Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

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Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis envisions a world coming to life, by means of Aslan’s song. If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series,  Aslan the Lion is the Christ-figure who both creates the world and dies to save the world. And in The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to the more famous, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are treated to Lewis’s story of creation.

Here is how he pictures Narnia coming to life.

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed. (64)

Trees indeed! And in the context of The Magicians’ Nephew this new world was coming to life in the presence of an evil witch and crazy, self-absorbed Uncle. In this way, the creation of Narnia does not match the creation of our world, where God in his eternal perfection made the world good and very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

‘Then They Will Know That I Am the Lord’: How Seeing the Structure in Ezekiel Shows Us the Gospel

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Ezekiel.

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24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God. 25 “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.”
Ezekiel 28:24–26

Galatians 3:8 says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham. As he promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, God revealed his gospel purposes for the world. This truth has many implications, but one of them is that the gospel is something that goes back to the beginning—even to the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3:15). Accordingly, whenever we read the Old Testament we should expect to find gospel promises of salvation and hope. Even in books that focus on the righteous judgments of God, there will be promises of grace and forgiveness.

This is the gospel message—that God will make a way of salvation for those who deserve eternal condemnation.

God gave this promise to Israel first (Rom. 1:16–17), but he always intended for his salvation to go from Israel to all the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; cf. Rom. 9:25–29; 10:18ff.). In the New Testament, we learn how this works. But we also find how this works by reading the Old Testament in light of the New. In the Prophets especially, we find new covenant promises that are given to Israel and the nations.

Over the last two months, I have focused on Isaiah  and Jeremiah and the gospel hope found in each. This month, I turn to Ezekiel. And again the pattern of salvation and judgment remains. The message of the gospel is found scattered throughout Ezekiel, but it is also seen in the book as a whole.

In this blogpost, I want to offer some help on how to read Ezekiel, so that you can see the gospel in Ezekiel. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is challenging because it is so large. But it is also challenging because of how Ezekiel speaks and acts. Therefore, to get a better grasp on the book, I am turning to one of my seminary professors and his book on Ezekiel.

Daniel Block taught Old Testament when I went to Southern Seminary, and his collection of essays on Ezekiel (By the River Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel, 2013) nicely complements his massive, two-volume commentary on Ezekiel. In class, I remember him saying that his kids grew up with Ezekiel in the house, as he spent fourteen years (!!) working on his two commentaries. To such labor, we are indebted. And to those who read his work on Ezekiel, they will find excellent scholarship and great help for reading this prophet.

In what follows, I am summarizing Block’s introductory notes to Ezekiel. Continue reading

Finding Consolation from the Weeping Prophet: Or, Where to Find Springs of Living Water in Jeremiah’s Long, Dark Book

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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In Jeremiah 30–33, we find four chapters that are often referred to as “The Book of Consolation.” The reason for this title is the way they promise hope for a battered and bruised people who are, or will soon be, held in bondage by Babylon. In context, these chapters come after the Prophet declares that God is sending Israel to Babylon for seventy years because of their sins. Following this judgment (see Jeremiah 25–29), Jeremiah 30–33 looks to a day in the future when God will restore his people (30:1–3), return a priestly king to the throne (30:21), and establish a new covenant (31:31–34).

These chapters are some of the brightest and best in all the Old Testament, but they are found in a book that is densely populated with oracles of destruction, jeremiads against Jerusalem (yes, jeremiads comes from Jeremiah), judgments against the nations, and other events that lead Jeremiah to be called the weeping prophet. All in all, the Book of Consolation stands in stark contrast to the rest of Jeremiah, and accordingly, I can imagine many who attempt to read Jeremiah will do so, skipping ahead to these chapters, or just cherry-picking a few verses along the way (e.g., Jer. 2:13; 9:23–24; 17:9–10; 23:1–6; 29:11–13; etc.).

Such approaches are understandable, given the length and complexity of the book, but if we really want to understand Jeremiah we need to find a better reading strategy. That’s what this blog post is for—to help give you a map which identifies key passages which as springs of living water for your soul.

In other words, because Jeremiah is meant to pluck up, tear down, destroy, and overthrow the city of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants (Jer. 1:10ab), his book will primarily consist of words of judgment. At the same time, because God calls Jeremiah to build up and plant (see also 1:10c), we should expect to find life-giving words of hope. The question is knowing where they are and how to find such refreshment in a book that is primarily deconstructive—in the prophetic, not the postmodern, sense of the word.

Reading through the book, it will help to know where the words of life are. And that’s what I offer below. In another blog post, I laid out a four-fold outline of the book that can be summarized like this.

  • Jeremiah 1–24: God’s War of Words . . . Against Israel
  • Jeremiah 25–34: God’s War of Words . . . Against the False Prophets
  • Jeremiah 35–44: God’s War of Words . . . Against the King and His Kingdom
  • Jeremiah 45–52: God’s War of Words . . . Against the Nations

This outline follows the illuminating work of Andrew Shead, and I would urge you to read that post and his book. In what follows, I will share the springs of living water that crop up in places like Jeremiah 3:15–18 and Jeremiah 51:48, and everywhere in between. As I have read through Jeremiah, these are the passages and the promises I am looking for as I read.  

As the apostles teach us, all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). The gospel itself stands on the promises of God (Acts 13:32–33), and begins with Abraham (Gal. 3:8) not Matthew. For this reason, we should read the Bible as promise-seekers, so that we can become promise-believers. This is what the Bible is for, and in Jeremiah, there are plenty of hope-giving, Christ-centered promises for us to find. The trick is knowing where they are and how they fit into the book.

Without any further preliminaries, let me offer a roadmap to the springs of living water in Jeremiah. I will give a few notes as we go, but primarily what follows is the text of Scripture.[1] Continue reading

A War of Words: How the Structure of Jeremiah Leads to Its Storyline

raphael-schaller-GkinCd2enIY-unsplashThis post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.

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If Jeremiah is structured around the word of the Lord, then it makes sense that the storyline of the book is also tailored to that end. God has called Jeremiah to speak his words to his people. Importantly, that word is not simply a message of comfort; it is a message that tears down and plucks up, a word that destroys and annihilates. Only then, can it build and plant (Jer. 1:10).

In Jeremiah’s call (ch. 1), we have an introduction to the man and his message, and as the visions signal, he will preach a message of judgment that will be rejected by his people. His message will include hope and blessing, but situated in the last decades of Judah’s reign in Jerusalem, his words of hope will all be future, not present. And thus, his words will go to war with his contemporaries. And over the course of his book, he will address the nation (ch. 1–24), the false prophets (ch. 25–34), the king (ch. 35–44), and the nations (ch. 45–52).

As seen yesterday, these four sections are ordered by various literary devices (disjunctive headings and narrative formulas), but they are also forming a storyline of God’s Word. And in his book, A Mouth Full of Fire, Andrew Shead shows how each section takes up the Word of God in order to tear down and pluck up the people of God. In order to understand the message of Jeremiah, therefore, we need to see how the book unfolds. And this is where Shead’s proposal is so helpful. Consider his outline. Continue reading

Isaiah’s Search for Godly Offspring: A Storyline for the Son(s) of God

josue-michel-eCZ24v-sQyM-unsplashAnd what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.
— Malachi 2:15 —

Maybe’s its odd to start of meditation on Isaiah by citing Malachi, but as I will show, Malachi 2:15 encapsulates a key theme that runs through the book of Isaiah—namely, the presence of godly offspring in the place of God’s dwelling (Zion). From the beginning to the end of Isaiah, the search for godly offspring is a central theme that holds the book together. And if we are going to understand the message of Isaiah—and not just verses from Isaiah—we need to see how it fits together.

The Search for Godly Offspring Begins

When Isaiah begins, he immediately brings us into God’s courtroom, where Yahweh, the sovereign ruler  of the cosmos is bringing a judgment against his people Israel. Isaiah 1:2–4 reads,

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children [sons] have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring [seed/s] of evildoers, children [sons] who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

Here is the problem: God had redeemed the seed of Abraham in order to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). Yet, by the eighth century B.C., during the reigns of “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1), the city of God had become corrupt. Jerusalem traded in iniquity, so that wickedness marked all their ways and evil impelled all their intentions. As Isaiah 1:1–18 makes clear, the godly offspring were absent. And as a result, Isaiah 1–5 recall God’s intentions to empty Zion of all wickedness, so that he could once again create sons and daughters who would bear fruit for his glory.

This vision is how Isaiah begins his prophecy, and it helps us to see how the whole book will proceed. That is to say, by paying attention to the overlapping themes of sons and seeds (i.e. offspring), mothers and daughters, childbirth that succeeds and childbirth that fails, we get a clear(er) picture of what God is expecting of Israel and what God is planning to do for his rebellious people.

In truth, anyone who has been around church on Christmas knows the famous verses of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6–7. But I suspect most don’t know how those verses fit into the structure of Isaiah and how the whole book anticipates the birth of Christ and the new birth promised by him (see John 3).

One way we misread Isaiah is to climb aboard the promise of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 and make it a connecting flight to Matthew 1:23. Positively, this approach may heighten our confidence in the predictive nature of the Old Testament—a truth I gladly affirm—but negatively, it fails to understand what Isaiah 7:14 means (in context) and how all of Isaiah is anticipating the virgin birth of God’s Son.

While direct flights are great when traveling from coast-to-coast, they are not advisable when seeking to understand the Bible cover-to-cover. And thus, in what follows I will trace the promise of seeds, sons, childbirth, and motherhood through Isaiah to show how the whole book anticipates the coming of Christ and all those children who will be born by the Spirit—the godly offspring that God has formed in his new covenant people. Continue reading

The Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan: February Resources for Exodus, Jeremiah, and Mark

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

This month the Via Emmaus Reading Plan is looking at Exodus, Jeremiah, and/or Mark. (See below for the tracks). If you are following this plan, or looking for a new reading plan, you can find helpful resources on the following pages. 

Track 1: Exodus

Track 2: Jeremiah

Track 3: Mark

If you have other resources on these books, please feel free to share.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as you draw near to him in his Word. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation: Renewing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan in 2022

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2021 ending and 2022 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: Does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible consumption and consumption? Continue reading

Avoiding Monsters in the Apocalypse: Three Requirements for Reading Revelation

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“Though St. John the Evangelist saw may strange monsters in his vision,
he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”
— G. K. Chesterton —

Few books are more mysterious, more difficult, or more confusing than the book of Revelation. Simultaneously, because of its sensational imagery and more than a few best-selling, end-times thrillers, few books are more commonly requested. Countless are the times I have been asked when I will preach Revelation. And here is my standard answer: I will preach Revelation, after I preach Exodus, Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah. So far, I’m halfway there.

As a teacher who will give an account for his teaching (James 3:1), I do not want to be on record for teaching this glorious and mysterious book until I am better acquainted with the Old Testament and the rest of the Bible. With more than 400 allusions to the Old Testament, Revelation is thickest book in the Bible, and it requires extra care when taught. Therefore, wise readers will seek to understand the book not with current events but with the biblical canon.

To that end, I share a few comments from commentators who avoid the monstrosity’s to which Chesterton alludes. And they do so by reading Revelation soberly and with a constant gaze upon the Old Testament. May we learn from them as we continue to read Revelation and the vision of Christ found therein. Continue reading

The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read: Twenty Lessons on Leviticus

imageThe Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)ever Read. 

That’s how I framed the book of Leviticus when I invited members of our church to study it last January. And this week, by God’s grace, we finished going through the book. Admittedly, our study could have done more. But for 20 weeks (Spring and Fall), those who were at first skeptical of Leviticus kept coming back to the see the good news proclaimed in Moses’s central book. Many even would agree that Leviticus is an exciting book.

In the list below are the lessons I taught on Leviticus. Again, they do not exhaust the book, but they give a general sense of the book and its message, with regular connections to Christ and the Church. I share them here for anyone who wants to know more of Leviticus. Continue reading

The Heart of the Gospel: A Sermon on Penal Substitution (Isaiah 53)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedIn the Old Testament, there are a handful of passages critical for understanding Christ’s cross. Over the last few weeks, I have preached on many of them (Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16; Ben Purves also did an outstanding job preaching Psalm 22). There are other passage too that our current sermon series won’t cover (e.g., Numbers 21, Psalm 118, Zechariah 9–14, etc.) But the most important passage in the Old Testament for learning what Christ’s cross achieved is Isaiah 53 (technically, Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And that was the text I preached this week.

In this fifteen verse, five stanza “Servant song,” we are introduced to the One who will die for the sins of his people. In particular, he offers a guilt offering in the place of those who deserve God’s penalty of death.

In recent years, the idea of Christ’s penal substitution and God pouring out his wrath on the Son has not set well with many—both those inside the church and those outside the church, as well as those leaving the church. Indeed, with an appeal to God’s universal love, many have misunderstood how Christ’s death, as a penal substitute, is good news and necessary for salvation. Others have questioned how guilt can be transferred from one person, or one group, to another.

Many of these questions have been well answered in the book Pierced for Our Transgressionsas well as by many others in church history. In every case, Isaiah 53 plays a prominent role in explaining what Christ’s cross achieved. And in my sermon yesterday, you can hear why the most important thing about the cross is not what could be seen with the naked eye, but what the Father, Son, and Spirit achieved in the cross. Indeed, while Mel Gibson’s Passion captured the brutality of the cross, it did not explain the divine design of Christ’s cross, nor how Christ’s death might benefit those who believe upon him.

Truly, if you want to understand the cross, you have to look to the Scripture and especially to Isaiah 53. So here is a sermon that explains why the cross of Christ and especially penal substitution stands at the heart of the gospel and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds