Monday, December 20, 2010

DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

In the early 1940s Bing Crosby began singing ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.’ As a sleigh needs reindeer so Christmas needs snow! White Christmases were guaranteed when I lived in Canada, then Scotland, and then Canada again. But now that I live in Queensland, Australia, like Bing Crosby, I can only dream of Christmas snow!

I remember as a youngster being warmed inside and out on a cold night after visiting the local bakery heated by its own ovens. Their hot bread rolls were the best in the world! Shepherds left their flocks in the field and went to Bethlehem, the ‘House of Bread,’ to see the ‘Bread from Heaven.’

When was that very first Christmas? For, around Christmastime it’s common to hear that Christ Jesus was not born on December 25. However, the person stating this usually admits to not knowing when Jesus was born. But, if we don’t know when Jesus was born, then what makes some people so sure it wasn’t on December 25?

Who would disagree that the event of the incarnation and subsequent birth of Christ is not cause for celebration? ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14. His incarnation and birth were spoken of some seven hundred years before the actual event, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel’ Isaiah 7:14. And what about the verse of Isaiah that speaks as if the event had already happened? ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ Isaiah 9:6.

Of the great event the Commentator Norval Geldenhuys says, ‘Whether 25th December is really the birth-date of Jesus, as some people still maintain, or not makes no essential difference to the significance of the day to all believers throughout the length and breadth of the world. It is the great event itself that is commemorated and not the day as such.’

However, the Commentator William Hendriksen says, ‘It is true that during the reign of Constantine special enquiry was made with respect to the date of Christ’s birth, and that Dec. 25 received official sanction. However, much earlier than this the attention of students was focused on this very date; for example, by Hippolytus. He was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. That Jesus was born December 25 can neither be proved or disproved. I fully agree, however, with Lenski’s statement, “While December 25 is only traditional, it is a least traditional.”’

Hendriksen has built a fairly strong case that the traditional date might very well be correct! But regardless of the date, the birth of the Saviour of the world is worth celebrating!

Shepherds were tending their flocks near Bethlehem on that great day. ‘And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”’ Luke 2:9-14.

I confess that as a youngster I was more into celebrating the idea of presents at Christmas than the birth of Christ. Any notion of connecting Christmas with Christ regularly got trampled beneath Santa’s boots. Mind you, singing ‘Away in a Manger’ would sometimes outshine the Christmas tree lights by sweeping Christ’s spotlight across my heart. Every Christmas, with the rest of the kids at school, I was trotted off to church where we’d inevitably sing ‘Away in a Manger’ from the Church of Scotland Hymnary. As much as any youngster could I really meant the words we sang: ‘I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky / and stay by my side until morning is nigh / Be near me Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay / Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.’ (Hymn 657). As an adult I mean these words even more!

The wise men worshipped the Child Jesus (Matt. 2:11). As a child so did I in a childlike way! But I wandered far from Jesus as a young adult, but even so, I was still dreaming of a time of childhood innocence, those white Christmases. Then as an adult I gave the Jesus of the Bible my full study. Now I crave that childlike faith! For Jesus says, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea’ Matthew 18:3-6.

If ‘Christmas is for the kids!’ then why are some adults so afraid to mention the word ‘Christmas’ at Christmas? The once innocent terms ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Seasons Greetings’ now serve to signify a thinly veiled rejection of Christ. And why do some push for the removal of the ‘Nativity Scene’ from public places? If we are to reject Christmas then it must be done on a Biblical basis and not at the whim of ‘Bible Bashers’ (i.e., those who reject the Bible as God’s Word). Yes, it is good to test our Western traditions against Scripture, but I fear that it is not Christmas that is being rejected by some, but Christ!

Could the West really be losing sight of Christ in the current snowstorm of political correctness? Perhaps. But I think that those who disown Christ have simply been running a somewhat successful PC campaign. However, it’s really just a ‘snow job’ by the Christmas ‘grinches.’ It’s people with millstones around their necks that place stumbling blocks in the children’s path!

Ever gentle as falling snow, Christians are way too gracious in their tolerance of the present anti-Christian spirit. Christians should grab their snow blowers and begin clearing the way that leads to life.

Keep on dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know.

Monday, November 22, 2010

MYTH & LEGEND

(Both photos below are from the Web)

(The following has been excerpted from my e-book "Under God's Rainbow & Other Contemplations")

http://www.amazon.com/UNDER-RAINBOW-OTHER-CONTEMPLATIONS-ebook/dp/B006WSMSWC/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_17?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356122178&sr=1-17

I have a love for Scottish myth and legend, much of which are shared with the other Celtic people. Fionn Mac Cumhail (Finn McCool) appears in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Felix Mendelssohn raises a baton to Finn McCool in his Hebrides Overture known also as Fingal’s Cave – after a cave on the Island of Staffa. The cave’s Gaelic name is Uamh-Binn meaning ‘cave of melody.’ Beautiful! But did Finn McCool ever visit this cave and listen to its eerie water music?

Finn McCool was the leader of an ancient warrior band known as the Fianna. There’s a legend that the mighty Finn McCool and his army of warriors sleep in a great rock and will all awaken again at some future point.

Many myths and legends are built around actual people and real events. Though there is usually a core of truth to them, the tales tend to get embellished so much that they morph into mere fantasy. Fact yields to fiction. Some people view some of the stories recorded in the Bible in this way – as myth and legend. But real Christians view the Bible, as the Word of God Who does not lie. Which is to say that God supervised everything that was written in the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures; accurate copies of which are extant today.

To be sure everything in the sixty-six books of the Bible must be read in its own proper context, which includes its historical and literary genre contexts. For example, when Jesus refers to Himself as a ‘door’ He is speaking metaphorically, but when He refers to Adam He is referring to a real historical human being who lived in a real geographical Garden east of Eden.

At present there are some who reject Biblical cosmology, favouring instead a speculative and ultimately unprovable ‘Big Bang Theory.’ The Bible says that the eternal God spoke and things that were not became things that are. Therefore some see the Creator God as the initiator of the ‘Big Bang.’ Does this mean that there is a core of truth at the heart of Materialistic Cosmology, which, by its very nature, denies the existence of the Creator?

In the Bible the eternal Triune God is the One who created out of nothing the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them. This He did in six special or God days. Some Christians hold that each of these days of formation were of twenty-four hour duration, while others maintain that the Bible teaches that they were of longer duration. Indeed the original seventh or God’s Sabbath Day is never ending! Be that as it may, all true Christians believe God created everything; and that He constantly and personally sustains and maintains His creation.

All true Christians have a personal relationship with God through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. This is where the Bible comes in, for God speaks to His adopted children by His Spirit working with His Word. The Bible teaches us who God is, and what He requires of us. All the stories contained in the Bible are lessons to the Christian on these two things.

Among many other things, the Bible speaks of Creation, the Fall, the Promise of Redemption, the Flood, Christ’s Cross of Redemption, His Resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit for the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom, the Day of our Resurrection, the coming Judgment, and the final New Heavens and the new Earth. So, we see then that according to the Bible Finn McCool and his warriors will indeed rise again, along with the rest of mankind on the Last Day, i.e., the Day of Judgment.

Christ’s resurrection two thousand years ago is the heart and soul of Christianity. If Jesus did not actually physically rise from the dead then we will not rise. The Apostle says, ‘Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ 1 Corinthians 15:12-20.

The Bible is not about myth and legend, but about the fact of eternal life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Easter’s Coming To Easterhouse

Easterhouse has nothing to do with Easter. Hopefully this will all soon change! Like Westerhouse Easterhouse was the name of a farm – some six miles east of Glasgow’s city centre. However, rather than have cattle, sheep and chickens spring to mind, the mere mention of the word “Easterhouse” has razor-slashing gangs from social-housing slums gate-crash one’s thoughts. Easterhouse has such a bad name. Rough. Tough. Enough!

Has God forsaken Easterhouse? One resident reportedly said, “God hasn’t been here once in the 60 years since we were built. We have suffered from deprivation, neglect, violence and lack of facilities since day one. Does Easterhouse really need God when He hasn’t ever been here? People from as far away as Canada, Australia and America have heard of Easterhouse, due to the problems we still have. Was God there when the latest person was stabbed? What would it take for Him to listen?” See:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/new-weapon-in-bid-to-beat-easterhouse-gangs-the-bible-1.1066458

Yes, what would it take for God to listen? What would it take for God to do what most of us would avoid like the plague, ie, pay Easterhouse a visit? Would prayer help? Would community repentance? Would belief in His Gospel? Anyway, the good news is that God is listening! He isn’t done with Easterhouse!

Bibleworld has been invited into the house of Easter by some of the local churches. Bibleworld is a mobile church mission invented by the Scottish Bible Society. The idea is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on the Eaterhousians.

Nineveh repented in dust and ashes at Jonah’s preaching. May God move Easterhouse to do the likewise!

Countless millions of people living today can testify to having had their lives changed by God working with the Easter message. May Easterhouse move out of its slums and into God’s house of many mansions!

Christian bookstores are filled with books with stories about people Christ has set free from lives in bondage to drink, drugs, and wanton crime.

Read, for example, the story of a Christian theological professor who led his father’s murderer to Christ while the murderer was in prison for the crime! See: “Brothers Because of Bloodshed”

http://www.dr-fnlee.org/jailjoy.html

Speaking of the Bibleworld people, one seventeen year old resident of Easterhouse said, “I doubt they can handle the problems around here, which are much bigger than Jesus.”

An aspect of the Good News is that there is no problem bigger than Jesus! “For God so loved the *world* that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17.

How does God save the world? By having His Son live the perfect and sinless life that none of us can live and by having Him nailed to a tree to pay the price our imperfect and sinful lives deserve from God. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is God’s testimony that Jesus has paid our debt to God in full. This is the message of Easter. This is the Good News!

May the whole Easterhouse community repent and believe in the Easter message and be saved!

Please join with me in praying that God will be pleased to spare Easterhouse.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

THE BODY OF CHRIST

(The following has been excerpted from my e-book "On the Lord's Table")

http://www.amazon.com/ON-THE-LORDS-TABLE-ebook/dp/B007892M5W/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1356120542&sr=1-10

Introduction
A wonderful thing came out of the Reformation that began with Martin Luther nailing his Ninety five Theses to the (presumably) solid door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st 1517. It’s one of the things we tend to take for granted. The inscripturated Word of God (which speaks of the incarnated Word of God) was put into the hands of ordinary people.

Almost eighty years previous, also in Germany, Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 invented a printing press with moveable and replaceable type. Gutenberg published the Bible using a Latin translation from about AD 380.

When the Reformation began in 1517 the Church began to abandon discouraging people from reading the Bible, and instead began to encourage it .And the beauty of it was that better translations became available to the ordinary people, translations in their native tongues. There’s no better way to speak to the collective heart of any people than in their native language.

Now, with the ready availability of the Scriptures to the ordinary people in their own languages came a wonderful thing! No longer were priests and popes the sole interpreters of Scripture, but Scripture alone was to be its own interpreter!

'The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, (which is not manifold, but one,) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.' Westminster Confession of Faith 1:9.

Controversy
I’d like to use this system of interpretation as we look at what was a very controversial piece of Scripture at the time of the Reformation. It’s found in Matthew 26:26, in the second half of verse 26 where it says that Jesus said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’

As He was instituting the Lord’s Supper Jesus gave His disciple bread to eat. Now, there are variations of these words in the three synoptic Gospel accounts and of course in the 1 Corinthians 11 account given by the Apostle Paul. However, each of these four accounts just mentioned contain the words, ‘This is My body.’

Now as we go, I’d like us to keep in mind the great wrestling match that went on over these words. What exactly does Jesus mean when He says, ‘This is My body’? There’s the Roman Catholic view, the Lutheran view, the so-called Zwinglian view. Then there’s the view of Calvin.

It was really only at the time of the Reformation beginning in 1517 that the Roman Catholic view was successfully challenged from Scripture. However, Calvin held that, ‘Among the early Christians, there was no contention as to the Lord’s Supper... They all understood Christ’s words figuratively... Augustine... terms it a foul affair to eat the flesh of Christ corporeally!’ (From Francis Nigel Lee).

It wasn’t until the 10th and 11th centuries that the doctrine of Transubstantiation really began to take hold. It was first referred to as Transubstantiation in the 12th century. The Roman Catholic view, is that the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper Transubstantiate, ie, change into the actual body and blood of Christ.

The technicality of what Rome is saying is that while the substance changes, the accidents remain the same. Talk about double-speak! But whatever way you look at it, Rome teaches that you are physically eating the actual flesh and blood of Christ when you partake of its Mass. Which is to say that Rome believes that when Jesus said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body’ He was feeding His disciples chunks of His own flesh!

The Reformers of course begged (if begged is the right word!) to differ on this! But on what basis? Well, this is where the Scriptures come in. The supposed change to the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ was supposedly brought about by a priest uttering the words, ‘hoc enim est corpus meum.’ This is Latin for ‘This is my body’ and is probably where the term hocus-pocus comes from.

But where in Scripture do we get the notion that the bread and wine were going to Transubstantiate? That’s the point! There is no solid Scriptural basis for the Doctrine of Transubstantiation! And if bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, then inevitably people will end up worshipping the elements!

So, what did Jesus actually have in mind when He said, ‘This is My body’ as He instituted the Lord’s Supper? We’ve already noted that the early Church understood the words Jesus spoke as figurative. Which is to say that they believed that the bread and wine symbolized Christ’s body and blood.

However, the great Reformer Luther sailed close to the Romish wind, eventually coming up with what is commonly known as the Doctrine of Consubstantiation. Lutheran Consubstantiation differs from Roman Catholic Transubstantiation in that it is a view that somehow Christ is present bodily in, under and through the bread and wine.

Rome says that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Lutheranism says that the body and blood of Christ become present in the bread and the wine.

There is not a tremendously great difference between these two views – at least as I’ve stated them! But both Zwingli and Calvin had a massive problem with the Roman and the Lutheran view.

So, what’s the main problem with Christ somehow being humanly present in the bread and the wine or the bread and wine becoming Christ’s flesh and blood? Well, it’s all to do with the physical body of Christ!

Where in Scripture does it teach the human ubiquity of Christ? In other words, where are we taught that Christ’s body can be everywhere at once?

Zwingli overcame this problem by concluding that the words of institution were figurative. So Zwingli at least had something in common with the early Church fathers. Zwingli rejected the physical presence of Christ in the Supper, but, it should be noted that he didn’t deny that Christ was spiritually present to believers.

We usually refer to the Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper as the symbolic view. Zwingli held that the Lord’s Supper is primarily a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. However, keep in mind Zwingli held that there was a spiritual benefit to be had by believers.

Now enter that great systematiser of Biblical teaching – John Calvin. Calvin refused to go beyond Scripture in any of His teachings. He would go only as far as the Scriptures went, and no further! To Calvin, like Zwingli, he saw no change taking place in the elements. The elements do not Transubstantiate or Consubstantiate. But like Zwingli Calvin held that the Scriptures taught that a spiritual feeding takes place.

Now, it’s hard for me to nail down the exact specifics of what Calvin had in mind, but he was of the view that believers spiritually feed on Christ’s physical body in the Lord’s Supper. But, and here’s the real the point to the whole issue – Jesus is in heaven bodily. Therefore to feed on His flesh and blood believers must somehow access Him in Heaven. This we do spiritually in the Lord’s Supper through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Which is to say that the bread and wine do not change into the body and blood of Christ.

Nor is Christ bodily present in, under or with the bread and wine. Rather the Holy Spirit enables us to feed on Christ who is in Heaven. But it’s a not a physical feeding, but rather a spiritual feeding! Which is to say that the bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper are not just feeding the believer’s stomach, but are feeding the total man. The bread stays bread and the wine stays wine, but they are a means by which the believer communes with Christ.

Christ is physically in Heaven, but the Holy Spirit enables you to lift your heart to heaven and partake of Christ’s flesh and blood. Yes, you really do partake of Him – but spiritually, not physically. Sure, sometimes it’s hard for us to understand how we can do a thing spiritually. But God is Spirit. And because He is Spirit He therefore does everything spiritually – even back when He formed the heavens and the earth!

Can you think of anything God has done that is not spiritual? No? Well, according to Calvin the Bible teaches that believers do something spiritual at the Lord’s Table. We spiritually partake of the physical flesh and blood Christ who bodily is in Heaven. But, we have seen that Calvin rejects both Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation. And that he goes further than Zwingli in that Calvin is teaching a spiritual feeding on Christ’s flesh and blood.

Yes, Zwingli did not deny Christ’s spiritual presence in the Supper, but Calvin goes into the detail of that presence. When the believer eats and drinks of the cup he is spiritually partaking of Christ’s flesh and blood who is in the heavenly realms!

Our own Confession, which was forged refined and refined in the furnace of the Reformation, has this to say about believers spiritually feeding on the body and blood of Christ,

'Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally or corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that Ordinance, as the elements are to their outward senses.’ Westminster Confession of Faith 29:7.

So, we have a bit more of an idea now on what it means to ‘feed on Christ’ in the Lord’s Supper. Think about it, the Apostle Paul calls Christ our ‘Passover.’ And the Passover Lamb was representative of Christ. But more than that, no longer was the Lamb to represent Christ.

Now the bread and the wine were to represent His body and blood broken and shed for you. But more than that, they are a means of grace whereby Christ meets with believers. He is the real Lamb of God whose sacrifice and shed blood give us eternal life. To be sure, we don’t need to partake of the Lord’s Supper to receive eternal life. However, believers are spiritually strengthened, they have their faith strengthened by partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Calvin
Jesus had said long before He instituted the Lord’s Supper, ‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed’ John 6:54-55.

Calvin acknowledges that in these verses Jesus is not referring directly to the Lord’s Supper. However, he does say,

'Indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before He had instituted it. It is certain, then, that He now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only. And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon.'

Calvin says, ‘The doctrine which is here taught is sealed in the Lord’s Supper.’ So, believers eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ. They do it by faith – they do it spiritually. So the real difference between Calvin and the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper has to do with the present existence of Christ’s body.

Romanism and Lutheranism believe in the ubiquity of Christ’s body. But Calvin does not believe that Scripture teaches the omnipresence of Christ’s humanity. Christ is in Heaven – bodily, until He returns. So, when Jesus says, ‘Take, eat, this is My body’ He is saying that the bread represents His body. However, by eating the bread you are spiritually feeding on Christ’s physical body. And, because Christ has ascended to Heaven bodily, the Holy Spirit accommodates this.

So, the bottom line is this: How can Jesus be bodily present as or in the bread and wine when He is bodily in Heaven?

As God He can be everywhere at once. But Christ is also fully Man. As a Man He increased in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). As God He knows all things and is all wise and infinite. But as a Man He doesn’t know all things and has to increase in wisdom. Therefore as a human being He’s finite. We must not confound the two natures of Christ. He is fully God and fully Man at the same time. He has two distinct natures but is one Divine Person forever. We must keep each nature distinct from the other.

'Two whole, perfect and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one Person, without conversion, composition, or confusion, Which Person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.' Westminster Confession of Faith 8:2

Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation confuse the two natures of Christ. They make His humanity ubiquitous or Omnipresent. In other words they ascribe Christ human nature divine attributes. God is everywhere at once, but a true human being cannot be everywhere at once. In other words, ubiquity or omnipresence go against the true nature of a human being.

Christ is fully Man. After His resurrection Jesus went to some lengths to illustrate that He was still fully human. We read about Jesus after His resurrection in Luke 24:36ff. His disciples are all together and the two men who just met Jesus on the road to Emmaus were telling them that they had met the resurrected Christ when He appeared in their midst.

Luke 24:36, ‘Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have”’ Luke 24:36-39.

Notice that Jesus invites them to handle Him to prove He’s not a spirit! The Lord invited Doubting Thomas to handle Him as proof it was the self-same body that was nailed to the cross that was resurrected from the dead! In other words, though Christ is fully God He remains also fully Man.

John in 1 John 1:1 speaks of a Christ who remains a solid Man. ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, which we have handled, concerning the Word of life’ 1 John 1:1.

In the Luke 24 passage notice one of the things that Jesus did to verify to His disciples that He wasn’t just some wispy apparition or manifestation. He invited them to handle Him and He also ate food in their presence. Luke 24:41b, “‘Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence’ Luke 24:41b.

Calvin comments on this verse,

'During the whole course of His life, He had subjected Himself to the necessity of eating and drinking; and now, though relieved from that necessity, He eats for the purpose of convincing His disciples of the certainty of His resurrection.'

Jesus, to Calvin, is as solid as a rock after His resurrection as He was before He was dead and raised. In other words, Calvin held that Jesus, as to His humanity, could only be in one place at a time.

Now, some people have the notion that the resurrected Jesus put His humanity aside from time to time to take on different forms. For example, Mark in Mark 16:12 says that, ‘He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country.’

Letting Scripture interpret Scripture Calvin uses Luke 24:16 to interpret the meaning of this verse. Speaking of the two men on the road to Emmaus Luke in Luke 24:16 says, ‘But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.’

So, Calvin commenting on Luke 24:16 and Mark 16:12 says,

'The Evangelist expressly states this, lest any one should think that the aspect of Christ’s body was changed, and that the features of His countenance were different from what they had formerly been. For though Christ remained like Himself, He was not recognized, because the eyes of the beholders were held; and this takes away all suspicion of a phantom or false imagination.'

As the bread and the wine remain bread and wine throughout the Lord’s Supper, so Christ remains fully human after His resurrection. Now, to be sure, the resurrected Christ has taken on qualities that He didn’t have before. Calvin has already alluded to the fact that Jesus no longer needs to eat to sustain His physicality. However, glorification is a far cry from Jesus morphing from one shape to another.

Calvin commenting on Luke 24:28 says, 'Christ for the time threw a veil over the eyes of those with whom He was conversing, so that He had assumed a different character, and was regarded by them all as an ordinary stranger.'

So, just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so it was the eyes of the beholders that were prevented from recognizing Jesus. In other words, Jesus wasn’t changing His shape or form, rather it was their eyes that were prevented from recognizing Jesus. For we see in Luke 24:31, ‘For their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.'

Calvin is consistent when he comments on this verse, saying,

'By these words, we are taught that there was not in Christ any metamorphosis, or variety of forms, by which He might impose on the eyes of men, but that, on the contrary, the eyes of the beholders were mistaken, because they were covered; just as, shortly afterwards, He vanished from the eyes of those very persons, not because His body was in itself invisible, but because God, by withdrawing their rigor, blunted their acuteness.'

It was the same when Mary did not recognize the resurrected Saviour where it says in John 20:14b that she ‘Saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.’

Commenting on this verse Calvin says,

'It may be asked, Whence arose this mistake, that Mary does not recognize Jesus, with whom she must have been intimately acquainted? Some think that He appeared in a different form, but I think that the fault lay rather in the eyes of the women, as Luke (Luke 24:16) says of the two disciples, their eyes were withheld from knowing him. We will not say, therefore, that Christ was continually assuming new shapes, but that it is in the power of God, who gave eyes to men, to lessen their sharpness of vision whenever He thinks proper, that seeing they may not see.
'In Mary we have an example of the mistakes into which the human mind frequently falls. Though Christ presents Himself to our view, yet we imagine that He assumes various shapes, so that our senses conceive of any thing rather than of the true Christ; for not only are our powers of understanding liable to be deceived, but they are also bewitched by the world and by Satan, that they may have no perception of the truth.'

And finally, perhaps the passage of Scripture used most by those who believe in a Transubstantiated and Consubstantiated Jesus is found in John 20. It’s the issue of resurrected Jesus appearing in the midst of His disciples while the doors were shut. Again, we’ll let the great Reformer answer this,

'We ought to believe that Christ did not enter without a miracle, in order to give a demonstration of his Divinity, by which He might stimulate the attention of His disciples; and yet I am far from admitting the truth of what the Papists assert, that the body of Christ passed through the shut doors.
'Their reason for maintaining this is, for the purpose of proving not only that the glorious body of Christ resembled a spirit, but that it was infinite, and could not be confined to any one place. But the words convey no such meaning; for the Evangelist does not say that He entered through the shut doors, but that He suddenly stood in the midst of His disciples, though the doors had been shut, and had not been opened to Him by the hand of man.
'We know that Peter (Acts 10:10) went out of a prison which was locked; and must we, therefore, say that he passed through the midst of the iron and of the planks? Away, then, with that childish trifling, which contains nothing solid, and brings along with it many absurdities! Let us be satisfied with knowing that Christ intended, by a remarkable miracle, to confirm His disciples in their belief of His resurrection.'

Lutheranism and Romanism teach that Christ’s humanity is absorbed by His divinity. But Calvin, in line with Scripture, does not allow this. Calvin, as we’ve seen, will not allow Christ’s humanity to alter, not even for a split second, in order for Him to pass through closed doors!

Conclusion
In the Lord’s Supper where Jesus says, ‘This is My body,’ He doesn’t mean that He transforms His body into a piece of bread. Nor is He suggesting that He is able to walk though solid walls and doors bodily! For this is to confuse the two natures of Christ. It is to ascribe divine attributes to His humanity! Therefore Christ’s physical body is not ubiquitous.

Our Lord is in Heaven bodily. Yes, as God He is omnipresent, but as a Man He remains in Heaven. Yes, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are symbols, but they are more than symbols. They are the means by which we spiritually feed on Christ’s flesh and blood through faith. In the Lord’s Supper the Holy Spirit lifts the believer’s heart so that the believer’s faith may feed on our Lord’s flesh and blood in Heaven.

Monday, October 18, 2010

JESUS: SOLID AS A ROCK!


(The following has been excerpted from my e-book "On the Lord's Table")

http://www.amazon.com/ON-THE-LORDS-TABLE-ebook/dp/B007892M5W/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1356120542&sr=1-10



Most of you will be familiar with the Star Trek TV show. There have been a few spin-off programs and a few movies made. Star Trek has perhaps done more to advance the Theory of Evolution in the minds of people, than anything taught in secularistic school! If it is assumed that life evolved on earth then it's logical to assume it might evolve elsewhere in the universe! Hence all the weird and wonderful alien life forms on Star Trek. But I'm not wanting to talk about a TV program. I’d rather talk about Jesus Christ.

What does Star Trek have to do with Jesus Christ? Well, in Star Trek Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock got to walk through solid walls. I believe: “Beam me up, Scotty!” were the words they used in order to do it. Many, Christians today believe the Bible teaches that Jesus walked through walls.

Do the Scriptures really teach that Jesus walked through walls? Some of you may be thinking: Does it really matter? Well, these and other questions will be what we're seeking to answer in the following.

When you think of Jesus, what do you have in mind? Do you think of Jesus as God, and therefore as God He is able to do anything God can do, even walk through solid objects? Jesus is God and as God He can do anything God can do. However, we must not forget that Jesus is also a Man. He is One Divine Person with two distinct natures forever. He is the Son of God, the Second or Middle Person in the Trinity. But, at the same time He is also the Son of Man, the Second Man, ie, the Last Adam. He is the eternal Word become flesh. Jesus then, while at the same time being God, is also a Man. To be sure He is no ordinary man, but He is fully man – a real human being. As God He can do everything God can. But, and here’s the rub, as a man He can only do what a man can!

Now then, a spirit can walk through solid walls, but a man cannot walk through solid walls. As God Jesus is indeed everywhere, and in every room even at the same time. But as a Man Jesus is restricted – restricted to the confines of His own skin. When someone gives us a fright, we might say: “I nearly jumped out of my skin!” But truth be known, it's impossible for a human being to jump out of his skin.

Some people think it’s funny to put down other people. I’ve even heard it said, “So and so? – He’s a waste of space!” The human body takes up space, not “space the final frontier”, but rather your body, my body, takes up space the size and shape of your body. The writers of Star Trek fully knew this when they came up with the “beam me up!” scenario. “How can we transport a human being from point A to point B through solid objects? Let’s just scramble their body particles, beam them all elsewhere, then unscramble them!” But that’s impossible! “We know, but it’s only a TV show, you know, sci-fi, fantasy!

The trouble is that there are many millions of kids who have grown up who now think that some day men will really be able to pass through solid objects! “But!” I hear you say, “I know of a Man who can do that already! Jesus Christ! And some day, when I am resurrected I'll be able to walk through brick walls too! For doesn’t the Bible say that then I will be 'like Him?'” Is this what you have in mind? Well, is this what the Bible really teaches? Is it all just a question of mind over matter? Do you think the human Jesus could walk through a solid wall if He wanted to?

Was the resurrected Jesus just pure intellect, pure mind, and matter didn’t matter to Him? If you touched the resurrected Jesus would your hand simply pass through Him? If He touched you would His hand simply pass through you? Was the resurrected Jesus simply a spirit manifesting Himself for the sake of human eyes? “Jesus is God” I hear you say, “and as God He could make His hand pass through solid objects, even me, if He wanted! And He could be two places with His same body at once if He wanted! In fact He could be everywhere at once with His body if He wanted!”

Is this the kind of thinking going on in your mind? Do you think of the risen body of Jesus as ubiquitous? Do you think of His resurrected body as omnipresent? But can the human body of Jesus be everywhere at once? Can it be in more than one place at the same time? Is it really just a question of mind over matter for Jesus? If He wants to be in two places bodily at the same time it’s up to Him? If He wants to walk through solid walls bodily, then it’s up to Him? Can Jesus do with His body whatever He has a mind to? Do you think that matter doesn’t matter to Jesus?

These are serious questions. These questions impact on our understanding of Jesus. In fact, I would go as far as saying that these questions impact on our view of reality! I say this because all reality must be measured against Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who gives meaning to all things. He is the measure of all things. The late Francis Schaeffer used to speak of true truth. Well, Jesus is real reality – not virtual reality, not just reality, but real reality! For the Scripture says, “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him ALL things consist” Col. 1:16b&17.

If all things consist in Him, ie, if all things have their basis, their existence IN Him, then I must look to Him for understanding in all things. But what would happen if my understanding of Jesus Christ was extremely limited, or worse, erroneous? Well, that would impact my view of all things; which includes everything else in creation. If Jesus is the measuring-stick of all things, and your copy of the measuring stick is off, then your understanding of the nature of things will be off too.

We live in an age where people think it’s physically possible for men to walk bodily through solid walls. This view of reality has been widely propagated by certain sci-fi programs such as Star Trek, as mentioned. But, I’d like to let you in on something, it’s as Solomon says, “There’s nothing new under the sun!”

This is simply the past revisiting the present. And it all stems from a faulty or erroneous view of Jesus Christ. I believe, it has more to do with the Transubstantiated Jesus of Rome than the real Jesus of Scripture. Therefore, I for one do not believe that the Man Jesus can walk through solid walls! Hence, I don't believe that it was just a question of “mind over matter” for Him!

What’s the matter with all of this kind of thinking? What’s wrong with Jesus walking through solid walls? What’s wrong with His body being ubiquitous? What’s wrong with Jesus being bodily present in more than one place at once? Well, it’s to confuse the two natures of Christ, for a start. It’s to mix His humanity with His deity and vice versa. It’s to ascribe divine attributes to a man – even the Man Jesus Christ!

Only God can be everywhere at once! The devil is pretty good at certain things. But not even the devil can be in Scotland and Australia at the same time. Where is the Scriptural proof that not even spirits can personally be everywhere at once? A good example might be the time Daniel prayed for help but it was three weeks in coming. The angel said to him, “Your words were heard and I have come because of your words. But the prince in the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia” Daniel 10:12b&13.

So, here you have an angel, a spirit being, being hindered from moving from point A to point B. Therefore, not even a spirit can be two or more places at once. These words are recorded in Job 2:2, “And the LORD said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' So Satan answered the LORD and said, 'From walking to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”

The Devil might be faster than Speedy Gonzales, but nevertheless he still has to traverse the distance between point A and point B, ie, walk to and fro, back and forth. Only God alone, who is Spirit, is able to be everywhere at once. This is because he alone is God and omnipresence is one of His incommunicable attributes.

God is Creator and all other things are creatures. Angels are created beings, ie, creatures. Fallen angels, the devil, and all the demons are creatures. All human beings, even the human Jesus Christ is a creature! The body of Jesus was created and formed in the womb of the Virgin Mary – of her substance. His body was not pre-existent. It was made of the same substance as Mary and yours and mine. Yes, there is a vast difference between God as Creator, and angels and men. Only God is omnipresent because only God is God! Angels and men are not God.

This is where it starts to get a little bit tricky. God can “walk” through walls because He is omnipresent. Though you might not look at it as Him walking through walls, but God can be both outside and inside a locked room at the same time. What about an angel or a demon? Can an angel or a demon be both outside and inside a locked room at the same time? Well, we’ve already established the impossibility of this from Scripture. Angels and demons have to traverse the distance between point A and point B.

But may an angel or demon pass through a solid wall? We’d have to answer that in the affirmative. For example, the Bible speaks of demon-possession. Jesus commanded a legion of demons to come out of the demoniac and enter into a herd of pigs. In Mark 5:10 the demons begged Jesus earnestly that He not send them out of the country. Again, this proves that demons are anything but omnipresent. They could be sent out of the country, ie, from point A to point B!

Mark 5:12-13 says: “And all the demons begged Him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’ And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand.)” The rest of the story you know, but the point is that demons can enter men and leave men. They can even go into pigs! We conclude then, that spirit beings can walk through walls too. For, to enter or leave a man or a pig is to enter and leave through a solid object.

We have seen that God alone can be everywhere at once. And that He can, as it were, walk through solid walls. And we’ve seen that angels and demons, ie, spirit beings can also go through walls. However, unlike God, spirit beings are not personally omnipresent.

As we home in on the matter at hand. What about human beings? Can a human being walk through a solid wall? Well, most "Trekies", ie, followers of Star Trek, think so. They think it's just a matter of time before the technology to do this will arrive. But what about you? Do you think a human being is able to walk through a solid wall?

Is Jesus Christ a human being? You have to answer that, yes, otherwise you are “Docetic.” Docetic comes from the Greek word dokeo – to seem, appear. "Docetism" is an ancient heresy which the Church has already dealt with. Let me give you Henry Bettenson's definition of Docetism, “The assertion that Christ’s human body was a phantasm, and that His sufferings and death were mere appearance. ‘If He suffered He was not God; if He was God He did not suffer.’” Documents of the Christian Church, p.50.

Today’s so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, are Docetic in their view of Christ’s resurrected body. Are you? They think that Jesus’ resurrection body was a phantasm. They teach that the resurrected body of Jesus can ooze through solid objects, such as tomb walls. So then, was Jesus’ resurrected body a human body? Or was it a phantasm? In other words, was Jesus’ resurrected body real, or was it phantom? Did His body disolve into gasses as the Watchtower Society of New York Inc. teaches?

Was the resurrected Jesus merely a manifestation of His spirit? – a mere phantasm, a ghost? Was He like those angels at His empty tomb who appeared to be, ie, seemed to be, men? Well, Luke answers these questions in his Gospel. In Luke 24:36 we see after His resurrection Jesus standing in the midst of His disciples. Luke 24:37 says, “But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.”

Did you get that? His disciples are thinking that Jesus is a spirit. So what does Jesus do to demonstrate that He is NOT a spirit? What does He do to show them that He is indeed a human being, ie, the self-same human being who was nailed to the cross? In Luke 24:39 Jesus says to them, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

Here we have Jesus proving to His disciples that He is NOT a spirit. He even asked them for some food to prove that He was not a spirit. Luke 24:42-43, “So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honey-comb. And He took it and ate it in their presence.” So there you go! Jesus is a human being! He has flesh, and He has bones contained in that flesh. And He is able to chew food with His teeth and swallow it, just like other human beings. Therefore – and hold on to this – even spirits are limited in what they can do!

We have noted already that created spirits cannot be everywhere at once. But they can pass through solid objects – such as human beings, pigs, and presumably also brick walls. But here is Jesus proving that He is NOT a spirit. And, in proving that He is not a spirit, He is therefore proving that He cannot walk through solid walls! For, He is saying that a spirit does not have flesh and bones like Him. It is because a spirit does not have flesh and bones that it can pass through solid objects. It is because the spirit is immaterial that it can pass through material. But Jesus here is going to great lengths to prove that He IS material and NOT immaterial.

By way of proof He had His disciples handle Him, thus proving His body is as solid as theirs. And also the food He ate didn’t fall through Him to the ground when He put it in His mouth. They handled Him and He handled food. Their hands didn’t pass through Him, neither did His hands pass through the fish and honey-comb. We see then, that there are certain things a spirit cannot do. A spirit cannot have you handle him because a spirit is not made of flesh and bones. But the point being, Jesus wanted to reassure His disciples that it was really Him – with the self-same body He had before – who was present with them.

John, in his Gospel, tells us of two times that Jesus, after His resurrection, stood in a room full of His disciples, stood in their midst, when the doors of the room were shut (John 20:19, 26). In John 20:19 we’re told, “when the doors were shut Jesus came and stood in the midst.” And, in verse 26 we’re told, “Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst.” The $64,000 question is, How did Jesus manage to come and stand in their midst? Is it necessary for us to jump to the conclusion that, because the doors were shut, that He walked through a solid door or wall to be with them?

It’s the same kind of thing with Him exiting the Tomb. Must He have walked through the stone walls? Is it necessary for us to jump to the conclusion that the body of Jesus somehow oozed through the grave clothes? And also, related, did the materially resurrected Jesus dematerialize inside the sealed tomb in order to rematerialize outside of it? Is it possible just to apply a bit of common sense, Scriptural sense, when looking at these things? Or have we all been watching too much Star Trek?

We are all I'm sure familiar with the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” I’m afraid that a Jesus who walks through walls is too close to the Romish Mass for me! The Church of Rome teaches that the bread and wine in their Mass become the real and actual body and blood of Christ.

What does all this have to do with what we've been looking at? Well, let’s say a Roman Catholic priest in Scotland and a Roman Catholic priest in Australia both celebrate the Mass at the exact same time. Let’s say they both were in buildings with the doors and windows firmly shut. According to Rome, the closed doors wouldn’t stop Christ from bodily entering that room. In other words, the real and actual body and the real and actual blood of Christ would just suddenly appear in both those rooms simultaneously! For they believe that Christ was referring to His actual body at the Last Supper, when He said, “This is My body.”

To say that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ is to go beyond Scripture. It is to confound and confuse the two natures of Christ. It is to mix them. For, it is to ascribe divine attributes, incommunicable attributes, to Christ’s humanity. The humanity of Christ cannot be in two places at once! Only God the Creator can be two or more places at once! Only God is Omnipresent. Only God is truly ubiquitous! Hold on to the fact that Omnipresence is one of God’s incommunicable attributes.

Secondly, only a spirit can “walk” through solid walls. Jesus, as we’ve seen, went to great lengths to prove He wasn’t a spirit but rather He was fully Man. Therefore, do you really think Jesus Christ would try to undo that by oozing through solid walls, to suddenly appear behind closed doors, even in the Romish Mass or elsewhere?

I think we all need to be very, very careful with this one! Christian orthodoxy has already condemned Docetism as the heresy it is. It seems to me that we are in danger of resurrecting it with a Jesus who walks through walls!

How do we answer the questions, How did Christ get out of His grave clothes? How did He enter the room with closed doors? Well, surely it wouldn’t be too hard for an angel, who is able to walk through walls, to unwrap the grave clothes and fold them up? Perhaps it was the same angel who rolled away the stone for Jesus so that He could walk through the open doorway the tomb!

How did Jesus appear in a room with closed doors? Keep in mind that there was a time, before His resurrection, that a bunch of people wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff. Luke 4:30 says, “Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” What prevented them from seeing Jesus so that He could just pass unnoticed through their midst? Jesus could have just as miraculously passed through the midst of His disciples as they all went into the room! Perhaps, for some reason, they just didn't see Him enter the room with them! He could have been in the room already but their eyes (like they eyes of those on the road to Emmaus), were withholding!

Jesus walked on water before His resurrection; but so did Peter! But you wouldn’t argue on account of this that Peter's body had special or divine qualities, would you? And, what about the floating axe head? Why then do some feel the need to ascribe divine attributes to Jesus’ body? Why is it that some folks wish to imagine Jesus walking bodily through solid walls and such like? Scripture nowhere explicitly says that He did this!

There’s much, much more that could be said and should be said about this. For, I fear the church nowadays is erring by mixing the two natures of Christ. But, I think we've been given enough to think about. I ask, What is your mind on this matter? Do you think that Jesus walks through solid walls? Or do you think we need to look at the Scriptures more carefully for the answer? I’m sure you’ll be happy to look further and deeper into this fascinating subject!

Monday, October 11, 2010

OFF THE MAP

About to wax poetic about sailing a barque down the stream of life (this of course taking place while lost in the Canadian wilderness with a lonely loon’s haunting cry off in the distance), I had the presence of mind to check my dictionary for the definition of the word ‘barque.’ Up till now I held the idea that a barque was a canoe made of tree bark, North American Indian style. True, poets sometimes use the word to refer to any boat, but alas the technical meaning is that of a type of 19th century sailing boat. We live and learn!

When I was a young and unconverted man I attempted to hoist a sail to catch a fresh breeze in life. A change of tack seemed good! I thought that Canada couldn’t be any worse than Scotland. Having given up Loch Lomond for Lake Ontario I tried to sum up in song some of my thoughts: Destination? Destination unknown! I didn’t know where, I didn’t know where I was going. Just a lonely boy on a lonely road, with no highway code, and no map in my hand!

‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going’ Hebrews 11:8. There’s poetry here, even a rhyme: ‘Not knowing where he was going.’ Mind you, prior to this Abraham had been met by the Chief Poet, the Supreme Wordsmith, the Word Himself, the Davar, the Logos, for, ‘The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward”’ Genesis 15:1.

Abraham may not have known where he was going, but the pre-incarnate Christ walked with him. David, in the Shepherd Psalm, wrote, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff comfort me’ Psalm 23:4. The Angel of the LORD walked with Israel in her wilderness wanderings. He walked in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He walked with the men on the road to Emmaus. He met Saul on the road to Damascus. He met me in a basement in Winnipeg on the broad way that leads to destruction.

From before the beginning God has mapped out the journey His creation will take. We cannot escape. The word of the LORD had come to Jonah. He was to proclaim the good news to Nineveh, that God would spare them and their city if they would turn to Him in repentance. Jonah’s ‘barque’ disembarked as he attempted to sail away from his duty to God as a prophet. ‘But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up’ Jonah 1:4. Crises grab people’s attention!

A crisis is an unplanned event. They take us off the map. Your bark canoe has been holed as you speed though the rapids toward Niagara Falls. Your paddle becomes the symbol of your weakness, an extension of your helplessness. The rising mist ahead grows more ominous as you try to peer into your fate. The roar of the hungry lion’s den grows ever louder. It wants to engulf you, to crush your bones before you reach the bottom of its den. The distant drums intensify in your breast as you look for an escape. There is nowhere to turn as you are being sucked into the great abyss. You cry for help. Nobody hears. You look to the shore. You look to the sky. You look to God and make a deal with Him – if He would only snatch you from the jaws of Leviathan.

You awaken on the shore. Soaking. Sobbing. Shivering. Safe. You wonder if it really was Christ who saved you. So you ask Him. Your tears of self-pity turn into tears of gratitude. You begin to follow Him as did Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel and all the rest before you. Thus you have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and now live in the Kingdom of Light, the New World, a place off the map. Your old friends think you’ve become a bit strange. They don’t understand you. Your new friends are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They understand.

A whole new vista has opened up. The old way is behind. Before you lies the Promised Land. The good things you see and experience now are tokens of the bliss to come. The offspring and the land God promised to Abraham is symbolic of Christ. In Christ, like your father Abraham, you are now ‘the heir of the world’ (Rom. 4:13). ‘The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace’ Psalm 37:11. You are now at peace with God. He has stilled the waves and the storm. He leads your barque beside still waters. He is your shield, your exceedingly great reward by grace through faith. Yes, God is found off the map in Christ. We learn and live!

Monday, October 4, 2010

COVENANT KEPT

(The following is a continuation of the previously posted "Covenant Formed" and "Covenant Broken." I'll continue adding to them and this and tweaking them as time allows...)

The Word became flesh to crush the Serpent's head and destroy death. The heart of the everlasting covenant or Gospel is Christ and Him crucified. The doing and dying of Christ is His work of fulfilling the triune God’s everlasting covenant. The Covenant of Works with Adam was the pre-Fall administration of the everlasting covenant as it applied on earth at that time. Christ came into the world as the new Adam to keep the Covenant of Works and thus destroy His elect’s covenant with death and Satan.

It was during the pre-Fall Covenant of Works administration of God’s everlasting covenant that Adam rebelled against God. This he did by uniting with Satan in covenant against God in whose image we were made. The defiant Adam broke his pre-Fall probation by eating the forbidden fruit. Thus Adam broke the condition of the Covenant of Works which was to love God and your neighbour as yourself.

It is important to note that Adam broke God’s Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments by eating the forbidden fruit. Yes, abstaining from eating the forbidden fruit was an outward commandment given verbally by the triune God to Adam. However, when Adam ate the forbidden fruit he was going against his nature. He was the image of God which (among other things) was that he had God’s Law written on his heart, i.e., internally. Thus the external commandment to not eat the forbidden fruit was a test to see if Adam would keep the internal commandments – that which God had written on mankind’s heart.

Paul speaks of these internal commandments as ‘the work of the Law written in their hearts’ Romans 2:15. To be sure, because the Ten Commandments (as we know them) presuppose sin, pre-Fall they would have been written in positive terms on man’s heart.

The Law written on man’s heart in the beginning (i.e., the Ten Commandments) would have been something like this: 1. Worship God exclusively. 2. Worship God spiritually. 3. Worship God sincerely. 4. Worship God as He will be worshipped. 5. Respect authority. 6. Respect the life and rights of others. 7. Be pure and loyal. 8. Be honest. 9. Be truthful. 10. Be happy and content. (see Francis Nigel Lee quoting Yost, The Covenantal Sabbath, p. 24).

Sin is the breaking of God’s Law. God’s Law is summarised in the Ten Commandments. These are summarised again in love God and your neighbour as yourself. Thus when Adam sinned he broke the law of the everlasting Covenant.

Scripture says that ‘the wages of sin is death’ Romans 3:23. This is the same death that God threatened Adam on pain of his breaking the Covenant of Works pre-Fall. ‘Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of eat, you will surely die’ Genesis 2:17. Therefore to be a sinner is to be a covenant breaker under the covenant-penalty of death.

The devil and death figure prominently in the good news or the Gospel. ‘Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ Hebrews 2:14-15. Also, ‘Our Saviour Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ 2 Timothy 1:10.

The Gospel is synonymous with the Covenant of Grace. God began to reveal His Gospel or Covenant of Grace immediately after Adam sinned in the garden. Theologians refer to this as the protevangelium found in the following words, ‘The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel”’ Genesis 3:14-14.

The promised ‘Seed of the Woman’ is Christ (Galatians 3:16; 4:4). Every time we sin we are reminded of mankind’s covenant with the devil against God and God’s war with the devil and all who are in league with him. ‘He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ 1 John 3:8.

The pre-Fall Adam was on probation. He broke his probation and sided with the devil against God. Jesus is the replacement Adam. The devil tried to tempt Him to side with him by promising Him ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.’ There was a condition to this satanic covenant. The devil said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’ Matthew 4:9.

Jesus perfectly kept God’s Law in the face of all kinds of adversity from the devil and his seed. His Law-keeping was done as representative of all who would believe in Him for salvation. He did what none of us could do because we belong to the human race – which is fallen and is therefore sinful in the eyes of God.

Jesus was without any sin of His own. However, God imputed our sin to Him and imputed His righteousness to us. 'The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all' Isaiah 53:6b. And, ‘Righteousness shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification’ Romans 4:24-25.

In summary, Jesus (as the last Adam or second Man) kept perfectly the Covenant of Works and also paid its penalty in full (which was death). Therefore the Father released Him from death as proof that His mission on earth was accomplished. His mission was to destroy the works of the devil, our covenant with the devil and with death. ‘The last enemy that will be destroyed is death’ 1 Corinthians 15:26.

Monday, September 27, 2010

TULIP - Some Practical Implications


Introduction
As a blooming flower tracks the sun across the sky, so T.U.L.I.P. (i.e., Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) helps keep us unwaveringly focused upon God. Because of this the “Five Points of Calvinism” are often referred to also as the “Doctrines of Grace.” This handy five-point summary of Biblical teaching clearly demonstrates that “Salvation is of the LORD.” Jonah 2:6b. Yes, God alone saves sinners. Thus the “Five Points” purposely draw the mind of the sinner away from himself to God in Jesus Christ.

However, Christianity (in its purest form) deals with more than just simply the mind of the sinner. It deals also with the practical, which is to say that it demonstrates how the Christian ought to live his or her life in light of what is taught in Scripture. Thus the Gospel applies to the heart and the hands of the redeemed sinner as well as the mind. This is to say that the Gospel impacts the whole man.

Perhaps this could be illustrated by the following: The head or mind asks: What has God done FOR me? The heart asks: What is God doing IN me? And the hands ask: What is God now doing THROUGH me?

The Head
What has God done FOR me – i.e., the believer? God, by His grace alone, has declared you the sinner righteous on account of the Man Christ Jesus’ righteous works and His atoning death. This is to say that Jesus Christ has kept all God’s Commandments perfectly on your behalf and has suffered death to pay in full the debt that you personally owed to God’s justice for not personally keeping God’s Commandments perfectly.

This salvation has been communicated to you by the Gospel message as the Holy Spirit worked (savingly) with it in your heart. You the believer have received the free gift of salvation revealed in the Gospel through the instrument of faith. Your faith is the instrument through which you are saved. Faith is not the cause of your salvation. You are not saved by faith. Rather you are saved by grace (through faith). Faith is merely an aspect of the whole free gift of God’s grace. You once were an unbeliever, but now God by His grace alone, has changed or converted you into a believer. He has granted you a saving knowledge of the way of salvation, an understanding of the things of God, and faith in Christ and His Gospel. Therefore, in God’s eyes you are now “Justified.”

Briefly this technical theological term “Justification” has to do with God imputing or accrediting or transferring Righteousness to you. When God justified you a transaction – an exchange – took place. Your sin was imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to you. This is what it means to be “Justified” by God. It means that you have been declared righteous by God, but not on account of anything you have done, but only on account of what Jesus Christ has done for you as your representative.

Not only are you now “Righteous” but you are also now “Holy” in God’s eyes. Whereas “Holiness” has a lot to do with your state of being – in that you are holy, “Righteousness” has a lot to do with doing – in that you now perform righteous actions. This is to say that now that you are holy you are now inclined to do what is right in God’s eyes. Before God converted you, you were inclined only to doing what is evil in God’s eyes. This was because that which motivated you was wrong. Your will was in bondage. Yes, you had a free will, but paradoxically your will was in bondage to your own sinful desires.

Like a child being given the choice between a juicy steak and chocolate ice cream for dinner, you always chose what you liked best. If the steak represents God then you chose the chocolate ice cream every time over God. Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” John 15:16a. You the believer follow Jesus because He chose you to be His follower. He has renewed you. And now that your spirit has been renewed you wish (i.e., you will) to please God (though a hindering residue of sin will remain with you until you die). Thus when God looks at you the saved sinner He is now looking at someone who is something that he or she was not before, i.e., someone who is now, in the eyes of God, holy and righteous on account of Jesus Christ.

Because of its insistence on glorifying God in all things (even in the event of a sinner’s conversion), according to the Calvinist system the justified sinner is one who has seen the holiness of God. Thus, correspondingly and proportionately you the justified sinner have therefore seen your own unholiness (or sinfulness) – revealed to you by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. You now can see and understand spiritual things with the mind (i.e., intellectually), which is to say that you now have a head knowledge of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man in his fallen condition.

You are now able to discern something you were blind to before, for Scripture says, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. You now have the ability to intellectually and spiritually identify with, and to a certain extent experience something of the emotion of what, for example, Isaiah experienced in the following:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole hearth is full of His glory.’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away. And your sin is purged.’” Isaiah 6:1-7.

Thus you the believer have seen what God has done FOR you. He has taken your iniquity away. He has made clean that which was unclean, i.e., you the believer. God as it were has planted you in His garden and will now cause you to bloom for His own glory.

