With Eyes Open to Our Common Savior: How the Lord’s Supper Makes Visible God’s New Covenant People

priscilla-du-preez-1153851-unsplash.jpgSo Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.
— Genesis 31:53–54 —

In the Old Testament covenants were often begun or accompanied by a covenant meal. In Genesis 31 Jacob and Laban made a covenant to not do harm to one another. And importantly, this covenant was concluded with a meal. While these neighbors entered the covenant with animosity between them, they ended the meal reconciled with one another.

Again, when Israel made a covenant with God at Sinai, Moses, Aaron and his sons, as well as the elders of Israel, ate in the presence of God (Exodus 24:9–11). In this covenant-making chapter, these meal highlights the fellowship that God intended to have with his holy people. Accordingly, the people of Israel, throughout their history, were called to attend yearly festivals that included sacrifices for sin and meals to celebrate the renewal of the covenant (see Lev 23).

Even in Jesus day, the nation of Israel gathered to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Early in his life, Jesus’s whole family attended the Passover (Luke 2). And later, John recorded the events of Jesus’s ministry by reference to the various festivals Jesus celebrated (2:23; 4:45; 5:1; 6:4; etc.) Continue reading

Caring for the Family Jesus Created (1 Timothy 5:1–8)

livingchurchCaring for the Family Jesus Created (1 Timothy 5:1–8)

Paul’s entire first letter to Timothy focuses on the family of God. And chapter 5 is perhaps the most relevant for disciples of Christ and how we care for our own families.

On Sunday we began to look at this practical and challenging chapter—what it says to pastors and their churches and to adult children and their aging parents. In short, Paul teaches us God is not just concerned about getting people to heaven, he also cares about the way his people care for one another on the journey.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources are found below. Continue reading

Seeing the Invisible God: Christ’s Resurrection and the Church’s Confession (1 Timothy 3:16)

livingchurchSeeing the Invisible God: Christ’s Resurrection and the Church’s Confession (1 Timothy 3:16)

While every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, this last Sunday we celebrated the very day when Christ rose from the grave. In Sunday’s sermon from 1 Timothy 3:16 we consider the full impact of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

In six compact statements Paul outlines the major turning points associated with Christ’s resurrection. Truly, the church is built on this one who rose from the dead and as Paul is explaining to the church how to be the church, he highlights what stands at the center of the church’s life—namely, the resurrected Christ.

In Sunday’s sermon, I considered how this confession relates to Paul’s letter and to us. From there we looked at the six different confessions Paul lists and why they mean so much for us today. You can listen to this sermon online; discussion questions and resources related to the resurrection are listed below.

Discussion Questions

Continue reading

The Nature and Necessity of the Cross: Why Christ Had to Die for Sin (With a Little Help from Anselm)

cross

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,
which is the testimony given at the proper time.
— 1 Timothy 2:5–6 —

Yesterday (Psalm Sunday) marked the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem en route to a cross. There on that Roman instrument of death, he revealed God’s justice and mercy, disarmed the devil, and ransomed his people from their sin—to name but a few of the ways Scripture speaks of Christ’s death.

In the days of crucifixion, Jesus was one of thousands who were hung on a tree. Physically speaking, his death was not remarkable, aside from the fact that his death came much quicker than most who died by crucifixion. Spiritually speaking, however, his death was unlike any other. No one else—before or since or ever—died in the place of others and rose from the grave, conferring on his people resurrection life won through his obedience unto death.

Today, there dozens of ways Christians speak of the cross—e.g., a redemption, victory, sacrifice, penal substitution, etc.—but critically two issues stand at the center of the cross. First, for whom was the cross chiefly designed? Did Jesus die to give man a moral example? Did he die to defeat the devil? Or did he die to propitiate the wrath of God? In truth, we must affirm all three realities, but only when the design of the cross is chiefly Godward do the other aspects of the cross hold together.

Second, was Christ’s death the only way of salvation or might God have forgiven man in another way? This was the question answered in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46). For Jesus, the cross was the cup prepared for him to drink, and on the cross this cup—the cup of God’s wrath—he would drink to its dregs (Psalm 75:8). Truly then there was no other way. Continue reading

Reading the Law Lawfully: A Primer on the Three Uses of the Law

law.jpegNow we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully
— 1 Timothy 1:8 —

In his classic Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof outlines three uses of the law,[1]

[The Civil Use of the Law]
The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

[The Pedagogical Use of the Law]
In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

[The Normative or Christian Use of the Law]
This is the so-called . . . the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology614–615)

Not to be confused with the tripartite division of the Law (i.e., the Moral, Civil, Ceremonial), the three uses of the law are a traditional way Reformed (and other) theologians have explained law and its various uses in God’s plan of salvation.

Observing the way the New Testament, but especially Paul, spoke of the Law positively (Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8) and negatively (Rom. 7:5–6; 8:2), this threefold approach shows how God’s law preserved the world from sin (first use), revealed sin and prepared Israel for the gospel (second use), and now continues to purify the Christian by means of Spirit-powered obedience to God’s law (third use). To better understand each aspect of the law, let’s consider each in turn. Continue reading

Christ is a Superior High Priest: Three Reasons Why Jesus Is Greater Than Aaron

jason-betz-274375-unsplashIt has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 
— Hebrews 2:6–9 —

The key idea in Hebrews is priesthood. However, I believe sonship is equally important to understanding the flow of the book, not to mention the nature of Christ’s priesthood. In other words, Jesus is a greater priest because he is a greater son (see 4:14; 7:28).

Making a similar point, B. B. Warfield once commented on Hebrews 2:6–9:

The emphasis is upon the completeness of the identification of the Son of God with the sons of men . . . The perfection of His identification with us consisted just in this, that He did not . . .  assume merely the appearance of man or even merely that position and destiny of man, but the reality of humanity. (The Power of God Unto Salvation, 5, 10; cited in Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield, 256).

Highlighting the personal nature of Christ’s union with his people, Warfield touches on the very weakness of the priesthood of Aaron. And in so doing, he highlights three ways Christ’s priesthood is greater than that of Aaron. Continue reading

Jesus and ‘Those Who Are With Him’: 1 Samuel, Mark 2, and Two Kinds of Typology

tanner-mardis-612668-unsplash (1).jpgIn his illuminating study Jesus the PriestNicholas Perrin argues for a priestly reading of Mark 2:23–28, the passage where  “those who were with [Jesus]” (repeated twice in vv. 25 and 26) ate grain on Sabbath. In his commentary, Perrin argues for a deep typology between 1 Samuel and Mark’s Gospel.

That Mark intends a general comparison between David and Jesus is supported by at least a handful of typological comparisons, occurring, for example, in Mark’s account of the latter’s last week in Jerusalem which resembles the Jerusalem-based consolidation of kingship under the former. As he enters the Holy City in the style of Solomon (11.1—8), Jesus is hailed as the Son of David (11.9-10), only later to be identified with David (12.10 us 118.22—23)). Later still he is crucified as a Davidic ‘King of the Jews’ (15.26) Finally, in his expiring moments he utters his last prayer in words drawn from a Davidic psalm (15.34 (Ps. 22.1)). Through his shameful death on Roman cross, Mark insists, Jesus has become Israel’s king on the pattern of David.

Yet the Jesus-David analogy also extends to Mark’s sequencing of events as a comparison of their respective careers makes clear. One recalls that in 1 Samuel, David is anointed as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16), thrust into combat with Israel’s arch-enemy (Goliath) (1 Samuel 17) and shortly thereafter put to flight by the reigning pretender Saul (1 Samuel 18-20), with an excursion to Nob (1 Samuel 21) marking one of the first stops in his itinerant exile. The early action of the Gospel is parallel in its broad strokes.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is anointed the Davidic-messianic king (Mark 1.9-11), thrust into combat with Israel’s true arch-enemy (the Satan) (1.12—13) and shortly thereafter embroiled in a series of conflicts complete with its own Nob-like experience (2.23-28). Such structural similarities between the Gospel and the Davidic narrative are not unrelated to more far-reaching thematic comparisons. If David was anointed king but denied any immediate right to reign, so it was with Jesus. If David’s band was time and time again forced to go on the run, Jesus and his followers were no less a band on the run. Finally, if David’s exile eventually paved the way for the throne, the same goes for Jesus — even if in a curious, paradoxical way. Whatever scriptures and traditions shaped Mark’s Christology of suffer, the contribution of the Davidic narrative can hardly be denied.

Once Mark’s appropriation of the cycle from 1-2 Samuel is brought to bear on our interpretation of his grainfield incident, Jesus’ appeal to David (vv. 25-26) quickly comes into view as an effort to frame the controversy a recapitulation of a distinctively Davidic conflict. Mark 2.23-28’s position within a set of post-baptism conflicts stories, in grand analogy to David’s experience, points to nothing less. No sooner is David anointed king of Israel than he is ironically persecuted: no sooner is Jesus anointed king of Israel through baptism than he is, with equal irony, persecuted. Meanwhile, if the analogy between the two anointed-but-beleaguered kings effectively links the conflict dialogues of Mark to the travails of David, then Jesus’ self-comparison with David at Nob within the episode of 2:23-28 is the weld which seals that link. This is no arbitrary exercise in typology. By embedding Jesus’ sufferings within the context of David’s suffering, Mark hopes to justify the controverted quality of Jesus’ messiahship. (Jesus the Priest, 196-97)

Because of my passion for priesthood and typology, I love the way Perrin reads this passage. But more technically, I appreciate the way he shows how Mark wrote his Gospel on the basis of previous Scripture. I believe we can see this kind of typology all over the Gospels, and this is a great example. At the same time, Perrin’s observation about typology help us think more carefully about typology and how the inspired authors wrote Scripture. Continue reading

*Knowing* and *Being Known*: A Word Best Understood in Covenantal Context

stars.jpgNot everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
— Matthew 7:21–23 —

I suspect that Jesus words in Matthew 7:21–23 might raise some questions if one does not have a basic understanding of God’s knowledge. What does it mean that Jesus never knew you? Certainly, God knows all things, and because Jesus is God the Son, he must know all things. So what do his words mean?

The answer comes from knowing the way knowledge is spoken of in the Bible. Going back to Genesis 4, we find knowledge often describes covenantal relations—either between two people (as in marriage) or between God and man. Either way, knowledge is a relational term and one that consistently carries the idea of covenant-making and covenant-keeping.

In what follows, I share a handful of examples and come back to Matthew 7. Continue reading

Bread and Wine at the Table of a Righteous King (A Meditation on the Lord’s Supper)

MelchizedekDear Church,

You have been invited to covenant meal—a table set in the midst of hostile enemies. Bread and wine are the food and drink of choice. The host is a righteous king who is lives in the holy city Jerusalem, and serves God Most High as a faithful priest.

When you look at your invitation, the RSVP calls you to renounce your idols and acknowledge the greatness of your host. This table, offered freely to you, is set for those who believe God’s promises and refuse to partner with the kings of this world. Indeed, this table does not communicate righteousness. Rather, it is for those who have been justified by faith in the promises of God Most High.

What is this invitation describing?

If you said, the Lord’s Supper, you’d be correct. And if you said Abram’s meal with Mechizedek, you’d also be right. But how can this be?  How can one description point to two events? The answer is that God ordained the Old Testament events of Genesis 14 to prepare the way for Jesus Christ and the covenant he sealed with his blood and celebrated on the night before his crucifixion.

Therefore, just as learning the history of Passover helps us appreciate and apply the Lords’ Supper today, so does learning the story of Melchizedek and his covenant meal. Continue reading

Joshua & Associates: Finding Your Place in Christ’s Royal Priesthood (Zechariah 3)

priestcolorJoshua & Associates: Finding Your Place Christ’s Royal Priesthood (Zechariah 3)

The angel of the Lord. A satanic accuser in the throne room of God. A priest with dirty clothes. The promise of a coming Messiah. And a front row seat to God’s plan of redemption. On Sunday we considered all of these items, as they appear together in Zechariah 3.

Finishing up our series on the priesthood, we saw in Sunday’s sermon how our lives fit into the incredible storyline of the priesthood. From Zechariah 3, in particular, we learned how God restored the priesthood after the exile, which served as “sign” (v. 8) for a greater priesthood to come.

If you want to understand how the priesthood moved from the Old Testament to the New, Zechariah is an important book. And this sermon will help you understand that book and how Joshua the high priest foreshadowed the coming of a greater Joshua and his friends.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions are below along with a few resources on Zechariah and the priesthood. Continue reading