Loving God’s Law

Psalm 119:97 O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
how-i-love-your-law
The law is a revelation of God’s character. It reveals the holy righteous character of God. Theft is not wrong primarily because it will hurt another person. Theft is wrong because God is not a thief. Adultery is not wrong primarily because it causes damage to families. It is wrong because God is always faithful. When we who are created in his image steal or commit adultery, we are misrepresenting God. We are lying about the character of God.
One reason that the Psalmist can say that he loves the law of God is because the law reveals the character of God and he loves God. Naturally if he loves God and has God as his father, he will love that which reveals his character. He will want to live in such a way that speaks only truth of God. And the only way for anyone to have this love of God is for God to take out the wicked God-hating heart and replace it with a heart of love. This is only possible by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit made possible by Christ’s death on the cross. The Spirit will write love of God on the heart of the believer. This love for God will result in the love of the law of God.
Unfortunately many speak about God’s commandments in ways that don’t reveal a love for them. For example, some see that God has spoken against sodomy and because they can’t argue themselves past the clear meaning of scripture, they will begrudgingly accept it as God’s command. Yet they will still think the biblical punishment for it is too harsh.  Some are egalitarian in mindset but see that there are clear scriptures that forbid a woman to preach so they begrudgingly hold to these texts. Because they can’t wiggle out of a few texts, they will like a lawyer only hold to the strict letter of these few commands while looking for loopholes anywhere they can find them. Rather than embrace and love the sexual design that God has for men and women because it reveals something of his character, they will halfheartedly follow only the texts they can’t escape from. These maybe signs that the heart has not really been changed. These could be signs that we have not really started to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

Review of Doctrine that Dances

index

 

There are several ways to teach a subject but the different approaches can be summarized as “tell them how” versus “show them how.”   In Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Robert Smith relies heavily on the latter to instruct pastors in the importance of doctrinal preaching. His style of writing uses a lot of metaphors and pithy quotes to compare preaching to dancing and escorting. This brings an original approach to a book on preaching that when it succeeds, it hits a home run but when it doesn’t succeed it strikes out, leaving the reader unsure of what the metaphor really was meant to convey.

Summary

 

Robert Smith Jr. serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching. He formerly taught Christian preaching at The Theological Southern Baptist Seminary as well. He is obviously well versed in preaching and one gathers right away that the style of the book will be similar to a sermon. The reader can almost hear the writer preaching the material of the book in the way that he uses metaphors and pithy quotes and proverbs. Smith says that the book is about doctrinal preaching and handling the word of God in such a way as to bring joyous praise and glory to God. He works to drive home the importance of doctrinal preaching while at the same time providing various definitions of preaching from people through history before finally settling on his own definition. He summarizes his definition as “transformation through Christ.” Doctrinal preaching “is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith employs two larger metaphors to define doctrinal preaching and to build the rest of the book upon, an exegetical escort and a doxological dancer.   He hangs the major themes of the books on these two metaphors. First, the role of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to be able to escort the hearer into God’s presence for transformation. One of the major themes of Smith’s book is that the text must be first interpreted correctly by the preacher and then internalized by the preacher. The preacher must sit under his own preaching. After having done this, then the preacher can exegete his audience and bring the text to bear upon them so that they will be confronted with the truths of scripture.

Smith says that the exegetical escort must rightly divide the word of God. He says that the sermon must come from the text and not imposed upon it. He says that doctrinal preaching will keep three focuses in mind, apologetics, polemics, and catechism. The exegetical escort will work to establish what the correct teaching and doctrine by arguing from the scripture while fending off false teachings and nourishing the sheep.

The second big theme of Smith’s book is that preaching must be balanced between the intellect and the emotional, the mind and the heart.   He drives this point home with the doxological dancer metaphor. He shifts from content to style of delivery and back with this theme. The doxological dancer “is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.” The doxological dancer internalizes the message for himself. He exegetes his audience. He then he can now deliver the message in such a way that his audience is moved by the content and delivery of the sermon.

He uses analogies of songs and also speaks of the history of African Americans to help drive home the importance of making the sermon dance. He says that you “Begin low; Proceed slow; Rise higher; Take fire; When most impressed Be self-possessed; To Spirit wed form, and Sit down in a storm.” He reminds the preacher that the gospel of Jesus Christ should not be boring. The preacher is escorting the people into the presence of the Lord and this should cause us to rejoice. It should change us. The audience is concerned with the “what”, the “so what” and the “now what” so the preacher must be able to answer these questions in a way that causes the listener to exalt God.

Another big theme for Smith is preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he uses a metaphor of jazz improvisation. He argues that a preacher must have internalized the sermon so well that he is not glued to the manuscript but is free to go as the Spirit leads. He does not diminish the importance of preparation because he has already spent ample time speaking about sermon prep. However, he is very adamant that the preacher must trust God through his preparation and especially in the delivery of the sermon. Finally, Smith ends with reminding the reader that preaching God’s word faithfully will have an effect upon the preacher and his listeners. The preacher should preach so that his listeners will be motivated to take that message to their neighbors, communities, families, and friends.

Critical Evaluation

Smith is obviously an accomplished preacher and is masterful at telling stories. He uses that to good effect in this book. As said in the introduction, he seems to lean on showing how rather than telling how. That is, he relies heavily on applications of his points from metaphors, pithy quotes and parables. For some readers, this style may take a little getting used to.   He doesn’t give clear and delineated points as in other instructional books but instead seems to flow from thought to thought seamlessly. This approach provides a good example of how a sermon can flow however it left me wishing for him have been a little clearer. His two big metaphors are the linchpin of the entire book. So we will begin with looking critically at them.

The exegetical escort fits his style of showing and not just telling. An escort comes along side someone and ushers them to where they need to be. Smith drives home the point that the preacher must sit under his own preaching first. This is especially helpful for a young preacher. The preacher cannot lead his people where he has not first been. This means that the preacher must spend time in the study preparing for the sermon. But he must also spend time in prayer embracing the sermon as well. He says that “If the preacher exults in the Lord in the prayer room and study, the channels will be open for the preacher to motivate the hearers to mutually participate in the exaltation of God in the pulpit.” He says that the three lines of public ministry, preaching, teaching, and administration must be undergirded and propped up by the three lines of private ministry, prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.

In the second metaphor, Smith describes preaching as doxologically dancing. This metaphor is not as strong as the prior. This is partially because Smith wants to keep some things undefined. He says that the mystery of doctrinal preaching makes it hard to define. Because of that he speaks in a lot of metaphors and parables. While this at times can be his biggest strength it also can be the biggest weakness. There was an entire chapter on jazz improvisation that made things muddier. I was never quite able to grasp exactly what point the metaphor was supposed to be making. He spoke of call and response during the sermon but outside of African American churches, there may not be must experience of this kind of back and forth during the sermon.

The doxological dancer is one who presents the sermon in a way that matches the content. This is helpful in acknowledging that we must engage our audience with emotions and examples that match the content of the text. Our delivery cannot be boring. Smith is very critical of those would preach in an unattached way. He also seems to suggest that for the Spirit to move there must be spontaneity. He in particular was not fond of liturgical worship styles because he says they keep God at arm-length. Those of us who hold to a more liturgical worship style believe that God has commanded certain things and certain ways that worship must be done. I think we must be careful to not over associate the movement of the Holy Spirit with spontaneity lest we become impulsive and disorderly.

While disagreeing with Smith on liturgical worship, he makes an important point about trusting in Christ while delivering the sermon. We must not be so full of pride that we think we must have complete control of every single second. Sometimes God uses our pauses or forgotten thoughts to drive home a previous point to the audience. God may bring to mind something that had not been thought of during the preparation but would be appropriate during the delivery. We cannot be so beholden to a manuscript that we become glorified readers. The challenge is to trust God in the delivery.

Equally important is the fact that we cannot assume that our hearers know the biblical stories. Smith says that in a previous generation, you might have been able to assume that the listener could fill in some of the details or backgrounds in more familiar passages. But he says that it is important that preachers not assume and instead to go ahead and provide that context. Secondly, we cannot assume that our listeners understand theological terms such as justification and sanctification. We must work to drive home these terms by illustrating them in terms that our listeners understand. He points to the example of Christ using parables. We also see this in what he calls the “biographical snapshots.” That is the bible uses narrative to place us in the story alongside the characters where we learn the doctrine that God is teaching us through them.

One danger that Smith points out is that preaching cannot be devoid of grace. He said that Paul always taught theology of grace before the theology of works. The gospel gives us the power for the works. I think we must be equally careful not to miss the role of God’s law to act as a mirror driving us to Christ. The commands of God are meant to be obeyed and our disobedience has created the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The law drives us to Christ and Christ empowers us to obey the law. There are ditches on either side. To focus on duty without position is to miss the Gospel and leave people dead in their sins. To focus on position without duty neglects one of the purposes of the Gospel, our sancrification.

Smith strongly points out that preaching is to be both to the mind and the heart. God’s word is not something to be merely assented to but it must be loved and obeyed. The preacher cannot be happy to only appeal to the intellect but must engage the emotions as well. I do wish that Smith would have shown better how to engage the heart as well as the mind. I also wonder if this might be a false dichotomy. Does not the mind engage the heart? Are they really separable? Obviously Smith means that the preacher must engage the emotions through the use of illustrations and other tools that make the passage hit home. He says that the use of hymns and stories help drive the doctrine to the heart in a way that other language cannot.

 

Dr. Smith’s unique style showcases what he is trying to drive home. He uses stories, music, illustrations, and quotes very well. This is at times where the book shines. Not coming from a similar background as him, it was interesting to see how he drew from his heritage to drive home the points. It is good to engage with cultures and traditions that one is not normally familiar with. Smith’s stories from slaves and their adoption of music to showcase their struggles were very interesting. Smith’s background here adds to preaching books a viewpoint that is not often found in them. I found some of the sources of his quotes a little questionable, however. Not of all of them were from orthodox preachers or theologians. But never the less I appreciated this viewpoint.

Conclusion

Robert Smith gives a good reminder to preachers that their task must be to honor the text of God’s word and to connect it with his hearers. The preacher must let the scripture define the doctrine and then present it in such a way that it moves the listener. Doctrine ultimately must drive our living. Smith gives many examples of this throughout and even ends the book with two sample sermons putting into practice what he outlined in the rest of the book. The preacher must be an exegetical escort ushering his people into the presence of God. The preacher must worship God in preaching. The preacher in this case is a doxological dancer embracing the doctrine in praise. If the preacher can accomplish this he will ensure that the audience will turn around and preach the sermon in their homes, at their jobs, and in the barbershops.

Why I am a Calvinist

Tulip-8

It’s been suggested to me that I back down or refrain from preaching or teaching the doctrines of Grace i.e. Calvinism. I’d like to explain why these doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election/ predestination, limited atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are so treasured by me that I cannot back away from them even if it costs me my current job or a future job in an SBC church.

 

First, they are precious doctrines because they are biblical. That should be all the grounding that any believer needs. God has saw fit to reveal in his Word these teachings for us to study and to treasure. His word is the standard for all of our beliefs and practices. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

 

Second, these doctrines exalt God and humble men. Salvation is 100% God’s working. We contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. God will share his glory with no one. It is humbling to know that if not for the sovereign grace of God, I would take myself straight to hell. Yet it causes me to shout in praise of God that he took a dead sinner like myself and made me alive. He has lavished his grace upon one who hated him and could not and would not choose him of his own will.

 

Thirdly, these doctrines are exquisite because they reveal the love that God has for his elect. That in eternity past, God the Father chose a people for himself. He chose to reveal his love to his people by sending God the Son to the cross and dying to save them. He died not just to make salvation possible in generalities but to actually save his specific sheep.  And because God is the one who saves then those who are saved can never be lost. Those he predestines he calls, justifies and will glorify. What great comfort and assurance is found in Christ.

 

Fourthly, these doctrines fuel our evangelism and zeal good works. Because God prepared our salvation beforehand, he also prepared our good works as well. He has chosen to use saved and sanctified sinners to take the glory of the gospel into the world to reach his children. Whether I preach in the pulpit or in the street, I can be confident that my job is just to be faithful to his word and that He is the one who is responsible for the results. I can be confident that God has chosen that the power of the gospel can overwhelm the enslaved and dead will of a sinner and cause them to be born again so that they will now freely chose to obey him. I can pray with confidence for God to save my friends and family, knowing that God actually has the power to save them if he so chooses.

 

Fifthly, and related to the last, because I trust in the sovereignty of God, I do not have to resort to merely pragmatic and worse yet emotionally manipulative means in order to try and get a decision while sharing the gospel. I can faithfully preach the commands of God without being embarrassed by things that our culture finds antiquated. I don’t have to rely on half-truths or the nuancing of things to death so as not to offend. I can trust that God is sovereign and that he has determined to use the proclamation of his word to either save his sheep or to drive away the goats. Consequently, I am free to be faithful to share the gospel with my neighbor without fear that if I mess something up or if I am not the greatest communicator that my neighbor won’t be saved because something I said. Salvation is of the Lord and not of the will of man.

 

There are plenty of other reasons I can think of for why these doctrines are so amazing and precious. Hitting home for me is that God has used the preaching of these beliefs to bring me to repentance and faith in him. And because of that there is no way that I can ever refrain from believing, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the doctrines of Grace.

 

 

Additional Sources:
A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon

John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion

Robert Dabney Defends the Five Points of Calvinism

Arminian Errors

 

One Kingdom Shall Remain

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGE

Today, the United States Supreme Court followed up its past few days of foolish rulings with another tyrannical and unconstitutional order declaring that homosexuals have a “right” to “marry.”  . The Court since its beginning increasingly has given itself more and more power. They have in the past ruled that a black person was a piece of property and that there is a right to murder children in the womb.  In the past few years, they have usurped the legislative branch by rewriting laws to uphold the immoral and unconstitutional Obama Care.   Today, they have attempted to usurp the marriage foundation. The Justices that make up this Court are illegitimate claimants to the magistracy.  But they are not alone in their complacency.  They are just another piece in the puzzle of a  bloated federal leviathan. This is all, of course, reflects a nation of greedy, selfish, and immoral people. John Adams once said, “W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The United States of America is a crumbling empire bent on self-destruction. Its government is in crippling debt. It promotes the destruction of life in the womb, killing its future. It celebrates sexual perversions that cannot create life and will only bring lasting ruin.  This can seem like a despairing and heart wrenching time for Christians. No doubt many will be tempted to turn to predictions of the rapture for solace.

11650738_10152997006133526_677169778_n(These predictions never pan out of course.)
The Bible ,however, can provide us with greater hope than failed predictions of a getaway car even in the face of a rebellious and tyrannical government. Daniel 2 speaks of a kingdom that has come which will outlast all empires and nations. America may linger on for a few years. God may grant us repentance and full restoration. Or America may ultimately collapse. But, Daniel tells us while interpreting a dream that ” 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, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure. (Daniel 2:44-45)”

the-statue
In Daniel’s time, this was a future prediction speaking of the coming of Christ.  With the coming of Christ in the manger, this vision became reality.  In Luke 11:20 Jesus says,” But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus was clear, the Kingdom of God has come. And it will break into pieces all kingdoms and bring to an end those who oppose Christ and his Lordship.  If the United States continues on in its rebellion, it too will be broken into pieces but Christ’s kingdom will remain.  Daniel inspired by the Holy Spirit tells us that this is certain and true.  That is to be our hope in this time. Our response in this time needs to be one of repentance and obedience. Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that “all authority in heaven and ON EARTH” is his.   We are to go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matthew 28:19).   Our hope is not found in courts, governments, or the Red, White, and Blue.   We need to be in the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and towns proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  We need to put all of life  under the sure authority of God’s law-word.   The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins for sure.  However, it is much more.  It is the good news of the Kingdom of Jesus.  This King brings forgiveness and transformation to those who repent and put their trust in him.  This King has his good and perfect law for all aspects of our life, including civil government.   We have one King and He is Jesus (Revelation 19:16, Isaiah 9:6).   We proclaim him and pledge allegiance to Him alone.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

(The following is a book review of  Christopher Wright’s  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.)

22144304

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.

The Hermeneutic

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.

Jesus and the Old Testament Story

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.

Jesus and the Old Testament Promise

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.

Jesus and His Old Testament Identity

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.

Jesus and His Old Testament Mission

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.

Jesus and His Old Testament Values

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.[1] 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.

Conclusions

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.

[1] Bahnsen Greg, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd Ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 67.

Children at War

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!!

francis-Share-Demands-Confrontation-quote

The Purpose and Practice of Marriage – Ephesians 5

marriage supper

(What is the Purpose of Marriage?   Here is a sermon I recently preached on the Purpose and Practice of Marriage.)

 

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33

 

Introduction:

A while back, a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook entitled “Dad, How Do You Like Your New IPad.” I got a pretty good laugh from it.    Let me describe it for you.  It is about a minute long clip that opens up on two adults, a daughter and her elderly dad, working on a salad in the kitchen.   The daughter asks the dad who is busy chopping up onions in the background if he likes his new iPad.   He likes it pretty well, he says.  She then asks if he has figured out how to download apps. However, just as she gets that question out of her mouth, he turns around and you can see that he is using the iPad as a cutting board.   He proceeds to scoop the onions off the iPad, rinse off the iPad in the sink and then stick it into the dish washing machine. The whole time the daughter just stands with her mouth wide open.   The dad looks at her standing mouth agape and says with a confused look of his own, “what’s the matter.”   It reminds me of when my daughter Jasmine was younger.   She is a pretty sneaky little girl. She somehow got a hold of my cell phone when I laid it down within her reach. Plop, straight into her mouth it went. She followed up that by using it like a hammer to beat on her toys.   I guess what I am trying to say is you can’t trust old people and babies with technology . . . just kidding.   What you see in these examples is that if you don’t know what a thing exists for, you will end up using it wrongly.   You may even break it.   To say it a different way, if you don’t know the purpose of a thing you will end up abusing the thing.

Marriage is an institution that so many people in our day do not understand the purpose of. If we were to take a survey among people in this room and ask what the purpose of marriage is, we would probably get back several different answers.   Our culture is so confused about marriage.   And this confusion is leading to a misuse, neglect, and abuse of what marriage is supposed to be. A few examples will show how prevalent this confusion about marriage has become.   A recent study done by the Pew Research Center has shown that after decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. When these people are surveyed regarding the role marriage plays in society, they reflect an attitude regarding marriage that shows why these marriage rates are lowering. The Pew Research Center finds a public that is deeply divided over the role marriage plays in society. Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Some 46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second.   As marriage rates are dropping, divorce rates remain still too high. According to an Enrichment Journal article on the divorce rate in America, the divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%. The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%. The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%.   During the time that marriage rates have been dropping, support for allowing two men or two women to get married has been increasing.   In 1989, 69-79% of Americans opposed allowing homosexuals to marry.   In 2014, 59% are now in favor.   Also add in the fact that according to a USA Today story, between 1990 and 2012, the percentage of unmarried couples living together more than doubled.   NBC news reported that by the time they’re 20, 1 in 4 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they’re 30, that ratio climbs to 3 in 4.

What does this all mean? To summarize, more people are living together instead of committing in marriage, too many people get married who will not stay married, and too many people think that marriage is something other than what really is.   When we do not know the purpose of something, we will abuse it.   Fortunately, God has provided us with the answer so that we can know about what the purpose of marriage is.   Please turn in your Bible’s with me to Ephesians 5:22-33.   As we look at this passage today, we will be drawing out two primary points.   We will first see the purpose of marriage is to be a physical, tangible symbol and sign that shows off God’s love for His people. And next, will see how this purpose leads us to rightfully practice marriage in our homes, community, and church. The purpose will lead to the practice.

Purpose:

Let’s begin by looking at the purpose of marriage.  But before we look at the specific purpose of marriage, let’s lay down a principle that should guide us whenever we are looking at the purpose for anything.   Two passages in particular help us with this principle.   Romans 11:36 says “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” And Colossians 1:16 says “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” The principle is this: All things are created by God through Christ and find their purpose in Him. All things exist to bring God glory. God burns with a white-hot passion to make his Glory known in the entire universe. Therefore, all things both good and bad exist to give God glory. Whether it is through the display of his wrath and justice on evil or the display of his mercy, grace, and love in all goodness, all things were created for God’s glory.   You and I exist to showcase God’s glory.   Marriage also was created by God to demonstrate God‘s glory.   This is the principle behind all things.

 

With God’s glory the ultimate purpose, how does marriage complete this purpose?   There are many secondary ways marriage brings God glory. These include operating as a tool to sanctify Christians, to overcome loneliness, and to provide for the procreation of the species but marriage’s ultimate fulfillment of its Godly purpose is listed here in Ephesians 5. As we look at this passage, you see two lines of thought moving about it. There is the very real practical instruction regarding husbands and wives given here.   But underlining all of this practical instruction is a larger glorious theme. You will see throughout this passage the phrases “As to the Lord” and “As Christ. “ These phrases occur 6 times in this brief passage.   All the practical instruction in this passage is tied to these phrases. We are to obey these practical instructions because they are done “as the Lord” or “as Christ” has. Verse 31 and 32 bring into clarity what this all means. Here in these two verses we are given what marriage primarily exists to accomplish.   Marriage exists to bring God Glory by being a tangible, visible, and living picture of God’s love for His people.   Marriage is a symbol.

 

All throughout the Bible, God uses physical acts or objects to act as visible signs to represent abstract and invisible ideas.   Children often have a hard time with abstract ideas.   For example, when teaching a child to add we often use blocks or toys.   Addition using only numbers with no corresponding concrete object like finger so toes to count is a very hard concept for a child to learn.   When reading stories to children, we use books with larger colorful pictures that often pop out.   This is also one of the reasons that movies and TV shows for even many adults have become such a popular way of imparting ideals and philosophies.   A picture is equal to a thousand words.   God throughout the bible has used visible signs to represent something else.   He used the rainbow to represent his covenant promise to Noah. God uses the sacrifices in the Old Testament to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. We have other physical signs such as circumcision, Passover feasts, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism.   These all represent far greater things than just their immediate application.   We see here in Ephesians that marriage was created by God to also be a sign or symbol.

 

Marriage is a sign to all the world of God’s love for His elect people.   Paul quotes Genesis 2: 24 here to explain this.  So like Paul let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see this picture at work.   This tour is going to be a quick fly over so we are not going to be landing on any one verse for an extended time.   There are however plenty of sources of information on these passages to help guide you in a deeper study on them.

Sit back and put your seat belt on as we take this biblical tour.   If you will look out your right side window, you will see first up on our tour of marriage in the Bible, that marriage goes all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis, God creates Adam alone.   None of the animals are a suitable helper to Adam, so God created Eve to be a companion to Adam. Genesis 2:24 describes this first marriage and how it relates to all others. This is the verse that the apostle Paul quotes:“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”   What we see in here is more than just the introduction of Adam to Eve.   We see that marriage is a gift and is itself an example of God’s love for Adam and all mankind.   Marriage from the beginning is tied up with the love of God.   Next, in Genesis 3, we have the temptation and fall of mankind.   In the fall, the marriage order is turned on its head as Eve takes the spiritual lead and Adam neglects his responsibility to lead his wife. Satan attacks marriage from the beginning. He knows it is to be a picture of God’s love so Satan attacks it. Adam and Eve fall. God gives out curses in this passage and explains that because of sin, child-birth will be harder and that marriage will also be tough. God also gives the promise though that it is through the birth of a child, in particular Jesus that all will be restored.

It is in Exodus that God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt.   God renews his covenant with descendents of Abraham at Mount Sinai by the giving of His law. This covenant ceremony is in many ways similar to a wedding ceremony.  The covenant is of course also alike a marriage.  This may be one of the reasons that in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, Marriage and family is protected strongly in 3 of the Ten Commandments. There are various laws in Deuteronomy protecting marriage, prohibiting adultery, and calling for the purity of virginity. God’s people are to abstain from sexuality immorality in part because our sexuality is to be a picture of the commitment of God’s church to be pure.  Also in Deuteronomy, we see the first indication that idolatry is like infidelity in marriage. Deuteronomy 31:16 explains to Moses that the Israelites will commit spiritual adultery.   They will break their covenant vows. Yet God will be true to his vow. This theme is picked up greatly in the later prophets.   What is certain here is that God’s love for his people is the ultimate marriage and for his people to follow other gods is for them to play the part of a prostitute.

The entire book of Ruth is a love story that beautifully showcases marriage as a picture of God’s love.   We see in the book of Ruth, God bringing into his covenant a woman who would not normally have been included. She is included by marriage. Marriage as a picture of God’s love for the nations is shown in the inclusion of this foreign woman.   Ruth of course plays a huge part in redemption history.   She is the ancestor of  David and more importantly Jesus.

In the books of Psalms and Proverbs, marriage is both praised and compared to God’s promises.   In perhaps what is the strongest example yet in our tour of the Bible is the book of Song of Songs.   This book is a poetic account of marital love, fidelity, and intimacy. The early Jewish rabbis taught that the book pictures God’s love for Israel. Early Christian writers took the same approach. One writer in the third century wrote a ten-volume commentary on Song of Solomon, telling how the book describes God’s love for Christians.

Finishing up the Old Testament, we come to the prophets.   It is here we that God’s love for his people and his people’s commitment or lack of commitment is compared to a bride and groom.   Isaiah 49:18 speaks of God clothing his people like a bride. Isaiah 61 continues this message of God clothing his people with beauty, dignity, and love like a bride.   Isaiah 62 includes this beautiful passage:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel also make frequent use of this comparison.   Chapter 16 of Ezekiel is lengthy but in beautifully poetic terms it says that even though we have all went after false Gods and committed spiritual adultery, God is a loving groom that calls us back to Him.   God calls people from among all the nations to be His. He will cleanse their sin and make them pure as a virgin bride.

Hosea the prophet makes this point even more clear because God uses Hosea’s life and marriage to deliver this point. Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who will cheat on him and get herself sold into sex slavery. Hosea though loves his unfaithful wife and buys her back from prostitution. God uses this living picture to show that God loves and redeems sinners through Christ.

The Old Testament is clear. God’s love for us is compared to marriage.  Entering into the New Testament we are again greeted with this picture.   Jesus’ first public miracle is at a wedding. He institutes his blessing on the wedding and begins his ministry celebrating marriage.   Jesus also over and over refers to himself as the Bridegroom. He points the Old Testament promises of God to save his people and to love them. Jesus uses this marriage them all throughout his ministry and sermons.    Jesus is the ultimate groom who lays down his life to love his bride. Finally in Revelation of  we are told of the marriage supper of the Lamb.   It is His second coming that Jesus’ union with his people, the Church will be completed and celebrated.

And this concludes our tour of the Bible and we arrive back to our passage in Ephesians 5 now after having gone through the entire Bible.   We have seen that marriage is used extensively as a picture of God’s love for his people. We see this fully illustrated in the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ for his people.   This lines up exactly with what Ephesians 5 says.   In fact, Ephesians 5 goes a step further. God’s love is not just compared to marriage but true marriage here is compared to God’s love. That is the reason that God’s love throughout the bible is compared to marriage is because marriage itself is supposed to be a display God’s love.   Marriage exists to be a picture that we can witness in our lives and the lives others.   Marriage shows us the love of God for his people.     This is the primary mission of marriage.

We see in this passage that Jesus does 6 things for His bride, the Church.  Verse 25, Jesus loves His bride. He gives himself sacrificially also in verse 25. He sanctifies and makes pure the church  in verse 26. He presents her to the Father proudly in verse 27. Finally in verse 29, Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. This is that amazing grace and amazing love we sing about. This is what our marriages are meant to be and meant to point to.

If Marriage’s purpose is to point us to the love of God in Jesus, then knowing this will inform our understanding of the practice of marriage.   Again, the picture shows us the practice.

The Practice of Marriage:

 There are several things that knowing the purpose of marriage will lead us to understand.   We now know that marriage is about more than just romantic feelings.   It is a picture of self-sacrifice and commitment.   Marriage is also exclusive, that is it is only between one man and one woman. Today this part is under attack  in our country.   Marriage however is only between two people of the opposite sex.   It is the union of a bride and a husband, not a husband and husband. Nor is it mean to between three or more people.   Marriage is clearly defined in the bible this way both in the Old and New Testament.

Two objections are usually given here. The first objection is to say that Jesus himself did not forbid homosexuality or homosexual marriage.     This objection really misunderstands the nature of scripture and overlooks what Jesus does say about marriage. The argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality presumes that the rest of scripture are not the words of Christ. Jesus and the Holy Spirit co-exist in the Godhead and have been in perfect and eternal communion from eternity past. It is Holy Spirit – God Himself – who inspired all of the Bible, including epistles like Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy where homosexuality is addressed. Secondly, as already mentioned on our tour the Bible, Jesus in the Gospels does address marriage frequently.   He points to the same passage in Genesis that Paul uses here in Ephesians to say that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The second objection regarding marriage that some people make is to point to those in the Old Testament who had more than one wife.   To answer this objection we must be able to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive texts.   For example when we go to a doctor with an illness, the doctor first diagnoses and describes our sickness to us.   He then proceeds to prescribe for us a medicine to cure the sickness.   Descriptive texts in the Bible merely describe the way things were.   They are not necessarily commandments or even models for us to follow.   The Bible describes a lot of things.   The Bible does not sugar coat things either. It describes the Old Testament kings and prophets, warts and all.   Prescriptive texts on the other hands are commands for us to follow.   We see that marriage in the Bible time was under attack just as today.   God warns the people that if they marry many wives they will face many bad consequences.   And often the Bible describes how this disobedience and distortion of marriage leads to the downfall of many great people including King Solomon.

The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.   It is a permanent institution that is to endure during the life of the bride and groom. Malachi 2:16 says that divorce is violence.   Marriage is established by God and what God establishes should not be broken by man.   We do not have time to go into all of the teachings on divorce today but needless to say, divorce is never a good thing.

Because marriage is a picture of God’s love, it is fitting that marriage occurs all around the world.   People from all nations marry.  All nations are able to see this picture of God’s love.   Marriage as an institution is not just limited to Christians though its message is decisively Christen.   Christians however should seek to only marry believers. Single Christians should not become unequally yoked with a non-Christian.   Charles Spurgeon says this “When husbands and wives are well yoked, how light their load becomes!”   This is so true.

            Because Marriage exists from the beginning,  it is not primarily or even secondarily a political institution. The government’s involvement should only be limited to acknowledging what God has already declared marriage to be.   No Senate, House of representative, President or Supreme Court can change what marriage is.   They can try all they like but calling something marriage that can not be marriage does not change what is not marriage into marriage.  It is not up to popular vote.   Nations, politicians, and voters who seek to challenge God’s definition will ultimately face judgment for their distortion of God’s picture.

And lastly and as personal application for us today, our marriages as Christians should reflect the love of Christ. This love will reflect to our spouses and from there the world will see displayed in our marriages God’s grace. This points us to the very practical instruction in these verses.   This instruction is commanded by our Lord but has gone out of vogue in our current times.

We see from this practical instruction that because marriage is a picture of Jesus’ love for His church, husbands are love their wives sacrificially overlooking weaknesses and imperfections.   Just ask Jesus laid down his life for the Church, husbands are called to sacrificial love.   Just as Jesus sanctifies and makes the Church pure, husbands are watch out for their wives purity. They are to protect their wives spiritual life.   Husbands and men, this means first putting away all sexual immorality and lust from your own lives. You cannot protect the purity of your family and wife if you are looking at pornography in your private time.   Nothing will kill a marriage quicker than sexual immorality.   And the sad fact is that there are men who go to church every week yet go home and look websites that distort the beauty of the sexuality that God has given us to use within the confines of marriage.   Men or women if you are caught up in this destructive behavior there is hope, forgiveness, and cleanliness in Christ.   Repent and put your faith in Him. You also need to seek help by contacting other godly men if you are man or other godly women if you are a woman.  To repeat, husbands you are to guard the purity of your wife.  This means that husbands also lead their wives to follow Christ.   Husbands are to be the spiritual leader in their home.   You wife should not have to drag your butt out of bed on Sunday morning to get you to go to  church. You are the one who should be leading your wife and your family into a closer relationship with Christ.

Wives you are called submit to the loving leadership of your husbands. Just as the church submits to Christ, you are to follow your husband’s leadership. Submission is not welcome in our current culture but yet it is what God calls you to.   This is not a weakness as many may think. Christ himself is an example of submission. The night that he would be arrested and crucified, Jesus while gathered with the twelve disciples washed his disciples’ feet.   The Bible says He did this knowing full well that He was the king of the universe.   Jesus was also able to submit to the will of His father because he was motivated out a love for Him. Wives out of love for the Father and for your husband, you can submit to your husband knowing that you are the daughter of the King.

Wives and husbands pray for each other.   Wives and husbands keep the marriage bed undefiled. Wives and Husbands lead their children.   In all of this, we display to the world and to each other the love of God.

 

Conclusion:

So in conclusion all of this points us back to the savior who is full of grace and mercy, a savior who bought his bride at a great price, a bride who often plays the part of a prostitute  caught in adultery.   The church is made up of people who do not deserve the love of God yet he willfully sacrificed all for their sake.   Marvel at the love of this Savior.   Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that perfectly recounts his love

“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”     That is the picture that marriage is meant to be. May we all submit to that love and may all of our marriages beautifully display that picture.

 

Teach Them Well (Deut 6:4-7)

(The following is a sermon that I recently preached at Irvington Baptist Church and Westmoreland Baptist Church)

chalkboard

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”- Deuteronomy 6: 4-7

 

I have a confession to make, I love watching documentary movies.   It’s nerdy I know but I love them.  My wife and I have Netflix and it has a ton of them.  I like to watch documentaries on about anything: War, history, food, politics, dinosaurs, or grass growing. You can film someone putting up wall paper, get Morgan Freeman to narrate it and I will want to watch it. I’ve tried to show my wife a few but they often just put her to sleep.   Anyways, the other day I was on Netflix and came across this documentary called “Hitler’s Children.”   So I watched it.   It was one of the most powerful documentaries that I have ever seen.  It has occupied my thoughts for several weeks now.  Now you may know, Adolf Hitler did not actually have any children of his own.   He only got married a couple of days before his death; however, some of his closest companions did have families and children. This documentary focuses on five people who are the descendents of those Nazis. One such person is the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the commander of a concentration camp.   As I watched the documentary, I saw five people trying to come to grips with the legacy that their parents or grandparents left them, each of them  enslaved to an overwhelming guilt of being associated with those horrible Nazis.   They want to love their parents as any child would but yet are horrified at the things their parents did.   After watching this film, I was just overwhelmed with thoughts about how our lives affect those around us. And now as I stand here at the beginning of this sermon with you, I am reminded of the impact of that movie: “Your legacy matters.”  The things we do matter to the next generation, to our children and those around us.   Just as these Nazi’s left a legacy to their children that will haunt them their entire lives, we too leave a legacy behind.   With that in mind, I want to preach to you a message from God’s word regarding the type of legacy God would have us leave.

What verses or passages come to mind when you think of the great passages of the Bible? What bible stories stick out in your mind? You might think of John 3:16, The Great Commission, “Judge Not”, The Ten Commandments or even Genesis 1:1, “In the Beginning.”   We believe all of the Bible to be God-breathed and useful for correction and reproach but even in the church there are some passages that we know more than others.   I want us to look at one such passage in the Old Testament that for the nation of Israel and even for Jewish people today is the passage that would stick out in their minds.  The Jews call this passage in Deuteronomy the “Shema Israel”.   It gets that name because the first two words of these verses in Hebrew are ,you guessed it, “Shema Israel.”   For Jews, this passage is one that they remember from childhood. This is their version of John 3:16. This would be the first verses that they teach their children. Even today if you were to go to a synagogue on any given Sabbath you will hear this passage recited.   It is of extreme importance to them.   A Jewish boy or girl would be taught these verses and would read them every night in what is called the “Bedtime Shema.”   They would also be taught that these words should be the last on their lips as they die.   In 2006, Roi Klein a major in the IDF, said the Shema before jumping on a live grenade to save his fellow soldiers. So as you can tell this passage is important.   In fact it is important not only for ethnic Jews but for us as well.   Jesus was once asked what the most important commandment of God is and he recited this passage.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

A little background information to this passage will be helpful as we dig in. You will remember how the Israelites had been enslaved to Egypt and how God had inflicted the plagues on Pharaoh  The Israelites led by Moses crossed the red sea on dry ground and were heading to the promise land.   They, however, refused to trust God and thus he swore that they would wander for 40 years in the desert.   So for 40 years, the Children of God wondered the desert instead of entering the promised land.   Moses who had led them faithfully for 40 years was nearing his death so in the book of Deuteronomy, He recounts to the Israelites who would be entering the Promised Land the Law that God had given them at Mount Sinai.     In Chapter 5, Moses tells how God had appeared to the Israelites in the dark clouds over Mount Sinai and had given them the Ten Commandments. Chapter 6  is the capstone or summary of all of the ten commandments and beginning of the exposition of the law to follow. With that in mind, we see four things from this passage.   1. Who God is  2. What God commands. 3.  What God fulfills 4. and How we respond.

The first thing mentioned here is “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”     Everything begins with originates from and gets validity at their source which is God.   Thus we begin looking at God.  God in this passage starts by identifying himself.   It is God who reveals himself to us. God is the one who defines who God is. And the very first thing He mentions is that He is Lord. This is something we have forgotten or lost in our current culture. We have sometimes rush so quickly to “Jesus is a Friend of Mine” that we forgot the Holiness, the otherness, the supreme-ness, the Kingship of God.

We must have a right understanding of God as he reveals himself to us before we can ever get to the awesome good news of the Gospel. And while the cross and Jesus’ death on it are the central part of the Gospel, we must first, however, have a right view of God before we ever get to the cross.   God is creator of everything.   The 2nd London Baptist Confession gives an excellent summary of how God reveals himself in the Bible.  It says :

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

 

God is Holy.   And He is Creator. And it is He and He alone who decides the purpose for our lives and the way that we should live. The creation never gets to say to the creator what its purpose will be. That comes from God. God’s holiness also explains how he is also unable to be around sin and imperfection.

2Samuel 7:22 says “Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”

C.S. Lewis wrote a series of books called Chronicles of Narnia. Some of you may have read them or seen the movies but in them, Aslan the creator is a lion.   This lion represents God in the world of Narnia. Recurring over and over again in the book is this phrase about Aslan: “ He is not a tame lion.”   We need to remind ourselves this about God: We have not and cannot tame Him either. All throughout the Old Testament we are given pictures of the awesome wonder and power of God.   Many times it is scary. In fact, King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that the beginning of knowledge is the Fear of God.  

We need to reclaim the fear of the Lord. When we come to worship God we are to have a reverence for God. We are entering the presence of the Holy God who created everything and who holds the power over life and death. I like how John Piper talks about Worship and how it fuels missions:  “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. “

Worship then is the ultimate reason we exist.   We should seek to present to God our very best. We should not come flippantly into worship as if this time is just the hour before lunch.
There is another documentary called “Grizzly Man.”   It was about a guy named Timothy Treadwell. He had a strange fascination with Grizzly Bears.  He went to Alaska each summer and lived in a tent right out in the wilderness next to the bears.   Over the course of several years, he began to name the bears.  He even would pet the bears and get on all fours and walk around with the bears.   As Timothy came to know and care for these bears, he forgot one important thing; they are bears.   He became too comfortable with them and lost track of the fact he was human and they were bears.   Things didn’t end well for Timothy because one summer both he and his girlfriend were killed by a grizzly bear.
We need now more than ever to remember that we are not humans and that God is God. And God burns with an infinite passion to declare and uphold the glory of His Name.   This passage begins with the declaration that God is Lord.

If I left you here, we would miss something for important.   The passage says the Lord “OUR” God.   While God is holy and perfect. He is personal. He is good and can be known.   He is not a grizzly bear that may lash out irrationally in the heat of the moment.   This untame God has created us for the purpose of knowing and enjoying Him forever. He created us for His glory.   The Westminster Catechism asks this question about man “What is the chief end of man?”   The answer given is this” To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That fact the Lord is Our God makes this possible.    God receiving glory and our enjoyment go hand in hand.   John Piper again says this famously, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” God is personal and we can know him.   He is not just some being out there in the nebula of space but is closer than any brother.

This verse also reveals to us that God alone is God.   God is one. 1Ch 17:20 says O LORD, there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

In the New Testament 1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

There is only one God and He exists eternally in three persons, The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.   We sing his praise every week.  Sometimes we sing a song that says “Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”     This Trinity God is the only God. As the first of the 10 commandments say we are to have no other God before Him.

Theology or the study or thinking about God is important and vital for us as Christians and for this church. Theology is not just left to your pastor. Each of you are theologians in some way or another.     In fact every person is a theologian in the sense that they have think about God. You will either have thoughts about God that either conform to what God says about himself or you will follow some other god.  Many people get caught up listening and following all kinds of different voices. There are plenty of people with nice personalities who may have charisma and speak words eloquently.   However none of those traits are worth a hill of beans if the person does not have a right understanding of God and his word.

This brings us to the second point.   God commands:   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Jesus was asked what was the most important command and he answered Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

 What is love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me No More.   You can’t turn on the radio without hearing a song about LOVE.   The Beatles sang “All We Need is Love.  Elvis couldn’t help falling love.   The Righteous Brothers lost that Lovin Feelin.  Stevie Wonder was a Part time Lover. In today’s world, Love is often nothing more than a song. In our culture it is definitely is only a feeling. And as all feelings go, Love can to.   Maybe when we think of love, we think of all butterflies in the stomach and knots in the throat we got in middle school.  We were all shook up.   But as Tina Turner sang “What’s Love got to do with it?”   So What is love? Like Foreigner sings “I wanna know what Love is”   We need to rethink Love.   It’s more than a radio jingle and more than roses and flowers.

One contemporary Christian song describes God’s love this way “ God’s loves like a Hurricane and I am the tree.”

But here we are commanded to love God.   We don’t often think of being commanded to love.   But here it is, a commandment to love.   Love then must be more than these feelings. It must be a conscious determination to make the object of your love more important than yourself.   We are to love God with our Hearts:

This is the seat of our emotions so feelings do play a part. And when we think of God and his holiness and what he has done for us it does move us to love him with our hearts. It is not however only a part of our heart that God wants.   He wants the entire thing. No looking back as Sodom with love in our hearts for the idols there like Lots wife. No this love takes our entire heart.

It takes our Heart and Soul.  But what does it mean to love with our soul. We might summarize loving God with our soul as Greg Simas does:

“We love the Lord with all our soul by living a life of faithfulness to all that the Lord has required of us. While loving the Lord with all our heart has to do with affection, loving the Lord with all our soul has to do with devotion. The soul literally is the part of us that defines who we are. The essence of the biblical definition for soul means life, personality, the inner self and our identity. It’s where we make our decisions and choices that ultimately decide our lifestyle and behavior. Think of the soul as the “core you”. To love the Lord with all your soul means to love Him in the way we live, in the choices we make and in the behavior and lifestyle we adopt.”

Next we are to love God with our  Mind:   I think this is most of the neglected parts of this commandment today. There are several components to intellectual love for God. 1. Dedicating our minds to knowing him. 2 Thinking clearly and truly about him so that we don’t have false ideas in our minds.

We can only love God with our minds if we use them.   We need to be in his word reading it daily.   There are many false teachers out in this world. Loving God with our mind means testing the teaching we hear and seeing if it truly is from God.   We can only do that if we know our Bibles.   Did you guys know that before you got here this morning that I got on a ladder and painted the word gullible on the ceiling.   How many of you looked up?   We can’t be gullible.   Not every person claiming to speak for God does.   There are preachers who will tell you what you want to hear and may say things that sound nice but they distort the scriptures for financial gain.   You can turn on the tv and see some of them with large smiles and big wallets ready to take you for a ride.   I don’t want to name names but they might rhyme with Foel Bosteen and Royce Fryers.   Stay away from them.   Open your Bible and turn them off.   Loving the Lord your God with your mind means engaging your brain.

And the final component of love is our strength.   Some translations put it as resources.   I think that is a fair translation. To love the Lord God with our strength is to love him with our resources. It is to love God with our time and the things that we have.

The biblical definition of love according to Voddie Baucham  is that love is an act of the will (it’s a choice) accompanied (not led) by emotion that leads to action (it’s proved by our efforts) on behalf of its object.

This is the great commandment. And it’s a commandment. Sometimes we treat God’s commands like great suggestions. We read a command in the Bible from God and think, “Alright God, I’ll take it under advisement.”   We hear sermons and then leave thinking that what we heard was optional.   God’s commandments are not optional. They require our obedience.   This commandment to love God with everything requires our obedience.

When this command was first given Mt. Sinai, Moses was on the way down the mountain with the great tablets of stone that God had written with his own finger and the Israelites were already worshipping a god made out of their own hands.  Again when Moses writes this down in Deuteronomy, the ink could not have even dried on the paper before the Israelites broke the commandment.  It’s like the bride stopping off on the way from the wedding to the reception for a fling with another lover.

There is more bad news as we read this commandment because the truth is that we disobey it. From birth, we want to be god.   Like our fore-parents Adam and Eve we reject God. One of my favorite rappers Shai Linne writes about our rebellion this way:

“So why do the nations rage and all of the peoples plot in vain?
Their sin and offense is against His excellence and they’re not ashamed
As though He’s lacking the power to shackle them now in the hottest flames
And so they cock and aim- the target? His cosmic reign
That’s like a kid with a super soaker trying to conquer Spain!
Man thinks he’s a pugilist, trying to ball up his puny fist
At the LORD, who is ruling this
What’s amusing is God just laughs, like “Who is this”?
Stupid kids who persist in foolishness
It’s only by God’s power you exist
Now you declare war on the LORD
When before you were born, He formed you in the uterus?”

The Bible says there is not one who loves God not one.  Yet, here we are stuck with a commandment we don’t obey and the punishment for this commandment is Hell.   We deserve God’s wrath and judgment.

God fulfills this commandment. But there was one who did complete this.  His name is Jesus.   It was the greatest commandment. He lived it, breathed it, and died with it on his mind. Jesus fulfilled this commandment because we couldn’t    He obeyed God’s law and lived a Holy life free from sin. Yet ,He chose to take our sin and punishment upon himself and die. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus to be sin even though he did not sin, so that we might become righteous.   He did this as 1st Peter 3:18 says by suffering in our place so that we might be forgiven by God.   The prophet Isaiah prophesied that this would take place years before Jesus would come. Isaiah said “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus however not only died but defeated death by rising from dead.   Jesus did this so that we might have a right relationship with God and this demands a response.

Our response to the good news that Jesus died for our sins is to turn from our sins and to put our faith in Jesus. Romans 10:9 says it this way, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”   We realize the evil in our hearts and the rebellion that we have against God’s commands. We then throw ourselves at His mercy and accept the gift of salvation that is offered in Jesus.   We respond to the Gospel by faith. This is not a blind faith but a trust in the reliability of Jesus.   We can trust Jesus because he loves us and because He rose from the dead. When we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God places on us the righteousness that Jesus earned and removes the guilt and shame of our rebellion and sin. , Paul wrote that when someone trusts in Jesus, they become a new creation.  They are forgiven and will have eternal life. Jesus said in John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”      God then writes on the heart of the new creation his law.

While we were dead in our sins and rebellion to God there was no way for us to keep the Shema. We would not and could not obey this command because of the enslavement to sin.   Yet when we place our trust in Christ and repent of sins, this is a sign of the change in our heart that God has done.   And when God changes our heart in salvation, we can now return to this commandment with gladness.   It is no longer a burden but is something that the repentant heart, soul, mind, and strength will want to do.

We can keep this commandment because God made a way for us to do it. Maybe Elvis wasn’t too far off when he sang that he couldn’t help fall in love. When you have been saved by Christ, you can’t help but love God.   It will be imperfectly done in this lifetime but God will work in you to bring you to completion.

I want to ask you to examine yourself.   Can you see in your own life a desire to love God with all that you are? Do you see in yourself a desire to obey God’s commands? Do you still have places in your heart where you hold onto rebellion? Repent and turn to God.

 

Finally this passage ends with an example of the outworking of our response.   This example is one of the first ways we love God with everything we have.   This part of the passage has become my personal mission statement as a student minister and father.

 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise

 

I want to encourage you that this command is part of the previous. Loving the Lord means you will teach your children and those around you to love him as well.   It is a way of life. Not something that can be done on Sunday and Wednesday Nights alone. It is not something that you can outsource to a youth pastor or a children’s church worker.   You as parents and church members are commanded to teach these things to those around you especially your children.   We see from this passage that it is to happen all day every day in everything we do.   When we sit around the house, when we go out for a drive, when we lay down at night and when we wake up in the morning, we are to be constantly teaching and speaking about the love and commandments of God.

I want to share with you some statistics:According to researchers, between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teens are leaving the church by their second year in college.  That’s right, modern American Christianity has a failure rate somewhere around eight (almost nine) out of ten when it comes to raising children who continue in the faith.

Over the past several years a number of researchers have discovered that the overwhelming majority of our teenagers who still attend church and identify themselves as Christians have belief systems that mitigate their claims. Researcher George Barna, for example, discovered that 85 percent of “born again teens” do not believe in the existence of absolute truth.”

From the same study George Barna comes to this conclusion:

” Our research suggests that religious congregations are losing out to school and the media for the time and attention of youth. When it comes to the formation of the lives of youth, viewed sociologically, faith communities typically get a very small seat at the end of the table for a very limited period of time. The youth-formation table is dominated structurally by more powerful and vocal actors. Hence . . . most teens know details about television characters and pop stars, but many are quite vague about Moses and Jesus . . . Many parents also clearly prioritize homework and sports over church or youth group attendance.”

Youth are not leaving the church because the games are not cool enough.   Youth are not falling into the world because we didn’t serve the right pizza.   We are losing this generation because we have neglected to keep this commandment. We send our children to the enemy for 8 to 10 hours a day to be educated and don’t live out a life of God’s love before them the rest of the day and then take them to church on Sunday for 2 hours and expect that to be enough.

The Bible here and elsewhere gives Parents, not the student minister, not the church workers, not the nursery workers, not the schools but the Parents and in particular the fathers the responsibility to teach their children the commandments of God and to raise them to be followers of Christ.

Related research among church goers, however, revealed that a majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children. . . . About two out of three parents of children 12 or younger attend religious services at least once a month and generally take their children with them. . . . The survey data indicate that parents generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive.

However, Parents are the primary teachers in their children’s lives, even if they don’t know it. Some parents are better teachers than others, but every parent is a teacher when it comes to the children with whom he or she shares a home. Parents are the primary disciple-makers, every ministry should exist to support but never to replace the parents’ role. A key objective for this entire church must be to equip and support parents in making their homes ministry centers for the spiritual growth of their children.

Voddie Baucham says “A family without a commitment to the God of the Bible has no hope of stemming the tide of cultural onslaught. If we mix a little biblical truth, a little secular psychology, a little romance novel ideology, and a little eastern mysticism, we will get a deadly mixture of lies. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many Christian families do. We do marriage according to Dr. Phil, raise our children according to Dr. Spock, govern our sex lives according to Dr. Ruth, and only run to Dr. Jesus when things have gotten so bad we can’t find another doctor to help us.”

You cannot read the bible without getting the vision from God that parents and families are important.   You will also see in our culture that families are under attack.  Fathers and husbands are called by God from the very beginning in Genesis through the Old Testament and right into the New Testament to be the servant leaders and biblical leaders in their home.  This fact has been under attack since the beginning.   Since the beginning men have abandoned this role.   When Eve ate the fruit and sinned, the bible makes it pretty clear that Adam was standing right there and did nothing about it. In fact , the bible places the responsibility of sin on Adam the man.   Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”   Men the bible holds you accountable for how your families turn out.   You have the spiritual responsibility and no one else.   I do not have time to go through all the verses and there are a ton of verse s about male headship to point this out but you can begin in Ephesians.

My point is this- fathers and men, you are called to lead your families and to love them like Jesus which is sacrificial with great gentleness and strength. Many men must move from merely bringing their families to church to embracing their God-ordained role as their families’ spiritual shepherd and mentor.

 

Women and mothers you are called to come along side your husband and to also be responsible in raising your children in the nurture of the Lord.   Look at proverbs 31 to get a picture of what a strong woman who willfully submits to the godly leadership of her husband while raising children that are pleasing to God looks like.We are to be teaching our children all day. It’s when you are at home, when you are on the road, when you walk by the way.

 

“What you do for God beyond your home will not typically be greater than what you practice with God within your home.” – G. Wishall.

Teaching your children happens every day and all day long. You teach with your words and actions.   What is important to you will be important to your children.

I want to give you one practical thing that my wife and I begun when Jasmine was born and has become the highlight of my day. Every night about an hour before bed, we get the girls ready for bed and sit down with them in the living room. I as a father read the Bible passage for the evening. We then sing songs with our girls. Some of them are silly children songs but others are hymns and worship songs.   We then pray together. This time is precious to me. It is refreshing and it is amazing to see Jasmine learn these songs.   I want to encourage you whether you have children or not, to start this practice with whoever is in your household

This may be a completely foreign concept to some of you. It may take some getting used to.  So many parents think they don’t have enough Bible knowledge to teach their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you can read, you can teach your children God’s Word. All you have to do is stay a step ahead of them. Don’t be afraid. God has given you everything you need to do this. You don’t have to be a seminary-trained theologian to read the Bible and talk about what it means. Besides, God would not have given you the responsibility unless He knew you could handle.

Regarding Family Worship, parents, you have the responsibility to carry this out. Fathers and men, again the bible places it squarely on your manly shoulders.   Don’t neglect to lead your family and this church family in worship. Do not let worship and music be the domain of woman only.   There are boys in this church that need you men to step up and be an example of Jesus.   Men should be some of the loudest singers and worshipers we have. Women and mothers, don’t let your husband’s neglect this responsibility.   And when they take responsibility follow them into worship of Jesus.   Girls and young women need adult women to lead them into loving the Lord.

Finally, The world’s limited view of life says that the most important thing we can teach our children to do is get good grades, go to a good college, get out of school, and get a good job so they can make more money than their mom and dad did.

“Being a member of an organized traveling baseball squad at age ten doesn’t add a single day to one’s life. In fact, many of these activities get in the way of much loftier pursuits. 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.” –  Voddie Baucham

It all comes down to a simple question: Why are we here? Does your family exist to prepare children for the NBA? If so, then basketball will be the center of our family’s universe, and everything will bow to the whims and wishes of the basketball god. Does your family exist to produce little pop culture icons? If so, then our family must revolve around the social calendars of our overloaded teenagers and their hectic schedules. However, if your family exists to love God then we can not allow anything to interfere with our commitment to family worship, prayer, and Bible study.

  

Today we have looked at who God is, what He commands, how he fulfills and how we are to respond. How will you respond?   Will you join me and making this passage one of your life’s goals?

Hitler’s Children: The Sins of the fathers

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’                                                               –Numbers 14:18

 

HitlersChildren

I have always been interested in history and have read quite a lot on World War II.  For some reason other another, perhaps because the war happened years before my birth, I had never given much thought about any one who would be related to the Nazi leaders being alive today.  That was until the  other day when on netflix, I stumbled across a documentary entitled “Hitler’s Children.” The documentary focuses on five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices.  This film is emotionally gripping in so many ways.   As I watched it I could not help but be moved as these people struggled with the desire to love their parents or grandparents as is natural for anyone and the hatred of all that these same parents, grandparents, and uncles had done.   One such lady,Monika Hertwig,  tells about when a viewing of “Schindler’s List”  she came to the complete realization of the monstrosity of her father, Amon Goeth.  She had a panic attack while in the theater and felt like she was going to die if it got any worse.

While watching the film, I could not help but think about several themes from the Bible.    God’s Word has a way of dealing with the intense needs of our world.  There are two themes in particular that I want to pull out from the Bible that kept flooding into my mind as I watched this documentary

1.  The first theme I thought of was how we are all under the shame of our ancestors and share in this guilt.  In the beginning, when our first ancestors began a cosmic rebellion to their Creator’s authority and sovereignty by disobeying His command, they began a projection of guilt and sin that carries on to this day.  They believed a lie and this lie gave root and bore fruit in all the sin and shame that fills our world.   We are all born in this sin.   Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  The horrors of the Nazi atrocities did not just begin in the 20th century but they were born all those years earlier in the garden when Adam and Eve decided that they knew better than God what was right and what was wrong.   The sins of our father Adam then are replayed and repaid through out all generations.   Alas that anyone would claim not fair that they should share in this guilt, Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned.”    It is not as if you or I had been the one in the garden we would have done in any better.   We would have then done the same thing.    We are guilty.   God is just, Numbers 14:18.     I think this is part of the reason we recoil so much at the Nazis.   We watch as a whole nation of people are sucked into an evil philosophy and wonder how they could have allowed themselves to become that way.  The truth is that if not for the grace and restraining power of God, our hearts in our natural state are capable of doing unspeakable horror.

2.  Watching this documentary, I also could not help but be reminded that while we are effected by the sin of others and we do have real guilt in our sin,  the good news is God has made a way to remove that shame and guilt.  We are not our parents.   We do not have to bare the shame of Adam.   We do not have to continue the path of destruction that came before us.    One particular scene in film that moved me was when the grandson of Rudolf Hoess traveled to the concentration camp where his grandfather had been commander.   While there you could see the pain on this grandson’s face and the shame he carried.   He was invited to speak to some young Jewish teenagers who were also taking a tour through the camp.  They were curious why he was there and some were bothered by his presence.   It was an elderly man, a Jewish survivor of the camp, who changed the entire scene.  He walked up to the grandson of the man who had tortured him and shook his hand.   This holocaust survivor looked him in the face and said to him, “You didn’t do it.  It was not you who did this.”    There was a certain relief that filled this descendent of the Nazi.   You could see in the weight lifted right off of him.     This scene from the documentary while emotional is a small picture of something more grand.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”                                      – Ezekial 18:19-20

What Ezekiel wrote in the above passage gives a sense of relief.  The guilt of our ancestors does not have to carry on with us.   The children do not have to remain in punishment for the sins of their fathers.  If only they will live in righteousness.    But that is the problem isn’t it.   The above passage only gives hope to those who live in righteousness.   But we know this, that we are not righteous.  It brings us no hope.    However there was one who did live righteously.   His name is Jesus.   He lived without sin.  He did not deserve death but instead should never have suffered.   However, for our sake, Jesus was made to be the unrighteous.   Jesus took upon himself the same shame, guilt, and sin that pervades our world.   He took it upon himself so that we may be forgiven.   “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

Jesus did that for us and he calls us to repent of our sins and to put our complete trust in Him.   He did it out of love for the unlovable.   One day for those who have been saved, who repent and put their faith in Christ,  we will stand in front of the Father and when we think of the sin and shame that we deserve He will say to us,”You did not do it.”    He will say that because the sin we committed was placed on Jesus and in its place we carry the righteousness of Christ.   The cycle of guilt and shame has been broken.   The guilt of the fathers and sins of the sons of those saved by Christ are no more.

 

As I finished the film, I prayed for these five people that they may find the beauty of the gospel.

” For my father and my mother have forsaken me,but the Lord will take me in.” –  Psalm 27:10