Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:44-46 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: In the past weeks we have examined four of the seven kingdom parables contained in Matthew 13. We first looked at the Parable of the Sower, which described the reactions that could be expected to the good news about the kingdom, and we saw that there would be many who would not truly believe. We also saw that we must not seek to change the message in order to try to get people to accept it, because those who have been given ears to hear will respond to the truth. Then we looked at the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, which described another mystery of the kingdom, which is that it would not come as many of the Jews in Jesus' day expected it to come. There would be a period of time between Jesus' first and second coming, in which His people would have to remain in this world with the evil working of the devil and his “sons of disobedience” all around them. Although the kingdom of heaven is here now, its full realization has not yet come. Then last week we examined a pair of parables – the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven – both of which taught that, although the kingdom may seem to have a small and insignificant beginning, we can be assured of the greatness of its ultimate fulfillment.

Today we are going to look at another pair of parables – the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price – and again we will see that this pair of parables makes essentially the same point. They both emphasize the incomparable value of the kingdom and the realization of this by those who discover it. Or, as Michael Green states it, “These two little gems of parables go together. Both stress the incalculable value of the kingdom: it is worth any sacrifice. Both stress the cost of gaining it: it will cost all we have” (The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven).

I. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

This parable is found in verse 44:
NKJ  Matthew 13:44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden [κρύπτω] in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
I would like to point out a couple of things this parable teaches about the kingdom of heaven.

1. The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure.

When Jesus says the kingdom in like treasure that is hidden, He is highlighting a theme of His teaching to the disciples earlier in His ministry as well as here in this passage. We have considered this theme in previous messages, but it is worth noting again, since Jesus again brings it up. For example, as we saw last week, Jesus emphasized this theme in the Parable of the Leaven:
NKJ  Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid [ἐγκρύπτω] in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
Remember also Matthew's assertion about why Jesus taught in parables:
NKJ  Matthew 13:34-35 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret [κρύπτω, or hidden] from the foundation of the world.”
But, of course, these two parables were spoken by Jesus to His disciples, immediately following His explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, as is made clear in verse 36. He has taken the time to explain the meaning of the more difficult parables to them precisely because He is not hiding the kingdom from them! They are among those who to whom it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom (vs.11). They are among those who already have and to whom more is being given (vs. 12). They are among those who have been blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear (vs. 16). And this is also why we can assume that He intended them to get what He was saying in these two parables. Indeed, His point is pretty hard to miss!

Anyway, I am reviewing the context for you again so that you will not miss the emphasis intended here by Jesus when says that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure. It is something that is incredibly valuable, but that cannot be seen by everyone. Those who see its value are those who find it. But how do they find it? How can they see the kingdom at all, if it is, in fact, hidden? Well, as I have already reminded you, it is because it has been given to them by God to know, and He has blessed them with eyes to see. This is in accord with what Jesus taught the disciples on a previous occasion, that the kingdom must be revealed by God the Father:
NKJ Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden [κρύπτω] these things [kingdom truths] from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes [referring to His disciples].”
Jesus also spoke of these same things to Nicodemus on the night that he came to talk with Him:
NKJ  John 3:1-6 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
We can only find the the kingdom and recognize it for the treasure that it is if the Holy Spirit works within us and gives us the eyes to see. And, although Jesus does not go into detail about this fact in this parable, His emphasis upon the kingdom as hidden assumes it.

2. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure so valuable that it is worth all that one has.

At this point there may be some who question whether the man who found the treasure was being ethical in covering it over and not telling the owner of the field about it. Well, Jesus' hearers would not have perceived any ethical difficulty at all … for a couple of reasons:

First, the Jewish law at that time did not recognize any ethical problem with keeping what one found in such a situation. As D.A. Carson observes in his commentary on this parable:
[U]nder rabbinic law if a workman came on a treasure in a field and lifted it out, it would belong to his master, the field’s owner; but here the man is careful not to lift the treasure out till he has bought the field. So the parable deals with neither the legality nor the morality of the situation … but with the value of the treasure, which is worth every sacrifice. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 328)
Second, the treasure apparently didn't belong to the owner of the field anyway, or else he would surely have dug it up before he sold the field! And such a situation would not have surprised any of Jesus' hearers either, since it was fairly common for people to bury their valuables in those days. Palestine was a place that endured many wars, and the best way to keep from losing what you had was to hide it. In addition, they did not have a banking system such as we have today, and the best way to insure that you would not lose what was valuable to you was to hide it.

At any rate, finding a treasure that had been hidden in a field, most likely by someone long dead, would not have been all that unusual a situation. As we have seen, what is unusual about the story is that the kingdom of heaven has come in such a hidden way. But here the one who finds it realizes the great value of what he has found, and he is willing to give up everything to obtain it. Not only does he give up everything he has to get it, however, but he does so joyfully! Jesus says, “for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Application: Have your eyes been opened by God to see the Kingdom for what it is? If so, then won't you be one of those who would joyfully give up everything for the sake of the kingdom? Do you see the kingdom as more valuable than everything this world has to offer?

As the martyred missionary Jim Elliot once wrote in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Isn't this treasure really worth much more than we can ever think of giving up?

As D.A. Carson observes:
When the man buys the field at such sacrifice, he possesses far more than the price paid (cf. 10:39). The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 328)
As Jesus will later tell the disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)

If you do not see the kingdom as such a precious treasure, as worth more to you in the end than your own life, could it be that your eyes still need to be opened? Could it be that the kingdom is still hidden from you? If so, then ask God to give you eyes to see, as David once did:
NKJ  Psalm 119:18 “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
And the rest of us will pray for you also, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints ….” (Eph. 1:17-18).

Now let's turn our attention to the next parable.

II. The Parable of the Pearl of Great price

This parable is found in verses 45-46:
NKJ  Matthew 13:45-46 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
We don't need to spend a lot of time trying to understand the intent of this parable, since it essentially makes the same point as the preceding one. However, there is a significant difference between this parable and the Parable of the Hidden treasure.

Thomas Constable is helpful in describing the difference between this parable and the preceding one:
The same basic point recurs in this parable. The difference between this parable and the last is that here the person who finds the treasure is looking for it whereas in the previous parable the discovery was accidental. In Jesus' day there were Jews who were looking for the kingdom and Messiah (11:3) and those who were not (e.g., the religious leaders who did not accompany the wise men to Bethlehem). For both types of people the ultimate price of complete discipleship was not too much to pay for participation in the kingdom. (Notes on John, e-Sword)
Or, as D.A. Carson puts it in his commentary on this parable:
Unlike the man in the last parable, the merchant, though he sells everything he has to purchase the pearl, apparently pays a full price. Although he is an expert in pearls, this single find so far surpasses any other pearl the merchant has ever seen that he considers it a fair exchange for everything else he owns. Thus Jesus is not interested in religious efforts or in affirming that one can “buy” the kingdom; on the contrary, he is saying that the person whose whole life has been bound up with “pearls”— the entire religious heritage of the Jews? — will, on comprehending the true value of the kingdom as Jesus presents it, gladly exchange all else to follow him. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 329) 
The disciples would have been in no danger of misunderstanding Jesus' message here. They would never have thought that they could earn or buy the kingdom, since – if you will again recall in the context – they knew it was only by God's grace that they had been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom in the first place (recall again vs.11). They knew that they were not born with eyes to see, but that they had been blessed by God with eyes to see and ears to hear (recall again vs. 16).

In addition, I am sure they would not have forgotten some of Jesus' previous lessons for them, such as in the Sermon on the Mount:
NKJ  Matthew 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Referring to those who understand their own spiritual poverty and thus realize they do not deserve the kingdom.]
So, the disciples knew they couldn't and didn't earn or buy the kingdom, but they did give up everything for it, as Peter once reminded Jesus:
NKJ  Luke 18:28-30 Then Peter said, “See, we have left all and followed You.” 29 So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
And later the Apostle Paul declared:
NKJ  Philippians 3:7-9 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith ….
Conclusion: Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon on this latter parable, which is aptly entitled “A Great Bargain,” says:
[The man] thought the one pearl of more account than all other pearls and worth more than all that he had. Yes, I guarantee you that he thought it worth a great deal more than all that he possessed. He would not have sold all that he had in stock to buy it if he had not the notion that it was worth ten times the price then and, that when he had paid for it, he should have made his fortune and should be rich beyond a miser’s dream—for that is how traders in such things are sure to fetch their bargains! Well, when a man finds Christ I cannot tell you how much he values Him, but this I know— all the world besides seems nothing to a Christian when he has once found His Lord and Master!
Let us all remember just how precious a treasure we have found in Christ! And let us demonstrate this in our lives. I pray others may see in us how much the kingdom truly matters, that it is worth more than anything and everything we could ever hope to possess or become in this world.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Parables of the Mustard Seed and of the Leaven (Matthew 13:31-35 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: John MacArthur illustrates well the primary point made by these two parables:
Small things can have, ultimately, very large effects. All music, all symphonies, concertos, oratorios, hymns, songs, all music comes basically from eight notes. All the profound words that have ever been uttered or written in the English language come from 26 letters. Small beginnings; profound, extensive results.
Lord Kelvin provides us with an interesting insight into this by an experiment which he once made. He suspended a large chunk of steel weighing many, many pounds. It was hanging there in his lab to prove a point. He then proceeded to wad up little bits of paper about the size of a pea and systematically throw the wad at the steel. At first, that rather gentle tap had no affect at all. But eventually the steel was swaying back and forth and back and forth because of the relentless tapping of the little piece of paper. Small things, profound results.
That's really the lesson of these parables. And if you understand that you will understand what these parables are teaching. (Online sermon entitled, “The Power and Influence of Christ's Kingdom Part 1: Matthew 13:31-32”)
Today I want us to take time to examine each of these two parables so that we can try to learn the lessons Jesus was teaching through them.

I. Parable of the Mustard Seed

This parable is found in verses 31-32:
NKJ Matthew 13:31-32 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (See also Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18)
There are three points about the mustard seed that are emphasized by Jesus, and thus three ways in which the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.

First, it is the “least of all seeds.”

This stresses the small and seemingly insignificant beginnings of the kingdom in Jesus' ministry. His kingdom came in a way that they did not expect, through a king that was born of a poor family and placed in a manger, and who was raised a carpenter in a small and insignificant town in Galilee. Most of His own people didn't even believe in Him or in His message, but that did not mean that the kingdom of heaven hadn't arrived in His ministry.

Second, it grows to be “greater than the herbs and becomes a tree.”

This stresses that – in spite of such small beginnings – the kingdom of heaven will indeed become large. But this will take some time. It will not happen right away. Just how long it will take Jesus does not indicate. The nature of the growth of the tree and the time it takes to grow is not the focus. He intends only to point out that there is a period of time between the small beginning and the grand becoming.

Third, it provides shelter “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

This clause certainly reflects Old Testament metaphorical language that was sometimes used to refer to the greatness of a kingdom that can provide shelter and protection for nations. But many commentators see here a specific allusion to a prophetic passage found in Ezekiel:
NKJ  Ezekiel 17:22-24 Thus says the Lord GOD: 'I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort [i.e. including Gentiles]; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.
I think it is likely that Jesus is deliberately utilizing imagery from this passage, hinting at the way in which His kingdom will include the Gentiles and at the way in which the small, seemingly insignificant beginnings of the kingdom will result in greatness. Just not yet. The kingdom is here already, in Jesus' ministry, but its fullness awaits the future. This surprisingly small beginning, along with the already/not yet nature of the kingdom, comprise some of the “mysteries of the kingdom” mentioned earlier in verse 11.

As Klyne Snodgrass observes with regard to the scholarly discussion of this parable that:
… [T]here is surprising agreement about the intent of the parable. Here, virtually unquestioned, we hear the voice of Jesus asserting a vital and central element of his eschatology, his understanding of what God was doing to set things right. Whatever else is debated, this parable pictures the presence of the kingdom in Jesus' own ministry, even if others do not recognize it, and Jesus' expectation of the certain full revelation of the kingdom to come. (p. 222)
[And he is also quite helpful when he goes on to say that] Parables address questions, whether the questions are explicit or implicit. Nearly all agree that this similitude addresses the implicit question about the unimpressiveness and unexpected nature of the kingdom Jesus claimed was already present. Could what was happening with Jesus and his disciples really be the establishment of God's kingdom? Was not the kingdom supposed to be a mighty display of God's defeat of evil and the removal of the nations afflicting Israel? Jesus' miracles are nice, but where is the rest of the story? Such questions would have gone through the mind of many of Jesus' hearers, whether friend or foe. The Mustard seed similitude urges, possibly warns, that no one should be put off by what appears unimpressive. Like the tiny mustard seed which grows to a large plant, so the kingdom is present, even if hidden, unnoticed, or ignored, and its full revelation with its benefits will come. (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 225)
I couldn't agree more with Snodgrass's view of this parable. In fact, it is a good description of the essential meaning of the next parable as well.

II. Parable of the Leaven

This parable is found in verse 33:
NKJ  Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid [ἐγκρύπτω] in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
There are three important things to observe about this parable.

First, the “leaven” here refers to something good, not something bad.

I think that a misunderstanding of this fact has led many commentators – even those typically reliable in their interpretation of Scripture – to misinterpret this parable. For example, A.W. Pink states:
To make the “leaven” a figure of the Gospel and its power, of that which is good, is to contradict every other passage in Scripture where this figure is used. Christ was speaking to a Jewish audience, and with their knowledge of the O.T. Scriptures none of them would ever dream that He had reference to something that was good. With the Jews “leaven” was ever a figure of evil.
[And later he states that] The “leaven” symbolizes the corrupting of God’s truth by the introduction of evil doctrine — compare Mat 6:12. The unadulterated truth of God is too heavy for the natural man: the sovereignty of God, the helplessness of man, the awfulness of sin, the totality of human depravity, the eternal punishment of the wicked, are indigestible to the carnal mind. Therefore, Rome and her “daughters” have introduced the lightening “leaven,” so as to make, what they hand out, more palatable to their dupes. And thus has history repeated itself. Of old God complained to Israel, “Ye offer polluted bread upon Mine altar” (Mal 1:7). So today priestcraft and clericalism have corrupted the bread of God. (The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13, e-Sword)
Pink is correct in assuming that leaven can be and often is used in Scripture as a metaphor for something evil, but he is wrong in assuming that leaven must always be used with reference to something evil. For example, even though getting rid of leaven in the Old Testament feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread appears to be symbolic of getting rid of evil influences in one's life, leaven can also be seen as denoting something good:
NKJ Leviticus 7:11-14 This is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings which he shall offer to the LORD: 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, or cakes of blended flour mixed with oil. 13 Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering. 14 And from it he shall offer one cake from each offering as a heave offering to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who sprinkles the blood of the peace offering.
NKJ  Leviticus 23:17 You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.
In these passages leaven is clearly seen as indicative of something good to be offered up to God. In the same way, even though Jesus Himself can use leaven to refer to something evil – such as when He later warns the disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, 11-12) – it is nevertheless clearly used in this passage to signify something good, the kingdom of heaven on earth.

It is also worth pointing out before we move on that – as Klyne Snodgrass observes – the leaven referred to here “is not the same as yeast, the small substance we use to cause leavening. In the ancient world leaven was merely fermenting dough. Some fermented dough is kept back from baking and used to ferment the next batch” (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 231).

Second, the “leaven” is hidden (“which a woman took and hid”).

I think Jesus' emphasis on this idea – given the context – is intentional and emphasizes one of the main lessons He has been teaching the disciples. For example, earlier in Matthew Jesus taught about things that God had hidden from many but had revealed to the disciples:
NKJ Matthew 11:20-25 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden [κρύπτω] these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”
Also, immediately after telling this parable, Matthew goes on to tell us:
NKJ  Matthew 13:34-35 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Citing Psalm 78:2)
These “secret” things are being revealed to the disciples. It has been given to them “to know the mysteries of the kingdom” (vs. 11). And, of course, we too have been blessed to know these mysteries, which have been preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in this very passage. One of these mysteries is the very fact that the kingdom of heaven has come in a way that is hidden to many.

Third, the “leaven” permeates the whole batch of dough (“till it was all leavened”).

With these words Jesus emphasizes that the kingdom truly is at work in the world, however hidden that work may appear. God is accomplishing His purposes, even if we sometimes struggle to see it.

Klyne Snodgrass again does a good job capturing the essential point:
The point again is that what you see with Jesus is the beginning of what you hope for in the kingdom and will surely lead to it. The focus is not the contrast between small and large but the hidden beginning which will result in the completion of God's work, the leavening of the whole. Something has happened … and will have its full effect. A hidden power, hardly discernible to some, is already and irresistibly working. The kingdom in Jesus' ministry has its beginning and is at work, even if in a hidden or unanticipated way. (Stories With Intent: A comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 234-235)
Conclusion: I would like to conclude by calling your attention to how we might be encouraged by the teaching of these parables. We can readily see how the teaching of these parables applies to us, for the kingdom of God may often appear to us as small and relatively insignificant in the world. As we look about us, the true Church of Jesus Christ may often seem difficult to find. And the influence we hope to have in the world may seem as but a drop of water in a massive sea. We may often cry out with Asaph, “O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?” (Psalm 74:10). Or as another Psalmist lamented, “LORD, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph?” (Psalm 94:3).

But remember what the Apostle Paul has taught us:
NKJ Romans 8:18-25 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Be encouraged! What God has begun in Christ He will bring to fruition. We must learn not to “despise the day of small things” – as the LORD put it to Zechariah (4:10) – but instead to recognize the greatness of God's work even through what may appear to us as small and insignificant. In fact, we should always remember that God delights in using the apparently small and insignificant for His purposes:
NKJ  1 Corinthians 1:26-31 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-- and righteousness and sanctification and redemption -- 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
Let us join with our Savior in thanks to the Father that He has hidden such truths from “the wise and prudent” (11:25) and has revealed them to us! Let us boast in the Lord, who is able to use such weak and insignificant people as us to bring about His kingdom purposes in the World! And let us be assured by these parables that, just as certainly as the kingdom truly is here now, it will also certainly come in all its fullness in the future, when the Lord Jessu Christ returns and when He “delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For 'He has put all things under His feet.' But when He says 'all things are put under Him,' it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Silent Monks Singing Halleluia?

This video was made by some very creative high school students. I thought it might brighten the day of our readers.

NKJ  Revelation 19:1-7 "After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! 2 For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.' 3 Again they said, 'Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!' 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, 'Amen! Alleluia!' 5 Then a voice came from the throne, saying, 'Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!' 6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, 'Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.'"

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thoughts Upon John Frame's Systematic Theology

Two things I like a whole lot – books by John Frame and systematic theology. I have a whole section in my library dedicated to books on systematic theology. Extensively, I have read Calvin, Dabney, Hodge, Bavinck, Brakel, Gill, Boswell, Berkhof, Boyce, Shedd, Erickson, Grudem, Reymond, Horton, and others. These books are among my most treasured. I love me some systemic theology. And I also love John Frame. After reading the first and second volumes of his four volume series of “A Theology of Lordship” I was hooked. He quickly became one of my favorite authors, and I was committed to reading whatever was written by his golden pen. When I close a book by Frame, I feel closer to God and more enlightened to His Word. What a treasure John Frame is to the Church – and to me personally. Thus, when I learned that John Frame had written a book on systematic theology, I began foaming at the mouth. I ordered it the day that it was released, and had a good portion of it read soon after it arrived in the mail. Every other book that I was working through was quickly pushed to the side…for the crown jewel of books had arrived.
Here are a few of my initial thoughts upon John Frame’s new book on systematic theology.

