Friday, August 30, 2013

What is it to "Preach Christ"?

1Co 2:2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

It is not unusual for many to view Christianity as just another world religion.  There are several reasons someone might think this way but I can think of at least one reason that nominal and even true Christians themselves are guilty of conveying to the lost.  

When the Apostle Paul walked into a city to evangelize he didn’t rent out the local coliseum, hire the best speakers and the best musicians and try to wow the lost into “considering” Christ.  He also didn’t present Christ as the latest and best guru who can turn your life around if you will follow his teachings.  It is this last point in particular and all of the above to some degree that causes more confusion than help in evangelism. 

Many of the best known TV preachers today do not preach the cross of Christ as the focal point for sinners to find forgiveness.  They present Christ as a great teacher and they might claim he is the divine Son of God as well, but they focus on living like he taught as the answer to life’s problems rather than telling sinners to bow the knee to him as Lord and Savior. 

We have referred to this as using Christ to deny Christ.  To present Jesus as someone who teaches us a better way is getting the cart before the horse.  Sinners don’t need to hear how to do better, they don’t need to hear the Sermon on the Mount and be told that they need to straighten up their lives to get freed from the destructive ways of sin.  They need to hear how to have their sins forgiven and be made right with God by the cross of Christ. 

To preach the words of Christ without the cross of Christ will only produce self-righteous, moral hypocrites.  This is why Paul preached the gospel alone when he came into Corinth because sinners don’t need to be told to do better they need to be told that they can’t do better and that is the problem.  To be clear, our first duty is not to point them to Jesus’s teachings and example as if they need to shape up their lives but to point them to a Savior who alone is righteous.

Preaching Christ is not to be done in a way to get what we want; it is to display the glory of Christ Jesus and our need of him.  I believe John Piper put it something like this, “Watch out for the preachers who never mention these things, for whom the cross is a mere token symbol, for whom the exceeding sinfulness of all our hearts is scarcely mentioned, who use power, wisdom, fame, and luxury to beckon the self-centered middle-class American to consider himself Christian at no cost to his pride and self-sufficiency.” 

Others, like the slick TV preachers, think we have to sell Christ to the lost, make him and following him look so attractive and the answer to all their problems so that they will jump on board.  They make him look attractive by suggesting that we are capable of living in such a way to invoke the blessings of God.  This is just another form of legalism that thinks God’s blessings come from some other source than the cross.  As I said to begin with, all this does is make Christianity look like every other religion that tells sinners there is something they can do to gain God’s favor.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Refusing the Blessings of the Lord

2Ch 36:20  He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 2Ch 36:21  to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

Israel had failed to keep the covenant in pretty much every area but here the Lord is clear that the length of their captivity is determined by the number of times they failed to keep the Sabbath years.  Apparently they had failed to do this at 70 times and so now the land will get its rest.  We might wonder why the Lord chose this particular sin to determine the length of their punishment.

For one thing God had told them before they entered the land that this would happen if they failed to keep the covenant, Lev 26:34  "Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. Lev 26:35  As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.  And I think that one reason he uses this particular sin is because it is a sin that attacks his very person in a very “in your face” kind of way.  And I say that knowing that all sin is a personal attack on the Lord.

Briefly this law was a command to be blessed by the Lord as all commands are but this one is so obvious that it is good to remind ourselves of it.  Every seventh year they were not to plant anything.  They were told to take the year off, let the land rest and just enjoy the Lord.  In Lev. 25 when he gives the particulars of the law he says that on the sixth year they shall get such a large crop that they will have enough for three years.  In other words, they would have enough for the next year, and since they were not to plant anything the next year, they would have enough for that second year and even though they would plant on the second year the Lord was giving them an extra year to boot so they could be generous to those in need.  You see why this was such a wonderful Law.  They were given every seventh year off from having to work the farm and make a living. 

And so think of the sin here.  On the sixth year everyone got a triple harvest and yet it seems the majority of the people either wouldn’t trust the Lord to take care of them through the next two years and even worse even though they had all they needed in their hand they still wanted more and went ahead and planted anyway.  Either way they were not content and satisfied with the Lord neither would they commit themselves to his care.  It seems the Lord took it pretty personally and we wouldn’t expect anything less.  I would add to this that if they lived this way every seventh year we can pretty much assume they lived like this the other six years.  God was being very gracious to hold just the Sabbath years against them when they were failing to trust him pretty much nonstop. 

Their actions were the opposite of living by faith which isn’t just trusting the Lord but living for him and being satisfied in knowing and having him.  This is a good lesson for us to remember.  The Lord has promised to supply all that we need and I think of Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.  As a rule he does and gives us more than we actually need.  And yet, like Israel of old, we often fail to look back on his years of blessings and provisions neither do we look forward in faith based on his promises and keep on working and worrying like all that matters is making as much money as we can.  We act like if we don’t take care of ourselves no one will.  And we live as if taking the time to enjoy and serve the Lord isn’t as important as securing our place in this world.  Like Israel we forget that our “crops” are given to us to serve him and we come to believe that our life is ours to live as we want. 

No wonder the Lord picks this epic failure as the key point in the length of the Babylonian Captivity.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Deu 28:63  And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

Without question the above verse should cause a Christian to do some serious reflection on just exactly who God is and what he expects of his creatures.  It isn’t a passage that we should read through casually for sure.  But I think equally obvious is that most people and probably most Christian don’t realize the Bible even contains such passages.  When our theology is mostly a questionable interpretation of John 3:16 it is going to be very difficult to understand a God who does all things for his own glory including judging sinners instead of trying to get as many saved as he can. 

The fact of the matter is that sin brings God's wrath upon the sinner.  Sin is to live our way and to reject God as the sole reason and motivation for living.  Such an affront to God must be punished if God is a righteous Judge.  I recently made a statement while preaching that we are not saved from sin so much as we are saved from the wrath of God.  Such a statement caused some of my own people who have heard such preaching before to take notice.  I suppose it is because in modern times we tend to hear only that God loves everyone and very little else about the nature of God. 

Right after I made this statement in a message I had it illustrated to me when I came across a recent development in the Presbyterian Church USA.  It looks like the committee putting together their new hymnal has rejected the Getty song, “In Christ Alone”.  The reason stated is because it contains the phrase, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied”. 

One wonders why this would cause controversy.  The Bible speaks of the wrath of God towards sinners throughout, Rom 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  Eph 2:3  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  

But evidently there are many in the PCUSA (and all other denominations) that don’t want to think about the wrath of God.  They asked the Gettys if they could change the words to, “As Jesus died/The love of God was magnified”.  Thankfully the Gettys said no.  There is certainly nothing wrong with what the committee wanted to change the lyrics to but it is the fact that they were offended by the first ones that show why these lyrics cannot be changed.  Too many today have no idea that they are going to face a wrathful God someday unless they repent and believe in Jesus. 

By rewriting biblical truth we take the teeth out of the gospel.  If God loves us just as we are then what incentive do we have to repent lest we fall into the hands of an angry God if God, in fact, isn’t really angry at all?  By all accounts Jonathan Edwards was a dry speaker who read his sermons verbatim.  Yet it was through his and other’s preaching about “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that led to the Great Awakening.  I imagine this explains the ineffectiveness of the church in our day when some are doing everything they can to remove all references to this “Angry God”