The Light is Dawning on Those Whom God is Saving: 10 Things about John 3:1–21

hence-the-boom-vbQsU3kVVPI-unsplashFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
— John 3:16 —

John 3:16 is a glorious diamond, but it only one jewel in the crown of John 3.

Many times we quote, hear, and share John 3:16 without its context in John’s Gospel. This is not a bad thing. A single diamond is beautiful, but set in an engagement ring or on a king’s crown, the placement makes the diamond better. The same is true when we put John 3:16 back into the Bible and see what comes around it.

In what follows, I outline ten things about John 3:1–21 to help us better understand this whole section of John’s Gospel.

1. The flow of John 2–4 moves from light to darkness.

It is well recognized that John’s Gospel turns on the themes of light and darkness. Already in John 1:9 we heard John say, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Later, Jesus will say, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). But what about in between? Is there a theme of light dawning in chapters 2–8? I believe there is, or at least we see a progression of light in John 2–4. Consider this outline: Continue reading

What’s in a Name? How Names in the Bible Reveal Meaning and Lead Us to Trust in the Name above All Names

namesFor to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government
shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
— Isaiah 9:6 —

What’s in a name? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, we find a helpful introduction to the way names are used in the Old Testament. Here’s what it says,

In the OT names not only looked to the circumstances of a birth (e.g., Jonathan means “Yahweh has given [a son] ”; Reuben means “Look! A son”) but could also wish a blessing (e.g., Isaiah means “Yahweh’s salvation”; Immanuel means “God be/is with us”). Royal names could change when a person attained the throne. Several Israelite kings had their names changed by their overlords, showing that they were under authority of an outside power (e.g., the name of Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim by the Egyptians, 2Ki 23:34). Others seem to have adopted their own throne name, as some have suggested for Azzariya/Azariah (meaning “Yahweh aided”) adopting the name Uzziah (meaning “Yahweh is my strength”). King David was identified at his death by four titles: son of Jesse, man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God, Israel’s favorite singer (2Sa 23:1).

Sentence names in the ancient Near East. Most names in the ancient world make statements, i.e., they are self-contained sentences. Many of the statements are about a deity. One can easily recognize the deity name in names such as Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, or Rameses. Anyone even casually familiar with the Bible has noticed how many Israelite names end in -iah or -el, or start with Jeho- or El-. All of these represent Israel’s God. This type of name is called a theophoric name, and affirms the nature of the deity, proclaims the attributes of the deity or requests the blessing of the deity. One way to interret the titulary of this verse [Isaiah 9:7] is to understand it as reflecting important theophoric affirmations: The Divine Warrior is a Supernatural Planner, The Sovereign of Time is a Prince of Peace. (Note: the word “is” is not used in such constructions, as all names demonstrate). Continue reading

Sinai and Zion: How Learning the Terrain of God’s Holy Hill Helps Us Read Isaiah

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[This blogpost is one of many on Isaiah, this month’s focus book in the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. For more resources on Isaiah, see here].

In the book of Isaiah, the word “Zion” and the concept of the Lord’s holy mountain is prominent. Yet, Zion is not something that only appears in Isaiah, it is a theme that runs through Scripture. In the days ahead, I hope to put a few notes down on this concept.

For starters, consider the observations of Stephen Dempster, author of Dominion and Dynasty: A Study in Old Testament Theology. Describing the connection between Zion and Sinai, he writes (on an old blog that had so much promise . . . but little fulfillment :-):

I have been just reading and thinking about the whole relation between Sinai and Zion. Hartmut Gese’s chapter on The Law in his book Essays in Biblical Theology is extremely stimulating. . . . Gese makes the point that the Torah given at Sinai was given to one nation and there was an exclusive emphasis on it—a wall of separation was erected between the Holy and the Unholy. When the covenant was made and the atonement was made, representatives of Israel were allowed to ascend the mountain and eat and drink with God. The text clearly says that they saw God and were not harmed (ch. 24). They had unbroken fellowship with their Creator. Continue reading

Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

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Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

On Sunday we looked at Joshua 24, the last chapter in Joshua, and concluded our series on this Jesus-centered book.

In Joshua 24, the soon-to-be-departed leader of Israel called Israel to renew their covenant with God. By reminding Israel of God’s grace in their past and calling them to seek Yahweh’s grace for their present, Joshua renewed a covenant that anticipated a greater covenant in the future.

Indeed, as we have seen in all of Joshua, this book points to Jesus with remarkable, and at times shocking, clarity. It is not a book where we have to read Jesus back into the Old Testament. Instead, as the first book written after Moses, a book that helps us learn to read the rest of the Prophets and Writings, Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus) is unmistakably Christotelic (written to bring us to Christ at-the-end). And Joshua 24 may be the most fulsome in  leading us to Christ. At least, that’s what I argue in this sermon!

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

When Did the Kingdom of God Begin?

war“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.”
Psalm 103:19

32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’
Acts 13:32–33

In his excellent little study on the title ‘Son of God,’ (Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed), D. A. Carson asks the question: When did the kingdom of God begin? In typical fashion, Carson tears down any reductionistic answer and provides a vision of God’s kingdom that acknowledges the ongoing, sovereign rule of God over all creation (Ps. 103:19) and the kingdom of God that came when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth (and rose again to heaven).

Drawing on passages that cover the range of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, Carson shows how Christ inaugurated the kingdom. And it’s here where Carsons shows the polyvalent ways the Gospels speak of Christ’s kingdom. Indeed, his kingship is seen at his birth, in his life, and on the cross. Yet, it is in his resurrection and ascension where the exalted Christ “receives” his crown, if you will. While the New Testament bears witness to the forthcoming consummation of the kingdom, Christ’s service is rewarded with his crown in his resurrection (cf. Phil. 2:5–11).

Carson shows how this works and his thoughtful answer to the question of the kingdom’s beginning is worth considering and remembering as we read passages like Acts 13:32–33; Romans 1:4; and Hebrews 5:5–6, to name only a few. Here’s his answer to the question, “When did the kingdom of God begin?” Continue reading

Seeing Christ in All of Scripture: A Few Words from Herman Bavinck

enoc-valenzuela-WJolaNbXt90-unsplashThus the whole revelation of the Old Testament converges upon Christ,
not upon a new law, or doctrine, or institution, but upon the person of Christ.

— Herman Bavinck —

As Herman Bavinck closes out a section on special revelation in Our Reasonable Faith, he reminds us that the goal of Scripture is not a law, nor a religious belief or practice, nor even a gospel, as in an impersonal message of good news. Rather, the unified goal of Scripture is a single person—Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In recent years (and for all of church history), there has been debate about how much Christ we can find in the Old Testament. This sort of thinking, one that sets limits on how much of Jesus we can see in the Old Testament, seems fundamentally at odds with the tenor of Scripture. Yes, we cannot turn every word, object, or event into a mystical revelation of Christ. But as Christ and his church is the mystery once hidden now revealed, the canon of Scripture leads us to see how every parcel of the Old Testament belongs to Christ and brings us to Christ.

For Bavinck, this is exactly how he sums up the Bible, as he states, “in the Old Testament everything led up to Christ,” and “in the New Testament everything is derived from Him.” Truly this is what is at stake when we, a priori, set limits on seeing Christ in all the Scriptures. Here’s the full text of Bavinck’s conclusion, Continue reading

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Six Old Testament Lessons for the New Testament Church

jonathan-farber-_lpQA9ox6IA-unsplash.jpgWhen the Western tribes of Israel heard that Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar near the Jordan River, they were ready to go to war (Josh. 22:10–12). This altar threatened God’s favor on Israel, and the obedient sons of Israel were ready to act. Fortunately, before they took up swords against their brothers, they sent a delegation to inquire about this altar.

This peace-keeping mission is what Joshua 22:10–34 describes, and in these verses we find a tremendous model for peace-making in the church today.  In what follows, we will consider six priorities for genuine reconciliation.

Six Priorities for Peace-Making 

First, peace requires a faithful (high) priest.

When the Western tribes learned of the altar, they gathered at Shiloh to make war. Only before proceeding on that path, they sent a priest by the name of Phinehas. Phinehas is well-known to us because of his actions in Numbers 25. There, he atoned for the sins of the people by taking a spear in his own hand and killing Zimri and Cozbi. This appeased God, ended the plague brought on by Israel’s sexual immorality, and proved Phinehas’s faithfulness as a priest.

Now, following his lead, the delegation of Israel went to inquire of their brothers. What becomes apparent in this peace negotiation is that these brothers acted in faith and did not sin against God or them. Thus, a faithful priest was necessary for making peace. Only now with the split between the tribes of Israel, peace is made by putting the sword down and not going to war. The lesson in this is that faithful priests knew how to divide clean and unclean (Lev. 10:11). Phinehas excellence, therefore, is proved by his ability to make this decision.

At the same time, it is vital to see that a priest is still needed to make peace. In the new covenant, Christ is the peace of his people, one who has made peace by his cross and one who preaches peace to those far and near (Eph. 2:14–17). Moreover, Jesus lives to intercede for his brothers (Heb. 7:25). Thus, the unity of the church is preserved by Christ and his priesthood.

Likewise, Jesus as our great high priest also teaches God’s people how to be priests to one another. As Matthew 5:9 says, those who make peace prove themselves to sons of God, which is to say, they prove themselves to be faithful priests in God’s household. (Faithful sonship was always the source of true priesthood). Today, if the church has any unity, it is because Christ is the one who is mediating the new covenant and praying effectively for his people to become peace-makers. Continue reading

God’s Treasure Map: An Invitation to Imagine Your Inheritance (Joshua 13–19)

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God’s Treasure Map: An Invitation to Imagine Your Inheritance (Joshua 13–19)

As the famed Puritan, Matthew Henry, begins his commentary on Joshua 13:1, he writes, “We are not to skip over these chapters of hard names as useless and not to be regarded.” Why? Because “ where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read.”

This is a good reminder as we venture into seven chapters composed of lists, boundary markers, and land distributions. In comparison to the exciting action of Israel’s military conquests in Joshua 1–12, Joshua 13–19 seems, well, . . . dull. But its dullness depends entirely on our inability to appreciate what these chapters meant to Israel.

For centuries, Israel had waited to receive its long-promised inheritance. And now, that the gift of the land had come, Joshua 13–19 tells the contents of this treasure and the placement of God’s people in the land. What was once promised to Abraham, is now coming to fulfillment in the days of Joshua.

For us today, this passage is equally exciting when we consider the inheritance promised to us in Christ—an inheritance we still look for in the new heavens and the new earth. Thus, these chapters should not bore us with their detail; they should stir excitement in our own hope of heaven—i.e., a heaven on earth when Christ returns.

Indeed, this is how I pursued these chapters in Sunday’s sermon. Rather than taking a microscope to each verse, we looked at them as a whole. Instead of devoting a sermon to each chapter we looked at  Joshua 13–19 as a ’treasure map’ to better understand our inheritance in Christ.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions can be found below.

Discussion Questions

Continue reading

For Disciples and Disciplers . . . A Short Biblical Survey of Beauty

waterfallAnd 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 their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4–6 —

In recent days I have become increasingly convinced that biblical teaching, preaching, and discipleship must do more than transmit information. We must proclaim the Truth of God with the same beauty that we find in Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth did not inspire the Word in some drab and dull way. It is filled with poetry, irony, mystery, and symmetry—in a word, beauty. And the more we see such Christ-centered beauty, the more we will understand God’s Word and become like the Word made flesh.

To put it biblically, if salvation comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6), than sanctification is beautification, where the disciples of Christ reflect the glory of God in ever-increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18). As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The ‘holy array’ in which the priests of ancient Israel worshiped God (1 Chron 16:29, RSV) now becomes the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27), the humility (1 Pet 5:5) that clothes all believers” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition129). Continue reading

His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars (Joshua 9)

joshua07His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars

Lies and liars. Our world is filled with them, and we often struggle to know what to do with them. This is true when are deceived, but it is also true when we are the deceiver.

On Sunday we saw another deception story in Joshua. And to play on words—Joshua 9 teaches us again that (first) looks can be deceiving. For instead of seeing how the lies of Gibeon are met with swift punishment, we find that God’s mercy overshadows their wrongdoing. At the same time, we also learn how Israel’s self-reliance is covered by the wise mercy of Joshua. Thus, in this chapter we find great hope for liars and self-reliars, which is to say we find hope for all of us!

To see how Joshua 9 leads us to appreciate more of God’s mercy and to become more merciful, you can listen to the sermon online. You can also find response questions and further resources below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading