Saturday, April 14, 2018

Meditation: Ecclesiastes through Isaiah for Today


“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this”
(Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Life is not back there.

The mercy, grace, peace, joy, belonging, and hope you need aren’t back there.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass,
Now I declare new things;
Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”
Sing to the LORD a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!”
(Isaiah 42:9,10a)

What was the purpose of His former works? To show His providential hand over the events of human history. They are not meant to stand as nostalgic idolatry.

“Thus says the LORD,
Who makes a way through the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
Who brings forth the chariot and the horse,
The army and the mighty man
(They will lie down together and not rise again;
They have been quenched and extinguished like a wick):
‘Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise’”
(Isaiah 43:16-21).

The LORD identifies Himself as the God of the Exodus, then says, “forget about it. Something greater is coming. I will provide for My people through a new, miraculous Provision.” The “roadway in the wilderness” language echoes 40:3-5, which is quoted in Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23 in reference to the coming of Christ prepared by John the Baptist. Christ is the greater Way, the greater Provision than the Exodus. Quit looking back.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people”
(Isaiah 65:17-19a).

Gladness and joy are found in His new creative work in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Even in Isaiah 46:8-11, where the LORD commands, “remember things long past,” it is to assert His authority over history, and His sovereign providence over the end-goal of all that happens.

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’ [and allusion to Psalm 95:7-11], so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

We must help each other today not to sit in the aging ashes of yesterday either in grief or wistful false worship.

Life is not back there, beloved. His aim in Christ is to work in you today “until the end.” Come on. Let’s go with Him toward the goal.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reading Hosea While We Wait


“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

“He was buried.”

“He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

These days leading up to our Lord’s Day remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, consider reading the prophet Hosea.[1] In the heart of that prophecy is a statement of faith about the third day:
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth”
(6:1-3).[2]

On the cross Jesus suffered in our place as the sinless substitution. He received the fullness of God’s righteous wrath against our violation of the glorious God’s Law.[3] For followers of Jesus, though, the cross also becomes a pattern of our lives in this world (Matthew 16:24//Mark 8:34//Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14). This in no way replaces or eclipses Christ’s atoning work in His death, but displays that atonement in a life humble before God and at war with sin.

With Hosea 6:1-3 as the center, consider a prayerful read-through of the prophet these moments leading up to Resurrection Day.

As you read of the spiritual harlotry of God’s old covenant people (the point of the illustration of Hosea’s own marriage), repent of your own unfaithfulness. What do you place above God in your life? What gets more time, passion, priority, thought, etc., than He does? In what areas of your life are you willfully in rebellion against His Word (to rebel against His Word is to regard Him as less than the supreme authority of your life)? I would add that this doesn’t just mean outward behavior, but inward attitudes and thought-strongholds. What lies are you believing and/or feeling that contradict His Word? Are you ignorant of His Word because of personal neglect and/or isolation from the gathering of the saints in the Word?

Harlotry and unfaithfulness are themes used in the prophets to describe God’s people’s neglect of their covenant Husband and their replacing Him with infinitely lesser things. We still do this today. We worship, obey, love, fear, and exalt countless things (including ourselves) other than the One Who alone is worthy.

When reading of these themes in Hosea, take up your cross and prayerfully repent of the areas of idolatrous harlotry in your life. Crucify these idols. Give thanks to God that Jesus paid the price for your unfaithfulness on the cross by His wrath-absorbing death.

“I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me;
For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,
Israel has defiled itself…
…a spirit of harlotry is within them,
And they do not know the Lord”
(Hosea 5:3,4).

When you read of the wrath of God, take it seriously. If you don’t know His wrath, you don’t know Him. If you don’t acknowledge His wrath against violations of His Law, you don’t understand the cross, the Gospel, Jesus, or the Scriptures at all. Some believers love studying the names of God. They enjoy praying, singing, and claiming those names. Hosea gives us names and descriptions of God in His right wrath against our lawlessness.

“On them I will pour out My wrath like water” (5:10).

“I am like a moth to Ephraim
And like rottenness to the house of Judah”
(5:12).[4]

“I will be like a lion to Ephraim
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away,
I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver”
(5:14).

