The Veil Was Torn in Two: What Happened on Good Friday?

ABSTRACT: The Gospel writers tell us that, directly after the death of Jesus, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The meaning of the veil’s tearing is wrapped up in its old-covenant function to separate the Israelites from the direct presence of God. Matthew in particular narrates the tearing of the veil in a way that reveals its epoch-turning significance. Because Jesus has died on the cross, the gates to God’s presence are open, and the age of the new covenant has dawned.

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51 NASB)

From the Bible, we know that the death of Jesus is a glorious truth, foundational to our Christian faith. It grants us peace with God (Romans 5:1), redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14). But how does the Bible express the significance of Jesus’s death in narratives, like the Gospels? This is exactly what we find at the crucifixion of Jesus and the tearing of the temple curtain (or veil) immediately after his death. Though the tearing of the veil is described in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45), none of them stops to explain it. Presumably, they thought the event was clear enough to their original readers. But what are we to make of it?

To complicate matters, the account in the Gospel of Matthew recounts a host of extraordinary events that puzzle us today. Yet in them the apostle Matthew, ever with his mind steeped in Israel’s sacred Scriptures, helps us to understand the significance of the historical realities around Jesus’s death. And all this occurs on Good Friday, where we see the goodness of God in Christ on display in anticipation of Easter Sunday.

What Veil Is Matthew Talking About?

It may seem strange to readers that Matthew refers simply to “the” veil of the temple, without any explanation as to which of the many hangings, curtains, and veils in the Old Testament tabernacle and subsequent temple he had in mind. Interpreters must simply presume that Matthew would have expected his readers to know what he meant. Since Matthew makes such frequent appeals to the Old Testament (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; etc.), presuming it to be an important authority for his readers, it is to the Old Testament we must look.

The word for veil used by Matthew (katapetasma) is a technical term that, in the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint), is used for three different hangings in the tabernacle and temple. But the syntax of Matthew’s statement “veil of the temple” (Matthew 27:51 NASB) suggests only one hanging can be in view: the inner veil before the holy of holies. This veil, described first and most fully in descriptions of the tabernacle, was made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman (Exodus 26:31; 36:35). It was to be hung before the holy of holies, which was a perfect cube of ten cubits per side. The veil was hung by gold hooks on an acacia-wood frame, which itself was overlaid with gold (Exodus 26:32–33), and the ark of the covenant was kept behind the veil (Exodus 26:33).

Generally, this veil served to separate the holy place from the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33) and shielded the atonement slate1 of the ark (Exodus 26:34). The veil was also used to cover the ark of the testimony while in transport (Numbers 4:5). Sin offerings were made against the veil (Leviticus 4:6, 17), and entry behind it was permitted only for a ritually pure priest, Aaron or a descendent, who would enter behind the curtain on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:2, 12, 15). In Solomon’s temple, patterned after the tabernacle, there was a veil “of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it” (2 Chronicles 3:14 NIV).

The veil was near the very center of the tabernacle, suggesting a rank of holiness that is also reflected in the quality of its construction. As with the other hangings in the tabernacle, the veil was made of “finely twisted linen” (Exodus 26:31 NIV), a fine grade of linen. The curtains were violet — or, as some suggest, blue-purple or a darker purple compared to the lighter purple. This color was occasionally thought to be the color of the sky,2 which may help account for its association with the heavenly firmament (Genesis 1:6) in later Judaism. This color, which required twelve thousand murex snails to yield only 1.4 grams of pure dye, was known for its association with both divinity and royalty in the ancient Near East, which lends itself to the notion that Yahweh was both the sacred deity and the King enthroned in the midst of Israel within the tabernacle.

The use of royal colors and materials should come as no surprise, as the tabernacle in general and the angelic wings over the veil in particular are often thought to represent the kingly presence of Yahweh among his people. This is confirmed by the description of Yahweh’s presence with Israel as being “enthroned between the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4 NIV; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16), which, when coupled with a reference to God’s enthronement “in heaven” (Psalm 2:4 NIV), may support the notion that the holy of holies was thought to be a replica of heaven.

What Did the Veil Do?

Integral to interpreting the tearing of the veil is some explanation of its purpose and function. Surprisingly, few interpreters look explicitly to the Old Testament to address this issue. Yet we find some information about the veil that is imperative for interpreting the meaning of its tearing at the death of Jesus.

As we have seen, the unique workmanship required for the veil is directly related to the presence of cherubim on the veil. These figures symbolized the presence of Yahweh and were woven of elite quality, “the work of a skillful workman” (Exodus 26:31 NASB). In biblical tradition, cherubim served a guardian role from their first appearance in canonical texts, where they guarded “the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24 NASB). They were carved on walls around Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s visionary temples (e.g., Ezekiel 10:1–20; 11:22; 41:18–25).

Elsewhere, the cherubim are present at man’s meeting with God (e.g., Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89), and they are the winged throne upon which God sits or mounts to fly (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10). Yahweh instructs Moses to make “two cherubim out of hammered gold” (Exodus 25:18 NIV), with wings spread upward and overshadowing the atonement slate. They were to be arranged in such a manner as to face each other (Exodus 25:20; cf. Hebrews 9:5), where they were guardians of the atonement slate from which the divine Glory would speak to Israel (Exodus 25:1–22). Perhaps the cherubim on the veil, then, similarly served to guard the way to the sanctuary of God within the holy of holies, as their presence suggests the presence of Yahweh enthroned among his people.

The veil’s primary function was to separate the holy place from the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33). This separation is at the heart of the entire priestly code of the sacrificial system (e.g., Leviticus 11:1–45): to separate (badal) between the unclean and the clean. Likewise, in Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, there is to be separation of “the holy and the profane” (Ezekiel 42:20 NASB; cf. Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23). The veil, then, was a physical barrier that both represented and enforced the separation from the holy presence of the enthroned Yahweh within from Aaron and his sons — the violation of which brought death (Numbers 18:7; cf. Leviticus 16:2).

Exception for entering the holy of holies was made only in the context of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:11–28), when the high priest would take the offering behind the veil as a sin or purification offering (Leviticus 16:11). Here the blood was taken into the holy of holies and sprinkled on the atonement slate of the ark (Leviticus 16:14). On the Day of Atonement, Aaron was to use the blood of the sin offering to purify and consecrate the altar (Leviticus 16:19). Yet the man entering must be the high priest and may not enter “whenever he chooses,” says the Lord, “for I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover” (Leviticus 16:2 NIV; Numbers 7:89).

