Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: "The Gospel Comes with a House Key" by Rosaria Butterfield

The Gospel Comes with a House KeyThe Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Gospel Comes With a House Key Rosaria Butterfield beckons the Church to practice what she calls, “radically ordinary hospitality,” and she and her husband Kent lead the way.

The potency of Butterfield’s book comes from her storytelling. She obviously subscribes to the maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” and does a masterful job at it. Her true life stories of biblical hospitality brim with the raw grace and beautiful mess that is the gospel at work in up-close-and-personal ministry. This is hospitality as generosity, not entertainment. Giving yourself, your resources, your time, your home.

In between the showing, Butterfield does do some telling. She teaches how practicing hospitality has always been a biblical priority (Romans 12:13, 16:23, 1 Tim 5:10, 1 Peter 4:9, 3 John 1:8). But she also explains how important it is now in our “post-Christian” moment in American history, showing Christianity to real, or at least plausible. And she gives many practical suggestions of how to make it happen.

But it’s mostly the stories that do the work. The hospitality that led to Butterfield’s own conversion to Christ. The hospitality they are attempting to show their neighbors. The (apparent) failures. The triumphs. The ongoing sagas. All of the cost and all of the drama. But also all of the (often quiet) glory. I got lost a few times in the early chapters, but regularly had tears from the midpoint to the end. Her writing is salty, in the best sense of the word, and she picks a few fights along the way–all in the name of getting us all going in the right direction.

Butterfield is careful to repeat that her family is not the one-size-fits-all template of hospitality, but at the same time, she is definitely trying to be an example. And she does think that every Christian ought to be practicing hospitality in their own way. She concludes, “That is the nuts and bolts of it, yes? Starting with you and me and our open door and our dinner table and our house key poised for the giving. This is not complex. Radically ordinary, daily hospitality is not PhD Christianity. The gospel coming with a house key is ABC Christianity. Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living. Start anywhere. But do start.”

Hint: Don’t read it if you want to stay the way you are.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Appreciating CCEF

The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and I couldn’t appreciative them more.

CCEF has had a profound influence in my life and ministry. When I was a rookie pastor drowning in the difficulties and complexities of shepherding people, my friend Robert D. Jones introduced me the Journal of Biblical Counseling and the ministry of this biblical counseling think-tank based in Philadelphia. I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob had opened the door to some of the richest teaching and wonderful people who would greatly shape my thinking, my spiritual growth, and my whole approach to pastoral ministry–and even shoot me into the world of publishing!

CCEF was used by the Lord Jesus to revolutionize my philosophy of ministry. Actually, they really brought my philosophy of ministry fully home. "Biblical counseling" was simply working out in a practical way all of the implications, entailments, and applications of my theology: progressive sanctification, every-member ecclessiology, biblical anthropology, the sufficiency of Scripture.

I had been taught that biblical counseling was "take 2 Bible verses and call me in the morning," and that it saw every life problem as sin and that if your only tool was a hammer, then every problem would look like a nail. But the JBC told me something different. Every issue was full of true, do-able, timeless wisdom. And it was well-written and hopeful. It was engaging, and it met me right where I needed. It scratched me right where I itched.

Over the years, I went deeper into the ministry of CCEF: training sessions, workshops, books, audio recordings (what we used to call "tapes"), and eventually classes at Biblical Theological Seminary and Westminister Theological Seminary with CCEF faculty–David Powlison, Tim Lane, Bill Smith, Ed Welch, Winston Smith, Mike Emlet.

While at WTS, I had the idea of doing my doctoral project on the problem of gossip–how to biblically recognize, resist, and repent of it. Not only did the faculty encourage this idea, Ed Welch even suggested that I write my project as a book and then agreed to write the foreword when it was published by CLC five years ago.

And then after I graduated with my doctorate in pastoral counseling, the folks at CCEF have continued to encourage and challenge me. They published some of my work in the Journal of Biblical Counseling and on their blog, and they invited me to teach my resisting gossip material at their national conference. It’s a marvel to me that I have been able to contribute in a small way to the very thing that has been such a fountain of nourishment to me for the last two decades.

I don’t know where I’d be without CCEF. I do know that if there was no CCEF that my wife and kids wouldn’t be loved as well, my flock wouldn’t be cared for with as much loving skill, my preaching wouldn’t have as much insight into how the Bible maps onto everyday life, I wouldn’t know where to point people to consistently trustworthy resources for their problems, and there wouldn’t be a book floating around the world called Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. And most importantly, if there was no CCEF, I wouldn’t know Jesus as well or be as conformed to His image. CCEF has been a wonderful instrument in the Redeemer’s hands in my life. If the Lord tarries, I pray that He gives CCEF another 50 fruitful years of walking with others in wisdom and love.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “But I Tell You (2)”

“But I Tell You (2)”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
April 22, 2018 :: Matthew 5:27-37 

We are learning to following Jesus together by studying His theological biography, the Gospel of Matthew. And we’ve reached Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is teaching with unusual authority. He has gone up on a mountainside and has begun rocking the world of His listeners by teaching them about the kingdom of heaven.

He’s turning their world (and our world) upside down. Because He’s teaching them what God truly values and what God truly wants from us.

How to flourish by living counter-culturally. The Good Life of the Kingdom. The Beatitudes.

How to change the world by living as salt and light. Bringing glory to our Father in Heaven.

And now how to live out a righteousness that is greater than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

Jesus has not come to abolish the Law but to what? To fulfill it. Every jot and tittle.

Jesus has come not just as the ultimate interpreter of the Law. Which He is. But He has come as the ultimate fulfillment of the Law. He is the whole point of the Law.

And He calls His followers to live out a greater righteousness than the righteousness that the Jewish religious leaders were living out before them.

And He gives us 6 examples.

Six illustrations of what of both how He fulfills the Old Testament and how He wants us to live out a greater righteousness.

Scholars called them the 6 antitheses.

But I call them the 6 “But I Tell You’s.”

Here’s our title for today’s message.

Last week, I told you that I would try think up a more clever title for today’s message.

Well, I failed. I couldn’t think of anything.

So, I’m going to call it, “But I Tell You (2).” The sequel!

I thought about calling it “But I Tell Y’inz,” for our Pittsburgh fans. But that’s basically the same thing.

If you remember, the Greek is “ego de lego.” Did anybody say “ego de lego at Sunday lunch last week?”

Six times He says it. And the emphasis is on the “I.”

“You have heard it said...but I [Jesus] tell it really is now that I have come.”

The first one was the longest, and it set the pattern.

Do you remember the pattern?

There are how many parts to each “but I tell you?” Three parts.

What are they?

First, He quotes from the Torah.

Then, He gives the authoritative explanation of that quotation with all of its Messianic meaning. And in that interpretation, He explodes the myths about the popular interpretations that these people had always heard and believed. What they had been taught often erroneously. Jesus corrects those and sets everything straight.

And then third and lastly, Jesus gives a practical application to daily life, really an antidote to the problem He’s addressing.

He quotes from the Law. He gives the Messianic meaning. And then He gives a practical application to daily life.

Last week we looked at just one. This week, I want to try to look at the next three. Verses 27 through 37.

These are hard teachings.

There’s no getting around it. These words make us uncomfortable. They challenge us.

They convict us. And if they don’t, then we aren’t paying attention.

The Lord Jesus is incredibly serious about this greater righteousness.

And He’s calling us to live His way as citizens of His Kingdom.

The good news is that He will provide all of the grace we need to live the life that He wants us to live.

All we have to do is believe and follow Him.

So, let’s look closer at what Jesus tells us.

In verse 27, He starts again.

“You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'”

That’s follows the pattern, right?

That’s part number one. Jesus quotes the Torah.

“You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'”

Where is that from? That’s one of the 10 Commandments. It’s the seventh commandment where God through Moses prohibited sexual relations between two people who were not married to each other.

