The Peace of Christ

In John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus spends time with His disciples in an upper room prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. He encourages His disciples and readies them for the battle that lay ahead. In Jn 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” This is a most blessed legacy to leave to His disciples. Matthew Henry commented, “When Christ left the world, He made His will. His soul He bequeathed to His Father and His body to Joseph. His clothes fell to the soldiers. His mother He left to the care of John. But what should He leave to His poor disciples, who had left all for Him? Silver and gold He had none; but He left them what was far better, His peace.”[1] The peace of Christ is a precious commodity that flows from His redemptive work on behalf of His people. Herman Ridderbos wrote, “Jesus’ ‘shalom’ is not a cheap wish. He is now at the point of going away on a journey in which He will have to fight for that peace against the powers of darkness and violence…a peace that He will have to bring back from the depths of death.”[2]

The Apostle Paul writes of the peace of Christ in several places in his epistles. In Eph 2:14-18, he declares that Jesus Christ is our peace (v.14), that He has made peace at the cross (v.16), and that He preached peace to the Ephesians through the apostle’s ministry (v.17). In the book of Colossians, Paul connects the peace of Christ with His reconciling work on the cross, “and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (1:20).  Gordon H. Clark commented on Col 1:20, “Now, when we pause to consider, this is staggering.  The preceding verses have described Christ in transcendent terms.  He was the Creator, in whom all the fullness dwells, the heir of the universe, for whom indeed it was created.  When now the Creator of heaven and earth, the Creator himself, voluntarily suffered on the cross for our sins, we can only stand in awe and worship.”[3]

In conclusion, it is important to understand that our subjective peace is grounded upon objective truth. Paul writes in Rom 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The believer knows peace because of what Christ accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection.  The believer’s peace is not the outflow of a moral life or of consistent religious observance; rather, the believer’s peace is inseparably connected to the cross of Jesus Christ.  The theological truth of justification by faith alone is not simply a concept that differentiates Protestantism from Roman Catholicism; it is the foundation of the believer’s peace with God.



[2] Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John:  A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 511.

[3] Gordon H. Clark, Colossians (Jefferson, MD:  The Trinity Foundation, [1979] 1989), 50.

C.H. Spurgeon: Paul…and His Books

In a sermon on 2 Tim 4:13 entitled “Paul – His Cloak and His Books,” C.H. Spurgeon commented,

 “We will LOOK AT HIS BOOKS. We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read.  Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, “Bring the books”—join in the cry.”[1]

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The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer

In Mt 6:1-18, the Lord Jesus addresses the issue of man’s approach to religious observances (almsgiving, prayer, fasting). He cautioned His disciples against praying like hypocrites and heathens. The Lord then gives His disciples a model to use for prayer. Calvin comments on the prayer:  “[Christ] embraces, therefore, in six petitions what we are at liberty to ask from God. Nothing is more advantageous to us than such instruction. Though this is the most important exercise of piety, yet in forming our prayers, and regulating our wishes, all our senses fail us. No man will pray aright, unless his lips and heart shall be directed by the heavenly Master.”[1] It is important to note that Jesus says, “In this manner, therefore, pray” – He doesn’t say “repeat after me with blind repetition” – that would be tough to sustain in light of vv.7-8. It is also important to note that after the preface, there are six petitions with a specific order:  God comes first. The Bible is conspicuously God-centered and while the unbeliever balks at such a truth, the believer delights in it. Prior to the petitions, the Lord Jesus highlights another important truth concerning prayer:  the believer is not to rush into the presence of his Father and immediately start asking for things; but rather the believer is to ponder who God is and ascribe praise, worship, and adoration to the Father. There are obvious exceptions to this general rule (the moment before a car collision, a fall from a high place), but the pattern ought to be reflected in the believer’s prayer life.

The Lord Jesus instructs His people to address God as “Father.” This title is loaded with meaning. In the first place, the Christian does not address blind fate or impersonal power, but rather a personal Father. Secondly, the title indicates the gracious character of God’s relation to us.  We are dead in trespasses and sins and completely alienated from God, but He “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph 1:5). This also indicates that this particular prayer is the possession of believers only. Carson notes, “The early church was right to forbid non-Christians from reciting this prayer as vigorously as they forbade them from joining with believers at the Lord’s Table.”[2] Thirdly, the title indicates that God our Father hears us. A fundamental problem with heathen idols is that “They have ears, but they do not hear” (Ps 115:6) – not so our God! The Lord Jesus said that when we got into our secret room, the Father who sees in secret will hear us and reward us openly. Fourthly, the title demonstrates that our Father cares for us. Peter encouraged his readers that when they pray, there are to do so by “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). Finally, the title reminds the believer that our Father loves us. Thomas Watson wrote, “He loves His children with such a love as He loves Christ (Jn 17:26). It is the same love, for the unchangeableness of it. God will not more cease to love His adopted sons than He will to love His natural Son.”[3]

The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer not only calls the believer to address God as Father, but it also encourages the child of God to remember that the Father is “in heaven.” God occupies a position of authority over His creation. In theological terms, this means that God is transcendent.  While God is omnipresent (is always present with His people), He is also independent of His creation and over His creation. Secondly, the position of God in heaven reminds the believer that God is sovereign. The Psalmist demonstrates a fundamental difference between the gods of the nations who cannot speak, see, hear or smell, with the God of heaven and earth who is in the heavens and therefore “He does whatever He pleases” (Pss 115:3; 135:5-6). Thirdly, the position of our Father encourages the believer by reminding him of God’s omnipotence. God may love His people, hear them when they call upon Him, and care for them, but stripped of His ability to come to their aid, He would be reduced to an impotent, albeit sentimental being, who cannot undertake on behalf of His children.

The Preface to the Lord’s Prayer further teaches that prayer is to be intelligent. The heathen are known for multiplying words in order to be heard; the believer is to pray with intelligence to his prayer hearing God. Intelligence here should not be misunderstood; intelligence means knowing the Bible, knowing good theology, and praying God’s thoughts back to Him. The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 puts it this way, “prayer… [is to be with] understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance…” The practice of Christian prayer is not an exercise wherein the believer empties his mind and approaches an idol in a spirit of ecstasy and carnality; but rather it is an exercise where the believer understands who God is and approaches Him accordingly. Because this is the case, the believer must know God and must address Him accordingly. Prior to rushing in to the presence of God and telling Him all the things He can do for you, take some time, reflect upon the written word, understand who your Father is, delight in the position of absolute sovereignty He occupies, and then worship through prayer.

 



[1] John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke (trans. William Pringle; Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1840; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), XVI, p.317.

[2] D.A. Carson, Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:  Matthew-Mark (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2010), p.204.

[3] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (Carlisle:  PA, 1890 [1993]), p.17.

Revelation: The Vision of the Son of Man

The first thing to notice about John’s vision is Christ’s location.  He is “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:13).  The lampstands are the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:20).  Christ is present with His church!  He is not an absentee king, ruler, head, or prophet, but He fulfills all of these functions within the context of His churches.  This is not an isolated theme in the NT but is repeated for the encouragement of the people of God.  In commissioning His church to make disciples, Christ promises “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).  In Acts 1:1, Luke highlights that his previous book (the gospel) was a record of “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”  The implication is obvious:  Acts is a record of all that Jesus continues to do and teach in His church.

When John reports Christ’s location, we 21st century readers are not to miss the significance.  It is especially encouraging when we consider the makeup of the churches addressed in Rev. 2-3.  Not only does Christ not de-church some of those less-than-perfect churches in Asia Minor, He is actually found among them!  This should encourage us to come to church in order to meet with Christ.  Secondly, we ought to see the centrality of the church in God’s redemptive plan.  And thirdly, we must recognize that Jesus really is the ruler over all things and that He has a special concern for His body.

The description of Christ given in Rev. 1:13-16 is symbolic.  When we compare Dan. 10:5-6, we note several things.  Firstly, Daniel’s messenger had His “golden band” around His waist, whereas Jesus here has His about the chest (Rev. 1:13).  Secondly, the “voice” in Daniel was like a multitude; here it is compared with the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15).  Thirdly, the “countenance” in Daniel had the appearance of “lightning” but here it is “like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16).  Absent in Daniel are references to “white head and hair” (Rev. 1:14), a sword coming from His mouth (Rev. 1:16), and “seven stars” in His right hand (Rev. 1:16).  What do we make of this description?  Steve Gregg writes,  “The general character of the vision is one of the glory of Christ, the shining face being reminiscent of that which John had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2).  According to the various expositors, the golden band worn across the chest is an emblem of high rank in the ancient world, and the long, linen garment is probably priestly.  White hair is the emblem of age and honor – and possibly wisdom.  The flaming eyes convey the idea of piercing vision, and the feet like fine brass suggest the irresistibility of His judgment as He will later tread the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:19).” So, we have a glory-filled Christ who possesses the highest rank who is also a priest and who is from everlasting and who is the embodiment of wisdom and who is sovereign and who will execute judgment upon His enemies – hallelujah, what a Savior!

It is important to recognize the weapon employed by Christ:  “out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16).  He rules and reigns and saves and damns by His word.  This is not surprising for students of the Bible (compare Is. 11:1, Hos 6:5, and Heb. 4:12 for illustrations).  In Revelation, Jesus calls the church in Pergamos to repentance and threatens His coming to them and fighting against them “with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:16) if they continue impenitently.  And of course, the Rider on the white horse of Revelation 19 makes war with the sword that proceeds from His mouth (Rev. 19:15, 21).  Is there not a present temptation to de-value the weapon of Christ’s warfare?  We need to give heed to John’s description:  Jesus reigns now and wields almighty power now and that power is wielded through His word and Spirit.

John is not novel.  He is very Old-Testamentish, not only in the way he writes, but in the way he responds to God.  In Rev. 1:17, he says “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”  John differs from those in our generation who have claimed to see Jesus but were not moved to tremble.  John is just like Ezekiel, “So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking” (Ez. 1:28).  John is like Daniel, “Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:8). John is like Isaiah who was ushered into the throne room to behold the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ and his response was “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is. 6:5).  Whenever sinful man is given a view of the holiness of God, humility is the biblical response.

Christ’s response to John is also typical of the God who is seen.  Jesus laid His right hand on John and said “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:17b-18).  Is this not the Lord’s way in dealing with His servants?  He comforts and equips them for service.  His holiness humbles them; His mercy enables them.  He comforts John with a declaration of His eternality.  He comforts John with a declaration of His death and resurrection.  He comforts John with a declaration of His absolute authority over all things, including Hades and Death.

The Believer and Discouragement

Contrary to some notions that often affect the church, believers face difficulties and discouragements in the Christian life.  The Christian “must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  The Christian who lives godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  In a world that opposes God and His Christ, how can believers even think they will escape the difficulties and discouragements that are part and parcel of such a system?  Added to this, the believer’s Master was described by the Prophet Isaiah as a “Man of sorrows” and one “acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).  The book of Hebrews states that our Lord “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8).  In light of these truths, the question is not “will I have difficulty and discouragement” but rather “what am I supposed to do in the midst of difficulty and discouragement?”

The Prophet Micah faced difficulties and discouragements during his ministry in Judah in the 7th century B.C.  In chapter 7 of his book, Micah begins with a lamentation because he had no godly companionship.  He laments that “the faithful man has perished from the earth” and that there was “no one upright among men” (v.2).  The leadership of Judah was also ungodly (vv.3-4) which further highlighted the extensive corruption of society.  Added to this, there was no comfort to be had even in family relations as this basic institution of society had also disintegrated.  I daresay that most Christians who read this blog have at least one person they can turn to in their churches or in their families; such was not the case for Micah.  If we ask the question:  “what did Micah do in order to deal with these difficulties he encountered?” we must acknowledge that he did not leave Judah for a better society, nor did he seek aid from professional counselors.  In fact, the question “what did he do,” is better put, “in Whom did he trust?”

As Micah continues in chapter 7, we find that it was theology that pulled him through the difficulties and discouragements facing him.  We tend to think that theology and biblical truth are the possession of the academic elite or of the teachers in the church.  We desperately need to recognize that theology is the stuff that not only informs us of who God is and what He does, but it is also the stuff that steadies the believer when faced with the trials of life.  For instance, Micah’s understanding of who God is and what God does enabled him to declare, “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (v.7).  He understood that while Judah would in fact fall (probably a reference to coming exile), she would in fact rise by the power of God (v.8).  He understood that those who made fun of Judah (v.10b) and challenged their God, would be brought to certain judgment (vv.9-10a).  He understood that the remnant would expand (vv.11-13), and that due to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ which he had previously reported in chapter 5.  He understood that the people of God would triumph because the God of the people – the Lord, would shepherd them (vv.14-15) and that He would destroy their enemies (vv.16-17).

Micah’s theological understanding comes to glorious expression in the final verses of his prophecy.  In a play on his own name, he asks the question that Israel posed after having been delivered from Egypt (cf. Ex 15:11), “Who is a God like You?  Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?” (v.18). Micah is not seeking information; Micah is rejoicing in free grace!  God passes over the transgression of His people (v.18) and “does not retain His anger forever; because He delights in mercy.” His character is such that He delights to demonstrate mercy to His people.  His conduct is such that He passes over their transgression.  It is important to remember that God does not pass over His people’s transgression by pretending they do not sin or by turning a blind eye to their sin.  Rather, as Paul will later explain in Romans 3, God passes over His people’s transgression because He set forth His Son Jesus Christ as the propitiation who bore the wrath of God for His people’s sins.    Micah ends by recounting more of God’s character, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (v.19), and God’s covenantal faithfulness, “You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (v.20).

The believer will certainly face his share of difficulties and discouragements in this world (see Jn 16:33 if you’re still not convinced).  The believer must not grumble, complain, play the victim, or call into question the goodness and mercy of God.  The believer must arm himself with the knowledge of the Bible and good theology in order to navigate through such trying times.  The believer must not let circumstances or bad experiences rob him of confidence in God.  The believer must, like Micah the Prophet, look to the character and conduct of God and rejoice in Him who “does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”