Peace To End All Wars: What Christ’s Birth Has Done and Will Do

christmasThere is a story from WWI that reminds us that in the worst of times, there’s still hope. Nearing the end of December 1914, 5 months after WWI began, British soldiers heard their German foes singing Christmas Carols after a day of fighting.

In the dark, huddled in their cold trenches, the British soldiers wondered what to make of this. But soon, they joined in, singing well-known and well-loved Christmas carols. And so, through Christmas Eve, the two warring armies celebrated the birth of their Messiah.

Amazingly, the Christmas spirit continued the next day, as “some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.” For the rest of the day, these sworn enemies traded gifts, played soccer, and celebrated the peace that only Christ can bring.

More than a century later, with the bloodiest century on record standing between us, the Christmas Truce of 1914 flickers a light of hope that only Christ can bring. Only between two nations with Christian heritages could such an armistice be considered. Still, the peace Christ brings intends to do more than foster temporary cease fires. As Micah 4:3 says of the Lord,

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. 

What a day that will be when all wars cease, when the peace of our Lord is fully realized, when Micah’s prophecy comes to fruition. But for now, we still in a world filled with threat, hostility, violence, and war. Therefore, it is worth asking in what way does Christ bring peace? And how can we know that peace this Christmas? Continue reading

Apostolic Exposition: How Did the New Testament ‘Preachers’ Handle the Text?

paulJust how dependent were the apostles on the Old Testament?

This is a question that interests all types. Biblical scholars, theologians, preachers, seminary students, and devoted Sunday School teachers all take interest in how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and the New Testament quotes the Old. Anyone familiar with my blog, or at least its title (see the Emmaus Road dialogue in Luke 24) will know that this has been an interest of mine for years. After all, what could be more exciting than understanding the unity of Scripture and how God’s inspired Word finds its telos in Jesus Christ.

But with such a consideration, it is important that we take our cues from Scripture and not use Scripture for our own (theological) ends. Thus, to return to the question of how the apostles made use of the Old Testament, it is worth observing how frequently the New Testament apostles took their cues from the Old Testament.

Answering the opening question with in an unreserved affirmative, I will trace the way three “apostles” (Peter, Stephen, and Paul) preached the new covenant gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures. My aim is to show how Acts gives us a model for preaching the gospel which necessarily unites the Old Testament promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In my estimation, this kind of reading is necessary for understanding the Bible, knowing Jesus the Christ, and walking in obedience to the gospel. Let’s dive in and see what Acts has for us.
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The Star of Bethlehem: Moving from Biblical History to the God of the Heavens

cometDuring this Advent season, our church has been preaching through Jesus’ birth narratives in Matthew’s Gospel. And in Matthew 2:1–12 we find the incredible story of the Magi. Sunday, one of our other elders preached on that passage, which freed me to study more broadly about the nature of the Star of Bethlehem itself. Spurred on by Colin Nicholl’s fascinating book, The Great Christ Comet (book review and interview), I’ve been intrigued by this question: What in the heavens would lead the Magi to travel 550 miles to find king Jesus?

The biblical answer relates to the Old Testament prophecies in Numbers 24:17; Psalm 72:8–11; Isaiah 9:2; and Isaiah 60:6. But what about the astronomical answer? What was the sign of his Star?

This is where Nicholl’s book shines. He examines the biblical data, the various cosmic hypotheses, and then makes his case for the Great Christ Comet. I’m still working my way through the book, but for now let me share a summary of his biblical conclusions that help us think through the story of the Magi and the biblical testimony about the Star of Bethlehem. From this biblical foundation, he (and anyone interested in the topic) moves to consider the astronomical phenomena that might have led the Magi.

The Star of Bethlehem in Fifteen Points

Starting with the biblical data, Colin Nicholl makes twenty-two summary statements about Matthew 2 and the Star of Bethlehem (pp. 66–68). I’ve summarized his points below, showing his original numbers in parentheses. Except for Scripture quotations, all quotations are from The Great Christ Comet.
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Our Long-Awaited Hope: Seeing God’s *Son* Through the Scriptures

hope

From where does hope come? And why does it take so long to get here? 

In our microwave age of instant information and Siri solutions, we don’t wait well. Yet, Christianity is a religion of patient endurance, long-suffering, and waiting—pure and simple waiting. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are told to wait. After the Exodus, Israel is forced to wait forty years because of their sinful unbelief, and at the other end of the Old Testament, Israel is left waiting for their messiah to bring a new exodus. Just the same in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:12 instructs, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We should probably take it as axiomatic, then, that God wants his people to wait. Anyone who has ever prayed knows that the waiting is where God does his working. Saints are not matured in a day; they are formed in periods of years, decades, and generations. Hence, in this season of Christmas when we reenact Israel’s waiting of the Christ’s birth, we do well to think about the way that God promised his Son, so that in our waiting, hope would flourish.

From Genesis 3:15 to Jesus (to Revelation 12 too), the promise of a child-savior runs through the Bible. During Advent, we remember most explicitly the details related to the Angelic host, the Magi, and the Bethlehem Star, but God’s inspired apostles also send us back into the Old Testament to remember all that led up to Christ’s birth. Thus, in keeping with the pattern of waiting and watching in Scripture, it is worth observing just how and how often and how long God prepared the way for Jesus to come through a myriad of promises and prototypes leading up to the birth of Immanuel, God with us. (Fittingly, what follows is not short. But how could it be? The arrival of Christ’s birth took millennia.)

What follows is a thread of verses that trace how God prepared the way for Jesus. It begins with God’s promise of son in Genesis 3:15 and continues to see how this theme is expanded and developed through the history of Israel. It’s not a short journey, but neither was the voyage the Magi took to worship Jesus (approx. 500 miles in around two months time). In this age of fast-paced consumerism, may God give us grace to look long and longingly at the Messiah whose arrival took millennia to achieve, and may God produce fresh hope in us for the second advent of God’s Son. Continue reading

Immanuel: How God Came to Us (Matthew 1:18–25)

advent03This week we started a new sermon series through Matthew 1–2. As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we look to the way Matthew explained his birth as the “fulfillment” of God’s promises of old. For instance, as Matthew writes, Jesus is Son of Abraham and the Son of David (Matthew 1:1), the “Immanuel” promised in Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23), the royal son born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2), and the child like Israel who God brought out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13–15; Hosea 11:1)—to name but a few. 

Matthew’s Gospel begins by introducing  who Jesus is and how to read the Old Testament in the light of his coming. So important is this information about the Messiah’s identity, Matthew crafts a 42-person genealogy to identify Jesus. Two years ago, Jared Bridges preached on Matthew 1:1–-17, so we began this year with Matthew 1:18–-25.

In what follows, I have included discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and resources to consider biblical interpretation and the birth of Jesus Christ. You can listen to or read the sermon on online. Or even better, if you are in Northern Virginia, come join us during this advent season. Continue reading

“All [Ecclesiology] is Local”: Why Experiencing the Universal Church is a Local Occurrence

churchYesterday, I argued that the universal church is comprised of a myriad of local churches and that for those who look carefully, this pattern can be seen in Paul’s language about the universal church and his letters to local churches. Today, we turn the looking glass slightly to see the places in Paul’s letters where he speaks of the church as a singular, (more abstract) universal church.

While at first this might seem to be a counter-example to the preceding argument, I believe when we look at these examples, we will see that when Paul speaks of the universal church, he does as speaking about (1) a certain kind of people, (2) an eschatological community, or (3) one universal church manifested through a myriad of local churches—yesterday’s argument.

From Paul’s letters, I see four things we can say about the universal church that further support the thesis that local churches make up the current universal church on earth. (This does not discount the chronological aspect, that the universal church also includes the people of God in the past and future). Here are the four ways Paul speaks of the universal church. Let me know what you think. My explanations are below.

  1. The Universal Church as a Certain Kind of People
  2. The Universal Church as Christ’s Body and Bride
  3. The Universal Church as a Persecuted People
  4. The Universal Church as an Extended Family (Multiple Local Households)

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Discipling Every Nation (Matthew 28:18–20): Sermon Notes by Ben Purves

sowingThis morning Ben Purves, our pastor for student ministers, preached a thorough message on the Great Commission. He began by showing the biblical-theological links from Psalm 2 and 2 Chronicles 36 to Matthew 28, then moved to explain how the grammar of the passaged emphasizes the command to ‘disciple’ the nations, and finished with a practical exhortation for how we can enlarge our hearts for the work of making disciples near and far.

Below you can find discussion questions to his sermon and further resources on the subject of discipleship. You can also sign up for our upcoming EQUIP Conference (September 23–25), where we will consider how marriage and evangelism work together to bolster discipleship in the church. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper and a Biblical Theology of Feasting

mealJust as the food we eat expresses and establishes the relationships we have, so too meals in the Bible establish and express kinship relationships. Even more, a meal is often a central part of entering into a covenant. And once that covenant is established, a shared meal is one of the greatest ways our identity is formed and reinforced. Let’s follow these two strands through Scripture to see how they shine light on the Lord’s Supper.

Covenant-Making Meals

In Genesis 26:26–33, Isaac and Abimelech “cut a covenant” (v. 28); this covenant is followed by a meal: “So he made a feast, and they ate and drank” (v. 30). Likewise, when Jacob and Laban “cut a covenant” to repair the breach of trust between them (Genesis 31:43–54), a sacrifice and a meal ratified the agreement: “Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread” (v. 54). This pattern of sacrifice and feasting accompanied most covenants in the Old Testament. And we certainly see the Lord feeding his people and feasting with them throughout the Old Testament. Continue reading

Gospel-Centered Leadership: The Reward of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12–18)

sermon photo

In 1 Corinthians 9:12–18 Paul turns his full attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the first twelve verses of the chapter, Paul recalls the “rights” he has to receive support, rights he will gladly forsake in verses 12, 15, 18 in order to preach the gospel free of charge. As Paul continues to give a personal example of how to give up rights for the sake of serving others, he speaks of (preaching) the gospel seven times in seven verses.

Accordingly, this week’s sermon asks two questions:

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What do we do with the gospel?

Nothing is more important that knowing and rightly responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, take time to listen to the sermon or read the notes. The discussion questions and related resources listed below can also help you better understand and trust, treasure, and talk about the gospel. Continue reading

A Meditation on the Cross (Matthew 27): How Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, and Christ’s Moral Example Lead Us to Preach the Cross, Resist the Devil, and Imitate the Lord

crossWhen the Spirit led Jesus into the Wilderness, Satan tempted him three times. He questioned the authenticity of Jesus’ Sonship, tempting him to prove his power and his place as God’s Son. In perfect obedience to God and his Word, Jesus did not assert himself, but trusted that his earthly mission was one of absolute humiliation leading to honor, not a powerplay to gain honor for himself.

On the cross, the fury of Satan’s accusations returned, only it came not in the voice of the Serpent but in a salvo of accusations launched at Jesus while nailed to a tree. Physically speaking, no form of punishment has ever been more de-humanizing. Still, for all the physical a pain delivered in crucifixion, it was the Spiritual abandonment that was the greatest punishment. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the cry of a man who had never known sin or the judgment of God’s abandonment. Moreover, in identifying himself with his sinful people, Jesus assumed in his flesh the fullness of their sin, which in turn invited the fullness of God’s wrath. He drank the cup, until the fury of God was extinguished.

And this is not all, the crucifixion, as Matthew describes it, is neither a testimony to the pain of crucifixion, as Mel Gibson sought to frame it in his movie The Passion of the Christ. Nor does Matthew ponder the horrible realities of God’s spiritual judgment. Rather, he records a bevy of Satanic accusations offered by Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders, nameless spectators, and the convicted criminals bleeding next to Jesus. After describing the mockery of Herod’s soliders (27:27–31), Matthew recounts the acts (vv. 32–37) and speeches (vv. 37–44) which Satan hurled at Jesus as died on the tree.

For us who find life in Jesus’ death, seeing Jesus’ humiliation teaches us what our sin deserves and what great lengths Jesus went to save us. At the same time, because Christ’s cross is exemplary for those who trust in his penal substitution, there is profit in seeing Satan’s accusations, that we might recognize the tempters accusations and continue to carry with faith the cross God gives to us. With this in mind, let’s consider Christ’s example of humiliation, that we might follow in his steps, by trusting in his substitutionary death, and his victory over Satan. Continue reading