Stitched Panorama

Living in the Valley—For Now

The Gospels tell us what happened to Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. It is the testimony of history’s most important event and we can hold it in our hands. It is the testimony of four God-inspired authors whose words we’ve read and celebrated this spring. And then there’s the Book of Psalms.

Like the Gospels, the Psalms give us a fascinating picture of the Savior. Psalm 22 especially stands out. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross and the whole narrative of his crucifixion draws imagery from “the afflicted one” found there. Not only is he forsaken (Psalm 22:1), he is also scorned and mocked by onlookers (Psalm 22:6–7), he thirsts (Psalm 22:15), he is surrounded by ruthless Gentiles (Psalm 22:16), his hands and feet are pierced (Psalm 22:16), his garments are divided and lots are cast for his clothing (Psalm 22:18).

As Christians, we simply can’t read Psalm 22 without seeing Jesus. Then Psalm 24 comes right behind it. If Psalm 22 is a Good Friday meditation, Psalm 24 is our Easter morning song. This kingly chorus is commonly associated with the reign of Jesus as our victorious ruler. But between Psalm 22 and Psalm 24 sits an even more famous psalm — the beloved 23rd. Many of us instantly recognize its first words: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). But what exactly is it getting at?

How do we read Psalm 23 together with Psalm 22 and Psalm 24?

I think these three psalms say something astounding about Jesus, and deeply inspiring for how we live. Jesus is the afflicted one, the anointed one, and the satisfied one — and this has everything to do with where we are right now in this world.

The Afflicted One of Psalm 22

In an unparalleled way, Psalm 22 captures the suffering of the Messiah in the first person. David’s voice says, “Why have you forsaken me?” and, “I am a worm and not a man,” and, “I am poured out like water.” We step inside the mind of the afflicted man — of Jesus — to feel his pain and see his faith. Faith is an amazing theme here. The afflicted one is forsaken. But as we began to see, he’s not ultimately forsaken. “For [God] has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (Psalm 22:24). Affliction is not the end of the story. The suffering one will eventually eat and be satisfied (22:26).

And as we read on in Psalm 22, the sound of affliction turns to foreshadowing deliverance. Even in the thick of his pain and restlessness, the afflicted one knows that God can be trusted. He knows that God is faithful (Psalm 22:2–5). Right before our eyes we see the Messiah forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. Then suddenly there’s a twist: The entire world is going to worship the Lᴏʀᴅ one day! Just like that. “For kingship belongs to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:27–28).

Psalm 22 gives us a vivid portrait of affliction, alludes to the resurrection, and then closes with a future-facing kingly reign. It’s all right here in a psalm that the Gospel writers show Jesus fulfilling.

The Anointed One of Psalm 24

Jump to Psalm 24 where the theme of kingship gets even clearer.

To be sure, the kingship theme doesn’t begin in Psalm 24. We’ve already seen it starting triumphantly in Psalm 2:6. Just flipping back a couple pages from Psalm 24, the Messiah’s kingly reign is explicit in Psalm 18:50: “Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” And then the theme plays again in Psalm 20:4 and Psalm 21:2, when God grants the king whatever he desires — just as God said he’ll do for the king in Psalm 2:7–8.

Psalm 24 comes at the high point when the king takes his place on the throne. That’s what is behind the epic chorus of “Who is this King of glory?” It is a coronation song. The righteous king of Psalm 24:4 (like the righteous man of Psalm 1:1–3 and Psalm 15:2–3) ascends to the Lᴏʀᴅ’s hill (like the hill in Psalm 2:6 and Psalm 15:1).

The king has triumphed, and he proceeds to the seat from where he will rule the nations, until every last one of his enemies become his footstool (Psalm 110:1–2).

The Satisfied One of Psalm 23

So we see affliction and a glimmer of hope in Psalm 22. We celebrate a victorious monarchy in Psalm 24. And Psalm 23 comes right in the middle. So what’s its role?

Psalm 23 serves as the bridge between affliction and triumph. Both for Jesus, and for us.

The pain of the afflicted one in Psalm 22 is translated into contentment and trust in Psalm 23. There is pain, real pain. Darkness surrounds this suffering one. Insults are blasted. The mouth of the lion opens wide. The wild ox readies its head for a jab. But God is the rescuer. God is the shepherd. He leads and restores. Even though the afflicted one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, God is there to guide and rescue and comfort (Psalm 23:4).

The afflicted one is forsaken, but not utterly forsaken. And therefore, the afflicted one doesn’t fear. In fact, he’s satisfied, he “shall not want.” God prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. They are so defeated that he will feast in front of them — he is more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). He is victorious, and God anoints him (Psalm 23:5). So he speaks, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Yes, even through the affliction. Even through the valley. Even through the grave. God’s goodness and steadfast love — God’s unswerving faithfulness — will pursue me to the uttermost.

He closes in Psalm 23:6, “I shall return to the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ forever.” The verb here “return” is often translated “dwell.” It is similar in the Hebrew, and the Greek version of the Old Testament renders it “dwell.” But the original Hebrew word is “return.” The speaker in Psalm 23 is going to return to the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ. This one who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, who has felt the nearness of God, who has triumphed over his enemies, who has been anointed — this one will return to the temple. So lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors that the King of glory may come in! (Psalm 24:7).

The Middle Then and Now

Seen in its context, Psalm 23 is the story of the Messiah in the middle of the cross of Psalm 22 and the throne of Psalm 24.

I take it to be about how the Father sustained Jesus through his suffering to the victory of his resurrection. And how when Jesus was raised, he was vindicated. He was declared to be who he truly is — God’s unique Son (Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:9). He ascended in a triumphal procession and assumed his seat as the enthroned king over all the nations. It is where he is right now, reigning over all the earth in the advance of his word and Spirit through his church.

He is reigning until he returns to judge the living and the dead, like the Apostles’ Creed reminds us. And on that day we will reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12). We will be raised, too (1 Corinthians 15:20–23). We will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). We will join him in Psalm 24.

But not yet. Not now. Not here. Today we walk in Psalm 23.

Though we’ve been raised spiritually in Christ (Ephesians 2:6), our complete, end-time resurrection is still in the future. We are still looking forward to that day (1 Peter 1:13; Romans 8:23). In the big picture of things, our lives right now sort of feel like the valley — more acutely at some times than others. We experience real pain. We walk through affliction. We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

Psalm 23 is happening now. And we know, even in the deepest hurt, that God himself is the only source of indomitable joy. We’re learning to keep our eyes on Jesus and that in him our souls do not want.

In him, and like him, though we’re in the valley, we fear no evil.

More on the Problem of Palm Sunday

Jesus is welcomed by shouts of praise on Psalm Sunday, and then condemned by shouts of anger on Good Friday.

This is the clearest thing that the Gospel writers want us to see. 

The issue is primarily what was said about Jesus, not who said it. The text does not suggest that the exact same crowd on Palm Sunday is the exact same crowd on Friday (I don’t think it is). But neither does the text suggest that the crowds are absolutely different — that none of the “multitude of the disciples” on Palm Sunday were part of the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday. The Gospel writers are not clear about this because the names and numbers of who does the shouting is not the main issue. 

In fact, stressing that the crowds are different is actually less true to the text than leaving the matter alone, or even insinuating that there is at least overlap, or that popular opinion does shift from praise to condemnation. The Gospel writers don’t stress the difference of the crowds, and they at least leave open the possibility that there were some flip-floppers in Jerusalem. 

Luke, in particular, is clear that folks following Jesus had whack expectations for the Messiah (Luke 19:11). And there is no guarantee that when Jesus didn’t pan out like they hoped that everyone would still be happy. How could we think this? How could we imagine that there were a group of undeterred devotees of Jesus when the Gospels are clear—are clear—that the 12 men who walked most closely with Jesus end up deserting him, including one who betrays him for cash, and Peter, the rock, who denies him three times? 

If the multitude of Jesus’s disciples thought that he was going to lead a consummate victory over Rome (which the context of Psalm 118 implies, especially verses 10–12; cf. Luke 19:26) and they find him bloodied, in Roman custody, and accused of blasphemy on Friday, it is not unbiblical or erroneous to imply that people changed their minds about him. They did. Whether the same people on Sunday were the exact same people on Friday isn’t the issue. The issue is that Jesus is celebrated when he entered Jerusalem, and then he is slaughtered in a matter of days. Staying true to the text is saying that, not emphasizing that the crowds are different and that Jesus’s followers weren’t fickle.

I think the greater error at stake in our exegesis here is to stress something that the Gospel writers don’t. It is the temptation of a rigid biblicism that goes behind the text and reconstructs our own account of Holy Week, one that emphasizes tertiary matters of historical precision that say nothing glorious to us about Christ’s Passion. Because I believe Scripture is knowable, necessary, and enough, I can’t go there. We should beware of saying things the text doesn’t say, and beware of emphasizing the fact that the text doesn’t say them. 

To be clear, I don’t think preachers should say that they’re the same group — that the thirty people shout one thing on Sunday and then that same thirty shout something else on Friday. Don’t make that point the climax of your sermon. It’s wrong. And, at the same time, I think it’s faithful to the Gospels to talk about the shift and contrast in public opinion, and best to probably not even get into the nuts and bolts of who’s who in the crowds. The safest thing to say about the two crowds, if you must, is that even if the Friday shouters were an entirely different group than the Sunday greeters, no one was around on Friday noon to say “Hosanna!” 

Maybe they were just hiding somewhere like Jesus’s best friends.

For more on this topic, check out my article, “The Problem of Palm Sunday,” where I try to do some of the things I’m advocating here.

Path with Focus

God Will Fulfill His Purpose for You

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

This is the straightforward truth that David clings to in Psalm 57:2.

Here he states two basic facts: God has a purpose for him and God will fulfill that purpose. Both these truths combine to become that deep and wondrous theological concept we call “providence.” The word was much more common centuries ago than it is today, though its relevancy has never waned. Its meaning captures God’s relationship to the created world, namely, that he both preserves the order of all things and guides them toward his intended end.

Providence is the sovereignty of God made palpable. It’s the outworking of his power and authority for his children in space and time, which means, in the things we schedule, the air we breathe, the moments we move. Providence is observed, experienced, tasted. We may even say it’s the distinctively Christian term for reality.

Since God is sovereign, and this world is his, then every moment, in a sense, is a moment of providence. Wherever you find yourself right now has come by the process of events he ordained. Every past moment of your life has led to yournow. The same will be true tonight, and tomorrow, and ten years in the future. Our experience of providence is our experience of the present, which we know has been wondrously woven together by God.

And because God is behind it all, we, as those united to Christ by faith, are assured of this: God’s providence neither gets it wrong nor lets us go, ever.

His Decree and Promise

First, we should immediately stop every instinct in us that wants to pass this off as cobweb orthodoxy. It is orthodoxy, and it’s beautifully ancient, but it’s more current than we ever expected. Providence is actually so contemporary that it anticipates how vastly different things often seem from our perspective. Rarely does it feel like every event in our lives is for our good. But providence, in its mysterious movements, flanks the arguments about how we may feel and compels our faith in the God who is doing “ten thousand times more” than we realize. This doing, whether seen or unseen, whether painful or pleasant, is resolutely and effectively targeting our eternal joy. We will be like Christ . . . with him . . . forever (1 Corinthians 15:49; Psalm 16:10–11).

God’s intended aim for his people, after all, is that we are conformed to the image of Jesus. This is his decree and promise, having chosen us for this before the foundation of the world and having promised us unto this that all things will work together (Romans 8:28–30).

God’s providence is his execution of that decree and promise, as Puritan John Flavel explains. In fact, nothing ever happens in the universe that is outside of fulfilling that decree and promise. Nothing. There isn’t a single incident, or tragedy, that will result in something other than the “true interest and good of the saints” (Mystery of Providence, 19).

God never gets it wrong. He doesn’t swing and miss. Every detail of our days comes through the blueprints of his meticulous care for us. And even when all hope seems lost, remember he is the one who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17) — and he will do that for you.

His Resolute Focus

Not only is God flawlessly at work for our good, but he doesn’t let loose until he’s finished. God’s providence never dries up or fizzles out. It is always in action to accomplish his intended aim. Everything he does is right, and it is all right until it’s done. Flavel writes,

[Providence] goes through with its designs, and accomplishes what it begins. No difficulty so clogs it, no cross accident falls in its way, but it carries its design through it. Its motions are irresistible and uncontrollable. (19)

“He does all that he pleases,” “no purpose of [his] can be thwarted,” and “none can stay his hand” (Psalm 115:3; Job 42:2; Daniel 4:35) — these words about God are assurances that he will complete what he began in us (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate us from his love for us in Christ (Romans 8:39), and nothing can distract the simplest of circumstances from hitting the target of our transformation. There’s no stalling with God. He doesn’t procrastinate. Even if we are innocently obtuse to his designs right now, God’s providence is blaring full-throttle toward our Christlikeness, and his glory.

Be revived, encouraged, comforted, God is fulfilling his purpose for you.

Pilgrim's Progress

Staying for the Best Things

I can’t shake the scene of that little room where Passion and Patience sit waiting. The boys’ sitter instructed them to stay still, to rest side by side, to hold out for what’s best. What we come to find is a quest for pleasure so intense we’re compelled to take note.

John Bunyan is telling that kind of story in The Pilgrim’s Progress. He brings us along with Christian every step of the way and at this particular point Interpreter is our guide.

Interpreter leads Christian into a small room to observe two kids seated in parallel chairs. Passion is the restless one. He is discontent, perhaps huffing and puffing, frowning and squirming. Beside him is Patience. He’s the one who keeps quiet. Bunyan implies his posture: feet straight in front of him, neatly squared up in the middle of the chair, hands folded in his lap (i.e., not the way my kids sit at the dinner table). The boys were plainly told they had to wait for the best things. The best things were coming to them, but wouldn’t get there until early the next year. Passion can’t stand this. We can tell by how he acts. He just wants it all now. Then someone walks in the room and dumps a bag of treasure at his feet. Aha! Passion jumps down from his chair and happily scoops up the goodies. Grinning, he looks over at Patience, still sitting quietly, and he laughs him to scorn.

But Christian continues to watch. He sees that Passion “quickly lavishe[s] all away” until he “had presently nothing left him but rags.” Interpreter explains:

These two lads are figures: Passion, of the men of this world; and Patience, of the men of that which is to come; for as here thou seest, Passion will have all now this year, that is to say, in this world; so are the men of this world, they must have all their good things now, they cannot stay till next year, that is until the next world, for their portion of good. . . . But as thou sawest that he had quickly lavished all away, and had presently left him nothing but rags; so will it be with all such men at the end of this world.

Christian replies,

Now I see that Patience has the best wisdom, and that upon many accounts. First, because he stays for the best things. Second, and also because he will have the glory of his, when the other has nothing but rags.

How’d He Do That?

Bunyan leaves us to wonder how Patience’s waiting actually looked. Sure, we understand the end. We get that he has the best wisdom. But how exactly did he wait? What did he think about while sitting in that chair? Watching Passion indulge in the treasure? Remembering the sitter’s words? How was Patience, well, patient?

Answer: he was a Christian hedonist.

Now to be sure, it doesn’t sound very hedonistic at first. Denying himself the bag of “treasure” tossed in front of him resembles more the tune of self-denial. But self-denial, for the Christian Hedonist, is not for the sake of self-denial.

Patience saw Passion dive into the mass of goodies, and he denied his impulse to do the same. He held back. And this is biblical, of course. The apostle Paul writes in Titus 2:11–12a, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” Paul says there are things in this world we’re supposed to renounce, that is, deny. And the “self” in self-denial is composed of these things. That self is the old self, the one that was crucified with Jesus (Romans 6:6), the one in whom we no longer exist (Galatians 2:20). That is the self Patience denied, the self of ungodliness, worldly passions, and inferior pleasures.

“For the Best Things”

You see, this doesn’t end up as a negative enterprise. Remember how Bunyan says it. Patience sat quietly in his chair “because he stays for the best things.” It appears that Patience realized he sat in that room with pleasures for which that bag of treasure could not satisfy. Denying the treasure didn’t shrivel up his appetite. It was that his appetite was so big it shriveled up the treasure. Patience didn’t bury his head in the sand either. He wasn’t frantically shouting “No!” over and over. He simply kept his eyes on next year. He trusted what he was told. Passion could have done the same had he not been far too easily pleased.

We learn that Patience’s self-denial came from a craving for the superior pleasure. This is the self-denial of the Christian Hedonist. Patience wasn’t merely holding back, he was looking forward. His resistance from that bag of transient treasure was actually his feasting in eternal joy. As Paul continues in Titus 2:12b–13, “training us. . . to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

What Bunyan means is that Patience halted the world’s empty promises because he had something better ahead (namely, our Savior Jesus Christ).

Different and the Same

So we’re different from Patience, and we’re the same. We’re different in that we’re in a much sweeter spot than he was. He sat in that chair with the promise of better things (convincing enough) while we sit here, in the room of this world, with not only a promise, but also God’s very Spirit living inside us. We have the active communication of himself through his word. We have the experience of being “in Christ” now, of being seated with him now in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Our lives are hidden in him now (Colossians 3:3). We are brought to God now and enjoy his fellowship (1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 1:3).

But there is still more to come. Like Patience, what’s better remains out in front. Learning again from Paul, we’ve not yet obtained the fullness of our portion. We’re not yet perfect (Philippians 3:12). We are waiting, too. We are waiting for the consummation of God’s great work, the revealing of our Lord Jesus and the final redemption of our bodies (1 Corinthians 1:7; Romans 8:23). So as wondrous at it is now, the “far better” is yet next year (Philippians 1:23).

And waiting like this is staying for the best things.


Three Questions to Ask Before Watching a Movie

It’s never been easier to watch movies, and lots of them.

Netflix, which leads the race as the top online streaming service, provides more than 10,000 movie options for its 40 million subscribers — and it’s flanked by formidable competitors like Hulu Plus, Redbox, and Amazon Prime. Considering the sheer crowd on this track, and each one’s continued efforts to specialize its features, the movie industry doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

Add to this online surge the weekly box office numbers, and one thing is clear: a lot of us are watching a lot of movies.

And let’s face it, they’re not all good movies. In fact, many of them are bad. And I mean bad in every sense — poor storylines, debaucherous scenes, shaky acting — there are plenty of ways it could go wrong. Which means, there are plenty of ways to ruin your evening by watching a movie. Therefore, we should think carefully before devoting hours of our lives to the screen, whether at home or in a theater. So in hopes of more thoughtful entertainment, here are three questions a Christian might ask before watching a movie.

1. Should I really watch this movie?

Seriously. Don’t assume you’ve already answered this question because you want to watch a movie. Back up and think honestly. Why are you interested in this movie? What is this movie about? How do you knowthat’s what the movie is about? What piqued your interest in it?

This sort of interrogation is simple permission to play. And we shouldn’t let up so easily. Don’t be duped by the rating or the trailer. Those are both marketing tools that are not trying to talk you out of watching. Read some reviews. See what other people are saying about it. And of course, set a standard, which won’t be the same for everyone. Without getting into prescriptions here, consider two aspects for how you discern that standard.

First, make it a reasonable benchmark that you can sustain. Which means, don’t make overly audacious goals built on bad logic. Consider whether your movie standard, if applied to the Bible, would bar you from reading important portions of the Old Testament. And, to be sure, don’t think that biblical narratives like David and Bathsheba, or Ehud the assassin, mean it’s okay for us to watch similar scenes on screen. Be critical and sober about what you say is good to watch.

Second, how you discern a movie standard is largely determined by your integrity. Some movies should be out of the question, and for those on the bubble, we know best how certain things affect us. We know where we are weak. And if you are unsure, I think it’s safe to say that if you find yourself repeatedly stumbling over the same sort of scene, then it means you should avoid it. We just know, if we’re like most people, we shouldn’t watch everything put before us. Sacrificing our serenity of mind — or mental purity — is not worth a few minutes of supposed entertainment. We can still understand a story even if someone stronger has to fill in the gaps we can’t handle.

2. Where are the true and false depictions of reality?

This actually starts with the concession: this movie will have true and false depictions of reality. Then we ask, so where are they?

We should be shrewd here. Oftentimes the most twisted depictions of reality are in the PG flics, and worse, the feel-good movies that present a dangerously shallow picture of romance. Letting our guard down on these romantic comedies is partly responsible for the mass confusion today when it comes to dating and relationships. Unless we watch these cheesiest of movies with a critical eye, we may simply be inviting Hollywood to instruct us on what love is. Look for what’s false and expose it, at least in your own mind. Work at recognizing the garbage even in the prettiest packages.

And also, be able to see the good — because most of the time, even in the darkest of movies, something true is being said about the world. Mentioning examples in movies risks a perceived endorsement, and a spoiler if you’ve not seen them yet, but some themes to look for include:

  • confusion — Are the chaotic moments in the storyline treated as problematic? Is there a restlessness about them?
  • hope — Is there a perceivable solution to the problem? Is that solution sought?
  • justice — Is there genuine recoil against evil? Does the oppressor pay in the end?
  • mercy and grace — Are there moments when the character forbids a harmful tactic even when it’s in his or her power? Are there surprising moments when a character is motivated only by the good of another?
  • sacrifice — Is putting others before yourself, even at personal cost, imbibed by one of the characters?
  • order — Is a resolution realized by the movie’s end? Do the characters sense that the chaotic events of the story have been put to rights?

There are others, but this is a good start. Basically, we want to watch movies with an eye for the true, the honorable, the just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Heeding Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:8, we should “think about these things” — which doesn’t mean we retreat from the world and handcuff ourselves to the idea of truth, but that we go out into God’s created world and look for the truth that’s there — especially when we are watching a movie.

3. What kind of hero does this movie really need?

This last question is related to the previous. The themes mentioned there are fundamental for a decent story, even though they’re sure to be flawed. There has to be some sense of confusion portrayed as confusion, and some concluding sense of order portrayed as order. But each movie’s definition of confusion and order probably won’t line up perfectly with God’s.

In the same way, every movie will have its hero. There will be a protagonist — the character that we are supposed to root for, the one who we consider better than ourselves just enough to want to be like him, at least in some ways. And, in most cases, this character won’t line up perfectly with the true and better Hero.

So what if we asked, when this hero is put forward, how the true and better Hero would act? Whether than this or that flaw, how would he be perfect? No Achilles’ heel to work around. No foible to tolerate. How would Jesus be in this movie? How could the good ending be even better?

What if we let the message of the movie point us to the bigger and better story that is actually real life? The one where the writer enters the script and assumes the guilt of his characters, suffering in their place and defeating their greatest foe, and only then to reign as the unseen king through the simple acts of his former-fiends-now-turned-friends until the day when everyone and everything will see him as he is, when justice is executed and mercy consummates the creation of a whole new world where pain is eternally absent and joy is eternally endless.

Christian, this is our story — the true story. And if we are going to lend our mind to a movie, let us walk away with a greater grasp of what really is.


The Chaos of Humility

Humility, for many of us, might just be mild-mannered niceness. We like to think of it all buttoned up and soft-spoken, cloaked in the quiet gray sweater his grandmother made, sitting by the modest fireplace of a friend’s home, patiently greeting and warming a crowded room of other virtues. Humility, as we might picture him, is the unnoticed nice guy who deflects all the praise and makes everyone else feel good.

But maybe we should reconsider.

For the Christian, virtue is better called “fruit,” and rather than be the revenue of our self-righteousness, it’s actually the produce of the Spirit’s power. And rather than rely on our own societal assumptions for its definition, we can actually look to where it was personified. We can see the Who of humility.

His name, of course, is Jesus. The Gospels paint for us the scene, and then Paul’s letter to the Philippians gives us the explanation.

Tracking the Mind of Christ

Remember in Philippians 2 that Paul is exhorting the church in humility — the “mind of Christ” we learn to call it in verse 5. “Count others more significant,” Paul has said, “Look to the interests of others” (verses 3–4). This is the function of humility.

Then comes its essence in Christ. “Being in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (verse 6). Scholars and theologians have long wrestled with what this means. It is literally an invitation into the mysteries of the Incarnation, and we’re bound to find more wonder there than pat answers. But without even diving into that glorious ocean, I think Paul explains what he means in the following verses. There’s certainly nothing wrong with God-honoring theologizing, but sometimes we just need to keep reading.

Not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped is, as Paul writes, Jesus making himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Now what is that?

They Said, He Says

One way to feel humility’s heart is to see the Father’s response to Jesus. “Therefore,” says the text, because Jesus did all of this, because he didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name . . . ” (verse 9). And there it is.

See, Jesus, in his divinity, has had this name the whole time, for all of eternity, it’s just that since taking human nature, nobody said it. Nobody recognized it. Jesus has forever been Lord — and forever will be — but when he left glory for earth, so to speak, he traded the sound of angels’ songs for the insults of sinful men. He exchanged the heaven-tuned chorus for hell-tainted cursing. Though he had always been known as the blazing center of his Father’s affection, scoundrels started calling him bastard, and he loved us enough not to stop it.

And here shines the humility of Jesus: he refused to vindicate his own identity, yielding that declaration to his Father. He knew who he was. He knew the Father knew who he was. And he knew that one day, through the path of his suffering as the God-man, everybody would know who he was.

But the ground of that path meant a lot of people calling him something different. That is the scene painted for us in the Gospels, and most vividly, on the cross.

When All Went Terribly Wrong

Have you ever noticed in the Gospels, leading up to the cross, that every speaker is saying something wrong about Jesus? The only two voices to speak the truth are Judas and Pilate, who both declare that Jesus is innocent, though the former said it too late and the latter was too much of a coward to do anything about it (Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 23; cf. Luke 23:14–15, 20–22).

They all simply get it wrong, from Peter’s denial, to the soldier’s taunts, to the robber who hung beside him, to every passerby of Golgotha. Matthew tells us what they did by using three different verbs. They derided him; they mocked him; they reviled him (Matthew 27:39, 41, 44). And what did they go after? His identity. If you are who you really said you were, then show us now. So, you’re the Son of God, well let’s see it. You trust God, do you? Well, where is his favor now?

Can we even begin to understand how incredibly twisted sin made the world in these moments? It was absolute chaos. The only truly righteous man to ever live was killed as a criminal and imposter. Yahweh in the flesh, the one who deserves our ceaseless worship, was instead derided. Yahweh in the flesh, the one who deserves our highest praise, was instead mocked. Yahweh in the flesh, the one who deserves our unashamed adoration, was instead reviled.

And what did he say? Do we know what he did? He didn’t ask for the twelve legions of angels who were armed and ready for his call (Matthew 26:53). He didn’t make any appeals that were in his right. He just stayed silent, except for his forsaken cries. Oh, my God, how did you do it? How can we comprehend the depths of this humility?

When We’re in the Turmoil

It was in the mayhem — when the worst event in the history of humanity befell him, when utter pandemonium broke out on the earth — it was there that we see the most glorious demonstration of what it means to be humble. It was in that gruesome sight that we see the paradoxical wonders of our King.

And so it will be for us, oftentimes. A disciple is not above his master (Matthew 10:24). The situations that most require our humility will be far from tamed. It will be the unbecoming, frustrated moments when the stress shoots high and our experience feels so grossly disproportionate to the peace that awaits us. It’ll be when we’re angry over something, feeling wronged by this or that, finding ourselves too easily offended than we’d ever dare admit. It’ll be when we’re left to our own thoughts, left to fume or forgive, when no one else is watching except our Savior who paved the way.

This is the chaos of humility. And it’s what makes it so beautiful.

Bible in Pulpit

Is the Preaching Any Good?

One of the most fundamental truths to understand about the church’s corporate gathering is that Jesus is a giver.

Jesus, our Savior and salvation — the one to whom we are united by faith — gave himself to us by becoming like us. He then gave himself to us by dying in our place. And still today, every week when the church meets, he gives himself to us through the preaching of his word and the sharing of his Supper.

This matters because, as surely as we have received him as the God-man and trusted in his finished work, we should anticipate that there is yet more of him to experience in weekend worship.

More of Christ

More of Christ, after all, is the great aim of the Christian life. Paul’s goal in ministry was to present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). His one-thing-I-do ambition was to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10–14). His great prayer for the church was that Christ dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17) — with the view of us reaching the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13), that is, to grow up in every way into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

It really is all about Jesus.

And exactly how we get more of him is chiefly through the means of grace he has ordained — the word and the “sacraments” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or as Marcus Peter Johnson calls it, “the audible and visible gospel” (see chapter 8, One with Christ). But for now, let’s just focus on the word part — the audible gospel, the preaching.

Many of us know that Bible-intake is fundamental to our sanctification. It’s the bread and butter of spiritual growth. And many of us also know that “not neglecting to meet together” is another habit on the path to spiritual maturity. But have we seen the relationship between the two? Have we connected the dots that one of the primary means of grace in the worship event is Jesus extending himself to us through his preached word?

Setting Himself Forth

In Preaching: A Biblical Theology, Jason Meyer makes the case that the faithful preaching of God’s word is always an encounter with God himself. This means that through the heralding of his gospel, through the vocal means of a human minister, Jesus sets himself forth to be believed and enjoyed.

It matters little who the preacher is, or how skilled he is in communication, or the measure of his IQ, as long as he is faithfully unfolding the text of Scripture. It’s in that moment when the very presence of Jesus is mediated to us. Jesus himself, by the power of his Spirit, comes to sit by us, to speak to us, to effect more of his likeness in our lives, to deepen our union. Therefore, we are freed to walk into the corporate gathering with this kind of expectation.

This is what Jesus does when his word is proclaimed, and we ask, is the preaching any good?


Three Reasons to Get Some Sleep

Life is short. Stay awake for it.

So goes the tagline for the second largest coffee franchise in America. It’s catchy and practical. Drink our coffee, it suggests, not merely for its taste, but for its benefits, that is, to be awake to life. And the reason being — here comes the resonating connection — life is short. The clock is ticking. Our days are numbered. And we Christians agree (Psalm 90:10; 103:15–16; James 4:14).

Life is too short to sleep all the time.

But life is also too short not to sleep a large part of the time.

The fact is humans need sleep, between 7–8 hours a day. But most of us aren’t getting it. According to studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation is epidemic. In the last week articles and infographs have been circulating the web with convincing evidence that this is the real deal.

In addition to that content, here are three reasons why you should get some sleep.

1. God created you to require sleep for a healthy life.

In a sense, this highlights the most intuitive reason why we need sleep: to survive. Most of us (not all of us) know from experience that going without ample sleep has drastic effects on us physically and emotionally. The latest study claims that going just one night with less than six hours of sleep may alter our genes and cause several side effects — from a higher chance of catching a cold to the loss of brain tissue.

But perhaps the most shared result is that without enough sleep we’re “more likely to get emotional.” Now we know how to fill in that generic term. Without enough sleep, we are more easily stressed and frustrated. Our capacity for patience dissipates. Lack of sleep is a sucker-punch to our ability to listen and think creatively, and therefore be productive.

Personally, one of the toughest things during my time in seminary was sleeplessness (and I think I got more than most guys). David Mathis and I don’t mention sleep in our little book How to Stay Christian in Seminarybut it could easily merit its own chapter. Days that followed only a few hours of shut-eye often meant the Hebrew was harder and our home was unhappy. But a good night of sleep was like its own mini-vacation, and it still is.

God created us this way. Just like oxygen and food, we need sleep to work right. It won’t look the same for everyone, and some are in situations where their care for others inhibits a solid snooze, but know for sure that we need sleep. It was God’s idea.

2. Sleep is the midwife of humility.

Humility is a heart-virtue that gestates. It matures over time, born by truth and practice. We believe facts about reality (we’re needy creatures, not autonomous beings), and we act in step with those facts.

Next to prayer, sleep may be the most central practice that lines up with the truth of who we are. Sleep is that necessary moment that comes every single day when our bodies go slow and our minds start dragging. They witness to our fragility. And eventually, we will surrender. Our problem, as the studies suggest, is that we don’t surrender soon enough. Oftentimes we push back. The invitation gets handed to us with generous terms, but we resist until we’re wrestled down.

To be sure, some people have trouble falling asleep. One report says 40 million Americans suffer from 70 different sleep disorders. It’s serious, and deserves treatment, which could be simply adopting new habits. But the concern here is the heart of the matter. Whether we fall asleep quickly or not, we can welcome sleep for what it is. We can choose to bow out of the action, to know that the world will be fine without us for a while. We can welcome that segment of the day when we make ourselves most vulnerable, when we exit consciousness and are forced to, in the right sense, “let go, and let God.” Whether we actually say it or not, going to bed prays, at least in practice: “Now I lay me down to sleep. Lord, I pray my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, Lord, I pray my soul to take.”

Sleep is intrinsically a humble thing to do.

3. Sleep is distinctively Christian.

Really, there is something remarkably Christian about sleep. We see this first in the Psalms and then fulfilled in the life of Jesus.

We read in Psalm 3:5–6, “I lay down a slept and woke again, for the Lᴏʀᴅ sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Then we read in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lᴏʀᴅ, make me dwell in safety.”

It’s Saying Something

Two things are happening here. First, David is making sleep an act of faith in the Lord’s protection. Enemies surround him, and they want to destroy him. But he sleeps. He knows the Lord sustains him and guards him. But why? How does he know this? Here’s the second thing to see: David trusts in God’s protection because of what God says in Psalm 2.

In Psalm 2 we see that the Lord’s King — who is also a Son — will reign. He will have the nations as his heritage and the ends of the earth his possession (Psalm 2:7–8). The Lord exalts him and issues the warning of his supremacy: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:12). This is an endorsement that carries throughout the entire Psalter. The Lord is committed to his King, his Son, his Anointed — and David knows it.

David is God’s anointed king, but he mirrors the true and better Anointed King that will descend from his lineage (2 Samuel 7:16). David’s faith in God’s protection, displayed by his sleep, points us to the Son of David who also knew how to sleep — which we see in Mark 4.

Why Jesus Slept

This scene of Mark 4 shows us Jesus and his disciples out at sea when a windstorm arises. The waves are so intense that they’re breaking into the boat, filling it with water (Mark 4:37). The disciples are terrified. This is a shipwreck in the works. But where is Jesus? He is in the stern of the boat asleep on a cushion (verse 38). He wakes up to stop the storm by his word and the disciples are awed. But we as readers — disciples with a canonical conscience — see him sleeping and we’re awed.

Jesus slept for the same reason David did. He knew that his Father would protect him. Based upon what God had promised to his King, to David, to Moses, to Abraham, to Adam — Jesus knew God would keep his Anointed. Sleep was the symbol of faith in that promise. It was for Jesus and for David and for us.

The Same Spirit of Faith

When we sleep we are saying — in that same spirit of faith — that God will protect his Anointed and all those anointed in him (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are saying that no matter how many thousand enemies surround our soul, because of the Father’s commitment to his Son, we will not be destroyed. We will not be condemned. Nothing will ever be able to snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). Nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). When we go to bed, we are saying that.

Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.


The Love of God’s Power

God is faithful. We’ve all heard these words.

We’ve read them, said them, and sung them. And we’ve felt them.

God’s faithfulness is a palatable experience of his love. It’s his love tasted and seen in ourhistory. It’s the mechanics of his love wired to fulfill his promises for our good. In fact, God’s faithfulness and his steadfast love are so closely intertwined that in Psalm 33 they’re basically the same.

The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ. (Psalm 33:4–5)

Verse 4 tells us, “All his work is done in faithfulness.” All his work, says the psalmist. Everything God does is done in faithfulness. Every move God makes in this universe is about what he’s said he’d be for his people. And it’s so pervasive that we’re told in verse 5, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

The two statements, “All his work . . .” and “The earth is full . . .” make the same point in two different ways with one thing clear: God’s faithfulness is everywhere. It’s boundless and unending.

And perhaps uncomfortable.

God’s Kind of Love

See, a lot of times when folks talk about God’s love they mean something different from what the Bible shows us. Let’s call it pop-love. It’s the kind that’s manageable, not mighty — the kind that makes me feel special, not God look great. Most people want love, for sure, but love in their terms, not God’s.

Don’t miss the greater message of this psalm, captured in verses 4–5.

The uprightness of God’s word parallels his love for righteousness and justice. This refers to God’s sovereign authority and it’s inseparable from the love part.

Actually, if we continue reading Psalm 33 we won’t see anything about love again until verse 18. But what do we see? We see that God speaks worlds into being. We see that his mere breath fills the heavens, that whatever he says happens, that whatever he plans comes to be. We see that he sees everything, that he fashions the hearts of men and watches every move we make (verses 6–17). We see his power.

Sovereign Faithfulness

The psalmist lifts his pen to celebrate God’s love and he talks about God’s power. And he knows what he’s doing. As unsettling as this power might be for some, the psalmist is convinced that this is precisely what makes the love so good.

Without power, love is only sentiment. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, and it can probably produce some positive feelings, but we need more from our Maker. Positive feelings don’t free us from condemnation, nor can they raise anything from the dead. If God’s goodwill toward his people really counts it must be sovereignly willed. It doesn’t matter how good he feels about us if he can’t really do anything about it.

The aim of Psalm 33 is to say that he can — that he does.

All that power is the power of his love — and the love of his power. The power that spoke the stars into existence is the power that Jesus trusted when he bowed his head and spoke, “It is finished.” Jesus knew that he who frustrates the plans of the peoples will also frustrate the plans of death. The Father’s faithfulness to him, even in the shadow of death, was sovereign faithfulness. And so it must be with us. That’s the only kind there is.


Put Your Foot on It

We definitely wouldn’t let our kids see this.

If the next Bible-inspired movie was about Joshua taking the Promised Land, it might even be one that many adults choose to miss, especially if it stays true to the biblical account. It would likely have more violence than the roughest action film to date, though at the same time, and to much surprise, offer more hope than the best feel-good movie ever could.

The Events of Joshua 10

Conquest is happening. At long last the people of Israel are coming into their promised land and Joshua is proving to be the model leader — a man who is devoted to God’s word and finds his refuge in God’s nearness. He’s been leveling cities and taking names by chapter 10 of his story. But then there are the five kings of the Amorites who join together in opposition to Israel. They gather their armies to fight against Gibeon, Israel’s shrewd ally, who sends word to Joshua: We’re surrounded by armies. Please help!

The Lᴏʀᴅ tells Joshua not to fear once again. These enemies will be toast. So he and his men march all night to meet them. And they panic. After a sword scuffle and some chasing, while the enemies are fleeing, God hurls huge stones from the sky to crush them. It was so remarkable that we’re given the little side comment: “There were more who died of hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword” (Joshua 10:11). Make no mistake about it, as in all of Israel’s conquest, this victory is the Lᴏʀᴅ’s. And to top it off, he stills the sun until the fighting is finished.

He Makes a Point

But what about those five kings? During the skirmish they had hid themselves in a cave. Joshua had found out and ordered large stones to be rolled over its opening to trap them inside while the battle went on. Once the kings’ armies were wiped out, Joshua returns to the cave, and makes it a spectacle. He has the stones removed and the five kings brought out. He wants to make an unforgettable point.

He gathers together all the men of Israel — and to this day, when we read this story, he gathers us as well. The soldiers stand there shoulder to shoulder, and we stand with them as part of the audience. Joshua has something he wants us all to see.

Calling the military chiefs from the crowd, he orders them to step forward and face these Amorite kings, presumably bound and lying on the ground. Joshua tells these leaders of Israel to put their feet on the necks of these kings, and then he proclaims,

Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lᴏʀᴅ will do to all your enemies against whom you fight. (Joshua 10:25)

And he means it. All Israel’s enemies — God’s enemies — will ultimately be defeated. Even in the darkest days, when it seems evil is prevailing, it’s not. It can’t. Why?

Because long before the chiefs of Israel put their feet on the necks of these foes, God promised us One who would put his foot on the neck of our greatest foe.

This is where Joshua 10 is pointing.

Our Invitation

At the beginning, before we humans were exiled from the Garden, God said he would send a Son who would crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And indeed this Son has come. But rather than conquer by the strength of a sword, he conquered by the suffering of a cross. Rather than trap his enemies in a cave, he gave himself to be trapped, hid behind a large stone — until the third day when he rose from the dead and secured our victory over the grave.

“The Lᴏʀᴅ will fight for you” has now become to us: Jesus has fought for you.

And because of this truth, we hear Joshua’s words to Israel as an invitation to us. Based upon God’s promise of a Messiah, Joshua beckons us to stand in awe of this spectacle, embrace its symbolism, and connect this scene of hope to our struggles today.

Joshua invites us to take our own feet and place them on the neck of the Enemy. The sin that ceaselessly tries to ensnare us, put your foot on it. The lie that wants us to buy sin’s empty promises, put your foot on it. The demonic power that deceives the world and attempts to rob our joy, put your foot on it. And even Satan himself, one day soon, the God of peace will tell us, “Put your foot on him” (Romans 16:20).

Far from wishful triumphalism, this victory is real. Sin will not have dominion over us (Romans 6:14). He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4) — even though life can be hard and our experience is strewn with suffering.

The five Amorite kings were shamed to point us to another day when God’s enemies were shamed — the day when Jesus defeated them in his death. And even if it doesn’t make for kid-friendly entertainment or appear at all on the Hollywood screen, nothing could ever give us more hope.