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We've talked about how Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  But seriously - this is how you preach it...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5Mr4UUYetw&eurl=http://thefoolsgold.net/&feature=player_embedded]

ht Fools Gold

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I was like a wounded man

Jesus came all the way down.

On a Friday evening, He died on a Roman cross

Early one Sunday morning He got up

How many of you believe - He got up?

Thank You, for being a Good Samaritan

Thank You, You didn't have to do it

Thank You, for taking my feet out of the miry clay,

Thank You, for setting them on the rock

Thank you, for saving me,

Thank You, for binding up my wounds

Thank You, for healing my wounds

Thank You, for fighting my battles

Did He pick you up?

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...in the same week you find out that both Ron Frost and now Paul Blackham have blogs!

Paul's is less a blog, more of a one man theological mega-resource. 

You will be introduced to his excellent 'Book by Book' bible studies.  These are ready-made resources (DVD and all) to be used individually or in groups.  The books covered thus far with DVDs are:   

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms, John, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians.  Esther, 2 Corinthians and 2 Timothy are coming.

Watch sample episodes and read overviews...

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You can also read his articles on issues such as:

Did the NT writers misunderstand the OT

Explaining the Trinity

The Trinitarian God

The Life of Jesus

The Death of Jesus

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But perhaps my top recommendation of all - visit his Frameworks page where Paul is building up a doctrine course podcast by podcast.  I did Paul's Frameworks course about 8 years ago at All Souls Langham Place.  It remains hands down the most challenging, profound, heart-warming, life-changing and Christian theology I've ever been taught.  Everyone... Everyone... will be fed, challenged and equipped by listening to these.

So go to it...!

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From a Tim Keller sermon on 'the first shall be last':

There was once a young seminary graduate eager to preach his first sermon.  He ascended the pulpit steps, sure his great learning would amaze the simple lay folk.  Halfway through the sermon he realized he was making a hash of it.  First the congregation lost what he was saying, then he lost what he was saying.  At the end he climbed down from the pulpit crestfallen.  An old Christian woman met him at the end and said "If you'd have gone up the way you came down, you'd have come down the way you went up."

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Ok, no-one wants to touch Preaching Groups.  I respect that.

Let's return to the parables.

By now we know.  Jesus is the man who found treasure, the merchant looking for fine pearls and He's the good samaritan.  So now we turn to the most famous parable.

And what shall we call it?  The prodigal son?  Of course not, there are two sons.  Well then how about that for a title - the two sons?  Perhaps.  But are they really the focus?  Why not call it what Michael Ramsden tells us many oriental cultures call it: The parable of the running father.

Clearly it's the father who is the hero of the story.  Going out to meet the younger and then the older son, the father's deepest passion is to reconcile his estranged children to himself.

And both children definitely need to be reconciled.  The younger son may have asked for the inheritance but the older son also takes it when it's offered (Luke 15:12).  They've both taken the fruits of the death of their father and have spurned their filial relationship with him.

Physical distance and a slave relationship characterizes both sons, it's just more obvious with the prodigal.  The younger son puts a lot of distance between he and his father but the basis on which he returns is thoroughly calculating.  He plots to return as a hired hand and uses a form of repentance very reminiscent of Pharaoh's counterfeit repentance in Exodus 10:16.  Everything in the story up until the father's embrace shows that the prodigal prefers to be a slave at a distance than a son in the father's arms.

And that is just as true of the older son.  We find him out in the field, refusing to go in (physical distance).  And again, how does he perceive his relationship to his father?  "All these years I've been slaving for you." (v29)  Physical distance and a slave relationship mark both sons.  The only difference is how the two sons receive the approach of the father.  The one melts in the arms of his father, the other remains angry outside the house.

And now to turn to the title of this post: Who's the daddy?

Well, you've heard it preached numerous times I'm guessing.  What did the preacher say?  The father is God right?  I mean it's obvious isn't it?  We call God 'Father' and here's a story of a reconciling father - it must be God.

Well don't forget how Luke 15 begins.

Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable...  (Luke 15:1-3)

The occasion for the three stories - lost sheep, lost coin, reconciling father - is the grumbling of the Pharisees.  Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, and the religious complain about it.  So then Jesus tells a story about a man who welcomes a sinner, eats with him, and someone complains about it.  Well now - who is the younger son?  The sinners and tax collectors of course.  Who is the older son?  The Pharisees and teachers of the law of course.  And who is the father who eats with one and is complained to by the other?  Jesus of course.

Jesus is the father.  Plain and simple.  Jesus is the father.  Jesus is the good shepherd (v4-7), he's the good woman (v8-10), he's the good father (v11-32).  It just seems blindingly obvious don't you think?  And have we been confused on this simply because of the role 'father'?  Well Jesus casts himself as father even in the Gospels - 'Son, your sins are forgiven... Daughter, your faith has healed you.'  He has children (Is 8:18; 53:10; Heb 2:13; see also Luke 7:35).  If He can be a woman and even a mother hen, it's not at all inappropriate for Him to be pictured as father.

But perhaos there's this objection: Doesn't this rob us of the story's potential to reveal to us the Fatherhood of God.  Well no it shapes our understanding of it properly.  Surely we want to understand God the Father in God the Son.  And this parable helps us do that very well.  As we see Jesus running to the lost and eating with sinners we can hear Him saying "I do none of this by myself, I am doing only what I see My Father doing."  But the fact remains we see the Fatherhood of God in Jesus, who is the central character - portrayed as father.  The story is about Jesus - the Jesus who goes out to reconcile both the religious and the irreligious to bring them in.

Does this matter?  Well yes.  What if the story is spun in the usual manner - i.e. the father = God and those who come to their senses will get back into his good books?  Well if that's the story then we've just described Islam not the gospel. Kenneth Bailey puts the case for the Muslim interpretation like this (h/t Matt Finn)

“Their case can be stated thus: In this parable the Father obviously represents God while the younger son represents humankind. The son leaves home, gets into trouble and finally decides to return to his Father. He “yistaghfir Allah” (he seeks the forgiveness of God). On arrival the Father welcomes the son and thus demonstrates that he, the father, is “rahman wa rahim” (merciful and compassionate). There is no cross and no incarnation, no “son of God” and “no saviour”, no “word that becomes flesh” and no “way of salvation”, no death and no resurrection, no mediator and no mediation. The son needs no help to return home. The result is obvious. Jesus is a good Muslim who in this parable affirms Muslim theology. The heart of the Christian faith is thus denied by the very prophet Christianity claims to follow. Islam with neither a cross nor a saviour preserves the true message of the prophet Jesus”.

The Cross and the Prodigal, Kenneth Bailey, p15

But no, Jesus is at the very centre of this drama.  And His reconciliation is unlike anything Allah could or would offer.  He goes out, He bears the shame, He pleads, He appears weak and He celebrates sinners.  This is not prompted by the sinner's repentance, which was calculating at best, but by His own reconciling love.  Take this together with the other two stories which form a single 'parable' according to verse 3 and what do you have?  You have (as Barth put it) the father going into the far country to hoist the lost onto his shoulders and bring them home.  Luke 15 is no Christ-less, cross-less forgiveness tale.  Christ and His cross is the heart of it all.

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Matt's posts on the parable are great.

Michael Ramsden's sermon is extraordinary preaching (though, if I'm picky, a bit vague on the point at issue here)

Keller's sermon is wonderful (though, again, not as straightforward on this point as I'd like).

Here's my attempt at a Luke 15 sermon

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA0-syI-rE0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent]

Audio Download

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Anyone else sick of the whole 'Christ in the OT' debate?  Man... some people just go on and on.

