Fire in the Soul: A Few Reflections from Together for the Gospel 2018

t4g.pngFor the last ten years, God has kindly provided me a season of refreshing every other April in the city of Louisville through a gathering known as Together for the Gospel. When I began going, I lived in that city as I studied at Southern Seminary. In 2010 our family moved fifty miles north to Southern Indiana. And in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I made the hour drive to attend the conference (Living in Northern Virginia, I now find it hard to believe you go 50-miles in under an hour). Twice in those years I drove that distance by myself; soon to see many friends, but alone in my participation from my church.

Like many who attended that conference I rejoiced in the time together, but also lamented the lack of interest from my church.

Fast forward to this year, and I stand amazed at God’s kindness in letting me worship God with 12,000+ people from all over the world and with 20 people from our own church. For three days, it was a joy to hear messages from Mark Dever, H.B. CharlesLigon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and others, but what was most encouraging—most amazing to me!—was sitting in Section 210 with 20 brothers from Occoquan Bible Church. As David sang, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:5).

For this last week at T4G, I praise God for his kindness in surrounding me with so many like-minded brothers in Christ. I marvel that 20 men from age 16 to 60-something would be willing to make a 10-hour drive to spend 3 days worshiping God. Little could I have imagined such a fellowship a few years ago, which heightens all the more my anticipation for how God might use the seeds sown last week in the lives of our church.

Here is a sampling of the encouragement we received last week from some of the brothers who went from our church.  Continue reading

“On the Third Day”: What Jesus and the Apostles Saw When They Read the Old Testament (Guest Post by Bruce Forsee)

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Guest Post

Dr. Bruce Forsee is seasoned pastor whose theological reading of Scripture is very good. As he and his family have visited our church, I’ve enjoyed getting to know him over the last few months. I gladly share his insights on Christ’s resurrection. This particular post first appeared on his website, where he is beginning to write articles very similar to what I post here. Let me encourage you to check it out.

“He was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures”
– 1 Corinthians 15:4 –

At Easter we think about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central event in our redemption. It’s what all of history has pointed to, and it was foretold immediately after the first sin (Genesis 3:16). Jesus knew that he had come to die, and he taught his disciples not only that he would die and rise again, but specifically that he would rise on the third day. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

The apostle Paul indicates that the third-day resurrection was even indicated in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:4 he claims Jesus “was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  In OBC’s recent sermon series on Jonah, we’ve been reminded that Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). If Jonah’s “resurrection” on the third day pointed to Christ’s resurrection, this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.” See the list at the end of this post to begin to consider all the “third days” in Scripture. Continue reading

How the Cross of Christ Crucifies Sin

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

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

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

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

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

Red Carpet Christianity: A Summary and Conclusion to the Book of Ephesians

more-than-we-can-imagine_Red Carpet Christianity (Ephesians 6:21–24)

Since September our church has studied the book of Ephesians. This week, we finished the sermon series with a summary and reflection on Paul’s letter. In particular, I argued that the gospel creates communities of faith that learn how to walk together in love. It’s this love that displays the wisdom of God to the world and that builds up the individual Christian.

To turn it the other way, Ephesians teaches us that individuals need gospel communities (i.e., local churches) to grow in grace and truth. We need one another to grow up in Christ and we need others who model for us what it means to walk in wisdom. This is what we find in Ephesians 5–6, models of godliness in various situations in life.

Still, because the ideals of Ephesians 5–6 are not always found in our homes and workplaces, we also need Christians who have faithfully applied the lines of Scripture to difficult situations. Hence, Christians are built up when they consider the lives of other saints and seek to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). This is a main point in this sermon and one that unites all that we have seen in Paul’s glorious letter to the Ephesians.

You can listen to the sermon online. Information about the individuals mentioned in the sermon can be found below, as well as links to all the previous sermons in this series. Continue reading

Not Quite the End: Five Pastoral Lessons from the End of Ephesians

jakob-owens-298335-unsplashI love the end of Paul’s letters. Why? Because there is so much missions-mindedness in them. For instance, in Romans 16, Paul lists a few dozen of his gospel associates. In Titus 3 he shows how he is making plans for the gospel to go throughout the Mediterranean. And in Colossians 4, he is again speaking of the laborers who are both faithful and dangerous.

This week our church finishes up the book of Ephesians, and again Paul is demonstrating the way that he scheming for the gospel’s advance and shepherding the church in Ephesus he knows and loves. Though the content of Ephesians 6:21–24 is considerably less than other letters, we can see that his closing words do more than just conform to the epistolary conventions of his day.

In fact, there are at least five ways Paul’s closing words in Ephesians 6:21–24 display his pastoral heart. 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

Living Long in the Land: Reading Ephesians 6:1–3 through the Lens of the New Covenant

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Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
— Ephesians 6:1–3 —

In preparation for this Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 6:1–3, I have spent considerable time thinking about the way Paul is quoting the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12 LXX). And in my week of study, I have not found a satisfactory answer to the question of how he’s applying the law to the new covenant people of God. Many believe Paul is directly applying the law without change; others suggest he is altering it as he leaves off God’s specific promise of land to Israel; still others, just develop principles from Ephesians 6 without consideration of the covenantal structure of the Bible.

In all, no one I found wrestled with the way in which the commandment to honor father and mother was and is changed by the finished work of Christ. Therefore, in what follows I want to consider Ephesians 6:1–3 in light of the shift from the old covenant to the new.

But to do that, it is important to see how Paul’s words build upon the matrix of wisdom, righteousness, and reward (i.e., inheritance) that are outlined in the law and especially in the Proverbs. In the context of Paul’s letter, he gives instructions to wives and husbands (5:22–33), children and fathers (6:1–4), and slaves and masters (6:5–9); these are all application of Spirit-filled wisdom (see Ephesians 5:15–21). Likewise, his instructions continue to apply the righteous standards of God’s people outlined in Ephesians 4:17–5:14. And finally, he seeks to motivate children by the promise of inheritance, a long and well-pleasing life in the land. In short, like the Proverbs wisdom, righteousness, and blessing are found together in Ephesians.

From these contextual observations, then, it makes sense to turn to Proverbs.In Proverbs, “sons” are called to walk in the way of wisdom and righteousness, such that they might enjoy the blessings of the covenant. That is, inheritance promised in the law is conditioned on wise and righteous living. Therefore, to grasp the fullness of what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6, I believe we should spend ample time considering what Proverbs says (with a little help from Psalm 119) about wisdom, righteousness, and reward.   Continue reading

Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

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Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

In recent years, it’s been hard to miss our country’s rise in racial tensions. Or maybe we are just seeing what’s been there under the surface all along. Our country seems overwhelmed by all kinds of racialized sentiments. And in the church, Christ’s multi-ethnic bride continues to bear the scars of deep-seated racial division and hurt that goes back decades and centuries.

By contrast, the Bible presents a glorious vision of multi-ethnic worship, centered around the throne of God (see Revelation 5, 7, 21–22). And in Paul’s letters, there is a constant refrain for a diverse people to be unified in the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  

On this point, this Sunday’s sermon focused on the gospel message in Galatians and how it relates to racial reconciliation. From Galatians’ six chapters, I drew out six gospel truths. In six points, we see that Galatians

  1. is all about the gospel;
  2. identifies a kind of division (in the church) that denies the gospel;
  3. proclaims a gospel that is international in scope and content;
  4. prioritizes faith as the fundamental community marker;
  5. teaches those who have been justified by faith alone to be passionate about justice;
  6. and calls the gospel community to seek justice in love, service, and burden-bearing to one another.

This sermon marks the second time I’ve preached on this subject. (The first was a biblical theology of race). As before, this subject is an incredibly heavy one, and one that still raises more questions than I have answers. That being said, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer that can give hope and help to the body of Christ bruised and broken by racism.

My prayer is that God would use this sermon as one small step to help our church grow as community compelled by the vision of Revelation and led by the directions of Galatians (and the rest of Scripture). May God bring healing to his church and may the power of gospel be see in multi-ethnic communities of faith. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are below.  Continue reading

Seeing the Grace of Christ (Better) Through the Chiasm of Mark 6:7–8:30

luke-palmer-305434Chiasms are the beeessstt!
— Nacho the Librarian —

If the name Nacho is unfamiliar, I’m not sure I can or should help. But if the word chiasm is equally enigmatic, let me encourage you to do some reading on the subject. It will pay huge dividends in your reading of Scripture.

Here’s why: Chiasms are a literary device often used by biblical authors, who seek to emphasize certain points in their writing. Because Hebrew Prophets and New Testament Apostles wrote without B, I, U on their keyboards, they had to make use of other devices to stress emphasis. And following from the repetitive nature of Scripture (see Peter Gentry, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophetsch. 3), chiasms became a regular way biblical authors made their points. On chiasms, Gentry writes,

The word chiasm comes from the letter . . . chi (X), . . .where the top half of the letter is mirrored in the bottom half. If an author an author has three topics and repeats each on twice in the pattern C B A :: C’ B’ A’, the second cycle or repetition is a mirror image of the first arrangement.

A nice example is found in Isaiah 6:10, where Yahweh explains what will happen during Isaiah’s long ministry of preaching:

Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (46–47)

This way of writing fills the Scriptures. And growing disciples of God’s Word must learn how to identify such structures (and how to reject fanciful literary creations of the modern interpreters that are not in Scripture). Still, more often than not, when we find repetitions in Scripture, they are there to help identify the main points of the author. Thus, rather than being some esoteric approach to Scripture, seeing the structures of the biblical authors is a necessary and vital for understanding the message of Scripture.

Thus, I share the following outline of Mark 6:7–8:30, a section of Mark’s Gospel that identifies Jesus as the Christ. By paying attention to Mark’s literary structure, I contend we can better understand who Christ is and how disciples of Christ come to know him as Lord.  Continue reading

What John the Baptist’s Bullhorn Teaches us about the Good News?

jason-rosewell-60014When John came preaching “good news,” it may not have sounded like the good news we think of today. In fact, in our day it seems that any call to repentance, to deny self, or to do hard things is either dismissed as unloving or labeled legalism. And yet, to think biblically about the good news requires us to see how Scripture presents the gospel, both in content and tone. And thus, it is worth meditating on how John the Baptist in Luke 3 presents the gospel with many exhortations.

In Luke 3:18, the good doctor summarizes John’s preaching ministry with these words, “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” This summary statement follows three ‘paragraphs’ outlining the content of John’s message (vv. 7–9, 10–14, 15–17) and precedes the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod the tetarch (vv. 19–20). For our purposes, it is worth considering what John said in order to see how he presented the gospel. Continue reading