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I'm no expert on the historical use of this phrase but surely there are some unhelpful ways of spinning this evangelical touchstone.  Here's what I think the phrase must protect:

  • The church as a whole is the only earthly priesthood the NT recognizes.  (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10) 
  • Every Christian has equally entered this priesthood. 
  • None is more priestly than another. 

To this should be added the indispensibile prior truth: Christ is our one and only, all-sufficient Priest.  (How easy it is to trumpet the priesthood of us against catholic understandings.  How much better to lead with the priesthood of Christ.  But that's for another time!)

So this is what we are protecting by the phrase.  BUT surely what we can't mean is:  Every individual is equally a priest in themselves.  Here is the great danger of misunderstanding the phrase - I may start to look for my priestliness in myself.  That is, I may say 'the priesthood is all believers; I'm a believer; therefore I, on my own, am a priest.'  To think like this is to completely invert the intention of the doctrine.  My priestliness is found only in union with Christ and with the corporate priesthood that is His body.  And I must look for priesthood in both those places - first in Christ and second in His body.  But never in me!  I, on my lonesome, am not a priest. I, on my lonesome, cannot begin to bring God to world or world to God.

Why is this important?  Well, let's just think of the implications for evangelism:

1. Upon trusting Christ I have joined a priestly body and therefore my whole existence is now caught up in priestly work - i.e. mediating God to world and world to God.  But...

2. It is a priestly body and so I must never do this in isolation.  The self-funded, self-governed, one-man evangelist is not godly evangelism.

3. Because there are many parts but one body (1 Cor 12:20) we can honour the different parts without forcing 'hands' and 'feet' to be lips!   In other words we shouldn't force non-speaking-gifted Christians into speaking roles.  But...

4.  We do have to encourage speakers and servers (1 Pet 4:10f) together to utilise their complementary gifts in mission.

That seems fairly straightforward.  And yet. 

  • How much of a church's evangelistic strategy simply involves bringing the non-Christian to the pulpit?
  • How much of evangelism training simply equips individuals for solo-witness? 
  • How much of it simply equips individuals for their verbal 'answer'? 
  • What does the average church-goer think of when they think of evangelism - corporate or individual?  The 'answer' or more than that? 
  • How many of the church's exhortations to evangelism are straight-forward challenges for 'hands' and 'feet' to be 'lips'?
  • How little do we encourage members of the body to come together organically and complement one another in mission? 
  • How do Christians feel who aren't gifted speakers - do they feel that they are just as missionary, just as priestly?

I think much of these problems come from an individualizing of the 'the priesthood of all believers'?  We have turned something inherently corporate into a private possession of each member.  As soon as this happens then I can be an evangelist without you.  The 'lips' get on without the 'hands' and we quickly revert to a 'priesthood of the few' - just via another route. 

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Anyway, these thoughts have come out of preparation for this sermon on 1 Peter.

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I'm no expert on the historical use of this phrase but surely there are some unhelpful ways of spinning this evangelical touchstone.  Here's what I think the phrase must protect:

  • The church as a whole is the only earthly priesthood the NT recognizes.  (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10) 
  • Every Christian has equally entered this priesthood. 
  • None is more priestly than another. 

To this should be added the indispensibile prior truth: Christ is our one and only, all-sufficient Priest.  (How easy it is to trumpet the priesthood of us against catholic understandings.  How much better to lead with the priesthood of Christ.  But that's for another time!)

So this is what we are protecting by the phrase.  BUT surely what we can't mean is:  Every individual is equally a priest in themselves.  Here is the great danger of misunderstanding the phrase - I may start to look for my priestliness in myself.  That is, I may say 'the priesthood is all believers; I'm a believer; therefore I, on my own, am a priest.'  To think like this is to completely invert the intention of the doctrine.  My priestliness is found only in union with Christ and with the corporate priesthood that is His body.  And I must look for priesthood in both those places - first in Christ and second in His body.  But never in me!  I, on my lonesome, am not a priest. I, on my lonesome, cannot begin to bring God to world or world to God.