His wrath is just. It is deserved. It is eternal, for He does not cease to be holy, righteous, and pure – all that is does not perfectly reflect those glorious and beautiful attributes is a blasphemous slander of Him. He is wrathful against all that is not Him, for He alone is perfection, beauty, right, good, purity, true love. He is infinitely and eternally passionate for all He is in His absolute perfection.

All He is, we are not in our rebellion, self-centeredness, self-will, lawlessness, and sin. We deserve wrath. We deserve to be drowned in it, eaten away by it, destroyed.

Christ did that in our place. When you read of His wrath against sin, give thanks for Jesus. “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11). Unless you live in the texts that drip with His wrath, you cannot adequately worship Him through the texts that describe the rescue from that wrath.

Read of wrath, confessing, “I deserve this.”

The same is true for God’s removal, His hiding, His forsaking:
“They will go with their flocks and herds
To seek the Lord, but they will not find Him;
He has withdrawn from them…
…I will go away and return to My place
Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me”
(Hosea 5:6,15).

Jesus took the forsakenness we deserve in our place (Matthew 27:46//Mark 15:34). For believers in Christ, we are filled with the presence of God the Holy Spirit. We are never forsaken or alone.

“When Ephraim saw his sickness,
And Judah his wound,
Then Ephraim went to Assyria
And sent to King Jareb.
But he is unable to heal you,
Or to cure you of your wound”
(5:13).[5]

Repent of exalting other help, assistance, or strength from sources other than the Lord. This doesn’t mean that we neglect earthly means. We should see them as instruments of God’s power and grace, though. Our prayerlessness reveals our true beliefs. When I trust earthly means more than I trust the Lord, it is revealed by the fact that I make no appeals to the Lord for help through these means. Repent of seeking help from the “great king” (which takes many forms in our lives) instead of God.

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early”
(6:4).

I am not as faithful as God deserves. In a world of distractions and idols, I wander and bow down on an hourly basis. No doubt, many more times than I’m even aware. There is One Whose name is Faithful (Revelation 19:11), and it’s not me. Repent of the wavering nature of your loyalty. Give thanks for Him Who is Faithful, and that, by faith, you are inseparably united to Him.

“Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of My mouth”
(6:5).

The word of God is meant to take us apart, undo us, dismantle us, strip away our pretensions, hypocrisies, masks, self-righteousness. Submit to that. It is ultimately the most ideal healing for our souls because it humbles us, and prepares us to receive more grace upon grace in Christ (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”
(6:6).

Jesus wanted the religious to know this passage well (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). It’s far easier to do religious acts than to be inconvenienced by people needing help. It’s easier to revel in my self-righteousness than extend grace to those in need. It’s easy to negate the truth of the Gospel in my life by thinking I can do good things to outbalance the bad things I’ve done.

“But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
There they have dealt treacherously against Me”
(6:7).

This is not just a behavior problem with us, but a sick root. We are born in Adam, and need to be reborn in the second, or last Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22,45).[6]

“Gilead is a city of wrongdoers,
Tracked with bloody footprints.
And as raiders wait for a man,
So a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem;
Surely they have committed crime”
(6:8,9)

You are violent. Jesus says you are a murderer (Matthew 5:21-26); James says the same thing (James 4:1-10). Confess your part in the brokenness of your relationships.

I hope you see what I’m trying to do. Read through all of Hosea, following the above examples and finding new areas in your life where repentance is needed.

Go back again and again to the promise of the third day (Hosea 6:1-3). That promise, like all the promises of the Bible, are yours in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). He satisfied the demands of divine justice in your place. You don’t do that. He, being innocent, defeated death (the penalty for sin) and rose victoriously over it. His life as a real human being was unique since it was lived in perfect obedience to God’s Law. He was the only perfectly holy, righteous, and obedient human being, and so alone merits all the promised blessings of God. They are ours only by faith-union with Him.

Read Hosea, confessing your sin and humbling yourself before God.

Read Hosea, seeing its pronouncements of just punishment not poured out on you, but on Christ in your place.

Read Hosea, and rejoice in the third day resurrection. It is yours because it was first Christ’s.


[1] This is not in place of careful grammatical-historical-theological reading. We must do this to rightly understand the Scriptures. We must remember, though, that the Prophets spoke and wrote the way they did (inspired by God the Holy Spirit) to move the hearts of the covenant people. We must make room for liturgical, prayerful, worshipful reading that impacts our hearts. Study that improves the mind but doesn’t touch the pride of our hearts is incomplete. We need both.
[2] The use of the increasing numbers “two…third” is called a graded numerical sequence (sometimes referred to with the formula n, n+1). This pattern occurs several times in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 17:6; Judges 5:30; 2 Kings 9:32; Job 5:19-22; 33:14-22,29; 40:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; 30:15-31; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Jeremiah 36:23; Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6). It does not mean something different happens on the second and third days. It is a Hebrew poetic device for building or progressing the author’s thought. The focus is on the last number; the previous number is given to build into it.
[3] We usually associate the wrath Jesus bore with the Father, but the Triune God is undivided in His wrath against sin and lawlessness. In fact, the Son, being fully God, can be said to suffer His own righteous wrath against lawlessness, since He hates it (Hebrews 1:8,9) and cannot abide the lawless in His presence (Matthew 7:23).
[4] I took a class on Hosea in seminary under George Klein about 17 years ago. He observed how scandalous Hosea’s prophecy would have been to devout Jews; for God to call Himself “rottenness” is pretty edgy in light of the commandment to honor His name.
[5] “King Jareb” (מֶלֶךְ יָרֵב) matches no known historical figure. The translation “great king” is preferable (CSB, ESV, NLT).
[6] “In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation” (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], III).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Order as the Remedy to Legalism


“…no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from Whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:16-23).[1]

This is Good News. We are freed from the rituals of the ceremonial Old Testament Law because they existed only to point to Christ and His saving work. With that work accomplished and the all-sufficient Word concerning it complete (the New Testament), this Law is fulfilled. Along with it, all of the man-made traditions and additional rules formerly chained to the ceremonial Law by legalists are dead, as well.

One of the things about being human between the Fall and Heaven is that we just aren’t stable, generally speaking. We have difficulty achieving a right balance, even when attempting to be careful to live in obedience to the Scripture. This is one of those areas. With the fulfillment of the ceremonial Law on the cross of Christ, it is easy to go overboard and abolish any command or structure. As a wise deacon once told me, people are like pendulums – we never stop in the middle. The abolition of legalism becomes antinomianism – lawlessness. The Bible has some pretty strong things to say about legalism. Jesus hates it (Hebrews 1:9), and will cast those who practice it away from His presence (Matthew 7:23). We don’t want that.

When we read the beginning of chapter two, we read Paul’s words of concern, prayer, and praise concerning the Colossians (and Laodiceans, for that matter): “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline [τὴν τάξιν, from τάξις] and the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:1-5).

This word, τάξις, is used of the Jewish priesthood in the Temple (Luke 1:8) and the priestly order prescribed by the Old Testament (Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:11,17,21).

But it’s also used to describe the orderliness God desires in the worship of the Church: “…God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints…all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner [τάξιν, from τάξις](1 Corinthians 14:33,40). The verb form of τάξις, τάσσω, is variously translated “determined” and “appointed” (Matthew 28:16; Luke 7:8; Acts 13:48; 15:2; 22:10; 28:23; Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 16:15). The semantic domain of this word family, in other words, describes order. This is the dedication to right structure that moved Paul to rejoice over the Colossian congregation before warning them about legalism.

Anonyms of τάξις with the α privative occur in Paul’s letters to the Church in Thessalonica. In his first letter, he commands them to “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly [τοὺς ἀτάκτους, from ἄτακτος], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). In his second letter, he wrote: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly [ἀτάκτως] life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined [ἀτάκτως] life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). The pattern is “the tradition” received from the apostles; that’s another way of saying “the New Testament scriptures.” Paul tells the Thessalonicans not to have fellowship with those leading disordered lives, those whose disorder spreads into the lives of others either through nosy meddling or from a refusal to work. The integrity of the congregation is maintained by order not just in worship, but in all of our individual lives as disciples of Jesus.

All this is to say that the opposite of legalism is not antinomianism, libertinism, chaos, or “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The remedy for legalism is not a free-for-all. The opposite of legalism is biblical, theologically sound order. That’s not the remedy we’d offer, is it? This is exactly why we need God’s Word to think His thoughts after Him and follow His will. We must pursue God’s order for His people in worship and in their daily lives, as ordained in His Word.

Having written this, I am immediately aware of the temptation for some to use this principle as an excuse to build a new legalism (the pendulum doesn’t stop). “Order” becomes a tool for putting their own preferences in place for the Body. We must be diligent not to give our preferences or personal convictions above and beyond the clear teaching of Scripture equal weight with the ultimate authority of Scripture. This is difficult. It is the easiest and most natural thing for our legalistic hearts to attempt to achieve conformity to our will by linking our preferences with Scripture. And it’s also satanic; the tempter used Scripture in the desert with Jesus (Matthew 4:5-7). This is why the phrase “as ordained in His Word” is vital. Taking a good, biblical principle to a logical conclusion past the dictates of the Bible is a false teaching. It starts well, is aimed using good reason, but without the guard rails of Scripture it ends up in the ravine. Stick to the Word in your order. Adding to the Bible in the Church or your personal life is a confession that the Scripture is not enough. Hold to the whole, unfragmented Bible with proper theology (not reinstituting Old Testament practices fulfilled in Christ, for example, Hebrews 8:13). Proper theology is learned and maintained in the community of faith, growing together in the Word. Let us regularly engage in humble self-examination as the Church.

May we be constantly reforming not just the doctrine, but the practice of the Church, beloved. This is the responsibility of every generation of believers. May we reject man-made traditions, the unnecessary, and all that it is added to the practice prescribed in the New Testament. Let us rejoice in good, theologically sound, and biblical order.



[1] Concerning the “worship of angels,” I believe Paul is being sarcastic concerning the legalists; there are several N.T. passages that describe the Law of Moses as having been given by the angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Amazed by Scripture


I’m supposed to be doing something else right now, but saw this passage while looking something up. It’s a great passage, and I am filled with the sudden urge to preach it to someone. Instead, I’ll write this up quickly and get back to what I should be working on.

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying [in Psalm 110:1],
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet’”?
If David then calls Him “Lord,” how is He his son?’  No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question” (Matthew 22:41-46).

When introducing David’s Spirit-inspired words, Jesus uses the present active participle “saying” (λέγων). Even though Jesus is quoting text almost 1,000 years old at that point, He uses the present tense. The Holy Spirit never speaks in the past tense. The Scripture, no matter when it was inspired in redemption history, is always present tense to us because the Person Who inspired it is ever-Now to us when we read His Word. He speaks. Now.

Second, part of the genius in Jesus’ confounding of the Pharisees is His implicit presupposition: a Trinitarian reality (and Jesus’ presupposition is the only reality).

It is the Holy Spirit Who speaks these words through David:
“The LORD [the Father] says to my Lord [the Son]: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet’” (Psalm 110:1).

David’s “Lord” is David’s “Son” – this can only be Jesus. The Father calls the Son to reign with Him on His throne (Revelation 3:21) during this Gospel Age between the first and second Advents until all enemies are conquered (1 Corinthian 15:25). This calling is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (right now through words almost 3,000 years old). One God, three Persons.

Things like this move me to rejoice. Our God is amazing.

Okay. Thanks for listening. Back to it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hear


Today is the first of the month, so I was reading the first chapter of the Proverbs this morning over coffee. I focused on the verb “hear.”

“A wise man will hear [יִשְׁמַע] and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…
hear [שְׁמַע], my son, your father’s instruction
And do not forsake your mother’s teaching…
…he who listens [וְשֹׁמֵעַֽ] to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil”
(1:5,8,33).

When we move into the New Testament, it’s interesting how many times the letters build upon teaching that was verbally given in the gathering of the congregation. Let’s use 1 John as an example:
“…the old commandment is the word which you have heard (2:7).
“…Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour…who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (2:18,22).
“…let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (2:24).
“…this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (3:11).
“…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (4:3).

John assumes those reading his letter have been in the congregation hearing the “apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), as all congregations should.

The reading is built upon a foundation of hearing. This has implications for the effectiveness of your personal devotion time in the Word. The benefits of your individual study of the Bible will be gained only in conjunction with your careful attendance to the proclamation of biblical truth in the gathering of the saints.

There is relationship implied in the act of hearing. In Proverbs, it is cast as the relationship between parents and child, or Wisdom personified and those who would seek, treasure, and love her. In 1 John it is between the ones who proclaim apostolic truth and those who hear within the local congregation. The apostolic truth itself is received through the hearing (1 John 1:1-4) and is given to the congregation. The congregation is made up of Christ-given proclaimers of that truth (Ephesians 4:7-13) and members who are placed in those specific congregations by the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:18). The receiving and writing of the apostles is the work of God. The gifting and assembly of the congregation is also the work of God. God paves the way in these relationships to prepare you to open your Bibles over that cup of coffee every morning.

How carefully we should speak and listen in the gathering of the Church! Careful hearing becomes fruitful reading. The dedicated receiving of the spoken Word bears fruit in the personal reading of the written Word.

Hear.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

That River Flows


“Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates” (Genesis 2:9-14; the four place names give us the same sense as our phrase, “the four corners of the earth”).

“By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations [τῶν ἐθνῶν](Revelation 22:1,2).

There’s a River Flood Warning for a town about ten miles north of where I live. I don’t know whether it’s that or the fact that I’ve been thinking about the Holy Spirit a lot lately, but I woke up with this biblical river on my mind.

I have lived in the desert; I know that sometimes fruit-bearing takes time, and that you celebrate the harvest no matter what.

Still, I long for the harvest from the shores of this biblical river. I desire “they will bear every month” and “yielding its fruit every month.” I pray for “the healing of the nations” – and not the counterfeit that comes through the intentions, devices, and efforts of humanity.

I earnestly hope to see “the healing of the nations.” I wish our English translations would render τῶν ἐθνῶν as “peoples.”

The lower levels of the auditorium in my congregation’s building are below ground level. When it rains like this we are concerned with flooding. I’ve been told that the creek which runs by the front of the building used to run through the auditorium. The man who built it moved the creek to its present location, but it used to run right through where the stage is now. God put it where it was originally, and it ran there for millennia. I guess it still hasn’t fully accepted the new arrangement.

I have a vision for a river, not in our auditorium (please, Lord!), but for this biblical river that heals the souls of all sorts of peoples from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures.

Ezekiel said the fruit of those trees was continual and healing “because their water flows from the sanctuary” (it comes after the sacrifice of the Prince in Ezekiel 46, but that’s a different post!). The “sanctuary” that provides this river isn’t an earthly building. I know this because Jesus gives us the understanding of Ezekiel’s “visions of God” (40:2).

Jesus, at that well in Samaria so long ago, told the outcast woman, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). It wasn’t about an earthly sanctuary (“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father,” 4:21). It was about a gift from Jesus that turns the recipient into a sanctuary.

Jesus says the same later in Jerusalem: “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). What we receive from Jesus causes us to be the sanctuary (compare with Isaiah 8:11-14; Ezekiel 11:16) from which flows the river that gives life, that is instrumental in continual, healing fruit. I want this. Not just for me, but for Jesus’ disciples. I want us to be the means by which the Spirit brings eternal healing to all sorts of people.

It will come when we become a people (by His grace) who are passionate about His Word more than worldliness (Psalm 1:1-3). It will flow when we, by the power and authority of that indwelling Spirit, call on the world to “come, and drink” (Revelation 22:17).

Beloved Church, bear this desire with me. Let us desperately beg the Father to do this, through His Son, by His Spirit, drowning our self-centeredness, fear, pride, worldliness, and neglect of His Word in continual, healing, eternal life for many, many peoples.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

One Calming Word


I’ve been reading Sinclair Ferguson’s Some Pastors and Teachers (Banner of Truth Trust, 2017). If you love historical theology, you’d love this book. It is a rich collection of Ferguson’s own meditations on John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray.

John Owen (1616-1683) came to assurance of his salvation in Christ during a sermon by an unknown guest preacher at Aldermanbury Chapel. The text was Matthew 8:25-27 (Jesus’ stilling of the stormy sea). Owen, meditating later on the assurance he found in that sermon, wrote, “when the Holy Ghost by one word stills the tumults and storms that are raised in the soul, giving it an immediate calm and security, it knows his divine power, and rejoices in his presence” (Works, II:242; Ferguson quotes on pg. 260).

