We Need to Talk (Part One)

Ephesians 5:22-33

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:32 NIV).

The Biblical passage from which we begin this series is often used to talk about the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. Clearly, it does provide crucial teaching on the sharing of life between the two partners in the marriage covenant. But there is more to these words than the relationship of two humans. Their union is a picture of the greater union of the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Christ is the husband and the church is his bride. As a man and a woman share life in their marital union, so Christ and his people share life. Marriage is about knowing a person and being known by that same person. Our eternal life with God is about personal knowledge (John 17:3) And knowledge involves communication. So, in this series think of Christ saying to his dearly loved bride, “We need to talk.”

Now on the human side of things, when a man or a woman says to their spouse, “We need to talk,” it is because there is a problem of some kind. Some might be small and others very serious. When one says this phrase, the other might begin to think, “Now what have I done,” and “how can I defend myself?” To ease into this, imagine that a married couple is a party. The husband tells a joke of some sort, that he assumes is simply funny and harmless. But the next thing he knows, his wife comes up to his side and whispers in his ear, “Dear, we need to talk.” Immediately, by her tone, the husband knows he is in trouble! And he is ignorant, and thinking, “Oh no, what did I do or say now?”

In that situation, the husband is probably guilty of some social faux pas. However, we the church are united to the Lord of glory, who is all-wise and never makes mistakes, even when we fail to comprehend his ways. On the other hand, we commit many sins and errors, which require our repentance and faith in his grace to restore our fellowship with him.

For our constant benefit, the Lord Jesus talks to his church through the living Word of God. We don’t need to find a time to talk with him in a busy schedule, which can be difficult for married couples in the busyness of our fast-paced lives. His words are always available, and we can always talk with him (prayer).

This series does not directly speak to the issue of reading the Bible and prayer. A discussion about the latter usually turns into a guilt trip (hardly anyone prays like we all know we should), an excessive concentration on the physical and financial needs of others (who prays for spiritual matters?), or a mystical quest (there are many forms of mysticism in prayer that have little or no connection with the Bible). Dare I even mention attempting to get “Bible believing” Christians involved in reading the Bible regularly? I think it would be easier to encourage believers to wade waist deep through a horrifically smelling swamp for a year than to read the Bible daily for three months! We have a serious problem with distraction or disinterest or disillusionment when it comes to reading God’s word in a consistent manner. Do you think I’m joking? All right… Read First Thessalonians every day for a month. The Spirit might use it to change your life.

Instead, I want to think with you about teachings of the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to pay attention to, as he talks with his dearly loved bride, the church. Christ says to us, “We need to talk;” that is, we need to listen to him about our relationship with him, our worship, our fears, our pride, our lack of passion, our brotherly love, and our need for wisdom. May God our Father give us hearts to listen and grace to change!

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part Two)

Ephesians 2:11-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (2:14-16 NIV).

The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. Knowing how hopeless our situation was because of our sin and resultant alienation from God, out of pure love and overflowing grace and holy zeal for his glory, God had a purpose of rescue for the hopeless.

The main character in the story is Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and Son of Man. Notice what the apostle writes by the Holy Spirit. But now in Christ Jesus… (2:13 NIV). Christ is God’s message or word. God’s message is not the future of Israel or a ten-step process for recovering from addiction or learning how to be a covenant keeper or how to have your best life now. God’s message is concentrated on Jesus Christ. When we meet as a church, we need to hear about Jesus. When we go out on our mission into the world, we need to talk about Jesus our Lord.

The main theme of the story is that Jesus Christ brings us near to God through his blood shed on the cross. The great way of access to God is established by his blood. We have peace with God (Romans 5:1); we can draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22).

For this reason, I think it is a serious mistake to try to create an “atmosphere of worship” in a church service. In the Lord Jesus, we have all the “atmosphere” we need. Some might say that we’re rather blunt and ruthless in not creating any such atmosphere. To dim the lights and illuminate a backdrop with an image of a cross is contrary to true spirituality (John 4). The same holds true for lighting a bunch of candles and burning incense. Nor do we need to try to manipulate people’s “spiritual juices” by endlessly repeating some praise song or favorite hymn. No, we ought to seek that people know Jesus Christ and him crucified… not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV).

Our situation after the cross is that we are reconciled to God. Here is the idea of reconciliation in the Bible. God reaches out to restore to friendship those whom he formerly was against as his enemies. An event from the life of David presents the concept.  In 1 Samuel 29:4 the Philistines did not want David to be part of their army, because they feared he might be reconciled to his father-in-law Saul, who hated him. The problem in the relationship was not that David was opposed to Saul, since he honored Saul as king. But they feared that David might seek reconciliation by turning against the Philistines and so turn Saul’s hatred back to friendship.

Because Christ’s death through the shedding of his blood was the sacrifice that guaranteed the forgiveness of sins in the new covenant, and because Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath against us, God reconciles us to himself through the cross (Eph 2:16). For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10 ESV). Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 CSB). Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him (Colossians 1:21-22 CSB). Christ secured our position before God by his blood. God is no longer alienated from us, but is at peace with us, because Christ himself is our Peace. “This is a beautiful title of Christ: the Peace between God and men” (Calvin). Today, rejoice before God because the Lord Jesus Christ is your reconciliation with God; he is your peace; it is not your performance, which varies like the wind.

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Four)

Luke 3:15-20

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them (3:19 NIV).

John the Baptist preached Christ. It is easy to overlook this, because much discussion on John focuses on him as a sensationalist preacher, his message of repentance to prepare for Messiah’s coming, or on the ceremony of baptism. However, we should see John’s place in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. As the herald of Christ’s first coming, he preached Jesus the Messiah. A few points should make this clear.

As John preached, the people were stirred to think about the Messiah (3:15). John told them the good news so much that they began to speculate about if he was the Anointed One. The Messiah, as we plan to see in more detail in a later post, would be a preacher of good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). When God would come to deliver his people (Isaiah 35:4): Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 NIV). So then, as John preached that the Lord was coming in the wilderness, it would have been easy to speculate about who John was (cf. John 1:19-27).

John declared the superiority of the Christ (3:16). He did this in two ways. First, by saying that in comparison to Christ, he was only the lowliest of slaves. Christ was superior to him in his person. He said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandals. In John’s Gospel we hear the attitude of John the Baptist. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30 CSB). Second, he said that Christ had a superior ministry. John’s baptism was only a sign that testified to a repentant heart. Christ’s baptism is the work of the personal Spirit of God. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would signify the blessings that would happen in the end times (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). Christ would bring about this age of renewal. This was far beyond anything John could do!

John talked about the salvation and judgment that Christ would bring (3:17). The Messiah was coming to clean house! The winnowing fork was used to toss grain into the air, usually on a windy hill. The chaff would be blown away, while the grain would fall safely onto the floor. Christ was coming to gather in the good grain to be in his house, while those who were not fruitful would be brought to eternal fire.

John preached the good news to his listeners (3:18). This good news was about the Messiah and what he was coming to accomplish. Notice that this was not a “side bar” matter, but that John used many other words.

Here are two practical ideas. First, people won’t like it when we talk about sin (3:19-20). Because John boldly pointed out Herod’s sin, he lost his freedom and eventually Herod had him put to death. Second, we ought to ask if our local churches are known as people from whom others can hear the good news of Jesus Christ? He must be the core of our message (Colossians 1:28-29). Does your gathering of believers preach the good news and show its transforming power to the world?

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-five)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

This was Peter’s first sermon to a Gentile audience. Though he knew the Lord had sent him to Cornelius and his household, you can sense the emotions Peter felt by crossing this cultural boundary. He had left “the settlement and had become a pioneer.” He tentatively explored how to address people outside the people of Israel. We have to be ready to do this in our time, as people from many nations now live among us. Sharon and I see this every time we walk at Valley Forge Park. A number of times we feel like the ethnic minority! Peter started from what they knew. They knew that God had given his word to Israel. They knew John’s ministry of baptism. They knew the big events of Jesus’ life. So then, Peter explained God’s purpose of salvation from that starting point. What is written in this section is probably a synopsis of Peter’s remarks. He would have needed to explain anointing and the Holy Spirit. But Peter used those words to tell them the truth about Jesus. We also need to explain words and ideas as we speak for God.

The Lord God anointed Jesus with Holy Spirit for his ministry. Jesus is the “Anointed One”, usually translated as Messiah or Christ (cf. Ac 4:26-27). This anointing occurred at his baptism. The anointing so defined who he is that the term or title “the Christ” functions as his name to most people.

The anointing by the Holy Spirit was part of the preparation for his ministry (Luke 3:21-23). Jesus received this anointing with the Spirit as he was praying. Dr. Luke is making a theological point early in his writing, which he later develops (Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4; 2:1-4; 4:23-31). The Spirit came “in response to prayer and in connection with the advance of the kingdom” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 45). How can your church, or any church, advance and make progress for God’s glory? We can only go forward with the help of the Holy Spirit! So then, we encourage you to gather for prayer with other believers to seek the Lord Jesus for the filling of the Spirit.

Jesus preached with the assistance of the Spirit (Matthew 12:18). Every preacher and teacher must teach and preach in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might rest in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Jesus did his mighty works by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20).

The anointing proclaimed him as the Son of God (Luke 3:22). Later, the resurrection would proclaim him as the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). God declared that Jesus received his love (John 17:24; Matthew 12:18; cf. Isaiah 42:1). What must it be like for One with infinitely great capacity to receive love to be loved by One with infinitely great capacity to give love? And this goes on and on eternally! That is except for one space of time as the Beloved cried out to the Lover, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you would know the depth of Calvary love, think on that!

God declared that Jesus received his approval (Matthew 17:5). Listen to John Piper’s concise summary of Jonathan Edwards. “In Jesus Christ, he says, meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p.27). As we see Christ is such glory, we can grasp the reason that God was well pleased with him!

Grace and peace, David

The Sufferings of Christ on the Cross (Part One)

As we start a busy week at work, let us think of how Jesus the Messiah accomplished our redemption that we might be right with God. There are four kinds of suffering he endured for our sake. We will look at the first two of these today.

First, Jesus suffered physical pain and death.

  • Crucifixion (Mark 15:24) was a horrible and cruel death, but the Bible never claims that the death of Christ on the cross was the most physically terrible death ever suffered. The focus of the Bible is simply not on his physical suffering in any of the accounts in the Four Gospels (Matthew 27:32-56; Mark 15:21-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:16-37). Any reader in the ancient world would understand the horrors of crucifixion, but the Bible neither goes into elaborate details about it nor encourages meditation on the stages of our Lord’s physical pain and suffering.
  • However, the Bible does stress the reality of Christ’s physical sufferings and death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Galatians 3:13; Philippians 2:8; Colossians 1:22; Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:10). Our salvation was secured in space-time history by the real death of Jesus on the cross. It is not merely a moving story; it is a true, historical event where a real man suffered and bled and died.

Second, Jesus the Son of God experienced the pain of bearing sin.

  • Far more awful than any physical suffering was the anguish and suffering of Jesus Christ the Righteous One bearing the guilt of our sin. Since he is also Son of God, he fully shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit total hatred of sin. Rebellion and transgression and trespass and missing the mark and twistedness and everything else that makes sin “sin” contradicted everything in his holy person. “Taking on himself all the evil against which his soul rebelled created deep revulsion in the center of his being. All that he hated most deeply was poured out fully on him” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 573).
  • Consider the Biblical testimony that our sins with their guilt and liability to punishment were put on Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24).
  • How could our sins be put on Christ? They could be put on Christ in the same way that Adam’s sin was put on us—by imputation, by considering or crediting them as actually belonging to him. The Bible’s teaching of the imputation of sin and righteousness is at the core of the gospel. Apart from this truth, we have no possibility of salvation.
  • How could God do this? As the Lawmaker and Judge, he has the authority to set up principles of justice in the universe he created. One of these principles is representation and substitution; another is the imputation of sin or righteousness. Since God is holy, righteous and wise, he only does what is in conformity with his character. In addition, the Persons of the Trinity agreed in this plan of salvation. Christ, God the Son, was a willing sacrifice for sinners given by the willing Father.

Grace and peace, David

 

Exploring Matthew 11-12

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 CSB).

These are some of the most beloved words of Jesus. By the Spirit, countless people have been brought to faith in Christ through this “great invitation”. It was one of the passages through which the Lord first spoke to me. It has spoken peace and spiritual refreshment to generations of followers of the Lord Jesus.

Yet how much do we know of the other passages in Matthew 11-12? Through many years of preaching and teaching God’s word, I cannot recall anyone ever saying that their soul was restored and reinvigorated by reading Matthew 12. I do know that the earlier parts of Matthew 11 have caused debate and that parts of Matthew 12 have garnered what little attention they have received for that same reason. While some sections of the Scriptures are hard to understand, we should still receive hope, joy, and peace from our meditation on them. So then, let’s go searching for what the Spirit can use to strengthen us. At a recent wedding I attended, the appetizers were at different bars around the entrance to the dining room (salad, pasta, mac & cheese, etc.) In this article, I want to point out where the “bars” are, with the intent that you will approach each one for spiritual nourishment.

Before I point out the “bars”, and I know some of you are looking for the dessert bar already, we should think about what the Spirit has breathed out in these chapters for our benefit. Chapters 11-12 develop the teaching in chapter 10 about varying responses to the good news about Jesus. Matthew chose several incidents that show questions, opposition, and acceptance to the message. All this will lead into chapter 13, where the Lord will explain what happens when the message of God’s kingdom is proclaimed. The two chapters are a bridge between what is taught in chapters 10 & 13.

The “bars” or records of responses to the Messiah are arranged in three groups of three. The last in each group provides a message of salvation and hope to followers of the Christ. Let’s take “a stroll around the room” to see what’s there.

First triad (11:2-30)

  • John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah (11:2-19). This also has three parts: the apparent doubts of John the Baptist (or perhaps his disciples had doubts and John sent them to Jesus for answers), the testimony of Jesus about John, and the rejection of Jesus and John by the people.
  • The lack of repentance by towns in Galilee (11:20-24). Notice that in Jesus’ opinion, which is correct, their rejection of Jesus put them in a worse spiritual position than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom!
  • Encouragement to Christ’s little ones; that is, those who trust in him as Lord and Savior (11:25-30). This encouragement is provided in three parts: teaching about God’s sovereignty in salvation, the glory of Christ, and the great invitation.

Second triad (12:1-21)

  • Rejection of the Messiah as Lord over the Sabbath (12:1-8). Notice how Jesus claims to be greater than the law covenant and its temple.
  • Rejection of the Messiah as the compassionate physician (12:9-14).
  • The Messiah is the humble Servant of the Lord, who will bring God’s victory to the nations (12:15-21). The opposition of the world cannot defeat the plan of God. Christ’s people can be sure of his tender care.

Third triad (12:22-50)

  • Controversy about how Christ did his mighty works (12:22-37). Notice that when the people started to think of Jesus in messianic terms, their religious leaders could not deny his power; they only railed against it. Jesus calmly answered their criticism.
  • Controversy over the Sign of Jonah (12:38-45). The religious leaders would not recognize the clear proofs that Jesus gave of his identity (cf. 11;4-6), yet they asked for another sign. Jesus had no reason to start a circus, so he told them to wait for something that would demonstrate that he is the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord.
  • Jesus’ true family (12:46-50) is not a matter of physical relationship, even close physical kinship, but depends on a believing response to his teaching that results in the doing of God’s will.

We have walked “around the room” and have seen where the various “bars” are located. Now, it is up to you to walk up to each one and learn from the words and actions of the Lord Jesus. As you do, be sure to see his glory displayed throughout these chapters.

Grace and peace, David

The Circus Is Closing

DSCN0617Luke 9:57-62

When I read the newspaper yesterday, I was surprised to hear that after 146 years Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus will close its show forever on May 21. A circus used to be a big deal in entertainment. I remember that a small Ringling circus used to travel through our area in Ohio, and I went to see it once. The only time I was ever at the greatest show on earth was when Sharon’s cousin took our family when our children were young. An era of entertainment has closed. My granddaughter will not be able to see a circus. She and others will not know the meaning of a phrase like “someone ran off to join the circus.”

Regardless of any sentimental regrets people might have about that circus closing, there is another circus that I wish would close as soon as possible. That is the circus held every Sunday in American churches. This past week I received a postcard that a new circus, oops, I mean “church”, is opening nearby. It proudly proclaimed that it would feature a really good band. If that won’t bring in religious consumers shopping for spiritual entertainment, then what will? Remove the bands and children’s programs from most churches and you will have removed the main reasons for the assumed success of those churches. Replace the inspirational talk by the “lead pastor” with sound, Biblical teaching, and most of the rest of the crowd will disappear also.

The worship and mission of churches in America is far removed from the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to how he interacted with some who wanted to be his disciples (learners). As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62 ESV).

The Lord Christ was not desperately gathering people. He did not seek a loose attachment to him. He certainly did not offer entertainment. Observe how he rebuffed certain types of supposed followers.

  • Jesus did not accept people who merely said that they would follow him, even if their words appeared to commit to him (9:57-58). He taught that the life of faith was not about personal convenience. It required sacrifice. The “circus church” allows people to attend when convenient; it strives to put on a good enough show that people won’t find it convenient to miss.
  • Jesus did not accept people who failed to commit to his supremacy (9:59-60). He demanded first place above other relationships. The “circus church” excuses people for activities with family and friends, but hopes that they can convince them to join the weekly shows, at least occasionally. Everyone wants high attendance for Christmas and Easter programs.
  • Jesus did not accept people who looked for other opportunities (9:61-62). He demanded firm commitment. The “circus church” lets people play around, trying to keep them interested in attending weekend programs, while giving them a pass on godly behavior and commitment to Christ.

Let me stress that I don’t want churches to close. But I pray that they will shut down the circus and return to Jesus Christ and his mission. I doubt this will happen, because they know that they will lose many who attend their weekly religious entertainment programs. The local leaders have counted the cost of their church following Christ and do not want to endure it, or they do not want to follow the Lord themselves.

Each one of us ought to examine ourselves. Do I really want to follow Christ on his mission of being a disciple myself and making disciples? Or do I merely want some weekend religious entertainment. It’s time to end the circus and to begin discipleship.

Grace and peace, David

The Cure for a Guilty Conscience

IMG_0630Hebrews 10:22

The letter to the Hebrews is a powerful presentation of the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is better than angels and Moses; he is better than Aaron and his priesthood and the sacrifices offered by them in conformity with the old covenant. Christ has a better covenant built on better promises. The writer is teaching the same thing as the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:18. In everything Christ must have the supremacy. Since this is so, Christ’s followers must live in a new way. The truth of his superiority must control all that we are: our worship, our attitudes, our lifestyles, and who we are inside. We see this in this section of this great letter.

In the inner person of the heart of everybody, there is a capacity for self-judgment, which the Bible calls the “conscience”. As Paul writes in Romans 2:15, the conscience functions inside us to either accuse or defend us in reference to guilt. Since mankind’s fall into sin (the Bible doesn’t discuss the human conscience prior to the fall, so we will avoid speculation), the human conscience has had a problem with guilt.

  • By guilt we mean “the fact of having performed a wrong act”. According to the Bible, all of us are guilty. We all have done what it worthy of blame, whether by failing to live for God’s glory, or not seeking God, or by transgressing the Two Greatest Commandments, or by numerous transgressions of other of God’s commands, or by opposing the good news of salvation in Christ alone.
  • Everyone is guilty because everyone has disobeyed God’s law (Romans 3:9-20). So then, we are law-breakers, guilty, and under condemnation.
  • Since we are guilty, the conscience produces bad feelings—a sense of guilt. The emotional pain produced is a warning signal of our guilt.

Think of the red engine lights on your car’s dashboard. They come on to warn you that your car has a problem. The lights are for your benefit.

The human problem is, “How can a person be rid of guilt and so the sense of guilt? Humankind has proposed various “solutions”.

  • “Let’s make our own religion and seek to pacify God or whatever gods we want to imagine by religious rituals and/or good works.” This is like putting electrical tape over the red light on the dashboard.
  • “Let’s deny that there is such a thing as guilt and perhaps also deny that there is a God.” This is like looking the other way when the warning light comes on.
  • “Let’s treat the guilt feelings by whatever means is available—medication, meditation, pop therapies, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.” The list of proposed remedies goes on and on. This is like smashing the warning light with a hammer!

The problem with all human solutions is that they deal only with the sense of guilt and not with guilt itself that produces the guilt feelings. They don’t reach the root of the problem.

God has designed the nerve endings in your fingertips to warn by pain if something dangerously hot is touched. The answer to the pain is to stop touching the hot object and not to wish that you couldn’t feel the pain or to pop painkillers in the hope that you can keep your hand on the hot object! God has the only solution or cure for a guilty conscience. However, people prefer their inadequate and dangerous remedies to God’s way to cleanse a conscience from guilt. This way is in Jesus Christ and his saving work. Next time, we’ll look at this way closely. But for the present, look to Jesus, our great high priest. He is able to help you today.

Grace and peace, David

Paradise Regained: Starting at the Resurrection

IMG_06101 Corinthians 15:20-28

In the beginning the Holy God created a perfect world and a people made in his image, sinless and able to glorify God by enjoying him always. The Holy God used to communicate with his people and they with him in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Filled with joy, right with God, and in perfect fellowship with one another, it was truly Paradise. But the darkest day in human history happened early. Adam rebelled against God, and his transgression brought God’s curse and the resultant ruin that our race still bitterly experiences. Paradise had been lost. Now death, disease, discord, despair, and disaster became part of human life.

However, the loss of Paradise was not humanity’s only problem, as tragic and terrible as that was. Rejecting God’s rule, people became the followers of a new leader, willingly following the evil one in a sinful way of life (Ephesians 2:1-3). Rightly, the Holy God responded to mankind in holy wrath (Romans 1:18-32). But mankind responded, not in repentance, but by striving to build up a rebellion, a kingdom or reign of darkness, against God’s kingdom or reign (Psalm 2:1-3). Now as far as overthrowing God’s reign or rule, this kingdom of darkness is hopeless and totally insignificant in power.  In fact, when he views this rebellion, the Lord laughs (Psalm 2:4). He is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Lord of the armies of heaven, and Sovereign over all. Let us worship God, as we consider his eternal reign (Psalm 47:2; 103:19; 145:11-13).

How did God respond to human rebellion? Before we can understand his response, we must understand who the Lord is and his eternal purpose. In everything God works to lift up the glory or shining significance of his name. He wants to display all that he is, and to have a people who will sense and share his glory. Like an overflowing fountain, he chooses to display his love, patience, goodness, kindness, mercy, peace, and joy. And he freely chooses to share what he is with a totally undeserving people, by his sovereign grace. He shows himself as all that we need that our comfort and joy might be only in him (Isaiah 40:1; cf. 51:12). We lost Paradise, but God’s story, the story of the Bible, is how God decided to regain Paradise for his chosen people, all to the glory of God’s name. God tells us he does this by setting up another kingdom in humanity—the kingdom of God through his Son. Let us listen to the story of his glory.

God’s kingdom involves the salvation (resurrection) of his people (15:20-24). The central idea of God’s reign is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the basic truth of the gospel (15:3-8), some people connected with the Corinthian believers had been denying that there was a physical resurrection (15:12). Paul first responds that such denials are against the truth of Christ’s resurrection and our hope in Christ (15:13-19). Now he proceeds to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrection has made necessary everything included in God’s reign or kingdom, including the resurrection of all Christ’s people. So Paul sets forth the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. He calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who sleep” (those believers who have died, cf. 15:18). The idea is that Christ is the first one in the resurrection to eternal life, and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of his people (cf. 16: 15; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). In other words, the resurrected Christ is God’s pledge that many others will be resurrected also. In Christ’s resurrection, there is the regaining of Paradise, but it is a regaining with power (cf. Romans 1:4; cf. Ephesians 1:18-21).

Next, Paul steps back a bit and places the event of Christ’s resurrection into the purpose of God in history. Since the losing of Paradise happened through a man, so also through a man Paradise must be regained. The Greek text reads simply: “For since through a man, death, also through a man [the] resurrection from [the] dead” (15:21). In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose to display his glory through a man to counter the effects on mankind’s rebellion against God. The glory of God would shine forth brilliantly through his Son taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:6-8), and through his true humanity bring about his purpose. God acts to build a new humanity through Christ’s resurrection. Again, the Greek text simply says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Paul uses the “Two Adams” to set forth the truth of the relationship between, on the one hand, Adam and his fallen, sinful, and cursed humanity, and, on the other hand, Christ and his new, justified and glorified humanity. Anyone in Adam only has death; Paradise is lost. But everyone in Christ certainly shares in life; Paradise is regained. “Those who are ‘in Christ,’ those who have entered the new humanity through grace by means of his death and resurrection, will just as certainly ‘be made alive’; they will be raised from the dead into the shared life of the risen One” (Fee, p. 751, his emphasis).

Then Paul must answer a question: “If those who are in Christ share in his resurrection, then why do his people die? Why aren’t we living in the fullness of his resurrection now?” So he answers, “But each in his/its own order: [the] firstfruits, Christ; then at his Coming, those who belong to Christ; then the goal: when he hands over the kingdom/reign to God the Father, when he brings to an end/abolishes all rule and all authority and power.” God is working out a plan. In the first order is the resurrection of Christ. When he raised Christ from the dead, God the Father set in motion a process to bring about his goal. That goal is end of all opposition to his reign and the display of the full glory of his reign. In the second order is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ. This explains why Christians die. Though resurrection power is already at work in us, it is not yet God’s appointed time for the full expression of the second order. As we have been redeemed spiritually, so will our bodies will be redeemed, and we will enter glorious freedom (Romans 8:18-25). Paradise will be regained, but it is a better Paradise of glory.

Those who follow Christ must live with a “resurrection outlook”.  We must be thankful for the now of Christ’s resurrection and assured of what will happen when Jesus returns and we are resurrected. Is the confident expectation of resurrection glory part of your world and life view? Make it part of your daily thoughts.

Grace and peace, David

Our Great Priest (Part One)

DSCN0646Hebrews 10:21

In human history only a few people have been called “the Great”. For example, there was Alexander the Great, who conquered a large portion of the world by the time he was thirty-three. Or think of Charles the Great, often called Charlemagne, who formed a strong empire in medieval Europe in the midst of the fractured states of his time. However, as one studies these great people, he finds out that that their greatness lasted only a short time, and their heirs could not hold their empires together or lost the vision of the “great one”.

In our text, the Holy Spirit wants us to see one who is truly great—our Lord Jesus Christ. And in particular in this verse, he glorifies Christ by calling him the great priest over the house of God. So then, as we think about what God is telling us here, we should think about what is meant by “a great priest” and the sphere of his ministry, “over the house of God”, and then the practical importance of this doctrine to us.

We must stay focused on the Spirit’s purpose. He is telling us who Jesus is in order that we will live as we ought to. So note carefully the Spirit’s method. He first reminds us of two important possessions of every believer—confidence to enter the Most Holy Place and our Great Priest—and then he sets forth a number of ways that we ought to live, since these things are so. Therefore, if we are to live as we ought, we need a clear understanding of what it means to have Jesus as our great high priest. This is important, because it is at this point that many fail. They begin with Christ, but then they promptly forget him as they seek to follow him.

For example, there are some who say, “You must go to Jesus for justification, but then Jesus will take you by the hand back to Moses for sanctification.” That is nonsense. If the law of Moses cannot justify, what makes someone think it can sanctify?

Why is Jesus called a great priest? Our Lord is called a great priest because of his dignity as the eternal Son of God. His greatness flows in part from his divine being and glory (Hebrews 1:2-3a). His greatness as God demands that he should be worshipped as Son of God (Hebrews 1:5-9). When you worship, do you approach the Lord Jesus as the glorious Son of God?

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the unique worth of the sacrifice he offered. His sacrifice is identified as “by the blood of Jesus” or by his own blood” (Hebrews 9:12). Compare also the statements made in 9:14, 25-26; 10:10.  His sacrifice is praised on account of its efficacy (the power to produce effects or results). What did Jesus accomplish on the cross? Consider Hebrews 9:12, 14, 26b; 10:10, 14). Think about shopping for a car. You might talk with a salesperson, who discusses the car and a possible purchase price. But all that talk is mere information. In order to purchase the car at that price, the sales manager or officer of the establishment must agree to the price. Then the contract is effective. Jesus was not a mere salesman. As great priest he put the contract, the new covenant, into effect by the offering of himself. This happened by his sacrifice, Jesus turned God’s wrath away from us (Rm 3:25). By his death, Jesus reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10) Any counselor can tell you how exceedingly difficult it is to restore a marriage, because the husband and the wife become alienated from each other. Most marriage problems can be easily solved, if, and this is a big if, their estranged attitudes can be brought back together. Jesus has actually brought God and believers together. “The greatness of Christ’s priesthood will never appear so fully, as when the whole virtue of his sacrifice shall be seen, when all the heirs that his blood has bought shall appear together, and all the glory and the possessors thereof” (Works of Traill, Vol. 3, p. 247; cf. Revelation 5:9-11).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the supreme glory to which he has been exalted. Consider the contrast with the priests of the law covenant. They were always restless and active; their work was never done, because they offered a sacrifice unable to satisfy God. But Christ’s work is completed in one, supreme offering of himself. And since his sacrifice is complete, perfect, and acceptable and satisfying to God, he is able to sit in God’s presence. 1:3b; 8:1 Christ now waits for the time appointed by the Father for the final subjection of his already defeated enemies (10:13).

Our Lord is called a great priest because of the power and efficacy of his office.

  • He is able to help his people (2:14-18).
  • He continually intercedes for his people on the basis of his finished work, and this guarantees the ultimate salvation of his people (7:18-25).
  • He has a better covenant, of which he is the mediator, for his people (8:6; 9:15).
  • He will bring full salvation to his people (9:27-28).

Follower of Jesus, mediate on these truths, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Pray that he would give you a fresh sense of the greatness of your Redeemer and Lord.

Grace and peace, David