Thursday, 30 October 2008

I need an alien...

...righteousness. I've been looking with some student ladies at Mahaney's Living the Cross-centred life and today was on battling our inherent tendency to legalism. Is my faith enough? Am I disciplined enough? Is God pleased with me now? The answers are all in Christ. It's alien to me - because God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him I might become the righteousness of God. "Our righteousness consists in Christ's obedience imputed to me because I am unified with Him - I am in Him." (Piper, from Theology Network's latest tabletalk podcast.) Or Bunyan:
"One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today and, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God."
Jesus said to His Father, of those who would believe in Him through the word of the apostles: " sent me and loved them even as you loved me." You've failed today? Of course. But will the Father reject the sacrifice of His Son? Will he reject the perfect righteousness of the Son of Man? Will he not delight in Him eternally? Will he not fulfil every promise in Him? Do not be so arrogant as to think that your guilt can get in the way of what Christ has done.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The hand that draws the bow that fires the arrow that flies

As I've studied Mark's gospel over the past 2 months (I think ch.1.1-10 is at the top of the frequency league table, with 8 times studied / spoken on / prepared / taught), I've been very struck by just how much it relies on the Scriptures (or 'Old Testament'). I've known that all the Scriptures are about Christ, so you would expect (if you believe Jesus' word) that Mark relies on the Scriptures. But to quite what extent I'd never seen before.

The OT Scriptures frequently work to create tension like a bow being draw back and back still further, as the string gets increasingly taut. It is not always that X in the OT Scriptures is Y at the coming of Christ. Sometimes that is the case - Christ is the Emmanuel, the tabernacle, the dwelling of God with man while he also is the life-blood sacrifice of atonement which means God may dwell with man without us being eternally consumed by the fire of his holiness. But often it is not simply X is Y, but in the OT a tension is built up, a bow carved out of the wood of God's revealed truth, which as time goes on in the OT, is pulled further and further back. An arrow is formed on the string: a hint, a promise as to how it may be resolved. But it is still tense, taut, ready to fly. And when the time is fulfilled, the string sings as the arrow is released and flies with all the energy God has built up over 2000 years of covenant revelation history - flies true and straight, and where we saw only tension and a shadowy arrow, now we see it land [THUCK] in the target - the target revealed as Christ. And so it is in the very first 2 verses Mark records (after his 'title').
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
Now Mark hasn't just found a couple of phrases in the Scriptures which could fit the words he's about to introduce, like a bad word study. Not having chapter and verse numbers, he quotes these verses yes because they fit with what he's about to introduce, but also because the weight of the surrounding passages fits with what he's about to introduce.

He quotes Malachi first:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? [And the prophecy ends with:] Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The messenger who will prepare the way, Elijah-like: and, Mark writes, voilà John, wearing the right gear, calling for repentence! Who do we expect to come following the messenger? "Me." YHWH. And "The Lord whom you seek - the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight." Who is this but the Messiah? But who is 'Me,' speaking, but YHWH Himself? And this reinforced with the effect he is to produce - who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Then Mark quotes Isaiah (40), as promised:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is
like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades when the
breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news;

lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Again, we have the messenger Mark has spotted promised (X is Y): a voice crying in the wilderness prepare a highway... and again - who is coming? For whom is John preparing a way? "For our God"! God is coming. Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" And yet Isaiah declares it as good news - the 'gospel'.

Yet how great is the tension between those two prophecies Mark has so swiftly glued together! Malachi announces,
God's messenger is coming - and then God is coming - bad news: repent!
Isaiah announces,
God's messenger is coming - and then God is coming - good news: believe!

How can this be? A hint is given in Isaiah - the people's sin has been dealt with. But that was then, and the sin of the time: it doesn't explain how now God may come among his people and it is good news. Yet that is just what Mark has claimed too, in his headline: so as he expounds on these 2 prophecies in the rest of the chapter (and the book), we want to know - the bow has been drawn back, Mark - you claim the arrow has flown to its target, you claim the target is this man Jesus: we want you to show us, Mark, so we see the quiver of the arrow in the target, so we hear its [THUNK] as it hits home.

And so he starts in - God's messenger comes: John. He warns the people to repent. We expect God to come on scene. Jesus comes. Eh? How does that fit?! We expected YHWH, not a Man! And the voice speaks from heaven: "This is my beloved Son." And the Spirit descends on him like a dove. The Man Jesus is declared to be God, and he announces good news to believe. The arrow has flown from the string drawn taut by Malachi and Isaiah, and it flies to the Man Jesus, declared to be the Son of God.

When it comes to OT fulfilment in Jesus, so often we just squint at the arrow - a verse - and think, "Ok, so you've plucked out a verse which has a few matching words," and we fail to notice the weight of the passage, the book, the whole OT behind this arrow as a strong bow drawn back, strong and taut, projecting this arrow swift and true to Jesus. And it is when we take the time to familiarise ourselves with the OT bow, that we most clearly see that it is designed, drawn and fired by God, and the answer, indeed, is always Jesus. Beautiful!

Thursday, 16 October 2008


"I want to break free!"

"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Jesus [Mark 10.45]

"...whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." - Jesus [Mark 8.35]

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Casting Pods to the glory of God

Is evangelism the most important activity for Christians? What society should Christian students prioritise joining on starting at university? How do we engage with culture without assimilation or separation? Clive addresses these and more in the latest evangelism podcast from UCCF.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Wimpy Women

As a group of ladies from my church head to the Northern Women's Convention tomorrow, I spotted that Piper has recently been addressing 6,200 women at a similar (albeit larger) conference on The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood. The talk looks good. I like his premise - wimpy theology makes wimpy women. Two of the examples he gives of non-wimpy women:

The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, controlling, sassy, uppity, arrogant Amazon. The opposite of a wimpy woman is 14-year-old Marie Durant, a French Christian in the 17th century who was arrested for being a Protestant and told she could be released if she said one phrase: “I abjure.” Instead, wrote on the wall of her cell, “Resist,” and stayed there 38 years until she died, doing just that (Karl Olsson, Passion, [New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963], 116-117).

The opposite of a wimpy woman is Gladys Staines who in 1999, after serving with her husband Graham in India for three decades learned that he and their two sons, Phillip (10) and Timothy (6), had been set on fire and burned alive by the very people they had served for 34 years, said, “I have only one message for the people of India. I’m not bitter. Neither am I angry. Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ’s love.” The opposite of a wimpy woman is her 13-year-old daughter Esther (rightly named!) who said, when asked how she felt about her father’s murder, “I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him.”

I appreciate that within context of marriage displaying the glory of Christ and his church (which is primary), Dr Piper addressed how unmarried Christian ladies can display the glory of Christ also.

So as I drive one Brummie grandmother, one ex-schoolteacher widow, one German doctor and myself up to Manchester, despite a ridiculously early start, I'll be giving thanks to God for the glory of Christ displayed in all of them as through non-wimpy theology, looking into God's word, we behold the face of Christ and are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. Praise Him!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

You search the Scriptures

What is newsworthy? The press decides. I'm often struck that the subjects of items which appear in my email front page feed, from yahoo's francophone press, cannot be found on the BBC 'news' website. Today, it is the news that the Pope will preside over a synod to discuss the topic of Bible interpretation. On "The Word of God in the life and mission of the church," the general assembly will bring together 250 Roman bishops, to address - according to the yahoo article - both fundamentalism and secularisation with regard to interpretation. The Pope has circulated a paper in advance of the synod, and it is from this that the article draws. This in itself is interesting, but more so, that they have invited a Rabbi to address the synod on the subject of Hebrew interpretation of Scriptures. Now it would be interesting to hear a Rabbi speak on that. But disturbing are the words by the Vatican spokesperson: Le grand rabbin de Haïfa (Israël) Shear Yashyv Cohen exposera lundi soir
"la manière dont le peuple hébreu lit et interprète l'Ecriture sainte (...)
qu'il partage en grande partie avec les chrétiens."
While the contents of the synod place Christ and the church at the centre of the Word of God, you've got to wonder what kind of 'centre' that is, if the Scriptures Jesus claimed all pointed to him as Messiah are "for the most part" read and interpreted by Christians in the same manner as Jewish people who do not recognise Jesus as Messiah. The spokesperson for the Vatican is somewhat correct, but it's not something of which to boast. Then again, with the press determining the news, the ellipsis in the quotation above may well change the meaning entirely (I couldn't source the full quotation on the Vatican website). Interpretation, eh?