Friday, March 09, 2007

Our Times are in Whose Hands?

Luke 23:43-44

43 • And he said to him,
"Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise."

44 • It was now about the sixth hour,

• and there was darkness over the whole land
until the ninth hour,

To ask a man to remember you, for whom you have done some service, who is about to be restored back to honour and influence, as Joseph did of Pharaoh's butler, that is one thing. To ask a man dying of crucifixion to remember you is quite another.

When the midday sun was at its height there was a darkness over all the land that persisted for three hours.When Jesus was asked by the thief to remember him when he would come into his kingdom, the times were put completely out of joint and all of creation had the appearance of having gone into reverse.
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when the incarnate maker died
for man his creature's sin.
I don't know how sincere the criminal was when he began to ask to be remembered, I really don't and I don't think it matters, either. As he spoke he said two things. He confessed Jesus as Lord and spoke about his resurrection in terms of coming into his kingdom. It may well be that we would like to think that however the man began he must have come to believe what he was saying even while he was saying it but our doubts and our likings have nothing to do with it.

The words of Jesus as he replied to the repentant thief are full of justifying grace. Out of joint with all of society this thief might have been but for only a look at Jesus lifted up, his confession of Lordship and the belief engendered in his heart that God would most certainly raise him from the dead — for that and even then and there the man whose life had been all wrong was made for ever right with God.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Patently he has done Nothing Wrong

Luke 23:41-42

41 • "And we indeed justly,
for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds;

• but this man has done nothing wrong."

42 • And he said,
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Condemnation deserved and recognized gives no hope for justification so deathbed repentance is rare. (Try and get hold of Thomas Boston 'The Extraordinary Case of the Thief on the Cross' Complete Works vol. VI p. 468) However, the central realization here is the recognition that Jesus was not worthy of condemnation: '
This man has done nothing wrong', patently. Repentance for sins committed as a result of the recognition of Christ's righteousness leads to a very big ask of one who is about to die: 'Remember me.'

Atypical Change of Direction

Luke 23:39-40

39 • One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,
saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

40 • But the other rebuked him,

• saying, "Do you not fear God,
since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?"

Since the action of one of the hanged-with-Jesus criminals was absolutely typical, justifying himself by joining in with the general condemnation of the Über-criminal in the centre, the reaction of the other was even more surprising. Not only did the the one rebuke the other, abandoning his own abuse of Jesus as he did so, he rebuked him with amazing insight into the plight that he and his erstwhile companion were in.

What insight was needed to see that they were in a dreadful plight? None at all to see that their condition was hopeless as far as man was concerned. As far as Jesus being a man, being a king, even being a 'messiah' was concerned, there was nothing that he could do to repay any insult that should be added to the clamour and the pain. As far as judgement was concerned what could any one do to increase the railing criminal's punishment? Why, the guard detail and the noterati in the crowd were mocking the one on the centre cross, perhaps if he joined his voice with theirs his suffering would even be reduced. He called to Christ to save him but without the least vestige of trust that he could do so.

Then came a voice rebuking him from the further side of the cross. Two criminals were crucified with Christ in order to provide the spectacle with the right degree of theatricality but now there is a realization born in one of the two that brings the drama of the cross up to crisis and to the central dialogue of the soul's existence. The realization that they two were least able of all there to take the judge's place, them being so far under condemnation as to actually be in God's hands, now, and he is to be feared, even when man has done his worst already.

When the Graft is Pierced by Nails

John 15:5-11

Grace in us Revealed to us

For the hour in which we have no vision save a dying Jesus grafted to a dead tree and no answer to the 'Why forsaken?' other than the silence of dark-in-the-daytime heavens — for that hour we have the spoken assurance of both the Vine's branches' grafting and the saint's prayers' answer and our joy is full enough (and overflowing) for us to call that Friday, 'Good.'

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Big Ask and the Even Bigger Answer

John 15:5-11

Grace in us Revealed to us

Look for God to be glorified in the answer to prayer. We just can't ask to be prosperous and to be like Jesus in the same breath, we can't, but it's in the fruitfulness of the branches that God is glorified so ask to be fruitful. 'Man's chief end is to glorify God [John 15:8] and to enjoy him forever [John 15:11]' (WSC ans. 1) Maybe our main reason for not asking is that we don't get it that the 'greater works' are to be done in conjunction with 'asking anything in the name of Jesus' for the glory of God [John 14:13-14.]

Be Fruitful in Season

John 15:5-11

Grace in us Revealed to us

Against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law.[Galatians 5:22-23] and the fruit of the Spirit is:-
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Grace in us Revealed to us

John 15:5-11

Why to Burn Withered Branches
The Central Reason for Christian Fruitfulness
The Sum of all the Commandments

Grace in us is revealed to us in the the life of the Spirit, the answer to prayer and the Word of God.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Sum of all the Commandments

John 15:9b-11

• Abide in my love.

10 • If you keep my commandments,,
you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and abide in his love.

11 • These things I have spoken to you,
that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be full.

Just as the commandments can be summarized in terms of love for God and for one's neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.") even so Jesus summarizes his commandments in terms of love. The commandment is, 'Abide in my love.' and the reward for keeping the commandment is, 'You will abide in my love.' It is recursive and connected as all organically growing things are and we can get lost in meditating on what it means.
But before we do get lost in it, we find that we are rushing on to the ultimate demonstration of it, the crucifixion, where those disciples who remained grafted into the vine felt anything but connected to Christ and their prayers seemed anything but answered. This is why Jesus interrupts the flow of what he is saying about connectedness to tell them that he is telling them these things so that their joy might be full. Alongside the truth of the life of the Spirit flowing to us from Christ and the answer to prayer that indicates the reality of the connection objectively, we have the Word of God, spoken here by Christ for the disciples and subsequently written down by John so that we might be sustained through our particular cross-sufferings to continue to look to be grafted into the vine.

The Central Reason for Christian Fruitfulness

John 15:7-9a

7 • If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,
ask whatever you wish,
and it will be done for you.

8 • By this my Father is glorified,
that you bear much fruit
and so prove to be my disciples.

9 • As the Father has loved me,
so have I loved you.

Imagine that a branch might develop doubts about whether or not it is grafted into the vine, 'I feel like I'm grafted into the vine but how do I know that it isn't something that I'm imagining.? Does the vine know that I'm grafted into it? Does the farmer know that the graft has taken?' Now branches don't think (I was going to write, 'don't think like that.') but the grafted-into-Christ Christian does sometimes think like that as some of you well know, 'Are my feelings about being a Christian really dependable? Does Christ believe in me? What if God doesn't recognize me to be a believer?'
Well we quickly get reassurance from what it is we believe in. If we believe then God knows it and if we believe then Christ's life is in us and the question is reduced back to, 'But am I really a believer?' It matters because it is the believer that is grafted into Christ. The love of God for Christ is the same love with which Christ loves the believer but the corollary of that is that the untrue believer is a branch that is fit for nothing but burning.
The living out of the grace of God in the life of the believer is not left alone to testify that the believer is grafted into Christ. Others are more likely to see the fruit of the Spirit bursting out in our lives than we are ourselves but we have a measure of how spiritually alive we are that is more accessible to us than that God is glorified in the fruitfulness of believers and that measure — not to be hijacked away from its place beside the joint witnesses of the Spirit of God and the Word of God — is the answer to prayer.

Why to Burn Withered Branches.

John 15:5-6

5 • I am the vine; you are the branches.

• Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,

• for apart from me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in me
he is thrown away like a branch and withers;
and the branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire,
and burned.

If a vine branch is grafted into a vine successfully then it bears grapes as its harvest. The vine acts as a source of life for the branch and, although it is the branch that bears the grapes, without the vine, the branch could produce nothing. Using the metaphor of the vine and its branches to describe the Christian life is fairly straightforward because we have a ready understanding of how God's grace flows to us from Jesus Christ and how our fruitfulness in all these graces such as love, joy, peace, etc. [Galatians 5:22] are found in us because we're found in him.
What might not be so straightforward is why ungrafted branches are to be mentioned at all but the model needs the added explanation to reinforce its point that believers ought to be 'in Christ.' It isn't looking like a branch that makes the branch useful but it's being grafted into the vine and a branch that isn't grafted into the vine is worse than useless. It isn't for fruitlessness that the withered branches are gathered up and burned, nor is it for the tidiness of the vineyard alone. Some genius might come up with a use for vine branches that wasn't applicable 2000 years ago but the picture then was of the primary uselessness of the vine except for growing grapes and its secondary worse-than-uselessness of piles of withered branches harbouring disease.