Jesus’ death promises a new family but how does the church, especially in a culture with little clarity for men, keep Jesus’ promise?
A Stable Rock under Your Reality?
We know it is a gargantuan claim because of the way he introduced it. ‘…I am a King…for this reason I was born…for this I came into the world…’ Verbal drumrolls don’t get any louder than that!
‘…to testify to the truth.’ (John 18:37)
With the jelly-like strength that the word truth has been reduced to nowadays the word reality helps us better. Jesus has come to witness to reality.
Not realism = the way things are.
Not idealism = the way things could be, according to us.
But rightism = the way things are meant to be.
Not our notional, imagined, or idealistic perception of things, but the actual way things are meant to be. Jesus came to show us that.
‘Those on the side of [realty] listen to me.’ (John 18:37)
Jesus’ words, which he confirmed as the Old Testament (John 5:39) and commissioned in the New Testament (John 15:26-27; 16:12-14) bring us to the side of reality. That is why Jesus is able to say ‘everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock’ (Matthew 7:24). Storms will come and batter us but the house built on rock survives. Houses build elsewhere the same storm leaves crumbled and crushed.
Is a stable rock under your reality?
Hears these words of mine and puts them into practice means what?
Regularly responding to good preaching!
The Bible is a big book. If you have set ideas you want to impose on it you will be able do so. What characterises good preaching is it is not imposition of opinions but exposition of reality. Does the one who preaches to you expose the Bible to your life or impose their thoughts into the Bible?
W.A. Criswell who pastored First Baptist Dallas for 40 years is right: “When a man goes to church he often hears a preacher in the pulpit rehash everything that he has read in the editorials, the newspapers, and the magazines…When a man comes to church, actually what he is saying to you is this, “Preacher, I know what the TV commentator has to say; I hear him every day. I know what the editorial writer has to say; I read it every day. I know what the magazines have to say; I read them every week. Preacher, what I want to know is, does God have anything to say? If God has anything to say, tell us what it is.”
Donald Coggan (Archbishop 1976-1980) is right. “The Christian preacher has a boundary set for him. When he enters the pulpit, he is not an entirely free man. There is a very real sense in which it may be said of him that the Almighty has set him his bounds that he shall not pass. He is not at liberty to invent or choose his message: it has been committed to him, and it is for him to declare, expound, and commend it to his hearers . . . It is a great thing to come under the magnificent tyranny of the Gospel!”
John Piper recently retired after 33 years from Bethlehem Baptist Church, Min, USA (quoted from his first sermon in 1980) is right: “…the source of my authority in this pulpit is not . . . my wisdom; nor is it a private revelation…My words have authority only insofar as they are the repetition, unfolding and proper application of the words of Scripture…My deep conviction about preaching is that a pastor must show the people that what he is saying was already said or implied in the Bible. If it cannot be shown it has no special authority…I have nothing of abiding worth to say to you. But God does. And of that word I hope and pray that I never tire of speaking. The life of the church depends on it.”
Being part of a smaller group of family or friends who help you act on what you have learnt.
If you have them this is first your spouse and children. Then a couple of good mates. Maybe an organised group within the church. The point is a smaller group around you are constantly asking: what have you learnt and how can I help you act on it?
For those who can, regularly reading the Bible yourself.
Ability and capacity mean not all of us can manage this. It’s suggested as a good idea in the Bible but not an essential (like listening to preaching is). But if you are able it is a great and valuable thing to do. As is reading good books about the Bible and living it out.
Above all it means doing what it says, especially when you don’t want to.
It is never a problem that we don’t know enough (there is always more to know and understand). The problem is we don’t act on what we do know. Each week listen to a talk on the Bible and do at least one thing you learn.
Jesus unveils reality. John chapters 18-19 (Alex Harris Jan 2014)
Three great books…
On Sunday mornings we are back into John’s historical, best-friend account of Jesus’ life. It’s the home-stretch. Between now and Easter we will reach the end. Amazingly 42% of John’s 3-4 year account focusses on Jesus’ death and the few days around it. First as Jesus teaches about what it will mean (chapters 13-17) and then the events themselves (chapters 18-21). John’s massive magnification of Jesus’ death (above his birth and life and miracles and teaching) should tell us something. It really matters! It’s the most important thing we should know about Jesus.
To help us on this journey I am recommending three books on Jesus’ death – they are all excellent and full of truth and grace and awe and wonder. I’m recommending three because we are all different in what and how we like to read (and of course some of us won’t choose reading, and that’s fine!).
Death by Love, Mark Driscol & Gerry Breshears
Do you naturally think “people”? Is your default care and love and understanding how people are feeling and thinking? Do you love to spend hours talking with and learning about friends and are generally fascinated about life stories? Do you enjoy biography and TV documentaries?
Then ‘Death by Love’ by Mark Driscol and Gerry Breshears (2008) could be for you. It is twelve letters written by a pastor to (mostly) real people about how the cross of Jesus answers their life realities. It unpacks Jesus’ death for real people in real life. Some of the situations and letters are deeply emotional and painful; as rich in truth as in love. All are hope-filled.
The Cross of Christ, John Stott
Do you like to understand things – ideas, concepts, solutions? Do you like to be able to explain clearly and precisely what is going on? Are you more naturally drawn to logically working through ideas and being able to ‘understand the workings’ of an answer? Do you enjoy sustained wrestling with concepts? Does clarity matter to you?
If so the The Cross of Christ by John Stott (1986), a modern day classic might be for you. A careful but very readable and wonderfully enlightening study of Jesus’ death which as much clarifies our thinking as causes us to respond with joy and gladness at what has been accomplished for us.
Cross-Examined; the life changing power of the death of Jesus, Mark Meynell
Are you somewhere in the middle! Do you like to understand things and you love to understand and know people? Do you like to read and grapple with ideas but know there are also things to get on with and a life to live and the diary is busy? Do you need a book that can be interrupted and put down and picked up without it losing you?
Then Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell (2001) which also comes with a study guide you can use might well be for you. The shortest of the three books it is easy to read with plenty of illustrations and real life stories sown throughout.
How can God be just and pardon the guilty? John 18:11,14 (Alex Harris Jan 2014)
Putting gravity back into your life
Vision might mean something like “seeing something worth seeing”. Much is worth seeing. There is not a lack of good to fill our sight; and a ton-weight of the not so good thrown in for measure. What would do us the most ultimate good if we saw it clearly? What should be our vision?
The wonderfully valuable and important sight of who we want to be – our identity, character and depth?
The essential and purposeful rehearsal of what we want to do – our mission, strategy and stewardship?
They are big. But they are not ultimate.
Ultimately worth seeing
A stunning vision of God must supersede any vision from God and gives gravity and life to the planets of our existence.
In Isaiah 6:8-13 Isaiah receives a vision from God: a true vision, though bleak and hard. God does not always (or even often) call us to ease and comfort but fight and purpose. It is a mission with minute prospects of success (6:9) that will take Isaiah’s lifetime (6:11-12) leaving only a shattered stump for the future (6:13). Is there anyway Isaiah would have accepted his mission without first seeing who God was? It would produce a terrified no from even the most stable and strong and yet Isaiah yells ‘Here I am Lord. Send me!’ (6:8) because he stands the other side of a stunning vision of God. Having seen truly who God is, intimidation and cowering is replaced with blazing hot and so Isaiah’s story does not end at chapter 6 but chapter 66.
Seeing must come before hearing
In the language of Isaiah, he had to see God before he could hear from God: I saw the Lord (6:1)…then I heard the Lord (6:8).
The planets of our lives
Imagine the planets of the solar system without the gravity of the sun at their centre. Chaos, uncontrolled collisions, lifelessness. With the sun present there is the settling, ordered gravitas of its weight and the warming, bright light of its life-giving rays. God is the sun. Without a clear vision of God there is no gravity to the cosmos of our lives, and no warmth and light to flourish and fertilise. Without a clear vision of God the planets of our lives collide and lose their purpose and life shrivels.
Five glimpses of God Isaiah saw within the first few seconds (Isaiah 6:1-3)
God is alive
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord…’
Uzziah is dead but God lives on. Uzziah, like every head of state that has ever lived is dead. Every mighty figure today will be dead in 50 years time. In a fleeting 130 years the seven or eight billion people in the world will not include one single person breathing today. The entire planet will be populated by an entirely new set of people – everyone existing today vanished like vapour. But not God. He lives.
God is in charge
…I saw the Lord, high and exalted sitting on a throne…
The King is dead, his throne is empty but God is on his throne. He is sovereign: high and exalted above all others. He is in charge. And he sits – a finished, settled, confident, un-paniced authority.
God is resplendent
… and the train of his robe filled the temple…
Imagine a bride whose train did not simply flow behind her, or need gathering up and carrying by an army of maids but instead stretched and billowed and folded into every corner and rafter of a battle-ship sized cathedral! In Israel’s day the temple was the most splendid place. Yet every part is surpassed by the splendour of God. What is your place of most splendour? The splendour of God once seen would make that previous breath-taking sight ugly and chintzy by comparison. Instead of stand and stare it would become not even worth a second glance.
God is honoured
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings; with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
No one knows what these creatures are. They are not chubby winged babies fluttering about. The scene is of grandeur – nothing puny or silly here. When one of them speaks, the foundations of the temple shake (6:4). They are more like the Red Arrows diving in formation before the royal entourage and cracking the sound barrier as they sweep past with even the experienced guard involuntarily cowering. They would terrify us with their brilliance yet they hide themselves in reverence of God.
God is knowable
And they were calling to each other ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…
Holy means set apart. Utterly different. Not the same as. Hidden. Repeated three times it emphasis above everything this is the core reality of who God is.
Yet …the whole world is full of his glory. Glory is the public display of God’s holiness. Imagine the opening of the Oscar’s envelope. What was hidden is now made public and seen by all.
Go hard after a stunning vision of God that supersedes any vision from God. A vision of God that dominates and subjugates everything else that crowds into our eye-line of life. A vision of God that brings ordering gravitas and bright warmth to the planets of your life.
One way is to fast – from food or media or screens or sex or cigarettes. To allow the pain and weakness of hungry to drive your need for God. To allow the delight and sustaining power of the feast that follows to ignite your delight and dependence on God. This might help: http://lionheartedandlamblike.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/hungry-for-god-fasting-and-feasting-on.html
Re-embarking on the story of Jesus’ life at Jesus’ arrest – yet Jesus is entirely in control and willingly and knowingly chooses death – why?
Live, full band recording by the Beacons Worship team of How Great Thou Art, please feel free to download and share.
Live, acoustic recording by the Beacons Worship team of Hillsong’s God Is Able, please feel free to download and share.