Eternal Perspective in a Time of Isolation: A Meditation on Psalm 90 (with Sermon Video)

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[This is the first message in a series, Steadfast Psalms for a Scattered People]

This week our church was “cancelled.”

Praise around the throne of God went on unceasing, but our church didn’t gather because of the now-infamous and still-dangerous Coronavirus. With this unwanted hiatus, our elders decided to offer a devotional meditation for our congregation. This was not an attempt to replace church—an online “gathering” cannot reproduce what the body of Christ gathered does. Yet, we wanted to feed the flock from the scriptures. And this week that word came from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, the man of God.

You can watch the video here. What follows is a more fulsome meditation on this Psalm.

In these days of self-imposed and government mandated isolation, we need to learn from those who have walked the path of isolation and walked it well.

In the Bible, few have experienced soul-crushing isolation like Moses. At forty, Moses was a prince in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, in the blink of an eye, Moses went from the center of power in Egypt to the backside of the dessert, where he would chase sheep for another forty years. Continue reading

The Light is Dawning on Those Whom God is Saving: 10 Things about John 3:1–21

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
— John 3:16 —

John 3:16 is a glorious diamond, but it only one jewel in the crown of John 3.

Many times we quote, hear, and share John 3:16 without its context in John’s Gospel. This is not a bad thing. A single diamond is beautiful, but set in an engagement ring or on a king’s crown, the placement makes the diamond better. The same is true when we put John 3:16 back into the Bible and see what comes around it.

In what follows, I outline ten things about John 3:1–21 to help us better understand this whole section of John’s Gospel.

1. The flow of John 2–4 moves from light to darkness.

It is well recognized that John’s Gospel turns on the themes of light and darkness. Already in John 1:9 we heard John say, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Later, Jesus will say, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But what about in between? Is there a theme of light dawning in chapters 2–8? I believe there is, or at least we see a progression of light in John 2–4. Consider this outline: Continue reading

Do You See Jesus? Does Jesus See You? 10 Things about John 1:35–51

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashIn John 1:35–51 we move from John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus to Jesus’s own testimony. Here are ten things we find about Jesus in those verses.

1. John’s introduction (1:19–51) culminates in Christ’s testimony about himself.

Last week we observed that John 1:19–51 is organized around four days. Each of these days serves as a “window pane” to see Christ.

With John 2:1 speaking of the “third day,” we see how John introduces Jesus in his first week. These six or seven days (depending on how you count John 2:1), add to the creation theme of John 1 (see vv. 1–3, 32). And in chapter 1 they organize John’s introduction to the Word of God made flesh around the testimonies of John, John’s disciples, other disciples, and finally Jesus.

More specifically, John 1:35–51 brings the testimony of John and his disciples to Jesus himself. Whereas John’s testimony (v. 19) is the focus of the first two “window panes” (vv. 19–28, 29-34), now attention shifts away from John. First, John points his disciples to Jesus (vv. 35–37), so that some leave him. These disciples who follow Jesus then begin to invite others to follow Jesus (vv. 41–42, 46). Finally, Jesus himself bears testimony to himself (vv. 50–51). This is the climax of John’s four days and prepares us for all that follows. Continue reading

Behold, the Lamb of God: 10 Things about John 1:19–34

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashJohn 1:19–51 begins the multi-faceted book of signs (John 1:19–12:50). In the first chapter, we find the testimony of John (v. 19) and wide variety of titles that are assigned to Jesus. These titles give us a panorama of who Jesus is and help us to know the Son of God who is presented in John’s Gospel. Here are ten things from verses 19–34 to better understand who this Jesus is.

1. John 1:19–51 is organized around four days.

John uses four days to arrange four “pictures” of Jesus. More exactly, he lays out John’s testimony in four days, with each day the glory of John fading and the glory of Jesus’s rising. Which is to say, John 1:19–28 focus on John and his greatness; John 1:29–34 records John’s own understanding of Jesus’s greatness; John 1:35–42 show how John “gives” his disciples to Jesus; and John 1:43–51 concludes with no trace of John. Like a fading shadow John decreases across these four pictures, but only so that Jesus might increase (John 3:30).

