Learning Paul’s Message

Romans 1:2-4, “…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In that first post we met Paul, today in this post we’ll learn his message.

In Romans 1:2-4 we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament.[1] In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.

But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Now we see it. The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person.[2] The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus.[3] And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.

First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.

Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying.[4] The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power.[5] Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.

So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord.[6] This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.


[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.

[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 102.

[4] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.

[5] Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.

[6] Douglas Moo, NICNT – Romans, 48–49.

Render to Caesar – Render to God

Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” 

Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer saving Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on here than just the separation of Church and State. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.

This means, at least, two things. 

First, Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due. Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Second, Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens. Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people.

Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.

Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”

Notice what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no compromise. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.

These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it still.

Before we finish note one final implication: because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be an American to be a Christian. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.

As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and we show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man.

May those good gospel works flow forth into the politically chaotic 2020.

Meet the Apostle Paul

In reading the Bible ourselves and in hearing the Bible preached I think most Christians have grown far too accustomed to how Paul’s letters begin. Such that we don’t really pay attention to them any longer. In essence, we rush past these introductions to get to the content that really matters. This is something we must indeed stop doing. We must come to understand that we rob ourselves of great riches if we do this. Take Romans 1:1 as an example. You might think it’s just a general introduction from Paul to the Romans, that it isn’t very different from how he begins his other letters, and that there really isn’t anything we can learn from it. But a closer look at v1 shows us how Paul, from the very outset, is eager to teach the Romans. Teach them about what? We’ll let’s look into it to see.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”

Remember, it’s likely that most of the Christians in Rome have heard of Paul but Paul has never met them or been to visit them, so he must introduce himself to them. See how he does it? As was common for letters in the first century Paul begins with his name, but he then does something unexpected. After telling them who he is, he immediately tells them Whose he is. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Whatever else the Romans might learn about him, Paul is anxious to teach them this most important thing about himself. He’s anxious to introduce them to the one Person in his life that matters most, the one Person Paul cannot think of himself apart from, Jesus Christ.[1] Paul could’ve easily said ‘Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontier missionary, gospel champion.’[2] But no, he says he’s a servant of Christ Jesus.

Don’t miss it. The very first thing he wants them to know about himself is that he belongs to Jesus.

This word ‘servant’ is key. The Greek word used here is doulos which is more rightly translated ‘slave.’ But you won’t find this is most English translations, because slavery in our modern world brings to mind such appalling things, most English translations avoid the word slavery and use servant or bondservant instead, which really ends up softening what Paul’s saying here. We’d do well to see this as it is. Paul doesn’t view himself as being a free man, no. He doesn’t come and go as he pleases, no. Christ is his Master and he is his Master’s possession. That’s the first thing he wants the Romans to know about him.

The second thing he wants them to know is that he has been called and set apart to be an apostle. This language of calling and setting apart is very similar to how God speaks of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Israel was and the Church has now been brought out from the rest of the world and made separate. But Paul also brings in the word apostle to clarify what he means in this. Paul uses this term in v1 to teach the Romans that he’s not a rogue figure out and about on his own mission, teaching his own ideas, trying to create his own religion. No, Paul is an apostle, a ‘sent one.’ One whose been chosen, called, selected to be an officially authorized representative of Christ along with Peter, James, John and the other apostles.[3] Those hand selected 12 who were with Jesus and eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The Romans may have never met Paul, but they should certainly listen to Paul since he’s an apostle. Why? Because as an apostle, he’s writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ Himself.

The third and final thing he wants the Romans to know as he begins in v1 is that God called and set him apart as an apostle for a reason. See it? The gospel of God. Here we have the first mention of the word that will dominate this letter, gospel. Paul will soon say he isn’t ashamed of this gospel and then spend the rest of the book explaining both the contents of the gospel and how the gospel transforms our lives. But did you note how he says this in v1? Paul identified himself earlier as one who belongs to Jesus, so we could say Paul is Jesus’ Paul. Well, what gospel is this? What gospel has Paul been set apart for? Not Peter’s gospel. Not John’s gospel. No, God’s gospel. The gospel belongs to God!

Romans then, is a letter about God. How God acted to bring about salvation, how God’s justice can be preserved in that salvation, how God’s purposes are being worked out in history, and how God can be served by His people throughout all their lives.[4]

You’ve now met the Apostle Paul. In posts to come I’ll introduce you to his message and his mission.


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 32.

[2] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 16–17.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 38.

[4] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 41.

Why We Should Take Psalm 1 & 2 Together

Question: is there a connection between the Psalm 1 and Psalm 2?

Answer: Whether or not we believe book one of the Psalms begins with Psalm 1 or with Psalm 3, it is clearly seen and taught by many that Psalm 1 and 2 are intentionally placed at the beginning to form an introduction the Psalms as a whole. Many of the early Church fathers go further and state these two Psalms are actually one Psalm and because of that they shouldn’t be separated.

This leads to another question: if these first two Psalms form an introduction to the Psalter as a whole, how do they introduce it and what does that teach us about the Psalms as a whole?

Steve Lawson answers this by saying these two Psalms act as doorkeepers for all who enter the Psalms, requiring us to take refuge in the Lord from the moment we enter the Psalter. Mark Futato similarly says while “…Psalm 1 provides us with insight into the purpose of the book of Psalms, Psalm 2 provides us a window on the message of the Psalms.”

The connection we’re to glean between Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 then is one of instructing us in wisdom and pointing us to the King in whom wisdom is found and the King in whom we’re to take refuge. We could say Psalm 1 instructs us in wisdom by contrasting a wise and foolish man, while Psalm 2 shows us the King in whom such wisdom is personified. We could also say in Psalm 1 the blessed are those who trust the Lord and rest in His Law, while in Psalm 2 the blessed are those who trust the Lord to establish His righteous King who gives us His Law. Or we could say we find the theme of instruction in Psalm 1, while finding the content of this instruction in the Lord’s kingly reign in Psalm 2. Also, Psalm 1:1 begins with the theme ‘Blessed’ while Psalm 2:12 ends with the theme ‘Blessed.’ This blessedness isn’t found in ourselves but in God’s Law (Psalm 1) and in God’s anointed King (Psalm 2). Specifically in 2:12 this blessedness is found by not only our recognizing the Lord as King but in our taking refuge in the Lord as our King. Together this repetition of blessedness forms ‘bookends of wisdom’ which prepares us to see all that follows throughout the Psalter as instruction in wisdom for true blessedness, including both holiness and happiness with the former being the route to the latter.

But, while we may not experience the blessedness described in Psalm 1 fully in this life because of this fallen world, we know the happy and holy blessed life is one day guaranteed to come with God’s anointed King (shown in Psalm 2), who is ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality of the ‘already but not yet’ is present here in Christ the King, because while He has come and brought His blessed kingdom, one day in glory it will come in full measure. Then we shall experience the full realities of the blessedness told to us in both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2.

Beginning in this way we can not only see how the Psalms were purposefully and intentionally ordered, but we see how those who so ordered it deeply desired to show us a preview in Psalm 1 and 2 of all we’d see again and again throughout the entire five books of the Psalter as it moves slowly but surely toward the heights of praise in Psalm 146-150.

The Ministry of the Word

Enjoy this guest post from Rachel Noble:

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4)

The early church fascinates me. Here in Acts 6 the apostles are working relentlessly for the furthering of the gospel. However, there arose a complaint about the widows being neglected. If this complaint happened in today’s church I can see a lot of pastors feeling guilty, stopping whatever they are doing, and addressing this personally. This, of course, would come from a heart of compassion and a desire to make the widows feel loved and valued (which is honorable). However, this was NOT the response the apostles had. They were not about to put the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and prayer on the back-burner in order to “serve tables”. This may seem strange and perhaps arrogant, but if we look at this text, that’s what we see.

Of course, the apostles do take care of this issue, but in a way that did not neglect their primary duty which was the teaching of the Word. The apostles call for men of wisdom and good reputation to carry out this task of serving. The serving ministry is what we call the office of deacon as seen in 1 Timothy 3.

I once knew a pastor who was “faulted” with being “too theological.” This saddens me immensely because it’s literally impossible for a pastor to be “too” concerned with studying God and His Word! 
Today our culture (even within the church) finds theology boring, preaching irrelevant, and Biblical knowledge for those of some “higher level” of Christianity. Bible studies that include funny jokes, games, sports, or having coffee together have become more important than the true study of God’s Word. This should horrify us!

I recently spoke with a woman who told me that she had trouble finding a youth group for her children to attend. Her kids hated and were bored with every youth service they attended. At first, we would think it was the child’s fault, but the reason they hated it was because there was no actual Bible study going on. It was all fun and games, watching movies, and hanging out. There was about 5 minutes of Bible study taught by a youth leader who knew very little about the Bible himself. I’m afraid her experience was not just an isolated event but one that is becoming the norm. This should sadden us.

The study of God’s Word must be at the forefront of what we do as a local church. Our pastors (and any person who has a teaching or leading position) should devote themselves to the study of God’s Word and to prayer just as the apostles did in the early church.

I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t serve or that various ministries of the church shouldn’t have fun and games, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the teaching and preaching ministry. Deacons were established in the early church with the primary responsibility of serving. Fun, games, and fellowship are important and should come as an outflow of a community of people who are centered around God’s Word and the gospel. The gospel holds us together. Enjoying the same games, watching the same movies, or having the same friends is not what binds us as Christians. The gospel binds us.

Let’s be the people of God who focus on the Word of God for the glory of God!

18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers

From Tim Challies:

A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.

Prayers for Salvation

We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.

Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).

Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).

Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Prayers For You

You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.

Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)

Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “[Pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).

Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Other Prayers

Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.

Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

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