Graeme Goldsworthy states an important hermeneutical point, “It is impossible from the Old Testament alone to understand the full measure of God’s acts and promises that it records.” The reason why the OT alone does not convey its full, underlying meaning is the doctrine of progressive revelation, i.e., the truths of the Bible were not revealed all at once but were progressively revealed over time. Thus, the OT is the preparation of the gospel; the Gospels are the manifestation of the gospel; Acts is the expansion of the gospel; the Epistles are the explanation of the gospel; and Revelation is the consummation of the gospel.
Jesus and the NT authors understood this. They saw the entire OT as in some way a book about Jesus. He is its central person and integrating theme and is “the final and the fullest revelation of what the promises are really about.” Because the Bible ultimately is the story about Jesus Christ, who is explicitly revealed only in the NT, the NT writers generally look at the OT in a “typological” way. The NT reveals that OT Israel as a nation, and all of its laws, ceremonies, and institutions, and the OT prophecies concerning it, were “types,”“symbols,”“shadows,”“copies,” or “examples” of NT realities that were fulfilled and superseded in Christ and his church. Willem VanGemeren points out, “The coming of our Lord radically altered the understanding of the Old Testament.
The apostles understood the canon in the light of Jesus’ ministry, message, and exaltation. The traditional understanding of Moses’ words and the Prophets had to undergo a radical transformation in view of the coming of our Lord.” Edward Young describes the transformative significance of Christ’s coming with respect to the issue of how to approach OT prophecies hermeneutically: “The revelations granted to the prophets had somewhat of the obscure about them. They are characterized as dreams and visions, and probably, enigmatic sayings. . . . Since the revelation granted to the prophets was less clear than that given to Moses; indeed, since it contained elements of obscurity, we must take these facts into consideration when interpreting prophecy. We must therefore abandon once and for all the erroneous and non-Scriptural rule of ‘literal if possible.’
The prophetic language belonged to the Mosaic economy and hence, was typical. Only in the light of the New Testament fulfillment can it properly be interpreted.” How the NT fulfills the OT “types” and promises is not self-evident. Goldsworthy points out, “It was not self-evident that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises. Those Jews who looked for a literal fulfillment of the Old Testament promises failed to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment.”
Menn, Jonathan (2013-09-04). Biblical Eschatology (Kindle Locations 624-648). Resource Publications – An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Want to know how to read the Old Testament? Here’s a quick primer: Martin Luther said that everything bad in the Old Testament (and there’s a lot) is there to point out our sin, while everything good in the Old Testament is there to point us to our Savior. Remember this pithy little couplet, and you’ll be well on your way to understanding what can often seem to be an intimidating and inscrutable collection of books.
Consider Joseph, for example. His life, like all of ours, is a mixed bag: some bad, some good. There’s no question that we can learn a lot of good from reading about Joseph’s life. His refusal to sleep with Potiphar’s wife stands out. The Bible never tells us that, after all Joseph had been through, his faith in God wavered. In fact, it tells us just the opposite. When he finally encounters his brothers years after they sold him into slavery and lied to their father about him dying—and he now has the power and the authority to enact some serious vengeance—he extends tremendous grace saying, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Amazing.
But Joseph wasn’t always gracious and humble. In fact, when we first meet Joseph, he’s a spoiled brat. He was his father’s favorite son, and he knew it. While his older brothers had to break their backs toiling in the fields, Joseph got to stay at home. When Joseph has two separate dreams which imply that his brothers (and even his mother and father!) will eventually bow down to him, he doesn’t hesitate to go out into the fields to share the dreams with his family. It’s no wonder that the Bible says his brothers “hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4). I certainly know what I would have done if my youngest brother had been so impertinent.
What Joseph’s brothers do is well-known: they drag him away, strip him of his clothes (a many-colored robe that his father had given him), and sell him into slavery. They dip the robe in animal blood and tell their father that they’ve found it, and fear that Joseph is dead.
Joseph’s brashness testifies to the fact he had built his identity on being his father’s favored son. To be the Patriarch’s favorite son was a big deal and Joseph derived his worth from it. It led him to believe he was better than his brothers and that gave him a sense of significance and pride. As long as he was the favorite, he was somebody: he mattered.
In this way, we are exactly like Joseph.
What are you building your identity on? Think of it this way: what do you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about? For many people, it’s their careers. If they’re not an adequate provider for their family, or a pillar of their community, they feel that they have no identity at all. For some, it’s their children. How well their children “turn out” (the grades they get, the college they get into, the career they choose) defines them as a person. Maybe it’s the way you look, or your reputation. Maybe it’s your marriage or the dream of one day getting married. Maybe it’s your health. We long to have meaning and purpose and lasting stability but so often we try standing on an endless catalog of God-replacements that end up sinking us into slavery like it did for Joseph. For example, I never realized how much I was depending on my kids for happiness until we had a difficult year with one of our sons last year. What’s that thing or who’s that person in your life that if taken from you would make you feel like life’s not worth living?
I’ve told the people at Coral Ridge this before (and it’s embarrassing to admit) but one of the reasons I work so hard in preparing sermons is because at some level I need them to think I’m a good preacher to feel like I matter. When I feel like I haven’t preached a good sermon it cuts me to the heart—because who am I if I’m not good at what I do? You ever feel like this? About anything? Anyone?
But the story of Joseph doesn’t end there. While the bad stuff in his life points out our sin, the good stuff points out our Savior—and how he works to rescue sinners out of slavery and death. Within the story of Joseph, we hear whispers and see snippets of a new and better Joseph. Over and over again Joseph’s story illustrates that life comes out of death. He gets thrown in a pit to die but comes out and is spared, rising through the ranks of Potiphar’s household. He gets thrown into prison—is forgotten and forsaken—but is eventually rescued by the King and put in a place of power and honor. He relives the pain of his brothers’ betrayal when they come to him for food years later, but uses his new power to save them rather than kill them—assuring them that what they meant for evil God meant for good. And as a result of his mediation, a world on the brink of death is saved. All of this points us to Jesus.
Years later, another favored son would be betrayed, sold, and mistreated by his brothers. He too would be falsely accused, thrown into captivity—the captivity of the cross—paying the price for sins he did not commit. And in the prison of that cross, he too was forsaken (“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me”)—but like Joseph, he didn’t stay imprisoned. Jesus did not get out of prison by interpreting the dream of God; his death and resurrection was the interpretation of God’s dream—a dream dreamt before the foundation of the world to do and be for us what we could never do and be for ourselves.
Like Joseph, Jesus was brought to life out of death and now sits at the right hand of King, forgiving those who betrayed him (all of us), and using his power to save rather than kill. By the time his brothers come to see Joseph, he is so powerful that there is nothing at all his family can do for him: his love is completely one-way. Rather than punishment, they get nourishment. Our new and better—and final—Joseph does the same. Jesus sits at the right hand of God, and when we come before the judgment seat, faces to the floor, expecting our richly deserved death sentence, he steps in. He was punished, not just for crimes he didn’t commit, but for our crimes. Our sins were placed on his shoulders and his righteousness was given to us. We, his hateful brothers and sisters, are welcomed home for safe-keeping. Just as in Joseph’s story, through one man’s mediation many are saved from starvation, so through the mediation of Jesus many are forever saved from a hunger we could never satisfy ourselves.
That’s good news.
We will all suffer, of that there is no doubt. It is strange, then, that we are often unprepared for it. With that in mind, a useful exercise is to summarize Scripture and identify what words of God can guide us when things are hard.
Here is my current list of ten things to do while suffering (it is always subject to ongoing refinement).
- Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Pet. 4:12). The Son suffered, so do those who follow the Son. You will not be spared the sufferings that the world experiences, but you will participate in them, both for the world’s benefit and your own.
- Live by faith, see the unseen (Heb. 2:2). Normal eyesight is not enough. Your eyes will tell you that God is far away and silent. The truth is that he is close—invisible—but close. He has a unique affection for fellow sufferers. So get help to build up your spiritual vision. Search Scripture. Enlist others to help, to pray, to remind you of the Truth. Ask the God of comfort to comfort you.
- Suffering will reveal what is really in your heart. It will test you (Jam. 1:2). Where do you turn when tested? Do you turn toward Jesus or turn inward?
- God is God, you are not (Job 38-42). This is important. Humility and submission before the King can quiet some of your questions.
- Confess sin. There is nothing new here; it is a regular feature of daily life. Yet it always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. It is the quickest way to see the persistent and lavish love of God (Heb. 12).
- Keep an eye out in Scripture for the Suffering Servant. He has entered into your suffering, and you can enter into his. (Isaiah 39-53, John 10-21)
- Speak honestly and often to the Lord. This is critical. Just speak, groan, have someone read you a psalm and say a weak, “Amen.”
- Expect to get to know God better while in this wilderness. That is how he usually works with his people (Phil. 3:10-11).
- Talk to those who have suffered, read their books, listen to them. You are not alone. Insist on being moved with compassion as you hear other stories of suffering.
- Look ahead. We need spiritual vision for what is happening now and for where the universe is heading. We are on a pilgrimage that ends at the temple of God (Ps. 84).
“A sense of having our sins forgiven is the mainspring and life-blood of love to Christ. . . . Would the Pharisee know why this woman showed so much love? It was because she felt much forgiven. Would he know why he himself had shown his guest so little love? It was because he felt under no obligation, had no consciousness of having obtained forgiveness, had no sense of debt to Christ. . . . The only way to make men holy is to teach and preach free and full forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The secret of being holy ourselves is to know and feel that Christ has pardoned our sins. Peace with God is the only root that will bear the fruit of holiness. Forgiveness must go before sanctification.”
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Luke 7:36-50.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Jesus’ intercession is his identification and involvement with the will of the Father. If we started with Jesus as the ultimate word of God to humankind, the Word incarnate, we now see him in his exaltation as the ultimate word of humankind to God. His resurrection has shown that he is the perfectly acceptable advocate for sinners. His very presence with the Father pleads our cause, but pleads it from the God who loves to give his true children what they ask. Since this role of Jesus is from start to finish on our account, it gives us confidence to ‘draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ (Heb. 10:22).
Prayer and the Knowledge of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003), 35
(HT: Of First Importance)
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).
We do not know when God’s purposes will be accomplished. We do not always know whether the divine plan is to harden the heart or to soften it. We do not know the outcome of our work. But we should know that our work in the word is never in vain. No sermon from the word, no bible study, no time of prayer in the word with your children, no memorizing of scripture, none of it is wasted.
If there is time spent in the word, God promises it is working.
Working something. The same sun which melts the snow hardens the clay.
Why should missionaries continue to labor in the hardest parts of the world with limited success, or no success at all? Because they are confident that God will have a people for himself from every tribe and language and tongue and nation. And so they stay.
John Newton once wrote a letter to Reverend Thomas Jones stating, “If I were not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men than in preaching to horses or cows.” Which is not much different than Paul saying he endured everything for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10).
One of the most common objections to the doctrine of election is that people do not see the point of sharing the good news and working hard for the gospel if God has already chosen who will believe. But human logic sometimes runs in the opposite of biblical logic. The world says “Why speak if God has chosen.” The Bible would have us ask, “If God has not chosen some to believe, why bother speaking?” Paul remained in Corinth because God told him there were many people in that city (Acts 18:10). This is precisely the reason to keep on speaking—because God has chosen some; because God is sovereign; because God has elected; because some will believe.
And if they don’t? God has a plan for our good and his glory in that too.
God’s sovereignty is fuel for our faithfulness–not a deterrent to hard work and sacrifice but the best motivation for it.
Tomorrow I head for East Africa again. My current ministry in Tanzania is facilitating the formation of a Gospel Partnership among the pastors of Mbeya. Getting the central message of the bible right, and teaching and nurturing a gospel-centered koinonia into existance, is a wonderful privilege. There is great potential here to impact the nation for the Kingdom of God.
Look with me at what Paul says in Ephesians 2:7. God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” If you ever wondered what God’s going to do in heaven, there it is!
The ultimate motivation in God’s heart for saving lost souls was so that they might become, throughout all eternity, trophies on display for all to see the magnificence and the surpassing riches of God’s grace in kindness in Christ!
He employs the plural “ages” to make the point that like waves incessantly crashing on the shore, one upon another, so the ages of eternity future will, in endless succession, echo the celebration of sinners saved by grace, all to the glory of God. There will not be in heaven a one-time momentary display of God’s goodness, but an everlasting, ever-increasing infusion and impartation of divine kindness that intensifies with every passing moment.
God is going to put on a continuing and perpetual public display of his “grace” toward us! Heaven is not one grand, momentary flash of excitement followed by an eternity of boredom. Heaven is not going to be an endless series of earthly re-runs! There will be a new episode of divine grace every day! A new revelation every moment of some heretofore unseen aspect of the unfathomable complexity of divine compassion. A new and fresh disclosure of an implication or consequence of God’s mercy, every day. A novel and stunning explanation of the meaning of what God has done for us, without end.
In heaven our experience of God’s grace won’t be a bit here and a bit there. Paul says there will be a display of the “immeasurable riches” of his grace. His grace cannot be quantified. His grace exceeds calculation. God isn’t simply gracious: his grace is deep, wide, high, wealthy, plentiful, abounding, infinitely replenishing.
There will never be an end to God’s grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Never! Not for all eternity! The point of Paul’s effusive language is to emphasize that the grace of God in Christ is endlessly infinite, endlessly complex, endlessly deep, endlessly new, endlessly fresh, endlessly profound. God is infinite. Therefore, so too are his attributes. Throughout the ages to come, forever and ever, we will be the recipients each instant of an ever increasing and more stunning, more fascinating, and thus inescapably more enjoyable display of God’s grace than before.
With that unending and ever-increasing display will come an unending and ever-increasing discovery on our part of more of the depths and greatness of God’s grace. We will learn and grasp and comprehend more of the height and depth and width and breadth of his saving love. We will see ever new and always fresh displays and manifestations of his kindness. The knowledge we gain when we enter heaven will forever grow and deepen and expand and intensify and multiply.
We will constantly be more amazed with God, more in love with God, and thus ever more relishing his presence and our relationship with him. Our experience of God will never reach it consummation. We will never finally arrive, as if upon reaching a peak we discover there is nothing beyond. Our experience of God will never become stale. It will deepen and develop, intensify and amplify, unfold and increase, broaden and balloon.
Our relishing and rejoicing in God will sharpen and spread and extend and progress and mature and flower and blossom and widen and stretch and swell and snowball and inflate and lengthen and augment and advance and proliferate and accumulate and accelerate and multiply and heighten and reach a crescendo that will even then be only the beginning of an eternity of new and fresh insights into the majesty of who God is!
Lesslie Newbigin on the role of the Church in the world:
“The very essence of the Church’s life is that she is pressing forward to the fulfillment of God’s purpose and the final revelation of His glory, pressing forward both to the ends of the earth and to the end of the world, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.
The treasure entrusted to her is not for herself, but for the doing of the Lord’s will, not for hoarding but for trading.
Her life is to be forever spent, to be cast into the ground like a corn of wheat, in the ever-new faith and hope of the resurrection harvest. Her life is precisely life under the sign of the Cross, which means that she desires to possess no life, no security, no righteousness of her own, but to live solely by His grace.
When she becomes settled, when she becomes so much at home in this world that she is no longer content to be forever striking her tents and moving forward, above all when she forgets that she lives simply by God’s mercy and begins to think that she has some claim on God’s grace which the rest of the world has not, when in other words she thinks of her election in terms of spiritual privilege rather than missionary responsibility, then she comes under His merciful judgment as Israel did.”
- From The Household of God, 132.
(HT: Trevin Wax)
Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than at the cross of Christ. It is grace that the Son of God took on flesh, and grace that he taught us how to live — but it is especially grace that he died on the cross in our place.
Moreover, this climactic grace shown at the cross has a specific shape — it has edges. These edges help us see what exactly happened when Jesus died. And it’s important that we see because seeing leads to worship — you can’t worship what you don’t know.
So in hopes of more clarity — fuel for worship — here are five biblical truths about what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
1. The death of Jesus was for his enemies.
God’s love is different than natural human love. God loves us when we’re utterly unlovable. When Jesus died, he died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for his enemies. Paul gets at how contrary this is to human nature when he writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).
2. The death of Jesus purchased a people.
The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation, but a people for his own possession. Hear Jesus’s words: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:36, 39).
If we say that Christ only purchased the opportunity of salvation for all men we gut biblical words such as redemption of their meaning. John Murray writes: “It is to beggar the conception of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 63).
3. The death of Jesus is on our behalf.
Jesus’s death was substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. Peter writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
4. The death of Jesus defines love.
Jesus’s death wasn’t just an act of love, it defines love. His substitutionary death is the ultimate example of what love means, and Jesus calls those who follow him to walk in the same kind of life-laying-down love. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16). John Piper explains: “Jesus’s death is both guilt-bearing and guidance-giving. It is a death that forgives sin and a death that models love. It is the purchase of our life from perishing and the pattern of a life of love” (What Jesus Demands from the World, 266).
5. The death of Jesus reconciles us to God.
Justification, propitiation, and redemption — all benefits of Christ’s death — have one great purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’s death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21–22).
Think about how this works in our relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sin against, we harm the relationship. It will never be the same until we seek forgiveness. So it is with our relationship with God. We enter this world sinful, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness — forgiveness which was purchased at the cross — can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.
The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer. It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them? The answer is, he wants our trust.
The book is driven by tensions. One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8; 2:3). He didn’t deserve what he got. Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge. Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, overly-tidy, accusing categories (4:7-8). Thus, they did not serve Job but only intensified his sufferings further. Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their cruel insinuations. He kept looking to God, he held on, and God eventually showed up (38:1-42:17).
One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on and inevitably form opinions. Suffering brings temptation both to the sufferer and to the observer. The sufferer is tempted to give up on God. The observer is tempted to point his finger at the sufferer with smug, self-serving thoughts and words: “This is all your own fault, of course. If you’d just own up, everything would start getting better.” The fallacy here is to assume that we live in a universe ruled by the simple laws of crime and punishment. Our minds dredge up these thoughts not really because we are confident in ourselves but because we are uneasy about ourselves and therefore threatened by the suffering of another: “If it’s happening to Job, it might catch up to me too.” So we cling to the illusory feeling of control by reinforcing our own self-image of moral superiority. We try, by sheer force of assertion, to re-order the moral universe in a way reassuring to our prejudices. The book of Job teaches a more honest and humble way. When we observe someone suffering, we too should trust God and sympathize with the sufferer rather than off-load our own guilty anxieties by dumping on the sufferer.
Two, when we ourselves suffer in ways that defy easy explanation, God wants us to trust him more deeply than we ever have before. Job eventually settles into a profound place where, without answers to his questions, he trusts in the omnicompetence of God: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). What God can do is more important than how God explains himself. What if he did tell us every mystery right now? Would we be satisfied? Would we say, “Oh, I see. Here I have your explanation for it all. That really makes everything okay now”? I doubt it. An explanation is a wonderful thing, so far as it goes. But it is an intellectual thing. It cannot touch our core being, where the anguish in fact has taken up its deepest residence. Far better to leave it all with God, as our faith deepens from questioning to waiting. We don’t live by explanations; we live by faith.
“I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able.” 2 Timothy 1:12
In an interview I was asked, What is your advice on how believers should deal with a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity?
Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation. I’m grateful there are organizations working to protect the rights of Christians. But I’m concerned if we view ourselves as one more special interest group, clinging to entitlements and whining when people don’t like us. God’s people have a long history of not being liked.
Of course, this does not mean being hateful or seeking to be hated. It’s important that we represent the Gospel well, and I am all for graciousness, kindness and servant-hearted love as we speak the truth. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
But the fact is, while the gospel is good news, it is also insulting. Many people don’t like being called sinners and told they deserve to go to hell. Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
If our eyes are on anyone but Jesus, we’re not going to have the stamina to put up with criticism or outright hostility. Paul said, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Jesus is the Audience of One. We will stand before His judgment seat, no one else’s. We should long to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What other people think won’t matter.
(HT: Zach Nielsen)
What does it mean to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ? What does it mean to renounce all that we have for Christ’s sake?
Paul said he does this. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). And a few verses later he said, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (3:17).
So this is commanded of all believers.
This Is Basic Christianity
This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not advanced discipleship; it is basic Christianity. This is confirmed in Jesus’s words, “Any one of you who does notrenounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all we have is the same as “counting everything as loss.” This is what happens in conversion. You can’t be a disciple without it. Jesus said this.
He describes this conversion in a parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Selling all you have with joy, in order to have the treasure of the kingdom, is a parable-way of saying: count everything as loss in order to gain Christ.
So, to become a Christian is to awaken from the blindness of spiritual death and find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss, 2) we renounce all our possessions, and, in parable-language, 3) we sell all we have to possess the treasure of Christ.
How to Count Everything As Loss
In everyday practical terms, what does it mean to do this? It means at least these four things:
1. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that, if we must choose between Christ and anything else, we will choose Christ.
That is, even though God does not bring us to the crisis of either-or at every point, nevertheless, we are ready, and have resolved in our hearts that, if the choice must be made, we will chose Christ.
2. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will deal with everything in ways that draw us nearer to Christ, so that we gain more of Christ, and enjoy more of him, by the way we relate to everything.
That is, we will embrace everything pleasant, by being thankful to Christ; and we will endure everything hurtful, by being patient through Christ.
3. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will seek to deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not our treasure, but rather that Christ is our treasure.
That is, we will hold things loosely, share things generously, and ascribe value to things in relation to Christ. We will seek to live the paradox of 1 Corinthians 7:30–31, “Let [Christians] buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
4. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy, or our treasure, or our life — because Christ is our joy and our treasure and our life.
That is, in smaller losses we will not grumble (Philippians 2:14), and in greater losses we will grieve, but not as those who have not hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
A Settled, Joyful, Defining Resolve
This is what I believe it means to find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss (Philippians 3:8), 2) renounce all our possessions (Luke 14:33), and, 3) “sell” all we have to possess the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44).
None of us loves Christ this perfectly, or lives so consistently. But to be a follower of Jesus, to be a true Christian, means that these four ways of dealing with “everything” will be the settled, joyful, defining resolve of our lives.
This is what we will mean when we say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.
The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.
God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.
Is healing in the atonement? Well, yes and no!
Here in 1 Peter 2:24-25 the apostle is very clearly alluding to Isaiah 53:4-5. There the prophet declared:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
In order to understand what Peter had in mind in quoting this OT passage, I need to address a very controversial question: Is there healing in the atonement?
Some believe that just as God the Father made Jesus to be “sin” for us on the cross he also made him to be “sick” for us on the cross. Word of Faith advocate Gloria Copeland once wrote: “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner (emphasis mine) that he bore your sins.” Another author put it this way:
“When Jesus stood bearing the lashes from the Roman soldiers, all our physical pain and sicknesses were being heaped upon him. . . It is as if one lash was for cancer, another for bone disease, another for heart disease, and so on. Everything that causes physical pain was laid on Jesus as the nails were driven into His hands and feet” (Colin Urquhart).
What is being said is that Christ bore our sicknesses in the very same way that he bore our sins. Another once wrote that “Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities.”
We know what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God “made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” He was declaring that the guilt of our sins was imputed to Christ and that it was because of that guilt that he was punished in our place. But what can it possibly mean to say God made him “to be sick” on our behalf?
There is no guilt in disease or sickness. Having diabetes or a head cold is not sinful. The Bible tells us to pray “forgive us our trespasses” and urges us “to confess our sins,” but nowhere does it say that we should pray “forgive us our arthritis” or “Lord, I confess that I have the flu.” Sickness is not sin. The Bible never issues the command, “Thou shalt not commit cancer,” or “Flee the flu.” Nevertheless, many insist that Jesus “bore the penalty for our sins and sicknesses.” But if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty?
Of course, ultimately all sickness is a result of sin, but only in the sense that Adam’s fall introduced corruption and death into the human race. But that does not mean that every time we get sick it is because of some specific sin we have committed. It does mean that had Adam not sinned, there would be no sickness. Sickness is the effect of sin (just like tornadoes, weeds, and sadness). But that is altogether different from saying that sickness is sin. We do not repent for having kidney stones, nor do we come under conviction for catching the measles. I didn’t rebuke my older daughter for coming down with the chicken pox, and I certainly didn’t ask my younger daughter to ask for forgiveness when she caught it from her older sister.
Jesus was not punished for our diseases. Rather, he endured the wrath of God that was provoked by our willful disobedience of the truth.
So what does it mean in Isaiah 53 and in 1 Peter 2 when it says that he bore our sicknesses and carried our pains and that by his stripes or wounds we are healed?
As I’ve already said, Christ “bore our sins” in the sense that he bore the wrath of God of which our sins were the cause.
In the case of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2 we are being told that he carried our pains, not in the sense of personally experiencing stomach viruses and ulcers and earaches and gallstones as he hung on Calvary’s tree, but by enduring the wrath of God against that willful human wickedness which is ultimately the reason there are such things as pain and infirmity. By his death at his first coming he has laid the foundation for the ultimate over-throw and annihilation of all physical disease, which will occur with the resurrection of the body at his second coming. Thus it is theologically misleading to say that Jesus bore our sicknesses in the same way he bore our sins. Rather he paid the price of our sins in order that one day, when he returns to glorify his people, he may wholly do away with all of our sicknesses.
May we conclude that there is healing in the atonement? Of course! Were it not for Jesus making atonement for sin, we would have no hope of healing in any form, either now or later. The redemptive suffering of Jesus at Calvary is the foundation and source of every blessing, whether spiritual or physical.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is healing through the atonement rather than in the atonement, insofar as the atoning death of Jesus is the basis for God healing us. In this way we avoid suggesting that because of Jesus’ death we are guaranteed healing in this life.
To ask, “Is there healing in the atonement?” is like asking, “Is there forgiveness of sins in the atonement?” or, “Is there fellowship with God in the atonement?” There is even a sense in which we may say that the Holy Spirit is in the atonement! We are told in John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; and especially 16:7-15, that the Holy Spirit’s present ministry is a result of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.
Everything we receive from God finds its ultimate source in what Christ did for us on the cross. Therefore, the question is not whether our bodies receive healing because of the atonement of Christ, but when. We are forgiven of our sins now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of our deliverance from the presence of sin when Christ returns. We experience fellowship with God now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of that blessed relationship when Christ returns. We profit immensely now from the Spirit’s work in our hearts, but who would dare suggest that what the Holy Spirit is doing in this age is all that he will ever do? There is a glorious harvest reserved in heaven for us of which the present ministry of the Holy Spirit is merely the first fruits!
In other words, it is a serious mistake for us to think that every blessing Christ secured through his redemptive suffering will be ours now in its consummate form. All such blessings shall indeed be ours, let there be no mistake about that. But let us not expect, far less demand, that we now experience fully those blessings which God has clearly reserved for heaven in the age to come.
Life for the believer in this present age is a life of tension between the already and the not yet. We already have so very, very much. But we have not yet experienced it all. There is much yet to come. One of the “not yets” in Christian experience is the complete redemption and glorification of the body (see Phil. 3:20-21). Yes, we believe God heals today and that any healing that occurs is because of what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection, and yes, we will pray fervently for healing of the body in the present. But that doesn’t mean that because of what Christ accomplished then that we will always experience complete healing now.
We must also remember that frequently in Scripture the sinful condition of the soul is portrayed as analogous to a body suffering from various wounds. Forgiveness and restoration are therefore described in terms of a bodily healing. By his atoning death the great Physician has truly “healed” our hearts. We were continually straying like sheep, but by the redemptive grace of Jesus we have been enabled to return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Thus the context of 1 Peter 2:24 clearly tells us that it is primarily spiritual healing from the disease of sin, not physical restoration of the body, that the apostle has in mind.
The sickness was that of having strayed from God. The disease was that of having departed from him. The healing provided by Christ, therefore, is bringing us back to God and restoring our relationship with him.
This is clearly the case in our passage when we take note of the word “for” with which v. 25 begins. The word “for” or “because” indicates that the “healing” in v. 24 is from the punishment we deserved for the wandering in v. 25.
The kingdom of God is, in essence, God’s redemptive reign. Yet it can be easy to overlook this prominent theme in the life of Jesus, and tempting to assume rather than investigate the importance of the kingdom for Jesus. When we miss the significance of the kingdom to Jesus, however, we can miss the significance of the kingdom for biblical theology and ethics.
So how important was the kingdom of God to Jesus? What was his relationship to the in-breaking of the eschatological kingdom? Let’s examine ten ways Jesus related to the kingdom.
1. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom. With the coming of Christ, the kingdom begins not in the coronation of a mighty king but in the birth of a crying baby. Yet as Jesus’ ministry begins in Mark, he announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What Israel had long awaited, Christ had now inaugurated.
2. Jesus is the kingdom. Where the king is, there is the kingdom. This is precisely why Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). As Graeme Goldsworthy teaches, Jesus embodies the kingdom motif of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Jesus is both the faithful ruler and the righteous citizen of the kingdom.
3. Jesus purposes the kingdom. Jesus reveals that his purpose is to proclaim the kingdom. Jesus described his mission saying that he “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).
4. Jesus declares the kingdom. Through his words, Jesus explains the kingdom and invites people to enter into it. Luke summarizes Jesus’ ministry as “proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). The declaration of the kingdom often came through the parables of Jesus that illustrated what it was and how it worked.
5. Jesus demonstrates the kingdom. Through his works, Jesus shows the power of the kingdom and his authority over the prince of darkness. As Jesus explains, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Jesus not only declares the kingdom in his words but also demonstrates the kingdom in his works.
6. Jesus deploys the kingdom. Jesus sends his followers out as ambassadors of the kingdom to herald its arrival. This deployment happens in Luke 10 as Jesus sends out the 72, instructing them to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). In the great commission, king Jesus issues his discipleship battle plan to the church because he possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jesus sends his soldiers to the front lines to engage the kingdom of darkness.
7. Jesus transforms the kingdom. Israel’s messianic hopes focused on the coming of a military conqueror who would rescue them from their geo-political enemies. That is why they sought to make Jesus king (John 6:15). But Jesus reorients their vision by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus transforms the kingdom, showing it is holistic in its nature, redemptive in its mission, and cosmic in its scope.
8. Jesus purchases the kingdom. Through his victorious death and resurrection, Jesus redeems the kingdom. As he satisfies the wrath of God poured out for those who rebel against his rule, Jesus defeats Satan, sin, and death (Col 2:14-15). He overcomes the world, the flesh, and the Devil by destroying the power of the kingdom of darkness. By purchasing a kingdom people at the cross, Jesus proves himself to be the rightful ruler of the restored kingdom.
9. Jesus concludes with the kingdom. In his final words to his people, Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by clarifying the kingdom. Just before his ascension, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus resolved confusion about the kingdom. So the kingdom was key to the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry and its culmination.
10. Jesus returns the kingdom. In the second coming of Christ, Jesus returns as a triumphant warrior king. As he returns to achieve final victory, the name scribed on his body is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). At last, he places all his enemies under his feet as he launches a new creation kingdom that fully reflects his righteous reign. He consummates the conquest that began with his birth.
If the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ life and ministry, then it remains crucial to our theology and ethics today.
Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
I recently returned from a five-day ministry trip to England and would like to share a few observations on the spiritual condition of evangelicalism there. Since 2005 I have participated almost annually in the Life in the Spirit conference and have been blessed to serve on the leadership team with a number of like-minded believers. LITS was birthed over 30 years ago by a small group of men who had been greatly influenced by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, longtime senior pastor at Westminster Chapel in the heart of London. In fact, one of this year’s speakers was Greg Haslam, current lead pastor at the Chapel who succeeded R. T. Kendall in that role. LITS is not only a conference but an ever-growing, somewhat informal, network of Christians and churches who are committed to Reformed theology, complementarianism, and a continuationist view of spiritual gifts. There is also a strong emphasis on missional outreach and healthy relational accountability and mutual encouragement.
LITS is not a large conference, at least by American church standards, but it is every bit as vibrant and gospel-centered as anything on this side of the big pond. It meets during the last week of February and I strongly encourage anyone within reach of it to plan on attending in the future. The new website for LITS will be released in about a month for those of you who wish to learn more about it.
Here I would simply like to draw attention to the fact that, notwithstanding the overall weakened state of the church in England as a whole, there are numerous spiritually strong and vibrant leaders and local churches scattered throughout the U.K. These men have not capitulated to pressures from the larger culture nor do they ever intend to. They are grounded in the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word and are devoted to building gospel-centered local churches where Christ is supreme and central in the theology and affections of his people.
There is always at LITS a wide representation of church life present. There were Baptist pastors (from a variety of networks and associations), Presbyterians, independent and non-denominational leaders, a few from Elim (a denomination of a more classically Pentecostal orientation), some from New Frontiers, and even several who pastor within the Church of Scotland. And that is only a small smattering of streams within the larger body of Christ represented at the conference.
These men, together with their wives and a number of other women who attended, are committed to “holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). As much as some would wonder how, they celebrate both the sovereignty of God in salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit as manifest in the full range of biblical charismata. In the early days of the conference, the tag line employed was: “Where Reformed Theology meets Charismatic Experience.” Although that phrase is no longer in use, the theological convictions that undergird it remain firmly in place.
It would be all too easy for us, whether in the U.S. or the U.K., to grow weary in well doing and to give up on the future prospects and broader influence of the Christian church. Culture decay, political corruption, and self-indulgent “spirituality” untethered to the Word of God, make for what could easily become a pessimistic and defeatist mentality among Bible-believing Christians. But Christ will build his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). My experience over time in the U.K., and especially at LITS, assures me that this is precisely what he is doing.
With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern amongst you about the Things of God. . . . What great things may we now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the Sons of the Prophets? Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God. A dead Ministry will always make a dead People. Whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love amongst others. This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called. Learning without piety will only render you more capable of promoting the kingdom of the devil. Henceforward therefore I hope you will enter into your studies, not to get a parish, not to be a polite preacher, but to be a great saint. . . . The more holy you are, the more will God delight to honor you. He loves to make use of instruments like himself. . . .”
George Whitefield, writing to students at Harvard and Yale preparing for the ministry, 25 July 1741, quoted in Richard L. Bushman, editor, The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 (New York, 1970), page 38.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
John Stott, writing over 30 years ago (in 1982):
It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today.
We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power.
Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.
In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen.
In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.
—John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), p. 69.
(HT: Justin Taylor)