New Testament Theology

The Root of All Saving Christianity

J.C. Ryle was an Anglican bishop and the author of the stunning work, Holiness

I'm only a few chapters deep into Holiness but am finding myself constantly struck and convicted and moved and blown away by what I'm reading. These paragraphs are from his chapter on sin, conveniently titled, "Sin."

The plain truth is that a right understanding of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are "words and names" which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner.

The material creation in Genesis began with "light," and so also does the spiritual creation. God "shines into our hearts" by the work of the Holy Spirit and then spiritual life begins (2 Cor. 4:6). Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul's disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.

I believe that one of the chief wants of the contemporary church has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.

The Sermon You Should Hear Today

The sermon begins like this:

"Have you ever felt like you just didn't want to worship God? 

It took all you had to get yourself out of bed and get yourself to the chair on a Sunday morning. Have you ever felt like the circumstances in your life just left you with no reason to praise God whatsoever? 

Have you ever been in a place where you felt hopeless, where you needed to hear somebody tell you again why you need to trust God, that you need to hear somebody remind you why you have every reason in the world to worship God? To hear somebody tell you once again why it is that you must hope in God?"

It was Dad's sermon yesterday, and if any of it hits uncomfortably close to home for you, listen to the whole sermon. It was a sermon I needed yesterday.

From 1 Peter 1:3-5, you will hear about the hope God gives us, the inheritance we're destined for, the love of God toward us in salvation, and you will walk away happy. And that happiness will overflow from the goodness and glory of God and the desire to live for Him with intention every minute of every day.

Listen to it here.

It's not as long as a movie and a thousand times more edifying. Take the time, and listen.

What God Thinks About You

John Rinehart writes:

"We all want to know who we are. We seek and search and try to 'find ourselves.' Many of us have taken personality tests and other assessments. We learn that we are a lion, a beaver, an ENFP, an activator, a competitor, a high I, high D.

But as helpful as those tests can be, have you ever stopped to ask, 'What does God think about me? Who does he say that I am?'

In all my years as a Christian, I had never asked the question quite this way until recently. And what I found is that God has a lot to say about what he thinks about us — a whole Bible full. But if we could summarize it in a short space, here’s how it might sound.

You Are Valuable

I am the Creator and you are my creation. I breathed into your nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). I created you in my own image (Genesis 1:27). My eyes saw your unformed substance (Psalm 139:16). I knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). I know the number of hairs on your head, and before a word is on your tongue I know it (Matthew 10:30; Psalm 139:4). You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

You are more valuable than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31). I have given you dominion over all sheep and oxen and all beasts of the field and birds of the heavens and fish of the sea (Psalm 8:6–8; Genesis 1:26, 28). I have crowned you with glory and honor as the pinnacle and final act of the six days of creation (Psalm 8:5; Genesis 1:26).

However, from the very beginning, you exchanged the truth about me for a lie. You worshiped and served created things rather than me, the Creator (Romans 1:25). You have sinned and fallen short of my glory (Romans 3:23). Just as I said to Adam and Eve, the penalty for your sin is death (Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:17). And in your sin, you were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). You were children of wrath, living as enemies to me (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 5:10). You turned aside from me. You became corrupt. There is none who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2–3). What you deserve is my righteous judgment (Psalm 7:11–12).

And yet, in my great love, I gave my unique Son, that all those who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). While you were still sinners, Christ died for you. While you were still hostile toward me, you were reconciled to me by the death of my Son (Romans 5:8, 10). Sin doesn’t have the last word. Grace does (Romans 5:20).

Now everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13). You who have believed are born again (1 Peter 1:3). I have adopted you (Ephesians 1:5). You are children of God, heirs of God (1 John 3:2; Romans 8:16–17). You are no longer orphans. You belong to me (John 14:18; 1 Corinthians 6:19). And I love you as a perfect Father (1 John 3:1; Luke 15:20–24)."

Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

– Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, Matt Papa 2013

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You are a Valuable Worm

The Bible dually presents two almost paradoxical truths. The first is that all human life has dignity. Humanity is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and thus, we all have inherent worth (Ps. 139; Ex. 20:13).

The second is that all human life has been corrupted by sin and is totally depraved. Romans 3 is perhaps the biblical chapter that is the most lucid on this truth. In verses ten through thirteen, Paul alludes back to the book of Psalms when he writes:

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”

John Calvin offers this: "Man, so far from being just before God, is but rottenness and a worm, abominable and vain, drinking in 'iniquity like water.'" (Institutes, Book III, xii, 5, p. 496).

So how do we reconcile value and worm language? The only way we can is by looking to God. Any value in our humanity is totally, fully due to God's glory. Our Creator has infinite worth and He has bestowed worth on us. Not because we're especially swell, but because He is especially good. This allows us to see the inherent value of all life but also take responsibility for the sin that corrupts us.

Yet the good news of Easter is that you don't need to stay a valuable worm - for that is what we are born as (Eph. 5:8). Easter says that one Man came and this Man was no worm. He was wholly, entirely perfect. He was holy. He was just. He was kind, compassionate, powerful, strong, gentle, gracious, firm, loving.

He was God.

And then this God-Man let Himself be led to the slaughter for a group of sheep - selfish, dumb sheep. Like worms. And He offered Himself an atonement for many and then rose from the dead, giving us new identities. That's why we no longer call ourselves worms, because Jesus Christ has made us sons (Rom. 8:14).

And that is a reason to rejoice.

The Termination to This Warfare

There are a lot of euphemisms for death, even more piquant Christian phrases and analogies. N.D. Wilson refers to it as a chapter ending. Randy Alcorn calls it a doorway. Calvin Harris says dying is "getting dressed for God." But one of my favorite statements comes from a sixteenth century reformer, John Calvin. He says,

Death is the only termination to this warfare.

This statement rightly captures the realities of this life. We are in a war - with ourselves and with the world.

With Ourselves

The statement prior to the quote above, Calvin wrote, "This renewal [of our wills, referring to sanctification], indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress, God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in his elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as his temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare" (Institutes, Book Third, 3, ix).

Calvin saw that this whole life is a war against our sin natures. We will spend our time here in constant repentance because our souls have not been finally perfected. We will fight against our "carnal corruptions" until the day that we die. It will be slow going, but we won't do it alone. God is the ultimate abolisher of the sin in our hearts. Anything we can do can only be accomplished by the Spirit of God.

But we still have to fight! And we can look forward to death because we know that our warfare with sin will be finally, fully done. What a day that will be.

With the World

But a world of people opposed to God will also fight against us. We will be in opposition to the cultural majority. We will have to fight against those who would dissuade us from living a life of purity. Our lives will not be comfortable. We will be shunned and shamed, perhaps even humiliated and scorned.

Yet, aren't we supposed to be different? Shouldn't everyone know which side we fight for?

"Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

And so Calvin's phrase rings true and comforting. We live in a time of warfare, fighting against our own sin and the push and pull of a secular culture. But a time is coming when that war will be terminated forever and everlasting peace will be ushered in. Like soldiers looking forward to going home, we strive for that end. Going home is the goal. Peace is the dream.

But it is also the reality. Peace is coming.

The Simultaneous Beauty and Horror

The cross was an image of utter horror and, at the same time, a moment of blinding beauty. We see its ugliness in the sinless Man brutally beaten and mercilessly, painfully murdered for sin not His own. But we call it beautiful because we know what was accomplished - we see the perfect Lamb on the tree, sacrificing Himself to secure the redemption of His people.

The cross was the most vivid example of unjust brutality in all of history. Yet at the same time, Jesus became our curse willingly. He did it so that we wouldn't be eternally damned. And then in a stunning victory, He conquered sin and death and rose undefeated. That makes the cross wondrous. There is a happy ending. It truly fills our hearts with a thousand songs because "by our Savior's crimson flow, holy wrath has been removed."

Now we can sing the glories of Calvary.

Lord, You’re calling me to come
And behold the wondrous cross
To explore the depths of grace
That came to me at such a cost
Where Your boundless love
Conquered my boundless sin
And Mercy’s arms were opened wide

My heart is filled with a thousand songs
Proclaiming the glories of Calvary
With every breath, Lord, how I long
To sing of Jesus who died for me
Lord, take me deeper
Into the glories of Calvary

Sinners find eternal joy
In the triumph of Your wounds
By our Savior’s crimson flow
Holy wrath has been removed
And Your saints below
Join with your saints above
Rejoicing in the Risen Lamb

For all eternity we will sing worthy
Our God has set us free
To sing the glories of Calvary

7 Ways to "Hold Fast"

In Philippians 2:16, Christians are called to "hold fast" to the Word of God. Theoretically we may understand that, but practically? In my dad's sermon yesterday, he highlighted seven ways that Christians can hold fast to the Bible. May you be encouraged, convicted, and motivated anew by this list.

1. We hear the Word of God (Eph. 1:13).
2. We read and apply it (1 Thess. 2:13).
3. We study and interpret it carefully (2 Tim. 2:15).
4. We meditate on and memorize it (Col. 3:16).
5. We are taught it (Gal. 6:6).
6. We speak it (Phil. 1:14).
7. We love it (Titus 2:5).

Hear his full sermon here.

Kindness and Severity in the Manger

Despite the feeling you get when you hear "Frosty the Snowman" by The Jackson Five, Christmas is not about warm and fuzzies. Christmas is about wrath and peace. Christmas is about kindness and severity. As Paul reminded the church in Rome,

Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you —if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

This is the story of Christmas. This is the story of the gospel. The Incarnation is good news of great joy to those who repent and trust in Christ. But it is a mighty blow of terror to those blinded by sin's darkness. God's severity lands on the unrepentant. But the good news of Christmas, the beauty of the gospel, is that Jesus came to bring kindness to those who trust in Him.

There is kindness and severity in the manger this Christmas.

He Who is Mighty

Sovereign Grace Music released a brand-new Christmas album this last September called Prepare Him Room. You can listen to it free on Bandcamp or Spotify or purchase the album here. The music team at my church is slated to introduce one of the songs from Prepare Him Room this upcoming Sunday and I wanted to share it with you. It's called "He Who is Mighty."

Oh, the mercy our God has shown
To those who sit in death’s shadow
The sun on high pierced the night
Born was the Cornerstone

Unto us a Son is given, unto us a Child is born

He Who is mighty has done a great thing
Taken on flesh, conquered death’s sting
Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame
Holy is His name

Oh, the freedom our Savior won
The yoke of sin has been broken
Once a slave, now by grace
No more condemnation

Now my soul magnifies the Lord
I rejoice in the God Who saves
I will trust His unfailing love
I will sing His praises all my days

God Forgives and Forgets (And You Should Too)

There was a verse in Hebrews that used to cause me a great deal of discomfort.

[The Lord said] "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews 8:12)

There was a pause. Something seemed terribly awry. How can an omniscient Judge forget somebody's sins? This seems all askew, out of whack. God forgets?

Yes. God forgets. But not in the way you think, or forget. We forget unintentionally. Things just sort of get etched out of our minds over time and new things sprout up and grow in their place. Sometimes we forget to take our car keys or pick up milk, little things from a close proximity ago, things we should easily remember (my dad and I are terrible for this). Other times we forget things from long ago, big things, like the day we were born. But ours is never an intentional forgetfulness.

God's is. But because He is omniscient and we will be "held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19), His forgetfulness is not a permanent erasing of sin. In other words, He isn't unable to remember our sin. He is no scatter brain, misplacing the record of our lies or thoughtless words somewhere. His forgetfulness is an active putting away of the sin that is being held against us. It is intrinsically connected to forgiveness. God forgives us and He stops holding that sin against us in judgement. 

In that particular way, God forgives and forgets. (Don't use that phrase without a careful explanation and understanding of the way that God forgets.) Thus, in a way that models the merciful character of God, we too should exercise forgiveness and the grace of forgetfulness. People will do heinous things to us. That doesn't mean we forget their deeds; sometimes we can't. But it means that we stop holding that sin against them. We forget by forgiving.

At one time Peter didn't really understand forgiveness. There was an occasion when he approached Jesus and asked Him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" And then Jesus radicalized Peter's understanding of forgiveness and answered him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21-22). There is no limit to the forgiveness we are called to extend. Forgive somebody seven times, seventy-seven times, two thousand times, or more. Forgiveness is a discipline, necessary, albeit difficult. But we are called to it. We are called to it endlessly. At least, until the day comes where we have nothing more to forgive. 

So what will you forgive and forget today?

God is Angry (And Other Musings on the Wrath of God)

Even to Christians who have a strong biblical understanding of God's justice, most of us still (perhaps secretly) think it's a little appalling. God is angry. We reject the effeminate, pretty Spirit in the sky that the world worships, but to think of our God as actively angry still makes us a feel squeamish and awkward and sad.

We studied this point in Sunday School briefly this past Lord's Day and discussed some worthwhile reflections on the anger of God. As with the rest of His attributes, God is purely righteous in His anger (Rom. 2:5). He is wholly justified and strictly blameless. This is difficult for us to comprehend because our anger is usually sinful. As we considered in Sunday School, our anger is an emotion that often arises out of sin. That's why Paul has to counsel in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin."

But God's anger is totally other-than ours. My dad defines His anger in a way that I think is very rich. He calls it God's "settled disposition toward His enemies." And God's enemies are all who willingly choose to reject Him. Thus God's disposition toward them is settled. It's not come upon Him in a fit of frustration. He doesn't blow a fuse. He righteously hates the evil.

"The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies" (Nahum 1:2).

"The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath" (Psalm 110:5).

But people with a deeply skewed understanding of the Bible like to see two different Gods - one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The Old Testament God is angry, a God of blind and bitter judgement. His fingertips itch for fire and brimstone. Punishment is what He does best. And then this vindictive God disappears for four hundred years and Jesus suddenly steps onto the scene in the New Testament, meek and lamb-like and simply nice. The flannelgraphs never lie; Jesus always carries around a smile and a vision to reduce physical suffering. He's so sweet.

Sadly, these people don't understand the character of God. Jesus is not a mild manifestation of an Old Testament dictator. He is a member of the unified trinity. He is God. And God does not have split personalities or mood swings, good cop, bad cop, furious one day, cheerful the next. There is no angry God in the Old Testament, nice God in the New. God's anger operates within the rest of His characteristics. And the unified Bible presents one God who is perfect in love and perfect in justice. He is holy, thus He must execute judgement as a just judge.

This theme of God's anger winds through the entire narrative of Scripture, Old and New. Sometimes I see His anger more bluntly in the New.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18).

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:5-6).

But the good news about God's anger is that, though it is fierce against God's enemies, it is removed from God's people. 

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9).

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:9).

This is very good news for today. It gives us hope for tomorrow! We can live in a right relationship with God, all because "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Because of the blood of Christ, our blood need not be shed. Because of the righteousness of Christ, we are free from having to live a perfectly righteous life (a task we could never accomplish). Because Jesus endured the wrath of God, we are free from it. Because Jesus was resurrected from the dead, our eternal life is secure.

Because of Jesus, God is not angry at us.

Christ is Not His Last Name

A few nights ago I was watching a sermon by Dr. Albert Mohler on Matthew 16:13-19 and the marks of a true church. In Matthew 16:13-16 it says,

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the midst of this sermon, Dr. Mohler told about a time he was in Washington, D.C. to debate a liberal. Throughout the whole debate he had kept his cool, but at the post-debate Q&A someone finally riled him up. This someone identified himself as a leader in NASA with a PhD from an Ivy League school.  He asked Dr. Mohler a question (that wasn't really a question). He said that he didn't agree with Dr. Mohler at all. He insisted: "I don't want doctrine! I just want Jesus. I don't want doctrine! I just want Jesus Christ."

To which Dr. Mohler responded: "Sir, are you under the impression that Christ is His last name?" Mohler pointed out that "Christ" was not on a Galilean mailbox with a ", Jesus" following it. 

"Christ is His title," Mohler said. "It isn't His last name! You can't have Jesus Christ without doctrine because you are making a propositional theological statement. When you are saying 'Jesus Christ,' you're saying Jesus is the Anointed One, the King, the One who sits on David's throne."

Christ is not His last name. It is His title. It means "Messiah" in the Hebrew, translated "Christ" in the Greek. It means that He has come to save His people. It means that He is God, He is Saviour. 

Don't make the mistake of using Christ as Jesus' last name. Realize that when you say that word, you're making a doctrinal statement. You're saying that He is the Messiah. He is the one and only Christ.

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When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 3

This is the third and final post in my short series on three well-known parable of Jesus. If you missed them, you can check out Part 1 and Part 2.

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Everything had to be lost to be found - a sheep, a coin, and a son. In that order we find three parables in Luke 15 all with one purpose - to demonstrate the glory and joy of God in salvation.

The first parable tells about a shepherd with one hundred sheep who, upon losing only one, goes and hunts down that sheep. Finding the lost sheep, he is overjoyed and gathers all of his neighbours and friends to celebrate.

The second parable tells about a woman with ten silver coins who, upon losing one, frantically sweeps and cleans and searches her house until she finds it. And when she does find it, she gathers all of her neighbours and friends to celebrate.

This brings us to the third parable, and if you've thought that the last two seemed alike, this one follows their pattern. But it's a little bit different.

Our cast of characters finds the Father, the Prodigal Son, and the Older Son, though we'll just focus mostly on the first two characters. And from the moment our story begins, we're thrust into a drama of sin and restoration. We begin with discontentment:

"There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living." (Luke 15:11-13)

This father was obviously wealthy, and though it was not customary for a son to have his inheritance before his father's death, this father (as we shall soon see more clearly) is not your average dad. He is deeply gracious and wise, and he gives his younger son the money. So off the young man goes, with stars in his eyes, adventure on the horizon, and his pockets lined with cash.

Such begins the "reckless living." Two words that attempt to convey such a hedonistic, selfish, sinful state wherein pleasure was the son's first priority. There was folly instead of wisdom, discontentment instead of gratitude, surface instead of substance, money and materialism, and a never-ending search for the next big thing.

And then the fun lurched to a rather abrupt stop.

And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

What a quick, desperate turn of events! What happened to the wealthy young adventurer? What happened to the money? What happened to the fun? Gone. All of it is gone (thanks to the reckless living), and in a great twist of events, the rich son of a rich father now feeds pigs for a living. And he can't even get someone to allow him to eat the pig slop! But once he gets a clear mind, he realizes there may be hope for him beyond starving with the pigs.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.

This does not seem in any way like a false repentance, like he thought it would be a good scheme to charm some more money from his dad's wallet. It's not like he was writing his repentance speech on his hand, memorizing it, and working on a convincing delivery. Overcome with his sinfulness, he realizes that he must come to his father with full and authentic humility and repentance. So he goes back home.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The imagery here is spectacular. Before the repentance was even out of the son's mouth, there was compassion from the father.  When most other fathers would turn away in disgust, this good, gracious father welcomes his wayward son with open arms, even running to him to embrace him. But the son still demonstrates true repentance. Then you have forgiveness. And finally you have joy. This is the imagery of salvation. The sinner who humbly, honestly, mournfully repents of his sin, abandons the old life, and comes to God, throwing himself at the mercy of the Father, will find forgiveness, compassion, and then joy. At the end of the first parable in Luke 15, Jesus said,

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)

The parable of the prodigal son shows the love of God for His children. It shows the necessity of true repentance, and also demonstrates the sin of pride. At the end of the parable, the Older Son (who never left home, never asked for his inheritance, and just worked for his dad all these years) grew proud and angry at the father for making such a big deal about the prodigal. The father replied,

"Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."

There is joy and celebration to be found in humility and repentance, for in salvation God makes alive those dead. At the end of his lyrical poem, "The Prodigal's Sister," John Piper gave just a taste of this joy:

The weeping son said, “Father, can
Perhaps, you make a slave of me,
For I have sinned and cannot be
Your son?” To which the great old man
Replied, “I have a different plan.”
And then, to servants gathered by,
He said, “Bring me the ring, and my
Best robe, and leather shoes. And take
The fire and fatted calf, and make
For us the finest feast that we
Have ever made. For this, you see,
My dead son is alive and sound;
He once was lost, but now is found.”
And so the common labor ceased,
And ev'ry hand prepared the feast.
The colors flew at ev'ry gate!
And they began to celebrate.

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When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

“Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life.” - Jared Wilson, in The Storytelling God

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most (if not the most) culturally well-known stories that Jesus told. Pretty much everyone today thinks they know this story and its beloved morals. You've got a stellar cast of characters: the Traveler who gets robbed and beaten on his journey; our antagonists, the Priest and the Levite who, despite their seeming righteousness, don't bother to help the Traveler; and then the hero, the oh-so-good Samaritan, lowly and looked down upon, who stops and does help.

Yet we have plucked this story and its characters from its context, slapped it in thank-you cards and on soup kitchen walls, and missed the whole point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning. A lawyer had just come up to Jesus and asked Him how he could have eternal life. The question at first seems beautiful. You've got a humble lawyer throwing himself at Jesus' feet and asking how to be saved.

But unfortunately, that's not how it went.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This lawyer had no intention of humility. He wanted to test Jesus. And that is about the worst motive in the world. Jesus responds to him with a question,

“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

To which the lawyer replies,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus, knowing the man's heart, tells him that he has answered correctly. "Do this and you will live." The lawyer knows he has not kept this command. Jesus knows that He has shown the man his sin. And so, "desiring to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" The ESV Student Study Bible said,

A deceitful question, because the lawyer was trying to eliminate responsibility for others by making some people "non-neighbors."

At this question, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So Jesus is responding to a question of deceit and selfish justification. This parable is in the direct context of the gospel. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the gospel informs our practice. The fact that we love God means we must love others.

When Jesus ends the parable and asks the lawyer which of the characters was the true neighbor to the Traveler - the Levite, the priest, or the Samaritan - the ESV Student Study Bible later says:

Jesus' question corrects the lawyer's deceitful question (v. 29). The question is not "who is my neighbor?" but "how can I be a neighbor?"

As Christians we have a responsibility to love, to care, to show kindness and compassion - even when we don't feel like it. And the reason we do that is not because we're just good people. It's not because we're nice. It's not because we're in the mood. It's not because we've done good works. It's because of the gospel. Faith and practice go together. Faith without works is dead.

The Good Samaritan was not good because he helped someone. Anyone could do that. The Good Samaritan was good because he understood the gospel and instead of asking "who is my neighbor?" he asked "how can I be a neighbor?" The centerpiece of this parable is not the Samaritan. It's the gospel.

When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 1

“Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life.” - Jared Wilson, in The Storytelling God

Series Intro: Parables were a very important part of Jesus' teaching. These short, fictitious stories meant to illustrate a point and make an application were an integral aspect of Jesus' ministry. He used dozens of them. And the parables' purpose was simple: each of them was meant to proclaim the gospel and reveal the character of God. Yet these parables are perhaps the most misunderstood part of Jesus' teaching.

Today the danger is to make every story a moral lesson, teaching us to be nicer people, better money-managers, and good soil. And every parable does have a lesson, many distinctly applicable for us today. But the parables are first and foremost about who Christ is - the King - and what He's saying - the mystery of eternal life.

Over the next week I'm going to make reflections and draw applications from three well-known parables: 1) The Master and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), 2) The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and 3) The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Since these passages are all fairly long, I will not include them in the posts. Instead I hope that you'll read them yourself or at least find yourself familiar with them.

The Master and the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
An important place to begin with this parable is to identify the cast of characters we have. The Master is clearly Jesus, the wise servants who invested their money are followers of Jesus, and the servant who buried his money is someone who thought he was a follower of Jesus, but really wasn't.

This parable is not about money. There is an application about money, but that is not the direct theme. The theme is about Christ's authority and our stewardship. God is the final authority in a Christian's life and thus everything we have belongs to Him. Practically, this plays out in several ways:

Time. Are we being responsible with our time, knowing that every minute God has given us is to bring glory to Him?
Words. Are we showing grace and wisdom in our words? In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Relationships. Are we showing kindness and demonstrating good stewardship with the people we've been given to care for, or the people we have been granted friendship and familial bonds with?
Possessions. Are we using our houses, books, cars, pools, pianos, and everything we own to minister to God's people and promote the kingdom of God?
Money. Are we showing discernment and unwavering commitment to God above all else with the money we've been given?

This is a parable about the glory of God, and practically bringing glory to God through biblical stewardship. Don't get lost in the slippery slope of making this about morality. This story holds the mystery of eternal life. And it was taught by a King. It's about much more than just morality.

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The Beauty of God's Sovereign Will

Jesus was in the throes of the fakest trial that had ever taken place. The witnesses were liars. The accusers hypocrites. The audience deeply deceived. The judge a wishy-washy people-pleaser. And the criminal the Son of God. It was a sham, an attempt at a misguided stamp of legality on gruesome sin. The people wanted Jesus dead.

And the results seemed to land in the lap of a desperate Roman governor who wanted to keep on good terms with the Jews. This man was Pilate. And though, as Mike Andrus notes, "the Jews were granted a fair degree of liberty and self-government, and the Sanhedrin, composed of Jewish religious leaders, retained various judicial functions, ...death sentences could not be carried out without permission of the Roman governor." The Jews wanted Jesus dead. So they had to get civil government involved.

Enter Pilate. We know the story, don't we? Pilate gives in to the ultimate case of peer pressure, and he releases a criminal (as was the custom of the day) named Barabbas and condemns Jesus to death on the cross. But as I was reading this familiar story, I landed on a phrase in the HCSB translation that startled me a little. It was in Luke 23:24-25:

So Pilate decided to grant their demand and released the one they were asking for, who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.

Does the irony not strike you? Pilate thought he was washing his hands of responsibility and leaving it in the lap of the Jews. But what's craziest, is that he thought that Jesus' death now lay in the will of the Jews. How misguided Pilate was.

Immediately I thought of another instance where Pilate showed his ignorance at who God is. John 19:8-11 says,

[Pilate] entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Pilate was so humanistic, so focused on the physical and the fleeting, he was blinded to Jesus' mission. Jesus, on the other hand, was cross-centred, God-centred. And He was this because of His unshakable trust in God's sovereign will.

Jesus knew His death lay no more in the hands of the Jews than His resurrection did. He could pray, "Not my will, but Yours be done" because He was eternally convinced that the Father is in control of everything, and is using everything for our good and His glory.

So sometimes God's sovereign will seems messy. Broken. Ugly, even. But it is always beautiful. For it's a reflection of a good and glorious King and Father who is caring for His children. And no matter what we think, nothing lies outside His will.

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I'm Better than Jesus (I Think)

I usually consider myself a very spiritual Christian. You see, I have this invisible rule book in my head with lists of esteemed religious rules. I pretty much obsess over them - that's what we truly spiritual people do, right? And all of this is out of strict obedience to God. These rules cover many important topics, like:

- exactly what is acceptable behaviour during (and before and after) a worship service
- what people should say on Twitter
- what books people should read and what movies they should see
- how they should teach a Bible lesson
- what they should be praying for (specifically)
- what tone of voice they should use

You know, ridiculously important things like that. Recently I discovered that the Bible even has a name for really spiritual people like me, with my regiment of self-imposed, extrabiblical rules.

I'm a Pharisee.

In other words, I am like the hyper-religious leaders in Jesus' day. I have a strict moral code (made of dozens of rules that reflect mere personal opinion) that I judge others by. I can be hypocritical. I can be proud. And the worst of all, sometimes I think I'm better than Jesus.

What a horrible, horrible thing to think, is it not? But I do. And I wonder sometimes if you do too. I would never necessarily say that, but I act like it. I act like what Jesus did and said was not enough. I need more rules. More specific. Better. And sometimes Jesus got His hands dirty when I just washed mine, and He condescended to serve sinners when I think I'm too good for others, and He showed grace when I would have exacted vengeance. And He is holy, and I'm darkly sinful.

But there is good news for the sinful twenty-first century Pharisee today. That man who we judged has shown us grace at the cross. He died for our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, our false vanity. And so we can cling to the hope He gives, the mercy He extends. So let us not trust in ourselves, but rest solely in Him.

"Do not trust in yourself, lest sin thereby have much more power over you." - Augustine

"The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross." - D.A. Carson

His Stone and Ours

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a truly remarkable, joyous thing, isn't it? Our eyes widen in childlike amazement, shocked like the women, a little scared like the disciples, and initially doubting like Thomas. But we see the marks on His hands and we see the empty tomb, and we marvel.

Now pause for a moment with me and think about that empty tomb. The tomb was owned and offered by Joseph of Arimathea (the ESV Student Study Bible suggests that Joseph was "a member of the Sanhedrin who did not consent to the actions against Jesus"). This tomb was really a cave, guarded by a large, very heavy stone, and a collection of soldiers. When we read of Jesus' resurrection in Matthew 28, we see the stone supernaturally rolled away by "an angel of the Lord." The soldiers guarding the tomb were (naturally) freaked out and "became like dead men" verse four says.

That stone heard Jesus' first new breath of glorified life. And that is pretty much the opening line and premise of the song below. A husband and wife duo, called Gray Havens, released this song, "The Stone," in conjunction with this Easter. The music is beautiful (I think), but its message even better.

The song is about life, the joy of Christ's resurrection and the hope destroying the despair. It's about the stone being rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus' victory over the grave.

But it's also about more. David Radford, the lead singer and husband of Gray Havens, as well as the writer of this song, explained the second meaning of the theme "stone":

As I continued writing, I thought of another kind of stone the bible speaks of.
Charles Spurgeon, England's most famous preacher of the late 19th century, wrote "Man's heart is by nature like a stone; but God, through his grace, removes the stony heart and gives a heart of flesh."
This idea turned into the words:
We were far, yet
We were taken from the dark, yes
Turned from stone to flesh, new hearts, yes 
Curse is broken
Licia [my wife] and I are thankful this Easter season for the new hearts we have been given in Christ. We hope this song will serve as an encouragement both to those who believe in the reality of the resurrection, and for those who may not yet believe, but have a longing for the story to be true.

The stone guarding the tomb signaled life's victory over death, and Jesus' power over the grave. But the glory of the gospel, the good news of the cross and the tomb and the life of Christ, supplants the stone within us with a new heart of flesh, one that desires to glorify God.

I'm reminded of God's words to His chosen people in Ezekiel 36:26-27:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Easter is a celebration of the gospel, of life above all else. Let us celebrate the new life of Christ, but even more, recognize that because He lives, we live too. Because He is God, we can have true hearts to serve Him. Think about His stone, the symbol of His victory, and ours, the symbol of our failure to save ourselves. Then think about Him, and rejoice that His victory wins over our failure. Easter is about life. Let us never forget.