Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Churches embrace a number of different views on the modern relevance of the Old Testament. Some believe that the Old Testament is basically irrelevant (and difficult to understand) and thus they ignore it unless it is needed to provide some Jewish background for a New Testament passage. There are others at the opposite end of the spectrum. They believe that the Old Testament laws, festivals, regulations, etc. are still binding today. In this category there are those that believe these regulations enhance and/or deepen their relationship with God and there are others who believe that these regulations are still binding and in some way essential for salvation. Finally there are those who see the Old Testament as something like a true fable. They believe that everything recorded in the Old Testament actually happened but that the modern application amounts to little more than “and the moral of the story is…” In this view the characters in the Old Testament are there to provide examples of how to and not to live. But none of these views captures the purpose of Old Testament as explained by Jesus. In Luke 24:27 this is how Jesus viewed the Old Testament:

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

And in John 5:39 and 46 Jesus says this:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”

According to Jesus the entire Old Testament is about Him. The Old Testament was written to tell us about Jesus. If we are to grasp and appreciate the richness of the Old Testament we must be diligent to look for Jesus in its pages. How does the Old Testament reveal Jesus? First it tells us of the numerous promises made by God concerning the coming of Jesus. Next it tells us how God prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. And finally it provides us with vivid pictures of what Jesus would be like and what He would do when He did come. In this series of posts I will turn to the pages of the Old Testament in the hopes of finding Jesus.

For a study like this the best place to begin is at the beginning. The first chapters of Genesis reveal God’s power in the creation of all things. Chapters 1 and 2 focus in on the creation of man. Here we learn that man was created in the image of God and was thus the pinnacle of God’s creation. Man was given a unique place in creation and was invested with a special purpose. We also learn that man was given one instruction—he was forbidden from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He was also told that the penalty for disobedience was death; both spiritual and physical. I think that we all know what happened next, Adam and Eve ate from the tree and fell under the curse of death. At that moment Adam and Eve became aware of their shame, guilt and separation from God. This manifested itself in their recognition that they are naked; prior to this they were naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25).

Once they recognized their nakedness (guilt and separation from God) they do two things; they hide and they try to cover their sin and shame. Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness by sewing fig leaves together for clothes. This act is humorous, pathetic and overwhelmingly instructive. Leaves don’t make good clothing; but it was their best attempt at self-salvation. But these “clothes” did not cover anything and they certainly did not wash away their guilt. Adam and Eve were still naked and they couldn’t undue what they had done. Their guilt and sin now defined who they were and it destroyed the relationship with God that they once enjoyed. But the story doesn’t end with the sin of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis 3 God speaks. He begins by revealing to Adam and Eve the extent of this curse. What God reveals in the first few verses of Genesis 3 is the law. This law revealed their sin and it made perfectly clear that Adam and Eve could not save themselves. But in the midst of giving a curse God speaks a word of promise, a word of Grace. God preaches the gospel to Adam and Eve. The promise is found in Genesis 3:15. God is speaking to the serpent, revealing his condemnation, but He does it in earshot of Adam and Eve. God says to the serpent:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

As important as what God says is what He doesn’t say. He doesn’t turn to Adam and Eve and say: “Well you’ve blown it and now you need to get yourself out of this mess. Here is a list of rules that you need to follow in order to free yourself from this oppression.” No, God tells the serpent what He is going to do to free Adam and Eve from bondage. Adam and Eve had joined with Satan in rebellion against God but God was going to act and undue this fellowship by creating enmity between Satan and the woman which would ultimately result in the serpents demise. This enmity would be manifested throughout history in an ongoing conflict between Satan and his offspring and the woman and her offspring. But this enmity would not last forever, God would send one who would wage and win one final and definitive battle with Satan. In that final battle Satan would take his best shot at victory and attack the heel (yes heel, not the most strategic maneuver) of this promised one. The promised descendant of the woman would return fire and strike a blow at the head of the serpent. This blow to the head would be definitive and would in fact crush the serpent; ensuring that mankind could indeed be freed from the bondage of Satan, sin and death.

It shouldn’t be all that difficult to see how Genesis 3:15 speaks of Christ; in fact throughout history it has been called the proto evangelum or first gospel. Christ is that promised one, the one who was struck (literally on the cross) on the heel. But in being struck Christ struck back, crushing the head of the serpent. The sin of Adam was defeated, not by the efforts of Adam and Eve, but by Christ. But there is more in Genesis 3 that points to Christ.

God had promised to destroy the serpent, but Adam and Eve were still naked. But in Genesis 3:21 we are told that…

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.”

God literally covered the nakedness (sin) of Adam and Eve and He does it with the skin of an animal. While it is not explicitly revealed in the text I believe that the implication is that a sacrifice was made. God took away the leaves of their own attempts at righteousness and sacrificed an animal in their place so that Adam and Eve could be clothed. That animal died so that they could live. It should not come as a surprise then that the New Testament says this about believers in relationship with Christ; in Galatians 3:26, 27 the Apostle Paul says:

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Christ is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:21, He is the sacrifice which covers our unrighteousness so that we might stand before God holy and blameless. In Him we are clothed and our sin is forgiven.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's My Motivation?

If you are a parent you are probably used to to your children asking you why. Children have an insatiable desire to know why. Sometimes this is simply an act of defiance, an attempt to avoid doing the work they don’t want to do. But more often than not this question is rooted in a genuine attempt to understand. Children do not comprehend the world and need someone to explain it to them. Along with that children want to know that what they are doing has some genuine purpose, they want to know that what they are doing means something.

As adults we also ask why. We too want to find purpose and meaning in what we do; I would go so far to argue that this is because of the fact that we were created in the image of God and are part of a purposeful and meaningful creation. But sometimes it is difficult to discern meaning and purpose. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that what we are doing has any real value at all. We might be in a job that is less than satisfying and we want to know if there is any real value aside from the pragmatic importance of putting food on the table. We might have children that we repeatedly correct for the same offense and wonder if all of our efforts are truly worth it. Our life might be limited by illness or disability. And this list could go on and on. So we come back to the question of why. What is the purpose? Does my life have any value or meaning?

In 1 Corinthians 10:31 the apostle Paul declares:

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

What Paul is saying is that the glory of God is an end in and of itself, and that all we do to that end has lasting and eternal value and meaning. To live in light of this great truth frees us from the self-imposed search for meaning and reminds us that our purpose is found in our union with Christ who has restored us to fellowship with God and has given our life real significance.

In all that you have been called to do, do it all to the glory of God. This is where meaning is found. This is where your purpose is revealed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stop Clinging

“From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” – John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion”

“We should confess, we lose You in our busyness, we've made You in our image so our faith's idolatry.” Michael Card, “Know You in the Now”

Shortly after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where Jesus had been laid to finish preparing His body for burial. When she came to the tomb she did not find the body of Jesus but an empty tomb. She assumed that the empty tomb meant that His body had been stolen. Her response was one of profound grief; the gospel of John records that she stood outside the tomb and wept. It is clear from what we read in the gospel of John that Mary loved Jesus and had tremendous affection for Him. A short time later Jesus appeared to Mary and revealed Himself to her. When she realized that it was Jesus she hugged Him as tightly as she could and obviously refused to let go; she was expressing her love and affection. If we had been witnesses to this scene it certainly would have been emotionally gripping, to witness her profound love for Jesus. It is the emotionally gripping nature of this scene that makes Jesus’ response startling. Jesus said to her in John 20:17:

“Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…”

At first glance these words seem somewhat rude. Didn’t Jesus understand that Mary missed Him, was sad that He had died and was simply overjoyed to see Him again? Why would He say such a thing to her? Why didn’t He return her affection? This is the point, Jesus did understand why she was clinging to Him and that is precisely why He told her to stop. Mary was happy to see her friend, her mentor, her teacher. She was clinging to her idea of who Jesus was and it was crucial that she stop. If she continued to cling to this Jesus she would fail to recognize that He was so much more. Jesus had to ascend to the Father. Jesus had to take His place at the right hand of the Father where He would reign over His glorious kingdom. Mary clung to Jesus her friend, the Jesus she wanted, the Jesus she had missed and she did not comprehend the Jesus she needed, Jesus Christ the Lord.

It is easy for us to cling to a version of Jesus that is far less than Jesus as He truly is. Many today have become convinced that Jesus takes away all suffering or that Jesus’ principle work is to give us all the things we want; this Jesus is like the businessman who works under the principle that the customer is always right and seeks to give his customers what they want to make them happy. Others see Jesus as one standing outside just hoping to find someone who will take Him in; this Jesus is little more than a pathetic sniveling salesman hoping to hock his second hand wares. These are just a couple of examples of Jesus as we want Him, but numerous more could be named. The point is that these versions of Jesus are not the Jesus presented in the New Testament. To embrace Jesus other than He truly is not faith, it is idolatry.

We must not cling to a Jesus of our own making; we must seek to know Him as He revealed Himself as He truly is. In particular we must understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, in other words, we must embrace Jesus Christ the Lord. There is not space here to unpack all that took place when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, so in subsequent posts I will begin looking at how the world and our lives are changed because Jesus Christ ascended to His Father.

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Evil a Problem?

The so called "problem of evil" and the reality of human suffering has long been used by some as proof that God does not exists; or if He does exist He is either not good or not all powerful. But atheists and agnostics are not the only ones who struggle with evil and suffering, many Christians seem to believe that their own suffering is a sign of God's displeasure with them or His inability or unwillingness to help them. In his little book A Primer on Apologetics John Gerstner attacks these charges head on and provides wise counsel for those dealing with evil and suffering. He begins by saying:

"So evil is bad and against God's nature but its existing must be good for the purpose God has. So the evil is bad but not the good God brings out of it. He could not bring good out of evil without evil's existing. So it is good that evil exists though evil as existing is bad. This is the divine method, not divine madness. God has seeming pleasure with evil but actual displeasure with evil. His pleasure is only in what comes out of it and therefore ultimately has pleasure in evil's existing. So God has no pleasure in evil; but more properly and fully stated, God has pleasure in evil-existing-for-the-good-God-would-bring-out-of-it"

He is saying that what we often deem as "evil" is on the one hand bad because it violates God's law and nature but that its existence is good since God uses evil to bring about good. He then argues that since evil is part of God's plan for good that evil does not actually exist. He says:

"This is what I mean by saying that evil does not, cannot, exist. It is all a seeming. Whatever God brings to pass is good. Everything that happens God brings to pass. Or, whatever happens is God's ordaining. Nothing not of God's ordaining ever has, ever does, or ever shall come to pass. In all the vast expanse of time and space there is no time, no space, for evil to be."

That is to say that what we experience as "evil" is not evil at all since God ordained it to bring about good in us and for us; this is what he means when he says that "It is all seeming." The word seeming is the key; we experience it as evil but it is good because God ordained it to bring about some good. Having address the problem of evil (which he calls "The non-problem of evil") he goes on to practically address how this relates to human suffering.

"What of suffering? I ask, What of suffering? You expostulate: That is certainly evil, isn't it? I reply: O course not. It is good, perfectly good, the best, the very best. There would be evil only if there were no evil in this universe of ours. We know there is no evil in suffering because God ordains it (we know this because it happens)...If we do concur in suffering, however, we cannot suffer. Those who approve of suffering, because God approves of suffering, are moral persons and moral persons are free from suffering, of from the pain of 'pain.' They know that such 'pain' is good and are glad to have it. Pain is joyful only for those who deserve it ans that makes the righteous rejoice."

He concludes this discussion with these words. As you walk through this world with Christ, contemplate these words and measure yourself in order to see how you handle suffering and evil.

"Who is the fool? The one who seeks relief but is happy even when he doesn't find it, of the one who seeks relief but is miserable when he doesn't find it?...You hang in there because you'll not give up your misery easily. You say that I must be a masochist who enjoys suffering when it is you who are a hypochondriac. I enjoy not suffering. I have no 'pain' that I cannot spare. Is that so bad? The masochist is miserable, he admits, but will not let his misery go. I gladly let my misery go. I don't even let it stay because I know that all that comes comes from God and is good for me. There is not evil coming the moral man's way. He knows it. There isn't any evil coming the immoral man's way, but he doesn't know it, or at least admit it."

To God be the Glory

Friday, April 22, 2011

Seven Words

At our Good Friday service tonight I will preach on the final words spoken by Christ before his death. Here are a few things that stand out to me from these seven sayings:

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 – this is the essence of why Jesus came. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom but to offer forgiveness of sin.

“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” Luke 23:43 – because we have been forgiven in Christ we look forward to the day when we will see Him face to face in glory. We have an inheritance that is sure.

“Dear woman, here is your Son.” John 19:26 – at first glance this is one of the most interesting statements. Jesus is bearing the wrath of God for the sin of the world and yet He takes the time to make sure that His mother is cared for. When Christ died for our sins He did not just provide for our future, He provided for our present as well. John was to take care of Mary and Jesus sent His Spirit so that we would not be left alone as orphans.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Mark 15:34 – here we witness Jesus bearing the crushing weight of God’s wrath on sin. The one who lived in eternal communion with the Father is now being forsaken so that sinners could be forgiven.

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28 – throughout the gospels Jesus spoke of the cup that He must drink. The cup was the cup of God’s wrath and it left Him thirsty. Jesus drank deeply from that cup in order that we might drink of the living water that becomes a well springing up to eternal life.

“It is finished.” John 19:30 – simple and yet profound. All that needed to be done to save God’s people from sin has been done. No other sacrifice is necessary and no work is left to be done—it is finished!

“Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” Luke 23:46 – Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father and because of His death we have no fear of condemnation and we too can trust fully in God the Father who has saved us by grace.