The Holy Lord

In the sixth chapter of Isaiah the prophet describes to us the awesome vision he saw of the Lord. It was a sight unlike anything on earth yet Isaiah had to use human language to express his vision. And so he explains the vision in terms of a heavenly throne room. He says that the Lord was “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple”. The first thing that we are told, then, is that God is a great king. He rules and reigns with more power and glory than even the greatest monarch this earth can produce. We also see how the Lord’s throne room is intimately connected with the temple. It was the temple where God came and made his “home” with his people. From the days of the tabernacle to the days of the temple God dwelt with his people in the place where he was to be worshipped.

And what glorious worship takes place! Isaiah describes the seraphim who “called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” The attribute that these heavenly beings draw our attention to is that of God’s holiness. Although scripture tells us that God is light, love and other things it is his holiness that is triply praised by those that surround his home. And his holiness is connected to his glory. Earthly kings may seek to spread their glory across the globe but the closest they have come is having a statue in major cities like the Roman emperors or a dusty picture of Queen Victoria in an Indian bureaucrat’s office. God’s glory fills the whole earth. There is not one patch of this glorious universe that does not speak of the majesty, power and glory of God.

The natural response to this glorious God comes next. Isaiah realises he cannot stand before the Lord because: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; … my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Isaiah knows the truth that sinful human beings cannot approach a God this holy. Do you? Even if you are respectable and law-abiding you still are unclean and living among unclean people. But God provides the answer. One of the seraphim brings a coal from the altar, touches Isaiah’s lips with it and says: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah could not do it. Even his best efforts would not have been enough. No, it is God who provides the atonement. And in this vision we are pointed forward to the great atonement that God has accomplished for us. It was not through the sacrifice of beasts but through the sacrifice of the one who was there in the throne room (John 12:41). The one who took on flesh and died for the salvation of a people of unclean lips. The Lord. Jesus Christ. The holy one has come and atoned for his people. Let us join in with the chorus of the seraphim: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’

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The Inheritance of the Resurrection

Someone said to me recently on hearing that I was preaching through Numbers and 1 Peter that those books don’t have much in common. On the surface that is true. Numbers is a mix of historical narrative and laws given by God. 1 Peter is a letter written by a New Testament apostle encouraging a group of Christians in the midst of trials.

But as I’ve continued through these books I’ve seen that under the surface there are great similarities.

The book of Numbers teaches us how God was faithful to his people, despite their complaints and rebellions. He was leading them out of slavery in Egypt and bringing them to a land of promise. He was leading them through the wilderness so that they could enter into their inheritance. God was keeping his promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob generations before and nothing would stop their fulfilment.

1 Peter teaches us how God is faithful to his people, despite the various trials they must endure. It tells us of how God is leading his people out of the slavery of sin and idolatry and bringing them into an eternity of promise. He is leading his people through the wilderness of this life so that they can enter into their inheritance. God is keeping his promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and nothing can stop their fulfilment.

For the New Testament people, though, the inheritance is not a piece of land in a far away country but new life for all eternity with God. And this was purchased for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We rightly focus upon the cross where ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2:24). This is glorious good news. The people in the wilderness had the shadow of this with the sacrifices in the tabernacle. Christians have the full light of knowing that Christ’s sacrifice has accomplished all things.

But, as J. Gresham Machen reminds us in Christianity and Liberalism:

‘The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the cross, “It is finished”. The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes. Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom he died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God.’

The power that was at work in Jesus when God ‘raised him from the dead and gave him glory’ (1 Peter 1:21) is the power at work in each and every one of you who believe. We will, like him, be raised from the dead. And we will be raised to glory. This is our inheritance. This is our hope. To God be the glory.

Article for In Gear

This article was published in In Gear, the magazine of the Group for Evangelism and Renewal of the United Reformed Church. It concerns the question: How should churches who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman respond to a church-wide consultation currently ongoing?

Be sure of your ground
The United Reformed Church confesses that “the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the supreme authority for the faith and conduct of God’s people.” As evangelical ministers, elders and churches we must be sure of the Biblical foundation for marriage. Continue reading

The Reformation and why it matters

With the recent kerfuffle over Mr Ratzinger’s decision to step down as bishop of Rome, coupled with a new attender asking me why I keep talking about the Reformation I thought it would be good to put down why I think it’s still important. But even more than that, why it is absolutely necessary today.

The Medieval Roman Church had descended into great corruption. Bishops received multiple dioceses and never visited them, let alone preached in their churches. The common people were barred from true partaking of the Lord’s Supper by the use of Latin and the denial of the cup. Many innovations had been added to the faith of the church. One such innovation – that of purgatory – led to a system whereby people could buy the prayers of monks to knock a few years off for themselves and their loved ones. It just so happened that this innovation also raised a fair few coins for the building of a fancy new basilica in Rome.

But thanks to the providence of God there were many faithful believers who were unhappy with the state of things. Many of these proto-reformers efforts were crushed but the time was coming when the tide of reform could not be held back. By the providential coming together of a dissatisfied German monk, local rulers wanting to flex their muscles and the technological advance of the printing press, God brought about a movement that swept across Europe and the world. This movement was the Reformation.

Everything was up for grabs from 1517. And the fundamental principle, seems to me to have been: What is the supreme authority for what we believe as Christians? The Roman Church said that it was scripture coupled with Tradition as embodied in the Magisterium that was the authority. Of course, in practice, it was clear that tradition trumped scripture. Praying to Mary and the saints, resacrificing Christ in the Mass, indulgences and purgatory were all inventions of men, with no scriptural warrant whatsoever.

The Reformation, on the other hand, declared that only God could say what we were to believe and practice, which would be a problem had God not definitively spoken. Thankfully he had. In Scripture.

And so the Reformation was about putting God in his rightful place. We were not saved by our works but by God’s abundant grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And scripture alone was our highest, supreme authority.

All this has an impact on us today and in part 2 I will explore some of the ways in which the Reformation is more important than ever.

It is the duty of the minister not only to teach the people committed to his charge in publick, but privately; and particularly to admonish, exhort, reprove, and comfort them, upon all seasonable occasions, so far as his time, strength, and personal safety will permit. He is to admonish them, in time of health, to prepare for death; and, for that purpose, they are often to confer with their minister about the estate of their souls; and, in times of sickness, to desire his advice and help, timely and seasonably, before their strength and understanding fail them. (Directory for Public Worship)