Archive for the ‘Christ is Lord’ Category
It is common to think of the Christian’s future—either when we die or when we are resurrected—as commencing with a solemn and fearful judgment before God’s throne, a moment when we stand in the dock before God. For example, we may sing of Satan’s recurring accusation and God’s judgment, reminding ourselves that Jesus is “my only hope, my only plea.” It is commonly thought that we will have to verbalize this plea some future day when we stand before God’s throne as a sort of ticket to entry. This is not without good reason: confession and repentance and faith is indeed the attitude with which we as Christians, as so many Mephibosheths and Esthers, must approach God at all times. And it is not without scriptural justification: consider the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20, or Satan’s heavenly accusations of the righteous Job. We must give an account to God (Hebrews 4:13).
There is a kind of fear of God we are to have at all times (Deuteronomy 6:13, etc.), and there is a kind of judgment-evaluation that all men will experience (e.g., Psalm 96), and which will come as a surprise to some (Matthew 7:21-23). But it is worth considering God’s own situation and attitude as his people approach him, especially since Jesus has been raised for our justification and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. This will help us to better understand the kind of fear we are to have and the kind of judgment we are to expect.
The first thing we must recognize is that the Western courtroom, where we stand in the dock and where there is judge and witness and accuser and advocate, does not fit the heavenly model. God is a judge, to be sure, but he is a judge by virtue of his being king. A kingly courtroom is a place not only for passing judgment, but also for receiving audience, receiving honor and tribute, hearing petition, giving instruction and reward and commission, and feasting. We see this confirmed in the arrangement of the tabernacle, the arrangement of the temple, the types of Christ such as David and Solomon and Ahasuerus, and in the churchly-heavenly models of approaching God (Hebrews, Revelation) that are given to us in the new creation. So the mental picture that we have of a contemporary Western courtroom does not adequately represent the setting and atmosphere that we will experience with God.
More importantly, as we approach God in his heavenly court, we must remember that the Christian has already been justified by faith in Jesus (Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, etc.). Not only that, but our justification-adoption has been publicly announced by God through his church by our baptism, which symbolically identifies us with Jesus (Romans 6, Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:4-7) so that we very clearly share in the Father’s baptismal declaration over him that he is “well pleased” with us (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). There is no need for us to be re-justified before God in this sense.
We must also remember that the Christian’s accuser has already been cast down from the heavenly court (Revelation 12:10-12). There is quite simply no accusation lodged against us in the heavenly court, nor can there be for those who have been justified (Romans 8:31-39) and adopted as sons. Taken together, this completely changes the tone of our appearances before God. It is true that those who are only masquerading as sons will be readily discovered and dealt with in their meeting with God. False sons experience a judgment unto wrath. But it is not true that the Christian’s meeting with God begins with the tone of what is essentially yet another paternity test to verify we are still sons. We stand tall as true sons, returned from a mission, to be evaluated and then praised or even chided and disciplined, yet with the actual purpose not of being evaluated but of being received in fellowship. Even in discipline God is, in the best sense, for us and not against us. God is inseparably both judge and Father, but there is much more the Father than the judge as we enter the heavenly court. “There’s my son; isn’t he a fine son?” (Matthew 3:17, Job 1, etc.) Note well: we have this standing only in Jesus. But, praise God, we really and truly have it!
We see a clear picture of this in how the prodigal son returns to the prodigal father (Luke 15). The son does rightly to walk in humility, confessing and repenting. But how glorious the father’s response: both sonship and repentance play into the exuberant reception, but far more the sonship. Repentance is simply one of the things that sons do; you could say that it is in one sense a kind of test or proof of sonship, but it is not at all a kind of admission exam to the feasting table.
This is important for us to keep in mind not only as we look ahead to our death and resurrection, but also day in and day out. To petition God in prayer at any time is to come before his throne. We do this “in Jesus’s name,” and we may come bold and confident (Hebrews 4:16) to a Father who is eager to see us and to hear our requests. In an even more heightened sense, the Lord’s day corporate worship of the church is an audience with king Jesus, where we stand and sit before him at his throne and at his table. Here it is quite proper to begin with confession of our sin. And our confession and repentance must never become perfunctory. But neither must it be a terror, and we need not imagine it to be a terror to keep it from being perfunctory.
Our confession on entrance into Jesus’s presence follows his own invitation to assemble before him, and we may be confident from his invitation, disposition, and promises that he receives us in the spirit of a king holding feast far more than a king sitting in judgment over criminal cases. Our confession and repentance are a way of keeping a short account with our Father and King, a sort of washing our hands before we join him at the table. It is to his glory that we stand tall wearing his robes of righteousness rather than sackcloth and ashes as we gather around him (Matthew 22:11-13, Proverbs 14:28), and in fact we are commanded to stand before him with joyful hearts and faces rather than grieving over our sin (Nehemiah 8:9-12). The prodigal son changed clothes as he sat to feast with his father. And that feast is telling of the father’s heart; our weekly invitation from and feast with Jesus is another proof that he is already favorably disposed toward us.
We must also consider that our own role in God’s heavenly court is not to serve as the subject of the court’s deliberation, but to participate as junior judicial members of the court. We are seated with Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). We will participate in judging the world (1 Corinthians 6:2), and will even judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). The new creation brings about what we might call the prophethood of all believers (Acts 2:17), which places us in God’s heavenly council (Amos 3:7). Just as Abraham, Moses, Habakkuk, Amos, and other prophets pleaded with God in council to shape his plans, the church may now participate in God’s evaluations and judgments.
All this—our settled adoption and our participation in God’s judgments—means that, amazingly, we may freely call upon God to judge us: not on the basis of any kind of perfection or righteousness or deserving in ourselves, but because we have already been judged and found to be sons. The sons are free (Matthew 17:26), both in the heavenly court and in the world at large, except as God calls us to special missions of sacrifice and deprivation for the sake of our growth and for the sake of his kingdom.
Another way to put this is to say that the evaluations and judgments and justifications that we have yet to experience—each time we meet for worship or on the last day—have nothing to do with the kind of justification whereby we receive righteousness from Jesus and have perfect standing before God. That is finished, in the past, a permanent change of status. Instead, what we experience in part each week, and will one day experience in full, is a judgment, a declaration, even a species of justification, that publicly vindicates us rather than changing our status. We are not waiting to hear whether God will accept us; that is sure. We are waiting for all the world to see that we were right to trust in Jesus and his promises, that it was not, after all, a fool’s errand, but that through our patience and faith and suffering we have inherited the world.
It is true that some will be surprised at God’s evaluation on the last day (Matthew 7:21-23). But the Christian need not fear this, and must instead look forward to being publicly vindicated before the world for trusting in Jesus. The great white throne judgment is from one perspective a kind of judgment. But much more it is the cotillion ball at which the débutante church is set apart to be admired by all as she joins the society of the king and prince.
Christian, it is true that you need not fear God’s judgment because of your union with Jesus. But more than that, you do not even have in your future to stand in the dock in a kind of judicial courtroom, again because of Jesus. All such courtrooms exist only for those who reject the king, and the only courts you have to look forward to are audiences and meals with the king. Be sure that you continue to approach with humility and repentance, but be equally sure that you approach with faith and confidence in your rightful place at God’s table.
Today marks Childermas, the remembrance of Herod the Great’s massacre of the male babies of Bethlehem:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
This was not the first massacre of Hebrew boys; Herod hearkens back to the Pharaoh of the Exodus:
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)
And as we have previously considered, Matthew’s linking this to Hosea 11:1 is a subtle accusation that Herod has in fact become Pharaoh, and Israel has become Egypt.
Both Herod and Pharaoh were serpents trying to cut off the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. Blood shed unjustly calls for a blood avenger, and in each case God brought a redeemer (Moses, Jesus) through this shadow of death, and through that redeemer brought about the end of the tyrant who had sought a blood sacrifice for himself (through the ruin of Egypt, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). While Jesus himself is the sacrifice that gives us life, it is interesting to consider that there were babies who were a kind of sacrifice that gave Jesus life. It is reassuring that God is not blind to the wrath of tyrants. He hears spilled blood crying from the ground, and he hears the patient prayers of his church for deliverance from the tyrant, and he answers: Pharaoh and the Herods were brought low.
