Judgment Then Salvation: Seeing the Good News in Isaiah 13–27

jon-tyson-XmMsdtiGSfo-unsplashIsaiah 13–27 is perhaps the most challenging portion of Isaiah to read and understand. Yet, it plays a significant role in impressing the weight of God’s glory on the reader. Jim Hamilton has rightly argued that God’s glory is found salvation and judgment, and no book confirms that argument better than Isaiah.

Indeed, to feel the weight (N.B. In Hebrew, the word glory, kavod, comes from the word heavy, kavēd) of God’s glorious salvation, we need to come to grips with God’s holy judgment. And no part of Isaiah presses us down into God’s judgment like Isaiah 13–27. That may be one of the reasons why these chapters are difficult, but I would suggest there are others too.

In what follows I want to look at why this section is hard to understand. Then I want to show how these chapters fit together and what we can gain from them. May these reflections help us to read Isaiah and see the glory of God in his salvation and judgment. Continue reading

What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

angel-clouds-weather-vera-161199Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the enemies of God. They come from the anguished hearts of persecuted Israelites, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4–6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6–15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7–9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for gospel-loving, grace-proclaiming Christians, the inspired cries for vengeance make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, my PhD Supervisor and good fried, Stephen Wellum, gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading

Blood Moons and Smoke-Filled Skies: An Already and Not Yet Approach to the Day of the Lord

moon

When we read in Acts 2:19-20, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the  sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,” we who are unaccustomed to apocalyptic literature are quick to scratch our heads and ask: What does this mean?  Our doctrinal convictions keep us on the trail: Scripture is perspicuous (i.e., clear) and true, therefore, Peter must means what he says. He is surely not incorrect. But how can the moon turn to blood? Should we really expect the Sea of Tranquility to fill with blood, just like the Nile in Exodus?

When reading such language in Scripture, we do well to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture and that in this case, the apocalyptic language of Joel 2 is being cited by Peter to explain the historical events of Pentecost–the outpouring of the Spirit foretold in Joel 2:28. However, for reasons we will see, Peter also includes the more troubling language. Therefore, to understand the whole section lets consider four biblical-theological points that will help us see how the Day of the Lord is both a present and future reality—a method of interpreting the Old Testament that the Apostles often employed.

1. Historical Acts 2 quotes apocalyptic Joel 2.

Importantly, the strange language comes not from the historical narrative of Luke, but rather the prophetic literature of Joel. In this way, he is quoting an Old Testament prophecy to explain the events of recent history—i.e., the ostensible drunkenness of the disciples (Acts 2:13). Therefore, we must not read these words as portending to a literalistic interpretation—the moon is dripping blood. Rather, Luke is telling us how these strange, poetic words have come come true in the historical events of Pentecost. Continue reading

Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

mealYesterday our church took the Lord’s Supper. Detouring from the book of Titus for a week, we considered the significance of Jesus’s gospel-proclaiming meal.

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, we observed how Paul corrected the twin problems of (1) divisions at the Lord’s Supper and (2) indifference to the divisions with three solutions (vv. 17–22). First, he rehearsed the gospel of Jesus Christ by re-explaining to the Corinthians what the bread and cup symbolize (vv.23–26). Next, he called for all participants to examine themselves before taking of the meal (vv.27–32). And last, he challenged the church to “receive one another” as they came to the Table (vv.33–34).

Paul’s view of the Lord’s Supper is a worthwhile reminder of how serious this meal is. He warns that when divisions go unchecked at the Lord’s Table, the church and its members eat the meal in vain (v. 20). While the bread, the cup, and the church may be gathered, it is possible that the people eat their “own meal,” not the Lord’s Supper (v. 21). Such a sober reminder calls us to examine our hearts and repent of anything that would bring division in the body of Christ.

At the same time, those who are resisting sin and trusting daily in the gospel need not worry about taking the meal in an unworthy manner, as many earnest saints often do. The warning is directed to those resisting repentance, not resisting sin. On this point, Ray Van Neste offers a helpful corrective about the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:28.

It is a fairly common practice for believers voluntarily to abstain from Communion because they feel they are not properly prepared at that given time. They think they should not partake of Communion if they are struggling with sin. This . . . arises from a misunderstanding of the call to examine ourselves. The warning . . . is against partaking in an unworthy manner, referring to the unrepentant self-centeredness of the Corinthians who were ignoring other members of the body. The warning does not apply to those who are struggling with sin but are looking to the cross in repentance, hating their sin and yearning to be pleasing to God. (Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” in The Lord’s Suppered. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, 386)

All in all, the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of the Christian experience. It calls the hard-hearted to repentance and it invites the broken-hearted believer to taste afresh the grace of God. Sadly, it has been misunderstand and misapplied in too many contexts. Hence, the reason why we considered it yesterday.

If you desire to better understand how Paul speaks about this meal in 1 Corinthians, I pray that yesterday’s message might serve you. You can find it here: “Revisiting the Lord’s Supper: A Holy Heart for a Holy Meal.”

At the same time, for those interested in diving deeper into the theology, history, and practice of the Lord’s Supper, let me encourage you to pick up The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comesedited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford. As I preached on 1 Corinthians 11, I found Jim Hamilton’s chapter particularly helpful.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss