The Twinkling of an Eye, Before the Trumpet’s Sound

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘The Twinkling of an Eye, Before the Trumpet’s Sound’

 © October 29, 2017 by Steve Mickelson

Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer                                                             

Opening Hymn #288: Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound

Prayer and Tithing Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings 

Responsive Reading #644: Christ and Immortality (- from 1 Corinthians 15)

Message by Steve Mickelson:                                                                                                                                                ‘The Twinkling of an Eye, Before the Trumpet’s Sound’

 

Let us pray…

Welcome to BLCF Church’s Sunday Morning Praise and Worship Service. Our lesson today is entitled: The Twinkling of an Eye, Before the Trumpet’s Sound’, a study based upon a question sister Olivia asked last Sunday: “What happens to the Spirit of the saved, between the death of the body and the time of the resurrection?” a time frame described in the Scriptures as the “twinkling of an eye” that takes place just before the “trumpet’s sound.”

Depending upon the day our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus returns, this period of time could last a second or thousands of years, and it is during this time that our spirit will abandon its earthly body for a heavenly body. We will exchange our form, from one that resembles the man of dust, (Adam), to the man of the Spirit, (Jesus). When Jesus returns, our spirit leaves the mortal vessel that it occupied until the death of that vessel and move on to occupy a new immortal body.

The question is what happens to the human soul between the instant we draw our last breath, in our current body, and that instant when we occupy the new form that the Lord has prepared for us.

Before we examine this twilight period between the mortal and immortal, let us examine what the Bible calls the resurrection into a heavenly body as described in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 (ESV):

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[a] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall[b] also bear the image of the image of the man of heaven.

 Mystery and Victory

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.       

Footnotes: a. 1 Corinthians 15:45 Greek a living soul b. 1 Corinthians 15:49 Some manuscripts let us

The new body that Jesus provides for us is not subject death or deterioration caused by sin, as the Lord’s sacrifice has allowed us to exchange the mortal body for a new one that is immortal.

Understanding this new immortal form that awaits the resurrected believer may be a challenge, when one attempts to define it or understand from the mortal perspective, as was the problem encountered by the Sadducees in  Matthew 22:23-33 (ESV):

Sadducees Ask About the Resurrection

 23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and rise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

There is no need for marriage and procreation to perpetuate those who are immortal. Not only will believers be raised from death to an immortal form of existence, but the countenance that is bright as the sky above, and those responsible for the leading others to salvation will shine as brightly as the stars above, Daniel 12:1-3 (ESV):

The Time of the End

12 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;[a] and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.                                                   

Footnotes: a. Daniel 12:3 Hebrew the expanse; compare Genesis 1:6–8

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson argues that we would be mistaken, if we think that this period that the souls of the departed exist only to slumber in the dust, while waiting the appointed time that the Lord returns to be awakened in his article which discusses the implications of a Soul Sleep Doctrine:

Implications for Soul Sleep – by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

(from This Day You Will Be with Me in Paradise – Luke 23:43)

A few Christian groups teach a doctrine known as “soul sleep.” Essentially, the doctrine holds that at death the soul “sleeps” and is not conscious until the resurrection. Indeed, there are a number of times when “sleep” is used as a euphemism for death.14 But three passages make it quite clear that the soul is not unconscious until the resurrection:

“Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” (Philippians 1:23)

http://www.jesuswalk.com/7-last-words/2_paradise.htm

As a reward for faith, our Lord promised us the same type of resurrection from death by way of the Holy Spirit as His experience after His crucifixion. While his body was dead in the flesh, Jesus’ was alive and active in the spirit, as we read in 1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV):

1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)

18 For Christ also suffered[a] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which[b] he went and proclaimed[c]to the spirits in prison, 20 because[d] they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.                                           

Footnotes: a. 1 Peter 3:18 Some manuscripts died b. 1 Peter 3:19 Or the Spirit, in whom c. 1 Peter 3:19 Or preached d. 1 Peter 3:20 Or when

Professor Joe Rigney interprets this passage of Scripture from 1 Peter 3:18-22, as follows:

Where Did Jesus Go When He Died?

(by Joe Rigney – Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary)

“Following his death for sin, Jesus journeys to Hades, to the City of Death, and rips its gates off the hinges.”

What, then, does this tell us about where Jesus was on Holy Saturday? Based on Jesus’s words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, some Christians believe, that after his death, Jesus’s soul went to heaven to be in the presence of the Father. But Luke 23:43 doesn’t say that Jesus would be in the presence of God; it says he would be in the presence of the thief (“Today you will be with me in paradise”), and based on the Old Testament and Luke 16, it seems likely that the now-repentant thief would be at Abraham’s side, a place of comfort and rest for the righteous dead, which Jesus here calls “paradise.”

