It Is Finished: Beholding the Cross of Christ from All of Scripture

Have you ever watched a new movie, where you started 10 minutes before the end?

Many years ago, when big hair was still in style, I was introduced to Back to the Future in this way. My friends were watching this movie and I joined them at point where Doc Brown crashed through garbage cans, warned Marty and his girlfriend about their future children, and drove to a place where “we don’t need roads.”

If you only know the last ten minutes of Back to the Future, however, you won’t understand the significance of the DeLorean, the date (November 5, 1955), the speed (88 miles per hour), or the electricity (1.21 Gigawatts) that makes time travel possible. Nor will you understand the flux capacitor and its cruciform power to rewrite history. All of these details are revealed over the course of the movie and only in watching the movie from beginning to end, can you make sense of its ending. 

Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and behold the man hung upon a Roman cross. While many well-intentioned evangelists point to Christ’s cross as the center piece of our Christian faith and the way of our salvation, it is an event in history that only makes sense when you begin in the beginning. That Christ was buried in a garden tomb does more than give us an historical referent; it tells the significance of Christ’s death as the way of God’s new creation, because after all it was in a garden where Adam sinned and brought death to the world. Now, raised from a garden tomb, Jesus as the new Adam has introduced a new way of life.

In this vein, the biblical storyline is necessary for understanding why the Son of God had to die on a tree, be buried in a tomb, and raised to life on the third day. Indeed, even if we know that Christ did not stay dead—that he rose from the grave, walked the earth teaching his disciples for forty days, and ascended to heaven, where he now sits in glory—we cannot make sense of the cross. Or at least, our interest in Christ’s death and resurrection leads us to ask: But what does it mean?

Indeed, the way to understand Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to place those events in the timeline of God’s redemptive history. That timeline begins in creation, proceeds through the fall of mankind into sin, and picks up countless promises of grace and types of salvation throughout the Old Testament. In fact, to be most precise, God’s plan for Christ’s cross did not begin in space and time; it began before God spoke light into the darkness (Gen. 1:3). As Peter says in his first sermon (Acts 2:23) and his first epistle (1 Peter 1:20), the cross of Christ was the centerpiece of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his people.

In Scripture, therefore, the cross is the climactic work of God to redeem sinners and rescue the dying. Indeed, while Jesus now reigns in glory, and his victorious resurrection gives assurance that all those who trust in him will have eternal life, it is vital to understand what Christ did on the cross and what it means when Christ said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

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The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’

alexander-michl-g8PFVtzzkYA-unsplashFor Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord,
and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
— Ezra 7:10 —

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, . . .
— 1 Timothy 3:2 —

Earlier this week, I sat in a room full of pastors talking about preaching, plagiarism, and what it means to be “apt to teach,” the qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3:2. And I made the point that being “apt to teach” and “apt to speak” are not the same thing. And I made the point because it seems as though there is a great confusion about what it takes to be a pastor today.

Can someone be a pastor if they are a good communicator? Or should someone be a pastor because they are biblically qualified? And what do the biblical qualifications entail, anyways? 

In some circles, being a good communicator seems to be the sine qua non of the pastoral office. If someone can communicate well, then they have what it takes to be a preacher. Never mind their other weaknesses, if they can communicate in a way that really connects, then they are a great cornerstone to building a vibrant church. (Please compare Ephesians 2:20 and note the irony!)

By contrast, Scripture gives a different and more complete picture. For instance, when defending his apostolic ministry, Paul testifies to his weakness in preaching. Addressing the super-apostles, whose speaking may have exceeded his own, Paul says of his critics, “For they say [of Paul], ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2 Cor. 10:10). Aware of his weakness(es), Paul defended his qualifications not by his charisma, but by his faithfulness to the truth and his suffering for that truth.

Today, such a perspective is under threat. For since the news broke concerning J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, I have heard much anecdotal testimony from various pastors that many large church leaders see themselves as communicators of the truth, more than shepherds of the flock or students of the Book. That’s my way of phrasing it, and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone. But with the popularity of groups like the Docent Research Group and Ministry Pass, as well as LifeWay’s large selection of manuscripts free for the taking, it seems that one reason why so little concern has been raised by Ed Litton’s use of J.D. Greear’s sermons is that pastors preaching the work of others is something of an evangelical cottage industry. (If I’m wrong, please show me).

For me, I’m not interested in doing the investigative reporting on this subject. I’ll leave that up to the Julie Roys and Warren Throckmorton’s of the evangelical world. What I am interested in is asking is this: Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to preach someone else’s sermon? Or, biblically speaking, is it a requisite qualification  to preach what one has learned from the personal study of his Word. Such a personal study of the Word,  where the minister of the Word encounters the God of the Word, is my personal conviction, and it was the conviction of all the pastors with whom I spoke this week.

But what does Scripture say? What does it mean to be “apt to teach”? And does teaching necessarily require the personal study of the Bible? Thankfully, Scripture is not silent about these questions, and by returning to the Pastoral Epistles we can find a solid answers to these questions.

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Good and Evil: A Live Look at Love, the Law, and Liberty of Conscience: Three Sermons from Romans 12–14

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Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
— Romans 12:21 —

For the last three Sundays, our church has been thinking about what Scripture says about God and government, love and law, COVID and consciences. Pressing pause on our series in Daniel, which also has a lot to day about  governing authorities, we looked at Romans 12–14. In these three chapters, Paul instructs believers, but especially churches, how to worship, think, assemble, love, obey (and resist) governors, and treat one another with hospitality and care.

If the church needs to remember anything in 2020 it is how to be a people who are

  1. thinking clearly from God’s Word and not the media-frenzied patterns of this world,
  2. assembling in the name of Christ and not scattering in the name of executive orders,
  3. loving one another in ways that exceed wearing masks,
  4. obeying governors, but not blindly, or in ways that deny God’s commands, and
  5. welcoming one another, without binding the consciences of others.

Following the words of Romans 12–14, our last three sermons have addressed these matters. Paul’s words help us think about going to church, wearing masks, and relating to COVID regulations. If there was ever a time in my life when Christians need to learn again what it means to be the church and how to be the church when the governing authorities offer slight and/or significant opposition to being the church that time is now.

Thankfully, God’s Word is sufficient to instruct us on what God thinks is good and evil. In fact, Romans 12–14 is actually held together by numerous references to good and evil (Rom. 12:2, 9, 21; 13:3–4; 14:16). And I offer these three sermons (two by myself, one by Ben Purves) to help you think about what is truly good and evil in our day.

Considering an array of current events, you can also find blogposts on COVID, quarantine laws, resisting tyrants, resisting tyrants again, and mask-wearing. In all, we need a great measure of wisdom in our day—wisdom and boldness. Thankfully, God’s Word supplies us with grace for both. Knowing that, let us continue to seek first his kingdom and trust him for all the provisions we need to follow him faithfully. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). So let us go with him, as he works all things for our good.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

‘Mystery’—Its Definition, Use, and Significance in Daniel and the Rest of the Bible

alphabet close up communication conceptual

. . . but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.
— Daniel 2:28 —

. . . the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
— Colossians 2:2–3 —

In Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd show how “mystery,” as a word and concept play an important role in Daniel 2 and 4 and the rest of the Bible. Indeed, for anyone familiar with the word “mystery” (mysterion) in the New Testament, it is vital to see how this word comes from the context of Daniel. Conversely, for those puzzled by Daniel’s presentation of the last days, they need to see how the New Testament interprets Daniel and applies of Daniel’s mystery to Christ and his Church, as in Colossians 2:2–3.

In what follows, I will offer a definition of mystery, a sampling of its usage, and a summary of its implications. Beale and Gladd offer a comprehensive study of this topic, one that I would highly recommend. Many of my observations rely on this subject rely on their work. But, hopefully, all can see that it is the text of Scripture that is definitive for understanding mystery in Scripture. Continue reading

Hope, Help, and Holding Fast: Storing Up Future Treasure with Present Riches (1 Timothy 6:17–21)

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Hope, Help, and Holding Fast: Storing Up Future Treasure with Present Riches (1 Timothy 6:17–21)

On Sunday we finished the book of 1 Timothy. Since February, we have enjoyed learning about what it means to be a church made alive by Christ and directed by his Spirit. As we finished the series, we reminded ourselves what this whole letter was about and why Paul finished his words with one last word to the rich (6:17–19) and one final admonition to Timothy (6:20–21).

Whether you consider yourself rich or not, and whether you are in ministry or not, these final words of 1 Timothy give great wisdom on how to store up your treasure in heaven and guard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions can be found below, as well as a list of all the sermons preached in this series.

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Fighting the Good Fight of the Faith by Following the Good Lord and Fixing Our Eyes on the Invisible God (1 Timothy 6:11–16)

livingchurchFighting the Good Fight of the Faith (1 Timothy 6:11–16)

Flee wickedness. Pursue righteousness. Fight the Good Fight. Take Hold of Eternal Life.

These are the commands that Paul gives Timothy as he finishes his letter to his true son in the faith. They are good for us today too. Scripture calls us to run from sin and race towards Christ. But how? What will motivate us, strengthen us, and enable us to finish our race?

On Sunday I answered these questions from what Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:11–16. Consistent with Paul’s words of encouragement, the apostle never said  “just do it.” He always gave Christ-centered motivations and God-directed visions to help the followers of Christ run their race with perseverance. Sunday’s sermon focuses on the same thing, encouraging us to read this glorious passage “backwards” in order to let the glory of God strengthen our godliness.

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

Start With *Why*: Working for God’s Glory, the Gospel, and Christ’s Church (1 Timothy 6:1–2)

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Start With WHY: Working for God’s Glory, the Gospel, and Christ’s Church (Sermon Audio)

More than what, more than how . . . but why you do what you do will ultimately determine the success of your “doings.”

This sort of thinking has been championed recently by various thought leaders, but the principle goes back to the Bible itself. God does not just look at the outward appearance, he looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Moreover, the command to circumcise your heart (Deuteronomy 10:16), was followed up with a promise that God would circumcise the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6), thus trading out the heart of stone for a believing heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26–27). In short, God’s work of salvation has always targeted the heart and why we do what we do.

And in this week’s sermon, we saw that Paul’s message to servants focuses on the same truth. Instead of giving a laundry lists of “how’s” or “what’s” for servants (or modern day employees) to follow, he gives three reasons why we should persevere in doing good work.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions can be found below.

** In preparation for the message, please consider reading about Paul, slaves, and the church or listening to the sermon on Ephesians 6:5–9. It will provide a necessary backdrop for understanding Paul’s words to Timothy.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

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From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

What are you supposed to do in church? What are elders supposed to do in church?
And how do elders and members work together in the church?

On Sunday I answered these questions with six “how-to’s” from 1 Timothy 5:17–25. In this section to Timothy about elders, Paul gives inspired counsel for providing for how to honor elders, protect elders, rebuke (sinning) elders, and appoint elders—to name a few things Paul says.

You can hear the whole sermon online. Response questions and additional resources about elders and churches are below. Continue reading

Wise Mercy Means Supporting Tabitha, Correcting Delilah, and Encouraging Mary (1 Timothy 5:9–16)

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Wise Mercy Means Supporting Tabitha, Correcting Delilah, and Encouraging Mary (1 Timothy 5:9–16)

Why does Paul spend so much time on widows? In a letter with 113 verses, 16 of them (more than 10% of the letter) are dedicated to widows. Does Paul have a special ministry project for these women? Or is there something more central to the gospel here?

On Sunday, I answered those questions and attempted to show why care for these widows was so important to Paul. In particular, we saw how Paul’s discussion about widows is deeply connected to his concern for the gospel in Ephesus. Also, we saw how Paul’s gospel-centeredness teaches us to assess many matters in church and life today.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions are below, as are a couple important resources to seeing how the letter of 1 Timothy helps us understand these challenging verses.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds 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

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