Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Avoid Repetition in Preaching

“As you start preparing your sermon, you must begin with the exposition of your passage or single verse.  This is essential, this is vital; as I have said, all preaching must be expository.  You do not start with a thought, even though it be a right thought, a good thought; you do not start with that, then work out an address on that.  You must not do that, because, if your do, you will find that you will be tending to say the same thing each time; you will be repeating yourself endlessly.  If there were no other argument for expository preaching, this, to me, would be sufficient in and of itself; it will preserve and guarantee variety and variation in your preaching.  It will save you from repetition; and that will be a good thing for your people as well as for yourself!”  Preachers and Preaching, p. 75

Hear MLJ's lectures on Preachers and Preaching here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mount Hermon Catechism: Lord's Day 52 - Life and Death

Q358:  What is your supreme and only abiding comfort in life and death?
A358: My supreme and only abiding comfort in life and death is that I with my body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who has atoned for my sins, delivered me from the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my Heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, Christ assures me of eternal life and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
           Romans 8:14, 28; 14:7-8; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 2:14; John 6:39; Matthew 10:29; 2 Corinthians 1:21

Q359:  What should be the chief aim of the rest of your life?
A359: My chief aim for the rest of my life should be to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
           1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 32:11; 37:4

Q360: How are glorifying God and enjoying God related?
A360:  God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.
           Jeremiah 2:13; Matthew 6:21; Philippians 3:8; Hebrews 12:1-2

Q361: Should you think much about your approaching death?
A361:  Yes; my death is certain, unless the Lord returns first, and it is therefore wise for me to make all due preparations today, knowing that dying often brings many dangers to the soul, that dying well is one of the good works to which all Christians have been called, and that how I face death will speak volumes about my Lord and His gospel.
            Hebrews 9:27; Ephesians 2:10; Joshua 23:14

Q362: How should you prepare so that you may approach your death with joy and peace?
A362: I should prepare by striving each day to grow in my walk with God, keeping the faith, fulfilling my obligations to God and others, allowing present sufferings to hurry my heart homeward, trusting Christ’s promise that I will not face death alone, and believing that my death day will be better than my birth day.
           Revelation 14:12; Romans 8:37-39; Ecclesiastes 7:1

Q363: Why is a Christian’s death day better than his birth day?
A363: A Christian’s death day is better than his birth day because on that day he enters a more blessed life, a more blessed world, and a more glorious light than on his birth day, and is received by a better Father into a more glorious inheritance.
           Acts 7:60; John 6:58; Ecclesiastes 11:7; Psalm 17:15; 1 Peter 1:4-5

Q364: What legacy should you seek to leave behind when you die?
A364: I should not seek that my own name be remembered or honored, after I die, but that the name of my God, and His Son Jesus Christ, be more greatly known and loved, in my generation, in those to come, and for all eternity.       

           Psalm 115:1; 1 Peter 4:11; Jude 25; Revelation 7:12

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Early Christians and Child Exposure

"In common with the rest of Graeco-Roman society Christians married and bore children.  Unlike their culture, however, they utterly refused to engage in the practice of child exposure: "They marry and beget children, though they do not expose their infants" (Letter to Diognetus, 2nd Century).  This practice of placing unwanted babies out in the streets or on the edge of town near the garbage dumps was all too common throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  The wealthy did not want to share their worldly wealth among too many heirs; the poor had too many mouths to feed.  A frank statement of this practice has been found recently in a letter written around the year 1 BC by a man who was away on a business trip. He instructed his pregnant wife in Alexandria, who was about to give birth, "When you give birth, if it is male leave it, if a female, cast it out."

Rediscovering the Church Fathers, p. 63

The refusal of the early Christians to participate in such a practice was one of the things which separated them from the pagan culture around them.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Before Bethlehem, Jesus Was With God

Before the incarnation, Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit.  John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  So Jesus was both God and with God.  He was God in and of Himself, and He was with the other Persons of the Godhead – the Father and the Spirit.  Verse 2 also says, “He was in the beginning with God.” 

We’ve seen before that there is no time when Jesus is not.  There is no place where Jesus is not.   Now we recognize that for all eternity, there is no time or place where Jesus is alone.  Our God is a community.  Our God is a fellowship of three.  Jesus has never been solitary, never been a loner, never been by Himself.  Where is Jesus?  Where He has always been – with God.  Wherever Jesus is, so also are the Father and the Spirit.  Wherever the Father and the Spirit are, Jesus is there too.  They are united together, and are one.

What do we know about this fellowship which Jesus has with His Father and the Holy Spirit?  We know from John 17 that it is a fellowship of love, joy, and shared glory.  Picture the scene with me.  We have Jesus praying to His Father on the night in which He is to be betrayed.  He will be dead by this time tomorrow.  The next several hours will be filled with unspeakable anguish.

Jesus prays in verse 24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”  The depths of that verse are breathtaking.  When I eventually preach through John, chapter 17 will be one of those chapters that we will swim in for a very long time.  It is so rich, and so good. 

But the main thing for us to see right now is that Christ’s relationship with His Father before His incarnation was one of love.  This not small love, either.  God loves all that is good with an infinite love, and Jesus is all good.  For all eternity, Jesus has lived in the experience of a love deeper and wider and broader than the oceans.  It’s greater than that – this very universe, which stretches out beyond anything we can possibly imagine, is an expression of God’s love for Christ.  Friend, picture the most loved you’ve ever felt in your entire life, and multiply that by infinity – that is the love which Christ has known from His Father for all eternity.

Therefore, take the greatest moment of joy you’ve ever experienced, and multiply that by infinity, and you’ll have the kind of joy that has filled our Savior for all eternity.

This is Jesus before the incarnation.  He loves His Father, and He is loved by His Father.  He is deeply and immeasurably happy.  And, He and His Father share in a glory that makes our blazing sun look like a speck of black dust.  John 17:5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

Before the world existed, Christ dwelt with God in unapproachable light.  Together, they created heavenly creatures, such as seraphim and cherubim.  These creatures were created with the capacity to be in God’s special presence, to behold Him to some degree, and to joyfully extol His attributes forever.  So Jesus, before the incarnation, is an invisible Spirit, but a Spirit that can appear in various forms when He chooses to.  He is everywhere at every time.  He is with His Father and with the Holy Spirit.  He lives in the love of His Father and joyfully shares in His glory.  There is a place called Heaven where He and His Father make their presence especially known, and appear to heavenly creatures.  There, they are worshiped and honored and lauded. 

In this relationship, Christ joined with His Father and with the Spirit in a special plan.  They are of one mind and one heart in this plan.  They have covenanted together on this plan.  It is a plan to express all of their glorious attributes.  It is a plan to put on display before creatures given the capacity to see and wonder their own remarkable character.  It is a plan to create a universe, a moral universe, in which that which is the opposite of God – evil – will be present.  But Christ will show the glories of God by becoming a Savior for sinners.  This redemptive plan was adopted by the Godhead long before Christ was born of Mary.

Monday, December 23, 2013

True and False Expository Preaching

"I therefore lay down this proposition that a sermon should always be expository.  But, immediately, that leads me to say something which I regard as very important indeed in this whole matter.  A sermon is not a running commentary on, or a mere exposition of, the meaning of a verse or a passage or a paragraph.  I emphasize this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard as expository preaching but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching.  They think that it just means making a series of comments, or a running commentary, on a paragraph or a passage or a statement.  They take a passage verse by verse; and they make their comments on the first, then they go on to the next verse, and do the same with that, then the next, and so on.  When they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon.  But they have not; all they have done is to make a series of comments on a passage.  I would suggest that far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon!" Preachers and Preaching, p.72

Hear MLJ's lectures on Preachers and Preaching here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mount Hermon Catechism: Lord's Day 51 - The Lord's Prayer (II)

Q351: What do we pray for in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer?
A351: In the fifth petition, which is “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” we ask that God be pleased, on account of Christ’s atoning work, to freely pardon all our sins, and are encouraged to ask this because by His grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.
           Matthew 6:12; 18:35; Psalm 51:1, 3, 7; Mark 11:25

Q352: What gracious promise has Christ given to us concerning this fifth petition?
A352: Christ has given us the gracious promise that if we forgive others their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive us.
           Matthew 6:14

Q353: What solemn warning has Christ given to us concerning this fifth petition?
A353: Christ has given us the solemn warning that if we do not forgive others their trespasses, our heavenly Father will not forgive us our trespasses.
           Matthew 6:14; 18:21-35

Q354:  Does this gracious promise and solemn warning concerning forgiveness contradict the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ?
A354: Certainly not; rather, this promise and warning teach us that no person should believe himself to have truly repented and believed, having found forgiveness in Christ, if he is not also able and willing to forgive all who sin against him.
           Matthew 6:14; 10:8; Luke 17:3-4; Ephesians 4:32

Q355:  What do we pray for in the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer?
A355: In the sixth petition, which is “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, we ask God to preserve and strengthen us by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome by the unceasing assaults of our great enemies - the devil, the world, and our own flesh - but that we may constantly and strenuously resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory.
           1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:12; John 15:19; Romans 7:23; Galatians 5:17; Matthew 26:41; 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Q356: What does the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A356: The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory,” teaches us to praise God in prayer, to find our encouragement in prayer from God’s great willingness and ability to give us all good, and to aim for His glory in all that we ask.
           Matthew 6:13; Romans 10:11-12; 2 Peter 2:9; John 14:13; Jeremiah 33:8-9; Psalm 115:1

Q357:  What is the meaning of the word “Amen” at the end of the Lord’s Prayer?
A357: The word “Amen” at the end of the Lord’s Prayer means “It shall be so,” and declares our confidence that God has heard our prayer and will give us all that we need, for His glory and our good, in accordance with His sovereign will.
            Matthew 5:18; 6:13; Romans 11:36; 16:27

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Your Joy Will Overflow

The second century Christian who wrote a letter to his friend, Diognetus, urging him to become a Christian, ended his letter this way:

"God loved the race of men.  It was for their sakes that he made the world; it was to them that he gave dominion over everything in it.  On them he bestowed reason and understanding, and they alone received permission to lift their eyes to him.  He formed them in his own image; he sent his only-begotten Son to them; he promised them the kingdom of heaven, and to those who have loved him he will surely give it.  Once you have grasped these truths, think how your joy will overflow, and what love you will feel for him who loved you so."

Rediscovering the Church Fathers, p. 62