Hawthorn Presbyterian Church

Facing Up to the Resurrection

[Taken from the Monthly Notes, April 2012]

For the most part, even the most vehement critics of Christianity are willing to accept that there was such a man as Jesus who lived in Judea and Galilee in the first century. Most will also accept that he was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate. For them, this is quite safe to admit. After all, a dead person, even someone heralded as a saviour while alive, can be safely dismissed once dead. If the dead stay dead, then given enough time, resources and perseverance, history can always be re-written or conveniently re-interpreted as a myth. Or so they hope.

A Saviour who dies but lives again, is quite another story, particularly one who will never ever die again. Such a one is problematic, and not simply because it involves accepting the non-materialistic premise that death is not the end of all conscious existence. That concept has been accepted by various cultures and religions, and in the case of Hinduism, expanded so that existence is comprised of an infinitude of life-cycles but despite their myriad of gods, there is no real external accountability to anyone else. A risen Saviour of the sort that Jesus is, is problematic because of the clear implication that this One might one day confront and hold accountable those who deny His existence! Therefore, Jesus must stay dead! So, opponents of Christianity have resorted to various theories in their desperation to dismiss the clear Biblical claim that Jesus rose from the dead. In short, they have created their own myths, such as:

1. The Wrong Tomb Theory: In their confusion and grief, the women and disciples simply got the tomb wrong and went to an empty tomb instead of the real one. But this theory falls flat when one realises that when Peter & John were later arrested for preaching the resurrection, the easiest way to scotch the new faith and render it powerless would have been by producing the body from the real tomb. # BUSTED!

2. The Hallucination Theory: This claims that in their collective grief and stress, the women and disciples were all easily convinced to believe they had “seen Jesus.” Despite all the psychological problems with such alleged “group hallucination” the theory fails when again, it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to produce the body from the real tomb. #BUSTED!

3. The Swoon Theory: This says that Jesus was not dead but in a deep coma-like state, and revived in the cool of the tomb. He then managed to unwrap himself, and escape. This ignores the fact that it was Romans who signed off on the death, and ignores the physical violence of crucifixion, which usually broke bones in hands and feet. Jesus was in no fit state to escape anywhere! As D.F. Strauss, himself a critic of Christianity, wrote in the 19th century: It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the grave, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, [& who had] at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life… Impossible indeed. # BUSTED!

4. The Stolen Body Theory: This is that the disciples stole Jesus body and pretended he had risen. In order for this to be so, the disciples who had all fled for fear suddenly summoned the courage to overpower or to sneak past the guard, move a 2 tonne stone, carefully unwrap Jesus, and sneak out again carrying the corpse with them. Implausible as all this is in itself, the entire gospel narratives make it clear that until Jesus rose, the disciples had no understanding of anything Jesus had said which spoke of resurrection. They were in despair [see Luke 24:21] # BUSTED!

Once again, we see that people choose to exchange the truth of God for a lie, rather than serve the Creator who is blessed forever. Amen [Rom 1:25]. Don’t you do the same!

Reading the Book of 1st Samuel

[Taken from the monthly “Notes” for March, 2012.]

1st Samuel spans the years from the end of the period of the Judges and ends with King David as an old man contemplating how his young son Solomon will take over the kingdom. That is about 100 years covered in just 30-40 pages. We read of Samuel who gives the book his name, though clearly someone else finishes the book, because he dies at Chapter 25! We learn a lot about King David, of course, and the other key person is Saul, the first king of the united kingdom. But why?

Well, for one thing it is interesting history. We deal with military coups, palace & political intrigues, immorality, and why we should not be too quick to assume that leaders are really godly just because they look godly. Just like today! But why did God cause this collection of stories to be written? Is it merely so we can learn from the characters? — to be like David and not like Saul? Perhaps and in a little way, yes, but we will struggle to make sense of some parts if all we do is look for moral examples or warnings in the lives of Samuel, Saul & David. What shall we do when we are not sure whether someone should be copied or not? What will we say about ourselves when we try to copy the “good guys” but fail? Where is our hope then?

This is not just any old narrative; it is God’s history. If it is God’s history, then this book makes most sense in the context of all that he was doing throughout the Old Testament. So, it is real history and it is theological history at the same time. And because we read this book now from the perspective of knowing that Jesus Christ has come, we know that 1 Samuel must somehow taking us from the Garden of Eden to the Cross and Empty tomb of the Lord Jesus, and beyond. In this sense we know more than those who were caught up in these events as they happened – Eli, Elkanah, Samuel, David, etc – even though they had much more detail. The godly people in the narratives were all real people, and they all knew that God was doing something to fulfil his promise made in Eden to crush the head of the serpent, and the godly knew that this would somehow involve the seed of a woman [Gen 3:15]. But they did not know how it would all end; we do. As with any story, knowing how it all ends shines great light upon why the author weaves his many characters together. So it is with God’s story as “His-story” leads up to the coming Saviour.

Israel had already seen her “saviours” come and go in the personages of the Judges. Those “saviours” had worked – for a bit – but never sufficiently and they had never really provided security for the whole land as a “kingdom”; and kingdom is where Samuel takes us. Now we know that Kingdoms need kings, and that kings, for all their faults, can be of two sorts: God-worshipping and grace-appreciating as David was, or “God-using” and grace-despising as Saul was. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference but over time we’ll tend to know. From David on, this is the pattern.

So there we have it: 1 Samuel is the story of how God sets up his king, and sets him up in a way that exposes all other sorts of king. In time, the son of David [Solomon] will build the Temple but neither David nor David’s son will be adequate to keep God’s covenant. They sin, and their descendants eventually sinned their kingdoms into judgment and exile. The whole of the Old Testament brings us to the point where eventually, at the right time in God’s history and in fulfilment of promise, Jesus came, born as David’s royal descendant. He is the true “Son of David” and as our Champion secures an eternal kingdom, inherits all the covenant promises and builds a living temple out of living stones [I Peter 2].

Is he building with you?

Service of Induction for Principal Hastie

On February 10th Hawthorn hosted the Presbytery of Melbourne East as it conducted the Service of Induction for Rev. Peter Hastie, the incoming Principal of the Presbyterian Theological College. The Moderator General, Rt Rev. David Jones preached, and past principals Dr. Allan Harman and Dr Douglas Milne also participated, along with the State Moderator, Dr Robert Carner, and the Secretary of the Theological Education Committee, Rev. John Stasse.

It was a truly joyous occasion.

The entire service, including the Principal’s response, is downloadable from the Sermons link on this site, though it is quite a large file (17MB). Use the link:

http://www.hawthornchurch.org/sermons/2012/02/all-change-no-change

The Privilege of Unblocked Ears

[Taken from the Monthly Notes, February 2012]

In six separate contexts, the New Testament records Jesus as saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” No doubt he spoke it on other occasions too. It is a pithy little saying, but what was his point? The context helps us, and it is clear that Jesus was simultaneously warning against ignorance of the great saving acts of God [in terms of Ezekiel 12:1-2ff] and commending the great God-given privilege of being able to comprehend the deeper instruction in his words. In this he called his hearers back to Moses’ words in Deut 29:2-6, and so presented evidence that he should be considered the “prophet like Moses” who was to come. [Deut 18:18ff].

Jesus was concerned with both eye and ear because both provide input to the mind. He highlighted the importance of the eye when he reminded all that the 7th commandment extends to looking as well as doing. If the eye causes one to fall, put it out! [Mark 9:47] His words resonate in our highly visual culture. So much of our day to day information depends on the eye, and in our internet age, the eye can be the door-way for much that is unhelpful, and spiritually deadly. There ought to be a sign saying “Guard your eyes, all who enter here” above every internet portal. For all this, we might expect that Jesus would speak of the eyes as much a the ear, but Scripture tells us that he gave his emphasis to the ear. Why is this?

“Faith comes by hearing” we are told and God calls us to live by faith and not by sight. Thomas wanted to see before he would believe the resurrection. The Saviour graciously obliged, not because seeing was essential, but so that all the disciples would have an occasion to be instructed regarding the blessedness of all who would believe in Christ because of their preaching, and not their art. [John 20:29].

