Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Do we take heaven by storm?

In discussing the ministry of his cousin, Jesus reported that 'from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force' (Matthew 11:12).

From the time the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the kingdom was at hand, multitudes strained to gain entry, much like a destitute hoard which learns that the riches of a fortified city may be theirs if only they scale the walls.

In the eyes of the religious, their precious stronghold was being overrun by undesirables.

In another sense, the kingdom does not come without violence: it separates those who would be in from those who wish to remain out; it pits those who welcome the reign it represents from those who continue to rebel against its Lord.

And, further, the kingdom does violence within each man who wishes to enter, for entry into Christ's kingdom requires the mortification of the flesh -- putting to death the deeds of the worldly desires that continue to rise up within us. This violence requires us to pluck out our proverbial eye, to cut off our metaphorical hand, if such is necessary to secure our entry.

Of course, the world, the flesh, the devil do not want any to enter Christ's kingdom, and themselves strive and strain to preserve their grip on the souls of men. Only the violent -- those regenerated and empowered by the Spirit -- can resist with the violence necessary to escape their clutches.

Of this violent kingdom-taking Thomas Watson writes: 'the flesh is a sly enemny; at first dulce venenum (a beautiful charm or potion); afterward, scorpio pungens (a fighting scorpoion); it kills by embracing' and 'the movement of the soul towards sins is natural, but its movement towards heaven is violent'(Heaven Taken by Storm).

Does our faith resemble this sort of violence? Does our walk with Christ require this sort of effort, this continual homicide of our own man?

Or is the most striving and straining we muster in relation to our favorites sports teams? Do we take heaven by storm -- with zeal -- or do we attempt to ride in, 'easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy'?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apostolic Preaching

"Truly apostolic preaching is not ethical imperative ungrounded in theological indicative. It is not psychological manipulation, moralistic harangue based on guilt, or pragmatic life coaching, untethered to the truth of Christ's redemptive accomplishment on behalf of his believers.

"When the apostolic preacher directs his hearers in God's name as to their way of life, that direction flows naturally and inevitably out of Christ's redeeming work on their behalf. Apostolic preaching is profoundly practical because it is profoundly theological. Transformed convictions transform attitudes and behavior."

Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Exhortations" are Good News?

Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, prepared the people for the coming Christ. Luke, in his Gospel, reports that the Baptizer's sermons were anything but user-friendly. He called the crowds a "brood of vipers," and challenged them to do works that confirmed their professed repentance.

These deeds included radical generosity: whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise (Luke 3:10). They included radical honesty: [tax collectors should] collect no more than you are authorized to do (Luke 3:13). They included radical restraint of power and lack of greed: [soldiers should not] extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14).

But the Baptizer gets even more radical. He describes Jesus' superior greatness in terms of His baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Jesus will brandish his winnowing fork, He will clear the threshing floor, He will gather His wheat into His barn, and He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

No wonder the Baptizer wore burlap and ate bugs. He probably was not given the key to many cities.

But Luke describes John's harshness this way: "with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people" (Luke 3:18).

"Good news"? Seriously?

John's exhortations -- even that Jesus will clear the threshing floor and burn chaff with fire -- point to the more glorious truth that Jesus will gather his wheat into his barn. No doubt. No uncertainty. No question. He will do it. He will save his people.

How do you know whether you are "Jesus' wheat"? Repent, and believe the good news.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Subverting our Caesars

Trevin Wax, in his book Holy Subversion, demonstrates that one reason early believers were persecuted was that they subverted the allegiance demanded by the Roman Caesar. Early believers were subversive because they rejected the idea that the Caesar was the chief among the gods, they rejected the idea that power made right, they rejected the idea that sex was to be promoted regardless of its form, they rejected the idea that wealth was to be hoarded.

Wax points out that, obviously, we have no Caesar breathing down our necks, requiring our allegiance by providing bread and circuses — keeping us fat and entertained, as it were.

However, modern caesars still lure us into practical Caesar worship. Views on money and wealth cause Christians to behave like the world. Views on sexuality cause Christians to act like world. Views on power, politics, health and even entertainment subtly tempt Christians to act like the world, becoming not merely practical atheists (living like there is no God), but practical polytheists (living as if there are many gods to be appeased and praised).

Christians today — much like those of the first centuries — must deliberately recognize and topple all would-be caesars, deposing them from their wordly thrones and recognizing instead the one, true God, who alone occupies the throne and rules in all aspects of our lives.