My 10 Favorite Reads in 2016

So many great books published, too little time to read them all. In no particular order, here are my favorite nonfiction reads this year. Almost all of them were published in 2016.

  1. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus, by L. Michael Morales.
  2. The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, by Jeremy R. Treat.
  3. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K. A. Smith.
  4. A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, by John Piper.
  5. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, by Timothy Keller.
  6. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification, by Sinclair B. Ferguson.
  7. Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, by Ray C. Ortlund.
  8. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, by Stephen J. Wellum.
  9. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization, by Os Guinness.
  10. Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling, by Jared C. Wilson.

“Come, Thou Word” – A Christmas Hymn

The following lyrics of “Come, Thou Word” were composed to the tune of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

“Come, Thou Word”
December 20-21, 2016

Verse 1
Come, Thou Word, which with the Father
and the Spirit ever dwelled
And hath taken flesh to save us
from our sin and death and hell.
We behold Thee in Thy manger,
Fully God and fully man,
Myst’ry of the ages former,
Now revealed in Bethlehem.

Verse 2
Come, Thou King, whose birth the angel
Sang to shepherds in the night.
‘Round them came a host of heaven,
‘Round them shone a holy light.
“See I bring good news of great joy,
So no longer be afraid:
Christ the Lord, the promised Savior,
Unto you is born this day.”

Verse 3
Come, Thou Son, whose arms shall carry
Those fast-bound in chains of sin.
‘Mid this exile, ruined sinners
Shall be raised to life again.
He was born for our redemption,
O’er the manger loomed the Tree.
There in David’s little city
Lay the one who set us free.

“See This Child”–An Advent Poem for 2016

“See This Child”
December 6, 2016

See this child for whom all things
Are made and by whom held.
This mighty one, begotten Son,
Has come with men to dwell.

See this child with undefiled
Nature now asleep.
This righteous one, beloved Son,
Will scorn and murder reap.

See this child with tiny hands,
Who cries and must be fed.
This lowly one, a virgin’s Son,
Is everlasting bread.

See this child with infant smile
Whom heavenly host proclaim.
This worthy one, the royal Son,
Shall be for sinners slain.

See this child in swaddling cloths
And in a manger laid.
This gentle one, the promised Son,
Has come to kill the grave.

A Cluster of Christological Affirmations in 1 Thessalonians 1:10

Written sometime around A.D. 50 or 51, 1 Thessalonians may be the earliest of Paul’s letters (with the possible exception of Galatians), and it’s always interesting to see what someone’s theology (or, in this case, christology) consists of early on.

Paul writes, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

My interest is specifically verse 10, which is in bold. What kind of truths are present there, either explicitly or implicitly, about Jesus?

  1. Jesus died (“from the dead”). The very word “dead” is present.
  2. Jesus rose (“whom he raised from the dead”). Bodily resurrection ended his death.
  3. Jesus ascended (“from heaven”). At some point between his bodily resurrection and his current location in heaven, there was an ascension to get him there.
  4. Jesus remains in heaven (“from heaven”). After his ascension, Jesus has not dwelt elsewhere. The God-Man remains in heaven.
  5. Jesus will return (“to wait for his Son from heaven”). He will return from where he presently dwells. This refers to his Second Coming, which is the bodily return of the bodily risen and bodily ascended Jesus.

#’s 1, 2, and 5 are explicit in the verse, and #’s 3 and 4 are implicit. Paul affirms–all in one verse–the death, resurrection, ascension, session, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Singing in “The Hobbit” and With the Saints

hobbit pic of gandalf and bilboI just finished reading The Hobbit for the first time, and I was surprised at all the singing. Surprised–and delighted! In the first and final chapters and in many of those between them, there was a preponderance of songs.

One especially meaningful song appears in Chapter 10 (“A Warm Welcome”). Bilbo had recently rescued the dwarves from imprisonment (in Chapter 9), and now he and the gang were approaching The Lonely Mountain. Along the way, when they came to Lake-town (or Esgaroth), people began to sing “old songs concerning the return of the King under the Mountain.”

The lyrics were:

The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
All sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king’s return!

This is prophecy-in-song. The mountain was currently occupied by the despicable dragon Smaug, and people longed for–and sang for–the day when the true Mountain-king would come.

The first verse declares that the king would come. In the second verse, royal music would once again fill the halls. In the third verse, creation would respond as woods and grass wave. In the fourth verse, sorrow and sadness would be no more.

This prophetic song, along with other songs old and new, strengthened the characters. Over the days of such celebration and singing, the dwarves recovered and anticipated the remaining miles of their journey to The Lonely Mountain. Within a week, “Thorin looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces.”

As I read the lyrics of the songs in The Hobbit, I was struck afresh with how important singing is for the saints. We sing not only because of what God has done in Christ but also in view of what he will do. We sing to remember, and we sing for hope. And as was the case with characters in the book, songs strengthen us in the face of fear, trial, and battle. And we mustn’t minimize the power of singing together. The characters joined in song with others. By singing together they grew stronger together.

One final observation about singing in The Hobbit. Even the bad guys, like the goblins, had songs. In Chapter 6 (“Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire”), the goblins celebrated their wicked plans with singing. Those songs may be poetic, but ultimately the lines lack the power of the noble songs which come from the souls of the brave and hopeful hobbits, dwarves, and elves. Songs are better which reflect on what is true, beautiful, and worthy.

As I finished the last of the songs in the final chapter of The Hobbit, I found myself looking forward to singing with the saints on the Lord’s Day. I’m ready to remember with them and hope with them. And I’m confident that in singing together we will be stronger together, for what we reflect on is the Lord Jesus Christ, the one most true, beautiful, and worthy.

It’s Good to be Alive!

sun shining behind treesDid you wake up this morning? If you’re reading this, then the answer is obvious. But for many people around the world, yesterday was their last day. Because of death, their eyes no longer see the sun.

The author of Ecclesiastes says, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun” (Eccl. 11:7).

The second part of the verse expands the first. The light in the first part is the sun in the second. In Ecclesiastes those on earth live “under the sun” and thus under its light. For their “eyes to see the sun” means that they are alive. The author tells us what this experience is like: seeing this light is “sweet.”

Light can be many things: bright, illuminating, far-reaching, fast, blinding. But “sweet”? We normally associate that word with food. However, maybe “sweet” is the perfect description of this non-food image of light. This author shows that being alive is sweet! Life tastes good! Opening your eyes to another day is a pleasant thing.

If you read through the book of Ecclesiastes, you’ll note that the author is under no delusion that life is easy and carefree. In the book he is astonishingly, even uncomfortably, candid about life’s vexations and frustrations. So he’s not ignoring the suffering and injustice in the world when he says that “light is sweet.” But suffering and injustice do not make up all the happenings on earth. The author knows life can be hard, but that’s not all it is. We should be willing to say everything that’s true about life.

For each of us under the sun, there is a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl. 3:2), and these times are set by God alone (see 8:15). If you have seen the sun today, then the latter “time” still lies before you. This day, like yesterday, is a gift from God to us. Here is another day to seek him, know him, praise him, fear him, obey him. Here is another day for his glory. It’s good to be alive!

My Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew

Beginning June 30, 2013, I entered the world of Matthew’s Gospel at Kosmosdale Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. I completed the exposition of the book on April 10, 2016, in a total of 123 sermons. The number of weeks between those dates doesn’t match the 123 sermons because I took brief breaks between chunks of the book.

In June 2013, I started with Matthew 3 for a couple of reasons:

  1. I had just completed an exposition of Malachi and so moved immediately from the promise of the future Elijah (Mal. 4:4-6) to his arrival in John the Baptist (Matt. 3).
  2. I wanted to save Matthew 1-2 for later that year as an Advent series.

Throughout my many months in the First Gospel, several passages stand out in my memory as especially edifying to my soul as I studied for them and preach them:

  1. Jesus’ words about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:16-18)
  2. Jesus’ cleansing of a leper (Matt. 8:1-4)
  3. Jesus’ pronouncement of woes on unrepentant regions (Matt. 11:20-24)
  4. Jesus’ rejection at his hometown synagogue (Matt. 13:53-58)
  5. Jesus’ walk upon the water (Matt. 14:22-33)
  6. Jesus’ second explicit teaching about his death and resurrection (Matt. 17:22-23)
  7. Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35)
  8. Jesus’ healing of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34)
  9. Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:31-46)
  10. Jesus’ betrayal and arrest (Matt. 26:47-56)
  11. Jesus’ Jewish trial (Matt. 26:57-68)
  12. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-61)
  13. Jesus’ great commission to his disciples (Matt. 28:16-20)

Having preached lengthy series before during my time in pastoral ministry–such as John, Acts, and Romans–the series in Matthew was my longest exposition thus far. Throughout 123 sermons, I was continually reminded of the benefits of book exposition. Here are three:

  1. The congregation becoming intimately acquainted with a book of the Bible, especially one the size of Matthew
  2. The congregation beholding the intertextual connections and unfolding arrangement of a book of the Bible
  3. The congregation hearing passages that may otherwise not be preached, such as the opening genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17), divorce and remarriage (5:31-32; 19:1-12), fasting (6:16-18), the temple tax (17:24-27), the cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), and the suicide of Judas (27:3-10)

I loved preaching through Matthew’s Gospel for many reasons. Here are ten, in no particular order:

  1. It’s the doorway into the New Testament canon
  2. It’s the First of the Four Gospels
  3. Its various and frequent uses of the Old Testament through quotation, allusion, and echo
  4. Its wonderful mixture of narrative sequences and lengthy teaching discourses
  5. Its many parables
  6. Its lengthy narration of Passion Week (Matt. 21-28)
  7. Its lengthy Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25)
  8. Its overlap with Mark’s Gospel is so strong that preaching through Matthew is like preaching through Mark as well (approximately 90% of Mark is in Matthew)
  9. Its unique stories among the Gospels, such as the visit of the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12)
  10. Its literary artistry–and time would fail me in this post to reflect on the many examples of this Gospel’s beauty, cohesion, and inner-connections

I profited so much from New Testament scholars, especially the commentaries by:

  1. R. T. France
  2. Grant Osborne
  3. Leon Morris
  4. John Nolland
  5. [Jonathan Pennington–his name would certainly go here, but his commentary isn’t available yet! :) ]

By God’s grace, I never felt weary preaching so many sermons from Matthew’s Gospel. And again by God’s grace, the congregation was continually receptive and encouraging, month after month. We anticipated the completion of the Gospel together.

This past Sunday, as soon as I preached the last sermon in Matthew 28, one of our deacons came up and asked me what I was preaching the following Sunday. “Will you be going to Mark 1?” he asked (with perhaps a hint of concern in his voice, though I wasn’t sure). Now canonically, of course, Mark 1 follows Matthew 28, but I answered “No” with a smile.

Praise God for the Gospel of Matthew! Our Savior is Jesus, who is Immanuel, Son of David, Son of Abraham, the Seed of the Woman, the one greater than the temple, the one greater than Solomon, the longed-for prophet like Moses, the Suffering Servant, the Christ, the righteous sufferer, the final sacrifice, the ultimate temple, the perfect high priest, the last Adam, and the firstfruits of resurrection.