One Ransom for All: The Beautiful Scandal of God’s Universal Particularity (1 Timothy 2:5–7)

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One Ransom for All: The Beautiful Scandal of God’s Universal Particularity (1 Timothy 2:5–7)

On Sunday we focused on the death and resurrection of Christ. While Psalm Sunday directs us to Christ’s triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, we focused on Paul’s message of the cross in 1 Timothy 2:5–7. As 1 Timothy 2–3 spend time on Christ’s death and resurrection, we considered how his one death ransomed people from every nation.

Indeed, speaking into the divided context of Ephesus where the Law was separating Jews and Gentiles and urging Gentiles to become like Jews, Paul speaks of the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death once and for all. In this context, we see why this is good news for us and for all time.

You can listen to the sermon online. And you can response questions and further resources below. Continue reading

The One for All: 7 Reasons Why 1 Timothy 2 Teaches Definite Atonement (and 3 Reasons Why It Matters)

andrew-seaman-746845-unsplash.jpg 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
— 1 Timothy 2:1–7 —

Universal Atonement is the theological doctrine that says Christ’s death on the cross was offered for every single person without exception. This view of the cross stands against a “limited” view of the atonement, better termed Definite Atonement. Advocates of Universal Atonement typically make their case from various proof texts in the Bible and from theological commitments like God’s universal love and the universal offer of the gospel.

Combining textual proof with theological commitment, few passages in the Bible appear to support Universal Atonement more than 1 Timothy 2:4–6 and 1 Timothy 4:10. The former speaks of God’s will that all people be saved and Jesus ransom for all; the latter of God being savior of all people. From a first reading, these verses seem like a slam dunk for Universal Atonement. What else could Paul mean, but that Christ died for all people without exception?

In context, however, there are multiple reasons—textual, covenantal, and theological—which argue against such a reading. Such a statement may evoke disinterest, even disgust. Few are the cultural winds that blow in the direction of particularity today. Rather, our modern world loves to speak of universal equality and tolerance without distinction. Theologically, few doctrines have been left unscathed from the effects of individualism and modernity’s penchant for ubiquitous choice.

Yet, as is often the case in the Bible, God’s ways are not man’s ways. And what we find in Paul’s letter to Timothy is a very clear account of salvation that establishes Christ’s death as the one way of salvation for all people. All people, however, is not an individualistic word in Paul’s letter; it is a word that speaks of all kinds of people—especially, the categories of Jew and Gentile.

Echoing his earlier words to the Ephesians (2:11–220, Paul is proclaiming a message of the cross that is good for all kinds of people (1 Timothy 2:7). And as we will see his words do not support a universal atonement for individuals; they speak of a definite atonement for God’s people, whatever their country of origin. That said, we need to see from the text, how Paul speaks of one ransom for all people and how God is the Savior of all, especially those who believe.

Today, we will look at 1 Timothy 2. Some day soon, we will consider 1 Timothy 4. In truth, these chapters should not be read separately. They inform one another and reveal a unified vision of salvation. Yet, for sake of time, with open Bibles, we will address one and then the other. Continue reading

The Nature and Necessity of the Cross: Why Christ Had to Die for Sin (With a Little Help from Anselm)

cross

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,
which is the testimony given at the proper time.
— 1 Timothy 2:5–6 —

Yesterday (Psalm Sunday) marked the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem en route to a cross. There on that Roman instrument of death, he revealed God’s justice and mercy, disarmed the devil, and ransomed his people from their sin—to name but a few of the ways Scripture speaks of Christ’s death.

In the days of crucifixion, Jesus was one of thousands who were hung on a tree. Physically speaking, his death was not remarkable, aside from the fact that his death came much quicker than most who died by crucifixion. Spiritually speaking, however, his death was unlike any other. No one else—before or since or ever—died in the place of others and rose from the grave, conferring on his people resurrection life won through his obedience unto death.

Today, there dozens of ways Christians speak of the cross—e.g., a redemption, victory, sacrifice, penal substitution, etc.—but critically two issues stand at the center of the cross. First, for whom was the cross chiefly designed? Did Jesus die to give man a moral example? Did he die to defeat the devil? Or did he die to propitiate the wrath of God? In truth, we must affirm all three realities, but only when the design of the cross is chiefly Godward do the other aspects of the cross hold together.

Second, was Christ’s death the only way of salvation or might God have forgiven man in another way? This was the question answered in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46). For Jesus, the cross was the cup prepared for him to drink, and on the cross this cup—the cup of God’s wrath—he would drink to its dregs (Psalm 75:8). Truly then there was no other way. Continue reading

What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

angel-clouds-weather-vera-161199Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the enemies of God. They come from the anguished hearts of persecuted Israelites, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4–6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6–15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7–9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for gospel-loving, grace-proclaiming Christians, the inspired cries for vengeance make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, my PhD Supervisor and good fried, Stephen Wellum, gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading

The Sword of the Lord: In Nineveh and Now (Nahum 1:9–2:13)

nahum05The Sword of the Lord: In Nineveh and Now (Nahum 1:9–2:13)

What did Jesus mean when he said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)? On Sunday, we considered that question from the book of Nahum.

The connection between Matthew and Nahum is found in the fact that Nahum presents the sword of the Lord in all of its flame and fury, while Jesus comes to first extinguish the Lord’s wrath in his own flesh. Then, after his resurrection, he now has all authority to carve out a new community and one day bring judgment on all flesh.

All of these features are considered in this week’s sermon. You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below,  as well as additional resources. Continue reading

Justice, Mercy, and Wisdom: How the Cross Reveals and ‘Reconciles’ the Attributes of God

jeremy-bishop-480184-unsplash.jpgIt has been said that on the cross God’s wrath and mercy meet. Indeed, on the cross the full revelation of God’s undivided attributes are manifested. As just and justifier, Jesus receives in his body the full outpouring of God’s wrath. Yet, as God Incarnate, he simultaneously displays the love of God, as 1 John 3:16 states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Accordingly, all other moral attributes (e.g., truthfulness, justice, goodness, mercy, peace, righteousness) are revealed in perfect proportion.

I say proportion, but in the Lord there are not proportions, parts, or passions (taken in the older sense of the word, where men are moved by passionate forces outside themselves). In truth, God’s holy character is perfect light. Yet, refracted through creation and especially the cross, we come to see the many hues of God’s holy character. And because our minds require time and sequence to contemplate God’s unified holiness, the cross not only reconciles us to God, it also reconciles in our minds how seemingly divergent attributes are held together in the Lord.

On this point, Edward Fisher in his work The Marrow of Modern Divinity proposes a conversation between God’s many attributes and how they might have talked about the cross of Christ. To be sure, his conversation is maximally anthropological (i.e., it uses human speech to talk about God). In this way, it is unhelpful in thinking on the simplicity of God (i.e., the nature of his unchanging, undivided essence). But for us, finite creatures, who must come to understand the rainbow of God’s glory through sequential time and logical relationships, his conversation is helpful and I share it below. Continue reading

Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

How the Cross of Christ Crucifies Sin

crossAs we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider this meditation from Alexander Watson, a 19th Century British curate in the Church of England. In the 1840s he preached a week-long series of sermons on  Christ’s seven words from the cross. And in his first sermon on Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”), he closed with a powerful reflection on what Christ accomplished on the cross—namely, salvation from sin.

In other words, Christ’s death does more than grant clemency to guilty sinners. Christ’s death justifies guilty sinners and frees sinners to pursue a life of increasing holiness. In other words, Christ’s death does not just save us in our sin; it saves us from our sin. While awaiting the redemption of the body, the cross of Christ effectively saves us from the consequences, causes, and corruptions of sin so that we can flee from sin, crucify our flesh, and pursue good works.

Tragically, the life-giving message of holiness can be lost in a truncated message that only focuses on guilt removal. Therefore, we need to give attention to every aspect of the cross, including the hopeful message of holiness exemplified by Watson.

On the finished work of Christ that empowers Christians to pursue holiness, he writes,

The atonement for sin is a finished act. The application of that atonement is a continual work. That portion of our Lord’s priestly office which consisted in his giving himself a ransom for the sins of the world has been accomplished, and can be no more repeated. “By one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified, and there remains no more sacrifice for sin’’ (Heb. 9:26). But this consecration of his redeemed by his one offer does not exclude—but rather it involves, and requires—the continued mediation and intercession of him who is our great high priest, the one who offers prayer for us continually. And since it is his death upon the cross which gives to Christ’s mediation its meritorious efficacy and acceptable savor in God’s sight, we may be well assured that it will not avail for those in whom it does not work the conquest of sin and the presence of penitent desires after holiness.  Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

altar

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

Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds