Who Is This?

Who Is This?

We live in a world awash with outrageous claims and inflammatory statements.   Faced with the daunting challenge of distilling fact from fiction, we may be tempted to believe everything or nothing.   But among all the outrageous claims, what if there is life giving truth?  What if there is truth we cannot live without?

No man made more outrageous claims that Jesus Christ.   He shocked the men of his hometown, by claiming to be the Messiah.  He challenged the religious leaders to point out a single one of his sins.  He pushed the limits with his disciples, commanding them to love enemies and offer unlimited forgiveness to offensive brothers.  

Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand who he was and what he came to do.  From time to time, glimpses shone through their own preconceived notions of Him.  In a poignant moment, as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a furious squall sprang up and threatened to sink their small fishing boat.  Half of Jesus’ disciples grew up on these tempestuous waters, fishing with their families from their childhood, yet even they were convinced that they would not survive the trip.  They woke Jesus, who was asleep in the back of the boat. 

They did not ask him to save them – for what miracle working teacher was a match for a force-ten gale?  They only asked, “don’t you care that we are about to die?”   Jesus stood up in the boat and with a word, brought the waters from tempest to mirror.   These seasoned seamen were almost speechless.  The only thing they could say of Jesus was, “who is this?”   They perceived that there was much more to Jesus than even their imaginations could anticipate.

What about you?  When someone mentions Jesus, what comes to mind?  Religious revolutionary? Social justice warrior?  Ethical teacher?  Failed Zionist leader?  Founder of a yet another world religion? Who is this Jesus?  For many it is a caricature, influenced by pictures you have seen or by clichés which permeate our cultural ideas of “the historical Jesus.”  Or perhaps you remember him from a collection of anecdotes or parables you heard as a child in some Sunday School.   Just who is Jesus?

No claim of Jesus was more outrageous than his claim that “I and the Father are one.  He who has seen me has seen the Father.”   Jesus did not claim merely to be God’s servant, or God’s prophet.  He did not claim to be “a son of God,” but “The Son of God.”  Despite the best efforts of Arian heretics to erase Jesus’ claims to divinity, the Scriptures claim pervasively and decisively that Jesus is fully God and fully man.   Men who seek some value in Jesus as a mere man and moral example, but disbelieve his outrageous claim to deity must face C. S. Lewis’ scathing critique.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Jesus did not come to point out the way, the truth, or the life, but to be the way, the truth and the life.  This demands that he be fully human and fully divine. 

Who is Jesus?  Our seasonal displays of a baby Jesus in a lowly cattle stall have led us astray, thinking only of his humanity.   But in the opening chapter of his gospel, John, the beloved disciple, pulls back the curtain to reveal “the rest of the story.”     You think you know who Jesus is?  Come and find out as we examine John 1:1-5, 9-14 and grapple with what our forefathers expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q21: Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect? 
A21: The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever. 

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 21

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

Lessons and Carols, 2020

Lessons and Carols, 2020

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem,  there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine.  As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man. (Andrew Peterson)

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 5:00 pm on Sunday, December 13, in the Commons at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 8300 Kanis Rd, Little Rock.  For directions click here or email us at rivercityarp@gmail.com for more details.   We look forward to seeing you there.

The Plan

Two things my father was almost never without were pipe tobacco and yellow legal pads.   He did nothing without an outline.   In large, block script he detailed his plans to do anything he intended.   Even after I moved out of the house, I would receive outlines of his travel itineraries in the mail.  He was not an impulsive man.  He carefully analyzed his intentions and all expected consequences.  Only after putting the plan on paper did he act.   And without a doubt, I am my father’s son.   I outline my approach to everything.  And attempt very little without a plan and analysis of contingencies.

In this, my earthly father strongly resembled my Heavenly Father.   God is not a trouble shooter.  He is not unaware of anything that comes to pass.  In fact, He “foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, according the counsel of His own will, for His own glory.”   He is the ultimate planner.   Man’s fall was not an unexpected turn.   God is never held captive or contingent to any of the free actions of his creatures.   He not only knew all that would happen, but he purposed it.

Everything that happens contrary to God’s prescribed will is by no means contrary to his decreed will.   He always intended to deal with the world according to grace.  And the means by which he bestows that grace is not through an unfallen mankind in Adam, but through a redeemed mankind in Christ.   Isaac Watt’s metrical paraphrase of Psalm 72 says it well.

Where He displays His healing power,

Death and the curse are known no more:

In Him the tribes of Adam boast

More blessings than their father lost.

In Christ, redeemed mankind can boast more blessings than Adam ever had.   That is a remarkable statement.   This is what God had always planned for us.   Time and time again Scripture shows us that God purposed grace in Christ, “from before the foundation of the world.”   Even in its fallenness, and sin, and sorrow, this world with its promise of redemption, regeneration, and renewal in Christ is the “best of all possible worlds.”  

Nothing has gone amiss in God’s plan and purpose.  There is no waste, no “gratuitous evil,” in God’s economy.  The world is not “off the rails.”   God’s perfect and gracious plan is unfolding, just as He intended.  And in this we have hope.   He is the God who does all He pleases, and all He promises.

The first chapter of Ephesians is a literary masterpiece.   In one long breath, Paul extols the amazing beauty and richness of God’s grace to those who are ‘in Christ.’   The Ephesian church faced severe crises internally and externally.   False teaching and persecution were leading many to ‘abandon their first love.’  So, God pulls back the curtain to show them the truth of their situation ‘in Christ.’    In a city that boasted one of the wonders of the ancient world in the Temple of Diana, it was actually that church that housed the great treasure of God’s grace – grace rooted in God’s sovereign and eternal plan to save.  

And this is good news.   Our sin and rebellion is nothing so novel, so unexpected, that it is outside God’s plan and power to save.   There are no surprises or unexpected circumstances able to thwart God’s efficacious love for us in Christ.   You are not beyond hope.    Even if your situation seems hopeless.   Our forefathers expressed this hope in a series of questions and answers called the Westminster Shorter Catechism.   There we find this great promise.

Q. 19. What is the misery of that state into which mankind fell?

A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so are made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the state of sin and misery?

A. Out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, God chose some for everlasting life, and he entered into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of their state of sin and misery and to bring them into a state of salvation by a redeemer

Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Ephesians 1:3-10 and Galatians 4:4-7 and consider God’s eternal, unbreakable, and effective plan to deliver us from the power of our own sin by a Redeemer.   We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

The Eye of the Beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   But what does this mean?   Is appearance everything? Are the glamour magazines to be believed?    No, beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes, and proportions.  God has made everything (and everyone) beautiful in its time.   The discerning eye finds beauty in every form.   We know this instinctively.   Yet, we don’t believe it about ourselves. 

Our fallenness has given us a creaturely discontent with the Creator’s genius.   But who are the most beautiful people you know?   And why are they beautiful?  Is it the proportion of their face, their coloring, or the shape of their features?   No, their beauty appears by contrast — kindness when others are cruel, resilience in the midst of adversity, joy when sorrow is the order of the day.   Beauty radiates through contrast not conformity.   God delights to create beauty through contrast.

He created a world of contrasts.  Contrasts which give, even this fallen, groaning, creation a beauty that leaves poets speechless.   He began with light and made the world responsive to it.   Light creates color and contour, clarity and, yet, concealment.   Lighting gives everything perspective.  And changing light reveals something new in the familiar.   Lighting and contrast are foundational to visual beauty.   Through lighting and shading artists breathe life into their work.  

But as with all things God made, sensory experience has an analog with spiritual truth.  Spiritual truth in scripture is often taught by way of contrast.   The Bible tells the triumphal story of how God rescues us from sin, self, and Satan.   But the story only becomes compelling when we realize our desperate condition.   Until we grasp how bad we are, we cannot see how good the good news is.  

The Fall plunged us into irrecoverable ruin.   And until we are convinced of this, we will never seek Christ and find redemption.    The beauty of the gospel can only be appreciated in contrast to the ugliness of our condition apart from Christ.   Our forefathers expressed it this way in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 27. What misery did the fall bring on mankind?

A. The fall brought on mankind the loss of communion with God and his displeasure and curse, so that we are by nature children of wrath, slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all the punishments of this world and that which is to come.

Q. 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as a blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God on the creatures for our sakes, and all the other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, states, relations, and employment, together with death itself.

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come are everlasting separation from the comforting presence of God, and very grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in the fire of hell forever.

Westminster Larger Catechism in Modern English

Our condition is stark.   Our ruin is total.   Every faculty of our being, every dimension of our life, every moment of our existence from now until all eternity is utterly ruined.   We go through life with a nagging sense of misery.   We try to cover it with fig leaves – experience, pleasure, education, accomplishment, possessions.   We know, instinctively, the truth of our forefather’s words.   But misery is not the last word.  

The first chapter of Ephesians is a literary masterpiece.   In one long breath, Paul extols the beauty and richness of God’s grace to those who are ‘in Christ.’   The Ephesian church faced severe crises internally and externally.   False teaching and persecution were leading many to ‘abandon their first love.’  So, God pulls back the curtain to show them the truth of their situation ‘in Christ.’   And to drive the point home, he reminds them of what life was like outside of Christ.  In this great contrast we find a clear and concise picture of our lost condition.

Join us this season as we walk through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 19-23, and consider, ‘why and how Jesus became man in order to save us from ourselves.’  This week we begin in Ephesians 2:1-3, 12 by examining the misery of the condition into which the Fall and our own sin have brought us.  

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube

Can You Hear Me Now?

My first mobile phone came in bag.   The size of a lady’s purse, except with an antenna, it made me extremely self-conscious.  Like a cross between a European tourist and a secret service agent, I felt sure everyone was staring.   This phone was for emergencies only.   No casual calling.  No mobile internet.  And coverage was as spotty as spotty could be.   Only outbound calls made sense.  After all, no one could reliably reach me.   What about texts or voicemail, you ask?  They were still in the future.   My beeper is what alerted me to find for that rare place on earth with a signal. 

In those heady days, the expectation of finding coverage was low.   But today, we are indignant if we can’t get 5G at every remote Ozark swimming hole.   We expect coverage and internet everywhere.    And we expect it for free.  Few and far between are those places which have ‘no service.’   And, between manned space launches, Elon Musk is working to drive those areas to near zero with Starlink.   Perhaps one day concepts like ‘no service’ will be as foreign to our grandchildren as mobile phones that came in a bag.

But this is a distinctly human problem.   God has no such limitations in his communication with his creation.   God has always had a reliable network with coverage so vast there is no place where he must ask, “can you hear me now?”   Problems hearing from God are never a network problem.   God’s speaking is “living and active.”   Always on.  He is always speaking.    He “speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting… he does not keep silence.” (Psalm 50:1, 3)   And there is no place where you are out of coverage from his call.   As Psalm 19 so memorably puts it.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world. 

Psalm 19:1-4

God speaks – and not just to a few select creatures.   His Word, his promises, his mercy are not just for a particular culture, tribe, or spot on the earth.   He is no regional or racial deity.  He is the Lord over all the earth.  People from every “tribe and language and people and nation” are the objects of his steadfast love and care.    This is one of the remarkable things about Christianity.  Other religions import cultural distinctives such as forms of dress, dietary restrictions, and particular sacred languages which become prerequisites for piety.  But Christianity permeates and transforms every tribe, language, people and nation through a unity that produces remarkable diversity. 

The repeated error of the people of Israel was to believe that God was theirs alone — their private higher power.  A God who loved only them and those like them.  A God who blessed them and cursed their enemies.  A God who served their interest.   And ironically, this ‘pagan view’ of the true God caused them to abandon Him for all the false gods of the nations.    God set his love upon them to display the beauty of the Covenant of Grace to the whole world.   Their faith was intended to call nations, far and near, to abandon false gods.  But in their unfaithfulness, they abandoned the true and living God.   They were called to be a missionary people.    But if they would not willingly testify to God’s grace through faithfulness, they would unwittingly testify to it through unfaithfulness and judgement.

The Apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Romans.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! 

Romans 11:11-12

Jeremiah, the longest book of in the Old Testament, is filled with dire warnings of judgment.   For four decades, the prophet called the people of Judah to turn back to God.   He outlined their unfaithfulness in every area of life.  He warned of the consequences of living with their backs to God.    And he stayed with them in every descending step into God’s judgment of them as a nation.   

But from the beginning, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.   And through his preaching, God’s Word to Judah becomes a word to the nations and to us.   It shines through, time and time again.   In every oracle of judgment, there is an offer of grace.   So, it is fitting that Jeremiah ends with an extensive call to the nations to know the Lord and to walk in His ways.   This book is no mere sordid history of an ancient kingdom’s demise.   But it is a constant refrain of grace, sung out to men who are utterly undeserving.   It is a reminder that God’s promises are not for some particular tribe, language, nation or people, but for “every creature under heaven.”   And most importantly, for you.   

You are not beyond God’s grace.   You are not excluded from His offer.  In John 6:37, Jesus says, “whoever comes to me, I will never cast out.”   Jeremiah is filled with the threatened judgment, but more than that, with promised mercy.   Are you headed toward judgment?   God’s call is to turn back and find mercy.   In Jeremiah 46-51, God calls the nations to turn back.   In some of the Scripture’s most remarkable poetry, the Lord calls those who are far from him to return home.    

Join us as we see that God calls us to return as well.    We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.