Entrusted with the Gospel, We Can Speak With Confidence of What We Know

matrixHow do you know what you know?

Few questions may be more important for standing firm in a world full of competing voices and conflicting views. Yet, the follower of Christ does not need to fear the truthfulness of his or her faith, when that faith has been grounded in God’s revealed Word.

In contrast to every other religion that derives its views from the perspective of man, the testimony of the Bible is one where God has revealed himself to his people through Spirit-inspired Prophets and Apostles. From Moses receiving God’s Law on Sinai to the Spirit bearing witness by means of signs and wonders to the Apostles’s teaching (Heb. 2:1–4), God has entrusted his Word to men who rightly communicated his message.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul speaks often about the truthfulness of his message and the error of false teachers. And in these letters, he speaks in two ways that highlight the way God has communicated himself to the Church. The first has to do with the agreed upon truth (i.e., the content of the gospel) that God gave his disciples; the second has to do with the way God entrusted (passive tense of “believe”) his people with his words.

In his commentary on The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Robert Yarbrough nicely organizes the  places where Paul speaks in this way. And he show how Paul’s language of knowing (“we what we know”) is a technical term for the revealed word of God. Likewise, Yarbrough lists the places Paul speaks of the gospel (or God’s Word) entrusted to his people. Consider the way Paul speaks and what this means for our confidence in Scripture. Continue reading

The Lord’s Reign: Herman Bavinck on the Scriptural Sense of God’s Transcendence

paige-weber-974172-unsplash.jpgThe Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103:19 —

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
— Isaiah 57:15 —

Where is God?

In one sense, God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7–12). In another, God is outside of space and time (1 Kings 8:27). Still, in a third way, Scripture speaks of God as dwelling in heaven, high above his creation (Isa 57:15; cf. Ps. 135:6). Yet, it is important to remember God’s place in heaven is not outside of creation. Rather, it is the created place for the glorious and uncreated God to dwell within creation.

From that divine throne, God rules all creation. And in creation, God reveals himself to us in his world and in his word. Bringing these big and beautiful realities together, Herman Bavinck describes what it means for God to be over and in creation. Doctrinally, these realities are expressed by the terms transcendence and immanence. And in the newly released volume Philosophy of RevelationBavinck has this to say about a scriptural sense of God’s transcendence: Continue reading

Gospel Logic and Revelational Beauty: John Stott on Romans 1:16-20

Rom 1On Sunday I preached from Romans 1:16-32. Earlier this summer I preached from Romans 1:16-17. Last year, I preached from Romans 1:1-7. In each instance, I found great help from John Stott.

For those unfamiliar with Stott’s work, he was an evangelical Anglican who during the latter half of the twentieth century preached the gospel, championed missions, and published numerous books, especially commentaries on the New Testament. His commentaries are always brimming with insight and full of crisp clear exposition. Thus, I share a few of his remarks on Romans 1:16-20. They helped me unpack Paul’s opening argument about the gospel, and I trust they will help you as well. Continue reading

Getting a Handle on Carl F. H. Henry

Last week, I attended the Carl F. H. Henry Centennial Celebration at Southern Seminary. While there, I was reminded (or better: learned for the first time) how important Henry was. His pupils have been my teachers; his name has been mentiond with reverence; and his massive, six-volume set has overlooked my office for a year now, but I have not cracked it. Until now.

But how do you get a handle on Henry?

He is a massive figure. In evangelical history, in this theological output, and in the density of his scholarship, he is a force to be reckoned with. So, how do you begin? Continue reading

Sermon Notes: The Priest’s Particular Work (NT)

Moving from Old Testament to New, the particularity of the priestly office continues.  In fact, just as the high priest represents the 12 tribes whose names are engraved on his heart; Christ lays down his life for his church, the New Israel, those who are made new in Christ (cf. Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).

Jesus Priesthood in John’s Gospel

For instance, in John, Jesus describes his atoning work as accomplishing salvation for those who believe (3:16), for all his sheep (10:14), for all his friends (15:13), and for all those God the Father has “given to him” —Jew or Gentile.  Consider Jesus high priestly prayer,

Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:2, 6-9).

As John records it, Jesus does not reveal himself or pray uniformly to all people.  He prays for those whom the father has given him.  In priestly vernacular, he mediates only for those whose names are written on his ephod and breastpiece.

Maybe you are thinking, can we really connect Exodus 28-29 with John 17? That is a legitimate question, so it is important to see that there do seem to be some linguistic and conceptual links between the two passages.  This is most evident in verses 16-19.

They [i. e. those whom God has given to Jesus] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth

In this brief prayer, there are at least two words/ideas that were used in Exodus 28–sanctify/sanctified and consecrate.  Apparently, as Jesus anticipates his atoning death, he prays to the Father for his own.  He stakes the fact that he will consecrate himself for them, which has explicit reference to his priestly work of sacrifice, so that they might be sanctified for access into God’s holy dwelling (cf. Heb 10:19ff).  This was obviously the purpose of Exodus 25-40; and so it is with Jesus, who makes atonement not in an earthly tabernacle, but in God’s heavenly temple.  And who does he make atonement for?  According to John 17, it is those people whom the father has given.  This is not a universal group; it is God’s particular covenant people.

Jesus’s Priestly Work in John’s Apocalypse

Finally, the list of names for whom Jesus represents as priest is also given in Revelation.  For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John declares that judgment is coming upon “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  In other words, God in eternity past purposed whose names would be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Here, John is warning earth-dwellers of their impending demise, but by contrast, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be saved.  Clearly, it would be inappropriate to say that this passage refers to the ephod or the breastpiece.  However, the principle is analogous.  In both the Lamb’s Book of Life and on his priestly garments are the names of those for whom Christ died.  Again, the names indicate a particular representation for a particular people.

Likewise, in Revelation 17:8, John records, “And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” Like the earlier verse in chapter 13, John is describing those whose names are left out of the book; but that has to imply that their are others–a countless multitude in Revelation 7–whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Thus in both positive (the ephod and breastpiece) and negative (the book of life) terms, God distinguishes those whom the Lamb dies for, and those whom he does not.  As God’s appointed priest and sacrifice, God sends him to earth to be slain, so that by his blood he would ransom people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9-10).  In this way, God’s particular means of salvation are made known to all the earth; and the promise that the gospel will be universally effective is found in the fact that in every tribe, language, people, and nation, God has his chosen ones.  In this way, God’s offer of salvation can be offered to all people indiscriminately; and it has the promise of absolute efficacy, because of Christ’s perfect, priestly atonement and intercession (see Hebrews 9-10).

The Good News of Christ’s Priestly Work

This is the Good News!  Christ’s salvation cannot be revoked.  It cannot be overturned.  It will not fail.  While the Levitical priests were weak, and unable to cleanse human guilt, they did preserve the flesh.  Yet, they could never save the soul.

Not so with Jesus.  His priestly ministry is infinitely better.  For all whom he died, he effectively saved.  He is a glorious and beautiful priest!  He perfectly intercedes for all those whose name are on his vestments; he does not forget us.  We are close to his heart.  As John records, He has lost not one!  And all those who have trusted in him and repented of sin, can have glad-hearted confidence that their name is written across his heart.

May we proclaim that word all over the earth, until the priestly-king returns to reign on the earth!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Typological Model

When we think about the tabernacle, the first thing to realize is that it is more than meets the eye.  In other words, the tabernacle is built to show off theological, cosmological, and Christological truths–just to name a few.  Today, lets consider a couple of these things. 

1. A Portable Mountain of God

First up, the tabernacle’s three sections—the courtyard where the people would bring sacrifices, the holy place (the first section in the tabernacle) where the priests would work, and the holy of holies where the high priest would enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, all correspond to the pattern that Moses saw on the mountain.  A few verses prove this:

25:8-9.  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.  Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

25:40.  And see that you make them [Mercy Seat, Table, Golden Lampstand] after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

 26:30. Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. (cf. The Bronze Altar, 27:8)

 God gives Moses a vision and instruction of this tabernacle, so that Israel can see beyond it to the throne room of God—remember, most of the people never went inside, so this information has a curb appeal because of the mysterious of God’s tent.

2. The Cosmos

Second, in general and in detial, the tabernacle which is God’s earthly dwelling place with Israel is simultaneously constructed in a way that represents all creation.  Gregory Beale has proven this thesis in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  More succinctly, T. D. Alexander has followed Beale with his more popular treatment, From Eden to New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical TheologyFor our consideration, let me mention a couple verses. 

Ps 78:69.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  Clearly, this proves in a single verse the connection between the tabernacle and the construction of the universe. However, you will also find in Scripture those places where Scripture describes the reverse–the universe is God’s macrocosmic temple.

Psalm 104:1-6.  Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

 The significance of this microcosmic-macrocosmic temple is simply that what God does in Israel has cosmic significance.  God’s goal is much larger than a singular sanctuary in the Middle East; it prepares the way for Christ and the garden-temple that is revealed in Revelation 21-22.

3. Eden

Not only is Moses given a vision of God’s mountain throne and the cosmos which he upholds, what we learn in the construction of this tabernacle is the way it points back to Eden.  Notice a couple of connections.

  1. Gold in the tabernacle goes back to the gold that existed in Eden (Gen 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7, 11, 17, 31; cf. 1 Kings 6:30)
  2. The Menorah points back to tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22; Exod 25:31-35); the bread of God’s presence corresponds to the food provided by God in the garden (Gen 2:17).
  3. Angels embroidered on the Veil reflects the angel who dwelt outside Eden (Gen 3:24).
  4. That God would dwell and even walk in the midst of Israel is Eden-like (Gen 3:8; 26:12).

Significance

Now the question arises: Why does this matter?  Let me suggest two reasons.

Typology.  Each of its elements is meant to represent something else—it is like a giant object lesson for Israel and for us.  In fact, verse 40, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:5, actually uses the word “type” (typon, LXX). Thus, to understand the furniture of Exodus 25 and the tabernacle itself (26), courtyard (27), we must appreciate its symbolism and typology. (We will explore this more in the days ahead.

Telos.  Since the purpose of the tabernacle is typological, it is also eschatological.  It does point back to Eden, but even more it points ahead to a permanent rest in the land.  This is prefigured in Israel’s entrance into Canaan, but even more it foreshadows the work of Christ and the dwelling he promises in the age to come.

Thus, if you know the Bible well, you know Rev 21:22 says that in the end there will be no temple in the city, but that doesn’t deny an eternal cosmic temple.  What is a temple, but the dwelling place of God.  And what Revelation teaches is that at the end of the age the God who dwells in heaven, will again dwell with man on earth; and not just in one box-shaped tabernacle.  All creation will be his dwelling place.  The glory of God will cover the earth.

Revelation 21:16 makes this so clear in the light of Exodus 25-40.  John records that the city of God that comes down from heaven is 12,000 stadia (1380 miles) in length, width, and height.  It is a perfect cube–just like the holy of holies.

So to understand Revelation 21, we must read it with Exodus 26, and what we see is that at the end of the age, the whole earth will be as holy as the holy of holies.  So the goal of God is not a 15x15x15 golden box in Israel.  His goal is a perfect, purified world where he dwells with his redeemed.  This is what Exodus teaches us.

It beckons for a temple not made with human hands, even as it is given to Moses for the construction with human hands.  Exodus points beyond itself and leads us to see that Jesus is the builder of this better tabernacle, and if we care at all about what God has done in Christ and/or is doing, we must see look carefully at the details of the tabernacle.

May God give us eyes to see his design in this ancient tabernacle and hearts that long for the temple that is to come!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Reading Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation: Interpretive Help from Bob Fyall

In preparing to teach Daniel tonight, I re-read a great 10-page essay on how to read apocalyptic literature.

Bob Fyall, Senior Tutor in Ministry at Cornhill Scotland, and author of an excellent monograph on Job, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, has written a very helpful piece on Preaching Apocalyptic Literature. He supplies 3 traits of Apocalyptic Literature that are characteristic of this strange genre, and he gives 5 interpretive principles for preachers (and all Bible readers).

Justin Taylor pointed to this article a while back along with a number of other helpful lectures and sermons on apocalyptic literature by the likes of D.A. Carson, David Helm, Colin Smith, and Josh Moody.

I have summarized Fyall’s comments–that are worth reading in full–to give a sense of how we should read Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation, to name a few.

3 TRAITS OF APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

  1. “Apocalyptic literature tends to deal with symbolism” (e.g. numbers are often used symbolically).
  2. “Apocalyptic literature particularly emphasizes the unseen world” (e.g. the throne of God is frequently depicted).
  3. “Apocalyptic literature uses vivid language” that is easier to imagine than exegete.

5 HELPS FOR PREACHING/READING APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

  1. Fit apocalyptic literature into the Big Picture of the Bible. Apocalyptic literature (AL) is found throughout the Bible (Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew 24-25, 1 Thessalonians 2, Revelation) and it should be connected to the whole Bible.  It is often found originating in times of persecution and distress, namely the exile, and it usually reaches forward to the culmination of all things in the eschaton.  When reading AL, be sure to place it in the larger storyline of the Bible.
  2. Deal with apocalyptic literature faithfully and imaginatively. Symbolism is the stuff of AL.  Numbers and wild beasts are often used to depict historical and/or eschatological entities.
  3. Link the present with the eternal. Preaching (or Bible reading) that is only concerned with the present results in moralistic ‘platitudes;’ but preaching that disconnects the present from the future is distant an intangible.  AL however, unites the two, showing how the eternal realities of judgment, salvation, and cosmic warfare relate to the people suffering today.  It is very practical.  Since the end of the ages is coming with Christ riding on the clouds, be sober and live for his return.  Do not get drunk on this age and fall asleep in the light, but keep watching for you do not know when the Son of Man will return, but it is imminent.
  4. Link apocalyptic literature with other genres in the Bible. AL is never disconnected from other forms of prophecy and instruction in the Bible.  Revelation is described as an apocalypse, a prophecy, and a letter.  In Daniel, the Babylonian exile fuses with eschatological expectations.  Daniel 7 is a brackish inlet that combines the salt water of this world, with the fresh water of the world to come.
  5. Preach Christ. All Scripture is about Christ, and AL is no different.  Though challenging in places, making Christ the focus of our preaching (and Bible reading) will keep us centered on the main thing, one in whom God is unifying heaven and earth (Eph 1:10).  Even when details are obscure, keeping Christ at the center makes the passage sparkle with glorious revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Trinity and Progressive Revelation

Writing about the way God reveals his Triune nature over time, Geoffrey Wainwright, professor of theology at Duke, cites  Gregory Nazianzus and Irenaeus, in the Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (817)Consider first Gregory Nazianzus:

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely; the New manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit; now the Spirit himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of himself (Gregory Nazianzus in his Fifth Theological Oration 26 [SC 250:326-27]). 

God has revealed himself progressively, beginning with his oneness clearly and his threeness more subtly.  Gregory’s comment affirms this distinction, but his language could lead to a misunderstanding. First, the New Testament itself gives ample revelation for discerning the Spirit as the third member of the Trinity (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 5:3-4; and all references that designate the “Spirit of God” or the “spirit of Christ”).  We are not left seeking later revelation, the Scripture’s is sufficient.  Even if the early church required many years and disagreements to approximate this doctrinal formulation, Pneumatology is derived from the Bible and not later experience. 

Second, the Bible also teaches us that the Spirit does not “demonstrate himself” as Gregory Nazianzus indicates.  Rather, the Spirit testifies of Christ and reveals to us the Father and the Son (cf. John 15:26; 16:13); amazingly, he does not glorify himself through self-revelation.  Thus, it is not appropriate to say that the Spirit has been showing himself off during the church age.  His operations in the church age are to exalt Christ, who in turn glorifies the Father.

More precisely, Irenaeus picks up the relationship between the Trinity and the progress of revelation when he writes:

[God] having been seen in bygone days through the Spirit prophetically, and then seen through the Son adoptively, shall be seen in the kingdom paternally, the Spirit preparing man for the Son of God, the Son leading to the Father, and the Father giving him the incorruptibility and eternal life that come from the vision of God (Irenaeus in Against Heresies 4.20.5 [SC 100:638-41]).

To know God prophetically, adoptively, and paternally… Wow! Consider the wisdom and benevolence of God to send the Spirit to inspire men to prophesy and prepare us for the Son, then the Son to come and manifest himself in the flesh in order to make provision for redemption and access to the Father, so that in the age to come we might enter into the presence of the Father, through the Son, in the power and purity of the Spirit.  (By the way this should not deny the complementary truth that the Father and Son also prepared the way for the Son; just as the Spirit, sent from Father and Son, prepares us to encounter God at the eschaton).

Jonah 2:9 says, “salvation belongs to our God,” and considering the biblical storyline shows us without a doubt, that our salvation is a Trinitarian work.  He has coordinated his redemptive acts and faith-producing revelation in such a way that when we come to understand salvation truly we  realize that we encounter the Triune God (cf. Eph. 1:1-4; Rom. 8:28ff).  The Father architects.  The Son accomplishes.  The Holy Spirit applies.  There is no other salvation; there is no God: true salvation is Trinitarian and the true God in perfect unison to save.

What an amazing God!  What an amazing salvation!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Intimate Allies (pt. 4): A Biblical Theology of Marriage

Intimate Allies: A Biblical Theology of Marriage

The Bible speaks of marriage from Genesis 1 to the end of the book of Revelation… We will conclude our meditation on the Bible’s vision of marriage by exploring God’s design for marriage and sexuality as it unfolds in the narrative of Scriptures.  As we do this, we will have a glimpse at an incredible mystery.  Our marriage reflects another marriage.  God speaks of our relationship with him as a marriage.  It is amazing, but our relationship with God is so intimate that it can be understood only in light of the passion that is to be shared within a marriage union (Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, Intimate Allies [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1995],348-49).

Concluding their book on marriage, Tremper Longman and Dan Allender, sweep across the Scriptures considering the height, depth, breadth, and length of God’s love for his covenantal people.  They begin with the original creation of marriage in Genesis 1-2 and its subsequent Fall (Gen. 3).  Cast out of the Garden, they consider marriage in the OT, particularly in the Song of Solomon and the book of Hosea.  Moving into the NT, they conclude their biblical survey in Revelation 19:6-10, where God’s eternal and eschatological purposes for marriage are seen, and they conclude with culmination of all things in the summation of every marriage in Christ (cf. Luke 20:27ff).  Though brief and constrained to edit many important BT aspects of marriage, they give a helpful overview of the important turning points of marriage in the Bible.  They write:

Marriage as an institution, if not a particular relationship, can now give us a taste of heavenly realities.  It is a lens that enables us to peer into our depraved demands and into our anticipated full redemption when we are drawn into the wonder of the marraige ceremony of the Lamb.  Each moment of marriage is an anticipation of that moment when we will walk down the aisle to the Lamb’s waiting embrace.  It is also the anticipation of the day when we will ejoy the most profound, the most intimate, the most sensual (remember we will have heavenly bodies), the ultimately satisfying of relationships.  Our union with God will ignite and solidify our relationships with one another.  Truly, male and female will be one flesh again (361-62).

The Scriptures do paint a powerful portrait of God’s love for his redeemed, and they should give us pause to consider that love and the way in which our own marriages embrace and embody that heavenly reality.  Christ and his death on the cross has everything to do the day-to-day rigors of marriage.  Marital spats should be reoriented by the grace demonstrated on the cross, just as marital bonds should be strengthened by the unrequited love of God’s covenantal commitment.  It is a wonderful thing that the heavenly marriage of Christ and his church beckons us to press on toward that eternal union.  Our routine relationships are dignified by this glorious truth.  As Longman and Allender remind us, “our marriage[s] reflect another marriage,” and thus our lives have the potential to receive and reflect the glory and grace of the love of Christ.  This is good news that should strengthen our marriages.

May we continue to grow in grace and in truth in the love that is captured in the biblical theological vision of marriage culminated in Christ and the church.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss