Monday, 24 October 2016

How can you trust the gospels?

The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked about defending the Bible.  He replied, ‘defend the Bible?  I would rather defend a lion!  Unchain it and let it defend itself.’

In this post I want to defend the four gospels.  I want you to see that their evidence is significant.  But more importantly I want to encourage you to read the gospels, and let them defend themselves. 
Objection: ‘We don’t have the originals’
We refer to the original text as an autograph.  It is true that we don’t have the autographs of any of the four gospels.  However, we can be confident of knowing what those autographs contained.
To start with we have a great deal of manuscript evidence.  For example there are over five-thousand Greek manuscripts of part or all of the New Testament dating from the second-century to the time of the Reformation.  Compare that to the seven manuscripts of Plato’s ‘Tetralogies’ that date from at least 1,200 years after its composition.
Two interesting examples of New Testament evidence are the John Ryland’s Fragment (a few verses of John’s Gospel, and dating from around 120 A.D.) and the Chester Beatty Papyri (containing major parts of the New Testament, and dating from around 200 A.D.).
Added to the manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents are the 32,000 citations of the New Testament in the writings of what are known as the pre-Nicaean fathers (they were church leaders writing before in the time period before the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.).  From their writings alone we can be clear what was contained in the New Testament originals.
When I was a young Christian I read a book by Professor F. F. Bruce of Manchester University entitled, ‘The New Testament Documents – Are they reliable?’  In this he states that ‘The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning.  And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.’
Objection:  The gospels are full of errors
When I say that I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible I mean that I believe that there were no errors in the originals.  There are variations in the manuscripts.  These variations are the results made by those who were copying the manuscripts.  No one is keeping this a secret.  Open any copy of a modern Bible and you will see footnotes that informing you of variations in manuscript evidence.  The vast majority of these variations are extremely minor, and no doctrine of the church is altered by such a variant in the text.
Writing of the Bible as a whole, one systematic theologian writes, ‘for over 99 percent of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.  Even for many of the verses where there are textual variants (that is, different words in different ancient copies of the same verse), the correct decision is often quite clear, and there are really very few places where the textual variant is both difficult to evaluate and significant in determining the meaning.  In the small percentage of cases where there is uncertainty about what the original text said, the general sense of the sentence is usually quite clear from the context’ (Grudem). 
There are also some places where it can seem difficult to reconcile various accounts of the same event.  So when I was speaking on this topic at the University of Limerick Christian Union someone asked me about Judas’s death.  The account in Matthew and that in Acts is not an easy match.  Similarly, aspects of the resurrection account don’t fit comfortably together.  However, if writers like Matthew and Luke were aware of each other’s accounts then clearly they do not see any contradictions (and if they are entirely independent of each other then we have added historical weight to what they were saying).
The fact that the accounts can be reconciled with each other, but that they don’t always smoothly do so, is clear evidence that the writers have not colluded in there story.  They are telling the same story from different viewpoints.  Kel Richards tells of a police-officer who looked at the evidence for the resurrection from the gospel accounts, and so was struck by how authentic they sounded that he was brought to faith.
One of the interesting things about the gospels is that if you were making this story up you would not make it up like this.  The text is full of marks of authenticity.  In a Jewish court of law the evidence of a woman was not permissible, so you would not have had women as the first eye-witnesses of the empty tomb.  Peter apparently is the source of Mark’s gospel, but Peter comes across as spiritually slow on the uptake and even denies Jesus—I would have made myself look better.  In a chauvinistic society Luke records that the ministry of Jesus was finically dependant on a bunch of women.  Jesus is portrayed as been too weak after his flogging to carry the beam of his cross, and has to be helped by Simon of Cyrene (who Mark tells is the father of Alexander and Rufus—who his readers seem to know).
When someone points to a problem text in Scripture remember that they are presenting you with something that Christians have been aware of for centuries.  As Wayne Grudem points out, ‘the Bible in its entirety is over 1,900 years old, and the alleged "problem texts" have been there all along.   Yet throughout the history of the church there has been a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture ... Moreover, for these hundreds of years highly competent biblical scholars have read and studied these problem texts and still have no difficulty in holding to inerrancy.’
Objection:  They were only myths that weren't meant to be taken as history
But maybe the writers never meant us to take their work serious—maybe they were writing legend or myth?  Luke claims to have carefully investigated his gospel so that he could give an accurate account, and John (19:35) claims to have been an eyewitness.  Remember that John was a Jew who would have believed that inventing a hoax messiah would have been an act of blasphemy that would have excluded him from God’s kingdom.  The apostle’s all endured lives of hardship for what they claimed about Jesus!
The time lag from event to legend is too short.  Legends cannot be created in the time frame of eyewitnesses to the events.  Neither do the gospel accounts read like legends.  C. S. Lewis was the writer of the Narnia books.  He was also a Professor of literature in Oxford.  He writes, ‘I have been reading legends and myths all my life.  I know what they look like.  I know they are not like this.’
Objection:  What about other gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas?
This sort of objection has become popular since the Da Vinci Code.  However, these so-called gospels should not worry you.  It can easily be shown that the four gospels we have were in circulation in the second century and recognised as having unique authority.  However, none of the alternative gospels were written in the first-century, have a very different feel to them, and can be attributed to unorthodox Christian off-shoots.
Listen to the description in of the resurrection in the Gospel of Peter.  The soldiers guarding the tomb ‘saw three men come out of the tomb, two of them sustaining the other one, and a cross following after them.  The heads of the two they saw had heads that reached up to heaven, but the head of [Jesus] that was led up them went beyond heaven.’
The gospel of Peter was written in the second half of the second century.  Unlike the four gospels it is completely otherworldly—with moving crosses, and a Jesus who has a head that reaches beyond heaven.  It reflects an accommodation to the Greek mind, that didn’t like the physical, and so created an ethereal Jesus.  It is consistent with the thoughts of the Gnosticism that was an influence at that time.
I could mention the evidence for Jesus and the early Christian movement from non-biblical sources like the Jewish historian Josephus or the Romans Tacitus and Pliny the Younger.  J. P. Moreland writes, ‘no historian I know of denies that Christianity started in Jerusalem just a few weeks after the death of Jesus in the presence of friendly and hostile eye-witnesses.’
I could also point to the internal consistency of the Bible.  Many have read the books of the Bible (written by over forty authors over 1,500 years) and been amazed that it seems to have unifying threads. 
However, I want to finish with words from the Bible translator J. B. Phillips.  He writes, ‘The New Testament, given a fair hearing, does not need me or anyone else to defend it.  It has the proper ring of truth for anyone who has not lost the ear for truth.
By all means defend the lion, but more importantly let that lion lose to defend itself.  This book has the fingerprints of God on it.  If you have never read one of the four gospels as an adult I can guarantee you that you will be surprised by what’s in here.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Letter to Limerick Post

