Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A. W. Pink on Worship

A little pamphlet on Worship by A. W. Pink has fallen into my hands courtesy of the wonderful ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church's "Chapel Library." I would encourage you to subscribe to this ministry's free resources at Allow me to share some poignant quotes from this resource:

"The world over, human religion is based on the fallacy that fallen and sinful man can have dealings with God. Religion is the principal means used by Satan to blind men to their true and terrible condition. It is the devil's anesthetic for making lost sinners feel comfortable and easy in their guilty distance from God."

"God is Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:24). This "must" is final; there is no alternative, no choice in the matter. It is not the first time that we have this very emphatic word in John's Gospel. ... "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (Jn 3:7). "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up" (Jn 3:14). Each of these three "musts" is equally important and unequivocal. The first (3:7) has reference to God the Spirit, for He it is who regenerates. The second (3:14) refers to the work of God the Son, for He it is who made atonement for sin. The third (4:24) has reference to God the Father, for He it is that seeketh worshippers (Jn 4:23). This order cannot be changed; it is only those who have been born of the Spirit, and who are resting upon the atoning work of Christ, that can worship the Father."

"To worship 'in spirit' stands contrasted from the fleshly rites and imposing ceremonies of Judaism. To worship 'in truth' stands opposed to the superstitions and idolatrous delusions of the heathen."

"True worship is the adoration of a redeemed people, occupied with God Himself."

"It is not a coming to receive from Him, but to render unto Him. It is the pouring out of the heart's adoration. O that we may bring to the Saviour "gold and frankincense and myrrh," i.e. adoring Him because of His divine glory, His moral perfections, His fragrant death."

"What is worship? Praise? Yea, more; it is the adoration flowing forth from a heart which is fully assured of the excellency of Him before whom it bows, expressing its profoundest gratitude for His unspeakable Gift."

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Architecture Revisited

Click here to go to a post I just wrote about architecture over at The Sacred in the Secular.

If every church contemplating a building campaign would read it, I would certainly be grateful.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

C. S. Lewis, Augustine, and The Silver Bullet Band

I have just posted this article over at our other blog, The Sacred in the Secular. Hope you will check it out. Click here to go there now.

A Guide for Worship and Doctrine: C

The latest installment of the forthcoming Guide for Worship and Doctrine, the "C" entries, is below. Please interact in the comment section if you feel that I need to include, omit, or edit an entry.

Previous sections can be found here (Intro), here (A) , and here (B).

CALVARY: In Luke 23:33, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion is called “The Skull,” or in Greek, Kranion. When the Bible was translated into Latin, the word Calvariae was used, meaning “a bare skull.” Translators of the King James Version were influenced by this Latin term, and employed the name Calvary here. More literal translations use the phrase “The Skull.” Luke 23:33 is the only place where the word “Calvary” occurs in the New Testament, and only in the King James Version (and those influenced strongly by it). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the place of crucifixion is called “Golgotha,” from the Aramaic word gulgolta, meaning “skull.” The exact location of Golgotha/Calvary is debated by archaeologists, with some preferring the traditional site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the site referred to as “Gordon’s Calvary” (so named for General Charles Gordon who popularized this location as the true site of Jesus’ death). This site is appealing, for it is a rocky crag which resembles a human skull and is located in close proximity to a traditional first century garden tomb.

CALVIN, JOHN (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564): Born and educated in France, John Calvin came under the influence of the teachings that would inspire the Protestant Reformation while a student in Paris. When persecution of Protestants erupted in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland. At Basel, Calvin wrote the first edition of The Institutes of Christian Religion, prefaced by a letter to King Francis I of France defending Protestant teaching. In Geneva, he became well known as a pastor-teacher and writer of reformation doctrine. Calvin was exiled from that city after nearly three years of ministry, and spent three years in Strasbourg, Germany. In 1541, the leadership of Geneva persuaded Calvin to return. He would spend the remainder of his life in Geneva. His chief work, The Institutes of Christian Religion, was revised several times and remains to this day the most thorough doctrinal text of Reformation doctrine. Calvin is most well-known today for the theological framework which bears his name, Calvinism.

CALVINISM: A theological framework derived from the Reformation teachings of John Calvin. Following Calvin’s death, the Synod of Dort in 1618 argued against the teachings of James Arminius by setting forth a condensed outline of the teachings believed to be essential to Calvin’s thought. This outline took the form of an acrostic, TULIP, with each letter respectively referring to: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; Perseverance of the Saints.

CANDLES: Candles have been used for years in worship. Of course, in the early church, candles provided light for illumination, the only such available at the time. Luke writes of a worship service in Troas, where “there were many lights in the upper chamber,” (Acts 20:8). Candles can also have symbolic significance as well, reminding us that “the light has come into the world,” (John 3:19) in the person of Jesus Christ. Evangelical Christians have typically not employed the use of candles in worship as widely as in other Christian traditions. At Immanuel, we use candles primarily as decorations during the Christmas season and at other times. However, we have decided in recent years to limit the use of candles because of the danger of fire and the damage caused by dripping wax.

CANON: The word literally means “standard” or “rule,” but it most often used in Christianity to refer to the accepted list of books that the church recognizes as the written Word of God. The Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament was generally settled by the time of Christ, but was formalized at the Council of Jamnia (AD 66-74). As Christian writings began to circulate, most were accepted or rejected immediately by the congregations who received them on the basis of apostolic origin (they were written by an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle) and consistency with apostolic doctrine. Because of a proliferation of writings which were contrary to accepted teaching, by the fourth century, an official list of accepted writings was issued. However, it would be an error to assume that there was no “canon” prior to this time. The canon was formulated in most cases immediately as writings were received. It should be noted that Roman Catholics accept certain writings as canonical which Protestants reject on the basis of spurious doctrine and suspicions of inauthenticity. These writings are called “The Apocrypha.”

CAROL: A festive song generally associated with the music of Christmas. Not all Christmas songs are “carols” in the strictest definition of the term. Technically, carols follow medieval chord patterns and feature uniform stanzas or verses alternating with a refrain or “burden”.

CATECHISM: A method of teaching essential Christian doctrine through a series of questions and answers. In the early centuries of Christianity, this teaching would occur prior to a person’s baptism. While undergoing this instruction, the individual was referred to as a Catechumen. Popular Protestant catechisms include Luther’s catechism and the Westminster Catechism. Though Baptists have not formally employed a standard catechism, several catechisms which teach Baptist doctrine have been issued by prominent Baptists through the centuries. These include those by Henry Jessey (1652), John Tombes (1659), John Bunyan (1675), Benjamin Keach (1677), Hercules Collins (1680), The Philadelphia Baptist Association (1742), Richard Cecil (1798), William Gadsby (1800), Dan Taylor (1810), The Charleston Baptist Association (1813), Henry Clay Fish (1850), Charles H. Spurgeon (1855), E. C. Morris (1855), The North Carolina Baptist Convention (1864), James P. Boyce (1867), W. W. Everts (1866), John Broadus (1892), and more recently John Piper (based on the Westminster Catechism) and the First Baptist Church of Tallassee, Alabama (based on the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000). These catechisms can be found online at various websites.

CATHOLIC: There are two senses in which the word “catholic” is used. The most common association of the word is with the Roman Catholic Church. When referring to this denomination the word is always capitalized. Baptists disagree with Roman Catholics on many points of doctrine stemming from a fundamental difference in the basis of authority. Baptists claim that Scripture alone is our infallible and authoritative guide for faith and practice. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Scripture and the Church (its traditions and papal proclamations) are infallible and authoritative guides for faith and practice. Therefore, Roman Catholic doctrine has incorporated certain beliefs that are not taught in Scripture, but which have been handed down as official dogma of the Church.

There is another sense in which the word “catholic” means “general.” For instance, we have in the New Testament the “Catholic Epistles,” which are those not addressed to a specific congregation or individual. These include James; First and Second Peter; First, Second, and Third John; and Jude. To eliminate confusion, they are frequently referred to as the “General Epistles.” Also, in several of the ancient creeds of Christianity, the Church is referred to as the “holy catholic Church,” meaning the general body of Christ worldwide, as opposed to a specific local congregation. Baptists would gladly be identified with the catholic, or general, worldwide body of Christ, while refusing to be associated with the Roman Catholic denomination.

CHAPEL: A vague word with many uses, referring generally to a place of worship. Commonly, it is used to refer to a place of worship separate from a formal church sanctuary. At Immanuel, our chapel is located on the first floor of the Educational building between the church offices and the fellowship hall.

CHAPLAIN: An individual who provides ministry outside of the context of the local congregation. Chaplains are commonly found in the military, in hospitals, at schools, with athletic teams, and various other places where no formal “church” is present.

CHARISMATIC: While in standard English vernacular, the word points to a leader with a special charm and enthusiasm, in Christian circles it means something quite different. Paul uses the Greek word charismata to describe the giftedness bestowed upon every believer in Christ to minister in a certain capacity. We call these “spiritual gifts.” Every Christian has certain spiritual gifts by which God uses them to serve Himself and others in the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). The New Testament does not provide an exhaustive list of these gifts, but provides representative examples (i.e., teaching, giving, mercy, helping, administration, etc.). In this sense, all Christians are “charismatic” in that each has been given charismata, or spiritual gifts. However, the word is more commonly used to refer to those Christians who emphasize the miraculous gifts of tongues, healing, etc. Some entire denominations are built upon charismatic practices, such as Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Church of God, and others. Baptists have traditionally held that these miraculous gifts are rare (or have completely ceased) since the time of the apostles, and that the displays of these “gifts” often seen are not genuine.

CHICAGO STATEMENT ON INERRANCY: A document issued by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, an interdenominational joint effort by hundreds of evangelical scholars and leaders to defend biblical inerrancy against the trend toward liberal and neo-orthodox conceptions of Scripture. The Statement was produced in Chicago in 1978 during an international summit of concerned evangelical leaders. It was signed by nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars, including James Montgomery Boice, Norman L. Geisler, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, Harold Lindsell, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and R.C. Sproul. The statement consists of nineteen articles of affirmation and denial declaring with precision what is intended when Christians speak of the Bible being inerrant. The document may be read in its entirety on the internet.

CHOIR: An assembly of trained singers who sing together in unison or harmony. Though there is mention of choirs associated with worship at the Old Testament Temple (especially during the times of David and Nehemiah), the New Testament is silent on the use of choirs in worship. In the fourth century, a schola cantorum (“Singing School”) was established in Rome to train singers in church music. Until the time of the Renaissance, choirs were typically only found in cathedrals, monasteries, and the chapels of the wealthy. During the Reformation, Martin Luther promoted the use of choirs in worship, while John Calvin insisted only on congregational singing. One would be hard pressed to make a case for the necessity of a church choir from Scripture or church history, however, when well-trained and rightly utilized a choir can be an excellent enhancement to Christian worship. The choir should be understood as a group of persons called to lead in worship through music. Rather than merely entertaining the congregation with songs, the choir should promote congregational participation in music by leading in the congregational hymns, and encourage meditation and prayer through its special musical offerings. The worshiper in the pew should never be a mere spectator of the choir’s ministry. Either through singing or meditation or prayer, we should all participate with the choir in the ministry of worship.

CHRISTIAN YEAR / CHURCH CALENDAR: Though Baptists do not necessarily follow the yearly calendar which many other denominations follow, we at Immanuel do observe, to greater or lesser extents, points along the calendar as aids to our worship. The seasons of the church year include:

ADVENT: The four Sundays prior to Christmas.

CHRISTMAS: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the first Sunday after Christmas.

EPHPHANY: Means “manifestation” of Christ, celebrates the coming of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus, and is observed in the several weeks after Christmas.

LENT: A preparatory season for Easter. It begins with “Ash Wednesday,” and was originally a preparatory time for candidates for baptism, which took place on Easter morning. It is a season for introspection, taken from the forty days of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness.

HOLY WEEK: The week prior to Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday.

EASTER: The central celebration of the Christian church, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. The season of Easter lasts through the celebration of the Ascension of Jesus.

PENTECOST: The celebration of the founding of the New Testament Church, beginning with Pentecost Sunday, and proceeding through the rest of the weeks until the Advent Season comes.

The colors displayed during the Christian year vary from place to place, but are commonly as follows:

Advent to Christmas Eve: Purple

Christmas to Epiphany: White

Sundays after Epiphany: Green

Lent: Purple

Holy Week: Red or Purple

Easter: White

Pentecost: Red

Trinity Sunday: White

Baptism and Lord’s Supper: White

Ordination: White

Marriage: White

Funeral: Purple

CHRISTMAS: December 25, the day set aside for the celebration of Christ’s birth. While the exact date of Christ’s birth is not known, this is the date that has been recognized in the Western Church since the fourth century. Historical details in the gospels would seem to place the actual birth of Christ at a different time of the year. Many believe it would have more likely occurred in the fall, perhaps around the time of the fall feasts of Israel.

CHRISTOLOGY: The theological study of the doctrines related to Jesus Christ.

CHRYSOSTOM, JOHN (c. 354-407): Bishop of Constantinople who was known as the greatest preacher of the patristic era of church history. His name means “golden-mouthed.”

CHURCH: While this word is commonly used in our culture to describe a building in which Christians gather for worship, the meaning of it applies more to the people than the building. A church is a body of Christian people. The word is used in two ways. First, it can refer broadly to all Christian people everywhere throughout history. Second, it can refer to a local assembly of Christians in a particular geographical location. Context will usually be sufficient to determine which of these two senses is intended. In the New Testament, the word most often refers to a local body of Christians.

CHURCH DISCIPLINE: This phrase refers to the process by which a church acts to prevent members from falling into flagrant sin, false belief, or broken fellowship, or to restore them if they have already so fallen. In the first instance, we speak of positive church discipline, whereby the church teaches the biblical pattern of Christian living and provides opportunities for fellowship and accountability that would do much to prevent Christians from falling into error. In the second instance, we speak of negative church discipline where the church acts redemptively to restore a member who has strayed. Jesus gave explicit instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 concerning how to do this. First, the erring individual is to be confronted privately by the concerned party in hopes that the offending brother or sister will see the error of his or her ways and repent of sin and be restored to fellowship in the church. If, however, the individual does not repent, then a second confrontation is sought with one or two other church members. If the individual still refuses to heed the counsel of these Christians, then the matter is to be brought before the church. If the individual does not submit to the verdict of the congregation, then he or she is to be removed from the fellowship of the church. The church must exercise extreme caution to act in love with the redemption and restoration of the erring member as the primary motive. In recent generations, Christianity has suffered due to the total lack of, or otherwise inappropriate exercise of, church discipline. It is the responsibility of church leaders to see to it that cases of flagrant sin, dangerous heresy, division of fellowship, and absenteeism are handled with biblical church discipline. For more information about this subject, we would refer the reader to the contemporary writings of Mark Dever and 9 Marks Ministries.

CIRCUMCISION: The practice of cutting off the foreskin of the male sexual organ, instituted by God with Abraham as the external sign of belonging to the community of faith in the Old Testament. This external act was never intended to be a substitute of true religion of the heart. The prophets of Israel decried those who were externally circumcised but whose hearts were callous toward the things of God. The New Testament does not demand circumcision of converts to Christianity, since entrance into the covenant family of God comes by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We must be cautioned against trusting in any external sign (circumcision, baptism, etc.) as the assurance of right standing with God. These are works of the flesh, which can be performed without true conversion in the heart.

CLERGY: A term used to refer to those in the occupation of religious leadership (pastors, priests, rabbis, missionaries, etc.). Individual adherents of Christianity are referred to in this context as laity. The New Testament does not prescribe a hard and fast distinction between clergy and laity. Rather, each Christian is gifted by God for service in the body of Christ, and the church functions best when the ministry is carried out by all of God’s people rather than a select few professionals of the clergy.

COMMENTARY: Most commonly used in Christianity to refer to the writings of Christian scholars explaining the teachings of Scripture. One’s study of the Bible is greatly enhanced by the use of commentaries, but the student of the Bible must keep in mind that commentaries reflect the human opinions of their authors. Only the Bible should be viewed as infallible and authoritative for matters of faith and practice.

COMMUNION: Generally, this word applies to the unity of fellowship in the church. It can refer to our fellowship with God or with each other in the body of Christ. More often, when the word is used in church, it is used to refer to the Lord’s Supper, the symbolic meal which celebrates the reality of our fellowship with God and each other through Christ’s sacrifice.

COMMUNION OF SAINTS: The unity of fellowship enjoyed by all Christians because of the atonement of sins provided to us through Christ’s death and resurrection.

CONCORDANCE: Similar to an index, a concordance enables a person to find a passage of Scripture by looking up a word which occurs in the passage. Some Bibles contain a brief concordance of the most popular passages of Scripture, however the serious student of the Bible is better served by an exhaustive concordance which corresponds to his or her translation of choice. The best concordances are those which also enable the English reader to gain an understanding of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words underlying the English translations.

CONFESSION: This word is commonly used in Christianity with several different meanings. Context will determine the intended usage. Most commonly, Christians use this word to describe the act of taking personal responsibility for one’s sins either privately in prayer with God (1 John 1:9) or publicly with other Christians (James 5:16).

The word is also used by Christians to speak of a doctrinal statement – “a confession of faith.” A confession, in this context, means a summary of the beliefs held by a particular group of Christians at a particular time and place. It is not a creed, which dictates what one must believe, but rather a declaration of what a body of believers does believe. Baptists are a confessional people, and Southern Baptists recognize The Baptist Faith and Message as a succinct confession of our faith and practice.

CONGREGATIONAL GOVERNMENT: A model of church polity practiced by most Baptists in which decisions are made by a democratic process. In this model, every member shares the right and responsibility to make their opinion known by voice and vote in regular business sessions. This model follows a biblical pattern (Acts 6:3), and respects the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in each believer. No single person or group has a total authority, but decisions are made by the entire body. The congregation can delegate certain decision-making authority to an individual or group, but apart from this delegation, no one can act on behalf of the body.

CONSTANTINE (c. 274-337): The first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity (AD 312). Constantine granted religious freedom in the empire bringing an end to the state-sanctioned persecution of Christians that had been in effect since the days of Nero (AD 64). In 325, Constantine called together the Council of Nicaea, in which the heretical teachings of Arius were condemned and the orthodox view of the deity of Jesus Christ was affirmed.

CONVERSION: The initial moment of faith and repentance in which a person believes upon Christ for salvation. Conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person. It is not accomplished by human effort, though the individual bears personal responsibility to turn from sin and believe. Conversion brings about several important spiritual realities: regeneration, justification, adoption, reconciliation (these terms are treated separately herein). Conversion begins the process of sanctification and discipleship whereby the Holy Spirit works within an individual to produce Christlikeness in his or her life.

COUNTER-REFORMATION: The movement within Roman Catholicism during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sparked by the Protestant Reformation. The Counter-Reformation did not alter any of the doctrines which were under fire during the Protestant Reformation, but did make considerable changes to the Roman Catholic Church’s organization and missionary efforts. The central event of the Counter-Reformation was the Council of Trent.

COVENANT: A binding agreement or contract. Within Christianity, this important term refers to the unilateral act of God in establishing a binding relationship with humanity. God’s covenant relationship has both conditional and unconditional provisions. Conditional provisions are those in which God’s blessings are dependent on man’s faithfulness and obedience. Unconditional provisions are those in which God promises blessing regardless of man’s obedience or faithfulness. Typically God’s covenant promises are stated in terms of what He desires to be and do for His people. God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, with each one building on and expanding the preceding covenant. Ultimately and finally, God has given us the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. One enters into this covenant relationship with God by repenting of his or her sins and trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

CREATIONISM: The belief that God brought the universe into being in a literal seven-day week as recorded in Genesis 6. It is the opposite view of evolution, and stands opposed to efforts to combine evolutionary theory with biblical propositions (sometimes referred to as “theistic evolution”). Among creationists, there is some debate over the age of the earth, with some “young-earth” proponents insisting that a literal reading of the Bible demands that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. “Old-earth” creationists suggest that a literal reading of the Bible would allow for a much older earth, whose age would be more in line with the theories of evolutionary scientists. A true creationist must be careful to make sure his or reading of the Bible is not being shaped by the presuppositions of unproven (and unprovable) scientific theories.

CREED: From the Latin word credo (meaning “I believe”), a creed is a condensed statement of Christian doctrine. Often, a creed is prescriptive, setting forth what one must believe to be considered a Christian, or a member of some branch of Christianity. Baptists have typically shied away from creedalism, preferring to be known as “confessional” Christians. See entry on “confession.”

CRUCIFIX: A sculpted depiction of Christ on the cross. Baptists have not traditionally employed the image of the crucifix, opting instead for the symbol of a plain cross. This is because the crucifix only depicts “half of the story,” for this crucified Jesus conquered death through His bodily resurrection from the dead.

CRUCIFIXION: A mode of execution in which the condemned person is affixed by nails or cords to a wooden cross and left to die. Though likely invented by the Phoenicians, the cross was used by other cultures as well, and prominently by the Romans. The victim of the cross would be tortured and forced to carry the cross-beam to the place of execution. There, he would be stripped of his clothing and crucified. As the cross was raised upright, the entire weight of the victim would rest on the points of attachment (in some cases, cords around the arms; in others, nails in the hands and feet). Often death came slowly over several days, ultimately coming by suffocation as the strength required to draw a breath escaped the victim. In order to hasten death, the victim’s legs were often broken, preventing him from raising himself up by the feet to breathe.

Death by crucifixion has been considered by many throughout history to be the most inhumane, shameful manner of execution ever devised. This is the death that Jesus suffered on our behalf to atone for our sins. Therefore, for Christians, the cross is a cherished symbol representing the salvation God has offered to us in the gift of His Son.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Hero Has Gone Home

Dr. L. Russ Bush went home to be with Jesus on Tuesday evening, January 22, 2008. While other names get more press (for better or worse) in Baptist life, Dr. Bush was perhaps the most influential scholar among Southern Baptists in the last half-century. At one time he served as President of the Evangelical Theological Society, and served in key leadership roles at both Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries.

The phrase, "a gentleman and a scholar" is undoubtedly overused in our day, and applied to many who do not deserve it. No one I have ever known deserves this title more than Dr. Bush. I was aware of Dr. Bush long before I began my studies at Southeastern. For many years I had been familiar with the landmark book he co-authored with Tom Nettles, entitled Baptists and the Bible. This book did much to solidify the heritage of biblical inerrancy in Southern Baptist life during the tumultuous period now referred to as "The Conservative Resurgence." While some would view those days as a political powerplay on the part of some conservatives (and for some, it certainly was), this book showed that biblical inerrancy was the hallmark of Baptist doctrine from our earliest days.

I remember having lunch with Dr. Stephen Nichols at Lancaster Bible College one afternoon, and sharing with him that I was going to attend Southeastern Seminary. He said, "Make sure you take every opportunity to study under Russ Bush." I did just that. During my first semester at Southeastern, I took Dr. Bush's Philosophy class from 6:30-9:30 pm on Thursday evenings. I would always linger after class to ask questions of Dr. Bush, and we would walk together across the dark, magnolia lined brick paths between Adams and Stealy Halls. I felt as if I were walking with Socrates during those brief moments. They are treasured memories! By concentrating in Apologetics, I was able to sit under Dr. Bush's teachings again and converse with him on occasion while a student at Southeastern. How grateful I am to God for those opportunities.

Among the students at Southeastern, Dr. Bush was held in high respect, even though many I knew did not appreciate him as a teacher. On the contrary, this is where I valued him most. Dr. Bush was a professor in the classical sense of the word. He would venture into class, usually a few minutes late, carrying an armload of books and binders, and assume his place at the podium where he would stand and lecture for three solid hours. Dr. Bush never bought into the new paradigm of teaching which views education as a collaboration of the opinions of the unlearned. He was the expert, there to impart his wisdom in a humble way to those who wanted to learn. To me, this is what seminary should be. I regret that with few exceptions, teachers of this type have left us, and we are the worse off for it.

Dr. Bush's legacy will live on through his writings. In addition to countless journal articles and book reviews (I don't know anyone (!) who read and reviewed as many books as he did), Dr. Bush has left us with several excellent books, including Baptists and the Bible, The Advancement (published while I was studying under him in Philosophy), The Handbook for Christian Philosophy, and Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics. In addition, in one of the most appropriate moves in the school's brief history, Southeastern honored Dr. Bush's legacy with the establishment of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. No one I know in Baptist was able to view the culture through the lens of the Christian worldview more astutely than Dr. Bush. Perhaps Billy Belk said it best in our email exchange this morning: "
Dr. Bush leaves quite a legacy at SEBTS, and I believe his presence there more than any of its presidents over the past 20 years is why SEBTS is the greatest seminary in the world."

I rejoice today that Dr. Bush's battle with brain cancer is over, and he is the victor. He is now forever with the Christ he served so faithfully in his time on this earth. But with that joy comes a sadness in recognizing that another member of a great generation of Baptists has left us. I fear that we are desperately lacking the kind of clear-thinking, biblically-faithful, voice that Russ Bush, Mark Corts, Adrian Rogers and others represented. May their tribe increase, and may we who were blessed to be shaped by these great men rise up in our own generation to be used of God in the way that they were.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Who Is Jesus? Mark 8:27-33

Mark 8:27-33
Who Is Jesus?

As we return to our study of the Gospel according to Mark today, we resume in the passage that is the climax of this book. Everything in Mark that precedes this text anticipates it. Everything that will follow subsequently flows from this text. It is the very center-point of this Gospel for good reason, because it deals with the all-important question of who Jesus is. Throughout history, the name of Jesus has been revered by many, and often for various reasons. It is an age-old discussion.

In this election year, we are bombarded with information gathered by use of opinion polls. We are constantly fed data in the news about the economy, the war, the President’s job performance, and the various candidates for public office all gleaned from polling the people to determine the prevailing public opinion. Those who are campaigning for president, for instance, shape their platform and their campaign strategy on what people are saying about them. But what would we gather if we were to poll the populus about Jesus? And in this passage, Jesus asks the disciples to interpret the diverse public opinion about who He is. But then He comes to another more important question, “Who do you say that I am?” And if each of us were to stand face to face with Jesus today, as the twelve did along the way to Caesarea Philippi, the discussion would move rapidly toward that same question for each of us as well – “Who do you say that Jesus is?” As we consider this question we will see that there are many opinions about who He is, but only one answer is correct.

I. There are many popular opinions about who Jesus is. (vv27-28)

Jesus asks the disciples in v27, “Who do people say that I am?” And we see that even during the years that He walked this earth, public opinion about Him varied. The disciples summarize a few of the prevailing views about Him. Some in that day were saying that He was John the Baptist, returned to life. You may recall from Chapter 6 that even Herod Antipas, who had put John to death, feared that he had returned to life. After all, John was the boldest prophet of God to speak in four hundred years. And after four hundred years of prophetic silence, it would be hard to imagine a new wave of spokesmen for God rising up. So similar was the message of John to the message of Jesus, some believed that Jesus had to be a reincarnated John.

Others believed Him to be Elijah. Now, Elijah was the first of the great Old Testament prophets. He lived during the 800s BC, but those familiar with the Old Testament will recall that he did not experience death. Only two people in the Bible did not see death. We read in Genesis 5 of Enoch, the seventh generation after Adam. He is characterized in Scripture as a man who walked with God. The writer of Hebrews says of Him, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.” Every human being before and after Enoch was born, lived, and then died – with the exception of one. That was Elijah. After Elijah had transferred his prophetic ministry to his successor Elisha, the Bible says in 2 Kings 2 that the two of them were walking together and talking, when suddenly there appeared “a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. … And [Elisha] saw Elijah no more.” And God had foretold through the prophet Malachi that Elijah would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord.

Elijah’s life and ministry was characterized by great displays of miraculous power. We often imagine that in Biblical times, miracles were commonplace, but that is not so. Only a handful of historic eras were characterized by frequent miracles. Apart from the miracle of creation, in the Old Testament we see miracles occurring with great frequency only during the Exodus period and during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Why these two periods only? Because in these times, God was validating the new revelation of His word through these miraculous displays. During the Exodus, God used miracles to validate His Law, which He gave to Israel through Moses. And during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, God was affirming that He would use prophets like them to declare His word to His people. But for 800 years, miracles of this nature were few and far between. And then along comes Jesus. And the lame walk, and the deaf hear, and the blind see, and the mute speak, and the dead are raised, and the forces of nature are manipulated by the word of His power. And therefore, people might readily assume that this was the promised return of Elijah.

And others were less specific, saying only that Jesus was one of the prophets. His teaching bore the authority and authenticity of those who had spoken for God in bygone generations. But rather than equating Him with a specific prophet, they assumed that He had come to resume the prophetic work which had been silenced following the days of Malachi.

Over the centuries between then and now, public opinion continues to be diverse about just who this Jesus is. You would hardly find anyone who believed that He did not live, and that He did not die on a cross. There are many today who believe that Jesus was a good and honorable man who lived a life worthy of imitation. There are many who believe that Jesus was a good teacher of morality. We find those who would even go so far as to say He is a prophet. Some would call Him a martyr for a cause. Some would call Him a political or religious figurehead. And only a few would have any disparaging remark to make about Him whatsoever. And yet so many are reluctant to recognize Him for who He truly is. Most believe something true about Him, but few believe the whole truth about Him. For as diverse as public opinion about Jesus, they can’t all be right.

I recall one Saturday afternoon, when I was more patient than I am today, when two ladies came and knocked on our door. They had some magazines they wanted me to have that would teach me the truth about God and Jesus. I invited them in for some iced tea, and we sat in my living room and talked about matters of religion for an hour or so. And they proceeded to tell me that what I believed about Jesus was incorrect, and had all been invented by Constantine in 325 at the Council of Nicaea. They said that if I understood the Bible rightly, I would come to the same conclusion they had about Jesus, namely that He was not God. I opened my Bible and pointed them to John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS GOD … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” And I showed them Colossians 2:9, which says that in Christ the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. And they said my Bible was corrupted and that if I could understand the Greek language that the Bible was written in, then I would see the error of my ways. If I could see the Greek text, they said, I would know that in John 1, there was an indefinite article which indicated not that the Word was God, but that the Word was a god, (little “g”); and I would be able to see that Colossians 2:9 did not say that Jesus possessed the fullness of God, but rather that He was extremely godly. I excused myself for a moment, and went back into my study and retrieved my 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and brought it back to them, and said, “Why don’t you show me?” And the older of the two ladies said, “I don’t know how to read Greek.” To which I said, “Well I do, and I will show you that there is no such thing as an indefinite article in Greek, and that the wording of Colossians 2:9 very specifically declares Jesus to be God incarnate. Now at this point, the older of the two women said that I was being unkind to them and that they should be leaving, and that we should agree to disagree. But before I let them go, I said, “Friend, listen to me for just a moment. I say that Jesus is God, and you say He isn’t. Now, if you are right, I am idolator; and if I am right, then you are a heretic. And one or the other of us is in danger of the fire of hell. You have asked that we agree to disagree, and I am afraid I just can’t do that, because one or the other of us is right and the other is wrong. Would you agree with me that, no matter how sincere either of us are in our opinions about Jesus, we can’t both be right?” And to that, the younger of the two said, “Sir, I just hope one of us is!”

Now I tell you that story to illustrate the very real logical impasse that we must all come to when we discuss the identity of Jesus. We can’t all be right. In fact, there can only be one right answer to the question of who Jesus is. And that is where we move now in the text.

II. There is only one right answer about who Jesus is. (v29-33)

Jesus quickly turns the discussion from public opinion to personal decision. He asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Now, bear in mind that He is not asking this question of total strangers. These are the twelve men who have been His constant companions and heard all of His public teaching, had the benefit of private instruction from Him, and have seen His miracles performed. Based on all that they have seen and heard, He asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” And the response He hears from Peter, and the discussion that follows, says much about who He is. His identity consists not only of who He is, but also what He has come to do – His title and His mission are inseparable in the purposes of God. He cannot be who He is without doing what He has come to do, and He cannot do what He has come to do unless He is who He is.

A. His Title

Accurate assessments of Jesus in this Gospel thus far have been few and sporadic, and from a surprising range of individuals. God the Father has declared in 1:11 that this is His beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased. Demons have rightly called Him “the Holy One of God,” and the Son of the Most High God.” He has been rightly identified by an unclean woman in Chapter 5, a Gentile woman and a deaf-mute Gentile in Chapter 7. Yet, the religious experts of Israel have called Him a blasphemer, a law-breaker, and even the devil himself. Even those closest to Him, the disciples, have appeared to be extremely dense at times. For instance, when He came walking to them across the water, they thought He was a ghost. They have failed to understand His parables repeatedly. They have failed to understand who He is in spite of the miracles He has performed. But now the veil has been lifted from their spiritual eyes, and Peter speaks up to confess that he finally understands who Jesus is by proclaiming …
1. His Proper Title (v29)

“You are the Christ.” For some who are new to the Christian faith, or who have not spent time in the study of the Word, “Christ” may be assumed to be the last name of Jesus, like Smith or Jones. “Christ” is His title. It is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew term “Messiah.” In John 1:41, we see that the people of Jesus’ day understood these two titles to be equal. In their respective languages, the terms Messiah and Christ declare that He is the Anointed One of God whose coming marks the fulfillment of all the divine promises God has made, and the realization of all the hopes of those who have lived under the covenant relationship God made with Israel. Paul will say in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes.” And those promises pertain to salvation, so as the Christ, Jesus is the one anointed by God for the task of saving humanity. Now here is an important question – “Saved from what?”

To speak of being saved means that there is some danger or peril from which one needs to be saved. I remember as a new Christian telling people, “I got saved.” And the people would look at me funny and say, “Saved from what?” And you know, in Jesus’ day, many people were unsure of what the Messiah-Christ was coming to save them from as well. Some thought that Messiah was coming to save them from the oppression of Rome, and they thought that He was going to lead a military coup de’ etat. But this was not the mission of Jesus. He had come to save people from a greater oppression than Rome. If they were freed from Rome’s bondage, they would still be in the grips of bondage that bind every human being – the bondage of sin. From the first entrance of sin into the world at the Garden of Eden, God had promised that a redeemer would come to liberate humanity from sin’s death-grip. This is what Christ came to do. He was the Anointed One of God who had come to bring the salvation from sin that had promised and prophesied under the Old Covenant. Therefore, Peter was spot-on in his confession that Jesus was the Christ. That is His proper title.

Interestingly enough, however, Jesus did not often use this title when speaking of Himself. Most often, when Jesus refers to Himself in the Gospels, He uses a different title.

2. His Preferred Title (v31 – “Son of Man”)

In verse 31, we find the title “Son of Man.” Jesus speaks of Himself with this title some 80 times in the Gospels. In Mark, He uses the title 14 times. No one else ever refers to Him with this name. While some insist that Jesus only uses this title to emphasize His human nature, those familiar with the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies will recall that it has a very specific meaning attached to it. In the seventh chapter of Daniel, beginning at verse 13, we read …
“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.”
When Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man, this is the text that supplies understanding to the title. He is the One who has come from the Father, the Ancient of Days, with authority and dominion, and glory, to establish a Kingdom that will consist of people from every tribe and nation and tongue who serve Him. And His Kingdom will be established forever. Biblical scholar James DeYoung says that the use of this title by Jesus to refer to Himself enabled Him to speak modestly about His person and His mission while conveying the exalted truth about Himself. Unlike “Messiah,” or “Christ,” the term “Son of Man” was not laden with popular misconceptions, but rather had a clear biblical antecedent in Daniel’s prophecy that would supply meaning to those with understanding.
So, as we examine the titles used for Christ in this climactic narrative of Mark’s Gospel, we gain insight into His identity. He is the Son of Man, the Christ, the Messiah. But we cannot separate the titles used for Christ from the mission He had come to fulfill. Only when we understand them both do we come to understand the truth about who He is.
B. His Mission (v31-33)
If you were to poll the people of first century Israel and ask them what the Christ would do when He came, you would find a variety of answers. But very few indeed would have been familiar enough with the prophecies about His coming to answer correctly. Jesus had not come to kill and destroy, or to seize the powers of this world by force. Rather, He came to save mankind by sin by suffering on our behalf. Isaiah foretold this 700 years in advance with great clarity in his 53rd Chapter. If you turn there, you will see in the 3rd verse that the Messiah would be despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with our grief. Isaiah goes on to say that Messiah would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, that He would be pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, chastened for our well-being, and scourged in order that we may be healed. He would be a guilt-offering for us, being crushed by the will of the Lord. It is clear from these verses that the mission of the Messiah involved suffering. Yet so many misunderstood this. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that the notion of a crucified Christ was a stumbling block – a highly offensive thing – to the Jews, and utter foolishness to the Greeks. But Jesus explains to the disciples in very clear terms the events that are going to transpire as they journey to Jerusalem, and in so doing, He states the nature of His suffering and the necessity of His suffering for the fulfillment of His mission.
1. The Nature of His Suffering (v31).
Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer many things. He tells them that He will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. Those who ought to know the most about the promises and prophecies are among those who most dangerously misunderstood the mission of the Messiah-Christ. And as a result of this rejection, He will be killed. He knew exactly the events which would come about in Jerusalem, including the manner of death that He would face. A thousand years earlier, the Holy Spirit had inspired David to pen the 22nd Psalm in which the details of crucifixion would be spelled out in great detail, even though neither David nor any of his contemporaries had never witnessed such horrid torture. David writes in that Psalm that the Suffering One would be poured out like water, and have all His bones pulled out of joint, His heart like wax melted within Him. The skin would be ripped open so that the bones were visible and the hands and feet would be pierced – pierced, Isaiah says, for our transgressions, for our sins. But David concludes the Psalm by writing that this One who will suffer so greatly will be helped by the Lord, and will return to tell of God’s name in the assembly of the brethren. And so Jesus tells the disciples that death will not be the end, but that He would rise again after three days. He knew exactly the nature of His own sufferings He would very soon endure, and He tells the disciples in advance.

Now perhaps you recall that on the night all these events began to come to pass, Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, “Father, if it possible, let this cup,” – the cup of suffering He was about to drink – “pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And the cup did not pass. More than just the nature of His suffering, Jesus also foreknew …

2. The necessity of His suffering (v30-33)

There is a very important word in v31 that we will easily miss if we do not take in each word with careful attentiveness. It is the word “Must.” These things must take place. If they do not, then the word of God which predicted them fails. God proves Himself to be a liar and untrustworthy. And closer to home, we are without hope for salvation from our sins, and destined for eternal separation from God. If God is to be faithful, His word to be true, and we are to be saved, then Jesus must go to Calvary just as He has said.

Now, you will notice that Peter moves from a commendable position of faith to a pitiful position of unbelief very quickly. From confessing that Jesus is the Christ, Peter rapidly begins to rebuke His Lord. This is something we must not ever do. We are in no position to rebuke the Lord. But the plan of Christ’s sufferings has caused Peter to stumble in offense. He cannot fathom the notion of a crucified Christ. Admittedly the two words don’t seem to go together very well. But go together they must if there is to be redemption. And Jesus’ sharp rebuke of Peter puts him in his place – “Get behind me Satan.” Now, we might think that sounds a little harsh, but the fact is that anything or anyone that aims to divert Jesus from the God-ordained mission of going to Calvary to die for sins is a tool of Satan, even if it is one of Christ’s own disciples.

Peter’s problem, Jesus says, is that his mind is set on man’s interests not God’s. It is God’s interest to put an end to sin’s oppression of humanity. It is man’s interest to keep Jesus around for personal gain. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus has forbidden the disciples in v30 from telling anyone who He is. With all the mistaken notions of who the Messiah is to be floating around in that environment, if this word gets out, a whole nation will be pressing in on Jesus to divert Him to perform the tasks and mission they think are best, rather than God’s mission to bring about redemption from sin.

Now, if I may here, let me add a word of contemporary significance for the church. We must keep our focus on God’s agenda and His priorities. When mere human thinking diverts us from this, we have fallen under the influence of Satan that would seek to divert us from the divine mission of God. And so no matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, we must always crucify those notions that seem like the right thing to do when they counteract the revealed word of God. Churches are destroyed and the witness of Christ is tarnished in communities when churchmembers refuse to see things from God’s perspective and allow Satan to use them to derail a church from the mission of God. So each of us must be committed to prayer and the study of God’s word so that we are having our minds renewed daily by the Holy Spirit and our priorities in line with God’s. If Peter could fall prey to this subtle tactic of Satan, you and I can too if we are not on our guard.

So, who is Jesus? Well, one might say, it depends on who you ask. To some He is a teacher, a good man, a religious leader, a tragic martyr, a lunatic, or any other speculative guess. It is not uncommon to hear two people disputing with each other, with one or both of them saying, “My Jesus is like this and such,” or “My Jesus would not say or do those things.” In 1989, the rock group Depeche Mode recorded a song called, “Your Own Personal Jesus,” and many people seem to think that they can have a unique one-of-a-kind Jesus that will answer at their beck and call and be for them only what they want Him to be. And so there are many opinions as to who He is. But only one answer is correct. If we want to know who Jesus is, why would we not ask Him, and those who knew Him best? He is the Son of Man, the Messiah-Christ, who has come to suffer and die for our sins that we might be reconciled to God through Him.

It may be that today someone is here who has believed in a very different Jesus than the Christ of Scripture. Well, only one Jesus is the one who saves, and if you have not placed your faith in Him, you are without hope in your sins. But if this very day you would turn to the Christ who lived and died for you, turning from your sins and asking Him to save you and rule over your life as Lord, He will do it. Your sins will be forgiven, and the righteousness that God requires will be added to your account as a gift of His grace, secured for you by His death and resurrection, and you will have eternal life. Someone may need to make that decision today, and our prayer would be that you would do so with all urgency.

Others of you perhaps have still been trying to obey verse 30 – “Don’t tell anyone about Him,” when in fact that prohibition has been lifted long ago. Once the mission of Christ was completed in His death and resurrection, this command was changed from “Don’t tell,” to “Go tell.” Go tell your neighbor, your friend, your loved one, some stranger across the street or across the ocean. Tell it unto the nations that Jesus is the Christ who suffered and died for them, and who rose again that they might be saved.

An Update on the Lack of Updates

To all three of my faithful blog readers and podcast subscribers:

I apologize for the lack of recent updates to the blog and podcast. During the holiday season I typically do not post my sermons, primarily because of time constraints, and secondarily because I prefer to only post those messages which continue my series of expositions on Bible books. While I returned to the Mark series this past Sunday, the audio will not be available because unknowingly I handed the MP3 recorder to the sound man on Sunday with dead batteries in it. Audio will resume next week, and the Mark manuscripts will resume immediately.