Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

Seeing the Bigger Picture by Seeking the Most High God: Three Meditations on Psalms 90–92

scattered02In these strange days of social distancing, sheltering at home, and seeking the Lord without the gathered assembly of God’s people, I have been led to meditate on the eternal perspective that Psalms 90–92 provide. These three psalms should be read together, and together they provide a ladder to climb out of current crisis to see a greater vision of life that extends beyond our current horizon and runs into eternity.

At a time like this, when all of life is shutting down and projecting fear, we need to see this vision of God and his greatness. For only a true vision of God on high can give us the strength to trust God and love neighbors and serve others, as we are being led to protect ourselves at all costs.

Here are three messages on these psalms. May they bolster your faith in the sovereign Lord during this time of global pandemic and panic.

Eternal Perspective in a Time of Isolation: A Meditation on Psalm 90

Five Keys to Security in an Insecure Age: A Meditation on Psalm 91

Two Ways to Flourish: A Meditation on Psalm 92

This week, you can also find a daily devotion from the elders of Occoquan Bible Church. These video devotions remember the events of Holy Week and prepare our hearts to remember the death of Christ and celebrate his triumphant resurrection. Give them a listen and be encouraged in the finished work of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

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 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

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: More Than 120 Notes on the Book of Joshua

joshua07This week we finished up our series on the book of Joshua. Here is a run down of all the notes, sermon, and related resources that we put together for that marvelous book.

120 Notes on (Almost) Every Chapter of Joshua

  1. Getting to Know Joshua, Son of Nun, and Joshua, Son of God: Or, 10 Things About Joshua 1
  2. Rahab’s Redemption: 10 Things About Joshua 2
  3. Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4
  4. 10 Things about Joshua 5:1–12**
  5. A Text Filled with Types: 10 Things About Joshua 5–6
  6. How God’s Judgment upon Achan’s Sin Teaches Us to Find Grace in Christ: 10 Things about Joshua 7
  7. 10 Things about Joshua 8**
  8. His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9
  9. Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10
  10. The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12
  11. 10 Things about Joshua 13–19**
  12. The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21
  13. Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22
  14. Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23
  15. Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: 10 Things about Joshua 24

** Placeholders for future ’10 Things’ on these chapters. Continue reading

Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

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Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

On Sunday we looked at Joshua 24, the last chapter in Joshua, and concluded our series on this Jesus-centered book.

In Joshua 24, the soon-to-be-departed leader of Israel called Israel to renew their covenant with God. By reminding Israel of God’s grace in their past and calling them to seek Yahweh’s grace for their present, Joshua renewed a covenant that anticipated a greater covenant in the future.

Indeed, as we have seen in all of Joshua, this book points to Jesus with remarkable, and at times shocking, clarity. It is not a book where we have to read Jesus back into the Old Testament. Instead, as the first book written after Moses, a book that helps us learn to read the rest of the Prophets and Writings, Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus) is unmistakably Christotelic (written to bring us to Christ at-the-end). And Joshua 24 may be the most fulsome in  leading us to Christ. At least, that’s what I argue in this sermon!

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: 10 Things about Joshua 24

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn the last chapter of Joshua, we see Joshua leading Israel to renew their covenant with God before he dies. In this final act of faithfulness, Joshua finishes what he started—bringing Israel into the land—and receives the honorific title Servant of the Lord. Here are 10 things about this covenant renewal and the close of Joshua.

1. Joshua 24 is one of many covenant renewals in the Bible.

Beginning in Deuteronomy (or Exodus 32–34), Israel adopted a practice of renewing their commitment to Yahweh. When there was a transition of power (like from Moses to Joshua), or when there was a sin that broke covenant with God (e.g., the Golden Calf or the sin of Baal-Peor), Israel’s faithful leaders led the nation to renew their covenant.

For instance, when Achan’s sin brought judgment on Israel, Joshua led the nation to renew their covenant with God (Josh. 8:30–35). At the same time, this covenant renewal came at a time when Israel was entering a land filled with idols. So, it also had a positive sense of confessing Israel’s faith to Yahweh in a land filled with idols. For both reasons, it makes sense that we find a covenant renewal in Joshua 8.

Now, in Joshua 24 we find another covenant renewal. Much like Moses, he assembles the people of God as he anticipates death. He presses Israel to be faithful to the covenant Yahweh made with them at Sinai. Joshua is not initiating a “new” covenant; he is calling the people to recommit themselves to the first covenant. And in this way, he repeats and reinforces a model of faithfulness that will be seen throughout the Old Testament. Other examples of covenant renewals in the Bible include:

  • Asa leads Israel to renew their commitment to God (2 Chronicles 15)
  • Josiah leads Israel to renew the covenant with God when he discovers the book of the Law (2 Kings 23)
  • Ezra and Nehemiah work to lead the nation of Israel to recommit themselves to God when the second temple is built (Ezra 10; Nehemiah 9–10)
  • The Lord’s Supper is a covenant renewal, as the church remembers Christ’s new covenant every time they take the elements (1 Corinthians 10–11)

This string of covenant renewals helps to set the context of Joshua 24 and its importance in redemptive history. Continue reading

A Short Introduction to the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

rod-long-DRgrzQQsJDA-unsplashLast week, I introduced a new reading plan called the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. As I described it, the goal of this plan is to saturate ourselves with Scripture through repeated readings, listening, memorizing, studying, and discussing in community what we are learning.

