The Aquila Report

The First Time We are Told to Love the Lord

Deuteronomy 6:5 is about loyalty, covenant faithfulness, allegiance. What kind of people should the Israelites be? They should be loyal to God who had redeemed them from Egypt and who (in the context of Deuteronomy) had carried them to the border of the promised land. Their love for God would take the shape of obedience—internalizing and walking according to God’s commands.

The biblical authors teach us how we should respond to the God who made us and redeemed us. For example, we should trust, obey, fear, and praise the Lord. These are not recommendations from the biblical authors. They are commands.
Christians also know from Scripture that we are to love the Lord. This, too, is a command. But do you know when the Scripture first commands us to love God? In Exodus 20:6, the Lord spoke of his steadfast love to those who love him and keep his commandments, but that isn’t framed as a command. In Leviticus 19:18, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, but that is not an explicit command about loving God.
The first command to love the Lord is in Deuteronomy 6. Moses has just reiterated the Ten Commandments to the Israelites (Deut. 5:7–21), and now he gives this instruction: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Here is the first time in the Bible where we are called to love the Lord.
This command in Deuteronomy 6:5 is probably familiar to you. It comes right after the opening Shema language in 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
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Devotion in an Age of Distraction

Not everyone sees God’s beauty. Some are “haters of God” that have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (Romans 1:23, 30). That’s why Samuel Parkison says there is an aesthetic component to salvation: when the Spirit regenerates us, he enables us “to behold the beauty of the Trinity mediated in Christ.” This new ability to see God’s beauty isn’t mere intellectual perception; it “includes the affections,” so we are stirred and drawn by his beauty (Irresistible Beauty, 15).

Mary Oliver once said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion” (Upstream, 8). Yet we struggle, don’t we, to set our minds on “the things of the Spirit” and “the things that are above, where Christ is” (Romans 8:5–6, Colossians 3:1–2)?
We know the mind attentive to the Spirit is “life and peace,” yet we’d blush to admit how often we reach for the empty stimuli of social media and news feeds. And it’s easy to wring our hands and declare that we’re uniquely handicapped by our Age of Distraction and the relentless competition for our attention. Are we really defenseless, though, doomed to distracted, ever-scrolling minds?
In the Footsteps of the Undistractable
In my own war against distractions, I find hope and help in saints who lived centuries before our digital age. Read slowly these words of Augustine, describing “the bridegroom who is beautiful wherever he is”:
He was beautiful in heaven, then, and beautiful on earth: beautiful in the womb, and beautiful in his parents’ arms. He was beautiful in his miracles but just as beautiful under the scourges, beautiful as he invited us to life, but beautiful too in not shrinking from death, beautiful in laying down his life and beautiful in taking it up again, beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, and beautiful in heaven. (Essential Exposition of the Psalms, 131)
If we had a time machine and could pull this man taken by the beauty of his Beloved into our digital age, would the wild horses of iPhones and earbuds drag his attention from God? By no means. The way Augustine talks about Christ convinces me that he could not not be captive to God’s beauty. He’s held firm and undistracted by the same one-thing passion that captivated David:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,that will I seek after:that I may dwell in the house of the Lordall the days of my life,to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. (Psalm 27:4)
Jonathan Edwards, another undistractable saint, found God not only beautiful but “the foundation and fountain of . . . all beauty” (Works, 8:551). In his sermon on “God’s Excellencies,” he told the congregation,
God is every way transcendently more amiable, than the most perfect and lovely of all our fellow creatures. If men take great delight and pleasure in beholding and enjoying the perfections and beauties of their fellow mortals, with what ecstasies, with what sweet rapture, will the sweet glories and beauties of the blessed God be beheld and enjoyed! (Works, 10:429)
Like Augustine, Edwards was enthralled by God’s beauty in Christ and would surely never trade those “sweet glories and beauties of the blessed God” for the empty cisterns of clickbait. The question is, would we? Can we ordinary saints living in the Age of Distraction be so captured by God’s beauty that we grow increasingly undistractable?
Beauty of All Things Beautiful
Before we answer, we should clarify what we mean by God’s “beauty.” Philosophers love to ponder the idea of beauty. When they meditate on what is truly beautiful, they are (perhaps without knowing it) granted glimpses of the God who is beautiful.
Beauty is the good, and God is most good (Psalm 119:68). Beauty delights and arouses desire, and God is our delight and the desire of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). Beauty displays perfection, and our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Beauty shines with radiance and splendor, and Christ is the radiance of our God who is clothed with splendor (Psalm 104:1; Hebrews 1:3).
Beauty resounds in harmony and unity, and the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit is the eternal perfection of harmony.
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For Those Under the Temptation of Ending Their Lives

If you are someone who claims the name of Christ, and who is mulling over the idea of ending your own life, know these truths: you are being tempted by Satanic lies and what you are contemplating is a grievous evil. Jesus knows and feels your pain. His body, the Body of Christ, is here to lift you up out of this pit. Leave your pride behind and cling to His body and His Church. You must only abandon your pride.

Every year around Christmastime, my family commenced a tradition of watching Frank Capra’s iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve continued the tradition with my wife and daughter, usually viewing the classic either on the day we cut down our Christmas Tree, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day. I’ve always loved the movie; to me, the film has never gotten old or boring. I find that each viewing presents a new impression or lesson.
Several years ago, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life as usual. I always get misty-eyed at the final scene of the movie: “To my brother George, the richest man in town.”
But this viewing was different. One scene hit me so hard I started sobbing. Those familiar with the movie will know the scene (and those not familiar should stop reading this and go watch it): After jumping into a river to save Clarence, the angel charged with keeping him from taking his own life to provide an insurance payout for his family, George Bailey says, “I suppose it would have been better if I was never born.”
George Bailey’s self-assessment resonated with me, His plan to kill himself for insurance money cut me to the core. I was crying because, lately, I was wrestling with some similar thoughts. Although, I was lamenting that I didn’t have an insurance policy to leave my family.
Like George Bailey, I was tempted to believe that my situation, my family, and the world would be far better if I weren’t around.
The Accuser Of The Brethren
Revelation 12:10 refers to Satan as the “accuser of the brethren”, which Satan proves himself as in the Book of Job. The devil’s goal is to cause Job to curse God to His face. While Satan fails in this task, Job is assaulted by despair from every possible angle. His own wife chides him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) after losing his children, wealth, and finally his health. We can only imagine the intense level of grief and hopelessness Job experienced during those seven days of silence with his “friends”.
And yet, Satan’s accusation turns out to be unfounded. Job never curses God at any point. He sinks into sorrow and questions God, but doesn’t become defiant. In fact, Job maintains his integrity (Job 27:5).
Most of us don’t find ourselves in situations as traumatic as Job’s. But like him, we can experience the accusations of the Devil. Particularly when we’re living through desperation. One of Satan’s classic ploys is to convince us that because of our circumstances, shortcomings, or general misery, we ought to “curse God and die.”
Often this culminates in a final act of taking of one’s own life.
An Epidemic Of Emptiness
The United States saw the most annual suicides ever recorded in 2023 – over 50,000. To put this statistic into perspective, this means that more than 1 in 1,000 people kill themselves every year. This rate is increasing, too. We will soon arrive at a point where everyone knows of someone who has perished by their own hand. In the US, white male adults make up the overwhelming majority of suicides: upwards of 70%.
The proposed causes usually focus on the availability of guns or social media influence. Most theories do not focus on root causes. Some common sentiments and circumstances that lead to thinking in this dark, dangerous way include the following: the dissolution of a marriage or family relationship, seemingly insurmountable financial situations, the loss of a job, failure in overcoming addictive sins, the destruction of one’s reputation, despair at the state of one’s nation/community/family, or the feeling of powerlessness to deal with any of the forementioned things.
“I’m A Failure”
Often, it’s the everyday strife and struggle that brings one to the edge of the cliff. Men, especially middle-aged family men, are more likely to commit suicide. There are a variety of societal explanations for this, but in an anti-masculine society, it’s no surprise that many men feel powerless to stand against what they see as insurmountable odds.
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The Ten Words | Exodus 20:1-21

Under the covenant that Jesus inaugurated by the sacrifice of Himself, our Lord has removed the curse and burden of the law from us. We rest in His obedience rather than our own. Furthermore, He has given to us the Spirit of life that produces His fruit within us, fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, which are characteristics that naturally fulfill the law. Again, as Jesus said, the law has not been abolished; it has been fulfilled. 

Diving back into Exodus for the third and final time, we begin with the Ten Commandments. Together with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, this passage has a long history of being used to disciple and catechize new believers into the faith. Indeed, the great Reformer Martin Luther said, “Although I’m indeed an old doctor, I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I still daily learn and pray them with my little Hans and my little Lena.”
With much to cover as we attempt to tackle the back half of Exodus this year, you will not find an exposition of each of the Ten Commandments in this sermon. I did such a series back in 2019 (where I also preached through the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer). Instead, because the Ten Commandments are a summary of God’s law, we will discuss the purpose of the law for us today as Christians.
A Recap of Exodus 1-19
Before beginning our study through the second half of Exodus, let us take a quick moment to recap the previous nineteen chapters. Although Genesis ended with Joseph’s family settling into the very best of Egypt’s land, Exodus opens by telling us that a new Pharaoh enslaved the people of Israel, and after four hundred years in Egypt, the LORD raised up and sent Moses to the king of Egypt. While this story is quite familiar to most of us, let us take care that we remember it according to what the Bible actually says. The Israelites cried out to God to be delivered from their slavery but never to be taken out of Egypt. Since we know that many worshiped the Egyptian gods, it should not surprise us that they did not actually want to leave Egypt; they just wanted to be freed from their slavery.
Yahweh, however, told Moses from the beginning that He was bringing them completely out of Egypt and into the land that He promised to their ancestors. Even though the LORD always had the intention of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt entirely, He commanded Moses to only request their temporary journey into the wilderness to sacrifice and hold a feast to God. This continued with each of Moses’ speeches to Pharaoh throughout the outpouring of the plagues. His message to Pharaoh is almost always: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me’” (Exodus 8:1). He never demands of Pharaoh the permanent exodus of Israel, even though that is exactly what God promised to do. The LORD purposely kept the demand for Pharaoh’s obedience low so that Israel’s exodus would be all the more glorious whenever God used the hard-hearted Pharaoh to accomplish it. And that is precisely what Yahweh did, bringing them out of Egypt as conquerors and drowning Pharaoh and his chariots in the sea.
In chapters 16-18, the LORD brought Israel through the wilderness, testing them along the way. Although we saw the first signs of trouble with this exodus generation as they grumbled and complained, God continued to work His wonders, giving them water from a rock and the bread of angels to eat.
Finally, in chapter 19, Yahweh brought Israel to Sinai (also called Horeb), and before He commanded them to prepare for His descent upon the mountain in glory, which is where the chapter concluded, He gave to them the very heart of the Old Testament. In order to properly understand the Ten Commandments and all of God’s law, we must keep these words in mind:
Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
EXODUS 19:3–6
That is the heart of the God’s covenant with Israel. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in order to make them His treasured possession, a kingdom of priest, and a holy nation. They were saved by God so that they could then live as God’s people. But they were also rescued to become a kingdom of priests. Priests, after all, were called to stand as mediators between God and men. The LORD did not lay claim upon the nation of Israel alone but rather the entire earth, and Israel was to be His nation of priests, mediating between Yahweh and all the other nations. Indeed, He chose Israel as a holy nation in order to also make them “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
A Summary of the Law
After declaring His purpose for their deliverance from that very mountain and after three days of consecrating themselves, God now gives to His people the Ten Commandments. Although the LORD gave many more laws and commands to the Israelites, which we will study in the coming weeks, these ten were especially significant, which is testified by God speaking them directly to the people rather than through Moses and by their being etched into stone and kept in the Ark. They received this special treatment because the Ten Commandments serve as a succinct summary of God’s expectations for His people. In many ways, the remainder of the laws served to provide specific application and explanation to these ten.
Notice then how they begin:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
Of all the wondrous things that we could consider within those first three verses, we should certainly note the pronoun being used. The LORD uses the second person singular, you. The original audience was Israel, God’s people, who were standing around Mount Sinai hearing God speaking to them from the smoke and fire and lightening. Yet in the midst of this great congregation, God spoke directly to each Israelite. The laws were given to the whole nation, but each person bore the responsibility for obeying them.
Yet God did not solely speak to those ancient Israelites. He etched these words into stone to symbolize their permanence and inspired Moses to write them into a book called Exodus. He even repeated them in Deuteronomy. Indeed, God speaks these words to all His people throughout history. They are still very much rules for governing life in the community of God’s people, yet the responsibility of obedience does not fall upon the collective unit but rather each person. If you have ever desired for God to speak a direct message to you, hear now what God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Indeed, whenever we speak about God’s law and about how He expects His people to act, we can turn to the Ten Commandments because they served as a sort of constitution for what life among the community of God’s holy nation was meant to be. The beauty of this vision only requires a moment’s imagination to grasp. Who would not want to live in a community where people served the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might, where they exalted His name instead of their own, where they worked hard for six days but rested in God and one another on the seventh day, where parents and the family unit were held in honor, where life was sacred, where spouses were always faithful in both body and heart, where falsehood was unthinkable, and where everyone rejoiced in the possessions of others as much as they would their own? Such a place would rightly be called heavenly. Indeed, obedience to the Ten Commandments is heavenly because in heaven all submit perfectly to God’s will. On the other hand, the breaking of these laws both leads to hell itself and to a hellish existence here. Sin, after all, is lawlessness, and a lawless society is a dystopic society.
Through obeying God’s law, Israel was meant to display a savor and aroma of heaven to the rest of the nations on earth. The Old Testament narratives, however, is filled with accounts of the Israelites falling into disobedience, of their constant failures to measure up to God’s standard. Indeed, the New Testament writers confirm that such obedience is utterly impossible. No one can fulfill the Ten Commandments perfectly, constantly, and genuinely. As Moses, the giver of the law, died before entering the Promised Land, so too will all perish who attempt to enter eternal life through their own obedience.
What then is the purpose of the Ten Commandments today? Do they serve no other purpose other than to heap condemnation upon our heads as we continue to disobey them? Question 15 of the New City Catechism is of great help here:
Q. Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
A. That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.
In the catechism’s answer, we are given three purposes that the law of God serves. First, that we may know the holy nature and will of God. This means that the law has a purpose in teaching us about God. Particularly, it reveals two aspects of God: His nature and His will.
The law reveals God’s nature because His law is a reflection of Himself as the Lawgiver. This is why when preaching through the Ten Commandments I aimed to show how each displayed an attribute of God. For example, the First Commandment’s decree of exclusive worship reflects God’s holiness, that there is none like Him.
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Towards a More American Classical Education

The next few years will be a critical period for the classical movement in the United States. As our schools emerge onto the radar of the negative world, hostile press will increase, as will the temptation to save face by compromising everything our movement gets right: our commitment to Christianity, our national heritage, and the wisdom of the liberal arts and the Western canon.

The movement to resurrect classical, Christian education has flourished beyond what many of us thought possible. Its graduates have shown what can be done with a little piety, imagination, and the daring to trust that Providence works through tradition.
But in many important respects, the movement now stands at a crossroads.
Latent tensions are fast coming to the surface, as American Reformer has repeatedly warned. At stake is the future faithfulness of American classical schools, especially as they plunge deeper into the pressures of the “negative world.” What does it mean to be “classical?” What exactly is the “Western canon?” To what extent should classical schools embrace “elitism?”
The way these questions are answered will set the future trajectory of the movement, for better or for worse. And, for all the excellent answers that have been given, I would suggest one of the most important is often least talked about in the wider Protestant world: the need for a classical education that is more intentionally American – that is, one that more deeply roots students in the specifically American branch of the Western tradition and prepares them to “face the conditions of modernity” in the modern American context.
America and the Canon Wars
The need for clearer emphasis on the American ends of classical schools became glaringly evident when last year’s debate about the CLT author bank exposed how much disagreement lurks beneath classical educators’ unity around “the Western canon.”
There are many problems with the way Jessica Hooten Wilson argued for an “assortment of voices” in classical curricula, but she did expose how platitudinous “classical” lingo can become. It’s not as simple as selecting “Great Books” that are “excellent,” or that embody “truth, goodness and beauty.” They all fit that bill. The next question we must ask is, what standard do we use to choose among these? “Good, true and beautiful” to what end? “Excellent” for whom?
Without a concrete standard, even well-meaning schools will end up defaulting (like Wilson) to thinly veiled versions of our cultural shibboleths: that we should define the canon, and select texts from it, to promote some form of “equality” and “inclusion.”
Many otherwise sound responses to Wilson left this vacuum unfilled, until Lue-Yee Tsang pointed out that classical education has “civilizational boundaries.” All classical schools are part of a particular nation, and that simple fact dictates what part of the classical tradition they should emphasize. American classical schools must ask what “excellent” and “beautiful” Western texts, arts and skills will form virtuous Americans.
Compare John Senior’s famous list of “good books” with the curricula of many modern classical schools. To be sure, classical schools have put a great deal of thought into forming good citizens. But, if faced with the choice, how many seriously consider reading James Fenimore Cooper over, say, Charles Dickens? How many graduates can talk as intelligently about the early republic’s Protestant establishment as about the Investiture Controversy, or about the great Winslow Homer as about Vermeer? How many “integrated” humanities programs teach American history in the depth needed in an age where existential questions abound?
Entrepreneurialism and the Trades
Classical schools that are more intentionally American will also better prepare students for the realities of modern American economic and political life. As Aaron Renn reminds us, “facing the conditions of modernity” requires more than the Great Books.
It’s a well-known fact at top-tier conservative colleges that too many graduates of classical programs, habituated to prefer the “contemplative life,” end up being essentially boxed into teaching careers – many of them low-paying. They then face a choice between a job they’re equipped for and the ability to adequately provide for their families.
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Machen Saw What was Coming

In the machinery of modern industry and government, and in worldly, pragmatic ideologies, Machen saw a real threat to liberty, society, and the church. The only solution for him was the knowledge of a God who cared enough to send his Son, beneath whose cross and in whose church is the only refuge from the decay and depravity of the world.

J. Gresham Machen was certainly prescient about the havoc theological liberalism would wreak on the mainline churches in the 20th century. He also saw the rise of fascism and ethnonationalism in the 1920s and 1930s. We would do well to consider those warnings today.
Machen’s observations about the church and the world in his great short essay Mountains and Why We Love Them were published in 1933 (based on a mountain-climbing trip of the previous year) and have never been more relevant. In 1932 Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was probably more well-known to most Americans than Adolf Hitler, who lost the German presidential election that year. But Machen, who had studied in Germany and knew it well, was keenly aware of Hitler’s threat. He looked out across Europe from a peak in the Swiss Alps and did not like what he saw:
Then there is something else about that view from the Matterhorn. I felt it partly at least as I stood there, and I wonder whether you can feel it with me. It is this. You are standing there not in any ordinary country, but in the very midst of Europe, looking out from its very centre. Germany just beyond where you can see to the northeast, Italy to the south, France beyond those snows of Mont Blanc. There, in that glorious round spread out before you, that land of Europe, humanity has put forth its best. There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word. And then you think of the present and its decadence and its slavery, and you desire to weep. It is a pathetic thing to contemplate the history of mankind.
Here it seems that Machen had in view modernity and its dehumanizing machinery (of state and of steel) and its godless “morality.” See the introductory chapter of Christianity and Liberalism (written 10 years before) to understand more fully what Machen had in mind. In that book, Machen had extolled “the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty,” meaning the tradition of individual rights pioneered in the British Isles.
Machen goes on to speak of the evil ends that modernity’s machines and men were beginning to serve:
I know that there are people who tell us contemptuously that always there are croakers who look always to the past, croakers who think that the good old times are the best. But I for my part refuse to acquiesce in this relativism which refuses to take stock of the times in which we are living. It does seem to me that there can never be any true advance, and above all there can never be any true prayer, unless a man does pause occasionally, as on some mountain vantage ground, to try, at least, to evaluate the age in which he is living. And when I do that, I cannot for the life of me see how any man with even the slightest knowledge of history can help recognizing the fact that we are living in a time of sad decadence—a decadence only thinly disguised by the material achievements of our age, which already are beginning to pall on us like a new toy. When Mussolini makes war deliberately and openly upon democracy and freedom, and is much admired for doing so even in countries like ours; when an ignorant ruffian is dictator of Germany, until recently the most highly educated country in the world—when we contemplate these things I do not see how we can possibly help seeing that something is radically wrong. Just read the latest utterances of our own General Johnson, his cheap and vulgar abuse of a recent appointee of our President, the cheap tirades in which he develops his view that economics are bunk—and then compare that kind of thing with the state papers of a Jefferson or a Washington—and you will inevitably come to the conclusion that we are living in a time when decadence has set in on a gigantic scale.
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How “He Gets Us” Fails to Get Jesus

The ”He Gets Us” campaign never presents the need for sinners to repent. Their campaign promotes works and service but it doesn’t present the good news of Jesus. The social gospel never saves, it only sooths people as they journey onward toward the gates of hell. The “He Gets Us” presents a Jesus who affirms rather than confronts. There is no message of repentance and no message of hope.

The most important human being to ever live on planet earth was not a powerful athlete, an influential politician, or a wealthy business tycoon. The most powerful man in the history of the world was born in a stable for animals in an obscure village rather than in a palace in one of the world’s strategic cities. He spent his time in a carpenter’s shop working with his hands. He never graduated from an important school or wrote an important book. He was not impressive in his physical features. He never commanded an army. He was not an innovator or an inventor.
However, if you consider the most innovative and brilliant person in the history of science, physics, mathematics, engineering, politics, military, and the most capable person in the history of literature—all of them together have not impacted our world as has this one man—Jesus Christ. The Bible points out that Jesus is more than a gifted rabbi or a divine social worker who came to serve humanity. Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is the promised Messiah who took upon himself flesh and came on a rescue mission to save sinners (Matt 1:21; Luke 19:10).
Over the last couple of years, a campaign titled “He Gets Us” has been pointing people toward Jesus through television and social media advertisements. However, sadly, they have been pointing millions of people to the wrong Jesus.
The “He Gets Us” Campaign
The launch of “He Gets Us” began in 2022 as a media campaign designed to promote Jesus to the world through television, social media, and billboard advertisements. According to their website, the campaign seeks to tell the true story of Jesus to the world. Their website reads:
How did the story of Jesus, the world’s greatest love story, get twisted into a tool to judge, harm, and divide? How do we remind people that the story of Jesus belongs to everyone? These questions are the beating heart of He Gets Us.
The campaign started with a massive $100 million dollar investment backed by business owners and investors who claim the name of Jesus. Through messages that are designed to connect with the social moments of our culture, “He Gets Us” promotes messages that read: “Whatever you are facing, Jesus faced it too.”
One of the campaign’s videos, titled “The Rebel,” has been viewed more than 122 million times on YouTube in only 11 months. Needless to say, many people are watching and talking about the “He Gets Us” advertisements. According to their website, the organization believes the following:
“He Gets Us has chosen to not have our own separate statement of beliefs. Each participating church/ministry will typically have its own language. Meanwhile, we generally recognize the Lausanne Covenant as reflective of the spirit and intent of this movement and churches that partner with explorers from He Gets Us affirm the Lausanne Covenant.”
They are intentionally broad and unaffiliated with a specific Christian denomination or orthodox confession in order to partner with a wide range of organizations and churches across evangelicalism.
The Wrong Jesus of “He Gets Us”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a professor, a janitor or a chief executive officer, a common citizen or a politician—one day every single person will stand before the throne of Jesus. Prior to the incarnation when the Son of God took upon himself human flesh and was born as a little baby in Bethlehem, he was enthroned in heaven and worshipped by angels (Is 6). Today, Jesus is seated upon the throne clothed in glorified flesh complete with the scars of his crucifixion.
The Jesus who is often presented in our culture is quite simply not the Jesus of the Bible. Our modern culture praises Jesus and curses him at the same time. In December of 2013, Time Magazine revealed Jesus to be the most significant figure of human history.1  From politics to country music, Jesus is referenced in nearly every sphere of life. It was Kid Rock who referenced Jesus as “the man from Galilee” who an assistant to Hank Williams lead him to the light.2 John Lennon once claimed that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.3 As time continues to ebb and flow, cultural references of Jesus present a deficient view of Jesus that serve as a distraction from his true mission, holiness, and sovereign authority.
In the “He Gets Us” campaign, the presentation of Jesus is driven by the winds of culture rather than the pages of Scripture. The “He Gets Us” message is built upon the sinking sand of social justice rather than the firm foundation of the gospel. In the messages of “He Gets Us” the text of Scripture is filtered through a cultural lens that’s overly contextualized so that the true Jesus appears to be a social worker rather than the sovereign Savior of the world.
In their presentation of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4, the boldness of Jesus and his confrontation of her sin is minimized.
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The Sufficiency of Scripture in Doing Christian Theology by the Book

 The Scriptures reveal who God is, who humans are in relation to God, and how we should portray this relationship in worship of our Creator. The Scriptures are sufficient to ground our trust in God and to know what God requires of us. However, when we say that Scripture is sufficient, we do not mean that Scripture alone is necessary for our growth in the gospel. Scripture tells us that God calls the church to gather together to worship him (Heb. 10:25), and he has provided teachers and preachers to expound the Scriptures for our edification and spiritual growth as Christians (Eph. 4:11–12). Likewise, the Lord gives elders and deacons to govern the church wisely and to guard the doctrinal affirmations of the Christian faith (1 Tim. 3:1–13).

Most Christians have heard pastors, Bible teachers, or friends return from Israel raving about how their recent tour of the Holy Land “unlocks the Bible” for them. With wonder, they recount how standing on Mount Carmel brings to life the prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). They tell of how traversing the streets of Galilee, where Jesus walked, opens up the four Gospels as never before. They effusively recount walking in the footsteps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa and entering the empty tomb. This naive posture tends to render Christians susceptible to the notion that some crucial aspects of understanding the Bible reside outside the biblical text.
Even Bible teachers fall prey to this notion. During my first tour of Israel, our group had the privilege of hearing a presentation by a renowned biblical scholar who frequently lectured throughout the Middle Eastern countries. Reputed to be a foremost interpreter of the Jewish culture during the life of Jesus, he presented a lecture on John 4, the account concerning Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Many in the classroom sat spellbound as he expounded the account by drawing from his numerous observations of Middle Eastern culture as a resident.
This lecturer observed that the well would not have had a bucket tied to a rope for drawing water. He claimed that travelers would have carried a foldable leather bucket to collect water, but evidently, Jesus’s disciples had the bucket with them when they departed and went into town. Likewise, drawing on his cultural observations, this biblical scholar explained that the Samaritan woman’s journey to the well alone during the midday heat hints that she was an outcast among her fellow Samaritans. While Jesus approached the well, cultural mores called for him not to engage the woman in conversation, but to retreat several feet from her to show it was safe and appropriate for her to come closer. Jesus, however, did not withdraw from her but instead held his ground, and worse, he broke the social taboo by speaking to her.
While listening to the lecture, I was struck by two observations. First, I noticed how others sat spellbound as if hearing the account from John 4 for the first time. Second, I marveled that the lecturer enraptured his hearers with details that are almost all present within the biblical text itself, but he, perhaps without realizing it, framed those aspects as if he discovered them in resources outside the text of John’s Gospel.
Following the lecture, through conversations with others who heard the presentation, I realized that many naively came to think that (a) the apostle John’s account was insufficient by itself, and (b) background knowledge derived from other resources was essential for grasping the truths being conveyed. I realized that I was witnessing an exercise, doubtless intended for good by the lecturer, that nonetheless was misleading many to suppose that the Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus and the woman at the well was not sufficient, calling for the acquisition of social-cultural knowledge outside the Bible to grasp the account’s significance.
The truth is that anyone who reads the account concerning Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman can readily discern from the text of John’s Gospel, either explicitly or implicitly, that the woman was on society’s fringe. Jesus characterizes this woman as one who has had multiple husbands and was in an illicit relationship with a man who was not her husband (John 4:16–18). One can readily infer from the text that this is why the woman came to the well by herself during the middle of the day (“about the sixth hour”)—when other women would not be present because of the heat (John 4:6).[1] Also, the text expressly states, by way of the woman’s attentiveness, that Jesus had no means by which he could draw water from the deep well (John 4:11). Likewise, John the Evangelist plainly informs the reader that when Jesus’s disciples returned to him, “they marveled that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27).
Because John’s Gospel sufficiently informs readers concerning each of these cultural aspects integral to the account, special knowledge of the culture derived from outside the biblical text is both extraneous and superfluous. Thus, whenever we read the Scriptures, especially narrative portions such as in the four Gospels, we should expect that the immediate textual setting sufficiently provides what is necessary for correctly understanding the passage.
The occasion portrayed above may seem innocent and harmless because the interpretive details derived from outside the biblical account are truly present in the biblical text. Yet a question is fitting: Do such incidents become the seductive gateway to a sinister subjection of Scripture to external authorities? The demeanor of both the Holy Land lecturer and his listeners exhibited an inclination to look to resources outside the Bible to authorize the correct interpretation of the biblical text.
Does this posture pose a challenge to Scripture’s authority? If so, does it threaten the proper grounding of our Christian faith? Hence, we must consider whether appeals to resources outside the Holy Scriptures subvert our longstanding Protestant doctrine called “The Sufficiency of Scripture.”
Scripture’s Sufficiency
What do we mean when we speak of Scripture’s sufficiency? Question and answer 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism succinctly expresses the range of Scripture’s sufficiency:
Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.[2]
This means that the Scriptures are sufficient for the specific task for which God gave them. The Scriptures reveal who God is, who humans are in relation to God, and how we should portray this relationship in worship of our Creator. The Scriptures are sufficient to ground our trust in God and to know what God requires of us. However, when we say that Scripture is sufficient, we do not mean that Scripture alone is necessary for our growth in the gospel. Scripture tells us that God calls the church to gather together to worship him (Heb. 10:25), and he has provided teachers and preachers to expound the Scriptures for our edification and spiritual growth as Christians (Eph. 4:11–12). Likewise, the Lord gives elders and deacons to govern the church wisely and to guard the doctrinal affirmations of the Christian faith (1 Tim. 3:1–13).
Likewise, we must not subject God or his Scriptures to mockery as if the Bible answers every question we could ever pose. It does not. Most of our daily routines—cooking meals, our vocational callings, home ownership and maintenance, car repair, problems with our computers, etc.—call for authoritative information outside the Bible. Nevertheless, we Protestant Christians believe that Scripture suffices as the ground of our knowing God and ourselves in relation to our Creator.
Thus, all our affirmations must be consistent with Scripture’s teachings. So, Scripture suffices as our governing guide for Christian faith and behavior. While Scripture does not specifically state how we Christians are to position ourselves in relation to our culture or to cast our voting ballots in any election, local or national, the Bible contains sufficient authoritative guidance concerning what our view of the world should be in whatever culture we find ourselves.
Scripture’s Sufficiency and Resources Outside the Bible
The Scriptures came to us by the direct agency of God’s Spirit working harmoniously with the divinely appointed human writers so that the result of this concursive process is that the human authors’ activities of thinking and writing were not coerced. Their activities were free and spontaneous, yet at the same time, divinely prompted and governed. Thus, Scripture, written for our good, is not merely a human production but God’s own authoritative word concerning the redemption of his created order. The Bible has human authors and one overarching divine Author.
God’s written word authorizes ministers of the gospel to train Christians concerning the good news that is in Jesus. It authorizes Christian parents to do the same for their children. When we affirm the sufficiency of Scripture, we do not put resources that supplement the Bible out of bounds for ministers and parents. Scripture’s sufficiency does not prohibit our use of a rich and vast library of resources to assist our study of God’s word.
Thus, Abraham Kuyper’s biblical reasoning is praiseworthy when, during his inaugural address at the dedication of The Free University of Amsterdam (1880), he asserted:
Man in his antithesis as fallen sinner or self-developing natural creature returns again as “the subject that thinks” or “the object that prompts thought” in every department, in every discipline, and with every investigator. Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”[3]
Kuyper offered this appraisal to counter anyone who might allow for Christian theology to have its own department in a university but who would dismiss the notion that theology is a constituent aspect of every academic discipline, whether the sciences, medicine, law, economics, history, psychology, or linguistics. He correctly envisioned the Christian university wherein all learners acknowledge that theology is the core discipline of learning and the one that permeates the entire curriculum so that every academic discipline submits to Christ’s Lordship as revealed in Scripture. Oh, how far short of this ideal our Christian institutions of learning fall!
As Protestants, we correctly affirm sola Scriptura because Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and conduct, the final authority by which we are to judge (a) the Bible itself and (b) the Christian doctrine and practice that the Bible teaches. Yet, we must be wary lest we fall into either of the two ditches that line our pathway.
The first temptation, to shut ourselves up to Scripture alone as our only resource of learning for human life, is to find ourselves in the ditch of obscurantism, restricting knowledge concerning God’s world to what is revealed in the Bible. The Bible is not an encyclopedic life guide. In fact, Scripture itself teaches us that God reveals himself in his created order (Rom. 1:18–21).
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Rise Up, O Men of God

Our young men need public and private examples of godly men in generations past and present.  Our pastor would tell us that his personal pursuit of holiness was for the benefit of others—because his wife needed a godly husband and his children a godly father and the church a godly leader. He modeled meekness and godliness even in his later years of immense personal suffering.  He showed us how to die. The church needs more everyday heroes like him to prepare our young men to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” and to “fight the good fight of the faith” until the Lord calls them home (1 Tim. 6:11-12).

A hero went Home this week.
It’s hard to put into words the measure of a man.  God gives many good men to His church.  As I mourn this beloved pastor, I can’t help but wonder how many of our young men are in the queue to lead the next generation.  I know not every man can or will be like him – but that was not his aim, nor his desire to be a standard for comparison.  His aim was to build men who follow after Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) and become more Christ-like (Rom. 8:29), from one degree to another (2 Cor. 3:18).  Christ is the only imitable way, truth and life (John 14:6).
Yet, the scriptures do command us to “consider your leaders and the outcome of their faith” (Hebrews 13:7) and to follow them, as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).  I’ve had ample opportunity to “consider…the outcome” of this pastor’s life as a sheep in his flock for 35 years.  And, at the risk of the criticism of romanticizing a fallible man, I offer these reflections of one man’s faithful life to encourage the Church to nurture our young men, so that it will flourish in their generation.
Set Christ apart in your heart by faith.
We must encourage our sons to live wholeheartedly for Christ.  There is no middle ground, no nuanced path. Indeed, the way is narrow and has only one gate. Our pastor would say to us, “Look to Christ” who is the “author and finisher of our faith” in all things (Heb. 12:2).  Our world holds many glittering distractions for a young man’s heart, but we must pray that our sons’ hearts esteem Christ above all else. When men learn to find their treasure in Christ alone, many worldly distractions fall away, scattered in dull comparison.  We must pray for our young men because this act of “setting apart” is a sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit alone, in His timing.  The Church must exercise patience, grace and grit to equip men to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
Have a vision to change the world.
We must encourage our young men to have a vision for their lives that extends beyond their personal gain, for the glory of God’s kingdom. Our pastor’s vision to change the world was not to have a world-renowned name for himself, but to lead, train and send men “into all the world” (Matt. 28:19) for Christ’s name.  As we foster interests and enable talents of our sons, we need to never stop encouraging them to think big and take risks for His glory and for the good of others.
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Westminster Kingdom Theology

 Is reality outside the church a common realm that is unrelated to the kingdom of Christ? No, the moral division in this life is not between the kingdom of Christ and a common realm considered as two static domains with diverse locations. The moral division in this life is between the kingdom of Christ and Satan’s kingdom considered as two dynamic domains that can penetrate any sphere of life. Both these kingdoms are defined by moral orientation and ultimate allegiance.

I was at a Presbytery meeting listening to the examination of a candidate for ordination. When asked, “What is the kingdom?” the candidate simply answered, “The church.” I was surprised by the brevity of the accepted answer. I wondered at the time if the candidate was implying that there are no senses in which the kingdom is a broader concept than the church. I was later told that the question and answer were based on Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2:
“The visible church … consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ…”
The examination was thorough overall, and I am grateful for those who do this work. I am also grateful that this exchange motivated me to examine this subject more thoroughly.
As a general rule, the current members of the visible church and the citizens of the kingdom now alive are the same people. There is this degree of identity within this limited context. That doesn’t mean that the kingdom and the church are identical in every way and in every context. There are different nuances to being under Christ’s royal reign and being part of the gathered assembly of the saints. There are also contexts in which the kingdom is a broader concept than the church because Christ’s royal authority extends beyond the assembly of the saints.
In its commentary on the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” the Westminster Shorter Catechism refers to the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. We are to pray “that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it” and “that the kingdom of glory may be hastened” (WSC 102). The kingdom of grace is here a reference to the visible church in this age, and the kingdom of glory, a reference to the invisible church in the full glory of a new creation after the second advent. The Westminster Confession of Faith mentions a related concept, the keys of the kingdom, which refer to the power to open and close access to gospel benefits and church privileges through administering the Word and through church discipline. This is a power wielded by church officers and not by civil magistrates (WCF 30.2; 23.5).
In their commentaries on the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” the Westminster catechisms mention a third kingdom: Satan’s kingdom, or the kingdom of sin and Satan (WSC 102; WLC 191). We are to pray for Satan’s kingdom to be destroyed. Jesus three times referred to Satan as the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and the Apostle John said that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). What are we praying to be destroyed, the world as a place or the sway of Satan over the world? I believe the latter, and this implies that the domain of Satan’s kingdom is not a static domain limited to any specific place but a dynamic domain defined by its moral orientation and ultimate allegiance. This understanding is further confirmed in that we are to pray the second petition “acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan…” (WLC 191). This is a reference not to humanity’s created nature but to humanity’s “corrupted nature, conveyed to all [our fallen first parents’] posterity descending from them by ordinary generation” (WCF 6.3). “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified…” (WCF 6.5).
The Westminster Larger Catechsim mentions one other kingdom in its commentary on the second petition, the kingdom of Christ’s power. We are to pray that Christ “would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends” (WLC 191). “These ends” include the destruction of Satan’s kingdom, the fulfillment of certain duties of the civil magistrate and the rule of Christ in Christian hearts. These are objectives that are not totally confined within the boundaries of the church. The effective range is “all the world.” The power in play here includes God’s providential control within history. The Triune God who created the world preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions (WSC 11). The question is whether God the Son now exercises this providential power as part of the power that was entrusted to Him as the God-Man when He was seated at the right hand of God the Father.
Some answer yes to this question. This means that the kingdom of grace, the kingdom of glory and the kingdom of Christ’s power are all complementary aspects of a unified kingdom under the royal authority of the resurrected, glorified and ascended Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father. This understanding is found in Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology:
“Christ has what theologians are accustomed to call his kingdom of power. As Theanthropos and as Mediator, all power in heaven and upon earth has been committed to his hands. … This universal authority is exercised in a providential control, and for the benefit of his Church. … Under the present dispensation, therefore, Christ is the God of providence. It is in and through and by Him that the universe is governed. This dominion or kingdom is to last until its object is accomplished, i.e., until all his enemies, all forms of evil, and even death itself is subdued. Then this kingdom, this mediatorial government of the universe, is to be given up. (1 Cor. xv.24.) (2.600-601; cf. 2.635-638)
The kingdom of Christ’s power is here defined as one of the temporary elements of Christ’s mediatorial kingdom. There are other temporary elements as well. “Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies” (WSC 26). The only element in this list that is not temporary and thus lasts into the kingdom of glory is Christ’s ruling His people as their King.
The positive answer to our question does not limit the power given to Jesus as the exalted God-Man to His power and authority over the church. This is consistent with the statement of the Westminster Larger Catechism that “Christ is exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God, in that as God-man he is advanced to the highest favor with God the Father, with all fulness of joy, glory, and power over all things in heaven and earth” (WLC 54). In addition, Jesus’ execution of His office as a king includes His “restraining and overcoming all [His people’s] enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel” (WLC 45). The Scriptural evidence also points in this direction. Hebrews 2:8 says, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him.” Ephesians 1:22 says, “And He put all things under His feet…” In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” 1 Corinthians 15:27 implies that all has been put under the rule of the exalted God-Man except God Himself:
27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.
This understanding is also consistent with the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is not only the Head of the church but also the ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5; cf. 2:27).
This understanding does not require a Lutheran explanation of Jesus’ exaltation. Many are familiar with the Lutheran teaching that the physical body of the exalted Christ experiences some form of omnipresence. Such thinking is not necessary to explain how Jesus administers the kingdom of His power as the exalted God-Man. One can explain the ministries of the exalted God-Man “without conversion, composition, or confusion” of the two natures (WCF 8.2). No one questions that Jesus exercises His priestly ministry as the exalted God-Man. Yet His priestly ministry also has challenges that are beyond finite human capabilities. As our heavenly high priest, Jesus hears untold numbers of prayers every minute of every day. This does not mean that the human mind of the exalted God-Man now possesses some form of omniscience. Similarly the exalted God-Man exercises His kingly ministry without His human nature possessing some form of omnipotence. The Westminster Larger Catechism explains how this is possible without confusing the two natures:
Q.40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person ?
A. It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.
Returning to our question as to whether God the Son now exercises this providential power as part of the power that was entrusted to Him as the God-Man when He was seated at the right hand of God the Father, some answer in the negative. This means that the kingdom of Christ’s power is not related to Christ’s current heavenly session and thus is in a different category from the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. With this understanding, God the Son exercises His providential power apart from His exalted humanity even as He did before His incarnation and exaltation.
In summary, Westminster kingdom theology includes two antithetical kingdoms, the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan. Within the kingdom of Christ are three divisions: the kingdom of grace, the kingdom of glory and the kingdom of Christ’s power. Some hold that all three of these are part of the mediatorial kingdom of the exalted God-Man. Others separate the kingdom of Christ’s power as a providential rule apart from the mediatorial kingdom. In any case, the exercise of the kingdom of Christ’s power “in all the world” implies that the concept of the kingdom is broader than the concept of the church, even though there are also senses in which the kingdom and the church can be identified.
This broader understanding of the kingdom is taught by others as well.
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