Archive for the ‘Jesus’ category

Annotations of Gospel Centrality: Colossians 2:17

May 2, 2012

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Colossians 2:17

The interpretive grid through which we properly understand the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Everything was created by Jesus and for Jesus, and in Jesus is everything sustained (Col. 1:16-17). The world has always sought for a way to understand reality apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. These lens or worldviews are mere shadows, and Paul mentions several of them in Colossians 2.

Rationalism – plausible arguments (2:4)
Traditionalism – philosophy according to human tradition (2:8)
Ceremonialism – festivals, new moon, and Sabbath (2:16)
Sensationalism – worship of angels, detailed accounts of visions (2:18)
Empiricism – do not handle, do not taste, do not touch (2:21)

All of these are “human precepts” (2:22) and “not according to Christ” (2:8). They give the appearance of plausibility on the surface but in reality they are only shadows. Nevertheless, we are tempted to make much of shadows. If it is not logic (rationalism), it is experience (empiricism). If it is not traditional, it is sensational.  There are ditches on either side we are prone to fall into, unless there is something more substantive, more true, more corresponding to reality.

Paul says the substance is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3). And when we look at the heart of Colossians 2, we discover the way we reject the shadowlands of “isms” is to dwell deep in the substance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only through the gospel can we be “rooted and built up and established in the faith” (Col. 2:7).  Paul says the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus, and we have been filled with Jesus (which means the fullness of God fills our lives!). The substance belongs to Christ, and Christ belongs to us.

In the gospel, you have been buried with Christ in baptism (2:12)
In the gospel, you have been raised with Christ through the powerful working of God (2:12)
In the gospel, you have been made alive together with Christ (2:13)
In the gospel, your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3)

That’s the substance.

Everything else is shadows. The gospel is an invitation out of the shadowlands and into the eternal realities purposed by God who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). We are called to live gospel-centered lives because any other kind of living would be explorations into the various dimensions of shadows. When the gospel is our hermeneutic for life, we are embodying the divine critique of all elemental principles of the world, calling people out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13). And the more we center our lives in our union with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, the more substantive and satisfying our lives will become.

May God give us grace to make much of the substance that is found in Jesus Christ!

The cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.

March 12, 2012

John Stott:

“Any contemporary observer, who saw Christ die, would have listened with astonished incredulity to the claim that the Crucified was a Conqueror. Had he not been rejected by his own nation, betrayed, denied and deserted by his own disciples, and executed by authority from the Roman procurator?

Look at him there, spread-eagled and skewered on his cross, robbed of all freedom of movement, strung up with nails, pinned there and powerless. It appears to be total defeat. If there is victory, it is the victory of pride, prejudice, jealousy, hatred, cowardice, and brutality.

Yet the Christian claim is that the reality is the opposite of the appearance. What looks like (and indeed was) the defeat of goodness by evil is also, and more certainly, the defeat of evil by goodness. Overcome there, He was Himself overcoming. Crushed by the ruthless power of Rome, he was Himself crushing the serpent’s head. The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.”

The Cross of Christ, 227-28.

Witnesses Not Stargazers

February 27, 2012

Tim Keller got me reading John Stott’s Commentary on Acts, and man I’m glad he did. This past week, I preached on the kingdom of God from Acts 1, and I was created encouraged and helped by the insight and commentary of Stott, especially on Christ’s ascension and the mandate to witness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Commenting on Acts 1:9-11, John Stott wrote:

“There was something fundamentally anomalous about their gazing up into the sky when they had been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth. It was the earth not the sky which was to be their preoccupation. Their calling was to be witnesses not stargazers. The vision they were to cultivate was not upwards in nostalgia to the heaven which had received Jesus, but outwards in compassion to the lost world which needed him. It is the same for us. Curiosity about heaven and its occupants, speculation about prophecy and its fulfillment, and obsession with ‘time and seasons’ – these are aberrations which distract us from our God-given mission. Christ will come personally, visibly, and gloriously. Of that we have been assured. Other details can wait. Meanwhile, we have work to do in the power of the Spirit” (The Message of Acts, 51).

It is not for us to know the times and seasons the Father has fixed by His authority. But it is for us to know the power of the Spirit in testifying to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in word and deed. Those longing for the return of Christ are not those with prophecy charts in their hands but the gospel on their lips.

Spiritual Gifts and the Promise of Christ

February 15, 2012

Repetition and redundancy can be a good thing, especially when we recognize the importance of remembering.

With all the controversies and debates about spiritual gifts, we need the discipline of remembering, and remembering in particular what Paul repeated over and over again their overarching purpose, namely to edify and build the church.  Look at these excerpts from 1 Corinthians 14, a chapter dedicated to the proper use of spiritual gifts:

“the one who prophesies speak to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (v. 3)

“the one who prophesies builds up the church” (v. 4)

“the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (v. 5)

“so with yourselves since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (v. 12)

“you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up” (v. 17)

“I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (v. 19)

“let all things be done for building up” (v. 26)

“you can call prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (v. 31)

What’s the obvious common concern of Paul?  It is that believers might excel in the exercise of their spiritual gifts for building up the church.  He could not be more redundant in this chapter (eight times referring to building up or encouraging others).

And this is not the only place Paul talks about believers building the church.  Consider Ephesians 4.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ. . . . from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every join with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:11-12, 16

Who builds up the church? All of the saints when they are working full-time in ministry. How do they build up the church? When each member of the body is equipped to grow and work properly. How do they work properly? When they are exercising their spiritual gifts for the common good, the unity of the church, and the mutual care for one another (see 1 Cor. 12).

Now, can you think of any other prominent place in the Bible where “build” is used?  Ah yes, the great promise of Jesus Christ, upon the confession of Peter that He is the Messiah.  Jesus said:

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” – Matthew 16:18

The great encouragement we have as believers is that Jesus is the one who is going to do all this.  Jesus is going to build His church.  His promise is as sure as the grave is empty.  But as we believe this promise, how is Jesus going to do this?

I argue that the materials Jesus uses to build His church are the spirit-gifted, spirit-empowered, spirit-filled members of His body.  Don’t disconnect the promise of Matt. 16:18 from the purpose of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 14.  When all the spiritual gifts are present and working properly, Christ is present, and He is presently building His church through His people in the power of His Spirit!

We might be tempted to plant and build churches in the power of the flesh, with human ingenuity and fanciful machinations, but the Scriptural blueprint is simple.  Jesus builds by His Spirit through His people for His glory.

Therefore, I conclude:

1.  A church committed to planting and building churches must make equipping saints who are working properly in their spiritual gifting.  We cannot accept substitutes building materials.  The house will crumble if it is not built on Christ and by Christ.

2. Christ is the head of the church, and His promise to build the church should flow through all the members of the body.  A member working effectually to build the church is evidence that they are rightly connected to the head, to Christ.  On the contrary, members not building the church through their gifts leave to question whether the promise of Christ has any tangible difference in their lives now.

3. Pastors, if we believe the promise of Christ and the purpose of the gifts, we must view ourselves as equippers, not merely ministers.  Paul says it is the saints who do the work of ministry.  It is we who do the equipping.  You are in real danger in thinking that the building of the church depends upon you if the practical outworking of the church lies squarely in your hands.  The building of the church lies squarely in Jesus‘ hands, in His feet, in all of His members supernaturally gifted by His Spirit.  Your leadership is important to the body, but that importance will be seen in how well others’ gifts flourish and are found fruitful, not merely the members appreciating the fruitfulness of your gifts.

So let the repetition and redundancy of Paul sink in.  Everything we do should be for building up the church, and with that universal aim, we rejoice in an indefatigable promise.  Jesus will build His church.  Jesus is building His church.  May the gifts He’s supplied reveal His greatness and redound to His glory.

The Promises of Jesus: I Will Never Cast Out

February 3, 2012

As part of my blog change, I am posting more as a travelogue, including thins the Lord is teaching me and encouraging me in the journey.  This year, one of the things I am focusing more on are the promises of Jesus.  I hope to share more of these as the days go by.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
John 6:37

We all know that promises are only as good as the ability of the person making them is in keeping them.   In Jesus, we have come to know that all the promises of God find their “yes” and “amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).  I don’t know about you, but I want my days to be infiltrated with divine confirmation of all that Jesus is for me in every aspect of my life.  I want my identity, purpose, and treasure to be shaped by promises kept and fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus says, “I will never cast out.”  Never. To whom? Whoever comes. That’s not a coming once, but a coming again and again and again. And with each coming, we are promised never to be rejected.  Jesus is more ready to welcome than we are willing to come.  Should not the promise of never being turned away motivate us to come all the more?! The promise should melt our hearts and move our faith to flee to Jesus! Pity the Christian who believes not this promise and never avails himself to the beckoning call and welcoming embrace of Jesus. Not the righteous, not the righteous, but sinners Jesus came to call.  And lest we forget, the only thing that He requires is that we feel our need of Him.

Believe the promise of Jesus today.  Make haste with swift feet to the strong embrace of our Savior whose promises never fail.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

Sappy Assurance from the Spirit

February 2, 2012

I don’t know of any contemporary author who lays open the heart of God to us like the Puritans. I know they get a bad wrap from some circles today, but perhaps no other literature has affected me more outside Scripture than the writings of the Puritans. To give you a taste of what I’m talking about, let me provide you a brief excerpt from the man who succeeded Richard Sibbes at Holy Trinity Church, Thomas Goodwin.

In his book, The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth (first published 1651), Goodwin writes about the heart of Christ being communicated to us through the comforting work of the Spirit indwelling us.  Of the Spirit, Goodwin writes, “he is the greatest token and pledge of Christ’s love that ever was” (18).  Consider the following words from the pen of Goodwin on the heart of Christ opened to us through His Spirit.

“Him I (Jesus) shall send on purpose to be in my room, and to execute my place to you, my bride, spouse, and he shall tell you, if you will listen to him, and not grieve him, nothing but stories of my love.

[ . . .] All his speech in your hearts will be to advance me, and to greaten my worth an love unto you, and it will be his delight to do it.  And he can come from heaven in an instant where he will, and bring you fresh tidings of my mind, and tell you the thoughts I last had of you, even at the very minute when I am thinking of them, what they are at the very time wherein he tells you them.

[. . .] He dwelleth in Christ’s heart, and also ours, and lifts up from one hand to the other what Christ’s thoughts are to us, and what our prayers and faith are to Christ. So that you shall have my heart as surely and as speedily as if I were with you; and he will continually be breaking your hearts, either way with my love to you, or yours to me, or both; and if either, you may be sure of my love thereby.

[ . . .] He will tell you, where I am in heaven, that there is as true conjunction between me and you, and as true a dearness of affection in me towards you, as is between my Father and me, and that it is as impossible to break this knot, and to take off my heart from you, as my Father’s from me, or mine from the Father” (18-20).

I know this sounds a little sappy, but that’s the point. I believe Goodwin knows something of the succor of Christ’s love that I have not tasted, and instead of getting embarrassed by his writings, I should be overwhelmed by Christ’s love and embarrassed of how little I have truly known and experienced it.

Goodwin is right to elaborate on the communicative nature of the Spirit’s comforting work, so as to daily assure us of Christ’s love and our status as no longer orphans but adopted sons and daughters of the greatest lover the world has ever known.  I want to be known as the greatest recipient of the greatest love the world has ever known.  And Goodwin is, especially for that aspiration, a worthy guide.

Wrecked Afresh by Treasuring Christ

September 27, 2011

For more info, see here and here

Communities of Light, Part 1 (Biblical Theology)

September 27, 2011

God is light.

I’m not sure we have probed into the depths of that profound reality. I’m not trying to sound abstract or philosophical. The Bible is clear to explain that God is light (1 John 1:5).  He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 5:16) and is considered as “the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  All of this speaks of God’s character and domain of existence.  He is brilliant in all His holiness, perfect in all His righteousness, and absolute in all His attributes.  Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, and in the same manner sin cannot stand in the presence of God.

In the beginning, God’s first work in creation was a reflection of His character.  God who is light made light out of darkness.  He took what was “without form and void” and stamped His nature upon it with four little words, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:2-3).  Where there was chaos, there was clarity; where there was emptiness, there was the presence of His character.

God created Adam and Eve to walk in the light of His presence.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve were to bear God’s likeness, exercise dominion over all He created, and enjoy the presence of God in the protection and provision of His creating and sustaining Word.  But as you know, the serpent threw darkness upon the light of God’s Word, sowing doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve regarding God’s good purposes for them (“Did God really say . . .?”).  The darkness of doubt bore fruit in the sinful rebellion of Adam and Eve, and darkness moved from doubt to guilt and shame as they hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen. 3:8).  Since then, mankind is born in a state of sin and separation from God in what the Bible describes as the “domain of darkness.”

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Lord Jesus Christ – A Triperspectival Meditation

June 30, 2011

The phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” is used throughout the epistles of the Apostle Paul (some 60+ times). For instance, you find it in the beginning of most of his letters to the churches (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1-2; Philemon 1:3), and you will also find it in the ending of most of his letters (Rom. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; Philemon 1:25).  In a rather significant way, the phrase serves as bookends to the letters to the churches.  Everyone knows that the things people remember the most are at the beginning and at the end of a message or letter, so it stands to reason why Paul would employ this phrase when speaking about Jesus, and in particular what he may intentionally be drawing to their remembrance.

Furthermore, Paul employs this phrase in reference to the past, presence, and future work of Christ.  In a gospel sense, Paul uses this phrase regarding the work of Christ in his first coming (Acts 20:21; 1 Cor. 6:11; 15:57; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:14) as well as the work of Christ in his second coming (1 Cor. 1:7-8 Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Pet. 1:16).  And in the practical outworking of the gospel , Paul makes the phrase the grounds for his appeal to fellow believers (Rom. 15:30; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Thess. 3:6; 3:12).  Whether looking back (at the cross), looking forward (at his coming), or looking around at everyday situations in life, Paul invokes the phrase “Lord Jesus Christ.”

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John Piper – Hallowed Be Your Name

June 16, 2011

This past Monday, John Piper preached a powerful sermon focusing on the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be your name.” In the typical expository exultation style of Piper, you can sense the gravitas and the gladness of the text as we are brought face to face with the greatness of God. In my generation, I pray there would be many who would yearn and learn to bring God’s Word to bear upon God’s people with such weightiness.

You can read Piper’s sermon here.

True and Better

May 30, 2011

I’ve already plugged this awesome excerpt of Tim Keller in the past, but it’s worth posting again.

[vimeo 23642755]

I wonder if you know HIM

April 24, 2011

He’s my king. Is he yours?

Follow Jesus [Video]

April 23, 2011

One more from Igniter Media . . .

A Portrait of Christ

April 22, 2011

This blows me away.

[vimeo 22716246]

Doubting Easter

April 21, 2011