Jesus: Redeemer and Unfaithful Bride

Humans are naturally bent toward works righteousness. We think that if we do good, God will think we are good. When it comes to Bible reading, we often moralize passages of Scripture, asking, “What does this passage have to do to me?” and “What is God requiring of me in this passage?” Those questions aren’t irrelevant, they just aren’t the most relevant. Instead, we should ask, “How does this passage point me to the person and work of Jesus Christ?” and “How does that truth draw me to love, worship, and desire him above all else?”

Christians are not ignorant of the fact that the story of Hosea and his adulterous wife points to Jesus and his Bride, the church. The story of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer climaxes in Hosea 3. Here’s the whole chapter:

1 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. 3 And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days

Here Hosea is told by God to redeem (literally “buy back”) his wife who is now up for sale in the slave market after “play[ing] the whore.” I carefully ask you to picture a naked slave woman with smeared make-up and bloody joints, ashamed and weeping, standing on a stage with a man standing beside her asking, “Let’s start the bidding at…” Now imagine silence. No one wants her. From what I have researched, 15 shekels was not much money. Maybe ten bucks. Hosea paid $10 for his wife.

In verse 4, God tells Hosea why he is supposed to do this: God’s people will live without their true Husband (the LORD) for a long time, but then they will return to seek him and “David their king.” “David” is another name for the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ.

It is easy to see that Hosea serves as a type of Christ. He prefigures Jesus, who will be the ultimate Redeemer of God’s people. He will buy back a people who are unwanted and unloved. He will purchase them from spiritual adultery, from forsaking their true Husband for lesser husbands who cannot satisfy. Jesus though, unlike Hosea, paid an infinite cost to redeem his people. He shed his blood and died to bring God’s people to himself.

In this story, we often miss that Gomer is also a type of Christ. What?! you say. Isn’t Gomer representative of God’s people? Yes, of course! Jesus never committed spiritual adultery against the Father or physical adultery in his life on earth. He was not a sinner. But how did Jesus buy back God’s people? It wasn’t by living a good life and then going back to the Father. It was through substitution. Jesus became Gomer. Jesus, like Gomer, was raised up on a stage–the center stage. He was naked, bleeding, mocked, and rejected. No one wanted him. He was actually sold for 30 pieces of silver by one of his best friends. His Father even turned his back on him when he was on stage. Jesus stood in the place of God’s people who deserved all the wrath and shame coming to them. 

Jesus took Gomer’s place. Israel’s place. Our place. My place. He became despised and rejected by men. He bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, and was pierced for our transgressions. He was guilty of no sin, but on the cross, God made Jesus to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Cor. 5:21). We were cursed, just like Gomer, yet Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Only because Jesus became the cursed, dirty whore can we now be the accepted, redeemed, and pure bride.

From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday (February 10). If are a pastor or church leader and have not already, I would encourage you to consider observing Lent this year.

There are many great resources and devotionals available to use throughout this period. This year, I wrote a little devotional book for our church, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent, and I want to share it with you.

Most devotional resources are heavy on reading the author’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I have benefitted from things like that in the past. The church needs clear, articulate writing that encourages and challenges people! But this little booklet has a different aim. In the introduction, I explain what the book is and how to use it:

This is a devotional guide for Lent. Each week focuses on a different biblical theme: repentance, humility, lament, suffering, enemies, and death. A short devotional reading will introduce you to these themes. Each day of the week, there will be a Scripture reading related to that theme and also a passage from the Gospel of Mark, each accompanied with reflection questions. The readings from Mark begin in chapter 8 and will, successively, take you to the end of Mark in 40 days. Because Sundays are celebrations and anticipations of Easter, there will be a short Scripture text focused on resurrection and renewal each Sunday.

There is not a devotional article to read each day for a very specific reason: this guide is meant to get you into the Scriptures. The temptation with devotional books is to spend more time reading someone else’s thoughts on the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Devotional readings are wonderful servants, but bad masters. Be mastered by God through his word, for this is where the true power for transformation lies. The reflection questions are there to stir your mind and heart. Please, don’t feel confined to answer just those questions or even answer them at all. They simply “prime the pump” and, sometimes, only cover a single aspect of the passage. Let them stimulate your thinking, feeling, praying, and acting. Let them, also, merely be your servant, but not your master.

