Hungry for the Word?

“Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land–not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:10-11).

Such was the condition of Israel in the days of Amos.  Is it the case today? 

Christians flock from one side of the country to the other, in order to hear men who are committed to expounding the word of God.  Consider the number of Bible conferences that will go on this year and next: The Gospel Coalition, Ligonier, Shepherds, T4G, Give Me an Answer,  to name but a few.  It would seem based on our frenetic chasing of Bible teachers and the dearth of biblical substance in so much popular Christianity, that there are hungry people out there–whether they know it or not. 

On that issue, Albert Mohler points to a tragic development in Western evangelical churches–a disinterest in the Word of God.  He cites Mark Galli’s CT article, ‘Yawning at the Word’ and warns that without the word of God, the power of the gospel is lost.  He writes:

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation and God’s people — young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well — hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

What does Mohler suggest in its place?  He points to the only solution for biblical lethargy–the Bible.  It alone is our cure.  That which bores people is simutaneously what heals them, which means that God has to do a work in the heart of the hearer in order to receive the word.  “Let him who has ears to hear: HEAR!”   But this is not new.

From Moses delivering the law of God, to Josiah reading the law to the people in Jerusalem, to the revival with Ezra after the exile, to the founding of the church in Ephesus, the word of God has been central!   “Give yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13); “preach and teach the word of God in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2); “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and [give] the sense,” so that people might understand the reading. (cf. Nehemiah 8:1-8).  The life of the church is sustained by nothing else, for it is the Word of God alone that tells us of our Maker and Redeemer, Jesus Christ (cf. John 5:39; Heb 4:12).  Knowledge of God comes through no other means!

May the Bible fill the pulpits, classrooms, and hallways of our churches.  If it does not, we know that the judgment of God is upon us, and the people of God will dwindle, and those remaining will perish.  For it is the Bible alone that promises us life.  If you are a pastor, may you do no less; if you are a church member may you pray for and expect nothing else. 

God, give your people, starting with me, a fresh hunger for your word.  It is the bread on which we live (Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Jim Hamilton’s Forthcoming Biblical Theology

I am not sure where Matthew Montonini found the following description of Jim Hamilton’s new book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment.  Was it bootlegged?  Its not on Crossway‘s site, but regardless, I am excited to know that it is coming out this year.  I have heard much about its release, and believe the thesis is right on. 

Now that an announcement of the book is out, the cover alone draws me in, but even more the content: After sitting in Dr Hamilton’s “Messiah in the Old Testament” class at SBTS and reading some of his work on the subject, it promises to be a must-have biblical theology.  The best since Geerhardus Vos?  Time will tell.

Here is how Crossway sets it up.  (HT: New Testament Perspectives)

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (480 pages) [m]oves through the Bible book by book to demonstrate that there is a theological center: God’s glory in salvation through judgment.

In Exodus 34 Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God reveals himself as a God who is merciful and just. James Hamilton Jr. contends that from this passage comes a biblical theology that unites the meta-narrative of Scripture under one central theme: God’s glory in salvation through judgment.

Hamilton begins in the Old Testament by showing that Israel was saved through God’s judgment on the Egyptians and the Caananites. God was glorified through both his judgment and mercy, accorded in salvation to Israel. The New Testament unfolds the ultimate display of God’s glory in justice and mercy, as it was God’s righteous judgment shown on the cross that brought us salvation. God’s glory in salvation through judgment will be shown at the end of time, when Christ returns to judge his enemies and save all who have called on his name.

Hamilton moves through the Bible book by book, showing that there is one theological center to the whole Bible. The volume’s systematic method and scope make it a unique resource for pastors, professors, and students.

Until November, if you are looking to get a feel for what Hamilton’s book will include, check out some of his prepatory work:

The Glory of God in Salvation Through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology?Tyndale Bulletin 57.1 (2006), 57-84.

The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine,” Themelios 33.3 (2008), 34-47.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

The ‘Second Mark’  of a “Healthy Church” is Biblical Theology (see Nine Marks of Healthy Church), but because of its sweeping synthesis of the Bible, Biblical Theology is also one of the most confusing disciplines to church members.  At least, this has been my experience introducing the ‘Big Picture’ of the Bible to the churches I have served.

Enter Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.  In April, Michael Lawrence’s new book will come out, and hopefully serve as a tool introduce and clarify this critically-important discipline.  Here is Crossway‘s description:

Capitol Hill Baptist Church associate pastor Michael Lawrence contributes to the IXMarks series as he centers on the practical importance of biblical theology to ministry. He begins with an examination of a pastor’s tools of the trade: exegesis and biblical and systematic theology. The book distinguishes between the power of narrative in biblical theology and the power of application in systematic theology, but also emphasizes the importance of their collaboration in ministry.

Having laid the foundation for pastoral ministry, Lawrence uses the three tools to build a biblical theology, telling the entire story of the Bible from five different angles. He puts biblical theology to work in four areas: counseling, missions, caring for the poor, and church/state relations. Rich in application and practical insight, this book will equip pastors and church leaders to think, preach, and do ministry through the framework of biblical theology.

This forthcoming book looks like an excellent tool for introducing biblical theology to church members who have questions on why Biblical Theology is important and how to put the Bible together.  It goes beyond just the basics too, relating the big picture of the Bible to everyday life– ‘counseling, missions, caring for the poor, and church/state relations.’  Since biblical illiteracy is one of the church’s greatest obstacles for making mature disciples, encouraging biblical theology (read: a comprehensive understanding of the Bible) should be a priority of every pastor, church leader, and church member.

April 30, 2010 is its anticipated release date.  Mark it down!  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Pascal on the Glory and the Garbage of the Universe

Graham Cole quotes Blaise Pascal in his chapter, “The Glory and Garbage of the Universe” (God the Peacemaker).  With arresting language, Pascal bemoans of our condition:

What sort of freak then is man!  How novel, how monstruous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious!  Judge of all things, feeble earth-worm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe… Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness!  (Quoted in from Pascal’s Pensees in God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009], 53).

So too, the ‘true religious’ preacher must preach on the wages of sin that lead to death and deform our lives, and the glorious possibilities of life found in Christ, led by his re-creative Spirit.  May we consider Pascals words and grow downward in humility and upward in adoration of the God who made us and makes us anew in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Bible Doesn’t Say ‘Join a Church,’ So Why Should I?

I have a friend who has been attending church regularly but is unconvinced about the need for church membership?  He challenges, “Show me where it says in the Bible, ‘ Thou shalt become a church member.'”  And truthfully, I cannot point to verse that says that one must become a church member.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that church membership is spiritually advantageous and even compulsory for the believer.  To say it another way, without church membership individual believers will not mature in their Christian faith, and local churches will be deficient of Spiritually-gifted members.

Still, what biblical data is there to support the need for church membership?  Let me suggest five reasons for the vital necessity of church membership based on New Testament principles:

  1. Membership is a NT Pattern.  When converts repented, believed, and were baptized in the book of Acts, they were added to the number of the church (Acts 2:41, 47).  This means that the church in Jerusalem knew the number of believers in their church.  So did the church at Corinth–how else could they assess when the “whole church” met together (1 Cor 14:23)?  New Testament churches were comprised of members assembling locally, as evidenced by the church discipline in 1 Cor 5 and the recognition of members leaving the congregation (1 John 2:19).  In order, for church discipline to work, churches had to be aware of their membership.
  2. Membership secures participation in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus spoke of the church on two occassions (Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20), and in both instances, he stated that the keys to the kingdom have been given to the church.  I take this to mean that spiritual access into the kingdom of heaven has been entrusted to the church.  That is to say, the gospel message has been given to the church, and only the church foretastes and foresees kingdom realities.  In this way, the church serves as the instrument of the kingdom.  It is not identical with the kingdom, but each true, local church functions as a kingdom outpost–proclaiming the gospel of kingdom, partaking of the kingdom ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), enacting kingdom discipline, and demonstating what Spirit-led, kingdom life is like.  Church membership matters because kingdom life is foreseen and ‘fore-tasted’ in the local church. 
  3. Membership provides spiritual protection.  God has appointed pastor-teachers to instruct believers and equip saints for the work of service.  Moreover, pastor-teacher-elders are those who watch over the souls of the local church.  It would be foolish to forego this ministry of mercy.  As Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  Likewise, church deacons are installed to help meet physical needs and to minister to saints in need (cf. Acts 6:1-7).  And finally, church discipline falls into this category.  None of us are strong enough to contend against the wiles of Satan.  We need to formative discipline provided through the regular administration of the Word of God in the local church, but there are also times when we need the accountability of a fellow member to call us back to Christ.  Even more powerful, we may need the unified testimony of the entire church to call us back to Christ.  Church discipline is not merely a punitive action against a backslidden Christians; it is a means of protecting those sheep who wander from the fold.  Satan has come to kill, steal, and destroy.  He often does this through division and isolation!  By submitting ourselves to the accountability of the local church in church membership, we are inviting the loving and protective correction of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is a means of grace, intended by our loving God as a preserving force against our wicked and unruly hearts.
  4. Membership is for our spiritual maturity.  Ephesians 4 makes it abundantly clear, we do not grow by oursleves.  Just like the human body, we do not develop as individual cells soaking up nutriment in a petri dish.  No, we grow, develop, and mature as we are united to the body of Christ (Eph 4:15-16).  Church membership entails that we are in the proper context for growth.  We are stretched to use our gifts for the corporate good (1 Cor 12:7); we are challenged to consider others more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4).  All the while, we are benefitted by the gifts of others.  Without membership in a local body, we are not guaranteed these things.  Growth can happen in a weekly Bible study, a parachurch group, or through a school-sponsored mission trip, but without the dynamics of the local church, most of the growth fostered in these other arenas will provide only lop-sided or imbalanced growth.  Moreover, the local church is the best context whereby we can exercise and obey the one another commands.  (For a full list see my handout: ‘The One Another’s).  Doing life together in the local church stretches us to grow in ways that no other man-made institution or intensive study program can.
  5. Membership is for our spiritual fulfillment.  Membership in the local church is God’s intended platform for you to use your gifts, skills, and passions for the upbuilding of God’s church (1 Cor. 12:7).  If you are born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, God has equipped you with one or more spiritual gifts (1 Pet 4:10-11), and truth be told, your greatest joys will come when you use your giftedness for the good of others!  So, in order to increase your joy as a Christian, you should pursue church membership and serve faithful.  As Jesus said, it is more blessed to give than receive.

Surely, these five reasons can be added to and improved upon.  I would love to hear your thoughts on why church membership is essential in the life of a Christian believer, or how God has convinced you of this truth from the Bible.  It took me a long time to learn some of these things, and I am still learning…but I am learning with and in the body of Christ as a member of a local church.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Themes in the Book of Leviticus

Reading Leviticus can be heavy sledding, but once you get familiar with the terrain, it can be incredibly profitable and encouraging.

For instance, this morning I was reading about the Feasts recorded in Leviticus 23.  For New Testament Christians, you should be able to see how these feasts, which were a part of Israel’s yearly calendar, point the way to Jesus Christ.  He is the Passover Lamb and his death corresponds to the Passover; Jesus’ Resurrection corresponds to the Feast of the Firstfruits, and of course the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on the Day of Pentecost.  Clearly, God was giving his OT saints spatial-temporal events to help prepare the way for His Son.

These events just mentioned have all been historically fulfilled in Jesus Christ and recorded in the Gospels and Acts.  However, we still look forward to the fulfillment of others, like the Feast of Trumpets and Jubilee (Lev 23-25).  Reading the account of the way that Jubilee initiates rest in the land and commands the restoration of all things, provides a hope-giving vision of what will occur at the end of the age, all things will be reconciled by Jesus Christ, things on heaven and things on earth (Col. 1:20).

So reading Leviticus typologically and eschatologically (e.g. with an eye towards Christ and all that he has done and still will do) makes the book come alive.  Here are a few other themes to look for in this rich book:

  • God’s holiness and mercy.  Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy because I am holy.”  Repeated throughout the book is this refrain that God is holy and he expects his people to be holy.  If any book in the Bible teaches the utter need to be holy, Leviticus is it.  To a Western Church today that minimizes holiness and maximizes assumed relationship with God, Leviticus is a helpful antidote.  The holiness codes and endless bloodshed teaches us that God will not relinquish his demand for our holiness.  He is just and cannot turn his back on our sin–consider the story of Nadab and Abihu.  Nevertheless, his mercy meets the demands of his holiness,
    and the book of Leviticus tells us how he does that–through the sacrificial system. 
  • Man’s sinfulness.  In the light of God’s holiness and mercy, we see mankind’s sinfulness and selfishness.  Nowhere is this more colorfully painted than in the death of Nadab and Abihu, two priests who offer strange fire and are consumed because they fail to treat God as holy.  The testimony of their death in Leviticus 10 along with all the laws required in Leviticus, should teach us that we cannot live by keeping the law (Lev 18:1-5), but rather we live by trusting in the mercy and provisionary grace of God himself.  He is our life, and his provision of a sacrificial system is the means by which we may live and relate to Him.
  • Man’s fallen condition.  We also learn about our own human nature in Leviticus.  For instance, it is not just sin that separates us from God, but our own corrupted physical bodies.  Leviticus 13 explains that bodily discharges make us unclean and consequently unacceptable to God, that is we cannot enter his presence with our uncleanness.  For human beings preoccupied with self–and we all are–this should humble us greatly.  Bad breath, body odor, diarrhea, constipation, skin lesions, dandruff, eczema and all other forms of bodily disfunction should remind us of our fallen condition, our imperfection, and our uncleanness.  Under the OT law, these sort of things would keep us from God, whose holiness and cleanliness is absolute.  He is pure and we are not.  Apart from Christ, even our humanness in its fallen condition separates us from God.
  • Blood.  We also see that blood soaks the pages of Leviticus.  So gory is the book, that it should be impossible to read Leviticus without coming away with a greater sense of our sinfulness before God.  At the same time, we should be struck by the way that all these blood offerings, where the life of an animal is substituted for the life of a man, remind us of the ultimate sacrifice and the blood that speaks a better word than all OT sacrifices.  Because of our sin, God requires blood, and yet he has not abandoned us to our own demise.  He has provided a way of re-entry, and every sacrifice is a reminder that God has made a way to be reconciled to him, through the blood of a sacrifice.  What is pictured in Leviticus is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

 

If you are looking for more help with Leviticus, I encourage you to listen to Jay Sklar’s seven-week study on the book.  It is informative without being unnecessarily heady.  It will give you a greater appreciation for Leviticus, but even more than that, it will help you better understand the work of Jesus Christ and the gospel that is foretold in Leviticus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

9 Purposes of a Healthy Church: Reflections from Ephesians

The Church exists…

To Display the Glory and Grace of God (Ephesians 3:9-12)

To Unify the Saints of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6)

To Equip the Saints for the Work of Service (Ephesians 4:7-11)

To Grow Together in Grace & Truth (Ephesians 4:13-16)

To Learn How to Walk Together in Love (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

To Walk Together in Spirit-Filled Wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-18)

To Do Life Together with the Family of God (Ephesians 5:19-6:10; cf. Titus 2:1-10)

To Fight Together Against the Powers of Darkness (Ephesians 6:10-17)

To Pray for One Another Always and For All Things (Ephesians 6:18-20)

May we all purpose do so by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Church Discipline?

This Sunday, our church will meet to discuss a new church constitution and covenant.  One of the additions to the constitution is the inclusion of the important and biblical, but often misunderstood, practice of church discipline.  This Sunday morning I will be preaching on 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, addressing church discipline and why it is so important for the health of Christ’s church.

In my preparation for Sunday’s message I came across many helpful comments by David Garland on Paul’s sobering instruction to the Corinthians.  In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Garland provides a summary of Paul’s teaching on church discipline.  If you are thinking through the subject, it is is worth reading.  

  1. Paul consider the purity of the congregation to be a serious matter, as it affects the congregation’s relationship to God and its witnesses to the world.  The immorality of church members not only undermines any grounds for the church’s boasting but also wrecks its witness of God’s transforming power to change lives.  Paul assumes that the church is implicated in the sins of its individual members.  There is no such thing as private morality (or immorality) for church members.  The sin of one tarnishes all.  Glossing over infamous sin implicates a congreagtion even more seriously in the sin.  In many cultures, what consenting adulats do in private is nobody’s business.  If they are Christians, however, it is very much the business of the church when it brings shame upon the believing community.
  2. Infamous sin cannot be swept under the rug.  The reason is that Paul understands the church body to be one lump.  The moral depravity of one element affects the moral condition of the whole group.  They are either leavened dough [i.e. pure] or unleavened dough [i.e. impure or corrupt with sin].  The sin must be confronted openly and decisively for the good of the individual and the good of the church body.  The only way to make sinners aware of the serious plight of their dire spiritual condition is through drastic discipline–the church’s complete renunciation of them.  Forgiveness can come only after this discipline has been imposed and the sinner has comprehended the full gravity of the sin and genuinely repented.  The church must be humbly mindful, however, that ‘only on the Last Day of the Lord will it become apparent what was decided on the ‘previous days of the Lord.'” [In other words, only when the Lord speaks on judgment day will the judgments of the church today be made fully manifest].
  3. The church walks a tightrope between being a welcoming community that accepts confessed sinners and helps the lapsed get back on their feet and being a morally lax community where anything goes.  The danger carrying out disciplinary measures is that the church can become judgmental, harsh, and exclusivistic.  Nevertheless, paul assumed ‘that the well-being of the community is primary and cannot be compromised.'” (1 Corinthians, BECNT [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 180-81)

May the Lord give his churches grace, wisdom, and power to heed his word in a culture of (in)tolerance and moral chaos.  The biblical injunction for church discipline (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-13) is not optional, but neither can it be operational apart from the guidance of God’s Word and the administration of Spirit-filled Christians.  As Garland later adds,

[Church discipline] has its dangers.  The church can degenerate into a defensive commmunity that regards everyone with suspicion and deals out harsh discipline.  It can lead to vain self-righteousness, a chilly exclusivism, and a spirit of suspicion.  The context [1 Cor 5], however, refers to glaring sin that is very public and brings disgrace upon the community.  There is a limit beyond which patience, toleration, and charity toward another’s sin ceases to be a virtue (190)

The balance of grace and truth, correction and compassion is a Spirit-led process.  Man-made decisions, manipulated in the flesh will not succeed.  We must be humble, prayerful, and hopeful that Christ himself will work in and through us.  And indeed his word promises that he will, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20).  In that promise we trust and act for the good of Christ’s church.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Ten Ways to Help You Read Leviticus

What is the Bible about?

Well, if you are reading through the Bible this year, during the month of February, the Bible is all about food laws, leprosy inspections, and instructions about bodily discharges.  Exciting stuff!

For twenty-first century readers, understanding the significance of Leviticus, the book of the Bible where these things are found, can be difficult.  In fact, I am sure the book of Leviticus has been the rocky coast on which many Bible-reading plans have crashed.  Nevertheless, the book plays an important role in the life of the Christian, even as it played an important role in the lives of Ancient Israelites.  Granted, we live in a different redemptive era (post-Incarnation/Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension/Pentecost), but the truth is, to understand any of these NT events requires a general familiarity with the Levitical laws.

So, with the aim of reading the Bible better, I want to suggest 10 things to keep in mind as you read Leviticus, 10 things that you may find helpful as you make your way through the Bible in 2010.

  1. Pray.  Ask God to help you understand his Word.  The same Holy Spirit who dwells in you, if you are a believer, inspired these words.  He will guide you into all truth, just the Bible promises (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).  He illumines our eyes and he bears witness to Christ and he will show you how Leviticus points to Jesus, if you will ask him (and then read).
  2. Remember that this is God’s word.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful.  The truth about Leviticus is:  IT IS USEFUL.  You just have to sort out how.  While it is true that not all sections of the Bible carry the same kind of “devotional punch””–compare Leviticus 1-7 with Isaiah 53–every word is inspired by God and necessary to complete his perfect revelation.  Moreover, every word carries precious truth that believers need, which leads to our next point.
  3. Recall that all Scripture is inter-connected.  Thus, a passage like Isaiah 53 with it address of sin, its sacrificial imagery and intercessory prayer requires the background that Leviticus provides.  Without Leviticus, Isaiah 53 is almost unintelligible.  In the NT, Leviticus is sixth on the list of books quoted by NT authors.  Excise Leviticus from the Bible, or your Bible reading, and it is impossible to understand what Jesus is saying when the Greatest Commandment includes loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).  See also Rom 10:5’s use of Lev. 18:5, and 1 Peter 1:16 quotation of Leviticus 19:2).  Practically speaking, if reading Leviticus fails to stir your soul, read a chapter or two and then turn to Hebrews to see the fulfillment of Leviticus in Christ. 
  4. Recognize the symbolism.  The book of Leviticus is filled with symbolism.  God’s OT instructions are physical, tangible, and visible means of introducing himself to his people.  These sacrifices picture the kind of penalty sin requires, just as they demonstrate the kind of love that God has in providing a means of atonement and reconciliation.  In other words, read Leviticus typologically, looking for the types that find their antitype (i.e. fulfillment) in Jesus.
  5. Read with Christ in view. Many if not most of these symbols prefigure the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the law that Christ fulfills, the cross on which Jesus bleeds, and the Spirit that he pours out at Pentecost all find significant explanation in Leviticus.  If you want to know more about the gospel, the laws of Leviticus are a good instructor.
  6. Look for themes.  There are tremendous gospel themes running through Leviticus.  Take out a pen or a colored pencil (if you are into that) and mark up the places where these themes irrupt.  Tomorrow I will list a number of helpful themes to pick up, but for now look for things ‘atonement,’ ‘blood,’ ‘holiness,’ the work of the ‘priest.’  By keeping your eyes open (figuratively) looking for themes, it will help you keep your eyes open (literally) when you read through this unfamiliar book.
  7. Look for purpose statements.  For instance, Leviticus 15:31 concludes a long section on cleanliness laws saying, “Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”  Here Moses records the YHWH’s reason for the meticulous laws about bodily discharges and other matters of cleanliness.  By noticing these purpose statements, you can discern why God requires Israel to do all these things.  (See also Leviticus 9:6, 22-24; 11:46-47).
  8. Read with imagination.  As you read about the sacrifices, imagine what that must have looked like, sounded like, smelled like.  Our worship services today are very, very sanitary.  Even the food we eat at the Lord’s Supper is package so that we do not stain the carpets or our clothes.  This is entirely different from the OT>  In in the OT, without blood stains, the people would have perished.  So read with imagination as you encounter the elaborate descriptions. 
  9. Read with others.  Talk about what you are reading with others in your church.  Ask your pastor or Sunday School teacher to teach through the Bible.  Look for ways to walk through the Bible together.  Reading the Bible is personal, but it should never be private.  Recruit others to read with you.
  10. Invest in a Study Bible.  As you read Leviticus or any other book of the Bible, you will inevitably have questions.  Or at least, you should.  Is the leprosy described in Leviticus the same as today’s leprosy? (No).  Why is it always a male animal that is sacrificed?  My personal suggestion is the ESV Study Bible.   That is what I read, and it has many, many helps for discerning the historical and cultural significance of what I am reading.
  11. Read in small doses and with other books of the Bible.  Okay, so I said ten, but here is one more.  Like the Big Ten which has eleven schools, so our list includes an extra idea for those who still struggle.  If all else fails, read Leviticus in small doses, maybe even in smaller doses than your Bible reading plan suggests.  If it takes 13 months to read the Bible, that’s okay.  The point is that you are enriched by God’s life-giving word.  Even if you have to treat Leviticus like eating vegetables–mixing it in with other foods or in small portions–the point is that you take God at his word and benefits from this book, because at the end of the day it will help you know and love Jesus Christ more for the high priest that he is and the sacrfice that he made.

These are just a few suggestions to aid your reading of this important book.  I hope you see that the gospel of Jesus Christ depends on our understanding of God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, the need of sacrifice and atonement, and the work of a life-giving high priest; and that no book is better to teach you about these things than Leviticus. 

If you have other suggestions on reading this book, please do share.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Thinking about the Atonement?!

Currently, I am taking a hiatus from my doctoral studies.  Having recently moved to a new city, with a baby on the way, and learning what the daily life of a pastor looks like, I thought it best to ‘interrupt’ my studies for one semester.  Which means I have less assigned reading, but more opportunity to prepare for the messages at Calvary BC and to read up on the subject that I hope to eventually consider in my dissertation–the power of the cross and the covenantal application of Jesus blood.

With that in mind, I came across a helpful reminder from D.A. Carson on the subject in the introduction to Graham Cole’s new book, God the Peacemaker: How atonement brings shalom — I love that subtitle, by the way!  If you are thinking about the cross of Christ, especially at a level where you are trying to explain it to others, Carson’s words are worth remembering.

Even to do justice to this theme [atonement] one must attempt at least five things: (1) The way the theme of sacrifice and atonement develops in the Bible’s storyline must be laid out. (2) Equally, the way this theme is intertwined with related themes (the holiness of God, the nature of sin, what salvation consists of, the promise of what is to come, and much more) must be delinated, along with (3) more probing reflection on a selection of crucial passages.  These first three items belong rather tightly to biblical theology.  Of course, (4) how therse themse have been handled in the history of the church’s theology must not be ignored.  (5) Equally, if [any volume on the cross] is to speak to our generation, it must engage some of the more important current discussion (p.12).

May we labor together to better know, love, and tell the message of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss