The King before the World

Last night in the sermon I was looking at the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18:28-38a. The Jews wanted Jesus dead, and the Romans were means to make it so. Pilate really could not be bothered. Why couldn’t the Jews deal with this under their own law? Then comes the crunch, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death”, they said. Yes, they wanted death.

But then John says that they said this, “that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.” (v32) What’s this about? There are two facts which are true:

  1. The Roman method of death was crucifixion. The Jews knew that Jesus would suffer this way.
  2. They also knew Dt. 21:22,23. In Jewish law whoever was hanged on a tree was accursed of God.

Now, it is not too big a step to take to believe that not only were the Jews planning the death of Jesus, but they were taking advantage of the regime of the day to ensure that after his death Jesus would have the worst reputation for Jews – accursedness from God.

But John, here says that this was to happen in fulfilment of Jesus’ own saying about his death (referring back to John 12:31-32). It is quite remarkable that both things can be true at the same time in the same events: the evil plans of the godless, and the perfect plans of Jesus. But we see it clearly to be true. The cross to come was the victory of the King of the heavenly Kingdom over the world.

It is often said by Christians in the midst of difficulty and suffering that God is able to “work things together for good” (paraphrasing Romans 8:28). We take comfort from the thought that in the end there will be a net benefit. It is hard to see at the time, but we hope it will be true. What struck me last night after preaching (the best thoughts often come later), was that we have perfect example of this kind of thing going on before us in the life of Jesus. Here in John 18 we can see how the world and the King use the same events for different reasons, but not in the sense of there being a mighty tug of war to pull the outcome to one of two mutually exclusive, but eagerly desired directions. Rather, each side is happy with the proposed outcome, happy with the events as they are, but the forces of this world believe, wrongly, that they will win the day. They do not understand that these are necessary for the King’s ultimate victory.

Seeing that, does this not change our perspective on our own sufferings?

(PS All this brings to mind a dim memory of C. S. Lewis’s statement that Aslan, in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, knew a Deeper Magic than the Queen. I must look that up…)

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The King before the World

Must Get Some of That Berean Spirit

I am abandoned! It is the school half-term holiday and Susan and Kate have gone up north to the holy land of Scotland to see relatives and recharge their accents.

So, anyone want to offer me dinner? I’ll practice some jokes specially…

While you think about that, I’ll tell you about the day I had. Main events of the day:

  1. Helped S & K get out the door this morning.
  2. Installed OS 10.4 on both my Macs
  3. Did some door-to-door work with David in Belper.
  4. Derwent Bible Study (led by Gareth Crossley) and Prayer meeting.

During the d-to-d I had a particularly long conversation with a JW. The funny thing was, I recognised her from a visit she made to me while “doing ministry” with her husband last year in Little Eaton! She claimed not to remember me, though. In all the debates we had over various passages and bits of theology, I realised how rusty I was in dealing with JWs. Note to self: memorise some Bible references for future use!

The sad thing was, this woman used to be a member of the CofE some years ago. Her testimony was that at a time in her life when she was searching for answers to big questions, no-one was able or willing to give her answers. The tragedy is that she never heard the gospel in all her time in the CofE.

It just happened to be the CofE in this case, but it could have been any of many other denominations. Liberals in the churches have a lot to answer for in this kind of situation since they have effectively disarmed the church of their greatest weapon: the sword of truth, the Bible.

Evangelicals like me are not without blame either. We are simply lazy. We have lost the Berean spirit where we are willing to make a priority the diligent searching of the Scriptures. And even if we do, we seem to have no desire to think carefully how to clearly and simply explain it should the need arise. We are too busy sloganeering, or trying to be ‘relevent’ (IMHO, the best way to become eternally irrelevent), or trying to sound clever and knowledgeable without really knowing much at all. To the people who need to know something of eternal worth, we seem to be all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

This woman, humanly speaking, is now almost impossible to reach. She has well constructed fortifications behind which she hides. It could have been so different if a Christian could have been able at the appropriate moment simply to open the Bible with her. It’s a sobering reminder to me.

Must Get Some of That Berean Spirit

Calvin’s Spades

Speaking of the “Scholastic Sophists” (whoever they were – football team? Quiz’n’chips?) and repentance, Calvin says

They have involved this matter … in so many volumes that there would be no easy way out if you were to immerse yourself even slightly in their slime.
(Institutes, III.iv.1)

Yes. They were different days, them.

Calvin’s Spades

Weekend and Preaching

I preached on John 18:12-27 last night at Derwent Free Church (DFC), where I was trying to draw out the contrast between the weakness of Peter’s profession in the face of opposition compared to the strength of Jesus. To the unbelieving heart Jesus’ predicament looked like a that of a fly caught in the spider’s web of Roman-Jewish politics. Peter’s courage failed him. But, of course, Jesus was not a naive victim. All this was necessary that the Son of man be lifted up (Jn 12:32).

It is a strange thing, this preaching business. I find myself, as I have all the way through John’s gospel, wrestling with the text during the week before, so much so that before preaching I feel quite tired and not sure that I have really ‘got it’. Then I preach (it often comes out a bit different from my notes) and people are more generous in their appreciation than I could ever have imagined. There is much to thank God for.

We still have half a dozen kids coming from the local housing estate in the evening. Susan pointed out last night that they have been coming regularly for six months now.

We are also picking up a few (for want of a better term) ‘refugees’ from other churches. I am not sure what to make of this. I am thankful for them in the sense that they boost the numbers. DFC a small church which can do with any encouragement it can get. But there is the pastoral problem of Christians at some level discontented with their situation. I do not like the thought that their being at DFC will encourage their discontent. They should either be reconciled to their own church and return, or make a definite move to somewhere else, leaving their old church on the best possible terms.

Finally, a strange thing that happened over the weekend. I periodically look up the Tron website. Susan and I spent our early Christian years there in the ’80s. I like to see what is going on and sometimes I download some sermons that may be of interest. I noticed that in recent weeks that both Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson had been back, so I downloaded their sermons.

Susan and I listened to some of Mr. A. on Friday night. We noted that his voice was that bit older and slower, but no less clear and powerful than when we lived in Glasgow. There are some preachers who can preach well, but one is left feeling that they have conveyed lots of interesting knowledge gleaned from books. But in this sermon we were hearing a man who had spent a lifetime in the presence of God and therefore commands attention. (Think, therefore, what it must have been like to hear Jesus preach!)

Then, as we were listening, I looked over to Susan I saw she was in tears! She was taken by surprise by the experience. It had evoked for her so many great memories of the Tron, which in many ways were formative for us in our Christian experience.

They were great days, indeed, for which we give thanks. But, of course, the best is yet to come!

Weekend and Preaching