27/12/2007

Reigning on David's throne

What is the relevance of Jesus today? At this time of year, we have looked at the arrival of Jesus upon the earth, and for most people this is the extent of their experience of Jesus. A baby coming to a world of suffering, wars and desperate need. Many turn away because they don't stop to see what happened to this child who was "born King" (Matt 2v2). And many Christians live in deep discouragement because of not seeing where the King is now.

Yet the relevance of Jesus to this desperate world was announced up front, before He was born, by the angel Gabriel:

"[You shall] call His name Jesus, He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His Father David." (Luke 1v31-32)

I spent some time on the morning of 23rd December sharing about this verse with my fellowship in London. I hope these few notes bless you and encourage you as you behold the King upon the throne.


The great expectation

God told David, "your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Sam 7v16). After the years of division, invasion, exile and occupation there was the expectation that Messiah would come and restored David's Kingdom.

Yet the prophecies point to Him being much more than just an earthly King:

"His seed also I will make to endure forever, and His throne as the days of heaven." (Psalm 89v29, see also v3-4, v24-29, v35-37).

"His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed." (Psalm 72v17, and the rest of this psalm)

So the angel's announcement was a declaration that this King has come!


The great misunderstanding

But Jesus did not fulfill this expectation during His first coming.

On the road to Emmaus He made a very important statement - "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory!" (Luke 24v26). He had a path to travel before taking His throne as King. He came - as His name declares - to save His people, not from the Romans, but from their sins (Matt 1v21).

He achieved this through suffering. The scholars of Jesus' day showed some confusion as to the Messiah's likely ministry, some even suggesting two Messiahs - a suffering Messiah and Messiah the King. Yet Jesus suffered to be King.

Messiah had come to shepherd (Micah 5v4), but the sheep were lost (Isaiah 53v6), yet through His suffering, the sheep would be delivered (Isaiah 53v10-12). He didn't march into Jerusalem to kick out the Romans, but marched into hell to strip the devil of his power, the chains are broken, and Messiah has set us free to be a people for Himself (Colossians 1v13-14, Titus 2v14).

And now...

"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'" (Acts 2v32-35).

The King is now upon David's throne, reigning.


The great ommission

What is the relevance of this? A few suggestions:

- Satan is not on the throne, but is subject to Jesus who reigns over all. We need not fear the news, or anything that is going on in the world.
- Every Christian has a King. Satan is called the god of this world, but he is not the god of the believer's world. We have been taken out from under his rule and given a new Ruler who is good.
- As those who have a King, we are a community, a nation, not simply a bunch of individuals doing our own thing. If we truly understood our King's reign as Head over His community, then I believe we would make the community a priority. But we are not a nation of subjects and citizens only, rather we are the King's friends, children, brothers and sisters, co-heirs, ambassadors, witnesses, His army in the earth. Not an army of guns and bombs, but with the Holy Spirit, prayer and the glorious gospel...
- As He is the mighty King, we have nothing to be ashamed of, we need not hold back in telling of Him, and we should expect with faith that the King will demonstrate His awesome power as we declare His word.

I believe that the reason the Great Commission (which flows from His authority - see Matt 28v18-20) has become the great ommission, is because we have forgotten who is on the throne. We have forgotten the awesome power that He has and the awesome promises made in scripture concerning His reign.

While perhaps the Israel of Jesus' days focused on Messiah as King and missed the Messiah who came first as the suffering servant, perhaps we are guilty of focusing on Him as the suffering servant only and missing the fact of His current - and growing - Kingly reign and glory.


The great victory assured

The King's story is not yet over:

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end..." (Isaiah 9v7)

"I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion... Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as Your possession." (Psalm 2v6-8)

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2v14)

"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.' The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!" (Psalm 110v1-2)

He shall reign until the glory of God covers the earth. He is ruling and reigning right now, but right across the earth that rule is being extended as more and more are delivered and brought into His victorious Kingdom, a Kingdom without end.

21/12/2007

God is NOT dead

Some time in late 2001, early 2002, while most of the Christian church was campaigning against Harry Potter, I was reading the third in a series of three "children's" books. Towards the end of the book, I read the following:

" Will cut through the crystal in one movement and reached in to help the angel out. Demented and powerless the aged being could only weep and mumble in fear and pain and misery...

'It's all right,' Will said, 'we can help you hide, at least. Come on, we won't hurt you.'

The shaking hand seized his and feebly held on. The old one was uttering a wordless groaning whimper that went on and on, and grinding his teeth, and compulsively plucking at himself with his free hand; but as Lyra reached in too to help him out, he tried to smile, and to bow, and his ancient eyes deep in their wrinkles blinked with innocent wonder.

Between them they helped the ancient of days out of his crystal cell; it wasn't hard, for he was as light as paper, and he would have followed them anywhere, having no will of his own... But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and disolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely, and their last impression was of those eyes, blinking in wonder, and a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.

Then he was gone... "

(Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass, Scholastic, 2001, p 431-2.)

This is the third book in the series that begins with The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights in the UK), which has recently been released as a film. Many believers have called for a complete boycott of the film because of the books' athiestic film.

The above extensive quote gives an idea of the sinister storyline of the trilogy and, while Philip Pullman himself has more recently denied the charges that he is out to destroy God, his agenda is still very clear. This is what the British Daily Telegraph said:

"To the charge that he has set out to destroy Christianity, Philip Pullman has a devilishly smart stock answer. 'Nonsense,' he will reply. 'God died a long time ago.' " (Telegraph, 30 November 2007)

These are serious issues and are a real challenge to the Church and for us to stand up for the truth, but how should the Church handle such things? I have been working on this post for a few weeks now, and so it has come out a little late - but I still hope this is a helpful contribution to the discussion.


Separation?

Is it right to respond with a boycott?

I am old enough to remember the furore over films such as The Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more recently, the opposition to Harry Potter. I have to ask the question - what does a boycott achieve? Will anyone be saved by a boycott? Rather, won't a boycott simply confirm the suspicions of the supports of the film that Christianity is a bad thing, that the church is a kill-joy and that God is to be avoided at all costs?

Also, won't a boycott leave us completely ignorant as to the real content of the film and of the books and leave us utterly unable to engage in any form of competent discussion with friends, family and colleagues who have watched the film and received its content as the truth?


Engagement?

Perhaps, then, the answer is to make ourselves aware, to watch the film and/or read the books. Certainly, organisations such as Damaris, are devoted to engaging with the culture and writing books and study guides to help equip believers. Al Mohler has written an excellent blog on The Golden Compass. Among other helpful things, he says:

"Christian parents must be informed about His Dark Materials and inform others. We must take the responsibility to use interest in this film to teach our own children to think biblically and to be discerning in their engagement with the media in all forms. We should arm our children to be able to talk about this project with their classmates without fear or rancor."

Whether part of being informed is to see this movie, and read the books, is a matter for each individual parent and pastor. However, I do still have a concern, which was expressed by Dan in a comment on a post of mine back in May: we can end up getting too caught up in defending truth, rather than publishing it. Many books were written against the Da Vinci Code and against Harry Potter. Was that a good use of resources?

I once heard UK Christian youth leader Mike Pilavachi say: "People are sick of hearing what the church is against, they need to hear what the church is for." In our engagement with the culture, it is not simply about saying "no" to Golden Compass, rather it is about speaking, and showing the truth.

So I have one more point to make...


Demonstration

The apostle Paul did reason, but he also demonstrated the power of God. Jesus taught, but he also showed that the kingdom of God had come upon them (Luke 11v20).

God is NOT dead, He is very much alive. Smith Wigglesworth said, "It is the people of God that He will use to make the world know that there is a God."

Yes, we show that God very much alive by declaring with full confidence what He has said, and with the beauty of transformed, Christ-centred lives. But "the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Cor 4v20, NIV). We will demonstrate that God is alive, by displaying His glory.

As Dan shows in a quote from Rob Rufus, believers want to experience God:

“You know the George Barnea Research went to thousands of non-Christians in America and said, “What would make you go to church?”. They said, “If we could experience God!”. Then they said to pastors that this is the number one thing people are asking for. The pastors got all indignant and said, “We talk about God every Sunday!”. But we are not talking about academic information about God but God Himself coming!".

This is the need of the hour. We must follow in His footsteps. God is very much alive - let's pursue Him in the glory cloud, and demonstrate His awesome power.

15/12/2007

11 years on

Last night I was reading in the book of Ezra and came to this verse:

"For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel." (Ezra 7v10).

I found that I had written this in the margin: "15/12/96. Induction as elder."

That was something of a shock! 11 years ago today, I was appointed as an elder in the church, hands were laid on me and I was given this verse. As I meditated on it last night, I had to ask the question - have I kept that charge? It's a high calling, and I have fallen short in many regards. Yet, as His child, under grace, an anniversary is not a time for condemnation at the failings of the past, but an opportunity for recommissioning for the future. I have fallen short, but today is the start of a new year of eldership, and it is time to stand again on the truths that God spoke over me 11 years ago and to move on.

So what does this verse hold for me, and my fellow elders - in my own church and any who happen to stumble across this blog?

A prepared heart

In an age where so much store in put on scholarship, on reading commentaries, in having exactly the right exegesis before preaching, there is such a danger that the ministry becomes cerebral only. Of course, right exegesis is very important, but simply applying our minds to God's Word, without seeking to find Him, and hear Him, is a fatal danger. We must come to God, and to His Word, with our hearts yielded (not perfect, but yielded).

Ezra took time to be in the presence of God, to set His heart to pursue the Author of the Word. What an important thing! There is no substitute for His presence. No amount of learning, study and sound doctrine can substitute the sweet presence of the Lord.

Mining the truth

As new covenant saints, we can be put off by the term "law of the Lord." But that was a general term for the scriptures that Ezra would have had. We have the whole canon, Old and New Testaments. For us, then, our call is to study His Word - diligently. The NKJV translators use the term "seek the law of the Lord", but in the margin they have the alternative translation "study".

This seeming ambiguity is important, because, while we are called to study and to find what the Bible says and to understand it, there is also a pursuit of God in studying His Word. Studying scripture is about revelation. God speaks. He teaches, and reveals Himself. Time in His Word, means we can plumb the depths, we can meditate upon the text, upon the truth revealed, upon the outworkings of the truth in our lives, and above all, upon the Author of truth and in worshipping Him.

I don't simply want to reguritate quotes from past preachers (however great they may be), but to bring truth fresh from His Word out of His presence. As Jesus said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." (Matt 13v52)

Obedient to the truth

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all! Ezra didn't only set his heart to study, but set his heart to obey. His study impacted, not only his sermons, but his life.

I don't believe the Lord expects us to be perfect in a particular area before we preach on it (otherwise would we preach on anything!), but we are not simply channels of truth. We are vessels whom the Lord has called to pass His Word on. We must allow ourselves to be washed by the water that passes through us and to be nourished by the food that we prepare for others.

I want to allow the Lord to impact me before I preach a particular message; even if I am still "work in progress", I want the process of being changed from glory to glory to be moving forward.

Teaching the truth

It is only at this point that we read about Ezra's teaching. The terms "statutes and ordinances" again go back to the scriptures that Ezra would have had at the time. We have far more, but the terms also suggest Ezra was diligent in his teaching. He applied himself to explaining the whole truth. Paul puts it slightly differently: "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20v27).

We must make sure that we avoid simply banging on about our favourite doctrines. We must also make sure we preach the Word! Not the systematic theology, not the latest opinion from the internet, but what God's Word says, so that we lay a solid foundation of grace and truth in the lives of hearers so that they grow and bear much fruit.

Praise God for His amazing grace

I was speaking with a friend yesterday morning who is responsible for leading a small group. He shared that he had made a number of mistakes, but that God still kept the people! God is so good! When we fall short - even in this high calling - we are not under wrath, but under grace. We are to shepherd the church of God and seek to do it well, but Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and He is able to still carry the churches when we get it wrong.

And the supply of His grace is such that He is still at work in us. As I look forward to my twelfth year of eldership, I go forward freshly commissioned, hungry for His presence, wanting to do the people good, and still learning day by day.