The Top 5 Commentaries on Revelation

The book of Revelation is not only hard to interpret, it’s highly debated because of its difficult nature. Because of this the majority of folks react to it in two ways. On one hand some simply avoid it, while on the other hand others embrace an interpretation of the book that resembles a shoulder shrug “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter” kind of approach. Both of these are bad options that, in the end, don’t help anyone and doesn’t honor God. What then are we to do with it?

Face it, study it, and ask the Lord’s help in understanding it.

Alongside our other pastor at SonRise, I’ve been preaching through Revelation for the past year or so on Sunday evenings. At times the text has proved wondrously more straightforward than I thought it would be, while at other times the text has proven more intensely confusing than I would’ve imagined. What has helped us through it? What can help you through it?

Here is my list of the top 5 commentaries on the book of Revelation:

5) Revelation, Thomas Schreiner – this commentary came out in 2018, and I’ve found it very helpful and thorough. It is included within the ESV Expository Commentary set, specifically in volume 12 which covers Hebrews – Revelation. Overall it’s a good balance between scholarly and devotional, making it a great help to anyone leaning into John’s apocalypse.

4) Revelation, Richard D. Phillips found within the Reformed Expository Commentary set, this is a collection of 65 sermons covering every verse of Revelation. Because it’s sermons it proves to be very helpful not only for interpretation but for application as well. It’s easy to read and therefore is greatly accessible to all.

3) Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, G.K. Beale & David H. Campbell – this is the shorter commentary on Revelation from G.K. Beale, and while his larger one is very scholarly and technical, this shorter edition, while still the most technical in this list, proves it’s worth time and time again. Why? He explains how the symbolism and figurative language of Revelation comes from and is rooted in the Old Testament rather than our own opinions or speculation (which has been an issue historically). After each passage he also provides a devotional thought.

2) Revelation, Joel R. Beeke – this one and Beale’s commentary above could swap spots on this list, but Beeke just presses out Beale simply due to its easier readability. Beale, even in the shorter commentary, can be quite technical while Beeke’s commentary brings a balance between weighty scholarship and powerful pastoral care. For this, it’s my favorite commentary on Revelation, easily.

1) The Old Testament – does this surprise you? On one hand it might, this is mainly a list of commentaries. But on the other hand it shouldn’t. The golden rule of all interpretation stands fast: Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. Or we could say, the clearer passages of Scripture help us interpret the less clear. In the case of Revelation this is supremely important. Of all the books in the New Testament the book of Revelation contains the highest amount of quotations, images, symbols, and references to the Old Testament. Thus, an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament is the most important tool to have when reading it. The lack of this has led to a host of errors while the proper use of it has led to much faithfulness in reading and preaching.

I hope this helps you discover the wonders God has for us and intends to bring to us through the book of Revelation.

Itchy Ears & Conspiracy = Rebellion?

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul warns against those who won’t endure sound teaching, but instead from their “itching ears” they will “accumulate teachers to suit their own passions…turning away from the truth and wander off into myths.” Now, in context Paul is warning against false teachers who promote false doctrine, and false followers who will seek out these teachers to hear them instead of a faithful teacher.

I think there is a parallel application for us to see in our current pandemic. This past week my social media feed has been chock full of those promoting and spreading a variety of teachings and opinions about the ‘true nature’ of the government regulations surrounding the Coronavirus. These headlines range from the subtle, “WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THESE REGULATIONS” to the more pointed, “THE REAL THREAT BEHIND COVID19”, even to the extreme, “WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUTTING US DOWN”, or “THE CONSPIRACY IS REAL” and the like.

Can I ask a question?

Could it be that those of you sharing these things are feeling your own kind of stress, worry, and fear (maybe trauma?) from what’s going? And that from such feelings you’re seeking out ‘teachers’ that suit your stress induced opinions? And from hearing said ‘experts’ share your opinion you feel you must spread the word to spread the ‘truth’ behind what’s going? I could be wrong and of course I can’t make a blanket statement here, not everyone is doing this. But I do think this is occurring to a large degree.

Why bring this up? Because one of the results of itchy ears looking for conspiracies is rebellion against governmental authorities. From the subtle to the more extreme opinions being shared today, most of them desire to persuade their hearers to one conclusion, “YOU CAN’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.” Which of course is just another way of saying “You don’t have to obey what they’re asking, do what you want.”

Again, can I ask a question?

Where does such an argument leave you? More fear. More stress. More worry. And also, when did God promise we could trust government? He didn’t. What God does say is that we’re to submit to the governing authorities over us because He’s placed them there as ministers for our safety and our good. So insofar as they aren’t causing us to sin against God, we’re to submit to them.

In one sense this doesn’t surprise me. The United States was born in rebellion, so naturally the shoe fits, probably a little too well. But in another sense it saddens me to see these itchy ears among Christians because Romans 13 is still in our Bibles. Perhaps we need a reminder that God cares very deeply how you and I interact with the government. In fact He cares so much about it that in Romans 12-15, where He tells us how we’re to live worshipful lives before Him, one of the things He brings up is how to rightly do life with those in authority over us. What’s His conclusion? Submission. There is great blessing for those who obey this command and glorify God, while there is also great warning to those who disobey this command and dishonor God.

In light of all of this here are six reminders for Christians to put into practice today (and always):

1) Be reminded: in all of life is to be lived ‘Coram Deo’, before the face of God. This is why Romans 13 is in the section beginning with the all-encompassing vision of the Christian life found in Romans 12:1-2.

2) Be reminded: I don’t care what political party you affiliate with, our view of government shouldn’t be informed by party lines but by Scripture.

3) Be reminded: in Scripture we are brought face to face with the God who is Lord of the State just as much as He is Lord of the Church.

4) Be reminded: when the government stops doing what God ordained it to do (promoting good and punishing those who disrupt that good) it is the Church who calls the government back to what it should be. In doing this we’re not going against the separation of Church and State, we’re merely calling the government to function in the manner God intends them to.

5) Be reminded: the gospel is more political than we realize. It declares that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, that He sits in the ultimate seat of authority. He subdues us to Himself. He rules and defends us. He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. During His humiliation we see His Kingly authority in His ministry, and right now in His exaltation He still carries out His Kingly authority by being Lord over all things.

6) Therefore: all governing authorities, though they may be over many, are still under King Jesus, and will one day give an account to Him for how they exercised their rule. And Christians, 99% of the time, are to be the example to the world of what submission looks like.

All in all, don’t make room for itchy ears, cynicism, or rebellion. Don’t lose this opportunity to shine gospel light by our obedience to Christ’s commands.

Come, Let us Sing the 46th!

With COVID-19 running around the globe these days we can easily find ourselves growing anxious and unsettled. We therefore have a great need to be settled in heart. How can we ground ourselves again amid such a time? We sing the 46th (!) and remember and return to what is true, that our God is a Mighty Fortress! Below is a sermon I preached last year on Psalm 46, it is fit for such a time as this. Listen in, be encouraged, and read below about how we can gain the confidence to sing the 46th!

How do we bring this Psalm home to us today?

Having already seen the Psalm in its meaning to the original audience, we now must see the fullest and richest meaning the text allows us to bring forth.[1] Twice this Psalm calls us to pause and consider one grand reality. In v7 and v11 we read, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” As encouraging as the Lord’s very presence was to His people of old, how much more encouraging is it to us who have seen and welcomed by faith Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ. His presence with us His Church is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 46. It is Christ, who calms the chaos of all threats that come to us His people. As His disciples were terrified, with just a word He calmed the stormy sea. As He was being arrested in the garden, with just a word He knocked down 200 Roman soldiers. And then He, the very Word of God, took our place, bore our curse, and allowed Himself to descend into chaos in His death on the cross. But He didn’t stay dead, He rose (!) and decisively defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Now we today, are attacked on all sides by the spiritual powers of darkness in this present world. And as our enemies come and make their threats, we often tremble and shake and fear. What is the ruling and reigning Christ doing as His bride is attacked? He sits in the heavens and laughs at the demons who mock our redemption, as though the besetting sins we struggle so hard with could really lessen His commitment to see our salvation through.[2]

In Christ we have a mighty fortress and for this reason we must “Be still…” As fierce as the threat may be, as chaotic as it may become, we’re to be still, knowing that Christ is God, and trust that however dark the situation looks, however severe the threat may be…what? That Christ will be exalted in us and in all the earth! Or to say it another way: the certainty of knowing that Christ will, however bleak it looks, be glorified in and over all things, is what brings our restless hearts to rest. In such triumph and stillness we ought to pause and meditate on a truth too often forgotten, a precious privilege which cannot be too often considered.[3]

“Christ is with us; Christ is our fortress. Selah”

So Church, as Luther said to Melancthon many years ago, I say to you today, “Come, let us sing the 46th, and let our enemies do their worst! The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever!”


[1] Plumer, page 524.

[2] Kidd, page 45-46.

[3] Spurgeon, page 343.

The Horse & His Boy: God is Sovereign – God is Good

It’s a good week to breath some Narnian air.

Though The Horse and His Boy is not the most well known work of Lewis’ it remain’s an astounding work of fiction that, in my opinion, applies to all people no matter what age. Shasta, the main character, has always thought of himself as an unfortunate boy, especially in light of his past events where he seemed to get left out. The scene I want to address finds Shasta as low as one can be, feeling so sorry for himself and his circumstances, that tears began rolling down his face.

What happened next put this to a direct stop.

Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly feel any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed the breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.[1]

After going through all sorts of possibilities of what this large Thing could be Shasta could not bear it any longer. He mustered up the courage to talk to It and ask It what it was. The Thing replied and told Shasta that It was not a giant or something dead, and asked Shasta to tell It his sorrows. Without noticing that the Thing had not answered the question but redirected the entire conversation, Shasta began to tell the Thing his entire pitiful life story. After detailing his unfortunate experiences the Thing turned to Shasta and said:

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice. ‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta. ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice. ‘What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –’ ‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘I was that lion.’ And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’…‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked. ‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.[2]

Shasta was no longer afraid of the Voice, or the Lion walking beside him. Rather he felt a terrible gladsome trembling in Its presence. All of the sudden Shasta realized that as the Lion had been talking a light began to grow around Him, so much so that he had to blink over and over because it was almost as bright as the sun. Then he turned toward the light and saw it. There stood a Lion, walking beside him that was taller than his horse, soft and strong at the same time. He caught a glimpse of His face, and jumped out of his saddle and fell on his face before It, without saying a word. Their eyes met, and the Lion and all His glory around Him vanished leaving Shasta and his horse alone on the mountain path. A few days later, Shasta was walking on a hillside far away where all the landscape could be seen around them. Shasta noticed the path he walked on the other night where the Lion met him and was astonished to behold that the path they walked on was a cliff with jagged edges dropping far beneath on the left side. Shasta warmly thought to himself, “I was quite safe. That is why the Lion kept on my left. He was between me and the edge all the time.”[3]

Thus we see Lewis’ purpose in The Horse and His Boy.

His aim throughout the whole story with almost every character was one and the same: to expand and display the reality present in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Aslan, as you have seen, has this kind of encounter with Shasta and many other characters. All of the characters, even Bree the horse, seem to be down and out when Aslan comes to them with sovereign encouragement one by one.

This story is amazingly helpful because it teaches the reader that those awful circumstances in your own life which you think were the lowest of lows, were precisely the ones that God came to your aid, whether you were aware of Him or not, working them together for your good. And not only your good, but God worked them the best possible way to get to your best possible good. Aslan had been shaping, crafting, and carving out Shasta’s life from the very beginning, and when Shasta realized this he was infinitely humbled because such a glorious King such as Aslan was intimately involved with someone like him. The same is true for all Christian and non-Christian readers. Thus, I think this story has been, is, and will be used of God to bring many people to Himself throughout the past, present, and future simply because watching Shasta deal with real, hard life, and watching Aslan reveal Himself to Shasta gives the reader a window into God’s heart that is rarely seen in this generation.

Through life, Lewis learned one stunning truth that led his own heart to trust God like no other, namely, that God is sovereign and good. This is the helpful, not hurtful, message of The Horse and His Boy.

May you breath this Narnian air deeply amid these times.


[1] Lewis, 280.

[2] Lewis, 281.

[3] Lewis, 290.

God Our Refuge Confirmed

The past few days I’ve been blogging through Psalm 91. Click here and here to read the first two posts.

Let’s conclude today on the final movement of the Psalm. v14-16, “Because he holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation.”

We now come to the crescendo of Psalm 91.

Here the tense and voice changes once again just as it did before in v3, but it’s not another human speaker this time, no. In v14-16 God speaks confirming all that’s been said before. God begins with a clarification and then makes eight promises. Because he holds fast to Me, because he trusts in Me, and because he dwells in the shelter of My shadow, because he loves Me…this is God’s clarification describing the experience of one who obeys v1-2 and takes shelter in Him. And by sheltering in Him do you see all that God in His faithfulness promises to do for us? He will deliver us, He will protect us, He will answer us, He will be with us in trouble, He will rescue us, He will honor us, He will satisfy us with long life, and He will show us His salvation. These promises themselves form a kind of melody that rises as it progresses culminating with God showing us His salvation.

Taking it all together teaches us, once again what v1-2 taught us: all that God is, is more than enough for all that life will bring God’s people.[1] His complete plenty is enough for our incomplete lack. So Christian, whether our earthly life is long or short, the life God gives His own in salvation extends far beyond the narrow boundaries of this world.[2]

I’d like to close this little series of blog posts with a question and a quote.

Here’s the question: Who is Psalm 91 for? It may seem plain enough but it’s one that’s tugged at me all week studying this Psalm. Who is Psalm 91 for? In one sense it’s for Israel. In another sense it’s for all of God’s people throughout all time. And yet, in another sense it’s only for those among God’s people who obey the call to come and dwell in the shadow and shelter of the Almighty and experience the precious promises contained here. But in a far greater sense, and this is stunning, Psalm is only for Jesus Christ. Because He, in His redemptive work, trampled down all His foes in a true Genesis 3:15 manner. But surprise upon surprise, Jesus said all who turn from sin, believe in Him, and abide in Him (very Psalm 91 like language!) shall be with Him forever because He will abide with them! That means, in Jesus we have all that Psalm 91 promises.

Now for the quote. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Around the world the death of Jim Elliot and his four friends on January 8, 1956 was called a nightmare and tragedy. But Jim’s wife Elizabeth Elliot wrote, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in my husband’s creed: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.” She called her book about their story Shadow of the Almighty from Psalm 91:1 because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. Is that not what we’ve seen today? God did not exercise His omnipotent power to deliver Jesus from the cross. He did not do the same to deliver Jim and his friends that day. Nor does He promise to deliver you and I from all sorrow and death. Even so, may you know Jesus, and may you feel what Jim felt long ago; that though we live in this life, our hope in Jesus goes infinitely beyond this life.

Psalm 91 reminds us of such reality.


[1] Van Harn & Strawn, page 236.

[2] Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:15.

God Our Refuge Described

Yesterday I began blogging through Psalm 91, today I keep on…

Let’s begin with the first part of the second movement of the Psalm. v3-6, “For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

In this middle portion of Psalm 91 we see what it means for God to be the refuge of His people. The tense and person changes in v3. It’s no longer one speaking personally as it is in v2 but one speaking to another about God’s protection. So, in v3 God is said to be the Deliverer of His people, from the snare of the fowler, or the deadly trapper, specifically delivering His own from the traps of deadly pestilence or disease. In v4 God Almighty, in whose presence no sinner can be, stands forth as loving mother bird, covering us under His feathers, giving us refuge under His wings. This is an image we know don’t we? God actively protecting us with outstretched wings, like a bird with his young?[1] This imagery, by the way, is exactly the same imagery Jesus uses at the end of Luke 13 as He wept over Jerusalem because the people were unwilling to gather under His wings as a hen gathers her young.

But notice as v4 begins with the image of a mother bird it concludes with the image of God’s faithfulness being our protection and defense, literally our shield or buckler. Why the change from bird imagery to war imagery? Well, think of what a shield does. It comes between us and our enemies to protect us. Is this not exactly what a mother bird would do for her own? Now we see what v4 is up to. God as our great protector not only shelters us under His wings and gives us refuge in Him there, He also stands in front of us as a faithful and sturdy shield so our enemies can’t even reach us![2] Combined in this one verse is both great love and great might weaving a dual beauty for God’s people. Because of this massive reality in v4 we then find v5-6 saying God gives a steady peace to His people not only in the midst of arrows that fly and the destruction that wreaks havoc by day, but the terror that stalks in the darkness of the night. These contrasting images of day and night function to teach us the extent to which God’s wings stretch out to protect His people.[3] Or to say it another way, these contrasting images of day and night teach us that there is no attack which the shield of the Almighty cannot handle.[4] So, with Isaiah then we joyfully affirm, “His arm is not too short to save” (Isa. 59:1)!

v7-10, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”

Historically these verses have caused such trouble from some interpreters and some traditions that they’ve flat out rejected them as being too out of bounds to be true. Do you see why this passage vexes some? It seems as if this is a promise that no harm or evil will ever come to God’s people. Is that true? Some conclude that such a promise just isn’t realistic, that the people of God do suffer greatly, and sometimes they suffer more than the wicked in this life, so they skip ahead past this portion. We certainly don’t want to do that, so it seems we’ve got a question before us. What are we to do with this? Taking into account that v15 mentions we’ll encounter trouble in this life there are a few ways we can interpret this. We can simply say this passage needs no explaining away, it is plain and clear, and common sense tells us what it means. This is a promise of an absolute exemption from all that endanger life, and that it is true of none but Jesus.[5] Or we can say that eternally this passage is true. Thousands and thousands will fall around us but because the Lord is our refuge no evil will come near us, eternally or ultimately. We’ll only look on and see the fate of the wicked at the final judgment and rejoice that such a fate won’t ever eternally or ultimately come near the people of God. Or we could say that though we as God’s people won’t be delivered from every trial in this life, every trial we do encounter in this life will be turned to our greater good, and so the greater we suffer in this life the greater sight we’ll have of God turning all around. The result of this is what v7-10 teaches, no evil can touch God’s people because God our refuge turns the evil intending to harm us into servants of our joy in Him.[6] Therefore, loss serves to make us rich, sickness is eternal medicine, bearing dishonor is our honor, and finally when it comes to it death is gain.[7]

Taking the Psalm in these directions then it is no surprise that the Church in Western Europe looked to no other Psalm but Psalm 91 for comfort and courage when the plagues broke out. The black plagues in Switzerland and France in the 16thcentury, cholera in London and Germany during the 1850’s, or the various respiratory diseases and deaths that resulted from the industrial revolution in large cities on both sides of the Atlantic. In all of these cases for Israel, for these historical moments a few hundred years ago, and for us today in the midst of a global pandemic Psalm 91 proves true, and is a potent reminder that nothing will ultimately touch God’s people because He’s sheltered us under His wings.

Lastly, v11-13, “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

v11-13 without a doubt the most well-known portion of this Psalm. It is particularly known for its mention of angels guarding God’s people, but probably most well-known for how it was abused and misused by Satan as he quoted it to Jesus near the end of His wilderness temptation trying to get Jesus to believe that the Father’s care of Him had failed. But Jesus knew the trick of twisting sacred Scripture to a wicked end. Perhaps then it isn’t all that surprising to find that Psalm 91 has so often been misinterpreted. Satan did it first, and many have followed suit since. So what do these verses teach? Well first see angels. Angels that guard God’s people. This means part of way God shelters us is through His angelic host. Many from this verse see a proof text for each of us having guardian angel but that’s not quite what’s being said here. We find that God certainly does command His angels to guard His people. But note that it’s angels (plural) and not angel (singular), so the image in view is that of the angelic host carrying out a zone defense for the people of God as we go about life.

Recall the moment when the king of Syria was warring against Elisha in 2 Kings 6. Syria came up against the city with a vast host, so vast that Elisha’s servant was terribly afraid. Elisha taught him a lesson saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). After this God opened the servant’s eyes and he beheld the mountains full of horses and chariots of fire all around them he and Elisha. Guardian angels? Don’t think so small! God commissions the whole armies of heaven to keep watch over every individual believer.[8] We stagger and stumble through all of life, but they bear us up and see to it that we don’t ultimately fall. And then v12, the angels defense remains true even though strong and sneaky trials come are way. The king of jungle might attack us with his strong might, or the adder (meaning snake) might attack us with his secret malice. Will these bring us down? Ultimately, no.

Through God’s sheltering us in His shadow and through being strengthened by the host of heaven we will walk, in a Genesis 3:15 like manner, trampling down all the foes that come against us![9]


[1] William P Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002) page 201.

[2] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (accessed 7/13/19, via accordance Bible software), notes on Psalm 91:4.

[3] Van Harn & Strawn, page 237.

[4] Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:5.

[5] Plumer, page 850.

[6] The English Annotations, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, vol. 8: Psalm 73-150 (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2018) page 120.

[7] Spurgeon, page 93.

[8] Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:11.

[9] Van Harn & Strawn, page 238.

God Our Refuge Affirmed

In the Psalms we come across many different kinds of Psalms expressly fit for every season of the soul. Today, as I begin blogging through Psalm 91, we come to what many call a Psalm of consolation.[1] These kind of Psalms express deep relief and comfort, but because they tend to focus so much on God’s protective care over His people these Psalms can often feel like a rousing pre-battle speech. Psalm 91 in particular has an unusual quality about it: being that it appears on Hallmark cards very often as well as being the only Psalm quoted by Satan. Nevertheless, Psalm 91 cheers the soul immensely. Its tone is elevated and triumphant, its message is fearless, and it presents faith at its best from start to finish.[2] But as encouraging and bolstering as it has been to many, it has also given some much vexation and frustration. Why so? Because the promises of God contained in it, some say, are so remarkable that they’re simply untrue.[3] And on the surface many do believe that these promises, especially v7-8, bring some unanswerable interpretive questions to the surface. But as we’ll see this morning, Psalm 91 is a masterpiece about how our strong and sovereign God holds us fast.

We do not know the events that gave rise to the words of Psalm 91, there is no setting given before in v1a. Many speculate on various seasons of David’s life these words fit into, some say since Moses wrote Psalm 90 he also wrote 91 and 92 as a kind of threefold introduction to the fourth book within the Psalms, while others believe it was used as something of a back and forth responsive reading in the worship of Israel. While we can see potential in all of these explanations we shouldn’t give ourselves too heavily to any of these opinions because we just don’t know for sure. So, like many other Psalms we take this one as it is, glad that it can fit into a variety of settings for all of God’s people throughout all time.

There are three movements to Psalm 91, all having to do with God as our refuge.[4] Today I’ll begin with the first movement…

God our Refuge Affirmed (v1-2)

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

v1 is forms a kind introductory trumpet call for the whole Psalm to all who have ears to hear while v2 is the suitable response to it. In v1 the call to God’s people is to not remain at a distance from God but to come near God and take up a permanent residence, or dwell, in Him and near Him. If this call is obeyed do you see what is promised? For all who come to dwell in the shelter of the Most High, they will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. And all those who dwell there will not only be reminded of but will state confidently how firm a fortress and refuge God is for His people. This God isn’t like any other weak idol of the nations, no. This God, because of who He is, can be trusted by His people. Shelter and shadow is here paired with refuge and fortress, forming a stunning promise of protection for God’s people. That’s what v1-2 says, and this is the rousing beginning of v1-2.

Many people and often we ourselves at times in conversing with others will casually ‘name drop.’ As well intended as we may be, the reason someone drops a name is to bring about a certain kind of awe or astonishment in those we’re talking to. Whether it’s the name of a close relative or family friend we usually desire to be seen as important because of our connection to them.

Notice not just what v1-2 says but how it says what it says.

Witness here in v1-2 ‘name dropping’ at its finest. While speaking of the great benefits and security offered to those who dwell in Him, four times in v1-2 the Psalmist gives us different names of God. In v1 God is the ‘Most high’ (Elyon) and God is the ‘Almighty’ (El Shaddai). In v2 God is the ‘LORD’ (Yahweh) and God is ‘my God’ (Elohim). Why do this? Why go into such detail about who God is with an extensive list of His names? To bring about a certain kind of astonishment in us about all that our God truly is in Himself and therefore all that He is for us. Of all the connections God’s people have in this life it’s our connection to God that we should prize the most. Why? Because all that God is, is more than enough for all that life will bring God’s people.[5]

His complete plenty is enough for our incomplete lack. While the bird has its nest, and the fox has its hole, the believer has the Lord Himself.


[1] William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, reprint 2016) page 848.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 2, part 2 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) page 88

[3] Roger E. Van Harn & Brent A. Strawn, Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009) page 236.

[4] Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes on Ps. 91, page 939.

[5] Van Harn & Strawn, page 236.

The Names of Christ

It doesn’t take a long time reading the Bible to discover that names mean a great deal. Names of people, names of places, and names of events often describe much more than names do today. There may be sentiment or tradition behind the names we give things, but that’s usually where it stops. In the Bible we find something different. We find the character of a person, place, or event wrapped up in its name. This is certainly true when it comes to names of human beings we meet in the Bible, but one thing most of us overlook is that it’s also true of God and the names He is called throughout Scripture.

If I were to go over every name God has or is called by in the Bible this would be a long post. We could speak of: Elohim, Elyon, Yahweh, Adonai, the Holy One of Israel, the Fear of Isaac, I AM, or the Lord of Glory. But in regard to Christ the most important names we have in Scripture are Christ, Lord, and Son of Man.

Christ

It’s so common to call the Son of God Jesus Christ that many people think Christ is Jesus’ last name. But it’s not. His name is simply Jesus, Christ is a title given to Him. It’s actually the title given to Jesus more often than any other in Scripture. It’s used so often throughout the Bible sometimes we find it reversed and we read of ‘Christ Jesus.’ The word Christ is the Greek word christos which comes straight from the Hebrew word Messiah, or, the Anointed One.

Jesus’ first sermon is recorded for us in Luke 4:18-21 where we see Him walk up to the front of the gathering, take the scroll of Isaiah, open it to chapter 61 and read the following, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After reading that passage from Isaiah Jesus said to those at the temple, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” By doing this Jesus was proclaiming to the world that He was the One Isaiah was speaking of. He was the Messiah, the anointed One. He was saying He was the Christ.

But if Jesus was to be the Christ according to Isaiah’s standards, He had to be more than what was reflected in Isaiah 61. Isaiah spoke of the Christ many times throughout his prophetic ministry. He said the Christ would be a shepherd, a king, a lamb, and a suffering servant. The odds were astronomical for all these things to culminate in one person, but nothing is impossible with God. In fact, once Jesus comes on the scene in redemptive history at His first coming it is breathtaking to see all the different strands of prophecy come together into harmony in the Person and work of Jesus. He was the long awaited Christ, the Messiah, but spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep in John 10. He spoke of His Kingdom being at hand in Mark 1, and if He has a Kingdom He must be a King. This is why the Babylonian astrologers, the magi, traveled an astounding distance to see the boy Jesus and give Him gifts, because He was a King. John the Baptist spoke of Christ being the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in John 1. That He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world shows us that Jesus is also the Suffering Servant who suffers and dies for His people. All of these things and more culminate in the one Person of Jesus. This means Jesus is the Christ. This is most famously stated by Peter in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Lord

After the title Christ the second most used name or title given to Jesus is the title Lord. Actually the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first creed or confession of the early Church. This was not only the first creed of the early Church, the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the confession that put the early Church in serious conflict with the Roman Empire because Caesar was known as Lord. For the Church of that day to claim another Lord then Caesar was no small offense, it was considered high treason. This is why so many Christians were killed in the early Church, because they would no longer say ‘Caesar is Lord’ but would boldly proclaim the truth before their executioners ‘Jesus is Lord.’

You should be aware though, that the Greek word for Lord, kurios, is not always used in royal language. It had three common uses. First, the word was used as a polite address, like the word ‘sir.’ Second, the word was used as a greeting for wealthy landowners who owned and employed slaves. Third and lastly, the word was used as an imperial title. This is where the usage of Caesar is Lord comes into play. The Caesar chose the loftiest title to accompany his name, so Augustus was not merely called Augustus or even Emperor Augustus. Being Caesar, Augustus demanded to be called kurios. This last usage is the usage being employed when we say Jesus is Lord. We do not intend to communicate politeness or even that Jesus is a person of means, no, we intend that Jesus is majestic, that He is truly Lord over all.

Perhaps the most famous use of this title is found in Philippians 2:5-11 where Paul writes some of the most memorable words in Scripture. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In this passage you really can make the argument that the name that is above all names, the name at which every name will bow isn’t the name Jesus, but the name Lord.

Son of Man

To end our discussion on the names of Jesus we come to the third most frequently used name of Jesus in the Bible, the Son of Man. Many critics of Jesus claim that His divine reputation came from the opinions of those around Jesus rather than Jesus Himself. Yet, this is misleading because while this is the third most frequent name or title attributed to Jesus in the Bible after Christ and Lord, Son of Man is the name Jesus uses the most when speaking of Himself. Still others think the name Son of Man refers to a humble or creaturely image Jesus wanted to portray, as if Jesus preferred Himself to be thought of as just a son of another man. This also is not the case. We see this in the pinnacle text of Daniel 7:13-14 where we find the majestic and exalted definition of the name Son of Man. Daniel 7:13-14 says, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

See the glory of this text. The Son of Man is one who comes to the Father, called here the Ancient of Days, and receives dominion, glory, and a kingdom, for the express purpose that all peoples and nations would serve (i.e. worship) Him. The Son of Man is not only given all these things, but it says after this that His kingdom shall be everlasting, it shall not pass away, and shall not be destroyed. This is no humble or creaturely designation is it? No, it’s a supreme and sovereign title.

So see in the names of Jesus, more than just names. See His character. Jesus is the Christ, Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is the Son of Man.


Adapted from 7Summits of Systematic Theology, by Adam Powers

Another Top Ten List for 2019

This past Tuesday our good friend and regular contributor Jake Stone wrote a review of the top ten books he read this past year, and it was grand! But as I was reading it I thought to myself, ‘Man! This is a good list…I’ve read some good books this past year as well, maybe I should post my top ten list.’ So I decided to.

I know some of you might be thinking ‘More books Adam?’ To which I reply, ‘YES!!’ Without further ado, here are the top ten books I enjoyed most in 2019:

10) With One Voice, Reggie M. Kidd

This book doesn’t cover the ins and outs of everything one needs to know to interpret a Psalm and preach it well, no. Rather, Kidd writes to help us understand one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ is our Singing Savior and we ought to do all we can to hear His song and be caught up in it ourselves. My oh my, words are hard to come by when explaining how much I enjoyed this read. From the get-go hearing him explain how God intends for us to communicate our deepest emotions, affections, and feelings through songs grabbed hold of me and carried me along to the tune of the Psalter. After initially pleading with us to see our relationship with God as more than a mere contract but a romantic intimate mystery, it goes on chapter after chapter showing us that very thing through looking a certain Psalms. He then ends with a plea to love one another over our preferences for certain kinds of music in a section about Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers. These closing three chapters were a perfect way to end his book as he made the case that each of these has its own unique place among our churches. Great read!

9) The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks

Leading any part of the worship service, from call to close, ought to be done in a pastoral manner. Hicks gives seventeen attributes in this book to help guide leading in worship, and each we’re great but four of them stood out to me. Worship pastors are to be emotional shepherds, liturgical architects, worship curators, and tour guides. Hicks explains this means worship pastors not only seek to care about the emotions of God’s people but seeking to reorient the emotions of God’s people so as to renovate the soul in worship that is anchored in and saturated with the gospel flow (glory, guilt, gratitude). Building services that retell the gospel story and working hard so that those who come and worship will do just that, worship. We’re to so order and fill the space of the church that people’s interaction with God in worship is an actual experience with God in worship by paying attention to everything, from flow to feel, songs to sermon to the Supper, etc. All in all, we want to do this well so that worship isn’t distracting or merely entertaining but rather greatly edifying to God’s people, and more importantly glorifying to God.

8) Interpreting the Psalms, Mark Futato

Dr. Futato has done a great service to pastors everywhere with this book. It’s deep in its nuance and yet accessible and relatable as well. The book is a complete overview of how rightly handle interpreting and preaching the Psalms. From the ins and outs of structure, line, and strophic divisions, to the new understanding of parallelism, to seeing the whole scope of the Psalter as well as the context of each Psalm, plus two ending sections on preparing exegetical outlines with expositional notes to walk into the pulpit with not only makes this is a book worthy of returning to again and again, it separates it from others easily. Most books on the Psalms I’ve read are either technical or applicable, yet this was both. For this fact alone, each time I pull out a Psalm to preach, I’m sure this book won’t be far away to ensure I’m doing what I ought to be doing to faithfully interpret and preach the Psalms. 

7) Contemporary Worship Music: A Defense, John Frame

Frame states that in reformed theology there is an unhealthy trajectory needing to be addressed. Namely, the way the reformed interact and deal with others (regarding contemporary worship) reveals a deep unwillingness to critique our own traditions and even denominational cultures. Frame believes if we don’t face these problems many of our churches will begin to cease presenting the gospel to our present time/culture persuasively. From this point on Frame begins to unveil his argument: God is both transcendent being Lord over all and exalted above everything, as well as immanent being the God who condescended to walk among us and be near us in Christ. God’s transcendence doesn’t contradict His immanence and visa versa. Therefore the worship of God’s people ought to reflect this. In worship we need to feel the inaccessible distance between God and us (transcendence) just as we need to feel the accessible nearness of God in Christ (immanence). Musically, this implies the great need for both high and lofty hymns as well as simple and reflective praise choruses. To lean too heavily on either side is an error in practice. Worship saturated with only inaccessible transcendence as well as worship saturated with only immanent nearness both miss the mark. God isn’t glorified when people do not understand what they sing in worship, just as God isn’t glorified if people are never challenged in worship. This book was a breath of fresh air to my soul. I am further convinced that a balance is needed in the worship of God’s people. I need to be overwhelmed by God’s glory, just as I need to be sorrowful over the gravity of my sin, and amazed at gospel grace. Our worship should reflect these things.

6) Covenantal Worship, R.J. Gore Jr.

Rare. That is the one word I’d use to describe the material in R.J. Gore Jr.’s book Covenantal Worship. Why rare? Because I’ve never heard of anyone else with the guts to do a project on the problems with the Puritan regulative principle regarding worship at Westminster Seminary! But, novelty isn’t alone what makes this book stand out. Gore not only tackles one of the sacred cows of reformed theology, he slays it thoroughly, and might just be leading the way forward into a healthier and more biblical worship. At least, I hope he does. I was greatly encouraged by this read. I have too often seen and felt the deep conviction about the regulative principle of worship, that God alone through His Word governs and commands what ought to be done in worship. Yes and amen! But I’ve also seen how widely and broadly ‘regulative principle’ guys apply this in their own contexts. There is little agreement, and as Gore points out this problem is vast. His answer is compelling. The way forward isn’t by reinstating the glory days of Geneva, or Knox, or puritanism, no. The way forward looks like being willing to follow Scripture more than a tradition so dear to us.

5) Saving the Reformation, W. Robert Godfrey

Over at Ligonier new books are being pumped out left and right these days. This read is evidence that these new books are not only well written but very much worth your time. Between my reading for classes this past year I picked up this book and was reminded of the the glory and robustness of the when – the why – and the what that stands behind the Synod of Dort and the Canons of Dort that came from them. We are a reformed people. What does that mean? What does that entail? When did this begin? Are we as reformed today as they were back then? And what does this mean for us today? Should we still be reformed in our doctrine? All of these questions and more are brilliantly handled by Godfrey in this read, I cannot recommend it enough. 2019 was the 400th anniversary of this Synod, so it’s timely to read up on our history.

4) The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

You didn’t think all of these books would be theology did you? HA! It was a joy to pick this one up again and re-read. It is a hard read the first time through, but while that is true, it gets much easier after that. I think this was my fourth or fifth time reading it (???) and I was glad to find myself able to follow it more closely and enjoy it more deeply this time. Go ahead, give it a go. You’ll enjoy it.

3) Thoughts For Young Men, J.C. Ryle

Goodness gracious! If there ever were a book wrongly titled it’s this one. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s a magnificent read. I say it’s wrongly titled because it’s fitting for more than just young men. Indeed, Christians of all ages could (and should!) pick this one up to read. Classic Ryle, challenging, comforting, enlivening, gripping. Few authors are up to the challenge of actually writing a book that pierces deep within us but this one does it. Conclusion? Christians look far too much like the world. We must be holy. We must live holy. We must follow hard after Christ. Ryle’s small book here will aid you in doing this.

2) Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon

I’m personally not a big fan of daily devotionals. Some of them are good, great even, but sadly most of them just miss the mark for being far too light and trivial. And when it comes to daily Bible reading ‘light and trivial’ is the last thing my soul needs and the last thing the Church needs today. This one does not do that. It’s Spurgeon…everyday…twice a day…and I loved it. In fact my wife and I enjoyed it so much we still read it. Get it. You’ll be glad you did.

1) The Bible

Can there really be another number one? Looking back on 2019 I can say as a fact that I grew in my knowledge of Scripture. That it ran after me and grabbed ahold of me in new ways and for this I am thankful. May my testimony be the same of 2020.

Hope you enjoyed looking over my list for the past year. There are many more books that could be added to this list but overall I think it reflects my year of personal and corporate study. Thoughts? What are your favorite reads of last year? May 2020 bring us many new books and old books that open our eyes to the infinite and everlasting glory of our God!

Are We Still Protesting? Yes.

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes.

Though there is a true danger in idolizing the past, there is also a great danger in forgetting or ignoring the past as well. So we look back to gain wisdom for today, and ask a question: why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we often do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?

We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.

And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

God’s Presence & Our Pleasure in Worship

2 Samuel 6 is one of those chapters that reminds us of the divinely inspired nature of Scripture.[1] Go ahead, read it, I’ll wait.

The whole chapter goes against the grain of human preference. Commentator Dale Ralph Davis says it like this, “No one would’ve invented a story like this, let alone a ‘god’ like this. Not if we were trying to win converts and influence people. The God of this chapter isn’t very marketable.” Death from God’s holiness, dancing and delighting in God’s pleasure, and disgust for worshipping in so unproper a manner. The Bible is a perfect balance of truth. Both great terror and great joy are here. Tremble before this God and dance with all your might! The world cannot comprehend a God like this, but you know who can? The redeemed get it. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ understands that a thing can be both dreadfully terrible and deeply wonderful at the same time.

Allow me to put forward two takeaways from 2 Samuel 6:

First, Emotional Pleasure in Worship.[2] 

When someone today describes another as an ‘emotional type’ are they giving that person a compliment? No. For some reason we think expressing emotions is a sign of immaturity, while keeping your emotions in check is a sign of maturity. I think that mindset more fits with Michal than David in our this chapter. Look at David. A heart full of joy in the Lord cannot be contained without vigorous dancing in the presence of the Lord. Now I get that to a degree varying temperaments express joy in different ways. Too many though, use that as an excuse for remaining emotionally frigid. If your voice resounds and your hands reach to the heavens when ‘your team’ scores a touchdown and they don’t go up in worship, something’s off. Worldly delights are delights, but they shouldn’t have or receive the majority of our emotional expression. No, God should. Therefore it ought to be our great and earnest endeavor to cultivate a deep joy in God. Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, and gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” Psalm 36:7-8, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.”

Emotional maturity then means, not avoiding feeling in worship, but feeling what we ought to feel in worship. The grandeur of the glory of God, the gravity of our sin, and the gladness of redemption. God wants all of you. Mind and heart. When the mind is renewed, the heart is enflamed, and when the heart is enflamed the body cannot be still. It either bows low in reverential humility, or sings – sways – dances in reverential satisfaction. But…let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. When David brought up the ark at first and worshiped and rejoiced according to his own ways and wisdom the result was death. But when David brought up the ark again and worshiped and rejoiced according to God’s ways and wisdom the result was national celebration. Lesson? Right order in worship isn’t intended to stifle deep emotion, but to allow Godward emotions to run wild.

Second, Divine Presence in Worship.

It is important to see why the events of chapter 6 come after the events of chapter 5. Back in chapter 5 we saw king David lead out the armies of Israel not only to defeat the Jebusites and capture Jerusalem, we saw him lead out the armies again and defeat the Philistines twice. These were certainly great victories. Then in chapter 6 we have the narrative of the ark coming to dwell in the city among the people where it belongs. Lesson? God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by great victories against their enemies. God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by expanding their borders, no. Victory is good, expanding and growth is good but God’s people are sustained first and foremost by seeking God’s very face, His presence.

I think at times we can easily lose sight of this. We too easily get caught up in the latest moral outrage, social cause, ethical dilemma, and political battles of our time. And while these things can be good in themselves and while they may move us to action and cause us to be mindful or aware of our current cultural climate, are these the things that sustain the life of the Church? No. Think back to the ark. It was the symbol God’s presence among His people, and in this way this box, this sacred furniture looks forward to Jesus Christ who is the “…image of the invisible God…” in whom “…all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily…” and is “…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” (Col. 1:15, 2:9, Heb. 1:3).

How do we keep our focus on God personally and corporately? By turning our eyes and hearts to Jesus, His Person (truly and fully God / truly and fully Man), His work (perfect law-keeping life, wrath bearing and atoning death, victorious resurrection, and mighty ascension), and looking full in wonderful His face.[3]

Our worship of Him must be and ever remain to be at the center of our life together.


[1] Dale Ralph Davis, Out of Every Adversity – 2 Samuel, 75, 77–78.

[2] Zac Hicks, The Worship Pastor, 143-155.

[3] Davis, 74.

Aslan Singing Creation Into Being

Though The Magician’s Nephew in the Narnian mythology is filled to the brim with biblical images and fantastical stories, the most astounding theological encounter in this book occurs when the reader watches (or hears) Aslan create Narnia.

This scene begins in the end of chapter 8 and comes to completion at the end of chapter 9.  The scene is breathtaking to read:

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.[1]

After this scene those present looked above them and saw the blackness filled with stars, and each of them were singing as well. But the voice of the stars grew fainter as the voice of the One singing drew near. Wind came rushing, the blackness of the sky turned to grey, hills began to stand up around them, the sky changed to pink and then to a brilliant gold, and as soon as the voice swelled to the mightiest sound it could produce the sun rose over the hills.

From the sun’s light they all could see the source of the singing, a large, golden lion standing in the middle of the valley.

At this moment we read that two distinct reactions occurred from seeing the lion. Some of the party present loved this singing so much they could remain before it for an eternity listening to its pleasure. Others though, the Witch and Uncle Andrew, could barely stand to be before it and seemed as if they only wanted to run and hide in a hole in the ground to get away from it. The song began to change after this and the lion began walking toward the party standing there. With each step the singing lion took with its large paws trees and mountains and animals and rivers and flowers and all sorts of lovely things were bursting forth into existence, until finally, all was created. Narnia had been created by the voice of the lion. Aslan stood in the center of a circle created by the all the animals he had just made, and he said to them, “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”[2]

This scene is clearly theological and clearly very Biblically based and therefore helpful to anyone reading it.

This is the creation story. This is Genesis 1, for Narnia, and just as Narnia came into being by the voice of the powerful lion, so too the earth, the universe, and all they contain came into being by the voice of God Almighty (Genesis 1:1-2). Aslan’s voice described here shows itself to be strong and to be powerful, almost in Psalm 29 like fashion when the voice of the Lord is so powerful that it can snap the cedars of Lebanon in two as if they were mere twigs. Lewis clearly gives an ex nihilo creation, a creation out of nothing that can only be done by God and no one else. Louis Berkhof describes it like this, “While Greek philosophy sought the explanation of the world in a dualism; which involves the eternity of matter, or in a process of emanation, which makes the world the outward manifestation of God, the Christian Church from the very beginning taught the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and as a free act of God.”[3] This free act of God is later defined by Berkhof as “the act of God whereby He, according to His sovereign will and for His own glory, in the beginning brought forth the whole visible and invisible universe, without the use of pre-existent material, and thus gave it an existence, distinct from His own and yet always dependent on Him.”[4]

Lewis probably had in mind here the truth that creation was accomplished, not by the Father alone, but through the Word of God (John 1:1), by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Trinity is in view. The Father would be represented by Aslan Himself, the Word of God is evident in this Narnian story with creation coming into being by the singing “voice” of Aslan, whereas the Spirit of God is evidently present in the rushing wind (the Hebrew word for Spirit is present in Gen. 1, and can also be translated as wind or breath) at the time of the act of creation. This is a biblical creation account clearly depicting the ex nihilo creation which is distinct from and dependent on God for its existence. It clearly shows this as a free act of God, which shows His strength over the devil’s (the Witch hated that Aslan’s power was older and stronger than hers), by the Word of God, and by the Spirit of God.

If we were to be sticklers (and we ought to be sometimes) we would now search for evidence of Aslan creating Narnia for His own glory. And though this element is not explicit perhaps it is implicit within the narrative itself. All creatures come to Aslan and obey His voice after there made don’t they? Whether or not this element is clearly stated, all present within the story know who received, and who still should receive, the glory for creating Narnia – Aslan.

Lesson? Narnia is wonderful and you should breath its air deeply and often. Here Lewis wonderfully displays the full biblical, and therefore helpful not hurtful, account of creation here in The Magician’s Nephew.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001, page 62.

[2] Lewis, 70.

[3] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996, page 126.

[4] Berkhof, 129.

From the Archives: Hypothetical Salvation for Hypothetical Believers?

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity. To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of a wrath bearing atonement is a false form of Christianity.

Even from the earliest chapters and books of the Bible we see atonement as central to those who would do life with God. In Eden, after the fall of man, for the first time in history God made atonement for His people by shedding the blood of an animal and using it’s skin to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices in Genesis 4, Noah offered sacrifices to God in Genesis 8, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all do the same thing each time God meets them or blesses them. We see many other offerings in Genesis, but when Israel gets into slavery in Egypt and when God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let My people go’ in behalf of God it is here where we see the doctrine of atonement coming into view clearly.

After 9 plagues completely devastate the Egyptians, God brings a dreadful decree to close out His assault on Egypt. He tells Moses of His plans and Moses tells Pharaoh in Exodus 11:4-6, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.’ Moses leaves Pharaoh’s presence and God gives Him further directions in chapter 12, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months…On the 10th day of this month every man shall take a lamb for his household and on the 14th day of the month you shall kill the lamb at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house…the blood shall be a sign for you…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’

It was the blood that saved Israel from death, it was the blood that secured their redemption from Egypt. Paul picks up this theme in 1 Cor. 5 where he calls Christ our Passover Lamb. The parallel is clear is it not? Just as the blood of the lamb secured Israel’s redemption from Pharaoh and Egypt and sent them on their way to the promise land, so too, it is now the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, that secures our redemption from Satan, sin, and death and sends us on our way to the greater Canaan. It was the blood of the lamb that atoned for Israel, it is the blood of the Lamb of God that atones for us.

From this point on, we see God instituting His Law, which has many prescriptions in it for various offerings and sacrifices intended to atone for the sin of the people. This Law is then what all of the Old Testament prophets courageously and consistently called God’s people back to. Therefore, atonement has always been central to the people of God, and when we come over into the New Testament we find that all the sacrificial atoning work of God culminating in one act of atonement, the cross of our Lord Jesus.

Now, just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people in the Old Testament, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, is only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

6 points to show you this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’

The Atonement was Accomplished

Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who??) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession.John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.

I’ll end with one thought:

Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation attainable, and we cannot attain it on our own. This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe. In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect.

Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’

J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

So we conclude: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

Why Hebrew Parallelism Ought to Matter to You

Catchy title huh? Ha! In our current world of social media saturation we usually only click on links if they grab our attention. I’m aware of this. But I’m also aware that most of that is just ‘click bait’, a kind of deception trying to lure you in with a cleverly phrased title. I’m not trying to do that here, clearly. Rather than trying to trick you, I’m seeking to introduce you to a word that you’ve probably never heard before but have certainly felt the effects of. What is this word? Parallelism. So, if you’re reading this, I’m glad you clicked, and you’ll be glad for having read this.

In Hebrew poetry there are many ways to place emphasis, but one way in particular stands out as important to how we interpret Hebrew poetry in general, as well as the Psalms in particular. Parallelism in Hebrew poetry has been defined by many as simply ‘saying the same thing twice.’ For example, in Psalm 1 we read of those who delight in the Law of the LORD and meditate on it day and night. 1:3 then says, “He is like a tree planted by streams of living water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.” If parallelism is simply saying the same thing twice we would interpret v3 to be describing the character of the one who does v2. But I’m convinced parallelism is more than this. Rather than saying the same thing twice, Dr. Mark Futato has said Hebrew parallelism is “the art of saying something similar in both cloa but with a difference (whether small or great) added in the second cola.” Wait, what is a cola? It’s not a soda, no. It’s a Hebrew line of poetry, that’s all. So if this is true, which I think it is, we interpret Psalm 1 differently. Rather than merely describing the godly character of the one who meditates on the Law of the LORD with similar repetition, each new line, or cola, adds to and expands on the lines that come before it, giving us a progressively increasing view of all that meditation does within the heart of man.

Confused? Let me show you this in one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 46. Go ahead and open up there and follow along verse by verse:

v1 – The first cola presents God as being two things for His people, a refuge and strength. This on its own is encouraging but the second cola heightens the ideas of refuge and strength by adding how these realities of God meet God’s people day to day. In other words, the second cola explains why the first cola matters so much.

v2 – The first cola of v2 brings about the first implication of v1, that God’s people shouldn’t fear because of what v1 has taught. This remains true even if the earth itself gives way. The second cola then, expands on the earth giving way by actually giving us the means by which the earth gives way, namely, the mountains falling into the heart of the sea.

v3 – The first cola of v3 describes why the mountains of v2 fall into the sea, because the waters roar and foam. The second cola raises this image to a higher level by speaking of the mountains fearing the waters because the waters are raging with a swelling pride or majestic terrible haughtiness (this comes out clearer in the NASB).

v4 – The first cola describes the image of water changing from causing chaos to serving the gladness of God’s people in the city of God. The second cola expands on the reality of the city of God by adding another name to it, the holy habitation of the Most High. Which means then, this is no ordinary city. God’s very presence is there dwelling with His people.

v5 – The first cola in v5 expands on the reality v4 taught. Because God dwells in the city it shall not be moved or shaken. The second cola than adds to this reality of God helping by speaking of His help coming as morning dawns, which brings a fuller understanding of why the city won’t ever be shaken. When the inhabitants of this city wake, God is already at work to help. This is a figurative way of saying the Lord’s help is ever near and brightest to God’s people after the dark of the night.

v6 – Likely the most pronounced and powerful parallelism in the whole Psalm, the first cola of v6 describes the earth shaking when the kings of the earth make their threats. As fearful as that shaking is, the second cola raises the bar to an infinite degree when it says the earth doesn’t merely shake, but melts, when the Lord opens His mouth. The conclusion is that the Lord truly is what v7 will say He is.

v7 – The first cola presents God as the LORD of hosts, Yahweh, God Almighty who is with His people. The second cola adds that this LORD of hosts is also the God of Jacob who wrestles down His enemies and sometimes even His people to make His power known. The first cola is a general statement, while the second cola expands on how this God is with and for His people.

v8 – The first cola of v8 is an invitation to God’s people to come out of the city and witness God’s works while the second cola slightly expands on what that work is in context: desolation.

v9 – The first cola is a general statement of God making war cease on earth. How does He do that? The second and third cola of v9 explain how by adding details of God piling up the weapons of His enemies in a heap that He then sets of fire. These three cola give the sense of a progressing rise in the Lord’s triumphant victory.

v10 – The first cola of v10 states what the whole Psalm means for God’s people, they should be still and know that He is God. But the second and third cola of v10 add the reason why His people should do so. Specifically His people should be still because He will be exalted, not just over the nations but over the whole earth. Which taken together forms a powerful summary statement of the whole Psalm. Both the threats of nature (v1-3) and the threats of the nations (v4-7) will ultimately come to nothing before God.

v11 – A repetition of the cola present in v7. But that we hear this again after the new information brought forward in v8-10, both cola of v11 form a fitting conclusion to the Psalm as a whole.

So as you can see, noticing the Hebrew parallelism, lingering on each cola, and seeking to notice what each new cola adds to or expands on what’s before it brings out the meaning of the Psalm in powerful ways.

Bottom line: since there is so much of it throughout the Psalms, Hebrew parallelism ought matter to you.