Getting Redemption Right and Understanding the Logic of Christ’s Cross

black cross on top of mountain

Recently, I have been watching, reading, and discussing the ways that the cross of Christ has being wrongly preached, taught, and explained in churches today. In particular the penal substitutionary nature of the cross, where Christ pays the penalty for sinners who have broken God’s law and deserve his righteous and eternal condemnation, has been redefined by scholars like N.T. Wright, popular teachers like Tim Mackie (and The Bible Project), and misrepresented by pastors who have adopted their teaching and succumbed to the God-is-love-and-not-wrath narrative. And this does not even include the opponents of Christianity (e.g., Tony Jones, Bart Campolo, Richard Rorty, and others in the following video) who have simply denied the historic meaning of the cross of Christ.

Often, false teaching about the cross affirms truths that Scripture teaches. For instance, the cross does defeat the powers and principalities (Col. 2:13–15); it does display the love of God (John 3:16); it does liberate mankind from the idols and ideas of this world (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Sadly, the error comes not in what is affirmed, but what is denied—namely, that the cross propitiates the wrath of God. At its heart, Scripture teaches that a holy God cannot turn a blind eye to human sin. Therefore, mankind stands condemned in Adam and ready to receive God’s righteous judgment. This is bad news. But it is biblical and it is the ground from which the good news of Christ’s death must spring.

In the Bible, we discover that God’s gospel declares that he has satisfied his own holy standards by substituting his own Son in the place of the people who he has chosen to redeem. Sadly, many teachers deny or distort this penal substitutionary view of the cross. Some caricature God’s wrath as divine child abuse poured out on Jesus, as if Jesus is not God himself; others make the problem of humanity some form of human, political, or demonic evil; and others simply deny the holiness of God, declaring that God has absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, including letting sinners go free—no wrath needed. Space does not permit a full response here to these errant views (but see this three-part response).

Instead, I want to offer a biblical definition of redemption and Christ as the redeemer.  Again, the problem with any view that denies Christ’s penal substitution stems from a dismissal or distorted view of Scripture. Yet, when we take Scripture on its own terms, we find a holy God who has made a single way of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Explaining that redemption, Leon Morris, in The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance, has helpful spelled out the nature of humanity’s need and the effect of Christ’s death. Writing about Christ the Redeemer, he says Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: A Wide Angle View of Salvation from 1 Peter 1:10–12

glory to god book

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

In his commentary on 1 Peter, the late biblical theologian, Edmund Clowney, observes that “Glory is the goal of the Old Testament promises” (56). Indeed, glory is the goal of creation, salvation, and really everything God does in his world. And in 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle of Jesus widens his view of salvation to include all the Spirit of Christ revealed to the Old Testament prophets about the coming messiah, from his sufferings and his subsequent glories to the gospel of grace that came from Christ to the elect exiles in Asia Minor.

For us, who read 1 Peter, it is worth our time to ponder all that God has done in redemptive history also. Such a meditation solidifies the foundation on which we stand in Christ and secures us further in times of trial. Indeed, salvation, which comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, depends upon understanding the Christ of Scripture and not the christ of our sentimental imaginings. With that in mind, we should constantly be rehearsing the high points of the biblical storyline to better know who Christ is and what he did. Continue reading

A Better Inheritance: Letting Israel’s Land Promises Inform Our Eternal Hopes

farm land during sunset

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy,
he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
— 1 Peter 1:3–4 —

Whenever I read or preach a passage of Scripture that includes a list or series of names, actions, vices, virtues, or any other kind of description, I am looking to see if there is an order or a concrete image that gives shape or cohesion to the list. Sometimes there is not, but often there is. And in the case of 1 Peter 1:4, where Peter speaks of the inheritance that is kept in heaven for those who have been raised to new life in Christ, we find a helpful word picture in Edmund Clowney’s commentary on this passage.

Drawing on a typological connection between Israel’s land and Christ’s new creation, Clowney compares two types of inheritance. He describes how the inheritance that Christians will receive from Jesus on the last day far exceeds the inheritance Israel received at the hands of Joshua. In this way, Clowney provides a faithful and fruitful description of what Christ holds for us in heaven—namely, a place in the kingdom that he will reveal on the last day. Indeed, this promise is glorious, but to fully appreciate what it means, we need to read 1 Peter 1:4 with what the Old Testament says about Israel’s inheritance.

This is what Clowney does, and it is worth our patient reflection, as he explains how “the words that Peter uses to describe our unchangeable inheritance all relate to the land that was the inheritance of Israel” (47). In keeping with the three words that Peter uses (imperishable, undefiled, and unfading), Clowney lists three comparisons. He writes Continue reading

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.

 

Continue reading

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