Sweeter to your taste

Art of reading ScriptureI came across this wonderful reference from a 12th century sermon in the excellent book ‘The Art of Reading Scripture’, page 208.

The quote is by Guerric of Igny, Liturgical sermons, vol. 2, translated by ‘Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, CF 32, 1971, page 81.

“What I have placed before you brethren, is like an egg or a nut; break the shell and you will find the food. Beneath the image of Joseph you will find the Paschal Lamb, Jesus, the one for whom you yearn. The great depth at which he is hidden and the diligence necessary in seeking him and the difficulty you will have in finding him will only make him sweeter to your taste. . . . And so here is the explanation in a nutshell: If we think with faith and reverence about the meaning of his name (Gen 30:24 : Joseph=”May He Add”; sounds like Heb. ”He has taken away” – my comment). . . . That after he had been sold by his own he redeemed his own from death, that he was humbled even to imprisonment, then elevated to a throne, and was rewarded for his work by being given a new name among the nations (Gen 41:45) – ‘The Saviour of the World’ – if we think about all these things reverently and faithfully, we shall surely recognize how truly it was said by the Lord (Hos 12:10), “Through the prophets, I gave parables.”

 

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Invited Into Christ’s Life

41FeXMjiYYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_“Although it is commonplace in some circles to talk about “inviting Jesus into your life”, it is more appropriate to turn the invitation around the other way because, in fact, it is Jesus who invites us into his life.

The essence of the Incarnation is that Jesus has entered into solidarity with humankind in ways which may be ontologically mysterious but which are existentially compelling.  As our brother, He has entered fully into our humanity – He needs no invitation into our lives because He is already in intimate solidarity with us.

But it is a solidarity which is not invasive or imposed.  Rather, it invites us to respond in the same way a guest responds to an invitation with a clear sense that what is being accepted or rerjected is a gift which is simply waiting to be claimed.

It is rather like the gift which we are told simply awaits our collection in the latest Reader’s Digest draw – but in relation to God’s grace the gift is real, really worth having and waiting to be claimed by everyone and not just the lucky few!”

 

John Saxbee, No Faith in religion, p.91

The Man Jesus

What follows is Playwright Matthew Hurt’s journey towards writing the play ‘The Man Jesus.’  It is still touring the UK and ends on 4th November in Oxford.  You can visit the website here to see where else it is playing.  The play itself was very good indeed, and I think Hurt’s own account below is very good, even though I will disagree with him that in finding the man Jesus, he does ignore both his deity and his salvific death to quite a considerable degree.  The play is still worth seeing, and Simon Callow as multiple eye-witnesses is pure class.

 

manJesus

“It was my grandmothers who first introduced me to the figure of Jesus.  Their Jesuses were as different as they were.  My French-Mauitian grand-mere’s Jesus was a figure I only ever saw at a distance; in churches full of oily mahogany and oriental incense, his skin painted porcelain, with pink bruises and maroon blood.  Always bleeding, always on a cross.  My other grandmother’s Jesus lived in the leaflets and Bibles that Jehovah’s Witnesses kept delivering to her front door.  He appeared as a watery acrylic cartoon, always smiling, standing in the Garden of Eden amongst docile lions and bored giraffe.

The Jesus that Dorah, the Zulu lady who worked for my family, seemed to know was different again.  Him, I never saw.  But I observed the demands he seemed to make on her and her friends.  Their prayers and singing would last for twenty-four hour stretches, conducted at meetings by the side of a busy road.  The traffic never distracted them; their Jesu took them into a trance.  The plastic doll wrapped in an embroidered pillow-slip in my nursery school’s Nativity play had no such effect on anyone.  A five-year old Mary looked down on that Jesus with impassive shyness.  Another Jesus:  the Born Again Christians I met as a teenager described something between a superhero and a benevolent phantom, hating terminal illness in a loved one or rescuing a man trapped in a car washed into a river during a flood.

The cumulative effect of all these images of Jesus, layered one over the other, was to leave me with a bland figurine, in various cliched poses, of whom I had no sense whatsoever.  So when I was approached to write a play about JEsus, my initial thought was:  I have no idea who this man is.

But then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that something odd had happened.  For all my disconnection with the figure of Jesus Christ, the stories about him, and his words, lived very vividly in my imagination – and always had done.  I went back to the Bible and re-read the Gospels (emphasis mine).  The more I read, the more clearly a figure – a man – started to emerge.  He bore little resemblance to the Jesuses I’d previously envisaged.  He was much more radical, provocative, brilliant and contradictory.  Mainly, I was struck by how real he seemed.  Not a cartoon, not a doll or an ethereal presence, but a very human being.  An exceptional and strange human being, who, irrespective of questions of his divinity, merits being heard.

This play is not an attempt to reduce the figure of Jesus Christ to a mere man.  It’s an attempt to peel away the layers of assumptions and the residue of mythology so that we can look into the face of a man who once walked on a very specific part of the earth, at a specific moment in time, and who has had an impact on the history of mankind beyond all proportion to his riddling life.”

* * * * * *

Where I have emphasised Hurt’s account, is precisely the point that I found most interesting: To understand Jesus, he went back to the Gospels and read and re-read them. He wasn’t satisfied with the plethora of Jesuses from his childhood and previous experience, he wanted to get to the heart of the matter – and that led him to the Bible. In discussions with people who are opposed to the Christian faith, they will argue until the cows come home about Christ this, Christ that, but rarely has one actually done what Hurt has done, namely, actually read the Gospels.

Come to Me

cometomeJesus says, not said, Jesus says today, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Come to Me.

Jesus does not say, “Come to religion.”

Jesus does not say, “Come to spirituality.”

Jesus does not say, “Come to church.”

He does not say, Come to the divine one.”  Raising the question of who he thinks he is!

Come to Me.

He calls us to himself.  The pronoun is all-important:

Christianity began on Palestinian soil, as a relationship with a person.

It moved to Greek soil and became a philosophy.

It moved on to Rome and became an Institution.

It moved on to British soil and became a Culture.

It moved on to American soil and became an Enterprise!

But Christianity is essentially a Person.

Come to Me all who are weary and overburdened.  In the English language verbs function in two voices:  active and passive.  You may know that in the Greek language verbs function in three voices:  active, passive and what is called the middle.

Active – “I wash.”

Passive – “I am washed.”

Middle – “I wash myself.”

“All who are overburdened” is in the middle voice – “overburdened themselves.”  Thus, “Come to Me all who have overburdened themselves.”  For the most part, excessive weariness is our own doing.

“Come. . . and I will give you rest.”  Literally, I will rest you.  “I will give you rest” could lead us to think that “rest” can be experienced apart from Jesus, as though rest was a thing Jesus places in our hands which we then can carry off on our own.

“I will rest you,” suggests the personal involvement of the Rester.

Take my yoke upon you. . . and your souls, your inner being, will find rest.

Jesus is telling us that we are weary because we are wearing the wrong yokes.  Refreshment for the soul comes by “a transfer of yokes.”

The question is never, “Will I wear a yoke?”

Every person wears a yoke; there are no yokeless human beings.

The question is never, “Will I be a disciple?”  The question is always, “Whose disciple will I be?”

The question is never, “Will I be pressured by a spirit?”  The question is always, “Of all the spirits of the age that pressure me, to which will I yield?”

The question is never, “Will I wear a yoke?”  The question is always, “Whose yoke will I wear?”

Jesus tells us to come to Him, to enter into His rest because we have overburdened ourselves with the wrong yoke.  We all need His yoke, a yoke that is easy, a burden that is light.

“Come to Me” says Jesus.

 

With thanks to Darrell  Johnson in The Glory of Preaching, p.248-255

You want success? PREACH CHRIST!

ForsythP. T. Forsyth is rousing my theological interest on a number of fronts at the moment.  I am desperate to read his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, but only have a flaky copy on my computer, and that won’t do.  Nevertheless, do not feel sorry for me.  I found this paradigm changing comment Forsyth made in his book The Work of Christ, which is a more realistic antidote to the terrible Christian fetish in the western world with numbers, growth and success.  Ian Stackhouse, a Baptist minister in Guildford, UK,  specifically writes about this problem, in his excellent book The Gospel-Driven Church and to a certain extent his recent (and most excellent) Primitive Piety; and part of his response and solution is found in the sheer brilliance of the writings of P. T. Forsyth.

Anyway, below is a snippet that re-paradigms us as Christians who claim not only to ‘be transformed in the renewing of our minds’ but also to have ‘the mind of Christ’, and to consider a little less triumphantly, and a little more soberly, the actual reality of what it means for Christ to rule the human heart…..

“Christ, with the demand for saving obedience, arouses antagonism in the human heart. And so will the Church that is faithful to Him. You hear people saying, If only the Church had been true to Christ’s message it would have done wonders for the world. If only Christ were preached and practised in all His simplicity to the world, how fast Christianity would spread. Would it? Do you really find that the deeper you get into Christ and the meaning of His demands Christianity spreads faster in your heart? Is it not very much the other way?

When it comes to close quarters you have actually to be got down and broken, that the old man may be pulverised and the new man created from the dust. Therefore when we hear people abusing the Church and its history the first thing we have to say is, Yes, there is a great deal too much truth in what you say, but there is also a greater truth which you are not allowing for, and it is this. One reason why the Church has been so slow in its progress in mankind and its effect on human history is because it has been so faithful to Christ, so faithful to His Cross.

You have to subdue the most intractable, difficult, and slow thing in the world — man’s self-will. You cannot expect rapid successes if you truly preach the Cross whereon Christ died, and which He surmounted not simply by leaving it behind but by rising again, and converting the very Cross into a power and glory.  Christ arouses antagonism in the human heart and heroism does not. Everybody welcomes a hero. The minority welcome Christ.”

P. T. Forsyth
The Work of Christ (1910)
Wipf & Stock, 1996, pp. 20-21

We don’t do grace too well

selfrighteous-art

We are in a bind are we not?  I mean, a church is a community of mixed people, at every conceivable stage of life and experience, but together never-the-les.  The bind though, is that we are in this community as individuals gathered to love and serve the Lord and each other – and by-and-large, we want to do that, yet not without the occasional burp of dysfunction.

It would be fair I think, to take the hit on the proverbial chin, that the church is where one finds more hypocrites than anywhere else on the planet.  I know I am a hypocrite and I’m the minister!  But that is also the very reason why I am a Christian.  I am a sinner, I do sinful things, I think sinful things, I desire sinful things.  But thanks be to God there is a cure for sin, and that is salvation, a Christ-won salvation!

Salvation of sinners, hypocrites, liars, murderers, God-deniers, and the like, is God’s direct and effective self-revelation….in Christ….always and only in Christ……that opens the eyes of sinners, that they see him as a loving Father who has invited them into the joy and fellowship of His own self, the God-head of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And this should, I say should, set us free.

Most of the time, for many people, we respond to grace as we respond to a generous gift from a friend, “Oh you shouldn’t have.”  We take the gift and immediately the plotting starts on how we are to pay the person back for their gift.  That’s because we don’t do grace too well at all.  And this then leads to a fruit, a product, a worldview, a consequence of thinking about grace wrongly:  we become workers, doers, activists, organised, efficient.  In theological language we become nomians, law makers and law keepers and often law-seekers, the more laws the more po-faced we become, and the more po-faced the more righteous and religious -right?  It’s as if the whole book of Galatians was written for us, and we simply deflect verses such as 5:1 as being for others, them…out there….and certainly not us!!

When there is a law, what need of grace?  Grace language becomes a part of our religious discourse for sure, but its power, its truth, its vitality is simply not grasped.  Oh how we must nod sagely as we read in Ephesians 2 “…by grace you have been saved…” but inwardly shudder, maybe even mumbling something about the book of James balancing out all this nonsense about grace language with a works language.  After all, isn’t activism, busyness, practical-ness a contemporary virtue of our present day?  Now a works language we get, “Tell me what to do?”  It’s all a bit mixed up.  We don’t know what to do with Jesus’ own words about works:  “The work of God is this: believe the One He has sent…”  (John 6:29).

When we truly do get this kind of work, believing the God-man Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Word of God with skin on, the eternally begotten, the One who holds the universe in the palm of His hands and sustains it with the word of His power, this Jesus, is the One who offers salvation by grace to wayward sinners.  How on earth can that salvation offered by such a God ever be skewed to the degree that we think we’ve got to add to it or earn more favour (like what? What could we possibly add to that?).  Jesus died for you.  Your sins curse has been trumped and trashed by God’s salvation cure!  “Oh you shouldn’t have!  For me….really…..Oh I must pay you back….”

I’d like to end with a personal account from the 17th century of what I’m trying to say.  It’s about 1653 and a man named Humphrey Mills, who believed Christ – but under law, until one day he heard the sweet gospel preaching of the great Puritan Richard Sibbes.  Humphrey writes,

“I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing; looking for Heaven that way.  And then I was so precise with outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above their ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies.  But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint….Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit.  His sweet soul melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had much of God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world….and my heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward.”

That’s what salvation does because salvation is from Jesus, the Saviour of the world.

The Cross of Christ: WHY?

Crucifixion_1558

In this talk, Richard Cunningham considers why Jesus had to die on the cross. He refers to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, and covers six misconceptions about the Cross while explaining its real significance for our lives.

Six misconceptions about the Cross:

1. The Cross is something sentimental
2. Jesus chose to die to start a new religion
3. The life and teaching of Jesus are separate from his death
4. We don’t see the danger posed by God’s holiness and our sin
5. There must be another way to be forgiven apart from the Cross
6. I’m not bad enough to need the Cross

While clarifying these misconceptions, Richard explains the true significance of the Cross for our lives.

“Nothing but the resurrection can explain the birth of Christianity.”
“It is still the Cross, not the tomb, that the Church had chosen to be the primary symbol of faith.”

http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/introductory/why-did-jesus-have-to-die-on-the-cross.htm

The painting is by:

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Italian 1490-1576

It has nothing to do with Richard Cunningham or the UCCF.  He may well have chosen a completely different portrayal of the Crucifixion, and who could blame him?  Not me.