Sunday, 12 May 2013

Highland Harvester

Highland Harvester is the title of a book 
written by George Mitchell which was
 published in February 2013 and charts the 
life, times and legacy of Peter Grant (1783-
1867). He is known in the Scottish 
Highlands as ‘Peter Grant of the Songs’,
 and is arguably the most influential Gaelic 
hymn-writer of the nineteenth century.
 His collection of hymns ran to twenty
editions. Professor Donald Meek writes of them: ‘Grant’s hymns will remain forever as an integral part of the Gaelic spiritual heritage of the mainland Highlands, the Hebrides and areas far beyond, where Gaelic speakers have settled.’
Peter Grant was a powerful Gospel preacher, the second pastor of Grantown-on-Spey Baptist Church, where he served for forty-one years. He worked on his farm, Ballenta, which his family has worked for three centuries, and took no stipend from the church for years. He preached at least five times a week and usually spent a few weeks each summer as an itinerant preacher.
The small Baptist Church in Grantown grew to 292 members and had several outreach Sunday Schools and preaching stations in the Grantown area. The Lord visited the community in gracious waves of revival during Grant's ministry, with two to three hundred people attending each of two midweek prayer meetings. Up to 1200 people attended the baptismal services he conducted in the River Spey.
Peter had no English until he was thirteen years old, and was succeeded in the pastorate by his son William, who also spoke Gaelic. William himself ministered to many of the 2000 or so navvies who camped in the area during the building of the Highland Railway.
George Mitchell obtained many of the papers on which he researched this remarkable Highland revival from Yvonne, the widow of John Fisher of Inverness, and Dr Ian Grant (Peter’s great-great-grandson) writes: ‘I think George Mitchell has captured the essence of Peter Grant in all his character.’
The book reveals Peter’s warmth in his family letters – he had ten children and seventy grandchildren – and the analysis and extracts from his preaching stir the heart. We capture the spirit of a remarkable preacher, whose sole resources for many years were a Bible and a small English dictionary! The book also illustrates the global reach of this Highland ministry.
Peter Grant lived through a fascinating kaleidoscope of social, historical and theological changes. These included the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellions, the control of the Moderates within the national church, the missions of the Haldane brothers, the Agrarian Revolution, the Highland Clearances, the Hungry Forties, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Disruption of 1843.
Eric Alexander writes: ‘I knew almost nothing of Peter Grant before reading this excellent book. May the book be widely used to create a longing for true revival in the church in the twenty-first century!’

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Transfiguration of Jesus

A theologian called Brentius commented on this event as follows: ‘No synod on earth was ever more gloriously attended than this. No assembly was ever more illustrious. Here is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. Here are Moses and Elijah, the chief of the prophets. Here are Peter, James and John, the chief of the apostles.’

The event described by Mark and Matthew and Luke, but interestingly not by John, is called The Transfiguration of Jesus. It occurred six days after the famous confession by Peter at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ. After listening to Peter’s confession, Jesus informed the disciples that although he was the Christ, yet he was going to suffer. This information caused confusion amongst his disciples, so perhaps the Transfiguration was designed to reassure them that Jesus was more than a man. Certainly Peter was profoundly affected by this event for he refers to it in his the second chapter of his second letter when he says that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty when they were with him on the Holy Mount.

It is clear from the Gospels that Peter, James and John were given special privileges by Jesus. No doubt, one reason for their receiving of those privileges is connected to the sovereignty of Jesus arranging it for them. Yet it is also the case that they wanted to be near Jesus more than the other disciples did. Usually, in the Christian life we receive from Jesus according to our spiritual desires.

In addition, Jesus was preparing them for their future roles, that of telling others about him after he had risen from the dead. When he had gone back to glory, there would be three men who had witnessed his glory and could testify about it.

Something happened to the body of Jesus while they were on the top of the mountain. The Greek word is the one from which we get the word ‘metamorphosis’ which describes a transformation from one state to another. Each Gospel account says that Jesus’ appearance shone as a very bright light and Luke adds that his appearance was like shafts of lighting. The light came from within him, and was not a reflected glory such as Moses had when he went up to Mt. Sinai.

This was an indication that Jesus is the Light, a common name for God. ‘In him is light and no darkness at all.’  God is light. This description of Jesus is stressed in John 1:3-9. He was the light that shone before the sun was or stars were created.

On the top of the mountain, Jesus’ disciples had contact with two men from heaven. Moses and Elijah were very important figures in the history of Israel. We are not told why they were the ones who appeared with Jesus, but scholars have come up with four possible suggestions. (1) Some say Moses and Elijah were symbolic of the Law and the prophets, the two important offices of Israel. (2) Others see them as being of significance here because their departures from the earth at the end of their human lives were unusual – Moses died in God’s presence on Mount Pisgah and Elijah went to heaven without dying. (3) Still others see this event as picturing the end of the world when the glorified Jesus returns with glorified saints (depicted by Moses and Elijah) to meet the as yet unglorified believers then alive on earth (depicted by Peter, James and John). (4) It is also true that the periods of the ministries of Moses and Elijah are the two other periods of which miracles are recorded in the Bible. Whatever the reason for their coming to the mountain, the important detail is that they were outshone by Jesus.

Moses asked on one occasion to see the glory of God (Exod. 33:18). God granted him his request in as much as was possible. To see God’s glory would be to see all that God is, and it is not possible for a sinful creature to behold it. But God allowed Moses to see some aspects of his character through what is called a theophany. So Moses had seen a manifestation of God on earth; when he went to heaven he would have seen further manifestations of God’s glory; but I would suggest that what he saw here on the Mount of Transfiguration was far superior to any revelation he had known previously.

The same can be said of Elijah because he received a revelation of God on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). He discovered that God was not in the storm, but in the still small voice, another picture of the grace and mercy of God. But as he listened to Jesus on this occasion he would hear sweeter words that ever he heard at Horeb.  After all, when he left Horeb, Elijah left with a message of judgement; but when he left the Mount of Transfiguration, he knew that his Master was on a mission of mercy.

We are told what Moses and Elijah spoke about: the exodus that Jesus would bring about when he died on the cross. This is a revealing insight into the way that the inhabitants of heaven perceived the work of Christ on the cross – an exodus is an achievement, not a defeat. Is it too much to suggest that when Moses and Elijah went back to heaven they informed the heavenly world of what they had discussed with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The baptism of Jesus - Identification with sinners

If the baptism was the opportunity for the Father to express his delight in Jesus, and the occasion of the Spirits equipping Jesus for his work, then as far as Jesus was concerned it was an act of dedication to his work. Now the time had come, and with eagerness he presses forward to the task. His whole heart and mind and body were committed to working out the salvation of sinners.

Luke tells us that as his baptism happens Jesus is praying. Now we know that Jesus was a man of prayer, therefore it is not surprising that he was praying. Luke is the Gospel writer who draws attention to the fact that Jesus prayed, and Luke highlights this aspect of Jesus at crucial events in his public ministry: he spent a whole night in prayer before he called his disciples (6:12); he prayed at the feeding of the 5,000 (9:16); when his disciples confessed he was the Son of God, it was after he had been praying (9:18); his purpose in going up the hill on which the transfiguration took place was to pray (9:28); it was as Jesus was praying that his disciples asked to be taught to pray (11:1); he prayed in Gethsemane (22:40, 46); he prayed for the soldiers at Calvary (23:34); he prayed in the house in Emmaus (24:30).

His baptism was also his first public identification with sinners. John had found Jesus request for baptism to be puzzling, after all Johns baptism was for those who confessed sins and repented of them. But Jesus over-ruled John and in baptism linked himself with sinners.

But his baptism by John also revealed that Jesus was committing himself to save not only Jews but Gentiles. It has been discovered that baptism with water was a ritual whereby Gentiles were admitted to Judaism. So while Jews too were submitting to the baptism it was a clear sign that Jesus was stepping across Jewish barriers to save Gentiles.

The baptism of Jesus - the coming of the Spirit

A feature of the baptism as the first public acknowledgement of Jesus and his role was the coming of the Spirit to equip Jesus for functioning as the Servant of the Lord. This does mean that Jesus did not have the Spirit before then. We are told in Luke that the Spirit was with him as a child.

The Spirit came in the form of a dove at the baptism. A dove is symbolic of two things: gentleness and peace, and these two features were to be the hallmarks of the way Jesus was to fulfil his mission. He was gentle in the way he dealt with sinners. Perhaps that is one reason why women liked to be in his company.

Think of occasions when he showed gentleness. Here are four: (a) he was gentle with the woman at the well; (b) he was gentle with the woman caught in adultery; (c) he was gentle with Mary Magdalene on the resurrection day; (d) he was gentle with Peter when he was restored from his fall.

Gentleness is not often regarded as a manly quality; somehow it is assumed that a gentle person is not a strong person. The only thing that can be said about such a notion is that it is nonsense.

Paul referred to this quality of Jesus when he was dealing with the schismatic Corinthians: Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you (2 Cor. 10:1). To be gentle is an essential feature of a ministers life; it is a qualification for an elder; it is a mark of all believers.

Throughout his earthly life, Jesus with the fullness of the Spirit exhibited continually gentleness and peace. Even on the cross with the dying penitent thief, in the midst of his own troubles, Jesus gave peace to him in a gentle manner.

