Saturday, February 25, 2017

Grace, Faith and Glory, Part 1

Robert has graciously agreed to write an article to post on Assembly Quest: "Grace, Faith and Glory". This is Part 1.

John 1:16 ‘for of his fulness we all have received, and grace upon grace’.

Romans 1:17 ‘for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, but the just shall live by faith’.

2 Corinthians 3:18 ‘But we all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit’.

Each year Hannah visited her son Samuel at the time of sacrifice and she brought with her a new coat. She automatically assumed that as another year had run its course he would have outgrown last year’s coat. This leads us to the question; what spiritual coat are we wearing? Do we have on something from the 2017 collection or do people see us wearing the same old thing each year? In other words, have we made any progress from year to year?

The verses quoted above remind us that great progress is available to each of us — progress in grace, faith and glory.

When we read the statement, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, we feel encouraged. How different was the manifestation of grace and truth in a Person from that of the law given on tables of stone. However, in most Christian circles, that encouragement has been taken far beyond the original intention of the verse. For in the mind of many believers, grace modifies the truth; grace reduces the truth; grace blunts the edge of the truth. As an old friend of mine used to say, ‘the saints think a gracious man is one who knows the truth but will not hold them to it’.

As we read through John’s gospel we clearly see that the truth was never modified or reduced by Christ. He made demands upon men and women that were impossible for the sinful nature to meet. ‘Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again’; ‘rise take up thy bed and walk’; ‘he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in him’.

When faced with such Divine demands, we might well be tempted to wish for the days of the law. ‘Thou shalt’: ‘thou shalt not’ presents a much simpler way of life. I believe that’s why there is so much desire for law keeping in our day. The question pages of a well-known Christian magazine is filled up every year with questions beginning with the phrase, what should the Christian do about...? It makes life so much easier when we are told what to do!

I suggest however that the true relationship between law and grace is that grace supports us to receive and practice the truth. So Nicodemus was born again; the man lame for 38 years stood up and walked; the disciples ate and drank of the blood of Christ and found themselves dwelling in Him!

But to receive grace we need to feel our need of it. Paul prayed the prayer that you and I would pray when confronted with a ‘thorn in the flesh’ — Lord take it away! He prayed three times and then discovered that the Lord had a better proposal — ‘my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’. So from time to time he would arrive to speak in a city and he must often have looked weak and pathetic. But when the weak man began to speak, the power of God became very evident.  So he settled into a way of life where he gloried in his weakness so that the power of God could be seen.

And should we feel overwhelmed by what the truth is currently demanding from us, John assures us that His grace is without limit. For each of us in 2017 there is ‘grace upon grace’.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Buried with Him

We've noted before that the Gospel as described in 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 consists of four statements:

  1. Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3)
  2. He was buried (1 Corinthians 15:4)
  3. He rose the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4)
  4. He was seen by many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5–8)
1 Corinthians 15:1–2 tells us this is the Gospel which we have received, by which we are saved, and by which we stand.

We noted before that the burial of Christ is frequently overlooked in so-called Gospel preaching, but 1 Corinthians 15 makes it a fundamental part of the Gospel. We're not preaching the Gospel if we don't talk about the burial of Christ.

I mentioned C. A. Coates' excellent article "The Son of Man lifted up and buried." Coates points out that burial in Scripture carries the idea of hiding from sight.

The first time we read about burial in Scripture is Genesis 23, where Sarah has died, and Abraham buys the field of Ephron the Hittite to bury her there. Notice Abraham tells the sons of Heth, "give me a possession of a sepulchre with you, that I may bury my dead from before me" (Genesis 23:4, repeated in v. 8). Here's the idea of burial in Scripture: Abraham wants to "bury my dead out of my sight" (KJV, ESV, and NASB).

At the Crucifixion, the Pharisees were afraid to let the bodies of Christ and the two malefactors remain on the crosses for the Passover. They were applying Deuteronomy 21:22–23. If a man was put to death by hanging, his body wasn't to remain hanging overnight: it had to be buried the same day. Why? Because a hanged man is cursed by God. When we consider this in the light of Genesis 23, we realize that the man who is cursed of God needs to be removed from God's sight.

Notice Galatians 3:13 quotes Deuteronomy 21:23, applying it to Christ hanging on the Cross. We understand the how of Christ's death is important: Christ Himself pointed out He was to be "lifted up" (John 3:14). It's very important that Christ was "lifted up" to die: He was made a curse of God for us.

When we consider Christ buried, we remember that He bore our sins "in His body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). The same body that bore our sins was buried, taking our sins out of God's sight. They have been buried "from before [His] eyes" – God doesn't see them anymore.

So we recognize the finality of our forgiveness rests on the burial of Christ.

But of course there's more. Romans 6:4 tells us that we have been "buried with Him by baptism". Colossians 2:12 repeats the statement almost word for word. We have died with Christ, we have been buried with Christ.

We have been buried out of God's sight.

We don't bury a man who's not dead. Burial means we've given up on someone. Burial means we expect no more out of someone.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Psalm 84

At the start of this week I read the eighty-fourth Psalm during the Lord’s Supper. I don’t think my thoughts were very clear then, and I want to attempt to share them here.

The psalm starts out with the Chief Musician, which suggests it's at least partly Messianic.

As the Psalm opens, it tells us about an altar that's apparently abandoned: the sparrow and the swallow feel safe in building their nests and raising their young on it. We're told it's the altar of the Lord of Hosts, but it's apparently no longer in use (Psalm 84:3).

The unused altar suggests to us the need for sacrifice is over. It brings us to the state of affairs we see in Hebrews 10: one sacrifice has put away sins forever (Hebrews 10:11–13).

As we look further in the Psalm we come to two types of person: there are those who dwell in the Lord’s house (Psalm 84:4), and there is "the Man" whose strength is the Lord (Psalm 84:5). We understand it's because of this one Man that "they" can dwell in God’s house.

What is the prayer of those dwelling in God's house? It's "Look on the face of Your Annointed” (Psalm 84:9). That's our prayer too – "Don't look at me Lord, look at Him." This is our acceptance with God: He has looked in Christ and seen everything that He could look for in man. Christ is our "wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

J. N. Darby said, “The Christian is humble... because he has given up seeking good in himself to adore the One in whom there is nothing else” (J. N. Darby, "On Mysticism", Collected Writings, Vol. 32). That is really what it means to be “in Christ” – having no righteousness of my own (Philippians 3:9).

Finally the Psalm ends with a blessing: blessed is the Man who trusts in God (Psalm 84:12). The Pharisees accused Christ of trusting in God (Matthew 27:43). We bless that same Man.