The Biblical Story of Priestly Glory

priesthoodOn Monday, I made the case that we should understand the imago dei in priestly terms. To develop that idea a bit, let me show how the biblical story line can be understood through the lens of the priesthood, as well.

Creation

In creation Adam was made to be a royal priest. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Or it could be translated “to serve it and guard it.” In other words, the man in the Garden was more than a prehistoric gardener. He was a royal priest. And we know he was a priest because the language used in Genesis 2:15 is used repeatedly of priests in Numbers 3. Moses, the author of both books, is making the point that Adam was stationed in the Garden as a priest—to serve the Lord by cultivating the Garden (even expanding its borders) and to guard the Garden from unclean intruders (a key work of the priest and one he failed to do in Genesis 3). In short, redemptive history begins with a priest in the Garden, one whose righteous appearance and holy vocation was breathtaking, as Ezekiel 28:12–14 describes,

You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub [A better translation is the NET: “I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub]; I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

Sadly, this glorious beginning did not last long. Continue reading

The Priestly Aspect of the Imago Dei

priestIn The Christian FaithMichael Horton suggests four aspects of the Imago Dei, what it means to be made in God’s image. He enumerates them as

  1. Sonship/Royal Dominion
  2. Representation
  3. Glory
  4. Prophetic Witness

For each there is solid biblical evidence. Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8; and Hebrews 2:5–9 all testify to humanity’s royal sonship. Likewise, the whole creation narrative (Genesis 1–2) invites us to see man and woman as God’s creatures representing him on the earth. First Corinthians 11:7 speaks of mankind as the “glory of God.” Horton rightly distinguishes, “The Son and the Spirit are the uncreated Glory of God . . . human beings are the created reflectors of divine majesty” (401). They are, in other words, God’s “created glory,” which in time will be inhabited by the “uncreated glory” of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And last, as creatures made by the Word of God, in covenant relation with him, every human is a prophetic witness. In the fall, this prophetic witness is distorted. Humans are now ensnared to an innumerable cadre of idols (see Rom 1:18–32), but the formal purpose remains—to be made in the image of God is to be a prophetic witness.

Horton’s articulation is compelling, biblical, and beautiful. But it seems, in my estimation, to stress royal and prophetic tasks without giving equal attention to the priestly nature of humanity. To be fair, Horton refers to humanity’s priestly vocation under the headings of “representation” and “glory.” But because these are supporting the vocational idea of representation and the abstract idea of glory, we miss a key idea—the imago dei is by definition a priestly office. Or better, the imago dei is a royal priest who bears witness to the God of creation. Let’s consider. Continue reading

The Maleness of Christ: A Typological Necessity with Vast Ethical Implications

male

Why did Jesus have to be a man?

In our day of gender dysphoria and radical ideas about God (i.e., God is Transgender), we cannot take anything for granted—including the maleness of Jesus. Since everything about gender is being questioned, we need to see all Scripture says about gender, including why Jesus had to be a man. In the Incarnation, Jesus gender was not chosen at random. It was not accidental, nor was it incidental to his identity and mission.

Rather, as the centerpiece of God’s revelation, Jesus gender was divinely-intended. And as the canon of Scripture reveals, Jesus was the antitype to which all other types—saviors, leaders, kings, and priests—pointed. His maleness, therefore, was a vital component of his ability to save Israel and the world.

Though we don’t often question Jesus’ maleness, we should not take it for granted either. By considering why Jesus had to be a man helps understand who he is, what he came to do, and why gender is not a fluid concept we create for ourselves. Just like everyone else, Jesus received his gender for the purpose of glorifying God and fulfilling his calling.

May we consider Jesus’ maleness and why playing fast and loose with XY chromosomes—his or ours—has deadly, devastating effects. Continue reading

Catching Christ in Scripture: Christ-Centered Coaching from David Prince

princeIt’s been rightly said that preaching is more caught than taught. But what happens when a baseball player turned preacher and preaching professor writes a book on preaching and the life of the church? Well, it’s possible that what is taught also has the chance of being caught. And more importantly, teachable readers/preachers who read this book will be helped in catching the Christ who inhabits all the Bible.

In Church with Jesus as the HeroDavid Prince (Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky) along with his church staff have provided a helpful tool for “catching” the centrality of Christ in preaching and ministry. In only 130 pages, Prince et al. have made a compelling case for putting Christ at the center of biblical interpretation, gospel proclamation, singing, counseling, missions, and even church announcements.

While others have reviewed his book in full, I want to highlight the interpretive core of this book which sets it apart from others. While a host of practical applications can be found in Part 3 of the book, it is the method of biblical interpretation that forms the foundation for all that Prince and his pastoral staff undertake to communicate. Continue reading

Spirit-Filled Worship is Christ-Centered Worship

spirit2How do you know if your church is Spirit-filled?

One answer, the charismatic one, is to equate passion with presence. The presence of the Spirit is displayed in a congregation’s passionate expression and rockin’ music—to use technical language. As an example, the other night I spoke to a local minister who raved about a church that was “simply on fire.” How so? According to him, God’s work was evident because of their large attendance, loud singing, and expressive worship. For his sake and theirs, I hope he is right. But if numbers and noise are all it takes to qualify as “Spirit-filled,” the prophets of Baal would be headlining Christian conferences (see 1 Kings 18).

Another answer moves in the opposite direction. Since the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth (not falsehood), order (not confusion), and holiness (not irreverence), a Spirit-filled church is properly organized, doctrinally-sound, and dedicated the service of the Lord. Certainly, holiness does mark the presence of the Spirit. Truth and testimony will be present in a Spirit-filled church, but we can all imagine (and many of us have experienced) churches where truth is present, but love and zeal are not.

Our charismatic friends rightly react against this kind of “spiritual lethargy.” Still, activity in the church is no more a proof of life than putting a corpse in an elevator. Neither vigorous activity, musical expression, or doctrinal precision guarantee a real sense of the Spirit.

So what does?

Three Marks of Christ’s Real, Spiritual Presence

In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple three times indicates the kind of work the Holy Spirit will do when Jesus sends him from the Father. From John 14:26; 15:26; and 16:13 we get a real sense of what Spirit-filled looks like. Continue reading

Reading the Bible Better: Developing a Strategy for Interpreting Scripture

lightFor the four years that I worked on my dissertation, it was my daily effort to read the Bible well. (N.B. This same priority continues to motivate my preaching and writing today too). While my dissertation defended definite atonement, it’s underlying premise was that a better strategy for reading the Bible would produce a more “biblical” doctrine. You’ll have to tell me if my reading is convincing, but the principle is sound—sound doctrine comes from sound exegesis. And sound exegesis comes from sound practices of reading.

Which raises the question: What are sound practices of reading?

Under the illumination of the Spirit, the task of interpretation is hard work. It requires diligent consideration of the biblical text and a willingness to labor to find the shape of the text. Learning the tools (what you might call “reading strategies”) is a vital part of pastoral ministry and should be something all Christians should be willing to grow.

For my part, when I find someone who reads Scripture well, I take note, and when I find those strategies well explained for others to imitate I am doubly encouraged. Such is the kind of approach I found in Ernst Wendland’s 1996 JETS article.

Focusing his attention on the challenge of interpreting Jonah, Wendland, a well-established biblical scholar, has a concise section on how to interpret the Bible. While the language is technical (sorry), his approach is solid and worth the read—especially if you are a pastor or teacher of the Bible. Continue reading

Entering the Land: Peter Leithart on the ‘Three Environments’ in Creation

leithartFew biblical commentators have a more fruitful mind than Peter Leithart. Sometimes his observations take off on a flight of fancy; other times they open fresh vistas of  biblical glory. In both cases, the judicious reader will find plenty to chew on. Personally, I have frequently initially disagreed with his reading only to be convinced later. Make no mistake, however, you should read his commentaries.

Right now I am reading his commentary on 1–2 Samuel, entitled A Son to Me. In it he makes a compelling argument for seeing Saul as a New Adam (81). He shows many ways how Saul, as a royal figure, falls from grace and repeats the fall of Adam—the first royal son. To set up his argument, he makes a compelling argument with regard to the land, and it is that argument I want to cite here.

What Leithart suggests is that the whole of biblical history (and geography) must be understood according to a tripartite division of the land. I have seen this kind of argument before (cf. G. K. Beale, T. D. Alexander, etc.) with regards to three parts of the tabernacle/temple, but I haven’t seen it so concisely described with regards to the “three environments” of the land.

Because the temple is made to mirror the rest of creation and vice versa, this argument should not surprise us. But, for most of us situated over three millennia from Moses and David, it is likely that we haven’t thought of the land in the way Leithart describes. Therefore, to better understand God’s geography, it is vital to have our minds renewed by the Bible when it comes to understand the world we inhabit.

Consider Leithart’s illuminating comments: Continue reading

Expositional Preaching is ‘Empowered Preaching’

empoweredLast month I attended a Charles Simeon Trust workshop with about 40–50 pastors in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a preacher unapologetically-committed to expositional preaching, I was deeply encouraged to join such large number of other ‘expositors.’

In the three-day seminar, we walked through the whole book of 2 Timothy and ‘worked out’ with a number of hermeneutic tools (i.e., reading strategies) for understanding and preaching epistles. Space doesn’t permit me to share all the highlights of seminar, but one thing is worth mentioning: In defining expositional preaching, David Helm reshaped my thinking about exposition with his emphasis on “empowered preaching.” He defined expositional preaching as “empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.”

Helm’s point is that “expositional preaching” is not just limpidly restating the truths of Scripture. Empowered preaching is Spirit-filled preaching that reveals the living Christ through the faithful exposition of God’s Word. And this kind of preaching comes not just from solid hermeneutics; it comes from the Spirit of God and prayer—a point he well explains in his compact book on preaching, Expositional Preaching Continue reading

Take Up and Pray: Learning to Pray the Scriptures from Donald Whitney

prayDonald Whitney has just released a new book on prayer, Praying the BibleLike his earlier books spurring Christians towards love and good deeds (especially Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), this little volume is sure to encourage believers and provide a pathway to greater, more fervent, more consistent prayer.

As I read the book at the end of last week’s prayer meeting at the SBC, I walked away with fresh encouragement to take up the Scriptures and pray. I am sure any believer will experience the same thing if they pick up this little book (89 pp.). To encourage you to pick up this book, let me give you a sense of Whitney’s argument coupled with his ‘tweetable’ prose. Continue reading

Believing and Belonging: Which is the Source for True Fellowship?

fellowsThe next time you read through the books of Acts, underline every time you find the word “believe.” At the same time, circle every time you find a mention of the Scriptures, the word, or preaching. What you will soon discover is how radically committed the New Testament church was to proclaiming the Word of God and calling for belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere the apostles went they proclaimed the Word. Empowered by the Spirit, they were called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Indeed, filled with the Spirit they fulfilled their calling of proclaiming the Word (Acts 4:31). As a result, in just a few short decades churches were planted all over the Mediterranean. And within three centuries, the early church would become the dominant world religion. Continue reading