Archive for the 'Jesus Christ' Category

Genuine Worship–Acts 16.25-35

May 11, 2009

The Temple in Jerusalem
Referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, Tim Keller says, ‘The Temple was to be the center of a ‘world-winning worship’ (Worship by the Book, p. 218).

Psalm 105.1-2
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!

The psalm instructs the people of God to tell the nations about the wonderful works of God and to sing praises to him. These simple instructions, if followed, makes worship well-rounded.

The Well-Rounded Worship Service
Well-rounded worship includes two plains: (1) the horizontal plain and (2) the vertical plain.

Worship on the horizontal plain, speaks to people. Worship on the horizontal plain edifies the people who are there—that is, they are taught the truths of God and his marvelous plan of salvation and sanctification. Psalm 105.2 instructs Israel to ‘tell of all (God’s) wondrous works’ to the peoples of the world. Telling involves teaching. Israel was to teach the nations about God.

Worship on the vertical plain speaks to God. Worship on the vertical plain gives all the glory to God, praising his name and adoring him as God. Psalm 105.2 also instructs Israel to ‘Sing to (God), sing praises to him.’ Singing is an important way that believers glorify God.

On the horizontal plain, the people are edified by the words of the hymns, by the prayers of the people, by the liturgy of the sacraments, and by the preached message and the proclamation of God’s holy word. On the vertical plain, God is glorified in the hymns we sing, the prayers we offer, the sacraments we celebrate, and the sermon preached and his word proclaimed.

Both elements must be evident for a worship service to be well-rounded. If the people are not nourished through the proper teaching of the truth, then believers go away hungry and emaciated and, even more tragically, non-believers go away starving with no hope of eternal life. If God is not glorified through the praise and love of his people, then holy worship has not occurred.

Teaching the people who are present and glorifying the living God go hand-in-hand in the worship service.

Jesus Christ Replaces the Temple
The old, physical temple in Jerusalem (the building, the system of sacrifices, the laws that governed how the ceremonies were to be conducted) has been replaced by something better, Jesus Christ. Now the worship of God is not limited to one place (the Temple in Jerusalem) and one time (the Sabbath); since Christ has risen and is in heaven, worship is everywhere and always.

John 2.19-21
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’…But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

A Testimony to the Power of God-glorifying Worship

A young man from a privileged family was living a life of reckless abandon—his nights were filled with drinking, partying, and carousing—when he woke one morning and remembered that it was Sunday. Dim memories of going to church as a child nudged him to go to church. But since he wasn’t familiar with any churches in his neighbourhood, he entered the first one he came across.

Entering the sanctuary, he was struck by the worship of the congregation. He intuitively sensed that the guest of honour that hour was God himself. The transcendence of the moment pierced his heart.

Tullian Tchividjian was impacted by the place of honour which God had in the worship service.

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old

The Law and the Gospel: from the Perspective of Acts 10.34-43

April 20, 2009

One of the big questions that all Christians face at one time or another has to do with the law of the Old Testament. What role, if any, does it now play in the life of the believer? Unfortunately, when Christians attempt to answer this question, the law often suffers. Throughout the centuries, Christians have maintained that the law does have an important role to play in the life of individual, born-again Christians; sadly, though, Christians who totally dismiss the law from their life or downplay its importance are denying themselves a wonderful benefit. So long as they ignore in whole or in part the law, they will miss out on a deeper, richer, and more vibrant experience of God’s call on their life. How can I make such a bold statement? While it is altogether true that the law does not and cannot save us, it does provide us with an indispensable guide to living the holy life that is pleasing to God. As Peter exhorted Christians to be holy in our conduct for God our Father is holy. Peter said,

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (quoted from Leviticus 11.44) (1 Peter 1.13-16)

Peter was quoting from the book of Leviticus, which was at the very heart of the law of the Old Testament. Once Peter had been saved by grace and was trusting in that grace day by day, he gained a fresh perspective on the law. It was a guide that instructed Christians on how to live a life that is pleasing to God. But before we consider how it is able to help in this way, let’s consider how the law has often been mishandled.

The Law

Typically, there are three ways that Christians may mishandle the law:

Legalism—is the mistaken belief that someone can save himself or, at least, nudge his salvation along simply by following the law perfectly. This belief is mistaken because it assumes that human effort is part of the grounds of salvation, rather than a fruit that grows out of the soil of salvation. Wherever legalism is in full force, God’s grace retreats. Legalism, and its ugly twin-sister moralism, asserts that people may storm the gates of heaven and wring favour from God’s heart simply by doing what is right. Yet the Bible declares that salvation is a free gift given by God and received by faith; it doesn’t depend on human effort at all (Ephesians 2.8).

Lawlessness (antinomianism)—is the misguided notion that the law no longer applies to Christians. Believers can do away with the law entirely because Jesus obediently fulfilled the law on our behalf; he lived the life of obedient submission to the commands of the law, so we don’t have to. In response to this misguided notion, Jesus replies, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5.17-19).’

Law unto oneself (autonomy)—is the incorrect idea that Christ set us free to do what we please. The autonomous person has crowned himself king of his own destiny. No sooner has Christ achieved liberty, then he is side-lined. Although this incorrect idea has an ancient pedigree, it has gained a new sense of life and purpose in the post-modern era of which we are a part. Autonomy literally means ‘self-law’ or self-rule’ and our world has certainly made the self the centre of the universe and the Lord of reality. Not only does the figure of Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords make no sense to self-centered people, he is offensive to them. How dare anyone other than myself tell me what to do!, the autonomous person cries out. Doing your own thing in your own way in your time regardless of how anyone else is doing it is the great preoccupation of the autonomous person. The antidote to the plague of autonomy is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the apostle explains just how glorious and powerful Christ is:

Ephesians 1.20-23: (God) raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

God crowned only one person King of kings and Lord of lords and it is not you or me. God’s only begotten Son, who is co-eternal with his Father, holds that singular office. As a declaration of Christ’s absolute sovereignty, verse 23 says that God put ‘all things’ under the feet of Christ. There is nothing in this universe, past or present, material or spiritual, that stands above Christ. Rather, he stands supreme over it all in its totality. This passage deals a death-blow to the spirit of autonomy in the church by stating that God gave the church to Christ making him ‘head over all things to the church’ (verse 22). Even (and especially) in the church, Christ is supreme ruler. Autonomy is rebellion against Christ’s crown.

We have considered how Christians mishandle the law. So, then, what is the proper way to relate to it? The proper way to handle the law once we are born from above is to treat it is a guide that directs us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory.

The Holy Life

The holy life is based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit with whom we cooperate.

God’s acceptance

Peter preached to Cornelius and his household a truth that applies to all humanity: God accepts anyone who

• Fears him

• Does what is right (verse 35)

Jesus Christ the Judge

Peter also stressed that God appointed Jesus Christ to be judge of the living and the dead (verse 42). What does the judgment entail? John’s gospel paints a picture of a world of darkness that has been pierced by heavenly light. Some are drawn to this light, while others are repulsed by it:

John 3.19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The Witnesses

There are several witnesses who bear testimony that Jesus Christ is supreme judge. Let’s consider three of these witnesses.

The apostles (verses 39, 41, 42 [twice])

The prophets (verse 43)

The works that Jesus does (verse 38)

Jesus the Perfect Judge

There are two things to note about the Judgment:

First, Jesus will be the judge. He will be a fair judge for he knows the entire content of human heart:

John 2.24-25: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this quote, ‘man’ means the breadth and depth of humanity. Jesus knows everything about all of us; nothing about humanity is unknown to him.

Second, the Judgment will be according to works:

Matthew 16.27: For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Let it be said loud and clear: it is by grace that we are saved through faith (Ephesians 2.8). It is by grace alone through faith alone. Our best works do not save. Yet, as was noted at the beginning of the sermon, the law becomes our guide, directing us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory. The law can never save, but once we are saved it assists us in bearing the fruit that characterizes the children of God.

Works

Earlier we saw that Scriptures assures us that God accepts anyone who fears the Lord and does what is right. But what do these terms mean—fear of the Lord and doing what is right?

Fear of the Lord: summarizes the first four of the Ten Commandments:

• You shall have no other gods before the Lord God Almighty
• Do not make idols
• Do not profane God’s name; it is holy
• Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy

Doing what is right: summarizes in the final six of the Ten Commandments

• Do not murder
• Do not commit adultery
• Do not steal
• Do not bear false witness
• Do not covet your neighbour’s life

Jesus intensified the demands of the law when he taught that anyone who thinks murderous thoughts is considered a murderer. Those who think wicked thoughts has broken the law and Jesus taught that breaking one law is the same as breaking all the laws

The Holy God must act righteously and judge those who break God’s law.

The Good News

The law of God drives us back to the grace of God. When we consider the impossible standard that the law demands of us, we are forced to turn back in humble submission to our heavenly Father. While we may think that God will deal harshly with us, we are met with something unexpected.

Peter proclaims the truth: God sent the word of Good News of peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all) (verse 36). The prophets witnessed to the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus (verse 43). Jesus was hanged on a tree, becoming a curse for us (verse 39).

Galatians 3.13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Did Christ Descend to Hell, Part Three

March 13, 2009

calvin-john-001I’ve written about the doctrine of the descent of Christ to hell here and here. I don’t subscribe to this doctrine because after reviewing various studies of the scriptures that are used to make a case for the doctrine, I am convinced the point is being stretched. In other words, the Bible doesn’t support the claim of the doctrine. But some very important Christians, with impressive credentials as scholars, have defended the doctrine. John Calvin was one.

For the curious, the scholarly, the pious, or the contentious…here is a link to the Apostles Creed with its own link to the writing of Calvin on Christ’s descent to hell. As I’ve mentioned, Calvin firmly believed that Christ did in fact go to hell immediately after his death. He said, ‘But we ought not to omit his descent into hell, a matter of no small moment in bringing about redemption.’ Click here to read his defense of the doctrine.

A Book for Couple of Family Devotions

February 18, 2009

book-training-hearts-teaching-minds1At bedtime, Terri and I observe a time of devotion. We’ve been doing this for some time and it has added something very important to our marriage. I can’t imagine our life without it. A good devotion helps a couple reflect on the day gone by and plan for the one to come. A good devotion points us towards God, reminds us of his goodness, clarifies his Law, underscores his grace, and leads us into fuller praise and prayer. And, hopefully, does so in a clear, simple way that is devotional, not academic.

With this criteria for assessing the value of a devotional in view, I recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade. It is simply superb. Terri and I have received many blessing  for this plain little book. The format is straightforward: there is a short devotional for each day of the week (except Sunday) and each week has a theme. The weekly themes are based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism (a method of teaching Christians knowledge about God through questions and answers).

From start to finish the book takes about two years to go through, but as I say, the reading for each day is more than manageable. It takes us about ten minutes per night to complete that night’s devotion.

Starr Meade, the author, is easy to read and only rarely uses jargon. When she does, she clearly explains the jargon so that you understand what it means and why it is important to understand the idea the word conveys. It is very, very user-friendly. Again, it is not a text book, it is a devotional.

For Terri and I, devotions have become a time to take stock of our day, the words we said (or didn’t say), the actions we took (or didn’t take), the thoughts and feelings that went on. Since no one is ever perfectly perfect even for an hour (‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves…’, 1 John 1.8), the devotion becomes the moment when we confess our sins to our gracious heavenly Father and seek his forgiveness. It also is the moment when we renew our pledge to follow his Son and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds usually cites one or two verses of the Bible per day. The Bible reading are the centre of each devotion.

Click here for more details about the book.

Bound for Glory

February 17, 2009

book-bound-for-glory1R.C. Sproul Jr., author of Bound for Glory, says that the family’s chief aim is “to seek ye first the kingdom of [God’s] dear son” and offers a practical plan for husbands and wives to support each other and their children in this endeavor.  Nobody who intends to get somewhere drives around without a clear destination in mind.  Bound for Glory offers a destination for Christian families; to present themselves back to God as faithful members of the covenant with God.

R.C. Sproul, Jr. is pastor of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, and Founder, Chairman, and Teacher of the Highlands Study Center in Bristol, Virginia, USA. He is R.C. Sproul’s son.

