Why the Reformation – review and interview

Here’s a review from Robert Strivens of my latest book, Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-written with Mike Reeves.

Mike Reeves and Tim Chester have produced a sharp, relevant historico-theological analysis of key Reformation truths and shown their continuing relevance today. And they have done so in fewer than 200 pages.

You can read the full review here.

And here’s an interview with Mike Reeves in which he talks about the book.

Why the Reformation Still Matters can be bought from amazon.co.uk and pre-ordered from amazon.com.

After the EU referendum

Here’s what I’m saying to my congregation this morning after the UK voted to leave the EU …

Whatever your views on the EU – and I know some of you voted ‘leave’ while others voted ‘remain’ – our nation is entering a time of radical political and economic upheaval. It may or may not be the case that in a few years time we’re stronger as a result. In one sense your view on that depends on how you voted. But it also depends on how we’re led over the coming months and how the rest of the EU reacts. What is clear is that we face a time of major turmoil with years of negotiations, replacement legislation, market fluctuations, investment uncertainty.

At the same time, there’s a leadership vacuum in the nation. One main party leader has resigned. The other main party leader may have half his shadow cabinet resigning as we speak. We don’t know who our prime minister will be. And it seem we may have an election before the end of the year. At a moment when we most need good leaders, we have no leaders.

We are also a divided country. The vote was close. Older people to leave; young people voted to remain (and many are now very angry). London voted to remain, the shires to leave. There are calls in Scotland for a second independence referendum and it may chose to leave the UK. The Northern Ireland settlement is under pressure.

The vote is unlikely to affect missionaries to Europe in the short term. But we don’t know what the long-term impact might be.

The Matt cartoon in The Daily Telegraph yesterday showed a newsreader saying, ‘Aliens didn’t land on the earth and Elvis wasn’t found alive, but everything else has changed.’

Fortunately that is exaggeration for comic effect. Some things remain the same. England are still beating Australia at rugby!

But more significantly:

  • Jesus is still in heaven on our behalf.
  • He still rules his people through his word.
  • The gospel is still the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
  • God’s promises are still a sure foundation.
  • Christ is still coming again to renew the world.

Here are the words Isaiah said for a time of turmoil in Israel’s history.

Isaiah 40:21-26

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 ‘To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:6-8, 11
‘All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures for ever’ …
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
he gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Comforted by God’s word, let’s pray for our nation:

  • That good leadership might emerge.
  • That divisions will be healed.
  • That the poor will be protected from the upheaval.
  • That missionaries will be able to continue.
  • That the gospel will continue to spread.

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Special offer: free Exodus Good Book Guide with Exodus for You

Here’a special offer from my good friends at The Good Book Company. Buy Exodus for You and get the Exodus Good Book Guide free.

We’ve produced a Good Book Guide group study guide entitled Exodus: Liberating Love alongside Exodus for You, my latest book. And for the next four weeks you can get a free copy of the Exodus: Liberating Love Good Book Guide when you buy a copy of Exodus for You. Go to one of the Good Book Company websites, put both produces in the ‘shopping basket’ and enter the promotion code ‘FYEXOfreeGEXO’ at checkout.

Exodus for You and Exodus: Liberating Love are available from thegoodbook.comthegoodbook.co.uk and  thegoodbook.com.au.

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New book: Exodus for You

Exodus for You, my latest contribution to the Good Book company’s God’s Word for You series, is now out.

I really enjoyed writing this book (and preaching through Exodus). Of course all the action of the first half was great. But I was also keen to do justice to the second half on the law and tabernacle. Too often we stop around chapter 20. But the second provides a rich ‘blueprint’, embedded in to the fabric of Israel’s law and tabernacle, of God’s salvation in Christ.

Here the blurb …

Without Exodus, we have an impoverished understanding of the nature of God, the achievement of the cross, the triumph of the resurrection and the identity of God’s people.

With his trademark Christ-centred clarity, Tim Chester walks readers through Exodus, making its great themes thrillingly clear to those new to the book, and unearthing wonderful new surprises for those familiar with it.

You can read through this book as a normal book… work through it as part of your daily Bible-reading routine using the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter… or use it to help you teach this book of the Bible, whether in small groups or from the pulpit.

Exodus for You is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. as well as thegoodbook.com, thegoodbook.co.uk and  thegoodbook.com.au.

UPDATE

Until 15 July 2016, if you buy Exodus for You, you can get an Exodus Good Book Guide for free entitled Exodus: Liberating Love.

Exodus: Liberating Love is an eight-session group study that we’ve produced in the Good Book Guide series to accompany Exodus for You. Go to thegoodbook.comthegoodbook.co.uk or thegoodbook.com.au, put both produces in the ‘shopping basket’ and enter the promotion code ‘FYEXOfreeGEXO’ at checkout.

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Beholding the glory of the cross

In a recent post I looked at the glory of Jesus revealed in Mark’s account of the transfiguration.

But there’s a surprise. Jesus is revealed in glory. And surely we expect the voice to say, ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Gaze upon him.’ After all, everything in the story so far has been about his appearance. The obvious invitation is to gaze upon him.

But in fact the voice from heaven says in verse 7, ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.’ Why? Why does God the Father choose this moment to tell us to listen to Jesus?

The answer is simple. It’s because the disciples have just refused to listen to Jesus. They’re rejected the words of Jesus. Look at 8:31-32: ‘[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.’

It’s not that they are rejecting the words of Jesus in general. It’s a very specific word: his declaration that he must die. Maybe you’re like the disciples. You love so much of what Jesus says. You find it so inspirational. But you just don’t get the cross.

But the cross is absolutely central to who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Jesus is the King who has come to die for his people.

Jesus doesn’t just say, ‘I will die.’ He says, ‘I must die.’ This is the plan. This is what he must do. This is what Jesus is determined to do. And this is what the Father is pleased to see him doing. The Father sees the determination of his Son to go to the cross and the Father says: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased … This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’

‘This is my plan as well,’ says the Father. ‘This is our plan. Though it will cost me everything I love, though it will cost him everything he is, this is our plan. And it is pleasing to me. Because through the death of my Son, we will save a people.’ The One in whom the Father is well pleased is the One who offers himself to death.

Proclaiming the cross

Look at verse 9: ‘As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.’

You know how it is. You see something amazing and in your head you’re thinking, ‘I can’t wait to tell people about this.’ These days, of course, you don’t have to wait. You immediately update your Facebook status or post a picture on Twitter. I go through my day gathering up things to tell my wife when I get home.

So you can imagine Peter, James and John walking down the mountain. And they’re thinking, ‘I can’t wait to tell the others – they’re going to be so jealous.’ Then Jesus rains on their parade. He tells them not to tell anyone. Indeed, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone. And this is an order from the transfigured King.

Why? Because they haven’t yet grasped that he must die. All that’s in their head is glory, power, majesty. They’re just thinking about basking in this glory. Look at verse 5: ‘Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”’ Peter wants to stay with glory. He doesn’t want Jesus to go back down the mountain and rejoin the road to the cross.

But we cannot separate the resurrection and the cross. We cannot separate glory and suffering. To proclaim Jesus is to proclaim his cross.

This brings us to Easter Sunday. Look at Mark 16:5-6:

As [the women] entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

Here is the ultimate declaration of the Father’s pleasure. God doesn’t just speak from heaven. God reaches down from heaven. And reaches into the grave and pulls Jesus back from death. God the Father raises Jesus from the dead. He vindicates his claims. He glorifies his Son.

But this it is not ‘just’ a resurrection. After all, we’ve already had a resurrection in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 5 Jesus resurrects a girl from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is more than repeat of that.

Look at verse 6: ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!’ Who has risen? The crucified One.

  • The One who died under judgment is now justified by God.
  • The One who died forsaken by God is now embraced by God.
  • The One who died in darkness now rises with the dawn bringing light to the world.

So it’s not just Jesus who is raised. It is the crucified One who is raised. It is the One who died bearing my sin and your sin. It is the One who died in my place and your place. And that means he rises bearing our justification. He rises for us to give us eternal life. His resurrection is the basis and promise of our resurrection – if we belong to him.

Here’s the point. We cannot separate the resurrection and the cross. We cannot separate power and sacrifice. We cannot separate justification and judgment. We cannot separate glory and suffering.

You’ve not understood Christianity until you’ve understood the cross. So if you haven’t got your head around the significance of the cross then I urge you to find out. Ask people, read the Bible, pray until you get it. It may be that when you understand it, you don’t like and walk away from Christianity. But don’t reject Jesus until you’ve really understand what he’s about – and that means understanding the cross.

So the command from heaven is this: Listen to him. Listen to his word about the cross. See Jesus not just as the King who rules the world and not just as the God who lights up heaven. See him, too, as the Son who dies in love.

Ultimately, what takes our breath away is not just the dazzle of the transfiguration or the resurrection. What takes our breath away is the love of the cross.

The world is full of ascension language. Things can be ‘on the up’, but they can also take a ‘downward turn’. We want to ‘rise’ in our career. We want to ‘rise above’ our problems. We love stories of successful people because we want to emulate the ‘heights’ to which they have ‘risen’. The appeal of TV programmes like X-Factor is the opportunity for ordinary people to be ‘lifted’ out of obscurity and ‘rise above’ the crowd. The Cinderella story is deeply embedded in our culture. We all want to ‘ascend’. Monarchs ‘ascend’ to the throne. Indeed their thrones are normally on a dais so they sit ‘above’ the rest of us.

But what is most glorious about the glory of Jesus is that he lays his glory ‘down’. His ultimate glory is seen in his shame. His power is seen in weakness. His wisdom in folly.

The Apostle John, one of the men who witnessed the transfiguration, often speaks of Jesus being ‘lifted up’ (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 34). Jesus said: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ And then John adds: ‘He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’ (John 12:32-33)

At the climax of his life, Jesus is lifted up – like a king. But he is lifted up on a cross. His throne is the cross and his dais is the hill of Calvary. And to the watching world it is a dark moment of shame and humiliation. But this is his glory. It is the glory of love.

In the vision of heaven in the book of Revelation we have another transfiguration-like appearance. Christ appears with hair as white as snow, eyes like blazing fire, feet like glowing bronze, a voice like the sound of many waters and a face ‘like the sun shining in all its brilliance’ (Revelation 1:14-16). And that, you might think, is why the choirs of heaven worship him. But this is what they sing: ‘You are worthy … because you were slain and with your blood you purchased [people] for God.’ (Revelation 5:9)

When I join the heavenly choir what is it that will make me want to sing? Will it be when I see his hair like snow? Or his eyes blazing with fire? Or his feet glowing like burning bronze? Of his voice like the sounds of rushing waters? Or his face shining like the sun in all its brilliance. No. It will be when I see the wounds in his hands and feet and side – the wounds which are there for me.

The splendour of Christ’s power makes us go, Wow! Or maybe it frightens us. Verse 6 says it frightened Peter 6. But it is the depth of his love that captures our hearts. Of course the two go together. It is when we see the Glorious One choose shame, the Mighty One choose weakness, the Author of Life choose death – that is when we see the magnificence of his love. And it is magnificent. What is glorious about the glory of Jesus is that he lays his glory down.

And Jesus did this for you. He did this to save you: to cover your sins, to bear your pain, to take your judgment. He laid aside his glory to lift you up to glory – to lift you up from the pit of shame and seat you with him in glory.

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Beholding the glory of Jesus

Here are some words from John Owen:

Make up your mind that to behold the glory of God by beholding the glory of Christ is the greatest privilege which is given to believers in this life. This is the dawning of heaven. It is the first taste of that heavenly glory which God has prepared for us … A constant view of the glory of Christ will revive our souls and cause our spiritual lives to flourish and thrive … This is what transforms us daily into the likeness of Christ. So let us live in constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and power will then flow from him to us, healing all our [failings], renewing a right spirit in us and enabling us to abound in all the duties that God requires of us … On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. (John Owen, The Glory of Christ, abridged by R. J. K. Law from Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, Works Vol. 1, Banner of Truth, 1994, 21-23, 167, 7.)

Let me encourage you to think in these terms. As you read your Bible, as your pray, throughout the day, think in terms of seeing the glory of Christ. To look upon the glory of Christ is to see ‘the dawning of heaven.’ We get a ‘first taste of … heavenly glory.’

So what do we see when we look at Jesus? Consider the story of the transfiguration in Mark 9.

  1. The glory of the King who rules the world (9:1)

Verse 2 begins ‘after six days’. Mark isn’t normally interested in exactly when things happen. But here he’s very specific. So it begs the question: Six days after what?

The answer is verse 1: Jesus ‘said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”’

  • Is Jesus talking about his resurrection when he rises from the dead in power?
  • Is he talking about his ascension when he ascends to receive all power and authority from God – something to which he alludes during his trial (14:62)?
  • Is he talking about the day of Pentecost when he pours of the Spirit in power on his people so they can call on the nations to submit to his power and authority?

I think the answer is all of these and more. The resurrection, the ascension, Pentecost together are the coming of the kingdom of God in power. And all this is anticipated and prefigured in this moment on the mountain. This transfiguration of Jesus is a sign of what’s coming – a sign of his true and ultimate identity.

Jesus is the King who rules the world. In Jesus the kingdom of God has come in power. He is the one ‘who … was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection’ (Romans 1:4). Jesus is the King who has ascended to his throne. Jesus is the King who sends us in power to proclaim his power and authority to the world.

So in Jesus we see the glory of the King who rules the world.

  1. The glory of the God who lights up heaven (9:2-3)

Look at 9:2-3: ‘After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.’

Jesus is ‘transfigured’. We don’t really know what that means other than what Mark describes: ‘His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.’ If this was a washing powder advert, we would be shown ordinary washing powder and then new, improved washing powder which is visibly brighter. But when we looked at Jesus we would have to turn away because his clothes are ‘dazzling’ – like looking into the sun.

What do we see when we look at Jesus? The world looks at Jesus and sees a man. Just a man. A man whose life ended on a cross – in apparent failure. Indeed he didn’t just die. He was executed. He died as a criminal. He died in shame.

But in the transfiguration we see his true character and his true nature. And he radiates with light. Throughout the Old Testament that is how God is described. The Psalmist says: God ‘wraps himself in light as with a garment.’ (Psalm 104:2) It’s as if the glory of God shines through the human form of Jesus.

Paul says: ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.’ (Colossians 2:9) It is as if the splendour of God has been squeezed into a human body. Imagine trying to pack all your possessions into a suitcase, squashing it, pushing, it, sitting on it, trying to cram it in. That is what God did at the incarnation. He took the fulness of the Deity and squeezed into bodily form.

But now in this moment on this mountain the glory of his divine nature is poking out, blazing out. It happens again on Easter Sunday when he bursts from the tomb – true God, true man, full of glory, full of life.

The voice from heaven declares: ‘This is my Son, whom I love.’ Jesus is the Son of God, loved by God. He is the radiant, majestic, dazzling Lord of glory. He is the God who lights up heaven with his presence.

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