On Reading Exodus: Four Approaches with Various Resources

sincerely-media-PH7TOStghPA-unsplashAs we move from Genesis to Exodus in Track 1 of the Via Emmaus Reading Plan, here are resources for the second book of Moses. If you missed the first month’s resources for Genesis, you can look here. Below is a recap on the Via Emmaus Reading Plan and a number of helps for reading Exodus.

The Via Emmaus Reading Plan

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Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah


If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading

Sermon Notes: How to Avoid Getting Lost on the Way from Leviticus 15 to Luke 15

On Monday, I suggested a five-fold system, a Gospel-Positioning System (GPS), to get you from obscure passages in the Law through the Prophets to Christ and the Gospel.  These five-steps are listed again.

1. Law
2A. Prophets: Judgment
2B: Prophets: Salvation
3: Christ
4: Gospel Response
5: Spirit-Empowered Action 

Today, I want to suggest four common errors that plague evangelicals today. Four ways we misread the Scriptures.

1. We skip from 1 to 5.  In pursuit of application and life-change, we read a command, a law, even a story, and we immediately move to application. Instead, of asking how the said pericope fits into the flow the Bible (i.e. textual, epochal, and canonical horizons), many of us move straight to activity.  This is wrong.  It misses the power of the law, the promise of the gospel, and the person of Jesus.  In effect, it makes the Bible about us, and no longer about Jesus.  The solution?  We must move from law through the prophets to Jesus Christ and then to us.  Personal application is vitally important but only after we encounter Christ.

2. We are afraid of 2A & 2B.  The prophets frighten us.  They are strange.  They don’t talk normal. They are hard to understand.  I get this!  I remember reading Isaiah 13-20 one time.  As I read the pronouncements against Babylon, Damascus, and Moab, I got upset.  Not because God was punishing these sinning nations, but because, “I needed a word from God, and this was not it”–so I thought.  I closed the Bible (for that day) upset, because I hadn’t seen how those words related to the rest of the Bible or my life.

If you have had an experience like that with the Prophets, it makes it hard to be a regular reader of that challenging genre.  Yet, to neglect the prophets is to neglect the greatest section of the Bible for fueling Christ-centered hope.

Maybe this will help: The prophets get a lot easier if we remember two things. First, they are speaking a word of judgment, based on the law against sinners like us.  Their words condemn covenant-breakers, social injustice, and unfaithful worship.  They speak to us about our sin.

Second, they are speaking a word of Messianic hope, based on the gospel. They give us glorious images of the Christ who is to come.  They offer salvation to sinful people, and the reality that God is going to bring recreate the world.  If we remember these two things and tie a rope from the law to the gospel, we can learn to walk thru these strange books.

3. We minimize 3.  This may sound strange, to minimize Jesus, but I have heard countless evangelical, Baptist preachers (and you have too) who preach and never mention Him.  Instead they list moral instructions from the life of Joseph or Caleb, and at the end say, “Unless you are Christian you cannot do what I just said.  So become a Christian.”

Friends, this is Christ-less preaching.  It has no power and I can hardly believe that a message without the content of Christ, will bring anyone nearer to our Lord and Savior.  In fact, it is disingenuous, to tell anyone to become a Christian after you have spent 40 minutes preaching moral lessons and not telling them about Christ.  Yet, this happens all too often.

4. We divorce 1-4 from 5.  If we are tempted to skip Jesus, we are more culpable of divorcing the gospel from application. In other words, we read the Bible for application, and we find all kinds of commands that say—Make disciples.  Love one another.  Be unified.  Forgive your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.

Yet, those commands have ZERO POWER, in and of themselves. These biblical commands are good, but in Scripture they are always set in relation to gospel promises.  To say it another way, imperatives are always grounded in gospel infinitives.  Why?  Because laws never produce godliness!  Grace produces godliness (Titus 2:11-13).

Jesus commands his disciples to be witnesses to all the nations, but he commands them to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes so they will have power to do what he commands.  Paul tells us to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you.  The power is in the gospel.  Failure to couple commands with Christ’s antecedent work, will lead earnest Christians to live the Christian life in the power of their own strength.

Instead, we must move to application and action, but as we do so, we must continue to walk in faith, loving others out of the love that has been poured into our hearts.

This is my prayer and hope!  That as we read Scripture, our minds are not just informed.  Rather, our eyes are opened to behold Christ and to become like him. Indeed, Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by his word (John 17:17), and that comes to fruition when in his word, we see Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).

Open our eyes, Lord to see the wonder of Christ in the pages of Scripture, dss

Ten Ways to Help You Read Leviticus

What is the Bible about?

Well, if you are reading through the Bible this year, during the month of February, the Bible is all about food laws, leprosy inspections, and instructions about bodily discharges.  Exciting stuff!

