The Wedding Planner: What John 2–4 Teaches Us About Jesus, Marriage, Resurrections, and the End of All Things

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For a few years in seminary, I was the graduation coordinator for our school. This meant that every spring we hosted 2000 people to watch 200 students graduate. On the big day, one of the most important parts of the ceremony was the pledge spoken by the president and the students. And that pledge required reading a covenant from the graduation bulletin.

Most years this went off without a hitch, but one year we forgot to put bulletins on the graduates seats, so that by the time that the president was looking for the graduates to respond, there was no response.

It was a semi-catastrophe, and one that required a few people to run around throwing bulletins to graduates. Clearly big events require a myriad of specific details to make them run smoothly.

The same is true in salvation. If God is going bring salvation to the world as John 4:42 says, there are an infinite number of details that go into giving eternal life to those who deserve everlasting death. To be specific the number of details is not actually infinite, because God alone is infinite. But the number of details is so large that the whole of humanity could not discover it,  even if everyone of us was named Solomon or Einstein or Elon.

The truth is, God delights to create a world so manifestly complex that he alone can run it. And marvelously in the middle of his vast creation he enjoys wedding planning too. In fact, the world as we know it began with a wedding in Eden and it will end with a wedding in Zion. In between, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose—which is the eternal union between Christ and his bride. Continue reading

Seeing New Creation Light in John 2–4: Three Ways Jesus Replaces the Darkness of the Old Covenant

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A few weeks ago I offered a literary analysis of John 2–4. Today, I’ll add a few more thoughts on this remarkable passage.

In John 2–4, Marriage and Resurrection Go Together in Sign and Substance

First, there is an undeniable inclusio that connects Jesus’s first sign (turning water into wine) in John 2:1–12 to his second sign (healing the royal official’s son) in John 4:47–54. Observing the connections between these two bookends, Jim Hamilton finds 6 connections, to show how John mirrors these two events. Here is how he frames it (John, 101).

  • A need is communicated to Jesus (4:47; cf. 2:3),
  • but he initially rebuffs the petitioner (4:48; cf. 2:4).
  • When the petitioner responds in faith (4:49; cf. 2:5),
  • Jesus gives a command that is obeyed (4:50; cf. 2:7-8),
  • at which point the need is met (4:51-52; cf. 2:9-10).
  • These are then identified as the first and second signs, in response to which people believe in Jesus (4:53-54; cf. 2:11).

To this we could add the observation that the wedding takes place on the third day (John 2:1), as does the healing of the official’s son—i.e., it occurs on the day after the second day (4:40, 43).

From these seven links in the text, it would be a failure to “hear” John if we did not read them together. And what happens when we let the wine interpret the healing and vice versa? My short answer is that the themes of the wedding and its wine, combined with the resurrection of the son, are make a theological claim that the resurrection of the Son is what brings the wine of God’s new creation marriage. Continue reading

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

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Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis envisions a world coming to life, by means of Aslan’s song. If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series,  Aslan the Lion is the Christ-figure who both creates the world and dies to save the world. And in The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to the more famous, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are treated to Lewis’s story of creation.

Here is how he pictures Narnia coming to life.

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed. (64)

Trees indeed! And in the context of The Magicians’ Nephew this new world was coming to life in the presence of an evil witch and crazy, self-absorbed Uncle. In this way, the creation of Narnia does not match the creation of our world, where God in his eternal perfection made the world good and very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

‘Then They Will Know That I Am the Lord’: How Seeing the Structure in Ezekiel Shows Us the Gospel

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Ezekiel.

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24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God. 25 “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.”
Ezekiel 28:24–26

Galatians 3:8 says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham. As he promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, God revealed his gospel purposes for the world. This truth has many implications, but one of them is that the gospel is something that goes back to the beginning—even to the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3:15). Accordingly, whenever we read the Old Testament we should expect to find gospel promises of salvation and hope. Even in books that focus on the righteous judgments of God, there will be promises of grace and forgiveness.

This is the gospel message—that God will make a way of salvation for those who deserve eternal condemnation.

God gave this promise to Israel first (Rom. 1:16–17), but he always intended for his salvation to go from Israel to all the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; cf. Rom. 9:25–29; 10:18ff.). In the New Testament, we learn how this works. But we also find how this works by reading the Old Testament in light of the New. In the Prophets especially, we find new covenant promises that are given to Israel and the nations.

Over the last two months, I have focused on Isaiah  and Jeremiah and the gospel hope found in each. This month, I turn to Ezekiel. And again the pattern of salvation and judgment remains. The message of the gospel is found scattered throughout Ezekiel, but it is also seen in the book as a whole.

In this blogpost, I want to offer some help on how to read Ezekiel, so that you can see the gospel in Ezekiel. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is challenging because it is so large. But it is also challenging because of how Ezekiel speaks and acts. Therefore, to get a better grasp on the book, I am turning to one of my seminary professors and his book on Ezekiel.

Daniel Block taught Old Testament when I went to Southern Seminary, and his collection of essays on Ezekiel (By the River Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel, 2013) nicely complements his massive, two-volume commentary on Ezekiel. In class, I remember him saying that his kids grew up with Ezekiel in the house, as he spent fourteen years (!!) working on his two commentaries. To such labor, we are indebted. And to those who read his work on Ezekiel, they will find excellent scholarship and great help for reading this prophet.

In what follows, I am summarizing Block’s introductory notes to Ezekiel. Continue reading

Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 2) — A Sermon on John 4:16–26

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Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) —A Sermon on John 4:16–26

Where do you worship? And why? Does the location of your worship matter? Or is it a matter totally inconsequential? When you worship, are you intentionally addressing the Father, the Son, and the Spirit? Or can you simply focus on God? Moreover, are you satisfied to worship alone? Or do you need—are you required—to worship with others?

The more you think about worship, the more you realize how much goes into answering questions about true worship. And the more you let Scripture speak to you on these matters, the more you realize how clearly Scripture says about how, who, and where you worship. You may also realize how much the church has not spoken clearly about worship.

In Scripture, there is a  sense in which we worship everywhere we go. As Romans 12:1–2 says, we are living sacrifices who can and should worship God at all times and in all places. Yet, this everywhere-ness of worship is not something that ancient Israelites, living under the old covenant, would have understood. And maybe it is something that our place-less society needs to recover. For just because Christians do not need to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, does not mean place is unimportant.

Indeed, prior to Pentecost worship was always conducted on or at a mountain. Such worship may have been true or false, pure or defiled, but worship had a place. And more than a place, worship had a people. In all of the Old Testament (and the New), worship was never an individual affair; it was always shared with other members of the covenant community. Knowing these facts helps us appreciate what is happening in John 4. Continue reading

Finding Consolation from the Weeping Prophet: Or, Where to Find Springs of Living Water in Jeremiah’s Long, Dark Book

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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In Jeremiah 30–33, we find four chapters that are often referred to as “The Book of Consolation.” The reason for this title is the way they promise hope for a battered and bruised people who are, or will soon be, held in bondage by Babylon. In context, these chapters come after the Prophet declares that God is sending Israel to Babylon for seventy years because of their sins. Following this judgment (see Jeremiah 25–29), Jeremiah 30–33 looks to a day in the future when God will restore his people (30:1–3), return a priestly king to the throne (30:21), and establish a new covenant (31:31–34).

These chapters are some of the brightest and best in all the Old Testament, but they are found in a book that is densely populated with oracles of destruction, jeremiads against Jerusalem (yes, jeremiads comes from Jeremiah), judgments against the nations, and other events that lead Jeremiah to be called the weeping prophet. All in all, the Book of Consolation stands in stark contrast to the rest of Jeremiah, and accordingly, I can imagine many who attempt to read Jeremiah will do so, skipping ahead to these chapters, or just cherry-picking a few verses along the way (e.g., Jer. 2:13; 9:23–24; 17:9–10; 23:1–6; 29:11–13; etc.).

Such approaches are understandable, given the length and complexity of the book, but if we really want to understand Jeremiah we need to find a better reading strategy. That’s what this blog post is for—to help give you a map which identifies key passages which as springs of living water for your soul.

In other words, because Jeremiah is meant to pluck up, tear down, destroy, and overthrow the city of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants (Jer. 1:10ab), his book will primarily consist of words of judgment. At the same time, because God calls Jeremiah to build up and plant (see also 1:10c), we should expect to find life-giving words of hope. The question is knowing where they are and how to find such refreshment in a book that is primarily deconstructive—in the prophetic, not the postmodern, sense of the word.

Reading through the book, it will help to know where the words of life are. And that’s what I offer below. In another blog post, I laid out a four-fold outline of the book that can be summarized like this.

  • Jeremiah 1–24: God’s War of Words . . . Against Israel
  • Jeremiah 25–34: God’s War of Words . . . Against the False Prophets
  • Jeremiah 35–44: God’s War of Words . . . Against the King and His Kingdom
  • Jeremiah 45–52: God’s War of Words . . . Against the Nations

This outline follows the illuminating work of Andrew Shead, and I would urge you to read that post and his book. In what follows, I will share the springs of living water that crop up in places like Jeremiah 3:15–18 and Jeremiah 51:48, and everywhere in between. As I have read through Jeremiah, these are the passages and the promises I am looking for as I read.  

As the apostles teach us, all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). The gospel itself stands on the promises of God (Acts 13:32–33), and begins with Abraham (Gal. 3:8) not Matthew. For this reason, we should read the Bible as promise-seekers, so that we can become promise-believers. This is what the Bible is for, and in Jeremiah, there are plenty of hope-giving, Christ-centered promises for us to find. The trick is knowing where they are and how they fit into the book.

Without any further preliminaries, let me offer a roadmap to the springs of living water in Jeremiah. I will give a few notes as we go, but primarily what follows is the text of Scripture.[1] Continue reading

Tearing Off the Masks: Celebrating Oceania’s Freedom . . . When Nothing Has Changed

kissOceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
George Orwell, 1984

But test everything; hold fast what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21

In preparation for the upcoming removal of masks, the self-congratulations of politicians, and the ticker tape parades of liberated citizens kissing in the streets, I offer this selective reading of 1984. Let the reader the understand: Nothing has changed.

What Covid-19 Has Wrought

As the State of the Union address is presented mask-optional tonight, it is important to remember what has  changed and what has not. Today, the air is the same; immune systems are the same; and threat of Covid is the same. Covid-19 and its various variants are still deadly for those with underlying conditions and it is still innocuous for those with healthy bodies, especially children.

At the same time, masks still do not work. Fauci said as much privately before the pandemic, then he changed his mind publicly during the pandemic, and now he, and the CDC, and others have waffled back to some compromised position. Very presidentially, he was for same-sex marriage, before he was against it, and now he has returned his original position. Just replace Obama’s subject matter (so called same sex marriage) with Fauci’s (masks, mandates, etc.) and you will understand the convoluted logic of a career politician.

Yes, Covid-19 was political before it wasn’t. And how do we know? Because “end” of Covid has come by political fiat, not by a substantial change in the conditions. As the Washington Post reported in early February, governors are changing mask mandates for political reasons. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, that bastion of liberal catechesis, has performed a skit that is not funny but is informative. Watch it here. (This the first and I hope the last time I share something from SNL).

 

For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is not science, nor the man who declared himself to represent Science, that has made the final determination about masks—it is politics. Under threat of losing control, politicians are moving to a position that appears to give freedom to the people. And SNL is helping prepare the masses for the stunning realization that the last two years of draconian mandates were more fiction than fact. And what are Christians do? Should we celebrate with the masses? Or should we realize how farcical this whole pandemic has been.

Continue reading

Was Jesus Among the Larpers? How Reading John 4 with Genesis 29 Helps Us Understand Biblical Typology and Jesus’s Identity

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Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Hear: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) — A Sermon on John 4:1–18

In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus is the Word made flesh (1:14), the Only Begotten God (1:18), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:19), and the one to whom all the Law and Prophets wrote (1:45). But did you also know that Jesus was also a Larper? Not a leper, mind you, but Larper—a Live Action Role Player.

As best I could find online, Larping is a type of game where a group of people wear costumes representing a character they create to participate in an agreed [upon] fantasy world. Most recently, Larping gained attention in the Marvel Comic series Hawkeye, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. If you need an example of what Larping looks like up close, just go to a Medieval festival near you, and you will surely find a group of Live Action Role Players.

Now, if you don’t want to go to a Medieval Festival to see LARP-ing, you could also read John 4. In this famous chapter, where Jesus confronts the woman at the well, the Lord assumes the role of particular character from the world of the Patriarchs. Indeed, as John tells it, Jesus is a man (or “bridegroom,” see John 3:29) who meets a woman at a well, who will in time, become his bride. Let’s consider how this works. Continue reading

A War of Words: How the Structure of Jeremiah Leads to Its Storyline

raphael-schaller-GkinCd2enIY-unsplashThis post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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If Jeremiah is structured around the word of the Lord, then it makes sense that the storyline of the book is also tailored to that end. God has called Jeremiah to speak his words to his people. Importantly, that word is not simply a message of comfort; it is a message that tears down and plucks up, a word that destroys and annihilates. Only then, can it build and plant (Jer. 1:10).

In Jeremiah’s call (ch. 1), we have an introduction to the man and his message, and as the visions signal, he will preach a message of judgment that will be rejected by his people. His message will include hope and blessing, but situated in the last decades of Judah’s reign in Jerusalem, his words of hope will all be future, not present. And thus, his words will go to war with his contemporaries. And over the course of his book, he will address the nation (ch. 1–24), the false prophets (ch. 25–34), the king (ch. 35–44), and the nations (ch. 45–52).

As seen yesterday, these four sections are ordered by various literary devices (disjunctive headings and narrative formulas), but they are also forming a storyline of God’s Word. And in his book, A Mouth Full of Fire, Andrew Shead shows how each section takes up the Word of God in order to tear down and pluck up the people of God. In order to understand the message of Jeremiah, therefore, we need to see how the book unfolds. And this is where Shead’s proposal is so helpful. Consider his outline. Continue reading

Can You See What Jeremiah is Saying? Finding the Literary Structure in a Book Where Structure is Often Missed

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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Whenever I teach hermeneutics or lead Bible studies, I want to help students of the Bible find the “breaks” in the text. Where does the human author insert literary devices to help the reader follow his message? In John’s Gospel, for instance, he organizes his introduction to Jesus around four days (John 1:19–51), and then he puts the wedding at Cana on the third day (2:1), which in context is the seventh day. In this way, John helps his audience know how he is ordering his material.

Such arrangement does not automatically produced meaning, but ignorance of an author’s literary structure will delimit our understanding. If we cannot see how the biblical author is writing, we won’t get what the author is saying. In any study of Scripture then, we must labor to understand the literary structure of a text. Sometimes this is easy, as in passages like Psalm 136, which repeats the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) and follows the order of Israel’s history. But in other books, it is more difficult. And it is arguable that the book of Jeremiah is one of the most difficult books in the Bible for ascertaining a literary structure.

The reasons for this difficulty are manifold. First, Jeremiah is, by word count, the longest book of the Old Testament. And as we saw with Isaiah, it is a challenge to see the message of books so large. Second, the chronology of Jeremiah is difficult. The book does not proceed in historical order, and as a result some commentators (e.g., John Bright) have attempted to interpret the book by changing its order to match Israel’s history. This destroys the literary structure, however. As higher-criticism reigned over the last two hundred years, commitment to reading the Bible on its own terms was ignored and the mind of the interpreter trumped the words of the author. This will miss the message of the Bible and so we cannot follow those who rearrange the text.

Size and chronology are challenging in Jeremiah, but the greatest difficulty in finding the meaning of Jeremiah comes from divergent manuscripts. That is, when we compare the Hebrew text to the Septuagint (the Greek translation), we find that significant portions of the book are put in different order. This reminds us that the final form of the Bible came as a result of an editing process (cp. the arrangement of the Psalter), but leaving aside the formation of the final form, different final arrangements make it difficult to affirm a structure with certainty. And then, if meaning is tied to literary structure, then how should we can have confidence in finding a singular message about Jeremiah? Continue reading