Monthly Archives: February 2012

Salvation in the Gospel of Matthew – part 2:

My last post highlighted the words of the Angel to Joseph concerning Mary: “She will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It was the first reference to salvation in the book of Matthew. Today our verses are found in Chapter 3, and this time they are spoken from John the Baptist.

Matthew 3:7 onward.

But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

No explicit mention of salvation is present in these verses, nor in the section, however it is a pertinent portion of scripture for consideration.

The first verse speaks to us an absolutely critical truth. It is of extreme importance that we get what John is saying to the Pharisees here, namely that wrath is coming. Despite being an unpopular topic in today’s church, it is absolutely central to a proper biblical understanding of human history. I’ll talk more on that a bit later, but first I want to make some observations of the verse.

I would have loved to have been there to hear John’s tone of voice when he spoke these words. Whatever his tone many have been, the question is definitely rhetorical, as he is not expecting a response;  he keeps on speaking. This is a statement far more than it is an actual question. Here is what I get from it.

…the wrath to come… This wording leaves no question that wrath is not only coming, but it is set in history. It has been appointed and ordained, and it is imminent. wrath is to come, and come it will. Just as the WILL in yesterdays text (Mt 1:13) denotes the guaranteed success of Jesus saving work, the TO COME in this text guarantees us that the wrath is on it’s way.

We should also note that it is not any wrath, but THE wrath. On this point I would encourage you to some study on the Day of the Lord’s wrath. It is beyond the scope of this post, and indeed many posts, to explore fully all that scripture has to say about the Day of the Lord; for it has much to say. If you wish to be brought to your knees in thanksgiving for your salvation, spend some time studying God’s righteous anger and holy wrath; it is presented graphically in several places in both the Old and New testaments. Just one example from Zephaniah that illumines our understanding of the nature of “the wrath to come”:

I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (1:17,18)

This is not symbolic or figurative language. This is a picture of a future reality. This is prophetic insight into history. This is the wrath to come, and it is spoken of all through the scriptures; There is coming a day when God will utterly destroy the inhabitants of the earth.

Why?

Because they have sinned against the Lord.

There is our connection with last week; Jesus has come to save his people from their sins. It is sin that secures wrath; salvation from sin and wrath go hand in hand; they cannot be separated. There is no salvation from sin apart from wrath, and no salvation from wrath apart from sin. There are no shortage of people who would have salvation from wrath, but who quite enjoy their sin and would rather not be parted with it. Those folks will find the real Jesus, as I said last week, quite useless.

Back to John the Baptizer.

Picture the scene unfolding in chapter 3. We’re told Jerusalem and ALL Judea and ALL the whole region around the Jordan were coming to him. Thousands upon thousands of people, coming, flocking to him. Fleeing to him. Multitudes are being baptized and confessing their sins. These people were the ones fleeing the wrath to come, a wrath made certain by their sins.

Remember John’s cry? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” was what these people had heard from him; it was a message that a great number took to heart. The Pharisees and Sadducees are given the same command: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”, though they had no intention of doing so. John gives them two more images; one of barren trees being thrown into fire, the other of chaff being burned with unquenchable fire.

The images could not be clearer. Produce fruit! Repent! I actually love how he tells them they bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Continue on indefinitely with repentance! Perpetual repentance!

One final thought from Mark that ties in very well at this point.

In Mark 11, we see Jesus do something he only did once while on earth. He was walking with his disciples on his way from Bethany, and he was hungry. He saw a fig tree that was in season, and he went to see if there was fruit on it. When he only saw leaves, he cursed the tree, and it died instantly. It was Jesus only destructive miracle recorded.

That whole event was a specific judgment upon apostate Judaism, but it’s parallels run beyond the temple walls. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance or be cursed. Sounds like what John the Baptist is talking about.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, for Christ desires fruit. Where he finds none, he will pronounce his curse, and his wrath will fall. There are many more destructive miracles on the way; on the great Day of the Lord they will be unleashed upon a world of sinners, and who will be able to stand? Read through Revelation and see what is yet to come. Consider his wrath and tremble before the awesome and holy God!

 

I trust you can see how this ties in with our topic of Salvation. If “he will save his people from his sins” was reason for praise last time, how much more when we consider what it is we are saved from! Ourselves sinners, worthy of divine justice, dead in trespasses; could we ever secure our eternal safety? No chance. But Praise be to God, Christ has sought us and bought us and brought us to repentance and saving faith!

The wrath of God averted by his son;                                                                                                                                                                                               Christ; our salvation from the wrath to come!

 

3 chapters down; with lots left to go! I hope you’ll stick around till the end. God bless!

 

 

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Salvation in the Gospel of Matthew – part 1

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently completed a quick read through of Matthew’s gospel, sticky noting any verses or sections that relate to salvation in any sense. Today I am going back to begin collecting my thoughts and observations on each of these passages. This should fill several blog posts; we’ll see how far I get today.

I’m working out of the ESV, if anyone is curious.

Here we go!

Matthew 1:23 ~ “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

This is the first mention of salvation in the book. The speaker in the text is the angel who has appeared to Joseph in order to inform him he need not divorce Mary, the child she bears is indeed from God and not from another man.

What immediately stood out to me here is that Jesus will save his people. “his” denotes an exclusivity; it logically follows that Jesus will certainly save his people, but nothing is said regarding those who are not his people. There would be some very different implications if the angel had announced instead: “…for he will save all people from their sins.” This verse, then, stands against a universal view of salvation; i.e. all are ultimately saved. There is a sense in which this verse announces a limit in Christ’s saving work; not in terms of it’s depth or efficacy (the salvation is guaranteed: he WILL save…) but in terms of it’s target audience.

From this verse we can assert the following.

He will save his people from their sins – Jesus does the saving.

He will save his people from their sins – This saving work is certain, guaranteed, imminent.

He will save his people from their sins – The saving work will terminate on Jesus’ own people.

He will save his people from their sins Jesus saves people from sin.

So much could be made of what was omitted from the last statement! The only guaranteed salvation Jesus brings is a salvation from personal sin; not salvation from a bad marriage, not from a poor self image, not from a wounded heart, not from depression, not from bad health or sickness, not even from hell. No, he offers salvation for personal sin; those who would come to him for anything else will find the true Jesus rather useless. Your bad marriage doesn’t alienate you from the infinite and eternal life of God, nor does your wounded heart, nor does your illness. Your sins do; and so Christ will save you from them once and for all. It is false Christs who will offer you the salvation you want; the true Christ brings the salvation you so desperately need.

Jesus’ salvation is from sin, and this should be evident in the life of all who profess the name of Jesus. What a comfort to read “…he will save”!! Once we have seen evidence of his salvation at work in our lives, freeing us from sins power and grip on our lives, what a wonder it is to read “he who has begun a good work in you is faithful to complete it”; to read “Jesus is able to present us without spot or blemish to the father”; to read “Jesus is able to keep us from falling”. What a savior!

I think I will let that linger a bit before I move on, I’ll stop here for today. What a glorious start to this series!

Praise be to God and to our great savior Jesus Christ!


On Salvation

Rob Bell’s popularity over the years has come from his ability to touch the itch, so to speak.

His latest book, Love Wins, sparked a firestorm of controversy, drawing some of the biggest names in Evangelical Christianity into the fray. In the book, Bell examines the typical “Sunday school” understanding of salvation and asks the question “Have we missed the point?”

Much has been written about Love Wins, (and of Bell himself), and it is not my intention to add my voice to the mix. I mention it here to highlight the fact that regardless of his answer, Bell asks a pertinent question. The book has been such a lightning rod because while Salvation is such a foundational issue in Christianity, it is also the topic that today’s Christians are probably the most confused about. Bell’s question resonates with many people today.

Throughout the church age, God has used heresy and error in the church as a means of calling his people back to the truth of his Word. His design is for the church to once again mine the riches of the Scriptures for all its worth, and to clearly identify, proclaim, and defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints in the pages of Holy writ.This pattern applies today; Love Wins has resulted in an impressive effort to clarify the particular doctrines that Bell has subtly called into question.

Insofar as the Church is confused about salvation, I submit to you that the lack of clarity and conviction is primarily a depth issue and not a doctrinal issue; the “Sunday school” understanding of salvation is definitely biblical. Jesus died so sins can be forgiven once and for all, and believing in Jesus will get you to heaven. Despite it’s biblical foundation, it certainly doesn’t seem to be enough to sustain many believers through to their later years. It can become unsettling after a while, so that when a book like “Love Wins” hits the shelves, the re-imagined salvation presented within it’s pages seems quite appealing.

The reason that Sunday school salvation can become unsettling after a while, is primarily because salvation is also so much more thanTo say it another way; Sunday school salvation is a great start and a lousy finish, so to speak. Yet another way to describe it would be that Sunday school salvation is the foundation of a fully furnished. The foundation is absolutely critical, and yet there is so much more to see and enjoy in that house!

I think it is safe to say that there is much more to the subject of salvation than most Christians have yet believed. Indeed we will never fully exhaust the glorious wonders of our salvation; countless millions of saints will labor for an eternity to mine the endless depths of the glories of our redemption. As C.S. Lewis said, it shall be a never ending story in which each chapter is sweeter and more glorious than the last.

Fortunately for us, we can get a head start now. Nuggets of truth lie awaiting extraction by our mental pickaxe, energized and guided by the Holy Spirit. Oh how foolish we are to deny ourselves these riches! Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews penned, ours truly is “so great a salvation!”

I have completed a quick overview of the book of Matthew this afternoon, in which I noted any passages that relate to salvation. Stay posted; I am going to spend the next few blog entries going through them, from the book’s beginning to it’s end. I am really looking forward to it and I hope you’ll join me!


Thoughts on the Pillar of Cloud and Fire (and OT interpretation)

I suffered a minor setback; apparently the draft I was working on has vanished into cyberspace. Or I didn’t save it before I closed the laptop. I’ll let you decide 🙂

It might be for the better, I had spent a lot of time editing and revising, as I stumbled upon some new thoughts that kept creeping in as I was typing. It is difficult for me to zero in on a single thought and stick with it. Blogging seems to be a great way to challenge me in this area, a challenge I heartily welcome. It feels great to express my thoughts in precisely the manner I had hoped to. On the other hand few things are as utterly frustrating to me as having a wonderful thought that I am unable to adequately communicate. Great thoughts are worthy of great communication.

On a side note, I can BARELY keep myself from writing a few paragraphs on that last sentence. Focus, Kaleb, focus….

 

Alright, getting down to business. In my last post I mentioned the pillar of cloud and fire, introduced it briefly. Today I want to write a few of my thoughts, quickly summarizing some things that have crossed my mind regarding the Israelites and the pillar that may be of relevance for us today.

The most striking thought to me was that theIsraelites were fully aware of the pillar at all times.

Perhaps goes without saying. I mean we don’t really have much of an idea of what this pillar of cloud looked like, but I am willing to venture that in the case of the cloud, it was not something you might confuse with the clouds in the sky. That is to say, the pillar was clearly manifest to them. And if it was noticeable during the day, then we don’t even need to discuss the pillar of fire at night, other than to say how utterly cool that would have looked. I remember thinking exactly those thoughts as I read through my picture bible as a kid. A huge pillar of fire? Floating in the night sky?? I’m 20 years older than I was then, and I still get just as giddy thinking about it!

The point I’m trying to make is that the pillar’s presence was obvious. We don’t read anywhere of any Israelites following the wrong cloud or mistaking the pillar of fire. Everyone knew when it was moving, and everyone knew when it was still, and there was simply no question about it.

Should not the Lord’s leading in our own lives be so obvious? Should we not be as certain of the Lord’s hand in our lives as the Israelites were of the pillar? It is a striking thought to me. I desire to see the Lord so clearly that there is no confusion whether the Lord is in an endeavor or not. There are no end of “good” ideas to get behind, no shortage of activities to be involved in. Yet not every good idea is from the Lord.

 

As I type that, I realize just how important it is to correctly match the shadows of the Old Testament to the substance of the New Testament church age.  There is a very real danger of building life applications that are unnecessary or out of step with what our Lord requires of us today. To put it simply, we need not set up camp under the next vertical cloud arrangement we see.

We must always look to the New Testament to properly interpret the Old Testament Scriptures, interpret history from history’s highest point. It is critical to remember that after the exodus, the glory of God was manifest in the pillar, whereas today the Glory of God is manifest primarily in the scriptures. It is there we see the glory of the great father and his son Jesus reflected across history to us today, it is there we see all the manifestations of the Glory of God throughout history. Christians grow not by doing more, but by gazing intently upon the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

For Israel, the glory of the Lord was in the pillar of cloud and fire, and as they stayed their focus on it, they were led by the Lord. Today, the glory of the Lord is found in the Scriptures. We would do well to so fix our eyes on our Lord and his glorious Word until his presence and movement in our lives is as obvious as that of a massive bonfire in the middle of the desert in the dead of night; and beyond that even! For Christ is still more glorious than this, and he is the eternal possession of all those who believe.

Let us look to him!

 

 

 

 


The Lord’s leading – intro

This is my first attempt at posting from my iPhone. I am not as fast at typing, so this will be a shorter piece.

I have been enjoying for my devotionals
a small book by C.W. Slemming entitled “Made According to Pattern”. It is an old book (in the preface, he recalls a preaching engagement in 1928) written on the subject of the tabernacle. Each chapter draws lessons and insights from it’s construction; the materials used and their particular arrangement. I have not studied the tabernacle before, and with each chapter of this book, the thought of doing so grows increasingly enticing. Each chapter is only around five pages long, yet in those few pages are so many awesome truths touched on I can barely keep myself to one chapter per day.

A recent chapter dealt with the pillar of cloud and fire which guided the Israelites for a time and then later took up residence over the ark of the covenant. This chapter in particular jumped out to me. Having been reflecting of the subject of waiting, and considering my own time of waiting on the Lord, what a wonder to read of the Israelites being guided by the Lord in such a phenomenal way!

What really caught my attention was the reference to Numbers 9 quoted at the outset of this chapter. What we see there is essentially this: when the pillar moved, the people moved. When the pillar rested, the people rested. Whether it rested for an hour, a day, a week, a month, or even many years, the people waited on the pillar. When it moved, it was often at a moments notice, sometimes at night no doubt, yet the people hesitated not to follow.

What an amazing parallel! What a picture the Lord has given us of his leading!

I will expand on this further tomorrow, Lord willing. I am afraid i have grown too excited to keep this post short; I now I know this short post will actually be a short introduction to a longer post which will be written from a laptop that features a proper keyboard. Thumbs are good for hitchhiking, not so good for efficient typing!

Blessings! Good Night!


On the Heart

My heart is constantly restless with ambition.

There is no venture which I cannot conceive myself embarking on and mastering; indeed at some point I have entertained visions of being a rock star, a home builder, a preacher, an electrician, an evangelist, a mathematician, an entrepreneur, a professional golfer; and so on. I have imagined myself succeeding in hundreds of careers and engaged in countless activities and projects. This has been the case as long as I can remember, and at age 27, there shows no signs of letting up. I guess you could simply call me a dreamer.

Some say it is good to dream; “dream big!” they say, “follow your heart!”. More than ever before it seems that this is the mantra of our society, especially amongst the youth of today. But is this truly good advice? I have walked by that wisdom in the past, and as I recall, it only ever left me exactly where I started, but with less energy and more frustration. Perhaps it would have been different if my heart would stick to some destination instead of attaching itself to whatever new idea would come along. But then I would have had an even longer way back to the beginning, once I realized the path was just some rabbit trail.

No, it seems there is a problem with following your heart.

It’s the heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 sums it up well: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?

I was reminded today of some of the rabbit trails my heart has taken me down in the past, which is why I felt compelled to write on this topic. An active member of OCRemix.org, the video game remix website I have been in love with for years, commented to me on Facebook. He informed me that he had recently submitted a song he had remixed to the website, one that I had contributed vocals for. Though I haven’t been active in that community for ages it seems, there was a time when I aspired to become something big there, a regular remix contributor whose music would be appreciated and recognized. It was something I had desired for years.

It was also something I had let go of.

Apparently one facebook comment is all my heart needs to take off down that old beaten path toward a golden future of video game remix fame and admiration. I was a lot further along in that train of though than I should have been by the time I recognized what was happening to me.

What was that word? Deceitful? Yes, I do believe that about says it.

That’s not all though; The next phrase is equally inditing: Who can understand it? That is rhetorical; nobody can understand the heart, save but the God before whose eyes all things are laid bare (Heb 4:13).

There are some powerful implications to this statement, the primary one being that believers should at all times be skeptical of their motives and desires; they should be under the most rigorous scrutiny at all times. The only one who can pronounce motives and desires pure with any authority is God himself, and until one has submitted to his judgement and received his approval, impurity must be assumed. If we care about the truth, this is the only way we can approach our heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 is precisely the reason that David cries out in Psalm 139 “Search me, O God, and know my heart”. It is the very same reason that Paul says to the Corinthians that though he knew nothing against himself, he was not by that fact acquitted or justified. His own self assessment was of no value whatsoever, so he looked to God and waited for his approval instead.

We would do well to follow his example. We’ll be less familiar with rabbit trails and further along the straight and narrow if we do.


The Irony of Waiting

I ended my last post with the statement “I’ll just have to wait and see.” As I typed those words, I realized what my next post would be about.

The word “waiting” often invokes thoughts of idleness, boredom, inactivity for people. I think it is safe to say that waiting is perceived as being a static word. So it is both interesting and ironic to me that this “waiting” stage of life is keeping me busier, I think, than I have ever been before.

I am in my second year of marriage. I have not yet been a parent for half a year, and I am barely past the halfway mark of my first year of teaching. I am blessed to lead a worship team and have the honor of mentoring three young men in the faith. My wife and I are on the board of directors for a Christian camp in the area, and I coach and coordinate the basketball teams for our school. (I’m up at 6:30 on my Saturday off to go to a basketball tournament!)

Wait? When?! I hardly feel like there is time to catch my breath, let alone wait for anything.

There are several ironies in the Christian faith; The “now” but “not yet” kingdom of God in the church age; the “resting” in Christ that produces “works” of righteousness, and let us not forget Jesus, the God-man. That’s a good one!

I think waiting and busyness fall into this category as well. In reference to the Lord’s second coming in Matthew 24, Christians are referred to as servants whose master has left on a journey; those who are truly awaiting their masters return will be found about the masters business upon his arrival. Waiting? Yes. Busy? YES.

While it is an irony that is easier to reconcile than the others above, it is interesting nonetheless to consider that waiting on the Lord may not always be a matter of stillness, but that of faithfully attending to present responsibilities and obligations.

This is the pattern by which I wait on the Lord; may my endeavors be acceptable and pleasing unto him!