Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Obsession with Lent

I usually don't think too much about Lent. However, with my good Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, we never forget Fauschnaut Day here in Pa. Two things got me thinking about Lent this year.

First, Wednesday morning on my Facebook page someone posted the following redacted conversation:
Person 1: "What are you giving up for Lent?"
Person 2: "The Church Calendar."
The friend is going to a strong Protestant and Presbyeterian seminary. The quote made me chuckle because we're Protestant and therefore not strongly liturgical. This was the first thing that made me think about Lent and made me say to myself: "well, yeah, we're Protestant."

Second, Wednesday afternoon I was doing some driving and was amazed at how much the regional Christian radio station was focussing on Lent. They had a large number of call-ins with testimonies about what people were giving up for Lent. It ranged from bad habits, to trivial things, to coffee, to moralism like "instead of trying to give something up, try to do something nice every day." By far the best (or worst depending on how you look at it) were "I'm going to give up negative thoughts and be positive."

It made me think: "Wait, what?! Are we Protestants?"

Here are my thoughts about Lent.

1. I don't really care what you give up or don't give up. If you want to give up coffee, great--I won't, but if you feel like it is 'enslaving you' go ahead and give it up. It won't hurt you physically or spiritually... well, ok, maybe you'll be more irritable for 40 days but then you can try to give that up during lent too. I will modify a Pauline phrase: neither Lent or non-Lent,  matters, what matters in the New Creation.

2. Your Lenten celebrations won't 'do' anything spiritual for you. No really, they won't. Listen to what Paul says:
Colossians 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh
I am not going to unpack this exegetically except to say: forgoing anything during Lent is not going to do one ounce of spiritual good in putting to death the 'indulgence of the flesh.' At its worst, Lent is a form of asceticism or self-made religion and we trick ourselves into thinking that it is a means of crucifying the flesh.

Again, my take is: if you want to celebrate Lent it's not bad to give something up. It's not bad to say "I can go without something because I am too obsessed with it [e.g. coffee]." But don't think it is a higher form of Christian obedience or that it will mark you on a spiritual path towards dealing with the flesh.

This is probably one of the saddest things about the whole "what did you give up for Lent" discussion: it presupposed that giving up things for Lent would help you with your spiritual life and 'the flesh,' our sinful self.

3. Lenten celebrations don't go far enough. By far the most infamous comments on the Christian radio were ones that talked about giving up some outward habit that truly were sinful. So if you have a cursing problem a person might propose giving it up.

The problem it that this doesn't find the root of sin as deep enough. We need more to our spiritual life then giving up our habits for 40 days and hoping they will be gone for good. This is a bit like pulling out weeds by cutting off the stems. If you never get to the root, you never get the weed.

How many people will not say any curse words because of Lent but will hold anger in their heart? How many people vow to get rid of lashing out in anger but will never by outward habits deal with their heart?

We live in a day and age where people assume that the heart can be controlled and reshaped merely by changing the outward habits. People will cite psychological study to defend such methods, and Christians buy in to it.

Biblical teaching is quite different. The heart needs to be changed. If the heart is changed the habits will flow from the heart. This thought flows into my next.

4. Changing outward habits for Lent doesn't take sin serious enough. Sin is deeper than something a 40 day Lent period can deal with. In this way, Lent celebration can subtly soften our view of sin. I need to be crucified and made alive in Christ--and no amount of Lent season can deal with this. Lent is not a means of sanctification, Christ alone is.

My worry is that such obsessive focus on Lent and what it can do for us, will actually make Christ less sweet. His majesty and the depths of his work for us will seem shallow because we've used Lent to make sin, its effects, its causes and its perversity something milder than the horrid depths at which the Bible portrays it.

The most disheartening thing about the Christian Radio conversations that I overheard is that sin was largely treated at surface level as an external problem hence people shared their external treatments to the problem. We should weep over such a shallow definition of sin because in such contexts the penetrating medicine that only Christ truly offers is overlooked for more user friendly options.

5. Whatever happened to justification by faith? There seems to be a subtle slide into justification by Lent. Perhaps I'm overstating my case... but consider this: Roman Catholics believe in justification by faith... but not by faith alone. For them faith combines with charity and righteousness is infused in us by the Spirit and our patterns of behavior. The righteousness of justification comes from within.

This was not all that dissimilar from our Lenten call-ins. 'Sure I trust Christ, sure I believe he died for me, but now I'll really be a serious Christian with a right standing before God because of how I am living during Lenten season.' I couldn't help but think the calls were less about 'the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God' (Gal. 2:20) and more about 'the life I live during Lent I live by giving up things to make God pleased.'  The emphasis seemed to me to drift towards a works-centered approach with self-denial as a means of vindication of the Christian.

I think one of the primary reasons for giving up Lent is what we need to communicate about justification by faith alone. Of course, distinct and inseparable from our justification is our sanctification in Christ. But even sanctification taken seriously has little or nothing to do with Lent.

Look, I'm not against Lent per se. Nothing wrong with giving up some habit for 40 days. Just don't turn it into some spiritual quest. Don't treat it as a means of crucifying the flesh. Be on your guard about the potential for undermining key Protestant doctrines. I really do mean this is a potential not an absolute.

I am sure many who celebrate Lent as Protestants are well meaning. I just worry: are the doctrines of the Reformation so far gone that we can't even see the works-righteousness approach that is creeping back into our Christianity? I worry that evangelical young people celebrate Lent because it is cool, trendy and a mark of 'serious Christian commitment.' If this is true it is horrid to the 'good news' of the gospel.

I don't want to be legalistically for or against Lent. I would just caution you to think about things Biblically and carefully. Examine your heart before you proceed. Ask yourself: what does this say about my doctrine? Will Lent highlight the gospel of free grace or take away from it?

I would say in some cases--though admittedly not in all--it actually does begin to point away from free grace in the gospel. The danger is that we never notice the subtle shift in direction and soon find ourself heading down a road to another gospel.

Cross posted at Christians in Context.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thomas Goodwin and Richard Gaffin

Thomas Goodwin
I'm reading Thomas Goodwin's 'Christ Set Forth' --it reads at points much like Richard Gaffin's "Resurrection and Redemption". Some of the theological points concerning the significance of the resurrection of Christ for our redemption are almost exactly the same.

Consider from Goodwin: 
"And indeed (to enlarge this a little), as there is the same reason and ground for the one that there is for the other, he being a public person in both, so the rule will hold in all things which God ever doth to us, or for us, which are common with Christ, and were done to him; that in them all Christ was the first-fruits, and they may be said to have done in us, or to us, yea, by us, in him and with him. Whatever God meant to do for us and in us, whatever privelege or benefit he meant to bestow upon us, he did that thing first to Christ, and (some way) bestowed the like on him as a common person, that so it might be by a solemn formal act ratified, and be made sure to be done to us in our persons in due time, having first been done to him representing our persons; and that by this course taken, it might (when done to us) be effected by virtue of what was done to him. Thus God meaning to sanctify us, he sanctifies Christ first, in him as a common person sanctifying us all: 'For their sakes, I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through your truth' (John 17:19). He sanctifies the human nature of Christ personal (that is his body), and him first, as a common person representing us, that so we, being virtually and representatively sanctified in him, may be sure to be sanctified afterwards in our own persons, by means of his sanctification. And so in like manner for our sakes he was 'justified in the Spirit;' because we were to be justified, and so to be justified in him, and with him as a common person." p.81

"we were all justified in Christ when he was justified."

Goodwin is clear that Christ's resurrection is his justification.

Dr. Richard Gaffin
Of course, Richard Gaffin shows in his work that Christ's resurrection is his justification, sanctification and adoption for us and then of course applied to those in union with Christ. While Goodwin is not exactly the same in articulation as Gaffin, their works have an amazing overlap and point to the same central truths. Both are Reformed Theology at its best. 

Goodwin does not state that Christ's resurrection is his adoption, as Gaffin does in his work. However, Goodwin does state that Christ's resurrection is his re-begetting and 'new birth'. In fact, Goodwin here, almost reads like modern interpretation of Romans 1:3-4 with the clause 'appointed Son of God in power' when he writes:
"And further, to confirm and strengthen this notion, because his resurrection was the first moment of this his justification from our sins, therefore it is that God calls it his first begetting of Christ, 'This day I have begotten thee' (Acts 13:33) speaking manifestly of his resurrection. And the reason of his so calling it, is, because all the while before he was covered with sin, and 'the likeness of sinful flesh;' but now, having flung it off, he appears like God's Son indeed, as if newly begotten. And thus also there comes to be the fuller conformity between Christ's justification and ours. For as our justification is at our first being born again, so was Christ also at this first glorious begetting." p.80

For Goodwin just as we pass from death to life at conversion, from death and condemnation to justification of life "so did Christ also at his resurrection, which to him was a re-begetting, pass from an estate of death and guilt laid on him, to and estate of life and glory, and justification from guilt."

Christ is the eschatological man, or as Goodwin points out later the Second Adam, the firstfruits.

It is amazing to me how profound Goodwin is but also how he foreshadows some of the insights on recent New Testament scholarship. Yet Goodwin is clearly a profound Puritan and an exceptional Covenant Theologian.

The Use of Psalm 102 in Hebrews 1

Hebrews 1 is one of the best chapters in the Bible for an articulation and defense of the deity of Christ. The author's motives in writing the book of Hebrews is to challenge the reader (listener?--if it was orally read to the congregation) to stand firm in their confession of Christ. 

In 2:1, we are to hold fast and not drift away. In 4:14, we are to hold fast to the confession of faith. It is important than that we recognize Christ's person and work--and Hebrews is a great book to defend this in its various aspects. You and I need to hold fast to our confession that Jesus is Lord.

One thing I would like to draw attention to is Hebrews 1 quotation of Psalm 102. As we see who Jesus is by these three verses alone, let us hold fast to what it truly means to confess Jesus is Lord.
Hebrews 1:10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”  
Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end. 
There are a three things worth noting about this passage and the use of the Psalm:

(1) Notice that it is the LORD who is addressed in the original Psalm. Whenever the OT is quoted in the NT we should go back and pay close attention to the context. It is a basic principle in the Bible that whenever a later writer is using an earlier writer (OT using older OT; or NT writer using OT verse)--they are using in light of or with disregard for the original context. This is not necessarily to say that their hermeneutical methods are like ours in all respects but rather as, C.H. Dodd pointed on in his classic work According to the Scriptures, we are not to think the context and background are unimportant. New Testament writers in particularly are often well aware of what they are quoting and why they are quoting it.

So look at the Psalm:
v.12 "But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations."
v.16-- The LORD builds Zion.
v.18,19, 21 and 22 all focus on the LORD's work, activity and plan.
v.24 "“O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—" 

The person being addressed in this passage is the LORD. The English translation of all caps is an indicator that the Hebrew is YHWH, the divine name, sometimes translated as Jehovah in older translation. It is the tetragrammaton--God's special covenant name revealed in Exodus 3.

The purpose of addressing the LORD in this way is an appeal to the LORD to spare his life. The reason he can make such an appeal is that the LORD does not pass way like the rest of us. In fact, He has created all things and will not wear out like his creation. The creation passes away, God does not pass away.

(2) In Hebrews Psalm 102 is quoted as the Father's address to the Son. Psalm 102 is about a person crying out to God. Hebrews is not denying this but focusing on a more subtle detail. Hebrews, believing Scripture is God's Word, applies the object of address in Psalm 102 as the Son--and thus God the Father in His God-breathed Word speaks the verses of His Son.

Verse 8 introduces a quotation of Psalm 45 with "But of the Son he says, "--'he' clearly references God the Father speaking to the Son (see the context with verse 5-8). Of course, Psalm 45's usage in this passage is a defense of the deity of Jesus in and of itself.

But note how Hebrews 1:10 starts out with 'And' as an introduction to the quotation. We are to see that the same introduction of verse 8 applies to verse 10. God the Father is saying to God the Son.

A second indicator is tracking the use of 'you' in the passage. 
God the Father says to the Son:
"your throne, O God..."
"you have love righteousness..."
"therefore God, your God, has anointed you..."
"beyond your companions..."
"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning," 

Being anointed beyond 'your companions' is probably a reference to the Messianic anointing of the Son in his humanity as Psalm 8 is quoted in Hebrews 2 as Christ becomes like the children in all respects so that he might bring many 'sons to glory'.

But notice that we are given insight in to a divine conversation. God the Father addresses God the Son and calls the Son both 'God' and 'Lord.' The Father says that the Son has done things that only God can do. And when God wrote his Word in Psalm 102, Hebrews is telling us it was talking about the Son.

(3) The Son is described as doing what only YHWH could do. According to the Old Testament only the LORD could create:
Isaiah 44:24 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself
Job 9:8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; 
It is no small detail then when the NT speaks of Christ as acting in creating (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).

Either the New Testament is blaspheming by describing to Jesus something that only God can do or the New Testament is showing us the divine identity of Jesus [to use Richard Bauckham's term]. Of course it is clearly the later. The New Testament is God's Word.

Notice also in verse 12 the reference to "earth" and "heaven". Frequently in the Bible the two together "heaven and earth" designate the scope of creation. It is that frequent comprehensive description of everything that is created--all of it. It describes 'all things,' a tag which is also descriptive of the scope of create. There are ultimately only two categories: God and creation. We are told that the latter, as creation, "will perish,...will all wear out like a garment,". 

Anything and everything created will ultimate wear out and be destroyed (at least before its recreation in the New Heavens and New Earth). Only that which is not creation (and hence is God) will not wear out and grow old.

In the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah 40-66, only the LORD does not end. He is the first and the last. Not that he has a beginning or an end but that he is before and after His creation. And so Jesus is described as "But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Unlike all things created, the Son does not wear out. Plainly, Jesus is an eternal person not a created being. If he was the latter he would fail into the category of that which perishes and wears out. 

YHWH doesn't change. He doesn't wear out. There is no decay, shifting or degradation to God as there is to His creation. In short, Jesus is describe as something that only God is. Yet, the Father and the Son are distinguished in this passage as distinct persons. The fact that the Father address the Son rules out an sort of modalism. 

When you and I confess Jesus is Lord, we are ascribing to Him the divine name. Not only is he lord in the kingly and ruling sense, we are confessing that He is God and Savior. 

Hebrews 1 is a defense of the deity of Christ and clearly distinguish Jesus the Son from being an angel or any kind of created being. It is important that we pay attention to the detail of Hebrews 1. We have sought to briefly show here the riches of Psalm 102 and its use in Hebrews 1. 

It provides to us powerful testimony to the deity of the Son. It is a piece of the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus is truly God the Son--sharing in full deity, addressed as YHWH. Jesus is also distinct as a person from God the Father.

We believe God's Word in inspired and therefore to hear any portion of it is to heart what God himself has breathed out. But I would suggest in sticking closely to this chapter we pay special attention: the Father designates these things of His Son.

You and I are being told by God the Father what God the Son is like. The Father himself is demonstrating to us that there is a second eternal person in the Godhead--that of the Son. This is not merely man describing something of the Son, but like at Jesus' baptism, you and I are hearing to voice of Jesus' Father and our Father describing something about the Son. 

If the Father can designate his Son as such as testimony to us, how much more are we accountable to listen? Even more, as creatures, how much more should be bend the knee and worship both the Father and the Son?

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him [the Son]be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

Cross posted at Christians in Context

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Do Not Fear, Jesus is God's Son

The Sonship of Christ is one of the reasons we do not have to fear. 

This continues some thoughts on Jesus' walking on water in Matthew 14:22-33. Note especially these three verses:
Matthew 14:26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  
Matthew 14:33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”

1. Are you afraid that you might not go to heaven? Are you afraid that God does not love you or care for you? Are you afraid that you have some sin in your life that is so big that you might have fallen away from God’s grace? Do not fear--Christ is a powerful Savior. He has appeared before His people. --Christ in His humanity is able to walk across the water. He is able in His great might to step down out of heaven. He is able in His great might to die on the cross. He is so strong that He can bear our sin and exhaust the guilt of sin.
Acts 2:24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

You see, Christ bore the guilt of sin. Sin was laid upon --He is a perfect Savior. He is a mighty Savior and so it could not conquer Him. Death--the punishment for sin--could not have victory over Him. His resurrection is proof to you that sin is paid for.

Do not be afraid. Take Courage. Look to Christ as Savior. Trust in His person and your sins will be wiped away. It is the mighty Savior who takes these away--not your ability to trust Him.

2. Are you, like the disciples, fearful that some set of circumstances will destroy you? Perhaps you are worried about an illness. Perhaps, you are worried about your future. Perhaps, you have enemies, people who hate you and you are worried. Do not fear.

a. Christ, as the Son of God, is Sovereign over all creation.
Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

b. Even in His humanity, he exercises rulership over creation. 
Psalm 8:6 You [God] have given him [Jesus] dominion over the works of your [God’s] hands; you [God] have put all things under his [Jesus] feet,

You see, through his death, resurrection and ascension Jesus has a rulership over creation. He rules not just as God but as a human. Which means he can rule as “God with us”--he can rule on your behalf. 

3. Do not be afraid--Jesus will exercise his rulership with a care and compassion towards you if you are his child. As a child of God, if you put your faith and trust in Jesus--you are united to Jesus. He is truly for you “God with us”. He cannot cast you off anymore that he would cut of his own arm. He cannot abandon you anymore than the Father can abandon the Son. He cannot exercise harm towards you because you are his precious possession.

4. Why did Christ come to them? Why does Jesus walk out to the disciples on the water and come near to them? He was in prayer with God--He could have asked God to stope it. Remember what the Centurion said to Jesus?
Matthew 8:9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,3 ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Jesus had authority. He could have said the waves from afar on the shore “Go, stop, calm down.” All of them would have yielded instantly under His hand. Why does He go out to the disciples?

(1) He reveals who He is; (2) He reveals His power--they see it. (3) He reveals His care. --our God is a God who does not minister care and comfort from afar. Out of His care and tenderness, He draws near His children and He works on their behalf.

It is no mere abstraction of doctrine to say “Jesus is the Son of God” NO! Jesus is the SON of God--FEAR NOT!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus Walks on Water

The account of Jesus walking on water of course contains the series of events where Peter gets out of the boat and proceeds to try to walk on water. Of course, he succeeds while he keeps his eyes on Jesus. When he takes his eyes off of Christ, he falls. 

But this episode is not about the strength of Peter's faith rather it is about the strength of Christ. The passage is not teaching us what we can do under Christ, rather it is teaching us how desperate we are without Christ and how mighty he is to save--as Peter has nothing left but desperation out of which he calls out to Christ.

Here are some applications from my sermon this past Sunday:

If Jesus is God’s Son He is mighty to save no matter how desperate you are.

1. This passage isn’t so much about how much we can accomplish if we just look at Jesus. This is about how much Jesus accomplishes despite who we are. It is about the excellency and majesty of Jesus not about Peter’s ability to get out of the boat. Jesus commands Peter to take courage. Peter takes courage and gets out of the boat. Peter doesn’t sustain his courage--but Jesus still grips Peter.

It is not about how much God can use us if we just have a leap of faith (get out of the boat).
It is about how mighty Christ is. It is about how Christ grabs us when He saves sinners.

It is about Peter’s desperation, crying out of a Savior. --maybe you are desperate. You feel it; you know it. But you are so desperate, you think that maybe Christ won’t even regard you if you cry out.

This passage is about Christ who is both mighty to save and compassionate to save in our greatest hour of need.

2. No matter how desperate you are Christ is both mighty to save and compassionate to save. NO LEVEL OF DESPERATION IS BEYOND CHRIST’S COMPASSION.

Jonathan Edwards’ in a sermon “The Excellency of Christ” asks this question: “What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he can’t save you, that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one strong than the ‘Mighty God”? as Christ is called in Isaiah 9:6.

In our passage: he walks on water, the storm and winds obey him, touching his robs gets people healed.
How can you not want one who is so strong he uphold creation.

Are you afraid that Christ won’t have mercy on you? Are you afraid that you are so wicked and so wretched that Christ cannot get down low enough to grab you? Are you afraid that you have done something so horribly Christ will not want to save you?

Peter of all the silly things he could do, wants to get out of the boat. Then when he does get out of the boat he takes his eyes off of Jesus. He is like the little child who daringly is learning to walk--stepping away from support and balance--only to look all around and not at the parent whose arms are opened wide.

Peter is desperate. Very desperate. Yet Christ is mighty to save. Jesus grabs Peter. There is not even a hint on condescension--a sort of “well now you learned your lesson”.

Of course Peter had little faith, he doubted. Jesus points that out. But Jesus still grabs Him in His most desperate moment.

One of the saddest spiritual ironies is that we sometimes think that if we are too desperate we are unqualified to be saved. This is particularly true of a Christian who finds himself struggling again back under some sin. --we think that because we were given a second chance and “we blew it” --Christ won’t have compassion. HE WILL!

3. How much faith is enough? How much do I have to believe in Him? How much do I have to rely on Him to have him clutch me? We all go through times were our faith struggles--we are like someone wobbling with our knees about to buckle. We know we are weak. We begin to wonder: is God not answering me because I am not strong enough? Maybe in despair we cry: “Oh my faith is so weak.”

It is the object of our faith that saves us not our ability to hold on to Him. We just Jesus and He grabs us.
Notice that Peter does doubt, He does have a weak faith. He sinks--but Christ still grabs Him.

Christ is so merciful and gracious a Savior that he we are weak and struggling in our faith He grabs us. He strengthens us. He lifts us up.

Christ builds our faith and does not rely on us to build our own faith up to get to Him.

The father who has a demoniac son, is told to believe in Jesus.
Mark 9:23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” 

4. The sinner who finds himself/herself wallowing in sin and despair. Enslaved. Entrapped. A weight upon their soul... if they just turn to Jesus and cry out in utter desperation: “Lord, save me!” You will find mercy. You will find Jesus mighty to grab you and lift away the guilt of sin. He will free you from enslavement.

Find Christ as precious. He is Mighty--GOD THE SON; He is tender, compassionate, “God with us” who stoops to grab people and save them.

Even a child of God wobbling in doubt, struggling to find God as real, wondering if God is still there--they will find the Lord Jesus mighty and compassionate to save. He will buoy you up from whatever despair is starting to entangle you. Trust Him.

Your struggle and your sins, no matter how great or how small, cannot throw you beyond the ability of Christ to save. Your struggle and your sins, no matter how great or small, cannot cast you outside of the depth to which he will reach down to grab you.

5. Your faith will not save you. Only Christ will save you. Look to him. Peter doubted. Peter had little faith. Peter was not strong--he did not have a ‘worthy faith’ as if his ability to trust earned him a right. Peter did not deserve salvation and deliverance. Peter’s only qualification was that He need Jesus at that moment. Consider later in Peter's life his lack of faith led him even to deny Christ--yet Christ who is mighty to save restored Peter because Christ has great grace and mercy upon the needy and desperate.

No matter what your going through right now: maybe you only qualification is your great need.

Look to Jesus. Trust Jesus. Believe in Him. He is mighty to save and He delights in rescuing those who have nothing but desperation.

Listen here:

Monday, February 13, 2012

When it rains, it pours

"When the Lord sends his mercy it never rains, but it pours. He deluges the desert. He not only gives enough to moisten, but enough to drench the furrows. He makes the wilderness a standing pool of water, and the thirsty land springs of water. Do not, therefore, doubt the genuineness of his mercy because of its greatness." -Charles Haddon Spurgeon from his sermon "Fear Not"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' The Excellency of Christ

One sermon that I think would be beneficial for everyone to read is Jonathan Edwards' "The Excellency of Christ." You can read it here or get an audio reading here.

Jonathan Edwards is probably best, or perhaps infamously, known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He is so caricatured that some have remarked that interpretations of Edwards and the Puritans are “Jonathan Edwards in the hands of angry sinners.” Jonathan Edwards emphasized the glory and power of God in accomplishing salvation. His sermons were doctrinal and applicational. If all you know of Jonathan Edwards is his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" you do not get a picture of who he is. Go read his "Heaven is a World of Love," "God Glorified in the Work of Redemption" or "The Excellency of Christ."

He was enraptured by the power and majesty of God. His theology & preaching, like Puritan theology & preaching as a whole, was ‘experimental’--we would say “experiential”. Edwards, like the Puritans, believed that truth entered through the mind, would change the heart creating new ‘affections’ and this would change the will and lead to proper behavior.

The text that "The Excellency of Christ" is from is Revelation 5:5-6.

His main point is: “There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” Edwards unpacks how Christ is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lion in his infinite majesty. He is the Lamb in his infinite condescension. It is a powerful image to picture two aspects within Christ's person and His works.
The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellencies. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellencies of both wonderfully meet in him,
While Edwards never mentions it directly, he clearly is operating out of an orthodox Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon--of course this is part and parcel of Edwards' Reformed theology. The point would be that Edwards' sermon is a remarkable example of orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy. 

Consider some highlights from Edwards' sermon:

To the point that "There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension." Edwards writes:
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him.”
But also consider his infinite condescension:
And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ's condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, "the poor of the world," ...
Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them.
In Christ there is both infinite justice and infinite grace.
Though his justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived.
In Christ's exaltation, Christ is the Lion who has triumphed over sin. Yet, Edwards turns our attention to the mediatorial office of Christ. Cheer up believer, he still is a lamb towards you in kindness and gentleness.
Indeed, in his exalted state, he most eminently appears in manifestation of those excellencies, on the account of which he is compared to a lion; but still he appears as a lamb;...Though Christ be now at the right-hand of God, exalted as King of heaven, and Lord of the universe; yet as he still is in the human nature, he still excels in humility. Though the man Christ Jesus be the highest of all creatures in heaven, yet he as much excels them all in humility as he doth in glory and dignity, for none sees so much of the distance between God and him as he does. And though he now appears in such glorious majesty and dominion in heaven, yet he appears as a lamb in his condescending, mild, and sweet treatment of his saints there, for he is a Lamb still, even amidst the throne of his exaltation, and he that is the Shepherd of the whole flock is himself a Lamb, and goes before them in heaven as such...And in his acts towards the saints on earth, he still appears as a lamb, manifesting exceeding love and tenderness in his intercession for them, as one that has had experience of affliction and temptation. He has not forgot what these things are, nor has he forgot how to pity those that are subject to them. And he still manifests his lamb-like excellencies, in his dealings with his saints on earth, in admirable forbearance, love, gentleness, and compassion. Behold him instructing, supplying, supporting, and comforting them; often coming to them, and manifesting himself to them by his Spirit, that he may sup with them, and they with him. Behold him admitting them to sweet communion, enabling them with boldness and confidence to come to him, and solacing their hearts. And in heaven Christ still appears, as it were, with the marks of his wounds upon him, and so appears as a Lamb as it had been slain, as he was represented in vision to St John, in the text, when he appeared to open the book sealed with seven seals, which is part of the glory of his exaltation.
Most powerfully in Edwards' sermon, he turns the listeners attention to Christ. That Christ is worthy of our faith and trust. He addresses the person who may have a spiritual burden. "Here let me a little expostulate with the poor, burdened, distressed soul."
What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he cannot save you, that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than "the almighty God"? as Christ is called, Isa. 9:6. Is there need of greater than infinite strength? Are you afraid that he will not be willing to stoop so low as to take any gracious notice of you? But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be buffeted and spit upon by them! Behold him bound with his back uncovered to those that smote him! And behold him hanging on the cross! Do you think that he that had condescension enough to stoop to these things, and that for his crucifiers, will be unwilling to accept of you, if you come to him?...
What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior, that is not in Christ? Or, wherein should you desire a Savior should be otherwise than Christ is? What excellency is there wanting? What is there that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning; what is there that is adorable or endearing; or, what can you think of that would be encouraging, which is not to be found in the person of Christ?...
“How much Christ appears as the Lamb of God in his invitations to you to come to him and trust in him. With what sweet grace and kindness does he, from time to time, call and invite you... 

What is the purpose of our redemption? That God might be all in and that we might have communion with God. There is an implicit Trinitarian structure to Edwards' thinking (although admittedly he focusses primarily on the Father and the Son).
One design of God in the gospel is to bring us to make God the object of our undivided respect, that he may engross our regard every way, that whatever natural inclination there is in our souls, he may be the centre of it; that God may be all in all. But there is an inclination in the creature, not only to the adoration of a Lord and Sovereign, but to complacence in some one as a friend, to love and delight in some one that may be conversed with as a companion... 
And thus is the affair of our redemption ordered, that thereby we are brought to an immensely more exalted kind of union with God, and enjoyment of him, both the Father and the Son, than otherwise could have been... 
This was the design of Christ, that he, and his Father, and his people, might all be united in one (John 17:21,23)...Christ has brought it to pass, that those whom the Father has given him should be brought into the household of God, that he and his Father, and his people, should be as one society, one family; that the church should be as it were admitted into the society of the blessed Trinity.
This sermon makes you want to worship Christ more. It makes your rejoice in the wonder of fellowship that we have with the Triune God. It makes you marvel at the diverse excellencies of Christ. Please go and read this sermon because Edwards unpacks the diversity of these excellencies in numerous ways both in the person and works of Christ. But is a model of a robust orthodoxy leading to a robust orthopraxy in worship and delight in God.

One final thought: Edwards' sermon is evangelistic in a way that is rarely witnessed today. All of the rich doctrine becomes a reason for the sinner to trust Christ. What more can one find in Christ? If one is afraid Christ is not strong enough: Behold He is a Lion. He can save. If one is afraid Christ is not compassionate enough: Behold He is a Lamb. Edwards seeks to capture the majesty of God in all its infinite greatness but then we equal ponder just how far "down" Christ has come. Of course, Christ never sets aside his divinity--not these two 'dialectic' excellencies stand side by side in one person.

This sermon makes me wonder, when we evangelize--do we set out the excellency and majesty of Christ as Edwards' does? How often do we rush through creation, fall, redemption to press home a decision: 'choose Christ'. Edwards does press the listening to trust Christ and to find Christ sufficient. He liters his sermon with Scripture to make these points. But only after Edwards seeks to display the majesty and glory of Christ in His person and His work does he press the listener to respond. His sermon gives ample tools for the Holy Spirit to use as Edwards lays out solid Biblical exposition.

Again, I encourage you to read or listen to this sermon. Meditate on it and the Biblical doctrines contained therein. May it be of spiritual benefit to you beyond just a mere intellectual enterprise.

You can read it here or get an audio reading here.

Cross posted at "Christians in Context"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Praise of Brevity

I have not had much time to post new things around here, but I have another post up over at Christians in Context. This time I write in praise of brevity, specifically in the use of Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms to guide us in the basic formations of our doctrine.

Here's an excerpt:

Here’s what I would suggest: we must read weighty treatments of doctrine but we don’t necessarily start or stop there. Treatises can enrich our lives but so can brevity. When was the last time you pulled out a Creed, a Confession, a Catechism or your own church doctrinal statement and said: what are the cores of orthodoxy? This blog is after all about orthodoxy. Consider the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. Do you know them? Could you discuss them? They don’t say it all--but in those moments when you need to say enough without a deluge, what better tool? 
I have personally been blessed by reading the Westminster Shorter Catechism with my four girls (and I’m not even a paedobaptist). One example of that blessing, it has been exciting to see its movement from Questions 24-30. There is progress: Christ’s three offices (prophet, priest and king) to the linchpins of historia salutis: Christ’s humiliation and exaltation to the application of redemption specifically on the role of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s continuing work in exaltation or the Holy Spirit’s application are often overlooked in pop-evangelicalism somewhat truncated theology. But here a catechism lays a grid. It is brevity. But it is like laying pillars that go deep upon which we hang more complex and thorough explanations of the topic. As I read it I realized how much of my seminary education could be hung around these questions.  
When was the last time you checked the pillars of your theology? Those of us who love theology and the Bible can amass great amounts of knowledge while over time neglecting the continual reassessment of vital cores. Have you looked for cracks your understanding of the basics? Are your fundamentals sound?  Can you state them briefly or do you fumble for words with ever expanding convolutions that covering for your lack of mental clarity? The Trinity? The Deity of Christ? Soteriology? Christ’s death and resurrection and the benefits flowing from both? 

Read the whole thing here.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...