Even on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest was permitted physical accessibility to God within the holy of holies, the atonement slate was hidden from sight by the cloud, in this way saving the high priest from death (Leviticus 16:12–13). That is, the physical restriction was extended to the visual (e.g., Exodus 35:12; cf. 39:20b [MT=34b]). Even while in transit, the veil was used to conceal the ark from sight, as it was the most sacred object of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:10–22), where the Lord spoke to Moses. Looking upon the holy things, even by a high priest and even for a moment, incurred death (Leviticus 16:13; cf. 1 Samuel 6:19–20). Thus it seems the veil served as a physical and visual barrier, protecting the priest from the lethal presence of the enthroned Lord and reinforcing the separation between God and humankind.

The prohibitive function of the veil — conveyed implicitly and explicitly in the Old Testament — underscores the restrictions placed upon Israelite worship based on the holiness of God. This is important because worshipers in the old covenant were restricted in their access to God in the temple, and could approach him only through sacrifice and prayer, and not at any time they chose. Only a high priest who was ritually pure and without defect could approach Yahweh without being put to death. The severity of this punishment primarily concerned the holiness of God himself and the sanctity of objects directly related to worshiping him (cf. Exodus 33:19–23). Even Moses was forbidden to see the face of the Lord, “because man may not see my face and yet live” (Exodus 33:20 author’s translation).

The Veil in Jesus’s Day

There were a few legends about the veil of the temple in the days of Jesus. One from the Dead Sea Scrolls describes angelic worship in the heavenly sanctuary, where animated cherubim, embroidered in the curtain, sing praises to God.3 Some rabbis, writing long after the temple was destroyed by Rome in AD 70, depict the veil as symbolic of the heavenly firmaments (cf. Genesis 1:6). In this way, the veil was a barrier between heaven and earth, behind which divine secrets were kept, known only to God.4 The Jerusalem temple during the days of Jesus had been significantly renovated by Herod the Great (rule 37–4 BC).5 The historian Josephus, himself a priest, describes the structure, including the veil, in some detail.6 He says it was made of “Babylonian tapestry,” scarlet and purple, clearly depicting royalty. The “marvelous skill” with which it was made was rich in symbolism that depicted the elements of the universe. Embroidered into the veil was “a panorama of the heavens,”7 meaning it resembled the heavens, likely the heavenly firmaments (Genesis 1:6) or the sky.8

The Veil in Matthew’s Narrative

Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:50–54), which most scholars presume expands on the parallel account in Mark (Mark 15:38–39), contains some unique features throughout in the immediate context (Matthew 27:35–54). We must constantly recall, however, that all of these features are immediately relevant to the primary subject matter of the passage — the death of Jesus. The passage is replete with irony: He is mocked with a sign indicating that he is “King of the Jews,” but in fact he really is! He is cajoled to save himself and come down off the cross, “if you are the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40) — the precise language used by the devil in the temptation (Matthew 4:1–11) — and yet his saving activity is achieved for others, not himself, by remaining on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:42). When he cries out in a loud voice (Matthew 27:46), his quote from Psalm 22:1 (Hebrew Eli, Eli) is confused by the bystanders with Elijah — who has already come in the person of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14).

At his death, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50). Right afterward, Matthew writes, “and behold!” and instantly the reader is transported from Golgotha on Friday (cf. Matthew 27:33) to the temple veil in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51a), then (presumably) to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 27:51b–53a), then into “the holy city” (Jerusalem) on Sunday (note “after his resurrection,” Matthew 27:53), and only then back to the scene at the cross (Matthew 27:54). What has prompted Matthew to take his readers on such a whirlwind, and what are we to make of it? The events — including the tearing of the veil and all the other occurrences in Matthew 27:51–53 — are just as historical as the death and resurrection of Jesus itself. Yet Matthew’s presentation of these events is done as commentary — historical commentary, of course — on the significance of the death of Jesus. In other words, the death of Jesus is so profoundly significant that it has triggered the following events, which explain to some degree the meaning of Jesus’s death.

Paradise Reopened

But before we look at what these events indicate about the significance of Jesus’s death, our next step is to examine what Matthew has already said about it. To Matthew, Jesus’s death is both necessary (Matthew 16:21) and expected (cf. Matthew 16:17; 17:22–23), albeit temporary (Matthew 17:9)! His death, like John’s, is that of an innocent prophet inaugurating the restoration of “all things” (Matthew 17:11–12; cf. 3:1–15). Significantly, Jesus’s death is a “ransom” for many (Matthew 20:28) — a payment offered to rescue another, perhaps borrowed from the sacrificial language of the Old Testament. Matthew is explicit that Jesus’s death is for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). It is by his death on the cross — as a ransom that achieves the forgiveness of sins — that Jesus accomplishes his mission to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Having seen what Matthew has already said about the death of Jesus, we can now look at what else he says about it in the tearing of the veil and the ensuing narrative.

Matthew’s many uses of “and behold” (Matthew 27:51) typically introduce something surprising in the narrative (e.g., Matthew 2:13; 3:16–17; 17:5; 28:20). The passive-voice construction “the curtain of the temple was torn” (Matthew 27:51) implies that God himself tore the veil. This is confirmed by description of the damage: “from top to bottom.” Note also the extent: “in two.” This singular cultic artefact is now irreparably damaged — it can no longer perform the function for which it was intended. This means that there is no longer a physical barrier to God, suggesting that the theological necessity of it is thereby removed. The angelic guardians are disarmed, and reentry into the Edenic presence of God is again permitted for the first time since the fall.

The crucial element here is this: all this is accomplished by the death of Jesus, a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), whose blood accomplishes the forgiveness of sins and establishes the new covenant (Matthew 26:28). But Matthew insists that it is only the “pure in heart” who will see God (Matthew 5:8; cf. Psalm 24:4). So Matthew seems to imply what writers like Paul make explicit: the death of Jesus accomplishes the forgiveness of sins and establishes the (imputed) righteousness of the believer (e.g., Philippians 3:9). (Remember that the Gospels were written for Christians who were already converted and knew something of the gospel message; cf. Luke 1:1–4.)

The Turning of the Ages

But there is more! Matthew provides additional explanations to his readers than Mark does in his simple statement about the torn veil and the centurion’s statement (Mark 15:38–39), all of which teach something about the significance of Jesus’s death. “And the earth shook” (Matthew 27:51b). Earthquakes were frequently present in theophanic scenes (see Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18), but here Matthew draws at least in part from Ezekiel 37 (recall the valley of dry bones), where an earthquake (Ezekiel 37:7) precedes the opening of graves and the resurrection of people who return to the land of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12–13). In Matthew’s context, the earthquake indicates a dramatic manifestation of God at a climactic event in his redemptive-historical plan. So violent was the earthquake that Matthew adds “and the rocks were split,” demonstrating the power of God (Nahum 1:5–6; 1 Kings 19:11; Psalm 114:7; Isaiah 48:21). Here the likely allusion is to Zechariah 14:4–5, where the Lord himself will come and split the Mount of Olives.

Matthew’s statement that “the tombs were opened” (Matthew 27:52a NASB) recalls Ezekiel 37:12–13, where the Lord says through the prophet, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. . . . And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.” The raising of the dead saints, then, is a declarative statement about God making known his identity, which in Matthew is through Jesus as Immanuel (“God with us,” Matthew 1:23). Those who are to be raised in Ezekiel 37 are the righteous believers who have died prior to the coming of Christ (cf. Zechariah 14:4–5; Daniel 12:2), though Matthew seems less concerned with identifying these people than he is with depicting their resurrection triggered by the death of Jesus.

Furthermore, their coming out of their tombs (Matthew 27:53a) is directly from the prophecy of Ezekiel 37:12. But Matthew adds a statement about timing, “after his resurrection” (Matthew 27:53b), presumably in recognition that Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20–23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). When Matthew says, “they went into the holy city” (Matthew 27:53c), he indicates Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 4:5–6), where they “appeared to many” (Matthew 27:53d), seemingly to indicate eyewitnesses to the event.

These unique images are all drawn from various prophetic texts — such as Ezekiel 37:1–14, Daniel 12, and Zechariah 14 — to indicate things that will occur in the future as depictions of salvation, often with the notion of deliverance and restoration from exile. The deliverance here, though, is of a different kind: the events anticipated in the future have occurred at the death of Jesus. And Jesus did not come to save his people from exile, but from their sins (Matthew 1:21), a mission tied up in his very name which, in Hebrew, is the same as Joshua and means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” In Jesus, the salvation of Yahweh has been accomplished, and the so-called “special material” is a dramatic illustration that the long-awaited turning of the ages — the hinge-point where redemptive history turns from the old covenant to the new covenant — is accomplished here, at this very point in all history.

Notice that while Mark mentions only the centurion at the cross, Matthew draws attention to the plurality of witnesses: “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus . . .” (Matthew 27:54). Matthew then explains that they “saw the earthquake and what took place.” Though this may include the tearing of the veil, the more natural reading of this verse would be that they saw the earthquake and all the other events thereafter. Such “events” (ta genomena) in Matthew typically occur in the life of Jesus in fulfillment of Scripture and to inspire a response, such as repentance (e.g., Matthew 1:22; 11:21, 23; 18:31; 28:11). But how could a centurion at Golgotha on Friday see events that occurred on the Mount of Olives and then in Jerusalem on Sunday? It may be that Matthew is simply telescoping. That is, Matthew notes the earthquake, the rocks splitting, the tombs opening, and the dead rising — and, parenthetically, he notes that these resurrected people appeared to many in Jerusalem after Jesus’s resurrection on Sunday. Suffice it to say that Matthew took no pains to clarify, and so perhaps does not share our concern for explanation.

A Revelation from Heaven

But herein lies a secondary, little-considered function of the tearing of the veil that is hinted at both by the historical depiction of the veil by Josephus and by the Gospel of Mark. As we have seen, Josephus describes the veil in terms of the sky, or the panorama of the heavens.9 In the Gospel of Mark, noted as a source for Matthew, the connection between the veil and the heavens is made explicit: the veil is torn (schizō) at Jesus’s death (Mark 15:38), and the heavens are likewise torn (again schizō) at Jesus’s baptism (Mark 1:10). Add to this the fact that Mark describes Jesus’s death as a kind of baptism (Mark 10:38–39) and the literary connection becomes clear. The splitting of the heavens introduces the heavenly voice revealing the identity of Jesus as God’s Son (Mark 1:11), and the tearing of the veil is in part symbolic of the tearing of the heavens, and serves to reveal to the centurion the identity of Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

Importantly, only here in Mark’s Gospel does a human being enter into this supernatural perspective: the voice from heaven declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Mark 1:11; 9:7), the evil spirits also recognize it (Mark 3:11), but in Mark’s Gospel, only at the cross does a human being recognize Jesus as “Son of God” (Mark 15:39). This happens, I suggest, when the historical event of the rending of the temple’s veil is allowed to take on an additional, symbolic role in the Gospel narrative, equating it with the rending open of heaven as an apocalyptic revelation.10 The centurion, like Cornelius in the book of Acts (Acts 10:3–7), receives a special revelation from God. And in Mark’s Gospel, it is here at the cross where Jesus’s “Son of God-ness” is displayed in all its fullness and glory — the sacrificial death on the cross for sins.

How this bears out in Matthew is evident in the response of the centurion and those standing there: “they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54). The language of “filled with awe” may be misleading, as the NIV’s “they were terrified” (ephobēthēsan sphodra) is more accurate to the sense. This response resembles that of the disciples when Jesus is transfigured (Matthew 17:6) and suggests a supernatural display (cf. Matthew 14:27, 30; 17:6; 28:5, 10). Their fear is followed by a statement about the identity of Jesus. Despite objections, Jesus truly was the Son of God, as claimed by God himself (Matthew 3:17; 17:5), affirmed by Jesus (Matthew 26:63–64), and even acknowledged by the disciples (Matthew 14:33; 16:16). But the disciples recognize this identity only when a miracle has occurred (Matthew 14:33), and even then, their recognition cannot be the result of natural deduction but rather the result of a supernatural revelation from the Father in heaven (Matthew 16:16–17). With the centurion’s acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God, he too has received a revelation from the Father, an acknowledgement of the true identity of Jesus to which the miraculous events surrounding his death, introduced by the torn veil, bear witness.

Celebrating Access to the Father

The veil was a physical, visible barrier indicating that access to God was strictly prohibited because of his holiness. It is imperative to remember that the holiness of God remains unchanged from all eternity — even after the veil is torn. What has changed, then, is that the atoning death of Jesus on the cross has provided the appropriate wrath-bearing sacrifice, one which the bulls and goats of the old covenant could not provide (Hebrews 10:4).

The author of Hebrews expounds on this very clearly: “we have confidence to enter the holy places” (Hebrews 10:19), and this is accomplished by the blood of Jesus. This is the “new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20) that Christ opened for us through the veil, which, the author says, is through his flesh. This means that the breaking of Jesus’s body at the crucifixion is the unprecedented means by which believers have access to the presence of God. This, coupled with the priesthood of Christ (Hebrews 10:21), forms the basis of the author’s exhortation to believers: draw near to God (Hebrews 10:22), hold unwaveringly to our confession of faith (Hebrews 10:23), stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), and continually meet together to encourage one another in the faith (Hebrews 10:25). As we approach Easter, we recall and celebrate what Christ has done for us on the cross, and heed the exhortation to meet habitually in church for corporate worship and exhortation to hold fast to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

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Book Notice: RESURRECTION LIFE IN A WORLD OF SUFFERING: 1 PETER (GOSPEL COALITION (WOMEN’S INITIATIVES)), by D. A. Carson and Kathleen Nielson

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

“He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3

The book of 1 Peter offers a gospel perspective on our short lives. Originally written to Christians facing intense suffering, Peter’s message is one of hope and grace―all centered on the resurrected Christ. Featuring contributions from six popular Bible teachers, this volume will help you better understand the hope-filled message of the book of 1 Peter and experience the resurrection life Jesus offers us today.

Table of Contents

Preface
Kathleen Nielson 
Introduction
Peter the Expositor: The Apostle’s Use of Scripture in 1 Peter
Juan Sanchez

  1. Born Again to a Living Hope (1 Peter 1:1–12)
    Kathleen Nielson 
  2. Living Resurrection Life (1 Peter 1:13–2:3)
    Jen Wilkin
  3. Remember Who You Are! (1 Peter 2:4–10)
    Carrie Sandom
  4. Following Jesus Far from Home (1 Peter 2:11–3:12)
    Mary Willson
  5. Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, Showing His Glory (1 Peter 3:13–4:19)
    D. A. Carson
  6. A Shepherd and a Lion (1 Peter 5:1–14)
    John Piper

Conclusion: Help Me Teach 1 Peter
Nancy Guthrie and John Piper 
Contributors
General Index
Scripture Index

About the Authors

D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.

Kathleen Nielson(PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.

Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring GodDon’t Waste Your LifeThis Momentary MarriageA Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.

Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her seventeen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

Mary Willson (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) presently serves as the director of women’s initiatives at the Gospel Coalition, and will soon serve as the director of women in ministry for Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.

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Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering: 1 Peter (Gospel Coalition (Women’s Initiatives))

2018 | 208 pages

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Who Does He Think He Is?

It was a kangaroo court, his accusers looking for an excuse to execute him. His crime was that he had become too prominent, too influential, attracting thousands to follow him. It had gone beyond his constant conflict with their belief system, which systematically stripped away its pretense and showed them up for their hollow hypocrisy. That was bad enough – a nettling challenge to their control. But if that same influence was noticed by their Roman masters, all of the might and wrath of that fearsome empire would come down on them, sweeping away the nation – their nation. And with it, their influence, their coveted corner of power. That could not be allowed to happen.

So, he had to go.
And a surreptitious, private assassination wouldn’t do. They had to contrive a public discrediting and condemnation. Something that would depose him in the eyes of the populace, and at the same time, make him, not them, the subject of ultimate Roman vilification. The rights and wrongs of it were irrelevant – what mattered now was expedience.
They took him at night, deserted by his disciples and betrayed by one of his own. They tried him at night -illegal, but speed was what counted. Foregone was all the procedure laid down by law. No public statement of what he was being accused of. No appeal for witnesses to come forward in his defence, and no time allowed for that. The very law they boasted to uphold – the Law of Moses – was conveniently abandoned in order to serve their purpose,
And so here he stood, before them now, at their mercy. The paid liars had uttered their calumnies. Now, looking for something -anything – he himself would say that could be twisted to their advantage, he is challenged:

“The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.””
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26 vs 63,64)

In the original language, the question is heard as a statement with raised inflection at the end to make it a question. Like this:

“You are the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus’ reply is simply ‘your words!’ You said it!
Obviously, he is not toeing their line. But he is not denying their stated truth – he has clearly made this profession elsewhere. Just seeing right through their game. He will not allow them to put their words in his mouth, not for their ends. But then, what an astounding addition:

From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven

 They may account him ‘worthy of death’, but it is the Lord of life who speaks. He, not they, determines this outcome -“from now on …” This is stunning. They may well put him to death. But that is not the finale! Jesus is determined that all present hear what he says; it applies to every one of them. Indeed, what they now accomplish will serve two ends:

  1. Jesus will reign with his Father
  2. Jesus will return to judge
And so it is for us. 
For all who place him ‘on trial’. Those who will seek to manipulate what he reveals concerning himself. Those who ask straight questions should be vitally prepared to deal with his straight answers. If he truly is the Promised One of Israel, the Son of God, the time to reckon with the response is now. For those who will not will nevertheless be subject to – be enemies of – his ongoing rule. And, at his coming again, let them ask themselves, where will they then find themselves?
The real question, then, is not ‘who does he think he is’. But rather, ‘who do YOU say he is’. Because if he is who he says he is, he is the one most important person in all of history to be heard. And heeded.

Source: I’ll Be Honest

Answering Eight Basic Questions All Of Us Ask

I was recently asked by the hosts of The Laymens Lounge to answer a few questions about the Christian faith. I thought you might enjoy my answers.

1. What is the “Gospel” and what practical implications does the Gospel make in my everyday life?

I believe the Gospel is the gloriously good news, indeed the very best news, that God has graciously done everything necessary, at great sacrifice to himself, through the sinless life, penal substitutionary and sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself forever.

So, yes, the gospel is primarily about restoring the ruptured relationship between man and God. That is the essence of the gospel. But there are many things entailed by the gospel. I thus make a distinction between the content of the gospel and its consequences. The consequences, or those things entailed by the gospel, are racial reconciliation, ministry to the poor and homeless, the final redemption and cleansing of the material creation in the new heavens and new earth, and the universal application of justice in all human affairs. But I remain firmly persuaded that we have not preached the gospel until we have made known the way in which a fallen, rebellious sinner might be reconciled to God, forgiven of their sins, and granted entrance into the kingdom of Christ Jesus.

So, at the heart of the gospel is the good news that God has made it possible for us to escape the condemnation of hell and the wrath we otherwise so richly deserved to endure.

2. What is “sin” and what is so terrible about it when I do sin? And what is my motivation to not sin?

Sin is any act, word, or deed that fails to honor and glorify God as the supreme treasure in the universe. What makes sin so sinful is that it fails to recognize, embrace, and give thanks for the most glorious and beautiful being in all the universe. Sin is always an act of idolatry, for in it we seek to find in something else what can only be found in God alone. We sin when we devote our energy and give ourselves to something other than the only person who is immeasurably and infinitely worthy of our complete faith, trust, and love.

My motivation to not sin is that I get God! If it is in his presence that we find the fullness of joy and at his right hand that we experience pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11), my motivation not to sin is so that I might glorify God by enjoying him forever. Sin, therefore, is anytime and in any way that I seek to satisfy my longing for joy and pleasure in anyone or anything other than God.

3. What is God’s end goal for this world, all humans of this world, and me personally? Where is He taking it and what does it look like for me to be a part of that goal, and how can I have a role and purpose in that goal, and find meaning, and value, and my joy in that goal?

God’s end goal for this world is the worship of himself. His end goal is that he might be glorified, honored, and exalted in and through this world for the joy and satisfaction of his elect people. God’s end goal for me is that I might experience the greatest joy that comes from being satisfied and fully filled with the knowledge and worship of the greatest and most worthy Being, God.

What that looks like for me is to devote all my energy, by the power of his grace, to know him, enjoy him, and relish his beauty for my eternal satisfaction and his everlasting praise. My aim is thus to so portray the majesty and beauty of all that God is for us in Jesus that countless throngs of people will worship him with white hot praise and in doing so find the highest measure of joy and delight that is possible for a created, finite soul.

4. How can I, as a Christian who believes the Gospel and affirms orthodoxy, be compelled to genuinely desire God and the kingdom of God enough to become a true disciple, one who is willing to consider all things loss in comparison with knowing and loving Jesus?

The only way I or anyone else can “be compelled” to desire God and to devote myself as a disciple of Jesus, willing to lose all things for the sake of gaining him, is by beholding the light of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). Seeing God as he has revealed himself in creation, in Scripture, and preeminently in his Son, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate way to knowing and loving him above all else.

5. As a Christian, at the end of a long day (when I have done what I ought not to have done – and not done what I ought to have done) what are God’s thoughts of me when I lay down my head at night and fall asleep?

In Christ, that is, in terms of my position in him, having had his righteousness imputed or reckoned to me through faith alone, God is always and eternally pleased with me, delighted with me, and sings over me in joy (Zeph. 3:17). But when it comes to my daily experience, to whatever extent I disobey or trust and treasure something or someone above him, I displease him and grieve his heart. There is, then, a huge difference between my eternal union with God, on the one hand, in which I am his beloved child whom he loves without conditions, and my experiential communion with God, on the other hand, in which I can either experience joyful fellowship and intimacy or, because of unrepentant sin, languish under the conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit and the disciplinary hand of a loving Father who seeks to turn me back to himself and to righteousness.

6. What is God’s mission given to us and how do I fulfill it without it becoming a feeling of another thing I have to do for God? And based upon that, what is needed at the personal, and church level to shape culture and to be on strategic mission?

God’s mission for his people is to spread a passion for the all-consuming glory of Jesus Christ and the unrivaled joy that comes from this above all else. It is not just “another thing I have to do for God” but something I truly and deeply delight to do out of the overflow of God’s love for me in and through his Son. What the church needs most, and what individuals in it need most, is a fresh revelation of the majesty of Christ and a heart that is captivated and enthralled by all that he is in himself and all that has done and will do for us who trust in him.

In addition, we desperately need to avail ourselves of the supernatural power and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that alone will energize us and enable us to carry this message to a lost and dying world.

7. For you personally, what has been the most compelling or powerful aspect of the story of the Bible that you delight in, has come to you fresh, and resulted in you loving God more and being excited to be a part of God’s story?

Beyond all other stories, it is the story of Jesus: his sinless and obedient life, living the life I should have lived but can’t, and his loving, sacrificial death in my place, dying a death I should have died but now never will.

8. For those who read this interview and get pricked of mind and heart; what can I do today, right now at this very moment (and beyond), that can result in the story of the Bible taking root in my own heart and shaping me as it has you?

First, cry out to the Holy Spirit to “open your eyes that you might behold wonderful things in God’s Word” (Ps. 119:18). Second, cry out for a fresh revelation of the beauty and majesty of Christ, that is, praying that God would grant you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him and that the eyes of one’s heart would be enlightened to see and savor the hope we have in Jesus. Third, prayer for a renewal of our spiritual taste buds, that we might sense, savor, and enjoy the sweetness of who Jesus is and all he has done for us.

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Christopher Ash on Teaching Ruth

In his book Teaching Ruth and Esther, Christopher Ash—writer-in-residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England—writes about the book of Ruth:

The is more to this story than meets the eye. As a diamond gathers and concentrates light from all directions into an intense and radiant beauty, so Ruth displays the wonder of Christ and shines with his beauty. . . . Here the good news of Jesus will be told in terms of emptiness and fullness, famine and plenty, sadness and joy, death and life, bitterness and hope.

In our conversation, Ash helps Bible teachers see the kindness at the center of the book of Ruth. He warns us against imposing things onto the story not emphasized by the author, and he demonstrates how best to present the fullness and kindness of Christ through this little book.

Recommended Audio Resources

Recommended Print Resources

Listen to to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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He Spent His Last Night Singing: The Melody of Maundy Thursday

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
     What can man do to me?
(Psalm 118:6)

Songs prepared him to die.

On Thursday, the night before Jesus was crucified, he ate a holy meal and sang a holy song with his friends. It was “the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb” (Mark 14:12). So Jesus and his disciples did what they always did on Passover Eve: they ate roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread; they drank wine; they prayed and sang according to the Jewish tradition. But Jesus wasn’t going through the motions on this Thursday night; he was finishing his mission, preparing the last Lamb for slaughter.

Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn before leaving the upper room for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The chosen hymn for this holy moment was likely one of the “Hallel Psalms” (Psalm 113–118), which the Jews customarily sang to conclude the Passover celebration. They likely sang in two parts: the leader (Jesus) recited the lines, and his followers responded with the refrain, “Praise the Lord” (“Hallelujah”).

Lyrics Prepared Him to Die

Several days before, Jesus cited the last Hallel Psalm to make the point of his parable crystal clear: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Mark 12:10–11; Psalm 118:22–23). He had set his face like flint for Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets. He had warned his followers that he would be rejected by the religious leaders, then killed (Mark 8:31). He predicted that one of the trusted twelve would betray him, then he roused his drowsy friends and readied to receive Judas’s kiss (Mark 14:18, 42).

The Psalms served as the script of this holy story, and Jesus knew his part: he was David’s Son and David’s Lord, the chosen Cornerstone of the Lord’s true temple (Psalm 110:1; 118:22). The Psalms also were the soundtrack for Jesus’s soul as he prepared for desertion, denial, denigration, and death. Here are four melody lines from the music of Maundy Thursday.

Jesus Blessed the Lord

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
(Psalm 113:2)

But we will bless the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 115:18).

Jesus did not offer fair-weather praise. He continued to bless his Father as he readied for rejection. Praise prepared him for Judas’s betrayal, for Peter’s denial, for the witnesses’ lies, for the mob’s mocking. Praise prepared him to enter the darkness and bear the cross alone.

The Son sang what was true, right, and good even though falsehood, injustice, and evil seemed to have the upper hand. The Psalms of Praise anchored Jesus’s soul and propelled him forward to finish his mission.

Jesus Looked Forward to Life After Death

You have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:8–9)

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

The Psalms reminded Jesus not only that his righteous death was precious to his Father, but also that death would not have the last word. While the psalmist expected deliverance from death’s doorsteps, Jesus knew that he must experience death’s very depths to defeat it forever.

Death could not hold the Author of life (Acts 3:15). He would take up his cross on Friday confident that he would walk out of the tomb on Sunday. God did not preserve the Son from death, but through death into the land of the living.

Jesus Lifted His Cup

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
(Psalm 116:13–14).

On Thursday evening, Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and invited his disciples to partake of the wine representing his blood. Then, in Gethsemane, Jesus pleaded with his Father to remove this cup — the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51:17; Psalm 75:8) — yet he submitted to God’s will.

Jesus’s cup held a strange brew: wrath and redemption, forsakenness and forgiveness, bitterness and blessing. The obedient Son kept his vows and willingly drank the cup the Father gave him. He laid down his life to lift up “the cup of salvation” for us.

Jesus Embraced God’s Help and Expected Ultimate Triumph

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
(Psalm 118:6–7)

The Psalms reminded Jesus that God was with him and that he need fear no man — not the powerful governor, the mocking priests, the brutal soldiers, or the gawking crowd. “What can man do to me?” They can malign and murder, but they cannot frustrate God’s plans.

Jesus did not defend himself against the lies and lashes, because he embraced his mission and awaited his vindication. He did not seek revenge but prayed for his persecutors and committed himself into his Father’s hands. While his opponents gladly tried to finish him off, Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures and declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The Psalms of Praise served as the melody of Maundy Thursday. The Son blessed his Lord even in his darkest hours. He looked forward to life after death. He lifted the cup of salvation and kept his vows. He embraced God’s help and expected ultimate triumph. These scriptural songs strengthened our Savior to endure Friday’s cross and to await Sunday’s triumph.

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The Notre Dame Fire reveals how we find “the truth”

Fire destroys. But when a building burns, the fire also reveals: old art, former paint jobs, things hidden for centuries.

And the most striking thing the flames revealed was how we interpret events. It turns out that we are hardwired away from objectivity in our interpretations, that we will make snap judgments about who did what, who started the fight, who lied, based on what we already “know to be true.” I wrote about how the flood of social media in this century has made the situation incredibly worse, so that one despairs of finding the truth:

We are attracted to headlines that fit into our “confirmation bias”; that is, we tend to believe what they say if they confirm what we already believe, but reject them if they run contrary to our beliefs.

And so even while Notre Dame was in flames, people rushed to social media to interpret its meaning. As I said, while the firefighters were still hosing it down. That is – and let’s underscore this – before a single investigator was able to open the case.

The assumption is: “I know what I know, and therefore I am more capable than some so-called “expert” in fires to tell you what’s what.”

I was on a break from social media at the time, but “dipped in” a bit and found these theories that purported to reveal the truth behind the fire:

  • Notre Dame burned, because it was a place where people worshiped Mary.
  • Notre Dame burned, because Muslims terrorists ignited it.
  • Notre Dame burned, because ecumenists want to unite Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants (against a common enemy, the Muslims)
  • Notre Dame burned, because gays are angry at the Catholic church
  • Notre Dame burned, because it was a Masonic Fire Ritual or done by the New World Order
  • Notre Dame burned, but only Alt Right conspiracy theorists imagine it might be arson
  • The Government of France will lie about it, because governments always lie.
  • According to one source, Pat Robertson blamed it on the “Gay Illuminati” (!); people who are inclined to think Robertson is a crank (and I count myself one of them) will probable take that report at face value. But it seems to be fake news, I cannot find Robertson saying this anywhere.
  • Of course, as always happens in such events, some blamed the “Zionists” or “the Jews” or the Rothschilds
  • One rabbi called it divine judgment for a book burning in Paris. In the 13th century.
  • God torched Notre Dame because it was named for “Our Lady” Mary. This from the article “What Holy Spirit Told Me About Notre Dame Burning” (in Charisma News from yesterday, which is the site of many such revelations)
  • And finally: “There Is No Profound Meaning to the Notre Dame Fire” runs a New Republic headline yesterday

SO: Read any event, any day, through your own glasses, and the right answer will pop out! At least, the answer that fits in with your cognitive bias and thus feels right to you. And we tend to charge those with other lenses with being sheeple or naïve.

Before closing, let me point out that some are being deceptive about the fire. A (now former) FB friend of mine posted an article from the Telegraph on his page while the fire was still burning:

The problem? This is an article, headline, and picture from 2016, not 2019! When I criticized him for his “deception” he told me No, no deception! When I pointed out that, when a building is burning and you post that, gasoline and Arabic books were found on the site, and don’t bother to mention that the dates were off by three years, then it’s deception. He disagreed, mainly because he “knew” the Muslims torched Notre Dame this week, and so, apparently, posting the article without any qualification was “the truth”.

So, maybe Muslim terrorists will be found to be the culprits, who knows at this stage (I’ll update this article later when the facts come in). But just as an exercise, what if I posted a picture of Notre Dame with a headline that goes like this?

In fact, my caption is as “true” as the Express one that others are posting from 2016, true in the US at least: White Nationalist “Christians” are the culprits of the great majority of church (and mosque, and synagogue) attacks. But people will find that such a post was shockingly unfair and deceptive! And of course, I agree. But, isn’t it also true that loving our neighbor means that we don’t do to them, what we don’t want done to us? So let’s none of us do it!

The Bible tells us to believe the truth, not what we feel sounds like the truth.

Also just in: the chatter that Muslims where screaming “Alluhu Akbar!” while watching fire raging in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is still unfounded rumor, as is the one about the Muslim standing in the steeping and shouting “Alluhu Akbar” during the fire.

“The Notre Dame Fire reveals how we find ‘the truth’”, by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Is the Church Breeding Loneliness? Interview with Rosaria Butterfield

Is the church breeding loneliness? Rosaria Butterfield answers yes.

She believes we have declared independence from each other in our culture and, sadly, in our churches. Once upon a time, the church was “of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Shared time, shared food, shared possessions. Shared identity. They were the early church — a family bound together by the blood of Jesus.

Many of our churches today have left behind that picture of the family of God, though. The contemporary Western church’s “absolutely low or nonexistent culture of family of God” has fostered an unparalleled depth of loneliness, with single women in particular buried at the bottom.

The Crisis of Loneliness

I interviewed Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Gospel Comes with a House Key, on the topic of codependency. As we talked about friendship and boundaries, we narrowed in on loneliness, especially among single women.

“Single women,” she says, “are doing a kind of deep-sea diving that married women are not. When you are married, you have somebody holding your ankles when you’re dangling over the cliff. We’ve got these single women, and nobody is there. Who’s going to hold their ankles?” This is a powerful illustration of what Rosaria calls the “crisis of loneliness.” “We [the church] have created the problem, and now we are asking singles to come up with the solution,” says Rosaria. “To tell a single woman who is already lonely to make it her responsibility to set boundaries in relationships” misses the issue.

“We need to do something about this culture of loneliness and lack of family of God in the church.” She says, “Desperate people make idols.” If we defeat the desperation, perhaps the church can be in the business not only of idol destruction, but idol prevention.

Cultivating the Family of God

How, then, do we practically cultivate the Acts 4 “one heart and soul” culture in our present-day family of God? Can the church shift from operating often alone and occasionally together to often together and occasionally alone?

“One heart and soul” may start with one home. Rosaria makes a bold call: “Most families should be living communally with singles in the church.” She continues, “Its purpose, like with parenting, is not to create dependence, but to help people launch. Communal living is a short-term arrangement, for seasons of life when there is a need for a faithful presence.” Discipling, in her mind, ought to grow out of how the Christian family functions.

Rosaria describes several benefits to the covenant family opening its doors: (1) others in the church can have safe intimacy and relationality; (2) it reduces the need for church intervention or counseling because more issues are dealt with organically in community; (3) it places healthy pressure on a marriage to be a godly marriage and not resort to “living together like roommates”; and (4) it visually marks the family of God.

We can weep together. We can rejoice together. We can bear burdens together. We can live life together — because we are already together. You can’t get more of having “everything in common” (Acts 4:32) than by sharing living space and all in it with brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, one day, as the collective bride of Christ, we will all have one dwelling place with our God. Forever (Revelation 21:3).

But Rosaria encourages us to operate as the family of God even when we don’t live under one roof. “At our table, we have many singles in the church that don’t live in our home. They come, they have dinner, we have devotions, and [we] have an understanding of where people are [spiritually].” Scripture anticipates this very togetherness in the body marked by “day by day” gathering, church attendance, prayer, and breaking bread in our homes (Acts 2:42–47). Our homes can and should be open to a regular rhythm of feeding hungry souls and bodies.

For Your Small Group

“One heart and soul” requires an active remembrance that we share one identity. When we celebrated my oldest daughter’s fourth birthday, we threw a party for kids and their parents. Nearly every person in our small group came — and none of them had children. They were all single.

For most of our small group’s life, we have been the only married couple. Our kids have modeled for us what the family of God looks like as they welcome and interact with our brothers and sisters when they walk in the door — from our youngest twenty-something to our oldest seventy-something. To them, each person has a name, identity, gifts, and personality. To them, as it should be for us, we have everything in common: Jesus.

So, what should our small group communities look like? Rosaria points us to the Psalms of Ascent:

Think about what it would have been like to make that pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is a communal effort, and in that community are people that are very little and very old. There are people that can’t walk themselves and people who have to be carried. There are people who carry other people. There are friendships across ages and all kinds of other differences, and yet we are all looking up to Jerusalem. And that needs to be our model for our Christian family of God, that we are all looking up to this New Jerusalem.

Rosaria strongly warns against homogeneous small groups, particularly those that separate by age, sex, season of life, or common sin struggles. “What single women need are not more single women. What young families need are not more young families.” Why? Rosaria continues, “Small groups that are organized by a sociological category really weaken relationships across differences in a church. And it weakens our ability to really serve one another.”

Rosaria encourages us to “leave room for real, organic friendships.” Christ is our commonality, and we are members of his body. And when we exhibit our unity by blood as we interact across our differences, we not only serve each other; we give the world a picture of genuine fellowship and the One who enables it.

Practical Ideas for Churches

“One heart and soul” must be a church-wide, united mission. For smaller churches, Rosaria says cultivating a culture of family of God can happen more naturally. But for those of us at bigger churches, the elders will have to lead in determining how the right kinds of relationships are established and nurtured. Here are some ideas Rosaria offers to pastors, elders, and church leaders as we grow our family-of-God lifestyle.

1. Provide go-to homes for holidays.

Rosaria recommends, “Some houses in the church are go-to places for holidays — no questions asked; no invitation necessary.” At bigger churches, this initiative may require church leaders to compile a list of members with doors open on holidays throughout the year and have people sign up to join them — a formal start to an organic rhythm down the road.

2. Encourage smalls groups to act as a family.

Small groups break down the walls of big churches into family homes. They are often the means through which we experience fellowship, meet ministry needs within the church, and brainstorm and execute outreach in our neighborhoods and cities. Rosaria reminds us why all three are necessary:

Let’s ask them to be brothers and sisters in the Lord. Let’s make sure that as we serve the Lord together, and we go out there, and we have hard conversations, we’ve got plenty of time to play cards with one another or assemble a puzzle together on the dining room table — that we actually know one another on that level.

We lay down our plans and time at the foot of the cross not only for the sake of outward ministry in the community, but for the sake of knowing each other well. We have game nights, eat less-preferred foods, and surrender kids’ bedtimes (and ours) for the sake of fellowship, like we do for the sake of studying God’s word and engaging the unbelieving world around us.

3. Foster neighborhood-based intimacy.

No matter how foreign Rosaria’s vision for church families feels, we can all take steps forward, especially if we start dreaming and praying with church members in our neighborhood. Much of her counsel assumes that we don’t live far from each other. Regular meal sharing, speaking the word to one another, recreational activities, and missional living in community typically requires proximity.

One practical way forward, then, is simply to figure out who goes to your church and lives close to you. Do you know?

Family Now and Forever

Is the church breeding loneliness? Perhaps. Either way, there is a call here for all of us: through our faithful prayers, listening, and obedience, our day-to-day lives and ministry depict the “one heart and soul” reality of the church, the true family of God. And for those of us who feel like family of God is an unattainable reality, Rosaria sums up our path forward: “Do what you do, and open your arms wider.”

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The Kind of Forest the World Needs

There has never been a generation of Christ followers more materially blessed than we are. We are wealthier, healthier, better resourced, and better connected than any other Christian community in the history of the world.

Such benefits come with great responsibility, however. Scripture teaches that to whom much is given, much is required.

You may know exactly what your calling is, where you are headed next, what you want to do in the next 10 years. Or you may be trying to figure out where God would have you serve. I was in the latter category as I headed off to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, and I wasn’t sure what my vocational path would be. But that’s okay, and I’m living proof that you can change your major four times in college and still turn out fine.

What’s important to remember is that wherever God calls you, you have a responsibility as a Christ follower to take on the attitude of a servant, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to comfort those who mourn. Just like your Savior (Isa. 61:1–3; Luke 4:17–21). You are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Oaks of Righteousness

I love the metaphor for God’s servants in Isaiah 61. We’re called to display God’s splendor, to become oaks of righteousness (v. 3).

Righteousness isn’t a word we hear often these days. Our culture is uncomfortable with calls for holy living. And yet that is the countercultural entailment of gospel grace. So how are each of us doing in this call to righteousness? I imagine each of us fall woefully short in this calling. I certainly do. But that doesn’t mean we stop pursuing it.

The Bible suggests we are to be oaks of righteousness, mighty examples of God’s splendor, with roots that run deep and trees that grow tall and branches that give support for those who need a place to rest.

The interesting thing about giant oak trees is that they each begin as tiny acorns. In many ways, we, too, are like those trees. We each began as a tiny acorn. And by God’s grace, we grow into the man or woman God would have us to be.

I grew up in Mississippi, a land full of water oaks and live oaks. Did you know that there are approximately 600 existing species of oaks in the world today? Ninety of them can be found here in the United States.

Acorns take six to 18 months to mature, depending on the species. The full maturation of oaks, in general, takes a long time. This is because oaks are hardwoods that tend to grow slowly. And they can last for a long time. The oldest oak tree in the United States is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

But their slow-growing nature creates dense wood that is hearty and can be used for many different purposes. And so it is with us. We each have different callings, different spheres of service. Part of your task in the years ahead is to figure out what God is calling you toward.

Joy of Faithfulness

The threefold progression in Isaiah 61—you’re blessed to be a blessing; be an oak of righteousness; in return, everlasting joy will be yours—doesn’t mean the path will always be easy or that your investments will always double. These promises come to us in the new covenant age, after all, through union with the One who fulfilled them all. No, this is about taking the long view, about pursuing what Eugene Peterson famously called “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Christian faithfulness grows from a tiny acorn into a giant oak of righteousness—not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done and is doing in each of us. As God’s trees, we’re not responsible for the soil we’re born into, nor can we control how many sunny or rainy days fall within our lives. Those are important things to remember. But we are responsible for the direction of our trajectory, and Isaiah admonishes us to be people who display God’s splendor no matter our circumstances.

Like oaks, we are to have a multiplicative effect on our world for good. So my word of encouragement, as you contemplate your calling in this next chapter of your life, is to actively seek ways to showcase the splendor of your gracious God.

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Book Notice: THE SUBVERSIVE PURITAN: ROGER WILLIAMS AND FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE, by Mostyn Roberts

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

How shall we live together in the light of our very deep differences? Christian author Os Guinness has said this is the greatest problem facing the United States today and the same could be said for ‘the West’ as a whole. Can a seventeenth-century Calvinist contribute anything? In recent years a number of authors, popular and academic, Christian and secular, have found inspiration in Roger Williams, the rebel Puritan exiled from Massachusetts who founded Rhode Island. He made the new little state a haven for those ‘oppressed for conscience’ and wrenched church and state further apart than was anywhere known at that time. Its Charter was the first in the world to protect liberty of conscience. Williams is rewarded with a statue at the Reformation Wall in Geneva, yet he remains strangely unknown today, even by those who stand broadly in his religious heritage.

About the Author

Mostyn Roberts is the pastor of Welwyn Evangelical Church in Hertfordshire. After reading law at Pembroke College, Cambridge (where he was converted) he practised as a solicitor for seven years. He responded to the call to the ministry, taking a BA at Spurgeon’s College in London followed by the MTh at the University of London. After a pastorate in the north of England he came to Welwyn at the end of 1998. He has taught Systematic Theology at LTS since 2002.

Endorsements

Gary Williams, Director, The Pastors’ Academy, London:

…the story of Williams and his trials is itself fascinating and well- told: what an extraordinary challenge these people faced as they sought to construct societies from scratch on the other side of the world!

Michael A G Haykin, FRHistS, Chair and Professor of Church History, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky:

This new biography of the key Puritan thinker Roger Williams is most welcome. … Drawing upon the latest research on the Puritan author, Roberts outlines the contours of his life with special focus on his thought about religious liberty and why it is so important today. An excellent and truly thoughtful volume.

Buy the books

The Subversive Puritan: Roger Williams and Freedom of Conscience

Evangelical Press, 2019 | 258 pages

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Don’t Doubt That Jesus Can Forgive You

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Jesus showed by the works that He did that He can forgive sins. If you want to be saved, you must not doubt that Jesus has the power to forgive sins; more particularly, you must not doubt that He can forgive YOUR sins.

Philippians 3:7–10: The Mark of a True Christian

In this lab, John Piper clarifies that the mark of a true Christian is that he can endure a life of suffering and not renounce Christ, but rather rejoice in him all the more.

Some questions to ask as you read and study Philippians 3:7–10:

  1. How can you know you’re saved? What are the marks of a true Christian?
  2. Read Philippians 3:7–10. What role does suffering play in the life of the believer? Why do you think God does not simply spare us from suffering?
  3. Watch the lab. Why does John Piper insist that the power to endure suffering is the mark of a true Christian?

Watch this video offline by downloading it from Vimeo or subscribing to the Look at the Book video podcast via iTunes or RSS.


Principles for Bible Reading

Action-Purpose

Authors often give us reasons for why someone did a certain action or why we should do a certain action. They typically give the action statement first (e.g. I went to the store/you should go to the store), then a conjunction or connecting word (in this case, usually, so that, in order that, or simply that), and finally the reason for the action or the purpose statement.

For Example

Parents tell their children to eat their broccoli (action) so that they can have dessert later (purpose). The commercial tells us to buy this shirt (action) so that we can be more attractive (purpose). First Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God [action] so that at the proper time he may exalt you [purpose].”

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