The Artistic Evangelist: Seeing the Structure of Matthew’s Gospel

quino-al-110318-unsplash.jpgIn his theological commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, Jonathan Pennington spends chapter five outlining the structure of Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount, in particular. Following Robert Gundry’s observation that Matthew is a book filled with “literary and theological art,” Pennington alerts the careful reader to the way Matthew organized his Gospel.

What follows are a few observations about the way Matthew wrote his Gospel and how the whole book is held together with a discernible fivefold structure. Tomorrow, I’ll provided a detailed outline of the Sermon on the Mount. Continue reading

The Putrefied Priesthood of Jesus’ Day, or Why Mark’s Gospel Calls for a New Priest

karsten-wurth-inf1783-65075-unsplash.jpgIn his excellent book The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, Peter Bolt shows how religion in Jesus day had soured. In one footnote, he surveys the whole Gospel to show repeated instances of religion gone bad.

I share the note in full because it helps us to see what false religion looks like, what Jesus had to contend against in his day, and what we should avoid as new creatures in Christ. As Bolt puts it, “Mark exposes religion as having multiple faults.” He then lists more than fifteen different evidences of priestly malpractice:cross Continue reading

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Reading Each Evangelist on Their Own Terms and Seeing How Each Reads the Old Testament

arc.jpegAny alert reader of Matthew’s Gospel will notice the tax collector-turned-evangelist is regularly quoting from the Old Testament. To him, the events of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection “fulfill” the prophecies of the Old Testament. What may be less evident is that the other Gospel writers who are less explicit in their citations are equally informed and shaped by the Old Testament.

In a previous post, I suggested interpreters of the Bible should keep in mind that the authors of Scripture demonstrated various approaches to reading the Old Testament. Today, I want to catalog a few of those approaches, drawing again from the exegetical insights of Richard Hays’ and his careful study of the four Gospels, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. (A larger study of approaches would include Paul and Peter’s use of the Old Testament. We must save that for another day).

Reading the Gospels on Their Own Termsgospels

In the introduction to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard Hays rightly observes:

Jesus and his followers were Jews whose symbolic world was shaped by Israel’s Scripture: their ways of interpreting the world and their hopes for God’s saving action were fundamentally conditioned by the biblical stories of God’s dealings with the people Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that as the earliest Christian communities began to tell and retell stories about Jesus, they interpreted his life, death, and resurrection in relation to those biblical stories (i.e., the texts that Christians later came to call the Old Testament). (5)

Contesting the “unconscious Marcionite bias” of many modern readers, Hays writes his book to “offer an account of the narrative representation [read: re-presentation] of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scriptures—as well as the ways in which Israel’s Scriptures prefigures and illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories” (7).

I believe he hits his mark, helps students better see what each biblical author is doing with the Old Testament, and proves why it is necessary for us to understand intertextuality, in general, and how each author employs various methods of intertextuality to show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament storyline of Israel and thus sheds light backwards on the Hebrew Scriptures and forward to Christians who worship to God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

What follows, then, is a brief—well, it’s not as long as Hays volume—summary of points concerning each Gospel writer. Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 3): Jesus was an Expositor

emmausI recently shared this article with our deacons. This post which focuses on Jesus’s own practice of preaching is part three of four. (Parts one and two).

The Old Testament is the not the only place where we find expositional preaching. Jesus himself was expositional preacher. In fact, he was more than an expositional preacher, according to John John 1:18 he literally ‘exegeted’ the Father, meaning that he explained, exposed, and revealed the character of God in his very life and person.

Jesus Was an Expositional Preacher

Jesus also carried on a ministry of exposition before and after his death and resurrection. For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly quoted the Old Testament and then provided a more accurate interpretation and deeper application. In full agreement with his opponents that God’s word was divinely inspired, Jesus taught as one with authority (Matt 7:29). Interestingly, with absolute authority, he did not create his own sermons; he repeatedly put himself under the word of God (cf. Gal 4:4) and interpreted how he himself fulfilled the Old Testament.

One example of this exposition comes on the road to Emmaus. Writing about the day of his resurrection, Luke records the manner in which Jesus spoke to Simon and Cleopas, the two forlorn followers of Christ who had left Jerusalem for the hot springs of Emmaus. Luke records,  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). While we cannot know the content of his ‘sermon,’ we know that Jesus began with Genesis and continued through the Old Testament expositing all the places that Christ’s sufferings and glories were revealed. Jesus followed the same pattern in the Upper Room. Luke 24:44-47 reads,

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 

Though condensing Jesus’ instruction, it is apparent that Luke gives the sense of Jesus’ teaching. Like on the road to Emmaus, he explains how all three sections of the Old Testament (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings/Psalms) relate to himself. In so doing Jesus exposits the whole Hebrew Bible in light of his cross and resurrection.

While it was the Holy Spirit that gave Peter and the other apostles power to proclaim the gospel; it was Jesus post-resurrection instruction that explained how the often-confused disciples could understand how to interpret the Old Testament in the light of Christ. As George Smeaton observed a century ago, “Christ’s oral expositions are to be taken as the middle term, or as the connecting link between Old Testament records on the one hand, and the apostolic commentary on the other.  In a word, He was Himself the interpreter of Scripture.” His Christ-centered interpretations sit underneath the testimony of the apostles and can be observed in the texture of the New Testament (cf. George Smeaton, The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement4-7).

Jesus is the Model

In the end, it is impossible to duplicate Jesus’ teaching style, because Jesus is inimitable and because we only have the testimony of Jesus’ apostles, not his actually sermon manuscripts. Still, while we cannot copy Jesus’ sermon style, his pattern of citing the Scripture, explaining Scripture, and applying Scripture is the basic formula for all exposition preaching. It is discernible when we look carefully at how Jesus related to the Old Testament, and it is even more apparent when we look at how his immediate followers preached in the books of Acts and Hebrews. We’ll do that tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8

Today I preached Matthew 5:8, which promises that the pure in heart will see God. In truth, everyone will one day see God. The question becomes, Will that beatific vision be a reason for rejoicing? Or, will it be a moment of terrifying judgment?

I pray for all who read these words or listen to this message, that seeing God would be the pinnacle of joy, and that God would purify your heart so that you might see Him. In this sermon, I considered three points

  1. What does it mean to see God?
  2. What does the Bible say about the heart?
  3. How can you have a pure heart?

If you long to see God, ponder the words of Matthew 5:8 and ask God to make your heart pure as only he can.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Jesus Knew His Calling: A Missional Christology

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently spoke of why he “came.” For instance, in Mark 1:38, when the crowds are pressing in on him, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  While Jesus was attentive to the needs of man; he was perfectly obedient to his Father’s will. As John reiterates time and again in his gospel, the Son was ‘sent’ by the Father on a mission to redeem those whom the Father had given him before the ages began.

Thus, to understand who Jesus is one must look at his Christological mission—what missiologists might call the Missio Dei. As the image of the invisible God and the Son whose obedience pleased the Father, Jesus’ “I have come . . .” statements reveal the very heart of God and the work Christ came to accomplish. To know these statements is to know a great deal about our Lord. To overlook them is to miss a key insight into his self-identity and mission.  Continue reading

For Your Edification (5.4.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

Read the Gospels.  When N. T. Wright is wrong, he is very wrong; but when he right, he is really right.  And in this video, he is really right.  Asked the question what legacy would you want to pass on to your children, he points them to the inimitable Jesus of the Gospels.  Have a look.

Education or Imitation? Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me. Curtis Allen, assistant pastor at Solid Rock Church and rapper extraordinaire, has just released a book that looks like it will be a helpful read on biblical interpretation for people who never go to seminary.  Rightly, he points to Jesus as the model for learning how to interpret the Bible.  You can get the book for $10 at Amazon or for 99 cents on Kindle right now: Education or Imitation? Kindle Edition.  Here is the book’s witty and wise promotional video.


THEOLOGY

What is General Revelation?  Baptist Pastor, Fred Zaspel, lists a number of helpful biblical truths about General Revelation–the doctrine that describes how God has revealed himself to all humanity in nature (externally) and in human nature (internally).  His outline synthesizes the truth content of passages like Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23; Acts 14:16-17 and Acts 17:22-31.  He concludes with a number of practical implications, including this last point:

Since general revelation does not provide a knowledge of God as Redeemer, it cannot be made the basis of anything more than a preparation for the gospel. General revelation cannot be viewed as a means of salvation, even to such as have never had opportunity to hear the message of salvation from sin through Christ’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. Only a radical new birth, in which spiritual life is imparted to those who are spiritually dead, will suffice; and such a sweeping transformation cannot be brought about by general revelation, but only by the gospel of Christ!

You can read the whole thing at the CredoMag Blog.

Meditations on the Fear of God. In the Bible fear is a complex thing. For instance, Psalm 25:14 says that “the friendship of the Lord is reserved for those who fear him.” Psalm 130:3 states, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”  And in Exodus 20:20, “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.'”  But, the positive outlook on fear changes in the book of 1 John, when the beloved disciple writes that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 5:18).

From these four verses alone, it is evident that knowing if and how and why we should fear God takes some serious biblical reflection. This week John Piper helps us think about a couple aspects of Goldy fear. It is not long so I have included the whole thing.

I think that when we are sinless we will still fear God in the sense of reverential, trembling awe — as when we stand on a peak before vast stretches of unscalable cliffs. And we will also fear, I suppose, in the sense of shuddering with thankfulness that we are not among the number who still dishonor God.

But the painful fear, the guilty fear, the craven fear, the humiliating fear — all such fear will one day be taken way. But only in the way God intends. And in his time. We should not be done with it in the wrong way, or too soon.”

Here is the way C. S. Lewis puts it:

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. But so do several other things — ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.

It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. (“The World’s Last Night” in C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 51)

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

Pure Hope: Christian Solutions in a Sexualized Culture. Today, I am on my way to the “Pursuing Purity Conference” at Southern Seminary.  About six months back a friend told me about this ministry, and after meeting their leaders, hearing about their vision, and commitment to the gospel, I am happy to commend it as a go to resource for finding helpful resources for growing in purity and holiness.  They are continuing to put resources on line in three areas: pureJUSTICEpurePARENTING, and pureRECOVERY.  Check them out!

Today, Pray for the conference as it equips leaders to take the message of purity back to their churches.

Desiring God INTERNATIONAL. Have you ever met someone whose heart language is not English.  With a desire to share the gospel, you feel like your are at an impasse because of the language barrier. What do you do?  Well, here is a resource to know about.  Desiring God has a growing list of resources translated into other languages.  It takes the teaching of John Piper and puts them in the heart language of your friend.  Check it out.

Five Questions on Discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?

A number of years ago, I followed the Christian crowd and wore the trendy WWJD bracelet.  For those who have forgotten (or never heard), the letters stood for “What would Jesus do?”  Developed from the book In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, a book that favored a social gospel and promoted a man-centered kind of Christian imitation, the bracelet asked an important question:  How should we live our lives in a manner that would please our Lord?  The question was meant to stimulate obedience and lifestyles that reflected the kind of things true believers should do.  While missing the beautiful, objective work of Christ for us, it did helpfully ask how we ought to live for Christ.

That is what we are after this week too: How do we adhere to the Great Commission imperative to “make disciples”?  What is a disciple?  How should we go about making disciples?  And why should we do it?  Those are the questions we will consider this week, but instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” which orients the Christian life around subjective obedience of Christ’s followers, our inquiry begins with the better question: “What did Jesus do?”

Putting Christ at the center, instead of our Christian obedience, we will be able to see how central disciple-making is to our Lord and then from their to see how we might follow him in the work.  Therefore, today as we consider what Jesus did (past tense), we will look at a number of purposes statements spoken by Jesus that explain why Jesus became a man (Cur Deus Homo?), and how each of these purpose statements relate to disciple-making.

Here are five reasons why Christ came to earth.

First, Jesus came to preach the gospel

The first thing to note is that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:38 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to them, “Let us go to the next town, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”  When we are introduced to Christ, in the Synoptic gospels, the first act of his ministry is to go out into the regions surrounding Galilee preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15).  What was his purpose?  The answer is surely pluriform, but it at least involved the calling and creation of disciples.

Second, Jesus came to fulfill the law

Not only did Jesus come to preach the gospel, he came to fulfill the law—to keep covenant with God, so that he could establish a new covenant, not based on works of the flesh, but faith in the Spirit.  So he says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  In fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus made it possible for his disciples to one day be clothed with his righteousness (Isa 61:10). Likewise, he provided a perfect example of love and service to God that disciples are called to imitate (cf. John 13).