In order we can see how each picture develops along similar lines:

Picture #1: John 1:19–28

WHAT: What John is not!
WHEN: The first day . . . (cp. vv. 29, 35, 43; 2:1)
WHO: Jewish Leaders, Priests and Levites, Pharisees, and John the Baptist

John the Baptist

    • is not the Christ
    • is not Elijah
    • is not the Prophet
    • is the one who prepares the way for the LORD
    • Jesus is the LORD

Old Testament

    • The Messiah: All the Law and the Prophets (v. 45)
    • Elijah: Malachi 4:5 (vv. 21, 25)
    • Prophet: Deuteronomy 18:15–18 (vv. 21, 25)
    • The Voice: Isaiah 40:3 (v. 23)

Summary: Jesus is the Lord . . . the One greater than John, whose greatness led the Jewish leaders to inquire. Continue reading

The First Word about the Eternal Word (John 1:1–18)

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The First Word about the Eternal Word

This Sunday we began a new series in the Gospel of John with a look at the first 18 verses. These verses are known as John’s Prologue, and they serve as an introduction to the whole book.

In this sermon, I showed the shape and substance of John’s Prologue. The shape of John’s introduction centers on verse 12 and leads us to consider who can believe in Christ. This is the main point of John’s whole Gospel (see 20:30–31) and it is helpful to see how the prologue captures that main point too.

The substance of the prologue is devoted to a glorious vision of Christ and all the ways John will identify him. In short order, I outlined 12 “posters” displaying who this Christ is. John’s Gospel is very visual (as it employs all manner of signs and symbols) and I tried to show that in this message.

You can listen to the sermon online. You can find response questions and an introduction to John’s Gospel in this blogpost. As with our last sermon series through Joshua, I will aim to post a weekly “ten things” blog to help identify key literary, biblical, and theological themes in each passage. Follow along if you want to learn more about John’s Gospel.

Response Questions

  1. What does the opening of John’s Gospel teach us? 
  2. How does seeing the structure of the prologue help us see the main point of the passage? How does it help read the whole Gospel?
  3. How does the beginning of the Gospel of John compare with Genesis 1? What about the other Gospels?
  4. What ought we to conclude from John’s testimony (v. 6–8, 15)?
  5. How does comparing John 1:14–18 to Exodus 33–34 help us understand who Jesus is?
  6. What should be learned from the comparison of the law with grace and truth?  Why is the NIV translation better than the ESV? And why is the KJV wrong? What difference does this make?
  7. Which truths about Jesus do you find encouraging? Why? 
  8. How ought we to respond to this text?

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

That You May Believe That Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God: 10 Things about John’s Gospel

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This Sunday we begin a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. As we prepare for that series here are ten things to keep in mind as we enter this incredible book.

1. John has a simple four-part arrangement.

If you want to understand a book’s message, begin with its structure. And in John, we find a simple, four-part organization.

  • Prologue (1:1–18)
  • Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)
  • Book of Glory (13:1–20:31)
  • Conclusion (21:1–25)

In this basic outline, the prologue and epilogue balance the book with two interior sections. The first interior section, the book of signs, introduces who Jesus is through a series of extended narratives that identify him with many Old Testament shadows. The second interior section, the book of glory, shows the events leading to Christ’s death on the cross—the event that displays the pinnacle of his glory.

Setting up these two “books,” the prologue introduces us to the Son of God, who is the Word of God Incarnate. With a highly tuned chiastic structure, John opens his book by focusing on how the Divine Son will bring children into the Father’s family (v. 12).  Additionally, the prologue introduces themes about the Son of God—his eternality, his deity, his dwelling with humanity, and his fulfillment of history—which will be found throughout the book.

Finally, the epilogue closes the book with the events that took place after Jesus’s resurrection. In this final section, the purpose of the book has already been disclosed (John 20:30–31), and now Jesus is sending his disciples out to bear witness to Christ. It is with great symmetry, that the book opens and closes with men bearing witness about Christ—John the Baptist is the witness who prepares the way; John and Peter are the witnesses who find greatest attention in John 21. Interestingly, this focus on witnessing is found throughout the book too and indicates the way that the Spirit blows through these pages.

As we study this book, we will look more carefully at the organization of this book. But for now, these four sections give us a place to begin. If you want to see a more detailed outline of the book, watch these two videos by the Bible Project.

Continue reading

Judgment Then Salvation: Seeing the Good News in Isaiah 13–27

jon-tyson-XmMsdtiGSfo-unsplashIsaiah 13–27 is perhaps the most challenging portion of Isaiah to read and understand. Yet, it plays a significant role in impressing the weight of God’s glory on the reader. Jim Hamilton has rightly argued that God’s glory is found salvation and judgment, and no book confirms that argument better than Isaiah.

Indeed, to feel the weight (N.B. In Hebrew, the word glory, kavod, comes from the word heavy, kavēd) of God’s glorious salvation, we need to come to grips with God’s holy judgment. And no part of Isaiah presses us down into God’s judgment like Isaiah 13–27. That may be one of the reasons why these chapters are difficult, but I would suggest there are others too.

In what follows I want to look at why this section is hard to understand. Then I want to show how these chapters fit together and what we can gain from them. May these reflections help us to read Isaiah and see the glory of God in his salvation and judgment. Continue reading

The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Ten Truths about God’s Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes

joshua-fuller-9QF90iLO0q0-unsplashIn his theological summary of Christian doctrine, Our Reasonable Faith, Herman Bavinck provides a number of illuminating points about the attributes of God—namely, their incommunicable and communicable attributes. Here are some of Bavinck’s observations listed under ten points.

1. The Language of incommunicable and communicable is most effective in holding together God’s transcendence and immanence.

The effort to take account of all the data of Holy Scripture in its doctrine of God, and to maintain both His transcendence of and His relationship to the creature, led the Christian church to make a distinction very early between two groups of the attributes of the Divine being. these two groups were variously designated from the early church on. The Roman church still prefers to speak of negative and positive attributes, the Lutheran of quiescent and operative attributes, and the Reformed churches of incommunicable and communicable attributes.

At bottom, however, this division amounts to the same thing in all of these churches. The purpose for each of them is to insist on God’s transcendence (His distinction from and His elevation above the world) and on God’s immanence (His community with and His indwelling in the world). The Reformed names of incommunicable and communicable attributes do better justice to this purpose than the names which the Catholics and the Lutherans employ. The insistence on the first group of attributes saves us from polytheism and pantheism; and the insistence on the second group protects us against deism and atheism. (134–35) Continue reading

Rescue Those Who Are Being Taken Away to Death: Remembering What is At Stake in the Abortion Debate

sebastian-grochowicz-qri3tMKrc84-unsplashExchanging Darkness for Light and Speaking Light to the Darkness (Sermon Audio)

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
— Isaiah 5:20 —

This Sunday is Sanctity of Life Sunday and with it, we remember the lethal decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 to legalize abortion in our country. In the 47 years since Roe v Wade, and its accompanying case (Doe v Bolton), more than 61 million babies have been aborted in our country.

Put into perspective, this means that 61 million babies created by God, made in the image of God, and created for the glory of God, have been killed in the place where God brings life into the world. A mother’s womb should be the safest place on earth, yet in our day it has become one of the most dangerous.

At the same time, countless lies have been used to deceive women to pursue abortions. Uncertain or unaware of other options, institutions like Planned Parenthood have preyed on women, presenting abortion as their only hope. In other instances, men (fathers, boyfriends, and husbands) have pressured women to have abortions. And still other women vulnerable to lies, have aborted their babies because they believed it was the best way out of their situation. Continue reading