The Gospel of a Christocentric Cosmos

Two things should be communicated in this blog. First, I would like to tell you how Christ may be seen in all things. Second, I would like to convince you that seeing Christ in anything is a great cause for joy.

Seeing Christ in All Things

What does it mean to glorify God? To glorify something is to publicize it or put it on display. A billboard glorifies a certain product by advertising it; a preacher glorifies something by proclaiming it. To glorify God is to shine a flood-light upon Him and make His characteristics known.

With that in mind, turn to Isaiah. The prophet heard Seraphim cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (6:3). The Psalmist declares a similar point: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (19:1). From these two texts, we understand that everything beneath us (Isa 6:3) and everything above us (Ps 19:1) glorifies God.

Notice that nothing in creation is excluded from this. The universe can be divided into 1) the earth, 2) everything else. We see, then, that the whole universe broadcasts God’s character. The cosmos is a gigantic mirror pointing to God. You can glimpse Him in everything.

With this in mind, consider what Paul says of Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Again in Hebrews: “[Christ] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3). It seems that the Father has chosen to be seen in Christ. Rather than stepping into the sight of men, He has decided to be mirrored in all that Christ does. Thus Christ could say, “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (Jn 8:19).

Like the Father, the Holy Spirit exalts Christ. Jonathan Edwards famously derived this from 1 John 4:1-6 in his sermon, “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit.” The Spirit’s work can be distinguished from the antichrist’s in that Christ is always glorified in a work of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit convicts men of sin (Jn 16:8), they cling to Christ. When the Spirit resurrects the hearts of men (1:9-13), they love Christ.

So within the Trinity, it has been decided that Christ is to be exalted and glorified. This does not say the Spirit and Father do not have a majesty and glory: every member of the Trinity is equally Divine. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. God may be described as one being in three persons. The Father and Spirit do not exalt Christ because He is eternally and naturally exalted within the Trinity – rather, they exalt Him freely. The Triune God decided, under no obligation, to exalt Christ. The reasons for this decision will not be discussed in this short book.

In Colossians 1:15-17, notice the relationship between Christ and creation.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Christ being the “firstborn” of creation doesn’t mean that He is the first created thing. It means that He is exalted above creation: before all things. Not only is He above creation in status, but He is involved with creation in its existence. It was through Him that the universe was created. It was for Him that the universe was created. Even more than this, the universe holds together in Him.

To put all these thoughts together neatly, we could say that all things glorify God and specifically Christ. The Father and Spirit have chosen to exalt Christ. Jesus, then, is the Mediator of Divine glory to creation. The universe is Christocentric: centered on Christ. Everything in existence points to Him.

Savoring Christ in All Things

You may be thinking, “Great… so what?” Am I just rambling needlessly? Why is it important to you that Christ can be seen in every nook and cranny of the cosmos? It is important because seeing Christ is the Christian’s source of joy, and because a glimpse of Christ is universally available the Christian’s joy is likewise always available.

The believing heart is a creation of God (Jn 3:1-8; 6:40-65). It is distinct from the natural God-hating hearts of mankind (Ro 3:9-18). The heart of a Christian clings to Christ (Jn 1:9-13; cf. 1 Jn 5:1). The change from hating Christ to loving Christ occurs at conversion. Whereas the natural born man is hostile toward God (Ro 8:7) and dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), the spirit-born man loves God and walks in righteousness.

The greatest Biblical example of this might be Paul (Ac 9:1-19). He persecuted the church and thought he was serving God by doing so. Thus, a man can appear to love God, but if he does not have affections for the true Christ then the God he worships is actually an idol. The make-or-break point is whether or not an individual bends the knee to Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of God’s judgment, mercy and glory. He is the funnel through which God interacts with humanity. Therefore, no matter how passionate an individual might be for what appears to be the Judeo-Christian God, if that individual has no affections for the true Christ, he has deceived himself with the pride of his own soul.

Paul was powerfully converted into a man who loved Christ. He explains this in Philippians 3:7-11.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

He earlier wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). Death has been made a dog at the feet of Jesus and actually serves Paul unto the end of eternal enjoyment of Christ. Life is likewise joyful because it is in the context of Christ that Paul lives on earth. Paul understood his entire existence to be within the confines of Jesus Christ. He saw everything through that lens.

The same is true for you, if indeed your heart has been recreated by God. You don’t need me to present a 50-page defense of why seeing Christ is the fullest source of joy for you. We don’t really care for streets of gold, mansions, or family reunions in Heaven, do we? We look-forward to the wonderful day when, in shades of glory indescribable, the King of Glory steps into view and finally our faith is made sight. We hope in great expectation for that moment when, after decades of toil and sickness on earth, our Savior – with might and terrible beauty – says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt 25:21).

The silliest things today are those books and films about people visiting Heaven. Aside from eschatological problems, all we need to disprove their accounts are the accounts themselves. They describe Heaven as a utopia-in-the-sky. Rainbow swing-sets, days with family members, wonderful food – and none of these things are bad. In fact, the Biblical description of Heaven seems to suggest that we may have some of these things in Heaven. Redemption is not the destruction of God’s material creation, but the renewal of it.

Yet it is only after all these things that Christ is brought in – as if He is the icing on the cake to all of these others pleasures in Heaven. What a preposterous thing to consider! “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). The glory of Heaven is not the created things, but the Creator Himself – we will not make the former mistake of worshiping the earth instead of its King (Ro 1:24-25).

My friend, Christ Himself is the glory of Heaven, and most professing Christian would find themselves quite bored if allowed entrance to that city. Yet the true believer truly loves Christ, and so he is elated with the news that eternity will hold for him an endless meeting with the Lamb.

So really, if you are not truly a follower of Christ, then this blog will not resonate with you. It was a short but slow read. But if you truly do love Christ, then all I need to do in closing this article is confess with the Psalmist, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (16:11).

I Love the Church, Because Christ Loves the Church

 

I don’t have much to say in this article except what God spoke through the Apostle Paul. So I’ll just dive into the text.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. (Eph 5:25-30)

Commentary

Paul commands husbands to mirror their marital love after Christ’s. Christ’s love for His bride (the Church) is essentially securing her redemption. He gave Himself up for her, dying as a propitiation for her sins. The purpose of this death was her sanctification, that she would be set-apart and made holy. Question: from what and to what? I suggest that Christ’s death cleansed her of sin. She is separated from the kingdom of Satan, death, depravity and carried to the kingdom of Christ, life, righteousness.

He presents her in all her glory. That glory is only hers because He has given it to her. He won for her the worth she manifests. No only this, but He presents her as well – to Himself. He secured for Himself a bride. The glory she boasts is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. As a bed-sheet without the smallest fold or furrow, she exists in perfection. Her perfect existence is wholly created by Christ. All her glory is given by Him, to the extent that the ungodly characteristics of her previous existence are not even recognizable. In contrast to her past depravity, she is presented holy and blameless. The church is Christ’s body and so He nourishes and cherishes it – so too should husbands nourish and cherish their wives.

Implication

What a great love this is. How might it be measured? Where is the rod with which I can mark the extent of God’s love for His people? Surely it has no scope. If Christ’s merit has no end then His love for the church has no end, because He gave Himself up for her. In response to this love, I am called to love my wife the same way: unconditionally and endlessly. “Christ loves the church, so I love my wife.”

After this immediate point of marital relation, I am driven to a second implication: “Christ loves the church, so I love the church.” My Lord and Savior thought that God’s people were worth living and dying for. If the church ranks so high in Christ’s estimation, how can I think it any less valuable? My love for all believers individually and corporately is based on Christ’s death on the cross. I do not love the church because they can give me something, I love the church because Christ loves them.

This should be stated in more practical terms, I think: “I love my local church because Christ loves my local church.” I love those believers I weekly gather with because Christ loved them. The basis for my fellowship is the intention of Christ’s blood. If ever I am to doubt whether or not I should love my local congregation, a more firm thought should be: “Christ loves them.”

I am under covenant to nourish and cherish my local church. This covenant is not bound by the deeds and decisions of my brothers and sisters. Rather, this covenant is sealed by the blood of Christ. When His blood loses merit, I shall be released from my covenant. Until then, I love the church.

Three Reasons to Supremely Exalt Christ in Preaching

Preaching is a joyful honor and weighty responsibility. It is my conviction that preaching should supremely exalt Christ. I would like to provide you with three reasons why I am convinced of this.

If the sermon does not exalt Christ, then it cannot be wholly truthful

  • Principle 1: The Word supremely exalts Christ. (Lk. 24:25-27; Jn. 1:1; 5:39; Heb. 1:1-2)
  • Principle 2: Preaching must always be of the Word. (Neh. 8:5, 8; Ps. 119:104-105; 2 Timothy 4:1-2)
  • Conclusion: Preaching by nature supremely exalts Christ.

If the sermon does not exalt Christ, then the preacher is not preaching the Word. If he was preaching the Word, Christ would be exalted. Scripture by nature lifts up the Son of Man, shining a spot-light on His person and work. Preaching by nature lifts of the Word, such that the content delivered by a faithful preacher is Scripture and commentary upon it. It is evident that a preacher who is not exalting Christ, is not accurately commenting on the Scripture he preaches.

If the sermon does not exalt Christ, then it opposes the Holy Spirit’s work

  • Proposition: If the Holy Spirit does a work, then He exalts Christ in that work. (John 14:16-31; 16:12-15; 1 Jn. 4:1-6)
  • Consequent Denied: If Christ is not exalted in a work, then the Holy Spirit is not doing that work.

If the sermon does not exalt Christ, then it is erecting itself as a tool used in the power of flesh, opposing the Spirit’s way of exalting Christ. The Holy Spirit is the third member of the Trinity – being God, He is completely free to do as He wills. It pleases Him and is His role in the economic Trinity to exalt Christ and direct men unto Him. Spurgeon wrote, “All ministries, therefore, must be subjected to this test; if they do not glorify Christ, they are not of the Holy Ghost.”

If the sermon does not exalt Christ, then it stifles the congregation’s joy

  • Principle 1.1: God is our sole source of joy. (Neh. 8:10; Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3)
  • Principle 1.2: God is known through Christ. (Jn. 14:6; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 1:15-20)
  • Principle 1.3: Christ is most clearly seen in Scripture. (Rom. 1:18-2:16; 10:14-15; 16:20-21; see also Reason 1)
  • Conclusion 1.1: Scripture is our clearest avenue of joy.
  • Conclusion 1.2: If Scripture is skewed so-as-to veil Christ, then its joy-giving clarity is stifled.
  • Principle 2.1: If Christ is not exalted, then Scripture is not accurately presented. (see Reason 1)
  • Principle 2.2: If Scripture is not accurately presented, then its joy-giving quality is stifled. (see Reason 3, Conclusion 1.2)
  • Principle 2.3: If Scripture’s joy-giving quality is stifled, then so is the joy received by the congregation.
  • Conclusion 2: If Christ is not exalted in a sermon, then the congregation’s joy is stifled.

Christ is the ultimate source of joy for the church. On earth, we glimpse His glory in Scripture and are satisfied. Though in heaven, our faith shall be made sight and our joy made full. If this is so, then why would I not desire to exalt Christ in my preaching? My people’s greatest joy will come through seeing Christ. If I want the congregation satisfied and living unto God in a joy of the soul, then why would I refrain from this?

A Brief Look at Golgotha: Drinking Down God’s Wrath

What was Jesus referring to in Gethsemane when He asked the Father, “Let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39)? What was in the cup? Consider these Old Testament texts.

  • Job 21:20, “Let his own eyes see his decay, and let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty.”
  • Psalm 11:6, “Upon the wicked He will rain snares; fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.”
  • Psalm 60:3, “You have made Your people experience hardship; You have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger.”
  • Psalm 75:8, “For a cup is in the hand of the Lord, and the win foams; it is well mixed, and He pours out of this; surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.”
  • Isaiah 51:17, “Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; the chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs.”
  • Isaiah 63:6, “I trod down the peoples in My anger and made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
  • Jeremiah 25:15, “For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, ‘Take this cup of the wine of wrath from my hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it.’”
  • Jeremiah 49:12, “For thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, those who were not sentenced to drink the cup will certainly drink it, and are you the one who will be completely acquitted? You will not be acquitted, but you will certainly drink it.”

Scripture utilizes “cup” imagery to illustrate God’s wrath upon the wicked. If God’s wrath is poured out upon someone, they are said to “drink” this cup. This imagery also found in the New Testament.

  • Revelation 14:10, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
  • Revelation 16:19, “The great city was into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the win of His fierce wrath.”

Paul elaborates on this wrath-drinking work of Jesus Christ: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom 3:23-25, emphasis mine). A propitiation is a sacrifice that appeases wrath. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross appeased the righteous indignation of God meant for wicked people. “In His blood” means it was in Christ’s death this appeasement happened – Christ had to die. How might this propitiatory work benefit a wicked man? Simple: “through faith.” If one believes upon Jesus Christ, he is forgiven of his sins.

Praise God for Jesus Christ, that He drank the wrath of God meant for His people.

Reading Leviticus, Seeing Christ (Part 6)

Standards of Cleanliness (Lev 11-15)

Leviticus 11 concerns which animals are “clean” or “unclean.” God divided the animals Israel would come across. The “clean” animals were good to eat and/or interact with; the “unclean” animals were not. This was part of the Mosaic Law, given to Israel as they were entering into the Mosaic Covenant with God. “Cleanliness laws” were part of the larger context of Israel distancing itself from the world and being sanctified to God.

The cleanliness laws continue in chapters 12-15. Chapter 12 concerns childbirth. A woman was to be considered unclean for 40-80 days after delivery (depending on whether the child born was male or female [vv.2-5]). This was a time of purification, after which she would be pronounced clean (v.8). Chapters 13 and 14 concern leprosy. When an individual or house was suspected of contracting leprosy, the priests were to test for the disease. The proper way to cleanse one suspected of contracting leprosy is outlined in chapter 14. The person/house thought leprous was pronounced unclean until it could be determined otherwise. Chapter 15 deals with other issues of unhealthiness, mainly unusual discharges.

Our 21st century context is a difficult lense through which to understand such laws. Is this really part of being holy as God is holy (11:44-45)? The purpose of this article is not to address the interpretive process used when we New Covenant believers determine which Mosaic Laws should still be kept today – but suffice it to say that I do not believe these cleanliness laws are applicable to the church in this age (Ac 10-11). I believe that all of the other questions listed above can be addressed by answering this: why did God give the Israelites these cleanliness laws?

First, these laws kept them safe, serving as their own medical system for the prevention and spread of diseases. Certain animals in the Middle East at this time would have not been healthy for consumption or interaction (Lev 11:46-47). Child birth physically exhausting: the Law allowed for a time of rejuvenation and rebuilding of the immune system. Leprosy was deadly and could spread easily without caution, so the Law required proper standards that prevented such trouble (14:54-57). Unknown discharges and illnesses were especially troublesome because, as any medic knows, it is difficult to treat what you are unfamiliar with. The Law provided a system for preventing the spread of such illnesses (15:31).

Second, these laws were given to teach the Israelites that certain things on earth were clean and others unclean, and to live as God’s people meant to distinguish between the two and hold fast to the clean. In respect to the Mosaic Law, eating the right meat was paramount to establishing the cities of refuge (Deut 19). Cleansing oneself after childbirth was paramount to consecrating the priests for their duty (Lev 8). Abiding by the standards for suspected cases of leprosy was paramount to bringing before the Lord His prescribed form of offering and not “strange fire” (Lev 10). Following God’s Word concerning unhealthy discharges was paramount to keeping designated ranks in how Israel was to travel in the desert (Num 10:11-36). The laws of cleanliness were part of the Mosaic Law and therefore contributed to what it meant for the Israelites to be holy.

Further, these laws were theologically important in principle rather than in substance. For example, eating pork is not intrinsically something sinful, because the New Testament allows for it. However, it was sinful in the Old Testament. This is what we might consider a redemption law: a law whose purpose is to communicate something about the Gospel. Other laws (such as prohibitions of homosexuality) might be called creation laws: laws which prohibit an deed which is ontologically evil. (I credit Douglas Wilson with my understanding of redemption and creation laws).

Something “clean” was considered to be acceptable to engage with and still be in a sanctified relationship with God. Something “unclean” was associated with unholiness – an untouchable thing for one sanctified to God. Leviticus establishes a relationship between the terms “clean” and “holy.” This relationship is also seen in Psalm 24.

The earth is the Lord’s” (v.1) because “He has founded it” (v.2). Creator God owns all things because He has made all things. In Hebrew poetry, a truth was often stated in one line and re-stated in the following. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord” may be the equivalent of, “and who may stand in His holy place?” This “hill” that one may climb and “place” in which one may stand is the domain which is shut by the “ancient doors” (v.7). The place is the hill Zion: God’s holy place. The one who may hope to enter into this holy place must meet the requirements of verse 4: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” He who is sinless, holy and righteous. The principle is no different than the Mosaic Law: he who desires to dwell with God must be holy like God.

Psalm 24 hits at two sides of a coin. On one hand, no one is truly holy before God. This is why God’s people need Christ’s righteousness to be credited to them – part of the blessing referred to in verse 5. Christ is the King of Glory (vv.7-10). Jesus truly lived a holy life and ascended God’s hill, where the ancient doors of glory opened to Him. He was the only one who could do this. Yet the one who is holy (v.4) will receive salvation (v.5). Why do you need salvation if you are holy? This is the other side of the coin. Through the work of Christ upon the cross, God’s people are righteous in His sight and in the power of His Spirit are called to live a holy life.

This Psalm refers to Christ in that He truly lived a holy life and ascended the hill of the Lord, but only after receiving a curse from God for our unholiness. This Psalm refers to us in that Christ lived a holy life for us and we now can ascend the hill of the Lord clothed in His merit, but only after receiving a blessing from God for His holiness. In light of this justification, he who repents of sin and follows Jesus will be credited the righteousness of Christ. God has decreed that a true striving for holiness on our part will be credited as true holiness on our behalf, won by Christ.

How do we see Christ in Leviticus 11-15? He is the one Who truly lived clean and sanctified to God. He judicially saves us in justification (the credit of holiness) and morally saves us in sanctification (the power unto holiness). Justification was accomplished on the cross, sanctification is being accomplished by the Spirit.

The Mosaic Law was salvifically insufficient. It served as a “schoolmaster” to lead people to depend on God for righteousness (Gal 3:24-25). The law showed the Israelites their uncleanliness. In light of such uncleanliness, those who then responded in faith to God received from God the most precious of blessings: Christ made them clean.

Christ is exalted in Leviticus 11-15 as the holiness of His people. He is the purifier of His bride. He is the one who labored for 33 years to win for us clean wedding garments (Matt 22:1-14) fitting to stand before the holy King. He is the one with clean hands who gathers the saints and carries them up the hill of Zion, through the ancient doors and into the holy presence of God (Ps 24; Rom 5:1-2). He is the perfectly clean High Priest who intercedes for His people with blood upon the mercy seat (Lev 16:15-16), serving faithfully as our Advocate in the courtroom of Heaven (1 Jn 2:1-2).

Praise God for our holy Advocate, our sufficient Substitute, our capable Savior, our righteous Ruler – Jesus Christ our Lord! May we strive for holiness in light of His most excellent grace.