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.

From the Archives: How Should We Interpret the Book of Revelation?

How many of you have ever been out of the country? I have, and every time I go abroad I always look forward to one moment: walking out of the airport in the new country for the first time. Any of you know what I mean? It’s a different country, with different sights, different sounds, different smells, and an overall different feel. On one hand it feels a bit alien and strange to walk into such an unknown place, but on the other hand there’s an adventurous feel when you walk into a foreign and mysterious culture. It can be a bit of sensory overload and can feel risky at times, but I quite enjoy it.

Well, we’re about to feel the same kind of excitement and uneasiness because today I am blogging about the book of Revelation.  You may feel a bit of sensory overload and it may even feel risky at times, but I assure you the book of Revelation is in the Bible to encourage us and I would even add that this book shows us the glory of Christ more than any other in the Bible.

The book of Revelation feels foreign to us mainly because it is filled with symbolism, figurative language, and prophetic apocalyptic imagery that most of us don’t really know what to do with. Now, to feel this way is ok, but to avoid Revelation because we don’t understand it is to fall into error.  As a good guide would do, today I want to give you a roadmap or a foundational principle that will help you navigate through this book. This basic foundational principle comes to us from rightly answering the question: how do we approach the book of Revelation?

Answer, we should approach it literally.

Some of you just took a sigh of relief.  But wait.  When I mean we should approach Revelation literally I mean we should approach Revelation according to its genre of literature. Let me explain.

We should NOT approach Revelation in the same manner we approach Genesis and Exodus. Genesis and Exodus both are included in the genre of historical narrative, which means these books give us a sequential timeline or chronological account of historical events. I think many people approach Revelation in the same manner, and though Revelation shouldn’t be thought of as history, it is commonly approached as a sequential timeline or chronological account of events that are going to take place in the future. We can’t do this because Revelation isn’t narrative, it’s in the apocalyptic genre. Just as there are different ways to interpret the genre of poetry and historical narrative in the Bible, there are different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature. The same rules do not apply.

So if we’re not to approach the book of Revelation as a future chain of sequential or chronological events, how then should we approach it?

Understanding that apocalyptic literature doesn’t play by the same rules, we should approach Revelation expecting it to be filled with symbolic imagery, metaphor, and figurative language because those things are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre in the Bible. Something fascinating in this regard is that out of all the books in the New Testament, the one book with most OT allusions, quotes, references, and imagery is the book of Revelation. This means it is filled with symbolic fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 1. We should also approach Revelation expecting it to have relevance and deep meaning for BOTH the present audience of the apostle John, and the universal Church throughout all of history.

So you can see the cards in my hand, my view on Revelation is that throughout its 22 chapters, the apostle John re-tells the same story 7 different times with increasing intensity every time. You can call this a progressive parallelism, or a progressive recapitulation.  G.K. Beale calls is the Historical-Redemptive Approach, while others call it the ‘Iterest’ approach.

John’s Vision of Jesus

Revelation 1:12-16 says, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.”

This vision of Christ is one of overwhelming glory. In this vision John is introduced to Jesus as He is and as He will be throughout the entire book of Revelation. John was present at the transfiguration of Jesus and that was overwhelming for John to say the least, but what John now sees will almost be too marvelous for words. Jesus reveals Himself to be the Cosmic Judge, Priest, and Ruler of the Church as a result of His victory over death. 

That John sees 7 golden lampstands is an allusion to Exodus, Numbers, and Zechariah 4 where we see the lampstand representing the people of Israel inside the temple. So in the OT there was a literal lampstand that symbolically represented the whole of Israel. Here in this vision John sees 7 golden lampstands, and since John is using the number 7 to indicate completeness, this vision of the 7 golden lampstands is a vision of the universal Church. This is confirmed for us in 1:20 when Jesus says the lampstands do indeed represent the Church. In the midst of the lampstands John sees ‘one like a Son of Man’ clothed with long robe and golden sash around His chest.  

A Jewish audience would have understood this to mean many things:

First,‘one like a Son of Man’ is a quote from Daniel 7:13-14 and the most common title Jesus used for Himself during His ministry, so this is Jesus, the Messiah standing in the midst of His Church.

Second,that Jesus is standing in the midst of His Church indicates that He is the One True High Priest of the Church. The OT priests were to trim the lamps, remove old wicks, replace them with new wicks, refill them with new oil, and relight any lamps that went out. You see the imagery being displayed here for us to see? Jesus, as our true High Priest, tends to His Church by upholding, building, warning, encouraging, and strengthening His suffering people.  

Third, that Jesus is standing in the midst of His Church evokes imagery of a King or Ruler standing amid His people, leading, ruling, and reigning from His throne of grace. Some of you may be getting the movie picture in your heads of Sean Connery standing amid the Knights of the Round Table as King Arthur. Some others of you may be seeing the Lion King image of Mufasa standing above his people on Pride Rock with his young son Simba. How much greater is Christ the King who stands in the midst of His suffering people ministering to them from age to age? I think this is what is alluded to when John sees Jesus having white hair like snow or wool, because passage after passage in Proverbs says white hair is a gift to the wise. This King Jesus, is the wise Jesus, who knows how to lead His people. He is indeed the King of Kings!

Fourth,that we see Jesus here standing amid His Church suggests that this same Jesus who is tender Priest and resilient King leading His people, will come soon back as Supreme Judge of all the earth. “His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters.” His fiery gaze, His firm stance, and His thunderous voice would have brought terror to those who’ve rejected Him, and a fearful sweetness to those who’ve embraced Him in the gospel. Holding 7 stars in His right hand indicates Jesus, as Judge, is Judge over all heaven (stars) and earth (lampstands). 1:20 reveals to us that these stars are meant to be the angels of these 7 churches, which most commentators believe to be the elders (leaders) of these churches. That a sharp sword coming out of His mouth indicates Jesus’ voice is not just filled with but is the very Word of God, which is described in Hebrews 4:12 as ‘living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.’ Lastly, a face like the full brightness of the sun shows that Jesus is light, and in Him there is no shadow of turning or darkness at all. Remember John 1:4-5? “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is who Jesus is.

This is the same Jesus John walked with years earlier, the same Jesus he leaned against at the last supper, and the same Jesus he saw die, rise, and ascend. Now though, John sees Christ in all His glory.

May we see Him too, and be so stunned.

One Tremendous Draught of Love

“Then Simon Peter,having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?” (John 18:10-11)

This incident is reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but only John names Peter and Malchus. Peter’s courage in the face of their enemies was surely great, but his ability to aim and his lack of understanding seem to be greater. Because John doesn’t tell us why Peter did this it is hard to know his motive. On the surface it does appear to very foolish to attack a band of Roman soldiers when there’s only one of you and a few hundred of them. But maybe Peter thought the others would join in as well in some kind of heroic last stand? Or maybe he thought Jesus would at that very moment call down the heavenly host to wipe out all of God’s enemies and restore the kingdom to Israel? Whatever he thought, Peter was sure convinced of it and took abrupt action. Thankfully, Jesus put an immediate stop to it, and as far as we know the rest of the soldiers would’ve been drawing their own swords and beginning their charge. But again, the words of Jesus have power. Power to stop the rageful reaction of Peter, power to stop any response the soldiers were thinking of doing, power that in reality probably saved Peter’s life in this moment.[1]

This is yet another of those instances where Peter behaves rashly, another instance where it is too easy to look down on or even laugh at Peter. But, don’t be too quick to do so, we’re much more like Peter than we think. Don’t we also, at times without much thought, find ourselves acting quickly and rashly? I’d say it is very common for us to zealously defend our beliefs or our behavior without much thought if God approves of it or not.[2]Peter’s example reminds us of the benefits of zeal but it also reminds us to keep our zeal caged by the clear commands of God in His Word so we don’t run over one another in our fervor for personal passions and preferences.

“Put the sword into its sheath…” Jesus says, “…shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?”

The cup of the Father is why Peter must sheath his sword. In the Old Testament the imagery of ‘the cup’ is often used to portray suffering or the wrath of God. Isaiah 51 calls it the ‘cup of staggering’ and the ‘bowl of wrath.’ Ezekiel 23 describes it as the ‘cup of horror and desolation.’ Revelation 14 and 16 say it is the ‘cup of God’s anger’ and the ‘cup of the fury of God’s wrath.’ Psalm 75:8 sums it up well when it says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

Earlier in a moment of disputing greatness Jesus had asked His disciples, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). A bit earlier in the same garden Jesus cried out “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39) He asked Peter, “…shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?”

The answer is yes, He must drink it.

If you’ve ever wondered what Jesus did on the cross, if you’ve ever been confused as to what actually occurred as Jesus hung there dying for sinners, and if you require clarity as to why Jesus died…see before us in v11 the wrathful reality of the cursed cup. The full force of hell and the full weight of our sin, Jesus lifted the cup of the Father’s fury, and as Charles Spurgeon said, “…in one tremendous draught of love, Jesus drank damnation dry.” Or as one old hymn puts it, “Death and the curse were in that cup, Oh Christ, twas full for Thee; but Thou hast drained the last dark dregs, tis empty now for me.”[3]

As we see our Savior enter a garden perhaps you remember another garden where it all began. Adam began life in a garden, Christ came at the end of his life to a garden. Adam faithlessly sinned in a garden, Christ faithfully began drinking His Father’s cup in a garden. Adam hid himself in garden, Christ did not shrink back but presented Himself in a garden. In Eden the sword was drawn barring the way back, in Gethsemane the sword was sheathed paving the way the long awaited redemption. The symbolism between the first Adam and the Second Adam is not accidental or incidental here. In Adam all were lost, Christ could say, “Of those whom you gave Me, none are lost.”[4]

We’ve seen the contrast of Judas’ depravity and Jesus’ divinity, and seen the contrast of Peter’s rage and Jesus’ righteousness. 

What should our response to this be? 

Every person who ever lives will one day drink from one of two cups. If you’re an unbeliever I’m truly glad you’re reading this so that you can hear this message. If you continue to reject this Christ and remain in unbelief, see in these soldiers what you’ll one day do before this very same Christ. Fall down to the ground in humility before the King of kings and Lord of lords. The result of rejecting Christ is to drink the cup of the Father’s fury for all eternity. Flee your sin, turn to Christ, and be saved! For those who have empty handed come to Christ in faith and found so great a salvation you also will drink a cup for all eternity. A cup of blessing described in Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

That Jesus would give Himself for us in this way, encourages us to give ourselves to Him in return.[5]May you do so, again and again.


[1]Grant R. Osborne, John. – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 413.

[2]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – John (accessed via Accordance Bible Software) 2.8.19.

[3]R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1999) page 422.

[4]Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 491.

[5]Ibid., page 498.

The Finale of History

You may be as wishful as you’d like to be, but the matter of final judgment isn’t a matter of opinion. It will come, and it will bring history as we know it, to a close.

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

Paul in his famous sermon at the Areopagus in Athens, concludes by saying, “The times of ignorance (v23) God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Paul’s sermon conclusion told us as much when he said God has given us assurance that He will judge the world in righteousness by a man He appointed. What’s the assurance we have and who is the man? The Man is Jesus Christ and the assurance is His resurrection from the dead. 

What will occur at the judgment?

Christ Will Judge

Jesus speaks of His judgment as something the Father has given to Him. John 5:26-28, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” For this reason Paul, when giving Timothy the charge to preach the Word in and out of season, speaks of Jesus as the “Judge of the living and the dead” in 2 Timothy 4:1. We shouldn’t also miss the implied meaning in Paul’s statement of the “judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10, that Christ is the One who judges.

