The Reformation.


Part one, a brief historical overview of the Reformation

The background to the Reformation, the Medieval church had become corrupt and had departed from the gospel in many ways. Greed and immorality were common in the church with Bishops who were meant to be celibate promoting their illegitimate sons to places of authority in the Church. At times there were even rival popes. The days were dark but even in this darkness God raised up men like John Wycliffe (1329-1384) he was a great preacher and scholar and was the first person to attempt to translate the Bible into English. His views were to influence the Bohemian preacher Jan Hus (1373-1415), Hus was burnt at the stake for his views.

God was seen as very distant and therefore prayers to saints were often used. This idea of praying to saints has no biblical justification and detracts from the centrality of the work of Jesus Christ. Also, it was widely believed that one had to partly earn one’s salvation, and if one could not achieve enough merit in this life the believer was sent to a place called purgatory to suffer until their sins were atoned for. The Bible never teaches that we have to earn our salvation, nor does it have any teaching about purgatory. People were concerned about their dead relatives and the Pope authorised the selling of indulgences which released the soul from purgatory. One of the men responsible for the sale of indulgences was a monk called Tetzel. (1465-1519) He was known for his selling of indulgences, one of his sales pitches was “As soon as the gold in the casket rings the rescued soul to heaven springs”. The idea was that souls could be released from purgatory for a price, the money raised was used at least in part to build St. Peter’s Church in Rome.

Martin Luther (1483- 1546) was an Augustinian Monk who soon showed himself to be an able scholar. He taught others, but he felt God was a monster demanding of him a righteousness he could not possibly achieve. He particularly wrestled with the opening chapter of the Book of Romans. Then one day he saw the true meaning of the text and he felt as though he was reborn.

Luther said “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase the ’The justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.

Once he realised that the righteousness we have is received from Christ it affected his whole outlook. He wanted to share the good news with others and did so by preaching, teaching, writing and translating the Bible into German.

“Luther wanted to reach beyond an academic readership and touch the hearts and minds of ordinary people. The decision to publish in German was iconic, making a statement about the inclusive nature of the Reformation that Luther proposed to pursue. To publish in Latin was to exclude the ordinary people. To publish in his native German was to democratize the debate about the future of the church by including those who were traditionally marginalized by the use of the ancient scholarly language. From that moment onward, one of the hallmarks of Protestantism would be its use of the vernacular at every level. Most importantly of all, the Bible would also be translated into the language of the people”. [Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, 51.]

Luther was quite a fiery person and made some very extreme statements but nonetheless, he was a great man of God. We must be willing to face up to his faults as well as praise him for his tremendous contribution to the development of the Church.

Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) was a priest in Zurich Switzerland who came to the same conclusions as Luther about the nature of the gospel at about the same time as Luther did. Zwingli does not appear to have gone through the same spiritual crisis as Luther but his conversion although a gentler affair was deep and very real. Zwingli set about reforming the Church in Zurich and helped to spread the Reformation message to other Swiss cities. Zwingli was first of all convinced of the authority of Scripture and he used this to test Church tradition, as a result, he came to the conclusion that salvation is by grace alone.

 

 

John Calvin (1509-1564) Calvin was born in Noyon France, he studied in Paris where there was a lot of theological discussions. We know that by 1534 he had become a Protestant. In January 1535 went into exile in Switzerland. He felt that his calling was to spend his time studying and writing and he produced his first version of his Institutes of Christian Religion, this was to become a great success and is still read today. Calvin himself wanted people to read the institutes alongside his Bible commentaries.

When Calvin visited Geneva, he was just planning on paying a passing visit, but he was not prepared for the intervention of William Farel who wanted the younger man to help in the Reformation cause in Geneva, Calvin but strongly objected saying that he needed to live in a peaceful environment to pursue his studies.  Farel responded by saying “May God condemn your repose and the calm you seek for study if before such a great need you withdraw and refuse your succour and help.”

Calvin stayed in Geneva and preached regularly and taught many the basics of Protestant theology, many came from other countries to learn from Calvin and his associates, amongst them was John Knox the Scottish Reformer.

 

The Reformation quickly spread to other countries we certainly don’t have time to look at the whole of that history, but we must briefly mention the Reformation in England and also in Scotland. Although people were becoming open to Reformation ideas Henry viii was strongly opposed to the Reformation until he wanted a divorce, but the beginning of the Reformation in England was one that did not immediately embrace the ideas of Luther and Calvin. However soon many people began to preach and teach the gospel. Amongst was man who was to make a real impact on the Church of England he was Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) He was to pioneer having services in English and was responsible for the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer His actions were somewhat restricted during the reign of Henry viii but during the reign of Edward vi he had great freedom to develop his Reformation agenda. All this was to come to an end when Mary Tudor came to the throne and once again Roman Catholicism was the official religion of the kingdom. During Mary’s reign, Protestants were persecuted and many were burnt at the stake including Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. When Ridley and Latimer were burnt at the stake Latimer said “Be of good comfort Master Ridley and play the man. We shall light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust will never be put out”

Another Englishman who was involved in the Reformation Was William Tyndale he was a great exponent of Reformation doctrine but his most lasting contribution to the English-speaking church was his very high-quality translation of the New Testament into English. He also worked on parts of the Old Testament but was captured and put to death before he could complete his work.

John Knox was a man of strong conviction who wanted to see the protestant reformation spread           He embraced protestant principles in the 1540’s and by 1546 he made it clear that he accepted the Swiss Reformer Bucer’s teaching on the Lord’s supper. In 1546 he was captured by the French and became a galley slave and during this period he wrote a short work on Protestant theology where he showed that he accepted the idea that justification was by faith alone.

The Radical Reformation, The Radical Reformers wanted to take the Reformation further and rejected the idea of infant baptism and were the first to introduce believer’s baptism.  They also believed that the Church should be separate from the state. There was various grouping around with similar agendas. We can see that much of our Church practice is indebted to the radical Reformers whereas much of our doctrine is indebted to the Magisterial Reformers.

 

Part Two, Some important teachings from the Reformation

At the time of the great Reformation as the Reformers tried to bring back the Church to biblical teaching, five important principles grounded all their thinking. These principles are often nicknamed the five Solas because each one points to a central truth which indicated the unique place each concept has, sola roughly translated from the Latin is alone, the five Solas are, Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone), sola scriptura (by scripture alone), Solus Christus (through Christ alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone) and sola gratia (by grace alone). I want to look briefly at each of these important concepts because they are vital not only to the health of the church but also to our involvement in the world in which we live.

Glory to God alone:  the reformers were reacting against a man-centred theology where the glory of God had been lost, medieval theology looked to see how a man could make his ascent to God. Indeed, a whole system of merits had been invented and the gracious nature of God had largely been lost. Against this backdrop, the reformers rediscovered the graciousness of God in all its glory. They also realised that the God of grace was the sovereign Lord of all history. when you read the writings of Calvin and Luther one sees how these two men were captivated by a gracious yet awesome God. These two men realised that because God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient that one should bow in worship before him and yet at the same time they realised how gracious this God is. They realised that God is sovereign over both creation and redemption and because of this God should be glorified in creation and redemption.

Calvin expressed it this way “All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God or to the ground of salvation. As to the former, certainly we exhort men to worship God in neither a frigid nor a careless manner; and while we point out the way, we neither lose sight of the end nor omit anything which is relevant to the matter. We proclaim the glory of God in terms far loftier than it was wont to be proclaimed before; and we earnestly labour to make the perfections in which his glory shines better and better known. His benefits towards ourselves we extol as eloquently as we can. Thus, men are incited to reverence his majesty, render due homage to his greatness, feel due gratitude for his mercies, and unite in showing forth his praise.” (Necessity of Reforming The Church)

The Puritans who framed the Westminster Shorter Catechism understood this when they said that “the chief end of man is to glorify and to enjoy him forever”. the reformation was a period when it was re-emphasized that the whole of life should be lived before the face of God. because of this, the whole of life was to be lived for the glory of God, not just a special sacred realm. For instance, Bach very often put on his musical scores “Soli Deo Gloria” he was conscious that whatever type of music he composed that it should be done for the glory of God. George Herbert the poet expressed this concept this way,

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

I know the language is old-fashioned, but we need to heed the teaching today. If we are to follow the reformers in their teaching, we need to realise the importance of giving glory to God for all that he has done.

By Scripture Alone: We are to submit all our thinking and deeds to the guidance of scripture, the Bible is the only book that has authority over our lives because it is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice. All our Church traditions are to be tested against the teaching of scripture and if anything conflicts with the clear teaching of scripture we must reject it. The Scriptures are our guide to our relationship with God, with one another and to the society around us. To see the life-transforming role of scripture read Psalm 119, here we see clearly someone who delights in the word of God but notice that he applies the scriptures to the whole of his life.

The Genevan Confession  (1536) Article 1 “First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than that which is conveyed to us by the same word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord”

Through Christ Alone: There is only one mediator between man and God and that is the Lord Jesus. It is Jesus who gave his life as a ransom for many, who paid the price for our salvation. Christ has achieved all that is needed by his atoning sacrifice, mankind cannot add anything to his work. He has done everything that is necessary for our salvation, on the cross he was aware that he had completed the work of salvation when he cried out “it is finished”. Our Lord now intercedes for his people before the right hand of the Father.

“We confess then that it is Jesus Christ who is given to us by the Father, in order that in him we should receive all of which in ourselves we are deficient. Now that Jesus Christ has done and suffered for our redemption, we veritably hold without any doubt, as it is contained in the Creed that is recited in Church, that is to say: I believe in God the Father Almighty and so on” Genevan Confession article 6

By faith alone: The only way that we can receive this salvation is to put our faith in Christ, we entrust him with our whole lives, knowing that we can never contribute anything to our own salvation. all we can do is put out the empty hands of faith and receive what Christ has done. the reformers emphasised the doctrine of justification by faith, one only has to look at Luther’s Commentary on the book of the Galatians to realise the central importance of this doctrine.  Paul clearly teaches justification by faith in his letters to the Roman and Galatian churches, this doctrine has abiding relevance for us today.

The Genevan Confession Article 11 “We confess that the entrance which we have to the great treasures and riches of the goodness of God that is vouchsafed to us is by faith; inasmuch as, in certain confidence and assurance of heart, we believe in the promises of the Gospel, and receive Jesus Christ as he is offered to us by the Father and described to us by the Word of God”.

By Grace alone: Grace is God’s favour shown to those who don’t deserve it, it flows from the Father heart of God and is shown supremely to us in his gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to be our Saviour. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530) it expresses the heart of the gospel this way.

Article IV: Of Justification.

1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

The whole of the New Testament teaches us that our salvation is by grace alone. the old Sunday School acrostic helps us to remember what grace is,
Goodness
Received
At
Christ’s
Expense.
We need to glory in the wonder of God’s grace, thereby glorifying him for all that has done for us.

Martin Luther said, “The law says, “Do this”, and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this” and everything is already done.” Martin Luther Heidelberg Disputation 1518

Martin Luther also said in his Commentary on the Galatians, “Grace and peace, comprehend in them whatsoever belongeth to Christianity. Grace releaseth sin, and peace maketh the conscience quiet. The two fiends that torment us are sin and conscience. But Christ hath vanquished these two monsters, and trodden them under foot, both in this world and the world to come. This the world doth not know, and therefore it can reach no certainty of the overcoming of sin, conscience and death. Only Christians have this kind of doctrine, and are exercised and armed with it, we get victory against sin, despair and everlasting death and it is a kind of doctrine neither proceeding of free will, nor invented by the reason or wisdom of man but given from above. Moreover, these two words grace, and peace do contain in them the whole of Christianity. Grace containeth the remission of sins, peace a quiet and joyful conscience. But peace of conscience can never be had, unless sin be first forgiven.”

 

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The Love of Jesus Shown Through Healing and Forgiveness


The love of Jesus is shown to us in many ways in the Gospels but perhaps it is seen most often in the way Jesus brought healing and forgiveness to the needy.  We see in many ways that Jesus was full of compassion and concerned for the needs of others. This, however, is not confined to the Gospels as we see the healing ministry of Jesus is continued in the early Church as is recorded in the Book of Acts. In this article, I will look briefly at how Jesus heals and forgives and try to demonstrate the need for a compassionate healing ministry in the Church today.

The first passage I want to look at is Mark 2:1-12,

 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk 2:1–12).

The scene that is set for this time of ministry shows that Jesus was in demand as a teacher and that a great number had come to hear him. The house was full and there was no way that the paralysed man could gain entry, fortunately, his friends were resourceful and decide to gain entry via the roof. The crowd below must have been shocked when the roof and ceiling started to be removed, some must have to get out of the way of falling debris. The result of this was to make room for the paralysed man to be lowered through the hole in the roof.

We need to realise that the paralysed man was expecting to be healed and he would have been surprised when Jesus pronounced forgiveness for sins. But Jesus knew the greatest needed of this man was to know forgiveness and in his wisdom, he knew that in this case the need for forgiveness needed to come before the healing. It is quite clear from other accounts that sometimes the healing preceded the forgiveness, Jesus did not use a technique but rather he ministered to individuals in ways that he knew was appropriate for them. In this Jesus is an example to us of the continued need to be sensitive as we minister to others, like Jesus we need to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus soon knows what the religious leaders are thinking and shows them that they are not right in the way they are thinking, he does not enter into an argument with them but rather demonstrates his authority by healing the paralysed man. The religious leaders may not have been happy that day but the crowd were amazed and praised God for what had happened. Healing is always a gift of God and therefore must always be responded to with an attitude of praise.

I want to look at a similar passage from the Book of Acts which also shows that the risen Lord Jesus continues to heal, so I want to turn to Acts 3.

 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’
24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”  (Ac 3:1–4:1)

This passage demonstrates once again the healing power of the Lord Jesus but what is intriguing here is that the healing, in this case, precedes the proclamation of the Gospel.  Peter and John minister to the man and give him much more than he expected, he was seeking alms so that he could eek out a living, they gave him through Jesus full healing. It is only after this that we hear them proclaiming the gospel, what is amazing to us is that Peter tells the crowd that they should not be surprised by this.  He does this as he leads into his presentation of the gospel in a way that rebukes sin and encourages faith and repentance. Peter plainly presents the problem of human sin and its consequences to his audience but he does so in such a way as to draw them to Christ.  We know from Acts 4 that despite the arrest of Peter and John a great number of people became Christians through this presentation of the gospel. Sometimes in our attempt to make the gospel attractive to the unbeliever we gloss over the problem of sin, this, in fact, can distract from the gospel message because it does not engage with the real problems of a broken and fallen world. The good news can only be proclaimed against the backdrop of knowing what the problem is. Peter presents the gospel in this way because he wants to show how great the grace of God is,  he sees clearly what Christ did for our sake and he wants to present that to his audience if we want to portray the grace of God in all its glory we need to follow Peter’s example.

Jesus in both of these situations is the one who brings healing and forgiveness, we need to grasp the fact that sometimes he brings his healing first and at other times forgiveness first. One can say with certainty that all who repent and believe will receive forgiveness. We cannot promise physical healing to everyone this is an area where we have to rest in God’s sovereign goodness, sometimes he does heal today and sometimes he does not. But we should not make this last comment an excuse for not praying for those who need healing. We need to continue to pray for our friends who need the healing touch of Jesus looking to the Lord to bless them and encourage them. We must never leave them feeling as though it is because of some fault in them that they have not been healed.

We need to be those who practise a compassionate healing ministry, reaching out with the love of Christ to those who need healing prayer. We also need to be those who proclaim the grace of God as shown in his act of forgiveness. We need to show others that the God of grace desires to forgive them and restore them to fellowship with him. Even though we will never fully understand God’s sovereign hand in healing, we are still called to be faithful in prayer for the sick of body and spirit. We need to be agents of God’s grace being a means of blessing and encouragement to all those who are in need.

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The Significance of The Ascension.


It is important to notice that the Ascension plays a significant role in salvation history, it is not something that can be pushed to the margins of the faith. Everything that Jesus said and did is important and the Ascension has a particular significance for the mission of the Church. The Ascension also has implications for the life of discipleship. We, therefore, need to look at the New Testament teaching in this area with some care. In this article, I will first of all look at Luke’s two accounts of the Ascension and then, later on, unpack some of the implications of the Ascension from the letters.

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
The New International Version. (2011). (Lk 24:45–53). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

It is immediately prior to the ascension that Jesus instructs his disciples in the teaching about himself in the scriptural revelation after they gain this understanding he commissions them to preach the gospel to all nations. But they were to wait until they were clothed with power from on high. It as he blesses them after entrusting them with this mission that he is taken up into heaven. One of the important things for us to grasp is that Jesus would accomplish more by his exaltation to the Fathers right hand than he could by staying here on earth. from on high, he could empower his church for its mission to a needy world. Their response to the events of the ascension is to worship the Lord. Sometimes we think of the disciples being gathered together as they wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as if this was a time of sombreness but this account paints a very different picture, they return to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple praising God. They knew they had been commissioned for a great task but they also realised that Jesus is Lord and they rejoiced in this fact. sometimes in Charismatic circles, we so focus on Pentecost that we tend to see this as the root of all joy but this is not the picture the Scripture gives to us. Joy springs from our relationship with the Saviour not from just one event but from who he is. The disciples had been privileged to see the Lord throughout his ministry and now in his being exalted to the right hand of God the Father, no wonder they were praising God. We ned to look also at Luke’s second account which adds some details we have not already looked at,

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 1:1–12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Here Jesus explicitly tells them that in a few day time they will be baptised with the Holy Spirit who will empower them for their ministry. I believe that there are times when we are called to wait upon the Lord to be empowered by him, this should never be an excuse for not obeying the Lord but rather a time when we seek the Lord so that we are equipped to do his will. the disciples did not passively sit around they worshipped and prayed seeking the Lord’s empowering presence and guidance. I feel that is important for us to seek the Lord so that we might know his will and when we know what he wants us to do to seek his face for the power to do it.

the Apostle Peter explicitly links the event of Pentecost to the reality of the Ascension, he said this,

33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 2:33). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Peter here spells out clearly that it is because Jesus is exalted that the Holy Spirit is poured out. The saving work of Christ is marked by these historical acts which are vital to our salvation, his life, his death, his resurrection and his ascension are all vital aspects of his saving work.

the first Christian martyr was comforted by the reality of the ascension, this account shows something of the reality of Christ being in heaven for his people,

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

The New International Version. (2011). (Ac 7:55–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Seeing Jesus like this gave Stephen the assurance that whatever happened Jesus was there for him, this increased his confidence in his Saviour, he has already boldly witnessed to Jesus and his saving grace, now he knows in a very deep way the presence of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.

The writer of the book of Hebrews spells this out for us when he says,

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The New International Version. (2011). (Heb 4:14–16). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Here the writer explains a little of the purpose of Jesus having ascended to the Father’s right hand and how that has a practical relevance to us in our Christian life. In our times of weakness, we can know that we have a great high priest in heaven who understands us completely but not does he understand us, he helps us. The risen and exalted saviour is the one who can give grace at our time of need. This should give us a sense of real assurance in Christ’s love for us. It is because he is the ascended Lord that we can approach the throne of grace with boldness.

The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into the glory of the Ascended Lord,

4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
The New International Version. (2011). (Re 1:4–7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth because he is the one who has risen from the dead and is ascended to heaven. But John also spells out what Jesus has done for us, he has freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God. Because of all that Jesus has done our identity has been changed from being sinners to that of being priests of God. The whole thrust oof the book of Revelation is to show the people of God that Jesus is on the throne even when life appears tough. He shows himself to be Lord of the Church but perhaps, more importantly, we can see that he is the Lord of all history.

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Ascension Day Meditation.


I want to consider one or two aspects of the ascension which can speak to us in a practical way. Quite often we overlook the significance of the Ascension and I feel we impoverish ourselves by doing this. The implications of the Ascension crop up in all sorts of contexts that we tend to forget. We need to grasp that the ascension is an important part of the work of Christ. Paul in his letter to the Philippians demonstrates this,

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The New International Version. (2011). (Php 2:5–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

When we look at this passage we tend to think mainly of the verses that emphasise the incarnation and the saving work of Christ but we also need to see that Christ is now exalted to the highest place and this was accomplished through the Ascension. This gives us the context of his exaltation and the very reason that we bow before him as Lord of all. The Ascension of Jesus leads to his exaltation in glory. Through his exaltation, we learn that he is the great high priest in the heavenly places.

34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 8:34). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us, this is a result of his ascension and this should be a comfort to us because we can see from this passage that the Lord’s intimate care for us is demonstrated here. It is because he is the exalted Lord that he can intercede for us.

Also because Jesus is exalted to the highest place that gives us a real encouragement to approach the throne of grace,

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The New International Version. (2011). (Heb 4:14–16). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The writer emphasises how we can be encouraged to boldly approach the throne of Grace because we have a high priest who understands all of our difficulties and temptations. Here is one who is truly approachable and this gives us a real incentive to pray. The vision we sometimes have of God being distant and unapproachable is contradicted by this passage, rather here is a God who understands us and in his exaltation draws near to us and encourages us to draw near to him.

There are many other implications of the Ascension that we need to look at but I wanted to start with these.

Glorious Lord, we thank you that we can come to you boldly and bring all our cares and concerns to you. We praise you for your willingness to come down to this earth to live and die for us, we also thank you that as the risen and exalted Christ you continue to pour out upon us the blessings of your grace. Lord help us to lift up our hearts to you and  that by seeing you that we will  be transformed by your powerful grace Amen

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Some thoughts about the General Election 2017


As Christians, we are called to be salt and light in society to show forth the truth of God’s word as it applies to every aspect of our being. let me spell out a few key principles that we need to remember as we go into this election.

Firstly God is Sovereign over all things and that includes the United Kingdom, the ultimate sovereignty that we recognise is not the Queen or the people but that of God, as Christians we are called to live out lives in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are therefore people who realise that the principles that should guide us are found in the pages of the Bible. This is absolutely vital as we try to consider the future of this nation Post-Brexit. We have become a divided nation in many ways and it is only as we submit to God and his ways that we will see any real change for the better in this country. I am aware that this call for both revival and reformation in our land. we need revival more than anything else but revival by itself will not affect the nation in a profound way unless it is accompanied by reformation.

Secondly, The dignity and importance of all human life, all people are made in the image of God and must be treated with the love and respect that God has commanded us to give. There is no room for Racism or totalitarian ideas in the Christian framework. The Christian view is naturally pro-life but this must not be seen in a narrow sense. To be pro-life logically means to be opposed to immoral armaments that cause mass destruction as well as being opposed to abortion and euthanasia. To be pro-life means to seek true justice for all. The danger is that if we conceive the idea too narrowly we will end up electing people who will have unjust policies in other areas. For more on this see https://pneumaandlogos.com/2012/10/18/what-does-it-mean-to-be-pro-life/

Thirdly, Economic Justice, the Bible is concerned about the plight of the poor and indeed in the Laws of Jubilee sets forth a mechanism for the redistribution of wealth. The prophets denounced those who exploit and called for justice in society, Jesus came with good news for the poor. This means that we must oppose the whole concept of zero-hours contracts where people are exploited not knowing whether they will be able to work or not. On the other extreme bankers and other businessmen are lining their pockets with unjust bonuses even when their companies are being bailed out by the government. I wonder at times if we should introduce a maximum wage to stop this unjustified income. since the last election, there have been several instances where exploitation has been shown to be occurring on a large scale, this needs to be dealt with.

International Justice, We need to maintain aid to poor countries to suggest otherwise is to avoid our responsibilities as a nation, for years as a colonial power we exploited these same nations and we should make amends through giving aid to them now. It is vital that in our changing state as a nation that we do not forget the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

We also need to remember that we serve the Prince of Peace and we must be seeking true wholeness in the world. This world is a dangerous place and it is our task to be agents of the Kingdom of God as such we are called to bring truth and reconciliation to bear in the in the international situation. In the West, we have been quick to condemn other nations for having weapons of mass destruction yet we cling onto our nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons can never be justified from a biblical point of view, their use goes against any just war theory let alone the Biblical injunctions, to not destroy fruit trees etc. This nation was wrong in its way that it bombed Dresden in the second world war, nothing can justify such carnage. So we need to ask of our political parties will they work for peace.

Thirdly caring for people. The National Health Service is under threat from many quarters and we must strive to protect it so that it can go on providing first-class medical treatment to all who need it. We must make sure that it stays a free service so that medical bills are not added to everybody’s daily concerns. The NHS I was always taught and I believe today enshrines so much of value from our Christian past. The NHS is facing many problems and we need the next government to adequately deal with them.

We need also to be active in supporting any attempts that deal with the modern day slavery of human trafficking, We must make sure that those who are doing these things are brought to Justice but we must seek the restoration and healing of the oppressed

Fourthly, We need to be caring for god’s creation and making sure that it does not suffer too much from pollution and the consequent Global Warming. we are seeing the effects of Global Warming already and we need to do all that we can to preserve this world that God has placed us in.

I can not and will not tell anyone who to vote for but these are among the principles that I will apply to reading the Party Manifestos when they are published in the coming few days.

We need to be praying that the number of Christian Members of Parliament will be increased and that the group “Christian in Parliament” may increase in numbers and through that the cause of Christ will be advanced in Westminster. For more details about the work of Christians in Parliament see their website http://christiansinparliament.org.uk/

For more useful information see the Christians in Politics website http://www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk/showup/

Christ is King and it is, therefore, important that we honour him in the way that we vote and in putting his standards before all else.

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Grace flows from the Cross of Christ.


We should often be people who meditate on the amazing grace of God, this is not something to think about just on Good Friday but rather all the year round. Paul in his letter to the Romans illustrates this well and I want to look briefly at the teaching of chapter 5.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 5:1–5). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Paul has been showing the believers at Rome that they are justified because they have put their faith in the finished work of Christ. It is through Jesus that we have peace with God, peace in Paul’s Hebrew mind was not only absence of conflict but also the presence of blessing. The believer stands in the grace of God because of what Jesus has done for them. This causes Paul and the believers to boast of the glory of God. What surprises us in our day is that Paul could rejoice in the midst of all the problems that life throws at him and he expects believers to do likewise. He sees how troubles can cause us to grow more Christlike. But in this context, he also emphasises the work of the Holy Spirit who has poured out the love of God into our hearts.These few words alone spell out the abundance of God’s grace yet in the rest of the chapter he adds, even more, content to this.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 5:6–11). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Paul stand amazes at the grace of God which is shown to sinful people, Christ died at just the right time for the ungodly, we are all by nature ungodly and deserving of the wrath of God but God displays his love for us because it is for sinners that Christ died. although we receive our justification by faith, that justification comes to us at great cost because Jesus shed his precious blood that we might be saved. We are reconciled to God because of what Jesus has done for us. But Paul does not just stop at the subject of being reconciled through the death of Christ, he speaks also of the new life that comes from the risen life of Christ. so once again our boasting is to be of God and his amazing grace.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 5:12–6:1). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

In this passage Paul compares the roles of Adam and Christ, We must here see that Paul believes in the fact that Adam was someone who really was a historical figure. Paul here is contrasting the way Adam brought sin into the world with the way Christ brought salvation. Paul shows that god’s salvation is much greater than the power of sin. Notice how Paul says that the gift of salvation is far greater than the consequences of sin. The gift of salvation follows many trespasses. Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for our sin and he did so in the sure knowledge of the enormity of the cost. In Christ, we receive an abundant provision of grace and many will be made righteous.

As I said we need to meditate more on the wonder of God’s grace, we need to glory in the cross of Christ and see that at the foot of the cross we receive our forgiveness.

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Serve the Lord with Gladness


We are called to serve the Lord with glad and sincere hearts, this calling is not the result of some legalistic obligation but a heartfelt response to God’s grace. It is not surprising therefore that we find the Lord Jesus teaching about serving at the time of the Lord’s supper.

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The New International Version. (2011). (Lk 22:19–30). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

First, of all the Lord shows them the greatness of his love as he points forward to his sacrificial death upon the cross. It is only after they are taught something about God’s grace that they are reminded that they are to serve the Lord and other people.The disciples wanted to show that they were important, looking to see who is the greatest but Jesus cuts across all this and reminds them that he has come to serve and they must do the same. We are called to minister God’s grace to one another, we can only do this if we have the heart of a servant.  Jesus is the great example of one who comes to serve and he demonstrates that to the disciples in many ways, we can reflect upon so many accounts of his serving others in the gospels, but really the whole of his life’s ministry was one of service to others. But we should not only be inspired by his example but also by his bringing of the grace of God to us through his ministry because of this we should respond to him with gratitude of heart.

The Apostle Peter also shared some insights in his first letter, which help us to expand the horizons of this subject a little.

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

The Apostle Peter places the whole concept of service within a life of prayer and of love to one another. It is vital that we recognise this context or we will tend to evaluate the concept of service wrongly. a life of prayer and love leads inevitably to acts of service. True love will express itself in concrete acts of service. This leads us to the subject of spiritual gifts and we are called to use those gifts as faithful stewards of God’s grace. Notice here that spiritual gifts are not given to us make us feel good about ourselves but rather so that we can serve others. Peter tells us that we must serve with the strength that God provides. Perhaps this old hymn gives a good summary of what I am trying to say,

When we walk with the Lord,
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
Let us do His good will;
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear,
Not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss,
Not a frown or a cross,
But is blest if we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove,
The delights of His love,
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows,
And the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet,
We will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do,
Where He sends we will go,
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

In Ephesians 6 Paul exhorts us to be strong in the Lord,

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
The New International Version. (2011). (Eph 6:10–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The real key to serving the Lord is to do so in his power, that is why we need to emphasise that the New Testament concept of faith is that of trust in God, it is only as we trust God and look to him that we can step out in obedience and do what he says. This is why it is so vital to realise that even though we are in a spiritual battle we cannot be defeated as long as we stand in the strength the Lord provides. We need to put on the full armour of God and when we have done so we will be able to stand. We are called to serve the Lord with gladness in the midst of a broken and fallen world, in this world we are constantly in a battle but we are on the winning side. The Word of God calls us to a life of serving the Lord this is not always easy but true service comes as a response to God’s grace and therefore we can serve him with gladness.

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Grace displayed through the Incarnation


As Christmas approaches, we see many images of a child in a manger and this reminds us of the amazing fact that we are celebrating is God becoming a man. Before the incarnation, the eternal Son of God,  the second person of the Trinity was the one who brought creation to pass and sustained all things in that creation. But he laid aside his majesty so that he could demonstrate God’s saving love toward sinners. We now know that Jesus still sustains all of creation by his mighty hand but we also know the depth of his love and grace as he reigns at the Father’s right hand. Let us look at some scriptures that spell this out clearly, in this article I want to concentrate on Hebrews 1 and John 1 and look at the implications of these passages for us.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Heb 1:1–5)

Here the writer contrasts the way God has spoken to us through the prophets and the way he has spoken to us through his Son. He portrays the Lord Jesus as being truly God as well as truly man, he is the creator of the world and is the heir of all things. Furthermore, the Son is exactly like God and is also God, he is the second person of the Holy Trinity and as such is equally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As God, he sustains all things by His powerful word, here we see that our Saviour is a strong saviour and this can be a great assurance to us when we are feeling weak. But then we come to the amazing statement that this one who is truly God became a man so that he could provide purification from sin. Having achieved what he came to do he now sits enthroned in glory as the representative of his people. Throughout the book of Hebrews, we are encouraged to draw near to God because we have a great high priest who understands us.

John’s gospel helps us to further grasp something of the amazing grace of God,

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (Jn 1:14–18).

This passage gives us an insight into the mystery of the incarnation, John has already shown that the Word is God in the earlier verses of this chapter, now he makes the bold claim that God took on flesh so that he could dwell with us. R.H.Gundry in his commentary helpfully shows us what grace and truth are,

Grace has an aesthetic dimension. It connotes beauty and attractiveness, but above all it means favor—here divine favor to an ill-deserving world of moral darklings. Truth is what is trustworthy as opposed to falsehood, but also what is real and genuine as opposed to imitation and superficiality. The Word’s glory is full of such grace and truth. There’s no lack. The supply is sufficient for all.

Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (p. 350). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

John goes on to show that grace is inexhaustible, he says that we receive grace in place of grace already given, there is always an abundance of grace for the believer to draw upon. although I am writing this at Christmas time this is a message that we need to heed every day because in our fallenness and brokenness we are in constant need of God’s grace. And this passage and did the teaching of Scripture as a whole is that plentiful grace is to be found in Jesus Christ and through what he has done for us.

We conclude where we started with the fact that God has spoken to us through his Son in whom he has revealed his own gracious character. In seeing Jesus and who he is we get a true revelation of the character of our gracious and loving God.

 

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Pursuing the Purpose of God in Worship.


Worship is central to the Christian life and the Bible gives us many examples of the worshipping person. Worship in scripture is not just something for worship services but rather shows the attitude of our heart in every part of our lives. Let us look at some examples of what the Scripture says.

In Psalm 119:57-64 we see one example of the worshipping believer,

57 You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
60 I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
63 I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
64 The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees.(Ps 119:57–64)

Here we see that the Psalmist in confessing that God is his portion also realise that his whole life must be governed by who God is and his relationship to the living God. It is because of his heartfelt thankfulness that he sees that his life comes under the authority of God. He wants to conform his whole life to God’s ways and  therefore, he treasures the word of God. As a result of his meditation upon the word of God, he sees the extent of God’s love.

In Psalm 100 we see another approach to worship which complements what we have already looked at.

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (Ps 100:1–5).

This is very much more in line with what we normally think of about worship but we need to see that God is always at the centre of Biblical worship and that his Lordship is acknowledged. What is important to observe here is that our joy comes from who God is and the wonder of his gracious dealings with us. Because of this, we are to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. When we centre on God everything else falls into its proper place.

Psalm 95 helps us to fill out a little more about what Biblical worship is,

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”  (Ps 95:1–11

The Psalmist glories in the greatness of God and we here that joy and reverence are combined, he sees a place for shouting to the Lord but also kneeling before him in reverence and awe. sometimes in the Church, we separate these things and even have traditions that seem to major in one or the other. But the Psalmist does not see joy and reverence as an either/or situation but a both/and situation, we need to hold these things together. This reverent and joyful praise is followed by a call to hear God as he speaks in his word. Listening to God’s word in scripture and through the sermon are vital parts of Christian worship.

Jesus in his encounter with the women at the well also adds to our knowledge of what worship is,

Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:21–24).

In this passage Jesus tells us that the Father seeks those who will worship him in the Spirit and in the Truth, here we see the importance of having all our worship led by the Holy spirit and also empowered by him, this is absolutely central to biblical worship. To worship in Truth according to John is to worship with Jesus who is the Truth at the centre. Jesus is the Word of God and the Scriptures that he gives to us lead to him. This is why we need to have  a constant openness to the Holy Spirit which is deeply rooted in the word of God. The apostle Paul shows us that true worship flows as we are full of the Holy Spirit, he says to the Church at Ephesus,

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:18–20).

For the apostle Paul, one of the direct of being filled with the Holy Spirit is that it leads God’s people to worship. Notice that we also address one another as we bring our songs to God, here we see the way worship overflows into fellowship. As we worship together we are also united together in fellowship as God’s children. Singing God’s praise is a natural part of the Christian life and should be encouraged both in the corporate worship of the Church and in our private worship. Paul commands us to be filled with the Spirit, being Spirit-filled is not an optional extra or a deluxe form of Christianity rather it is of the essence of the normal Christian life. so let us be truly those who are fully open to the Holy Spirit and all that he has to give us.

 

We have seen so far that our worship needs to be God centred and it needs to respond to who God is in the power of the Holy Spirit, this applies to our individual worship and our corporate worship. But there are still more dimensions that we need to look at for corporate worship. When  we come together in worship we do so as a people united together because of what Christ has done for us but we are also in different parts of our spiritual pilgrimage and this can lead to tensions and we are reminded time after time in the new testament that love is to be a mark of the Christian. We cannot just manufacture love by our own strength but we can be empowered by the Holy Spirit as he produces his fruit within us to be able to love one another.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Ga 5:22–23)

If we are indwelt by the Spirit and we are filled with him we will begin to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit, this fruit is very important in corporate worship, sometimes we hear of what are called the worship wars, these should not exist where the fruit of the Spirit is manifest. Part of the problem that we manifest in the flesh is that we want to do things our way and we don’t like it when others don’t see it our way, Worship is all about doing things God’s way and in his power and therefore we will want to worship in a way which draws all into the worship rather than excluding any. We will want to draw closer to one another as we draw closer to our God.

Another vital element in corporate worship is the use of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, God has given certain gifts to his body to build it up and they are diverse gifts which should all be treasured. There are lists of the Gifts in Romans 12 and 1Corthians chapters 12 and 14, Paul also teaches about the ministry gifts in Ephesians chapter 4. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are there so that God can speak to and encourage his Church, some of these gifts reveal god’s purposes for his people, others bring his healing and encouragement. It is vital that we should be open to all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If we rejoice in our God and seek to serve him with gladness and in the power of the Holy Spirit, he will be glorified and his people will be edified. So let us worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

 

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Pursuing God’s Purpose In The Face Of Opposition.


The Book of Ezra shows us how God restores his people and helps them to follow his ways even in the midst of opposition. At the outset, we should notice that the people had returned to the promised land as a result of God’s acting in history to bring about his purposes. I want to look briefly at the flow of  chapters 3-6 in this fascinating book.

In chapter 3 verses 1-6, The Israelites reestablished sacrifice by rebuilding the altar, this meant that they could be reconciled to God and know forgiveness for their sins. The sacrifices all point forward to what Christ would accomplish upon the cross and they testify to the grace of God. It was only right that they should start in this God centred manner. They recognised that God is holy and that he has ordained by his grace the way of salvation. They, therefore, followed the instructions of the word of God in re-introducing sacrifice this must precede the building because a right relationship with God is more important than building the temple. They needed to have that assurance that their sins were forgiven and that they could now walk with the Lord.

Chapter 3:7-13 describes the laying of the foundation of the temple and we need to notice that this is in response to knowing that this is what God had called them to. They, therefore, did not see this as just a building project but also as  a time to worship the Lord. If they were going to build in the way God wanted them to it had to be with Him at the centre and therefore the ministry of the priests was vital at this point. It also shows to us the importance of worship for the whole of Christian ministry, worship shows that we are depending on God for all things it is the opposite of doing things in our own strength. Let’s look at how that is described in the book of Ezra,

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:

“He is good;
his love toward Israel endures forever.” (Ezr 3:10–11).

They followed the directions of the word of God for worship they came with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, celebrating the fact that he is good  and his love endures forever.

The majority of the people rejoiced in what God was doing amongst them, but a minority looked back with sadness to what they thought were the better days of the old temple. This was a problem that would hamper the people at times as can be seen in the writings of Haggai and Zechariah.

Chapter 4 Is all about the way the surrounding people tried to interfere with the building of the temple and their opposition to it. Their first tactic was to try the path of compromise but the people resisted that because they knew that the form of religion that surrounding nations had was tainted with paganism, they knew that to compromise here would destroy all that were meant to be doing. This uncompromising attitude provoked the hostility of their enemies and brought about an enforced halt to the work on the temple. This darkness of frustration is the opportunity for God to address his people through the Prophets and get them rebuilding again.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

5 Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them. (Ezr 4:24–5:2).

As the prophets spoke to the people they encouraged them to restart work on the temple and through both the rebuke and encouragement of these prophets the people began to see the way forward. As we look at chapter 5 and 6 We see that ?God is sovereign and he enables them to answer their opponents wisely with the result that the King decrees that the temple must be completed. We see here a complete turnaround in the situation. Not only are the allowed to build the temple, they are given the financial and material provision that they need to build. We see how god takes his people through times of trouble and discouragement and builds them up again..

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