The Arm of the Lord: From Moses to Isaiah to Christ

robert-nyman-442994In the Bible, the “arm of the Lord” is a vivid image of God’s saving power. But is it more than that? In Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5, the prophet tells how God will save his people by his own arm. In context, this builds on an important theme in Isaiah 40–66. But it also amplifies the promise of the messiah. Indeed, as we study “the arm of the Lord” across the Bible, I believe we begin to see how the “arm of the Lord” leads to the Son of God, who as Hebrews 10:5 says, citing Psalm 40, has received a body prepared by God.

Indeed, by better understanding the origin, development, and goal of this phrase (“the arm of the Lord”), we will gain greater insight into God’s Word and the work he planned for Christ to accomplish—namely the salvation of a people from all nations. Even more, we learn something about how the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are intended to direct us toward God in Christ.

So to organize our thoughts, lets consider the arm of the Lord in eight steps. Continue reading

From Genesis to Exodus to Jesus: What Biblical Typology Might Say about Modern Day Israel

rob-bye-103200I have often read and taught on the temple-imagery in Genesis 1–2, where the Garden of Eden is portrayed by Moses as the prototypical tabernacle. I have also read and taught how the tabernacle in Exodus and the temple in 1 Kings are meant to re-present the original garden sanctuary. Still, there are many who wonder if this is a fanciful connection made up by creative interpreters, or if it is truly in the text. Interestingly, these are often the same people who often make up fanciful connections between Scripture and modern day Israel.

In what follows, I want to share a helpful summary of why we should read Genesis and Exodus together, how those chapters are designed to lead us to Christ, and how a right understanding of the biblical narrative anchors our hope in the person and work of Christ, and not the machinations of modern day Israel.  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

The Church as Christ’s New Creation: How a Multi-Ethnic Church Fulfills God’s Promises to Israel

tung-wong-70780This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:6 —

In Ephesians 2 Paul spends a great deal of time explaining how the Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided by covenant or country, but instead have become in Christ ‘one new man in place of the two’ (v. 15). This “two becomes one” theme culminates and crystalizes in Ephesians 2:18–21, when he says that the temple Christ is building is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. He writes,

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Amazingly, in these verses, Paul highlights at least three ways in which the temple is comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

  1. He says that Christ preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near (v. 17), which is to say Christ preaches peace by his Spirit to far off Gentiles and near(er) Jews. There is not a different message for each group and there is certainly not a different covenant. Rather, the same message of Christ-centered peace is offered by Christ to all people—whether Jew or Gentile.
  2. He says both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Indeed, in Christ those who were once near do not have a greater access than those who were far off. Like John and Peter (John 20:4), one may have arrived at the empty tomb sooner than the other, but the first one to Christ did not get a greater blessing. So it is with Jews and Gentiles in Christ—both have access to the triune God and neither have more access than the other.
  3. He says Gentiles, who were once separated from the blessings of God (Ephesians 2:11–12), and Jews, who once clearly had multiple advantages over the Gentiles (see Romans 3:1–2; 9:4–5) are now fellow citizens. Indeed they are fellow members of the household of God, such that only with one another can the temple of God be joined together.

In short, Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2 of reconciliation makes clear that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but instead there is one new covenant people who possess all the same blessings in Christ. Continue reading

Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

I Believe in Free(d) Will: Humanity In Its Fourfold State

simeon-muller-3505Whenever the question ‘Do you believe in free will?’ comes up, I want to stop the conversation and step back about thirty yards. Too often that question is presented as if there are only two answers:

  1. Yes, I believe in free will (and therefore, righteously and obviously affirm the moral responsibility of humanity).
  2. No, I don’t believe in free will (and therefore deny the moral responsibility of humanity and foolishly make humanity to be a set of fated robots).

The trouble with this subject is the binary nature of the question. What if instead of asking, “Do you believe in free will? Yes or no?” We ask, what does the Bible say about humanity and our freedom? Though any answer that follows is still to be tainted by our own philosophical (and geo-political) prejudices, it might just get us a bit closer to a good set of questions and a more biblical answer.

But if we take time to consider this subject biblically, what kind of questions should we ask? And if Scripture doesn’t give us a philosphical treatise on the matter, what kind of passages can we find? The answer is that Scripture is filled with passages that address the inner psychology of the soul; the Bible regularly describes the mind, will, emotions, and heart—not to mention the image of God. And, in fact, it does so with regard to four different states of existence. Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

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For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Grasping the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’: Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

kingA few weeks ago I mentioned inaugurated eschatology in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. While this “three dollar word” can at first seem confusing or unnecessary—“let’s just stick with the simple gospel,” I can hear someone say—the concept of Already and Not Yet is so important for understanding New Testament eschatology, I couldn’t pass it by.

So in the sermon I used the term, defined it, describe it, and employed the obligatory D-Day / V-Day illustration. Today, I want to point out four quotes that further explain the place and importance of this concept. In short, inaugurated eschatology is a concept that relates to way God’s kingdom has come to earth and yet awaits its final consummation. As I understand it, this concept is most clearly seen in regards to Christ’s resurrection (the topic of 1 Corinthians 15), the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God.

Indeed, it is safe to say any theology of the Spirit, the kingdom, or the resurrection that does not take into consideration the already and not yet mismanages God’s economy and distorts the way God is working and will work in the world. Therefore, this idea is of the greatest importance for reading the Bible and doing theology. So, take time to consider these quotes. They will help solidify the concept which covers nearly every page of the New Testament. Continue reading

Lyrical Eschatology: Andrew Peterson’s Songful Seminar on Eschatology

hillsEvery year new books on prophecy, eschatology, and end times are written, and most of them—if not all of them—suffer from the same deficiency: they only focus on the facts and figures of end time predictions. With lots of biblical citations, they spend considerable time debating about the millennium, literal hermeneutics, and how to read Revelation. Of course, these are all important truths to consider, yet, in almost every case, these theology texts fail to convey the beauty, goodness, and truth of biblical eschatology.

In Scripture eschatology is almost always lyrical. In the Prophets, the place where eschatology rises like the Rockies, we do not find naked propositions and bland predictions. Rather, we find naked men foretelling the coming judgment of God (Isaiah 20), baskets full of good and bad fruit (Jeremiah 24), and hills overflowing with wine to describe the future restoration (Amos 9). Indeed, in the Bible eschatology is poetic, not prose. It is meant to captivate hearts, even as it illumines minds.

Yet, except for a few biblical scholars, this feature is almost entirely lost. Daniel is treated like Nostradamus (converted), and Ezekiel’s prophecies are read as an architect manual for some future building project. Yet, this is not first and foremost what the Spirit of Christ was leading these men to see and say. Their authoritative words are given not to a supply us a chronological forecast of future events. Rather, these servants of God are commissioned by God to call us to trust in the covenant Lord who declared the end from the beginning.  In other words, eschatology is centered  on the last man (1 Corinthians 15:45), not just last things!

Even more, in Scripture the medium employed by the Prophets was poetry, visually stimulating words intended to produce faith and hope. Accordingly, any book on eschatology that turns poetry into prophecy charts suffers the same fate: it gives facts without fire, hope without the Prophet’s heart, predictions without poetry. Indeed, it may communicate much truth, but it is truth denuded of spiritual life and eschatological hope.

Therefore, we who love the Lord and believe every jot and tittle of the Bible, need eschatology that sings. We need more than “textbooks.” We need lyrical eschatology. And thankfully, we find it in places like the stories of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the music of Andrew Peterson.ap

For years I have said evangelicals need to put down Left Behind saga and pick up the richer, more biblical, lyrical eschatology of Andrew Peterson. Why? Because the heart of eschatology is not the details surrounding the Rapture. The heart of the eschatology is the resurrection and the hope of a new creation in Christ. This is what Andrew Peterson captures in his music. And thus I have put together the unauthorized Andrew Peterson’s (Songful) Seminar on Eschatology. (Yes, I’m an admitted fanboy).

As an adjunct professor of theology, these songs will now be part of my syllabus on eschatology. If you have never heard them before or considered the way biblical eschatology is lyrical and centered on the new creation (not the timing of the tribulation), I urge you to listen. While I believe every album of Andrew Peterson has eschatological themes, these are the top twelve songs (now) eighteen songs (including one by Ben Shive), divided between Eschatology Proper (i.e., that which focuses directly on last things—resurrection, the coming of Christ, etc.) and Eschatology Presently Effected (i.e., the effects that the resurrection of Christ currently has on life).

Again, take time to listen to Andrew Peterson’s songs. Maybe you can listen to them as you make space on your eschatology shelf for his books on eschatology (The Wingfeather Saga) or other lyrical eschatology like that of The Gray Havens, another singer-songwriter impelled with the same Narnian vision. In whatever manner you listen, let us all consider how Scripture impels us to do more than fight over for our eschatology; it requires us to sing our eschatology. And for that I’ve found no one more helpful than Andrew Peterson.  Continue reading

Kingdom and Covenant: The Main Entrance to the Cathedral of Scripture

In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.

This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar  conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,

In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’  (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. Continue reading