Herod and Pharaoh were right to fear the coming seed, who “visit[s] the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18). Jesus truly reigns here and now, and not just over the time to come. It is deeply reassuring to know that no suffering, no cry for help, is unseen or unheard by him, nor does it go to waste. Rightly does the church proclaim to kings and rulers:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve Yahweh with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12)
This of course has application for the church today experiencing various kinds of tyranny and persecution around the world, a world that has murdered more than a billion babies over the past generation. In spite of all this, because of all this, Jesus is coming. Make ready by taking refuge in him.
The first principle of investing is to put all your eggs in one basket.
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'” (Mark 12:29-30)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
And of course, Psalm 2:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
My pastor turned up this great quote from Herman Bavinck:
In short, the counsel of God and the cosmic history that corresponds to it must not be pictured exclusively—as infra- and supralapsarianism did—as a single straight line describing relations only of before and after, cause and effect, means and end; instead, it should also be viewed as a systemic whole in which things occur side by side in coordinate relations and cooperate in the furthering of what always was, is, and will be the deepest ground of all existence: the glorification of God. Just as in any organism all the parts are interconnected and reciprocally determine each other, so the world as a whole is a masterpiece of divine art, in which all the parts are organically interconnected. And of that world, in all its dimensions, the counsel of God is the eternal design. (Reformed Dogmatics, II:392)
This is a great perspective on how God relates to time and history. God is the painter to our painting, the composer and conductor to our symphony.
I want to consider how this perspective relates to the doctrine of regeneration. We generally speak of the regeneration of the Christian almost as though God reaches down and flips an invisible switch inside of us from death to life. For example, Wayne Grudem writes:
We may define regeneration as follows: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. . . . Because regeneration is a work of God within us in which he gives us new life it is right to conclude that it is an instantaneous event. (Systematic Theology, 699-701)
This may be true as far as it goes, but it does not fully account for the way that God works with his creation and with us. Consider the example of Ebenezer Scrooge’s conversion-regeneration:
Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears. (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
In one sense, it is quite correct to say that something changed inside of Scrooge from death to life. But this is not the whole picture: it does not account for Dickens and his own steady resolve to make a new man out of Scrooge. In the same way, our understanding of regeneration should take into account how God works with his creation and how he imparts life to us. For our physical life we are dependent on God to sustain us at every moment; certainly we are equally dependent on God at every moment for our spiritual life. It is thus more proper to speak of regeneration as a settled determination on God’s part to continually fill us with life through his Spirit.
This perspective helps us in several ways. It reminds us that God is the source of regeneration, so that we are always looking to him rather than making a futile search into whether something invisible has happened inside ourselves. It reminds us that regeneration is an ongoing process. So, just as we cannot rely on past repentance and faith but must walk in new repentance and faith each day, neither can we rely on past regeneration. We must look to and ask for more help from the Spirit each day. Rather than asking “am I regenerate,” we ask “will God give his Spirit to those who ask him?” Yes (Luke 11:13), he will!
Another way to think of this is in terms of what we might call the tenses of salvation. There is a sense in which we can say we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Likewise, we have been given new life, we are being progressively given more abundant life, and we will finally be fully given life.
Calvin speaks of regeneration as occurring progressively. In the Institutes, he refers to it as something “which [God] begins in us” (Method and Arrangement III). It will be “complete” at “the final resurrection,” (M&A III) which he refers to as “the day of regeneration or resurrection of the body” (M&A IV). Calvin identifies regeneration with the ongoing procession of the Spirit to us, saying that “we have nothing of the Spirit except through regeneration” (II.3.1). Interestingly, he identifies regeneration and mortification as two halves of repentance, to the point that he says “by repentance I understand regeneration” (III.3.9). He later speaks of the “commencement and progress of regeneration” (III.11).
This definition of regeneration also underscores that it is a change in our status and position before God at least as much as it is an internal change in our persons. We are grafted into a tree (Romans 11), into a vine (John 15); we are planted by streams of water (Psalm 1). This links it closely with other great changes in status like justification and adoption. Adoption in particular is how we come to receive the Spirit (Romans 8:15). In regeneration we enter into God’s new creation, which is to say that we are reconciled to God and made a part of his kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:17ff) — again, a change in status.
Scripture uses the term regeneration to refer to a change in our status. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus refers to his kingdom and new creation itself as the regeneration. In Titus 3:5, our baptism is called the “washing of regeneration.” In The Priesthood of the Plebs, Peter Leithart demonstrated that baptism is a symbolic form of priestly investiture, hearkening back in all its imagery to passages like Leviticus 8:15. In terms of Titus, this means we can speak of baptism not only as our investiture into priesthood and sonship, but also our entry into the new-creation kingdom that is God’s church, our enrollment into an inheritance (Titus 3:7).
On the one hand, this serves as a warning to us that we are not meant to coast on yesterday’s experiences and accomplishments. But it also serves to remind us that God is near to us, and has a settled determination to provide all that is needed to complete his work (Philippians 4:19, 1:6).
Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is not anxious.
Last year I read Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve. It is full of fascinating insights; sometime I hope to find time to write more about it. But as my pastors begin a series on anxiety, one particular insight jumps out at me.
Friedman talks about how anxiety in leaders is the fountainhead of individual and organizational breakdown and paralysis. He challenges leaders to see the importance of non-anxious leadership. This is not simply to say that effective leaders should be anxiety absorbers, taking it all into themselves and hanging on to it; rather, good and effective leaders are themselves free of anxiety.
Friedman makes a good case for his claims about the outcomes of chronically anxious leadership. Although I would want to temper and supplement some of what he has to say, I think his insight has great value for husbands, fathers, mothers, pastors, managers, team leaders, and more.
But let’s take things up a level. Christians are part of a kingdom and family.
Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is not anxious.
Think about that for awhile and let it sink in. If Friedman is right, this should calm and empower us profoundly.
See also: Free to carry more.
If we printed red-letter Old Testaments, the pages of Leviticus would bleed redder than any of the gospels.
You cannot have King Jesus without also having his royal proclamations in the book of Leviticus.
Almost the entire book of Leviticus was dictated by Yahweh to Moses. Commentators and theologians widely agree that the appearances of Yahweh in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Jesus (consider John 1:18, 6:46 together with Exodus 33:11; consider also John 8:58). We cannot read Jesus into every single occurrence of Yahweh (Psalm 110:1 refers to the Father); but in Israel’s exodus it is even clearer than usual that Jesus was present, since some of the imagery surrounding Sinai portrays it as God’s marriage to his people.
Leviticus was and is meant to shape the consciousness, speech and life of God’s people. It is among the books that Moses commanded Israel’s kings to copy and meditate upon (Deut. 17:18-19). It is among the books that all Israel praised so highly in Psalm 119. It constitutes part of the torah-law which, if Israel obeyed, God promised to make the envy of the nations (Deut. 4:6-8, Micah 4:1-2).
In Leviticus, Jesus speaks of animal offerings, priestly service, food, leprosy, uncleanness, sex, feasts and more. Leviticus is not Jesus’s final word on these things, but it is his word, and — we must confess — a righteous word, on these things.
Jesus speaks Leviticus, but Leviticus speaks of Jesus. All of these things have a corresponding symbolic purpose relating to Jesus and his creation. And because Jesus means to transform creation and cause his people to mature into his likeness, some parts of Leviticus have a built-in obsolescence, while other parts grow intensified and transfigured. Acts 15:28-29 gives us a brief and helpful summary of what has gone and what remains. Gone are most of the laws of food and cleanness; remaining are laws concerning idolatry and sex.
God meant for forbidden foods to symbolize the Gentile nations. It would take some time to fully develop this imagery, but there are parallels visible in the law, and God makes it very explicit in Acts 10. Fifteen hundred years of practice at being strictly separate from the world have prepared God’s people to sacrificially conquer and inherit it (Rom. 4:18); and, by the Spirit, to handle the greater responsibilities of a greater unity (Eph. 2). So now that (you might say) Jesus eats all nations into his body (pace Rev. 3:16), we as the members of his body may also take unclean animals into ourselves. Just as the nations are God’s gifts to the church (consider Eph. 4:8), bacon and shrimp are God’s gifts to his people. If you reflect on the nature of maturing, the food laws’ coming to an end is not a great surprise. We know that God’s purpose in history is to grow his church from infancy to maturity (Gal. 4, Eph. 4), and infants and adults appropriately have very different diets and boundaries. Maturity brings mature food.