Dear Sir,
Tom Murphy has challenged me to come up with a coherent narrative for the events surrounding the first Easter morning.  I would suggest that the easiest thing to do is to deal with some of the apparent discrepancies that exist between the gospels, and then give a possible account.
The first thing that I need to point out is that it is really encouraging to see the apparent discrepancies between the gospels.  If there had been collusion around the resurrection accounts we would see identical stories.  However, what we get is what would be expected from eyewitnesses. 
One of the apparent discrepancies surrounds the number of women involved.  The fact that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women is a real mark of authenticity (as the testimony of women was not admissible in a first-century court).  None of the writers are claiming to give an exhaustive list. For example, John only mentions Mary Magdalene, but then has her reporting her findings using ‘we’ language. 
Then there is the difference in the light.  John says it was dark, while the others talk of sunrise.  I would suggest that the women may have set off from Bethany in the dark on the two mile journey to Jerusalem, arriving in the early light.
Were there one or two angels?  There were two angels.  It is not strange that Mark would only mention one angel, as frequently only the spokesperson is mentioned and accompanying figures are not mentioned.  Also, it was common in the Bible for angels to appear in the form of men.
The other thing that needs to be noted is that scholars believe that the gospel writers knew of each other’s writing.  If this is so, then they clearly didn’t see contradictions between what they wrote and what was written before them.  If they didn’t know of each other’s writing then we have to account for the huge overlap in their stories of the life of Jesus.
There are a number of ways that you can harmonise the resurrection accounts.  The following is based on the work of New Testament scholar Murray Harris:
On the first day of the week, as morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome approach the tomb intending to embalm the body.  Mary Magdalene immediately returns to tell Peter and John that the body is missing.  Mary (mother of James) and Salome enter the tomb and see an angel who directs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.  These women return to Jerusalem, where they initially do not report the angelic vision, because of the awe and fright.  Certain other women, along with Joanna, go to the tomb, also planning to embalm the body.  They meet two angels and then return to report the resurrection the disciples (the disciples had scattered after Jesus was arrested).  Informed by Mary Magdalene, Peter and John run to the tomb (without meeting Mary the mother of James and Salome).  They observe the grave clothes and return home.  Mary Magdalene remains behind and meets Jesus.  She returns to inform the disciples.  Mary the mother of James and Salome haven’t said anything yet.  Jesus meets Mary the mother of James (and perhaps Salome and others) and directs them to tell his brethren to go to Galilee.  Later Jesus will appear to other people, including to five hundred people on one occasion.
Finally, can I recommend a great website that not only answers questions like those Tom raises, but explains why these issues matter?  It is 
Yours sincerely,
Paul Ritchie (Limerick Baptist).

