Recovering the Race

“Centuries before the man of Uz had wrestled with the problem of the Almighty’s dealings with men as personalised in his own tragedy.

Now in Christ, Forsyth says, God has givien his answer to Job’s demand that he should vindicate his ways with men.

His answer is in a person who is in history yet above it.

The answer is not a mere revelation; it is a redeptive act and a moral victory which has in principle recovered the race.

The Vindicator has stood on the earth.  He is Christ crucified, risen and regnant, the eternal Son of God.

In his work the dread knot created by God’s holiness and man’s sin and drawn into a tight ‘snarl’ by mankind’s misuse of its God-given freedom, has been undone.

And God’s undoing of it in his Son’s cross provides the key to all his dealings with men, as it gives us his master-clue to his final destiny for the world and the race – a moral sovereignty without end, a recreated humanity, and a consummation of all things in the eternal kingdom of God.”

P. T. Forsyth, Per Crucem ad Lucem, by A. M. Hunter, pg.112

yellow flower 2From my garden in 2014 (I think it’s a sunflower)!

Die sin must or God

Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means.  Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.

The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe.  It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.

P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God.  He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.”  Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that.  Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain.  The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means?  That God will be all in all?  Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?

Evil has no future because God is holy.

That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.

Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,

“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell.  If evil should cease Hell would be burned out.  Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever.  The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”

Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.

Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.

Evil has no future because God will be all in all.

“Die sin must or God.”  When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed.  When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever.  When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb.  When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever.  The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.

DSC_0082A sunset in South Devon.

Note:  This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.

All shall be wellForsyth.DescendingonHumanity.90702

God’s Silence

Helmut Thielicke said of the Cross of Jesus Christ, where silence and salvation met:

“There the night of darkness dispatched its last troops against God’s Son; the demons were released and the ugliest instincts since Adam unchained. But God said nothing about it. Only a dying man cried aloud in that silence and asked why – yes, why – God had forsaken him.

God still remained silent, when even dumb nature began to speak by a shuddering gesture and the sun withdrew its light. The constellations cried out but God was silent. Yet it is precisely at this point that the great secret of that silence conceals itself. This very hour, when God gave no word, no syllable of an answer, was the great turning point of world history.

CrossinEarth

This was the hour when the veil of the temple tore and God’s heart was opened to us with all his surprises. By being silent God was suffering too; by being silent he entered with us into the brotherhood of death and the deep valley, knowing all about it and … doing his loving work behind the dark curtains. The silence of that night on Golgotha is the basis for our life.

What would we be without the cross? What would we be without the knowledge that God sends his Son to us in the silent abysses and dark valleys, that he becomes our companion in death – while his ‘higher thoughts’ are already pressing on mightily toward Easter…. There is no silence of indifference in God (nor in Jesus); there are only those higher thoughts – and not for one minute a silent fate. The woman who comes to Jesus knows that. Therefore she waits out the silence and never draws back her outstretched hands.”

 

This great quote comes from a brilliant sermon by Jason Goroncy on Matthew 15:21-28 here.

Imperfect Leaders

Having sat under the excellent ministry of Dr David Coffey for a few years, I must say his wealth of wisdom and depth of insight is unsurpassed.

There’s more.

The primary gift of Dr Coffey (UK and world Baptist Supremo – my phrase not his) is in his pastoral integrity and love for the Church of Jesus Christ.  He is a leader of leaders and is in himself a most excellent example of what a leader, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, is like.David Coffey preaching Congress 05

David spotted something within the pages of Scripture that few people would dare to see.  That when God calls a person, they are incomplete, imperfect, sinful, even rebellious.

He writes, “It seems God only calls people who have struggles with faith.  Having called them, he gets to work on the parts of their lives that are not yet perfect.”  

Here are the examples he cites:

  • Moses the reluctant leader (Exodus 3 & 4)
  • Esther the courageous leader……eventually (Esther 4:12-17)
  • Jonah the reluctant missionary
  • John the Baptist – the preacher with doubts (Mat 11:1-3)
  • Mary the homemaker with a ministry (Luke 2:19; 41-52)
  • Martha the manager whose work was a distraction (Luke 10:38-41 & John 11:17-27)
  • Peter the fisherman who nearly threw everything away (Mat 16:13-20 & 26:69-75)
  • Apollos the gifted preacher who needed deepening (Acts 18:24-28)
  • Philip the fisherman who lacked confidence (John 6:7; 12:20-22; 14:9)
  • Paul the great Apostle to the Gentiles who battles with his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10)

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, God doesn’t call perfect people because He doesn’t save perfect people.  He calls sinners because He saves sinners.  Our job is to say ‘Yes’ to God and see what He does with our lives.  Perfectionism has no place in the Christian life.  Making us perfect is His job, and ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 1:6).

Christian ministry and the Christian life is Cross-shaped for a reason.

The reason is Jesus Christ.  Perfect people need not gather at the Cross (because they don’t exist)!

The only Perfect One was on the Cross.

He was broken so we would never have to be.

He is Perfect, for that is what we will be.

Sideways Cross

Re-animating the Scandal of the Cross

This July day-conference looks very tasty indeed!

With thanks to Robin Parry over at Theological Scribbles for flagging this up.

The flyer for this one day event can be seen here.

It is a day conference on Saturday 19th July 2014 9.30am-4.30pm, hosted by Ian Stackhouse, minister at Millmead Baptist Church, Guildford in Surrey.  Ian is the one who alerted my attention towards P. T. Forsyth, a pastor-theologian  who has featured somewhat on this blog, and I think Robin is absolutely right to call Ian a “modern-day pastor-theologian after the fashion of P. T. Forsyth.”

The conference has come about as the result of a co-authored publication (Ian Stackhouse and Oliver Crisp):

Text Message: The Centrality of Scripture in Preaching Text Message

The main speaker for the event is Dave Hansen, friend of Ian and author of ‘The Art of Pastoring‘ a very helpful book to anyone in pastoral ministry and one I 95% enjoyed (maybe I could corner Mr Hansen and discuss my “5% quibble” with him)!

In any case, here’s the blurb on the flyer:

“Squarely in the middle of the Good News stands the cross, a life-giving, polemical, theological symbol, necessary to truly Christian preaching. However, we live in a day in which the cross has become, for many inside and outside of the church, an inert, commonplace token. To preach it effectively today, we need to re-animate the scandal that it was in New Testament times. In so doing, we release its power to offend, save, renew, and realign our lives with the call of Christ.”

 

 

Jesus in Hell

John Chrysostom (347-407) the golden-tongued preacher of the late fourth century said this in a sermon about what the Cross of Jesus has achieved in our salvation and the entire redemption of all creation:

“He has destroyed death by undoing death.

He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

He vexed it even as it tasted his own flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he cried:

Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;

Filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;

Filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;

Filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;

Filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains

Hell received a body, and encountered God.

It received earth and confronted heaven.

O death, where is your sting?

O hell, where is your victory?’

CROSS

Glimpsing Glory Through Palm Sunday Sentimentalism

Mark 11:1-11

Palm Sunday

In this well known passage read out all over the world this Palm Sunday,

we catch a glimpse of a good and bad glory, a great biblical scene that is too often distorted by sentimentalism and likewise dismissed as a rather nice picture: the baby in the manger has grown up to be a rather good donkey rider!

But does it mean something else?  It does.  Thank God….

So, Jesus is riding on a donkey, into a frenzied religious city,

that is about to begin the most passionate religious festival – The Passover.

What could possibly go wrong?

The sun is shining (as usual).

The people are praising (fundamentalists)!

The disciples are happy (though confused).

The religious leaders are indignant (though worried).

The Roman guards are amused at these crazy Jews (as usual)!

What could possibly go wrong?

 

There are two things (for now), to notice about ‘glory’:

1. This act of Jesus is a fulfilment of prophecy (Zech 9:9)

– a peaceable king riding on a donkey.

– a demonstration of what this King is like.

– this scene is Heaven’s King lighting the fuse that will blow apart how we

understand the very meaning of glory.

2. Then there is the adulation/hysteria of the crowds

– worldly ambition.

– king-making religious nationalism.

– this is a demonstration of what people are like.

– this is earth’s subjects proving that we don’t understand glory all that well.

 

So what do we have?

The glory of fulfilment of prophecy being enacted

V’s            The glory of a religiously excited crowd

that just one week later would swap their ‘Hosannas’ for ‘Crucify’.

 

And the great and terrible and biblical and salvation saturated irony is this:

The fullest and final and most glorious expression

of the glory of God

is seen not in the smiling worshipping crowds (as they thought),

but in the willing surrender, the sacrifice,

of this donkey riding Jesus one week,

and as He hangs on a Cross the next.

This is the supreme manifestation of the Glory of God.

The glory we like, the glory we seek,

the praise and worship, the sunshine, the niceness of a donkey ride,

is blown apart by this new meaning of Glory:

GOD ON A CROSS.

So a church can ride all the donkeys it wants.

It can sing all the Hosannas it wants.

It can clap and cheer and celebrate this humble Jesus.

Unless we follow Jesus and pick up our cross.

Unless we follow the Crucified donkey-riding God-Man,

through suffering – to glory,

through trial and persecution – to glory,

through despair and brokenness – to glory,

through worship – to glory,

and everything else in between, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,

do it all to the glory of God.

A glory defined not by our own imaginations and desires,

but shaped and re-defined by God’s Word

and God’s Son,

and lived out in glorious technicolour by God’s people,

the Church!

 

In this way, in this redefinition of what we thought we understood,

As Eugene Peterson says,

“Jesus takes the brightest word in our vocabulary (glory), and plunges it into the darkest pit of experience, violence and excruciating death. Everything we ever thought about glory has to be re-learned, re-cast. Dictionary definitions won’t help. We have entered a mystery.”

 

It is when we look at Jesus, as we see again and again in the Gospels,

How the Man on the Donkey really was God on a chariot,

How the Cross really was His throne,

How in His death, we live,

And how when we live in Christ,

through our suffering and decaying bodies,

we glorify God.