Tag Archives: New Testament

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Preaching Through James: Alistair Begg

Here is a brief biography of Pastor Alistair Begg from the Truth for Life website:

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio.  He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life.  The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church. He and his wife, Susan, were married in 1975 and they have three grown children.

And here is his expository series from the New Testament epistle of James (free download available after you click on link):

When Trials Come, Part 1 – James 1:1

When Trials Come, Part 2 – James 1:2

Asking God for Wisdom – James 1:5

Rich Man, Poor Man – James 1:9

The Genuine Article – James 1:12

When Tempted… – James 1:13

The Word of Truth – James 1:18

Don’t Kid Yourselves! – James 1:22

Do What It Says – James 1:22-25

Religion, Part 1 – James 1:26

Religion, Part 2 – James 1:27

Favoritism, Part 1 – James 2:1-4

Favoritism, Part 2 – James 2:1-7

Favoritism, Part 3 – James 2:8

False Faith – James 2:14

Faith: True or False? – James 2:14

Abraham and Rahab – James 2:21

A Warning to Would-Be Teachers – James 3:1

The Power and Danger of the Tongue – James 3:3

Who Is Wise? – James 3:13

The Wisdom from Heaven – James 3:13

Such “Wisdom” – James 3:14

Fights and Quarrels – James 4:1

Submitting to God, Part 1 – James 4:7

Submitting to God, Part 2 – James 4:7

Saying No to Slander – James 4:11

Only One Judge – James 4:11

Planning Properly, Part 1 – James 4:13

Planning Properly, Part 2 – James 4:13

Listen, You Rich Men – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 1 – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 2 – James 5:1

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 1 – James 5:7

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 2 – James 5:7

Telling the Truth – James 5:12

Prayer and Praise – James 5:13

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 1 – James 5:14

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 2 – James 5:15

Confession and Prayer – James 5:16

Bringing Back the Wanderers – James 5:19-20

Book Review – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 341 pp.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

Table of Contents

Excerpts:

PDF Introduction: Can hermeneutics be saved? PDF 1. The necessity for hermeneutics

Graeme Goldsworthy (Th.M. & Ph.D., UTS Virginia) is a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. His other books include Prayer and the Knowledge of God (IVP, 2005), According to Plan (IVP, 1991; 2002), Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel and Wisdom. These last three titles have been reprinted as The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster, 2001)

Is there a key to interpreting the Bible? What should our basic presuppositions for hermeneutics be? What do we need to take into consideration when we approach the exegesis and interpretation of the Bible?

Description

Graeme Goldsworthy argues that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures and reality. In this book, he considers the basic foundations of proper biblical interpretation. His book is divided into three major sections. He lays some ground rules, shows faulty structures that deserve to be torn down, and suggests how we should rebuild in their place.

Section one, “Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-4), looks at the foundations of hermeneutics, particularly the basic presuppositions that support a proper approach. In this section, the author stresses the importance of the doctrines of grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, and the Trinity. He also deals with the effect of the fall upon the human mind and the significance of the role of the risen Christ as mediator.

The second section, “Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 5-12), surveys the history of interpretation and the problems of faulty presuppositions and approaches. The author admits that he relied on secondary sources for this section, in order “to show some of the reactions and evaluations occurring in recent scholarly comment, particularly by evangelicals” so that we can “see how the various trends in hermeneutical theory have troubled and exercised the critical judgment of evangelicals” (p. 87). From allegorical interpretation in the early church to Enlightenment rationalism, postmodern “reader-response” approaches, and even evangelical pragmatism, the author relentlessly sifts through approaches that have eclipsed the gospel. He shows that liberals do not have a monopoly on the eclipse of the gospel, but many approaches adopted in conservative quarters have also obscured its clarity, including literalist and subjective approaches. He argues that a “proper grammatico-historical exegesis stems from the fact of the incarnation” (p. 99).

The final section, “Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 13-19), gives Goldsworthy’s prescription for a hermeneutical approach that is faithful to the Bible and therefore centered upon the gospel. Goldsworthy advocates “typology as a method of relating the Testaments” that underlines “the perspective of both their unity and diversity” (p. 238) by asking every text “how it testifies to Jesus” (p. 252). An extensive chart demonstrates how a macrotypology of the Bible works (pp. 253-256). He deals with the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of gospel-centered interpretation and takes a look at the concept of contextualization, including considerations relevant for Bible translation. He includes practical suggestions for Bible study (such as reading plans, taking notes, and prayer) and lists resources for teaching sound hermeneutics to children.

Evaluation

I found this book to be stimulating and fascinating. At least three strong points distinguish this book. The book is stellar in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutic of Scripture and reality, whereas many standard (even “evangelical”) hermeneutics texts neglect the scriptural idea that Christ is the hermeneutical key (Luke 24:27, 44). It seems so obvious, but it has been so obviously forgotten: “the principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves” (p. 22). Goldsworthy also persuasively argues that our hermeneutical approach is part of our sanctification, the renewing of our minds, made possible by the gospel. The fall affected our minds and ability for correct interpretation, but Christ even died for this—to justify and sanctify us from our faulty hermeneutics. Finally, the author’s analysis of how the gospel has been eclipsed by flawed hermeneutical approaches is no pedantic exercise but a helpful warning of how quickly we can move from the approach to the Bible advocated by Christ Himself and that displays His gospel in all its clarity. Neither historical proximity to the time of the apostles nor an accumulation of centuries of knowledge are fail-safe measures to ensure proper interpretation; only a renewed mind submitted to the Scriptures will protect Bible-believing Christians from alien influences that undermine the gospel in their hermeneutics.

Goldsworthy addresses several practical concerns with helpful warnings. He warns that separating biblical theology from systematic theology puts one “on the road to liberalism” (p. 271). He warns that the more dynamic Bible translations tend to iron out its metaphors, obscuring the way the text was originally communicated (pp. 290, 293). He writes that “recourse to commentaries and other helps is best left until later rather than sooner in the process of dealing with a text” (p. 313).

Despite the strengths of the book, one should use this book with much discrimination.

First, this book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person.

Its best use would be at the seminary and graduate level. Even then, it may not be a good choice for an introductory hermeneutics class. Its lengthy treatment of matters related to hermeneutical theory is helpful. The author gives some advice about putting theory to work, but the book lacks a comprehensive method for hermeneutics. I point this out, not to denigrate the book, but to help people like me who might assume by its title that it would contain a comprehensive method for its approach. I recommend reading it in thinking through hermeneutical theory, but if you must choose one book to help you interpret the Bible, this is not the one. To see a work designed more for the purpose of equipping one to practice the gospel-centered interpretation the author advocates, see his introduction to biblical theology titled According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002) or the shorter summary by Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP, 2002 — see my review here). (He does provide a brief overview the role of biblical theology in chapter 4 of this book.) The purpose of these works is to help one interpret the parts of the Bible in light of its big picture (something often neglected in hermeneutics texts), but are insufficient to equip one to deal with the various literary genres of Scripture.

Second, the reader should be aware of the author’s view on “literal” interpretation.

Goldsworthy classifies literalism as one of the culprits for the eclipse of the gospel in evangelicalism (p. 169ff.). While conceding that the incarnation required some literal fulfillment, he argues that the New Testament does not support a literal interpretation of Old Testament promises for the restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple (p. 170). He asserts that the “one great hermeneutic divide that separated Jesus from the unbelieving Jews concerned this very issue of prophetic fulfillment . . . That the Old Testament Scriptures are, as he says, about him (John 5:39-47; 8:39-47, 56-58) must seriously qualify literalism, since Jesus (as Jesus) is not literally in the Old Testament” and adds that “the hermeneutical principle of the Old Testament could only be understood Christologically” (p. 170). As convincing as his arguments appear, some may counter that New Testament events do not decisively rule out a future literal fulfillment, particularly since the prophets often saw events of Christ’s first and second coming together, like peaks of a mountain range that look side by side from afar.

Related to these views on literal interpretation is Goldsworthy’s amillennial eschatology. “Instead of the expected glorious reign of the Christ in a renewed Jerusalem, we learn that the scepter of the risen Christ is the preached word that will be the focus of the worldwide missionary endeavor of the church . . . Pentecost is the demonstration that the millennium has begun, Satan is bound, and Christ reigns through his gospel” (pp. 224-225, cf. p. 82).

Third, the author should probably give more caution in his advice about utilizing critical scholarship.

He suggests that Fundamentalism desires a return to pre-critical exegetical methods (p. 138, cf. pp. 181-182), although he may be painting with a bit of a broad brush, as some fundamentalist seminaries do engage critical works and even recommend critical commentaries as resources. While Goldsworthy recognizes the problem “of the extent to which we can plunder the Egyptians without returning to the leeks and the garlic” (p. 138), it seems that a further caveat should be given. There is a time and place to engage such scholarship, but it is probably best done—with much caution—by the trained scholar or pastor.

Conclusion

In this book, Goldsworthy addresses key issues in regard to hermeneutics. It is a challenging and worthwhile read for the serious student (although a subject index could have increased its usefulness), but may not be the best choice for a stand-alone guide to hermeneutics.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

Philippians 1:1, Part 2

Click here to read part 1 (“Paul and Timothy”)

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1, KJV)

“The servants of Jesus Christ”

In Philippians 1:1, Paul identifies himself and Timothy not only with the names they were called by, but with the position of servant, or slave.  Paul also identifies himself as a slave in his epistle to the Romans and to Titus.  In both these instances, he also identifies himself as an apostle.  In several of his epistles, he only identifies himself as an apostle (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy).  He simply refers to himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ in the epistle to Philemon, and uses no titles or designations in the letters to the church at Thessalonica.  Only in the epistle to the Philippians does he identify himself as a slave with no other designation.  As a reading of the text will show, one’s devotion, obedience, and service to Christ are major themes in this epistle.  And Paul sets that tone from the beginning by defining himself as a slave.

The word translated “servant” in the KJV originally conveyed the idea of a slave who belonged to a master.  A slave had no rights of his own and was completely subject to his master’s authority and will, and responsible to obey whatever was asked of him.  It is interesting to note Paul’s first encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The first two responses he made to Christ acknowledged Him as “Lord,” asking “what wilt thou have me to do?” with the second response (Acts 9:5, 6).  From the very beginning of his Christian life, Paul knew that he was a slave and that Jesus was Master.  And he went on to serve just as Christ fortold in Acts 9:15-16, bearing His name before the Gentiles and suffering for His sake, just as the Philippians witnessed in Acts 16.

Notice too, that Paul and Timothy are not merely servants but “servants of Jesus Christ.”  First and foremost, they answer to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, God’s chosen Savior and King.  While they certainly served others, they were doing so as an extension of their service to the king.  They were not out to win popularity contests, but to please their Master as they obeyed him and cared for the souls of others.

How would our lives change if we defined ourselves as slaves of Christ, truly viewing ourselves as such?  Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), and if He is Lord (Master), we must be subject to His authority and will.

The next post in this series will focus on the recipients of this epistle, the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.

Philippians 1:1, Part 1

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Philippians 1:1, KJV)

“Paul and Timothy”

Thus begins this ancient letter, the New Testament epistle to the Philippian saints.  Its author, the apostle Paul, wrote at least twelve other New Testament epistles.  Although the salutation is from Paul and Timothy (Timotheus is the Greek form of the name, transliterated accordingly in the KJV), the pronouns and subject matter throughout the epistle show that the thoughts being communicated, humanly speaking, are Paul’s.

Paul and Timothy first visited Philippi about ten years prior to this epistle if Paul wrote to them from a Roman imprisonment around AD 62, the same time period as the composition of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (the other “prison epistles”).  The view that Paul wrote from Rome is the traditional one, and the only view that is older than competing theories that have surfaced in the last few hundred years.

After a life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9), Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) was changed from a chief enemy of the church into a follower and apostle (officially commissioned and sent messenger) of Jesus.  He went on to spread the good news of Christ to many others, planting numerous churches, including the church at Philippi.

Acts 16 records the first meeting of Paul with the Philippians.  He arrived at Philippi on his second missionary journey.  This encounter brought the gospel to European soil for the first time.  Silas, Luke, and Timothy accompanied Paul during this part of his journey.  Acts 16 contains the Bible’s first mention of Philippi (16:12), and it also contains the first mention of Timothy (16:1), the son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father.

The Philippians would have remembered Timothy, and Paul communicates not only his intention go to the Philippians in person, but also his desire to send Timothy to them as soon as possible (Philippans 2:19-24).  Timothy, who was highly regarded by those who knew him in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:2) and by Paul himself (Philippians 2:20-22), was evidently present at the writing of this epistle (Philippians 2:19, 23).

The majority of Paul’s thirteen epistles designate others as sending the letter along with him.  Only five epistles designate Paul as the sole sender, and three of those are addressed to individual recipients (Romans, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus).  Including the epistle to the Philippians, Timothy is listed as a co-sender of five of Paul’s letters (the others are 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon).  Paul demonstrated his approval of and partnership with Timothy by designating him in the salutation.

In the next article of this series, we will consider the significance of the identification of Paul and Timothy as servants, or slaves, of Jesus Christ.

Book Review – God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160pp. Paper.

One of the most helpful features of much modern technology is the “zoom” option. From cameras to word processors, the ability to see both small details and the big picture is helpful to understand more about what we are looking at. Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible is one attempt to give students of God’s Word “an overview of the main storyline of the Bible” to provide a helpful framework to keep in mind when studying its parts (20). Roberts helps readers “zoom out” to see what the forest of biblical theology looks like so we can better understand the purpose of the individual trees in the Bible and thus “get [our] bearings when [we] land in any part of it” (20).

DESCRIPTION

Roberts aims “to help Christians find their way around the Bible and to see how it all holds together and points us to Jesus” (14). Some have called this book “Goldsworthy lite,” thinking of it as a simplified version of Graeme Goldsworthy’s approach to biblical theology. Roberts admits as much, saying, “Anyone who has read Gospel and Kingdom[by Goldsworthy] will see its influence in these pages” (10). Both writers see Scripture as a unified and interconnected work. Roberts explains:

The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfills. (19-20)

God’s Big Picture sees the kingdom of God as the unifying theme that shows how the Bible fits together. This theme is not forced upon the Scripture but arises out it and it sufficiently encompasses the whole of Scripture in a way that allows “each part to make its own distinct contribution” (20-21). Furthermore, “God’s kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus’ teaching” (21). The kingdom of God is understood to be presented throughout Scripture as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing” (21).

In eight chapters, the book traces the kingdom motif throughout the Bible.

“The Pattern of the Kingdom” introduces us to elements of this unifying them by looking at Genesis 1:1-2:25. “The Perished Kingdom” (Gen. 3) shows the results of man’s rejection of God’s kingdom. “The Promised Kingdom” (Gen. 17:1-8; Gal. 3:6-14) focuses on God’s promises of salvation. It particularly emphasizes God’s covenant with Abraham, which promised a people, a land, and blessing, and shows that, from the start, the kingdom of God was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews. “The Partial Kingdom” (a lengthy chapter in comparison with the others) covers passages ranging from Genesis 12 to 2 Samuel 7:1-17 to trace the kingdom through the history of Israel and highlights the promise of a king. “The Prophesied Kingdom” focuses on the role of the prophets in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promises of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God “sums up the prophetic hope” (108), according to Roberts. As the book turns to the New Testament in “The Present Kingdom,” the author states:

At first sight we may feel that a genealogy is an uninspiring way to start the New Testament, but, if we remember God’s promises, we will be on the edge of our seats as soon as we read the words: ‘A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). He is the one who fulfills the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and to David in 2 Samuel 7. The apostle Paul expresses it clearly: ‘no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). (107)

The chapter shows how Jesus brings the kingdom of God. As for God’s people, Jesus did what Adam and Israel failed to do. Jesus is the place of God’s kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the tabernacle and temple. God’s rule and blessing come about through the new covenant Jesus establishes and the blessing that flows from His kingship. These things came about through the “triumphant success” of the cross (114). There was no other way for Christ to bring God’s kingdom apart from His obedience to the Father and death as a substitute for sinners. His resurrection inaugurates a new age of God’s blessing.

Roberts’ bite-size overview of the Gospels culminates in his assertion that the kingdom has come, although it has not yet come in its fullness (119). He compares Jesus to a conductor who has returned to offer salvation to those who have refused to play God’s tune. While some submit to this redeemer, they will continue to play some wrong notes and produce discord, since there is still a future aspect to the kingdom (118-119).

In “The Proclaimed Kingdom,” the author says, “The promises of the kingdom will not be completely fulfilled until [Christ’s] second coming” (123). He gives 2 Timothy 3:1 and James 5:3 as reasons for viewing “the last days” as the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, meaning that, according to New Testament usage, we have been in the last days for the last two millennia. God has delayed Jesus’ return “so that more people will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late” (125). Right now, God is working by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel to extend His kingdom. The Spirit is reversing the judgment of Babel (separation of nations along linguistic lines) and, in a way peculiar to this age, He indwells and empowers believers to bear witness to the truth before those who do not believe. The return of Jesus takes place after the gospel is preached to all nations.

The church is God’s people (131). God’s place is this holy people who trust Christ. God’s Spirit dwells in us individually and as a Christian community (131), and helps us to enjoy God’s rule and blessing by living according to His standards (132).

The present age leaves us longing for “The Perfected Kingdom.” In this chapter, Roberts surveys the book of Revelation to show what God has told us about the complete fulfillment all His promises, particularly as His people are with Him in the new creation, in the new temple, enjoying His rule and blessing forever.

EVALUATION

The book has several advantages. Its brevity and ease of reading make it accessible to a wide audience, even as young as high school. Most of the chapters are short and include questions for discussion and application, making it ideal for Sunday school, classroom use, or personal study. It contains many helpful charts. It whets the appetite for further Bible study and is useful even for students advanced in their hermeneutics that may be familiar with the minutiae of Scripture but have forgotten what the view of the whole thing looks like. It is common to hear that we should interpret a text in light of its immediate context, the book that it is in, and the whole Bible, but sometimes it is difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of the canon. Vaughan Roberts has given us a resource that helps in this area.

As useful as the book is, the reader should be aware of Robert’s views of the interpretation of the days in Genesis 1, the nation Israel, and eschatology. These particular concerns would keep me from recommending the book for private study to those without a good grounding in the Scriptures and Christian theology.

Roberts states the following about God’s creation of the world:

Whether he completed the job in six literal twenty-four hours days or over a longer period does not really matter (Christian opinions differ over how we should interpret Genesis 1). What is important is the fact that God is the creator of all things. (27)

However, such an issue may well matter a great deal, as one’s view of the days of Genesis could impact one’s view of the historicity of Adam and Eve, the origin of sin, and even the events of the gospel itself. Some spiritualize the days of Genesis into long ages simply to accommodate a supposed body of scientific evidence that would render the literal interpretation nonsensical. These interpreters may well be guilty of compromising the very foundations of the gospel (albeit unintentionally).

Dispensational readers may quickly notice that Roberts’ does not share their views on the nature of Israel and predictive prophecy. His amillennial eschatology surfaces frequently in the last half of the book (I write as a premillennialist).

Roberts plainly states, “The new Israel is the church” (131). As far as a future for Israel, he discourages readers from looking for fulfillment of the Old Testament promises “in the State of Israel” and says not “to expect a new temple to be build there” (108). He writes:

God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point. (109)

It would have been helpful to see his analysis of Romans chapters 9-11 (especially chapter 11) in regard to these points.

Neither the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign nor the 144,000 should be understood in terms of literal numbers, according to Roberts (145, 148). The lake of fire is seen to represent eternal death; Roberts does not clearly indicate whether he thinks this means there is an eternal conscious torment of the damned or not (144).

He also makes his amillennial views clear when he speaks about other passages in Revelation in an endnote, writing:

Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of Satan being bound and then thrown into the Abyss at the start of the thousand-year period. There is good reason to believe that those events have taken place in the past. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that Satan has already been hurled down from heaven. He was defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ and has been bound ever since. He is powerless to stop God calling his elect into his kingdom, but he has still not admitted defeat and continues to attack God’s people. Revelation 11:7 describes him coming up from the Abyss to attack the witnessing church. He could not have come up from the bottomless pit if he had not already been thrown down into it. I believe that occurred when Christ died and rose. That is when the millennium began. It will continue until just before the return of Christ.

These concerns should not result in a dismissal of Roberts’ book, but they need to be pointed out. Because of them, I think the book would be most useful in a classroom setting or a discipleship/mentoring relationship where a more competent teacher can help the student when these issues arise.

CONCLUSION

Vaughan Roberts’ small volume of biblical theology is useful to help us “zoom out” and see the big picture of the Bible. Despite the caveats given above, the book is still valuable to help us see what the Bible is all about so we can interpret its parts in light of it as a whole. God’s Big Picture is a great starting point for encouragement to be better students of God’s Word, clear proclaimers of His truth, more obedient children of God, and more faithful evangelists in spreading the good news of King Jesus.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

Acts 16 Sermon Summary

Three Ways God Spreads the Good News

Acts 16:6-34

People have utilized many ways of spreading news.  In the past, the Pony Express and the telegraph were means people used to share information.  Today, people use a plethora of methods to broadcast and receive news, such as television, radio, text-messages, cell phones, e-mail, and the Internet.

God can do anything He wants and could have chosen to write His good news, the Gospel, in the clouds.  He could have personally manifested Himself in a visible and audible form to every human being to communicate the message.  But God has chosen to spread His good news by other means.  In Acts 16, we see three of those means.

1. Obedience to Guidance (v. 6-13)

In Acts 16, we find Paul on his second missionary journey.  Like the writer of “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, Paul was now preaching the faith he had once labored to destroy because of the change God had made in his life.  Along with Paul were Timothy, Silas, and Luke (the author, whose pronouns change to “we” and “us” in verse 10 to indicate his presence with the group).

The missionaries thought they should go to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit did not allow them.  They were directed instead to Macedonia by a vision Paul received.  They immediately obeyed the vision, believing that God had called them to preach the Gospel there.  God used obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

In what areas do you need to obey God?  If you know what you should do, then the response should be immediate obedience.  Is there someone you know you should share the Gospel with?  God may use your obedience to guidance to spread His good news.

2. Faithfulness in Clear Evangelism (v. 14-15, 30-32)

Arriving in Philippi, a strategic and historic city, Paul speaks God’s Word to a group of women gathered for prayer.  This implies that there were not enough Jewish men in the area to have a synagogue, since Paul’s usual practice was to go first to the synagogue and preach Christ.  He went to people who needed the Gospel.  God opened Lydia’s heart and she believed the word Paul spoke.  Paul also shared verbally with the Philippian jailer, telling him not only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved but later speaking the Word to the jailer and his family, likely explaining matters more fully.  God used Paul’s faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread his good news.

No one likes a garbled, confusing message.  Therefore, we ought to be clear when we share the Gospel with people.  We know from other parts of the book of Acts that Paul made the matters of the Gospel clear to others so they would know what they should believe and why.  The Gospel is more than “Jesus loves you” or “ask Jesus into your heart.”  We ought to tell people about the greatness of God and His right as our Creator to tell us what to do.  We need to explain sin as rebellion against God, and that we are all sinners who deserve to be punished forever for despising God.  We need to tell them who Christ is (the God-man, the Son of God in human flesh) and what He did in His perfect life and substitutionary death for sinners.  We must tell them of his ascension and that He will one day judge the world in righteousness.  We must not merely leave them with these facts, but must call upon them to repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for their salvation so that they may have eternal life and enjoy God forever.

Even as God opened Lydia’s heart to respond, He does the same with people today.  We are not responsible for the response to the message.  We are responsible to deliver the message faithfully.  God uses faithfulness in clear evangelism to spread His good news.

3. Praise in Suffering (v. 16-34)

Although Paul would not have adopted the motto, “Preach the Gospel – if necessary, use words,” he understood that his life should reflect the saving message he proclaimed.  He wanted His walk to support, not hinder, the spread of the words of life.

A demon-possessed girl annoyed Paul by following the missionaries and announcing, day after day, that they were servants of the most high God who were proclaiming the way of salvation.  Paul cast the demon out, much to the chagrin of her masters, who owned her as a slave and had profited from her fortune-telling business.  Paul and Silas were falsely accused of instigating chaos in the city, and were then stripped and beaten.  They were cast into the inner prison of the jail, and their feet were fastened in stocks which spread the legs apart and created much cramping.

These men who had come to proclaim God’s good news were now suffering for righteousness.  How did they respond?  At midnight, they were heard praying and praising God with singing.  They gave God praise in suffering, and He used it to spread his good news.  He sent an earthquake that nearly resulted in the jailer’s suicide, which Paul prevented by informing him that no one had escaped from the jail.  Trembling, the jailer asked what he must do to be saved, and Paul shared the Gospel with him.  He and his family came to know Christ through Paul’s and Silas’ praise in suffering.

Joni Eareckson Tada is another fitting example of praise in suffering.  She became a quadriplegic, losing the use of her arms and legs, as a result of a diving accident as a teenager.  Instead of remaining angry at God, she has praised Him for His goodness to her and has shared His good news with many – from her wheelchair.  I recently attended the funeral of a woman named Lisa, who reached the point of thanking God for her brain tumors because He used her suffering to help reach others with the Gospel.  It was fitting that one of the songs at Lisa’s memorial celebration was from Job 1:21, which speaks of how God gives and takes away, but His name is to be blessed, that is, praised.

Are you afraid to suffer for the Gospel?  Can you praise God in trials?  Have you considered how your reactions to suffering may bring to you greater opportunities to share the good news?  Rodney Griffin wrote a song from this passage in which he made the point that the times of suffering are the times that “God wants to hear you sing.”

Remember that James told us to count it all joy when we suffer (James 1:2-4) and Jesus said that we are blessed if we suffer for His sake and have great reward (Matthew 5:10-12).  Your best life is not now, but in the world to come.  Let’s not forget the power of God and his time-tested method of using praise in suffering to spread His good news.

Our communication methods may come and go.  E-mail and cell phones may one day be as obsolete as the Pony Express and the telegraph.  But until Christ returns, God will continue to use the methods He has utilized for the last 2,000 years to spread the Gospel:  obedience to guidance, faithfulness in clear evangelism, and praise in suffering.  As we obey, share, and worship Him, may He be pleased to use us to spread His good news.

Preached by Doug Smith, guest speaker at Fellowship Chapel, Bristol, Virginia, July 15, 2007

Click here to listen to or download the complete sermon (.mp3 audio).

Click here to download the Word document of this summary.

Click here to download a pdf file of this summary.

Beyond a VeggieTales Gospel: Preaching Christ from Every Text – Resources from Dr. Russell Moore

Did you know there are some churches where you may not hear the gospel?  No, I’m not talking about liberal churches, where fundamental doctrines such as the deity of Christ and substitutionary atonement and the resurrection are denied.  I’m talking about churches that claim to believe and uphold the gospel.  Many messages approach the Bible as little more than a self-help manual with “5 steps to…”

But the Bible is about far more than that.  It is about a cosmic struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  It is about a holy God to whom we must give account.  It is about the pervading sinfulness of man.  It is about blood and sacrifice.  It is about the redemption bought by the sinless Son of God, through His perfect life and His vicarious death on the cross.  It is about the risen and returning King to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  It is about the need of every soul to repent of sin and trust Christ.

And no matter which part of the Bible is being preached, there is a path to Christ from that text.  While we must be sure we do not misinterpret the text, there is some way in which it predicts, prefigures, or patterns some aspect of our need of salvation and what Christ has done, when seen within the larger context of the whole Bible.

I encourage you to avail yourself of this excellent material from Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, about preaching Christ from every text.  Let’s be sure that if someone doesn’t hear the gospel that it’s not because we are failing to preach it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uwQi2Kea8A]

Preaching through Titus: James Hamilton

Dr. Jim Hamilton, pastor of Kenwood Baptist Church and professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (both in Louisville, Kentucky), preached through the book of Titus in April and May of 2010.  Here are links to the sermon audio (.mp3 format).

Titus 1:1-4

Titus 1:5-16

Titus 2:1-15

Titus 3:1-15

You can access more resources from Dr. Hamilton here:  www.jimhamilton.info.