How’s Your Diet?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).

Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?”  But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?

In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.

And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.

Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.

Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.

The Pastor’s Wife

Let me begin by saying that what compels me to write this is not personal frustration with church members, but a pure desire to consider this great woman in the life of our church and point us to a more biblical view of the pastor’s wife.

There is perhaps no greater calling in the world than that of the pastor’s wife.

That being said, there is perhaps no more difficult calling in the world than hers. While the pastor gets the accolades, his wife often gets the odd looks and questions. While the church loves a pastor they can call on 24/7, his wife must get accustomed to saying goodbye to him at the drop of a hat. While the pastor is busy sharing the eternal gospel, leading sinners to Christ, and counseling struggling Christians, his wife’s ministry is behind-the-scenes and often considered less important. Some even take the liberty to say things to their pastor’s wife they wouldn’t dare say to the pastor, but for some reason they think she needs to hear it. Because of this, I think it would be helpful for us to consider a few questions together about this woman in our church…

Who is my pastor’s wife?

I must sadly admit that I never gave much attention to my own pastor’s wife growing up. In my mind, she didn’t even exist until the pastor called attention to her. Thankfully, I had a pastor who didn’t call negative attention to his wife as I’ve heard some heavily influential pastors do. Yet my pastor’s wife was never an individual soul, but always scrutinized through the lens of her husband. She wasn’t Ellen in my mind; she was Pastor Larry’s wife. As a matter of fact, I was kind of disappointed when I did see her occasionally (it was a mega church) for some odd reason, and I think it was because she didn’t meet my expectations of a pastor’s wife (and I didn’t even think I had any!). After talking to many church members, pastors, and pastor’s wives, I don’t think I’m alone here. Over the years of my life, I’ve lived in various places for college, seminary, and ministry, and have learned an important lesson: No two pastor’s wives are alike. One may be a type-A personality who is gifted in teaching the Bible to women or hosting events each month for the church; another may be introverted and quiet, more interested in one-on-one discipleship. But who is your pastor’s wife? I think the best thing we can do is first consider her to be another church member before we attach some label to her.

Why do I view her so differently?

I think if we’re all honest, we view the wife of our pastor differently than that of another church member’s wife. There are good and bad reasons we do this. Some expect that the pastor’s wife is to have similar spiritual gifts as her husband, but this is nowhere taught in Scripture. Others view the pastor’s wife as another overseer in the church, but this also is unbiblical. Still others have a biblical understanding of the pastor’s wife and yet still treat her as an employee of the church. Now that I’ve been married and in ministry for the last five years, I’ve seen this weird dynamic of a pastor’s wife from firsthand experience, and even I’ve struggled to understand her role at times. Mostly well-meaning people have told my wife things about how she can do a better job raising her children, how she needs to serve in the church more, on down to how she needs to wear her makeup. All of these statements to my own wife over the years have revealed that people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone more than God calls her to be. From comments like, “Hey, the toilet is overflowing in the women’s restroom!” to, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I’ll try to do better,” pastor’s wives are often put in awkward positions.

So then what are the biblical expectations of the pastor’s wife?

Are you ready for it? Okay, here it goes:

They are simply the same as that of every other believing wife in the New Testament, and praise the Lord for that.

God places on each of us no greater burden than that of faith in Jesus and the lifestyle that aligns with such faith. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul doesn’t address the pastor’s wife in his qualifications for overseers, and what he says about deacon’s wives is nothing monumental. Paul says deacon’s wives, “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). I think it is safe to say these qualifications are expected of every Christian, not just those serving in church ministry. Why does Paul pinpoint deacon’s wives? Perhaps because he knows the position of their husbands means others will see their lives in a more public way. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect anything more from our pastor’s wife than we would from any other godly woman in our church. She is to love and submit to her husband’s leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24), nurture and disciple her children (Titus 2:4-5), love and serve her church family with her unique gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and be a godly example in this lost world (Titus 2:3-5).  

What can I do to be an encouragement to her?

This is perhaps the most important question for us. The pastor’s wife and family live in one is commonly called a “fish-bowl.” Since the wife of your pastor is viewed differently, you and I should make it our priority to be an encouragement to her as much as possible. One seasoned pastor’s wife in a church in our town shared how a church member had greatly encouraged her at the beginning of their ministry with one small statement. This statement was so uplifting that this pastor’s wife held it dear for decades, and it was this: “I want you to know that you are free to be Randy’s wife.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but it meant the world to this pastor’s wife. Have you ever spoken into your pastor’s wife’s life with a word of genuine appreciation like this? It could change her world or even the future direction of your church.

But perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor’s wife is to pray regularly for her. What should you pray? The same thing you would for any other godly woman: to abide in Christ, to love her husband and children, to shine for Christ in this world.

Besides encouraging her and praying for her, you can also consider ways to serve her. I spoke with another pastor friend today who said his wife hasn’t been able to enjoy a church service in weeks because no one volunteers to help her children. This was really sad for me to hear, but sad to say I wasn’t surprised. One woman in our church noticed my wife had to take our toddler-aged children out of the sanctuary one Sunday when children’s church was canceled and she simply offered to watch the children. This is one simple way to truly encourage your pastor’s wife. You could even get her a small gift or write a note to her that expresses how much she means to you and your church. On top of all this, you could simply befriend her. Many pastor’s wives feels isolated from the regular ministry of the church, so you could just get to know her as a friend and sit with her during church services. Who doesn’t want a friend who cares about them like this?

A word to the pastor’s wife…

I know there are pastor’s wives who read these blogs. If you happen to be one, let me encourage you. Don’t let the current spiritual health of the members in your church discourage you. Don’t let your husband’s endless demands on his time discourage you. Don’t let the awkward position that you’re in each week discourage you. When the kids are climbing the walls of your house like chimpanzees and your husband has to leave five minutes after he walked in the door to make a hospital visit and when the only things you hear from other members are ways you can do better, don’t get discouraged. How? Keep drinking from the enriching milk of God’s Word. Keep your soul saturated in the life that is yours in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on the certain and sure hope of heaven that awaits all God’s suffering saints. Keep finding your life in Christ and Christ alone. Only then will you be the woman God has called you to be instead of trying to be the woman others sinfully expect you to be.

Job’s Rare Pearls – Scene 1

In the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayer’s, a prayer named Man’s Great End begins with the following words, “Lord of all being, there is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify You who have given me my being…truly, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose.”[1]In other words, our lives only matter if they serve the great purpose of the glory of God. Therefore it would be right to say that the glory of God is more important than our comfort. Right? Isn’t this a statement one we would all agree with? Of course we would. But, are there not some consequences to this statement that make us a bit uncomfortable? Yes the glory of God is the most important reality in all of life, but would we still believe that if God saw fit to glorify Himself by allowing suffering to come into our lives? We want to say “Yes!” but an honest assessment of our hearts may reveal a different answer and bring us to our knees in repentance.

In Job 1:1-5 we we’re introduced to a world where everything has a shiny veneer, a world where everything runs as it ought to run, where the great are also the godly and the good. But as v6 begins we see that this well ordered world is about to given to a very real and uncomfortable level of disorder. But in the disorder we’ll see one thing clearly. In God’s world there is a godly man who is great and, wonder upon wonder, when all of his greatness is taken away he continues to be a godly man.[2]This shows us that, to Job, God is worthy of worship because of who He is apart from anything He’s done for us. By remaining to be godly Job gives us a breathtaking preview of another man who would walk this road of suffering for us, Jesus Christ.

In 1:6-2:13 there are four scenes to witness:

Scene 1: Heaven (1:6-12)

v6 begins “Now there was a day…” and what a day it was! The events of this day would change Job’s life forever, and the ironic thing about it is that throughout the book of Job we never read of Job being made aware of the events of this day (which is itself a reason why Job couldn’t have written this book himself). We read that the sons of God, meaning the heavenly court or the divine council, came to stand before God. That they came to present themselves before God and stood before God shows us that these supernatural beings, though higher than men, are lower than God. Only God is on the throne and that these beings come when summoned shows us as much. It also prohibits us from believing this scene is something similar to a sort of Mt. Olympus scene where gods of equal power converse about how to run this world. This scene is nothing like that. Here only God is God, only God is in rules, and only God wields authoritative power in this gathering. All those present are the ones through whom God governs the world. No doubt, this is a meeting that makes any earthly governing body look puny in comparison.

Now, we do not know the guest list for this meeting but we are told in v6 of one individual who was present, Satan. We also do not know if he was a regular attender at these meetings or a regular member of the divine council, or if he was something of an uninvited guest or a kind of meeting crasher here. Whatever the case is, God speaks to him saying in v7, “From where have you come?” Remember God is God. He will not learn anything that He does not already know in Satan’s answer. In this sense God’s question to Satan here is similar to God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:9 where God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” This was meant to reveal to Adam the weight of his own folly and sin, that he was hiding from the God who made him. The question was not meant to tell God something that he didn’t already know. So, that God asks Satan this question shows us that God already knows his reply and already knows that Satan is up to no good.

Satan’s response confirms this, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” This is a slippery answer, similar to the answer a teenager would give his parents when they ask what they’ve been doing all day. “Nothing, just stuff.”[3]The answer reveals that there’s more to the story that the individual in question doesn’t want to share. Clearly then Satan is up to something but God is aware his slipperiness and aware of his plans to attack one of His own. So He states in v8, “Have you considered My servant Job?” God then repeats in v8 what we’ve already seen in v1. He is blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. Commenting on v8 Christopher Ash says, “These fateful words, singling out Job as conspicuously genuine and godly, are to prove devastating in their consequences for Job.” Just as Jesus heard about His friend Lazarus being sick and waited two days for him to die before coming to help, so too, God, being very pleased by the life of Job, is the One who points Satan in the direction of Job.

But Satan believes something different about Job. That he’s not as holy as he may appear to be. In v9-10 Satan accuses Job before God saying he’s godly and upright because God has hedged him in so tightly, blessed the work of his hands so greatly, and increased his possessions so vastly. This is why Job is really godly, not because of who God is but because of what Job can get from God in return.[4]More so, Satan says in v11 that the only way to publicly establish if Job truly loves God or not is to take away this hedge, remove his greatness, and eliminate all his prosperity. Satan’s intentions here are horrible for sure, but do not miss that they’re correct. Now, God already knows what Job would do if all he has were removed, but no one else does. So its true that the only way to publicly prove to the watching world that Job loves God for God and not just for what he can get from God is to take away all he has. Flip the story around for a moment. If Job were a holy poor man, wouldn’t it be similar logic to give him riches to be sure that his holiness wasn’t just the result of his poverty? Indeed it would.[5]Either way, rich Job becoming poor Job or poor Job becoming rich Job, the root of Job’s love toward God will be exposed and all will see if it’s genuine. So, in v12 God gives the terrible instruction and permission, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Pause here. We do not like the idea of God permitting Satan to attack Job, but that is what happens. For all his hatred Satan is doing something here for the glory of God.

Do you see it?

In a deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the watching world that God is worthy of worship apart from His gifts and blessings given to men. So ironically God uses Satan to play a role in this. It’s a role of opposition to be sure, hostile and hateful, but a role nonetheless that God wields for His own glory. Do not think Satan is God’s equal and the two of them are now locked in an epic chess game over the true affections of Job. No, God is God. He knows the end from beginning, and more so, He ordains all things that come to pass.

All of this teaches us that Satan is nothing more than ‘God’s Satan’ as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He’s only able to go where God allows him to go. So when, in the governance of all things, God sees fit to glorify Himself through the devil, He does so, and we perhaps remember our first thought again – God’s glory is more important than our comfort. Job got a first hand lesson in this, Christ got a first hand lesson in this, and we ourselves (though I’d say in a vastly lesser manner) must remember this every time we suffer in any way, shape, or form. That more is happening than meets the eye, and that God is always leading us well.

 

Citations:

[1]Valley of Vision, page 13.

[2]Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 37.

[3]Ash, page 42.

[4]Ash, page 43.

[5]Ash, page 44.

A Well Run World

Victorian author Thomas Carlyle once said, “Job is the grandest book ever written with pen.”[i]In the introduction to Job the recently published Systematic Theology Study Bible says, “Job is a literary and theological masterpiece. It combines surprising narratives and heated conversations that test the mettle of its main characters. The book’s goal is wisdom, which here and other OT books amount to balanced living based on a proper understanding of God and people.”[ii]And lastly, in the introduction to Job the also recently published Spurgeon Study Bible says, “The book of Job teaches that suffering comes to everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike. God does not always keep the righteous from danger or suffering. Ultimately God controls all of life’s situations, including limiting the power of Satan. God’s comfort and strength are always available to the trusting soul.”[iii]

Before getting into Job 1:1-5 allow me to make two introductory comments.[iv]

First, Job is a very long book, forty-two chapters to be exact. And while we are very familiar with the beginning and end of the story, most of us have no idea what to do with the middle. But ask a question here at the start, ‘Why is Job so long?’ Perhaps the answer is that God wants to take us on a journey. A journey that will take some time. Through this journey God intends to make you into a different person. How? By entering into, becoming familiar with, and being unsettled by the suffering of Job. And learning that when suffering is in view, there is no easy answer. There is no quick fix. So rightly handled, Job cannot be distilled to a few sermons and general application. You must enter it and listen carefully. But not only is Job’s suffering in view, Christ’s suffering is also in view. Indeed without Christ’s suffering coming into view in Job’s suffering Job would only be a record of unanswered agony.[v]

Second, Job is poetry. Other than chapter 1, 2, and 42 all the rest of Job is poetic and we must remember that. Poetry always has a personal take on something, aiming not just at the head but at the heart of the reader. Because of this on one hand poetry is well suited to speak to the needs of the whole person. But on the other hand we must recognize that poetry doesn’t often sum things up in neat and clearly defined categories. Rather it tends to slowly work on us, revealing deeper and deeper layers as we dive deeper into it again and again. Christopher Ash on this very point says, “You cannot ‘do’ Job as a one-day tourist might ‘do’ Florence.”[vi]

As you can imagine there have been many commentaries, books, sermons, and songs produced from these forty-two chapters. A glaring omission in most all of them is Christ. How are we to see Christ in Job’s suffering? To see this, I’ve chosen Christopher Ash’s commentary to be our guide. It is careful, compelling, and Christ-centered. I encourage you get a copy of it and read it devotionally at some time in your life. I promise, you’ll find it very worth your time.

So without further ado, let’s look into Job 1:1-5.

If I were to ask you ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?’ what would you say? We’d eventually all come around to similar answers I think. We’d like to live in a world where that isn’t fallen, a world where the wicked don’t prosper and the good aren’t trampled on. Our friends across the pond in the U.K. have a saying to describe a gathering or meeting of important people. When talking about it they say ‘the great and the good were there.’ Isn’t that the kind of world what we want? Where the great men and women leading our world always do good, governing with justly and humbly? This well run world is what we find as Job begins.

v1-5 tell us four things about this prominent man from Uz.[vii]

His Place

Job lived “…in the land of Uz…” We don’t know much of Uz in Scripture. We read of it in Lamentations 4:21 which says, “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz…” So from all we can gather it seems Uz was a city in Edom, a pagan land east of the promise land. Notice here not mainly where Uz is but where it is not. It isn’t in Israel and Job’s story never really comes into anything having to do with Israel at all. Most think Job was a contemporary of Abraham so remember the Jewish people hadn’t become a people yet, they weren’t enslaved in Egypt yet, God hadn’t given His Law yet, and He hadn’t brought them into the promis land yet. Before all these things, here is a man named Job who should’ve known almost nothing of God, yet truly does know God, trusted in God, and worshipped God.

His Godliness

Of all the things we hear of Job in v1-5 one of the most important things we hear of is his godliness. v1 says it, Job was, “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” This same word that shows up here as blameless is used elsewhere in Scripture. In Joshua 24:14 it is translated as sincerity. In Judges 9:16 it is translated as integrity. God calls Abraham to walk in this blameless way in Genesis 17:1, and in Psalm 119:1 we find that blessing will come to those whose way is blameless. So when Job is in view, what you see is what you get. This is the opposite of hypocrisy, a pretending to be something outwardly while knowing it’s a different story inwardly. Centuries later Paul had to counsel Timothy on how to pastor those who “…had the appearance of godliness but denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Job is refreshing for us to see, for he has the appearance of godliness because there was real godliness about him.

He feared God and turned away from evil meaning verticallyhe had a true devotion/love for God. He was an upright man meaning horizontallyhe was honest and moral in his dealings with others. Job was a man you could trust to give you counsel and a man you could trust to do business with. Job was a man with true piety, and is certainly an exemplary model for Christians in all ages.

His Greatness

In v2-3 we learn Job has seven sons, three daughters, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 female donkeys, and many servants. From these things there is only one conclusion we can arrive at, Job “…was the greatest man of all the people of the east.”

Seven sons was seen as something of a goal to aim at. Naomi’s friends describe Ruth as “…being more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). When the formerly barren Hannah has children she praises God saying in 1 Samuel 2:15, “The barren has born seven!” The number seven symbolizes a complete number, and in this culture sons were not only a help with daily work but were also a promise of an extended family lineage. What more could you want then seven sons? Well, how about daughters? Three of them to be exact, which is also seen as a number of completion. Job’s quiver is full and his life is blessed for it. And in addition to his children we see him having an enormous amount of possessions. When you combine all his animals and servants that manage his entire estate we come to see that Job is a man of great wealth and power. So great and so powerful that there is no one like this man in all the east.

On this point Christopher Ash says of Job in his commentary, “Job was, on a regional or local scale, what Adam was meant to be on a global scale – a great, rich, and powerful ruler.”[viii]Pause on this and note. Job was enormously blessed by God, and Job was immensely faithful. But we also notice that there’s another thing about Job we see in v4-5 that shows us more of the story.

His Anxiety

In v4-5 we see that each time his sons and daughters got together for one of their birthdays, a festivity, or a feast day Job grew anxious. He would call each of them to his house for a ceremony. Rising early in the morning he prepare a burnt offering for each one of them. As God’s people would come into being, be rescued from Egypt, and be given God’s Law, they were commanded to do burnt offerings as well. This offering was an expensive ceremony, where a whole animal was burned up in fire. The fire symbolized God’s anger toward sin, the animal symbolized the sinner, and that the fire would then consume the animal entirely symbolized what God would do to sinners for their sin unless redemption occurs. As Job did this for each one of his children, perhaps he pointed to it and said, ‘This one is for you’ until all his children would be represented in their own offering. Seeing this we can rightfully ask, ‘Why go to all this trouble and expense to do this after each family get together?’ v5 tells us, Job would think, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Job had a deep integrity that is clear, but he isn’t so certain about his children. This, Job did continually.

So, in v1-5 the stage set for what is to come. In v1-3 we meet the man himself and in v4-5 we see what he did continually. “This sets a happy scene with one shadow. The happiness consists in a good man being good, a pious man being a prosperous man. It is a picture of the world being as the world ought to be, a world where the righteous lead. It is ironically a world where the prosperity seems to be true.”[ix]The shadow is that even in this seemingly perfect setting something dark lurks beneath the surface. Job is anxious about it after every family gathering. Even in this perfect scene we learn two great truths. First, in the best and most materially abundant of environments the possibility still exists for men and women to curse God in their hearts. Second, only sacrifice – bloody, gory, wrathful, substitutionary, atoning, sacrifice – can cover such sinful hearts.

 

Citations:

[i]Quoted in Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 15.

[ii]Systematic Theology Study Bible, page 567.

[iii]Spurgeon Study Bible, page 640.

[iv]Ash, page 22.

[v]Ash, page 15.

[vi]Ash, page 23.

[vii]Ash, page 30-36.

[viii]Ash, page 34.

[ix]Ash, page 35.

The Faithful Family

The family unit in America is clearly devolving to state a meaninglessness and despair. Marriage, parenting, the discipline of children both formative and corrective, and the flow and function of the family unit are deteriorating and leaving the masses questioning, “What’s happening to society.” Sadly, this is true inside the visible church as well. Author and theologian Douglas Wilson penned these appropriate words concerning the signs of our time:

“A short walk through the marriage and family section of the local Christian bookstore easily demonstrates that modern Christians have a tremendous interest in the subject of marriage and family. But this booming marriage business (books, conferences, seminars, marriage counseling) is really a sign of disease and not health…We are like terminal cancer patients, fervently researching alternative treatments, hoping against hope that something can be done. Desperate for happiness in our relationships and discontent with what God has given us, we are imploring the experts to show us the way out…The foundation of a godly [family] is the same foundation for all godly living—in everything we are to seek the glory of God.” [1]

This is a sobering assessment of the state of the family; even inside Christ’s Church.

Luke’s inspired description of Zechariah & Elizabeth, the faithful parents of Christ’s Forerunner, I believe, paints for us today a model of the faithful family. Clearly, God will use anyone for any purpose that He has ordained. But wouldn’t it be wise of us to place ourselves in the path of God, prepared in advance with the willingness and availability for His use? Of course. Just how did Zechariah and Elizabeth do this and how can I follow their example left for me?

Both Righteous Before God, Walking Blamelessly

Any serious student of Scripture understands that any righteousness that a naturally fallen man or woman has in their fallen state is righteousness not their own. As Martin Luther would come to describe it later, Zechariah & Elizabeth held an “alien righteousness.” These two had been justified by God, declared to be in right standing positionally, by His grace through faith. Notice that this “righteousness” was not a superficial righteousness or a perceived righteousness but they were righteous “before God.” What joy the faithful family can have knowing they “before God,” in Christ, they stand pardoned, relieved of their guilt! If a family is to enjoy intimacy with God, while being used by God, it starts here.

Notice that the faithful family is a family that goes beyond a mere profession of faith but lives out that faith daily. The family Zechariah & Elizabeth’s began when they said “I do” was a family marked by “I do” toward God’s Word and placement in their lives. They were said to have been “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). This was a family committed to the daily maintenance of faith combined with daily repentance from sin toward God.

To find Zechariah & Elizabeth being used by God for a great work should be no surprise. The faithful family unit has been ordained by God to be one of the primary mechanisms through which He works. Take for example, Adam & Eve and the protoevangelium entrusted to them; or Noah & his family, their work and God’s salvation through them; or Abraham with Sarah (not Hagar), Isaac (not Ishmael), and Jacob (not Esau); and the list could go on and on. God establishes faith in families, strengthens faith within families, and then works from that faith of families; to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). However, God has invited us to participate in this process with Him. Just how do we do that? By following in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s footsteps.

Marry Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah, the son of Aaron, married Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron. Simply stated: Believers are not permitted to marry outside the bounds of the believing community. This command is clear from the Old Testament commands of God to the people of Israel not to intermarry with the pagans around them to the New Testament command not to be unequally yoked. Dads, this is primarily your responsibility in rearing up your children. Moms, your role is to support and reinforce your husband’s leading of the children as ,together, you steer your children’s decisions in relationships. That sounds crazy in our culture, but then again most biblical principles will. Pastors, your job is steer mom and dad, preaching the whole counsel of God and shepherding mom and dad as they shepherd their children. This is the foundation of the faithful family, for if one spouse is not in the faith there can be no foundation for covenantal continuity.

Live Within the Bounds God Provides

Zechariah and Elizabeth were walking blamelessly, daily pursing Christ righteousness and kingdom. They were able to do this because the knew Word, lived the Word, and gave their lives to serving the Lord. If the Word of God is not the centerpiece upon which your family is built, currently standing, and to where you turn for direction you cannot expect 1) God to hear your prayers (Luke 1:13), 2) Expect God to use us for great works (Luke 1:15), or 3) Expect our children and their future families to stand firm or follow the Lord (Luke 1:15-17). The faithful family will live within the bounds God has provided.

Live With a Repentant Heart

Zechariah was not a perfect man. Even having been delivered a message directly from the throne room of God Most High (Luke 1:19) he still doubted. And he had reason to doubt if was looking to himself. God promised an old man and an old woman, well past child-producing or child-bearing years, a son. However, after being disciplined by the Lord for his doubting (Luke 1:20), Zechariah was quick to repent when naming his promised, miracle baby boy (Luke 1:57-66), and just as quick to praise the God who gives for His great mercy.

This gives me great hope for me and my family. Zechariah, the righteous, blameless, servant, doubter, who God used to advance Christ’s Kingdom. May the Lord find me and my family fit for His service as well.

 

Citation:

[1] Reforming Marriage, pg. 13, 14

Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Covenants in Corporate Worship

In his instructions to Titus, Paul writes that ministers are to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The pulpit ministry that upholds and follows biblical exposition heeds these words of Paul. The pastor preaching the Scriptures verse-by-verse by using the historical-grammatical-theological/redemptive hermeneutic feeds his congregation. Theologically-rich, biblically based hymns are also a means by which the congregation is taught sound doctrine.

I would like to recommend a further means why which the preaching of sound doctrine can be faithfully taught in the corporate gathering of the saints each Lord’s Day. The 4 “Cs” are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These four “Cs” are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants. Each of these is rooted in the Scripture: 1. an expression of doctrinal beliefs, 2. a reminder of the importance of church membership, and 3. a guide believers in the instruction of the faith.

Creeds

Perhaps you have heard that Baptists have “No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible.” Some have boldly asserted these phrases to celebrate what they perceive as a Baptist distinctive: anti-creedalism. But Baptists are not anti-creedalists. While it is true that Baptists rejected creeds as a litmus test for citizenship, since Baptists abhor a state church, Baptists never disowned creeds as though they had no importance in the life of the church. Baptists have always held to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Both Particular and General Baptists affirmed the use of creeds. The Baptist Orthodox Catechism, edited by the Particular Baptist, Hercules Collins, says the Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed ought to be taught. In The Orthodox Creed, the General Baptists affirm and encourage Baptists to learn and teach the aforementioned creeds. The early Southern Baptist theologian, B.H. Carrol, affirmed the importance of creeds, when he wrote: “The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a, degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy.”

Why should Baptist churches use the historic, ecumenical, orthodox creeds in corporate worship? These creeds provide biblically faithful and understandable defenses and explanations of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and other central tenets of the Christian faith.

How should Baptist churches use these creeds in corporate worship? I recommend that churches consider using the creeds at the after they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Reciting the creeds together will remind the congregation of the essential doctrine that unites them, but it will also remind them of the link they have with those who have gone before us in the Christian pilgrimage. As all churches are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until Christ returns as an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.

Confessions

Founders Ministries has many excellent resources on confessions of faith. The public reading of confessions of faith is of practical use in corporate worship. Either the leader behind the pulpit or the entire congregation may read an article or paragraph from one of the historic Baptist confessions during congregational worship to teach the church sound doctrine and to express praise and worship to God for such wonderful truths. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Abstract of Principles are excellent confessions that can be read systematically by article. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith often explains its doctrines in longer form and thus might require the reading of multiple paragraphs and it could take a little longer. In any case, reading sound confessions in worship and explaining them teaches the church sound doctrine. Additionally, as a pastor preaches through a book of the Bible, he might come upon a theological truth that is particularly well-articulated in a confession of faith, and he could use a confessional definition in his sermon. Utilizing confessions of faith contributes to the sound doctrine being taught to the people. This will also equip them to explaining the faith to others.

In 1855, C.H. Spurgeon gave an explanation as to why the 1689 was reprinted and the importance of confessions:

This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Consider the exhortation given by Spurgeon: employ confessions to train believers in the faith.

Catechisms

Some in Baptist life think that only Roman Catholics use catechisms. But that notion reveals a lack of knowledge about Protestantism in general and Baptist history in particular. Baptists employed catechisms from the very beginning. An Orthodox Catechism edited by Hercules Collins in 1680 and The Baptist Catechism of 1692, perhaps edited by William Collins and Benjamin Keach, reveal the emphasis Baptists put on training in the Scriptures. In Southern Baptist life of the 19th century, both James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus wrote catechisms to teach Baptists sound doctrine. C.H. Spurgeon modified The Baptist Catechism and also produced a catechism for his church.

Parents should use catechisms regularly in the home as a tool for training up their children in the Lord. Catechisms are also great tools to be used in corporate worship. For example, the leader could ask the congregation a catechism question, and the congregation could read the answer from the worship guide, which has the Scripture references printed there as well. Families could then use the worship guide during the week to review and learn the catechism’s question and answer. Catechisms are wonderful tools of memorization. A case might be made that Baptist young people are unable to defend their faith when it comes under assault, partly because Baptists have neglected catechisms over the past century. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that men and women sitting in Baptist churches for 50 years are unable to explain in a simple way the tenets of the biblical faith. Once again, consider the counsel of C.H. Spurgeon:

In matters of doctrine, you will find that orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty to forty years, and it is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.

Covenants

If you grew up in a rural Baptist church in the South, like I did, you attended a church that had a “Church Covenant” on the wall, but the document was never taught, enforced, or even acknowledged. That is a tragedy because the doctrine of the covenant is one of unifying themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Church membership is covenantal. In a time when membership has become meaningless and even non-existent in many Baptist churches, I submit that church covenants need to be restored and used. Does it mean anything to be a member of your church? Baptists historically have used covenants to teach and strengthen the covenantal bonds among members in a local church. Timothy George describes the early Baptist covenants this way:

Common themes which resound through the various church covenants . . . include a commitment to doctrinal fidelity, the maintenance of family worship, mutual prayer and watchfulness over one another, financial support for the church, the faithful administration of the ordinances and discipline of the congregation together with the public worship of God, and an openness to receive further light from God’s revealed Word.

Historically, Baptist churches would often recite their church covenant before taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion has direct links to church membership and church disciple. A congregation that reads the covenant together beautifully reminds everyone of the sacred vows that they have taken to Christ and of the oaths they have made to each other. Churches may also find it useful to read the church covenant at the business meeting to help promote the blessed ties shared among members.

Conclusion

You might not be in a position where you can implement all of the “Cs” in your context immediately. Be patient. Incorporate their usage prudently. Explain to the church why they are important. You might begin with catechisms in a Sunday School class or teaching through the church confession on a Wednesday night. Expose your people to these rich documents that are built on the Bible, linked to church history, distinctively Baptist, and promote church unity. In his opening convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1993, Dr. Albert Mohler made this remark about the Abstract of Principles: “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.” Brother pastors and laymen, let this be the heritage taught and passed on in our day!

This article originally appeared on Founders.org.

Deliberate Demilitarization with a Donkey

History has known many grand entries.

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one such entry. After the dinner party His friends threw for Him, beginning in John 12:12 we see the events that unfolded on the next day. Passover was once again approaching and Jesus decided to come into Jerusalem, being fully aware and already knowing that the chief priests and the Pharisees had put a price on His head. We read in John 12:12-13 that those who had come into the city to celebrate the feasts leading up to Passover heard of His coming and went out to greet Him.

Now, in the Jewish year three occasions held a prominent importance. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. While Tabernacles was the most festive and joyous feast because it was a celebration of the end of harvest, Passover was, without a doubt, the most solemn occasion of the three. Here they remembered the Exodus liberation when the blood of the Lamb covered, protected, and saved them from the angel of death. Because Passover was such a cherished event for the Jews, almost every Jew from the nation would come to Jerusalem for it. The historian Josephus points out to us that on average around 2.7 million Jews would come to the city for the occasion.

So when we read that the large crowd heard Jesus was coming into town and then see this large crowd going to out to greet Jesus on His way into town in, do not imagine a small band by the side of the road making their way to greet Jesus. Picture it as it was. Near 2.5 million people vying for a spot close to the road to get a look at this Jesus who taught great things and did great things as well. So in He came and this massive hoard of people “…took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Notice they brought palm branches with them. Question: palms are nowhere prescribed in any of the feasts of Israel, so why did they get them and bring them to the roadside? Answer: because of what they meant. 200 years earlier the Maccabees, after much struggle, finally and fully removed the wicked tyrants of the Seleucid empire who desecrated the temple and restored the true worship of God once more. After this removal and restoration took place they people celebrated with music, dance, feasting, and the waving of palm branches. From that point on the palm became a national symbol of military triumph the eventual liberation the Messiah would bring.

See then what these people were saying by bringing the palms with them. They thought Jesus would do to the wicked Romans what the Maccabees did to the wicked Seleucids. They thought Jesus would at any moment stop, blast the trumpet, and call the nation to pick up arms against Caesar. They thought Jesus would be their conquering King who would crush their enemies once and for all. This is seen in all the ‘Hosanna’s’ they cry out as well. Hosanna means ‘save now’ and it comes from Psalm 118 where we find the following, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save now (Hosanna!), we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” (v22-26a) They were indeed looking for salvation from Jesus, but they were looking for it militarily. They were indeed looking to Jesus to redeem them, to deliver them, but they missed what His redemption and deliverance was truly about. That they added that last bit on about Jesus being the true ‘King of Israel’ shows that they wanted Him to be their King and usher in a new kingdom, and King He was and a Kingdom He would bring! But He would not be the King nor bring the kingdom they wanted.

Because He so disappointed the military desires of the people they would soon usher this so called king to a throne they would construct for Him, a throne made of wood, in the shape of a cross.

Jesus further illustrated these things with what He did next. In John 12:14-15 we read, “And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” The quote is a combination of two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 40:9 which says, “Go up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” And Zechariah 9:9-10 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Having read these two passages which John has combined in v15 and knowing what kind of king the people were rejoicing in with palms as He came into the city, see what these two Old Testament passages put forward to us about the special kind of king Jesus came to be. These passages do not speak of a conquering King riding His war horse into the city, eager and ready to rouse he nation to revolt once again. No, these two passages speak of leaving fear behind, taking up great joy, and rejoicing loudly. Why? Because as they look and behold the King who is coming with righteousness and salvation, they see that He is a King like no other! He is humble, riding on a donkey not a royal steed, bringing peace to all nations in His global kingdom. By coming into the city in this way Jesus further deliberately demilitarizes the vision of a war bent king by coming as the Prince of Peace. He wasn’t the king they expected, but He was the King God had long ago appointed. This continues to show us how a crowd that cheered Him so loudly here on Palm Sunday could mock Him so wickedly on Good Friday.

If there ever was a picture to keep in your mind about who Jesus is, it is this one. He doesn’t come raging in fury bent on revolt riding a royal steed, but comes meek and lowly riding on a donkey bringing peace to the world through His gospel. If ever there was a picture to keep in your mind of what the Church is, it is this one. The gospel is a gospel of peace not of worldly power. We don’t spread the gospel of peace to this world with sword, might, or human strength, but with gentleness, humility, and peace. In this way the Church exists in this world to reflect the character of God to this world.

Indeed, Jesus is a King unlike any other, and He leads and builds His Church to be a people unlike any other.

Learning From Mary’s Extravagance

As John 11 ends and the chief priests came to agreement that they needed to kill Jesus, we saw Jesus leave the city and go to Ephraim to be with His disciples. As John 12 begins in v1 we see Jesus return to Bethany six days before the Passover to be with His friends again. John reminds us that Bethany was where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And because He came His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw Him a dinner party.

Now, we don’t see a guest list here. It could’ve been just the four of them or it could’ve included many people from the village who had been at the tomb when Jesus resurrected Lazarus. We do see what the three friends were doing though. Martha is doing the serving, Lazarus is doing the eating and reclining at the table no doubt enjoying being alive, and Mary, well Mary does something so extravagant that it caused quite a stir. John tells us in v3, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.”

We see an action like this and are a bit confused because this custom seems a bit distant from us. In their day expensive ointments or perfumes like this were often used and poured on someone’s head for special days whether it be a wedding or a festivity of some kind. In describing this event John seems to go out of his way here to point out that this action was fantastically expensive.[ii] Mary grabbed perfume, not just any perfume but expensive perfume, not made from any old plant by the side of the road, no, this stuff was made from pure nard, and she poured all of it out, a whole jar of it. In v5 we learn more, that this much of that kind of perfume costs 300 denarii, which was a year’s salary to a common worker. This is the equivalent of $40,000 today. In a few seconds, in one pour, it’s all gone. Some conclude from this that these friends must have been wealthy to be able to afford perfume like this. If they were they show a good example of not hoarding riches but using riches for good and godly purposes. But we don’t know of their wealth or lack thereof, the perfume could’ve been a family heirloom, something of a prized possession in the home.[iii] Whatever their economic status was, that she used this whole costly jar up in this moment showed what she truly valued.

This action was not only fantastically expensive, it was action was fantastically humble. Mary didn’t anoint His head but His feet. Bathing wasn’t as common then as it is today and streets were not as clean then as they are today. Taking these things into account and adding the heat of the day into the mix, you can only imagine how nasty and smelly feet were back then. Because of this when one entered someone’s home either a slave or they themselves would have to wash their feet so nothing would get tracked in. To attend to ones feet in this day was the duty of the lowliest of slaves.[iv] This act is all the more striking because in this day a Jewish woman wouldn’t normally let down their hair in public, to do so was seen as a mark of loose morals.[v] Recall that John the Baptist once said he was unworthy to even untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet (1:27). That Mary attended to Christ’s feet and wiped them off with her own hair, was her own way of saying the same thing, and it indicated that she was gladly willing to not only freely give to Him what was very costly to her, she was also willing to do the lowliest of tasks for the sake of Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, seeing how each of these three show their inward devotion to Christ outwardly, once said, “The children of God do not always feel moved to serve the Lord Jesus in the same fashion or to express their love to Him in precisely the same manner.”[vi] Martha served, Lazarus reclined, and Mary, what an example we see in Mary, she gave sacrificially and served humbly. Mary’s love for Christ was extravagant and her actions remind us that it is always appropriate for an extravagant display of devotion to Christ. Perhaps Mary was thinking of Isaiah’s vision of beautiful feet, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).[vii] Perhaps she looked at Christ, who He was, what He was doing, what He was teaching, and concluded that He was worthy, worthy of everything she had.

Here’s my question for you: what could you and I possibly do that would be too extravagant in honoring Jesus, too extravagant in praising Him, too extravagant in giving Him glory?

Is there an offering to big?

Is there a song to loud?

Is there a study too deep?

Is there a heart to happy?

No!

So, what are you, right now, giving to Christ that shows your love for Him? What could you, right now, give to Christ that shows your love for Him? Is it extravagant? Is it costly? It is sacrificial? When it comes down to it, if we know Jesus we’ll recognize that in Him we have more than any earthly possession could ever give us. This frees us to give extravagantly, not only to one another, but back to God as well.

When we see the result of Mary’s very visible devotion in v3b, that the whole house was filled with a pleasant aroma, we cannot help but think of the pleasant aroma of gospel grace that every church and every heart as we serve one another sacrificially and humbly.[viii]

May this be true of us.

 

Citations:

[i] Richard Phillips, John 12-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 72-73.

[ii] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 576.

[iii] Phillips, page 73.

[iv] Morris, page 576.

[v] Morris, page 576-577.

[vi] Spurgeon Study Bible, notes on John 12:2-3, page 1444.

[vii] Wolfgang Musculus, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 437.

[viii] Johannes Brenz, John 1-12 – Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 439.

The Folly of Sunday Morning Segregation

At the end of John 11 a group of unbelieving Jews sneaks off and tattles on Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. The result is that a council is gathered. But the surprising result of the council is that a spiritually dead man proclaims the global atoning work of Christ. We see much in this scene.

The council is made up of chief priests and Pharisees and the initial hullabaloo of the council begins with the words we find in John 11:47-48, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” These words expose much about their hearts.

Firstly, they’re at a loss. They acknowledge that Jesus has truly performed many miracles and that everyone will believe if they continue allowing Him the freedom to do so. It’s understandable that they would feel like this but do you see how they’re making a bit of an exaggeration? Have they forgotten how the massive crowds left Him once He began teaching hard things at the end of John 6? Have they forgotten that just now a group of Jews came to tattle on Jesus after raising Lazarus from the dead? Have they forgotten that not everyone has believed in Him? It seems they have.

Secondly, note their continuing unbelief. They do truly acknowledge that Jesus has done these miracles, yet this acknowledgement doesn’t lead to belief, it only spurs them toward a more wholehearted opposition.[i] This is usually not what we see happen. People in Scripture who recognize Jesus’ power to do what no one else can do usually respond to Him by falling at His feet calling Him Lord. So why do these guys grow more hostile after recognizing His true power? Because of the hardness of the their hearts. They know Jesus’ miracles to be true, to be powerful, and therefore they know His claims to be God must be true as well. But that doesn’t push them toward belief. It pushed them deeper into unbelief.

Thirdly, they’re fearful and anxious. If Jesus continues to gain momentum with the people they believe they’ll lose two things: their place and their nation. By referring to their ‘nation’ they mean the Romans will see Jesus’ movement as a rogue religious Jewish threat and desire to put a quick end to it militarily. If that happens they’ll lose the religious freedom Rome now gives them as a nation and since their religion is what by and large defines them as a nation, Israel as a whole would be lost. But I’m not convinced that’s their main concern.[ii] By stating the concern they have for their ‘place’ first shows what they’re really worried about. Sure the nation may be lost, sure their religion could be wiped out by Rome, but if all that goes what also goes with it? Their prominent role in the spotlight as chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees. So, Jesus was threatening their position of power and prestige among the people. This was their main concern.[iii]

After this first outburst of anxiety this council is silenced by their leader. Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up in v49-50 saying, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Into this frazzled mix Caiaphas brings sharp rebuke. He makes it clear that they have no idea how to see this situation for what it is and that only he has a clear enough insight to see things as they are and give the needed answer.[iv] In his wisdom he suggests that they need to kill Jesus in order to save the people. Now be sure to understand that he didn’t mean this in a Christian sense, he meant that they must execute Jesus so that their ‘place’ and ‘nation’ as a whole would continue to exist.[v] But we, and really any reader of John’s gospel after the cross, can’t help but see more in his words. Caiaphas calls for the execution of Jesus for the purpose of self-preservation, but we see a call for the execution of Jesus for the purpose salvation. Lest we think we’re just reading too much into Caiaphas’ words, the beloved disciple John gives us proper interpretation in v51-52, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

Now we must pause and linger to see what is being said to us.

I bring these things up because in v51-52 we come face to face with one of the most important matters in the entire Scripture, the atonement of Jesus Christ. The questions ‘Why did Jesus die?’, ‘Who did Jesus die for?’, and ‘What did His death accomplish?’ are all answered for us in this text. In its simplest form we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a death for others and not a death for Himself.[vi] How is it a death for others? It is a death intended to gather in the children of God spread across the nations. In theological terms we’re told here that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death. Meaning that on the cross, Jesus offered Himself up as a sacrifice, taking our curse upon Himself, bearing the penalty we deserve, satisfying divine justice in our place as our substitute, so sinners like us could be reconciled to God and welcomed into His family at the feather touch of faith. Caiaphas believed it was either the nation or Jesus that would die, and that if Jesus died the nation would live. It would be his life for theirs.[vii] Caiaphas callously and cynically was speaking only in political terms of what Jesus’ death would mean for Israel. But unbeknownst to him, he spoke (prophesied) of what Jesus had come to do as the Lamb of God, not just for believing Israelites but for all those from every nation who believe as well. The irony John points out to us here is that what Caiaphas intended for harm God intended for the eternal salvation of His global people.

Be reminded, in v51-52, why Jesus died, who He died for, and what His death accomplished. But also be reminded that His death is a death that is global in its scope. Any person, from any nation, people, or tribe that hears the gospel, and is struck by the depth of their sin, struck by the breadth of Christ’s beauty, turns away from that sin, and turns toward Christ in faith will become children of God.

Because this gospel is global in its scope every ministry in every nation should be global in its scope. This not only moves us toward giving to missions and sending missionaries to spread the gospel in other parts of the world, this moves us toward being intentional about becoming congregations that reflect the global nature of the gospel. In our racially divided world, do you see what a breath of fresh air the Church ought to be? It is a sad truth of our time that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week. v52 ought to make you grieve at that reality.

The global nature of the gospel demands that the culture of Christ’s Church not be defined by the color of our skin but in our common bond in Christ.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to have more than mono-ethnic congregations.

Since Christ’s death is multi-ethnic in its scope we must strive to cease living mono-ethnic lives.

From seeing the global nature of the atonement we must embrace the global scope of the gospel. May this be your desire: there is a wideness in God’s mercy as wide as the sea, far it be from me that His mercy ends with me.

 

 

Citations:

[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 563.

[ii] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC, page 420-421.

[iii] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 215-216.

[iv] Morris, page 567.

[v] Carson, page 422.

[vi] Morris, page 568.

[vii] Morris, page 568.

Not in Vain

In God’s grace, I have been blessed recently to witness the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of some men, as well as His supernatural sanctifying power in the lives of men I’ve known for a long time. God, truly, is good!

But with this new life in Christ and this new growth in Christ there have been some steep costs. God never calls us to Christ to leave us as we are but He calls us to salvation, by grace, through faith, and then works in us repentance. Faith & repentance always carries a cost with it.

The cost is always high and the change is always dramatic. When ones eyes are opened to sin and righteousness and when the heart is given new life, we cannot but change and change is costly: relationships, employment, leisure, entertainment, interaction with family, indeed, every facet of life.

The Twelve knew this very well. They left their homes, traveled with this preaching miracle worker and it cost them deeply. They were essentially homeless, separated from family, unemployed with no prospect or thought of returning, living entirely off of God’s provision through other people’s generosity. Their cost was high, but the promise of reward was even higher. Surely, the cost of following Christ weighed heavily upon them at times and undoubtedly they wrestled with, “Can I endure? Is it worth it?” In one of those moments God, in His mercy, gives us this account from Peter as He sought the soothing balm of assurance that the road he was traveling was not in vain.

“Peter said, ‘See, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life'” (Luke 18:28-30).

Some of you have left your homes to follow Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have lost your spouses when you followed Christ; this was not in vain!

Some of you have left behind your extended family to love, serve, and pursue the advancement of the kingdom of God with reckless abandon; this was not in vain!

The road is not always smooth but be encouraged, dear Christian, you will receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life, because God called you to this life. And He’s not called you to walk it alone. Even though you walk through dark valley’s, because of His presence you don’t have to fear. Even though the cost is high, the rewards are higher, in this life and in the age to come!

Rest in His assurance, Christian. And what a rest He is!

Reflections on Billy Graham and Spiritual Heroes

Why did Billy Graham’s life and preaching impact so many thousands of lives? This is a question I have pondered a lot since news broke that he went on to be with the Lord.

The news of Billy Graham’s death came out this week as I was preparing a sermon on Jonah 3. I had been wrestling with the question of why Jonah’s preaching had such a profound impact on the Ninevites when I heard of Billy’s passing. After discovering a few reasons why Jonah’s preaching was “God-timed” for the people of Nineveh, I still knew that only the Spirit of God brings the preached Word of God to bear on sinners. But then I considered other spiritual heroes in recent generations, like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and John Wesley, and the same question struck me. Why did God choose these men as opposed to others? Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, had little effect on his home church, but God used it to spark a nation-wide revival when he preached it in Enfield, Connecticut. Why is it that the people in Enfield were grabbing hold of the pillars of the church, moaning, and crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” but the people in Edwards’ congregation were often laying down horizontally on the pews asleep as he preached?

In my research, I discovered no shortage of reasons from the world’s perspective as to why Edwards’ sermon had such profound impact on early America. One scholar, Edwin Cady, says it was the fresh imagery Edwards used. Another, Lee Stuart, says it was the element of comfort after such a long, negative message. Another, Rosemary Hearn, suggests that the logical structure and persuasiveness of Edwards’ sermon made it successful. Yet another says it was Edwards’ references to Newtonian physics and the earth’s gravitational pull that created a feeling of falling among his hearers. Still others say it was Edwards’ use of vivid illustrations which made the listeners feel like they had been transported to hell even as they sat in the church pews. These were all plausible ideas, but something about them rang hollow and didn’t fully explain the monumental response that followed the preaching.

After reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, by Dr. Thomas Kidd last year, I discovered something else interesting: Whitefield’s words and concepts in preaching were not particularly unique or novel. One contemporary of Whitefield remarked that Whitefield could move men to tears simply by repeating the word mesopotamia.’ Whitefield also had one lazy eye that one would think would have lessened his fame, but it did not in the least. John Wesley’s ministry is comparable in many ways to Whitefield’s. This reminds me how the Lord used all the heroes in the “hall of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. God often uses the simplicity of the preaching and the weakness of the servant to bring all the glory to Himself.

As for Billy Graham, is there any spiritual leader that has had such profound, worldwide acclaim and impacted so many vast numbers of people through his life and preaching since these earlier famous preachers? I was recently given Billy Graham’s autobiography by an elderly widow in our church, and one picture in it shows Billy Graham preaching to over a million people at one time in South Korea in 1973. Perhaps some of Billy Graham’s impact is owing to the fact that he lived in the age of television and jet travel. Nevertheless, anyone who has heard Billy Graham’s preaching can tell you his messages were not anything new. Billy Graham preached the same old gospel that countless other lesser-known heralds have preached. Yet as Billy Graham spoke, his words carried clarity, compassion, and spiritual force unlike any for generations.

While it can be argued that some of the droves of people who descended the bleachers at Graham’s preaching crusades were doing so merely in response to the emotional tug of the music and the zeal of the preacher that day (Graham himself said he wouldn’t be surprised of only 2% who came forward were actually converted that night), this still does not sufficiently explain why Billy Graham did not become just another TV preacher out there with his own little following. He was invited to the White House by many presidents in his day and was esteemed by all for his moral purity and faithfulness to what he believed.

Ultimately, God has not chosen to reveal to us why He uses some men to impact thousands and others only hundreds. But Scripture does tell us that He does so according to His sovereign purposes in the world. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, He explains that some are given more talents than others (Matthew 25:14-30). Then, in Jesus’ parable of the soils, He shares that the crops growing from good soil will produce various amounts: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold (Mark 4:8). But God does not tell us specifically why there is a difference in the growth. Instead of telling us why God uses some more than others, He charges each of us to be good stewards of whatever amount of time, gifts, relationships, and resources with which He has entrusted us.

Billy Graham was faithful with his and may we all be faithful with ours. May Paul’s question to the church at Corinth echo in our minds, “What do we have that we did not receive?”

Condemnation and Affection?

How could a loving God condemn…?”

The email inquiry came from a concerned mother. It was not at all a new question but the subject matter stilll caused me to bite my lower lip as the angst of that mother is shared deeply by this father. In a culture that adores, preaches, and rationalizes from “love,” the concept of a God who would judge, indict, and damn seems alarmingly and tragically far from loving.

I do want to answer this question – not only for this mother’s sake but also, again, for my own – but first a simple reality has to be plainly stated. Truth is: love as we know and embrace it has been more so defined by culture, society, and our own emotions than it has by Scripture. Here we sit, in close proximity to Valentine’s Day where men desperately scramble for flowers, chocolate, and reservations. Not that I’m capping on V-Day, but if we are honest the 14th of February has been designated as a consumeristic holiday of getting if you’re loved and being discouraged – cause you didn’t get – if you’re (seemingly) not. In essence, the day of roses and hearts is clearly indicative of how our culture views “love.”

However, Scripture paints a differing definition. When the Bible speaks of love – particularly the love of God – is uses the Greek word agape. This is an intense term carrying with it the idea of volition far more than emotion. Agape is a choice to love and as depicted in Christ is carried out in devotion, steadfastness, and sacrifice. It is not dictated by feeling but by appointed favor. In other words, God’s commitment to His children is not in flux but rather is fixed. He does not love me less when I screw up and He does not (can not) love me more when I read my Bible, spend an hour in prayer, share the Gospel, or choose Fireproof for my family movie night. His love is not conditional or consumeristic. He continues – in the face of our faithfulness and flailing – to give us what we desperately need: Himself. All the good gifts of this life – including breath in our lungs, children to hold, relationships to foster, accidents avoided, and – on a deeper level – reconciliation to God, peace for eternity, rescue from sin (the list keeps rolling) – all flow to us as testaments of Divine presence. In commonality, humanity receives temporal “gifts” as a product of God’s benevolent presence. Specifically, Christians receive not only “common grace” but the very presence of God’s favor upon us.

The love a parent has for a child typically depicts Divine, salvific love more closely than anything else in this life. Which brings us to a statement raised in the email from the young mother… I have children…I would never condemn them for not choosing me… To which I reply, neither would God. Not one child of God has ever been condemned. In fact, Scripture and the Reformed tradition teach us that God loved his family so much that He actually, actively persuades – by His Spirit – His kids to love and follow Him. Having been convinced of the worth of God Himself, by God Himself, all the “brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus” do freely and willingly, by faith, choose the presence of God and the pleasures found in His good, Redeeming grace.

However, obviously (though unpopularity stated) not everyone is a member in God’s family. All humanity enjoys, to some degree, the temporal blessings of God’s common presence. However, death will eventually bring an end to temporal blessing and then the haunting question will be: did you take (by faith) God – not just His gifts but His Person – while you enjoyed His temporal blessings, or did you reject Him. If an individual brushed off Christ in this life now in an effort to worship His gifts to them, in essence declaring, “I don’t want God,” then when this life is over they will actually receive what they wished for: the removal of God’s gracious presence and good gifts. That – while in no way being trite – is the condemnation justly deserved for all those who say “no” to the Divine’s invitation to join His family and experience intimacy with Him.

God does have a general affection for each individual, but His unrelenting, continually pursuing, constantly giving agape is reserved only for His sons and His daughters; and for those whom He has brought into His home there is no condemnation.

Semper Reformanda

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 2)

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

The True Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Ending

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

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

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

 

Citations:

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

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

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

[4] Plummer, page 102-103.

[5] O’Donnell, page 171.

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

[7] O’Donnell, page 171-172.

[8] O’Donnell, page 172.

[9] O’Donnell, page 173.

Lead Us Not Into…What? (part 1)

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

The Context

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

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

The Obvious Question/Answer

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

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

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

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

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

 

Citations:

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

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

Two White Guys On Race and White Privilege

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

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

Listen to Part 1 here and part 2 here.

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