Archive for December, 2010


call his name jesus…

“… for he will save his people from their sins.” 

Jesus means ‘Yahweh the Saviour’.   Israel needed a Saviour – not from Rome but from her own rebellious heart.  She, like all of us, needed saved, from her ‘sins’.  Yahweh had always promised that he would be her Saviour. Indeed, he was her only Saviour, a fact proved from her youth in Egypt.

Hos 13:4 (ESV)
But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no Saviour.
(Cf. Isa 43:11)

Yahweh was,  ‘the hope of Israel, its Saviour in time of trouble’ (Jer 14:8).  He was, ‘The Holy One, your Saviour’ (Isa 43:3).  He is ‘a righteous God and Saviour and there is none beside him’ (Isa 45:21).

He himself would save… yet he would save by sending a Saviour

Isa 19:20 (ESV)
… When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a Saviour and Defender, and deliver them.

That Yahweh personally saves yet saves through the ‘sent one’ finds resolution in Jesus, Messiah, the one who is Immanuel, God with Us.

How this Saviour and Deliverer will save begins to unfold throughout the gospel.  It involves him in death and resurrection.  And it is a salvation that eclipses all expectation (then and often now).

Let’s celebrate and worship this ‘Great God and Saviour’ today.  Give him glory.


trueman on nietzsche on christianity

It was Nietzsche who declared that what is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.   What he did not realise was that he was prophetically speaking about Christians at least as much as atheists.

Found here.


christmas hate

Rather amusing post from Michael Bird over at Eungelion.  Though, given the modern hype, I think the Puritans had a point, even if they were a little obsessive.  Interesting observation too on notions of Christian liberty (Roms 14:5,6).


he shall save his people from their sins…

Matt 1:20-21 (ESV)
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew places right at the heart of the Christmas story or incarnation its purpose, ‘He shall save his people from their sins’.  A plea to all preachers this Christmas, don’t stop at the cradle… get to the cross and the resurrection.  Show with hallelujahs how he saves his people from their sins.  Nothing less is gospel.


sexual obesity

An excellent blog on the harmful effects of gorging on smut and pornography here.

As one of the comments says, quoting Malcolm Muggeridge,

“How do I know pornography depraves and corrupts? It depraves and corrupts me.”


out of Egypt have I called my son…

Matt 2:13-21 (ESV)
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  ​​​​​​​​“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”  But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Most modern commentaries will point out that part of the purpose of the gospel writers (especially the synoptics) is to show how Jesus recapitulates the history of the people of Israel in his own personal history.  Jesus, the commentaries will tell you, is the true Israel.  N T Wright has done much to highlight, popularise and resurrect this recapitulation perspective in recent times.  I say resurrect for it is by no means new to Wright.  Apparently it was outlined as long ago as Irenaeus.  Certainly it was a view with which I was familiar in youth long before Tom Wright had written a line.

As a view, of course, it is older even than Irenaeus, for it is clearly that of the gospel writers themselves – learned no doubt from Jesus who had taught them that he was the True Vine (Jn 15).  Israel was God’s Vine (Isa 5).  Yet as a nation, despite God’s great care of her, she produced only wild grapes – there was no joy or pleasure for God in Israel.  Christ, however, is the true Vine that produces fruit that satisfies God; Messiah is the true Israel.

This close identity between Messiah and nation is evident too in the OT.  Isaiah’s enigmatic ‘servant’ is Israel, but is distinct from Israel.  Ch 42-55 lay the groundwork for a Messiah who will be organically connected with his people’s history.  Therefore, it is no real surprise when we find in the NT parallels between the history of the nation and the history of her Messiah.

The Baptism of Christ in Jordan, for example, seems to parallel Israel in the Red Sea.  Just as Israel comes through the Red Sea to face the temptations of the wilderness (for forty years) so too Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by his temptation in the wilderness (for forty days).  After the wilderness Israel enters the Land and sets about overthrowing all that polluted the land.  Likewise Jesus, the new Joshua and Israel, after his wilderness trials ranges through Israel overthrowing disease and demonic powers that pollute and destroy.  He is clearing the land of all that defiles and oppresses.

Other parallels are clear. Moses on Sinai receiving the Law and Christ on the mountain giving the ethics of the Kingdom.  The picture complicates as Jesus is in fact the progenitor of a new Israel of which his twelve chosen disciples paralleling the twelve tribes of Israel are the basis.  The Kingdom is to be taken away from Israel and given to a nation who will bear Kingdom fruit.  The twelve apostles are the rump of this new nation.

Israel’s history of disobedience inevitably results in the curse and catastrophe of exile.  She experiences the anathema of ‘forsakeness’ as she is handed over to the gentiles.  So too, the cross is the exile of Messiah, suffering like the nation at the hands of the gentiles, as God’s wrath-bearing judgement falls on him for the people on a gentile cross.

Exile, was for Israel a national death.   Humanly speaking her future as a nation was bleak. Only a miracle could make her a nation again, a miracle akin to resurrection .  The impossible must happen and long dead bones must live (Ezek 37).  Such a miracle could only happen by the power of the spirit of God and the prophets believed it would.  Messiah, like the people and for the people, finds life lies beyond judgement and death in resurrection, literal resurrection.  Messiah dies and literally and really rises from the dead to be the first of a new humanity – a humanity, an Israel beyond death, sin, law, Satan and all that destroys.

Thus Messiah embodies Israel’s story.  He is the King-Priest who experiences their experience and in the process delivers them from all their failure and its consequences.  God’s ‘Son’ par excellence is not Israel the nation but Christ. He is the true vine, the true son that God calls ‘out of Egypt’.

Thus in Matthew 2, in the text above we see the infancy of the nation in the infancy of Christ.  Just as ancient Israel moved to Egypt for protection and preservation in her infancy, so too does Messiah.  If the dreams of a Joseph took Jacob and his sons to Egypt so too the dreams of another Joseph will lead the Christ to Egypt for protection.  Ironically, if the danger for Israel’s male infants at the time of Moses lay in an Egyptian King then the danger for Israel’s male infants in the time of Christ lay with a Jewish King.  Satan is active in the heart not simply of a gentile King but of a Jewish King – his goal throughout history has never changed – he wants to destroy the ‘woman’s offspring’ (Rev 12).

The parallel is clear, but as is so often the case, ironies appear.  The enemy of Messiah is not the gentile nations (who have just visited to worship) but Israel herself.  For Messiah, the enemy will be within the gate.  He will be wounded in the house of his friends.  As N T Wright has well said – Israel is not simply part of the solution, she is also part of the problem.  She like all other nations is fallen and an enemy of God.

The immediate danger to the infant Christ passes with the death of Herod and Messiah like his people is called out of Egypt.  God’s ‘son’ travels like the nation before him to the land of Israel, the Land of Promise. For the moment the danger is passed.  The story has a happy ending.

But, of course, it is not the end.

Throughout Messiah’s life the serpent (Satan)  rages and seeks to destroy, and ironically, his primary instrument, is the nation.  While Herod, inspired by Satan, is unable to execute at Messiah’s birth, others will succeed some thirty or so years later when ‘the hour’ is come.  Instigated by Israel, the Romans (gentile nations) crucify the Christ.  The people will see placarded above his cross the crime for which he is crucified, ‘This is Jesus the King of the Jews’.  The irony is exquisite and complete.

The Christmas story is not a pretty story.  It is not a gentle tale.  It is part of an epic and bloody saga, a tale of irrational hate, deception, intrigue, murder and unrequited love.  It is a huge story as big as history itself.  But above all it is an uplifting story, of love and betrayal, of blood and victory, of fall and redemption, of Homeric hope, herculean grace, and quixotic valour, not in imaginary tales but the love of God in Christ for a rebellious world.  However devalued by the Hollywood machine,  it is indeed, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’.

And it is true.


the trying of your faith… (6)

Does the Bible explain suffering?  Does it provide a theodicy – a justification of God?  The answer to both questions is the same; yes and no.

There is much suffering in the world.   Indeed, there is such pervasive and pitiful suffering that few of us are able to bear more than a glimpse of it without being crushed, and, mercifully, a glimpse is the most we receive.  Human suffering (to say nothing of any other kind) is horrendous in its proportions and only God sees it (knows it) in its totality.  But what kind of God can allow such suffering?   And if he is the Christian God, all-powerful and all-good, how can such suffering exist?

The biblical answer, baldly stated, may seem clinical.  What we must understand is it is not a mere argument or apologetic but actual history.  Here I want to rehearse this history tersely.

God is good and created a good world.  Man was created free and chose to defy God.  In his defiance sin entered the world the dislocation and rebellion that results in suffering.  It can be no other.  If all that is of God is good and brings gladness then all that opposes God is sin and brings suffering.

The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s activity in human history to rescue humanity and the universe from its own folly. It is the story of how suffering can only be destroyed by God himself intolerably suffering.  It is the story of Jesus Christ.  In Christ, God found a way to deal with human sin and so with human suffering without having to destroy the cause – us – altogether.  The Bible story is the magnificent redemptive story of God’s goodness, patience, kindness, wisdom and self-giving love in creating and then rescuing his rebellious creation.  Every other uplifting story of fall and redemption is simply an etching of this big story and a faint etching at that.

Does the Bible explain suffering?  Yes.  It is all our fault. We are completely to blame.  All suffering traces back to us.   Is God culpable?  No.  Not unless creating a free moral being makes him culpable.  Not unless rescuing humanity by suffering himself makes him culpable.  God is not culpable, we are.

And yet…

Does the Bible explain suffering?  Does it provide a theodicy – a justification of God?

In another sense the answer is no.  In the Bible story, a tempter (the serpent) comes to tempt humanity.  We are not told from where the serpent comes.  We are not told why God permitted it entrance to the garden.  We are not really told why God allowed sin into creation to reek the havoc it does.  We are not told why a million trillion unspeakable sufferings happen as they do.

Does God justify himself?  No he doesn’t.  Nor should he.  He is God.  We cannot put God in the dock.  To even think of so doing is monstrously inappropriate.  Man is not God, that God should answer to him.  The creature cannot accuse the Creator any more than the clay the Potter.   The finite cannot question the Infinite.  Such doubt and questioning is the very essence of sin.  Indeed, it was/is the primal sin.

God does not exist to answer our questions.  And our minds are probably too small to comprehend the answer even should he give it.  It is sufficient for believers that God has revealed his goodness and salvation conclusively in Jesus Christ.  Believers trust him in the perplexity of a suffering world and in the confusion of our personal world of suffering.  In this trust our restless questions are stilled and we have peace.


where are you adam?

When God asked Adam in the garden where he was, it was not because he, God, did not know, but because Adam did not know?  It is the first question in the Torah, the shortest question in the Torah (in Hebrew apparently only one word),  and probably the most penetrating question in the Torah.  Adam answered with an evasion, and a pitiful evasion at that (I was naked… ).  God brushes it away like a gossamer thread.  But it is more than an Adam question.  It is an everyman question.  It is the existential question God asks each of us.

The question is, will our answer be honest – I’m lost – or as pathetically evasive as Adam’s?


what books to read

Preachers (and writers) however erudite, scholarly or passionate are unable to take us far beyond where their own experience of Christ has taken them.  How can they?  Understanding the Christian life is not simply a matter of book learning or even Bible learning it involves putting what we learn (from both the previous) into practice.  This obedience in turn becomes the building block for the next stage of learning.

Someone may write a manual on how to swim having only read books about swimming and swum in a swimming pool.  It may be a fine book so far as it goes but it is limited by the writers own limited commitment to swimming.  The best manual is written by the swimmer who has swum in lakes and rivers and oceans; he has really grasped what  swimming is really all about.   The best teacher is the one who has honed his skills by taking them to extremes, he can really teach me swimming.

And so the best teacher of the faith is not necessarily the one who is most academic.  The best is  the one who has taken what he knows and lived it consistently.  He/she is best not simply because they have greater integrity but because they actually understand the life of faith better.  Experience of stenuously pursuing it has opened up dimensions of understanding the merely book-taught cannot really grasp.  This is why Jesus is such an able High Priest.  He did not merely learn what the life of faith looked like by studying Scripture and listening to the rabbis, he learned by experience.  He took the life of faith to uncharted dimensions of commitment and cost.  He understands faith perfectly because he obeyed perfectly.  For him each new step of obedience opened up new questions and experiences in faith from which he learned and which led him to further obedience and further cost and further faith.

And it is so too for us.  If like Paul we wish to ‘know Christ’  we can only ‘know’ him if we are willing to share with him not only in the power of his resurrection but also the fellowship of his sufferings.  To ‘know’ Christ we must share in his experiences.  We become like him and understand his heart as by the power of the Spirit we embrace his gospel sufferings.   Gospel insight and wisdom comes from not simply studying Christ but by ‘learning Christ’.  That is, by walking as he walked.

I gain much technical understanding of Scripture through academic commentaries but often the ones that seem to me to get to the real heart of a text and really grasp the issues of faith are written by those whose lives have been lived in the most self-sacrificial and costly way for Christ.  These may be the works of academics or they may not.

Read academic scholarly commentaries but make sure you read the writings of those for whom the cross of Christ has cost them everything in this life; in these you will find the paths of life.


why do churches go liberal?

Carl Trueman has a helpful series of posts on this subject.  You can access the first here.  I cannot resist an extract (a long extract) from the third of Trueman’s posts found here.

‘This conversation pointed me towards something that is often missed in discussion of how churches change: when a change is introduced, those who are really strongly opposed to it tend to leave; and that alters the balance of power within the church and, more nebulously, changes the ethos of the denomination..   Suddenly, the old centre is now the new right, the overall numbers are smaller, and the need for the left to play nice and to build coalitions is proportionately diminished.  In addition, the denomination may well now attract a few new people who are more radical and who have real agendas to push.  For such activists, too much is never enough, and you have a recipe for increasing movement in a leftward direction.

That is why brokering a compromise deal with a conscience clause rarely does anything more than weaken the orthodox.  Some of the conservatives pick up their marbles and head off to other playgrounds; those who remain soon find out who their real friends were — the guys who, while perhaps aesthetically rougher at the edges and a bit too strident in tone, were essentially pointing in the same direction

The churches that have moved to ordain women, and where the centre decided that this was not a hill on which they wished to die, are cases in point.   Look at Anglicanism or the Church of Scotland or certain Reformed denominations in North America: within a few years, the conscience clauses are in practical terms not worth the paper they are written on; to refuse to ordain women is seen at best as a piece of barely tolerable obscurantism, more typically as bigoted, chauvinistic, oppressive and something against which it is probably necessary to legislate.  And those conservatives who remain suddenly find that not only are they now a lonely minority, but that women’s ordination is the least of their worries.

This is not to say that any on the left initially envisaged where this would all go, or that such developments represent the last moments in a chess game that was planned in detail right from the moment the first white pawn was moved.  It is to say that interim deals where the left divides the moderate conservatives of the centre from the conviction conservatives of the right are never the end, whatever the sincerity of the intention of their framers.  Such deals change the theological demographics of a denomination and open up new questions and new possibilities, perhaps unforeseen and unimagined, and, combined with other elements, such as those I noted in the first two posts, this fact transforms the future trajectory of denominational decisions.   Indeed, while much has been rightly made of how the hermeneutics that lead to women’s ordination seem also to undermine any grounds for opposition to gay ordination, denominations are not changed simply because of hermeneutical moves.  Changes in theological demographics are just as important; and those in the centre who cut deals with the left really need to bear that in mind and reflect on who their real friends are.

Trueman has not only a way with words, he is also right.


theological education

I am for theological education but I have reservations about it.  This article by John Frame on Justin Taylor’s blog expresses them well.  Be sure to read it.


you and the gospel

The gospel teaches us the proper way to think of self.  The gospel may be summed up like this:

‘It is not about you but it is for you.’

In other words the gospel appropriately deals with ‘self’.  The gospel meets the needs of the legitimate self but puts to death the sinful self that wishes to be the centre of reality; only Christ can be centre and when he is placed there the ‘self’ finds its true place and fulfilment.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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