Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

Loss, Gain, and Lady Jane Grey

In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Think about those who heard this. Perhaps the Greeks who came in v20-22 heard Jesus say the hour of His glorification had come in v23 and thought it meant something else, that Jesus was about to set up His dominion on the earth and crush Israel’s enemies once and for all. To them, v24 would’ve been confusing and disappointing.[i]‘What? The hour of your glorification has come and you’re speaking of dying?’ What Jesus implicitly stated with the donkey in His triumphal entry He now explicitly states here in an agrarian paradox. For Jesus, the way to fruitfulness lies through death, the way to gain lies through loss, the way to glorification lies through humiliation. Or to say it another way, like the seed whose death is the germination of life for a great crop, so too Jesus’ death produces an abundant harvest.[ii]When you hold a kernel of wheat (or an acorn) in your hand you cannot see all that is in it. It looks rather small and unimpressive but it contains a world of life on the inside. How does all that world of life get out? By the kernel being shoved beneath the ground. Then, and only then, life breaks forth out of it for all to see as new plants burst upward out of the ground. By speaking like this in v24 Jesus is saying that by dying He will bear much fruit. He will be plunged beneath the ground in death and put in the tomb. From the appearance of things this will look very unimpressive and disappointing. But this death will cause the life within Him to burst forth from the grave in resurrection power which in turn causes more resurrection fruit to come forth all over the globe.

v24 is about Jesus and what will soon happen to Him. When Jesus goes on further to v25 He applies this same principle to those who follow Him. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Jesus is saying the way to truly love life is by losing it and the way to truly gain eternal life is by hating our life in this world. This is the cost of discipleship, this is the cost of following Jesus, this is self-denial. This principle is the secret of the Christian life. Spiritually speaking, do you want to be rich? You must become poor in spirit. Do you want to be first? You must be willing to be last. Do you want to lead? You must be willing to serve. Do you want to live? You must be willing to die.[iv]Or perhaps think of it like this. Our conversion is a twofold event. On one hand it is as bright as dawn for we have been born again, raised to walk in new life, filled with the Spirit, and are now adopted children of God. On the other hand it is as dark as night for a death has occurred. Not the death of anyone else, no, the tombstone has our own name on it for our old nature has died. This means our will, our agenda, our plans, our desires, our loves, and ultimately our whole life is over. Someone may think, ‘Well geez, isn’t becoming a Christian by free grace?’ Of course it is, salvation is free indeed, but it costs us everything. Until you come to the end of yourself true life in Christ cannot begin. Are you willing to do this? If not, you have no part with Christ. If so, you’ve learned the secret of the Christian life. That by dying to self and dying to sin you have found out who you really are and discovered your true identity, not in yourself but in Christ.

Many these days are now reading blogs like this and attending healthy churches because they want their theology reformed, but how few want their lives reformed as well! We must learn anew. The character of Christ must also be the character of all those in His Kingdom. Like Jesus, our greatest gain comes by loss.

Lady Jane Grey is a mammoth historical figure in the Protestant Reformation. She, only being a teenager, caught wind of Reformation teaching and began teaching it to others. The local catholic priest heard of this and set up a debate with a catholic theologian to squash efforts and embarrass her, but to everyone’s shock she not only held her own, she presented the teachings of Scripture with such accuracy and fervor that she persuaded more than half in attendance that day. For this she was to be executed. And as the day came she gave her Bible to her sister Katherine with a note inside it that said, “If you with good mind read it, and with earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life…my good sister…deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord…with whom even in death there is life.”[v]

May God make us more and more like Lady Jane Grey.

 

 

Citations:

[i]R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 306.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 438.

[iii]J.C. Ryle, quoted in Hughes, page 95.

[iv]Hughes, page 307.

[v]Lady Jane Grey, quoted in Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 98.

The Faithful Family

The family unit in America is clearly devolving to state a meaninglessness and despair. Marriage, parenting, the discipline of children both formative and corrective, and the flow and function of the family unit are deteriorating and leaving the masses questioning, “What’s happening to society.” Sadly, this is true inside the visible church as well. Author and theologian Douglas Wilson penned these appropriate words concerning the signs of our time:

“A short walk through the marriage and family section of the local Christian bookstore easily demonstrates that modern Christians have a tremendous interest in the subject of marriage and family. But this booming marriage business (books, conferences, seminars, marriage counseling) is really a sign of disease and not health…We are like terminal cancer patients, fervently researching alternative treatments, hoping against hope that something can be done. Desperate for happiness in our relationships and discontent with what God has given us, we are imploring the experts to show us the way out…The foundation of a godly [family] is the same foundation for all godly living—in everything we are to seek the glory of God.” [1]

This is a sobering assessment of the state of the family; even inside Christ’s Church.

Luke’s inspired description of Zechariah & Elizabeth, the faithful parents of Christ’s Forerunner, I believe, paints for us today a model of the faithful family. Clearly, God will use anyone for any purpose that He has ordained. But wouldn’t it be wise of us to place ourselves in the path of God, prepared in advance with the willingness and availability for His use? Of course. Just how did Zechariah and Elizabeth do this and how can I follow their example left for me?

Both Righteous Before God, Walking Blamelessly

Any serious student of Scripture understands that any righteousness that a naturally fallen man or woman has in their fallen state is righteousness not their own. As Martin Luther would come to describe it later, Zechariah & Elizabeth held an “alien righteousness.” These two had been justified by God, declared to be in right standing positionally, by His grace through faith. Notice that this “righteousness” was not a superficial righteousness or a perceived righteousness but they were righteous “before God.” What joy the faithful family can have knowing they “before God,” in Christ, they stand pardoned, relieved of their guilt! If a family is to enjoy intimacy with God, while being used by God, it starts here.

Notice that the faithful family is a family that goes beyond a mere profession of faith but lives out that faith daily. The family Zechariah & Elizabeth’s began when they said “I do” was a family marked by “I do” toward God’s Word and placement in their lives. They were said to have been “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). This was a family committed to the daily maintenance of faith combined with daily repentance from sin toward God.

To find Zechariah & Elizabeth being used by God for a great work should be no surprise. The faithful family unit has been ordained by God to be one of the primary mechanisms through which He works. Take for example, Adam & Eve and the protoevangelium entrusted to them; or Noah & his family, their work and God’s salvation through them; or Abraham with Sarah (not Hagar), Isaac (not Ishmael), and Jacob (not Esau); and the list could go on and on. God establishes faith in families, strengthens faith within families, and then works from that faith of families; to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). However, God has invited us to participate in this process with Him. Just how do we do that? By following in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s footsteps.

Marry Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah, the son of Aaron, married Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron. Simply stated: Believers are not permitted to marry outside the bounds of the believing community. This command is clear from the Old Testament commands of God to the people of Israel not to intermarry with the pagans around them to the New Testament command not to be unequally yoked. Dads, this is primarily your responsibility in rearing up your children. Moms, your role is to support and reinforce your husband’s leading of the children as ,together, you steer your children’s decisions in relationships. That sounds crazy in our culture, but then again most biblical principles will. Pastors, your job is steer mom and dad, preaching the whole counsel of God and shepherding mom and dad as they shepherd their children. This is the foundation of the faithful family, for if one spouse is not in the faith there can be no foundation for covenantal continuity.

Live Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah and Elizabeth were walking blamelessly, daily pursing Christ righteousness and kingdom. They were able to do this because the knew Word, lived the Word, and gave their lives to serving the Lord. If the Word of God is not the centerpiece upon which your family is built, currently standing, and to where you turn for direction you cannot expect 1) God to hear your prayers (Luke 1:13), 2) Expect God to use us for great works (Luke 1:15), or 3) Expect our children and their future families to stand firm or follow the Lord (Luke 1:15-17). The faithful family will live within the bounds God has provided.

Live With a Repentant Heart

Zechariah was not a perfect man. Even having been delivered a message directly from the throne room of God Most High (Luke 1:19) he still doubted. And he had reason to doubt if was looking to himself. God promised an old man and an old woman, well past child-producing or child-bearing years, a son. However, after being disciplined by the Lord for his doubting (Luke 1:20), Zechariah was quick to repent when naming his promised, miracle baby boy (Luke 1:57-66), and just as quick to praise the God who gives for His great mercy.

This gives me great hope for me and my family. Zechariah, the righteous, blameless, servant, doubter, who God used to advance Christ’s Kingdom. May the Lord find me and my family fit for His service as well.

 

Citation:

[1] Reforming Marriage, pg. 13, 14

Christian Submission in a Broken World

 

When we look at the world around us it is easy to become angered and at times lash out either through the internet or through our everyday interactions, yet when we come to scripture this is the exact opposite of the reality of Biblical teaching, especially when it comes to human institutions. I think this is especially true in an American context were rebellion is in our blood, and independence and division reign. However for a believer this should not be the case, we are a people under the lordship of Christ and trust in him as our defender and ultimately as the one who judges the world and its leaders. This is exactly where Peter in His first epistle address fellows Christians.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

This text is a challenging one as the Apostle began to deal with the reality of what it means to live a life that exemplifies the gospel. It is easy to say: “be holy as God is holy”, or to talk about how we should walk as Children of God, but the actual reality of what that looks like can get murky at times, or at least we sometime like to think it is. Peter here, while talking to 1st century Christians living under the oppressive rule of Rome, has some very real and challenging things to say about how we live out the faith in the midst of injustice. In particular he dealt with how Christians who are pursing God and proclaiming the true hope of the Gospel will respond to the governing authorities over them, especially those that they feel were unholy and wicked.

Unlike what we may think or even at times hope in our individualistic tendencies, Peter encourages us to be “subject to ever institution.” This comes from our understanding first and foremost that our Lord is God and everything that happens is governed and under his control, as such we know that our vindication is in the Lord’s hands. Therefore we should listen to and follow the rules of the governing authorities around us, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the proclamation of the gospel. The government’s job is to punish evil doers while proclaiming justice, we must be found to be the most excellent of citizens, especially in how we speak and how we act, from the way we treat local government ordinances and officials to the way we speak of all federal officials regardless of their affiliations. There is no one party that is specially ordained by God over another when they are in office. If under the reign of Nero or Tacitus these commands were true, then under both a Republican or Democratic these commands are true.

Secondly we are reminded that the reason we are able to be subject to human institutions is because our ultimate freedom is from God. We are not following blindly the course of this world or living blind lives to the reality around us. Rather, because of Christ, we are able to live our lives more boldly, even when following the law around us. We can live in such a way that it causes other to question our motivation, not in a negative way, but a positive one. The scriptures do give us reminders that our service will always be to God, just as Daniel in Babylon, but where the government isn’t forcing us to literally worship at the feat of Baal, let us serve God and those around us well, not giving into the temptations to slip back into the sinful nature that surrounds us. Let us not use our freedom in Christ to dive headlong into sinful ventures.

Finally this is all a lasting reminder to treat the people around us with honor, in such a way that they may see the greatness of the God we serve. Peter’s final exaltation brings us back to those foundational truths: Love God and Love your neighbor. Her he shows us that as believers we should show everyone the same honor and respect due them as image bearers of God. Everyone deserves to be honored as the greatest of our governing leaders are.

Only from honoring everyone at this base standard do you see the gift that the family of God is, for we take it to a whole new level inside the church. Here we don’t just show honor and respect we show a deep and abiding love that comes from being a family. A family committed to the Worship of God, who has set us free and given us a new home. So the highest form of adoration is for God alone.

We can submit to human institutions because we fear the Lord and lovingly worship His Son who gave himself freely under the hand of wicked men as a payment for our sins. We can suffer injustice because he suffered injustice. We can worship in the midst of pain because he worshiped in the midst of pain, and we pray that through our lives the world that hates us will see Him and like the soldier by the cross on the day of His crucifixion she that Truly Jesus is the Son of the Living God.

 

Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Covenants in Corporate Worship

In his instructions to Titus, Paul writes that ministers are to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The pulpit ministry that upholds and follows biblical exposition heeds these words of Paul. The pastor preaching the Scriptures verse-by-verse by using the historical-grammatical-theological/redemptive hermeneutic feeds his congregation. Theologically-rich, biblically based hymns are also a means by which the congregation is taught sound doctrine.

I would like to recommend a further means why which the preaching of sound doctrine can be faithfully taught in the corporate gathering of the saints each Lord’s Day. The 4 “Cs” are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These four “Cs” are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants. Each of these is rooted in the Scripture: 1. an expression of doctrinal beliefs, 2. a reminder of the importance of church membership, and 3. a guide believers in the instruction of the faith.

Creeds

Perhaps you have heard that Baptists have “No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible.” Some have boldly asserted these phrases to celebrate what they perceive as a Baptist distinctive: anti-creedalism. But Baptists are not anti-creedalists. While it is true that Baptists rejected creeds as a litmus test for citizenship, since Baptists abhor a state church, Baptists never disowned creeds as though they had no importance in the life of the church. Baptists have always held to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Both Particular and General Baptists affirmed the use of creeds. The Baptist Orthodox Catechism, edited by the Particular Baptist, Hercules Collins, says the Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed ought to be taught. In The Orthodox Creed, the General Baptists affirm and encourage Baptists to learn and teach the aforementioned creeds. The early Southern Baptist theologian, B.H. Carrol, affirmed the importance of creeds, when he wrote: “The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a, degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy.”

Why should Baptist churches use the historic, ecumenical, orthodox creeds in corporate worship? These creeds provide biblically faithful and understandable defenses and explanations of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and other central tenets of the Christian faith.

How should Baptist churches use these creeds in corporate worship? I recommend that churches consider using the creeds at the after they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Reciting the creeds together will remind the congregation of the essential doctrine that unites them, but it will also remind them of the link they have with those who have gone before us in the Christian pilgrimage. As all churches are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until Christ returns as an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.

Confessions

Founders Ministries has many excellent resources on confessions of faith. The public reading of confessions of faith is of practical use in corporate worship. Either the leader behind the pulpit or the entire congregation may read an article or paragraph from one of the historic Baptist confessions during congregational worship to teach the church sound doctrine and to express praise and worship to God for such wonderful truths. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Abstract of Principles are excellent confessions that can be read systematically by article. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith often explains its doctrines in longer form and thus might require the reading of multiple paragraphs and it could take a little longer. In any case, reading sound confessions in worship and explaining them teaches the church sound doctrine. Additionally, as a pastor preaches through a book of the Bible, he might come upon a theological truth that is particularly well-articulated in a confession of faith, and he could use a confessional definition in his sermon. Utilizing confessions of faith contributes to the sound doctrine being taught to the people. This will also equip them to explaining the faith to others.

In 1855, C.H. Spurgeon gave an explanation as to why the 1689 was reprinted and the importance of confessions:

This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Consider the exhortation given by Spurgeon: employ confessions to train believers in the faith.

Catechisms

Some in Baptist life think that only Roman Catholics use catechisms. But that notion reveals a lack of knowledge about Protestantism in general and Baptist history in particular. Baptists employed catechisms from the very beginning. An Orthodox Catechism edited by Hercules Collins in 1680 and The Baptist Catechism of 1692, perhaps edited by William Collins and Benjamin Keach, reveal the emphasis Baptists put on training in the Scriptures. In Southern Baptist life of the 19th century, both James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus wrote catechisms to teach Baptists sound doctrine. C.H. Spurgeon modified The Baptist Catechism and also produced a catechism for his church.

Parents should use catechisms regularly in the home as a tool for training up their children in the Lord. Catechisms are also great tools to be used in corporate worship. For example, the leader could ask the congregation a catechism question, and the congregation could read the answer from the worship guide, which has the Scripture references printed there as well. Families could then use the worship guide during the week to review and learn the catechism’s question and answer. Catechisms are wonderful tools of memorization. A case might be made that Baptist young people are unable to defend their faith when it comes under assault, partly because Baptists have neglected catechisms over the past century. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that men and women sitting in Baptist churches for 50 years are unable to explain in a simple way the tenets of the biblical faith. Once again, consider the counsel of C.H. Spurgeon:

In matters of doctrine, you will find that orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty to forty years, and it is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.

Covenants

If you grew up in a rural Baptist church in the South, like I did, you attended a church that had a “Church Covenant” on the wall, but the document was never taught, enforced, or even acknowledged. That is a tragedy because the doctrine of the covenant is one of unifying themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Church membership is covenantal. In a time when membership has become meaningless and even non-existent in many Baptist churches, I submit that church covenants need to be restored and used. Does it mean anything to be a member of your church? Baptists historically have used covenants to teach and strengthen the covenantal bonds among members in a local church. Timothy George describes the early Baptist covenants this way:

Common themes which resound through the various church covenants . . . include a commitment to doctrinal fidelity, the maintenance of family worship, mutual prayer and watchfulness over one another, financial support for the church, the faithful administration of the ordinances and discipline of the congregation together with the public worship of God, and an openness to receive further light from God’s revealed Word.

Historically, Baptist churches would often recite their church covenant before taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion has direct links to church membership and church disciple. A congregation that reads the covenant together beautifully reminds everyone of the sacred vows that they have taken to Christ and of the oaths they have made to each other. Churches may also find it useful to read the church covenant at the business meeting to help promote the blessed ties shared among members.

Conclusion

You might not be in a position where you can implement all of the “Cs” in your context immediately. Be patient. Incorporate their usage prudently. Explain to the church why they are important. You might begin with catechisms in a Sunday School class or teaching through the church confession on a Wednesday night. Expose your people to these rich documents that are built on the Bible, linked to church history, distinctively Baptist, and promote church unity. In his opening convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1993, Dr. Albert Mohler made this remark about the Abstract of Principles: “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.” Brother pastors and laymen, let this be the heritage taught and passed on in our day!

This article originally appeared on Founders.org.

Deliberate Demilitarization with a Donkey

History has known many grand entries.

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one such entry. After the dinner party His friends threw for Him, beginning in John 12:12 we see the events that unfolded on the next day. Passover was once again approaching and Jesus decided to come into Jerusalem, being fully aware and already knowing that the chief priests and the Pharisees had put a price on His head. We read in John 12:12-13 that those who had come into the city to celebrate the feasts leading up to Passover heard of His coming and went out to greet Him.

Now, in the Jewish year three occasions held a prominent importance. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. While Tabernacles was the most festive and joyous feast because it was a celebration of the end of harvest, Passover was, without a doubt, the most solemn occasion of the three. Here they remembered the Exodus liberation when the blood of the Lamb covered, protected, and saved them from the angel of death. Because Passover was such a cherished event for the Jews, almost every Jew from the nation would come to Jerusalem for it. The historian Josephus points out to us that on average around 2.7 million Jews would come to the city for the occasion.

So when we read that the large crowd heard Jesus was coming into town and then see this large crowd going to out to greet Jesus on His way into town in, do not imagine a small band by the side of the road making their way to greet Jesus. Picture it as it was. Near 2.5 million people vying for a spot close to the road to get a look at this Jesus who taught great things and did great things as well. So in He came and this massive hoard of people “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Notice they brought palm branches with them. Question: palms are nowhere prescribed in any of the feasts of Israel, so why did they get them and bring them to the roadside? Answer: because of what they meant. 200 years earlier the Maccabees, after much struggle, finally and fully removed the wicked tyrants of the Seleucid empire who desecrated the temple and restored the true worship of God once more. After this removal and restoration took place they people celebrated with music, dance, feasting, and the waving of palm branches. From that point on the palm became a national symbol of military triumph the eventual liberation the Messiah would bring.

See then what these people were saying by bringing the palms with them. They thought Jesus would do to the wicked Romans what the Maccabees did to the wicked Seleucids. They thought Jesus would at any moment stop, blast the trumpet, and call the nation to pick up arms against Caesar. They thought Jesus would be their conquering King who would crush their enemies once and for all. This is seen in all the ‘Hosanna’s’ they cry out as well. Hosanna means ‘save now’ and it comes from Psalm 118 where we find the following, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save now (Hosanna!), we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (v22-26a) They were indeed looking for salvation from Jesus, but they were looking for it militarily. They were indeed looking to Jesus to redeem them, to deliver them, but they missed what His redemption and deliverance was truly about. That they added that last bit on about Jesus being the true ‘King of Israel’ shows that they wanted Him to be their King and usher in a new kingdom, and King He was and a Kingdom He would bring! But He would not be the King nor bring the kingdom they wanted.

Because He so disappointed the military desires of the people they would soon usher this so called king to a throne they would construct for Him, a throne made of wood, in the shape of a cross.

Jesus further illustrated these things with what He did next. In John 12:14-15 we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” The quote is a combination of two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 40:9 which says, “Go up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” And Zechariah 9:9-10 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Having read these two passages which John has combined in v15 and knowing what kind of king the people were rejoicing in with palms as He came into the city, see what these two Old Testament passages put forward to us about the special kind of king Jesus came to be. These passages do not speak of a conquering King riding His war horse into the city, eager and ready to rouse he nation to revolt once again. No, these two passages speak of leaving fear behind, taking up great joy, and rejoicing loudly. Why? Because as they look and behold the King who is coming with righteousness and salvation, they see that He is a King like no other! He is humble, riding on a donkey not a royal steed, bringing peace to all nations in His global kingdom. By coming into the city in this way Jesus further deliberately demilitarizes the vision of a war bent king by coming as the Prince of Peace. He wasn’t the king they expected, but He was the King God had long ago appointed. This continues to show us how a crowd that cheered Him so loudly here on Palm Sunday could mock Him so wickedly on Good Friday.

If there ever was a picture to keep in your mind about who Jesus is, it is this one. He doesn’t come raging in fury bent on revolt riding a royal steed, but comes meek and lowly riding on a donkey bringing peace to the world through His gospel. If ever there was a picture to keep in your mind of what the Church is, it is this one. The gospel is a gospel of peace not of worldly power. We don’t spread the gospel of peace to this world with sword, might, or human strength, but with gentleness, humility, and peace. In this way the Church exists in this world to reflect the character of God to this world.

Indeed, Jesus is a King unlike any other, and He leads and builds His Church to be a people unlike any other.

Learning From Mary’s Extravagance

As John 11 ends and the chief priests came to agreement that they needed to kill Jesus, we saw Jesus leave the city and go to Ephraim to be with His disciples. As John 12 begins in v1 we see Jesus return to Bethany six days before the Passover to be with His friends again. John reminds us that Bethany was where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And because He came His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw Him a dinner party.

Now, we don’t see a guest list here. It could’ve been just the four of them or it could’ve included many people from the village who had been at the tomb when Jesus resurrected Lazarus. We do see what the three friends were doing though. Martha is doing the serving, Lazarus is doing the eating and reclining at the table no doubt enjoying being alive, and Mary, well Mary does something so extravagant that it caused quite a stir. John tells us in v3, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.”

We see an action like this and are a bit confused because this custom seems a bit distant from us. In their day expensive ointments or perfumes like this were often used and poured on someone’s head for special days whether it be a wedding or a festivity of some kind. In describing this event John seems to go out of his way here to point out that this action was fantastically expensive.[ii] Mary grabbed perfume, not just any perfume but expensive perfume, not made from any old plant by the side of the road, no, this stuff was made from pure nard, and she poured all of it out, a whole jar of it. In v5 we learn more, that this much of that kind of perfume costs 300 denarii, which was a year’s salary to a common worker. This is the equivalent of $40,000 today. In a few seconds, in one pour, it’s all gone. Some conclude from this that these friends must have been wealthy to be able to afford perfume like this. If they were they show a good example of not hoarding riches but using riches for good and godly purposes. But we don’t know of their wealth or lack thereof, the perfume could’ve been a family heirloom, something of a prized possession in the home.[iii] Whatever their economic status was, that she used this whole costly jar up in this moment showed what she truly valued.

This action was not only fantastically expensive, it was action was fantastically humble. Mary didn’t anoint His head but His feet. Bathing wasn’t as common then as it is today and streets were not as clean then as they are today. Taking these things into account and adding the heat of the day into the mix, you can only imagine how nasty and smelly feet were back then. Because of this when one entered someone’s home either a slave or they themselves would have to wash their feet so nothing would get tracked in. To attend to ones feet in this day was the duty of the lowliest of slaves.[iv] This act is all the more striking because in this day a Jewish woman wouldn’t normally let down their hair in public, to do so was seen as a mark of loose morals.[v] Recall that John the Baptist once said he was unworthy to even untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet (1:27). That Mary attended to Christ’s feet and wiped them off with her own hair, was her own way of saying the same thing, and it indicated that she was gladly willing to not only freely give to Him what was very costly to her, she was also willing to do the lowliest of tasks for the sake of Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, seeing how each of these three show their inward devotion to Christ outwardly, once said, “The children of God do not always feel moved to serve the Lord Jesus in the same fashion or to express their love to Him in precisely the same manner.”[vi] Martha served, Lazarus reclined, and Mary, what an example we see in Mary, she gave sacrificially and served humbly. Mary’s love for Christ was extravagant and her actions remind us that it is always appropriate for an extravagant display of devotion to Christ. Perhaps Mary was thinking of Isaiah’s vision of beautiful feet, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).[vii] Perhaps she looked at Christ, who He was, what He was doing, what He was teaching, and concluded that He was worthy, worthy of everything she had.

Here’s my question for you: what could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory?

Is there an offering to big?

Is there a song to loud?

Is there a study too deep?

Is there a heart to happy?

No!

So, what are you, right now, giving to Christ that shows your love for Him? What could you, right now, give to Christ that shows your love for Him? Is it extravagant? Is it costly? It is sacrificial? When it comes down to it, if we know Jesus we’ll recognize that in Him we have more than any earthly possession could ever give us. This frees us to give extravagantly, not only to one another, but back to God as well.

When we see the result of Mary’s very visible devotion in v3b, that the whole house was filled with a pleasant aroma, we cannot help but think of the pleasant aroma of gospel grace that every church and every heart as we serve one another sacrificially and humbly.[viii]

May this be true of us.

 

Citations:

[i] Richard Phillips, John 12-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 72-73.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 576.

[iii] Phillips, page 73.

[iv] Morris, page 576.

[v] Morris, page 576-577.

[vi] Spurgeon Study Bible, notes on John 12:2-3, page 1444.

[vii] Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 437.

[viii] Johannes Brenz, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 439.

The True Heart of a Disciple

1 Peter 3:8-12

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For  “Whoever desires to love life and see good days,  let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In today’s post I wanted to take a moment and look at how Peter wrapped up His discussion on living life in a broken world, specifically by focusing on how we as a church should live together. In this way Peter instructs us again how we are to be treating each other in the family of God and our overarching motivation found in the blessing of God. To help us see this Peter encourages each of us to have attitudes, actions, and ambitions, that reflect the life we have been called to live.

In regards to our attitudes verse eight lays out five key attitudes, unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind, that should be easily seen and identified in the church. At the center of this list of attitudes lies the call to brotherly love. It is structurally from this point in the middle of the list that we see the other four turn and move together as one. For Peter the act of loving one another in the church is a key way in which we are able to be sustained in a world that may reject us. The church should be a safe haven for believer to be free from the persecution and hostilities that exist in the world around us. It should be a place where that familial love is common and put on display.

From this familial love we are able to have unified and humble minds. The purpose of these two show us that we as believers should be heading in the same direction with the same goals and theological understanding of who God is and what Christ has done. If we are moving in the same direction and are unified in mind then we will be humble in the means. We won’t expect each other to be clones of one another, but rather we will see each other as walking day by day in the grace of God growing in holiness, and we will seek to encourage and help one other along the way.  For from the mind we will engage our emotions showing both sympathy and tender heartedness. We won’t just mentally want one another to grow we will emotional invest in that growth. We will invest in each other’s victories and failures. We will open our lives to one another so that we may as one rejoice and mourn. For the attitude of believers towards one another involves our minds and hearts.

After looking deeply at our attitude Peter quickly turns to our actions. Unlike with our attitudes,Where peter focused on the positive encouragements, with our actions he begins with the negative steps that we fall into daily. Peter reminds us that as believers our actions are supposed to be mirrors of Christ (2:22-24), therefore when people turn on us and revile us we do not respond in kind, nor when evil is raised up against us do we fight back an eye for an eye. No, rather according to the Word of God we return evil with a blessing. Those who would speak evil against us we speak forgiveness over them. Those who would wish to bring evil upon us; we will joyfully seek that the good of God be poured out on them.  This is because when Christ was reviled, suffered and was killed, He did not seek their destruction; rather He called out for them to be forgiven. We are called to be a blessing to a dying world, not just through our thoughts but by our actions. Those who would seek us ill must be the primary recipients of the blessing we have received from God, for while we were enemies of His He died for us.

So from our attitudes and actions we see the ambition of a Christian is to love life and see good days, not by human means but by divine mercy. Peter closes this encouragement by quoting Psalm 34 which deals with how we may fear the Lord and grow in holiness. For Peter sees in this Psalm the very encouragement the broken and suffering people of God need to be reminded of, that God is with them and loves them. He has given them the means to walk in holiness and the spirit to accomplish the goal. Therefore, let us turn from evil (repent) and do good. Let us be a people who pursue the peace of God through our attitudes and actions and as we do let us rest faithfully in the knowledge that our prayers are heard and the Lord is with us.

The Folly of Sunday Morning Segregation

At the end of John 11 a group of unbelieving Jews sneaks off and tattles on Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. The result is that a council is gathered. But the surprising result of the council is that a spiritually dead man proclaims the global atoning work of Christ. We see much in this scene.

The council is made up of chief priests and Pharisees and the initial hullabaloo of the council begins with the words we find in John 11:47-48, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” These words expose much about their hearts.

Firstly, they’re at a loss. They acknowledge that Jesus has truly performed many miracles and that everyone will believe if they continue allowing Him the freedom to do so. It’s understandable that they would feel like this but do you see how they’re making a bit of an exaggeration? Have they forgotten how the massive crowds left Him once He began teaching hard things at the end of John 6? Have they forgotten that just now a group of Jews came to tattle on Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead? Have they forgotten that not everyone has believed in Him? It seems they have.

Secondly, note their continuing unbelief. They do truly acknowledge that Jesus has done these miracles, yet this acknowledgement doesn’t lead to belief, it only spurs them toward a more wholehearted opposition.[i] This is usually not what we see happen. People in Scripture who recognize Jesus’ power to do what no one else can do usually respond to Him by falling at His feet calling Him Lord. So why do these guys grow more hostile after recognizing His true power? Because of the hardness of the their hearts. They know Jesus’ miracles to be true, to be powerful, and therefore they know His claims to be God must be true as well. But that doesn’t push them toward belief. It pushed them deeper into unbelief.

Thirdly, they’re fearful and anxious. If Jesus continues to gain momentum with the people they believe they’ll lose two things: their place and their nation. By referring to their ‘nation’ they mean the Romans will see Jesus’ movement as a rogue religious Jewish threat and desire to put a quick end to it militarily. If that happens they’ll lose the religious freedom Rome now gives them as a nation and since their religion is what by and large defines them as a nation, Israel as a whole would be lost. But I’m not convinced that’s their main concern.[ii] By stating the concern they have for their ‘place’ first shows what they’re really worried about. Sure the nation may be lost, sure their religion could be wiped out by Rome, but if all that goes what also goes with it? Their prominent role in the spotlight as chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. So, Jesus was threatening their position of power and prestige among the people. This was their main concern.[iii]

After this first outburst of anxiety this council is silenced by their leader. Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up in v49-50 saying, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Into this frazzled mix Caiaphas brings sharp rebuke. He makes it clear that they have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer.[iv] In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist.[v] But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel after the cross, can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, the beloved disciple John gives us proper interpretation in v51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Now we must pause and linger to see what is being said to us.

I bring these things up because in v51-52 we come face to face with one of the most important matters in the entire Scripture, the atonement of Jesus Christ. The questions ‘Why did Jesus die?’, ‘Who did Jesus die for?’, and ‘What did His death accomplish?’ are all answered for us in this text. In its simplest form we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a death for others and not a death for Himself.[vi] How is it a death for others? It is a death intended to gather in the children of God spread across the nations. In theological terms we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death. Meaning that on the cross, Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice, taking our curse upon Himself, bearing the penalty we deserve, satisfying divine justice in our place as our substitute, so sinners like us could be reconciled to God and welcomed into His family at the feather touch of faith. Caiaphas believed it was either the nation or Jesus that would die, and that if Jesus died the nation would live. It would be his life for theirs.[vii] Caiaphas callously and cynically was speaking only in political terms of what Jesus’ death would mean for Israel. But unbeknownst to him, he spoke (prophesied) of what Jesus had come to do as the Lamb of God, not just for believing Israelites but for all those from every nation who believe as well. The irony John points out to us here is that what Caiaphas intended for harm God intended for the eternal salvation of His global people.

Be reminded, in v51-52, why Jesus died, who He died for, and what His death accomplished. But also be reminded that His death is a death that is global in its scope. Any person, from any nation, people, or tribe that hears the gospel, and is struck by the depth of their sin, struck by the breadth of Christ’s beauty, turns away from that sin, and turns toward Christ in faith will become children of God.

Because this gospel is global in its scope every ministry in every nation should be global in its scope. This not only moves us toward giving to missions and sending missionaries to spread the gospel in other parts of the world, this moves us toward being intentional about becoming congregations that reflect the global nature of the gospel. In our racially divided world, do you see what a breath of fresh air the Church ought to be? It is a sad truth of our time that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week. v52 ought to make you grieve at that reality.

The global nature of the gospel demands that the culture of Christ’s Church not be defined by the color of our skin but in our common bond in Christ.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to have more than mono-ethnic congregations.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to cease living mono-ethnic lives.

From seeing the global nature of the atonement we must embrace the global scope of the gospel. May this be your desire: there is a wideness in God’s mercy as wide as the sea, far it be from me that His mercy ends with me.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 563.

[ii] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 420-421.

[iii] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 215-216.

[iv] Morris, page 567.

[v] Carson, page 422.

[vi] Morris, page 568.

[vii] Morris, page 568.

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

A Surprising Belief

We now turn one more surprise as John 10:22-42 ends. In v40-42 we read, “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there He remained. And many came to Him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in Him there.”

Having left the city He would not see again until Palm Sunday, we would think His influence would begin to decrease. But it doesn’t. In fact, His flock keeps growing out on the other side of the Jordan. Interesting isn’t it? In the place where one would think He would be welcomed men tried to stone Him and in the place where one would think people couldn’t find Him many men believed in Him.[i] But don’t stop there. Ask the question, ‘Why did they come?’ Answer, because John’s powerful testimony still lingered. John didn’t do any miracles among them and yet through his holy life and the power of his gospel preaching God transformed these people.

We have seen three surprises in this text: His statement of unity with the Father, His accusation of blasphemy, and continued belief even outside the city. I want to leave you this. Know the truth, live the truth, tell the truth.[ii]

Know the Truth

These Pharisees knew Scripture, but they were more committed to their own personal preferences than they were to anything in Scripture. Most of you reading this own a Bible, most of you carried one into church each week, but sadly many Christians don’t read or study their Bibles to actually know what it says. So naturally, they are carried along with the tide of cultural opinion and believe many false things, some of which are eternal in consequence. How will we stand boldly in front the wolves of our day or learn the difference between the voice of our Shepherd and the voice of stranger’s if we don’t know the truth? Indeed we cannot.

Live the Truth

Jesus was able to point to His life for all the evidence of the truth these Jews needed. They could clearly see the Father by looking at Him. Can you do the same? Sure, sure, Christians aren’t perfect and won’t ever be till glory, but as you see between Father and Son here, so too, there is a family resemblance between God and us. What is the resemblance? Holiness.

Tell the Truth

Jesus stood calm and collected before a mob with stones in hand. John the Baptist told his hearers of the Lamb of God soon to come and change everything. We’re called to do the same. See here in v40-42 an unmistakable truth – God often extraordinarily blesses the faithful and ordinary preaching of His Word in unlikely ways with unlikely power. When you see this kind of true and genuine revival take place out in the booney’s of Jerusalem in v41, or somewhere else in history, isn’t there some part of you that’s is crying out, ‘O’ God do it again!’ I personally can’t do miracles or work wonders or signs, I cannot preach as powerful as John the Baptist. So you may ask, well what hope is there for us here at my church if I can’t do those things?

Much!

Though I cannot work wonders and though I cannot preach like John the Baptist, and though you cannot do these things either, we can preach the same powerful Christ. When His Word is preached in power of the Spirit what always happens? God is glorified and men are saved, transformed, and secured forever.

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 531.

[ii] Richard Phillips, John 1-10 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 670-671.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!

Book Review: Augustine on the Christian Life

Continuing through our book review series we come to the next in the On the Christian Life Series put out by Crossway; Augustine. This edition is written by Gerald Bray a research professor at Beeson University who specializes in historical and theological studies. He spends a great deal of time working through Augustine’s life and theology attempting to connect us from the present backwards into an age and culture that is far removed from our present state. In this regard Bray sets the book up to first see Augustine; the Roman and from his Latin roots and citizenship in a dying Roman world allows us to better appreciate how he approaches the Christian faith. The results are mixed at times but overall eye opening. So let’s take some time and dive in to this text a little bit.

Augustine’s Life and World

Bray begins his work by laying the foundation of who Augustine was and how the culture around him shaped him. He explores the roots of Augustine classic text: Confessions. From here he is able to piece together the roots of Augustine’s history in the close 4th century North Africa and his many adventures searching for truth as a young adult. Bray doesn’t sugar coat Augustine’s history, but rather uses it to show how we are shaped by our past experiences when we come to Faith. Augustine’s past forays into random cults and philosophies greatly shaped his desire to write against such teachings and encourage those who he wrongly lead into those practices to abandon them for the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ. He reminds us in many ways not to forget who we were before Christ but that each of our past failures and journeys in sin is now an open door for us to clearly speak back through to those who are still there and by the grace of God show them the truth of God’s redemption.

Augustine as Person

Here is where Bray spends the majority of the book breaking Augustine down into three roles: believer, teacher, pastor. From each role Bray discusses the ways in which Augustine was influenced by the truth of scripture and as he grew in the knowledge of the Lord lived it out and encouraged others to do so as well. There were times throughout this section where things can seem repetitive as Bray will often bring back the same arguments and events from Augustine’s life to highlight new aspects of how he approached theology or family. This, however, is only a minor flaw and one that can be overcome as you see him put together a fuller picture of how these different aspects of Augustine’s life can fit together to help form a complete person, especially, in a day and age that we don’t completely comprehend.

One example of this comes in his continued reference to Augustine and his mistress. For many in our modern world we would have seen a clear solution to this problem in them getting married, since all evidence points to the fact that he had an overwhelming love for her. However, in their day and age this was out of the questions due to their different places in society, and as such we see Augustine throughout the text apply scripture to his situation and in the end choose a celibate life and ministry over the prospect of marriage to another. Now he does not make this a rule for anyone going into ministry as he will clearly articulate that many of his peers did get married. He will though repeatedly show how, in his life, the celibate life gave him more time to dedicate to the word of God and to the ministry of the Word. As such we are blessed to have a vast collection of his writings and a firm foundation on how he thought about life and godliness.

Thanks to his amazing collection of works Bray helps us to see some of the finer points of Augustine life and how they affect our own modern life. This is especially evident in his section on the preached Word.  Augustine preached sermons ranging in time from 20 minutes to over two hours at one point, continually pointing his listeners to hear the Word of the Lord and be transformed by it. He was a master at rhetoric a classic art form that is very rarely appreciated in today’s world, but one that was essential to preaching in the 5th century. His preaching was strictly biblical and meant to persuade his hears to trust in Christ. Bray stands out in this section as he makes Augustine’s art of preaching come alive and convicts us of our modern reliance on gimmicks rather than persuasion by the Words of God.

Conclusion

While not exhaustive of Augustine’s work, Bray does help to synthesize the importance of what Augustine can teach a modern audience on how best to live out the Christian life, and that ultimately this is found in obedience to scripture. Again, I commend Bray for not running away from Augustine’s faults, but rather helping to frame him as a man of his era, faults and all. This helps us in our own modern world to realize that we are not perfect nor were the great fathers who came before us, there is always room for us to grow and expand our understanding of the word of God, especially as we are challenged by outside forces to make a defense for it. With that in mind I believe this is another solid book in the On the Christian Life collection and one worth the read if you have the time to spare, especially if you are in pastoral ministry.

A Surprising Blasphemy

They had asked for a clear reply from Jesus, and as they pick up stones to end His life in John 10:31, it seems that Jesus’ words were a bit too clear for their liking.[i]

In the midst of their fury do not miss the calm courage of Christ as He stands firm though surrounded by these violent wolves.[ii] As they pick up stones the conversation continues in v32-33, “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father, for which of them are you going to stone Me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone You but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’”

Jesus asked which of His works stirred them to such violence. They answer that none of His works have prompted them to this and that they are stoning Him for making Himself God. Well, we ought to ask, ‘How did He make Himself out to be God?’ Answer, ‘His works!’ So though they say it wasn’t any of His works that moved them to pick up stones, it was really His works coupled with His Words that was just too much for them to bear. Now, Leviticus 24:16 does indeed say the penalty for blasphemy is stoning, but it also says that the execution can only be carried out after a trial had been done and the evidence was plain for all to see. Skipping the process of law and disregarding God’s ways these Pharisee’s intended to take the Law of God into their own hands and be judge, jury, and executioner.[iii]

Can you see how backward they are in their accusation? The Jews claim He, a mere man, was making Himself to be God by speaking this way, yet in reality He was true God who had become true Man. High as His claims were, they were grounded in the truth. His works are the very works of God, His Words are the very Words of God. He isn’t making Himself to be anything, rather, by His works and Words He’s showing Himself to be what He is![iv] One with the Father.

Jesus again answered them in v34-36 saying, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” This reply is a bit technical, some have said Jesus is scared pointing to some kind of Jewish loophole so they wouldn’t stone Him. Wrong. Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t you remember Psalm 82:6 when human rulers are referred to as ‘gods’ and ‘sons of the Most High’? No one picked up stones and tried to kill them? Why then are seeking to kill Me for saying ‘I am the Son of God?’’ By making an argument like this Jesus isn’t saying that He is like these mere humans called gods in Psalm 82:6, no. He is saying that if it was ok for these men to be called gods and sons of the Most High back then, how much more appropriate is it for Him who is one with the Father to be called the Son of God? More so, Jesus isn’t pulling this stuff out of the air, or making it up, He’s speaking about what Scripture says. Even when it is inconvenient to believe, we must submit to it, for the “Scripture cannot be broken.” Even more so, He had surprised them before with a lofty statement of unity and divinity, now He turns the tables again and surprises them with His own accusation of blasphemy. ‘You think it’s blasphemy for Me to say things like this? I am the true sent One from the Father, so for you to deny such reality is an even larger blasphemy.’[v]

Why are they the ones really blaspheming? v37-38, “If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” Or in other words, ‘If I am not truly doing supernatural works, you shouldn’t believe Me. But I am doing them, and you cannot avoid how supernatural they are. Don’t begin with Me, begin with My works. They will clearly show you that I and the Father are one.’ As with Moses, with Elijah, and even with the Apostolic era…we see here again with Jesus. Jesus performs miracles, signs, and wonders not to wow people as if He were just putting on a show or to prove that the supernatural really exists, no. Miracles were proof, validating evidence that He was who He said He was.

But as we read v39 and see yet another attempt to seize Him, we’re reminded that regardless what miraculous things take place, the blind don’t see Christ’s beauty, those dead in sin don’t see Christ’s divinity, and those who are not sheep do not know the voice of the Shepherd.

Citations:

[i] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 197.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 524.

[iii] Morris, page 524.

[iv] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 234.

[v] Sproul, page 198.

Reflections on Billy Graham and Spiritual Heroes

Why did Billy Graham’s life and preaching impact so many thousands of lives? This is a question I have pondered a lot since news broke that he went on to be with the Lord.

The news of Billy Graham’s death came out this week as I was preparing a sermon on Jonah 3. I had been wrestling with the question of why Jonah’s preaching had such a profound impact on the Ninevites when I heard of Billy’s passing. After discovering a few reasons why Jonah’s preaching was “God-timed” for the people of Nineveh, I still knew that only the Spirit of God brings the preached Word of God to bear on sinners. But then I considered other spiritual heroes in recent generations, like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and John Wesley, and the same question struck me. Why did God choose these men as opposed to others? Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, had little effect on his home church, but God used it to spark a nation-wide revival when he preached it in Enfield, Connecticut. Why is it that the people in Enfield were grabbing hold of the pillars of the church, moaning, and crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” but the people in Edwards’ congregation were often laying down horizontally on the pews asleep as he preached?

In my research, I discovered no shortage of reasons from the world’s perspective as to why Edwards’ sermon had such profound impact on early America. One scholar, Edwin Cady, says it was the fresh imagery Edwards used. Another, Lee Stuart, says it was the element of comfort after such a long, negative message. Another, Rosemary Hearn, suggests that the logical structure and persuasiveness of Edwards’ sermon made it successful. Yet another says it was Edwards’ references to Newtonian physics and the earth’s gravitational pull that created a feeling of falling among his hearers. Still others say it was Edwards’ use of vivid illustrations which made the listeners feel like they had been transported to hell even as they sat in the church pews. These were all plausible ideas, but something about them rang hollow and didn’t fully explain the monumental response that followed the preaching.

After reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, by Dr. Thomas Kidd last year, I discovered something else interesting: Whitefield’s words and concepts in preaching were not particularly unique or novel. One contemporary of Whitefield remarked that Whitefield could move men to tears simply by repeating the word mesopotamia.’ Whitefield also had one lazy eye that one would think would have lessened his fame, but it did not in the least. John Wesley’s ministry is comparable in many ways to Whitefield’s. This reminds me how the Lord used all the heroes in the “hall of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. God often uses the simplicity of the preaching and the weakness of the servant to bring all the glory to Himself.

As for Billy Graham, is there any spiritual leader that has had such profound, worldwide acclaim and impacted so many vast numbers of people through his life and preaching since these earlier famous preachers? I was recently given Billy Graham’s autobiography by an elderly widow in our church, and one picture in it shows Billy Graham preaching to over a million people at one time in South Korea in 1973. Perhaps some of Billy Graham’s impact is owing to the fact that he lived in the age of television and jet travel. Nevertheless, anyone who has heard Billy Graham’s preaching can tell you his messages were not anything new. Billy Graham preached the same old gospel that countless other lesser-known heralds have preached. Yet as Billy Graham spoke, his words carried clarity, compassion, and spiritual force unlike any for generations.

While it can be argued that some of the droves of people who descended the bleachers at Graham’s preaching crusades were doing so merely in response to the emotional tug of the music and the zeal of the preacher that day (Graham himself said he wouldn’t be surprised of only 2% who came forward were actually converted that night), this still does not sufficiently explain why Billy Graham did not become just another TV preacher out there with his own little following. He was invited to the White House by many presidents in his day and was esteemed by all for his moral purity and faithfulness to what he believed.

Ultimately, God has not chosen to reveal to us why He uses some men to impact thousands and others only hundreds. But Scripture does tell us that He does so according to His sovereign purposes in the world. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, He explains that some are given more talents than others (Matthew 25:14-30). Then, in Jesus’ parable of the soils, He shares that the crops growing from good soil will produce various amounts: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold (Mark 4:8). But God does not tell us specifically why there is a difference in the growth. Instead of telling us why God uses some more than others, He charges each of us to be good stewards of whatever amount of time, gifts, relationships, and resources with which He has entrusted us.

Billy Graham was faithful with his and may we all be faithful with ours. May Paul’s question to the church at Corinth echo in our minds, “What do we have that we did not receive?”