Reading the Bible Together | Week 4

Romans 7-8 | Sunday: Paul has seemed to say some very negative things about the law of God so far in Romans (for example, see 3:19-20; 3:285:20). Paul says that we are saved by faith and not by works of the law. He even goes so far as to say that “the law brings wrath” (Romans 4:15).

How could God’s righteous law be an agent of death, judgment and wrath? Romans 7 is the answer. The law itself is good. The law is not the problem; it is how our flesh reacts to the law that reveals how deep our sin goes. We hate being told what to do. The fall occurred when Adam and Eve decided that they were better under their own authority than under God’s. From that time until now, the law of God has always brought out the worst in us – not because the law is bad, but because we are.

Romans 8 is the Mount Everest of the Bible. It’s hard to get higher than this chapter takes us. The promises are breathtaking. They begin in eternity past (God knew us and predestined us before time began), they encompass literally everything (all things work together for our good), and they lead out into eternity.

Romans 8: To hear Jerry Ediger on this amazing chapter, listen here.

Genesis 12-15 | Monday: These are some of the most foundational chapters in the Bible. Genesis 12:1-3 is the promise that shapes the entirety of the rest of Scripture. God promised Eve that an “offspring” would come from her and crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15).

The genealogies in Genesis trace this serpent crushing offspring from Adam and Eve to Seth, from Seth to Noah, from Noah through Shem to Abraham, from Abraham through Isaac, then through Jacob, all the way to Judah. This will eventually lead to David, then Jesus (see Matthew 1:1).

Genesis 15:6 answers the question, How did people ‘get saved’ in the Old Testament?

Application: Why Abraham? Why us?

Abraham was not counted righteous because of his works. In fact, next Tuesday we’ll read, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). God chose Abraham as an act of completely undeserved and unmerrited grace. The same should be said of us.

Genesis 12: For a great summary, see the Bible Project here.

Genesis 14: For an NAC sermon dealing with Melchizedek, see here.

Genesis 15: For an NAC message dealing with salvation in the OT, see here.

Ur of Chaldeans is located 186 miles from modern day Baghad in Iraq. Although not original, this rebuilt ziggurat resembles the structure that existed here 4000 years ago when Abraham lived nearby and was worshiping idols. Perhaps Abraham even sacrificed to the moon god Nanna (no joke) at this very spot before Yahweh called him to leave this place (see Genesis 11:27-12:1).

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Joshua 16-20 | Tuesday: This is one of the tougher readings to get through for modern readers like us. Don’t forget that all these details show the faithfulness of God to keep His promises.

Michael Horton, in the Gospel Transformation Bible (p. 286), gives us some insight:

The division of the inheritance concludes in chapters 18 with the report that, ‘Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them’ (18:1).

Just as in Genesis 1 and 2 Yahweh’s word had subdued chaos and divided creation into allotted and ordered realms under various creature-kings, with man as his representative ruler over all, Canaan’s moral chaos (think ‘darkness and void’ from Genesis 2:1) has been overcome. The serpent has been at least partially driven out. Each tribe, like a creature-king, has its realm to guard and keep on Yahweh’s behalf.

The result, at least for now, is rest: ‘The land lay subdued before them’ (18:1).

Psalm 9-11 | Wednesday: Meditate on Psalm 11:6, “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” Note how the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah forms the background to the judgment imagery (Genesis 19:24). See how God’s wrath on the wicked is spoken of as their “cup” to drink. Then think about Jesus’s words in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-44).

Job 7-8 | Thursday: Job 8 teaches us how not to respond to a suffering friend. “Whenever we find ourselves getting exasperated, or plain mad, at someone we think needs to be ‘straightened out,’ we should consider whether we need to wait awhile before responding to them. Not only will we probably make things worse if we speak from impatience, but God has been patient with us in the gospel, giving us all the more reason to be patient with others (Matthew 18:23-35)” (Gospel Transformation Bible, p 619-620).

For a beautifully made overview of Job, see this from the Bible Project. It’s worth a few minutes!

Isaiah 18-22 | Friday: The Gospel Transformation Bible (p. 885) states the following on Isaiah 18:

How easy it is for us to look at our circumstances and imagine that God is not paying attention. Here God tells Isaiah from his throne room that he is fully aware of everything, and though for a time he will ‘quietly look from my dwelling’ (v. 4), he does not simply observe – he will act.

In this case, God’s movements against his people’s foes come just when it appears that their crop will burst into full harvest (vv. 5-6).

During times when it looks as if God has forgotten his people, we resiliently remember that in truth he is always as near as ‘clear heat in sunshine’ (v. 4). He knows. In his good time he will unmistakably act on behalf of his people.

Matthew 8-10 | Saturday: Matthew has put many of Jesus’s miracles and healings side-by-side in these chapters. The background of much of this is likely the Servant of the Lord found in Isaiah 40-60.

In these chapters, Jesus shows Himself to be the True and Last Adam. The first Adam failed to exercise dominion over the earth and sea, subjected himself to the serpent, and fell under the curse of death. The last Adam has true dominion over earth and sea, sickness and disease, even over death itself. The curse of Adam is being reversed in the person of Christ.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow

Nor thorns infest the ground

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.”

Joy the World

Matthew 1-13: For a helpful overview from the Bible Project, watch here.

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Reading the Bible Together – Week 3

Romans 5-6 | Sunday: Romans 5:1-11 is worth much thought and even memorization. John Piper gives a beautiful, brief meditation on how Romans 5:8 helps us understand why God allows suffering, sin, and death to exist. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

As strange as it sounds, without sin and death we could never have fully known God’s love. Without sin and death we could never sing of the cross. God allowed what He hated (our sin and Christ’s death) so that He could show us the glory of His love.

Romans 5:12-21 describes “representative headship.” This means that a person represents others through his own actions. The human race has only had two representative heads: Adam and Jesus (see I Corinthians 15:45-49). Romans 5 shows how all humanity is born “in Adam” (our failed representative), but we can become born again “in Christ” (our triumphant representative).

For a whole sermon on this text, listen to one of our first NAC messages.

Romans 5 emphasizes salvation by sheer grace, accomplished for us by our representative. The natural question is, “Should we then sin more so that grace will increase?” Paul spends chapter 6 saying, “No! Grace is power, not just pardon.”

Genesis 8-11 | Monday: Check out another great video of Genesis 1-11 by the Bible Project. They insightfully compare the call and fall of Adam with the call and fall of Noah.

Genesis 11 tells the tower of Babel story. The exact same Hebrew word is behind the English words “Babel” and “Babylon.” So, starting as early as Genesis 11, Babylon represents fallen humanity in rebellion against the Lord. Why was their unity so bad?

Reflection and Application

Like the Babylonians, what are you building as an idol to make a great name for yourself? Jesus traded His great name for our shame on the cross so that He could give us a great name.

How is Pentecost the anti-Babel (Acts 2:1-13)? How does Revelation 5:9-10 factor into this?

For more on Babel, you could listen to this message on your commute.

Joshua 11-15 | Tuesday: This reading will likely involve some willpower to get through. It is the division of the land amongst the tribes of Israel. Why read a detailed account of the division of land among ancient tribes in Palestine more than 3,000 years ago?

First, it shows that our God keeps His promises. Next Tuesday we’ll read, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land‘” (Genesis 12:7). In Joshua, we are watching the fulfillment of this promise nearly 500 years later! (A good reason for why we call it the Promised Land!) If God kept this promise in such a rich and detailed way, we have even greater reason to believe He’ll keep His promises to us in our day!

Second, this land points forward to and foreshadows our final inheritance: the new earth. Last week, in Romans 4:13, we read, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” So land of Israel was a sort of downpayment on and guarantee of our ultimate inheritance, the whole world.

Third, the promised land (repeatedly called “the inheritance” in Joshua) is one of the basic components to the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament. The Kingdom of God is: God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, and experiencing His blessing.

Joshua shows us that God keeps His word. What promises of God are you doubting this week? Let today’s reading bolster your faith.

This map may help visualize the land allotments.

Psalm 6-8 | Wednesday: Psalm 8 gives an idealized picture of the call of man to have dominion over the earth. There are several echoes of Genesis 1:26-30. The problem this raises: The world has been cursed by God and currently creation threatens and kills human beings and we do not have full dominion over the earth.

Hebrews 2:5-18 greatly clarifies this problem. Jesus is ultimate “son of man” who will subject all things in the world under His feet. He is the last Adam and fulfillment of man’s calling Genesis 1 and Psalm 8. For more, see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

Job 5-6 | Thursday: I can’t improve on the words of Papa Fred earlier this month:

The only thing Job’s three friends did right, was to “sit with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him.” Once the friends opened their mouths they quickly revealed how little they knew about God or Job. A life lesson for all of us, as we reach out to those suffering. Sometimes our presence is all that is needed.

We should never judge what God may be doing in a person’s life. Actually, both Job and his friends were applying the wrong theology, i.e., blessings and curses from Deuteronomy and arriving at different opinions of what God was doing through Job’s suffering.

Ultimately, God never answered Job’s questions, but gave him a revelation of his sovereignty in chapter’s 38 and beyond. The rest of the story ends well for Job as God rebukes his friends and restores his fortunes. Great read, but complex as is our God.

Isaiah 12-17 | Friday: The next several weeks will be challenging in Isaiah. Don’t give up! Notice the emphasis on telling of the Lord’s salvation among the nations in chapter 12. Chapters 13-23 contain prophecies against the nations in rebellion against Yahweh. The point is “the folly of trusting such nations since they are all under judgment from Israel’s God.” (NZSB, p. 1343). Chapters 13-14 focus on God’s judgment on Babylon and its king.

Check out Revelation 18 and see which parts John is borrowing from Isaiah 13.

Isaiah 14:12-14 may compare the pride and fall of Babylon’s king to the pride and fall of Lucifer in the beginning.

Matthew 5-7 | Saturday: The Sermon on the Mount is the longest uninterrupted block of teaching we have from Jesus in the Bible. Watch Jesus focus not merely on deeds but desires; not merely actions but affections; not merely outward duty but inward delight. He reveals that we are religious hypocrites when we engage in religious activities with motives that are self-glorifying or attempting to manipulate God into giving us things.

There are essentially three kinds of people in this sermon:

1) Gentiles: In modern language, lawless ones (those Paul addressed in Romans 1).

2) The Jewish people: Those who obeyed God’s law outwardly but for the wrong reason (those Paul addressed in Romans 2).

3) The true people of God: Those who love God’s holy name, trust His fatherly love and provision for their lives, don’t want to dishonor Him by worry, love their enemies as God loved them, forgive as they are forgiven, and build their lives on the Rock.

The sermon is traditionally thought to have been given in this area, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee:

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Reading The Bible Together – Week 2

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Romans 3-4 | Sunday: These may be the two clearest and most important chapters in the Bible for understanding the core of the gospel message. In chapter 3, Paul explains the good news in vivid clarity. In chapter 4, Paul gives a powerful Old Testament argument to defend this message. You can almost hear Paul saying, “I didn’t invent this! It’s as old as Abraham and David!”

Genesis 4-7 | Monday: If Genesis 1-2 shows us the “very good” creation God made, then Genesis 3-11 shows us how quickly human sin creates a “very bad” downward spiral of corruption. First, God’s word is put in subordination to human reason (ch. 3); then the first person ever born becomes the first murderer (Cain, ch. 4); then the world’s first polygamist arrives who also is a boastful murderer like Cain (Lamech, ch. 4); since sin has brought death into the human race, watch for how the genealogy repeatedly uses the phrase “and then he died” (ch. 5); human depravity reaches its peak and so the flood is promised (ch. 6).

In Genesis 6:5-9, note that Noah “found favor (grace) in the eyes of the Lord” and is only afterward called a “righteous man.” Noah was not saved by works, but by grace. God’s grace/favor changed his life.

For a fantastic brief overview of Genesis 1-11, see the Bible Project here.

You can listen to an NAC sermon on Cain and Abel here.

Joshua 6-10 | Tuesday: These chapters really zoom in on the taking of two cities: Jericho and Ai. Jericho is taken successfully because the people trust fully in the Lord and obey His commands. However, Israel is defeated at Ai because of disobedience among the Israelites (Achan’s sin). This sets the stage for the rest of the book: Israel will succeed only in the strength of the Lord as they walk in obedience to His commands. Human strength and ingenuity are worthless on their own. How does this theme apply to your life this week?

QUESTION: What are we to make of the killing of the Canaanites?

My guess is this section leaves many readers today scratching their heads. Where is the all-encompassing love of God? Why so much violence and bloodshed by the Lord’s own command? We don’t claim to have a brief answer that will satisfy all questions. A few initial things can be said, however.

First, whenever an atheist objects and says, “It was immoral, wicked, and evil for the Israelites to kill the Canaanites!” just remember: they have no grounds, basis, or standard for their moral indictment.

“It was evil!” Says who?

“It was wrong!” By what standard?

A consistent atheist cannot speak of genuine evil. A universe without God has no intelligent design, no purpose, no meaning, and therefore no objective standard of right and wrong.

My favorite brief response to this was when Douglas Wilson (Christian pastor) was debating Christopher Hitchens (atheist writer). Doug essentially said, “I (as a Christian) have no problem with the killing of the Amalekites, because God told them to do it. You (as an atheist) have no problem with the killing of the Amalekites either, because the universe just doesn’t care. In a meaningless universe, who cares what happens to Amalekites?”

Second, much like the flood that destroyed the earth in Noah’s day and the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in Lot’s day, the destruction of the Canaanites points to the final judgment God will bring on all in this world who reject His rule and trust in false gods. (Apart from Jesus, this is all of us.)

Third, the Canaanites were guilty of great evil against the Lord. The wages of sin is death, and they certainly qualified for God’s judgment. However, the Lord gave them an additional 500 years to repent and they did not (see Genesis 15:13-16).

Tim Keller shares some thoughts on this:

“First, God alone has the right to judge people—only he knows what they deserve and what they will do if not stopped. He alone has the right to take a life.

“Second, in ‘holy war’ Israel did not seek to imperialistically expand its wealth and power but acted as an instrument of God’s judgment on a particular set of people.

“Third, if you believe in the authority of the Bible as the only infallible way to know God’s will for us—then holy war today is impossible. God gives no warrant for it. That’s what we see when reading the Bible is read as a whole, with the New Testament completing and fulfilling the Old. Jesus specifically forbids Christians to take up the sword in his name, to spread the Christian faith by force.”

Quote from here.

For a very helpful article on this whole issue, see Justin Taylor here.

Psalm 3-5 | Wednesday: Thoughts on Psalm 3. “David’s son Absalom was trying to kill him. The seeds of that family dysfunction are David’s own fault. He had wanted Absalom’s love so much he never corrected him, even when Absalom murdered one of his brothers. Now David is fleeing to save his own life. In this prayer he realizes that neither a son’s love nor popular acclaim can serve as a person’s worth or security. David relocates his glory and hope to God and finds peace despite danger. God is the only one who sustains you, whether an army is pursuing you or you are at home in your own bed. God sustains every breath you take” (The Songs of Jesus, p. 4).

Also, think about how Psalm 5:5 and John 3:16 can both be true.

Job 3-4 | Thursday: We are often tempted to skip from Job 2 to Job 38. However, chapters 3-37 are meant, in part, to teach us how to grieve. Chapter 3 is a wonderful example of pouring out our bitter complaint before the Lord. Job’s brutal honesty may startle us, but notice that all of his grief is spoken directly to the Lord.

Don’t waste your sorrows . . . pray them.

Isaiah 7-11 | Friday: This passage is important but confusing. With the exception of a few familiar verses (7:14; 9:6-7), we can feel pretty lost here. So what’s happening?

God tells Isaiah the prophet to speak to Ahaz the (not-so-great) king of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). Ahaz is terrified because he has heard that two kings are teaming up to defeat him. One is Pekah, the king of the Northern Kingdom (also called Israel, Samaria, Ephraim, Zebulun, and Naphtali in these chapters – which makes it confusing!). The other king is Rezin, king of Syria, which is just north east of the Northern Kingdom.

King Azah is a physical descendant of King David, yet does not trust in the Lord. He has already planned to find his security and protection in another massive nation – namely, Assyria. Isaiah asks King Azah to ask the Lord for a sign that the Lord will defend Judah. Azah refuses to ask for a sign because his heart is already set on disobeying God and trusting in the Assyrian super power instead. Isaiah says a sign is coming in the form of a child (7:1-16).

Chapter 8 begins by saying that Isaiah will have a son. Before this son is just a few years old, the two kings that are currently threatening Judah will be entirely defeated. How? God is going to turn Assyria against them and defeat them. However, Assyria is not just going to defeat the two northern kings from Israel and Syria. She is also going to become like an overflowing river and will flood the borders of Judah and eventually defeat most of the Southern Kingdom. Assyria is compared to a flood coming up to Ahaz’s neck (Isaiah 8:5-10). This is the major event we discussed so much in the Micah series which took place in 701 BC.

What does this have to do with Jesus?

Well, quite a bit actually. The destroyed region north of Judah (Samaria and Galilee) is put under God’s judgment and placed into spiritual and cultural darkness. What hope do they have? When will light ever dawn on them? To find out, read Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 11:1-9, and then read next Saturday’s passage carefully, especially Matthew 7:12-25!

Matthew 3-4 | Saturday: Matthew’s literary genius is on full display in these chapters. Watch as he paints a picture of Jesus as the true and better Moses and Israel. Notice all the similarities: Jesus and Moses are hunted in infancy by a political tyrant; called out of Egypt by God; pass through the waters before spending 40 (days/years) in the wilderness being tempted. Compare the three ways Jesus is tempted (and succeeds!) with the three ways Israel was tempted (and failed).

 

Reading The Bible Together – Week 1

 

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Romans 1-2 | Sunday: An easy way to think about these chapters is that Romans 1:18-32 describes irreligious Gentiles (think of the younger brother in the prodigal son story in Luke 15). Romans 2 largely describes devoutly religious Jews (think of the older brother). Paul’s goal in Romans 1-2 is to put all people under condemnation so that all (both religious and irreligious) would see the futility of their own actions and the need for salvation by grace through faith in Christ (see Jerry’s text from Christmas Eve: Romans 3:19-26).

 
Genesis 1-3 | Monday: Lord willing, this will be next week’s sermon text. Moses wrote Genesis somewhere around 1400BC. At that time, likely the most controversial and significant point being made in Genesis 1 was that the God of Israel is the One True Creator and God of all. In a polytheistic culture, this would have been laughable to most people groups.
 
Joshua 1-5 | Tuesday: The last paragraph of Joshua 5 describes Joshua meeting “the commander of the army of the Lord.” Since Joshua treats this strange warrior as divine, it is likely a preincarnate meeting with the True and Better Joshua, Jesus Himself.
 
Psalm 1-2 | Wednesday: These two Psalms are really an introduction to the entire Psalter. They help introduce the books two major themes: Torah (Law) and Messiah (the Lord’s Anointed King). A great clip that summarizes this more fully is the Bible Project’s video on the Psalms, found here
 
Job 1-2 | Thursday: The dispute between Satan and God about Job is this: Do believers follow God primarily because of the blessings He gives us (His stuff) or the blessing He is to us (Himself)?
 
Isaiah 1-6 | Friday: Isaiah 1-6 is packed! Remember, Isaiah and Micah are contemporaries. Look at how Isaiah uses the word “Woe” throughout these six chapters. See what changes when he uses it in chapter 6.
 
Matthew 1-2 | Saturday: It’s tempting to run too quickly past the genealogy that begins Matthew’s gospel. Several things are going on here to look out for:
 
1) In the very first verse of the New Testament, Jesus is seen as the one human being who would finally fulfill all the promises God made to Abraham (including bringing blessing and salvation to all nations; see Genesis 12:1-3) and all the promises God made to David (see 2 Samuel 7).
 
2) Matthew includes disreputable men and women in his genealogy, telling us Jesus came not for the righteous (as though there were any left to ourselves), but for the sinners.
 
3) Less obviously, perhaps, Matthew carefully counts the generations from Abraham to David as 14, then from David to exile in Babylon as 14, then from the exile to the birth of Jesus as 14. This is intentional. We have three 14’s (or, six 7’s). Jesus is born on the 7th seven. Leviticus tells us that the year of Jubilee (the year of the release of the captives and cancelation of all debts) comes every seven sevens. The birth of Jesus is marked as the ultimate Jubilee (the ultimate release of captives and cancelation of debts) because His birth arrives as the at the seventh seven. See Leviticus 25:8-12.
 
Here is how pastor J.D. Greear says it:

Jesus is the ultimate rest

• You have 3 sets of “14.” I know it’s been a while since you have been in math class, but 3 14’s is 6 7’s; which makes Jesus the 7th 7.

• Again, 7 is a really significant number in the Bible. It is the biblical number of completion. It points to rest.

 -God rested on the seventh day.
-Every seven years, the land in Israel was supposed to 
rest—to lie fallow so it could replenish its nutrients.
-Leviticus 25 talks about the “seventh seven year,” called 
the Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were forgiven in Israel and all slaves were freed.

• When Matthew shows you that Jesus is the 7th 7 he is saying Jesus is the year of Jubilee. In him all debts are forgiven; all slaves are freed.

• He is ultimate rest. Come unto me, Jesus says, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you REST. 

Digging Down Deeply Into The Riches of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ

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In this post I wanted to talk about the importance of sinking down deeply into the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Sinclair Ferguson tells us that: “God never throws us back to rely upon ourselves and our own resources. He encourages us rather to grow up as Christians by digging down ever more deeply into the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the rich and fertile soil in which Christian holiness puts down strong roots, grows tall and bears the fruit of the Spirit.” He also adds these helpful words: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Examples of what Sinclair Ferguson is talking about are found all over the Bible. One of those examples is found in 2nd Timothy 2:1 which says: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” John Stott comments on this verse in 2nd Timothy and says: “It is as if Paul says to Timothy: ‘Never mind what other people may be thinking or saying or doing. Never mind how weak and shy you yourself may feel. As for you, Timothy, be strong!’ Of course if his exhortation had stopped there, it would have been futile, even absurd. He might as well have told a snail to be quick or a horse to fly as command a man as timid as Timothy to be strong. But Paul’s call to fortitude is Christian not stoical. It is not a summons to Timothy to be strong in himself—to set his jaw and grit his teeth—but to be ‘inwardly strengthened’ by means of the grace that is in Christ Jesus…’ Timothy is to find his resources for ministry not in his own nature but in Christ’s grace. It is not only for salvation that we are dependent on grace, but for service also.”

So, how do we practically speaking begin to swim into the sea of God’s love? How do we immerse our lives in his grace? How do we sink down deeply into the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ? According to Sinclair Ferguson we need to make it an absolute priority to reflect and meditate on gospel principles. One of those gospel principles is found at the end of Galatians 2:20 which says: “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I was reflecting on this verse recently and the more I thought about it the more stunned I became. Charles Spurgeon said: “A sense of the love of Christ to you personally will affect your whole life. It will change it at first; but it will keep it changed ever afterwards.” 

The Cross

If we want to swim into the sea of God’s love, then we need to race to the cross over and over again. We need to meditate on the cross or as Martyn Lloyd-Jones says we need to: “Look again at the cross, my friend. Take another survey. Examine it again with greater depth and profundity…” As we begin to examine the cross we will see God’s love for his people. Jerry Bridges says: “When John (1 John 4:9-10) said that God showed His love by sending His Son, he was saying God showed His love by meeting our greatest need – a need so great that no other need can even come close to it in comparison.  If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” D.A. Carson tells us that: “The cross is the high-water mark of the demonstration of God’s love for his people. It is a symbol of our shame and of our freedom. It is the ultimate measure of how serious our guilt is and the comforting assurance that our guilt has been dealt with.”

As we continue to meditate on the cross we will see the justice of God and the holiness of God. Lloyd-Jones points out that: “the cross tells us…that God hates sin. God is the eternal antithesis to sin. God abominates sin with the whole intensity of his divine and perfect and holy nature. And God not only hates sin, he cannot tolerate it. God cannot compromise with sin…There is no compromise between light and darkness, good and evil…God must therefore punish sin.”

