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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Ash’

Job cover

I’ve absolutely loved Christopher Ash’s Preaching the Word series commentary on Job. So many things I’d never seen. Deep, paradigm-shaking stuff on God’s governance of His universe. A real preacher’s commentary. Great on the detail. Great on the big picture and the flow. Great pastoral sensitivity and compassionate insight. Here’s a taster:

God gives us a forty-two-chapter book… Not an SMS… A journey… Why? Because there is no instant working through grief, no quick fix to pain, no message of Job in a nutshell.

About 95% of the book of Job is poetry… We cannot sum up a poem in a bald statement; we need to let a poem get to work on us.

Job has integrity; he is not so sure about his children.

There is something dark in human hearts, and Job knows it.

A whole burnt offering… pictures the hot anger of God burning up the animal in the place of the worshipper… We can imagine Job doing this for [his children] one at a time: “This one is for you,” and he lights the fire, and the animal is consumed… And so on until all the children were covered by sacrifice.

The Bible portrays for us a world that lies under the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of the Creator, who has no rivals… And yet he does not govern the world as the sole supernatural power. He governs the world by means of and through the agency of a multiplicity of supernatural powers, some of whom are evil.

The book of Job is not about suffering in general… Rather it is about how God treats his friends.

The Satan, for all his malice, is doing something necessary for the glory of God. In some deep way it is necessary for it to be publically seen by the whole universe that God is worthy of the worship of a man and that God’s worth is in no way dependent on God’s gifts.

Empathy may be inarticulate… But comfort must be articulate and active. Empathy may be silent, but comfort must include speech.

[Job] has been taken away into a different realm, a realm of suffering so deep [his friends] cannot reach him… To them Job is no longer a living person.

A true Christian believer may be taken by God through times of deep and dark despair… We need to recognise that there may be times in the life of a believer when the future appears utterly blank and all we can do is look back with regret.

How do you and I respond when the wild world breaks into the farm, when the disorder and chaos of a dark world invades our ordered world and makes mincemeat of our plans and hopes? Come outside the farm, says the Lord to Job, and have a thoughtful tour of the wild world outside.

We are forced to consider the strange but wonderful possibility that evil is created to serve the purposes and glory of God.

Satan, the Leviathan, is a horrible monster. But he cannot go one millimetre beyond the leash on which the Lord keeps him.

The normal Christian life is warfare and waiting and being loved and humbled by God and being justified by God… The blessings we get now are just a tiny foretaste of the blessings to be poured out at the end.

 

 

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“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him” (Job 2:12)

“Just as there were many who were appalled at him
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14)

 

Job

“The more I have bashed my head against the text of Job year after year, the more deeply convinced I have become that the book ultimately makes no sense without the obedience of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death on a cross. Job is not everyman; he is not every believer. There is something desperately extreme about Job. He foreshadows one man whose greatness exceeded ever Job’s, whose sufferings took him deeper than Job, and whose perfect obedience to his Father was only anticipated in faint outline by Job.” (Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, Crossway, 2014, p. 21)

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“we preach out of Bible delight in our hearts and for Bible delight in our hearers’ souls.” (Christopher Ash, Bible delight: Psalm 119 for the Bible teacher and Bible hearer, p. 9)

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psalm 63

There are some Psalms that are classics of devotion to God. They seem to exemplify the emotion and experiential relationship we should have with the Father. But as we’ve noted, if they are only that then they are also crushing and condemning.

Now I want to look at Psalm 63 – another classic of devotion. But then I find Christopher Ash has written (here) what I wanted to say and said it far better than I could so here he is:

In May 1943, from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book.” I have been gripped for a few years now by the vision of getting the Psalms back into Christian use in evangelical circles. It seems to me that they will help us learn to pray; and they will reshape our disordered affections in God’s ways, avoiding both an arid intellectualism (when we are so frightened of charismatic error that we fight shy of the language of affections and emotions) and an uncontrolled emotionalism (in which emotions run riot in disordered subjectivism).

How difficult it is to pray the Psalms

I take it the Psalms are in scripture in order that we should learn to pray them – and pray them all. That, at least, has been the mainstream Christian understanding since the very earliest centuries. But when we try to pray them, we hit all sorts of problems. We read protestations of innocence we know we cannot make without pharisaical hypocrisy; we hear descriptions of appalling suffering that are way beyond what we experience; we see descriptions of hostility too intense even for metaphorical believability about those who don’t like us; and, perhaps most difficult, we can’t see how we are supposed to pray for God to punish our enemies without lapsing into vengeful thoughts.

The ‘skim and pick’ strategy

So what we usually do is to skim over the bits that don’t fit with our experience, and focus in on the bits that do. “Ah,” I say, “There’s a verse I can identify with; I’ll put that on my calendar.” But even as I do that, there’s a little voice telling me it won’t do; for either I pray the Psalms or I don’t. If I pick and choose, I am just using the Psalms for ideas that chime with my pre-existing ideas about how to pray; and that approach lacks integrity.

The Big Idea: the songs of Jesus

Here’s the big idea I’ve found helpful: think what it would have meant for Jesus of Nazareth to pray a Psalm in his earthly life, in synagogue Sabbath by Sabbath. Very many of the Psalms come into sharp focus when we think of Jesus praying them. It’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’; some Psalms are about the Messiah rather than by the Messiah; others are corporate, as the people of the Messiah sing together; in yet others we hear the voice of the Messiah speaking to us. But many of the Psalms – and especially Psalms ‘of David’ – make the deepest, sharpest, and fullest sense when we think of the Messiah praying them to his heavenly Father. David is a prophet (Acts 2:30) and so he spoke and prayed by the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12); what he prayed expressed his own experience, and yet pointed beyond this; it was the echo of a prayer yet to be prayed, by one who would pray it in its fullness.

Augustine has this lovely idea that Jesus is the cantor, or choir-leader, leading the people of Christ in the singing of a Psalm. The Psalms are his songs before they become our songs, and they become our songs only as we are men and women in union with Christ. We sing them in him, led by him our Representative Head.

There’s lots of theology surrounding this, and plenty of evidence, especially from the ways in which the New Testament writers appropriate the Psalms in Christ. But let me illustrate the difference this makes from one psalm I’ve preached recently:

Example: Psalm 63

In Psalm 63 we read of David’s deep desire for God (v1), David’s passionate delight in God (vv2-4), David’s enduring joy in God that continues through the darkest night (vv5-8) and David’s confidence that his enemies will be destroyed (vv9,10). If I try to make that my prayer (to draw the line of application direct from David to me), I end up saying things like, “David desired God, and I ought to try to desire God more than I do; David delighted deeply in God, and I really ought to desire God more than I do; David had joy in God even in the dark nights, and it would be good if I could learn to do the same…” and so on. Which leaves me deeply discouraged, for it is exhortation with no gospel, and I can’t do it.

But the Psalm makes perfect sense when I read it of Jesus’ desire for the Father, Jesus’ delight in the Father, Jesus’ joy in the Father even in the darkness of a sinful world, and Jesus’ confidence in final vindication. It is his song before it can become mine, and it can be mine only in him. And then it is gospel. I thank God that there is one who desired God, delighted in God, rejoiced in God, was confident in God’s vindication.

Verse 11 is the key. For in verse 11 we meet three responses. First, “the king rejoices in God”; this is the song of the king. Second, “all who swear by God will glory in him”; this is where we come in, the king’s people sharing his desire, his delight, his joy, and his confidence, by his Spirit. And third, “the mouths of liars will be silenced”, those who will not be part of the king’s people.

As I look for opportunities to preach more and more Psalms, I am finding again and again that praying them as the people of God in union with Christ transforms them from a crushing exhortation (try to pray like the psalmist) into a liberating gospel (thank God for the one who prays like this, and who is our Representative Head).

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