Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Advent Worship

45 days until the first Lord’s Day of Advent.

Yesterday, in our co-ed theology reading group, we were discussing the human soul. Toward the last ten minutes of the hour, the conversation turned to Jesus and His fully human nature. This group had discussed the Trinity for several weeks last summer, and elements of that study came back up, as well.

We reminded each other of several key elements of our confession of the Trinity: the Persons are distinguished (not divided) in the Trinity, perichoresis/περιχώρησις (one group member remembered it as “the dance” between the Persons of the one God), and how Christ “operates” according to both of His natures. I used to fly through theology proper (the study of God in Himself) when teaching Systematic Theology. I wish I could go back and change that. What I love is how theology proper connects with Christology. Yesterday, theology proper made its way to Christology via anthropology (the theology of humanity). A rich journey. Calvin started his Institutes with the statement, “all…true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (1.1.1). In the section we were considering yesterday, he repeated this idea: “…we cannot have a clear and complete knowledge of God unless it is accompanied by a corresponding knowledge of ourselves” (1.15.1). He means that knowing ourselves as created requires a knowledge of Him as Creator; it also means that we must know ourselves as needing a redeemer before knowing Him as Redeemer. These meet in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I suggested to them that it’s helpful to break down the name and title, “Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Acts 8:37; Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 John 5:20; 2 John 3).
He is eternally the Son of God, fully and truly God in His essence. The essence and being of God is not divided; He is simple (as opposed to composite). He does not change. This is the Son, distinguished in Person from the Father and Son, yet one with them as God in essence/substance/nature/being.

He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. On the eighth day after His birth He was given the name “Jesus” by Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:21). This is the name of His human nature. Of course, the name has a theological (Matthew 1:21) and historical (the name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua”) import. It’s a name, however, given to Him in His newborn humanity.

is the title for God’s chosen King over all (see Psalm 2). This is a name properly His after His resurrection, when He had received full authority in all things (Matthew 28:18). It is a name related to the Davidic covenant.

Even as the Son, in His humanity, is located at the right hand of the Father in heaven, His divine nature is spiritually involved in the “dance” with the Father and Spirit as fully God. He is not limited in His divinity.

This is glorious mystery. We joked that as you begin to get a grasp of how to speak of the Trinity rightly, we are introduced into the union of eternally divine and human in the Son and have to work through even more amazing concepts.

He is worthy of our studying, discussion, learning, and mental wrestling – this, too, is worship (especially when we do it together). It is obedience to the command to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27). Give Him glory by working to think and speak rightly of Him, beloved!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Battle for the Parishes

I came across this quote last week while working on my dissertation’s history chapter: “Protestants believed that preaching was ‘the ordinary means of salvation,’ for which there was no substitute. But less dogmatically and more pragmatically, historians can agree that without their being preached, or imparted through a sustained process of catechizing, the essential protestant doctrines, and concomitant religious experience, were unlikely to take root. Not far short of the end of the [16th] century, a Kentish minister claimed that when he canvassed opinion in parishes where there had been no preaching, hardly anyone knew they could never be saved by their own moral endeavours. Justification by faith alone was something of which they knew nothing.”[1]

And if preaching today is doctrine free (most popular Christian music and songs in worship certainly are)? If those few minutes between congregation and pulpit have more stories, jokes, and self-help moralistic bumper stickers or tweets than doctrine or exposition of Scripture? Read the quote again. Parishes had lost the Gospel. Lost it.

Pastors must preach the Gospel often to themselves, and constantly to the congregation. Congregants must, too, learn to preach it to themselves, and preach it to others.

The above quote reminds me of something I was taught when I was being mentored in ministry: ultimately, the problems in the church can be traced back to the pulpit.

When I taught a preaching class several years ago, I told them the first thing I wanted them to do when preparing notes was to mentally (or literally, if need be) put a cross on the page. Plan from the beginning on getting to the cross, getting to the Gospel.

Artist Shai Linne’s new album is entitled Still Jesus (Lampmode, 2017). I hope it is still Jesus alone for us, Church. It will only be so if we are purposeful and constant about it. What has Jesus done? Why is it needed? How is it the only remedy for our greatest problem? Do we still believe this? When we hear of problems in the world or in an individual’s life, is the first solution that comes to our mind still Jesus?

Battle for the parishes (or whatever we call them in all the places we live). They must know the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Patrick Collinson, John Craig, and Brett Usher, eds. Conferences and Combination Lectures in the Elizabethan Church (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2003), xxiv.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Bible We Need

I’m on sabbatical this month, finishing the writing for my final doctoral work. While every day’s been spent pouring through books and journal articles, I’ve still been reading a chapter of Tertullian’s Against Praxeas every day or so. They are short chapters. That doesn’t make Against Praxeas devotional material, but that’s how I’ve been treating it. I came across something interesting yesterday.

Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) is the guy who gave the Church the term “Trinity.” Not that he invented the doctrine of the Trinity, but in defending the faith, he added this word to the Church’s arsenal as it described what it read in the Scriptures. Remember this. While the word “Trinity” doesn’t occur in the Bible, it’s scriptural. Sometimes skeptics, atheists, or false teachers will say things like, “the word doesn’t even occur in the Bible, and the doctrine wasn’t invented for over 100 years after the Bible was written.” Notice the word “invented.” He didn’t “invent” the doctrine. In refuting a false teacher, Tertullian used a new word to describe the old faith the Church already believed and confessed from scriptural witness. This strategy is used by people trying to refute your faith in dozens of areas, Church. Learn it and be wise.

Anyway, Tertullian is arguing that the Persons of the Father and Spirit are invisible – they are not made of the stuff of creation (which is where the trait “visibility” is manifested). We, as part of creation, are made to see the visible of creation; God, in His nature, is not of creation and is not, therefore, visible. He allows Himself to be seen and heard in the Bible, of course. The Church has taught that God, temporarily using creation, revealed Himself in the events recorded in the biblical witness. The “temporary” part has one big exemption: the incarnation of Jesus, when the eternally-existing second Person of the one true God, the Son, was united without mixture or degradation to a human nature by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin. This hypostatic union (another bit of phraseology added to the Church’s vocabulary describing that which was already part of the scriptural faith from the beginning) is not temporary, but forever. This Jesus, fully God and man, still exists this way now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Jesus, eternal Son of God, is now forever human.

Tertullian teaches that it is not the invisible Father and Spirit we see in the Old Testament, but the Son pre-manifesting the humanity He will fully take on in the incarnation (the technical term for this is Christophany).

“…it is the Son Who from the beginning has judged, smashing down the tower of pride and confounding the tongues, punishing the whole world by the violence of the waters, raining down upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone – the Lord raining it down from the Lord. For He it always was Who came down to converse with men, from Adam even to the patriarchs and prophets, always from the beginning preparing beforehand in dream and in a mirror and in an enigma that course which He was going to follow out to the end” (all quotes are from section 16 in this posting).

This is pretty standard stuff now (which is why we have a word like “Christophany”), but after this Tertullian gives us something that I think is really helpful.

“Thus also He already at that time knew human affections, as He was going to take upon Himself also man’s substances, flesh and soul, asking Adam a question as though He did not know – ‘Adam, where art thou?’ – repenting that He had made man, as though He had no foreknowledge; tempting Abraham, as though ignorant what is in man; angry, and reconciled with the same persons; and all those things which heretics…seize upon as unworthy of God, ignorant that those things befitted the Son, Who was also going to undergo human passions, both thirst and hunger and tears and nativity itself and death itself, for this purpose made by the Father a little lower than the angels.”

This is helpful. We typically use the word “anthropopathism” to describe the language of human affections displayed in God in the Scripture. Emotions are changes, and this is a problem is you want to affirm the immutability (unchangeability) of God (which I do). This pre-manifestation of the humanity to which the Son would be united makes these anthropopathisms Christ-centered and Gospel-oriented - these revealed emotions/affections in the God of the O.T. are foreshadowings of the human nature of the incarnate Son. Tertullian writes that He did this “with the purpose of laying a foundation of faith for us, that we might more easily believe that the Son of God has come down into the world, if we knew that something of the sort had previously been done.” This seems to me to be as great a contribution to Christian theology as Tertullian’s giving us the word “Trinity.”

This cannot be the manifestation of the Father, Tertullian writes. “How can it be that God Almighty, that invisible One Who none of men hath seen nor can see, He Who dwelleth in light unapproachable, He Who dwelleth not in things made with hands, before Whose aspect the earth trembleth, and the mountains melt as wax, Who graspeth the whole world in His hand like a nest, Whose throne is the heaven and the earth His footstool, in Whom is all space but He not in space, Who is the boundary line of the universe, He the Most High, should have walked in paradise in the evening looking for Adam, should have shut up the ark after Noah had gone in, should have rested under an oak with Abraham, should have called to Moses from the burning bush, and should have appeared with three others in the Babylonian king’s furnace – although it says He was a Son of man?”

All of God’s interaction with humanity as revealed in the Bible is so that we would know “from the beginning the whole course of the divine ordinance has come down through the Son.”

This is not to minimize the Father, but it is the Son Who reveals the Father to us.

“…the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…no one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:14,18).

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8,9).

Tertullian’s teaching honors the words of the Gospel, showing us a whole Bible that is Christ-centered. We need that Bible.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Learning Right Distinctions

“…the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification…Tocqueville saw this coming long ago. Democracies, he wrote, prize equality above all other values. Their ‘passion for equality,’ he observed, is ‘ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.’ It is not simply a matter of assuring every person equal rights under law. Tocqueville believed, in Patrick Deneen’s words, that democracies inevitably seek to do away with ‘any apparent differences’ among people – ‘material, social, or personal.’ No distinctions are to be tolerated. In fact, Tocqueville wrote that democratic societies have an inevitable tendency toward pantheism, since, in the end, even a distinction between Creator and created becomes intolerable.”
-   - “Passion for Equality,” by Mark Movsesian (posted at First Things on July 10, 2017)

An important strategy to understanding the Revelation is the idea of counterfeit. It’s always been a major point for me when teaching about the “mark of the beast” that it is just a counterfeit to God’s mark on His people from the early parts of the Bible onward. We focus on the beast, and, sadly, tend to ignore the wealth about what God has done.

You’ve probably heard of a similar counterfeit regarding the dragon, beast, and false prophet as imitative of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Mark Movsesian’s article, while not expositing the Revelation, reveals another counterfeit of the enemy of God, who is also the adversary to God’s people. The world system seeks to blur what God distinguishes and counterfeit God’s establishment of unity.

Outside of Christ, God makes distinctions. In the Old Testament, for example, it is between Israel and Egypt (Exodus 11:7), clean and unclean (Leviticus 11:47), holy and profane (Ezekiel 22:26), “between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18). God pronounces “woe” on those who redefine and change these standards (Isaiah 5:20,21).

As Movsesian astutely points out from Tocqueville, even the vital Creator-creature distinction becomes intolerable. We come by it naturally – our first parents fell from their first state because of the temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Whether the king of Babylon’s aspirations to make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14), or the “the man of lawlessness,” also called “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4). We tend, in our study and meditation, to identify this “man” with a single eschatological figure, but this tendency to desire to be God is innate to every fallen human being. The rebellion against biological gender (contra Genesis 1:27, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:4), the exaltation of abortion rights (contra Genesis 1:28), and the revolt against the creation ordinance of marriage (contra Genesis 2:24, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:5//Mark10:7,8 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31) – these three rejections of fundamental reality as created by God show this spiritual psychosis.

The Church has, from the beginning, confessed distinction – not division – in the unity of God. He is “one God, Who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations” (Second London Confession, 3.2). This distinction, faithfully describing the full witness of the Scripture, must be defended against heterodoxy in every generation of the church.

In creation, God has ordained distinctions. In Himself, there are three eternal and Personal distinctions.

However, in regard to the salvation of His elect through faith in His Son, God makes no distinction. He saves all sorts of people.
• The apostle Peter, at the first great Church Council, proclaims, “He [God] made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [non-Jews], cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
• Paul teaches this in his flagship of Christian theology: “…the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:21-25).
• Later, he writes, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for [as it written in Joel 2:32] ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (10:12,13).
• In Ephesians 2:11-22 he describes this great division between Jew and non-Jew abolished for those in Christ.

Paul will also simply and definitively describe this undoing of sin’s distinctions in Christ:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“…you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him - a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11).[1]

Let me circle back to my original thought, prompted by Movsesian’s article and the Tocqueville reference.

What God has distinguished, rebellious humanity seeks to blur. They cannot undo divinely-ordained distinction, but they can twist and deny, even when it seems to be an empirically-established fact. The Church is not immune from this temptation. The New Testament speaks of those inside and those outside the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:9,10; Galatians 5:19-21), but I know of believers who are uncomfortable with any exclusive language concerning either membership or any sense of belonging.[2] The Lord Jesus, in asserting the authority of Genesis 2:24, says of marriage, “what therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:5,6). We all know how much of a struggle this is in the Church.

There are worldly distinctions with divisions inherent in them which are dissolved in Christ. This is what the world system seeks to counterfeit. Our society claims to adore seemingly infinite diversity, but in reality this diversity is bound within an unbending conformity. As Movsesian observes, no distinction from this conformity can be tolerated. This is done in the name of an equality that is counterfeit to what God has manifested in Christ.

The danger, and the reason I’ve taken time to scribble (digitally) these thoughts down, is that believers must be biblically-grounded in distinctions and unity. We must not take our cues from the world on what is to be distinguished and what is to be indistinguishable. Worldly power struggles and divisions based on race, gender, socio-economic status, geography, personal preference, etc., cannot be allowed to assert themselves in our worldview as individual believers, in our relationships with each other in the Church (I’m thinking specifically about cliques here, but that’s not the only problem), or in our authority structures in the Church. What has been made equal in Christ must not be divided by worldly standards manifesting themselves in remaining sin in our lives. We cannot distinguish between which people groups or types of people "deserve" the Gospel or which ones are more likely to be changed by its power - all must hear the Gospel, and all are equally dead in sin and can only be brought to life by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

What God has distinguished we cannot declare to be one. Unbelievers are not believers. Men and women are different in some ways ordained by God in His creation. All religions are not equal. The distinguished Persons of the one true God must not be compromised, “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him” (Second London Confession, 3.2).

We will not learn proper distinctions and unities from the world, which is in active rebellion against God and embodies the counterfeit to His purpose, creation, and nature. We must get our worldview from dwelling in God’s Word and taking our cues from it alone. "We ought to seek from Scripture a sure rule for both thinking and speaking, to which both the thoughts of our minds and the words of our mouths should be conformed" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.3). The tension between God’s declaration of reality and the counterfeit will only increase. Daily we must discipline ourselves to truth, prayerfully relying on the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us stand.

[1] Even in the Church we have twisted this to mean assimilation to the standards of the dominant rather than mutual submission to Christ, the only Head of the Church. We struggle with sin and cultural blind-spots – all of us – and still have a long way to go in our sanctification. The good news is, of course, the assurance of Philippians 1:6.
[2] See also Matthew 5:13; 13:48; Mark 4:11; 5:10; 12:8; Luke 13:28; 14:35; 20:15; John 12:31; 15:6; 1 Corinthians 5:12,13; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; Revelation 21:8; 22:14,15.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Providence Permits Many Heretics

“Divine Providence permits many heretics with their differing errors so that at least, when they insult us and ask us what we do not know, we may shake off our sluggishness and long to know the divine Scriptures. This is why the Apostle says [in 1 Corinthians 11:19], ‘It is necessary that there be heresies in order that those who are approved among you might become manifest.’ For those are approved before God who can teach well, but they can only become manifest to men when they teach. They are, however, willing to teach only those who seek to be taught. Yet many are slow to seek if they are not aroused as if from sleep by the troublesomeness and insults of the heretics. Then, embarrassed over their ignorance, they perceive that they are in danger because of that ignorance. If these are men of solid faith, they do not give in to the heretics, but carefully seek what response they should make to them. God does not abandon them. When they ask, they receive, and when they seek, they find, and when they knock, the door will be opened for them” (Augustine, On Genesis, Against the Manichees, I.1.2).[1]

God allows false teaching to motivate true believers to seek the truth and to manifest teachers whom Christ has given His Church.

There is plenty of false teaching, and it is extremely popular. Our small groups shouldn’t be so small, our Sunday Schools should be bursting with students desirous for God’s truth, our Bible studies ought to be crowded, our Bibles should be wearing out faster than our phones, our prayer meetings’ requests should be for knowledge of God above all, our services filled with humble hunger for a Word from the Lord, and the local church should be the vital seed-bed (the meaning of the word “seminary”) for teachers manifested by God to confront the staggering amount of falseness being marketed to Christians. Teachers should be showing their legitimacy as manifestations of God’s provision to His Church by ever honing their craft, their art, their passion, their accuracy, their communication, and their Spirit-wrought authoritative power.

“Should be.” “Ought.”

The heresies are plentiful, Lord. Please, please, please manifest those approved in the teaching and learning ministry of Your precious Church.

“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

[1] Augustine is meditating on 1 Corinthians 11:19, “there must also be factions [αἱρέσεις] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Αἵρεσις is translated “heresy” (its English cognate) by Wycliffe, and in the Geneva Bible and King James Version.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Love Songs of Nature and Architecture

I’ve been teaching through Revelation 21-22 on Wednesday evenings for several months. The “holy city, new Jerusalem,” is compared to “a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). An angel tells the apostle, “Come here, and I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). It is the Church that alone is “the wife of the Lamb” in the New Testament (Matthew 9:15//Mark 2:19,20//Luke 5:34,35; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33), but we are immediately shown “the holy city, Jerusalem” (21:10), along with an elaborate and incredible architectural description (21:11-22:5). It seems odd when you think about it; how many of you men wooed your sweetheart by comparing her to a well-designed structure with exalted aesthetics? Probably not many. Yet the New Testament often uses the language of temple to describe God’s people in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19,20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). Christian men, we probably shouldn’t start a trend of using architectural language to describe our beloved, but hear me out – when, at the close of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, a description of His Bride is given using this sort of language, she is more majestic, beautiful, and other-worldly than anything in this world (either Herod’s grand Temple in Jerusalem or the many incredible structures of other religions, whose grand remains are still tourist visiting points)! It may not be Shakespeare, but God the Son is saying to His Bride, “I’m preparing you by My Spirit like a master builder; no one in this world can construct anything close to you, My Beloved.”

Now, with this elaborate love-speech in mind, let’s read something that came earlier in the Bible:
“How beautiful you are, my darling,
How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins,
And not one among them has lost her young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate
Behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
Built with rows of stones
On which are hung a thousand shields,
All the round shields of the mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle
Which feed among the lilies…
…how beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist.
Your navel is like a round goblet
Which never lacks mixed wine;
Your belly is like a heap of wheat
Fenced about with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Which faces toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses.
How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
And your breasts are like its clusters”
(Song of songs, 4:1-5; 7:1-7).

We wouldn’t use this language (well, much of it) to describe our wives, would we, men? Do you notice the similarity in principle, though, between the Song of songs’ description of the King’s Beloved and the Revelation’s description of the Bride? One says, “you are more beautiful than the most breath-taking natural wonders and wealth of our land.” The other says, “all the man-made wonders of the world are poorly-made sand castles compared to you.”

Both of these extended metaphors, odd as they are to our cultural expressions, say one thing: the King loves His Bride, and thinks her more beautiful than anything in this world.

Remember that today, Church.

And if you’re not part of His Church, hear me: all of us, as descendants of that first man Adam, share in both his rebellious nature against God and the penalty for that rebellion. We are born in this world fighting the purpose for which we were created, which is to give God glory in our worshipful obedience and reflection of His image. This is the only true love, peace, and joy for the human being. We spend our brief lives here trying to fulfill that purpose with counterfeits in vain, and leave this world to spend an eternity separated from the only One Who can satisfy. But He, in His infinite love and mercy, came to earth as one of us to do what we could not: live a human life of perfect obedience to God (the condition for spending an eternity with God in bliss) and to take the just punishment for our disobedience upon Himself in death. He lived and died in His Bride’s place, and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven, where He reigns over all heaven and earth until the time comes for the defeat of all rebels to come to an end. The Bible tells us to confess Jesus as Lord, and that in Him we find forgiveness for our sin, adoption into the family of God, and we are granted access to our Creator (the Source of all we’ve ever needed and desired) forever and ever. The Bible uses the bridegroom and bride metaphor to describe Jesus’ relationship to His people, the Church. He loves His Church, and treasures Her above all else in Creation. Repent of your sins, trust Jesus alone for your right standing before God now and forever, and be added by Jesus to those whom He considers His Beloved.

Do this, and the love song’s for you.

Friday, June 23, 2017

All Power

In the last few years, as I’ve grown in appreciation for biblical theology, I’ve delighted in spending time in Bible studies showing people themes that span the Book cover-to-cover. A few months ago I was teaching through Revelation 21-22, and a sister asked about a number in Revelation. I am of the conviction (based on the verb σημαίνω – the verb form of the noun “sign” - in 1:1, along with the genre of the book) that everything is symbolic in the Revelation, even the numbers. Her question started that group on a different study.

We recently looked at the number 10. It excited me, so I thought I’d share it with you.

On the first page of the Book, we find the number 10. Okay, you have to count to see it, but it’s there. The most profound thing that happens on the first page is that God speaks and the result is everything that is not God: creation. Yes, “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11; 31:17), but He spoke 10 times in the act of creating all things.

“…God said…” (1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26,28,29).

This speech of God is Personal. It is the eternal Word of God, Who is God the Son. By Him, in this ten-fold speaking, all things were created (John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16,17; Hebrews 1:1-3). This is power.

In the creation of a covenant people, He also spoke 10 words (Exodus 20:1-17//Deuteronomy 5:6-21). This is authority.

The number 10 shows up a lot when God shows His power on behalf of His people for His ultimate glory.

10 nations promised to be erased in judgment from the Promised Land (Genesis 15:19-21).

10 plagues to humble mighty Egypt for the display of God’s power before the nations.

The tithe itself shows God’s authority and power. The 10% wasn’t what alone belonged to God; it all belonged to Him, for the worshiper would have nothing if it weren’t for God’s gracious provision. The 10% was a confession that God owned it all.[1]

Solomon, in building a Temple to give God glory, incorporates the number 10 into the furniture. What was single in the Tabernacle is 10 and 102 in the Temple. Solomon’s Temple had “ten basins,” “ten golden lampstands,” “ten tables,” and “one hundred golden bowls” (2 Chronicles 4:6-8).

If the number 10 shows God’s power and authority in the world, then we should expect the adversary to counterfeit the number 10 in futile opposition to that governing. And we do.

Israel rebels 10 times against the Lord in the wilderness after the Exodus (Numbers 14:22).

In Daniel 7, the prophet sees a vision of four beasts (empires).[2] The fourth beast has “ten horns” 7:7,20,24), which are “ten kings” (7:24) in this particular empire.[3] This 10 is counterfeit, in opposition to the true King (7:25).

This number of rebellion is woven into the Revelation.
“…another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems” (12:3).
“…I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names” (13:1).
“…I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns…” (17:3).
“…the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns’” (17:7).
“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour…the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (17:12,16).

We see a significant number involving 103: 144,000 being 122x103. 12 represents the fullness of God’s covenant people (from the 12 tribes of Israel to the 12 apostles of Christ), and this use of 10 meaning a large number; 144,000, then, showing us the full number of God’s people from all time.

In the rest of the Bible, the number 1,000 is used to portray largeness, whether a long period of time (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalm 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; Ecclesiastes 6:6), a large number of people (Judges 15:16; 1 Samuel 18:13; 1 Kings 11:3; Isaiah 60:22), or “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

The most-discussed 103 is the millennium of Revelation 20:1-10 (specifically, vss. 2-7). Interpreters search the Bible looking for a use of the number 1,000 that is relevant to the context of Revelation 20:2-7, and come short with anything convincing (in my estimation). When we look at the number 10, however, and its use throughout the Bible to describe authority, I think we arrive at the right self-interpreting key from Scripture (the best interpretation is when we let Scripture interpret itself).

If, in Daniel and in the Revelation, the “10 horns” represent earthly power wielded by the “beast,” the 103 reminds us that Jesus’ authority is exponentially greater. And we need this reminder. The millennium (103) is about the heavenly reign of saints with Christ over all (vss. 4,6):
“Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’” (Matthew 28:18).
“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
“…the Father of glory…raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:17-21).

Worldly powers may say boastful words, display their might, and oppress the people of God, but Christ is actually in power over all of them; His power is conclusive, ultimate, and final.

May we rest in this, Church.

[1] This tithe is seen in Revelation 11:13. The city that should have belonged 100% to God had become “Sodom,” a city enslaved to the devil – the place where Jesus was crucified (11:8). God took a tithe as a reminder.
[2] Assyria, Babylon, Mede-Persian, and Rome.
[3] The “ten” of the last kingdom is also seen in the toes of the statue in Daniel 2:40-43. I interpret these ten to be the Roman emperors between the founding of the Roman Empire and the destruction of Jerusalem. The ten horns/Roman emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero (the “beast from the sea”), Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus (the one who destroyed Jerusalem).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No One Will Be Able to Buy or to Sell, Except...

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Revelation 13:11-18).

I love the last book of the Bible – “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that teaching it belongs in the small group setting, and then with people who’ve been sitting under my teaching for some time. Outside of that context, it’s too easy to be misunderstood or get bogged down in fruitless arguments. Still, I do love teaching this blessed book, and, because of that, feel compelled to write down a few thoughts on a single phrase found near the middle of it.

I don’t want to talk about the “beast…out of the earth,” “image of the beast,” the “mark,” or “the number of the beast,” though I certainly have an interpretation of this chapter. Can we look at the single phrase emboldened above without getting lost in those other items for a moment?

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell…”

The glorified Jesus, through His Spirit, spoke of His knowledge of the believers in Smyrna, which included their “tribulation and…poverty” (2:9). Financial difficulty, it would seem, it a natural (though malevolent) part of persecution for the covenant people of God in Christ.

We read about the Tennes family in the headlines, farmers who’ve sold at East Lansing’s farmers’ market for years – until recently. Because (on their farm twenty miles away outside the boundaries of East Lansing) they refuse to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies, they are not allowed to participate in the farmer’s market. They are, of course, just the latest business to be barred access from the economic system because of their non-conformity with what seems to be the official religion of the land (an assertion I make because of both law and culture). This farming family joins a growing list of florists, bakers, photographers, and even a pizza parlor.

(And don’t forget the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s attempt to force the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ to conform its bathrooms to the new gender regulations last year).

(Or the CEO of Mozilla, who, three years ago, had to step down because of a personal donation he made to an organization which supported traditional marriage. A personal donation.)

(I’m sure I’m forgetting some other examples.)

Regardless of how you interpret Revelation 13, we need to see (at the least) a strong parallel in principle between what we read in verse 17 and what seems to be a growing reality in the United States of America (and the world, for that matter).

I’m going to leave this here before I get further into Revelation interpretation and the observation I’m trying to make gets obscured – an observation that does not speak to an absolute interpretation of 13:17, but merely hopes to note the ominous parallel with our current situation as believers in the world and the trajectory of things from here.

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name…”

"Whose likeness and inscription is this?" (Matthew 22:20//Mark 12:16//Luke 20:24).
For the sake of the global propagation of the “glorious Gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), which is the “Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), may God grant that the U.S.A. return to being a land of freedom, for His name’s sake and His glory alone.

Friday, April 14, 2017

This Isn't Jesus

This isn’t Jesus:
This is a white guy. Blue eyes. Really?!
This isn't Jesus:
This is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.
I can actually give you a list of people I know who've shared his photo
thinking it was Jesus.
This isn't Jesus:
This is Jim Caviezal as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6//Deuteronomy 5:8-10).

I used to think the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11//Deuteronomy 5:12-15) was the most ignored by believers. I’m starting to think it’s the second.

“…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:20-23). Nothing against Ewan McGregor (I have no strong objection to his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels), but he is “corruptible man.” I have no personal problem with Jim Caviezel, but he is “corruptible man.” If Jesus is going to be portrayed by “corruptible man,” it should be through you and I sharing His Word personally with others.

God, in His providence, did not see to it that an image of Jesus (or even a physical description) was preserved for the Church, except maybe Isaiah’s prophecy: “…He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (53:2).

What was preserved about Jesus? The Word. We have the Gospels. We have His resurrected and ascended work through the Holy Spirit in Acts. We have the fullness of His truth for our lives and eternity given by His Holy Spirit through the apostolic witness of the rest of the New Testament.

[As it is written in Deuteronomy 30:14]‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ - that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says [in Isaiah 28:16], ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for [as it is written in Joel 2:32] ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him Whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written [in Isaiah 52:7], ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says [in 53:1], ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:8-17). The lost are not saved by images of Jesus. Saving faith does not rest on an image. They need the Word about Him. God only brings new, eternal life through His Word: “…you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23,25).

We don’t need images of Christ, aside from the ones He has given us (baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Jesus-commanded Word-made-visible). We need the word of Christ.

Share His Word, not an image. Meditate on the Scriptures, and consider your use of “Jesus images.”
And no.
(Other than this being a reality for every earthly ruler  - Revelation 1:5)..

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Solomon's Temple, Forever, and Sacramentology

“What about the ‘forever’ promises in the Old Testament? At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the LORD says, ‘I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever [1 Kings 9:3].’ God knew that Temple would be destroyed, so what did He mean? Is it using ‘forever’ in a different way than we do?”

This is the question I get from a church member at the door as I’m shaking hands and hugging necks after the service. I love stuff like this, so sorry to all you folks who walked by without my acknowledgement – you could probably tell I was excited about something, I’m sure! I gave the inquiring church member an answer, and thought I’d jot it down here.

In this case, it isn’t that we need to redefine “forever.” Instead, we need to let the whole counsel of the Bible inform us about the idea of “temple.” The duration of “forever” doesn’t change, but by the time we come to the new covenant Scripture (the New Testament), the dwelling place of God with man comes into its fullness. I’ll give you a quicker version of the quick answer I gave her, and then expand it a little to explain how I got there: Solomon’s Temple is sacramental for Jesus Christ, Who is the true and eternal Temple (along with His “Body,” the Church – those united to Him by faith). The “forever” promise given concerning Solomon’s Temple (a building to be destroyed in just over 300 years) applies to the Person signified (Jesus Christ) through the sign itself (Solomon’s Temple).

Let me tell you where I got the language I quickly pulled out of my theological toolbox Sunday morning.

The Second London Confession (1689) describes the elements of old covenant worship as “those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein [Jesus] was revealed” (8.6). Further, the S.L.C. confesses that the “covenant of grace…is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (7.2,3). The Old Testament is a movement from the announcement of the covenant of grace (Genesis 3:15) to its fullness in the first advent of Jesus Christ and His continuing work for His people. Every element and theme in the O.T. leads us to Jesus.[1] The LORD pronounces one of “those promises…wherein [Jesus] was revealed” over Solomon’s Temple, which was one of the “farther steps” in revealing the “covenant of grace.” The Temple was not the point, but it served as a symbol and sign, and, in its old covenant time, communicated the grace of Christ to those worshipers who came to the Temple as commanded and by faith – it both pointed forward to Christ but also brought Christ to those who gathered to worship at the Temple.[2]

There’s a helpful word not used in the S.L.C. to describe this: sacrament.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1644) describes sacraments as “holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (27.1). The W.C.F. also says “there is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified” (27.2). While the Particular Baptists omitted this language in the S.L.C., they had no problem using the word “sacrament” in other places.[3] I like the word, so I invoked it last Lord’s Day.

I would say that Solomon’s Temple was sacramental – that is, it represented in a real and beneficial (to those in the old covenant) way the fullness of both God-with-us (Immanuel, Jesus Christ), but also us-with-God in faith-union with Jesus Christ, and therefore brought them into the union between Father and Son, even though Christ’s earthly work had not yet occurred.[4]

When we hold up the bread and repeat the words, “this is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24), we do not consider the bread to have the promises of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Those promises come to us in Christ alone. The bread represents that, and we are drawn to Christ through obedience to His command to partake of the Supper. We are, by the Spirit, connected to His body on the cross (Galatians 2:20), and we are, by the Spirit, connected to the “Lamb standing, as if slain” (Revelation 5:6) in heaven. Christ’s Presence and benefits are ours through faith-union with Him (now and forever), a union sealed and made real by the heaven-sent Holy Spirit, Who works in us through the ordinary means of grace in the Church. This is displayed in the parallelism we see on the day of Pentecost:
“Repent, and each other you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
“…those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:41,42).

The visible and physical act of baptism showed forth the faith that brings one into union with Christ. That union is sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, Whose Presence unites us with Christ – that union is manifested by corporate devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The actions are not the union, but are a God-commanded means by which God the Holy Spirit manifests that union for our benefit.[5]

Just as “this is My body” is pronounced over bread, and just as “baptism now saves you,” the worship at Solomon’s Temple (the fellowship of God and His covenant people through sacrifice-mediation) and “forever” promises that attended that worship rested not on a building, but on the coming Christ and His work as the “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Reading the temple “forever” promise as stand-alone is an incomplete (and, therefore, erroneous) hermeneutic. We have a whole Book in our hands. Where does the temple lead? What’s the point of the whole story, and how does the temple connect us to that point? Here’s a vital, indispensable point for interpreting your Bible: what comes later is key to what comes earlier.[6] Jesus saw His resurrection as the building of the true temple (John 2:19-22; see also Mark 14:58; 15:29). Similarly, Jesus is described as the “cornerstone” (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-12; Luke 20:17,18; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:32,33) of the true Temple, which is the Church (the people of God, not a building, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5). In union with the resurrected Christ, the true and eternal Temple (locus of fellowship with God), the covenant people of God become part of that Temple, and receive the promises symbolically given to Solomon’s Temple in their fullness forever.

Solomon’s Temple, and the promises proclaimed at its dedication, was symbol/type of the coming Christ, but also sacramental in that those worshipers benefited from the future work of Christ on behalf of His people through the Temple worship by faith.

If your understanding of any Old Testament promise, commandment, God-action, or God-statement doesn’t take you to Jesus, read the whole Book.

[1] A more current Baptist confession, one I appreciate and ascribe to in my fellowship and service in the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], I).
[2] “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the Seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Second London Confession, 8.6).
[3] For example, Nehemiah Coxe (d. 1688) says, “Unto the public work and charge of a bishop or elder belongs also the administration of the sacraments, or ordinances of positive institution in the church, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper” (Biblical Elders and Deacons). When Hercules Collins (d. 1702) adapted the Heidelberg Catechism for his Baptist Congregation’s use, he retained the original language concerning sacraments: “Q.65 What are the sacraments? A. They are sacred signs and seals set before our eyes and ordained of God for this purpose, that He may declare and confirm by them the promise of His gospel unto us, to this, that He gives freely remission of sins and life everlasting to everyone in particular who believes in the sacrifice of Christ which He accomplished once for all upon the cross.” I give these two examples just to show that Particular Baptists, while not using the word “sacrament” in the Second London Confession, still used it without reservation in other places.
[4] It was going to occur – God had promised it in the Garden (Genesis 3:15). It was going to occur – God purposed it before the first pages of the Bible (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).
[5] This is the only way you will understand Peter’s words rightly: “…baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven” (1 Peter 3:21,22). Baptism is a real and indispensable (I know I’ve used that word in this post already) part of the “appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” A Zwinglian view of the ordinance as “mere symbol” doesn’t adequately explain Peter’s strong language “baptism now saves you.” As Baptists (and I suspect we’re not alone among Protestants), our weak doctrine of sacramentology has hobbled our understanding of the ordinances, the role of biblical Christian practice, our union with Christ, and our fellowship with the Trinity here on earth.
[6] “…the final authoritative interpreter of a specific Scripture is the rest of Scripture…the NT finally clarifies and authoritatively interprets previous OT type and shadows…there must be a final dependence upon the NT revelation to determine how the OT is fulfilled in it…the NT claims priority to teach how the Old is fulfilled in it as the inspired commentary on the OT…the priority of the NT for interpreting how the OT if fulfilled in it is fundamental to consistent biblical and systematic theology.” Frank A. Malone, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Covenant Theology,” in Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, ed. Earl M. Blackburn (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 67-76. Or, as Calvin succinctly says it, “the apostles are better interpreters” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.7).