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Thursday, March 26, 2015

How can THAT be about Jesus?

I was asked a question recently about how to understand a well-known prophecy from 2 Samuel 7.  David had been given rest from all his enemies and purposed to build a house for Yahweh.  But Yahweh told David not to build a house for Him, but that Yahweh would build a house for David:
“…the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2Sa 7:11-16)
This prophecy is recognized in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Heb 1:5).  And yet, this prophecy speaks of David’s son committing iniquity.  So how can this prophecy really be about Jesus?  There is no sense in which Jesus sinned, is there?
There are couple of things to keep in mind when we are considering Messianic prophecy.  The first is that biblical prophecy often has both a near-term fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment.  For example, Isaiah 7:14 reads: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  This is understood by Matthew to be a reference to Jesus in Matthew 1:23.  Yet, the surrounding context of Isaiah 7-8 seems to point to a nearer-term fulfillment in the birth of Isaiah’s son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
With both prophecies, 2 Sam 7 and Isa 7, there are elements that do not perfectly fit Jesus, but rather look more like Solomon and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, respectively.
This is not so troubling when we consider a second principle of biblical prophecy: the Old Testament shows a pattern of imperfect shadows pointing to the ultimate work of Jesus.  These patterns are much easier to spot when either reading through the Old Testament very quickly or when intentionally looking at the big picture storyline.  In Gen 1-3, we see God setting up a kingdom on earth in which man lived in fellowship with God and ruled as God’s steward.  But Adam sinned, leading to a pattern of God approaching man to re-establishing the relationship but man not keeping his end of the deal.
Therefore, the Flood shows God wiping the slate clean and starting over with Noah.  This is why we find language in Gen 9 that is just like language in Gen 1 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”).  We see man asserting himself against God again in Gen 11 (the Tower of Babel), and God essentially starting over again with Abram in Gen 12.  The nation of Israel then represents the most vivid and long-term picture of man’s inability to live in fellowship with God.  The NT shows Jesus as the answer to this problem.
In a similar way, Solomon was an imperfect shadow of Christ in that he was the son of David and he did build a house for God (2 Sam 7:13, cf 1 Kings 6), yet, he was sinful and his legacy led to a rending of Israel into two kingdoms and eventually into exile and oppression under numerous foreign powers.  Jesus is the more perfect and ultimate Son of David (Matt 1:1), who never sinned and who is building a glorious house for God, the church (Eph 2:19-22).
The ancient Near Eastern mind had no problem with this understanding of fulfillment, an understanding that is looser than our modern Western minds are comfortable with.  We look for verbatim fulfillments.  They looked for shadows and shapes.  This is why New Testament authors had no qualms not only linking odd OT passages to Jesus, but also to quoting them imprecisely.  If the apostles had not problem with this kind of interpretation of prophecy, neither should we!  We should not impose our modern Western standards of fulfillment on ancient Near Eastern documents.  Further, that there are near-term imperfect fulfillments gives us all the more reason to rejoice in the ultimate fulfillment in Christ!
If you ever have any questions about theology, bible interpretation, or Christian living, please let me know.  Any question you have is most likely on the minds of others as well.  If appropriate, I’ll be happy to answer that question here for the benefit of all.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Resisting the Fear of Man in Times of Cultural Change

More and more, believers are facing the choice to remain faithful to the Lord or to bow to cultural change.  The sweeping success of the homosexual agenda is perhaps the most poignant example that it is becoming more difficult to live conspicuously godly lives in the midst of a decadent culture.  It is not only Christian bakers who are being put out of business for declining to do homosexual weddings, but even military chaplains are being removed from service for their conviction on the issue.  
This pressure to concede to cultural change has led many professing believers to voice support for homosexual marriage.  There are evangelical churches all over the country that are accommodating this movement.
What is at the heart of the decision to concede?  The Bible calls it fear of man.  It is the inordinate desire to please people, the fear of the loss of man’s approval.  It is a powerful force and can lead us to do blatantly sinful things.
There is a great lesson for us in the story of king Saul in 1 Samuel 15 regarding the power of the fear of man.  The Lord called Saul to strike the Amalekites.  He gave him very detailed, unambiguous instructions: “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam 15:3).  There’s really no way to misunderstand what the Lord wanted Saul to do:  Kill absolutely everything that breathes among the Amalekites.  If Saul was going to disobey, it would not be because of a lack of clarity regarding what was expected of him.
Usually, when we allow the fear of man to guide us, it is not that we are unsure what the Bible would have us to do.  Consider again the issue of homosexuality.  The Bible is perfectly clear; there is no ambiguity (Gen 19:4-11; Lev 18:22, 20:13; Jdg19:22-26; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:8-11).  Homosexual activity, like all other sin, is ungodly and deserving of God’s eternal wrath (1 Cor 6:9-10).  And, as with all other sin, the only hope for freedom from it and its penalty is the salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11).  Like Saul, if we concede on this issue, it will not be because God has been unclear.
Saul knew exactly what God commanded, yet, he did not obey.  He defeated the Amalekites, but took their king alive and kept the best of all the livestock.  And he found numerous ways to justify himself, saying: (1) he obeyed in the sense that he defeated the Amalekites, and devoted most to destruction (1 Sam 15:13, 15, 20); (2) it was the people who took the best of the livestock (15:15, 21); (3) the livestock were kept for the purpose of offering sacrifices to Yahweh (15:15, 21). 
The fear of man does this.  It leads us to disregard what God has written in the Word and to even find seemingly good reasons to have done it.  You’ll not find one professing believer who has changed position on the issue of homosexual marriage without assembling reasons to justify it, and many of those reasons are derived from illegitimate, out-of-context uses of Scripture. 
Saul may have tried to convince himself that his deeds were noble – especially the part about offering sacrifices to Yahweh.  Yet, after being pressed by Samuel, Saul finally admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice (1Sam 15:24).  Saul’s fear of man had overridden his fear of God. 
The fear of man has a tendency to do that.  Saul already had experienced the consequences of not following Yahweh’s instructions to the letter.  Back in ch14, he presumptuously offered a burnt offering even though it was only lawful for priests to offer sacrifices (Num 18:7).  As a result, Saul was told that the kingdom would not pass to his son, but that “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14).  After such a great loss, you would think that Saul would be careful to do all that God commanded him in the future.  You would think that the fear of God would override all impulses to go his own way.
But such is the power of the fear of man.  It overrides the fear of God.  The consequences of disappointing men or of losing their approval are stronger than the fear of disobeying God.  This in spite of the fact that man can only kill the body; his power is nothing compared to the One who has the power to destroy soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28; Luke 12:4-5).  The fear of man dulls us to the reality of ignoring God’s Word.
In Saul’s case, it meant that God rejected Saul as king over Israel and removed His Spirit from Him (1 Sam 15:26; 16:14).  For us, if we are believers, it will result in temporal chastening by the Father (Heb 12:6-11).  For the nominal believer, it results in the revelation that one does not really know the Lord and is therefore dead in his sins (John 12:42-43).
The growth of our fear of man is a slow process, but it is nurtured by two things: an unhealthy preoccupation with the things and thoughts of the world; and a neglect of the things and thoughts of God, as recorded in Scripture.  It has a hypnotizing effect that can blind us to the fact that it is happening at all.  This blindness can only be broken by returning to the Word and saturating our minds with it.
The Lord Jesus bought us that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and was raised (2 Cor 5:14-15).  He warned us that the world would hate us (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13).  We need to not only resign ourselves to this, but also rejoice that we might be counted worthy to suffer for our association with Him (Acts 5:40-42).  For it has been granted to us not only to believe, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil1:29).  We must allow the Word of God to determine our course on cultural issues and decide now, before we are persecuted, that when persecution comes we’ll be faithful.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What about those who have never heard the gospel?

In Sunday's message, we noted that everyone who hears the gospel must answer the question, "do you believe in Jesus?"  But what about those who have never heard the gospel?  Are they culpable for their sins even though they never had the opportunity to believe in Jesus? 

I intended to write an article to answer that question, but it turns out I wrote a series on the subject several years ago.  Here are the links to those articles:  Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5

I hope you find the articles helpful.