From Covenant-Breakers to Covenant-Keepers: How Christ Redeems Marriage and Divorce (Matthew 5:31–32)

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From Covenant-Breakers to Covenant-Keepers: How Christ Redeems Marriage and Divorce (Sermon Audio)

What does the Bible say about divorce?

Unfortunately, it says quite a bit. As a book that gives us everything we need for life and godliness, the Bible gives instructions about marriage and warnings about divorce. But that is not all that it says.

If our minds jump too quickly, we may only remember the words of Malachi 2: God hates divorce. But we can’t read that prophetic utterance without reading Jeremiah 3, a passage that tells how God issued a certificate of divorce to his covenant people Israel, when their sin destroyed their covenant with God. Moreover, we cannot forget the grace God gives to heal past sins, even as we read and repeat his instructions about covenant marriage and the sinfulness of divorce.

Accordingly, we must understand divorce according to the full gospel story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. In this context, we begin to see how the whole Bible gives comfort and conviction about this and every subject.

But why are we taking about divorce?

Well, to our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we had to return to one section of the Sermon our schedule forced us to postpone—namely, Jesus’s teaching on marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:31–32. With help from Jeremiah 3, I preached a message on the root problem of divorce (a hard-heart) and how Christ enables covenant-breakers to be covenant-keepers.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions are below, as are additional resources—both ethical and practical—regarding marriage and divorce.   Continue reading

A Prayer God Hears (Matthew 7:7–12)

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Sermon Audio: A Prayer God Hears (Matthew 7:7–12)

How deep the father’s love for us / How vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only Son / To make a wretch his treasure

These words by Stuart Townend express in song what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, namely that the Father in heaven loves his children and longs for us to come and find our greatest reward in him. Indeed, this is why Jesus Christ came, to bring the Father’s kingdom to earth by means of his death and resurrection. In the new covenant Jesus made a way for sins to be forgiven and for forgiven sinners to enter God’s presence.

In Matthew 7:7–11 specifically, we find another place where Jesus’s focus on the Father teaches disciples about the kind of access they have to God and the kind of prayer our Father in heaven loves to hear. On Sunday considered this passage and how Jesus teaches us to pray.

You can listen to the sermon online. Below you can find discussion questions and additional resources, including the majestic rendition of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us by the Austin Stone Church. Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament: Seven Videos on Location in Iceland

For the last two days I have been in Iceland teaching a biblical theology of the Old Testament. Drawing on The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, I have sought to explain how the Old Testament is organized around the twin concepts of Kingdom and Covenant.

The following videos are put up by Loftstofan Baptistakirkja (Upper Room Baptist Church) and their pastor Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson. They review the teaching I did last year in Iceland and dive into the Kingdom of David and the New Covenant. Tonight, we will finish with a look at the Psalms.

Please take time to pray for this church, for their pastor, and the spread of the gospel in Iceland. And if you are interested, you can watch some of the teaching videos here (please excuse the opening few minutes of each where I bumble around until I start teaching). Or better, go watch Christian By Default (see above). It will tell you more about the spiritual climate of Iceland.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

Be a Table Host, Not a Dinner Party Speaker: Ten Ways to Create Meaningful Discussion in Your Next Bible Study

priscilla-du-preez-697322-unsplash.jpgIn the Bible we learn that preaching is not the only way God’s Word is communicated. In the Old Testament, the Levites are seen explaining the Law to the people of Israel (Nehemiah 8:7–8). And in the New Testament, Paul says of his ministry, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).

In both of these contexts, teaching occurred in small groups, where God’s teachers could answers questions, give the sense of the word (Nehemiah 8:8), and lead discussions about applying the Law to life (see Ezra’s approach in Nehemiah 8:10). Today, teachers of the Word are called to do the same, and experienced teachers will master the art and science of leading discussion that is fundamentally different than just declaring what Scripture says.

To lead this kind of dialogue profitably is challenging and takes time—a lifetime even—to master, but it is invaluable for helping disciples of Christ learn to read Scripture, ask questions, think with others, and apply truth to life. And in what follows, I want to suggest ten principles for leading a good discussion. Four of them simply relate to question-asking; the other have to do with developing a conviction for the value of discussion and the need to change your preparation habits for leading discussion, as opposed to preaching.

I pray these principles may be helpful. If there are other ways you have learned to facilitate discussion, please share in the comments. Continue reading

Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

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Are You Going To(o) Fast? (Matthew 6:16–18)

Fasting.

If you have read the Bible, you’ve probably come across it. It’s mentioned about 75 times. Maybe you’ve even tried to it. But what is it?

Some testify to the miraculous results of this ancient practice. Others just skip over it, an impossible practice that is for “major league” Christians. And still others may be confused by the whole thing, or practice it for the wrong reason(s).

In Matthew 6:16–18, fasting for the wrong reason is what Jesus is targeting. Still, his words are not just relevant for his first century context; they also teach us important truths about denying ourselves and seeking God’s reward.

The truth is, everyone fasts every week, but I suspect most of us don’t think of it as fasting. Yet, how we deny ourselves and indulge ourselves is one of the most important things about who we are and who we are becoming.

Therefore in this week’s sermon I sought to answer a number of questions related to fasting and how Jesus’s words instruct all of us how to tune our fasting to seek the reward of knowing God. You can listen to this sermon online. Further resources about fasting can be found below, along with a few discussion questions. Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from Our Father in Heaven: Nine Observations about Giving, Praying, and Fasting (Matthew 6:1–18)

didin-emelu-329478-unsplashIn the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions about giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). In our church we have taken one sermon per “spiritual discipline,” but really in the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, we should read these three disciplines together. And in fact, when we do there are some observations we discover that we might not find on our own.

So here are nine observations about Matthew 6:1–18 and Jesus’s instructions about these critical elements of worship, discipleship, and spiritual communion with God.

1. Giving, praying, and fasting make up the center of the Sermon.

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From the structure of the sermon, we discover verses 1–18 should be read as the center of the sermon. Even more specifically, giving (vv. 2–4) and fasting (vv. 16–18) should be seen as a concentric ring around Jesus’s instructions around prayer (vv. 5–15), which itself is centered around the Lord’s Prayer. And that pray too is shaped to put three imperatives on both sides the words “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In other words, the shape observed in the image above continues right to the summit of the mountain, where we discover that prayer in the presence of our heavenly father is the goal of the Law (5:17–48) and the Prophets (6:19–7:11), as well asthe center of Jesus teaching about discipleship (6:1–18).

Moreover, because of this intentional shaping and the balanced presentation of giving and fasting around prayer, we may find that these various disciplines are not as independent as we often think. In fact, to get the full meaning of Jesus’s words we should read them together. Continue reading

Three Wrong Ways to Read the Sermon on the Mount

jazmin-quaynor-36221-unsplash.jpgThe Sermon on the Mount is probably the most famous sermon ever preached, and for good reason. Its speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ; its location on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee is unique; and its language is both beautiful and profound. Even non-believers are familiar with many of the words Jesus spoke in this sermon.

Yet, for as well-known as the Sermon is, it is often misunderstand and misused. Therefore, as we begin to study this passage of Scripture, we should look at three common, but misguided ways to approach the sermon. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)

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“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?

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No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —

Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.

A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?

I believe it is the latter.  And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading

The Final Days of Jesus: A 40-Day Reading Guide

final daysThis week marks 40 days until Resurrection Sunday. While some celebrate with Lent and others do not, we should all prepare our hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To help in that endeavor, let me encourage you to pick up and read The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

A few years ago I put together a 40-day reading plan for that book.  The outline lays out daily Scripture readings from the Gospels, many intra-biblical connections to the Old Testament, and the page numbers to read from The Final Days of JesusIf you are interested in that 40-day reading plan, you can find it here.

Here is the devotional guide’s introduction. Let it be an invitation to a slow, worshipful reading of the passion narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Continue reading