Sinclair Ferguson: At a PGA Tour tournament in October 2015, Ben Crane disqualified himself after completing his second round. He did so at considerable financial cost. No matter—Crane believed the personal cost of not doing it would be greater (encouraged by a devotional article he had read that morning by Davis Love III, the distinguished former Ryder Cup captain). Crane realized he had broken one of the more recondite rules of golf. If I followed the story rightly, while in a hazard looking for his ball, he leaned his club on a stone. He abandoned the ball, took the requisite penalty for doing so, played on, and finished his round. He would have made the Friday night cut comfortably; a very successful weekend financially beckoned. Then Ben Crane thought: “Should I have included a penalty for grounding my club in a hazard?” Sure enough (Rule 13.4a). So he disqualified himself. (Got it? Hopefully, no readers will lie awake tonight now knowing the trophy was won illegally.) Crane
Jared Wilson: We have to be very careful in how we wage spiritual war. Thanks to some fanciful fictions and inspirational clichés, a lot of bad theology has crept into the Church’s thinking on these matters. The way some people talk about prayer owes more to New Age spirituality than biblical Christianity. Many of us were even taught in our church classes about “spiritual warfare” in ways that seem foreign to the Bible! Sometimes God and Satan are cast as warring opposites, a kind of yin and yang balancing each other out, even while squaring off. Which side will win in the battle over your soul and the fate of the universe? Well, whichever side you support, of course. Obviously it sounds a little silly when put that way. But books, songs, and movies were made for the evangelical subculture that reflected just that kind of warped theology of the spiritual plane. Jesus sometimes sounds like a version of Tinkerbell, needing our “applause” to
Sam Storms: Many of you are already well on your way to reading through the Bible in 2021. Like every other year, you’ve heard the call: “Let’s read through the Bible together this year.” Sadly, though, the resolve to read lasts for about a month or two. Then life’s demands and the pressures of each day suppress the commitment we earlier made. How can we not let that happen again this year? I want to suggest that our failure to maintain our pledge to read Scripture consistently is largely due to a misunderstanding of what we think we’ll find in reading God’s written Word. What I want to suggest is that we recognize that in reading Scripture we encounter the resplendent glory of Jesus Christ himself. Here at Bridgeway, in 2021, we are reading through the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, together with the book of Acts. Not just once, but repeatedly. Why? I love the way John
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). Bernard N. Howard: Swaddling cloths are still in use today. With a few deft tucks, a pediatric nurse can swaddle a baby in seconds. It looks easy, but as overconfident new fathers soon find out, good swaddling technique takes a lot of practice. The objective is to surround the baby’s body with cloth, while leaving the head free. Doctors think this comforts the baby by recreating the sensation of being in the womb. Swaddling also restricts a baby’s startle reflex, which helps maintain unbroken sleep. Is there anything more vulnerable, more dependent, than a swaddled baby? The hospital nurse described our swaddled son as a “baby burrito.” The only things swaddled babies can do are rock a little from side to side, thump their feet a bit, and—as parents well know—cry loudly in the middle of the night.
Kevin DeYoung: The accounts of Jesus’s birth in Matthew (chapter 1) and Luke (chapters 1-2) are clear and unequivocal: Jesus’s birth was not ordinary. He was not an ordinary child, and his conception did not come about in the ordinary way. His mother, Mary, was a virgin, having had no intercourse prior to conception and birth. By the Holy Spirit, Mary’s womb became the cradle of the Son’s incarnation (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35). Of course, the doctrine of the virgin birth (or more precisely, the virginal conception) has been ridiculed by many outside the church, and, in modern times, by not a few voices inside the church. Two arguments are usually mentioned. First, the prophecy about a virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, it is argued, actually speaks of a young woman and not a virgin. (To be fair, some scholars make this argument about Isaiah’s prophecy and still believe in the virgin birth). Many have pointed out that the Hebrew word in Isaiah
By Stephen Wellum: DEFINITION Incarnation is the term that refers to the supernatural act of the triune God, whereby the eternal, divine Son, from the Father, by the agency of the Spirit, took into union with himself a complete human nature apart from sin. As a result, the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, now and forevermore exists as one person in two natures, our only Lord and Savior. SUMMARY This article will describe who Jesus is as God the Son incarnate in light of the Scriptural teaching and the Confessional orthodoxy of the Church. By developing five truths about the incarnation, starting with Jesus’ full deity as the eternal Son in relation to the Father and Spirit, and working from eternity to time, the identity of Christ and the nature of the incarnation will be described. To know Jesus rightly from Scripture, we must see who he is in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the reason for the
Kevin DeYoung: We’ve heard it so many times that it’s practically part of the Christmas story itself. The Romans celebrated their seven-day winter festival, Saturnalia, starting on December 17. It was a thoroughly pagan affair full of debauchery and the worship of the god Saturn. To mark the end of the winter solstice, the Roman emperor established December 25 as a feast to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun). Wanting to make Christianity more palatable to the Romans and more popular with the people, the church co-opted these pagan festivals and put the celebration of the birth of their Savior on December 25. For whatever the Christmas holiday has become today, it started as a copycat of well-established pagan holidays. If you like Christmas, you have Saturnalia and Sol Invictus to thank. That’s the story, and everyone from liberal Christians to conservative Christians to non-Christians seem to agree that it’s true. Except that it isn’t. For starters, we should distinguish between
Stephen Nichols: In order to understand the story of Christmas, we have to go back. Not back just a few thousand years to the birth of Jesus, but all the way back, back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. God placed them in the lush and perfect garden of Eden. They had everything they needed. It was perfect. Then they sinned. As a consequence, God banished them. Now Adam and Eve lived under the curse. But as God pronounced the curse, thundering from heaven, He also gave them a promise. God gave Adam and Eve the promise of a Seed, a Seed who would be born of a woman. That Seed would make all that was wrong, right. He would make all that was broken, whole. This Seed would bring peace and harmony where strife and conflict raged like a storm-tossed sea. In the Old Testament, the third chapter of the very first book, Genesis, speaks of conflict and enmity. Adam
Joel R. Beeke: In John 3:9–15, Nicodemus, a “master of Israel,” receives a remedy for his troubled soul from the Master Physician. The Son of God gives this night-disciple an eye to behold the Messiah lifted up on the cross of suffering and death. To do this, Jesus brings in vital imagery of the bronze serpent from Numbers 21:7–9 to reframe Nicodemus’s knowledge of the Torah. In so doing, he makes us lift up our heads as well. Jesus presents himself as the true Bronze Serpent who must be lifted up and looked on for us to truly live. What exactly did Nicodemus learn in these moments? And what can we learn from this intimate encounter with the Lord of life? Beholding the Bronze Serpent As we examine John 3:14–15, we must ask why Christ mentioned Moses. Why the allusion to Numbers 21:7–9? For Nicodemus, as for us, the law is given to convict him and drive him to the gospel. Here, for the first
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases”(Psalm 115:3). Sam Storms: When was the last time you thanked God simply for being able? I can’t imagine anything more disheartening and depressing than believing in a God who lacks the power to fulfill his purposes, whose energy wanes in the heat of battle or whose strength diminishes in a moment of crisis. Good intentions notwithstanding, if God can’t carry out his plans and can’t fulfill his goals and can’t keep his promises, I’m not sure I want anything to do with him. The apostle Paul consistently celebrated the ability of God and his limitless power to act on behalf of his people. Typical is this doxology in his letter to the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in
David Mathis: Three Reasons We Call Him ‘Jesus’ What if the weight fell to you to name the Christ child at his birth? Not only would the boy’s name precede him, and stay with him, wherever he went in life, and follow him all his days, and long after, but this child, of all children, as the angel said to Mary, would be the “Anointed One” — the Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek. For centuries, the nation had awaited his advent, and for thousands of years to come, millions upon millions would not only speak but sing of this “name as above all names” and “the sweetest name I know.” This one name would come to surpass, throughout the world and throughout history, even the covenantal name of God revealed to Moses at the bush (Philippians 2:9–11; Hebrews 1:4). How could any man, much less a craftsman from rural Galilee, stand beneath the weight of giving a name to this singular son? Name Above All
Joe Carter: Few stories in the Old Testament tend to make us feel more superior to the Israelites than the tale of the golden calf in Exodus 32:1–6. How backwards they must have been to think you could make a god out of metal! How silly to think bringing offerings to a statue would bring peace, joy, and happiness! The entire story is almost too absurd to believe. Or at least, until we examine our own idols. Imagine if the Israelites could see the idols we bow down before—cable-news shows on big-screen TVs, grades on a report card, acceptance on social media. They would likely find our idols even more ridiculous than we find their golden calf. The reason idolatry is listed first in the Ten Commandments is because idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. As Tim Keller points out, “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.” The secret to change, then, is always to identify
Stephen M. Coleman: DEFINITION God’s revelation throughout the Old Testament prefigures, anticipates, and announces beforehand the redemption that he would accomplish in the person and work of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. SUMMARY When the apostles read the Old Testament, they saw references to Christ and his kingdom, as it were, on every page. Jesus is the second Adam, the perfect law keeper, the scion of David who would sit on David’s throne forever, the ultimate singer of the psalms, the wisdom of God, the suffering servant, the perfect high priest, to name just a few. The theological foundation for this conviction is that God is sovereign over history and he is the (ultimate) author of Scripture. As such, God announced beforehand, in type and shadow, promise and prophecy, the redemption he would accomplish through his incarnate Son. He did this so that his people might believe on the promised Messiah prior to his coming and so that those who know the
Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Tim Keller: It is impossible to understand your heart or your culture if you do not discern the counterfeit gods that influence them. In Romans 1:21-25 St Paul shows that idolatry is not only one sin among many, but what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him … .They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25) Paul goes on to make a long list of sins that create misery and evil in the world, but they all find their roots in this soil, the inexorable human drive for “god-making.” In other words, idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong. No one grasped this better than Martin Luther.
David Platt: In the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4), Jesus teaches his disciples about the priorities that should shape the prayer life of every believer. This model prayer is full of requests—for daily bread, forgiveness, leadership, and deliverance. But it also shows that our greatest need is not just to get stuff from God. Our greatest need is to know God himself. Our Misguided Prayers for Stuff We’ve all prayed for important things in the past and found our prayers weren’t answered; God didn’t do what we thought he should. When we view prayer as nothing more than a request and don’t receive what we ask for, we often start to doubt. We wonder why we should even bother praying in the first place. Even though the questions are honest, this kind of thinking misses the whole point of prayer. The point of prayer is not just getting God to do stuff. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 6:7–8: “When you pray,
J.T. English: What is Jesus doing right now? According to Ephesians 4, he is ascended in heaven and is gifting his church for greater mission and unity. He’s giving leaders, who equip all the saints for ministry, so that the whole family can be built up in maturity. By contrast, we all too often create ministry systems that prioritize professional ministers, not the whole body. But Ephesians 4 reminds us that we need the entire church to be engaged in mission, not just professional ministers. This is what I like to call “deep discipleship”—the invitation to all members into the task of building a unified church growing in Christlike maturity. That’s Jesus’s mission. And if it’s Jesus’s mission, then it should be the local church’s mission as well. Ministry Is Not Just for Experts One trend that’s common in the church is an expert/amateur divide. The divide between the “experts” and “amateurs” is easily seen when the experts—those employed by the church—think their job is
How to Know If Faith Is Real or Dead Greg Morse: No one will be in heaven who did not walk in good works on earth. In other words, and in the words of Hebrews 12:14, there is a “holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Abbreviated, “no holiness, no heaven.” In directness, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26 NASB). In confession, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love” (Westminster Confession). In commandment: “Work out [literally, produce] your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In illustration: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away . . . and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:2, 6). In lyric, “He leads me in paths of
Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley: In His Human Name: Jesus Our Lord bears the human name Jesus (Greek Iēsous). Joseph and Mary did not choose this name; it was commanded from heaven (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:31). That is not to say that the name was unique, for there were other men named “Jesus” (Col. 4:11). It was a common name among Jews through the beginning of the second century AD.1 For this reason, people spoke of “Jesus of Nazareth” in order to distinguish him from others with the same name.2 Therefore, the name “Jesus” testifies to Christ’s humanity—it is the name of a man. Why did God ordain through angels that this name would be given to his incarnate Son? The answer to this question comes from both the name’s historical background and its etymological meaning. Historically, “Jesus” was the Greek form of “Joshua” (Hebrew Yehoshu‘a),3 as appears from the use of “Jesus” in the Septuagint and New Testament for that great Israelite leader Joshua, the son
John Piper: Defending Christian Hedonism exegetically is one thing; helping people feel the ethos of it is something else. The latter is harder. That’s what I want to try to do here. But first, what is it? Christian Hedonism is a way of life rooted in the conviction that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The branches and fruits of this root are all-encompassing and thrilling. They include the stunning implication that all true virtue, and all true worship, necessarily includes the pursuit of happiness in God. The reason for this is that all true virtue and all true worship must involve the intention to glorify God. This is because we were created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7), and because Paul said, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So it is sin to pursue any good deed, or any act of worship, without the intent to glorify God. But
Steven Lawson: The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election. In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence. The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the act of Creation, God made precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since Creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan that He previously had designed (cf. Isa. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom.