Friday, 23 October 2009

Glory in the Glen by Tom Lennie

The reality of spiritual revival is one that interests most Christians, including those in Scotland. One possible common feature of their interest is the assumption that very little spiritual revival has happened in Scotland since 1859 apart from the one on the island of Lewis in 1949. This assumption will disappear once Glory in the Glen by Tom Lennie is read as it describes in detail many revivals that occurred in Scotland between 1880 and 1940. Virtually every area of the country was affected at one time or another during these decades, with some areas, such as the Western Isles, experiencing several revival periods. And this book does not record all that took place during that time.

The obvious question that comes to mind is why such revivals no longer seem to take place. No doubt there have been local movements of the Spirit here and there, but we seem to have entered a long period without them taking place in a significant way. Often the escape route that is used is to put it all down to the sovereignty of God, which of course is true, although at one level such a response may be an attempt not to face the possibility that God, in his sovereignty, is judging his church for its failure to engage in meaningful prayer for spiritual revival.

In any case, reading this well-researched book should stimulate prayer for the God of revivals to once again come in widespread power into our communities. It would be possible to read the book with a red pen and stroke out every revival we don’t like, but such a response would miss an important point, which is that God often uses unlikely people as his servants when he chooses to advance his cause. If reading this book was to help create many praying churches and groups in Scotland, then we could begin to look forward to a revived church all around us before we go very far into the twenty-first century.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Description of a Preacher

Murdo Mackenzie, a former minister of the Free North Church in Inverness and who had refused to go into the United Free Church in 1900, made this tribute about a former colleague, Murdoch Macaskill, who had joined the United Free Church. While Macaskill had his failings and you can read about him here if you wish, the description does point to a level of ministry to which all preachers should aspire. This is what Mackenzie said of Macaskill:

'He felt the power of what he was preaching to others. He early came under the power of the truth, and from his own experience of the saving power of the blessed Saviour he could commend Him to others. He was an earnest preacher. He did not flatter sinners, but he earnestly pleaded with them to betake themselves to the Saviour. It was his delight to set forth the glory of Christ as the Redeemer and the efficacy of His work and blood for the salvation of the vilest and filthiest. He was an impressive preacher. He made a deep impression on the people, often with tears trickling down his cheeks…. He was an accomplished preacher. He was a student all his days, and he brought the result of his extensive reading to bear upon his preaching, so that he was always fresh… He was a scriptural preacher; he was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures.’

Friday, 2 October 2009

What was Jesus like?

I suppose most Christians find it easier to understand the deity of Jesus than his humanity. Last night I attempted to preach on his humanity, and here are some ideas that came to me about him.

First, his humanity was a real humanity. Although the conception of Jesus was miraculous, his birth was normal. He was a baby boy, dependant on his mother. He went through all the stages of human development, as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult. He learned by asking questions, both as a teenager and as an adult. Jesus grew socially, in favour with his neighbours. He engaged in manual labour, involved in the building of houses. He enjoyed friendship with others. If he stood on a stone, he felt pain. When family members died, he knew bereavement. He participated in family celebrations, such as weddings (John 2:1-11). Throughout his life on earth, he lived as a real man.

Second, the humanity of Jesus was a religious humanity. This was the case outwardly and inwardly. He attended the public meetings in the synagogue and went to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. Inwardly, he kept the law of God with all his heart and developed in a consistent and balanced manner the fruit of the Spirit. In Jesus there was perfect response to very situation: sorrow when needed, joy when appropriate, anger when required. He delighted in prayer and meditating on the Scriptures, and it was through them that he discerned how to live for God. Every moment of every day he lived by faith in God. His sinlessness was not only an expression of grace, it was an achievement of faith (David McIntyre). It was by faith Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame.

Third, the humanity of Jesus was a representative humanity. All that he did, throughout each stage of his life, he did on behalf of others. His entire life was a life of obedience, whether as a child in the home, as an inhabitant in his village, as a travelling teacher instructing his disciples, or as a suffering victim on the cross. In every moment he obeyed God lovingly and thought of his neighbours lovingly. When the rich young ruler walked away, Jesus loved him. On the cross, he showed his love for his neighbours by praying for the soldiers, assuring the penitent thief of heaven, and providing for his mother. That beautiful life becomes ours, imputed to us when we believe in Jesus.

Fourth, the humanity of Jesus is a risen and glorified humanity. There are differences between his appearance before his death and after his resurrection. It is not always clear why his disciples did not recognise him. The two on the way to Emmaus were prevented from recognising him, by God presumably. Mary Magdalene may have been blinded by her tears, although she recognised his voice, which the two from Emmaus did not. He was capable of doing things, such as disappearing from sight or coming into a room with a locked door, which humans usually cannot do. As a man he was able to ascend through the sky, defying the laws of gravity.

But leaving these differences for the moment, let us rejoice that Jesus is alive in the fullness of his humanity, and that he has risen as the firstfruits from the dead, the guarantee that all his people will rise as well. He has entered into heaven as a man, he has been glorified with divine blessings and favour. And in heaven he sympathises with us in all our needs.

Fifth, the humanity of Jesus is a royal humanity. This is connected to his glorification, for he has taken his seat on the throne of God. Today, he is not only risen, for he also reigns. His reign involves control over all things, but it is helpful to divide it into two areas. First, there is his reign of grace, as through the gospel conveyed into the hearts of sinners by the Holy Spirit, he brings people into his kingdom and rules over them in grace. Second, there is his kingly role over the rebellious world, which will climax at the end of time when he will judge that world and assign to every individual who has ever lived their eternal destiny.

Sixth, the humanity of Jesus is a rich humanity. He is the heir of all things – everything is his, in time and space, for eternity. But his riches he shares with his people, and although there are millions of them his possessions do not decrease. The word used in the Bible for his riches is glory, and all the wealth and power of this world is inadequate for giving any conception of the riches of Jesus.

These six aspects of his humanity should cause us to regard Jesus as our hero. He is a real man with nothing sham about him, he is a religious man who loved on earth to serve God and still delights to do so today, he is a representative man who did for me what I could not do for myself, he is a risen man who has gone through death and travelled to heaven in order to guarantee our inheritance, he is a royal man who rules over all things on behalf of his church and defeats all her enemies, he is a rich man permanently full of grace. What a man!

How do I know if I truly admire him? Heroes are those about whom we want to discover more and whose characters and deeds we wish to copy. I know that Jesus is my Hero when I imitate him as my role model. He has left us an example of humble service for us to imitate as we follow in his steps. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus. That is our destiny, says Paul in verse 29, as far as our future is concerned; it should be our delight as far as our desires are concerned; but it is also our duty, what we owe to him for coming to our aid.