Truly Transformational Small Groups & Relationships

We’d rather work a formula than submit to a process that will be scary and unknown, even if it will ultimately change our hearts and character. So don’t give in to the temptation to just “do” something else, to come up with a new plan, a retooled strategy, alone—again. There are no shortcuts to believing the difficult but life-giving, heart-changing, and joy-enhancing truths I’ve shared in these chapters.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 122

“Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more accountability groups to be pretty ineffective. If people are not careful, these groups can become nothing more than places where people unload and confess but do not change. In many cases the confidentiality, safety, and security of such groups become the highest goal of the group, inhibiting group effectiveness. Now, of course, you need these elements in a group—that’s a given. But when the dynamics of the group primarily center on the commonality of the struggle itself, then what can happen is that the expectation of change—and more importantly, how it happens—can get lost. Then the group will become ineffective and eventually collapse in a spirit of defeatism and hopelessness. Maybe you’re in a group like this and know what I’m talking about.

Not long ago I was talking with a guy who had been in such a group for several years. He told me, “John, the problem is that no one in the group is experiencing any type of breakthrough or change.” He went on to say that there is something of a “spiritual” basis to the group. A Scripture portion is read each week. Songs are sung. People share challenges, falls, and similar information. There’s lots of camaraderie. But, he added, “The common denominator of why we’re all there seems to be the problems themselves and the difficulty and shame of the struggles we share. This seems a more powerful glue to the group than does the hope and expectation that Christ will show up and actually do something.” The expectancy that God would work in hearts to bring about new steps of faith and repentance had been “dumbed down,” as had been the call to serious holiness. People in the group just weren’t that hopeful that they would ever change.

This can happen so easily in a group. It’s the natural path groups sometimes take if they turn inward and the essence of the group becomes the struggle itself. Ultimately, that’s the wrong “content” to focus on so exclusively. The commonality and the camaraderie are important, but effective change groups must put the application of God’s Word front and center. The Scriptures, carefully applied to real-life situations, must take priority and be highly valued as part of any group meeting. Otherwise, the group will remain comforting and safe but will lose its power to be an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of groups. I believe in them. Part of our ministry’s mission is to help churches begin partner ministries, and I’ve seen groups used powerfully in the lives of hundreds of people over the years. I would say that groups can be used of God in ways that individual counseling can’t match. Something happens in groups that can become a very significant part of how Christ meets people in a new way, giving them the hope of the gospel, as well as being a tangible symbol of God’s love and care expressed through the group members.

When the centrality of the gospel is at the heart of a group, then the other elements of the group can be made more effective. There are three life-changing activities that must take place as part of any successful biblical support group. The first crucial element is accountability. Accountability happens when I speak honestly about my temptation, my sin, and the condition of my heart with other Christian brothers. This requires ruthless honesty about the destructive stuff that fills and fuels my heart and speaking of it with other men. Discipleship is the second, central element, which I have already mentioned. As a group member, I am growing in faith and in God’s truth and grasping more and more who I really am as God’s child because of God’s love for me. I can expect to see step-by-step move- ment (even if they are only small steps) and growth as I take hold of the reality of the gospel. Discipleship happens where I am and helps me apply the gospel to all the chaos, conflict, and confusion in my own heart, in order to make me a new and different person. Effective discipleship also enables me to get out of myself; to begin to love and serve others with my time, energy, and resources—because of what God is doing in me and what Christ is coming to mean to me. Third, there’s the important element of transparency. Transparency is when I commit daily—with everyone, and not just with the members of my group—to living openly and without deceit, offering my life and the motives of my heart to the examination of others! Transparency may seem like accountability, but transparency is when I begin ruthlessly speaking the truth about everything I do, on a day-to-day basis. Because my sexual struggles and sin have been hidden for so long, I realize that lying and deceit have become a part of my daily habits. Now, by God’s power, I learn to walk in the light and no longer in the darkness.

Do you see how the ordinary “accountability” group may fall far short of being an effective agent of change? That’s because the element of accountability is only one of several things that are needed, and it’s not even the most important one. But we often mistake it as such, omitting other crucial building blocks to wholeness.

I know that when it comes to that last ingredient, transparency, you may be thinking, John, that seems like death! The accountability part is hard enough, but transparency, with everyone? Believe me, it may seem like death, but it’s the way to real life! It’s the way to a clear conscience and to knowing God’s love and acceptance through others who are on your team, rooting for you! There’s nothing like it. If you’ve not experienced it, you may just have to take my word for it. Small groups and one-on-one-or-two-or-three connections like this are what have helped change my life for over forty years now. Having relationships like this, where I’m reminded of the gospel through others, is what’s often made it possible for me to preach the gospel to myself in challenging situations, when my heart could easily head “south” into dark and destructive places.”

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 127-130

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Wisdom Worships in Wonder

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 ESV)

It is frustrating and meaningless that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Let us not attempt to over spiritualize or sugar coat the reality that those who walk in open to rebellion to their Creator often times receive apparent blessings while those who seek to walk uprightly in humble dependence upon their God seem to have profoundly difficult circumstances that they must endure. There is no apparent reward for walking uprightly. Ah, but there lies the rub that reveals our hearts! Should we walk uprightly just to be rewarded or because the Creator calls us to and we long to walk in obedience? One is birthed out of wanting something, the other is out of wanting Someone. Choose the latter.

If God grants satisfaction and joy in the simple pleasures such as good food, drink and a few people to walk through this life with then be grateful. These pleasures, along with a degree of satisfaction in our work are nothing short of simple graces that the Almighty bestows upon His creations due to His goodness.

Solomon concedes that there is so much mystery that we will never find out. This mystery should point us to the Creator, but often times we double down and resolve to figure things out. Should we investigate, think, study, invent, create, etc? Of course, when we do so we reflect God’s glory as His image bearers! But the more that we make advances, the more we should realize the vastness of God’s creation and how little that we know and understand. This is rarely the case for we praise ourselves for new inventions or discoveries – as we should – but the praise terminates upon us. Our worship was designed to point to Someone greater. When we let our worship terminate upon created things instead of flowing through to the Creator of all things, we stunt our worship and become less human than we were designed to be. The more we know, the more we should see how little we really know, which should lead us to worship God more fully and deeply. It does not matter how hard we resolve and try, there are things that are God’s and we will never understand, know or have the capacity to comprehend. True wisdom knows when to worship in wonder; true wisdom knows when to stop and be amazed at God’s vastness and beauty. This should amaze us because this infinite, all powerful Creator determined to limit Himself by clothing Himself in flesh to rescue rebellious people like you and me.

Posted in Gospel Centrality, Growth/Pursuit | Tagged , ,

The Futility of Created Things

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 ESV)

What true gain does the worker have from his work? Provision? Yes. Accomplishment? Yes. True satisfaction? Not very often. The satisfaction of a job well down and the satiation that we seek escapes us; when we do feel it, it quickly fades. This is what life is like east of Eden. Work is no longer satisfying as it was intended to be; it is now wrought with thorns and thistles. Additionally, the business that God has given man seems meaningless in so many ways (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). We get up, wipe the sleep out of our eyes, stumble into our days, do our work (which is often frustrating), return home, go to bed and do it all over again – there is a certain futility to it all. Our familial relationships are stunted; they are only whiffs of the glory that they should be. True friends and community are hard to find. This should cause lamenting in us for something that should be, something that once was, something that is now lost. But, it should produce hope as well, as we see God restoring and redeeming those things to their former glory (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-5)! It is a grace to be able to stop and assess this and set our hope above the sun!

Despite the futility of this world and the seemingly endless cycle that we are on, there is beauty to be seen and experienced; there still exists a certain order, harmony and beauty in created things. The birth of a child; moments of true connection with a child, spouse or friend; the beauty of a sunset; the satisfying embrace of one’s spouse and lover; the satisfaction of a project completed; the spectacular glory of mountains capped with snow or a beautiful sunset. May this beauty point to Someone above the sun who is far more beautiful. May the glory that we feel in these moments not terminate upon these created things, but roll up to the Creator of these things.

“Humanity still has Eden in its veins. We have ‘eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). Our souls instinctively yearn for a purposed life without end under this time-chained sun.”1 God has put an ancient, eternal, everlasting sense in our hearts that we cannot figure out or understand. There is a sense in all mankind that there is more than just life under the sun, but no amount of information, studying or learning can satisfy this longing. Facts and information do not resolve this deep whisper in a man’s soul. As wise and noble as Solomon was, he acknowledged that his ability to understand deep, eternal things on his own was limited. We are no different. We can’t figure it out, we can’t find God. Indeed, He is not lost – we need Him to find us – we are lost. We need Him, without Him we will not “figure out” the deep nag in the soul. Indeed, the answer is not under the sun.

Yes, there is frustration to life under the sun; we intuitively know that it is not as it should be, and that there are things that we do not know and cannot understand. Solomon concludes that we should learn to enjoy the good things that God gives us under the sun.  We should be joyful and do good because we know that anything satisfying east of Eden is a gift from the Creator because all things should be utter futility, but they aren’t. When we see clearly that created things can never fully sooth the nag of the soul, then we can learn to enjoy them for what they are – not expecting something from them that they lack the capacity to supply. We should learn to enjoy the good gifts that God has given us – like eating good food, drinking good drink with friends and finding satisfaction on our work. The ability to find satisfaction in these things is a gift from the Creator; joy is found in understanding the “givenness” of all things.  “In other words, the best good in the madness under the sun is found when we recover some small resemblance to what we were made for in Eden.”2

Against the transient backdrop of the vanities of this world, the absolute sovereign power of the Almighty shines all the brighter. This should cause us to see our position before Him as created beings that are finite, tiny and lacking. It should produce reverence and fear, a theme in Ecclesiastes (5:7; 12:13). But, redemption is coming; Eden will be restored. Lord, help us to park our hope on You, not on the things that you have created.

1Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine, Page 126
2Ibid., Page 15

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The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Psalms 37:11 ESV)

““Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5 ESV)

Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control.

“The meek do not rail against the Lord in their persecution. They might not understand why something has happened to them—it is hard to understand how God’s love and our own suffering coexist—but the meek don’t demand answers. Instead, they trust God because of who he is, what he has said, and what he has done. They wait. They walk before the Lord in humble obedience. They know his ways can sometimes be veiled, but there is much they do know. For example, they know that the persecuted meek will inherit the earth, the Lord will be their stronghold, and they will see the legacy of the wicked perish.

Jesus is not just identifying those who know shame in this beatitude, he is guiding them. Most shamed people know poverty of spirit. You don’t have to learn that. And you certainly know about mourning. But meekness might not describe you. Instead, you might insist on understanding rather than trust. Your questions to God might verge on the angry and accusing rather than the submissive. Maybe you aren’t shaking your fist at the Lord, but you don’t exactly trust him. Our instinctive response to shame is to take matters into our own hands. We withdraw; we self-protect.”

Welch, Edward T. (2012-04-30). Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (p. 145-146). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Meditations

We Live live out of our identity

Human beings live out of one of only two identities: that I am ultimate and autonomous or that I am created and dependent on God. . . . It is when I am confronted with my utter inability to meet the demands of God’s standards that I am also confronted with the reality and majesty of His grace. . . . Sex reveals my need of grace. God’s call to sexual purity is as impossible for me to achieve without His help as it would have been for me to save myself.”24

24 Paul David Tripp, “The Way of the Wise: Teaching Teenagers about Sex,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13 (Number 3, 1995), 39–41.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex by John Freeman, Page 72

 

Posted in Meditations

How Not to Read the Old Testament

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture Diagram

“Some people have understandably been deterred from the kind of Christ-centered approach that I am describing here. They may have had bad experiences with people who saw Jesus behind every bush (burning or otherwise) in the Old Testament. Charles Spurgeon, for example, said that if he ever found a text without Christ in it he would go over hedge and ditch to find the road to Christ4—and if you read his sermons, it seems at times that that is exactly what he has done. Not every perceived connection to Christ in the Old Testament is valid.5  So in this section, I want to look at various wrong ways to approach the Old Testament as preparation for learning to read it correctly.

It is helpful to begin with a diagram borrowed (and adapted slightly) from the late president of Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Edmund Clowney.6

The first wrong way in which we read the Old Testament is what I have called the way of allegorical moralism, in which we extract a detail from its original context and apply it directly to our own lives without reference either to its original context in Scripture or to Christ and the gospel. For example, a woman visiting our church recently told me how meaningful Ezekiel 48 had been in her life. In the prophet’s vision of Israel’s future, the passage describes the borders of the different tribes, and she had taken away from this the message, “the boundaries of Dan need to be restored.” This was significant for her because her husband’s name was Dan and, as she read this text, she realized that her husband had not been keeping good boundaries between work and home.

While this observation may have been true and relevant for her life and could probably have been drawn legitimately from other passages of Scripture, this insight is hardly the purpose for which the Holy Spirit inspired Ezekiel to pen the chapter! She had moved directly from text to application to herself without understanding the flow of the text or the significance of its original context. A great deal of preaching in evangelical churches today resembles this process of interpretation: it is allegorical in that it fails to connect the passage with its original context, and it is also moralistic because instead of showing us Christ and the gospel, it simply seeks “timeless truths” or “life principles” in each passage to become guides for our behavior.

The next wrong approach to the Old Testament is allegorical interpretation, whereby people (especially preachers) fasten once more on superficial details of the text, but this time use them to find references to Christ where none was originally intended. This approach has been pursued with great popularity throughout the history of the church. For example, in a sermon on Ezekiel 40:6–8, the church father Gregory the Great identified the east gate of Ezekiel’s temple as Jesus, the steps leading up to the gate as the merits of the virtues that lead to salvation, and the threshold of the gate as the ancestors of Jesus.7

In more recent times, a Christian author argued that the reason that the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was to teach us that the gospel is not just about the death of Jesus Christ (the part in the ground) but also about the resurrection (the part out of the ground).8 While this doctrinal conclusion is important and true, I would suggest that the reason the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was simply that otherwise it would have been impossible to secure the ropes that held the tabernacle to them! We may admire the desire to connect the Old Testament to Christ, yet find the outworking of the methodology misguided.

In an effort to avoid the wild excesses of allegory, many modern interpreters have rightly placed the emphasis on understanding an Old Testament passage in the light of its original context. They encourage people to discern the message of the text within the broader concerns of the book in order to search out the intent of the original author in writing it. Having discerned this original idea, the next step is often seen as discerning the “timeless truth” that stands behind this particular historical writing.9 What life principles does it teach us that are universal and unchanging? How can we then take those same universal principles and apply them skillfully to our own daily lives?

There is much that is right and laudable with this approach, yet I have labeled it moralism because of its inevitable tendency to place the reader in the center of the interpretive process and make the Old Testament fundamentally a story about us. In looking for universal principles of behavior that I can apply, this approach generally ends up urging me to “dare to be a Daniel” or “just say no to being a Jephthah.” It flattens out the contours of the Old Testament history of redemption, and treats Old Testament characters such as Abraham and David as if their primary function were to model a life for me to live by.

This is the strength of Dr. Clowney’s diagram, which reminds us that we must indeed begin by putting every passage of Scripture in its appropriate literary and historical context. We must start by seeing how this verse, passage, event, or institution relates to other verses, passages, and events around it. There is no place for the kind of allegorical speculation that takes a passage out of its original setting and completely ignores the human author’s intent.

Yet we must also ask where this passage fits in the larger history of God’s dealings with his people and what the divine Author’s intent was in including it in our Bible. How does this event or story advance God’s program and point us to the great work that God is accomplishing in this world, which is the work of salvation in Christ through the gospel? How does this passage show us the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow? For example, does it uncover the sins for which Christ had to come and die? How does it demand or demonstrate the righteous behavior that Jesus came to perform in our place? Only after we ask these kinds of primary gospel-focused questions can we properly get to the secondary question of personal application: how does this gospel then teach us to live in light of this specific portion of God’s Word, out of gratitude for what God has done? Application is important, but the gospel comes first. What is more, even after we have applied a passage rightly to ourselves in this way, we constantly need to return once again to the comfort of the gospel’s focus on Christ, for even as believers we will never live up to the standard of perfect holiness that God demands.”

4Charles Spurgeon, “How to Read the Bible,” a sermon preached in 1879 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, http://www.spurgeon .org/sermons/1503.htm (accessed June 8, 2012).
5Spurgeon himself warns of making connections that strain credulity—for example, the preacher who spoke about the Trinity from the three baskets on the head of Pharaoh’s baker (Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972 reprint], 97).
66. Adapted from Edmund Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 32.
7The Homilies of Gregory the Great on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, trans. T. Gray (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1990), 179–85.
8Martin R. DeHaan, The Tabernacle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955), 37, 65.
9See, for example, Steven Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 101. Mathewson certainly wants to avoid moralism (see pp. 102–103), yet his method of application inevitably pushes him in that direction.

Duguid, Iain M. (2013-02-04). Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Basics of the Faith) (Kindle Locations 144-198). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Posted in Gospel Centrality, Quotes/Lyrics | Tagged ,

Redemption is Here

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

(John 4:25–42 ESV)

Verses 25-26.  Jesus reveals to her that He is the messiah.  Stop.  Jesus reveals that He is God who has condescended Himself to redeem His people from their bondage and shame.  He reveals this to an immoral, outcast woman who has no worth in either her eyes or the eyes of the world in which she lived.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness and redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because good people see no need for grace.  Until you see yourself as the Samaritan women, until you identify deeply with this woman, the shame destroying message of grace will not resonate deeply in your soul. Unless you see yourself as no different than the Samaritan woman, grace will provide no satiation for your soul; you will continue to dig out cisterns for yourself that can hold no water. The unconditional love, approval and acceptance of God only quenches the thirst of those who see themselves as unloveable, dirty, rejected, unworthy.  Remember your chains.

The disciples were shocked that Jesus was talking to a woman – especially a woman from Samaria.  The woman left and proclaimed Christ to the town.  This was no small feat for an outcast, but she had tasted hope for the first time in a very long time.  She engaged the people in town and invited them to see this man who told her everything that she had ever done – and she had apparently done a lot.  And many believed based upon her testimony alone.  The people were apparently convinced that something significant must have happened to her and they all came to see Jesus.  They asked Him to stay with them, so He stayed two more days.  How interesting is that?  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days!  Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards and yet we often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.

This unclean, unacceptable group of outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world!  He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue!  First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54).  The disciples  were confused and encouraged Him to eat, but Jesus had a more pressing agenda than to fill His stomach.  Accomplishing the mission of redemption for which He came was of greater importance than satisfying His physical hunger.  We should do the same, but more than that, we should marvel at how the God-man regularly placed His needs as secondary in order to serve His creation.  Think about that, this is no ordinary king.  Kings are served.  This King – the King of the universe – came to serve the created.  The Creator serving the created – that is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).

Often times we read this passage and use it to motivate (or manipulate) ourselves and others into going to share the gospel.  After all, the fields are ripe for the harvest, we conclude.  When Jesus said, “the fields are ripe for the harvest,” He is referring to the crowd of Samaritan’s who were coming toward them which would believe in the gospel.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Should we go and share the gospel, of course!  But we should marvel all the more at how the God of the universe made Himself nothing to seek and save outcasts like you and me.  As we marvel at that, we will be transformed and will actually want to share the good news with others.

Posted in Growth/Pursuit | Tagged , ,

Jesus, the New Israel

“Jesus is not merely the new Adam, however; he is also the true son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1) and therefore the true Israel. The genealogy in Matthew 1 flags that fact for you: it plots fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile, and fourteen from the exile to Christ. Then, in the opening chapters of his gospel, Matthew shows Jesus personally reenacting Israel’s story. In Matthew 2:13–15, like the young Israel, the young Jesus goes down into Egypt, brought there by a man named Joseph. Like the Israel of Moses’ generation, Jesus survives the attempts of a hostile king to slaughter all the infant boys (2:16). In fact, Matthew explicitly cites Hosea 11 to illustrate the parallel: in Jesus, God is once again bringing his firstborn out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15).

After leaving Egypt, Israel next crossed the Red Sea, a deeply symbolic moment of salvation (for the Israelites) and judgment (for the Egyptians) involving passing through water. For Jesus, Matthew immediately focuses on his baptism, a symbol of salvation through figurative burial and resurrection in water (Rom. 6:4). John the Baptist was puzzled by Jesus’ desire for baptism, since he thought of baptism as an act of repentance and confession of sin (Matt. 3:6). On those terms, John the Baptist needed to be baptized by Jesus instead. Yet Jesus nonetheless submitted to baptism not for his own sins, but for ours. For him, baptism was an act of identification with us, a symbolic foreshadowing of the baptism of fire that was yet to come, when he would bear the judgment curse for all his people at the cross (Luke 12:50). This would be the means whereby Jesus would accomplish the exodus of his people (Luke 9:31).12

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they spent the next forty years being tested in the wilderness. Likewise Jesus’ baptism was followed by forty days and nights of testing in the wilderness. Even the form of Jesus’ temptations echoed the wilderness temptations of the Israelites. They were starving and grumbled against God because there was no bread (Ex. 16:2–3). So too Satan said to Jesus, who was hungry from his fasting, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt. 4:3). Instead of grumbling, Jesus replied, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Next the Israelites were thirsty and doubted that the Lord was really with them, putting the Lord to the test at Massah (Ex. 17:1–7). Satan next took Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple and dared him to throw himself down, tempting Jesus to prove the Lord’s presence with him by forcing God to deliver him. In response, Jesus said, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). In the wilderness, the Israelites made for themselves a golden calf and bowed down to it in worship, just as the Devil wanted Jesus to worship him in the third temptation. Yet Jesus replied, “Worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10, quoting the substance of Deut. 6:13). Israel faced three tests in the wilderness and failed three times. Jesus faced the same three tests in the wilderness and passed all three with flying colors. Jesus was personally reenacting the history of Israel, only in reverse, succeeding where Israel had failed.

The crucial significance of this reenactment of Israel’s history lies in the covenant that God had made with the Israelites at Sinai, which depended on their obedience for blessing. From the beginning, Israel constantly failed to keep God’s law. This was no surprise to God; even in the days of Moses he had told the Israelites that they would fail to keep the law and would end up in exile (Deut. 30:1). The law was never given to the people of Israel to provide them with a means of attaining blessing through their righteousness. The goal (telos) of the law was always Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:4). As the new Israel, Jesus personally fulfilled the law for the sake of all who are in him. His perfect righteousness as one born under the law is now given to all who are his people by faith, so that our salvation might be through faith, not works (Rom. 10:9–10). Or, more precisely, our salvation comes not through our works, but rather through the works of another, credited to our account.

This is the significance of what theologians call the active obedience of Christ: as our covenant representative, he has obeyed the full scope of the demands of God’s law given at Sinai, thereby meriting the promised covenant blessing of life forever in God’s presence. Jesus Christ didn’t simply come to earth to take away our sins. If that had been his purpose he could have proceeded immediately to the cross. Instead, he came to share our human experience to the full and to do so perfectly, completely without sin, so that he could replace our defiled garments with his own pure, clean garments of righteousness (as depicted in Zech. 3).

This incarnation of the people Israel in a faithful individual is anticipated in the Old Testament in Isaiah’s servant of the Lord. Isaiah proclaimed that this servant would accomplish the things that were earlier attributed to the Messiah, bringing justice and light to the Gentiles (compare Isa. 42:1 with 11:2–4 and 49:6 with 9:2–6). But is this servant the nation of Israel, as seems to be the case in Isaiah 41:8–9 and 43:10? Or is he an individual distinct from the nation, as in Isaiah 49:5–6? The answer is that there is a crucial shift in the identity of the servant in Isaiah 49. Between chapters 40–48, the figure of the servant represents the nation of Israel. The people once rejected by the Lord because of their sins and sent into captivity in Babylon will be redeemed by the Lord and brought back to their land. Their hard service is over, and their sins have been paid for. Now they are called to bring justice to the nations (42:1–4). Yet the historical Israel that returned from exile was far from the ideal presented in this verse. The people were discouraged and disorganized, unequipped to answer the call.

In Isaiah 49, however, we meet a servant who both is himself Israel (v. 3) and yet at the same time has a mission to Israel (v. 5). Israel’s failed ministry to bring light and justice to the nations is now taken up by the servant in her place. Unlike Israel, which was disobedient and suffered for her own sins, complaining that the Lord had abandoned her, this servant would be obedient, suffering in silence for Israel’s sins, and looking forward in hope to his final vindication (Isa. 53). Who is this mysterious servant? Is the prophet speaking of himself or of someone else? The Ethiopian eunuch asked this very question of Philip in Acts 8, and Philip responded by telling him the good news about Jesus. Jesus is the personification of Israel, who takes on himself the suffering that Israel’s sins deserve and fulfills Israel’s neglected calling to be a light to the Gentiles, uniting in himself the two halves of the servant’s mission described by Isaiah.”

Duguid, Iain M. (2013-02-04). Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Basics of the Faith) (Kindle Locations 393-447). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Whiffs of Glory

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26 ESV)

At times, there is a fleeting fulfillment and pleasure that comes with hard work (Ecclesiastes 2:10 & 24) – this is a grace. The capacity to enjoy any created thing (work, food, drink, sex) is a true gift from God. Outside of Eden, everything should be thorns and thistles, but God’s grace restrains utter chaos and maintains some semblance of order and beauty. Though creation groans (Romans 8:23) for the day of ultimate redemption, hints of creation’s previous glory can, at times, be found and enjoyed because of God’s benevolence to humanity. Our ability to enjoy this is only due to His goodness and grace. All that we have that is good – beauty, intelligence, natural proclivities & acumens, physical strength or ability, wisdom & insight, the homes we were brought up in or the educations we received that placed us into gainful employment – are ALL gifts that we have received from the Almighty (1 Corinthians 4:7, James 1:17). God owes no man anything and we will indeed agree with Solomon that much of this world is a meaningless chasing after the wind. A sober awareness of the brokenness of this world in which we are owed nothing and yet still smell periodic whiffs of goodness & beauty is at the root of how we glorify God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31). These aromas should make us long for our eternal home.  We are owed nothing, but are given some good things and the ability to enjoy them should cause our souls to be stirred in worship for a God who is so kind to us.

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The Gospel Centered Life at Work

IdolsThe Gospel-Centered Life at Work is a great resource to help us keep the gospel in focus as we go about the work that God has set before us.  Work was not part of the fall, it existed before the fall.  The toil in our work was a consequence of the fall.  Through the gospel, God is redeeming our work to push back darkness and provide order in a broken world.  God uses our work to reveal our hearts, reflect His image in the world, and reveal deep idols in our lives that we run to for fulfillment.  In this study, you will see how we tend to gravitate towards a performance based or pretense based outlook on our work.  The study helps us to learn what a gospel centered response looks like.  This study provides a comprehensive, gospel centered approach to our work that is practical, accessible and faithful to Scripture.

Image adapted from The Gospel-Centered Life at Work © 2014 by Robert Alexander. Used by permission of New Growth Press. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the express written permission of New Growth Press. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit www.newgrowthpress.com.

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