Expositions

for your edification and His exaltation

Top 10 books I’ve read in 2016

I’ve had to do quite  a lot of reading in1972440_915125291862821_7097128793513974492_n 2016. For my studies alone, which began the second half of the year, I’ve had to read 12 books all in the excess of 400-1000 plus pages. I thought of compiling a list of books I found most helpful (only 1 of the 12 books I read for my studies feature).  Obviously, these books weren’t necessarily written in 2016 and one of these books I’ve actually re-read and found most helpful the second time around.

So, here are my top 10 books I’ve read in 2016.

 

10. Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn DarknessEd Welch

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I read this book along with Lloyd Jones’ Depression: Causes and Cures and found both books tremendously helpful in providing a realistic, pastoral and biblical perspective on the matter of depression. Particularly, Welch’s book was nuanced, biblical and sensitive towards the issue of depression.

 

 

 

9. Perspectives on Christian Worship – Duncan, Dever, Kimball, Quill, Wilt

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One of the best books in the “perspectives” series as each author presents a strong case for their respective liturgies and approaches to the worship service. While I agree more with Dever and Lawrence’s approach, I could still learn and appreciate the other authors’ arguments and approaches to worship.

 

 

8. Dispensationalism [re-read] -Charles Ryrie

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I first read this while doing my BTh over 8 years ago and must admit I didn’t grasp things that well but still got a good introduction to dispensationalism. However, this time around I appreciated the book much more and found it to be the best articulation of dispensationalism today (pun intended). Before one dismiss dispensationslism, one has to deal the arguments made by Ryrie and other serious dispensational scholars.

 

 

7. What is the Mission of the Church? – Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

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I found this book very refreshing amidst the clamor of voices calling on the church to be busy with all sorts of works. I found DeYoung and Gilbert to base their answer to the question posed in the title of the book on clear and persuasive exegesis.

 

 

 

6. Finally Free – Heath Lambert

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This was extremely helpful in thinking through issues of sexual purity and pornography. Definitely the BEST BOOK ON THE SUBJECT!

 

 

 

 

5. Engaging KellerIain D Campbell and William M Hamilton

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While Tim Keller has made many helpful and good contributions through his work and ministry to the church I do share the sentiment that there is a need to not merely accept everything blindly but to seek to charitably engage with his theology. This work is fair, charitable (mostly) and on many points raises good criticism of Keller’s theology.

 

 

4. Know the Creeds and Councils – Justin Holcomb

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I found this to be a very good starting point for anyone who wants to know more about historical theology or what the church has confessed and believed over the centuries.

 

 

 

 

3. Taking God at His Word – Kevin DeYoung

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This was my first audio book. So, I listened to this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants a solid introduction to the doctrine of Scripture. DeYoung shows what the Scriptures claim for itself and he presents this in a fresh and helpful manner.

 

 

 

2. Redemption Accomplished and Applied – John Murray

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I couldn’t put this one down! I highlighted almost every page! It was such a blessing to read this book over the Easter period and it helped me to think deeply about the nature and intent  of the cross and Christ’s redemptive work! A classic by John Murray!

 

 

 

1.  Credo – Jaroslav Pelikan

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This is the only book that was part of my prescribed reading list that features in my top 10 list and it was a “game-changer” for me. Much of my theological training has leaned almost solely towards a closed biblicism and while I have a high view of the Scriptures this book has called me to appreciate and regard the historic development of key and essential doctrines in the church over the centuries. It has taught me to not only look to my own exegesis of Scripture but also to those who have come before me especially the church fathers, ecumenical councils and reformers.

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I’ve read much more than these books, but this is the list of books that stand out. My intentions for this blog post are 1) to list the good books I’ve read for the year and have a record of it 2) Recommend some good books on some important topics 3) perhaps encourage you to think of the books you’ve read this year and make a list and share that – I’m sure I will enjoy reading your list!

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Mary, Did You Know?

One of the more exciting and encouraging Christmas songs to me is the beloved Mary, did you know?” Every Christmas I hear a different version of the song sung by some choir or group of singers. The song is lyrically beautiful and theological rich. However, the song is asking a question that I think needs to be answered. The question in the song is of course, “Mary, did you know”? I think the answer to the question is; yes she knew!

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
Oh, Mary did you know
Ooh…
 
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
The dead will live again
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak,
The praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations?
 
Did you know that your Baby Boy
Is Heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the great I am 

The song effectively communicates three essential aspects of Jesus Christ: 1) His Divine Nature 2) His Redemptive Work 3) His Sovereign Lordship. Throughout the song these three theological affirmations provide for us a neat and solid Christology. The song writer/s of course brings these things out through the form of a series of questions (to be understood here as a literary device):

  • Mary did you know that your baby boy Will one day walk on water? (Divine Nature).
  • ”Mary did you know that your baby boy Will save our sons and daughters?” (Redemptive Work)
  • Mary did you know that your baby boy Is Lord of all creation? (Sovereign Lordship)

So, did she know?

The answer to these questions doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the theological accuracy of the song. We note that the song writer himself doesn’t answer the questions – but uses the questions as a literary device to articulate the glory of Christ. So, though it seems implicit in the song that he thinks she did not know, even if we determine that she did know, the song accommodates such a conclusion as well. In other words, if the answer to the questions is “yes she knows” it doesn’t necessarily mean then that the song is erroneous.

So, did she know? I think she did. Granted, she did not know the specific ways in which Christ would display His divine nature, redemptive work and sovereign Lordship, I think she had an idea of all of these truths. So, in a general sense Mary knew.  How do I know that Mary knew?

When we read the nativity accounts we get the idea that she wasn’t ignorant to what was happening to her and through her. Mary knew her baby will be divine. Mary knew her baby will be a Saviour and Mary knew her baby is Lord over all. Let me attempt to show that very briefly.

  1. Mary knew her baby will have a Redemptive Work:

Luke 1:30–31 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

In Matthew’s account the angel is said to have also spoken to Joseph with a similar message:

Matthew 1:20–21 (ESV)
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Mary and Joseph was instructed to name the baby Jesus and this name is very telling of the child’s redemptive work. Even Mary understood this as can be seen in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55)

Luke 1:46–47 (ESV)
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47         and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

It’s very clear that Mary understood that what was happening to her and what will happen through the child she will bear. He will have a redemptive work. Joseph was told the child’s name will be Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.  Surely, he shared this with her. We then see her response to this is to praise God HER SAVIOUR! To my Roman Catholic friends, who insist on the sinlessness of Mary and her co-redemptive role; read carefully what Mary concedes: “My spirit rejoices in God MY SAVIOUR”. Mary understood not only that her child was to be the Saviour but also HER SAVIOUR.

So,

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you

Yes, I think she knew, the angel told her!

  1. Mary knew her baby will have a Divine Nature:

The angel told Mary exactly what will happen to her and she knew that the child born of her would have a divine nature

Luke 1:30–35 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “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.

Notice everything the angel tells Mary. If there’s a weakness in this song it is that it could present a portrayal of Mary as an ignorant girl who has no clue what has happened to her or through her. The song tends to make Mary out to be theologically clueless, yet the angel gave Mary a staggering revelation in Luke 1. The angel clearly revealed that the child she will be bearing “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). The angel also very explicitly told her “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35). It is remarkably clear that Mary knew the child to be born to her will have a divine nature.

So,

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God

Yes, I think she knew he was God!

  1. Mary knew her baby will be Lord over all

Another important feature of Christ the song so wonderfully brings out is that He will be the sovereign Lord over all. The song uses the lyrical device of asking questions to bring out this theological truth. One specific verse in the song brings it out like this:

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations?

Well did she know?

Luke 1:30–33 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (emphasis added)

 Again, I think she had an idea. Perhaps she had more than just an idea.

“…And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:32-33

Let me make it clear that I’m not dismissing the song and I have no qualms with the song, in fact I quite enjoy it. And to dismiss this song because Mary may have actually known the answers to the questions posed in the song would be presumptuous at best and to miss the point of the song entirely at worst. The point of the song isn’t to interrogate Mary, but to enlighten us about the redemptive work, divine nature and sovereign Lordship of Christ. So, by all means let’s sing along. In my head I’ll just be answering the questions the entire time: “Yes I’m sure she did”, “yes I think she did, “yes she knew”.

CHRISTMAS AND CHRISTIANS

Introduction

It has become common for seasonal polemicists to display their discernment this time of the year as they attempt to convince us that Christians should not be celebrating Christmas.  It appears many Christians who protest Christmas are fine all-year-round with all sorts of error, but I guess ‘Tis the season to be discerning.

Is Christmas Celebration based on Paganism?

The first and most common objection against Christians celebrating Christmas is that, the celebration of Christmas has pagan roots. Now, of course we weren’t there when they first celebrated Christmas, or when they celebrated the pagan holiday on the 25th December. So, we rely on history and those who studied history to inform us. However, we must make sure the information we receive is credible and here’s the issue:  I think there may be some historical discrepancy in thinking that Christmas has pagan roots.

The historical data seem to suggest that Christians taught and believed that Christ was born on the 25th of December before Rome paganized that day. Nathan Busenitz, a professor at the The Master Seminary and a doctoral candidate in church history,  has written a helpful and insightful piece showing how Christians taught, celebrated and believed Jesus was born on the 25th December long before Rome paganized that specific date. Now, the issue here isn’t whether they were right or wrong to do this but that they did it long before Rome paganized the day. Busenitz writes:

It’s not uncommon to hear that the celebration of Christmas is rooted in ancient Roman paganism. That claim generally goes something like this: the ancient Romans celebrated a pagan festival on December 25th, but when the Roman Empire was Christianized in the 300s, the church simply turned the pagan festival into a Christian holiday.

This particular claim is the reason why we have a contention surrounding the celebration of Christmas. Busenitz then further explains:

It is true that there was a pagan Roman holiday called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” that marked the winter solstice. And in the old Julian calendar, the winter solstice occurred on December 25. The cult of “Sol Invictus” (“the Unconquered Sun,” a.k.a. the sun god) became an official Roman cult in 274 under the reign of Emperor Aurelian. And the Roman empire was Christianized about fifty years later under Constantine.

This is the point where Christians who object to the celebration of Christmas on the 25th December go, “you see, paganism!”. But hang on, Busenitz continue:

But there’s actually good evidence to suggest that the date of December 25 does not have pagan origins. That’s because, long before Aurelian made December 25 an official pagan holiday, there were Christians in the early church who taught that Jesus was born on December 25th.

In fact, in the early church, there were two primary dates suggested as the dates on which Jesus was born in Bethlehem. One was December 25 and the other was January 6.

Around the year 192, Clement of Alexandria suggested that Jesus was born on January 6. An early Christian tradition suggested that Christ’s baptism took place on January 6. Then, because Luke says that Jesus was “about 30 years old” when He was baptized, some early Christians (like Clement) assumed that His birthday was the same day as His baptism. (for the full article with the sources go here)

Clearly, we see that historically Christians were already busy teaching and celebrating the birth of Jesus on the 25th December (and some on the 6th January) before Rome paganized that day. Again keep in mind, the issue isn’t whether they were right about the date, but that they celebrated Christ’s birth before Rome paganized the day. Which means the selection of the 25th December as the celebration of Jesus’ birthday may not have pagan origins at all.

Are Christians compromising who Celebrate Christmas?

Even if it can be proven that Christians celebrated Christ’s birth on the 25th December as an alternative to a Roman pagan holiday- there is no sound reason to object to such a practice. To assume that somehow we desecrate our faith by celebrating the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’s first advent (and all its rich theological and practical application)  on the 25th December is giving undue credit to paganism and could lead, ironically, to sheer superstition.  Paganism, false religion and idols do not get to call dibs on any day nor do they have any authority over days or times for us to be reluctant to worship God for any good reason on any particular day!

If we follow this logic we are left with pretty much nothing. For instance, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are of course useful names of days in our week. These days however, are named after pagan gods. At least some kind of pagan background was involved in naming our days of the week. Thursday originally stood for the Germanic god of the sky or of thunder. Tuesday stood for Tiw, the god of war. And Wednesday is derived from Woden, the chief god in Germanic mythology. Sunday and Monday were related somehow to the worship of the sun and the moon. Saturday is from Saturnus, or Saturn, and Friday comes from Fria, the goddess of love.

So, when it’s mother’s day, your birthday, or any other special day you want to celebrate, it will fall on one of these days (because we do not have any other days) and if you follow the logic that you can’t celebrate things on days that has pagan associations, you’re going to have a pretty dull life!

The point is, these supposed pagan associations and influences are so far removed from us historically,  chronological, and culturally that it has completely lost it’s meaning on us today. When people think of Tuesday they don’t think of ceasing all praise to God because it’s the Germanic pagan god Tiw’s day! Likewise, when people think of the 25th December they don’t think about the pagan Roman holiday of the Unconquered Sun that marked the winter solstice, they think, Christmas, Christ, or “for unto us a Child is born”!

So, the Bible’s silence on whether we should celebrate the birth of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ.  In fact, the Old Testament is partly built on God’s commandment to commemorate and celebrate certain special days and therefore we do have biblical precedence for celebrating important holy days.

What about the Christmas Tree?

Some have a problem with the Christmas tree. Now I’d be happy to concede there are a lot of so-called Christmas decorations that do take away from the meaning of Christmas. However, the claim that the Bible forbids the Christmas tree is ridiculous and the claim that Christmas trees form part of the Roman pagan celebrations is simply not true.

There’s an excellent article written by the guys at gotquestions.org in which they clearly state “The first Christmas tree was decorated by Protestant Christians in 16th-century Germany. Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early German traditions, and the custom most likely came to the United States with Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

Some insists that Jeremiah 10 speaks out against having a Christmas tree. I found this explanation at gotquestions.org equally clear and helpful:

There is nothing in the Bible that either commands or prohibits Christmas trees. It has been falsely claimed by some that Jeremiah 10:1-16 prohibits the cutting down and decorating of trees in the same manner as we do at Christmas. However, even a cursory reading of the text makes it clear that the passage is one in which Jeremiah sets forth the prohibition against idols made of wood, plated with silver and gold, and worshipped. A similar idea appears in Isaiah 44, where Isaiah speaks of the silliness of the idol-worshippers who cut down a tree, burn part of it in the fire to warm themselves, and use the other part to fashion an idol, which they then bow down to. So unless we bow down before our Christmas tree, carve it into an idol, and pray to it, these passages cannot be applied to Christmas trees. (full article here)

Concluding Thoughts

So why are there Christians who oppose celebrating the birth of Christ on the 25th December and what are their reasons for doing so? Well, I think their reasons have clearly been dealt with and as to their motive- I’m reluctant to speculate. I suppose they will argue that it is out of an effort to be faithful to Christ and honor Him and so not conflate the truth of Christ’s birth with paganism. This of course is a sincere and noble motive. However, there is no danger of doing that when 1) paganism wasn’t the inspiration of Christians celebrating Christ’s birth on the 25th December 2) the meaning of these pagan rituals are so far removed from us that it has lost all meaning and recognizability.

To those who vehemently oppose Christmas and question the faithfulness of Christians who celebrate it, be careful that your supposed noble efforts aren’t just theological one-upmanship i.e. seeking to gain an advantage or feeling superior over others because you think you know more, and your devotion is more genuine. And if none of these points are persuasive to you at least remember what the Bible IS CLEAR ON:

Romans 14:3-6

3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Finally, what must be made clear is that when we celebrate Christmas we are not merely celebrating a birthday- in fact that is to miss the beautiful forest whilst focusing on one single tree (excuse the pun). We are remembering and celebrating something more than a birthday, we are celebrating the incarnation of the Son God. It is the biblical doctrine that God became man, lived a perfect life for us and died a substitutionary death in our place for our sin.  He, the God-man was raised from the dead and exalted on high and has been given the name that is above all names that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and tongue confess that He is Lord!

I don’t know about you but this Christmas I’ll be singing with full conviction free from any pagan associations:

O come let us adore Him

O come let us adore him

O come let us adore Him

Christ the Lord

 

Here are links to the articles that I’ve found helpful

LETTERS FROM CHRIST TO HIS CHURCHES

Introduction

Over a period of seven weeks I had the privilege of preaching through the seven letters Christ sent to the seven different churches in the book of Revelation. It letters-from-christ-to-his-chuchwas a tremendously refreshing experience to learn about Jesus Christ’s great care for the purity, holiness and faithfulness of His church.

Many would affirm the priority and importance of the universal church that is made up of all believers and is not necessarily confined to those who meet together for worship on a Sunday. However, in these letters we also learn about the importance of the local church that meets together at a particular locale for fellowship and worship.

It may also help to read my notes on the introduction to the book of Revelation here. As you prepare to read through these notes, I’d encourage you to read the actual letters in  Revelation 2-3  along with these notes.  I trust you find these summaries encouraging and  helpful.


DEAR EPHESUS:

YOU HAVE LEFT YOUR FIRST LOVE!

(Revelation 2:1-7)

Jesus writes the first letter to the church in Ephesus (2:1).  He introduces Himself as the one who walks in the midst of His church, hereby affirming His abiding presence with His church (1:20, 2:1; Matthew 28:20). Where Christ’s church gathers, He gathers with them as well (Matt. 18:20). So, when we gather together as a church we sing correctly about Christ’s presence with us when we sing: “I believe You are here now, standing in our midst, here with the power to heal now and the grace to forgive”.

This is why Jesus is able to tell them that He knows their deeds (2:2).  He commends them for their labor, perseverance and discernment (2:2-3). We must then be aware that the most important person in a church service is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is there walking in the midst of His church and therefore what we do, how we serve, our worship, fellowship and preaching is done most importantly for His pleasure. The Lord Jesus is also not a mere bystander indiscriminately approving of every thing we do, rather He is a watchful observer unto whom everything ought to be done (Col. 1:16-18) and He distinguishes true worship and service from that which is merely put on.

Therefore, even though He knows their deeds of service He is also able to charge the church of having lost their first love (2:3). Their affection, love and devotion for Christ had grown cold despite of their strenuous labor, perseverance and discernment. We learn here that it is possible to be busy and active for Christ without necessarily loving Christ. Jesus will not accept labor without love, deed without devotion and hard-work without heart-work!

Jesus calls them to remember from where they have fallen (2:5). Love for Christ is sustained in remembering what He has done for us; that He has saved us and that He has given us every spiritual blessing in Himself  ( Ephesians 1:3, 2 Peter. 1:3-9). Christ calls them to repent, because failure to love God is disobedience (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus Christ is God and therefore is worthy of our love and highest affections and devotion.  He then also calls them to do the deeds they did at first (2:5). Jesus’ instruction to them can be summarized in the following infinitives: to remember, to repent and to return to do those deeds which fueled their love for Him.

There are serious consequences for not heeding Christ’s instructions given here. He threatens to take away their light, effectiveness, influence and witness if they do not love Him (2:5). For what is a church that does not love Christ or a body that does not love its head? But there are also great promises here to the one who overcomes, namely: participation, fellowship and satisfaction in the new heavens and new earth to come (2:7, Revelation 21-22).


DEAR SMYRNA:

BE FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH! 

(Revelation 2:8-11)

The second letter is addressed to the church in Smyrna. Jesus introduces Himself as the One who stands over time and the One who stands over life and death (2:8). He does this to affirm this persecuted church who endured great affliction on account of their faith in Him (2:9). Death was a real and present danger for these believers and it is comforting for them to know that the One who is writing to them is “the first and the last, who died and came to life” (2:8). The church was facing opposition from certain Jews hostile towards them, from Roman authorities quick to imprison them and of course from Satan who stood behind all the opposition (2:9-10).

Jesus warns them of more suffering to come (2:10). Here we see a striking difference between the message of Christ and the message of today’s prosperity preachers. Jesus gives the church a word and the word is “turn to your neighbor and say, more suffering is coming“. However, and importantly the Lord who warns them of more suffering also commands them not to fear. We learn that suffering is not uncommon for the Christian or inconsistent with a faithful Christian life. In fact, the Apostle Paul taught that “… all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). No wonder we see in this letter that Jesus has no complaints or charges against this church and it is worth noting that those who suffer well rarely incur the displeasure of Christ.

Jesus commands them: “do not fear” (2:10). While He was on earth Jesus also redirected the fears of the people away from those with temporary authority to Him who has eternal and supreme authority to reward and to judge (Luke 12:4-5). In comparison to what Christ promises those who are faithful (the crown of life – 2:10-11), suffering and death appear brief and worthwhile obstacles (Philippians 1:21).

Church history has left us with a remarkable testimony of one particular elder who was faithful unto death. Polycarp, disciple of John and elder of the church in Smyrna, when he refused to burn incense to the emperor and proclaim him lord, was sentenced to be burnt alive for his true Lord. When given one last opportunity to deny Jesus, Polycarp answered: “Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”


DEAR PERGAMUM:

DO NOT COMPROMISE!

(Revelation 2:12-17)

Jesus sends the third letter to the church in Pergamum. He points out the deep rooted idolatry and false worship happening in Pergamum when He describes the place the church dwells in as a place where “Satan’s throne” is (2:13). In addition to this, the church faced the threat of false teaching which sought to compromise the moral and doctrinal purity of the church (2:14-15).

This makes Christ’s description of Himself all the more telling, as He sets Himself forth as the “One who has the double edge sword” (2:12). In the midst of the many false ideologies and false doctrines in Pergamum, Jesus comes as the One who has the more effective word that cuts both to sever and to save. The world with all its wisdom and words along with false religious ideologies is no match for the One who has the double edged sword!

The church is commended by Christ for its faithful witness and Jesus particularly singles out one of the members, Antipas, “My faithful one, who was killed among you” (2:13). However, even though their faithfulness in the face of persecution was commendable their susceptibility to false teaching was not.

Christ charges them of holding to false teaching that had led them to commit acts of idolatry and immorality (2:14-15). The grave danger of false teaching is that it does not, nor can it promote holiness, purity and moral integrity (John 17:3). False teaching promotes a very low view of sanctification. Christ commands them to repent or else He is coming to make war against the defectors, false teachers and idolaters with the sword of his mouth i.e. with His word which cuts to sever and condemn (2:16).

Jesus leaves the church with an amazing promise that he who overcomes will be given hidden manna, in other words, He promises provision and satisfaction that this world cannot see or conceive (2:17). He also promises the one who overcomes a white stone, which was typically given to the winning athlete as admission to enter the great award banquets. So also Christ promises those who do not compromise, and who do not participate in the idolatrous feasts of this world unabated entrance into the great banquet at His coming (2:17).


DEAR THYATIRA:

I AM HE WHO SEARCHES THE HEARTS AND MINDS!

(Revelation 2:18-29)

The fourth letter from Christ was sent to the church in Thyatira. Jesus introduces Himself as the One who sees all things and with feet like burnish bonze will trample down every wicked thing (2:18).

The church is commended for its deeds, love, faith, service and perseverance (2:19). Yet the Christ who “has eyes like a flame of fire” is able to see through all these things that there was a deadly cancer eating away at the soul of the church. He charges them of entertaining a particular false teacher in the vein of the Old Testament woman Jezebel, who was polluting and corrupting many in the church (2:20). It is of importance here to note that Jesus sees all things and searches not only deeds, works and services but also hearts, minds and lives!

He commands them to repent and we are once again reminded, as with all the other churches, of Christ’s great concern for the purity of His body. He threatens great consequences to those who do not repent, yet at the same time He offers great mercy even to those leading others astray (2:21).

Christ also finds some in the church to have been faithful and who have not followed the error and immorality of the rest (2:24). So, He instructs them to hold onto what they have, namely the truth which had kept them pure (2:25).

He ends the letter by promising those who overcome authority to rule with Him in His coming kingdom (2:26, Revelation 20:4-6, Psalm 2:5-6) as well a share in the full glory and presence of Christ, Himself (2:28).  We learn that sin never pays well but obedience, faithfulness and repentance assures us of great present and even greater future blessings.


DEAR SARDIS:

WAKE UP, YOU’RE DEAD!

(Revelation 3:1-6)

Jesus sends the fifth letter to the church in Sardis. He introduces Himself as the one who has the seven Spirits of God (the Holy Spirit) and the seven stars (the leaders of the churches – Revelation 1:20,  3:1).

Jesus begins by informing the church that though they appear to be alive in name, they are actually quite dead in spirit (3:1). And it is fitting that Christ described Himself as the one who has the Holy Spirit and who holds the leaders of the churches. For without the Spirit and Christ-gifted-men the church is nothing but dead. The main cause for their spiritual deadness seems to be impurity within and among the believers as seen in the reference to soiled garments (3:4) Impurity had killed the church!

Therefore Christ now commands them to strengthen that which is alive, remember the word they were taught and repent from the sin they are entangled in (3:2-3). In such a deep spiritual crises what was needed was not any new or extravagant experience or revelation but for them to remember the word they were taught and repent from their sins. The gospel and repentance is still the most effective cure for any disease that eats away at the life of a church.

Jesus commends those who have not partook of whatever impurity was taking place and described them as those who “have not soiled their garments” (3:4). This is most likely a reference to the Roman triumphal parade where only those with white garments (unsoiled) were allowed to join the parade. Likewise, only those who remain pure and holy will see God (Hebrews 12:14, 1 John 3:2-3).

Christ ends the letter by promising those who overcome the assurance that their names will not be removed from the book of life (3:5). This does not imply that some names can be removed but that those whose names are in it will not be removed.


DEAR PHILADELPHIA:

I WILL KEEP YOU FROM THE HOUR OF TESTING!

(Revelation 3:7-13)

The second last letter Jesus sent was to the church in Philadelphia. This church along with Smyrna received no rebuke from Jesus and Philadelphia in particular is known as the faithful church. Jesus introduces Himself here as the Holy One and the True One and in these two references we immediately reflect on the Old Testament names for Yahweh (3:7).

Jesus is obviously making Himself equal with Yahweh which will become very relevant as there were Jews causing this particular church great trouble (3:9). Jesus also describes Himself as the one who has the key of David (keys to the kingdom) and He determines who enters and who does not (3:7). This description of Christ would prove relevant in light of the possibility that the church was enduring great trouble from unbelieving Jews who took great pride in their ethnic heritage as the special people of God (3:9). Jesus Christ, the True and Holy God who has the keys to the eternal kingdom promised to David (2 Samuel 7:12-13) identifies with the church and not these unbelieving Jews of the synagogue of Satan!

As a result of their faithfulness, Jesus assures them an open door into the kingdom which no one can shut. He also assures them that they will be kept out of the coming tribulation period (3:10, Revelation 6-18). The coming wrath to be unleashed on this world is not for the church but for an unbelieving world, as well for the purification of the Jews (Daniel 9:24-27). In the context of the coming tribulation, Paul taught that “…God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Christ furthermore encourages the church to continue to hold fast as He is coming quickly, which is the same as saying He will keep them out of the coming hour of trial. The way He will do that is by coming quickly (1 Thess. 4:17). He finally promises that he who overcomes will be forever fixed and settled in the New Jerusalem (3:12, Revelation 21:2)


DEAR LAODICEA:

I WILL SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH!

(Revelation 3:14-22)

The final letter is sent to the church in Laodicea. Laodicea stands in stark contrast to Philadelphia – the latter Christ promises to keep (3:10) the former Christ threatens to spit out (3:16). Jesus introduces Himself as the “Amen” to every word and promise of God, as the “faithful witness” to the character and work of God and as the beginning and source of creation itself (3:14). Essentially Christ is the Lord over all things which includes His church (3:14). This position of Christ should cause the church in Laodicea to be very concerned considering that Christ is threatening to spit them out (3:16).

According to Jesus, their deeds were unacceptable and useless: He says they are neither hot nor cold and He wished they were hot or cold, yet they are lukewarm (2:15). A bit of historical background would help shed light on what Christ means here. Laodicea was situated between two cities, Hierapolis (a city known for its hot springs used for medicinal purposes) and Colosse (a city known for its cold refreshing water). Laodicea however, was known for having the foulest water in the Roman Empire.

Naturally they were useless, they had neither hot springs nor cold refreshing water and that which is true of them naturally was also true of them spiritually. That is why Christ threatens to spit them out as that is exactly what one does to foul, unacceptable and useless water.

It appears this spiritual condition was brought about by their preoccupation with earthly riches (Laodicea was a rich city), fine clothing (they had a special breed of sheep that produces sort-after wool) and their pride and arrogance (3:17). Laodicea was also famous for an eye salve. Yet Christ’s indictment of them is that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, naked and blind” (3:17). What we think of ourselves is not necessarily what Christ thinks of us. From them we also learn that it is not so much about what we have in our lives but whom (Christ) we have in our lives.

Christ calls them to repentance (3:18-19). We have never drifted too far from Christ for true repentance to lead us back safely and securely! Out of love for them Christ comes knocking on their door, seeking to fellowship and to satisfy the one who opens up (3:20).

The promise Christ gives to the one who overcomes is absolutely staggering (3:21). We know the Father sits on His throne, and we know Christ is seated on a throne at His right hand. However, Christ promises the one who overcomes to sit down with Him on His throne (3:21-22, Revelation 4:4). This is how Christ ends off the final letter with a promise of great and high reward to the one who remains faithful and overcomes!


 

Conclusionletters-from-christ-to-his-chuch

When we open to book of Revelation we expect to find all sorts of eschatological incidences and apocalyptic events. While the book certainly contains these elements we must not forget it was written to local churches. The book of Revelation, surprisingly, contains some of the riches ecclesiological teachings with a sharp focus on Christ’s sanctifying care for the purity and faithfulness of His church in the world! Also, we learn that the promises given to the church are too great to give up for fleeting comforts and pleasures of this world, especially given that Jesus Christ Himself, is the Amen and surety to every promise made by God.

 

 

Doing Theology on Social Media!

While every believer does theology, in so far as he thinks about God and the Bible, the advent of the internet and social media has also brought social-media-chalkboard-ss-1920-800x450about the rise of the google theologian, the cut and paste minister or more aptly put: the armchair theologian. An armchair theologian is one, similar to the armchair expert, who presumes expertise in areas he has little understanding, experience or robust involvement in.

Much of the theology being done on social media often comes across as nothing more than the unsolicited and unprocessed notions of an armchair theologian. Now, I’m by no means suggesting that theology should be left to the experts. Every believer must be growing in knowledge, love and application of the truth and that really necessitates doing theology. However, my concern lies with the way it is being done, especially on social media and without sounding pejorative, mainly by what I call the armchair theologian.

Armed with google, access to ‘discernment’ ministries and aware of various respected pastors, Bible scholars and bloggers he presumes himself keenly informed and deeply knowledgeable by virtue of familiarity or impersonal associations. We find ourselves in the most unique period in the history the church in that the accessibility to theological and Scriptural resources is unparalleled.

However, what has not changed, in spite of our unparalleled access to knowledge, is the responsibility and commitment to think hard, long, carefully and graciously about what we are exposed to and to think about these things along with others who have been doing it longer than we have and better than we have. It is truly risky business to present as an argument or an articulation something we merely googled then cut and paste without having thought carefully through it along with someone of greater understanding and skill.

The danger of the armchair theologian is not only his often lamentable lack of strenuous labor over the Scriptures in prayer and faithful exegesis, or his unfamiliarity with the dynamics of historical theology, or even the little change his exposure to the truth has resulted in his own life. Apart from those serious deficiencies, the thing that concerns me the most about the armchair theologian is his unskilled swordsmanship, or to put it another way, his inability to understand how to use what he presumes he knows.

It appears that as much good as the internet, social media and the proliferation of theological resources has brought about, for the one wrongly approaching it, it can be more harmful than fruitful. Our pursuit to learn the truth should equally be a pursuit to learn how to use it in love, humility, wisdom and grace, and with great respect to our finiteness.

Love accounts for how we use the truth in relation to other people. Humility means we realize that we have not begun to know as much as we think we have. Wisdom in the truth helps us to become skillful in terms of testing all things and applying that which is true and that which we truly understand. And grace helps us to know that the truth we love and cherish has been revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ who paid a dear price for us to know not mere truth and theology but to know truth and theology to the glory of Christ and our enjoyment of Him!

Doing theology on social media can be a great means to build-up one another and give witness of our faith to others. Theology on social media should come from a clear and humble understanding of the truth that shows not only that we know but that we know in love, we know in grace, we know in wisdom, we know in sweet fellowship with Him our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the words of one theologian, “Faith seeks the truth of God that wants not only to be known by the mind but is to be enjoyed and practiced by the whole person. Theology as thoughtful faith comes from and returns to the service of God and the neighbor!” (Daniel Migliore). Theology is thoughtful faith, and it comes from God and should translate into service to God and others – even on social media!

 

Racism? Misplaced grievances? And a deeper problem!

Having listened to the 34 minute message of Pastor andAndre Olivier, I am not convinced that
the Pastor of Rivers Church is a racist…

but I am convinced he is a false teacher
.

If there was any racism in his message it was hidden very well, only visible to those who had prior knowledge of such tendencies from Pastor Andre. In all honesty, one has to read into his words racism or attribute to him very bad motives and attentions for the charge to be made.  However, the overt pop-psychology, word faith theology, positive confession, and a heavy dose of exegeting experiences instead of holy Scripture – all THIS fell on deaf ears! Astonishing!

It seems a Pastor can peddle all sorts of error, shamefully handle the Scriptures, and utterly fail to proclaim the gospel and no one bats an eye but don’t lean too close towards racism or any other social evil and you will feel the might of the new socially discerning Christian!

He apologized for his poorly chosen words, and rightfully so. He obviously offended many people, and those who spoke with charity and sincerely called him to account in this regard did well. But who is going to hold him accountable to rightly handle the Scriptures?

While he may not make the mistake of saying such foolish things as he did regarding blacks and whites again, he will probably continue to encourage his church to seek and pursue new revelation in addition to the Bible (as he did in that message) and thereby undermine the sufficiency of the Bible!

While he may not propagate a political agenda over the pulpit again, He will probably continue to render his church a great disservice by preaching to them a therapeutic gospel-less message of self-help (as he did in that message) and thereby undermine the sufficiency of Christ.

While he may not speak with such great ignorance regarding apartheid again (at least not publically) He will probably continue to stand in the pulpit week in and week out and with his botched hermeneutic pull together some verses to support his weak and atheological message, and thereby undermine the goal of the gospel in the life of every believer, namely, to conform us to the image of Christ through the faithful preaching of the word!

I wonder how many will feel the urge to walk out the next time he fails to rightly handle the Word? I wonder how many will take to twitter the next time he says something that undermines Christ and the gospel? I wonder how many will call him to account and stand for the truth of God’s word the next time He promotes error? I wonder how many will be offended the next time he offends God? Surely it is an offense to God when we stand with His word and say from it things He never intended? I’m wondering how many Christians still care about truth, the gospel, faithful preaching and sound doctrine?

Please don’t miss the aim of this post; it’s not to say that we should be more concerned about false teaching than about the diabolical sin of racism. The point here is that those who sat under the message were able to endure overt error and mishandling of Scripture without any objection but had their senses awakened at a mere whiff of what appeared to be something almost close to racism.

For me, this is not a recurring case of racism and social injustice, this is a recurring theme of ill-equip men who have no business handling Scripture and a sorry case of biblical illiteracy that pervades Christendom in South Africa. This is another case of 2 Timothy 4:3

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

In this case those who had their ears tickled also had their sensitivities stung. But what do you expect when you accumulate for yourself teachers according to your own desire?

 

INTRO TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION

UNVEILING THE TRIUMPHANT LAMB

Revelation-to-John

Introduction 1:1-3

Interestingly, when we look at the number 7 in the book of Revelation it typically represents perfection, e.g. 7 horns mean perfect strength and 7 eyes mean perfect wisdom. Well, this evening I have a 7 point outline- so I was wondering whether I can call this a perfect sermon

I want to look at 7 features of the book of Revelation that will help us get a good introduction to the book  1:1-3

  1. The Nature of the Book

“The Revelation”

What kind of book is this? Uncertainty and confusing regarding the book’s nature has caused many to be put off by it and those who took interest in it have come up with innovative interpretations that would even make Origen blush.

The book tells us exactly what kind of book or literature it is: 1:1 “The Revelation”. The word ‘revelation’ comes from the Greek word apo-ka-lyp-sis – meaning “to unveil”, “to disclose” “to reveal” (where we also get the English apocalypse from).  So, the book has been identified as apocalyptic literature. Now what does that mean?

Michael Vlack describes apocalyptic literature as having four characteristics:

  1. A prophet is given extensive visions.
  2. The vision includes many symbols.
  3. A heavenly messenger or angel is present and give the message to the prophet.
  4. The message involves the Messiah, the Tribulation Period, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

So, the book of Revelation is a book that unveils, through extensive visions, which includes many symbols, communicated by angels the message about the glorious triumph, and coming, and rule of the Messiah, the Lamb.

  1. The Subject of the Book

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

What or who is the main subject of the book? Well, we see it in the first verse – it is the unveiling (revelation, apocalypsis) of “Jesus Christ”. So, Jesus is the main subject of the book- the book is about Him. Here we have enough reason to read, study and understand this book because it is about our Saviour, it is about our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This is important to emphasize, because of the content in the book, and the things we read here that seem strange, and odd, and scary we can lose focus that this book is about Jesus- it unveils Him in his glory, judgment, and second coming.

It is then not a book about the mark the beast, or what present world order is behind the antichrist or the beast of the sea or the various other symbolic imageries. This book is primarily about Jesus Christ, so do not be distracted and do not forget who the main subject of this book is: The Revelation of Jesus Christ!

I think now would be a good time to also introduce the main theme I want us to consider the book through- and here is my summary of the book in one sentence: The book of Revelation is the Unveiling of the Triumphant Lamb! It is a book that unveils, it is a book about the Lamb who alone is worthy and it is a book that shows Him not as a suffering servant but as the Triumphant Lamb!

  • in glorious appearing – Revelation 1
  • in authority over His Church – Revelation 2-3
  • who alone is worthy in Heaven – Revelation 4-5
  • the Judge of this world – Revelation 6-19
  • the King from the tribe of Judah – Revelation 20
  • the one who makes all things Revelation 21-22
  1. The Source of the Book

“…which God gave Him”

Now, this great and glorious unveiling of the Lamb who triumphs – this revelation has been given by God to Christ. So, God (the Father) is the source of this revelation. What does that mean?

Well, it means in affirming God as the very source of this book we have just affirmed a high view of this book. In understanding God as the source of this book we also realize that this is His very words (2 Tim. 3:16). So, in this sense the book affirms its own divinely inspired origin! This is not the thoughts of man or the imaginations of some apostle stranded on an island, but instead “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him…!

  1. The Importance of the Book

“God gave Him…communicated by His angels to His servants”

We see the importance of this book when we read that the Father gave it to the Son, who communicated it by His angels to His servants (1:1). We see in the Bible when God sends important messages to His servant He dispatches angels to deliver the message (Dan. 9:21).

Notice also that this is the final message of God’s inspired word. The book of Revelation was the last book given to the church from God. It is the conclusion of God’s revealed word and it marks the end or closes the canon of Scripture.

Revelation 22:18–19 (NASB95)

18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

The New Testament begins with the Gospel accounts that tell us about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and it ends with the book of Revelation that tell us about the Lamb who alone is worthy to rule, judge, reign. This book contains our hope-

Revelation 21:5–6 (NASB95)

5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.

 This is our hope: I am making all things new” this is why the book of Revelation is so important!

  1. The Recipients of the Book

“..bondservants…”

With all the symbolism, with all the happenings, the descriptions of heaven, the throne, the judgment, the beast, the seals, the various other elements in this book it is important to know that this book is for the church! Notice, “From God, to Christ, communicated by His angels- now who is on the end of this long line of revelation? It is “His bondservants”- i.e. the church!

Revelation 1:4–5 (NASB95)

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—

We cannot ignore this book, we cannot shun this prophecy, we cannot fail to understand it because it is written for us, it is given to His bond-servants.

  1. The Urgency of the Book

“…which must soon take place…for the time is near”

After last Thursday’s class where I covered the seal and trumpet judgment in chapter 6-9 one of the sisters in class was saying what an urgency it has given her to serve the Lord and tell others of the Lord. I commended her and told her, that is exactly the effect the truths here should have on us: we should be urgent and zealous in our service of Christ and our witness of Christ. Why?

Well, notice the language used here in this opening section:

Revelation 1:1,3 (NASB95)

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,

3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

That is why there must be a sense of urgency, and eagerness and zeal that this book induces in God’s people. They must come alive and come on fire to know the truth revealed here, to live by it and to proclaim it to others- to tell others that He is coming soon and the time is near!

  1. The Promise of the Book

“Blessed is he who reads…”

As we end of this “perfect” sermon, we come to number 7: The promise of this book.

Revelation 1:3 (NASB95)

3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

There is a blessing promised here for he who “reads”, those who “hear” and “heed” the things which are written in it. There may be yet a blessing we have deprived ourselves from which can only be received when giving ourselves to read, hear and heed the things written in this book!

Notice here are two groups mentioned in this verse (v3). Firstly, “he who read” (singular pronoun) implying this book is to be read by the individual believer. This book is given for the benefit of the Christian; it is to form part of our private and personal devotions. The blessing promised here is for the “he” who reads- that is you who take this book in your private devotions and read it. My prayer is that you will do that every week before you come to sit and listen to it proclaimed.

Notice also, not only “he who reads” is blessed but “those who hear” (plural pronoun). What does that imply? It implies the book will also be proclaimed, expounded and read in the presence of many (‘those’ i.e. plural pronoun). Here we have in a sense a case for corporate gathering. As Christians we’re not to be islands isolated from one another, but the New Testament expectation is that we would gather together for the preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42, Heb. 10:24-25). And in Revelation there is promised a blessing for those (plural pronoun) who hear. This presumes that there will be a gathering where this book will be proclaimed and when that happens there will also be blessing from God. (Cf. Rev. 2-3)

Conclusion

So, here have our introduction to the book of Revelation: The Unveiling of the Triumphant Lamb.  Now, the one reason I referenced Jesus as the Lamb in this book is because the book does so about 30 times in the English (NAS) translation.

He is referred to as the LAMB more times than He is referred to as Jesus, Lord or Christ. Now you may think, if this is the book about His triumph, the name ‘Lord’ should be more common. Or if this is the book that all biblical prophecy finds it culmination, the name ‘Christ’ should be the most common. Or if this is the book where He judges the world the name Judge or King or something like that should be the most commonly used. However, according to my calculations, the name LAMB is the most used name for Jesus.

Here’s why:

Even though this is the book that shows Him in His triumphant glory, it’s all possible because He went to the cross and was sacrificed as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world, triumphing over sin, Satan and death. The cross is not forgotten in the book of Revelation. And though we are talking about the end of history here, and though we are talking about His reign and eternal rule- what is held front and center is the cross, is the Lamb.

If the book of Revelation doesn’t forget He is the Lamb – neither should we. If the future doesn’t forget that He is the Lamb, neither should we. If heaven itself recognizes Him as the Lamb who has been slain (Rev. 5:6) so we too should continually bear that in mind, in our hearts and in our lives, especially as we read and study this book!

But in the book of Revelation, He is not the suffering Lamb, He is the triumphant Lamb

How to know if you’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word

I’ve recently had a couple of people speak to me about the concerns they have regarding the preaching at their respective churches. One very concerned brother sent me some notes he took during the preaching and I must admit, reading his notes (based on the content of the message preached) left me concerned as well.

It is no exaggeration to say that as Christians make Bible_Study_Preach_the_wordtheir way off to their different local churches for the Lord’s Day services, there is no guarantee that they will actually be sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. It is this sad reality that has led me to this question: “How do you know if you’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word?”

Now few would even dare ask or think of such a question. Many would instead find great safety and comfort in just assuming that whenever the Bible is opened and Scriptures are quoted, preaching is taking place.  However, this unfortunate minimalistic approach to understanding preaching falls short of what true preaching is really about.

Preaching is not simply opening the Bible and quoting a few Scriptures and saying a few things that you think is relevant to those verses quoted. Preaching is not having a topic and looking for supporting verses for that topic. Preaching is not talking loudly, moving swiftly and sweating profusely behind the pulpit. Preaching is not merely saying things you deem encouraging, uplifting and motivational. Yet, this is exactly what passes itself off as preaching and what many Christians are sitting under.

  • Preach the Word

So, how do we know if we’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word? Well, before we get to that, it’s worth stressing that the preacher has to have a deep and overwhelming commitment to actually “preach the Word” – 2 Timothy 4:2. This is the great pastoral obligation; this is the chief responsibility of the shepherd. Sitting under the preaching of the Word is the duly expected privilege of every believer who gathers for corporate worship! The church does not gather on the Lord’s Day to hear what the preacher has to say but to hear what the Lord has to say. The Lord speaks through the faithful preaching of His Word. Unfortunately, we cannot merely take it for granted that every person standing behind the pulpit has this holy ambition.

Too many preachers come to the pulpit with the pretense of preaching God’s Word when all they are really interested in is preaching about their personal interests, so-called spiritual impressions, man-centered agendas, or supposed words they have heard from God. In too many churches the regular spiritual diet of the church consists of nothing more than the preachers biblically deficient interests. We find ourselves at a very dangerous intersection in many churches, where the vain interests and itching ears of the hearers meet up with the unskilled, unqualified, and unsound utterances of the preachers.

We were warned:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3–4 

But this is remedied by the man of God’s unflinching commitment to “preach the Word” – 2 Timothy 4:2. Therefore, being assured that you are actually sitting under the preaching of God’s Word means you have seen the preacher (or Pastor) model to you a high commitment to the preaching of God’s Word.

Now, I know I haven’t yet answered the main question, if anything I’ve just made the question longer: “How do I know that the preacher has a high commitment to preach the Word and that I’m actually sitting under the preaching of the word?” Here’s a brief answer:

  • Keep the main point the main point

Preaching the Word is when the preacher has for his main point of the message the main point of the selected passage of Scripture. Preaching the Word happens when the main point of the biblical passage is drawn out and explained and applications are made that are faithful to the actual meaning of the passage.  So, the preacher selects a passage of Scripture and he studies that passage. His aim is to determine what the actually author of that passage said when he wrote it and then drawing out that original intent he makes the relevant and varied applications.

Borrowing from one Bible teacher “… preaching is that… which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God” (Mark Dever).  This explanation helps us to understand and answer the question at hand. How can we know if we’re sitting under the preaching of God’s Word? Well, was the main point of the message taken from the meaning (and main point) of the passage and were the applications made relevant to the meaning of the passage?

For example, if the passage the preacher is having you turn to is Jeremiah 29:11 it is the preacher’s responsibility to show you what Jeremiah meant by what he said, and to whom he said it and in what context he said it. Only after seriously considering the author’s intent, the historical context, and its significance to the original audience can the preacher begin to entertain possible application for us today.

It is not relevant to begin with what the preacher presumes the passage means to him and his hearers. What is incumbent upon the preacher when he stands with God’s Word open before the assembled congregation is to explain the meaning of the particular passage he has selected and determine the original author’s intent. This is the very pattern followed by the men in the Bible:

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. – Nehemiah 8:8

If John 3:16 which reads, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life”, was the main passage, then the main point ought to have been about God’s plan of salvation. Yet, it would not be uncommon to hear such a passage used to encourage a congregation to be more faithful and regular in their giving of tithes just like God was in giving us His Son. The point of the passage obviously is not about the importance of us giving to the Lord.

If Philippians 4:13 which reads “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” was the main text then the main point should have been about how Christ strengthens us to be content in Him with plenty or with little (Phil. 4:10-12). Instead the more popular approach to this passage is about how we can literally do all things through Christ who strengthen us. This is, to say the least, employing a naïve hermeneutic that fails to take into account the context in which Philippians 4:13 is found and it of course misses the entire point of the passage.

There are countless other examples to give but I provide these to illustrate that if the preacher misses the main point of the passage in the preaching of that passage he is not preaching God’s Word anymore and the congregation is not sitting under God’s Word anymore. This then is how you know whether you are sitting under the preaching of God’s Word: is the main point of the passage being drawn out and explained and are the applications made relevant and consistent with the actual point of the passage?

  • A good point but not from that verse

It is far too common that good points are made at the expense of the actual meaning of a passage. Perhaps the point that is being made by the preacher is a fair and even good point. Yet, if the passage in question does not make that point the preacher must find another passage that does or just admit it is some insights he has and the congregation is welcome to make use of it.

To illustrated this, we may hear the preacher passionately proclaim that we must lift up Jesus, he then quotes John 12:32: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” So, the preacher continues his exhortation: “we need to lift up Jesus because if we lift Him up He will draw all men unto Himself”.

What the preacher means is that we must exalt and praise Jesus, we must declare His fame and renown so that through this men will be drawn toward the Lord Jesus. This may be a good point. However, this is not the point Jesus made and it is not the point of John 12:32. The point of John 12:32 “If I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” is clearly stated in the next verse: (John 12:33) “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die”.

Passing off our personal insights irrespective of how good and wise it may be as God’s Word binds the peoples conscience to what we’re saying and imposes upon them obligations to our insights and not God’s Word.

  • Consider carefully what you hear

Good points made at the expense of God’s Word are more than likely what is happening in many pulpits.  This is why believers must care that they’re actually sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. Believers must care to study along with the preacher and follow along as he unpacks the passage. We cannot merely accept everything that is being said to us, we need to “examine the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) so that when we meet on the Lord’s Day to listen to the preaching of God’s Word we will know how to discern whether it really is God’s Word we are hearing.

As we open our Bibles to the specified passage on a Sunday morning, we must ready ourselves to be persuaded by the preacher of the meaning of that passage and how it relates to our lives. We must expect the preacher to first ask: “What did Paul mean when he wrote this?” and then upon drawing out Paul’s intended meaning we can then expect the preacher to ask: ‘What does this mean to us today?” This is why preachers are called expositors and not inventors because they exposit the meaning of God’s word, they do not make up a meaning that suits their interests.

 

 

T.D. Jakes on demonic unity and curses

I wrote this and this and this last week regarding T.D. Jakes.jajkes

Now, last week during the hype of T.D. Jakes’ visit to Cape Town, there was a clip of him preaching that I stumbled upon on facebook. You might want to watch and listen to it as it will provide context for what I want to briefly address. From what I can tell, the sermon was preached in 2013 from Acts 8:1-13 with a title: “Spellbreaker”. He begins the message by telling his audience to look at each other and repeat after him “neighbor, the spell is broken”.

The clip that was shared on facebook captures the heart of the message. I want to briefly interact and examine what he says in that clip. Note, I’m writing this with the assumption you’ve watched the 6min clip

Learning from Demonic Unity?

There’s enough in this clip to help any discerning believer see that T.D. Jakes’ handling of the Scriptures and Christian theology is (to say the least) very dangerous! Take for example his assertion that we have a lot to learn about unity from the kingdom of Satan.

He explains that, never will you see a demon fighting against another demon, only church folk, and preachers and denominations fight among one another. He contends that demons are organized, are ordered and united.  He then draws the conclusion that we do not understand order. And with warrant I would infer he means, we do not understand or display order as Satan and his demons do.

I accept that we do have a lot to learn about unity, but I’d strongly disagree that we ought to learn that from the satanic kingdom. Jakes reference’s the account where Jesus, responding to the charge that He was performing His works by the power of Satan said: “a kingdom dividing against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:20-27).

I would be very interested to know what principles of biblical interpretation he used to make this passage speak to the issue of unity among demons that believers should be learning from. It is not that assertion alone that is problematic but that assertion is better seen as symptomatic of T.D. Jakes’ horrendous hermeneutic.

It is true that there are many times believers live in disunity but we do not remedy that by pointing to the ‘unity’ that exist among demons, we remedy that by pointing to the unity Christ earned for the church when He bought her with His blood (Acts 20:28) and the resulted benefit of being united to His body. Else, what are we teaching? “We ‘gotta’ be better than demons”, shouldn’t it be “I have to be more like Christ”? I think we shift the goalposts dangerously when we accept T.D.Jakes’ reasoning here!Bible

We teach about unity by 1) affirm the existing, objective and Christ-earned unity (Eph. 4:1-3) and 2) impressing the implications of the gospel on cases where division is brewing (1 Cor. 1:11-17, 3:1-11, Phil. 2:1-10). I cannot imagine when it would be acceptable or seen as a faithful discharge of a preacher’s ministerial duty to set Satan up as a model to follow? But of course, the question may be asked, did Jesus not do that when he spoke about a house divided against itself?

Well, we are forced to ask “does the Bible encourage us to learn from Satan”? It’s interesting to note that the way Jakes expounds the unity among demons may even cause some to be envious of such demonic unity. Yet, I’m sure this is not the intent of biblical preaching i.e. to stir up holy envy for the things we see in Satan, notwithstanding the fact that Jesus never commends this unity.

The way Jakes speaks about the subject of unity and order betrays his misunderstanding of the subject, as it appears he seems to consider unity to be some monolithic virtue. This causes me to ask whether there is only one kind of unity and is all displays of unity equal?

To suggest that the point of that account is to teach (by observing the unity in the kingdom of Satan) what true unity looks like is of course to miss the point of the passage completely. Jesus was illustrating how ridiculous and blasphemous it is to attribute His work to Satan because Satan cannot work against Satan. He was demonstrating how diametrically opposed His work is from that of Satan. This is something T.D. Jakes is completely missing in his brief extemporaneous unpacking of this account.

Also the kind of unity Jakes proposes seems to preclude the possibility that there can be good and healthy cases and causes for division or separation among professing Christians. In cases of persistent unrepentant sin, separation from the unrepentant is an action deemed appropriate (1 Cor. 5:9), the same would count for false teachers (Rom. 16:17, 2 John 1:10-11).

Satan sends curses to our families?

What about the claim T.D. Jakes makes that Satan sends curses to our homes and those curses are ultimately responsible for the sin in the house or family? At one point he even says (speaking of adultery) “it’s not even that he had an affair, it’s a spirit”. Jakes attributes the ultimate cause of adultery to a spirit or demon. Clearly, Jakes’ harmatiology (doctrine of sin) is seriously deficient.

To make his case he cites (among other references) the account of King David and how the fall of David’s house and the immorality among David’s children are a result of a curse brought about by a demon or a spirit of lust David had. Now, that is just ridiculous. A simple reading of the passage in 2 Samuel 12:7-15 attribute the partial fall of David’s house to the working (judgment/discipline) of God!

Another danger with this idea that demons bring curses to our homes (apart from the fact that it is nowhere taught in the Bible) is that it encourages a false sense of assurance that our sin and the consequence thereof is not really our fault or our responsibility.

  • What about taking responsibility for our sin? No a demon did it.
  • What about taking responsibility for the ensuing consequence of our sin and the hurt it brought? It wasn’t me, a demon did it?
  • What about making responsible godly decisions? Well, you know “demons”!

This is somewhat similar to the argument used among the Israelites in Ezekiel’s time.  They were singing their false proverb that was intended to free them from the responsibility and consequence of their sin by suggesting God is punishing them in any case for their parents sins (Ezekiel 18:1-4). But note, not even in their case did the exiled children of Israel attribute their sin or their parent’s sin to a demon. T.D. Jakes just ascribes too much sovereignty and omnipotence to demons!berean

Through Ezekiel, God rebuked the nation and told them “All souls our mine, the soul who sins will surely die” (Ezk. 18:4). In other words, it is not your father, or mother, or a supposed demon that I will hold accountable for your sin but I will hold you accountable. I think that is a message T.D. Jakes needs to hear and a corrective that will do him and his hearers well.

All of this once again demonstrates (at least to me) the fundamental problem with TD Jakes and other word-faith and prosperity gospel preachers. It is their handling of the Scriptures and what they are able to get the Scriptures to say and affirm that troubles me greatly. I do pray we would all be good Bereans (Acts 17:11). I pray that when we hear someone preach, we would (know and) search the Scriptures to see whether the things the preacher is saying is what the Bible actually teaches.

Oh yes, I didn’t even get to the ‘tongues’and how about the level of servant-hood demonstrated by Bishop Eddie Long?

Doctrine matters, even false doctrine.

As I’ve been examining T.D. Jakes’ views on the doctrine of the Trinity, 20140424_biblicaldoctrine some might think, “Does doctrine even matter? Or, “Why should we be so concerned about doctrine and go as far as talking about different doctrines and sound doctrine and false doctrines”? Well, here are some thoughts that I hope would answer these questions.

Here’s why biblical doctrine is so important: if you don’t have biblical doctrine, you don’t have God’s Word. Doctrine is another word for ‘teaching’ and God’s Word has been given to us for “teaching/s”. In fact, the Apostle Paul explicitly writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16).

So, to shun biblical doctrine is to shun the word of God and to not have the word of God is to not know the will of God and to not know the will of God is to not do the work of God. To not know the word of God, the will of God, the work of God is to cast serious doubt on whether or not you know God!

The Bible never encourages an attitude of indifference towards ‘doctrine’ not even false doctrine. The Bible wants the believer to know sound doctrine and to be on guard against false doctrine. Doctrine is not a word made up by those who like to argue and cause division, but in fact, a word that describes the Word of God itself.

The Scriptures are called “the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) . Actually, in that verse and context we can make a good argument that the phrase “doctrine of God” is a reference to the gospel itself. This again stresses how important it is for us to care and contend for biblical Bibledoctrine (Jude 3). It is a matter of God’s Word and it is a matter of the gospel! To be negligent in rightly understanding and teaching God’s Word is to set oneself up to not understand nor actually teach God’s Word. And this makes us vulnerable to lose God’s Word and the gospel itself!

Elders are charged to “hold fast the faithful word…so that they will be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 emphasis added). A truly neglected pastoral duty today is to faithfully exhort in sound doctrine. In addition to this, a widely unknown pastoral duty today is to “refute those who contradict sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). Instead, today we ignore doctrine and call it unloving to refute those who contradict!

Speaking to the subject of instructing in sound doctrine and showing concern for these things, Paul writes “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We often use that verse to encourage one another on how to regulate Christian conversations and rightfully so. However, the context of that verse is actually about speaking the truth in love doctrinally and not merely conversationally!

When we speak about different doctrines we are not engaging in irrelevant and meaningless discussions but we are using the very language of the Bible and touching on the very concerns of the Bible. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,(1 Timothy 6:3-4)

Notice, the language that Paul uses as he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and how he raises concerns about “different doctrines”. Today when you raise such concerns you are considered divisive, puffed-up on head knowledge and engaged in an exercise of futility. Yet, that was not the case for Paul, he constantly demonstrated a concern for purity in biblical doctrine and notice, in the verse quoted above, who he calls conceited.

It is not the one who cares about the dangers of false doctrines and who strives for purity in biblical doctrine but the one who teaches a different (i.e. false) doctrine who is considered proud and conceited! It is not the one who cares for sound doctrine and seeks to uphold it against error that is quarrelsome but the one who propagates a false doctrine.

When we teach that God is not interested in our “doctrines” and He doesn’t carequote-to-say-doctrine-doesn-t-matter-only-how-you-live-matters-is-itself-a-doctrine-it-s-the-timothy-keller-94-46-21 whether we believe rightly about a certain biblical doctrine, especially one as important as the Trinity, we are in fact espousing a doctrine i.e. that is a teaching. It is however, a false teaching and falls in the category of “different doctrines” and incidentally according to 1 Timothy 6:4 evidences of pride and quarrelsomeness. The Apostle Paul writes, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine…he is puffed up with conceit (1 Timothy 6:3-4).

Therefore, elders, preachers and pastors who show no concern for exhorting in biblical doctrine and refuting those who contradict have given up their responsibility and failed at being faithful stewards (Titus 1:7, 9).

One of the saddest and also dangerous consequences when pastors give up their responsibility to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict is seen in Ephesians 4:14. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11 that God has given certain offices to the church (Ephesians 4:11) for the equipping of the saints (Ephesians 4:12). One of the major preventative benefits and main purposes of this is recorded in Ephesians 4:14;

Ephesians 4:14

14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Here’s the thing: showing indifference towards doctrine and ignoring calls to pursue sound doctrine will not make the issue of doctrine go away but will only make you and those you ought to spiritually care for vulnerable to “every wind of [false] doctrine”. A depreciation of sound doctrine and a failure to be faithful in teaching sound doctrine will stagnate growth, will cause spiritual instability and will carry off such a careless soul into a barren place of spiritual unfruitfulness

Doctrine matters. We must care to exhort in sound doctrine and we must be concerned to refute false doctrine. Doctrine matters. Through it we are able to know that God has spoken to us authoritatively, sufficiently, infallibly, inerrantly, and clearly (Bibliology). We also know who God is  (Theology) and we are able to understand who we are (Anthropology). Through biblical doctrine we are able to know what God has done in and through His Son to save us from sin and His wrath (Soteriology), we are able to know the Son who came to save us (Christology) and we are able to draw comfort that He is coming again for us so that we can be with Him in glory (Eschatology).

These are precious and essential doctrines, and it is imperative that we understand, love, live, proclaim and earnestly contend for every essential biblical doctrine!

No wonder when Paul speaks about doctrine he has a deep appreciate for it and shows a high regard for it. When Paul encouraged certain believers in 1 Timothy 6:1 to live for the glory of God in this world, he exhorted them that their actions will reflect not only on the name of God but also on the doctrine they are being taught and which they have believed

1 Timothy 6:1

1 All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.

It will not work to say “give me God, not doctrine”! It will not work to say, “I live only for God and I do not care about doctrines”. God is not honored by such talk!

Finally, even though it is not the point of this post, it would also be necessary to point out quote-the-conviction-that-christian-doctrine-matters-for-christian-living-is-one-of-the-most-sinclair-b-ferguson-70-73-65that we must not only seek to know pure doctrine and teach pure doctrine but we must also show concern that we live it out. In the words of Paul to his protégé Timothy “watch your life and doctrine closely(1 Timothy 4:16).

If you do not see the importance and relevance of caring for sound doctrine and if you do not see the problem in how a seasoned minister can be so confused and unclear regarding an essential biblical doctrine like the Trinity, my prayer is that these few words would help you.