The Center of the Sermon on the Mount: Twelve Truths About Our Father in Heaven

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All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
— Matthew 11:27 —

Perhaps of the most surprising (and edifying) aspects of the Sermon on the Mount is the emphasis Jesus’ makes on his Father in heaven. While we may consider the Sermon as a explanation of the Law (see 5:17–48), or instructions for true piety (see 6:1–18), or a warnings to walk in the true way (see 7:13–28), the heartbeat of the Sermon is a love for the Father. And more than that, the Sermon is about how disciples of Christ might know and enjoy the Father’s love.

The importance of this Father-centered vision of the Sermon cannot be understated. As John 14:6 indicates, Jesus came to bring us to the Father. Likewise, Matthew’s own Gospel identifies how Jesus seeks to reveal the Father to those whom the Father has given (see above, Matthew 11:25–27). Therefore, it is worth noting how in his first discourse, the Father plays a prominent role. In what follows, I’ve notated twelve truths about what Jesus tells us about his Father and his Father’s love for those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Continue reading

A Hole in Our Holy Temple? Toward a Whole Bible Vision of God’s Dwelling Place

david-rodrigo-336783-unsplash.jpgThe MacArthur Study Bible is a treasure trove for commentary on the Bible. Many weeks in preparation for preaching I look at its notes, and profit from its historical, grammatical, and theological observations. This week, however, as I read its commentary on Haggai, I couldn’t help but notice some biblical data missing from a table on the temples in the Bible.

While not expecting comprehensive commentary in a study Bible, I was puzzled by the way the dispensational theology of the editors may have led them to excise some key biblical data. For those familiar with Simeon Trust, this is a classic example of the framework running over the text—in this case, the text is the whole Bible.

From the looks of it, this otherwise helpful table on the temples in the Bible—well, except for the dispensational stuff, again—has left some significant holes in the Holy Temple. In other words, as the following chart defines the terms, a temple must be “a place of worship, a sacred or holy space built primarily for the national worship of God” (italics mine).

Italicized are two words/ideas that encapsulate the problem. Are temples only built for national worship? What about the heavenly temple where God abides and angels and all nations worship God? Also, must a temple be built with physical materials? What about Jesus’s words in John 2, where he said that this temple would be torn down and he would raise it up in three days? Does built apply to flesh and blood?

What’s missing in this chart are key elements of a biblical theology of the temple, which touches on so many other elements of Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Moreover, even within the chart the definition at bottom does not hold up for all the data given.

So, to fill in the holes, I’ve modified the chart below, explained the distortions in this table, and outlined why five additions should be included in any temple. From this modified chart, we do get a more complete sense of all the temples in the Bible, although I’m still not convinced about the two temples associated with the Millennium. But I’ll save that for another day.

For now, let’s consider all the temples in the Bible. If you can think of another one, please let me know. Continue reading

Justice, Mercy, and Wisdom: How the Cross Reveals and ‘Reconciles’ the Attributes of God

jeremy-bishop-480184-unsplash.jpgIt has been said that on the cross God’s wrath and mercy meet. Indeed, on the cross the full revelation of God’s undivided attributes are manifested. As just and justifier, Jesus receives in his body the full outpouring of God’s wrath. Yet, as God Incarnate, he simultaneously displays the love of God, as 1 John 3:16 states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Accordingly, all other moral attributes (e.g., truthfulness, justice, goodness, mercy, peace, righteousness) are revealed in perfect proportion.

I say proportion, but in the Lord there are not proportions, parts, or passions (taken in the older sense of the word, where men are moved by passionate forces outside themselves). In truth, God’s holy character is perfect light. Yet, refracted through creation and especially the cross, we come to see the many hues of God’s holy character. And because our minds require time and sequence to contemplate God’s unified holiness, the cross not only reconciles us to God, it also reconciles in our minds how seemingly divergent attributes are held together in the Lord.

On this point, Edward Fisher in his work The Marrow of Modern Divinity proposes a conversation between God’s many attributes and how they might have talked about the cross of Christ. To be sure, his conversation is maximally anthropological (i.e., it uses human speech to talk about God). In this way, it is unhelpful in thinking on the simplicity of God (i.e., the nature of his unchanging, undivided essence). But for us, finite creatures, who must come to understand the rainbow of God’s glory through sequential time and logical relationships, his conversation is helpful and I share it below. Continue reading

Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

Eight Principles for Holding the Truth in Love

hands.jpegAt the end of 2 Peter 3:18 Peter prays that the church might grow in grace and knowledge. Truly, when that happens Christians not only learn truths about God, they come to know God and share his character through studied communion with him. Likewise, in becoming like our heavenly Father we learn what is most important to God, and how, in our fallen world, can and should give grace to people who do not perceive as we do (rightly or wrongly) what is most important.

Extending grace to others has application in all areas of life, including theology. Yet, too often in an attempt to give grace to others, well-meaning (and well-deceived) Christians can compromise the truth. Therefore, learning to contend for the faith while growing in the fruit of the Spirit can be a difficult. Yet, nothing is more important than knowing how to hold the sound doctrines God has given to us.

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On this subject, how to hold the truth in love, there are very few books. Albert Mohler’s article on Theological Triage is instrumental here, but for books, the list is short. One book that should be included, however, is Erwin Lutzer’s The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians. In this book published in 1998, Lutzer considers nine different theological debates. They include

  • Is Christ Truly God?
  • Is Christ Truly Man?
  • Was Mary the Mother of God?
  • Was Peter the First Pope?
  • Justification: By Faith, Sacraments, or Both?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about the Lord’s Supper?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about Baptism?
  • Predestination or Free Will?
  • Can a Saved Person Ever Be Lost?

With pastoral wisdom, Lutzer explains various angles to the subject and argues with great winsomeness for his own position. In fact, showing the complexity of the predestination and free will question, he spends four chapters, considering differences that arose at different points in church history. Continue reading

Behold *the Man*: B.B. Warfield on the Perfection of Christ

raphael-nogueira-519766-unsplashWhat a straightedge is to a carpenter’s board, Jesus is to the human soul.
— Fred Zaspel —

In his summary of B.B. Warfield’s theology, Fred Zaspel observes the unique way Warfield presents the humanity of Jesus Christ. Instead of just showing the weaknesses and limitations of Christ, he portrayed our Lord as fully and wonderfully human. In other words, while defending the full deity of Christ, he also insisted on capturing the full and glorious humanity of Christ. Jesus came to identify himself with fallen humanity, yet in himself he was humanity par excellence. Jesus was the perfect man and an image of what mankind was supposed to be and, amazingly, what humanity will be once again, when we see our resurrected Lord.

To get a sense of what Warfield’s view of Christ’s humanity consider these three truths, accompanied by Warfield quotations. Continue reading

How the Trinity Shines Light on Difficult Doctrines

light.jpegFree will.

The doctrine of election.

The New Testament use of the Old.

The problem of evil.

These are just a few of the most complex issues we face when we read the Bible and formulate doctrine. They are debated by well-meaning and biblically-committed Christians, and often they leave us perplexed, if not flummoxed, at how to understand them and apply them to life.

Certainly, there are mysteries related to each of these doctrines, but in God’s revealed word, we still find ample evidence for explaining them as Scripture teaches. That said, I believe it is impossible to understand any of these doctrines rightly without a self-conscious awareness of how they all relate to the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or, to put it the other way, how a robust doctrine of the Trinity sheds light on these doctrines that relate God to his world and his Word. Let me try to illustrate. Continue reading

“All the Father Has Given Me”: Election and Evangelism in the Gospel of John

anthony-garand-498443-unsplashJesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
— John 6:35–37 —

If the book of John is the most evangelistic Gospel—or at least, if it is the one most often lifted from the canon and given as an evangelistic tract—it is also the Gospel with the greatest emphasis on God’s sovereignty to open blind eyes to the person and work of Christ. For instance, the whole message of the man born blind (John 9) identifies the way God intended his blindness for his glory. That is, through his blindness, God would glorify his Son in the miracle of healing, such that the healing miracle revealed the blindness of the Pharisees and the promise sight for the blind.

In fact, throughout John’s Gospel we find instances of those in the dark coming into light, and the supposed enlightened ones (think Nicodemus) proving their darkness. These themes of light and darkness highlight the sovereignty of God who both creates light and darkness (see Isaiah 45:7). Still, the most evident examples of God’s sovereignty in John’s Gospel relate to the way he grants life  and salvation to one group of people, but not another. Indeed, for all the places John invites readers to believe in Christ, he equally insists that no one can come, believe, or receive the gift of salvation unless God sovereignly enables them. Continue reading

Systematic Theology in Military Garb: B.B. Warfield on The Theological Task

warfieldThis year I am reading through the works of Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield. As I find various important points or quotes, I’ll try to put them up here. Today I offer this first quotation that pertains to the task of systematic theology and its relation to exegesis and biblical theology.

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“The Idea of Systematic Theology,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, vii 1896, pp 243–71; reprinted in The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68. Cf. Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield81).

Using military imagery, Warfield explains how systematic theology takes the recruits of exegetical theology and the companies formed by biblical theology and marches them into battle.

The immediate work of exegesis may be compared to the work of a recruiting officer: it draws out from the mass of mankind the men who are to constitute the army. Biblical Theology organizes these men into companies and regiments and corps, arranged in marching order and accoutered for service. Systematic Theology combines these companies and regiments and corps into an army in a single and unitary whole, determined by its own all-pervasive principle. It, too, is composed of men—the same men which were recruited by Exegetics; but it is composed of these men, not as individuals merely, but in their due relations to the other men of their companies and regiments and corps.

The simile is far from a perfect one; but it may illustrate the mutual relations of the disciplines, and also, perhaps, suggest the historical element that attaches to Biblical Theology, and the element of all inclusive systematization which is inseparable from Systematic Theology. It is just this element, determining the spirit and therefore the methods of Systematic Theology, which, along with its greater inclusiveness, discriminates it from all forms of Biblical Theology, the spirit of which is purely historical. (The Works of B.B. Warfield, 9:67–68)

Systematic theology is an imminently biblical discipline. And as Warfield’s vivid illustration reports, any systematic theology that does not recruit from the scriptures and march with the organized companies of biblical theology has little power to defeat the dark armies of this world.

With that in mind, may we be biblical systematic theologians. And may our Bible reading grow into a strong army of systematic theology.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo credit: Banner of Truth

Somewhere Between History and Fantasy: Read(ing) Genesis 1–11 Theologically

greg-rakozy-38802Few places in Scripture are more important, more debated, or more theologically-rich than Genesis 1–11. As to their importance, they introduce the Bible to God and his purposes in the world; as to debate, they were polemical from the start, as Moses wrote these chapters to combat other creation stories in the ancient Near East; and as to theology, these eleven chapters introduce nearly every doctrine found in the rest of Scripture.

It is to this last point, the theological message of Genesis 1–11, that I want to address. Affirming the historicity of God’s direct creation of mankind on the sixth day, it seems the best way to read these chapters is as a poetical—dare I say, fantastical—introduction of Israel to the God of Creation, who happens to be their covenant Lord.

Thus, as Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen rightly assess, citing the earlier observation of Gerhard von Rad (Genesis: A Commentary, 46): “The creation story is so rich in meaning that ‘it cannot be easily over-interpreted theologically'” (The Drama of Scripture28). Indeed, from the creation of the world to its subsequent recreation after the Flood, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are seminal ground for all that will grow up in the rest of Scripture. For the careful biblical theologian, these chapters are worth a life-long study, and what follows are simply seed-thoughts that can and should be traced back to the beginning.  Continue reading