Click here to view more info.

Hospitality—Christian Style

February 13, 2009

jesus-and-children1Little One

I’m studying Jesus’ treatment of children in Matthew’s gospel, particularly Matthew 18.2-6;19.13-15. Our Lord makes a remarkable statement in verses 5-6. He says, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’

Jesus had been talking specifically about little children in verse two. He calls a child and puts the child in the middle of the group. But in verses 3 and 4 he turns the discussion to everyone who humbles himself like the child. Those who humble themselves this way are also ‘little ones.’

So, in verse 5 and 6, the little ones that Jesus refers to are all believers, those who are humble before their heavenly Father. Jesus says, ‘Those who receive one such child (a child of God, regardless of age) in my name receive me’ In other words, Christians who welcome other Christians are, in a real and deeper sense, welcoming Christ. Think about that!

Obviously, Jesus is not saying we should worship other Christians or pray to them or bow down before them. But, rather, we are to show them the kind of hospitality that we would show Christ, were Christ to show up at the doorstep of our home.

 

Turkish Hospitality

This reminds me of when my brother, Rich, travelled through Turkey nearly two decades ago. He returned to Canada with one story after another about the wonders of Turkish hospitality. Under the present political climate, it may be different. But prior to 9/11, the people of Turkey and, indeed, people throughout the Middle East were renowned for their amazing graciousness. One man welcomed Rich into his home, invited him to stay with his family for as long as my brother wished, and strongly encouraged Rich to come again anytime. The whole time he was under this man’s roof, Rich was treated as am honored guest. Now I realize that there are social, cultural, and religious reasons why Turks—who are Middle-Eastern and have an Islamic background—respond that way to guests. But what an example. These folks dedicated themselves to making the stranger feel welcomed. Their warmth was outstanding. Could you imagine how many people would be drawn to our congregation if they received Turkish hospitality from us? I know of a few people who made our congregation their home, in part, because of the kindness they received from those who greeted them for the first time.

 

The law

The law of the Bible includes rules about hospitality. The Old Testament says a great deal about how to be hospitable to others, family as well as strangers. A hospitable attitude and behaviour and nature are mandated. But obviously, no one can perfectly fulfill the demands of the law. We are sunk every time. We may have a reasonable facsimile of the right behaviour—but even that can’t be maintained for long! But how can we possibly have an attitude and nature that is so gracious to others that it perfectly fulfills the demand for hospitality which the law requires?  That’s where grace enters.

 

Grace

We can’t be perfectly hospitable—not with strangers, neighbours, and even loved ones. Our behaviour may be pretty good, but our thoughts and feelings…? Nope, resentment and bitterness and rivalry will eventually creep in and distort even our best efforts at being ‘nice’ to others.

Our Saviour is the only one who perfectly fulfilled the laws demand for lavishly hospitable behaviour, attitude, and nature. We trust in him, in his obedient submission to the law and righteous fulfillment of it. Thank you, Jesus.

 

How does God Convey His Grace to Us?

February 13, 2009

Herman Bavinck

bavinckHerman Bavinck was one of the great Christian thinkers of the last half of the 19th century. He had important things to say about Scriptures and the Word of God. In saying them, he didn’t mince words, but pointed out errors. So, his criticisms of Roman Catholicism are said to point out deviations from the truth, as it is revealed in God’s word. For Bavinck and other Protestants, the Word of God stands head-and-shoulders above the authority of the church and, at the same time, is the foundation of the church. This is a long quote, but worth every word.

…(T)he relationship between Scripture and the church is totally different in Protestantism than in Roman Catholicism. In Rome’s view the church is anterior to Scripture; the church is not built upon Scripture, but Scripture arose from the church; Scripture does indeed need the church, but the church does not need Scripture. The Reformation, however, again put the church on the foundation of Scripture and elevated Scripture high above the church. Not the church but Scripture, the Word of God, became the means of grace par excellence. Even the sacrament was subordinated to the Word and had neither meaning nor power apart from that Word. Now, in accordance with Christ’s ordinance, that Word was indeed administered in the midst of the congregation of believers by the minister, but this did not alter the fact that the Word was (also) put into everyone’s hand, that it was plain to everyone who studied it with a desire for salvation, that it exerted its power not only when it was proclaimed in public but also when it was studied and read at home. In that way Christians, who accepted that word with a believing heart, were liberated from sacredotalism. No longer did any person or thing stand between them and Christ. By faith they appropriated the whole of salvation, and in the sacrament they received the sign and seal of that reality. Thus the Reformation changed the Roman Catholic doctrine of the means of grace.’ (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pp. 444-445).

Did Jesus Descend to Hell?

February 10, 2009

dore-judgment2

See my more recent entry here and here.

Over the years, various people have approached me with a question about Jesus going to hell. They had heard about the idea from the Apostle’s Creed and there seemed to be suggestions of it in a few passages from the Bible. They wanted to know, was it true? Did Jesus really descend to hell? The question has resurfaced since our congregation now, periodically, says the creed together during the Sunday morning worship service.

Because of the nature of its subject, the line from the Apostles Creed grabs your attention, drawing your mind back to the clause, ‘…and he descended to hell.’

What does it mean?

Before going any further, it would help with clarity if certain words were defined. In the days of Jesus, Hades (Greek New Testament) simply meant the place of the dead and hadn’t yet acquired the additional meaning of a place of torment. Hades is ‘the intermediate state between death and the future resurrection’ (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 548). Think of a public bus station: dim, dirty, and perpetually depressing. Once in awhile someone rambles by, screaming incoherent gibberish at you. You never feel comfortable, not only because it is a place that is physically disgusting. But it also is spiritual disturbing. Terminal is the perfect descriptor for such a place. The Hebrew Old Testament term, Sheol, shares the same meaning as Hades.

The equivalence of the two terms, Hades and Sheol, is shown by the fact that the Greek version of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint) usually uses Hades (Greek) to translate Sheol (Hebrew). Hades does seem to include the sense, sometimes, of punishment. But, since it defines an intermediate state, the punishment of Hades is not eternal. The state of eternal punishment of the wicked is reserved for Gehenna.

The Greek New Testament word for the place of eternal torment is gehenna. It is ‘the abode of the wicked. Whereas hades is the intermediate state, gehenna is eternal hell’ (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 548). Going back to the analogy of the bus terminal: if hades is the depressing bus station, then gehenna is the final destination from which the wicked will never depart.

In the New Testament, hell is a catch-all word. It  is the place of eternal punishment (Matthew 25.41), everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1.9), everlasting contempt (Daniel 12.2), unquenchable fire (Matthew 3.12; 5.22; 18.9), damnation (Matthew 23.33), the fiery furnace (Matthew 13.42, 50), blackest darkness (Jude 13), a fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21.8), and a place prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25.41).

There’s little doubt that Jesus died, was buried, and remained in the state of death for three days. But did he go to the place of everlasting destruction and damnation?

Bavinck

Scripture certainly stresses the fact that Christ died and was buried (Isaiah 53.9; Matthew 12.40; 27.59-60; Luke 11.29; 23.53; John 19.40-42; Acts 13.29; 1 Corinthians 15.3-4). As Herman Bavinck said,

Jesus in reality ‘spent three days in the state of death, belonged to the realm of the dead, and thus bore the punishment of sin (Genesis 3.19). To that state of Hades he was not abandoned; his flesh saw no corruption, for he was raised the third day; yet from the time of his death to the moment of his resurrection, he belonged to the dead and therefore spent a period of time in Hades (Matthew 12.40; Acts 2.27, 31) …For the idea that Christ had descended to the place of torment, the actual hell, is nowhere to be found in Scripture, nor does it occur in the most ancient Christian writers (page 413)…For Christ in truth bore unspeakable distress, sorrows, horror, and hellish torment on the cross in order that he might redeem us from them (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume Three, pages 410, 413, 416).

Grudem

More recently, Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, has argued that the phrase is unbiblical and should be eliminated (pages 586-94)

The earliest versions of the creed don’t have it. The clause didn’t appear in manuscripts till the mid-300s (Bavinck, page 413).