Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

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Covenant Life: Yesterday, Today, and Forever (Joshua 24)

On Sunday we looked at Joshua 24, the last chapter in Joshua, and concluded our series on this Jesus-centered book.

In Joshua 24, the soon-to-be-departed leader of Israel called Israel to renew their covenant with God. By reminding Israel of God’s grace in their past and calling them to seek Yahweh’s grace for their present, Joshua renewed a covenant that anticipated a greater covenant in the future.

Indeed, as we have seen in all of Joshua, this book points to Jesus with remarkable, and at times shocking, clarity. It is not a book where we have to read Jesus back into the Old Testament. Instead, as the first book written after Moses, a book that helps us learn to read the rest of the Prophets and Writings, Joshua (Yeshua = Jesus) is unmistakably Christotelic (written to bring us to Christ at-the-end). And Joshua 24 may be the most fulsome in  leading us to Christ. At least, that’s what I argue in this sermon!

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

Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23)

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Beloved, Keep the Faith: What Jesus’s Final Words Say That Joshua’s Can’t (Joshua 23) (Sermon Audio)

In Joshua’s penultimate chapter in Joshua, we hear a word from Joshua calling for an ultimate commitment to God. Speaking to the people he has led out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land, Joshua says “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God” (v. 11).

In short, Joshua’s last words to Israel urge Israel to keep the faith. Only, as Joshua 24:31 indicates, Israel’s faithfulness is very short-lived. Only one generation after Joshua continues to keep the covenant (renewed in Joshua 24). Thus, for all that Joshua has done and said, it is ultimately ineffective. And as we read his words today, we can feel the same kind of discouragement, if we don’t place the weakness of his sermon with the eternal life that Christ gives with his final words.

Indeed, in this week’s sermon we will see how Joshua’s final words, like his entire life, are meant to lead us to Christ. From this connection everything that Joshua can be applied to us today, with (re)assurance that our faith will endure because Christ himself is keeping us (Jude 2), even as we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).

You can listen to the sermon online. For more on Joshua 23, you can read this week’s Ten Things blogpost: Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 23 is the penultimate chapter in the book and a call for Israel to make an ongoing, ultimate commitment to Yahweh. Here are ten things about this chapter to help us understand its main point with applications for us today.

1. Joshua 23 is the second of three assemblies that close the book of Joshua.

In the last three chapters of Joshua, the book comes to a close with three assemblies. In chapter 22, an emergency meeting is called when the Western tribes fear that the Eastern tribes committed idolatry by building an altar on the banks of the Jordan. In chapter 24, Joshua leads the nation to renew their covenant with Yahweh. But in Joshua 23, before that formal process of agreement, Joshua gives a more personal appeal for Israel to love God with all their heart and to guard themselves from idolatry.

In this way, Joshua 23 serves as a bridge between Joshua 22 and Joshua 24. It unites the three chapters with the theme of idolatry—or rather, a warning against idolatry. More specifically, this chapter focuses on the leaders in Israel, who are listed in verse 2: “elders, leaders, judges, and officials.” Importantly, as Joshua comes to the end of his life (vv. 1–2, 14), he is looking to this next generation of leaders to keep covenant with God. This shows how the nation prospers when the nation has faithful leaders (cf. 24:31). Continue reading

How God’s Judgment upon Achan’s Sin Teaches Us to Find Grace in Christ: 10 Things about Joshua 7

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAchan’s sin has often been used and misused to identify sin in the life of Christians today. But what does it mean in its original context? And how should we apply it today? Here are ten things about Achan, his sin, God’s wrath, and God’s grace, all found in Joshua 7.

1. Joshua 7 is not (primarily) about prayerlessness or sinful self-reliance.

What is Joshua 7 about? Many want to single out Joshua’s lack of prayer or the spies foolish self-confidence as the problem in Joshua 7. Others want to commend Joshua for taking the next step into the land without waiting. Wryly, Dale Ralph Davis cites these conflicting interpretations and observes,

One expositor blames Joshua for acting without prayer while another commends him for acting with haste; one says it was bad that action was taken without prayer, yet the other claims it was good to have action without sloth. We are at hermeneutical sea unless we take seriously the writer’s own intention as expressed in verse 1. (Joshua, 59)

Indeed, Joshua 7 demonstrates many evidences of the author’s intention and by paying attention to the literary shape of the passage, we can see that God’s presence and the satisfaction of God’s wrath stand at the center of this story. Continue reading

Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:32–40: Or, What It Means for God to Speak from the Midst of the Fire

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on expositional preaching, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:32–40.

1. Future hope (vv. 25–31) is based on God’s past actions (vv. 32–39).

Grammatically, verse 32 begins with the word “for” (ki). This opening word reveals the relationship between verse 32 and what comes before it. Previously, verses 25–31 explained the future mercies of God—what Yahweh promised to do to restore his people (vv. 29–31). Verse 32 explains why Israel can have confidence in this future grace. Because God saved Israel from Egypt with omnipotent power, so we can trust he will act in power again to restore his people in the future. In short, Israel’s future hope (and our hope) stand on the powerful working of God’s grace in the past.

2. Covenant obedience (v. 40) is also the past actions of God (vv. 32–39).

On the other side of verses 32–39, we find another implied reason for action. Covenant obedience (“keeping his statues and rules”) is motivated by the redemption of God from Egypt and the revelation of God’s word at Sinai. In short, just as God’s previous works of salvation strengthen our future confidence in God, they also call for faithfulness. Continue reading

Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:1–14

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:1–14.

1. Deuteronomy 4 is the last chapter of Deuteronomy’s covenantal introduction.

In Deuteronomy Moses follows (and reformulates) a covenant structure identifiable by anyone living in the ancient Near East. Just as covenants made between kings and their servants (i.e., Suzerains and their vassals) followed a standardized pattern, so does the book of Moses.

Ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty Treaty[1] Deuteronomy as a Covenant Document
Preamble (“These are the words . . .”) Preamble (1:1–5): “These are the words of Moses addressed to all Israel . . .”
Historical Prologue: a survey of the relational history between covenant partners Historical Prologue (1:6–4:49)
General Stipulations General Stipulations (ch. 5–11): general commands to love, serve, fear Yahweh
Specific Stipulations Specific Stipulations (ch. 12–26): an exposition of the Ten Words
Divine Witnesses: various deities called to witness the treaty Blessings and Curses (ch. 27–28)
Blessings and Curses: relating respectively to the maintenance of breach of the covenant Divine Witnesses (see 30:19; 31:19; 32:1–43)

From this outline, we see where Deuteronomy 4 is situated. It is the final word of the covenantal introduction (i.e., the historical prologue). Moreover, in a way that deviates from the classical ANE treaty formula, it adds covenantal instructions that anticipate the next sections—namely, the general and special stipulations given in chapters 5–26. Continue reading

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

A New Covenant Perspective on Fasting

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“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16–18 —

This Sunday our church comes to Jesus’s words about fasting in Matthew 16:16–18. In preparation, I have read many commentaries and articles on the subject, but one question lingers: How does the new covenant impact fasting?

In his immensely helpful chapter on fasting, Donald Whitney identifies fasting as numerically greater than baptism—77 uses of fasting in the Bible, compared to 75 uses of baptism. Yet, does that mean fasting is equally important for the new covenant Christian?

I am not sure. While the Bible regularly talks about fasting, most of the occurrences are found in the Old Testament. And while every word of Old Testament is useful for our instruction, I wonder how fasting relates to the covenants? Or to turn it the other way, is there a difference between fasting under the Law and fasting under the Gospel (i.e., the Law fulfilled)? Could that explain the difference in emphasis? That is what I will try to answer below. Continue reading

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law? Christ, His Teaching, and the New Covenant

jon-tyson-195064-unsplashIn Matthew 5:17 Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. And as D. A. Carson has observed about these verses, “The theological and canonical ramifications of one’s exegetical conclusions . . . are so numerous that discussion becomes freighted with the intricacies of biblical theology” (“Matthew,” 141).

In other words, it is really easy to import one’s biblical framework into Jesus’s words. For how one understands the law and its use in the New Testament and how the New Testament relates to the Old Testament, will in large measure impact the way one understands Jesus’s words, which in turn reinforces, or reforms, our biblical-theological framework.

Therefore, the question before is, “How do we stay on the line of Scripture when we interpret Matthew 5:17”? By comparison with Matthew 10:34 (“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”) and Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”), we learn that Jesus “non-abolishment clause” in Matthew 5:17 may not be absolute. Sharing the same structure as Matthew 5:17, Matthew 10:34 does not mean Jesus has forsaken his peace-making ways. Rather, his peace-making will include the restructuring (and severing) of family relations in order to make a new family of  peace.

From this analogy, we learn there are some things in the Law that have come to an end—e.g., Hebrews indicates that Christ’s sacrifice ends the old covenant system of animal sacrifice. Therefore, we should go back to Jesus’s words to learn how to apply the Law. And thankfully, because of Matthew’s repeated and technical usage of the word “fulfill”/”fulfillment” (pleroō), we can get a good idea of how to understand the relationship of the Law to Christ and from Christ to us.  Continue reading

A Filter, A Lens, and A Prism: Three Ways Christ Applies the Law of Moses to New Covenant Disciples

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One of the most challenging aspects of reading the Bible is applying the old covenant law to the new covenant follower of Christ. As the book Five Views on Law and Gospel illustrates, there are multiple ways in which Christians have sought to apply the Old Testament and its legal demands to the church today. And one of the most familiar ways is to differentiate three parts of the law.

Typically divided as moral, civil, and ceremonial, the tripartite approach to the Old Testament argues that some laws are eternal and unchanging (the moral); others are related to the theocracy given to  Israel (the civil); still others are related to the system of priests, sacrifices, and the temple (the ceremonial). In Christ, the civil and ceremonial came to their completion, while the moral law continues unabated.

The trouble with this approach is that the Old Testament never specifies the tripartite division and in many places the moral, civil, and ceremonial overlap. Still, we must make some sense of the way parts of the law continue and others do not. And historically, the tripartite division has a long tradition of helping Christians think carefully about the Bible, the Law, and the Gospel. Still, it is not the only way and there may be better approaches.
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Addressing this subject, I have found help in the way Jonathan Lunde uses three images to describe the way in which Christ fulfills the law. In his book Following Jesus, the Servant Kinghe spends three chapters outlining the way Christ fulfills the law of Moses. Focusing much of his attention on the Sermon on the Mount, he specifies the way Christ functions as filter, lens, and prism. In some ways, Christ brings the laws of Moses to an end (filter); in others, he clarifies what the law already meant (lens); and still in other ways, he heightens the demands of the law (prism).

While these three approaches (filter, lens, prism) are extra-textual and only illustrative, I find them more helpful in getting at what the text says. They make us consider what Jesus does and does not say about the law. And instead of foisting an extra-textual grid on the Bible, like the tripartite division of the law, they make us listen closely to the text itself to see how Jesus mediates between old and new covenants.

Because this approach is explicitly Christ-centered, in a way that the tripartite division of the law is not, I find it to be a surer guide. Likewise, because it does not create a whole system of categorization (which the Bible does not have), it lets the text of Scripture speak. It also permits more freedom to disagree about certain points—as I do below in two ways—and helps us go back to the feet of Jesus to learn how he approaches the old and new covenants. Continue reading