Our Long-Awaited Hope: Seeing God’s *Son* Through the Scriptures

hope

From where does hope come? And why does it take so long to get here? 

In our microwave age of instant information and Siri solutions, we don’t wait well. Yet, Christianity is a religion of patient endurance, long-suffering, and waiting—pure and simple waiting. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are told to wait. After the Exodus, Israel is forced to wait forty years because of their sinful unbelief, and at the other end of the Old Testament, Israel is left waiting for their messiah to bring a new exodus. Just the same in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:12 instructs, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We should probably take it as axiomatic, then, that God wants his people to wait. Anyone who has ever prayed knows that the waiting is where God does his working. Saints are not matured in a day; they are formed in periods of years, decades, and generations. Hence, in this season of Christmas when we reenact Israel’s waiting of the Christ’s birth, we do well to think about the way that God promised his Son, so that in our waiting, hope would flourish.

From Genesis 3:15 to Jesus (to Revelation 12 too), the promise of a child-savior runs through the Bible. During Advent, we remember most explicitly the details related to the Angelic host, the Magi, and the Bethlehem Star, but God’s inspired apostles also send us back into the Old Testament to remember all that led up to Christ’s birth. Thus, in keeping with the pattern of waiting and watching in Scripture, it is worth observing just how and how often and how long God prepared the way for Jesus to come through a myriad of promises and prototypes leading up to the birth of Immanuel, God with us. (Fittingly, what follows is not short. But how could it be? The arrival of Christ’s birth took millennia.)

What follows is a thread of verses that trace how God prepared the way for Jesus. It begins with God’s promise of son in Genesis 3:15 and continues to see how this theme is expanded and developed through the history of Israel. It’s not a short journey, but neither was the voyage the Magi took to worship Jesus (approx. 500 miles in around two months time). In this age of fast-paced consumerism, may God give us grace to look long and longingly at the Messiah whose arrival took millennia to achieve, and may God produce fresh hope in us for the second advent of God’s Son. Continue reading

A Reformation Day Meditation: The Law, the Gospel, and Martin Luther

 

martinRemember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
– Hebrews 13:7 –

Today, October 31, the world celebrates Halloween. But Protestants with a sense of history will celebrate the birth of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517 the Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther, “published” his grievances against the Roman Catholic Church’s system of indulgences. In an era before “open letters” and the Internet, Luther “published” his “95 Theses” to the Wittenberg Castle Door.

We celebrate this event not because it divided Protestants from Catholics, but because it recaptured the gospel from the clutches of a corrupt church. The Protestant Reformation esteems the centrality of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and salvation that comes entirely by God’s grace through Spirit-empowered faith. In other words, the Reformation reclaimed five solas: Solus Christus (in Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Sola Fide (through faith alone), Sola Scriptura (from the Scripture alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of this monumental event. In remembrance of this, our church will take time in 2017 to consider its historical and theological significance. For some of you, you may be interested in attending ‘No Other Gospel” a conference in Indianapolis (April 3–5) hosted by The Gospel Coalition. (Fittingly, the price goes up after today). For others, you may be interested in studying the five solas. Matthew Barrett has edited a new series on The Five Solas by authors like Thomas Schreiner and Steve Wellum. I would commend them to you.

For now, let’s reflect briefly on the gospel which the Reformation recovered. Continue reading

Calvinism in Context: Psalm 106:6–12

red seaThen they believed his words; they sang his praise.
— Psalm 106:12 —

Speaking of the law (Hebrews 10:1), the festivals and the Sabbath (Col 2:19), the New Testament regularly understands God’s redemption in Israel as a “shadow” or “type” of the redemption procured by Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:31, for instance, Jesus discusses his “departure” (read: “exodus,” exodon) with Moses and Elijah. Truly all the saving events of the Old Testament prefigure the saving events of the New.

Psalm 106 is no different. In that glorious Psalm, the author remembers the work of God to save Israel from Egypt. Running like a thread through the Psalm is the sin of Israel (e.g., vv. 6, 13, 21, 24-25, 28, 39, etc.), followed by the grace of God to save (vv. 10, 23, 30, 44-46).

More particularly, when the people sinned God sent a mediator. In Egypt, it was Moses; at Baal-Peor, it was Phineas. Even in Psalm 105, we discover God saved his people through the previous “sending” of Joseph to Egypt. In truth, God demonstrates his love for Israel, in that while they were still sinning God sent Joseph, Moses, and Phineas to “save” his people from destruction. In this way, Psalm 105 and 106 foreshadow the kind of salvation God would ultimately give in Jesus Christ.

In fact, situated as the final Psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, Psalm 106 perfectly sets up the culminating redemption anticipated in Book V of the Psalter. The God who reigns (see Pss 90–99), will accomplish salvation once and for all, by sending his final mediator, his own son, to bring salvation to his people.

Psalm 106: A Pattern of Regeneration 

Narrowing our focus, Psalm 106 foreshadows Christ’s work of redemption and specifically the doctrine of effectual calling, with regeneration preceding faith. While not speaking of “regeneration”, the movement from depravity, to redemption, to faith in Psalm 106 is instructive.  Continue reading

What Does the Bible Say about the Doctrine of Election?

electionIn the Bible, the word “election” is used in a number of ways. For instance, in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks of “the elect” (vv. 22, 24, 31); in Romans 9 Paul explains “God’s purpose of election” (v. 11); and in Ephesians 1:4–6, Paul says the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” and “in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” These are but three examples that undergird the doctrine of election.

While debated, the doctrine is plainly biblical. ‘Chose,’ ‘elect,’ ‘election,’ and ‘predestined’ are Bible words. And when they are read in conjunction with passages that speak of God’s unique relationship with his sheep (John 10:26), his children (John 11:51–52), the ones given to the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17), and his appointment of some to believe (Acts 13:48), the evidence for unconditional election is incredibly strong. As George Mueller said of the doctrines that he once thought “devilish,”[1]

Being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.[2]

That being said, my point is not so much to advance a theological argument for the doctrine of election, but to observe more plainly how the Bible speaks of election. As Mueller stated, the New Testament authors assumed election was true. It was, in fact, part of their cultural heritage. The Jewish people were the covenant people because God chose them from among the nations (Deut 7:7). Yahweh blessed apart from the Gentiles (Rom 9:1–3). Accordingly, the doctrine of election is commonplace in the New Testament. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: A Messy Meal for Messy People

traySilver trays, clean hands, fresh bread, sterile cups, and a well-ordered room may be just a few of the things that keep us from seeing how messy the Lord’s Supper is. And how the Lord’s Supper is for messy people.

Think about it. The cross of Christ was invented to be the most horrendous bodily experience known to man. It is reported that spectators sometimes vomited as they watched the crucifixion. One account describes the physical effects of the cross this way.

Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer them. They would curse at their tormenters while urinating and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent, and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross (Death by Love, 25).

In Jesus’ case, we know he did not use his remaining hours to malign his accusers. Rather, he prayed for those who killed him; he granted pardon to the thief next to him; he cared for the mother who had once caressed him; and he prayed to the God who was abandoning him. In all of these ways, Jesus’ death was wholly other. And yet, his body beaten and bleeding, lacerated and lashed to the cross, was a mess.

From what we know of crucifixions at the time, Jesus’ “cross was likely already covered in the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive that crosses were recycled; therefore, Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood, sweat, and tears of countless other men who had walked that same path before him” (ibid.). All in all, Christ’s crucifixion was anything but a sanitary affair.

Pure and holy? Absolutely!

Clean and sterile? Hardly! Continue reading

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

childrenDaniel Akin has rewritten the article that he and Albert Mohler wrote on where infants go when they die (HT: Denny Burk). It’s entitled,”Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” In his brief essay, he gives six biblical reasons why we can know that infants and those who die before the “age of accountability” die in the Lord. Here they are:

  1. The grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 John 4:8)
  2. When the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died, David spoke as one who trusted that he would see this child again in the presence of God. (2 Samuel 12:15-18)
  3. Those who know sin and choose to do it are held accountable; those who do not know the difference are not. At the judgment seat, it is our sins done in the body that will be judged. (Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; James 4:17; Revelation 20:11–15)
  4. When Jesus speaks of the kingdom, he seems to indicate the presence of children in heaven. (Luke 18:15–17)
  5. Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great. This points to the fact that those who die as children will be received into heaven. (Revelation 7:9) 
  6. Some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb. (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15)

Interestingly, just days before I came across President Akin’s update, I wrote my own essay for our church. Some of my arguments stem from his earlier essay; some come from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-WhirlAltogether, I pray they may encourage and assist you (or someone you love) as you grieve the loss of a child who has been called home by King Jesus.

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

Continue reading

John 3:16: A Word-by-Word Meditation

john316For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Last night I preached at Bethel Baptist Church in North Vernon on who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and what it means to believe in him. (You can find the audio here). My text was John 3:16, actually John 3:14–16, and I sought to help those at Bethel’s revival service to understand how God is inviting them to come and be saved by faith in his Son.

John 3:16 is the gospel in miniature, a veritable gold mine for precious truth, and a passage that solidifies the believer’s faith with every word. Indeed, it seems that every single word contributes to the beauty of the verse. So, with that in mind, I want to run through the verse, word-by-word.

God

While there are many so-called ‘gods’ in the world (even if someone doesn’t call them what they are), there is only One, True, and Living God. He is the triune God who has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The One who promised to turn back the curse through Abraham’s offspring, the holy God who gave Moses the law, the God who promised an eternal throne to a son of David, the God who inspired the prophets, and turned all of history to bring salvation to the world through the Incarnation of God the Son.

Specifically, in John 3:16 “God” refers to the Father, the One sent his Son to redeem the world. In this sense, he is not some angry deity in the sky who demands blood atonement; he is the loving Father who redeemed sinners by the voluntary death of the Son. This is the God of John 3:16. Continue reading

The Ultimate Question: How Do I Know I Will Go to Heaven When I Die?

cemeteryHow do I know I am saved and will go to heaven when I die?

This is the ultimate question, isn’t it?! At least, it is for those who take God’s word about heaven and hell seriously. And it’s weight is even greater for those facing a terminal disease or deploying for military service. But it isn’t just for those who feel threatened by death. Since each of us are ignorant of what tomorrow may hold, the question of our eternal destiny is of ultimate importance.

Fortunately, in his love, God did not leave the pathway to heaven hidden. In John 14:6 Jesus said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that all who trust in him will go to the Father in heaven. Writing later in another epistle, John says again that everything comes down to knowing, loving, and trusting Jesus: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the son does not have life.” So here is the million-dollar question: What does it mean to have the Son?
Continue reading

What is Saving Faith?

faithOn Easter as we call people to repent of sin and believe on Christ, it is worth our time to consider the essential nature of saving faith. Therefore, from Romans 4 I have gleaned eight truths about saving faith. I am sure this list is not exhaustive, but I pray it will help you think about the kind of faith you have in Christ.

Saving Faith

1. Saving Faith responds to the one, true and living God. 

Verse 3 says, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'” In context, this citation of Genesis 15:6 is the driving force for Paul to appeal to Abraham. In Romans 3 Paul wrapped up his argument that every Jew and Gentile has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (v. 23); the wrath of God stands to condemn all men for their sin (1:18; 2:5; 3:18), unless they have faith in God.

Thus as Paul explains what saving faith is in Romans 4, he quotes or alludes to Genesis 15:6 at least nine times (vv. 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23, 24). Paul’s point is to show that those who believe in the God of Abraham will find legal pardon—i.e., God will reckon them righteous by means of faith in him. What follows are the stipulations attached to that justifying faith, but first foremost saving faith is faith in God. Continue reading

Raised with Christ: How the Dead Come Alive

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading Richard Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of SalvationHalfway through, the point that has had the most impact on me is his section on resurrection and union with Christ. His major point is that when Christ was raised from the dead, we who are in union with Christ, were raised too. Leaning on the firstfruits imagery of 1 Corinthians 15:20, he shows how Paul understood Christ’s resurrection as of a piece with our resurrection.

The implications of this are manifold, but let me mention three:

(1) In Christ, we experience the resurrection now in our “inner man” as God makes us alive in Christ (Eph 2:5). Thus, the resurrection is not simply a future reality for the Christian, it is a present reality. The future has been pressed into the present, such that Christ’s resurrection becomes ours and makes us alive, when the resurrected Christ sends his Spirit to enliven our dead souls.

(2) The bodily resurrection that we will experience when Christ returns is not a different or second resurrection. Rather, the resurrection of believers in the future is part of the same harvest. Like Christ, we will be sown into the ground, to be raised on the last day (not the third day), but in truth, we have full assurance of this resurrection because Christ has been raised from the dead.

(3) Those who are made alive in their inner man are the ones who will be physically resurrected at the second coming. To say it more forcefully, only those who have resurrection life now (expressed in faith, repentance, spiritual fruit, etc.) will be raised with Christ then, when the harvest is completed.

Altogether, his thoughts have been swirling in my mind as I prepare to preach Romans 4:25 this Sunday: “Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” It is a glorious reality that Christ’s resurrection not only vindicates his righteousness (1 Timothy 3:16), but his justification/vindication is my justification/vindication by means of union with him.

Keeping all that in mind, I came across this video (HT: Glen Scrivener) which wonderfully depicts with “lightning bolt cords” the way that Christ’s resurrection raises me and you (if you are in Christ) from the dead. Take five minutes to watch, and marvel at how God justifies us by the death and resurrection of his Son.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss