Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category

Every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone… (John Calvin)

“Every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation, abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.” (John Calvin, in his Epistle to the Faithful – preface to French NT)

 

A (Brief) Theology of Sand

If you go to the beach this summer, I encourage you to consider for a moment, from a Biblical and theological perspective, the sand beneath your feet. What does sand have to do with Christian theology? Quite a lot, actually. When God wanted to illustrate for Abraham the immensity of His promise, he turned to two things the patriarch would have seen a lot of: stars and sand. “Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore…” (Genesis 22:17). Later, in Genesis 32:12, God makes clear that his point in pointing out the sand is that it “is too great to be numbered.”

So Abraham’s offspring would be too great to be numbered. And certainly the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham’s physical offspring, are innumerable (cf. Hebrews 11:12). But the New Testament teaches us that God wasn’t merely speaking of physical offspring. Rather, to be a true son of Abraham, one must have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham…And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:7, 29). Where did Paul get this ideas? From the Lord Jesus, of course. When the Jews who refused to believe in and obey Jesus claimed to be the offspring of Abraham, Jesus asserted that they were actually children of their father the devil, murderers and liars just like him (John 8:38ff.). Thus Paul can write, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).

So as you take that walk on the seashore this summer, over sand dry or wet, make sure to ask yourself, am I one of the grains of sand that make up that innumerable company of Abraham’s spiritual children? That is, do I have true faith in Jesus Christ? Or rather, to use that more dreadful imagery of sand in the Bible, is my life built upon sand – do I hear the words of Jesus and refuse to act upon them properly , and so my prospect is one great fall (Matthew 7:24ff.)?

Six things we learn about Jesus and salvation in Him from Genesis 3:15 (Thomas Boston)

In chapter 2, section 2, part 1 of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the author Edward Fisher reminds us that in Genesis 3:15 we have the first promise of the covenant of grace. “This promise of Christ, the woman’s seed, was the gospel; and the only comfort of Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the rest of the godly fathers, until the time of Abraham.” Thomas Boston, in his footnote, points out six different truths that are revealed in this “protoevangelium,” the first gospel:

In this promise was revealed, 1. Man’s restoration unto the favor of God, and his salvation; not to be effected by man himself, and his own works, but by another. For our first parents, standing condemned for breaking the covenant of works, are not sent back to it, to essay the mending of the matter, which they had marred before; but a new covenant is purposed – a Savior promised as their only hope.

2. That this Savior was to be incarnate, to become man, “the seed of the woman.”

3. That he behooved to suffer; his heel, namely his humanity, to be bruised to death.

4. That by his death he should a make a full conquest over the devil, and destroy his works, who had now overcome and destroyed mankind; and so recover the captives out of his hand: “he shall bruise thy head, that is: while thou bruisest his heel.” This encounter was on the cross: there Christ treading on the serpent, it bruised his heel, but he bruised its head.

5. That he should not be held by death, but Satan’s power should be broken irrecoverably: the Savior being only bruised in the heel, but the serpent in the head.

6. That the saving interest in him, and his salvation, is by faith alone, believing the promise with particular application to one’s self, and so receiving him, forasmuch as these things are revealed by way of a simple promise.

The Both/And of Francis Turretin on “He descended into hell”

In Volume 2, Thirteenth topic, Question 16 of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Francis Turretin has a very helpful discussion of the meaning of the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended into hell.” After refuting the view of Lutherans and Roman Catholics that Jesus descended locally to hell (in favor of the Biblical view that His soul, after its separation from the body, went immediately to glory), Turretin asks, “May the descent into hell be rightly referred to infernal torments and to a most abject state under the dominion of death in the sepulcher [grave]?” He acknowledges that there is disagreement about this topic even among the orthodox, “some referring it to the spiritual anguish and hellish torments which he suffered (as Calvin, Beza, Danaeus, Ursinus and others, even various confessions of the churches), others maintaining that it pertains to his burial and three days’ detention in the sepulcher (as Zanchius, Piscator, Pierius and others).” The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 emphasizes the latter, and the Heidelberg Catechism #44 stresses the former.

Turretin skillfully, and I believe rightly, holds the two poles together:

If it is asked which of these two opinions ought to be retained, we answer both can be admitted and be made to agree perfectly with each other. Thus by descent into hell may be understood the extreme degree of Christ’s suffering and humiliation, both as to soul and body; and as the lowest degree of humiliation as to the body was its detention in the sepulcher, so as to the soul were those dreadful torments he felt. And thus this last article will be apposite for expressing the last degree of Christ’s humiliation, whether as to disgrace of body or as to anguish of soul. Nor should it seem wonderful if these two parts (mutually diverse from each other) should be joined together in one and the same article. It is not unusual in Scripture for a single sense to put on various relations and for many things to be embraced together, especially when the things are mutually subordinated and connected with each other. Since this phrase may be referred now to abjection of the body, then to griefs of the soul (and Christ should have undergone both conditions), it was not without reason that the ancients added this article to the preceding in order to set forth more distinctly this state of Christ.

There are many more things to say in response and rebuttal concerning this question, and Turretin addresses more aspects of it in Questions 15 and 16 (another good resource is from Daniel Hyde, who has written a short book entitled In Defense of the Descent, in which he gives more detail on various modern views, and affirms the view that Turretin espouses). In sum, whenever someone asks me, “What do we mean by ‘He descended into hell?'” following Turretin I answer, “That Jesus Christ suffered the full wrath of God in body and in soul for us and for our salvation.”

Everyone limits the atonement of Jesus – you either limit its extent and intent, or its nature and power.

Last Sunday I continued my sermon series on the five points of Calvinism, preaching on “Limited Atonement.” Many today prefer the language of Particular Redemption or Definite Atonement. These are helpful names, but I like keeping the L. Not only do TUPIP or TUDIP not work as acronyms, but the word “limited” forcefully reminds us that everyone limits the atonement – either in its extent/intent, or its nature/power. Read my sermon for more on this point.

Do you believe in hell?

“If you really believe in the cross of Christ, then you have to believe there is a hell. If you believe there is a hell, then you are beyond thankful there was a cross for Christ.” Mark Jones, in this article on the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell. 

“A Certain Jesus” – Reflections on the Greatness of Christ and the Urgency of Faith in Him

In Acts 25:18-19, Porcius Festus is relating to King Herod Agrippa and his wife Bernice the details of the judicial case before him pertaining to the apostle Paul: “When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive” (ESV). “A certain Jesus” – or as the King James Version translates it, “one Jesus”. Truly, Festus had no idea of what (rather, of whom) he was speaking. What could it have mattered to him whether Jesus was dead or alive? He was dumbfounded why Jews would get so worked up over the question. As the Presbyterian pastor J. Henry Smith put it in his sermon from the late 19th century, “To him it was passing strange, utterly unaccountable, that Paul, an eminent and educated Jew, and a Roman citizen, too, by birth, should be willing to risk everything and life itself to maintain his views of Jesus, and that the Jews of the highest position in church and state be equally ready and anxious to assassinate  him because of these opinions and his conduct in avowing and maintaining them.” Of course, the solution to Festus’ confusion is found in the fact that Jesus is not merely “a certain” or “one” random man. He is the greatest man who ever lived, and the question of his life or death is the greatest question ever asked, because the way you answer it determines your eternal destiny – the greatest, most momentous, weightiest thing of all.

Smith, who preached in Greensboro, North Carolina, from 1859-1897 (his diary from these years is held at the UNC Libraries; his wife Mary Kelly Watson lived from 1834-1924 and published her life and letters under the title, A Love That Never Failed – I’d love to find a copy of that book), expounds seven reasons why Jesus is so great.

1. Merely as a human personage in this world’s history, Jesus is great. Even unbelievers acknowledge the incredible impact of Jesus of Nazareth upon the past 2000 years of history. His influence is all the more astounding when you consider he was a poor carpenter, he only taught for three years, and he left not one shred of writing. And yet every civilization on earth has been affected by his teachings and life.

2. Jesus is great because he is the central subject of the entire Bible. Every page, chapter and book testify to his person, his character, his mission, his life and death. Whether narrative, history, genealogy, prophecy, typological sacrifice, parable, miracles – “all point to and illustration the name and work of Jesus,” declares Smith.

3. Jesus is great because of his great, transcendent work of atonement and redemption. Jesus suffered and died in the place of sinners. Smith reflects, “Contemplate for a while the priesthood of Christ – himself as a priest offering himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God…The death of Jesus Christ was peculiar. It was not a providential event to which he was subjected as you or I are subjected. It was a priestly act which he achieved. He died as a triumphant agent or actor; he prevailed against death to live until he himself said, ‘It is finishes,’ and then bowed his head in assent and died – died not merely voluntarily, but by positive priestly action giving himself to God.” The cross is both Jesus’ most supreme devotion to God, and self-sacrifice for the sake of man. He freely and voluntarily suffers, “rather than that guilty and miserable man should perish, or that the divine government should be insulted with impunity.”

4. Jesus is great in his person and nature as the incarnate Son of God. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. God speaks through nature, he speaks in the nature and constitution of man, he speaks through holy men and even dumb donkeys. But two thousand years ago, “the Godhead tabernacled in flesh.” God revealed himself through the person of his Son.

5. Jesus is great because at the very moment Festus spoke he was, and now is, “Head over all things for his body the church.” While Festus spoke his flippancy, Jesus reigned over every thing, big or small, that happened. He directed and controlled all things for the good of His people.

6. Jesus is great because he is to be the supreme and final judge and awarder of the everlasting destinies of men and angels. On that day Festus will have no doubt that Jesus is alive, and that he is no “certain,” common, inconsequential man, but the one to whom all will give an account.

7. Jesus is great because such is his connection with the laws and government and throne of God, that every human being in the world must, of necessity, sustain a personal relation to him. Either we will be found in him, partaking of his redemption and salvation, or out of him, under the bondage and curse of sin, hopelessly and forever lost.

Smith concludes his sermon with these searching words:

Sooner or later, and often frequently, to every one comes the question which Pilate asked of the Jews, ‘What, then, shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?’ If a man cares nothing for the principles of science or art, or takes no interest in politics, he simply lets the subject alone. But this is a matter and a question which you cannot let alone, and which will not let you alone. It will be answered; it must be answered, and it can be answered but in one of two ways. And no man can settle the matter for you. Each soul must make its own reply. Careless, indifferent hearer, do you think to evade replying to this all-important question, while, and as long as, you live? I tell you, if you pass your life thus, you have already answered it unconsciously to yourself, it may be, but it has had your reply in the rejection of him. But when at the judgment you stand before him, the question then will not be, ‘What shall I do with Jesus?’ The one thought will be, ‘Oh! what will he do with me?!”

May the Lord give us grace to see the greatness of Jesus, to bow the knee to him, to experience the forgiveness of our sins and the adoption as sons and peace of conscience and fullness of hope that come to all who take refuge in him.