Speaks of the Holy Spirit’s “one word,” analogous to Jesus’ word calming the storm. While the great Puritan may have used this merely as a figure of speech to make a comparison (he never specifies a particular word in his meditation), the Scripture tells us there is a single word the Spirit speaks in us to calm our souls.

“Father.”

It is by the indwelling Holy Spirit that we are able to call upon the Father using the same Name the Son has used for all eternity.

“…all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17a).

“…when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When we trust Jesus alone for a right relationship with God now and forever, we are mystically united to Him by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit He gives to us. All that is the Son’s is ours through the Holy Spirit, including the right to call on the first Person of the Trinity as “Father.” We do not call Him this because we have earned it through our character or actions. This right is ours because it is the Son’s right, and we are united to Him. The right to have this relationship with the first Person of the Trinity does not change, for it is immutably and eternally the relationship between Father and Son as the one true God. The Person of the Spirit, Who dwells in us, speaks out the call upon God as Father because of Who the Son is, not because of how good we are or anything we do. In the storm of our souls, this is the one calming word.

Rest in this.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Be Careful with Those Quotes

I was providing a reference for a ministry student this week to a Bible college. Out of curiosity, I checked the institution’s statement of faith. All seemed well until I got to the section on final things. It appears like this:

We believe in and accept the sacred Scriptures upon these subjects at their face and full value. Of the Resurrection, we believe that Christ rose bodily “The third day according to the Scriptures”; that He ascended “to the right hand of the throne of God”; that He alone is our “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God”; “that this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven,” bodily, personally, and visibly; that the “dead in Christ shall rise first”; that the living saints “shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump”; “that the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David”; and that “Christ shall reign a thousand years in righteousness until He hath put all enemies under His feet.”
Psalm 72:8;
Isaiah 11:4-5;
Matthew 24:27,42;
Matthew 28:6-7;
Mark 16:6,19;
Luke 1:32; 24:2,4-6,39,51;
John 14:3;
John 20:27;
Acts 1:9,11;
1 Corinthians 15:4;
Philippians 4:20;
1 Thessalonians 4:16;
1 Timothy 2:5;
Hebrews 2:17; 5:9; 8:1; 9:28; 12:2

Do you see it? Every statement in quotes can be connected to a verse in Scripture. Except one. The last phrase, in quotes like the seven Scripture verses before, is not a single passage of Scripture. It is a paraphrased conglomeration of Revelation 20:4,6 (well, close anyway), Psalm 9:8; 96:13; Acts 17:31; Revelation 19:11 (if we replace “judge” with “reign”), and 1 Corinthians 15:25 (this one’s the most accurate). I don’t mind summary statements of biblical doctrine, but don’t put it in quotes like your summary is Scripture, especially when it’s the eighth phrase in quotes and all the others are clearly Scripture! Further, none of the proof-texts for the statement match the final phrase. I can almost ascribe to the phrase: I believe it is happening now (that Jesus is reigning during this Gospel Age, putting His enemies under His feet). Right or not, though, don’t put it in quotes like you are referencing a single verse (as in the case of the previous seven quoted phrases).

I know oversights happen. I also know many people don’t seem to know how to use quotation marks properly. This could be a harmless thing, and I have no trouble granting that.


Here’s the point I want to make about it, though: I believe doctrinal statements/confessions are good things, but don’t equate them with Scripture. Don’t give the impression that your interpretation has even close to equal standing with the Bible itself – especially in areas like eschatology.

Mildly-concerned rant over. Thanks.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Three Practices of False Prophets

A few days ago I had a brief moment of stillness in the middle of this time of transition in our lives, so I picked up my wife’s reading Bible and opened it to Ezekiel.

“Then this message came to me from the LORD: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, “Listen to the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!” O people of Israel, these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins. They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the LORD. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions. They say, “This message is from the LORD,” even though the LORD never sent them. And yet they expect Him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, “This message is from the LORD,” when I have not even spoken to you?’” (Ezekiel 13:1-6, New Living Translation).

As a preacher, passages like this grab my attention. What are some warnings concerning false prophets in this Word?

They Follow Their Imaginations

We don’t need a new word tailored for this particular moment. The Bible remains all-sufficient and relevant. Let it speak. We don’t need messages crafted to political or personal circumstances. God’s covenant people live in a world of innumerable false messages, and sit under the preaching/teaching of the Word for just a moment in the week. Just do the math: how much time do you spend hearing and reading the Word in comparison to watching the television, being on the internet, listening to the radio, hearing unbelievers speak, etc. The little time we have together in the Word needs to be a time of devotion to a Jesus-centered, Gospel-faith message to keep us grounded in the truth. We live in a world of vain imaginations; and I do not believe we are discerning enough to tell the difference between “sanctified” imagination and the much more common vanity. Let’s just let God’s Word speak and leave the “new words” to those outside the covenant community. I grieve, because so many faithful Bible expositors waste time with imaginations.

They Don’t Stand in the Gap

Drawing comparisons/applications from the Old Testament to the New Testament requires more than just word-to-word comparison. 13:5, for example, speaks of “the nation.” One of my hermeneutical/theological pet peeves is when modern American believers take O.T. references to “nation” or “land” and apply it to the U.S.A. Examples are legion. The N.T. (and therefore contemporary) equivalent to O.T. Israel is not the U.S.A. (or even the modern State of Israel); it is the Church, the new covenant people of God in Christ. In 1 Peter, “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1) are called “a holy nation” (2:9). I would make the same assertion concerning the O.T. concept of “land.” Since even the O.T. patriarchs were looking by faith to a “heavenly homeland” (Hebrews 11:16), even while living in the earthly Promised Land, we who live in the new covenant in Christ should have the same perspective. When Ezekiel condemns false prophets, for “they have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation,” it’s about the covenant people for us. It was even this way in the O.T.; sometimes this language of “standing in the gap” refers to literal walls in a city (1 Kings 11:27; Nehemiah 6:1), but other times it reflects intercession (Psalm 106:23; Ezekiel 22:30). Isaiah 30:13; 58:12 are probably referring to both at the same time (physical and spiritual walls being breached and repaired). Amos 9:11 is important to our right new covenant application of this O.T. principle because it is quoted in Acts 15:13-18. The “repair” of “damaged walls” is not the restoration of a literal nation Israel, or any kind of wall-building (figurative or literal) in the U.S.A. The apostle James applies Amos’ prophecy to a spiritual building up of the covenant people of God, fulfilled in the “conversion of Gentiles” by the Seed of David (Jesus Christ).

False prophets don’t stand in the broken-down boundaries of the covenant people. One application: true men of God point out those boundaries between truth and lie (in confession and practice), lead the people to rebuild them, and intercede for the failure/judgment those gaps represent. Another application: (re)building means evangelism/missions, church planting, and continual discipleships.

They Don’t Help God’s People Stand

False prophets don’t help God’s people stand in the day. They give feel-good messages of worldly peace “by saying, ‘All is peaceful’ when there is no peace at all!” (Ezekiel 13:10). You just need preferable circumstances in this life to have peace (again, this could be political or personal). In contrast, the apostle Paul admonishes the people to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16). He warns them of spiritual enemies: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil…put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:11,13). By faith we stand in Christ, a place of true peace – peace with God (Romans 5:1,2). It is a standing in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Believers need to hear this today, for they are constantly tempted to stand in lesser things against worldly/fleshly/temporary enemies. They do not stand in spiritual, eternal reality against spiritual enemies. True prophets help them stand by revealing God’s truth, not their own carnal imaginations. I become more and more convinced that most believers are fighting with all they have in battles that take them far from the simplicity of faithfulness to Christ and proclamation of the Gospel. We need true prophets to lift up a scriptural reality.

That’s what I’ve been meditating upon for the last few days. We need these warnings, saints. Paul gives us a helpful principle for applying O.T. Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10. He’s speaking of the Exodus and book of Numbers, but the concept is the same: “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:11-14).


True prophets (I understand new covenant prophecy to be ordinary prophecy, that is, preaching the Bible) proclaim an Old Testament rightly contextualized for the New Testament people, and keep the focus on Jesus and His Gospel. This is the prophecy we must have today as the Church, beloved.