History can repeat itself.
History can repeat itself.
All eyes are on Baltimore, Maryland this week as dangerous riots have broken out this week in response to the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police.
But in case you haven’t been paying attention here is a sample of headlines.
“Huge fires set across Baltimore as Freddie Gray rioters torch city, loot stores and injure fifteen police officers as violence rages into the night and local politicians are left turning on each other .” – Daily Mail
The liberal response tends to be to condemn social injustice and perceived racism within the system, siding with the rioters. The conservative approach tends to condemn the lawlessness of the rioters thus siding with the police. What however is the appropriate response? Here are a couple verses to think about:
Isaiah 10:1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression
Exodus 23:1-3 You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.
Judges 21:25 In those days …everyone did what was right in his own eyes
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
The problem is both in the system and in the individual. We as a culture have rejected God’s rule. We rebel against His law. Instead of God as our highest authority, we have decided to be an authority unto ourselves. We are a people who worship idols, do every type of sexual perversion, hate our brothers, have greedy and covetous hearts, dishonor our parents, neglect our children, and elect people who approve of all the previous to be our leaders. We have individuals who reject God’s commandments and a government which does the same. This inevitably leads to injustice.
Instead of a government of laws that upholds God’s rule we have a government of man’s rule. GK Chesterson once said ““When you break the big laws you do not get freedom. You do not even get anarchy. You get small laws.” We get a ton of small laws. When we break God’s commands we don’t get freedom, we get enslavement. When we set up ourselves as lawgiver, we get law upon law upon unjust law.
Looking now at Baltimore, we see that the blame goes to both sides. We area people who are rebellious. We have a government which makes unjust laws. Rebellious people rebel against the unjust laws. The police, made up of people with sinful hearts, are tasked with cracking down and enforcing these human laws. In the process, some police act as a law unto themselves as well. This leads to more injustice and more rebellion. There is enough blame to around.
The gospel is the answer. God sent His son to live a Holy law-fulfilling life. He willingly took upon himself the shame and guilt of our rebellion. God was pleased to put on Christ the punishment that we deserve. Christ died as our substitute. He defeated death in his resurrection. He therefore ascended to heaven, to the throne, where he reigns as priest and king. We need to repent of trying to be a law unto ourselves. We need to repent of our disobedience. We need to lay down our arms and quit our war against God. He will then enable us to live Holy law-fulfilling lives as well. He will enable us to govern our lives by His law. We will then reform ourself as an individual, our families, our culture, and our government.
Paul says of God’s law in Romans 7:12 “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” God’s law in the whole of the Bible is just. It is good for both individual and for our government. Psalm 19 says that God’s law is perfect. God is concerned with justice. He has revealed in His word what the true and just path is. As long as we as individuals and as a nation refuse to have Christ as Lord, we will see more of Baltimore. The answer is not lawless rioting nor is it tyrannical government. The answer is submitting to Christ. The answer for Baltimore, Ferguson, the United States, and the world is the gospel. May we embrace it.
(The following is a book review of Christopher Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.)
In the second century A.D., Marcion of Sinope was rightly declared a heretic for rejecting the Old Testament scripture and declaring that the New Testament had a different God than the Old. Unfortunately in our current culture, there are many who have adopted a subtle version of this heresy. Many in the contemporary church have a very low view of the Old Testament, and tend to somehow think that Jesus came to do away with it. Christopher Wright makes it clear in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament that far from coming to do away with the Old Testament, Jesus comes from within the Old Testament framework. The Old Testament provides the background for so much of Christ’s teaching and mission. Yet it does more in that Jesus came to fulfill and uphold all that the Old Testament taught.
In reading the Old Testament, we are reading the very words of God. As Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable…(2 Timothy 3:16-17).” The Old Testament contains the commands of God, the mission of God, and the promises of God. These are the words Jesus read. These are the stories, songs, and commands that Jesus memorized. Wright says that, “In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.” This is the thesis of Wright’s book. The more we understand the Old Testament the better we will understand Jesus and the more we understand Jesus the better we will understand the Old Testament. Wright works to show this through how the Old Testament story, promises, and mission find their completion in Christ. Wright also shows how Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man is based upon revelation found in the Hebrew scripture. Lastly, Wright shows that far from coming to abolish the Old Testament commands and ethic, Jesus comes to uphold and re-establish those commands through Christ’s own ethical teaching.
Before digging into each of Wright’s chapters and main points, it might be helpful to say something here about the hermeneutic that he uses. While this book is not on hermeneutics per sey, Wright, as do all theologians who write books, uses a hermeneutic principle as he interprets the scriptures. Wright dismisses allegorical schools of interpretation that would seek to spiritualize the words of the Old Testament. He does, however, acknowledge typology, though he does have some reservations about how typology has been used in the past. He says that typology has been abused in the past by those who would seek to find a type in every passage or story of the Old Testament. For Wright, to use typology properly is to understand “Christ and the various events and experiences surrounding him in the New Testament by analogy or correspondence with the historical realities of the Old Testament seen as patterns or models.”
For Wright, the Old Testament is not primarily “a promise box full of blessed predictions about Jesus.” It is a story from real history with promises that only make sense in relation to that history. Wright’s hermeneutic will be firmly grounded then in historical grammatical interpretation. However, it is not historical-grammatical interpretation alone but historical-grammatical in light of redemption history. Therefore for Wright, “first of all, we must affirm whatever significance a particular event had in terms of Israel’s own experience of God and faith in him.” That is the grammatical-historical part of the hermeneutic. And for the redemptive historical aspect Wright says, “Second, however, we may legitimately see in the Old Testament event additional levels of significance in the light of the end of the story—that is, in the light of Christ.” Thirdly for Wright and possibly the most important aspect is that “the Old Testament event may provide levels of significance to our full understanding of all that Christ was and said and did.”
Much more could be said about the hermeneutic used but that would fall outside of the scope of this review. It does seem to be a healthy correction to both those who would over emphasis typology or allegory and those who would see no typology. One should be careful however that this correction does not go too far in the opposite direction. The entire Bible ultimately has God as its divine author. He has seen the beginning from the end. We also know from Peter’s letters that the Old Testament human authors were writing down things for our benefit. Wright seems a little hesitate for example to say that Genesis 3:15 refers specifically to Jesus, though he says that it ultimately finds its completion in Christ. This hesitation to see this as a direct reference to Christ seems to be unfounded in light of God as the primary author of all of scripture. That minor critique aside, let us now turn to each of Wright’s main points.
It makes sense that Wright would begin his look at Jesus with what is often called the Hebrew gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. Many people skip the genealogies but Matthew had a purpose in starting his account with one. Matthew wants to show that Jesus did not just show up on the scene out of the blue. Jesus is the one who all of the Old Testament was anticipating, the Messiah. This genealogy therefore shows that Jesus has a legitimate claim to this title. In recounting this lineage Matthew is also recounting the story of Israel. “So when we turn the page from the Old to the New Testament, we find a link between the two that is more important than the attention we usually give it. . . The Old Testament tells the story that Jesus completes.”
Wright then recounts the story of the Old Testament. Central to this story are the covenants. Wright seems to deviate from traditional covenant theology, in that he does not see an Adamic covenant. He doesn’t spend a lot of time at this point, so it is hard to tell if he is rejecting the implied “covenant of works” in the Garden of Eden or the idea of a post-fall covenant with Adam that is the beginning of the “covenant of grace.” It not being his main point to come up with a complete covenantal theology, it will be too difficult to supply a full critique for this review. Wright’s main point is to show that Adam sinned in the garden and man fell. God does show grace to Adam and Eve in supplying a covering for their bodies and promising that the seed of the woman would defeat the serpent.
Skipping forward to the Abrahamic covenant, we see part of what may be called Wrights secondary thesis for the book. “The main point of God’s promise to Abram was not merely that he would have a son and then descendants who would be especially blessed by God. God also promised that through the people of Abram God would bring blessing to all nations of the earth.” A theme of Wright’s writings in other books and clearly in this book is the mission of God throughout the Bible. God chose Israel so that they would be a blessing to all nations. Jesus’ mission then is tied to that blessing.
The story of the Old Testament is tied to this election of Abraham and his descendents. Wright rightfully sees that the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works but one of grace. God had saved his people from slavery and chosen to enter covenant with them as a nation. He would be their God in relationship with them. “It is important to see that this covenant was based on what God had already done for them. God’s grace and redemptive action came first.” Their obedience to law did not allow them to enter the covenant but was to come from response to God’s grace. This obedience would enable them to complete their mission and calling to the nations. Israel was often reminded that while they were chosen it was not because of anything in them but because of God’s love and purpose.
But we see that the people did not and could not live up to this mission. They fell into sin and idolatry. Even after periods of great blessing through the kingdom of David and Solomon, the people did not remember their commitment. God who had a concern for justice within the society, sent prophets to call His people back to Him and remind them of this commitment. Wright makes several points about this concern of God for justice and righteousness.
God’s moral concern is not only individual (though the masses of individual stories show that it certainly does claim every individual) but also social.” God evaluates the moral health of society as a whole, from international treaties to market economies, from military strategy to local court procedures, from national politics to the local.
These same concerns show up in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. We also see in the New Testament that in fact the death and resurrection of Jesus was a victory over all authorities.
At the cross Jesus defeated all the evil forces that bind and enslave human beings, corrupt and distort human life, and warp, pollute and frustrate the very creation itself. That victory is an essential part of the biblical “good news.” And applying that victory to every dimension of human life on earth is the task of Christian mission.
Jesus comes at the end of this Old Testament story. The people of Israel had failed to live up to their mission. They had been taken into captivity and now brought back into the land. However the people were still not fulfilling this purpose. They were still under the rule of the Romans. The New Testament opens up with Jesus into this story.
Having gone through the Old Testament story leading to the birth of Christ, Wright now turns his attention to going back through that story and pulling out major themes and points of contact with Christ. The first aspect of this is to pay attention to how Jesus fulfills the promise of the Old Testament. Again going back through the beginning of Matthew, Wright highlights five scenes from Jesus’ childhood and how Matthew claims that all these events fulfill scripture. In using this fulfillment theme, “Matthew clearly wants his readers to see that Jesus was not only the completion of the Old Testament story at a historical level, as his genealogy portrays, but also that he was in a deeper sense its fulfillment.”
How does Jesus provide this fulfillment? Are these texts mentioned by Matthew direct prophecies of Christ or does Matthew have something different in mind when highlighting these texts? Wright shows that these texts in their original context do not seem to be prophecies on the surface. Instead it seems that Matthew is working back from events that happened in the life of Jesus to certain texts in which in light of Christ they contain a deeper significance. Wright follows his hermeneutic mentioned above to show that the Old Testament events are in some way types but also that they point forward to a greater promise and fulfillment. This section was very helpful in seeing, for example, how Jesus could fulfill something such as the text of Hosea.
He is not suggesting that the Hosea text was a prediction. His point is simply that what God had done for his people Israel—in fact the greatest thing God had done for them—had its counterpart, even in a purely physical sense, in the life of Jesus.
Continuing, Wright explains that what makes the the exodus and the return from exile so important to the Old Testament story is that even though they in and among themselves were awesome examples of God’s grace in history, they were more than that. “Both events were utterly saturated in promise.” This promise is what Jesus is fulfilling. All of the Old Testament points forward to the promise of God beginning in the garden and continuing through Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets. This promise, according to Wright, is more than prediction because unlike a prediction, a promise involves a relationship. This promise to make of Abraham a great nation so as to bless the entire world is fulfilled in Christ. Again coming back to Wright’s theme of mission in the Bible, the promise is to fulfill this mission.
Wright is very helpful in clearing up some misconceptions people have about the Old Testament. He points out that salvation has always been by grace in both the New and the Old Testament:
Some people have the idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the Old salvation is by obeying the law whereas in the New it is by grace. But that sets up a totally false contrast. In the Old as in the New, it is God who takes the initiative of grace and calls people to faith and obedient response.
He also points out that there is a conditional element to this promise that requires our response. God’s promise requires our faith and obedience. Wright drives home that our response is vital. He does not mince words. Our faithful obedience is necessary. However, Wright should note that part of what makes the new covenant so glorious is that it enables what the old couldn’t, our faith and obedience. In Christ, we are transformed. We are justified not by any of our merit but by Christ’s faithful obedience. We are imputed his righteous obedience. Jesus fulfilled the obligation that we could not. He also however enables us with the Holy Spirit now to respond in faith and obedience. God then fulfills the promise and demands of the covenant. This does not in any way diminish our responsible to respond in obedient faith. It does however provide the way that this is even possible.
One further note on the promise from Wright’s view is important to highlight. Wright does an excellent job of explaining the nature of the land promises in Jesus. Using the story of a father who in the days before the invention of the automobile promises his son a horse when he turns twenty-one, but gives the son a newly invented automobile instead, Wright tries to show that the promises in Christ are expanded and better than what could be imagined in the Old Testament. While the analogy is not perfect there is truth to the fact that in Christ the promises are expanded and better. One point of contention is that in the book of Hebrews, it seems to say that Abraham and those in the Old Testament were aware that the promises were larger than just a promise to a plot of land in the Middle East. The question that always arises is: how much did the Old Testament saints understand about the promise? A good case based upon statements from Jesus and other New Testament books can be made that they knew more than what we often want to allow that they knew. That said it is important to see that instead of a plot of land in the Middle East, the meek now inherit the earth. The promise is not limited by national boundaries but all of the earth belongs to those in Christ.
Next, Wright continues into the book of Matthew to Jesus’ baptism. Here the voice of God proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. Wright now moves to answer what it means for Christ to be the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Messiah. Going again through the Old Testament we see that each of these titles have precedent. Sonship of God is something said of both Israel as a nation and of its king. The king in particular enjoyed a son-like relationship with God. He was a representative of God’s rule and was required to be obedient to the divine King. This idea of sonship is also linked to the idea of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah. This link is especially prevalent in Jesus. Jesus is the representative of God. He is the King and he is the obedient servant. “Similarly, obedience was the link with the allusion to Isaac, as the one willing to be sacrificed, even as the only son of a loving father.” Kingship, servanthood, and service are built into the calling of Jesus.
Wright looks at this sonship theme in four ways. First he sees how the parent-child relationship actually works in Israel’s society. Next he shows how the metaphor undergirded the covenant concept. Third, he shows how sonship generates hope and expectation. Fourthly, Wright sees that idea is broadened and given eschatological flavor. This leads us to see that Jesus as the Son of God is one who represents Israel. Where Israel failed at being this Son, Jesus is God’s true son who would succeed in completing this mission. Wright also correctly points out that “(i)n an eternal sense, of course, Jesus always was, is and always will be God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.”
More can be said about this chapter but I would like to quickly highlight an excellent section of it. Some have argued that Christians should not be involved with politics. They argue from both a faulty view of eschatology and from a faulty of view of Christ’s mission.
But for the present it will be enough to say that if Jesus had intended only to talk about a purely spiritual revival in an otherworldly framework with no relevance to the seething politics of his day, then he went about it in a very strange way. So many of the words and actions of Jesus were so challenging to the political authorities that they executed him as a political threat. But to argue that because he did not preach violent politics he was therefore uninterested in politics at all is absurd. Nonviolent is not simply nonpolitical—now or then. No, the difference between Jesus and his contemporaries was not that he was purely spiritual while they were political (a modern kind of dichotomy that would probably not have made much sense in Jesus’ world anyway). The problem was that his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God in the present did have profound political and national consequences for the old order of Jewish society that were too radical and final for its leaders to tolerate.
Jesus indeed was political and the gospel has implications for all aspects of life. Jesus being the Messiah King has enormous practical applications that Christians should be working through. We will see in the next two chapters how this works out in Christ’s mission and ethical teaching.
We have seen how Jesus comes within the historical story of the Old Testament, how the Old Testament promises of His coming, and how the Old Testament provides the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, King, and Son of God. Now we are at what is the heart of Wright’s message. We are now looking at why Jesus came. What was his mission? This mission is tied up in all of the previous chapters. It is what the story, promises, and identity point to. We see that each of these things are tied up in the expectations of the Messiah. To be sure there were some expectations that had developed during the inter-testamental period that were unfounded, but there were clear expectations set forth by scripture.
Again Wright points out that the mission is tied to the covenant and mission of Israel. Israel was to be a nation of priests and kings for the rest of the world. In Israel’s faith and obedience the rest of the world was supposed to marvel and give glory to God. But further than that, the scriptures declare that the nations would stream to Israel and its God. Thus the goal of the Old Testament is world missions. It is a turning back of sin and a recreating of the world in righteousness. It is a restoration from the fall. All people and even nature itself was awaiting this mission. Wright explains that Israel was awaiting its restoration and the ingathering of the nations. This was seen in eschatological terms as the final great act of God, the Day of the Lord. This was what the kingdom of God was all about.
Jesus’ mission is launched by John’s mission “to identify, through his call for repentance and baptism, the remnant of Israel who, by responding, was destined for cleansing and restoration as the true, eschatological people of God.” Wright says that
The fact that Jesus accepted and endorsed the ministry of John the Baptist and launched his own ministry on the foundation of John’s shows that Jesus also saw his own mission in terms of the fulfillment of the great expectations of the restoration of Israel. If John was the one who had been sent to prepare Israel for its eschatological restoration by God himself, then Jesus was the one who had been sent to accomplish it.
There was something deep about Christ’s coming. We then see that Jesus preaches that the kingdom is at hand and is here. This means that the promises from the psalms of restoration had entered in history. We then see in Christ’s death the atonement for sin and in the resurrection the victory over it. Christ then tells his disciples that authority in both heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Jesus is not just King over some nebulous spiritual realm. He is Lord and King over all reality. He then tells his disciples to take that good news worldwide.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were to bear witness among the nations of God’s saving and redeeming rule. They failed but Jesus the true Israel and Son of God did not. Now in Christ we are fulfilling this mission.
Jesus was launched by a revival movement for the restoration of Israel. He himself launched a movement for the blessing of the nations. Jesus, therefore, was the hinge, the vital link between the two great movements. He was the climax and fulfillment of the hope of Israel and the beginning of the hope of the nations
This is incredibly good news. Sin can be forgiven and lives changed. Through this gospel, individuals, families, cultures and entire nations can be changed. We are called to a part of it.
Sometimes our eschatology hinders this. A pessimistic view of history and the future can lead people to see themselves as just holding on until being rescued out. Dispensationalism with its view of a secret rapture has led many Christians to avoid being salt and light in a real way in the culture at large. Why bother polishing brass on a sinking ship? Premillennial views miss this glorious picture of the kingdom of God. They miss the message that Jesus brought that in Him the kingdom of God had actually come. The promises of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets were coming true in Christ’s day. He was bringing the kingdom then and not at some later date. Amillennialism also fails on this same part. It misses the progressive growth of the kingdom into victory promised throughout the Old Testament and in Jesus’ teaching. Ultimately it is the Postmillennial view that accurately sees this thread of mission and victory woven throughout scripture. The Postmillennial view has always been such a great fuel for missions. No wonder the period that we often call the Greatest Century of Missionary advance was also the time in which the Postmillennial view was the dominant one.
We have seen how the Old Testament provided the story, purpose, identity and mission of Jesus. Jesus had come to fulfill the mission of Israel to be a light to the nations. He did this through perfect obedience and by being a sacrificial atonement for the sins of His people. Through Jesus those who were far off are now made near to God. Those born genetically Jewish and those born genetically Gentile are now in Christ united together as the true Israel of God. They are now called and enabled to continue the mission of Christ. Jesus commands his followers to share the good news of the gospel of the kingdom by making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching these new disciples to obey all that he commanded.
Wright now turns to these commandments and shows that Jesus’ commands are not a new or different law than what was revealed in the Old Testament. In Matthew, Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Wright here does not go into a complete exposition on Matthew 5 but does make it clear that Jesus is not ending the requirements of the law. Greg Bahnsen wrote a complete exegesis of this passage. He says in “Theonomy in Christian Ethics, “fulfill” should be taken to mean “confirm and restore in full measure”. Wright’s view is similar. Wright says that Jesus taught the validity of the law and made a point to correct misapplications and notions in his opponents. Christ in his teaching thus is restoring the full measure of the law.
In fact the nations are described as waiting for him to bring the law (Torah) and justice (mishpat) of God to them. In other words, the Servant has the task of making real to the rest of humanity the whole package of ethical values and social priorities that God had entrusted to Israel. Being a “light to the nations” includes this moral teaching dimension as well as the extending of the saving light of the covenant.
Wright explains that Jesus is not concerned merely with outward conformity to laws. This is not new to the New Testament, because in the revealing of the law in the Old Testament we see that God is concerned with “the whole shape of a person and society, the inner drives of the heart, the direction of the walk of life. “
It is important to realize that our justification and right standing with God does not come by our obedience but by the grace of God. Our obedience is only made possible by this grace. “The repeated command is to obey God’s laws wholeheartedly, since that is the way to life and blessing for a people who have already experienced God’s redemption.” The law is and never was a way to salvation. It is intended to show how those who are redeemed live.
Wright works through several motivations for keeping the law that Christians have. First as said above, obedience flows from gratitude for grace—in both Old and New Testaments. Another powerful motive is that the law is for our own benefit. The assumption behind this kind of motivation is that God, as the creator of human beings, knows best what kind of social patterns will contribute to human well-being.” God’s law used lawfully is good and protecting of life. Living by God’s commands will generally bring benefit and happiness. A society built around these commands will generally prosper while a country in disobedience will find judgment.
The reality of God’s rule cannot be spiritualized into heaven (now or later) or privatized into individuals. Of course, it does have spiritual and personal dimensions, which are fundamental also. We are called to submit to God’s reign in our individual lives. But the term itself speaks of the aligning of human life on earth, in all its dimensions, with the will of the divine government of God. To pray “may your kingdom come” is to pray “may your will be done on earth as in heaven.” The one must produce the other. . .To enter the kingdom of God means to submit oneself to the rule of God, and that means a fundamental reorientation of one’s ethical commitments and values into line with the priorities and character of the God revealed in the Scriptures. The point of being Israel and living as the people of Yahweh was to make the universal reign of God local and visible in its whole structure of religious, social, economic and political life. It was to manifest in practical reality what it meant to live, as well as to sing, “the LORD reigns.”
Wright cannot be accused of having a truncated view of the gospel. The Gospel saves sinners and souls. The Gospel does not stop there though. As people are saved their lives are changed. This change will naturally work itself out into every area of life. More can be said of this positive view of the law for the Christian life but the interested reader would be encouraged to seek out more along this work in the writings of Greg Bahnsen, RJ Rushdooney, or Gary North. You can find must more at Chalcedon, The American Vision, and Apologia Radio.
Wright’s work here is an excellent introduction to Jesus through the Old Testament. There is not much to be critical of. Wright’s theme of mission through the Bible is refreshing as is his view that the law of God is still applicable today. Of course there will be exegetical work to do to see where in the New Testament we are told that some parts of the law, i.e. the ceremonial aspect have a changed application in Christ. Work will need to be done to see what part of the law was a shadow of Christ such as the sacrifices. Another refreshing theme of Wright is that he has a whole life perspective of the gospel. The gospel will have impact on economics and politics along with our spiritual lives.
One area that Wright could improve on is to be very clear about is the doctrines of grace. It is not that he does not acknowledge grace through faith alone but one can never overestimate the value of this doctrine. The biggest area of improvement is the lack of footnotes or endnotes. He does have a bibliography at the end but it would have been helpful to be able to track his research along with him.
Overall the book provides good insight into why Christians are to be the people of the book, both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus without the Old Testament is not Jesus. His mission, identity, and ethics get lost when we neglect to see how he comes into the Biblical story with its promises. This teaching is vital today in which Jesus is often ripped from his context to support all manners of evil. Wright is correct, the better we understand the Old Testament the better we understand Jesus.
 Bahnsen Greg, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd Ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 67.
Tomorrow morning is Saturday morning, the day where most people look forward to so that they can sleep in. It’s not like I enjoy hearing the alarm go off at 5:45 A.M. I hit the snooze once or twice before rolling out of bed, hopping into the shower half awake, getting dressed and heading out to the car. Putting the car into reverse so I can back out of the apartment parking lot, I look forward to the day when this will not be necessary. I turn the music up and collect my thoughts as I try to prepare for what will be a battle. It’s not that long of a drive before I turn onto Market Street in Louisville, KY. The sun is still coming up but this street already has plenty of action. Lining the sidewalk dressed in blaze orange vests, the deathscorts have already beat me to some of the best parking spots. What motivates the orange vests to come out every Saturday is a bit of a mystery to me. They are faithful in a way that puts to shame a lot of those on my side including myself. I drive past looking for a parking spot as they are lined up in front of the death mill.
It is an unsuspecting place, 138 West Market Street. The official name is the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, a name that masks its actual purpose. The initials in the title stand for the last name of the three co-founders of the place. Two of them have already passed on to see their maker; the third still lives an exuberant lifestyle that the money from this place can provide. Just as understated as the name is the look of the building. It has an awning that extends from over two glass doors to the sidewalk and two windows with the blinds drawn. There is really nothing from the looks of the outside that would draw much attention to the horrific acts that occur inside.
Every Saturday morning, actually every day except Sunday, women come to EMW to have their pre-born child slaughtered. So I find my usual parking spot and head out of the car. I meet up with a few other like-minded Christians, though there are far too few of us here. We pray and ask our Father in Heaven to shut this place. We ask God to change the hearts of the women and men who come to this place. Around 7 AM, the doors to the death mill open up. Fortunately there are not any official parking places for customers of EMW so most of them have to park on the road and walk a distance to get to it. And this is why I am there. I notice a brand new Camaro sports car pull up to a parking meter. Inside is a man dressed in designer clothing and a young lady dressed in sweats. Both of them get out the car. I approach, with the hope of being able to offer assistance and some persuasive words that will help them decide not to go the abortion mill.
Before I can get out the words “my name is,” two of the orange vested people barge in front of me. They do everything they can to try to ensure that the couple will not hear anything that I or other sidewalk counselors have to say. And so begins the march to the death camp. We walk beside the couple, pleading for the life of their child. The deathscorts sometimes mock and sometimes swear. Every once in a while a new deathscort will get too excited and try pushing us or use force in some other way. Often those who are heading in to kill their child will get angry at someone pointing out the obvious fact that they are heading in to kill their child. I am not motivated out of hate for them. I love them and their child. I do hate though. I hate that they are going to pay someone with the title “doctor” to tear their baby limb from limb. I hate that Satan has so blinded the minds of the deathscorts that they actually think they are doing good instead of evil. I hate that this place exists. I hate having to get up early Saturday Morning.
I love Christ, my King, however. He has commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He has called us to stand up and speak out for those who have no voice. He has called us to speak out against injustice. So I stand with signs, tracts, and other believers. We call to those headed toward death. We call for them to turn back. We offer assistance. And most importantly we offer the good news that Christ died for them so that they do not have to continue on the path to destruction.
This particular Saturday, twenty-five women go into the clinic. The deathscorts take off their orange vests and go home, job well done. They don’t have to think about the guilt and pain those women will feel later that day, later that week, later that month, and for years after. Twenty-five women will have their womb robbed of the precious joy that God created, twenty-five mothers who through their own actions will not experience the joy of their little one smiling up at them.
Some Saturdays, not this particular one, in the midst of this tragedy there is joy to be found. Sometimes the deathscorts are not able to drown out our message of hope and love. Sometimes, a child is saved from the gruesome grip of death. God works in the heart of a mother and she changes her mind. Sometimes she leaves before getting out of the car, other times she comes out of EMW. But it is joyous and worth every 5:45 alarm. My prayer is that every Saturday morning, will see more and more of these stories. My prayer is that no Saturday ever again will contain the horror of abortion. Join me in that prayer.
(For more information about becoming a side-walk counselor or getting involved in abolishing this modern day evil check out Abolish Human Abortion or the Abolitionist Society of Louisville.
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
We are at war. It is a long war that has already been won but one in which we still must engage. “I believe the children are our future…” Whitney Houston sang in her tribute to self-love and idolatrous pride. It is true though about children and the future. It has been that way since the beginning. In the Garden of Eden, God cursed the serpent and promised a war between the serpent and the children of Eve. The serpent listened, got the message, and has been out to destroy the seed from the beginning. This is precisely why children are always the target for evil. They are not just collateral damage but are ground zero. God promises Abraham children more numerous than the sands. Later, Pharaoh when saw the sand growing and becoming too large to control, set about systematically executing children. The False god, Moloch, demanded children to be sacrifice to him in return for prosperity (See Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings. 23:10; Jer. 32:35). God on the other hand says that children are gifts and blessings to be respectfully trained and taught the truth of the love of God (Psalm 127, Deut 6). “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth,” Douglas Wilson points out that there is more to this than the promise of cuteness:
Children are a heritage, a reward. But then the first metaphor is jarring, and perhaps not what we were expecting. Instead of saying that they are like a row of stuffed bunnies in a well-decorated crib, he says that children from the Lord are like a fistful of arrows. Children are arrows for the fist, and even more arrows for the quiver. For what occasion? Target practice? Costume parties? In the ancient world, the city gates were not only where defenders of a city would face invaders, but they were also what we would call the public square. Blessed was the man who had sons who stand with him in a crucial showdown at the city council. They were shoulder to shoulder behind him, and not over on the other side.
Cute and not-so-cute children grow up to be men and women who are a force to be reckoned with. The serpent gets this. He realized that the seed of the woman would crush him. In Matthew 2, Jesus is that seed. He is born and again the serpent through Herod sets his sights on the children. This child is King of the universe, however, and will not be defeated.. This child grows up to be the arrow of all arrows greater than the black arrow of Girion, used to kill Smaug. Jesus on the cross is bruised but the serpent is crushed. The Child defeats the snake. The victory is secure and all that is left is the victory march through time where the serpent will finally be thrown in Hell forever.
In the meantime, the serpent, though mortally wounded, still seeks to destroy the children. And thus children are targets. Adolf Hitler said, “He alone who controls the youth, controls the future.” But we send our children off to state run schools where they are indoctrinated into being good little slaves of the state.
Joel McDurmon writes at the American Vision on the beginnings of the state school system of the US in the 1800s:
Overrun by such Unitarian thought, Massachusetts was the first state to create a State Board of Education in 1837. As its first chairman, they placed Horace Mann. Of interest was the timing of the creation of this secular board: up until 1832, the Congregational Church was an established church in that state—receiving funding from the state to pay her ministers, etc. That was abolished in 1832 (Massachusetts was the last state to do so), and the state-funded education program was in place in only five years. And in that same year 1837, Mann brokered a political deal that immediately doubled the budget for public education. Common schools were already being funded in Massachusetts by local taxes, but this was the first centralizing of it by the State. The astute observer will note what many public school critics to date have pointed out—the established churches were kicked out and the public schools were made the de facto state-church in their place, but were now officially a secularized state-church, and the tyranny was doubled in the amount of money appropriated for it.
God’s word says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7) All knowledge and wisdom find their source in God. There is no truth or way of knowing truth apart from God. Yet, we send our children to be “educated” for 8 or more hours a day where there is no mention of God as the foundation for any knowledge. Voddie Baucham points to “Student-teacher sex scandals, student-student sex, immodesty, foul language, drugs, alcohol, radical homosexual agendas, teachers taking students for abortions, ‘sexting’ leading to suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, brutal beatings, and school shootings. These are just some of the headlines that have become the norm. And that does not include things like cheating, disrespect for authority, impropriety towards the opposite sex, and other moral behaviors children learn regularly and repeatedly in school.”
Van Til wrote about this type of education: “Non-Christian education puts the child in a vacuum…. The result is that child dies. Modern educational philosophy gruesomely insults our God and our Christ. How, then, do you expect to build anything positively Christian or theistic upon a foundation which is the negation of Christianity and theism?” The enemy wants our children and unfortunately too many Christian’s send the gifts that God blessed them with to the enemy.
While the serpent loves to indoctrinate children, he enjoys killing them just as much. This week is the anniversary of Roe V Wade. Since 1973, 56,662,169 children have been killed in the United States. Makes Herod and Pharaoh look like the little league. We allow this evil to go unchecked for the most part. Republican politicians throw a bone to those against abortion during the campaign but very few of them do much more than give platitudes when in office. All the while democrats are demanding to kill preborn babies anytime for any reason. Feminists scream about a woman’s right to choose to kill a woman in the womb and make you pay for it.
But the war has already been won. Jesus defeated the serpent on the cross and has called us believers to be the church victorious. The gates of hell shall not prevail. They are gates, not offensive weapons but defensive shields. We, Christ’s followers are on the offensive and are given the command to charge those gates. Those gates will fall. So stand up believers, protect the children. Quit sending them to Satan to be killed or indoctrinated. Speak out about the evil of abortion. Not just now at the anniversary of Roe V. Wade but all year. Stand strong and those gates will come down. The Children are the future and the future is a defeated Serpent and a Church standing victorious by the blood of the Lamb and the witness of our testimony. Don’t shrink back now!!
It is now January 8, 2015 and I realize this should have happened a week ago but I wanted to take a look back at 2014. 2014 was at times stressful but for the most part it was a pretty good year. It saw the birth of my second daughter, Arriana Liberty Spurgeon. I also said goodbye to one church family and ministry position and hello to another. God being always faithful also provided for my family this year even when times seemed tight. I am thankful to have been able to spend another year with my wonderful wife. I also was able to complete another year of school work at Seminary. Studying Hebrew this past semester was stressful but God is good. In 2014, I was also able to read some great books, a few of which challenged some positions that I had held. Therefore, I wanted to devote the rest of this blog post to highlighting some of the best books I read in 2014 along with pointing out a few places where some of my theological positions either changed or were clarified. So without further ado here is my Top Books of 2014 List:
This year I found two books to be very helpful in thinking through student and family ministry. The first book “Perspectives on Family Ministry” is compiled and edited by Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you are not familiar with the “Perspectives” books, they are are a series of books put out by B&H Academic that cover a wide range of theological topics from different viewpoints. Each book typically has three or more authors who write about the topic and then critique each others position on the topic at hand. They are excellent little books to help get a basic understanding of the different arguments. I had not really been aware that there was much of a debate about youth ministry and the need for family ministry. This book presents three different ways or strategies for engaging families in ministry and how that relates to youth or student ministry. While you can read for yourself and discover which view you think is most biblical, in my opinion the main thing is we as the church need to do a better job engaging, training, and leading families to minister to themselves and others. Parents are the ones given the primary responsibility to raise and nurture their children in the Lord. One of the authors contributing to the perspectives book, Voddie Baucham Jr, also wrote a book entitled “Family Driven Faith:Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God.” This is a wonderful book that challenges parents, fathers in particular, to take responsibility in raising their children for God. Baucham says that “Our primary goal for our children is that they walk with the Lord.” This means taking an active role. Parents need to be spending time in the word of God with their children. “If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.”
History is one of my favorite subjects especially American history. I enjoy reading about the founding of America up through the War between the States, the Civil War. There is a nice series put out by Mark David Ledbetter called “America’s Forgotten History,” that I recently discovered. Ledbetter is a libertarian and he writes a series of histories following the founding of America up through the 20 Century from this perspective. He works to show the way that America has went from a simple Republic devoted to individual liberty to the bloated government leviathan that we have today. Mark David’s best work is the second volume which covers much of the history leading up the the Civil War. He is forthright about writing from the libertarian perspective. It is refreshing to see a historian being upfront about any bias or worldview they may have. The series was self-published at first as a Kindle ebook but has since been picked up by a publisher. You can still get it for very cheap on the Kindle. A few criticisms that I have are that the author seems to downplay the religious understanding leading up to the founding and also seems to conflate all New Englanders with the Puritans. Thus when Unitarian beliefs take over much of the once Puritan universities, Mark David does not do a good job of distinguishing between the two. I would highly recommend reading this and supplementing it with work done by others especially Rousa Rushdoony.
Two books that I found helpful in motivating and thinking through evangelism were J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” and John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad.” Both of the books are excellent in providing a clear biblical foundation for evangelism. Some have criticized Calvinism because they think that belief in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation can lead to a lack of motivation of sharing the gospel. Packer works to “show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks.” Belief in the doctrine of election under-girds us as we evangelize. We can be confident in the fact that God can overcome any resistance to the gospel. God has chosen to call a people to himself and thus we do not need to trust in our own abilities to preach the Gospel. We can be confident that the power of the Gospel will prevail. Piper reminds us that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.” Again we are motivated out by a love for God that moves us to love others.
This confidence in the sovereignty of God along with a study of God’s word this past year has led me to come to hold a Post-Mill view of the end times. I won’t have time in this short post to go into what all this means but in short Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows. There is much more that could be said here but I will leave that for another post. An excellent resource for this view is www.PostmillennialismToday.com.
The last two books I want to mention are ones that has helped clarify my position on politics and ethics are “Lectures on Calvinism” by Abraham Kuyper and “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg Bahnsen. Kuyper’s book is excellent in applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life. Kuyper is famous for saying that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” I’ve always held to the belief that our nations leaders should seek to follow and obey God. However, I was somewhat inconsistent on how this was worked out. Which brings me to the conclusion as Bahnsen excellently defends, that God’s law as revealed in the scriptures first in the Old Testament and then clarified in the New are to be the standard by which all people and nations should conform. God moral and civil laws are binding still today and should be upheld by our leaders. God will judge all people and nations by how they obey his commands. Bahnsen does an excellent job laying out the case of what is called Theonomy. He answers every objection that I have heard mentioned. Again I will have to leave a discussion of theonomy to another post.
There are several other books I could mention but I wanted to keep this post pretty short. I mainly wanted to highlight some good and/or interesting books that I had read this past year and recommend them to you. I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store. May you be blessed this year by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Introduction: Several weeks ago you went into the attic or basement, searched through all the mess so you could spend the day after Thanksgiving fiddling with tangled cords, ladders, and frosty the snowman decorations. The end result was going to be marvelous. Clark Griswold would be proud as you plugged in the lights expecting a glorious light display to be the envy of the neighborhood. Except one of the lights was out and so you had to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out which one it was. You spent weeks looking for the perfect gift fighting off traffic to all the stores, only to find out that your brother bought the same gift. Then there are the office parties, the kids’ musicals, the in-laws and the outlaws. Wow, no wonder Elvis sang Blue Christmas. Then just as all the anticipation leading up Christmas was building the Holiday came and went before you could even blink your eyes. The vacation is over and you’re back to work on Monday. For many people the days after the holidays can also be blue. Do a quick internet search for post-holiday blues and you will find a ton of news articles addressing this “condition”. WebMD.com, the popular panic-inducing website that can convince you that your headache is a brain tumor, even has it listed as a medical condition. Thanks to a psychology professor in the United Kingdom there is an even official clinical-sounding name: acute post-bank holiday depression syndrome. Something tells me if you call in sick with that excuse Monday you might also come down with “acute looking-for-a-new-job syndrome.” So Christmas is over… now what? I want us to look at what followed the first Christmas for the cure for the post-holiday blues. We will be able to see how the birth of Christ either brings much celebration or much sorrow. As you read Matthew 2 you will see three things: A King has Come, A War has been Waged, and The Victory is Certain.
Matthew 2: 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
The first thing we see in this passage is the birth of a king. Contrary to the Christmas song “We Three Kings,” the wise men were not kings, but priests or court advisers similar to Daniel in the Older Testament. They were probably from Mesopotamia, the region of ancient Babylon. These men had seen the signs in the stars and being from the region of ancient Babylon they may have been aware of the prophecies of Daniel regarding the messiah. They thus came looking for the birth of a king. Notice they don’t ask Herod if a King had been born. They were certain that a king had been born. They were only uncertain on the location. So which king were they looking for and why is the birth of this king so important? To get this answer we need to go back to the beginning.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then on the 6th day He created man and woman. Genesis 1:26 says He created them in His image. This little phrase “In his image” also called “the imago Dei“ packs a powerful punch but what exactly does it mean? For centuries, theologians have debated precisely what it means to be “the image of God”. On one hand it means that human life has dignity and we reflect something of the nature of God in our lives. Some recent scholarship has helped shed some light on the phrase. Comparing this phrase to other Ancient Near East documents we find the concept of “image” to be about representation. The one bearing the image of a king or ruler is given authority as a representative of the king. The “image of God” in Genesis is probably best thought of as God designating or calling human beings to be his representatives or agents in the world. The Image of God involves royalty and representing God’s kingship over the creation. And that is what we find in Genesis 1. God makes man in His image so that they can take dominion over the creation. They are to be his royal representative in the world. However in Genesis 3, Man rebels against God and decides instead of being the loyal subject and representative of God, Man would rather be God himself. Man disobeys God and in the process distorts the purpose of his creation. Instead of ruling as God’s vice-regent, Adam and Eve give in to sin and thrust all of humanity into enslavement to sin. The world is given over to a curse so that sin and Satan will rule instead. In Genesis 3 as God gives out the punishment curses to Adam and Eve, he also makes a promise that one day, the seed of the woman will defeat the serpent.
The story unfolds in Genesis and evil reigns in the hearts of men. God however continues to promise that one day evil will be defeated and creation restored. God is in control and evil will not win. God makes a promise with Noah to save him from the flood. He then makes a covenant with Abraham that one day his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand. There are not many things more beautiful than some of the beaches in the Philippines where my wife is from.
The ocean water is a clear blue that just enticingly invites you to dive in. The trees are green and ripe with coconuts exactly like what you image when think of a tropical paradise. And the sand…. pure white. It’s like a post card. Some of the beaches here in America are beautiful as well. Alright who’s up for a beach trip? My only complaint about the beach trips I have taken is that it never fails that someone wants to bury me in the sand. I must look like someone just begging to be buried up to my neck in sand. Here is a picture of one such trip many years ago.
It makes for a cute picture but the problem is you are digging out sand from all parts of your body for weeks. Just after I pull the millionth grain of sand out of my hair there is another in its place. Abraham is promised a number of descendents more numerous than the grains of sand. What a promise!
God keeps his promise to Abraham and a great nation of people are descended from him. Israel is told that they are to be a nation of priests. In 2 Samuel, God promises one of the descendents of Abraham, David, that one from his family will reign forever . God says to him “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
Thus the promise of a coming King was continually made over and over again to the people of Israel. God constantly pointed the people to one whose coming would defeat sin and bring in a kingdom of peace and glory forever. Psalm 2 in particular reveals that God’s anointed will be given dominion over all nations and peoples while the rulers of the earth are warned to follow after this King or be crushed.
Even with these promises the people of Israel fell into sin and idolatry throughout the older testament. God sent prophets to warn them that they would be punished for their sin. Even in the midst of the message of judgment, the prophets also foretold of a king to come who will set things right. Isaiah, one of these prophets, has this beautiful passage foretelling of the king.
Isaiah 9:6-8 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The prophets call Israel to repent go unheeded however and Israel is taken captive to Babylon because of their sins. But even in captivity God does not forget his people and continues to promises them a coming King. The prophet Daniel, one of the few who were faithful and obedient to God, was taken captive to Babylon. In the book of Daniel, God reveals much about the coming king. Here are just a few instances of the promise to Daniel of the coming King:
Daniel 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
Daniel 4:3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
Daniel 7:14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
Daniel was also given a vision that revealed exactly when this King would come. In Daniel 9, the exact amount of years is given for when the Messiah will appear. These prophesies build and point toward to this King who would save his people from their sin and who would bring Joy to the world. Then the Older Testament ends. And the years count down.
And now we are back to Matthew 2. The wise men are here and looking for a King. The timeline given to Daniel has come to a head. The King, the anointed one, is born. And with the King comes the dawning of the Kingdom. Kingdom is the primary theme of the book of Matthew. It is also the major theme of Jesus’ teaching as well. The term “Kingdom of God or heaven” occurs twenty-four times in Matthew , fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, twice in the Gospel of John , six times in Acts, eight times in Paul, and once in Revelation .
What then does the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven mean? First of all the Bible everywhere assumes that our Father is sovereign over the universe but this is not the concept the “kingdom of God” has in mind. More precisely, the kingdom of God refers to the visible, universal submission to His reign. As we have already stated , Adam’s sin plunged mankind into rebellion against its Creator. Yet the Lord’s prophets predicted a day when all creation would again recognize Yahweh’s authority and bow the knee to the appointed king.
The Jews however didn’t understand what this kingdom meant. They were looking for a political and military leader who would establish a country with borders and armies. Mark Rushdoony does an excellent job of explaining the Kingdom of God:
“Man cannot see the future, only the present and, to a limited extent, the past. He thus envisions the future within the limitations of past experience. It is no wonder the Jews expected a very political and Jewish kingdom, given their centuries of experience with a Davidic king in Jerusalem. Unfortunately though the prophesies God gave his people pointed to the coming King being something much greater than just an earthly kingdom, the Jews including the disciples had a hard time understanding the kingdom as something more.
The Kingdom of God and its King Jesus would not be limited by the past-bound assumption of Jewish thought. His Kingdom would not be a Jewish state confined to borders on a map, but a heavenly government, a godly order. Jesus would not merely usher in religious reform. His work was to destroy the work of Satan, to crush the serpent, to atone for sin as the Lamb of God, and to bring men of all nations from darkness to light. Jesus came to do more than bring restoration and blessing to Jews. He came to bring salvation to all. Israel was always meant to include people of all nations. Jesus came to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile, to reconcile men of all nations and tongues to God. The kingdom of God would stretch over the entire world.
Jesus came to do more than bless Israel: he came to bless a new, enlarged Israel, all those made part of the covenant family by the grace of the heavenly Father. The blessing was not limited to those of Jewish blood but it was, as promised to Abraham, a blessing to all nations of the earth.”
The Lord’s chosen king is the Messiah, Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians incorrectly believe that His kingdom has nothing to do with the present, something that comes only at “the end of time” with great natural disasters. Attempts to see the Kingdom of God as only a future event are mostly the product of a late nineteenth century.
“The Gospels tell us the Kingdom is to be sought in our lives, to be received now , that a man in Christ’s day could see it and enter into it, and that it is found among us. . . Other passages refer to the Kingdom as a progressive, developing fact. The Lord’s Prayer petitions “Thy kingdom come,” whereas we are told that “the kingdom of God is come” and that it is on earth and in heaven. Many of the parables regarding the Kingdom describe it in terms of the growth of a seed, tree, or yeast that develops over a period of time.”
His second coming is the consummation of His present reign, for He actually inaugurated the kingdom of God during His first advent. There is no denying that many references to the Kingdom are in the future as well. It is described as existing at the end of the world and after the final judgment. The angelic messenger told Mary it would have “no end” and the Epistles refer to it as “an everlasting kingdom” that is “forever and ever.” We Christians are the heralds of this kingdom. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we bear witness to our King, and through our obedience the Father will call people to worship Him. Thus, His kingdom increases in its visibility.
“God is greater than man’s mind can imagine. The Kingdom of God described in the New Testament is far more glorious than the one pictured by the Jews and even by Christ’s disciples. It is all they imagined but in a more extensive power and glory.”
When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to ask for God’s kingdom to come. It is easy to pray a laundry list of requests for health, safety, and other provisions. But how many of us spend time in concentrated prayer that all peoples would submit to God and obey His Law?
The king was born and the wise men knew it. But we see in our passage that so did the enemy. Sometimes it seems when read some of the stories in the bible that the enemy is more aware of the implications of Jesus coming then the others. We see here that King Herod knew the implications of Christ’s coming and thus a War was Waged.
II. A WAR IS WAGED
Herod, interestingly enough was not a Jew but an Idumean, a descendant of Esau by ancestry. But because of his connections with Rome, Herod was appointed “king of the Jews,” though his command was not secured until after a series of military victories which was consummated by the capture of Jerusalem in 37 B.C. One of his chief accomplishments was the remodeling of the dilapidated Jewish temple, a project which was not completed until A.D. 62/64, only a few years before that temple was destroyed by the providence of God. Even though he started work on rebuilding the temple he also built many monuments to his own name. He was a ruthless dictator. Other than being called Herod “ the great”, which one wonders if he didn’t give himself that name, he has also been called “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis”,”the evil genius of the Judean nation”, and one who was “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition”. There was a saying that it was better to be Herod’s swine than his own son. Indeed, He killed three of his own son’s including one just 5 days before his own death. Herod also gave orders that upon his own death several well liked citizens of Judah were to be executed so that if the people would not mourn his death they would still mourn none the less. When we come to Matthew 2 we see that Herod continues to act in the same evil way.
The wise men come to Herod speaking of the king to come. Herod’s own officials know the prophecies and yet Herod seems to think that he can destroy and defeat God’s anointed one. We see here that enemy of God understands what the coming of Jesus means. It means the end of the rule of evil. See Herod was ruling by his own wisdom and not by God’s. He knew that the coming of Jesus would mean the end of his rule. The coming of Jesus means that sin, darkness, and rebellion will rein no more on this earth. The coming of Jesus meant that a new authority was here and that Jesus must be obeyed.
As the Kingdom comes, darkness puts up a fight. It is a failing last-ditch effort. Herod first tries to be sly and cunning but ultimately reveals his true evil in putting to death the children of Bethlehem. Matthew in verse 18 points to a prophecy of Jeremiah which shows that amount of sorrow felt by the evil of Herod. We will look a little closer at this prophecy in a bit but for now we will see that the coming of Jesus brings war.
And the war continues even though Jesus has already defeated the enemy on the cross. The enemy has been trying to wipe out Jesus ever since. And if the enemy cannot wipe out Jesus, the enemy will lash out at the Church. Why is this? Again, the enemy fights because the coming of Jesus means something. It means that Jesus is King and must be obeyed. This means that all nations, all governments, and all rulers are answerable to Jesus. The early church knew this. One of the earliest creeds of Christians was “Jesus is Lord” which means Caesar is not. They refused to bow to human rulers and the enemy hated this. We need to reclaim this understanding of the Lordship of Christ. Abraham Kupyer says it this way “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This means that the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Christ affects all aspects of our life. Our faith is not something that we just have at church or in the privacy of our homes. Jesus doesn’t just want an hour on Sunday morning. He wants 24 hour devotion 7 days a week. This means that God’s word should rule our lives Sunday to Saturday. God’s word affects how we work, how we raise our families, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, what we watch, what we think, how we vote, how we think about marriage, love, life, and so forth.
In our culture just as then this is a dangerous message. Why? Because the human heart wants to rebel against God and wants no part in his rule. So our culture tells us we can practice our religion if we just keep it to ourselves. If you watch the news often you will notice politicians have recently started using a new phrase and stopped using an older phrase. President Obama along with others has started using the phrase “Freedom to worship as you chose” instead of “free exercise of religion.” It may seem like these are just interchangeable but they are not. The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs even in the public realm. Worship on the other hand is seen as essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen’s thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China’s have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation. But it is this change of wording and thus meaning that is gaining acceptance in our culture. You are free to believe what you like but keep your trap shut about it.
Here is the thing however, our King Jesus was not quiet and we as Christians are not commanded or allowed by Him to be quiet. Jesus is Lord over all people and governments. The early church knew this and so did the Roman emperors and that is why they put them to death. Yet the early church did not give up or give in. They remained strong and eventually it was the Roman Empire which fell and Christianity reigned supreme.
Again, the reason that Herod wants to kill Jesus is the same reason that the enemy is trying to shut up Christians today. The reason that atheists want to take down the Ten Commandments at the courthouse and remove the nativity display is not because they have a problem with stone displays or a cute baby in a manger. If the nativity was nothing more than a cute baby in a manger then we would see them everywhere. The problem is the cute baby didn’t stay a baby but grew up and demands obedience from the entire world. The cute baby is king and has given His law in the Bible and demands that all live by it. All governments and people are commanded to obey and follow God. And the enemy is rebelling against that.
This leads us to our third and last point. The Victory is Certain.
III. The Victory is Certain.
The victory is certain because our God is sovereign over all things and all of history. Look at our passage again. We see four ways that God’s sovereignty is shown. First, God is in control of nature. The wise men saw the signs in the heaven and the star that pointed them to the birth of Jesus. Our God controls the heavens. It is nothing for him to put a new star in place. It is nothing for Jesus to control the winds and the waves. All of creation is at his control. Secondly, God even controls dreams. We see from this passage that both the wise men and Joseph were warned in dreams. God has complete control over dreams. That is a pretty cool thing to think about. There are even stories today of people in closed countries who have not had access to the gospel having dreams where they are told to seek out a missionary. You can do an internet search and there are several recent articles about Muslims in Iraq or Iran having dreams where Jesus appears to them and tells them to seek out a missionary. God is sovereign and in control of dreams.
Thirdly I want you to notice in this passage how many times that Matthew writes that something happened to fulfill scripture. Matthew growing up as a devout Jew was very familiar with the scriptures. He is writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience to show them how Jesus is the promised Messiah. So Matthew often works to show how the events of Jesus life fulfill the Old Testament Scripture. We see then that God is sovereign in that all the circumstances of this story have been planned out by God way in advance. In particular look at verses 14 and 15. Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt and Matthew writes that this fulfills what the prophet said, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” This is a very interesting phrase. It comes from Hosea
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him; and, though I loved him, I suffered him to be a great while in Egypt; but, because I loved him, in due time I called him out of Egypt.”
Hosea is referring of course to the time when the people of Israel went to Egypt to escape a famine and became slaves. You will remember how Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and took them to the Promised Land. So exactly how is this verse in Hosea a prophecy about Jesus. Kevin DeYoung explains:
“How can Matthew say this flight to Egypt fulfilled the words of the prophet Hosea when the two events seem connected by no more than the word Egypt? How can this possibly be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy? The first step toward understanding Matthew’s purpose is to look more carefully at the word “fulfill.” The Greek word is pleroō. And it simply means to fill up. That’s what Matthew is at pains to demonstrate–that Jesus was filling up the Old Testament. Sometimes this meant very specifically that the Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s birthplace would be in Bethlehem and Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem. There you go. That’s fulfillment. But fulfillment can be broader than that. It can refer to the filling up of the Old Testament; that is, the bringing to light what previously had been in shadows. And this is what Matthew has in mind.
So what exactly is Jesus fulfilling, or filling up in Matthew 2:15? Jesus, as Matthew correctly understands the situation, is filling up the redemptive historical purposes of the nation. In other words, Matthew can claim that this Hosea passage, which talks about the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, is fulfilled in Jesus, because Jesus is the embodiment of Israel.”
This is important because it shows the sovereignty of God in History. This means that all the events of the Old Testament, the history of Israel, ever detail happened as God planned so as to point to Jesus. God is control of the smallest detail. Nothing is outside of his reach. And because of God’s sovereignty over History we can be confident that the victory over evil is more than sure.
Fourthly, God is sovereign over his enemies. They think they are raging against him. They think they are sneaky and wise. They think their plans catch him off guard. But they are nothing more than pawns. For every move they make God is ten ahead of them. See first how Herod’s plan to kill the infants again fulfills scripture. Verse 17 says this fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah. Look at the prophecy of Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 31:15- 17; 31-34 Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Thus says the LORD “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD. . .Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Even the evil put forth by Herod points to the glory of Jesus. Even though there was great sorrow due to Herod’s evil there would be great rejoicing because of the King.
Herod tried to destroy Christmas but yet the birth of Christ still brings joy. It is as the Grinch found out when he tried to destroy Christmas. It can not be defeated.
But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded glad!
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!
He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?
The enemy cannot defeat Jesus. But Jesus does defeat the enemy. Notice how in verse 19 it simply says “when Herod died. “ The enemy is defeated in this story and it is simply an afterthought. We know from history that Herod the great died from a horrible disease and it was a painful violent death. A recent article describes his death: “More than 2,000 years after Herod the Great succumbed at age 69, doctors have now settled on exactly what killed the king of ancient Judea: chronic kidney disease complicated by a very uncomfortable case of maggot-infested gangrene of the genitals”
Evil met its match. God is sovereign and thus the victory is secure. This is good news. The birth of Christ brings real joy to the world. A savior is born and his kingdom shall never end. The good news is that not only has Herod been defeated but Satan and sin have been defeated. The good news is that God has made a way for people of all nations to be a part of the Kingdom of God. You and I are invited to the Kingdom of God and this is a kingdom without end.
So as we close there are really two responses to this message. Will you be like the wise men who bowed their heads in worship of the King of King? Will you submit to the Lordship of Jesus? The Bible says to enter the Kingdom of God you must be born again. You must repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Will you be like the wise men?
Or will you be like Herod? Will you see the King of Kings and determine that it is a threat to your own self-rule? Will you decide that you prefer to be king and you will continue to rebel?
Finally if you are already a part of the kingdom of God then know that this is a kingdom that will never be defeated. This does not mean however that things in this life will always be rainbows and bubble gum. In fact many have been called to lay down their lives for the kingdom. When the book of Revelation says that we will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony it is referring to the testimony of many whose heads were cut off and lives ended. Yet these saints stood strong believing that the Kingdom of God would one day fill the entire earth. They knew that God would use their sacrifice. And God still calls us to sacrifice and living full on for his Kingdom. We are not called to be the last outpost of a retreating army waiting on the rescue ship to take them out of this world. Instead we are sent to be the army taking the battle to the world. We do this not with weapons of this world but with the word of God and the weapons of the Spirit. God enlarges the kingdom through us as we share the gospel with our coworkers, as we teach our child about the love of God, as we help the helpless and speak out against evil. And the Bible promises that these efforts will be honored by God as the Kingdom grows.
This is what Christmas is about. The Joy of Christmas is not over even though the Christmas lights have been taken down and the songs have stopped playing. The Joy of Christmas continues all year.
The King has Come, the War has been Waged, and the Victory is Sure. Will you be born again today?