It's almost Easter (!). As little Isabel reminded us at breakfast today. "Daddy, when's Easter?" "Isabel, it changes every year." "Why?"
How to explain this to a seven year old:
This table contains so much of the Calendar as is necessary for the determining of Easter; to find which, look for the Golden Number of the year in the first Column of the Table, against which stands the day of the Pascal Full Moon; then look in the third Column for the Sunday Letter, next after the day of the Full Moon, and the day of the Month standing against that Sunday Letter is Easter Day. If the Full Moon happens upon a Sunday, then (according to the first rule) the next Sunday after is Easter-Day. To find the Golden Number, or Prime, add one to the Year of our Lord, and then divide by 19; the remainder, if any, is the Golden Number; but if nothing remaineth, then 19 is the Golden Number. To find the Dominical or Sunday Letter, according to the Calendar, until the Year 2099 inclusive, add to the Year of our Lord its Fourth Part, omitting Fractions; and also the Number 6: Divide the sum by 7; and if there is no remainder, the A is the Sunday Letter: But if any number remaineth, then the Letter standing against that number in the small annexed Table is the Sunday Letter. For the next Century, that is, from the year 2100 till the year 2199 inclusive, add to the current year its fourth part, and also the number 5, and then divide by 7, and proceed as in the last Rule. Note, that in all Bissextile or Leap-Years, the Letter found as above will be the Sunday Letter, from the intercalated day exclusive to the end of the year.
[BTW, I'm all for fixed Easter days!]
So, deep breath. "Well, Isabel, it's all to do with a full moon……." (I thought that was the easiest approach)
Interruption: "Daddy, what's it full of?"
What are our spiritual weapons?
I'm preaching soon on 2 Corinthians 10 and this morning I've been wrestling with one question from verse 3.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds (NIV2011)
My question? What are these weapons? Traditionally, commentators have gone to Eph 6. So, for example, Philip Edgcombe Hughes
They are the weapons scorned by the world and yet most feared by the powers of darkness, of truth, righteousness, evangelism, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer, enumerated by Paul in Eph 6.14ff
There are similar comments in Richard Pratt (Holman NT Commentary), Simon Kistemaker (Baker NT Commentary), Murray Harris (Expositors Bible Commentary), Linda Belville (IVP NTC) and many others. Calvin takes a slighty different tack:
But by what weapons is he to be repelled? It is only by spiritual weapons that he can be repelled. Whoever, therefore, is unarmed with the influence of the Holy Spirit, however he may boast that he is a minister of Christ, will nevertheless, not prove himself to be such. At the same time, if you would have a full enumeration of spiritual weapons, doctrine must be conjoined with zeal, and a good conscience with the efficacy of the Spirit, and with other necessary graces.
But it still doesn't feel quite right because the context does not support it. In the first part of chapter 10, Paul is defending his ministry against the accusation of being two-faced – he is one thing when he is with them, say his detractors, and another when he is away (in writing). Paul's answer is that he wages war (an idea already in 2 Cor) in a different way from the world, and therefore what they would expect. In this context, waging war is about fighting the falsehood in Corinth. It is their strongholds, pretensions and arguments he must do battle with, and he is longing for them to toe the line – hence, the end of this short section:
And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete (v6)
In this context, the weapons must be something different (which is not to say that prayer etc are not weapons to be used). Colin Kruse (Tyndale NTC) is helpful here:
Paul does not in this passage identify his weapons, but statements elsewhere in the Corinthian correspondence suggest they consist in the proclamation of the gospel, through which divine power is released (1 Cor. 1:17–25; 2:1–5; 2 Cor. 4:1–6; cf. Rom. 1:16).
Or, Paul Barnett in his huge Eerdmans NICNT:
But what are these weapons about which Paul seems defensive? We infer from the context that Paul is referring to his disciplinary ministry to them at the time of the second visit and through the 'severe letter' in regard to whose effectiveness, however, he and his detractors have different opinions.
'Does it all really matter?' you may ask. I think so. Not only do we want to correctly handle the word of truth, but the correct answer to such a question as this is almost certain to shape the direction, application and thrust of a faithful message. If Paul is making a general point about spiritual warfare and the weapons we use, then you would have a very different sermon to one where Paul is defending his ministry and his disciplinary record. On such niceties, faithful preaching turns.
Preaching is often like this. You have a passage (in my case 2 Cor 10) which you work at, but it is one or two key details which require wrestling with and once you have them sorted, all the pieces fall into place. The sermon hack just glances at a commentary and takes the easy line (and oh my, am I tempted here!). The careful preacher breaks down the small chunks and ensures he understands them in context, then reassembles before moving onto the next stage. I know which I ought to be, just as I know what I am tempted to be!
Old EMA, back to 1988…
Thinking about the 30th anniversary of the EMA (2013) we've been doing some research on old EMAs. Here's the cover publicity for the 5th EMA (1988) called "Into the World". Speakers included Dick Lucas, Philip Jensen, Roy Clements, Peter Cotterell & Jim Packer. We've got some (sadly, not all) of the audio online here. Enjoy these blasts from the past! Oh, and by the way, nice to see that our conference design has come on a bit (well, just a little bit).
An interesting BBC News article here about What Would Jesus Do? in the light of the Occupy movement outside St Paul's. Generally, a very informative article. Interesting too that the original book was never copyrighted (though that is surely a typical journalist line? All books are protected by copyright by virtue of what they are, there is no magic thing which is "copyrighting a book."). Anyhow, towards the end of the article, there is some discussion about whether this is a valid slogan anyway.
Conrad Gempf from the London School of Theology, rightly points out that WWJD is the wrong question. Rather, it should be WDGCMTD? What Does God Create Me To Do. Hmm. Better, but still not right. Still me-centred. Surely, and this seems very apposite to Christmas, the real question is WDJD?
What Did Jesus Do?
Everything else flows from that. What I am. What I should be. What Jesus has done is what both makes me what I am and informs how I live. So, I'm thinking of getting some bracelets done, and even Levy has agreed to wear one.
Christmas Open Air
Tomorrow, with some trepidation, I'm going open air Christmas preaching at an East End market frequented by Muslim groups. Should be interesting (although that's not the word that immediately springs to mind). I've been reading up on a paper a colleague has prepared about the nativity in Islam. Here's an excerpt:
There are a number of similarities, but also important differences between Christianity and Islam in their narratives concerning the Nativity of Jesus. For example, in the Qur’an and Hadith (both Sunni and Shia), no Joseph is present, no manger, no Shepherds, no Presentation in the Temple, no Herod, no Magi, no Star of Bethlehem – indeed, any mention of Bethlehem at all, no Massacre of the Innocents, no Flight into Egypt or return to Nazareth. The Qur’anic narrative centres very largely on Mary. However, in an edited form, there are a number of similarities with Apocryphal material, such as the Protoevangelium of James, the Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew and the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, the latter being dependent upon earlier Syriac material.
Essentially, the paper argues, the Islam nativity is heavily influenced by pseudographic material in circulation at the time of Muhammad (no surprise, really). So, there are grains of truth, heavily distorted. For example, the location of Jesus birth (beside the river Euphrates). There are also wholesale inaccuracies carried over from the one pseudo document to another – for example, that Jesus spoke whilst in the cradle.
For me, my task is not to be apologetic – i.e. not to interact with the what the Koran says – but rather to preach the truth – i.e. to proclaim what the Bible does say. I'm going to take Luke 2.11 as a simple text: "for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord."
- Jesus is the Saviour
- Jesus is the Christ
- Jesus is the Lord (in this passage context that means God)
Pray, if you can, tomorrow from 1-3pm.
What not to wear
OK Trinny and Susanna. Do you know that preachers should think carefully about what they wear? Not that what they wear really matters, not eternally. But we "make sure that we put no stumbling block in anyone's path so that our ministry will not be discredited" (2 Cor 6.3). So, please, please, please….NO!
Review: Engaging with Martyn Lloyd Jones
Engaging with Martyn Lloyd Jones: the life and legacy of the "Doctor"
Edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, £16.99, Apollos, 365pp
I guess this is a book that is going to grab people in different ways. There will be those who are looking for critique, hoping it will supply and those who are likewise looking for commendation. As with many accounts of great men of God, the choice is often an either/or. To its great credit this book does both, nicely together. Perhaps that is the wisdom of leaving some time before analysing a man's life?
Thirty to fifty years usually proves to be the first really adequate viewing distance for looking at persons and events of the recent past.. (JI Packer, from the foreword) [Perhaps this is also the answer to Trueman's gripe that our response to Stott has been over-adulatory? – i.e. more time required?]
To its credit, though, and perhaps with the value of time, this book neither demonises nor makes a virtue out of Lloyd-Jones, but rather seeks to generously, but critically, assess his impact on evangelicalism. It is a series of papers given at a symposium which gives the book a wide ranging flavour. So, there are chapters on Lloyd-Jones and Calvinism, Wales, revival, charismatic issues, preaching (or rather, its demise), education, Barth and so on.
The strongest chapters are those where there is new material, or at least, the present material is only obscure. Robert Striven's chapter on the Doctor and Karl Barth is based almost entirely on an annotated Barth book found in MLJ's library. It reveals the mind of the man as well as his deep pastoral intent. The chapter on the Anglican secession crisis draws on many letters in the published press – all in the public domain but not necessarily brought together in one place like this before.
That particular chapter may well be the one most people read. Like the ‘steamy’ pages of a teenage book on relationships, it will almost certainly be the one that folk turn to first. It tries to set the whole 1966 issue in the context of what was happening at the time. But, ironically, this interesting and insightful chapter reveals one of the weaknesses of the book for a reader like me. Events like those of 1966 (and the same could be applied to the chapter on Lloyd-Jones and the charismatic issue) have been so widely written about and commented on that's it difficult to know whom to believe. Little ol' me, being young as I am, is interested in these events which have shaped evangelicalism in the UK, I'm sure it is right to be so. But it's not straightforward to assess the validity of the different arguments. I simply cannot say whether any particular author’s view is right or not.
In this particular case, I had the benefit of being mentored by someone who was both there and involved in the discussions (and he gets a few mentions in the book) which helps of course. Please hear what I am saying, this is not a weakness in the book – rather it is a weakness in how we think about and assess history. The same can be applied to the chapter on MLJ and charismatic issues. Everyone, I’ve noticed, wants to claim him as their hero and forerunner. They can’t all be right. I was certainly helped by reading this thoughtful book – I’m just not sure how much. As I’ve said, that’s in the nature of these things.
The weaker chapters are those which largely repeat material found elsewhere. I say ‘weaker’ but none of the chapters is really weak, they all seem rigorous and all are well written and accessible. For example, the chapter on the demise of preaching largely picks out information you may well have already read. But seeing it together and analysed was very helpful still. And by the way, I'm fully with the Doctor here:
Lloyd-Jones believed that the trouble with so many pulpits of his day was that they had forgotten [the] apostolic method and pattern….they had become too concerned with style and literary form. He argued that 'there must be form, but we must never give inordinate attention to it.' (p163)
The church must never forget her first principles: 'man's real trouble is that he is a rebel against God and consequently under the wrath of God.' It was the church alone, and preaching the gospel in particular, that was designed to meet this need. The church, as a specialist institution, alone was called and equipped to deal with humanity's most basic and fundamental need: one's relationship with God. The tragedy of the modern church was that it had abandoned this primary purpose for the sake of lesser causes. (p172)
Overall, we’ve got an excellent analysis. My reservations are two-fold:
- First, as mentioned above, my ability as a reader to determine the voracity of the assumptions
- Second, the paucity of the conclusions. Maybe this is a feature of books put together from symposia, but it feels like the conclusions are those of someone who has realised he only has a minute left to wrap up. I would have liked some more interaction or analysis of deeper implications.
