Friday Briefing 21 (4 June 2021)

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God? Jeremy Treat writes, “Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. . . . . It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.” But these two themes are wonderfully integrated in Scripture. Treat explains how.

Mourning the death of a dwelling place Hayden Hefner writes, “Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. But, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming . . . .

A tale of two liturgies Matt Merker writes, “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care. ”

One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table” Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation.” Ascol explains how books have strengthened discipleship in his congregation.

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God?

Jeremy Treat writes, “Unfortunately today, many Christians either cling to the cross or champion the kingdom, usually one to the exclusion of the other. Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. Whole churches or movements are built on one idea or the other. It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.“ Treat asks how these two central themes of Scripture came to be pitted against each other and comments, “We need a better way forward than “kingdom versus cross.” And it’s not enough to merely seek “kingdom and cross,” as if these were two competing values that need to be held in tension. The key is not balance, but integration. And that’s exactly what we find in Scripture, an unfolding narrative that weaves together atonement and kingdom like a crown of thorns, fit for a crucified king.” After briefly tracing this narrative, he concludes, “The kingdom comes in power, but the power of the gospel is Christ crucified.”

Read the whole article HERE. This article was published in the August 2019 issue of the 9Marks Journal, an issue entitled The Heart of the Gospel: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This issue contains 23 articles, including J.I. Packer’s classic lecture entitled What did the Cross Achieve: the Logic of Penal Substitution. You can download the entire issue free of charge, either using the link on the left-hand side of the page containing Treat’s article, or from the page HERE. Dr Jeremy Treat is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (the publishers page is HERE) and Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything (the publishers page is HERE).

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Mourning the death of a dwelling place.

“Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. If I’m being honest, the thought of selling our little home makes me sad. This house has been the backdrop and base camp for some of the most memorable and formative moments of our life together. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. He comments, “having a home is a good thing. Home is God’s idea. . . . . We were not made for walking away from home.” In his conclusion, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming—one not subject to peeling paint, weather damage, or financial foreclosure, but designed and built by the Lord (Hebrews 11:10).”

Read the whole article HERE.

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A tale of two liturgies.

Justin Taylor shares an excerpt from Matt Merker’s book Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People (published by Crossway; the publisher’s page is HERE).

Matt Merker explains, “Many theologians have called the order of service a “liturgy.” The Greek term leitourgia referred to work done for the good of the public. When used in the context of a church gathering, “liturgy” refers to the “work” or ministry of exaltation and edification for which God gathers his people—or better, that God himself performs in and through his people.” He writes, “For me, liturgy refers to the order of the worship service, particularly how it reveals and reinforces the nature of the service itself. ” Merker points out: “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care.” Merker shows how this works in practice by taking two contrasting orders of service, from the gatherings of two different churches. These churches have congregations of the same size, use the same musical instruments and have the same theological beliefs. But their liturgies are different, in ways that are significant. His first example is an order of service typical of many evangelical churches. The second is an example of a gathering at a Presbyterian church in Brazil. Merker then notes four weaknesses of his first example. One of these relates to prayer and the public reading of Scripture. Merker comments, “this order of service leaves two of the most essential elements of corporate worship out to dry: prayer and Scripture reading. There is no other Scripture reading in the service, aside from what the pastor might read in his sermon. And the prayers serve as transitions, not as substantive elements of worship in their own right.”

The message to take away is this: if key elements of the order of service are missing, or if the order of service is disjointed or theologically weak, the worship service is less glorifying to God, less effective in building up believers, and less able to communicate the Gospel message to unbelievers in the congregation. Through the prayers, the Scriptures being read, the preaching, the hymns and songs, through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we should, as Merker writes, “strive to fill our services with the life-giving water of the Word of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table”.

Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation. . . . . . . . within a matter of months we had a table full of good titles for sale as a fixture in our foyer. Within a year or two, the “Book Table” became a line item in our budget and the church adopted a policy that if anyone who wanted one of the books but could not afford to pay, he or she could have it in exchange for a promise to read it. I often recommend books both publicly and in private conversations. When someone takes my recommendation I try to follow up in a few weeks to ask what they think of the book, what they are learning or if the book has raised any questions for them. That has led to some very fruitful conversations and opportunities for ministry.”

