The Christmas army of angels

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“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2.8–14).

In his book, A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters, Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). I doubt if there is anyone who does not envision this scene as a huge company of angels dressed in choir robes, perhaps complete with sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, singing praise to the newborn king . . . . . . . . I, too, have always had this picture in my mind. . . . . But . . . I decided to revisit this passage in Luke 2, reading it in the Greek New Testament to see if there was something I may have missed. In doing so, I discovered something I had never realized before and something that is rarely mentioned and never discussed in detail in commentaries on Luke. This passage fits in with one of the two main themes I have been exploring in this book, namely, that Christmas is the beginning of war. Where is the military imagery in Luke 2:13? Listen carefully: The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word stratia, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word strateia, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations. . . . . What the NIV translates as “heavenly host,” Luke Timothy Johnson translates as “the heavenly army.” Christopher Evans refers to the “angels as the divine soldiery,” and F. L. Godet calls them a “troop of angels.” The NRSV has a footnote by the word “host” and indicates that in Greek this word means “army.” . . . . Most commentators, however, understand this word as a large choir.”

Dr. Verbrugge asks, ”How does this military imagery, then, intersect with the Christmas story? He explains, “In chapter 2 we discussed the evidence in the Bible that Christmas was the beginning of a celestial war. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil, and Satan reciprocated by trying to destroy Jesus. . . . . . . . Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he had numerous encounters with demons, the cohorts of Satan.  . . . .  Our Savior openly admitted that he had always had a spiritual army at his disposal: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26.53).  . . . . It seems to me that those legions of angels who were ready to do the bidding of Jesus in Matthew 26 are identical to the multitude of the heavenly host, the stratia, that is out on the fields of Bethlehem. In other words, the song that these heavenly angels sing, . . . is not sung first and foremost by a heavenly choir, though I don’t doubt for a minute that they were trained in music as well as in military procedures. It is sung by legions of heavenly soldiers whose Commander in Chief has just been born, and they know that full-fledged war is just ahead of them.”

Verbrugge’s explanation throws a floodlight onto this heavenly encounter that Luke narrates. The appearance of this army of angels signals that a war – whose field of conflict embraced both heaven and earth – was entering its decisive phase. Christ’s nativity was the prelude to the great climactic battle in the war against Satan, the battle that took place on the cross, in which Satan was defeated, in which Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossian 2.15).

That war against Satan began in heaven, when Satan first rebelled against God. Other angels joined Satan’s rebellion. From that time, Satan and his evil forces have opposed God and every angel and human loyal to Him. This cosmic conflict is central to the Bible story.

When Adam and Eve, too – tempted by the serpent – rebelled against God, the theatre of war now extended to planet Earth. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God cursed Satan. He said to him: “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.” (Genesis 3.15). There would be conflict between Satan and Eve. And there would be conflict between their offspring – between people who follow Satan and God’s people. But, one day, a single offspring descended from Eve would – though suffering fearfully in the process – defeat Satan, and deal with all the consequences of sin. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “The rest of the Bible can be seen as a ‘search for the serpent-crusher”.

From the moment of the Fall, through century after century, God prepared the stage of history for the coming of the Serpent-Crusher. Alec Motyer comments that the Old Testament “is, in many ways, a book standing on tiptoe, straining forward into the future.” As we travel through the Old Testament God fills out the details of this Man Who would defeat Satan and rescue and restore mankind and the whole creation. So, after many centuries, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, . . . .” (Galatians 4.4). Just as angels “shouted for joy” at Earth’s creation (Job 38.7), now they celebrate our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2.13-14). God’s heavenly host rejoice every time Satan’s dark dominion is pushed back – and Jesus’s birth heralded Satan’s total defeat. No wonder they rejoiced!

Details of Dr. Verbrugge’s book A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters are available HERE.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2018 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

‘The God Who Is There: a Basic Introduction to the Christian Faith and the Big Story of Scripture’ by D.A. Carson.

This course by D.A. Carson takes people through the big story of Scripture. It is thoughtful, engaging and theologically rich. The course comprises 14 videos (which are free!), each of which is accompanied by the audio-only version plus a transcript. There’s also an accompanying book and a leader’s guide which are available for purchase. It’s primarily written for seekers and new Christians. But it would be a great refresher course for those who have been Christians for a longer time – they would undoubtedly discover new insights here, too. This would make a great resource for small groups, as well as for individual study.

In the preface to his book, Dr. Carson writes, “If you know nothing at all about what the Bible says, the book you are now holding in your hands is for you. If you have recently become interested in God or the Bible or Jesus but quite frankly you find the mass of material rather daunting and do not know where to begin, this book is for you. If you have been attending a Christian church for many years in an indifferent fashion—it’s a nice extracurricular activity now and then—but have recently come to the conclusion you really ought to understand more than you do, this book is for you. If you have quite a few of the pieces of the Bible stored in your mind but have no idea how the exodus relates to the exile or why the New Testament is called the New Testament, this book is for you. If in your experience the Bible has lots of data but you do not see how it conveys God to you or introduces Jesus in a fashion that is utterly humbling and transforming, this book is for you.”

Dr. Carson continues, “This book is not for everyone. The person who does not want more than a bumper sticker introduction to Christianity may find this book a bit much. What I have tried to do here is run through the Bible in fourteen chapters. Each chapter focuses on one or more passages from the Bible, unpacks it a little, and tries to build connections with the context, drawing the lines together to show how they converge in Jesus. By and large I have assumed very little prior acquaintance with the Bible. What I do assume, however, is that a reader will get hold of a Bible and have it near at hand.”

The course is available HERE. Here you’ll find the 14 videos (with audio-only versions) together with the transcripts – all of these are free! The course introduction page also provides links to the book and the leaders’ guide, which are available for purchase through Amazon (they can be purchased through other retailers as well). The video and audio series fairly closely parallel the chapters of the book. The leaders guide, in addition to helping people to lead classes or small groups, provides suggestions for further reading.

A sample chapter of the book is available HERE.

The videos have also been published on YouTube. The playlist is available HERE.

David J. Jackman, former president of the Proclamation Trust, London, England, writes, “This may well prove to be one of the finest and most influential books D. A. Carson has written. A comprehensive apologia for the Christian faith, it is rooted in engaging exposition of major biblical texts, tracing the chronological story of God’s gospel grace with rich theological insight. Skilfully related to the objections and issues raised by twenty-first-century culture, it will inspire and equip any Christian who desires to communicate Christ more effectively and can confidently be given to any inquirer seeking to discover the heart of biblical faith. It is the best book of its kind I have read in many years.”

‘Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable’ by Ian Paul

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

A re-enactment of the nativity scene: Jesus with His mother Mary, and her husband Joseph.

Dr. Ian Paul writes, “I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas . . . . But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case. So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: traditional elaboration; issues of grammar and meaning; and ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture.”

Dr Paul opens up some fascinating insights into Jesus’ nativity. He tells us why oxen and asses are traditionally placed in the nativity scene. He explains the meanings of the Greek word in Luke 2.7 that’s translated “inn” in the ESV and the King James Version (but translated “guest room” in the NIV). And he takes us back to the first-century setting of the narrative, including the culture of the time and the actual design of Palestinian homes. Dr Paul draws on resources by other writers and provides links to two sermons, one by himself, another by Stephen Kuhrt, that retell the Christmas story in way that is faithful to its first-century Palestinian background.

Read the whole article HERE

‘Defending against defeater beliefs.’ Two talks by Don Carson

Don Carson gave two talks at the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) Leaders’ Conference in Torquay this year. They’re entitled Defending against Defeater Beliefs. The FIEC’s website page for the first talk is HERE; the page for the second talk is HERE.

In the first session, Dr Carson briefly overviewed seven defeater beliefs that challenge, and can defeat, our own Christian beliefs. He said, “. . . it’s become a little more difficult to do evangelism, a little more challenging, not because the gospel has changed, but because the nature of the defeater beliefs that are challenging the gospel are progressively more diverse, progressively more antithetical to . . . Christianity. So let me . . . give a survey of . . . seven [defeater beliefs] with a few comments along the line and then I’ll close by returning to this point regarding the importance of the Bible storyline.”

The ‘defeater beliefs’ that Dr Carson deals with are these:

1 “There cannot be only one way to God.”

2 “Freedom is tied to our capacity for individual self-definition, . . . for individual self-identity; we choose our own self identities.”

3 “This freedom . . . includes our right to define sin for ourselves.”

4 “What I’ve learned to call the new tolerance.”

5 “Moralistic therapeutic deism.”

6 “God couldn’t possibly send people to hell – or if there is some kind of punishment, it’s for really bad blokes like Stalin, but it’s not for nice people like me.”

7 “The God of the Bible is Himself spectacularly morally flawed.”

In his conclusion, Dr Carson said, “What is required for this and all the other defeater beliefs at the end of the day is not only some individual answers . . . [but] an alternative biblical theological framework – the Bible’s storyline. . . . Ideally you want to take people from a frame of reference in which they’re holding a whole lot of defeater beliefs, which if you tackle them one by one . . . you’re likely to get smashed down one by one . . . and present instead an alternative picture, a big story, which changes all of those defeater beliefs into something else. Now, this can be done in a lot of different ways. It can be done by one-on-one Bible study to invite people into beginning to read the Bible and find out how it clashes with their own assumptions . . . .” There are quite a few resources that cover the Bible storyline. Two that Dr Carson mentioned are God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts (described HERE), and his own resource The God Who Is There. This is available as a book with a leaders’ guide, and also a video series. The videos and transcripts are available free of charge HERE; you will also find audio versions of the talks here, together with details of the accompanying book and leader’s guide for group study.

In his second talk on defeater beliefs, Dr. Carson deals with this question: how can we be sure that what we believe is true? He begins, “Yesterday I gave a brief overview of defeater beliefs and how they work and how Christians should think of them. Today I want to deal with just one such defeater belief. Someone responds to our witness by saying, “You can’t be sure of your interpretation; you can’t be sure that what you’re saying is the truth – it’s just not possible.” Now what lies behind that is a whole lot of postmodern assumptions. But sometimes when we are hit with something like that we don’t know immediately how to respond. We’ve just been sidelined. Our very dogmatism, which might be attractive to some, becomes the ground for dismissal by others. And so we need to think through how this defeater belief works, and how to begin to respond to it.”

Dr D.A. Carson is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

The Friday Briefing 17 (7 December 2018)

What is the greatest of all Protestant ‘heresies’ Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), a key figure in the sixteenth-century Counter-Reformation, once wrote, “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .”What do you think that heresy is? Dr Sinclair Ferguson explains.

Australian church leaders, prepare your people for persecution
Campbell Markham exhorts leaders in the Australian churches – an exhortation equally relevant to church leaders in many other countries: “Prepare your churches for persecution, and particularly your young people. You have no time to lose. And give them the priceless gift of gospel clarity. No Christian will survive persecution if they do not have a very clear, comprehensive, and precise understanding and conviction about the gospel.”

Hidden gems Nathan Young asks why it is that some people in a local church, though having definite potential for serving in in that church, get passed over. He asks, ”Who are the hidden gems in your church?”

3 classic poems every Christian should read Leland Ryken introduces us to three classic poems which he says “should be read and cherished by Christians today”.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away (Communion Hymn) Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty wrote this wonderful hymn specifically for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

What is the greatest of all Protestant ‘heresies’?

Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement. How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies?” And why does Dr Ferguson exclaim “The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of ‘heresies’!” Read Dr. Ferguson’s article HERE.

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Australian church leaders, prepare your people for persecution.

Last year an 18-year-old Australian Christian called Madeline, who worked as a contractor for the children’s entertainment company Capital Kids Parties, had her contract ended after posting a picture on Facebook with the filter ‘It’s OK to Vote No’ (in other words, ‘No’ to same-sex marriage] in the run-up to the Australian Parliament’s vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.

Campbell Markham writes, “We live and worship within a growing hostile environment. How are we going to go? How must we respond to this change?” His comments are, of course, relevant to Christians in many other countries.

Markham comments, “I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be legally restricted in their ability to speak out and live out their faith in the public sphere.  . . . . I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that Christians will be forbidden to educate their children the way they want to. . . . . I expect, within the remainder of my lifetime, that professing Christians will begin to be barred from such professions as law, education, healthcare, the academy, and the civil service.”

Markham exhorts leaders in the church: “Prepare your churches for persecution, and particularly your young people. You have no time to lose. And give them the priceless gift of gospel clarity. No Christian will survive persecution if they do not have a very clear, comprehensive, and precise understanding and conviction about the gospel. Only the gospel will hold us up upright under the hail of persecution’s arrows.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Hidden gems.

Nathan Young writes, “Picture a small church with under 15 members, the pastor is working class, as are a couple of the core team members. . . . . This church not only has a desire to reach working class people, but also wants to train and disciple working-class people for future ministry and service. Imagine that a young woman from the local estate starts attending – she’s professing faith but is still uncertain on some theological issues and rough around the edges. She knows the community and has no problems sharing her faith. She might not be a ready-made female gospel worker, but there’s definitely future potential. The question is: why did one of the elders not see that future potential until it was pointed out to him? Of course, this small church is real – it’s New Life Church Middlesbrough, and the short-sighted elder was me.”

In answering this question, Stone makes the following observation, “In his lecture ‘The Inner Ring’, C.S. Lewis starts by talking about the character Boris Dubretskoy from War and Peace. Young Boris learns that in the army there is both the formal structure made up of officers, lieutenants and corporals, but there is a second, unspoken organisation which transcends all of that, where some people somehow belong and some people simply don’t. . . . . Could this be the problem in our churches?” I think Stone has highlighted an important point – and one that perhaps every church leader needs to consider.

Read the whole article HERE.

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3 classic poems every Christian should read.

Leland Ryken introduces us to three classic poems which he says “should be read and cherished by Christians today” – one each by John Milton (1608-1674), Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Along with the text, Dr. Ryken includes some commentary. Read the whole article HERE.

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Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away (Communion Hymn).

This is a wonderful hymn from Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty. It was written specifically for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Townend writes, “When I’m preparing to write a lyric, I usually gather together everything I can find in the Scriptures on a particular theme, so I can get as comprehensive a picture as possible of what the bible teaches. And as I did that, three aspects of communion became clear: the act of remembering and celebrating Christ’s death through eating bread and drinking wine; the expression of being one in Christ through sharing in one bread and one cup; and the proclamation of Christ’s return.”

The lyrics and other information are available on Stuart Townend’s website page for this song HERE.

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‘Exodus: understanding one of the Bible’s major themes’ by D.A. Carson

The Passing of the Jews through the Red Sea from Wikimedia

The Passing of the Jews through the Red Sea painted by Wilhelm Kotarbinski (1848-1921).

The Exodus from Egypt was the key saving event in Israel’s history (see, for example, Deuteronomy 4.32-40, 6.20–25, 1 Samuel 12.6–8, Psalm 105.26-45, Jeremiah 32:20–21).

An Ask Pastor John podcast on the Desiring God website featured guest Don Carson speaking about the Exodus. The podcast’s introducer writes, “The Exodus of God’s people out of Egypt is “the greatest redemptive event in the Old Testament”, says Don Carson. To let that sink in for a moment, imagine this: If our publishing age is marked by the cross, it is because the cross the shorthand for the death and resurrection of Christ. His cross marks the centerpiece of redemptive history. But before the cross there was the Exodus. And so if the world of publishing today talks about the cross-centered life, and the cross-centered church, it would seem that a fitting analogy would be to perhaps imagine Old Testament era saints to have been inspired to write and publish books on the Exodus-centered life and the Exodus-centered synagogue. It is a major key to understand the Old Testament, and it is a major key to unlocking the meaning of the entire Biblical plotline. To explain I called Dr. Don Carson.” Hear (or read) what Dr. Carson said HERE.

I have posted a study comparing the Egyptian Exodus with the greater Exodus accomplished by Jesus Christ HERE.

CREDITS Text in quotations © Desiring God Foundation.

‘From Eden to the New Jerusalem’ by T. Desmond Alexander

In this book, T. Desmond Alexander traces some of the central themes of the Bible story. Dr Alexander explores each theme in an unusual way – by beginning at the end of the Bible, in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. In this way, he keeps the goal of God’s plan of redemption in view as we track each theme from Genesis onwards through the Bible.

There seven main chapters, bracketed by an introduction and conclusion. Here are the titles of these seven chapters; each is followed by an outline of the chapter’s content.

Chapter 2: “From sacred garden to holy city: experiencing the presence of God. ” This is by some way the longest chapter. It develops the central theme of God’s presence on Earth. We’re introduced to the end-goal of God’s plan: Revelation 21.1-3 describes the holy city that possibly fills the whole earth, and where God lives with His people. After an overview of the Bible’s theme of God’s dwelling on Earth, Alexander shows us that New Jerusalem is a temple-city. Then we’re taken back to the beginning: he shows us that God’s first dwelling place on Earth was the temple-garden of Eden. But after their sin, Alexander explains that God deprived Adam and Eve of their priestly status in God’s temple-garden; God’s plan that, in Alexander’s words, “the whole earth should become a holy garden-city” is jeopardised. Alexander briefly looks at the escalation of sin and God’s response by sending the Flood, and at the Babel project. Alexander then traces the path that God took to restore Earth to be His dwelling place with humanity – through the Tabernacle, the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Church as God’s temple. Finally, he looks briefly at the New Testament’s references to God’s promise of His city.

Chapter 3: “Thrown from the throne: re-establishing the sovereignty of God.” Alexander first looks at God’s sovereignty over Earth and mankind’s original vocation as God’s viceroys – as royal priests. But, as Alexander tells us, “By betraying God and obeying the serpent, the royal couple dethrone God” . He then traces the way God restored His sovereignty over the whole Earth – firstly, through Abraham and through the theocracy of Israel, and then through the Man Christ Jesus. The author shows that Christ is now God’s viceroy over Earth, a role that His Church – a royal priesthood – shares. As he writes, “By living in obedience to Christ, his disciples participate in the establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth.” Finally, he briefly looks forward to the time, pictured in Revelation chapters 21-22, when God is king over the whole Earth.

Chapter 4: “Dealing with the devil: destroying the source of evil.” In this chapter Alexander explains that Satan exercises authority over this world, and outlines how he came to do so. He traces the ensuing conflict between God and Satan as it is played out in the world. He looks at Jesus’ conflict with Satan, culminating in Jesus’s death, which seems to be a triumph for Satan. But, as he tells us, “Apparent defeat is dramatically turned into victory with the resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, Jesus can subsequently proclaim to his disciples, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (Matthew 28.18).” Finally, he briefly looks at the end of Satan’s domination as described in Revelation 20, and believers’ spiritual warfare in this present world.

Chapter 5: “The slaughter of the Lamb: accomplishing the redemption of creation. ” Five times, the last two chapters of Revelation refer to Jesus Christ as “the Lamb”; He is referred to as a “Lamb” 28 times in all. He briefly looks at the image of Christ as the Lamb in the Book of Revelation, then back to the Passover in Exodus. He writes that “the Lamb of Revelation 5 is undoubtedly associated with the Old Testament exodus story”. He takes us through the first Passover in Egypt. He explains that the Passover ritual in Egypt provided atonement and purification, and that Jesus’s sacrificial death provides atonement and purification for all believers. Dr Alexander also writes that eating the Passover lamb in Egypt made people holy; and that eating the New Testament equivalent – the Lord’s Supper – sanctifies believers. In his words, “Like the original Passover sacrifice, his death atones for the sin of the people, his blood purifies and cleanses, and those who eat his body at the Lord’s Supper share in his holy nature.” (However, it isn’t clear why eating the Lord’s Supper sanctifies us. I can personally see a connection, however. Both the Old Testament Passover and the Lord’s Supper are covenant meals. Participating in them reaffirms the covenant bond between the Lord and His people – that is, the God’s people are committed to and belong to the Lord – and so therefore are holy to the Lord.)

Chapter 6: “Feasting from the tree of life: reinvigorating the lives of people from every nation.” Alexander writes, “we have traced how God has acted to reclaim the earth as his own and build a temple-city by gradually establishing his presence and sovereignty through the theocracy of Israel and the church. Central to the redemptive activity of God is the cross of Christ, for through it Satan is defeated and human beings are enabled to regain the holy, royal status Adam and Eve lost. Building on these observations, this chapter explores how John’s vision of the New Jerusalem anticipates human existence as we have never known it. The life to come will be truly abundant and fully satisfying. This hope is reflected in themes found in Revelation 21–22 that reappear throughout the entire biblical meta-story, in particular, the concepts of ‘holy people’, ‘tree of life’ and ‘nations’.” Alexander look briefly at God’s people as holy people in His presence. He then explores what the Book of Leviticus teaches about holiness, cleanness/purity and uncleanness/impurity. Dr Alexander writes, “To be holy is to be unblemished or unmarred; it is to be complete, perfect, whole”. So he then looks at the bodily wholeness that will be part of our holiness – bodily perfection and immortality, with access to the tree of life. Finally, he looks at the ecological transformation of our planet, and the social harmony we’ll enjoy, where peoples from all races and nations will live in unity.

Chapter 7: “Strong foundations and solid walls: living securely among the people of God.” Dr Alexander makes it clear that the New Testament builds upon what is revealed in the Old Testament. He writes, “The continuity between the Old and New Testaments is also important because it provides a greater basis for believing in the reality of the future New Jerusalem. . . . . As our study has revealed, the New Jerusalem is a natural extension of all that has been revealed in the rest of the Bible.”. He then explores the contrasts between the New Jerusalem and the other city described in Revelation – Babylon. He explains, “Babylon and the New Jerusalem represent contrasting worlds.” Babylon is a prostitute; in Alexander’s “the city of Babylon represents humanity’s obsession with wealth and power, which become a substitute for knowing God” . New Jerusalem is a bride; Alexander writes, this city “promises holiness, wholeness and love in the presence of God.”. He points out, “the book of Revelation warns us to come out of Babylon and encourages us to take our stand with Christ”.

Dr Alexander specialises in the study of Pentateuch and Biblical Theology. This book is based on his expertise in these areas, and there’s substantial theological depth underpinning this book. It bridges the gap between books written at a popular level and those aimed at such people as seminary students and scholars. The book is relatively brief (less than 200 pages of text) and accessible. The text is accompanied by many footnotes, and there’s a 9-page select bibliography at the end.

David Schrock has written a helpful summary and brief analysis HERE.

Read the publishers’ descriptions HERE and HERE

T. Desmond Alexander is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies in Union Theological College, a constituent college of the Institute of Theology at Queen’s University Belfast. His research interests lie primarily in two areas: the Pentateuch and Biblical Theology. He has authored and edited a variety of articles and books.

‘The One True Story’ by Tim Chester

This daily reading book is subtitled Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus. In his introduction, Tim Chester writes, “Everyone loves the Christmas story  . . . . But the Christmas story is not just a great story. It’s the great story. It’s the story that ties together a thousand other stories. . . . . The Christmas story is the one true story because it completes and fulfils all the stories of the Bible. But it also goes on being the one true story. This is the story that makes sense of my story and your story. We were made to know God. All our longings only truly find their fulfilment in him and through him. The plotlines of our lives are meant to find their resolution in the enjoyment of God. But we’ve set our lives on other trajectories which always lead to disappointing endings. But through the Christmas story God is rewriting the story of human history, bringing it to a glorious climax. In all the busyness of Christmas, don’t miss the opportunity to discover or rediscover how you can be part of the one true story.”

Each of the 24 chapters traces a theme from the Old Testament that finds its culmination in Jesus – for example, The new Adam, The dragon-slayer, The new ark, The rock, The anointed one, The good shepherd, and The end of exile. The chapters also explore how the Christmas story connects with our stories. Each chapter ends in a meditation, and a prayer. This book is packed with Biblical insights, and will provide a rich feast for meditation through the Advent season (or, for that matter, other times of the year, too). I can thoroughly recommend it.

Read the publisher’s description HERE

Tim Chester has also written two other Advent daily reading books: The One True Light: Daily Readings for Advent from the Gospel of John (read the publisher’s description HERE), and The One True Gift; Daily Readings for Advent to Encourage and Inspire (read the publisher’s description HERE).

The Friday Briefing 16 (2 November 2018)

The Garden of Eden: a Biblical-theological framework Dr David Schrock writes, “. . . in any study of Genesis and in any study of the Bible, we must understand the way in which Eden is more than an ancient garden. It is the place where God put his royal priests to cultivate and keep the earth he gave them to subdue and rule. Though framed in ancient language and imagery, it is vital modern Christians understand these original designs—for they have impact on the way we conceive of God, the world, and mankind’s place in the world.”

Exodus in 1 Kings Dr Alastair Roberts explores how the narrative of Solomon and the division of the kingdom is linked to Adam in the Garden of Eden and to the Exodus.

Old Testament word studies: ‘Abba’, “Father” Dr Allen Ross comments, “This Aramaic word ’Abba’,”Father,” has always been a significant word in the spiritual life of believers. It was used in the Old Testament to describe the spiritual relationship between believers and God; but it became more pronounced in the New Testament in the light of Jesus’ instructions on prayer and the apostolic teachings. But today there is little clear understanding of what the description means; moreover, it is being defined and used in a way that was not intended. The word, then, calls for closer scrutiny.”

Seeing the Iranian church grow . . . in Serbia Here’s a remarkable story of how Iranian refugees in Serbia are turning to Christ.

”Speak, O Lord” – a hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend The words and music of this superb hymn are by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Here’s a recording of it being sung congregationally at the 2012 Together for the Gospel Conference.

The Garden of Eden: a Biblical-theological framework.

David Schrock writes, “God’s people dwelling in God’s place under God’s rule: This tripartite division, outlined by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book According to Plan, well articulates the relationship of Adam and Eve to God in the Garden. Yet, often when Christians read the creation account in Genesis 1–2 they miss the royal and priestly themes in those two chapters. . . . . So, in what follows, I hope to provide a brief summary of the biblical evidence for seeing the first image-bearers (imago Dei) as royal priests commissioned by God to have priestly dominion over the earth—a commission later restored in type to Israel (see Exodus 19:5–6), fulfilled in Christ (see, e.g., Hebrews 5), and shared with all those who are in Christ (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9–10). In these sections, we will focus on the temple and by extension to the purpose and work of mankind in that original garden-sanctuary.”

He then explores the theme of the garden in the Bible, focusing on the garden’s role as a priestly and a royal sanctuary. He notes how the Garden is clearly seen as a sacred temple when comparing it to Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple.

He concludes,“Therefore, in any study of Genesis and in any study of the Bible, we must understand the way in which Eden is more than an ancient garden. It is the place where God put his royal priests to cultivate and keep the earth he gave them to subdue and rule. Though framed in ancient language and imagery, it is vital modern Christians understand these original designs—for they have impact on the way we conceive of God, the world, and mankind’s place in the world.”

To help show the biblical basis for this approach to Eden, Dr Schrock very helpfully lists a number of Bible passages relating to the theme of the garden.

Read the whole article HERE. Much of the research behind this article stems from Dr. Schrock’s dissertation, A Biblical-Theological Investigation of Christ’s Priesthood and Covenant Mediation with respect to the Extent of the Atonement, which can be downloaded free of charge HERE.

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Exodus in 1 Kings.

Dr Alastair Roberts writes, “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Exodus, Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. That the author of Kings should date the start of the building of the temple from the Exodus is noteworthy. . . . . The building of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem is, in many respects, the climax and the completion of the process begun in the Exodus. . . . . Since its construction, the tabernacle had functioned as a sort of portable Mount Sinai, an architectural extension of the theophany that occurred there. It was also a new Eden and microcosmic representation of the wider creation . . . . Solomon’s Temple introduces a new stage of history and, once again, there are echoes of the original creation and of Eden.”

And, as Dr Roberts tells us, “Within this world, Solomon is like a glorious new Adam. He is the wise ruler of the world, who is able to name the trees and the animals (4:29-34). Indeed, when the Queen of Sheba comes to him, it is akin to Eve being brought to Adam, the moment when the story of the first creation arrived at its zenith of glory. Unfortunately, just as in the account of the original creation, it is at this point that things all start to crumble. The rest of the story of Solomon is a tragic story of the fall of the new Adam and of being removed from the peace and rest of the new Eden.”

Dr Roberts traces the sorry story of Solomon’s fall through the division of the kingdom to the day when Ahijah the prophet prophesied the doom of the northern kingdom of Israel in 1 Kings 14.7-16. In Dr Roberts’ words, “There would be a great reversal of the Exodus as Israel once again found itself in captivity. The Red Sea Crossing would be undone, as Israel would find itself cast on the far side of the great River.”

Read the whole of this fascinating exposition HERE.

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Old Testament word studies: ‘Abba’, “Father”.

Dr Allen Ross comments, “This Aramaic word ’Abba’, “Father,” has always been a significant word in the spiritual life of believers. It was used in the Old Testament to describe the spiritual relationship between believers and God; but it became more pronounced in the New Testament in the light of Jesus’ instructions on prayer and the apostolic teachings. But today there is little clear understanding of what the description means; moreover, it is being defined and used in a way that was not intended.”

Dr Ross then explores the origin and meaning of the word, and the significance of calling God “Father”. He concludes, ”What, then, does the term “Father” for God mean for use? First, to call God Father is to speak of him as the absolutely sovereign God of creation. . . . . Second, to call God “Father” is to use covenant language. In all of God’s covenants, the people are “sons” or “children” by their adoption into the covenant. . . . . Third, for us to call God “Father” is indeed to acknowledge a close personal relationship with him; it is after all a family term. It is fair to say that in Jesus’ time the word was colloquial but respectful, even in human families; but it was not a childish expression like “daddy”. To call God “Father” is to affirm that we have been born into the family of God, . . . . But he is still the sovereign and holy Lord God; and the significance of the word “Father” is one of a reverent, respectful and solemn adult address of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

As a postscript to Dr Ross’s article, my own personal attempt to translate ‘Abba’ – in order to bring out the intimacy and the respect that is inherent in the term – is “dearest Father”.

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Seeing the Iranian church grow . . . in Serbia.

A friend of mine, Nicky Andrews, tells of a remarkable turning to Christ among Iranian refugees in Serbia. She writes, “The OM field leader of the Balkan region, Volker Sachse, doesn’t cry easily. But in the past three or four years, he has often been moved to tears by the plight of refugees he has met in Serbia; OM has played a significant humanitarian role in one of the government-run camps there since the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe escalated in 2015. Today, however, it is tears of joy that brighten Volker’s eyes, as he describes how many refugees from Iran are turning to Jesus during a worldwide move of God amongst Iranians. “It’s a privilege for me to witness the Lord touching so many Iranians in Serbia, including in the camp where OM works,” he shares.”

There is now a need to disciple these new believers. Nicky writes, “[Volker] shares, though, that there is ongoing need to nurture the young believers towards greater maturity. “So, I’m very excited by the possibility of running an intensive discipleship training course for up to eight Iranian believers over five days, which would then be repeated for a second group of eight.” says Volker. . . . . The training would be aimed at equipping Christians to launch a church plant in the camp.”

More information about how to be involved, including how to contribute financially to the discipleship programme, is available HERE.

Read the whole article HERE.

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”Speak, O Lord” – a hymn by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

The words and music of this superb hymn are by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. This particular recording is part of an album recorded live from the 2012 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The lyrics are available HERE.

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‘The House of God’ by L. Michael Morales

Image © Steve Creitz, Creitz Illustration Studio

An artist’s impression of the camp of Israel in the wilderness. The Tabernacle is in the centre of the camp. Above the Tabernacle is the pillar of cloud, which was the visible manifestation of God’s presence.

L. Michael Morales writes, “When the fiery cloud of God moved from the summit of Mount Sinai to the newly constructed tabernacle, covering God’s house with smoke and filling it with His glory (Exodus 40.34), a pinnacle in God’s dealings with humanity was realized. In this majestic scene, the book of Exodus ends with a resolution, albeit temporary and intermediate, to the story of humanity’s exile from Eden narrated in Genesis 3. Moreover, the glory-filled tabernacle also foreshadowed God’s ultimate solution to that primal expulsion through the person and work of Jesus Christ.”

Dr Morales continues, “As we consider the significance of the tabernacle (and later temple) in Scripture, it will be helpful to keep two points in mind. First, the tabernacle was the house of God, the place of His dwelling. . . . . Second, the tabernacle was also the way to God, its sacrificial rituals providing the atonement and cleansing needed to dwell with God. . . . . In sum, Israel’s relationship with God was preserved and cultivated by the sacrificial system of the tabernacle, enabling the Maker of heaven and earth to dwell with His people in fellowship. To understand the depth and wonder of such a purpose, we will reflect upon the meaning of the tabernacle first within God’s goal for creation and then as the heart of God’s covenant with His people—a purpose taken up and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.”

Read the whole article HERE.

Dr. L. Michael Morales is professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, South Carolina, and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando/Dallas). He is author of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: a Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. You can read the publishers details for this book, which I can thoroughly recommend, HERE.