Drinking Deeply from Our Father in Heaven: Nine Observations about Giving, Praying, and Fasting (Matthew 6:1–18)

didin-emelu-329478-unsplashIn the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions about giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). In our church we have taken one sermon per “spiritual discipline,” but really in the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, we should read these three disciplines together. And in fact, when we do there are some observations we discover that we might not find on our own.

So here are nine observations about Matthew 6:1–18 and Jesus’s instructions about these critical elements of worship, discipleship, and spiritual communion with God.

1. Giving, praying, and fasting make up the center of the Sermon.

Sermon on the Mount Overview copy

From the structure of the sermon, we discover verses 1–18 should be read as the center of the sermon. Even more specifically, giving (vv. 2–4) and fasting (vv. 16–18) should be seen as a concentric ring around Jesus’s instructions around prayer (vv. 5–15), which itself is centered around the Lord’s Prayer. And that pray too is shaped to put three imperatives on both sides the words “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In other words, the shape observed in the image above continues right to the summit of the mountain, where we discover that prayer in the presence of our heavenly father is the goal of the Law (5:17–48) and the Prophets (6:19–7:11), as well asthe center of Jesus teaching about discipleship (6:1–18).

Moreover, because of this intentional shaping and the balanced presentation of giving and fasting around prayer, we may find that these various disciplines are not as independent as we often think. In fact, to get the full meaning of Jesus’s words we should read them together. Continue reading

Common Grace: How God Blessed the Nations in the Age of Abraham

rainbowGod’s covenant with Noah is often described as the covenant of common grace, and rightly so. In the wake of God’s judgment on the earth, the heart of humanity remains unchanged (cp. Gen. 6:5 and 8:21), yet for God to bring redemption to the world, some measure of preservation must be granted. Therefore, with strong covenantal language—berith occurs 7 times (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) in Genesis 9—God promises to uphold creation: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22).

These promises to Noah envelope all creation and articulate God’s common grace—his universal beneficence towards a world filled with sin. In other words, common grace is common because it encompasses all humanity universally, not because it is mundane. Common grace is distinct from saving grace in that the former does not atone for sins or grant eternal life. Rather, it grants “grace” to the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45) and provides a historical context for saving grace to operate.

That being said, common grace is not equally apportioned. It is not like the periodic table, where every element possesses the same atomic weight. Rather, common grace is specific in that it often depends upon the saving grace given to God’s chosen people. In other words, just as common grace is promised through the Noahic covenant, so common grace continues to be mediated through other covenantal mediators. In Scripture, the first instance of this is Abraham.
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Feeding on the Lord: So Much More Than a Metaphor

breadHunger. It’s one of the most basic of human desires. And in the Bible it is one of the most important concepts related to salvation, faith, and one’s experience with God.

Physically, hunger and our attempts to fill our stomaches are experiences that unite all mankind. While experienced differently in famine-afflicted Africa or affluency-afflicted America, an “empty stomach” is something that speaks to everyone.  We cannot go without food, and thus we search for something to fill us up and give us life.

Spiritually, the language of food, famine, eating, nourishment, and emptiness fills the Bible. From the plethora of fruit trees given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the Manna in the wilderness, to the loaves and fishes that Jesus provided for his followers, God has provided physical sustenance. At the same time, food has been a source of destruction—sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit; Esau lost his inheritance when he chose stew over his birthright, and Paul says that men ate and drank destruction on themselves when they wrongly ate the Lord’s Supper.

So clearly, food plays a key role in our physical and spiritual pursuit of God. At the same time, Scripture often speaks of eating metaphorically. Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is God.” And Psalm 36:8 says that the children of man “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Apparently, our experience with food—physical bread, meat, and drink—is meant by God to teach us what it means to feed on the Lord and drink from his streams of life.

Still, I suspect that for all we know about food, we may struggle to understand what it means to feed on the Lord. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), then how do we feed on him? And if he is invisible, where do we go to find fullness in him?

Just this last week, I preached a message on feeding on the Lord. My repeated command: Feed on the goodness and grace of God. But how? I can imagine someone saying, “That’s sounds great, but what does that mean?” So here is my answer to that question: What does it mean to feed on the God who is invisible? 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

Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

nahum05Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

This week we began our second of three series out of the Minor Prophets, better known as the Book of the Twelve. After considering God’s grace in the book of Jonah, we began to consider the complementary aspect of his holy justice from the book of Nahum. In two more weeks, we’ll finish our study of the Minor Prophets by looking at Haggai.

As for Nahum, it serves as Part 2 inf God’s message to the city of Nineveh. Whereas the book of Jonah is Part 1, a message of God’s grace inviting repentance; Nahum returns to that city to show the wrath of God when a people return to their evil ways. In this message, we looked both at how to read Nahum in the context of the Twelve and how Nahum’s record of God’s judgment on Nineveh serves as a word of comfort to people who seek refuge in the Lord.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, as well as further resources for additional study. Continue reading

Into the Depths: An Introduction to the Book of Jonah

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Into the Depths: An Introduction to the Book of Jonah (Jonah 1:1–4:8)

Jonah is an amazing book, but one that requires repeated readings, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to the God who created the world, controls the nations, and directs all history to the true prophet, priest, and king—Jesus Christ.

On Sunday we started a six week journey through the story of Jonah. Let me encourage you to read the book in one sitting—it’s only 48 verses—and consider how this book exposes the hardness of our hearts, even as it displays the mercy and grace of God.

For an introduction to the book, you can listen to the sermon online. But don’t miss some of the resources below. They will help you get a greater sense of the book in its historical, literary, and canonical contexts (i.e., how it fits in the Minor Prophets). Discussion questions and additional resources are below. Continue reading

How the Trinity Shines Light on Difficult Doctrines

light.jpegFree will.

The doctrine of election.

The New Testament use of the Old.

The problem of evil.

These are just a few of the most complex issues we face when we read the Bible and formulate doctrine. They are debated by well-meaning and biblically-committed Christians, and often they leave us perplexed, if not flummoxed, at how to understand them and apply them to life.

Certainly, there are mysteries related to each of these doctrines, but in God’s revealed word, we still find ample evidence for explaining them as Scripture teaches. That said, I believe it is impossible to understand any of these doctrines rightly without a self-conscious awareness of how they all relate to the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or, to put it the other way, how a robust doctrine of the Trinity sheds light on these doctrines that relate God to his world and his Word. Let me try to illustrate. Continue reading

“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

The Perfect Knowledge of God

jeremy-thomas-98201.jpgOmniscience is a word that describes the reality that God knows everything—everything past, present, and future; everything in heaven or on earth; everything real and everything potential. Everything. But more than just having an encyclopedic knowledge of his creation—which God does—Scripture shows how God’s universal knowledge brings particular blessing and judgment to the world, to those people whom he knows particularly as his own.

One place where God’s knowledge is seen is an instance in Genesis 18, where the Lord reveals his future plans to Abraham. The key verses are Genesis 18:16–21:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

From these six verses, we learn four truths about God’s perfect knowledge and how the Lord who knows everything relates to his creation. Continue reading

Seeing the Trinity by Re-Reading Isaiah 61

dawid-sobolewski-271380In his excellent book on the Trinity, Fred Sanders makes a number of key observations related to seeing (and not seeing) the Trinity in the Old Testament. (This subject takes up the whole of chapter 8 in The Triune God).

  1. A biblical formulation of the Trinity triuneshould not begin with the Old Testament. Because the doctrine is revealed in the historical events of the Incarnation and Pentecost, not the propositions of the text, we must begin with the events recorded in the New Testament, not the hints contained in the Old. Sanders rightly corrects strictly chronological approaches to the Trinity: “The root idea of revelation is not verbal announcement but the unveiling or disclosing of something that has been present, though concealed. . . . The triunity of God was revealed when the persons of the Trinity became present among us in a new way, showing up in person and becoming the object of our human observation” (40).
  2. With the full revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can look backwards to see “adumbrations” of the Trinity in the Old Testament. As Sanders notes, “The doctrine of the Trinity did not arise and cannot stand without the Old Testament, but the Old Testament’s usefulness for Trinitarianism is retrospective and dependent on the light provided by the fullness of revelation” (212).
  3. In this way, the doctrine of the Trinity is a ‘mystery’ in the biblical sense. In the New Testament, mysterion speaks of those realities that were once hidden, but are now revealed. The Trinity fits well into this biblical category: “God did not yet reveal his triunity until the fullness of time had come. The Trinity is a mystery in the biblical sense: always true, once concealed, now revealed” (210).
  4. More specifically, trinitarian exegesis in the Old Testament is prosoponic (from the Greek word for person). Prosoponic or “prosopological exegesis is a technical expression, but an important one for discussions about the Trinity. It simply means reading the Old Testament in light of the New, where the persons (prosopon) are distinguished in the Old Testament text. “Having met Christ and the Spirit [in the Incarnation and Pentecost], we can look for them in the Old Testament in a way we could not have without having met them in person” (227).
  5. Prosoponic exegesis requires rereading. “What is required for doctrinal interpretation of the Old Testament is a hermeneutical framework that acknowledge the complex structures of the revelation, and an approach to reading the documents that precede and follow the revelation. The key hermeneutical category for this kind of interpretation is rereading” (215, emphasis mine). In rereading, we gain new understanding, insight not available on a first reading. In this way, readers do not add meaning to the text, but instead see the text in the fullness of later revelation. A good example of this is reading Genesis 1 in light of John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1.

From hermeneutical commitments like these, Sanders helps us get our bearings on reading the Old Testament. In fact, his chapter on reading the Old Testament retrospectively is one of the best I’ve read on grasping the theological unity and eschatological development of the Bible. For these reasons, I would highly recommend his book, especially if you struggle to see how grammatical-historical exegesis relates to the whole Bible. Continue reading