Jesus Shall Reign

During this evening’s worship service, our church spent time praying for Southern Baptist church planters in all 50 states, as well as elected officials from each state and our national leaders. To follow up on this, I wanted to share a passage on which I’ve been reflecting during this week’s final run-up to the big election on Tuesday. From the ESV, here is Psalm 72:1-7:

  1. Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to the royal son!
  2. May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice!
  3. Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness!
  4. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the children of the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!
  5. May they fear you while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
  6. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth!
  7. In his days may the righteous flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

While in many ways this passage (and the rest of Psalm 72) is messianic, pointing ultimately to the future eternal reign of Christ, it was also a prayer for an earthly ruler. It’s a good reminder that we should pray for our leaders, but also that our final hope lies in Jesus, not in a political leader (Psalm 146:3).

Regardless who wins the presidential election on Tuesday, I pray that the next four years would be a period in which Americans may be judged with justice. I pray for righteousness and prosperity for all people, and that our nation’s poor would see their needs met and their oppressors crushed. I pray that many will be saved, coming to know and fear the Lord. May God’s people flourish, and may peace abound!

Here is an excellent arrangement by Enfield of an Isaac Watts hymn based on Psalm 72:

Did Hosea Love Gomer?

Yesterday our college Sunday School class began a study of the book of Hosea. It was a good lesson, and I’m looking forward to digging into this book over the next few weeks!

Our discussion of the first three chapters of Hosea ended with what I thought was a really good question. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and weren’t able to address it in class, so I thought I’d do so here. The question is this:

When Hosea redeemed Gomer, bringing her back to his home and promising her his own faithfulness despite her infidelity, did his actions show that he loved her, or was he simply obeying God?

On first examination of the passage (Hosea 3), it might seem that we can’t know this. After all, Scripture never reveals anything further about the relationship between Hosea and Gomer. But this line of thinking is evidence of our culture’s understanding that love is a feeling. The Biblical concept of love is so much more!

Throughout the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, we learn that love is an action; it is a way of acting intentionally toward another person that reflects the disposition of God toward his children. The most famous biblical definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Notice that this description includes many things that love is or does, but nothing that it feels. Further examples include John 15:13, Romans 5:8,and Romans 12:9-21.

The final nail in the coffin of love-as-a-feeling should be Jesus’ exhortation to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Certainly in this we see that love is a conscious and deliberate choice, not something our feelings incline us to do. If loving our enemies required us to exhibit the type of sentimentalism to which the modern concept of “love” is typically reduced, who could do it? Yet Christ clearly expects this to be something which all Christians can and must do.

Furthermore, we see that love is something God commands. Several times in Jesus’ earthly ministry, he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another” (John 15:12 for example). Over and over, Christ told his disciples to follow the example he set, as he showed them what love really looks like. His disciple John passed on this teaching, telling us that God is love, and all love comes from him. “If God loved us (‘while we were still enemies’, Paul adds), then we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

So back to our original question. Did Hosea love Gomer, or was he just obeying God? Hopefully we can see by now that this is a false choice. In pursuing a woman who was fleeing him, giving everything he had to redeem someone who had so thoroughly betrayed him, and renewing his commitment of faithfulness to and provision for a whore who deserved death instead (Leviticus 20:10), Hosea did exactly what God had commanded. But this is in no way opposed to love; this is what love is! God was demonstrating through the relationship of Hosea and Gomer the type of unmerited redeeming love he was about to pour out on Israel, and which Christ poured out on Calvary for those he came to save.

May we all learn through our study of Hosea what it means to be loved by this great God, and to love others as he has loved us.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” ~ Luke 1:68-69

Listen to Brooke Fraser’s song “Hosea’s Wife”, and reflect on the lyrics:

Lyrics

I just spoke silence with the seeker next to me
She had a heart with hesitant, halting speech
That turned to mine and asked belligerently
“What do I live for?”

I see the scars of searches everywhere I go
From hearts to wars to literature to radio
There’s a question like a shame no one will show
“What do I live for?”

We are Hosea’s wife
We are squandering this life
Using people like ladders and words like knives

[CHORUS]
If we’ve eyes to see
If we’ve ears to hear
To find it in our hearts and mouths
The word that saves is near
Shed that shallow skin
Come and live again
Leave all you were before
To believe is to begin

There is truth in little corners of our lives
There are hints of it in songs and children’s eyes
It’s familiar, like an ancient lullaby
What do I live for?

We are Hosea’s wife
We are squandering this life
Using bodies like money and truth like lies

[CHORUS]

[Bridge]
We are more than dust
That means something
That means something
We are more than just
Blood and emotions
Inklings and notions
Atoms on oceans

Book Review: John

“John (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary)” by R.C. Sproul

I was excited to learn that Dr. Sproul was writing a series of new commentaries. He has long been one of my favorite theologians, and is one of the clearest teachers of Scripture that I have encountered. I was a bit concerned, however, that his commentaries might be somewhat more “intellectual” than many of his other books. Often in his lectures, he operates on a different mental plane than most mere mortals!

So it was much to my relief to see that this commentary was very approachable and easy to read. In fact, it is possibly the most accessible book of its type that I’ve seen. I especially appreciated the format of this book.

Rather than write a verse-by-verse exposition, as many commentators do, Sproul has broken John’s gospel into 57 chapters, focusing on individual events and encounters. He then writes his commentary in a very conversational style, often relaying personal stories and analogies to help teach the text. This writing style lends this commentary to reading just like one might read any other typical book, rather than requiring strenuous study like many other commentaries. It is highly recommended for students of Scripture at any level of spiritual maturity or theological experience! Buy it here.

Book Review: What Is the Gospel

“What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert

What is the gospel? One would expect this question to have a short, simple answer, considering that Christians everywhere devote themselves to proclaiming “the gospel” (the word means “good news”). We proclaim the gospel because Jesus did it (Mark 1:14-15). We proclaim the gospel because Jesus told us to do it (Mark 16:15). We proclaim the gospel because Paul told us it is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). We proclaim the gospel because Peter told us it is the means by which the spiritually dead may live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 4:6). So… what is the gospel?

As Gilbert quickly shows us, the answer to this question may not be as simple as we might expect. He tells us: “Ask any hundred self-professed evangelical Christians what the good news of Jesus is, and you’re likely to get about sixty different answers.” He then shares just twelve examples (many of which are mutually exclusive) of definitions of “the gospel” taken from various evangelical websites, books, and ministry publications. The fact that these definitions are mutually exclusive means that they can’t all be right… which means that at least some (if not many) self-professed evangelical Christians are wrong about the evangel — the gospel.

Because of this fact, a book like this one has been desperately needed. Gilbert moves quickly but clearly through what the Bible tells us about the greatest news anyone could ever hear. To do this, though, he backs up to provide the context for our understanding of the gospel.

He begins by defending the authority of the Bible. Without the Bible, there is no gospel. But the Bible has no authority unless it is entirely and inerrantly true. Thus, we must believe everything the Bible tells us about the gospel, or nothing at all. We can’t pick and choose.

Next is the reasoning for God’s authority. As our Creator, He has the divine right to make up the rules, and to hold us accountable to them. Again, we don’t get to pick and choose what we believe about God. We must believe what the Bible says about Him. So while He is indeed a God of love and mercy (no one has a problem with these attributes) He is also a God of holiness and judgment. Contrary to the teaching of many popular preachers, judgment of sin and sinners is not incompatible with love and mercy. If fact, it is precisely because God loves righteousness that he must judge and condemn sin.

The next step in this systematic examination of the gospel message is the Fall of Man. God created man in a state of righteousness and relationship with Himself, but Adam screwed up. He chose to disobey God’s will, condemning the entire human race to lives of sin and separation from God. Furthermore, each and every human who has ever lived — save One! — has compounded this guilt by continuously sinning against a holy God. For this, each and every man, woman, and child deserves death and eternal separation from our Creator.

So far, all we’ve got is bad news…

But praise God! He has offered us a Way to be reconciled in our relationship with Him! He has offered a Way for us to be judged for our sin and found Not Guilty! Knowing what we know about God’s holiness and man’s sin, the pursuit of this Way and its proclamation to the world ought to be our singular pursuit in this life, should it not?

Gilbert shows us in Scripture why it was necessary for Christ to die for our sins. Why He was the only possible Way for a holy God to overlook our sins and declare us innocent. Why Jesus had to be both fully God and fully man. Why we cannot contribute anything at all to our own salvation. Why His death would have meant nothing for us if He had not risen from the grave and ascended to Heaven. This is the very “heart of the gospel”, yet each of these Truths are denied by many professing Christians! To profess the true gospel, however, we must profess the entire gospel. Leaving out any part of it leaves us with only bad news.

Following this description of Christ’s work and the redemption it accomplished, Gilbert shows us the Christian’s appropriate (and inevitable) response: faith & repentance. These are “two sides of the same coin”; we cannot have one without the other. Our works do not save us, but they are the evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. A saved person WILL bear fruit. This fruit is the renunciation and hatred of our sin, and a total commitment to relying on God’s power to live as we are called, even in the face of suffering and persecution.

But what benefit is it to the Christian to endure this suffering and persecution? We endure because we look forward to the promise of the kingdom of God and the blessings that come with it. Gilbert shows us that this kingdom is really more of a kingship; it is “God’s redemptive rule, reign, and authority over those redeemed by Jesus.” This is a kingdom that is both already and not yet here. That is, it is partially fulfilled right now, and we share in some of its blessings in this life. We already have fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the Church. Satan is already bound (but not yet destroyed; Matthew 12:29). We are already adopted into God’s family (Romans 8:15). We are already raised and seated on high with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). But the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom is yet future. Christ is coming again, and when He does, sin, death, and Satan will be finally destroyed. We will spend eternity in perfect fellowship with God and all the saints (Revelation 22:4-5). There will be no more suffering or sorrow (Revelation 21:4). This is our great hope (Titus 2:13)!

The last two chapters deal with ways in which many professing believers substitute something that is less than the gospel in place of the true gospel. Three examples (though there are more) are (1) “Jesus is Lord” — the teaching that God is supreme ruler and judge, with no mention of the redeeming work of the cross; (2) “Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation” — the teaching that God created the world “good”, that the relationship of man with God is broken, and that God is coming again to repair that relationship and restore the goodness of creation, with the exclusion of how this is accomplished and how man can be included in that restoration; and (3) “Cultural Transformation” — the teaching that our ultimate purpose is to change the world by following Jesus’ example, as opposed to finding our ultimate fulfillment in the transforming work of Christ. The common thread in each of these particular examples is that they are all partially true. Jesus is Lord. The Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation narrative is a good outline of the Bible’s main story line. We are called to live holy lives as modeled by Jesus Christ, resisting evil and promoting good in our culture. However, when the stumbling block of the cross is removed, we remove the only possible bridge between God and Man.

This is contrasted in the final chapter with a display of the power of the true gospel. The gospel message can, does, and will change the world! It begins in the heart of every believer, causing us to repent of our sins, believe in Christ, rest in the assurance of our salvation, love Christ’s people, love the lost, long for the Lord’s return, and proclaim the gospel until He does!

As it turns out, the gospel really is quite simple. However, simple does not equal easy. The radical message of redemption requires a cost that we don’t want to pay, so we seek ways to make the gospel “comfortable” or “relevant” for our lives and our culture. This is no gospel at all. Thank the Lord for His infinite wisdom and mercy in providing the true gospel, and revealing it in its simplicity in the Scripture! May He anoint each of us with power from the Holy Spirit to live our lives in the shadow of the cross, and to proclaim the gospel to our neighbors and all nations!

Buy this book here.

What Exactly Is Judeo-Christianity?

In John 4, after the Samaritan woman at the well perceived that Jesus was a prophet, she asked him a question about worship:

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you (meaning the Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20)

The Jews and Samaritans had common ancestors (the woman mentions “our father Jacob” in verse 12), and shared many religious practices and beliefs about God. Yet there had been a point of divergence (the Samaritans were products of Jews intermarrying with Assyrians, which God had forbidden), and now the Jews and Samaritans had “no dealings” with one another (verse 9). Each believed that the other wrongly worshiped the Father, and this woman wanted to hear from Jesus which group had gotten it right.

His answer is surprising:

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 4:21)

Rather than give his approval of the worship of either the Samaritans or the Jews, Jesus says that soon both forms of worship will be incorrect! While he goes on in verse 22 to say that “salvation is from the Jews” — not from the Samaritans — he then says again “the hour is coming” but adds the all-important “and is now here” as he describes the type of worshipers God is truly seeking: Those who will “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (verse 23). This is followed (in verse 26) by the earth-shattering declaration that He is the promised Messiah for whom both Samaritans and Jews had been waiting!

In the next few chapters of John’s gospel, we begin to see Jesus taking on the Jewish system directly. In no uncertain terms, he made claims of being the Messiah, for which the Jews sought to kill him (John 5:18). He told them that they had completely misunderstood the purpose of the Scriptures they had been teaching, because “they bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me” (5:39-40). He wasn’t finished yet!

Because they did not receive Jesus, he said, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you” (John 5:42). Though they knew God’s Word intimately, it did not abide in them (verse 38), and they did not believe it, evidenced by the fact that they did not believe Jesus (verse 46).

These are Jews! These are God’s chosen people! Even more, these are Pharisees… those who “knew” the Scriptures better than anyone. Their entire lives were dedicated to upholding God’s Word and living it out. How could Jesus say they didn’t know, understand, or believe it? But wait: It gets worse.

In chapter 8, Jesus levels his most pointed criticism against the Pharisees. After an exchange in which Jesus tells them that they are enslaved by their sins (though the truth could set them free!), and they respond by saying they are Abraham’s children and have never been enslaved, Jesus tells them they are, in fact, NOT children of Abraham, nor of God.

One can imagine the smugness in the voice of the Pharisees, as they boast in the purity of their bloodline.

We were not born of sexual immorality (unlike the Samaritans). We have one Father — even God.” (John 8:41)

The same Jesus who brandished a whip in the Jewish temple (John 2:15) yet lamented the wandering of His beloved people (Matthew 23:37), answered them:

If God were your father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:42-43)

And then the bombshell:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… you are not of God.” (John 8:44-47)

Jesus is clear. Because the Jewish people have rejected the Messiah, they are not God’s people. Paul expounded further on this in his letter to the Galatians. Hear what he says about the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham:

  • It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7)
  • It is “in Christ Jesus the blessing might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:14)
  • In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26)
  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:28-29)
  • Through Christ “We might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (4:5-7)
  • The Jews of Paul’s day (“the present Jerusalem”) were “in slavery” (4:25)
  • Meanwhile, the believers (both Jew and Gentile) “are children of the promise” (4:28)

The coming hour of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman — in which true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and NOT according to the traditions and teachings of the Jews — arrived 2000 years ago. The distinction between children of the promise and those living in slavery to sin is not the blood of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, but faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.

This has implications for us today. One of the biggest buzzwords in American politics — particularly the right wing variety — is “Judeo-Christian”. What exactly is meant by this phrase?

Does it mean that we worship the same God? Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jews who don’t worship Jesus as God do not worship His Father. They worship a false god, taking the Lord’s name in vain every time they pray to YHWH.

Does it mean that we have a common ancestry? If so, we might as well start using the term “Judeo-Christian-Islamic”, because Muslims trace their lineage to Abraham as well. In fact, this term has been around for quite a while, and many are calling for its increased use (and note that the linked article is by a Baptist).

Does it mean we share common values? While it is true that both Jews and Christians derive many of our values from the Law of Moses (and particularly the Ten Commandments), all of the “value” in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. After all, it was written about him! If we reduce the value of the Old Testament to mere “morals” and “values”, we will have missed the point of the Scriptures every bit as much as the Pharisees that Jesus berated.

I worry when I hear professing Christians talk about our nation’s “Judeo-Christian values” or “Judeo-Christian heritage”. I worry because this presents a problem on two levels.

First, it reduces “Christianity” to a moralistic religious system that has no need for Christ’s atoning work. It is a huge step on the road to pluralism.

Second, it makes it sound as if American Christians (and Jews?) are entitled to something simply because of the faith of our ancestors. As if things should always go our way simply because our nation was founded on Christian principles (and even this can be debated).

In short, this type of “Christianity” is no Christianity at all. It has become nothing more than a 21st-century version of 1st-century Judaism; a group of people arrogantly and self-righteously professing to be God’s people but having no understanding of the Scriptures we claim to revere (And if you think that’s harsh, you should hear Mark Driscoll rant about it).

Brothers, “Judeo-Christian” is a bogus, nonsense term that has no place in the Christian’s vocabulary. Instead of simply parroting back the vernacular of political pundits, let us use the opportunities that arise when we hear this term to bring God glory by proclaiming the Cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah for Jew and Gentile alike!