Having sex with someone who is not your own spouse. Exodus 20, verse 14.

“Do not commit adultery.”

And what did the Pharisees say to that?

“Check! Got that one down. It’s a little harder to obey than the last one–‘Do not murder.’ But a little will-power and a little divorce and remarriage if necessary to get the right spouse lined up, and we can and will keep that commandment. Check! We are righteous!”

But Jesus says, “No, no wait a second. I am asking for something greater than that.” v.28

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And, of course, it goes the other way, too, ladies. But Jesus for several obvious reasons focuses here on the men.

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That’s a lot like the last one, isn’t it?

Hateful anger is murder in the mind.

Sexual lust is adultery in the heart.

Jesus goes internal.

Jesus goes in deep.

He goes to the attitude. He goes to the affections. He goes past the externals and to the internals. He goes to the root.

Jesus goes to the heart.

And it’s on the heart level that Jesus requires righteousness.

Jesus requires purity.

Now, that’s where the Law was always aimed, wasn’t it?

The Law was never like, “Just don’t sleep with someone who isn’t your spouse, and you’re good.”

What does the 10th Commandment forbid?  “You shall not...” what?

“Covet.” That’s a hear thing. And one of the things that you shall not covet is your neighbor’s wife.

The Law was always driving towards internal purity. Not just external purity.

Internal fidelity. Not just external fidelity.

Internal faithfulness. Not just external faithfulness.

And that’s what King Jesus wants from every citizen of His kingdom.

It’s not enough to keep from jumping into a foreign bed.

We are called to not even go there in our minds.

The sensual stare, the lustful gaze, the lingering look, the imagining fantasies.

Those things are sin.

If she’s not your wife, you should not look at her that way.
If he’s not your husband, you should not look at him that way.

And if you do, you are committing adultery in your heart.

Now, just like murder is worse than anger.

Committing physical adultery is worse than mental adultery.

But they both have the same root.
They both have the same heart.
They are both sin.
And they both grieve the Lord and are dangerous to our souls.

Why does Jesus care so much about this?

One of the biggest reasons is because marriage is designed to be a picture of God’s relationship with His people and more specifically Jesus’ relationship with His church.

So, of course, He cares!

And He has designed sexuality to be a great gift to be shared within the context of the covenant of marriage.

So any perversion of that grand design will fail to bring glory to Him as the Designer and will not be good for us either.

Now, we’ve seen the first two parts. What is the practical application?What is the medicine that Doctor Jesus would apply to this adultery and lust problem?

Point number one of three.


Listen to Jesus. Verse 29

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Do you see how seriously Jesus treats this?

Do you think He’s a little overboard?

Do you want to risk it?

Jesus is asking the question, “What is your sin worth to you?”

“Will you do whatever it takes to defeat sexual sin?”

Everything between a lustful look and extramarital intercourse.

Do whatever it takes to defeat sexual sin.

Now, before you go grab a knife, there is a key word in Jesus’ two examples here that is very important. What is it?


If your right eye causes you to sin [causes you to stumble, to fall away], gouge it out and throw it away.”

Can your eye really do that?

No. Can blind people lust just as well as sighted people?


How about your right hand? Can it cause you, make you, sin?

You can sin with it, sure.

But does it cause your sin?


This is a hypothetical. But it’s a serious hypothetical.

Jesus is saying that we have to be ready to take drastic action to combat our sinful tendencies.

We have to get radical.

We have to get violent (so to speak).

Our Lord Jesus is calling us to wage war against our own sinful tendencies.

So, it’s not our favorite eye or our favorite hand, but what do we need to give up?

What do we need to sacrifice?

What changes do we need to make to cut this sin out of our hearts and lives?

The changes have to start on the heart level. My eye and my hand can’t make me sin, but my sinful heart sure can. And I can’t cut that out. I have to have the Spirit change me!

I need to repent. I need a new heart. And I need my new heart to be continually renewed.

You see how Jesus is always calling us to repent because the kingdom of heaven is near?

Is that hard?

Sometimes, yeah. But Jesus never said that following Him would be easy.

He just said that it would be worth it!

This is the greater righteousness.

Cultivating purity on the inside.

And that, of course, will mean making changes, including practical ones.

For guys, especially, it means accountability.

It might mean a filter on your computer.

It might mean turning off data on your phone.

It might mean switching jobs so that you aren’t near that person that you are tempted to lust after.

Do whatever it takes.

That’s what Jesus is saying.

If you are lusting after someone to whom you are not married, what will it take for you to stop?

This is hard. It’s always been hard, but it’s especially hard in our sexualized culture.

Where we don’t think much about sexual purity at all.

Men and women live together without being married. And that’s seen as normal.

Marriage is weird in our culture. It’s maybe seen as the eventual goal, but sex comes way before marriage. In fact, sex comes whenever you want it. As long as the two (or more!) people consent.

Every commercial. Every magazine cover. Every pop-up ad invites lust.

But that’s not what is normal. Not in the kingdom.

The kingdom seems upside down, but it’s actually right side up.

It’s us that are upside down.

And Jesus is saying that we need to do whatever it takes to live right side up.

From the inside out.

Now, the next one is connected. It’s also about marriage and adultery and about divorce. V.31

“It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'”

Now, that’s not one of the 10 Commandments, but it is from the Torah. That’s a quote from Deuteronomy chapter 24 where Moses explains that if a man marries a woman who becomes “displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her,” he is to write her a legal document that releases her from the marriage and frees her to marry another man.

Now that’s all well and good.

But the Pharisees had twisted that to their own ends in a couple different ways.

One was how they interpreted the words “something indecent.”

There were two main schools of thought. One, the school of Rabbi Shammai taught that the something indecent was basically adultery.

The other school, that of Rabbi Hillel, taught that it was basically anything he didn’t like about her. The way she looked, the way she talked, the way she raised the kids, and even (I’m not making this up even) if she burned his food!

He could just write up a certificate, say, “I divorce you,” and send her packing.

Now, you can see how that kind of teaching could easily be abused. You can see how they could have a “use her and then lose her” approach to marriage.

So you aren’t “technically” committing adultery, but you’re getting married, getting divorced, and getting remarried to someone new just to keep things spicy in the bedroom.

And the other way that they twisted the Law was by basically requiring divorce whenever the husband identified this “something indecent.” Requiring it.

And in that culture, do you see how perilous that was for the women involved? How vulnerable that left them? That’s not how it should be! That’s not what was intended in the Law! The women should have been protected and safe and cared for and valued. Not tossed out like unwanted goods.

So, here’s what the Messiah says. V.32

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

In other words, “There will be no easy divorces for my followers! They will not just toss out their marriage vows for any and all reasons. They won’t give up on their marriages just because the going gets rough and they are unhappy.”

King Jesus says, to divorce for except for marital unfaithfulness is sin.

And in fact, it causes the divorced person to sin.

“Causes her to become an adulteress.” I think that’s because it assumes in that culture that she’ll have to remarry. “And anyone who marries [a woman divorced on those grounds] commits adultery.”

And it’s your fault if you dump her!

The 2011 NIV translates it, “makes her the victim of adultery.” That’s really well said.

Just because you have a legal piece of paper doesn’t mean that your divorce is righteous in God’s eyes.

Not all divorces are sinful, but many of them are.

Jesus does give an exception here in verse 32. “Except for marital unfaithfulness.” The Greek word is “porneia” which was a general term for a number of sexual sins: adultery, prostitution, fornication, and other sexual transgressions that break the marital bond.

If your spouse commits sexual infidelity, it is not sinful to divorce them.

Remember Joseph and Mary? Remember what Joseph thought Mary had done? Remember that Joseph was a righteous man and was going to divorce her quietly.

If he was right about what she had done, he would have been within his rights to divorce her.


He didn’t have to.

Not just because she was actually a virgin, but because of forgiveness!

You see both Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai were wrong to require divorce even in the case of porneia!

If the unfaithfulness is repented of, it can be forgiven, and the marriage can be saved!

I’ve seen it happen. Several times. And it’s glorious!

Now, you’ll notice that this is the shortest of the 6 “But I Tell You’s.”

I think that’s because Matthew is going to tell us more about Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce when we get to chapter 19. So there’s more to come later.

And you’ll notice that He breaks the pattern here, too. There is the first part and the second part, but no practical application.

I think it’s because it’s just plain obvious.


If you are married, then stay faithful to your husband or your wife.

Don’t divorce.

Avoid divorce like the plague.

And don’t do anything that would endanger your marriage. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that “porneia,” that marital unfaithfulness that would give your spouse biblical grounds for divorcing you.

That’s what King Jesus wants from His followers.

Anything else is sin.

Now, I know that’s a hard teaching.

Some of you have experienced divorce.

Some of you had it happen to you and some of you chose it.

Some of you chose it on biblical grounds, and some of you probably chose it for the wrong reasons.

And there is grace, more than enough grace, in the blood of Jesus to forgive repentant sinners and to give us all power we need to follow Him anew.

But we still need to choose to follow Him.

What do you need to do to stay faithful to your spouse?

Remember, Jesus is looking at your heart!

And I know it also raises lots of questions. There are so many “what ifs” and “what abouts” when it comes to these things.

I read most of a 300 page book on “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage” yesterday just to bone up on the details.

If you have questions about this, that’s why I’m here.

But hear this. This is what Jesus is saying to those of us who are married today.

Stay faithful to your spouse.

Keep your promises.


Let’s look at that this last one because I think it’s connected. V.33

“‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'”

That seems pretty straightforward. It’s kind of a loose translation of Leviticus 19:12.

Kind of a riff off of the 3rd Commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain.

It sounds good. It’s from the Law.

What could go wrong?

Well, here’s what they were apparently doing with that. They were emphasizing the last three words. “Keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.”

So there’s a loophole. If you oath wasn’t to the Lord then, guess what? You don’t have to keep them.

And they had an elaborate list of oaths and what you could take your vow by that would make the vow binding or not binding. Jesus will talk about this again in chapter 23 when He takes down the Pharisees for splitting these hairs.

They were actually using these kinds of words as escape hatches.

“Well, I said cross my heart and hope to die, but I didn’t say, ‘I swear to God.’ So it doesn’t count!”

It was all loopholes.

So Jesus says verse 34.

“But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.”

Don’t swear by something less than God to diminish your accountability.

Don’t throw in some approved substitutes for God’s name to establish some loopholes for yourselves.

In fact, don’t swear at all. Not if that’s how you’re going to do it!

Now, I don’t think that Jesus is absolutely prohibiting all taking of oaths. Jesus Himself takes an oath in chapter 26.

This is not about courtrooms or marital vows or oaths of office. (Insight from Charles Quarles.)

This is about being truthful.
This is about being honest.
This is about being men and women of integrity.

This is about our being so trustworthy that oaths are not necessary.

No extra guarantees are needed because we just do we say we’re going to do.

Verse 37.

“Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Say what you mean and mean what you say. And keep all of your promises.

Don’t use those fancy oaths for things you can’t control and you don’t own.

You don’t own heaven. It’s God’s throne. If you break your promise, you can bring heaven down to person you promised it to.

You don’t own the earth. It’s God’s footstool. Don’t mess with it.

You don’t own Jerusalem. Don’t try to put it up for collateral. It’s the city of the Great King.

You don’t even own your own head. You control your DNA. You can’t make your hair grow out white or black. Young or old.

Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

Anything else comes from Satan.

He likes to pretend that he owns everything!

Don’t be like him.

Be like God! Because He always keeps His promises.

To your spouse.
To your kids.
At work.
In your neighborhood.
At church.

Is that easy to do?

Not always. Sometimes keeping your promises hurts big time.

And, yes, there are some promises that you should repent of and not keep. Like if you promise to murder someone or promise to commit adultery, you should not keep those promises.

But any promise that was good should be as good as gold.

Because we are following King Jesus Who has kept and is keeping and will always keep all of His promises to us.

That’s what He’s told us.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: "Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ" by J. Todd Billings

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in ChristRejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ by J. Todd Billings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Profound theological reflections on biblical lament by a man who, sadly and gladly, has had to practice what he preaches.

In 2012, Todd Billings was diagnosed with stage 3 (out of 3) multiple myeloma and told he needed to start chemotherapy the next week. Todd was only 39 and had a wife and two very small children. Immediately, Todd went through intensely aggressive treatment to reach a first remission and then began continual lifelong retesting for the almost inevitable return of the cancer. Todd Billings has entered into deep suffering.

Todd Billings is also a theologian. A professor at Western Theological Seminary and author of several award-winning books on theology, Billings knows his Bible as well as systematic and historical theology. Rejoicing in Lament is the searchingly beautiful result of Billings’ suffering and theology coming together in profound harmony.

This book would be good even if you only got one of those two sides of Todd Billings. He’s a very good writer who draws you into his experience. When he was diagnosed, he began a blog about what he was going through and his thoughts about it. Many of the entries are sprinkled throughout the book. You feel his stinging pain. You wrestle with mortality. You ask the puzzling questions with him. You exult when the treatment works or when he reaches a new insight. It’s a very personal book. And yet he’s never overly dramatic or maudlin.

And the theology is top shelf. He explores the often ignored “sad” parts of Scripture–psalms of lament, the book of Job, the suffering of Jesus in the Gospels. His discussion partners are varied and rich–Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, Athanasius, Bonhoeffer, Plantinga, Dostoevsky, Brueggemann, Volf, Wright, Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Lewis, Trueman, Vanhoozer, Luther, Kapic, Nazianzus, and Owen to name just a few with recognizable last names. He wrestles with theodicy, bitter providence, sickness, sin, the curse, negative emotions, death, and the nature of God. And yet it never feels like an academic exercise or textbook.

I don’t think I would have appreciated this book as I did, if I hadn’t gone through a scary illness myself with my perforated colon and abdominal surgery in 2015. I could easily identify with many of his thoughts on living as mortal creature before God. His feelings, his fears, his grief. For example in chapter 9, Billings writes:

Sometimes suffering feels like a free fall rather than a swing down to the valley on a rope that will bring me back up to safety. My doctors were delighted at my body’s response to the transplant, and I was giving thanks to God. I was thankful to be alive. I knew that many others (with cancer or other trials) have had much rockier roads than my own, and that in a matter of months I would be returning to ‘the land of the living.’ But to my own surprise, much of my deepest grieving came after this good news. I recall lying on my bed in the cancer lodge, crying aloud, when the thought came to my mind: my life would never be the same...As I thought about returning to my ‘normal life.’ I felt more alienated than ever. How was I to respond to ordinary questions like ‘How are you?’ and ‘How have you been?’ How was I to look toward the future–for my family, for my vocation? ‘My eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call on you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you’ (Ps. 88:9). I feared for my children, that they would lose their father midcourse in their childhood. The good news about my transplant didn’t take this fear away” (pgs. 149-150).
I had all of the same feelings and thoughts as I recovered from my surgery and it was compounded by the death of a dear friend. I appreciated how Billings didn’t ignore or deny or stuff these feelings and thoughts into a dark box in the corner of his psyche, but brought them out into the light of day and into the presence of God. Billings never pretends that there are any easy answers, but he also never gives in to despair or unbelief.

In fact, pulsing through (not over or around) all of the lamentation in this book is a true joy. Billings doesn’t offer any syrupy or saccharine sweetness, but he does offer a trustworthy God who is redeeming sinners remaking the whole world new. He presents Jesus who went before us in suffering–a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He reminds us that God is unchanging and perfect yet perfectly approachable with all of our fickleness, feebleness, and anguish. He holds out a God whose grace is sufficient even when we don’t have healing or answers. He prods us by both good theology and living example to say, “I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” What could be better than that?

I’ve dedicated myself to reading really good books this year, but I don’t expect to read a more profound, personal, and theologically rich book in 2018. Highly recommended.

View all my GoodReads reviews

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: "The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross" by Patrick Schreiner

The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the CrossThe Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross by Patrick Schreiner

Not long ago, I was teaching a Bible class in our church on the parables, and I asked the class, “What was Jesus’ favorite subject to teach on?”

The answers came back hesitantly:

“The love of God?”
“The gospel?”
“The cross?”

All good but partial answers, and yet nobody offered the one I was looking for–the kingdom of God.

Patrick Schreiner opens his little book with a similar question that stumped him in his early days of serving in a campus ministry. A student simply asked him, “What is the kingdom of God?”

“I paused, fumbled around, then tossed out some words, but I ended my little incoherent bluster by saying that we would find out as we continued to study Matthew...Although my life up to this moment had been filled with good Bible teaching, I felt misplaced in a foreign land when I came to the language of kingdom. I knew the basics of the gospel message, but I could not figure out how the kingdom of God related to it or why Jesus spoke so often of it. My view of the good news had been abstracted, and I had overlooked the narrative that stood beside and underneath the glorious doctrines of Christianity” (pg. 13).

So the purpose of this new book in Crossway’s “Short Studies in Biblical Theology” series is to fix that common problem–to highlight, focus, and clarify the kingdom narrative that stands beside and underneath the glorious doctrines of Christianity.

In the first chapter, Schreiner offers a clear definition with three intertwined and irreducible threads, “The kingdom is the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place” (pg. 18). Schreiner insists that these three elements can be distinguished but should never separated and there are unhealthy consequences for theology, ministry, and the Christian life if we ignore any of the three parts, especially place. And then in the rest of the book, he traces out these three elements as the underlying thematic framework of the whole Bible successively through the major sections of Scripture in an unfolding fashion, using the order of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Old Testament (Law, Prophet, Writings). It’s very persuasive, and I agree with him that “Once you see it, it is hard to unsee” (pg. 24).

One of the things I appreciated the most was that Schreiner gave equal time to parts of the Bible that often get overlooked when talking about the kingdom. For example, the wisdom literature in the Old Testament gives what he calls, “a poetic picture of life in the kingdom” (pg. 67), and the epistles in the New Testament are “kingdom dispatches...working out the implications of the kingship of Christ” (pg. 108). I have already started using his helpful categories and rich terminology in my own mind and teaching when thinking about the underlying structure of the Bible storyline. I knew most of the data points already, but he connects the dots in a coordinated and compelling way–especially drawing upon the imagery of trees in the Bible.

I really appreciated how he emphasized the concept of place. For Schreiner, the kingdom is earthy, physical, concrete, shaped, tangible, substantial. He recognizes that this aspect of the kingdom teaching often gets overlooked (when it’s not being over-emphasized!), and I was pleased to see him tease it out of the various nooks and crannies of each section and genre of Scripture.

I was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when Schreiner skipped Revelation 20 altogether. He has an entire chapter on the kingdom in Revelation, highlighting its teaching on the power of God and the Lamb, the people of God, and even the place of God–“People regularly overlook the location of the kingdom in the biblical text, but is always present–Revelation included’ (pg. 128). But in his summaries, he jumps from chapters 17-19 to chapters 21-22.

This may be a strength, not a weakness, because the interpretation of Revelation 20 is so hotly debated among Bible students. Schreiner could prove his main points without referencing such a contested piece of the puzzle. But I was interested in knowing how he thought Revelation 20 fit into the framework he was developing. From my perspective as a convinced premillennialist, Revelation 20 is a instance in human history where the King is physically present ruling and reigning in power with His people in His earthly place. The millennium is not the final, full, and ultimate instance of these three coming together but a penultimate one that invites some theological reflection.

But this is a minor quibble over a lacuna in a book that is intentionally brief. Schreiner had to pick and choose his texts carefully, and I think the rest of his selections are wise and judicious.

But I haven’t said anything yet about the cross.

At first I thought that Schreiner had forgotten his subtitle. The cross is hardly mentioned in the introduction and isn’t mentioned by name in the first chapter. But it’s always there, just being progressively revealed. I think Schreiner was intentionally building towards the cross to mirror the way the Bible itself reveals it. So in the first chapter, he shows in the Law how “sacrifice is at the center of the kingdom plan,” in the second chapter in the Prophets he talks about the suffering servant, in the third chapter on the Writings, he talks about righteous suffering. And then in the New Testament section, the cross comes more clearly into focus.

The book concludes with a reflective chapter bringing the twin foci of kingdom and cross together. “The kingdom is not a higher or more important theme than the cross. These two realities are forever joined; separating them is an act of violence. If the kingdom is the goal, then the cross is the means. But this does not mean that the cross simply falls between the ages. Rather, it is the wheel that shifts one age into another; it is the great transition place, the turn of the ages for the people of God seeking their place” (pg.136-137).

Amen. I highly recommend this introduction to the oft unnoticed doctrine of the kingdom of God. I am currently preaching through the Gospel of Matthew, and Schreiner’s little volume is helping me to see and articulate more clearly what is going on as the King arrives on the scene, announces and demonstrates that His kingdom is near, embodies and teaches the new values and surprising norms and nature of His kingdom, and secures His kingdom of power, people, and place with His own blood.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "But I Tell You"

“But I Tell You”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
April 15, 2018 :: Matthew 5:21-26

We’re learning to follow Jesus together by studying His theological biography, the Gospel According to Matthew. And we’ve reached the three chapter section where Jesus teaches His utterly amazing Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus has turned His disciples’ world upside down telling us what His kingdom truly values and what surprisingly is truly the “good life.” How to truly flourish and to influence the world as His followers, being salt and light for Him.

And then last week, we entered the main central section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus revealed His relationship to the first 2/3 of the Bible. We commonly call “The Old Testament,” and Jesus called, “The Law and the Prophets.”

Now let me know if I got it across to you.

What is Jesus’ relationship with the Old Testament?

He did not what?  Abolish the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus didn’t come to rip out the first 2/3 of the Bible. Even though it might have seemed like it at times!

What did He come to do to the Old Testament?

He came to fulfill it.

Jesus came to fulfill the entire Old Testament.

Isn’t that a bold claim?

Remember, I said last week that this really invites the question, “Who does Jesus think He is?”

He is not just claiming to be the greatest interpreter of the Old Testament. He is claiming to be the whole point of the Old Testament!

And remember what claim He made on His disciples’ lives at the end of last week’s passage (v.20)?

Jesus requires a greater righteousness.

Greater, that is, than the “extra-super-holy people,” or those who everybody thought were the extra-super-holy people, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (“extra-super-holy people” comes from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones).

Jesus said, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And that sounds scary, and if you don’t belong to Jesus, it should scare you, but if you do belong to Jesus and He’s changed you and is changing you, then it should not scare you. Because, as we’ll soon see, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had a fake righteousness. It was wasn’t very deep and it wasn’t very high, and it wasn’t very real.

It looked good at first, but it wasn’t truly great in reality.

So Jesus is calling us to a greater righteousness.

And that’s what we’re going to see again and again as we move through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament and calling us to live out a greater righteousness.

Now, in the next section (verses 21 through 48), Jesus does just that.

In fact, He gives us 6 examples, 6 illustrations of both how He fulfills the Old Testament and how He wants us to live out a greater righteousness than the Pharisees.

Scholars sometimes call them the 6 antitheses. But I’m going to call them the 6 “But I Tell You's.”

Here’s our title for today. And it could be our title for the next several weeks.

“But I Tell You”

Jesus is going to use this phrase 6 times from verses 21 through 48.

Look down and find them:

Verse 22.
Verse 28.
Verse 32.
Verse 34.
Verse 39.
Verse 44.

And that last one should sound really familiar, because we’re memorizing it right now.

Your version might say, “But I say to you.”

Wait until you hear what it is in Greek! Are you ready?

It’s pronounced, “Ego de lego!”

I just love that.

This is the “But.”
This is the “I.”
And this is the “Tell You.”

Kids, today at the dinner table when your parents ask you what the sermon was about, you say, “Ego de lego!

And when they say what does that mean, you say, “But I Tell You.”

What do you think is the most important word there?

It’s the “I,” isn’t it? This is Jesus making a point again about Who He is.

Who does He think He is?

He isn’t just the greatest interpreter of Moses.

He is greater than Moses!

He is what Moses was talking about.

And what He says about the Law is what we really need to know about the Law now that He has come.

Does that make sense?

So all 6 of these “But I Tell You’s” follow a similar pattern.

Just the like Beatitudes all had a pattern. These all have a pattern.

First, Jesus quotes from Torah. Then He explains that statement with all of its Messianic meaning. And then He gives a practical application to daily life.

First, He quotes from Law. Then He gives the authoritative explanation of that quotation with all of its Messianic meaning. And really, He explodes the myths about the popular interpretations that these people had always heard and believed. He corrects those and sets everything straight. And then lastly He gives a practical application to daily life, really for the most part an antidote to the problem He’s addressing.

So that pattern gets followed basically through all 6 of these.

Today, we’re only going to do the first one.

It’s the longest one because Jesus is setting out the pattern. And then they’ll get shorter because He thinks we can extrapolate the pattern from there.

Next week, maybe we’ll get through 2 of them.

I believe that these are just 6 illustrations of how we’re supposed to read and apply the Old Testament now that King Jesus has come.

He is telling us what a greater righteousness looks like.

And He starts with the 6th commandment. “Thou Shall Not Murder.”

Do you see what I mean about “Who does Jesus think He is?”

I mean in verse 21, He quotes God from the Ten Commandments and then says, “But I Tell You...”!

Look at verse 21.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'”

Who said that?

Well, that “Do not murder” piece is from the 10 Commandments. Moses said that and He was speaking for God!

And Jesus must think that He’s on the same level to come out with “But I tell you...that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

That’s just amazing.

Now, that phrase, ‘and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment” is not a direct quote from the Old Testament.

That’s what the other teachers were saying.

And it’s true. If you murdered someone, then you would go to court and be tried for that killing. Normally there was a jury with 23 people on it to decide if you were guilty and needed to pay for it with your life.

Now, that’s murder. Not just any kind of killing but criminal killing with malicious intent.

It’s not manslaughter or an accidental death or killing enemy combatants as a part of your duties as a soldier or defending the helpless as police.

It’s murder.

And the Old Testament law in cases of murder called for the death penalty (Numbers 35:31).

“Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

And the Pharisees all said, “That sounds easy! I’ve never murdered anybody. I’m good! That’s it? I’m righteous? I’m in the kingdom? Cool!”

And Jesus says, “Not so fast.” v.22

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

You don’t just get off if you keep from killing them.

You’re not allowed to simply refrain from shooting at them while still harboring contempt and rage and fury in your heart.

You see where Jesus goes with this?

He goes to the heart level.

He goes deep in.

He goes to the attitude. He goes to the affections. He goes past the externals and to the internals. He goes to the root.

Jesus goes to the heart.

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

It’s not just murder that’s against the Law.

The Law is aimed at doing away with sinful anger.

If you get angry in ways you shouldn’t, then God sees that and you could be tried for it.

It’s not that murder and anger are the exact same thing.

It’s that murder is the result of anger.

Anger is at the heart of murder.

Murder is the most extreme version of sinful anger.

It’s not the same thing, but it is the same heart.

We murder because we desire to damage and destroy.

And anger, therefore, is “murder in the mind.” (From Grant Osborne)

Where only God can see.

But He can see!

Do you see how Jesus is showing His disciples what the Law was always driving at all along? He is fulfilling the Law by showing us the greater righteousness.

It’s not good enough to just keep from sticking a knife in their back. We also have to do away with the “want to.”

And the words that reveal that “want to.”

Killing people with our words. V.22 again.

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin [the court system]. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Now, I don’t think we’re supposed to see a big difference between being angry, saying “Raca,” and saying, “You fool!”

I think they are all basically the same thing. But Jesus is escalating the consequences to make us feel approaching danger. He’s saying, “It’s going to go from bad to worse.”

You let this stuff rule your heart and come out of your mouth, and you are in trouble with God.

The word “Raca” means “empty-headed.” It’s like calling somebody an idiot or an imbecile or a dimwit.

The Greek word for fool is “moros.” I think we get our “moron” from it. It means someone who is stupid and senseless and probably unsaved.

These are spiteful words. They are attack words. They are rash, and angry, and abusive words.

It’s not just pointing out someone’s foolishness. It’s name-calling and pouring on the verbal abuse.

And Jesus says that if you do that are you are in danger of the fire of Gehenna.

The agony of hell, the place of punishment named after the valley of Hinnom where they had once sacrificed children to Molech.

A picture of terrible extreme punishment.


Just because you got angry?

Isn’t there a proper time and place for anger?

Yes, there is. Some versions add the words, “without cause” in verse 22 after “brother.” It isn’t in the oldest manuscripts, so it probably wasn’t in the original. But some copyist understood that there are proper times and places for righteous anger.

Jesus Himself gets angry and wasn’t in danger of the fire of hell for it.

But we are much more prone to sinful anger than we are to righteous anger.

And that’s what Jesus is going after here.

Killing people in our hearts and with our tongues.

I have only two points of application for today’s passage. And here’s the first one:


Don’t settle for just not murdering them.

That’s not good enough.

We cannot harbor unrighteous anger in our hearts and expect God to just wink at it.

God wants us to repent of our sinful anger at the heart level.

And He’s pretty serious about it.

Jesus says so.

And if we repent, it will come out in our words, right?

We won’t be calling people names.

We won’t be calling our brothers and sisters in Christ “idiots and imbeciles.”

We won’t be spitting out abusive and spiteful language at the people around us who we are angry with.

You know what? I think verse 22 should govern the way we talk on social media.

I see it all the time on Facebook. “Those idiots in Washington.” Or “those fools in Harrisburg.” Or “that jerk that cut me off in traffic.” “Those morons who are trying to [whatever political cause you’re against at the moment.]” “Those dimwits who are trying to run my life.”

Brothers and sisters, words like that should not come out of the mouths of people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

And that goes for the “share” button, too.

If you share a post that says those things, then you are saying it, too.

And, of course, we don’t need social media to get this wrong.

We do it with our mouths, not just our keyboards.

Is this the way you talk to your family?
Is this the way you talk to your friends?
Is this the way you talk at work?
Is this the way you talk at school?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to repent of our sinful anger and our angry words as quick as we possibly can.

Where do you need to start?

I told you that Jesus was going to make us uncomfortable, didn’t I?

Jesus is turning our lives upside down.

He is challenging our little kingdoms as His own kingdom draws near.

That’s the problem, isn’t it?

That’s why we get angry like this. Because we think our kingdoms have been attacked.

But in Jesus’ kingdom, we love people, from the heart.

We don’t live lives of perpetual outrage.

I sometimes think that Facebook was made for being mad and getting people mad.

Let’s not let ourselves become like the world and be mad all of the time.

Yes, there are plenty of things to get mad about.

If you care about justice, you will get fired up when you see injustice.

Jesus did, too.

But He didn’t live His life set on perpetual outrage.

And when they actually attacked Him, He did not open His mouth.

That’s when I tend to get mad. When I get attacked.

When I don’t get what I want.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to repent of our sinful anger and our angry words as quick as we possibly can.


Remember there are 3 parts to this pattern. First, Jesus quotes from the Torah. “Do not murder.” Then He gives the authoritative interpretation as the Messiah. And the last part is an application point to daily life that presents the alternative to the problem. The antidote.

The antidote to anger is not repression. It is reconciliation.

It’s not “anger management.” It’s doing your part to resolve the conflict.

So Jesus gives two short examples of what that might look like in everyday life.

As usual, He is a master teacher and master storyteller who tells a story to teach.

And the main point of both stories is to resolve your conflicts with a great sense of urgency. V.23

“Therefore [to reduce this anger problem], if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Get the picture?

Somebody has traveled to Jerusalem to bring a gift (perhaps a sin offering) and place it on the altar. That might happen like twice a year. Maybe they came from Galilee far away.

But as they’re doing it. They remember that they have sinned against somebody else.

“Your brother has something against you.”

What happened? Did you call him a name? Did you say “Raca” to him? We don’t know.

But you realize that you are the reason for this conflict.

And Jesus says, leave it right there and go make this right!

Now, we could say that Jesus is teaching that conflict resolution is more important than worship. I think that’s good to think through. Especially if you think of worship as mainly singing or giving your offering or taking the Lord’s Supper. External things that you do.

But I think the main point here is simply to waste no time trying to make things right.

Don’t wait for a convenient time.

Don’t think you have more important business that should come first.

Go do it. Right now.

So, as your pastor, that’s what I’m saying to you right now.

Go now.

I don’t care if you wait until the last song.

If you have a conflict with someone that’s your fault and you can do something to solve it, don’t wait.

Treat conflict resolution as urgent.

That’s the point of Jesus’ second story, too. V.25

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

I don’t think that’s a parable. The judge is not God or anything like that.

I think Jesus is just giving us another example of conflict resolution with urgency.

You owe somebody money and they’re taking you to court.

You damaged their truck or something.

Settle it quickly or you’ll be sorry.

That’s what Jesus’ is saying.

Take your conflicts seriously and do whatever is in your power. We don’t have power over the other side. But whatever is in your power, especially if you are in the wrong, to reconcile.

Because what happens if you don’t?


Rage, fury, contempt.

Then spiteful hurtful words.

And if not checked, murder.

But even nobody gets killed, King Jesus still wants us to delete the sinful anger out completely of the equation.

The earlier the better.

Because this is serious stuff.

If you don’t repent and reconcile, there can be disastrous consequences.

Resolve your conflicts as quick as you can.

Feel free to go right now.

Does this all seem impossible to you?

Repenting of your anger and resolving your conflicts?

Jesus died for your sinful anger and to bring peace into your relationships.

And He came back to life to give you power to put your anger to death and to do your part to have peace with others.

The gospel makes it possible for us to live out the greater righteousness that Jesus requires.

In Jesus, you can do it.

You can say NO to unrighteous anger and YES to peacemaking in relationships.

And then King Jesus will fulfill all righteousness in and through you.

And then King Jesus will get the glory.

Just like He told us!


Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible

Sunday, April 08, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible”

“Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
April 8, 2018 :: Matthew 5:17-20 

I know it’s been a while since we were in Matthew together. We took a break for Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, so let me remind you where we are.

Our sermon series is called, “Following Jesus” because that’s what we’re learning to do in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is a theological biography of the most compelling Person in history–the Person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ has called us to follow Him and fish for more followers.

Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

So we’re learning to follow Him in the Gospel of Matthew.

And we’ve reached the first of five major blocks of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, arguably the greatest teaching ever given which we have come to call “Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount.”

Where Jesus teaches with unequaled authority what it means to live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven–a kingdom which He has announced has drawn near.

It’s going to take us a while to get through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but that’s not a bad thing. This teaching deserves all of the attention that we can give it.

Jesus began His message by declaring what a flourishing life looks like. “The good life.” And it was different than what we might expect.

In fact, just about everything Jesus says in these chapters is different than we might expect!

Jesus turns our expectations upside down.

Jesus turns our world upside down.

Jesus describes a kingdom that, to us, seems upside down!

Where the people who are blessed are those who are needy, sad, lowly, unsatisfied and even persecuted because of following Him.

But that’s the way it really is. That’s where the flourishing is.

And then Jesus told His disciples that they are salt and they are light.

They are going to have a big influence on their world. Jesus’ followers are world-changers making a real and visible difference in the world to glory of their Father in heaven.

Remember that?

Well, that was just the introduction to His amazing sermon.

Now, Jesus gets down to brass tacks.

Now, Jesus is going to get off to the races.

And He’s going to say some more radical things.

Jesus has already turned their world upside down. Now He’s going to do it again.

He’s going to say some more audaciously surprising things, and He’s going to say them authoritatively. With audacious authority.

In fact, as I studied these next four verses, the thing I kept thinking the most was, “Who does Jesus think He is?”

I almost titled this sermon that, but I’m going to save it because that’s a like theme that’s going to come up again and again in Matthew.

But as I read it to you, think about what He’s saying about Himself here. I think we’re just used to it. But imagine anybody else talking this way and what you and I would think if we heard them talking this way.

Now, here is the title for today: “Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible.”

Because what Jesus is going to say in this next section is going to rock the world of His listeners. And they are going to think from what He says that maybe He’s throwing out the first 2/3 of the Bible.

What am I talking about there?

The Old Testament, right? Did you ever notice that the Old Testament is quite a bit longer than the New? It’s roughly twice as long. Not exactly, but close enough for approximation.

What did Jesus think about the Old Testament?

How did Jesus relate to the Old Testament?

Well, let’s read it and see.

I’ve had to begin using a new Bible because my old one is falling apart.

Some of you may have noticed that my old one lost a few pages about a month ago. They were just the maps in the back, but the binding is coming apart, so I’ve switched over to this one.

I’m told it’s a good sign when your Bible is falling apart from use because that means your life won’t be falling apart. I like the sound of that!

But imagine for a second that I took my Bible, and I just ripped out the whole Old Testament and threw it away.

We don’t need that any more!


Pages flying everywhere. Cindy picks them up and puts the on my desk.

And I say, “I said we don’t need those any more.” And I put them in the paper recycling.

And I never refer to them again.

And I tear them out of every Bible that I can find.

And I delete the Old Testament on my computer.

And I never from the Old Testament from this pulpit again.

What do you think of that?

That’s kind of like what Jesus’ opponents thought He wanted to do.

The way Jesus will interact with the Old Testament, especially the Mosaic Law, will lead some people, especially the Pharisees, to believe that Jesus was tossing it out of the Bible.

And Jesus knows that they are going to think that way, so He heads them off at the pass and kicks off the main part of His Sermon on the Mount by dispelling that very idea. Look at again at the first part of verse 17.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets...”

“That’s not why I’m here at all. I have not come on the scene to attack the Old Testament.

I’m not here to destroy it or tear it down or talk it down or hurt the Old Testament in any way.”

Quite the opposite. Verse 17.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

I’ve got two points this morning, and here is number one:


“The Law and the Prophets” is one way of saying the whole thing, the whole Old Testament.

And far from coming to abolish it, Jesus has come to fulfill it.

Now, should not be a surprise to those who have been reading the Gospel of Matthew. We’ve already seen that “fulfill” is one of Matthew’s favorite words. Apparently, he gets it from Jesus!

Matthew loves to point out that Jesus fills to the full the Old Testament.

It’s part of His mission in life!

He has come for this very purpose. The reason for Christmas is fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.

To “complete their intended purpose.”  (A phrase from Craig Blomberg.)

The whole Old Testament is about Jesus.

You see what I mean when I say, “Who does He think He is?”

He doesn’t just say surprising things. He claims the first two thirds of the Bible are about Him!

(I believe they are, but imagine if anybody else talked like that!)

Do you believe that the whole Old Testament is about Jesus?

That He fulfills it?

Have you seen it?

One of the goals of my preaching ministry for the last fifteen years or so has been to take us through the Big Story of the Old Testament and show how it relates to Jesus.

What was our series called on the Books of Kings?

“The King of Kings in the Books of Kings”

When the kings were at their best, they reminded us of the promise of Jesus.

When the kings were at their worst, they reminded us why we needed Jesus.

That’s true of everything in your Old Testament. It all points to Jesus in some way (often in multiple ways.)

Even the book of Leviticus.

Even the Law of Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Those things also pointed to Jesus.

So don’t let anybody draw a big fat line between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

And tell you that the Old Testament God was one thing and the New Testament God is another. Or that Jesus has come to save us from the Old Testament God.

Or that Jesus threw out the Old Testament.

There was a guy in the first couple centuries of the church named Marcion who did that. He cut out Old Testament from the Bible and tried to create a Christianity that was based on only the last third.

Jesus said, “No way!”

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Verse 18.

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Jesus doubles down on this promise.

He has come to fulfill the Old Testament, and He will fulfill the Old Testament. And nothing is going to stop Him.

I love that phrase, “not the smallest letter, not the least of stroke of pen.”

Or King James, not “one jot or one tittle.”

Do you know what jot is?

The Greek is “iota,” like our letter “i,” and it stood for the Hebrew letter, “yod.” That’s where get "jot."

Let me show you a “yod.”


This is one of the Hebrew words for God, “elohim.”

That little mark thereי is “yod.”

Someone has gone through and counted them in the Old Testament. There are about 66,420 yods.

Now the “tittle” is like this.

Is this letter the same as this letter?




The "tittle" is the little mark that makes the difference in letters like that (but in Hebrew).

Tiny little things. But important, too, right?

Imagine mixing up some of those letters and what that would do to the message?

Jesus has come to fulfill the entire Old Testament.

Now, that should encourage us. There isn’t anything that is going to be left out or dropped.

Every promise will be fulfilled.

Jesus will be everything the Old Testament anticipated.

Prophet, Priest, King, Judge.

He will fulfill all of those offices, but also the other themes:

Temple, Sacrifice, Festivals, Clean & Unclean, Wisdom, Exoduses, Conquests, Return from Exile, so many things!

Jesus will fulfill the entire Old Testament.

He will accomplish it.

And nothing, nothing, will be lost.

How encouraging is that?!

It also should cause us to repent of our picking and choosing. Right?

Maybe we don’t rip out the pages from our Bible.

But we are tempted to pick and choose what we’re going to like or not like, right? What we are going to follow and not follow?

We are tempted to not read some of those books.

What’s your least favorite book in the Old Testament?

Which ones are you tempted to skip over and not give any weight to in your life?

I’m not saying they are all equally important (or understandable), but they are all God’s Word, and they are all fulfilled in Jesus.

And we’re tempted to rip some of them out of our lives.

What commands are you tempted to ignore?

Now, Jesus says, “fulfill,” not “keep the same.”

Because Jesus has come, things are going to change.

The Old Testament remains God’s Word and important for us to read, but we stand in a different relationship to it.

Now that Jesus has come and is fulfilling what the Old Testament was always driving at, some of those things will not be in play like they used to be.

Animal sacrifices for example.

The group in Prayer Meeting has been studying the Book of Hebrews. It says why we no longer do animal sacrifices with the blood of bulls and goats. Why?

Because Jesus has fulfilled them with His Perfect Sacrifice!

Things are changing. Jesus is going to change things now that He’s come.

But He’s not abolishing the Old Testament. He’s fulfilling it.

You see Who He thinks He is? He thinks He’s the point of the first 2/3 of the Bible!

So Jesus thinks that He is the best interpreter of the Old Testament because apparently it’s all about Him.

For the next few weeks (verses 21 through 48), He’s going to interact with popular interpretations of things in the Old Testament Law, and He’s going to give his listeners what He considers to be the right one.

And of course they are, but they are still going to turn things upside down.

And we don’t get to pick and choose which ones we want to follow. V.19

“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, “these commandments,” I think are the Old Testament commandments properly interpreted and applied by King Jesus, the Point of the Old Testament.

Or we could call them now, “The Law of Christ.”

If you break the Law of Christ and you teach others to do it, too, woe to you.

But if you live out the Law of Christ and you teach others follow it, too, then you will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Just for following Jesus!

What’s important is to make into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus ends our passage for today with a sober warning. V.20

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”


Greater, that is, than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

Now, how is that supposed to make you feel?

I’m sure that it made the people there gasp.

When they heard Jesus say that, they probably passed out in shock.

The Pharisees and the experts in the law were seen as the “extra-super-holy people” (Sally Lloyd-Jones’ phrase from The Jesus Storybook Bible, pointed out by Jonathan Pennington in The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing.)

These were the most religious people on the planet.

And Jesus was saying that you had to have a righteousness that surpassed theirs in kind and quality. Deeper and higher.

And if you didn’t then you wouldn’t see the kingdom when it comes in all of its fullness.

That’s shocking.

But let me ask you this.

Raise your hand if you have a righteousness greater than the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.

I know that I do.

It’s really not that hard.

Every genuine believer in this room has that righteousness!

I mean think about what kind of righteousness the Pharisees had.

It was mostly outward and showy.

Is your righteousness outward and showy?

It was mostly focused on the lesser of God’s commands and ignoring the greater of God’s commands.

Is that your approach to holiness?

The Pharisees righteousness was based on rule following not on trusting and loving God.

Are you trying to please God through rule-following or by faith?

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were prideful about their righteousness.

They thought they were hot stuff.

Do you think you are hot stuff?

They kept looking for loopholes.

Is that how you try to work out your righteousness?

They were unchanged at the heart level.

Has your heart been changed by Jesus?

They had not experienced the new birth.

Every genuine believer in this room has been born again.

Don’t despair!

Your righteousness, if you truly belong to Jesus, is deeper and higher and greater in both kind and quality.

And I’ll tell you one other thing.

I don’t think it’s exactly what He’s talking about here, but we know from the rest of the New Testament that we also have Jesus’ righteousness on our account!

Through justification.

So, it’s not that hard to have a righteousness that surpasses these guys.

The newest believer in this room already does.

Now, Jesus is going to unpack that for us in the next several weeks. In fact, I think that’s the point of the entire sermon on the mount. Demonstrating what this greater righteousness looks like from the perspective of the greatest interpreter of the Law.

And it will challenge us.

Jesus intends to turn our lives upside down so that we fit in His truly right-side-up kingdom.

It will require repentance and change.

And we won’t get to pick and choose which things we want to repent of or to change.

But it’s entirely possible.

Because of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament, the first 2/3 of our Bible.

And He did it, ultimately, by taking our place on the Cross.

And by His work on the Cross and in our hearts, we become the kind of followers that He wants us to be.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Book Review: "Those Who Hope" by Tim Stafford

Those Who HopeThose Who Hope by Tim Stafford

Satisfying depiction of the unsatisfying reality of being caught between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of God.

I am a big fan of Tim Stafford’s writing–first in nonfiction (his work on notes for the first NIV Student Bible was a major discipling influence on me during some of my most formative years) and also in fiction (I’ve read and re-read his “River of Freedom” trilogy several times to great personal benefit), so I was interested to see what he would do with a book set in an urban gospel mission among the homeless, hurting, and addicted.

I think I can say that I enjoyed reading Those Who Hope, though I’m not sure that “enjoy” is the right word. Stafford has written a book that is good art–it makes you think and feel meaningful things about the world–but the things it makes you think and feel are uncomfortable, unpeaceful, not pleasurable. The characters in this book experience suffering and are often the cause of their own suffering, their own worst enemies. And Stafford shows how relentless that sin and suffering cycle can be. He captures the very real and very heartbreaking pattern of addiction. Even the most virtuous main character feels always ready to succumb once more.

There is hope in this book, and not just in the title. But the hope is not Pollyanna-ish. It’s a chastened hope. There is no over-realized eschatology where the characters stop being fallen and hurting people and everything is happy-ever-after. That day is still in the future in reality and in this work of art. The recovery (and redemption) is very realistic.

I don’t think this book is as good as Stafford’s “River of Freedom” books. The writing is clunkier at times and could have used another round of editing. Readers also should know that it is not a G-rated book. Some swearing and sensuality (though tastefully done) make it at least at PG-13. This is not a book to hand to your younger kids.

The main reason to read Those Who Hope is to experience a bit of the unhappy merry-go-round of addiction and at the same time be pointed to the compelling Person of Jesus who in Himself is the answer both in the “now” and the “not yet.” But that also calls for living in tension while we live in expectation for His Kingdom to come in its fullness. Stafford never reveals it, but the title of this book probably comes from Isaiah 40:30-31, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” But many other translations than the NIV translate those words, “Those who wait.” Very appropriate.

Recommended for those who appreciate satisfying art about the unsatisfying parts of life.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “The Stone the Builders Rejected”

“The Stone the Builders Rejected”
Resurrection Sunday
Psalm 118:22-23 :: April 1, 2018

There once was a stone.

And it was a stone unlike any other stone.

Some builders were constructing a large important building, and they started, as all builders do by laying a foundation. They were trying lay a strong foundation that would keep the building supported, level, and plumb.

It was a foundation made out of giant stones.

And these builders knew that they needed to be careful to pick only the best stones for their foundation. They had to be choosy.

Especially for the cornerstone. Because everything keys off of the cornerstone. In a foundation like that the cornerstone influences, determines really, everything.

If you get the wrong cornerstone, your building won’t be level or straight or...still standing.

So these builders went to the rock quarry, hunting, hunting for the perfect stones upon which to build this important building.

And they saw this one stone.

This stone that was like no other.

And they looked at the stone.
And they looked at one another.

And then they looked at the stone.
And then they looked at one another.

And then they all said...“Nah...That one’s no good.”

“I think we can do better than that.”

“That one’s too big. That one is too ugly. That one isn’t the right color. That one will stick out too much. That one doesn’t look level or straight or strong enough. It doesn’t look like any other the other ones. That stone just doesn’t look right.”

The builders rejected the stone.

And they turned to other stones to build their building.

But that was a big mistake.

Those builders made a terrible error.

Those builders misjudged that stone.

That stone was perfect.

That stone was just right.

It might not have looked like it at first glance, but that stone was exactly the right stone, not just to be in the foundation of the building but to be the chief cornerstone.

And yet the builders had rejected it.

Does this story sound familiar?

Last week on Palm Sunday, we studied Psalm 118 together.

Which is the psalm that the crowd was singing at Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem on the donkey.

Verse 26 of that psalm says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”

Just a few verses before that the psalmist writes about this stone.

It’s verse 22.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 
the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

I said last week that we’d come back to that verse today and so here we are.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone...”

The psalmist gives us the end of the short story I was telling you.

It’s a surprise ending.

Do you like surprise endings?

I do, at least if they’re happy ones.

I like a good twist at end.

The psalmist says that the stone the builders rejected eventually became the capstone or, more literally, “the head of the corner.”

Could be a key stone up above, but much more likely the cornerstone.

That stone went from rejected to exalted.

From rejected to exalted.

From the lowest place imaginable–unworthy of even being in the building.

To the highest place imaginable–where the whole building rests upon it.

Quite a transformation for that stone, wasn’t it?

That’s a surprise ending which nobody saw coming.

Now in Psalm 118, it’s referring either the nation of Israel going from the bottom to the top, perhaps in battle or it’s the Davidic king having been in some way rejected and then unexpectedly rising to victory. Either way, it was a great cause for rejoicing.

And the psalmist and Israel were exuberant in their thankfulness.

But that verse was also a prophecy.

It established a prophetic pattern that would be only be fully fulfilled later on.

That’s why the crowd was shouting it at Jesus on Palm Sunday.

Psalm 118 is referenced several times in the New Testament, often by Jesus Himself.

Let's jump over to Acts chapter 4 and hear what the Apostle Peter thought about that stone.

In chapter 3, Peter and John had gone to the temple to pray. You might know the song. They met a lame man on the way. He asked for alms and held out his palms, and this is what Peter did say: “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk!”

And what happened?

“He went walking and leaping and praising God!”

And Peter and John got arrested.

They got arrested for preaching about Jesus. And they were drug before the Jewish Religious Leaders and interrogated.

And when it was time for Peter to speak, this is what he said. Acts chapter 4, verse 8.

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He [Jesus] is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’”

According to Peter, the story of that stone was the story of Jesus Christ.

He was the perfect candidate to be the cornerstone.

But He had been rejected.

That’s what was happening on the Cross.

Jesus was rejected.

How did Isaiah say it?

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”

At his trial, the leaders of Israel said, “Nah. I think we can do better than this.”

“He will not be king over us.”
“He is not the Messiah.”
“He is not the Promised One.”
“We reject Him.”

“Throw Him away.”

And the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!”

And don’t think it was just the Jews who did that.

You and I have done it, too.

So many have misjudged Jesus over the centuries.

So many have made the grave error of spurning and rejecting Him.

So many have said, “Pass. I don’t think so.”

There are so many excuses.

Jesus doesn’t look like the kind of Savior that many want.

For some He doesn’t seem real.

If that’s been your excuse, I encourage you to study the historicity of Jesus in books like The Case for Christ out there in the foyer.

For others He seems too demanding.

He wants to be Lord and King and not our buddy or our pet or a genie in a bottle.

And other are turned off by His suffering.

They don’t want a weak Savior Who allows Himself to be killed.

Christianity is the only major religion that has the humiliation of its god at the very center of its faith.

And that suffering Servant calls for His people to suffer, too.

We don’t like the sound of that.

But it’s a terrible mistake to reject Jesus.


The good news is that Jesus is still giving out second chances.

The Apostle John said, “[Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him [they rejected Him]. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:10-12).

Some of you have never received Jesus.

You come to church every once in a while, maybe to make somebody happy.

And you kind of believe all that Christianity stuff. At least, you nod your head at it and you aren’t against it.

But you haven’t personally, yourself put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your own Savior and your own Lord.

Jesus said that if you are not with Him, then you are against Him.

Don’t reject this stone.

Because there is coming a day when this stone will return and crush His enemies.

That’s what Jesus said in Luke chapter 20, verse 17.

You can turn there if you want, but we won’t be there long.

Jesus told a story that implicated the Jewish Religious Leaders.

A parable about a rejected son and how his dad would destroy those who rejected the son.

And Jesus ended His story with Psalm 118.

The Bible says, “Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone'?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’"

We think that we are judging the stone.

The builders thought that they were judging the stone.

But at some point the stone will bring judgment on them.

Don’t reject Jesus. Receive Him while there is still time.

Go back to Psalm 118.

And notice in verse 23 who did all of this.

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”


Because Jesus is alive!

The stone was rejected, but somehow, in some amazing, miraculous, and marvelous way, the stone has become the capstone! The chief cornerstone. The head of the corner!

As Peter said, “You crucified Him, but GOD raised Him from the dead!”

That’s what we believe.

And it’s marvelous in our eyes.

It’s the greatest thing.

It’s precious.

1 Peter 2, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious” (v.7).

We don’t value anything higher than the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

And that’s why we proclaim His name to the world.

He was rejected, crucified, dead and buried.

But up from the grave He arose!
With a might triumph over His foes.

What a wonderful surprise ending? Or should I say, surprise beginning?

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”