Posts filed under ‘Theology’
This was originally posted at The Biblical Recorder.
I will always remember the moment that Laura and I received Solomon into our care. We were in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our driver came and picked us up from the guest house and drove us through the city into the hills and up to a gated house full of orphaned children. Laura and I stood outside the gate while one of the agency case workers went inside, and after a few moments, our agency worker opened the gate and walked out into the street and handed us our son.
We turned and got back into the van and got situated. As the van pulled off Solomon started screaming and crying frantically. This little child had no clue what was going on. We were pulling baby Solomon away from everything he had ever known. But after a few minutes, he reached his little arms around Laura’s neck and tightened his grip and held on for dear life.
It was moving to see Solomon hold onto Laura, but what really mattered, was Laura holding onto Solomon. Laura and I knew where we were going. We also knew that he was our son.
Solomon came to understand this reality as time went on.
Since that moment, I have never been able to read passages like 1 John 3:1-10 the same: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
As J.I. Packer once said in his classic book, Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.”
As we live the Christian life, we must realize that years may transpire before the believer who is adopted by God may know that he is adopted, have a deep sense of feeling of it. We live in the comfort and hope of our loving Father’s arms. And as we grow, that reality shapes us more and more as we head towards eternity.
One of my favorite accounts surrounding the birth of Christ involved a man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. During his life, the Holy Spirit promised him that he would not see death until he had seen the savior of the world.
In Luke 2, Simeon was lead by the Spirit into the temple. At the same time, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. It was forty days after his birth, and he was brought to the temple for circumcision as it was custom according to the law. Luke 2:28 tells us that Simeon took infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said;
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
What a moving moment! As Alexander Schmemann once noted, Simeon had waited his whole life for this moment. Up until this point he was restless, longing for the comfort and salvation of his people. And then, at last, the Christ child was handed to him.
In that moment, he held the life of the world in his arms.
Let us remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. In the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His ancient promise to provide salvation from sin, and eternal life over death.
May we all stop today and thank God that He is a promise keeping God. The Christ child that was held in the arms of Simeon, is the same Christ that would sacrifice his life in order to deliver sinners into the loving arms of a Holy God.
God offers to transform our lives with grace. This simple truth is the bedrock of redemptive history. This truth is also fully evident in Jonah 3:4-5.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.
It is a strikingly simple, yet an eternally significant message. With 7 words Jonah brought the great city to its knees.
The word translated overthrown/demolished is the same verb used for God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. This is a serious call.
The people of Nineveh – going about with their hectic lives, consumed with the pressing needs of the moment – were met with the eternally significant words of the prophet. And it seems from the outcome that these 7 powerful words stopped every Ninevite in their tracks. For 3-days Jonah walked across the city, saying the same thing over and over again, until everyone heard.
There is something about God’s word that always engages people with eternal issues. It lifts our eyes from the immediate interests of our lives to the imminent and overwhelming reality of either everlasting destruction or eternal life.
“Whatever you are doing now,” Jonah was saying, “you need to realize that you will soon face the judgment of God—and that day is nearer than you think.”
And look who God sends to proclaim this eternally important message. God uses imperfect servant.
In my last church I taught a class on evangelism. In one of the classes I asked everyone to tell me why they have been anxious about evangelism in the past. Two of the answers I received were:
Once I have it all together, I’ll share. If you are able to fully get it together you wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place. We are all imperfect sinners who are trusting in, staking our eternities on a perfect savior. Our message is that God shows grace on sinners like you and I.
There are some people that I just done think would ever come to faith. If this narrative is about anything it is about a God who loves the most religious (Jonah) and the most pagan (Ninevites). God is powerful to save.
God used Jonah – a rebellious prophet in the streets of Nineveh. He will certainly use you and I in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and among our friends to proclaim the perfect message of salvation.
The message of God is simple: God intends to overthrow this broken world through His saving grace.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
God doesn’t just pass over sin. He takes it serious. Christ consumed on the cross the sins of the world. God looked forward from Nineveh, looks back from wherever you are at this moment. Thankfully, as Richard Sibbes once said, “There is more mercy in God than sin in us.”
God offers to transform our lives with grace.
A few years ago, the headline of USA Today featured an article titled “Is Sin Dead?”, where the author explored the question “has the notion of sin been lost in modern culture?” When it comes to sin we tend to think, “I am not as sinful as most people”. “I have high moral expectations of myself and others, but I know we are all human so I’m looking for an average score.” We find a comfort zone of morality, a kind of therapeutic middle ground where we think we are doing well.
But the reality is sin is bad news. There is no middle ground. But there is good news. If you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified? We need to see our sin with honesty, but as Christians, we cannot let our distress over sin to lead us to despair. In our distress, God delivers us.
In Jonah 2, God delivers Jonah from his distress. In the text, we read that:
“…Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”
Even as the darkness of the water surrounded him, when the bars of death were closing on him, Jonah knew that His God would deliver him. Jonah knows that God is a God who hears and delivers those who call to him.
As Christians we know that there is no pit too deep where God cannot reach. There is no sin too horrific that God cannot forgive. There is no rebellion that takes you so far that God cannot bring you home. There is no distance too far that He cannot hear you cry out in the prayer of repentance.
What we learn from this narrative is, the time for repentance is now. We don’t wait to come to God when we have our lives cleaned up. We come to God because we see that we cannot clean ourselves up. Repentance requires us to acknowledge our complete inability, in contrast to God’s complete ability.
Like God did with Jonah, Jesus came to save real people with real problems and real issues. In Christ, God has delivered you. The sins he carried to the cross were your sins and mine. Jesus sank into the deep dark depths of death on your behalf. When you cry out to God he will deliver you from your cold solitary darkness, and you will find yourself on the warm shores of his mercy and grace.
The good news of the gospel is that on the cross he heard our cry for distress. On the cross he paid the price for that sin. In the resurrection, he conquered that sin. God has answered you in Christ.
Most of us have been trained in seminary to pastor with good sense. As pastors, we’re called to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Sound doctrinal preaching and teaching is a mark of faithful biblical ministry (Titus 2:1). In other words, we labor to present the truth of God with clarity and soundness. But we cannot leave it at that.
While we’re called to pastor with sense, we should also pastor our people with sensibility. The more I spend time with people in the church, the more I agree with James K. A. Smith: people are as deeply moved emotionally as they are intellectually (see Desiring The Kingdom). Therefore, we need to lead the affective or emotional disposition of our people if we want to holistically shape them. I’m not advocating for emotional manipulation, but a more thorough spiritual formation.
You can read the whole thing here.
Jonah’s ministry was built on the fact that he serves as a mouthpiece for God. However, in the first chapter of Jonah, it becomes clear that he does not want to answer God’s call to go to Nineveh and serve his purpose. However, he cannot stay home or his rebellion would be exposed.
The choice was simple. Go to Nineveh and be obedient. Stay home and be exposed. Or quit the ministry and begin a new life with a new identity in another place. That is what Jonah chooses.
Like Jonah, if we take our eyes off of ourselves and consider those around us, we will realize that our response to God’s mission affects others. As you read chapter one, the question that should naturally arise is, “what will happen to the Ninevites?”
The progression of the text is telling, there is a continued movement down. Jonah headed down to Joppa and found a ship (1:3). Jonah boarded a ship that was headed down to Tarshish (1:3). On the boat Jonah went down into the bowels of the boat to sleep (1:5). The imagery of going down is a picture for death. The suggestion is that each step away from the presence of the Lord is one step closer to to death. it’s not only Jonah’s life that is at stake, but also the sailors and the Ninevites. His rebellion affects others.
We know from the story that as the Ship set sail, God hurled a storm at the sea. As you see in 1:4, it was such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. Jonah became stiff-necked and admitted he was running from God’s call. Jonah was about to go down in his rebellion, and he was about to take everyone on the boat down with him.
Disobedience always brings forth death of some sort. The thing we often fail to admit with disobedience and sin is that it affects others. Sin never just affects us, it has implications on everyone around us. When we rebel, we turn our backs on what God has called us to.
In the midst of the storm Jonah knows there is only one way to save those on the ship. Jonah tells the sailors to hurl him overboard. He was to blame for the storm that God had hurled at the sea. The sailors even tried to row themselves out of the storm, but their efforts would not save them.
By hurling Jonah into the sea to face God’s wrath, the sailors were saved. Consider Jesus compared to Jonah. He was in heaven ruling with power at the right hand of the Father. The Father said, your mission is to go to another place where you will be rejected and despised. A place where you will be slaughtered and sacrificed. We are Nineveh, and Jesus came to save us. Thankfully, unlike Jonah, Jesus said yes. Moreover, like the sailors and Ninevites, we need to be saved from God’s judgment against our sin.
The good news for us is that Jesus (even though he did not deserve it like Jonah) hurled himself into the storm of God’s wrath so that you and I might be saved. When Jesus sunk to the depths of death on our behalf, he made it possible for us to arrive safely on the shore of eternity. That is not only good news for us, it’s also good news for those around us. Being saved, we are now called to go proclaim that Jesus offers salvation from the only storm that no man can row himself out of.
There will always be a ship in the harbor ready to take you away from what God has called you to. When you board that ship and abandon God’s call, you abandon the people God has called you to.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has provided a way of salvation. But if we rebel against our missionary call we place the lives of those God has called us to in danger! Isn’t this what happens when we place boundaries on where we will live, who and when we will serve? Your response to God’s mission always affects others.
I just found out about this great opportunity! On November 6th and 7th, Paul Tripp will be at Calvary Baptist Church, West Campus, for a marriage conference. Here are the details.
- Date: November 6 & 7 (Friday 7:00-9:15pm, Saturday 9:00am-12:15pm)
- Cost: $20 per person, and a $10 flat fee for childcare.
- Location: Calvary Baptist Church, West Campus (155 Commerce Drive
Advance, NC 27006. Just outside of Winston-Salem)
- Best Hotel: Hampton Inn in Bermuda Run (Right across the street, and has an indoor pool with water slide)
Note: the process for signing up for this conference is a little difficult and cumbersome.
It won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.
The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.
What Did You Expect? challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.
This conference is based on his book with the same title, What Did You Expect?