The Gospel at Thanksgiving

cross[An abbreviated version was previously posted on our church website.]

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a bucolic paradise. Everywhere they looked, beauty abounded. And in everything in creation became a source of thanksgiving. Though the world outside Eden lay untamed and ready for their kingly cultivation, the friendly confines of God’s Garden provided ample reason for giving thanks to their Creator.

This is why he made humanity—that we might subdue and rule (Gen 1:26–28), cultivate and keep (2:15) the very good world God created (1:31). Adam was commissioned to head a race of God’s children (cf. Luke 3:38) and Eve was to be his helper (Gen 2:20). Together they would glorify God by representing him on earth and offering endless praise to their Creator.

This is why he made you and me—to give thanks to God forever and ever! And all creation exists as a treasure chest to enjoy and exult in the God who made the world good.

Sadly, Satan slithered into the Garden, deceived the woman, enticed the man to rebel, and effectively turned God’s children from thankful servants to selfish ingrates. Instead of giving thanks for being made in God’s image, they sought to be like God. Instead of marveling at the limitless options of the Garden they lusted after one forbidden fruit. As Romans 1 puts it:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Instead of subduing and ruling, Adam capitulated to his wife’s error and his enemy’s wisdom. In claiming to be like God, he led humanity into folly—a way marked by arrogance, iniquity, and ingratitude. In its natural state, all humanity continues on this ungrateful path—a path that does more than make life unsavory. The way of ingratitude is a path that leads to death. Continue reading

My ETS Presentation: “You Can Make Me Clean,” The Matthean Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results

etsTomorrow, my good friend Nicholas Piotrowski and I will present our paper (“You Can Make Me Clean”: The Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results). Our argument in brief is the Gospel writers, and Matthew in particular, presented Jesus in priestly actions, even as they  withhold the title “priest” from him. Our test case is the healing of the leper in Matthew 8:1–4, where Jesus proves to be a greater priest than the sons of Levi who were supposed to adjudicated cases of leprosy (Leviticus 13–14).

We’ve been working on this paper, a mashup from our two dissertations, for the last two years—yes, that’s how academic writing goes. We’re convinced that this minority view shines light on the way the Gospels are written and even more on the work that Christ did in his earthly life and sacrificial death.

Here’s the introduction. Let us know what you think.

The munus triplex [Jesus’ triple office of prophet, priest, and king] is an important biblical-theological and systematic category. While it is common to observe in the Gospels Jesus’ role as “the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14; cf. also Matt 17:5 and parallels with Deut 18:15) and the royal “Son of David” (cf. esp. Matt 1:1; 21:9), theologians often turn to Hebrews for Christ’ priestly office.  Lately, however, scholars are increasingly appreciating the historical Jesus’ self-consciousness as a priest.[1] The result is to bring more attention to the Gospels for understanding Jesus’ munus sacerdotal. This paper singles out Matthew specifically where Jesus is put forward as Israel’s eschatological priest.­[2] From this flow several biblical-theological considerations.[3]

The reason scholars dismiss Christ’s earthly priesthood is manifold.  Linguistically, in all four Gospels, Jesus is not once called a priest.[4] Covenantally, Christ does not qualify as a priest. Born under the old covenant, Jesus’ Judean lineage would disallow him from serving in the temple.­[5] Theologically, there is strong reason for denying Christ’s earthly priesthood: his priestly service would come to depend upon his resurrection and his appointment as a better priest.[6] This is the argument in Hebrews, and many scholars reason that it is anachronistic to read Christ’s priesthood back into the Gospels. Philosophically, since the Enlightenment an academic aversion has existed towards any notion of “priest-craft.”[7] Proportionately, due to the extensive attention given to other aspects of his person and work, it is understandable how Christ’s priesthood can be overlooked. For these reasons and more, the idea that Christ is a priest in the Gospels is underrepresented.[8]

It is our contention, however, joining the growing chorus, that the Gospels are filled with evidence for Christ’s earthly priesthood. . . .

Looking forward to make our case tomorrow. If you’re at ETS, we’d love for you to come join us in Room 402 at 8:30AM. If you’re not, I will (probably) post a PDF tomorrow for the seven people in the room and anyone else interested in considering this argument.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds


[1] Citing a handful of exceptions, Brant Pitre rightly observes, “If there is any single subject which modern historical scholarship on Jesus has almost completely neglected, it is the subject of Jesus and the Jewish priesthood” (“Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood,” in Letter and Spirit, vol 4., Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart, ed. Scott Hahn and David Scott [Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2008], 71). Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has outlined several reasons for the prior neglect of this subject, and contributed greatly to redressing it (“Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” JSHJ 4 [2006]: 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 [2007]: 57–79).

[2] Jesus is not “presented” exclusively as a priest in Matthew, but as prophet, priest, and king. The onus of this paper is to show the ways he functions as a priest.

[3] To be sure, however, this is not a “redaction-critical” study.  The final form of Matthew, nonetheless, is the result of redacting forces; either of Mark, Q, the oral tradition, or some inexorable web of all of them.  We do not attempt to ferret out how the redaction occurred, but to explore to rhetorical results once it was done.

[4]A word study of the Gospels and Acts finds 122 occurrences of “priestly terminology” (priest, high priest, priesthood, etc.). However, the number of times that such language refers to Christ or Christians is zero, which would understandably lead anyone dependent on that method of research to abandon the effort (Vanhoye, Old Testament Priests and the New Priest, 63–66).

[5]Technically, if Karl Deenick (“Priest and King or Priest-King in 1 Samuel 2:35,” WTJ 73 [2011]: 325-39) is correct that 1 Samuel 2:35 points to a Davidic priest, Jesus’ Davidic lineage would not disqualify him from priesthood. It would do the opposite. But it is still necessary to show, as Hebrews 5 does, how a son of David could supersede the Levitical priesthood.

[6]See David Schrock, “Resurrection and Priesthood: Christological Soundings from the Book of Hebrews,” SBJT 18.4 (2014): 89–114.

[7]Peter J. Leithart, “Attendants of Yahweh’s House: Priesthood in the Old Testament,” JSOT 85 (1999): 3–4.

[8]For a survey of how scholars understand Christ’s priesthood in the gospels, see Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4 (2006): 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 (2007): 57–79.

Recommended Reading: Ten Books on Prayer

praySunday I preached on the church’s calling to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Among the seven points of application—“seven ways to improve your pray life today”—one of them had to do with learning how to pray.

In truth, nothing teaches you how to pray like praying, and especially by praying with others who know how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus “to teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The assumption is that both John and Jesus prayed with and before their disciples, hence prompting their question.

Theologically, it is the Spirit who directs our prayers (see Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; and Jude 20). But practically, like Jesus’ twelve disciples, we too need to learn from our Lord how to pray. Certainly, the Scriptures are the place to learn what it means to “pray in the Spirit,” “by the will of God,” “for his glory,” and “for our joy.” But if you are like me, you are helped when men and women gifted to teach and gifted to pray write books that relate Scriptural truth to real life.

Therefore, if you are earnestly desirous of learning how to pray, consider these ten books on the subject. I have found them helpful and encourage you to check them out too. Continue reading

Getting A Vision of Heaven on Earth: Heaven, Earth, and the Bible Project

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
— Hebrews 12:22–25 —

Yesterday, I argued in my sermon that the local church is an earthly display of a heavenly reality. From Hebrews 12, we learn that when we gather in the name of Jesus, we are (imperfectly) revealing the glories of heaven—a myriad of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. Or better, we are foreshadowing the final assembly of the nations who will worship around the throne of God.

In making that argument, I assumed a certain amount of background information about how heaven and earth relate. I want to fill in some of the gaps here. (This brief temple story may help too). Continue reading

Do Not Forsake Assembling Together: What Some in Church History Have Said about Hebrews 10:24–25

heb10And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24–25 —

This morning I preached a message called “The Blessing of Assembling Together” on Hebrews 10:24–25. Here are further reflections on the discipline and privilege of gathering together with God’s people.

Early Church

Stressing the spiritual importance of gathering together, early church father Ignatius observes:

“When ye frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” (Ignatius)

Speaking about the value of “gathering together,” Chrysostom writes:

For as “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 17:17), so also association increases love. For if a stone rubbed against a stone sends forth fire, how much more soul mingled with soul! But not unto emulation (he says) but “unto the sharpening of love.” (John Chrysostom).

We can’t produce love in others, but Chrysostom reminds us that we can lead others to love such that they walk in its course:

For as on the highway, if any man find the beginning, he is guided by it, and has no need of one to take him by the hand; so is it also in regard to Love: only lay hold on the beginning, and at once thou art guided and directed by it. (John Chrysostom) Continue reading

Finding Life “According to Your Word”: What Psalm 119 Says to Tired, Doubting Souls

lifePsalm 119 is a elongated exaltation of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s Word. In twenty-two stanzas it leads the reader to consider all the ways in which God’s Word intersects our lives. There are dozens of themes to consider, but one that stands out is the way in which the Word mediates and regulates our relationship with God.

While most systematic theologies present the doctrine of God’s Word in categories of inspiration, authority, sufficiency, clarity, and inerrancy, Psalm 119 speaks of the Word in purely existential terms. He commends us to pick and read—Tolle Lege!—because of what the Word has promised and produced in his own life. Psalm 119 is devotional theology of the highest quality, and for those struggling to get into the Word of God, it’s praise for God’s Word may be the very thing a tired and doubting soul needs to (re)turn to the Word. Continue reading

All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

Lawful Love: How the Law Preserves and Propels Our Love

law loveFor the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
 – Romans 13:8 –

What is love?

Often it is defined as some sentimental feeling. Some emotional experience. Some pitter-patter in your chest. Rarely, is love associated with law-keeping, rules, or righteousness.

In our “if it feels right, do it” sort of society, love does not shack up with legal requirements. But in the Bible where love is defined by God (1 John 4:8) and demonstrated on the cross (1 John 3:16), love is regularly related to the law. In fact, Romans 13 says, “Love is the keeping of the law” (v. 8) and “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Likewise, Galatians 5:14 reads, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Following the teaching of Jesus, Paul reiterates his Lord’s view of the law. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). And later in the same Gospel (22:36–40), Jesus explained that the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments: to love God (Deut 6:4) and to love neighbor (Lev 19:18). Indeed, against popular opinion, the Law was not given to merely enforce rules. It was given so that the people of Israel might love one another with absolute righteousness. To say it differently, God’s love is defined and delimited by covenantal laws. Continue reading

A Debt of Love: How God’s Grace Makes Us Debtors with an Infinite Bank Account

love1Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
 – Romans 13:8a –

Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?

Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.

What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others? Continue reading