All Mankind Will be Judged

It will be a rude awakening for those who believe the judgment of God is only a metaphorical or a matter for the present moment, for all mankind will be judged. Hebrews 9:27 says “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” This judgment will be so thorough that we’ll have to give an account for every idle word we’ve ever spoken (Matt. 12:36). Luke 12:2-3 similarly shows us, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” It is a common belief that only the unbelievers will be judged at the final judgment, but Scripture tells us all mankind, believer and unbeliever alike, will be judged. Romans 2:6-10, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

For the unbeliever, the wrath of God has already been poured out on them in various measures in life because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They have lived foolishly, trusting in their own selves rather than in God and the gospel of His Son. So their end will be the total culmination of the wrath they received in part during their life. For the believer, there is no wrath and fury but instead no condemnation (Rom. 8:1) because they have lived wisely, trusting in God and in the gospel of His Son. So too, their end will be the total culmination of the grace they received in part during their life.

The Saints Will Judge

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul lays out his argument about how to ought to deal kindly and graciously when we wrong one another. In v2-3 he makes an interesting statement when he says, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” Here Paul uses the careful and considerate judgment we ought to use with one another with the judgment we will use in the final judgment. This does mean that believers will have some measure of judgment over the world where careful consideration must be employed. But I think it also speaks of our union with Christ. When He judges the world and all in it we will in part join with Him in that judgment and feel a sense of agreement and approval when it takes place. But its not only the world that we’ll join in judging, it’s angels too. Referring to our judging angels in 2 Peter 2:4 we find that God “…did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…” Jude agrees in v6 where he says angels, “…did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He (God) has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Why does God allow these things to take place on angels? Jude 5 gives us the answer when he says God destroys those who do not believe.

All of these things are good and profitable for us to consider because an awareness of what will take place at the final judgment moves us to live lives that are pleasing to God in the present.

The final judgment will be the finale of history, we must prepare accordingly.

A Summary of Doctrine

I was recently asked to write out a summary of what I believe. My immediate thought was something like “What? How in the world could I do that briefly? Is it even possible to do so?” Upon further thought I began to come around to the idea thinking it’d be a good exercise for me to state succinctly what I believe. After all if I cannot state it briefly do I really know it? Normally I’d encourage a more lengthy statement on each of the following paragraphs, but for me this proved to be an encouragement.

What follows is what I wrote out. Be sure to note, this is not the totality of what I believe, but it does form an adequate summary. May it encourage you and lead you to deeper study and stronger praise of the God we love.

1) Doctrine of God: it all starts here. If we move ahead too quickly we have no foundation. That God is, and that God is holy, holy, holy ought to be the foundation of all our theology. He is ever three and ever one – He has graciously revealed Himself in the book of creation and the grander book of Scripture – He is independent, being the sole Creator and source of all things – nothing comes to pass apart from His providence – He is incomprehensible yet knowable – He is immutable yet mobile – He is wrathful and jealous – He is merciful and gracious – and He alone is wise. This is our God.

2) Doctrine of Man: That the doctrine of man comes after the doctrine of God is appropriate, for man comes from and lives all his life before the face of God. In his original state man was made in the image of God, immortal and the highest creature in all of creation. In his fallen state man fell from our original condition into ruin, misery, and spiritual/physical death. Still in the image of God but now marred from sin, man is born under the judgment and wrath of God being creatures at enmity with God, who now live a life totally affected from our sin. In our redeemed state man is brought into peace with God and enjoys having the very peace of God, through Christ. Having been sinners who could do nothing but sin, being redeemed enables man to grow in holiness and communion with God, while we look forward to being with Him one day forever where sin will no longer be a reality.

3) Doctrine of Christ: being true God He became true Man, born of the virgin Mary, lived a perfect righteous life, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the cross bearing God’s wrath in our place as our substitute, laid in a tomb, rose three days later defeating the world – the flesh – and the devil, appeared to many, and ascended to heaven to rule and reign at the Father’s right hand, from which He’ll come again to judge the living and the dead, ushering in His kingdom in full. He is our true Prophet, our true Priest, and our true King.

4) Doctrine of the Spirit: Hovering over the waters of creation the Spirit of God brings the work of new creation by applying the work of Christ to the hearts of the elect. Delighted among the community of the Trinity, the Spirit reveals who God is through His inspired Scriptures, regenerating, enlightening and illuminating the elect, enabling them to repent and believe the gospel, He applies, sanctifies, nourishes, gifts, keeps, and ripens His fruit within God’s people.

5) Doctrine of Salvation: From before time began, God, has given some grace to all men and given all grace to some men. In an everlasting covenant, God has saved His elect. How? He predestined them, called them, regenerated them, granted them repentance and faith, justified them, adopted them, brought them into union with Him, is now sanctifying them, and will one glorify them. All of this is done through Christ and applied to the hearts of the elect by the Spirit. There are no dropouts in this golden chain found in Romans 8:29-30. This is also wondrously summarized in Eph. 1:3-14, where we see all three Persons in the Trinity active: the Father planning and choosing, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit applying and sealing. 

6) Doctrine of the Church: being the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Church is the body, building, and bride of Christ. A people pursued and purchased by Christ’s blood that are to be zealous for good works. A people who are marked out in this world by their right worship, right preaching, right practice of the sacraments (Baptism dealing with entrance into the visible church and the Lord’s Supper dealing with ongoing covenant renewal), and right exercise of discipline. This people is led by called and qualified elders and deacons, and is now on mission in this world with the message of Christ the King; who not only rules over this world but will one day fully bring His kingdom into this world. The Church isn’t perfect but it is the dearest place on earth, the epicenter of God’s activity in this world, and a foretaste of heaven.

7) Doctrine of Last Things: One day, just as Christ ascended bodily to rule and reign He will return bodily to make all sad things untrue. There is no secret rapture of the Church, but only two advents: the first in His incarnation and the second in His consummation. His return will be the finale of this life, as all will stand bodily before the judgment seat of Christ, from which He will usher the Church into the eternal glory in the New Heavens and New Earth and cast the wicked into eternal torment in hell. On this day sin’s very presence will be removed forever and God will dwell with His people and be their God, and they as His people will be enthralled by His Holy-Holy-Holy presence forevermore.

The Son’s Sobering Preservation

Jesus, anticipating what’s to come, says in John 16:1, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Then in 16:4 He similarly says, “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” These form bookends to v1-4, because in both Jesus gives reasons behind why He tells them what He is telling them, and the main reason is preservation. The reason in v1 is so that they won’t fall away when trials come, and the reason in v4 is so that they won’t be surprised when trials come. Taking them together we can see the meaning in view. Jesus doesn’t want His disciples, and doesn’t want you and I, to encounter the hatred of the world and be so shocked or scandalized[i]by it that we abandon the faith.[ii]

No, He wants us to last, He wants us to be informed, and He wants us to be prepared for what’s to come.

So He continues on in v2-3 saying, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

Sobering words from the Son intended to function as a means of preservation for His disciples. v2-3 repeat many of the same things we saw in 15:18-25 but here the tone is stronger. Back in chapter 15 the hatred in view was from the world in general, here in chapter 16 the hatred has a very specific origin. It’s from those who are very religious. Does that surprise you? That someone with deep religious zeal could be so blind and so violent? These religious zealots will first excommunicate them, which wouldn’t only remove them from the spiritual life of the society (they wouldn’t be able to attend sacrifices, feasts, etc.) but the social life of the society as well. This would’ve meant things like getting a job would now be difficult, it meant you’d likely lose business customers, and might ultimately lose your livelihood. Some of you have experienced these very things already and the trend of our world isn’t headed in a Godward direction.

May we not be caught unaware. 

As bad as these things are Jesus didn’t stop there, He also said here that they would be killed by those who fully believe they’re pleasing God. Only in a fallen world could such a monstrous reality be true. This pattern has played out throughout history ever since. Today we find it true that most of the vicious threats to the gospel are often by religiously motivated zealots, thinking their god is pleased with such violence and will reward them for doing so. But go back a bit further. Did you know Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer, was burned at the stake in 1556 by Roman Catholics as one of their priests was preaching a sermon? Did you know when Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Roman Catholic church and put a price on his head he said, “Arise O Lord, a wild boar has entered Thy vineyard.” Go back a bit further. Paul himself followed this pattern in his pre-Christian life. By persecuting the Church he believed God would be pleased with Him. It was Paul who chased down followers of The-Way and threw them in jail and it was Paul who looked on and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen in Acts 7. Thank God, that for Paul, his zealous pattern of violence was interrupted on the Damascus Road as he became a Christian and experienced an overwhelming irony going from persecutor to persecuted. We could speak of all the disciples here as they we’re executed or exiled at the hand of religious zealots but go back a bit further one more time.

This pattern was played out most vividly with Christ. The Jewish leaders, being very religious, claimed to know God but in v3 Jesus says they didn’t, and that their ignorance of who God truly was and who He truly was is actually the origin of their vile ways. These leaders believed God would be pleased for Christ to die, and that in doing so they would be glorifying God and keeping their religion pure and undefiled. The irony here is that they were right in a sense more true than they could know. Jesus seemed to be suffering defeat while He was accomplishing the greatest of all victories at the very moment the Jewish leaders seemed to be winning a victory while they were suffering the greatest of all defeats.[iii]In the most ironic moment of history the hour of their persecution mentioned in v4 was really the hour of the Son’s glorification[iv]where God was glorified and was very pleased for Christ to die as He bore the full wrath of God for sinners like us. And having been warned of it by Jesus, when these things fell on the disciples afterwards, the trials of persecution and death wouldn’t be an obstacle to their faith but a strengthener to their faith because they saw that everything plays out as Jesus says it will.

But remember what Jesus has already said. Between the hard words in 15:18-25 and 16:1-4 we find a marvelous description of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. From hearing about the Helper and the Spirit of Truth this morning in the midst of this fallen world full of hatred we must embrace a certain reality:

the Holy Spirit isn’t sent to be our Helper to aid us sail the seas of calm serenity, but is sent to be our Helper to aid us sail through the hard and difficult waters that lie ahead in this world. For the way of Christ is the way of hardship and difficulty.[v]

But, it is a way He walked before us, so we do not lose heart. As high as the waves become, the Ancient Mast of our soul – the Holy Spirit – reminds us of Him and thus we remain ever sturdy within. May you be sobered by the words of the Son, and may you be assured of the assistance of the Spirit.


[i]The Greek word ‘scandalizo’ is here translated as ‘falling away’ in v1.

[ii]D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 532. See Phillips page 329 also.

[iii]Carson, page 532.

[iv]Ibid., page 532.

[v]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 692.

The Spirit’s Assuring Assistance

Ideas drive history. You ever thought about that?

Behind the all the Emperor’s, Generals, politicians, philosophers, thinkers, and theologians throughout history – stands one thing: ideas. Not small ideas or fleeting thoughts but grand ideas that fill out the meaning of their existence, becoming the narrative through which they interpret all of life, driving them to do what they do. One way ideas are very meaningfully driven home to us is through images. One particular idea/image that means a great deal to me is a ship at sail in a stormy sea. There is something about this image that draws me in. Perhaps this stands out to me because as long as I can remember the ocean in the has always seemed lovely and terrible to me. A thing beyond my little self in its immensity and yet stirring within me thoughts of adventure and exploration…daunting and dwarfing me yet beckoning me to come aboard the ship and brave the waters.

If you think on this image long enough I think you’ll begin to see much about the Christian life. The waters of the world we live in are stormy indeed. Sailing on such fallen waters, eventually forces us to ask a question. How are we going to last, how are we to make it through safe to other side? Not by our wisdom or ability or strength in sailing, no. God has graciously put Someone within our ship to keep us afloat in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and by holding fast to Him, to this Ancient Mast, we’ll make it through.

Right away in John 15:26 we learn the Holy Spirit is connected to the Father and the Son. Remember, again and again John’s gospel tells us how the Father is closely connected to the Son, so close in fact that to hear the words and see the works of the Son is to hear the words and see the works of the Father, and so close in fact that to reject the Son is to reject the Father. Learn again, the Godhead is not just comprised of Father and Son, but of Father, Son, and Spirit. That Jesus says He will send the Spirit from the Father, and that He says the Spirit proceeds from the Father is a reminder that the sending of the Spirit is an activity which concerns all three members of the Trinity[i]as well as a reminder that this Spirit is no ordinary Spirit, He is the Holy Spirit. Not a kind of force or quality or property, He is the third Person in the Godhead, “…not a gift of men but a pledge of divine grace”[ii]from God Himself.

That God would dwell among us in Christ is simply breathtaking, that God the Spirit would dwell within us is incredibly comforting. Our hearts then become His home. And now that the estate that is ourselves is under new ownership, a sacred renovation begins. Renovation that looks and feels like disorder yielding to order, darkness yielding to light, and fog yielding to sunshine.

That is all good and well but particularly in this context what does the Spirit do within us? Notice the two names He calls the Spirit in v26-27.

Helper: “But when the Helper comes…” Some do think v26-27 is a later addition to John’s gospel because to them it doesn’t fit well with the theme of the hatred of the world. Sadly, those who believe this miss the point of the text and therefore miss out on what could be a great encouragement. There is a very close connection between our passage today and the passage that comes before and after. Jesus has been speaking about the rebellion of the world against Him and His Church, that the world hates Him and will hate those who follow Him, and from hearing this it is easily understandable that the disciples (and we ourselves) would be fearful, anxious, and deeply uneasy about what a life with Jesus might very well bring in this world. How can one last as a follower of Jesus if the world will hate you for doing so? This fear, anxiety, and unease about Jesus’ words makes us desperate for one thing…help. So is it no surprise that here in this context with these things in view Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as what? The Helper, for help He brings. When Scripture perplexes us it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and understanding to what God has said. When sin tempts us to run after foul and forbidden things it is the Spirit who tugs and pulls us back. When we find ourselves dry, cold, and stony in heart, unmoved by the beauty and loveliness of God it is the Spirit who refreshes, warms, and softens us to be moved as we ought to. Do not despise the gift of God in giving us the help of God the Spirit!

Spirit of Truth: Next we see God the Spirit called the “Spirit of Truth” and perhaps we ask, ‘Out of all things why choose to call the Spirit the Spirit of Truth?’ Perhaps it’s for our encouragement. In view of the opposition of the world we might think the truth of God no longer has a place in our world today. That truth has become and must remain a private matter rather than a public topic of conversation or even debate. That truth has fallen in the street, as Isaiah 59:14 says, and is in need of resuscitation while people continue to walk on by not caring an ounce to revive it. That the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth ought to encourage us. The world hated Christ and His message endures. The world has hated us and our message endures! Despite the world’s efforts to stop, squash, or silence the truth of God it is the Spirit who maintains, upholds, promotes, and expands the truth of Christ in us and through us. If ourconsciences rest on this testimony, wewill never be shaken.[iii]The disciples, having been with Jesus from the beginning would’ve seen this and come to know this for themselves. And we too, from the beginning of our Christian lives have seen the same.

But how does the Spirit of Truth spread God’s truth in this fallen world? Answer: by bearing witness. Look at v26-27 again, “…He will bear witness about Me, and you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Present here is both the witness of the Spirit and the witness of believers. The Spirit has born witness to Christ before and during the ministry of Christ. Now that Christ has ascended is the Spirit done bearing witness? By no means! The result of the assuring assistance and help of the Spirit of Truth is not private advantage or personal revelation but public proclamation. The Spirit bore witness not of Himself but of Christ to us, and now the Spirit bears witness not of Himself but of Christ through us. The Apostles remember, received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and became His witnesses (Acts 1:8), first feeling the winds of the Spirit fill their sails to preach the gospel and write of the gospel, and now we continue in this Spirit driven apostolic calling not by claiming to be apostles ourselves, but by continuing to proclaim the same apostolic gospel message from the Spirit inspired apostolic Scriptures we now have. So the Spirit in His inspired Scripture bears witness to man, and in His powerful work within us He bears witness through man. 

See here that no one can ask the Spirit to move in power and then sit back waiting as if we can relax and leave everything up to the Spirit of God.[iv]No, the Spirit so moves within us that we, in His power, would bear witness of Christ to others.

Or we could say it like this, the Spirit’s work creates the Church’s work, and it is this work of bearing witness that is to remain the chief work of the Church.

But we easily get sidetracked don’t we?

Our witness for Christ isn’t to be about a certain kind of experience, or political opinion, or current fad, but a witness to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.[v] How great an encouragement is it that in these stormy seas God has given us an Ancient Mast we can lash our souls to in order to last amid this calling?


[i]Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 683.

[ii]John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 7, The Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: AP&A, year unknown) page 857.

[iii]Ibid., Vol. 5, page 130.

[iv]Morris, page 684.

[v]Richard Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2014) page 327.

His Word = His Joy

“But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

Being almost out of the world and back in the presence of His Father but still in the world for now Jesus says that He has spoken what He has for His disciples joy. Not joy in general, but that His own joy would be fulfilled in them. Jesus could have said “…these things I speak in the world, that they may have joy.” But He didn’t. He said He spoke His words to them so that His joy would be in them. So, why has Jesus taught His disciples? Why has Jesus said certain things to His disciples? Why has Jesus spoken His word to them? One reason is given here…that His joy would be their joy.

How are we supposed to respond to Jesus’ request to the Father to give us His joy? Five ways.

First, we must see the connection being made between His Word and His joy. He spoke His words to them so that His joy would be in them. Jesus’ words lead to Jesus’ joy. That’s what He’s saying, we cannot miss this. This is the foundation of understanding v13.

Second, because His Word is the means of His joy being in us we should make it the aim of our lives to not only learn His truth but feel the joy of His truth.[1]There are two pitfalls to avoid here. On one hand there are those with a heartless head, where the truth of God is consumed but a love for God is never cultivated. On the other hand there are those with a headless heart, where God is loved vastly but is never studied deeply. Both are wrong and both should be avoided. Instead of falling off into these two ditches our lives must be those that seek a head for truth and a heart for God. Or as John Owen has said “…we must be those who enjoy a vast communion with God in the deep doctrine of God we contend for.”[2]

Third, in order to have His joy must do far more than just see His truth in His words. We must see God in His truth and savor the God standing forth in it. Here are a few ways to say this. You could say…doctrine matters, immensely so! But the goal isn’t merely right doctrine, it’s a right doctrine of God fueling a robust delight in God. Or you could say…don’t just admire the shape and position and cleanness of the window, gaze at the mountains you see through it![3]Or you could say…see the words of Jesus, indeed to see the whole of Scripture, as the way God plucks every string in the harp of our soul.[4]So, we see in order to savor, we seek insight in order to enjoy, we seek knowledge in order to love, the labor of the mind serves the affections of the heart.[5]

Fourth, Jesus did not intend that His joy would be somewhat present in us, kind of present in us, or even very present in us. No, He intends that His joy would be fulfilled in us, or would fill us, complete us, satisfy us, gush forth and overflow in and through us. All of these options are possible meanings from the Greek word present here in our English word ‘fulfilled.’ See that v13 is teaching that the aim of His words is the fullness of His joy, and I wonder if you see the implication of this fullness? When something is full there isn’t any room for anything else.[6]

Fifth, this is how the disciples then, and we today, fight sin. Whatever sins you’re battling don’t believe the lie that your desires are too strong. That it’s desire overpowering will and your sin problems would be corrected if you just overcome your unruly desires with a stronger will. I’m afraid it doesn’t really work like that. Our desires aren’t too strong they’re too weak, in that by giving into this or that sin, you’re settling for lesser pleasures when you could feast on what infinitely satisfies and fills the soul. This is the ultimate battle of the Christian life, fighting to be so filled and so satisfied in Christ that there is no room for sin. This is what Jesus prays for His disciples to have in v13, and this is what we can have in Him as well.

Conclusion:

In John 17:6-13 we see revelation, preservation, and jubilation. These three items top the prayer list of Christ for His own. I would encourage you to put them atop your prayer lists as well. For both those who know Christ and for those who don’t know Christ. We all need these things. Everyone needs to see and be stunned by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Everyone needs God to keep us throughout the stormy waters of this life because we can’t make it on our own. And that there are a million different things tempting us with ‘joy’, we need to know that only One Person can ultimately and truly satisfy the human heart: Jesus Christ Himself.


[1]John Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017) page 121-123.

[2]John Owen, quoted in Ibid., page 101.

[3]Ibid., page 121.

[4]Ibid., page 104.

[5]Ibid., page 102…my twist on it.

[6]Ibid., page 123.

My 2019 Resolution

Since most of you are thinking through goals for 2019, I’d like to share mine. It’s the same each year, but each year I try and pursue it from a different angle.

Since I have been a Christian my resolution every new year has been the same. You may say that I am boring to do so, but let me explain. As December ends and January roles around I find one desire growing in me:  to know God better this year than last. I want to be able to say in December, that I know God better now than I did the past January. I want to be closer to Him, I want to talk to Him more and in a more real way, I want to know His Word better, I want to feel Him more, I want to be more like Him, and most of all I want to love Him more than I did in the previous year.

This is all well and good, but how will all this be accomplished? I could make a bunch of resolutions to do it. For example I could make resolutions to read more, to pray more, to fast more, to rebuke more, to evangelize more, etc. Those are not bad resolutions, but they are all “fruit” issues. My resolution gets at the “root” issue, namely, what I treasure. You see, if I treasure the gospel more this year than last, all of those things I listed will happen. If I do not treasure the gospel more this year than last, those things will likely decrease. So instead of going at specific “fruit” issues, I want more heart work being done, more “root” issues.

Where do I get this in the Bible?  Titus 2:11-12, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

I will not be godly if I only concentrate on reading the Bible more. I will not be godly if I only make it my aim to share the gospel with every person I meet. I will not become more godly if I only try to “do” more things. The only way you and I will become more godly, is by reflecting on the gospel; because it is the gospel, as revealed in the Bible, which reveals the grace of God that has appeared. It is this grace that teaches us, or instructs us to live godly in this present age.

Titus 3 also shows this. In chapter 3 Paul gloriously describes the gospel in verses 3-7.  Then in verse 8 he says, “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.” When Paul says “these things” he means the gospel that he described in verses 3-7. What is it that causes believers to carefully engage in good deeds? What is it that is good and profitable for men? The gospel! When believers treasure the gospel, good deeds, Bible reading, and evangelism flows forth in abundance.

So my resolution this year is the same as last year and will most likely be the same as each new year comes that God wills to bring us. I want to treasure the gospel more, so that I grow more. When I grow more, I’ll know God more. When I know God more, I’ll love God more. When I love God more, I’ll be filled with infinite pleasure and delight. So really my desire this new year is for the increasing of my joy in Jesus, above all things, so that I would give glory to God by living in Him and for Him.

Will you join me this year in this glorious pursuit?

The Announcement of Advent: Repent and Believe

He had come up from the wilderness of His temptation and testing faithful, obedient, and fully prepared for His ministry, tempted in all ways we are yet without sin. John the Baptist had been arrested, and when Jesus came into Galilee Mark 1:15 records the message He preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Since this is the sum and substance of the message Jesus Christ came to preach, let us therefore, give heed to this advent announcement. It is four things.

First, an Authoritative Command

When He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel” He isn’t suggesting, He is commanding. “Repent” is as much a command as “You shall not murder” and “Believe in the gospel” is as much a command as “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus didn’t come to present the world with another option of spirituality. No. The same God who thundered and shook Mt. Sinai, the same God who will sound the trumpet from the heavens at the end of all things, is now commanding the whole world to “Repent and believe.”

I am aware that the words ‘command’ and ‘authority’ sound jarring, severe, abrasive, and harsh to the modern ear. But one of the glorious things about the Bible is that, unlike ourselves, it’s not subject to any generation’s cultural anathemas. We are modern people, and we may truly feel that authority and those who have it are inherently suspect because authority has so often been abused. So naturally when Jesus comes into our modern sight many see a skewed view of Him thinking that He is little more than a soft-spoken, lovey-dovey, Galilean hippie who preached a message of grace and love. We have a need to be corrected. When we come to the Jesus of the Bible we do not find a Jesus who is safe, but a Jesus who’s authority is unlimited.

This is a sweet severity of Jesus. Let it jar you. Let it bother you, feel the abrasiveness of His command, only let it jar and bother you out of your modern sensibilities and lead you to obey this command and not run from it.

Second, this is a Two-Fold Command

When Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” he gave us a two-fold command. But upon hearing this two-fold command people of various dispositions and personalities run off in two equally unhelpful directions. On the one hand we find people spreading a message centered on repentance, and on the other hand we find people spreading a message centered on faith. The former will cry out all day long at sinners to repent from their sins and speak boldly of the judgment to come, while the latter will cry out all day long to sinners promising that all sorts of wonderful things will flow forth into the soul of man from believing. The former can seem somewhat threatening and overly pessimistic, while the latter can seem somewhat shallow and overly optimistic. The former try to harden the gospel by avoiding the reality of belief, while the latter try to soften the gospel by avoiding the reality of repentance. Both of these directions are equally unhelpful because they ignore each other. Jesus did not come to only say ‘Repent!’, and He did not come to only say ‘Believe!’ He came with a two-fold command, “Repent and believe.”

So wherever the gospel is preached the core of the message must proclaim this two-fold message that Jesus came to say.

Third, this is a Sensible Command

Some people, perhaps even some of you, think it is entirely inappropriate for Jesus (and anyone else for that matter) to call someone else to ‘repent and believe.’ Because by doing so Jesus would be stating that the one being called to repent and believe is currently living and believing wrongly. This, they say, is the height of arrogance. When Jesus says someone else is doing religion wrong He is thought to be narrow-minded, unreasonable, and intolerant. But I think all men would betray themselves if they got punched in the face. Think of it like this: let’s say you and I were talking about current events around the world and because of something you said I grew angry and out of my anger I then punched you in the face. How would you feel? You can bet that you won’t be feeling warm fuzzy inside! 100% of you would become angry in response. And before ever letting me back into your good graces wouldn’t you demand an apology from me? Not only so, wouldn’t you only be satisfied with a sincere apology? One where I fully and clearly acknowledged the error of my ways, understanding how deeply I hurt you, and recognizing the need to make up for it anyway I can? Wouldn’t you require this of me? Of course you would! You wouldn’t be satisfied with a surface level apology, you’d want me to have genuine sorrow over what I had done to you.

All men, without exception, would react this way. And because all men would react this way, it shows what we really believe, and since we believe this way why do we then reject the same reality when it’s applied to God’s dealings with man and say it’s arrogant for Jesus to call us to ‘repent and believe?’ Charles Spurgeon once urged this point and said, “Do you expect to be saved while you’re in your sins? Are you to be allowed to love your iniquities, and yet to go to heaven? What, you think to have poison in your veins, and yet be healthy? Be stained, and yet be thought spotless? Harbor the disease the yet be in health? Ridiculous!”

Though many today say the gospel call to repent and believe is against or contrary to reason. I say it is above reason, and if we we’re reasonable people we would repent and believe in the gospel. No, the command to repent and believe the gospel is a sensible command, and all men know it.

Fourth, this is an Urgent Command

Do not be tricked. One of the greatest deceptions the devil has ever done is not keeping us from repenting and believing in the gospel, but tricking us into believing we can repent and believe in the gospel tomorrow. As the frog slowly and comfortably boils to death in a pot of warming water, so too, modern man reclines in the water of worldliness unaware that he too is submerged and slowly warming to death in sin. Perhaps we sit so comfortably in the church during sermons that call us to repent and believe in the gospel because we’ve become numb to the things of God. We don’t tremble when we approach the throne, we don’t fear the God we’re coming before even though He is a consuming fire in His holiness. We are far too casual.

Do not be tricked, give up your intentions, and put yourselves to action, not tomorrow, not January 1st, but today!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Call & The Called

Throughout my life I remember certain calls. I remember the first time I answered our home phone as a young boy with a timid ‘Hello?’ I remember getting into trouble and having to call my mother from the principal’s office in 1stgrade. I remember God calling me into pastoral ministry in December 2003. I remember the many calls Holly and I exchanged our senior year of college. I remember the Easter Sunday my mother called me to tell me Grandpa had died. I remember the day the elders of SonRise called me to inform me that I’d been chosen to be the next pastor. All of these calls, some hard and some exuberant, mean much to me. I’m sure you could give a list of similar calls that have happened in your life that are meaningful to you as well. But of all the calls we could mention one call matters more than any other – the effectual call of God.

It’s at this point where we encounter a paradox.

Because of God’s predestining love, many people in the world are truly the ‘elect of God’ but still remain dead in sin and without hope. God has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world, yet they live as unbelievers, apart from Christ, still rejecting the gospel. How is it then that God brings these chosen ones, how is it that God brings His elect to a saving knowledge of the truth?

The answer according to Scripture is the effectual call.

Or we could say it another way: God’s sovereign election is not the end of the story, it’s merely the beginning. God will lead all of those He has elected in Christ to salvation through Christ and the first step in this process is the effectual call. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called…’ So first comes the election of God then comes the call of God. And not just any call, but a call that we say is ‘effectual’ because the call itself creates what is not there: life from death, light from darkness, faith from unbelief, salvation from condemnation, and adoption from alienation.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24 says it like this, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In this passage three groups are present: Jews, Gentiles, and another group Paul refers to as ‘the called.’ Three groups with two very different responses to Christ. Jews demand signs/wonders and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be a stumbling block. Greeks (who are Gentiles) were seen as more cultured people than the Jews so rather than seeking powerful signs they sought after wisdom and upon seeing/hearing of Jesus Christ they conclude Him to be folly. This response of unbelief does not surprise us because in the verses leading up to v22-24 we continually read that to the world the cross is foolishness (v18), that it pleased God the world through wisdom cannot find Him or know Him (v21a), but rather God saves those who believe a message which the world sees as foolishness (v21b).

Standing against the unbelief of Jews and Gentiles is the other group, ‘the called.’ We’re introduced to this group in v24 and when these people heard of Jesus Christ they did not think Him to be a stumbling block or folly, no, they held Him to be the very power and wisdom of God. A slow reflection of these three groups and their responses to the gospel prompts us to ask questions: what made the difference? How did the third group recognize Christ as God’s very wisdom and God’s very power while the Jews and Gentiles missed it? The Jews wanted their signs, the Gentiles wanted their wisdom, and ironically the very things that both of these groups were seeking are found together in Christ in the highest degree possible. He is the definition of the power of God…He is the definition of the wisdom of God. What made this last group embrace this and embrace the truth of the gospel while the others rejected it?

Answer: they were called of God.

We see this in the first few words of v24, ‘But to those who are called…’ That’s it. That’s the difference maker. ‘But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ This means the call of God is the very thing which removes our John 3:3 blinders. Anybody recall John 3:3? ‘Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.’’ Because of our sinful nature we cannot see the kingdom of God, we’re blind to the beauty of the gospel by birth, but those who are called, those whom God gives the new birth (that’s what ‘born again’ means) can see power and wisdom in the gospel! They don’t think of the gospel as a small thing that doesn’t have meaning for their life, they think it is life.

Do you? It was the call of God that made this third group in v24 see the truth of who Jesus really is while the rest of the world was blind to it. Thus, the call of God is an effectual call or is efficacious because it brings about the desired effect. The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or praying a prayer or signing a card or being baptized, attending church, or even serving that church to any capacity. The best evidence of true conversion is the presence of light, warmth, love, and joy in God found in the gospel of Christ saving sinners. This transforms a life, because once God effectually calls you to Himself, you will not remain the same.

Why the Reformation? Because of Misplaced Authority

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. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, 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 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.

Gospel Propositions = Self Deprecation = Hard Work

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind his readers that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. But let’s ask a question…

What kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in 1 Cor. 15:8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is.

This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new.

So reader, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you. Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

Do you?

Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace, yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

9/11 and Job – Suffering With God

It is fitting to talk about suffering on this day rather than others, because today is the 17th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Many people suffered on that day and many people still suffer on this day who lost loved ones. It was a tragic day, and it feel’s like yesterday to most. But did you notice what most people were asking when they were suffering great pain and heartache? “Why?” The question of “why” teaches us something about people’s suffering. It teaches us that in the midst of suffering people want to know the reason they have to go through this. They want to know the design or purpose this suffering has come into their lives. Isn’t this interesting that in the midst of utter darkness people don’t cry out over the pain first they cry out to a higher being and ask “Why?”

This points us to Job 3 where we see Job asking the same thing.

Job is mourning and grieving all the suffering that’s come upon him. Yet, he’s also protesting because Job is angry and wants to know the answer to one question, ‘Why?’ Job isn’t addressing his friends and he’s not even addressing God either, no, Job is a tea pot of suffering that’s reached the boiling point of sorrow and he bursts out in steaming anguish. It’s as if Job is trying to bring his faith and his experience together into something that makes sense to him in this present suffering.

The Lament (v3-10)

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.”

We’ve seen a few special and specific days before in Job 1-2, now in chapter 3 Job has brings up two more specific days in view. Specifically, in v4-5 we see the day he was born and in v6-10 we see the day (or night) he was conceived. In light of his current state Job, in v3, looks back and curses these days desiring that he had never been born. He now wishes the sun had never risen that day and that darkness would’ve reigned instead of light. In an ironic reversal of creation and redemption where God speaks into and redeem the dark with His light, Job wishes the opposite would’ve happened. Yet, all Job’s lamenting is fantasy. The past is the past and nothing desired in the present will change what has already occurred. This poetic lament is powerful then, not because his desires will happen, but because they truly reflect the darkness of his heart.

The Protest (v11-26)

The futility of these laments probably hit Job hard after v10 because in v11 there is a clear shift in language. He began expressing desires, desires that won’t ever come to pass, and thus, Job begins his protest asking five questions, all around the word ‘Why?’

Question 1: v11, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?”

Question 2: v12-15, “Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver.”

Question 3: v16-19, “Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”

Question 4: v20-22, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?

Question 5: v23, “Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?”

Moving from the womb, to the knees, and then to the breast to nurse is usually a pattern of health, of loving nurture, and a sustained life. But for Job all this pattern did for him was launch him out into a sea with waves too high for him to stay afloat. These things fill out the first three questions of his protest and each time the answer seems to be that while life is now horror and misery to him death would be rest and peace to him. In the evening we usually lay down to rest, we are quiet, and we are in peace. This is what Job wants most. His daytime is nothing but terror, so he wants to escape his preset. Or switch his analogy around a bit and perhaps see it like this. There are times of suffering so deep and so vast that an evening’s sleep is a break from the nightmare of the day.

This is Job’s current experience here in chapter 3. Because of all these things when we come to v24-26 it feels like a climax to all his pain. “For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning’s are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”

Suffer With God

What are we to make of this chapter? One principle: sometimes those who walk with God can walk in such darkness that death seems to be the only source of relief. Jesus even experienced this as He was walking near the cross where He would make full, final, and forever atonement for all who believe in Him. But in His suffering He knew His Father’s will was best for Him, even if that meant His own death. And ironically it’s in His suffering where our suffering comes to an end. How? His suffering absorbed the Fathers wrath for all who believe so any suffering believers now experience isn’t punitive but purifying. Which brings hope in the dark.

Christians then, can have seasons and even years and years of life just like Job 3. And when we see others in seasons like this we would not serve them well if we made them feel as if their suffering were sinful or faithless. Job 3 is dark, for sure, but even in Job’s protest see a ray of hope. All throughout this chapter we see him energized to find out why God has done this to him (v20 indicates he’s dealing with God here who gives life or light to men, think also of 1:20-22). This shows us that Job, even here, wants to struggle with God rather than without Him and that ought to give us hope and leave us an example in our own suffering.

May all those who have, are still, and will continue to suffer from the events of 9/11 do the same and suffer with God rather than without Him.