Saturday, May 26, 2007

Guy does this thing with lists

I have enough of a job getting sermons into more than three parts but the exiled preacher has started a bit of a fashion for lists of ten things.

Friday, May 25, 2007

SNAP! 12

Psalm 24

From river-borne silt and from sea's wave-tossed sand
God fashions the earth and lays down the land.
He lays it all out for his people to have:
the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

So who shall ascend upon God's holy hill
with clean hands and hearts, obeying his will;
who will not, no, cannot deceitfully swear
but stand without falsehood to worship him there?

While seeking the face of Israel's God
and blessing receiving from salvation's Lord
our justification through faith we will claim;
the new generation that calls on his name.

Lift your heads up, you gates,
open up, ancient doors
that the King may come in
who's the greatest of lords.
Strong and mighty is he
bearing victory rewards.
Lift your heads up, you gates,
open up, ancient doors.

tune: Light up the Fire

Thursday, May 24, 2007

SNAP! 11

Psalm 21

Lord, in your strength how the King rejoices,
you grant requests made with kingly voices.
In your salvation his heart is leaping;
his exultation safe in your keeping.

In this encounter rich blessings giving,
he asks for life and you grant the living.
Of crowning mercies you are the giver,
of length of days and of life forever.

Great is his glory through your salvation;
majestic splendour in celebration,
for you make him the most blessed forever,
glad in the union that none can sever.

All buried hatred your hand exhuming,
its burning wrath in your fire consuming
and from your arrows its children flying;
its plans frustrated, its mischief dying.

The Lord is faithful, the King believing;
God's love is steadfast, his King unmoving.
In heaven exalted with praises ringing;
on earth, your strength, Lord, your people singing.

Tune: An t-Eilean Muileach (The Isle of Mull)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SNAP! 10

An Echo for Psalm 20
for Callum Hall

I called in the day of my trouble,
I called on his Holy Name,
got answering help from his temple
for God-my-deliverer came.
The torchlight I held was engulfed by
the Spirit who answers with fire,
my wrong way gave way to the high road,
he gave me my heart's own desire.

With banners and shouts of 'Salvation,'
rejoicing in answers to prayer —
God's saving might reaches from heaven,
he saves his Anointed from there —
we trust in the triumph of Jesus,
before him all kingdoms shall fall,
we'll rise and stand upright to bless him
'Salvation' shall echo our call.

Tune: Crugybar

Monday, May 21, 2007

Selah 8

Psalm 9:20
Put them in fear, O LORD!
Let the nations know that they are but men!

"With our firstborn sons our honour
and our strength set in our horses
it was double our disaster then
to find ourselves with none;
sons slain of a night's fever
and the cavalry all gone
to perdition in the space of just one hour
and our king reduced to merely-human curses."

"Who'd have thought that when we'd won
the battle that we'd live to rue it?
Their 'god-box' toppled Dagon
when we took it to his house,
then (a toss-up for the worse thing)
plagues of haemorrhoid and mouse.
Now the new cart's trip is done,
they've got it back and welcome to it."

"The instruction was, as always, pretty clear,
'Make sure he's really dead!' — I tell it from the blood,
it's the living ones are bleeders
for it don't flow when they're dead —
This one looked dead already
so I had them spear his side
and I saw the sun go dark and I heard the curtain tear
and I knew this dead man was the son of God."

Selah 50

Psalm 76:9
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth.

We made a night-raid of it.
When dawn broke we were on our way
back, with victory in the bag,
the hostages in tow and all the booty.
The plunderers slept as we robbed them of their prey;
we're long gone and they're still feeling for their hands.

It was the arrogance of it;
secure in their lair, no sentry
stood. They, supine as a log,
for all their early start failed in their duty,
sunk in death's sleep as we freed our families.
Oppression ends as we reunify our band.

They made a meal out of it.
Light swallowed. Darkness in the day
time joined them. Hidden in the fog,
the tables overturned, the Victor, muted,
binds the strong man in his house with his own keys.
Resurgent, Just Deliverer occupies the stand.

Selah 49

Psalm 76:3
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war.

Melchizedek brought bread and wine
and stopped the triumph in its track;
'Shalom' (for now) extends to Sodom's plain;
divinely blessed, Abram refuses gain;
the garland hangs on Mamre's Oak;
sons are not cursed near Eshcol's Vine.

When David's pride was overcome
and God's wrath halted on the height,
an altar built upon the threshing floor
— Moriah's Mound the testing place once more;
the oxen paid for, as was right —
sufficed to cancel out the sum.

When God's Anointed left his throne
and incognito came to Zion
at him were shot the arrows of the bow,
he, bleeding, broke them, broken, overthrew,
— Lamb's silence of a roaring lion —
for thus in Judah God is known.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Twelve Great Reasons for Accepting the Cessation.

Dr. Sam Storms has published a post entitled The Case for Continuationism in two parts. I've used the first part (12 Bad Reasons for Being a Cessationist) as a template for my rather opposite thoughts on the matter. So about the Cessation?

1 It is Scriptural: 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 teaches quite clearly that three things 'prophecy', 'tongues' and 'knowledge' would cease. Clearly these three words are used with restricted meaning (nobody thinks that the cessation of tongues means an end to all use of language, for instance) and each would cease when its 'perfection' was given. The cessation indicates a threefold perfection given to the church now.

2 It is God-honouring: Since belief in the cessation entails acceptance of the perfection of those things that have displaced
'prophecy', 'tongues' and 'knowledge' in the life of the church, God who gave those perfections is honoured by acceptance of the cessation. Furthermore, since the root of belief in the cessation is in exegesis of the text, God is honoured by the removal of the temptation to say that he cannot do such things, is bound to do such and such things or even that he has bound himself not to act in such and such a particular way depending on how else we derive our cessationism / continuationism other than by exegesis.

3 It is logical: For example, when the perfection of the New Testament was complete, the collaboration and correction of the prophets was handed over to the pastors and teachers of New Testament truth and grace. This handover parallels the succession from apostles (the generation who knew Christ 'after the flesh') to the evangelists. Honour ought not be given to the church as having given us Scripture but the prophets within the churches were those who gave us the authentication that Scripture was Scripture
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. [1 Corinthians 14:29]
so no prophets today means that the church cannot meddle with what is Scripture.

4 It is Christocentric: The destruction of the temple in AD 70 marked the end of the transfer of the focus of gospel witness from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth [Acts 1:8.] At first it must have seemed as though the temple could have been rebuildable but as hopes faded away with the obliteration of all records of the priesthood so 'tongues' as a sign of judgement on Jerusalem faded away also. The completion of the transference to the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth through Christ in every place is sealed with the putting away of 'tongues.'

5 It is accessible: If one accepts the cessation, the apostolic doctrine is no longer subject to getting lost in the meanderings and wilderness-swallowed rivers of the so-called apostolic succession. The eyewitness knowledge of the apostles (not just of the twelve but of 'all the apostles' [1 Corinthians 15:7]) has given way, not to the perfection of 'the eternal state ushered in at the second coming of Jesus Christ' but to the interim perfection of being
… absent from the body, … present with the Lord. [2 Corinthians 5:8]
and of knowing even as having been known.

6 It is certain: Although we no longer have the witness of the apostles, i.e. the ability to '
receive the testimony of men,' still:
… the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [1 John 5:9-11]
We have also the written Word of God [1 John 5:12f.] and the answer to prayer [1 John 5:14f.] and having these three makes our faith even more certain than the apostolic experience was itself [1 Peter 1:18f.]

7 It is foundational: Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone holds the eyewitness knowledge of the apostles and the confirmatory and ever-present witness of the prophets together and the cessation sets them all apart as a foundation for us to build on [Ephesians 2:19-22.] We can have no other foundation than Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 3:10f.]

8 It is egalitarian: Just as we all have access to God
For through [Christ] we … have access in one Spirit to the Father. [Ephesians 2:18]
so we can call preachers to bring the gospel to us, pay
double-honour to those who labour in the word and doctrine, dismiss those who do not adhere to the faith once delivered to the saints and never need feel that miracles are in the hands of 'special' people.

9 It is crucicentric: Just as the beginning of the epoch of Christ's first advent was marked by the appearance of an angel to Zechariah in the temple so the end of the epoch was marked by the cessation. The medium does not become the message and acceptance of the cessation helps focus on the cross as the centre of this significant cluster of divine activity among men.

10 It is historical: One cannot put a date on the cessation just as one cannot put exact dates on the completion of the canon, the destruction of the temple or the death of the last apostle but taking samples downstream from the source one finds neither churches functioning like the church at Corinth nor visitors to churches like Corinth with apostolic eyewitness knowledge of the life and resurrection of Christ. There was a cessation.

11 It is liberating: While one is free to listen to
continuationist preachers, read continuationist writers and worship with continuationist congregations and profit one need never feel the pressure to submit to abuse, to suffer in silence or to stay beyond reason just because the abusers, the vocal and the loyalty demanders illegitimately exert these pressures (which were never the intention of prophecy, tongues and knowledge in the first place anyway) doing so on the putative grounds of distinctions within the people of God that have ceased.

12 It is enabling: Acceptance of the Cessation helps to use the means of grace without fear of bringing false fire. One can raise ones hands in praise without feeling like the thin end of a wedge, one can dismiss the most melodious noise (as being not-knowing-the-words rather than as a vital message which agonisingly can't be understood) to concentrate on five words with understanding and one can counter 'The Lord has told me that you have to let me do this' with 'Strange that the Lord hasn't told me the same thing.'

Sunday, April 22, 2007

As it is Now and Ever Shall Be, (But for the Grace of God Now.)

Jude 14-16

14 • It was also about these that Enoch,
the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying,
"Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones,
15 to execute judgement on all
and to convict all the ungodly
of all their deeds of ungodliness
that they have committed in such an ungodly way,
and of all the harsh things
that ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

16 • These are grumblers, malcontents,
following their own sinful desires;

• they are loud-mouthed boasters,
showing favouritism to gain advantage.

The thing is that in a lost eternity all this ungodliness will be answered with as much a distance from God as could ever have been desired with no satisfaction in the result since the driving force is not the desire to be unlike God but rather the desire that there should be no God.

With all reason in hell to be malcontent grumblers, the lack of contentment and teeth gnashing will be in proportion to the discontented hedonism indulged in here.

In a place where the lost really will be able to say, 'I did it my way' the fearful scramble to toady any slight advantage whatsoever will be eternally frustrated to disappointment.

The Gloom of Utter Darkness Forever

Jude 12-13

12 • These are blemishes on your love feasts,
as they feast with you without fear,
looking after themselves;

• waterless clouds,
swept along by winds;

• fruitless trees in late autumn,
twice dead, uprooted;
13 wild waves of the sea,
casting up the foam of their own shame;
wandering stars,
for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved

Hell will doubly be a second death for those who make use of all the trappings of faith and the visible privileges of sonship in order to cavort heedlessly under the cover of a pretend faith.

The worst features of a fallen nature, as far from garden of Eden fruitfulness and order as chaos can swallow will be incorporated into hell as eternity swallows up wasted time itself along with all hypocrisy.

Standing Between the Dead and the Living

Jude 9-11

9 • But when the archangel Michael,
contending with the devil,
was disputing about the body of Moses,
he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment,
but said, "The Lord rebuke you."

10 • But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand,
and they are destroyed by all
that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.

11 • Woe to them!
For they walked in the way of Cain
and abandoned themselves
for the sake of gain to Balaam's error
and perished in Korah's rebellion.

Moses had witnessed contention against him get to the pitch that after Korah's rebellion, which you can read all about in Numbers 16, Aaron had to run through the camp of Israel with a censer full of fire from the altar to 'head off' God's anger and prevent it from resulting in the deaths of all Israel. Now this happened the day after the ground had opened up and swallowed whole the followers of Korah with their families, their contention going down with them to the world of the dead, to Sheol. You would have thought that we would learn the lesson not to contend with God in this way but if, the very day after rebellion was swallowed up by the ground, the people could be complaining that the rebellion was the fault of Moses (and therefore of God) how can we expect that mankind will ever cease to shake his fist in God's face.

Certainly, Moses could see a history of such behaviour going right back to the beginning of time. At the time of Korah's rebellion they had yet to face the effects of the non-Israelite prophet Balaam's attempt to get round his inability to curse Israel by introducing an anti-God fertility cult to the heart of the Israelite camp in order to destroy them all — You can read about that and how Phinehas, Aaron's grandson stopped it in Numbers 25 — but Moses could have pointed back to Cain's murder of Abel and how the rebellion and the words spoken in it were expressions of nothing less than unbelief in the very face of God's provision of life and reconciliation.

Lest we should think that the message from the story told by Jude about Michael the archangel contending for the body of Moses is given to show that angels know better we had better note who it is that Michael was contending with. The rebellion of unbelief that shakes its fist in the face of God's grace and is swallowed up whole into hell itself has been Satan's from the very beginning. Michael's care in not giving as bad as he got is because Lucifer's fall could have been his.

Let us be exceedingly careful as we handle things that we don't understand because there is a principle in mankind while still at enmity to God that has us blaspheming God simply because we will not seek understanding nor put our trust in him while at the same time those leads which we instinctively follow lead us, as it were, to be still contending with God as the ground opens up and swallows us.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

While the Judge to be is Still our Advocate.

Revelation 20:11-15

Last Judgement — Final Transition.

In British courts of law the route to becoming a judge is to serve first as an advocate (quaintly called a barrister in England) and we find the same progression in heavenly courts leading up to the Last Judgement itself:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [1 John 2:1]
Now is the time to make use of his advocacy and the access we have through him to the Father.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Last Judgement — Final Transition.

Revelation 20:11-15

The Great White Throne
Judgement by the Book
The Bottom Line

Seated as Judge at the Last Judgement will be God's appointee, Jesus Christ the Righteous, on whose proceeding to the judgement, an irresistible summons to attend will be sent out to all those who are to be judged.

Every person who ever lived will be in the assembly for the trial and the assembly will be separated immediately into two groups to hear first the
deeds of each individual laid bare and then the pronouncement of liberty to all those whose names are written in the book of life.

Those thus summoned to an eternal reward will join with the Judge in judgement of the world before the sentence of damnation is pronounced and consignment to the lake of fire, which is the second death, takes place.

The Bottom Line

Revelation 20:14-15:

14 • Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.

• This is the second death, the lake of fire.

15 • And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Since we are incapable of seeing beneath the surface of a lake of fire so we can only get any idea of the horrors of its depths by comparison with known or imaginable things. For example the sea's flooding has a deadly tenacity but the flood will have been so much less tenacious than the fire will prove to be.

The lake of fire is called the second death because, since Death and Hades are thrown into it, there is to be no retreat back to the intermediate state of merely being dead. Hades is thrown in (and so too its space, so to speak, as well as its torments) to be assimilated into the lake of fire. If the first death is temporal (and indeed 'mortal' is in some ways synonymous with 'temporal') then when Death is thrown into the lake of fire its characteristic passage of time is also thrown into eternity and we may consider the second death to be a dying that never dies.

Those whose names are written in the book of life will not even taste
the second death. Even now, for those who are 'asleep in Jesus', the torments of Hades are unknown because they and the pleasures they enjoy are separated from Hades by a great chasm that is fixed.

Although we can't look into the depths of the lake of fire the horrors of the road that leads inexorably there ought to be enough for us to determine not to go that route. We have much the same circumstance in reverse with wanting to be counted with those whose names are written in the book of life for we can't trace out those deeds done in the body with any certainty but certainty does come from getting to the bottom line so we
simply ask, 'Is my name written in the book of life?'

Judgement by the Book

Revelation 20:12c-13:

• And the dead were judged by what was written in the books,
according to what they had done.

13 • And the sea gave up the dead who were in it,
Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them,

• and they were judged,
each one of them, according to what they had done

The sea's grip on 'her dead' is proverbially tenacious. We are neither to think of Death and Hades as two separate places nor that the souls of the sea's dead are held in some other place apart from Hades, the world of the dead. The cumulative effect of the repetitions is to insist that all the dead will be at the great white throne and will be judged. Neither previous judgement, such as the flood that destroyed the world that was, nor death itself will prevent an appearance there.

The judgement is emphatically to be 'according to what they had done.' That is the case for each one of us and what we have done and are doing is being recorded right now. By contrast with the book of life we could call these books the books of the knowledge of good and evil, noting that another reason for the earth and the sky fleeing away is the whole world's inability to contain such books but also that, perhaps with this, the making of books is finally at an end.

The Great White Throne

Revelation 20:11-12b:

11 • Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.
From his presence earth and sky fled away,
and no place was found for them.

12 • And I saw the dead, great and small,
standing before the throne,
and books were opened.

• Then another book was opened,
which is the book of life.

No place was found for earth and sky at the great white throne
in John's vision because nothing can compete with the the majesty of the one seated on the throne. A man (Jesus Christ) will sit there because, first of all, the dead of humanity are those who are to be judged. Judgement is to be made outwith time and space on the things done in space (on the earth) and in time (governed by celestial movements) so, in the vision, no place was found for earth and sky at the great white throne.

The book of life is given a special mention to draw attention to its name and to distinguish it from the other books without dismissing them altogether. The focus is placed on what it is that we really need to be asking: 'Is my name written in the book of life?'

There will be a judgement beyond death, time and space, that will be made according to what is being written down now. The one who presides at that judgement will have authority over death, time and space so that all the human dead from all time and from everywhere will be summoned there, will be there and will be judged there, when the books are opened.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Business of the Day

Matthew 25:31-40

The Eternal State

The Parable of the Pounds presents the evocative picture of a nobleman going away to a far country to receive a kingdom and then return.
Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Engage in business until I come.' [Luke 19:13]

So, since we are the servants waiting for the King to return, what is the business that we ought to be engaged in in preparation for the eternal state?

• While in the world we ought to be not of the world; we cannot be separate from the world but as long as we keep close to the cross of Christ we will live separated/separable holy lives.

• Since Christ the King will return in glory we should glorify him now by making a study of how he conducted business in his Father's house here in his time on earth and especially how he finished the work that the Father gave him to accomplish on the cross.

• Since the inheritance that we will come into when the King returns is God himself we ought to share the blessing as much as we can in anticipation. There is a supply for every need so we cannot begrudge freely giving what we have freely received. This is an opportunity for investment in the future that God has planned for us but it is beyond our imagination to describe what that future will be like because we can't extrapolate from the price paid in Jesus' blood on Calvary's cross to all the blessings that flow from it. Those things that make a small difference here on earth echo the huge difference Christ made on Calvary so the returning echo to our 'cup of cold water' is a whole river of righteousness and we can't anticipate what shall be obtained then by merely doing what is fitting here and now.

Hastening the Coming of the Day

Matthew 25:31-40

The Eternal State

… what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, … [2 Peter 3:11-12]

If we're talking about the new creation in the eternal state then surely we're done talking about the Law of God and the Ten Commandments? Not so, because we find ourselves always talking about what happens then in relation to what happens now. If we are to live lives of holiness and godliness — in other words, if we are to hasten the coming of that day that we are waiting for — then we must love the Lord our God with all of our heart and we must love our neighbour as ourselves. Both tables of the Law make demands on us as we seek to glorify God here on earth but how are we to reconcile the conflicting demands of God and my neighbour?

Here's how. Who is both God and my neighbour? Simple answer is Jesus Christ but the more complex answer, waiting for the return in glory of the King of the Ages, is

'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

We get ready for the separation of the sheep and the goats on that day by this day reconciling the tables of the law in our behaviour by loving God who is my neighbour.

Listen to the Shepherd

Matthew 25:31-40

The Eternal State

We might well be bothered about our inability to distinguish the Shepherd's voice when he comes but any fears we might have about listening for the Shepherd ought to be allayed by the practice of listening to the Shepherd.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [John 10:16]

We have the opportunity to hear the voice of the Shepherd:
• as we receive answers to our prayers
• as we learn to keep in tune with the Spirit of God
• as we read the Word and meditate on it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Eternal State

Matthew 25:31-40

To Make Up His Treasured Possession
The SheepfromGoats Protocol
As Close as we Come to as Good as it Gets.

Although the details of what we shall be in the eternal state are not yet known to us, nor can we (with the use of whatever kind of science) hope to grasp what hasn't even entered into the fringes of the imagination of the heart of mankind, we can anticipate its glory somewhat from such data as our own bodily experience here in the world of now, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our inheritance and the promise that, when we see him, we shall be like him, whom to know is already life eternal.

As Close as we Come to as Good as it Gets.

Matthew 25:34-40

34 • Then the King will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.

35 • For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

37 • Then the righteous will answer him,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?'
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
40 And the King will answer them,
'Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me.'

The eternal state is as good as it gets and this invitation is as close as we come in the here and now to getting a glimpse of what that will be like. Such will be the satisfaction of seeing the King —
Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar. [Isaiah 33:17]
— that all questions about what we shall be will be answered when and as we see him [1 John 3:2.] The questions will be about when we might have fed, watered, welcomed, clothed, visited or succoured such a glorious being, for surely we'd have remembered someone so bright. (You know, glowing/glorious, not someone like Richard Dawkins.) And what's more when would someone so glorious have needed sustenance, care or emancipation from the likes of us?

The question will be 'When?'
• Not, 'How?' Because the connections of how are obvious; when someone is hungry what else will you do but feed them?
• Not, 'Why?' For why else would you give a drink than if someone were thirsty?
• Not, 'Who?' Because it's not at issue that Christ has received these things. The question is, 'When?'

It will turn out that 'when' was 'whenever' — whenever the righteous have done to one another as they would have done to themselves. The King calls the recipients, brothers, because they are fellow heirs who have received the adoption.

Just as there is a fitness between the need felt and the help supplied and between doing it to the least and it being accepted as if having been done to the greatest, just so there is a fitness about believers inheriting the kingdom.
The kingdom will be inherited
• as it has been prepared from the foundation of the world
• by those who receive the familial blessing of the King of kings
• along with the King of Glory whose own entrance into the glory prepared for him is to be marked and made complete by his bringing many sons to glory [Hebrews 2:10.]

The SheepfromGoats Protocol

Matthew 25:32-33

32 • Before him will be gathered all the nations,

• and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 • And he will place the sheep on his right,
but the goats on the left.