The Heart
Having understood what God has done FOR you, let’s now ask the question: What has God done IN you? It is possible for a person to understand salvation by grace alone intellectually without personally experiencing it. The person may also intellectually understand “Initial” or “Definitive Sanctification” – whereby after having been “Justified” the sinner is personally infused with Christ’s righteousness. This is another way of saying that you the believer have been given a new nature – you are now righteous by nature. You now have the desire (or will) to do what is right in God’s eyes (though the residue of sin remaining in your heart means that you won’t always do what is right in God’s eyes).

A person may understand all these things intellectually without personally experiencing them – without actually undergoing and experiencing personal conviction of his or her sins. But, like love and marriage going together like the proverbial horse and carriage, so “Justification” and “Sanctification” are coupled together – you can’t have one without the other. Whereas “Justification” has to do with being declared “Righteous,” “Initial” or “Definitive Sanctification” has to do with “Infused Righteousness,” which is to say that “Sanctification” has to do with being made “Holy.” To be made “Holy” by God is to be “Sanctified,’ i.e., set apart by God for His special use.

A gardener may store tulip bulbs in a dry and dark cupboard for an indefinite time period. Only when he brings them into the light and plants them in good soil and waters them do they mysteriously begin to germinate. God has taken you the believer out of the dry and parched land of the kingdom of darkness and has translated you into His Kingdom of light. He has watered you with His Word and His Spirit has regenerated you in your heart, causing you as it were to germinate. You are now growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. You now see the Light of God in the face Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Your attention is now focused on God in Jesus Christ. And so now you are beginning to bloom in God’s garden.

Those who have been “Justified” look to God and cry out to Him with a broken and contrite heart (i.e., he or she is penitent, or sorry for their sins). They seek God for deliverance from their sins. For Scripture says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17. Instead of seeking to avoid God you now are seeking God daily. You now wish (or will) to keep His Commandments in order to show God your gratitude to Him for saving a wretch like you by His amazing grace. This is because God by His grace has given you a new heart. Your prayer is now that of David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, who prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10.

When God saved you He regenerated you. He gave you (as He gives every believer) a new heart and a new spirit. With your new heart you now love Jesus and with your new spirit you now obey Him. For Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15. Loving Jesus and keeping His commandments is the demonstration of the truth of what God promises believers where He says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 (cf. Jeremiah 31:33 & Hebrews 8:10).

Therefore, not only do you the believer believe the Gospel Message intellectually (i.e., with your head), but you actually experience a hunger and a thirst for righteousness in your heart. The righteousness you seek is found only in Jesus. You now wish to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Before you were converted by His grace you didn’t really care, but now it grieves you in your heart when you sin against Him. You rejoice when you are reminded over and over that all your sins are forgiven. You are now able to relate to and experience what David writes in the following, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:1-5.

The Hands
What is God doing THROUGH you? With a renewed mind and a humbled heart the Justified and Sanctified sinner also partakes of Holiness. As Scripture says, “For they [i.e., our earthly fathers] indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best for them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. You the believer are holy because you belong to Jesus Christ. For speaking of His sacrifice on the cross Scripture says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14. Therefore you the believer have been Justified by God, are being Sanctified by God, and are Holy unto God.

Sanctification and Holiness go hand in hand. Both speak of the same thing. As a human being being renewed in the image of Christ, Scripture says that you are to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled…” Hebrews 12:14-15.

As one who is Justified, Sanctified, and Holy you the believer are not to defile yourself which may in turn defile others. There is any amount of ways that you might defile yourself – e.g., involving yourself in theft, fornication, covetousness, idolatry, lying, etc. – but all defilement great or small involves breaking God’s Ten Commandments either in thought, or word, or deed.

When a dog-owner washes his dog immediately the washed dog wants to roll around on the grass and dirt. Does the dog’s rolling around cause the grass and dirt to become clean, or does it make the dog dirty again? Now that God has washed you the believer with the blood of His Son, you are to steer clear of those things that defile. Instead of sinning you are to pursue peace and holiness. Yes, we have help when we sin again. For Scripture says, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1. And also, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 8:9-11.

It is because God has given the believer a new mind, heart, and spirit, that he or she pursues holiness. The justified sinner’s pursuit of holiness is another way of saying that the believer strives to be obedient to God’s revealed will. However, it is important to note that this obedience to God is done in the power of the Spirit indwelling the believer. In other words, it is God who enables the believer to be obedient. Therefore God gets the all the glory for any good works the justified sinner does.

This “pursuit of holiness” is usually termed as “Progressive Sanctification,” whereby the justified sinner is subject to ongoing Righteousness; i.e., he progresses in Holiness throughout his or her Christian life by using his body members (his or her hands etc.) for doing what is right in God’s eyes. Whatever you the believer put your hand to, you are do it all to the glory of God. For Scripture says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

We know we are saved when our head knowledge has led to a changed heart and when we now use our hands to serve God. We are to serve God in thought, word, and deed. Yes, in this life we serve our God imperfectly. That our struggle with sin this side of glory is continuous, is attested to by the Apostle Paul who says: “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” Romans 7:22-23. Therefore believers ought to trust God, distrust self, and always pray.

Though we delight in God’s Ten Commandments (summarized by the words: love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself) all Christians struggle when it comes to keeping God’s Law in thought, word, and in deed. That God will not desert the justified sinner is attested to by these words: “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

Conclusion
Scripture speaks of the Christian as one that has “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” Colossians 3:10. And the Christian also is one that has “put on the new man who was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24.

In light of what we’ve looked at above, ”true knowledge” has to do with the “head,” and “righteousness and holiness” with the “heart and hands” respectively. Knowledge is related to God’s Word, i.e., prophecy. Holiness is related to being a doer of God’s Word, using our hands to God’s glory, i.e., it is priestly. And righteousness has to do with having the right heart-motivation for doing what is right in God’s eyes. Therefore righteousness has to do with ruling over sin rather than having sin rule over you (Genesis 4:7). To rule is to be kingly. Thus regarding the head, heart, and hands, every Christian reflects Jesus Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King. For in Him alone is there found the knowledge, true righteousness and holiness of God.

Scripture says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the same Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. There is a sense then in which we are being transformed into prophets (1 Peter 3:15), priests and kings (1 Corinthians 4:8; 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6).

The “Five Points” are an accurate summary of what the Bible teaches regarding each of these five interconnected and overlapping doctrines listed therein. They are a handy “pocket ready reckoner” to help you the believer work out whether any doctrine (i.e., teaching) espoused by any other is indeed a doctrine of grace or a doctrine of works. The “Doctrines of Grace” promote the glory of God by demonstrating that, according to Scripture, the salvation of sinners is completely by the grace of God alone. Thus you the believer are free to serve God with your whole being without wondering if you’ve done enough or are good enough to satisfy God to let you into Heaven.

Knowing that God has saved you by His grace ALONE brings you the believer the freedom not only from bondage to the sin that once enslaved you, but also freedom from the sticky and encumbering web of works-righteousness espoused by many who have a distorted view of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Because of God’s grace you the believer are now free to live your life (head, heart, and hands – even the whole man) to the glory of God. For Scripture says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.

(The above is excerpted from my larger work called "Demystifying the Gospel":

https://www.amazon.com/DEMYSTIFYING-GOSPEL-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B006X51ZGY/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490479949&sr=1-10&refinements=p_82%3AB006NTVAWY

https://www.amazon.co.uk/DEMYSTIFYING-GOSPEL-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B006X51ZGY/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1490485275&sr=8-16&keywords=neil+cullan+mckinlay