Christian is to know that the Spirit can give us songs in the night.
To be a Christian is know the power of God’s Spirit taking us beyond our fears and limitations to do things way beyond us.
To be a Christian is to know that in my weakness in prayer his Spirit comes through.
To be a Christian is to be open to dreams and visions and prophecy and miracles and tongues and interpretation.
To be a Christian is to be able to hear God speaking to us in a way we understand.
To be a Christian is know that I need to be filled and filled again (Ephesians 5:18).

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Spirit-filled life & Church

Jesus on the last day of the feast “cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” (John 7:37-39). Then in John 20 he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Receive in the Greek means, receive now, at this moment.
Then in Ephesians we are commanded to, “Ever be filled and stimulated with the (Holy) Spirit.” Eph 5:18 AMP
Throughout the book of Acts there are various ‘initial’ experiences of the Spirit
• Disciples at Pentecost Acts 2,
• Samaritans – Acts 8,
• Saul/Paul – Acts 9,
• Cornelius (Gentiles) – Acts 10
• Ephesus – Acts 19
In fact throughout the New Testament you see not only initial experiences but an ongoing experience of the Spirit, a dynamic of life about the church. As Larry Tomczac put it some years ago, “Remove the pages from the book of Acts where supernatural activity is recorded and there’s hardly anything left!” Larry Tomczak, Beyond the Ordinary – A Supernatural Lifestyle, Restoration Magazine, July/August 1990, Harvestime Publications, Leicester.
Lloyd-Jones said, “The essence of the Christian position is experience – experience of God! It is not a mere intellectual awareness or apprehension of truth.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians Chapter 6:10-13 – The Christian Warfare, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh (1976) – (p197).
“The Spirit is thus the empowering Presence of God for living the life of God in the present”. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, Hodders, p183.
Cessation leads to Form
Such experiences of the Spirit were the normal part of church life for the first eight centuries of its life. They were the very soul of the church, take them away and you have a body, a form, a structure. Excesses crept in, theological balance was sought, but the balance tipped too far in the other direction, and such experiences of the Spirit began to die out and the church became institutionalised. Form became everything. There was no longer any expectation of such dynamic experiences. And when the experience is not there it’s not long before you start to look for a theological reason to justify it, and so we arrived at cessationism, the doctrine that it all ended with the apostles and the close of the canon of Scripture.
Lloyd-Jones said, “If your doctrine of the Holy Spirit does not leave any room for revival, then you cannot expect this kind of thing. If you say the baptism of the Spirit was once and for all on Pentecost and all who are regenerated are just made partakers of that, then there is no room left for this objective coming, this repetition, this falling of the Holy Spirit in power and authority on a church. But thank God – there is room left! The teaching of Scripture plus the long history of the Christian church shows this so clearly.” Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable, Kingsway Books, Eastbourne, p44o.
Praise God there have always been people who are hungry for the reality, and so there have been revivals, fresh outpourings of the Spirit, new manifestations of His presence and power.
Symbols & Expressions
One of our difficulties is the various overlapping terminologies/metaphors/descriptions referring to the work of the Spirit, sometimes even the same experience, e.g. baptism (immersion), filling, fell upon, poured out, wind, fire, etc.. Here we tread on holy ground for we are talking of the third person of the Trinity, and it reveals something of the inadequacy of human language to express the activity of the Holy Spirit.
We need to remember that God is not a formula, and though the Bible reveals much about God, there is also a measure of Mystery. This is where absolute doctrinal precision can become a snare – the Pharisees sought doctrinal precision and when Jesus came they didn’t recognise him.
The dynamic fact is that this whole range of symbols and expressions enables us to know and understand something of the variegated or multi-faceted work of the Spirit.
“Whatever the expression – “baptism” or “outpouring” or otherwise – reference is thereby made to a dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit which results in a new sense of God’s Presence and power, various charismata becoming manifest and the emergence of a different style of life. These things are possible only through the event of the Spirit”. J Rodman Williams, The Pentecostal Reality, 1972, Logos, p14.
The Scriptures command and us to ‘be filled and stimulated with the Spirit’ and to ‘come & drink,’ & ‘receive’ both of which are experential activities.
The essential qualification is not a more sanctified life, but hunger & thirst for God (not the experience), a coming in repentance and faith (Galatians 3). Faith to receive … Faith which comes by hearing and responding to the Word. Is it time for a fresh encounter? Will you come and drink?