Mizpah: A Clue for the Storyline of 1 Samuel and for Reading the Bible Better

nick-tong-76567-unsplashWhat is in a name? Or, for that matter, what is in a place? In the Bible, often there is a lot in a place or a name. Just think about Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9–10) or what Nathanel thought about Nazareth (John 1:46).

Those are just two examples of the way names and places matter in the Bible. In fact, O. Palmer Robertson has written a whole book on the theological significance of geography. And the careful reader of Scripture would do well, especially in narrative books, to consider the location where the story takes place.

For instance, in 1 Samuel Mizpah, a city in Benjamin, shows up eight times—seven times in chapter 7, once in chapter 10. And I believe this location gives significant information about the book of 1 Samuel and the ominous choice of Saul as king. Let’s consider and see how paying attention to this place helps us understand 1 Samuel and how to read biblical narratives. Continue reading

From the First Adam to the Last Adam: 15 Quotations from ‘Christ from Beginning to End’

christ.jpegWhen one of my closest friends (Trent Hunter) and my doctoral supervisor (Stephen Wellum) write a book together on biblical theology, it is not surprising I’d commend it. In fact, I did that months before it came out and as soon as it came out, I assigned our “Theology Thursday” book study, a men’s group at our church, to discuss Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of ChristWe’ll do that Thursday, but before then let me say a couple things about this new book.

In this biblical theology the reader will find a well-crafted but non-technical summary of the Bible which helps people understand how to read the Bible and what is in the Bible. Following the trajectory of the biblical covenants (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, and Christ), Christ from Beginning to End incorporates a biblical vision which I have shared with them in personal discussions and teaching for the last decade.

In fact, the book itself comes from the teaching ministry of Dr. Wellum at Southern Seminary and Ninth & O Baptist Church, where Trent worked with Dr. Wellum in his Sunday School class. This is where I met them both, and I rejoice in the publication of this book, as it so well-expresses the way I hold the Bible—as a result, no doubt, of my time spent with Dr. Wellum. Still in reading this book, one feature stood out above the rest, and one I want to highlight it here.

From beginning to end, Wellum and Hunter make a strong connection between the first and last Adam. In fact, somewhere in the middle of reading, I realized that I can’t think of another biblical theology that does as a good a job of connecting Adam to the rest of the Bible. With meticulous consistency, they show how each biblical covenant mediates the gap between Adam and Christ, and how figures like Abraham, Israel, and David both repeat Adam and anticipate the Second Adam (Christ).

Indeed, without having read the book I was already giving it away, because of my close friendship with both of these brothers. But now having read it, I commend it for a fresh reason. If you want to understand the Bible’s Adam-Christ typology, a framework that fills Paul’s letters (e.g., Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) and the rest of the New Testament (e.g., Hebrews 1–2), Wellum and Hunter’s book is the place to begin.

In addition to giving a biblical framework for the world (i.e., creation-fall-redemption-new creation) and expounding how the biblical covenants work their way towards Jesus Christ, this attention to Adam helps us understand how Christ is more than a New Israel or a Savior of our own making. He is the true man (Adam) and the one who is both God and the Son of God, according to the biblical covenants, who has come to bring redemption to all the nations—just as God promised Adam (Genesis 3:15), Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3), Israel (Exodus 19:5–6), and David (1 Samuel 7:19; cf. Psalm 72).

In what follows, therefore, I share 15 quotes from Christ from Beginning to End which I pray may help you see the role of Adam in the Scripture. At the same time, if these quotes pique your interest in biblical theology and Adam’s role in God’s redemptive history, I encourage you to pick up this book and read through it. Better yet, pick up a handful of copies, share them with friends, and then meet to discuss. That’s what we are doing on Thursday. You should do the same. 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

Gospel-Motivated Giving

om-prakash-sethia-301978-unsplashThis summer our church looked at Jesus’s words concerning giving. In Sunday School, we studied Randy Alcorn’s helpful little book called The Treasure PrincipleYou can listen to the series here. And in our series on the Sermon on the Mount, we have looked at Jesus words about giving in Matthew 6:1–4, treasure in Matthew 6:19–24, and trusting God with our material needs in Matthew 6:25–34. You can listen to those sermons here:

Still, giving is not just something that Jesus talked about. It is something that goes back to the beginning of corporate worship. For in Exodus, when God redeemed his people from Egypt, he led them to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle. With the gifts God provided for Israel through the “plundering of the Egyptians,” God’s people gladly gave to the construction of God’s dwelling place.

Today, as the church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit, God’s people continue to give to its upbuilding, as the Lord moves our hearts. Jesus’s words about storing up treasure in heaven, and not on earth may even refer directly to this temple-directed giving (see Nicholas Perrin, Jesus the Temple), However, throughout the Bible there is a theme of God’s people giving to the upbuilding of God’s dwelling place because of the work of grace in their lives.

This is first seen in Exodus and continues until today. Accordingly, we can learn much by seeing the relationship between grace and giving, and how gospel-motivated giving is both similar and different from all other forms of philanthropy. Continue reading

The Cost of Discipleship: How the Historical Context of Hebrews Teaches Us How to Read This Book

hebrewsTonight we begin our verse-by-verse study of Hebrews in our weekly Bible study. Last week we looked at the book as a whole. You can find the audio and introductory notes here.

This week we will consider the first four verses, which introduce Hebrew’s “word of exhortation” (13:25) to a people suffering oppression (10:32–34) and tempted to shrink back from their Great High Priest. Indeed, as the book unfolds we become quite aware that the author of this book has a great concern for the enduring faith of these afflicted disciples. To understand, therefore, the pastoral intent of Hebrews we need to know something of the historical context.

And while many particulars about Hebrews are impossible to discern (like who wrote the book), we can put together a fairly accurate picture of who is addressed, where, and when. In fact, in his short commentary on Hebrews (A Call to Commitment), William Lane provides a clear picture of the letter’s background from the available content of Hebrews and the history of Rome in the first century. Here’s what he finds, Continue reading

The Gospel According to Moses: Three Reasons Why We Should Study Deuteronomy

deurteronomy01If you could only take one book of the Bible with you on a deserted island, what would it be? Psalms? The Gospel of John? Hebrews? What about Deuteronomy?

Amazingly, when we put that question to the life Jesus, we discover it was the book of Deuteronomy and the Psalms, which Jesus took with him when the Spirit led him into the wilderness. In Matthew 4:1–11 we find the account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness, and notice what words Jesus quotes.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” [Deut. 8:3]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” [Psalm 91:11–12]

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ” [Deut. 6:16]

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

In this temptation narrative, we learn something about Jesus and the way Jesus read the Old Testament, as well as the importance of the book of Deuteronomy. 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

The Truth about Treasure (Matthew 6:19–24)

sermon05The Truth about Treasure (Matthew 6:19–24)

What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?

This is Tertullian’s famous question contrasting the difference between divine truth and man-made philosophy. And it highlights the challenge of living in this world with our eyes fixed upon another.

In a similar fashion, we might ask the same question about our rewards: What hath dollars to do with eternal destinies?

Indeed, in a world where money motivates, secures, comforts, and corrupts, we are painfully aware of the problems that money (and its lack) bring. Yet, as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:19–24, our earthly riches also provide an important avenue for discipleship and increasing our eternal joy. The question is how!

With that in mind, Sunday’s sermon considered Jesus’s teaching about earthly and heavenly reward. You can listen to that sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below.

Continue reading

A New Covenant Perspective on Fasting

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“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16–18 —

This Sunday our church comes to Jesus’s words about fasting in Matthew 16:16–18. In preparation, I have read many commentaries and articles on the subject, but one question lingers: How does the new covenant impact fasting?

In his immensely helpful chapter on fasting, Donald Whitney identifies fasting as numerically greater than baptism—77 uses of fasting in the Bible, compared to 75 uses of baptism. Yet, does that mean fasting is equally important for the new covenant Christian?

I am not sure. While the Bible regularly talks about fasting, most of the occurrences are found in the Old Testament. And while every word of Old Testament is useful for our instruction, I wonder how fasting relates to the covenants? Or to turn it the other way, is there a difference between fasting under the Law and fasting under the Gospel (i.e., the Law fulfilled)? Could that explain the difference in emphasis? That is what I will try to answer below. 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.

Sermon on the Mount Overview copy

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