Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Were Torn Asunder for Us

I am currently reading How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. In chapter 4, "Change Is a Community Project," the authors make some interesting comments on Genesis 15:7-21:
What is going on in this strange encounter? Abram is struggling to believe God, so God helps him. He tells him to cut some animals in half. That night, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch pass between the animal halves. God was saying, “If I do not keep my promise to you, may what happened to these animals happen to me! ” This is called a self-maledictory oath. God is saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the bargain, may I be ripped asunder!” Over two thousand years later, God the Son hung on a cross, crying out, “My God! My God! Why have we been ripped asunder?” God allowed what should have happened to us to happen to Jesus. We were the ones who failed, yet the triune God was torn asunder so that we might be united to him and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The perfect love, unity, and joy that existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit were demolished, for a time, for our sake.  
This is the ground on which we build all relationships. Every time you are tempted to shun another believer, remember that the Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be united. When you sin or are sinned against, you are to move toward your sibling in Christ aware that Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be reconciled! If we approached relationships in the body of Christ with that in view, it would transform our friendships (p. 80).

Blessed Are the Meek

Part 4 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:5

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). 

It's Not Easy to Be Meek 

How would you respond if you found yourself in the following situations? A co-worker spreads a false rumour about you. You invite a friend to a party at your house. She says he’ll attend, but she never shows up. You see your neighbour back his car into your car, denting your car’s bumper. He drives away without telling you what they did.

When we face these type of situations, the natural response is to defend ourselves or demand our rights or plot our revenge. [2] But Jesus expects his followers to be meek. And meekness is “the power to absorb adversity and criticism without lashing back.” [1] It’s not easy to be meek.

Meekness in the Midst of Adversity

The Greek word for “meek” (praus) is found four times in the NT (Matt. 5:5; 11:29; 21:5; 1 Peter 3:4). The ESV translates the word as “meek,” “humble,” and “gentle.” Psalm 37 helps us understand what it means to be meek. [3] The psalm makes two key statements: (1) don’t let evildoers cause you to fret; (2) trust in God to make things right. [4] According to Sinclair Ferguson, meekness is “the humble strength that belongs to the man who has learned to submit to difficulties (difficult experiences and difficult people), knowing that in everything God is working for his good.” [5]

The citizens of God’s kingdom are more concerned with glorifying God than defending themselves.

Moses is an example of a meek person. In Numbers 12, he relied on divine vindication instead of defending himself (see Num. 12:1-3). To be meek requires self-control. Sometimes we do need to defend our beliefs or actions, but we should always do so in meekness. For example, the apostle Peter writes, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness [6] and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

God Is for Us

“Biblical meekness is rooted in the deep confidence that God is for you and not against you.” [7] In Romans 8, the apostle Paul writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31). Why was Paul confident that God is “for us”? Because God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (v. 32). Paul asks, “How will [God] not also with [his Son] graciously give us all things?” (v. 32). 

When we know that God is for us—that he loves us and sent his Son to die for us and has giving us many amazing promises—we can be meek (i.e., we can stop fretting about evildoers and trust God to make things right).

Glorifying God Through Meekness

Why should we want to be meek? Many people equate meekness with weakness. So meekness is often considered to be an unappealing attribute.

Since very few people aspire to be meek, those who are meek are unique. And remember that the main point of the Sermon on the Mount is that the followers of Jesus are to be different. And when we are different, we bring glory to God. As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We should want to be meek so that we bring glory to God—the God who is for us.

The Meekness of Jesus 

The greatest example of meekness is Jesus. He said, “I am gentle [8] and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 21:5). Sometimes Jesus was bold and confrontational (e.g., the cleansing of the temple), but he was slow to defend himself (e.g., his silence before Pilate).

“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus knew that his mistreatment and suffering wasn’t the end of the story (see Phil. 2:3-11).

This Life Is Not the End of the Story 

How can we learn to be meek? We will increase in meekness if we have an eternal perspective (like Jesus and the author of Psalm 37).

Since this life is not the end of the story, we can live meek lives. 

The world thinks the meek person will never succeed. But Jesus says that the meek “shall inherit the earth.” The promise of inheriting the earth will be fulfilled when God makes the new heavens and the near earth.

Paul stated that he “[had] nothing, yet [possessed] everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Jesus said the following to his disciples:
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt. 19:28-29). 

It Helps to Know the Ending 

I'm a fan of the New England Patriots. When I was watching this year's Super Bowl, it looked like they weren't going to win...and I was not happy. Of course, the Patriots made an incredible interception in the final seconds of the game, and they were victorious. Since then, I have watched a recording of the game. My reactions to the Patriots' misplays are different when I watch the recording. I don't get upset because I know how the game ends.

If I know the ending—if I’m going to inherit the earth—I shouldn’t be too upset if someone puts a dent in my vehicle.

[1] I’m not saying we should never correct a false rumour, but we need to be careful that our responses are not self-centered, rather than God-centered.
[2] In the ESV, Psalm 37:11 reads, “But the meek shall inherit the land.”
[3] John Piper, “Blessed Are the Meek.”
[4] Psalm 37 says, “Trust in the LORD,” (v. 3), “Commit your way to the LORD,” (v. 5), “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him” (v. 7).
[5] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 21.
[6] The Greek word translated as “gentleness” (prautes) is often translated as “meekness.”
[7] Piper, “Blessed Are the Meek.”
[8] The Greek word translated as “gentle” (praus) in Matthew 11:29 is the same word translated as “meek” in Matthew 5:5.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Part 3 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:4

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). 

One of These People Is Not Like the Others

When I was a kid I watched Sesame Street, and one of the segments on the show was “One of these things is not like the others.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the people of God’s kingdom should not be like other people. We should be different.

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes. The second beatitude says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). When Jesus said these words, he was probably thinking of Isaiah 61:1-4.

Happy Are the Sad? 

A few months ago, my wife and I met with a guy at the bank to take care of some financial matters. During our meeting, he talked about life insurance. And every time he mentioned a scenario in which Marsha or I died, he would say, “Heaven forbid.” Every time. People try to avoid thinking and talking about sad things.

How can Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn”? In essence, Jesus is saying, “Happy are the sad.” How do Jesus’ words make sense?

Good Grief

Charles Quarles explains the connection between Isaiah 61 and the second beatitude:
The context of Isaiah 61 portrays the “mourning” as an expression of sorrow over Israel’s exile, which was a punishment for their sinful rebellion. This mourning was thus an expression of grief from those suffering the consequences of sin and constituted an attitude of repentance. The appeal to Isaiah 61 in the second beatitude thus implies that the mourning of which Jesus spoke was mourning for sin and its grievous consequences. [1]
So when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” he wasn’t talking about bereavement (i.e., sorrow over the loss of a loved one); he was talking about repentance (i.e., sorrow over sin). Repentance is a good kind of grief.

Citizens of God’s kingdom grieve over sin. 

There is a connection between the first and second beatitudes:
The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is primarily intellectual (those who understand that they are spiritual beggars are blessed); the second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn,” is its emotional counterpart. It naturally follows that when we see ourselves for what we are, our emotions will be stirred to mourning. [2]
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:21). Later, he declares, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (6:25). “Woe” is the opposite of “blessed.”

True repentance is not merely being sad about the consequences of our sin; it’s being sad about sin itself. Often when a murderer is pronounced guilt of the crime, he will cry because of how the crime has affected himself, not because of the awfulness of his sin. The apostle Paul writes, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). “True repentance makes no excuses and offers no rationalizations. It grieves for sin from a broken heart.” [3]

What Causes Us to Mourn over Our Sin?

What should cause us to mourn over our sin? The gospel. When we understand that God loves us and that Christ died for us, we should never enjoy sin. “The law of God convicts us of our sin…. But it is the grace of God that melts our hearts and causes a right attitude toward that sin, in sorrow, shame, and mourning.” [4]

Comfort Is Coming

Jesus promises that those who mourn over their sin “shall be comforted.” Those who repent of their sin will be comforted in two ways.

1. Those who mourn over there sin will be forgiven.

The parable of the prodigal son helps us understand God’s forgiveness.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants”.’ And he arose and came to him father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 18:17-24). 
The story teaches that God’s forgiveness isn’t reluctant; it’s extravagant. It not only gives us joy; it gives God joy.

2. Those who mourn over their sin will one day be freed from mourning. 

Sin is an ongoing struggle. Paul experienced this struggle: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). But one day this struggle will end. “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

Bad News and Good News 

Sometimes a person comes to us with both good and bad news, and they say, “What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?” The Bible gives us the bad news first: we are sinners in need of forgiveness. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that “conviction must of necessity precede conversion, a real sense of sin must come before there can be a true joy of salvation.” [5]

Once we acknowledge the bad news about ourselves, we can then receive the good news of the gospel: there is forgiveness through the blood of Jesus.

[1] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 1199-1202.
[2] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.
[3] Quarles, Kindle locations 1215-1216.
[4] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount, 19.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 45.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Part 2 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:3

You can listen to this sermon here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3).

The Beatitudes 

Everyone who puts his or faith in Jesus Christ is a citizen of God’s kingdom. And in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus, our King, tells us that he expects his people to be different. 

In verses 2-12, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with what are commonly called the Beatitudes. [1] Each beatitude begins with the word “blessed.” [2] Charles Quarles writes, “The fact that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with such pronouncements of blessing on His disciples before placing demands on them is significant. This order suggests that the righteousness described in the sermon is a result of divine blessing rather than a requirement for divine blessing.” [3]

D. A. Carson call the beatitudes “the norms of the kingdom.” [4] The beatitudes give us a summary of what Jesus expects his people to be. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics.” [5]

Is Christianity a Crutch? 

It’s sometimes said, “Christianity is a crutch for the weak.” [6] But is a crutch a bad thing? No, a crutch is a good thing for person who has a broken leg. Spiritually speaking, we all need a crutch. We are all spiritually lame.

Sometimes when a person has a broken leg, they’re too proud to use a crutch. Christianity is only for those who will acknowledge their spiritual need and cry out to God for salvation.

The Kingdom of God Is for Lame Beggars

In Jesus’ day, a person who was lame would usually need to be a beggar in order to survive (e.g., the lame beggar who was healed in Acts 3). A lame beggar had to completely rely on the generosity of others. “‘Poor in spirit’ means ‘beggarly in spirit,’ and describes someone who is keenly aware that he is spiritually destitute and must rely entirely on the grace of God for salvation.” [6] The kingdom of God is for lame beggars. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

Citizens of God’s kingdom acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy. 

During Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders often complained that Jesus spent time with “tax collectors and sinners.” We find an example of this in Mark 2:13-17.
[Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinner and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) taught the need for poverty of spirit.
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to be a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 
In Isaiah 57:15, God says that he lifts up the poor in spirit and brings them into relationship with himself: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name in Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

What About My Self-Esteem? 

Today, there is an emphasis on self-esteem. Do those who are poor in spirit lack self-esteem? No, the message of the Bible is that we are not without value. Humans were made “in [God’s] image” (Gen. 1:26). Yes, we are sinners in need of salvation, but the fact that Christ died for us tells us that we are anything but insignificant.

The Gospel Gap 

Many Christians think that the gospel only affects their past and their future. They say, “God forgave all my sins, and I will go to heaven when I die.” But what about life right now? There’s a gospel gap in their lives.

In How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp write, “The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a ‘then-now-then gospel.” There is the “then” of the past. (God forgave all my sins.) There is the “then” of the future. (I will go to heaven when I die.) But there’s also the “now” of the present. What difference does the gospel make in my life right “now”?

If we understand the gospel—that salvation is by grace alone—we will be poor in spirit. And when we are poor in spirit, we are free from self-righteousness. How would our lives change if our self-righteousness was removed? We would be less judgmental and more caring. We would have less bitterness and more forgiveness.

[1] “Beatitude” is from the Latin word beatus, which means “blessed.”
[2] Sometimes makarios is translated as “happy,” but this is misleading since happiness is often associated with good circumstances.
[3] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Locations 1039-1040.
[4] D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 16.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 26.
[6] The idea for this introduction was found in John Piper’s sermon “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit Who Mourn.”
[7] Quarles, Kindle locations 1045-1046.
[8] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 3.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The King and His People

Part 1 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:1-2

Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them (Matt. 5:1-2).

Can You See the Difference?

The teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7 is commonly called the “Sermon on the Mount.” The sermon gives us the essence of Christianity. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers how he wants them to live.

There used to be an ABC laundry detergent commercial that asked the question “Can you see the difference?” According to the commercial, clothes washed with ABC look no different than clothes washed with a more expensive brand of detergent.

Sadly, many people say they can’t see a difference between Christians and everybody else.

We Should Be Different

Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [1] is at hand.” [2] The kingdom was “at hand” because the King was present. And Jesus declared that all who desire to enter God’s kingdom must “repent.” To repent means to change one’s mind. Those who enter the kingdom of God decide to make Jesus the King of their lives. And when Jesus is our King, we are expected to live a certain way. [3]

The Sermon on the Mount is meant for all Christians--not just a special class of Christians. R. Kent Hughes writes that the Sermon on the Mount “is the antidote to the pretense and sham that plagues Christianity.” [4]

The Sermon on the Mount is the King’s declaration that he expects his people to be different. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is often compared to Moses. [5] Jesus is a new and greater Moses. Moses went up a mountain to receive God’s law for the Israelites. Obeying God’s law would make the Israelites different from the other nations. Matthew 5:1-2 says, “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.” And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly makes it clear that his followers are to act differently than other people.

We should be concerned with our inward desires, not just our outward actions. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:27-28).

We are to love our enemies, not just our family and friends. “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (5:46-47).

We are to try to impress others with our religious acts. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for them you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1).

We are not to worry about material things. “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seeks after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all” (6:31-32).

If you’re a Christian—a citizen of God’s kingdom—people should be able to see a difference in your life.

What Difference Would It Make? 

What difference would it make if people could see a difference in our lives?

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that living out the Sermon on the Mount “is the best means of evangelism.” “I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life.” [6] 

[1] “The kingdom of heaven” is identical to “the kingdom of God.”
[2] The kingdom of God is the rule of God. God rules in the lives of Christians, but the church is not synonymous with the kingdom. The kingdom is both already here (“the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Matt. 12:28) and not yet here.
[3] This doesn’t mean that we enter the kingdom by our own good works. The only requirements are repentance and faith in Christ.
[4] R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, 16.
[5] An example of this is how both Moses and Herod were saved from two murdering kings: Moses from Pharaoh and Jesus from Herod.
[6] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 13.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Can I Keep My Resolution to Pray Daily?

Part 2 of Resolutions

Text: 1 John 4:13-15

You can listen to this sermon here.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).

Resolutions Are Hard to Keep

This is the time of year when people are trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. Christians often make New Year’s resolutions. Two of the most common Christian resolutions are to read the Bible daily and to pray daily.

January 17 was Ditch Your Resolutions Day. Two ice cream franchises, Marble Slab Creamery and Maggie Moo’s, celebrated the fake holiday by offering a special by one, get one free ice cream deal. Why was January 17 picked as Ditch Your Resolutions Day? Because by this time, many people have already given up on the resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep. How can we keep our resolution to pray daily?

Keeping Our Resolution 

If we are to keep our resolution to pray daily, we should remember five things.

1. When we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. 

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

2. When we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a loving Father. 

Throughout 1 John, John emphasizes that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s denied request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

3. When we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. 

Sometimes, when something good happens, we think, “Maybe that was going to happen whether or not I prayed.” But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

4. When we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us.

Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also prayer for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

5. Before we pray, we should have a plan. 

Instead of saying to ourselves, “I want to pray daily,” we should make a specific plan. An ideal plan would be to combine Bible reading and prayer. Here’s one possible plan: (1) set aside 20-30 minutes; (2) pick a quiet time and place; (3) read a portion of Scripture; (4) meditate upon the words you read; (5) ask God to speak to you through those words; (6) pray.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Sermon Series: Kingdom Life

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is one of the most familiar, yet also challenging, portions of Scripture. This coming Sunday, I am going to begin a new sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount called "Kingdom Life." I decided to give the series this title because Jesus' sermon talks about how Christians are to live as members of his kingdom. Below are the books I'll be using in my sermon preparation.

Dale C. Allison, The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination
D. A. Carson, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World
W. D. Davies, The Sermon on the Mount
Daniel M. Doriani: The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple
Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount
R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount
Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ's Message to the Modern Church
John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How Can I Keep My Resolution to Read the Bible Daily?

Part 1 of Resolutions

Text: 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17

You can listen to this sermon here.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). 

New Year, New You

This is the time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, most people don’t keep their resolutions.

A common New Year’s resolution for Christians is to read the Bible more regularly. How can we be more successful in keeping our resolution to read the Bible daily?

Keeping Our Resolution

If we are to keep our resolution to daily read the Bible, we must do two things.

1. We must have a high view of the Bible. 

Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (3:16). The Greek word for “breathed out by God” (“inspired,” NASB) is theopneustos. The word does not occur in any other Greek text (biblical or secular) prior to 2 Timothy. Some people think that Paul might have invented the word.

The apostle Peter states, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). The Bible is both a divine book and a human book. It was written by humans but breathed out by God. God used each author’s unique style and experiences, but, at the same time, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 

Second Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:21 actually refer to the OT. What about the NT? Peter implies that Paul’s writings are Scripture: “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And Paul quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 as Scripture: “The Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

The psalmist says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16). The Hebrew word for “forget” (shakach) means to lay aside, to forget, to take for granted, to neglect. If we believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God, we shouldn’t neglect to read the Bible’s words. As Paul writes, the words of the Bible are “profitable” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8; Titus 3:8).

2. We must have a plan.

Why do so many people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions? They don’t have a good plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth” (2:15). Paul compares a Christian to a “worker” (i.e., a laborer). To work effectively, a worker needs a plan. Of course, with a plan we also need to have dedication.

We must plan how we will read the Bible. There are many Bible reading plans. We must also plan when and where we will read the Bible.

But we must not read the Bible just to read it—to merely get it done. Reading the Bible is important, but being changed by the Bible is much more important. As James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Are the Words of the Bible Valuable to You? 

Two men were especially influential in making the Bible available to English readers. John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into English in 1380. William Tyndale was the first person to print an English Bible in 1526. Wycliffe and Tyndale risked their lives because they saw the great value in English people being able to read the Bible in their own language. Tyndale was strangled to death, and his dead body was burned at the stake. Wycliffe’s body was exhumed and burned.

Think about Wycliffe and Tyndale’s view of the Bible and our frequent neglect of it. Today, we are often guilty of taking the Bible for granted. English Bibles are so easily available in Canada. Most Christians have multiple copies in their home.

Do you believe the words of the Bible are the words of God? Do you believe there is value in reading the Bible? If you do, you need to have a plan to daily read the Bible—a wise plan you can stick to. And as you read it each day, seek to understand it and obey it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Binding of Isaac: How Could a Good God Tell a Father to Kill His Son?

Abraham and Isaac, Rembrandt, 1634

A Shocking Command

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham was given an incredible promise from God. Abraham and his wife Sarah would be given something that they had desperately wanted for so many years: a son. And through the birth of this son, God would bless Abraham in many amazing ways: God would make of Abraham “a great nation” (Gen. 12:2) [1]; in Abraham “all the families of the earth [would] be blessed” (Gen. 12:3); and his descendents would be as numerous “as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 13:16).

Many years passed without a son being born to Abraham and Sarah. And when God repeated his promise of a son, they both laughed (Gen. 17:17; 18:12). [2] Such a thing was beyond improbable. But in spite of their doubts, Abraham and Sarah’s miracle child was finally born (Gen. 21:5). He was named “Isaac,” which means “he laughs.” Their laughter of skepticism [3] had turned into laughter of joy.

But some time later a shocking command came from God to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Did these words really come from the God whom the Old Testament declares to be compassionate? How could such a God ask a father to kill his own son?

Skeptics, seeking to discredit the Bible, assert that this is an immoral command. For example, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins describes the binding of Isaac as a “disgraceful story” of “child abuse” and “bullying.” [4] However, this post will argue that the command of Genesis 22:2 was not immoral. Rather, the binding of Isaac [5] should be seen as a test of Abraham’s devotion to God, a repudiation of child sacrifice, and a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of God’s own Son.

The Biding of Isaac as a Test of Abraham’s Devotion 

Genesis 22 begins by informing us that the command of verse 2 was a test (“God tested Abraham, v. 1). Clearly, it was not God’s desire for Isaac to die. However, Abraham was given no hint that he was merely being tested. Therefore, the reader of Genesis 22 must not think that the nature of the command (i.e., it being a test) made Abraham’s obedience any less difficult.

The command to sacrifice Isaac was similar to the earlier command that God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:1: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Paul Copan writes,
Abraham had left his home in Ur and given up his past for the sake of God’s promise. Now he was being asked if he would trust God by apparently surrendering his future as well. Everything Abraham ever hoped for was tied up in this son of promise. [6]
Victor P. Hamilton points out that the command “Take” is “followed by the participle -nā’ [and] is normally translated something like ‘please’ or ‘I beg you.’” [7] Hamilton also points out that -nā’ “is used only five times in the entire OT when God speaks to a person. Each time God asks the individual to do something staggering, something that defies rational explanation or understanding.” [8] This indicates that God was sensitive to how difficult the command would be for Abraham to obey.

Verse 3 states that “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.” James L. Crenshaw comments, “The astonishing thing about this divine command is Abraham’s readiness to accept such a word without the slightest whisper of objection.” [9] Abraham had been bold enough to question God in the past. In Genesis 18, when God told Abraham that he would soon destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued that this judgment was unfair: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). So why didn’t Abraham question the fairness of the divine command to sacrifice Isaac? We are not told why, but perhaps Abraham had learned to trust that the Judge of all the earth does in fact always do what is right.

What was the purpose of God’s test of Abraham? When Abraham “reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (v. 10), the angel of the LORD, speaking on behalf of God, said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, [10] seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (v. 11). The purpose of the test was to demonstrate whether or not Abraham feared God. [11] Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son clearly showed that he did.

But what does it mean to “fear God”? One helpful definition of the “fear of God” is “affectionate reverence.” [12] To “fear God” means to both love and obey Him. There is a connection between love for God and obedience to God. To love God is to obey Him. Jesus declared that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Timothy Keller believes that God’s test of Abraham was “about loving God supremely.” [13] Abraham might have been in danger of slipping into idolatry. Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [14] We are to put nothing—including a very good thing like a son [15]—before God. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Abraham had desperately wanted a son. Now that he had finally been blessed with a son, whom did he love more: Isaac or God? In the end, Abraham’s obedience to such a difficult command proved that he was most devoted to God. If ever anyone did truly love God with all his heart, it was Abraham in that moment when he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son.

The Binding of Isaac as a Repudiation of Child Sacrifice

Before addressing the issue of child sacrifice, there are a couple of details that should not be overlooked. First, it is possible that Isaac was willing to die. Isaac is often imagined as a little boy who was forced to submit to his father. However, Isaac was probably the stronger of the two. Abraham was an elderly man, over one hundred years old, and the text suggests that Isaac was at least a teenager, maybe even a young adult.

In verses 5 and 12, Isaac is called a “boy,” but the English Standard Version notes that another possible translation of the Hebrew word na’ar is “young man.” Hartley points out that na’ar is also used in Genesis 22 for Abraham’s “young men” (i.e., his servants) in verses 3, 5, and 19. [16] Therefore, it is possible that Isaac was around the same age as the servants. Furthermore, verse 6 states that Isaac carried the wood for the burnt offering. This would probably be a task too difficult for a little boy.

If Isaac had been a little boy, it is improbable that a centenarian like Abraham would be able to force him on the altar. In verse 9 we are told that Abraham “bound” Isaac. Gordon J. Wenham writes, “That an elderly man was able to bind the hands and feet of a lively teenager strongly suggests Isaac’s consent.” [17]

Second, the text hints that Abraham thought Isaac would be delivered, or at least raised, from death. In verse 5, Abraham says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Why did Abraham say, “I and the boy will…come again to you”? Perhaps he was trying to conceal the truth from the servants and Isaac. But a better explanation is that these words were an expression of faith. Abraham believed that somehow he would return to his servants with Isaac. Why? Because he believed the promises God had given to him—promises that depended on Isaac remaining alive. [18] This is the interpretation of the writer of Hebrews:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 
Whether or not Isaac was willing to die and whether or not Abraham believed Isaac would be spared, the issue of child sacrifice still remains. In Exodus 22:29, God does say, “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.” However, this does not mean that God wanted the Israelites to literally sacrifice their firstborn sons. The point was that everything rightfully belongs to God. Also, the Israelites were able to redeem their firstborn sons (see Exod. 13:13).

What does the binding of Isaac tell us about child sacrifice? Simply put, it tells us that God does not accept child sacrifice. As Hartley argues, the binding of Isaac “clearly and unequivocally teaches that Yahweh, the only God, never accepts human sacrifice. If God did not accept the sacrifice of Isaac, the first child of promise, surely no other sacrifice of a child would be acceptable to him. [19]

The Binding of Isaac as a Foreshadowing of God’s Sacrifice

Readers of Genesis 22 usually focus on Abraham’s obedience, but perhaps the most important message of the story is God’s provision. Hamilton writes, “Appropriately Abraham names this place Yahweh-yireh, ‘Yahweh sees (or provides).’ He does not call this site ‘Abraham-shama’ (‘Abraham obeyed’).” [20]

The verb “provide” in verse 8 (“God will provide for himself the lamb,” cf. v. 14) literally means “to see.” Walton comments, “This usage approximates one of the idiomatic uses of the verb ‘to see’ that we also have in English. When we say ‘I will see to it that the report is done one time,’ we are using the verb ‘to see’ to convey that the details will be taken care of.” [21] So God saw to it that there would be a lamb for the burnt offering.

In the binding of Isaac, it is not difficult to see Abraham as a type of the Father and Isaac as a type of the Son. The actions of Abraham foreshadowed the Father’s sacrifice of His Son, and the actions of Isaac foreshadowed the Son’s willing death. [22] There is ample evidence that the New Testament authors saw it this way.

The clearest New Testament allusion to the binding of Isaac is probably found in Romans 8:32, where the apostle Paul writes that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Also, during the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven declares, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11; cf. 9:7). These words are reminiscent of how God described Isaac: “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love” (v. 2). For Isaac, there was a substitute—“a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns” (v. 13), but, for Jesus, there was no one to take His place on the cross. Jesus was the provided “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) who was “led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7) to die for the sins of the world. 

As Abraham and Isaac did the work of the servants—Abraham chopping the wood for the bunt offering (v. 3) and Isaac carrying the wood (v. 6)—so the Father and the Son served humanity. Jesus proclaimed that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In their service to humanity, the Father and Son’s love is revealed.

In Genesis 22, we can look below the surface and see something more. This story is not really about Abraham; it is about God. It was not Abraham who provided the sacrifice; it was God. It was not Abraham’s son who died; it was God’s. The divine promise given to Abraham (“in your offspring shall all nations of the earth be blessed,” v. 18) was fulfilled through Jesus Christ. God’s Son was born a Jew (i.e., a descendent of Abraham) to die for the salvation of people of all nations.

An Amazing Love

From beginning to end, the binding of Isaac was a test. It was never God’s will for Isaac to die. But the question still remains: why did the divine test need to be so emotionally painful? Why didn’t God tell Abraham to give up his wealth instead? Wouldn’t this be a suitable test?

It has already been stated that part of the reason why God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was to prevent Abraham from turning his son into an idol. However, an additional reason is also possible. Perhaps God wants us to put ourselves in Abraham’s place—to think about how heart-wrenching it must have been to be told to put one’s own child to death. Yes, the command given to Abraham in Genesis 22:2 was disturbing. But maybe God wants us to be disturbed. Why? Because the more we are disturbed by the divine command, the more we should be amazed by God’s love.

What Abraham was told to do, God actually did. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations in this post are from the English Standard Version.
[2] In Genesis 17:17, Abraham says, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
[3] Genesis 15:6 states that Abraham “believed the LORD” when God promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (v. 5). But it appears that his faith contained a certain amount of doubt.
[4] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), p. 243.
[5] The story recorded in Genesis 22 is often called “the binding of Isaac.”
[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), p. 46.
[7] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 101.
[8] Ibid.
[9] James L. Crenshaw, A Whirlpool of Torment (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 20.
[10] Why would an all-knowing God need to test Abraham if He already know what Abraham would do? John H. Walton in Genesis writes, “We must differentiate between knowledge as cognition and knowledge as experience. We can agree that God knew ahead of time what Abraham was going to do. But there is ample evidence throughout Scripture that God desires us to act out our faith and worship regardless of the fact that he knows our hearts” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p. 514.
[11] A secondary purpose of the divine test was to provide for others an example of genuine faith (see James 2.21-23).
[12] Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), p. 67.
[13] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Dutton, 2005), p. 13.
[14] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008), p. 162.
[15] Obviously there was nothing wrong with Abraham loving his son. But his love for his son was not to come before his love for God.
[16] Hartley, Genesis, p. 211.
[17] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Dallas: Word Books, 1994), p. 109.
[18] Another possible hint of Abraham’s faith can be found in verses 7-8. When questioned by Isaac about the lack of a lamb for the burnt offering (v. 7), Abraham declares, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (v. 8).
[19] Hartley, Genesis, p. 212.
[20] Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, p. 113.
[21] Walton, Genesis, p. 511.
[22] It is sometimes said that Isaac carrying the wood for the burnt offering (v. 6) foreshadowed Jesus carrying the wooden cross (see John 19:17). It is also often contended that Moriah was the future site of the temple mount (which was located in the city where Jesus was crucified), but this is often disputed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What You've Always Wanted

Part 3 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

You can listen to this sermon here.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:1-2). 

The Worst Thing That Can Happen to Us 

In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie desperately wants a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. But the adults in his life—his mother, his teacher, even the department store Santa Claus—keep telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” It appears unlikely that Ralphie will get what he most wants for Christmas. But on Christmas morning, Ralphie’s father surprises him with one last present: a Red Ryder air rifle. An excited Ralphie goes outside to try out his gift. His first shot ricochets off a metal sign and hits the lens of his glasses. He almost shot his eye out. Getting what he wanted for Christmas almost became the worst thing to happen to Ralphie.

What have you always wanted? People say, “If I could […], then I’d be happy.” We are all prone to think, “If I could get what I’ve always wanted, then I’d be happy.”

Getting what we’ve always wanted can be the worst thing to happen to us. 

Tim Keller tells about a woman he knew who desperately wanted to have children. Eventually she did have two children, but she didn’t live happily ever after. She wanted to give her children perfect lives, but she became so overprotective and so demanding that she made her children and herself miserable. Keller comments, “There’s a good chance her drive to give her children won-derful lives will eventually be the thing that ruins them.” Her problem was not that she loved her children too much but that she loved God too little. [1]

In the book of Genesis, Abraham desperately wanted a son—a son who would fulfill the promises given to Abraham by God. Eventually a miracle son was born to Abraham and his wife Sarah. But years later God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). [2] God wanted to make sure that that Abraham getting a son would not be the worst thing to happen to him.

Now I Know You Love Me

God didn’t really want Isaac to die. God’s command was a test of Abraham’s devotion (“God tested Abraham,” v. 1). Whom did Abraham love more: God or Isaac? John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3]

1. When God gives us what we’ve always wanted, there is the danger of loving the gift more than the giver. 

Just before Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the LORD stopped him. He said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Are there any “Isaacs” in our lives that need to be demoted (not necessarily removed).

2. When our love for God begins to fade, we must remember that he gave up his Son for us. 

What God asked Abraham to do, God actually did. [4]  He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). When we understand what God has done for us, we say, “Now I know that you love me.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

God Is Not Merely a Gift-Giver 

Some of you probably remember the Cabbage Patch craze. Cabbage Patch dolls were the must-have gift of 1983. Children desperately wanted them, and parents were desperate to give them—sometimes even resorting to violence. According to Wikipedia, “Reports of violence included hitting, shoving, trampling as well as some customers attacking others with hand-held weapons such as baseball bats in order to obtain a Cabbage Patch doll.” [5]

God is not a means to an end (i.e., just a gift-giver).Would you be happy in heaven if it contained all of God’s good gifts but not God himself? That would be like a child saying he would like to have Christmas if it included all the gifts but not his parents.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 1-3.
[2] It’s unclear how old Isaac was at this time. The text provides a few clues that suggest he was not a little boy and that he might have been willing to die.
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Skeptics often try to discredit the Bible by saying that God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was im-moral. But if the incident was meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus, the heart-wrenching nature of the test helps us further appreciate God’s love for us in the giving up of his Son.