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.

You want success? PREACH CHRIST!

ForsythP. T. Forsyth is rousing my theological interest on a number of fronts at the moment.  I am desperate to read his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, but only have a flaky copy on my computer, and that won’t do.  Nevertheless, do not feel sorry for me.  I found this paradigm changing comment Forsyth made in his book The Work of Christ, which is a more realistic antidote to the terrible Christian fetish in the western world with numbers, growth and success.  Ian Stackhouse, a Baptist minister in Guildford, UK,  specifically writes about this problem, in his excellent book The Gospel-Driven Church and to a certain extent his recent (and most excellent) Primitive Piety; and part of his response and solution is found in the sheer brilliance of the writings of P. T. Forsyth.

Anyway, below is a snippet that re-paradigms us as Christians who claim not only to ‘be transformed in the renewing of our minds’ but also to have ‘the mind of Christ’, and to consider a little less triumphantly, and a little more soberly, the actual reality of what it means for Christ to rule the human heart…..

“Christ, with the demand for saving obedience, arouses antagonism in the human heart. And so will the Church that is faithful to Him. You hear people saying, If only the Church had been true to Christ’s message it would have done wonders for the world. If only Christ were preached and practised in all His simplicity to the world, how fast Christianity would spread. Would it? Do you really find that the deeper you get into Christ and the meaning of His demands Christianity spreads faster in your heart? Is it not very much the other way?

When it comes to close quarters you have actually to be got down and broken, that the old man may be pulverised and the new man created from the dust. Therefore when we hear people abusing the Church and its history the first thing we have to say is, Yes, there is a great deal too much truth in what you say, but there is also a greater truth which you are not allowing for, and it is this. One reason why the Church has been so slow in its progress in mankind and its effect on human history is because it has been so faithful to Christ, so faithful to His Cross.

You have to subdue the most intractable, difficult, and slow thing in the world — man’s self-will. You cannot expect rapid successes if you truly preach the Cross whereon Christ died, and which He surmounted not simply by leaving it behind but by rising again, and converting the very Cross into a power and glory.  Christ arouses antagonism in the human heart and heroism does not. Everybody welcomes a hero. The minority welcome Christ.”

P. T. Forsyth
The Work of Christ (1910)
Wipf & Stock, 1996, pp. 20-21

Joy and Suffering

Christ's hands

Joy to the world the Lord has come!

The angel declared, “I have come to announce good news of great joy…”

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”

He later added on that solemn last night, “You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

One of the great characteristics of Christian conversion and living is joy.  It is a fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  It is the Holy Spirit in this passage that shapes us to be like Christ, and Christ-likeness is precisely what the fruits of the Holy Spirit reveal:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.

How’s your joy?  Or rather, how is Christ himself being fashioned in you?  What does it mean to say ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’?  It just seems to me that joy is crucial and central to the vitality of our lives.  How’s your joy in the Lord right now?

Going back to the earlier Scripture reference, no one can take this God-given joy from us, even in the midst of sorrow.  And we all suffer from sorrow, yet we must grow the fruit of joy.  Sorrow is certain but joy is the promise!

Real joy does not flee in the face of sorrow or suffering.  Real, Spirit infused joy, that divine fruit growing in the garden of the human heart tended by Father God, is that element of the fruits of the Spirit that can’t be faked!

We are masters of undercover living!  We can look like we love, show kindness, be gentle, be faithful and all these things, we can force ourselves to do a loving even sacrificial act, but we can’t, in a million years, force ourselves to be full of joy.

It’s like the 10 commandments.  We can tick right down the list, 1 through 9 and proudly assert that we do all these things, and do them quite well actually, thanks for asking!  But number ten will get us.  That inward, secret chamber of the heart, where coveting what others have, is born!  No one sees that!  They all think I’m a great worshipper and lover of God, but dang, that last one sure sorted out the wheat from the chaff.

Joy is like that.  Why is it even a fruit of the Spirit?  Think of someone you know who is full of joy, the joy of the Lord.  Aren’t they just attractive to be around?  Joy is that secret weapon of God that he gives to not only show us what He is like (heaven is going to be great – and you can quote me on that), but to enable us, in Christ, to live through, bear with, to survive well, the sorrows and traumas of living in a world broken by sin’s destruction and death.

And so the promise of this fruit of the Spirit is a way God assures us of inner healing.  We all need healing.  We all seek wholeness.  For some, maybe most, our search for wholeness is a life long quest.  Christ came to make us whole, and we are only whole when we are fully and finally in him.  Our life here, on earth, together, is a step-by-step journey towards that ultimate promise:  “I will heal you” says the Lord.

And the agony we face is this:  Unless we attend to our inner conflicts, pains and contradictions in Christ, not only are we harming ourselves, but in all likelihood, we will inflict wounds on those around us.

But God has created us for wholeness not brokenness.  And our search continues from the first day to our last day.  The joy of the Lord, the promise of something that God is, keeps us going.  Joy.

Evidence that our world is broken is seen in any old bookshop.  Books promising healing and wholeness may help in some small way, but their very existence reveal the gravity of the human problem.  And yet joy isn’t a Christian version of mere positive thinking.  In her book, ‘Smile or Die – how positive thinking fooled America and the world’ Barbara Ehrenreich exposes the folly of forcing joy and how in the end it actually leads to catastrophe.  Thankfully she doesn’t even spare the cancerous church problem of the health and wealth gospel, which is no gospel at all, but a disease.

The world is broken.  Christ is the answer.  Joy is the down payment.

There are no short cuts.  Look at Job.  After all the discussion with his so-called friends, God eventually speaks and gives him a better lesson on creation and nature than anything even the BBC can do!  Job’s ‘comfort’ begins with the chilling words of a God who shatters our illusions, even if we are roughly right about our own suffering.  God doesn’t comfort Job in any sense of the way we mean.  Before his devastating tour through the natural world, God simply says, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”  There was no “there there” because there are no short-cuts.

Jean Vanier writes, “Each human being carries their own wounds, their own difficulties of relationships and their own anguish.  It is a question of learning to live day after day with this reality and not in a state of illusion.”   Fake joy maintains this illusion (i.e. ‘Smile or Die), real Christlike joy exposes it (i.e. Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice – while chained to a prison wall no less)!

So this Spirit given gift helps us in our lives to become like Christ in the midst of our fragmented lives, with ourselves, with others, the wider world and not least, with God Himself.  The joy of Christ, sustains us as we face each of these areas in our lives.

The reason why the story of Adam and Eve is so important to the understanding of sin, is because every human being is either Adam or Eve.  We live our lives playing out their drama until the New Adam comes, Christ Jesus, to rescue and restore.

The perfect and sinless Adam and Eve are set in a garden.  All around them the glorious and mysterious presence of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  “It’s all yours” God says with joy.  “The whole world, all of it…..except…..except that little tree over there, don’t go there, that’s the only condition.”  And suddenly, with that command, millenia before the 10 commandments are given, they break number ten.  Millenia before Paul writes of the fruits of the Spirit, their joy in God and joy in the world now vanishes as they covet and desire the only thing they were not to touch.

And when desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin fully grown, gives birth to death.  They take the fruit, and eat.  Sin comes, joy goes, they hide, God searches.  “Where are you” he calls, as a father calls out when playing hide-and-seek with a toddler!  “Oh there you are….er, why the fig leaves…..er, I found this half eaten apple, is it yours?”

In rejecting God and his Word, they reject their wholeness.  They and the entire human race lives with this legacy.  We embrace sin and we get sorrow.  Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, it’s all rather pathetic.  Sin’s curse is set:  enmity between men and women, pain and suffering, toil and sweat.  Relationships broken and creation groaning.

And unless our relationship with God is made whole, we all remain standing, fig-leaves flapping in the breeze, under the tree in the Garden of Eden.  Joy-less and sin-full.  And the only way to end this joyless and sinful existence is to say ‘Yes!” to Jesus and stand not under the tree that condemns us, but the Tree that condemned Him.  Where he took our joyless and sinful nature and nailed it.  For the joy set before him he endured the Cross.

Adam and Eve took a short-cut when they disobeyed.  The cross tells us that Jesus took no such short-cut when He obeyed.  The mingling of the Joy of the Lord and the sorrow of our sin is a lifetime process of becoming like Jesus.  The wood that made the cross was once a seed, and the tree took years to grow.  It was fashioned, cut, stripped and reshaped.  Chosen.  Like us.  And this is never easy or comfortable.  It is drawn out and painful.

And then it is thrust into the earth, a horizontal and vertical.  As our arms reach out to the forbidden fruit, so Jesus’ arms reach out.  His reaching out cancels our reaching out.  His obedience cancels our disobedience.  His death cancels our death, and his joy is ours when, and only when, we too see that we have been crucified with Christ.  You’ll have joy all right, now pick up your cross and follow me!

The Old Adam loved his tree.  The New Adam endured his.  The Old Adam hid from God.  The New Adam assures us that God has found us.  The God who is near, seeking us out, searching for the waifs and strays, the lost, the broken, the joyless.  And he brings them home, clothed in robes of righteousness not fig-leaves, healed, whole and full of joy.

1500 years ago a Benedictine abbot wrote, “To seek God means first of all to let yourself be found by him.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is the God of Jesus Christ.  He is your God, not because He is yours but because you are His.   To choose God is to realise that you are known and loved in a way surpassing anything you can imagine, long before anyone had thought of you or spoken your name.”

When you were born, God whispered, “I’ve been expecting you.”  And when you are Born-again, God says, “Ha!  I’ve found you.”

And then God says,

“Now that I’ve found you, I’m going to sanctify you, heal you and give you a mission to do.  I accept you just as you are, but I’m going to change you, in the same way a highly desirable tree with forbidden fruit can change and be crafted into a crude and undesirable cross, I’m going to change you.  I’ll take your sin, your brokenness and sorrow, slowly but surely, and nail it to the Cross.  I will forgive you, and change you, from glory to glory, and make you like Jesus. 

And because Jesus is so full of joy, I will give you his joy in all fullness.  You will have sorrow, and trials, and temptations, but I promise, I am with you, keep your eyes on Jesus and my Spirit will grow the most wonderful, delightful fruit in your life.  Your relationships can be restored, when modelled on Jesus.  And by His stripes, I will heal you.  Now go and tell all people everywhere about this good news of great joy that is for all people.  Go, go on.”

And as Paul writes at the beginning of Philippians chapter 4, so I say to here, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

Amen.

The Cross of Christ: WHY?

Crucifixion_1558

In this talk, Richard Cunningham considers why Jesus had to die on the cross. He refers to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, and covers six misconceptions about the Cross while explaining its real significance for our lives.

Six misconceptions about the Cross:

1. The Cross is something sentimental
2. Jesus chose to die to start a new religion
3. The life and teaching of Jesus are separate from his death
4. We don’t see the danger posed by God’s holiness and our sin
5. There must be another way to be forgiven apart from the Cross
6. I’m not bad enough to need the Cross

While clarifying these misconceptions, Richard explains the true significance of the Cross for our lives.

“Nothing but the resurrection can explain the birth of Christianity.”
“It is still the Cross, not the tomb, that the Church had chosen to be the primary symbol of faith.”

http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/introductory/why-did-jesus-have-to-die-on-the-cross.htm

The painting is by:

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Italian 1490-1576

It has nothing to do with Richard Cunningham or the UCCF.  He may well have chosen a completely different portrayal of the Crucifixion, and who could blame him?  Not me.