theology

Sep

27

2011

The OT Conquest and Jihad?

Christians sometimes have a problem with the OT's record of the conquest of the land of Canaan (cf. Book of Joshua). I was just reading a review of a book on Muslim-Christian relations, which apparently attempted to establish a similarity between the conquest and the Jihad. The reviewer--in denying this absurd claim--made the following helpful assertions on how markedly different the OT conquest was:

  1. It is limited to one time, not all times.
  2. It is limited to one land, not all lands. It judges sin to fulfill prophecy, not to adhere to a religion.
  3. It shows God’s holiness, not his power. Its goal is to bless the whole earth, not subdue it. It is God fighting for his people, not the people fighting for God.
  4. It is according to God’s trustworthy nature, not according to a capricious nature.
  5. It prefigures God finally absorbing the deserved judgment and wrath on all nations in Christ’s death on the cross. Judgment deserved became judgment absorbed.

Imad Shehadeh, "Review: Allah: A Christian Response", Themelios 36-2.

Let us read the Conquest and tremble at the amazing holiness of God and the judgement we all should receive--without the 400+ year waiting period he gave them (Gen 15:13, 16). Let us rejoice that God clearly revealed this judgment so that we could understand more clearly what we deserved, and what Christ endured and exhausted for us.

Mar

27

2011

Jesus of History is Christ of Faith

Reading commentaries on the gospels has been wonderfully mind-numbing and particularly frustrating these days. I feel like I'm reading about someone / something different than I expect / intend to. Even evangelical commentaries seem so often to detheologize what is there. Bock's commentary on Luke even has been discouraging in this regard; perhaps because I had high hopes for it. At the end of the day, it seems like not much is left, especially with regard to the deity of Jesus and the doctrine of salvation.

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Mar

02

2011

MacArthur on Reading the Old Testament

There was an interesting aside comment John MacArthur made in one his sermons on Luke that I ran into awhile back. The comment was spoken toward the end of his sermon where Jesus says, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Luke 6:5). He moves beyond this situation and generalizes an interpretive principle with the following words:

And, beloved, I say it to you, you can never ever understand the Old Testament law without the New Testament interpretation of that law by Christ and the apostles who wrote the words that Christ wanted them to write to interpret the truth. Jesus is the interpreter of God's will, God's law and God's Word.  (cf. Jesus: The Divine Truth-Teller; emphasis mine)

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Feb

22

2011

"Love your Enemies" and the Imprecatory Psalms

Of the many concise and surprising things Jesus instructed, "Love your enemies," rates pretty near the top. Many know the passage who've never picked up a Bible in their lives. When we are struck on the cheek, we offer the other also. When someone asks us to bear a burden for one mile, we are to carry it for two, we are to "go the extra mile". This teaching is so radical and unthinkable it has left a profound impact on his followers and even his non-followers, even on the English language in terms of the idiom "go the extra mile." 

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Jan

19

2011

The People Are the Church

The significance of the church as a people, as assembly under authority, as congregation in mutual covenant has been weighing more heavily upon me these days as I study church membership. The leadership is not the church; the church (congregation) is the church. While the leadership does indeed play an important part in the church and has a crucial role, the church is the church.

This focus reveals the duty and responsibility of each individual member, as well as the sober and weighty task of leading such a people, not to mention a great sense of accountability to them. 

A healthy church means a healthy people, not just a healthy leadership--though, no doubt, with no healthy leadership, there probably will be no healthy church. An evangelizing church means an evangelizing people, not just a church that teaches evangelism--though, no doubt, with no teaching on it, it will not happen. A church that does discipline means that each member is lovingly on the lookout, and each member follows through with it should it escalate to excommunication--though, no doubt...you get the picture.

May God's people awaken to the remarkable privilege it is to be a member of the church of God which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). May God's people see the great responsibility the "priesthood of all believers" lays upon them. May God's ministers stand in fear and awe at the great task of leading God's people, and may God's people help them to do this with joy.

May God reform the leadership of many churches, and through them, reform the churches.

Nov

14

2010

The Necessary yet Horrible Rejection of Jesus

What a deep and heavy paradox is the rejection and death of Jesus Christ. It was the most necessary thing for our salvation, and yet it was the most horrible thing that ever happened. As Jesus said it, "The Son of man goes as it is written, but woe to him by whom he goes!"  (Matt 26:24)

Here is the great paradox in that Jesus should have been accepted by the Israelite nation 2000 years ago in faith and joy, and yet it was simultaneously necessary that he be rejected in order to accomplish salvation! The things written about him in the OT Scripture, that he would die and raise again, must be fulfilled. It was necessary. (Luke 24:44, 46)

Jesus must go to the cross, but woe to the man who volunteers he goes to it! Woe to the man who sends him there, yet Peter is not treated well for preventing him either! Who would ever suggest that Jesus be crucified, and yet, knowing what it was for, who would stop it? 

Let us stand in awe. Let us weep in reverence. Let us cherish this gift of gifts. Let us live lives of sacrifice and service to advance the gospel unto the glory of Christ!

Oct

10

2010

The Kingdom of God in Luke

Few would argue that the kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus' teaching ministry during his time here on earth. Interesting that it is indeed on this very topic that there is so much widespread confusion about what he meant!

Personally, I was for some time embarrassed by the fact I didn't understand Jesus' basic message: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" And so in connection to this, I also struggled for some time in understanding the Gospels (well, at least Matthew, Mark and Luke--I was more okay with John).

Studying through the book of Luke has been very exciting, in particular in this regard. Matthew and Mark place the kingdom as Jesus' essential message from the very beginning, without much explanation. However, Luke does not bring up the kingdom out of the gates. Jesus does not mention the kingdom until the end of chapter 4. I think Luke is helping us understand what Jesus means by the kingdom.

The kingdom is the promised OT kingdom.

Luke 1 is sufficient to establish this point. The first time "kingdom" comes up is Luke 1:33, where Jesus will have the throne of David, he will reign over Israel / Jacob, and whose kingdom will last forever.  The songs Mary and Zechariah (not just thoughts, but prophesy!) also have a strong national / political message about what Jesus would do: saving from enemies, casting down rulers, vindicating the humble, etc.

Luke 1 establishes the identity of the kingdom. It is indeed the promised OT kingdom of the prophets. That's the kingdom Jesus referred to when he said, "The kingdom of God is at hand." So, how was it present?

The kingdom was present in Jesus' person and ministry.

First, two quotes. First by McClain, second by Ladd. These guys are not at all in agreement about everything. Yet, they do both make this point. 

The Kingdom was present in "the personal presence of its King." (Greatness, 272)

"The New Testament locates the Kingdom in Jesus' person and ministry." (Presence of the Future, 156)

Back to Luke 4. Jesus makes a very significant statement in Luke 4:43, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose."

He says he came for this very purpose. God the Father sent Christ for this purpose: to preach the kingdom. This was an integral part of his mission. He says, "I must" (dei). This word is commonly used to mark out Jesus' mission, his awareness of a divine plan, fulfilling our salvation.

Here's what hit me this week, the placement of Luke 4 is significant.  Why put it there? Why put such an important mission statement at the end of the chapter? 

Here's what I think the placement does: It forces us to interpret what Jesus means by kingdom by studying Luke 3-4 and all that has happened so far. 

The world "also" in 4:43 means that was what he was doing all day in Capernaum. Even though he didn't mention the word kingdom, but rather describes the salvation that Jesus brought and describes the healing and demon-casting ministry that illustrates the salvation that Jesus brought, all of this can be described as preaching the kingdom.

We should also connect it with his previous "mission statement" in Luke 4:18-19, which describes the salvation that Jesus brought. He came bringing forgiveness, new sight, liberation, God's favor!

I think Luke places it here to describe what he means by kingdom. With the foundation of Luke 1 in place--and with it the identity of the kingdom--we see hints in Luke 4 about how the kingdom is present. Luke doesn't mention the kingdom early (which bothered me at first), so that when we see it first, we have a context to understand it.

The very promised OT kingdom of God was present in the ministry and person of Jesus. 

(Two more verses: Luke 11:20 and Luke 17:21 argue in this direction if you're interested for more.)

How was the kingdom present?

It was present in the salvation and the blessings of the kingdom actually being present in Jesus. The healing of the sick, the casting out of demons, the forgiveness of sins—these very things are the blessings of the kingdom, being experienced and enjoyed in the present. It is the future kingdom “breaking in” to the present.

It doesn’t change the identity of the kingdom. There is indeed a future kingdom. It is indeed an earthly kingdom. Jesus will indeed reign on the earth. And it is that very kingdom in its power and its blessings / salvation that is present in the person of Jesus.

Jesus came bringing the salvation of the future kingdom. He came to tell about that future kingdom, and to prove its reality in his very ministry. The future kingdom in glory will come because he first suffered on the cross. He proved it in his life, by bringing this future fruit and future salvation into the present.

Take a few steps back. Scholars are also in general agreement that the main message of Luke is God's plan of salvation. Luke's main message is how God's plan of salvation worked out in Jesus' life, and how it continued into the church (book of Acts). Luke 19:10 says it well: "The Son of Man came came to seek and to save the lost."

Jesus saying, "I came to preach the kingdom of God" or "The kingdom of God is at hand", is actually not too different than "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

[Update: See sermon: "On a Mission to Preach the Kingdom"]

Jul

26

2010

Jesus' Death: Vicarious Atonement and Example

The death of Jesus Christ is simultaneously vicarious atonement and example for us to follow. His life and death was to accomplish something objective: our salvation (he obeyed in our stead, and received our penalty in our stead). For this very reason (it actually saves us), it was love; and thus it serves as the greatest example of sacrificial service. 

Both, not either-or

There is a version of 'Christianity' (which is not really at all) that says God just loves everyone, doesn't care too much about sin and forgiveness, and he definitely does not require blood sacrifice for the sins of humanity! Jesus came to reveal God's love by coming and giving up everything to die for us. That's all Jesus' death is, subjective: a example meant to woo us by showing us what love is. 

Yet...how can that be love? What actually does it show us? Nothing. Except maybe that throwing away a life for no purpose is a good thing?

Of all the places in the Bible where Jesus is presented as an example, one of the strongest ones is probably Philippians 2. Of the places where it mentions the death of Jesus, I think this is the one most believed to refer to Jesus' death as merely an example. (If you're not familiar, read Philippians 2:3-11)

Studying through Philippians these days, I have been encouraged that even here, you cannot separate the meaning of the death of Jesus (i.e. vicarious atonement) from the example that Jesus' set. Yes, the Bible does indeed set up Jesus as an example to follow--but it does not do that apart from what Jesus' did uniquely that we could never do.

Indications that the meaning of Jesus' death is necessarily implied in Philippians 2:

1) The sudden mention of the cross in verse 8

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Paul interjects the words "even death on a cross!" to an otherwise complete sentence. The mention of the cross does indicate the depth of Jesus' self-humbling, but at the same time, it cries out the meaning of the cross!

We must not forget that in many other places this phrase "the cross" can stand indeed for the whole gospel message. Philippians 3:18 speaks of "enemies of the cross of Christ." Obviously, not enemies of the kind of death, or of the actual object--but of the gospel of the Savior crucified for our sin. 1 Corinthians 2:2 also speaks of "Jesus Christ and him crucified" as the core element of his preaching. 

I think that, for Paul, the mention of the cross must include at least in part the meaning of his death.

2) Jesus' death was him looking out for the interests of others

This whole section (verses 5-11) on Christ humbling himself is set forth as an example of how we are ourselves to behave. Paul said this in verses 3-4:

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Following the rest of the passage, we find that Jesus (who was forever God) was born as a slave, lowering himself, and that he humbled himself by obedience unto death. There is a progression here. The ultimate aim is Jesus' obedience unto death.

Thus, it is this unto-death-obedience that Paul is setting forward as "looking out for the interests of others." This means there was a need for Jesus to do this. He was doing this to accomplish something. It was because we were in a dangerous predicament, that Jesus, looking out for our needs because he loved us, came to do all necessary to save us from that predicament!

3) Obedience is rendered to Jesus in verses 9-11

At the one moment (verses 5-8) he is an example to be obeyed, and the next moment (verses 9-11) he is the Lord of all creation to whom all knees will bow eventually! 

This is obviously not an example of what will happen to us when we humble ourselves! Jesus' obedience is not merely an example. He is not just a perfect man to follow! He is the God of all the universe! 

This is the meaning of the death of Jesus, and whatever example we learn from Jesus' death flows out of and is grounded upon what he actually did there--even in Philippians 2!

Jesus did indeed come in love. His life is a perfect example of love, and his death is the climax of his love. Yet it is love precisely because it paid the penalty for our sins, such that we can be forgiven by God and belong to him forever, and praise him forever, and enjoy his glory--his magnificent and radiant perfections--forever.

"Jesus paid it all." This is the greatest love imaginable.

Mar

28

2010

A Cheap Imitation

A well-known book is called Your God Is Too Small; it is a timely title. We are poles apart from our evangelical forefathers at this point, even when we confess our faith in their words. When you start reading Luther, or Edwards, or Whitfield, though your doctrine may be theirs, you soon find yourself wondering whether you have any acquaintance at all with the mighty God they knew so intimately.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 83

He is right on. We learn the words and we know the doctrines, but we have not gone through the intense struggle to arrive at those doctrines, and we know them in theory and not personally. The thing to do is not to chuck the doctrine, but to know the God of Scripture and not just the Scripture. The doctrines of grace are for humility and for worship, and an understanding of them that does not lead there is shallow and immature.

I am speaking in particular of those who claim the Reformed heritage. The Calvinist who has never struggled in his heart with the fact of God's absolute sovereignty and all its implications is likely an immature one who doesn't really get it (cf. earlier post). We must not only grab hold of the truth; the truth must also grab hold of us. I was made aware of this in my own life last year at The Cornerstone Seminary; when there is much light but little heat, something is wrong.

We must seek to know and worship the God of the Bible, and not just to understand doctrines.

Mar

21

2010

Conversion and Evangelism

Understanding the radical nature of conversion is essential for evangelism. 

I have noticed a trend. Churches where there is evangelism-heavy teaching without a similar emphasis on the radical nature of conversion and the need for regeneration, can tend to produce exactly that which it is trying to avoid: shallow results.

Namely, along with an enormity of negative responses comes in like degree a strong desire for positive responses. Thus the slightest indication of a positive response is taken more readily as genuine, particularly in contrast with the number of negative responses, just as a sliver of light is visible in a dark cave that would be otherwise indiscernible.

We need to be careful of thinking ourselves of a club just hoping more people will join. We are not begging to get people in; we wait until people start begging to get in.

We are looking for nothing less than a re-born person. We are looking for nothing less than an entirely changed person. A person whose thinking, affections, and will have been transformed to believe upon, treasure, and submit to Jesus Christ. This is what conversion is.

If the change needed is that radical, then only God can do it. So all we have to do is tell them the good news, and urge them to believe it, and then beg and plead that God would open their eyes to see. We keep our demands high, we declare human inability: You must be born again! You ask, "What is the use of telling them that, they can't do it; God does it!" Because it makes them run to God for mercy, rather than thinking that their "decision for Christ" is what gets them saved.

Oh, and an interest in the gospel does not mean true saving faith; and neither is conviction of sin. You can know you are the most sinful person in the world, and feel horrible about it, but pursue all different kinds of religions / methods to remove your guilt. Only the person who trusts in Jesus Christ, entrusting their whole life and soul into his hands, bowing to him as the sovereign Lord and King, treasuring him as the greatest treasure, only he has true saving faith.

The "new methods" of evangelism from the early 1800s when Arminianism was spreading across the USA have stuck with us more than we realize. We are less Calvinist than we think we are. [Read Ian Murray's, Revival and Revivalism; great eye-opening book!]

This is freeing! You don't have to "get" them to do anything. Just declare the message, and tell them to cry out to God to save them. You don't have to put words in the mouth of a repentant person telling him how to repent. (i.e. "the sinner's prayer") When they see their need, they will cry out to God for forgiveness, and that will be a true conversion.

Decisions don't save people. Only faith saves people.

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)