The power of the gospel
Preacher, never forget the power of the gospel to change lives. I was reminded of this by a story from the life of Archibald Brown, our first pastor at the Tab. He was a remarkable man who presided over an incredible growth – a church which was about 150 members when he went and within five years they were in a new building with 2,500-3,000 at every service. (You can read more of his story in the new Banner of Truth biography by Iain Murray). Anyhow, this is the story.
A local man was indignant that his wife had been converted. He didn't really understand what it meant, but he was almost certain it was not good and he determined to make an end of Pastor Brown. So one Sunday, he loaded his revolver and found a seat at the front of the side gallery (see picture). He waited until the sermon for his moment to shoot Brown dead. But just before he preached, Archibald Brown read from Isaiah 52-53, his text for the day. As he often did, he commented briefly on the text as he read it. He wasn't shot, and in fact he was visited in the vestry after the service by a repentant man who handed him his loaded gun. "I was going to kill you" he said. But now the gospel had taken hold of him.
It's a dramatic story! I'm not sure we will have anything quite the same (but who knows!). The point is this. Do you really believe the gospel you preach has the power to make that kind of change? Or, was your first reading of the story one of skepticism? Preacher, if you do not believe in the power of the gospel to transform lives, what are you doing?
Sermon or lecture?
This morning I've got part three of four sessions with the Cornhill students on the book of Numbers. I'm going to start the day by preaching to them a sermon based on Numbers 5-6. It's a relatively old sermon, some of which I would change were I to preach it in church tomorrow. But I have deliberately left it as it is so the students can think about what is good about it and what needs to be improved. These are useful exercises, though painful for the preacher! We also try to make it real – I get the students to reflect on it first, rather than launch in! This is, after all, the word of God preached, even if it is in a slightly false environment.
Large passages such as this are not easy to preach. Here's a possible outline.
- Purity in the camp (5.1-4)
- Purity in relationships (5.5-10)
- Purity in marriage (5.11-31)
- Purity in service (6.1-21)
All rather worthy and dull and in great danger of being a lecture – where the text is simply explained. Of course, preaching is not less than "giving the meaning" (Nehemiah 8.8), but it is much more. We are called to proclaim Christ, warmly applying the truths of Scripture to our hearer's minds, hearts and lives. So, whilst this outline could work (with a very pliant and forgiving congregation), my outline is slightly different:
My aim is to proclaim the holy Lord:
- The Lord is holy (I will pick up this theme which permeates both chapters)
- The Lord is present (again, this is strongly represented throughout the stories)
- The Lord is concerned (ditto)
This then allows me to preach Christ who is not only the holy Lord but the one who makes us holy (Heb 2.11). The blessing (Numbers 6.22-27) is the blessing of the holy Lord for his holy people. That sort of outline is harder in some ways to carry off, but is much more likely to be a sermon rather than a lecture.
Advent. Both comings.
It's difficult to read the OT advent prophecies without coming to the conclusion that both the first and second advent belong together in Bible thought. This is sometimes seamless, sometimes not so. But take, for example, Malachi 4:
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Both the first and second advent are here. And as we preach through advent perhaps we would do well to keep that in view?
Interestingly, one of the best known advent carols speaks exclusively about this second coming. In fact, in my hymn book, it's in the second coming section. I wonder how many people will sing it this Christmas and think (incorrectly) it's about Jesus' first advent? Many, I guess. John Cennick's words (adapted and added to by Wesley – how dare he!) are worth dwelling on:
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!
Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!
Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!
The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!