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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.

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Categories: Cross Training

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.”

Epilogue:

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

luther-posting-95-theses-560x366

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

“TAKE UP AND READ!” HELPFUL THOUGHTS FOR READING YOUR BIBLE

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

Systematic Theology, Part 5b: Inspiration & Resurrection

February 3, 2016 2 comments

 

By Nicholas Piotrowski

I will never forget the first time I was asked, “Has it ever occurred to you that God did not create us in his image, but we created him in our image?”  The less-than-subtle suggestion is that God does not exist (or we do not know if he exists) and so we have invented him to be a slightly better version of ourselves.  To a new believer at the time this was a starling question.  No, it had never occurred to me.  But is it not possible?  This question, while very disturbing at first, has actually been a wonderful stimulus in my life; it set me on a course to ask many more similar questions and to find answers.  Have we created God in our own image?  Or is the image of God in us a reality?  And how can we know?

Not surprisingly, Systematic Theology helps us here.  Let’s think a little bit more about inspiration.  A few of you have commented to me on how you liked last month’s article on how we can have confidence in our Bible, that it is indeed the very Word of God.  It’s because it is inspired, breathed out by God himself.  And since the Bible is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus is the one who sent the Holy Spirit then we can say that in one sense Jesus wrote the Bible.  (I also made an appeal to why understanding the Trinity is crucial in this consideration.  I won’t recap that here; you’ll have to read last month’s article!)

And with that we get to the crux of the matter: Why should the fact that the Bible carries Jesus’ authority make us more confident in it?  Are there not other great religious leaders who have also written holy books?  One needs to think of Mohammad or the Buddha to mention only two.  What makes Jesus so special that he gives the Bible this extra weight that other holy books do not have?  Or in relation to my first question, What makes the Bible differ from other holy books that also speak of God?  Is it not just another human invention that speculates over what God might be like, ultimately shaping him in the mold of our own self-reflections?

Ultimately, the answer revolves around the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  If Jesus was truly raised to life after three days in the grave, then that puts him on an epistemological plane by himself.  Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with how we know/how we learn.  That is, if Jesus was raised then he has a credibility to know things unlike any other religious leader.  He has epistemological authority.  If, however, Jesus was not raised then why should we believe he offers anything more than his first-century Jewish opinion on things?  In other words, if Jesus has not transcended the grave then we have every reason to believe that we are indeed creating God according to our own imaginations!  And the Bible is merely one expression of that imaginative speculation.  But if Jesus is raised, then he is the locus of knowledge about God.  The means of knowing God is, therefore, listening to the Word that became flesh at his birth, and then claimed all authority in heaven and on earth after his resurrection (cf. Matthew 28:18).

So we are back to where we were last month.  Jesus’ authority stands behind the Bible; we can be sure that it is trustworthy because he is trustworthy.  But what makes him trustworthy?  It’s the fact that he is the only human being to transcend death, indeed to even conquer it.  To pass to “the other side” and to come back validates his claims to know things—like the nature and character of God!—that others simply could never know.  Couple this with the fact that Jesus claimed to be God himself in the flesh, he powerfully backed up that claim with his resurrection.

In the end we have two very unique claims made about Jesus brought together in a powerful way.  For one, only God knows God.  Therefore if we are to know God it will not be by speculating over what he might be likeHe has to tell us himself.  And Jesus claimed to be God.  Mohammad and the Buddha never dared make such a claim.  But some crazy people have.  So this brings us to the second powerful truth: Jesus rose from the grave, impressively vindicating all other claims about himself, including his deity.

So how do we know the God of the Bible is the truth and living God?  How do we know the Bible is not just a creative conjecture as to who God is based on our own deductions?  Jesus has proven through the resurrection that he had unrivaled authority to speak to such otherwise-unknowable matters.  And Jesus wrote the Bible (again, see last month’s Vision).

God be praised that he has not left us in the dark regarding who he is.  And he has not left us to wonder whether Jesus might be right or wrong.  But we can know that the Bible we trust is “not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).

Categories: Cross Training

Systematic Theology Part 5: Inspiration

January 20, 2016 1 comment

By Nicholas Piotrowski

We are continuing our series called “Systematic Theology.”  Why Systematic Theology?  Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!).  And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology.  So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you’re taking in these articles.

This month we come to the doctrine of “inspiration.”  In the previous article I talked about how the Bible is Christological.  That is, the person and work of Christ draws all the various parts of the Bible together and gives it its logical structure.  Christ is the beginning, the center, and the end of the scriptures.  They are about him, he fulfills them and he is the one who gave the Holy Spirit to inspire the prophets and apostles to write them (so John 16:13–15).

It is that last consideration that I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the scriptures.

Here is what we don’t mean.  Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that.  They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.”  Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.”  Something like that.  They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them.  The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them.  It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.

It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that.  But when it comes to describing the origins of the scriptures, that is not what we mean.  In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise.  When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired.  Or better, exhaled.  In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”  And in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  Do you see that?  Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do.  Rather the origin of the scriptures is with God himself.  He in fact breathed them out.  Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written.  He used men and women to do that.  But he never left them to themselves.  He sovereignly superintended their writing.  And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”

The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God.  The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand.  There are a lot of holy books in the world.  How do we know the Bible is the true word of God?  Well, because the Spirit is God (see my Trinity article in the May Vision), and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus (see my Revelation article in the June Vision) then we can say in a sense that Jesus wrote the Bible!  The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book.  Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic confidence in the scriptures erodes.  For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it?  And he did; and this is how we understand that!  So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life.  Read it!  Read it with confidence!  Read it with fear and trembling.  For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.

I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of Systematic Theology?  In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of Revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension).  And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also a confidence in its content.  Without such a system of interconnected doctrines what is left?  I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this.  Well, in that case how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species?  We need Systematic Theology because we need to think clearly.  And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line.  We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.”  We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God.  And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (again, see John 16:13–15).  And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.

Categories: Cross Training