Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category

Book Review: Bible Studies on Mark

Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 in Book review, Gospel, Scripture

51tefsmeil-_ac_us160_What a delightful read! It is not often one can say such a thing about a Bible commentary. Commentaries vary in purpose – exegetical, homiletical, devotional, theological and/or doctrinal tradition. While all of these are necessary in a thorough biblical study with depth of meaning and application, not all can be called delightful. William Bernstein has provided a commentary that is both homiletical and devotional – and delightful!

Bible Studies on Mark will prove a great help to both shepherd and sheep, pulpit and pew. For the pastor, Boekestein provides a brief (each chapter is 8 pages) homiletical (each chapter appears to be a sermon) commentary for sermon preparation. It is brief, so the pastor will need to expand a bit on key theological and doctrinal themes. But this is a positive for the pastor – give to whet the appetite and spur meditation.

This will also prove beneficial to the Sunday School teacher or leader of a small group Bible study. In fact, with the questions provided at the end of each chapter, you already have 21 lessons (that is what Boekestein calls them). The easy-to-read format will be a great help, like for the pastor, for the teacher or leader in initial thoughts on Mark. It is brief enough that the student can read in one sitting and come to class ready for discussion.

And as mentioned, Bible Studies on Mark can be used as a devotional commentary. Brevity does not mean vacuous! Each reading will prove helpful in starting a day with thoughts tuned on Christ and His Word. It is simple to read for believers young and old. It is a delightful read!

I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.

The Heart of the New Covenant

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 in Scripture

The New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-36 is of great importance for those who are new creatures in Christ. The central thought in this covenant is that God acts in or on the hearts of those whom He chose before the foundation of the world to be His people for the glory of His own name. Note the verses that form the “heart” of the covenant:

Jer 31:33  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Eze 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Eze 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Eze 36:28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Notice the promises attached to the covenant: God promises a new heart of flesh and a new spirit (Ez 36:26). He promises to put His law in them and to write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33). He promises to put His Spirit within them and cause them to walk in His statutes and obey His rules (Ez 36:27). Follow the order: A heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh (stone can be broken, flesh cannot). The law written on that heart of flesh (internal) as opposed to the Law written on tablets of stone (external). The Spirit put inside them, again denoting and inward work instead of the typical working from without as in the Old. And this Spirit will lead one to be holy and blameless, the purpose of their calling in Christ. So that, God said, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:33; Ez 36:27). “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (1 Pet 2:10a). And we see that obedience is not optional in the life His people. He has given us all that we need in His law and in His Spirit to live for Him as the children of God. May we seek to live in the power of that Spirit, keeping our conduct pure in the face of darkness (1 Pet 2:12).

 

Tetelestai – “It is finished”

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 in Repentance, Scripture, Seasonal

Tetelestai – the sixth word from Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. The tense in the Greek (perfect) is difficult in English, but it refers to an event in the past that is complete in full but has implications in the present. It was a common word in Roman times. As an accounting term it was used to mark a debt that had been paid in full. As a slave term it was used to show that a slave had fulfilled his obligations to his master and was no longer in bondage to him. As a military term it was shouted as full and final victory over the enemy was accomplished. That is what tetelestai means for us as well. “It is finished” means that our sin debt has been paid in full. “It is finished” m that we have been delivers from the bondage of sin. “It is finished” means that Satan, sin, and finally death have been conquered forever. “It is finished!”

The power of forgiveness is something that we continue to learn as we grow in Christ and as we are more conformed to his image. The truth that when we repent, when we confess our sin, then we are cleansed of all unrighteousness is marvelous grace indeed. Tetelestai (it is finished) for us means in part to be delivered from the bondage of the law and the bondage of sin – we are no longer under law or under sin – neither has any power over us or in us. GRACE!

And yet, we might often remain in bondage, not to the sin itself, but to the guilt from which we have also been set free – PAID IN FULL means redemption is complete. When we allow the guilt and/or shame to burden us, we might be in a state where we know that God forgives us but we are slow to forgive ourselves. We condemn ourselves where He has promised no condemnation. We place ourselves back into the courtroom when the verdict has already been declared. And the verdict is not based on our performance, but Christ’s. So, if we truly receive Christ and His performance, His finished work of atonement for us, then we must receive the forgiveness else we are not receiving Him and the work of Calvary is diminished. Remember today – TETELESTAI – “It is finished.” Sin is buried with Christ, the verdict is in, and we have risen in newness of life to walk with Him. Forgiveness is amazing – IT IS FINISHED!

A Word for Today (2)

Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 in Scripture

Yesterday I considered what it means to “test the spirit.”  Today we see that John says the grid through which we are to filter our discernment is what is written in the Scriptures about Jesus Christ.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

There are many ways that we can test teachers to see if their message is from God.  We should, like the Bereans, test them according to Scripture.  John gives a number of tests in this letter: their commitment to the church (2:19); their lifestyle (3:23-24); and even here in v. 1, the fruit of their message.  But John says that the most important test of all is what they believe about Jesus Christ.

This test alone eliminates a whole host of heresies.  In John’s setting, the Gnostics were addressed as those who were leading the people of God astray in their teaching in many areas.  But one of their most grievous errors was their teaching that Christ was not both fully divine and fully human.  Because they considered all material to be evil, they distorted the truth of the person of Christ, teaching that the divine Christ descended on the man Jesus at His baptism, then left Him before the crucifixion.  They were false teachers because they did not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.  But they were but the forerunners of a long list of groups who have this error.  The New Age movement was the fad when I was in college.  One of their main tenets was that the Christ spirit has descended on many great men down through the ages, with Jesus of Nazareth being one of them.  Liberal theologians refuse to call Jesus the God-man, the one and only Mediator between God and man.  Cults such as the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons deny that in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9).

However, that is the essence of the Christmas story and the life of Christ on this earth.  The truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us is, as one theologian put it, a summary of the whole gospel – the person and ministry of Christ.  It summarizes all that John has to say in his epistle about Jesus, and all that the Scriptures have to say about Christ.  It summarizes the work of all of Christ’s offices.

John says, By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  He refers to Jesus pre-existence – He came.  Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem—Bethlehem is the place where the eternal Son of God first appeared in human flesh.  Jesus said of Himself in John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”  We know that by this testimony Jesus identified Himself with God, the great “I am.”  Some would deny this, stating that Jesus’ statement was but a device used for emphasis, that He was not in fact identifying Himself as God.  Then why were the religious elite so furious with Him?  So John asserts that we must test what is taught concerning the deity of Christ, that He always was, is, and will forever be God of very God.  “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

Conversely, anyone who teaches that Jesus was merely a man that came into being as His total existence in the womb of the virgin Mary has “the spirit of the antichrist.”  The Greek word antichrist can mean “against or opposite of Christ” or “in the place of Christ.”  John introduced these false professors in chapter 2 and the context there was as here, concerning doctrine and truth.  The “spirit of the antichrist” does not point to Christ or exalt Christ.  It denies these essential truths of the person of Christ.  They attempt to reshape Christ in their own image according to their “more enlightened” understanding of truth.  Isn’t it interesting that in 1 John 3:23 John says, “Believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ,” and then two verses later, in the same context, he can say, “But don’t believe everything you hear said about Jesus Christ”?  Believe in Jesus Christ, but don’t believe everything you hear.  Christians often mistake faith or belief for gullibility playing on emotion.  But John says, “Don’t you be gullible.  Test the spirits.”  And this begins with the question, “What do you think of Christ?”  And John is saying, ‘Real Bible-faith is discerning.’  Bible-faith doesn’t just believe any old, old story that is told; it believes the truth, and it discerns between truth and error.  And so John is desirous that we would believe the truth, not just believe anything.  Faith—Bible-faith, Christian faith, saving faith—is not “faith in faith” or “faith in a lark and a leap in the dark.”  Faith is a firm belief, a belief anchored in the person and work of Christ, a cross and an empty tomb, and the promise of God that is true and sure.

A Word for Today (1)

Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 in Scripture

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

The first thing we need to know is what spirits we should test.  John mentions, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Contrary to what some believe, all who claim to be prophets today are false prophets because the prophetical office no longer exists.  Prophets, together with the apostles, were the foundation of the church, not in themselves, but in the truth that they spoke as the mouthpiece of God.  Their message as given by God is the foundation for truth.  In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul called the church “the pillar and support of the truth.”  The prophets and apostles received direct revelation from God, which was written down for us in the Bible.  The canon of Scripture is now closed.  No one is to add to it or take away from it.  It is fully authoritative, inspired, inerrant, infallible and sufficient. Further, it is not a matter of private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20) but is interpreted as the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” illumines it.  Therefore, anyone who claims to be a prophet (or apostle) today should be rejected.

However, we still need to heed John’s warning concerning preachers and teachers because they are the one’s who today are called to proclaim that which is complete and true in the Scriptures.  They are called to be the heralders, the messengers, of God’s truth.  They either speak as the mouthpiece by the Spirit of God for God, or they speak as the mouthpiece of the spirit of antichrist against God.

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 – 18 “‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

This is certainly a useful test.  Early in the life of the people of God, God called for discernment.  Of course, the problem is that it couldn’t be applied at the time the message was given.  That is why earlier in Deuteronomy it is the content of the message that is emphasized:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 – 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.”

We are reminded of this time and again in Scripture that it is truth, biblical truth, that must be the foundation of the message.  Does it lead one to worship God and obey God?  Does it magnify Christ and His person and work?  Or does the message lead one away from truth to idolatry?  So our first responsibility is to examine carefully what is said and then further to ask what spirit lies behind what is said.  Is truth being spoken, or error?

We should continue today to hear Jesus warning, “Take care how you listen” (Lk. 8:18).  Is what you are hearing truth or error?  This testing is the responsibility of every Christian.  All believers are to have the Berean spirit, who, as they heard Paul teach, “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  They listened to what Paul said, and tested what he said against the Word of God. This is what it means to “test the spirits.” 

A Word about Worldliness

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 in Culture, Scripture, Sermons

Writing 150 years ago, the Prince of Preachers Charles Haddon Spurgeon pointed out one of the glaring problems in the church: “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church…Worldliness is growing over the church; she is mossed with it.”  Spurgeon went on to show that the world in the church/church in the world motif was not unique to his generation, but manifests itself throughout the history of the church

Put your finger on any prosperous page in the Church’s history, and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: “In this age men could readily see where the Church began and where the world ended.” Never were there good times when the Church and the world were joined in marriage with one another… The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin. [1]

We’re all susceptible to it.  No one is immune to worldliness, no matter their level of maturity, whether they are children, young men, or fathers in the faith (1 john 2:12-14).  When it comes to worldliness, I agree with C. J. Mahaney, “We’re all at risk.”[2]

And yet, when it comes to this one command, “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15) we perhaps rationalize in an attempt to justify more than any other area in our lives in an effort to soothe our consciences.  For others, a list of do’s and don’ts immediately pop into our mind.  We might even have the picture of a person or a thing that we consider worldly.  When we consider worldliness, our questions often gravitate towards something like this:

  • TV/MOVIE: Does it mean I can’t watch TV or go to an R-rated movie?  Is it okay to watch a movie as long as I fast-forward past certain scenes?  How much violence or language is too much?
  • MUSIC: Are certain genres of music more worldly than others?  Is the rock or rap or indie music that I’m loading onto my iPod okay?
  • MEDIA: How do I know if I’m spending too much time on the Internet, on Facebook or Twitter or watching YouTube clips online?
  • POSSESSIONS: Can a Christian earn lots of money, own a second home, drive a nice car, and enjoy the luxuries of modern life?
  • CLOTHING: Am I worldly if I read fashion magazines and wear trendy clothes?  Do I have to be “out of style” in order to be godly?

While these are important questions, perhaps even necessary in rightly examining ourselves, the questions often provide only a part of the picture of worldliness.  Why? Because at the root, worldliness is a spiritual problem – a problem of spiritual relationship.  “The goal of worldly people,” observes Joel Beeke, “is to move forward rather than upward, to live horizontally rather than vertically.  They seek after outward prosperity rather than holiness. They burst with selfish desires rather than heartfelt supplicationsIf they do not deny God, they ignore and forget Him, or else they use Him only for their selfish ends.  Worldliness… is human nature without God.” [3] Elsewhere, Beeke states  the heart of the issue, “Worldliness, then, is human activity without God.” [4]

The lure is great because of the flesh. The world has something to sink its ways into – it seeks to mold it, conform it. But it can only do so as the flesh allows. Hence, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your  mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” [Romans 12:2]; and, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” [Galatians 5:16]. Word and Spirit, working in us and through us, to know the will of God and to overcome the world. After all, John wrote that the cure for worldliness is to “do the will of God” [1 John 2:17].


[1] http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0305.htm, accessed 02/25/2014.

[2] C. J, Mahaney, Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, (Crossway, 2008), 18.

[3] Joel Beeke, Overcoming the World: Grace to Win the Daily Battle (P&R, 2005), 16; cited in Worldliness, ed. C. J.Mahaney (Crossway, 2008), 27.

[4] Joel Beeke, The Epistles of John, (Evangelical Press, 2006), 90.

Preparation for Worship

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 in Scripture, Worship

Ecclesiastes 5:1 – Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory… Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. [John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad]

What is worship?  Most would immediately begin to define worship by the  music in a church (contemporary, traditional, blended, etc.) or style (liturgical, free, open, etc.).  Form and/or content is rarely discussed. And what is central in worship, proclamation of the Word, is often not even included and/or considered.

Worship of the living and true God is meeting with God on His terms, the way that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.  Solomon is dealing with dead worship.  The worship of God’s people had become routine and ritualistic – formal and dead.  So when they came to the temple, the house of God, they lacked enthusiasm.  There was no sense of expectancy and certainly no urgency in their worship.

We are not to come to worship without properly preparing our heart, mind and soul to meet with the one, true and living God.  The common attitude toward worship is, “What am I going to get out of worship today?   How am I going to benefit?”  But that is to think wrongly about worship.  Worship is for God and to God.  It is not about us.  We certainly benefit, but the God Almighty, is the focus of worship. 

With this in mind, how are we to approach worship?  Solomon says, SERIOUSLY and CAREFULLY – “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” How can we prepare for corporate worship each week? Here are a few brief pointers:

1) Week before – Be actively engaged in devotion and study. If you know the sermon text, read and meditate on it each day. Pray for the pastor, the service, for others and for self. If the music selections are made available during the week, look over them with over them with your children. As Piper correctly stated, “Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching.”

2) Night before – Read the text for sermon again. Think about the text. Avoid worldly pursuits on Saturday evening (even church stuff!). Go to bed at a decent time and pray for rest in order to rise fresh on Sunday.

3) Morning of – Our first prayers on Sunday morning should be directed to public worship, and especially the preaching of God’s Word. We know that often the greatest battles in many households take place on Sunday morning! Pray that there be no hindrances in getting ready. Also pray that anything that might distract might be bound.

4) Come expecting to meet with God! Often we don’t really worship because we don’t expect it. Our hearts are filled with “stuff” that doesn’t belong, either in our heart or in God’s house. Our minds might be cluttered so that we give little thought to God. If we have prepared throughout the week, these things can be overcome. We can’t expect to show up on Sunday and all the cares of the prior days will vanish. Or, to put it another way, we can’t live six days in the world, however faithfully, and just “show up” for worship on Sunday.

5) Having experienced true heart worship, now go and live it. A truly changed heart will be demonstrated by our actions and our passions.

Over the next weeks I will be considering some things that rob us of the passion to worship and the passion of worship. In the meantime, have a worshipful Lord’s Day on Sunday!