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New blog site

May 28, 2014 Leave a comment

To all my site visitors, I wanted to let y’all know that my blog has moved to a new domain. I no longer post to this site; all future posts will be to http://jsatkinson.wordpress.com. I apologize for any inconvenience and hope you will continue to frequent my blog on the new site. Thanks! -Jordan

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Categories: General Posts

The Sinfulness of Sin

June 4, 2013 Leave a comment

In their Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones conclude their chapter, “The Puritans on the Deceitfulness of Sin,” with the following poem by John Bunyan on the sinfulness of sin (which they take from an 1871 edition of The Complete Works of John Bunyan).

Sin is the living worm, the lasting fire;
Hell seen would lose its heat, could sin expire.
Better sinless in hell, than to be where
Heaven is, and to be found a sinner there.
One sinless with infernals might do well,
But sin would make of heaven a very hell.

Look to thyself then, keep it out of door,
Lest it get in and never leave thee more.

Fools make a mock at sin, will not believe
It carries such a dagger in its sleeve;
How can it be, say they, that such a thing,
So full of sweetness, e’er should wear a sting?
They know not that it is the very spell
Of sin, to make them laugh themselves to hell.

Look to thyself, then, deal with sin no more,
Lest He who saves, against thee shuts the door.

Night at Noonday

March 29, 2013 Leave a comment

As I write this, I am sitting in a condo from where I can see sunlight reflecting off the calm ocean. This bright sunlight contributes to the happy atmosphere of a beach vacation, and I wonder how the relaxed mood here in the condo would change if the sky outside went suddenly black. Blacker than a cloudy, moonless night. Blacker than an approaching hurricane. Nearly two thousand years ago, the whole earth, not just the half covered in night, not just the seaboard threatened by a hurricane, was covered in this absolute blackness.

Why?

Nearly two thousand years ago, some Romans crucified a religious rebel in the capital city of a remote region of the empire. To the Roman soldiers executing this rebel with two other criminals, the rebel’s crucifixion was no different from his fellows’ crucifixions, which were no different from the countless crucifixions countless Romans had executed during their reign over the Mediterranean world.

But capital city that witnessed this religious rebel’s execution was a religious city. Jerusalem, the capital city of the subjugated Jews, was also the site that day of the Jews’ most important religious festival: Passover, specifically, the Day of Preparation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converged for the annual sacrifice. Little did they know that the rebel on the cross–not the year-old male lambs–was to be that year’s unique sacrifice for all time.

The sun stopped shining because the crucified rebel was no rebel at all. In fact, he was the only Person to live who never disobeyed the highest law–God’s law. He was Jesus, the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. The sun stopped shining because this “rebel to Rome” was dying in the place of rebels to God.

As the Gospel According to Matthew records,

Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (27:45-50)

For the hottest part of the day, the brightest part of the day, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). As Matthew related, the sun didn’t shine because Jesus, God the Son, was forsaken in that moment by God the Father. This aspect of Jesus’ death is a mystery, one that our Trinitarian minds find hard to make sense of logically. How can the one Triune God experience abandonment and forsakenness?

Paul begins to answer this question for us: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, God was forsaken of God, as Martin Luther put it, because God the Son “was made to be sin” although he “knew no sin.” When Habakkuk said that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” (Hab. 1:13), he was not denying God’s omniscience; rather, Habakkuk was pointing out that God cannot sweep sin under the rug. As a perfect Judge, God must judge and condemn sin. As Peter later wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus died not for his own sins–he had none–but for the sins of his people, of all who would ever trust him for salvation.

Jesus’ death on Passover is significant for this very reason. As John explains in his Gospel,

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came outblood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Because it was the day of Preparation, because it was Passover, the Jews wanted the three crucified men to die before sundown, before Passover proper began. But one of the soldiers struck Jesus with a spear instead of breaking his legs because, practically, “Jesus was already dead” and, prophetically, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” The Scripture John there referenced was Exodus 12:46, in which God instructed the Israelites how to eat the Passover meal. Only by eating the flesh of the sacrificial lamb in their houses would God pass over the Israelites and spare them from the death he was to visit on all the households. Jesus, then, was the final and true Passover lamb, the one who would once for all satisfy God’s wrath on his people’s sins, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:21-26).

The sun stopped shining at noon nearly two thousand years ago because Jesus was dying his sacrificial death. God was forsaken of God. The Son of God, as the Son of Man, was taking the full punishment for his people’s sins in his body on the cross. And this is why Good Friday is good! The darkest day in history was, in fact, good because on that day Jesus accomplished his people’s redemption by dying in their place. So, everyone, have a good Good Friday. Praise God for the salvation he has given us by Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross!

