Tag Archives: Jesus

Christmas is about Easter

I recently heard a brief little talk broadly aimed at non-Christians regarding the story of Christmas. The essence of the talk was that Jesus came to show us how to live properly, because we have been following our own ideas and messing everything up. Basically, I was told that what we really need is to have our Creators blueprints in front of us so we can see how to live properly.

NO!

Jesus did not come as an example to us, that was not the point. Before the incarnation we already had a perfect example of how to live rightly before God. It’s called the law. We still have that.

A handy guide to living properly is of no value at all, because it doesnt matter what guidance we are given we will always mess up. No matter how perfect the instruction, we cannot follow it to the letter 100% of the time. In fact, we cant follow Gods law any of the time in our own strength.

The real message of Christmas is exactly the same as the message of Easter. We are hopelessly incapable of following God in our own strength. In order to live rightly before God we need new hearts, the only way to receive a new heart is through Jesus dealing with our sin by dying on the Cross.

Jesus did not come to live.

Jesus came to die.

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No life in the Bible

This little clip of Mike Reeves really got me thinking (once again thankyou Dave for blogging goodness!). In a post I wrote a little while ago, I said that:

The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

And the verse that Mike points to is Jesus saying just that.

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

There is no life in the words themselves, and so there is no life in the instructions you find in the Bible. The law does not bring us life.

So then what exactly are we supposed to do with the law? Well Jesus has answered that for us as well, the law is supposed to point us to him, where there is life. In Jesus we have the power to keep God’s law, outside of him we have no power at all. So when I said before that the Bible wasn’t a step by step self help guide, I wasn’t really being accurate. The Bible is a one step self help guide, and that step is towards Jesus, the only person who can actually help us.

So often I want the Bible to be more (or rather, less) than what it is. What I really want is the Bible to tell me exactly what to do to fix all the problems in my life, how precisely to become a better person. But when I read the Bible, it doesn’t offer me what I want, it simply points out my helplessness and turns me back towards Jesus.

Where the Bible contains an instruction, I have a choice. I can admit that I can’t really obey it and throw myself on Jesus, or I can pretend that I can obey it and fail miserably. My initial reaction is usually to do the latter, clearly the former is a better choice.

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Preaching should be applied, not theoretical

Application is one of the most difficult aspects of preaching to get right. It would be a travesty to avoid it altogether and leave people with nothing more than a lecture on good Bible interpretation. Similarly, it is fairly useless to go the other way and give people detailed steps on what to do next in their lives. The Bible is NOT a manual for Christian living, full of step by step self help guides. The Bible is all about Jesus, and its purpose is to continually point us towards him.

Failing to apply a passage at all gives people the impression that the Bible is irrelevant, doesnt really have an impact on their lives, and can safely be ignored. Applying a passage by handing people a to-do list gives the impression that Gods word is a self-help guide, and that with the right set of instructions we can fix all of our problems on our own.

Clearly both of these are mightily inadequate, so how on earth does a preacher give life changing application within a sermon? The key is to apply a passage in such a way that the hearers discover that they must respond to the Bible, but that their response must be via the cross. If there is some clear practical response to a passage, then it must be done in light of the cross, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed this is the only way we can truly respond to the Bible.

We mustnt leave people thinking that they have learnt a great deal about the passage and that is all. We must leave them with a sense that the passage demands some change in their lives, and that the change will come as a result of the cross, through the power of the Spirit. That means avoiding a specific to-do list, but it also means being really practical, giving clear examples ofhow a principle might work itself out in their lives, and most importantly it means bringing their focus back to Jesus.

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Preaching should always be about Christ

All of scripture is about Jesus, as we see in Luke 24:13-27. And since I firmly believe in expository preaching, and that Christ is the centre of the Bible, there is only one conclusion, that Christ must be the centre of every sermon.

Recently Tony Reinke blogged a few choice quotes from Spurgeon regarding his opinion on Christless preaching, this being the general flavour of the quotes:

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.

Check out the rest of the post

I heartily agree with the sentiment, and the one thing that frequently appears in my sermon notebook is the phrase what about the cross?. It warms my heart to know that most of the time when I write that down, the preacher goes on to answer it later in the sermon.

As I blogged a few days ago, the gospel is the answer to every problem in the world, so what use is a sermon without the gospel in it? What use is a Biblical view on an issue if that view does not include the cross.

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Always the Gospel

Here is a wonderful truth, every Christian in the world holds in their hands the solution to every problem in the world. There is no problem in any persons life which is not answered by the gospel, and there never will be. Neither is there any problem in nature that is not addressed and solved completely by the gospel.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the solution to all problems ever.

If you ever deal with a pastoral issue in someones life without applying the cross, then you have not offered a solution, you’ve at best presented a “cure” for the symptoms. If you ever try to deal with the brokenness of the natural world without looking to the resurrection then you will miss the fact that this world was broken by sin and will be fixed completely soon (at least, soon by God’s timescale).

Never move on from the Cross of Christ, never look for the other solutions beyond the Cross, never search for the deeper truths outside of the Cross. Everything is in Christ and his Cross.

Colossians 2:6-7

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Jesus was tempted

Matthew 4:1-11 is a fascinating account of three huge temptations Jesus faced during his time in the desert before he began his ministry. It’s often brushed off by remarks such as “Jesus was tempted just like us, so he can sympathise with what you are struggling with right now”, but I am convinced that there is so much more in these verses.

First of all, this happens before Jesus begins his ministry, he is baptised and the Father declares him to be the Son, then Matthew 4:1 says

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Clearly this is a hugely significant moment in Jesus’ life, and having read through these verses I believe that the three temptations that follow are designed as preparation for the rest of Jesus’ ministry, including his death. These are three temptations which although they may not be clearly expressed in the remainder of the gospels must surely have reappeared time and time again, and Jesus must have battled with them each time. It must have been a great strength to him to be able to look back on his desert trial and remember how he dealt with the temptations then, holding those scriptures close to his heart.

I will look at each of the three temptations in a little more detail in future posts, including hopefully pointing out where else in the gospels those same temptations would have occurred.

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Fix your eyes on Jesus

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

Here lies the solution to all of your problems. Stop looking at the problem! Fix your eyes on the one person who embodies all of those aspects Paul has listed, the one person whose example cannot be faulted.

This week is very exciting for me, term has not started yet so I have a week without students in which I am supposed to spend about 40 hours studying. During that time I will be looking at Philippians, and working my way through Tim Chesters book You Can Change. I’m not sure how I’m going to properly take in 40 hours of study on such important stuff, and I suspect I will end up with a pile of notes to go back to in the future (I’ve already got quite a few and I’ve only done some preliminary stuff today).

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Scripture Memory

Why do we memorise scripture?  Well, the first and most important reason is that the Bible tells us too!  Colossians 3:16 gives us a clear command, let the word of Christ dwell in us.  With that in mind, what does it actually mean to memorise scripture and let the word of Christ dwell in us?

Specific Scripture Memory

The first and perhaps most obvious approach we can take to this is to be very specific.  Specific scripture memory is very simple, I’m sure most Christians will be able to recite some verses with no problem, verses like John 3:16, or maybe Genesis 1:1.  This is excellent and I commend this to any Christian, but it is also slightly dangerous.

You see, the Bible was not written with chapters and verses in mind, the authors certainly didn’t write a set of individual sentences and mash them all together in the hopes of something coherent (not even the write of Proverbs!).  So why exactly do we think it’s acceptable to pick out our favourite verses and memorise them, forgetting anything of the context of the rest of the book they are from.

Take John 3:16 as an example.  This verse alone tells us that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus, and as a result if we believe in him we won’t die.  But what of sin?  Where in that verse is that problem which needed solving?  How did God giving his son save us from death?

Of course if you have bothered to memorise that one verse you probably already know that broader context of the gospel itself, but what of the narrow context of the passage?  Do you know who those words were spoken to, or what else was being said at the time?  Are you even sure who was saying those words?

General Scripture Memory

With these issues with specific scripture memory in mind, there is another approach which seems to make sense.  Instead of being narrow in our memorising, lets be much broader.  Instead of memorising an individual verse, how about we tackle the general flow of a passage or a whole book.  Instead of picking off relevant verses, we can deal with themes.  I know that Nehemiah is about the exiles returning to Israel and rebuilding.  I know that Pauls letter to the Colossians is an encouragement for them to continue in the gospel that saved them.

This is also an excellent thing to strive for, and one day I would love to be able to rattle off a list of the broad themes from each of the books of the Bible.  Given some specific struggle in your life you might have some vague memory of that being a theme in one of Pauls letters, so you can flick through it and see what the Bible has to say.

Of course this broad sweeping approach to scripture memory falls far short of the ideal too.  If you don’t happen to have a Bible to hand then knowing that Paul gives some advice for husbands and wives in Ephesians is useless unless you can remember exactly what that advice was!

So a combination then?

Ah, a conclusion!  Yes, I think we should be careful to combine memorising specific verses with a clear understanding of the broader themes of the Bible.  I also think that when we talk about scripture memory we should mean something bigger than just picking off individual verses, we should also include learning the flow and themes of the Bible in that phrase.

There is however, one more caveat:

It’s all about Jesus

The real problem with poor scripture memory is not our approach, but our motivation.  I could learn hundreds of individual verses, and pick out every theme the Bible has and still not find life.  Life is found in Jesus, and when we memorise scripture (whatever form that takes), what we should be really seeking to do is hold Jesus close to our hearts.

If learning a single verse brings Jesus closer to my heart I want to do it.  If taking the time to see what the context of that verse really is also brings me in line with Christ then I absolutely want to do it!  If learning a verse of picking out a theme serves no purpose other than to boost my ego or increase my academic knowledge of the Bible, then I actually want to avoid it.  I would much rather memorise nothing but hold Jesus close than memorise everything but not see him in any of it!

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