Endorsement Overload
When I opened the book, one of the first things I noticed was the amount of pages that are dedicated to endorsements. How many endorsements does one book need? I guess for John Frame and P&R publishing, a book can never have too many. But who wants to read 69 endorsements that take up 20 pages? I have never seen so many endorsements for a single volume. I would think 50 would have been more than enough. No, I would say, 25 is sufficient in getting the point across? Wait? Is not 5 or 6 the standard? The truth is, I may have miscounted, but I thought it too weary of a process to double check … so please forgive me if there happens only to be 68 endorsements. At least for me, 69 endorsements seems a little over-the-top.

Massive in Appearance but Not a Slow Read
Nevertheless, I was not disappointed when I first held the book in my hands. Massive in size – the book is wider, thicker, and taller than Reymond and Grudem’s respective works on systematic theology. Yet, it did not take long to learn that the physical size of the book was somewhat deceptive. As I was reading, I noticed that I was making fast progress. Partly, this is because after I bypassed all the endorsements, I felt that I was almost halfway finished. All joking aside, as I was reading, pages were turning and my hand was moving much faster than I thought they would. This was because of the large print, healthy size margins, and about two to three pages that are easily skimmed or skipped at the end of each chapter that are dedicated to “Key Terms, Study Questions, Memory Verses, and Resources for Further Study.” So, what I thought was going to be an in-depth treatment of the various doctrines of Scripture, really turned out be a quicker read than I first imagined. Though the book is massive in size, each chapter is brief and to the point. Thus, the large book should not intimidate even the slowest of readers.

Truly, this Book is Only an Introduction to Systematic Theology
With that said, Hodge and Bavinck, in their respective works on systematic theology, like to take their time turning over every stone as they work through a variety of different interpretations upon each subject matter at hand. After explaining the forest, they move to examine the different types of trees, but they are not content until they microscopically explain the structure of the atoms that makeup the bark attached to the trees. That is, with Hodge and Bavinck, we learn at least four to five major (orthodox and unorthodox) positions upon each subheading of systematic theology.

Frame, on the other hand, does not seem to be as interested in discussing or interacting with all the opposing positions. In fact, he alerts his readers, in chapter one, that he has no intention of doing so:
I have no objection to theologians who want to include in their work a larger component of historical and contemporary discussion. As I said before, this is historical theology, and that discipline is often a great help to systematics. I do object to theologies in which the historical emphasis detracts from an adequate biblical focus. I question whether it is possible to do an excellent job of combining a systematic theology with a history of doctrine, though many have tried to do it. Certainly I am not competent to do it (Page 11).  
Frame does not take a polemical approach in this book, but rather seeks to provide a basic overview of the various doctrines of the Bible. His main objective is to have us readers submit ourselves to the Lordship of God, not merely filling our heads full of academic jargon. Thus, each chapter remains fairly brief, simple, and easy to navigate. Rather than being a robust treatment upon systemic theology, I was surprised to learn that this book really does live up to its subtitle, “An Introduction to Christian Thought.”

A Tone of Humility
Several places I was amazed to read Frame saying something along the lines of, “I am not sure,” or “I tend to believe.”  For instance, when discussing the age of the earth and the days of creation, Frame openly admitted: “I have no new insight on these issues, nor even any view on the matter that I can argue with confidence. I would direct readers to the many other scholars who are producing articles and books on these subjects. Frankly, I tend to be persuaded by the last person I listened to…” (196). This is refreshing to read. We all have gaps in our learning, thus it is nice to read someone, especially of Frame’s caliber, who does not feel as if he has to be an expert upon every subject.

Lordship Theology 
If you have read any of John Frame’s books, especially any of his books upon Lordship Theology (they are very good by the way) or his “Apologetics to the Glory of God,” it will not take long for you to notice that the overarching theme of this book is “Lordship.” Every section of the book is presented and explained as it relates back to the Lordship of God. In fact, Frame does not seem to be worried as much about how each doctrine of the Bible relates and connects with the others doctrines of Bible as much as how every doctrine relates back to God’s Lordship. Grant it, Frame is seeking to present a cohesive system of theology, but for Frame, the golden string that binds all the branches of theology together is the Lordship of God – and his assessment may be dead on.

Get Ready for the Triangle
For Frame, the presupposition of the Lordship of God is not only the prism in which all other doctrines are to be understood but it is the only prism in which all knowledge can be properly ascertained. Because God is Lord, He not only creates reality, He is the only authorative interpreter of reality. Without submitting to God as Lord, man stands upon his own false belief of epistemological self-autonomy. Upon this unstable foundation, man will always go astray in his knowledge of God, self, and reality. The only way to build a house that will stand the test of time is to build it upon a solid foundation. The Lordship of God, therefore, is the foundation of epistemology.

Consequently, according to Frame, God’s Lordship is to be understood from three different but interrelated perspectives: 1) control, 2) authority, and 3) presence. Each of these three perspectives implies the other two perspectives. And these three perspectives of the Lordship of God correspond nicely to the three perspectives of knowledge: 1) normative, 2) situational, and 3) existential. That is, without the Lordship of God, which can be viewed as God’s control, authority, and presence, we cannot properly ascertain normative, situational, and existential knowledge.

To reinforce and help explain the relationship between God’s Lordship and epistemology to all the other branches of theology, Frame uses a triangle diagram (with the authority/normative on top, control/situational at the bottom left, and presence/existential at the bottom right). With just a quick thumbing through the pages of the book, I counted no less than 35 triangles, missing, I am sure, many in the process. So get ready for the triad pyramid.

Mixing the Order of Things
As I mentioned earlier, with the “Lordship motif,” Frame is not as concerned about how each branch of theology fits together with the other branches of theology as much as he is concerned about explaining how each biblical doctrine ties back into the Lordship of God. Of course, how to order or arrange the various branches of theology in a systemic way has been debated and will continue to be debated as long as there is more than one systematic theologian. But Frame’s order of things seems unhelpful at places – even unnatural. With his “Lordship motif,” I do not mind and I completely understand why he would choose to discuss Theology Proper (the doctrine of God) before talking about Bibliology (the doctrine of the Scriptures). I found it odd, however, that Frame opens up the doctrine of God with “the doctrine of miracles” (which is typically seen as a subcategory of providence). It is as if Frame arbitrarily works backwards. He begins with the doctrine of “Miracle[s]” and then moves on to “Providence,” “Creation,” “Decrees,” and only afterwards treats the various “Attributes of God.” It is more natural and helpful, it seems to me, to start with the major headings of theology before trying to explain the subheadings. On a positive note, at least Frame, more than likely, will not be charged with the “evils” of scholasticism.

A Minor Inconsistency 
Frame does a brilliant job explaining the “already, but not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. Concisely, clearly, and convincingly Frame lays out how all redemptive history is divided into two ages – “this age” and the “age to come.” “This age” is the period in which sin reigns. “This age” began at the fall and will continue until the second coming of Christ, when Christ puts a full end to the reign of sin. On the other hand, “the age to come” is the age and dominion of righteousness. “The age to come” was introduced with the first coming of Christ, when the Lord Jesus conquered sin, the Devil, and death in life, death, and resurrection, but the “age to come” will not be fully consummated until the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth where only righteousness dwells. Christ, in other words, established the kingdom of God and introduced the “age to come” to all those who by faith are born again into the kingdom of God.

Consequently, believers presently live in both ages at the same time. “So the biblical data,” Frame remarks, “is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, the last days are here in Christ. On the other hand, much remains future. The age to come is present: the present age lingers. From Jesus’ ministry until his return, the two ages exist simultaneously” (90).  In another place, Frame states: “So the kingdom is here, but yet to come. The fulfillment of history has occurred already, in Christ, but is also not yet, for there is more to come. This is the tension that theologian refer as the already and the not yet” (1094).

I am in full agreement with Frame's assessment of the matter, but I find it strange that, just a few pages away (97-98), he quickly, and without much explanation, dismisses “Two Kingdom theology.”

Yet, Two Kingdom theology is founded upon the “already, but not yet” nature of the kingdom of God that Frame so nicely articulated. Frame agrees that there are two separate ages/kingdoms that currently coexist. Frame also agrees that these two ages/kingdoms will continue to run side by side until the return of Christ. Thus, Frame must agree, to some degree, that every Christian has his foot in both ages/kingdoms.

Although having written a whole book upon the subject (The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology), Frame presents Two Kingdom theology in an overly simplistic fashion, as if Two Kingdom theology teaches that the secular civil order and the sacred church are two spheres or jurisdictions that have no point of connection. Or, as Frame represents it, the church “should never (or very rarely) try to influence the secular world” (97).

Though I would not say that Frame built a straw man, he did not give an accurate presentation of Two Kingdom theology. Yes, Two Kingdom theology believes that the secular kingdom is like a ship that is sinking and the hope of the believer is not found in “this age” but in the “age to come.” And, yes, within Two Kingdom theology there may be debate as to what degree the believer should give his or her attention to polishing the brass railings of a ship that is doomed to sink. But to say that those who hold to Two Kingdom theology teach that the believer should totally neglect polishing the brass altogether is an overstatement at best.

Although our citizenship is in heaven, we are still residents of this word. In fact, the idea of two kingdoms implies that we are members of both realms. Thus, we should be concerned about politics, social justice, and environmental conservation. I guess the amount of time and energy that we should give to polishing brass (being a positive influence upon the culture), is dependent upon just how fast we believe that the sinking ship is sinking. If we knew with certainty that the ship would be sunk by today’s end, then of course we would all likely quit our jobs (as many of the saints did at Thessalonica) and not worry about conservation and planting any new trees. If it was Election Day, we might not even worry about casting our votes but rather spend the rest of our allotted time preaching the gospel to as many lost people as possible. But since we were not given a certain date and we are commissioned by God to live our lives as if the ship may continue to sail for future generations, then of course we should want to put a little attention in polishing the brass. We should desire for our Christian values to have the greatest impact possible upon this “present evil age.” We should desire to influence the culture for good, knowing that even on our deathbed an apple tree is worth planting if our children and grandchildren will benefit from its fruits.

In fact, to be a good citizen of the kingdom of God is to seek to be a good resident of this world. Christian musicians, welders, bakers, doctors and the like should want to practice their art and go about their jobs for the glory of God. This is not opposed to Two Kingdom theology.

But regardless of how much we become politically involved, environmentally concerned, and worried about polishing brass for the glory of God, our chief hope and aim is not redeeming this fallen world (that is ultimately doomed to destruction) but is rather seeking to spread the gospel that redeems fallen people out of this “present evil age” – a gospel that provides a narrow passageway to the “age to come.” This is the essence of Two Kingdom theology, not hiding ourselves in an isolated bunker with absolutely no contact or concern for the culture around us, but rather living in both spheres to the best of our abilities for the glory of God.

Nevertheless, with Frame leaning towards the postmillennial position (“I suppose I’m more of a postmil than anything else,” p. 1094), I can understand why he reacts negatively towards Two Kingdom theology.

A Major Inconsistency
Frame’s rejection of Two Kingdom theology may merely be a matter of emphasis, but a more blatant contradiction is found in his covenantal nomism. Covenantal nomism is inconsistent and completely incompatible with the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Covenantal nomism is the idea that we enter into the covenant of grace by God’s grace but we remain within the covenant of grace by works. And no matter how one tries to explain it, once conditions are incorporated into the covenant of grace, the covenant ceases to be a covenant of grace
Frame lays out covenantal nomism when explaining the nature of the Mosaic covenant. For instance, Frame states: 
Is the election of Israel based on works or grace? As we saw in Deuteronomy 7:7-8 and 9:4-6, it is not because of Israel’s numbers (power, influence) or righteousness, but wholly because of God’s unmerited love, that is, his grace .... On the other hand, Israel’s continued status in God’s covenant depends on obedience. God told the people at Mount Sinai, during the covenant-making .... The covenant relationship itself, here, is conditioned on obedience (215).
And, according to Frame, not only is the Mosaic covenant conditional, every other covenant – including the new covenant – is also conditional, as he made clear with these words: “God’s grace and human obedience in the Mosaic Covenant is the same as that in the other covenants” (73).

The tension for Frame, therefore, comes when he seeks to explain how conditions fit into the covenant of grace. Is the obedience that is necessary to remain in the covenant of grace the evidences of faith (e.g., evangelical obedience), or are they works that merit God’s continual blessing?

The answer to this question is where Frame wavers. In order to protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Frame at times insists that the condition requires merely “evangelical obedience.” “[A]ll covenants,” Frame says, “require obedient faith … obedience itself, springing from faith, is simply a requirement of all relations between God and human beings” (70). This sentiment is repeated several times by Frame: “The new covenant is unconditional in that its very content is God’s unconditional gift of a new heart, fulfilling all covenant conditions. But it is conditional in that those conditions are real and necessary. We are justified by faith alone, not by any effort to earn our salvation … But the faith by which we are justified is a living and obedient faith…” (81). “We are not saved by keeping the law, but we are always obligated to keep the law, and once we are saved and raised from death to life, we desire to keep the law out of love for God and for Jesus” (97). “So God’s love both initiates the covenant and continues as his people respond in obedience. It initiates the covenant unconditionally, but its continuance is conditional on human obedience” (240).

But at other times, Frame states that this condition can be broken. It is inconsistent to say, as Frame does, that “evangelical obedience” (which is the evidence of faith) is conditionally necessary. However, it is even more inconsistent for Frame to admit that some within the covenant of grace do not meet this conditional requirement. Consequently, this places these covenant breakers under the curse of God. Such was the case for many of the Israelites as Frame explained: “So although the election of Israel is by grace, there is an important place for continued faithfulness. In this historical form of election, people can lose their [historical] elect status by faithlessness and disobedience” (216). In other words, not everyone who enters into the covenant of grace by grace alone remains in the covenant by grace alone. Some, due to their lack of covenantal faithfulness (e.g., works) are cut off from God and His covenant people.

Yet, this is blatantly inconsistent. Even when dividing the covenant of grace into an outer and inner membership (which Frame does not explicitly articulate in this book), it still does not resolve the fact that those who turned out to be covenant breakers were given conditions which they were unable to fulfill. And how can this properly be called a covenant of grace for those members who never received grace or lost their grace? For covenant breakers, the covenant of grace was merely works based.

Moreover, for covenant keepers, those who are born again by the Holy Spirit and those whom God initially and continually supplies the grace that is “necessary” for them to fulfill the conditional requirement of the covenant, they proved to have remained members of the covenant of grace by their synergistic efforts that cooperated with the grace of God. As Frame makes clear, he believes that believers keep the condition by grace:
“God’s covenants are unconditional in the sense that God will always carry out the purposes for which he made the covenants. In the covenant of grace, God the Father will certainly save all those he has given to belong to his Son. But they are conditional in that those who would receive those blessings must respond to God with a living faith (James 2:14-26). By God’s sovereign plan, however, he sees to it that the conditions are met in those he has ordained for salvation” (67).
And if this is true, then the condition of the covenant of grace is not fulfilled in Christ’s merits alone. This is troubling. For if remaining within the covenant of grace and under the favor of God is due to covenantal faithfulness (even when that covenantal faithfulness is evangelical obedience that is wrought by God’s grace), then man’s synergic efforts play a role in their enjoyment of the covenantal blessings of God. And, if God’s covenantal blessings hinge to any degree upon synergism, then this effects the glorious doctrine of justification by faith alone. (For this reason, I find it even more troubling that Frame seeks to rescue Norman Sheperd from his critics, 974-975).

So, regardless, if the condition of the covenant of grace requires either “evangelical obedience” or “meritorious works,” placing conditions within the covenant of grace turns it into a covenant of works.

Frame makes it absolutely clear that justification is grounded upon the finished works of Christ alone (968-969). Though his covenantal nomism contradicts this, he thankfully does not push his covenantal nomism to its logical conclusion.

Even with his inconsistency, John Frame is still John Frame and the strengths of this book far outweigh its shortcomings. It lines up nicely with the rest of my books on systematic theology. As a pastor, I am in search for the perfect systematic theology book to recommend to the next generation of pastors. At this point, Calvin’s Institutes has yet to meet its rival and Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology is hard to beat for a contemporary presentation.   

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Journey Books Make Great Christmas Gifts

If you are still looking for a good Christmas gift, consider starting someone out on the Journey series of theological novels by Dr. Richard Belcher.

In this series Dr. Belcher has sought to combine teaching theology with the ongoing story of a man's life, beginning with his first encounter with Calvinism in Bible college and following his career as a pastor and eventually a seminary professor. They are informed by the author's own extensive ministry experience from many years of faithful service.

The series has helped many people to become more interested in learning sound theology. In fact, the first book in the series, A Journey in Grace, is what helped my wife to understand and embrace the Doctrines of Grace years ago.

Here is the complete list of Journey books currently available:
1–A Journey in Grace $12.95
2–A Journey in Purity $12.95
3–A Journey in Authority $12.95
4–A Journey in the Spirit $12.95
5–A Journey in Inspiration $12.95
6–A Journey in Providence $12.95
7–A Journey in Eschatology $12.95
8–A Journey in Salvation $12.95
9–A Journey in Revival $12.95
10–A Journey in Baptism $12.95
11—A Journey in Roman Catholicism $12.95
12—A Journey in God’s Glory $12.95
13—A Journey in Faith $12.95
14—A Journey in Sovereignty $12.95
15—A Journey in Evangelism and Missions $12.95
16—A Journey in Christian Heritage $12.95
17—A Journey in Heresy $12.95
18—A Journey in Dispensationalism $12.95
19—A Journey in Baptist History $12.95
20—A Journey in Matthew 24 $12.95
21—A Journey in Sanctification $12.95
22—A Journey to Eternity $12.95
23—A Journey in Predestination $12.95
24—A Journey in Practical Christianity $12.95 
As you can see, they are very inexpensive. You can find about how to order the books from the Richbarry Press website.

By the way, you will also find some other very good works there, from the Ministry Helps for Greek and exegetical studies to works on theological history and various theological topics. For example, I regard Preaching the Gospel: A Theological Perspective and a Personal Method as a must read for the beginning preacher, and I have found that A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology has been helpful in introducing and explaining the basics of these two systems of theology to others.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology

In case our blog's readers haven't noticed yet, over at the 1689 Federalism website, on their books page, is a sign up form to be notified when the forthcoming book, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, is published.

It promises to be an important work from a collection of excellent Reformed Baptist scholars, including our own Jeff Johnson. Richard Barcellos posted here back in February that he is editing the book.

Here is the description given on the sign up page:
Table of Contents
Introduction, James M. Renihan, Ph.D.

1. A Brief Overview of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodox Federalism, Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.
2. Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Confessions of Faith, James M. Renihan, Ph.D.
3. By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault, Th.M.
4. The Puritan Argument for the Immersion of Believers: How Seventeenth-Century Baptists Utilized the Regulative Principle of Worship, Steve Weaver
5. The Antipaedobaptism of John Tombes, Michael T. Renihan, Ph.D.
6. The Abrahamic Covenant in the Thought of John Tombes, Michael T. Renihan, Ph.D.
7. John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant, Thomas E. Hicks, Jr., Ph.D.
8. A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics, Jeffrey A. Massey

9. The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, Jeffrey D. Johnson
10. The Difference Between the Old and New Covenants: John Owen on Hebrews 8:6, John Owen
11. The Newness of the New Covenant (Part 1), James R. White, Th.D.
12. The Newness of the New Covenant (Part 2), James R. White, Th.D.
13. Acts 2:39 in its Context: An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism (Part 1), Jamin Hübner
14. Acts 2:39 in its Context: Case Studies in Paedobaptist Interpretations of Acts 2:39 (Part 2), Jamin Hübner
15. An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12, Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.

16. Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Micah and Samuel Renihan
It looks like this book has been in the works for some time. I hope it won't be much longer until it is published.