Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl: A Short Introduction to the Bible

1920x1080 Cradle

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
— Genesis 3:15 —

In one sentence, can you give the message of the Bible? 

A few years ago, Dane Ortlund asked this question and received answers from a host of pastors and scholars, but one answer stood out from the rest and has taken on a life of its own. The answer comes from the provocateur, poet, and pastor, Douglas Wilson. He writes,

Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City.

In short: Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl. Whereby the Dragon is the Twisted Serpent of the Garden, the Girl is the Bride of Christ described as a glorious Garden City in Revelation 21–22, and the Slayer of the Dragon is the Son of God who took on flesh to come and save his damsel in distress by destroying the Dragon by means of his own death and resurrection. 

In his recent book, The Serpent and the Serpent SlayerAndy Naselli recounts the genesis of this pithy way to describe the biblical storyline, which comes from Joe Rigney’s appropriation of Wilson’s explanation of the Bible, which in turn led to the children’s book by the same title: Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl. Continue reading

The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12)

brown sand love text on seashore

In Plato’s Republic, that ancient philosopher declared, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its law.” Thankfully, in the Bible, God cares about laws and songs and he provided both.

Outside of the Bible, however, there is something to the wisdom of capturing hearts and imaginations with song. And it seems that for decades, the songs of our nation have been filled with love, love, and love me do.

From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift, love has trained a generation to embrace love as love and love as life. If you go back to the British Invasion of the Beatles, you will find that in less than 5 years time, the Fab Four had four chart-topping singles with “love” in the title, as well as four more top forty songs with “love” in the title. And the focus on love has not abated in the decades since. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Top 40 love songs have formed the appetites and affections of our age, all the while obscuring what love really is or ought to be.

It is remarkable, then, that when love gets so much attention in our world, our streets are overrun with rage, our social media posts spew hate, and our love-seeking leaders are so loveless. In fact, while the market for love has never been greater, the supply has never been more empty.

Made in the likeness of a God who is love and fashioned to know God’s love and to share love with others, it is both ironic and tragic that a world hungry for love is so starved for the same. And most strange of all, those who are most adamant about love are often the ones coming up with laws to penalize others who don’t love the way they do.

Apparently, when individuals and societies seek love without God’s love, they will form new laws to protect and promote their idea of love. Sadly, these new laws of love jeopardize God’s holy and good law, erase true love, and secure a future for love that is nothing like what the songs of our nation promise.

In response to this loveless, law-filled pursuit of unholy love, we should ask the question: What is love? Where do we find love? And who gets to define love? These are important questions and one’s that God’s Word answers in full.

In particular, 1 John 4:7–12 gives a thorough, cross-centered explanation of God’s love. And this last Sunday I preached a message from this text: The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12). I pray it may be a help to all who are looking for love and looking to understand how the cross of Christ proclaims a message of sin-forgiving love.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Personal Reconciliation and Personal Subjugation: How the Cross of Christ Achieves ‘Cosmic Reconciliation’ (Colossians 1:15–2:15)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedSince the start of our series on the cross, one recurring theme has been the way that judgment and salvation are paired. In the Passover, God saved his firstborn and judged Egypt’s firstborns. At the Red Sea, God saved his people and destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Just the same, as I read 2 Kings 3 last week, I found this theme again. The water that God provided to save Israel is the same water that brought the Moabites to their death.

In short, God’s judgment is never without salvation. And his salvation is never without judgment. From the flood of Noah to the end of time, we find salvation and judgment. And in this week’s sermon, we saw it in Colossians 1–2.

In Colossians 1:20, Paul says that the blood of Christ’s cross is reconciling all things in creation. And in what follows (1:21–2:23) he explains how that happens – through salvation and judgment. In these two chapters Paul identifies whom the cross saves and whom the cross judges. And for us, as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we learn how the cross has cosmic, as well as personal implications.

To learn more about the cosmic effects of the cross, you can watch this sermon. You can also read about it here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

A Definite Atonement: John Murray’s Case for a Disputed Doctrine

jesus saves neon signage

For whom did Christ die? For all nations without distinction? For all persons without exception? For everyone? Or only for the elect?

In any doctrinal exposition of the cross of Christ, the question of the atonement’s extent (or intent) is necessary. And throughout church history, especially since the Protestant Reformation, a great debate has arisen in response to the question. That dispute has divided Calvinist from Arminian, Reformed from Wesleyan, and Particular Baptist from General Baptist—to name only a few. Thus, it is not possible in one blog—let alone in one book—to resolve all the difficulties, but it is possible to lay out some of the issues and a few of the exegetical debates.

To that end, I offer ten points from John Murray. His little book, Redemption Accomplished and Appliedprovides a concise argument for the extent of the atonement that comes from a Reformed position. If I were writing a chapter on the extent atonement, I would do it differently, but I appreciate Murray’s commitment to biblical exegesis in his chapter. Even though he leaves many proof texts unchecked, what he does say sets his readers in the right direction. And for that reason I offer the following points from his chapter as a superb model for entering this debate.

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What Did the Cross Achieve? Seven Truths and Sixteen Quotes from John Murray

crossIn 1955 John Murray released his classic work on the cross and salvation, Redemption Accomplished and AppliedThis week, the men in our church are discussing this book. And in preparation, I re-read the opening chapters on the necessity and the nature of the cross.

For those who have asked questions about why the cross was needful and what the cross accomplished, Murray is a great start—even if you might need to keep Dictionary.com close at hand. In his book, he gives a solid defense of the faith and he offers cogent from a Reformed perspective. Over the years, I have often assigned this book for class and returned to it myself.

In what follows I offer sixteen quotations from the book organized around seven truths related to the necessity and nature of the cross. Indeed, if you want to know what the cross achieved, Murray’s book is a great introduction. And hopefully what follows will give you a helpful introduction to Murray.

(N.B. The page numbers that follow are based on the 1955 Eerdmans copy, the one without Carl Trueman’s forward. Additionally, if you are interested you can find the e-book on Hoopla.) Continue reading

The Rejected and Resurrected Cornerstone: Seeing Salvation and Judgment in the Cross of Christ

1920x1080-it-is-finished‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’
— Psalm 118:22 —

There are few sentences in the Bible more important for understanding the cross of Christ than Psalm 118:22. And on Sunday we examined this verse through the eyes of Jesus, who in Luke 20:9–18 concluded his parable of the wicked tenants by citing the these words. Moreover, in that parable Jesus told a story of Israel’s longstanding rejection of God and the forthcoming judgment on Jerusalem’s temple. Though shocking to all who heard Jesus, this coming judgment was the way of salvation for those who trusted in Christ.

Indeed, this is parable not only teaches something about Jesus’s death, but it recalls the fact that all humanity will rise or fall in response to his cross. Even more, Christ’s cross is the dividing line that will ultimately determine what side of history someone will stand. Even now, the message of the cross is dividing humanity with its twofold message of salvation and judgment. And only those who respond in faith will enjoy the peace of God now and forever. For that reason, there are few more important messages than Jesus’s parable in Luke 20 and the meaning of the rejected stone who has become the cornerstone of a new temple and the founder of new humanity.

If you want to know more about God’s plans for his people and for all people, take time to consider Jesus’s parable of the wicked tenants. And this sermon will help give you a few insights into God’s salvation and judgment.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Heart of the Gospel: A Sermon on Penal Substitution (Isaiah 53)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedIn the Old Testament, there are a handful of passages critical for understanding Christ’s cross. Over the last few weeks, I have preached on many of them (Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16; Ben Purves also did an outstanding job preaching Psalm 22). There are other passage too that our current sermon series won’t cover (e.g., Numbers 21, Psalm 118, Zechariah 9–14, etc.) But the most important passage in the Old Testament for learning what Christ’s cross achieved is Isaiah 53 (technically, Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And that was the text I preached this week.

In this fifteen verse, five stanza “Servant song,” we are introduced to the One who will die for the sins of his people. In particular, he offers a guilt offering in the place of those who deserve God’s penalty of death.

In recent years, the idea of Christ’s penal substitution and God pouring out his wrath on the Son has not set well with many—both those inside the church and those outside the church, as well as those leaving the church. Indeed, with an appeal to God’s universal love, many have misunderstood how Christ’s death, as a penal substitute, is good news and necessary for salvation. Others have questioned how guilt can be transferred from one person, or one group, to another.

Many of these questions have been well answered in the book Pierced for Our Transgressionsas well as by many others in church history. In every case, Isaiah 53 plays a prominent role in explaining what Christ’s cross achieved. And in my sermon yesterday, you can hear why the most important thing about the cross is not what could be seen with the naked eye, but what the Father, Son, and Spirit achieved in the cross. Indeed, while Mel Gibson’s Passion captured the brutality of the cross, it did not explain the divine design of Christ’s cross, nor how Christ’s death might benefit those who believe upon him.

Truly, if you want to understand the cross, you have to look to the Scripture and especially to Isaiah 53. So here is a sermon that explains why the cross of Christ and especially penal substitution stands at the heart of the gospel and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

It Is Finished: The Beginning of a New Sermon Series

1920x1080-it-is-finishedThis Sunday we began a new sermon series entitled, “It is Finished: Beholding the Cross of Christ from All of Scripture.” And kicking off that series we looked at John 19 to see what John—and Jesus—had to say about the Lord’s death on the cross.

Incredibly, Christ’s final declaration—It is finished!—does more than testify that Christ finished his work on earth. As we will see, it also bears witness to the finality of God’s revelation. In other words, Christ’s death on the cross not only secures our salvation; it also secures every promise that God ever made for our salvation.

With literary skill and gospel hope, John shows how countless promises from God lead to the cross. And following his lead, we looked at seven snapshots of the cross.

If you want to see how the Old Testament leads to Christ’s cross, read carefully John’s words in John 19:16–42. And if you need help seeing what’s there, you can listen to the sermon here. You can also read why we should understand the cross through the entire biblical canon here.

In the weeks ahead, we will continue our series by looking at Genesis 22, Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53, and a host of other New Testament passages. Lord willing, this series will anchor our faith deeper in the finished work of Christ and increase our love for God and others. To that end, may the Lord gives us grace to behold the cross of Christ from all of Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

It Is Finished: Beholding the Cross of Christ from All of Scripture

Have you ever watched a new movie, where you started 10 minutes before the end?

Many years ago, when big hair was still in style, I was introduced to Back to the Future in this way. My friends were watching this movie and I joined them at point where Doc Brown crashed through garbage cans, warned Marty and his girlfriend about their future children, and drove to a place where “we don’t need roads.”

If you only know the last ten minutes of Back to the Future, however, you won’t understand the significance of the DeLorean, the date (November 5, 1955), the speed (88 miles per hour), or the electricity (1.21 Gigawatts) that makes time travel possible. Nor will you understand the flux capacitor and its cruciform power to rewrite history. All of these details are revealed over the course of the movie and only in watching the movie from beginning to end, can you make sense of its ending. 

Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and behold the man hung upon a Roman cross. While many well-intentioned evangelists point to Christ’s cross as the center piece of our Christian faith and the way of our salvation, it is an event in history that only makes sense when you begin in the beginning. That Christ was buried in a garden tomb does more than give us an historical referent; it tells the significance of Christ’s death as the way of God’s new creation, because after all it was in a garden where Adam sinned and brought death to the world. Now, raised from a garden tomb, Jesus as the new Adam has introduced a new way of life.

In this vein, the biblical storyline is necessary for understanding why the Son of God had to die on a tree, be buried in a tomb, and raised to life on the third day. Indeed, even if we know that Christ did not stay dead—that he rose from the grave, walked the earth teaching his disciples for forty days, and ascended to heaven, where he now sits in glory—we cannot make sense of the cross. Or at least, our interest in Christ’s death and resurrection leads us to ask: But what does it mean?

Indeed, the way to understand Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to place those events in the timeline of God’s redemptive history. That timeline begins in creation, proceeds through the fall of mankind into sin, and picks up countless promises of grace and types of salvation throughout the Old Testament. In fact, to be most precise, God’s plan for Christ’s cross did not begin in space and time; it began before God spoke light into the darkness (Gen. 1:3). As Peter says in his first sermon (Acts 2:23) and his first epistle (1 Peter 1:20), the cross of Christ was the centerpiece of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his people.

In Scripture, therefore, the cross is the climactic work of God to redeem sinners and rescue the dying. Indeed, while Jesus now reigns in glory, and his victorious resurrection gives assurance that all those who trust in him will have eternal life, it is vital to understand what Christ did on the cross and what it means when Christ said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

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Seeing Leviticus with New Eyes: Understanding the Pollution of Sin and the Need for Sacrifice

steve-sharp-DmM6NQcavuI-unsplashOn Tuesday’s nights I teach a class on Leviticus, which I have affectionately entitled, “Leviticus: The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read). If you are interested in learning a thing or two about this vitally important book and how it teaches us about Christ, the gospel, and the logic of God’s atonement, you can find the lessons here

This week, as we considered the Reparation Offering—which if you will listen has some application for considering the modern question of reparations—I began with a discussion on the difference between this offering and the Purification Offering. On that point, I found the following explanation of sin as pollution helpful. In his commentary on Leviticus, Gordon Wenham observes the way Moderns fail to understand the cultic idea of sin and pollution. This is one of many reasons why we struggle to understand Leviticus. But once we understand how Israel’s sin defiled the tabernacle and its various sections (i.e., the altar, the holy place, and the holy of holies), we begin to understand what the sacrifices did. This understanding of the sacrificial system, in turn, helps understand what Christ did in his atoning sacrifice, as well as what it means that Jesus is our propitiation.

Again, this is why we are looking at Leviticus. And to help us understand that book and the whole concept of sacrificial worship and atonement for our sin, I share these reflections from Gordon Wenham. Continue reading