Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Spirit is God

Sometimes we fail to remember what the Shorter Catechism says about the Godhead, that there are three divine persons, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. Each divine person fulfils specific roles and each of these roles is an activity that only God can do.

This means that the Spirit has divine attributes. The obvious one is found in his name, Holy Spirit. Moreover we can see that the Bible says he is eternal (Heb. 9:14); omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11); omnipresent (Ps. 139:7) and omnipotent (all power, such as what he displayed in his activity as Creator in Genesis 1). 

With the other two divine persons he knows all the details of the eternal covenant and therefore uses his attributes to bring about the divine purpose. Their plan is an expression of their love, both within the Trinity and for those they determined to bring to full salvation. It is also an expression of their wisdom, of knowing what would be best for their glory.

We can think of what the Spirit did in the divine work of creation. Genesis 1:2 tells us that he was preparing the shapeless mass for a world that would be full of life. As far as caring for creation is concerned, Job 26:13, in some versions, informs us that the Lord beautifies the heavens by his Spirit. Elihu, when he was speaking to Job, acknowledged that 'The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life' (Job 33:4).So we can see that the Spirit is active in a creatorial manner in many different ways.

And then there is the divine activity of the Spirit in the salvation of sinners. His work of regeneration in a sinner, which is instantaneous, brings spiritual life into a previously dead heart and mind. Paul likens the greatness of this change in individuals to what took place at the beginning, at the onset of earth's story (2 Cor. 4:6). The Spirit teaches his people about their Saviour, about the benefits of salvation, about the reality of divine promises, and about the glory that is ahead (as Paul writes in Ephesians 1:13, the Spirit is the living earnest of the inheritance).

The obvious response to the fact that the Spirit is divine is that we should worship him with the Father and the Son. In our corporate worship we are reminded of the Spirit during baptisms and when we receive the Benediction. We should be grateful to him when he reveals to us the Father and the Son in a sermon, because no creature can do so. The Spirit is our divine helper.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Spirit whom Christians know

In the Upper Room, Jesus reminds the apostles that they already know the Spirit (John 14:17). He says that the Spirit dwells with them and will be in them, a description that points to a wonderful relationship, yet one to be developed even more. 

In what ways did they know the Spirit? One way is that they knew him as the Spirit of Truth, the title that Jesus uses of the Spirit in this verse.

The Spirit of Truth had convicted them of their sins and revealed to them truths about Jesus. They had been enabled to follow Jesus as their Master and Lord, even although they had still a lot to learn about him. The promise of Jesus that the Spirit would yet be in them indicated that he would continue to reveal truth to them, and we can see a fulfilment of this role in the way the Spirit enabled some of them to contribute to the New Testament in an inerrant manner.

Each Sunday, our services close with the benediction, taken from 2 Corinthians 13, in which we receive the promise of the communion of the Holy Spirit. Communion indicates personal contact, and personal contact is necessary for true knowledge. In such contact we experience what the other has to share. Each time we hear the benediction, we should have expectant hearts because it contains a promise that the Spirit will give blessings to us.

When we have contact with the Spirit, we discover what he has to share, and his gifts are connected to our experience of salvation. Sometimes he focuses on the Father and his role in salvation; at other times, he focuses on the Son and his role in salvation; and at other times, he focuses on his own role in salvation. And there are times when he conveys such knowledge to us in a combined manner.

It is wonderful to know the Spirit. We can know him individually and we can know him corporately and simultaneously. So when Jesus told his disciples that they knew the Spirit he stated a truth that should make us both thankful and amazed

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Spirit whom Jesus Sends

One of the many promises that Jesus gave to his apostles was that after his departure from them the Holy Spirit would come to them (John 14:16-18). In what way would this happen?

Jesus said that the Father would send the Spirit in response to a future prayer by Jesus. I suppose we could ask why Jesus did not make that request at the time when he was speaking to the disciples. The answer to such a question is that the petition would follow the exaltation of Jesus. 

The Saviour also indicated that the significance of the presence of the Spirit would be the presence of Jesus with them even although he would be exalted in heaven. In a way we cannot understand the physical absence of Jesus because of his ascension would not mean that Jesus was no longer with them. 

Yet we know that things were different for Jesus after his ascension. When he entered heaven at that time he did so as the Mediator about to be exalted by his Father. And one of his roles as Mediator is to extend the kingdom of God and also to engage in building the church for which he died. He would do this through the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit.

In an obvious way, Jesus kept this promise when he sent the Promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit) on the Day of Pentecost. Should we describe it as the presence of the Spirit or the presence of Jesus? Both, as long as we remember that Jesus is exalted in heaven.

This promise by Jesus should have encouraged the disciples in the Upper Room. It does not seem that they were listening very well. Even so, it was a promise from Jesus that he would make them effective servants in the work he had given to them to fulfil.

This promise gives us insight into the priestly ministry of Jesus in heaven. Perhaps we could take a few minutes to read Psalm 67, a song that describes the fulfilling among the nations of the Abrahamic covenant. As Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:14, the coming of the Spirit is a fulfilment of that covenant. And Jesus, the priest on the divine throne, engages in constant conversation with the Father as to how and when the Spirit will next further the growth of the gospel. The coming of the Spirit was not just for the days of the apostles.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The apostles Jesus chose (Luke 6:12-19)

What comes into our minds as we read the list of names mentioned by Luke? One of them became the traitor, and he is a sad person to observe. But what about the others? What can we say about them? Here are some suggestions.

They were ordinary men – some were fishermen, one was a taxman, one was a former Zealot, and we don’t know about the others. They were imperfect men – Peter was impetuous, James and John were a bit wild (Jesus did call them the sons of thunder), Thomas could see everything in a negative way, and no doubt the others had their failings. They were ignorant men before Jesus began to teach them and they were slow learners after he engaged in teaching them. Did he not have to say to Philip, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?’ (John 14:9).

Yet what did they become? After all, they are described in Ephesians as the foundation of the church. They became faithful men – all but John would die a martyr’s death. They became the friends of Jesus, as he said to them in John 15:15: ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’ They became honoured men – millions of people down the centuries and throughout the world today love and respect them for what they did.

And it all flowed and flows from the amazing night of prayer that Jesus offered on their behalf before he selected them to be his apostles.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The messages of the apostles (Luke 6:12-19)

We noted yesterday that the apostles were sent to two groups, the converted and the unconverted. What was the messages that they would bring to those groups? 

As far as the unconverted were concerned, the message to be brought to them was the gospel. The word ‘gospel’ means good news, so if the message conveyed to people does not contain good news it is not the message that Jesus wanted his apostles to convey. So we need to find out what it means to pass on the message of the gospel.

We don’t pass on the gospel if all we do is point out the sins of people to them. Nor do we spread the gospel if all we tell them is that they are going to hell. The gospel is the message that tells sinners how they can be saved from going to a lost eternity. Of course, we need to tell people that they are sinners, because otherwise why would they need a Saviour? The gospel means telling people that they will be forgiven by God if they repent of their sins and trust in Jesus, who died for sinners and was raised from the dead. We can see from the Book of Acts that the apostles did this. They told the gospel simply, personally and wooingly.  

Then there were the messages that they were to give to the converted once they had responded to the gospel. We find what they had to say in this regard when we read the various writings of the New Testament. Of course, there are many ways of outlining or summarising the message that the apostles and their colleagues communicated to the converted. For the present, I want to point out five aspects of their message that was there when they were alive and is still required from all those who come into the church of Jesus.

First, they taught that the converted have to hold tight to the doctrines that the apostles taught. We hold on to things that are precious to us. Second, they said that the religion of the converted involves the heart, that it is a religion of love. Third, they informed the converted that God hears and answers prayer. Fourth, they stressed to the converted the necessity of a holy life, which basically means becoming like Jesus. Fifth, they comforted the converted by pointing out to them the certain hope they had about the future because of Jesus and the incredible activities he would engage in when he returned.

What wonderful messages the apostles were instructed to pass on to their hearers.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Jesus Chooses the Apostles (Luke 6:12-19)

An obvious detail is that Jesus chose the apostles in the presence of witnesses. Perhaps he did this to ensure that no one afterwards could say about them that Jesus had not chosen them. If that was the case, then we can see the care that Jesus took in ensuring that they would be known as his special servants.

It may be the case that Luke mentions the order in which they were chosen on this occasion. Or maybe he is mentioning them in the order with which they had come to follow him. We are not told how the last five came to be his followers, but we are told elsewhere about how the first seven came to follow him as their Master.

He gave to them a special name, that of apostles. We are so used to that title that we may not give much thought to what it signified. The word literally means messenger, which implies a sender and a recipient. An apostle is someone who delivers another’s message to those the sender wanted to hear it. This means that an apostle did not make up his own message, but had to be faithful to the One who sent him.

Who were to be the recipients of the message of Jesus? We can answer this question by saying that basically there would be two groups of recipients. One we call the unconverted and the other we can call the converted. So the apostles would always have both types of listener in mind as they went delivering the message of Jesus.