Category Archives: Old Testament Studies

The Old Testament are the biblical books considered by Christians to be canonical Scripture and the self-revelation of God and thus authoritative for Christian churches. The Protestant Canon is composed of 39 verbal. plenary, God-breathed inerrant books (there are also 27 New Testament books that complete the Scriptures).

John Piper on How to Pray for a Desolate Church

An Exposition of Daniel 9:1-23

Piper w hands up preaching image

Daniel’s Prayer for His People

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

The reason I titled this message “How to Pray for a Desolate Church” is that I see much of the Christian church today as desolate. The ruin of Jerusalem and the captivity of Israel in Babylon are pictures of the church today in many places around the world. There are pockets of life and purity and depth and faithfulness and power and zeal around the world. God will never give up on his people and he will get his global purposes done, even if he has to use a remnant to do it.

But much of the Christian movement today has become a desolation of disobedience and disunity and dishonor to the name of Christ. So the way Daniel prays for the desolation of his people is a pointer for how we can pray for the desolation of ours.

Three Aspects of the Desolation of God’s People

Let me mention three aspects of the desolation of God’s people in this text to see if you won’t agree that it sounds like much of the Christian movement today.

1. The People Are Captive to Godless Forces

Two times, verses 11 and 13, Daniel says that this calamity of Babylonian captivity was warned against in the law of Moses. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:36 Moses says that if the people forsake God, “The Lord will bring you . . . to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known; and there you shall serve other gods.” Now that had come true in Babylon.

In 1520, Martin Luther wrote an essay which he called “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” What he meant was that forces and powers that were foreign to Christ and to his Word had captured the mind and heart of the church. She was in bondage to godless forces.

That is the situation in much of the church today. Millions of church-goers today think the way the world thinks. The simple assumptions that govern behavior and choices come more from what is absorbed from our culture than from the Word of God. The church shares the love affair of the world with prosperity and ease and self. Many groups of Christians are just not that different from the spirit of Babylon, even though the Lord says that we are aliens and exiles and that we are not to be conformed to this age. So, like Israel of old, much of God’s church today is captive to godless forces.

2. The People Are Guilty and Ashamed

Daniel spends most of his prayer confessing the sin of the people. For example, verse 5: “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments.” In other words, we have great guilt before God. And because of this real guilt there is real shame. This is mentioned in verses 7 and 8. The RSV has the phrase “confusion of face”“To us belongs confusion of face.” Literally it means, “To us belongs shame of face.” What we have done is so terrible and so known that our face turns red and we want to cover it and run away. That is the way Daniel felt about the people of God. Their guilt and their shame were great.

Today in the church there is an uneasy conscience. There is the deep sense that we are to be radically different, living on the brink of eternity with counter-cultural values and behaviors of love and justice and risk-taking service that show our citizenship is in heaven. But then, we look in the mirror and we see that the church does not look that way. And the result is a sense of shame based on the real guilt of unbelief and disobedience. So we slink through our days with faces covered, and scarcely anyone knows we are disciples of Jesus.

3. The People Were a Byword Among the Nations

Verse 16b: “Jerusalem and thy people have become a byword among all who are round about us.” “Byword” (in the RSV) means reproach, or object of scorn. It means that the nations look at the defeated and scattered Israelites and they laugh. They mock Israel’s God.

That is the way it is with the Christian church in many places. She has made the name of Jesus an object of scorn by her duplicity—trying to go by the name Christian and yet marching to the drum of the world. So the world sees the name “Christian” as nothing radically different—perhaps a nice way to add a little component of spirituality to the other parts of life that basically stay the same.

So when Daniel prays for the desolations of the people of Israel, I hear a prayer for the desolations of the Christian church—captive to godless forces, guilty and ashamed, and a byword among the nations.

Four Ways to Pray for a Desolate Church

Now how do we pray for such a church?

1. Go to the Bible

First, we pray for a desolate church by beginning where Daniel began. We go to the books.

Verse 2: “In the first year of [Darius’s] reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books . . . “ The books are the prophet Jeremiah and other biblical books. Prayer begins with the Bible.

George Mueller said that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. And inevitably his mind wandered. Then he started with the Book, and turned the Book into prayer as he read, and for 40 years he was able to stay focused and powerful in prayer.

Without the Bible in our prayers, they will be just as worldly as the church we are trying to free from worldliness. Daniel’s prayer begins with the Bible and it is saturated with the Bible. Phrase after phrase comes right out of the Scriptures. There are allusions to Leviticus (26:40) and Deuteronomy (28:64) and Exodus (34:6) and Psalms (44:14) and Jeremiah (25:11). The prayer brims with a biblical view of reality, because it brims with the Bible.

What I have seen is that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer. This is not my idea. Jesus was pointing to it in John 15:7 when he said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 5:7). When he says, “If my words abide in you . . . ,” he means, “If my words saturate your mind . . . if my words shape your way if thinking . . . if my words are memorized and just as likely to come to your mind as advertising jingles . . . then you will pray so as to heal the desolations of the church.”

So the first way to pray for a desolate church is to go to the Book. Saturate your mind with the Bible. Pray the Scripture.

2. Confess Our Sin

The second way to pray for a desolate church is to confess our sin.

About 12 verses of Daniel’s prayer is confession: verses 4–15. This means being truthful about God and about sin.

It means recognizing sin as sin and calling it bad names, not soft names: things like wickedness and rebellion and wrong (v. 5) and treachery and shameful (v. 7) and disobedience (v. 10). It means recognizing God as righteous (v. 7) and great and fearful (v. 4) and merciful and forgiving (v. 9). It means feeling broken and remorseful and guilty (v. 8) before God.

Before God! There is a difference between feeling miserable because sin has made our life miserable and feeling broken because our sin has offended the holiness of God and brought reproach on his name. Daniel’s confession—biblical confession—is God-centered. The issue is not admitting that we have made our life miserable. The issue is admitting that there is something much worse than our misery, namely, the offended holiness and glory of God.

So we pray for a desolate church by going to the Book and by confessing our sins.

3. Remember Past Mercies Knowing God Never Changes

The way to pray for a desolate church is to remember past mercies, and be encouraged that God never changes.

Verse 15: “And now, O Lord our God, who didst bring thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand . . . “ Daniel knew that the reason God saved Israel from Egypt was not because Israel was so good. Psalm 106:7–8,

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.

Prayer for a desolate church is sustained by the memory of past mercies. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If God saved a rebellious people once at the Red Sea, he can save them again. So when we pray for a desolate church, we can remember brighter days that the church has known, and darker days from which she was saved.

This is why church history is so valuable. There have been bad days before that God had turned around. The papers this week have been full of statistics of America’s downward spiral into violence and corruption. Church history is a great antidote to despair at times like this. For example, to read about the moral decadence and violence of 18th century England before God sent George Whitefield and John Wesley is like reading today’s newspapers. For example,

Only five or six members of parliament even went to church . . . The plague, small pox, and countless diseases we call minor today had no cures . . . Clothing was expensive, so many of the cities’ poor wore rags that were like their bedding, full of lice . . . The penalties for crimes seem barbaric today (hanging for petty thievery) . . . Young boys, and sometimes girls, were bound over to a master for seven years of training. They worked six days a week, every day from dawn to dusk and often beyond . . . If you were unlucky and starving, you might fall foul of the law and be packed off to the stench of New Gate Prison. From there, you might have the chance to go to the New World in a boat loaded with prisoners of all sorts . . . [Drunkenness was rampant] and gin was fed to the babies too, to keep them quiet, with blindness and often death as a result [did you think crack babies were a new thing?] . . . The people’s love of tormenting animals at bull-baitings was equaled only by their delight in a public execution. (“Revival and Revolution,” Christian History 2, pp. 7–8)

All that and more, including a desolate and corrupt and powerless church. Yet God moved with a great awakening. And to add hope upon hope for our prayers, he used two men who could not agree on some significant theological points and one of them was overweight and the other was 5′ 3″ tall and weighed 128 pounds.

We pray for a desolate church by remembering past mercies, past triumphs of grace. We remember that history is not a straight line down any more than it is a straight line up.

4. Appeal to God’s Zeal for the Glory of His Own Name

Finally, we pray for a desolate church by appealing to God’s zeal for the glory of his own name.

Look how the prayer comes to its climax in verses 18b–19: “We do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness but on the ground of thy great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, give heed and act; delay not, for thy own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”

The people of God are known by his name. And God has an infinite zeal for his own name. He will not let it be reproached and made a byword indefinitely. That is our deepest confidence. God is committed to God. God is committed with explosive passion to the glory of his name and the truth of his reputation.

So that’s the bottom of our prayer for a desolate church. We are called by your name. We live by your name. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. For your name’s sake, O Lord, save. For your name’s sake, revive. For your name’s sake purify and heal and empower your church, O Lord. For we are called by your name.

©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website:


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James Montgomery Boice on the Distinction Between the Rapture and the Lord’s Day

Two Great Days: The Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ

What The Bible Has To Say About The Future: Part 3 in a Series of 9 – By Dr. James M. Boice

To the people of the ancient east the stars had great significance. They were the means by which people determined the hours of the night and the seasons of the year. The morning star was particularly important for it heralded the rising of the sun and the coming of a new day. The Lord Jesus Christ is our morning star, according to the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:16). He is coming. The dark night of human history may be long and filled with grim terrors, but the Daystar is coming and with Him the dawning of a new age.

We will consider the importance of this theme in biblical prophecy, to distinguish between two important aspects of Christ’s coming under the descriptive phrases “the day of the Lord” and “the day of Jesus Christ,” and to develop the relevance of the theme of the Lord’s return.

A Prominent Doctrine

It is unfortunate that in our day the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded to a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in the opinion of many persons, even, it seems, within large segments of the evangelical church. That may be true in part because many extravagant, foolish, and utterly unscriptural  teachings have been linked to the doctrine of the Lord’s return. But that has been true of all biblical doctrines at some point of history, and that alone should not deter us from seeking to appreciate a theme which is prominent in the Word of God.

How prominent is this doctrine? In the New Testament 1 verse in 25 deals with the Lord’s return. It is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters of the New Testament. It occupies a prominent place in the Old Testament, inasmuch as the greater part of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ in the Old Testament deal, not with His first advent in which He died as our sin-bearer, but with His second advent in which He is to rule as King. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians (which deals with a particular problem that had emerged within the churches of Galatia) and the very short books of the New Testament such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon.

The various New Testament writers obviously believed in the Lord’s return. Mark traced the origins  of his belief to the very words of Jesus. The first reference to the return of Jesus in Mark occurs in chapter 8. There is recorded Peter’s great confession of faith – “You are the Christ” – which was in turn the occasion of a greater revelation by Christ of the most important events that were to come in His ministry. First, He foretold His death and resurrection. He spoke of discipleship. Then, at the very end of the chapter, He spoke of His coming again.   Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 13, where Jesus outlined what would come in the last days, is also full of this doctrine. Jesus spoke of the horror of the days immediately preceding His return, then added, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” At this point the discourse moved on to teach that the disciples should be watching for this return; Jesus emphasized the point by an illustration: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning– lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (34-36).

Finally, this doctrine is mentioned in the account of Christ’s trial before the Jewish high priest (Mark 14). Jesus answered a question about whether or not He was the Messiah by saying, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Here are three expressions of the truth of Christ’s return in a book which most scholars consider to be the oldest of the four gospels.

In the other three gospels the same doctrine is prominent. Matthew and Luke repeated most of the sayings about the second coming given by Mark, sometimes with additions and variations, and John added others. For instance, John recorded a number of lengthy farewell discourses given by Jesus just before His crucifixion. In one of these Jesus declared, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Christ’s return is also referred to in the last chapter of John’s gospel, in the record of Jesus’ conversation with Peter after His resurrection. The reference is incidental to Jesus’ point, but is all the more authentic on that account. Jesus had been encouraging Peter to faithfulness in discipleship, but Peter with his usual impetuosness turned and saw John. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22). John himself then points out that although many of the Christians of his day had interpreted that to mean that John would not die until Christ came back, that was not what Jesus had said. He had said only that even if that were the case, it should not affect Peter’s call to faithful service.

In all four gospels, then, there are unmistakable quotations from Jesus Christ to the effect that He would return to this earth a second time in glory, and these are quoted in such a way that we cannot doubt that the early church believed that these promises were to be fulfilled literally and in detail, possibly within its lifetime.

Paul’s letters are also full of this doctrine. To the church at Thessalonica he wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). To the Philippians Paul wrote: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:2–21).

Peter called the return of Jesus Christ our “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). Paul called it our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), John declared with conviction: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7a). The same author ended the New Testament with the words, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return of Jesus Christ, a return  which would be the first of the unfolding events prophesied in the end time. The return of Jesus would be associated with a time of great wickedness on earth, the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies, an earthly rule of Jesus, and a final concluding judgment upon all men and nations. They comforted themselves with these truths in the midst of persecution or some while attempting to live their lives on a moral plane that would be honoring to the returning One.

The Day of the Lord

In the picture I have just presented, however, two important ideas have been merged. Therefore, to paint the prophetic picture for the end times in clearer detail and to have a basis for understanding some of the most important New Testament prophesies we must distinguish between them.

The first idea is associated with the phrase “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is quite prominent in the Old Testament, but it occurs frequently in the New Testament too, even in the context of some of the passages I have been quoting. This phrase is a technical phrase used initially by the Old Testament prophets to designate a future period of catastrophic judgment. Literally, it the day of Jehovah, the day in which Jehovah will break silence and intervene in history to judge Israel and the Gentile nations. The characteristics of this day can be seen in the following quotations:

“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up–and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12).

“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!…Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isaiah 13:6, 9-10).

“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”  (Amos 5:18-20).

It is obvious from the reference to the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars that this is the event referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24, where Jesus taught that He would exercise judgment. It is also the event of which Peter spoke when he wrote,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

In the liturgy of the church this is expressed by the Dies Irae, which means the day of the wrath of God. From an examination of these and other texts (Jer. 46:10; Lam. 2:22; Ezek. 30:3ff.; Joel 1:15; 2:1-11; 3:14-16; Zeph. 1:7-2:3; Zech. 14:1-7; Mal. 4:5) several things are clear.

  • First, the day of the Lord is the day of God’s judgment.
  • Second, the day is still future.
  • Third, it is preceded by a time of great trouble on earth.
  • Fourth, it is followed by the earthly rule of the Messiah.
  • Fifth, it has nothing to do with the church of Jesus Christ, for the church is not in these prophecies and was, in fact, completely unknown to the Old Testament writers who compiled them.

To be sure, as Kenneth S. Wuest, who summarized much of the data in his collection of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, observed, “Some of the references to the day of the Lord in the Old Testament have a fulfillment in the past, and are precursors of the day of the Lord to follow (Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966, p. 35]). But that does not alter the fact that the strict fulfillment of most of these prophecies awaits a future day.

That day is coming. The disasters of this life — pestilence, famine, wars, natural catastrophes — are only little judgments which come in the most part from man’s activities. When the day of God’s wrath is revealed, these things will pale by comparison, and no one who is not united to Christ by faith will be able to stand against Him.

No one can be sure of defending himself even from man-made destruction. For instance, there is an extensive military radar network called DEW line (Distant Early Waning), which stretches across the North American Continent. This line of defense has cost the United States billions of dollars. It was designed to limit to a minimum  the breakthrough of Soviet long-range bombers coming to wreak nuclear destruction on the United States; but today it is outmoded by missiles. Man can never defend himself adequately against the possibility of future destruction.

Thus, too, does he stand before God. Man has run away from God, and God has pursued him. God came to die for him in Jesus Christ. God has warned us of judgment — distant warnings and near warnings, early warnings, and late warnings — and He has warned us that He can penetrate any defense which we may try to throw up against Him. Man stands naked before God. The day of judgment is near. If you are not yet a believer, let me encourage you to turn to Christ. Martin Luther looked at this day and wrote for those of his time:

Great God, what do I see and hear!

The end of things created!

The Judge of mankind doth appear

On clouds of glory seated!

The trumpet sounds, the graves restore

The dead which they contained before:

Prepare, my soul, to meet him.

If you are a believer in Christ, let me encourage you to look up and be faithful to Him.

The Day of Christ (The Rapture)

The second major idea is associated with the phrase “the day of Jesus Christ.” That is not the same as “The day of the Lord.” The day of Jesus Christ is a happy day rather than a day of judgment. Moreover, far from warning men to fear it, the New Testament actually speaks of it as an event to be warmly anticipated. Christians are to be ready and watching, and they are to encourage one another because of it.

What is the nature of this day? The clearest answer to this question is in the verses already quoted from Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. They were in sorrow over certain of their number who had died, and Paul wrote to them to comfort them with the thought that they would see their departed friends once again at the day of Jesus Christ. He describes it thus:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Quite obviously, this day does not concern Christ’s earthly rule. It is an aspect of His coming to draw believers out of this world to Himself. He will come in the air and gather His church up to meet Him, first those who have died and then — almost in the same instant — those who are living.

Jesus described this event, also stressing its unexpected and selective nature:

“Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:40-42).

In biblical theology this event is generally called the rapture. It is the first in the whole series of events prophesied for the end times. It is possible that at this point some of this teaching has become confusing. So let me elaborate upon the distinction between the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord by looking at the way the Apostle Paul dealt with a similar confusion in his day.

Wherever he went, Paul apparently preached the full body of Christian doctrine as it had been revealed to him. And that included, quite naturally, the doctrine of the Lord’s imminent return to be followed, after certain events, by God’s judgment. These events  included persecution and great tribulation. We know that this doctrine had been accepted by the church at Thessalonica, for Paul alluded to it in his first letter, reminding the Christians there that they were to be comforted by the doctrine of the Lord’s return in face of the death of their friends. Some time after he had written this letter, however, a time of persecution broke out in the church at Thessalonica. Because the persecution seemed terrible and intense, someone began to teach that the persecutions were those leading to the day of the Lord, with its ultimate judgements, and that the Christians in Thessalonica, therefore, had missed the rapture. The Thessalonians may actually have received a letter purporting to be from Paul which affirmed this idea (2 Thessalonians 2:2).

News of their distress reached Paul, and he immediately wrote to the Thessalonians again, attempting to explain the meaning of their present persecution assuring them that they had not missed the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him. First, he dealt with the meaning of present persecution. This occupies the first chapter. Then, in the second chapter, he begins to deal with the view that Christians might already be going through days of tribulation.

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5).

Paul’s main points clearly were that the present suffering of the Christians at Thessalonica was not the tribulation prophesied  in the Old Testament and taught by himself, that the final tribulation would not come until after the Christians were caught up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air, therefore, that the coming of Christ rather than the final judgment should be uppermost in the minds of believers.

(Note: There is a view in prophetic theology known at “posttribulationism.” According to this view, the church of Jesus Christ will go through the great tribulation, after which Jesus will return for those believers who are remaining. In reply, it is enough to note that, although the church has gone through periods of great persecution in the past and undoubtedly may go through intense persecutions before Christ’s return, nevertheless, the view of a posttribulation rapture is impossible for the simple reason that it makes meaningless the very argument that Paul was presenting in the Thessalonian letters. Paul was arguing for the imminence of Christ’s return. That is to be a major source of comfort for suffering believers. If Christ will not come until after the great tribulation [that is, a specific time of unusual and intense suffering still in the future], then the return of the Lord is not imminent and tribulation rather than deliverance is what we must anticipate. In view of the Bible’s message we must be careful not to adopt any view which turns our minds from Christ. If anything must occur before we see Christ personally, then the anticipation of that event will turn our eyes from Him to it. We may even guess that Satan will try to turn the believers’ eyes from Christ to events or signs that are supposed to precede Him and we should be warned accordingly).

All these themes will be treated in later articles, but even at this point we need to note the importance of the two events which Paul says must take place before the day of God’s judgment. The second event is the appearance of one whom he calls “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3). This person will attempt to centralize all human worship in himself, and will actually sit in the temple at Jerusalem, claiming that he is God. Since that has not happened, says Paul, the day of the Lord is yet future.

The first event that must take place before the day of the Lord comes is called “the falling away” in the Authorized Version of the Bible (2 Thess. 2:3). This is an unfortunate translation. The basis for this translation lies in the fact that elsewhere in the Bible a time of great apostasy or “falling away” from true Christian doctrine is prophesied for the time preceding the Lord’s return. Although this is true in itself, however, it is not the meaning of the Greek word here. The word apostasia, preceded by the definite article. Apostasia has given us our word “apostasy,” but the word itself simply means “a departure.” In a context where the truth or falsity of doctrine is in view, the word would naturally mean, “a departure from true doctrine” or “apostasy.” But here, where the issue is the past or future coming of Jesus Christ for his saints and where a particular event is specified by the use of the article, the word can mean equally well “the departure of believers to be with Jesus” or “the rapture.”

In Kenneth S. Wuest’s study, referred to earlier, these following additional facts are elaborated. Apostasia occurs in the New Testament only twice. But it is based on the verb aphistemi which occurs fifteen times. Eleven times it is translated “depart,” never “a falling away.” Unfortunately, most of the English versions follow the leading of the Authorized text (The ESV translates apostasia as “rebellion”). But it is significant that in the versions that precede the publication of the King James Bible — those of Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), Cranmer (1539), and the Geneva Bible (1560) — apostasia was translated as “departure,” and the reference was obviously to the much-anticipated rapture of God’s saints.

It is worth pointing out that precisely the same order of events is presented in 1 Thessalonians. Once again the two different days — the day of the Lord and the day of Jesus Christ — are in view, as well as two distinct classes of people. The day of the Lord is a day that should concern unbelievers. Paul speaks of this group as “they” and “them.” The day of Jesus Christ is for believers only. Paul speaks of this class as “us” and “you.”

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief…So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 6, 9).

Paul’s teaching clearly indicates that the rapture, “the day of Jesus Christ,” must come first. Then will come the unfolding of the other events of prophecy, beginning with a period of great tribulation and continuing though Christ’s return to earth to judge Israel and the nations, the millennium, the final judgment, and a complete transition from the life of this world to the life of eternity.

These are the two greatest days of future world history — the day of Jesus Christ and the day of the Lord. Every man who has ever lived must stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on one of these two days. Which will it be in your case? Will it be the day of the Lord with its judgments? Or will it be the day of Jesus Christ with the joy of seeing Him and the glorification and rewarding of believers? Believers wait only for the coming of Jesus Christ, and they rejoice, knowing that this the next event in the unfolding of God’s prophetic timetable.

A Practical Doctrine

Thus far in our study of the return of Jesus Christ we have dealt with the importance of the doctrine of the New Testament books and with the precise meaning of His return as it is related to the catching away of believers first and to God’s judgment. It would be wrong to stop at this point, however, for we must go on to see that the doctrine of the Lord’s return is practical. In other words, it should have a bearing on our lives.

(1) First of all, the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an incentive to godly living. That is the point Jesus Himself made when talking about His return in Matthew 24. The chapter is filled with imperatives: “See that no one leads you astray” (v. 4); “See that you are not alarmed” (v. 6), “flee to the mountains” (v. 16); “pray” (v. 20); “do not believe it” (vv. 23, 26); “learn” (v. 32); “know” (v. 33). Jesus concluded with the warning, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The apostle John, who undoubtedly heard the Lord on this occasion, later made the identical point in one of his letters, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

This thought should affect every aspect of your personal life — your prayer life, your choices in the area of ethics and morals, even your social concerns. Lord Shaftesbury, the great English social reformer and a mature Christian, said near the end of his life, “I do not think that in the last forty years I have ever lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.” In his case, the expectation of meeting Jesus was undoubtedly one of the strongest motives behind his social programs.

Are you looking for Christ’s return? In an earlier study of this same subject I once wrote:

If you are motivated by prejudice against other Christians or others in general, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, cultured or culturally naive, or whatever they may be–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, perhaps trifling with sex outside marriage, perhaps cheating on your income tax return–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If your life is marked by a contentious, divisive spirit in which you seek to tear down the work of another person instead of building it up–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you first protect your own interests and neglect to give food, water, or nothing to the needy as we are instructed to do in Christ’s name–then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you (James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 249).

(2) The second result of a belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be an effort on our part to comfort Christians who are suffering, particularly those who are suffering the close loss of a friend or relative. We have already seen how the Apostle Paul did this in the case of his friends at Thessalonica. They suffered persecution. They had lost friends through death. Paul wrote to them, reminding them of the blessed hope of Christians. He then observed, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Dr. R.A. Torrey, a former president of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and a great Bible teacher, wrote along the same line: “Time and again in writing those who have lost for a time those whom they love, I have obeyed God’s commandment and used the truth of our Lord’s return to comfort them, and many have told me afterwards how full of comfort this truth has proven when everything else has failed” (R.A. Torrey, The Return of the Lord Jesus [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966], p. 15). The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is the one doctrine with which God commands us to comfort suffering saints.

(3) Finally, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should make us more and more energetic in evangelism. If it is true that the Lord is coming, then it is not true, as scoffers say, that all things will “continue as they were from the beginning” (2 Peter 3:4). The end is in sight. The days for evangelism are numbered. Is it not a lesson for our own time that, when the disciples began to ask Jesus Christ for specific details of the time of His coming after His resurrection and before His ascension, He brushed their requests aside and instead reiterated the church’s great commission to evangelize throughout the duration of this age? They were not to look for a precise timetable. They were to go into the world with the Gospel.

He said to them “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

These were Jesus’ last words on earth. The next words we hear may well be the question: “How well have you carried out my commission?”

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. He was one of only a handful of reformed theologians that was premillennial in his eschatology (Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Erwin W. Lutzer, S. Lewis Johnson, Rodney Stordtz, John Hannah and John Piper also come to mind). However, what makes him really unique is that he was not Historic Premillennial – but leaned Dispensational (Held to a pre-tribulation rapture) as well. This article was adapted from Chapter Three in one of the first of James Boice’s plethora of books, and is entitled: The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1974 (currently out of print). This book is based on 9 sermons that Dr. Boice preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1972. Though this book was written almost 40 years ago – it is just as relevant as when it was first written since many of the prophecies taught in the Scriptures and addressed by Dr. Boice in this book have yet to be fulfilled. Scripture verses are quoted from the more modern English Standard Version – DPC.



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The Problem of Anxiety by Dr. Tim Keller

praying man on one knee image

Series: Modern Problems; Ancient Solutions

October 24, 1993, Manhattan, N.Y. Based on Psalm 27

“The Problem of Anxiety” by Tim Keller

We’ve been looking at the book of Psalms in the fall, and we’ve been trying to bring them to bear on what we’ve been calling “modern problems,” which, of course, if you can bring the Psalms (a 3,000-year-old book) to bear on them, they’re not that modern, but we always like to flatter ourselves that our problems are worse than anyone else’s. I mean, every age has always felt that way. So I’m pandering to our arrogance and suggesting we do have modern problems (yet which have solutions) that are very ancient. Now let me read to you Psalm 27 in its entirety.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. 10 Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. 12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. 13 I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heartand wait for the Lord.

That’s God’s Word

Now this psalm is all about fear, worry, anxiety, and how the Bible tells us to deal with it. Now when we look at the psalm, we’re going to see a very refreshing realism, even though it’s full of tremendous promises, because the realism is important. I was just reading an author, a man named Ernest Becker, who said, “I think that taking life seriously means something such as this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise, it is false.”

He must have lived in New York. There’s always this rumble of panic. It’s really the subway, but you walk along and you feel this rumble of panic, and you say, “Why do I feel so disconcerted?” Then you realize you’re on Park Avenue, and there goes the subway. Ernest Becker is right, and here’s why.

So many of the articles and the books I survey (and I constantly do) … Whenever I see a book in a store or an article in a newspaper or a magazine saying, “How to Overcome Worry” or “How to Overcome Anxiety,” almost always what they essentially say is, “The things you’re worried about may never happen. What a waste of time it is to be worrying about things that may never happen. Instead, visualize a future that is satisfying and focus on that. Visualize that future. Focus on that. Don’t sit around and visualize all the things that could go wrong.”

Is that the way David does it? No. You know, for example, in verse 10, he says, “Though my father and mother forsake me …” Now there is no indication David’s mother and father had actually forsaken him. It says, “Though an entire army was encamped against me …” He doesn’t say, “It has encamped against me …” It says, “Even if it did …” What is David doing? He is doing the opposite of what the articles say. He is actually imagining the worst things that can happen. He is visualizing the worst things that can happen. Why? Because he wants to have a strategy of life, a strategy of dealing with fears and anxieties, that can stand up to anything.

He doesn’t listen to the advice that says, “Maybe none of these things will ever happen, so don’t think about them.” Oh no. As Ernest Becker says, any attitude toward life that minimizes the evil and terror of things is phony. Well, he would have been very happy with Psalm 27. David goes so far as to imagine the worst. The fierce realism of the Bible is seen right here. The Bible says you can have a way of dealing with anger and with anxiety and fear that assumes the worst things may and can happen, that your father and mother forsake you, that an army encamps against you. Think about it! Go ahead. It doesn’t matter, because you can use this on anything.

So what is that strategy? I’ll tell you, whatever it was, we ought to look at it because David had literal enemies, and they had real weapons. They were people who were literally after their lives. Most of you, that’s probably not true. Therefore, if he was able to find a strategy that enabled him to deal with the fears of his life, don’t you think it ought to work for most of us? So let’s see what he says this great strategy is. Actually, it’s all in verse 4.

In verse 3, he says, “I have so much freedom from anxiety and fear that I have enough left over that if an army came up, I’d be okay. I’d be able to handle it.” That’s what he says in verse 3. Then in verse 4 he tells us the secret. There are three verbs: to dwell, to gaze, and to seek. Those are the three. So let’s take a look. How can you have a strategy that will enable you to face any of the anxieties, the stresses of life? I don’t know how you’re doing right now with this, but I know you can improve. Take a look.

1. Dwelling

In verse 4, he says, “One thing I ask of the Lord … that I may dwell in the house of the Lord …” Now what does that mean? What does it mean to dwell in the house of the Lord? Now one of the things you have to think about is David is not thinking so much about a physical spot. First of all, he couldn’t dwell in the house of the Lord literally. You can’t live in a temple. He wasn’t asking for that. Only the Levites could live in there, and nobody could live right there in the Holy of Holies.

What he is actually asking for is to experience the unbroken presence of God, because the thing he is really after is the face of God. The face! “I want to gaze on your beauty. I want to be in your presence.” The house of God or the temple of God was the place where God’s paniym (which is the Hebrew word for face, his presence) dwelt. What David says is, “I want to be always in your presence.” What’s that mean?

Now people always ask this question at this point: “What does that mean? I thought God was present everywhere!” The answer is always best given through an illustration … something like this. You know, Tammy (who was playing the piano) and Steve (on the flute and the sax), you are in their presence, aren’t you? I mean, you’ve already heard them playing. You’re in their presence. Of course. You’ve listened to them and you’re in their presence, and yet nobody can say (yet) that you have met them unless after the service you walk on up and you come up face to face.

Because, you see, your face is the relational gate into your heart. From far away, you can’t have a relationship. You actually have to come up face to face. When you come up to somebody, you can’t look at their kneecap or their shoulder. You have to look in their face if you want to have a personal transaction, a personal interaction, because the face is the place where I see and hear you and the face is the place where you see and hear me. So you have to come face to face.

Now why am I saying that? Last week we said Psalm 19 says the heavens are telling of the glory of God. Psalm 19 says when you go out and see the stars, are you in God’s presence? Sure! The Bible insists you can’t know God personally through nature. It insists on it. Now we looked at that last week in some detail, but let me just put it out again this way. When you come into the presence of a pianist and you listen to her play, as great as it is to be in her presence, you haven’t had a friendship with her by that. You have to come up face to face.

If you want to have a friendship with Henry Ford, you don’t do it by putting your head under a Model T and saying, “Henry? Are you in there, Henry?” To be in the presence of the handiwork, to be in the general presence of someone, is not the same thing as to have a personal relationship. The Bible says, therefore, what David is after here is, “I don’t want to know you distantly. I don’t want to obey you in a general way. I don’t want to have a kind of general inspirational belief in you. I want to know you personally and intimately. That’s what I want.”

That’s the whole secret to a fearless life. Now why? Why? Why does verse 4 answer and explain verse 3? Why would verse 4 be the answer to fear? Here it is. When David says, “The one thing I want is to dwell in your house and gaze on your beauty and seek you in your temple,” that’s the secret right there. Let me put it this way, and then we’ll unpack it. What David is saying is, “My fears are directly proportional to the vulnerability of the things that are my greatest joys. If the thing that is my greatest joy is God, I will live without fear. If my one thing … the thing I most want … is God, I am safe.”

You see, when David says, “I’ll be safe in your dwelling place …” You see it in verse 5. He says, “I’ll be safe in the tabernacle, the tent of God.” David is not thinking physically. He isn’t! He is not so stupid as to think that these people who are after him with their real knives and their real swords, if he runs into the tabernacle, somehow if they come in after him in an Indiana Jones style kind of scene, the ark of the covenant will zap all the bad guys. That’s not what he is thinking.

What he is saying is, “I’m only safe not when I’m physically inside the dwelling of the tabernacle or the temple. I’m only safe when you are the one thing I want most of all. Then I’m safe. Then I’m fearless.” Let me show you how that works. There’s a man over at Drew University named Thomas Oden. He is a great theological teacher, and he is an expert on the early church writers. It’s call patristics, meaning the church fathers. I was reading some of his work on Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine had an amazingly relevant (especially for us today looking at Psalm 27) and intriguing way to understand anxiety.

Augustine said, “Here’s where anxiety comes from. All of us have good things in our lives, and we love them, and we desire them. Good things! Parents and children are good things. A career is a good thing. Romance is a good thing. Sex is a good thing. All sorts of things are good things. We have lots of good things in our lives.” But Augustine says, “When something which is finite becomes …”

In other words, when the good things become the “one thing” we think we have to have in order to be happy, when the good things become the “one thing,” we gaze on them. We seek them. We gaze on their beauty. We adore them, and we believe we cannot receive life joyfully unless we have it. So when good things become “one things,” when good desires become inordinate desires, disproportional-to-their-being desires, Augustine says that’s when anxiety comes.

Why? Because anxiety is like the smoke, and you can follow the smoke down to the fire. The fire is this. Anxiety is always the result of the implosion or the collapse of a false god. “When good things become ‘one things,’ you see, when things that are good to have become things you have to have, when they become the central values of your life, that’s where anxiety comes from,” says Augustine, “because anxiety is always a sign of the collapse of a false god.”

Now let me tell you one of the reasons we squirm with this and one of the reasons some of you may squirm. Some of you may be eaten up with worry and anxiety right now, and you think this is unfair, because you’re worried about a person, or you’re worried about how you’re going to feed your family because of the finances. You’re worried about a lot of things, and they’re good things. See, this is what’s so hard. The things that turn into little idols in our lives are always good things. They were created by God. They’re wonderful. That’s the reason they can slip into the center.

Let me put it this way. A little anxiety is always a very good thing. Remember, there is a place where Paul says, “I have on me the daily anxiety of all the churches.” So a little anxiety shows you’re a caring person, but debilitating anxiety and devastating anxiety shows good things have become “one things.” Now you’re gazing on their beauty and you’re seeking them above all. You think, “Unless I have that, I cannot be happy.” That is what creates debilitating anxiety and fear.

So do you see what David is saying is, “If you’re my ‘one thing,’ if you’re the one thing I require, the one thing I ask for … to gaze on your beauty, to seek you in the temple … I’m fearless?” Because, see, anything but God and his will is subject to the vicissitudes of time and life. Anything but God and his will is vulnerable. Nothing can take God away from you. Nothing can take that away from you. Now you’re fearless. But anything else you set your heart on like this can be taken away. When there’s a threat to it, you go to pieces.

Now David gives us a great example of this. Let’s just use one example. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Now is there anything wrong with the love between parents and children? Of course not! God invented love between parents and children. God commands love between parents and children. Therefore, for you to want, for example, the love of your parents is something good. For you to want it very deeply is something good. Not only is it something very good; it’s something inevitable that you want it.

Yet what happens if your mother and father forsake you, which of course happens, does it not? What happens? There are people who I’ve talked to, who you’ve talked to (and maybe some of you are), who say, “My mother and father have forsaken me, and I will not be consoled. I will not! I will never forget what they did. I will never forget what they failed to do. I will never be okay. I will always feel worthless. I will always be unhappy!” You just refuse to be consoled. What is that? A good thing (parent love) has become the “one thing,” and you’re gazing at its beauty, and you’re longing for it, and you’re seeking after it. You’re worshiping it in the temple.

As a result, you will be anxious and fearful all of your life. Don’t you see? “If my father and mother forsake me, if my spouse forsakes me, if my career forsakes me, if romance forsakes me, if my looks forsake me, the Lord will receive me. The Lord will receive me!” Unless you get that into your blood, unless you understand the reason we get anxious is because good things become “one things,” and they slide into the center, unless we actually are …

You know, Augustine said anxiety is a very, very helpful thing. It tells you a lot about yourself, because you can always follow your worries to those things which enslave you. You can always follow your worries. Anxiety is always the result of the collapse of a false god, the implosion. Do you understand that? Unless you’re able to get this into your blood you’re going to live a fearful life.

So the question then is … How do we make sure God becomes our “one thing?” How do we do that? I would say the text is actually telling us two ways. The two ways are right there in verse 4. You see, when David says, “There’s only one thing I want,” and then he says, “… to dwell, to gaze, and to seek,” now wait a minute; that’s three things. So what does he mean? He has to mean dwelling and gazing and seeking are basically all the “one thing.” In fact, I think seeking and gazing are actually two ways we dwell in the house. I think seeking and gazing is just a kind of breakdown of what it means to dwell in God’s house.

Do you want to live in his presence? Do you want him to be the “one thing?” Do you want that so you can live a fearless life? The question is … How? You have to gaze on his beauty, and you have to seek him in his temple. Now the reason I think that’s true, by the way, that these two things are the ways in which you dwell in the house (gazing on his beauty and seeking him in the temple) is because the rest of the psalm breaks into two parts.

Starting in verse 8, he says, “Show me your face.” Verses 8 through 10: “Show me your face.” Then verses 11–14 are, “Teach me your way.” Those are the same two things! “Show me your face” is the same thing as gazing on his beauty. “Teach me your way” is the same thing as seeking him. Let me show you these two things. These are the two things you have to do in order to make him your “one thing.”

2. Gazing

First of all, you have to gaze on his beauty. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll just tip my hat to those of you who were here at the end of August because I gave a sermon once on this at the end of August in the evening. When David says, “I’ve come to the temple to gaze on your beauty,” do we think it means a literal vision, something he saw with his physical eyes? I doubt it. Well, I’m not saying David, being a prophet and being a great king and so on, could never have had a vision, but I doubt very much that’s what he is talking about. There’s no indication it means every time he goes in he gets a vision. Oh no!

What does it mean to gaze on his beauty? This is what we’ve called communion with God. This is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. This is the difference between knowing he is holy and loving and experiencing his holiness and his love. Let me go back to Saint Augustine. Some of you might remember this from two months ago, the sermon in the evening.

Saint Augustine was a great African theologian of the church. He lived in the fourth and fifth century AD. Augustine actually lays out in one of his sets of writings what it really means to actually see God. He says there are three parts: retentio, contemplatio, and dilectio? Remember? Retentio, he says, is finding a truth, getting it out of the Bible. Retentio is the word for retain. You retain it. You distill the truth, and you say, “There it is.” You see it, and you learn it, and you know it.

Augustine stays, “Ah, but you don’t stop there. Oh no! You mustn’t stop there. Once you get that truth, you see God is holy, you see God is wise, you don’t just close your book. You don’t close your notebook and say, ‘Ah, now I know that! I know another attribute of God. I know it!’ Oh no! Now, secondly, you move from retenetio to contemplatio, which means you contemplate or you look at God through the truth. You gaze at God through the truth.”

That means you start to ask yourself questions. “What does this verse tell me about God? What does it show me about God? What does it show me about how marvelous he is, how holy he is, how loving he is? Do I really understand he is holy? Do I really understand it? Am I living it out? What false attitudes and false emotions come when I forget this?” What Augustine means is this is a discipline of the mind in which you’re reaching out and you’re actually saying, “I want to see you.” You stretch every nerve to not see him with the eyes of your eyes but to see him, as Paul says in Ephesians, with the eyes of your heart. You stretch out.

Because we have the Holy Spirit, sometimes to some degree or another, we move to the third of the three phases: dilectio, which means to delight in him. Sometimes we find if we really spend the time seeking to see him, to gaze on his beauty, ideas about him get very real. Ideas about his holiness or his love begin to comfort us, begin to disturb us, begin to thrill us. Now don’t look at me like, “What is all this?” Don’t you remember what Augustine said? Everybody does this with everything but God. We all gaze at the beauty of these good things that have become “one things.”

You know what it means to gaze on the beauty of something. You turn it over in your imagination, the thing you want. It may be a career. It may be a house at the beach. It may be a particular person, and you think what life will be like if you get it. You gaze on the beauty of it. See? You fill your mind with it. You taste it. You rest in it. We do it with everything else but God. Now do it with him! That’s the only way to make the real one thing the “one thing.” Gaze on his beauty. Do you know how to do that? Do you take time to do that? David says unless you do that, you’ll not be dwelling in his house and you’ll have a fearful life.

3. Seeking

He doesn’t just say, “I want to gaze on your beauty,” but, “I want to seek him.” Now the word seek is a very, very specific Hebrew word. It actually means to go and get counsel. So what it means is, “When I come to you, I am trying to find out what your will is, Oh Lord.” He wants to obey. He wants to find out God’s will, and he wants to submit to it.

Boy, this is extremely important. These are the two parts of what it really means to be a Christian. These are the two parts of true religion: gazing on the beauty and seeking God’s will. If you only seek God’s will to obey, to find out what he teaches and disobey it day in and day out, if that’s all you do without gazing on the beauty, it will be all phariseeism and legalism. On the other hand, if you just try to gaze on his beauty, just have this great experience, but you don’t want to find out his will and do daily obedience, well, it won’t work either, and I’ll show you why.

Just think of marriage. A good marriage is a wonderful thing because you can fall in each other’s arms every so often. You see, you gaze on each other’s beauty. You have intimate fellowship, but you can’t walk around all the time in each other’s arms. There’s a life to live. You have to go to work and so on.

Let me tell you what 95 percent of what marriage is: finding out how to serve the other person and how to do for them. Because if you want to experience the other person’s love and yet the other person says, “Hey, would you do this and this and this for me?” and you say, “Oh no. That’s too inconvenient. I don’t like to do that,” if you live like a selfish person, if you don’t learn what the other person’s wishes are, if you don’t serve that other person in the little things day in and day out, it will be the end of intimacy.

Don’t you see? You can’t just live selfishly. You can’t just walk around and do anything you want, not trying to find out how to serve that person, not making sacrifices for that person, not obeying the needs and the wishes of that person and then expect to just jump in bed and have a wonderful, wonderful time of gazing on her beauty or his beauty. If you think that’s going to work, it doesn’t! It never works!

A human being is not a computer. There’s not an entrance sequence that you just poke in and then you get everything you want. In a relationship if you want intimacy, if you want to gaze on the beauty of the other person, if you want to commune with that person in love, you also have to find out that person’s will and do it. That’s just the way it works! What does that mean? I’ll tell you what this means.

A lot of people have wanted desperately to gaze on God’s beauty and get these experiences I’m talking about. You know, I was reading the other day. Here’s a guy who wrote a friend near the end of his life. There was a minister who prayed every day but began to really get a breakthrough, began to gaze on God’s beauty. Almost every week he began to just have these breakthroughs.

He wrote a friend, and he said, “Almost every week, a measure of his great love comes down upon my heart. He has unlocked every compartment of my being and filled and flooded them all with the light of his radiant presence. The inner spot has been touched, and the flintiness of my heart has been melted in the presence of love divine, all love’s excelling.”

What is that? He is in the temple. He is dwelling in the house of the Lord. He is gazing on the beauty, and all of his fears are going. Somebody says, “Ah! I want that so much.” A lot of us go to church just seeking that. A lot of us try to find church that will give us this great sense of highness, that we’ve touched God during the worship services. That’s good. That’s fine, but I’ll tell you this. To gaze on his beauty without seeking his will will never work. You want to gaze on his beauty? There’s a way to do that.

Do you remember blind Bartimaeus? He knew Jesus was going to come by on a certain road, so he pitched his tent there. He just cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me!” Do you want to experience the beauty of God? Do you want to gaze on his beauty? Do you want to have the sense of love these great people I always am reading from their journals have? Do you want that? Of course you want that. Well, how do you get it? You don’t get it by running around trying to get it. You pitch your tent on the road Jesus inevitably will come down, and that road is the road of obedience, seeking him.

There are disciplines to seeking his will. You read the Bible. You pray. You meditate. You take the sacraments at church. Those are the inner disciplines. Then you have the outer disciplines. Be simple in your lifestyle instead of materialistic. Be chaste in your lifestyle instead of impure. Be forgiving in your lifestyle instead of bitter. Have a servant heart instead of an ambitious and selfish heart. These are disciplines. Obey, seek him, and you’ll gaze on his beauty. Otherwise, no.

Okay, you want to dwell in his house? There’s the discipline of gazing on his beauty, and there’s the discipline of seeking his will. Now let me close this way. Some of you are probably finding this a pretty odd thing (gazing on God’s beauty), and you’re thinking, “Well, that’s great. I’d love to have an experience like that. How do I do it?” Here’s how you do it. You have to seek him in his temple. You have to gaze on his beauty in his temple.

Ah, but what is his temple? It says in John 2, Jesus Christ looked at the temple, and he said to the religious leaders, “Tear this temple down, and I will build it up again in three days.” They all looked at him and said, “You’re crazy! It took 40 years to build this temple. You’re going to build it up in three days?” The text tells us he was referring to himself. Jesus is the temple. Now let me explain what I mean.

David gazed at the beauty of God. Now remember we said Augustine says the way you gaze on God is you take certain truths and you look at God through the truths. You look at God through them. So when we’re told David gazed on the beauty of God at the temple, what did that mean? We said he probably didn’t have a vision. It means he went and he watched the temple ritual, and he saw the beauty of God through it. How did that happen?

Well, like this. You know what happened in the temple ritual? Animals were constantly getting slaughtered on the block and sacrificed up to God. David saw the beauty of the Lord, he gazed on the beauty of the Lord, through the sacrifices. How could that happen? Well, when he saw the animals being slain, he saw the beauty of God’s justice and holiness. He said, “Here is a God who requires sin be paid for. Here is a God who is so good and so holy, he cannot count men’s sin. Here’s a God who can’t overlook it. Here’s a God who must deal with evil. What a good God. What a just God. What a holy God.”

On the other hand, when he looked at the sacrifices, he also saw a merciful God. “Here’s a God who wants to deal with our sins so we can still approach him. Here’s a God who wants to forgive us our sins. Here’s a God who wants to find us a way to himself.” Now here’s the point. If David was able to gaze at the beauty of God through the tabernacle and the temple worship, how much more of the beauty of God will we see if we gaze at God through the face of Jesus?

You see, when we look at God today, we don’t have to look at him through a bull being slaughtered on the block. We see the face of a human being, the most loving human being ever, dying for us, suffocating on the cross, his ribs snapping as he suffocates, the blood and the sweat flowing down on his face, looking at us and saying, “You don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve been forsaken for you.”

Now let me tell you something. If David saw so much of the beauty of God in the temple, so much of the beauty of God that it turned him into a great heart so that he could handle an army, how much more of the beauty of God do you think you and I can see if we do what Paul said? What did Paul say? He says, “We are beholding with unveiled faces the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

That’s what we look at. Gaze on him. Look at him. Look at what he is doing. Look at him dying for you. Gaze on the beauty of God. If the beauty David saw could turn him into someone who could handle an army, what do you think it’s going to turn you into? How much more of the beauty of God can we see? How much more are we going to be able to look at God and say, “You’re my ‘one thing.’ I see your beauty. It fills me up so I’m afraid of nothing anymore. I have the only thing I need?”

This is what it means to seek him. You have to seek the Father. You have to gaze at his beauty through Jesus. It says in John 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God …” So if you want him, if you want all the things we’re talking about, it’s not an abstract thing. It’s not a technique. You have to go to God through Jesus. That’s how you gaze on his beauty.

Now, Christian friends, just think about this. There are a number of you who are saying, “Okay, this is very interesting. In fact, this is very moving. This is very powerful, but I’m scared right now about something that’s going to happen on Thursday. That’s four days away. What do I do till then?”

Listen. It’s true the Bible gives you this tremendous solution to anxiety. It says learn to gaze on his beauty and seek him in his temple. Eventually you develop a habit of the heart. You develop a whole orientation toward God. Of course that’s not something that happens really quickly. So the fact of the matter is I can’t give you something that really quickly will overcome all of your anxiety between now and Thursday. The books in the bookstores do. The magazines in the grocery store do.

They give you those little behavior modification grids, and they give you these little rational motive techniques on thought control. They teach you how to turn away from the negative thoughts and put on the positive thoughts. Let me tell you something. The Bible is giving you an antidote to anxiety too, but it’s not a patch. It’s not a Band-Aid. It’s regeneration. It’s a new heart, a new way of life, a new way of doing everything.

So I admit this is something that takes a long time to develop. This is not a quick fix, but you can start right now. You know, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” right? You know that cliché? Okay, let’s use it. Do you know what the first step is? Today you can say, “One thing. Finally, Lord God, I’m going to make you the ‘one thing.’ One thing. I’m going to make you my highest priority.

I today determine that gazing on your beauty and seeking you, I can no longer let other things crowd it out of my schedule. I can no longer let other things crowd it out of my energy. I can no longer let other things crowd it out of my creativity. Today you’re the ‘one thing.’ Finally I ditch all other competition. I ditch all other competing concerns. I ditch everything else. I insist on this. I will make time for it. I will do it.” That’s the first step, so do it.

Last of all, let me just give you a quick read of something. In a minute we’re going to sing the hymn that goes, “We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender.” Do you remember several years ago we had a woman here named Betty Elliot who was a missionary? She told us her husband, Jim Elliot, 40 years ago or so now, and six other missionaries decided they were going to go into the jungles of Ecuador and make contact with a very primitive tribe they were going to try to meet, try to live with, try to learn their language, try to give them a written version of their language, bring in literacy and give them a copy of the Bible in their own language.

They were going to do literacy work and Bible translation. They knew it was dangerous, so the night before they were to contact these Indians, they sat around a table, and they sang this hymn together.

We rest on Thee,

Our shield and our defender!

We go not forth alone against the foe;

Strong in Thy strength,

Safe in Thy keeping tender

We rest on Thee,

And in Thy name we go.

Strong in Thy strength,

Safe in Thy keeping tender,

We rest on Thee,

And in Thy name we go.

The next day they were all speared to death by the Indians. Do you remember that story? Elisabeth Elliot, a friend of ours, will say that’s interesting. “We rest on Thee,” they sang. “Strong in Thy strength and safe in Thy keeping.” The next day they were speared. So does it not work? “Of course it works,” she said. They also sang,

Jesus our righteousness,

Our sure foundation,

Our Prince of glory,

And our King of love.

You see, if the one thing that’s non-negotiable in your life, if the one thing you really want, if the one thing you really need, if the one thing is to gaze on the beauty of God, you’re absolutely safe, because the worst thing that could happen to you is a spear gets thrown through your heart (which is exactly what happened), in which case you gaze on the beauty of the Lord in a way you never have before.

Or there was an English missionary named Allen Gardiner. In 1851 he was on his way to South America to start a new mission, and he was shipwrecked on a very remote island. He and his companions tried their very best to stay alive until somebody came to find them, but nobody did. Finally he died, far away from everybody, far away from his loved ones, far away from his family, dying of thirst, dying of hunger. A horrible, horrible way to go.

When they finally discovered his body they found right next to his body was his quiet time notebook, his journal. They opened it up, and they saw on the very last page, he had written out Psalm 34:10. This is what it says: “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Right underneath it, the last words he penned were, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”

Huh? What do you mean, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God?” Why wasn’t he mad? Why wasn’t he angry? Why wasn’t he scared? Because he had the “one thing,” and there was nothing to be afraid of. Don’t you see it’s your only hope? Come and get it. Dwell. Gaze. Seek. Let’s pray.

Father, now we pray everybody in this room might be enabled to say, “The one thing I want is to dwell in your house and gaze on your beauty and seek you in your temple.” Father, for some of us, that’s going to mean actually to get ourselves converted to say that. For a lot of the rest of us, it means we’re going to have to reshuffle our priorities around and realize we’re living like pagans. Many, many good things have become our “one things,” and we’re being just jerked around by them. I pray today you will enable, by the power of your Spirit, to let everybody in this room say, “One thing I ask. One thing only will I seek.” We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.[1]

 About the Author

Tim Keller seated image

Timothy Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and the author of numerous books, including The Reason for GodKing’s CrossCounterfeit GodsThe Prodigal God, and Generous Justice.

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.


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Why the Incarnation of Jesus Was Necessary by Dr. Gordon Wenham

Christmas Incarnation


The Blood of the Lamb of God by Gordon Wenham


“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins,” says the epistle to the Hebrews (9:22). Most of that epistle is taken up with showing how Christ fulfilled the hopes and aspirations of the Old Testament, especially in regard to the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. But for modern readers who have never seen a sacrifice and do not think in Old Testament categories, this is all double Dutch: What has the killing of animals to do with the forgiveness of sins?

It is explained at length in the book of Leviticus, which begins with a long section setting out just how to offer the different kinds of sacrifice and what each achieves (chap. 1–7). However, we need to start further back than this to understand Leviticus and the basic notion of sacrifice.

Genesis 18 tells how Abraham was visited one day by three men. He had no idea who they were, but being a very hospitable man, Abraham laid on a splendid feast for them. His wife Sarah made a pile of fresh bread, while he offered a tender young calf, which his servants killed and cooked for the visitors. We are not told that he gave them wine, but, doubtless where that was available, it too would be served to important guests. Subsequently Abraham discovered who his visitors were — the Lord and two angels!

Though this episode is not seen as a sacrifice, it does give us an insight into the basic dynamics of sacrifice. At a sacrifice, God is the most important guest: His presence is honored by offering Him those items — meat, bread, and wine — that were served only on very special occasions. Meat eating was a rare luxury in Old Testament times, and doubtless wine was reserved for big occasions too.

Israel’s ancient neighbors saw sacrifices as meals for the gods, but the Old Testament indignantly rejects this idea. It is God who provides food for man (Gen. 1:29), not the other way around. Psalm 50:10, 12 puts it well:

Every beast of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills… .

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness are mine.

So what was the point of these massive feasts in front of the tabernacle and later in the temple precincts? The first sacrifices in the Bible are those offered by Cain and Abel. These are mentioned straight after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, where they had enjoyed walking with God in the cool of the day. Excluded from the garden, they were deprived of this privilege of intimacy with God. So one motive for sacrifice suggested by this story is that sacrifice allows man to renew fellowship with God.

But it must be offered in the right spirit. Cain offered only some of the fruit of the ground, whereas Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions” (Gen. 4:4), that is, the very best bits of his most valued animals. God accepted the latter but not the former. Here we realize one of the most important features of sacrifice: the animals must be young and healthy, not decrepit and elderly. The Passover lamb had to be without blemish and one year old. Repeatedly, the sacrificial laws in Leviticus insist that the animals involved must be “without blemish.” The Cain and Abel story shows what will happen if this is ignored: “they will not be accepted” (Lev. 22:25; see also 19:7; 22:20).

After the fall, an avalanche of sin, especially murder and violence, engulfed the world. God complains that sin is built into man: “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). So God sent the flood to wipe out sinful humanity and start afresh with Noah, the one man “who was righteous, blameless in his generation” (6:9).

When Noah eventually emerged from the ark, his first act was to build an altar and offer sacrifice. One might suppose that this was just an act of thanksgiving for being saved from destruction himself, but the text indicates it achieved much more. “When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth’” (8:21). In other words, though man’s evil character has not been changed (see 6:9), God’s attitude to human sin has: He will never again punish the world with a flood. Why? Because of the pleasing aroma of the sacrifices offered by Noah (8:21). Sacrifice according to Genesis 8 thus cools God’s anger at human sin. That animal sacrifices produce a pleasing aroma for God is a frequent refrain in Leviticus 1–7.

But why is animal sacrifice so effective in appeasing God’s wrath? The account of Abraham’s offering of Isaac gives some insight into this. Genesis 22 tells how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his most precious possession, namely, his only son Isaac. Abraham did not know that this was a test — for him it was deadly earnest. So at the last minute, just as Abraham was about to cut Isaac’s throat, the angel of the Lord told him to stop: “for now I know that you fear God” (22:12). Then Abraham looked up, saw a ram, and offered it up instead of Isaac.

This story shows that if someone is ready to obey God totally, God will accept an animal instead of the worshiper. Isaac was Abraham’s future, and Abraham was willing to give him to God, yet God was satisfied with a ram. Here the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is illustrated for us. It is even clearer in the laws in Leviticus, where an essential feature of every sacrifice is the placing of the worshiper’s hand on the animal’s head. This action declares that the animal is taking the place of the worshiper. The worshiper is giving himself entirely to God by identifying himself with the animal; the animal is dying instead of the worshiper.

In Leviticus 1–7, four different types of animal sacrifice are discussed. The emphasis in these chapters is on how to carry out the different types of sacrifice. We must now focus on the features that distinguish one type of sacrifice from another. The burnt offering (Lev. 1) was unique in that it was the only sacrifice in which the entire animal was burnt on the altar. In this, the total consecration of the worshiper to the service of God was represented. At the same time, it made atonement (Lev. 1:4) for the worshiper. “Make atonement” is more exactly “pay a ransom,” a phrase used elsewhere in the Law, where an offender who might otherwise face the death penalty was let off by the payment of damages (for example, Ex. 21:30).

The peace offering (Lev. 3) was probably the most popular of Old Testament sacrifices, as it was the only one in which the worshiper who donated the animal had a share of the meat (usually, only the priests ate the sacrificial meat). The peace offering could be offered spontaneously as an act of thanksgiving to God, but it might be offered when you made a vow asking for God to do something for you, or when that prayer was answered.

The sin offering (Lev. 4) was peculiar in that some of the animal’s blood was smeared on the altar or sprinkled inside the tabernacle or temple. This blood cleansed the tabernacle from the pollution of sin. Sin does not just make one guilty before God or make Him angry, it also makes places and people unclean and thus unfit for God to dwell in. By smearing blood on the altar or sprinkling the interior of the temple with blood, these objects were cleansed of pollution. At the same time, the sinner who had caused the pollution by his misdeeds was forgiven his sins and cleansed from its pollution. This cleansing made it possible for God to re-enter the temple and indwell the believer.

Finally, there was the guilt offering (Lev. 5:14–6:7), which expressed the idea that certain deeds put us in God’s debt. These sins can only be atoned for by the sacrifice of an expensive ram. Though discussed relatively briefly in Leviticus, the sacrifice is of great importance in Isaiah 53, where the suffering servant is called the guilt offering (v. 10; see the ESV, “offering for sin”), who suffers for our transgressions (vv. 5–6). As this chapter describes most fully the atoning role of Christ, it is central to the New Testament’s understanding of Christ’s death.

The imagery of sacrifice in general pervades the New Testament’s interpretation of the cross. When John the Baptist said “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he was most likely seeing Christ as the perfect Passover lamb, an image that Paul also uses when he speaks of “Christ, our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). He is also seen as the supreme burnt offering, a sacrifice superior to Isaac, an idea alluded to in such well-known passages as John 3:16 and Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Mark 10:45 describes the Son of Man as the ultimate servant, who gave “his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 1:7 takes up the imagery of the sin offering when he says that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” For the epistle to the Hebrews Jesus is the supreme High Priest, who through His death achieves all the goals to which the Old Testament sacrificial system pointed (see Heb. 9:1–14).

Finally, we should note that the death of Christ does not exhaust the significance of the sacrificial system for the Christian. We too are expected to walk in Christ’s footsteps and share His suffering (1 Peter 2:21–24). So we too are encouraged “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Paul, anticipating his own death, compared it to being “poured out as a drink offering,” that is, like the wine that was poured over the altar with every animal sacrifice (see also Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6). In this way the old modes of worship should still inspire our consecration today.


About the Author: Dr. Gordon Wenham is senior professor of Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire, England, and he served on the translation oversight committee for the English Standard Version Bible.

Article Information: From Tabletalk Magazine, September 1, 2005. © Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.


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Jesus: Our Perfect High Priest by Nancy Guthrie



None of Israel’s high priests ever lived up to what God intended for those he set apart to serve him in his Temple. Aaron sinned by leading the people in false worship. His sons sinned by offering unholy fire on God’s altar. Eli sinned by failing to discipline his sons who were such wicked priests that God struck them both down on the same day. Eventually the priesthood broke down altogether, so that the Old Testament ends with this warning: “The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2: 7-8)

While the priesthood was responsible for its sinful failure, it was never meant to last forever, but rather to prepare God’s people for the perfect Priest God would send. Jesus came, not to fit into the earthly system of priestly ministry, but to fulfill and put an end to that human priesthood, and to orient our attention to his ministry on our behalf in heaven. As our perfect High Priest, Jesus ministers in a superior place— not in the Temple, but in heaven itself. “For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9: 24).

Jesus ministers to us with superior righteousness— not external, like a holy set of clothes, but intrinsic to his own holy person. “He is holy and blameless, unstained by sin” (Hebrews 7:26).

Jesus ministers to us with superior sympathy— he “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus ministers to us with superior longevity“There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever” (Hebrews 7: 23-24).

And Jesus ministers to us, offering a superior sacrifice— not by the repeated sacrifices of animals, but with the once-for-all sacrifice of himself. “With his own blood— not the blood of goats and calves— he entered the Most Holy

Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12).

Prayer: Jesus, my merciful and faithful High Priest, you are the kind of priest I need because you are holy and blameless, unstained by sin.

Article adapted from the FABULOUS RESOURCE by Nancy Guthrie (2012-10-08). The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament (Kindle Locations 7946-7965). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Guthrie Nancy image

About Nancy Guthrie (In Her Own Words):

“God has been preparing me my whole life for teaching his Word,” says Nancy Guthrie. “He has blessed me with so many sound Bible teachers to sit under–from my days as a college student in Bible classes, to terrific Bible Study Fellowship leaders, gifted pastors — as well as several teachers like Tim Keller and John Piper that I listen to almost daily on my ipod.”

Nancy’s life experience–dealing with the loss of two of her children–has significantly affected her teaching substance and style. “I’ve had to dig into God’s Word in search of answers to hard questions about how he works, and I and that my listeners usually have the same struggles and questions. And while I openly share the deep hurts in my life, I also like to laugh. People who hear me teach say that I’m very real, and that is certainly what I want to be.” “To me, God’s Word is a treasure to be mined,” Nancy says. “The deeper I go in it, the more I see its wisdom, the more it authenticates itself, the more it reveals to me the amazing mystery of God.”

Nancy is the author of six books including Holding on to Hope, The One Year Book of Hope, Hoping for Something Better, Dinner Table Devotions, Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow, and When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One (co-written with her husband, David). She is also the editor of several anthologies published by Crossway, collections of great writing by noted classic and contemporary Bible teachers and theologians including Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Be Still My Soul, and O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.

She is currently working on another book for Tyndale’s One Year line that will be One Year of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament.

Nancy and her husband David live in Nashville, Tennessee while their son, Matt is off to Western Kentucky University.In addition to teaching opportunities at her church, Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Nancy speaks regularly at conferences and events around the country such as the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Conference, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, Second Baptist Church of Houston, Taylor University, Covenant College, and in countries including Scotland and Colombia.


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James M. Boice: The Lord Almighty is With Us

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” – Psalm 46:11

The conclusion and proper application of Psalm 46 is this statement in verse 11. Who is he, this God who is his people’s refuge? The answer is given in the two names of God in this refrain.

First, he is “the Lord Almighty.” The words are literally “the Lord of Hosts (Jehovah Sabaoth).” “Hosts” refers to the armies of Israel, on the one hand, and to the angelic armies of God, on the other. This makes the name especially apt in this psalm, since the psalm is based on a historical deliverance of the people from earthly armies, whatever their origin, and also looks forward to a final deliverance when God will subdue the hostile forces of rebellious man forever. We have a wonderful insight into the power of God’s hosts in the story of Elisha at Dothan. The city of Dothan had been surrounded by the armies of Ben-Hadad of Syria in an attempt to capture Elisha, and they were discovered early in the morning by Elisha’s young servant. When he saw the soldiers and chariots positioned around the city, he rushed back inside and cried out to Elisha, saying, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15). Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant to see the heavenly hosts protecting him, and when God did, the servant saw that the hills were filled with horses and chariots of fire around Elisha. Elisha reminded his servant that “Those who are with us are greater than those who are with them” (v. 16).

Second, God is the God of Jacob. Jacob was the third of the three Jewish patriarchs and the least outstanding of the three. He was a schemer, as his name implies. It took him a lifetime to learn to trust God. Yet the God of Abraham was his God no less than he was the God of Abraham. This is your God too, if you have come to him through faith in Jesus Christ. And if he is your God, then he is with you at all times, which is what this important couplet says. On the day he died, John Wesley had already nearly lost his voice and could be understood only with difficulty. But at the last with all the strength he could summon, Wesley suddenly called out, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Then, raising his hand slightly and waving it in triumph, he exclaimed again with thrilling effect, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Is the Lord Almighty with you? Is the God of Jacob your refuge? Make sure that he is. The storms of life will come, and the greatest storm of all will be the final judgment. Make Christ your refuge now, while there is still time.

 About Dr. James Montgomery Boice

*Dr. James Montgomery Boice, just 8 weeks after being diagnosed with a fatal liver cancer, died in his sleep on June 15, 2000. The senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, he was a world-famous Bible teacher, author, and statesman for Reformed theology. He informed his congregation of 32 years of his condition on May 7, proclaiming his complete confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness.

In the past 72 years, historic Tenth Presbyterian Church had two senior pastors, Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice – previous to Dr. Philip Graham Ryken (Currently the President at Wheaton College). Founded in 1828, the church itself predates their tenure by another hundred years. Tenth Presbyterian Church lies in the very heart of the city and today has about 1,200 members.

James Montgomery Boice accepted the position as senior pastor in 1968, and was the teacher of the Bible Study Hour since 1969 and the more recent God’s Word Today broadcast as well. Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Basel, Switzerland. He had written or contributed to nearly 50 books, including Foundations of the Christian FaithLiving by the Book, and exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Acts, and Romans.

He was no less involved in the preserving of the fundamentals of the faith than his predecessor, Dr. Barnhouse. In 1985, Boice assumed the presidency of Evangelical Ministries, Inc., the parent organization of the Bible Study Hour, Bible Study Seminars, Bible Studies magazine, and other teaching ministries. In 1997, Evangelical Ministries merged with Christians United for Reformation and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, taking the latter as the new organization’s name, and Dr. Boice assumed the presidency. In 1997, he was a founding member of, and chaired, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

Of particular concern to Boice was the matter of the church and her relationship to and engagement of society. His recent book, Two Cities, Two Loves, maintains that Christians are citizens of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven and that they have responsibilities in each. He urged Christians to “participate in secular life rather than merely shoot from the sidelines at secular people.”

His wife, Linda, and three daughters survive Dr. Boice. Characteristic of his ministry was his pushing Christians to commit themselves to staying in one place. He lived what he preached, committing to the church and his downtown neighborhood for 30 years. A gifted pastor and leader, he turned down many attractive opportunities in order to build a sense of permanence and belonging. And he urged his parishioners to do the same. The article above was adapted from Boice’s commentary on the Pslams.



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Dr. James Montgomery Boice on Laying Your Burdens Before The Throne

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” – Psalm 40:2

“If You’re Defeated, Bring Your Defeats to God”

What is your slimy pit? Some people are caught in the mud and mire of sin. David himself was an example of this at one point in his life. He began his descent into this pit by staying home from battle in the season when kings were supposed to be at war. While enjoying himself in Jerusalem, he saw a woman named Bathsheba bathing herself on the roof of a home close to the palace. David brought her to the palace, slept with her, and then, when he learned she was pregnant, arranged to have her husband Uriah abandoned in battle so that he was killed by enemy soldiers. David continued nearly a year in this condition. The story is in 2 Samuel 11.

Maybe you are caught in just such a sin. Perhaps one sin has led to another. You know what is happening but you can’t get out of it. That is no surprise. Sin is like that. Romans Chapter One describes the downward pull of sin on all people. When you are caught in this way, there is no point beyond which you may not go. You need help. Where is your help to come from if not from God?

Some people have a very different kind of pit from which they need to be lifted. It is the pit of personal defeat, whether at work or school or in the home or in some other setting or relationship. Some people would say that their entire lives have been one long and unending defeat. They have never succeeded at anything.

I do not want to trivialize your discouragement. But I can tell you this. God does have things he wants you to succeed at, and he will enable you to succeed at those, even though they may be different from what you are doing now. The place to begin is where David began. He began by laying his problem before the Lord. There was a time early in his life when he could have spoken very graphically of his defeats. No matter what he did, he was unable to please King Saul, and Saul in his hatred and jealousy of David ruthlessly hounded the young man from place to place. It was many years before the Lord intervened to remove Saul and eventually bring David to the throne. If you are defeated, bring your defeats to God. Wait on God. David “waited patiently for the Lord.” That is how Psalm 40:1 begins: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry.”

If you wait patiently, you too will learn that God has important things for you to do, and he will give you significant victories in his own perfect time.

 About James Montgomery Boice:

Dr. James Montgomery Boice, just 8 weeks after being diagnosed with a fatal liver cancer, died in his sleep on June 15, 2000. The senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, he was a world-famous Bible teacher, author, and statesman for Reformed theology. He informed his congregation of 32 years of his condition on May 7, proclaiming his complete confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness.

In the past 72 years, historic Tenth Presbyterian Church had two senior pastors, Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice – previous to Dr. Philip Graham Ryken (Currently the President at Wheaton College). Founded in 1828, the church itself predates their tenure by another hundred years. Tenth Presbyterian Church lies in the very heart of the city and today has about 1,200 members.

James Montgomery Boice accepted the position as senior pastor in 1968, and was the teacher of the Bible Study Hour since 1969 and the more recent God’s Word Today broadcast as well. Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Basel, Switzerland. He had written or contributed to nearly 50 books, including Foundations of the Christian FaithLiving by the Book, and exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Acts, and Romans.

He was no less involved in the preserving of the fundamentals of the faith than his predecessor, Dr. Barnhouse. In 1985, Boice assumed the presidency of Evangelical Ministries, Inc., the parent organization of the Bible Study Hour, Bible Study Seminars, Bible Studies magazine, and other teaching ministries. In 1997, Evangelical Ministries merged with Christians United for Reformation and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, taking the latter as the new organization’s name, and Dr. Boice assumed the presidency. In 1997, he was a founding member of, and chaired, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

Of particular concern to Boice was the matter of the church and her relationship to and engagement of society. His recent book, Two Cities, Two Loves, maintains that Christians are citizens of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven and that they have responsibilities in each. He urged Christians to “participate in secular life rather than merely shoot from the sidelines at secular people.”

His wife, Linda, and three daughters survive Dr. Boice. Characteristic of his ministry was his pushing Christians to commit themselves to staying in one place. He lived what he preached, committing to the church and his downtown neighborhood for 30 years. A gifted pastor and leader, he turned down many attractive opportunities in order to build a sense of permanence and belonging. And he urged his parishioners to do the same.

The article above is adapted from a Book of Sermons by Dr. Boice entitled: Psalm 1-41: An Exposition of the Psalms, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994/2004, pages 348-349.


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