Worship

The Faith of Christ Crucified

 

The apostle Paul takes us to the heart of the Christian gospel when he writes, ‘We preach Christ crucified’. Nothing could be more central and fundamental to the Christian Faith than ‘Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2).

 

But the expression contains an astonishing paradox — a paradox readily understood in the 1st century, but perhaps less so today — for the expression ‘Christ crucified’ contains at the same time both something gloriously wonderful and something indescribably horrible.

 

The Christ of Calvary

 

‘We preach Christ crucified’. The title ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ was one which warmed the hearts of Jewish people. The Old Testament is replete with promises that one day God would send his Special Agent into the world to save his people and put its wrongs to right.

‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ both mean ‘God’s anointed’. It has a wide area of meaning and connotation. It speaks of a longed for deliverer and redeemer. It speaks of God’s own prophet, priest and king. It speaks of the ever-blessed Son of the ever-blessed God. It speaks of God’s suffering Servant — ‘Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights’ (Isaiah 42:1).

Jesus’ title of ‘the Christ’ thus speaks of all that is wonderful — the fulfillment of the promises of God; the satisfaction of deep human longing; the deliverance from sin that we so desperately need; God’s own special envoy, sent from heaven to earth on a mission of divine mercy; God’s incarnate Word.

‘Christ’ is a word and a reality of indescribable wonder.

 

The cross of Calvary

 

In our verse, though, the apostle also declares, ‘We preach Christ crucified’. Crucifixion — simultaneously and paradoxically — speaks of all that is horrific and horrendous, for crucifixion was a barbaric and ghastly form of capital punishment invented by the Romans.      It would not have been talked about openly in polite circles. Crucifixion entailed the victim being stripped naked, nailed to a plank of wood, and losing control of bodily functions — of being hung up to die a slow, degrading, agonising death by asphyxiation.

So while Christ is a wonderful word, crucified is a horrible word. It evoked visions of pain and agony; abject misery; screams of horror. It evoked shed blood and broken bodies; public humiliation, scorn and ridicule.

For the Jew, though, crucifixion meant something even worse than the horrors to which we’ve just alluded. It spoke of the very curse of God. The law of Moses was clear: ‘If a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God’ (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

‘We preach Christ crucified’. Here, then, is the paradox which lies at the heart of the Christian Faith. Little wonder that, according to Paul, this gospel of ‘Christ crucified’ was ‘a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’. Knowing what we know about crucifixion, we can understand why this was so.

 

The comfort of Calvary

 

Why then are Christians so enamored with both the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross? Why is this the overarching theme of Christian preaching and Christian praise? Paul’s very next verse — 1 Corinthians 1:24 — tells us why.

Having said, ‘We preach Christ crucified’ and stated that this message is a stumbling block (a scandal) to Jews and folly to Gentiles, Paul continues, ‘But to those who are called [that is, enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit] both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God’.

In the crucified Christ, then, we experience the power of God. The blood of Christ shed at Calvary is potent enough to cleanse us from all our sins and make us fit for heaven. Through the divine condemnation of Christ at Calvary we actually escape from divine condemnation, for he has ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us … that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Galatians 3:13-14).

Christ’s suffering has wrought our salvation; his agony has bought our atonement; his blood has brought our blessing; and his death has secured for us eternal life.

In the crucified Christ we also see the wisdom of God. God has to punish sin, for he is infinitely just. He is incapable of overlooking the slightest infraction of his law. Yet if God condemned all sinners to hell, where would be the mercy and love which is also integral to his nature?

In his wisdom, God solved this dilemma at the cross of Christ. At Calvary, God both condemned sin and pardoned the believing sinner. At Calvary, God’s love and justice met. Calvary then is the supreme manifestation of the divine wisdom — ‘to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26).

 

The centrality of Calvary

 

‘We preach Christ crucified’. Here, then, is a statement of both wonder and horror. Humanly speaking, the cross of Christ was and remains repulsive. Yet to an enlightened Christian, the cross of Christ is the most attractive of all sights.

Every Christian has experienced the attraction of Calvary and been drawn personally by God to the foot of the cross — enabled by grace to trust the crucified Christ for full and eternal salvation. Jesus actually prophesied that this would be so, for he said ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:32).

‘Christ crucified’. Christ’s person and work are inextricably bound. His worth affects his work. His divinity secures the vitality of his cross — ‘for by one offering he has perfected for ever’ those he has set apart for himself (Hebrew 10:14).

None but the eternal Son could offer his life as an atoning sacrifice to save sinners. The Bible says there is no other Saviour — ‘There is salvation in no one else’ (Acts 4:12). Nor can there be any salvation that by-passes the cross of Christ. With Thomas Kelly we are constrained to say:

 

We sing the praise of him who died,

Of him who died upon the cross.

The sinner’s hope let men deride,

For this we count the world but loss.

 

Inscribed upon the cross we see

In shining letters ‘God is love’.

He bears our sins upon the tree,

He brings us mercy from above.

 

© Timothy J Cross; originally published in Evangelical Times, reproduced with kind permission.

Posted by Site Developer in Prayer, Providence, Worship, 0 comments

John Knox on Prayer

John Knox Wikipedia ImageWhen John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, was laid to rest in his grave, the Regent of Scotland said of him ‘There lies he who never feared the face of man.’ This reminds us of the paraphrase of Psalm 34: 9, which reads:-

Fear Him (that is, God) ye saints and you will then

Have nothing else to fear

Make you His service your delight

Your wants shall be His care.

I came across the following gem of a quote from John Knox. It concerns John Knox’s view of prayer. John Knox defined true prayer as:-

 

An earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received (cited in the Evangelical Times book review of August 2015).

 

Let us ponder and unpack this definition a little further:-

 

Talking to God

 

Prayer is ‘An earnest and familiar talking with God …’ said Knox. If that is true, it is indescribably wonderful and astonishing. If relatively few of us are granted the privilege of an audience with the Queen or the Prime Minister, how on earth can we ever get the ear of Almighty God – He who is the highest, unsurpassed and unsurpassable Authority of all? The Bible’s answer is that we can ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ – specifically ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received our reconciliation’ (Romans 5:11). Jesus, by His death on the cross for our sins has reconciled all who believe in Him to God Himself. He has dealt with the enmity and alienation which separated us, namely our sin. ‘He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24). Amazingly, ‘through Him we … have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18). Perhaps even more amazingly, through Christ, we are able to know and address God as ‘Father.’ ‘Adoption’ is one of the Bible’s many synonyms for Christian salvation:-

 

Adoption is an act of God’s free grace whereby we are received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God (Shorter Catechism).

 

One of the Christian’s ‘adoptive privileges’ is being able to talk to God in prayer, coming to Him confident in His love, just as an earthly child comes to its father.  Prayer then is, as Knox said ‘an earnest and familiar talking with God.’ Christians know Him as ‘Father.’ The word ‘Father’ connotes authority, and the word ‘Father’ also connotes dependence, intimacy, affection and love. The God of the Bible is never reluctant to hear His children’s prayers!

 

Receiving from God

 

Secondly, according to Knox, in prayer ‘we declare our miseries’ to God and ‘implore and desire His support and help in our adversities.’ John Know himself certainly lived through difficult – even perilous – times and circumstances. But he turned to God in his difficulties and knew His help, support and mercy in and through them. Every Christian will also know difficulty and experience troubles. Ease is guaranteed in the next life, but not this life! It is ‘through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). Yet in all our difficulties and troubles, we have a God to whom we can turn for help and support. His wonderful invitation still prevails: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me’ (Psalm 50:15).

Our God and Father is more than able to deliver us from whatever ails us. If though, in His superior wisdom, He sees fit not to do so, He will surely give us grace to live within the boundaries of the providence He has ordained for us. He has promised ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Prayer is a chief means of ‘tapping in’ to the all-sufficient sustaining grace of God. Finally, according to Knox, true prayer is also a matter of:-

 

Giving praise and thanks to God

 

When Knox states that prayer entails ‘lauding and praising God for our benefits received’ he was reiterating the teaching and exhortation of Scripture. The Psalmist wrote ‘Bless the LORD O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits’ (Psalm 103:1,2).

If we were to write down on paper all the benefits which almighty God, the ‘fount of every blessing’ bestows on us, we would be in danger of clearing the world of trees! Our God has given us life. Our God has sustained our lives to the present moment. He has fed us, clothed us, protected us and led us. He has bestowed on us infinite earthly blessings – and if we are Christians, we know that He has bestowed on us eternal blessings: the ‘solid joys and lasting treasures which none but Zion’s children know.’ We refer here to ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:8) – the benefits which accrue to us by the death of Christ at Calvary: the forgiveness of sins, His imputed righteousness, peace with God, the sure hope of eternal life ET CETERA! God Himself is the one ‘whom we laud and praise for our benefits received.’ And when we numerate our blessings, we realise that we have just cause for doing so.

John Knox then knew a thing or two about prayer. His definition is not the final word on prayer, but it is well worth weighing and pondering. Let us have it in full again. True prayer is, he said:-

 

An earnest and familiar talking with God, to whom we declare our miseries, whose support and help we implore and desire in our adversities, and whom we laud and praise for our benefits received.

 

© Timothy Cross

 

 

Posted by Site Developer in Apologetics, Prayer, Reformation, Worship, 0 comments

Taking on New Things

Snowflakes

Underneath the surface jollity, Christmas can be a sad time for some. At Christmas-time we can be more aware of loved ones who are no longer with us. This is the case with my family, where my late father no longer joins us around the Christmas dinner table.

Losing a loved one though is not without compensations. Since my father’s death my mother has been released from the twenty four hour care he needed, and able to take on activities she was prevented from doing when my father was alive. She is now more involved with her church and has also joined a choir and a reading group. She is also now free to travel.

Did you know that the Lord Jesus – He whose birth lies at the centre of Christmas – at certain moments in time, took on matters which He had never taken on before? As the second person of the divine trinity, in eternity past, Jesus lived in the glory of heaven, in the ineffable fellowship which exists in the trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On earth, He could speak to His Father of ‘the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made’ (John 17:5). Yet Scripture reveals that at crucial moments in the divine plan of salvation, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took upon Himself i. Our human flesh ii. Our human sin.

1. The Divine Incarnation

In Jesus, God became man, taking upon Himself our human flesh. In Jesus, God actually shared our humanity. John wrote ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), and Paul explained that ‘in Him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Colossians 2:9). It is the incarnation – God’s real, actual, historical and historic ‘enfleshment’ – which takes us to the heart of Christmas:-

 

‘Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to Himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin’ (Shorter Catechism).

 

The real, humanity of Jesus reminds us that we have a God who really does understand our human lot from ‘the inside.’ He can never be accused of being far removed from our daily struggles in this fallen world. ‘Jesus wept’ (John 11:35), and Jesus slept (Mark 4:38). He experienced fatigue (John 4:6), hunger (Mark 14:33) and thirst (John 19:28). Jesus also experienced mental turmoil (Mark 14:33) and received the barbs of those who sought to inflict psychological damage on Him (Matthew 27:39). Christians thus hold to the full humanity of Christ as much as they do to His absolute deity, for Scripture teaches both. His real humanity tells us ‘we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

But why did the Lord Jesus take on Himself our humanity? The answer of the Bible is: So He could die. His incarnation was with a view to His immolation. Unusually, His birth was with a view to His death. Scripture teaches that Jesus’ birth was a case of His taking on Himself our human flesh. But His death was a case of His taking on Himself our human sin.

2. The Divine Imputation

In a verse of infinite profundity, 2 Corinthians 5:21 states ‘For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Hebrews 9:28 similarly tells of ‘Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many.’

The Christian gospel proclaims that the sins which prevent our fellowship with God and access to heaven may be fully and forever forgiven. But they may be forgiven only because Christ took them and their consequences on Himself when He died on the cross. Our sins may be forgiven because Christ bore them. When we speak of Christ ‘bearing’ our sins, we mean that He paid the price for them; He paid the penalty for them; He endured the punishment which we should have borne for them. He became the sinner’s substitute. Divine ‘imputation’ is the word which encapsulates this. Our sins – in the mercy of God – were ‘put to Christ’s account.’ He ‘paid the bill’ that we might be exonerated. On the cross of Calvary, He endured the wrath of God on our sins to save everyone who believes in Him from the wrath of God on their sins:-

 

All Thy sins were laid upon Him

Jesus bore them on the tree

God, who knew them, laid them on Him

And believing, Thou art free

(J Denham Smith 1817-1889)

.

So at two key points in the saga of redemption, God, in Christ i. Took upon Himself our human flesh and ii. Took upon Himself our human sin. The two may be distinguished, but cannot be separated, as the former was with a view to the latter. Christ was born to save us. ‘You shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). And salvation was actually procured, not by Christ’s birth but by His death, in the very last hours of His earthly life, when He died as an atoning sacrifice for sinners. Christ’s taking on Himself our humanity was with the sole purpose of taking on Himself our sin. Christmas Day was with a view to Good Friday, for Christ’s cradle was with a view to His cross when ‘He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24).

 

Jesus, my Saviour to Bethlehem came

Born in a manger to sorrow and shame

O it was wonderful – blest be His Name!

Seeking for me, for me!

 

Jesus, my Saviour on Calvary’s tree

Paid the great debt and my soul He set free

O it was wonderful – how could it be

Dying for me, for me!

(Anon).

 

© Timothy Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Site Developer in Bible, Salvation, Worship, 0 comments

The Virgin-Born Saviour

 

Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

The Prophecy of Christ’s Virgin Birth

That Isaiah’s words here – addressed originally to King Ahaz of Judah some 800 years BC – had their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Isaiah prophesied of One to come Who, incredibly, was to be born without the normal instrumentality of a human father. When the Lord Jesus – God’s eternal Son – was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, this prophecy was fulfilled.

As the Christian Church grew, and her fundamental beliefs came to be encapsulated and defined in her creeds and statements of Faith, the ‘Virgin Birth’ of Christ – by which we mean the ‘virginal conception’ of Christ – came to be regarded as fundamental to the Faith, and hence included in the church’s creeds. If we deny that Christ was virgin born, we are at odds with the historic Christian Faith and cannot really claim to be a Christian. The Apostles’ Creed  states:-

I believe …in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary …

 

The Shorter Catechism  states similarly:-

Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.

The Mystery of Christ’s Virgin Birth

Virgin births are, of course, humanly speaking, impossible. In dealing with the virgin birth of Christ though, we are dealing with God, and with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37). In Christ, no mere human was born but the pre-existent and eternal Son of God – the Second Person of the blessed Trinity.

People sometimes speak of ‘the miracle of life.’ Whilst we know what they mean, the term ‘the miracle of life’ is actually something of a misnomer. A new-born baby is wonderful, yet not really miraculous. Miracles are, by their nature, unusual, one-off events – but babies are born every day. New life is certainly mysterious and marvellous, but not, strictly speaking, miraculous. As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God Who makes everything (Ecclesiastes 11:5).

In the virgin birth of Christ though we are dealing with a unique, unusual, one-off, never to be repeated, incomparable miracle. Miracles present no problem to omnipotence. Christ’s conception was not a natural one but a supernatural one. His conception was not by an act of man but by an act of God.

The Reality of Christ’s Virgin Birth

When the virgin Mary – a young Jewish girl, living in Nazareth in Northern Israel –  was enabled to conceive the Lord Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, she was engaged to be married to one Joseph. Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The intensely human details which Matthew records next, show that the account of the virgin birth of Christ is the plain, sober truth, rather than a clever and creative story spun by man. Virgin births were just not in Joseph’s mental framework at all – let alone in relation to his own wife to be. On realising that the woman to whom he was engaged was pregnant, Joseph was horrified and devastated. Although he loved her, he thought the worst of her. Surely Mary had been unfaithful and broken her sacred pledge. Surely now his marital hopes had ended almost before they had begun… Sadly, divorce seemed to be Joseph’s only option. Reading the account, we can almost feel the disappointment and depression descending on Joseph, but… But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:20ff.). It took an envoy from heaven to make Joseph change his mind!

Matthew next notes carefully that all of this was part of God’s redemptive plan, hence it was in complete accord with what God had already prophesied hundreds of years previously. He thus quotes the very verse from Isaiah with which we opened to prove his point: All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:22,23). In the virgin birth of Christ then Isaiah’s prophecy was most certainly and most gloriously fulfilled.

Luke’s account

Interestingly, significantly and fittingly, it is Luke’s Gospel which gives us the most detail in its recording of the virgin birth of Christ. We say this, as Luke was a medical doctor. Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). Luke alone relates the virgin birth of Christ from the angle of Mary His mother. It would seem that Mary had the confidence to confide in Dr Luke, and disclose to him the details withheld from the other accounts. The divine inspiration of the Scriptures apart, it is as though Luke had taken Mary into his surgery, from whence the material for the first chapter of his Gospel – with its detail concerning Christ’s virgin birth – was ascertained. Luke thus recorded for posterity how:-

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary … And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…’ And Mary said to the angel ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:26 ff.).

Christ’s birth then cannot be explained apart from the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. He had no human father. God was always His Father. Christ existed before His birth on earth. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). How did the latter occur? By His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The Necessity of Christ’s Virgin Birth

From a Biblical perspective, the virgin birth of Christ was an absolute necessity as much as it is an assured reality. Put negatively, if Jesus had been born of a human father, He would not have been a sinless Saviour, for He would have inherited our sinful nature. Had Christ not been sinless, He would have been unable to redeem sinners. Only a sinless One could offer up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. Had Christ been born as a mere son of Adam – and not the Son of God – His death at Calvary would have been of no avail to us. We are sinners. We are so by nature and practice, being descendants of Adam. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12). We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ though did not. He is the ‘Last Adam.’ His conception by the Holy Spirit ensured that no taint of sin was transmitted to His human nature. He is the sinless Son of God, hence His qualification to be the Saviour of sinners. He was born, not of the will of man but of God. His human nature was free from sin, hence His blood alone, shed at Calvary’s cross, has the power to save others from sin. Christ’s supernatural birth and Christ’s supernatural blood are inextricably linked. Redemption is only to be found in the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19).

What stream is that which sweeps away

My sins just like a flood

Nor lets one guilty blemish stay?

Tis Jesus’ precious blood.

The Glory of Christ’s Virgin Birth

The Christian marvels at the virgin birth of Christ, a virgin birth in total fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.  The virgin birth of Christ elicits our humble adoration. The virgin birth of Christ though is just one facet of the incomparable person and work of the incomparable Saviour. Christ certainly entered into the world supernaturally – yet He also exited from the world in a supernatural way too. Christ certainly did inhabit a virgin womb for a season – but He also inhabited a virgin tomb too, from which He conquered the grave on the third day.

In dealing with Christ we are dealing with God. A true Christian, knowing His power to save, will never ever cast aspersions on either Christ’s virgin birth or any of the other miraculous phenomena connected with our Saviour.

Christ was, as Isaiah said He would be, ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.’ Christ’s virgin birth is both a doctrine to be believed and a hymn of praise to be sung. It was by this method that the pre-existent Son of God became incarnate ‘for us men and for our salvation.’

Christ by highest heaven adored

Christ, the everlasting Lord

Late in time behold Him come

Offspring of a virgin’s womb

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see

Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as Man with men to dwell

Jesus, our Immanuel.

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He Ascended into Heaven …

 

Heaven

The day known as ‘Ascension Day’ by Christians who follow a church calendar, usually falls in May. It commemorates Christ’s glorious ascension into heaven, forty days after his victorious resurrection on the first ‘Easter Sunday’.

 

Luke provides the fullest description of this particular milestone in the work of the Saviour. He takes us, some two thousand years ago, to the Mount of Olives on the eastern side of the city of Jerusalem, and relates: ‘as they [that is, the disciples] were looking on, he [that is, the Lord Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

‘And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”’ (Acts 1:9-11).

 

Mission accomplished

 

The Ascension reminds us that in dealing with Jesus we are dealing with no mere man, but with God himself in human flesh. The Lord Jesus entered our world in a supernatural manner, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin’s womb. It was thus most fitting that he should also exit from our world in a supernatural way, ascending into heaven on the clouds.

Picture the scene in heaven when the Son of God returned home to glory. What triumph and jubilation! He had perfectly fulfilled his Father’s plan of salvation and accomplished his mission.

He had left heaven for earth. He had died to save God’s elect from their sins, paying their penalty in full by dying on the cross in their place. He had triumphed over and defeated the grave when he rose victoriously from the dead on the third day. Now he was returning home.

The ascension is therefore rightly though of in terms of Christ’s coronation. Ascending into heaven, he took his seat at God’s right hand — the place of supreme approval and pre-eminence.

Psalm 24 may well give us a prophetic glimpse of this when it says, ‘Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory’ (Psalm 24:9-10). Christ the crucified is now Christ crowned King:

 

The head that once was crowned with thorns

Is crowned with glory now;

A royal diadem adorns

The mighty Victor’s brow.

 

The highest place that heaven affords

Is his by sovereign right;

The King of kings and Lord of lords

And heaven’s eternal light.

 

Kingly office

 

Christ’s ascension and enthronement reminds us of his kingly office. As the Messiah, he fulfils the threefold office of prophet, priest and king in his one person. As King, he sits enthroned at God’s right hand. Christians contend for Christ’s crown and covenant, for our Saviour is the Lord of heaven and earth. He is due the worship, allegiance, obedience and obeisance appropriate to his worthy Name.

Our Saviour possesses unsurpassed authority, for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords! As the Shorter Catechism puts it, ‘Christ executeth the office of a king, subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies’.

 

An on-going ministry

 

Paradoxically, the ascension of Christ also teaches us about the continuation, as well as the conclusion, of Christ’s ministry. Ten days after his ascension, as he promised, Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on the infant church.

The Holy Spirit of God, although a divine person in his own right, can also be thought of as the presence of Jesus with his people on earth. He continues Christ’s ministry by applying to us the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work. The Shorter Catechism, again, states: ‘We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit’.

Thank God that we are not left to our own unaided devices when it comes to the essential matter of believing in Jesus, but that redemption is as divinely applied as it was divinely accomplished.

Thank God also that because Jesus sits at God’s right hand, his people have a much-needed ‘advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus is currently active on his people’s behalf, praying and interceding for his own — for ‘He ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Hebrews 7:25).            This, of course, refers to Christ’s high priestly ministry: ‘we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God’ (Hebrews 4:14). Paul tells us that ‘Christ Jesus … is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us’ (Romans 8:34).            It is a great comfort to know this. Without the Spirit’s advocacy on earth and the Saviour’s advocacy in heaven, no Christian would ever persevere in the Faith to the last. Our divine salvation is also a divine preservation.

 

Christ’s coming majesty

 

Finally, Christ’s ascension reminds us that he is coming again to this earth — to make all things new and put all things right. To quote Luke’s account once again: ‘This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’.

According to the Bible, history is linear, and is and will remain ‘ his-story’. The great culmination of history will be the Second Coming of Christ — and what a day it will be! When the Lord Jesus comes again, visibly in the clouds of heaven, to gather his church and judge the earth in righteousness, he will destroy all evil and put all his enemies under his feet.

Paul calls it ‘our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13). It will certainly be a day of eternal consolation for those who, by God’s grace, have been brought into a personal saving-faith union with the Lord Jesus. But it will also be a day of remorse and eternal calamity to those who would have nothing to do with Jesus and have hardened their hearts against his saving rule.

 

Christ ascended into heaven …

 

Whether we follow a church calendar or not, the ascension of the Lord Jesus is not to be passed over lightly. Jesus is the incomparable Christ. He is the eternal Son of God. He was born miraculously, he lived miraculously, he died miraculously, and he rose from the grave miraculously.

He ascended into heaven miraculously and, miraculously, even today, is still at work in the world, bestowing salvation on lost sinners and building his church. He is also coming again — miraculously. The Bible tells us so, ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet’ (1 Corinthians 15:25).

‘Ascension Day’ reminds us that there is no-one like the Lord Jesus — the Christ of the Scriptures, the head of all principality and power, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and in whom we are complete (Colossians 2:8-10).

 

Triumphant, Christ ascends on high,

The glorious work complete.

Sin, death and hell low vanquished lie

Beneath his awe-full feet.

 

There, with eternal glory crowned,

The Lord, the Conqueror reigns.

His praise the heavenly choirs resound

In their immortal strains.

 

© Timothy Cross

Featured image from www.publicdomainpictures.net

Posted by Site Developer in Providence, Salvation, Worship, 0 comments

Unusual events at Calvary

When the apostle Paul came to Corinth, he ‘decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). The cross of Christ lies at the heart of the heart of the Christian faith.

 

By ‘the cross’ we refer not to its wood, but its work — the redeeming work of Christ for sinners.

There was nothing particularly unusual about crucifixion in the first century. Gruesome and barbaric though it was, it was a common capital punishment when the Romans ruled.

When Christ was crucified, however, some very unusual events occurred which can only be explained supernaturally. These show that Christ’s crucifixion was as much an act of God as of cruel men.

 

Darkness

 

Let us consider three such unusual events. First, when Christ died at Calvary, a supernatural darkness covered the land. ‘When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour’ (Mark 15:33). From noon to 3.00pm, one day in Spring, it became midnight at midday! Something unique was happening.

Isaac Watts gave a clue when he wrote:

 

Well might the sun in darkness hide

And shut its glories in

When Christ the mighty Maker died

For man the creature’s sin.

 

Darkness in the Bible refers to divine judgement. Hell — the ultimate in divine judgement — is described by Jesus as ‘outer darkness’, where ‘men will weep and gnash their teeth’ (Matthew 8:12). Joel 2:2 describes God’s judgement as ‘a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness’.

The darkness of Calvary is explained by the fact that there Christ was being judged by God, not for his own sins, for he had none; but for the sins of others.

He was judged for our justification. He was punished, so that by believing in him we might be pardoned. He endured the darkness of hell, so we might forever bask in the light of heaven.

Isaiah prophesied, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5), and the earliest ever Christian creed states succinctly that, ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus then was forsaken by God in the depths of divine judgement, so that believers might be lifted up to the glories of heaven.

 

Curtain

 

When Christ died at Calvary, the Bible tells us that ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’ (Mark 15:38). This has no natural explanation.

The Jerusalem temple was modelled on the ancient tabernacle and divided into the holy place and holy of holies. The omnipresent God presenced himself in the holy of holies in a special way. Access to it was limited and barred, and a great curtain separated it from the holy place.

Only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and only once a year with sacrificial blood on the annual Day of Atonement. But when Jesus died at Calvary, the curtain which prohibited entrance was torn in two.

It shows that the death of Christ accomplished something. He did not just die as a martyr or example, but as an atoning sacrifice for sinners. Sinners separated from God may now be reconciled to God, and gain access to God through the death of Christ.

‘We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh’ (Hebrews 10:19).

 

Centurion

 

Thirdly, when Christ died at Calvary, a miracle occurred in the heart of a hardened sinner.

The Roman centurion supervising Christ’s crucifixion had no doubt witnessed many crucifixions in his time. Yet he was forced to confess that there was something very different about this one.

‘When the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15:39). Almighty God had opened his eyes, so that he could see that Jesus was the very Son of God.

The value of Calvary lies in the identity of the one who died there. Only the eternal Son of God could offer himself up as an eternal sacrifice to atone for sinners. His blood alone can cleanse us from our sins and make us fit for heaven.

Yes, in the first century, crucifixion was a common event. But the crucifixion of Christ was unparalleled and unique. It alone saves from hell’s darkness, reconciles sinners to God, and is the sure ground of eternal salvation for all who, by God’s grace, put their faith in the crucified Christ.

For these reasons, every Christian has cause to say with Paul, ‘Far be it from me to glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world’ (Galatians 6:14).

 

© Timothy Cross

Dr Cross has authored many Christian books and articles, and has an honorary doctorate of sacred literature, from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC .

 

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The Seal of the Holy Spirit

The seal of the Holy Spirit

 

The full-orbed Christian doctrine of God takes us to the doctrine of the holy Trinity, that is, that the one true God exists and has eternally existed in the three persons of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of these three divine persons, the Holy Spirit has been, arguably, the most neglected member of the Trinity in Christian thinking and preaching.

The Holy Spirit’s ministry however is absolutely indispensable. We would not and could not become Christians apart from his regenerating agency. It is the Holy Spirit of God who imparts to us all the blessings of God in Christ. Chief in his work is the effectual application of the redeeming work of Christ on the cross to our souls.

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and enables us to believe in Jesus, and so appropriate personally the salvation Christ procured at Calvary. The joy and peace which comes as a consequence of this is an experience which ‘none but Zion’s children know’.

 

In Scripture

 

A ministry of the Holy Spirit’s which receives even less mention in Christian preaching and writing is that of ‘sealing’ — yet this blessed ministry is written plainly on the pages of the Bible for the Christian’s encouragement, assurance and reassurance.

In Ephesians 1:13, Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus that ‘you … who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’. Here then is a distinguishing mark of a Christian.

How do we describe a Christian? In various ways. A Christian is chosen by God, saved by grace, called by God, redeemed by Christ, justified by faith. And a Christian is ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’.

Paul says the same a little later in Ephesians when he exhorts ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30). What though does Paul mean when he writes of this invisible, yet very real ‘seal’?

In the ancient world, visible seals were used on goods to attest their genuineness — something akin to our modern day trademarks. They were also utilised to mark ownership and to keep a legal document from being tampered with. A document had to arrive at court with an unbroken seal or it would be considered invalid.

The seal of God’s Holy Spirit then is proof that we genuinely belong to Jesus. It is the proof of our salvation. In Romans 8:9 Paul writes, ‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’. The seal of the Holy Spirit is also one of the many ways in which the Bible describes the eternal security of one united to Christ in saving faith.

God our Father not only made us, but has also purchased us with the blood of his Son. We belong to him for ever. Nothing can undo our salvation, for God’s mark is upon us. By his Holy Spirit we are ‘sealed for the day of redemption’. ‘He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee’ (2 Corinthians 1:22).

 

In society

 

The Bible often comes to life when we consider it against its original background of first century, middle eastern context and customs. This is especially so here. The booklet The Bible Comes to Life, published by the Churches Ministry amongst Jewish People, casts light on the Holy Spirit’s sealing of the Christian when it explains that in the first century world of the Bible: ‘letters, books, documents and other possessions were sealed to indicate ownership, authority or the value of an article. Paul uses this old custom of sealing to show how the believer has been purchased and paid for by the blood of Christ’.

The same booklet also has an instructive paragraph about a corn seal which, it says, was: ‘made of wood and measures about 48x24x2 cms. On one side the monogram of the owner is deeply cut while on the other side is fixed the handle.

‘When a man has purchased a quantity of corn it is placed in a heap which he proceeds to seal carefully by pressing his monogram upon it. This is to warn all who pass by that the corn has been purchased and paid for and is the property of the person whose seal is upon it. Later the man will send a servant with a donkey to collect or redeem it in his name’.

So we can understand better what Paul meant when he referred to the Holy Spirit’s sealing of the Christian. A Christian is ‘sealed for the day of redemption’. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ. We belong to Jesus. We are his property, for he has paid for us and now owns us. His mark — the seal of the Holy Spirit — is upon us.

One day he is going to come and collect us and we shall be with him for ever. Jesus promised ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John 14:3).

 

In suffering

 

The last book of the Bible — the book of Revelation — was written during the most troublesome, violent and unstable days. If anyone should have believed that a Christian could not be sure of salvation, or lose a salvation he once had, surely John, the author of Revelation, should have.

But, no. God gave John a vision. John was enabled to view salvation from a heavenly angle. In Revelation 7:2 ff. he tells how: ‘I saw another angel … with the seal of the living God, and he called … “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads”. And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty four thousand …’

This, of course, is highly symbolic. But symbolic of what? There were twelve tribes in Israel, and there were twelve apostles. 12×12=144. This then refers to God’s true church — the large number of his elect from all the ages who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. They have God’s seal upon them. They are a saved people, a safe people and a sealed people.

They will be a glorified people because no natural or supernatural power can break the Holy Spirit’s seal upon them. ‘Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30).

‘Sealed for the day of redemption’. If, by God’s grace, you belong to Jesus, why not bow your head now and thank God for the blessed sealing of his Holy Spirit.

 

There on each he setteth

His own secret sign

They that have my Spirit

These, saith he, are mine.

 

© Timothy Cross; originally published in Evangelical Times, reproduced with the kind permission of www.evangelicaltimes.org 

 

 

 

 

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The Unfinished Work of Christ

Is Christ’s work unfinished?

 

‘The finished work of Christ’ is one of the dearest doctrines of all to Protestants (see January 2013 ET). When Christ died on the cross, he did everything necessary to save us eternally.

 

His death has paid the full price for the eternal salvation of his people. ‘When Jesus therefore received the vinegar, he said, it is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost’ (John 19:30). ‘But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God’ (Hebrews 10:12).

So while it is an essential truth of the gospel that Christ’s work is finished, it is also true to say that the Bible teaches us of ‘the unfinished work of Christ’, that is, what the Lord Jesus is currently doing for his people.

The Bible teaches that Christ’s saving work is both accomplished and ongoing! This will be so until all of God’s people have been saved ‘to sin no more’.

According to the Bible, there are at least four aspects of the continuing work of Christ.

 

Saving

 

Christ has not finished drawing sinners to himself. Jesus stated, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32). For his work at Calvary in the past to make any difference to an individual’s life in the present, it has to be applied to the human heart.

Christ continues, by his Holy Spirit, to draw sinners to himself. He convicts them of their sin and lost condition, and gives them saving faith to unite them to himself.

The Shorter Catechism states, ‘Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of God and renewing our will, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel’.

It is as true to define a Christian as one who has been drawn by Christ to himself, as it is to define a Christian as one who is justified by faith, redeemed by the blood or saved by grace.

 

Interceding

 

Christ has not finished interceding for sinners. Jesus is praying for his people. This is one aspect of his work as our High Priest. ‘[He] is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Romans 8:34); ‘wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them’ (Hebrews 7:25).

Jim Packer provides us with an excellent definition of this unfinished work: ‘Christ’s intercession [is] that heavenly activity … whereby he makes sure that all who come to God through him, pleading his name, trusting him for forgiveness, access, grace to help in time of need, and ultimate glory, will not be disappointed … it is certainly and infallibly efficacious [effective]’ (God’s words, J. Packer, p.118).

 

He died; but lives again

And by the throne he stands

There shows how he was slain

Opening his pierced hands

Our Priest abides and pleads the cause

Of us who have transgressed his laws.

 

Preserving

 

Christ has not finished preserving saved sinners. He not only makes us safe, but keeps us safe. If the barriers to our coming to faith in Christ were great, humanly speaking, so are the barriers to our persevering in the faith.

We face a continual battle against the world, flesh and devil, all of which threaten to make shipwreck of us and separate us from the Saviour. However, the Bible teaches that Christ keeps his own.

Jesus is stronger than Satan or sin. Jesus affirms concerning his own sheep, ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).

The Bible teaches the eternal security of those who are united to Christ. The Christ who saves us is actually the King of kings. There is no higher authority than his. No natural or supernatural power is a match for him. Paul is persuaded that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:39).

The Shorter Catechism, in explaining how his kingship is an aspect of his being our Redeemer, states, ‘Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies’.

Christ is infinitely worthy of our confidence and trust. He will not let us go. Some of the apostle Paul’s last recorded words were the confident affirmation, ‘And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever’ (2 Timothy 4:18). All of God’s children may make these words their own.

 

Preparing a home

 

Christ has not finished preparing a glorious home for his people. He is preparing a home in heaven for all who belong to him.

Remember those well known words which the Saviour uttered in the upper room: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions [lit. “abiding places”]. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2).

Think of it! He is preparing a place for you. A place in glory, in God’s house, for all those he died to save. What must that place be like? The Christian’s glorious, eternal home will surely be greater than any human words can tell.

If you are a Christian then, and your faith is based on Christ’s finished work of redemption at Calvary, you can also rejoice and take great comfort from his ongoing work on your behalf.

Christ has some unfinished business! He is working for you today! He lovingly drew you to himself. He intercedes for you, keeping you in the protection of his work at Calvary. He keeps you from all evil and, in amazing grace, is preparing an exquisite home in heaven for you — a home in the Father’s house itself.

 

Thou art gone up before us Lord

To make for us a place

That we may be where now thou art

And look upon God’s face

 

O think of the home over there

By the side of the river of light

Where the saints all immortal and fair

Are robed in their garments of white.

 

© Timothy Cross; originally published in Evangelical Times, reproduced with the kind permission of www.evangelicaltimes.org

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Tolerance

TOLERANCE: A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE?

 

In 1 John 4:1, the Apostle John – an intimate of the Lord Jesus – gives the following exhortation and warning to Christians: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.’

In our 21st century, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-lifestyle society, ‘toleration’ is definitely one of the spirits of the age. It is enjoined as a good, even a ‘Christian’ virtue. Thus one Nick Pratt (sic) is quoted in the Metro of 19/10/12 as being very angry when his son George was prohibited from joining the Scouts due to his professed atheism. Said Mr Pratt: ‘Christianity is meant to be about being tolerant, forgiving and understanding …’ But is a blanket ‘tolerance’ truly ‘of God’? What happens when we ‘test the spirits’?

 

  1. Consider the Person of God

 

Contrary to common belief, the God of the Bible is actually revealed as an intolerant God. He brooks no rivals for He has no rivals. Idolatry – that is, giving worship and honour to anyone or anything other than the one true God – is condemned in the Bible throughout its pages. The God of the Bible is jealous and zealous for His own glory. Thus in Exodus 34 He commanded His people to break down the altars and pillars of the false gods found in the land of Canaan. His reason for this was Himself. He affirmed ‘you shall worship no god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God’ (Exodus 34:14). The true God therefore is not tolerant but jealous. He demands, requires and is worthy of our exclusive obedience, allegiance and worship. He alone can affirm ‘I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other’ (Isaiah 42:8). And in the very first of the Ten Commandments – the summary of the moral law – God commands: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3). The Shorter Catechism explains:-

 

The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God and our God, and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.

 

The first commandment forbiddeth the denying or not worshipping and glorifying the true God as God and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other which is due to Him alone.

 

  1. Consider the Law of God

 

The God of the Bible exercises no tolerance at all when it comes to the breaking of His law. As God our great creator, He has the right to lay down His law and demand obedience to it. Breaking His law is serious solely from the fact that it entails a rebellion against Himself – treason against the King of kings.  So in Galatians 3:10 we read ‘it is written ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them.’’ So the God if the Bible is completely intolerant when it comes to punishing law breakers. They are liable to His ‘curse.’ Non Christians who rebel against God can expect His merciless judgement in the life to come. And even Christians who lapse and flout God’s law, can expect His chastisement in this life, for the God of the Bible is inflexible when it comes to the law He has laid down. The slightest infringement brings punishment: ‘For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it’ (James 2:10).

Will God punish all who have broken His law? Yes. But the Good News of the Gospel is that sinners may be pardoned and escape from the punishment they deserve, for in His wisdom and mercy, God devised a way whereby sinners could be justly pardoned. In sending His Son to die in the sinners place, and take their punishment, God was true to both the justice and love which lies at the heart of His nature. Calvary was the supreme demonstration of both God’s love and wrath – wrath in condemning sin, and mercy in pardoning the believing sinner: ‘to prove at the present time that He Himself is righteous and that He justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:26). Which leads us to:-

 

  1. Consider the Salvation of God.

 

The Bible is intolerant when it comes to salvation, for according to the Bible, the salvation Christ procured at Calvary is an exclusive one – there is no other pardon for sin and there is no other way of salvation apart from the sacrifice of Christ on the cross: ‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under haven, given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

There were those in the province of Galatia who preached an alternative way of salvation from the cross of Christ. They ‘did it their way.’ In response, far from enjoining toleration, the Apostle Paul expressed his indignation and wrote one of the most intolerant letters of the New Testament. It is doubtful whether Galatians pass the censors today. Paul was gripped by the necessity of the cross –  its indispensibility for our salvation and the futility of seeking salvation anywhere else. ‘If justification were through the law (that is, our own efforts) then Christ died to no purpose’ (Galatians 2:21), he wrote.

 

So the exclusive nature of the Christian Faith does not sit easily with the current spirit of the age. Christian belief and behaviour are contrary to the current tide and world view which promotes ‘tolerance’ whilst, paradoxically, is increasingly intolerant of the Christian Faith. The words of the Saviour however still remain: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me’ (John 14:6).

Having considered something of the intolerance of the God of the Bible, along with the intolerance of His law and His salvation, the question is begged as to why He does not intervene straight away in fearful judgement. Isn’t our current world a total affront to Him? The answer is as follows. Paradoxically, again, the Bible reveals that almighty God is long-suffering as well as intolerant. In His great mercy, He tolerates sinners for a while. He exercises His patience with them so that they may come to Christ and be saved. Yes, intolerance is part of His holy nature. But He amazingly has His elect people, destined for eternal glory. So although He will surely intervene one day, He withholds His final judgement so that Christ’s church – the church of the redeemed – may be built. As Peter explained: ‘The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). So whilst God’s intolerance is to be revered, His forbearance is fuel for our praise. Apart from the latter, we would not have come to saving faith in Christ.

 

Timothy Cross

Posted by Site Developer in Apologetics, Bible, Worship

From Dawn until Dusk

FROM DAWN UNTIL DUSK

 

I recently had the experience of being outside in the morning while it was dark, and seeing the day dawn gradually until it was light. Then, as it happened, that very same day, I was out in the early evening as the sun set and the darkness appeared again. The experience reminded me of Psalm 113:3 which reads ‘From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.’

We are told that in heaven, the praise of God never ceases. Revelation 7:15 informs us that there, the redeemed ‘are … before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night within His temple.’ It is doubtful though if there is any moment here on earth when someone, somewhere is not engaged in the praise of God. ‘From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.’

 

Sunday worship

 

Think for a moment of an average Sunday – the Christian Sabbath. Here in the UK we might be fast asleep in bed early on a Sunday morning – but the sun has already risen in the east. In China and in the former states of the Soviet Union, Christians are already awake, up and meeting together, sometimes illicitly. They have gathered together to hear God’s Word and to unite their hearts and voices in God’s praise. Then, when the day dawns in the UK, Christians here take up God’s praise. My mother’s church meets at 09.30 on a Sunday. My church meets at 11.00. A church I know in Belfast meets at midday. We have our evening service at 18.30 hrs. The church I know in Belfast meets at 19.00 hrs. Eventually though, in both assemblies, the closing benediction is said, we make our way home and the caretaker locks the church door. Our corporate worship has finished for the day. Yet if we could travel west to America, we would find that their evening worship has not yet begun. It will do though. They will be engaged in corporate worship while we are getting ready to retire for the night. ‘From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.’

The question is begged: Why is God always to be praised? The answer of the Bible is ‘Because He alone is worthy.’ Worship depends on worth, and there is no one or nothing more worthy than Almighty God. He alone may be described as truly ‘great.’ Human greatness is relative. Divine greatness is absolute. ‘Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable’ (Psalm 145:3).

There is then no time on earth or in heaven when Christians, either individually or corporately are not praising God. Their praise actually is a response to Him. Specifically, it is a response to i. His Superlative Glory and ii. His Saving Grace.

 

  1. God’s Superlative Glory

 

The ‘name of the LORD’ in our verse refers to the revelation God has given us of Himself – His self disclosure. We learn from the Bible that God is supreme, sovereign and unrivalled. He is the uncreated Creator and sustainer of the universe, unsurpassed and unsurpassable in His power and greatness. In Isaiah 46:9 He makes the assertion ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me.’ The Shorter Catechism, in answer to the question ‘What is God?’ states

 

‘God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.’

 

The revelation of God in the Bible incites and demands our praise and awe. Not worshipping Him is the height of disrespect. Worshipping anything created is idolatry. Christians therefore praise God for His superlative glory and greatness. But Christians alone have a special reason for praising God, namely:-

 

  1. God’s Saving Grace

 

The wonder of wonders is that the awesome God of the universe should have mercy on sinners and enter into a relationship with them – but this one truth is the conviction which unites all Christians. Christians are the recipients of God’s saving grace. Whilst He was within His rights to condemn us all to hell for our sins, in His mercy He sent His Son to save us from our sins and restore us to fellowship with Himself. God the Father planned our salvation. God the Son procured our salvation on Calvary’s cross. God the Holy Spirit has applied Christ’s work of redemption to us, reconciling us to God for time and eternity. With this in mind, Christians meet together for the corporate worship of God – to praise Him for His saving grace in Christ. We have a salvation to celebrate, a mercy to extol and a God to glorify. The wonder of God’s saving grace in the gospel is the fuel which ignites our praise. Hear again John’s summary of the gospel in John 3:16,17: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.’

God’s superlative glory and God’s saving grace. Here is the reason for the praise He receives from His creatures. And here is the reason for obeying the injunction of Psalm 113:3:’ From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.’ The hymn writer captured the sentiment of the verse very well in the following lines:-

 

We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping

While earth rolls onward into light

Through all the world her watch is keeping

And rests not now by day or night

 

As o’er each continent and island

The dawn leads on another day

The voice of prayer is never silent

Nor dies the strain of praise away

 

The sun that bids us rest is waking

Our brethren neath the western sky

And hour by hour fresh lips are making

Thy wondrous doings heard on high

 

So be it, Lord, Thy throne shall never

Like earth’s proud empires pass away

Thy kingdom stands and grows for ever

Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

 

Timothy Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Site Developer in Bible, Worship