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

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

 

 

On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Our Long-Awaited Hope: Seeing God’s *Son* Through the Scriptures

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From where does hope come? And why does it take so long to get here? 

In our microwave age of instant information and Siri solutions, we don’t wait well. Yet, Christianity is a religion of patient endurance, long-suffering, and waiting—pure and simple waiting. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are told to wait. After the Exodus, Israel is forced to wait forty years because of their sinful unbelief, and at the other end of the Old Testament, Israel is left waiting for their messiah to bring a new exodus. Just the same in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:12 instructs, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We should probably take it as axiomatic, then, that God wants his people to wait. Anyone who has ever prayed knows that the waiting is where God does his working. Saints are not matured in a day; they are formed in periods of years, decades, and generations. Hence, in this season of Christmas when we reenact Israel’s waiting of the Christ’s birth, we do well to think about the way that God promised his Son, so that in our waiting, hope would flourish.

From Genesis 3:15 to Jesus (to Revelation 12 too), the promise of a child-savior runs through the Bible. During Advent, we remember most explicitly the details related to the Angelic host, the Magi, and the Bethlehem Star, but God’s inspired apostles also send us back into the Old Testament to remember all that led up to Christ’s birth. Thus, in keeping with the pattern of waiting and watching in Scripture, it is worth observing just how and how often and how long God prepared the way for Jesus to come through a myriad of promises and prototypes leading up to the birth of Immanuel, God with us. (Fittingly, what follows is not short. But how could it be? The arrival of Christ’s birth took millennia.)

What follows is a thread of verses that trace how God prepared the way for Jesus. It begins with God’s promise of son in Genesis 3:15 and continues to see how this theme is expanded and developed through the history of Israel. It’s not a short journey, but neither was the voyage the Magi took to worship Jesus (approx. 500 miles in around two months time). In this age of fast-paced consumerism, may God give us grace to look long and longingly at the Messiah whose arrival took millennia to achieve, and may God produce fresh hope in us for the second advent of God’s Son. Continue reading

The Law and the Gospel: What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Separate

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In an effort to emphasize grace, many gospel preachers have fallen into the trap of denying the law. Formally, this is called antinomianism, a condition that has often plagued Reformed preachers of grace. While popularly, antinomianism often arises as preachers or believers eschew the shackles of legalism, it is more fundamentally a case where grace itself is misunderstood.

Recently, in reading Sinclair Ferguson’s historical, theological, and pastoral book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, I have been reminded of the importance of making this point. Antinomianism is not so much the opposite of legalism (nor the reverse). Rather, legalism and antinomianism are both fundamental misunderstandings the gospel, the way the law leads to the gospel (see Romans 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:8–11), and the way in which the gospel fulfills the need created by the law—namely, a righteousness that comes by faith (not works of the law), but which also esteems the law as it is written on the heart of those who believe the gospel.

I hope you can see that the relationship between law and gospel is more complex than simple supersession or discontinuity. In what follows, I will draw from The Whole Christ to help show how law leads to gospel and gospel pardons from legal guilt and empowers to obey the law. Continue reading