I pray this is a helpful resource to you as you pursue Jesus this Lent. To God be the glory!

Download From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent

Why Must God be a Trinity?

Yesterday I did my best to briefly summarize why Jesus must be God. Today, I want to do the same with the question, Why must God be a Trinity? 

If we are honest, the Trinity seems, at best, a math problem or a religious puzzle to solve. At worst, it is a man-made construction not supported in the Scriptures, as many in history, and still today, have proposed. But before trying to figure out how God is one-yet-three and three-yet-one (and you won’t figure that out!), I suggest we ask why God must be a Trinity.

The easiest way to summarize the answer is this: God must be a Trinity if he is to be a God who is love. I have heard it said, “The Trinity is the good news that God is love.” God does not just love (a verb), though he does do that! But he is more than doing. God’s very essence is love (a noun). God can love because he is love—Father, Son, and Spirit, who exist in perfect loving relationship with each other. This loving community of persons are united in their being and purpose, yet diverse in their roles, responsibilities, and functions. The Trinity is a diverse unity of three. If God is merely one—monolithic, as it were—he can be many things. But he cannot be love. To be love and to love, by very definition, requires relationship with someone other than yourself. The alternative is called vanity.

Allah, the god of Islam, for example, can be many things, but he cannot be love. If love is not a god’s essence, it can be created and destroyed. If love is not a god’s essence, then something else must and will be. This is not good news.

If we reflect further on why God must be a Trinity, there are numerous applications:

  • Human beings are made in God’s image. Thus to be human means we are communal beings designed to live in loving relationship with each other.
  • Marriage between a man and a woman reflects the Trinity’s diverse unity. Man and woman become “one flesh,” are equal in their worth before God, and share a united purpose, yet they have different, complementary (not competing) roles and responsibilities.
  • The church is to be a diverse unity of persons, who together have a common faith, identity, and mission, yet individually have differing gifts, roles, functions, and activities.

Ultimately, because God is a Trinity—because he is love—the Father can, out of his great love for us, send his Son to atone for our sin and appease his holy wrath. The Father pours out his wrath on his own Son on the cross. The Son completely satisfies God’s wrath, paying the debt we owe with his blood. And in his resurrection, he conquers death so that all who repent of their sin and trust in the Son, are welcomed by the Father into this loving, harmonious, diversity unity of three through his giving us his Spirit. Do you see what this is? It is a Family working in unity, with complementary roles, to rescue lost, rebel orphans and bring them into the Family.

And this is good news. For you, for me, and for the world.

Scriptures to consider: Genesis 1:1, 26-27; Psalm 110; Matthew 28:19-20; John 15-17 (esp. John 17); 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 4:1-7; 1 John 4:7-21

Why Must Jesus Be God?

Over the course of church history, every heresy finds its end in one of two places: the person of Jesus (as God and Man) or the Trinity. A truly historic, orthodox faith holds to both Jesus being fully God and fully Man and a Trinitarian God who is one yet three: Father, Son, and Spirit.

In two brief posts, I want to address these two doctrines. My goal is simply to summarize why Jesus must be God and why God must be Trinitarian. Let’s start with Jesus. Why must Jesus be God?

If Jesus is not God, then he cannot die in our place on the cross. It simply boils down to this. There can be no substitutionary atonement if the substitute has to pay for his own sins. Jesus must be God because only God can satisfy his own wrath and pay the wages of sin (death). No mere human could. Yet at the same time, Jesus must be human because only a human deserves to die, for humans are the ones who have sinned against God.

If Jesus were not God, he would be another sinner (by definition) dying for sinners. Thus his death on the cross would be a wonderful example of love, but all it would be is an example! It would not be efficacious (i.e. it couldn’t produce the desired result, namely the redemption of sinners). Christ’s death would be stripped of any working power. It would be a great lesson in how we should live our lives. But that would actually not be loving, because it would crush us. No one can live up to that example (at least not me)! And what is it if a mere sinner dies for another sinner? Nothing. But this is not the essence of the gospel story. The essence of the gospel, indeed the whole Bible, is that everything in this world (including the world itself) is so messed up because of sin that only God himself can redeem you, me, and the whole cosmos. God himself must do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

That’s what we get when we meet Jesus. This is why Jesus must be God.

Scriptures to consider: Genesis 3:1-24 (esp. v. 15); John 1:1-18; 10:22-42; Colossians 1:15-23; Hebrews 1:1-14; 7:11-28

Reading the Bible in 2016: Knowing What to Read

In my last post, I said that if you want to make your 2016 Bible reading worthwhile, then you need know how to read. You need to read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Today, I want us to consider what to read. I’ll suggest a plan for beginners and then several plans for non-beginners.

A Beginner Reading Plan. If you are unfamiliar with reading the Bible, or haven’t had a steady plan for a long time, let me suggest starting with the Gospel of Mark. Simply watch Jesus. Note what he does. What he says and how he says it. It is 16 chapters, so you could reasonably expect to get it done in two weeks. Though you could slow way down and stretch it to a month. Mark is quick, punchy, and action-oriented. It is for the non-readers among us!

After Mark, go to the Old Testament and read the first book of the Bible: Genesis. Genesis means “beginnings.” In Mark, you read “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1). In Genesis you’ll read the beginning of history. Genesis is 50 chapters and often reads like an adventure story, but it a narrative with a lot of details. It might take you 2-4 months to work through.

Now, let’s go to a third beginning: the beginning of the church in Acts. Acts is the history of how the church started and grew after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. It has 28 chapters and because of its fast-paced you might be able to read a couple chapters a day and get through this book in four weeks or less. It is theological history, but there is not heavy theological doctrines expounded. Again, this reads like an adventure story—because it is!

After you’ve read through Mark, Genesis, and Acts, let me suggest you go to Ephesians (only 6 chapters) to acquaint you with the reality of what this gospel of Jesus has accomplished for and in us and what God calls his church to be.

Next, let me point you to Exodus. Exodus is 40 chapters and is dense—it has a lot of laws. But it also has a lot of drama, dialog, and real-world problems because of sin. If you come to understand the basic themes and ways God works in Genesis and Exodus, much of the rest of the Bible will become more and more clear as time goes on. Exodus is an important book.

Reading Mark, Genesis, Acts, Ephesians, and Exodus, as a beginner, might take you the whole year. And that is a perfectly okay way to start, or re-start, reading the Bible.

Non-beginners. If you are familiar with the Bible, whether you have been a Christian for a short or long time, you may want something more systematic and, dare I say, rigorous. Let me suggest one option I’m doing and then provide a few links to good plans.

This year, each day I am reading two to three Psalms per day (at various times throughout the day, morning, noon, and the last while I feed my infant son his last bottle of the day!), two Old Testament chapters (other than Psalms), and one New Testament chapter. I’m simply starting with Genesis and Matthew and will proceed through the Old and New Testaments as the books are ordered. I start with a Psalm, praying through it as a read. Then I read the OT and NT readings, making notes as I go, and then I write out a prayer or simply pray orally as I read. Including reading, you can do this in as little as 20 minutes or as long as you want. This plan will take you through the OT and NT once and the Psalms seven times (if you read three chapters per day). Also, since this plan is not based on specific readings for specific calendar days, you should not feel pressure to finish by December 31! The bigger goal is letting the Word shape you, not simply “getting through it.”

Here are a few other plans I’d recommend.

Now let me be clear: not every Christian must read the Bible every year! It is a good thing to do from time to time, but not required. If you’ve never done it, give it a shot. If you did it last year, you are free to try something else! If you are the latter, I’d recommend simply reading through whole books of the Bible at a time, alternating OT and NT books so you just don’t get stuck in one testament. Remember that the whole Bible is God’s word!

Finally, check out this great FAQ on reading through the Bible.

Happy reading in 2016!