As a young man my most favorite movie of all was "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ". Yes, like other boys of my generation I loved movies about the old west, war movies and tales of adventure. Yet, this Hollywood rendition of the amazing biblical story really affected my life and thinking.
The chariot race was breathtaking and incredible. Yet, the most touching and powerful parts came after Christ’s death on the cross. When Christ dies it begins to rain and we see his blood flowing down as the atonement for sin. Judah ben Hur’s mother and sister are healed of their dreaded leprosy and emerge from the leper cave. Leprosy, besides being a terrible disease, is a biblical symbol of sin’s destructive power. They were completely healed!
From a recent blog post that I located at Ligonier Ministries, Pastor Anthony Carter provides something I found most helpful in his blog entitled "Our Bloody Religion", which primarily focuses on the biblical significance and meaning of Christ's blood at His Crucifixion: "More than anything else, the blood of Christ is spoken of as accomplishing for us the grand benefits that belong to salvation: We have been purchased by His blood (Acts 20:28). We have propitiation (satisfaction of the Father's wrath) by His blood (Rom. 3:25). We have been justified by his blood (Rom. 5:9). We have redemption through His blood (Eph. 1:7). We who were afar off have been brought near by His blood (Eph. 2:13). We have peace through His blood (Col. 1:20). Our consciences are purified by His blood (Heb. 9:13). We are sanctified through His blood (Heb. 13:12). We are ransomed by His blood (1 Peter 1:19). We have been set free from sin by His blood (Rev. 1:5). These and many other benefits remind us that the blood of Christ is central to all we are as a redeemed people. Therefore, it should not be surprising that as recipients of God’s gracious salvation through the person and work of Christ, we preach, pray, and even sing of the wonderful power of the blood.
Later in "Ben Hur", Judah returns to his former home after watching Jesus die and shares with his fiancé Esther about what he heard Jesus say on the cross at almost the moment He died, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And then also, Judah told her, “and I felt his voice take the sword from my hand" (which was the sword of vengeance and hate against Rome).
The same Man who had given Judah a cold drink and the hope and will to live, even as he was being led away to die as a galley slave, had now given Judah eternal life and forgiveness of sins. Judah had come to look upon the Savior by faith while He was hanging on the cross in Judah's place. Judah discovered that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Savior! Ben Hur's hope and life was once again restored by the crucified Savior through the look of faith.
Again, as Esther comforts Judah, suddenly, his mother and sister emerge to show him that they are now healed and made whole by Christ’s blood and atoning sacrifice. With a look of faith upon the Savior hanging on the cross there comes the removal of sin, forgiveness for sins past, present and future. Christ’s death on the cross heals. Christ’s death on the cross transforms the heart from hate to love. Christ’s death gives hope as we are justified by faith in Him alone.
Now, the movie, “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, is all Hollywood, but it was well done and inspiring. It won 11 Academy awards in 1960, which was the most of any movie, until "Titanic" (1997) and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (2003), both of which won the same number.
Well, while on our visit home during last Christmas we of course spent time with family. My brother Larry and his wife Tammy have enjoyed reading the novel "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ", and especially its depiction of the Savior interconnecting with the life of the main character and the portrayal of Christ’s giving of hope and love through His life and death. They encouraged Kim and I to read this amazing book that the movie was based on. We took them up on their encouragement, and so, we have been slowly reading through this amazing book.
This novel was written by Lew Wallace in the 1800s and is considered the most influential novel of the 19th century, even surpassing the sales of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Lew Wallace was an American lawyer, Union general in the Civil War, governor of New Mexico territory and author from Indiana. Most important is he was a Christ follower and set out to write a novel depicting Christ’s life and death by crucifixion and the effect on the lives of regular people as a testimony of the Savior’s solution for sin, the power of the atonement and the love and hope He gives to those who will believe.
I am impressed by the way in which Jesus’ voluntary sacrifice is portrayed in the film and I'm anticipating the same in the novel. He didn’t have to do that. Love for us placed Him there. Love for us kept Him there. There’s nowhere else for a sinner who recognizes they are a sinner in need of a Savior to look…there’s no other remedy for sin. If He doesn’t pay for our sins in our place, then we must pay for them ourselves. The look of faith must happen in this lifetime. Once this life is over it is too late.
As a result of God’s plan of rescue and deliverance through Christ’s death on the cross, those who are born again by that look of faith to Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, are brought to the Father, cleansed by His sacrifice and by His blood. That look of faith allows us to be declared by the Father as free from the penalty of sin (Romans 8:1, “There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in (forgiven, born-again, rescued by) Christ Jesus." Now THAT is an amazing “tale of the Christ” in the life of all who believe and it is still happening daily throughout this sin-filled world all these many years after that amazing day!
Two of my most favorite verses are these:
I am really enjoying the “new read” my brother and his wife led us to (we knew about it, but were content with the movie version…silly I know!). I encourage you to read it as well. But most of all, I encourage you to look by faith on the Savior who died in our place. We must acknowledge that we believe and want to receive his forgiveness for our sins and that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through Him.
**Click on the picture below and read the full blog post from Pastor Carter, "Out Bloody Religion".
Books are fascinating! There are so many and many have a short life of influence, while there are some that just keep coming back into the spotlight to influence once again. It is the latter of these categories that John Bunyan’s, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (henceforth, TPP) fits neatly and powerfully into!
I am redesigning a lecture for my seminarians in Travel Epistles. Since many of them are graduating soon it is my last semester to influence and train them. My wife and I are preparing to invite them to our home for an evening and I will take a bit of time to walk through the life and theology of John Bunyan and his amazingly influential book.
These young seminarians have just finished reading TPP twice and doing a response paper on every 7-8 chapters along the way. The TPP was not a children’s book by any means, though it is appealing to children in some aspects. The modern children’s versions are well done and recommended.
John Bunyan wrote it as a powerful allegory, based on Scripture to show salvation and sanctification all the way to the “Celestial City” (Heaven). I believe that this new generation could benefit from it greatly.
Bunyan said he wrote it to captivate his audience so that they would look at Jesus and their true state without Him as Savior as well as their walk of faith and holiness as a follower of Christ. The book certainly captivated me and I have now either read it through or listened to an audio version 8 times thus far with a goal of 50 times eventually! That goal is far short of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who read it over 100 times in his lifetime!
I recommend TPP to anyone wanting to supplement their Bible reading with a picturesque and Bible-inspired resource. I would love to see more young people reading and talking about it as well. It would be awesome to have The Pilgrim’s Progress in the spotlight again.
Click on the Bunyan picture below and follow the link to a blog post on “The Cripplegate” on this very subject. I pray the Lord will bless you through it and cause you to desire to read this fantastic book. TPP is written in modern English and this is a great benefit to a new generation! Click here to go see it on Amazon in Modern English and here for the children's picture book version.
Blessings in Christ!
Well, I have been looking for this elusive little guy for at least 3 years and tonight I finally found it!
It's actually an answer to a long-standing prayer for being able to acquire this tool, which has been created by someone definitely smarter and more adept at this than I am. I was just looking at screen shot images for quotes from Dr. Mark Dever, there it was!
After clicking on it I was linked up with a blog known as "The Anglican Expositor" and the post, written by Reverend William Klock called "The Application Grid". Rev'd Klock writes an article about how he now uses Dever's Application Grid and even mind-maps to figure out the application focus of a sermon.
The Rev'd Klock is the rector of Living Word Reformed Episcopal Church in Courtenay, British Columbia. He recieved permission to use and make available Dr. Dever's clever little tool for processing the application side of expository preaching.
Click on Dr. Dever's awesome quote below to go and find it all! Take a moment and read his short article, download the grid by way of his link to it and even read up on mind-mapping if you like. I am now very anxious to put this grid to good use on my very next sermon. I hope you will find it useful also! Blessings in Christ!
My first contact and knowledge that there was ever a great expository preacher named Martyn Lloyd-Jones came during a crisis time in my life while serving as a missionary. It was at the end of our first term. Many wondered if I would recover from a very difficult first term on the mission field.
In fact, I myself and even my wife, wondered this at first. By the grace of God, He brought me into contact with a retired, 30-year, medical missionary from Hong Kong by the name of Dr. Bob Chapman. Dr. Chapman counseled with me weekly with long-distance phone calls and letters. He led me back to specific Scriptures to help me and into long sessions of prayer.
One of the things he encouraged me to do was read Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ book, “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and its Cure”. It is probably the single, most impactful book I have ever read outside of the Bible as it drove me towards the Bible, Christ and the Cross at a critical time in my life. It is a book of discipleship that led a struggling disciple to learn how to overcome and to walk in victory; how to walk in faith and holiness. I am ever so grateful to Dr. Chapman for leading me to this resource and my first encounter with “the doctor” (as he is affectionately known today). So, it was a medical missionary doctor (also biblical counselor) who led me to a medical doctor who became a preacher.
Ever since then I have been pushing myself to know more of “the doctor’s” preaching and teaching. I listen to him almost once a week through the MLJ Trust (www.mljtrust.org) He is known as the most influential expositor of the 21st century. For me he is simply the preacher, teacher and writer that the Lord used, in addition to the loving care and prayers of my wife, Dr. Chapman and several others, to send me back to work on the mission field. And now, I can reference Dr. Bob Chapman’s encouragement to read Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ book as the essentially the re-launching of a fulfillment of the missionary call in my life.
In the early 2000s, when fellow missionary colleagues and I traveled to a conference outside of London, we had a full day in that tremendous city to see the sights. Some wanted to go to the WW2 museum, which I did also, but at the top of my list was to visit Westminster Chapel where “the doctor” served so faithfully from 1939 to 1968.
I greatly desired to see the place of ministry this great man of God had served and who had so inspired my life. I wanted to see first hand this place where he preached in the shadow of the more well-known Westminster Cathedral, yet from which he had a far greater spiritual impact upon the world! Westminster Chapel actually sits exactly in between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral, with a 5-minute walk to one or the other.
Well, the day we arrived we found its bookstore was closed. When I asked someone who seemed associated with the church (she and others were on the street witnessing to passersby and praying with whoever wished), she said the church caretaker is probably available to give us a tour and went to find him.
The caretaker told us that he could not open the bookstore, but that he could take us on a tour of the church building and answer any questions we might have. I was overjoyed to get this opportunity and to actually stand in the pulpit from which “the doctor” preached Christ, His Cross and the Gospel! I remember vividly taking a moment to thank the Lord for using Dr. Lloyd-Jones to help me in my life and ministry.
One of the things I appreciate about the preaching and writing of Dr. Lloyd-Jones is his focus on the gospel and the cross of Christ…which is why I was so taken aback by the blog post I read today by Pastor Tommy Clayton (click on the photo below to go to “The Cripplegate” blog post).
In it he shares his similar appreciations for Dr. Lloyd-Jones and insights about a turning point for “the doctor” early on in his ministry. It was quite helpful to me as it sort of filled in some gaps that I wondered about related to the influences in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry.
Apparently his early preaching lacked a focus on the Cross of Christ and so it lacked the Gospel message and its power. A rebuke from an elderly believer in this regard, caused Dr. Lloyd-Jones to study two important resources at the time about the atonement, which greatly impacted his preaching from then on. Apparently, he was a well educated man, who wasn't afraid to get more education!
Finding this post yesterday was an encouragement, because I have been personally studying much about the atonement as a goal this year. So, I invite you to click the picture/quote below and you can enjoy the post as well. Thank you Pastor Tommy Clayton for writing it.
May the Lord richly bless you as you serve!
Excerpt from the book, “Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today”, by David Helm (with 9Marks)… Chapter 2: Exegesis,
KEEPING FIRST THINGS FIRST
All preaching must begin with exegesis. To put it differently, contextualization (trying to present the main ideas and points of a sermon and the gospel in a culturally effective way), theological reflection, and matters of today are held at bay – we should be committed to a process of preparation that keeps first things first. By this I mean that a faithful preacher starts the sermon process by paying attention to a biblical text’s original audience and a text’s purposes for those readers. And he makes this first audience his first concern in three different way. In one fashion or another, he:
Contextualization is a good dance partner, but she should never be allowed to lead. Put her before the exegetical steps in your sequence of preparation, and problems will quickly emerge. The trouble is that too many of us push exegesis back in our preparation, and we clothe the message in a short red dress of contextualization by focusing on culture and our ability to connect with it. It’s like we want to spin her out away from us in exciting circles, showing off her long legs and high heels.
For many of us, then, our greatest challenge will be to reorient what comes first. The first step toward expositional preaching is to treat contextualization like a woman you hold close. You lead her in the dance of exposition. It simply won’t work the other way around. I can still remember where I was sitting on the day when this reorientation of mind-set clicked for me
THE DAY THE PENNY DROPPED
I was twenty-nine year old when Steve Bickley, a pastor and friend, introduced me to Dick Lucas. Lucas is now retired as rector of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Church in London. Bickley had arranged for Lucas to spend a day with those of us on the pastoral staff of College Church under Kent Hughes. This would be the day the penny dropped for me – and of all of us, really.
In short order, God used Lucas to challenge our conventional approach to sermon preparation. In two fast-moving hours, he put us in the world of a very familiar passage: 1 Corinthians 13. When he was done putting us through our paces, our preparation for preaching had found a new direction. He had set our feet on a better course, one that still guides me to this day.
First, Lucas asked us to keep first things first. This was harder to do than I had imagined. I had always heard 1 Corinthians 13 referred to as “the love chapter.” My only exposure to it had been at weddings. On those occasions, the preacher’s approach to text – due to contextualization – was governed by the joyful event before us. Wedding days are ruled by the themes of encouragement and celebration, and the homilies I had heard on the text were likewise embedded with those sentiments. To put it another way, the audience in front of the preacher ruled the house. Never mind the audience to whom the letter was first written.
Second, Lucas led us into a period of observation. He asked us to suspend judgment for a moment on what the text means or how it might be applied for today, but instead to consider the chapter in its immediate literary context. When we did, we saw that 1 Corinthians 13 was placed between two chapters that discussed spiritual, and in particular, the relationship between the gifts and spiritual maturity (12:1, 4, 9, 28, 30, 31; 14:1, 37)
Third, Lucas asked us to search out the terms for gifts and spiritual maturity earlier in the letter. He wanted us ot listen intently until we knew how our text fit into the overall message of the book. That led us to 1:4-7, where Paul calls the Corinthians a gifted group. In fact, they did not lack any gifts at all. but in 3:1, Paul blasts this incredibly gifted congregation for being spiritually immature. He even calls them spiritual infants (vv. 1-2)
It was beginning to dawn on us that some in Corinth had gotten the relationship between gifts and maturity mixed up. They had begun to think that certain gifts (“tongues” in this case) gave them an advantage in spiritual maturity. Our minds began to race. What was Paul really saying about love in chapter 13? Did he mean to rebuke them for their lack of love? Was the Spirit’s primary intention for the “love chapter” to correct rather than to encourage (in the guise of sentimentality)?
Fourth, Lucas showed us how the context of the whole book was wedded to the vocabulary of chapter 13. Think of chapter 13’s “(love) is not arrogant.” Does this language show up previously in the letter? It does, and Paul’s prior use is not complimentary: “And you are arrogant!” (5:2)
Lucas then stopped and allowed us to take it all in. We realized that this chapter would have landed in the Corinthian congregation like a bombshell. Paul was talking about love precisely because it was the oen thing the Corinthians lacked! They might have been a gifted group. But they were still infants. Paul wanted them to grow up, to be like him, a “man” marked by love, which for him was maturity.
We had arrived in Corinth – with the first audience – and ironically found ourselves better prepared to preach a relevant message for people in Chicago.
For me, the penny dropped right then and there. I could see the components necessary for any preacher doing exegesis. God powerfully used that day to reorder our approach to sermon preparation. All of us left that experience changed me. We had a renewed appetite for God’s Word and a newfound commitment to what it would take to become expositors of the sacred text.
When the original or first audience becomes your first concern, you see things differently. Let me illustrate this with a telescope. Telescopes allow us to see far into the heavens. Galileo made them famous by using one to see craters on the mon as well as the millions or even billions of stars suspended in the Milky Way galaxy. The idea behind the invention is simple. Take two lenses, one larger than the other, and connect them with a sliding cylinder. The larger lens is curved with the capacity to magnify an image. The smaller lens is simply an eyepiece that allows the viewer to take a closer look at distant things. Hold the telescope the right way, and you will discover incredible things. But hold the telescope the wrong way, and the object in view suddenly appears distorted, small and out of focus. The beauty and shape of an object will be lost.
The same principle can be applied to your process of sermon preparation. If you want to be a good biblical expositor, you need to discipline yourself to put your eye on the original hearers first. The will keep you from distorting the shape of your text and help you see what the Holy Spirit intends for your congregation.
That said, there’s more to this than meets the eye. I don’t believe I can do the exegetical work on my own. And so, each time before I sit down to study the Bible, I pray. For while there are ordinary means of study, I need the Spirit’s extraordinary help in the process. And while I am going to share some practical things you can do in your study in the coming pages, you must understand that you are at the mercy of the Holy Spirit in understanding the text.
** Below is a diagram from the author which reflects how to and how not to do sermon prep and expository preaching! Rather helpful I think to help "the penny to drop for many." :)
Robert Thomas Clark, M.Div.
Follower of Christ