Categories
Theology

The Road to Christ

The Bible is a book about Jesus. And unless you see Jesus throughout the pages of the Bible, you will likely become incredibly confused as you read. Jesus is the One who brings the Scriptures together into a unified whole. The One who gives ultimate meaning to any particular passage. (For the Scriptural basis for this check out Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39-40; Matthew 5:16; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 Peter 1:10-12).

What follows are several “roads” to get to Jesus from any passage. More than that, these roads show different ways to discern how any passage fits into the “big picture” of the Bible.

Keep in mind two things here. First, there is going to be a lot of new information here. You may be unfamiliar with seeing the Bible this way. That’s okay. Take it in stride and remember the big picture: this is about what God is doing in and through his Son. I’m summing up about 12 years of reading and research from various sources–books, sermons, podcasts, conversations.

Second, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to every passage and often the roads “roads” overlap and you can “get to Christ” from several roads. 

Over time, knowing and understanding these ideas will become second-nature. I trust this will change the way you see and read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament.

1. Jesus Resolves Themes

This means that there are themes–or tensions–in passages that can only be resolved in Jesus.

In other words, we can ask ourselves, “What questions does the text raise to which only Jesus can be the answer?” Here are four major themes.

Primary themes:

  • Creator and (Re)Creation: While the world is created good by God, sin has brought death and decay. Life is filled with grief and loss and pain. How can we be new if our current creation is broken and sinful? How can creation and life be redeemed and healed? Only if the Creator himself breaks into creation to provide a solution will we ever be healed and experience eternal life. 
  • King and the Kingdom: The search for a perfect king consumes much of Israel’s history. The successes and failures of Israel’s kings point to the need for a true, eternal king. No human king is perfect or enough. The people fall into sin and bondage without a truly righteous king, and the expectation in the Prophets and the Psalms is so high than only God himself could fulfill it. What kind of a king can provide the deliverance we need? Only in Jesus, the Man who is God, do we have a king who is powerful enough to liberate us from sin and bondage and also reign over us in kindness and love. 
  • Grace and Law: A major question throughout the history of Israel is whether or not God’s covenantal love conditional or unconditional. In other words, God is holy, but he is also merciful. He is a Judge, but he is also a Lover. How can he be both holy and faithful to a sinful people? Only in the cross, where God’s wrath and love collide, is this tension resolved. Jesus meets the conditions of the covenant (perfect obedience) and he provides the payment deserved for our disobedience so that we might unconditionally come to God through Jesus. 
  • True God and Idols: The first two commandments distinguish God between all other so-called gods. Anything that takes the place of God is an idol. Idols can be good things, but when good things become ultimate, they take the place of God. Idolatry is thus the ultimate definition of sin. We worship idols because we find them more beautiful, more lovely than God. How can a disordered self or society be reordered and renovated? Jesus himself is the essence of true Beauty and Love who alone can capture our affections and allegiance.

Secondary themes:

  • Worship and God’s Presence. How can people connect with the presence of God? In Jesus, we behold God’s glory and have access to the Father.
  • Promised Land and Inheritance. What does it mean to have a true home? Jesus redeems the whole world and makes his people citizens of a heavenly country.
  • Marriage and Faithfulness. How can we find love and intimacy? God depicts his relationship to his people as a faithful husband loving his unfaithful bride. Jesus is the true Spouse who sacrificially lays his life down for his bride, woos her, and presents her to himself.
  • Image and Likeness. What does it mean to be truly human? Sin has defaced the likeness of God in us, but in Christ, we can be restored into the image of God.
  • Rest and Sabbath. How can we find harmony with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation? We were made for shalom, but are incredibly restless. We need rest from physical work, but also from our efforts at self-righteousness. Jesus brings rest from our “good” works.
  • Judgment and Justice. If there were no ultimate judge, what hope would there be for the world, but if there is an ultimate judge, what hope would there be for you and me? Jesus is the Judge who takes the judgment for us so that we might be justified before a just God.
  • Wisdom and the Word. How can we be truly wise? What is life’s meaning and purpose? Only in Jesus, in whom are all the riches of wisdom and knowledge, do we find the meaning of life and our true purpose.

2.  Jesus Completes Stories

This means that every story in the Bible finds its conclusion in Jesus. 

Every story in the Bible fits into the Bible’s larger plot. Everything happening in the Old Testament is driving toward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we read the Old Testament stories (large or small), we should hear the echo, “God is acting! He is moving! He has not forgotten his people or his covenant! His steadfast love endures forever! He is coming! He will send salvation!” Every story progresses forward and ultimately finds its completion in Jesus. There are three kinds of stories Jesus completes: individual stories, corporate stories, and grace stories. Sometimes the New Testament explicitly says this; other times it is only implied.

Individual Stories. Jesus completes the story of individuals.

  • Adam. Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed his test in the garden and creates a new humanity through his obedience and substitionary death (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).
  • Abraham. Jesus is the true and better Abraham who ushers in the blessing of God to all who believe in him (Rom. 4:24-25; Gal. 3:14).
  • Joseph. Jesus is the true and better Joseph who though betrayed by his brothers, is raised up in power uses his power to save them.
  • Moses. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who perfectly speaks the word of God and mediates a new covenant to stand the gap between God and his people (Heb. 3:1-6).
  • Joshua. Jesus is the true and better Joshua who leads his people in conquest over their enemies into the Promised Land.
  • David. Jesus is the true and better David, the promised offspring of the covenant, who wins the battle for his people though they never lifted a finger (Matt. 1:1; Rom. 1:1).
  • Solomon. Jesus is the true and better Solomon in whom is found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). 
  • Job. Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer who intercedes and makes sacrifice for his friends (Job 42; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).

Corporate Stories. Jesus completes the corporate story of Israel as a nation. This includes events, symbols, and institutions.

  • Creation. Jesus is the one through whom all things are created (John 1:1; Col. 1:16). Jesus is the creator of a new creation: he redeems people and renews all of creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21-22). 
  • Fall. Adam’s fall and Israel’s wandering in the wilderness point forward to Jesus’ perfect obedience in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
  • Exile. Israel’s exile to Babylon points to Jesus’ homelessness—he left his home in heaven. Jesus went into ultimate exile by suffering the full wrath of God for us “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12).
  • Israel. Jesus is the true son of God—the true Israel, the only one who fulfills the demands of the law and perfectly pleases God. He is the seed of the woman who crushes the serpent (Gen. 3:15; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15; 3:13-17; Gal. 3:16-17).
  • Exodus. Israel’s exodus from Egypt points forward to Jesus, as he leads his people out of slavery to sin and death through his death and resurrection (Luke 9:31; see also Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15).
  • Sacrifices & Temple System. Jesus is the final sacrifice to which all Jewish sacrifices point. He is the Passover Lamb (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor. 5:7). He is the presence of God with us (John 1:14). He is the temple (John 2:19-21). He is the lamp stand (John 8:12). He is the bread of life (John 6:35). He is the water of life (John 4:13-14; John 7:37-39). We are washed clean by Jesus and Jesus fulfills all the “clean” laws about food and purification (Acts 10-11).
  • Priestly Line. Jesus is the true high priest who mediates a better covenant. He does not simply offer sacrifices, but instead offered up himself (Heb. 7-9; esp. 7:27). 

Grace Stories. Jesus completes “upside-down” stories. These stories are gospel-patterns because in the gospel where we see the ultimate “upside-down” story.

  • Mt. Sinai: At Mt. Sinai Israel is given the law after they are saved from Egypt. Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” and then God goes on to give them laws. The world would expect God to save a worthy people. But Israel’s salvation was one-handed: God’s mighty hand saved them and then they were called to obey. In the same way today, God’s people are saved by grace alone in order to walk in good works (Eph. 2:8-10).
  • David and Mephibosheth. King David shows kindness to a member of Saul’s household—even though Saul wanted to kill David. While King David had every right to destroy his enemies, he paves the way for one who would not just say, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but who would die for his enemies to reconcile them to God (Rom. 5:8).
  • Naaman. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, a commander in Syria’s army, was a mighty man, but he had leprosy. A servant girl informed him about a prophet in Israel who could heal him. He sent money and gifts to the king of Israel so he could have Elisha cure him, but Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan. Naaman resisted at first, but then did it and was healed. Naaman, the powerful general, was clueless about salvation, but the slave girl was wise. Ultimately, through the servant girls wisdom and sacrifice, Naaman was saved, though he had done her great harm. She had possibly been raped, at least taken advantage of, and certainly had been taken from her parents (who were no doubt beaten or even murdered). This points toward Christ who up-ends the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18-31). 
  • Ruth. Ruth is a non-Jewish woman who married a Jewish man. Her husband died and she goes back with her mother-in-law Naomi to the land of Judah. Naomi is without an heir and in order for her land to be redeemed she needs a “kinsman-redeemer”—a relative to buy the land and marry the widowed woman in order to keep the land in the family. Boaz is such a man and he is in the line of David. He buys the land, marries Ruth, and from their line comes Jesus. This shows God’s preserving of the “seed of the woman” as he keeps his promises to his people.
  • Esther. In Esther, the Jews face an evil plot of ethnic extermination at the hands of Haman. Of all people to bring deliverance, a woman, Esther, faces death and reveals Haman’s plot, saving the Jews from destruction. This again shows the unlikely way God would preserve the Jews in order that the Messiah might be born. Jesus, like Esther, saves God’s people by risking his life. But Jesus, unlike Esther, does not simply risk his life and say, “If I perish, I perish,” but actually gives up his life and says “I will perish” so that “whoever believes in me will not perish”
  • Genealogies. These are interludes in the redemptive story that remind us God is preserving a people for himself from whom Jesus, the Messiah, will come. They reveal that God is preserving the seed of the woman to crush the serpent (see Gen. 3:15). Ultimately, God provides the promised offspring in his Son who is not spared, but is given up only to be raised again. Upon this One do all God’s promises depend.

3.   Jesus Fulfills the Law

This means means that we only take Scripture’s laws and commands seriously when we see Jesus as Redeemer, not example.

When we read portions of the Bible with laws and commands, we often apply the passage by saying, “I had better try harder to obey! God help me!” This is not really taking the law seriously, because we cannot just “try harder” and obey. The law demands perfect holiness (Gal. 3:10). If we think we can obey it, we are not truly listening to the law. The only way we can truly listen to the law and take it seriously is by looking to Jesus as Redeemer. Galatians 3:24 says, “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” In other words, the law is meant to drive us to Jesus because it’s clear we can’t save ourselves. 

Listening to the law shows us that we need a great salvation: the grace of forgiveness, a work for us so that we might be acceptable to God, and a work in us so that we might begin to experience change.

  • The law exposes our sinfulness (Rom. 3:20, 28; 7:7).
  • Jesus fulfills the demands of the law for us and dies in our place to pay the price for sin (Mark 10:45; Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 5:19; 8:3-4;  2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10-29; Col. 2:14).
  • We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus’ work for us, not our work for God (Rom. 3:21-31; Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).
  • The Spirit empowers us to love and obey Jesus. He changes us from the inside-out (Rom. 8:9-17; Eph. 5:1-21; Col. 3:1-17). 

Ask, “What does this text reveal about my need for Christ’s redemptive work?” This will lead us to see Christ as Redeemer, not example, and it will give a gospel-perspective on the passage, rather than a moralistic one.

4.   Jesus Fulfills Predictions

This means that prophetic predictions (future promises) are fulfilled in Jesus. 

These may be “narrow” predictions or promises, which are specific promises forecasted by OT writers that have a one-to-one correspondence between a person or event and Jesus’ life. At the same time, there also may be “broad” predictions that are not, technically, predictions about Jesus even though the NT often refers to Jesus “fulfilling” them.

Examples of Narrow Predictions:

  • Isaiah 53:4 → Matthew 8:17. Isaiah 53:4 predicts that the coming Messiah—the Suffering Servant—would be our Redeemer and Healer. Matthew 8:17 says Jesus fulfills this in his ministry of healing the sick: “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
  • Micah 5:2 → Luke 2:1-7 (cf. Matt. 2:6). Micah 5:2 predicts that a coming ruler (i.e. the Messiah) will be born in Bethlehem. Jesus fulfills this promise, for he was born there (Luke 2:1-7; cf. Matt. 2:6).
  • Zechariah 9:9 → Matt. 21:4-5. The prophet Zechariah predicts that Jerusalem will be rescued by a coming king, mounted on a donkey. Jesus, the week of his crucifixion, rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling this promise (Matt. 21:4-5). 

Examples of Broad Predictions:

  • Hosea 11:1 → Matthew 2:15. Hosea 11:1 said that God’s son, Israel, was called out of Egypt (i.e. in the exodus—out of slavery). This not a promise—it is merely a factual statement. Yet Matthew says that Jesus fulfills it. Matthew 2:15 says, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Jesus is the true Israel, whom God has delivered once for all (see “Corporate Stories” section above).
  • Psalm 78:2 → Matthew 13:35. Psalm 78:2 says, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” The psalm traces God’s redemption of Israel, Israel’s rebellion despite salvation, and that David is the king who shepherd God’s people.  Matthew 13:35 says Jesus “fulfills” this as he speaks in parables, even though Psalm 78:2 is clearly not a promise. Jesus is the truly wise Israelite (think of his parables and interactions with the Pharisees) and the one to whom the psalm ultimately points: he is the true King who shepherds God’s people and redeems them. 
  • ______ → Acts 3:18. Acts 3:18 says, “What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.” Peter does not cite a particular passage, but what he does is testifies to the fact that throughout OT history, God’s people, particularly his anointed ones, were an afflicted people. Thus, God promised that the Messiah would be one who suffered (cf. Luke 24:25-26).

Always remember that promises can have multiple fulfillments as salvation history progresses! For example, Abraham is promised blessing and land by God (Gen. 15:7). Israel comes into the promised land (see the book of Joshua), yet is exiled because of disobedience. Jesus fulfills the promise to Abraham by blessing the whole world through his death and resurrection. Yet Jesus will also bring final fulfillment to this promise when he brings the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22), which is the true promised land. 

5.   Jesus Links the Church to Israel

Analogy means that the New Testament often applies an aspect of the message of the Old Testament to the church today. 

When we discover that the NT church receives the blessings promised to Israel, we must stress that the continuity between OT Israel and the NT church is accomplished in Christ. Analogy, in other words, shows us that what Yahweh was for Israel in the OT, Jesus is for the church in the NT.

This happens in three primary ways:

  • Jesus’ “I am” Statements. Jesus calls attention to his divinity by using the divine name. This shows that, in Christ, God has visited his people to dwell among them and make himself known (cf. John 1:14). He is truly “Immanuel,” God with us.
  • Israel and the Church. Israel is the bride of Yahweh (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:14-20). The church is called the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:32; cf. Deut. 10:15; Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9). The church is now the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) by virtue of Christ’s finished work.
  • God salvation of Israel; Christ’s salvation of the church. Joel says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:32). Paul says that whoever confesses and believes in Jesus will be saved, and he goes on to quote Joel as evidence (Rom. 10:9, 13).

6.   Jesus Shows the Need for a Redeemer

Contrast means that the flaws and negatives we see in Scripture show us the need for a Redeemer.

All the others ways to see Jesus are positive. This way looks for negative connections. In other words, we don’t need a good example to see Jesus. The flaws of people in the Bible show us our need and longing for Jesus. When we read of a failed prophet, priest, or king, we don’t excuse their flaws or ignore them. It makes us cry out for the true Prophet, Priest, and King. When we read of injustice in any form, we should feel anger and angst because injustice is wrong! It is just to cry for retribution when injustice reigns. Our cry is for the Just one to make all things right and make all the sad things untrue. 

Examples:

  • The book of Judges. Read about all the bad Judges (and even the good ones with their flaws), and reflect on how Christ is the true Judge who reigns in righteousness of God’s people.
  • Jew and Gentile divide in OT. The OT taught that the Jews were clean and the Gentiles were unclean. Jesus demolishes the division of humanity that separated the Jews and Gentiles through his death and resurrection (Acts 10 and 15; Eph. 2:14-18).
  • “All is vanity!” This theme of Ecclesiastes is contrasted by Jesus, whose resurrection from the dead means that “our labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:57-58). 
  • Restoration of Israel. The prophets speak of a national restoration of Israel, yet the NT moves far beyond that to God’s restoration of all nations and the whole creation (Rom. 8:19-21; Rev. 22:1-2; cf. Rom. 4:13 where Paul says that the offspring of Abraham would inherit the whole “world” not just a small geographic locale in the Middle East).

What About New Testament Passages?

You probably noticed that most of what you just read dealt with seeing how the Old Testament points to Christ. While that is mostly true, each of those six ways to find Jesus in the Scriptures can be used for New Testament passages, too.

But something else must be mentioned about reading New Testament passages: there is a way to read the New Testament and ignore Jesus. It is all too easy to simply look for rules to follow or someone (even Jesus) to imitate and miss the bigger picture of who Jesus is and what he is doing. This is why understanding genre is so important. 

  • When we read the Gospels, we must remember that all the events in Jesus’ life are leading up to his death and resurrection. The Gospels are about God’s King (Jesus) bringing his kingdom to earth. The entire OT was anticipating this (“king and kingdom” was a major redemptive theme) and everything in the Gospels is a function of the King coming. So we must “insert” Jesus even into all the little Jesus stories we read (miracles, parables, teachings, etc.) by asking, “What does this passage say about God’s redemption, God’s King, the Kingdom, the nature of how God saves, etc.?
  • When we read Acts, we must remember that everything that happens is a response to King who has risen from the dead and given all authority to his apostles to be his ambassadors on the earth.
  • When we read the Epistles, we must remember the very clear progression from indicative (what Christ has done) to the imperative (how then we as Christians might live). The Epistles are not the new version of OT law, but rather situational letters that call God’s church to be an outpost of his kingdom in their particular context. 
  • When we read Revelation, we must remember that the vision is about “the Lamb who was slain” and has won for himself people from every tribe, nation, people, and language through the cross. He will come back as a conquering King to rescue his saints and destroy all those who oppose him.

The Instinctual Road

The Holy Spirit uses these “roads” to lead you to Jesus. However, let’s think outside the box of these “roads” for a minute. In the end, because you have the Spirit of God, because he is transforming your interpretive skills, he gives you a Christ-centered instinct. If your mind and heart are fixed on Jesus, if your spiritual eyes are opened, you will not be “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). After a while, it becomes an instinct and you don’t necessarily think in terms of “categories” any longer. Then, and only then, will your heart burn within you as Christ himself opens up the Scriptures to you (Luke 24:32). If you are focused on Jesus, when reading Scripture, trust your instincts. Check your work with others, ask people what they think (“Am I forcing this?”), and relish in the glory of Christ!

Categories
Theology

Another Sola?

During the Reformation, there were five “solae” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that attempted to sum up the doctrine of salvation. To the reformers, salvation is:

by Grace alone
through Faith alone
in Christ alone
as revealed in Scripture alone
for the Glory of God alone

This is right and good. But is it enough?

Several years ago, a mentor posed the question to me: “I wonder how history would have changed had the reformers included another sola: for love alone.”

There should be another. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Think about it. How might church history, or even world history, be different if the reformers had been absolutely focused on ensuring their theology so transformed people it made them into the best lovers of God and neighbor the world had ever seen?

Reformed theology is a beautiful thing. I’ve benefited from it so much. But as I continue to grow older, I’m not so naïve to believe it alone (see what I did there?) has all the goods. Love, like we see it in the life of Jesus, simply was not emphasized by the reformers or their pupils as it should have been.

Reformed theology has too often trained many of its students, including me, to embrace and practice a faith that seeks to be right rather than get it right. Being right is nice when you’re having a debate with your buddy. Getting it right? Love is getting it (aka “life”) right.

And that’s the exact thing Jesus told us really matters to God. I want that to matter for you and me.

We need good theology. Obviously! But let’s be honest: knowing good theology without real, true, Spirit-empowered love makes us, as someone once put it, good for nothing.

Categories
Ministry Theology

My Candidating Sermon at Grace Chapel

For those of you who are interested, you can listen to my candidating sermon from June 16, 2013, at Grace Chapel. I preached on “Christ and Christ Crucified” from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. I have included the full manuscript text below.


“Christ and Christ Crucified”
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
James Pruch
June 16, 2013

Introduction
One of the real dangers in life is focusing on nice things, rather than essential things. Vacations are nice, but work is essential. Ice cream is nice, but whole grains and meats and vegetables are essential. Recess is nice, but learning how to read and how to do math is essential. The thing about nice things is that they are usually not bad! They are good things, and that’s why it’s so easy to get sidetracked. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that our tendency is to focus on the nice things rather than the essential things.

I think the same is true in our Christian lives. There is a great temptation to focus on what is nice, but not essential. In our own lives we may focus on getting our devotions done, but neglect actual communion with God. We may focus on understanding the doctrines of redemption, but ignore the Redeemer. We may strategize and plan, while forgetting God is ultimately in control. We may think that our particular way of doing church or music or small groups is what brings people to Jesus, rather than the power of God.

In the first century, the church was tempted to forget the essential things in favor of other things. Our passage today is what I call a calibration text. It adjusts us to the standard of the gospel. It is a tuning text. It tunes us to the melody of the gospel. It is a template text. It conforms us to the shape of the gospel. The simple point of our passage is this: the cross must remain central in our lives. In this first part of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses “the cross” as a kind of summary term for the gospel. And he wants us to know that if the cross is not central, then we will begin to boast in ourselves and not in God.

The Context of Corinth
Let’s start out with a bit of context. Paul wrote this letter to a group of Christians in a tumultuous and divided church in a city called Corinth in Greece. The Corinthians are quite the bunch. If you think your family or church has problems, read Corinthians and be encouraged. You name a problem, and they have it. One guy is sleeping with his step mom. Christians are suing each other. People are getting drunk at communion. You can’t make this stuff up! The crazy thing is that the Corinthians think it is good and wise to one-up and dominate and live as you please. But you know what’s crazier? Paul loves them—I mean he really loves them! He calls them saints. He thanks God for them. He even says: “[God] will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:8-9). That is a great promise for the church in Corinth!

After this great promise, we learn about some division in the church. People apparently have their favorite preachers and are bragging about who baptized them. It’s like the guy who was baptized by Paul thinks he’s varsity and everyone else is junior varsity. The Corinthians were trying to build up their personal faith and corporate community by calling attention to the wrong things.

Paul uses this opportunity to talk about what is most essential to him: the gospel. In chapter 1, verse 17, he writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The problem is that if Paul were to use his ability and stature as “THE APOSTLE” with the Corinthians, he would not be gaining converts to Jesus, but converts to himself. It’s not that baptism is unimportant to Paul. It’s not that preachers are insignificant. They just aren’t essential. They are good and nice, but when they things become essential things, we get sidetracked.

Well, this is a candidating sermon, and I picked this passage for a reason. In this passage, Paul talks about what is most essential in his life and ministry, and here I see what I want to be essential in my life and ministry. So this morning we are going to look at the essence and goal of gospel ministry, and then I will give a few applications for myself as your associate pastor candidate and one application for you all as a congregation.

The Essence of Gospel Ministry
Let’s start with the essence of gospel ministry. First, Paul tells us what gospel ministry is NOT. Look at 2:1. Paul writes, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” Paul wants to be clear: his goal is not to be “wise” in his ministry in Corinth. What does he mean by that?

As an ancient Greek culture, the Corinthians highly valued slick rhetoric: speech that was articulate, reasoned, and manipulative in nature. They valued professional public speakers who were audience pleasers—they spoke for the entertainment of the hearers. They were self-promoters who exalted their knowledge, style, and skill. So Paul is saying that he did not come to Corinth to show how great of a public speaker he was. He did not come to Corinth so he could boast in his ability. In other words, he did not come with “human wisdom.” Something to remember—if you hear a preacher talk more about himself or popular culture of the day than Jesus and his Word, he is cultivating human wisdom.

Why does Paul reject human wisdom? In 1:28-29, Paul writes, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before God.” So, Paul rejects human wisdom because human wisdom uses ability or accomplishment to boast before God. This kind of wisdom—human wisdom—is insufficient because it calls God’s redemption “foolish.” In 1:18, Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Why is this message foolishness to human wisdom? Because the cross is an emblem of self-sacrifice, self-denial, and self-forgetfulness. Human wisdom boasts in itself. Think about your own life. When do you boast in your abilities or accomplishments? Do you exalt your work, your studies, your athletics, your talents, your power, your popularity, your morality, or something else?

You know, in the end, human wisdom is just another form of legalism. Legalism is using any set rules to gain favor with God or people. It sets up a system of salvation by works. It says, “You have to accomplish this then you will have value!” There are only two results for this kind of system: pride or fear. If you are powerful, rich, smart, or sexy, then you will be a proud person because you will have done well for yourself. If not, you will be a fearful person because you will have failed.

So gospel ministry is not human wisdom. What we find out from Paul is that the gospel and his ministry are utterly different from human wisdom. They tell an entirely different story.

So let’s turn to what gospel ministry is. In v. 2, Paul tells us why he did not come to Corinth with human wisdom. “Because I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Now, Paul does not forget about the resurrection in this passage. He spends a lot of time talking about that in chapter 15. He focuses on the cross here because, to the world, it seems like a foolish thing for a Savior and King to win his victory through death and defeat.

“Christ and Christ crucified” means that Paul wanted the cross to be the hub, the epicenter, of his life and ministry. Everything he taught and practiced would conform to the gospel of Christ crucified. It meant that he would speak plainly about who Jesus is and what he did in our place without any kind of human manipulative tactics. He would not be determined to self-promote but to promote Christ. Paul decided he would only do what best served the gospel of Christ crucified, regardless of people’s expectations.

It also means that Paul would focus on Jesus’ substitutionary death when communicating how we can relate to God from the beginning to the end of our Christian life. You know, we tend to forget the cross as we mature in our faith. It shouldn’t be this way. The cross should not get smaller—as if we graduate from needing it! The cross and God’s grace should get bigger! As we mature, we should realize how awful sin is and how gracious God is to save sinners like you and me. We should stand in awe that a holy and righteous God poured out his wrath on his Son so that we might be accepted and loved by him. Whether you are two days or two decades into your Christian journey, when you sin, you don’t simply feel bad and try harder. You gaze upon the beauty of a crucified Savior and say to God, “Thank you for the wonderful cross!” That’s what it means to keep the cross central.

Can I stop and be vulnerable with you for a moment? Can I confess that I am confronted and convicted by this? There are times when I speak in ways to impress rather than be helpful. There are times when I have spoken or acted in ways so that I look better than I actually am. There are times when I forget the cross. Have you ever done that? When this happens, we rest in ourselves, not Jesus. This is what Paul rejected. He did not come to Corinth to show how great he was. He did not come to Corinth to belittle the cross. He came to brag about Jesus!

Now, look at vv. 3-4. Paul writes, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” There are two questions I think need to be answered here.

The first is: what does it mean for Paul to be in weakness, in fear, and much trembling? It probably means that Paul had a healthy understanding of his responsibility as God’s messenger of grace. Paul realized that fruitful ministry would only come if the Spirit was at work. If ministry was all strategy and planning and personal ability, then Paul would not have needed to fear because he was the best-trained apostle (he was a “Pharisee of Pharisees)! Also, it meant that Paul came not as a professional speaker to entertain, but as a wounded pilgrim who had endured tremendous amounts of suffering and was prepared to call others to a cross-shaped life. Do you cherish your weaknesses? Do you realize that in weakness God shows his grace all the more? I know this is something I need to learn more and more each day.

The second question is: if Paul’s preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, then is it wrong to try to persuade someone to believe in Jesus? Well, I am trying to persuade you right now, so I hope it’s okay! We know from the entire letter that Paul is writing to persuade the Corinthians of the gospel. Acts 18:4 tells us that while Paul was in Corinth he “reasoned in the synagogue…and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” Paul is always articulate, well-thought, well-studied, intellectual, and wise. He was highly educated. He was a trained theologian. He was not a crude and vulgar speaker. Yet, in Corinth, Paul purposefully speaks the gospel simply so that the cross would not be emptied of its power (1:17). This probably embarrassed some of the upper class, to be sure, because they thought they had something offer God! Reason, logic, and persuasion that draw attention to the speaker will make people trust in the speaker, not the crucified Jesus. Paul did not want to confuse the Spirit’s power with human manipulation that might produce a few skin-deep converts. So for us, don’t give up persuading people. Talk with others at work and school. Reason and logic are good servants, but bad masters. Persuade away! Be wise and intelligent in your communication with others about Jesus, but do it to show off how great God is, not how great you are.

The Goal of Gospel Ministry
Finally, let’s talk about the goal of gospel ministry. We just talked about the essence of gospel ministry: Christ crucified for sinners. Why did God do it this way? Paul tells us the answer. Look at v. 5: “So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” That was his goal. Paul knew that if he drew attention to his own strengths, abilities, or knowledge, he may produce some fruit, but it would not be lasting fruit. It would be human fruit, not gospel fruit.

Think about this illustration: Say you invite a friend to your small group. You have a ton of fun, great food, and people really seem to connect with the new guy/gal. You make sure to talk about the message of the cross, but you are mainly concerned that everything “went right,” otherwise your friend might not come back. Well, he does come back, and he even comes to a Sunday service. What happens now is we boast to him about how great the preaching and music are, about how nice everyone is, about how our technology and programs are the best around. We may talk about Jesus, but here’s the underlying problem: we trust in something else to attract him to Jesus.

We should live and minister with the conviction that a righteous and holy God saves sinners by grace through faith in Jesus. So, no amount of personal strength or ministry strategy can do any eternal good if it is not done to exalt the glory of God in the gospel. Look one more time at what Paul said in verses 28-31 of chapter 1, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’”

God gets all the credit for salvation from beginning to end. At the end of the day, our faith must rest in a God who accomplishes salvation for us on an old rugged cross. Christ accomplished this great salvation in a way we would have never expected. Life through death. Victory through defeat. Exaltation through humiliation. Christ has become for us our wisdom. That means he is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption—not us. Everything you have ever needed and wanted is summed up in him. He is your substitute. If you embrace the message of the cross, when God looks at you, he sees Jesus Christ.

This is what makes gospel Christianity utterly unique. Every other religion or philosophy—Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, Secularism, Atheism, etc.—all exalt the individual and leave room for people to boast in their performance. Christianity, however, tells us that we are saved by the obedience and sufferings of a man from Nazareth who was the Son of God.

The world would have never done it this way. And when we preach this message and people believe, we can be sure that they would never believe it unless the Spirit worked in them.

Some Personal and Corporate Applications
Well, as I said, this is a candidating sermon. That influenced why I picked this particular passage. Here Paul talks about what is most essential for his life and ministry. And here I see what I want to be most essential in my life and ministry. So let me now offer three applications for myself as your candidate for associate pastor, and one application for you as a congregation.

For me:

  1. I will commit myself to speak and act in ways that will lead people to trust in the power of God, not human wisdom, whether as a husband, father, or pastor. I will strive to be reasoned, intelligent, wise, and articulate with my words. Yet I will speak in a way that draws attention to the power of God in the cross. I have nothing to offer in myself. I only have something to offer when I am under the authority of God’s word and talk a lot about Jesus! If it’s okay with you, I will talk a lot about Jesus!
  2. I will strive by the Spirit’s power to live with a healthy sense of fear and trembling at the task of being a minister in God’s church. I will not hide my weaknesses, but will confess them and use them to proclaim God’s amazing grace. The privilege of being an instrument of grace is heavy, but God’s grace is sufficient for me.
  3. This final application is perhaps the most important. I commit to cling to the message of the cross, over and over again because I will fail at these applications! Like everyone else, I am not a grace-graduate and I need God’s grace just as desperately as anyone in this room. There will be times when I say things to exalt myself. There will be times when I do not want you to see a weakness in me. There will be times when I trust in human wisdom. Because of this, I need the message of Christ and Christ crucified daily for my own soul. I need the gospel every day. It is the only way to make sense of my messy life and this messy world.

And now here’s one for you all. Nothing different here:

I want to call you to speak and act in ways that draw attention to the power of God—the gospel, the message of the cross, Christ and Christ crucified—rather than human wisdom. Our culture may not value exactly what the Corinthians valued, but we have our own versions of human wisdom. Reject human wisdom as grounds for boasting before God, and be a congregation that delights in a crucified Savior and continually points to him as true, lasting wisdom.

Categories
Theology

Six “P’s” for Looking for Christ in the Old Testament

David Murray, professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, talks for a few minutes about the main ways to look for Christ in the Old Testament. This video is primarily for preachers, but there’s nothing explicitly sermon-oriented about it. Whether you are a preacher or not, this video will be a great help to you as you seek to gaze upon the glory of the gospel of Jesus in the Old Testament!

Categories
Theology

Monday Miscellanies: The Love of Christ

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

189. The Love of Christ

We see how great love the human nature is capable of, not only to God but fellow creatures. How greatly are we inclined to the other sex! Nor doth an exalted and fervent love to God hinder this, but only refines and purifies it. God has created the human nature to love fellow creatures, which he wisely has principally turned to the other sex; and the more exalted the nature is, the greater love of that kind that is laudable [commendable] is it susceptive [receptive] of; and the purer and better natured, the more is it inclined to it.

Christ has an human nature as well as we, and has an inclination to love those that partake of the human [nature] as well as we. That inclination which in us is turned to the other sex, [but] in him is [it] turned to the church, which is his spouse. He is as much of a purer and better and more benevolent nature than we, whereby [by which] he is inclined to a higher degree of love, as he is of a greater capacity, whereby [by which] he is capable of a more exalted, ardent and sweet love. Nor is his love to God, in him more than in us (nor half so much), an hindrance or diversion to this love; because his love to God and his love to the saints are an hundred times nearer akin than our love to God and our love to the other sex. Therefore when we feel love to anyone of the other sex, ’tis a good way to think of the love of Christ to an holy and beautiful soul.