From eternity to eternity

In a previous post we looked at the opening to Paul’s letter to Titus.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.’ (Titus 1:1-3)

The phrase ‘eternal life’ is literally ‘the life of the [coming] ages’. In verse 2 Paul goes on by saying this eternal life was, literally, ‘promised before the ages’. It’s the same word. Our ministry is from eternity to eternity. What we do reaches forward into eternity future. But it also reaches back into eternity past.

What you do has eternal implications and divine implications. It goes right to the heart of God, to the Father’s love for his Son.

Let me explain by first asking a question. Paul says eternal life was ‘promised before the beginning of time’. To whom did God make this promise? Who was around to hear a promise made before time began? Ephesians 1:4-6 says:

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

‘He chose us in him.’ God the Father chose us in God the Son. God the Father made a promise to his Son. He promised him a bride. He promised him you. He did this ‘in accordance with his pleasure and will’. It was his pleasure to chose us. God the Father had such pleasure in his Son that he chose to share their pleasure. He created and recreated us so that we could share his delight in his Son. The Son died so that we could share his experience of sonship, so that we could be loved by his Father with the same love that he receives.

Paul says something very similar in 2 Timothy 1:8-9:

Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’

Your faith has eternal implications and divine implications. It’s the fulfilment of a promise from God the Father to God the Son. The Father sees you and delights in the work of his Son. The Father loves you with the love he has for his Son. The Father chose you so you could share the love and joy of the triune God.

The plan of God is not some bureaucratic undertaking. It’s not a heartless fatalism. It’s the overflow of divine love and pleasure and glory.

Your church is from eternity to eternity. Nothing is more significant than this. Nothing more important has happened in your city in the last ten years than what has happened in your church – other than what has happened in other churches.

Early in 2013 space-based telescopes detected the brightest cosmic explosion ever seen. It lit up the stars and hurled radiation across the cosmos. Had it happened within 1,000 light years of earth it would have destroyed life on our plant. In fact scientists claim it happened four billion years ago. It is the biggest event ever witnessed by human beings.

Except that is not quite true. Someone becoming a Christian is a bigger event. Your conversion was an event that was planned in eternity past and will last into eternity future. Four billion years is nothing compared to that. And a massive cosmic explosion does not compare with the death of God’s own Son.

This material is adapted from Tim Chester, Titus for You (The Good Book Company) which is available in the US from Amazon.com and in the UK from ThinkIVP.

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Why I don’t do evangelism

Let me tell you why I don’t do evangelism.

I used to think it was because I was afraid of what people would think. But I don’t think it’s that. I don’t generally worry what people think of me. The people on my street already think I’m weird! It’s not because I can’t be bothered. I’m happy to work hard for Christ in other ways. It’s not because I don’t know what to say. I have a strong conviction that the Holy Spirit can speak through me – however fumbling my words.

No, the reason I don’t tell my neighbours about Jesus is this: I think it’ll be a waste of time. I assume people won’t be interested. It’ll just be a bit embarrassing for both of us – and then we’ll quickly change the subject.

In the opening verses of Titus Paul describes what drives his ministry. He’s wanting to motivate the next generation. And what we discover is that one of the things that fires Paul’s passion for evangelism is the sovereignty of God.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.’ (Titus 1:1-3)

I assume that telling people about Jesus will be a waste of time. If I invite my neighbour to an event they will almost certainly say No. If I share the gospel with someone at a party then they will probably edge away from me. And so I don’t bother.

But this is how Paul saw his life. His life was ‘for the faith of God’s elect’. God has done the choosing so God will do the convincing. God will save his elect. All Paul had to do was find the elect. And he did that my preaching the gospel to everyone.

In my shed I have a tray of seeds. Last year I noticed that a number of packets were past their use-by-date. I did not even know seeds had a use-by-date! So I stood there in my shed with these seeds in the palm of my hand. They all look dead. But perhaps some of them still have the potential for life. Perhaps some of them might still grow into healthy vegetables. There is only one way to find out. So I planted them and watered them. And indeed I did have some good lettuces and radishes.

