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

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us: A Biblical Theme That Comforts Scared Sheep

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Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

Dorothy Thrupp’s “Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us” is a powerful hymn that drinks deeply from the biblical imagery of God as Shepherd. While many are familiar with the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) or Jesus’ identification as the Good Shepherd (John 10), the theme actually extends the length of the whole Bible. To help see that, let me share a brief roadmap that traces this soul-comforting, biblical-theological theme.

Genesis 48:15–16; 49:24

In Genesis flocks go back as far as Genesis 4:4. And throughout the book of beginnings, God’s people are often seen around and among sheep. Accordingly, God’s people were very familiar with the mannerisms of sheep and what it would take to be a shepherd. It’s not surprising then, the imagery of God as a shepherd began from the beginning. (For a full treatment of this shepherd theme with application to pastoral ministry, see Timothy Laniak’s Shepherds After My Own Heart). Continue reading

More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading

“But Now”—Learning to Live in the Newness of Christ

photo-1416958672086-951aa7064010 2It has often been observed that the “last days” are not just some future event of tribulation and doom but are instead the days of Christ’s church, inaugurated by his resurrection. Thus, as Acts 2:17 and Hebrews 1:2 teach us, the last days have begun with the finished work of Christ and will culminate when he comes again to consummate what his resurrection began.

Such an observation stands behind the notion of an inaugurated eschatology, the belief that the kingdom of God is already and not yet. Indeed, coming out of the debates with George Eldon Ladd in the mid-twentieth century, evangelical theology has found a large consensus on this fact—the kingdom is not only present and it is not only future; rather the kingdom of God has been inaugurated but awaits its culmination.

Certainly, this view of the kingdom is different than the way the Old Testament Prophets foresaw the coming kingdom. To them the coming of the messiah meant the restoration of Israel’s kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit, and a new age marked by resurrection and life. What we find in the New Testament, however, is that this new age would come in the midst of the old, and that the last days of the old age would coincide with the era of the church, whereby the people of God would bear witness to Christ’s future return.

Biblical evidence for this two-phased kingdom is found in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of the kingdom as already (Matthew 12:28) and not yet (Matthew 24:35). It is also found in the arrival of the Holy Spirit which has made born again believers new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but without restoring the whole cosmos yet—what Isaiah 65 describes as a new heavens and new earth. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ—the first-fruits of the new creation—indicates a redemptive-historical shift from the old age to the new. And its this resurrection shift that is picked up by certain language in the New Testament.

Beginning with Paul’s speech to in Athens (Acts 17), there are two words that mark the change brought about by Christ’s resurrection. These words are nuni de, “but now.” As Fleming Rutledge observes in her provocative book on Christ’s crucifixion (and resurrection), “this radical newness, this transformation, is epitomized by the very frequent appearance in Paul’s letters and the epistles of Peter of the phrase “but now” (nuni de)” (The Crucifixion60).

Her observation reflects the apocalyptic nature of the New Testament, that the future has invaded the present (to borrow Ladd’s language), the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, and the resurrection of Jesus has marked a new stage in redemptive history. Indeed, the kingdom is not consummated yet, but neither is it absent. And importantly, the presence of the kingdom and the resurrection power of Christ is witnessed through the apocalyptic phrasing “but now.” Continue reading

Marveling at the Lord’s Teaching: A Meditation for Bible Teachers

ben-white-128604Marveled.

Astonished.

Amazed.

In Luke 4, these three words are used to describe the effect Jesus’ teaching had on people. First, in response to Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61, coupled with his announcement that “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21), Luke record, “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (v. 22). Second, verse 32 says of Jesus teaching on the Sabbath (v. 31), “and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” And third, verse 36 reports “they were all amazed” because with his words “he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”

In these reports, Luke uses three words to express the effect Jesus had on people. And more specifically, the effect Jesus’ words had on people. First, Jesus words amazed (θαυμάζω) people. That is, people were “extraordinarily impressed or disturbed” (BDAG) by his speech. This word is often used to speak of supernatural miracles (Luke 8:25), healings (Luke 11:4), and eventually the resurrection (Luke 24:41). But in this case, they were amazed at the graciousness of his words. Continue reading

Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

Looking Forward to Jesus, and Not Some Date on the Calendar (Guest Post by Ben Purves)

rem-its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-fine-irs-2Since the world did not end last Saturday (September 23), David Meade has designated a new date (October 15). But since Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36), I am convinced that this prediction is equally absurd. Absurd, and yet a snare to be addressed.

Just two weeks ago, we had to ask a man to leave our church property because he was spreading this propaganda. And for the next month and, really, until Christ does return—at an hour that we cannot predict—we will again be forced to contend with the errant predictions of self-appointed prophets.

