Sunday, June 27, 2010

Providence: God Controls

Part 3 of God Revealed


What is God’s providence?
  • God preserves His creation. "The Son is ... sustaining all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3).
  • God provides for His creation. "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).
  • God governs His creation in order to fulfill His purposes. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

God is both sovereign and good.

But if this world is under the control of a loving God, why is there so much evil and suffering?

Chaos from Igniter Media on Vimeo.

  • God fully controls both good and evil.
  • But God never commits evil, is never responsible for evil, and never enjoys evil. You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil (Psalm 5:4). Who is responsible for evil? (1) God allows. (2) Satan afflicts. (3) Humans accept. Consider the story of Job. “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger’” (Job 1:12). The Sabeans (v. 15) and the Chaldeans (v. 17) stole Job’s livestock and killed his servants. God permitted the evil, but Satan and the Sabeans and Chaldeans were responsible for the evil. Consider the book of Habakkuk. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:1-2). “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people” (v. 6). God was going to use evil to punish evil, but He would not be responsible for the evil.
  • God is able to use man’s evil choices to bring about His good purposes. There is no love without choice. (When a man proposes to a woman, he wants her to choose to marry him. He doesn’t want her “programmed” to say “yes.” There is the possibility of rejection.)Two truths must be held in balance: (1) God is sovereign; (2) mankind has free choice. If you lean too far toward God’s sovereignty, you come down on the side of fatalism: it doesn’t matter what we do. If you learn too far toward man’s free will, you come down on the side of humanism: we are in control, not God. Sovereignty must not obliterate free will, and free will must not dilute sovereignty. This is an apparent contradiction, but not an ultimate contradiction. Consider the suffering of Joseph. "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you" (Genesis 4:4-5). "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20). Consider the suffering of Jesus. "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23)."Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate me together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen" (Acts 4:27-28).We don’t have all the answers to God’s providence. But we do know that God hates evil and cares about those who suffer. To prove this, God became human and experienced for Himself the evil and suffering of this world. Jesus Christ, God the Son, was misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned, humiliated, beaten, tortured, and crucified. But through the cross, God fulfilled His plan of salvation.

How can our faith be strengthened by the doctrine of God’s providence?
  • We face the unknown with the God who both knows and controls the future.
  • We face suffering with the God who both knows and controls the future.
  • We pray to the God who both knows and controls the future.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Creation: God Makes

Part 2 of God Revealed


In the end (when all the facts are known), there will be no conflict between Scripture and science. You can be both a man of faith and a man of science (e.g., Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Michael Faraday).

The Bible was not written to be a scientific textbook. God is the focus, not creation.

All Christians believe that God is the Creator. But there is much about creation that Christians don't agree on. We can discuss and debate the details of creation, but we should not divide over them.

What does the Bible say about creation?
  1. God made everything out of nothing. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Hebrews 11:3; Psalm 33:6, 9). "Through him [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3; cf. Colossians 1:16).
  2. God made everything "very good." "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
  3. God made everything to glorify Himself. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1).

What does creation reveal about God?
  1. God is eternal. God is the "uncaused cause."
  2. God is powerful. "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:20).
  3. God is beautiful. He didn't create a black and white world.
  4. God is personal.
  5. God is transcendent (separate from creation).
  6. God is immanent (active in creation).

What are the Christian views of creation?
  1. Old Earth Creationism – What God created in Genesis 1:1 existed for an undefined period of time before God began the work of preparing the uninhabitable land for the habitation of man. "Now the earth was formless and empty" (Genesis 1:1a; cf. Jeremiah 4:23).
  2. Young Earth Creationism – God created the entire universe, including Adam and Eve, in 6 literal 24 hour days, making the earth less than 10,000 years old.
  3. Literary Framework View – Genesis 1-2 are poetic and should not be interpreted literally.
  4. Gap Theory – There is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
  5. Day-Age View – Each of the days of Genesis 1-2 are long periods of time.
  6. Theistic Evolution – God used evolution to make everything.
Common questions:
  • Are the six days of Genesis 1-2 literal twenty-four-hour days? It’s true that "day" sometimes refers to an extended period of time ("Day of the Lord"). But each day is described as have an "evening" and a "morning." "In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:11).
  • How old is the earth? Archbishop James Ussher dated creation to 4004 B.C. According to traditional Judaism, the year 2010 is actually year 5,770 of creation. But there may be gaps in the OT genealogies. Two good arguments for a young earth: (1) God created a mature universe. (Adam appeared as an adult when he was only one-day-old!) (2) The flood (Genesis 6-9) caused the earth to appear older than it really is (geological layers).

Three problems with the theory of atheistic evolution:
  • Nothing made everything. The cosmological argument: (1) every known thing in the universe has a cause, (2) therefore, it reasons, the universe must also have a cause, and (3) the cause of such a great universe can only be God.
  • Chaos made order. Design demands a designer (teleological argument, fine-tuning argument). The more complicated something is, the more intelligent the designer must have been.
  • Impersonal matter made personal humanity. How can we know that we can really trust our minds if we (including our brains) are the result of time and chance?
"The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the big bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications."—Stephen Hawking

To accept either creation or evolution requires faith. Neither can be proven. Which is more probable?

"We cannot allow a divine foot in the door."—Harvard professor Richard Lewontin

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Romans 1:18).


What if atheistic evolution is true?
  • You came from no one.
  • You are alive for no reason.
  • When you die, you will go nowhere.
What if biblical creation is true?
  • You are valuable to God. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • You can live with purpose.
  • You can live in hope.
"I don’t feel depressed about it. But if somebody does, that's their problem. Maybe the logic is deeply pessimistic, the universe is bleak, cold and empty. But so what?"—Richard Dawkins, when asked if his view of reality made him depressed

Rather than saying "so what?" to our pain, the Bible promises that God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

[Doctrine by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears was used extensively for this sermon.]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trinity: God Is

Part 1 of God Revealed


"Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, then I will show you a man who can comprehend God"—John Wesley

"Without God, God cannot be known."—Irenaeus (about 175 A.D.)

God can be known truly, but He cannot be known fully.

God has revealed Himself in three ways: (1) through His creation, (2) through His Word, and (3) through His Son.

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'" (Matthew 22:37).

If your belief about God is wrong, the more devout you are, the more lost you become.

Trying to understand the Trinity is like reading a mystery novel and discovering that the final chapter has been torn out.

Augustine, while walking along the beach one day was puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity. He saw a young boy with a bucket, running back and forth to pour water into a little hole. Augustine asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole.” Then Augustine realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.

The doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up with the following three statements:
  1. There is one God. "The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4).
  2. God is three persons. "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'" (Matthew 3:16-17). A "person" is not necessarily a human. "God is Spirit" (John 4:24). Only the Son became human.
  3. Each person is fully God. "In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). There is one name and three persons. The Father is not one-third God. He is fully God (as are the Son and Holy Spirit).
All analogies used to explain the Trinity are inadequate and even misleading (St. Patrick's three-leafed clover, three parts of an egg, Neapolitan ice cream).


When one of the above truths is denied, heresy is the result:
  • Tritheism – There are three Gods (Mormonism).
  • Modalism – God is one person who expresses Himself in three ways (United Pentecostal Church). Modalism teaches that God is successively Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; He is not simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For a modalist, the God of the Old Testament is the Father. In the incarnation, God was manifest in Jesus. Then, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God came in the mode of the Holy Spirit. However, the baptism of Jesus and Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane reveal clearly that the three persons converse with each other simultaneously. [Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, p. 31]
  • Arianism – Jesus was created by the Father (Jehovah's Witnesses).

Here are a few common objections to the doctrine of the Trinity:
  • The word "Trinity" isn't found in the Bible. Answer: The word "Bible" isn't found in the Bible either.
  • The Trinity isn’t taught in the Old Testament. Answer: Take a closer look. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image'" (Genesis 1:26). "The LORD [Father] says to my Lord [Son]: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet'" (Psalm 110:1; cf. Matthew 22:44; Acts 2:34; Hebrews 1:13). "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me [Son], because the LORD [Father] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Isaiah 61:1; cf. Luke 4:16-21).
  • What about John 10:30: "I and the Father are one"? Answer: In the Greek, "one" is neuter ("one thing," not "one person"). The Father and Son are distinct as persons but one in nature.
  • What about John 14:28: "The Father is greater than I"? Answer: When Jesus came to earth He took on a subordinate role.

What are the practical implications of the Trinity?
  1. Trinitarian life is humble.
  2. Trinitarian life is worshipful.
  3. Trinitarian life is relational. The triune God is a relational God ("with God," John 1:1). God did not create us because He was lonely, but He does delight in welcoming us into relationship with Himself.
  4. Trinitarian life is submissive. Jesus prayed to the Father, "Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
  5. Trinitarian life is unified and diverse. The Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities (marriage, family, the church). There is diversity yet unity in the Godhead.

    (Audio quality is poor for the first 30 seconds.)

New Series: God Revealed

I am beginning a new sermon series series: "God Revealed." This will be a four-part series:
  1. Trinity: God Is
  2. Creation: God Makes
  3. Providence: God Controls
  4. Yahweh: God Relates
The two books that I will rely on the most for sermon material will be Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and Doctrine by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Heaven Bound

Text: Revelation 21:1-5

Are you looking forward to going on a summer vacation? Summer vacation is one of the highlights of most people's years. We plan our vacation activities. We save our money. We count down the days. But then once the vacation arrives, it is soon over. Excitement is replaced by sadness. The child of God has something better to look forward to than a vacation: heaven.

The Bible speaks of three heavens: (1) the sky, (2) space, and (3) the dwelling place of God (2 Corinthians 12:2).

Lies about heaven:
  • Heaven isn’t real.
  • Heaven is boring.
  • Heaven can wait.
  • Heaven is the destination of most.
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

1. God will give us new heavens and a new earth.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

"Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth" (Isaiah 65:17; cf. 66:22). "But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13; cf. vv. 7-12). Acts 3:21 speaks of the "restoration of all things." "The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth" (Romans 8:22).

Will the earth be renovated or replaced?

2. God will give us a new home.

I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Revelation 21:2).

"Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16).

"One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:9-11).

"The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass" (Revelation 21:21). "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life" (Revelation 21:27).

Paradise will be restored.

3. God will give us new fellowship.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God" (Revelation 21:3).

God desires to be with His people:
  • "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8).
  • "I will put my dwelling place [tabernacle] among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people" (Leviticus 26:11-12).
  • "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [tabernacled] among us" (John 1:14).
  • "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
  • "I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22).
  • "The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia [1400 miles, 2200 kilometers] in length, and was wide and high as it is long" (Revelation 21:15-16). The city will be a perfect cube, as was the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle and the temple.
  • "In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am" (John 14:2-3). The highlight of heaven will not be the place where we will live, but the Person with whom we will live.
  • "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face..." (Revelation 22:3-4).
4. God will give us new bodies.

"There will be no more death" (Revelation 21:4).

"Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20-21).

5. God will give us a new joy.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

How should the hope of heaven affect your life today?
  • Make sure you’re going there. The Strait of Gibraltar is the strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. On either side of the Strait of Gibraltar there are two mountains, which were known in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules. According to Greek mythology, Hercules built these pillars to mark the edge of the world. Remember that in those days people believed that the earth was flat. The pillars bore the warning, "No More Beyond," cautioning sailors to go no further. But in 1492 Christopher Columbus destroyed the belief that there was "no more beyond" when he sailed far out into the Atlantic Ocean and discovered the New World. In the town where the explorer died, there stands a monument commemorating him. On this monument there is a statue of a lion. The lion’s paw is tearing away the word "No" from the phrase "No More Beyond," making it read "More Beyond." Columbus had proven that there was "more beyond." Whether people believe it or not, there is "more beyond" this world. Heaven is a real place. Will you go there when you die? Jesus said, "I am the way.... No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Heaven is the eternal destiny of everyone who puts his or her faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Alter your perspective on suffering. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17). "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
  • Re-evaluate your priorities. "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20). We can’t take our earthly treasures to heaven, but we can take another person (by leading them to Christ). "I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires" (1 Peter 2:11). "Set your hearts on things above" (Colossians 3:2).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Glorious Cross

Part 16 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 6:11-18

The symbol of Christianity is the cross.
  • The Judaizers were preaching circumcision: justification by the law.
  • Paul was preaching the cross: justification by God’s grace.
Why did Paul use "large letters" (v. 11)? Three possibilities: (1) because of bad eyesight (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:15), (2) because of poor handwriting, or (3) for emphasis (like typing in italics).

Our focus will be one verse 14. In this verse, Paul gives us two proper responses to the cross:

1. The cross is the object of our boasting.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14a).

Boasting in the cross would have been an extremely strange statement to make in Paul’s day. The pain of crucifixion was so horrendous that a word was invented to explain it—excruciating—which literally means "from the cross." Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

To the world, the message of the cross is stupid. "Foolishness" (moria) = "madness." "Gentiles wrote off the message of the cross not as eccentric, harmless folly, but as dangerous, almost deranged stupidity" (D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 22). (This attitude toward the cross is illustrated in the Alexamenos graffito: "Alexamenos worships his god".)

To the world, the message of the cross is also offensive. "Stumbling block" (skandalon) = "scandal." "'Scandal' is in fact closer to the sense than 'stumbling block,' since the word does not so much mean something that one is tripped up by as something that offends to the point of arousing opposition" (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 75). Skandalon is also found in Galatians 5:11: "the offense of the cross." Paul had earlier written, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). To the Jews, "Christ crucified" was a contradiction in terms (like "godly murderer"). The cursed one ("crucified") is the anointed one ("Christ") didn’t make sense. Christ/Messiah meant power, splendor, triumph; crucifixion meant weakness, humiliation, defeat. Many Jews viewed the crucifixion as the ultimate proof that Jesus had been cursed by God for some sin of His own. In their minds, making Jesus one’s Savior was like asking a pedophile to babysit your children.

The gospel contains three humiliating doctrines: (1) we are sinners; (2) we are incapable of earning salvation; and (3) the cross was necessary. We sometimes might be afraid to proclaim these offensive truths, but Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

Why should we boast in the cross? The gospel is not about what we do for God; it is about what God has done for us. After suffering on the cross for six hours, Jesus shouted, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Everything that needed to be done to provide salvation had been accomplished.

When former President George W. Bush was asked about regrets during his presidency, Bush answered that he regrets speaking in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner just weeks after the invasion of Iraq. Bush said, "To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message." "It is finished!" did not send the wrong message. Christ’s mission was accomplished!

On the cross, a "great exchange" (as Martin Luther liked to call it) took place. Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone means boasting in the cross alone.

2. The cross is the pattern of our self-denial.

Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (v. 14b).

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Matthew 6:24). Paul had suffered for following Christ: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (v. 17). The Judaizers, on the other hand, were seeking to avoid persecution (v. 12). We can make one of two choices: (1) we can live according to the world's values; or (2) we can live according to Christ's example. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8). Paul had made his choice. What choice will you make?