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Topic: “Jesus Christ”

Don’t Miss It Just Because It’s Familiar

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.
—Proverbs 28:9

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered
—Proverbs 28:26

Every time I hit the first of these two proverbs, it reminds me of the profound importance of submitting to the Word of God as our final standard. Combine it with the second, and a two-by-four to the head might be less clear. Tempting as it is at times to turn to our own wisdom, doing so is folly of the highest magnitude. The person who will not listen to God’s ways—the ways he has gone to great lengths to reveal to us—will not even be heard when he prays. This should lead Christians to shudder at the thought of willful disobedience to God’s word. Our own wisdom will lead us nowhere good. Wisdom is found only with God. This is a good encouragement to me to press on in this habit of daily devotional study.

I have been reading and rereading Philippians as Jaimie and I start working on memorizing it together this week. I find that reading books as a whole makes their meaning much clearer to me,1 and especially having a sense of the flow of the book is especially helpful for memorization. A number of points stood out to me as I worked through Philippians as a whole, instead of focusing on the few verses usually emphasized (whether by pastors or simply by my own interests and focuses in previous study).

First, Paul really delights to see the gospel advance. This is obvious, of course: he built his life around proclaiming the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles. Still, nothing brings it home like his declaration that he is even happy to see the gospel proclaimed by others out of envy and rivalry (1:17)—just so long as the result is that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed…” (1:18) That is Paul’s final grounds for rejoicing. Likewise, Paul points out that his imprisonment has really served to advance the gospel, and therefore is a cause for joy. I’m not sure most of us—myself certainly included—would be equally happy under the circumstances. May I ever grow to be more like that!

Second, it is easy to simply skip over or fail to grasp the enormity of Paul’s Christ-hymn in chapter 2. We have heard it preached so often that it is easy to miss the depths in his exploration of how much Jesus humbled himself. The eternal second person of the Trinity, the divine Son, the everlasting Logos, put on mortal humanity and embraced mortality in the most agonizing, humiliating way possible. He was publicly shamed in death that he might put our shame to death.

When Paul enjoins the Philippians to continue in their obedience, and to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, it is on this basis. His argument: Christ has done these things, and so God exalted him—now you obey, for you God is working in you, giving you both the will and the ability to obey him.

Third, I was struck again by how central the resurrection was to the way Paul thought about his life, and about the Christian life in general. Paul embraced suffering—great suffering—and counted everything this life offers and all his former credentials as nothing, as rubbish2. Why? So that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings. We might understand why Paul would want to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection, but why would he want to share in his sufferings? He answers: “so that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” He staked his whole life on the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and offered the same to any who would pick up their cross and follow him.

That let Paul have the perspective that all this life has to offer is as nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus. It enabled him to keep in mind that we are not citizens of this world, but of heaven—the heaven from which our Savior will come again and “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (3:21).

Finally, a brief note that deserves considerable expansion. In 3:18–19, Paul describes those who walk as “enemies of the cross”—people who are ruled by their desires, who glory in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. From Paul we might expect biting anger towards such bad examples. Instead, Paul writes that he tells the Philippians of these men and women with tears. No doubt Paul was angered at times by those who led others astray; we see that clear enough at other places in his letters. But here, he is moved to sorrow that there are some who would lead others astray and are so led astray themselves. All of us would do well to see our lives more characterized by this kind of sorrow.

  1. If I ever get around to writing the series on studying the Bible that I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while, I’ll expand on this idea at length
  2. The KJV’s “dung” is still probably the best non-vulgar English translation of this word. 

The Passion

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Tonight’s post is going to sound familiar—a great deal like last night’s in many ways, because the topics are similar. Today I come to the Passion itself: Matthew 27. Here, Jesus stands before Pilate, is whipped and mocked and spit on again, and ultimately is crucified.

That word has too little force for us, I think. We Christians are too accustomed to the word “cross,” to used to the idea of Jesus being “crucified.” We have become inured to the horrifying nature of the image of a man dying in agony because he has had his body nailed to some pieces of wood. The pain was excruciating. Paul points out in Philippians that Jesus was humbled not just to death, but even to death on a cross. And for all that we come back to this idea in sermons from time to time, I think we still are too little aware of how great Jesus’ sufferings were on our behalf.

I am grateful that the Spirit let me see again, just a little, the horror of that moment. The God-man, the Savior-King who came to redeem the world from its sin, hangs there on a few pieces of wood from some trees he created, both upholding the universe by the word of his power and dying in agony, each breath impossibly hard. In a heartbeat he could have said, “Enough; I will not do this thing!” but the immeasurable depths of the riches of God’s kindness and mercy held him there. Not the Father abusing the Son, as some (fools) would have it, but the Son full-willing taking all upon himself as they and the Spirit in perfect unity did what man never could, so that the mercy and the justice of the Triune Godhead would be on display, side by side, forever. Impossible, glorious mystery.

And then the impossible words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This, Jesus the eternal Son of God suffered on my behalf: not only the physical agonies of the cross, but somehow—in a great mystery—somehow he suffered the agony of relational separation from the Father and the Spirit that we all deserve and have borne in tiniest part, that we might never taste it in full. Somehow he suffered the wrath of the Godhead that we all deserve, so that we might never taste it at all. Impossible, glorious mystery.

He took our thorns—the thorns that grew from the ground that God cursed for Adam’s sake—on his brow. He took the lash on his back. He took the nails in his hands and his side. He took the mockery from Roman soldiers and passersby and wicked thieves hung beside him to die in ignominy. He took it all, that Father and Son and Spirit might pass over our sins and still be good—that when the Son comes again in power and judgment, we his people will stand clothed in his own righteousness. Impossible, glorious mystery!

So praise him: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Mighty One of Israel, the Lion, the Lamb, the one from whom the scepter will never depart, the Holy One, the great I Am, in every way a man and very God of very God, Redeemer, God with us, judge and judged, prophesied prophet, sacrifice and priest, servant-king—Yahweh! Yahweh, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.


Seek Joy—Where It Lives

There are times when the goals we set ourselves—like writing a blog post about one’s devotions every night—come second to the more important things in our lives. Things like spending time with the people we love, especially when they are facing struggles in their lives. It is easy to allow good goals to supercede the reasons and meaning for those goals. I want to write every day because it is good for me. I want to love my wife well much more than I want to write every night, though, and as such, I spent time with her instead of writing on my normal devotional topic, because she was having a bad day.1

This sort of decision is one that I have learned time and again is at the root of expressing Christ-like love to others, and especially in marriage. We, like Christ, are to die to ourselves and love others by setting aside what would be most immediately pleasurable for us and seeking instead the good of the other—at whatever cost to ourselves. This is not easy; indeed it can be painful and difficult at times to set aside one’s own desires for the good of others.2 But the reward—oh, the reward is far greater than the price we pay.

We see this in Christ’s work for us: he endured the cross, scorning its shame—but not simply because doing so was good on its own merits. Rather, the joy that he expected as the outcome of his doing so was the impetus behind his actions. Lest we think him acting selfishly, his joy is in our salvation and the Father’s glory. As C. S. Lewis points out,3 real joy is always found in seeking the good of others, rather than pursuing our own selfish ends. The joys we find in gratifying our own desires, rather than seeking to bless others, are shallow, pitiful things that fade quickly and are bitter in the end. The joy we find in seeking to put others first—above all, seeking to put God first—is lasting, profound, and sweet even in times of trial or pain.

So when tempted to do your own thing, don’t. Seek the joy God has set before you—the joy that comes in being sanctified, that comes in knowing God as he really is, that comes in finding the beauty and the value of others to be so much better than whatever selfish pursuit you might embrace instead. Die to yourself, lose the world, and gain everything. The alternative is to gain something temporarily, but lose everything in the end. Seek your joy where it is truly to be found: in loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor—which is to say, that stranger on the side of the road, and also your spouse—as yourself.

  1. I am, instead, snatching out ten minutes just before bed to write this, much less reflective and with not a direct reference to Scripture (still less what I read today) to be found. 
  2. Jaimie, if and when you read this, take note: I am speaking of the troubles that face us all in dying to self. I enjoyed spending time with you tonight, and it was not burdensome to me. 
  3. Somewhere in some book I do not have close at hand at the moment. 

The pivotal self-revelation of God in the Old Testament

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.1

Exodus 34

The meaning of the text

Moses’ narration of his return to the mountain to make once again tablets is, in many ways, the pivotal self-revelation of God in the Old Testament, from which many other texts derive their language regarding God’s character and aims. Moses structures the text so that, bracketed by his ascent and descent of the mountain, Yahweh reveals himself (vv. 6–7, 10–27), first by explicit statement, then by the shape of his covenant. Read on, intrepid explorer →

God will provide for himself a lamb

As part of my seminary education, I will be writing lots of papers. To which, of course, I say, “Huzzah!” I like writing. I’ll post my papers as I write them, for those who are curious, and so that others can, if they so desire, help me sharpen my thinking.

This paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the limitation that it be between 600 and 625 words.

Genesis 22:1–19

The Meaning of the Text

Moses declares that Yahweh provides for himself a sacrifice that blesses both individuals and all the nations. The narrative opens with Yahweh’s command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Going forward, however, Moses emphasizes that Yahweh provides the sacrifice, not Abraham. To Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering,” Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb…” (21:8). Likewise, after the angel of Yahweh’s intervention and Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in Isaac’s place, Abraham names the place “Yahweh will provide” (21:14). Read on, intrepid explorer →

It will often look as though Christ is defeated. That’s the way it looked on Good Friday. He let himself be libeled and harassed and scored and shoved around and killed. But in it all he was in control. “No one takes [my life] from me” (John 10:18). So it will always be. If China was closed for forty years to the Western missionaries, it was not as though Jesus accidentally slipped and fell into the tomb. He stepped in. And when it was sealed over, he saved fifty million Chinese from inside—without Western missionaries. And when it was time, he pushed the stone away so we could se what he had done.

When it looks as though he is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in the dark.

—John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad