Sunday, 30 July 2017

Knowing Jesus and his joy

The Lord’s Day is an obvious day for thinking about aspects of the experience of Jesus, our Saviour. Every detail concerning him is precious to us. There are many matters about him that we will think about today, whether in private at home or in public in church or elsewhere.

We live in a world often marked by disappointments, frustrations and sadnesses, and sometimes we are prone to think that this is the only world that there is. Yet there is another world, invisible to us, yet very real and while we cannot touch it, it can reach us. The other world is heaven, and it touches us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In that other world Jesus is central. If we could see him we would see one who is full of joy. During his time on earth he was the man of sorrows. This does not mean that he never experienced joy. Yet he looked forward to the joy of heaven. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was before him.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon in which he mentioned that David the Psalmist wrote about the joy that Jesus anticipated would be his after his resurrection (Acts 2:28). This joy would be his in the presence of the Father, which means he would experience it after his ascension to heaven. What are some of the features of his joy?

There is the joy connected to his exaltation when he was anointed with the oil of gladness (Heb. 1:9). This anointing was given him by the Father as a response to the successful work completed on the cross. Given that the Father has infinite resources then the joy bestowed is boundless and endless. The joy is the presence of the Spirit in the activities of the exalted Son.

One of those activities is the function of instruction. Jesus, now exalted, is the teacher of his church and he teaches his people joyfully through the agency of the Holy Spirit who takes of the resources of Jesus and bestows them on his people. There is a sense in which the church is the largest school in the world, even if many of its pupils are enjoying higher education in heaven. It is certainly the happiest school because of the presence of the Teacher. Through the ministry of the Spirit, Jesus is present to teach his people and he delights to inform them of the plan of salvation.

Another of his functions is that of invitation. Even as Paul says in Ephesians 3, Jesus by his Spirit through his servants preaches peace throughout the world. He is the peace-bringer as well as the peacemaker on the cross. As king, he comes to sinful rebels with the offer of pardon and invites all who hear, or read, about it to come to him by faith. His invitations are often expressions of power and many throughout the world will experience it today for the first time.

Today, the Lord’s Day, we have the opportunity of knowing the Saviour’s joy as he instructs us about his grace and invites us to experience the riches connected to it.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Life in heaven

Sometimes my mind goes back to Christians I knew when I was young and who have long left this world. I know that they are in heaven, in the presence of God. I know that their souls are now perfect in holiness, that they cannot sin again, and they are fit for the presence of God in glory.

Recently, I have been preaching through the Book of Revelation. Difficult may be the word that comes to your mind, but actually the word that comes to mine is encouraging, and one reason for it being a very encouraging book is the many references it makes to heaven. 

Paul, in Colossians 3, instructed his readers to set their affections on things above, where Christ is, which is an exhortation to think about heaven. The apostle does not suggest that this task is only for those who are intellectually qualified for elevated thinking, although his words indicate the task is suitable for all who are spiritual.

So the exhortation by Paul and the pictures in Revelation and the recollections of my past led me to reflect on heaven. Since I had reached Revelation 14, verse 13 of that chapter pointed out to me what my old contacts, and numerous others, are doing now in heaven.

'And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”'

We are not told who the first speaker is, so I don't think it is profitable to try and guess. He states a beatitude, and since it is only conscious people who can enjoy a blessing his beatitude tells me that those in heaven are fully alert. They are not like what we often are, half asleep. Being fully alert continually means that they can take in details of their surroundings in heaven, and in particular they are conscious of Jesus. So those I once knew are interacting with the Saviour.

The first speaker also tells us that believers who have died are totally secure because they have died 'in the Lord'. They discovered the reality of the heavenly security when they died because, for them, death became the door into the presence of Jesus. They died in him and so found themselves with him. And it only took about a second of time. The phrase 'in the Lord', as we know, stresses the permanent union between believers and Jesus. For them, not only is it permanent, it is enhanced.

Then the Holy Spirit speaks about what is happening to them. I suspect he speaks about their experience because he is the one who enables them to enjoy it. He enables them to rest, which is not a reference to inactivity, but to peace inwardly and externally. There they are completely comfortable, at home, enjoying the presence of God and experiencing divine provision continually.

Moreover they keep being reminded of things they did on earth - their works follow them. While here, they prayed and laboured for the kingdom. Now they enjoy the consequences. They prayed for me and numerous others and from heaven they have a better vantage point for seeing the outcome of their activities on earth. Those actions, which are having such effects, they did not boast about when they were here. Very likely, they forgot about most of them very quickly, but the heavenly Recorder remembers them and ensures that such labours will bring about glory for him and comfort for them.

Life in heaven, the place of fellowship and fulfilment. Often in this life, the fellowship was broken and the hopes frustrated. Not over there - the life is very different. We should be thankful for the ways God arranges for his people to think about heaven. And all this will take place before the resurrection to glory.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Priority of love

Recently I started reading Hugh Binning’s book Christian Love. Binning was a Scottish minister in the seventeenth century and although he was only twenty-six when he died he had made a big impression on religious and political leaders. His short book highlights the importance of believers living lives of love with one another, as indicated by the command of Jesus that they should do so, and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

I was impressed by this statement by Binning: ‘Unity in judgment is very needful for the well-being of Christians; but Christ’s last words persuade this, that unity in affection is more essential and fundamental; this is the badge he left to his disciples; if we cast away this upon every different apprehension of mind, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge.’

Regarding Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians that they should ‘put on charity [love], which is the bond of perfection,’ Binning observes the contrast between Paul’s estimation and what was taking place in Binning’s time – ‘an agreement in the conception of any, poor, petty controversial matter of the times is made the badge of Christianity’ and is elevated above the various items Paul connects to love in his verses in Colossians. I don’t know what agreement Binning was referring to, but clearly he thought it was not a real expression of Christian love.

Instead, for Binning, love ‘is the sweet result of the united force of all graces; it is the very head and heart of the new man, which we are invited to put on: “Above all, put on charity.”’ Such love is compassionate, affected by the troubles faced by others, concerned about those who are ignorant and out of the way, and marked by humility. In contrast to pride, this love has a meek heart which shows itself in gentleness and kindness. Because such love is humble and meek, it ‘is the most durable, enduring, long-suffering thing in the world’. And the outcome is peace.

Binning lived in very difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Inevitably the uncertainty affected Christians in Scotland. But their circumstances were not very different from that faced by first-century Christians. Paul’s concern for his readers was that they increase in love, which would ensure Christian maturity. We too live in difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Our response must be that of Paul and of Binning – keep growing in Christian love.