Posts by Mark Johnston

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'What makes a preacher choose any book or passage of the Bible to preach on?' That's the sixty-four thousand dollar question I tend to ask myself on not a few occasions and feel I have to answer to my congregation (usually when I'm beginning a new series). I suppose there is a degree of similarity...
There is a certain view of church that regards it (especially as expressed in the local congregation) as a ‘voluntary association’. The idea has been notably prevalent among Christians in the United States, but has been embraced more widely in other parts of the world. Interestingly this perception...
There are many occasions when what seem like throwaway remarks from Jesus say far more than we may realise. One in particular is heard in our Lord’s exchange with the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15.21-28), where he tells her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house...
In the Northern Hemisphere, December is the darkest month of the year – a fact that gives added poignancy to the message of the incarnation and its centrality to the gospel. Intentionally or otherwise, when the church chose to adopt 25 th December as the date on which to mark the birth of Christ,...
The concept of love has been cheapened beyond words over the past half century and longer. This is not only true in the secular realm, but sadly also for Christians. In all kinds of ways, the church’s view of love – reflected in song and sermon alike – owes more to the culture of our time than to...
I was once struck by a brief radio address given by a Jewish Rabbi on the morning of Yom Kippur. She spent the whole time allotted to her talking about Isaiah 58 and how it links to the deliverance of Israel in Jewish understanding. Very helpfully she reminded her audience that all ethnic Jews can...
Humans have been fascinated by themselves since the earliest times in the history of our race. From the crude stick figures painted on the walls of caves in prehistoric times through to the sophisticated image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man , or the mathematical musings around the Fibonacci...
I heard a comment recently from one of the young men in our church that gave me pause for thought. He said, ‘I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon about assurance.’ My initial reaction was to frantically cast my mind back over the last 40 years trying to remember if I myself had ever addressed...
Too often the idea of ‘good works’ has been the Cinderella of Reformed discussion. Wanting (quite rightly) to distance ourselves from any kind of meritorious implications attached to them (which lies at the heart of the Roman Catholic view) we have perhaps over-corrected our stance to our own loss...
There seems to be a never-ending market in Christian circles for books on guidance. The reason for this, of course, is that we as Christians (like all other human beings) want to make right decisions and choices in life. We want to avoid mistakes – especially when they often run the risk of major...
In our last three articles that dealt with the sin-related petitions in the Lord’s Prayer we noted in passing how striking it is that such a large proportion of this prayer is focused on our fallenness and failure. This surely says a great deal about why, in light of Calvin’s famous dictum about...
The triplet of sin-related requests embedded in the Lord’s Prayer ends with the shortest, but in many ways the most potent of them all: ‘Deliver us from evil’. As many commentators point out, there is a measure of ambiguity over whether it should be rendered ‘…from evil’ or ‘…from the evil one’...
It is all too easy to be so focused on the individual components of the Lord’s Prayer – the ‘petitions’ of which it is comprised – that we lose sight of its overall topography, or landscape. Even though the details bound up with each request are vitally important, we only appreciate their full...
The Lord’s Prayer is, without question, the best-known prayer of all time. Embedded at the very heart of the prayer life of God’s family, but also shared and treasured by those nations and empires through the ages that have espoused the Christian faith as their official faith – albeit nominally...
The day of Christ’s return will be the day he will ‘judge the living and the dead’. Christians have confessed this in the words of the Apostles’ Creed for centuries; but, as so often is the case, we can rehearse these words without feeling their weight. More than that, it can be all too easy for...
Like nearly all the Christian Festivals (however many or few our particular churches may celebrate) the events marked by Easter can easily loom large on our horizons momentarily, only to be forgotten until the following year. If we allow ourselves to lapse into this pattern we can easily lose sight...
As we further explore what it means to ‘preach Christ from all the Scriptures’, another key strand is to remind ourselves of the first of his threefold offices. He is not only our Priest and King; but he is primarily God’s great Prophet. It is his business to make God known. The expectation that a...
In the two preceding articles on what it means to ‘preach Christ’ we have already noted the connection between God’s promise of salvation and the covenant he made with Abraham in relation to his seed. However, the question arises as to with whom exactly was this covenant made and by whom it is...
It can be easy to become atomistic in the way we handle the Bible. By this I mean that we can unwittingly break its message down into its component parts in a way that fails to appreciate its organic unity. Even though, as the Westminster Confession of Faith indicates, it does indeed have many ‘...
Every preacher knows – at least in some sense – that we are called to ‘preach Christ’ as we expound the Scriptures. We heard it in our homiletics classes in Seminary and we’ve been challenged about it in the numerous seminars, conferences and workshops on preaching we attend in the course of our...
For those of us who are pastors, one of our regular responsibilities is to use scripture to minister to the specific needs of our people. This should never merely be spiritual equivalent of offering placebos to those who are struggling – a kind of psycho-spiritual pick-me-up to make them feel...
Although the Lord’s Prayer is without question the best-known prayer the world has ever known, because it is the Lord’s Prayer we shouldn’t be surprised that it will continue to fill us with surprises until we see him face to face. This is true, in part, experientially. Prayer is the heart-cry of...
It is a very human trait, one from which even theologians are not immune: the tendency to make ourselves the default reference point for everything. We do it without realising it, because it is built into our subconscious. But it happens nonetheless. One particular locus of theology where this...
It is one of those ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks’ type statements that crops up in the Bible from time to time. ‘Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (He 12.2). It is, of course, speaking of Christ and his sufferings...
The theme of joy in Scripture finds its focus in the joy of knowing God as our God and Saviour. As we seek his glory (as opposed to our own) we experience a joy that is utterly different from all the joys of earth combined. Nevertheless, amazingly, this joy can be found and experienced on earth...
Christmas is fast approaching and images of Mary are everywhere – from cards to Nativity scenes – but she is strangely absent from many, if not most Protestant pulpits. Yes, she may be accorded a passing reference in the Christmas narrative, but she can come across very much as a bit-part, or an ‘...
Last words are important and often intriguing and none more so than the last words of Jesus. They are best remembered as expressed by Matthew at the end of his Gospel where Jesus tells the Eleven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all...
The season of the Reformation ‘ Solas ’ has just ended and we have been reminded of the ‘aloneness’ of Scripture, grace, faith, Christ and the glory of God. But, hopefully, we will have also been reminded too that none of these are ‘alone’ in an absolute sense. The Reformers never divorced...
Last words are important and often intriguing and none more so than the last words of Jesus. They are best remembered as expressed by Matthew at the end of his Gospel where Jesus tells the Eleven, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all...
For those familiar with Thomas Chalmers, his name immediately conjures up a plethora of thoughts regarding his stature as a Christian leader and also his gifts and achievements in the work of the church. He was a man of exceptional ability, but he was also profoundly concerned for the needs of...
This summer has been no different than those which proceded it. At this time of year, you are possibly continuing to see references to the usual litany of 'Summer Reading recommendations for Pastors.' As end-of-summer vacations loom, men in the ministry feel the need to catch up on those weighty...
I was speaking with some ministerial colleagues recently about a conference one had just attended. The conference had been great, but to his surprise, after one of the sessions, a friend next to him put his head in his hands and said, 'I'm a failure!' Having just listened to an inspiring account of...
As I write, the United Kingdom is still reeling from the latest terrorist atrocity to be unleashed in one of our major cities. It was particularly horrific in that it was deliberately targeted at children and teenagers attending a pop concert . The grief of those affected has been broadcast widely...
It is an integral part of the passion narrative, but it too easily becomes incidental to the message of the gospel. All three synoptic Gospels include an account of Christ in Gethsemane in some detail, each one from a slightly different perspective. But it is easy to lose sight of the significance...
Those who take the Bible seriously believe that its message is coherent and consistent. It does not contradict itself. Although it is presented through the multiple voices of its human authors, those voices ultimately speak with one voice: that of God himself. So, when we come across statements in...
Christians in the US and Europe are living in unusual times. Before our eyes we see laws enacted that directly oppose or subtly undermine the truths, values and principles the church has upheld for centuries. Despite their benefit to Western democracies, those democracies are destroying the very...
There is a popular notion that the church originated from a decision by a handful of followers of Jesus of Nazareth to start a movement. In the same way as other world religions started and grew through human determination and effort, it is often assumed that the Christian church is just a hugely...
Any church that includes questions to ministers-elect in their ordination or installation to service will, in some shape or form, ask a question about the candidate’s commitment to the pastoral care of his people. This is very much in keeping with the practice of caring for the needs of God’s...
It is tempting to think theology is about articulating Bible truths accurately. But, while this is very much at the heart of the theologian’s task, it cannot be divorced from the attitude with which God’s truth is presented. There is, I believe, good reason for raising this detail – especially in...
It is the unavoidable certainty in life; but also the great taboo. In the midst of life it is never far away; but many are afraid to contemplate it. Yet we find it in Scripture: a dark thread running all the way through its message. From the first warning about it in Eden (Ge 2.17) to the final...
If we were to ask the question, ‘Which is the most significant prayer found in the Bible?’ the answer would almost certainly be, ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ and understandably so. This was the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in response to their request, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ and it has become the...
Given the frequency with which ‘the fear of the LORD’, or one of its variants, is mentioned in the Bible, it is more than a little unusual that so little seems to be said about it in the church today. In all too many cases a focus on the immanence and intimacy of God as revealed in Scripture has...
Over a year has passed since my family and I were forced to leave the US and return to Britain under rather unusual circumstances. We had moved to America in 2010 in response to a call from Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA for me to become its next Senior Pastor. Given that we had...
In our first piece in this mini-series on challenges faced by the church in the 21 st Century we considered the challenge of getting the gospel out to those who need to hear it. The main thrust of this is, of course, the verbal and propositional communication of God’s message of redemption through...
I was talking recently with a dear friend who has been going through significant housing issues with all the mental, emotional and spiritual turmoil that have come with them, when she interjected, ‘But then I realised, Jesus didn’t have a home.’ And she was absolutely right. Our Lord himself summed...
The Babel fiasco in Genesis, which we looked at in the previous instalment of this mini-series, is quickly followed in the timeline of salvation by the account of Abraham (Ge 12.1ff). This looks very much like a ray of light into what otherwise looks like a very dark landscape in a very dark world...
For almost as long as I can remember as a Christian I have found myself musing on the question of what makes a good Bible translation. I grew up in a part of the world in which, for many professing Christians, this was simply a non-question There was only one ‘good’ version and it was ‘Authorised...
Fides sola est quae justificat; fides quae justificat non est sola . Latinisms can have a wonderful way of crystallising issues in theological reflection – so with this one: ‘It is faith alone that justifies; but faith that justifies is never alone!’ This isn’t just a statement about the alone-ness...
When the Banner of Truth Trust published the second volume of his Collected Writings in 1977, John Murray’s views on effectual calling sparked off animated debate in Reformed circles at that time. He challenged the formulation found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that defines effectual...
This article is the third and final piece of a three-part series on belief in an historical Adam. Part one is titled " Must We Believe in an Historical Adam? " and part two is called " What Man is to Believe Concerning God ." 5. The Historicity of Jesus and the Historicity of Adam There is, however...