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

Becoming Like the One We Behold: Why Seeing Christ in Scripture is Necessary for Biblical Exposition

swapnil-dwivedi-246205Q. Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?

A. Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.

When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give—

  • because this is how the apostles preached in Acts,
  • because the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ,
  • because the Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation,
  • or because Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.

Still, the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, in my estimation, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

In conjunction with the truth that we become like what we behold (see Psalm 115:8; 135:18), this verse teaches us that when we “see” Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5–6) in his beauty and glory, his humility and love, we will become like him. However, when we read Scripture without seeing Christ, or worse if we read Scripture with an intention not see how every passage relates to Jesus Christ, then we will grow in knowledge of the Bible but without growing in affection for Christ. Ever wonder how men and women who know the Bible could be so arrogant or divisive? Might it be due to reading Scripture, without falling in love with Christ?

Indeed, this is why we have the Bible—to know the triune God through the full and final revelation of Christ (see Hebrews 1:1–2:4). And when led by the Spirit, such knowing comes with the stirring of affections. And with those affections, our hearts are enlarged for God through our loving trust in Christ. Then, as a result, our lives are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

For me, this is why preaching Christ is not exercise in erudition, but a necessary part of faithful exposition—showing how the whole Bible comes together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). And thankfully, this approach to Christ is not novel. Indeed, it is the way many in the church has approached Christ in Scripture. For instance, in reading Richard Sibbes recently, I came across his own passion for seeing Christ. In meditating on Matthew 12:18, which quotes from Isaiah 42:1, he explains the relationship of these two passages and how seeing Christ is necessarily transformative. Here’s what Sibbes says,

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding. If we look upon him with the eye of faith, it will us like Christ; for the gospel is a mirror, and such a mirror, that when we look into it, and see ourselves interested in it, we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ. For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ, but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God doth, who hated so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God.man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving for us, this will transform us to love God. When we see the humility and obedience of Christ, when we look on Christ as God’s chosen servant in all this, and as our surety and head, it transforms us to the like humility obedience. Those that find not their dispositions in some comfortable measure wrought to this blessed transformation, they have not yet those eyes that the Holy Ghost requireth here. ‘Behold my servant whom chosen, my beloved in whom my soul delighteth,’ (Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in The Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:14)

Glorious! To see Christ, as revealed in Scripture by the Spirit, is to become like him.

So, if you preach the Bible, make sure you preach Christ—in his humility and exaltation, his cross and resurrection, his deity and humanity, as Creator and Redeemer, as Son of God and God the Son, as the Way to the Father, and as the Sender (with the Father) of the Spirit, the head of the church, and the Lord of the nations. Indeed, as Sibbes observes, it is only by seeing Christ that we will be become like him. And thus preachers (and all Christians) must pray and seek and desire to see Christ from all the Scriptures; we must learn how to read all of Scripture to see Christ.

And why is that so important? Because only by seeing him will we become like him—the purpose for which we were created and redeemed. As Romans 8:29 puts it, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Reformed in our thinking. Conformed in our living. Transformed in our affections. This is what happens when we see Christ, and thus we must endeavor to behold him from all the Scriptures.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

Prayer That Works: Praying to the Father, for the Spirit, to Fill the Church with Christ’s Manifold Love (Ephesians 3:14–21)

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Prayer That Works (Ephesians 3:14–21)

In recent years, few passages have captured my imagination more than Ephesians 3:14–21. That is to say, few texts of Scripture have struck me with such a vision for the need for prayer in the church and prayer for the church, and hence my own need to pray more for the church.

In Ephesians 1–3:13, Paul outlines a glorious vision of the church created by Christ’s cross and unified by God’s Spirit. And in Ephesians 4:1–6:24, Paul instructs the church how to walk with God. But in between, he connects these two halves with a prayer for the Father to give the Spirit in order for Christ’s people to overflow with his love. In addition to being a glorious trinitarian prayer, this prayer sums up all Paul has said about salvation and sets up all he will say to the church about walking in the Spirit.

As I said, for all that I’ve read (and preached) about prayer and the church, no vision of prayer in the church has been more instructive for me than this passage. And I pray that as you study this passage, or listen to this sermon, or dive into the resources below, you too will catch a vision for what God wants to do in the church, and why prayer to the Father, for the Spirit to fill his people with the love of Christ is so vital for triune glory of God to be seen in the church. Speaking personally, Ephesians 3:14–21 helped crystallize the need for such prayer, and I pray it will catalyze you to pray as well. Continue reading

An Argument for the (Selective) Use of Visual Aids in Expositional Preaching

karl-fredrickson-27507For me, few things are more exciting than studying the Word of God and considering how to apply and communicate God’s truth to others. Following a pattern set forth by Ezra (7:10), to study the Word, apply the Word, and teach the Word, is a glorious privilege. And yet, few things are more daunting or discouraging!

For all the gold that we find in Scripture (Psalm 19:10–11), we must communicate it with lips of dust. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we struggle to do so. In fact, discouragement and difficulty is a preacher’s common companion. As Paul queried about the ministry of the new covenant, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16). The answer is, “No one is sufficient” Therefore, we must trust God and his Spirit to accomplish what we cannot.

At the same time, we should learn a thing or two about preaching the Word over time. For instance, this summer as I preached on the Psalms, I learned that sometimes it is exceedingly beneficial to use visual aids. As someone committed to expositional preaching, it has been my conviction to employ word pictures not visual aids. But this summer, as I preached through the Psalms, I learned that sometimes word pictures are best captured through visual imagery. Continue reading

Resources for Reading the Psalms Canonically

libraryOver the summer, I preached a series of messages on the Psalms. I argued that they are one unified book telling the story of salvation. In their midst the reader finds a movement from lament to praise and a series of peaks and valleys that follow the course of redemptive history from David (in Books 1 and 2) to the exile of David and Israel (in Book 3) to the establishment of Yahweh’s kingdom (in Book 4) to the coming kingdom of a New David (in Book 5).

As I preached this series, I was greatly helped by a number of resources. I’ve included many of them below. If you are interested in understanding the Psalms as one, unified and intentionally-arranged book, these articles, chapters, and books are a great start. If you have other key resources not listed here, please share them in the comments. I’d love to see how others are understanding the Psalms and their glorious message of grace.

In what follows you will find:

  1. Sermons
  2. Articles
  3. Academic Articles
  4. Book Chapters (with annotated notes)
  5. Books (with annotated notes)
  6. Commentaries (with annotated notes)
  7. Videos and Infographics

I pray these resources are helpful and that they increase your passion for the Psalms.  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

Reading the Psalms from the Beginning: How Reading the Psalms Canonically Is More Ancient Than Modern

focusIs a canonical approach to the Psalms a new creation, or the invention of modern scholars? Or do we do we find anything like it in church history?

This important question was raised recently and I didn’t have a one-stop, go-to resource to provide an answer in the affirmative. Indeed, most studies advocating the canonical reading do not spend great time on interpretive strategies in early church. Rather, most focus on, in the words of Hans Frei, the “Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative,” and the biblical-theological need and warrant to read the Psalms as a literary whole.

Still the question lingers. Is a canonical approach merely a recent invention. Providentially, my reading on the Psalms took me to David Mitchell’s work , The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalmswhere he spends fifty pages tracing the history of psalm interpretation. In his first chapter, he give a resounding ‘yes’ to the question, order and arrangement have always been taken into consideration until the modern period of hermeneutics. Only since the Enlightenment, with its skepticism towards the supernatural inspiration of the Bible, has an atomized approach to the Psalms been the norm.

In what follows I summarize his research and outline why we can have great confidence that a canonical approach to the Psalms is not just a modern invention, it is a recovery and an amplification of the Christian practice of reading the Bible as God’s inspired word. Continue reading

From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House (Psalms 73–89)

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From Exaltation to Exile: The Tragic Fall of David’s House

In his chapter on the Psalms, Paul House writes of Book 3, Psalms 73–89:

Subtle shifts in tone, superscriptions and content leading up to historical summaries in Psalms 78 and 89 indicate that part three [Psalms 73–89] reflects Israel’s decline into sin and exile. This national demise occurs in about 930–587 B.C. and has been described previously in 1 Kings 12–1 Kings 25 as well as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve. The view of history found here matches that in the Prophets: Israel’s covenant breaking led God to rebuke, and then reject, the chosen people and to expel them from the promised land. These Psalms portray this rebuke and rejection against a background of the remnants faith struggles and the Lord’s patience. (Old Testament Theology, 413–14)

In Sunday’s message I attempted to show some of the history of Judah that stands behind the events of Book 3. I argued that by learning the history of David’s sons and listening to the priestly heralds of Book 3 we come to learn about Israel’s hope and our own hope. Whereas the sins of David’s sons led to the demise of their throne, God would ultimately remain faithful, as it evidenced throughout Book 3 and even more in Books 4 and 5.

While fulling getting our hands on the history and poetry of Israel challenges us—we are, after all, removed from Israel’s history by over 3,000 years and differing languages—it is evident that devastating fall afflicts David’s house and the house of the Lord between the end of Book 2 and the end of Book 3. Psalm 72 shows the exalted throne of David, now given to Solomon; Psalm 89 shows the crown of David thrown into the dust.

In the infographic, I try to show some of the probable connections that make up the details of Book 3, as it gives the soundtrack of David’s falling house. Discussion questions below focus on Psalm 89. And sermon audio and sermon notes are also available. (You can find a list of observations related to Psalm 74 and 2 Chronicles 10–12 here). Continue reading

A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

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A Parade and a Pacemaker: Getting Into the Psalms, So That the Psalms Get Into You

After three weeks away from preaching, and hearing three faithful sermons on Psalms 22–24, Psalm 73, and Psalm 88, I took to the pulpit again yesterday. And instead of jumping into Book 3 of the Psalms, I sought to answer one question: How do we get into the Psalms? Or more precisely, how does a canonical approach to the Psalms apply to our daily devotions?

Comparing the Psalms to Christ-anticipating parade, I made the case that we must read the Psalms

  1. With Christ as our guide,
  2. Consistently,
  3. Prayerfully,
  4. Canonically,
  5. Consecutively, and
  6. With Christ as our goal.

You can listen to the message here or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a few resources. Continue reading

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.