Monday, April 25, 2016

Lion & Lamb, Bride & City

In Revelation 5:5-6, John hears about a lion and sees a lamb.

In Revelation 21:9-10, John hears about the bride, the wife of the lamb and sees the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

(A point made by Beale, NIGNTC, , p1063)

Nothing lost

Michael Wilcock comments on Revelation 21:26,

'The glory and the honour of the nations' contribute to the magnificence of the city; all that is truly good and beautiful in this world will reappear there, purified and enhanced in the perfect setting its Maker intended for it; nothing of real value is lost.

BST (IVP) p211

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Abraham's test (Genesis 22v1)

You may have seen this week that the government has had to cancel the spelling, punctuation and grammar tests that half a million 7 year olds had been due to take.

One of the teachers carrying out an official trial of the test paper noticed that one of the pupils seemed to know what was coming.

It turned out that the actual test paper had been available for months on the Department for Education website and parents and teachers had been encouraged to use it as practice for the real thing.

In Genesis 22v1 we’re told that God ‘tested Abraham’.

But it’s not that sort of test.

As readers of Genesis we know this is a test, but Abraham doesn’t.

If I can put it this way, Abraham doesn’t know this is only a drill!

We know that God steps in at the last moment to stop the sacrifice of Isaac, but of course Abraham doesn’t know that’s going to happen.

For Abraham this isn’t just a test.

This is a real matter of life and death.

In fact, as we’ll see, all God’s plans and promises seem in the balance here.

We’re told God tested Abraham but of course God knows all things.

He already knows Abraham’s heart completely.

He knows and rules the future.

This test isn’t for God’s sake, so that he can find out information about Abraham that he doesn’t already know.

Rather, this test is for Abraham’s sake and for God’s glory.

By this test, Abraham’s faith is tried and proved.

It’s established.

This test gives Abraham an opportunity to exercise his faith, to put it into practice.

And as he uses his faith muscles, they’re strengthened.

This is a major faith work-out for Abraham.

God might also test our own faith.

The letter to James says:

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’

(James 1:2-3)

When life is all plain sailing, we hardly know whether we’re trusting God or not.

It’s when some difficulty comes, that we’re forced to depend on God.

God may test our faith.

Not because he wants us to fail.

Not because he doesn’t already know our hearts.

But because he wants to test and establish our faith: he wants us to put it into practice.

It’s perhaps worth saying that I don’t think we should expect God to test our faith quite like this.

This event is unique in the whole of Scripture.

I guess we might differ on how God speaks and guides today.

Certainly you would find different views amongst Bible-believing Christians.

But it’s worth noting that even in Bible times, as far as we know, it was pretty unusual for God to give direct instructions to individuals like this.

Abraham was the head of the Covenant family, and God spoke to him like this on relatively few occasions in his long life.

And, of course, Abraham had little or no Bible to go on.

We have God’s full and final Word concerning Jesus Christ.

The Bible is sufficient to thoroughly equip us for every good work and God directly forbids child sacrifice later in the Bible.

(Leviticus 20:2-5)

We can be sure that God won’t ask us to do something that he’s forbidden in his Word.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Genesis 22v13

The ram caught by its horns in the thicket might remind us of the curse of Genesis 3:18 which causes the ground to produce thorns and thistles in judgement on man's sin. The curse of God will fall on the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it is too fanciful to see the thicket around the horns of the ram as pointing forward to the crown of thorns which the Lord Jesus will wear.

Genesis 22:1-18 - A handout / outline

You may wish to look away now if you are expecting to hear me preach tomorrow:

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Genesis 22:1-18 (page 22)

(1) Abraham’s test (vv1-2)

God tests (proves, establishes) our faith (James 1:2-3)

Isaac the promised seed / offspring

Would we give up what we most cherish / what we pin our hopes on?

(2) Abraham’s trust (vv3-12)

Prompt (v3a), thorough (v3b), sustained (v4), complete obedience (v10)

The obedience of faith – real faith acts (James 2:20-24)

Faith in the resurrection power of God (Hebrews 11:17-19)

(3) God’s provision (v13)

A substitute sacrifice

Cf. the thorns of Genesis 3:18; Crown of thorns?

(4) God’s promise (vv14-18)

V14 – The mountain, Mount Moriah = Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Cf. Isaac carrying the wood to the place of sacrifice (v6) and Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary

Jesus The Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice, the offspring seed of Abraham who brings blessing to all the nations

God does not withhold his only Son, whom he loves (Romans 8:32)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

There's a place where the streets shine

In a couple of week's time I am planning to preach on Revelation 21-22. I am wondering if we should sing 'There's a place where the streets shine'.

