Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Darkness, the Waters, and the Cross (A Good Friday Sermon for Holy Saturday)

Today's Holy Saturday, when we remember that Jesus lay in the grave for us and hallowed the grave for us. While Jesus underwent the second death (Rev. 21:8) for us on the Cross on Good Friday, willingly suffering the wrath of God in our place, and triumphing over it with a victorious cry of 'It is finished!', on Saturday He lay in the grip of the first death - physical death. Jesus was dead that day; His body in the tomb and His soul in glory (Luke 23:43). And through His death and burial for us, we have no need to fear the grave, for those in Christ will know the same thing as he - our bodies (still united to Christ) in the grave, our souls in glory with the Lord, waiting for the day when body and soul will be reunited at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Anyway, as it's Holy Saturday, here's a good hymn appropriate to the day from Martin Luther. And here's last night's Good Friday sermon on the darkness, the waters, and the Cross.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday's Already Good: Don't be scared!

Good Friday, as the name might possibly give away, is a very good day indeed. And that means we don't have to be embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable about this, one of the preeminent days of the Christian calendar.

Embarrassed, scared, or uncomfortable? How could that be when we celebrate Good Friday with our Facebook statuses and even the possible thought of going to church?, you ask. And I reply that, yes, even amidst the Facebook status updates and thoughts of maybe going to church, even while (to an extent) embracing Good Friday, sometimes we still show ourselves to be embarrassed, scared and uncomfortable.

After all, we wouldn't dream of just possibly thinking about maybe going to church to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday (even those who only show up twice a year know how important the Resurrection is).

But even more than that, what  about when we actually make it to a Good Friday service, update our Facebook status in a seasonably appropriate way, or pay any much attention to the day (other than as a bank holiday of course) at all? Then our embarrassments, fears and discomfort can really have the opportunity to shine through. How? By trying to make Good Friday Good and forgetting that it's Good already!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday: What's Important According to Jesus? [Repost]

Today's Maundy Thursday (you know, the day before Good Friday, and the day on which Jesus ate the last supper with His disciples). Maundy Thursday's isn't really famous for what happened during the day, but rather for what happened that night. It was the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It was the night on which Jesus was arrested and tried before the High Priest. And before that it was the night on which He washed the disciples' feet and the night on which He prayed in Gethsemane. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell us a lot about what happened that night. John, on the other hand, tells us a lot about what Jesus said that night. 

It was the night before the Cross, and yet Jesus spent a lot of it teaching His disciples. In fact, one of the largest chunks of Jesus' teaching to be found in the gospels, the Upper Room Discourse and High Priestly Prayer of John 13-17 was what He taught on that eventful night. Jesus knew what was coming. He had already been warning His disciples. And yet, He chose to spend the last night of His pre-Cross earthly ministry teaching these things. So they must be important things. If they weren't important, they could have waited. And we know that Jesus did wait to teach them some things after His resurrection, and yet other things were revealed to the writers of the New Testament Scriptures. So these things that Jesus taught on Maundy Thursday were very important indeed.

So, what were these important things about which Jesus spent His last night before being put to death talking?  He didn't talk about the most effective evangelistic methods. He didn't talk about church leadership best practice. No, the really important things He talked about were the Lord's Supperthe Trinity and Union with Christ. I'm not going to go through all the Scriptures about that night, but just let me touch briefly on those three important topics of which Jesus spoke.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Gospel of the Loving Father and His Two Lost Sons

What's the Prodigal Son about? The parable of the prodigal son is about a prodigal son, right? Well, maybe not. In fact, actually not; for, despite the title that gets put at the top of the page in many of our English translations, Jesus himself tells us that it isn't about a prodigal son. How does He start off the parable? 'A certain man had two sons' (Luke 15:11). Not one son, but two sons. And, what's more, not just about two sons, and not even mainly about two sons. The main character here isn't either son, nor is it a tag-team of the two sons; the main character in this story is the father. 'A certain man had two sons.' The 'certain man' is the one the story is about.

Now, this father has two sons. A good son and a bad son, right? No, definitely not. A nice, obedient, respectful son, and a horrible brat? Still no! Both his sons are horrible. They're each horrible in different ways - each according to his own style, but both of them essentially want their father to drop dead. They couldn't care less about him; all they want is his stuff. The younger son comes right out and says it, but his big brother wants the same thing. He doesn't tell his brother how atrociously he's behaving. He doesn't try to mend the rift. But what he does do is willingly take his share of the cash, for we're told that the father 'divided TO THEM his livelihood' (Luke 15:12). Not to him - not just to the younger son - but to both of them. The elder brother just sat back and let his father divide up his estate. He just calmly collected his inheritance along with his wee brother. He might not have come out and said it to his father's face, but he silently joins his brother in saying: 'Dad, we don't want you, we just want your stuff.' In other words: 'Drop dead dad!'

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sacraments Matter (Because They're *Gospel* Sacraments!)

Sacraments matter. They really do. You might not think it; after all, good, sound Pentecostals and Evangelicals don't often give all that much attention to the sacraments. They're there, but, you know, we just don't talk about them all that much at all.

But then, through our lack of thinking about them, talking about them, or placing much emphasis on them at all, they begin to gradually disappear. It's striking that Evangelical churches tend to gather around the Lord's Table with much less frequency than any other tradition. And although British Pentecostals have a long tradition of weekly Communion (historically the Breaking of Bread has been the main church service for the Apostolic Church, Elim, and AoG, the 3 British Pentecostal denominations), in places that's giving way too.

And very often this sacramental neglect seems to be connected to ideas about evangelism. Now, hopefully we all want to reach out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. But does that really mean we have to downplay the sacraments?

Some people tell me that non-Christians are put off and confused by Communion in the service (which was the seeker-sensitive argument back in the 1990s). Others say that Communion interrupts the flow of the service (or 'the flow of what God's doing'). Sure, we should have Communion sometimes (the Bible does tell us to), but maybe just a lot less frequently, or a lot more quickly, or in house groups or something instead of in the main Sunday service. Pragmatism here is king.

With Baptism it's a bit different. Earlier this week I read something by an American Pentecostal arguing that we should start baptising babies - not because of any biblical reasons (apparently we need to abandon such 'rationalist' approaches!), but simply because it's a great outreach tool. In other words, the form, meaning, and biblical basis of the sacrament are of no importance, - only the pragmatic considerations of getting people into church.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Great Gospel Mystery of Marriage: Why sins against marriage are attacks on the Gospel

This week I've spent a good deal of time thinking about marriage. (And no, before anyone asks, not about getting married, but about marriage in the abstract.) You see, one of my tasks this week was to draft a statement of the doctrinal position of the Apostolic Church on marriage, which, naturally enough, required a bit of thought about marriage. Anyway, the draft has been sent off to committee now to make its way to May Council, but writing it has forced me to think theologically about marriage. You see, generally I, and probably most other pastors, tend to think about marriage pastorally. We help people prepare for marriage, we marry people, we pray for marriages, and we sometimes get called in for pastoral help when things aren't going well. So those are the sort of practical, pastoral things we tend to think about when it comes to marriage.

But the Bible takes rather a different approach. Yes, there's practical and pastoral stuff in there about marriage, but the Bible doesn't simply treat marriage in functional terms. Right at the centre of the Bible's teaching on marriage is the gospel - for marriage is a great mystery which speaks to us of the self-giving, sacrificial love of Christ for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Marriage is not just a practical subject. It doesn't only raise pastoral concerns. Rather, marriage is rooted in and ever points us to the gospel. And so that means that sins against marriage are actually attacks upon the gospel.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Life in Christ and Apostleship

Paul starts off his second letter to Timothy with the greeting, 'Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus' (2 Tim. 1:1). Now, we can be very tempted to almost skip over such greetings - 'it's just Paul saying hello again,' we often think. But all Scripture is inspired and profitable (as Paul tells Timothy later on in this letter - 2 Tim. 3:16), even the greetings in the letters. And this particular greeting in this particular letter tells us something important about the nature of Paul's apostleship.

Well, first off, what's really clear and obvious here is that Paul's apostleship is 'by the will of God'. In other words, Paul hasn't set himself up as an apostle. It's not a career-choice that Paul made, but rather the call of God. And it's not simply a choice of the church. The church didn't just say, 'Oh, you know what, we could be doing with an apostle to the Gentiles, so let's set up a committee to draw up a shortlist so we can pick someone for the job.' No, not at all. It wasn't the church's choice, but God's choice. Apostleship is not simply a job, title or position, but a calling of God according to His will. As Ephesians 4:11 tells us, it is Christ who gives gifts of apostles to His Church, not the other way round!

Now, we know all that. But that's not all that this verse tells us about apostleship. Not only is Paul an apostle by the will of God, but also 'according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.' Now, we know about the promise of life that God gives us in Christ Jesus - that's salvation, eternal life in Christ. But what does that have to do with apostleship? Surely these are two completely separate things on two completely different levels of importance. And yet Paul connects the two here. Or rather, God connects the two here. Apostleship is somehow connected with life in Jesus.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Law, Gospel and the Good Samaritan

We love to identify with characters in the Bible. We love to find ourselves in the story. But do we always find ourselves in the right place? Just think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, I think we'd all agree that we're not supposed to identify with the robbers. And surely we're not meant to see ourselves as the priest or Levite either (after all, they don't come out of this story looking too well). So who does that leave for us to identify with? And immediately we jump in and cast ourselves as the Good Samaritan.

To be fair, we don't need an awful lot of encouragement to do so, for the expression 'good samartian' has become such a part of our language and culture, that it would be really odd not to see ouIrselves as the 'good samaritan.' After all, charities and hospitals are named after the good samaritan. Everyone in this country knows what a good samaritan is - a good helpful person, the sort of person we should all be! And so we all instinctively 'know' that the message of the parable of the Good Samaritan is:
Don't be a nasty priest or Levite - Be a Good Samaritan instead!
But, as much as that 'meaning' for the parable might be ingrained in us in 21st Century British culture, is it at all what Jesus was saying?

Monday, 31 March 2014

He Is All My Righteousness [Repost]

There's an old chorus that, despite its failings, has an incredible verse. So incredible is this verse that I would venture to say that it's one of the greatest lines of any worship song I know:
He is all my righteouness; I stand complete in Him
What incredible truth! Jesus is ALL my righteousness. He's not just part of it. He's not just the initial righteousness I need to "get in". He is all my righteousness.

You see, even though we believe in the imputation of Christ's righteousness in justification, we can still sometimes end up falling into the trap of divorcing that from the Christian life. We end up thinking of justification as being for the beginning (sort of like conversion), but then think that we need to go on from there.

Someone expressed it to me recently as God's grace in justification raising the bar. But the bar can't be raised. The only righteousness that God accepts is perfect righteousness. And any attempt of our own at righteousness is far from perfect - just remember what Isaiah had to say about that (Isa. 64:6). That's why we need to be justified in the first place! The bar is already as high as it can go. There's no way we can reach it. But thanks be to God, for He has sent His Son to reach it for us, to unite us to Himself, and to clothe us with His perfect righteousness.