Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How Do We Know Christ Rose from the Dead?

Easter Sunday and every Sunday call to mind that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. But how do we know that is true? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells us that our faith, our forgiveness, and our salvation is lost if Christ is not raised (15:12–19). So what evidence do we have to be sure Christ is raised from the dead?

To answer that question, let’s consider a few things from the New Testament, especially 1 Corinthians 15. First there are at least four historical evidences from outside of 1 Corinthians 15, and second there are at least three points of data from within 1 Corinthians 15. All of these evidences are based on the eye witness testimony Christ’s disciples—some who followed him in his life and others who were converted by his resurrection.

In what follows, I will abbreviate four points from William Lane Craig’s article, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” in the Apologetic Study Bible,[1] and add three others. Continue reading

The Resurrection: Historical, Necessary, and More Than Sufficient (1 Corinthians 15:12–20)

obc-1 corinthiansThe Resurrection: Historical, Necessary, and More Than Sufficient (1 Corinthians 15:12–20)

Is the resurrection necessary? Evangelicals Christians say, “Absolutely. Undoubtedly. No question.” Other “Christians,” Protestant Liberals, are less committed. Who’s right? 

Thankfully, the Bible is not indifferent or ambiguous to the question. In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul spends an entire chapter arguing for the centrality of the resurrection. Last week, we saw how verses 1–11 articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, and reigning. This week,  we examined how verses 12–19 address the question of the resurrection’s historicity, necessity, and sufficiency.  In particular, we find in the historical necessity of the resurrection a sufficient foundation for our hope and a word of life to anyone facing death.

You can listen to sermon online or read the sermon here. Below there are discussion questions and resources for further study. Continue reading

Discipleship in a Digital Age

Discipleship in Digital AgeFrom Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, the speed of the world didn’t change all that much. From the agrarian lifestyle of the Patriarch to the rural farms of North America, among which Lincoln grew up, the speed of news typically traveled at the pace of a horse. In this historical setting, the famed presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas lasted for hours at a time, with people taking a break for dinner, only to come back for more.

What a difference 150 years makes, only its not time that has changed the world, its technology. In the three millennia between Abraham Lincoln and his namesake, the world didn’t change that much because communication didn’t change that much. To be sure, the printing press in the fifteenth century changed the world and powered the Protestant Reformation. But nothing has changed the world like the technological advances of the telegraph, radio, television, Internet, and now the iPhone.

Through each of these advances the world became smaller, communications faster, and information easier—easier to accumulate, easier to disseminate, and easier to manipulate. And significantly, the pace of life and speech has increased in exponential fashion.

It’s not like the move from industry to information to digital preoccupation has increased gradually over the last 150 years. Far from it! With the Internet and the iPhone, in particular, digital information chases us, hacks into our brains, and produces within us data smog. All told, unless we learn to walk wisely in this age, we are at risk not only of becoming servants to our digital masters, but to lose our Master altogether.

Walking Wisely in a World Full of Pings, Pixels, and Panic (FoMO)

David Wells said two decades ago “the fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church” (God in the Wasteland30). In his corpus of theological studies into evaluating evangelicalism at the turn of the twenty-first century, he identified the effects of modernity on the church. By modernity, he was not speaking of modernism—the Enlightenment-derived elevation of man and his autonomous rationality—but the effects of our hyper-transient, ultra-consumeristic, technologically-dependent, and information over-saturated modern world. This materialistic cocktail has wreaked havoc on the soul of the Western Church and has brought about a loosening of doctrine and lightening of God himself. Continue reading

What If There Is No Resurrection? Seven Implications

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
— 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 —

In 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 Paul makes seven conclusions based on the Corinthians misguided belief that resurrection from the dead was not possible. In seven statements we learn the horrible prospect of a world without resurrection. Conversely, if the resurrection is true and Jesus Christ has been raised to life as the firstfruits of a great harvest, there are equally significant promises of hope.

Consider both sides and give thanks to God for Christ’s victory over the grave.

If there is no resurrection from the dead, then . . .

  1. Christ is not risen from the dead (vv. 13, 16)
  2. Preaching the gospel is empty (v. 14a)
  3. Faith in the gospel is empty (v. 14b, 17)
  4. The apostles are imposters, falsely representing God (v. 15)
  5. There is no remission of sins and guilt remains (v. 17)
  6. Death is a certainty and all who have died will perish (v. 18)
  7. We deluded fools have no hope beyond this short life (v. 19)

But if the resurrection from the dead is true, then . . .

  1. Christ is ruling and reigning on the throne of God, where he will certainly return and resurrect all those who have trusted in him.
  2. Preaching the gospel is fruitful, for the risen Christ is ensuring that his Spirit gives life to the elect who hear the word.
  3. Faith in the gospel is fruitful, for it promises forgiveness of sins and friendship with the Maker of the Universe and the Redeemer of Humanity.
  4. The apostles are the most important spokesman in the world; their message surpasses in importance everything else said—past, present, or future.
  5. Sins will be forgiven, death will be defeated, because the one who died for sins now lives to grant forgiveness to all who trust in Christ.
  6. Death is a defeated foe; all who die in Christ “sleep” with the certain hope of waking when the Son rises.
  7. We undeserving heirs have hope now and forever.

Praise God, Jesus Christ is risen! That, literally, means everything in life to those who trust in him.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Framing the Gospel: Four Biblical Truths For Rightly Proclaiming and Protecting the Gospel

framesFor the gospel of God to remain in focus it needs a frame. That is to say, if we are going to proclaim Christ clearly and consistently, we must understand the biblical presuppositions necessary to preserve and protect the gospel. In particular, the gospel needs at least four truths to guard it from distortion. These truths do not add anything to the gospel, but they do ensure that nothing is taken away from the gospel.

What are these ‘framing’ truths?

From 1 Corinthians 15, I believe Paul explains the gospel as needing to be kept (1) central, (2), external, (3) Scriptural, and (4) historical. Without these four frames the gospel will be put in jeopardy. Therefore, to better understand the biblical presuppositions with undergird the gospel, let’s consider each of these truths briefly and then what happens when they are lost. Continue reading

Resurrecting the Gospel: Its Frame, Focus, and Friendship (1 Corinthians 15:1–11)

sermon photoResurrecting the Gospel: Its Frame, Focus, and Friendship

What is better than preaching the gospel on Resurrection Sunday?

In a word—not much.

Yesterday our church gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we considered the opening eleven verses of Paul’s explanation of Christ’s resurrection which center on the gospel. In those verses (1 Corinthians 15:1–11), Paul unpacks what Christ’s death and resurrection mean, how they transformed him, and what they offer to the Corinthians and others.

In our time, we considered in detail Paul’s words and how they still offer hope to us—forgiveness for sins, eternal life, and friendship with God. If you are wondering what the gospel is or know someone who is uncertain about Christ and Christianity this would be a good sermon to consider.

You can find the audio online and the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources are below. Continue reading

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

 

 

What Does It Mean to Be “Weary and Heavy Laden”?

burden

Christian from The Dangerous Journey, a rendition of The Pilgrim’s Progress

I’ve often thought that the language of Jesus in Matthew 11:28 requires greater specificity. Jesus’ invitation for weary and heavy laden people is not given to the physically beleaguered as much as it is to the spiritually destitute. Jesus gives rest to sinners who have come to feel the weight of their sin. This, I have thought, is the best way to take this passage, and thankfully I am not alone.

 

In his sermon on Matthew 11:28, Christ the Only Rest for the Weary, George Whitefield takes the same line of thought and aims Christ’s text towards those who are overcome with sin, weary and heavy laden with the burden of guilt brought about by unforgiven sin. To be sure, this spiritual plight leads to physical exhaustion (see Psalm 32), but make no mistake, it is spiritual and related to one’s standing before God and not just physical and one’s standing on the earth.

Thus, consider Whitefield’s illuminating remarks on Jesus’ words.

SECONDLY, I am to show you what it is to be weary and heavy laden with sins.

1. You may be said, my brethren, to be weary and heavy laden, when your sins are grievous unto you, and it is with grief and trouble you commit them.

You, who are awakened unto a sense of your sins, who see how hateful they are to God, and how they lay you open to his wrath and indignation, and would willingly avoid them; who hate yourselves for committing them; when you are thus convinced of sin, when you see the terrors of the law, and are afraid of his judgments; then you may be said to be weary of your sins. And O how terrible do they appear when you are first awakened to a sense of them; when you see nothing but the wrath of God ready to fall upon you, and you are afraid of his judgments! O how heavy is your sin to you then! Then you feel the weight thereof, and that it is grievous to be born.

2. When you are obliged to cry out under the burden of your sins, and know not what to do for relief; when this is your case, you are weary of your sins. It does not consist in a weariness all of a sudden; no, it is the continual burden of your soul, it is your grief and concern that you cannot live without offending God, and sinning against him; and these sins are so many and so great, that you fear they will not be forgiven. (Lee Gattis, ed., The Sermons of George Whitefield, 1:362–63)

Friend, take account of your soul. Is it weary with sin? Surely, it is. The only question is if God has granted you perception of it. Ask God to make you acutely aware of your spiritual condition and then find comfort in Christ. All who are wearied by sin are invited to find rest in him.

This is why Christ came—to befriend sinners and to remove from them the weight of sin and replace it with a yoke (his yoke) which is light and easy. This is what Jesus promises in Matthew 11:28 and why he invites all to come to him and find rest.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo from The Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress

 

15 Propositions About Tongues from 1 Corinthians 12–14

night-house-stars-churchWhat does 1 Corinthians teach about tongues?

That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with all year as we’ve preached through 1 Corinthians. In pursuit of understanding these chapters myself, I’ve written a number of blogposts. And here is a culminating post offering 15 propositions to crystallize what Paul says and does not say about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.

More must be said about this subject, especially as it relates to redemptive-history and the book of Acts. Moreover, more could be said comparing and contrasting Acts and the rest of the New Testament. But what follows focuses on 1 Corinthians 12–14.

Here are the 15 propositions. You can find biblical expositions below.

  1. Tongues, as a spiritual gift, fit into the larger categories of what Scripture says about tongues.
  2. Tongues reverses the strife caused by the “gift” of tongues at Genesis 11.
  3. Tongues is a judgment against Israel.
  4. Tongues is a spiritual gift.
  5. Tongues was the least of the gifts.
  6. Tongues were not given to everyone.
  7. Tongues is not discussed in any other letter, not even 2 Corinthians.
  8. Tongues does not address men, but God—maybe.
  9. Tongues as private prayer language is not from the Spirit.
  10. Tongues are nothing compared to prophesy.
  11. Tongues are lexical languages.
  12. Tongues must be interpreted.
  13. Tongues in the plural may be different than tongue in the singular.
  14. Tongues are not absolutely forbidden by Paul, but they die the death of ‘one thousand qualifications’.
  15. Tongues are not a normative practice today.

Continue reading