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Heidelberg Disputation Theses

Heidelberg Disputation (Thesis 2)

The showdown with Aristotle continues. The good, the bad, and the ugly have just been told that keeping the law will not advance them towards righteousness, rather, it will hinder them and make them worse. Luther follows with some more shots in quick succession, with a rifle on loan to him by one Chuck Connors – a winchester lever action:

Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.

LW 31:39

 Luther explains:

Since the law of God, which is holy and unstained, true, just, etc., is given man by God as an aid beyond his natural powers to enlighten him and move him to do the good, and nevertheless the opposite takes place, namely, that he becomes more wicked, how can he, left to his own power and without such aid, be induced to do good? If a person does not do good with help from without, he will do even less by his own strength. Therefore the Apostle, in Rom. 3[:10–12], calls all persons corrupt and impotent who neither understand nor seek God, for all, he says, have gone astray.

LW 31:43

Seeking to obey the external law of God does not make us righteous – it only proves us more unrighteous. How much less can any of our internal aids – our own strength, ability and work – advance us to righteousness? Aristotle taught that we become righteous by doing righteous deeds – God teaches us that no one is righteous and no one can do righteous deeds, and furthermore, our righteous deeds are filthy! With this, Aristotle’s gun hand starts to shake…

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Reformation

The Reformation TULIP

As someone who appreciates and values the contributions of both Martin Luther and John Calvin, I am dumbfounded at how many Lutherans and Presbyterians there are who are arrogant towards the respective ‘leading men’ of the others’ church. I have seen Lutheran’s who despise Calvin as a reformation piggyback and look down on him as a jealous older brother looks down on a younger brother as a threat. I have also seen Presbyterians who look down on Luther as someone who hails from the slums and thinks it was Calvin who started the reformation. Both of these positions reveal a deep ignorance and a theological ineptness that flies in the face of anyone who has any regard for the historical Protestant gospel. It’s not a competition! Both men had their weaknesses and failures—and their invaluable contribution. In many ways we should see Luther and Calvin as apostles of the Reformation, as a Peter and Paul—yet no one in their right mind would discount the often rash Peter in favour of the more systematic Paul, nor look down on Paul in support of Peter (unless of course you are a theological liberal). Although Luther and Calvin  were not inerrant as Peter and Paul were in their writings. All this to say, we need to understand that both Luther and Calvin have played pivotal roles in the Protestant Reformation and have contributed wonderfully to rediscovering the gospel and, therefore, in reforming the church.

With this in mind I have sought to capture our indebtedness to both men. Both Luther and Calvin had symbols associated with their names. Luther had a cross on a heart situated on a rose and Calvin had the symbol of a heart being offered up with a hand. 

Luther’s Rose
Calvin’s Seal

These symbols represented them and their respective theologies to a degree, or at least an aspect of it, but they also came to function as their seal. Given both these men have much to offer us today, I have taken some liberty in seeking to bring elements of both their symbols together in order to  remind us of the importance of both men and the same gospel that they preached.

The Reformation Tulip

First, note the BLACK heart. This reminds us of the dead and decaying heart that we, as heirs of Adam, are born with, as a result of sin. It is dead in sin and does not beat for God, rather, it hates God and beats for evil. It reminds us that—before Christ—every area of our life is depraved and is unapologetically opposed to God—continually choosing what is right in our own eyes and delighting in fulfilling our own wicked will. With a heart like this, it also reminds us that if we can ever have hope to be saved from it, salvation must come through grace irresistible—an external work of a saviour who intervenes—because a heart like this does not have any ability to turn towards good but flees as far as it can away from good. A dead and decaying heart has a will which is gladly in bondage to sin. 

Second, note the RED cross. This reminds us that the work of the cross alone is the only work that can bring life to our dead hearts. The cross is red to remind us of the incredible cost that was paid to bring our heart to life: the shed blood of Jesus in our place—as our perfect and sinless substitute. His heart stopped beating so that the hearts of His people—those unconditionally elected in Him before the foundation of the world—could start beating. This atonement is limited to His beloved elect, but not limited in its beauty, wonder, power and effectiveness as we come to Him by faith alone. It also reminds us that it is through Scripture alone where we find God—hidden in the cross and suffering—something that is offensive to the folly of our own wisdom and philosophy.

Third, note the initials ‘I’ and ‘C’ on the cross. This reminds us of the person who died on the cross, the person who was sent to save. The ‘I’ and ‘C’ on the cross reminds us that it is Jesus Christ (Iesus Christus) who died in our place, not any other man on earth, nor theologian, nor pastor, nor pope, nor priest—but Christ alone. As we trust in the person and work of Christ alone we receive the forgiveness of sin, the righteousness of Christ, and the Spirit of God as the guarantor of life eternal; and therefore, we find in Him our sure hope as saints to persevere—as He preserves us! A black heart can only pump out filth, a reminder that never was there ever done, in the history of the world, a work by sinful man that could count as a good work before Christ. This is why it depends on grace alone because if we were able to work a righteous work, Christ is relegated to a mere colleague and aid rather than the one who has done all the work required for our salvation, and this, at his instigation—not ours. It also means that the more work Christ has done the more glory God deserves. If Christ has done everything, then all the glory goes to God alone. If we believe we can contribute even the smallest amount to our salvation we are taking Christ off the cross and taking the punishment and glory for ourselves. Tearing even the smallest amount of glory away from God—through ‘good’ works, ‘free’ will and human ‘wisdom’ is not safe—just ask Herod. Only Christ was nailed to that cross (I C)—let the reader understand. 

Fourth, note that the flower is a TULIP. This reminds us of the Reformed doctrines of grace that have been articulated in opposition the five points of the Arminians: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited (or definite) Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the Saints. The very fact they are called the ‘doctrines of grace’ should remind us that the intent of these doctrines are to ensure that the work of God in salvation remains the work of God in salvation, that the gift of God remains the gift of God, that grace truly remains grace. The acronym of these doctrines can be found in lighter shade on each petal of the Tulip to remind us that these ‘doctrines of grace’ are the backbone to the gospel, without which we have no gospel, without which the person and work of Christ makes no sense and has no effectiveness. We are also reminded by their low key position that when first coming to faith we may not be able to articulate these truths, they are nonetheless, the very truths working in the background saving the elect children of God.

Fifth, note that the tulip is a WHITE tulip. This reminds us of God’s work of regeneration, justification and sanctification etc, that washes our hearts as white as snow, cleaning them from the filth and blackness of sin—through the cross. It also reminds us of the hope that we have in the next life when our sanctification will finally be complete. Moreover, on these white petals rest more visibly the ‘Solas of the Reformation’ which were also crucial to understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ correctly over and against the man centred gospel of the Roman Catholic Church: Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria. Yet, one more has been added to the tulip: Crux Sola, because we wish to recognise what Luther called the ‘theology of the cross’. Man understood what he wanted to about God and then he saw that reality to be true. What the theology of the cross reminds us to do is to look and see what God is like through the cross and then understand! This is an important epistemological factor which governs where true wisdom and the true God are found—in the weakness of the cross and not in the strength of human wisdom or philosophy. Finally, the tulip, not being of exact and equal proportions, also reminds us that while we are weak and we are all different, it is the same gospel, the same message and the same Saviour that lived for us, died for us, was raised for us and now reigns for us. We thus live in the place of great expectation and hopeful anticipation of our saviour’s return as we live by faith in this broken world.

Sixth, note the LOCATION of the heart. This reminds us of who is working on our heart, changing our heart and sustaining our heart. The heart is located in the centre of an open tulip where sits securely cupped and upheld by the petals of the tulip. This reminds us that salvation as summarised by the doctrines of grace and the five solas are the work of God from first to last. All we bring to the table is the black heart. God’s work of salvation is the work which saves—not our own. He alone holds us up, He alone holds us secure and He alone holds us safe in His arms from now—and for all eternity.  The tulip is also surrounded by the colour red depicting that even as redeemed and ‘righteous sinners’ we still live in an evil and fallen world. This red is the same red that colours the cross to remind us that at the cross God used evil against itself in order achieve the greatest good the world has even known. Thus, in Luther’s words, we understand that death was killed by death, punishment by punishment, sufferings by suffering and disgrace by disgrace. 

Soli Dei Gloria

Amen.

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Uncategorized

Statistics and the Providence of God.

It’s funny how we use statistics to comfort us. With this Covid plague going on around us we can be fairly certain – statistically speaking – that most of us aren’t going to die from the virus. Yet, when we talk to those around us or when we look at the news, there is great fear out there because people are just plain scared of dying. So, to find some comfort we might quote the stats. But it’s not always all that comforting really is it? Stats only spell out – from human perception – the less than perfect measure of likelihood that someone may or may not die, it doesn’t tell us who will die. Imagine a world where we could know who would die. Every morning we could wake up hearing the names etc., read off tv of those who would succumb to the virus that day, week or month. That could be greatly comforting – at least for those whose names are not read. I guess the problem would lie in the fact that people would still go to sleep wondering if their name was next?!

We have a problem here don’t we. It doesn’t matter how much we could comfort ourselves about our longevity, likelihood or risk, there is no tangible way for anyone to take comfort with statistical analysis. Why? Well, even if we were to have 1% risk of perishing, I would feel fairly safe, but if that 1% also relates to my children I would have a slightly different perspective. I am willing to the take that risk for myself, but when it come to those I love a 1% risk is not actually something I am prepared to entertain! What if my family was to be part of that 1%? Well, in that case, stats are not particularly useful.

Well that’s where we as Christians have a greater resource for comfort – the sovereignty and providence of God. The understating that God is actually in charge of all things -governing the good and the bad, it doesn’t matter what the stats or experts say, unless God says you will die of Covid (for example), you will not die from Covid. In fact, there is no chance you will die from Covid if God has not determined it for you. Moreover, there is no chance you won’t die from Covid if God has determined that that is how you will die. In the end, there is no chance at all in our world, in anything, if God is sovereign. Chance simply does not exists, thus stats are merely a fictional and superficial comfort and a vain intellectual exercise when it comes to God, and I am 100% sure of that. As Christians, we are not fatalists, we know that if God in his love and wisdom chooses for the sake of his holy name to take us to be with Him – then we know 100% that is it for our good, that it is 100% for His glory, and that His faithfulness will continue to prove 100% true. Now, that is a comforting statistic. I don’t know of anything else that is. Thus, stats cannot comfort, only the sovereign rule of God and 100% confidence that he is working all things for good. Something, that we as christians can be 100% sure of.

Here is what the Westminster Confession says:

5.1. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

WCF 5.1

This truth in practical truth has been so wonderfully put to words in the Heidelberg Catechism (this is distinct to the Heidelberg Disputation – same city different people involved):

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death? A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1.

Amen.

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Heidelberg Disputation Theses

Heidelberg Disputation (Thesis 1)

Good citizens are those that keep the law right? Those who don’t speed, don’t shop lift, and do look after the property of others. Well that is how we as humans look at each other and judge whether we are good citizens, or ‘righteous’, according to our laws. From a human perspective, there is much truth in this because our legal system is actually based on these very principles. Aristotle taught this principle in his Ethics: one becomes righteous by doing righteous things.

The problem is, when this principle is applied to God – on the basis of analogy (i.e. the assumption that what is true of God must also be true of man etc.) – we run into a false and errant gospel.

No human being can be declared, even to the smallest decree, righteous by obeying the law. Luther rightly argues three things in this first thesis: first, the law is good; second, despite it’s goodness it does not help us become righteous before God; and three, the law actually hinders us from advancing to righteousness! The law gets in our way! In the medieval period Aristotle’s ethics became a manual of how to become righteous before God: do keep God’s law, don’t break God’s law…and you will be righteous.

Martin Luther in his cloister days…

Thankfully, Luther challenged that way of thinking through a good old time fashioned duel. He called out Aristotle into the barren and dusty street of False Christianity saying…’Aristotle, (Luther spits some lumpy black saliva onto the ground, a smidgen being caught in his moustache) I’m calling you out you dirty son of a philosopher!’…in a deep southern drawl…ok, with a slight German accent. The only onlookers were the unshaved, unwashed cronies of the Pope’s posse – who were actually kind of distracted stumbling their way out of Madame Venus’ ‘hotel‘…

This was the first shot:

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

Luther’s Explanation: This is made clear by the Apostle in his letter to the Romans (3[:21]): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” St. Augustine interprets this in his book, The Spirit and the Letter (De Spiritu et Littera): “Without the law, that is, without its support.” In Rom. 5[:20] the Apostle states, “Law intervened, to increase the trespass,” and in Rom. 7[:9] he adds, “But when the commandment came, sin revived.” For this reason he calls the law a law of death and a law of sin in Rom. 8[:2]. Indeed, in 2 Cor. 3[:6] he says, “the written code kills,” which St. Augustine throughout his book, The Spirit and the Letter, understands as applying to every law, even the holiest law of God.

LW 31:42-43
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Heidelberg Disputation

Heidelberg Disputation (Introduction)

Following the turmoil that posting the 95 theses instigated in October 1517, Luther’s own monastic order (the Augustinians) was pressured to investigate and critique Luther’s ‘new’ teaching. This occurred at the city of Heidelberg in Germany and Luther was asked to present his theology. This he did in the form of theses for academic discussion in April 1518. This disputation is what I am doing my dissertation on so it is worthwhile to share it with you because the more I study it the more I think we need to hear it afresh today. The version of the disputation I will post is an early English translation from the Luther’s Works (LW) volumes.

The introduction to the disputation introduced some of the important themes that would arise during the course of the debate. First, medieval theologians (yes I said theologians) relied on their own wisdom instead of Scripture; second, Luther’s ‘new’ theology is actually not new but old – from Paul and substantiated by Augustine. This final note is particularly ironic because as members of the Augustinian Order, many monastics really couldn’t have understood much of what Augustine said when it turns out they were so off kilter with their gospel and theology. Here is the introduction:

Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, “Do not rely on your own insight” [Prov. 3:5], we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological paradoxes, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.

LW 31:39

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Uncategorized

My New Motorbike…

Having sold my Triumph some months ago – a decision the orthopaedic surgeon was pleased about – there were probably some ‘naysayers’ and ‘soothsayers’ out there who were disappointed and unconvinced I would ever get a bike again. Well, I am happy to say to my detractors that I am no longer ‘bike-less’.

My new bike is cheap to run and maintain, it has little to no emissions, it is unlikely to rust; and compared to my Triumph it is super light and no doubt will get the orthopod’s tick of approval. Moreover, I am no longer a temporary Australian in owning this bike…unless of course I were to trip over it and hit my head on the table. Bikes of all sizes can be dangerous you know.

Here she is:

The test ride went really well too. My German friend took it for a spin but got a speed ticket in Wittenberg…

My German friend also went on to write some books on his motoring experience: ‘The Ninety-Five Tune-Ups’, ‘The freedom of a motorcycle’ and ‘The Bondage of the Thrill.’ He then got kicked out of the infamous outlaw bikie gang ‘The False Prophets’ by their leader ‘Popey Boy’ which is a subset of the aptly named ‘Hell’s Angels’.

God Speed – just don’t get a ticket…

Categories
Preaching

The Word Became fresh…On exodus 4:24-26

Commenting on the below passage…

‘At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’ So he let him alone. It was then that she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood,’ because of the circumcision.”

(Exodus 4:24–26 ESV)

…Dale Ralph Davis, in his book The Word Became Fresh, writes this:

‘We do not understand how Yahweh could be so abrupt, so lethal, with Moses. We get used to thinking that there is a dull predictability about God. Sometimes we may even begin to think that because we follow a certain system of doctrine (e.g., Reformed theology) we therefore know what God will and won’t do. And there is a danger among both believers and unbelievers of slopping into this way of thinking that so much as says, ‘God would never demand or require of us anything we believe unreasonable; God would never do anything I consider to be against good judgment. That is a recipe for an idol. The most shocking part of Exodus 4:24-26 is most useful to me. It forces me to ask if God is free to be who he is, or, do I try to make him my prisoner, subject to what I think
he should be? A Christian must keep asking himself: Am I worshiping the God of the Bible or only God as I wish to think of him?’

Dale Ralph Davis The Word Became Fresh (p.69)

I am only part way through reading this book, but it is brilliant in helping us think through preaching the OT. I heartily recommend it (not just for preachers, his commentaries are also brilliant to read through leisurely). You can never have too many books…unless you are highly allergic to them and you are required to carry an Epinephrine (adrenaline) pen around with you just in case of an emergency. In that event, don’t page a Doctor, it might make you worse.

Categories
gospel justification Reformation

You can’t throw this baby out with the bathwater…(Matt 1:20&21)

This part of the birth story teaches us that this birth is no ordinary birth. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. What was he to do? Mary had been unfaithful—she had gotten pregnant by another man—or so he thought. While he had every right to divorce an unfaithful wife/fiancé, Joseph refused to trash her all over Facebook or seek revenge. Joseph decided to divorce her quietly, and for this decision, he was considered a just man. He was unwilling to put her to public shame (v.19). 

Now, why are we told this about Joseph? Probably, to demonstrate his integrity. If he didn’t lose his head in this situation (which many of us would have), then maybe we should take heed to the dream he has—that it is no furphy. So in v.20 we are told that as Joseph considered these things the angel of the Lord appeared to him. It’s what this angel said to him that screams to us that this child: firstly, was no ordinary child (v.20), and secondly, had no ordinary work (v.21).

Jesus was no ordinary child (v.20). 

‘But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’’ 

(Matthew 1:20 ESV) 

‘Joseph’ the angel is saying, ‘she hasn’t been unfaithful, take her as your wife because there is a bigger picture here you don’t understand—this child comes from no man but God.’ God had intervened and had placed a baby in Mary’s womb. This baby is of divine origin—implanted by Spirit of God—and as such, Joseph could not be the father of this child. Rather, this child would be God incarnate—God in the flesh.

Many ‘important’ babies have been born into our world, I can think of a couple. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther (and their wives no less) but none of them had the same birth as Jesus. All of them had a human mother and a father—none of them were said to be ‘from the Holy Spirit’—divine.

The prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years before this event had written about a virgin who would conceive and bear a son named—Immanuel (Isaiah 7). In v.23 we are told that this name literally means ‘God with us’. This ancient promise—that God would be with His people—was given to the rebellious king of Judah who was facing the onslaught of both Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel—they had teamed up against Judah. But God, in His mercy, promised the king that He would be their protection—that He would be with them; and He gave to the king a sign. A sign was something that visualised and reminded them of the promise. The sign, in this case, would be that a virgin would conceive and before the child gets very old, both the enemy kings will be defeated—the child’s name was to be ‘Immanuel’.

So this is the great back story as to why it is significant that Jesus would also be called ‘Immanuel’. In Joseph and Mary’s time the people of God were facing a similar situation. The Romans had conquered Judea—but where was God? Would He intervene? What of his promise to be with his people? Mathew the author of this gospel wants us to make this connection that the greater and truer Immanuel has come—as predicted.

When God created Adam and Eve, God was with them—he literally walked with them in the Garden. But because of their sin and rebellion, they were cast out of His presence and no longer enjoyed being with God. But God did not ultimately discard the human race, rather, He was able to be with them—albeit with safety measures of a covering so that his holiness did not obliterate us in his presence. He met with the people of God by means of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem until such time as human sinfulness would be finally dealt with. Thus, it is no coincidence that when the gospel of John records the coming of Jesus, John writes that the Word, that is Jesus, became flesh and dwelt among us. That word ‘dwelt’ is translated from the Greek word to pitch a tent, or to tabernacle! Thus, in Christ, God was with us—camped among us if you will—but no longer under the cover of goat skin (Tabernacle) nor bricks (Temple), but under the cover of human flesh. These coverings, along with the sacrificial system, temporarily protected the sinful people of God—until the ultimate covering for sinners could be provided: the blood of the Son of God. This leads us into the second point.

Jesus had no ordinary work (v.21). 

The angel continues, 

‘…She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 

(Matthew 1:21 ESV) 

Names are important to us. Traditionally, they were defined by what our families did (e.g., ‘Smith’), or we might get ‘nick-names’ as a result of something silly we have done. Names have also been given based on what our parents wanted us to do or be like (e.g., I once met a guy in Africa who was called Doctor because his parents wanted him to be a doctor!! But he became a pastor instead, so Rev. Doctor was his name.) Names once carried more meaning than they do today, they were given to define who we are or what we would do. With this in mind, V.21 tells us that Jesus was to be called Jesus for a reason. We have already heard that he fulfilled ‘Immanuel’ by who He was, now he would be named for what he would do. He will be called Jesus because as this name suggests (i.e. to save) he will save his people: God with us, to save us. 

But how was Jesus going to save us, and from what? The people of Israel were well versed in the sacrificial system. Spotless lambs (clean and healthy) were sacrificed on behalf of people and the nation—to atone for, or cover their sin. While Joseph and Mary did not know it yet, this baby was born to die on behalf of His people like the lamb was slaughtered. His cousin John (the Baptist) called him: ‘the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ 

The apostle Paul speaks of what was accomplished by Jesus’ death in Col. 1: 15-23

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Colossians 1:15-23

His person and work was to be extra-ordinary.

Thus, it was a bit of a mission creep to believe that Jesus would save His people from the Romans. No, His mission, and name, was to save His people from their sin—for that was the greatest existential threat that they faced. The consequences of a sinful heart are far worse than being conquered by the Romans. Yet, this is not too dissimilar from our situation today. Neither climate change, nor COVID, nor Communist China are our greatest existential threats—but the fact that ‘…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.’ (Hebrews 9:27 ESV) In other words, it is the question of how a sinner like me and you can stand before a just and Holy God. The curious reality is that at once—God Himself is our greatest existential threat, while at the same time He is our greatest existential saviour. In Christ, God has come to save us—from Himself, for Himself! 

The second person of the Trinity took on flesh and provided what God demanded: righteousness and redemption, something sinners like us cannot do for ourselves (even as hard as we try). The cross of Christ would be God’s final blow to our sin—the greatest check mate move the world has known, more strategic than D-Day and more powerful than the atomic bomb. Death was used to defeat death! The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, once wrote that in Christ, God: ‘killed death by death, punishment by punishment, sufferings by suffering, disgrace by disgrace…’ Or, to make it clearer God ‘killed [our] death by [Christ’s] death, [our] punishment by [Christ’s] punishment, [our] sufferings by [Christ’s] suffering, [our] disgrace by [Christ’s] disgrace…’ This truly was no ordinary child, tasked with no ordinary work—even the Roman soldier having crucified Jesus realised—at that moment—that Jesus truly was the Son of God—God in the flesh.

So what? You might say, look Padre, that’s a nice story how does it make any difference? Recognising that this child was no ordinary child with no ordinary work actually changes lives. About 1200 kms north of here—near the River Kwai, Earnst Gordon in his book The War to end all wars was a witness to how this Jesus changes lives—in the military and as a prisoner of war:  

One incident concerned an Aussie private who had been caught outside the [Prison] fence while trying to obtain medicine from the Thais for his sick friends. He was summarily tried and sentenced to death. On the morning set for his execution he marched cheerfully between his guards to the parade-ground. The Japanese were out in full force to observe the scene. The Aussie was permitted to have his commanding officer and a chaplain in attendance as witnesses. The party came to a halt. The CO and the chaplain were waved to one side, and the Aussie was left standing alone. Calmly, he surveyed his executioners. He knelt down and drew a small copy of the New Testament from a pocket of his ragged shorts. Unhurriedly, his lips moving but no sound coming from them, he read a passage to himself. What that passage was, no one will ever know. I cannot help wondering, however, if it were not those words addressed by Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room: Let not your heart be troubled; Ye believe in God, believe also in me. . . . Peace I leave unto you, My peace I give unto you: Not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled; Neither let it be afraid. He finished reading, returned his New Testament to his pocket, looked up, and saw the distressed face of his chaplain. He smiled, waved to him, and called out, ‘Cheer up, Padre, it isn’t as bad as all that. I’ll be all right.’ He nodded to his executioner as a sign that he was ready. He knelt down, and bent his head forward to expose his neck. The Samurai sword flashed in the sunlight. The examples set by such men shone like beacons.’

This Aussie soldier laid his life down for his mates because His saviour had done so for him. When one finds peace and forgiveness with God—through Christ, once can know peace and forgiveness in the midst of war. This child was no ordinary child. When you know who this baby is and what he did you cannot throw Him out with the bathwater. Lots of horrible things have been done in the name of Christ, many stupid and bizarre things taught too, but you need to look to this child for yourself, to go back to the source. By faith alone in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, we are freed from selfishness, we are declared righteous.  All because our creator God stepped toward his enemies (us) in love. He lived for us, died for us, was raised for us, and will come back for us. This is the true message of Christmas—it’s no wonder the angels rejoiced as they spread the good news of who Jesus was and what he would do: God with us, to save. 

P.S. If you think you have cooperated with God even in some small way for your salvation, you are still as lost as a whale in the desert.

P.P.S. If we are saved, it is because God did all the saving even though we did all the sinning.

P.P.P.S. We have a cross on the top of the Christmas tree at home to remind us of what Jesus came to do. Christmas without Easter is like a car without wheels. Christmas and Easter without the Reformation (i.e. the Protestant Gospel of Justification by faith alone) is like a car without wheels or an engine…We must regain a Christmas theology of the cross if we are to celebrate a genuine Christmas…

Gloria in excelsis Deo – Soli Deo Gloria!

Categories
gospel Reformation Theses Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered why some Christians want to defend free will?…

Many christians want to defend the idea of free will because somehow without it we must turn into some form of Robo Cop style robot rather than a human being. It’s funny, I wonder what the argument would have been before robots were invented? Yet many christian folk are willing to die on the hill of ‘free-will’ in order to prevent God from becoming some form of monster who just does what he wants to humans. But hang on, God does do what he wants. We have a word for that – sovereign! Yes God can be sovereign and not be a big mean monster because He decides who He wants His children to be. Abraham is point and case. Was Abraham a robot because God broke into his world – against his will – and called him out of his own country into another and further called him to be the father of many nations? You see the idea that we must have free will – in order to choose God and thus be saved – is a furphy.

Adam and Eve could be said to have had true[er] free will. But their rejection of God and the fall of mankind has actually affected – though not removed – the will. How? Well, because of sin all we want to do now is choose sin. It’s not that we want to choose good – not at all. Our will post-fall delights in doing evil. If this is the case, how does one choose God? He doesn’t. That is why free will is not a requirement in our coming to Christ. In fact, in regeneration we are rescued from that pre-Christ free will (that we like to defend) when Christ forgives us and we start our journey of sanctification. But here is the important point. Our freedom to choose good (albeit still struggling with sinful desires) is only reawakened as a regenerated believer – and only then! So our salvation does not depend upon us using our free will to choose God!

Funny this. Those who wish to defend free will pre-salvation need to know they are in good company: hmm, who could they be? the Devil, Pelagius and semi-pelagians…yes the Arminians are right to start shaking right now with an awkward clearing of the throat and a ‘nothing to see hear folks!’ Those with some theological training under their belt will notice that the defence of a true free will before regeneration is a view held by heretics…(and yes RC Church that includes you!) Augustine famously had a shoot out with Pelagius who thought we were born sinless and therefore could choose God and choose activities that would make us righteous. In one of his writings against a pelagian, Augustine gets to the heart of why people want to defend free will:

‘You want a man to glory, not in the Lord, but in his own free will, for you want him to be ‘aroused by the stirrings of a noble heart to what is praiseworthy,’ so that he would first give, that recompense should be made him, and in this way grace would no longer be grace, because it is not gratuitous.’ – Against Julian 4.3.15

So do you see folks? There is more at stake here than just a term. It is the grace of God. This is why Luther also focused on the bondage of the will in his defence of the gospel because for grace to be grace, we could not choose ourselves into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church was in cahoots with Pelagius. In thesis 13 of the Heidelberg Disputation Luther argued this:

‘Free will, after the fall, is a thing in name only and while it ‘does what is in it’ it commits mortal sin.’

Luther later went on to have a shoot out with Erasmus on this very matter. There is a theme here isn’t there? When we want to seem righteous in our own eyes we resort to the self praise of free will and ‘I should get some kudos for choosing God.’ But God chose us. We are saved by His free will – not ours.

After all, these two men were just following Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Amen

*Written from a hotel quarantine room where I do not have the choice to leave. But praise God for His grace!!

Categories
gospel Preaching Uncategorized

Woe to you Padres and Chaplains…

Matthew 23:1–36 (NMV – Nathan’s Modified Version)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The Padres and Chaplains sit in Christ’s office so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they claim to preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders they do not like, but they themselves are not willing to move the burdens with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others and particularly by those of rank and influence. They make their actions known and their preaching scarves long. They love the place of honour at mess dinners, the best seats at ceremonies, greetings in the workplace and being called ‘Sir’ or ‘Father’ by others…Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called Sir, for you have one superior: Christ! The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

But woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you travel across sea, land or air to make a single proselyte who will justify and affirm your disobedience and rebellion, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you spend much time on welfare, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law and gospel: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This you ought to have done, without neglecting the former. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Padres and Chaplains! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you pay lip service to the prophets and pretend to admire the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, wise men, scribes and Bible believing Padres and Chaplains, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog, disparage and undermine with your mouths and persecute from base to base, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel and…to my own blood split on the cross…