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Showing posts from December, 2012

The Incarnation

Today it's the third day of Christmas, when we celebrate the Incarnation of God the Son, the fact that "the Word  became  flesh and dwelt among us, and  we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Sometimes we're tempted just to think of the Incarnation as a prelude to the Cross, and while, yes, it's true, we can't separate the two, neither should we forget the importance of the Incarnation in it's own right. So, at this Christmastide, here's what Irenaeus and Athanasius (two of the great church fathers) had to say about the Incarnation, which may sound a bit odd to us today, along with a modern worship song and a few verses from Peter that might help us see what the fathers meant.

Irenaus:
The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface)
Athanasius: …

Christmas Eve

Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend;
Now God comes down, He bows the sky,
And shows Himself our Friend!
God the invisible appears,
God the Blest, the Great I AM,
He sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is His Name.Him by the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King;
Lo, tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring;
Emptied of His majesty,
Of His dazzling glories shorn,
Our being’s Source begins to be,
And God Himself is born!See the eternal Son of God
A mortal Son of Man,
Now dwelling in an earthly clod
Whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, look at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies
Low humbled to the dust He is,
And in a manger lies!So do the sons of men rejoice
The Prince of Peace proclaim,
With Heaven’s host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel’s Name;
Our knees and hearts to Him we bow;
Of our flesh, and of our bone,
See—Jesus is our Brother now,
And God is all our own!
Charles Wesley

O Immanuel

O Immanuel, our king and our lawgiver,the hope of the nations and their Saviour:Come and save us, O Lord our God.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear  a Son, and shall call His name  Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife,  for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name  Jesus ,  for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  “Behold,  the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from …

O King of the Nations

O King of the Nations and their Desire, The Cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race  which you fashioned from clay.
O come Desire of Nations bind In one the hearts of all mankind. Bid Thou our sad divisions cease And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Today Jesus is called upon as King and Desire of Nations. Earlier in the week we've seen that He is the long expected King of Israel, the King who would come to set His people free. But His Kingdom isn't limited to Israel. In Isaiah 11, when the coming of the Rod of Jesse is prophesied, His Kingdom is described, and that description in no way matches Israel. Although He comes from the royal house of Israel, His Kingdom is much much greater!

O Dayspring

O Morning Star,Splendour of Light Eternal and Son of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O come Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine Advent here, Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death's dark shadow put to flight.
Christ as Dayspring is probably one of the O Antiphons that's most familiar to our thought. Yes that sentence is correct, I did say most familiar. It's simply that we don't use the word dayspring nowadays, but if we translate it into 21st Century English then it becomes a lot more clear. The dayspring is simply the dawn. So, when we call on Christ as the Dayspring from on high, we are calling on Him as the Light that comes into the world. 
Light of the World, You stepped down into darkness,
Opened my eyes, let me see.
Christ the Light coming into the darkness of this world is something a bit more at home in our typical worship thorughout the rest of the year than the Root of Jesse, the Wisdom of …

O Key of David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
What's a Key of David? Well, the Key of David appears twice in the Bible. The first time is in Isaiah 22 where Eliakim os given the key of David (Isaiah 22:22). As a result, he will "open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open" (Isaiah 22:22). What was Eliakim opening and closing? Well, to see that we need to know who Eliakim was. Isaiah 22 tells us that he was to be the steward over the king's household. Now to us that might not sound all that important, but the same expression "over the household" was used in the Old Testament to speak of regents. So Eliakim wasn't just any old servant; he wa…

O Root of Jesse

Today's O Antiphon:O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.O come, Thou Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the graveIt's the prophet Isaiah who introduces us to the Rod of Jesse: 
“There  shall come forth a Rod from the stem of  Jesse, And  a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1)
Isaiah had been prophesying the destruction of the nation. And not just a bit of destruction, but proper destruction:
“Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The  Lord  has removed men far away, And the forsaken places  are  many in the midst of the land." (Isaiah 6:11-12)
The outlook was bleak. Yet, God had a promise for His people. The prophecy of destruction in Isaiah 6 ends with the image o…

O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Who is Adonai? Adonai is God; it's one of Hs names used throughout the Old Testament. Adonai is the Hebrew word which means Lord. So that means Adonai is indeed the leader of the House of Israel. He is the One who appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush. He is the One who gave the law to Israel at Sinai. Adonai is God — the only true and living God— the God who was at work all through the Old Testament.
But what do burning bushes and the Sinai covenant have to do with Advent and Christmas? How many Christmas carols do you know about Moses taking off his sandals or going up the mountain?
But, you see, even though we might not be thinking of Moses meeting with God at Christmas time, the …

O Wisdom

Over the next 7 days, I want to do something a wee bit different. I want to give you a little bit of Christ-focused devotional for the last week of Advent, and to do so want to use what are called the O Antiphons. What is an O Antiphon? Well basically they're prayers that have traditionally (I know, I know — I've used the T word, but don't stone me yet!) been prayed, one each day, from 17th - 23rd December. You might recognise them from one of the great hymns we sing during Advent, O Come O Come Immanuel, the full version of which has seven verses, each beginning with 'O'. So, over the next seven days, let me take you to some of the Scriptures behind these seven old 'O' prayers to catch a glimpse of Christ, our Advent Hope. 
So let's begin, and today, being 17th December, it's 'O Wisdom'. Here's the O Antiphon:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things…

Bad Theology Damages People (But Jesus Is Good News)

I’m a bit riled up as I write this. You see, earlier today I was sitting, not as a blogger but as a pastor, listening to a sad tale of damage. Not malicious damage. Not intentional damage. But real damage. And the damage was done by bad theology. Bad theology is dangerous. Bad theology damages lives. Bad theology damages people.
Then, tired on a Friday evening, and saddened by listening to the 6 o'clock news, I thought I'd distract myself by having a quick check of Twitter. (When will I learn?)
Now, Twitter, in many ways, is a bad medium for theology (although, if you want to see it used well theologically follow Glen Scrivener@glenscrivener —who in 140 characters or less will point you to the riches of Christ in whom you can #enjoyyourday). Twitter's weaknesses as a theological medium are simply that 140 characters limits context, clarification and nuance. So it's undoubtedly easy to be misunderstood. (That, however shouldn't be all that big a surprise to prea…

Translate 321: Can you help translate a great gospel presentation?

Hello! By now you may well have seen the wonderful gospel presentation that is 321, written by the wonderful Glen Scrivener. So, today I want to point out a gospel opportunity to all my friends and readers whose mother tongue is something other than English. What is this opportunity, you ask? Well, the opportunity to have such a gospel presentation in your own language. How? By doing a bit of translation. On the 321 site they've made a version of the video available without the English narration, along with a transcript of the text. What they're looking for is for people to translate it into their own language, record the translation over the film, and upload it in the new language. Simple as that. 
Now, having done a lot of translation in my Belgian days, I know it takes a bit of time and effort. But at the end, you'd have a wonderful video presentation of the gospel to share in your own language. Who says everything has to be in English?
So, seeing as I have friends who, o…

The Anointing

“The Anointing” — it's something that Apostolics, along with Pentecostals and Charismatics of all descriptions love. We talk about it, and sing about it, and pray about it. If the meeting was good, then “the anointing was there”. If we want powerful preaching, we pray “Lord, anoint your servant”. When we desperately want powerful preaching, we pray “Lord, anoint the words from your servant's mouth”. When we really want God to heal, we pray for Him to “anoint from the top of the head to the sole of the feet”.

That's all well and good, but what is this anointing? What are we talking, singing and praying about?
Well, if you're getting impatient because the answer is obvious, just indulge me for a few moments; for, if there are a few things I've learnt not to take for granted over the years (bearing in mind that only one of these is going to be in any way relevant to the matter in hand), they're that 1) you can't assume that seminary students will be able to tell…

Advent is Trinitarian

What now? But didn't you say last week that it was all about Jesus? Well, yes I did. But who is Jesus? Isaiah 11 has a wonderful Advent picture of who He is:
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-3)
Jesus is the Rod of Jesse. When the royal house of Jesse's son David has been reduced to nothing, a new son of Jesse comes forth, great David's greater Son. And like the old David, this new David is anointed. But unlike the old David, this new David isn't anointed with oil by a prophet, but with the Spirit, by the LORD.

A Tale of Two Texts

I was writing on Wednesday about complementarianism, and so, having been told off by one of my deaconesses this morning for my lack of biblical explanation, I want to return to the matter today and look at a wee bit of what the Bible has to say.
Thousands of pages have been written on the complementarianism vs. egalitarianism discussion, so I certainly don't intend to thoroughly exegete every relevant text here. And I don't particularly want to get bogged down in this discussion, so intend to keep it to just one post. So what I do want to do is simply say a little bit about two key texts in the debate: one often focused on by egalitarians, and one often focused on by complementarians. And then I'll leave you with a few links to more in-depth resources.
Equal — Galatians 3:28
'There is neither Jew nor Greek,  there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all  one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28)

It's Father Christmas' Day! A Day for High Christology and Punching Heretics

Anyway, we'll return to what I said I'd write about today tomorrow, for I have something much more fun for you today. This interruption comes as today is St. Nicholas' day. If you're in Belgium, or many other countries for that matter, you'll be putting out your shoes on the doorstep tonight to be filled with presents from the good saint. Now, in English-speaking lands you may know St. Nicholas better as Father Christmas or as Santa, but back in his youth, before he moved to the North Pole and discovered the wonders of travel by reindeer, he was a Turkish bishop. 
Back in the days of Nicholas' bishopric, there was a Council. Now this Council was not quite like our May Council, for it's a Council that's effects are still being felt today, 1687 years later! Anyway, at this Council (called the First Council of Nicea by the way, and hugely important), there was another chap (actually there were rather a lot of chaps, but we'll just stick with those who a…

Help! The Bishop says I'm Poisonous!

Late last night, I was so engrossed in reading Mike Horton's systematic theology that I thought I'd better do something else before bed so as not to be kept awake thinking about aseity. So, very foolishly, I turned to twitter. And that did keep me awake. And not with wonder-filled thoughts about the glories of the Triune God, but with thoughts altogether different.
The other week I managed to avoid saying much about the General Synod's discussion of woman bishops. At the time my attitude was rather along the lines of “it's not my communion, so it's not my place to comment”. But now it seems that the discussion is no longer confined to the communion of the Church of England. The anger of social media has now turned it's attention from the bastion of the establishment (think royal appointments, membership of the House of Lords and invitations to present Thought for the Day), to a group of undergraduates (about as far away from all of the above as you can possibly …

Believing 'in' the Whale?

The book of Jonah is gloriously full of gospel. The book of Jonah is also, to a certain degree at least, about a whale (or a big fish). I believe in the whale. Or rather, I should really say, I believe in the historicity of the whale (and if you make it to the end of the post I'll explain that change in wording).
Not every evangelical believes in the historicity of the whale. Some prefer to read the book of Jonah as a parable. But let me give you five reasons why I think it should be read as history rather than parable. (And then let me explain one other thing.)
1) Jonah is identified 
Jonah is named. Think of Jesus' parables for a moment. In all the parables there is only one person who is named - Lazarus (he of the rich man and Lazarus fame, not the one who was raised from the dead). In the other parables there is a man, a sower, a king, a woman, etc., but none of them are named. (In fact, the very fact that Lazarus is named has even caused some interpreters in the history of t…

The Great Thing About Advent = It's All About Jesus

Advent is a wonderful time of the year. Alas, it often gets swallowed up by an extended Christmas (and by the way, Christmas doesn't end on 25th December — that's just when it starts), but in reality it has a wonder and significance all of its own. 
Advent is a time of waiting, longing and expecting. Not a time of counting down the days until Christmas, but of waiting for the Lord's promised Deliverer. Not of longing for and expecting the excitement of Christmas morning, but of longing for and expecting the presence of our Saviour. In Advent we look forward to the coming of the One who has come and who is to come.
You see, the reason I love Advent is because Advent is all about Jesus. Advent is a season that points us away from ourselves and to Christ. It's a season when we're reminded that all we can do is wait patiently for the Lord; we're reminded once again that we cannot work for our salvation, but only wait for Him who brings salvation.
And as we wait patien…