Mapping Isaiah and Beholding Christ: A Literary Study of Isaiah 59

himesh-kumar-behera-216019This Sunday I will preach Isaiah 59. And to prepare for this Christmas message, I have spent time getting to know the landscape of Isaiah. Because the literary shape is so important for understanding the (theological) message of any book, I’ve spent time trying to figure out how this one chapter fits into the whole of Isaiah.

In what follows, I will share a few observations from what I’ve found. If you are interested, I’d love to hear your feedback and insight into this glorious chapter. Continue reading

Becoming Like the One We Behold: Why Seeing Christ in Scripture is Necessary for Biblical Exposition

swapnil-dwivedi-246205Q. Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?

A. Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.

When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give—

  • because this is how the apostles preached in Acts,
  • because the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ,
  • because the Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation,
  • or because Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.

Still, the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, in my estimation, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

In conjunction with the truth that we become like what we behold (see Psalm 115:8; 135:18), this verse teaches us that when we “see” Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5–6) in his beauty and glory, his humility and love, we will become like him. However, when we read Scripture without seeing Christ, or worse if we read Scripture with an intention not see how every passage relates to Jesus Christ, then we will grow in knowledge of the Bible but without growing in affection for Christ. Ever wonder how men and women who know the Bible could be so arrogant or divisive? Might it be due to reading Scripture, without falling in love with Christ?

Indeed, this is why we have the Bible—to know the triune God through the full and final revelation of Christ (see Hebrews 1:1–2:4). And when led by the Spirit, such knowing comes with the stirring of affections. And with those affections, our hearts are enlarged for God through our loving trust in Christ. Then, as a result, our lives are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

For me, this is why preaching Christ is not exercise in erudition, but a necessary part of faithful exposition—showing how the whole Bible comes together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). And thankfully, this approach to Christ is not novel. Indeed, it is the way many in the church has approached Christ in Scripture. For instance, in reading Richard Sibbes recently, I came across his own passion for seeing Christ. In meditating on Matthew 12:18, which quotes from Isaiah 42:1, he explains the relationship of these two passages and how seeing Christ is necessarily transformative. Here’s what Sibbes says,

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding. If we look upon him with the eye of faith, it will us like Christ; for the gospel is a mirror, and such a mirror, that when we look into it, and see ourselves interested in it, we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ. For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ, but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God doth, who hated so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God.man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving for us, this will transform us to love God. When we see the humility and obedience of Christ, when we look on Christ as God’s chosen servant in all this, and as our surety and head, it transforms us to the like humility obedience. Those that find not their dispositions in some comfortable measure wrought to this blessed transformation, they have not yet those eyes that the Holy Ghost requireth here. ‘Behold my servant whom chosen, my beloved in whom my soul delighteth,’ (Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in The Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:14)

Glorious! To see Christ, as revealed in Scripture by the Spirit, is to become like him.

So, if you preach the Bible, make sure you preach Christ—in his humility and exaltation, his cross and resurrection, his deity and humanity, as Creator and Redeemer, as Son of God and God the Son, as the Way to the Father, and as the Sender (with the Father) of the Spirit, the head of the church, and the Lord of the nations. Indeed, as Sibbes observes, it is only by seeing Christ that we will be become like him. And thus preachers (and all Christians) must pray and seek and desire to see Christ from all the Scriptures; we must learn how to read all of Scripture to see Christ.

And why is that so important? Because only by seeing him will we become like him—the purpose for which we were created and redeemed. As Romans 8:29 puts it, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Reformed in our thinking. Conformed in our living. Transformed in our affections. This is what happens when we see Christ, and thus we must endeavor to behold him from all the Scriptures.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

The Father Saves, The Son Suffers, The Spirit Speaks: Seeing the Trinity in Ephesians 1–3

bibleAs to the divine works, the Father is the source
from which every operation emanates (ex ou),
the Son is the the medium through which (di’ ou) it is performed,
and the Holy Ghost is the executive by which (ev ō) it is carried into effect.
— George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 4 —

When the Bible says that salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9), I wonder if we have a bad habit of thinking that God is a singular actor in salvation? That is, when we say (rightly) salvation is monergistic, do we remember how the Father, Son, and Spirit each work inseparably? Or does our mind’s eye see salvation as a thing given by God, but without regard for how each member of the Trinity works?

Rightly, salvation is no way the result of man’s cooperation with God (see Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8–9). But in the truest sense salvation is the indivisible work of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And unless we think of the three persons working together as one (because they are, in fact, one, indivisible God), I fear we may miss the monergistic nature of salvation—the very point conveyed in the testimony, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

In other words, when we fail to remember the triune nature of God in salvation, we are liable to conceive of salvation in synergistic terms—God provides; we respond, with emphasis on our response. The result, though perhaps unintentional, is a failure to see how the Father, Son, and Spirit work respectively to plan, procure, and provide salvation such that is remains God’s work, and salvation remains entirely gracious.

To get a handle on this idea, that salvation is a work of the triune God, we could examine many passages of Scripture, but few are more naturally trinitarian than the first three chapters of Ephesians. Continue reading

Ten Things Ephesians Teaches About Christ and his Church

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So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, . . .
— Ephesians 3:10 —

The ESV Study Bible has a succinct list of ten ways Christ and his Church are related and described in the book of Ephesians (p. 2267). For anyone wanting to dig deeper into what Scripture says about God’s people, Christ’s body and bride, and the Holy Spirit’s temple, the book of Ephesians would be an important starting place. Keep an eye out for these verses (listed below) and you will gain great insight into how Paul understands the church for which Christ died and is now building.

Christ is the head of the church 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23
Christ is the cornerstone of the church 2:20
Christ is the Savior and sanctifier of the church 5:23, 26–27
Christ gives the church ministry workers 4:11–16
Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church 5:25
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church 5:29
the church and her members dwell and grow in Christ 2:21–22; 4:15
the church is a means through which God manifests his manifold wisdom 3:10
the church submits to Christ 5:24
the church is Christ’s body, and individual believers are members of his body 1:22–23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Onur on Unsplash

What Servant Leadership Looks Like: Seven Lessons from Theodore Roosevelt

bookFor the last few weeks I have been listening to the audiobook by John Knokey, Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American LeadershipThis has probably been one of the most enjoyable and fascinating biographies I’ve ever read. Knokey traces the development of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership from his developmental years at Harvard to his two terms as president of the United States.

Most of his time—or at least, the most memorable time—is spent with Roosevelt as a frontiersman in the Dakotas and a military colonel on the way to Cuba. In these anecdote-filled chapters, the reader is given a firsthand introduction to how Roosevelt became a leader and how his leadership forged the spirit of America for the next century.

For anyone interested in American history or presidential leadership this book is excellent. In fact there are many lessons about leadership in the book and countless stories to illustrate them. To summarize, I will distill seven lessons from Roosevelt’s larger-than-life leadership, and make a few applications to Christian leadership in particular. Continue reading

God’s War Memorial (pt 2): How a Diverse Christian Community Displays Christ’s Glory (Ephesians 2:11–22)

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God’s War Memorial (pt 2): How a Diverse Christian Community Displays Christ’s Glory 

The church is more than just a collection of individual Christians or a consumer-oriented store for the religious. It is a people created by the cross of Christ, joined together in Christ to display his power and grace to the world. For this reason, the church is called a temple. As we learned last week, temples display the power of the God who dwells therein. And in the case of the church as God’s dwelling place, we are to bear witness to who God is in worship and in the way we live.

This week’s sermon tackles this foundational matter, and with a little help from Theodore Roosevelt, we learn how the unity of a diverse army brings glory to the commander. And because Christ is our great captain, we as his people ought to linger over how we can follow him and be his church.

For this week’s sermon you can listen online or you can read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

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By Grace, Through Faith: Getting Into God’s Grammar about Salvation (Ephesians 2:8–10)

When it comes to understanding the heart of the gospel, Ephesians 2:8–10 is an anchor passage. And this week I had the privilege and the challenge of preaching it. The privilege comes in the fact that, this verse encapsulates so much gospel truth. The challenge is unpacking all that is there in those three verses.

As with many sermons, preaching this passage makes the preacher feel as though so much more could be said about this vast and glorious subject. Nevertheless, I pray this week’s message articulated the gospel truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone. And such free grace ensures that the new life of the believer means that saving faith is never alone, rather as Ephesians 2:10 says: it produces a life of good works.

Below you will find discussion questions and a few resources on the subject matter. You can also find the sermon online, as well as the sermon notes. Continue reading

Twelve Reasons for Reading the Psalms as a Unified Canon That Leads to Christ

bibleTo read something canonically means reading something as a unified whole, instead of fragmenting the book or letter into dozens of independent (or worse, divergent) pieces. Reading canonically seeks to understand the author’s intention, by recognizing the literary shape of his document. It is aware of the genre of the composition, but even more it looks at the internal evidence to see what is there. When reading books in the Bible, this way of reading is challenging, but always well-repaid. By seeing the literary shape of the text, we come much closer to understanding the meaning of the message.

But what if the book is composite, something like Proverbs, which is a collection of wise sayings? Or the Psalms, which is the ‘hymnbook’ of Israel and the Church? Is it possible to such books as a unified whole?

When it comes to the Psalms, I believe the answer is unmistakably, “yes!” And the reasons are manifold. In fact, drawing on the work of other Old Testament scholars, I want to suggest  twelve reasons why you should read the Psalms as a book written as one unified canon. Or to say it differently, here are twelve evidences of intentional arrangement in the Psalter—arrangement that should inform the way we read the Psalms and that should ultimately lead us to a more Christ-centered understanding of the Psalter and its individual Psalms. Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

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For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading