Joy to the World – Pt. 1

jtwIn 1719, Isaac Watts penned what has become one of the most famous hymns sung during the Christmas season. Known as the Father of  English Hymnody, Watts often wrote his hymns based on the Psalms.  His theological propensity led him to write The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This work was a collection of paraphrased Psalms and his paraphrase of Psalm 98 is what we know as Joy to the World.

Psalm 98 is known as a royal psalm. Royal psalms are psalms that describe the kingship of Jesus Christ.  This psalm is a call for praise to the LORD for His salvation (v2) and for His judgment (v9) at Jesus’ second coming. Joy to the World was specifically written around verses 4-9 , which means that this hymn is not about Christ’s first coming (1st Advent), but His second coming (2nd Advent). While we typically sing this song during the Christmas season, Watts did not intend to have this song sung during the Christmas season. It is appropriate for every day of the year. You’ll notice the incarnation of Jesus is not mentioned in this song, but the culmination of redemption is, in which all of creation praises Jesus for his deliverance from the curse of sin. That is the point of Joy to the World.

However, since this song is widely associated with the Christmas season, I believe examining the truths found in the lyrics will be of great encouragement. In four parts (consistent with the number of verses in the song), I want to expose the beauty of these truths and I pray this is beneficial to the reader. So let’s start by examining the first verse-

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

When we consider the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, who are the joyous ones? We know from Matthew 24:30, Revelation 19:11-15 that Jesus’ second coming will be a time where Jesus will finally defeat all His enemies. He will come as a conquering king, deposing all earthly kings and anyone else set against Him, including Satan.  But the call for joy is for God’s people who experience the consummation of their salvation. Believers will fully recognize their King and gladly submit. This is what it means for our hearts to prepare Him room.  Also, we will rule and reign (2 Tim. 2:12) with Christ and forever be reconciled with our Creator (Rev. 21:3).

Not only will humanity be reconciled to God and submitted to the authority of Jesus, but all of creation will be as well. Romans 8:20-21 says, For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Creation itself is presently under a curse, but it too longs for salvation from the curse that it was subjected to (Gen. 3:17-19). All will be right with the world, particularly in the new heavens and new earth, when Christ comes back to complete the establishment of his eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-13) where there will be no traces of sin and its effects (Isa. 65).  This is what is meant by the earth receiving her king. Creation will sing joyous praise as it realizes its deliverance from the curse by its King, Jesus. The end result of the salvation to come is heaven and nature singing. I take heaven to mean the angels. Nature will be figuratively singing (Ps. 98:7-8) as it exists free from corruption, but I believe the angels will be forever rejoicing and praising Jesus for His work of redemption and for bringing all of creation under His rule (Rev 5:9).

The second coming of Christ will be a day of great praise for God’s people, but we must not forget the importance of Christ’s first coming. It was His first coming that began the work of redemption for His people and creation. In His living, dying, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus conquered sin and death and ceased the hostility between God and His people.  Jesus came on a mission to die for His people to bring them to everlasting glory (Tit. 2:13). This is the reason for our joy!

Merry Christmas!

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Bearing Burdens and Racial Reconciliation

racial-reconciliation-1920x1000In light of the tragedies surrounding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5 and July 6,  I was asked by my pastor to write an article to our congregation that we might take more steps in understanding the racial narrative and how White Christians can better display the gospel toward their African American brothers and sisters. Here is what I wrote.

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I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

(Ephesians 4:1, ESV)

By now we all have heard of the shootings by law enforcement that resulted in the deaths of two African American men, Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile of St. Paul, MN, on July 5 and July 6 respectively.  These two men are just a small, but no less significant, part of a larger narrative of systemic injustice against African-Americans.  As a multi-ethnic church with a considereable number of African-American members and visitors, we must understand the impact these types of tragedies have and know how to respond. Particularly to my white brothers and sisters, but certainly not limited to you, I offer a few suggestions on how to respond.

First, do not ignore the data confirming systemic injustice and do not minimize or ignore the very real pain and hurt of those who have been affected by these types of tragedies.  As gospel Christians, we should be compelled to weep with those who weep.

Second, if you desire to understand the racial narrative more clearly, how to interact with your African-American brothers and sisters from a gospel centered perspective and why we collectively suffer in the types of tragedies, talk to us and take advantage of many resources available. Here are a few resources. I pray they are helpful.

Audio/Video

Articles

Books

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” – 1 John 3:14 ESV

In Him,

David Robinson

 

*image courtesy of veritascolumbus.com

Dignity, Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

dignityBy now you might have heard of the recent controversy surrounding Christian apologist and pastor, James White, concerning a Facebook post, which is now removed, which he made comments about the disrespectful behavior of a black teenager toward law enforcement. Some thought his comments were rooted in racism and others found his comments justifiable and truthful. Initially, I was of the former and expressed my initial thoughts here, but I also want to add additional thoughts as I’ve had time to pray and further think about the the situation in light of Scripture.

Earlier this year, as I was making my way through my yearly Bible reading plan, I was reminded by something in Leviticus that I’d forgotten. Unfortunately, Leviticus seems to be one of the books that often defeats those who have committed to read the Bible. Meticulous laws about Israel’s religious culture discussing the slaughtering of animals and the spilling of blood as well as their civil/social culture about how to deal with leprous people, bodily discharges etc. doesn’t exactly sound like exciting reading on the surface. However, when we understand that through those laws God was revealing more of His identity to them as well as revealing their identities, establishing them as a holy nation and preparing them for entrance into the Canaan, it all makes sense. God was establishing and preparing Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the Gentiles.

Dignity

Under the Old Covenant, Leviticus 19:9-18 instructs the people how to deal with their neighbors. The instruction for Israel was that they were to love one another. They were to be benevolent and just with one another; not malevolent and unjust. The basis for this command is primarily rooted in Genesis 1:26-27, which states that mankind, male and female, was created in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has inherent dignity simply because he/she is an image bearer of God. And as image bearers, we’re called to relate to one another in ways that manifest that dignity and bring glory to God. As we read further in Leviticus, that dignified treatment wasn’t to be based on sex (Lev. 19:29), age (Lev. 19:32), economic status (Lev. 19:15), nor ethnicity (Lev. 19:33-37). Furthermore, Leviticus 19:33-37 is not only about ethnic differences, but also about religious differences. The term ‘stranger’ in these verses means people from other ethnicities who were outside the covenant community of God. As Israel would be situated by pagan worshippers, God forbade unjust treatment of them when they would sojourn in the land of Israel. Treating people with dignity simply is an expression of love, which is the essence of God’s law (Exodus 20).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was questioned by a lawyer about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ response was You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). In Luke’s gospel this conversation is given more detail with the lawyer seeking clarification about who his neighbor was because he was trying to justify his actions (Luke 10:29). Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) in which Jesus didn’t directly answer who was a neighbor, but rather Jesus instructed the man to be a good neighbor, which wasn’t to be bound by ethnic or religious distinction. In this parable, the Samaritan was the outcast of society because of his ethnicity and his religion, yet was commended for showing the most love to the man who had been robbed.

Under the New Covenant, the Apostle Paul and James both reiterate Jesus’ teaching that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom.13:8-10; Jam. 2:8) among believers and toward unbelievers (John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21). We are to show dignity toward others by loving them, which is a sign that we are truly the children of God, redeemed by Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Ethnic Gnosticism & Gospel Lenses

After White’s comments were made public, he was initially confronted by several brothers who objected to his unfair generalization about the teenager’s upbringing – that he was probably fatherless, and also about his future – that he would likely father several children by different women and concede to multiple abortions. As the dialogue continued White was offered a chance to discuss these concerns face to face and he declined charging the concerned brothers with ethnic gnosticism. Ethnic gnosticism says that one ethnicity ( i.e. white) is disallowed to speak to, or about, another ethnic people (i.e. black) or their experience since they’re (i.e. white) not of that ethnicity (i.e. black). Essentially, White was accusing several people of filtering the gospel through ethnic lenses rather than filtering ethnicity through a gospel lens. To be fair, the former can happen and proof of this is Black Liberation Theology (BLT) purported by James Cone. BLT or any form of Liberation Theology rewrites the redemptive-historical narrative of Scripture and reinterprets it through the perspective of the oppressed, which distorts the gospel altogether. Those who confronted White weren’t doing that, so the charge is unfounded. What they were doing was expressing the illegitimacy and unfairness of White’s comments about that teenager and holding White accountable to the gospel that commands us to love others – even those outside of the New Covenant. Essentially, there was an attempt to help White actually see that teenager through gospel lenses.  Gospel lenses looks with hope, grace and mercy toward others because of the reconciling and transforming work of Christ. 

Gospel lenses ought to compel us to see the dignity of all people, even when they’re behaving in an undignified manner, because they’re image bearers. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to be burdened for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to pray for the unredeemed. Had White thought about this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Gospel lenses ought to compel us to share the good news of the gospel with the unredeemed. Had White thought about this or done this, I wonder what his Facebook post might’ve said. Instead, White said this:

“So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads. As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.”

As stated in my previous article, White refused to engage in further dialogue with brothers who were trying to help him understand his misstep and hold him accountable to gospel love. Gospel lenses help us to be slower to speak and quicker to hear, especially when someone is trying to tell you how you’ve caused damage. Gospel lenses don’t refute the possibility of error, but humbly seek to see where error might have occurred. Gospel lenses don’t point the finger back in retaliation, but entrusts all judgment to the Father.

In a reply, White stated that he was not a racist and he meant no harm by his words, but rather he was merely citing statistics. I’ll take him at his word – he wasn’t trying to offend. However, his choice of words, his highly defensive and sarcastic responses on his show and toward other Christian brothers seeking to help him see his error and understand how to better apply the gospel in light of the racism narrative, seems to be a huge blind-spot for White. Only gospel lenses will give him the sight he desperately needs. But there is hope, because our God is a living God committed to see His children conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Questions for White

1. Why did you initially post what you posted, Mr. White?

2. Do you think your post and subsequent responses were more encouraging or discouraging?

3. Do you think your post was necessary?

4. Do you think your post was more helpful or less helpful concerning the Great Commission?

5. Do you think your response to the brothers’ concerns was Christlike?

6. Do you think you can learn anything in the area of racism from African-Americans and how to apply the gospel to racism?

Introspection

I am convinced that the LORD doesn’t waste anything. All of this served to remind me that we all have blind spots because we’re still being sanctified. I need to be wary of being incapable of being corrected. I need to consistently pray for a humble and teachable heart.

At the same time, I am hopeful. God will accomplish His will in and for His people for His glory! Nothing can stay His hand! He has never ceased to fail to accomplish His will!

Grace & Peace,

d.

 

The Good News of Christmas

christmas-lights-austin-lp8v4porThis time of year is still my favorite time of year.  I love the cooler weather.  I love seeing the fall colors of leaves on trees and on the ground.  I love seeing Christmas decorations around my neighborhood and city.  I love spending time shopping for Christmas gifts with my wife and sipping on seasonal coffee drinks. I love listening to my Christmas Jazz station on Pandora. I love being with my family sharing laughter, great food and exchanging gifts.  These are all great gifts given by God to be enjoyed!  Another aspect that I think about with gratitude is seeing the end of another year reflecting on God’s faithfulness. This also causes me to think about the Lord’s grace and mercies to come in the following year, should He tarry.

Of course, this time of year is a time of reflection and celebration for what I believe to be one of the most important events in human history – the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Christmas cards, decor and media flood our minds with nativity scenes of “baby Jesus”.  The exact date of Jesus’ birth isn’t known, but December 25 has been officially recognized by the Western and Eastern Church as the date to celebrate His birth.  More importantly, we should give earnest attention to the fact that God entered humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelt among His creation for a specific reason.  However, as integral as it is, the birth of Christ is only a portion of the significance of Jesus’ life. We must also consider the significance of His life, death and resurrection to truly appreciate His birth.

The Significance of Jesus’ Life

Galatians 4:4 says, “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,…”.  This verse is very important and teaches us three things.  First, it teaches us that Jesus was sent by the Father at an appointed time. Second, it reminds us that Jesus was a human being born of a woman. Third, it reminds us of the administration He was was subject to.  Being born under the law meant that Jesus, as a human, was part of the covenant community of God subject to the Law’s demands.

In Exodus 19, God covenanted with Israel and issued His law to Moses, which was to shape, identify and govern His chosen people, Israel.  Jesus was a true Israelite subject to the Law of Moses.  Jesus was subject to the same law as every Israelite.  As with all laws, adherence was to be expected.  If Israel obeyed the Law, they incurred blessings. If Israel disobeyed the Law, they incurred curses (Deut. 28).  Despite having clear information and instruction from God about who He is and how they were to live, Israel repeatedly broke the covenant with God and incurred the curses of the Law. The reason Israel continually failed to keep the Law was because they were unable to keep it due to indwelling sin. The heart of the Law was wholehearted love for God and love for fellow man (Matt. 22:36-40) and sin prevents us from loving God and man in this way.  However, Jesus never sinned against God and man (1 Pet. 2:22) and thus He fulfilled the positive requirement of the Law, which is perfect obedience.  Jesus lived the perfect life that God required of all man. But He also fulfilled the Law in another way.

The Significance of Jesus’ Death

The ultimate curse of the Law was to be seen as cursed by God. Being seen as cursed by God for breaking the covenant warranted death.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23a says, “22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…””  In Galatians 3:13, the Apostle Paul says that Christ inherited the ultimate covenant curse of God being hung on a tree (crucifixion). On the cross, Jesus was forsaken by the Father (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). If Christ never broke the Law, why did He suffer the ultimate curse of the Law?

Though the Law could never keep Israel from sinning, because it was powerless to, it did provide a way of forgiveness.  God established rules of worship for Israel, which included a priesthood and animal sacrifices.  The priests, God’s appointed mediators, would regularly offer perfect animal sacrifices on behalf of themselves and of the people as God’s means of forgiveness and reconciliation for their sins. The act of offering an animal sacrifice involved killing the animal and having its blood sprinkled on the altar and other places of the tabernacle and the temple. Instead of the people suffering God’s wrath for their sin, God accepted the blood (life) of the perfect animals (usually bulls and goats) as a substitute for the life of guilty Israel. This priestly work was regularly done because the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sins nor purify sinful hearts (Heb. 10:1-4). This ritual functioned as a reminder of Israel’s sins. It also functioned as a pointer to the need for something greater.

Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the animal sacrifices. He is the slain perfect Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world (Jhn 1:29; Heb. 9:12-14; Rev. 5:6-14). In His living and His dying, Jesus, as a man, completely satisfied all of the demands of the Law.  Jesus’ perfect life was a sin and guilt offering for those who turn to Him by faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to please the Father and give His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).

The Significance of Jesus’ Resurrection

 

If one truth about Jesus’ life that tends to be overlooked, it’s His resurrection.  Perhaps it’s because we hear more songs about his life and death that we unintentionally minimize the resurrection. This probably occurs in our evangelism too.  I’m not sure why this happens, but it is too important to not state or minimize. Think about it. What good would Jesus’ life and death be if He remained dead in a tomb? Where’s the good news in that?  What hope would man have if Jesus is still dead? None. In fact, the Apostle Paul argued that Christians are indeed to be the most pitied of all if Christ had not risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17-19).  Paul makes the argument that if Christ is not risen from the dead, Christians are still in their sins (i.e. unforgiven and dominated by sin) and eternal condemnation awaits us. In order for us to appreciate what Christ’s resurrection accomplishes, we must first consider the effects of sin.

Sin entered the world through Adam and through sin, death came and spread to all men (Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12). Adam and Eve transgressed a clear prohibition from God and became sinners. The reason why death exists is because of sin (Rom. 6:23). Sin is rebellion against God and leads to separation from God. Rebellion and separation from God leads to death and since all men die, all men are sinners. Again, death is the consequence of sin. However, Jesus never sinned, yet He willingly died as a substitutionary sacrifice.  Since He never sinned, He didn’t deserve death nor does sin and death have the power to keep Him dead. Thus, His resurrection!!

By His righteous living and His resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death!  His resurrection from the dead led to His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He is presently ruling and reigning.  When He comes again, He will gather His people to himself. Those living will be caught up with Him and those who have previously died will resurrect from their graves displaying victory over sin and death!  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26).

The whole point of the redemptive work of Christ is to gather the children of God to be with Him in His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21)!

This Christmas, let us indeed celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ incarnation, but let us not forget that His humble earthly beginning was the first step in His mission to destroy the works of the devil (Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8) and bring many sons to everlasting glory (Heb. 2:10).

That is the good news of Christmas!

Ethnicity, Sin & the Gospel

Over the last year, America has witnessed and experienced, what I believe to be racially charged acts of violence, even murder, against African Americans.  Consider Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, the shooting in South Carolina, the McKinney, TX pool party incident, the young lady who was assaulted and was dragged out of class in Charleston, SC, and LaQuan McDonald.  Most of the acts of violence were done by law enforcement.  I’ve heard both sides of the argument whereby each party was to blame. It’s a never ending argument despite evidence captured on camera. There’s also the argument of individual racism vs. systemic/structural racism.

Like many black men in America, I’ve had to process all of this and sort through many thoughts and emotions. I’ve even wondered how law enforcement sees me as we drive past each other.  I’ve been angry and I’ve been sad.  I think some of my anger has been just as I see injustice and murder occurring before my very eyes. I’ve been sad because peoples’ lives have been unnecessarily taken from them through unrestrained violence.  In many ways, it feels like the Civil Rights Movement all over again.

As a Christian black man, I’ve had to process and sort through many thoughts and emotions through the word of God.  I’ve had to fight the tendency to think all white people see themselves as superior and blacks as inferior.  I’ve had to fight the anger I’ve felt when our side of the narrative was being dismissed or when we’re charged with “not getting over it [racism]”.  In other words, I’ve had to fight being partial to my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Clear biblical thinking is paramount in times like these.  Clear biblical thinking must take into account that all men of every hue are sinners and sin manifests in myriads of ways. Specifically, the sin of racism entered the world in Genesis 3. It is nothing new.  As a Christian, I’ve also been compelled to examine my own heart and actions to make sure I’m not adding to the racism narrative.  Clear biblical thinking compels me to love my fellow man in the faith of every hue. Clear biblical thinking compels me love my fellow man of creation of every hue, even those who do evil, because I’ve been so dearly loved by God and because all men are created in His image (Genesis 1:26).  Clear biblical thinking also compels me to speak of the One who shed His blood for the sins of man He created from every tribe, tongue and nation (Acts 17: 26-28, Revelation 5:9; 7:9) and united in Himself as one new man (Ephesians 2:11-22), the Christian, and the church is called to display His particular glory of ethnic unity now and for eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Truly, the gospel is the only remedy for racial reconciliation and it is my firm conviction that pastors lead out personally and corporately in the fight against racism.

This past October, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisvlle, KY) hosted their annual Expositors Summit Conference and Preconference.  One of the preconference speakers, Curtis Woods, offered some great insights concerning pastoring and the changing ethnic demographics happening in America. Please give his talk a listen and be challenged and encouraged!

Grace & Peace,

d.

(Picture is courtesy of The District Church)

 

Brand New | New Identity

Previously, we discussed that Christians or believers in Jesus Christ are subjects of Christ’s  kingdom.  Having been born again by the power of the Spirit for faith in the gospel, believers have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13), Jesus Christ.  However, we must not only think of our relationship with Christ in a monarchial way. The Bible employs several images to describe our relationship with God and our identity as Christians.  While much more could be said about the Christian’s new identity, I will only spend time discussing a few aspects, which I think are most helpful for this series.

IDCHRISTIndividual and Corporate Identity

Two of the most common reasons why some believers have stunted spiritual growth or fail to experience joy is that some fail to understand who they are in Christ and others forget who they are in Christ.  If either of these occur in the life of a believer, it can have devastating effects.  

One of the most vivid descriptions of the Christian’s identity is found in Ephesians 2.  In this chapter, the Apostle Paul describes the work of the gospel in the lives  of the Ephesians, who like all Christians were formerly spiritually dead.  We’ve discussed this in part 1, so I won’t elaborate on that more.  However, Paul goes on to say some additionally important things about how the gospel shapes the believer’s identity and some of its implications.  

Contextually, Paul is writing to Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians and explaining how their faith in Christ has implications concerning their relationship to God and to people of other ethnicities, specifically Jewish people.  In vv11-12, Paul declares that they were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  In other words, Gentiles generally had no share of the blessings of God and were without eternal hope.  However in vv13-22, Paul highlights the hope Gentiles now have because of the gospel and its direct implications. Paul says,

  • v13in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • vv14-16, 1914 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…
  • vv17-18 – 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
  • v22- In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

In verse 13, Paul explains how being Christians, or being in Christ, has brought them near to God when they were originally far off from God and without hope (v12). Do you see that contrast? Being in Christ, believers now have hope because they are covenanted with God in Christ. All believers are no longer alienated from the people of God and strangers to the covenants of promise, but are now the people of God and guaranteed inheritors of the covenantal promises.

In verse 14-16 and 19, Paul explains the relationship between believers of different ethnicities. Historically, Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along. In fact, hostility existed between them. However, in Christ, Paul says the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down (v14, 16) and they are now one new man.  While God doesn’t negate our ethnicities, which He created, our ethnicities are not what first defines us. What first defines us is our identity as the people of God. Our being in Christ not only gives us access to God and His promises, but it creates and puts us in a whole new family with other believers of different ethnicities (v19).

In verse 22, Paul uses Old Testament temple imagery to further clarify the Ephesian believers’ identity.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, or the Old Covenant, God commanded Israel to build a tabernacle and then a temple, which would be the locus of worship for Israel (See 1 Chronicles 28).  Not only would it be the place of worship, but the place where the Lord would often meet with His people. The temple signified the place where the Lord’s presence dwelled.  Paul says in verse 22 that the covenant community or God’s people are a dwelling place of God by the Spirit.  Back in Ephesians 1, Paul explains how believers are filled with the Holy Spirit , who is the guarantee of our inheritance. This filling of the Holy Spirit in believers was promised in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 36:26-27 and in Joel 2:28-29  and fulfilled in Acts 2 under the New Covenant in Christ. God didn’t dwell permanently in people under the Old Covenant as He does with people now in Christ under the New Covenant. Therefore, just as the Temple was the dwelling place of God on earth then, the church (the people of God, not a brick and mortar edifice) is the true temple or dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit on earth now.   It’s a wonderful and humbling reality that we need to understand!

Another profound description of our identity as Christians is found in Romans 8:15-17. The Apostle Paul said:

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

  • v15 – we have received the Spirit of adoption; God is our Father
  • v16 – the indwelling Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God
  • v17 – as children of God, we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ

Every true believer is an adopted child of God and a co-heir with Jesus Christ!  Just as children depend on their parents for provision, protection, love, etc., every believer has that relationship with God the Father.  The Aramaic term “Abba” is a term used by children that signifies a close intimate relationship with their fathers. The English equivalent is “daddy”.  With this familial reality comes a grand future promise.  That promise is that we are co-heirs with Christ. Not only are believers promised salvation, but eternal life and we will rule (to some measure) the New Heavens and New Earth with Jesus (Lk. 22:30; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21). This will be the ultimate fulfillment of man’s original calling to rule and have dominion over the earth and its non-human inhabitants (Genesis 1:26-28).

Salvation in Christ not only restores our relationship with God and people, but also our roles over creation.

Identity as Slaves

The last issue of identity that I want to address pertains to our relationship with sin.  In Romans 6, Paul makes the argument that when we come to Christ through repentance and faith, our fundamental relationship to sin has changed.  Before being regenerated or being born again, sin was our master. We couldn’t not sin. It was inherent to our fallen state. However, after being born again by the Spirit, sin is no longer our master, Christ is. Paul says in 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

slavechain

It is important to say that our battle with sin will always remain while we are here on this earth, but it is not our master any longer. We are no longer to be slaves to sin. One of the provisions the Holy Spirit provides is the power to not give into sin and the power and desire to obey God’s word.

The Implications of Our New Identity

The implications of these truths are significant and many.  I will only briefly examine a few based on what was stated above.  

First, we need to understand that because of Christ, we are accepted by God as His children and co-heirs with Christ. We have an eternal reward and eternal commission to look forward to!  We are a people of hope who are to set our desires on the world to come, not this world which is passing away.

Secondly, we need to understand that what fundamentally marks us is not our ethnicities, our genders, our educational backgrounds, nor where we live. Our fundamental identity is “Christian” over and above these other providentially given and governed aspects of our lives.  We are God’s covenant community from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) called to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9).  Therefore, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, classism, etc. should not be named among us. We are first to be known by our obedience to Christ and must part with societal and cultural ways that contradicts God’s standards for His people. 

Thirdly, as God’s covenant community, every Christian is family – spiritual family. There is a familial aspect of our identity that is designed to display the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:8-11), our unity in Christ and love for one another.  To display these things means that we need to be regularly meeting together for worship (Heb. 10:25) and doing life together as visible expressions and proof of our new identity (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:14; 4:7-21).  

Lastly, since sin is not our master, and Christ is, we are to live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 3 is just one of many places that describes what holiness looks like.  In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul highlights a general list of sins that we are called to repent of and not be characterized by. Then in Colossians 3:12-17, he lists attributes that should mark every believer.  Galatians 5:16-26 offers us a similar perspective on how we should live based on our new identity in Christ.

May the Lord cause us to reflect on these truths and live out our identities by faith by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Grace & Peace,

d.

Brand New | New Kingdom & King (pt. 2)

In the previous article of this series, I discussed the nature and coming of the Kingdom of God and what that means for Christians today. You should already note that for every kingdom there is a king. Throughout history, we’ve read about kings, their leadership, their conquests, and even bits about their personal lives. Despite their power, control and conquests, every king or world leader has clay feet. He is a mere man, fallible, imperfect, bound to fail in many areas or he may outright be a despot terrorizing his subjects.

Throughout the history of Israel’s kings (1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles), we see just that – the inability of man to perfectly lead and sustain his territory and people to permanent places of peace and prosperity. Even Israel’s greatest King, David, a man after God’s own heart, had notable sins (2 Samuel 12). However, in God’s providence and kindness, He predestined that He would set His king on His throne to rule His people forever. God’s kingdom would be one that would be characterized by justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7) contrasting the injustice, imperfections and sometimes evil that characterizes earthly kings. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13, God made this promise to King David –

12 When your (David) days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Who is this King?

Early on in his gospel, Matthew makes it clear in two ways that Jesus is the promised king spoken of in the Old Testament.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7.

The first way that Matthew begins to unfold the true identity of Jesus Christ is by recording Jesus’ genealogy. In fact, Matthew begins his gospel with these words –

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

In the very first verse of the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is noted as the son of David, the son of Abraham. The genealogy then goes on to detail forty two generations from Abraham to Christ. For this article, the significance is noting that Jesus was a son or descendant of King David. Humanly speaking, Jesus came from David’s body, but what else does the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 note? It says that God would establish His kingdom and not only that, but that kingdom would last forever. What we need to note about this covenant is that it is fulfilled in two different ways.  The second aspect of the covenant stated that an offspring of David would build God a house (temple) for His name. Scripture tells us that David desired to build a temple, but was forbidden by the LORD. So when was this fulfilled? We know Jesus didn’t build or oversee the building of any temple, so who built God’s house / temple? 1 Chronicles 22:6-19 records a conversation that reveals that David’s son, Solomon, was to build the temple and we see Solomon overseeing the construction of the temple in 1 Kings 6. So think of it this way – in Solomon, there was immediate fulfillment (the building of the temple) and in Christ there is a later and an ultimate fulfillment (the establishment of an eternal kingdom with Christ as king). In Revelation 22:16, Jesus Christ attests that He is the son of David.

kingofkingsThe second way that Matthew reveals the identity of Jesus as God’s promised king is by quoting the question of the magi – “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) and by quoting Micah 5:2 in Matthew 2:6 pointing to Christ’s fulfillment of that ancient prophecy –

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Almost 2 chapters in of Matthew’s gospel we see that Jesus is (1) the son of David (2) recognized as a king by pagan magi and noted as the fulfillment of Micah 5:2.

As Matthew’s gospel continues to unfold, it becomes more apparent that Jesus Christ, though often misunderstood, is God’s chosen King to which He often admitted or others recognized (Matthew 7:21; 13:41; 16:19; 16:28; 20:21; 21:5; 25:31-46). The other gospels present the same picture of Jesus. Specifically Jesus’ angelic announcement details Him being the promised offspring of David who would rule forever (Luke 1:30-33). The Bible culminates revealing Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords ruling the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 1:5; 11:15; 15:3; 17:14; 19:16; 22:1-3).

The King’s Subjects and their Response

The subjects of the King, Jesus Christ, are Christians. Christians are those who have been born again by the Spirit and have responded with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They also, as previously mentioned, are the ones who have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). As subjects, the Christian’s response is worship and faith, evidenced by obedience and ongoing repentance of sin (Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:15-24; 15:1-11). Devotion to Christ must supersede all other relationships and is very costly (Luke 14:25-33), but not without the promise of great reward – namely Himself (Psalm 16:11)!

Unlike earthly kings, Jesus humbled himself and served us (Mark 10:45) so that He could free us from the reign of Satan’s and sin’s power. Being Christ’s subject is to experience true love, freedom and joy because it reconciles us to our God who longs to do us good and be our all satisfying joy.

It is imperative for all of us to understand that when we’ve been redeemed by Christ, we are to live a life that progressively displays His Lordship over every area of our lives. That is the right response to this King by His subjects.

Grace & Peace,

d.

Longing for Something Better than Christmas

christmas decoNow that Christmas has come and gone and retailers are now focused on Valentine’s Day, how do you feel?

If you’re like me, you might feel a sense of sadness or a sense of deflation in your heart. Historically, for my family, Christmas has been a time of great feasting, fellowship and the reminder of the birth of our Savior. As a child, I would get up early on Christmas morning and bang on the bedroom doors in my grandparents’ home because the thought of waiting any longer to open my gifts was unbearable. Then after all of the gifts were opened,  grandma and her daughters would continue preparing Christmas dinner: turkey, potato salad, turnip greens, cornbread, rolls, and grandma’s good ‘ol country dressin’! It didn’t get any better in my mind!

Now as an adult, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, Christmas means even more to me. I still enjoy great feasting, fellowship, the emphasis on the incarnation of Jesus and being able to give gifts and seeing expressions of joy and appreciation on others’ faces. It is truly a joyful time. However, once it was all over, I had to examine my heart and ask why was there that sense of deflation. Christmas songs just don’t have the same attraction on December 26, do they? From Black Friday to Christmas Eve there is a media and economic frenzy to shape our minds, hearts and our finances to Christmas morn. But what about the downturn of Christmas? Once Christmas has peaked, how do I handle this deflation? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself this question. Maybe you haven’t.

Discussing this with my wife, I came to the conclusion that the sense of deflation came because I am longing for something better than Christmas. Everything that Christmas represents in my family is merely a shadow of the eschatalogical promises of the gospel. We celebrate the first advent of Christ, we exchange gifts as acts of love, we pray, we sing a hymn, and we gather around the table and feast and enjoy one another with conversation filled with fond memories and laughter. These are just tastes of what is to come for eternity.

The true fulfillment of Christmas is the second advent of Christ and His coming to gather His children who long for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13) who will feast (Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:6-9) and dwell with Him in the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no sin and incomparable joy in the presence of God.

The Apostle John reminds us of this great promise in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

(‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭1-4‬ ESV)

This truth, which is full of hope, is what I need to remind myself of not only after Christmas, but all year long. May this truth be your consolation as well!

d.

Why Christmas Matters

Luke 2:11I confess – I love Christmas! I love the sights and the sounds that are characteristic of this holiday season. I love gathering with family, eating well (probably eating too much), and shopping for that ‘perfect gift’ for loved ones.  Since we’ve been married, my wife and I have started new traditions such as driving around the city looking at Christmas lights, enjoying peppermint mochas, taking the train to center city with good friends and enjoying dinner together, and hosting a Christmas gathering. Most recently we started what I expect to become a lasting tradition – we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. I must admit that I was quite surprised to know that my wife had never seen it, but she really enjoyed it. I heartily recommend it to you.

At the heart of this cartoon lies Charlie Brown’s dire desire to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Disgusted with the trappings of materialism and capitalism, Charlie Brown yells out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?”  I suspect Charlie Brown wasn’t the first and will not be the last one to ask this significant question.  Also immediately, the hero of the story emerges. Charlie Brown’s faithful friend, Linus Van Pelt, steps in and consoles Charlie Brown’s conscience by explaining the meaning of Christmas from Luke 2:9-14.

9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them (shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Think deeply about these five observations:

(1)  An angel appears and announces the birth of Christ to shepherds (v9-10).

(2) The angel calls the birth of Christ good news of great joy for all people (v10).

(3) Christ’s birth was a historical event in a historical city (v11).

(4) The angel says Christ is the Savior and Lord (v11).

(5) A multitude of angels join the angel and burst out in praise to God for this significant event (v14).

Now, let’s consider another angelic announcement concerning the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel (1:18-23).

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Think deeply about these observations:

(1) An angel appears to Joseph to inform him of the unique conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (v20).

(2) The angel confirms to Joseph what the baby’s name will be and what that child’s mission will be – He will save His people from their sins (v21).

(3) Matthew records that Jesus’ birth was a fulfillment of prophecy preordained by God foretold by Isaiah (v23).

(4) Jesus is God (v23).

What’s fascinating about these two announcements is that Christ’s ultimate identity and work was conveyed. He is the Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11) who has come to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), something only God can do (Matthew 1:23). This is not a matter of coincidence, but rather of utmost significance.  These two truths need to be proclaimed again and again and Christmas is one of the most opportune times to proclaim them.

The incarnation of Christ, or Christmas, is a reminder that God keeps His promises.  The promise of the coming of Christ was God’s promise to redeem creation, rescue a people from His wrath and bring them into everlasting fellowship with Him.  The only way that this could happen was by Christ living a life of complete obedience to the Father and then taking on the Father’s wrath for our sin.  Christ was born to live the life God requires of mankind and die the death mankind deserves for breaking God’s law.  Christ came to deliver us from God’s wrath and deliver us to God’s kingdom of everlasting joy and peace.  This is why the angels pronounced the birth of Christ as good news of great joy and this has always been God’s plan. From before the foundation of the world, God purposed to save a people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) for Himself and redeem all of creation through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the ultimate meaning of Christmas and why Christmas matters!

d.

The Gathering and Singing: Gospel Music?

worship 2If you attend some type of worship service on Sunday, you’ll notice that music plays a huge part of the service. It’s so important that churches hire people as their worship leaders, worship pastors, ministers of music, etc. because singing is a huge component of worshipping God. Consider the Psalms, Moses’ songs, Mary’s Magnificat and how the angels sing about the glory of God.

Music is also so important that some people will choose which church to attend or not based on the music alone. Should it be that way? Well, yes and no. It should not be that way if the choice to attend a church or not is purely based on a preferred aesthetic quality of the music. What if said church has expositional preaching, healthy polity, a loving congregation, an evangelistic and missions emphasis, etc. Should the style or tempo of music keep us from attending and joining? On the other end of the spectrum, what if said church didn’t have all of the signs of health mentioned above, but had music to your liking? Should the style or tempo of music be the controlling variable for your attendance and joining? I hope we would say no to these questions.

However, that doesn’t mean that music isn’t important and shouldn’t be considered. So how should we think about music in the life of the corporate church? For our personal use? While this article will not answer this question in great detail, I will offer one foundational answer. Above all, we should be primarily concerned that the Christian music we sing corporately, and privately too, reflects biblical truth, especially concerning the work of redemption. In some circles it is said that churches ought to sing the gospel, pray the gospel, preach the gospel and picture the gospel in baptism and the Lord’s Supper and church discipline.

Have you ever considered if the music you sing during the corporate gathering reflects biblical fidelity? Have you ever considered how or if the music sung during your corporate gathering complements the sermon? Perhaps you might be thinking that I’m putting too much thought into this and that “worship” should be a time in the service where you’re just caught up in the spirit and enjoying the moment. I don’t believe that is commanded in Scripture. I do believe that God would have us to be intelligent worshippers as we sing about biblical truths concerning Him and His works. The mind and the heart should be affected by songs that convey biblical truth. We must be discerning about the music we sing.

In 2010, Marvin Sapp released an album titled Here I Am. Here I Am’s lead single was titled “The Best in Me”. Interestingly, the song peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel songs chart. It charted on secular and gospel charts. How did this happen? How did a gospel song chart in the top 20 on Hit R&B/Hip-Hop chart? I won’t get into all of the red tape concerning the music industry’s charting criteria, as it is complicated. However, one criteria that directly affects music sales are the lyrics. Let’s consider a portion of the lyrics from this song.

He saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me
(Can I tell ya’ll one more time, one more time?)

I said he saw the best in me,
When everyone else around
Could only see the worst in me,
(I wish I had a witness tonight, all I need is one)
Heyyy,

[Choir:]
He saw the best in me,
(When everyone else around me)
When everyone else around (OOOOh)
(Could only see)
Could only see the worst in me,
He’s mine
He’s mine
And I am his
And I’m his
It doesn’t matter what I did
It doesn’t matter what I did
He only sees me
He only sees me for who I am

While this song may have stirred the minds and hearts of many, there is a fundamental problem with it. That fundamental problem is that it isn’t biblical. While it’s labeled a gospel song, sadly the good news is noticeably absent. There’s nothing in this song about the redemptive grace of God in Christ. Perhaps what’s even worse is that it doesn’t convey the truth about the nature of man. As best as I can tell, Sapp is claiming that God continually stands by his side when others won’t because He saw the best in him.

Biblically speaking, there is nothing good in man that causes God to respond favorably to us. In fact, the very opposite is true. The Apostle Paul cites the painful indictment that all mankind is wicked and rebellious in Romans 3:11-18 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Not only are we naturally wicked, but we deserve God’s wrath. However, the good news is that despite our heinous nature and inability to please Him, God, purposing to glorify His grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and patience, sent Jesus to atone for our sins. Instead, Sapp’s song paints a better picture of man than the Bible does and minimizes God’s nature. Sapp’s song is man-centered, not God-centered. Friends, we must be discerning about the songs we hear and sing. They must be measured by the truth of Scripture.

A good example of gospel music is “All I Have is Christ” by NA Band of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The gospel is proclaimed and the focus is on the grace and mercy of God in Christ.  This song is an example of the doctrinal faithfulness that songs should resonate with in our congregational worship and our personal listening.

Grace & Peace,

d.