God Our Refuge Described

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Van Harn & Strawn, page 237.

[4] Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:5.

[5] Plumer, page 850.

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

[7] Spurgeon, page 93.

[8] Calvin, notes on Psalm 91:11.

[9] Van Harn & Strawn, page 238.

God Our Refuge Affirmed

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

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

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

God our Refuge Affirmed (v1-2)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[5] Van Harn & Strawn, page 236.

The Names of Christ

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

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

Christ

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

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

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

Lord

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

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

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

Son of Man

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

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

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


Adapted from 7Summits of Systematic Theology, by Adam Powers

Another Top Ten List for 2019

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

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

10) With One Voice, Reggie M. Kidd

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

9) The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks

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

8) Interpreting the Psalms, Mark Futato

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

7) Contemporary Worship Music: A Defense, John Frame

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

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

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

5) Saving the Reformation, W. Robert Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

2) Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon

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

1) The Bible

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

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

Are We Still Protesting? Yes.

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

What happened changed the world.

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

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes.

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

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

God’s Presence & Our Pleasure in Worship

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

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

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

First, Emotional Pleasure in Worship.[2] 

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

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

Second, Divine Presence in Worship.

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

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

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

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


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

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

[3] Davis, 74.

Aslan Singing Creation Into Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Lewis, 70.

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

[4] Berkhof, 129.

From the Archives: Hypothetical Salvation for Hypothetical Believers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 points to show you this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

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

The Atonement was Accomplished

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

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

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

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

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

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

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

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

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

I’ll end with one thought:

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

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

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

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

Why Hebrew Parallelism Ought to Matter to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer, we should approach it literally.

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

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

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

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

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

John’s Vision of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is who Jesus is.

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

May we see Him too, and be so stunned.

One Tremendous Draught of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is yes, He must drink it.

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

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

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

What should our response to this be? 

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

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


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

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

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

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

[5]Ibid., page 498.

The Finale of History

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

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

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

What will occur at the judgment?

Christ Will Judge

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

All Mankind Will be Judged

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

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

The Saints Will Judge

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

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

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

A Summary of Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Son’s Sobering Preservation

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

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

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

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

May we not be caught unaware. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[iii]Carson, page 532.

[iv]Ibid., page 532.

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