Third, Jesus came to provide salvation

In Luke 19, Jesus seeks out Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector, for the singular purpose of making this unlikely sinner a son of Abraham. Verse 10 gives a larger explanation of Jesus’ ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Clearly, Jesus the lost, so to make them his disciples.  The same thing can be gleaned from Matthew 9:13, which states, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Here, Jesus explains that his target audience is not religious professionals, or even good people, but those who weary and heavy-laden with sin.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection served the purpose of making disciples.

Which leads to a question:  How can a righteous God who cannot stand the sight of sin or sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5; Hab 1:13), extend blessings to sinners?  Again, the life of ministry and his biographical purpose statements explain.  In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The many harkens back to Isaiah 53:11-12, but it also bespeaks of the many disciples that Jesus is purchasing with his blood.

Fourth, Jesus came to judge the world

Jesus came not only to save a people for his own possession; he also came to judge the world, to cleanse the world from those who stand opposed to God.  In John 9:39, Jesus debates with the Pharisees concerning the healing of a blind man, and he says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Likewise, with greater graphic illustration, Jesus states in Luke 12:49, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”   The fire is that of judgment.  While John can say that Jesus did not come to bring judgment; in another sense he did.  He is preparing the way for his return when he will call all men to account.

Even the demons recognize this, though they did not know how it was going to work out.  In Mark 1:24, Jesus heals a man suffering from a demon, and they reply “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?

Jesus is not directly making disciples with these judgments, but in another way he is. By judging the world, Jesus is creating a place for his people to abide with him.  Today, we do not yet see all things in subjection to Christ.  The new creation is not yet here in its geographic form.  However, Christ is saving me and women.  These are his new creations, disciples who are learning how to live in his kingdom–the kingdom that they will inherit at the end of the age (Matt 25:34).  Thus, Jesus purpose statements about judgment promise that all those who have become his disciples will escape his coming judgment, and will instead be protected by his sword.  This leads to a final point.

Fifth, Jesus came to create a new community of disciples

The final answer to the question of what Jesus came to do is this: Jesus came to call a new community of disciples.  Now indeed all the previous purposes are related to this.  (1) He preached the gospel to call people to faith; (2) he fulfilled the law and died on the cross so that he could remove the sin of his followers and clothe them with righteousness; (3) He announced his kingdom authority and his right to judge in order to assert the kingdom he was going to establish—a world free from sin, evil, Satan, and death.  Jesus came to create a new humanity.  He came to make disciples.

Significantly, this is what we find  then in Matthew 10:34-35.  In a context where Jesus has sent his disciples out to proclaim the message of the kingdom, Jesus explains his purposes after there return: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Everything Jesus did, he did for the purpose of making disciples.  His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and heavenly session are all aimed at bringing in the sheep of his fold.  While acquiring many names in he gospels (sheep, children, given ones, friends), Jesus did everything for the purpose of making disciples.  So should we.

In the days, ahead we will answer four more questions on discipleship, as we consider this central feature of our Lord’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


4Gospels for You

How many gospels are there?  One… Four…  More?  A new website hosted by Peter Williams, Simon Gathercole, and other Cambridge scholars looks at this question and other gospel-related subjects in their new website, 4Gospels.com.  From the looks of it, this site will serve as an excellent resource for biblical scholars and Bible readers interested in understanding one gospel in four witnesses over against a plethora of other competitors.  Here is how they describe their website: 

Welcome to 4Gospels.com, a site run by scholars and postgraduate students based mainly in Cambridge, England, providing accessible information on the 4 Gospels in the New Testament as well as many other writings which are or have been called gospels.

More importantly, these young scholars are outspoken in their affirmation of the inspiration and authority of the biblical canon and will serve the church well with what they have written and what, Lord willing, they will write in years to come.  When Via Emmaus gets an overhaul at the end of the summer, this site will definitely find a place in its recommended resources. 

For an interesting and illimunating peek into the scholastic world of Williams and Gathercole, check out their 9Marks interview with Mark Dever (Nov. 2006).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: Owen Strachan).