What Does ‘This Rock’ Refer to in Matthew 16:18?

Gregg R. Allison: Few verses have caused more controversy than Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It has led to disagreement over the proper type of church government, the role of the pope (along with papal infallibility), apostolic succession, and more. In context, Jesus probes his disciples for what the general public thinks about the identity of “the Son of Man” (v. 13). Their response indicates the breadth of the popular understanding of Jesus: he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet (v. 14). So Jesus redirects his probe: “But who do you [plural = the disciples] say I am?” (v. 15). Peter responds for the Twelve: Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, God the Son incarnate (v. 16). Jesus approves Peter for rightly identifying him, underscoring that his disciple didn’t humanly figure out this

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The Incarnation: Its Relevance

William Boekestein: To call the incarnation “relevant” almost sounds patronizing. But we need to recognize the intimate connection between this important doctrine and personal piety. It Opens Up Scripture Until we grasp that Christ is God-in-flesh, the Old Testament will remain a collection of stories about how men and women struggled with the call to faith. The incarnation helps us to see that the Old Testament sets the stage for God to once again live with man as He did in Eden. On every Old Testament page, God promises a human deliverer who is also stronger than Satan (Gen. 3:15); both a suffering servant and an anointed king. The reality of God-with-us is explained and applied throughout the rest of Scripture starting with Matthew. The New Testament is not simply a collection of ethical instruction, or even a commentary on the life of a certain Nazarene. It is the real-life story of what happened when God came to men that they might belong

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Why Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?

Wyatt Graham: Everyone knows the story. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary. He tells her that she will have a child who will save his people and establish his kingdom. But there is a problem. As Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The angel Gabriel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Instead of doubt, Mary believes. She confesses: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She believed and did not waver.  Why did God decide that Jesus would be born in this particular way? Why did God use a virgin birth to bring Jesus into the world? There are at least three answers.  To fulfill prophecy First, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that the coming one

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10 Things You Should Know About the Incarnation

Stephen Wellum: At the heart of Christianity and the gospel is the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Apart from the “Word becoming flesh” (John 1:14) and the incarnate Son of God living and dying in our place as our Savior, there is no salvation. Apart from the coming of the eternal Son, his taking on human nature and acting as our covenant representative, there is no hope for the world. It is appropriate at Christmas to think more deeply about the incarnation. Here are 10 things we should grasp. 1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son. John 1:14 is clear: “The Word became flesh.” In other words, it was the Son from eternity who became incarnate, not the divine nature. The Son, who is in eternal relation to the Father and Spirit, willingly humbled himself and chose to assume a human nature in obedience to his Father and for our salvation (Phil. 2:6–8). 2. As the eternal Son, the second

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Who Delivered Up Jesus to Die?

Nicholas T. Batzig: Octavius Winslow once famously said, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy—but the Father for love.” 1 We could just as easily edit this statement in the following way: “Who put Jesus on the cross? Judas, for money; Pilate, for fear; the Jews, for envy; and you and me, for enmity.” This is a truth we should never tire of hearing and to which we must often return. Our understanding of the nature of our depravity is essential if we are to rightly understand the nature of the death of Jesus. In short, the doctrine of human depravity helps us better understand who delivered Jesus up to the death on the cross. When considering the nature of sin, many professing Christians have a tendency to focus on the horizontal relationships they sustain with those around them. In a very real sense, all of us have been culturally

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The Horror of a Different Jesus

Sam Storms: Our pluralistic, consumer driven society is all about choices, options, and diversity. If you don’t like what you see, be patient; another version, an updated edition, a new and improved alternative will soon appear. This is often the case in certain expressions of contemporary “Christianity” (so-called). Don’t like the Jesus of evangelical, orthodox biblical faith? No problem. There are plenty of other Jesus’s to choose from. There’s the liberal Jesus, the liberation Jesus, the Christ of the cults, and the Christ of Islam. There’s the entirely human but not so divine Jesus or, if you prefer, the entirely divine and hardly human Christ. Or perhaps you relish a more home-grown Jesus, one that is fashioned after the desires of your own heart. Messianic pretender? Philosophical sage? How about the Jesus of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? Or the Jesus of The Gospel of Judas? 2020 is a presidential election year, so cast your vote: the Democratic Jesus or

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A brief reflection on truth

Sam Storms: Of the many things John writes concerning the Word, the Son of God, in John 1, one of the more important is his statement in v. 14 that he is “full of grace and truth.” Let’s be clear right from the start. God isn’t whatever you want him to be. He is who he is whether you like it or not. God is not like silly putty in the hands of those who wish to twist and shape him into something more palatable to their senses. He has always been, is now, and will forever be the same. His character and revealed will do not change when culture does or when he falls out of favor with human opinion. Jesus Christ embodies, defines, and speaks truth whether or not you think he does. Simply because you don’t like some of the things Jesus said or did does not mean they aren’t true. Truth is not what works or

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The Hill We All Must Die On – Four Questions to Ask About Atonement

Stephen Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today — and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the

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If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Pray?

Mark Jones: Age-Old Question Why did Jesus pray? As in any answer to questions like these, one could find many sound reasons to explain why the God-man, Jesus Christ, prayed. Many theologians over the course of church history have wrestled with this question. I think the answer to this question is relatively simple: Jesus prayed because he needed to pray. 1. Jesus prayed because God infused in him a spirit of prayer. In Psalm 22 we catch some glimpses of the various details of Christ’s life, not just his crucifixion that so prominently features in this Psalm. Christ’s life of prayer began at birth. Psalm 22 finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, though its immediate story is that of David. The Father prepared a body for Christ, which was formed by the Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. According to the natural limits of his humanity, Christ’s early prayer life was clearly not as developed as it would be at the end

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Is Jesus Precious to Your Soul?

Sam Storms: There is an astounding statement in 1 Peter 2:6 about Jesus Christ that stands as a challenge to each of us who claim to be his followers. Peter describes Jesus as “a cornerstone chosen and precious.” Think about it: he is chosen of the Father and precious! He is of immeasurable value to God the Father and must therefore be precious and of immeasurable value to us! Treasuring Christ is God’s response to Christ and therefore should be ours. Consider this. God is omniscient. He knows everything. He sees not merely the outward appearance but the inner reality. Nothing is hidden from him. And above all that, he has limitless wisdom and discernment. He knows what is valuable and what isn’t. He knows what is of great worth and what is worthless. And according to 1 Peter 2:6, God says that Jesus, his Son, is infinitely precious. If God embraces his Son as indescribably and incomparably precious, shouldn’t we also? One

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Solus Christus: The Bedrock of Theology

Dustin Benge: In Acts 4, the Apostle Peter stands before the leaders of Israel and identifies the cornerstone of all faith, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The bedrock and cornerstone which lies at the center of the other solas of the Reformation, connecting them all together by a single theological redemptive thread is solus Christus––Christ alone. When German Reformer, Martin Luther, preached from the gospel passages on John the Baptist, he always emphasized how John was consistently pointing to Christ. He encouraged the church to follow in John’s footsteps and point people to the Lord without fail. Luther emphatically believed the message the church must constantly preach was the message of Christ being the only way of salvation. However, he was quick to point out that this type of preaching is not always easy. Luther declared: The devil does

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Evangelism Must Explain What’s Wrong with the World

Becky Pippert: People around us today often scoff at the notion of sin. Our world has new names for what ails us: poor self-esteem, neurosis, addiction, anxiety, psychological wounding, and so forth. It isn’t that these issues aren’t a reality; it’s that such analysis doesn’t go deep enough to reveal the root cause. Yet for all the protest that sin is an old-fashioned, outdated concept, nearly everyone agrees that something has gone terribly wrong and must be made right. We see the wrong in world wars, racism, genocides, terrorism, human trafficking, exploitation of children—and in our own personal battles evidenced in broken relationships, anger, addictions, and on and on. What happened that caused our planet to go from paradise to our present brokenness? And how can this explanation be good news for our unbelieving neighbors? First Rebellion In Genesis 3, we discover that, though Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, they rejected God’s rule and chose to be

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The Sounding Joy: Four Reasons to Rejoice in Jesus’ Arrival

Brandon Freeman: Luke’s infancy narratives provide the most detailed description of Jesus’ birth and its surrounding events. The Gospel writer records the angelic announcements of John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah (1:5–25), then Jesus’ birth to Mary (1:26–38). Mary’s song of praise (1:46–56) and Zechariah’s prophecy (1:67–80) are wondrously recounted. The births of John the Baptist (1:57–66) and that of Jesus (2:1–8) are not left to the reader’s imagination. Throughout, the author expresses the mercy of God (1:50, 72) and the salvation of God (1:47, 69) visible in the coming of Jesus. Have you noticed, though, the theme of joy that pervades the narratives in Luke 1–2? Joy occurs more often in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined and is a motif that Luke desires to see connected to Jesus’ arrival. Observe the notes of joy documented by Luke. The angel told Zechariah that “Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness,

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God’s Passion for God at Christmas

For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. —John 12:27–28 John Piper: Glory to God in the Highest One of the most famous Christmas scenes in the Bible is the announcement to the shepherds by an angel that the Savior is born. And then it says, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:11–14). Glory to God, peace to man. The angels are sent to make something crystal clear: the Son of God has come into his creation to display the glory of God and to reconcile people from alienation to peace with God. To make God look great in salvation and to make man glad in God. So when we come to John 12, there is no surprise when we hear Jesus praying that this would actually happen at

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Do You Believe in a Santa Christ?

Nathan W. Bingham: In Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone, he shares the sad reality that many Christians have a Christology that is more informed by Santa Claus than Scripture. For them, the message of the incarnation has been so twisted or diluted that they have in fact created for themselves a savior who is nothing more than a Santa Christ. As you prayerfully read Sinclair Ferguson’s words, ask yourself the following question this Christmas season: “Do I believe in a Santa Christ?” 1. A Pelagian Jesus is a Santa Christ Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners. 2. A Semi-Pelagian Jesus is

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Why Must Jesus Be both Human and Divine?

Erik Raymond: Recently someone who is just beginning to investigate Christianity asked me an important question. As they are wading through the biblical data, the question came up, Why was Jesus both human and divine? Is this an important detail?   This is an important question. It’s vital that we understand not only that Jesus was truly God and fully man, but also why it is important.  I have found the Heidelberg Catechism quite helpful in its concise explanation.  On question 16 we read, Q:  Why must he be a true and righteous man? A:   He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others. The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only

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10 Things You Should Know about Jesus Christ

Sam Storms: It actually sounds a bit silly, even irreverent, to speak of only ten things we should know about Jesus. There are thousands of things to know about him, perhaps millions. Indeed, when we arrive in the new heaven and new earth we will discover that there is an infinity of truths about our Savior that it will be our joy to see, know, and savor. But for now, today, let’s consider the ten things said about him in Colossians 1:15-20. There Paul writes: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

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Don’t Just ‘Prove’ The Resurrection. Talk About Why It Matters.

Matthew Payne: Why did Jesus rise from the dead? In my experience most Christians can’t answer this question very well. I suspect that the reason is that they have hardly ever heard it taught. One of the most common answers I’ve heard over the years is that Jesus rose ‘to prove that he is God’. But the Bible never identifies this as the reason, and there was surely ample proof already available for Jesus’ divinity given the number of miracles that he performed in his public ministry. The problem is that some of the more difficult Christian doctrines tend to be reduced to apologetic hurdles to get over rather than being treated as central, interconnected parts of the Christian message. The Trinity, miracles, predestination, the resurrection… these are the kinds of topics that present difficulties to our secular worldview and logic. We therefore spend most of our time trying to prove that these things are true rather than explaining what

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What is “the gospel of the kingdom”?

9Marks: It’s very popular these days to talk about “the gospel of the kingdom.” Many people claim that when Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23) he was preaching a message about the overthrow of evil government powers, the transformation of society, and the lifting up of the poor. All kinds of revolutionaries can get behind these ideas. But is that what the Bible means when it speaks about the gospel of the kingdom? Not exactly. When Philip the evangelist preached “the good news about the kingdom of God,” men and women believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). This “gospel of the kingdom” called them to turn from their sin, trust in Jesus Christ and begin a new life, symbolized by baptism. On the other hand, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God coming near (Mk. 1:15), he is referring to something truly revolutionary. He means that with his own coming to earth, God’s saving rule and

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The Christmas Miracle of the Incarnation of the Omnipresent Word

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  — Hebrews 13:8 Jared Wilson: Every year at this time as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus to the virgin Mary, I don’t suppose it occurs to too many merrymakers that what they’re really celebrating is the incarnation. All of the other miracles are in service of that central miracle: God became man. And in becoming, through spiritual conception, the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God did not cease to be God. Baby Jesus, from the moment of conception to the straw habitation of the manger, was fully God and fully man. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. When we put our minds long to the idea of Jesus being 100 percent God and simultaneously 100 percent man, they naturally feel overwhelmed. The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation is compelling, beautiful, biblically sensible, and salvifically necessary, but it is nevertheless utterly inscrutable. And that’s okay. In

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