Trust in the Lord, the Promises of God Incarnate (A Sermon on Isaiah 28–35)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas Carols upon us, the holiday season is now here. And with the holidays comes the making of many lists.

Santa has his list. And I am sure many readers of this blog have theirs. Whether it is a list of things to get done for Christmas or a list of this to wrap up before the new year comes, lists are a part of life. And lists can be all sorts of things.

They can be harmful, if your list is filled with grudges. Or, they can be helpful, if they help you remember all that your need to do. And they can even be misunderstood, if they are intercepted and read out of context.

Recently, my daughter found a list of family names with corresponding items under each. Still learning how to read, she thought it was surely a list of Christmas presents. But actually, when examined, this list contained all the school work to be done before Christmas. Such are the ways of lists. They can help, but they can also mislead.

In fact, lists can have negative consequences when we read the Bible. If you haven’t noticed, Scripture is not written in list form. Oh, it has lists. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain two of them; they are called genealogies. Likewise, throughout the Bible, you can find lists of names, places, treasures, and laws. In short, the Bible is not against lists; it’s just that, on the whole, the Bible is not a list.

Resultantly, when we grind the Bible into list form, as many sermon-makers are quick to do, we run the risk of missing its message. Even more, when we turn the Bible into lists, we often miss the Messiah!

That said, there are times when it is helpful to put the truths of Scripture in list form. Systematic theologies do that, as do many sermons. And though I think the listicle sermon often misses the shape of the text, there are times for it. And this Sunday was one of them.

After riding an airboat through Isaiah 1–12 and a helicopter over Isaiah 13–27, I offered a sermon with four encouraging truths from Isaiah 28–35. Without abandoning the literary structure of the text, I focused on the applications that came from these eight chapter. To find those applications of the gospel, you can listen to the sermon here. You can also find the literary structure of Isaiah 28-35 here.

So far, preaching Isaiah 1–35 has been a challenge, but it has been a happy challenge, as it has forced us to see how the whole book fits together and leads us to Christ. Truly, Isaiah is glorious book, so let’s keeping reading it. And as you do, I pray these sermons may help you as you read.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia: An International Comedy (A Sermon on Isaiah 13–27)

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Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia:
An International Comedy (Sermon Audio for Isaiah 13–27)

Sermon Handout: Isaiah 13-27 PDF Slides

Has the Bible ever made you mad? Have you ever stopped reading the Bible because you couldn’t understand it? Are there parts of the Bible that you have avoided because they are too difficult to comprehend? To each of these questions, I can offer an affirmative response, with illustrations to prove it.

For instance, a number of years ago Isaiah 13–27 was one of those places. Or rather, it was somewhere in Isaiah 13-19. Reading those chapters, with their endless judgments against ancient foreign powers, I got frustrated and put the Bible away. Looking for a word of encouragement, the endless oracles made no sense.  After all, what do Philistines and Moabites have to do with me? As it turns out, there are lots of ways that God’s judgment on these nations applies today (see Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but it took some time to see it.

Fast forward two decades from the time I closed the book on Isaiah 13–19, and I can say that these chapters are some of the most exhilarating in the Bible. But such exhilaration requires learning how to read them on their own terms. And on Sunday, that’s what I attempted to do as I preached Isaiah 13–27.

Based on literary clues in the text, we find that Isaiah 13–27 is a single unit, broken into three main sections, maybe four (13-19 / 20 / 21-23 + 24-27). Accordingly, to hear the message of this section (1 of 7 in the book), requires listening to the whole thing. Just as understanding The Count of Monte Cristo requires reading beyond the imprisonment of Edmond Dantès, so too these chapters must be read from beginning to end—-just as the whole book of Isaiah must be read to understand its good news.

Indeed, while stretching for the preacher and the listener, I attempted on Sunday to show how this whole section hangs together and offers an international comedy. Moving from the bad news of God’s judgment on wicked nations to the good news of salvation offered to a remnant from all nations, I showed how these 15 chapters work together to bring us hope for a glorious future.

If you are interested in hearing how this all goes, I would encourage you to begin with last week’s sermon on Isaiah 1–12 here. (Don’t miss the Isaiah 1-12_Handout). And then with another set of Isaiah 13-27 notes in hand, you can listen to this week’s sermon on Isaiah 13–27 here. All told, it is my hope to preach Isaiah in 7 sermons. So stay tuned for an ongoing overview of this glorious book.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 Pressing Deeper into Isaiah 1–12: Seven Chiasms in Seven Sections

julia-kadel-YmULswIbc3I-unsplashIn so many ways, the book of Isaiah is like a set of Russian Stacking Dolls. You know, the ones pictured above that share the same shape but not the same size. Similarly, the book of Isaiah is composed of countless chiastic structures that fit within one another. Already, we have something of this in the way that the chiastic structure of Isaiah 1–12 anticipates the whole book.

Adding to this first post, I am going to focus in this post on the first twelve chapters themselves. And what we find in each section is a chiastic structure, which reveals the main point of each section. Again, what follows depends heavily on the exegetical work of David Dorsey (The Literary Structure of the Old Testament). In outline form, I will give a summary of each section, combined with a textual outline that is adapted is from Dorsey’s book (pp. 218–19). After putting forward this outline, I will draw our three interpretive conclusions that help us understand Isaiah and marvel at Isaiah’s God.

N.B. The following outlines should be understood as incomplete and written in pencil. In other words, you can find other plausible and helpful outlines from scholars like J. Alec Motyer. Exegetical outlines are always subordinate to the text of Scripture itself. But they are helpful, especially in larger books, because they help provide a grid for reading. To that end, I offer these seven chiastic structures. Continue reading

The Dramatic Arc of Isaiah 1–12: How Seeing Literary Structure Unveils the Glory of God

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“This is an unusual and fascinating book.”

One might think this commendation describes the Bible, or at least the book of Revelation. But in fact, these words come from Richard Averbeck’s endorsement of David Dorsey’s book about the Bible, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Baker, 1999). Indeed, his full endorsement reads as follows,

This is an unusual and fascinating book. It is the first comprehensive treatment of the inherent structure of the Old Testament books and its significance for understanding their meaning and message. Expositors will find it of inestimable value for looking at the books in a way that is true to the literary nature of the Old Testament itself and the theological significance of that structure. (From the back cover)

Dorsey’s book is unlike any other book I have read. For in 39 chapters—surely that was on purpose—he introduces his method (ch. 1–5), outlines every book in the Old Testament (ch. 6–38), and offers some final reflections (ch. 39). In all, his book provides students of Scripture with a comprehensive reading plan for seeing the literary structures of every book in the Old Testament. With careful attention to literary details, his book, though it came out in the year of Y2K fears, is not flight of fancy into Bible coding. Rather, it offers a well-argued case for reading Scripture on its own terms.

For readers of this blog, you know how much value this approach to Scripture. Following the persuasive argument of David Helm, I believe every inspired text has an inspired structure. Accordingly, the faithful reader (or preacher) must discern the “inherent structure” in the text, in order to uncover the meaning of the original author.

I have often shared the literary structures I have seen in the Scripture. And in our church, this care for literary structure is the starting place with our teachers. (For those with ears to hear, you know this is a shameless plug for Simeon Trust). Surely, getting the structure is not the end of our study, but it is a necessary step. Good exposition depends on rightly dividing the word of God, and discerning the biblical structures helps the disciple cut with and not against the grain of Scripture.

To that end, as I preach through Isaiah over the next few weeks, I will share some of Dorsey’s work. In doing so, I hope it will help those who are following our Advent Reading of Isaiah. And more, I hope it will persuade you to begin looking for these structures in Scripture. So, without any more prolegomena, let me offer an outline of Isaiah 1–12, which in turn prepares us for the whole book of Isaiah. Continue reading

The Story of Isaiah’s Immanuel: An Advent Reading Plan

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or at least, the stores are beginning to roll out their Christmas wares. Merchants and suppliers are setting their sights on the holidays, and starting next week, we will too.

On Sunday, November 13, our church will begin a six week series on the book of Isaiah. You know, the one that is 66 chapters long and contains some of the most memorable verses in the Bible.

Isaiah 6:1–3. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 7:14.  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6–7. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

If you are familiar with Isaiah, I suspect you are most familiar with parts and portions, famous passages and key persons—Uzziah dying (ch. 6), Hezekiah ailing (ch. 38), and the Suffering Servant saving (ch. 53). Until a few years ago, this is how I read Isaiah too. I knew the key theological passages and the Christmas verses. But I did not know the book of Isaiah or its overall message.

Accordingly, I didn’t understand why Isaiah has four birth narratives in Isaiah 7, 8, 9, 11 or  more than a dozen chapters dedicated to judging the nations (Isaiah 13–27). Moreover, I was aware of four servant songs in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 53 which point to Christ (Acts 8), but I didn’t see how the four Spirit songs of Isaiah 60–62 also anticipated the Holy Spirit. Long story short, I had read Isaiah for years, but only in the last couple did the message begin to come together.

Seeing the message of Isaiah has been a glorious joy, as it tells the story of salvation and judgment, where God redeems a people immersed in sin, so that he can forever dwell with his redeemed on his holy mountain. That’s a simplified version of Isaiah’s message, and for the next six weeks, that’s what we are going to consider. Continue reading

The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

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The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

When Jesus died and rose again, rocks cracked open, tombs emptied, and creation shook. As Matthew reports it, there was an earthquake associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. And that earthquake not only shook creation, it also raised the dead. As Matthew 27:52 says,

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,  and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

While this resurrection of the holy ones is mysterious, it shows the power of God to change the world  and to change a life. Death is not the final word to God, because God has the power to put death to death. And in Christ’s resurrection, this what he did and is still doing to those who he raises to life today (see Eph. 2:5)

Not surprisingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it also sent shockwaves into the world. First, it touched the lives of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, as well as those who saw Lazarus raised. Then quickly, news of Lazarus resurrection went viral. Just as God intended, Lazarus’s illness did not result in death  but in the glory of God (John 11:1–6).

Indeed, as God’s glory spread like a light over Jerusalem, it began shake the city. Jesus’s light began to give illumine believers and expose unbelievers. Just like the rest of Jesus’s ministry in John, news of this resurrection served to separate light from darkness and faith from unbelief. More exactly, Jesus’s seventh sign served as the climactic event that would lead to his death. Indeed, Lazarus’s resurrection had such a powerful effect  that everyone in Jerusalem was forced to take a side—Will you trust Jesus? Or will you reject him?

In fact, that’s the whole point of John’s Gospel and the point of the passage before us (John 11:45–12:11)—namely, to give us an unshakably faith by way of Christ’s resurrection shockwaves. Or to put it the other way round, the shockwaves of the resurrection produce unshakable faith.

Consider how this works: when we come to John 11:45 we are immediately confronted with the effects of Lazarus new life. In John 11:1–16 we have the set up for the resurrection of Lazarus. In John 11:17–44  we have the resurrection itself. And now in in John 11:45–12:11, we have the shockwaves of the resurrection.

As verses 45–46 indicate, these shockwaves do one of two things—they either produce faith or hostility. Notice the contrast here: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

Already in John, we have seen this kind of separation. Jesus does something—e.g., he heals the sick or he feeds the 5,000—and people must make a decision. Will you believe on him, or not? And now, Jesus is at it again. Only now he has raised someone from the dead and has performed his seventh sign within ear shot of Jerusalem.

On Sunday this is what I preached, as I showed from John 11:45–12:11 how Christ’s power to raise the dead gives us a firm foundation on which to build our faith. You can listen to the sermon here. And you can see a bit more on the passage here.

As we remember the resurrection power of Christ, may we have confidence in him to secure us and save us even from all the deadly threats that surround us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

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The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

John’s Gospel is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). And in John’s Gospel there are many ways eye-witnesses testify to Christ and many other ways John shows followers of Jesus coming to and growing in faith. In fact, John 11 is one of the key places where believers are pressed to believe and to believe more deeply.

For all Christians, there is a need to grow in faith. While God grants spiritual life and Christ-centered faith, living faith cannot stagnate. It must be exercised in order to grow. Even more, what faith God has given for today will not carry us into tomorrow or for the next ten years, unless it grows. Accordingly, we need daily grace for growing faith.

Wonderfully, God delights to uphold the faith of his saints. He who gives us faith in the new birth also gives us strength to keep believing. And Sunday’s sermon, I showed from John 11 how God grew the faith of Martha, Mary, and many others, as he raised Lazarus from the dead.

You can find the sermon here. You can also find last week’s sermon on John 11:1–16 here. I pray it may strengthen your faith as you continue to trust in the one who is the resurrection and the life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Christ Over All: A New Website and a Personal Update

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If you have followed by blog for any length of time you know that my posting is somewhat irregular. As a pastor first, not a journalist, my  priority is preaching and teaching at my local church. After that, a couple times a year, I go and teach theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. And then after that I do some writing for various ministries, journals, and book publishers. Long story short, my blog is the overflow of the work I’m doing elsewhere, and I hope that it blesses and builds up those who read it.

I do not say it enough, but I am deeply thankful for the folks who have through the years reached out and interacted with things I’ve written. And Lord willing, I will continue to post biblical, theological, and culture-engaging content for the sake of the church, things that will bless you when you come and read them.

That said, over the last month or so I have not posted very much. And the reason for that is because I, with a handful of other pastors and theologians, have begun a new project called Christ Over AllSome of you may know about it, but for the others who do not, I’m pointing to it today. If you go to the homepage of Christ Over All, this is what you will find:

Christ Over All is a fellowship of pastor-theologians dedicated to helping the church see Christ as Lord and everything else under his feet.

Indeed, this is our vision and our prayer. Over the last year, our team of eight and then nine brothers in Christ talked, and prayed, and strategized for ways we could serve the church with a website that engaged many of the challenges of our current culture, but that did so by slower meditations on Scripture and longer articles applying biblical theology to our complex world. Over the last month, we have outlined this vision. And you can read some of the posts here. You can also listen to our new podcast.

Next month, we begin in earnest to bring solid content to the internet, as we dust off the book by Francis Schaeffer called A Christian Manifesto. Over the course of October, we will engage each chapter and also hit some key features of Schaeffer’s life and writing. I say all that to say, come spend a month with Christ Over All learning from Francis Schaeffer and his engagement with culture, government, and other public spaces. In the months after that, we will hit other relevant subjects that, Lord willing, builds up the church.

Additionally, if you want to stay in touch with Christ Over All, go sign up for our newsletter. If you have appreciated the content of Via Emmaus, I think you will enjoy the work of Christ Over All even more.

For me personally, I will keep writing in both spaces. I will probably let most of my biblical reflections take up residence here. And I will publish more of my cultural engagement pieces at Christ Over All. I’m sure there will be some crossover too, but this is how I will aim my writing.

All in all, I share this brief update to encourage you to check out the new website and to stay tuned here as I will be picking up a rhythm of writing again soon. Additionally, stay tuned for a renewal of the Via Emmaus podcast, which will read many of the articles and also have some new content too.

Again, I give thanks to God for the many friends who have read my blog. Your feedback and questions are always encouraging. I pray that it will continue to use my writing to build up your faith, as we see Christ from all the Scriptures in order to make disciples of all the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Don’t Take the Bait: Three Reasons Pastors Must Avoid The Booby Trap of Pulpit Plagiarism

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Earlier this year, Founders Press released my book Brothers, We Are Not Plagiarists. When it released Dave Jenkins at Servant of Grace asked me to write a related piece for his online theological magazine, Theology for Life. Here’s that piece, which likens plagiarism in the pulpit to a booby trap—an unseen explosive device that does untold damage to the un-expecting.

Let the reader understand, plagiarism in the pulpit is a big deal in the church. Since writing my book, I have received multiple emails reporting it, which only increases in my mind the need to address this subject. It is with sadness that I have received these reports. Yet, such incidents only reinforce the need for this book and for churches to dismantle the dangerous practice. May the Lord help pastors and churches do just that, and may this shorter article show why pulpit plagiarism matters so much.

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Dad, what is a booby trap?

Recently, in conversation with one of my sons, the subject of guerilla warfare came up, which in turn led to explaining how booby traps have often been used in war. Because my son has not seen the classic primer on booby traps, the 1980s treasure-seeking adventure Goonies, I proceeded to explain some of the ways booby traps worked in during the Vietnam Conflict.

Speaking outside my area of expertise, I cobbled together some explanation that passed for the time. If I had to speak further on the subject, a quick Google search might lead me to a Field Army Manuel like this one. And in this case, I would share with my son the following facts that I learned from Chapter 13: Booby Traps and Expedient Devices. I’d also share the fact that I am quoting.

From the world wide web, we discover that booby traps

  • Are usually explosive in nature.
  • Are actuated when an unsuspecting person disturbs an apparently harmless object or performs a presumably safe act.
  • Are designed to kill or incapacitate.
  • Cause unexpected, random casualties and damage.
  • Create an attitude of uncertainty and suspicion in the enemy’s mind, thereby, lowering his morale and inducing a degree of caution that restricts or slows his movement.

Now what do booby traps have to do with preaching?

The answer is that booby traps are an apt illustration for plagiarism in the pulpit. Continue reading