Great Sermon

By Alistair Begg on Luke 8:1-15, the Parable of the Sower which he exposes more truly as the Parable of the Seed.  Tremendous!  Download it and take a jog!

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Psalm 119:1 – The Bible, Holiness, and Happiness

Christianity has recently fallen in the observer’s eye to what is now being called ‘moral therapeutic deism.’  Christian pulpits, Christian books, Christian t-shirts, Christian bumper stickers, etc. have one contemporary message: do better and be happy; or do better to be happy!  Nothing could be more antithetical to the Gospel.  The proof is seen when doing any sort of casual survey of the evangelical landscape: those who are to be indefatigably joyful are thrown and tossed by the winds of circumstance like any other unanchored, unregenerate unbeliever without a certain hope in this world.  Let a bad thing happen to them and they are quite ruined for the day.  There is no real, abiding joy – because the happiness they are taught to seek is shallow and in no way tied to a passion and pursuit of loving obedience or holiness, a holiness that is developed by one’s faithful application of the Bible.  

They are told to be happy, but they are not told why or how to be so – least of all in the midst of suffering.  God, they are told, exists to make them happy irrespective of how they behave.  So long as they try hard to be a good Christian – and what this means is left to individual speculation – they are Christians who can hold their head up high – God certainly does expect anything more.  Much of this is the infiltration of the prosperity Gospel: do good, tell yourself you’re a fine specimen, and seek to be blessed – that is, attend to health, wealth, and happiness.  “Accept Jesus,” they say,”and God will turn your life around,” “you have a problem, accept Jesus: problem solved.”  There is no mention of the condition of the soul, of sin, of repentance, of saving faith in Christ alone because Christ alone is precious – His excellencies to save, or of holiness, the obedience of faith and the food for both: the Word of God.  And this is why there is a famine of daily, abiding joy in the church – the Bible has been replaced with therapy, and holiness based upon the Righteousness and Spirit of Christ set aside for wimpy, whiny unholy moralism.  And they do not know that it is out of a Bible saturated holiness that true happiness is had.

Psalm 119:1 is one of many passages that address this reality: God cares more about our holiness than our happiness, and God has given us His Word that we may be holy even as He commands we be.  The opening verse of 176 dealing with the centrality of God’s Word in the life of His children reads this way: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!”

That is to say, contrary to many prosperity gospel preachers and to the larger American gospel, “blessed are those who are holy,” and secondly, “who are holy insofar as they walk in the law of the Lord,” which is the means of holiness; for as God is holy, and requires that we be, in His amazing grace He has given us this to believe and behave accordingly: His Word!  Therefore, it is holiness springing up from communion with God that is the seedbed of blessedness, or covenant joyfulness.  To all prosperity preachers and weak-hearted brethren: the Old Testament concept of blessedness belongs to the language of God’s gracious promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 (as well as Deuteronomical blessing – chapter 28 – for obedience to the Mosaic law of God, certainly traced back to the promise to Abraham), a promise extended to all creatures through the faithful obedience of the one man Abraham, and his Offspring.  While the promise was certainly unconditional in that it emanated from the pure grace and mercy of God, yet it contained elements of condition in that those who partake in the promise and belong to God’s family are expected to then walk in a certain way: the way of holiness! No holiness, then no happiness, no blessedness, no true, and abiding joy.

Immovable joy, then, is most fully realized and experienced when one’s way is blameless or holy.  Now this brings us to our Lord Jesus Christ.  His way was not only blameless, as the Bible indicates our way can be, but His way was sinless quite unlike our own.  And as we have seen that the Word of God is God’s gracious provision for such a walk, no one fed upon it more than Jesus who was and is and will always be, Himself, the Word of God (John 1).  And therefore, while He was certainly a man of many sorrows and acquainted with grief, and no more so than on the cross of His passion, He was the most joyful man the universe has ever seen, indeed, it was because of the joy set before Him that He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).  And therefore, joy is not evidenced by smiles and giggles, or health and wealth, but by a holy treasuring of the value of God that reigns supreme over any inclination to avoid pain and suffering on account of that infinite worth; by a holiness refined in the fires of God’s Word; by a holiness born of a preeminent regard and love for God and His name and glory.

It was because of an abiding joy in God that Christ resisted every temptation, willingly died upon the cross, bore His wrath for us, and was raised and ascended and now reigns, bringing in the kingdom of God.  By the reasoning of Psalm 119:1 –  “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord,” – Christ was the most blessed person to have graced the world, and yet, by that same line of reasoning, He was uniquely qualified to become a curse for us in order that we might become blessed and be a blessing to others by our proclamation of Him to the nations.  It is because He has made us new that we now can be holy – and therefore, abidingly happy.  Indeed, He has given His joy to us – God’s joy in God!  

Let us then be anchored in law of the Lord, the Word of God – it is God’s gracious provision to us for us to know Him and imitate Him, to be holy even as He is holy; and let us strive to be holy knowing that this is why He has saved us, to make us like His Son; and let us understand that Christ, sinlessly and seriously holy, was yet supremely and abidingly joyful; let us consider then that while God does desire our joy, the joy He desires is that which is the companion of Word-saturated, God adoring holiness.  “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.”

Quality of Life Rather than Quantity of Service

On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work has been a refreshing and convicting read for me.  Prime and Begg seem to be sitting in the room with me at times sharing their character, discipline, experiences, failures and passion, while prodding me with sharp spurs.  The following quote is one of many prongs among the spur:

Some lessons we learn slowly, and one that we have found particularly difficult is that God wants quality of life from us rather than quantity of service, and that the latter is no substitute for the former.  More important than all our preparation for ministry and our careful administration of church life is that we should live our lives for the will of God and reflect His Son’s grace and character in all our dealings with others (p. 89).

The Importance of the Word of God in Christian Growth

Thinking recently on the importance of God’s Word in the life and development of the Christian and realized its presence at every stage of maturation.  

The Word of God is the agent of the new birth, wielded by the Spirit – by it dead souls come alive and begin to live for God, and are assured that its work of salvation will abide forever and not fade away,  1 Peter 1:23-25.

The Word of God is pure milk for the newly born believer, providing nourishment and growth into salvation, 1 Peter 2:2.  But even here the goal is maturation, and therefore,

The Word of God is solid food as well, intended to make the Christian skillful in righteousness, Hebrews 5:12-13, a person maturing to the fullness of the stature of Christ, Ephesians 4:15.  It is by beholding the glory of the Lord in the Gospel that we are transformed into His likeness from one degree to the next unto glory, 2 Corinthians 3:18.

The Word of God is truly indispensable for the Christian.  By it we are born again, and by it we grow into full maturity from infancy.  The Word of God, in God’s grace, both gives and sustains and matures the child of God.  Our perfect Father conceives and feeds us well.  Unbelievers, though you cannot hear, continue to give an ear – perhaps God will open it, and you will know the birthing power of this Spirit-inspired Word.  Young brothers and sisters, long for this pure milk – our Father will feed you, and you will grow strong in His salvation.  For the rest, consume the solid meat, do not settle or set aside the Word through which you were born, the Word of Christ, indeed, do not become complacent or stunted, but grow, mature, press on in the difficult things of God’s Word, and glory will reveal your perfection as you look upon Him, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, face to face.

Brains and All

It has been my contention that the Christian ought to be the most thoughtful person in all the world, not only because we are incited to think constantly, but because the objective subject of our thought is so infinitely great that an eternity is necessary to plumb His depths and mine His excellencies.  In reading through John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, I came across this terrific quote from C.S. Lewis:

God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you that you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.  But fortunately, it works the other way around.  Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.

Being, First, a Son of God

I am reading On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg.  This has been an extremely convicting read thus far.  Chapter by chapter they tag-team the topic of pastoral ministry.  Far from professionalization, however, the emphasis has been on the undershepherd’s primary relationship to God – a son.  In chapter 4, the duo addresses the priority of prayer in the private and public life of the pastor.  While I underlined the majority of the chapter, two sentences at the beginning caught my heart – it applies not only to prayer but also to Scriptural devotion (the theme of the next chapter): 

“More important than being a shepherd or teacher is being a son of God.  Prayer is the principal expression of our relationship to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (p. 65)

The point addresses a frequent reality for those pastoring and those aspiring to be such: the busyness of the ministry often restricts one’s prayers to those of a pastoral emphasis; meanwhile, prayer as our primary privilege as children and the avenue of our personal relationship with God is set aside.  Ironically, when our primary identity as sons of God is neglected and we no longer pray to God personally as a son to his Father, our pastoral prayers are weakened to point of powerlessness.  Let us beware of such professionalization, not neglecting the reality that we are, first, sons of God.

“Jesus, Jr.” by Ray Ortlund

Our local deity is not Jesus. He goes by the name Jesus. But in reality, our local deity is Jesus Jr. 

Our little Jesus is popular because he is useful. He makes us feel better while conveniently fitting into the margins of our busy lives. But he is not terrifying or compelling or thrilling. When we hear the gospel of Jesus Jr., our casual response is “Yeah, that’s what I believe.” Jesus Jr. does not confront us, surprise us, stun us. He looks down on us with a benign, all-approving grin. He tells us how wonderful we really are, how entitled we really are, how wounded we really are, and it feels good. 

Jesus Jr. appeals to the flesh. He does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him. He is not able to understand them, much less impart them, because Jesus Jr. is the magnification of Self, the idealization of Self, the absolutization of Self turning around and validating Self, flattering Self, reinforcing Self. Jesus Jr. does not change us, because he is a projection of us.

It is time to tear down Jesus Jr. It is time to rediscover the real Jesus. Still today, even to us, his invitation stands: “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28).

Visit Ortlund’s blog here.