Sex has symbolic potency as well. It is meant to symbolize Jesus’s union with his bride, his body, his church (Eph. 5:32). Sex and marriage were designed to point to something bigger: the one and only marriage that will survive into eternity. Even strange laws like the jealousy inspection of Numbers 5 teach us how Jesus relates to his church down to this day (consider the jealousy inspections of 1 Cor. 10-11 and Rev. 2-3). From the first Pentecost at Sinai to the last Pentecost at Jerusalem, Jesus has always related to his people as husband to bride. This has enduring implications for human marriage and sex that stretch “from the beginning” (Matt. 19, Mark 10) to the end. So unlike the food laws, restrictions on sexual relations only grow more intensified in history.
Similarly, the laws of offering and sacrifice remain in the new covenant; however, they are transformed and intensified from animal sacrifice to human sacrifice in the death of Jesus. The laws of feasts remain, but are transformed into a single feast: the Lord’s supper. The feasting is intensified as well: instead of presenting ourselves only three times a year to God (Deut. 16:16), God now summons us to dine with him every week. Israel had three annual furloughs that were a great celebration and refreshment (consider the Psalms of ascent, 120-134); we have a weekly furlough from our labor, trials and suffering as we show glad faces to our king (Neh. 8:9-12).
Jesus is king of the nations and the husband of his church, but he has established separate administrations of his rule in these realms. In the church, his kingdom is tended and guarded by the judicial binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19) of baptism and excommunication. In the civil realm, the church does not carry out Jesus’s ministry of the sword, but she is called to disciple nations and kings in Jesus’s law (Matt. 28:19-20).
While it requires deep kingly wisdom to apply this law rightly, such wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 1:7, etc.) and the love of his law (Psalm 119). While we do not understand it perfectly, we confess it to be holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). As in times of old, we must allow Leviticus to shape our consciousness and speech. God’s word — all of it — is still meant to be the envy of the nations, and the church has the privilege of leading the way in treasuring and proclaiming it.
I contributed the following Advent reflection on Matthew 1:1 to the Sovereign Grace Church blog, where this is crossposted:
It’s been said that some parts of the Bible are boring to read but interesting to study, and Matthew starts right off into one of those parts — a genealogy. This is especially boring for us as modern readers, because the old covenant’s Adamic priesthood has come to an end with the arrival of the long-promised seed. There is for us no longer any spiritual value in the careful recording of years and generations, so it is strange and unfamiliar.
Jesus is the last in a long history of promised sons; of miracle sons born in impossible circumstances; of latter sons who replace the first son; and of sons born to faith-filled women of tarnished reputation. Matthew begins his gospel with the hint that all this is coming to an end, that Jesus is the one true son to replace Adam and Israel. The phrase “book of the genealogy” uses the Greek root genesis, leading some commentators to suggest that Matthew is subtly presenting his entire gospel as a new Genesis, a “book of new beginnings.” And in this first verse, Matthew reaches back to two key promises that built upon God’s earlier promise of the seed in Genesis 3:15.
God had given to Abraham the promise that “your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17-18). Abraham first thought this would be fulfilled through Ishmael, and later through Isaac. Abraham was willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, trusting that God would raise him from the dead, and seeming to understand that the nations would be blessed by the sacrifice of the seed. But Isaac was spared by a substitute, because the true seed, the true substitute, was still to come. By the end of Genesis, God had worked through Joseph to bring a preliminary blessing on all nations, and yet the nations turned away again from God. Jesus is the promised son of Abraham who brought an enduring blessing to the nations.
God made a similar promise to David, that his offspring would “build a house for my name,” and that God would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13). Solomon built a physical palace for God, but his kingdom was broken up shortly after his death, and that palace was torn down by Nebuchadnezzar. As Israel waited for this promise, one they sang for nearly a thousand years in the Psalms, they came to call the Messiah the “son of David” (Matthew 22:42). Jesus is this son of David, the one who built the true house of God — a house made out of people (1 Pet. 2:5-6) — and whose throne will truly endure forever.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)