For twenty-first century readers, understanding the significance of Leviticus, the book of the Bible where these things are found, can be difficult.  In fact, I am sure the book of Leviticus has been the rocky coast on which many Bible-reading plans have crashed.  Nevertheless, the book plays an important role in the life of the Christian, even as it played an important role in the lives of Ancient Israelites.  Granted, we live in a different redemptive era (post-Incarnation/Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension/Pentecost), but the truth is, to understand any of these NT events requires a general familiarity with the Levitical laws.

So, with the aim of reading the Bible better, I want to suggest 10 things to keep in mind as you read Leviticus, 10 things that you may find helpful as you make your way through the Bible in 2010.

  1. Pray.  Ask God to help you understand his Word.  The same Holy Spirit who dwells in you, if you are a believer, inspired these words.  He will guide you into all truth, just the Bible promises (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).  He illumines our eyes and he bears witness to Christ and he will show you how Leviticus points to Jesus, if you will ask him (and then read).
  2. Remember that this is God’s word.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful.  The truth about Leviticus is:  IT IS USEFUL.  You just have to sort out how.  While it is true that not all sections of the Bible carry the same kind of “devotional punch””–compare Leviticus 1-7 with Isaiah 53–every word is inspired by God and necessary to complete his perfect revelation.  Moreover, every word carries precious truth that believers need, which leads to our next point.
  3. Recall that all Scripture is inter-connected.  Thus, a passage like Isaiah 53 with it address of sin, its sacrificial imagery and intercessory prayer requires the background that Leviticus provides.  Without Leviticus, Isaiah 53 is almost unintelligible.  In the NT, Leviticus is sixth on the list of books quoted by NT authors.  Excise Leviticus from the Bible, or your Bible reading, and it is impossible to understand what Jesus is saying when the Greatest Commandment includes loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).  See also Rom 10:5’s use of Lev. 18:5, and 1 Peter 1:16 quotation of Leviticus 19:2).  Practically speaking, if reading Leviticus fails to stir your soul, read a chapter or two and then turn to Hebrews to see the fulfillment of Leviticus in Christ. 
  4. Recognize the symbolism.  The book of Leviticus is filled with symbolism.  God’s OT instructions are physical, tangible, and visible means of introducing himself to his people.  These sacrifices picture the kind of penalty sin requires, just as they demonstrate the kind of love that God has in providing a means of atonement and reconciliation.  In other words, read Leviticus typologically, looking for the types that find their antitype (i.e. fulfillment) in Jesus.
  5. Read with Christ in view. Many if not most of these symbols prefigure the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the law that Christ fulfills, the cross on which Jesus bleeds, and the Spirit that he pours out at Pentecost all find significant explanation in Leviticus.  If you want to know more about the gospel, the laws of Leviticus are a good instructor.
  6. Look for themes.  There are tremendous gospel themes running through Leviticus.  Take out a pen or a colored pencil (if you are into that) and mark up the places where these themes irrupt.  Tomorrow I will list a number of helpful themes to pick up, but for now look for things ‘atonement,’ ‘blood,’ ‘holiness,’ the work of the ‘priest.’  By keeping your eyes open (figuratively) looking for themes, it will help you keep your eyes open (literally) when you read through this unfamiliar book.
  7. Look for purpose statements.  For instance, Leviticus 15:31 concludes a long section on cleanliness laws saying, “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”  Here Moses records the YHWH’s reason for the meticulous laws about bodily discharges and other matters of cleanliness.  By noticing these purpose statements, you can discern why God requires Israel to do all these things.  (See also Leviticus 9:6, 22-24; 11:46-47).
  8. Read with imagination.  As you read about the sacrifices, imagine what that must have looked like, sounded like, smelled like.  Our worship services today are very, very sanitary.  Even the food we eat at the Lord’s Supper is package so that we do not stain the carpets or our clothes.  This is entirely different from the OT>  In in the OT, without blood stains, the people would have perished.  So read with imagination as you encounter the elaborate descriptions. 
  9. Read with others.  Talk about what you are reading with others in your church.  Ask your pastor or Sunday School teacher to teach through the Bible.  Look for ways to walk through the Bible together.  Reading the Bible is personal, but it should never be private.  Recruit others to read with you.
  10. Invest in a Study Bible.  As you read Leviticus or any other book of the Bible, you will inevitably have questions.  Or at least, you should.  Is the leprosy described in Leviticus the same as today’s leprosy? (No).  Why is it always a male animal that is sacrificed?  My personal suggestion is the ESV Study Bible.   That is what I read, and it has many, many helps for discerning the historical and cultural significance of what I am reading.
  11. Read in small doses and with other books of the Bible.  Okay, so I said ten, but here is one more.  Like the Big Ten which has eleven schools, so our list includes an extra idea for those who still struggle.  If all else fails, read Leviticus in small doses, maybe even in smaller doses than your Bible reading plan suggests.  If it takes 13 months to read the Bible, that’s okay.  The point is that you are enriched by God’s life-giving word.  Even if you have to treat Leviticus like eating vegetables–mixing it in with other foods or in small portions–the point is that you take God at his word and benefits from this book, because at the end of the day it will help you know and love Jesus Christ more for the high priest that he is and the sacrfice that he made.

These are just a few suggestions to aid your reading of this important book.  I hope you see that the gospel of Jesus Christ depends on our understanding of God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, the need of sacrifice and atonement, and the work of a life-giving high priest; and that no book is better to teach you about these things than Leviticus. 

If you have other suggestions on reading this book, please do share.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology: The Second Mark of a Healthy Church Member

Whether you know it or not, you are a theologian!  

Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), you are irreversibly created to think thoughts about God.    But whether or not you are a good ‘theologian’ is another story.   While everyone thinks about God — even the atheist who denies his existence — the unanswered question is “Do you think true and right thoughts about the triune God who made you?” 

Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:47 reminds us that the Word of God “is not merely a trifle, it is your life!”  Accordingly, we who want to grow in our relationship with God, who want to be healthy church members are those who must grow in our knowledge and love for the “macro-story” of the Bible.  In truth, our salvation and knowledge of God depend on it. 

Studying the second mark of Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), I suggested 5 ways to grow as  “biblical theologians,”  and I share them with you now:

(1) Find a Bible reading plan and set a course to read the Bible cover-to-cover. This exercise will familiarize yourself with God’s wise and gracious plan of salvation and insure that you see over the course of a year or two all that God has done in this age and in the age to come.  There are many helpful reading plans that can set your pace, as well as, resources to shed light on the Bible as you read. D.A. Carson’s two books,  For the Love of God: Volume 1 and For the Love of God: Volume 2 are excellent companions to your journey through the Bible.  Likewise The ESV Study Bible is another excellent reference for reading the Bible.

(2) Read an introductory book on Biblical Theology.  If you are new to the idea of biblical theology, Vaughan Robert’s book, God’s Big Picture is the best introductory work on the subject.  An intermediate work that also has an informative section on how to interpret the Bible is Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan.  For advanced “biblical theologians,” Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology is the standard.   

Finally, whether you are a novice or an expert in biblical theology, let me encourage you to invest $35 in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology — no single resource is better written to help you see the broad strokes of the biblical story.  Its short treatments of every book of the Bible and hundreds of articles–again short–will illumine many key themes and ideas present in the Bible, but often missed on account of unfamiliarity.  In the word of Nike, Just Do It!   

If you have kids, God’s Big Picture Story Bible is just as critical.  Rejecting the moralism that fills so many children’s story Bibles, God’s Big Picture Story Bible synthesizes the Bible into 40 managable chapters–short sentences and captivating pictures.  It takes the biblical themes of God’s King, God’s People, and God’s Place and shows how they all relate to Jesus.  It is excellent! 

(3) Read the Bible with eyes open to the intra-textual connections between the OT – NT connections.  Looking for ways that the OT promises, prepares, and pictures the coming of Christ is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Old Testament Scriptures.  How else can we read the Old Testament, but as New Covenant Christians.  See John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-49; 1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 for examples of how the New Testament authors read the OT. 

(4) In your Bible, write down personal cross-references when you make any inter-textual connection.  For instance, when you see Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23, or when you read the story of the serpent being lifted up in the desert in Numbers 21, scribble in the margin the John 3:14-16 connection.  There is no better way to get around the Bible then to install a personal set of markers and street signs that will help you remember that you have been here before.  Yes, this does presuppose that you are reading the Bible :-) 

(5) Learn from the experts.  Matthew, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Jude, indeed all the NT authors were Biblical Theologians par excellence.  Fortunately for us, they have left us with plenty of samples of how to relate the Christ of the NT to the promises of the OT.  For instance, notice the way Matthew begins his gospel applying the OT to Christ; read Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 where he traces biblical history from Abraham to Solomon; study Paul’s sermons in Acts 13 and 17 to see his reading of the OT (cf. Rom. 4; 9-11; Gal. 3-4); or examine the book of Hebrews and the way it presents Christ as superceding all of the OT offices, sacrifices, and promises. 

Finally, if Biblical Theology is still a mystery, let me encourage you to simply keep reading.  The Spirit of Christ will open your eyes to the truth of God’s word as you come to the Bible with humility and faith.  As Paul told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). 

God has not freed us from thinking, but he has promised to help.  He has promised that his word will never return void (Isa 55:10-11), that the one who studies it will be refreshed and rewarded (Ps. 19:7-11), and that he given us his Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth (1 John 2:27).   Remember: the men who confounded the world with the wisdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ were ordinary, uneducated fishermen who had simply been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). 

May that be said of us too!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss