Results tagged “Jesus Christ” from Reformation21 Blog

What Should Christians Think about Cremation?

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Over recent years, I have noticed that more and more Christians are opting for the cremation of their bodies after death. The primary reason for this seems to be financial, as cremation is considerably more affordable than the pricey cost of caskets, plus the other amenities of a funeral, visitation, and memorial service. The assumption seems to be that cremation versus burial is a matter of complete indifference, a subject about which the Bible has little or nothing to say. Let me admit, up front, that the Bible does not forbid cremation and loved ones have no reason to worry that a cremated body will be ineligible for the future resurrection. After all, bodies that have been in the ground for centuries have likely disintegrated as much or more than a cremated body. Moreover, the future resurrection is a miracle from start to finish. We may trust God, who made everything out of nothing, to sort out the molecules when it comes to the coming resurrection of our bodies. My own parents asked to be cremated, and we their children honored that request. So in raising the subject of a Christian view of cremation, I do not believe that ultimate matters are at stake. 

This does not mean, however, that a fully biblical perspective will be indifferent when it comes to creation or burial. Rather, as I will argue, the Bible presents a strong argument in favor of burial over cremation. The Bible has a lot to say about death, after all. 

From the earliest times in Scripture, burial was the normal means of dealing with dead bodies. When Abraham's wife Sarah died - and this is the first formal burial we find in Scripture - burial tombs were used (Gen. 23:4-6). Abraham's family were all buried in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre (Gen. 25:9). Many years later, when the first high priest, Aaron, died, we are told that he was buried (Deut. 10:9). The death of Moses is perhaps particularly instructive: "And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is" (Deut. 34:5-6). It was God who dealt with Moses' bodily remains and he buried him in the ground. In Deuteronomy 21:22, a stipulation is made that even a capital criminal who is put to death is accorded the right to be buried. Of course, the great example in the Bible is the record of the burial of Jesus Christ. Matthew 27:57-59 tells of Joseph of Arimathea gaining permission from Pilate to bury our Lord's body in a new tomb cut out of the rock. 

From very early in the Bible we also find the use of perfumes and spices to prepare the body for the grave. 2 Chronicles 16:14 observes that this happened for the body of King Asa. The intent was not really preservation, as in Egyptian mummification, but purification of the body. John 19:39 tells of the great amount of myrrh and aloes and spices used by Joseph and Nicodemus for the preparation of Jesus' body. The body, though dead, still warranted love, care, and honor. 

What about cremation? The Bible does mention it. In Joshua 7, Joshua proclaimed that whoever was found with the dedicated items stolen from Jericho "shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him" (7:15). When it was discerned that a man named Achan was the guilty party, the Israelites stoned and cremated his entire household, including his animal livestock (Jos. 7:25). Leviticus 20:14 calls for the burning of a man who marries a woman and her mother. The same was true for any priest's daughter who became a prostitute (Lev. 21:9). There are other examples, but you get the picture. Burning of human remains spoke of judgment on sin, which also will be, the Bible says, by fire. 

It is always the case that our views of the afterlife will influence how we handle the bodies of those who have died. This is true not just of Christians but of everybody else. Our theology will shape the way we approach all of life's great events, be they childbirth, marriage, the coming of the annual harvest, etc. 

Let's first deal with the theologies aligned with cremation. In the ancient world there were a variety of reasons. Some peoples seem to have feared the dead and so they wanted to get rid of them. More sophisticated people, like the later Greeks and Romans, who greatly favored cremation, seem to have been guided by philosophical views that downgraded the body in comparison to the spirit. Just about all the ancient philosophies had little use for the body. In general, cremation reflects a low view of the body after death, however one may view the fate of the liberated soul. 

What about today? I earlier stated that the primary motive for cremation seems to be financial. But we can also observe that a new age mysticism is motivating, however vaguely, renewed interest in cremation today. 

Some time ago, I ran across a touching story regarding the spreading of a loved ones' ashes. The man who had died was a mountain climber and his friends carried his ashes to the top of Mt. McKinley, the highest spot in North America. That is no small feat and it surely expressed real devotion. With great reverence, the friends observed a moment of silence, after which they let his ashes go so that "his spirit could float above the mountains." Then they turned around and left. 

On one level, I am touched by the gesture. But Christians should also be grieved by the despair and meaninglessness that attends death apart from faith in the resurrection. The best we can do is 15 minutes of afterlife fame followed by nothing but warm memories and annihilation by dispersion. 

Christian burial is motivated by a far different view of life after death. The New Testament describes those who have died as being "asleep" (1 Cor. 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51). This is not a description of the soul or spirit, for the believing dead are not asleep but with the Lord in heaven. It is the body that sleeps, and sleep is a temporary condition. The bodies that sleep are awaiting their wake-up call on the resurrection morning. I like to think in these terms when I find myself in a cemetery, especially the kind of church graveyards that one finds attached to older churches. This graves are not merely the place where long-dead bodies lie but also the ground on which those glorified bodies will rise to meet the Lord on the resurrection morning! What a valuable place a cemetery is! 

Without doubt, it is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body that has motivated the Christian practice of burial and the Israelite practice before it. Everywhere Christianity has spread, cremation has given way to proper and respectful burial. Christians have a robust view of the body, both in life and in death. One of the great comforts that we have in this life as we face disease, sickness, and death is the knowledge that they will not have the last word. These bodies that are so integrally a part of ourselves will be resurrected in glory, imperishable and immortal. And though we acknowledge the physics of the grave we are not in alliance with them, nor with death at any level. The apostle Paul writes, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16: 

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him... For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."

Everything about this description tells us to honor, to preserve, yes, even to dedicate real estate to the bodies of our beloved family and friends who having died are with Christ in the spirit, whose bodies remain in union with Christ even in the grace, and which await their resurrection in glory at the dawn of a new and undying age when Jesus returns.


Related Resources

Nick Batzig "A Biblical Theology of Burial
David Murray "Was Jesus Still God in the Tomb?"
David Jones "To Bury or To Burn: Cremation in Christian Perspective"

The Old Testament's Message to Our Culture

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What can the Old Testament possibly say to our culture? It seems a million miles and sometimes a million years away from our time, our generation, and our problems. How can something so old address all the new challenges of globalization, sex-trafficking, the digital revolution, etc.

There's no question that the Old Testament is a challenging read; it doesn't yield its wisdom quite as easily as fortune cookies. However, it does repay disciplined and prayerful reading and research. Remember it was the Old Testament Paul was referring to when he said: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

So let me give you five ways the Old Testament speaks profitably to our times:

1. The Old Testament explains our culture. 

If you enter a play at the half-time interval you wouldn't expect to understand the second half of the drama. You'd be left scratching your head at much of what followed, and make numerous false conclusions and judgments as well.

Similarly, if we only read the New Testament, we are coming in half way through the third of four acts, and can't really have a hope of grasping where the story has been and is going.

The Old Testament unfolds the drama of a perfectly good and beautiful creation in Act 1 followed by humanity's tragic fall into sin in Act 2. Act 3, which opens in Genesis 3, begins the story of redemption, and gives us hope of a climactic final Act 4 when all things will be made new for those who follow the story and don't walk out to write their own ending.

We'll never understand or be able to explain our culture without watching the whole drama from the beginning.

2. The Old Testament supplies moral standards for our culture.

Although there is much debate about which Old Testament laws apply in our own day, it's not as difficult as it is sometimes made out to be.

God gave three kinds of law in the Old Testament. First, He gave ceremonial laws which focused on the kinds of sacrifices and worship Israel was to give to God. The New Testament makes clear that these were temporary laws which pictured and pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, and expired with His coming. To hang on to these laws is to embrace the shadow of a person when he's standing right in front of you.

Second, He gave civil laws, which were tailor made to fit the unique historical situation that Israel was facing and to preserve that nation in the face of multiple hostile threats from within and without. While there are some permanent principles of justice at the core of these laws, the particular application and penalties were limited to the ancient state of Israel until its destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70AD.

Third, God gave his permanent and unchangeable moral law, summarized for us in the Ten Commandments., and confirmed for us in the New Testament. Again, there are culture-specific applications of these ten principles in the Old Testament, but it's a relatively easy task to extract the principles and apply them to our own day which so much needs objectively true and reliable moral standards to drive away the fog of moral confusion and relativism.

3. The Old Testament gives hope for our culture.

While God gives us His law by which to order our lives and our culture, we fail again and again in implementing and obeying them, resulting in serious national, personal, economic, military, social, moral, and spiritual consequences, just as it did for Israel.

On numerous occasions, we find the world in general, and Israel in particular in the depths of depression and degradation. Think of Noah's time, the Tower of Babel, Israel in Egyptian slavery, the times of the Judges, most of the Kings, Israel in Babylonian exile, etc.

The Old Testament paints a dark, dark picture of sin and its awful effects. And yet the Lord, in mercy, came again and again to raise up godly leaders, to revive His church, and to renew and re-create the culture. The darkest days often preceded the brightest dawn. What hope of renewal this grand historical narrative gives us in the midst of our own downward spiral.

4. The Old Testament points our culture to Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament contains somewhere between 300-400 prophecies of Jesus Christ. Of these, approximately 40-60 are startlingly specific. From Genesis 3:15 onwards, the hope of Israel and of the world was in a Promised Messiah, a coming Savior who would defeat evil and deliver those caught in its snares.

Jesus said that the Old Testament was all about Him (Luke 24: 27,44). When Jesus was encouraging the Pharisees to read the Old Testament, the reason He gave was, "They testify of me" (John 5:39). These books were speaking about Him, telling people about Him, drawing people to put faith in Him, even before He was born! "Moses wrote of me" said Jesus (Jn. 5:46). That's almost 1500 years before Bethlehem! Traveling even further back to 2000 BC, Abraham "saw" Christ's day way down the road of faith and rejoiced (John 8:56). Jesus Christ is God's message of hope and renewal to the world. Always has been and always will be. Our task is to use both Testaments to shine the spotlight attention on Him as the only way to God and the only Savior from sin.

5. The Old Testament calls us to evangelize our culture.

In some ways, the Old Testament seems very narrow. God appears to be focused exclusively on the tiny little nation of Israel and let all other countries perish. However, that's to completely miss the point. It's true that God chose Abraham and Israel through whom to fulfill His plan, but His ultimate purpose for Abraham was that through His descendants "all the families of the earth would be blessed." And though Israel was blessed with unique favor and revelation from God, it was called to be "a kingdom of priests" through whom God would mediate His Word of salvation to the nations.

Although Israel often failed in this mission through its nationalistic pride (Jonah being the prime example of this), God continued to hold out the vision of a multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic church in the prophets and Psalms, an emphasis confirmed by Jesus' great re-commission to go out into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.

I hope you can see that though God gave the Old Testament to a particular people at a particular time in a particular way, that He wrote it in such a way that it is still powerfully relevant to us and our culture in 2016.


Dr. David Mur­ray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. He is the author of Christians Get Depressed TooHow Sermons Work and Jesus on Every Page. David blogs at HeadHeartHand. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray

Grace and sin

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A number of pastoral issues have arisen recently which have brought home to me some particular truths and some particular emphases arising from them. Many of these situations are on the fringes of church life or outside it (though I sincerely hope that some of them might, under God's gracious influences, come within it in due course). How much we need to grasp spiritual realities with scriptural definition! It is a great distress to see how often false religion dismisses the former and degrades the latter, but even more grievous is to see professing Christians mishandle matters of central importance. (Please understand that these are not veiled critiques of events in the Christian stratosphere, but observations about concrete situations in local churches, or at least those places which call themselves churches. But you are wise, and may apply it.)

One area where this has cropped up recently is in the matter of grace, what Matthew Henry somewhere describes as "the free favour of God and all the blessed fruits of it." In common Christian parlance, grace seems to have become a catch-all noun to describe a certain kind of softness and carelessness with regard to sin. When acts and patterns of sin are exposed, we are encouraged to be gracious, but that grace is often not defined or ill-defined. When criticisms are made of certain acts and their actors, the rebuke is readily offered, "That is not gracious!" Grace, apparently, can ignore the sin that calls forth the critique, but not the sin of critiquing it!

So, for example, when there is gross sin in the church, we must show grace. When someone is acting wickedly, it is gracious not to condemn it. When a lie is told, grace will ignore the matter. When leaders fudge matters of righteousness, ignore God's truth, and expose God's flock to harms because they will not deal with transgressors, they are showing grace, and we must show grace by not charging them with any failings.

But this nebulous notion of grace is very far removed from the spiritual reality with scriptural definition that we find revealed and displayed in our Bibles. Gospel grace does not excuse or ignore or neglect sin. Gospel grace is never casual or careless with regard to transgression. Gospel grace, whether patterned in God or echoed in man, never pretends sin is not sin. Gospel grace does not expose the flock to harm because it will not identify error and heresy and defend against errorists and heretics, even in the name of love. Gospel grace suffers long, but it is not a disregard for iniquity that is dishonouring to God and dangerous to men. Gospel grace does not call evil good, and good evil; it does not put darkness for light, and light for darkness, or bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter (Is 5.20).

Gospel grace always faces and addresses sin, though it does so in a gracious way. If you want a seasonal example, think of that just man, who did not want to make the woman he loved a public example, despite what he was legitimately persuaded was the growing evidence of heinous sin, and "was minded to put her away secretly" (Mt 1.19). Grace took no delight in parading sin, but it did not pretend that it was not (as far as could reasonably be determined) sin. When Joseph was enlightened concerning the reality of the situation, would he not have been relieved that he did not have an immediately ungracious response, and make of Mary the most public example he could? Grace prevents us making errors born of harshness, and allows for the easy correction of mistakes.

Remember that fervent love is commanded among the saints, a love which will cover a multitude of sins (1Pt 4.8 cf. Prv 10.12), but consider that such love recognises sin as sin and chooses that, for good and proper reasons, it will be discreet in dealing with it or covering it. Again, to quote Matthew Henry, this love "inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad." We read that "the discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Prv 19.11) - he decides, as appropriate, that this transgression is not something that needs to be dealt with immediately and publicly, though he still recognises it as transgression, and there may come a time when a pattern of transgression requires him to stop overlooking and start acting. We do not pull one another up on every slip of deed and word, but take account of our frailties and failings as sinful creatures, creatures with remaining sin even as redeemed men and women. This is the grace of God as Father, who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103.8-14).

Notice here the hints at the greatest expression of grace: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in coming into the world to die on the cross for his wretched and sin-wrecked people was at once the clearest recognition of sin and the highest expression of mercy. God did not pretend that there was no sin; he saw it more clearly than we ever shall, but put it away by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. The cross is at once the revealing of the sinfulness of sin and the demonstration of the graciousness of grace.

Gospel grace does not revel in the public exposure of sin and aggressive shaming of sinners, like a church boasting of how many cases of corrective discipline it has handled recently. But neither does it sweep sin away as if it were of no moment. True gospel grace, patterned in a gracious God and echoed in gracious men, always faces sin head on. It is patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, but it is also fiercely committed to the glory of a God who is holy and to the good of those who are called to be holy just as he is holy. It calls sin sin, and it considers the nature, occasion and consequences of any particular sin and responds appropriately.

Grace is not, then, an excuse to downplay or dismiss sin as if it were of no consequence, to go on neglecting to deal with it. Grace does not make sin of no account. Grace is the most honest in dealing with sin. Grace always takes account of sin, it looks sin in the ugly eye and - one way or another - it puts it away, sometimes at great cost to itself, dealing fairly and even tenderly with those in whom that sin is discerned, as occasion demands.

Grace, ultimately, is Godlike. It is not a commodity, a mere thing, but an expression of the heart of God in Christ Jesus his Son. If we would have a pattern for gospel grace, we must find it in Christ crucified. Bring all sin into the light of the gospel, put all sin under the shadow of the cross, and there you shall find wisdom in how to deal with it. Deal with it graciously, but deal with it you must. There is nothing gracious about pretending otherwise.
Is Jesus on every page in the Old Testament? According to the title of a recent book, he may be. Is Christ in every sentence (e.g., "tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!" Ps. 58:6b)? Should we employ the exegetical genius, or perhaps lack thereof, to find him in every definite article, specific referent, or conjunction (e.g., "But..." - Eph. 2:4)? Should we employ a certain apostolic hermeneutic that will help us develop a Christocentric lens through which to read the Old Testament?

For the last several years, I have noticed these type of questions being asked. They may take different forms; nevertheless, the substance is essentially the same. Whether one is discussing the grammatical historical hermeneutic, redemptive historical approach, a combination thereof, or the law/gospel distinction, people are desirous to know to what extent Jesus is in the Old Testament.

As I continue to read the debates on this topic, some of which have more recently been centered around a Christotelic understanding of the scriptures, I began wondering something, perhaps, more fundamental to the discussion. How are we allowing uninspired subtitles and versification to influence us?

As a budding Hebrew linguist, there are certain things I prefer when reading the Hebrew Bible. I prefer the MT arrangement of the Old Testament--not the English arrangement. I enjoy reading about redaction theory, source criticism, and looking more deeply at the textual criticism apparatus. One idea that I have always desired was to acquire and read the Hebrew scriptures without the 10th or 11th century invention of the pointing system and without the 12th and 15th centuries versification system. That is a different Old Testament than we read today in our English Bibles, particularly as it relates to arrangement and versification. 

So as we consider the nature and manner of Jesus on every page (in the Old Testament), how do we understand the ebb and flow of the narrative based on our English Bibles? As Paul preached the kingdom of God and his Christ at Rome (Acts 28), he was not contained by subtitles. When Christ confronted his hearers by claiming that the scriptures testify of him (John 5), he wasn't guided by versification exactly as we are.

It seems to me that defining how we are using the Old Testament may be a helpful idea to further narrow the conversation. I am almost certain someone has already mentioned this. Despite my lack of ability to recall other works on this specific idea, I wonder if there is any merit to this suggestion, and if so, how will this help?

Let's use one example. Many of our Old Testament books are in narrative form. Due to the current versification and subtitle listings in our English Bibles, we often follow the headings and verses that were set for us. While that may be helpful to consider and even preach from, our divisions of the narratives sometimes inhibit a holistic view of the story and potentially create an environment where exegetes feel like they are gasping for air to find Jesus. 

Of course one can take that idea too far and not divide the narrative at all on the basis of the understanding that it is one entire narrative and therefore should not be fragmented. That is not my point. There may be certain coordinating or disjunctive conjunctions that indicate a scene change. At that scene change, it may be appropriate to end that section of the narrative. Sometimes that means we must read beyond the subtitles listed in our English Bibles. It may create a longer sermon; it may mean we have to read longer sections of scripture; or it may mean we cannot highlight, to our congregation, the exegetical precision that we would normally in smaller sections of scripture, but if it presents a clearer image of the overall story and thus prepares the way for better exegesis to preach Christ, it is worth it.

Taking the narrative in larger sections may help some of the exegetical gymnastics that can occur to find Jesus under every rock. (By the way, it is acceptable to find him on the rock - Exod. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Yes, I believe Jesus is in the Old Testament (Heb. 4); yes, I believe the scriptures point to him as the pinnacle of redemptive history (Luke 24);  yes, I believe the gospel--perhaps I should define that--should be preached in every sermon; but I also believe pastors must be careful in their exegesis. We do not want to misguide our churches toward an inappropriate understanding of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.

"Behold the blessèd Lamb of God"

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L.M. (Eden)
Behold the blessèd Lamb of God,
Who for the world poured out his blood;
He died and suffered on the tree
That men the grace of God might see.

Behold the bleeding Sacrifice -
Salvation at unmeasured price.
He came to this dark world below,
God's greatest blessing to bestow.

Behold the Saviour, Christ the King,
Let all his ransomed people sing
Of him, who to redeem us died,
But reigns now at the Father's side.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.
Life and relationships have become all too superficial in our present age. It is the easiest thing in the world to say we know someone and yet really have nothing more than a nodding acquaintance. Indeed with the influence of the media - television in particular - it is possible to see some famous personality on the street and instinctively feel that we know them, even though we have never even met them. They are really complete strangers to us. Sadly the same can be true of our reaction to the greatest personality ever to step on to the stage of human history - the Lord Jesus Christ. The critical difference about our knowledge of him is that it impinges upon our eternal destiny. Thus one of the most penetrating questions a person can ask in life is, 'Who is Jesus Christ?'

Continue at Place for Truth.

Text link - http://info.alliancenet.org/placefortruth/who-is-jesus-christ

"Every precious blessing"

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6 5. 6 5 (North Coates)
Every precious blessing
Comes from God above;
Everything we have is
From his heart of love.

Jesus is the best gift,
Coming down to save:
Dying for his people,
Rising from the grave.

Gracious Spirit, give us
Hearts to trust the Son,
Souls that overflow with
Praise for all he's done.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Anticipation

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Last weekend brought with it all the brouhaha that seems to be the sadly-increasing norm among evangelicals with regard to 'holy week' and Easter Sunday. Now, I will deny no man the opportunity to preach about the risen Christ on any day that he chooses. Furthermore, if there is a possibility in a particular place and time that people's ears might be more readily tuned to a certain emphasis, I think it might be wise to take advantage of that. Perhaps there were some stolid brothers who ploughed on with their current expository series last Sunday, preaching their third sermon on the too-often-overlooked significance of Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who judged Israel after Abimelech but before Jair, of whom an equal amount can be (and shortly - if that is the appropriate word, given that it might require a good month or two to address it - will be) said. I am sure that, in doing so, they have been and will be careful to draw out the redemptive-historical significance of Tola. Nevertheless, for myself, I gladly preached a sermon on the need to remember what the Lord Christ said about the empty tomb for our present and future hope.

And so the brouhaha dies down, at least until next year. After all, this next one is just an ordinary Sunday, isn't it?

If that is your attitude, might I suggest that your view of the Lord's day is sadly deficient and probably damaging. I hope you would not need to be a full-orbed sabbatarian to recognise the significance of the first day of the week, the day on which the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, the day on which he met again and again with his disciples, making himself known to them and impressing upon them the realities of his resurrection.

Christ did not leave his people with an annual opportunity to enjoy that distinctive fellowship with him which is enjoyed by the people of God gathering together for worship on the first day of the week. There may be regular Sundays, in one sense, but there ought to be no ordinary Sundays. Every first day of the week is a commemoration of the risen Christ, a day of worship and praise. The same truths are equally true, the same realities are equally real, the same themes are equally relevant.

Do not let this be the Sunday when you step down. Let it be another step up, another waymarker on your heavenly pilgrimage, another resurrection day. Preach no different sermon, in that sense, certainly no different Christ. Let the same sweet assurances cloud the day, the same underpinning certainties bear up the soul, the same glorious hopes inform the worship. Come to worship this coming Lord's day with just the same eager anticipation as you did last week, and - I hope - the week before that, and before that. Come with the same earnest request of the ministers of the gospel: "We would see Jesus." Come with the same joyful prospect of a fresh sight of and renewed fellowship with the risen Christ, and may he draw near to you as you do so.

The neutrality of bigness

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Last Lord's day, despite the absence of a few, we had an encouragingly large congregation. By some standards, it was large. By others, pitifully small. By ours, with a visiting family of believers, and a number of visitors from the community, several for the first time, it was a joy.

Over the pond, the biennial Together for the Gospel jamboree has begun. A number of friends are present. The esteemed Derek Thomas is there, his Twitter feed and Facebook page proudly displaying his bright red T4G wristband. Mez McConnell is there, sporting his beanie and, if I remember rightly, threatening to give it away to some poor soul. Brian Croft is there, with his infectious enthusiasm and his Practical Shepherding booth. Tim Brister is there, with his increasingly vigorous beard and his Band of Bloggers. There are people that I know by reputation, some by passing contact of varying degrees of depth. And there are others. About eight thousand others.

What do we make of such figures? Compare it with the crowd that gathers at a major sporting event, and it is almost negligible. Compare it with the trickle of souls into some church buildings on the Lord's day, and it is massive. Perhaps for some, such numbers call forth suspicion, sneering, even sourness.

We should note that this is an unusual event, a rare event, not a church gathering. Few single churches could or should reach such a size. But the numbers themselves are not a problem. Would to God that we had eight thousand men and women and children gathering to hear and rejoice in the good news on a more regular basis! Even some of the prickly-Reformed are not above reminding us that theirs is the largest church in an area or the largest conference of its kind. Bigness is not a necessary sign of sell-out, smallness not a necessary mark of purity, any more than bigness is a necessary indicator of excellence or smallness a necessary indicator of faithlessness.

The issue here is not numbers, but motives, means and ends. Why do we gather in this way and with what desires and appetites? How is such a crowd gathered, and what is it cohering around? What is the purpose and outcome of such a gathering?

To be sure, out of such a great throng there will be those who disappoint. There might be some who are simply along for the ride. There may be some who like the glitz and glamour, and who are there simply to gawk and gawp at their heroes. Perhaps, under different, harder circumstances, there would be some who would turn away. But how many more, we hope, would ask, "To whom else should we go? Christ Jesus has the words of eternal life."

Suspicion? Yes, there are many compromisers in the world, but Christ has said that if he is lifted up, he will draw many to himself.

Sneering? I may not agree with all that is said and done, but God scorns the scornful, and gives grace to the humble.

Sourness? We may never gather or preach to such a crowd, but if Christ is preached, I will rejoice!

If this is a gathering of those who are together for the gospel, who have drawn together not just to hear some guru spout but to hear Christ proclaimed, who are united by the truth of a crucified Christ, and who want to know how to make him known, I want to assume the best. If this is taking place in groups of eight or eighteen here and there, it is a good thing, if we take to heart the things that we hear and believe and live accordingly. If it is taking place in a group of eight thousand, it is a good thing, if they go back to their churches with faith and life purer and better defined. Whether we are larger or smaller, let us search our hearts, consider our motives, means and ends, and ensure that truly it is the crucified and risen Christ in whom we glory, around whom we gather and for whom we go.
In a recent edition of Christian Renewal (date: December 11, 2013), Ruth Vandyken, in her article, "Preaching Outside the Box and onto the Public Soapbox," interviewed Dr. Joseph Pipa--faculty at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary--and Dr. Cornel Venema--of Mid-America Reformed Seminary--requesting their thoughts on proclaiming the gospel openly on the 
streets. 

Joseph Pipa said, 

"We encourage it. Dr. (Anthony) Curto did his D. Min on street preaching and I think deals with it in evangelism class. We have some students going out on Friday nights in downtown Greenville."

Cornel Venema responded more at length.

"I imagine there may be some difference of opinion within our faculty on the question, depending upon how such street preaching is conducted. We should encourage our students to seize every opportunity to present the gospel, including the use of public fora where suitable to communicate the gospel and its call to faith and repentance. The work of the minister of the Word is a work of gospelizing, ordinarily (but not exclusively) in the context of the gathering of the people of the Lord (and others who may visit or come at the invitation of members) on the Lord's Day. We would not advise our students to present the gospel in street preaching, if the forum was unsuitable and likely to cause needless offense or be unduly aggressive in manner. Such preaching, when properly conducted, should be performed with gentleness and humility, focus upon the good news of salvation through faith in Christ, and honor the general encouragement of the Lord to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" in the conduct of our ministries. Our general exhortation to our students is that they seize every legitimate opportunity to present the gospel to all, in a variety of settings and circumstances. That might even include presenting the gospel, if no limits are placed upon the Word, in gatherings or groups whose practices we might not endorse as fully obedient to Scriptural standards (e.g. in an unfaithful church)."

"Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End"

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11 11. 11 11 (To God be the glory [without refrain])
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End;
My Saviour, my Shepherd, my Lord, and my Friend;
The Righteous, the Holy, to you we will bring
Our prayers and our praises, a sweet offering.

A Prophet revealing by Spirit and Word;
A King all-triumphant with almighty sword;
A Priest interceding before heaven's throne,
Whose sacrifice does for his people atone.

The Word Everlasting, Creator of all;
The Root of King David, but laid in a stall;
The light of God's heaven - no longer afar -
Comes into our darkness, a bright Morning Star.

The promised salvation, God's Yes and Amen;
The Lion of Judah, the Lamb that was slain;
The one God incarnate, the Son of God's love,
Who stooped down to conquer from heaven above.

The Truth and the Life and the new, living Way;
The Conqueror of hell, whom e'en devils obey;
All-glorious, victorious, the church's crowned Head,
The Judge of the living, the Judge of the dead.

The great Lord of Glory, the First and the Last;
The light of the world, and our crucified Christ;
Himself both Redeemer and ransom-price paid,
All glory to him who atonement has made!
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

"How can this guilty sinner flee"

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C.M. (Godre'r Coed)
How can this guilty sinner flee
The judgement that is mine?
How can a wretched man escape
The punishment divine?

Tell me where wrath and mercy meet;
Show me God reconciled.
Where can a rebel find true peace,
Rest for a heart so wild?

Come, take the path to Calvary,
Climb up her shadowed side:
This is the way that Jesus went,
This is where Jesus died.

This is where Christ poured out his blood;
This is where peace begins;
This is where wrath and mercy meet:
Pardon for all our sins.

Here is the wisdom of our God,
And here his power divine;
Here is a full atonement made,
And righteousness does shine.

Sinner, would you escape God's wrath?
Would you be truly blessed?
Here God in Christ is reconciled;
Here is eternal rest.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Losing Adam

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Losing Adam means losing so much more besides. That is because losing Adam is likely to prove the beginning of losing our Bibles. Like the gardener who decides to trim his hedge, he finds that an aggressive cut at one point leaves a lopsided creation which requires further cuts here and there in order to restore a sense of balance and proportion to his judging eye. As Lloyd-Jones makes plain, "the Bible is a unity. We must take it all." The whole of Scripture stands or falls together. Once the first cut is made, there is no saying how many more cuts must follow until the man with the knife is satisfied.

What are some of the specific cuts that might follow when we lose Adam? What, in this sense, falls with an historical Adam? When the creation and the Fall are undermined, what tumbles with them?

Losing Adam means losing my dignity. As a son of Adam, I know I am made in the image of God. That Adam was made distinctly, separate from every other creature, for a particular purpose and with a particular stewardship, establishes not just the dignity of my being, but that of every human being. Losing Adam may mean, in principle, losing vital ground in the battles against the sex trade, abortion, slavery, and a multitude of other spheres where the conviction of human worth is a reason for Christian engagement. It means losing that sense of vocation that comes from being, after a fashion, a steward in and of God's earth.

Losing Adam means losing my humanity. What it means to be male, and - by extension - female, finds its roots in the creation of the first man and the first woman. Hinging upon this is the whole construct of marriage. It is no accident that when the Lord Christ and the apostle Paul speak to the issue of marriage, they go back to creation. Losing Adam means losing the solid basis for complementarianism, with the God-ordained pattern for male-female relationships that has its origin in the very beginning of human life.

Losing Adam means that I have no adequate explanation for the sinfulness of my soul or my race. Adam as some kind of generic Everyman does not provide me with that foundation. Only Adam properly explains how sin and death entered God's world. Losing Adam means I have no fixed point from which to interpret the misery of mankind lost in sin and the awful realities of spiritual and physical death, for "through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom 5.12). It robs me of that which makes sense of the world as it is, populated by people like me whose hearts are by nature wholly inclined to sin, and it threatens to rob me of the need for atonement.

Losing Adam means losing hope, for my solidarity with Adam as a man condemned finds its Scriptural counterpart in my solidarity with Christ, the last Adam, as a man redeemed. Adam is "a type of him who was to come" (Rom 5.14) - all the God-ordained parallels and constructs out of which my salvation finds its form and substance are lost if an historical Adam is lost. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive," wrote the apostle in 1 Corinthians 15.22. But if there is no Adam in relationship to whom I die, how can I be confident that my parallel relationship with the Christ secures my life? If there is no imputation of Adam's sin, why should there be an imputation of Christ's righteousness? I cannot have one without the other. Thomas Goodwin's famous illustration illuminates the concern: if there are, in essence, and as far as God's dealings with the world are concerned, only two men in the whole world, two giants upon one of whose belts every other individual is hooked, then what shall I do when one of those giants is suddenly taken out of the equation? All of a sudden the existence of the other, specifically in that relationship of soteriological solidarity, begins to look more than a little hazy. If the one is a mere fairy tale or cipher, what of the other?

But losing Adam means losing not only my present but also my future hope. If there is no earthly man whose image I have borne, what confident expectation do I have of one day bearing the image of the heavenly man? The parallels again demand either that having shared in Adam's earthiness I will - united to Christ - one day share in his heavenliness, or that with my abandonment of an historical Adam so I must largely abandon my expectation of a physical resurrection in Christ Jesus. And not only that, but if the Fall falls with Adam, then what restoration do we have to look forward to? There is, perhaps, nothing to restore. The creation does not groan for redemption under the weight of Adam's transgression because no Adam transgressed, and if we have nothing to look forward to in the consummation of our redemption, then the creation either does not groan or groans in vain. What will become of the new creation if we lose the old one? What hope of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells if the old one had no historical Adam who had an historical Fall? I am told to wait for that moment when, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed. Must I now reinterpret that to mean an aeons-long progression of gradual development toward the heavenly state?

If I want to know who and what I am, before God and by divine design and intention, as a redeemed man with the prospect of glory with Christ ahead of me, then I need an historical Adam. In one sense, he paints all the needs that Christ meets. In another, he provides the outlines which Christ fills and the constructs within which Christ operates. Ultimately, if I lose the first Adam, I lose the second and last Adam. Losing Adam means losing Christ.

"I wander often from the way"

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8 8 6. D (Tresalem)
I wander often from the way,
And sin afflicts me every day:
Oh, when shall I be pure?
Christ leads me to the path again,
And washes me from every stain,
A cleansing full and sure.

I hear the world's enticing voice,
That tempts me to a godless choice:
How shall I stand the test?
Christ draws my mind to things above,
To that which I should truly love,
And there I see what's best.

Weary and weak and full of pain,
I wonder shall I ever gain
Relief when I'm oppressed?
Christ takes me gently by the hand,
He strengthens me, and makes me stand,
And then I am at rest.

Too often full of bitterness,
Anger, frustration, and distress:
When shall I be at peace?
Christ bids me view his life again,
Where tender love and patience reign,
And there my turmoils cease.

All imperfection, falling short
Of every precept I am taught:
Is there no hope for me?
Christ is my hope: he bears my sins,
My heart makes new, my heaven wins,
And there is certainty.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

The humility and jealousy of the Holy Spirit

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I remember hearing the story: a gathering of ministers in a place that had known God's blessing in an unusual degree in time past, grieving over the present low state of things and seeking the Lord for his return. They pondered and discussed the ways and means that the Lord had given by means of which they might seek his face and obtain his blessing.

The suggestion was made that a series of meetings might be appointed, the grand topic of which would be the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This, it was felt, might be the surest way to pursue such blessings as were desired. This, it was believed, was a grand design to know and enjoy those spiritual operations which belong to him. There was at first general agreement on this point.

Then the oldest brother stood, a man who remembered what it was to have the Lord God of heaven and earth draw near, in this particular way, to his creatures in mercy and grace. He gently corrected his fellows. "What we need," he said, "is not sermons on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not pleased to bless such. What we need is sermons on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the Spirit of Christ will come, for he delights to glorify Christ, to take of what is his and declare it to men."

In the last few weeks I somewhere read something brief about jealousy for the Holy Spirit. Now, do not misunderstand me: I do not, by any means, wish to dismiss or neglect God the Spirit. He is truly God in himself and ought to be worshipped and honoured as such. But what is his particular work? While we often speak, and rightly, of the humiliation of the Son, how much do we consider the humility of the Holy Spirit, who - himself being God and worthy of divine praise and glory - makes it his particular work not to draw attention to himself, but to throw the divine spotlight upon the being and doing of the incarnate Son, through whom alone we know the Father and enjoy the blessings of the Spirit? The Spirit keeps himself largely out of sight, his work intended to bring what God has accomplished in Christ Jesus into brightest and sharpest relief, for the blessing of sinners. So all our blessings are Spiritual blessings. There is no salvation apart from his operations. By him Christ accomplished his work. The application of that saving work is carried out by the Holy Ghost. Christ cannot be truly apprehended without him. Without the Spirit, who is God, we cannot know God in Christ, and we should and must honour and enjoy communion with God the Spirit accordingly.

However, when we begin to use the language of jealousy for the Holy Spirit, it may be better to remember the jealousy of the Holy Spirit. We honour the Spirit by declaring the Son. Christ was not operating apart from or against the Spirit when he cried out, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself" (Jn 12.32). When we in our turn exalt the Son as the one who was crucified, we most honour and cooperate with the Spirit whom he sent.

"Grace abounding! Oh the sweetness"

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8 7. 8 7 (Sussex)
Grace abounding! Oh the sweetness
Of those words to sinful hearts.
Trace the stream of heavenly mercy
That on darkened Calvary starts.

Kings dispensing earthly splendours
Cannot match our gracious Lord:
Grace abounding! Oh the riches
Of the bounty now outpoured.

Grace divine! How freely given!
Grace beyond the scope of thought!
Swell my heart to know the blessing
That with Jesus' blood was bought.

Christ pursues the wandering sinner;
Christ redeems the wretched soul;
Christ can meet the utmost need, and
Christ can make the sinner whole.

Deepest soundings cannot measure
All the goodness of God's grace;
How my thankful heart rejoices
At the smile upon God's face.

Jesus found me, Jesus bought me,
Jesus keeps me, holds me fast;
Christ will bring me safe to glory:
Christ will lead me home at last.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

"A mighty host of angels stands"

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8 7. 8 7. D (iambic) (Constance)
A mighty host of angels stands
Around Christ's throne in heaven;
Their sinless tongues extol his worth,
All praise to him is given;
With awe recount his mighty works,
His face behold with wonder,
Lift up their voice to hymn the Lord
With a celestial thunder.

A countless host of blood-bought souls
Adds its triumphant measure;
In robes of white they sing with joy,
Their hearts now with their treasure.
This happy throng could quickly tell
Ten thousand grace-filled stories,
But sooner are their lips and hearts
Filled with his radiant glories.

And shall my stumbling tongue on earth
Disrupt this happy chorus?
No - all I am shall glorify
The One who suffered for us!
Though fearsome foes and grievous woes
Our joys are now assailing,
A life safe hid with Christ in God
Calls forth a song unfailing.

So, called by grace and kept by love,
Protected by his power,
Our timeless glories with our God
Draw nearer every hour.
With eyes fixed fast on Christ above,
Unmoved by scorn or pity,
We travel on to where he dwells,
In God's abiding city.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

See how he loves

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When the Jews saw Christ weep outside the tomb of Lazarus, this demonstration of his deep affection (compare Jn 11.3, 5) brought forth the declaration: "See how he loved him!" (Jn 11.36). His attitude and actions left the onlookers in no doubt concerning the feeling of Christ for his beloved friend, although their ignorance put it in the past tense. In similar fashion, when we consider the attitudes and actions of Christ toward any child of God, though the circumstances may be very different, we should be able to say, "See how he loves him!"

The love of Christ for his people is something that is worth considering, meditating on and dwelling upon. It does our souls good to remember how we have been and are being loved by the Saviour. The love of Christ is like the many faces of the diamond - we can turn it in the light of our experience to find the aspect which gleams most brightly at this moment. The demonstrations of Christ's love are like the cities of refuge: in times of trouble we flee to the nearest one to find a safe place. So consider these seed thoughts concerning the love of Christ, some few of the ways in which you, child of God, are loved by him, and take those which are most needful and precious. His love for you is a love . . .

  • . . . without beginning. You were loved in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1.4, compare Jn 17.23-24) - the affections of the triune God toward you were always bound up in Christ, who was your representative before time began. Christ has always had his eye upon you: his is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3).
  • . . . of the greatest degree. It is held up as an example of extravagant love: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (Jn 15.13).
  • . . . demonstrated as well as declared. Many speak of love who do not love. But the Lord not only tells me of his love - time and time again - but demonstrates it in countless ways. As John encouraged the saints, "let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1Jn 3.18), so Christ shows a love that is in deed and in truth.
  • . . . proven beyond all doubt. There are times when our confidence in Christ's love is shaken, but then we look to the cross, and can say with Paul, he "loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2.20). The cross - the great demonstration of love - banishes all possibility that he did not and does not love me.
  • . . . beyond human knowledge. It is a shoreless ocean, beggaring human insight and appreciation, a love that passes understanding (Eph 3.19), surpassing our best efforts to comprehend it - like quicksilver, you may get a few sparkling drops in your hand, but the gleaming lake lies outside your grasp.
  • . . . not repulsed by sin. Sin is repulsive and repugnant - the great obstacle that love must overcome (1Pt 4.8) - but the love of Christ does overcome it, and is not defeated by it. Rather, it is in the face of sin that love shows its true depth: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.6-8).
  • . . . which pays the full redemption price for the beloved. To purchase those upon whom he had set his love, the Son paid all that was necessary. The Good Shepherd said, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10.15). Blood must be spilt, a life must be given, and Christ held back nothing of himself in making atonement for those he loved.
  • . . . that maintains a prayerful interest. Too often love wanes - ardent protestations give way to lukewarm demonstrations. But not with Christ: he ever lives to make intercession for his people (Heb 7.25). Having died for us, he lives for us, and we are the constant objects of his perfect prayers. Have you stopped to consider: the risen Lord of Glory has prayed for you today? What a wonder!
  • . . . that secures us absolutely. Christ's love is the ground of our certainty, it is the crimson cord that binds us forever to God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8.35-39). Having been so loved, it is not possible for you to cease being so loved.
  • . . . that will not ignore sin in us. Perhaps you have never considered what an act of love it is that the Lord cares about your sin: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev 3.19). A love that does not care about the foul presence of sin in its object is not really love: it would be like saying that you love someone, but are happy for them to live in filth.
  • . . . that really overcomes sin in us. There is a positive aspect, too. The love that addresses sin works holiness. That rebuking and chastening is a means of producing holiness in us: "For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. . . . we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness" (Heb 12.6-10).
  • . . . of unfailing patience. This is indeed a love that suffers long (1Cor 13.7). Remember how often our Lord, with holy frustration, asked how long he must bear with his stumbling and ignorant and dull disciples. And how long did he bear with them? He bore with them all the way, and bears with us still. We find it all too easy for our love to be undermined by irritability, but Christ's love is not defeated by our failures and foolishnesses.
  • . . . that removes all our fears. We need fear nothing if so beloved. Even the day of judgement, so awesome and terrible, while not ceasing to be awesome and terrible in itself, ceases to be a cause of overwhelming terror for the one who exists in a relationship of deepening and appreciated love with God: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment" (1Jn 4.18).
  • . . . that never abandons us. We cry, "Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation" (Ps 27.9), calling upon the one who has given us that very promise (Dt 31.6-8, compare Heb 13.5). His is a love as strong as death (Song 8.6).
  • . . . that will endure forever. It is an everlasting love (Jer 31.3), stretching not only back into eternity past but forward into eternity future. We shall never cease to be loved by Christ. When Christ returns the dead in Christ shall rise first, and "then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1Thes 4.17). Forever with the Lord! Forever with the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
  • . . . held up as the pattern for all love worthy of the name. Christ's "new commandment" is "that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13.34; 15.12). Time and time again we are pointed back to the love of Christ as the grand and enduring model of love, the perfect template of what love truly is (see, for example, 1Cor 13.4-8; Phil 2.1-8). It is how we know what love is: "By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1Jn 3.16).
  • . . . that offers repeated reminders of its reality and substance. We find these reminders sown throughout the Scriptures and our own experience. However, perhaps pre-eminently, it is the Lord's supper which brings us back to the supreme demonstration of that love in his atoning death, carries us into the present expressions of that love in communion with the risen Christ by his Spirit, and points us forward to the consummation of that love when he returns: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" (1Cor 11.23-26).

The Lord Christ wants us to consider his love. How often do you say, "Pause, my soul, adore and wonder, ask, 'Oh, why such love to me?'" Do you stop to consider, meditate and dwell upon the love Christ has for you as one of his sheep individually, one of his flock entirely?

To do so will increase our joy. What happiness there is in knowing that this is Christ's disposition toward us! It will deepen our assurance. To know that we are so loved will be a powerful defence against the insinuations of the devil that we are unworthy (we know we are, but that has not stopped Jesus loving us) and the undermining of our sense of enjoying peace with God. It will heighten our gratitude, for the more we see of the kindness and mercy of the Lord in so loving, the more we will be brought to humble amazement at his great goodness toward us. It will stir up love: to be so loved cannot but draw out our hearts toward the one who loves us so: "We love him because he first loved us" (1Jn 4.19). How can we not, when we see how he loved us, and how he loves us still?

Of sounds and silence

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Like many, you may be appalled at how often the Lord Jesus issues a command to those whom he has healed to keep silent about what has taken place and the command is immediately not just ignored but thoroughly trampled upon.

"Horrors!" we cry, "Didn't they hear him? Weren't they listening when he told them not to say anything? If Jesus said that to me, I should be very certain to obey him."

Of course you would, friend, because it accords entirely with your current practice. You are very happy to say nothing about the Lord Christ. The problem is, of course, that the times have changed, and the Lord Jesus has given a command to you, not to keep silent, but to make public his person and his work, to declare the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

Jesus commanded the healed men and women to something that was, in a sense, unnatural. They had just received a blessing of overwhelming magnitude, the crying need of their lives had just been addressed. Without entering into our Lord's reasons for the command, we should at least be able to understand why they disobeyed, even if we accept that their disobedience was inexcusable.

Our command is to something that ought to be eminently natural. The problem is that it is not always palatable. We have received an incalculable blessing. We have passed from death to life, from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from deafness to hearing, from misery to joy, from condemnation to justification, and we are invited and instructed to spread abroad the wonders of God's grace in Christ.

Didn't we hear him? Weren't we listening when he told us to speak?

Which is the greater act of disobedience?

The happy ending

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I first remember the tension while watching Battle of the Planets as a small boy. To those who were spared such torments or denied such pleasures (depending on your take), and especially to those who just read that Wikipedia entry and wondered what kind of existence I led, to the infant mind these cartoons were little more than space adventures in which a team of fighters defended Earth against the bad guy.

What irked me as episode succeeded episode were the unfailingly complete endings to every story, often with some sappy moralism tagged on. By the end of each episode, as I remember it, the main protagonists were enjoying a hearty laugh together as yet another dastardly plot was entirely foiled, nobody but the bad guys hurt or even slightly put out. I do not think I was an unusually melancholy infant, but even by this age I was persuaded that this was spectacularly unrealistic. It was, given the way things were, simply an unsatisfactory happy ending.

As I grew and read and watched, I continued to find problems with the endings of things. These, as I think about them, can be organised into at least three categories, although there is often a degree of overlap. Depending on your tastes, you can organise them by film (or film type), superhero, literary genre, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

The first is where the world is viewed through rose-tinted spectacles. These stories end - often with that sickening dose of mere moralism - with all the loose ends tied off, all the bad guys defeated, all wrongs righted, and the rising dawn of a new day about to illuminate a brave new world in which, one might be led to believe, nothing would ever go wrong again. Quite apart from the utterly crass neatness of the perspective, it takes very little imagination to see the problems that will arise if only you there were another ten pages to the book, or what would happen ten minutes after the credits have finished rolling. The ending is dissatisfying because it is not real enough.

The second is the mirrored-sunglasses perspectives: the achingly cool (anti-)hero who dispassionately dispatches the bad guys, giving them a taste of their own medicine. But often our hero is little or no better than the bad guys themselves. He or she is as miserable, twisted and ultimately unfulfilled as those he or she stands against. And when the last punch has landed, when the last gunshot has rung out, when the last bad guy has fallen, the world may be on one level a less bad place, but it is not much of a better place. Justice has been done, but it has been unjustly done: it is justice at any price, at too high a price. There is something that remains out of place, and the victor has besmirched himself in the very act of victory, and the ending is dissatisfying because it is not right enough.

The third is the entirely shadowed view, life viewed through black lenses. In these versions, sometimes no-one is left standing. Sometimes, the bad guy or guys are the ones who get away. And you might mournfully nod and say, yes, that is the way things are, but you know it is not the way things should be. The bad guys do seem to get away with murder, they do seem to evade justice, they do appear to live and die in peace, and that leaves the observer with a sense of grief or resentment. Often things peter out in openness and emptiness, without resolution. The ending is dissatisfying because it is too real and not right.

So whether it is a matter of ill-grounded optimism, jaded realism, or radical pessimism, the observer is left with a sense of emptiness or disappointment. Even the great epics can leave the spectator with a lingering sense of something left undone, of something incomplete or unsure.

What are we waiting for?

I wonder if we are waiting for the happy ending, the only truly happy ending that there will ever be. It is the ending in which a righteous King comes forth conquering and to conquer. The one left standing is the one who should and must stand. And his judgements are perfectly right and just, and his blessings altogether merciful and beyond calculation, and his punishments perfectly proportioned and entirely deserved. None of the bad guys get away with anything, and there is mercy shown to multitudes who repented and were forgiven. He does all things well - no slur attaches to his name, nothing about him disappoints, and the new order which he establishes is one in which there is no sin and in which no unrighteousness can find a home. His world is one populated by those remade in his own sinless image, in which our appetites are perfectly honed and entirely satisfied, and there is no lingering sense of dissatisfaction, no sense that this is not real and reliable, no possibility of the beauties being once more wrecked by sin. It is a place of true and lasting peace, pure and perfect justice, absolute and entire goodness.

Then, and only then, our desires for reality and righteousness are altogether satisfied. Resolution and redemption are both full and complete.

I have wondered if there is something distinctively Christian in this appetite for a happy ending. Clearly, the specific contours sketched above are distinctively Christian. But, while the answer is Christian, I think the appetite is not. That is, perhaps, why there are so many stories and so many attempts at happy endings and so many acknowledgements of sad ones. We are creatures made in the image of God. Our hopes and fears are designed to be resolved in his rule, and there is a yearning - often twisted or misguided, but real - for happy endings, and a miserable recognition of unhappy endings. As Augustine said, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

And so we will always be dissatisfied by anything less than the only happy ending that ties up all the loose ends in a real and right way. There and only there will we find both redemption and resolution. And, in the face of so many stories and so many endings, Christians must insist on the one tale most worth the telling, and the one ending that alone will satisfy every longing heart.

God's family on earth

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Having done a little travelling over the last few days, I should like to attest once more to the following:
How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth - while with their nearest relatives, who are but the children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father's house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?
David Brown, The Four Gospels (Banner of Truth), 76.

Absorbing and exuding Christ

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Continuing our thoughts on pastoral character, here is William Arnot:
The more that the teacher absorbs for himself of Christ's love, the more benefit will others obtain from him. . . . Those who drink in most of the Master's spirit are most useful in the world. Those who first take heed to themselves will be most effective in caring for the spiritual weal of those who look up to them. (Studies in Acts, 380)

"That lovely, lovely man"

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Although I have posted this before elsewhere, I would like to let you know about a lady who belongs to the church which I serve. She can barely leave her home at present because of her physical condition, itself substantially the result of a botched operation several years ago. She has been close to death on several occasions, and is currently in hospital. Although she often grieves over her pain, and has often expressed a desire to be free from it, her great complaint and most often-expressed desire are that she might be able to gather with God's people on the Lord's day to worship him.

When I go to see her, she often looks pale and drawn. I take her CDs of the sermons, and she listens to them and then sends them on to others so that they can also enjoy the ministry. She tells me that all she really has opportunity to do is to read and to pray. She is not a well-educated woman, and often excuses her lack of learning, but her Bible, she says, is a "Godsend" (I smile when she says this kind of thing, because she has little idea how full and accurate is her speech). She loves her Bible. She particularly loves Romans 8, Proverbs 3, and Isaiah 53. She loves to read the Gospels, and she talks about "that lovely, lovely man" of whom she reads, and how he lived and suffered and died for her, and her eyes fill with tears as she talks about how her eyes fill with tears whenever she thinks of how they hated, and spat at, and slaughtered "that lovely, lovely man." You see, she knows him. Sometimes I almost think she sees him. She talks to him and walks with him. She loves him absolutely, personally, really. To her, Jesus of Nazareth is not a collection of doctrines, not a list of facts, not a remnant of history, but the God-man who loved her and laid down his life to save her from her sins before rising again from the dead, and who now lives and reigns and cares for her and all his flock.

And, as ever, I read and I pray and I leave, feeling very inadequate to minister to a woman whose personal devotion to the Lord Christ puts mine so much in the shade.

Sharing Christ's Sufferings

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The newest volume in Crossway's Preaching the Word commentary series is David Helm's 1 & 2 Peter and Jude.  I expect most preachers will know this series of expositional commentaries, which is edited by Kent Hughes.  David Helm is one of the founding pastors of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago -- a church-planting church plant near the University of Chicago.  David also has a central role in the Charles Simeon Trust, which promotes expository preaching nationwide.

Here is what I wrote to help promote the book:

"David Helm exercises a vibrant preaching ministry in the city of Chicago. This book of Bible expositions displays his strengths as a preacher and serves as a model for other Bible teachers. It is vigorous in its defense of spiritual truth, clear in its explanation of biblical words and their contextual meaning, vivid in its use of language and illustrations, well-structured in its exposition of particular Bible passages, and fresh in its practical application of Biblical truth to daily Christian life. It is the kind of commentary, in other words, on which preachers quickly learn to rely."