Friday Briefing 21 (4 June 2021)

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God? Jeremy Treat writes, “Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. . . . . It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.” But these two themes are wonderfully integrated in Scripture. Treat explains how.

Mourning the death of a dwelling place Hayden Hefner writes, “Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. But, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming . . . .

A tale of two liturgies Matt Merker writes, “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care. ”

One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table” Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation.” Ascol explains how books have strengthened discipleship in his congregation.

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God?

Jeremy Treat writes, “Unfortunately today, many Christians either cling to the cross or champion the kingdom, usually one to the exclusion of the other. Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. Whole churches or movements are built on one idea or the other. It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.“ Treat asks how these two central themes of Scripture came to be pitted against each other and comments, “We need a better way forward than “kingdom versus cross.” And it’s not enough to merely seek “kingdom and cross,” as if these were two competing values that need to be held in tension. The key is not balance, but integration. And that’s exactly what we find in Scripture, an unfolding narrative that weaves together atonement and kingdom like a crown of thorns, fit for a crucified king.” After briefly tracing this narrative, he concludes, “The kingdom comes in power, but the power of the gospel is Christ crucified.”

Read the whole article HERE. This article was published in the August 2019 issue of the 9Marks Journal, an issue entitled The Heart of the Gospel: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This issue contains 23 articles, including J.I. Packer’s classic lecture entitled What did the Cross Achieve: the Logic of Penal Substitution. You can download the entire issue free of charge, either using the link on the left-hand side of the page containing Treat’s article, or from the page HERE. Dr Jeremy Treat is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (the publishers page is HERE) and Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything (the publishers page is HERE).

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Mourning the death of a dwelling place.

“Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. If I’m being honest, the thought of selling our little home makes me sad. This house has been the backdrop and base camp for some of the most memorable and formative moments of our life together. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. He comments, “having a home is a good thing. Home is God’s idea. . . . . We were not made for walking away from home.” In his conclusion, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming—one not subject to peeling paint, weather damage, or financial foreclosure, but designed and built by the Lord (Hebrews 11:10).”

Read the whole article HERE.

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A tale of two liturgies.

Justin Taylor shares an excerpt from Matt Merker’s book Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People (published by Crossway; the publisher’s page is HERE).

Matt Merker explains, “Many theologians have called the order of service a “liturgy.” The Greek term leitourgia referred to work done for the good of the public. When used in the context of a church gathering, “liturgy” refers to the “work” or ministry of exaltation and edification for which God gathers his people—or better, that God himself performs in and through his people.” He writes, “For me, liturgy refers to the order of the worship service, particularly how it reveals and reinforces the nature of the service itself. ” Merker points out: “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care.” Merker shows how this works in practice by taking two contrasting orders of service, from the gatherings of two different churches. These churches have congregations of the same size, use the same musical instruments and have the same theological beliefs. But their liturgies are different, in ways that are significant. His first example is an order of service typical of many evangelical churches. The second is an example of a gathering at a Presbyterian church in Brazil. Merker then notes four weaknesses of his first example. One of these relates to prayer and the public reading of Scripture. Merker comments, “this order of service leaves two of the most essential elements of corporate worship out to dry: prayer and Scripture reading. There is no other Scripture reading in the service, aside from what the pastor might read in his sermon. And the prayers serve as transitions, not as substantive elements of worship in their own right.”

The message to take away is this: if key elements of the order of service are missing, or if the order of service is disjointed or theologically weak, the worship service is less glorifying to God, less effective in building up believers, and less able to communicate the Gospel message to unbelievers in the congregation. Through the prayers, the Scriptures being read, the preaching, the hymns and songs, through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we should, as Merker writes, “strive to fill our services with the life-giving water of the Word of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table”.

Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation. . . . . . . . within a matter of months we had a table full of good titles for sale as a fixture in our foyer. Within a year or two, the “Book Table” became a line item in our budget and the church adopted a policy that if anyone who wanted one of the books but could not afford to pay, he or she could have it in exchange for a promise to read it. I often recommend books both publicly and in private conversations. When someone takes my recommendation I try to follow up in a few weeks to ask what they think of the book, what they are learning or if the book has raised any questions for them. That has led to some very fruitful conversations and opportunities for ministry.”

Ascol concludes, “Through the years I have seen good books supplement the ongoing preaching and teaching ministry of the church, encourage personal and spiritual growth, help with counseling, equip for ministry and help people develop a growing love for truth. . . . . So I would encourage every pastor to start a book table if one doesn’t already exist in the church he is serving. That is one thing that, by God’s grace, I did right early in my ministry.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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‘The Journey’ Video 16 – “All Things New”

In this final session of The Journey, we’ll begin by looking at the emergence of the Antichrist and the final rebellion against God that will occur at the end of this age.

And at the end of this age, Jesus will return to Earth. We’ll look at everything that happens when He comes – the destruction of Antichrist and the evil world system under his control, and the resurrection and final judgment, and how the present heaven and earth will be transformed – a process that we can compare to the emergence of a beautiful butterfly from a caterpillar. We’ll also look at the apostle Paul’s picture of the seed to explain how our present mortal bodies will be transformed into the new glorious bodies we’ll possess in the new creation.

We’ll also take a moment to look at what the Bible tells us about Hell – where Satan and his evil angels, and every human who has rejected God will exist for eternity.

And we’ll look at the wonderful description of the New Heaven and Earth that we read in the final two chapters of the Book of Revelation. We’ll explore what life will be like there, and what believers will do there. There will be Heaven on Earth for all eternity. God’s people will live in God’s paradise in God’s presence for ever.

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Leader’s Guide for group study

This Group Study Guide contains three questions, with Bible passages to read, together with some notes to help the group leader to guide the discussion.

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the PDF version of this Leader’s Guide.

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You may want to begin by asking if anything particularly struck people as they watched the video.

Question 1
In Session 1, we saw several things in both the first two chapters of Genesis and the final two chapters of Revelation. What do we find in the new creation that we do not find in Genesis? What does this tell us about our future lives in the new creation that we look forward to?

Bible passages to read
Revelation 21.1-4, 22-27, 22.1-5.

In our first session, we highlighted four things found both in the original creation described in Genesis and in the new creation described in Revelation:

 Heaven and Earth. In Genesis, God creates Heaven and Earth (Genesis 1.1). In Revelation He creates a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21.1).

 Light. In the beginning, God created light (Genesis 1.3-5). In the new creation, God is its light (Revelation 22.5, see also 21.23-24).

 A river. A river waters the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.10). In Revelation, we see a river flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22.1).

 The tree of life. There’s a tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2.9). In Revelation 22.2 we read that “on either side of the river” is “the tree of life” .

The most obvious difference between the original creation and the new creation is this: in the original creation there was a garden – the Garden of Eden; in the new creation there’s a citya garden city. This city is the New Jerusalem. It’s where God lives (Revelation 21.1-3,22). New Jerusalem is a real place, of course – though it won’t be like any city we’ve seen here on Earth. But it also symbolises something. What is a city? A city – any city – is an interdependent community. God’s people – God’s community – live in New Jerusalem. God lives there with His people. In the city is “the river of the water of life” and “the tree of life” . New Jerusalem is a garden. This city is a picture of God’s people living in God’s presence in God’s paradise – in other words, the Kingdom of God. New Jerusalem symbolises God’s perfect world.

There’s something else that distinguishes the new creation from the Garden of Eden. God is present in both the garden and the new creation. In the garden He is “walking” (Genesis 3.8). But in New Jerusalem He is enthroned. God reigns there in all His glory. There’s no temple in the city (Revelation 21.22) – “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” . The whole city is the temple, the dwelling-place of God. God’s presence fills the entire city. The city’s shape tells us that. It’s a cube (Revelation 21.16). That’s like the Most Holy Place, both in the Temple (1 Kings 6.20) and in the Tabernacle (this can be calculated from the description in Exodus 26.1-37). The Most Holy Place was the innermost sanctuary, the place of God’s immediate presence (see Exodus 25.22, Numbers 7.89). The whole city is the eternal Most Holy Place, where God lives on Earth. So everyone in the city is in the Most Holy Place, too. Once, only one man could enter the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and only under the strictest conditions. Now all God’s people live there in His immediate presence!

Question 2
Jesus has justified us believers; our names are written in “the book of life” . Nonetheless, “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14.12 NIV). How should this impact our priorities in life, and what we think, say and do?

Bible passage to read
Romans 14.10-12, 2 Corinthians 5.10, 2 Peter 3.11-14, Revelation 20.11-15.

After we die, we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. In Revelation 20.11, John does not say whether the Father or the Son is seated on the “great white throne” of judgment. But we know that the Father has handed over all judgment to the Son (John 5.22,27, Acts 10.42, 17.31, Romans 2.16). It’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus will be our Judge.

Why has God given Jesus this role? One reason is surely this: because Jesus is not only God, but a human being like us. People can’t say to Him: “You have no right to judge us; you don’t know what it’s like to be human – you’ve never suffered like we have, you’ve never been tempted” . He has. In life as well as in death, Jesus suffered more than we could ever know. He was tempted just as we are (Hebrews 4.15).

When Jesus returns we will all stand before Him. Each one of us “will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14.12 NIV). Sam Storms comments: “Is it not sobering to think that every random thought, every righteous impulse, every secret prayer, hidden deed, long-forgotten sin, or act of compassion will be brought into the open for us to acknowledge and for the Lord to judge? And all this, we are reminded, without any ‘condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8.1).”

We are accountable for our lives. In the end, none of us can blame heredity or environment, or what others have done to us, for the kind of person we are. It’s our reactions – what we have thought and said and done in response to the circumstances of life – that makes us what we are at the moment of death.

Our childhood years were our ‘formative’ years. Our present life on Earth, too, is like a childhood. These are our ‘formative years’, a period of training and maturation that’s preparing us for our life in the world to come. We will reap what we sow (Galatians 6.7-9).

God is laying a foundation in our lives, and we must co-operate with Him. How much do we allow God’s Spirit to mould us into the image of His Son (see 2 Corinthians 3.18)? Are we presenting our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12.1)? Are we allowing the Spirit of God to transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2)? Are we allowing Him to refashion the way we think, to come to see things as God sees them – so that we discern what His will is, agree with it and do it?

Have we yielded our lives fully to God? Have we walked in the Spirit, rather than in our own strength? Have we resolutely trusted God, come what may?

Our faith is proved by acts of obedience (James 2.14-26). Have we obeyed God – in the small things that other people don’t see, as well as the big things? Have we overcome temptation, compromise and persecution for Jesus’s sake? Have we loved? Have we forgiven?

Question 3
We have a glorious hope of heaven – that is, living in the New Heaven and Earth with all God’s people in God’s paradise in God’s presence. How has this session helped you in your understanding of heaven? How should the hope of heaven affect how we live?

Bible passage to read
Romans 8.18-25, Colossians 1.3-5, 1 Peter 1.3-9.

We need to remind ourselves – and each other – often that our eternal home will be the New Heaven and Earth, where we will see God and be part of His royal priesthood, sharing in Christ’s rule over creation and serving God and other people in unimaginably wonderful ways – as we saw in the video. In fact, that is the world that God made us for.

We should keep “the hope laid up” for us “in heaven” (Colossians 1.5) at the centre of our thinking and allow it to mould our lives – our relationship with God, our ambitions, our friendships, how we spend our time and money, and how we treat other people.

Keeping our minds on the world to come gives true perspective to our present lives. C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man who has been in another world does not come back unchanged.” When we see what the Bible teaches about the world to come and allow these truths to sink in to our minds and penetrate our hearts, we will not be unchanged.

The hope of heaven has a special impact on how we view the struggles and disappointments and sufferings that we experience in our present lives. Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials“ (1 Peter 1.6; the phrase “in this” refers back to the whole of the previous verses 3-5, in other words, “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, . . . .” ). Randy Alcorn, in his excellent book Heaven, writes, “Anticipating Heaven doesn’t eliminate pain, but it lessens it and puts it in perspective. . . . . . . . suffering and death are temporary conditions. . . . . The biblical doctrine of Heaven is about the future, but it has tremendous benefits here and now. If we grasp it, it will . . . radically change our perspective on life. This is what the Bible calls ‘hope’, a word used six times in Romans 8.20-25, the passage in which Paul says that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world’s coming redemption.”

CREDITS Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

‘Christ Ascended For Us’ by Nick Needham

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Image from Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. No known restrictions on publication. Image edited from original.

Early photograph of Jerusalem taken from the Mount of Olives (taken around 1890-1900). From Luke 24.50 and Acts 1.12 we learn that Jesus ascended on the Mount of Olives, in the vicinity of Bethany. The place where this photograph was taken is perhaps close to where the ascension took place. Certainly this view, taken around 120 years ago before the development of the modern city of Jerusalem, is the kind of scene that Jesus and His disciples would have been familiar with. Of course, in Jesus’s day, the great Temple rebuilt by Herod would have dominated the view of the city, rather than the Dome of the Rock which stands on the Temple mount today.

Jesus’s ascension is not a subject we perhaps think about very much. If we do, we may perhaps think of it as a postscript to His incarnation, life, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as Nick Needham makes clear in this article, His ascension is hugely important.

When Jesus returned to His Father at His Ascension He didn’t stop being a Man. Being human wasn’t just a temporary condition that He assumed whilst on Earth and divested Himself of on His return to Heaven. He is still a Man, and will remain so for all eternity.

There is now a Man in heaven – a Man with a physical body. Jesus’s body is glorious, incorruptible, perfect. But it is a true physical body nonetheless.

This has staggering implications for each of us individually, and for our human race as a whole – implications that Dr Needham brings out in his article.

Firstly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven tells us that God is for us. Dr Needham writes: “The eternal Son, the second person of the majestic Godhead, the Creator and sustainer of the universe, he is the human being, a son of man, a child of humanity. . . . . He has the same nature as us. He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. . . . . You may know how it is when you feel lost and alone in a strange place among unknown people and then suddenly you discover someone from your own country or your own city speaking your own language, maybe your very dialect. An instant bond springs up between you and your compatriot. Well, look up to heaven. You won’t just find angels there in all their alien angelic nature; you’ll find a man there; you’ll find a native of your planet who speaks your language.”

Secondly, Jesus’s resurrection and continuing humanity in Heaven is guarantees that we, who believe in Christ, will be resurrected as well. Dr Needham writes: “There is a man in the glory. The dust of the earth has entered the highest heaven. . . . . That has the most profound and the most wonderful significance for us. I’m human and in Jesus Christ humanity has ascended into heaven and lives in glory and so that means the way is opened for me as well and if I, in my humanity, am united to Christ, in his humanity, by the Holy Spirit, human on earth united with human in heaven, then the presence of the ascended Jesus in glory becomes the unbreakable pledge and promise that I will follow him there and I will share his glory.”

Thirdly, Jesus’s continuing humanity in Heaven means a Man – a Member of our own human race rules the Universe. That is an astonishing thought. Dr Needham asks: “Who is on the throne of the Universe? Who is King? God we say instinctively, God is the reigning King of the Universe. Our God reigns and that is true, but the New Testament adds a further truth. The man Christ Jesus is on the throne of the universe. . . . . There is a man on the throne of the universe.

This, in turn, has implications for our own destiny. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over this world, saying: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1.28 ESV). But now, as Dr Needham explains “The destiny that Adam lost has been restored and has been more than restored in the second Adam victorious over death. Humanity in Christ has been exalted to be the lord of the entire cosmos, with heaven as well as earth bowing beneath his feet.”

Finally, Jesus’s glorified human nature defines what God intends for our own human nature in the world to come. Dr Needham says: “In other words, it is the man Jesus in his final condition, ascended, glorified, exalted who finally stands before us as the perfect definition of humanity. It is only in the exalted Christ that human nature comes to its full bloom, its full flowering, its final development of powers and capacities. If I want to see what human nature is ultimately capable of I do not look at my own stunted twisted deformed, diseased, shattered and pathetic shell of humanity. No, I look at the man Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. That is real humanity, human nature according to God’s final definition and purpose. . . . . And that’s the pattern according to which God the Father intends to mould you and me. . . . . Our human nature is going to be lifted up and augmented to heights of perfection that currently, frankly, we can only dream about. Our powers and capacities will be wondrously enriched and expanded in ways that are utterly beyond our present understanding when we are glorified.”

He concludes: “Now if all of this is the case, how can you and I be satisfied with earthly pleasures? How can you and I settle down contentedly here, our horizons limited by the activities and ambitions of life on earth; how can we do that? I say this with reverence. We’ve hardly been born yet. For the Christian life on earth is like being in the womb. The real life is yet to come and the ascended exalted Christ is the measure and the pledge of that glorious life.”

I urge you to take a few moments to read this article – and be edified and encouraged.

Dr Needham’s article is available as a PDF HERE.

Rev Dr Nick Needham holds the degrees of BD and PhD from the University of Edinburgh. He has published several books, including three volumes of a projected five-volume series on Church history entitled 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power (see the publisher’s description HERE). He teaches Church History part-time at the Highland Theological College, Dingwall. He recently accepted a call to a pastorate in Inverness.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The Eternal Weight of Glory’ by Harry Blamires

This little article about heaven is a sheer delight, a concentration of distilled wisdom seasoned with imagination.

Blamires corrects the prevailing view of heaven as an ethereal insubstantial abode: “Our education is such that many people tend to picture the afterlife as something less solid, less substantial than our earthly life, an existence in some ethereal and virtually disembodied state. In this respect, much current thinking is topsy-turvy. The one thing we can with certainty say about life in heaven is that it is more real than life on Earth.”

He concludes: “Whatever form your most moving earthly experiences of beauty have taken, they were foretastes of heaven. Wherever you have found lovingkindness in human hands and human eyes and human words, you were confronting Christ’s personality operative in God’s creatures. Since the source of all that beauty and all that tenderness is God, the full opening up of his presence before his creatures can be nothing less than the aggregation and concentration and intensification of every loveliness and every goodness we have ever tasted, or even dreamed of. All the love we have ever known in our relationships with others—all that collected and distilled into the personal warmth of him from whom it all derived, and he standing before us: that is the kind of picture that the Christian imagination reaches towards when there is talk of the ultimate reward of the redeemed. It is small wonder that mind and pen falter under the weight of glory brought to mind.”

Read the full article HERE; if you want a version you don’t have to page through, click HERE.

This article originally appeared in  ‘Christianity Today’ for May 22, 1991.  Harry Blamires (born 1916) is an Anglican theologian, literary critic, and novelist, now retired.  His friend, C. S. Lewis, was his tutor at Oxford University.  He has written a number of books, including ‘Knowing the Truth About Heaven and Hell’.