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Children's talk: The new heart

For the first time ever Caroline gave me unreservedly positive feedback on my children's story.  So I thought I would blog it.

You need your full food waste bin, a separate bag full of fresh fruit and a cloth.

You begin by explaining that the food bin is you, but that there is a problem on the inside of you.  The waste inside the bin is your heart (which in the Bible means more than your blood-pump).  In our hearts we are not very good at loving difficult people or forgiving those who hurt us.

Get them to smell the contents of the bin.

Sometimes the lid is lifted and people can see what our heart is like.  For example, we lose our temper with our brothers and sisters or get mad with our friends.  So what do you do?

Well you could try to deal with the outside of the bin (wash it with the cloth), but the stink is still there on the inside.  We can smile at people and pretend that we like them, yet in our hearts we still hate them and refuse to forgive them.

No!  Something needs to happen on the inside.  We need a change of heart.  Only God can do that.  So we go to him and say, 'help!  I just can't do it!  I can't love this person!  I can't forgive them!'  And God promises to do something with our heart.

Now you switch the waste bag, and put in the one with fresh fruit.

Let them smell the bin again.  Take a piece of fresh fruit out of the bin and eat it.  Remind them that God promises to change us on the inside in a way that we can never change ourselves on our own.

Bible text: Ezekiel 36:26.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Man on the run (1 Samuel 21-22:5)

My aim is to see your hearts burn.  For that is what happens when we realise that all the Scriptures point to Jesus.  Remember the road to Emmaus.  The risen Jesus shows two disciples how their Scriptures revealed that the Messiah would suffer and then enter his glory.  Later they recalled that their hearts were burning within them as he spoke to them.
This morning we see David—who has been anointed king but not yet ascended to his throne—on the run from his enemies.  The Son of David was also a pursued man!
God provides (21:1-9)
David went to Nob.  The tabernacle was there.  On his arrival he comes up with a whooping big lie.  He claims to be on a mission from Saul.  What are we to make of David’s lie?  Are we been told that it is okay to lie when the situation demands it?  Not at all!  The Holy Spirit is called the spirit of truth, and the devil is called the father of lies.  The lesson is not about lying, but God providing for his king.
David is hungry and Ahimelech gives him the bread of presence—twelve loaves representing God’s covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel that were placed in the tabernacle each Sabbath.  These loaves were a reminder that God sustains his people and supplies their needs.  They were supposed to be reserved for priests, but Jesus will look back on this incident and apparently commend Abimelech for putting mercy above ceremonial law.
Read the gospels and you will see that Jesus recognised that his heavenly Father provided for him.  In the wilderness he could tell the devil of his Father’s provision, declaring that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).  If Jesus needed to be sustained by God’s word, how much more do we?
On Monday night in the Shannon small group, it became clear that one of our members had a warm relationship with the psalms.  I am sure she could tell of times the psalms sustained her!
Before we move on to the next scene in the story, notice how gracious our God is to David.  David is an imperfect representative of his great descendent.  He is deceitful, but God still cares for him.  Our God does not treat us as our sins deserve, but according to his loving kindness.  Even though we are unfaithful, he remains faithful.
God rescues (21:10-15)
It is odd that having been given Goliath’s sword David would then go to Goliath’s home-place of Gath.  It just shows how desperate David is.  As one preacher says, ‘When Achish king of Gath is my only hope, I am in real trouble’ (Paul Williams).  David is offering himself as an anonymous mercenary, but his enemies recognise him.  ‘Isn’t this David …?’  So David acts like a mad man, and is sent away. 
Interestingly, the one called the Son of David was also recognised by his enemies.  In the synagogue in Capernaum a man possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God (Mark 1:23-24). 
One of the psalms that we read on Monday night, in the Shannon small group, was Psalm thirty-four.  It was written around the time of this incident.  There David says that God delivered me (4), blessed is the person who takes refuge in him (8), the eyes of the lord are towards the righteous and his ears towards their cry (15), when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them from all their troubles (17), none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (22).  David knows that it wasn’t the quality of his acting that delivered him.  God delivered him!  Similarly, in the gospels we see God’s messiah will being kept safe from his enemies, until that moment where he voluntarily lays down his life to rescue his people.  He is also attentive towards our cries!
God delights in the rejected (22:1-2)
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam… All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader … (1-2).  What a great picture of the church!  Here is God’s anointed surrounded by the outcasts of society.  When Jesus came the religious leaders could not believe that he could be God’s anointed, because he was a friend of tax-collectors and notorious sinners.  They should have known their Scriptures better.  The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to think of what you were when you were called (1 Corinthians 1:26).  God loves to take broken people into his family.
God’s king shows compassion (22:3-4)
David then goes to Moab.  Again, it’s a sign of his desperation.  He had fought against the Moabites.  Moab was where his great-grandmother Ruth was from.  There he makes provisions for his family.  He knows what Saul is like.  He knows that they are in danger.
David is such a frustrating character to study.  He can be so flawed.  He can be a very imperfect representation of his famous descendant.  We have seen him act deceitfully.  We will see him acting murderously.  Yet here he is acting like Jesus.  In the midst of the crisis he cares for his family.  In the midst of a far greater crisis, the Son of David, would look down from the cross, and entrust his mother to the care of John (John 19:27).  We can trust the Son of David to have compassion to those of us he calls family.
God’s king can’t avoid the conflict (22:5)
Last week Kimberly told us that it was not easy to be a Christian teenager.  Look at all these chapters taken up with David being pursued by Saul.  They set a pattern.  God’s messiah is being persecuted.  God’s Messiah tells us that people will hate us as they hated him
Finally, look at God’s king going from the place of safety to that of conflict.  David’s heart must have sunk when the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold.  Go into the land of Judah.”  So David left and went to the forest of Hereth (22:5).  Again a pattern is set.  As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Luke 10:51), where he would face the conflict and die for our guilt.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The costs and benefits of covenant (1 Samuel 20)

Sociologists in America interviewed three-thousand American teenagers about their religious beliefs, and came up with the term Therapeutic Moralistic Deism.  Therapeutic Moralist Deism is the conviction that a god exists and wants people to be nice, that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about ourselves, that this god in not involved in our lives unless he is needed to resolve a problem, and that ‘good people’ go to heaven.
Sadly, this self-centred undemanding belief system sounds a lot like what many people in the church think Christianity is about.
The passage before us is filled with covenant language.  A covenant is a formal binding agreement.  We can see that David and Jonathan entered into a covenant relationship with each other.  The Son of David—Jesus—calls us into a covenant relationship with him.  This is a relationship that demands great costs from us, but enjoys infinite benefits. 
We are going to look at the costs and benefits of a covenant relationship with the Son of David.
The cost of covenant
David has been on the run from King Saul.  He goes to his friend, Saul’s eldest son Jonathan, and asks, ‘what have I done? What is my crime?  How have I wronged your father that he is trying to kill me?’
Jonathan seems to be in denial.  He doesn’t seem to believe that his dad wants David dead.  That actually makes sense.  The last time Jonathan was a part of this story was when his dad promised, ‘as surely as I live, David will not be put to death’ (19:6).
You can be sure that Jonathan desperately hoped that Saul would not harm David.  He loves both his friend and his father.  Indeed, it seems that Jonathan has an especially close relationship with his father.  He tells David, ‘my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me’ (2).  It will break Jonathan’s heart to have to choose between his dad and David.
Jonathan had made a covenant with David.  He had given David his sword and robes, in an act that seems to point to the fact that Jonathan recognised God’s good intention that David should be the next king rather than him.  Isn’t it amazing that the crown-prince Jonathan, the eldest son of Saul, would say to a commoner like David, ‘whatever you want me to do; I’ll do it for you’ (4)?  This boy had grown up expecting everyone to do as he said.  Now he is willing to serve David!
The Son of David talks about the cost of entering a covenant relationship with him.  ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 10:37-39).
A young man approached a Christian preacher after a church service and pointed out that being a Christian doesn’t make you any friends.  The preacher wanted to point the young man to all the friends that he had in the church, but he knew what the young man was saying.  Since he had become a Christian this guy hadn’t received a single positive response from anyone among his family and friends.  That hurt!
Another young man, who was very wealthy, approached Jesus and enquired about life with God.  When Jesus pointed out that God claimed the right to tell him what to do with his possessions the rich young man thought the cost was too high, and so walked away materially rich and spiritually bankrupt.
As we read this narrative we might wonder why David would even consider attending a festival with King Saul.  But the people have been talking about the fact that the Holy Spirit had overpowered Saul and caused him to prophesy.  David might be hoping that this means that Saul is now a changed man.  So Jonathan and David devise a plan that will reveal Saul’s heart towards David.
Jonathan’s heart must have broken when his father’s anger flared up.  His covenant with David is going to cost him the love of his father.  How tragic to be on the receiving end of his father’s abuse.  ‘You son of a perverse woman!  Don’t I know that you sided with son of Jessie to your own shame and the shame of your mother who bore you?  As long as the son of Jessie lives on this earth, neither you nor you kingdom will be established’ (30-31).  Could you imagine Saul’s reaction if he knew that Jonathan was happy for David to be king instead of him?  When you enter a covenant relationship with the Son of David there will be many who think that you are mad to give up your supposed right to rule your own life!
The benefit of covenant
Why would Jonathan be willing to give up the claim to the throne for David?  Why would he be willing to receive his father’s abuse for the sake of David?  It is all to do with love!
‘… Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself … and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself’ (18:1-3).  ‘And Jonathan made David reaffirm his covenant of love for him, because he loved him as himself’ (17).  ‘The kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the most’ (41).
Maybe I’m taking things too far to draw any conclusion from the fact that David wept the most.  There is no doubt about the extent Jonathan’s love for David, but is there a hint that David’s love for Jonathan was even greater?  Isn’t that true of our covenant relationship with the Son of David?  We may love Jesus, but he loves us more than we will ever love him!
Love for the Son of David is God’s gift to us.  We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and he has poured love into our hearts.  God has knit our souls with that of the Son of David that we might love him as ourselves.  But we never out-love the Son of David.  ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  Jesus laid down his life while we were still his enemies.
Jonathan did as David said, because their covenant demanded it.  Jonathan delighted to do as David said because love compelled him.  ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3).
The cost of not being in covenant
One theme running through this chapter makes me a little uncomfortable: Jonathan talks of the time when the Lord ‘destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth’ (15).  He envisages a day when the enemies of David will be destroyed!
He also seeks to ensure that his people will not be amongst the enemies of David.  It was common practice that when a dynasty changed the new king would wipe out the family of the old king in case any of them made a play for the throne.  Jonathan has David promise that he will not do that, and indeed I we will see the resulting kindness shown to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. 
No one spoke more clearly about judgement and hell that the Jesus.  God will punish those who refuse to enter into a covenant relationship with the Son of David.  Listen to the words of our Messiah: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).
In the Christianity Explored course Rico Tice points out, ‘When we hear Jesus’ words about hell we have to ask ourselves, “Why would he talk like that?”  … The reason that Jesus warns us about hell is surely that he loves us and does not want us to go there.  He knows that if we reject God throughout our lives then ultimately God will reject us.  He knows that sin, if left undealt with, will take us to a place of unimaginable and unending suffering.  He warns us, because he loves us.’
Therapeutic moralistic deism is a self-centred belief system in a god whose only purpose is to make us feel good about ourselves.  Does your faith look like therapeutic moralistic deism, or has does it reflect the fact that you have entered into a life-transforming covenant with the Son of David?  Some of you know a little bit about the nature of a covenant relationship (when you promised to forsake all others).  Yet the covenant with Jesus is the only one that promises incomparable love and both, now and for all eternity.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Never lose the wonder (1 John 3:1a)

