Posts Tagged ‘DA Carson’

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
D.A. Carson
Crossway, 2010
168 pages plus 2 indices

It might be a sign that I have read too many of Dr Carson’s books if they no longer truly impact me where I am at any given moment. I have read a lot of his books. I have listened to a lot of his sermons. I have read a lot of his formal journal contributions. I am like a junky for Carson, at one time actually spending money to purchase very poor cassette tape audio recordings of his sermons. But this time I found myself finishing his sentences and skipping over time-worn illustrations and yawning. The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are amazing, mind blowing, earth shattering, soul undoing events. As Tim Keller notes: If Jesus is who he said he is, then everything changes.

In this book Carson did not do a good job of bringing those earth shattering realities to the surface or bringing my understanding of them to the point that my life is thoroughly, completely, utterly undone.

Scandalous is the first Carson book I have read in some time and, to be sure, I was disappointed. Disappointed enough that this will likely be the last Carson book I read. This is not to say it was a terrible book or that Carson’s scholarship was off or that his writing was, well, not Carsonish enough. It’s just to say that for the most part I was bored.

The book was cobbled together from a series of five sermons Carson preached at the 2008 Resurgence Conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. I’m willing to bet that these five sermons were actually written down in other books that Carson has written at some point in the past (many of his illustrations have been used elsewhere). If anything positive can be said about the book it is that Carson is at least consistent: He hasn’t said anything new since I started reading his work twenty years ago. That is what makes the work a rather tedious and hum-drum affair for me.

Don’t get me wrong. As far as theology is concerned, Carson mostly is right on target. He never deviates from his essentially Reformed Calvinist point of view and even though he never once mentions the name ‘NT Wright’ (he does get in a dig at Steve Chalke and Alan Mann in the note on page 69) one can sense that underneath much of what Carson writes is a polemic against the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ and what many in the Reformed camp feel is a threat to the grip they have on theological power that goes along with the Reformed interpretation of the atonement (viz., penal substitution). I find it hard to believe that something so obvious needs so much defense.

It’s almost as if someone is trying to dress up an old theologian and make him into a hip, happening kind of guy. The cover is cool: ‘Scandalous’ is emblazoned on the cover in shiny, raised, blood spattered letters that would make Dexter proud. The rest of the cover is an appalling black. All the right cool people are quoted lauding the work. Yet none of this changes the fact that when you open the book and begin reading you are struck by the fact that the most modern poet Carson quotes is himself. There are plenty of quotations from hymns written by Martin Luther, Lidie Edmuds, William Cowper and others, and these folks are fine, excellent hymn writers and poets. But they are from yesterday. I found it terribly disconcerting that Carson resorted three times to quoting his own poetry in the book (72, 109-110, 167-168) and that he was the most modern poet he quoted.

I think if you have never read DA Carson before you will find this a helpful book and, perhaps, even a good book. Like I said, Carson is not wanting for scholarship skills. If you have never read him before you will get a very good introduction to the Reformed view of the cross (although the book is subtitled “The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus” the Resurrection of Jesus only gets one chapter to itself) and resurrection. This may or may not be a good thing. I think when we get so intent on defending a point of view we often fail to be challenged or changed by the story itself.

If you have read Carson before, I think you will be bored and/or disappointed. He has not given his readers anything different or anything new to think about in this book. I wish he had interacted with some of those he opposes since it would have made the book a better read. He would likely be pleased with that fact, but for his readers there will be much yawning and sleepy eyed skipping ahead to the next page or the next chapter. And that will likely not please him one bit.

2.5 Stars out of 5

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“To believe in Jesus in the Christian sense means not less than trusting him utterly as the One who has borne our sin in his own body on the tree, as the One whose life and death and resurrection, offered up in our place, has reconciled us to God.”

–DA Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, 29

 

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This is from Carson’s book The Cross and the Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians.

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letter other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it–admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively on the long haul. Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it. Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembly of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God. Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism–all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple’ (1 Cor. 3:17). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (83-84

Well said.

In my ongoing series of posts on the current lectionary readings, I offer you these notes on 1 John 4:7-21. There are notes from DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, I Howard Marshall, Craig Keener, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and David Jackman among others. The notes focus mainly on John’s call to his congregation to love one another as this is the booked found in verses 7 & 21. There are 15 pages of notes in this study.

May 10, 2009: 1 John 4:7-21, Love One Another

Excerpt:

Let us love one another. I know how this works. I know what it means, but I tell you the truth: Loving one another is not about uttering words or feeling some particular swelling of the heart. John says that the only possible explanation for loving one another is that we happen to know God. He says that the only possible outcome of our knowing God is that we love one another.

And if we do not love one another then it is not God we know regardless of how much we claim to ‘know’ about him. Knowledge begets action not mere facts. Whoever does not love does not know: It is that simple and that terrifying. Furthermore, John is not content to allow us to define love on our own terms either. No. No. No. Scripture contains its own definition of what love is and how we can know that it is God we know. Anyone can define love on their own terms. Anyone can create their own ideas about love, but John defines love on different terms altogether: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.”

Be blessed.

Friends,

Here is my second installment of study notes for this week’s lectionary readings. This one focuses on Acts 4:5-12. The study focuses on the Spirit’s role, the Name, and the Exclusivity.  Quotes from William Willimon, Richard Philips, John Stott, Robert Tannehill, LJ Olgivie, DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, Aijith Fernando, Mark Driscoll, and more. There are 13 pages worth of notes, quotes, and commentary. There is Here’s an excerpt:

The leaders seemed to think that the church was no threat until the church started preaching in Jesus’ name. The world can safely ignore the church until we start making such exclusive claims about Jesus. The church is beside the point until Jesus is brought into the conversation. That is when the world begins to act in opposition. As long as the church is merely a glorified, so to speak, social services or dr phil, the world has no problem with us. It’s that pesky Name; that pesky Jesus whom the world crucified—But God resurrected! God issued his verdict on Jesus  and God’s verdict on Jesus ran and runs contrary to the world’s verdict on Jesus. Thus, the world is in opposition.

Acts 4:5-12, The Name of Jesus, May 3, 2009

Be blessed.

UPDATE: Access complete sermon mansucipt: No Other Name

Or download the MS Word manuscript here from box.net; formatted for your convenience.

Excerpt:

There is no other Name given by which men must be saved. What else on earth could possibly be of interest to the church but the Name of Jesus? Have we lost our nerve? Have we grown weary of the Name? Have we lost interest in the Name above all Names? Have we tired of the Name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Do we think that people will be more interested in us if we preach something different or something softer or something more compelling or something more interesting?

Friends,

Here I have found more audio sermons by DA Carson. These sermons are based on 1 Peter and were delivered at the 2001 John Bunyan Conference.

1. 1 Peter 1:13-2:1: Holiness without Suffering
2. 1 Peter 2:4-12: A Rock and a People
3. 1 Peter 2:13-3:12: How Then Shall We Live?
4. 1 Peter 3:13-4:19: Distinctive Christian Suffering
5. 1 Peter 5:1-11: Going to Glory
6. 1 Peter 1:1-12: Headed Toward Heaven

I’m sorry, but I cannot hyperlink to these, and the audio is of a rather poor quality. Nor am I certain they can be downloaded to your PC. There are two parts to each sermon except part 1 where there is only one part. There are other messages available at this sight, but I only recognized Dr Carson’s name. That’s not to say the other messages are not worth listening to.

Also, you can find seven sermons from Dr Carson here at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Session 1 – Revelation 4
Session 2 – Revelation 5
Session 3 – Revelation 21:1-8
Session 4 – Revelation 21:9-22:6
Session 5 – Revelation 12
Session 6 – Revelation 13
Session 7 – Revelation 14

Finally, at atthecastle.org.uk, you will find a series of sermons from Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 1:1 – 3:5 01_Jeremiah_1v1-3v5.mp3 9.04mb
Jeremiah 3:4 – 4:4 02_Jeremiah-3v4-v4v4.mp3 8.80mb
Jeremiah 11 – 15 03_Jeremiah_11-15.mp3 9.25mb
Jeremiah 30 – 31 04_Jeremiah_30-31.mp3 13.30mb
Jeremiah 37 – 39 05_Jeremiah_37-39.mp3 10.45mb
Q&A 06_Question_and_Answer_Session.mp3 10.50mb

You can also find much more of Dr Carson’s material at Christway Media.

jerry

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Friends,

It is a DA Carson bonanza! Oooh! You know I am big fan of his and I happen to believe, with the exception of his strident Calvinism, that he is a brilliant expositor of Scripture. Anyhow, a friend provided a link, after he did some down-the-rabbit-hole searching and came up with the Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology. Once there, click on the ‘audio’ link on the sidebar and you will be taken to a media page where you can listen or download four different messages from Carson. The four titles are:

  • Keeping Up the Conversation
  • The Gospel and Postmodern Minds
  • We Preach Christ Crucified
  • The God Who Helps

Judging from the titles, they might have something to do with the book Carson wrote called Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I have downloaded them and will begin listening this weekend. Good luck!

jerry

Friends,

Back in 2006 I preached a series of sermons I called ‘The Crucifixion Driven Life.’ This was my take on the popular 40 Days of Purpose that everyone was raving about at the time. We did the 40 Days of Purpose in my congregation and it was not quite as fun as I had hoped. Anyhow, shortly after we did the program I became very disillusioned with the nature of the program and shortly thereafter abandoned any hint that I had participated in the program. The main problem I had was that while there are a lot of good ideas in the program itself, the manner in which Scripture was used to arrive at those points was rather frustrating and disconcerting. Not only that, but it was the first time in my life I ever used sermon outlines that I had not prepared myself. I wrote my own sermons, but I built them around the 40 Days outlines. I am offering this as a public confession.

Anyhow, I’d like to use this blog for a couple of weeks to start publishing the majority of what I learned during the course of the 10 weeks that I preached on this subject. What I learned was simply amazing and thoroughly revolutionized my faith. What the Scripture says about the nature of what I have called the Crucifixion Driven Life is, beyond doubt, stunning. And what is more is that it stands in stark contrast with the American Driven Life of much of Western Christendom.

So I will be posting here, over the next couple of weeks or so, much of the material that I wrote, collected, and preached during this sermon series. I have quotes and sermons and I will also be including a few Skycasts–mp3’s of the sermons I preached. (Also, as with the sermons on Daniel posted last week, I will upload these sermons and Powerpoint presentations to my box.net account. This can be accessed from the widget on the left sidebar or via the links I provide.

This first quote is from one of my favorite writers and preachers, DA Carson. This particular quote is culled from his book The Cross and Christian Ministry:

What it means to be ‘spiritual’ is profoundly tied to the cross, and to nothing else. More precisely, to be spiritual, this passage, is to enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit—and this means understanding and appropriating the message of the cross, ‘God’s secret wisdom.’…The Spiritual person is simply a believer, one who has closed with the message of the cross. In deed, those who are most mature are most grateful for the cross and keep coming back to it as the measure of God’s love for them and the supreme standard of personal self-denial….[U]ltimately wisdom is from the world and is opposed by God, or it is God-given and tied to the cross. There is no middle ground. Those who try to create some middle ground by imitating the Corinthians—who confessed the Jesus of the cross but whose hearts were constantly drawn to one or another of the public philosophy and values of the day—will gain nothing but the rebuke of Scripture.—ibid., 62

Here is another quote from Carson from the same book:

Paul is not so naïve as to think that every Christian should, ideally, suffer the same amount. In fact, in one passage he testifies to his willingness to take on a disproportionate share of suffering, so that others might be relieved. But what is at stake, for Paul, is a fundamental stance, a way of looking at things…We follow a Crucified Messiah.All the eschatological promises regarding the new heaven and the new earth, all the blessings of sins forgiven and of the blessed Spirit of God, do not negate the fact that the good news we present focuses on the foolishness of Christ crucified. And that message simply cannot be effectively communicated from the haughty position of the trumphalist’s condescension. Until the end of the age, we will take up our cross—that is, we will die to self-interest daily—and follow Jesus. The less any society knows of that way, the more foolish we will seem and the more suffering we will endure. So be it; there is no other way of following Jesus.—ibid., 107-108

I’ll post a little more later as time allows. Enjoy these quotes, there’s much more to come.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is the text of last Sunday’s sermon. I have been reading and re-reading Isaiah’s sermons since June 23 of this year. The depth is overwhelming. What struck me though is where he chose to begin his sermons (or, at least what his editors chose as the first sermon in this collection). The first complaint is that Israel (Judah) does not know her God. Everything else, chapters 1:4-66:24 follows this announcement that the people to whom God has revealed himself do not know Him–at all. If the church accepts Isaiah as canonical and thus must make application of his words to the church, then he is also saying the church does not know God either. This has to change.–jerry

Isaiah 1:1-31: Knowing God: Isaiah’s Call For Reformation

 Introduction

 2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.

3 The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”

Several years ago, DA Carson wrote a book on prayer he titled A Call to Spiritual Reformation. It is 230 pages of very heavy theology and exegesis concerning they why and what of prayer. In order to introduce his subject matter, he spends several pages surveying the landscape and investigating several things that the church, Christians in general, are missing or needing.

In fact, his first chapter is titled “The Urgent Need of the Church.”

Well, there are a lot of things he surmises the church needs.

  • Personal morality-holiness. “Our culture,” he writes, “is heating up and destroying us.” But this is not our greatest need.
  • Perhaps it is a need for a ‘combination of integrity and generosity in the financial arena.’ Nope, that’s not it either.
  • Could it be that we need more evangelism and church planting? But Carson writes, “evangelism-at least the evangelism that has dominated much of the Western world-does not seem powerful enough to address our declension.”
  • Perhaps, he suggests, we need more disciplined, biblical thinking.
  • Then again we could need vital corporate worship. The need to be involved in politics and policy making also ring bells.

But none of these things ranks high on Carson’s list of things that the church needs in order for spiritual reformation to take place. Instead, Carson writes this:

There is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.

When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs-and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him. (15-16)

I sense this is a great problem we are facing in the Church still. The pressure is felt more acutely in some ways and places. There’s always the pressure of keeping up with the church down the road and sometimes, in some churches, that pressure causes great compromise in the way things are done and the things that are said.

I sense that this lack of knowledge of God is still the main problem we face. Oh, I don’t mean the simple lack of knowledge as in facts and figures-although that is a problem too. But the fact is that Carson is right! We spend so much time on the extra-curricular nonsense that really fail to get at the heart of God. His solution is, of course, that we should be praying.

As I read through Isaiah 1, several times since June 23, I noticed that these words preface the entire book of Isaiah: I reared up children, but they rebelled; my people do not know me. What a sad, sad state of affairs this is. To bring this into our own context, I would ask: Do we know our God?

I don’t mean: Do you know God in the sense of, ‘have you heard of God?’ I mean, do you really, deeply, truly know him? Do you have inside of you a unquenchable hunger and thirst for God? Do you seek first His Kingdom and righteousness? Is he your first and last thought each day? Can you say with the apostle, “I want to know Christ-yes the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead”?

Paul wrote to the Colossian Church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

But he also said something like this:

33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Or according to the Westminister Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. In other words: to know him!

But the Israelites didn’t know God. They didn’t make time to know him. What then of all that follows in chapter 1:4-23? It is my contention that these things Isaiah talks about in those verses are not the reasons why Israel did not know God but rather these are the consequences of Israel not knowing God. And you can see that it was a rather dreary list of consequences.

Let’s look at them ever so briefly.

  • Verses 5-6: There was a great deal of physical suffering among the people. Beating. Wounds. Welts. From top to bottom, there was no soothing their wounds. How much of our suffering is because we really do not know God?
  • Verses 7-9: They were economically and socially falling apart. They were desolate and their cities laid waste.
  • Verses 10-17: This is probably the most damning of all the consequences: Their worship of God was meaningless. But listen, how can we worship the true God in any meaningful way if we don’t know the God we are worshiping? How can we understand and know what he prescribes if we have spent no time in his presence? If we have not gone out of our way to be involved with him, to walk with him, to know him…how can we properly worship? Oh, don’t make this mistake: They had all the forms right. They knew the right moves, the right steps. They had all the motions down pat, but there was no meaning to any of it. Any of us can go through the motions. Here’s the trick: Do you go away from worship sometimes feeling like you have just gone through the motions? Do you ever have a sense that things are just not right? I suspect that the days when we feel that way it is because we have settled for mere ceremony and motions instead of moving from a hunger for God. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, they will be filled.
  • Verses 18-20: They were a people who paraded their sins around. Scarlet, or deep red, is not a color easily missed. They were stained greatly with sin because they didn’t walk with the Lord.
  • Verses 21-23: Look at all the rest. There was no justice and they tolerated murderers-those who defile the image of God by destroying those made in His image. Their offerings were worthless. They were cheats-watering down water. Their silver was impure. And they tolerated rulers among them who would do nothing about any of this. Do you think we have leaders among us, do you think we tolerate leaders-and I remind you that the prophet here is talking about God’s people and that if this is so then he is also talking to the church!-do you think we tolerate leaders among us who look like these ones Isaiah is saying they tolerated? I think we do and I think the reason so many in the church tolerate these shameless, greedy rebels among them is because, again sadly, they do not know God.

This was quite a fix these Israelites had gotten themselves into through the years. It is a rather embarrassing fix, to be sure. But God did not turn his eye blind or his ear deaf to it. I think it would be easy to assume that the God of the Old Testament is angry and filled with rage, but that is simply not the picture I see: Scattered throughout Isaiah, over and over again, are these little advance signs-little pictures of grace and hope. We see the same in chapter 1. God does not turn an eye blind to the unscrupulous, recalcitrant, rebellious human: Instead, he enters into it and sets about fixing the disaster we create.

We are good at rebelling and creating messes. God is better at repairing completely what we wreck.

He will purify his people. He will restore justice. He will avenge himself against his enemies. He will deliver Zion. He will take away their faithlessness and shame. The prostituted, Sodom and Gomorrah will once again become the City of Righteousness and the Faithful City! God is going to set straight all the crookedness. God will return the City to its state of purity and righteousness and glory; a place where He can put His Name.

You see this was about God’s glory too. The people suffered mightily, yes, but also I think God suffered. The city on the hill, the people of God, the light of the world had become little better than Sodom and Gomorrah, little better than a prostitute, less than barnyard animals, the scorn of the nations, a habit for murderers and disgrace and idolatry. The people to whom God had revealed himself did not know God and, as a result, no one else did either. There are mighty consequences that ripple throughout the land when those who should know God fail to do that very first, primary thing.

I’m glad Isaiah began where he did, that is, by pointing out that what he said had an historical context during the reigns of four different kings. What this tells me is very simple: These kings who were supposed to be the guardians of God’s Name among the people had failed. They had allowed the nation to slide, run headlong, into this decrepit state. What this tells me is that we cannot count on kings and leaders to do what must be done; it also tells me that these men could do very little to revive Israel and get them out of the funk they were in. This is exactly why the end of the chapter says, over and over again, “I will…I will…I will…I will…I will…” and all of the ‘I’s’ refer to God.

You see we have this problem: We don’t know the God who has made himself known. And it is going to take nothing short of his intervention, again, to get us fixed. And he did just that: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son. How did God do all these things spoken of by Isaiah? He sent Jesus of Nazareth who announced the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, with power. He began to turn people’s hearts back to God. It was through Jesus that God began to undo all the stupidity of man.

On the other hand, we learn what the church is to be like also. We are people who are to know God. When we know God-when we truly, deeply, know God-when He is our daily pursuit-then everything else will fall into place. Suffering minimized. Faithfulness accentuated. Worship made meaningful because we know whom we are worshiping. Sin cleansed because there is no sin among us. Not tolerating corrupted leadership. A place of righteousness. You see, when we learn about who God is, and what God expects, then we begin to understand who and what God expects us to be.

So the question I leave you with today is this: What is your daily pursuit? What is your daily ambition? Are you seeking first God? If God called court right now: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! What would God say about us? Would he say we are people who know Him? Or would he say we are people who do not understand? I guess a lot of that has to do with what we want Him to say, doesn’t it?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here is text from a sermon I preached in July 2005. I see a lot of themes in this sermon that I am only just beginning to understand. In particular, this series of sermons was titled “ALL THINGS NEW.” I had no idea at the time where this would eventually lead, but now I am beginning to see how it all ties together. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by. Any feedback is always appreciated.

Jesus Explains Why Things Must be Made New
Matthew 9:14-17

Introduction

A little later John’s followers approached, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don’t?” Jesus told them, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!” He went on, “No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put your wine in cracked bottles.” (Matthew 9:14-17)

____________________

“This is standard practice for you, a perpetual ordinance. On the tenth day of the seventh month, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you are to enter into a solemn fast and refrain from all work, because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. In the presence of GOD you will be made clean of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance. “The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father is to make the atonement: He puts on the sacred linen garments; He purges the Holy of Holies by making atonement; He purges the Tent of Meeting and the Altar by making atonement; He makes atonement for the priests and all the congregation. “This is a perpetual ordinance for you: Once a year atonement is to be made for all the sins of the People of Israel.” And Aaron did it, just as GOD commanded Moses.” (Lev 16:29-34)

_________________________

There was a little old church out in the countryside: painted white and with a high steeple. One Sunday, the pastor noticed that his church needed painting. He checked out the Sunday ads and found a paint sale. The next day, he went into town and bought a gallon of white paint. He went back out to the church and began the job. He got done with the first side. It was looking great. But he noticed he had already used a half gallon. He didn’t want to run back in town and being the creative person that he was, he found a gallon of thinner in the shed out back, and began to thin his paint. It worked out great. He finished the remaining three sides with that last half gallon of paint. That night, it rained: it rained hard. The next morning when he stepped outside of the parsonage to admire his work, he saw that the first side was looking great, but that the paint on the other three sides had washed away. The pastor looked up in sky in anguish and cried out, “What shall I do?” A voice came back from the heavens saying, “Repaint, and thin no more!”

___________________

If we consider this account of Jesus’ life here in Matthew to be a strictly chronological undertaking, then chapter 9 follows closely on the heels of Jesus’ greatest sermon ever, The Sermon on the Mount. It also serves as one of two narrative chapters that sit between two large teaching sections in Matthew’s Gospel, 5-7 and 10-13. Chapter 8 is a powerful chapter that clearly defines the power of Jesus: he heals a leper, he heals a man from a long distance, he calms the raging waters of the Galilee, and he casts a legion of demons from a man possessed by them. Crowds love Jesus, he is popular. And they are questioning: Who is this? But things are changing.

By the time we get to chapter 9 we see that Jesus is starting to rankle the so-called authorities. In the first 8 verses Jesus confounds them by declaring that a certain paralytic’s sins are forgiven. He then makes matters even worse by daring to go into the house of a well-known sinner and eat dinner with him and a few of his rowdy friends who were certainly not making preparations for the advent of Messiah.

“Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” Yes, Jesus, why did you eat with tax-collectors?

Then we arrive at our selected text for today. Jesus has just been accused of eating with the wrong company, now he and his disciples are accused of not not eating.

It makes little difference what Jesus did: eat, not fast, eat with the wrong people, not fast enough-whatever he did people found a way to criticize him. I suspect in a lot of ways Jesus still takes the brunt of such criticism today. If a house falls over in a hurricane or a child starves it is all God’s fault. If peace breaks out in the world it’s because we have super-wonderful ambassadors who struck a powerful peace treaty-give them a Nobel. He either too busy or too lazy or sleeping or impotent or indifferent. Everyone has something to blame Jesus for and often we hear their complaints.

We should get used to it. Jesus will always be criticized for not getting it right. And if the Master is criticized for not getting it right, do you think his disciples, his students, are going to fair any better? In fact, they were criticizing Jesus’ disciples here which was merely a way of criticizing Jesus.

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But the problem did not lie with Jesus and his disciples. Look closer at verse 14. Listen to the King James Version: “Then came to him the disciple of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” The disciples of John and the Pharisees did not even know why they were fasting! It does make one wonder, indeed, why they were fasting. Did they not read the signs of the times correctly? Were they looking for something they missed? Was their fasting merely an ascetic practice that mattered little to anyone but themselves? But Jesus declared later that those in Jerusalem did miss their appointment with God, the day of His visitation.

I am a firm believer that whatever we determine about fasting, or praying, or giving, or whatever-it is not to ever be done with ourselves in mind. The consensus among different authors is that the fasts they were referring to here occurred twice a week and that, by this point, were little more than ritual tradition. Jesus did have words for them in chapter 6, “When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Now, for John’s disciples it may have been a little more or a little less the same, but even John spent plenty of time announcing to those who listened that the Lamb of God was already among them: They too were fasting for the wrong reasons. They were fasting in anticipation of someone who was coming and didn’t listen to their leader John when he announced that the one they were waiting for had already arrived.

Jesus is not opposed to fasting, but I think he is at least concerned that we do it for the right reasons. And his point in this context is simple: It’s not the time for fasting. How can you expect someone to fast when it is not time to fast? So not only is there a right reason to fast, there is a right time. And these disciples and the Pharisees got it all wrong. Jesus certainly expects that there will be a time to fast-but it was not now. He is at least saying that fasting has something to do with Him and that His presence or absence determines the appropriateness of the fast. Jesus is essentially saying: Now that I am here, even something like fasting takes on a new meaning, a new importance. He establishes the rules of our religious ritual and the meaning of our religious piety. Apart from Jesus our fasting and praying and preaching and singing and breaking bread mean absolutely nothing. Apart from Jesus they are merely empty rituals.

Jesus says, There is a time to fast.

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Jesus uses two further illustrations to make his point that it is not the time or the season for fasting-when he was originally asked the question. You see, we live in the time when the bridegroom has been taken away. He is not here, and we are awaiting his return. We are in the time when fasting should be happening. Then he goes on to criticize the disciples of John and the Pharisees on two points.

The first point he criticizes them on is this: It was time for something new. I sense him saying: Here’s the problem, and what is your solution? To fast? Well, that will no longer cut it. We need new solutions to these problems that the old way of doing things cannot handle.

I sense him saying, “Look around. What do you see? You see people like Matthew here, whose house I am at, these so-called sinners that you despise me for eating with, and your response is to abstain from food?! How does that solve the problem of hopelessness among sinners? How does that solve the problem of their being considered outcasts? Fasting when people are starving for grace is just a patch that will not work. I did not come to be a patch for people; I am not a patch for the system you Pharisees have worked out, I came to be an entirely new garment. The old tear remains the same, a simple new patch will not do. I’m not here to fix the rip with a patch; I’m here to provide a new garment.”

He was saying that there are times when things need to be completely overhauled, abandoned and something New must take it’s place. Jesus was that Something New.

The second story he tells, or illustration he uses, is that of new wineskins. And the gist here is this: If I tried to cram this Newness that is breaking out all over the place into the old ways of doing things, such as your weekly tradition of fasting without even knowing why you are fasting, then fasting would become completely worthless, it would lose all meaning altogether, it would, in short, simply burst all over the place. But I will transform even the meaning of fasting. Don Carson gives a vivid description of the imagery contained here:

Skin bottles for carrying various fluids were made by killing the chosen animal, cutting off its head and feet, skinning the carcass, and sewing up the skin, fur side out, to seal off all orifices but one (usually the neck). The skin was tanned with special care to minimize disagreeable taste. In time the skin became hard and brittle. If new wine, still fermenting, were put into such an old skin, the buildup of fermenting gases would split the brittle container and ruin both bottle and wine. New wine was placed only in new wineskins still pliable and elastic enough to accommodate the pressure.” -227

You cannot put new wine into old wineskins. But, if you put new wine in new wineskins then the new wine and the new wineskins will both be preserved. He is not suggesting that it was necessary to preserve the old way of doing things-why preserve the old when He was the New? He was suggesting that it was necessary for there to be newness all around. So, if Jesus is a not just a patch for a broken old, threadbare way of doing things, what is called a ‘shadow of things to come’, and if Jesus is new wine that old wineskins cannot manage-then what is the point? The point is that Jesus was bringing and has brought a newness that could not be confined. And, to that end, everything had to be made new. I submit to you that he was not just talking about the broken tradition of fasting-fasting at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons-but he was, as Don Carson suggests, claiming the entire system of Judaism was defunct. In other words, he was claiming to be able to do what the religious system of the Jews could not do: Save people.

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 Now, let’s draw out some application to this small paragraph.

First, if Jesus was not compatible with Judaism, Judaism from whence sprung the roots of Christianity, then Jesus is not compatible with anything. That is, there is no such thing as Jesus and…, or Jesus plus…. Jesus is saying here that He is sufficient for the needs of people like Matthew, the sinner, in whose house he sat.

But I think frankly there is a lot of this very thing going around in modern Christianity. We are told we need Jesus and purpose, we are told we need Jesus and strict discipline, we are told we need Jesus and a whole host of things. Jesus is saying: I am sufficient. There is one Mediator between God and men the Man Christ Jesus. And this is new because it used to be the sacrifice of bulls and goats. Jesus says: I am sufficient.

His grace is sufficient. We don’t need Jesus plus anything. But, too, you cannot pour Jesus into people who insists that they need more than Jesus.

Second, when we do fast or pray or worship or preach it is not because of us. Jesus is the reason not only for Christmas but for everything. Jesus is the reason why we do or do not fast. He is the reason why we pray and worship. The Bible says that we should do all things as if we were serving Christ.

Frankly, too much of our Christianity is about experiencing life to the fullest or living our best life now or living the life we’ve always dreamed of. And there are a lot of important people making a lot of important money trying to convince us that this life is about satisfying our personal ambition and potential. It’s too bad many of them are Christians. Look, the bottom line is that if we are doing these things merely for ourselves then we are getting gypped because they are not about us. Jesus said, “they cannot fast while I am here…they will when I am gone.” So if he’s gone now, and we fast, we do so because he’s gone; not because we stayed.

Third, I don’t think it is fair or necessary or even biblical to determine a person’s devotion to Christ or the level of their spirituality based entirely upon whether or not they are devoted to certain rituals or practices-especially when it is clear that some practices are clearly, merely a patch to cover some old threadbare, ripped up garment. This was Paul’s argument in the letter to the Galatians where some people said, You need Jesus plus circumcision. Only then can your true spiritual state be determined. There is simply no room, no point, in going around rattling off to everyone how much of this or that we did then and there. Why boast? Why brag?

The Bible plainly says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 326-27) And in Romans 13:14: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…” Jesus is no mere patch-He is not here to just fix rips and tears-He is an entirely new garment. He’s did not come simply to fix up a broken system; he came to give a new Way. And a person’s level of devotion cannot be determined based upon how often or not they take communion or how often or not they pray or go on mission trips or how many Christian novels they read in a year. Honestly, we would probably do well, mind you, to worry about our own spiritual devotion and worry less about the level of devotion in others. It’s not a competition and Jesus makes it clear that those who make it a competition are those who are doing it for all the wrong reasons in the first place.

Finally, and this is the most difficult aspect of these verses to come to grips with, especially as it relates to our present situation. But I noticed that only those who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the bridegroom had issues with his particular religious customs. It’s not that they were offended that he forgave sins, but that he forgave sins. It’s not that he ate dinner with sinners, but that he ate dinner with sinners. And it is not that he did not fast-he did fast 40 days!-it’s what he was saying about their particular fasts that offended them. For them, Jesus was not righteous enough!

These people ate dinner. They wanted their sins forgiven. And they fasted. They were upset that Jesus was not giving their particular sins, or dinners, or fasts any special attention. I go back to my original point: People don’t like Jesus. And it is the same way now. Certain people in the world will always be offended at Jesus because Jesus does not come down and stand at their side and say: Here’s the Guy! People get offended now because we Christians understand that even now there is a reason to be joyful and celebrate. And certain people cannot stand that even in the midst of persecution and terrible times and tornadoes Christians find a reason to be joyful-and neglect those things that they hold so dear-as if those things they hold so dear will make us better Christians, more saved, or better prepared to meet the Lord.

The bottom line is that people do not like Jesus. That’s why they were angry. They were jealous. And sometimes when people get angry or jealous the only way they can satisfy themselves is by lashing out and criticizing every little thing that is done or not done by those they are angry at and jealous of. Today, in today’s world, Jesus is too righteous. And those who call upon His Name hear about it every single day.

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But I’m gonna stay with Jesus.

The Bible makes this point, and to be sure, Jesus is not advocating spiritual anarchy. Fasting mattered to him, and to the church he created. But here’s the point that the Bible makes: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts [and here’s the thrilling part]…what counts, is a new creation.

Jesus is all about Newness. Neither fasting nor not fasting means anything. What counts is a new creation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is a two part video interview with D A Carson.

In part one, Carson talks about New Word Alive–the conference where the interviews took place. He also speaks about the path he took in his life and why the local church is so vital in the ongoing advance of the Kingdom of God.

In part two, Dr Carson discusses the church’s role in developing leaders in the church.

I found these at youtube, but they were linked back to the blog of adrianwarnock. These interviews are short, but they are very insightful. Enjoy them and don’t forget to visit Adrian’s blog.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Day 4, Colossians 1:4: Our Faith in Christ Expressing Itself in The Love of the Saints

“…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…”

“But Jesus’ glorious prayer ‘that they may be one’ is manifestly being answered to a superlative degree in the confessional church around the world today, as Christians bask in God’s love and understand that all of our love is but a grace-driven response to the intra-Trinitarian love of God which has issued in the glorification of the Son by means of the cross, in the Son’s perfect obedience to his Father, all the way to the cross…Or what shall we make of postmodern voices that, in the name of love, deny the exclusive role that Jesus plays in mediating God’s love to us? Will their siren tones increase love, or even our understanding of love? Sadly, no: they merely restore idolatry under a new guise. These voices are among the least tempered and least loving of our time, especially with those who do not agree with their vision…Christian love is anchored in the Godhead, anchored in eternity, anchored in Christ, anchored in the cross.” (D A Carson, Love and the Supremacy of Christ, in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 99)

(You should get that book and read that chapter.)

I realize I am doing a dangerous thing by taking one verse at a time for mediation and thought. In taking one verse at a time I run the risk of oversimplifying Paul’s arguments or overcomplicating his exhortations or of being less faithful to the context than I should. It’s a dangerous method of meditation. So, remember that today’s verse was preceded by these words: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”. Then he says, “Because…”

We have heard…he is praying a prayer of thanks because someone had heard something about someone. In this case, someone had heard about the faith of the Colossian church. This was no random faith. This was no easy believism. This was no mere acceptance of something as truth with absolutely no evidence to back it up. (That’s how unbelievers define the faith of Christians.) No, theirs was a real belief in someone real and historical. They had faith in someone that could be heard, and seen, and touched. Christians do no believe in just anything and everything blindly for nor reason or just because some ‘poorly translated, dusty old book’ says it. We believe because people have testified to the truth and history is on our side. But this was no small thing. Their belief was known. Someone heard about their faith. In other words, they were not ashamed of what they believed nor were they ashamed of the consequences that such belief had in their everyday lives. It produced the sort of love that got people talking.

About their faith…this is no mere faith in whatever happens to come along and stir up their interest. This is a specific faith in Jesus Christ. N T Wright wrote, “Faith is not just (as often today) any religious belief. It is defined as faith in Christ Jesus.” (51) Too often today people, even church folk, have faith in something or someone other than the true object of faith Jesus Christ. It was this specific faith that the apostle ‘heard’ about and which caused him to offer prayers of thanks to God. I wonder what the apostle would say about the faith that is demonstrated and proclaimed in many evangelical circles today? Would the faith we are known for be something worth bragging about, something worth hearing about, something worth preserving, something worth thanking God for? Can people in the church define the full nature of the faith they profess or are those who criticize Christians correct that most Christians believe in myths and fairytales? What do you think the apostle would say about our faith?

In Jesus Christ…It gets a little deeper, no? Just as the church is also found ‘in Christ’ so also is the faith that they demonstrate a faith that has a location: In Christ. But this is not all! It also means, I think, that we have put our trust and confidence in Jesus. In other words, we are counting on Him to bring about all that we hope for. David Garland writes, “A fallen humanity in a fallen world offers no hope. Many people today place their confidence in science, but all our great advances have produced as many problems as have been solved. In many ways, science has shattered hope. It has become more difficult for some to believe in a God that would care about or even notice our existence. Consequently, many people live without any hope of salvation in this life, let alone the life beyond.” (62-63) Everyone has faith. There is not a single person on this planet who has not put his or her faith in something or someone with the expectation that said faith will give them some sort of hope. But the Colossians were different from the world around in that they put their faith in Christ alone. What of the church today? Are we putting all our faith in one basket so to speak? But if we do not put our faith in Christ, where else can we put it? Who else will cause our faith to realize its hope? Who else is trustworthy to do with our faith, to bring our faith to its intended ends? Surely the one who is the beginning and end of creation is trustworthy to handle our faith? Will he let our faith fall or fail?

But I might also add this: Faith is not just the ‘sphere in which we live’ or the ‘manner in which we conduct ourselves.’ We don’t sit around in hopeful, eager expectation wishing and praying that Jesus would do something for us so that our faith will be sure. Instead, we put our faith in Jesus Christ in confidence that He has already done something. We put our faith in the Jesus Christ who has already accomplished a great work and finished it. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our faith is confidence that what God has promised, Christ has completed and will complete. This is no empty promise devoid of power. Our faith is in this power we know will finish what was started.

Which prompted their love…David Garland asks well: “Is our love for the saints something worth broadcasting? Is it something worth talking about?” Again, we have to be most careful to define the sort of love that is being spoken of here. Love, in this case, is specifically defined as love that is based on faith in Christ Jesus: It is a sacrificial love being spoken of here. I don’t think for a minute that Paul is talking about merely saying, “Hello, I love you.” I suppose there is nothing wrong with telling people that, but mere words do not define Christian love. Those who belong to Christ, those found in Christ, those who put their faith in Christ Jesus cannot help but be people of love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” How can we claim to be the people of God if we do not love one another? How can we claim to be in Christ if we do not love one another? What does it say about our love for Christ if we do not love one another? What sort of faith are we demonstrating to the world if we do not love one another?

For all…here you can see that there are no exclusions to the love that the Colossians had even if the love they demonstrated was rather narrow and focused. There’s that word ‘all’ again. This word is anything but exclusive. It means that there is not a Christian brother or sister on the planet that we have a right to not-love. Dunn writes, “Presumably, therefore, this is what was in mind here—an active concern for one another among the Colossian Christians which did not stop short of self-sacrifice of personal interests—and not just for one another, if the ‘all the saints’ is to be taken seriously.” (58) We discriminate too much among ourselves. We think too highly of those we know and too little of those we do not. We think that we don’t have to love those who have different theological ideas from our own—even if those ideas happen to be decidedly wrong. But Paul writes that what defines us is our ‘faith in Christ.’ I see too much discontent, too much dislike—frankly, too much hate in the Church. There is no room for hate in the Body of Christ of which Jesus is the Head and in whom we live and move and have our being and place our faith and trust.

I think this hate must stop. I know it must. I understand well theological arguments and disagreements. I understand well that there are heretics among us. I understand well that there are plenty of people who are preaching a Gospel out of false motives. Yes, it is true: this and more is true, the Church is an ugly place at times. But what are the boundaries of our love? Does our love know boundaries? Did the love of God, the God who rescued us while we were yet sinners, who rescued us while we were still in the dominion of darkness, who rescued us while we were still enemies in our minds and doing evil works—did His love know boundaries? I ask you, should our love know boundaries when it comes to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ? My contention is that it should not and that it will not if, in fact, we are people of grace. I’m not suggesting that we do not contend for the faith. I’m not suggesting that everyone who utters the name of Jesus is among the sheep and not the goats. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that we should scuttle orthodoxy. May it never be! What I am suggesting is that we can engage people with differences in these areas in love, genuine, self-sacrificing love. We can love them regardless of how right or wrong they or we happen to be. It will not be easy and it may require some effort, but it can be done; that’s what grace is about isn’t it?

The Saints…Wright said it this way: “For Paul, the sure sign of grace at work was the fact of a loving community created out of nothing: of a love not restricted to those with whom one has a natural affinity, but which extends to all the saints.” (51) You understand that our love and affection for the Saints is evidence of the grace of God working among us? The saints, the holy ones, the call out and set apart ones, will factor prominently in these verses (2, 4, 12, 22, 26, 3:12). We are the saints and we are called to love one another. I don’t think this means we are to neglect the world at large, but I do think it means we are to have a special affection in our hearts for those who also share a hope in Christ, have placed their faith in Christ, and who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the holy ones. Notice that saints is plural. This means that there is more than one, and we are to love them all. (As an aside, please do not misunderstand Paul here. He is not talking about some specialized group of people who have been canonized by the church. Paul here is talking about Christians. This holiness is our common bond with one another: We have, all Christians, been called out, set apart, and are being perfected in the image of holiness. The saints are all of us or they are none of us.)

So what does Paul write: We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints. When was the last time you can say that you prayed such a prayer in the Name of Jesus? I wonder if we can say this about our church? Can we say that our love for one another is something to brag about? That is, is it something that people are talking about or hearing about in general conversation? Is our faith in the Lord Jesus a talking point? I notice that Paul does not say, “I thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we have heard about your fantastic new multi-purpose, multi-media, multi-million dollar building.” No. He thanks God for something simple: I thank God for your faith in Christ which manifests itself among you as a sincere, self-sacrificing love for one another, indeed for all the saints. This is the evidence that God’s grace was truly working among them.

Would that our churches here in America could be known for something more than our political agendas. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our budgets. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our fancy campuses. Would that our churches here in America could be known for more than their television or radio ministries or their charismatic senior, executive, director of operations. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something as radical, as Biblical, as holy as our faith in Christ expressing itself as love for one another.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 3 Colossians 1:3 The Prayers we Pray

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Prayer is language used in a personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want to respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses—these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, 12)

In a sense, much of what Paul writes in this first chapter is prayer. He starts a prayer here in verse 3, talks about many of the things he is thankful for, and then, in verse 9 starts praying all over again. Then in verse 10 he offers more prayer and I might go so far as to say that Paul will offer yet another prayer in verse 24. When he gets near the end of his letter (what we call chapter 4) he concludes with this exhortation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray…Pray…let your conversation…” So he opens the letter with prayers, and he closes by inviting the congregation he is writing to to join him in his prayers.

The depth of the prayers that Paul offers in the first chapter though is simply astounding. Here we read of a man who is struggling mightily in his prayers for these people. There is a richness to his prayers that language barely expresses. He ‘invents’ words to capture his ideas. There is a vastness to his prayers, not content is he to merely pray about every broken bone and every dying person, Paul opens up the heavens and prays in cosmic, universal language to The firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things, the Image of the Invisible God. Paul is not praying to some lesser deity about some lesser thing. Paul is praying about the church over which Christ Jesus himself is the Head. Paul is praying about the church and for the church to the one who ‘holds all things together.’ Paul is praying for the church to the one who is the beginning and end of creation. Do you think Paul is concerned for the church? And do you think we should be?

Yet how often are our prayers stifled by a cacophony of ‘organ recitals’? How often are our prayers muted by the overwhelming sickness and disease rampant among our members? How often do we pray in galaxy type language—borders wide, depth unimaginable, expanse limitless; Christ’s Lordship unquestioned? How often are our prayers constrained by time? How often are our prayers determined by the course of world events instead of being catalysts for world events? How often do we pray in the uncertainty of God’s will instead of praying for God’s will to simply be confirmed—regardless of what it is? How often do we pray prayers of thanks for others because we have heard of their faith and love that they have for the saints? You see, our prayers can be too limited and often are restrained and unrefined. Here in Colossians 1 we see an example of the sort of prayers that are refined by the Word of God and honed to a sharp perfection. Here are the prayers of the saints!

But he is also not merely content to pray to God. No, Paul also feels compelled to tell the church what he is praying forthem. And to this end we see the apostle’s agenda, that is, what he thinks it is important to pray for and about on behalf of the Colossian Christians. Don Carson well notes,

“Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions as God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around the equivalent items? If the center of our praying is far removed from the center of Paul’s praying, then even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the processes of paganization in our life and thought” (DA Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 96-97).

We will explore in more detail the specifics of the apostle’s prayer later as this series progresses so for now I’ll simply note a couple of the ideas.

He thanks God because of their faith which was, evidently, well known in the world at the time.

He thanks God for the love they have for the saints.

In verse 9, he prays specifically that God will fill them with ‘knowledge of his will’. In fact, he says, ‘we have not stopped praying’ this.

In 10, he prays that they might live a life worthy of the Lord, please him in every way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power so they might endure and be patient and joyful and thankful.

This is the tip of things, but as you can see the apostle’s prayer priorities are far different from the typical prayers that are uttered in prayer meetings or from the pastor on Sunday mornings. DA Carson calls this the ‘paganization’ of our christian prayer life and thought. I say it is the minimizing of our thoughts, or it is prayers to a lesser god. When our prayers are merely the same repetitive, boring pap that the pagan world offers, “Oh, god of wood and stone, let me win the lottery,” then our defeat is complete. But what if our prayers were suffused with the sort of language the apostle uses here: “I pray that you will be filled with the knowledge of God so that you might live a life worthy of God and please him in all things.” What do you suppose would happen if those were the sort of prayers, biblically informed and biblically formed, that we prayed?

What if? What if our prayers were prayed to the God who is the Creator of all things? What if our prayers were prayed for God to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves? What if our prayers were unmasked and unfiltered and unashamed of the glorious authority that is in Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church? What if our prayers were filled with the remarkable content of grace? What if our prayers were concerned more with the Gospel bearing fruit all over the world, and even among us, than with mere churchgrowth? (Don’t you think that if the Word grew and did its job church growth would be a necessary corollary?) What if our prayers were that the people of God be filled with wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God, God’s mystery in Christ, and God’s will? In other words, what I am saying is this: What if our prayers were Christocentric and not man-centric? What if our prayers focused and centered on God in Christ first and only on ourselves as a distant second or third? Do you think this would change the way we act, behave, live, and pray?

And what if we truly considered who it was that we prayed to? Paul is praying these things to the God who rescued the Colossians from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son he loves (13-14). Paul is praying to the God who reconciled us by way of the cross (22). Paul is praying to the God who has now made known the mystery of Christ in us (27). Paul is praying to the God who lives in fullness in Jesus Christ (19). Paul is praying to the God who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (18). Paul is praying to the God who forgives sins and redeems people (14). I could go on, but the point is clear: This is no pagan deity that Paul is praying to, and the nature of Paul’s prayers indicate that this is no God to trifle with. These are serious prayers. They further indicate that this God is powerful enough to effect the prayers that Paul is praying. There’s no point in praying such things if the God one is praying to is unable to hear them or answer them.

I also notice this. Paul is praying to someone specific: The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This goes along partly with what I just wrote, but in a different way. Paul is praying to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that he is praying to the God who acknowledges the work that Jesus Christ has done. He is praying to the God who acknowledges and confirms that Jesus is Lord. Arthur Patzia writes, “This emphasis upon Christ’s exalted status as Lord certainly would reinforce the idea that Christ is not an inferior deity but one in whom God himself is Found” (NIBC, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 17) James Dunn notes, “God the Father is the one to whom prayer should properly be offered…just as he is the ultimate source (‘Father’) of all creation and all being, including the dignity and authority of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.” (56) In other words, Paul is praying to the One who has acknowledged and established the authority (Lordship) of Jesus Christ. What if we prayed with the acknowledgement that Jesus truly is Lord and that we were praying under the auspices of his Lordship, because of his Lordship, and acknowledging his Lordship? Would this change our prayers?

Finally, there is this little word ‘always.’ There is a constancy about the prayers of Paul. This word ‘all’ (and its cognates) is used constantly in this first chapter and will play an important role in helping us understand the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ who is exposed in this letter. But for now, it is safe to note that Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church are specific in content, specific in direction, and specific in duration. If nothing else, we can say that the apostle was a man of prayer who believed that prayer made some sort of difference in the lives of those he prayed for.

And he wanted them to know it. This is the glory of it all: Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know what he was praying, to whom he was praying, and why he was praying it. I think by extension, he wants us to know as well so that our prayers will become biblically formed and biblically informed; that the language of Scripture will be the language of prayer. He fills his page with words and meaning and direction so that our prayers will not be the vacuous, meaningless devoid of content mumbling and ranting that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6 when he said, ‘When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites or the pagans.’ Here the apostle is giving shape and content, focus and direction, meaning and purpose to the words that we dare utter back to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is a must watch. D A Carson discusses sin, grace, the Cross and how misunderstanding of these can be threats faced by the church.

 jerry