In His Presence

The new possibility created by the priestly ministry of Jesus is that through Him we may enter into the sanctuary, the place of God’s holy presence:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain (that is, through His flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach . . . (Hebrews 10:19-21).

Here is the climax of the writer’s argument. Through the living, dying, and ascending of  Christ, we can enter the sanctuary. We can stand in the holy presence of God and offer an unending sacrifice of praise (13:15). This is the joy, the delight and the reality of Christian worship: it takes place in the presence of God through the priesthood of Christ. This is why Calvin could say that Christ is our altar on whom we lay our oblations (Institutes IV.8.17) and also, commenting on Hebrews 2:12, that “Christ leads our songs, and is the chief composer of our hymns” (1853, 67). It is also here, within the sanctuary, that our whole life is lived as a sacrificial giving to God. This is the joy, the delight, the reality of Christian living: it is life lived in the presence of God through the priesthood of Christ. To be in the presence of God is the reality of Christian worship and living, because Christ has opened up for us a “new way” (10:20) through all that would divide us from God’s presence; and this way is nothing else but Himself. Following Westcott’s construction of 10:20, we have “a way through the veil, that is, a way consisting in His flesh, His true human nature” (1903, 322).

Christopher Cocksworth, “The Cross, Our Worship and Our Living,” in Atonement Today, 118-119

Grace upon Grace

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

—Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Praise and Adoration

Praise is a river glowing on joyously in its own channel, banked up on either side that it may run towards its one object, but adoration is the same river overflowing all banks, flooding the soul and covering the entire nature with its great waters; and these not so much moving and stirring as standing still in profound repose, mirroring the glory which shines down upon it; like a summer’s sun upon a sea of glass; not seeking the divine presence, but conscious of it to an unutterable degree, and therefore full of awe and peace, like the sea of Galilee when its waves felt the touch of the sacred feet.   Adoration is the fulness, the height and depth, the length and breadth of praise.

—C. H. Spurgeon

The Center of Our Attention

Singer-songwriter Matt Redman tells the story of the donkey who remarked to his wife coming home from work one day: “I had a wonderful day, dear! I went to Jerusalem and they absolutely loved me there, laying down their mantles and palm branches to soothe my hot hooves and crying ‘Hosanna!'”  It seems that the donkey overlooked the Man on his back.

Pentecost and the Church (6)

At the heart of all worship lies the doctrine of the Third Person of the Trinity—that our Ascended Lord, by His Spirit poured out upon His Church at Pentecost, lifts us up into His life of praise and communion with the Father—so that we know we are “lifted out of ourselves” into an objective world of worship and praise and prayer in communion with all saints.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75

Pentecost and the Church (5)

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

We aren’t the fragrance of Christ to God in ourselves. In ourselves, we carry the smell of death. But God has turned us into aromatic sacrifices through His Son and Spirit. The Spirit’s descent at Pentecost made each of the disciples a burning altar. Salted with the fire of the Spirit, we become sacrifices pleasing to God.

—Peter Leithart

Pentecost and the Church (4)

The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of his presence with them as their Sayiour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening.

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence—in a word, assurance—blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 49

Pentecost and the Church (3)

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as He empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And He does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47

Pentecost and the Church (2)

Just as Jesus’ baptism and anointing with the Spirit in Luke 3 is to be understood as standing behind and explaining everything else, from His “Messianic” proclamation in Luke 4 to His messianic death and resurrection, so the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 is to be understood as standing behind and explaining everything else that the church then does, particularly its worship, its mission and its bold stand in obeying God rather than human authorities. Thus, when Luke later tells us that the Christians gathered together were all filled with the Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness, this should be understood not as a fresh and momentary filling, repeating Pentecost as it were on a strictly temporary basis, but as a fresh manifestation of what had been the case all along since Pentecost itself. The church from Acts 2 onwards is the Spirit-led church, with worship as an integral part of its proper life.

—N.T. Wright, “Worship and the Spirit in the New Testament”, 4

Pentecost and the Church

The need for a theology about the Day of Pentecost is seen by reflecting on how readily Christians misunderstand the nature of the church. For many people the church is a voluntary organization of individuals. . . .

The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church (ekklēsia from which we derive “ecclesiastical”) means “those who have been called forth or summoned,” much as one is summoned to appear in a court of law. And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals. The free-spirited individualism of our age is a manifestation of Babel, not Pentecost, as should be evident from the intransigent divisions and intractable conflicts such individualism fosters. The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being Christian. The church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of Christianity. Further, the church is to be a sign of the future: No matter how haltingly and imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the justice and grace that characterize the eternal reign of God. Therefore Christians participate in the church not so much for what they can get as for what they can give, for what they can offer as an alternative to the dominant ways of the world.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 76-77