Tim Keller was pottering about the house, listening to some Christian music, when his heart was stirred by a line from a song.  The song quotes Isaiah.  ‘He will see the results of his suffering and be satisfied.’  Jesus suffered infinite depths of pain on that cross.  He was in agony.  Worse than any physical pain is that fact that he was abandoned by his Father.  Yet he sees the results of his suffering and is satisfied.  How can that be?  Keller realised.  ‘It was because he saw me.’  Jesus saw those who would be saved by his death and it made it all worth it.  He saw our forgiveness, our justification and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, and it consoled him.  How amazing is that?
I want to encourage you to never lose the wonder.  We are going to look at a little outburst of delight that occurs in the middle of John’s letter.  He is writing with the purpose that we might have assurance that we have eternal life.  But in the middle of his reasoning he breaks in with an exhortation.  Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.  
Be amazed that he poured out his love on someone like you
Max Lucado writes, ‘if anybody understands God's ardour for his children, it's someone who has rescued an orphan from despair, for that is what God has done for us.  God has adopted you.  God sought you, found you, signed the papers and took you home.’
But don’t be overly romantic about this adoption.  He didn’t find us as a little baby, irresistibly cute, bundled at his front door.  We were more like an obnoxious youth who wanted nothing to do with him.  We were ugly, evil and rebellious.  We did not promise to be an easy child to deal with.  He knew that we would cause him much grief.
You see John puts full weight on the word ‘us’.  Before Christ came into your life you were a natural born rebel.  So was I!  Before he softened your heart you were hostile towards his holiness, his gospel and who he really is.  The apostle Paul says that before we became Christians we were objects (literally ‘children’) of God’s holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  You were both an object of his kindness and his righteous anger.  It is amazing that God would chose to love someone like you and me.
J. I. Packer writes, ‘We are not fit for a place in God's family; the idea of his loving and exalting us sinners as he loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.’
Be amazed that you are a son of God
Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.  If you are in Christ then you are a son of God.  You have been adopted into his family.  In that culture sons had a special place.  That place is yours.  J. I. Packer writes, ‘In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs.  Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship.  To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater’.

 Of course no family adopts without considering the cost.  John Piper, who adopted a disadvantaged child when he was fifty, explains that ‘there were legal realities God had to deal with.  His own justice and law demanded that we be punished and excluded from his presence for our sins.  Righteousness was required and punishment demanded.  God had to satisfy his justice and his law in order to adopt sinners into his family.  This he did by the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ’.  The Father gave his one and only Son that you might become a son.
Think back to Jesus’ most beautiful parable—the wonderful father of the prodigal son.  When that young son goes off to the distant land the father is heart-broken.  Every day he scans the horizon in the hope that the boy would return.  One day he sees the boy in the distance his heart is filled with compassion.  Jesus says that the father literally raced to the boy.  In that culture there was a proverb that said you could tell the dignity on a man by the way he walked.  This man would not have run for decades.  But now he lifts his robes and exposes his knees—it is all highly undignified.  Then, when he reaches his son, he falls into his neck and kisses him again and again and again.  Behold what manner of love the Father has lavished onto us.
His love is out of this world
Don’t lose the wonder.  Behold what manner of love this is.  John actually uses an idiom here.  Like when people used to talk about it raining cats and dogs.  John literally says, ‘behold from what country this love is from.’  He seems to be saying that the love that God lavishes upon us is from another country altogether.  We might say that it’s out of this world.
God’s love is compared to that of a shepherd for his sheep, but it is also from a different country.  This is a shepherd who has infinite affection for that straying lamb.  God’s love is compared to a father for his children, but it is also from a different country.  Even the best of fathers cannot love you the way your heavenly Father does.  God’s love is compared to the delight of a groom for his bride, but it is also from a different country.  Even the most adoring husband does not love his wife the way God loves you.  So do never lose your wonder at the love of God for you.  Behold what manner of love the father has lavished on us that we should be called sons of God.  And that is what we are.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Loyalty from delight(1 Sam. 19)

‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word, Frodo … We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds’ (Lord of the Rings)

Can’t you see that sort of loyalty in the friendship between Jonathan and David?  Don’t you aspire to such loyalty in your friendship with Jesus?  I think that this passage tells us why Jonathan was so loyal to David, and shows us how we can become loyal to Jesus.
Jonathan had met this man who was after God’s own heart, and it resonated with his love for God.  Jonathan was inspired as he saw David so passionate for God’s glory that he steps into battle with Goliath.  Jonathan celebrated David’s victory and saw that God was with him.  I believe that it was God who knit Jonathan’s heart with David, and caused him to love him as his own soul.  Jonathan gladly handed David his robe and sword.  Now we read that Jonathan was fond of David (1b).  This can be translated ‘Jonathan delighted in David’ (ESV).  Everything that Jonathan saw and experienced with David caused him to delight in his friend.  That delight was at the root of his loyalty, even when his dad put the pressure on.
Has what we have seen in the Son of David caused us to delight in him?  Have we seen that how his heart is sold out for his Father?  Have we witnessed him stand up to the plate and win the victory so that we can be free from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil?  Have we allowed God knit our soul to Christ—that we might love him as our own soul?  Have we bowed to his authority and surrendered our ambition to rule our lives?  Do we ponder his beauty in such a way that causes us to delight in him?  This is the key to remaining loyal to him! 
Loyalty remembers that Christ has been good to us (1-7)
Becoming a follower of Jesus has implications for all of our relationships.  All over the world people have displeased their parents by chosen to love God’s Messiah.  Jonathan’s love for God’s chosen king would become of bone of contention between himself and his dad.
Jonathan reasons with his father: let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.  For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel.  You saw it and rejoiced (4-5).
Isn’t this the message that we bring to all of Christ’s enemies?  ‘Don’t sin against God’s anointed, because he has not sinned against you.  He took his life in his hand when he faced death for you.  Through him the Lord has worked a great salvation for all.  Look to him and rejoice.’  That’s a message that should inspire us to be loyal!
Loyalty to Christ is God’s gift to us (8-17)
Saul takes David back into his presence for the last time.  Again David is granted victory over the Philistines.  However, Saul’s hatred for David comes back to the surface and he throws a spear at him.  Just as it was not the accuracy of David’s sling shot that resulted in Goliath’s death, it was not the lack of Saul’s spear throwing that saved his life.  God was David’s shield.
In Psalm 59 David speaks of God being his refuge, fortress and shield.  The title of that psalm tells us that it was written when Saul’s men went to watch David’s house in order to kill him.  This incident is both humorous and troubling.
It is humorous because when Saul’s soldiers come to kill David they are turned away by Michal’s explanation that David is ill.  They are not there to ask him out to play.  They are there to kill him.  So why would they turn away when told he is sick?  Saul has to go himself to get the job done.  This story is troubling because Michal is far less than truthful and there is mention that there was a household idol at David’s home.
How do we read Psalm 59?  We can read it remembering that God rescued David.  We can read it with Jesus in mind, seeing how God spared him from his enemies until the time came for him to lay down his life for us.  We can read it remembering that Jesus is our fortress, refuge and shield.
The fact that God is our refuge and shield does not mean that we will be spared from persecution.  Jesus warned his followers that there would be a time when, you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish (Luke 21:16-19).  Some will even be martyred for their loyalty to their anointed one, yet not a hair of their head will be touched!  How does that work?  Our bodies may perish, but God will be with us, and nothing can separate us from his love.  In the time of trial he will give us the strength to remain loyal.
You can be a loyal subject now or else a reluctant subject in the future (18-24)
David flees to Samuel in Ramah.  Saul finds out and sends his servants to take him.  They come across Samuel and a band of prophets and the Spirit of the Lord overpowers them.  They had come with murderous intentions, but now they are caused to speak words of praise.  When Saul turns up the same thing happens to him.  He too ends up prophesying.  Then Saul is stripped of his clothes and lies naked all day and night.  Saul’s kingdom will be removed from him like his clothing being stripped away.
Compare Saul and Jonathan.  Jonathan loved David as his own soul, gladly handed David his robe, and delighted in the Lord’s anointed.  Saul was consumed with jealousy, did everything to keep himself on the throne, and was humiliated as his kingdom was stripped from him.  One day every knee will bow, and acknowledge that the Son of David is God’s chosen king—the question is, will we bow in delight or with reluctance?
Why was Jonathan willing to remain loyal to David, even when his father put such pressure on him?  He was loyal to David because he delighted in him.  He had seen David’s heart, celebrated his victory, had his soil knit in friendship and bowed in submission.  Like Jonathan we say to the enemy of God’s anointed, ‘he has not wronged you.  He has won a great victory for his people.  Why then did we do wrong and kill an innocent man (for we would have been in that could crying crucify)? We should see it and be glad’.
The early Christians were hated in the Roman Empire, in part because of their refusal to sacrifice to romans gods.  Around 160 AD, Polycarp, the bishop of the church in Smyrna, was sentenced to death.  He was an old man, at least 86.  He was bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him.  When the governor had asked him to deny Christ he had replied, ‘for eighty-six years I have served him, and he has never done me any harm, how then can I now blaspheme my King and Saviour?’
May God grant us such loyalty as we delight in his anointed!