Why is this important?  Well, let's just think of the implications for evangelism:

1. Upon trusting Christ I have joined a priestly body and therefore my whole existence is now caught up in priestly work - i.e. mediating God to world and world to God.  But...

2. It is a priestly body and so I must never do this in isolation.  The self-funded, self-governed, one-man evangelist is not godly evangelism.

3. Because there are many parts but one body (1 Cor 12:20) we can honour the different parts without forcing 'hands' and 'feet' to be lips!   In other words we shouldn't force non-speaking-gifted Christians into speaking roles.  But...

4.  We do have to encourage speakers and servers (1 Pet 4:10f) together to utilise their complementary gifts in mission.

That seems fairly straightforward.  And yet. 

  • How much of a church's evangelistic strategy simply involves bringing the non-Christian to the pulpit?
  • How much of evangelism training simply equips individuals for solo-witness? 
  • How much of it simply equips individuals for their verbal 'answer'? 
  • What does the average church-goer think of when they think of evangelism - corporate or individual?  The 'answer' or more than that? 
  • How many of the church's exhortations to evangelism are straight-forward challenges for 'hands' and 'feet' to be 'lips'?
  • How little do we encourage members of the body to come together organically and complement one another in mission? 
  • How do Christians feel who aren't gifted speakers - do they feel that they are just as missionary, just as priestly?

I think much of these problems come from an individualizing of the 'the priesthood of all believers'?  We have turned something inherently corporate into a private possession of each member.  As soon as this happens then I can be an evangelist without you.  The 'lips' get on without the 'hands' and we quickly revert to a 'priesthood of the few' - just via another route. 

.

Anyway, these thoughts have come out of preparation for this sermon on 1 Peter.

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"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23)

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16)

The congregational life of the church has breath-taking potential.  We are on show to the world - even beyond this world! (Eph 3:10).  Jesus wants the world to look on and to say "The love these people display reminds me of Christ.  This love is out of this world. Now I believe that Christ came from the Father.  Praise be to God!"

If we took this seriously we would see that there is not 'fellowship' on the one hand and 'mission' on the other.  But in the plan and purpose of Jesus our fellowship is missional.  Our life together is to the end that we witness to the world.  We are a missionary body - a kingdom of priests. (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10).  The community of the church is not a community for its own sake but for the sake of the world.  This outward focus is constitutive of our life together.  Thus we are neither a 'holy huddle' nor a loose association of evangelists. 

These are the two errors we could fall into.  On the 'holy huddle' side we may invest in community life for its own sake.  And yet Jesus expects that the world will be able to see our united love.  On the other side we may neglect our brothers and sisters for the sake of mission.  Yet this is impossible if we've understood Jesus' commands above.   Loving the 'brotherhood' is missional.  Thus when Paul says to do good "especially to those who belong to the household of faith" (Gal 6:10) it is not simply an inwardly-looking nepotism.  The love of the Christian family is the shop-window of the gospel and has unparalleled magnetic potential!

The question in practice is how do we make this gospel fellowship visible to the outside world?  I have three suggestions, I'd love to hear any that you have.

  1. Churches should keep 'church' commitments to a minimum so that Christians can actually engage in the world around us.
  2. Home groups should be places where non-Christian friends can come along and see fellowship (over meals preferably)
  3. Church members should be encouraged to collaborate in efforts to 'infiltrate' clubs, sports teams, bars etc.  This way Christians can 'love one another' before the watching world rather than having guerilla soldiers go on individual 'raids.'

Any other thoughts on the practicalities of this?

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For a sermon I just preached on John 13 which prompted these thoughts go here.

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5

I've just preached on Hebrews 2 this Sunday.  "He shared in their humanity so that by His death..."  Or again, "He had to be made like His brothers... in order that He might make atonement." (v14,17)

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Or to quote Kim Fabricius' provocative post: "The crib and the cross are cut from the same wood."

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See the crib and you've seen the cross ahead of time.  You've seen a Man falling, there's only one outcome possible.

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Anyway, it got me waxing lyrical.  Not finished, but here's a sketch of a poem:

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God in a manger
Defenceless, enfleshed
Immanuel crying
And fighting for breath

God in a manger
Wriggling and raw
Laid out on the wood
Enthroned on the straw

God at Golgotha
Pierced in His flesh
Immanuel crying
And fighting for breath

God at Golgotha
Forsaken and lost
Stretched out on the wood
Enthroned on the cross

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You can read/hear the sermon here.

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Anyway, probably won't get a chance to blog for the next week, so let me wish you all a blessed Christmas

May we in darkness rejoice in our Glorious Light.

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I grew up with Summer Christmases.  Mangoes for breakfast.  Roast Turkey for lunch (never mind that it's 40 degrees/100F outside).  Backyard cricket.  Swims and BBQs.  And I loved them.  But I've been thinking recently.  Theologically, a summer Christmas is a contradiction in terms. 

People walking in darkness have seen a great Light.  On those living in the shadow of death a Light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

The rising Sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. (Luke 1:78-79)

The Light shines in the darkness. (John 1:5)  

Christmas begins in the dark.  The context for Christmas is ignorance, rebellion, captivity and death.  Christmas is a celebration that finds no justification in earthly circumstances.  All around is darkness and death.  The only possibility for joy lies outside.  Christmas celebrates an other-worldly Light dawning from on High.

Christmas is not the celebration of our sunny circumstances.   Nothing in our grasp is true justification for Christmas joy.   Not family, not friends, not gifts, not health, wealth, success or acclaim.   Only Christ coming from beyond our circumstances - like light into darkness - only He makes a Christmas.

Yet in the Southern Hemisphere we celebrate Christmas as though we were celebrating our happy environs - and ignore the darkness.  In the Northern Hemisphere we turn to family, friends and fesitivities to try to generate our own light - and ignore the darkness.  But darkness is the very atmosphere of Christmas.

If you're having a tough one, know that Christmas is meant for dark places.  And let's all seek our Light and joy only in the Son given to us.  Apart from Him, it's only winter - no matter what side of the equator you're on.

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To hear a Christmas sermon of mine on this theme go here.

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6

I'm preaching on this sobering passage on Sunday.

I'm struck by the sins of the fathers repeated in the children.  Just as 2 Samuel 11 showed lust => deception => illicit taking => death => further chaos so it is here.  In fact, just as Genesis 3 involved lust, deception, illicit taking, death and a spiral into chaos so this is re-played once again in the royal house.

From 1 Sam 16 until 2 Sam 10 we see good king David.  A wonderful mirror of Christ.  David is anointed among his brothers (1 Sam 16) then fights on their behalf to win victory for God's people (1 Sam 17).  While the world acknowledges one king, there is a faithful remnant who serve God's choice as king.  The women sing his praises, the mighty men join him in battle.  Eventually he is vindicated (2 Sam 5ff).  He ascends Zion and is enthroned.  He shows unfailing love to those in covenant with him (2 Sam 9) elevating the helpless to table fellowship.  He makes peace to the ends of the land/earth (same word in Hebrew) by defeating all his enemies and bringing peace. (2 Sam 8 and 10 - see my recent sermon on 2 Samuel 10).  There ends the narrative of good king David.  From chapter 11 we have bad king David.  In fact, from here, we see the outworkings of sin in the kingdoms of the world.  The house of David had been a mirror to the house of the LORD (see 2 Sam 7).  But now (see 2 Sam 12:20) the house of David is contrasted with the house of the LORD.

Think of how important the 'house' is in Scripture.   Just as the world is a 'house' (e.g. Isaiah 66:1), so is a kingdom, so is a family.  These family problems are a microcosmos - a little world in crisis.  (think of the Genesis 3 link above).  Everything that is so heart-breakingly wrong with this family is everything that is so heart-breakingly wrong with the kingdom of the world.  The sin we read about here cannot be held at arms length.  It is being brought home to us because it is the problem at the heart of every house, every kingdom, the whole world.

Note how these four men are distorted pictures of true men:

Amnon is a lover.  But it's love turned to lust. 

Jonadab is a wise man, yet it's wisdom turned to deceit. 

David is a king, but inactive in the face of evil. 

Absalom is an avenger, a rescuer - yet he silences Tamar and seems to protect his own reputation more than hers. 

How wonderful the lover, the wise man, the king and the rescuer could have been.  But they are perverted and together make for one dysfunctional house!

And what is the state of the virgin daughter in the royal house?   (This very broken mirror of the church (cf Psalm 45).  How is this virgin daughter in this kingdom treated?

Desired (v1)

Deceived (v11)

Disgraced (v14)

Despised (v15)

Discarded (v17)

Dismissed (v20a)

Destroyed (v20b)

And what a word to describe her in v20: Desolate!  Literally - destroyed.  It's such a violent word.  It's the word for Job and his household - devastated.  It's most used with regard to the curse of exile - the ravaged land, the desolated temple, the agriculture dried up.  She is destroyed like a war-torn country, like a shrivelled up vine, like a desecrated temple.  (There is hope though for the Desolate woman - cf Isaiah 54!)

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Now v15 has intrigued me for a long time.  Can anyone help me with the psychology of this.  Literally it says that after he raped her "Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred.  In fact the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her."  What's going on there?  What is it about this illicit taking that makes him despise what he had previously desired so fiercely??

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This is a short introduction I gave to our church prayer meeting held on Wednesday night...

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Job 16:19-20

19 Even now my Witness is in heaven; my Advocate is on high. 20 My Intercessor is my Friend as my eyes pour out tears to God;

I have to tell you that you were all late for the prayer meeting.  I want you to seriously consider the fact that you all came late to the prayer meeting.  And last month, you were late to the prayer meeting.  And the month before that.  In fact, you are always late to prayer.

Because the real prayer meeting, the heavenly prayer meeting, has begun before we ever join in.

Job here speaks of his heavenly Intercessor.  Job has a friend in high places.  And this friend prays for him ‘Even now'.

Jesus Christ is described many times as our Intercessor.  Because intercession (prayer) is one of the key things Jesus does for us as our High Priest

The High Priest of the Old Testament tabernacle system would, once a year, take the blood of the atonement sacrifices and take them through the curtain and into the Most Holy Place - the dwelling place of God Himself.  There He would sprinkle the blood before the LORD and make atonement for the sins of the people.  Now that's wonderful enough, but one of the things the High Priest was wearing was a breastplate in which were 12 stones.  Engraved on the 12 stones were the names of the sons of Israel.  Exodus 28 says this:

29 "Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart (on the breastpiece of decision) as a continuing memorial before the LORD.

So this is the picture: The High Priest makes atonement for His people and in doing so He carries His people on His heart before the LORD.  The people are remembered before the LORD because the High Priest carries them on His heart.

Now the Old Testament tabernacle system was only a multi-media presentation.  It pointed forward to the time when Jesus Christ would enter into heaven itself to make atonement and intercede for His people.  In the Old Testament, the High Priest got into the Most Holy Place and got out again quickly, lest he die in the presence of this Holy God.  But Hebrews 7 contrasts that with Jesus' priesthood.  It says:

"because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

Jesus always bears us on His heart before the Father.  He always remains before the LORD.  He is our Intercessor - always praying for His people.

We are always late to prayer.  Because Jesus is always ahead of us.  Our prayer is the Amen to His ceaseless intercession!

Now let's just look at our passage and learn a little something about out Heavenly Intercessor.  He's given four names here:

First: He is the Witness.  It's legal language, and here we have what you might call a Star Witness.  While Satan may be called the Accuser in Scripture, Job knows a Witness for the defence.  And He's a Witness with the very best reputation.  Here is a Witness who will be listened to on High, because He belongs on High.  The case for the defence can rest because this Star Witness has given unimpeachable testimony.

Second: He is the Advocate.  We're still in legal territory here.  John also calls Jesus ‘the Advocate' in 1 John 2:1.  He is not only the Star Witness, He's also the Star Barrister.  That's so important in court.  Because if you're on trial, how do you look to the Judge?  You look as good as your lawyer.  If your lawyer is good, you look good.  The Christian looks very good in the court of heaven.  Their Witness and their Advocate is flawless.

Third: He is the Intercessor.  Christ doesn't just witness or advocate, He prays. He petitions, He intercedes.  Jesus said to Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail."  (Luke 22:32)  And the LORD Jesus prays similarly for you.  And He prays, as Job says (v19) ‘even now'.

Fourth:  He is my friend.  All of this would be nothing if not for the fact that Christ is our friend.  We don't simply have a Lord in High Places, we have a friend in High Places.  There is One who loves you more than you love yourself.  He is the One interceding for you ‘even now.'

Finally.  You might think that all this would make you not want to pray.  Perhaps you think: ‘Why should I bother praying if Jesus is doing the job?'  This thought doesn't occur to Job.  He makes the opposite conclusion - because He has such a Witness, Advocate, Intercessor and Friend on High therefore his eyes pour out tears before God.

When we understand that our High Priest has given us such access to the throne of grace then we will pour out our hearts to God.  Before Christ made friends with us, prayer could only ever be a wish list or a religious rite - and who knows whether our words just bounce off the ceiling.  But now, carried on Christ's heart, assured of a hearing, now we can pray.  Now we can call the Almighty God ‘Abba, Father'.  Now we are invited into the ultimate prayer gathering.  We may have turned up late, but we are very welcome.  And all our prayers become the Amen, to Christ's heavenly intercession.

Heavenly Father, we approach You because Your Son, our Brother has become our Priest.  We praise and thank You because He ever lives to intercede for us.  Send the Spirit of Your Son now into our hearts, that same Spirit of Christ, who calls out ‘Abba, Father.'  Draw us into your life of prayer.  Help us this evening to know the privilege and joy of joining in with Christ's intercession.  Answer our prayers not because of our own righteousness but only because Christ our Witness on High intercedes for us.  It's in His Name we pray,  Amen.

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For audio sermons of mine and some others I highly recommend go here

.

This is a short introduction I gave to our church prayer meeting held on Wednesday night...

.

Job 16:19-20

19 Even now my Witness is in heaven; my Advocate is on high. 20 My Intercessor is my Friend as my eyes pour out tears to God;

I have to tell you that you were all late for the prayer meeting.  I want you to seriously consider the fact that you all came late to the prayer meeting.  And last month, you were late to the prayer meeting.  And the month before that.  In fact, you are always late to prayer.

Because the real prayer meeting, the heavenly prayer meeting, has begun before we ever join in.

Job here speaks of his heavenly Intercessor.  Job has a friend in high places.  And this friend prays for him ‘Even now'.

Jesus Christ is described many times as our Intercessor.  Because intercession (prayer) is one of the key things Jesus does for us as our High Priest

The High Priest of the Old Testament tabernacle system would, once a year, take the blood of the atonement sacrifices and take them through the curtain and into the Most Holy Place - the dwelling place of God Himself.  There He would sprinkle the blood before the LORD and make atonement for the sins of the people.  Now that's wonderful enough, but one of the things the High Priest was wearing was a breastplate in which were 12 stones.  Engraved on the 12 stones were the names of the sons of Israel.  Exodus 28 says this:

29 "Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart (on the breastpiece of decision) as a continuing memorial before the LORD.

So this is the picture: The High Priest makes atonement for His people and in doing so He carries His people on His heart before the LORD.  The people are remembered before the LORD because the High Priest carries them on His heart.

Now the Old Testament tabernacle system was only a multi-media presentation.  It pointed forward to the time when Jesus Christ would enter into heaven itself to make atonement and intercede for His people.  In the Old Testament, the High Priest got into the Most Holy Place and got out again quickly, lest he die in the presence of this Holy God.  But Hebrews 7 contrasts that with Jesus' priesthood.  It says:

"because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them."

Jesus always bears us on His heart before the Father.  He always remains before the LORD.  He is our Intercessor - always praying for His people.

We are always late to prayer.  Because Jesus is always ahead of us.  Our prayer is the Amen to His ceaseless intercession!

Now let's just look at our passage and learn a little something about out Heavenly Intercessor.  He's given four names here:

First: He is the Witness.  It's legal language, and here we have what you might call a Star Witness.  While Satan may be called the Accuser in Scripture, Job knows a Witness for the defence.  And He's a Witness with the very best reputation.  Here is a Witness who will be listened to on High, because He belongs on High.  The case for the defence can rest because this Star Witness has given unimpeachable testimony.

Second: He is the Advocate.  We're still in legal territory here.  John also calls Jesus ‘the Advocate' in 1 John 2:1.  He is not only the Star Witness, He's also the Star Barrister.  That's so important in court.  Because if you're on trial, how do you look to the Judge?  You look as good as your lawyer.  If your lawyer is good, you look good.  The Christian looks very good in the court of heaven.  Their Witness and their Advocate is flawless.

Third: He is the Intercessor.  Christ doesn't just witness or advocate, He prays. He petitions, He intercedes.  Jesus said to Peter, "I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail."  (Luke 22:32)  And the LORD Jesus prays similarly for you.  And He prays, as Job says (v19) ‘even now'.

Fourth:  He is my friend.  All of this would be nothing if not for the fact that Christ is our friend.  We don't simply have a Lord in High Places, we have a friend in High Places.  There is One who loves you more than you love yourself.  He is the One interceding for you ‘even now.'

Finally.  You might think that all this would make you not want to pray.  Perhaps you think: ‘Why should I bother praying if Jesus is doing the job?'  This thought doesn't occur to Job.  He makes the opposite conclusion - because He has such a Witness, Advocate, Intercessor and Friend on High therefore his eyes pour out tears before God.

When we understand that our High Priest has given us such access to the throne of grace then we will pour out our hearts to God.  Before Christ made friends with us, prayer could only ever be a wish list or a religious rite - and who knows whether our words just bounce off the ceiling.  But now, carried on Christ's heart, assured of a hearing, now we can pray.  Now we can call the Almighty God ‘Abba, Father'.  Now we are invited into the ultimate prayer gathering.  We may have turned up late, but we are very welcome.  And all our prayers become the Amen, to Christ's heavenly intercession.

Heavenly Father, we approach You because Your Son, our Brother has become our Priest.  We praise and thank You because He ever lives to intercede for us.  Send the Spirit of Your Son now into our hearts, that same Spirit of Christ, who calls out ‘Abba, Father.'  Draw us into your life of prayer.  Help us this evening to know the privilege and joy of joining in with Christ's intercession.  Answer our prayers not because of our own righteousness but only because Christ our Witness on High intercedes for us.  It's in His Name we pray,  Amen.

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For audio sermons of mine and some others I highly recommend go here

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On the Cruciform God thing - here's a brilliant sermon by Darrell Johnson on these same issues.  His text is Phil 2:5-11 and his title: "So that's what it means to be God!"

The real realization is not "Oh, Jesus is the god I'd always believed in!" - how's that for fitting the Saviour onto a Procrustean bed! No, the real realization is "Oh, God is nothing like I'd thought - He's who I see in Jesus!"

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