9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —
A few years ago, I introduced a reading plan focused on Scripture saturation more than Scripture box-checking. As a new year begins, I return to that reading plan for myself and for others who might be interested in focusing on one (or two or three) books in a month, instead a daily selection of Bible readings.
As we all know, or should know, the Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!
Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means an ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the new year.
And today I offer a reflection on why a reading plan dedicated to saturating in Scripture may be a help for those who need to slow down and meditate on God’s Word. Or, for others, why a plan that encourages reading larger sections of Scripture might help Bible readers see more clearly the full message of the Bible.
Picking up where I left off yesterday, I want to continue showing how the end-times prophecy of Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. From Isaiah 60:1–6, I highlighted three ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of (1) light, (2) joy, and (3) treasures brought to the temple. Today, I will pick up four more promises that are fulfilled in Christ’s birth.
4. Gentiles Have Been Received By Christ
In Isaiah 60:6 the LORD says kings will come to Zion bringing gifts. Now, in verse 7, we find the promise that those gifts “will beautify my beautiful house.” This “house” is a reference God’s holy temple, the place where God dwelt on earth. But incredibly, this house, its altar and inner sanctuary, were off limits–especially to Gentiles. And yet here, in Isaiah 60 we find the invitation for Gentile kings to “come up with acceptance on my altar.” The inclusion of “acceptance” is remarkable.
Under the old covenant, Gentiles were ritually and religiously unclean. In Ezekiel 44:6–9, Israel received the harshest condemnation because they permitted Gentiles to come near to God’s house. But now, Isaiah 60 says these foreign kings will be acceptable. How is this possible? The answer goes back to the international scope of the Servant’s work (Isa. 49:6–7).
While God chose Israel to be his covenant people in the Old Testament, the goal was always bigger. God would redeem a people from all nations, a theme that runs throughout Isaiah, and goes back to Abraham himself (see Gen. 12:1–3). In Isaiah 60, we now see the nations coming to Zion, bringing gifts (vv. 6–9), and building up the city of God. Listen to verse 10, “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.”
Incredibly, when God exiled the people of Israel to Babylon and the nations, he in turn made a way for the nations to begin coming to Zion to find salvation in Israel’s king. In Zechariah 8:23, the post-exilic prophet puts it like this, “In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Indeed, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, he would turn Israel’s exile into a pathway of salvation for the nations. And in Isaiah 60:6–16 we find the nations coming to Israel bringing gifts and finding a place to reside near God.
In the New Testament, this emigration towards Zion is seen in the way the Magi come to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews. Most likely, these men of the East came to Jerusalem in response to the knowledge they received from exiled Jews. Daniel is a likely candidate for this kind of knowledge, but it could be others too. For our purposes, it is clear that Isaiah 60’s vision of the nations coming to Zion anticipates the arrival of the Magi. Or to turn it around, Matthew includes their pilgrimage to Zion (to Jesus, not just Jerusalem) to show how Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled.
On this point, we can go even further. These Gentile kings did not merely come to Bethlehem, they were welcomed into the Jewish living space Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. As Matthew 2:11 begins, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.” Let us not miss the significance of this moment. These unclean Gentiles are received into the presence of the Israel’s king because of their worshipful faith. This too reinforces the fact that Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled in the way Gentile kings are received the King of the Jews. Continue reading
With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas Carols upon us, the holiday season is now here. And with the holidays comes the making of many lists.
Santa has his list. And I am sure many readers of this blog have theirs. Whether it is a list of things to get done for Christmas or a list of this to wrap up before the new year comes, lists are a part of life. And lists can be all sorts of things.
They can be harmful, if your list is filled with grudges. Or, they can be helpful, if they help you remember all that your need to do. And they can even be misunderstood, if they are intercepted and read out of context.
Recently, my daughter found a list of family names with corresponding items under each. Still learning how to read, she thought it was surely a list of Christmas presents. But actually, when examined, this list contained all the school work to be done before Christmas. Such are the ways of lists. They can help, but they can also mislead.
In fact, lists can have negative consequences when we read the Bible. If you haven’t noticed, Scripture is not written in list form. Oh, it has lists. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain two of them; they are called genealogies. Likewise, throughout the Bible, you can find lists of names, places, treasures, and laws. In short, the Bible is not against lists; it’s just that, on the whole, the Bible is not a list.
Resultantly, when we grind the Bible into list form, as many sermon-makers are quick to do, we run the risk of missing its message. Even more, when we turn the Bible into lists, we often miss the Messiah!
That said, there are times when it is helpful to put the truths of Scripture in list form. Systematic theologies do that, as do many sermons. And though I think the listicle sermon often misses the shape of the text, there are times for it. And this Sunday was one of them.
After riding an airboat through Isaiah 1–12 and a helicopter over Isaiah 13–27, I offered a sermon with four encouraging truths from Isaiah 28–35. Without abandoning the literary structure of the text, I focused on the applications that came from these eight chapter. To find those applications of the gospel, you can listen to the sermon here. You can also find the literary structure of Isaiah 28-35 here.
So far, preaching Isaiah 1–35 has been a challenge, but it has been a happy challenge, as it has forced us to see how the whole book fits together and leads us to Christ. Truly, Isaiah is glorious book, so let’s keeping reading it. And as you do, I pray these sermons may help you as you read.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
Sermon Handout: Isaiah 13-27 PDF Slides
Has the Bible ever made you mad? Have you ever stopped reading the Bible because you couldn’t understand it? Are there parts of the Bible that you have avoided because they are too difficult to comprehend? To each of these questions, I can offer an affirmative response, with illustrations to prove it.
For instance, a number of years ago Isaiah 13–27 was one of those places. Or rather, it was somewhere in Isaiah 13-19. Reading those chapters, with their endless judgments against ancient foreign powers, I got frustrated and put the Bible away. Looking for a word of encouragement, the endless oracles made no sense. After all, what do Philistines and Moabites have to do with me? As it turns out, there are lots of ways that God’s judgment on these nations applies today (see Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but it took some time to see it.
Fast forward two decades from the time I closed the book on Isaiah 13–19, and I can say that these chapters are some of the most exhilarating in the Bible. But such exhilaration requires learning how to read them on their own terms. And on Sunday, that’s what I attempted to do as I preached Isaiah 13–27.
Based on literary clues in the text, we find that Isaiah 13–27 is a single unit, broken into three main sections, maybe four (13-19 / 20 / 21-23 + 24-27). Accordingly, to hear the message of this section (1 of 7 in the book), requires listening to the whole thing. Just as understanding The Count of Monte Cristo requires reading beyond the imprisonment of Edmond Dantès, so too these chapters must be read from beginning to end—-just as the whole book of Isaiah must be read to understand its good news.
Indeed, while stretching for the preacher and the listener, I attempted on Sunday to show how this whole section hangs together and offers an international comedy. Moving from the bad news of God’s judgment on wicked nations to the good news of salvation offered to a remnant from all nations, I showed how these 15 chapters work together to bring us hope for a glorious future.
If you are interested in hearing how this all goes, I would encourage you to begin with last week’s sermon on Isaiah 1–12 here. (Don’t miss the Isaiah 1-12_Handout). And then with another set of Isaiah 13-27 notes in hand, you can listen to this week’s sermon on Isaiah 13–27 here. All told, it is my hope to preach Isaiah in 7 sermons. So stay tuned for an ongoing overview of this glorious book.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)
When Jesus died and rose again, rocks cracked open, tombs emptied, and creation shook. As Matthew reports it, there was an earthquake associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. And that earthquake not only shook creation, it also raised the dead. As Matthew 27:52 says,
The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
While this resurrection of the holy ones is mysterious, it shows the power of God to change the world and to change a life. Death is not the final word to God, because God has the power to put death to death. And in Christ’s resurrection, this what he did and is still doing to those who he raises to life today (see Eph. 2:5)
Not surprisingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it also sent shockwaves into the world. First, it touched the lives of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, as well as those who saw Lazarus raised. Then quickly, news of Lazarus resurrection went viral. Just as God intended, Lazarus’s illness did not result in death but in the glory of God (John 11:1–6).
Indeed, as God’s glory spread like a light over Jerusalem, it began shake the city. Jesus’s light began to give illumine believers and expose unbelievers. Just like the rest of Jesus’s ministry in John, news of this resurrection served to separate light from darkness and faith from unbelief. More exactly, Jesus’s seventh sign served as the climactic event that would lead to his death. Indeed, Lazarus’s resurrection had such a powerful effect that everyone in Jerusalem was forced to take a side—Will you trust Jesus? Or will you reject him?
In fact, that’s the whole point of John’s Gospel and the point of the passage before us (John 11:45–12:11)—namely, to give us an unshakably faith by way of Christ’s resurrection shockwaves. Or to put it the other way round, the shockwaves of the resurrection produce unshakable faith.
Consider how this works: when we come to John 11:45 we are immediately confronted with the effects of Lazarus new life. In John 11:1–16 we have the set up for the resurrection of Lazarus. In John 11:17–44 we have the resurrection itself. And now in in John 11:45–12:11, we have the shockwaves of the resurrection.
As verses 45–46 indicate, these shockwaves do one of two things—they either produce faith or hostility. Notice the contrast here: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”
Already in John, we have seen this kind of separation. Jesus does something—e.g., he heals the sick or he feeds the 5,000—and people must make a decision. Will you believe on him, or not? And now, Jesus is at it again. Only now he has raised someone from the dead and has performed his seventh sign within ear shot of Jerusalem.
On Sunday this is what I preached, as I showed from John 11:45–12:11 how Christ’s power to raise the dead gives us a firm foundation on which to build our faith. You can listen to the sermon here. And you can see a bit more on the passage here.
As we remember the resurrection power of Christ, may we have confidence in him to secure us and save us even from all the deadly threats that surround us.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
Who can take the Lord’s Supper is a question of no little dispute among those who call themselves Baptist (yes, this is a Baptist blogpost). In my estimation, the best answer to the question of baptism and Lord’s Supper goes something like this:
Those who have undergone believer’s baptism (the initiation rite of the new covenant) are permitted to eat at the Lord’s Supper (the continuing rite of the new covenant).
In what follows, I will offer a biblical typology to explain why baptism should precede Lord’s Supper. Rising from the Old Testament, these symbols of the new covenant do not arise de novo from Jesus or apostles. Rather, as we appreciate the Old Testament pattern of water-crossing that leads to feasting in God’s presence, we will see why baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper.
In short, OT “baptisms” are types of the NT baptisms and the Passover is the chief type of the Lord’s Supper. To understand baptism and the Lord’s Supper requires understanding the symbolism of these OT events. But also, because these OT “water crossings” are paired with a meals in God’s presence (e.g., Passover), we see that baptism and Lord’s Supper should also be paired together. This is the basic argument and we will consider it below in four steps, giving primary attention to the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are informed by the book of Joshua. Continue reading
Earlier this year, Crossway published my book The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God in their Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. In that book I show priesthood begins in the Garden of Eden, develops across the Old Testament, culminates in Jesus Christ, and proliferates in the life of the church. The church is a priesthood of believers with Christ as the great high priest.
In my book, I show many but not all of the people who should be identified as priests. As a “short study,” my book could not cover everything in the Bible, and hence there remain many glorious portraits of the priesthood throughout Scripture. And one of them (not found in my book) is Joshua son of Nun.
Joshua is a well-known figure in the Old Testament and the New, but is he a priest? In the following paragraphs, I will answer that question and show a number of reasons for understanding Joshua as priest.
Like Moses before him and Jesus after him, Joshua demonstrates his priesthood through his covenant mediation, his teaching, his intercession before God, his purification of the land, and more. Indeed, it is fair to say that all the leading figures in Israel’s history are priests, either by explicit reference or by the merit of their actions. Indeed, these priestly actions are also what reveal Christ’s priesthood in the Gospels. And thus, it is worth our time to see how Joshua’s priesthood foreshadows his greater namesake.
When I preached through the Five Books of the Psalms a few years ago, I began to see chiasms as “literary mountains” (see below). Which is to say, just as mountains in the Bible serve as meeting places with God, so chiastic structures (literary mountains) do the same. Because chiasms put stress on the high point of the passage, we should seek to understand how the author builds his argument and his artistry around that centerpiece. And what results is a staircase that moves up the literary mountain and back down again.
In John’s Gospel, there are more than a few chiastic structures. John 1:1–18 is carefully constructed as a chiasm. So is John 2–4 and John 5–11. And because the Gospel shows multiple chiasms, it validates our search to see further literary structures as chiastic (A-B-A). In fact, John 7 has three of these literary mountains—one small (John 7:1–9), one large (John 7:10–36), and one medium in size (John 7:37–52).
Without getting into all the interpretive details of all that follows, I offer the following literary structure. Each begin with the “feast of booths” as the gateway to each “mountain.” Then each put in the center of the chiasm, i.e., the high point of the mountain, the divide that stands in the crowd because of Jesus.
By looking at these these three chiasms together, it helps us get a sense for how to read the whole chapter, and to understand what the main point is—namely, that Jesus has come to fulfill the Feast of Booths, which will cause a divide between those who are enslaved to the shadow (i.e., the Law) and those who will believe in the substance (Christ, to which the Law points).
Tell me what you think? Does this reading match the text, as you see it? Or would you make adjustments? Continue reading
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