It's hard to know how much to quibble with song words. One wants to allow some poetic licence. And in introducing them the service leader has to make a judgement call about how much to explain, or perhaps explain away.

From the point of view of Revelation 21-22, There Will Be A Place Where The Streets Shine might have been more accurate since the text speaks of the New Creation and a New Jerusalem coming down to earth from heaven.

The line 'we can live there beyond time' might cause confusion. I don't think we should regard heaven or the new creation as a timeless eternality. We will always be temporal creatures. We would have to understand that line as 'we can live there beyond the ravages of time' or with unlimited time, everlastingly.

And personally I have my reservations about dancing ('we'll dance together / In the city of our God')! Perhaps my two left feet will be transformed. In any case, I guess there'll be plenty of time to practice.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Parish Magazine Item on The European Referendum Debate

From The Rectory

You may well be sick of hearing about the European Union Referendum debate. I can promise you that I won’t be banging on about it from the pulpit or in these pages. For what it’s worth, I have my opinions about the EU. And I think some of them have some Scriptural warrant. If you were to buy me a beer, I might be persuaded to share them with you, if you like, but the Rector isn’t publicly advocating either Leave or Remain.

There are many Bible-believing Christians who are enthusiastic Brexiters and committed Federalists. Likewise you will find fine Christians in all sorts of political parties. In this context I think there is probably some wisdom in the clergy being nervous about endorsing particular candidates or taking party political positions in their sermons. Nevertheless, I think it is good for us as Christians to engage in the political process and to exercise our democratic rights. Of course we’ll want to do that Christianly.  

It is not as if the Bible is uninterested in what we would call political matters. It is true that your immortal soul and your eternal destiny are infinitely more important than the retail prices index or the right to buy. Yes, the spiritual matters more than the physical, but the two are not so easily divided up. God made and cares for this world. Christ was born into it to redeem it. He taught us to pray to our unseen heavenly Father, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” We believe in the resurrection of the body and that God will make all things new – he will renew and restore this creation.   

On my reading, at least, the Bible does not envisage a somehow neutral public square closed off from God. Jesus is Lord and every inch of the universe belongs to him. He claims the allegiance of politicians, civil servants, bureaucrats and administrators in their worldly vocations as much as private individuals. As the earliest Christians saw, if Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, that is a challenge to Caesar if the Emperor has claimed those roles for himself. How we order our common life together as citizens can’t be unaffected by our most ultimate conclusions about what it means to be human and what human flourishing looks like – questions which are at the heart of the Christian faith. The gospel transforms and saves the heart, but it has implications for all of life, including national life and international relations.   

So, for the next few hundred years, one of the jobs of the church should be to study the Bible and think hard about political and public life. Perhaps then we will see greater consensus in the church and it would be appropriate for the Rector to preach about these things much more fully.  

Many politicians are telling us that in or out of the EU is Britain’s biggest political decision for generations. I agree it’s important. But I don’t think any of us really knows how far reaching the effects of leaving or remaining would be. Amidst all the confident predictions, the Christian will remember that only God really knows the future – indeed, he governs it. The Prayer Book reminds us that the Lord, our heavenly Father is “high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only ruler of princes”. From his throne he beholds all the dwellers upon earth. His kingdom is everlasting and his power infinite. We are taught by his holy Word, that the hearts of Kings (and, we might add, Prime Ministers and Presidents of the European Council and so on) and in his rule and governance and that he disposes and turns them as it seems best to his godly wisdom. The nations are but a drop in the bucket to him (Isaiah 40:15). Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). Far more important than the EU referendum is our nation’s attitude to God. That is the most fundamental and far-reaching issue of all.

As great claims are made for leaving or remaining, God would say to us, “put not your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3). No politicians can bring about heaven on earth. The position of Messiah is already taken! The ultimate hope for our world is neither Great Britain nor the European Union. We should not pin all our hopes either on the nation state, nor on international organisations. Ultimate security, prosperity and freedom can be found only under the loving rule of Jesus Christ.  

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The war on Christians

John L. Allen Jr claims on his Spectator blog that 'the global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century.'

The Week (2/4/16, p5) reports the post thus:

'Christians now rank as 'by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet'. One recent study estimated that 100, 000 a year have been killed over the last decade 'for reasons related to their faith'. Yet their fate goes largely unreported, mainly because Christians are still often seen as the 'oppressor rather than the oppressed'.'