Ascol concludes, “Through the years I have seen good books supplement the ongoing preaching and teaching ministry of the church, encourage personal and spiritual growth, help with counseling, equip for ministry and help people develop a growing love for truth. . . . . So I would encourage every pastor to start a book table if one doesn’t already exist in the church he is serving. That is one thing that, by God’s grace, I did right early in my ministry.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Kingdom of God – a briefing

Forest, sunlight, path, trail, Kingdom of God, New Earth, New Heaven and Earth

Image © Joda – Fotolia.com

Sunlight scatters the shadows on a woodland trail. One day, God’s Kingdom will arrive in its full and final perfection. Heaven will invade Earth; Heaven and Earth will be blended in a way we cannot now imagine. God’s presence will fill our Earth.

Briefings
Over the coming months, I’ll be uploading short articles on a range of topics. These ‘Briefings’ are planned to include the Kingdom of God, the Messiah, the Jewish feasts, the unique character of each of the four Gospels, Daniel 9, etc. Browse the Briefings menu tab to locate these. The first is a brief overview of the Kingdom of God, and it’s reproduced here.

The theme of the Kingdom of God underpins the whole of the Bible story. Here’s an outline of how this theme unfolds through the Bible. In fact, this is really a summary of the whole Bible story. (The eight headings are borrowed from Vaughan Roberts’ excellent little book God’s Big Picture.)

The pattern of the Kingdom

God, the Creator and King of the Universe, lives in harmony with his people in His paradise, the Garden of Eden. God gives Adam and Eve dominion over everything on Earth (Genesis 1.26,28); they themselves are to be under His authority. As they trust Him and remain obedient to Him, they’ll experience unimaginable blessing. They’ll enjoy a wonderfully abundant and rewarding life – a life under their Creator’s richest blessing, truly the best that life could ever be. This is, in Bible language, is ‘the kingdom of God’. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “In the Garden of Eden we see the world as God designed it to be”.

The perished Kingdom

Adam and Eve reject God’s authority and decide for themselves how to live their lives. God has to banish them from His paradise and His immediate presence. They live frustrated and troubled lives outside God’s paradise.

The Kingdom restored
In His love and mercy, God acts to bring humanity back under His authority and all the blessings that brings. In other words, God restores His Kingdom. The rest of the Bible tells how He does this.

The promised Kingdom

God calls Abraham and promises him a land. Deuteronomy 8.7 9 describes it as a bountiful paradise. God tells Abraham that he’ll become a great nation, and that his offspring will possess this land. That nation is Israel; the land is Canaan. Here, God’s people will live in His presence in His paradise.

But God goes further. He promises Abraham that he’ll father a multitude of nations. Through this man all the families of the Earth would find blessing – blessing that can only be found in God’s presence (see Psalm 16.11 and compare Revelation 7.15-17). God is looking forward to the time when His ransomed people would be drawn “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5.9, and see Revelation 7.9) across the globe, to a time when God will live within them by His Spirit (see Galatians 3.14).

The partial kingdom

God rescues His people from Egypt and gives them His law to teach them how to live. He settles them in His promised land. And He lives among them in His sanctuary – initially the Tabernacle, but finally Solomon’s grand Temple.

God’s people are living in God’s paradise in the presence of their King and under His rule and blessing. The Kingdom of God has come – but only partially. Sin and all its consequences still blight creation. Even God’s own chosen people prove inveterate rebels. The kingdom of Israel falls apart and ends in conquest and exile. Only a remnant return to rebuild a ruined land.

The prophesied Kingdom

But during this period of Israel’s decay and downfall, God astonishes His people – and us – with breathtaking visions of glory. Woven through rebuke and warning, God pledges to redeem His people. He promises that they will live in God’s paradise. A King will govern them – and that King is God Himself! God is going to establish His Kingdom.

The present Kingdom

Then the King Himself comes to Earth! Jesus, Son of God, opens His ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1.15). In Vaughan Roberts’ words, “God’s king had come to establish God’s Kingdom”. He teaches about God’s Kingdom and demonstrates God’s sovereign power through His miracles. His death and resurrection strikes the decisive blow against Satan and deals fully with sin and all its fallout. His victory paves the way for God’s Kingdom to come in power.

The proclaimed kingdom

On the Day of Pentecost, God begins to fill people with His Spirit. God Himself comes to live inside those who repent and believe His gospel. They’re citizens of God’s Kingdom – they live in His presence and under the blessing of His rule. God’s Kingdom has come in a revolutionary new way!

The perfected Kingdom

Jesus the King returns to Earth. All God’s enemies are banished; sin is eradicated and all its consequences dealt with finally and fully. God renews Heaven and Earth. God’s people live in His presence and under the blessings of His rule in His perfect paradise (Revelation 21.1-4, 22.1-5). God’s Kingdom has come in all its glory!

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.