We can see the range of the Spirits influence in the life of Jesus in his own words which he spoke in his home synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:17-20). Jesus detailed several aspects of what he would do: (1) preach the gospel to the poor; (2) to heal the brokenhearted, (3) to preach deliverance to the captives, (4) recovering of sight to the blind, (5) to set at liberty them that are bruised, (6) to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. We can see what peace he brought to those who were heartbroken and in spiritual chains.

The baptism of Jesus - the Father's verdict

For thirty years Jesus had been living in obscurity in Nazareth. He was the oldest son in a family of five sons and at least two daughters. It is likely that Joseph was dead, therefore Jesus had taken his place as the village carpenter, providing a home for his mother and brothers and sisters. They were not well-off; archaeological discoveries suggest that only 200 people lived in Nazareth at that time, so there would not have been that much work from such a small number.

We know that Joseph was a poor man because of the offering he gave at the temple when Jesus was born. So in this place of obscurity and poverty Jesus lived, unknown, unrecognised. He knew who he was and why he had come into the world. What a secret to have to keep! But then one day, as Oswald Sanders pictures it, Jesus shut the carpenters day for the last time. He walked from Nazareth to the desert of Judea, and at his baptism the secret was revealed.

God the Father tore the heavens open (a picture of eagerness) to announce that he was well-pleased with the life his Son lived in obscure Nazareth. There in Nazareth had lived One who for thirty years had perfectly kept the law of God in heart, mind and action. A perfect life, unknown to earth, but known in heaven.

This secret obedience not only revealed his personal devotion to God, it was part of the salvation he was working out for his people. We have failed to keep the law of God and have to suffer the penalty. To be redeemed from that penalty two things are required: (1) the payment of the penalty, which was paid on the cross; (2) a perfect keeping of the law, which also was done for us by Jesus, and mostly done for us in Nazareth.

So his baptism was the occasion of the Father saying how much he loved the hidden years.

Working for a living

The duty of work is an important biblical topic and it would be absurd to try and say in this short article all that the Bible means by work. But here are a few comments that will hopefully get us thinking about how we work and where we work. After all, the workplace is an essential location for evangelism. Most of us say more about our faith where we work than anywhere else. And of course, we say a lot whether we are speaking or not. Those we work with read us constantly.

First, work is not limited to what our culture defines as a career. Many aspects of work, as we know, are concerned with matters for which no financial remuneration is given, such as work done in the home. Although there is no financial remuneration, there are many rewards for such dedicated work.

Second, work is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. It is clear that God is a worker, as is seen from his activities in the week of creation. Since we are created in the image of God, one aspect of that image is engaging in work. God gave roles to Adam and Eve after he created them, which is why work is usually called a creation ordinance, one that should be practiced by everyone.

Third, work is an important aspect of sinless society. We can see this from the situation in Eden before Adam and Eve fell into sin, and from the descriptions that are given of heaven as a place of service. In the eternal state, work is a feature of heaven, of the perfect life, but work will not be found even in the minutest sense in the location of the lost.

Fourth, work should be performed according to the particular talents that God has given us. Obviously, the work God performed at creation was within his capabilities and according to his capabilities. There is an important principle that has to be implemented in order for us to enjoy work – we are to work according to our ability and competence. It used to be said that much of the problem with British industry was that many people were promoted to the level of their incompetence. God has made each of us capable of doing particular roles, and the fulfilling of these roles is an essential part of his calling in our lives.

 Fifth, despite the fall of humankind into sin, work is designed to bring pleasure and satisfaction, and so it is a means of glorifying God. ‘There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God’ (Ecc. 2:24); ‘And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God’ (Ecc. 3:13).

Sixth, Jesus worked as a carpenter and taught in the synagogue, which means that he combined manual work with his role as a teacher. (Paul did something similar, being a tentmaker as well as an apostle.) The involvement of Jesus gives dignity and sanctity to work. Hugh Latimer, the English Bishop who was martyred for his faith, said of this aspect of the life of Jesus: ‘For as he blessed our nature with taking upon him the shape of a man, so in his doing he blessed all occupations and arts.’

Seventh, because of the Fall, work can be done for wrong reasons (instead of being for God’s glory, it can be done for human glory), in wrong ways (masters can be cruel and workers can be unreliable and lazy) and for wrong results (produce sinful products). There are many forms of work that are not legitimate.

Eighth, work (whether a career or otherwise) is an aspect of God’s common grace whereby he enables societies to function in a cohesive manner. If everyone did nothing, nothing would happen.

A man once asked workers on a building site what they were doing. One said that he was engaged in a monotonous task of building one brick on top of another, another said that he was trying to earn a living, and a third said that he was helping Sir Christopher Wren to build a great cathedral that future generations would use (St Paul’s in London). The third man had the right perspective, because while he was also doing a monotonous task to earn a living, he also realised that his small role was a contribution to a great purpose. Similarly, our small roles are all part of God’s great purpose.