Well, how do you go about separating sheep from goats? We're not talking about
classifying representative pictures of sheep and goats into order or arranging stuffed animals in a display, for although such a differentiation can be done quite 'scientifically' that task would be merely childsplay in spite of the obvious similarities between them.

If we try to separate sheep from goats on religious grounds we are in trouble for the opposite reason since both are kosher, parting the hoof and chewing the cud, and may be eaten by observant Jews accordingly, and when it came to sacrifice, a sheep and a goat were of roughly equivalent value, much as pigeons and turtledoves were.

The two main occasions where one kind was specified rather than another were when lambs were specified for Passover and goats for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Here we are getting closer to the idea of separation because on the original night of Passover, the lamb's blood was placed on the doorposts of the houses where the Passover was to be eaten to separate those inside from those outside the protection of the blood. On Yom Kippur the two goats were separated by lot (a good method to separate two goats but not sheep from goats) the one goat was for sacrifice to the LORD, the other
(the proverbial 'scapegoat') was 'for Azazel,' and whatever happened to that goat when it was led into the wilderness, its blood was not shed.

The clue about how the sheep and the goats are to be separated lies in the text itself. We need to ask how does a shepherd separate sheep from goats? And the answer is given elsewhere by the 'Good Shepherd' himself:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. [John 10:27-29]
So, for such is human nature, there will be many from all nations who will be wondering, since they can't be sure of being among the sheep simply by belonging to the right nation, what is it that marks them out as a sheep rather than as a goat? Both goats and sheep are headstrong and will go their own way but those who know the Shepherd's voice will hear his clear instruction, 'Go to the right.' and they will never perish.

To Make Up His Treasured Possession

Matthew 25:31

31 • "When the Son of Man comes in his glory,

• and all the angels with him,

• then he will sit on his glorious throne."

The gloriously eternal God created both humans and angels for his own glory. Some of the angels and all of mankind fell short of God's glory because of the entrance of sin. In accordance with God's counsel, the Son of God, also eternally glorious (… not count[ing] equality with God a thing to be grasped,[Philippians 2:6]) left heaven's glory in order to restore fallen humanity through his death on the cross. On his being raised from the dead he returned to heaven with the promise that he would return in glory.

Here we have the tripartite glory of the returning Christ displayed. Two parts of that glory will be complete on his return (his own glory as the Son of Man, the judge and the glory of his glorious throne, the seat of judgement.) The third part of his glory will be to be completed, not that the angels are not glorious in themselves, but that this glory of his will be made complete when to the number of the angels will be added those (both male and female) adopted from among mankind to be God's heirs who, with Christ and the angels will make up the number of the sons of God at last.

The company of the holy, elect angels, saved from ever falling into sin will be joined by the complete company of holy, elect people redeemed from sin by the glorious death on the cross of him, who knowing no sin was made sin for us.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:21]

Saving Faith in the Completed Work of Christ

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

• It's no use just protesting Christ's innocence because even the centurion at the cross knew that.
• It's no use beating ourselves up emotionally over how terrible a thing it is that he had to die for even the crowd that crucified felt that.
• It's of no use just going through the motions of gathering round the cross with Jesus himself not present, though admittedly it was for Jesus' sake that the disciples did gather.

Here is God's perfect sacrifice, dead for you to believe in while you live. Confess with your mouth that he is Lord, just as Jesus himself heralded his victory over sin vocally, indeed, in a loud voice. Just as Jesus committed himself into God's hands in sure and certain hope of the resurrection so, if you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, your faith will be of ultimate use to you. You shall be saved.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

We might be tempted to take comfort
• in only following orders
• in having just been temporarily caught up in what everybody else was doing
• in regrouping after having been scattered
thinking that our restored mercifulness, human feeling or solidarity is our default mode and that what we did at the cross of Jesus was somehow an aberration.

But what if that flit, looking out for oneself, that show of cruelty or that mob violence were to prove to be the default? What if it isn't about what the centurion said ("Certainly this man was innocent!") but about what the centurion did? Conversely, what if it isn't about what the crowd did (beating their breasts) but about what they said? Deep-in-the-heart darkness was on display at Calvary; that depravity of which the totality is never seen. What if it is the default for disciples not to gather but to run away?

If we would truly put to death the sin that remains and at the same time bring immortality to light, we must come back, continually, to the cross of Christ and, daily and always, repent of the sin for which Christ, once and forever, was the perfect sacrifice.

Unexpected Things Required for the Coming of the Kingdom

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

Just as the colt, upon which no person had ever ridden, was surrendered to the disciples because Jesus needed it, so Joseph surrendered up to Jesus his new tomb, in which no human remains had yet lain. What unexpected thing might the coming of the kingdom require of me?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Word of Perfection

Luke 23:45-52

Surrender of the Spirit
Tumult of the Soul.
Habeas Corpus: Having the Body

Christ's sacrifice of himself was perfect in every way; When the time came he was to be found, 'about his Father's business', so to speak, deprived of all help, he remained himself entirely and truly and when the work of sacrifice was over, he was prepared to rest his weight on it himself, surrendering his broken body to human hands and his triumphant spirit to God in submissive prayer to the Father.

Habeas Corpus: Having the Body

Luke 23:50-52

50 • Now there was a man named Joseph,
from the Jewish town of Arimathea.

• He was a member of the council,
a good and righteous man,
51 who had not consented to their decision and action;
and he was looking for the kingdom of God.

52 • This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Just while the desire to have the
killing of Jesus drawn out was ebbing out of the crowd and the centurion (too late) was protesting his innocence, a new determination entered into an erstwhile 'secret' disciple of Jesus to ask Pilate for his body to be released to him.

The Romans left nothing to chance on such occasions so as surely as they would have provided the right number of crosses, nails and soldiers to execute the three men they had led out to die, they certainly had three graves ready dug at the site, with the bags of quicklime ready to speed up the dissolution of the bodies. No doubt the bodies of the two thieves were thrown into their permanent graves but the body of Jesus was taken to rest in his temporary tomb.

It was not in God's plan for the body of Jesus to be reduced to dust and ashes so, although Joseph appears here somewhat like a suddenly convenient but not previously mentioned crucial character in a cheap detective novel, Luke wasn't concocting fiction; this man or his memory was to be found in the village of Arimathea. It was a matter of record that this Joseph had integrity as a person, that as a council member he had not consented to the death of Jesus and, crucially, that he had been looking for the kingdom of God before he went to Pilate.

Further evidence that this character was not conjured up by God at the last minute as a contingency to save the body from dissolution is to be found in the prophecy of Isaiah. The Roman preparations for disposing of the body of Jesus are found predicted in
Isaiah 53:9
And they made his grave with the wicked

but so is the intervention of Joseph
and with a rich man in his death …

Jesus committing his spirit into God's keeping was justified when we see the preparations made from eternity for the keeping of his body.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tumult of the Soul.

Luke 23:47-49

47 • Now when the centurion saw what had taken place,
he praised God,
saying, "Certainly this man was innocent!"

48 • And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle,
when they saw what had taken place,
returned home beating their breasts.

49 • And all his acquaintances
and the women who had followed him from Galilee
stood at a distance watching these things.

It is much more likely that it was the sun's darkening that provoked the confession of Christ's innocence from the watching centurion than either that this centurion was the 'say-but-the-word' centurion whose servant Jesus had healed without even coming to his house (the Hollywood version) or that he had been able from where he stood to see the temple curtain tear (the new-site-for-Golgotha on the Mount of Olives version.)

Even a normal eclipse of the sun has extraordinary effects on people who witness it, so, given the heightened emotions that this crowd were displaying earlier, their powerful reaction and display of more than normal grief is not entirely unexplainable. This had, though, been more than just a rent-a-mob gathering so we must see more significance in their breast beating than mere recreational grief.

It was surely an extraordinary turnaround for the man in charge of an execution to declare the innocence of the victim as soon as that victim was dead. No less amazing was the action of the crowd, beating themselves up over a man they'd just been taunting as he died. It was as though the cruel skills of the soldiers and the antagonism of the people had just been necessary tools to get the job done so that as soon as
Christ had made atonement on the cross the anger disappeared and the very coalition that crucified him were at a loss as to why they had done it.

It is consistent with these changed attitudes being down to the restoration of normality that the sheep, which had been scattered at the beginning of Christ's trial, were gathered together as one flock, admittedly standing at a distance, by the time his suffering was ended.

Surrender of the Spirit

Luke 23:45-46

45 • while the sun's light failed.

• And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

46 • Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"
And having said this he breathed his last.

Of the three things that happened virtually at the same time that Friday afternoon, the least spectacular was the prayer uttered by the crucified man on the centre tree. If the three events are taken to have significance (and they are mentioned together because Luke considered them to be significant) then the prayer might still be thought to be the least of the three but when it comes to understanding all three it is the prayer that puts a seal on the things that happened and explains them.

It is the prayer of committal that explains the sun's darkening and the rending of the temple curtain. Come another day and the sun shone again. No doubt, when the temple custodians got over the shock of the curtain being torn and it was possible to do so, the curtain was sewn up again. But never again would Christ be on the cross so, as he gave his life into the Father's hands, we can see the sun's eclipse as mirroring the departure of the Light of the world from the world and also that access through the temple curtain opened up into the Most Holy Place just as the Great High Priest was entering into heaven itself.

This prayer puts a seal to the sequence of words from the cross which began with a prayer also. (
The Word of Pardon )

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There is a Fountain

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

None of the wounds of Jesus were mortal wounds. Flogging could kill a man but care was taken to not prevent the people's choice (crucifixion or release) that was to follow. Similarly, the mockery of the crowning with thorns was intended to be more painful than the thorns themselves. The nails that pierced him had their utilitarian purpose to hold him to the tree and even the spear thrust that would have killed him if truly administered as a coup de grâce was applied after he was dead just to 'mak siccar.'

The idea of blood 'speaking' is a trope found in Scripture starting from the record of the first human death, that of Abel:
And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." [Genesis 4:10]
we ought to make sure that we are listening. The spear thrust produced a copious flow of blood and water that might well have caused the soldier to curse but, as a sign that the curse was over and dealt with, that fountain opened cries out with the force of an echo of the dying words of Jesus, 'It is finished!'

We had better believe it!

Deo Volente

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

If the will of God is done in spite of the best administrative efforts to contradict his Word
It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. [Exodus 12:46]
or the best professional care to extenuate his dying in spite of Christ's intimate knowledge of what was (consequently upon God's determining to save) absolutely necessary, then we ought to qualify all our planning with a, most likely silently added, but heart-felt, 'Deo Volente!'

A Declaration to be Believed.

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

The declaration from the cross itself that salvation has been achieved by the dying of Christ on the cross is a declaration that is to be believed.

• It is to be believed that God planned it so, so that the dead body of Christ would lie in the tomb for part of the Friday, all of the Sabbath Saturday and until the early hours of the first Lord's day Sunday morning; technically three days.

• It is to be believed that Christ himself 'gave up the ghost' so that the spirit departed at his will and the body left behind was massively disrupted internally, as he breathed his last, to produce the evidence of death when the soldier's spear pierced his side.

• It is to be believed that Christ knew that the work of salvation was finished and that his cry from the cross is the Word of God to us, 'It is finished!'

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Word of Perseverance

John 19:28-33

Declaring the End of Dying.
Administrating the End of Dying
Authenticating the End of Dying

In saving us from sin through his dying on the cross, Jesus persevered right to the end so, despite the administrative efficiency of officials keen to get everything tidied away by the beginning of the Sabbath and the professional skill of the soldiers, the work of salvation was finished when Jesus knew it was and said it was.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Authenticating the End of Dying

John 19:32-33

32 • So the soldiers came and broke the legs
of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.

33 • But when they came to Jesus
and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs.

34 • But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear,
and at once there came out blood and water.

If the Jewish authorities had had as it were to fill in a form to get the crucifixions brought to an abrupt end, it was the soldiers who had to sign the death certificate. The preparations to bring about the end of the executions were made to protect the Sabbath day but the authentication of death was made with the view to the preservation of life. If one of these prisoners lived, then the soldiers' own lives would be forfeit so we can imagine how meticulous they were to make sure that this crucifixion really was finished.

Elsewhere in the Empire, crucifixions would last for days as the deterrent value of a long slow lingering death was brought home to all who witnessed it but here the most important thing was to get the chief prisoner dead and buried so everything would be neatly and tidily cleared up and by the next day there would be no evidence that any of these men had ever lived. The neat and tidy finish was ruled out by the inconvenient fact that one of the prisoners was already dead.

The purpose of breaking the legs was to induce swift asphyxiation as the arms would
very quickly fail to pull the body up by themselves. To take the man on the centre cross down was to risk his reviving but there was no point in breaking the legs of one already dead. It must be proved that he was dead in spite of their previous precautions to keep the prisoners dying for as long as possible.

Very few doctors see traumatic death as frequently as soldiers in the Roman army did. These soldiers knew very well that dead bodies don't bleed so a spear was thrust into the side of Jesus with no expectation of any sign of life. An unnecessary coup de grâce, it might seem, but the continued life of the soldier was dependant on Jesus being dead. The stream of 'blood and water' that issued out of the wound showed that major disruption of the internal organs had taken place and that fluids had already pooled and separated within the cavities. This body was that of a man who had been dead for some time.

Administrating the End of Dying

John 19:30b-31

• and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 • Since it was the day of Preparation,
and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross
on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day),
the Jews asked Pilate
that their legs might be broken

• and that they might be taken away.

Lest anyone should accuse the Jewish Authorities of euthanasia, they had a good religious excuse for bringing the crucifixion to an end in the onset of the Sabbath and a particularly cruel way of shortening the agony by breaking a prisoner's legs. Neither the crucifixion nor the leg-breaking were Jewish inventions of course and responsibility for the execution of Jesus ought always be seen as shared between all parties.

Cooperation between the Jewish council and the Roman procurator wasn't guaranteed of course so all the boxes on the form had to be ticked and the form rubber-stamped. It would have been no good just getting the execution over by leg-breaking to cause asphyxiation if the dead bodies had then been left to hang on their crosses until the Sabbath was over.

Asking for the crucifixion to be brought to an end and seeing it carried through was a perfectly normal use of a Friday, when they would always suspend some of their normal activities to prepare for the Sabbath. The Sabbath during the feast of Unleavened Bread required few if any extra preparations but just as a vigorous search would have taken place to make sure their houses had no yeast, no sight of this death should be allowed to leaven their Sabbath day.

This scheme to bring the dying of Christ to an untimely end was thwarted by his having died already. There would not be a tincture of doubt among the believers that men had brought his sacrifice of himself to an premature end. By giving up his spirit Jesus showed that the work was completed.

Truly, it is finished!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Declaring the End of Dying.

John 19:28-30a

28 • After this, Jesus,
knowing that all was now finished,
said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst."

29 • A jar full of sour wine stood there,
so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch
and held it to his mouth.

30 • When Jesus had received the sour wine,
he said, "It is finished,"

Two sayings of Jesus from the cross stand very close together here and John, the only gospel to mention either, gives us the details of the one within the recounting of the other. It makes perfect sense if the 'I thirst.' saying is excluded:
Jesus,knowing that all was now finished,… said, "It is finished,"
so we ought to pick up on the 'I thirst' episode as having something to do with being finished.

The sour wine wasn't intended as a punishment and we're not told about it so that we might feel additional pangs of sorrow on Christ's behalf. Just because the wine was sour meant that its acidity was immediately detectable even to the most preoccupied palate. There is a clear contrast between Jesus just tasting and refusing to drink before and his taking time to drink after it was finished.

What was it that was finished? Strangely enough, since this is before his actual death, it was nevertheless the dying that was finished with. None of this sequence of events makes sense unless we take it at face value that Jesus was dying on the cross in order to put right what was wrong and it follows that what was finished was the work of putting right.

Looking to Christ for Sanctification

John 19:28 (Luke 22:14-20)

The Word of Sanctification

We must look to Christ for Sanctification since this is a saving benefit he has won for us by the sacrifice of himself. His holiness in his separation is shared with us in the kingdom of God.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Toast is, 'Till he come!'

John 19:28 (Luke 22:14-20)

The Word of Sanctification

Feast after feast comes and passes by but each by each they point towards the consummating feast that is 'the Marriage Supper of the Lamb':

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." [Revelation 19:7-9]
Our desire surely ought to be for when all our work is ended too. The toast of this hour is:
'… till he come.' [1 Corinthians 11:26]

The Word of Sanctification

John 19:28 (Luke 22:14-20)
Christ on the cross saying, 'I thirst.' signals the end of his vow of separation, the coming of the kingdom of God and the sanctification of all those who share his cup of rejoicing in the finished work of Calvary.

New Covenant

Luke 22:19b-20

• and gave it to them,
saying, "This is my body, which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

20 • And likewise the cup after they had eaten,

• saying, "This cup that is poured out for you
is the new covenant in my blood.

On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus took two elements of the Passover seder and made of them a new feast of commemoration. Luke's account of what happened at the Last Supper has to specify which cup from the Passover seder was the one that was taken up to be perpetuated in the Lord's Supper celebration because Luke, uniquely of the gospels, talks about the vow of separation that Jesus took during the feast in terms of the cup that he shared among the disciples before the breaking of bread. The cup that was used to inaugurate the feast of the Lord's Supper was specifically, '
the cup after they had eaten.'

At the original Passover, when God was visiting the tenth plague upon the Egyptians, those who were gathered together to eat the Passover were sheltering within houses where the blood of the Passover lamb had been placed on the lintel and the doorposts as a sign that those inside were to be separated from the plague because God had made a covenant with them. Now as this feast and it's meaning was renewed, the cup of wine became the symbol of the blood that would be shed to secure the renewed covenantal relationship for all time.

In taking this cup generations of believers share the fellowship of Christ in the kingdom of God, made holy in their sharing because of the holiness of the 'Lamb of God' who was separated out to be our Passover, to fulfil his vows and to complete the work that God had given him to do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Kingdom Come

Luke 22:17-19a

17 • And he took a cup,
and when he had given thanks
he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves.

18 • For I tell you that
from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine
until the kingdom of God comes."

19 • And he took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it

Before the taking of the bread that is 'his body', before the taking of the cup that is 'the new covenant in Christ's blood,' that is, during the Passover seder but before Jesus took up those elements of the seder that he instituted as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, he took a cup of wine and told the disciples to share it among themselves. Why'd he do that?

What he was saying about the coming of the kingdom of God is entirely consistent with what he had been saying about the Passover being fulfilled in the kingdom of God. The big question that the disciples must have had was when the kingdom of God could be said to have come but now they had an answer. The kingdom of God would have come when Jesus once again drank wine.

What Jesus was doing is significant. Up till this moment he had been with the disciples but the moment was coming when he was to be separated from them. This sharing out of the cup and the declaration of not drinking wine again until the coming of the kingdom of God is a vow of separation. There was a set way of making such a vow laid down in the Torah and the disciples could not have missed the connection. The two seals of this vow were not getting one's hair cut during the time the vow was in operation and not drinking wine during that time. The instructions about the wine are very thorough:

he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. [Numbers 6:3-4]
so when the hour of the crucifixion had come, the vow was still in place and:
they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. [Matthew 27:34]
However, after the hours of darkness were passed
… Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [John 19:28-29]
so that anyone who knew that he had taken the vow could see that the time of his separation was ended and the kingdom of God was come.

The Fulfilled Passover

Luke 24:14-16

14 • And when the hour came,
he reclined at table,
and the apostles with him.

15 • And he said to them,
"I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover
with you before I suffer.

16 • For I tell you I will not eat it
until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."

There might seem such a contrast between the 'relaxed' posture at the table and the intensity of the suffering that was to follow but we ought to understand that even as they reclined they ate hastily with their newly-washed feet reshod, their staffs in their hands and their belts tightened. [Exodus 12:11] The eagerness to be gone from Egypt of the first Passover is replicated in the earnest desire that Jesus had to eat this Passover, with his disciples, knowing that he was about to suffer for them too.

From the inauguration of the feast no Passover had been as important as this one was to be and this one was no mere commemoration of the first. From that night on it is not so much the first Passover that is commemorated as the one fulfilled in the kingdom of God. The old Passover is not forgotten but now it is to be perceived as pointing forward to salvation from the greater far bondage of sin and death.

The lamb that was sacrificed and eaten at Passover was to be, like all sacrificial animals, unblemished in any way to symbolise its holiness. It was as the Holy Lamb of God that Jesus was preparing to be the sacrifice for sin. We take the bread and the cup in the feast of the Lord's Supper, having examined ourselves to see that we do so in a worthy manner because our rightful taking of it is dependant on Christ's righteousness and the acceptance of him as a sacrifice to cover my unrighteousness.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Look and See

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

Whether it takes the form of a drive-thru sampling of what the church has to offer or of drive-past sniping at the target which is Christianity, a merely dilettante acquaintance with the cross of Christ will prove to be unsatisfactory.

Nor is merely academic interest to be much preferred. Knowing the texts is of little use if there is no interest in the big picture as it presents itself in redemptive history.

We need to linger here and really look at that centre cross to really see what it is that is happening there. As we hear that deep sorrow expressed as inflicted in the fierce anger of God upon his servant we are drawn to two intimately related conclusions; that Christ (God having determined to save the 'others') must suffer and that you (God having been gracious to bring you to the cross) must be born again.

The Stemming of our Revolutionary Unbelief.

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

To stem Revolutionary unbelief we will need more than slogans and opponent's thoughts brought captive. Into every circumstance we need to import our full assurance of understanding that God knows what he's doing and that his Word is his Word indeed; to be trusted in and acted on.

We need to reverse the order as a matter of urgency; starting and staying with appropriate Scripture in it's context we can proceed to bring thoughts captive and sloganize to our hearts' content.

Maybe we could call the 'thought capture
:' 'theology' and the 'sloganizing:' 'preaching.'

Face up to the Taunts and to the Forsakenness.

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

Hear the words and meditate on their meanings. What does it mean that he should be forsaken, that he could not save himself, that he would not come down from the cross?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Current Discussion of the Creation Days

Thanks due to the PCA Creation Study Committee
MK has a summary and supplied the link.

The Word of Regeneration

Matthew 27:39-46

Passing By the Crossroads of all the Ages.

Three Easy Steps to Taunting God in his Face.

Borrowed Words Incoherently Spoken

With the light extinguished, the temple deserted and the curse placed firmly on the crucified one, the almost incoherently spoken words are borrowed from the despairing part of the Psalm and left hanging without resolution as the Word of God himself (of whom it must be said that he is with God and that he is God) speaks to God (who stands silent) out of his own darkness, desolation and accursedness. His cry of agony in death is blended with the incoherent cry of the new birth.

Borrowed Words Incoherently Spoken

Matthew 27:44-46

44 • And the robbers who were crucified with him
also reviled him in the same way.
45 • Now from the sixth hour
there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 • And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"
that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What has been spoken from the cross up till this point?
• The 'only one who knows what's going on' prays for everyone else.
• The man without a shirt on his back settles his family's affairs.
• The 'king for a day' makes a promise about tomorrow.

Thus far a line could have been traced through the words spoken by Jesus on the cross which would make some sense even to the casual onlooker who thought him to be deluded. If this were a show of defiance then it's magnificent and even if only mere delusion there is true grandeur and real pathos to be seen. But that sort of reasoning comes to a halt right here with the fourth word spoken from the cross.

Not just the mob and the authorities are against him, he is, to everybody's certain knowledge, at odds with reality even although there is a certain internal logic, up to this point, that can be traced. 'What would Jesus do?' we ask but if they ask, 'What will Jesus say next?' the answer will surprise them beyond measure. What the crowd is shouting is also following a line and it is very clear that the two lines are not parallel: sooner or later they must meet.

It is at this shocking juncture that the two lines do meet. The acting out of Psalm 22:7 and the taunt-song lifted up from Psalm 22:8 lead us to think that just perhaps a further text from Psalm 22 is suitable for a further flight of fancy from the centre tree? Maybe Psalm 22:26 will fit:

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! [Psalm 22:26]
but instead the words that are borrowed from Psalm 22 come from the other end of the Psalm, from the Psalmist at his most disconsolate, from:

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? [Psalm 22:1]
we hear words that, up until that 'Preparation Friday' no one had been prepared to hear from a Messianic pretender.

But putting aside all pretence that we are not reading this with the hindsight of knowing that he was the Messiah — the Resurrection rather spoils any other posture — we ought still to be shocked by the words. All we can do is to recognise that these words were placed in the experience of David the king (great ancestor of his greater son) so long before in anticipation of when the agony of Calvary would be so great as to necessitate recourse to a script of words to say what was at the heart of so great a death as he had to die.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Three Easy Steps to Taunting God in his Face.

Matthew 27:41-43

41 • So also the chief priests,
with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,
42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself.

• He is the King of Israel;
let him come down now from the cross,
and we will believe in him.

43 • He trusts in God;
let God deliver him now, if he desires him.
For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

It all started with a simple slogan about him having 'saved others …,' which none of them believed but it was worth it for the dramatic effect of the taunt it led up to, 'He cannot save himself.' Simple and effective it might have been but you could only repeat it once or twice and then there was a need for some other witty comment to call out.

Before the taunting started some of these men went to Pilate in high dudgeon, complaining that the sign over the head of Jesus said, 'This is Jesus the king of the Jews' but that was hours ago. The need for a claim to ridicule overcame the political objections as satire often does, and the 'King of Israel' was taunted to come down from the cross. The form was the same as the 'He saved others' slogan but the content was bolder with the challenge to authority in revolution mood around the cross.

Revolution is closely allied with unbelief so it ought to be no surprise that before the darkness was over these masters of wit and repartee were plundering Scripture for their ammunition. Perhaps it was the wagging head of some passer-by that 'inspired' them to take up Psalm 22 at precisely the point where the wagging heads lay off:
"He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" [Psalm 22:8]
perhaps they had no recollection at all of where the words came from.

How can those men be restrained who in a few hours go from coining their own phrases to quoting Scripture itself in a challenge to Almighty God?

They were quoting Scripture (and Scripture that spoke prophetically and appropriately to the unfolding event at that) in derision of the one who was being punished because he dared to see himself prophesied in Scripture.

Passing By the Crossroads of all the Ages.

Matthew 27:39-40

39 • And those who passed by derided him,

• wagging their heads
40 and saying,
"You who would destroy the temple
and rebuild it in three days,
save yourself!

• If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross."

For those who passed by — and Jerusalem was thronged with pilgrims for Pesach / Passover — it seemed little more than an excuse for headshaking. The claims of a destroyed temple being rebuilt in three days seemed an idle boast to those who didn't get the personal reference (and would they have been any more receptive to a man who called his body, 'this temple' and prophesied that he would rise the third day after death?)

For such passers-by the words, 'the Son of God hanging on a cross' seemed to be made up of two ideas utterly incompatible with each other and therefore signifying nothing.

Pilgrims they might have been but the passers-by don't seem to have recognised that they were acting out a couple of significant Scriptures as they went. The reading of the book of Lamentations takes place at
Tisha B'Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and not at Pesach but the references in Lamentations to passers-by are quite prophetic of these headshakers:

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger." [Lamentations 1:12]
All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem; "Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?" [Lamentations 2:15]
but, as remains to be seen as this story unfolds, the most significant verse prophesying these words and that behaviour is Psalm 22:7

All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
the full magnitude of what they were seeing opens up to us when we see the significance in what they were doing, just passing by.


(An Outline of two sermons preached by Thomas Boston at Ettrick in June 1717 Complete Works VI 486ff.)
Text Luke xxiii. 42, — And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
1. As a vicious stomach corrupts the best of meat; so impenitent sinners abuse the best things to their own ruin:
2 There is a particular disposition in the hearts of impenitent sinners to abuse and wrest the Scriptures.
3. Abused Scripture is one of the chief pieces of Satan's armour,
4. Reigning love to sin makes people very dexterous to find out shifts to preserve their lusts;

I. There is ground of hope for trembling sinners.
1. They may go long on, and far on in the way to hell, whom yet God may bring home to himself.
2. Grace sometimes catches them that in appearance, and to the eyes of the world, are farthest from it.
3. Grace makes a vast difference betwixt those betwixt whom it finds none.
4. Lastly, While there is life there is hope.

the use that is to be made of this, is,
1. Let those that seek God early be encouraged from this, that they shall find him:
2. Let not those whose day is almost gone, before they have begun their work, despair.
3. Lastly, Let us sow beside all waters, in the morning and in the evening.

II. But there is no ground here for the crafty delaying sinner to put off repentance,
1. It is a most rare example.
1st, What less could there have been to have cleared a possibility of acceptance with God,
2dly, As one swallow makes not spring, so neither can this one event make a general rule
3dly, Are there not eminent instances to the contrary,
4thly, The most that this so rare an example can amount to, is a possibility.

2. Though there were two thieves on the cross at that time, yet it was but one of them that got grace to repent.
1st, Is it not possible that thou mayst die blaspheming, if thou do not repent now in time?
2dly, It is at least an equal venture, that thou mayst die impenitent, as that thou mayst die a penitent.
3dly, It is inconsistent with common sense, to leave that thing to a venture,
4thly, Nay but the venture is very unequal;

And what casts the balance here in case of likelihood, is,
(1.) Common observation, that tells us, that most people even die as they live.
(2.) It is certain that few are saved, in comparison of them that are left:
(3.) The sad threatenings denounced against sinners going on in their sin,
(4.) Corrupt nature sticks fast in thee;
(5.) Repentance is not to be wrought by the sinner's being brought to an extremity,
(6.) The most powerful and likely means of grace will not prevail, unless accompanied with a special operation of the Spirit.
(7.) They that delay repentance till a dying hour, readily find they have another thing to do then, than to repent;

3. There is no evidence that this thief had before such means of grace as you have.
1st, It is unreasonable to think, that it should fare at the last with those who have had means of grace all their days, and despised them, as it may do with those who never have such means till they come to die.
2dly, This conversion of the thief doubtless was a perfect surprise to him,

4. This thief was converted, when by the hand of public justice he was to die.
lst, It is evident, that wicked men who are running on in such courses as will bring them to an untimely death, by the laws of the land, such as thieves, robbers, murderers, &c. have a fairer ground from this to delay repentance till they come to the scaffold, than you have,
2dly, If we compare the case of this thief put to death for his crimes, and of other malefactors so dying, with the case of men that have lived impenitently dying in their beds; though grace is alike free to both, yet, humanly speaking, there is more hope of the repentance of the former than of the latter.

(1.) It is more easy to convince a malefactor upon the scaffold,
(2.) The view that the thief had of eternity upon the cross, and that other malefactors have in such a case, is more certain than what impenitent sinners generally have on a death-bed.
(3.) If we except the time wherein both are actually grappling with death, the one with a violent death, the other with a natural one; the former have less hinderances from the body to prepare for death than the latter;

5. The conversion of the thief on the cross was an extraordinary manifestation of our Lord's power,
1st, It was done in such a juncture of time,
2dly, It was a wonder wrought in a time allotted

(1.) The sun was under a dreadful eclipse, for the space of not a few minutes, but three hours,
(2.) The vail of the temple was, without hands, rent from the top to the bottom,
(3.) The earth quaked at the dreadful fact of crucifying the Lord of glory,
(4.) The hard rocks rent,
(5.) The graves were opened, and many of the dead saints arose,
(6.) The spectators of those strange things smote their breasts,
(7.) Lastly, The centurion and his soldiers were convinced,

[1.] Is it reasonable, because the thief was converted at the last hour, in a time that the like never was, nor will be, for thee to expect that it shall fare so with thee?
Thou mayst as well throw thyself into a burning fiery furnace, and hope to come forth safe, because Daniel and his fellows were once so delivered.
[2.] Is it any wise strange, that amongst all these wonders of justice, power, and faithfulness, there was one wonder of mercy upon the thief on the cross?
But how canst thou think, that the time of thy departure will be a time of such wonders?
[3.] Was it not very becoming the divine wisdom, that when the divine glory of the Son of God was veiled upon the cross, a ray of it should break forth in the conversion of one of two that were hanging there with him?
but what is that to thee in a day wherein it is long since Christ was set down at his Father's right hand, and his glory published through the world by the gospel?
[4.] Is it any thing strange, that when our Lord was triumphing over principalities and powers, he set up one trophy, one sign of his victory, in the field of battle?
But what encouragement can that be to thee to delay to the last, when that nick of time is over long ago?

6. Lastly, The penitent thief on the cross was not only sincere, but he glorified Christ more in his late repentance, than thou art capable to do by thine, nay more than if thou hadst lived a penitent all thy days.
1st, When our Lord was in his lowest step of humiliation, he professed his faith of his divine nature, and his being King of the other world:
2dly, When others had crucified him as a malefactor, and were mocking him, and railing on him, as one that deserved not common compassion, he was praying to him,
Lastly, All this he did, and more, publicly before a multitude of spectators,

To conclude this matter:
1. If it be got, death-bed repentance is the most unuseful repentance for God, and the most uncomfortable for one's self.
2. Death-bed-repentance is seldom sincere.
3. Lastly, Many trust to deathbed repentance that never see it.

A Bible for the Intermediate State?

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

If we are to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ for what we have done in the body, how come older (wiser) believers seem to spend so much of their time reading their Bibles? Is the intermediate state going to be a sort of heavenly Sunday School where there will be sweets on offer for answering Bible knowledge questions?

Right, before you start rhapsodising about what literally heavenly sweets might taste like, let me remind you that we won't have bodies in the intermediate state (so what good would sweets do you?) and let me confess that I don't tend to think of reading as something done either, but it is.
• We think wrong if we think that time spend Bible reading could be better spend doing something 'useful.'
• We ought not to think of time spent in prayer as time taken away from doing something useful.
• Do we think that Mary (as in Mary-and-Martha) will have lost her reward in heaven because she chose the better part of sitting, listening to Jesus?

Prayer, Bible reading and meditation are all works that will stand in the judgment as good and for pursuing them there will be the reward for the faithful servant but the wise pursuit of these things is not entered into merely to lay up treasure in heaven. These things are 'means of grace' whereby we practice the presence of Christ now in the hope of being in his presence ere long.

And it isn't as though the Word of God isn't going to be in heaven!
• There will be no temple in the New Jerusalem because 'its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb' [Revelation 21:22.]
• There is no need of either Sun or Moon because there is no night; 'the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb' [Revelation 21:23.]
• And we won't need our Bibles there because the Lamb is the Word of God.

But Revelation doesn't talk about there being no Bibles there. Instead it says, 'No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him' [Rev 22:3.] Because of the one who was once accursed there will be no longer anything accursed. Be encouraged in the faith to do well, not for merit but for Jesus, who, needing no merit for himself, did all and bore all for us.

Prayer is a Pre-Trial Hearing

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

Since we are twice-over encouraged to live life here in the Spirit and to face dying and being with Christ without fear, surely we ought to be encouraged to face the judgment seat of Christ without fear

These things do not just hang together loosely. It is the Spirit of God who gives us access to God in prayer as we cry 'Abba Father':-
• Jesus addressed God as 'Abba Father' in prayer while facing impending death [Mark 14:36.]
• The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption enables us to pray, 'Abba Father' [Romans 8:15.]
• The Holy Spirit himself, as the Spirit of the Son, cries 'Abba Father' within our hearts [Galatians 4:6.]

Similarly, to be absent from the body will be to be at home with the Lord and what is it that Jesus is doing right now? Believers ought to be encouraged to face the judgment seat, which is after all the judgment seat of Christ, because he has both passed through judgement and condemnation in our place and is now in heavenly session interceding for us [1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34.]

None of us need fear the trial since it is God himself who prepares us for it and he is available to us any time we approach. One of his purposes in adopting us is so that we might have access into his presence as a privilege of sonship so we ought to use the privilege.

Anticipation of Heaven the 3rd Dimension of Life in the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

The two aspects of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer that get most of our attention are the anointing on our present lives [2 Corinthians 1:21f.] and our expectation of having God himself as our inheritance [Ephesians 1:13f.] Alongside these two we ought to cultivate the anticipation of heaven.

It ought not be lost among our other reasons for gathering together that we do so with the object of sharing anticipation of heaven. It isn't that we know a great deal about what it will be like to be there, but our fears of being bodiless for a season are removed by the experience of life in the Spirit here and now. Praising God in the middle of the assembly of his people ought to be a foretaste of heaven to those anticipating going there.

Heaven isn't filled with dread about what it will be like to get new bodies either since it isn't a case of spirits good / bodies bad, despite there always
having been some people who have thought that way. There are none such in heaven and in fact patience about things being put right and the resurrection of the body is needed by and given to those in heaven who have been martyred [Revelation 6:9-11.] While we are in the body we ought to look with joy both for the upward call and for the return of Christ. Whichever shall come first, the return of Christ for all who believe is certain so that provides a central plank of our spiritual comfort and anticipation of heaven in the meantime ought to comfort us also.