‘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

What Does Baptism Look Like? Seven Observations from John 3:22–36

baptism_of_st_paul_-_capela_palatina_-_palermo_-_italy_2015-2“Look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
— John 3:26b —

In John 3 a dispute about baptism arose between the disciples of John the Baptist and a Jew. While unnamed, this Jew caused an existential crisis for the followers of John. So great is their concern about purification, baptism, and the rise of Jesus, they run to their teacher and point to his baptism. Verse 26 captures their concern: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

In this question about baptism, prompted by a dispute about purification, we find an analogue to modern debates about this biblical ordinance. Today, there are questions related to the mode, the subject, and the place. That is: Does sprinkling or pouring count as baptism? What about sprinkling a believer? Or immersing an infant? (See video below). Does a private baptism between friends qualify? And how should we understand the difference (or similarities) between the initiating rite of the old covenant (circumcision) and the initiating rite of the new covenant (water baptism)? All these questions and more need biblical answers.

[The Greek Orthodox remind us that baptizō means immersion, plunging, dipping].

Over the last few years, I have written multiple articles on baptism in the Bible and its pre-requisite for membership in the church. As an unashamed Baptist, who affirms the historical confessions of London, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and Nashville, I will continue to write on the subject. Why? Because baptism continues to come up in conversation with visitors and others who are thinking about membership at our church.

With that in mind, I offer another exegetical take on baptism—one that comes from John’s Gospel and the dispute about baptism found therein. Following the imperative to “Look!” we will look at what John says about John’s baptism, Jesus’s baptism, and the conversation in John 3 about the new birth, baptism in the Spirit, and the practice of baptizing repentant believers. So, with this visual approach to John 3, I offer seven things we see about baptism. Here’s the list; explanations will follow.

  1. Baptism is performed in public with a group of witnesses.
  2. Baptism requires biblical discernment.
  3. Baptism is handled by Jesus’s disciples, not Jesus.
  4. Baptism is always by immersion.
  5. Baptism requires people to seek water.
  6. Baptism leads to disputations.
  7. Baptism requires humility.

Continue reading

Seeing the Literary Structure of John 2–4

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The first step in understanding any book of the Bible is to see what is there and especially how the biblical author has arranged his material. In the case of the Gospels, for instance, it is important to remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not turn on their iPhones and hit record. While we have plenty of quotations from Jesus, nearly all of them have been translated from Aramaic and brought to mind by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). This means we do not have Jesus’s spoken words in red letters. What we have are the Spirit-breathed words of God penned by the apostles.

In each book, the Spirit leads the authors to present Jesus in a coherent fashion. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the true Israel, and the prophet like Moses, to name a few ways he is presented. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the true tabernacle (John 1:14), in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. Throughout John’s Gospel, this theme of Jesus as the true and better temple will repeat (see e.g., John 2:19–22; 14:1–3).

Reading the Gospels on their own terms, therefore, becomes imperative for understanding their message. Harmonizing the Gospels (i.e., comparing Matthew to Mark to Luke to John) has its place, but it is far better to let the Evangelist speak each in his own way. When we do that, and stop strip-mining the text to find sources behind the Bible, we see how the Evangelists made their case for Jesus as God’s the Son, the long-awaited Messiah. To that end, this blogpost will consider one section of one Gospel—John 2–4. Continue reading

A Witness Against Wokeness: What Modern Christians Can Learn from an Ex-Communist

moises-gonzalez-e7qDqyaH99I-unsplashIn recent years, interest in socialism has risen and conversations about Marxism, especially cultural Marxism, have permeated public discourse. From the Gallup Poll in 2019 which reported that four in ten Americans saw socialism as a good thing to the rise of Black Lives Matter whose founders openly identify themselves as “trained Marxists,” we are living at a time when Christians in America need to re-learn what past generations knew, and what Christians living in Cuba, China, and Czechoslovakia know, all too well: Communism, and its younger sibling Socialism, are godless ideologies that harm the masses.

As The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press) reports, nearly 100 million people died during the twentieth century under Communist regimes. And hence, it was both right and responsible for evangelicals during the Cold War to stand opposed to ideas of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto. As Grant Wacker reports in his biography of Billy Graham (America’s Pastor), the late evangelist often included a message against communism in his revivals. And more strategically, many Christians, evangelicals and otherwise, participated in the conservative project known as fusionism, in large part, to stem the tide of communism.

Today, however, with a generation of Americans untouched and untaught about Communism, the ghost of Karl Marx has risen again. In his book, Live Not by LiesRod Dreher addresses this very concern, when he begins by highlighting the concerns many from Eastern Bloc countries have had with modern America. He writes,

What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups ethnic, sexual, and otherwise and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. (6)

What made these men and women flee Europe is now rising in America. The same thing is happening in Canada. Ivan, a trucker from Ukraine, put it like this when asked why he was joining the freedom convoy: “We came to Canada to be free—not slaves,” he said. “We lived under communism, and, in Canada, we’re now fighting for our freedom” (What the Truckers Want).

Importantly, this rise in elite-controlled social justice, woke racism, and identity politics is not something that stands outside the church either. Wokeness is making inroads within the church, too. From calls for social justice (largely undefined) to cries that Christian Nationalism (also undefined) are threatening our country, those in the church are missing something that previous generations did not and could not miss—namely, the evil that comes from a man-centered, God-denying, government-enforced attempt to build back better.

Indeed, while Critical Race Theory has gotten the most attention, one of its underlying promises, a vision of more fair and just society matches up well with Christians who want to do more than talk. In other words, advocates of social justice gain adherents by calling for a better world. And because some of the religious language maps onto Christian concerns, the result is an unholy fusion of Christ and cultural Marxism. 

At the same time, some scholars have defined and denounced evangelicals, especially white conservatives who made a compact with the Republican party during the 1950s and 60s. One example of this is Kristin Kobe Du Mez in her book, Jesus and John Wayne. Expressing concern with the way patriarchal, white males championed the military and stood in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, she excoriates evangelicals for using their positions of power to prop themselves up and push others down.

Leaving a full evaluation of her book for someone else, I will simply say that she does not adequately consider the role Communism played in the 1950s and 60s. As Proverbs 18:17 reminds us, she who speaks first seems right, until someone else comes and questions her. And while she mentions Communism in her book, she does not consider the way Communist spies were infiltrating the halls of power throughout our country (see more below).

Like most of my generation, Du Mez has forgotten, or not cared to consider, how wicked communism was and is, and because she and others do not share the perspective that our Czechoslovakian neighbors do (see Live Not by Lies), they cannot appreciate the ways that evangelical leaders and conservative politicians worked together during the middle of the twentieth century. Nor, can she appreciate the fact that all the liberating works of the 1960s were suffused with communist ideas (see Roger Kimball, The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America). Even as civil rights were extended, and racial prejudice became illegal and unconscionable, there remained a set of rules for radicals that derived their origins from Cultural Marxists.

Today, the radicals of the 1960s have become our presidents and leading politicians. And in the church, the demands for egalitarianism, social justice, and gay rights are simply leftovers from the 1960s. Likewise, the progressive ideals of Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and those who follow them, have shaped the way evangelicals—progressive and conservative—have approached culture. Indeed, thawed by the heat of Twitter, these old ideas are hatching new consequences. And because so many do not see or care to see the evils of Communism (consider NBC’s reporting of the Olympics) or the moral injustices of socialism, many of the radical ideas are facing little to no opposition. And that matters, because when the ideological offspring of Marx are given space to procreate, death not life results.

So with that long introduction out of the way, let me bring a witness to the stand, a man by the name of Whittaker Chambers. Continue reading