presence of god new testament

Presence of God in the New Testament

presence of god new testamentIn a previous post we looked at how God’s presence in the Old Testament was found in the tabernacle and temple. These locations were built for God to dwell among his people, as he did in the Garden of Eden. But this paradigm changes in the New Testament; God’s presence among his people is seen in new, more tangible ways.

Word of God

In John 2, a small-town preacher in the streets of Jerusalem makes an audacious claim:

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:18)

The Jewish leaders do not like this talk, and even use it as evidence in his eventual trial. But this man was not talking about the physical temple; he was talking about himself.

If the temple was built to hold God’s presence in the midst of the people, then it wasn’t fulfilling that purpose. But when Jesus refers to himself as a temple, we realize that God’s presence is dwelling among the people. Only it is not in a building made of gold and stone, but rather in a body made of flesh and bone.

John highlights this in his introduction to the Gospel, saying:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The word that the ESV translates as “dwelt among” refers to pitching a tent; others have translated this verse as saying “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us.” God’s presence is not limited to the Holy of Holies in the temple, where only one priest could visit once a year. Instead, God is walking among his people.

You are the Temple

After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, one could say that God’s presence again left his people. But that is not the case. Before he left, Jesus promised his followers that God would send the Helper to be with believers. This is another monumental step in God’s plan: God’s presence would be within the believer. No longer would mankind have to go to a sanctuary or a person to find God. Instead, God would be with each believer.

Based on this new program, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul uses temple language to describe believers. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, he writes:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

In this context, Paul is referring to the church as a whole; it is within the community of believers—with Christ being the head of the church—that the presence of God resides. So the individual, as well as the community of believers, is the new temple of God.

New Creation

The end of the biblical story has one more thing to say about temples and the presence of God. In Revelation 21, John describes a vision he has of New Creation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)

The phrase “dwelling place” is the same word as found in John 1:14, talking about the Word tabernacling among us. So in the New Creation, mankind is living with God. The presence of God is with man.

John reinforces this idea by showing how this city is really one big temple. In Revelation 21:14–16, he gives measurements for the city; it is a massive cube, as long and wide as it is tall. The only other cubes in the entire Bible: the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies in the temple. Both those locations were where God’s presence dwelled, and now the New Jerusalem fills that purpose. New Jerusalem contains many things found in the previous temples: gold, precious stones, and the tree of life. But there are several things missing: there is no altar, no ark of the covenant, no lamp stand, and no priests. That is because they have been replaced by Jesus Christ.

John explicitly states in Revelation 21:22-

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

There is no need for a special location to meet with God, because God fills the entire city. The whole city becomes a cosmic Most Holy Place, dedicated to hosting the Glory of God forever.

Summary

In the Old Testament God’s presence was limited and restricted; only certain people could experience God’s presence, and it was after much preparation. But in the New Testament things change; God dwells among his people in a new, tangible way. Instead of dwelling in a building made of gold and stone, God appears in flesh and bone. His presence remains with believers through the Holy Spirit. And all this points to the reality of New Creation, where mankind will dwell with God forever.

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TEMPLE AND THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Temple and the Presence of God

In the Old Testament, there are two key buildings that, for Israel, shelter the presence of God. The Tabernacle and the several iterations of the Temple are both viewed by Israel as the location where God’s presence remains. It is also where mankind can meet with God.

By taking a look at how God met with people in the Old Testament, we can see the important role the Temple had concerning God’s presence.

Before the Tabernacle

Before the Tabernacle, God could and would meet with individuals. These locations—like the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18), Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), and Bethel (Genesis 28)—were temporary sites, though they became viewed as holy sanctuaries because God had been there. The only seemingly permanent location where God would meet mankind was on Sinai; Moses met God there in Exodus 3, and he later returned with the nation in Exodus 19.

The Tabernacle

While at Sinai, God gives Moses the plans to build a Tabernacle. This is to become a portable sanctuary and worship center for Israel, where they can go and perform their newly-prescribed sacrifices. More importantly, the Tabernacle exists to serve as a dwelling place for God in the midst of Israel’s camp (Exodus 25:8).

In Exodus 25–31, God gives Moses specific instructions on how to build every aspect of the Tabernacle. When looked at a whole, these building plans describe a tent filled with opulence—thanks to the gold of Egypt—and dedicated to the worship of God. Another role of the Tabernacle is to serve as a reminder to Israel: a reminder of God’s deliverance (through the Ark of the Covenant), a reminder of God’s holiness (through the Holy of Holies), and a reminder of man’s sinfulness (through the altar in the outer court).

