The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

In John 9 by rejecting the man born blind but now healed and kicking him out of synagogue the Pharisees have shown themselves to be such horrid shepherds of Israel. As John 10 begins Jesus rebukes the Pharisees further. Here Jesus (in His last public discourse of John’s gospel) makes a clear distinction between them as false shepherds who abuse God’s people and Himself as the good shepherd who rules over and leads God’s people well.[1]

In John 10 Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech’ here, a kind of metaphor if you will. This kind of language tells a firm and grounded truth through an untruth.[2] For example, if I say ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a cow’ I’m not intending to say I could eat a cow but that I could eat a whole lot. No one would take me literally if they heard me say that. Similarly, when Jesus is speaking of Himself here as the shepherd, and speaking of all those who believe in Him as sheep, is He saying He is literally a shepherd? Or that we are literally sheep? Of course not. The language Jesus employs here, though untrue in an exact literal sense, is intended to symbolize a deeply encouraging truth. There is a profound intimacy between God and His people. They know God’s voice and when they hear it what do they do? They follow His lead. Jesus is saying He’s the true shepherd of Israel and the Pharisees are false shepherds. This is what’s in view for us here in v1-21.

Here are four takeaways from it:

Christ is our Shepherd

If you’ve repented of sin and believed in Him, Christ is your Shepherd. You belong to Him, He’s called you by name, He’s sought you out, He’s died for you, brought you into the pen, and He now leads you. The elders at your churches aren’t your shepherds. You don’t belong to them. Undershepherds they may be, but that’s all they’ll ever be. The shepherds of Israel failed, the Pharisees failed, your elders will fail you, therefore keep your eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, He will never fail you.[3] By laying down His life for us He forever secured us in His pen, rest in Him

We’re Sheep

It seems from all accounts, that sheep aren’t the wisest members of the animal kingdom. They’re foolish, easily frightened, ever wandering, yet at other times stubbornly immovable. Some have even seen them walking directly into open fire.[4] Do not wonder that here and many other places in Scripture God likens us to be sheep. We too are often foolish, easily frightened, and wander off where we shouldn’t. But Christ, as our good shepherd, chases us down, and brings us back. I know some of you are in the midst of hard seasons of life. I want you to be encouraged here. We, like sheep, don’t often understand why things play out the way they do, or what the Shepherd is doing using both His rod and staff in leading us…but we do know our Shepherd. Trust Him, rest in His care, and take heart…“God is not calling you to make great promises to Him, He’s calling you to trust the great promises He has made to you.”[5]

Wolves are Real

In this life of following Christ, not everyone will be like Christ and not every gospel preached is Christ’s. Wolves will try to sneak in, climb over the wall, and use and abuse you for selfish purposes. Many have used this very passage to try and do just that, teaching v10 in such a way as to make us believe God wants us to be rich and materially prosperous, and that all trials that come our way are the result of our lack of faith. Take caution, be aware, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Even if everyone around you goes off in a different direction, you keep on Christ’s heels. How?

This leads to my last thought…

Remember, His Voice is His Word

True sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Our Shepherd not only laid down His life for us in the crucifixion, He not only took that life back up in the resurrection, our Shepherd ascended and sent His Spirit out to give us His voice. Do you know His voice? Or is His voice a stranger to you? Do you follow His voice? Or do you follow your own way? Do you sit underneath His voice and study His voice enough to be able to recognize the voice of a stranger?

 

 

Citations:

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 498.

[2] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, page 33.

[3] Sproul, page 190-192.

[4] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 267.

[5] Kevin Dibbley, quoted in a Tim Challies meme this past week.

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His Love is Better than Life

My wife woke up today to a single long stem Rose, a card, and some Reese’s chocolates hearts from myself and our two boys. Why? Because we want to make much of her, of her love, her care, and her hard work. We want to remind her of how greatly we appreciate all she does for us. We could do this every day of the year in reality but we did it today because it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s our hope she feels loved, cherished, and adored from this. In other words we want to make much of her today.

Do not confuse Valentine’s Day love with how God loves us. The two loves are not the same. Let me explain…

Psalm 63:2-3 says, “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

These verses in Psalm 63 have always stuck out to me because of the transition David makes within it. In 63:2 David says that He has seen God in His sanctuary and beheld Him in His glory and power. In 63:3 David then says in response “because Your love is better than life my lips will praise you.” A question rises up upon seeing this. Why would David not say “because Your glory is better than life?” Didn’t he see His glory? How does God’s love come into the mix here?

I think the answer is quite revealing about the manner in which God loves mankind as well as revealing about the manner in which man receives the love of God. Here’s what I think is happening in these two verses.

David saw the glory and power of God and he rejoiced in that glory by praising God. Particularly, in praising the love of God. What then is the connection between seeing God’s glory and power and praising God’s love? I think it’s this. After seeing God’s glory and rejoicing in that glory by praising God, David expressed his joy in God’s love because allowing us to behold His glory is the primary way God loves us.

This would mean that God’s love does not make much of us (man-centered view), but God Himself (God-centered view). God is beheld in His glory, God is then praised in response, man’s soul is filled with joy, and God is glorified and made much of. This displays that God is love precisely because He graciously gives the elect the greatest possession they could ever have – Himself!

Balancing Word and Spirit

I am a reformed cessationist. I believe that God can do whatever He wants to do and often does surprise us in His works today. But I also believe that all apostolic activity has ceased and we now rely solely on the Word of God. Believe it or not I have many friends who do not hold this position. They would be considered reformed as well but would call themselves charismatic continuationists. They believe there is much activity of God today similar to that of the apostolic era. After spending time around people like me and people not like me I’ve come to believe that a few cautions are necessary in both of our lives. These cautions are more like road barriers that function to keep us from going on the road. We all tend toward one side of the road but we should all ai at a certain balance. What do I mean? Keep reading…

The Word without the Spirit

Often in the reformed circles I run in you see congregations very into intellectual and theological conversations. This is not bad, but to engage in such theological activity without relying on the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts is very unhealthy. In reality, we’re seeking to find the truth of God in the Word of God without the help of the Spirit of God. If we’re not banking of the Spirit of God to open our eyes to see the wonders of the Word, we must think we can see these wonders on our own. The Word without the Spirit is insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation – because it is only by the Spirit that we are able to truly comprehend and receive the truth within it. 1 Cor. 2:14 makes this clear, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The Spirit without the Word

The opposite is just as true. Just as it is the temptation of reformed congregations to fall into the former error, the error of the charismatic congregation is the opposite. To seek the Spirit of God without or apart from the Word of God is also insufficient to teach us the will of God for our salvation. God could reveal His truth to us in this way but He has never told us in His Word that He’ll do it this way.

So if we’re to know the will of God for our salvation we must have both the gift of His Word accompanied by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Beware Additional Revelation

That God used to speak to His people through the prophets, and now does so in these last days by His Son, teaches us that God’s work of prophetic revelation is complete in Christ, and in His inspired Word. This is why the warning at the end of Revelation to ‘not add to this Scripture’ is meaningful for the book of Revelation and the whole of Scripture as well. Therefore, if we want to know God, we don’t need to look any further than the Scripture, because only there do we find the Spirit inspired truth about Jesus Christ.

Yet don’t we seem to struggle with this in our day? Even within the soundest of churches, how often do we feel the pressure or the weight of the popular notion that the Bible is not enough for us? Our experience and church activities reveal that we yearn for ‘more’ whatever that may be. This is why people go to things like the devotional book ‘Jesus Calling’ and the prayer book ‘The Circle Maker.’ Both of these things communicate that the Scripture is not enough, but when you add this ‘new method’ of prayer or ‘new knowledge from God’ to the Bible, you’ll reach a spiritual level you never thought possible. We should not seek after such things and seek extra or additional revelation from God. God’s prophetic work through His Son and His Spirit is sufficient, this is why 2 Peter 1:3 says, “We have all we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.”

Since these things are sufficient, we dare not seek more. But in seeking them, may we ever rely on the Spirit of God.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

This past Monday I began thinking through the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer coming to the conclusion that, based on James 1:13-15, this cannot mean that God tempts us in any way. What then does this mean? To that we now turn…

The True Meaning

When we pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are first acknowledging that God rules over all things in His sovereign, wise, and good rule. That there are no “maverick molecules”[1] in the universe, but all things are governed according to His will. Secondly, we are asking that God, if it be in line with His sovereign will, would not lead us into positions where we can be easily tempted and likely to fall.[2] It means we ask Him to preserve us from these things, or if He sees fit to bring us into seasons of trial that He strengthens us to stand firm, lessen the attractiveness of sin, or expel the allure of sin with a superior affection for Himself…in order to remain faithful to Him.[3] Thirdly, we are submitting ourselves to God in such a request knowing that every trial He brings our way is to be accepted and “counted all joy” as God’s necessary means to conforming us into the image of Christ.

As one commentator put it, “…there can be no virtue without temptations to vice…In few things is God’s power of bringing good out of evil seen more clearly than when He turns what the devil intends as ‘occasions of falling’ into opportunities that may be ‘for our wealth’; for every temptation vanquished adds to the strength and richness of the soul.”[4] So in this request we’re not asking God to not tempt us, He doesn’t tempt us. We are not asking that God not allow us to be tempted but saying “Lord, don’t let us succumb to temptation” or “Don’t abandon us to temptation.”[5] We, sad as it is to admit, do find ourselves giving in to temptation but in those moments we do so by rejecting the way of escape God always provides as 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us. So when we give in we have only ourselves to blame.[6] This means, we do not fall into sin. No, we sin because we want to and don’t want God to help us.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s there is a story told of the fate of two men under the reign of bloody Mary. Both of these men were condemned to burn at the stake for being and teaching Reformation principles. One of the men boasted loudly to the other prisoners that he would be a ‘man’ in the fire, that he was grounded in the gospel of Christ and would never imagine denying Christ given the chance. Even as the day dawned, he spoke of his imminent death in the most pious of terms, saying that he was like a bride made ready for the wedding day. Well, the other man could not have been more opposite. He too was eager to not deny Christ but admitted that he was terrified of burning at the stake and suffering so greatly. He was so scared he feared that he would recant when the first flame came near him. So he begged the other man to pray for him and wept over his weakness and fear. The other man responded to his pleas for help by rebuking him for acting like a coward. The day came, they were tied to the stake, and at the first sight of the fire the one who had been so bold recanted, was released, and people say he never returned to Christ. The other man, trembling, stood firm as a rock praying, “Father, lead me not into temptation” as he died a cruel but courageous death.[7]

We do not approach trials saying “Bring it on!” We don’t look for them to show how strong we are.[8] If we’re honest we’d all like to avoid them, and be more faithful in them. That’s what this request is getting at. Here’s the lesson for us. We all must undergo various trials and temptations to grow in Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this (this being the great salvation and living hope we now have) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Well, as the first half of v13 is put negatively, the second half is put positively. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The second half of the verse supports all we’ve been discussing so far and connects the temptations we encounter in life and desires to be saved from to their evil consequences and true source. Temptations, when given into, bring about some nasty consequences, and temptations, truly do come from the tempter, from the devil. This is why some say it should say “evil one” there instead of “evil.” I disagree. It is not just the devil in view, but all the evil dwells within our hearts, all the evil that results from giving into temptations, as well as all the evil produced directly by Satan. From these things we want deliverance, and praise God, He often does just that!

The Real Ending

Now, as we come to the ending you should all look down to your Bibles and look at that little footnote that says, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” This is not included in the earliest of manuscripts we have of Matthew and because it is not there most translations do not include it within the text, but leave it to the footnotes.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that it does not matter whether this doxology was there originally or not, and that these words are fitting to for any Christian to say! He also adds that ending prayer with praise is suitable after beginning a prayer with praise, because it forms a kind of bookends to healthy prayer. But, as much as I agree with everything Lloyd-Jones says in those statements I want to encourage to you to believe that the prayer actually does stop with the word “evil.” I say this because seeing the ending of the prayer at ‘evil’ forms a vivid contrast to how the prayer began. “Our Father in heaven…, deliver us from evil.” As the blood bought covenantal adopted children of God, we live in between the times. We live in the overlap of the ages. We have one foot remaining in this present evil age and one foot, by God’s grace, in the age to come. We see something of this eschatological reality even here, that all of our lives are lived between God and the devil. Thus, the natural reaction of the Christian to this could only be a cry for help.

And in v13, the whole of the Lord’s Prayer in general, God has given us such a cry.[9]

 

Citations:

[1] A fond saying of the late R.C. Sproul.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Vol. 2, page 76.

[3] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 103.

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew – The New American Commentary, page 120.

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

Coming now to the sixth and final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I have four thoughts to give you.

The Context

Thus far in our trek through the Lord’s Prayer we have gleaned much benefit for our soul’s good by paying close attention to the context of the prayer, especially noticing the ordering of Matthew 6 as a whole and the individual requests within the prayer as well. We’ve seen that we do not begin prayer with any kind of petition but an opening address that acknowledges the goodness (Our Father) and greatness of God (in heaven). By beginning like this we’re reminded of the privileges of our adoption by God through the redemptive work of Christ, that He is our Father who has made us His own children and given us access to Him in Christ anytime we so desire. Then after beginning in God with prayer the very first priority we’re to move towards is His glory, that His name, fame, and reputation would be hallowed, magnified, or made much of.

After this we ask that both His Kingdom and His Will would come into our earthly context, serving the purpose of His glory, as they already are in God’s context, heaven. Then we descend from the heights of glory into the mundane and common affairs of human existence when we see v11 and the request for our daily bread. This reminds us that God is cosmic in His majesty but that God also cares about our ordinary physical/spiritual needs in this life as well. Then we come to the two-sided coin of v12-13 about our own sin and struggles. In v12 we’re told to pray for forgiveness, that our past guilt from our previous sins may be forgiven and in v13 we’re told to pray that God would deliver us from incurring new guilt by committing new sin.[1] So right away in v13 we’re brought face to face with the reality we must acknowledge, just as we need God to help with our past sins, we need God’s assistance to face future struggles. v13 is the prayer of a weak person to a strong God.[2]

The Obvious Question/Answer

As with v12, here in v13, right on the surface of this text lies a question that seems hard to answer but isn’t hard at all upon further study. The question is this: does v13 teach that God is one who leads us or brings us to temptation? Recall just a few chapters earlier when Matthew 4:1 told us “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” So right away we know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To answer it definitively we must go to James 1:13, where we read “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”

In James 1:13 we find a blasphemous accusation. Some think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would ever accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible. We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials. This should not be so, this cannot be so. God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in v14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.” This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. And once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. We allow sinful desires to grow in our hearts, we give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, and when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

So we know this isn’t the meaning intended here in Matthew 6:13. But because this isn’t the meaning intended we’re left with a new question, what is the intended meaning?

That question I’ll turn to next week with the final two points…stay tuned.

 

Citations:

[1] A.W. Pink, An Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount, page 164.

[2] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 171.

He is Himself Our Daily Bread

I have four points to make today in regard to Matthew 6:11.

Transition Comments

Here in this first point let me set v11 into the context of the whole of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we come to Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread” we reach a transition in the Lord’s Prayer similar to the transition we see in the Ten Commandments. In commandments 1-4 we find the first table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to God directly. Then in commandments 5-10 we see the second table of the Law, commandments that have to do with our relating to one another directly. In these two tables of the Law God is first and man is second. Here in the Lord’s Prayer we see similar things. A Godward direction is present in the first three petitions. Hallow Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done are all direct requests for God to come and do something for His glory. After these initial three requests we see something different. Daily bread, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from temptation and evil are all direct requests for God to come and do something for our good.

See again the true pattern to prayer. We’ve seen this pattern time and time again throughout our study on prayer. Prayer doesn’t begin rapid fire of requests for God to come and make our lives better. It begins with God. It begins with praise, with adoration, with requests for His name to hallowed, and for His fame to be known and loved in all the world. It begins with a robust recognition of who we’re speaking to and an honest humility about who we are speaking to Him. The Lord’s Prayer shows us the reality of what tends to the glory of God and the good of man, and that the glory of God comes before the good of man.[1]

Realization of Utter Dependence

Here in this second point I want to make another introductory comment on v11. This request, “Give us this day our daily bread” should remind us of how utterly dependent we are on God for everything.[2] If God willed it He could withhold everything from us. He could stop the sun from shining and giving light and heat. He could stop the rain from watering the earth and making it bring forth plants and turn all of creation into a barren wasteland. He could take back up the breath in our lungs or forbid that our hearts take another beat if He desired to. In our arrogance we forget that God is at this very moment, and at all moments, upholding, preserving, and supporting all things. If He were to stop, we would not continue to exist for even a split second. We could not live a single moment without Him.

A.W. Pink goes further and comments here that not only can God do these things if He wanted to, but because of our sin God would be just to do those things. Pink says, “By asking for our ‘daily bread’ a tacit acknowledgement is made that ‘in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them.’”[3] I think here it would be appropriate to say, fighting for human rights and fighting against various kinds of injustices has its sure place in the life of man. But I think we too often forget that because of our sin, before God we have no rights. Or as the Westminster Larger Catechism questions 21-29 say, mankind did not continue in the estate wherein we were created. In Adam’s fall all man fell into a state of sin and misery. And now we who we created very good have become corrupted and wholly inclined to all evil continually, which causes us to commit actual sins. And because of this, we lost communion with God, gained His displeasure, and are in ourselves children of wrath, slaves to sin, justly deserving the wrath of God in this life and in the life to come.

Taking these things into account, this request “Give us this day our daily bread” is a good reminder for us of our dependence on God for everything…and that any provision that comes to us is of God’s sheer grace.

His Daily Provision

Here in this third point I want to unfold what the words “Give us this day our daily bread” mean. There is a difference of opinion as to what this phrase means and most of it centers around the word ‘daily.’ In the Greek epiousios is literally translated as ‘the next day.’ But as you can imagine, “Give us this day our bread for the next day” can be difficult to understand. Does it mean “Give us this day our…” bread for the current day, bread for future days, needful bread, or bread necessary for our existence?[4] While some do attempt at singling out one of these meanings as the optimal, most simply believe these varied meanings combine easily and prefer to use ‘daily’ as an all encompassing term. There is another debate as to what the bread actually refers to. Some believe it is describing the bread received in the Lord’s Supper, this is called the sacramental view. Others see the bread being a figurative term symbolizing life in Christ’s Kingdom and therefore see this fourth petition and the second petition “Your kingdom come” as asking the same things. These two views on the bread are minority views. Most believe this request for daily bread to be a request asking God to provide literal bread as well as all that is needed for our physical lives in this world. The reason most embrace this view is because the rest of Matthew 6 develops that very point.[5]

Therefore, many things are put forward here for us to embrace.[6] A great humility is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God ‘to give’ us what we need to exist. In order to ask God for this we must put aside our pride thinking we can do this on our own. Moderation is put forward here as Jesus teaches us to ask God for daily bread, not luxury or superabundance, just what is needed. Trust in God is put forward here because after asking God to give us this sustenance we must trust Him to do so. But in trusting Him to do so, Jesus does not intend us to wait and be idle, anxiously awaiting God to answer this apart from our own work and toil. God intends us to work, to be able to earn money to purchase what we need to continue in our lives. And the idea of community is put forward to us here once again in that we pray not “Give me…” but “Give us…our daily bread.” So in praying for ourselves and our needs we must always have an eye on those in our community around us. If God gives you bread abundantly, it could very well be for more than just you. God may intend you to support and sustain another around you who isn’t in a similar state. “Give us…” demands we leave our normal independent mentality and think of our life in Christ as life together.

In Martin Lloyd-Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he mentions an illustration he once heard from A.B. Simpson that helped him understand this a great deal.[7] He said Simpson asked him to think of God differently than most do. Most, he said, think of God as a Father that has given us a great of grace gift in one lump sum and we go on throughout life living on that gift. God does not work that way with us according to Simpson. In fact if God were like this Simpson mentions it wouldn’t be out of bounds to think we would enjoy the lavishness of the gift so much that we would forget the great Giver who gave to us. Rather, Simpson encouraged Lloyd-Jones to think of God like this. Think of God as our great Father, who has truly given us a great gift of grace in Christ, but being our Father He desires that we come to Him continuously and ask for this gift from Him. So in a sense God has put a great deposit for us in the bank, and while He will not allow us to take all of it out at once, He does allow and even want us to come and make daily withdrawals for what we need. Simpson said prayer was the way believers make withdraws for what we need from this great deposit of grace that is now ours in Christ.

Commenting on this Lloyd-Jones says, “This surely is the marvelous thing, that God likes us to come to Him. The God who is self-existent, the great Jehovah, the God who is not dependent on anybody, who is from eternity to eternity, who exists in Himself apart from all – this is the astounding thing, that because we are His children He likes us to come to Him, and likes to hear…our lisping praises and our petitions. That is because God is love; and that is why, though He knows all about our needs, it gives Him great pleasure…when He sees us coming to Him to ask for our daily bread.”[8]

So that God invites us to come to Him for this, awakes us to the realization that God is the giver of all good gifts. And from knowing that God is the source of all that sustains us in this life, our enjoyment of all that sustains us in this life is not diminished but increased. We often sing a hymn saying, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” This is true, God is God and God is greater and ever above all the gifts He gives to us. But, can I suggest that there is another way to see this? When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we look full in His wonderful face, when we see the reality of all that sustains us in this life comes from His hand, all that He has given us will not grow strangely dim but strangely bright, for in His gifts we see the glory of the Giver. Or as Jonathan Edwards says, “In His gifts we can trace the sunbeam back up to the sun.” 

A Thing of Wonder

Here in this last point I want to make a concluding statement, and try, by God’s grace to get you to see how wonderful this statement is. When we come to 6:11 we come down from the heights of glory to the depths of what is common. Jesus takes us from grand spiritual concerns (God’s glory, God’s Kingdom, God’s Will) to our everyday spiritual and physical concerns.[9] That the God of glory is concerned about our little needs is a thing of wonder. This shouldn’t surprise us, it is the teaching of Jesus everywhere. Even a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from God’s will, and after telling us that He says we are of much more value than sparrows. More so, all of the hairs of our head are numbered, such that, there is not a hair on our head that God is not concerned about. This means more than hair, it means that there is nothing about our life, even the smallest and most trivial details about us, that are not known to Him on His everlasting throne.

So rejoice, “…the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, dwells with he who has a humble and repentant spirit…in v11 Jesus Christ takes hold of us here on earth and links us with the Almighty God of glory.”[10]

 

 

Citations:

[1] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, page 95-96.

[2] Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount – Vol. 2, page 72.

[3] A.W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, page 163.

[4] William Hendrikson, Baker New Testament Commentary – Matthew, page 332.

[5] Reformation Study Bible, study notes on Matthew 6:11.

[6] Hendrikson, page 333.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, page 71-72.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, page 72.

[9] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 169.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, page 70.

Two White Guys On Race and White Privilege

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, which for 2018 also marks what would have been his 89th birthday. In honor of MLK Day this year I want to point you to a two part conversation from two white guys (Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman) on race, the church, and white privilege. Being a pastor and a white guy I really needed this conversation. It helped me. It opened my eyes to much that I had not previously known about and had honestly never thought about. I should have thought about these things, but haven’t? Why? Because I’m privileged and didn’t even realize it. I’m grateful for these two doing this and helping me become aware of much and encouraging pastors to lead conversations like this one.

Give these chats a listen, they’re only about 30 minutes each but they’re filled with rich content that will benefit you greatly.

Listen to Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Or listen in on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or download the MP3 file.

Our Father in Heaven

As the Prayer of Prayers begins, it doesn’t begin with any kind of petition but with an opening address.

We ought to expect such things. No one in his or her right mind would come into the presence of or greet the President of the United States glibly or casually. No, we would be respectful, polite, courteous, maybe even reverential. If we do this with earthly rulers, how much more should this be the case with God who rules over all? How much more should this be the case with the King of kings? There is difficulty in this. Martin Lloyd-Jones comments on this difficulty saying, “We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind, the bleeding heart, whatever it is. And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment…and remind yourself of what you are about to do.” Lloyd-Jones goes on to speak of Daniel’s prayers when he was vexed about knowing the interpretation of a dream, Jeremiah’s prayers when he was vexed with the state of God’s people, Jesus’ own prayer in John 17, and the prayers of Paul afterwards. None of these began with what vexed them, they all began with an invocation to God. The more we remember what we’re doing in prayer and who we’re speaking to in prayer, the less likely we are to jump into prayer quickly with a rapid fire of requests. That there is an opening address before any petition teaches us much about how prayer ought to begin. See the words with which appropriate prayer begins. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…’”

I want to unfold four realities in this opening address with one aim – to see how Christians ought to begin with God in prayer.

Pray Like This

Notice the beginning of v9? “Pray then like this…” What does this mean? Does this mean we’re to recite these words? Does this mean we’re to pray in this manner? Or does this mean when you pray it is these matters that must make up our whole prayer life? These questions are clear enough in and of themselves, but the answers have been very different from one person to the next. The more liturgically minded believers recite these words in their exact form very often personally and corporately in worship. The less liturgically minded believers may go years without ever uttering this prayer personally or hearing this prayer uttered corporately. Why such recitation on the one hand and avoidance on the other? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think either quite gets the point of Jesus here.

Rather than turning this prayer into a rote recitation that feels formal or cold and rather than avoiding this prayer all together for fear of sounding catholic or liturgical, I believe Jesus would have us catch the spirit of this prayer. Meaning that, these things (and perhaps these things in this order), are the matters that ought to be taking up our prayer life. We can choose to recite them sure, but we must not believe that the mere mindless recitation of them has any power; as if ten ‘Our Father’s’ will give us any spiritual benefit. We also can choose to never say these exact words, as long as the content of this prayer fills out the content of our own words in prayer. There is freedom here to be employed and enjoyed. But in this freedom we must be sure to anchor ourselves to the text itself, so that it in an organic manner these things naturally flow forth in our prayer. So we should see the Lord’s Prayer as guardrails which direct and guide us into prayer that is pleasing to God. In this regard John Calvin comments, “God has given us a form in which…everything which is lawful to wish, everything which is conducive to our interest, everything which is necessary to demand. From His goodness in this respect we derive the great comfort of knowing, that as we ask almost in His words, we ask nothing that is absurd, or foreign, or unseasonable, nothing (in short) that is disagreeable to Him.”

Our Father

It is true that there is something very personal about prayer. It’s an intimate moment, where we converse with God, where we linger with God quietly over His Word, where we bare our hearts, where we express our deepest longings, joys, sorrows, and desires. Prayer is intensely personal, so much so that most people feel some level of angst about praying in public. Yet, see how the Lord’s Prayer begins – “Our” not “My.” That “Our” is the first word in this prayer shows us that though prayer is truly private and personal, it is also truly communal and corporate. “When we pray we do not pray alone even if we are alone” (David VanDrunen). We do not pray to a God who has saved us alone, or even to a God who has saved many individuals throughout history. No, we pray to the God who has saved, is saving, and will save a people for Himself from every tribe, language, and tongue. The Church past, present, and future is the community we’re saved into, and in all appropriate prayer has a communal element to it. Be sure to note that the communal element I am speaking of here is the blood bought covenant people, the Church. I am not speaking of some kind of universal brotherhood of mankind underneath a universal fatherhood of God that we’re a part of. No, though God has created all mankind, only His children that He has chosen, pursued, adopted, and saved are free to call Him ‘Father.’

A number of places within Scripture remind us of this. John 1:11-12 says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…” Galatians 3:23-26 says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” One chapter later Paul expands on this in Galatians 4:4-7 saying, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

This is a Christmas time reality, that the Son of God was sent at the fullness of the times. Born like us, so that we would become like Him, and once we believe in Him we receive adoption as sons, are given His Spirit, given to heart and new desire to cry out to God as Father, and gain an inheritance. In Ephesians Paul brings the sovereignty of God into adoption when he says in 1:5, “In love He (God) predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Lastly one of the highest moments in 1 John is when John exclaims in 3:1 saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Think of like this. In regeneration God awakens us, in justification God legally declares us to be righteous, and in adoption God brings us into His family. Adoption comes after these things because it is the result of all that has come before. Because of this we can say it is in truth an apex in the order of our salvation. But do not confuse these doctrines. Regeneration is all about birth, that though we were born sinners God gave us a new birth and made us alive. Justification is all about declaring us to be righteous when we’re not. Regeneration grants us new life and justification clothes us in an alien righteousness. The glory of the doctrine of adoption is that once we’ve been made alive by God and declared righteous by Him He then brings us into a family we’re not naturally born into. So when, through faith, we receive and rest on Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel, God then receives us, brings us into the number of His children, and gives us all the rights, blessings, and privileges belonging to the sons of God. Now because of Christ, in prayer we do not meet a God angry at us, but a God who welcomes us as His own children.

“Our Father” is an appropriate address to begin prayer with, for in the very phrase itself is hidden all kinds of gospel beauty to behold.

In Heaven

As good as these things are, see that the opening address doesn’t end here. “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”

Why address God as the God who is in heaven? Isn’t something like that obvious? Well no, not always with how people go around defining God these days and perhaps in Jesus’ day too. So I think there are two reasons why the opening address ends with this little phrase “…in heaven…” First, it reminds us God is above all things. And second, it reminds us God is in control of all things. Or in other words, what kind of Father do we have? We don’t just have a Father who is a smiley benevolent fellow, we have a Father in heaven, sovereign and ruling over all things. This is the kind of Father we have. How wonderful for us to know this! That God is over and in control of all things in existence, able and powerful to do something about the things weighing on us, this is the God we come to in prayer.

So…

Let’s wrap this up in a sentence or two.

Prayer isn’t to be jumped into obnoxiously, but reverently and respectfully, the way we would enter the President’s Oval Office. And we do not immediately start rattling off all those things pressing on us, we remember who we’re speaking to, God the Father, who is above all things, in control of all things, and through Christ and the Spirit adopted us as His children.

In this manner, appropriate prayer must begin with an opening address that acknowledges the greatness of God, and our gratitude for Him being such a God.

Resolutions That Will Matter 10,000 Years From Now

Well, thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, and it is now 2018. From looking back on 2017 and looking into 2018, I’m sure many of you are thinking about and wanting to make some changes about your life. Getting rid of some habits and replacing them with new habits in their place. Maybe you want to change how to relate to your spouse, your kids, or your friends. Perhaps you want to get into healthier patterns of eating, entertainment, sleep, exercise, or giving. Whatever you’re thinking and whatever you’re desiring about 2018, most of you are thinking about one thing…behavior modification. I’d like to suggest something else…

I want to suggest that you aim a bit deeper, that you aim at the root of all your behavior, that you aim at your heart. 10,000 years from now only one thing will matter: if you know God. Therefore to aid you in making resolutions that matter, below are all of Jonathan Edward’s resolutions. Enjoy them. May they become and/or influence your own.

 

Jonathan Edwards:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the forementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself (as much happiness, in the other world,) as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the Golden Rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Proverbs 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects.

34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no: except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God,
which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were anyway my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.

44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.

51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, resolved to endeavor to imitate it.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill-nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it–that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Ephesians 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully “as unto the Lord, and not to man; knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.”

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” of which the Apostle speaks [Romans 8:26], and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalms 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th sermon on the 119th Psalm.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

The SOLI DEO GLORIA of Prayer

After lingering last week on the opening address of the Lord’s Prayer we now turn to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “…hallowed be Your name…” (Matthew 6:9b). In this first petition we find one grand request and two grand desires that result from it.

Grand Request

In this opening petition we find the pattern of all things. ‘Hallowed’ means to sanctify, to venerate, to treat as holy, to make much of, and to glorify. ‘Name’ here in Matthew 6:9b is the Greek word ‘onoma’ which not only means name, but carries with it the idea of one’s reputation. Therefore, taking these things into account tells us the first thing we come before God in prayer asking is that God, and specifically God’s name and reputation, would be hallowed, made much of, and glorified. Taking this phrase into your heart and breathing it out as praying looks like praying something like, “Our Father in heaven, the concern nearest to my heart and the one that shapes all other requests is that Your name would regarded as holy, that Your fame would be heralded in the all the earth, that You would be honored among the nations, that Your glory would be magnified for all to see. O Lord, be pleased to cause men everywhere to take pleasure in You, that You might be praised now and forever[1]…help us to really know You, to bless worship, and praise You for all Your works and for all that shines forth from them…help us to direct all our living…so that Your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always praised and honored.”[2]

I say that in this opening petition we find the pattern of all things simply because in it we do. God does all things for the great glory of His name. Therefore we want God, in all the aspects of who He is to be glorified and made much of. If you scoff at such a thought remember it is not self-flattery for God to do pursue His glory. When one of us craves the attention and praise of others we call it flattery because we understand the root of such behavior is insecurity and we therefore seek the praise of others to cheer us up or give us a kind of meaning or purpose. God is not like us. He needs no one, He lacks nothing, and He doesn’t need our praise to cheer Him up.

If I were to suggest that I should be given a Nobel Prize for mathematics I would be suggesting something entirely ridiculous. I am horrible at math and need a calculator to solve the most basic of equations. More so, if the Nobel committee gave me the award they would be functioning in an entirely ridiculous manner too, I don’t deserve it. But if a brilliant mathematician suggests that he win the prize and has the resume and work to prove it, for the committee to not give it to him would be as wrong as giving it to me. In a much greater and more lasting way, we do something entirely ridiculous ourselves when we keep glory for ourselves and not give it to God, who deserves it forever.[3]

The lesson today is brief and simple: because God’s chief priority is the glory of His name, the chief priority of our prayer should be the same. This is the grand request of the Lord’s Prayer. In this sense we can see that the opening petition of this prayer could be seen as something more than petition, we could see it as adoration.[4] And while the opening address “Our Father in heaven…” fills us with a solid confidence, the first petition “…hallowed be Your name…” fills us with a proper reverence.[5]

We can continue on this point further. The grand request in the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer is nothing else than what is summed up in the last sola of the Reformation, Soli Deo Gloria[6] which means all believers are to aim at God’s glory not only in all of our prayer, but in all of our life. In an age as ours, one of deep self-centeredness and narcissism, Soli Deo Gloria is a call to reject the man-centered life and embrace a grand and sweeping vision of the God-centered life in all of life’s many facets. Everything we do, we’re to do to God’s glory, so it is true to say that only the glory of God gives the right purpose for all of life.

But…focusing Soli Deo Gloria solely on human conduct is imbalanced because it fails to reflect Scripture’s careful presentation of the topic. Many times Scripture does call us to glorify God in our worship, a couple of times Scripture does call us to do all things for the glory of God, but you know we see more of in Scripture when the glory of God is in view? In most of the references to the glory of God Scripture is speaking of that glory as a way of describing who God is. From promise to fulfillment, from progression to completion, or from Genesis to Revelation God’s glory is displayed as something growing from seed into full blossom, especially as He reveals Himself in the culmination of history in the Person of Jesus Christ.[7] Thus the glory of God is, as James Hamilton says, “…the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation, that He gains from His revelation of Himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth.”[8] Or as Herman Bavinck said, “The ‘glory of the Lord’ is the splendor and brilliance that is inseparably associated with all of God’s attributes and His self-revelation in nature and grace, the glorious form in which He everywhere appears to His creatures.”[9]

So yes, the glory of God is about living all of our lives to the glory of God, and even praying with priorities that reflect God’s own priorities, as made clear here in this opening petition. But remember, before the glory of God is about us, before the glory of God is about our prayer even, the glory of God is about who God is. That truth itself should focus and drive our prayer and life toward God’s glory, which is why I think Jesus commands this petition before anything else.

I began with these opening thoughts because I don’t believe we can get into this opening petition without first reorienting ourselves to a proper posture in viewing the glory of God as about God in Himself first before our conduct for God. Now we can go on and discuss how this specifically relates to prayer. So remember “…hallowed be Your name…” is a prayer, it is the first request in the Lord’s Prayer. I want to ask a question at this point: what happens this prayer is answered? What happens when our Father in heaven is glorified? What happens when His name is hallowed? Two grand desires begin to stir and grow within us.

Grand Desire 1 – Increase

When God answers our prayer for His name to be hallowed He will stir within us a desire to want all that honors His name flourish and increase. There is both a personal and global element to this. So then, what is it that honors or glorifies God?

Grand Desire 2 – Decrease

When God answers our prayer for His name to be hallowed He will stir within us a desire to want all that dishonors His name perish and decrease. As before, there is both a personal and global element to this. So then, what is it that dishonors or defames God? I asked this question a few weeks ago during a Sunday evening worship and this is what we came up with. Take a look at it and see how you’d answer it this.

Citations: 

[1] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forget, page 219.

[2] Heidelberg Catechism Question 122

[3] Christopher Ash, Job – The Wisdom of the Cross: Preaching the Word Commentary, page 46.

[4] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Matthew – John: Volume 5, page 60.

[5] Alfred Plummer, Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, page 98.

[6] Few people have described this better than David VanDrunen in his book God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life.

[7] David VanDrunen, God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life, page 27.

[8] James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, quoted in VanDrunen, page 23.

[9] Herman Bavinck, quoted in VanDrunen, page 26.

The Power of a Prayerful Private Piety

With one specific address to begin followed by six petitions to God, the Lord’s Prayer is no doubt the world’s most famous prayer. As we approach this text we must remember the first rule of proper hermeneutics (interpretation) is that every text comes to us in a certain context and it’s in that context where we find the meaning of a particular text. What is the context for the Lord’s Prayer in v9-13? Matthew 6:5-8, where see the warning against inappropriate prayer.

Inappropriate prayer was being done and prized in the community. How so? We see this in v5, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” We also see this in v7, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Two things come to the surface when inappropriate prayer comes into view. First, a desire to be seen by others as holy, and second, a desire to be recognized by others as scholarly. Holy and scholarly, a well ordered life and a well ordered mind. These are two things that in and of themselves are great and commendable even. But when sought after for the sake of public recognition or personal fame, the end of v5 becomes the appropriate response to these kinds of inappropriate desires, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

The root of both of these false desires in v5 and v7 is simple but seems to be ever entangled around the human heart. When these people pray on the street corners in the middle of the day as people are walking by, or when they use many words with multiple syllables within earshot of everyone else around them they desire their fellow man to recognize them, honor them, and esteem them. This error in prayer is the same error with giving to the poor in v2 and with fasting in v16. So, taking v2, v5, v7, and v16 all together we can see this is all really just another way of saying, these people want their fellow man to praise them and give them glory. Jesus warns us against this. He warns us against using religious external practices, like prayer, to gain applause by our demeanor or language.

In every age believers need to be enormously cautious of this. We may think this only happens out in the world of sports or in Hollywood, but do not be deceived. We do not have a spotless history. Ever since Genesis 3 back in the garden mankind has been eager to exchange the glory of God for the glory of self. One current example is that we now live in the day of the celebrity pastor, where those pastors who are cool, hip, and trendy are making waves in the culture, gaining thousands of church attendees, and earning million dollar salaries. Even in our own reformed circles we prize pastors and theologians of the past and the present. We look to them for guidance, buy and read their books for wisdom, and go to their conferences to be near see them in person.

I remember the first time I went to Together for the Gospel conference in 2008. John Piper was one of the speakers and between sessions he was up front waiting to speak and a line of hundreds of people formed to meet him and get his autograph. I couldn’t understand why such a thing was happening at a conference for pastors, and for a time was a bit put off…until reflecting on that later and saw that was I jealous of those at the front of the line who actually got to meet him. The same Genesis 3 desire to make much of self, if we’re honest, is never far away. Of course there is a fine line here right? Biblical guidance, good books, and helpful conferences are a thing we could grow immensely from. But nonetheless the temptation remains, even for us, to do ministry or be ministered to, for our glory.

Well, as v5 and v7 show the evil and inappropriate kind of prayer, v6 and v8 show us the remedy. v6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” v8, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Also, as before this parallels the rest of this first section of chapter 6. v4 shows a true reward comes from God to those who give in secret, and v18 shows a true reward comes from God to those who fast in secret. Here Jesus reminds us of the importance simplicity and sincerity in prayer. Prayer, though informed by deep theology, isn’t meant to be a theological treatise that is performed before an audience of some kind, but simple, an activity of sincerity. Craig Blomberg, in his commentary on Matthew, says Jesus shows us that “…the remedy for our sinful streak aiming at self-glorification is the power of a private piety.”

There is one passage that clarifies these principles very clearly, Luke 18:9-14, which says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In the first verse of this parable, Luke tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves. Then Jesus gives his parable. Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector, or a Publican. Jesus then says some things seemingly crazy and ridiculous. But if we’re to see this parable as crazy or ridiculous, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context. You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy. Why? That’s what our world has been taught. This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable. They would have been shocked and astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars. If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months. Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would be neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, a leader among leaders, a Christian among Christians, and a saint among saints.

We can see this in the text, look in v11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Everything Jesus warns us against in Matthew 6:5-8 is present in this Pharisee’s prayer. His so-called righteousness was really unrighteousness. Look back at his prayer. He says God once, and then says “I” five times, boasting about how squeaky clean and morally upright he is. This isn’t a prayer, it’s a boast. It seems that to this guy, God ought to be impressed with him. The harsh reality here for us in this example, is that when we come to God like this, or have these thoughts within us, we don’t find mercy from God, we find judgment.

Now to the Publican. In Jesus’ day, the average tax collector was nothing less than a crook who robbed people of their livelihood. They not only were traitors to their own people by being employed by the Jewish enemy, Rome, these people would take Jewish money and give it to Rome. And to make matters worse, most tax collectors were filthy rich because they took more money than they needed from people, and kept it for themselves. These people today would probably be included with the likes of those who sell drugs to children, pimps and swingers, and those leading, using, and trading in the sex trafficking industry. These are not good people, and everyone knew it. For one of them to walk into the temple like this guy not only never happened it would simply be astonishing.

This guy’s prayer was really different. He came in, couldn’t even lift his head to heaven or stand up, but bowed down, probably crouched in the corner saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He knew who he was, he knew he was a fraud, and that he had stolen more than he could count from innocent people. He knew that he was more wicked than he could ever imagine. He knew that he had sold out to Rome and was bankrupt morally. What’s crazy about this, is that after he prays, he received mercy and was made right with God. You see v13-14? “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” While everything Jesus warns against is present in the Pharisee’s prayer, everything Jesus encourages us toward is present in the Publican’s prayer.

So, in beginning to teach us about appropriate prayer Jesus begins by telling us what inappropriate prayer is. What then is they way to pray appropriately? We’ll answer that question over the next many weeks as we unfold the Lord’s Prayer phrase by phrase.

 

Why True Converts Are True

Last Monday I discussed why false converts are false. Today I want to look at conversion from another angle, asking why true converts are true. John 6:60-66 showed how many of the disciples of Jesus were repelled by His teaching, after this in 6:67-71 comes the big test. “What will the twelve do?”

This is exactly the question Jesus poses to the twelve in v67, “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” That Jesus asked this to the twelve does not show any weakness or worry on Jesus’ part. He’s asking this to push them to one way or another, and displaying for them just how costly it is to truly follow Him. I think as much as the previous section of this passage challenged us, there is as much in this last passage to encourage us. Are some of you prone to doubt, prone to be rash, prone to be hotheaded, impatient, slow to understand, weak, small, insignificant, or foolish? All of these attributes are present in the twelve and more, and yet here they are in v67-71; probably feeling as much of the hardness of Jesus’ teaching as those before, but rather than leave like the rest they’re staying.

There’s only one question that comes to mind when we see them stay: why?

Why would they continue to follow someone whose teaching is so hard that it decreases His influence? Why stay when everyone else is leaving? Why stay when it costs this much to do so? Well, could we not ask similar questions of one another today? Being a Christ follower today doesn’t make one popular, if anything, it puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement in most arenas within our current culture. Why do we stay? Why do we come to worship this One who is thought to be so out of touch with modern society? Why are we a part of this thing called Christianity?

That Peter answers Jesus’ question is no surprise to anyone familiar with Peter’s actions in the gospels. He is often the one who, for better or for worse, immediately says what he is thinking. There are places this did not help him, but what we see in v68-69 of him is beautiful. It is not only the answer Peter gives for himself and the twelve, it is also the answer we must give to the same questions in our present secular age. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This confession of Peter shows that Peter, though not fully getting it, knows a few things really well, so well that he seems to be mastered by them. Peter knows that there is no one else worth going to. Peter knows what Jesus Himself said back in v63, that His words are spirit and life that give eternal life. And Peter knows what He believes, that this Jesus is the Christ He claims to be. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have moments in them where they record a similarly great confession from Peter. This is John’s. And in all four gospels, it’s after Peter’s confession that things begin to get very hard for Jesus and those following Him.

These words put Peter and the rest of the twelve at odds with the rest of the society around them because they publicly display that they are with the Jesus. In contrast to the false disciples who defected from Christ, Peter and the twelve stood out as true disciples who were devoted to Christ. And yes, if we claim the name of Christ this great confession must be our confession too even if what these words did for them they also do now for us; separating us from the world because they publicly display to the world that we are with Christ.

This is all good and true, but let’s come at this from another angle to peer deeper into this. What was it that separated Peter and the twelve from the false converts of their day? And, what is it that separates you and I from the false converts of our day? Answer: while Peter did not deny that the teaching of Christ was hard, he acknowledged that Jesus’ words were words of life. Do you? This was the one thing the separated the twelve from all those who left. They heard the teaching of Christ, felt the difficult weight and reality of what He was saying, and trusted Him anyway. Do you do this when the teaching of Christ doesn’t mesh with you? Or, when the Bible disagrees with you, do you understand that you’re the one in error and not it?

Did you see how Jesus ends the passage in v70-71? “Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for He, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” They have just been through a trial where they had to choose to follow Jesus even if that decision brought very public and unpopular consequences. Now Jesus, by ending this way, prepares His disciples for an even greater trial. John Calvin says it’s as if Jesus’ saying, “You twelve now remain out of what was once a large following. If your faith hasn’t been shaken by the unbelief of many, get ready for something harder. For our number, though small, includes one who is a devil.”

John Piper makes a good point here on this text. He points out that Jesus may confuse us at times. He may perplex us and may even provoke us with things He says. And yet, do you see enough beauty in Jesus, do you see enough worthy of your trust in Jesus to say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…No one ever spoke like you. No one ever acted like you. No was ever so strong and meek, authoritative and gentle, profound and simple, powerful and yet willing to be killed, just and yet willing to be treated unjustly, worthy of honor and yet willing to be dishonored, deserving of immediate obedience and yet patient with people like us, able to answer every question and yet willing to remain silent under abuse, capable of coming down from the cross in flaming judgment and yet committed not to use that power…no one is like You Lord, You are the Holy One of God.”

True converts are true because they see these things and love them.

Why False Converts Are False

During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As John 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd following Him to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false. In John 6:60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs, or to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Upon coming to v52 we see a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.

That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. Most commentators say that by saying these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure. In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”

So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

I wonder how v60-66 hits you.

When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.

This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.

Be challenged, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.

Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into?

Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6.

Jesus doesn’t give participation trophies, He gives a crown of life to those who persevere by sovereign grace! May you do just that.

Jesus Chose & Died for His Bride

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity.

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

What I’ll labor to show you now is that just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people then, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, was for and only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

Six points to show this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

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

The Atonement was Accomplished

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

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

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

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

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

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

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

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

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

So…

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

In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect. Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’ J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

Here we see it: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

Why Solus Christus? Because He is Everything

Why did the doctrine of Solus Christus matter so much during the reformation, and why does it still matter today? We’ve talked much about Luther’s life these past weeks. Let me describe one more moment from his life to answer this question.

Once Luther began seeing the power of gospel grace and the powerlessness of our own works to save, he heard reports of a preacher who had just come to Wittenberg. This preacher’s name was John Tetzel. Tetzel came into the town square and said, “Good people of Wittenberg, have you not at one time or another burned your hand in the fire? And felt it torment you day and night? How greatly you ought to fear, then, the fires of hell, which are able to burn and torment your soul for all eternity. Your Pope, Leo X, offers you grace for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tonight and only tonight you can snatch any loved one or rescue yourself from the fires of hell for a few coins. “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The technical term for this is called an indulgence. And Tetzel just happened to be the most famous indulgence preachers around.

Luther heard this and was vexed in his soul! Why? Because Tetzel’s message was clear: give money to the Pope, and you will be saved. In response to Tetzel Luther wrote his 95 theses and numerous other books against the wicked doctrines of the Popes, past and present. For writing what he did, Pope Leo X sent Luther warning letter, called a Papal Bull, telling him to repent or else. Luther refused to repent and responded instead by publicly burning a copy of the letter. A few weeks later he preached about this in one of his Sunday sermons saying, “Yes you have heard, it’s true. I’ve been summoned to Rome. While I’m gone remember, we obsess with indulgences…God isn’t an angry God who only wants your money. Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly…If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this, ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Christ’s work alone saves, not ours. This was what vexed Luther.

Now why do these things matter today? You may think the preaching of indulgences was a thing of the past, but you’d be mistaken. The Roman Catholic Church not only still uses and offers indulgences, but Pope Francis has been known to use them often. Remember, when an indulgence is offered, what is being communicated is that if you do this, if you go here, or if you give this amount of money, you’ll be saved from the fires and torment of hell. There seems to be no place for the truths of Christ standing forth in majestic wonder as the true Prophet, true Priest, and true King, alone in His exclusive identity, and alone in His sufficiency to save. The center of Tetzel’s preaching was that man could buy His way into heaven, Luther heard it and it vexed his soul because Christ’s work to save was being thrust aside!

Today it’s really no different. By and large the center of protestant preaching is that man can use God to gain self-esteem, purpose, and worth, and even though Christ crucified is thrust aside and absent from this message…we hear it and our souls aren’t vexed at all! Where is Christ???? Where is His Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly work for us? Sadly, though we say we reject Catholicism our message is eerily similar to Tetzel’s message. Sure, we may not say that we can buy our way into heaven, but we do say we can use heaven to buy whatever we want.

Church. We need to repent and return to Christ. When we turn to this particular Sola we turn to the linchpin, the hub, the apex, and the center of all reformation theology, indeed, of all biblical theology. Christ is the glory of Sola Scriptura, for He alone is the Word made flesh and He alone is the interpretive end of all Scripture. Christ is the glory of Sola Gratia, for He alone is the grace of God personified. Christ is the glory of Sola Fide, for He alone is the object of saving faith. And Christ is the glory of Soli Deo Gloria, for He alone is the radiance of the glory of God.[i]

Far be it from us to think the reformation or any theology coming from it that boasts the label of ‘reformed’ centers on men like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or any other famous man or woman in the history of the Church. Far be it from us to think God exists to make much of us! May you be vexed at the man centeredness of the Christian world around us, and rid your soul of such narcissism. We have no need for any other prophet to provide us with new revelation, we have no need for any other priest to mediate between us and God, and we have no need for any other king to rule God’s Church.[ii]

Christ alone stands at the center of God’s eternal purposes, so, Christ and Christ alone must stand at the center of all our life and doctrine.[iii]

 

 

Citations:

[i] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 14.

[ii] Ibid., page 13.

[iii] Michael Reeves’ foreword in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, page 13.