“Contact with Jesus according to the New Testament is established by what Jesus does, not for others, but for us. The account of what Jesus did for others is indeed necessary. By reading how he went about doing good, how he healed the sick and raised the dead and forgave sins, we learn that he is a person who is worthy of trust. But such knowledge is to the Christian man not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is not enough to know that Jesus is a person who is worthy of trust; it is also necessary to know that he is willing to have us trust him. It is not enough that he saved others; we need to know also that he saved us.

“That knowledge is given in the story of the cross. For us Jesus does not merely place his fingers in the ears and say, ‘Be opened’; for us he does not merely say, ‘Arise and walk.’ For us he has done a greater thing — for us he died. Our dreadful guilt, the condemnation of God’s law — it was wiped out by an act of grace. That is the message which brings Jesus near to us, and makes him not merely the Saviour of the men of Galilee long ago, but the Saviour of you and me.”

(J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Chpt. 2, Doctrine, pp 36-37)

The Story of the Cross


Foreshadowing Christ, part II – Water from the Rock

Yesterday I explored the notion of God’s provision of the manna in the wilderness as foreshadowing the first coming of Christ. My basis for this view rested upon these two scripture texts: Exodus 16:4-5, 14-15 and John 6:32-33, 49-51. In this post, I will present essentially the same argument with respect to the Exodus account of the water from the rock. The first text is the Old Testament passage, which will be followed by the New Testament one:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel” (Exodus 17:6, ESV).

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, ESV).

Before I delve into the text placed in bold, I want to lay out the context for both passages. In the Exodus account, the water from the rock occurs after the provision of the manna. By God’s command, the people of Israel left the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Rephidim (Ex. 17:1, ESV). The text does not specify how much time passed between God’s provision of the manna and the Israelites subsequent grumbling against God over the lack of water. What I want to highlight is that these men and women had witnessed the Lord send them bread from heaven. It was a miracle and an act of divine grace by God on their behalf. Instead of allowing God’s grace to transform their hearts, the people sunk into unbelief and grumbled against God while longing to return to Egypt (Ex. 17:2-3, ESV).

In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the tenth chapter serves as a key one for this young church. The Holy Spirit speaks through Paul over the rampant idolatry within their congregation. He reprimands them for mixing their pagan religious practices into the Lord’s Supper, which Paul describes as worshiping both demons and the Lord at the same time (1 Cor. 10:20-21, ESV). For Paul, the worship of the Corinthian believers revealed hearts divided toward Christ and each other; therefore, he explains to them that the importance of the Lord’s Supper is its display of unity between the believers and Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17, ESV). By divine revelation of the Holy Spirit, Paul illustrates to the Corinthian church how their idolatry separates them from God in the very same way as the Israelites of the Old Testament; consequently, the Corinthians are in danger of facing the same judgment (1 Cor. 10:8-10, ESV).

If the Apostle Paul had not lived to write the first letter to the Corinthians, the title of today’s post would be meaningless at best and heresy at its worst. On its face, the Exodus account appears to give no hint of Christ being present in the wilderness with the Israelites, let alone following them as a rock. It seems to be an account of God performing another miracle in the desert for his people: providing them water to drink in the desert. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul reveals to us in 1 Cor. 10:4 that the rock represented Christ in the Old Testament. He develops this further by informing the Corinthians that the Old Testament people of God participated with Christ and his offer of living water (this last point is my opinion).

Because the Holy Spirit through Paul equates the rock with Christ, there is a larger dimension at play with respect to redemptive history. Paul uses the Exodus text to warn the Corinthian church about rebelling against Christ in their mixed worship. This illustrates that they are going down the same ruinous path as the Israelites. History begins repeating itself in Corinth, and the sin is even greater because the Corinthian church has the fullness of God’s revelation. The Israelites experienced only a shadow of what was to come in the wilderness. Just as idolatry prevented the Old Testament people from entering the Promised Land, it threatens to bar the Corinthians from entering the kingdom, which is the ultimate fulfillment of the land of Canaan.

There is one more aspect of the Exodus account that needs to be drawn out. Moses strikes the rock according to the Lord’s command. What this represents is Christ’s death. According to Isaiah 53:10a, the prophet writes that “…it was the will of the Lord to crush [Christ].” Moses’ actions foreshadow Christ’s death on the cross, which had been ordained by the Father. When the soldier pierced the side of the Son, blood and water flowed out (John 19:34, ESV). The blood of the covenant pardons sins while the water of the Spirit brings new life in the redeemed (John 7:38, ESV). Basically, the Lord offers salvation in Christ to the Israelites at Rephidim. When they grumble against God, they are refusing to accept the Father’s offer of salvation. Their unbelief blinds them to the real work, the eternal redemptive work, that God desires to bring about in their lives.

In many ways, I behave no differently than the Israelites. Five years ago, I suffered the loss of two jobs and an automobile in eight months. This was my wilderness experience, and I began crying out to God for basic needs: a job and a car. When the days dragged on, when the prayers seemed to stack up to the ceiling, I wondered about the goodness of God. By the way, I had been a believer for more than a decade. I saw his goodness over and over again in my life and in the lives of my friends and family. Despite those facts, I railed against the Lord just like the Israelites.

At no point did I cross over into refusing to remain in covenant with God. This is one place where I differed from the Israelites. I knew where he had found me, and where I stood in the midst of this wilderness. Did I know where I was headed? I had no idea what our sovereign Lord had up his sleeves for yours truly. Despite the uncertain future, I kept hanging onto God’s promise in Isaiah 54:11, which states: “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires.”

Somehow I hoped against hope. I held onto that passage in Isaiah 54:11, which I felt led to read one night in the midst of crying out to my Lord. Through his word, he filled me with a fresh flow of living water. Life returned my dry and weary soul. This is what God had been offering to the Israelites with the water from the rock. He offered to them the hope of new life. He offered his one and only son. Has the Lord offered you living water in the desert? Do you desire living water from the spiritual rock, who is Christ?

Foreshadowing Christ, part I – Bread from Heaven

The book of Exodus contains vivid accounts of God’s mighty works on behalf of the Israelites. There is the preservation of the child Moses from the murderous edict of Pharaoh. There are the scenes of the burning bush, the plagues dispensed upon Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea. All of these declare the mightiness and majesty of the Lord God Almighty. Along those same lines, I want to present another example of God’s amazing work in the book of Exodus, which goes unnoticed at first glance. Here is the passage in question:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.'” (Exodus 16:4-5, ESV).

Of course, this passage of scripture lives within a larger context. At this juncture in the desert, the Israelites began grumbling against Moses and Aaron (Ex. 16:2, ESV). The people longed to return to Egypt as they remembered the availability of food, drink, and room and board (Ex. 16:3, ESV). Despite having a past steeped in slavery, the Israelites believed that it held far better promises than the immediate journey in the desert. For the Israelites, the present and future looked bleak in every sense of the word. This is an amazingly sad about face by God’s people since they witnessed him make a distinction between the Egyptians and them with respect to the plagues.

When the Lord promises to rain bread from heaven in order to sustain them, this reveals God’s grace toward the Israelites. Moses and Aaron explain to them that their grumbling is not against them, but against the Lord himself (Ex. 16:6-7, ESV). The people of Israel direct their invective against God’s appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, and against God. Rather than judge the people for their sin against him, the Lord blesses them with heavenly provision: bread from heaven. It pictured God’s ability to nourish his people and to govern their lives (Ex. 16:15-16, ESV). This is nothing if not an Old Testament example of grace at work. If anyone wants a definition of grace, then here goes: it is undeserved favor toward the sinner.

Someone might be asking the question, “how does Christ fit into this scene in Exodus?” For this point, it is time to hear from our Savior himself with respect to the relationship between the manna in the wilderness and himself. The apostle John records Christ’s words as follows: “Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'” (John 6:32-33, ESV). Here are the parallels that Jesus seems to be drawing between the Exodus account and his first coming.

Based on Christ’s words in John 6:32, our Lord seems to be suggesting that the manna in the wilderness foreshadowed his first coming into the world to redeem the lost. When viewed in this light, the Exodus account turns into a deep well of truth. This helps to explain the reason for the Lord asking the following rhetorical question of the people through Moses: “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws” (Ex. 16:28, ESV)? From God’s perspective, he is not just providing the Israelites with food and drink to stay alive in the desert. He offers himself through the manna. This points to a time in the future when the Father will offer his only son, the true bread, through the blood of the new covenant.

Because the people of Israel grumble against the Lord, because they live out of their flesh, they are unable to see the extent of God’s work in their lives. God’s provision of the manna invites them into a covenant relationship with him. When the Israelites grumble against God, they are grumbling against being in a covenant relationship with the God who delivered them from slavery. This is serious business. God the Father sent the manna (bread from heaven) down to his covenant people to give them life in the desert. This served as a sign of the future offer of the true bread, Christ, for eternal life. The irony in all this is that Israel in Christ’s day responded to him no differently than the nation did during the time of Moses.

Both unbelieving groups of Israelites grumbled against God, and this paved the way for their eventual destruction. In the OT, the generation delivered out of Egypt died in the wilderness while the generation in Christ’s day lived through the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Rejecting God’s word, his manna, is a very serious thing. The Lord sees it as a refusal to be in covenant with him. This is a precarious place to be before him. God’s word sustains and governs and gives life. It forges me into a new creation in Christ by the Spirit. Have you been blind to God’s provision in your life? In what ways has his provision far exceeded what you initially desired or needed?

Interpreting the New Testament

Last year, Dr. G. K. Beale was the keynote speaker for the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference. Over the years, Dr. Beale has done groundbreaking research in New Testament studies in the discipline known as biblical theology. His main emphasis has been the use of the Old Testament in the New. It’s a fascinating field, and it helps to have a trusted scholar like Dr. Beale lead the way for younger pastor-scholars. Dr. Beale is a professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Seasoned with Salt

No matter the situation or environment, all eyes are on me. Everyone who I come into contact with on a daily basis pays attention to my words and actions. This in no way implies paranoia on my part. The key point is that friends, family, clients and co-workers take notice of the things I say and do. Some keep score and some do not; however, each person pays attention at crucial points. This aspect of observing others and being observed by others has a direct bearing on my walk with Christ. Hear the following words from the apostle Paul:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6, ESV).

One of the obvious takeaways from this text is a lifestyle marked by wisdom. To walk in wisdom requires more than hearing it or reading about it. Walking means doing it. There is an aspect of following Jesus where it is important to receive and listen to the word. Once I have taken in the word, then I must respond to it. Obedience to the word is wisdom walked out in my life and in the life of the church. I do not know how many years that the Lord has granted to me. All I know for certain is that the great commission remains in effect.

Because Paul has the heart of a pastor, he deals with the impact of words. He wastes no time in speaking in clear terms. He characterizes speech that livens up a person’s soul as seasoned with salt. This reminds me of those instances where I use salt to add a little zest while cooking a meal. The right amount of salt changes the complexion of the recipe for the better. Of course, too much salt overpowers the dish, but not enough fails to do anything to it. Paul applies this principle with respect to the believer’s discretion in what to say and do while living each day on display for the eyes of the world.

Many have heard the notion that a message’s content remains the same, but the forms of delivery change with the audience and environment. When it comes to speaking to others about Christ and his gospel, it is vital that I know my audience. This in itself is an act of grace and mercy toward those who hear. What this demonstrates is that I am paying attention to those listening to me. From Paul’s perspective, the Colossian Christians possess and demonstrate the grace of Christ in their speech. Their words have the ability to encourage, to bring gaiety to a gathering, and to draw men to Jesus. This last point is the foundation for grace-filled speech. My words either will invite people to Christ or to turn them away.

The harsh reality to this is that sometimes there is only one shot at making an impression. My words are key, and so is my demeanor. From my point-of-view, the audience is sharp, so that means speak to them at their level. In some ways, this means to become a student of those around me in order to learn different types rhetoric for communicating the same message. The apostle Peter wrote the following words: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). I have been out of the academic setting for a decade, but I am still in school. The command from Paul and Peter is to be ready. Speak, but do it with grace and patience.

Progress Along the Way

Please forgive the following indulgent, hypothetical dialogue to illustrate something important:

“Have you arrived?”

“Yes, I arrived into town yesterday, but it was a bumpy flight.”

“No, no, what I mean to say is have you arrived in your personal and professional goals with respect to maturity?”

“Well, because you phrase it in those terms, I must answer no. I’m still on the way, but I’m closer than I was last year. I’ll be closer still next year.”

Over the last decade, I have immersed myself off and on in the realm of inner healing ministry. In fact, Desert Stream Ministries (www.desertstream.org) has been a key avenue of transformation and ministry, especially its Living Waters program. This was not my first choice, but I came to the conclusion that Living Waters was the wisest choice.

One of the things I remember constantly from the leaders in Livng Waters was their reminder that everyone is in process. There is a human tendency to check things off of a list, which means that I am done. I discovered pretty quick that there are levels to my sin and brokenness, which means that the sanctification process (or inner healing) will occur in stages. What is wrong with me will not be fixed all at once.

Because the sanctifying work of the word and the Spirit focuses on the soul’s condition, there will be seasons that appear to be covering the same ground. It is in those seasons where I bellow out, “I thought I dealt with this blasted stuff three years ago, or four or five.” It is in those moments that I recall the words of the Living Waters leaders, “You will not arrive to total healing (or sanctification) in this life. That occurs either when Jesus comes back, or he calls you home.”

What I am not saying is that healing is not possible in Christ in this life. The Lord has set me on the path to freedom from perfectionism, the fear of man, and embracing false images and beliefs about others and myself. In general, I see an ability to assert and engage in life with others and myself that far exceeds anything I have ever known over the last decade. What used to trip me up in the past no longer has that same ability. By God’s grace, he has given me the eyes to see such traps, and the ears to listen out for subtle schemes.

When I reflect on these past ten years, I see the intensity of the sanctification process bearing much fruit. The harvest is rich, but it has required self-discipline and the will to remain in the refiner’s fire. Now, I want to say at this point that the Lord does not keep me indefinitely in the fire. That would cause long-lasting harm. There is wisdom and patience in his use of the flames to bring out more of his son through me. This has meant learning to trust God throughout this last decade in ways that overthrew my shallow understanding of his character.

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, there is a wonderful section of God’s wisdom and patience. The Holy Spirit inspires Isaiah’s pen to equate a farmer’s insight into handling specific crops with God’s wisdom in handling the various lives and life stages of his people. I do not have time to get into the specifics, but here is the address: Isaiah 28:23-29. The key point in this Old Testament passage is in the last verse: “…he is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29b, ESV).

Each of the farming examples in the twenty-eighth chapter of Isaiah depict the wisdom of an everyday farmer. This person knows the right times and seasons to prepare the soil, plant the seed, fertilize and water it, and then apply specific methods of harvesting the crop in order to preserve and prepare it for eating. I understand this to mean that my soul is the field, and the Lord is the farmer. He knows the exact times and seasons for harvesting righteousness in my life. Do I trust that God is wonderful in cousel and excellent in wisdom as he sanctifies me through his word and the Holy Spirit?

“In the state of Oregon, on Election Day, 1922, a law was passed by a referendum vote in accordance with which all children in the state are required to attend public schools. Christian schools and private schools, at least in the all-important lower grades, are thus wiped out of existence. Such laws, which if the present temper of the people prevails will probably soon be extended far beyond the bounds of one state, mean of course the ultimate destruction of all real education. When one considers what the public schools of America in many places already are — their materialism, their discouragement of any sustained intellectual effort, their encouragement of the dangerous pseudo-scientific fads of experimental psychology — one can only be appalled by the thought of a commonwealth in which there is no escape from such a soul-killing system. But the principle of such laws and their ultimate tendency are far worse than the immediate results.

“A public school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race. But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools. A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.”

(J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Chpt. 1, pp 10-12, 1923)

Machen on the Public School System