Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

Twelve Ways Daniel and the Lions’ Den Foreshadows the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

daniel05On Sunday, I preached a message on Daniel 6, ‘Jesus and the Lions’ Den.’ In that message, I concluded with a series of connections between Daniel 6 and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I made the point that in Daniel, the Spirit of Christ inspired the words of Daniel and led the life of Daniel to present in shadow form a picture of Christ.

For those who are interested in the whole message, here’s the sermon. The list of connections between Daniel and Jesus, complete with Scripture verses grounding each point, is found below. If you see more connections, textual or conceptual, please feel free to add them in the comments. I don’t suppose I’ve seen everything, but I think I’ve seen enough to argue that Daniel’s experience of ‘death and resurrection’ is a type of Christ’s death and resurrection.

You can also read a children’s book by the same title, Jesus and the Lions DenI didn’t read it before the sermon, but I would highly recommend it, as I read it to my children after Sunday.

 

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From God’s Throne to His Priests by way of His Word: Three More Truths About Justice

cloud05Over the last few weeks, our church has been thinking about justice from the Psalms. In Psalm 97, we saw that God himself is the source and standard of justice. In Psalm 98, we discovered how God “does” justice in justifying the ungodly by providing a legal substitute. And in Psalm 99, we saw how priestly mediators served to bring justice from God’s temple to God’s people, and from Zion to the ends of the earth.

In what follows, I will conclude the message of Psalm 99 in three points of application about justice. Continue reading

Mediated Justice: A Sermon on Psalm 99

cloud05On Sunday, our sermon series took another step in our study of God’s justice. Thus far we’ve seen the justice of God at his throne in Psalm 97 and God’s justice in his justification of sinners in Psalm 98. Now we will see how God creates a kingdom of priests who preach, proclaim, and pursue justice on the earth as in heaven in Psalm 99. These royal priests, when taught by the Spirit of God, are the holy instruments that God uses to bring his justice from heaven to earth.

Today, as many Christians take a renewed interest in justice, it is important to see that God’s Word is wholly sufficient for instructing us in justice and empowering us to seek justice righteously. To that end, this sermon shows how Christians, as a kingdom of priests, play a part in bringing God’s justice into the world. Importantly, this mediating role does not add justice to the justification of the gospel. Rather, justice flowers from faith in the gospel message itself, as God’s people proclaim God’s justifying grace and pursue good works wherever God sends them.

You can listen to the sermon online or watch below. Tomorrow I will follow up with another post on points of application from Psalm 99.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Jesus is the True Priest Who Offers a Better Sacrifice

goodfriday04In his modern classic, The Cross of Christ, John Stott begins his consideration of Christ’s crucifixion by outlining all the times Jesus speaks of his impending death. For Christ, his earthly mission focused not on his teaching, his healing, nor his ruling; his singular focus was on his sacrifice and his atonement for sin. He knew this and as we remember Christ’s death and resurrection this week, it is good for us to know the same.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we find at least nine places where Jesus speaks about his death. In John’s Gospel, we find seven more statements that describe the hour of his death. In all, these passages tell us a great deal about what Jesus’s death accomplished and how our Savior understand the purposes of his crucifixion. Following Stott’s outline (see pp. 25–32), let’s consider what Christ says about his death in the Synoptic Gospels. Perhaps, if time permits, we will return to John’s Gospel. Continue reading

A Few Reflections on Wisdom: Solomon as a Second Adam, Christ as a Better Solomon, and Christians Becoming True Humanity

halacious-OgvqXGL7XO4-unsplashAnd God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
— 1 Kings 4:29–34 —

In Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom LiteratureRichard Belcher introduces the reader to the world of biblical wisdom (ch. 1). The majority of his book examines the literary and theological aspects of Proverbs (chs. 2–4), Job (chs. 5–7), and Ecclesiastes (chs. 8–10). And he finishes by showing the relationship between Wisdom and Jesus Christ (ch. 11). In all, his book provides a rich resource for studying Old Testament Wisdom.

Still, one of the most helpful parts of his book is explaining the development of wisdom in the first chapter. Contrasting critical approaches which identify wisdom literature with other ancient Near Eastern religions, Belcher connects wisdom literature in the Bible with Solomon, who was granted such wisdom when he boldly asked for the Lord’s help to rule Israel (1 Kings 3).

In his discussion of wisdom’s development, Belcher draws an important connection between Solomon and his royal wisdom and Adam and his royal priestly calling. Here’s what he says, “The account of Solomon in 1 Kings makes allusions to Adam in the garden so that Solomon functions as a second Adam.” He goes on to explain why this is the case, Continue reading

How Autonomous Individualism Leads to Societal Anarchy: Or, What Herman Bavinck Has to Say about Critical Race Theory

tower“Autonomy becomes a principle that undermines every authority and all law.” 
— Herman Bavinck —

Solomon teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. The sins and struggles of one generation morph and change in the next, but because the root cause of sin and struggle remains the same, human misery is never novel. Indeed, as Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us, “God made man upright, but he has sought many schemes.” Yet, such schemes are only variations on a handful of themes.

For this reason, God’s completed canon (the Bible) is more than sufficient to supply us with wisdom for today. And often, Christian sages from other centuries—those saturated by God’s Word—are better able to address modern maladies than contemporary writers. An example of this is Herman Bavinck, a Dutch pastor, theologian, and ethicist. In his recently translated book, Christian WorldviewBavinck addresses some of the most difficult issues confronting us today.Christian Worldview_1

In three chapters on epistemology, ontology, and ethics, Bavinck confronts the materialism of his day. In response, he provides a thorough-going Reformed view of the world. As anyone familiar with his Reformed Dogmatics knows, his argument style rarely devolves into mere proof-texting. Rather, he shows vast knowledge of philosophy and science and argues his points by dismantling the incoherence of their views. Indeed, by focusing on the philosophers of his day, Bavinck provides an enduring argument against all who deny the wisdom and authority of God. And we do well to learn from him. Continue reading

On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Three Truths about Justice in God’s Kingdom

cloud05Last Sunday, I suggested the source and substance of true justice comes down from Yahweh, the God of heaven and king over all creation. As he brings his rule from heaven to earth—the enthronement described in Psalm 93–100—he establishes his kingdom in righteousness and justice (Psalm 97:2).

In the fulness of time, this kingdom came in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now, with the full disclosure of God in his inspired Word, we have all that we need for life and godliness, righteousness and justice—i.e., all that we need, until the God of justice returns and makes all things right on the last day.

You can watch the sermon from last week to a get sense of the message of Psalm 97, but today, I want to consider what God’s kingdom justice means for us living in a time between Christ’s two advents. What follows are three points of application from Psalm 97. These will also prepare the way for our consideration of Psalm 98.
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Seeing the Connections in Psalms 93–100 That Lead Us to Christ

mick-haupt-eQ2Z9ay9Wws-unsplashBeginning with Psalm 93, we enter a new phase in Book IV. Namely, we find selection of seven psalms (93–99) that herald the enthronement of Yahweh as king (Yahweh Melek) and one psalm (100) that brings us back to courts of the temple, where worship is renewed. Significantly, these psalms move from Israel’s exile to the hill of the Lord, and more decisively, these psalms show God himself returning to Zion and bringing his people with him.

If the arrangement of the psalms is to be taken into account, worship culminates when the people of God are brought into God’s temple, as he sits enthroned on his holy mountain. This second temple location—a point I suggested earlier this week—is seen in Psalm 100:4, as it states, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” Gates and courts imply Israel’s return to the temple. Yet, even more explicitly, Psalm 99:9 reads, “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain . . .” In this final verse of Psalm 99, we find the set up for Psalm 100.

In fact, as we can see in the graph below, every psalm in this section (Psalms 93–100) is “set up” by the last verse of the preceding verse. Such connections reinforce our confidence that these Psalms present a redemptive-historical narrative, and one that leads from Israel’s Babylonian Captivity (Ps. 89) to the restoration of worship in God’s temple (Ps. 100–106). Indeed, the Psalms display an incredible (chrono)logical ordering, and when we look at Psalms 93–100, we see this in the way each psalm prepares the way for the next, until the whole section tells how God is enthroned in Zion.

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Yahweh’s Penultimate Enthronement: Observing the Return-From-Exile Narrative in Psalms 90–106

the-psalmsIt is unmistakable that Psalms 96, 105, and 106 find their genesis in 1 Chronicles 16. Just read them together, and you will see how the psalms take up different parts of 1 Chronicles. With this background, it begins to help us see how to understand the message of Book IV in the Psalter, as well as the timing of Book IV.

In the original setting (in 1 Chronicles 16), David writes a psalm to celebrate the ark of the covenant coming to Jerusalem. After the ark, the symbol of God’s ruling presence, had been lost in battle to the Philistines and displaced from God’s people, David took pains to bring the ark to its proper place—the tabernacle set up in Jerusalem.

From another angle, this return of the ark can be described as the Lord’s enthronement. In David’s lifetime, we find the first enthronement of God in his holy city. What was promised by God, going back to Exodus 15:17–18 . . .

(You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
18  The Lord will reign forever and ever.”)

. . . came to fruition under David’s rule.

Yet, when we read the Psalms in chronological order, we find that Psalms 90–106 do not match up with the Lord’s enthronement in David’s day. Rather, placed after David died (see Psalm 71) and after David’s sons had lost the throne (Psalm 89), Book IV describes a new enthronement, or what David Mitchell (The Message of the Psalter) calls a “return from exile.” Clearly, Book IV is using the event of the Lord’s enthronement in David’s day as “type” that can be applied in a new setting. But what is that setting? And when? Continue reading