Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John Piper on MacArthur, Driscoll, and the Song of Solomon

Yesterday Jonathan Christman posted the above audio at his blog, where he has been tracking the debate that has arisen regardng appropriate speech for pastors. He reports that the audio is from the 2009 Basics Conference that took place on May 11-13 at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. In it, John declares his agreement with MacArthur with regard to the proper interpretation of the Song of Solomn and what makes for appropriate speech for pastors, but he disagrees with MacAthur's apparent view that such problems should automatically disqualify Driscoll from pastoral ministry.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

For Mother's Day: How Motherhood Reflects the Character and Love of God

Note: The following is a basic teaching outline for a Mother's Day message. I hope the blog's readers find it helpful.

As I was thinking about the theme for today's teaching, I came across this helpful description of of the origin of Mother's Day:
Anna M. Jarvis (1864-1948) first suggested the national observance of an annual day honoring all mothers because she had loved her own mother so dearly. At a memorial service for her mother on May 10, 1908, Miss Jarvis gave a carnation (her mother's favorite flower) to each person who attended. Within the next few years, the idea of a day to honor mothers gained popularity, and Mother's Day was observed in a number of large cities in the U.S.

On May 9, 1914, by an act of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. He established the day as a time for “public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” (Pulpit Helps, May, 1991, as cited at Sermon Illustrations)
I think it is proper that we should show appreciation for our own mothers as well as for the role of motherhood itself. And it is especially fitting that we honor godly mothers, for, as Abraham Lincoln was known to have said, “No man is poor who has had a godly mother."

But I can think of no better way to honor the mothers in our midst than to show how motherhood at its best reveals the character and love of God. This is why a loving mother is sometimes used in the Bible as a metaphor to describe God's love for us. And today I would like to take a look at a few passages where this may be seen.

But before we look at the first passage, I want to qualify what I am trying to say. I am not saying that we should refer to God by the title Mother. We should always and only refer to Him as Father and in masculine terms, which is the consistent testimony of Scripture. However, as I have said already, Scripture does use the analogy of a mother's love to picture the love of God in several places, so it is appropriate that we learn from this. So, with this caveat in place, let's consider first Isaiah 66:10-13. In this passage God likens Jerusalem to a mother, and I suspect this is where Paul may have gotten the idea when he referred in Galatians 4:26 to the heavenly Jerusalem as “the mother of us all.” However, notice as you read the passage that it isn't until verse 13 that we see that it is really God who will comfort His people as a mother comforts her children.
NKJ Isaiah 66:10-13 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; 11 that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” 12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
So, it is clear that it is really God that is metaphorically being described here as a mother who nurtures and comforts her child. But how is it that He will so comfort us? There are at least three ways in which we are told that His treatment of us is like that of a caring and nurturing mother:
1) Like a mother God provides for us – This is seen in the repeated description of the way that the mother nurtures her child (vss. 11-12a, “feed and be satisfied” – “drink” – “feed”).

2) Like a mother God protects us – This is seen in the way that the mother is described as carrying her child on her side (vs.12b, “on her sides you shall be carried” ). Just as a child is kept safe by his mother carrying him, so we are gently carried along by the Lord.

3) Like a mother God delights in us – This can be seen in the reference to the way the mother gently and joyfully bounces her child on her knees (vs.12c, “dandled on her knees”). The Hebrew word translated dandled [shaa] actually means “delight in,” but the English word dandle is probably a good translation and means “to move (as a baby) up and down in one's arms or on one's knee in affectionate play” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary). The picture us one of joyfulness, gentleness, and caring.
What a marvelous analogy the Lord uses to help us to see His affection for us as His children! But there is more.
NKJ Psalm 131:1-3 LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. 2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever.
Observe in verse 2 how David describes his relationship with God as being “like a weaned child with his mother.” He communicates a childlike trust in the Lord that doesn't need to have all the answers to every difficult question because it relies completely on the care and love of God. We can trust in God without question, just as a small child trusts his mother. This kind of faith trusts fully in God's promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). And this leads to the next passage.
NKJ Isaiah 49:14-15 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” 15 Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Just as a mother remembers her nursing child, so God will always remember us. And He doesn't just remember us, but He remembers us with compassion toward us in His heart, just as a mother is moved by compassion to feed her crying child.

Most of us would probably find it very hard to imagine how a mother could ever forget or fail to be compassionate toward her child. But we should find it even more difficult to believe that God could ever forget us!

But what if – as the LORD says in verse 15 – a mother should forget her child? What if that has happened to some of us? What if some of us have not had such a good mother and therefore struggle to grasp the kind of love being described here? For example, some of us may have been abused or abandoned by our mothers. Well, this leads to another passage I would like to bring to your attention.
NKJ Psalm 27:7-10 Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. 8 When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” 9 Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger; you have been my help; do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. 10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me [ESV, “take me in”].
Here David contemplates the possibility that even his own father and mother may abandon him, but he knows that God will never forget His children! God will take us in and take care of us even if our parents abandon us. He will be to us all that a mother or father should be – and so much more!

In fact, He will even give us other people in the Church to replace our lost parents, as Jesus promised His disciples:
NKJ Mark 10:28-30 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.” 29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Italics mine.)
This year I definitely want all of you to honor your mother. As the Fifth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a).

But even more important than that, I encourage you to take time to praise God and thank Him for the way in which godly motherhood pictures His tender love and care for us. And, of course, this is what any godly mother would want you to do as well!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Importance of the Ascension of Christ

Recently I was reading John Calvin's discussion of the ascension of Jesus in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. I was struck by his treatment of the "benefits imparted to our faith by Christ's ascension," in which he makes the following observations:
From this doctrine faith derives manifold advantages. First, it perceives that the Lord, by his ascension to heaven, has opened up the access to the heavenly kingdom, which Adam had shut. For having entered it in our flesh, as it were in our name, it follows, as the Apostle says, that we are in a manner now seated in heavenly places, not entertaining a mere hope of heaven, but possessing it in our head.

Secondly, faith perceives that his seat beside the Father is not without great advantage to us. Having entered the temple not made with hands, he constantly appears as our advocate and intercessor in the presence of the Father; directs attention to his own righteousness, so as to turn it away from our sins; so reconciles him to us, as by his intercession to pave for us a way of access to his throne, presenting it to miserable sinners, to whom it would otherwise be an object of dread, as replete with grace and mercy.

Thirdly, it discerns his power, on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive,” (Eph. 4:8). Spoiling his foes, he gave gifts to his people, and daily loads them with spiritual riches. He thus occupies his exalted seat, that thence transferring his virtue unto us, he may quicken us to spiritual life, sanctify us by his Spirit, and adorn his Church with various graces, by his protection preserve it safe from all harm, and by the strength of his hand curb the enemies raging against his cross and our salvation; in fine, that he may possess all power in heaven and earth, until he have utterly routed all his foes, who are also ours and completed the structure of his Church. Such is the true nature of the kingdom, such the power which the Father has conferred upon him, until he arrive to complete the last act by judging the quick and the dead. (2.2.16)
I was glad to see Calvin's emphasis upon the ascension, and I was reminded of a teaching I gave several years ago as I began to realize how little Christians think about or emphasize the ascension today. I thought it might be good, then, to share this teaching here. What follows is my own teaching outline:

Teaching Outline on the Ascension of Christ

Introduction: Ask for contribution from the congregation to answer the question: “What are the most significant events of Jesus' life or aspects of His work for us?” Answers will do doubt include such things as His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Sadly, I have yet to hear anyone mention the ascension when I ask this question. But what about His ascension? What can we learn from it, and why do we need to know about it?

Many Christians have not given Jesus' ascension much thought, except, perhaps, as a part of a discussion of His return – which we will see is indeed important. But there are a number of things the Bible has to say about why Jesus ascended into Heaven. In fact, we will examine nine reasons for His ascension.

1. Jesus ascended to demonstrate the manner in which He would return.

NKJ Acts 1:9-11 “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'”

Application: This passage is the primary reason why Christians have consistently affirmed the visible, bodily return of Christ in the future. We do not have to worry that He might have come back already and we somehow missed it! He was seen going into heaven, and He will be seen coming back to earth!

2. Jesus ascended to complete His exaltation.

NKJ Acts 2:33-36 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”' 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

NKJ Acts 5:31 “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”

NKJ Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

NKJ 1 Timothy 3:16 “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”

Application: We should never cease to praise Jesus as our risen and ascended Lord. We should seek to praise and honor Him as Lord in all that we do. And we should remember to include this as part of the Gospel message in our witness to others just as the Apostles did. When you tell others about Jesus, do you ever emphasize His exaltation at the Father's right hand? Do you stress His exalted status as Lord over all creation?

3. Jesus ascended to begin His reign in Heaven.

NKJ Ephesians 1:20-23 “... which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:25 “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”

NKJ 1 Peter 3:22 “...who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

Application: Many of us rightly think of Jesus as one day returning to establish His Kingdom, but we should also remember that He is already reigning over all things. He is already the King to whom every knee ought to bow, and our allegiance to Him takes precedence over all other allegiances.

4. Jesus ascended to demonstrate the completion of His sacrificial work.

NKJ Hebrews 1:1-3 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high....”

NKJ Hebrews 10:11-12 “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God....”

NKJ Hebrews 12:2 “....looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Application: Jesus' work was finished, and there was nothing left to be done in order to accomplish forgiveness for our sins, so – unlike the Levitical priests – He sat down. If He needed to do nothing more for us in His atoning work, then we can certainly do nothing to add to what He has done! We can fully place our trust in what He has done for us, confident that there is nothing left to do!

5. Jesus ascended in order to prepare a place for us.

NKJ John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Illustration: When we have guests coming, we get ready for them in advance, especially when we are glad to have them coming to stay with us. And we aren't going to spend all that time getting ready for the visit only to forget to pick our guest up at the airport!

Application: Jesus is already making preparation for the eternity we will spend with Him in Heaven! What a tremendous encouragement for us all. And if He is working to prepare this place for us, then we know He is doing it for a reason, to come for us and take us home with Him.

6. Jesus ascended in order to send the Holy Spirit to us.

NKJ John 14:16-18 “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever -- 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Application: The Holy Spirit enables us to experience the presence of Jesus in our lives at all times.

NKJ John 16:7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

Jesus doesn't say why He must go for the Spirit to come. It was apparently a part of a plan that must be followed.

Application: The Holy Spirit has come to us in a way that He would not have come if Jesus had not ascended back to Heaven. And His empowering presence is a blessing that we wouldn't have known aside from Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension.

7. Jesus ascended in order to continue His intercession for us at the Father's right hand.

NKJ Romans 8:34 “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

NKJ Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Application: It is such an encouragement to know that Jesus went to bend the Father's ear, so to speak, on our behalf! He is right there, in the most exalted place, nearest to the Father, interceding for us constantly.

8. Jesus ascended in order to demonstrate His victory.

NKJ Ephesians 4:8 “Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men'.”

Quote: John Gill has aptly commented on this passage:
[This] is expressive of Christ's conquests and triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and the grave; and indeed, every spiritual enemy of his and his people, especially the devil, who leads men captive at his will, and is therefore called captivity, and his principalities and powers, whom Christ has spoiled and triumphed over; the allusion is to the public triumphs of the Romans, in which captives were led in chains, and exposed to open view. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
The victory that He demonstrated through His ascension was the victory He wrought upon the cross:

NKJ Colossians 2:13-15 “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

Application: What an encouragement that Jesus did not ascend without first winning the decisive battle over all our enemies! His ascension proves that the victory is ours through His work and power.

9. Jesus ascended in order to give gifts to the Church.

NKJ Ephesians 4:8-13 “Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.' 9 (Now this, 'He ascended' -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ....”

Application: Not only did Jesus leave us the Holy Spirit (as we saw earlier), but He also made sure that He gave us the leaders and the teachers we will need – and that the Holy Spirit will use – to help us achieve maturity as Christians and to serve Him in the Church and in the world. Do you often think of your pastor-teachers, for example, as gifts from Jesus to you? Do you thank Him for these gifts?

Conclusion: Will you all think about the ascension of Jesus the next time you are pondering the most important events in His life or the most important aspects of His saving work on our behalf? Will you remember to worship Him as your risen and ascended Lord, as you ought to do? Will you remember to speak of His exalted status as the ascended Lord when you tell others about Him?

I hope the blog's readers find this brief teaching outline helpful, not only in reminding themselves of the importance of Jesus' ascension, but also as an aid to help remind others as well.

Soli Deo gloria!