All posts by kelleydenham1

Giving attention to … His Upstanding Session

Today’s title (His Upstanding Session) is not about your elders, even though we are described as a session when we are figuratively seated in our official capacity, to make decisions on your behalf and on Christ’s behalf. His Upstanding Session is meant to be about Jesus Christ … because I want to speak of Him today. Now our Savior’s hyper-critics will have a minor gripe about His word (the holy Scriptures), as they point out a seeming inconsistency concerning His situation: “So is Jesus (right now) standing, or is He sitting?!

Several Bible verses do describe Jesus Christ standing. Acts 6 introduces us to Stephen (the Evangelist); at the close of Stephen’s days down here, he is given a vision of the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand. But even more Bible verses teach us that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So if the multiple Bible authors cannot get even this simple reporting job done with accuracy, why should we trust them for even deeper truths and questions?!

Well, what does it mean, for Jesus to be sitting down? I suggest that this physical description is meant to bring up strong symbols for your attention. To organize many Biblical truths, let us consider Jesus in His famous three-fold office (Prophet, Priest, and King). A sitting prophet (that is, a prophet who has assumed the posture of sitting before his listeners) is ready to teach. We see Jesus doing so in synagogues, and the Apostle Paul follows that pattern. This is not because Paul learned it from Jesus but because that was the traditional posture for a teacher to assume. Jesus Christ, sitting down, is teaching us today (through the Scriptures, His Holy Spirit, the faithful church, and even providential history as it plays out across time).

A sitting priest is resting after a diligent day of sacrificing ~ working hard with needy people and a staff-in-training and unwilling animals. Of course, Jesus as God does not tire in well-doing, but His “it is finished” does put a kind of seal and conclusion to one aspect of His high priestly work, in that the all-sufficient Sacrifice is made and the price for redemption is paid, so the Priest who offered that blood may sit down ~ satisfied in the Father’s satisfaction.

A sitting king is not tired, sleeping, or lazing through the day! No, a king’s session is a symbol of his enthronement, authority, and powerful reign. Picture this king as a judge, with the oppressed and needy citizens coming into his throne-room ~ to make appeals for justice, or mercy, or resources. Jesus is sitting today as King of kings (along with His Father), resourcing His church and guiding His Kingdom.

And yet, Jesus is standing too (physically, really, and symbolically). As our great Prophet (who would typically sit down to teach), Jesus Christ has always shown Himself to be the kind of Teacher who enjoys walking around … going out into His world, leading His disciples into fields of ministry, teaching them as they go. This symbolic image of Jesus (the instructing Prophet walking around) serves as a reminder to all of His learners that the truths we hear from our Teacher are meant to be applied and worked out, for service to all.

Jesus as our upstanding Priest is still busy ministering in that tabernacle not made with hands, in the heavenlies, where today He enjoys direct access to the holy Father’s generous heart. While the blood sacrifice is over and done (never to be repeated), the mediation rights purchased with that blood continue to benefit both sinners and saints (saints who sin!). When we read that Jesus ever liveth to make intercession for us, we must see Jesus ~ our Great High Priest ~ standing, moving, praying, and serving.

Even so, a standing king is not giving up his throne, but he is expanding his reign as he leads his loyal troops in battle. We need such attentive protection, but are glad to learn (from the Catechisms) that this Warrior-King restrains and conquers all of His and our enemies, even as He subdues our own rebellious hearts under His reign of truth.

Praise the Lord, then, that Jesus is both sitting and standing, ever advancing His good cause.

Giving attention to … Christ’s Strength for Christ’s Things (Philippians 4:13)

Recall some of these Simple-Truths which we have considered, ones which turn out to be most profound: The Lord is my Shepherd. He has shown you, O man, what is good and what God requires of you. … Here, we look at Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength [that Him is God, or specifically Christ Jesus]. This seems like a very simple text, the kind of hopeful Bible verse we expect to find stitched onto a knitted pillow case! What could be confusing or complicated about such a comforting and assuring promise?

  1. Well, I do hope that you love this verse (for what it really means, in its fullness), but when the Lord God finds us in this wicked world, the attitude of each one of us is more like this: I can do all things … period! I am awesome, wonderful, sufficient, capable, and independent … so why would I need the help and strength of an invisible, distant Being?! Thus thinks the arrogant man of this world.
  2. But for His chosen people, the Spirit of God brings us to the place where we confess the opposite of what we were believing (or at least claiming) before, and so we are now agreeing with God (a linguistic description of repentance): I cannot do anything! This is an admission of total inability, at least in the spiritual realm of doing anything to merit God’s favor. I am incapable of saving myself from the pit in which I have fallen, from the troubles which I have chosen. But if the world mocks such an attitude of weakness, the Bible holds it out as the necessary testimony of the lost man who must be born from above, raised from the dead by a sovereign act of the living God.
  3. I am sorry to admit (this is my personal issue; perhaps it is yours too?) that many believers then move from confessing their total inability, through salvation in Jesus Christ, to this kind of false confidence: I am a Christian now … so now I CAN do all things [in my own power]. As if Jesus gave my battery a jump-start, so now I am good-to-go for another year. But this is the false-to-reality attitude of The Arrogant Christian (which is an oxymoron, for morons).
  4. Slightly better (we imagine within ourselves) is the attitude of the believer who has been around for awhile, so he knows some of his own weaknesses, but he still misses the big idea of this entire universe. So he claims: I can do all of MY things with the power of Christ (as if the highest use of the powerful authority and glorious attributes of God is to meet my selfish demands and to fulfill my self-centered desires).
  5. May God bring us, in His time (but soon, please!) … to grasp our continuing need to believe and to act upon every part of this simple verse: I can do / all things / through Christ / who gives me strength.
  6. Extending, and not contrary to this verse, and not inappropriate to the verse, but expositing this verse in light of other ones … aim for this spirit: I can do all of Christ’s things, through all of Christ’s strength which is at work in me (for it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me). The “all things” of Philippians 4:13 should be thought of as Christ’s things, all of Christ’s things.
  7. And the context of Philippians 4:13 guides us to this understanding. Many will assume that this is a verse about the believer’s ability to control his environment through a kind of self-talk or mind-control (which ends up in a version of matter-control), by which a faith-filled person can change his reality, making life or the world better for himself. And if Christ’s power helps us get to this better state more efficiently, then that is most useful! Well, Philippians 4 is actually about Paul’s resolve to be content, whatever the circumstances. Paul praises God because God has taught Paul (through many years and many trials) how to be satisfied in God, even when Paul was in a state of need, even when Paul was hungry, even when Paul lacked. I dare say (this is another rebuke to me; you?) that most Christians do not even want to have such a power (to be content with little). Have you ever prayed for such a gift?! And if we read beyond this favorite (but misunderstood) verse, we find ourselves in the midst of a thank-you note, from Paul to the church of Philippi. Paul expresses his gratitude and thanksgiving, that God used their generosity to meet Paul’s need. So this pillow verse is not (again) about the power of mind-over-matter, but it is about the power of the Holy Spirit over our typical self-centeredness, to convince us that others matter, and that my more-than-enough at this moment may be God’s very provision to supply the need of another … in order that all of God’s people are sufficiently supplied, so that God gets the glory.

Communion Meditation: Communion & the Holy Spirit

Our call to worship today came from the classic chapter about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit; later we will hear a sermon on Acts 2. So I have been wondering: What does the Holy Spirit have to do with communion? Is this a question for ministerial students during their presbytery exams!? Not really. It is vital that all of us (laymen and ordained alike) know what is happening here, what we are doing now, and Who is responsible for bringing us into such a rich feast. Behold ~ the invisible Spirit!

  1. One of our primary duties before coming to this Table is to examine ourselves. God urges us to take a good hard look, deep down inside. To do this sincerely and honestly, we need the Holy Spirit to illumine our darkness, and just as certainly to assure us that His love abides in and on us, even as He causes us to grow in honesty about our offensive sin and our complete dependence.
  2. Another primary duty concerning right celebration of this sacrament is that we are to come in a worthy manner. This certainly cannot mean that we find worth inside ourselves nor even in the manner of our worthy coming. This worth is in the Object of our faith and in the faithfulness of God. Such humility can come only by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Many of you communicant members have never had to survive the brutal pre-communion examinations we give to our guests and friends who are not members but want to join us at their Lord’s Table! The first question we ask sounds simple and perfunctory: Are you baptized? Of course, of the two sacraments, baptism must come first (even as birth precedes feeding and growth). But Jesus Christ said that His kind of baptism involves a washing in and of and by the Spirit, not by a merely external cleansing of water. As we direct a professor’s attention back to his baptism, we hope the enquirer is thinking of something better than water.
  4. The second question we ask: What do you have to do with Jesus (or better: What does Jesus have to do with you)? This is testimony time, & the elders are listening to discern if there has been a birth from above, a regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This alone is the beginning of right relating with our holy Savior.
  5. The third question in our pitiless test is about the individual’s relationship with the church of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Temple in which the Spirit dwells or the Body of Christ in which is the Breath of real life. Friends, in your coming to this Table today, do you discern the body? We are asking if you see Christ here AND are you aware the Spirit is bringing together isolated saints into fellowship?

We might have made this little study of the Lord’s Supper and the Holy Spirit simpler by going right to the end of Acts 2, where we find that classic statement of the four-fold focus of the early believers together. Many seek evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence within a group of Christians through some of the more dramatic signs we find in Acts 2 and beyond (including the miraculous, prophecy, healing, and speaking in unknown tongues). But here, to close the chapter where the Holy Spirit is given to the people of Christ with great liberality, we find that the Spirit-filled saints are continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching,  to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and  to prayer (or “the prayers”; Acts 2:42). That “breaking of bread” may point to the simple act of eating their meals together, or providing hospitality to one another, or just “hanging out”! But the term “fellowship” covers those well, so many see that participating in this sacrament became an early hallmark of the followers of the Way of Christ. The Spirit (in His tell-tale manner) backs away from the spotlight, to emphasize in this celebration the sacrifice of Jesus our Lord.