How to Interpret the Songs of the Messiah

January 10, 2018 Leave a comment

by Dieudonné Tamfu

Note: Dr. Tamfu will be our guest speaker at Northside on Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Structure of the Psalter

The psalms were carefully collected and carefully and intentionally stitched together. The collection and organization of them is not random. It is divided into five books:


























Prologue: 1–2 Epilogue: 146–150

 Each book of the Psalm ends with a concluding praise, revealing a conscious ordering of the book as a whole.

Book 1: Pss 1–41                         Concluding doxology: 41:13

Book 2: Pss 42–72                       Concluding doxology: 79:19

Book 3: Pss 73–89                       Concluding doxology: 89:52

Book 4: Pss 90–106                      Concluding doxology: 106:48

Book 5: Pss 107–150                    Concluding doxology: 146–150

The Psalms and the Messiah

The Psalms are God’s Word to his people, authorizing them to pray them back to him in praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, etc., but the Psalms are ultimately about the Messiah, Jesus.

He [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:36–45 emphasis mine).

In the Psalter Jesus found his voice in the darkest hour of history

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah” (Matt 27:45–47).

The Superscriptions of the Psalms

The superscriptions of the Psalms should be a guide for interpreting them. There is no Hebrew manuscript that lacks them. These superscriptions sometimes situate a psalm in a particular historical context, while the poetic psalm functions as an interpretation of the historical context in the superscription.[1]

Example: Psalm 18:0—the superscription helps us interpret the Psalm as describing David’s conflicts with Saul. David’s sinlessness (v20–24) is mainly in regard to his dealing with Saul.

Principles for Interpreting the Psalms

Obviously, we can read the individual psalms that make up the Psalter separately, but since we have seen that there is a design in the compilation of the Psalter, this design should affect the way we interpret the psalms. In this light, Wenham provides four interpretive principles for a canonical reading of the Psalms. He urges interpreters to

  1. Pay attention to the connections between one psalm and its neighbors,
  2. Be attentive to the position of a psalm within its redactional unit,
  3. Regard the titles of the psalms as an interpretative horizon, and
  4. Take into consideration the connections and repetitions of psalms within the collection.[2]

Psalms as Prophetic Typology

The New Testament authors often interpret the psalms as fulfilled in the life of Christ, suggesting that we can read the psalms as prophetic typology.

Definition of Prophetic Typology: Actual historical experiences of the anointed one, of those under his reign (believers in Yahweh), and of his adversaries (enemies of Yahweh), in the Psalms, that also serve as prototypes of escalated actual and historical experiences of Christ, of his people, and of his enemies.

The experience of the anointed one can be expressed as shared with those under his reign (e.g., Ps 51 and other psalms that are used in the NT for Christ and later for his followers: Ps 18:49 in Rom 15:9; Ps 91:11 in Luke 4:10 and Heb 1:14).

NT Support for Prophetic Typology

The New Testament authors address the psalmists sometimes as prophets; sometimes when a New Testament author quotes a psalm and applies it to Christ, he claims it to fulfill prophecy.

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matt 13:33–35)

Matthew describes Christ’s use of parables as a fulfillment of prophecy. The quotation in verse 35 is from Psalm 78:1.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Ps 78:1–4).

Psalm 78 is chiefly a recounting of the mighty works of Yahweh at the exodus from Egypt; the mercy that he bestowed on Israel when he rescued them from the bondage to Pharaoh. Asaph simply calls the people to open up their ear and hear as he unfolds the design of Yahweh in the exodus. The Psalm does not read like a typical prophetic word would, since the parable is narrated in the psalm itself, the exodus. What this suggest is that the psalmist’s speaking in parable, which he actually did, set a pattern for parabolic teaching which has now been installed in Christ’s own teaching, making Psalm 78 a prophetic typological psalm. What this means is that the author actually spoke in a parable, but this speaking served as an archetype of what Christ will do at the end of the age.

Other examples of psalms that were actually prayed by an author in the OT but spoken of in the New Testament as finding fulfillment include: Psalms 35 in John 15; Psalm 22 in John 19; Psalm 34 in John 19; Psalm 16 in Acts 2 (in Acts 2, Luke calls David a prophet when he quotes from Psalm 16 in his narrative. Psalm 16 does not read like a prophecy, but yet the Luke addresses David as a prophet. This leads me to the conclusion that David’s experience functions as a prophetic typology).

Learning from Jesus and the NT authors, we interpret the Psalms applying the principles listed above, understanding each psalm in its immediate context, book context, and how it predicts the experience of Christ, believers, and unbelievers.

[1] Similarly, James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 276.

[2] Ibid., 344.

Categories: Cross Training

500 Years and a Diet of Worms

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment


by Eric Martin, Senior Pastor

There have been numerous fad diets that have come and gone. I have tried a few along the way: Atkins, Weight Watchers, Whole 30, and even Trim Healthy Mama (Yes, I know I am not a mom! It is a diet designed by moms for everyone, even dads). No matter how many diets you try, unless you change the way you eat when not on a diet, the extra pounds will build right back up. By the way, congrats to John for completing the whole 30 recently; he lost over 20lbs! Way to go, John! I wonder how many pounds he would have lost on a diet of worms? My guess is it would be way more than 20lbs!

Well, now that I have your attention I want to talk briefly about Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms. You may have guessed it already, but the Diet of Worms is not a diet at all. The Diet of Worms was a meeting called by the Holy Roman Emperor, held at the German city of Worms. The meeting was significant because it was at this meeting the Holy Roman Emperor was planning to force Martin Luther to recant his writing that called for reform within the Church.

Martin Luther’s first vocation was that of a lawyer; however, one day Martin was traveling, when all a sudden a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree, knocking Martin down, he cried out for salvation and promised to become a monk. Sadly, switching vocations and becoming a monk did not alleviate Martin’s guilt. His deep guilt often led him to spend hours in the confessional. It wasn’t until Martin became a Bible professor that he discovered the Scriptural teaching of Justification by faith. It was not until Martin read the Bible that he finally had peace concerning his past sins. By studying Scripture, Martin learned that Christ the righteous one imputes His righteousness to all those who trust in His sinless life, death, and resurrection.

Martin developed a passion for the Word of God because it was through the Word of God that God communicates His plan for sinners to be redeemed. Seeing a lack of understanding of the Word in the church; he wanted to bring awareness to the church. Thus, he wrote 95 theses to discuss Scripture and the error of the church. On October 31, 1517, Martin nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Over the course of three years, Martin’s 95 theses became widely circulated forcing the church to deal with Martin’s call for reform. The Catholic church did not treat kindly those who called for change. Jan Hus, like Martin Luther, also called for reform, sadly Hus was burned at the stake.

Now that you know a little about Martin Luther and how he ended up at the Diet of Worms, we can be thankful that under pressure, willing to lose his life, Martin would not recant. He stood his ground asserting that Scripture is our highest authority and Scripture teaches we are saved through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Martin responded with these now famous words “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me” (Here I Stand by Roland Herbert Bainton, p180).

I have desired like the Reformers, that Northside would feast on the Word of God! I am thankful that we stand on the shoulders of great men like Martin Luther who desired that all people would have a steady diet of the Word of God. This October marks the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s now famous 95 theses. In celebration of this 500-year milestone for the church, I think it would be appropriate to spend some time studying what it was the reformers of the sixteenth-century had to say. I plan to complete I Corinthians on October 22nd and then start a five-week series examining the Five Solas of the reformation.

No worms were eaten while writing this article!

Categories: The Reformation

Come out of Hiding – Join a Life Group!

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment

by Eric Martin, Senior Pastor

You might be wondering, “What is a Life Group?” A Life Group is a gospel family united by Christ, desiring to know and to be known, seeking to live as missionaries in obedience to the Word of God. The DNA of Northside’s Life Groups is twofold:

The First DNA marker for Life Groups is that they function as an extended family. Each of us can benefit by coming out of our hiding and being known by others. In Acts 2 we read that the early church met together daily in each other’s homes. Even Jesus modeled relational discipleship by walking daily with His disciples. He eventually sent these disciples out into the world to preach and lead a revolution that you and I are still feeling the impact of today. Life Groups should be highly relational communities fueled by love.  John Piper explains the benefit of such a community for hurting individuals, “For people who are passing through the dark night of the soul, turnaround will come because God brings unwavering lovers of Christ into their lives who do not give up on them.”

The second DNA marker for Life Groups is they function as a mission team. The way forward in our culture (where the church is no longer trusted) is to provide opportunities to get to know Christians outside of a church setting. So, these groups will also be evangelistic. If we are going to take the Great Commission seriously, we must be willing to befriend people who are not like us. We must be willing to speak the gospel to the unchurched as well as live the gospel in front of them.

Our goal is to develop groups that pursue both community and mission. Life Groups are intended to emphasize community, missions and evangelism. Reggie McNeal exhorts, “We must change our ideas of what it means to develop a disciple, shifting the emphasis from studying Jesus and all things spiritual in an environment protected from the world, to following Jesus into the world to join him in his redemptive mission.”

I want to encourage everyone, if you are not involved in a group, get involved today. Come out of hiding to know others and be known by others. Let’s go into our hurting communities serving/meeting needs teaching people about the healing and restoration only found in Jesus Christ.

Categories: Connect, Our Story, Vision

Encouragement to Those Who Serve

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment

UIM mountainsby Eric Martin, Senior Pastor

“Ministry can be a very lonely place.” Those were the familiar words of the man that I will always call “my pastor,” Richard Oldham.  In my 14 years of ministry, I have found this to be a very true statement. Undoubtedly, ministry can be very difficult. It didn’t take long during my first pastorate to realize that seminary did not prepare me at all for the relational conflict that often erupts in ministry.

According to Ministry Essentials (, 46% of mission personnel leave the mission field within the first five years and 71% of those departures could have been prevented. Out of those departures, the top five causes were the result of character and relationship difficulties. Having experienced many of these issues first hand, I have a growing desire to see those in ministry be better-equipped to handle the difficult realities that present themselves so that they can remain healthy and stay in ministry.

This is exactly the type of support and equipping Rich Plass and Jim Cofield have done for me. “The best thing that you can bring to ministry is your transformed and transforming presence,” says Rich Plass and Jim Cofield of CrossPoint Ministry. Rich speaks of himself as a “pastor to pastors”. I am thankful that through the ministry of these two men, they have helped me to grow spiritually and emotionally and have helped me to navigate through some dark times of the soul. Over a two year period of soul care with these men, I learned to cultivate my own relational capacity so that I could experience the love of God and His presence in a deeper way. In turn, I have been better equipped to care for the souls in my congregation.

I feel a growing passion inside me to equip ministry leaders to experience a deeper understanding of the presence of Christ, so they in turn can provide transformative soul care to those to whom they minister. The first week in June, my family and I will have such an opportunity. UIMA (United Indian Mission Aviation) has invited me and my family to spend a week training their missionaries in soul care. Many of these men and women serve in the remote and rugged Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico where ministry can be very difficult.  Please pray that Chastity and I will be a blessing to these families and that through our time together they will grow deeper in their understanding of what it means to be “in Christ” and learn to rest in God’s unfailing love, even amid difficult ministry settings.

I am thankful that Northside has had a love for missions and missionaries over the years and continues to show that love. Thank you for your love and support of me and my family as we seek to fulfill the call of Matthew 28. Blessings to you!

Categories: Deeper Journey, Missions

Resurrection Psalms

September 7, 2017 Leave a comment

by Nicholas PiotrowskiPsalms of Resurrection

On August 2nd we resumed our Wednesday night study of the Psalms.  We meet in the Fireside Room at 6:30.  We are done by 8.  We started back in January, and my goal is to study as many psalms as we can this year.  After a short summer break, I’m glad we’ll be starting back up!

One of the hardest tasks has been choosing which psalms to study.  In one year we couldn’t possible make it through all of them.  So I selected psalms that are quoted in the New Testament.  I have often noticed how commonly the New Testament authors use the Psalms, and wondered if I value them as I as ought.  They clearly had a major influence on shaping the New Testament authors.  I wanted to see why.  It has been an eye-opening experience in many ways.

One particular insight that I did not expect is how the New Testament authors particularly attach the psalms to Jesus’ resurrection.  Here is what I mean.

In Acts 13:28–33 Paul uses Psalm 2:7 to prove Jesus resurrection fulfills God’s foreordained plan.

In Hebrews 2:5–9 the author uses Psalm 8 to show that Jesus’ resurrection completes God’s purposes for humanity.  Equally, 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:20–22 also use Psalm 8 to theologize over Jesus’ resurrection.

In Psalm 18 David moves from saying “the cords of death encompassed me” in verse 4 to “you made me the head of the nations” in verse 43, resulting in the nations giving praise to God in verse 49.  Well, in Romans 15:9 Paul makes the case that Jesus is the Lord of all and the nations/Gentiles will come to praise him.  In other words, Jesus is the one who went through death just to come out the other side as King of kings and Lord of lords, and who now brings a people from all over the globe to worship the true and living God through him!

But we are not done.  In Psalm 22 David laments that God has “forsaken” him (v. 1).  But then he concludes the psalm with praise to God for his salvation (vv. 19–31).  Thus, whatever caused David to think he was “forsaken” suddenly turned so that he is now leading others in worship!  Well wouldn’t you know it, the language of Psalm 22 is all over the cross and resurrection sequence in Matthew.  See Matthew 27:29, 35, 39, 41, 43, 46, 50 where Jesus suffers; Jesus even quotes the line about being “forsaken.”  Then see also Matthew 28:16–20 where Jesus is gathering his disciples after his resurrection and forming them into a worshipping community.

This is just a handful of examples.  We could go on.  But here is the point: When the Psalms talk about calamity and trials that God’s people face, they do not speak generically.  That is, they do not speak about any calamity or trial in the world.  Rather, they zero in on the greatest of all calamities, the greatest of all trials: the inevitability of death.  Seeing these New Testament connections opened my eyes to this, so that even in psalms not used in the New Testament you can see the lazer focus on death and the Lord leading his people through it.  In Psalm 23 David goes through “the valley of the shadow of death” in verse 4, yet he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” in verse 6.

Here is the point at the end of the day: Jesus’ experience will be our experience.  God did not save him from all his troubles.  To the contrary, he was a man of sorrows, misunderstood, betrayed and abandoned, no place to lay his head.  And even in the time of his greatest need, at the time of death, Jesus was still not rescued.  He died.  Jesus the very Son of God died!  Death would appear, therefore, to be the end of hope.  But God raised him from the death!  That is, he did not rescue him from death, but took him through death to a resurrected eternal life.  And the Messiah sets the paradigm for us.  In this world we will have trials and tribulations of all sorts.  And no western medicine can stay off the inevitable end before us all.  But Psalm 23—and it seems so many psalms—teach us to say “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me.”  Now this would be naïve pie-in-the-sky wish projection but for Jesus.  Because these psalms first testify to Jesus’ resurrection, they become historically-grounded assurances for us: Jesus’ resurrection proves that ours is coming too!  As the Messiah goes, so go his people.

So come out on Wednesday night with us to see the glory of Jesus’ resurrection in the Psalms, and think with us about how that same experience of resurrection is stored up for us as well.  In the end, though death is a river we all must cross, Jesus is already standing on the other side, ready to welcome us to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” with him.

Categories: Cross Training

Kingdom Growth Through Internships

by Nicholas Piotrowski


Brice and Sallie with 2 of their 5 children

Some of you might remember that in my July 2016 Vision article I talked about growth.  Typically we think of growth as numeric increase here at Northside.  But I challenged us to think about growth as contributing to the development and health of churches elsewhere in the Kingdom as well.  I wrote:

“Sometimes growth (or even the most desired growth) is not experienced in one place, but spread out over several places….Kingdom growth doesn’t always mean growth in one’s own church.  But it means growth in other places where one’s church decidedly is not!”

As an example I used Acts 13:2 where the Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas away to do ministry elsewhere.  The goal was Kingdom expansion into other areas, not just numeric growth right there in their own location.

By God’s grace we at Northside have the opportunity to invest in others and, well, send them away to do ministry elsewhere.  At the next Members Meeting we will vote to take Brice and Sallie Giesbrecht into membership. Immediately Brice will begin an internship with the pastoral staff.  The goal is to bring Brice behind the scenes, learn from what we do (whether we do it well, or in what ways we can improve!), and give him opportunities to serve in ways that he’ll receive critical feedback from us.  He’ll also be reading tons of books!  In many capacities Brice has already begun preliminarily.

We are doing this in cooperation with Indianapolis Theological Seminary where Brice is a student.  Each student needs to participate in several church internships specifically focused on different aspect so ministry—pastoral leadership, teaching/preaching, evangelism, discipleship, etc.  The goal is to give them practical real-world experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly—that goes along with ministry, to supplement their book and classroom studies of Bible, Theology, History and Languages.  The final goal is that Brice will grow through all these experiences and increasingly take on more ministerial responsibilities: first at Northside, and then wherever the Lord calls him.  “In other words,” as I wrote in the aforementioned article, “healthy local churches are the Lord’s primary instrument for outreach and evangelism, and therefore Kingdom growth.”  Thus, by investing in Brice our prayer is that we can influence another church, another area, with the gospel and thereby see this kind of Kingdom growth.

Brice and Sallie are excited to be a part of the family at Northside.  Brice is originally from Vancouver BC while Sallie is from Ordway CO.  They moved to Indianapolis in 1996 and then to Martinsville in 2011.  There they served at Calvary Heights Baptist Church where Brice taught and preached and was licensed to the ministry in 2016.  Sallie managed the MOPS program and worked in the essentials pantry doing administrative tasks as well as counseling.  Their five kids range in age from 11 to 21.  Justin, their only son, is at Boyce College pursuing a degree in Global Studies.

I didn’t expect Northside to have an intern so soon through the seminary, but I’m thrilled that we do!  Brice will not only learn from us, but also contribute ideas from his own experiences and learning.  I hope you’ll all get to know him and his family.  And above all, please encourage him and pray for him during these crucially formative years.  Join all of as “we see the need for Kingdom growth beyond the walls of our own church.”

Categories: Our Story

There are a Surprising Number of Naked Young Men in the Bible!

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

by Nicholas Piotrowski, Associate Pastor of Theological Development

If that title doesn’t get your attention, then I’m out of ideas.  Now that I have your attention, I’m excited to tell you that we’ll be resuming our Wednesday night Bible study on January 25th, 6:30pm in the Fireside Room.  We’ll be studying the Psalms this year.  I have no doubt that the Lord has some wonderful treasures of his goodness, righteousness and love waiting for us in those pages.  Each psalm will be studied independently, so join us as you are able.

Now, what does our upcoming Psalms study have to do with naked youths in the Bible?  Well, in our Mark study over the last two years on Wednesday nights we looked at pretty much every detail of the book.  One lingering question (at least in my mind), however, is the identity of the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested in Mark 14:51−52.  We couldn’t quite figure him out.  Who is he?  Why does Mark tell us about him (Matthew, Luke and John don’t)?  What’s his significance?  Well, after some reading* I’m ready to draw some conclusions.  So, before starting our Psalms study, this is our last foray into Mark.

To start, this person in Mark 14:51−52 is called a “young man.”  It is also said that he has a linen cloth “wrapped around” his body.  At the time of Jesus’ arrest they seize him, but he flees and leaves behind his linen cloth.  Again, who is this “young man” and what’s Mark’s point in telling us all this?  It’s interesting that at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, Mark 16:5, there is another “young man” at the tomb with a white robe “wrapped around” himself.  Does it not seem that the “young man” at Jesus’ arrest and the “young man” at Jesus’ resurrection are the same person?  His apparel is even described the same way: “wrapped around” him.  These two occasions are the only times in Mark where a “young man” appears and where clothes are said to be “wrapped around” someone.  I conclude they are the same person, therefore, or at least have something significant to do with each other.

But what could be the point?  Well, look at where these two events occur: one at the beginning of Jesus’ passion and one at the end of his passion.  Or to put it another way: one at the beginning of Jesus’ passion and one at the beginning of his triumphant glorification.  They bookend the great climactic events of the gospel: arrest, trial, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  Jesus is captured and sentenced to death though he has done nothing wrong; the “young man” is there.  Then Jesus is vindicated and raised to rule the Kingdom of God; again, the “young man” is there.

Okay, so we may have made a link: the “young man” is the same person at the tomb.  And we’ve observed the intriguing locations where he appears.  But still, what’s the point?  Think with me for a moment.  Where else have we seen a “young man” be seized and yet flee while leaving his clothes behind?  Joseph!  Remember?  He was seduced by his master’s wife in Egypt (Genesis 39).  When he refused the lay with her, “she caught him by his garment…. But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Gen 39:12).  He was then falsely accused (Gen 39:13−20), but we are told that “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen 39:21, 23).  In turn, the Lord rescued Joseph from the prison (Genesis 41; note that this rescue was in the third year in Gen 41:1), at which time the Pharaoh “clothed him in a robe of fine linen” (Gen 41:42) and gave him the authority to rule the entire kingdom (Gen 41:41−45).  In Gen 41:12 Joseph is even called a “young man.”  These tables visually demonstrate the similarities.

Genesis 39:12 Mark 14:51−52
[Potiphar’s wife] caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.”

But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.

Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth wrapped around his naked body.

And they seized himbut he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.


Genesis 41:41−42 Mark 16:5
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in a robe of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man with a white robe wrapped around him sitting on the right side; and they were amazed.

Here’s the point: the “young man” in Mark likely actually an angel (compare Mark 16:3−7 to Matthew 28:2−7) who was present at Jesus’ arrest and resurrection.  Mark tells the story of the angel’s involvement in a way to evoke memories of Joseph’s story: his false arrest and condemnation (Genesis 39), being left for dead in prison (Genesis 40), and rising to become the world’s savior and sovereign (Genesis 41).  The placement of the “young man” at key locations in Jesus’ sufferings and glory causes us to see Jesus in the mirror of Joseph’s story.  The point?  Joseph was unjustly condemned, and in the third year (cf. Gen 41:1) the Lord raised him to save many people (Gen 50:20) through his righteous rule.  The details of this story (his fleeing, leaving his clothes, receiving a new robe) are then subtly dropped onto the “young man” in Mark so that we would think of Joseph and make this connection: Jesus is also unjustly condemned, yet on the third day the Lord raises him to be the savior of the world through his righteous reign over the Kingdom of God.  Joseph’s suffering was great.  But Jesus was entirely killed.  Joseph’s salvation from famine was great.  But Jesus saves from their sins all who will repent and believe the gospel (cf. Mark 1:15 and 2:5−12).  And Joseph’s reign was great over Egypt, given to him by Pharaoh.  But Jesus’ reign is over the entire cosmos, given to him by the Lord Almighty.

Mark could have simply said these things explicitly.  But why!?  The coy planting of Joseph-theology at key moments in the gospel draws out this additional conclusion: Jesus’ ministry to the entire world was written into the plan of God since in the beginning.  The concepts of salvation through suffering, and glory through ignominy are kneaded throughout the Old Testament, Joseph being just one—powerful—example.  Thus, when we read of Jesus’ suffering and ignominy as well as his salvation and glory, it surprises us on the one hand in the way it outstrips the scope of God’s previous actions, but also doesn’t surprise us on the other hand because it is perfectly in line with God’s previous actions.  Now, never to be superseded again.  The savior has come.  And he is gloriously enthroned to rule over the Kingdom of God, world without end.

Northsiders, some of us are undergoing serious trials right now: physical, emotional, relational, and even persecution.  Brothers and sisters, the stories of Joseph and Jesus demonstrate a paradigm for the church that we see throughout God’s plan for the ages: through suffering comes glory; through defeat comes victory.  As Paul says, “Through many tribulations must we enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  But again, as with Joseph and Jesus, we will be raised out of our tribulations to life and triumph.  Be encouraged.  The Lord was with Joseph.  The Lord was with Jesus.  The Lord is with us!  See you on Wednesday nights dv.

*Herman C. Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: A Sociopolitical Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989). The great church Father, St. Jerome, also made the connections I’m  making here.

Categories: Cross Training

That Word Above All Earthly Powers

December 13, 2016 Leave a comment

by Nicholas Piotrowski

psalm-46-1“That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.”

The October Vision ran my article called “What Was the Reformation?”  Then at the end of October I preached a sermon on the Reformation stressing truth and unity.  Now, recent events have brought me to reflect once more on that era.  So if you’ll indulge me yet again, let’s think one more time about ol’ Martin Luther and his band of Protestants.

That week I preached on the Reformation we sang “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  That song is certainly the most famous hymn coming down to us from that moment in history, written by none other than Luther himself.  It is based on Psalm 46, which begins with “God is our refuge and strength” and ends with “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  It is a rallying cry that encourages the church not to fear any earthly powers, but also not to trust in them.

Some of the words are printed above.  Notice it says the word of God is “above all earthly powers.”  There is no government, no court, no party, no nation, and no leader that can demand any authority above the word of God.  The word of God is the means by which the Lord of Heaven and Earth rules the nations and leads his church.  I think of Isaiah 40:21–23 which says:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  The Lord sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.”

God alone rules supreme and he exercises his dominion through his word.  In that same chapter we read, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (v. 8).

Now, how is that word established?  How does it “stand forever”?  By what methods and systems does that word progress throughout the world?  Look again at the lines printed above.  It is “no thanks to those earthly powers” that he word abides!  That is, the word of God commands absolute supremacy over all earthly powers.  And those earthly powers do nothing to help the word of God.  In the same book of Isaiah the Lord also says in 45:23, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return.”  The Lord needs absolutely no help from governments and heads of state to accomplish his purposes through his word.  (See also Isaiah 55:10–11.)

And notice what else the people of God have for their comfort in this world.  Again, it is not earthly powers; look at the lines above once more.  It is the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts he creates among his people that give security!  Because the Holy Spirit is among God’s people, and because God’s people act with the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–26)—not the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19–21)—therefore God’s people have a bold confidence.  And it is the Almighty on our side who gives us these good things (“through him who with us sideth”).

Why are we looking at these two lines in Luther’s hymn?  Well, we sang it.  We sing it often.  I think the words we sing in songs are a matter of ethical importance.  We either believe them, or we should not be singing them.  And I think these two lines are as important today as ever.  Before last month’s election I sensed a kind of simmering anxiety among some Christians, an unspoken but palpable disquiet, in anticipation of what could happen: a Hillary Clinton presidency.  Then the unexpected happened; Hillary will not be president.  And suddenly, there was…jubilation?  Or, on the other side, an even greater horror at the previously unimaginable: a Donald Trump presidency.

That we care about our country is not the issue.  We should care.  We should get involved.  We should vote.  But my concern is that sometimes our confidence in God rises and falls with the political tides.  When we perceive political events are not going our way, we certainly feel the need to trust in God.  So we sing Luther’s hymn with all our strength: “A mighty fortress is our God.”  But when it appears political events are swinging our way, trust in God suddenly feels less exigent.  If in such situations Luther’s hymn is less urgent then it’s a real barometer of what’s truly in our hearts: deep down we actually trust instead in our political hopefuls.  And the church is in bad shape if we need national elections to buoy us up on a regular four-year cycle.

Did you really fear a Clinton presidency?  I didn’t.  Does anyone really think Trump’s presidency will do great things for the church?  I don’t.  Either way the stability of the kingdom of God depends on the word of God and the gifts of the Spirit.  Are you afraid of the Supreme Court?  I’m not.  Isaiah 40:22 (quoted above) calls the Justices grasshoppers!  Oh that we would think Isaiah’s and Luther’s thoughts as well.

My title here at Northside is the “Associate Pastor of Theological Development.”  I am not doing my job if I don’t provoke you to trust in God and God alone!  And to do that—as Isaiah and Psalm 46 and Luther’s hymn insist—I use the Bible to that end: to lean upon you to drop the only anchor of your confidence into the hands of the King of Kings, the Lord or Lords, the Potentate of Potentates.

Four years from now we’ll have another election.  How will your heart fare?  How will it fare between now and then?  I pray it will fare well.  And it will if we still feel the necessity to read Psalm 46 and to sing Luther’s hymn with as much verve as ever.  Psalm 146:3 adjures us to “Put not your trust in princes; in mortal men who cannot save.”  Whereas Jeremiah 17:7 says “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”

Dearly beloved, nothing has changed in the Kingdom of God since November 7th, 2016.  “That word above all earthly powers, still no thanks to them abideth.”


Here are the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned above:

 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.             –Galatians 5:19–26

Brothers and sisters, we must live by these words if the Spirit is truly among us.

Categories: Cross Training, Vision

What was the Reformation?

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment


by Nicholas Piotrowski

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther fired the first shot of the Reformation by announcing his famous “95 Theses” to the world that challenged the pope, denied purgatory, and refuted prayers to saints. The fiery rebel knew it was time for a break with the Roman Catholic Church and to start a new tradition. So he nailed his famous dictate in the town square, pumped his fist in the air, and rode off into the Protestant sunset.

Well…maybe not. We like a good cowboy story. The truth is, however, that the Protestant Reformation happened gradually and, in many ways, unintentionally.

For over 1,000 years the Roman Catholic system was the only expression of Christianity in Europe. No one ever imagined it could possibly be any different. So in the early 16th century when Dr. Luther discerned that some recent teachings were less than biblical, and some practices took advantage of the local German people (maybe you’ve heard of the sale of “indulgences”), then he did something that had gone on for generations. He wrote 95 ideas-for-debate and pinned them to the door of the main church building in a tiny town called Wittenberg. Why? Well, that’s what church leaders like himself (he was a monk) did if they wanted to discuss theological topics with other church leaders. He wasn’t trying to announce anything to all the world. He wasn’t trying to stir up the masses. In fact, he wrote them in Latin because that was the language of theologians of the day. So he really wasn’t doing anything controversial. In his mind he was simply the good son of the Catholic Church, doing his duty to engage others theologically, and pastorally look out for the people of piddly ol’ Wittenberg.

Well, what happened? As it turns out, his zealous students, seeing the value of a wider circulation, took the theses down, translated them into German and French—the common languages!—and rushed them off to this new thing called the “printing press.” From there many copies were made and dispersed all over Europe. This threw Luther into controversy and gave other “protestors” the opportunity to rise to public prominence as well (think here of names like Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Tyndale, Simons). And so a rising chorus of voices challenged the Roman Catholic system in the hopes of reforming the church. Hence the name, the “Reformation.” The goal was never to break with Rome, but to fix Rome.

Now, what were the problems these Reformers thought were so urgent. I’ll mention just two. (1) Over the years the Pope had grown too much in power. And (2) it was taught that works of righteousness were necessary for salvation. In response to the first the Reformers insisted that only the Bible has the ability to bind the conscience and demand our obedience. Popes and traditions are fine but not if their teachings contradict the Bible, and that is exactly what the Reformers found. So they insisted on the principle sola Scriptura—the Scriptures alone have the authority over doctrine and life. Secondly, one of the main teachings of the Bible is that justification is by grace through faith. That is, our right standing before God is through his free and sovereign grace alone that we experience through faith alone. Not by works.

These principles were so important to the Reformers (and rightly so!) that they were willing to fight and endure persecution for them.

But what happened when Rome would not budge on these issues? They couldn’t possibly break up the unity of the Great Church, could they? The unity of God’s people is a major concern for Jesus. In John 17:21 Jesus prayed that his followers “may all be one.” But only a few sentences earlier he also prayed “sanctify them in the truth” (17:17). Well, what happens when convictions of truth prohibit real unity? And that was Luther’s issue. He wanted to maintain unity, but how could he sacrifice truth to do that? It’s not a real unity if it’s not organized around the truth.

Luther said, “Peace by all means; the truth at all costs.” Amen! And I don’t think Jesus ever intended to hide truth behind a façade of unity. Thus, when Rome refused to respond, the Reformers continued to protest and the rest is, as they say, history. Eventually the Reformation came to England too that eventually gave rise to our very own Baptist tradition, equally committed to sola Scriptura and justification by grace through faith alone.

Now, October 31st is known as Reformation Day (so pass out tracts when trick-or-treaters ring your door bell!). And next year will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses. At one point he called the Reformation an “accident” (which is not the same thing as a “mistake”). He wasn’t intending to start anything new or separate from others. But he saw the costly results of bad theology and in service ultimately to Christ he started the debate he wanted.

Categories: Cross Training


April 12, 2016 1 comment

AugustineBy Nicholas Piotrowski

St. Augustine (354–430) is commonly considered the greatest of the Church Fathers.  He was certainly the most influential.  He not only summed up the excellent teachers before him, but also cultivated new theological ground out of which the burgeoning medieval theology would grow.  The Reformation (over 1,000 years after his death!) has been described as a battle over his theology.  Both Protestants and Catholics wanted to claim him as their own (for different reasons).  And to this day, his books The City of God, On the Trinity, and The Confessions are still read for their theological and devotional value.  There is not a Christian alive today has not been influenced—directly or otherwise—by this North African bishop of Hippo.

Perhaps his conversion has something to do with why he left such a permanent mark on Christian history.  Before his Christ called him he was a philosopher and philanderer.  But one day, while sitting in his garden, he heard a voice from beyond the hedge.  It said “Tolle lege, tolle lege!” which means “Take up and read!”  Was it a child playing a game?  Was it an angel?  He didn’t know.  Regardless, he had a Bible with him in which he turned to Romans 13:13–14.  Why?  No one knows.  That’s just where he turned and read these words: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  In these words he perceived that moral transformation is only accomplished through the power of the risen Christ.  The rest is history.

Among his many areas of influence include his impact on hermeneutics, the science and art of how we read the Bible.   It makes sense that hearing the voice of God from the Scriptures that Augustine would be interested in helping others do the same.  He laid down several “rules” for interpretation.  I will mention only a few of them.  For one, he said the historical meaning of a passage greatly matters; it is not to be neglected.  The goal is to understand the meaning of the text in its original historical and social context.  The reader is not to import any later or foreign meanings.  Second, the literary setting of any verse or passage is crucial; verses are not to be plucked out of context.  Read before and after; read large sections.  Third, if the meaning of a text is unclear, it cannot be made a matter of orthodoxy.  Instead, the more clearly understood passages take precedent over the obscure.  Fourth, the reader should be aware that revelation is progressive, meaning God did not tell us everything at once, but over time.  Thus, the reader should attend to the relationship between earlier and later parts of the Bible.  Finally, the reader should not defer to the Holy Spirit as a substitute for the necessary study and hard work necessary for interpreting the Scriptures.  This prevents people from using the “I was led by the Spirit” trump card.  It is easy to say the Spirit laid something on your heart or that the Spirit spoke to you.  The problem is this: How do you know?  And how should anyone else know if you do not show them the meaning from the text?  Thus the text must be carefully studied, not evaded through intuitions.  Plus, it is the text that the Spirit inspired and the text through which risen Christ is pleased to speak.

The task of reading the Bible is, therefore, never simple.  But it is a joyous task.  It is a worthwhile task.  So, I say to you “Tolle lege, Tolle lege!”  Take up and read!   Read carefully.  Read diligently.  Read thoughtfully.  For in the Bible we encounter the risen Christ who can change us, and glorify himself through us.

Categories: Cross Training