Following his death for sin, then, Jesus journeys to Hades, to the City of Death, and rips its gates off the hinges. He liberates Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, John the Baptist, and the rest of the Old Testament faithful, ransoming them from the power of Sheol (Psalm 49:1586:1389:48). They had waited there for so long, not having received what was promised, so that their spirits would be made perfect along with the saints of the new covenant (Hebrews 11:39–4012:23).

After his resurrection, Jesus ascends to heaven and brings the ransomed dead with him, so that now paradise is no longer down near the place of torment, but is up in the third heaven, the highest heaven, where God dwells (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).

Now, in the church age, when the righteous die, they aren’t merely carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom; they depart to be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23). The wicked, however, remain in Hades in torment, until the final judgment, when Hades gives up the dead who dwell there, and they are judged according to their deeds, and then Death and Hades are thrown into hell, into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13–15).                         

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/he-descended-into-hell

While believers in the Resurrected Christ are raised from the grave to be sanctified from the punishment for their sins, those who have turned away from God, including Satan, face the same, as described in Revelation 20 (ESV) :

The Thousand Years

 20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit[a] and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

 The Defeat of Satan

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven[b] and consumed them,10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

 Judgment Before the Great White Throne

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.            

Footnotes: a. Revelation 20:1 Greek the abyss; also verse 3 b. Revelation 20:9 Some manuscripts from God, out of heaven, or out of heaven from God

We must take heart in the Lord’s promise that we will be accompanied forever: in this life, in the twinkling of an eye after death, and after our own resurrection. Jesus has assures us, that we will exist in the company of a Spirit who never slumbers or sleeps, John 14:15-17 (ESV):

 Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[b] in you.                

Footnotes: a. John 14:16 Or Advocate, or Counselor; also 14:2615:2616:7 b. John 14:17 Some manuscripts and is

 What will our spirit do while waiting between death of our natural bodies and the resurrection of our new spiritual bodies? Pastor Peter Slofstra provides us with an explanation of God’s Amazing Grace, with a little help from C.S. Lewis:

God’s Amazing Grace

“Lent Sermon Series on the Words of the Cross.”  – Luke 23:43         

(from Sermon by Reverend Peter Slofstra Pastor of Hope Fellowship, Courtice)

The question is this: When a person dies, where does he go and when does he get there? Does he enter a state called “soul sleep” until Jesus returns? Does he go to a place called purgatory, an intermediate place until he is ready to move on? Does he go instantly to heaven? And how can that be since Jesus has not come back yet and the new earth and paradise has not yet been restored?

It helps to remember that Jesus’ concept of “today” is very different from ours. When Peter wrote about the Day of the Lord and tried to reassure Christians who were impatient to see Jesus come back, he said: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (II Peter 3:8) In other words, time is a human construct, a linear experience of seconds, minutes, hours, day, weeks, months and years. Eternity, on the other hand, is a divine experience, a constant living in the now that holds past, present and future in the same moment.

When a Christian dies, he enters eternity and immediately arrives at that moment where Jesus is coming and paradise is restored. Like pushing through the fur coats in the wardrobe and tumbling into Narnia, the believer who dies in the Lord instantly arrives there. In the meantime, those who are left behind continue to measure their experience with clocks and calendars, constrained by the schedules and routines that we are forced to keep.

Is this just a fantasy, a human attempt to express the inexpressible and understand a divine reality that we can never grasp? Perhaps. But there is also the Bible which says, “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” (II Thessalonians 4:15) In other words, like people who sleep and are oblivious to the passing of time, waking up in what seems like a second later while others put in a full shift at work, those who die in the Lord wake up instantly at the moment of Christ’s second coming to join those who happen to be still alive when he returns. In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis captures this beautifully at the end of the story when the four children who grew into adults in Narnia tumble back out of the wardrobe only to find themselves back at the precise moment in time when their adventure first began!

It really is true that to God a thousand years is like a day. The comfort we have is that our loved ones are with the Lord today in eternity even though we are still waiting for that Day to arrive in human time. Isn’t it incredible that we may picture them in paradise right now!

https://www.crcna.org/resources/church-resources/reading-sermons/today-you-will-be-me-paradise-0

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #581:  There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit

 Benediction – 1 Corinthians 15:56-57:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jars of Clay – Transfigured by Our Lord

Romans-9-21

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

’Jars of Clay – Transfigured by Our Lord’

© January 15, 2017 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF: bulletin-january-15-2017

BLCF: God transforms us

Announcements and Call to Worship; Prayer                                                           

Opening Hymn #288: Amazing Grace                                                                 

Tithing and Prayer; Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers                                            

Responsive Reading #647: (The Return of Christ– 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5)    

Message by Steve Mickelson:  ’Jars of Clay – Transfigured by Our Lord’

BLCF: transformation-and-transfiguration

 Let us pray…

God morning and welcome to BLCF Church’s Praise and Worship Service.

For our lesson last Sunday we examined the Christian Church’s observance known as the Epiphany, where our Lord performed the first of many miracles during his walk on earth, giving proof to his identity as the only Son of God.

As there is some disagreement among scholars as to which was the first miracle, Epiphany observes three of Jesus’ miracles:

  1. Jesus’ birth which was observed by the visitation of three Gentile Kings
  2. Jesus’s baptism in the River Jordan where the Holy Spirit came upon our Lord like a dove and God spoke from heaven to acknowledge His Son
  3. The wedding at Cana, where Jesus responded to Mary’s request to provide wine for the dinner by transforming Jars of water into wine

Today’s Lesson is entitled: Jars of Clay – Transfigured by Our Lord’, we will examine the significance of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor described in Matthew 17:1-9, though we have descriptions of the Transfiguration described in Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

Definition of Transfiguration

BLCF: tajemnice_rozanca_transfiguration-1

  1. 1a:  a change in form or appearance :  metamorphosis                                 b :  an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change
  2. 2capitalized:  a Christian feast that commemorates the transfiguration of Christ on a mountaintop in the presence of three disciples and that is observed on August 6 in the Roman Catholic and some Eastern churches and on the Sunday before Lent in most Protestant churches

 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transfiguration

While the Roman Catholic Church as well as some Eastern Orthodox Churches observe Christ’s Transfiguration on August 6 and most Protestant Churches observe the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent. Depending on which calendar you use, Lent begins on either March 1 or March 14 of 2017.

Regardless of when the Lord’s Transfiguration is celebrated, it is understood that the Bible has the timeline for Jesus climbed Mount Tabor occurring sometime between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent.

To better understand the reason why our Lord performed this miracle, we must understand that Jesus had a short time to teach the disciples of God’s plan for redemption which involved His Son.

Jesus’s Gospel involved God’s plan for redemption, sanctification, and resurrection for all who believe and receive His gift through Jesus. We get a good idea of under Whose authority Jesus’ works were made, as we read in John 5:19-29 (ESV):

The Authority of the Son

BLCF: John-5_24

 19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father[a] does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Footnotes: a. John 5:19 Greek he

We see in John 5, that all humanity will face a Day of Judgment for their sins and only those who choose to accept that Christ died to pay for all sins, but only those who choose to accept our Lord’s sacrifice will be forgiven. These believers will receive God’s Holy Spirit, and promised a resurrection from death, just as Jesus was raised from the death, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (ESV):

The Resurrection Body

BLCF: resurrection2

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[a] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall[b] also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Footnotes: a. 1 Corinthians 15:45 Greek a living soul b. 1 Corinthians 15:49 Some manuscripts let us

The Resurrection described in 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, will undergo a transfiguration from people who were made from clay, the dead now existing as earth or dust, into people transformed into spiritual beings.

To get some idea of the nature and appearance of the resurrected, let us look at the description of our Lord’s Transfiguration  found in Matthew 17:1-9 (ESV):

 The Transfiguration

BLCF: Carl_Bloch_The_Transfiguration_400

 17 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Footnotes: a. Matthew 17:5 Or my Son, my (or theBeloved

The disciples did not fully understand the full significance of Christ’s resurrection until after Jesus’ resurrection. And to receive fully the gift of our own resurrection, we must allow Christ to transform us, just as he transformed ordinary jars of water in the best wine at the wedding at Cana, as we see in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (ESV):

  Treasure in Jars of Clay

BLCF: the_all_surpassing_treasures_power_in_jars_of_clay_web

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Footnotes: a. 2 Corinthians 4:16 Greek man

BLCF: transformation-jar-of-clay

Some people believe that our bodies, made from the elements of the earth eventually age, wear down and when we die return to dust.

But Jesus tells us that all who have died will be raised from death on the Day of Judgment, which is the day returns. Depending on whether or not we have chosen to believe Christ’s Gospel and to follow the Way of the Lord, will determine what happens to us on that Judgment Day, Matthew 13:40-43 (ESV):

BLCF: when-Jesus-calls-your-name

40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

For our closing prayer, I would like to prayerfully recite the lyrics from our opening hymn, Amazing Grace.

Let us pray…

BLCF: amazing-grace-wall-decor-christian-wall

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
  That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
  Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
  And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
  The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,
  His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
  As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
  Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
  Than when we first begun.

Closing Hymn #40: To God Be the Glory

Benediction – 2 John 3 (ESV):

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

2 Corinthians 4:7

Finding What Is Lost: A Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); A Coin (Luke 15:8-10); A Son (Luke 15:11-22)

BLCF:P The_Hour_I_First_Believed

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘‘Finding What Is Lost: 

A Sheep (Luke 15:1-7); A Coin (Luke 15:8-10); A Son (Luke 15:11-22)”

© March 22, 2015 by Steve Mickelson

 Based on a Message Shared at BLCF on October 20, 2013

BLCF Bulletin March 22, 2015

BLCF: lost_sheep 

BLCF Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #598 (The Shepherd Psalm – Psalm 23); Prayer                       

Opening Hymn #288: Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound

Scripture Verses: Ezekiel 34:11-16, Luke 15:1-22, Jeremiah 23:1-8 

BLCF: lost

Let us pray…

Amazing Grace was our opening hymn this morning is a testimony in song authored by John Newton whose faith conversion was as dramatic a change as the apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Here are the Wiki bits of John Newton:

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (forced into service involuntarily) into the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. However, he continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.

Author Gilbert Chase writes that “Amazing Grace” is “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns,” and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually.  It has had particular influence in folk music, and has become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. “Amazing Grace” saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, occasionally appearing on popular music charts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace

For the Trekkers out there, Amazing Grace was piped by Commander Scott at the funeral of First Officer Spock in the movie The Wrath of Kahn.  If you are not a follower of Star Trek, the point is that Amazing Grace has become synonymous with the life testimony of Christians, often sung at a believer’s funeral to praise and express gratitude in the promise of the resurrection through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But John Newton, not to be confused with contemporary singer Olivia Newton John, before his conversion, lived the life of a lost sheep described in Ezekiel 34, without love for God or fellow man. He became wealthy at the expense of the lives and freedom of others. But like Saul of Tarsus, the Lord had a plan for Newton: a plan of conviction and conversion of faith that led John Newton to become a minister of God, spreading the gospel of Jesus.

But more than gathering together His lost sheep, the Lord will send the lost sinners a new shepherd and reclaim from a life of sin and destruction His beloved human sheep. Ezekiel 34:11-16 (ESV):

 The Lord God Will Seek Them Out

BLCF: Jesus-seeks-and-saves-the-lost-sheep

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.[a] I will feed them in justice.

Footnotes: a. Ezekiel 34:16 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate I will watch over

To reaffirm how Jesus fits in the picture, let us look at the prophecy, where the Lord is described as the “Righteous Branch” in Jeremiah 23:1-8 (ESV):

 The Righteous Branch

23 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.

5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”   

BLCF: Parables_of_The_Lost

                     

The love that the Lord has for us is so great that he rejoices every time a lost human sheep returns to his flock, as is expressed in the three parables we have printed in today’s bulletin. The first is found in Luke 15:1-7 (ESV):

The Parable of the Lost Sheep   

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.    

We all have experienced the loss of something valuable. We worry and fret over what is lost. But like the lesson from Ezekiel, the Lord will go out and seek the lost sheep, bring it back to the fold and celebrate its return. For every lost soul or sinner that is saved, there is a celebration in heaven.

For those who may not identify with the sheep in the first parable, we have the parable of the Lost Coin, Luke 15:8-10 (ESV):

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Footnotes: a. Luke 15:8 Greek ten drachmas; a drachma was a Greek coin approximately equal in value to a Roman denarius, worth about a day’s wage for a laborer

And just in case we still do not understand what the Lord has told us, he teaches us the lesson again, in the parable of a son that is lost in Luke 15:11-22 (ESV):

The Parable of the Prodigal Son     

 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[b] 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

Footnotes: a. Luke 15:15 Greek joined himself to b. Luke 15:21 Some manuscripts add treat me as one of your hired servants c. Luke 15:22 Greek bondservants

BLCF: prodigal_definition

The Parable of the Prodigal Son not only teaches how the Lord desires us to return to Him, but how He has compassion for us and is willing to forgive us all of our transgressions.

By teaching the same lesson three times in three different parables, the Lord indicates how much He cares for His lost sheep and the priority He places returning sinners back to a righteous place.

I remember some years ago, how Sophie had lost her engagement ring at a church function. Sophie looked everywhere in her pockets for the ring. She had retraced her steps through the evening. Eventually, Sophie received a call from a friend that the young daughter of one of the ladies had found her ring. How relieved and happy she was when it was returned.

BLCF: thr-prodigal-son

And when a sinner returns to the flock, he has the confidence and peace of mind as well, that he is safe at home with the shepherd, as we see in Psalm 23, which I would like to read for our closing prayer:

Let us pray…

Psalm 23 (ESV): The Lord Is My Shepherd  – A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.[a]

3 He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]

for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e]

shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell[f]

in the house of the Lord forever.[g]    

Footnotes: a. Psalm 23:2 Hebrew beside waters of rest b.Psalm 23:3 Or in right paths c. Psalm 23:4 Or the valley of deep darkness d. Psalm 23:6 Or Only e. Psalm 23:6 Or steadfast love f. Psalm 23:6 Or shall return to dwell g. Psalm 23:6 Hebrew for length of days

Closing Hymn #49: A Pilgrim Was I and A-wandering

Benediction Hebrews 13:20-21(ESV):

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

BLCF: The_Lord_Is_My_Shepherd

Restored Vision: The Lord’s Reward For Patience and Perseverance of Faith

BLCF: John 9

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Restored Vision: The Lord’s Reward For Patience and Perseverance of Faith‘

©January 19, 2014 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin January 19, 2014

 

BLCF Call to Worship and Prayer:

Announcements and Call to Worship:  Responsive Reading #651 (The Holy Scriptures – 2Peter 1, 2 Timothy 3, Hebrews 4, Romans 15, Psalm 119, Isaiah 40); r of Prayer)) Prayer

Opening Hymn #350: Open My Eyes, That I May See                                          

Choruses                                                                                                                              

Scriptures: Mark 8:16-26; John 9:1-41  

Let us pray…

Last Sunday, at BLCF, we our lesson, we talked about what the Lord meant when  Jesus had referred to himself as being the “Bread of Life” and warned his disciples to beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees, where leaven is used as a euphuism  for the “teachings” of the Pharisees.

This Sunday, I would like to share how the miracles performed by our Lord acted as euphuism for something else so as to teach an important lesson beyond the miracle alone. In a way, the miracle acts like a parable for something more significant spiritually.

In today’s scriptures, we have two accounts of two miracles, where our Lord made the blind see.

BLCF:healed_blind_man

Our first verse is from Chapter 8 of Mark’s gospel, where some people asked Jesus to restore vision to a blind man at Bethesda, just after the Lord warned the disciples to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees”, which causes them to start literally discussing bread amongst themselves:  

       Mark 8:16-26 (ESV) Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

BLCF Jesushealingblindman

16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus[a] laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”  

BLCF:Mark_8_22-26

                                                                                                            

Footnotes: a. Mark 8:25 Greek he

 So we see two stories juxtaposed together that are similar. When Jesus speaks of a spiritual danger, in terms of the leaven of the Pharisees, the disciples see the Lord literally talking about loaves of bread. In this regard, the disciples do not have a clear vision of the Lord’s words. The Lord tells the disciples that if he were worried about bread, he could again perform a miracle where he fed five thousand from five loaves and fed four thousand more from seven loaves. He first asks them, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”  All these are characteristics of the Pharisees, who in spite of the miracles the Lord had performed to feed two multitudes, demand that Christ perform another. In a way, the disciples are behaving like Pharisees, denying the God’s power and presence being demonstrated by the miracles he performed.

And at Bethesda, the man who was sightless mistook the people he saw for trees. It was as if the man did not understand what it was he saw. Jesus then laid hands again upon the man, who opened his eyes and could see. It is interesting, without faith and the Holy Spirit, our perception or vision of our surroundings would be different. We would be blind to the spiritual discernment of what we see, just like the Pharisees in our second Scripture verse from John, Chapter 9:

                         John 9:1-41 (ESV) Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

BLCF"jesus-heals-a-blind-man3

9 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

BLCF:Parisees_vexed

18 The Jews[a] did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus[b] to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

BLCF: John_9

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”[c] 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt;[d] but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Footnotes: a. John 9:18 Greek Ioudaioi probably refers here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, in that time; also verse 22 b, John 9:22 Greek him c. John 9:35 Some manuscripts the Son of God e. John 9:41 Greek you would not have sin

Authored by Luke pre-Pentecost, the blindness in this passage is better explained in Chapter 9 of John’s gospel,(who authored his gospel some 30 years after receiving the Holy Spirit Pentecost), where we see the healing of a man blind from birth as an illustration of two forms of blindness, one physical and the other spiritual: “Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt.”

BLCF_Walk_by_Grace_not_by_sight

 

And those who are blind is further explained in Paul’s 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Just as Jesus used Leaven of the Pharisees, where leaven is used as a euphuism for teachings, as when Jesus describes himself as the “Bread of Life”, there is a lesson in the miracles of Jesus, which in effect act as a parable lesson beyond the act to “those who see” and are not of “little faith”. Many times both the disciples and other followers made the mistake at viewing Jesus’ words and acts they had witnessed in a narrow, literal way that the Lord, on more than one occasion, rebuked them as being “ye of little faith.”

BLCF: 2_COR_4_18

Our two Scripture verses present euphuisms for all people who are born into sin, with the man blind from birth, and those who have strayed from God, as represented by the blind man at Bethesda. Both euphuisms present us with the concept that we may be forgiven our sins and reconciled with Him through faith in Jesus.

BLCF:jesus_heals_the_blind_man

This leads us to the testimony of a man who was blinded to the presence of God in his life and who had sinned gravely against his fellow man. This man, whose soul was lost, had a faith experience that he describes, as being found by God, with his vision restored.

John Newton’s beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” is expression of the composer’s faith testimony, where a blindness that is restored represents forgiveness and redemption of his sins through faith in Jesus Christ!

The following is an extract of a short biography on John Newton authored by Rusty Wright entitled: Amazing Grace in John Newton – A Christian Witness Lived and Sung.

BLCF: John Newton

 

Rusty Wright provides a compelling summary of the life background of John Newton, composer of Amazing Grace.  Newton’s life, even more than his famous song, is an amazing testimony to the saving grace offered to each of us by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Newton’s life is a Christian witness to the amazing grace of our loving God.

“How Sweet the Sound”

Are you familiar with the classic song Amazing Grace? You probably are. Do you know the inspiring story behind its songwriter? Maybe like I did, you think you know the real story, but you don’t.

BLCF:SlaveToSin

John Newton was an eighteenth century British slave trader who had a dramatic faith experience during a storm at sea. He gave his life to God, left the slave trade, became a pastor, and wrote hymns. “Amazing Grace! (how sweet the sound),” Newton wrote, “That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”{1} He played a significant role in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

Newton’s song and story have inspired millions. Amazing Grace has been played at countless funerals and memorial services, sung at civil rights events and in churches, and even hit pop music charts when Judy Collins recorded it. It’s loved the world over. In South Korea, a local audience asked a coworker and me to sing them the English version; they responded by singing it back to us in Korean.

Newton wrote the lyrics, but the tune we know today did not become linked with them until about 1835, after his death.{2} My university roommate and I used to try to see how many different tunes would fit the Amazing Grace lyrics. My favorites were Joy to the World (the Christmas carol), Ghost Riders in the Sky, and House of the Rising Sun. Try them sometime. They work!

Jonathan Aitken has written a biography titled John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.{3} Aitken sees some parallels between his own life and his subject’s. Aitken was once a prominent British parliamentarian and Cabinet member, but perjury landed him in prison where his life took a spiritual turn. He’s now active in prison ministry and Christian outreach.

John Newton’s journey from slave trader to pastor and hymn writer is stirring. But it has some surprising twists. You see, Newton only became a slave-ship captain after he placed his faith in Christ. And he left the slave trade not because of his spiritual convictions, but for health reasons.

Lost and Found

Newton was the prototypical “bad boy.” His devout Christian mother, who hoped he would become a minister, died when he was six. He says that through much of his youth and life at sea, “I loved sin and was unwilling to forsake it.”{4} At times, “I pretended to talk of virtue,” he wrote, “yet my delight and habitual practice was wickedness.”{5} He espoused a “freethinking” rationalist philosophy and renounced the Christian faith.{6}

Flogged and demoted by the Navy for desertion, he became depressed, considered suicide, and thought of murdering his captain.{7} Traded to work on a slave ship, Newton says, “I was exceedingly wretched. . . . I not only sinned with a high hand myself, but made it my study to tempt and seduce others upon every occasion.”{8}

In West Africa he partnered with a slave trader and negotiated with African chiefs to obtain slaves.{9} Life was good, he recalled. “We lived as we pleased, business flourished, and our employer was satisfied.”{10} Aitken, the biographer, says Newton engaged in sexual relations with female slaves.{11}

One day on another ship, Newton was reading—casually, “to pass away the time”—an edition of Thomas à Kempis’ classic, On the Imitation of Christ. He wondered, “What if these things were true?” Dismayed, he “shut the book quickly.” {12} Newton called himself a terrible “blasphemer” who had rejected God completely.{13} But then, as Forrest Gump might say, God showed up.

That night, a violent storm flooded the ship with water. Fearing for his life, Newton surprised himself by saying, “The Lord have mercy on us!” Spending long hours at the ship’s helm, he reflected on his life and rejection of God. At first, he thought his shortcomings too great to be forgiven. Then, he says, “I . . . began to think of . . . Jesus whom I had so often derided . . . of His life and of His death . . . for sins not His own, but for those who in their distress should put their trust in Him.”{14}

In coming days, the New Testament story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) particularly impressed him. He became convinced of the truth of Jesus’ message and his own need for it. “I was no longer an atheist,” he writes. “I was sincerely touched with a sense of undeserved mercy in being brought safe through so many dangers. . . . I was a new man.”{15}

Newton discovered that the “new man” would not become perfect. Maturation would be a process, as we’ll see.

From Slave-Ship Captain to Pastor

After his dramatic experience at sea, Newton saw changes in his life. He attended church, read spiritual books, prayed, and spoke outwardly of his commitment. But his faith and behavior would take many twists on the road toward maturity.{16}

Newton set sail again on a slave ship, seeing no conflict between slaving and his new beliefs. Later he led three voyages as a slave-ship captain. Newton studied the Bible. He held Sunday worship services for his crew on board ship.{17}

Church services on a slave ship? This seems absolutely disgusting today. How could a dedicated Christian participate in slave trading? Newton, like many of his contemporaries, was still a work-in-progress. Slavery was generally accepted in his world as a pillar of British economy; few yet spoke against it. As Aitken points out, this cultural disconnect doesn’t excuse Christian slave trading, but it does help explain it.

During my youth in the US south, I was appalled by racism I observed, more so when church members practiced it. I concluded that some merely masqueraded as followers of Jesus. Others had genuine faith but—by choice or confusion—did not faithfully follow God. It takes years for some to change. Others never do. Aitken observes that in 1751, Newton’s spiritual conscience “was at least twenty years away from waking up to the realization that the Christian gospel and human slavery were irreconcilable.”{18}

Two days before he was to embark on his fourth slave-trading voyage as ship’s captain, a mysterious illness temporarily paralyzed Newton. His doctors advised him not to sail. The replacement captain was later murdered in a shipboard slave uprising.{19}

Out of the slave trade, Newton became a prominent public official in Liverpool. He attended Christian meetings and grew in his faith. The prominent speaker George Whitfield encouraged him.{20} Life still brought temptations. Newton engaged in the common practice of accepting kickbacks until a business ethics pamphlet by Methodism founder John Wesley prompted him to stop, at significant loss of income.{21}

Eventually, Newton sought to become an ordained minister, but opposing church leaders prevented this for six years. Intervention by the Earl of Dartmouth—benefactor of Dartmouth College in the US—helped launch his formal ministry.{22} Newton was to significantly impact a young Member of Parliament who would help rescue an oppressed people and a nation’s character.

Newton and Wilberforce: Faith in Action

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William Wilberforce was a rising star in Parliament and seemed destined for political greatness. As a child he had often heard John Newton speak but later rejected the faith. As an adult, conversations with a Cambridge professor had helped lead him to God. He considered leaving Parliament and entering the ministry. In 1785, he sought the advice of his old pastor, Newton.

Newton advised Wilberforce not to leave politics. “I hope the Lord will make him a blessing, both as a Christian and as a statesman,” Newton later explained.{23} His advice proved pivotal. Wilberforce began attending Newton’s church and spending time with him privately. Newton became his mentor.{24}

Perhaps you’ve seen the motion picture Amazing Grace that portrays Wilberforce’s twenty-year parliamentary struggle to outlaw the trading of slaves. If you missed it in theaters, I encourage you see it on DVD. It was after spending a day with Newton that Wilberforce recorded in his diary his decision to focus on abolishing the slave trade.{25} During the arduous abolition campaign, Wilberforce sometimes considered giving up and quitting Parliament. Newton encouraged him to persist, reminding him of another public figure, the biblical Daniel, who, Newton said, “trusted in the Lord, was faithful . . . and . . . though he had enemies they could not prevail against him.”{26}

Newton’s biblical worldview had matured to the point that he became active in the abolition movement. In 1788, he published a widely circulated pamphlet, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me,” he wrote, “that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”{27} His pamphlet detailed horrors of the slave trade and argued against it on moral and practical grounds.

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Abolitionists sent a copy to every member of both Houses of Parliament. Newton testified before important parliamentary committees. He described chains, overcrowded quarters, separated families, sexual exploitation, flogging, beating, butchering. The Christian slave-ship captain who once was blind to his own moral hypocrisy now could see.{28} Jonathan Aitken says, “Newton’s testimony was of vital importance in converting public opinion to the abolitionist cause.”{29}

Wilberforce and his colleagues finally prevailed. In early 1807 Britain outlawed the slave trade. On December 21 of that year, grace finally led John Newton home to his Maker.

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Lessons from a Life of Amazing Grace

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John Newton encountered “many dangers, toils, and snares” on his life’s voyage from slaver to pastor, hymn writer, mentor, and abolitionist. What lessons does his life hold? Here are a few.

Moral maturation can take time. Newton the morally corrupt slave trader embraced faith in Jesus, then continued slave trading. Only years later did his moral and spiritual conscience catch up on this issue with the high principles of the One he followed. We should hold hypocrites accountable, but realize that blinders don’t always come off quickly. One bumper sticker I like reads, “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.”

 

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Humility became a hallmark of Newton’s approach to life. He learned to recognize his shortcomings. While revising some of his letters for publication, he noted in his diary his failures to follow his own advice: “What cause have I for humiliation!” he exclaimed. “Alas! . . . How defective [I am] in observing myself the rules and cautions I propose to others!”{30} Near the end of his life, Newton told a visitor, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”{31}

Newton related Jesus’ message to current events and everyday life. For him, faith was not some dull, dusty, irrelevant relic but a living relationship with God, having immense personal and social relevance. He grew to see its import in fighting the slave trade. He used both the Bible and friendship to encourage Wilberforce. He tied his teaching to the news of the day, seeking to connect people’s thoughts with the beliefs that had changed his life.{32}

Newton was grateful for what he saw as God’s providence. Surviving the storm at sea that helped point him to faith was a prime example, but there were many others. As a child, he was nearly impaled in a riding accident.{33} Several times he narrowly missed possible drowning.{34} A shooting accident that could have killed him merely burned part of his hat.{35} He often expressed gratitude to God.

Have you ever considered writing your own epitaph? What will it say? Here’s part of what Newton wrote for his epitaph. It’s inscribed on his tomb: “John Newton. Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy.”{36}

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Notes

1. From Olney Hymns, 1779; in John Newton, Out of the Depths, “Revised and Updated for Today’s Readers by Dennis R. Hillman” (Grand Rapids: Kregel 2003), 9. Newton’s autobiography was originally published in 1764 as An Authentic Narrative, a collection of letters between an anonymous writer (Newton) and a pastor. Newton was not yet ordained when he wrote the letters.
2. Jonathan Aitken, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 233.
3. Aitken, op. cit.
4. Newton, op. cit., 24.
5. Ibid., 33.
6. Ibid., 34.
7. Ibid., 34-37; 40-41.
8. Ibid., 44-45.
9. Ibid., 57-64; Aitken, op. cit., 63-64.
10. Newton, op. cit., 60.
11. Aitken, op. cit., 64.
12. Newton, op. cit., 69.
13. Ibid., 65, 68.
14. Ibid., 69-80; quotations from 71, 75.
15. Newton, op. cit., 82-83.
16. Aitken, op. cit., 85 ff.
17. Ibid., 91, ff.; 106, 107.
18. Ibid., 112.
19. Ibid., 125-126.
20. Ibid., 127-137.
21. Ibid., 140-141.
22. Ibid., 143-177; 193.
23. Ibid., 304.
24. Ibid., 299-308.
25. Ibid., 310 ff.
26. Ibid., 315 for the quote about Daniel; 312-316 for background on Wilberforce’s thoughts about quitting.
27. Ibid., 319.
28. Ibid., 319-328.
29. Ibid., 319.
30. Ibid., 243.
31. Ibid., 347.
32. Ibid., 293-296. See also Newton, op. cit., 154.
33. Newton, op. cit., 23.
34. Ibid., 23, 66-67, 94-95.
35. Ibid., 85.
36. Aitken, op. cit., 350, 356.

© 2008 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Rusty Wright, former associate speaker and writer with Probe Ministries, is an international lecturer, award-winning author, and journalist who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe’s materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565
info@probe.org
www.probe.org

Copyright information

http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4221333/k.C49E/Amazing_Grace_in_John_Newton.htm

Newton’s biography describes the life of a sinner, who early in life, not only refused to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, but grew to live a morally depraved life as captain of slave ships. But like Saul of Tarsus, Newton had a life changing experience, eventually becoming an ardent advocate for the abolition of slavery.

Newton’s influence upon William Wilberforce, by planting a message of salvation early in Wilberforce’s life, ultimately leading him first to Jesus, then to champion the cause of abolishing slavery in Britain. Like the blind man in Bethesda, whose vision was restored in stages, God’s restoration of the souls of Newton and later Wilberforce took many years, which shows us that God’s answer to prayers sometimes takes years or decades of patience and perseverance on our part.

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Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #288: Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound

 

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Benediction – (2 Peter 1:2):

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

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