A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God Together (Joshua 20–21)

joshua07

A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called his followers a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14–16). This title has often been used to speak of America, as well as other institutions of moral influence. Yet, it is most appropriately applied to the church. This is seen throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2), but we also find this idea in the Old Testament.

In this week’s sermon on Joshua 20–21, Israel’s role spreading God’s light to the nations is seen in the cities God established for refuge and instruction. In fact, by learning about the purposes the cities of refuge (Josh. 20) and Levitical cities (Josh. 21), we learn much about God’s purposes for his people. This has historical relevance for understanding the nation of Israel. But it also has theological application for Christ and his new covenant people.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are additional resources are available below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAfter seven chapters about dividing the land, Joshua 20–21 focuses on two types of cities in Israel—cities of refuge (ch. 20) and cities of Levites (ch. 21). From the role of these cities, we learn a great deal about God and his plans for his people—both in Israel and today. Here are ten things about Joshua 20–21.

1. Joshua 20–21 are unified with Joshua 13–19.

While many commentators legitimately distinguish the distribution of the cities in Joshua 20–21 from the distribution of the land, the order of the chapters shows us how Joshua 20–21 provides balance to a chiastic structure that ranges from Joshua 13–21.

A Introduction (13:1) – Joshua was old and advanced in years

B1 Remaining Lands (13:2–7)
B2a Eastern Lands with Moses (13:8–33)
B2b Western Lands with Joshua (14:1–5)

C Caleb (14:6–15) – Son of Judah Receives the Future Royal City of Hebron

D1 Judah (15:1–63) – The Greatest Emphasis is Placed on Judah
D2 Joseph (16:1–17:18) – Ephraim and Half of Manasseh

E Levi (18:1–10) – The Center of Israel’s Worship at Shiloh

D1’ Benjamin/Simeon (18:11–19:9) –  2 tribes associated with Judah
D2’ Five (19:10–48) –  5 tribes associated with Joseph

C’ Joshua (19:49–51) – Son of Ephraim

B1’ The Cities of Refuge (20:1–9)
B2a’ The Levitical Cities Outlined (21:1–8) – Primary Focus on Sons of Aaron
B2b’ The 48 Levitical Cities Listed (21:9–42) – Primary Focus on Aaron and Hebron (vv. 9–19)

A’ Conclusion (21:43–45) — All that God had promised the forefathers has been fulfilled

The importance of this literary structure is what comes in the middle, namely the arrangement of the land around the tabernacle (Josh 18:1–10). From this central feature, we are keyed to see how the association of Aaron with Hebron foreshadows the later connection between David and the priesthood. Moreover, the role of the Levitical cities helps us to understand how the whole nation was blessed by the Levitical priesthood and how the Levites directed the attention of the people to God’s dwelling place.

In what follows, we will see how these priestly themes recur in Joshua 20–21. Continue reading

Give Thanks For the Gifts Jesus Gives You: A Thanksgiving Meditation on Ephesians 4

pro-church-media-p2OQW69vXP4-unsplash.jpgBut grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
— Ephesians 4:7–8 —

As we approach Thanksgiving, it is good to remember that thanksgiving is more than a feeling prompted by turkey and stuffing. Thanksgiving is a way of life for those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. And thanksgiving is one of the chief ways that Jesus builds up his church.

Here’s what I mean: Scripture teaches us that we are created to give thanks to God for all that he has given to us. We praise him for his good gifts in creation, and we adore him especially for his mercy in salvation. Yet, in Paul’s letters to the churches, there is peculiar focus on giving thanks for the people whom Christ has given us. And it is worth considering this particular gift as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Imagine . . . : 16 Observations on Imagination, Theology, Discipleship, and the Church

michael-aleo-DpgzNS1yvWg-unsplash.jpg“Imagine there’s no heaven.”
— John Lennon —

“Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations,
captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”
— Kevin J. Vanhoozer —

In seminary I took a class called “The Worshipping Church,” where one of our assignments included visiting churches outside our denomination. In one of those visits, I went to a local Roman Catholic Church, where before, during, or after the service (I cannot remember), the instrumentalist played the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. If you are unfamiliar, the lyrics begin

Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try
No hell below us / Above us only sky

Admittedly, the instrumental tune is soothing, but the casual denial of heaven and hell is satanic. And though the words were not sung aloud in the service, to anyone familiar with the song, it was not too difficult to imagine what the song was saying.

I bring up this occasion not to bemoan the presence of that song in church—it’s exclusion from the worship set should be obvious. I bring up the song “Imagine” to observe the lack of imagination that cripples so many of God’s churches. As Kevin Vanhoozer has observed, “Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations, captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”

Going further, Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, reiterates the need for churches to engage the imagination. Indeed, this is more than a hat tip to the arts; as Vanhoozer argues, imagination is a necessary (and biblical!) step between theory and practice, between faith and love.

As he has (for years) sought to bridge the chasm between knowledge and action with what he calls “theodrama” or “the drama of doctrine,” Vanhoozer rightly observes the importance of imagination. And in what follows I want to cite sixteen of his observations on this subject and why it is so vital for the church. Continue reading

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 2)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashYesterday, I began to consider the necessary unity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or to put it differently, why baptism is the necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. Today, I will make a biblical-theological case for why this unity should be believed and practiced.

By looking at how the whole Bible sets the stage for Christ’s two ordinances, we find a compelling reason for practicing them together and in order—baptism first, then the Lord’s Table. Or as we will see from Joshua, the Lord’s is for those who have passed over the waters of baptism and entered God’s land. This is physically and historically true with old covenant Israel; this is symbolically and personally true for every member of God’s new covenant.

It will take a little bit of time to see all the pieces of this argument, but for those willing to put in the effort, there is a great reward for seeing how Scripture unifies God’s ordinances and explains their place in the life of the Church and the Christian today. In what follows, I will offer two presuppositions and four reasons for why the Lord’s Supper requires baptism. Continue reading

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 1)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:11 –

 Few gospel truths are more essential than this one: there are only two kinds of people in the world—those in Christ and those in Adam, those who have believed the gospel and those who have rejected it, those who have been born from above and those who have only been born from below. Though Scripture has many ways to speak of sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good fig and bad, the uniform testimony is that there are only two kinds of people.

For those committed to the truth of Scripture, this division leads to one of two eternal destinies—heaven or hell. There is no third way, no middle ground. And thankfully, every time a gospel preacher heralds this sifting truth, he makes clear the call of the gospel—to repent and believe and enter the kingdom.

Yet, for every clear proclamation of the gospel, there can be an unintended confusion when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In other words, when the church took up the gospel, it called believers to be baptized. Whereas Jesus proclaimed “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), Peter proclaimed “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Did Peter change Jesus’s message? Absolutely not! Rather, Peter’s invitation to baptism is a call to join God’s people—i.e. to repent of your sin, believe on Christ, and join the community of faith identified with Christ by baptism. In Acts, the pattern of baptism is always believe first then receive baptism by immersion in water (see Acts 8:12). In this way, the gospel which divided believers from unbelievers was confirmed by a community of faith set apart from the world. Continue reading

Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 3–4 is about Israel crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land, which is to say it is about a baptism into and with Joshua. Seeing that “baptism,” however, will take a little cross-referencing. To get to that interpretation, here are 10 things about Joshua 3–4.

1. The literary structure puts the center of the story in the middle of the Jordan River.

Chapters 3–4 should be read together. If we organize chapter 3 around the crossing and chapter 4 around the memorial of twelve stones, we may miss the fact that the priests are still standing in the river bed from Joshua 3:15 until Joshua 4:18. For this reason, it is better to organize the chapters around the actual events of the crossing, and read the chapters together.

Joshua 3:15 watches the priests step into the water; Joshua 4:18 watches them step out of the water. In between, all the people of Israel cross the Jordan River in haste (4:10). And standing at the center of this story is the collection of twelve stones, which will be a sign and memorial for future generations (4:6–7). Indeed, the memorial is presented at the center of the story, and thus we should see how the whole river crossing hangs together.

For starters, Dale Ralph Davis (Joshua, 32) organizes Joshua 3–4 around the simple movement of crossing the Jordan River.

Crossing Over (3:14–17)

Twelve Stones (4:1–10a)

Crossing Over (4:10b–14) Continue reading

The Hole In Our Praise (and Lamentation) and Worship

chuttersnap-6jkiVl4mwws-unsplashOn my shelf I have a Celebration Hymnal: Songs and Hymns for Worship. It was published in 1997, foreworded by Jack Hayford (Pastor of The Church on the Way), and intended to provide “tools for ‘blended worship'” (from the Preface). Consisting of 865 selections, it combines new songs and old hymns, Scripture readings, and even various calls to worship.

Yet, what is strikingly absent are songs or Scriptures devoted to lament or confession. Instead The Celebration Hymnal celebrates all that the triune God has done. But it’s consistent tenor only highlights the good news of God, without considering the bad news of sin and he reason why humanity needs salvation.

For instance, the opening section of “Songs and hymns for worship” are categorized under nine headings:

  • Praise the Lord
  • Exalt the Lord
  • Bless the Lord
  • Adore the Lord
  • Glorify the Lord
  • Magnify the Lord
  • Worship the Lord
  • Give Thanks to the Lord
  • The Family at Worship

These stunningly positive categories of song are inter-leafed with Scripture readings to make up the first 201 selections. Likewise, under the category “Walking with God,” we find 12 categories:

  • Faith and Hope
  • Aspiration and Consecration
  • Assurance and Trust
  • Commitment and Obedience
  • Comfort and Encouragement
  • Prayer and Devotion
  • Purity and Holiness
  • Stewardship and Service
  • Guidance and Care
  • Provision and Deliverance
  • Spiritual Conflict and Victory
  • Peace and Joy

These sections compose more than 200 songs and Scriptures (526–752), and provide a well-rounded corpus of songs dedicated to different areas of faith, hope, love, and holiness. Yet, what remains absent is any mention of lamentation, sorrow, or pain, as well as any explicit mention of sin and confession.

Songs of “repentance and forgiveness” find four spaces under the category “New Life in Christ.” But these four songs are overshadowed by the ten songs of “invitation and acceptance” and eleven songs of “witness and and praise” in the same category.

To be fair, these themes are addressed in various songs throughout the hymnal. I confess, I haven’t read the whole book. But what I am interested in does not require a full reading but a look at the organization which the publishers supplied.

It is instructive that lamentation and confession did not make it into the arrangement of The Celebration Hymnal. While lamentation is a key biblical theme, only two Psalms of Lament are even cited in The Celebration Hymnal. And tellingly, those selections are from the vows of praise. Nothing comes close to the cries of dereliction or the screams for salvation that are found in Psalm 13, 22, 88, or 89. Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (part 1)

james-coleman-tcGU1VaCtDw-unsplash.jpgIt has been said, “There is no genuinely good preaching except exposition.” Such serious words require us to consider what expositional preaching is and why it is so important that preachers commit themselves to this kind of preaching.

In an attempt to answer that question, this is the first in a four-part series on biblical exposition. It is an update from a previous blog series I wrote when I pastored in Indiana. It relates to this week’s sermon on Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and it attempts to show why our church is committed to biblical exposition.

If you have never heard of expositional preaching, I hope this might be a helpful introduction and biblical apologia. If you are already convinced that biblical exposition is the best form of preaching Scripture, I pray this short series might help give you something to share with others who are less persuaded.

Today I will start with defining biblical exposition. In the following days I will make a biblical theological argument for the practice. Along the way, feel free to share your feedback and/or why you are committed (or not) to biblical exposition.

What is Biblical Exposition?

In short, expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that makes the main point of the biblical text the main point of the sermon. Mark Dever defines it this way: “An expositional sermon is a sermon that takes the main point of a passage of Scripture [and] makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to life today.” Therefore, he continues, it does not mean that exposition is narrowly focused on one or two verses; expositional preaching can have small, medium, or large sections of Scripture (i.e., one verse or one book). An expositional sermon need not be lifeless, boring, or overly technical. Surely many “expositors” are dull or have preached overly technical messages, but those examples simply illustrate bad exposition, not true exposition.

Expositional preaching demands the preacher know the Word he is preaching and the Word as it was originally intended by the biblical author. Such a method defends the congregation from hearing a small sampling of “hobby horse” sermons, and it enables (and even demands) the pastor and the church to move through the whole counsel of God. In the life of a congregation, only expositional preaching will expose a Christian to all the doctrines of the Bible presented in their original contexts, along with their original applications to life.

Expositional preaching stands in opposition to a number of other popular, but less powerful forms of preaching: topical, (auto)biographical, felt needs, etc. Over time expositional sermons demonstrate how one ought to interpret the Bible; they communicate doctrine with application to life; and they ground the life of the believer in the Word of God, not the personality of the preacher or the most recent psychological fad.

For all these reasons and more, we find a strong reason for committing to biblical exposition. Still, is this the way commended in Scripture? And if so, why has it fallen out of fashion in many pulpits today? What follows will answer the latter question; tomorrow we’ll begin considering where Scripture models biblical exposition. Continue reading

Worship By the Book: Or, Why Sincerity Is Insufficient for True Worship

bythebook04In his illuminating book, A Secular Age (summarized here), Charles Taylor argued the unbelief handed down to us from the Enlightenment, coupled with new religious expressions in the 19th century, and accelerated by the sexual revolution of the “Sixties,” has resulted in many and competing spiritual longings that live somewhere between belief and unbelief.

In short, we are living in an “age of authenticity,” where expressive individualism seeks to satisfy personal appetites in quasi-spiritual ways. On one hand, our age eschews organized religion and the constraints of any spiritual authority—be it a codified text or clerical leaders. Whereas faith in the divine was nearly impossible at the Middle Ages, in our day unbelief is becoming increasingly normative. On the other hand, our age is not satisfied with nihilistic unbelief. Spirituality abounds, even when such spiritual longings and beliefs are left undefined. In short,

People are increasingly looking for a life of greater immediacy, spontaneity and spiritual depth than can be provided for them in the immanent order of unbelief, while on the other hand many do not find the authenticity and wholeness that they desire in the established (mobilised) forms of religion. (From a summary of A Secular Age)

In this space, individuals and affinity groups continue to create new ways of spiritual living and corporate (read: customized) worship. As a result, it is hardly surprising that sincerity, not truth, is considered to be the greatest good for worship today. What defines spiritual worship is an interior experience, not conformity to a moral standard or faithfulness to God’s revealed will.

How far we have fallen! Even in the church, where people and pastors know and want to know God (or do they?), this all-consuming desire for spiritual authenticity authorizes worship leaders to invent new ways of worship. Yet, when we go back to the Bible, we learn that sincerity is never enough for true worship. Rather, worship that pleases God is patterned after God’s revelation itself. And we who long to worship God in Spirit and Truth must learn again from God how he wants to be worshiped. Continue reading