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Christ on Every Page

June 29, 2017

Last year, while preparing to teach through the book of Nahum, I was talking with some pastors about the challenges of preaching the minor prophets. One of them said in all seriousness, but as a bit of a jest because he already knew my views on the matter, “Just find Jesus in Nahum.”

His answer was a good summary of the historical-redemptive hermeneutic. Hermeneutic is the technical term for any method used to interpret the Bible. Also called the Christological hermenuetic and Christ-centered preaching, the historical redemptive hermeneutic has been growing in popularity. The general popularity of pastors who hold to this method accompanied by recent books espousing this method for teaching and children’s ministry have brought the theory to the attention of many Christians.

The historical-redemptive method of interpretation is a means of studying and proclaiming the Old Testament that looks to find Jesus reflected in each passage. This interpretive method approaches the text with the presupposition that the ultimate significance of any passage is found in Christ. Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament, is the key to discovering the full meaning of the Old Testament. Any interpretation that does not end in Christ is an incomplete hermeneutic. One blogger said it like this, “The conscious intent of the human author is not sufficient for understanding the true intent of the text. This side of the cross, we have an insight that the Bible’s human authors lacked. If Jesus doesn’t show up in the sermon then it isn’t preaching.” (John Koessler)

The primary text used to support this interpretive method is Luke 24:27, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” When Jesus taught the two confused disciples on the road to Emmaus He showed them how all the Old Testament spoke of Him. Thus, if Jesus read the Old Testament as all about Him, so should we.

Despite the appeal of preaching Jesus in every sermon and teaching Jesus in every Sunday School class the historical-redemptive method is problematic. The assertion that all the Old Testament teaches about Jesus is not a conclusion but a presupposition. Luke 24 can not be used as support for this presupposition. Luke does not present Jesus as teaching through the entire Old Testament. A two or three hour journey is not enough time to read the whole Old Testament much less expound every passage of the Old Testament. Luke 24 does not mention which Old Testament passages Jesus selected. What it does indicate is that Jesus taught from each of the major portions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets and Psalms) things prophesied of Him. (Luke 24:44) Luke 24 does not say Jesus taught that every passage in the Old Testament is about Him. Luke 24 provides no insight into the interpretive method used by Christ. Luke 24 says Jesus taught the Old Testament prophecies about Him. Ultimately, the New Testament does not treat the Old Testament as if it is all about Jesus.

The historical-redemptive method sounds very appealing. Anyone who loves God wants to talk about Jesus. A preacher who loves God and others will love to preach the gospel. With a little thought and imagination a bridge can be built from any passage to Jesus. This does not mean every passage is about Jesus or that every sermon has to point to Jesus. The historical-redemptive interpretation also offers a corrective to the tendency to make every Old Testament passage about Christian behavior. Sadly, the historical-redemptive method fails in the same way moralistic preaching fails. Ending every sermon with Jesus is better than ending every sermon with an exhortation to be a good person, but it makes the same mistake of imagining that the Bible has a single theme that is the point of every single passage.

The proponents of the historical-redemptive method are not heretics, but they practice a method of Bible study that suffers from significant flaws. The assumption that the Old Testament could not be fully understood until after the coming of Jesus overlooks crucial truths of the Old Testament. In the effort to exalt Jesus they unintentionally diminish other significant doctrines of the Bible. More on that in future posts.

Grace Teaches

June 26, 2017

In 2005 the women’s lacrosse champions visited the White House and met President Bush. This is a perfectly ordinary and normal event that would have probably gone unnoticed. Someone noticed that the girls on the Lacrosse team were wearing flip-flops when they met the President.

This became a big deal for a little while. One fashion editor said, “This is just inappropriate They’re great for the beach. They’re great for hanging out with your friends. But they’re clearly unprofessional. And if you’re going to the White House cover up your toes.”

The professsion of Christianity requires certain behavior. The doctrines of God, the Word of God, the holiness of the Christians and the testimony of the Christian must be shown to be truly important. How the Christian lives matters.

“Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. For the grace of God that brings salvation hath appeared to all men.” God’s grace broke into our guilt to rescue men from condemnation. Those who have been redeemed live a certain way because they have received the grace of God. The Christian does not attempt to earn grace. Grace earned is not grace. The Christian is transformed by the grace he has received. His transformed life shows the beauty of Divine grace. The Christian is careful to not mar the beauty of grace through graceless or shameful living. By his life he shows that God’s grace excels all other things.

The grace of God teaches the child of God to live and think in certain ways. God’s grace teaches us to reject:

  • lives without worship
  • wrong love for the world

God’s grace teaches us to live:

  • lives full of proper worship
  • virtuous lives
  • self-controlled lives

This kind of life flows out of the grace of God. It is the right, natural and reasonable response to the grace of God. This kind of life rightly reflects the grace of God. The way the Christian lives shows others how much he values the grace of God. The believer’s life shows to others how important God’s grace is to him. If a Christian treats God’s grace as if it is worth little, then others will not think it is worth much. If the Christian lives like God’s grace has made no difference in his life, then others are going to think God’s grace does not make much difference. The Christian lives this kind of life because the grace of God has transformed him. He is responding to the grace of God. The Christian lives this kind of life because he wants to show the magnificence of God’s grace. He wants others to respond to the grace of God.

The truths of the gospel are not welcomed by the unsaved world. The grace of God that has appeared to all men is generally despised and rejected. Christians must live in a way that points out the true worth of God’s grace. Live in accord with the precious gift of Jesus that has been given to you.

Grace for Grace

June 19, 2017

And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” (John 1:16.)

As the life of grace is first begotten in us by the Lord Jesus, so is it constantly sustained by Him. We are always drawing from this sacred fountain, always deriving sap from this divine root; and as Jesus communes with us in the bestowing of mercies, it is our privilege to hold fellowship with Him in the receiving of them.

When thou hast received much, admire the all-sufficiency which still remaineth undiminished, thus shall you commune with Christ, not only in what you obtain from Him, but also in the superabundance which remains treasured up in Him.

Let us ever remember that giving does not impoverish our Lord. When the clouds, those wandering cisterns of the skies, have poured floods upon the dry ground, there remains an abundance in the storehouse of the rain: so in Christ there is ever an unbounded supply, though the most liberal showers of grace have fallen ever since the foundation of the earth. The sun is as bright as ever after all his shining, and the sea is quite as full after all the clouds have been drawn from it: so is our Lord Jesus ever the same overflowing fountain of fulness.

All this is ours, and we may make it the subject of rejoicing fellowship. Come, believer, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for as far as the eye can reach, the land is thine, and far beyond the utmost range of thine observation it is thine also, the gracious gift of thy gracious Redeemer and Friend. Is there not ample space for fellowship here?

Till He Come

– Charles Spurgeon

Truth Cosmetics

June 12, 2017

In Titus 2 Paul gives a series of significant instructions to the believers on Crete. These instructions are essential for the establishment of healthy churches. Every age group, every station of life and every class of person are to live Godly lives which “become sound doctrine” and “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”

Adorn translates the Greek word kosmeo which is the root of the English cosmetic. Nearly everyone in America has some notion of cosmetics and their purpose. The skillful application of make-up enhances and highlights the beauty of the person. Adorning describes the orderly arrangement of something which brings out its beauty.

Jewels are beautiful things. A well cut diamond or ruby are by themselves very impressive looking. Yet, the craft of a jeweler is a very difficult one. A craftsman making a jeweled necklace does not keep a bucket of jewels beside him from which he randomly selects whatever jewel comes to hand. He does not just string jewels together in whatever order is simplest. He carefully examines each and every jewel, determines which one will look best in what kind of setting and arranges the jewels in a way to bring out the great beauty of all the jewels. Jewelry is carefully crafted to adorn the beauty of the individual jewels.

The Christian life should be one that adorns the doctrines of God. God’s truths are remarkable, marvelous, wonderful, stunning and beautiful. The Christian’s life can bring out that great beauty or obscure it. The instructions of Titus 2 show what the adorning kind of life looks like. A Christian whose life shows the greatness of Scriptural doctrine does more than attend church on Sunday. His entire life is changed. His way of viewing the world is transformed. Everything about the person is affected by his desire to rightly show the brilliance of Biblical doctrine. Beautiful Christianity is a Christianity that changes the entire person in every season, every position and every stage of life.

Essentials of Bible Study

June 7, 2017

The Bible is essential for Christian growth. “Desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” (2 Peter 2:3) Because the Word is essential to the Christian life it is paramount for the believer read and study Scriptures. Studying well is a crucial ability for good spiritual health. The careful application of several basic principles will improve anyones study of the Word.

Understand the Bible according to the regular rules of language. Though the Bible deals with difficult and important spiritual truths it is not a mystical document that requires a new set of principles of understanding writing. The Bible was written to be understood by normal people. Understand the language of Scripture like you would the language of a newspaper, a novel or a poem. Follow the usual rules of literature to understand Scripture.

The normal rules of literature require an understanding of the kind of literature being read. The Bible contains many different literary styles. History, dialogue, proverb, parable, epistle, instruction, law, prophecy and poetry are just a few of the different types of literature encountered in Bible study. Thus, read each passage of Scripture in accordance with its literary type. History cannot be read like poetry. Proverbs must not be read like law. Parables cannot be read like epistles. Each kind of literature has its own particular rules for a proper understanding. Follows those rules to better understand the truths being conveyed.

Context is king. Every verse, every line and every word have to be understood in their context. Bible verses must never be interpreted apart from their place in the book and the surrounding passage. Every passage has a place in the larger context of the book. Even the words must be understood in their context. Words are never defined by their dictionary definition alone. Store has a very different meaning when it is used as a place to go than when it is something you do with rarely used items. Context always determines meaning. Let the meaning of the entire text determine the meaning of a section, a verse, a line or a word. Heed the warning of the old aphorism, “A text out of context is a pretext.”

Let the Bible explain the Bible. Every passage must be understood in light of the broader teachings of the Bible. If Bible study results in a conclusion that contradicts a plain, well established Biblical doctrine then the conclusion needs to be re-evaluated. When attempting to reach an understanding of difficult portions of the Bible, let the easier to understand passages guide to the correct understanding. Don’t let passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 lead to a denial of the eternality of salvation. Let passages like John 10:28-29 guide into a correct understanding of the warnings in Hebrews. Let the plain explain the unclear. Read the Bible with an eye to the entire body of truth to guide into the correct understanding.

Bible study is serious work. Bible study is delightful work. It refreshes the soul, strengthens the heart and transforms the life. Work to understand the Word of God. It will be worth every minute.

A Body Knit Together

June 5, 2017

God loves the church. God the Father eternally planned it. He sent His precious Son, His only Son, His only Son Jesus to die the horrible death of the cross to purchase the church. He gave His Son to be the head of the church. God loves the church because through the church Jesus is shown to be preeminent.

God the Son loves the church. He purchased it with His own blood, not the worthless things of silver and gold, but with His priceless blood. The church is made His body. God the Son so loves the church that He joins together with it in genuine union. Read the words of Acts 9 and you realize Jesus is so connected with His church that what happens to it happens to Him. He takes His church very personal! God the Son is glorified by the church and in turn God the Father is glorified. He sent His Holy Spirit to minister to the church, to gift the church and to strengthen the church.

God the Spirit loves the church. He gifts the church to do the work of the ministry. He gives leaders to the church. he gives servants to the church. He gives to the hcurch every single member and resource needed.

The Triune God loves the church. He put the church together, equipped the church and maintains the church. He gave His Word to teach the church. He gave His power to build and sustain the church. God loves His church because it is is His glorious bride being beautified and prepared for the coming wedding day. He loves the church. Do you?

Many church attenders do not love the church. They selfishly love what the church can do for them. Many people come to church expecting it to give them something, to do something for them. If they don’t get what they are looking for at one church, they go to another. Most of the church going population of America is made up of consumers. Like patrons in a restaurant church attenders pay their fee for services rendered but contribute nothing to the operation. That is fine for restaurants, it is terrible for churches.

The Christian who truly loves the church sets aside ease, comfort, schedule, plans and preferences for the good of others. Love the church so highly you will actively work for the good of the entire church.

Pastor Needed

June 2, 2017

Five years ago an author made the claim that he could not find the pastor in the New Testament. This says more about that author’s reading skills than the actual content of the New Testament. Just this week a blogger on a large, conservative Christian website announced that only one passage in the Bible mentions the role of the pastor. I’ll charitably assume he doesn’t have access to Strong’s Concordance. In fact, no less than five passages in the New Testament were written for the specific purpose of instructing the church about the role and character of the pastor. At least one book was addressed to the pastor of a church, two others written to men who would be appointing pastors, two other books include special instructions to the pastor of the church, another is probably written to the pastor and all seven of Jesus’ personal letters to the churches of Asia Minor were addressed to the pastors of those churches. Whether you call him a pastor, a shepherd, a bishop or an elder, the office of pastor is found throughout the New Testament.

A healthy church must have a pastor. For some this may seem obvious, but modern technology and the internet culture have combined to produce a phenomenon impossible prior to this generation. Any church in America can stream into their church service live broadcasts of America’s most popular preachers. Thus the in-house pastor is rendered obsolete. He is completely unnecessary to the health of the local church. Except for a few little unimportant things like personal visitation, fervent prayer for the members of the church, Godly counsel, individual care for the believer’s soul and loving confrontation, the local church can get along perfectly well without a local pastor. (For those not well versed in the mysterious art of sarcasm, the preceding sentence was an example of it.)

Not every pastor has the intellectual gifting, oratorical skill and dynamic personality that Americans imagine is necessary to attract a large following today. The last time I checked the Bible does not require the pastor be a powerful speaker who captivates large crowds by his impressive words. God gave pastors to the churches for the edification of the believers and the evangelization of the lost. He is to be an able teacher, but the New Testament definitively refuses to sanction the popular confusion of the ability to teach with impressive oratory. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5;1 Thessalonians 2:3-6)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave gifts to men. The four gifts He gave to His church include the pastor-teacher (which, by the way, highlights the inseparability of the role of pastor from the obligation to teach). The pastor was given by Jesus to His bride to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. All the saints should be edifying and equipping one another, but the pastor is uniquely gifted by God to equip the church. God specifically and specially gifts certain men to shepherd the local body of Christ. The ministry of the pastor is essential.

The pastor is more than the guy in the pulpit most weekends. The pastor does far more than preach messages to the church every Sunday. He preaches and teaches as part of a church body. The pastor is a member of a church. He is a digit, a follicle, an organic member of the body who possesses an integral relationship to every other member of the church.

The pastor is not just the figure in the pulpit. He is not just the administrative head of the affairs of the church. He is not just the chairman of business meetings. He is a member of the church, the undershepherd of Gd’s flock in a specific location. A body without a head may continue to function for a while, Like a decapitated chicken it will flutter and run with all the appearance of life, but if the condition is not quickly remedied the shepherdless church will falter and fall headlong into Satan’s cooking pot.

Whether you think the pastor is the more comely member or the least comely, his gifts are essential to the completion of the body. He is not a talking head disconnected from the body. He is vitally connected to every person in the church. Divorce the pastor from that relationship, replace him with an icon and the church is disfigured.

A Mystery Unveiled

May 29, 2017

“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:”
Ephesians 3:5-11

The church is the temple of the living God according to the eternal plan of God. Some have said the church age is a parentheses, a pause, in God’s plan for Israel. The church is not a parentheses. The church was God’s plan from the beginning. His plan was hidden from view for the first four thousand years of human history, but after the ascension of Jesus the church was unveiled to the staring eyes of heaven and earth.

God created the church by His own power. God the Son purchased the church with His own blood. God the Spirit gifts the church with His might. God chose to work in the church through feeble, faltering men. He chose the church to be instrument of upholding and adorning His truth. He brings into the church all those who believe on Him, whether they be Jew or Gentile, American or Arabian, rich or poor, male or female, white or black, privileged or marginalized, all are brought into one body, the body of Christ, by the grace of God.

“The church is not a mere voluntary society, born of the will of man, and for a temporary or fragmentary end; it is a divine society, ordained of God, for immortal wants. It is the body of Christ.” (Daniel Noyes) The church was God’s idea created by Him for His purpose. Those truly a part of His church are made so by His power. The church is the living display of the wisdom and power of God. Cherish it.

What’s In Your Pulpit?

May 22, 2017

“What you win them with, you win them to. What it takes to attract them is what it takes to keep them.” Dr. Les Ollila said this many times. His words continue to be a necessary reminder for ministry today.

The problem with attractional church tactics is that people are drawn to the gimmicks, the shows or the performance instead of the Word of God. Any showman can draw a crowd. Offer the right things and people will flock to the performance. Yet what happens people are brought in with laser shows, rock bands and catchy gimmicks? What happens when the entertainment is turned off and truth is preached?

This is no hypothetical question. Churches across America have discovered the attraction that brings people through the door has to continue or they will not return. As a result, the message becomes less and less about the Word. The speaker begins to incorporate all kinds of tricks and gimmicks into his message. The sermon gets shorter and shorter, is filled with anecdotes, movie references, video clips and offers a promise that Jesus will make everything better. The sermons are crafted to appeal to what the audience feels like they need to hear. Instead of giving “attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” the preacher gives attendance to appeal, relevance and audience. He promises solutions to marriage, financial, employment, political, social and personal problems. In the end the preacher has to tailor the message to appeal to the crowd in the same way as the gimmicks that brought them through the door.

The preacher of God’s truth has no business tailoring God’s Word to appeal to the natural desires of his hearers. The pastor must practice the pure teaching of pure truth without error, selfishness, sin or wordliness. The teaching of God’s truth is a serious undertaking. The teaching of Biblical truth must be done with gravity, dignity and honor. The doctrines of the Bible must be presented in a way that shows the true seriousness of the subject. This cannot be done when the pastor appears on stage in a cloud of smoke accompanied by the blasting of a heavy metal song. This does not happen when the sermon series is based on the latest Superman movie.

The truth of the Bible is eternal truth. Bible truth is serious condemnation and glorious promise. The Bible contains the truths of our Great God and Creator. It is the truth of our Savior and Coming King. It is the truth of sin, of sacrifice, of punishment, of promise, of transformation and eternal realities. These are not the kind of things that are explained by a youtube video of a dancing cat or by expositing the latest popular TV show. The Bible’s truth requires teaching of the Biblical text. The message of the man of God must be the message of the eternal Word of God. God does not appoint pastors to indulge the whims of the hearers. God appoints pastor to preach His truth.

The Marvel of Unbelief

May 18, 2017

The first act of worship recorded in the Bible was the offerings given by Cain and Abel. Abel believed God and offered an acceptable sacrifice. Cain did not. Though only a little while after creation and the curse of sin one-fourth of the human population already began to refuse to worship God as He commanded. Cain did not refuse to worship God because he lacked knowledge. Cain knew God was real. Cain knew God was the Creator and Ruler. Cain knew God required sacrifice and obedience. Cain knew God punished sin. Cain rejected all that knowledge to pursue his own way. When God spoke directly with Cain exhorting him to turn from sin Cain refused and turned further from God.

The people destroyed in the flood were not destroyed because they did not of God. Every generation up to and including that of Noah’s father Lamech would have been able to hear of the Garden of Eden, of sin and the curse of sin from Adam himself. Despite the opportunity for knowledge and despite the worship of God by Seth and his righteous descendants the world revelled in all manner of debauchery and violence. They refused God. They refused the message of salvation preached by Noah. They continued to rebel against God despite their knowledge of Him and His ways.

After the flood humanity banded together in direct violation of the commands of God. Man determined to build a tower lest they be spread across the world. Noah and his sons were still alive to teach the command of God and to warn of the consequences of disobedience. Humanity disregarded God and attempted to unite his strength against God. Humanity did not lack knowledge but faith.

God brought Israel out of Egypt by a series of horrible plagues. The plagues showed the futility of the gods of Egypt and the power of the God of Israel (Exodus 9:13-16). The Egyptians saw these mighty plagues. They knew the source of them. They did not repent and turn to God. They demanded to be eased of their suffering, but few believed God.

The Israelites saw the plagues of Egypt, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the rivers of water from a rock and the glory of God visibly present before them day and night. They heard God speak to Moses and saw His glory on Mt. Sinai. They knew more about God than any other people at that time. They received the Word of God and the Law of God. Within days of leaving Egypt they began to rebel. They made idols. They grumbled. They complained. They threatened God’s chosen man. They refused to enter the promised land and then when God told them they couldn’t have it they decided to try to go in anyway. A generation of Israelites saw the power of God and refused to believe Him.

The book of Revelation is filled with terrible catastrophes. God’s holy wrath is poured out on a world that has once again united in rebellion against Him. Despite the obvious supernatural power at work mankind will refuse to repent. (Revelation 16:21) Even when the Son of God appears in His glory the world will continue to oppose him. Humanity will have the gall to attempt military opposition against the God of heaven. Clearly the problem is not insufficient information.

The problem of unbelief is never a lack of information. All creation declares the glory of God. Every person on the planet always sees vivid testimony of the powerful Creator God. Every person has enough knowledge to direct them towards God. Few believe. America is filled with churches. But millions of Americans drive past churches every day. Few stop to learn truth. America is filled with the Bible and the gospel witness. Few hear or obey.

Unbelief is a spiritual problem, not an intellectual one. Unbelieving man has rejected the available knowledge of God. Man’s hardened heart and blinded eyes darken the mind. Wisdom is rejected and folly revered. The solution to the problem of unbelief is the same it has always been. Unbelieving man does not need to hear the truth communicated in newer, more creative ways. Modern man does not need the message tailored to his desires. Men will never believe just because the gospel is presented to them in the right fashion. “There is none that understandeth, there none that seeketh after God.”

The solution to the problem is the same as it has been since man sinned. The gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” The unbelieving world needs the Spirit empowered declaration of the gospel. Though many reject the gospel it must be given over and over again. None will believe unless “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”