The name of the plan from the fact this website (Via Emmaus) will, Lord willing, provide resources to a different focus book each month. In 2020, we will begin in Track 2 and offer resources on the Prophets, Writings, Mark, and Luke. Here’s the full layout.

Tracks[1] Old Testament 1

Law + Prophets

Old Testament 2

Prophets + Writings

New Testament
January Genesis Isaiah Matthew
February Exodus Jeremiah Mark
March Leviticus

Psalms

Ezekiel Luke

Psalms

April Numbers The Twelve[2] John
May Deuteronomy Psalms Acts
June John Proverbs Romans
July Joshua

Judges

Job 1–2 Corinthians
August 1–2 Samuel The Five Scrolls[3] Galatians–

2 Thessalonians

September 1–2 Kings

Proverbs

Daniel Pastorals

Proverbs

October Ezra-Nehemiah 1–2 Chronicles Hebrews
November Psalms Mark General Epistles[4]
December[5] Matthew Luke Revelation

If you are need of a Bible reading plan for 2020 or if this plan sounds like it would be helpful for your Scripture reading, please join us for reading the Bible in 2020.

You can learn more about the aims of this plan here and practical ways to put it into practice here. You can also find a printable Via Emmaus reading plan here. Tomorrow, I will outline a variety of ways to read Isaiah—something I will do each month for each focus book.

Also, if it helps, you can receive emails from Via Emmaus by signing up on the side bar. These emails will direct put in your inbox all the forthcoming resources on Isaiah, as well as other biblical-theological content from this website.

I started reading Isaiah this morning and I am looking forward to sharing this book with you and those in my local church family who will be following this plan.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________________

[1] Pick 1, 2, or 3 tracks. The number of tracks you read at once determines the pace of your reading. You may consider starting with Track #3 if you want to begin with the New Testament. Alternatively, you may want to read two tracks, one from the OT and one from the NT. Whichever you chose, the goal is to read one book for one month. This allows for longer readings and more detailed study. Details on this approach will come out tomorrow.

[2] ‘The Twelve’ are the Minor Prophets read as one book, rather than 12 isolated books. The Minor Prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

[3] The ‘Five Scrolls’ (Megilloth) are a collection of “shorter OT books, brief enough to be read publicly at an annual religious festival: Song of Songs (Passover), Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the ninth of Ab), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), and Esther (Purim).”

[4] The ‘General Epistles’ are the Epistles not written by Paul, namely, James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude.

[5] We will also supply a Advent Reading Plan each December. These Old Testament selections will complement and support the reading of Matthew, Luke, and Revelation—each of which testify to the birth of Christ (Matt. 1–2, Luke 1–2, Revelation 12).

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

 

Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23)

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Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23) (Sermon Audio)

In Joshua’s penultimate chapter in Joshua, we hear a word from Joshua calling for an ultimate commitment to God. Speaking to the people he has led out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land, Joshua says “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God” (v. 11).

In short, Joshua’s last words to Israel urge Israel to keep the faith. Only, as Joshua 24:31 indicates, Israel’s faithfulness is very short-lived. Only one generation after Joshua continues to keep the covenant (renewed in Joshua 24). Thus, for all that Joshua has done and said, it is ultimately ineffective. And as we read his words today, we can feel the same kind of discouragement, if we don’t place the weakness of his sermon with the eternal life that Christ gives with his final words.

Indeed, in this week’s sermon we will see how Joshua’s final words, like his entire life, are meant to lead us to Christ. From this connection everything that Joshua can be applied to us today, with (re)assurance that our faith will endure because Christ himself is keeping us (Jude 2), even as we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).

You can listen to the sermon online. For more on Joshua 23, you can read this week’s Ten Things blogpost: Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 23 is the penultimate chapter in the book and a call for Israel to make an ongoing, ultimate commitment to Yahweh. Here are ten things about this chapter to help us understand its main point with applications for us today.

1. Joshua 23 is the second of three assemblies that close the book of Joshua.

In the last three chapters of Joshua, the book comes to a close with three assemblies. In chapter 22, an emergency meeting is called when the Western tribes fear that the Eastern tribes committed idolatry by building an altar on the banks of the Jordan. In chapter 24, Joshua leads the nation to renew their covenant with Yahweh. But in Joshua 23, before that formal process of agreement, Joshua gives a more personal appeal for Israel to love God with all their heart and to guard themselves from idolatry.

In this way, Joshua 23 serves as a bridge between Joshua 22 and Joshua 24. It unites the three chapters with the theme of idolatry—or rather, a warning against idolatry. More specifically, this chapter focuses on the leaders in Israel, who are listed in verse 2: “elders, leaders, judges, and officials.” Importantly, as Joshua comes to the end of his life (vv. 1–2, 14), he is looking to this next generation of leaders to keep covenant with God. This shows how the nation prospers when the nation has faithful leaders (cf. 24:31). Continue reading