Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Omnipresent in a Manger

After finishing Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology a month ago with my Thursday men’s theology reading group, we’re planning on starting John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion early next year. Along with trying to memorize Hebrews 10:4-10, I’ve been studying the Institutes in my “personal” study time.

I came across this passage in the Institutes today: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then He was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in His immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that He was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, He willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet He continuously filled the world even as He had done from the beginning” (2.13.4).

At least two Scriptures point us to the Son’s omnipresence (note that both of these are direct quotes from the Lord Jesus):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that [as it says in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15] by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18:15-20).
“…the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Of course, the Son is present with His covenant people by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) and “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). But He is also, because He is “God of God…very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “in this Trinity none are before or after another, none is greater or less than another…equal to the Father as touching His Godhead” (Athanasian Creed), omnipresent as God. We attribute to God omnipresence, and therefore, since the Son is fully God, we must attribute omnipresence to the Son.

We may stumble over this confession, especially during Advent, as we consider the mysterious wonder of the eternal, divine Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1,2,14). How could the Son be omnipresent and yet in a body dwelling as one of us among us during the years of His earthly life? How can the New Testament, after His ascension, locate Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21)?

Why is this strange? If we confess the Son to be fully God, are there not lessons from the Old Testament to learn about His omnipresence? God, Who cannot be contained in space or time, manifests His glorious, Personal Presence in places like the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament. No one believes Him to be located solely between the cherubim, or solely even on the throne in Heaven. Just as God was manifest between the cherubim and yet omnipresent, the Person of God the Son is manifestly present in His human nature/body, and yet as God is omnipresent.

As Stephen preaches before his martyrdom: “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says [in Isaiah 66:1,2]: ‘“Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?” says the Lord, “Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?”’” (Acts 7:44-50).

Hercules Collins, a 17th century Baptist pastor, gave his congregation a teaching on the Son’s omnipresence. After speaking of Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pastor Collins writes: “Q. 46. Is not Christ with us then until the end of the world, as He has promised? A. Christ is true God, and true man, and so according to His manhood is not now on earth, but according to His Godhead, His majesty, His grace and Spirit is at no time apart from us. Q. 47. Are not by this means the two natures in Christ pulled apart, if His humanity be not wherever His divinity? A. No. Seeing His divinity is incomprehensible, and everywhere present, it follows necessarily that the same [the Son’s divine nature] is without the bounds of His human nature which He took to Himself, and yet is nevertheless in it, and abides personally united to it” (Orthodox Catechism, 1680). 

This Advent, as we adore the baby in the manger, let us worship in awe at the reality of the omnipresent God the Son.

Friday, December 16, 2016


“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:44-49). We usually limit Christ’s explanation of “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” to the phrase “Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead.” I think, however, that Jesus included the global, Spirit-empowered witness in that explanation. The saving work of the Christ and the power of that work to re-orient the world to a radical, eternal Christ-centeredness and submission is also part of the story of the O.T.

I used to say, almost tongue-in-cheek, that when you had finished doing everything Jesus commanded and teaching other disciples among all the nations to do the same, you could study and debate the Revelation (or Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, etc.). It seems to be time to add an additional statement: when you’re done witnessing “to all the nations” concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness found in faithfulness to Him, and how that is taught in the whole Bible, then you can talk politics. When you’re done strategizing on how to get others out there, looking for unreached corners of your own counties, giving as much as you can to fund the going of others, the purchasing of outreach materials, praying exhaustively for the mission (2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-6), using the digital world for outreach, etc., then you can worry over and battle and (sigh) throw insults and whatever else for the sake of the control of the city of man…if you can find Scripture backing up such an enterprise and approach.

If you’re talking/posting more about the President, President-elect, or any other politician serving in the city of man than you speak of Jesus, and you claim to follow Him, you need to repent. Everyone else is talking about these briefest of flashes in world history; you have been given the message of the forever-King, His works, and His commands. Why would we waste a single breath or keystroke on those who are only distractions from eternity?

Not to be crass, but under the old covenant, while Israel was still wandering the desert, part of the Law of Moses even told them how to dispose of their personal bodily waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-14). It mattered because “the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.” If the toilet door wasn’t shut on the LORD for some privacy, do you really think your blog is yours, Christian? Or your social media accounts? Or anything?

I started with the red letter recorded by Luke. Moving on to the good doctor’s sequel, let’s consider the red letter in its beginning.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’” (Acts 1:1-8). I think it both fascinating and germane that, after Jesus “over a period of forty days” spoke to them “of the things concerning the kingdom of God,” they ask about a restoration of “the kingdom of Israel.” Any preacher or anyone involved in communication of information and events to a church can relate to this disjunct between what was said and what was heard (or not heard). “Forty days.” I do find it comforting that the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh, Who “by the Holy Spirit [had] given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen,” had to deal with the same issues as a preacher in a small pulpit or the poor soul charged with making announcements.

So I’ll say again: if you claim to follow Jesus, and He has commanded that you be part of proclaiming Him to the entire world, why is He less than 10% of what you say, write, re-post, echo, think, adore? I guarantee there is still a “remotest part” in your town, beloved. We’re not done yet.

Earlier I mentioned something I often say about the Revelation or “end times” obsessions. I’m certainly not done teaching new disciples to obey everything Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20), and I’m nowhere close to obeying Him adequately myself, but I want to look at a chapter in the Revelation to finish this post out.

“…‘I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.’ These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth [Zechariah 4:11-14; 2 Corinthians 2:17]. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies [2 Samuel 22:9; Psalm 97:3; Jeremiah 5:14]; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying [1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10]; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood [Exodus 7:20; Revelation 16:4], and to strike the earth with every plague [the Revelation, describing the final Exodus event, references “plagues” often - 9:2; 15:1,6,8; 16:9,21; 18:4,8; 21:9; 22:18], as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them [compare with 17:6]. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city [Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21] which mystically is called Sodom [Isaiah 1:10] and Egypt [Galatians 4:21-31], where also their Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days [compare with “forty-two months,” 11:2, and “twelve hundred and sixty days,” 11:3; see also Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Luke 4:25; Revelation 12:14], and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth [Esther 9:22]. But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet [Ezekiel 37:5,10]; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Revelation 11:3-12).

Quite the tapestry of other Bible passages, isn’t it? I’ve taught through Revelation three times (not in the same venue or time slot), and am fighting a temptation to do it again. I’m not satisfied with how I’ve taught it, and can’t find anyone who teaches it in a way that seems (to me) to match the purpose of the Holy Spirit in inspiring it. It’s about an unveiling of “Jesus Christ.” It’s supposed to be a blessing to the one “who reads” it, along with those “who hear the words of the prophecy.” This is a corporate worship (“church service”) setting. The Revelation is something we’re supposed to “heed” (1:3). Yet it’s taught as information about events (past, present, future) on a geopolitical level. Nations are the focus, not Jesus. After just a cursory reading of the above passage from chapter 11 and noting a few of the Old Testament (or even New Testament) cross-references, my conviction that we don’t understand “prophecy” is only growing. True, I am an amillennialist, which means (now that I’ve put a label to it), many readers will automatically check out, but I believe the Revelation describes the work of Jesus Christ in His Church in this last age of the world (the Gospel Age) using only Old Testament quotes, allusions, and echoes. What if you had to write a newspaper article about a current event, but could only cut-and-paste from a history book to do it? Or, to make it more like the Revelation, you could only cut-and-paste from an art history book and several classic poets to do it? Just as Jesus taught from “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” concerning His saving work and the spread of the message of that work throughout the world, Revelation is a capstone to the Bible in that it does exactly that. It takes “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” and weaves a complicated, dramatic, powerful series of tapestry-images that we will only grasp if we are living a New Testament life with New Testament thinking and New Testament goals in New Testament ways while growing in our understanding of Old Testament passages and how they point to Jesus. To re-allocate Paul, “brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14).

The witnesses. Two of them. They speak with authority and power. The world hates them. I believe they represent the Church in the Gospel Age. You, Church, are called to proclaim the divine and personal Truth (John 14:6) in the power of the Holy Spirit to a world that absolutely hates it.

Why two witnesses? Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15 (see also Matthew 18:16; 26:60; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28). It took at least two for righteous condemnation in judgment.

The function of the two witnesses is to facilitate God’s judgment.

You are talking about who’s right and who’s wrong in the politics of the city of man, when you are called and empowered to walk through Ninevah warning, “yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), and offering the only hope: “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). That generation of Ninevah wasn’t saved by a smear campaign against the king. Or by advocating replacement of that king. It was saved by proclaiming judgment and commanding repentance.

When Paul was speaking to Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea (A.D. 52-58), and the procurator’s wife, the apostle spoke “about faith in Christ Jesus,” which included “discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:24,25). Yes, it “frightened” Felix. Yes, he sent Paul away. But Paul, called to be a witness as much as we are, Church, did his duty “before the Lord of the earth.” He didn’t speak civic policy or political theory with Felix. He proclaimed the greater Kingdom and its greatest King. This is what Jesus said would happen (Matthew 10:16-20//Mark 13:9-11//Luke 21:12-15).

I took this picture a few nights ago looking out one of the back windows of the house, roughly facing southeast. Sirius is high in the picture. Brightest star in the sky. Part of Canis Major, the dog running with the hunter Orion across the winter night sky. Yet Sirius is not the brightest light in the picture. A bit less than 300 yards away from me is a barn. When the moon is casting its light, the metal roof of that barn is a bright trapezoid-looking shape that immediately catches your attention. That dog’s been chasing the hunter across the sky for all of human history, but a bit of metal roofing in a cattle field easily outshines it. You're not supposed to be a superstar or an announcer for a superstar (a celestial dog chasing Orion across the sky); you're an "adequate" (2 Corinthians 3:4,5; 2 Timothy 3:17) means of reflecting a greater light. Reflect the greater Light, Church. In the darkness, don’t echo the words (spoken or digital) of the darkness. There is only one Light. Reflect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What If Santa...

Friday night we gathered to go caroling in our little town's historic downtown. I had my Santa hat on, and am still growing the gray beard out longer and longer. One of our church members asked, "have you ever considered playing Santa?"

It is a secret ambition. I want to be Santa when I grow up. Of course, I love the story of Nikolaos of Myra and his punching Arius at the First Council of Nicea (A.D. 325). I despise anyone lying about my Jesus, too, though it has not come to that original Santa Claus' action.

It got me thinking yesterday: what if our American icon Santa Claus had the spirit of Nikolaos of Myra? What if, when children sat on his lap for pictures, all he could do was speak Scripture?

What follows is entirely tongue-in-cheek, friends.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Tale of the Serpent-Slaying King

This is a story I have told twice lately in teaching the saints; I want to share it here, too. It is a beautiful and powerful tale, and, like all the best tales, is true.

On Wednesday evenings, we’ve been learning about God’s teaching concerning “Christ” in 1 Samuel. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but is the Greek translation (Χριστός) of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (מָשִׁיחַ), which means “Anointed One.”[1]

Prior to 1 Samuel, only the priests had the title “anointed one” (Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:22). Late in Israel’s Period of the Judges, however, there was a woman named Hannah who desperately wanted a child. She prayed to the LORD, and He gave her a son named Samuel. When the boy was weaned, she brought him to the high priest to be raised in the service of the LORD. Upon leaving her son, Hannah prayed a prayer of thanksgiving (1 Samuel 2:1-10).[2] At the end of her prayer, she prophesies of a great new work of God with His people - the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One would not just be a priest, but also a King: “He keeps the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, the Lord will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed [מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah] (1 Samuel 2:9,10).[3]

Let’s look at three who held the office of God’s Anointed One (Messiah/Christ).

Saul held the office first. After being anointed (1 Samuel 10:1), Saul faced off with Nahash, king of Ammonites (11:1-15). The name Nahash means “serpent” (same word used in Genesis 3). God’s anointed king over His people faced off with the serpent-king. Saul was ultimately rejected from the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ because of his disobedience to God (1 Samuel 15:22,23).[4]

David held the office next. After being anointed (1 Samuel 16:13), he faced off against Goliath, the giant “clothed with scale-armor” (17:5) - a serpent-warrior. David could not stay in the office of God’s Anointed One/Messiah/Christ because he aged and died.

Jesus of Nazareth holds the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ finally and forever. Saul and David were anointed with oil, representing the Holy Spirit.[5] Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism.

Compare these two passages about David and Jesus’ anointing. First, David: “…Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him… and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Second, Jesus: “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:16,17// Mark 1:10,11//Luke 3:21,22//John 3:32-34). David, whose name means “beloved,” goes through a visible rite (anointing with oil) which represents his being given the Holy Spirit upon entering the office of God’s Anointed King. Jesus, pronounced “Beloved,” goes through a visible rite (baptism) and receives the Holy Spirit upon entering the office of God’s Anointed King.

Like Saul and David, Jesus, after being anointed into the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ, faces off against the serpent (Matthew 4:1-11//Mark 1:12,13//Luke 4:1-13). Jesus does not vacate the office because of either disobedience or death, since He is perfectly obedient to the Father and, though He “was dead,” is “alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18).

God’s Anointed One/Messiah/Christ defeats the enemy of God’s covenant people, the serpent, fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘…I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise Him on the heel’”
(Genesis 3:14,15).

We know this theme is important because it is counter-balanced on the other side of the Bible from Genesis 3 in the Revelation (chapters 12 and 20).

Christ “must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Q. 30. How does Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executes the office of a king,
in subduing us to Himself,
in ruling and defending us,
and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.

-          Baptist Catechism, by Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)

It is a great tale. And it is true.

Remember the basic saving confession of Christianity: “…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” (Romans 10:9). Confessing “Jesus as Lord” is not an empty statement. Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5), the One Who “overcame and sat down with [His] Father on His throne” (3:21), the One Who is named “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), and is “the root and Offspring of David” (22:16). It is the voice of the Holy Spirit through believers (1 Corinthians 12:3), given by God the Father for His universal and eternal glory (Philippians 2:11).

Believe in Him, and give Him glory as King. It is your “Great Commission,” Church: “Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
hitchhiking along NM-9.

[1] It’s become popular in the last decades to emphasize Hebrew words in Christian devotion/worship, but notice that the New Testament doesn’t attempt to bring the Hebrew word “Messiah” into its language of Greek (outside of John 1:41; 4:25, where its meaning is explained). God’s work in the New Testament to today is beyond a single people’s language; the Lamb has “purchased for God” with His “blood men from every…tongue” (Revelation 5:9). God is not on a Hebrew-is-holy trajectory. I would put the use of “Yahweh” in this category, too. The N.T. doesn’t attempt to render this name (it approximates its meaning in Revelation 1:4 with “Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come”); Jesus Himself, in fact, commands us to address God as “Father” (Matthew 6:9). This peppering Christian worship with Hebrew (by non-Hebrew speakers) is akin to the language snobbery of 1 Corinthians 12-14 or the Roman Catholic Mass being in Latin (when the people had ceased to speak or understand Latin).
[2] Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) echoes much of Hannah’s prayer.
[3] In the same chapter, “a man of God” prophesies to Eli, the high priest, about the corruption of his sons. Through the prophet, the LORD says, “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed [מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah] always” (1 Samuel 2:35).
[4] Even after being rejected by God, David continues to refer to Saul as “the LORD’s anointed,” or Messiah/Christ (1 Samuel 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Samuel 1:14,16).
[5] “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). For Saul and the Holy Spirit, read 10:1-16. For David and the Holy Spirit, read 1 Samuel 16:13.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


“O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”
John Wade (1743), translated from Latin to English by Frederick Oakeley (1841)

We are coming to the end of the first week of Advent. The Church is singing her seasonal songs celebrating the incarnation of the Son of God. As we invite one another to “adore…Christ the Lord,” we would do well to love Him with our minds as well as with our hearts. Let’s consider the title “Christ.”

It’s not Jesus’ last name. It’s His title. It means “anointed,” and starts in the Old Testament with the word we transliterate “Messiah” (מָשִׁיחַ in the Hebrew). “Christ” (an English word transliterated from the Greek Χριστός) and “Messiah” both mean “anointed.”

When we first encounter the word “Messiah” in the Bible, it is referring to the priests of old covenant Israel (Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:22). The priests represented a covenant people in their sins before a holy God, offering sacrifices and facilitating the offering of sacrifices so that the people could be before the LORD. The priests were to “make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses” (Leviticus 10:10,11; see also Deuteronomy 24:8; 33:10; 2 Chronicles 17:9; 30:22; Nehemiah 8:2; Malachi 2:7). They, in a way similar to the prophets, represented the God of truth to the covenant people (who, if God did not reveal truth to them, would be just as blind to it as the unbelieving nations). The priests, though exempt from the military census, at times led the people of God into battle (as the priestly singers of 2 Chronicles 20:21, who were probably of the priestly tribe of Levite, see 1 Chronicles 6:31,32; 15:16-21; 16:4-6,41,42; 25:1-7; 2 Chronicles 7:6). We might say that the Levitical priesthood served in an embryonic form of the office of Messiah, or anointed one.

Something amazing happens at the end of the period of the Judges. A woman deep in grief over her barrenness appeals to the LORD and is given a son. After weaning the boy, Hannah brings little Samuel to the chief priest Eli and leaves him there to be raised serving the LORD. Hannah prays a prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 which served as a forerunner to Mary’s own Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Like Mary’s prayer, Hannah’s is primarily concerned with God’s character and His saving purposes for His people (neither Mary nor Hannah emote about themselves even though God has miraculously given them both a son…it’s almost as if God is more important to them than their own personal circumstances…imagine!).

At the end of Hannah’s prayer, she is used as a prophetess to foretell of a work of God yet to come:
“Hannah prayed and said,
‘…those who contend with the Lord will be shattered;
Against them He will thunder in the heavens,
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
And He will give strength to His king,
And will exalt the horn of His anointed
[מְשִׁיחֹֽו, from מָשִׁיחַ]’” (1 Samuel 2:1,10).

The people have yet to ask for “a king for us to judge us like all the nations,” who would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:5,20). This request, a rejection of God’s Kingship akin to idolatry (8:7,8), will be granted by the LORD in His anger (Hosea 13:11). The LORD will use the covenant people’s desire to be like all the nations to establish the office of Messiah/Christ/Anointed One, ultimately leading to the final, perfect, and forever office-Holder, Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God. But none of this has happened yet. Hannah, the humble, God-seeking mother utters this Christ-prophecy before going home to eventually bear five children and disappear quietly from the narrative. Remember, “Messiah” as a descriptor has only been used of priests. Hannah, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unveils a new chapter in Israel’s history: Christ the King.

Later, “…a man of God came to Eli and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “…I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed [מְשִׁיחִי, from מָשִׁיחַ] always”’” (1 Samuel 2:27,35). Not only will God establish the office of “Christ the King,” but those who were previously described by the term “Messiah” (anointed), will submit to this new office-holder under the old covenant.

David’s name had first been revealed in the genealogies at the end of Ruth (4:17,22). In 1 Samuel, however, it doesn’t come until the young man is anointed to the office of Messiah by Samuel.

“…Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [וַיִּמְשַׁח, from מָשַׁח] him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David [דָּוִד, or “beloved”] from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Compare this with another, later anointing of the final Son of David to the office of Messiah:
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:16,17).

Both passages show us the beloved of God undergoes an outward rite which represents the invisible reality of the imparting of the Holy Spirit and the instillation into the office of Messiah/Christ.

1 Samuel leads us to wrestle with several theological issues, like the LORD, Who doesn’t change (1 Samuel 15:29), change concerning Saul (1 Samuel 15:10). Or His use of evil spirits for His purposes (1 Samuel 16:14; see also Judges 9:23; 1 Samuel 18:10; 19:9; 1 Kings 22:22; Psalm 78:49). Or the question, “can believers lose their salvation and have the Holy Spirit taken away from them?”

“…the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward…now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 16:13,14). David, after having committed adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle, confessed his sin to the LORD and begged, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). When we read this and ask, “can Christians lose the Holy Spirit?” we are making a category fallacy and showing that we need to understand how we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit.

First, the category fallacy. The imparting of the Holy Spirit is that which is represented by the anointing with oil (remember that the title Messiah/Christ means “anointed”), making the office-holder the Prophet, Priest, and King of God over His covenant people. When Saul disobeyed the LORD, he was rejected from the office of Messiah/Christ. With that rejection the anointing of the office of Anointed One (Messiah/Christ) was removed from him – the Holy Spirit. Since David was the one chosen of God to hold this office, the Holy Spirit was given to him. This removing and giving of the Holy Spirit doesn’t belong to the category “The Spirit’s Indwelling of Christians.” It belongs to the category “The Office of Messiah/Christ.” In other words, 1 Samuel 16:13,14 and Psalm 51:11 don’t give us biblical data concerning the Holy Spirit and Christians, but contribute to our understanding of the title and office of Messiah/Christ. The two categories (the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the title/office of Messiah/Christ) are connected, however.

Second, we need to remind ourselves how Christians are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, is publicly installed to the office of Messiah/Christ (the Anointed One) at His baptism (for other verses on Jesus’ anointing, see Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; Hebrews 1:9). He is the One Who is the Prophet, Priest, and King to God’s covenant people. Unlike Saul, who was rejected from the office because of disobedience, and unlike David, who could not continue in the office because of his death, Jesus continues in the office of Messiah/Christ forever because of His perfect obedience and unending life. He is the final, perfect, and eternal Holder of the office of Messiah/Christ. The Holy Spirit is forever imparted to the One Whom He finally anointed to this office: Jesus.

How, then, do we receive the Holy Spirit? Believers receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of their faith-union with Christ, the One eternally anointed by the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit because we are united to Jesus.

“Now He Who establishes us with you in Christ [Χριστὸν, from Χριστός ] and anointed [χρίσας, from χρίω] us is God, Who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Corinthians 1:21,22, New American Standard Bible).

“Remember that God has established our relationship with you in the Anointed One, and He has anointed and commissioned us for this special mission. He has marked us with His seal and placed His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee, a down payment of the things to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21,22, the Voice).

Notice, too, the Trinitarian nature of the God Who is one in these verses: God (the Father, see 1:2,3; 11:31) establishes us in the Son (Messiah/Christ/Anointed One) and gives us the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The only way we can lose the Holy Spirit is if Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God, is rejected from the office of Messiah/Christ/Anointed One. This cannot happen, for Jesus’ place as God’s Messiah/Christ/Anointed One is one of His unchanging decree.

“Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed
[מְשִׁיחֹֽו, from מָשִׁיחַ], saying,
‘Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!’
[Proclamation of the Father]
He Who sits in the heavens laughs,
The LORD scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
‘But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.’
[Confession of the Son]
‘I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, “You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware”’”
(Psalm 2:1-9).[1]

The LORD’s Anointed (Messiah/Christ) is His “King,” decreed to be “Son” (used in a royal/sovereign sense instead of generational, as in Psalm 89:27).

God’s promise to the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One is an aspect of His covenant through David:
“Great deliverance giveth He to His king; and sheweth mercy to His anointed [לִמְשִׁיחֹו, from מָשִׁיחַ], to David, and to his seed for evermore” (Psalm 18:50, King James Version). Paul teaches us that “seed” (singular) in the Old Testament promises is a reference to “Christ” (Galatians 3:16).

Because Jesus is decreed by the Father to be Messiah/Christ/Anointed One forever, those united to the Christ by faith are eternally indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. All that we eternally and blessedly have, including the Personal Presence of God the Holy Spirit, comes to us through the mediation of Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God and fully human, the perfect and final Holder of the office called Messiah/Christ/Anointed One. Praise and adore Him!

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

[1] My youngest daughter read this Psalm to us last night during family worship. As I pointed out to her, Psalm 1 begins and Psalm 2 ends with beatitude. How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1,2). “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (Psalm 2:12). These “blessed book-ends” bring these two Psalms together, I believe, as the keys to understanding the governing themes of the entire Psalter.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Holy Trinity and Waiting for My Change

“…He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He Who prepared us for this very purpose is God [the Father, 1:2,3; 11:31], Who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord [the Son, 1:3,4,14; 4:14; 8:9; 11:31; 13:14] - for we walk by faith, not by sight - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 4:14-5:10).

The Father is the One Who purposes our resurrection (5:5), gives us the eternally divine Person of the Holy Spirit “as a pledge” (5:5), creates our resurrection body (5:1), and “will raise us also with Jesus” (4:14). This is done for His great glory (4:15). How great is “the love of God” (13:14)!

The Son Who is the resurrected Lord is the One to Whom we are faith-united to receive our resurrection from the dead (4:14). While here on earth, we are “absent from the Lord,” and desire instead “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (5:6,8). The apostle, in his focus on this eternally divine Person of the one true God, appeals to our will (“we have as our ambition”) and our affections (“to be pleasing to Him”) in directing our attention to Him. We are motivated by the reality that this Son is the Judge and Rewarder of how we steward our time in this world. The greatest blessing a human can enjoy in the context of forever is “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14)!

The Holy Spirit, given to all who believe in the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ (John 7:39; Acts 2:38), is a gift from the Father to assure us throughout our days here on earth that He will raise us from the dead in His good time. The Holy Spirit, God present in us, is a pledge of a future promise (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13,14). How comforting is “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (13:14)!

This one true God Who is three Persons will accomplish a great change in us. Consider all the ways Paul describes our God-wrought transition:
“…our outer man is decaying” → “our inner man is being renewed day by day”
“…momentary, light affliction” → “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”
“…the things which are seen” → “the things which are not seen”
“…temporal” → “eternal”
“…the earthly tent which is our house” → “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”
“…this house” → “our dwelling from heaven”
“…naked…unclothed” → “clothed”
“…mortal” → “life”
“…at home in the body,” and therefore “absent from the Lord” → “absent from the body and…at home with the Lord”

The Father “has prepared” (aorist middle deponent participle of κατεργάζομαι) us for this change, working it through our faith-union with the resurrected Son and assuring us of this purpose by giving us the indwelling Spirit. This has been my meditation this last week as I prepared for a graveside service I led yesterday. For the believer in Jesus Christ, the setting of earthly remains to rest in the cemetery is the great statement of faith in the promised change.

“Oh, that You would hide me in the grave,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past,
That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes.
You shall call, and I will answer You;
You shall desire the work of Your hands.
For now You number my steps,
But do not watch over my sin.
My transgression is sealed up in a bag,
And You cover my iniquity”
(Job 14:13-17, N.K.J.V.).

Give glory to the Triune God for His purpose in our resurrection. Burial is a step in that glorious direction.
Ft. Bayard National Cemetery

Friday, September 30, 2016

Person of Life


The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of the living beings” (Ezekiel 1:21).
The Holy Spirit is “rivers of living water” (John 7:37-39).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
The Holy Spirit is “the seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2).
The Holy Spirit “the breath of life from God” (Revelation 11:11).

The Holy Spirit is the “breath of life that made a pile of dust into “a living being” (Genesis 2:7), and, by the preaching of the Word, “came into [a dead people], and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).

Of the resurrected Jesus it is said that “the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

We will read that “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live(Romans 8:13).

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17).

The Holy Spirit is true life, eternal life!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transformed for Worship and Communion

I’ve been leading an early Tuesday morning theology reading group for several months now. We’ve been thinking through L. Michael Morales’ excellent Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? In this post I’d like to summarize his teaching on the offering of Leviticus 1, then take that idea further for application to our experience as worshipers and disciples of Christ here and into eternity’s fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.

The Whole Burnt Offering Is An Ascension Offering (Leviticus 1:3-17)
·         As we’ve been reading Morales, he has repeatedly told us that the most foundational offering of the Old Testament worship system is not, as it is translated in our English texts, a “whole burnt offering.” It’s true that the offering is totally consumed on the altar, but a pile of ash is not the final state of the offering. The rising smoke is the goal of the offering.
·         All three sections describing this offering end with the same refrain: “…a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (1:9,13,17).
·         In this offering, the worshiper would select the animal, bring it to the Tabernacle, press his hands on it (identifying with it), kill it, dismember it, and give the pieces to the priest, who would burn it all on the altar. Since the sacrifice represents the worshiper, it pictures the complete dedication of the worshiper to God. The animal (a representative substitute for the worshiper) is transformed from flesh into a different state which is imitative of God’s symbolic presence (the cloud): the worshiper is able to rise up to God through this offering.
The Imagery Behind the Burnt Offering
·         The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” is העֹלָ, from the verb העָלָ (“ascend”). In fact, the same word translated “burnt offering” can even be translated “going up” steps (Ezekiel 40:26). The emphasis of the word is not on the burning, but on climbing up to the altar to put the sacrifice on it and the rising up of the smoke heavenward.
·         In 1 Kings 10:5, the queen of Sheba admires Solomon’s kingly court, his wisdom, but also a curious phrase translated several different ways:
o    “…his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord” (English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
o    “…his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord” (King James Version).
o    Eugene Peterson (b. 1932), in his paraphrase of the Bible, brings all the ideas behind this word together: “…the elaborate worship extravagant with Whole-Burnt-Offerings at the steps leading up to The Temple of God” (the Message).
o    “…his stairway by which he went up to the house of the Lord” (New American Standard Bible).
o    “…the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord” (New International Version).
o    “She saw the steps by which he went up to the house of the Lord” (New Life Version).
o    “…the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord” (New Living Translation).
o    “…the beautiful stairway that led up to the Eternal’s temple” (the Voice).
·         The burnt offering in Genesis comes in two places:
o    Noah’s sacrifice to the Lord on top of Mount Ararat after the Flood (Genesis 8:20).
o    Abram’s sacrifice to the Lord on top of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22).
o    The two precedents to this offering are on mountaintops. We have to keep this in mind when we see the offering instituted in the liturgy of Israel. The altar is a bridge between earth (the worshiper) and heaven (the domain of God).
·         The section of the Psalter with the Songs of Ascents (מַעֲלָה) also enforces this idea (Psalms 120-134). The pilgrims would have sung these songs on the ascent to the Temple to offer ascension (burnt) offerings (עֹלָה) to the LORD. Again, it’s all about going to where God is.
·         There is a connection between the ascension (burnt) offering and prayer: “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples”
(Isaiah 56:7).
·         The burnt offering is a symbolic ascent to where God is – the worshiper ascends to God through the sacrifice.

The LORD has appeared in a cloud, representing His glory (Exodus 16:10; 40:35) and the manifestation of His Word (Exodus 19:9; 33:9).

The animal is transformed from flesh to smoke (Leviticus 1:9,13,15,17) on the altar, and the smoke of the offering would rise up, mingling with the pillar of cloud above the dwelling tent/tent of meeting, symbolizing the transformation of the worshiper into that which God is, fit for His presence and communion/union with Him.

This is summary of what we’ve read throughout these first 140 pages of Morales. I want to take this idea and imagery further now. Or rather, I’ll let the apostle Paul do it.

“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written [in Genesis 2:7], ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:42-53).

The transformation of the sacrificial animal (a substitute for the worshiper) from flesh into smoke, which rises up to the cloud that represents God’s presence, is a foreshadowing of the reality for all believers in Jesus Christ at the resurrection. We will be changed into that which is fit for the presence of God, something eternally compatible with His nature. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:22-24).

This Spirit-transformation is a process seen in this life, as well:
·         “Jesus said to her, ‘…an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’” (John 4:21,24). Worshipers were not to seek out a physical place (Jerusalem or Mount Gerazim in Samaria), but were to become as God is – Spirit-indwelt beings to worship a God Who is Spirit. Transformation unto communion. Notice, too, the Trinitarian nature of this passage (the Son speaks of the Father seeking those who will worship Him through the Spirit).
·         “…if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For 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, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:13-17,28-30). The parallel between these two paragraphs is informative to our transformation. In the first, the Spirit leads us to mortify our earthiness unto being heirs of the Father along with the Son; our inheritance is God’s glory in Christ. In the second paragraph, God is using all things providentially to accomplish His purpose for us, which is conformity with that which the Son is, the very glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4,6; Hebrews 1:3).
·         “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17,18).
·         “…beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:2,3,18-21).
·         This is also the understanding of the apostle Peter: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:2-4). This conformity with God unto communion with God is not just a function of worship in the Bible; it is reflected in the ethics of the Bible for the covenant people. Peter himself quotes this principle from the Old Testament: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One Who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written [in Leviticus 19:2], ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
·         And the apostle John: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

The representative transformation of the worshiper into that which is able to mingle with God in Leviticus’ foundational sacrifice is the eternal goal of our salvation in Christ Jesus.[1] It is a process that has started for believers in Jesus Christ in this life, as seen in our worship and our ethics. We are becoming as Christ, the image of the glory of God, is, so that we may communion with the Father in the Son by the Spirit. “This union is closer than what joins a man to himself.”[2]

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For [as it says in Isaiah 40:13] who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or [as it says in Job 41:11] who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 11:33-12:2).

[1] “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” (1689 Baptist Confession, 8.6). Those worshipers of Leviticus 1 who offered the ascension offering by faith received “the virtue, efficacy, and benefit” not of the offering of the animal, but of what they imaged: the work of Christ. By faith the worshiper who offered the ascension offering was being transformed in Christ (represented by the sacrificial animal the worshiper presented and put his hands on) by the Spirit (the transformation into smoke on the altar) for communion with the Father (the mingling of the smoke and pillar of cloud).
[2] Robert Letham, Union with Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), 99.