As we continue to look at the cross we need to remember that we are all sinners as Paul makes clear in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, we deserve God’s wrath, or as Lloyd-Jones bluntly puts it: “We deserve nothing but hell.” As we see the depth of our sin and begin to feel the weight of our sin we will be more stunned by verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Lloyd-Jones commenting on this verse says: “God has made his own Son to be sin for us, though he knew no sin, in order that he might be able to forgive us, in order ‘that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’

Jesus Knew No Sin

As we meditate on the cross we should think about the life of Jesus. Paul says that Jesus ‘knew no sin.’ Lloyd-Jones powerfully describes the life of Jesus when he says that: “Jesus was meek and he was lowly. He was pure, he was clean, he was holy. He sacrificed himself. He gave himself, he served. Lord of Glory though he was, he washed people’s feet. He rendered an utter and a perfect obedience to the holy law of God…He had left the throne of heaven, he had come and humbled himself, and he gave himself to healing people, and to instructing them. He never did anyone any harm. He went about doing good.”

Romans 8:32

I find those words from Lloyd-Jones moving especially in light of Romans 8:32 which says: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” I want to end this post by quoting a lengthy quote from Lloyd-Jones commenting on Romans 8:32 that I hope will stir up our affections for Jesus:

“God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.’ Now that is a wonderful description of what happened on the cross. God, in his great love to us, delivered up for us his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, who never disobeyed him and had never done any harm to anybody, to the death of the cross. But you notice what Paul says: ‘He that spared not his own Son.’ He means that God made it very plain and clear that he was going to punish sin by pouring out upon sinners the vials of his wrath. He was going to punish sin in this way—that men should die. The wages of sin is death, and it means endless death and destruction. And what we are told by the Apostle is that after he had laid our sins upon his own Son on that cross, he did not spare him any of the punishment. He did not say, Because he is my Son I will modify the punishment. I will hold back a little, I cannot do that to my own Son. I cannot regard him as a sinner. I cannot smite him, I cannot strike him. He did not say that. He did everything he had said he would do. He did not keep anything back. He spared not his own Son. He poured out all his divine wrath upon sin, upon his own dearly beloved Son.

So you hear the Son crying out in his agony, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and he literally died of a broken heart. John tells us that when the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, ‘But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water’ (John 19:34). The heart had burst and the blood had clotted, and there it was—serum and blood clot, because his heart was literally ruptured by agony of the wrath of God upon him, and by the separation from the face of his Father. That is the love of God. That, my friend, is the love of God to you a sinner. Not that he looks on passively and says: I forgive you though you have done this to my Son. No, he himself smites the Son…He pours out his eternal wrath upon him, and hides his face from him. His own dearly beloved, only begotten Son. And he did it in order that we should not receive the punishment and go to hell and spend there an eternity in misery, torment and unhappiness. That is the love of God. And that is the wonder and the marvel and the glory of the cross, God punishing his own Son, in order that he might not have to punish you and me.”

 

Picture from here

 

 

The Framework of Prayer

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I just finished reading through this powerful book by D.A. Carson. In this book Dr. Carson goes through several of Paul’s prayers. I couldn’t put the book down and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I thought I would try to write some about this book as a way to help process what I read and thought this might be beneficial to others. One of the first prayers of Paul that Carson looks at is found in 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12 which I included below:

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A Fundamental Component of Prayer – Thanksgiving

What we see at the beginning of this passage is Paul talking about giving thanks to God for these Thessalonian believers. One thing that has struck me lately is how often Paul gives thanks for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Carson says: “Clearly, thanksgiving is a fundamental component of the mental framework that largely controls Paul’s intercession.” As we examine our own prayer lives, I think a good question to ask would be to ask ourselves if thanksgiving is a fundamental component of our mental framework that largely controls our prayers?  I think that we need to drill down even deeper though into this question of thanksgiving in our prayer lives.

D.A. Carson gives us some additional questions to ask: “For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings―when the mortgage we’ve applied for comes through,…we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from serious illness. We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently been converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity.”

When we look at Paul’s prayer here in this passage we find that: “Paul gives thanks for signs of grace among Christians, among the Christians whom he is addressing.” Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly…” These believers are growing in their faith. They are: “stretching upward in spiritual maturity, and for this Paul gives thanks.” Paul continues by giving thanks to God for their increased love for each other. Paul says: “We…give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because…the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Carson says that: “If their love for one another is growing, it can only be because they are Jesus’s disciples: did not Jesus himself say that such love would be the distinguishing mark of his followers (John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.).

Carson probes this line of thought a little bit further. He points out how groups with shared ideals and goals frequently find it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion among themselves. Groups like a rock-climbing club, a football team, or a trivia team. However, he says the church is different. “It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated,…disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert―and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them.” Then he points out that when Christians are growing in their love for each other, this is a sign of grace in their lives and is the work of God. When we see brothers and sisters in Christ growing in their love for each other we should direct our thanksgiving to God, as this is a sign of grace in their lives. So, when is the last time we thanked God for believers who were growing in their love for one another? If it has been a long time since we have done this I think we need to hear from Carson again who writes that: “we must look for signs of grace in the lives of Christians and give God thanks for them.”

I will end this post with another series of questions from Carson. He asks: “For what have we thanked God recently? Have we gone over a list of members of our local church, say, or over a list of Christian workers, and quietly thanked God for signs of grace in their lives? Do we make it a matter of praise to God when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ, exemplified in trust, reliability, love and genuine spiritual stamina?”

Sanctification Flows From The Gospel

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Mark said during his sermon this past Sunday that: “You never ever ever ever ever want to detach the imperatives of the Bible from the indicatives of the gospel.” He went on to say that we should never give people the law of God without giving them the gospel as the motivation for keeping the law of God. Commentator Douglas Moo said that: “Rules must never take the place of Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment and growth; and any rules that we propose to follow must be clearly rooted in and lead back to Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson says that: “Sanctification flows from the gospel.” He goes on to say that: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Ferguson continues by helpfully telling us that: “Divine indicatives (statements about what God has done, is doing, or will do) logically precede and ground Divine imperatives (statements about what we are to do in response). This is true no matter the actual order in which the indicative and imperative statements appear in any given passage. Thus: Who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do for us (indicative) provides the foundation for our response of faith and obedience (imperative). Thus his grace effects our faithfulness. This is the logic that explains the power of the gospel.”

Biblical Examples Of This

We can look at some Biblical examples of this. In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor. The most important motivation that he gives us is the gospel. Tim Keller writes that: “When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion.” This is what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Tim Keller describes how Jonathan Edwards helped him on this passage: “Jonathan Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I say this not as a command…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty.”

Keller continues: “If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving.

1 Peter 1

Another passage that recently hit me was 1 Peter 1. Peter was writing this letter to a church in modern day Turkey that was facing persecution. Sinclair Ferguson throws out this question: “How would you begin such a letter?” Basically, if we were writing to a persecuted church how would we start that letter? Ferguson then answers: “Perhaps with words of sympathy, saying how sorry you were that things had become so difficult? Not Simon Peter. He began first by reminding them of their identity in Christ and then by breaking into a doxology as he reflected on its implications.” Here is what Peter wrote to this persecuted church at the start of his letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Ferguson adds that: “Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall…I need to be clear about who and whose I am, and what I am for in Christ. And Peter is teaching us how to answer them here. If you are a believer you are someone who has been chosen in grace, loved by the Father before you were born, and in your experience sanctified by the Spirit in order that you might become obedient to the Saviour who shed his blood to bring you into covenant fellowship with God…Peter says to believers in Turkey exactly what Paul said to believers in Corinth: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price―the sacrifice of Christ; you are his, so live for his glory because it is for this that you have been purchased.”

The Book of Romans

The last Biblical example I will mention on this post is the book of Romans. I am once again borrowing heavily from Sinclair Ferguson. In the first 11 chapters of the book Romans there are 315 verses. If we went through all 315 verses specifically looking for imperatives―’that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.’ We would only find 7 verses that are imperatives. Romans 6:12, 13, 19; 10:4; and 11:18, 20, 22.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 verses to sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open up the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (There are more than 20 of them in Romans chapter 12 alone). Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism. For this is how the gospel works:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. -Romans 1:16

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1

Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

I will end with a portion of this powerful hymn written by Issac Watts. In that hymn Watts said:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died”

As we ‘survey’ the cross, and as we meditate on the cross we are overwhelmed by the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Then we will respond as Watts does in his hymn:

“My richest gain I count buy loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Once again Sinclair Ferguson says: “Thus the motivation, energy and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.” So let us all “immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ…”