Jesus is the True and Better

Tim Keller is one of my favourite thinkers and authors. He is has an incredible teaching gift and capacity to find just the right illustration for a particular point. This Sunday at our Evensong service I am using the quotes below as a mediation on Luke 24 v 44:

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

A Quote from Spurgeon

This was a quote from Spurgeon I used in todays services:

If you reject him, he answers you with tears;
if you wound him, he bleeds out cleansing;
if you kill him, he dies to redeem; if
you bury him, he rises again to bring us resurrection.

Jesus is love made manifest.

Inconsistent application of Scripture?

One of my favourite Christian thinkers at the moment is Tim Keller. A theology lecturer turned pastor who leads Redeemer church NYC, one of the most influential churches in the US. What I like about him is that he is both a practitioner and thinker. He is adapt at reading the culture of the day, and offering a persuasive and critique and a credible Christian alternative.

In a recent article he addresses a charge often a made against Christians, that we are inconsistent in our application of Scripture. That we freely ignore many of the Old Testament laws regarding dress, food, worship, the Sabbath – yet at the same time wish to take literally other Scriptural injunctions – particularly in the area of sexual ethics. At best this makes us naieve, at worst hypocrites. This is a criticism that appears again and again in the British press and media (reared it’s head on QI recently) – it is presented as something of a knockdown argument, and rarely is it challenged intelligibly. I think Keller does a great job of articulating a brief, thoughtful Christian response, at the heart of the argument is the recognition that the Bible is composed of Old and New Testaments (witnesses) to God and are to be read in different ways accordingly, the New Testament and Jesus indicating how we should read and apply the Old Testament.:

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

The New Testament explains another change between the testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament sins like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people constituted a nation-state, and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how Paul deals with a case of incest in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1ff. and 2 Cor. 2:7-11). Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

Read the whole article here.

The Joy of Bread

I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. Even those poor souls who are wheat intolerant or can’t cope with gluten can’t fail to salivate at the scent of gentle rising loaves. There is a quiet revolution going on in the kitchens of Britain, more and more of us are baking bread at home on a regular basis. As I’ve mentioned in my sermons I’ve caught the bug too. When the postman delivered my first sack of flour (yes I’m that serious) I apologised for putting his back at risk. Oh don’t worry mate he replied I deliver several of these each week. Now not a week goes by without me baking a couple of loaves.

Why this rise in appeal? Economics could be a factor, baking your own is definitely cheaper than buying soft tissue paper like loaves from the Co-op. Aesthetics could be another reason, there is just something deeply satisfying and some would say healing about kneading bread. As one stockbroker turned baker put it in a recent article in the Guardian:

“I wouldn’t say I was having a crisis, but I was drinking quite a lot of red wine,” he says. “I needed some bread and there was some wholemeal flour and yeast my mum had brought out, so I baked a loaf. My father rang and said: ‘So what are you going to do with yourself now?’ I said: ‘I’m thinking about becoming a baker.’ I thought he’d laugh but he said: ‘That’s quite a good idea.'” He goes on to describe how baking has given him a new sense of purpose.

For me there is an extra dimension in making bread too. Bread connects people. As I’ve said few of us can resist the smell of freshly baked bread. I’ve discovered there is an army of closet breadmakers in West Bridgford and have found myself in deep conversation about the virtues of fresh yeast vs dried yeast; overnight proving in the fridge v proving for a few hours in the kitchen. And of course bread tastes better when it is eaten in the company of others.

I learnt to bake bread at the bakery of French baker Richard Bertinet. After a morning sweating over the ovens baker and students gathered for a meal together. Richard explained the derivation of the word ‘company’, from the old French ‘cumpanie’ meaning those who ‘share bread together’.

Companions – those who share bread together. There is an obvious connection here for Christians. We gather together each week in the presence (company) of God for worship. The sacrament of being together is Communion, where we break bread together, drink wine and remember the last meal Jesus shared with his companions. A meal where he took bread, gave thanks and broke it for them saying ‘this is my body broken for you’.

“I am the bread of life” said Jesus, “he who comes to me will never hunger.” John 6

AmenImage

Easter from the greatest Preacher among the Church Fathers.

St John Chrysostom was the Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th Century AD. As a young man he had the best education that the classical world could offer. He became a monk, then priest and archbishop. He was famed for his oratory (Chrysostom being a nickname meaning ‘golden mouth’), his generosity to the poor and his unwavering critique of the morals of the court of Empress Eudoxia which resulted in his exile.

One of John’s most famous sermons was his Easter Sermon, in which he reflected upon Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard and likened their experience to those who come to worship at Easter:

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!

Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.

Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

To one and all the Lord gives generously.
The Lord accepts the offering of every work.
The Lord honours every deed and commends their intention.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

At St Giles we have a real mixture of people. Some have been Christians for many years (from the first hour) for whom the message of Easter is very familiar – a constant source of encouragement and hope. Others have only recently come to faith in Christ (arriving at the eleventh hour) for them the Christian message is still fresh and new and wonderful. St John – following in the footsteps of Jesus, reminds us that – whether we have known Christ for a long time, or only just begun to serve him -whether we are familiar with the story of the Last Supper, Gethsemane, cross and resurrection or whether we are hearing it for the first time; our reward is the same, union with Christ – a sharing in his death and his rising to eternal life.

Let us all enter into the Joy of the Lord!

Wishing you Christ’s blessing

John Stott

John Stott passed away on Wednesday aged 90. He was a hero to me and every Evangelical you would care to meet. His impact upon the Church in general and the Church of England in particular was profound. The New York Times has a nice obituary, and summarises his approach well:

"For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously."

I only had the privilege of hearing John preach once, and that was during a college chapel service when I was a student at LBC (now LST). He began by saying that he had 17 points, we laughed thinking it was joke; it wasn’t! The Cross of Christ, and Basic Christianity are well thumbed and sitting on my bookshelf. I recommend them whole heartedly.