The Flight to Egypt – a poem

In Matthew 2:13-15, the holy family flees to Egypt. Joseph had received a dream that Herod was seeking to kill the Christ, and an angel instructed them to travel to Egypt. The following poem is an imaginative reflection on these verses.

“The Flight to Egypt”
December 23, 2020

Joseph woke and grabbed the arm
of Mary at his side.
“We must go, my dear, for harm
will come unless we hide.”

“Harm to whom?” she asked and looked
where Jesus lay asleep.
“To him,” her husband whispered low
and felt that he could weep.

“How can you be so sure, my love?”
she asked and rose from bed.
“An angel spoke within my dream
that Herod wants him dead.”

Mary heard those words and pondered
what her husband meant.
“When? How Long? And where shall be
the place this time is spent?

Joseph moved with haste to gather
what few things were there.
“We leave for Egypt now, tonight,
there is no time to spare.

“My dear, I do not know the length
of days we shall be gone.
The angel may appear again
when God will call his Son.

“But until then we must flee to
that land of ancient grief,
where Hebrews once had been enslaved
and where God set them free.

“Let us be strong and full of hope
for God will make a way.
We will see his faithfulness,
and night will turn to day.”

From Bethlehem the couple fled
and rushed along the path,
when suddenly they saw the flames
of those who rode with wrath.

“Soldiers!” Joseph gasped and rushed
with Mary through a field.
“We must run where they won’t see,
and God will be our shield.”

Hours passed beneath the moon,
and dawn at last arrived.
They walked and rested, slept and prayed,
they talked and sang and cried.

Through the promised land they went
as Joseph held the son.
They neared the wilderness and saw
the day was nearly done.

They slept that night and many more
beneath the stars above,
while o’er them watched the Maker of
all things who led with love.

Storms they faced, and bandits too,
but God preserved through dangers.
Many meals came from the hands
and hearts of caring strangers.

Weeks more passed before they saw
the land of Egypt near.
Joseph said, “The Lord will keep us
safe while we are here.”

Mary said, “I trust he will. I know
that God is with us.”
Then Joseph’s eyes met Mary’s, and
they both looked down at Jesus.

How to Read Philippians 2:6-8 Without Becoming a Heretic

Philippians 2:6-8 is a major passage not just in Paul’s letters but in all of Scripture. There the apostle is talking about the incarnation of God’s Son. Every phrase, every assertion, is momentous–and fraught with interpretive difficulty. If we get the person of Christ wrong, we’re heretics. So as the Bible reader approaches Philippians 2:6-8, there are misunderstandings to avoid. Let’s get the verses in front of us, and then we will note four possible misunderstandings of Paul’s words.

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8)

Misunderstanding #1: Being in the “form of God” means the appearance of something that isn’t actually the case. Why could this misunderstanding happen? Because sometimes in English we use the word “form” to mean something that is exclusively external. A rope might be coiled in the form of a snake without actually being a snake. Christmas lights in a front yard might be in the form of a deer without actually being a deer.

The Correction: Paul is using the word “form” to denote the state of the Son’s existence and its accompanying characteristics. He is asserting the Son’s divinity. It is appropriate to say that the Son is God, and Paul’s words should not be understood as a denial of that fact. Soon Paul will make a statement about Christ’s remarkable humility, and that lowly status is a stark contrast to the divine status that Paul identified in 2:6. Jesus’ own words refer to his preincarnate state: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).

Misunderstanding #2: The notion of grasping at equality with God implies that Christ lacked equality with God. This conclusion would, like the first misunderstanding, deny the Son’s deity. Why could this misunderstanding happen? Because a person might “grasp” at something they don’t already possess. If Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, perhaps that’s because he didn’t possess equality with God to begin with.

The Correction: Grasping a thing can be done by someone who already possesses that thing. In context, the language is about holding firmly to something, pulling it close selfishly. The action is the opposite of 2:4 where Paul called his readers to look to the interests of others. Paul is teaching that Christ did not view his status as something solely for his own advantage, something to exploit at the expense of others. Instead, while in the form of God and having equality with God, the Son acted on behalf of sinful creatures and considered their helpless estate. He did not grasp at his high position as a reason to say, “I will not attend to others. I will not consider their interests.” The incarnation happened not because Christ had a tight first but because he had an open heart.

Misunderstanding #3: Jesus emptied himself of his divine attributes. Paul teaches in 2:7 that Jesus made himself nothing or emptied himself. But how did he become nothing? What was emptied? The text doesn’t identify what Christ emptied, but some Bible readers have suspected that Christ emptied divine attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.

The Correction: The subsequent language about “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” explains what it means for the Son to make himself nothing. He emptied himself by adopting the low position of a slave. He made himself nothing by humbling himself at the incarnation. When Paul says that Christ “made himself nothing,” Paul is not making an ontological claim about Christ’s divine nature. The divine nature does not consist of parts that could be subtracted or switches that could be turned off. If the Son emptied himself of divine attributes, he would no longer be divine. And a merely human person cannot accomplish full and forever atonement for us. Jesus emptied himself in the sense that he became like a servant, born to share our humanity. The Son, for whom and through whom and by whom all things were made, is born in flesh from the womb of Mary–a humble estate indeed! But Paul is most certainly not teaching that Jesus exchanged deity for humanity. Rather, the Son added to himself a human nature. One person, two natures, truly divine and truly human.

Misunderstanding #4: Jesus only possessed a human likeness but not true humanity. The reason a reader might think this is because the text says that Jesus was “born in the likeness of men.” Could “likeness” mean the mere appearance of humanity without the true status beneath? Was the Son a spirit-being who lacked real flesh and blood on earth?

The Correction: Paul is using the word “likeness” in the way we read it in Genesis 5:3, where Adam had a son in his own likeness. Adam was a person, and so was his son. Jesus shared our likeness in the sense that he shared our humanity. Paul begins 2:8 by saying that Jesus was “found in human form,” and this confirms that “likeness” in 2:7 was not a superficial kind. Jesus possessed true humanity in a real human nature, and this humanity did not negate, contradict, or compromise his deity. The word “born” also confirms his true humanity, since mothers give birth to embodied image bearers. In 2:8 Paul mentions Jesus’ “death on a cross,” and only real bodies can die. So the word “likeness” in 2:7 is not about a semblance void of fact. The eternal Son of God became flesh, taking to himself true humanity.

We need to avoid the preceding misunderstandings when we read Philippians 2:6-8. These verses teach the Son’s preexistence, his true deity, and his true humanity. The Son did not–and could not–undivine himself. God cannot cease being who he is in his divine nature. Through the miraculous incarnation, the divine Son of God is also God with us, made flesh in a human nature for our salvation.

Three Ways the Old Testament Anticipates the Birth of Jesus

Thirty-nine books precede the story of Jesus in the Four Gospels, and these Old Testament books foreshadow and prepare for the coming of Jesus. The first advent doesn’t happen in a vacuum but amid a matrix of hopes and promises and patterns and shadows that interpreters can see in Scripture. I will point to three ways the Old Testament anticipates the birth of Jesus.

First, consider direct prophecies of a deliverer. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” A son will come, and he will come by birth. From Genesis 3:15 onward, readers are looking for the birth of the Promised One. He would come from Judah’s tribe (Gen 49:10), he would descend from David’s line (2 Sam 7:12-13), and he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). When Jesus is born, he fulfills the age-old hope that first sounded in the garden.

Second, consider the power of God upon the womb. There are multiple stories in the Old Testament about God enabling conception by overcoming barrenness. Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren (Gen 16), as was Isaac’s wife Rebekah (Gen 25), Jacob’s wife Rachel (Gen 30), Samson’s mother (Judg 13), and Samuel’s mother (1 Sam 1). There were certainly more barren women than these in the centuries of Old Testament history, but these five are highlighted explicitly by the biblical authors. A pattern is established: when the text draws attention to a woman’s barrenness, God soon overcomes it. There is no obstacle that thwarts his plan. These stories anticipate God’s greatest display of power upon a womb. Mary was unmarried and a virgin. Yet the Spirit of God would move upon her womb and bring life.

Third, consider birth stories. In the case of most Bible characters, we hear about them while they’re already alive. But sometimes we learn about characters before they’re born or as they’re born. In Genesis 21, we read of Isaac’s birth, and his name was announced ahead of time (Gen 17:19). In Exodus 2, we read of Moses’s birth, and his significance unfolds as the one to deliver the Israelites. In Judges 13, we read of Samson’s birth, and it’s even preceded by angelic visitations and instructions. In Ruth 4, we read of Obed’s birth in Bethlehem, and he was the father of Jesse who begat David. These various birth stories showcase characters who fulfilled promises, achieved victories, or brought restoration. When Gabriel visits Mary in Luke 1, he prophesies that she’ll bear a son, and the name is announced ahead of time. The most important birth story occurred in Bethlehem during the days of Caesar Augustus.

The birth of Jesus fulfilled prophecies and patterns from the Old Testament. Stories of covenant faithfulness and divine power had prepared the way for the Lord.

For more on how the Old Testament relates to Jesus, see my new book 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory.

My 5 Favorite Reads in 2020

I love books, and I love reading the lists of books that others have read. My future book purchases are directly impacted by what others have found helpful. There’s too much to read and too little time! And 2020 has been such a bizarre year. Perhaps you’ve found more time to read than ever before, or perhaps you’ve had less time to read than you’d have thought. No doubt you will be buying some books in the months to come, and I eagerly commend the following to you. They’re my five favorite reads in 2020. In no particular order:

  1. Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, by Andrew Peterson
  2. The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World, by John Starke
  3. With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will Toward Christ, by A. Craig Troxel
  4. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund
  5. Who Is God? Key Moments of Biblical Revelation, by Richard Bauckham

5 Questions About 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory

Today, September 29, 2020, is the official release of my book 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory, published by Kregel Academic. Since the book contains a question-answer format, here’s an overview of some matters framed in the same way. Five questions:

  1. Why write about typology and allegory? These subjects are controversial, yes. But considering how important these reading strategies were in the Great Tradition, interpreters should not neglect studying them. These are not subjects reserved only for academics. As students of the Scripture, we should aim to see how the whole Word testifies to the incarnate Word, and that task inevitably engages the subjects of typology and allegory. Though interpreters will not always agree on how best to employ or nuance these reading strategies, let’s still have the conversation.
  2. How is the book organized? I outlined the questions in the book to unfold in a logical manner. While readers may benefit from skipping to a question that appeals to them, you’ll notice in the Table of Contents that the questions welcome the reader to start at the beginning and join an argument that builds across the chapters. After spending two chapters talking about the Bible’s big story, I devote twenty-two chapters to the subject of typology. I explore what it is, how it’s been used in church history, and what types exist in Scripture. Then I’ve written fifteen chapters about allegory. I explore what it is, how it’s been used in church history, and what allegories exist in Scripture. The fortieth and final chapter gives reasons why interpreters should care about these subjects.
  3. To whom is the book dedicated? I’ve dedicated it to Jim Hamilton (James M. Hamilton Jr). I first met Jim in 2005, and over the years he has had a massive influence on my reading of Scripture. The dedication says “For Jim Hamilton, a dear Christian brother, whose love for the Bible and joy in Christ have impacted and shaped me, to the glory of God.” He has helped me see and read the Old Testament in light of Christ. That’s not to say Jim would agree with every conclusion I’ve made in the book! But no one has had a bigger impact on my view of Scripture–and the need to imitate the hermeneutical moves of the apostles–than Jim. Dedicating this book to him was the easiest decision of the whole writing process!
  4. Who is the audience for the book? The short answer: thoughtful Christian readers. I sought to write it in a way that pastors and college/seminary students would profit from it, but I believe people in churches would be able to engage and process the material as well. Since reading and understanding the Scripture is an urgent and ongoing need for God’s people, we need to see the ways in which the Church has read Scripture and beheld Christ in its pages. You may benefit by reading this book with others so that its content–and the discussion questions at the end of each chapter–will provoke further study and collective insight into the subjects of typology and allegory.
  5. What was the timeline for writing the book? I signed a contract with Kregel on February 26, 2018, and I emailed the first draft of the book to Ben Merkle (the fantastic editor of the 40 Questions series) on February 21, 2019. Ben’s guidance and feedback was helpful all the way to the finish line. The book was officially accepted by Kregel on August 16, 2019. The months that followed involved small edits and adjustments. And today–September 29, 2020–is the release date.

40 Questions About Typology and Allegory is available in multiple places (such as Amazon and Christian Book Distributors). If these subjects interest you, I would be honored if you read the book and helped spread the word about it. May the Lord increase our love for his Word and our delight in his Son!

The 2nd Edition of The Gospel Is for Christians

Ten years have passed since The Gospel Is for Christians was published in 2010. The burden on my heart during the writing of that book was for believers to grasp and rejoice in the importance of the gospel for the Christian life. The gospel is for salvation and for discipleship.

Now, in 2020, a second edition of the book is available. And here are four things you should know about it:
1. The book has been thoroughly revised. A second edition allowed me to trim and focus the chapters.
2. The second edition is shorter. This is counterintuitive, for a second edition is typically longer than the first. But, if I may be frank, the first edition was longer than it needed to be. I removed many secondary references and quotations. As I revised the chapters, hopefully I’ve said more with less.
3. The layout is more user-friendly. With the titles and logical flow of the chapters, and with the addition of many subheadings to guide the reader, I’m convinced that this edition is easier to use.
4. The goal is the encouragement of Christians. Unbelievers would learn about the gospel from this book, but the audience I had in mind is thoughtful Christians.

A disciple of Jesus needs to learn and grow, and integral to that task are resources that direct us to Scripture and connect the gospel to all of life. Maybe you know someone who would benefit from spending time with you and going through a book on the gospel and discipleship. If you lead a church small group or teach a Sunday School class, this book may be the kind of resource that the people under your care should process and ponder. Do you have teenagers in your home who are professing Christians? This book is for them too. Have you been a Christian many years and need to reacquaint yourself with the glorious news of God’s rescuing grace? I invite you to take up and read.

As I think about my time in pastoral ministry in Texas and in Kentucky, I’ve seen God’s gracious renewal of his people as they expose their hearts to the gospel. He is faithful, and he honors the message of his Son. A fountain is flowing in this good news, and God lifts and sustains his people.

The gospel is for Christians, and there is no better news for us to proclaim. We must never assume the gospel. We must announce it and explain it. We must show it in the Holy Scripture. We must take our people there (and take our own hearts too), over and over again, and exult in the mighty Savior.

“For God So Loved the World” – A Hymn

Using the tune to “This Is My Father’s World,” I wrote a hymn called “For God So Loved the World.” It is three verses long, and the words are below. I was reflecting on truths in John 3, as well as the third-day resurrection of Jesus, and these notions shaped the three verses. They speak to the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and our need to be born again by the Spirit of God. I hope it’s a blessing to you!

“For God So Loved the World”
March 2020

VERSE 1
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only Son.
In matchless grace,
He took our place.
Behold what God has done.
Christ is our only hope;
For us He was condemned,
And when he died
He satisfied
The judgment for our sin.

VERSE 2
The stone was rolled away;
His body was not found.
The light had won,
Death was undone,
O let His praise resound!
Shout now through all the earth
That Jesus Christ is King!
His word shall stand
And, by His hand,
A new creation bring.

VERSE 3
You must be born again
By the Spirit of the Lord,
For then His breath
Brings life from death
And fills us evermore.
By grace through faith we come
And trust the Savior’s name.
The First and Last
Will hold us fast.
His blood: the sinner’s claim.

10 Favorite Reads in 2019

In 2019, here–in no particular order–are the top ten books I enjoyed reading:

  1. The Case for Jesus, by Brant Pitre
  2. Made for Friendship, by Drew Hunter
  3. Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel
  4. Confronting Christianity, by Rebecca McLaughlin
  5. The Imperfect Pastor, by Zach Eswine
  6. Hearers and Doers, by Kevin Vanhoozer
  7. None Greater, by Matthew Barrett
  8. Matthew, Disciple and Scribe, by Patrick Schreiner
  9. The Birth of the Trinity, by Matthew Bates
  10. Systematic Theology, by Robert Letham

 

“O Night Most Holy” – An Advent Hymn

Set to the tune of “Be Thou My Vision,” here are the lyrics to a Christmas hymn I’ve written, called “O Night Most Holy.”

“O Night Most Holy”
For Advent 2019

VERSE 1
O night most holy,
Do you hear that cry—
Sound of salvation
That fills up the sky?
Word of the Father
Now dwelling with man,
Born to young Mary
In Bethlehem.

VERSE 2
O what a chorus
Of praise at his birth:
Angels in heaven and
Shepherds on earth.
Words of the prophets
Fulfilled in this boy,
Shout from the mountains
Good news of great joy!

VERSE 3
O Son of heaven,
Thy vict’ry we sing,
Death on a cross and
Yet where is its sting?
For on the third day,
Thou rose up in might.
Into the darkness
Thou art the true light.

VERSE 4
O Hope of nations!
All blessing and praise,
All pow’r and honor,
All glory, always
Be to the Savior
Whose birth we adore,
Knowing, confessing
That Jesus is Lord.

In 2018, I wrote “There Is a Manger” to the tune of “There Is a Fountain,” and in 2016, I wrote “Come, Thou Word” to the tune of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

“My Cry I Raise” – An Easter Poem

empty tomb image

For Easter 2019, I wrote the following poem reflecting on Christ’s resurrection.

“My Cry I Raise”
Written 4/19/19

Hear my voice as I recount
the things I felt and heard.
You need to know what I will share,
so capture every word.

Friday neared the Sabbath when
they laid him down inside,
the one they called the Nazarene,
the one they crucified.

Wrapped and still his body lay,
hour by hour that passed.
The tomb was carved for those like this,
who finally breathed their last.

Outside the Roman soldiers watched
and guarded all around.
The Sabbath came and went without
a robber to be found.

But before the sun rose on
the quiet place of death,
I felt the ground begin to quake
and heard him take a breath.

I felt the royal cords give way
and heard the soldiers cry,
as some fell faint and others fled
in fear that they would die.

Angel hands pushed me aside
and there I sat again,
beside the tomb so I could let
the women enter in.

The Nazarene said stones would cry
if people did not praise.
I am the stone that rolled away,
and this my cry I raise.