Solomon’s Temple

Years later, after David had conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel, his son Solomon constructed a permanent Temple to the Lord. This replaced the aging Tabernacle, but still continued the primary purposes and activities of the tent. Described in 1 Kings 5–8, Solomon’s Temple was massive and ornate. At the dedication to the Temple, Solomon acknowledge the futile thinking that this Temple could ever house the entirety of God’s presence (1 Kings 8:27). Yet God did keep His presence in the Temple (1 Kings 8:10–11) so that He could dwell in the midst of Israel.

But God’s presence in the Temple was short-lived. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes a vision of the glory of God leaving the Temple. God’s presence, which had brilliantly appeared in the Temple in 1 Kings 8, was now leaving. This was a result of the nation and her leaders flirting with idolatry and following the gods of other nations. This also foretold the destruction of the Temple by Babylon in 587 BC.

After the Exile in Babylon, some of those returning under the leadership of Ezra sought to rebuild the Temple. This reconstruction was designed to restore the altar and to commence celebrating the Jewish festivals. Curiously, there is no mention of the presence of God returning to Ezra’s rebuilt Temple. This new Temple existed to reestablish the sacrificial system, but not for God do dwell in the midst of the people.

Summary

In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle/Temple was the location where mankind would meet with God. While these locations would be sacred, God had plenty of regulations in place in order to atone for and cover mankind’s sins. Still, these regulations limited the amount of interaction man could have with God. This, of course, would all change in the New Testament with a small-town teacher begins speaking at the Temple.

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what is the Bible?

What is the Bible? Six Views on Reading Scripture

what is the Bible?Introduction

For most of church history, the idea of a personal Bible was unheard of. The phrase “Turn in your Bible to…” would have made no sense. That’s because people didn’t have their own Bible.

But now we do. Since the Gutenberg press revolutionized the way mankind makes books, the Bible has rightly become the most accessible book in the world. If you live in America, you are lucky enough to have access to several Bibles—in libraries, hotel rooms, and even given to you on a street corner. And if you have been a Christian for a while, you are likely one of the 88% of Americans who own a Bible; you might even have a few on your shelves.

Because of the ubiquitous nature of the printed and bound Bible in our culture today, it is easy to assume that the Bible has always been like this. We can take for granted that, for most of the church’s history, copies of the Bible were handwritten. We can also take for granted the very nature of the Bible, viewing it in a very narrow light.

So what is the Bible?

  • A library?
  • A book?
  • A reference work?
  • A historical document?

It is all of these… and more.

In this post, we will take a look of each more closely to see how we should be viewing the Bible.

A Library

First of all, the Bible is a library of works. Written by at least 40 different authors and numerous editors over 1500 years, the 66 books of the Bible form a library of religious texts. Even the word “bible” comes from the Greek and can be translated as “little books”.

In the early years, these writings were combined into a canon, or a standardized grouping. While the order of this list may change, the canon has remained relatively stable.

Viewing the Bible as individual books and letters allows the reader to note the diversity found within the text. Stories, laws, poetry, personal letters, and apocalyptic writing are all part of Scripture.

A Book

For all the diversity in the Bible, it is not merely an anthology of religious texts; instead, it tell one complete story. There is a unity to the text, a storyline woven throughout the pages. The Bible is not a The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with his people, and the lengths he would go to redeem them.

There has been a recent resurgence in resources to help readers see this greater storyline of the Bible. Books like The Heart of the Story and The God Who Is There show how each part of the Bible fits in God’s greater story. And curricula like The Gospel Project guides a small group through finding their part in this greater story.

A Reference Work

Another view of the Bible is that it serves as a reference work. Instead of learning, internalizing, and memorizing Scripture, one could cite the chapter and verse of a particular passage.

The division of the Bible into chapters and verses was done in the 13th century by Stephen Langton, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. Before Langton, people would refer to the book a quote was in, but could not point to a specific part. Several of the New Testament authors cite the Old Testament by saying “as it is written” (Mark 1:2; Romans 4:17).

While the development of chapters and verses has aided pastors, authors, and readers alike in remembering the text, it has also had some negative effects. Chapter and verse divisions are not perfect, at times interrupting the original flow and argument of the author. They have also made reading the Bible fragmented, with people reading only the portion they need to, say for a reading plan or whatever verses the pastor told them to read. This lends itself to people citing a verse outside of the context of the surrounding verses and chapters. Proof-texting like this is good for boosting your own argument, but it does not help you understand the truths God may be communicating through the greater passage.

While I am not proposing abolishing the chapter/verse divisions, reading the Bible without them is greatly beneficial. Logos readers can do this with a click of a button, while readers looking for a physical edition can turn to the ESV Reader’s Bible.

A Historical Document

Within popular culture, the Bible is often viewed as a historical document. In this view, the Bible’s value is merely that of cultural artifact, useful primarily to describe the life, culture, and belief of an ancient people. This makes the Bible something worthy of scholarly study, but of no value to modern day readers.

For Christian readers, there is great value to be found in learning more about the culture and context of the Bible’s authors and original audience. But we cannot stop there; for Christians, the Bible is much more than a cultural artifact.

Revelation of God’s Story

For Christians, the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind. Through Scripture, God reveals truths about Himself, the nature of mankind, and the redemption plan God has for His people. And it is through Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ, the very Word of God (John 1).

This makes reading the Bible more than just something we study; when we read the Bible, God uses that to change and shape and mold us more into His image. Reading the Bible, combined with the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to learn and experience more of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Nothing

Unfortunately, for millions of people on the planet, the Bible means nothing to them. This is because they either do not have access to the Bible, or the Bible has not yet been translated into their heart language. Over half of the world’s languages do not have a complete Bible, while 26% of the world’s languages have no translation works started (source).

Fortunately there are some great organizations looking to remedy this drought in biblical translations. Here at North Baptist Church we are partnered with Wycliffe and New Tribes Mission, both of which are committed to reaching the unreached people groups with a translation of the Bible. I encourage you to pray for and support missionaries and organizations that are pursing translation projects throughout the world.

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Battle between the Two seeds

Battle Between the Two Seeds

Battle between the Two seedsThe Two Seeds

In Genesis 3, we have the story of the Fall. Mankind breaks God’s command, thus breaking their relationship with him. In Genesis 3:14–19, we have the fallout from this sin. God pronounces judgment and warnings to each of the offending parties:The man, woman, and serpent—the creature who placed doubt into the woman’s mind.

In verse 15 we read that there will be hostility between the seed (or offspring) of the the serpent and the seed (or offspring) of the woman. Because of sin and evil entering the world, there will be a struggle between the two respected descendants. This struggle will bring pain to both parties, but the serpent’s head will be crushed—a fatal blow. Sometimes called the protoevangelium, this verse describes the consequences of sin on humanity, while also setting up the victory found in Jesus Christ.

The rest of the biblical text seems to flesh out the struggle between these two seeds. Sometimes the seed is a person, a family, or a nation. At times the serpent’s seed will win, and other times the woman’s seed will win. But throughout it all, the promise of Genesis 3:15 remains, and that victory will be with the seed of the woman.

Old Testament

Early in the Old Testament, this struggle is manifested between individuals. Cain represents the seed of the serpent when he kills Abel, his brother who represents the seed of the woman.

Noah and his family are chosen as the new seed of the woman, as the rest of the world has chosen to go down the path of the serpent. Later, Abraham’s family is chosen to carry on the seed of the woman.

When Abraham’s descendants are in Egypt, they multiply to the size of a nation. And in the Exodus, the battle between the seeds is raised to a national level. Israel is shown to be the seed of the woman, while Egypt—the oppressors and enslavers of Israel—represent the seed of the serpent.

The battle between David and Goliath does a great job highlighting the battle between the two seeds. Goliath, dressed in scales like a serpent, curses David and Yahweh on behalf of his god Dagon. David, recognized as the seed of the woman, knocks the serpent-man down and removes his head.

Over time, the nation of Israel—her kings and her people—behave less like the seed of the woman and more like the seed of the serpent. So when the nation is led into exile, the biblical text focuses on individuals who are behaving like the seed of the woman. People like Jeremiah, Daniel, and Nehemiah show how the seed of the woman can be faithful in the heart of the kingdom of the serpent.

This faithfulness would lead to the return from exile. The remnant would rebuild Jerusalem and restore the seed of the woman into a nation. Unfortunately, these people were still under the rule of the empires—Babylon, Persian, and Roman.

New Testament

In the New Testament, the seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. He is born of a woman, and is the promised Messiah who will crush the head of the serpent. And in his ministry, he shows the power over the seed of the serpent, casting out demons several times.

When Jesus is arrested, beaten, and hung up on the cross, it seems as though the seed of the serpent will win. Jesus is executed at the hand of the Roman Empire and by the charges leveled against him by the Jewish leaders—both of whom are portrayed as seeds of the serpent in this story. But at his resurrection, Jesus shows that the serpent’s best bite could not keep him down.

The followers of Jesus continue this battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. As Paul describes in Ephesians 6:12, the battle against the seed of the serpent is spiritual in nature:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

The battle between the two seeds continues in the book of Revelation, but it is there that the final victory is described. The agents of evil are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20) and the seed of the woman is gathered in the New Creation (Revelation 21).

Conclusion

Throughout the Bible, the seed of the woman has struggled against the advances of the seed of the serpent. But the promise found in Genesis 3:15 remained. The victory of Jesus—the seed of the woman—over the seed of the serpent was promised in Genesis, occurred on the cross, and will be consummated in the Day of the Lord.

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biblical theology of death

Biblical Theology of Death

biblical theology of deathIntroduction

A few years ago my wife and I had the chance to spend Easter weekend at Colonial Williamsburg. We got to see the restored buildings, the actors in character doing 18th century jobs, and what life was like for European colonists in the early years of Virginia.

For me the highlight was attending Easter morning service at Bruton Parish church, the old Episcopal church in the center of Williamsburg. We sat in the same church and took Communion at the same rail as countless others had done for centuries. And many of those former parishioners were still leaving their mark; for as we left we walked through the graveyard surrounding the church.

Many people mark major milestones in their lives inside a church. Child dedications, baptisms, marriages, and deaths; North Baptist has seen them all. Perhaps you have experienced some of these celebrations; and we will all one day experience the final one.

Death is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, slave or king, criminal or righteous man, death comes for us all. It comes quickly and unexpected for some, slowly and deliberate for others. Mankind has created terrifying ways to bring wholesale death, while at the same time doctors are seeking ways to prolong life as long as possible. Yet they are just delaying the inevitable: all of us will die.

Death is the great enemy of mankind, the one that is coming for us all. And the tentacles of that sinister enemy reach all the way back to the dawn of time, and her story continues until the end.

Old Testament

Death first makes an appearance in the Bible in Genesis 3. The man and woman disobey God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge. Their sin has devastating consequences: broken relationship with God, removal from the presence of God, and death.

The first victim of this enemy is found in the very next chapter of the Bible: in a fit of jealousy, one brother kills another brother. Thus we see the ruinous effects of death: the loss of life, brothers killing one another, and further damage to the relationship with God.  Just a few chapters later, death spreads exponentially. All mankind is destroyed in a catastrophic flood, with Noah and his family the only ones who lived to tell about it.

In these primordial stories found in the first few chapters of Genesis, we see see the destructive power of death. It rips apart families, tears apart society, and breaks the relationship mankind has with God.

Rest of the Old Testament

Death features prominently in the rest of the Old Testament. Whether by natural causes, at the hand of an enemy, or struck down by God, death comes to virtually all the characters in the Old Testament. This is an accepted fact: all will die, and there is nothing man can do to stop it.

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes 9 describes the certainty of death and the pointlessness in trying to stop it. In one of the most depressing—yet realistic—chapters in the Bible, the Teacher tells the reader to enjoy life while you have it, because one day you will be dead, and everyone will forget you. For the Teacher, the one who could have it all and experienced it all, death was the one force he couldn’t conquer.

God was seen as the master of death, using it against his enemies at will. He harnessed it to kill the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12), to destroy the 185k in the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19), and to punish the rebels led by Korah (Numbers 16). Even the threat of death was used by God, as seen in the prophecy of Jonah in Nineveh (Jonah 3).

God seems to have spared Enoch and Elijah from this cruel enemy, but they are exceptions to the rule. For the rest of the Old Testament, death is the giant enemy that swallows up everyone eventually.

Yet there were some glimmers of hope. God did have control over death, and the prophets hoped he would one day reverse this curse of death. In Isaiah 26:19, the prophet calls for mankind to rejoice over the resurrection of the dead:

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. (Isaiah 26:19)

In Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 37, the dry bones coming to life signifies the restoration of Israel after the exile. But it also does highlight the life-giving breath of God, who brings dead bones to life. The underlying hope of the Old Testament prophets is that God would do this for real.

Finally, in Isaiah 25:8–9 the prophet describes a day when God will conquer death forever:

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25;8-9)

God is portrayed as a deliverer, as one bringing salvation to his people. And one way he does this is by swallowing up death, causing it to disappear forever.

Ministry of Jesus

When Jesus comes onto the stage, death is still reigning over mankind. Yet in his 3 years of ministry, Jesus provides some more glimpses that death’s reign may be drawing to a close. Jesus spoke of a kingdom where the former rules no longer applied, a kingdom where he was king and death no longer ruled. And Jesus’ miracles pointed to the power of this new king.

In his miracles, Jesus shows a remarkable power over sickness, demons, and even nature—all powers given to the prophets by God. But it is in his power over death that Jesus shows his true power. What was once lifeless—Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus—breathed again. In these stories, the touch or even voice of the king can conquer death. This is powerful; people don’t come back to life after they are dead. Dead things stay dead. Yet these powerful demonstrations of Jesus’ power are temporary; Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus would taste the bitter sting of death yet again. Jesus gains these victories over death, but death still reigns supreme over mankind.

And then death get its most important victory yet: Jesus.

Death of Jesus

Today we are here to celebrate death’s greatest victim: Jesus Christ. We remember the cruel, painful death of an innocent man, whose death was inflicted by the Roman Empire’s most savage instrument of torture and death.

For many who viewed Jesus’ death that day, his death was a colossal failure, a down note at the end of his ministry. This was the perspective of the depressed disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Here’s how they described the events from that weekend:

“Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:19–21)

To them, the death of Jesus was a failure; they couldn’t figure out how it was part of God’s plan. Even the empty tomb was unexplainable; perhaps they viewed it as someone stealing the body. Either way, they are depressed at the fact that Jesus died.

Yet the death of Jesus is not depressing; it is life-giving! 

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, he destroyed death! The empty tomb does not point to grave robbers, but to the destruction of the thief that only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. The empty tomb points to God raising Christ from the dead, to show his victory over the grave. Paul describes this victory in Romans:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. (Romans 6:9)

And in turn, his conquering the grave leads to a greater hope for us: that as Christ was raised, so too will we defeat death. Paul describes this in 2 Timothy 1:10:

“our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Death of Death

In the rest of the New Testament, death still rears its ugly head, but it has lost its sting. Death is defeated, but the victory is not yet consummated. Stephen is brutally stoned to death, but he is described as “falling asleep” (Acts 7:60). Paul actually sees death as beneficial, as it will bring him closer to Christ (Philippians 1:21–23). To the rest of the New Testament authors, death is viewed as a conquered enemy, and Christ will strike the final blow in the end.

The end comes in the book of Revelation, John’s account of visions he saw while in exile. In Jesus’s first words to John as recorded in the book, Jesus brags about his victory over death: But he laid his right hand on me, saying,

“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17–18).

Jesus finally finishes the job in Revelation 20. Death—the enemy that has swallowed up every human to walk this earth—is thrown into the lake of fire. No more can death affect mankind, for it has been destroyed.

And when we arrive at John’s description of New Creation in Revelation 21–22, death is nowhere to be found.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

Death is put to death, mankind is freed from its devastating bond, and man is again able to walk in the presence of God.

Conclusion

All this happens because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we gather together to celebrate Good Friday and Easter, and when we gather to celebrate Communion, we are rejoicing in the fact that death has been defeated, and that Christ has killed it. Jesus did what we could never do, and he did it for us. His perfect life of obedience, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his triumphant resurrection that first Easter morning—all were done so that we could be with God. Undoing the effects of sin and death, we can now enter the presence of God.

As we are people living in between Christ’s first and second advents, we still have to experience death. We are still mortal beings, and we will still face the discouraging medical diagnosis, the cancer treatments, and the loss of loved ones. We have not yet experienced the full victory of Christ’s death.

1 Corinthians 15:54–55 describes what it will be like when we experience Christ’s full victory:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

We may be still mortal, but we worship an immortal invincible God. The God who puts death to death. The one who swallows up death in his victory, so we can be with him forever.

[This is a modified version of a sermon given at North Baptist Church on Good Friday 2015).

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Theology-of-location.png

Theology of Location

The Bible is a brilliant piece of literature. Filled with intrigue, humor, and riveting-yet-flawed characters, the biblical narratives are some of the greatest stories ever told. And like other pieces of literature, setting matters.

A Theology of Location

Throughout the biblical narratives, there are locations that take on important meanings. A specific setting—like a mountain—can denote a specific type of event is about to happen.

At times locations become another character, returning to the forefront hundreds of pages after they are first mentioned. Time and time again stories take place on Mount Moriah or the Jordan River, both serving as key locations in the narratives.

Here is a brief survey of some of the settings in the biblical narrative, along with how they shape the Bible stories.

Mountains

Mountains have an important, diverse role in the bibical narratives. Primarily, mountains are a place of encountering God, though the reasons can vary. The two main mountain locations in the Bible—Sinai/Horeb and Moriah/Zion/Jerusalem—feature prominently in several biblical stories.

First, mountains are a place for humanity to meet with God. It is where God reveals himself to His people.

Examples:

  • Moses encounters the burning bush on Sinai (Exodus 3)
  • Elijah on Sinai (1 Kings 19)
  • Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17)

When God and man meet on the mountain, it can be a time of revelation or instruction. God and man enter into a covenant, with God providing instruction on how to live in the covenant.

Examples:

  • Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
  • Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Mountains can also be a place of deliverance. God’s people need rescuing, and God delivers them in a mighty way. Often a sacrifice is offered to show devotion to God.

Examples:

  • Noah on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8)
  • Abraham on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22)
  • David on Mount Moriah (1 Chronicles 21)
  • Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18)

Valleys

Valleys, in the shadows of mountains, are locations of trial. It is where God’s people are tested in their faith.

Examples:

  • David’s showdown with Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • Psalmist in Valley of Shadow of Death (Psalm 23)

Wilderness

The wilderness, also described as desert, is a wild, barren land. Inhospitable to life, it is a place of pain, suffering, and testing. It is also a location for training, preparing individuals for the next step. It is not a destination, but rather a stop on the journey. People often flee there, after running away from adversaries.

Examples:

  • Moses fleeing Egypt (Exodus 2)
  • Israel in Wilderness (Book of Numbers)
  • Elisha after Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19)

Sometimes people choose to go into the wilderness. This can be to face the temptation or to redeem this dark place.

Example:

  • John the Baptist (Matthew 3)
  • Temptation of Jesus (Luke 4)

Waters

Large bodies of water were major barriers in the ancient world. Rivers were hard to cross, and the seas contained unimaginable beasts. When God’s people passed through waters by the hand of God, it is seen as a type of baptism: dedicating and setting apart the people as God’s possession.

Examples:

  • Israel at Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Israel at Jordan River (Joshua 3)
  • Jonah (Jonah 1)

Conclusion

While this is not an exhaustive list, hopefully it gives you a glimpse at how setting plays a role in the biblical narratives—how there is a theology of location. Next time you read a story from the Bible, think about the setting, noting how it helps shape the story.

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On School Projects and Hidden Sin

new england statesBack in 5th grade, I remember I had this project I had to do on the 50 States. We had to find a few facts about each state, write them on an index card, draw the state on the other side of the card, and turn it in. Simple. Just 50 cards. And they were due over the course of the entire year. The first batch was due November 1st—I think it was the New England states. They were pretty easy, probably only take me 4 hours; easy peasy.

Only, I didn’t do them.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t do them; I don’t know. Perhaps I wanted to do them all the night before they were due. But that night was Halloween. And I had candy to collect. So I pushed the project to the side, hiding it from my parents, and trying to banish it from my thoughts.

Now this was uncharted territory for myself and my family. I had never not completed a project. There were always high expectations of me in school, even at a young age. When I would get a 95% on a spelling test, the response was not “Great job getting the 19 words right;” instead it was “So what happened on the 20th word?” So this was a big deal.

All I remember of that Halloween night was how anxious I was for the next day; how terrified I was of the reactions I would face from my teacher and my parents; and how, no matter how much candy I got, I was having the worst night ever.

This surprised me. I was supposed to be enjoying free candy and dressing up like a superhero. But instead, I was depressed. Even when I got the really big candy bars, I wasn’t happy because I knew that I was one house closer to bed, one house closer to the day of reckoning.

rost 1Sin is corrosive, destructive, and deadly. If we keep silent about our sin, burying it deep inside ourselves, it will eat us alive. The only cure is confession and forgiveness. Psalm 32 has some great things to say about confession and forgiveness; join us this Sunday @ 9 am at North Baptist Church as we apply these truths to our lives.

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A New Guide to Old Testament – Reading Old Testament Laws

A New Guide to the Old TestamentFor many readers of the Bible, the Old Testament laws are some of the most challenging and controversial passages to read and interpret. They are often used by skeptics and atheists to show the absurdity of believing the Bible. Author A.J. Jacobs capitalized on this view by trying to obey every Old Testament law—all 613 of them—in one year. His resulting memoir, The Year of Living Biblically, describes how silly many of these laws seem in our culture today.

Hopefully throughout our journey through the Old Testament we have seen the importance of reading the Old Testament. But what to do with these laws? How should we, as Christians who still recognize that the Old Testament is Scripture, read the Old Testament laws?

What Laws?

When we talk about the Old Testament laws, we are primarily talking about the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books, along with Genesis, form the first five books of the Bible, which we commonly call the Pentateuch. We also call them the Torah, which is the Hebrew word for law.

If you have ever read through these books, you know that they are filled with laws, laws that are detailed, bloody, and seem somewhat bizarre to us today. My guess is that most people who stop their yearly Bible reading plan do so because they get bogged down in Leviticus!

If you haven’t managed to make it through the entire Pentateuch, here’s a recap of what is found in each book:

  • Exodus – Filled with narrative, this book describes God’s rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. By Exodus 19, Israel finds its way to Sinai, where they meet with God. The rest of the book includes the Ten Commandments and the building of the Tabernacle.
  • Leviticus – A bloody book from the start, Leviticus begins by describing the different types of animal sacrifices required from the Israelites. Other highlights include guidelines for dealing with discharges, serious crimes, and holy festivals and days. Many of the instructions are geared toward the Levitical priests, who are charged with keeping the camp holy and obedient. Narratives in this book describe the choosing and, later, punishment of priests.
  • Numbers – The storyline of this book moves the Israelites from Sinai to the edge of the Promised Land — twice! Interspersed between the narratives are further rules and regulations for the nation to follow. By the end of Numbers, the generation from Egypt has passed away, leaving a new generation at the edge of the Promised Land, preparing to enter.
  • Deuteronomy – On the plains of Moab, Moses gives a retelling of the law to the new generation. He reminds them of where they have come from, what they have pledged to do before God, and what God promises to do for them. For the Israelites gathered, it was a chance for them to recommit themselves to God, before they crossed the river and entered the Promised Land He was giving them.
Laws or Stories of Laws?

Each of these books is not a legal document, but rather a narrative; they are stories. Sure, there are large sections filled with laws and regulations, but they are interspersed with select narratives, often there to highlight the seriousness of sin and disobedience. As my seminary professor wrote, even the book of Leviticus is narrative, telling the “story of God’s instruction for Israel delivered to Moses from the tent of meeting.”1

What Was Their Purpose?

For the Israelites living in Old Testament times, the laws (Torah) had several purposes, shaping every part of their lives.

Covenantal Relationship

Primarily, the laws are a core part of the covenantal relationship between Israel and God. After the exodus from Egypt, the people of Israel went to Sinai, where they entered into a covenantal relationship with the God who rescued them. As Fee and Stuart write in their brilliant book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Torah was an accord:

“[The Law] functioned as a way of establishing loyalty between God and his people. The Law simply represented the terms of the agreement of loyalty that Israel had with God.”2

God is King

The laws also identify God as sovereign king over His people. While their may be leaders, judges, and eventually kings over the people, at Sinai God is established as ultimate ruler.

Much work has been done to note how similar portions of the Pentateuch, reflect ancient Near Eastern legal codes. One in particular—the Hittite suzerian-vassal treaty—shares a similar structure to the book of Deuteronomy. In the Hittite culture, this was a treaty made between a feudal lord (or suzerian) and his subject. In the context of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is showing another covenant, not between a human lord and subject, but between Yahweh and His people.

Combat Sin and Chaos

Finally, torah reminded Israel of Genesis 1–3, and the effects of sin on God’s good creation. The cleanliness laws, the regulations surrounding the priests and tent of meeting, and the guidelines for animal sacrifices are all so that sinful humans can worship a holy God. They provide a sense of restored order in a chaotic and fallen world. As one scholar remarks,

“Law is a means by which the divine ordering of chaos at the cosmic level is actualized in the social sphere.”3

Should We Obey Them?

This question of how the Old Testament laws apply to followers of Christ is on the mind of several New Testament authors, as well as the apostles. In Acts 15, Luke describes the Jerusalem Council, where the apostles gathered to discuss how Jewish should the new gentile believers look. And throughout the writings of Paul, he is dealing with how gentile believers should handle the Old Testament laws.

The conclusion formed by the apostles in the New Testament is that Jesus changes things, including how we view the Torah. For Christians, the Old Testament laws point to the need for a savior; they are markers pointing the way to Jesus. And now that Jesus has come and instituted the New Covenant, the old ways are no longer necessary. N.T. Wright describes the Torah as like an alarm clock, and “to go on looking at the alarm clock to see whether it is morning yet when the risen sun is flooding the bedroom with golden light is perverse.”4

It is true that some parts of the Law—like most of the Ten Commandments—are mentioned in Paul’s writings; but they are redefined in New Covenant terms. As Paul writes in Romans 13:9–10:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

How Should We Read Them?

There is immense value in reading the Torah as 21st-century Christians. Here are a few ways you can read the Old Testament laws in light of Jesus and the New Testament.

First, recognize that these laws are as part of God’s Story. The old covenant serves an important part of God’s redemptive story, a foundation for the climax of Jesus Christ. We remember and celebrate the earlier parts of the story, but we do not relive them.

Second, as you read the myriad laws, remind yourself of the impossibility of earning God’s favor. Just remembering all the different regulations for staying ceremonially clean is exhausting; imagine following all those laws every day! When reading the Old Testament laws, my first thought is to be thankful for the grace and mercy of God in my life, because I know I couldn’t do it on my own!

Third, the Old Testament laws highlight the grace and mercy of God. Sure, to our 21st-century eyes the laws may seem bizarre, and the punishments severe. But, remember that this is still God’s covenant with Israel, His treasured possession. The laws given at Sinai were received by people who had just been rescued by God from slavery in Egypt.


  1. Gary Schnittjer, The Torah Story, p. 292. 

  2. Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 170. 

  3. Terrance Fretheim, quoted in Schnittjer, The Torah Story, p. 253. 

  4. N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, p. 158. 

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The Glory of God in the Psalter

glory of godThe book of Psalms is one of the most underrated books of the Old Testament. The Psalter is not only one of the longest, but also one of the most-quoted and alluded to books in the entire Bible. The focus of each psalm is varied, covering the whole range of human emotions. But many highlight the glory of God.

God’s glory is demonstrated in several ways through the Psalms. Primarily, his glory is expressed through creation. The cosmos are a constant, unending testimony to His glorious power (Psalm 8:1–4). It is also seen in how God works in human history. His people celebrate how He demonstrated His glory in defeating their enemies (Psalm 136). God’s glory can even be seen in His Law, guiding His people to a better way of living (Psalm 19:7–11).

So when we read the Psalms, we see God in His glory. “The Psalms themselves,” James Luther Mays writes, “contain more direct statements about God than any other book in the two testaments of the Christian canon… The works of God and the attributes of God are the constant agenda of the Psalms.”1

As we continue our summer preaching series on the Psalms at North Baptist Church, let us keep in mind how the Psalter draws our attention to the glory of God.

(image credit)


  1. Quoted in Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment

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A New Guide to the Old Testament – Christian Benefits

A New Guide to the Old TestamentAs we continue our guide to the Old Testament, an important questions must be asked: Why? As Christians, why should we study the Old Testament?

For many of us, this question is absurd. Of course we need to study the Old Testament; it’s attached to our Bibles!

But when a majority of our sermons come from the later testament, perhaps our actions don’t line up; our neglect of one testament reflects our preference.

Back in the 2nd century CE, Marcion saw a complete disconnect between the Old and the New Testaments. He felt there was so much of a difference between the two testaments that he thought the testaments described two separate deities: Yahweh was the angry god of the Old Testament, while Jesus was the loving, forgiving god of the New Testament. And while this heresy—now known as Marcoinism—was originally put down by the early church fathers, it has found a new voice in Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist movement.

But none of this answers the question I first posed: Why should Christians read the Old Testament? Below are 5 benefits Christians receive from reading the Old Testament:

1. Deeper appreciation of the New Testament

When Jesus and the New Testament authors refer to Scripture, they are talking about the Old Testament. And the New Testament is richly filled with quotations, allusions, and images from the Old Testament books. By reading the Old Testament, we have a fuller appreciation and understanding of the New Testament.

2. Highlights who God is and how He works

Through the Old Testament narratives, we see the characteristics of God on display. And in the same narratives, we see how He moves and shapes human history. He is not portrayed as the Deists imagine: the creator who is now removed from creation. Instead, the Old Testament shows how He is active in the course of human history.

3. Deemphasizes moralism

As Christians, it can be easy for us to look at the Old Testament people as great figures of faith. And many of them are, calling down fire from heaven or parting the waters or preaching against entire nations. But none of them are perfect.

When we read the Old Testament, we are reminded that these great figures of faith were deeply flawed individuals. They were just like us: they would succumb to sin, forget the faithfulness of God, or just simply disobey God. As we read these stories, we realize that the only constant in their lives—and in our lives today—is God’s faithfulness. It is not something we earn, and definitely not something we deserve, but we receive it anyway.

4. Shows relationship between God & His people

As I said above, the Old Testament highlights how God works in human history. But something greater happens in the Old Testament: God chooses a people. First Adam, then Noah, then Abraham, and finally the nation of Israel; the Old Testament is centered around a relationship between God and His people.

And so in the narratives, we see how God protects and delivers His people. In the Prophets, we see how God warns and punishes His people, eventually delivering them back to Him. And in the Writings, we see how Israel worships God.

5. Reveals God’s unfolding redemption plan

God’s salvation doesn’t start at the manger. The story of Jesus does not happen in a vacuum, but is rooted in the Old Testament. It is in the Old Testament we first see sin, and how pervasive and all-encompassing are its effects. Throughout the narrative we read mankind’s futile attempts at restoration, attempting to please YHWH—or any god for that matter—through actions. And ultimately we see the need for the cross, for redemption from our sins. We realize that it is not something mankind can do on our own, but must be left in the hands of God.

I know this list isn’t exhaustive, but it conveys some of the reasons why it is crucial for Christians to read the Old Testament. Why else should we read the Old Testament? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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