To help give a biblical answer to the question about Christ’s return, our pastor of student ministries Ben Purves wrote a helpful blog outlining our biblical convictions about the future, the return of Christ, and the Christian hope. Unlike the recent doomsday predictions, these reflections (shared below) are steeped in the Bible and edifying for saints awaiting the day when Christ will return and establish his kingdom on the earth.

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Is Christ returning today or tomorrow?

Many people are talking about it thanks to yet another group announcing their conjectures based on mathematical gymnastics and astronomical mysticism. As of now, the deadline for Christ’s return has been announced as scheduled for sometime between now and sundown on Saturday, September 23 in Israel. If not by then, it is expected by the end of the day at the international dateline.

So, as with Harold Camping’s failed prediction that Christ would return on May 21, 2011 and hundreds of other predictions throughout church history, this kind of doomsday forecasting has been a staple of religious belief, even though it is explicitly forbidden by Jesus: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).  In fact, when it comes to discerning the signs, we need to look to what Scripture says and not what signs might be appearing in the cosmos.

For starters, we know that all of creation is experiencing birth pains and anticipating the return of our Lord (Rom 8:22). We also know that we have been in the last days since the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-18). Yet when we see news stories of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, like clockwork, religious leaders from the mainline to the fringe invite their followers to join them in hysteria. Continue reading

Preaching the Psalms Canonically: A Postscript

the-psalmsInstead of a Sermon Discussion guide this week, I’ve written up something of a Post-Script to the Psalms, a few reflections on reading and preaching the Psalms as one unified book. For the PDFs of each book, see Book 1Book 2Book 3Book 4Book 5. Hopefully, in the next few days I can publish the bibliography of resources (books, chapters, articles) that I found useful in reading the Psalms canonically.

We Seek What We Love

There is a basic two-sided principle in learning:

Those things we love, we love to learn about.

Those things we hate, we hate to learn about.

Whether it is music, travel, history, economics, a particular nation, or the spouse whom we love—if we love something, we’ll have no trouble learning about it. Or at least, the love of the subject matter drives us on to learn. Even complex subjects become (increasingly) enjoyable when love motivates our learning.

This principles applies across disciplines, but it applies especially to reading the Bible. When God regenerates a person, he implants in them a hunger for his Word. For instance, Psalm 19 speaks of God’s word as sweeter than honey. To the converted man or woman, their newfound taste buds long the pure milk of God’s word (1 Peter 2:1–3). Likewise, Psalm 119 overflows with delight in the Law of God. How else could a Psalm run to 176 verses, unless the author loved the Word.

According to the Bible, when we are born again, God gives us a new appetite for himself and his word, so that Ps 111:2 rightly explains the transformation of the heart towards learning: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied (or sought out) by all who delight in them.”

The point is not that when God saves a man, that man becomes an academic. But it does mean the children of God love to learn the ways of their father. And thus, like a girl who loves to read the letters of her deployed father, so too God’s children earnestly seek to know him through his word. Continue reading

Spiritual Blindness Takes Jesus Time to Cure: A Scriptural Meditation on Mark 8

lightWhen I put glasses on for the first time, it made a world of difference. The fuzzy signs on the other side of the parking lot became clear, and instantly my ‘blindness’ was cured. The same is not true for spiritual blindness, however. As we see in Scripture, spiritual blindness is not cured with prescription lens, nor is it fixed instantly. Instead, what we find is multi-step process in the hands of our gracious God. Let’s consider.

Jesus and a Two-Part Healing

In Mark 8 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. There, some people brought this blind man to Jesus as he begged Christ to touch him (v. 22). By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already healed “a man with an unclean spirit” (1:21–28), a leper (1:40–45), a paralytic (2:1–12), and many others (3:1–6; 5:1–20, 21–43; etc.). Thus, by this time in Mark’s Gospel the body of evidence for Jesus’ power in healing is great. Still, this healing is unique because of the way it foreshadows and interprets the events that follow.

In the case of the blind man at Bethsaida, we find the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus must heal the same man twice. Verses 23–25 read,

23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Notice, after Jesus causes the man to have sight in v. 23, the man’s vision is still impaired. Jesus, in response to the man’s cloudy vision (people who look like trees), must lay hands on him again to fix the man’s vision. Only after Jesus’ second attempt is the man’s vision “restored.”

What is going on here? Did Jesus lack power on the day he strolled into Bethsaida? Was he “unable” to heal the man fully on this day? Or was something else going on? Could it be that this unique healing—again, no other healing takes two attempts—is meant to teach us something about the way God heals, especially with regards to spiritual blindness? I think so. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading