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The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered (Revelation Listening Guide #16)

May 27th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 27, 2015
Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Revelation 6

I. History and History’s Lord

Revelation 5 recounts the creation-spanning search for one who is worthy to open the scroll held in the right hand of God the Father, the title-deed of all God’s purposes, promises, and plans for human history. The chapter centers on the Sovereign Lion who is the Slaughtered Lamb, Jesus, who alone is worthy to be given all authority in heaven and earth. He takes the seven-sealed-scroll and all creation busts loose in symphonic worship.

But the chapter ends with the scroll still sealed. All of heaven still awaits the Lamb to unleash the contents of his title-deed. That wait ends in chapter six. The Lamb starts to snap the wax seals off the parchment paper, and the entirety of history begins to pour from the throne-room sanctuary, being viewed from heaven’s perspective, building to the last great eschatological judgment of God at the conclusion of fallen human history. That’s the story the seals and the scroll begin to tell. The narrative builds as the final seal is broken and the scroll is unwound giving way to the more intense cycle of trumpets, which in turn gives way to the ultimately cataclysmic and cosmically climactic cycle of judgment-filled bowls. Through these three judgment-cycles, human history is told three times with increasing intensity. These judgment-cycles are a vivid and apocalyptic soundtrack to Matthew 24 and Mark 13, a soundtrack that sings the story of the Lamb reigning and overseeing all of reality, a story that certainly culminates in the evil dragon’s defeat, the loved Bride’s rescue, and the creation’s life restored…forever.

II. A Vision of Worth and Wrath, Faithfulness and Fury

Revelation 6 begins this vision of the painful tribulation that has been the epoch that believers have been called to persevere through in the past, in the present, and in the future as the painful tremors increase in anticipation of Christ’s imminent return. Believers are called to live faithfully throughout history under heaven’s direction, history that culminates in the final and decisive outpouring of God’s eternity-introducing judgments. These judgments display Christ’s grand glory through his worth and his wrath, his faithfulness and his fury. All of this starts as chapter six unfolds and the broken seals fall to the throne-room’s floor, and Christ’s people are strengthened to endure and conquer through five apocalyptic truths:

1. Believers are strengthened to know the true crisis, consequence, and curse of SIN.

2. Believers are strengthened by trusting in Christ’s minute and massive SOVEREIGNTY over all things.

3. Believers are strengthened for FAITHFULNESS to Christ through their own sufferings and death for the sake of the gospel.

4. Believers are strengthened in considering the hopeless end of life (and history) APART from faith in Christ.

5. Believers are strengthened through resting in the work of Christ as the ONLY source of salvation.

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He Alone is Worthy (Revelation Listening Guide #15)

May 20th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 20, 2015
He Alone is Worthy
Revelation 5

I. The Blazing Center

The book of Revelation covers a lot of ground. It sprawls out through the boundaries of the Roman Empire, across the globe, through the centuries, and echoes forward into eternity. It’s really a power-grid of infinite proportions. It is the gospel-fueled electricity that charges all of reality, casting its rays into the shadows of fallen creation and giving believers light to keep walking into what otherwise would be a very uncertain future. Indeed, the apocalypse-visions given to John are of truly cosmic proportions. With that being true, one might wonder how such a vision, how such a power-grid, could possibly be fueled sufficiently.

The resounding answer to that question is found in Revelation 5. It is mission control. It sits at the heart of the book’s message powering everything that flows endlessly from it. Indeed, one might truly suggest that Revelation 5 is the entire book of Revelation in miniature. If you want to get your head around the vast expanse of the last book of the Bible, you can do no better than simply reading and then rereading this one chapter over and over. It is the blazing center, the core of everything else the book is saying. All of the words of this book are merely the booming echoes of this chapter reverberating through the corridors of time.

II. Weep No More

This central and crucial chapter is the textual companion to Revelation 4. It completes the one unified scene that begins to be described in the chapter to just before it. Together Revelation 4 and 5 are John’s own Christ-centered reworking of the grand Old Testament vision of Daniel 7:9-14. In Daniel’s version we see the Ancient of Days seated on his throne in the heavenly courtroom. Books are opened, and “one like a Son of Man” comes before the throne and is given dominion, unbridled authority, and an everlasting kingdom. That’s also what John is describing, and as we move through chapter 5 we find that the center of reality and the anchor of the church’s hope is found in the triumph of Jesus Christ, a triumph that centers on the cross, a blood-bought conquest that displays Jesus as the sovereign ruler of the universe who is also the sufficient and slaughtered sacrifice for his people’s sin. And it is in light of his triumph that suffering and sorrowful Christians have their tears wiped away.

The scene in heaven transitions from the awe-inspiring majesty of the throne-room to the problem of the central crisis of creation: Considering how holy, righteous, and sovereign the one on the throne really is, how can there be any hope for a creation mired in the poisonous treason of sin? How on earth (quite literally) can there be any hope of heaven? Given how infinitely and unapproachably separate the Ancient of Days is from all other things, how can the churches have any confidence that they will indeed conquer in the face of what seems to them like truly unassailable odds? The answer resounds through Revelation 5, and as the scene that John sees in heaven continues to unfold the readers and hearers of this vision are brought face to face with the truth, and are led to respond in three specific ways:

1. We are confronted with the WEIGHT of our tragic hopelessness apart from a savior. (vv. 1-4)

2. We are consoled by the WORTH of the triumphant Lamb in his sovereign sacrifice. (vv. 5-10)

3. We are called to WORSHIP the treasured King by joining creation’s song. (vv. 11-14)

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Before the Throne of God Above (Revelation Listening Guide #14)

May 20th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 13, 2015
Before the Throne of God Above
Revelation 4


I. The Ancient of Days

We were made for glory. Specifically, we were made to see and delight in the glory of God. Our heart’s truest yearnings are created in such a way that they can never be satisfied apart from seeing and savoring the beauty of God. That’s what the churches of Asia Minor needed and that’s what we need today. It is no accident that the visions of Revelation 4-22 begin and end with the glorious presence of God radiating out to his people as they respond to him in worship. The wondrous worship of God in all his grandeur is the antidote for all the troubles facing a church.

And remember, the churches of Asia Minor had serious problems, problems that weren’t fixed just because John turned the page from Revelation 3 to 4. They were struggling to love one another, to confront false-teachings , threatened by the cultural seductions of immorality, being led into compromise, persecuted and marginalized by an anti-Christian culture, playing games of hypocrisy, and wallowing in the mire of complacency. The church was under attack, and because it was threatened God unveiled Revelation 4-22 to equip them to face their future. And that begins with the vision of God exalted and reigning in his heavenly throne room. Everything, literally everything, in this book flows from this initial vision of God as the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe. What God’s people need(ed) more than anything else is to really know, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is in control. That’s what God’s people needed in Isaiah 6, in Ezekiel 1, and in Daniel 7, and that’s what God knew was needed then, today and tomorrow to face our future. So what we need is what God graciously provides.

II. The Copernican Revolution

The vision God provides is a divine-defibrillator meant to shock the troubled hearts of the churches back to life. It is a Copernican revolution intended to reorient the hearts and lives of believers back into orbit around the true center of reality, the creator of the universe reigning and worshipped. We are shown into the inner chambers of God’s throne room and the imagery that is described in detail portrays the burning, white-hot center of creation. Everything in this chapter, in this book, and in this world is surrounding, revolving around God, the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-10). As we stand here gazing upon this scene with John we are reminded that the things we spend so much of our time focusing on and stressing about are small indeed. Our priorities are put into place in the perspective of his preeminence. That’s what this chapter communicates, and as John unveils this royal court we are shown the four truths that radically reorient all of reality:

1. We are shown that the throne of the universe is actually occupied (vv. 1-2).

2. We are shown that the king of the universe is infinitely glorious (vv. 3-6)

3. We are shown that the ruler of the universe is uniquely worthy (vv. 3-11)

4. We are shown that the creator of the universe is rightly worshipped (vv. 6-11).

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The Master and the Mother: The Gospel According to Mother’s Day

May 10th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

crumbsShe was relentless. She was tenacious. She was desperate. And we find her in Matthew 15 crying her eyes out on the side of the interstate.

We don’t know her name. She lives in the shadows of anonymity. She’s merely given the designation of a “Canaanite Woman,” and even that title is intentionally anachronistic. Canaan as such didn’t exist. There were no “Canaanites” technically speaking at the beginning of the first century. Specifically she was from the region of Phoenicia, the suburbs of Sidon, and her designation as a “Canaanite Woman” is a shorthand sign telling the reader all they would need to know about her in big bold letters.

She was a Canaanite.

She wasn’t a Jew. She wasn’t a part of the covenant people of God. She wasn’t from the right ethnic group. She was a Gentile. She was a pagan. She’s wasn’t entitled to the mercy of God. She wasn’t an heir to his promises. She had no right to expect the God of Israel to hear her plea. She was, and always had been, on the outside looking in.

She was a woman.

In a male-dominated, patriarchal society she was wholly dependent on others, particularly her husband to provide and represent her best interests. Her place was at home. Chores needed tending to, and so we may be surprised to find her out hitchhiking on the side of the road outside of town. She wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

And she wasn’t where she was supposed to be because the text tells us one other thing about this remarkable lady.

She was a mother.

That fact is sometimes forgotten. Somewhere in the silence between her audacious request and Jesus’ seemingly rude remark, we forget that the woman wasn’t there on her own accord. She wasn’t there for her own healing. She wasn’t asking for a personal miracle. She was there for her daughter. She was there as a mother. She was there because she wanted to take care of her little girl. As Solomon had looked into the eyes of a desperate mother who was willing to sacrifice everything for the life of her child, once again the king of Israel looked into the eyes of a mother whose heart was breaking because her baby needed saving.

Early that morning she finished cooking breakfast, packed her husband’s lunch, sent her sons off to school, finished her housework, and then hurriedly slung her purse over her shoulder and set out down the road in a last ditch effort to find the one man she hoped could make a difference. She had to get to Jesus. She had to get to Jesus before it was too late.

She almost missed him. She saw the disciples surrounding their teacher as they rounded a curve, and as she ran and stumbled after them she began to shout. The disciples heard her first. She was causing a scene. She had thrown caution to the wind and wasn’t behaving in a manner that was usually acceptable in public. She was creating a disturbance. And the disciples were annoyed. “Jesus,” they said, “send this raving woman away. Tell her to go back home where she belongs.”

Jesus didn’t.

But what he does do seems shocking. He looks at her and said, “I was only sent to Israel.” His point seems clear. She had no right to ask anything of him. He wasn’t her Messiah. Jesus seems to turn her away without even hearing her request. But she isn’t going anywhere. Her daughter is at home being tormented by demons, and so she falls to her knees before Jesus and whispers the simple prayer, “Lord, help me.”

Once more Jesus’ reply pours cold water on her hopes. He sees her kneeling before him and whispers, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). Jesus’ words were clear. The miraculous works of the Messiah belonged to the children of Israel, not the mangy mutts scavenging around the backdoor. He wasn’t beholden to her. He wasn’t in her debt. She had absolutely nothing to bargain with.

Jesus’ words are shocking, aren’t they? We’re left wondering what on earth is he up to? What would prompt such a harsh rebuke? Why would Jesus call this heartbroken woman a dog?

Jesus’ words, far from pouring cold water on the woman’s plea, really pours cold water on the disciples’ own deficient understanding of his identity and mission. They don’t understand who the Messiah is meant to be. They think they have a monopoly on his power. They think they have the copyright on the Christ. As they heard Jesus say those words they were probably taking delight in this foreigner being sent away empty handed. She had to be taught a lesson after all. She needed to be put in her place.

They weren’t prepared for the shocking display of grace that came next.

The woman, still not daring to look up into Jesus’ eyes, whispered in reply, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27). Jesus looks down at the woman, and then back to the disciples. He smiled, and his eyes lit up and practically shouted, “This, my friends, is the right answer!” He picks the woman up and exclaims, “Your faith is great! What you’ve asked for is done.” And the text gives us the concluding understatement, “her daughter was healed instantly.”

As we celebrate Mother’s Day I’ve been thinking a lot about this unnamed, anonymous mother. The story of her surprising and tenacious faith is a lasting display of a godly mother’s heart. This is what gospel-soaked motherhood looks like. It sings to us the gospel according to Mother’s Day. The Canaanite woman’s story displayed three truths of what it means to be a gospel-powered Mom:

1. She longed to take care of her children. She put her own reputation on the line for the sake of her sick daughter. Her desperate love for her daughter drove her to forsake everything to make her daughter well. She cared for her kids. She wanted what was best for them, and she was willing to do what was necessary to make that happen.

2. She understood grace. She knew she had no rights in the presence of Jesus. She didn’t come with a list of demands. She couldn’t earn favor. She couldn’t pay for Jesus’ services. She had nothing to offer in return. She knew she wasn’t good enough. She knew she wasn’t a law-keeper. She knew she wasn’t an Israelite. She knew she had no right to claim the promises of the gospel. She came to Jesus with only empty hands and threw herself wholly on the mercy of Israel’s Messiah. Quite literally everything was dependent on him.

3. She knew that her and her daughter’s only hope was Jesus. This mother knew that what her daughter needed more than anything else could only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. She understood that if her daughter was going to be healed, then it had to be Jesus. Jesus wasn’t merely a nice add-on to an already good mother-daughter relationship. Jesus wasn’t merely a part of their life. If there was to be life at all, it could only be granted by Jesus. Life and death hung in the balance. It was Jesus or nothing.

The mother’s desperate need for Jesus was the heart of her faith-fueled response. She told Jesus, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Did you catch the significance of what this Gentile woman said? Do you hear her confession? Do you see how she got the gospel? We often read these words and marvel at the woman’s humility. She lay prostrate on the ground. She said all she wanted were some crumbs! That’s true. Her humility in the presence of Christ was truly amazing, But there was something more to her words.

She longed to have the crumbs that would fall from the master’s table, and her words imply that she understood full-well who that master really was. The woman’s confession assumed that she was the undeserving dog, and Jesus was the master of the house. The request that this mother made wasn’t to a “higher power,” or a generic “god.” No, the woman’s faith was completely Christ-focused. He was the master with the bread, and she was the beggar crying for crumbs.

And that is the gospel according to Mother’s Day. For every mother who feels like everything is resting on her shoulders, who believes everything depends on her being good enough, the Canaanite woman shows us the treasure of grace. For every mother who has ever cried out in prayer on behalf of a son or a daughter, she reminds us the only hope we have (and they have) is Jesus Christ himself. For every mother who longs to take care of her child, she shows us what true love looks like. What a mother believes about Jesus, and how important she believes Jesus is to her children, is the true measure of a mother’s love.

I’m thankful God gave me a mother like her. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who loves me. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who loves the grace of the gospel. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who daily came to Jesus in prayer on my behalf (and still does). I’m thankful for a mother who knew that above and beyond all gifts she might give me, the most important thing in life was getting me to Jesus, because it is only in his presence that true life is given. That is my testimony to my own mother’s love, and that is the testimony of the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus all those years ago. That woman’s daughter was never the same because her mother had met Jesus. My life was transformed because my mama met Jesus too. My prayer today is that as we celebrate our mothers, we would be led to celebrate the gospel all the more. “Please give me crumbs,” she cried, and her loving prayer still echoes in the whispered pleas of every mother whose life has been radically changed by the bread of life, bread so generously given from the nail-pierced hands of the master, the master who invites men and women like us not merely to scavenge on the floor for food, but to have an honored place at the table itself.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Cade

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Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl: The Vivid Drama of Revelation 4-22 (Revelation Listening Guide #13)

Apr 29th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
April 29, 2015
Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl: The Vivid Drama of Revelation 4-22
Revelation 19:1-10

I. The Gospel in 3D

The book of Revelation is a mystery. Its visions are violent, strange, bizarre, and shrouded in uncertainty. That leads to two common approaches to the book: Either we ignore it and stop reading after chapter three, or the book is dissected for precise prophetic-cloaked-correspondence for some point in a distant and dystopian future. One path leads to the apocalypse being closed on our shelves. The other leads to it being studied with charts, graphs, illustrations, and lots and lots of contradicting theories. For many of us approaching the book of Revelation has meant only having one of these two options.

I want to introduce, however, a third path, a way going forward into the shadows of Revelation 4-22 in which we’re able to keep our bearings by being guided by the compass of Christ and his gospel. The book of Revelation contains future prophecies. There’s no doubt about it. Yet the book of Revelation is not merely about the distant future. The entire book (and chapters 4-22 in particular) are meant to be the fuel for Christian faithfulness in the present, and the future implications of the prophecies that are there are to be understood in the light of that present application. In other words, far from just being a book just about Bible prophecy, the visions of Revelation 4-22 are a vivid 3D gospel that is meant to enable the churches of chapters 1-3 to face the future with gospel-allegiance to Jesus Christ, the king of creation and the king of the ages. Chapters 1-3 are the glasses that we always have to wear in order to see the gospel special effects in all their mesmerizing brilliance. When we walk into Revelation in this way we find ourselves caught up in an epic story of love, sacrifice, war, death, good, evil, and the triumph of the one true king. Before the curtain opens on this theological thriller, however, we would be wise to prepare ourselves for what we’re going to see.

II. The Battle for the Princess Bride

So, what we want to do is briefly look at how this drama of chapters 4-22 is put together and in so doing take a broad look out over the landscape of themes before we begin our trek through the remainder of the book. By doing this we note several things:

1. Revelation 4-22 is all about the triumph of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

2. Revelation 4-22 is grounded in the textual theology of the Old Testament.

3. Revelation 4-22 is presented to empower believers to conquer faithfully in Christ.

4. Revelation 4-22 tells one epic story divided into two acts:
A. The Righteous Judgment of God on the Fallen World (Act I, Revelation 4-11)
B. The Rescue of God’s People and the Renewal of All Things. (Revelation 4-22)
C. The Final Defeat of Satan and his Allied Armies (Act II, Revelation 12-22)

5. Revelation 4-22 presents these three stories and connects them together through a variety of symbolic numbers and images.

6. Revelation 4-22 portrays God’s sovereign control over a cursed world in chaos.

7. Revelation 4-22 is meant to lead us to worship God and God alone.

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The Disgusting Church: The Richness of the Gospel in Laodicea (Revelation Listening Guide #12)

Apr 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
April 22, 2015
The Disgusting Church: The Richness of the Gospel in Laodicea
Revelation 3:14-22
I. Ew!

Food poisoning is bad. The stomach flu is bad. Nausea is unpleasant. No one likes to be sick. That’s why we go to such great lengths to avoid it. We get flu-shots. We wash our hands. We’re careful with what we eat. We try not to get too close to someone who may be contagious! We don’t want to be ill, so we want to stay clear of things that are sickening. And there’s nothing more sickening than a church (or a believer) who has grown indifferent to the gospel and the gospel’s Lord. That’s the most disgusting thing in all creation.Nothing compares to the grossness of a people claiming to follow Jesus and yet having no burning affections for him. It makes Jesus sick.

That’s the problem that had weakened the congregation of Laodicea. The city, halfway between Hierapolis (with its famous hot springs) and Colossae (with its mountain cold springs and rivers) was the home of a church that was afloat in its own murky, tepid, polluted waters. The believers there apparently weren’t facing false teaching, or immorality, or cultural compromise, or persecution. They just didn’t love Jesus very much. They preferred to marinate in materialism. They were in love with an easy, comfortable Christianity that just happened to be Christless. And it was making Jesus sick to his stomach. And so Jesus comes to this lifeless yet luxurious congregation at Laodicea and begins basic Gospel-CPR.

II. Gospel CPR: Recovery in the Richness of the Gospel

Jesus’ restoration work for the church in Laodicea is intended to wake it from its slumber, enflame it out of indifference, and infect it with glowing affections for Jesus. He has to get the anti-gospel bacteria out of their system, and surprisingly the only cure is a feast. You may have heard the old adage about “feeding a cold.”Well, Jesus’ cure is all about feasting, rather than just feeding. He doesn’t intend to change the church in Laodicea through watery chicken soup broth. He intends to revive it through the rich, extravagant food of the gospel, a feast that is far better than anything else the world has to offer. Jesus invites the Laodiceans (and us) to the banquet table. In so doing, he reveals to us the causes for our sickness and the only cure for our souls:

1. The richness of the gospel reveals how insanely content we can be in our sin. (vv. 14-17)

2. The richness of the gospel reveals how delusional we are about our true condition. (v. 17)

3. The richness of the gospel reveals the true treasure that is found only in Christ. (v. 18)

4. The richness of the gospel reveals the fierce love of Christ for his bride. (v. 19)

5. The richness of the gospel reveals the intimate and eternal fellowship that we are offered with Christ. (vv. 20-22)

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The Godhead at Gologotha: The Cross in Trinitarian Perspective

Apr 16th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

THE GODHEAD AT GOLGOTHA:
THE CROSS IN TRINITARIAN PERSPECTIVE

Introduction and Thesis: The Supreme Mystery

J.I. Packer writes that the gospel, and particularly the gospel’s central event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is the greatest mystery in the entire world. It is, he says, “a reality distinct from us that in our very apprehending of it remains unfathomable to us…which we therefore describe as incomprehensible.” That statement seems correct, and yet rereading it forces one to ask a very basic question: Why is the crucifixion of Christ the greatest mystery in all eternity? Surely it is not because the act of crucifixion itself lies outside the sphere of human knowledge. The mechanics of Roman crucifixion are fairly well known. How a tortured man expires after being nailed to a stake is firmly within the grasp of human knowledge. How then can Packer’s assertion be granted any merit?

The answer lies in the fact that far more is happening at Christ’s crucifixion than merely the gruesome execution of a Jewish Roman convict. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not the supreme mystery of the cosmos because crucifixion is a mystery. It is the supreme mystery because it is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the rocky quarry called Golgotha, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, the defining moment of history occurred because at the precise place and time within time itself the timeless God of the universe worked within his own creation in the defining event within his own being. The cross is beyond full comprehension because it is at the cross where God worked definitively within time to reconcile sinners to himself, a sovereign reconciliation which had been the eternal purpose of God reaching back through the ages beyond the very reaches of time, and which was an event fully between the three Persons of the Trinity.

The being of God as a Trinity is an unfathomable mystery in itself. The human mind cannot fully grasp how the one God eternally exists as three distinct yet equal and inseparable Persons. Yet at the cross the mystery of God’s Trinitarian being explodes in the climactic event of God’s Trinitarian work. The result is an historic event that echoes and reverberates backward and forward endlessly into eternity. No wonder Packer considers the cross the seminal mystery above and beyond all mysteries. It is a wholly and holy Trinitarian occurrence.

Many discussions of the atonement emphasize the action of God on the cross as the work of Christ, a branch of Christology. Surely such emphases are right to place the atonement categorically within the sphere of Christ’s accomplished work. And yet such an emphasis can unnecessarily and unintentionally minimize the cross as an event and an atonement that is accomplished by the united work of each Person of the Trinity. It is the cross of Christ in so far as it was the incarnate Son who suffered on the cross. In a wider sense, however, it was the cross of the triune God, for it was the triune God who accomplished salvation. The atonement is fully the work of the Godhead at Golgotha. Robert Letham is correct to show that the crucifixion is the work of the Trinity. He notes that it is the event at which “Christ the Son took human nature in the incarnation and offered himself through the Holy Spirit to the Father so as to make atonement for his elect people.” An introductory overview of the atonement through this Trinitarian lens is the focus of this short paper. It will seek to briefly show, how the atonement must be consistently understood within a Trinitarian framework as the primary event at which the inseparable operations of the Persons of the Trinity were displayed. It will seek to argue this thesis by exploring the basic but united actions of the three Persons at work simultaneously at the cross, on the cross, and through the cross, a united work that is fully that of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Work of the Father at the Cross

The cross is the culmination of the Father’s business, the work that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to accomplish. That is clear from Jesus’ own words just prior to his crucifixion. Jesus speaks of his coming passion as the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). Yet it is a mistake to see the Father as merely a backstage observer, quietly and painfully watching his plans unfold and be put into action by other players. The Father himself is active within those six hours culminating in Christ’s death. He is fully at work in union with his Son, and participating through his presence throughout the entirety of Christ’s ordeal. The Scriptures speak plainly of the Father’s work in several senses: The Father is at work in his loving relationship with the Son, in his unsparing offering of his Son, in his imputation of sin to his Son, and in his propitiatory outpouring of wrath onto his Son. Each of these four works will be briefly explored in turn.

First, the Father is present as a full Trinitarian partner at the cross through his loving relationship with the Son. The Father’s role alongside the Son at the cross should not be pressed so closely as to warrant charges of some form of Patripassianism. The Father is not suffering at the cross, and yet he is fully present with his Son throughout his sufferings in the flesh. Jesus’ relationship with his Father at the cross is glimpsed in three specific prayers that he speaks to the Father. He begins by asking the Father to forgive those who are crucifying him (Luke 23:34). There is the cry of anguished forsakenness as he cries out in the darkness (Matthew 27:46). And there is the final prayer of relief, completion, and consecration as he offers himself up to the Father’s presence (Luke 23:46). From beginning to end the Son understands his work to be carried out fully within the Father’s presence. Even his cry of forsakenness (as it is sometimes described) should not be pressed so far as to speak of broken fellowship, abandonment, or a rift within the Trinity. It is forsakenness in the context of propitiation (see below) and as such is a full-blown forsakenness within the Father’s holy presence.

Second, the Father works at Golgotha by offering up the Son to death as a sacrificial offering. This work of the Father is one aspect of the cross’ accomplishment in which the inseparable operations of the triune Persons are most clearly seen. Jesus speaks clearly of his own offering of himself as a sacrifice (Mark 10:45; Ephesians 5:2). The author of Hebrews speaks of Christ as the one who as the Great High Priest has “offered himself” as the acceptable sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-14). The one to whom he is offering himself within these contexts is undoubtedly the Father. Shockingly, however, the Bible also speaks of the Father as the one who offered his Son as a sacrifice. Romans 8:32 speaks of the Father as the one who “delivered up his own Son.” Such close operations are fully consistent with the cross being quite literally the self-substitution of God, the offering of God to God. As such, the sacrifice and the one to whom the sacrifice is given are both spoken of in priestly language. Donald Macleod notes this work of the Father when he writes, “What can we say as to the precise nature of the Father’s action at Calvary? The New Testament answer is breathtaking. He acted in the role of priest…. corresponding to the priesthood of the self-giving Son there is a priesthood of God the Father.”

Third, the Father’s work at the cross was the imputation of sin onto the sinless Son. Jesus was the one who was “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37). In the context of the gospel accounts and the original Old Testament text it refers to (Isaiah 53:12), the “numbering” should not be thought of as merely a human reckoning. He is numbered among the transgressors by God the Father. This work of imputation on the Father’s part was central to his work of reconciling sinners to himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says that “in Christ God [the Father] was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” The implication is that key to the reconciliation was the Father’s counting of their trespasses against him (the Son). To make that point clearer Paul continues, “For our sake he [the Father] made him who knew no sin [the Son], to be sin, so that in him [the Son] we might become the righteousness of God [the Father]” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That “making to be sin” was the work of the Father at the cross. Such work is consistent and flows out of the Father’s work as priest, offering up a sinless sacrifice (his Son) as a sin offering to be slaughtered.

Fourth, and climactically, it is the Father’s work at the cross as the one who pours out his holy wrath and judgment onto the Son and is propitiated by the Son’s offering of himself as a substitutionary sacrifice. Leon Morris’ foundational work demonstrates fully that the use of propitiation in the biblical witness refers to a satisfaction of just and holy wrath poured out on the Son by the Father. He notes that such wrath is not in conflict with God’s love, nor is it an irrational or uncontrollable burst of anger. It is rather “a burning zeal for the right coupled with a perfect hatred for everything that is evil.” Surely it is the Father that is spoken of in Romans 3:25 as the one who put Christ “forward as a propitiation by his blood.” As the one who is offering the propitiation of the Son to himself, the Father is the one whose wrath is fully, finally, and conclusively satisfied.

It is within the spectrum of this outpouring of wrath that many understand Christ’s cry of forsakenness. This mysterious moment during which the eternal Son absorbs the just wrath of the eternal Father was quite literally an earth quaking event, but it was not a rupture or a rending of the Trinitarian relations. Bruce Ware is right to point out that the outpouring of wrath by the Father onto the Son is an outpouring of wrath onto the Son as the perfectly obedient sin-bearer. As such it is within this horrific moment when the Son fully drinks the cup of wrath and experiences the Father’s perfect displeasure on sin that he is still simultaneously the beloved Son with whom the Father is well pleased.

This fourfold work of the Father as relationally-present, sacrificially-priestly, reconciled-imputationary, and satisfactorily-propitiatory are not four aspects of the Father’s work merely in the eternal cosmic plan of redemption, nor in the incarnation of Christ proper, nor in his earthly ministry taken as a whole. These are four works of the Father that are all centered at the cross and that were accomplished in union with the works of both the Spirit and the Son to whom we turn next.

The Work of the Son on the Cross

As mentioned above, the events of the cross are typically categorized as the work of Christ. Because it was God the Son incarnate who was publicly and shamefully executed upon the Roman cross affixed atop the execution site called Golgotha, the cross’ accomplishment is perhaps best understood as the work of the Son. Indeed within history (sometime around 33 AD) it was God the Son who was the one Person of the Godhead who acted as the visible agent of redemption through his own crucifixion. The Son’s obvious role within the events centered on the cross will allow this third section to be somewhat briefer than the preceding one considering the work of the Father at the cross. The work of the Son on the cross will be shown as a work that displays complete obedience, was a sufficient sacrifice, and a complete propitiation:

First, the work of the Son on the cross was a work of complete obedience. As mentioned above, the Son is acting in complete correspondence with and in absolute obedience to the will of his Father. KÖstenberger and Swain are right to see in John’s gospel that everything building up to the Baptist’s assertion that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) flows out of John’s introductory theology of the Son’s filial relationship with the Father, a relationship in which the Son acts in perfect obedience to the Father’s sending commission. Paul writes in Philippians that Jesus’ incarnate condescension (leading to his eternal exaltation) was in “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus’ self-sacrifice was the climactic display of his eternal Sonship to the Father, a relationship in which Jesus always does what his Father commands.

Second, Jesus’ work on the cross was in his offering of himself as a sufficient sacrifice. In the classic Anselmian framework Jesus as man was able to perfectly represent mankind through his sacrifice, and Jesus as God was perfectly able to satisfactorily pay the infinite cost necessary to provide atonement for sins committed against an infinitely holy God. The author of Hebrews wrote that “when Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Such a single sacrifice culminating in the high priest sitting down and resting from his labors displays the complete and sufficient nature of Christ’s offering of himself for sinners.

Third, Jesus’ work on the cross was as the wrath-bearer making complete propitiation to the Father. As mentioned earlier in the consideration of the Father’s work at the cross, the Son (as sin-bearer) received the full-force of the righteous wrath of God, completely satisfying the righteous requirement of God’s justice in the place of sinners. It is the Son as the receptor of God’s righteous judgment, bearing the full weight of sin that accomplishes the salvation of sinners. Herein lies the force of Colossians 2:13-14. Paul writes that “you [believers]…God [the Father] made alive together with him [the Son], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he [the Father] set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Bruce McCormack writes about the propitiatory work of the Trinity accomplished by the Son: “The triune God pours his wrath out upon himself in and through the human nature that he has made his own…that is the ontological significance of penal substitution. The triune God takes this human experience into his own life; he ‘drinks it to the dregs.’ And in doing so, he vanquishes its power over us. That, I would submit, is the meaning of penal substitution when seen against the background of a well-ordered Christology and a well-ordered doctrine of the Trinity.”

The Work of the Spirit through the Cross

Not only is the cross the undivided work of the Father and the Son, but it is also the work of the Spirit. As is often the case (particularly in relation to the cross) the Spirit’s work is not as explicitly clear in Scripture to the same degree as is true of the Father and the Son. That is not to say, however, that the Spirit is absent from the events at the cross, nor is it to say that the Bible is completely silent. It will be seen, for instance, that in at least one key text the work of the Spirit is explicitly connected to Christ’s own work on the cross. The work(s) of the Father and the Son have been seen primarily in their priestly offerings and in their connected propitiatory work. The Sprit’s role within these works is primarily presented as that of instrumentation, and so it is fully true that at the cross God the Father saved sinners by the Son and through the Spirit.

The Spirit is the instrumental agent by which the work of the Father and the Son are completed. In other words, the Son offers himself in perfect obedience to the Father and the Father pours out his complete and righteous wrath onto the Son via the Spirit. Again, far from Golgotha being a moment within time in which the eternal Trinity is ruptured, the events of the cross are rather a moment in time in which the Persons of the eternal Trinity are intimately united in each other’s absolute presence to accomplish the eternal purpose of redemption. The forsakenness that causes Christ to cry out into the afternoon darkness is not a forsakenness in which he experiences the relational absence of the Father’s and the Spirit’s presence. Rather, it is a forsakenness in which by the Spirit he is offering himself up to the Father’s judgment that is being poured out onto him infinitely by that same Spirit.

It is this reality of the Father and the Son’s work being accomplished through the Spirit that the author of Hebrews speaks to clearly. There we read that Christ “offered himself without blemish to God [the Father]” and this was done “through the eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14). Bruce Ware comments on this very reality when he writes that the mystery of Christ’s work in his obedience (even his obedience unto death) is accomplished through Christ’s humanity being in absolute submission to the power and authority of the Spirit. Such a reliance involved for Christ an incarnational submission. Ware writes that “as a man, Jesus submitted to the Spirit. In rank within the Trinity, Jesus had authority over the Spirit, yet for the sake of the mission he humbled himself. In taking on our human flesh, he submitted to the very one over whom he has rightful authority.”

Perhaps the Spirit’s work at the cross is also hinted at textually within the events described as having taken place in connection with Christ’s death. Matthew’s Gospel connects the rending of the temple’s curtain and the resurrection of many saints in the moments just after Jesus’ death on the cross (Matthew 27:51-52). Perhaps it is these events where the Spirit’s presence at the cross is most clearly seen in the narrative accounts themselves. In Matthew’s gospel the earlier rending of the heavens (which bookends the rending of the temple) is understood as a Trinitarian event in which the Spirit is seen descending as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). Additionally Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit’s descent is itself a picture of resurrection, coming up out of the water. That connects with the Bible’s presentation of the Spirit as the one who gives life, as the one who resurrects. An echo of Ezekiel may also be intended. In Ezekiel 37, at the Valley of Dry Bones, the resurrection of dead bodies is connected to the New Covenant promise of the gift of God’s Spirit. Indeed, the promise God makes is that “you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). At Christ’s death on the cross the Spirit’s presence is demonstrated powerfully and visibly through both the baptismal rending of a heavenly veil and the Spirit-empowered resurrection of God’s people brought about by the Spirit of the Living God.

Conclusion: The Cross of Christ and Inseparable Operations

The cross is the central event of the gospel. It is the heart of the gospel. It is the work of the creator God on behalf of men and women, his creatures, who had spurned him in their sin. Far from being merely the work of the Son, the cross event is a fully Trinitarian affair. Salvation is accomplished by God the Father at the cross, the Son of God on the cross, and the Spirit of God through the cross. That brings us to a few concluding considerations of how the Godhead’s work at Golgotha is connected with the doctrine of inseparable operations, the teaching that whenever any one Person of the Trinity works, each Person of the Trinity is at work and that work is fully performed in a unity within the Godhead.

The doctrine of inseparable operations might best be understood through the patristic developments of the doctrine itself. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote that “We have one God, because there is a single Godhead…[The three Persons] are not sundered in will or divided in power. You cannot find there any of the properties of things divisible…the Godhead exists undivided in things divided.” More simply put, “in all God does, all three Persons are directly involved.”

Yet with this in mind we return to a comment that was made in this paper’s introduction. The cross is commonly classified as the work of Christ. Bearing in mind what has been seen about the workings of both the Father and the Spirit, is such a classification justified? That question (more appropriately a similar question) was taken up by Augustine. His answer is that while the works of each Person of the Trinity are inseparable such actions are also properly appropriated or applied to one primary Person of the Trinity. In other words, whenever one Person works the other two Persons work in unity. At the same time, like the Trinity itself, these works while united are also distinct, distinct to the point that they are rightly spoken of as the work of one of the triune Persons.

Such a comment is an appropriate conclusion to this brief look at the inseparable operations at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Trinity is the unity in the plurality of the Godhead and plurality in the unity of the one and only one God. The cross is the climactic work within the creation of the triune God, and as such it is a work of plurality, but it is fundamentally one work, and one Person’s work. In other words, the cross is only understood in its fullest and most Trinitarian sense if and only if it is always understood as the cross of Christ. The works of God the Father and God the Spirit are indivisible from the work of God the Son, but the cross is wholly (from beginning to end), the cross of the incarnate Son. It is his work. It is his doing. It is his accomplishment. For his sufferings he has been given a name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). It is his work which echoes endlessly into eternity in the praises of his people who sing the fully harmonious Trinitarian song of worship to the Lamb, “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cole, Graham. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
2009.

Gibson, Jonathan. “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of God in Christ.” In From Heaven He
Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Theological, and Pastoral
Perspective. Ed. David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

Gregory of Nazianzus. The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius. Crestwood: St.
Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002.

Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.

Holmes, Stephen. “Trinitarian Action and Inseparable Operations: Some Historical and Dogmatic
Reflections.” In Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics.
Ed. Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

KÖstenberger, Andreas, and Scott Swain. Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel.
Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Letham, Robert. “The Triune God, Incarnation, and Definite Atonement.” In From Heaven He Came and
Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Ed.
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.

Macleod, Donald. Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
2014.

McCormack, Bruce. “The Ontological Presuppositions of Barth’s Doctrine of the Atonement.” In The
The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives. Ed. Charles Hill
and Frank James. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Morris, Leon. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

Packer, J.I. Revelations of the Cross. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998.

Packer, J.I and Mark Dever. In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement.
Wheaton: Crossway, 2007.

Vickers, Brian. Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation. Wheaton: Crossway,
2006.

Ware, Bruce. “Christ’s Atonement: A Work of the Trinity.” In Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An
Introductory Christology. Ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler. Nashville: Broadman & Holman,
2007.

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The Cherished Church: The Invincibility of the Gospel in Philadelphia (Revelation Listening Guide #11)

Apr 15th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
April 15, 2015
The Cherished Church: The Invincibility of the Gospel in Philadelphia
Revelation 3:7-13
I. The Christ with the Key

If you’ve ever been locked out of your house or your car, then you know how frustrating and helpless you can feel, needing to be somewhere or get something and being completely unable to. If you’ve ever misplaced your keys, then you know how frantic we can get trying to find where we’ve put them. We don’t like that feeling of helplessness. We don’t like the sinking realization that we’re stuck somewhere and we can’t do anything about it.

That may be how the believers in Philadelphia felt. They were in the midst of an anti-Christian culture. They were suffering. They were a poor community. They were marginalized. They were susceptible to the slanderous slurs of those who claimed to be super-religious but who were really enemies of the gospel. While it doesn’t seem that they were enduring the same level of intense persecution as the saints in Smyrna, they seem to have a lot in common with that congregation. They were facing many of the same threats to their lives and livelihoods, and it seemed like they were stuck there, trapped in a never-ending series of sufferings and always looking from the outside of a locked room where the hope of relief could be glimpsed.

It’s to these burdened believers that Christ unveils the key to the Christian’s endurance, a key that hangs on the believer’s hope in the invincible gospel of the invincible Christ. While the Christians in Philadelphia may have been weak and marginalized, their Lord was (and is) all-powerful and standing and ruling at the very center of the universe, and they were with him. That reality changes everything.

II. The Open Door of the Omnipotent Lamb

It’s that life changing revolutionary vision of the Christian’s victory that Jesus unveils as the power of the believer’s perseverance. He shows us the magnificent splendor of his purposes for his people that keep them persevering through all their trials. The mind-blowing promises of Christ for his bride are staggering, and they constitute the very fuel for Christian faithfulness.

1. Believers are promised the unrivaled power of the authority of Jesus.

2. Believers are promised the triumphant presentation of the victory of Jesus.

3. Believers are promised the public proclamation of the love of Jesus.

4. Believers are promised the absolute protection from the judgment of Jesus.

5. Believers are promised the unending presence of the glory of Jesus.

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Better Know an Author: J.I. Packer

Apr 9th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

PackerMany people, understandably, might label Karl Barth as the most important theologian of the twentieth century. Barth’s importance cannot be understated, but for my money there is no greater nor more important theologian than J.I. Packer. His leadership, ministry, teaching, and books have been a bulwark for sound reformed doctrinal theology, practical lived theology, an an appreciation for the entirety of the great reformed traditions found particularly in the influence of the puritans on his own life and work.

James Innell Packer was born in 1926 in Gloucester, England. While a student at Oxford University he was heavily influenced by both C.S. Lewis and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Beginning in 1979 Packer moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he began teaching at Regent College, where he currently serves at the Board of Governors Professor of Theology. He is a reformed anglican, and his influence continues to be made through his many written works and through the English Standard Version English translation of the Bible which he served as the General Editor for.

Packer is one of the handful of modern authors that are worth reading and rereading and rereading. If you’d like to get to know him and his work better, here is where I would start.


Knowing God, by. J.I. Packer
Knowing God

This book deserves to be read again and again, every year if possible! It’s a beautiful and penetrating study of the person, nature, attributes, and work of God.

Rediscovering Holiness, by J.I. Packer
Rediscovering Holiness

What is the heart of the Christian life? What does it mean to be conformed to the image of Christ? That’s what this book explores in this helpful practical look at a life that is in the process of being sanctified.

In My Place Condemned He Stood, by. J.I. Packer and Mark Dever
Condemned

What did the cross achieve? That’s a crucial question, and that’s also the title of one of Packer’s most important shorter works, an essay that explores the very heart of the gospel. That article along with several other shorter works by Packer on the atonement (including his introduction to Owen’s “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”) are included in this little paperback.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer
Evangelism

If God is sovereign in salvation, then why share the gospel? If God predestines men and women to salvation, then why are we called to bear witness in the attempt to see men an women believe and repent? That’s what Packer tackles in this book.

A Quest for Godliness, by J.I. Packer
Quest

Who were the Puritans? Why were they important? Why do they matter (or should matter) for modern believers? That’s the heart of Packer’s study of the Puritans of the past for believers in the present.

Forthcoming:
Later in 2015 two books will be published that promise to be indispensable introductions to Packer’s life and thought. Once you’ve read the books listed above, I’d highly recommend you be on the lookout for these upcoming releases!

Packer on the Christian Life, by Sam Storms (June 2015)
Storms

J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, by Leland Ryken (October 2015)
Ryken

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An Echo of Eden: A Poem for Maundy Thursday Evening

Apr 2nd, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog


“…in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn.” – G.K. Chesterton

In an echo of Eden,
A Second Adam walked into a garden,
Reversing his patriarch’s exilic exit,
In the starlit darkness of Gethsemane’s tear-stained night.

In an echo of Eden,
An unclothed man ran naked,
Fleeing in fear through Gethsemane’s shadows,
Away from the Creator’s presence, where only judgment waited.

In an echo of Eden,
A treasonous betrayal was irrevocably exchanged,
Under the sad, fruit-heavy trees standing witness,
As silent sentinels to mankind’s self-lusted transgression.

In an echo of Eden,
Creation’s King stood regal over his watching curse-laden creation,
Providing man a final, blood-skinned, shroud-bound substitute,
From the wood-hewn garments of the Tree of Life, disfigured into his own Cross of Death.

In an echo of Eden,
Eve’s sorrow-soaked daughter stood listening in the dawn,
To the sudden sound of an unexpected voice,
Not the poisoned-lisp of a deadly serpent, but the resurrected-laugh of a living Savior.

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