I'm announcing a new hobby horse - Christ in the NT.  In fact I think this is where you really see a preacher's Christ-centredness.  We've had the rule drummed into us by now - Thou shalt 'bridge to Christ' at the end of an Old Testament sermon.  But does this 'bridge' come from convictions regarding Jesus the Word or is it simply a preaching convention that we slavishly follow? 

Well you can probably guess at the answer by listening to a preacher's New Testament sermons.  Now I fail at this all the time but I think the challenge for all of us is this: Is Jesus the Hero of the sermon on the mount or Mark 13 or the gifts passages or James?  And the issue for this mini-series - what about the parables? 

Last time I looked at Matthew 13:44-46.  Who the man?  Jesus the Man.  He seeks and finds us and in His joy He purchases us.  All praise to Him.  As Piper likes to say 'the Giver gets the glory' and in this parable (contra Piper's own interpretation of it) Jesus' glory is on show as He gives up all for His treasured possession - the church.

In this post we'll look briefly at the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37 

First notice this: the teacher of the law asks 'Who is my neighbour?'  This prompts the story.  At the end of the story Jesus asks Who was neighbour to the guy left for dead? (v36).  So now, think about this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? Levite? Samaritan?  No.  Not first of all.  First of all we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from his perspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  Here's the first clue - we're meant to put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man.

Why do I say 'fallen'?  Well the man's fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He "goes down" from Jerusalem (this earthly counterpart of the heavenly Zion).  He's heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn't bad enough, the man "falls" among robbers.  He's stripped, plagued (literally that's the greek word), abandoned and half-dead.  That's the man's precidament and Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  Nope.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a 'certain Samaritan' (mirroring the 'certain man' of v30)?  He's not at all like the religious.  In fact the one who 'comes to where the man is' happens to be someone who'd equally have been shunned by the priest and Levite! 

Yet this Samaritan 'had compassion' (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated 'he was moved in his bowels with pity', is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it's used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), here and the father in the Two Sons (Lk 15:20).  More about that in the next post.

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and for emphasis we are twice told about him 'coming' to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized man.  Now read v34:

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

Now I don't have to tell you what these things mean.  You've got blueletterbible - you can do your own biblical theology of oil, wine, etc.  But remember you're meant to be putting yourself in the position of this fallen man, left for dead, unaided by religion, healed by an extraordinary stranger and awaiting his return.  Are you there?  Have you felt those depths and appreciated those heights?  Well then, now:

You go and do likewise. (v37)

Don't first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the healing of this Beautiful Stranger.  Then go and do likewise.

Or... leave Jesus out of it.  Spin it as a morality tale and end with "Who was that masked man? No matter - just go and do likewise."  

See how important 'Jesus in the NT' is?

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Channel 4 screened the first of Make Me a Christian last night.  Haven't seen it yet.  But here's one reviewer's reaction:

The infuriating thing will be if some of the group think happier lives can only be achieved through Jesus, rather than, say, empathy and courtesy and not being fat / crying / shagging all the time.

btw I'll give you one guess which newspaper!

Anyway, here's the gist of their gripe: 'You Christians can have your Jesus, I'll stick with my empathy and courtesy.' 

First notice what diminished values they are.  Not love and sacrifice - empathy and courtesy.  (Reminds me of a parishioner telling me we need to preach more 'tolerance' from the pulpit. I told him we'd do no such thing.  We would preach what Jesus preached - to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  How ridiculous is the virtue of 'tolerance'!)

But notice most of all the self-righteousness.  They haven't rejected Jesus in favour of license.  They've rejected Him in favour of law.  Their own law to be sure, but law nonetheless. 

Even the most 'lawless' can actually be seen seeking their own righteousness by their own power according to their own law.  Hitler was a non-smoking, vegetarian, tee-totaller. He had his own struggle with his own rules by which he would be righteous.

In this sense the vast majority of people are legalists.  Only the truly despairing, depressed and suicidal have actually given off the quest for a righteousness of their own.  And note too that such people have also given off their quest for freedom and happiness.  I'm just not sure that there is a category of licentious people who are not also legalists.  Am I wrong on this?

If not, what would this mean?  Well it should remove from us any desire to give people God's law as the proper guide for their self-righteous instincts!  The problem is not merely and not mainly that the law by which they are seeking to justify themselves is faulty.  To justify themselves by the right law is even worse!  The Jew who sought to justify themselves by God's law is not less but more culpable in His sight (Romans 2-3). 

The gospel must be the answer.  The gospel is not, 'Try doing things this way'.  The gospel is 'It is finished!'  Now that will humble.  That will drive the world down to contrition and brokenness because our real drive is not an abstract lawlessness but a craving to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, to make a name.  Jesus, in being our righteousness, strips us of our fig leaves of empathy and courtesy.  Our deepest social, ethical and environmental concerns are filthy rags.  He calls us to renounce this 'righteousness' and be clothed only in Him. 

That's far more offensive than telling people the right laws by which to self-justify.  I wonder which route the Channel 4 team will take?  I think I can guess.

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UPDATE: Read Marcus' blog here or Daniel Blanche - seems like my fears are founded!

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We've been considering the logic of the OT arguments for the true God.  The argument is not: Think about who the true God is - the true God is actually Yahweh.  The argument is: Think about Yahweh (encounter Him, see Him at work, trust Him) - Yahweh is the true God.

The former argument assumes we know who the true God is and then gets us to re-shape our view of Yahweh around that.  The latter argument invites us into relationship with the tribal deity of Israel and then makes us re-shape our views of the true God around Him. 

Of course the scandal of identifying Israel's tribal deity as the true God is ratcheted up several million notches with the incarnation.  It's not just that the God of Abraham is the living God, it's that the Seed of Abraham is the living God!  Yahweh shows up among us as an itinerant Nazarene Rabbi.  He is not just God in a concrete relation, He is God as a concrete human.  Not only the God of Israel but an Israelite. Nonetheless His claim is not diminished - this Jewish man, born of Mary is the LORD of Israel.

And again His identity as the LORD is seen in His concrete work of redemption.

"When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM." (John 8:28)

How is the true God known?  Look to this particular, historical event.  Look at this act of infinitely costly service for my people.  Look to my redemption.

Yet how often in evangelism do we do things the other way around?  We either assume that people know 'God' in the abstract or we actively try to prove to them some kind of 'God' in the abstract (the First Cause, the Moral Legislator, the Fine-Tuning Creator).  And then we try to say to them, "Jesus is actually this abstract 'God'."  To which people usually frown, cock their head and set about doing the mental gymnastics required to squish the Son of Man into this pre-fab abstract-deity mould.

How many testimonies run along the lines of, "I always knew God and then the preacher convinced me that Jesus fitted the bill of the God-I-had-always-known."  When this happens both 'God' and 'Jesus' are going to get majorly distorted.

Let's instead resolve to tell people, "Whatever you thought God was like, allow the LORD of Israel, the Son of God, to recalibrate all God-thoughts."

As Lord Byron once said, "If God isn't like Jesus, He ought to be."  That's exactly right - that's the logic of the bible: Jesus must shape all God-thoughts.  Our 'God' must be determined entirely by what we meet in the pre-incarnate LORD and the incarnate, crucified and risen Son of Man.

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Where is the decisive revelation of the name of Israel's tribal deity?  Mount Sinai:

12 [The Angel of the LORD] said, "But I WILL BE with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain." 13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE". And He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, "I WILL BE" has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:12-15)

Some observations:

1. The name Yahweh is taken by many scholars to be the nominal form of the first person verb "I WILL BE". (i.e. Yahweh is what we call Him, "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE" is what He says about Himself).  Thus the burning bush represents His own unpacking of the name of Yahweh. 

2. This unpacking of His own name is not His handing over to us of some interpretive maxim by which we can understand Him.  Emphatically it is the LORD holding onto His own prerogative to self-disclose.  The possibility for knowing the LORD is not delivered over to man - He holds onto it forever.  He will always be the One to intepret Himself.  We must continually come to Him for knowledge of Him. 

3. The future tense is probably the better translation of what's usually rendered "I AM" - it's exactly the same Hebrew as v12 "I will be with you..."  It's therefore not a static thing.  It's not basically the claim to be self-existent, it's something much more dynamic.

4. It's ironic that people use the 'I AM' as itself a proof-text for presupposing their own classical attributes of God (like His aseity or whatever).  The whole point of this name is that He defines who He is in contrast to every human definition - even (and especially!) the most philosophically sophisticated.  "I will be Who I will be - not who you say I am."

5. We must never forget the context of His self-identification - decisive historical action.  Involvement.  Redemption. Exodus.  He will be who He will be in salvation.  He drops His name into conversation first in verse 12 and it's in the form of a promise:  "I will be with you."   And He follows verse 14 with the reassurance that He, the LORD, is the God of your fathers - the tribal deity of Israel.

All in all, Yahweh's declaration that He is the great I AM is not the same as Him claiming to be Unoriginate.  For some the "I AM" is equivalent to some divine attribute of self-existence, as though it's the Hebrew form of "I am the Ground of all Being."  It is not as though the philosopher who has thought of the unmoved Mover has thought of Yahweh.  Not at all.  The I AM is met only as the Redeemer of His particular people.  He is met in the context of promise, in the context of covenant.  He is met as the tribal deity of Israel - in this way He proves His unassailable right to define Himself.

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This week I was reading Jeremiah 10 on the difference between Yahweh and idols.  It struck me that the prophet doesn't argue the way we often do.  We usually say 'There are idols that are tribal deities of the nations, but the living God is not like that.  The living God is the uncreated Creator.  (Oh and the uncreated Creator happens to be Yahweh).'  

Jeremiah does something different.  He certainly plays up the worthlessness of the foreign idols (v1-9). But then he says:

But Yahweh is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King.

Note that his argument is not "the true God is Yahweh."  Rather he argues "Yahweh is the true God."  In other words he doesn't assume some notion of deity and then says Yahweh fits the bill.  Instead he says, in effect, "You know the tribal deity of Israel?  The One from the burning bush?  He's the true God." 

He does it again in verse 16.  After continuing the worthlessness-of-idols theme, Jeremiah says:

He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for He is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of His inheritance--the LORD Almighty (Yahweh Sebaoth) is His name.

Note the particularity of this statement.  The tribe of Jacob will inherit their God called Yahweh Sebaoth, and He in turn will inherit them.  This tribal deity who is strongly (and it seems exclusively!) linked to his particular people - He is the Maker of all things.  Interesting!

Think of how He definitively reveals His name to Moses at Sinai.  The Angel says to Moses "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. At this Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." (Ex 3:6).  If we were writing Exodus 3 we'd have Moses hiding his face because the LORD says, "I am God the Unoriginate, the Infinite, the Transcendent and Immense.   But no, the LORD says "I am your people's God, your dad's God, the God of that guy Abraham and his family."  The living God is made known as the tribal deity of Israel.  He is revealed in His covenant approaches towards particular people in concrete historical situations.  And from within that particular frame - as Jacob's Portion - He reveals Himself to be the true and living God.

So often we conceive of the direction of argument as this:

"You know God ??  Well that tribal deity Yahweh is actually God." 

Instead it's:

"You know that tribal deity Yahweh?  Well He's God." 

The former argument forces Yahweh into a procrustean bed.  The latter argument makes us reconfigure everything we thought we knew about 'God' since we've met Him as the covenant-LORD.

I'll look at some implications of this next time...

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Rest of series:

Part two

Part three

Jesus is LORD, not Son of LORD

Some clarifications

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Ok so you've probably all seen this a million times but I've only just stumbled across it.  And oh how I did laugh...

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ9sJVJMiYM]

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Plenty more hilarity from Adam Buxton here

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