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).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Solus Christus and His City

I was listening to Revelation while running the last few days. I’ve always found that listening to Scripture (and reading different translations) draws my attention to previously-unnoticed aspects of the Word, no matter how many times I’ve read it (or preached/taught on it).

After seeing “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2), it is revealed to John that there are those who are not permitted entry:
“The nations will walk by [the city’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:24-27).[1]
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying (22:14,15).

Those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), “oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 3:8), or dismissively ask “what is truth?” (John 18:38) cannot abide eternally in this city, which is the Church.[2] Conformity to the truth is key to entry into this city, for Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through” Him (John 14:6; see also John 1:14,17; 1 John 5:20).

In this same ending section of the Revelation, the veracity of the words of the book are emphasized: “…one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues…said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’” (21:9; 22:6). This isn’t abstract faithfulness or truthfulness, but these words are what they are because their Source is divinely Personal - the words of the Revelation “are faithful and true,” because this book is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), and He is a “faithful and true” Witness:
“…Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness (1:5).
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness…” (3:14).
“…I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He Who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war…from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:11,15).[3]

In a book about the unveiling of the One Who is unchangeably, eternally, and essentially “faithful and true,” its words reflect His character. A book of truth revealing the One Who is Truth lays out the reality that only those conformed to this truth will live in fellowship with Him now and forever.

Therefore, it is not merely telling falsehoods that exclude one from “the city,” but living a life contrary to the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose character throughout the Revelation is highlighted as being “faithful and true.” That which is contrary to Jesus will not be in His city, but those living by faith in the One Who is Truth will be with Him:
“…to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One Who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells’” (2:12,13). In Pergamum, a city of great spiritual darkness and persecution, we have a believer named Antipas named. His life as the divinely Personal Truth’s “witness” may have ended his earthly life, but brought him into a welcoming opposite of that condemnation expressed in Matthew 7:21-23. This One Who knows Antipas is introduced in this letter as “the One Who has the sharp two-edged sword,” that is, the Word of power and judgment against those who oppose the Truth Who is Jesus and persecute those united to that Personal Truth by faith.
“…I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (14:1-5).

Jesus’ “sword” comes from His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15,21); the word, testimony, and witness of Jesus has power. When this testimony is given through His servants, it is He Who is speaking through them. The witness may die, but the truth of Jesus spoke through them accomplishes its purpose. We see this in the “witnesses” described later: “I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (11:3). Also, at the end of the book we read of the Whore’s guilt: “…I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (17:6).

I really love the song “Sunday!” by tree63.

“Nothing’s sacred, the days are cheap;
Truth is thin on the ground.
Still our prophets are crucified;
Nobody believes we’re stumbling.
It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”[4]

In days when “truth is thin on the ground,” where are we going to stand? The Revelation tells us it is not to be found in pundits or websites – why do you read, rely on, and repost these more than the Scripture, which is the inerrant testimony of Jesus? Those who enter the City and live there with the divinely Personal Truth are those who live in conformity not to the chaotic confession and conspiracy of the world, but those who are “standing” with “the Lamb” on the rock-steady “Mount Zion,” “and no lie [is] found in their mouth; they are blameless.” In an age of “false news,” “alternative facts,” poorly-constructed sophistry eagerly consumed by every faction, cults of personality, and 1984-style propaganda, where are you going to stand? I think I know, judging by the fact that you mention Jesus, His Gospel, and His truth far less than you mention the wisdom of the world. Repent and return to the City. Too many are outside the gates, with one finger stretched out to barely touch its mighty walls and with the other hand building a poor, tiny replica of the City out of pieces of garbage unworthy of the Reality.

Love Jesus. He is better. He is King. He is Savior. Witness His truth and faithfulness through the Word of His Gospel to the lost. Bring them into the City. SOLUS CHRISTUS!!

[1] The Bible often explains itself if we are teachable. The Revelation is written from a very Hebrew mindset, explaining itself through parallelisms, as in this passage. “…the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” What is “their glory”? The other phrases about entering the city explain the “glory.” It is further described as “the glory and the honor of the nations,” which is brought “into it.” Finally, this “glory” is defined clearly as “those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Believers are “the glory and the honor of the nations.” Further, I wonder if “the kings of the earth” are believers as described in 5:9,10 (“they will reign upon the earth”) – that is, that 21:24-27 describes evangelism/missions. Those purchased by the blood of the Lamb among the nations manifest His absolute reign over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20-23) by witnessing of Him and leading others into His eternal city which is His Bride, the Church.
[2] 1:1 tells us the Revelation was “signified” (ἐσήμανεν, from σημαίνω, the verb form of the word “symbol,” or “sign,” σημεῖον). John sees the Church “signified,” or “symbolized,” as a city – the New Testament knows only the Church as the Bride of the Lamb (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9,10 – not to mention the use of “Bridegroom” to refer to Jesus in the Gospels).
[3] See also John 3:9-12,27,31-34; 8:14-18; 18:37,38.
[4] Written by John Andrew Ellis (Birdwing Music, 2007).