Tim Parker

Friday, December 29, 2006

Limited atonment foreshadowed in passover account?

I have recently be writing some bible studies on Exodus. As one would expect, this Old Testament account of God's people experiencing the gracious salvation of God contains much which points to the greater salvation brought about in Christ.

Preparing the studies has once again made me marvel in wonder at the God who saves.

On thing I have never really pondered before is the passover instructions in Ex 12:4.

The Passover regulations in verse 4 specify that the Lamb was to be just surfactant for the people who were to be eating it. If this was misjudged, leftovers were to be destroyed (v10). Later on we are also reminded that the Passover meal is only for God’s people (v43).
On the face of it, this preoccupation with leftovers seems a little odd. However I wonder if this emphasis on the sufficiency of the Passover lamb for God’s chosen people and God’s chosen people alone points to a doctrine of limited atonement?

Maxwell's equations

Saturday, December 16, 2006

That's not a Covenant!

I have not been sure what to make of the “Covenant for the Church of England”

From the way it has been described by its supporters, it should be the sort of thing that I as an Anglican Evangelical would welcome. It has been signed by all the ‘right’ names and is accredited by all the ‘right’ Church pressure groups.

When I saw The Revd Dr Richard Turnbull’s remarks about the covenant, I couldn’t wait to read a copy:

We welcome the responsible and thoughtful initiative represented by this Covenant. It recognizes the depth of concern across the traditions of the Church of England of hose who seek to teach and live by the Scriptures as their ultimate authority, and makes a serious effort to address the current issues within a challenging but workable framework. We believe the process of consultation with all parties concerned has been thorough and transparent. We applaud the Covenant’s overriding commitment to mission and biblical and theological orthodoxy. We pray that where arrangements suggested by the Covenant should prove necessary, the good news of Jesus Christ may flourish.

Fantastic! Committed Anglican evangelical’s coming to the rescue with “a challenging but workable framework” and “overriding commitment to mission and biblical and theological orthodoxy.”

Just what the doctor ordered!

Unfortunately my optimism was short lived.

A full text of the covenant be found here.

It is considerable less impressive than I had at first hoped and with each reading I get more concerned. A very good initial response to the covenant has been made by Tom Write and can be found here. It echoes many of my own feelings, though I think I am a little more generous than he is regarding the motives behind the covenant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fulfilment of Prophecy in Christ

Many would try and 'prove' the authority scripture by pointing out that what the bible promises, happens. This is not an unuseful line of discussion with non-christains, though I prefer to use it as a source of comfort and encouragement to Christians.

What ever the case, I very much like the beauty of J J Gurney remarks below:

When a lock and key are well-fitted, a fair presumption arises, even though they be of a simple character, that they were made for each other. If they are complex in their form, that presumption is considerably strengthened. But if the lock is composed of such strange and curious parts as to baffle the skill of the cleverest mechanic, if it is absolutely novel and peculiar, differing from everything which was before seen in the world — if no key in the universe will enter it except one, and by that one it is so easily and exactly fitted that a child may open it, then, indeed, are we absolutely certain that the lock and the key were made by the same master-hand, and they belong to each other. No less curiously diversified, no less hidden from the wisdom of man, no less novel and peculiar, are the prophecies contained in the Old Testament respecting Jesus Christ. No less easy, no less exact, is the manner in which they are fitted by the Gospel history. Who, then, can doubt that God was the author of these predictions, of the events by which they were fulfilled, and of the religion with which they are both inseparably connected?

J J Gurney

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Doubting Thomas?

Although it is not always popular or understood in evangelical circles, I am quite a fan of religious art. In this area I very much like the work of Caravaggio who painted in Italy around 1600. I especially like his calling of Mathew.

Another of his more famous works is Doubting Thomas:

Though it is a great work of art, I haven't liked it as a religious work of art until recently.

The bible narrative (John 20:24-29) tells how Thomas, not being present at the risen Jesus' appearance to the other disciples, demands proof before he will believe. He will not accept the account of the (soon to be) apostles, he wants nothing less than to see the nail marks in his hands. But even this is not enough, he wants to put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into his side. Only then will he believe.

From what follows, I think John wants us to see that this is not what Thomas needs in order to believe. In verse 26-28 we read:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Thomas doesn't need to put his hand into Jesus wounds, and despite of verse 29, I don't think Thomas even needs to see the wounds with his eyes.

The evidence alone might make Thomas say "Jesus is Risen". But for him say to Jesus is "My Lord and my God" takes something more.

What Thomas actually needs is Jesus' command to "stop doubting and believe". It is Jesus who commands Thomas' confession of faith, not the evidence that commands it.

That is why I don't find Caravaggio's painting helpful as an artistic exposition of scripture.

Caravaggio's' Thomas is examining the scared Christ, something that isn't recorded in scripture. Thomas' finger, probing for truth, guided by the hand of Christ, is the focus of the work. Peter and Matthew(?) watch on. But their expressions are not ones that say "See Thomas, it is true, Jesus has risen". There faces watch with anticipation as the finger approaches to wound. They too are desiring the assurance that Thomas' investigative experience promises to give.

By painting it in this way, we too are being invited to put our hand in to the side of Christ and receive assurance, the assurance that all three men are wanting for.

But no matter how much you reach out in Caravaggio's world, all you will touch is oil and canvas.

Recently, instead of thinking of Caravaggio's work as a picture of "Doubting Thomas", I have come to think of it as a picture of the much more contemporary character: Mr. "Not so open minded" Sceptic.

I was started on this train of thought when I saw John Granville Gregory's brilliant reworking of Caravaggio's master piece entitled "Still Doubting"

The Thomas of Gregory's painting dose not look like an honest enquirer. He looks like a man, who having investigated will now stand up and say to his companions: "Well, that was very interesting. Of course, I don't believe a word of this Jesus stuff".

Gregory's work makes me think of the person on the Christianity explored table who, after being confronted with the best evidence still continues to happily ignore what appears plain to see.

There is after all, no such thing as an open minded sceptic. Until God works in the heart of a sinner, that heart is hard and closed to Christ and it will not be evidence but the holy spirit ministering the word that will bring about change.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hills of the North, rejoice!

This is with out a doubt my favourite advent hymn, sung to 'Little Cornard' (A&M revised 269)

Hills of the North, rejoice,
echoing songs arise,
hail with united voice
him who made earth and skies:
he comes in righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.

Isles of the Southern seas,

sing to the listening earth,
carry on every breeze
hope of world's new birth:
in Christ can all be made a new,
his word is sure, his promise true.

Lands of the East, arise,
he is your brightest morn,
greet him with joyous eyes,
praise shall our hope adorn:
the God to whom long to bow
in Christ draws near, and calls you now.

Shores of the utmost West,
lands of the setting sun,
welcome to the heavenly guest
in whom the dawn has come:
he brings an never-ending light
who triumphed o'er our darkest night.

Shout, as you journey on,

songs be in every mouth,
lo, from the North they come,
from East and West and South:
in Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the sons of earth be blest.

These words are taken form NEH, however most hymn books have these words, which I don't think are nearly as good...

Some people also insist on singing it to Darwall’s 148th which is clearly just wrong!

Happy New Year

Advent sunday readings (BCP): Romans 13:8-14 Mathew 21:1-13

Today is Advent Sunday, which is the start of the church year.

These days, we tend to think of advent as the time when we get ready for Christmas, a time when we do our Christmas shopping and also prepare our hearts to celebrate God coming to earth as the child Jesus.

But, If that is our only understanding of advent, then prayer book's choice bible reading for advent will be a bit surprising because there doesn’t seem to be anything that feels remotely Christmassy at all!

No Wise men, not shepards, no stars... There is a donkey!... but he isn't carrying Mary to Bethleham, he is carry Jesus on his final Jorney to Jerusalem.

And that is because advent isn’t just about getting ready for Christmas.

The season of Advent is where the church remembers two things.

Firstly, we remember the faithful Israelites, waiting for the Christ to come so we can learn from their example and from their mistakes. Secondly, and most significantly, we remember that we too are being called by God to wait.

In both Old and New Testament’s, the bible assures us not just that Jesus has come but that Jesus will come again.

And so we’re waiting, waiting for the second coming of our Lord.

And advent is a time when we especially remember that. We pray even more earnestly that our Lord will return soon, We encourage ourselves and others that one day, Jesus will return in glory, when we reaffirm our desire to live faithful, holy lives as we wait.

That’s what advent is about, and that makes it a lot easier to see why the great archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, chose Today’s bible readings for his prayer book.

In this morning’s epical, Paul reminds us that how we live today, should be shaped by the fact that Jesus Christ is coming back very soon. In Romans 13:12 we read that “The night is nearly over and day” that’s the day of Jesus return “is almost here. So let us put a side the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light”.

Lets have a look at the Gospel reading because there are several things in it that will be useful to us as we begin the season of advent.

I’m sure the story is very familiar us. All four gospel writers record that Jesus, after travaling all the way from Galilee, chouses to ride the last 2 miles to Jerusalem on a donkey.

And Mathew reminds us in verse 4 of our reading that:
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:
"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "

Matthew is quoting from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah chapter 9. In that chapter, Zechariah gives a prophecy that one day God will send a King. A rescuing King. A gentle King whose reign will extend to the ends of the earth and who will release people held captive and under Judgment by the shedding of blood.

And the bit the prophecy that Matthew quotes is the bit telling the daughters of Zion, that’s is Zechariah’s way of talking about the people of Jerusalem, that “your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.

Those words were first spoken by Zechariah in about 500BC. And here is the Lord Jesus, half a millennium later, riding into Jerusalem, ready to shed his blood so that those held captive by sin can be set free, and he comes riding on a donkey.

Let’s take note of two things here, as we start our season of advent:

Firstly, God expects his people to be patient. The promises of God made through Zechariah 500 years early, were themselves the continuation of promises made by God 100s of years before. But despite the long wait, God hadn’t forgotten his promise to send Jesus, And we should take comfort in that during our own wait for Jesus to return.

Secondly, notice that the prophecy was fulfilled literally. The lord Jesus didn’t ride a metaphorical donkey, nor did he come to shed metaphorical blood, nor did he come to be a metaphorical king. He came on a real donkey, to shed real blood and to be God’s real chosen King.

And so just as the prophecies regarding our lords first coming were fulfilled in reality, we should expect the promises of our Lord’s second coming to be fulfilled in reality. At his first coming, our Lord came to earth literally in person and he will come to earth literally in person the second time.

He came in humility once, literally to suffer; he will come again in glory, laterally to reign.
Every prediction about our Lord’s first coming was fulfilled, and so will every prophecy about our Lord’s second coming. And for the Christian, and the Christian alone, that is a wonderfully assuring truth.

It means when we read in the bible of our Glorious future with Christ there need be no doubt in our hearts. It has been promised, it will be accomplished.

Now before we finish with this passage, let’s look at how the people of Jesus own day responded to his coming.

We are told that in verses 10 and 11.

Verse 10:
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"

And what should the answer have been? Well it should have been something like:

“This is Jesus, God’s appointed king”
“This is Jesus, the one who was promised, the messiah”

But instead, we get verse 11:

The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."

They have understood something of who Jesus is, but for all their singing and all their palm waving, they have missed punch line, they’ve missed out on who Jesus is. He’s not a profit, he’s the son of God, he is The Messiah, The Christ, God’s King.

Now there are lot’s of different reasons why they might have been so mistaken, but all of them come down to the same thing, the sort of messiah the people were expecting was not the messiah promised in scripture, and as such they did not know Jesus when he came to them.
It will be an even more tribal thing not to know Jesus when he comes a second time, but that will be the theme of anther advent reading, but for now, let’s resolve to know truly the Jesus of scripture and so to be ready for him when he comes.