It is the same with the people of your neighbourhood. They look dead to God because they are dead to God. But some of them are God’s elect. If you water them, as it were, by preaching the gospel then God will use that to bring them new life. You can’t tell which are God’s elect. But you can preach the gospel, confident that God has many people in your city or county.

This material is adapted from Tim Chester, Titus for You (The Good Book Company) which is available in the US from Amazon.com and in the UK from ThinkIVP.

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The NIV celebrates 50 years (sort of)

Zondervan and Biblica are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the NIV. It’s not actually 50 years since it was first published in 1976 (an event which I’m old enough to remember), but the 50th anniversary of the convening of the translation committee. For the record, the NIV is my translation of choice.

They have made various resources available at www.thenivbible.com. These include a free app, a free daily devotional email and a video of Douglas Moo lecturing on Bible translation.

Also exciting to see is a new study NIV Bible based on biblical theology edited by Don Carson. Here’s a video of Carson talking about the recent Gospel Coalition conference …

And here’s a promo video …

The NIV Study Bible will be available on 25 August here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. It doesn’t appear to be available from ThinkIVP yet, but I’ll update this post if and when it is.

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The programme-less programme

One of the things we often talk about is the need to permeate ordinary life with the gospel.

I remember speaking at a conference about living ordinary life with gospel intentionality. Questioner after questioner asked me about the structures that needed to be in place. But, of course, you cannot programme ordinary life! ‘When do you do evangelism?’ people asked. ‘When do you pastor one another?’ ‘While I do the washing up’ did not seem to satisfy them, but it was the only answer I could give!

Of course, programmes and events are good and can really help reinforce a gospel culture. But if the gospel is going to saturate who whole lives then we need people who are proactively committed to speaking the gospel to unbelievers and believers in ordinary life.

We try to create this culture by things like regularly teaching missional values, celebrating gospel opportunities, setting aside time each time we meet to share how God has been at work in our lives, ‘commissioning’ people as missionaries in their workplaces and social clubs, and so on.

Above all we model the culture for one another so that it becomes the normal thing to do. The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which it is normal to be talking about God. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.

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The treasury of Christ

I’ve been preaching through the book of Exodus and it’s getting a bit confusing!

One week Christ is the true tabernacle – the person in whom God dwells among his people. The next week is Christ the true High Priest who serves in the temple. Then Christ is the true sacrifice being offered by the High Priest. So which is it? Is he the tabernacle or the priest or the sacrifice?

The answer, of course, is all three and much more besides.

In Exodus alone we see Christ is the Passover Lamb, the manna from heaven, the water of life, the Rock that bears our punishment, the true mediator and prophet and the embodiment of God’s will. Picture after picture in the events, the people and the rites of the Old Testament are all concentrated into one person, Jesus.

So we shouldn’t think of the tabernacle, priest and sacrifice forming one single all-embracing image. Instead we should think of them as overlapping images. Layer upon layer of meaning is accumulating to give us the fullest possible picture of Christ. All of these pictures are required fully to express his person and work. It is in them and through them that we see the riches of God’s grace in Christ. And so they are just piled on top of each other. No one image expresses the fulness and richness of Christ and his work.

That’s why we talk about the Bible being ‘the treasury of Christ’. Out of it we produce jewel after jewel – beautiful pictures of Christ. Each one is to be held up to the light to be appreciated and enjoyed.

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Crown of Thorns commendations

Here are some commendations for my latest book, Crown of Thorns: Connecting Kingdom and Cross.

This book is an absolute gift for those who want a holistic discipleship that ‘teaches them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:20) ~ Daniel Montgomery (Senior Pastor, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky )

…skilfully integrates and weaves together the two dimensions of Cross and Kingdom towards a healthy, scriptural understanding of Christ’s accomplishment. ~ Iver Martin (Principal, Edinburgh Theological Seminary)

…a readable, relevant, important, biblically sharp consideration of the current kingdom vs cross dynamics which decide the foundations on which we end up building our life, ministry and discipleship. ~ Colin Buchanan (Christian Children’s Recording artist and author, Sydney, Australia)

It is hard to imagine a more needed book today than Tim Chester’s Crown of Thorns. ~ Sean Michael Lucas (Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi)

… Tim Chester has done a great service in unfolding not just two key biblical themes but how they link and relate, and doing so in a warm and accessible way. The result is a rich and potent picture of Jesus the king who suffered. ~ Graham Beynon (Pastor, Grace Church Cambridge and Director of Independent Ministry Training, Oak Hill College.)

It’s available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Welcome to Mark’s Gospel

Mark's Gospel coverIn the run up to Easter this year we produced copies of Mark’s Gospel along with the testimonies of people in our church. The idea was to encourage the congregation to invite their friends to read the Gospel with them. Last week I posted the ‘What To Look Out For’ section which I write to orient readers to the Gospel. Here’s my overall introduction. It’s written with unbelievers in mind, but I thought it might be of interest.

Whatever you make of Jesus Christ, he has had a massive impact on history. Today millions of people follow his teachings. Christians believe he is the Son of God. They believe came to earth to reconcile us to God. They believe he rose from the dead to offer us eternal life.

You may not be persuaded by these claims. But you cannot ignore Jesus.

We want to invite you to take a look at Jesus. You don’t have to believe. We’re not asking you to suspend your critical faculties. We’re simply want to give you the opportunity to meet the person of Jesus and make up your own mind.

And there’s no better way to do that than to read one of the first accounts of Jesus.

Mark’s Gospel was written just a few years after the death of Jesus. Mark was an early Christian and a friend of Peter, one of the very first followers of Jesus.

There are four Gospels in the Bible. They’re named after their writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel writers were concerned to write historical accounts of Jesus. Luke, for example, describes how he ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning’ and drew on eye-witness sources.

But the Gospels are not quite like modern biographies. The word ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’. The writers of the Gospels wanted to convey something of the message of Jesus. So, while they wanted to describe the facts of his life, they also wanted to describe the significance of his life.

Mark’s Gospel is one of the sixty-six other books in the Bible. That’s because the story of Jesus is part of a bigger story – the story of the world. The Bible claims that God made the world. And the world that God made was good. It was a kingdom of peace and plenty. But humanity rejected the kingdom of God. We chose to live our own way without God. The result has been conflict as we each compete with one another for control. But our biggest problem is God’s judgment. God is implacably opposed to evil and evil runs through the hearts of us all. But God in his love promised to send someone who would rescue us from our rebellion and his judgment. He chose the people of Israel (the Jews) to model his kingdom. The problem was the evil in our hearts was in their hearts as well. They, too, rejected God and so they were exiled from the land God has given them. But God in his love promised a king who would rescue God’s people. When the story of Mark’s Gospel begins the Jews had returned to their land (the land of Palestine), but they were under the rule of the Roman empire. They hoped God’s king would come and restore God’s kingdom.

But Christians believe this big story is part of an even bigger story. Christians believe God is not a solitary ruler, but an eternal community of three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. God is an eternal Father. God the Father has eternally loved God the Son in the power of God the Spirit. God created the world and rescued the world to share his love and to share his joy in his Son. We get a hint of this at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. As Jesus is baptised, a voice from heaven says: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Mark’s Gospel is an invitation to be part of this big story.

You will notice big numbers and small numbers scattered across the text of the Gospel. The big numbers refer to ‘chapters’. Mark’s Gospel is divided up into 16 chapters. The small numbers refer to ‘verses’ which divide up the chapters. The chapters and verses were added later to help readers refer to specific extracts. A reference to ‘Mark 10:45’ means verse 45 of chapter 10.

I’ve written two Bible study guides to Mark’s Gospel which are available here in the UK from ThinkIVP and here in the US from Amazon.

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New book – Crown of Thorns: Connecting Kingdom and Cross

My latest book is published today – Crown of Thorns: Connecting Kingdom and Cross. Here’s the blurb:

Within evangelicalism today it can sometimes seem there are two competing versions of the gospel. There is the gospel of the kingdom with its focus on God’s plan to restore the world. And there is the gospel of the cross with its focus on the offer of forgiveness. These two emphases create contrasting models of discipleship and mission. In Crown of Thorns Tim Chester shows how these two gospels are really one gospel – the message of the King who establishes justice in a surprising way.

It’s available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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What to look out for in Mark’s Gospel

Mark's Gospel coverIn the run up to Easter this year we produced special copies of Mark’s Gospel with the testimonies of people in our church. The idea was to encourage the congregation to invite their friends to read the Gospel with them. I wrote a section entitled ‘What To Look Out For’ to help orient readers to the Gospel.

Early on in Mark’s Gospel people ask ‘Who is this?’ (4:41) That’s the big question in Mark’s Gospel: Who is Jesus and what has he come to do?

The King who must die

Mark’s Gospel begins: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Mark makes two claims for Jesus. He says Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. The Messiah or Christ means ‘the anointed One’. The kings of Israel were anointed with oil. So ‘the anointed One’ is God’s promised King. Messiah or Christ is not a surname, but a job description.

The first half of Mark’s Gospel is full of evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Look out for descriptions of his authority. This comes to a climax at the end of chapter 8 when his followers finally declare: ‘You are the Messiah’ (8:29).

As soon as this happens, Jesus says he must die. This is not what the Jews expected God’s Messiah would do! They expected him to defeat the Romans and restore the nation of Israel. So the second half of Mark’s Gospel is about how Jesus must die and what it means to follow him. It comes to a climax when a Roman soldier declares Jesus to be the Son of God – the second half of Mark’s opening description of Jesus. But the soldier says this as he watches Jesus die (15:39).

So Mark’s Gospel is in two halves. Part one (chapters 1-8) show that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s promised King. Part two (chapters 9-16) show why Jesus must die.

Secrets and silences

The Jews expected God’s king and God’s kingdom to come in power and glory. In some ways Jesus fits the bill. In chapters 1-2 he appears to have great power. But in other ways he’s a disappointment. In chapters 2-3 he’s opposed and rejected. Is this the kingdom of God or not? Jesus responds in chapter 4 by telling some ‘parables’ – stories that illustrate the truth. He says that one day the kingdom of God will come in power. But first he has come in a secret way. Before God conquers the world, he first offers peace.

A number of times Jesus tells people not to talk about who he is (1:25; 3:12; 8:30; 9:9). At first sight this is a bit odd because Jesus makes preaching his priority (1:38). But Jesus does not want people proclaiming him as King until they realise he is the King who must die. So look out for references to secrets or Jesus telling people not to talk about him yet.

Sight and insight

Mark often uses physical sight or blindness as a picture of spiritual insight or blindness. The kingdom is present in a secret way so not everyone sees it (4:11-12). He says to his followers: ‘Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?’ (8:18) He heals people who are physically blind to show how he gives insight to people who are spiritually blind (8:17-29; 10:35-52). So look out for references to seeing and blindness.

Fear and faith

Mark often presents two alternative responses to Jesus: fear and faith. At one point, for example, Jesus says: ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4:40) If you turn to the end of Mark’s Gospel you’ll notice that there an extra section that was probably not part of Mark’s original version. It seems people found Mark’s ending a bit abrupt so they decided to ‘finish’ it off by adding some more. But Mark’s ending perfectly concludes this theme of fear and faith. He finishes: ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.’ (16:8) At the end we and the women are left with a choice between fear and faith.

Who is this?

Above all look at Jesus. As we’ve said, the big question in Mark’s Gospel: Who is Jesus and what has he come to do? As you read each section, we invite you to ask yourself:

  • Who is Jesus?
  • What has Jesus come to do?
  • How do people respond to him?
  • How do I respond to him?

I’ve written two Bible study guides to Mark’s Gospel which are available here in the UK from ThinkIVP and here in the US from Amazon.

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