Denying Christ in a Facebook Status: The New Testament’s Two Meanings of Denial

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

 

facebook logoHey, everyone! How many friends of mine love Jesus? If you REALLY love Jesus, share this on your Facebook page! As Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).

We’ve all seen Facebook statuses like the above, and how many of us have felt a little awkward after reading a status like that? You know the status is illogical, but you also don’t want to risk denying Jesus because, after all, that statement really is in the Bible! If you’re like me, you usually ignore these things, and sometimes you actually hide the people who post such statuses from your News Feed because you don’t like feeling as if your salvation is being questioned. (Of course, we all know that people who post such statuses aren’t questioning others’ salvation and are just publicly professing their faith in Jesus, which in and of itself is a good thing to do.)

But like I said, the quote from Matthew 10:32-33 in such Facebook statuses really is from Matthew 10:32-33. So there is a serious question that this quote from Jesus raises: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? Complicating matters is Paul’s reference to this verse:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

     If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
     if we endure, we will also reign with him;
     if we deny him, he also will deny us;
     if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself. (2 Tim. 2:11-13)

So if we, Christians, deny Jesus, he also will deny us, but if we are faithless, he remains faithful? Am I the only one who’s confused by this pairing? In order for Paul to make sense in these verses, there must be degrees of denial and faithlessness. As William D. Mounce explains, “Arneisthai, ‘to deny,’ has a range of meanings from a refussal to do something, to a temporary denial such as Peter’s, to full-blown apostasy” (517). Furthermore, “most see line 4 as a promise of assurance to believers who have failed to endure (line 2) but not to the point of apostasy (line 3)” (518).

As Mounce notes, Peter’s denial of Christ is illustrative of the failure to endure that is short of apostasy. After Jesus’ arrest,

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:15-18)

As Annas, the high priest’s father-in-law, was interrogating Jesus,

Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (John 18:25-27)

As Ceslas Spicq notes, Peter’s denial of Jesus the night before the crucifixion “seems to fulfill perfectly the prediction recorded in Matt 10:32-33” (203). Why then does Jesus not deny Peter before God the Father? Why does Jesus instead reinstate Peter (John 21:15-19)? “Peter denied Jesus with his lips, but in his heart he remained constantly faithful to his Lord and Master” (ibid.). Thus, there are two kinds of denial. There is denial that can be forgiven, and there is denial that cannot be forgiven. Forgivable denial is a temporary, verbal denial that contradicts abiding inner faith; unforgivable denial, by contrast, “officially renounces Jesus” (ibid.)

The reference [in Matt. 10:32-33] is to a disciple who publicly professes that he knows Jesus as Savior and God, adheres to his teaching, and submits to his Master’s will. If this “Christian” later says no to this Amen, that is, if he officially renounces Jesus, declaring before other people that he is freeing himself from his dependence on the Lord, then the Lord in turn will abandon him and will not exercise his role as advocate and paraclete on his behalf (1 John 2:1). (ibid., 202-203)

So to return to the original question that Matthew 10:32-33 poses: Does denying Jesus make a person lose his or her salvation? No. A Christian who denies Jesus temporarily in word but not in heart has an experience not unlike that which Paul describes in Rom. 7:18, 22-23. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” A person who denies Christ and goes to hell, however, does not lose his or her salvation because he or she never possessed salvation. As we read in Hebrews 10:35-39,

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

     “Yet a little while,
          and the coming one will come and will not delay;
     but my righteous one shall live by faith,
          and if he shrinks back,
     my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

According to the writer of Hebrews, then, true believers have faith and preserve their souls. Humanly speaking, a true believer may apostatize, may shrink back, but divinely speaking, God preserves true believers’ faith and enables them to endure to the end. As Thomas Schreiner explains,

The admonitions [such as in Heb. 10:35-39] are the means God uses to keep believers on the path of faith. Believers are even more assured of their salvation as they heed the warnings, because their response to the warnings demonstrates that they truly belong to God. And the argument of this book is that the elect and those in the new covenant always heed the warnings. God loses none of those who belong to them. (113)

Jesus’ parable of the sower demonstrates this well (Mark 4:14-20). There are three varieties of unbelievers: those who never believe, those who seem to believe but fall away quickly, and those who seem to believe but fall away eventually. There is but one course of action for the believer, however: all true believers believe and never finally fall away, even though they may, at times, like Peter, verbally deny Jesus.

But a vital caveat is needed. Who are you to know if your denial is temporary or final? Who are you to know if your denial is the kind that can be forgiven, or the kind that cannot be forgiven because it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32)? Don’t risk denying Jesus with your mouth: you may, in fact, be denying him in your heart. Don’t presume upon the Lord’s mercies.

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God … for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Tim. 1:6-9)

If you trust Jesus for salvation, keep trusting him, and serve him boldly! Not posting a Facebook status about Jesus won’t make you lose your salvation (nothing will), but if you deny Jesus consistently in your words and actions, you probably were never saved to begin with, and you need to trust him now to be saved.

Works Cited

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Word Biblical Commentary 46. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000.

Schreiner, Thomas. Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Spicq, Ceslas. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, vol. 1, trans. and ed. James D. Ernest. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, 1994.

A Review of Effective Bible Teaching

February 20, 2013 1 comment

Wilhoit, James C. and Ryken, Leland. Effective Bible Teaching, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. 193 pp. Paperback.

Wilhoit and Ryken have revised and updated a helpful training tool for Bible teachers. Whether Sunday school teachers, Wednesday night Bible study leaders, or small group teachers, Bible teachers of all ages and experiences can profit from this accessible work.

Wilhoit and Ryken have divided their work into three helpful parts: Effective Teaching, The Methods of Effective Bible Teaching, and The Bible We Teach. In Part 1, the authors set the context of contemporary Bible teaching. In Part 2, the authors discuss the actual methodology of effectively teaching the Bible. In Part 3, the authors instruct the reader on how to teach the various genres of the Bible.

As a whole, I found this book very helpful. I am sure that I will turn to it multiple times in the future as I teach the Bible to the youth at Calvary Baptist Church. I found every chapter to be well-written and -organized. I found Part 1 to be most helpful, however. I had read much of what Wilhoit and Ryken discuss in Parts 2 and 3 earlier in various books and blogs. The material in Part 1, however, was newer to me and so I profited more readily from it.

4 out of 5 stars.

I am grateful to Baker Academic for providing me a free review copy. I was not obligated to give a positive review.

The Light of the World Gives Light

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Last spring I had the joy of comparing and contrasting John 5 and 9 for my Introduction to the New Testament online class at the University of Alabama, and tomorrow night I’ll have the much greater pleasure to present Jesus as “the light of the world” to the youth who come for our weekly Bible study at Calvary Baptist Church at 6 P.M. What jumps out at me most in this chapter of John’s Gospel is how Jesus is “the light of the world” at the beginning of the chapter, and at the end of the chapter he reveals himself to be the Son of Man who opens and shuts spiritual eyes.

The Saving Light of the World

Jesus has been at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (John 7:1-8:59). Jesus has spoken to crowds (7:1-36), Pharisees have tried to arrest him (7:37-52), and Jesus has declared his unique Sonship to God as opposed to his opponent’s true sonship to Satan (8:12-59). Upon Jesus’ inflammatory words at the end of John 8, the crowd listening to him picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus flees.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (9:1-7)

Jesus comes across a blind man and answers his disciples’ question in a rather surprising way. The disciples want to apportion blame for the man’s blindness. Like Job’s three “friends,” Jesus’ twelve disciples believe that physical maladies are a direct result of particular sin, of “either this man or his parents.” They understand that sin brought disease and death into the world, but they do not understand that a physical ailment is not necessarily a direct result of a person’s particular sin. Jesus, however, understands perfectly. This man has been blind from birth “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The disciples see a product of condemning sin; Jesus sees raw material for a God-glorifying miracle.

Jesus reminds his disciples that their mission, his mission, is one of restoration, not retribution. While Jesus is on earth, the disciples must join him “in working the works of him who sent me,” i.e., God the Father. And this unique work that Jesus does while he is on earth is to heal people physically in order to reveal their deeper need for spiritual healing. It is this unique work that Jesus does in giving this blind man sight for the first time in his life. Jesus does not judge the man and condemn him to continued blindness (which itself is a merciful sentence even for the man’s sinful nature irregardless of particular sins); rather, Jesus restores the man. He gives him sight!

The Blind Pharisees

The healed man’s neighbors and people who knew about his previous condition were blind to his healing. They were confused and did not know whether this man was the same man they had seen before (vv. 8-12). To settle the matter, they bring the man to the Pharisees for questioning. As in John 5, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath, and they want to catch Jesus in a sin. In questioning the healed man, the Pharisees become confused within their ranks. They resort to asking the man’s opinion of Jesus, but the man affirms that Jesus is “a prophet”–certainly an answer the Pharisees weren’t wanting (vv. 13-17)!

In desperation, the Pharisees call in the man’s parents for questioning; perhaps the crowd was right that this man hadn’t been healed at all. But the parents are so scared of the Pharisees that they tell them to go back and ask their son again (vv. 18-23).

The Pharisees at this point are desperate and exasperated. They question the healed man for a second time, but they are blind to the simple sight of the healed man: Jesus healed him, and God wouldn’t have allowed a charlatan to do so (vv. 24-34)!

The Judging Son of Man

What the healed man’s parents feared for themselves happens to their son: the Pharisees “cast him out” of the synagogue (v. 34).

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (vv. 35-41)

The blind man, for all his boldness before the Pharisees, had spoken better than he knew. He still didn’t see his deeper spiritual need. And this is why Jesus comes to him a second time. Jesus invites the blind man who can now see him to see him for who he really is: the Son of Man.

Yes, as the Son of Man, Jesus came to save (John 10), but he also came to judge. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,” Jesus says to the healed man who now trusts Jesus for spiritual healing even as he had trusted Jesus for physical healing. But lo and behold, some Pharisees overhear and are paranoid: are they those with “sight” but who are really blind? Jesus’ answer is a resounding “Yes!” Physical sight ultimately means nothing if one does not have spiritual sight. To use an argument in line with Jesus’ teaching, it is better to enter heaven blind than to enter hell eyes wide open. Indeed, it is the spiritually blind who see their blindness and ask Jesus to heal them of it that Jesus heals. It is those who think they see and consequently spurn the salvation in Jesus Christ alone who will be judged eternally on the Last Day.

This is what strikes me so much about John 9. Jesus is the light of the world. He gives us sight despite our blindness, life despite our death, faith despite our unbelief. It is as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Praise God for the free salvation he has given us despite our sin! Praise God for the free sight he has given us despite our blindness! Praise God for the adoption he has given us despite our previous status as children of the devil and slaves of sin! Praise God! Praise God!

Late August Update

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Today was my first day back to The University of Alabama, and this morning felt very “fall-ish,” which tells me that fall football (both high school and collegiate) will be starting in less than two weeks! So as this new season of life/the year begins, I thought I’d give y’all a personal update and a preview of the blogs posts to come in upcoming weeks.

Personal Update

My wonderful wife, Abigail, is 21 weeks pregnant, which means that our daughter, Hadassah Joy Atkinson, will be coming into this world in a mere four months! We’re over halfway there, and it’s amazing. We’ve seen so many ultrasound pictures of Hadassah, and they impress both the reality and the beauty of Psalm 139:13-16 upon me:

For you formed my inward parts;
_____you knited me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
_____my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
_____intricately woven in the detphs of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
_____the days that were formed for me,
_____when as yet there was none of them.

Not only has seeing Hadassah via ultrasound on computer monitors impressed the awesomeness of God’s glory in creation upon me, but also in the past days feeling Hadassah kick around has just really overwhelmed me with God’s amazing power and abundant steadfast love.

Upcoming book reviews

As far as the blog goes, upcoming book reviews will include reviews of Enthroned on Our Praise by Timothy M. Pierce, Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Job, Effective Bible Teaching (2nd Ed) by Leland Ryken and James C. Wilhoit, and Trent Butler’s Exploring the Unexplained.

Enthroned on Our Praise by Timothy Pierce will be the first book I feature my thoughts on in the future. I’m about halfway done and hope to have it done by the end of next week. Look for a blog about it in the next couple of weeks.

I was SO excited to receive free copies of Tremper Longman III’s commentary on Job and Effective Bible Teaching from Baker Academic Publishing in the mail yesterday. Those will be the books I review next. Look for my thoughts on Longman’s Job commentary sometime in September. My thoughts on Effective Bible Teaching should be posted by mid-October.

Butler’s Exploring the Unexplained is a dictionary of “peculiar” people, places, things, and events in the Bible. I should have a post about it up by the end of September.

Other upcoming blog posts

Christianity plays a role in Latin American history, Renaissance history, and U. S. colonial history, all of which I’m taking classes about this semester. Look for occasional posts inspired by what I learn about these periods of history and how Christianity and the Bible relate to them.

Also, I have two posts or so left in my blog series on Philippians.

In my personal Bible reading, I’m reading through the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament right now. Look for posts about these books of the Bible in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Fall is going to be a wonderful time. I’m looking forward to the changes this season brings (more furniture in Hadassah’s nursery!), and I pray that God will help us “set our minds on things that are above” as we go through this season together.

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