What’s in a Name? — Pondering Jesus (12/07/13)

Over the next month or so, I shall be reflecting on the Gospel of Matthew and ‘pondering Jesus’ – thinking about who He is, and what that means for us. In so doing, I hope to delight more in my Saviour; and if I am able to help you (reader) to do so too, then even better!

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)

What’s in a name?

I often think of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, and so on, when I consider Jesus’ identity. All of this is true. But when considering these “titles”, I often neglect the name Jesus itself. In our modern context, we don’t think much – if at all – about names. For example, I have many friends called “Victor”, but never have I consciously associated them with being victorious, regardless of how successful they are.

The name Jesus, however, bears closer scrutiny. It is Yeshua‘/Yehoshua‘ (Joshua) in Hebrew, meaning “Yahweh saves” (ESV Study Bible). And in the text above, we know the reason why he is so called: “for he will save his people from their sins.

God came down in human form in the person of Jesus. And why did he come? He came to rescue his people from their sin, which leads to death and destruction. This was his main purpose. This rescue mission was so central to his purpose that it was even encapsulated in his name!

Sin is a big deal – that’s why we needed rescuing. But it is such a wonder of mercy that God himself would come down to save us. And notice how certain this salvation is: ‘he will save his people’. When we think of Jesus today, or when we call out to Him in prayer, let us remember that He is the God who saves.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Thoughts

Owen, ‘How Life and Comfort Depend on Mortification’

As we walk with our God we desire greatly His strength, comfort, power and peace. The realisation of these, and thus the joy of our spiritual life, depends greatly upon the mortification of sin.

Owen acknowledges that there is no necessary tie between mortification and these things – ‘the use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative’. He also notes that mortification is not the ‘immediate means that God has instituted to give us life, vigour, courage and consolation’; that would be adoption (cf Rom 8:16).

However, he goes on to explain:

In our ordinary walking with God, and in the ordinary course of His dealing with us, the vigour and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification. Mortification not only bears a cause-and-effect relationship to our joy, but it works effectually to bring it to pass. The vigour of our spiritual lives is not possible apart from mortification.

Mortification prevents sin from depriving us of health in our spiritual life. Every unmortified sin will certainly do two things:

  1. It will weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigour. When David had, for a while, harboured an unmortified lust in his heart, it broke all his bones, and left him no spiritual strength; hence he complained that he was sick, weak, wounded, faint. ‘There is,’ he said, ‘no soundness in my flesh’ (Psa 38:3); ‘I am feeble and crushed’ (v8). Indeed, I cannot so much as ‘look up’ (Psa 40:12, AV). An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit, and all the vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all duties. For:
    • Sin untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God. It lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17). The unmortified soul cannot say uprightly and truly that God is its portion, having something else that it loves. The soul and its affections, that should be full of God, cannot be full of Him, since it is entangled in worldly pursuits.
    • Sin fills the thoughts with its enticements. First it captures the thoughts and, if unmortified, it then seeks to make provision for and fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
    • Sin breaks out and actually hinders duty. The ambitious man must be studying, the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing vanity for himself, when they should be engaged in the worship of God. It would extend this discourse too much o set forth the breaches, ruin, weakness, and desolations that one unmortified lust will bring upon a soul.
  2. Sin will also darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace. Sin darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favour. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them.

Mortification prunes all the graces of God, and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigour of our spiritual life consists in the vigor and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in a garden, let there be a precious herb planted, and let the ground be untilled, and the weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but it will be a poor, withering and unuseful thing. You must look and search for it, and sometimes can scarce find it; and when you do, you can scarce know it, whether it is the plant you look for or not; and suppose it is, you can make no use of it at all. But let another of the same kind be set into he ground, naturally as barren and bad as the other, but let it be well weeded, and every thing that is noxious and hurtful removed from it, it flourishes and thrives; you may see it at first glance into the garden, and have it for your use when you please.

So it is with the graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts. If they abide in a heart where there is some neglect of mortification, and they are about to die (Rev 3:2), they are withering and decaying. The heart is like the sluggard’s field, so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any. If he does discover that these graces are there and alive, yet they are so weak and so clogged with lusts, they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die.

But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, and the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), there will be room for grace to thrive and flourish, the graces that God gives will act their part, and be ready for every use and purpose!

– John Owen, ‘How Life and Comfort Depend on Mortification’ (Ch 2 in his The Mortification of Sin, abridged by Richard Rushing)

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotations

Owen, ‘Why The Flesh Must be Mortified’

The main point thus far: Even while we claim the meritorious mortification of our sin through the work of the cross of Christ, and though the implantation of our new life in Christ is in opposition to and destructive of the expression of sin, sin remains, acts, and works in the best of believers while we are yet in this world. It must be our constant daily duty to mortify it.

Before proceeding, I cannot but note that even though there is in this generation a growing number of professors, a great noise of religion, religious duties in every corner, and preaching in abundance, there is little evidence of the fruit of true mortification. Perhaps we might find that ,judging by the principle of mortification, the number of true believers is not as multiplied as it appears from those who have made a mere profession. Some speak and profess a spirituality that far exceeds the former days, but their lives given evidence of a miserable unmortified heart. If vain spending of time, idleness, envy, strife, variance, emulations, wrath, pride, worldliness, selfishness (1 Cor 1), are the mark of Christians, we have them among us in abundance. May the good Lord send us a spirit of mortification to cure our distempers, or we will be in a sad condition!

There are two evils which certainly accompany every unmortified professor, the first, in himself, and the second, with respect to others.

First, in himself. The basic characteristic of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. He who is able to swallow and digest daily sins in his life without conviction in the heart is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Let a man pretend what he will, little concern over sin is a serious offence to the grace and mercy of God!

There is no greater evidence of a false and rotten heart in the world than to deal in such a trade. To claim the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us (1 John 1:7; Titus 2:14); the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance (Acts 5:31); the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12); and then to allow sin, is a rebellion that in the outcome will break the bones. From this door have gone out from us most of the professors that have apostatized in the days in which we live. For a while most of them were under conviction, and they ‘escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet 2:20). But after having become acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel, they became weary of their spiritual duties. They had no true desire for these, and they allowed evil instead to lay hold of them, and speedily tumble them into perdition.

Second, to others. Unmortified professors have an evil influence on others in two ways:

i. Others are hardened in their own sin by persuading themselves that they are in just as good a condition as the unmortified professor. They see their zeal for religion, but it is not accompanied with righteousness. They view their worldly and selfish lives. They see them talk spiritually but live vainly. They hear them mention communion with God, and yet they are in every way conformed to the world. They see them boast of forgiveness of sins, and yet never forgive others. Thus, as they see the stain of sin in the unmortified professor, they harden their own hearts in their unregeneracy.

ii. It deceives them to think that if they can just be as good as the unmortified professor it shall be well with them. In reality they might even go farther in ‘holiness’ than the unmortified professor, and yet still fall short of eternal life.

– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (1656). (Abridged version by Richard Rushing (2004), at 10-12)

I wonder if these words of John Owen, written almost 400 years ago, are equally descriptive of the bride of Christ today?

Leave a comment

March 8, 2014 · 12:04 pm

Stott on the relationship between doxology and theology

It is of great importance to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done. It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1-11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise. The worship of God is evoked, informed, and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.

On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before him in adoration.

– John Stott, commenting on Rom 11:33-36 in The Message of Romans (IVP, 1994) at 311-312 (emphasis mine).

Leave a comment

February 25, 2014 · 5:07 pm

A short post on C.S. Lewis

22nd November 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death. Clive Staples Lewis, or ‘Jack’ as he was known to his close friends, was a stalwart of the Christian faith and one of my heroes. I owe much to him and his writings; in particular his Chronicles of Narnia which I read as a child, and his Mere Christianity which I read during a tumultuous period in my life. No doubt he is one of the first few people I’d like to meet when I get to heaven.

Much tribute has been made to him in the year that just passed. Amongst other things, he was honoured with a memorial in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey; he was the subject of the entire Desiring God National Conference 2013; and a number of books have been published this year in his honour (e.g. this one, and this free ebook). I shall not attempt to produce a tribute of my own here. This is largely because everything that can be said has already been said and by persons far more eloquent than I – I would simply not do Lewis justice.

I would just like to share one thing, if I may. C.S. Lewis’s description of faith in Jesus Christ has resonated deeply with me ever since I read it. In one of my favourite quotations from his entire corpus, he writes:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Christianity is the only coherent worldview which explains everything in the world – history, science, the human condition… everything. It is not a blind faith; it is a thinking, rational one, as I have elsewhere described. And, dear reader, if you would earnestly consider the claims of Jesus, I assure you that everything will start to make sense.

To conclude this short post, I would highly recommend the following message preached by Julian Hardyman of Eden Baptist Church, on Lewis’s ‘ legacy, 50 years on. It is such a good introduction to the life and work of a man touched by the love of Christ, who in turn touched the lives of many.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles / Reads, Sermons, Thoughts

Nelson Mandela and the Ironies of History – a realist’s account of the life of a great leader, by Al Mohler.

Leave a comment

December 9, 2013 · 1:50 pm

Calvin on how the Imago Dei should influence our ethics

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.4.6.696-7:

The great part of [men] are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honour and love. [You] say, ‘he is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has given the beauty of his image. Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognise toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for your sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. … You will say, ‘He has served something far different of me.’ Yet what has the Lord deserved? … remember not to consider men’s evil intention but … look upon the image of God in them, which … with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.

Leave a comment

December 5, 2013 · 9:52 am

How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?

“Can a married woman live as though she were still single? Well, yes, I suppose she could. It is not impossible. But let her remember who she is. Let her feel her wedding ring, the symbol of her new life of union with her husband, and she will want to live accordingly. Can born-again Christians live as though they were still in their sins? Well, yes, I suppose they could, at least for a while. It is not impossible. But let them remember who they are. Let them recall their baptism, the symbol of their new life of union with Christ, and they will want to live accordingly.

So the major secret of holy living is in the mind. It is in knowing that our former self was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6), in knowing that baptism into Christ is baptism into his death and resurrection (6:3) and in considering that through Christ we are dead to sin and alive to God (6:11). We are to recall, to ponder, to grasp, to register these truths until they are so integral to our mindset that a return to the old life is unthinkable. Regenerate Christians should no more contemplate a return to unregenerate living than adults to their childhood, married people to their singleness, or discharged prisoners to their prison cell. For our union with Jesus Christ has severed us from the old life and committed us to the new. Our baptism stands between the two like a door between two rooms, closing on the one and opening into the other. We have died, and we have risen. How can we possibly live again in what we have died to?”

– John Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP 1994), at 179-180

1 Comment

November 8, 2013 · 7:24 am

The Reign of Grace

Nothing could sum up better the blessings of being in Christ than the expression ‘the reign of grace’ [Rom 5:21]. For grace forgives sins through the cross, and bestows on the sinner both righteousness and eternal life. Grace satisfies the thirsty soul and fills the hungry with good things. Grace sanctifies sinners, shaping them into the image of Christ. Grace perseveres even with the recalcitrant, determining to complete what it has begun. And one day grace will destroy death and consummate the kingdom. So when we are convinced that ‘grace reigns’, we will remember that God’s throne is a ‘throne of grace’, and will come to it boldly to receive mercy and to find grace for every need. [Heb 4:16]

– John Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP, 1994) at 157-8 (emphasis added)

Leave a comment

November 1, 2013 · 3:50 am

Is faith irrational?

(16) Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (17) As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

(18) Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (19) Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. (20) Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, (21) being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (22) This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (23) The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, (24) but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (25) He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

– Romans 4:16-25 (NIV)

———————————————————————–

In our modern age a charge often brought against Christians is that our “faith” is irrational – ‘a conviction which cannot be shaken by contrary evidence’ (Bertrand Russell). It is said that to have faith is unreasonable; it does not depend on reasons for belief.

A philosophically comprehensive response to the above challenge would require far more than a mere blog post. In this brief riposte I merely wish to illustrate, from a Biblical perspective, that faith does depend on reasons – reasons for belief. Christians are not unthinking “headless chickens” who trust in the God of the Bible because it merely brings them comfort. (Indeed, if the fundamental reason for our faith, the resurrection, did not happen, the apostle Paul concedes that we Christians are ‘of all people most to be pitied’.)

The above passage from the book of Romans is noteworthy for various reasons, but for our purposes here we shall focus on the theme of faith. The writer, Paul the apostle, considers faith in the account of our ‘father’ of the faith, Abraham. The narrative concerning God’s promise to Abraham can be found in Gen 15-24; but to summarise, in Gen 15:1-5 God promises Abraham (for a second time) that he would bless him and make his offspring as innumerable as the stars in the sky. This promise seemed impossible at the time, since Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless and in old age. Yet he ‘believed the Lord’, and this faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’ (Gen 15:6).

But why did Abraham believe God’s promise? Here we are ably assisted by the commentary of John Stott:

In this chapter the apostle gives us instruction about the nature of faith. He indicates that there are degrees. For faith can be weak (19) or strong (20). How then does it grow? Above all through the use of our minds. Faith is not burying our heads in the sand, or screwing ourselves up to believe what we know is not true, or even whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. On the contrary, faith is a reasoning trust. There can be no believing without thinking.

On the one hand we have to think about the problems which face us. Faith is not closing our eyes to them. Abraham ‘considered his own body, which was as good as dead, … and the deadness of Sarah’s womb (19, REB). Better, he faced the fact (NIV) that he and Sarah were both infertile. But on the other hand Abraham reflected on the promises of God, and on the character of the God who had made them, especially as he is the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (17). And as his mind played on the promises, the problems shrank accordingly, for he was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (21).

– John Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP, 1994), at 136.

Abraham was not guilty of ‘wilful blindness’ – a legal term which refers to deliberately shutting ones eyes to the truth of the matter. If so his faith would have been irrational, and he would be no less guilty of the aforementioned charge brought against Christians in this modern day. Rather, he considered both the challenges to belief or trust in God, but considered that God’s character and promise far outweighed these challenges. His faith in God was ‘a reasoning trust. There can be no believing without thinking’.

Stott continues:

We today are much more fortunate than Abraham, and have little or no excuse for unbelief. For we live on this side of the resurrection. Moreover, we have a complete Bible in which both the creation of the universe and the resurrection of Jesus are recorded. It is therefore more reasonable for us to believe than it was for Abraham. Of course we have to make sure that the promises we are seeking to inherit are neither wrenched out of their biblical context nor the product of our own subjective fancy, but truly apply to us. Then we can lay hold of them, even against all human hope, yet in hope (18), that is, in the confidence of God’s faithfulness and power. Only so shall we prove to be genuine children of our great spiritual forefather Abraham.

ibid, at 136.

All the above is not to say that faith does not go beyond reason. At some point, once all the cards are on the table, and the reasons point towards one conclusion or the other, a step of faith – a choice – is required. To choose what? To choose to trust:

[F]aith is believing or trusting a person, and its reasonableness depends on the reliability of the person being trusted. It is always reasonable to trust the trustworthy.

– ibid, at 133.

It is worth emphasising that biblical faith is not ‘faith in faith‘ – i.e. a trust in a disembodied concept – but is a trust in a person: God. And the Christian God is remarkably personal. We believe that God came down in human form in the person of Jesus Christ, to die for the ungodly and reconcile us to Himself (Romans 5:6,11). In so doing, He demonstrates His immense love for us. The Christian faith is not a trust in an idea, or an ethical code; it is a trust in a person.

Now, granted, in our modern age the challenges we face to belief are different to those which Abraham faced. For example, our “postmodern” culture has eroded our trust in any objective truth or authority. Can we really trust the Bible? Isn’t Christianity just a dying religion, an idea which will fade into the doldrums of history? Though I shall not attempt to answer them here, these are valid questions to ask, and there are various reasons – good reasons, might I add – to trust in Jesus. (Potential starting points here, and here)

But the important point for our purposes here is that we look for reasons; that we think; that we engage with the difficult questions of life, and not shut ourselves off to contrary views. Indeed, this ‘wilful blindness’ is – potentially – a charge equally levelled against both atheists and Christians.

1 Comment

Filed under Articles / Reads, Thoughts