The obedience of the Lord Jesus
Robin Weekes and I had the same 'Eureka moment' during our Cornhill practice classes last Tuesday afternoon. At least we like to think it was a 'Eureka moment'.
Students were expounding Matthew's account of Gethsemane. Some majored on the wonderful truth that the Lord Jesus is here doing for us something we will not, and cannot, do for ourselves – hence the contrast of Jesus' watchful prayerfulness and the disciples' sleep. One of the students in my group perceptively took Romans 5:19 as a theological control: by the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous.
Other students majored on Jesus' command to 'watch and pray, so that you do not enter into temptation' and applied it to our own watchfulness in prayer to resist temptations.
In both our groups, as we discussed these, Robin and I had a sense of déjà vu, remembering pretty much identical discussions when students were expounding Matthew's account of the temptations of Jesus. In both passages, we agreed that the primary and gospel truth is that Jesus is doing for us something we cannot do for ourselves; his perfect obedience under the temptations in chapter 4 and the temptations in Gethsemane in chapter 26 is a wonderful and perfect obedience, and it is only by this obedience that we can be made righteous through the cross to which his obedience took him. While it is true that we may learn from Jesus how to resist temptation, and that we ought indeed to be watchful in prayer against temptation, this is not the primary application of the passages.
But what thrilled both me and Robin was the thought that the obedience of Jesus is signalled so strikingly as he enters into his ministry (in chapter 4) and as his earthly ministry draws to its close (in chapter 26). It is as if these vivid obediences bracket the total obedience of his life and ministry.
Tim Ward appointed as Associate Director of PT Cornhill
Men or people?
I have noticed that in our conservative evangelical circles we often refer to humankind generically as “man”. We speak of “God and man” or “man’s deepest problem” and so on. We mean to refer to human beings without restriction of gender. But in our culture the words “man” and “men” no longer refer to human beings in this way. Language has changed its meaning, and as soon as we utter these words, many of our audience begin to wonder why we have excluded the women from what we are about to say.
We gratuitously alienate our hearers, who think we are being chauvinistic when in fact we are just being dated in our use of language.
It is true that there are times when the words “man” and “men” are still necessary, such as in Genesis 1 and 2, where the text plays on the double meaning of “Adam” (the first male human being) and “humankind” in ways that highlight the creational priority of males over females. But these times are relatively few.
Mostly I think we are being thoughtless rather than theological. I have begun encouraging our students at Cornhill to speak of “human beings”, “humankind”, “men and women”, “people”, “a person” and so on. We may feel reluctant to do this, worrying that we are capitulating to political correctness; personally I think we should swallow our misgivings, avoid offending people and communicate to our audience of human beings in ways that men and women understand.
Book review: different by design
I have just read Carrie Sandom's recently released book Different by Design: God's blueprint for men and women (Christian Focus, 2012) and want to recommend it very warmly. This is a terrific book, written clearly and engagingly and peppered with relevant and often moving anecdotes from Carrie's pastoral experience. It addresses courageously and sensitively the sadly controversial issues of women and men in God's purposes, with deft and careful handling of the critical bible passages. It is balanced throughout, taking great care not to make exaggerated claims and admitting where there is legitimate place for difference, while maintaining a clear line where the bible is clear. Three of the most helpful chapters are entitled, "The implications of God's design for marriage", "The implications of God's design for the church", and "The implications of God's design for the workplace". The book ends with a moving chapter on "The perfection of God's design" in the New Creation. This is a book that church leaders can give to their fellow-elders or church councils and to their pastoral teams, with confidence. There are questions for discussion at the end of each chapter. It could be used for a study course with profit.
Refreshing your Hebrew
I am working over my rather inadequate Hebrew with a resource recommended to me by James Robson, who teaches Hebrew at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford. It is called Living Biblical Hebrew and is produced by the Biblical Language Center (www.biblicallanguagecenter.
Weakness and authority in preaching
I have been reading very slowly through 2 Corinthians in my personal bible reading; it has been doing me a lot of good. In chapter 13, Paul is grappling with the tension between weakness and strength in a matter of apostolic discipline in the church. They were asking (v3) for proof that Christ was speaking through Paul. Then he says of Christ that, "He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him in our dealing with you."
A word is worth a thousand pictures
I've been wondering about the power of a film/movie. Carolyn and I went with our daughter to see "The Iron Lady" just after it came out (you can't say we're not on the cutting edge of culture…). It is a very very moving experience, expertly directed and acted with great skill. We came out feeling we had been deeply touched and moved by it. But somehow the feeling didn't last long. I've noticed this with other films (and, to a lesser extent, TV programmes, because the screen is so much smaller – at any rate, ours is). We come out of the cinema and back into the real world, and the impressions fade.
It got me to wondering about why God communicates to us by spoken words. Even when he gave a vivid audio-visual experience (at Sinai, at the Transfiguration, Christ's resurrected body for example), we only get it through the words that speak of it. Is it partly because words get inside our imaginations and our thoughts more deeply than visual images? Is there something here to encourage preachers in a so-called visual age? We may be doing something the world despises; but the potential impact on our hearers is life-changingly deep.
Letting our affections catch up with our minds
Urgency in preaching
I was teaching John 9 at Cornhill earlier in the week and we were puzzling over Jesus' words when he says "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Here's our puzzle: presumably Jesus is speaking of the time when he is arrested, tried, crucified and buried, as the time of "night". But given that he will be raised, will ascend, and will pour out his Spirit to continue his ministry through the apostles (Acts 1:1-5), what does he mean by speaking of his ministry before the Cross with such a sense of urgency? After all, there was never a sense of panic about Jesus' ministry; he wasn't rushing around in a hurry trying to give sight to everyone, and so on. To put it bluntly, we wanted to ask, "What exactly is the urgency?"
Preaching as an encounter with Christ
I am reading through 2 Corinthians very slowly in my quiet times and was struck by this (from an older commentator quoted by C.K.Barrett), commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:20 "…God… making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf…". Although spoken by Paul the apostle, there must be a sense in which everyone who speaks the apostolic gospel is the mouthpiece of God, speaking "on Christ's behalf". Here is the quote:
"With the cross, God instituted the office of reconciliation, the word of reconciliation…; in other words, the preaching itself belongs to the event of salvation. It is neither a narrative account of a past event, that once happened, nor is it instruction on philosophical questions; but in it Christ is encountered, God's own word to man is encountered…"
It is worth remembering that as we preach at Carol Services and Christmas services; as we speak, Christ himself speaks to men and women through our mouths. In our preaching, "Christ is encountered". Amazing, but true.