Wixing up our Mords

[Jesus] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,[1] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 24:46–7)

These words are spoken near the very end of Luke’s Gospel of the Gospel message, yet when many Christians speak of the Gospel it doesn’t mound such like Jesus’ words. Often the Gospel of love is referenced, though those words are never used in Scripture, but rather that God is a loving God whose general love was displayed in the sending of His Son and who pours out His special love to those redeemed through faith in His name; in fact His love being an encouragement to seek Him with the promise that He by no means casts away those who come to Him (Jn 6:37b).

You also often here ‘Gospel’ phrases like, ‘Jesus died for everyone, all you have to do is believe’; or ‘on the cross Jesus paid for the sin of the whole world, do you believe this?,’ or, ‘Jesus loves you and died for you, all you need to do is receive His love’; etc, etc, etc. Yet if He died for all than He His blood cannot be all sufficient, or He must not be all powerful, for He doesn’t follow through and save all those ‘He’s died for.’

I used to speak this way, but I’ve learned to be more discerning with my words because words matter. Words express truth and lead people to a fuller or lesser knowledge of the truth. What Jesus says at the end of Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel. It is a message to repent and ask Christ, on the basis of his work on the Cross, to forgiven your sins, the love of God being an encouragement to believe (vs. Him being an angry or vindictive god). We would more rightly speak of Jesus dying so that all who believe (i.e. the elect) on His name might be saved through repentance and faith (Jn 1:12).

What Christians often confuse here, sometimes through a simple lack of discernment caused by want of discipleship or sometimes a result of misguided teaching, is the universal call of the Gospel message and the limited nature of the atonement.

The Gospel invitation is open to all, it is universal, to be proclaimed to all nations. Countless Bible verses express this such as, “anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21) Thus, anyone might be saved if they approach Christ in faith. What a gracious message to undeserving sinners!

Yet, the Bible is also very specific that Jesus death on the cross was specific, particular, limited, especially for those the Father had given Him (Jn 6:37a). Jesus died to save His own! (c.f. Jn 10:3). Ephesians 1 says that he chose to redeem from sin this unworthy elect group “to the praise of His glory,” mentioned three times to emphasis salvations focus is God.

The universal Gospel call is glorious, still more the specific love of God shown to His elect people through faith in Jesus Christ (Ro 8:28–39, the favourite v.28 is often cherry picked out of its wider context). God didn’t have to save anyone, that He chose to do so is utter grace.

So, as Christians, let’s not wix up our mords about the Gospel, it’s far too precious for that. Let’s know it, share it clearly and do so with conviction, just as Jesus at the end of Luke’s Gospel commands us.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Jesus’ Death and Resurrection not only accomplished salvation but they also testify that He is God’s Son and can be trusted. Belief in these historic events is a prerequisite, or bound up in, believing the Gospel.

A Painful Preacher of the Truth

If you venture to beautiful Worcester and pay a visit to the cathedral there is a tomb with an epitaph on it that is well worth seeing on your visit. As you enter the cathedral from the north turn left down the side aisle. Just before the north transept you’ll find the tomb of Nicolas Bullingham (1511?–76).[1]

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7).

Bullingham is worthy of remembrance, consideration and imitation for a number of 20180804_125714_Richtone(HDR)reasons. He was an early English Protestant Reformer. Appointed chaplain of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, he soon developed ministerial interests in Lincoln. During the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary, he sought refuge in exile on the continent, returning in 1559 to become Bishop of Lincoln. Here he continued his work of reform, appointed priests “well versed in the scripture” and also serving actively in the House of Lords. In 1570 he became Bishop of Worcester. His epitaph in the cathedral reads:

Here born, here bishop, buried here,

A Bullyngham by name and stock,

A man twise maried in Gode’s feare,

Chief pastor late of Lycolne flock,

Whom Oxford trained up in youthe,

Whom Cambridge doctor did create,

A painful preacher of the truthe,

He changed this life for happie state.

He was Bishop of Lincoln and then Worcester.

The third last line is what I was personally most interested in, “a painful preacher of the truth.” Here ‘painful’ should not be understood as boring or even excessive, but rather as earnest. He was earnest concerning the Truth (Jesus) and His truth (God’s Word). He no doubt laboured deeply for his listeners to hear and understand and believe the truth of God themselves and so be saved and changed. What that this would be a label applied to all preachers (and indeed Christians) today, that they’d be “earnest preachers of the truth,” not giving in to the world, rightly handling the word of truth and preaching, perhaps not entertainingly, but plainly with such pain over the souls under their care, striving to be a means used by the spirit to cause godly pain or grief in their hearers’ hearts (2 Cor 7:10). Ah, yes, that God would raise up Christians who would be on fire for the Lord Jesus and His Word (Jer 20:9b).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Julian Lock, “Nicholas Bullingham,” Oxford DNB <oxforddnb.com> (August 2018).

What does it mean to preach the Gospel? (part 3 of 3)

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16b)

Woe (great troubles) to the preacher (or Christian) who does not preach or share the Gospel. Why? Because this is the essence or heart of Christianity. To not preach it is to miss the whole lot. To not preach it robs people of the opportunity to be saved. To not preach it means you are not a faithful preacher (and therefore under God’s judgement) and to not preach it makes one wonder whether the preacher himself has responded to its message. If we have, there is no better news (2 Cor 9:17), and as C.S. Lewis said good news is not good news until it is shared. The preacher ought to burn within until they release the good news that saved their soul, the good news that can save others, and all of its wondrous glories. It is too marvellous to contain.

But what does it mean to preach the Gospel? This can be challenging for the evaluation of sermons can be highly subjective. Even if two sermons by two different preachers were faithful and theologically correct, because of delivery (or preference of delivery), styles in personality (the preacher and hearer), circumstances, mood, etc, two people might have two different views of two Gospel sermons, each coming away and saying ‘what a good Gospel sermon’ or ‘I wish he’d preached more of the Gospel.’ Funny isn’t it? This alone reminds us we need to be “open to reason” (Jas 3:17), alert and attentive to what actually is being spoken, recognising that if God can speak through a donkey he could speak through a faithful yet different preacher. After all, we wouldn’t want to miss the Gospel! Do we have a will to hear the Gospel?

Not only are there different preachers there are also different styles or ways of delivering sermons (expository, thematic, creative, induction, deduction, narrative, analogy, etc, etc). The Gospel could be conveyed through any one of those. A sermon also need not be evangelistic (usually a style reserved for sermons where a large segment of the listeners will be non-Christian) to still faithfully present the Gospel. Instead of being very fun, lively, interactive, straightforward, it could nonetheless clearly state the Gospel, say in an exposition of a passage in Romans. Whilst more thorough and robust, both an exposition of Romans and an evangelistic sermon to a crowd of youth are both Gospel sermons, even if they’re different types of sermons (it is interesting to see how robust Paul’s [Gospel] sermons in Acts were, even to pagans who knew nothing of the Hebrew Scriptures).

But can a sermon not ‘be a Gospel sermon” (i.e. touch on other areas of the Bible) and still preach the Gospel? Absolutely!

In the Great Commission (Matthew 2818–20) Jesus said to “make disciples.” Initial disciples can only be made by preaching the Gospel. So we must preach the Gospel. Yet, He also commands “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (growing disciples). So whilst the preacher must preach the Gospel, he also has the calling to preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), that is all that God has spoke or revealed on any subject in the entirety of His word (this also often involves explaining contexts so the meaning can become clear and grasped). So the preacher has a calling to preach the Gospel but also to teach other related truths. Can these two commands be reconciled? Absolutely!

The Gospel is like an accordion. Compressed it is in its simplest form, “repent and believe.” In 1 of 3 we saw that some Christians have used the 3 R’s to share the Gospel. So you could preach a Gospel sermon, or even an evangelistic sermon, on simply the 3 R’s. Yet then if you stretch out the accordion and only preached on one portion of it, say the Exodus, you could still faithfully preach the Gospel by bringing the truths of the Exodus story, and indeed the foreshadowing’s of Christ, back to the Gospel. It is about Gospel-centric preaching so that even as you preach the whole counsel of God it is rooted, centred and grounded in the Gospel. This is how you balance these two things. So for example, I could preach a sermon with a moral emphasis on homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. And whilst we might learn about the subject, a faithful Gospel preacher would still bring the sermon back to the Gospel in that it is sinful (1st R), and sinners are called to repent (2nd R) and, bearing 1 Cor 6:9­–11 in mind, all with the transformative hope of the work the Holy Spirit can do in a sinners life, liberating them, making them whole and giving them life generally. Therefore it is completely consistent to preach on any subject in Scripture and also to preach the Gospel (that is, for it still to be a Gospel sermon, as indeed every sermon should be). How? Because, the sacred writings,…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15) , both in becoming a disciple and in growing as a disciple. Amen!

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris