The Creator and His Creation: For Which Do We Give Thanks?

Tomorrow, most of the country (USA) will sit down to enjoy turkey, dressing, and a bevy of other tasty plates.  While consumerism, multiple helpings, and televised football encroach on the meaning of the day, for intentional Christians, Thanksgiving really can be a wonderful time of year to contemplate God’s goodness, his faithfulness, and his provision.  Yet, even here, there is the temptation to dwell more on the creation given, than the Creator himself.

Here is what I mean.  For so many of us, thanksgiving can devolve into holy shout-outs for traveling mercies, physical protection, or some kind of vocational or relational blessing this year.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are all worthy of giving thanks!  However, what makes those praises any different than a conservative Mormon family, or the Islamic single who gives praise to Allah for passing grad school, or the sober agnostic who gives indescriminate thanks for three clean years?

I think at Thanksgiving it is possible to focus so much on God’s creational blessings, things we gladly share with the world, that we forget the greater blessings of knowing God.  Or to say it another way, we muffle praise for the Creator by filling our mouths and our plates with praise for the creation.  This is where the Bible comes to lovingly lifts our eyes to behold a greater vision of God, one that will give us reasons for thanksgiving that outstrip anything we might share with the Mormon or Muslim.

Exodus 33:18: A Glimpse of Glory

When Moses prayed to see God’s glory in Exodus 33:18, God responded that he would show him his goodness and his name.  Yesterday, we considered the goodness of God.  Today, we will meditate on the latter, the name of God, to see how the name of God has the potential to elicit more genuine praise and thanksgiving than turkey, dressing, and a new career ever could.

Parachuting into the text, lets notice the name of God as revealed to Moses.  Moses records in Exodus 34:5-9,

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Now lets unpack this glorious word with consideration to four aspects of God’s name.

God’s Name is Gracious

While he is unswerving in his demands, he is gracious in his approach to Israel.  This is true in the fact that Israel is still alive, but also in answering Moses’ prayer and descending on the mountaintop to proclaim his name.  And his name, not coincidentally, is the definition of grace.  In fact, expounding on the name he revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, YHWH says in Exodus 34, when he passed by,  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”   The reiteration of his proper name, stresses the continuity of his personhood and the weight of glory, but more descriptive in this apposition is the fact that the four-fold description beams of grace and love.  While God could have rightfully pronounced his name as judicial and holy, deliberate in condemnation and abounding in wrath; YHWH stresses his mercy and love.

God’s Name is Wise

This method of redeeming grace is wiser than any human religion. God’s wisdom is seen in his patience.  His name describes him as one who is “slow to anger,” which means that he is not out of control or overtaken by passion.  Yet, at the right moment, he is capable of great wrath. Wisdom knows when to be gracious, when to be just.

It has been noted by R.C. Sproul and others that God is not infinite in patience.  He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, but he is not infinite in his forebearance.  Yet, unlike short-sighted humanity, he is not confused by when to move from grace to judgment.  Moreover, as Romans 2:4 will say later, his seasons and instances of kindness and slowness to anger are motivations to repent and believe.  In this way, God manifests his inimitable wisdom. 

God’s Name is Loving and Just  

This wisdom is balanced in verse 7. He is a God of love—covenantal love.  The emphasis of this passage is on that reality.  Like a perfect husband, he is loyal to his bride.  Like a father, he loves his own—not based on condition or performance of his people; rather, his love overflows from his own delight in rescuing a people for his own possession.  Thus the love he has for us is depends solely on his choice to love us, not in our choice to love him.

At the same time, he is a God of perfect justice.  In the same place where he describes his overwhelming love, he says, “who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” Unlike fickle judges and hung juries, God will perfectly execute judgment on the guilty and comfort for the afflicted (cf. 2 Thess 1:6-10). 

God’s Name is Glorious 

In all these ways, YHWH proves himself to be the infinitely glorious God.  He is worthy of eternal worship because of these manifold perfections.  In Exodus 34:8-9, Moses models a heart that is overwhelmed with this glory.  While he has not “seen” the glory of God’s face, he has heard his name and has been overwhelmed.  Even as he sought to look at the glory of God, verse 8 records, that he stopped looking at God’s glory to worship with head down. Moses lowers his head and repents for his own request.  In God’s presence he is overwhelmed by God’s glory.

Such a feeling should accompany the Christian’s experience.  It is not constant and it is not often, but it is real and unmistakable.  In my own life, I can think of no less than two times when I was struck by such a sense of God’s glory and it is a pride-crushing, self-forgetting experience of his manifold beauty and grace for allowing you to even know Him.  Such an experience confirms existentially what we know expositionally.  God is glorious, and thus the only appropriate way to respond is life-long, indeed eternal, worship!

Give Thanks to the Creator, not Just For His Creation

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, may we not only thank God for the good things he has given us in creation, though by all means we should do that.  Do not merely offer great praise for the benefits of the gospel that secures our redemption,  though you should meditate long on those priceless realities.  But above all, and perhaps in contradistinction from every other Thanksgiving, offer thanksgiving to God for who he is and how he has made himself known to you!  Such praise is based on the greatest motivation to praise–God’s glory.  Moreover, it offers you reason to give thanks even when life has been hard this year and every fiber of your being feels like pouting or screaming.  When we behold the eternally glorious God, whose works are breath-taking and whose name is beautiful, we have endless reasons to give thanks–in empty times and full times.  This is the blessedness of contentment, but even more it is a kind of thanksgiving that can only be offered by a born-again believer.  May we offer such glorious praise to Christ his thanksgiving, and may all who know us, know that God is gracious and compassionate, loving and just, worthy of all their praise!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Gospel Logic from Psalm 103

Gospel Logic Remembers God’s Covenant Faithfulness.

This week we have been taking especial note of the way biblical characters think.  Since our mind is the seat of all change in our lives, and because God’s word has called us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2), and because God has supplied us in his Word with all that we need for cognitive transformation (2 Pet 1:3-4; cf. Ps 19:7-11), we ought to think often about how we can fill our minds with gospel truths, and to know where to find such thoughts when times of trouble come–and they will come.

One of those places of personal gospel proclamation is Psalm 103. Today, we are simply going to point out a nine truths from Psalm 103–truths that have the power to lift weary souls and engender hope in the hearts of the desperate.

Gospel Logic speaks to himself; it does not listen to himself (v. 1).

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Gospel Logic reminds oneself of the comfort that memory brings; poor memory is one of the first steps towards misery (v. 2). 

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, . . . 

Gospel Logic recalls God’s history of personal faithfulness (v. 3-5).

Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Gospel Logic revisits God’s history of redemptive faithfulness (v. 6-7).

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

Gospel Logic ruminates on the name and character of God (v. 8-12) 

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Gospel Logic does not try to make oneself larger, smarter, or more succesful in order to find security or comfort; rather, it embraces and admits weakness and delights in God’s unconditional electing love for them (v. 13-14).  

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Gospel Logic reasons that this trial is short-lived and will not pass into the new creation; meanwhile the promise of God’s eternal weight of glory keeps our hearts anchored to God’s goodness (v. 15-19).

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Gospel Logic does not try to reduce God’s sovereignty, it does not delight in man’s free will.  It delights in the One whose reign is absolute and meticulous (v. 19).

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Gospel Logic offers a sacrifice of praise based on God’s infinite worth, not based on the presence of joy in my heart.  Whether we feel it or not, God is radiantly beautiful, and he is always worthy of worship. (v. 20-22)

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

May we read Psalm 103 today and be spurred on towards love and good deeds as we hear the gospel: Soul, bless the Lord!  And forget not all of his benefits… Such gospel logic will sustain us in this life, and it will find eternal expression in the age to come.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Moses’ Gospel Logic

Yesterday, we saw how Abraham wrestled with God’s word in order to believe his promise (Gen 15:6) and to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1ff).  We called such thinking that gave precedence to God’s revelation over our reasonable (or unreasonable) feelings “Gospel Logic.”  Today, we turn to Exodus 32 to see how Moses engaged in the same kind of thinking.

A Sinful People in Need of Something…

1 Corinthians 10 points to Exodus 32 as a universal example of what not to do. Poised to receive God’s order of service for true worship, Israel gets impatient (Exod 32). They hire Aaron to make new gods, and on one of the forty days that Moses in on the Mount of Sinai, the people of Israel sin against God and break the covenant that had just been ratified in Exodus 24.

On the mountain, Moses receives word from the Lord, “And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exod 32:7-8).

What is Moses to do?

On the way down the mountainside, he hears the drunken sound of pagan worship in the camp (32:18-20).  He gets to the base camp, and he smashes the tablets.  The covenant is broken.  In the scenes that follow, Moses inquires of Aaron (32:22-24) and commissions the sons of Levi to slaughter their own family members in order to avert the wrath of God (32:25-29).  The day is done.  The people are undone.  Night falls.

Exodus 32:30 records a new day.  The day of judgment has passed, but the threat of the plague remains (v. 35).  What will Moses do?  Surely he was thinking the same thing.  The covenant people of Israel have broken their wedding vows, and something must be done.  Not a passive man, Moses sets off to inquire of God telling the people, “You have sinned a great sin.  And I will go up to the Lord, . . . ” (32:30).

What would he do?  What would he say?  The rest of verse tells us, “perhaps I can make atonement for your sins.”

Atonement.  This is what the people needed.  But how would he accomplish this.  The plans for the tabernacle were destroyed.  The sin was so great, and God’s holiness was so much greater what would he do?  How would he plead his case?  Such questions lead us to see how Moses reckoned the matter, and in his offer, we will see how gospel logic at work.

Moses Gospel Logic: From Sinai to Eden and Back Again

To understand fully how Moses might have arrived at his self-sacrificing offer, we need to consider the antecedent theology that Moses would have had, and that he would have drawn upon to plead his case and make his offer.

Atonement, and the need for blood sacrifice, was common throughout the ancient near east.  Accordingly, Israel as they worshiped around the golden altar made sacrifices.  While they needed divine instruction for true sacrifices, they did not need information on how to sacrifice.  While they did not have the book of Exodus, they had ample knowledge of the sacrifices offered In Egypt.

But where did these come from?  From God, where else?  Pagan sacrifices are echoes of the first sacrifice, the one God made in the Garden.  Indeed, sacrifice in general terms was imprinted on human civilization from the Garden of Eden forward. Remember: When Adam and Eve sinned they needed a covering, and so God killed an animal an clothed them.  The seed of substitution was sown in this act, and it was passed from God to Adam to Abel.

(For a biblical exposition of these patriarchal and pagan sacrifices, see William Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ [1834], pp. 66-92; likewise, for a helpful explanation of the way pagan worship corresponds to the original pattern passed down from Adam and Noah, see Jeffrey Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology)

As the biblical testimony goes, not all offerings were of equal value.  In Genesis 4, Abel’s offering was based on his faith (Heb 11), but what was his faith in?  Surely, it based on the revelation conveyed to Cain and Abel’s parents, modeled in Genesis 3, that said bloodshed was needed. By contrast, Cain’s offering was faithless, because he refused to believe the need for shed blood.  Instead of substitutionary offering, he brought fruit from the field.  His offering was not according to God’s word, it did not substitute life for life, and thus it was not acceptable to the Lord.

If Moses was indeed retracing the history of God’s atonement and means of provision, he would have next thought of Abraham and Isaac.  In what would become Genesis 22, YHWH commands Abraham to offer his son. This is far more than an animal sacrifice, something Abraham (and Moses) had done plenty of times.  Now, God was upping the ante.  He was testing Abraham (22:1), and he was setting in redemptive history a portrait of a substitution—a divinely provided lamb in place of Abraham’s seed (people of faith).

Like Abel, Abraham had to make this offering in faith–faith in God’s word.  As we saw yesterday, this is exactly what God’s friend did.  Thus, he believed that God could raise his son from the dead.  If indeed Moses was pondering all that God had revealed to him in the law on Sinai, and all that God had done in Israel’s history, it is little wonder that Moses concluded that perhaps his own substitution might become the means by which Israel would be saved.

Putting this gospel logic in dramatic prose, James M. Boyce imagines what the night might have been like,

The night passed, and the morning came when Moses was to reascend the mountain.  He had been thinking.  Sometime during the night a way that might possibly divert the wrath of God against the people had come to him.  He remembered the sacrifices of the Hebrew patriarchs and the newly instituted sacrifice of the Passover.  Certainly God had shown by such sacrifices that he was prepared to accept an innocent substitute in place of the just death of the sinner.  His wrath could sometimes fall on the substitute.  Perhaps God would accept… When morning came, Moses ascended the mountain with great determination. Reaching the top, he began to speak to God (Quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, 1013).

Concluding Thoughts

Like Abraham, Moses practiced Gospel Logic.  He reflected on the character of God, God’s revealed word, the sin of the people, and like Abraham who reckoned that God could raise the dead, Moses conjectured, maybe, just maybe God might take me in place of my people.  So Moses, with boldness and selfless love for God’s sinful people laid himself on the altar: “No if you would on forgive their sin.  But if not”–and here is where the offer comes–“please me from the book You have written” (Exod 32:32).

In the end, his offer is not accepted (32:33-34), but not because the idea is wrong, but because the substitute is blemished.  Even though Moses was not complicit in the crime, he was a son of Adam and by nature incapable of atoning for the sins of the people.  Relatively speaking, he was innocent, but time would reveal that in his own heart lay a dark distrust for God and a willingness to strike the rock when God said speak (Num 20:10-13).

Moses was not the perfect substitute.  Yet, his intercession foreshadows the one whose self-sacrifice would be accepted.  Moses receives God’s word to continue to lead the people which implies that the story will continue, the hope of the true Messiah remains. This is good news for Moses, Israel, and us.  And Moses example of wrestling with the Lord like Abraham and Jacob should remind us to press into the truths of God’s word and to find solace in the darkest nights.

When God’s wrath was ready to consume Israel, Moses Gospel Logic reckoned that “perhaps” he could intercede.  We must reckon in the same fashion, not that we can intercede for others (although see Paul in Romans 9).  No, we must reckon with greater  confidence that because in Jesus Christ there is no “perhaps,” all that we ask in his name will be accomplished.  This is God’s promise to us in John 14:13-14, and it is based on the inexhaustible merits of Christ.  In his priestly service, Jesus was gladly received by the Father, and as the Father’s beloved Son, all that he does and asks, is answered.  This is our good news.

May such knowledge of our great high priest comfort us today, and beckon us not to lose heart for tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Prayer as a Theological Problem

Moses Prayer: A Problem in the Making

Moses’ prayer not only provides a powerful example of intercession; it also presents a major theological problem: Does Prayer Really Change Things?

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the text makes Moses look like the good guy—the one who is emotionally stable–while God himself, looks like the bad guy.  To our twenty-first century sensitivities the impassible God looks bi-polar. Yet, such a reading misses the point and misunderstands God. Nevertheless, Exodus 32-34 is a hard one for understanding God’s relationship to the world. How should we understand Moses’ prayer and its effect?  Does he really change God’s mind? Let me make a couple observations.

  1. God is Moses’ maker.  He gives him life, breath, and everything else. As Moses learned in Exodus 4:11, God makes man mute or able to speak.  Voicing his prayer depends on God.
  2. YHWH sends Moses to be Israel’s mediator.  Thus, if Moses is advocating for Israel, it is because he is fulfilling God’s will for him. In other words, God’s pronouncement of judgment is matched by his provision of a mediator.
  3. Moses prayer is based on God’s previous promises.  Moses is only doing what God has previously revealed, commanded or promised. He is not opposing God; he is obeying God. His prayer flows from God (and his Word) back to God.

Letting the Whole Counsel of Scripture Speak

These observations are a start, but they don’t get us all away around the track.  We need a more full understanding of how God can both answer prayer and initiate prayer.  Fortunately, the doctrines of salvation and the Trinity give help.

First, Prayers do not shake the heavens, unless God has first saved us.Only those prayers offered by Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ are acceptable to God.  Only those who know God and are known by him can offer effective prayer—can pray according to the will of God. Thus, prayer depends on God, and his saving initiative. This is true for the believer today, and for Moses who was a man called by God and given the Holy Spirit (cf. Num 11:16ff).

Second, prayer that is powerful and effective is Trinitarian.  The Father receives our prayers through the Son.  In Exodus, this is foreshadowed, where Moses himself is a type of Christ, interceding for his people.  In this way, Moses, who is human and not divine, is thrust into an office that is intended for the God-Man Jesus Christ. So, our prayers are powerful as they are lifted to the Father, through the Son.  But what of the Spirit?  Looking for help in all the Scripture, we find that we must pray “in the Spirit.”  We find this stated twice in the New Testament (Eph 6:18; Jude 20) and explained in Romans 8:25-26.  So lets read:

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

If we listen to what Paul is saying, the Spirit is the one who directs and empowers our prayer. Indeed, we cannot pray apart from the Spirit.  Prayer that is pleasing to God is initiated and guided by the Holy Spirit, which means that prayer mysteriously puts the believer somewhere between the Spirit and the Son on the way to the Father.  We do not become part of the Trinity, but when we pray we are participating in a spiritual dance of sorts with the Triune God. Therefore, true prayer is necessarily Trinitarian, and thus all the prayers of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and New Age Spiritist are worthless.  The Living God rejects them all.

Back to Exodus

So what should we say? Does Moses change God’s mind?  Yes and No.

Yes, Moses prayer changes things.  Verse 12, Moses asks God to “relent” and verse 14 confirms that God “relented.”  I fully believe that if Moses had not prayed, God would not have relented and Israel would have been wiped out.  Moses prayer was instrumental.  But did it change God?

No, Moses doesn’t change God or what God was going to do.  On the surface, it looks like God got mad, Moses stepped in the middle, and saved Israel by changing God’s mind.  But that is a very man-centered view. It makes God little better than a moody old man.

Still better: Moses prayer, while it is genuine, real, and passionate, is also Scripted.  The sovereign God who answers his prayer, also gives him his prayer.  That is to say that God sent Moses to intercede for Israel.  God circumcised Moses heart and gave him a passion for his people.  And then in this moment, Moses responded to the circumstance by pleading God’s mercy.

Maybe you are saying, “I still don’t understand.  How can Moses prayer be free and effective, and Scripted?” Let me take one more stab at it, again recruiting the analogy of other Scriptures.

  1. His prayer is not based on his own inventive reasoning.  Everything he says is based on God’s previous promises.  In this way, the Script is the Scripture.  God’s word, written on his heart.
  2. As we read the testimony of Romans 8, we learn that when we pray, God helps us, and gives us the words.  This is true in the OT and the NT.  So, he is praying by the Spirit.  Confirmation of this is seen in Numbers 11, when it says Moses is filled with the Spirit.
  3. Further testimony in the Bible says clearly that God knows the words that we will speak long before they cross our lips (Ps 139:4).  But even more amazing is that Scripture doesn’t say that God just knows our speech, he gives it to us.  Proverbs 16:1, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
  4. Going one step further, since the mouth speaks what is in the heart (Matt 12:34), God must also be in charge of what is in the heart; which is confirmed in Proverbs 21:1, when Solomon records, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, he turns it wherever he will.”

In the end, some may say, this is too deep, too mysterious.  And I agree that it is mysterious.  But I disagree that it is too deep.  God made you to go deep with him (Prov 25:2), and the reason why so many Christians are bored in church and flirt with pornography, gambling, and materialism is because they have never gone deep with God.  Here is the truth, as we go deep with God, the sovereign Lord who made us and redeemed us will fills us with joy eternal, and he will give us power to say no to ungodliness.  Moreover, he will enervate our prayer with life like we have never before experienced.  Moses prayer is a theological problem, but it is one worth thinking about deeply because it reveals so much of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Scripture is Our Guardian and Guide to True Worship (Sermon Notes)

True Worship is Revealed By God

Yesterday’s post considered the way Exodus 32 warns us of false worship.  It confronts the many ways we (unintentionally) bring ‘golden calves’ into our worship services, and it makes us ask whether or not the elements in our worship are biblically-grounded or not.  Today, we aim to make a positive argument for true worship based on the ‘Regulative Principle.’

Moving from Old Covenant to New Covenant, we should notice that God is just as interested in true worship in the church-age.  The difference is the location of that worship–in the Spirit-filled temple of the gathered church, not Solomon’s temple made of stones.  On this John 4 is helpful.

In John 4, Jesus pursues a conversation with a sexually-dysfunctional Samaritan woman. This is a great passage on the subject of missions, evangelism, and salvation unto all peoples.  But it also speaks volumes about worship.  Tucked in this context, we see that God is still seeking worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (v. 24).

To which we may ask: How do we worship in truth?  Exodus 32 has shown us what false worship looks like, but where do we find true worship.  Put simply, I would say that the whole counsel of Scripture is required to worship aright.

Now, this question has been debated much in church history.  There are some who will say, that the church is permitted to do most anything in God’s name, so long as it does not violate the teaching of Scripture.  This has been called the “Normative Principle.”

Conversely, others have argued for the “Regulative Principle,” which asserts that the church should do no more than what is commanded and/or explicitly modeled in Scripture.  This second approach has, in some cases, been taken to the extreme.  Some have argued that instruments, for instance, find no place in the New Testament and thus should be removed from worship.  Others, more moderately, have made adjustments such as allowing for amplification and powerpoint in their services, even though Scripture says nothing of these things (although a raised platform and assistance in understanding the text in Nehemiah 8 may give support for amplification and powerpoint–just saying).

The perpetual challenges of contextualization make this debate very challenging.  Nevertheless, based on the seriousness which God takes worship (cf Exod 32), it is a conversation worth having.  My point, from the text in Exodus 32, is simply that we ought to have a principle of regulation, that arises from the text in all that we do.  Creative freedom in worship seems to be what Exodus 32 is against, and it actually proves that such “freedom” results in the ultimate slavery (death). By contrast, when churches submit themselves to Scripture, they experience the freedom of the Lord, who descends upon the gathered church, and as 2 Corinthians says, where the Lord is there is a Spirit of freedom.

A Baptist Argument for the Regulative Principle

On the subject of the Regulative Principle, I have not found much that is immediately helpful–if you know of something, please let me know–but in a Baptist Press article from 2003, Donald Whitney, now professor at Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY), and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifegives a number of helpful points.  Let me quote a portion of his article, Worship Should Be God-Centered and Biblical

The regulative principle of worship in essence says that God knows how He wants to be worshiped better than we do, . . .
”He has not left us in the dark about that and has revealed in Scripture [alone] how he wants us to worship Him, what the elements of worship are to be. If He has done so, then those are the things we must do and we should not bring any of our own ideas in addition to that.” 



 Biblical elements of corporate worship include preaching and teaching the Word of God, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

The regulative principle rules out extra-biblical elements such as drama, clowns and the like.

Whitney pointed out that many Baptists today practice what is known as the “normative principle” of worship. The normative principle says that corporate worship must include all biblical elements, but believers also are free to include things not forbidden by Scripture. 

This approach is dangerous because God’s will is known only through His special revelation, . . .

We don’t know what honors God except that which He has revealed, . . .  In areas like worship where He has revealed His truth, we may not go beyond the bounds of that. 

[Significantly, Whitney ends his article by pointing us to the Scriptures, quoting from even from Exodus 25-30, which serves as the true pattern that was broken in Exodus 32].

In the end, Scripture must be our guardian and our guide!  God has not left himself silent on matters of worship.  He does not want creative expressions borrowed from the world.  He wants his creation to worship him according to his Word.  He is not looking for new ways to know him, explain him, promote him, or seek him.  He has given us his word and his Spirit.  This is sufficient.

To those who interpret the world through lens acquired from the world, this seems foolish and weak. But indeed, it is the wisdom of God.  May we again press into know the Lord, and trust that we will not be dissatisfied.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of False Worship (Sermon Notes)

Exodus 32 is a tremendous vision of all that God hates about false worship.  If we pay careful attention, the problem is not absence of worship, but absence of divine sanction. In other words, the problem is not rejection of religion or indifference to worship. The problem is that worship derives its origin from some place other than God himself. This is not too different from the church today.

In an age of creative ventures in worship, the Golden Calf incident is worth our attention, because it provides a powerful counter-example to false forms of Christian worship. And what is most shocking and indicting is the fact that in Exodus 32 we find that false worship looks a lot like true worship, and that only in the light of divine revelation, can we tell the difference.

False Worship Looks A Lot Like True Worship

False religion is so dangerous because of how closely it apes true religion.  It doesn’t come with a surgeon generals warning on it.  In fact, if you use Christianbook.com as a resource for getting “good, Christian resources,” beware.  There is no warning for the likes of Osteen, Boyd, Eldredge, Meyer, or Jakes.  Today, too many Christian booksellers make a killing selling false doctrine.

In Exodus 32, we see a number of ways that ancient Israel apes true religion, and how Satan deceives God’s son.

First, while the need for leadership is real, the request is wrong.  Moses has been gone for weeks, and Israel feels its need. So they come to Aaron earnestly; unfortunately, their worry is premature.  The pillar of cloud is still on Mount Sinai.  There is no evidence that it has departed.  They were told that when Moses ascended, he would return and lead Israel to dwell with YHWH.  But like in the garden, Satan plays on the emotions of Israel, and they fall for his temptation.

Second, the worship that Israel offers looks sacrificial.  Here Aaron, failing to guard Israel, like Adam failed to guard his wife, calls for gold to fashion an idol.  And the people give.  They give liberally! It is a major act of spirituality–false spirituality.  Sadly, they miss God’s mark.  Part of God’s plan is for Israel to gather gold, silver, fabrics, etc (Exod 25, 35), thus, what Aaron calls for seems very natural. Sadly, his construction will distance Israel from God, it will not bring them near.  Access to God requires God’s revelation.

We learn something very important here: Sacrifice does not equal spirituality.  Spirituality calls for sacrifice. David says of Araunah’s threshing floor in 1 Sam 2:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing”  True spirituality will cost you  (cf. Luke 14:25-33), but just because you offer costly service, does not mean your spirituality is pleasing to God.

Third, the materials Israel offers for worship are essentially the same. The people of God build an altar, offer burnt offerings and peace offerings, and feast with the Lord (v. 5-6).  Yet, while in name these offerings and elements of worship are the same, they are different because they are invented by men and not God.  Aaron is not responding to God’s revelation, he is building the altar and offering the sacrifices according to all that he had seen in Egypt.

At this point in the narrative, Moses alone had God’s instructions.  He is still on the Mountain.  Israel does not yet have Exodus 25-31.  We do.  They don’t.  Worse: Because of the sexual promiscuity often associated with temple worship in the ancient world, the “playing” in Exodus 32:6 is likely to have a sexually perverse element.  Overall, the offering is an abomination, because it fails to do what God’s word says; it offers worship according to the vain imagination of fallen men.

Here is the application, via negative example, for us: It is natural and easy for the worship of God’s people to reflect more of the culture than of the court of heaven.  False worship is indeed what will happen whenever God’s word is minimized.  Unless we employ a regulative principle that allows Scripture to define and delimit our worship, we run the risk of offending God with the very thing with which we intend to please him.

Worship Without the Word Invokes God’s Wrath

The reaction of God is evident to all.  YHWH was incensed.  Verse 7 describes the distance that now existed between God and Israel.  He calls Israel “Moses’ people,” and he tells Moses that he brought them up from Egypt.  YHWH wants to have nothing to do with Israel.  In verse 8, he condemns them legally for breaking the part of the law that they had.  Remember, more than once, Israel swore that they would do all the words the Lord had spoken (Exod 25:3)They knew that failure to obey meant death.  And so, God was fully within his rights, to say in 32:10, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them & I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you’

The people of God worshiped YHWH (v. 5), but not according to the way YHWH designed.  Thus, they invoked his wrath.  How many churches today do the same?  As they creatively invite the presence of the Spirit through smells, bells, dramas, and personal interviews, they may actually distance themselves from the Christ they name.  For churches and their leaders, it is worth asking: What biblical sanction is there for such activity in corporate worship?  Failure to think through these things, invites God not to write his name on our churches, but rather the word “Ichabod.”

May God protect us from false worship, and may we pursue true worship as we look to the Word of God and worship according to all that he has revealed and prescribed in his sufficient revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Sermon Notes: Exodus 34:6-7 In Biblical-Theological Context

The Context of Exodus 32-34

Exodus 32-34 are at the center of the tabernacle section (Exodus 25-40).  They function as a break between the instructions (25-31) and the construction (35-40). But the break is not just literary, it’s relational.

After all that God has done for Israel—remembering them in Egypt, redeeming them from slavery, making his covenant with them—Israel returns the favor by committing spiritual adultery.  In Exodus 32, God’s people make a graven image, and bow before it.  This invokes God’s wrath, but it also sets the stage to display YHWH’s mercy and grace.

Exodus 34:6-7 is the capstone of this passage, and in these two electric verses, we find the center of Old Testament Theology in God’s revelation to Moses (see Jim Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment for a full development of this idea).  These verses are programmatic for the rest of the Bible and they read,

The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

To know our God, it is vital to understand these passages in context and content. To better acquaint ourselves with this passage, notice three ways that God’s revelation on Sinai functions much like the cross in the New Testament.

1. Like the cross of Christ, these chapters show God’s mercy and his justice. Like a perfect kaleidoscope, they radiate the colors of God’s severity and kindness (cf. Rom 11:22).  In the New Testament, wrath and mercy meet at the cross; in the Old Testament they meet here.

2. Like the cross of Christ, the role of Moses is that of God-given Mediator.  In other words, he stands between God’s holy wrath and Israel’s rebellious sin.  In this way, as he pleads for mercy, he foreshadows Christ.  But lets not make the mistake that Moses or Christ change God’s mind; in both cases, the God who metes out perfect justice, also sends his a mediator to plead for pardon.  In this, there is the beautiful mystery that God who seeks to destroy Israel, is first the God works to save them.  He listens to Moses’ prayer, because he sent Moses to pray.

3. Like the cross of Christ, this episode shapes the rest of the OT (and NT). Exodus 34:6-7 is quoted throughout the rest of the Bible, and gives shape to all that follows.

This verse is picked up in places like Num 14:18. When Israel rebels against Moses, Moses quotes Exodus 34:6-7 in full as he pleads for Israel’s pardon. In the Psalms, it is often cited to remind Israel of God’s gracious character (cf. 86:15; 103:7).  But in the prophets, Nahum stresses God’s wrath: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (1:2-3). Even Jonah quotes the verse, saying it was this reason that he did not go to Nineveh, because the reluctant prophet knew God would forgive them if they repented.

Exodus 34:6-7 is so programmatic because of the way it expresses God’s relationship with the world.  YHWH is unchanging (Mal 3:6), yet people are not.  Thus, God has made a world in covenant with him.  Which means: Those who keep covenant will receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness (thru atonement).  However, for those who reject or ignore him, he loathes. His anger burns red-hot. His patience is slow, but not infinite.

Finally, Exodus 34:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ himself. In John 1:14, the beloved disciple introduces Christ saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The connection with Exodus 34:6-7 is in the last phrase.  The God who is abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emeth) is fully revealed in Christ who is full of grace (charis) and truth (aletheia).

This is our God.  Though, Scripture reveals him progressively over time, he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Old Testament God and the New Testament God are not juxtaposed, rather, as I recently heard D. A. Carson say, the New Testament vision of God is simply more clear and precise–this is true with God’s love and his justice.

May we this week, worship the God of Sinai and Calvary, and learn to know him in his faithfulness to forgiveness and judge.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Sweet-Smelling Aroma of Prayer (OT)

TEST CASE # 2 :: The Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10; 34-38)

For the last two days, we have looked at Exodus 29 and the consecration of the priesthood, today we will move to a section of the tabernacle furniture that is a little more obscure: The Altar of Incense.  How should we understand this instrument in the law, in the prophets, in relationship to Christ, in the way it points to the gospel, and in our own lives?  To answer such a question we must begin in the OT and work our way to the NT.

Again, following the five-fold model (Law, Prophets 1 &2, Christ, Gospel, Christian Application) presented here, our aim today is to better understand the “good news” of the altar of incense and how the Old Testament prepares us for Christ’s fulfillment of this golden altar.

1. God commands Moses to build an altar of incense.  In brief, notice three things in verses 1-10—(1) the construction (v. 1-5); (2) the location (v. 6); (3) the function (v. 7-10).

Construction. Like everything else inside the holy place, the altar of incense was made of acacia wood, and covered with gold (v. 1, 3).  It was to be about 18 inches across and 18 inches in depth, and it stood 3 feet tall (v. 2).  Like the altar in the courtyard, it had horns on all four-sides.  And like everything else in the holy place, it was made to be portable.  Thus, it had rings of gold so that poles could be used to carry it.  These two were made of acacia wood and covered in gold (v. 5).

Location.  Also important is the location.  In verse 6, Moses records, “And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is avoe the testimony, where I will meet with you.”  The location is important because it was the last piece of furniture the priest would pass before entering behind the veil; likewise, when the priests offered incense they were coming near to God.  Leviticus 16:18 describes the location in these terms: “Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it.”

So on the Day of Atonement, the priest applied the blood to the altar of incense after applying blood the mercy seat, and significantly the altar of incense sat in front of the veil.

Function.  Verses 7-10 explain the function of the altar. Verse 7 says Aaron would burn incense on it.  Morning and evening, fresh incense would rise for this little golden altar.

What was this incense?  Verses 34-38 supply the answer:

The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”

 Clearly, there was God-ordained way to make the incense for the altar.  We cannot reproduce it because we do not quite know what the substance are, or what the proportion were.  But it was clear “You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it” (v. 9).  Moreover, it was only to be used for incense and not a burnt offering, a grain offering, or a drink offering (v. 9b).  And finally, like all the other elements of the tabernacle, it needed to be cleansed by the blood of the yearly sin offering (v. 10).

What does it symbolize?  Location hints at its purpose, as does the imagery of the smoke rising to God.  In fact, while some scholars have said that the incense served the purpose of covering the odor of the priests and their work; it is better to see that the smoke did not simply remain in the Holy Place.  It went behind the veil.  While Israel’s high priest could not enter behind the veil, but once a year.  The incense was constantly wafting into the presence of God.

And it is no wonder that altar of incense became synonymous with prayer in Old Testament and the New Testament.

Psalm 141:1-2 makes this clear: “A Psalm of David. O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Luke 1:8-11 is also helpful.  While this passage is in the New Testament, it must be remembered that it is still an Old Covenant age: Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

So clearly, there is a connection between the altar of incense and prayer.  But there is also a connection between this altar and the bronze altar that stands outside the holy place.  Philip Ryken helps us relate the two:

[B]y calling it an altar, God was making a connection between what happened on the great bronze altar out in the courtyard and what happened on the little golden altar inside the tabernacle.  Both altars were square, and both had horns rising up on their corners.  So there was something similar about their shape.  Also, they were both used at the same time of day.  Remember that the priests offered incense at dawn and at dusk.  Something else important was happening at the same time, both morning and evening: Priests were out in the courtyard offering a sacrificial lamb.  These daily religious rituals were synchronized.  Thus there was a close connection between the two altars, in both their design and their function… The connection between the two altars served as a daily reminder that the life of prayer depends on having a sacrifice for sin.  What secures a place for us before the throne of God’s grace is the atoning blood that was shed for our sins.  This is why God hears our prayers (Exodus:Saved for God’s Glory927).

Now for the question: How did Israel do at keeping this law?

2A. Nadab and Abihu, sons mentioned in Exodus, burn unauthorized fire in Leviticus 10, and are struck dead because of their willful—and perhaps drunken—disobedience.

Leviticus 10:1-3. Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.

2B. Uzziah, King of Judah, overcome with pride attempts to offer incense on the altar without prayer and without a priest.  The result?

2 Chron 26:16-21. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

In addition to these historical (and prophetic) accounts, if you look at Ezekiel 8, you will find the prophet touring the temple and seeing false worship in all corridors, thus contaminating any sort of prayer life or altar of incense. The question is: Are there any hopeful prophesies for a better altar of incense?

3. Malachi, in the midst of God’s judgment, looks to a day when incense will rise before God from all over the earth—perhaps indicating a day when the temple is larger than a mountain in Jerusalem.

Malachi 1:11. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incese will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

What about in the New Testament?  Do we have evidence that Christ fulfills this? We do, and we will check it out tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Sermon Notes: Christ’s Consecration is Our Confidence (OT)

TEST CASE # 1 :: Exodus 29: Consecration of the Priests

Following the five-fold model (Law, Prophets 1 &2, Christ, Gospel, Christian Application) presented in the last few days, I will today try to give a “test case” for getting from the consecration of the high priest in Exodus 29 to Christ to Christians today.

1. Exodus 29 gives explicit laws for consecrating the priest. 

Exodus 29 is an exposition of Exodus 28:41, “And your shall put them”—that is the priestly garments— “on Aaron your brother, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.”  The point of the chapter is to explain how the high priest might be received into the presence of the Lord.  And it is an incredible process. To begin with, verses 4-9 give a point by point process for cleansing the priest.

Verses 4-9: Five Steps for Consecration

Verse 4. The priests are washed.  In a hot, dusty desert, these men needed a bath. This would not be sufficient, but it was a necessary beginning.

Verse 5. The priest is clothed.  All the garments made for “dignity and honor,” or “beauty and glory” were put on the priest.

Verse 6. The priest is crowned. The most significant element of the apparel was the turban.  It was put on last, and it essentially crowned the priest (Zech 6).

Verse 7. The priest is anointed.  With the anointing oil, the priest is ordained, as God’s chosen vessel to represent the people before him.  This anointing is defined with greater detail in Hebrews 5, where it says that the priest did not appoint and anoint himself.  As one commentator has said, this anointing basically stamped the priest with heavenly approval.

Verse 8-9. The priest is supported. Each of the priests are dressed and ready to serve him, in the service of the temple.

Verses 10-28: Six Atoning Sacrifices

Now everything was ready for the offerings.  In verses 10-28, Moses lists six different kinds of offerings that were involved in the priests ordination.  Most of these would be further explained in Leviticus 1-7, but let’s take a short survey here to simply mention the complexity of all the sacrifices involved.

Sin offering.  Unclean sections of the animal are taken outside the camp and burned.

Burnt Offering. First ram is completely consumed, symbolizing the priest’s total devotion

Ram of Ordination.  Only for the priests, this lamb was slaughtered and the blood applied to their ear lobes, thumbs, and big toes.  All the exposed parts of the priest are cleansed by the blood.

Wave Offering.  Taking the cooked meat and bread, the offering was waved before the Lord. Walter Kaiser describe them like this: “The waving was not from side to side but toward the altar and back, showing that the sacrifice was given to God and then received back by the priest for his use” (Exodus, 470). This food is then burned up on the altar as a Food Offering.

Peace Offerings.  Included in the consecration was the eating of the food before the Lord.  This ‘portion’ to eat represented the kind of peace the priests (and Israel) had with God through the atoning sacrifices.

Verses 29-42: Further Priestly Instructions

After the offerings came another round of detailed instructions.  Everything from how to boil the food that the priest would eat with God to directions on the daily offerings.

Verse 29-30.  God gives instructions concerning the garments, and how they are to be passed down from one generation to the next.

Verse 31-35.  The priests have instructions for boiling the meat and eating it.

Verse 35-37.  This ordination takes 7 days, again showing how weak the sacrifices were and how great was the need for cleansing.

Verse 38-42. On top of the ordination service, there is the morning and evening sacrifice, which twice a day provided atonement for the holy place.

This elaborate system, along with everything else in Exodus 25-40, was put in place to teach Israel about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and what it takes to get into God’s presence.  In one sentence, the message was this: You need a priest who will represent you before God, and that priest needs the highest degree of cleansing.  Now the question becomes, “How did Israel do with this?”  Let’s see.

2. Malachi 2:1-9 shows how the priests failed to keep covenant with God. Reciting the covenant God had with Levi, Malachi indicts the sons of Levi for their corrupted service.

 And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.

3. Zechariah 3 promises a new priest who will be pure and devoted to God. In a book full of Messianic promises, the hope of a royal priest who will cleanse the people is especially prominent, because God’s dwelling with his people depended on the people’s purity.  Verses 6-10 read,

Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.

At this point in redemptive-history, the people of God wait for a pure priest.  God’s promise is sure, but the fulfillment is still future.  The flow of the narrative builds anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah.

Following the lead of the inter-testamental period, we will pause here too, and come back in our next post.

dss

Sermon Notes: The Priest’s Particular Work (NT)

Moving from Old Testament to New, the particularity of the priestly office continues.  In fact, just as the high priest represents the 12 tribes whose names are engraved on his heart; Christ lays down his life for his church, the New Israel, those who are made new in Christ (cf. Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).

Jesus Priesthood in John’s Gospel

For instance, in John, Jesus describes his atoning work as accomplishing salvation for those who believe (3:16), for all his sheep (10:14), for all his friends (15:13), and for all those God the Father has “given to him” —Jew or Gentile.  Consider Jesus high priestly prayer,

Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:2, 6-9).

As John records it, Jesus does not reveal himself or pray uniformly to all people.  He prays for those whom the father has given him.  In priestly vernacular, he mediates only for those whose names are written on his ephod and breastpiece.

Maybe you are thinking, can we really connect Exodus 28-29 with John 17? That is a legitimate question, so it is important to see that there do seem to be some linguistic and conceptual links between the two passages.  This is most evident in verses 16-19.

They [i. e. those whom God has given to Jesus] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth

In this brief prayer, there are at least two words/ideas that were used in Exodus 28–sanctify/sanctified and consecrate.  Apparently, as Jesus anticipates his atoning death, he prays to the Father for his own.  He stakes the fact that he will consecrate himself for them, which has explicit reference to his priestly work of sacrifice, so that they might be sanctified for access into God’s holy dwelling (cf. Heb 10:19ff).  This was obviously the purpose of Exodus 25-40; and so it is with Jesus, who makes atonement not in an earthly tabernacle, but in God’s heavenly temple.  And who does he make atonement for?  According to John 17, it is those people whom the father has given.  This is not a universal group; it is God’s particular covenant people.

Jesus’s Priestly Work in John’s Apocalypse

Finally, the list of names for whom Jesus represents as priest is also given in Revelation.  For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John declares that judgment is coming upon “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  In other words, God in eternity past purposed whose names would be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Here, John is warning earth-dwellers of their impending demise, but by contrast, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be saved.  Clearly, it would be inappropriate to say that this passage refers to the ephod or the breastpiece.  However, the principle is analogous.  In both the Lamb’s Book of Life and on his priestly garments are the names of those for whom Christ died.  Again, the names indicate a particular representation for a particular people.

Likewise, in Revelation 17:8, John records, “And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” Like the earlier verse in chapter 13, John is describing those whose names are left out of the book; but that has to imply that their are others–a countless multitude in Revelation 7–whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Thus in both positive (the ephod and breastpiece) and negative (the book of life) terms, God distinguishes those whom the Lamb dies for, and those whom he does not.  As God’s appointed priest and sacrifice, God sends him to earth to be slain, so that by his blood he would ransom people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9-10).  In this way, God’s particular means of salvation are made known to all the earth; and the promise that the gospel will be universally effective is found in the fact that in every tribe, language, people, and nation, God has his chosen ones.  In this way, God’s offer of salvation can be offered to all people indiscriminately; and it has the promise of absolute efficacy, because of Christ’s perfect, priestly atonement and intercession (see Hebrews 9-10).

The Good News of Christ’s Priestly Work

This is the Good News!  Christ’s salvation cannot be revoked.  It cannot be overturned.  It will not fail.  While the Levitical priests were weak, and unable to cleanse human guilt, they did preserve the flesh.  Yet, they could never save the soul.

Not so with Jesus.  His priestly ministry is infinitely better.  For all whom he died, he effectively saved.  He is a glorious and beautiful priest!  He perfectly intercedes for all those whose name are on his vestments; he does not forget us.  We are close to his heart.  As John records, He has lost not one!  And all those who have trusted in him and repented of sin, can have glad-hearted confidence that their name is written across his heart.

May we proclaim that word all over the earth, until the priestly-king returns to reign on the earth!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss