Monthly Letter – April 2018

Dear Friends

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a big man. In every way.

His large physique (at least, it looks that way from the pictures you see of the man) was matched both by the largeness of his heart, and by the passion which he had to bring the good news of a Saviour to the lost and needy multitudes who swarmed the streets of London where he lived.

He was a preacher: a preacher with a rich command of English and a certain bold directness in the truths he was persuaded must be preached. He didn’t mince his words. He told it as it was. There wasn’t any ‘flannel’ in the messages he brought. It was always a shoot-from-the-hip sort of thing.

There’s a book in his name called “The Soul Winner.” The title is taken from Authorised Version of Proverbs 11.30 (“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise”), and the title describes very well the man whose addresses the book itself contains.

It’s a book from which we would all undoubtedly profit – and some of us maybe would benefit most if we read it once every year!

Perhaps one chapter in particular: the one entitled – ‘How to raise the dead’.

If that sort of chapter heading doesn’t grab your attention and send a little shiver of anticipated trembling up your spine, I don’t know quite what will! But the title itself is so typical Spurgeon. No beating about the bush. No toning it down to make it seem a little less extreme. He’ll just shoot from the hip and tell it as it is.

The chapter concerned is a message he brought to “the teachers of the south London Auxiliary of the Sunday School Union, at their annual prayer meeting”: as such, of course, the lessons he’s teaching are applied with some force to the ministry then being exercised among the girls and boys of London at the time. But the message is one whose thrust is one we all of us need to be hearing (and the context – ‘their annual prayer meeting’ – is surely not without significance as well).

Because that’s what we’re called as Christ’s church here on earth to do. To raise the dead. As stark as that.

And as stupid and crazy as that, our society today would retort!

Our society today will have none of this at all: neither the fact of our own innate deadness; nor any notion of resurrection. How dare you suggest in the first place that we’re dead! And even if we were, well there’s no way on earth that the dead can be raised – that would be a miracle, and miracles are not on the menu today as something which people will ever swallow (so our society thinks).

And because we’re all out there each day and breathing in that toxic air of unbelief, we can subtly ourselves have our focus taken off the sharp reality of what we’re called to be and do as Jesus’ church.

Which is basically .. to raise the dead. (Except, of course, it’s not us, but the Lord who does the raising.)

We need to be clear about this. The challenge we face is not a case of ignorance or apathy; it’s not a case of people lacking interest or their being too much distracted by the multi-screen environment in which they live. That would be challenge enough, I don’t doubt: but it doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of the challenge which we face.

The challenge we face lies simply in this, that the world is one big cemetery, and those to whom the message must be brought are six-foot-under-ground and wholly dead and buried in their sin.

Outside of Christ, in their natural state, men and women and girls and boys are dead. Spiritually dead. As in a corpse: as wholly unresponsive, as wholly unable to hear, far less to act on, what’s being said .. as a lifeless corpse.

Dead. Dodos aren’t more dead than those we’re meeting and engaging on the streets of Aberdeen. Or wherever it is you may live. Brick walls are no less able to respond.

So don’t let’s think that if we somehow turbo-charged our kindness folk might start at last to see how good and gracious Jesus is: corpses cannot see. Don’t let’s think that watching YouTube TED talks to improve our own communication skills will mean that those with whom we’re speaking will now listen and respond: no amount of eloquence will ever make the dead a fractional percentage point less deaf.

So the one thing above all others which we need to learn is just what C H Spurgeon was going on about. How to raise the dead.

This is taking Easter and translating it from something on the calendar of history to something that’s inherent in our day-by-day engaging with the world in which we live. More than just a doctrine, but now the underlying dynamic to our living.

Isn’t that what Jesus Himself was speaking about when He countered the grief-stricken sisters in the aftermath of their brother Lazarus’ death?

Yes, they believe that their brother will rise at the last from the dead: their doctrine is sound, they believe in resurrection. Doctrinally sound they may be, but they hadn’t quite got the whole point.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” replies Jesus to their orthodox confession of faith.

They’re thinking of the resurrection primarily as event. A diary-date in the purpose of God at some point in the mists of the future. And they’re not much different from the way we too have often thought. Resurrection as event.

An event (and yes, of course, an astonishing, wonderful, glorious event) which happened back then when Jesus was raised from the dead: and an event which is still in the future when all the dead will be raised.

So, yes, we believe in the resurrection of the body. The apostles would be proud of us as we recite the creed!

But Jesus would haul us aside, He’d drag us away from any such vain repetition of the great historic creeds, to impress on our hearts that it’s more than just a doctrine we believe – it’s meant to be the Spirit-wrought dynamic of our lives.

The resurrection is emphatically not primarily an event. I mean it is an event – a past event and a future event – but it’s not primarily that. It’s a Person. Jesus. And with this risen Jesus in our hearts and lives, resurrection then becomes an ever-present experience, as well as simply a past and a future event. An experience whereby the dead of today are being raised.

And isn’t it really just that which Paul as well is on about when he says that he’d ditch all his other credentials if only he might “know Christ and the power of His resurrection” (Phil.3.10)? Knowing the Person who self-designates as ‘the resurrection and the life’  – and thereby also knowing Christ’s own resurrecting power both in and through his life. That power whereby the dead are raised.

Paul is insistent on that. That’s what the kingdom of God is really about, he declares. Not talk, no matter what eloquence, passion, or TED-talk potential the person may have: not talk, because no amount of any such talk will ever raise the dead.

Not talk, but power. And he means by that this ‘resurrection’ power, that power whereby the dead are raised. Remember how careful he was to contrast (in 1 Cor.4), to contrast the list of able and eminent ‘teachers’ which the church at Corinth had had – he contrasted them all with himself: you may have had a load of teachers, he insisted, but you’ve only got one father. That’s to say, ‘I gave you life’ (it was Jesus, of course, by His Spirit working through the man, who gave them life, but you get Paul’s point).

Isn’t that our heart’s desire and prayer? And isn’t that our greatest need today? To ditch the rest of the credentials we may well have prized, and cry for all we’re worth to God that this is what we long for and require – to know Jesus better; and to know in Him “the power of His resurrection”.

Nothing else does the business. Without such power to raise the dead we end up being no more than just a quaint religious club – offering folk the quietness of a fossil-filled museum, not the hubbub of a manufacturing enterprise where ‘waking the dead’ is not some TV programme but the product of our ministry as Christ’s empowered church.

May we all come to know Him better: and may we learn how to raise the dead!

Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Jeremy Middleton