The eye cannot see the past except as someone else has already imagined it, and the eye cannot give us a picture of the future. It is fixed to the present, and is limited in what it can bring into the soul. Three disciples saw the Transfiguration of Jesus and all misunderstood it until the Father spoke; subsequently billions have heard of it and been overwhelmed by the majestic voice of the Father coming down from heaven: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.” The eye cannot deal with abstracts or intangible things without tying them to individual examples, which will always be reductionist. The eye may see an event caused by love but cannot see the actual love itself. The ear is freed from this limitation and the mind can hear about things like sin, righteousness, judgment & mercy, and by the grace of God begin to comprehend them. This is how we are made, and we must be thankful that it is so.

In its own way, hearing the word of God, [which includes what we call ‘reading’] allows for an awareness of the holy majesty of God that is properly suited to the limitations of our humanity. Seeing God as He is would kill us! Making pictures of Him as He is not, is idolatry! What can we do? Thankfully it is by hearing that the Spirit brings divine truth to mind directly, in ways that go beyond all that we could know by sight. We can learn of God and without falling into idolatry!

One day, we shall most surely see Jesus as he is. Until then, we must be content to hear [and know] him as he speaks in the Bible, and as he is opened to our minds by the work of his Holy Spirit. This is an unquantifiable privilege and one which through our own words and resources we have the honour of sharing. If God has condescended to speak to you concerning His Son, do not despise Him.

Resolutions and the Christian Faith

[Taken from the January 2012 “Monthly Notes”]

Resolution: n. a firm decision to do or not to do something:

It does not take many days of January to pass before the media begins discussing New Year Resolutions and how long they were kept. The pattern is often the same: an announcer explains his or her own private failings as the lead in to an invitation to others whose resolve has also faltered, to tell their story. Then follows an “expert” telling us all just why it is that some resolutions are easier to keep and others not. In some ways it all makes sense for we know that some habits are difficult to break but in other ways it can be little more than a comforting charade reinforcing our excuses; “Yes, I failed but at least I made a bit of an effort and that must surely count for something. I can always try again next year.”

The danger is that this constant pattern of on-again off-again resolutions hardens our culture to the strength and permanence of real conversion when it occurs. New Christians in every age, flushed with the very real wonder and joy of saving grace and forgiveness have had to face taunts such as, “It’s just a phase,” “You’ll grow out of it,” “Aren’t you psychologically secure enough in yourself,” and so on. Then as life’s path leads through difficult patches, the taunts take on a slightly different tone: “I thought you said your God was good!” or some sneering combination of, “If God is all powerful, why did He allow this to happen?” “Doesn’t He care?”, ”So much for His blessings,” comes our way.

We should not be shaken by such taunts because those who mock us simply have no understanding of what it is to be born again from above, and to be made new, and filled with the Spirit of the Living God. The world expects converts to relapse, and for all the same reasons as they expect with all other “resolutions,” and is confounded when it doesn’t happen. Here is where true faith differs from a merely emotional or temporary response. [See, Matt 13:20-21.] True faith perseveres over time, though one should not interpret this as a guarantee that life will always be a breeze, free from pressures, challenges, and perhaps even occasional doubts.

Whatever pressures we feel as contemporary Christians in the West, they pale by comparison with the obstacles that confront new converts in many other lands who suffer ostracism, disinheritance, and alienation from social networks which are vital to food, education, support, and perhaps even life itself. We do not really know what it is to “suffer much” for Christ’s sake, yet wherever Christians may be and however things may turn in our own land, the answer to suffering for Christ’s sake is always the same as the advice given to first century Christians who did suffer the loss of many things. (Heb 10:32-34). “LOOK TO JESUS” (Heb 12:2) for “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him,” (Heb 7:25).

In the final analysis, there is only one resolution which provides us with any lasting hope – the resolve of Jesus Christ. In Christ, and Christ alone, the future is secure, whatever and whenever the pressures. He has resolved to keep His people, totally! If you are His, He has resolved to love you, redeem you, transform you, give you His Spirit to dwell in you and to prepare you to live with Him forever. So, why would anyone in their right mind turn away from that? The answer is in the question: the mind that does not turn to Christ is not a “right mind”; it is blinded by sin.

Your New Year Resolution? May it be to know more of what the apostle John meant when he spoke of Christians saying: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

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