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Archive for the ‘Bible Study’ Category

The Wine Jesus Drank

Great post that adds insight to the cross from Desiring God:

Twice Jesus was offered wine while on the cross. He refused the first, but took the second. Why so?

The first time came in verse 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” William Lane explains,

According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain . . . . When Jesus arrived at Golgotha he was offered . . . wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it, choosing to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him (The Gospel of Mark, p. 564)

This first wine represented an offer to ease the pain, to opt for a small shortcut—albeit, not a major one in view of the terrible pain of the cross, but a little one nonetheless. But this offer Jesus refused, and in doing so, chose “to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him.”

The second time came in verse 35. After some bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah, “someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’” Lane comments,

A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive . . . . There are no examples of its use as a hostile gesture. The thought, then, is not of a corrosive vinegar offered as a cruel jest, but of a sour wine of the people. While the words “let us see if Elijah will come” express a doubtful expectation, the offer of the sip of wine was intended to keep Jesus conscious for as long as possible” (Ibid., 573—574).

So the first wine (mixed with myrrh) was designed to dull Jesus’ pain, to keep him from having to endure the cross with full consciousness. This wine he refused.

And the second (sour) wine was given to keep him “conscious for as long as possible,” and thus have the effect of prolonging his pain. This is the wine Jesus drank.

Other condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.

At the cross, he drank the wine of his Father’s wrath down to its very dregs, and he did so for us—that we might enjoy the wine of his Father’s love, join him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and live redeemed forever in the glorious presence of the one who took no shortcuts in saving us.

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Christ Became a Curse

In Galatians 3:13, Paul announced that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

In this, he quoted Deuteronomy 21:23 which clearly states that anyone who dies on a tree is cursed by God. We might well pause in wonder at this – Christ cursed by God? One member of the Trinity cursing another? How can it be? Why can it be?

The great truth is that Christ became a curse so that we didn’t have to be. He took the righteous wrath and judgment of God on Himself so that we might not have to. But let’s not stop there, because the language Paul used is pretty intriguing.

Namely, there is this question: Why did He say that Christ became a curse rather than Christ was cursed? And what’s the difference in those two statements? I think there’s something important there for us, because it adds another layer of depth to what we talk about in the gospel.

My son loves to pretend he is stuff. He’s Wolverine. Or he’s Batman. But his favorite thing to be is a Jedi. He loves to walk around with a towel over his head with his hands folded serenely, only to drop the towel at a given moment and attack with a light saber. But there’s a big difference between acting like a Jedi and actually becoming one.

To become is to change the essence. It’s the difference between having water poured on your head and someone swimming inside you. Becoming is deeper than having something done to you.

Christ wasn’t just cursed; He became a curse. And He had to, because what we are talking about in the gospel is a change in our very core. In our very essence.

See, at our core, we are sinners. It’s not just what we do; it’s who we are. The gospel isn’t just God looking the other way and saying, “Ya’ll come on into heaven;” it’s about us becoming something entirely different than we are.

The same apostle would put it like this in 2 Corinthians 5:21: He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Because Christ became a curse, we become His righteousness. And as profoundly as Christ became a curse, that’s how profoundly we became His righteousness.

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Jared Wilson writes:

Colossians 1:15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Paul articulately asserts the truth of the Incarnation in Colossians 1, but his use of “firstborn” does not mean that there was a time when the Son of God wasn’t (any more than John 3:16′s use of “begotten” does — as the Nicene Creed insists, Jesus is “eternally begotten”). But Paul’s use of “firstborn” here holds such a wealth of meaning: namely, as it applies to Christ’s sovereign authority and to his redemptive activity.

Biblically and culturally speaking, the firstborn son carried the weight of the family inheritance on his shoulders. The family name rested first with him. In the absence of the father, he is the head of the family. The firstborn son receives more honor, more expectation, and more authority.

This is Jesus, of course. The author of Hebrews tells us he is the radiance of God’s glory. Romans 8 tells us that he is the heir of God. Inheritance talk is big in Galatians and Ephesians and Titus and Hebrews.
As our older brother, Jesus is due the authority and the wealth he is owed.


But unlike all other older brothers — and I am one, so I know — he walks in a way worthy of his honor. For our sake!

All through the Scriptures, from the murderous Cain to the sniveling idiot brother of Jesus’ parable of the Lost Son, the older brother is consistently an utter and absolute failure. (So are most of the younger brothers, actually, but God consistently chooses them to make a point, I think.)

But not Jesus. Where disobedience and disregard ruled the roost of the firstborn, Jesus obeys the Father perfectly, submits to the eternal cause of the glory of the Father completely, and cares for and rescues and sacrifices his own well-being for his younger siblings to the utmost.
Jesus is the older brother who will not trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. Jesus is the older brother who will not trade his siblings into slavery. Jesus is the older brother who leaves the comfort of his Father’s estate to seek out his lost brother among the brothels and pigsties and actually rescues him from the degradation of the mud and dresses him in the Father’s robe of his own accord.

To borrow from Sinclair Ferguson, Jesus is the “true and better” older brother.

To borrow from a favorite line in a favorite movie, Jesus is the older brother who does his job. Everybody else is the other guy.

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From JT:

The dominant mode of evangelical preaching on sanctification, the main way to motivate for godly living, sounds something like this:

You are not _____;

You should be _________;

Therefore, do or be ________!

Fill in the blank with anything good and biblical (holy; salt and light; feed the poor; walk humbly; give generously; etc.).

This is not how Paul and the other New Testament writers motivated the church in light of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. They did give imperatives (=what you should do), but they do so only based on indicatives (=what God has done).

The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

This “become what you are” way of speaking is strange for many us us. It seems precisely backward. But we must adjust our mental compass in order to walk this biblical path and recalibrate in order to speak this biblical language.

We see this all throughout the NT. Here are a few examples of this gospel logic and language:

“You really are unleavened” (indicative),
therefore “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (
imperative). [1 Cor. 5:7].

“You are not under law but under grace” and you “have been brought from death to life (indicatives),
therefore “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . . .
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness,
but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (
imperatives). [Rom. 6:12-14]

“Having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness (indicatives) . . .
[therefore] now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (
imperative). [Rom. 6:18-19]

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (indicative),
therefore, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (
imperative). [Gal. 5:16, 24]

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It’s striking to me how much of my prayer life is spent praying to get me out of uncomfortable situations. Whether at work, at church, financially, in health – I spend much time petitioning the Lord to change my circumstances. To make them more favorable. More profitable. More… comfortable, I guess.

Acts 4 hits me like a ballbat to the face.

Here’s the context: Peter and John, the two big dogs of the early church movement, have been put in jail. And though the authorities couldn’t punish them because of their popularity with the people, they threatened them. Alot. Then they let them go.

So off go Peter and John, back to the fledgling church, and they deliver a report about what the bad guys had said. Then they all started to pray with one voice. And I wonder what I might have prayed, had I been in that situation:

“God, deliver us from the hands of these oppressors.”

“Remove them from power, and put someone in who is more favorable to our position.”

“Change these threatening circumstances, and give us peace that we might meet freely.”

Now I’m not trying to evaluate the validity of any of those prayers. I believe God wants us to earnestly cry out to Him in honesty, and there are certainly examples all over the Bible of people asking for their circumstances to change.

But not here. Instead, this is what we get from the threatened crowd of believers:

“And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness…”

Boldness, not deliverance. Extension of the gospel, not a change in circumstances. Courage, not comfort. Maybe I ought to spend a little more time praying for that type of thing rather than a band-aid for my perceived problems. Because if I did, it would show that I had a much more full grasp of how big and important the gospel really is.

That it’s bigger than me. And because it is, sometimes the best thing that can happen is for me to be uncomfortable.

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I am recognizing the continual presence of the ever-elusive “else” inside myself. Maybe it’s there for you, too. You might call it “more” or “other”, but it’s the same thing. The elusive “else” is that thing that’s out there, somewhere in the distance, that you can never quite get to.

It’s another opportunity.

It’s another contract.

It’s more money.

It’s increased exposure.

It’s more notoriety.

It’s greater fame.

It’s something else than what you’ve been given in life. If I’m honest, I think I spend a great deal of time either chasing after or fantasizing about that ever elusive else. And most of the time, I simply try to beat down that desire. I feed myself verses about contentment and satisfaction. I chide myself for my lack of satisfaction. I try and force myself to live in the present and be happy in the moment with what I’ve been given. All those disciplinary actions are appropriate, I guess, but I’m beginning to think that maybe the Lord has “something else” in store for my elusive else.

Redemption.

That’s the pattern I see in the life of Paul, specifically, right here:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

Notice how active and vigorous the verb is that Paul uses in verse 12 and 14.  He says that he is pressing on.  In verse 14 it has a competitive, athletic contest feel to it.  Maybe Paul is thinking of the Olympic Games which would have been a familiar sight to the Greek Philippians.  Those games were originally made up of footraces and in those races the athletes would have to strain at the end, pressing hard towards the goal.  The verbs mean to pursue.  They mean to run hard.  They mean to focus your energy and your effort.  In fact, they are so vigorous, so competitive, even so violent, that they can be translated persecute.  It is the same verb, in fact, that Paul uses a participle of in verse 6 – persecuting the church.

It seems that Paul is saying that zeal, even to the point of obsession, is neutral.  The question is not about zeal; it is about the object of that zeal and whether it is deserving of obsession.  For the difference between Paul’s life then and Paul’s life now is not his level of addiction.  If anything, he is more preoccupied now than he was then.  The difference is that he has finally found something worth being addicted to.  He has finally found something worth being obsessed with. He has finally found the proper direction for the elusive “else.”

That’s what redemption is, isn’t it? Isn’t it in a sense God redirecting our passion for one thing to something else? Isn’t it realizing that our pursuit of the elusive else isn’t wrong in and of itself; it’s just misguided. And by His grace, He’s redirecting it onto Himself.

Press on…

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Since the birth of Christian, aka, kid number 3, the spiritual discipline of my life has been sporadic at best. I can easily justify it with midnight feedings, early wake-up calls, and 3 kids under 6 (or at least my wife could, though she’s managing her life much better than I right now). But I have found myself longing for a sense of discipline.

Not longing for some kind of a rules-based relationship with God so I can have a measuring stick for whether I’m doing a good job at being a Christian, but discipline. Discipline that honors God and lives in the middle of grace. Discipline that focuses my mind and heart. That’s what I want. So that’s what I’m going after, by God’s grace. Here are some steps to doing so I’m trying to implement in my life:

1. Whatever you do, do it in faith. The temptation when you engage in spiritual discipline is to emphasize the will. But it doesn’t have to be that way; in fact, if it is that way, our efforts are doomed to fail because our best efforts will run out of steam. Instead, we should focus on faith. We should swing our legs out of bed in belief that God wants to meet with us. We should fast in faith that Jesus is better. We should make the conscious effort to refocus on belief, rather than exclusively the will.

2. Accompany spiritual discipline with physical exercise. The gospel engages the whole person – mental, spiritual, and even physical. For me I know, when I am exercising physically it helps me tremendously in spiritual exercise, if for no other reason than it wakes me up and gets the blood pumping.

3. Set yourself up for success. If I’m going to try and read the Bible in the morning, I need to set it out and get it ready the night before. I may need to set the automatic timer on the coffee maker. I definitely need to go to bed early enough the night before in order. I need to do anything I can in advance to make it as easy and convenient as possible for me to be disciplined.

4. Be consistent. I’ve tried to set my alarm at a different time each day, according to what I had going on in the day. I would set the alarm for an hour or so before I needed to be somewhere or do something, and each day it was either a little earlier or a little later than the day before. It doesn’t work. When you choose to set your alarm for the same time, you establish a rythm in your body and it gets a little easier every day.

5. Be realistic. For me, that means scheduling a day a week for a break. If I know I can sleep a little later on Saturday or Sunday, it helps me on those difficult mornings.

What about you? Got anything to add to this list?

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I get the meaning behind the phrase. We are trying to help people discern the will of God for their lives, and sometimes the Lord calls someone to be a “professional Christian.” You know, a preacher, missionary, worship leader – fill in the blank. And that’s fine. I think there is a real, solid biblical basis for such a call.

Unfortunately, the language has also created the sense that there are 2 kinds of people – those who are called to ministry, and everyone else. The problem with that over-clergification in our language is that it implies that not everyone is called to ministry. Some of us are and we should, but the vast majority of people sitting in church pews don’t have a specific call of God on their lives. They’re just regular people – moms, dads, businessmen and women, doctors, teachers – you know, regular people.

False.

Absolutely.

There is no such thing as a regular person in the kingdom of God. There are only ministers. 1 Peter 4:11 puts it like this, after Peter described regular activities like loving each other deeply and offering hospitality:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

That’s the key word: EACH. As in, every single one. Not just professional Christians. We are all called, every single one of us, to administer God’s grace. Whether as a doctor, homemaker, editor, teacher, or mechanic, we are all called to ministry.

Perhaps we need to begin thinking of ourselves first as ministers of the grace of God, and only secondly in a vocational context. First we minister – the only question is the context in which we minister.

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There’s a great verse regarding spiritual intimacy in Jeremiah 9:23-24:

This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,

but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.

Riches? Nope. Wisdom? Nuh-uh. Strength? Not a chance. If you’ve got to boast about somehting, it should be that you understand and know the Lord. That word “know” is an interesting one. In fact, when you start scanning through the various meanings, you get a ton back. For example, the context can indicate:

- learning (Isaiah 29:11-13)

- hunting (Genesis 25:27)

- lamentation (Amos 5:16)

- sailing the sea (2 Chronicles 8:18)

- playing an instrument (1 Samuel 16:16)

But the one that catches the eye is found, among other places, in Genesis 4:1:

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.

That’s right – the word used to describe sexual intimacy is applied to the way we are meant to know God. That’s an extreme level of intimacy, because intimacy is what sex is all about. It’s about being naked and unashamed. It’s about consummation of passion. It’s about giving yourself wholly to another. And that’s what is offered to us in the gospel. Through Christ, we have the opportunity to walk in perfect intimacy with God; to stop knowing about Him, and to actually know Him.

That’s what, after all eternal life is all about. It’s not about streets paved with gold or reunions with dead relatives. It’s not about not needing Kleenexes any more or never having to visit a pharmacy ever again. All those things are great and all, but the real treasure of heaven is God Himself. Eternal life is about knowing Him. And because of the gospel, eternal life can be a present reality.

These truths – the reminder that sex isn’t just about a man and a woman but the relationship we are meant to have (figuratively) with God – makes pornography and casual sex all the more attrocious. As with all forms of sin, we are essentially taking God and replacing Him with something less than Himself. We are worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. It compounds the badness when you start to realize that in some way, all creation, whether zebras or sex or parenting, is meant to point us to God.

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Yesterday I posted a video documenting some of the persecution of Christians in India and Francis Chan’s response to it. And like anyone who has seen the footage, I can’t stop thinking about it.

This morning, I’m wondering how it’s possible, in the wake of violence like this, for us to continue to hold onto a sort of theology that says that things like this – pain, suffering, financial loss, hardship – are evidence of God’s cursing. That God’s utmost desire for His people is of material prosperity.

I wonder how Peter, crucified upside would have responded to such notions? Or John the Baptist, as his head was served on a platter? Or the countless other martyrs of the faith who are still calling out in the heavens for justice? Where do they fit?

Hebrews 11, among many other places in Scripture, blows this kind of thinking to bits. After chronicling the brief exploits of faithful saints, the writer of Hebrews moves into this rapid fire succession beginning in verse 32:

“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead raised to life again…”

So far so good for the prosperity gospel. Great stories of great triumph. But then, seemingly without taking a breath or pause, the writer continues:

“Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.”

There is no dilineation between those who shut the mouths of lions and those who were torn to pieces; those that escaped the edge of the sword and those who were impaled; those that were well fed and those that went hungry. The conclusion is this:

Faith is not the determiner of earthly circumstances.

Because all of these people, the rich and the poor, the delivered and the delivered over, the comfortable and suffering, were “approved through their faith…”

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