In all of the evil and unpleasantness of living in a world stained by sin, for the Christian, God never intends any of it for evil. Isn’t that such a comfort? That our God is able to take all of those things that we wish most to avoid, and mean them for our good. We can trust that, even in the real evils of the world, God is always intending them for good. So you have this great calamity that has befallen you. Do you trust that God is keeping you from all evil?
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life (Psalm 121:7).
As I read these words, I looked around at my weak, sick, coughing children, and my miserable wife. We had been battling something not exactly the flu, but close enough, for about a week. We all felt terrible and some of the kids were running some pretty scary high temperatures. I was trying to conduct the most enthusiastic family time I could muster. “The LORD will keep you from all evil,” I said again. “But what about us? What about our sickness? Why didn’t the Lord keep us from this?”
We can just glide right past these words, appreciate the poetry and beauty of the thought, but really not be paying attention. Will He really keep us from all evil? Then why all of this… evil? Why the sickness and the sadness? Why the death and decay around us? I asked the boys why we were sick, and my oldest, quicker than I’m ever ready for said, “Adam.” Great answer. Adam sinned and plunged the world into all of this death and sickness (Rom 5:12). “But God said He would keep us from all evil. Did He fail to keep His word?” “No!” they shouted emphatically. “So why are we sick?” I’ll tell you how I answered them.
Just because we love Jesus and are saved, does not mean that bad things won’t happen to us.
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By Keith Mathison — 4 months ago
The relationship between Israel and the church in the New Testament is not always easy to discern, but it can be understood if we remember the differences between national Israel and true Israel in both the Old Testament and the New, and if we keep in mind what Paul teaches in Romans 11.
One of the most common questions asked by students of the Bible concerns the relationship between Israel and the church. We read the Old Testament, and it is evident that most of it concerns the story of Israel. From Jacob to the exile, the people of God is Israel, and Israel is the people of God. Despite the constant sin of king and people leading to the judgment of exile, the prophets look beyond this judgment with hope to a time of restoration for Israel. When we turn to the New Testament, the same story continues, and Israel is still in the picture. Jesus is described as the one who will be given “the throne of his father David” and the one who “will reign over the house of Jacob [Israel] forever” (Luke 1:32–33). He is presented as the One the prophets foresaw.
The first to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah are Israelites—Andrew, Peter, James, John. But in the Gospels, we also hear Jesus speak of building His church, and we see growing hostility between the leaders of Israel and Jesus. We hear Jesus speak of destroying the tenants of the vineyard and giving it to others (Luke 20:9–18). In the book of Acts, the spread of the gospel to the Samaritans and gentiles leads to even more conflict with the religious leaders of Israel. So, is Israel cast aside and replaced by this new entity known as the “church”?
There are those who would say yes, but the answer is not that simple, for we also run across hints that God is not finished with the nation of Israel. At the end of His declaration of woes on the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, “You will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:39). In the Olivet Discourse, He speaks of Jerusalem being trampled underfoot “until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). In Acts, Peter says to a Jewish audience:
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.Acts 3:19—21
Finally, Paul says things about Israel that seem to preclude total rejection. Speaking of Israel, he writes, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Rom. 11:1).
In order to understand the relationship between Israel and the church as described in the New Testament, we will need to look at the question in the context of the different answers Christians have given over the years. The traditional dispensationalist view maintains that God has not replaced Israel with the church but that God has two programs in history, one for the church and one for Israel. Traditional dispensationalism also maintains that the church consists only of believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture. The church as the body of Christ does not include Old Testament believers. Progressive dispensationalism has modified some of these views, but the traditional dispensationalist view remains very popular. Some covenant theologians have adopted a view that many dispensationalists describe as “replacement theology.” This is the idea that the church has completely replaced Israel. Jews may still be saved on an individual basis by coming to Christ, but the nation of Israel and the Jews as a people no longer have any part to play in redemptive history.
A careful study of the New Testament reveals that both of these interpretations of the relationship between Israel and the church are wanting. The relationship between the people of God in the Old Testament and the people of God in the New Testament is better described in terms of an organic development rather than either separation or replacement. During most of the Old Testament era, there were essentially three groups of people: the gentile nations, national Israel, and true Israel (the faithful remnant). Although the nation of Israel was often involved in idolatry, apostasy, and rebellion, God always kept for Himself a faithful remnant—those who trusted in Him and who would not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant, this true Israel, included men such as David, Joash, Isaiah, and Daniel, as well as women such as Sarah, Deborah, and Hannah. There were those who were circumcised in the flesh and a smaller number who had their hearts circumcised as well. So, even in the Old Testament, not all were Israel who were descended from Israel (Rom. 9:6).
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the faithful remnant (true Israel) included believers such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25–38). During Jesus’ adult ministry, true Israel was most visible in those Jewish disciples who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Those who rejected Jesus were not true Israel, regardless of their race. This included many of the scribes and Pharisees. Though they were physically Jews, they were not true Israel (Rom. 2:28–29). True Israel became def ined by union with the true Israelite—Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29).
On the day of Pentecost, the true Israel, Jewish believers in Jesus, was taken by the Holy Spirit and formed into the nucleus of the New Testament church (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit was poured out on the true Israel, and the same men and women who were part of this true Israel were now the true new covenant church. Soon after, gentiles began to become a part of this small group.
This is an extremely important point to grasp because it explains why there is so much confusion regarding the relationship between the church and Israel. The answer depends on whether we are talking about national Israel or true Israel. The church is distinct from national Israel, just as the true Israel in the Old Testament was distinct from national Israel even while being part of national Israel. The remnant group was part of the whole but could also be distinguished from the whole by its faith.
However, if we are talking about true Israel, there really is no distinction. The true Israel of the Old Testament became the nucleus of the true church on the day of Pentecost. Here the analogy of the olive tree that Paul uses in Romans 11 is instructive. The tree represents the covenant people of God—Israel. Paul compares unbelieving Israel to branches that have been broken off from the olive tree (Rom. 11:17a). Believing gentiles are compared to branches from a wild olive tree that have been grafted in to the cultivated olive tree (Rom. 11:17b–19). The important point to notice is that God does not cut the old tree down and plant a new one (replacement theology). Neither does God plant a second new tree alongside the old tree and then graft branches from the old tree into the new tree (traditional dispensationalism). Instead, the same tree exists across the divide between Old and New Testaments. That which remains after the dead branches are removed is the true Israel. Gentile believers are now grafted into this already existing old tree (true Israel/the true church). There is only one good olive tree, and the same olive tree exists across the covenantal divide.
By Cameron Cole — 1 year ago
One can view theological concepts as academic, arcane doctrine. Theology can seem so dry and lifeless at times. But theology breathes and becomes more than just information in a confession or textbook when it becomes the story of your life and when it constitutes bread in a desert.
Imagining the Worst
Like most people, my mind sometimes wanders to places of doom, to places where my imagination entertains (what I perceive to be) the Worst. In my adult life, I had made this mental journey enough times that my Worst had developed with vivid detail.
My Worst was likely the same as that of many parents: the persistent fear that my child would die. But my Worst had a second layer for me.
As a youth pastor, I worried that my faith did not possess enough fortitude. God had given me a relatively comfortable life. Any white American male like me, raised in an affluent, stable Christian family, for whom friendships, sports, school, and career had come easily, surely would believe that God is good. I feared that if my Worst occurred, I would lose my faith. I would turn my back on God and walk away from Christianity, and, consequently, my spiritual failure would shatter the faith of hundreds of students to whom I had proclaimed the promises of Christ for over a decade.
My Worst, indeed, entered my life as tragically as I ever imagined it could.
This book considers 12 life-giving truths that Christians can cling to in the midst of tragedy—truths that brought vital hope and comfort to the author when grieving the sudden loss of his 3-year-old son.
On Sunday, November 10, 2013, finding my three-year-old son’s lost Lego ax prompted the most magical conversation of my life. After recovering his coveted toy, my three-year-old son, Cam, exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!”
Out of nowhere, my little boy started to ask serious spiritual questions. He asked if we could go see Jesus. When I explained that, while we couldn’t see him, Jesus is always with us, he asked if we could drive to see Jesus. After explaining to Cam that we would see Jesus when we got to heaven, my son turned his attention to heaven.
Cam asked if we would see Adam and Eve in heaven. He then declared, “I’m not gonna eat that apple.”
My wife and I reminded Cam that we all “eat the apple.” We reminded him that God sent Jesus because we all make the same mistake as Adam and Eve did: we all sin.
The conversation ended with my son saying, “Jesus died on cross. Jesus died my sins.” In the minutes following that sweet proclamation, my wife, Lauren, and I realized that we had witnessed the dearest dream of every Christian parent—our son had professed faith in Christ.
That night I went on a short, overnight campout with a leader and some students. I awoke on Monday, November 11, to three missed calls from my wife in the span of a minute. I then encountered a voice of terror.
My Worst had entered.
My wife pleaded for me to drive to the children’s hospital as soon as possible but offered no explanation. I pressed her for more information until she reluctantly delivered the worst news of my life: “Cam is dead.”
Lauren had found our perfectly healthy child lifeless in his bed. Paramedics were attempting to resuscitate him, but she assured me that it was futile. In what remains a medical mystery, our three-year-old child inexplicably died in his sleep, something that occurs to one in a hundred thousand children over the age of one. My child’s profession of faith was the last meaningful conversation I ever would have with him on earth. Our son’s life had ended in the blink of an eye.
The first half of my dreadful daydreams had become a reality. I had imagined this moment hundreds of times. Here was the point of departure between God and me. Here was that moment when my faith would crumble. In my imagination of doom, here was when I would curse God, resign from ministry, and pursue a life of self-interest as a bitter, faithless man.
But the Lord put a word in my mouth that surprised me. When Lauren delivered the tragic news, I said to her, “Lauren, Christ is risen from the dead. God is good. This doesn’t change that fact.” God gave me faith and hope while I stood squarely in the middle of my Worst.
The Narrative of Hope
That initial proclamation stood as the first of many moments of hopefulness as I discovered that God had been preparing me for such a tragedy during my entire life. Knowing that this day would come, God used lessons from Bible studies, conversations, theological reading, sermon podcasts, and previous trials to build a foundation that would stand when an overpowering wave of tragedy struck my life.
Throughout the journey of my worst nightmare—my descent into a dark, sad valley—the Holy Spirit would remind me of truths that comforted my soul and sustained my life. Very often in the month after Cam died, I would say to my wife or a friend that I could not conceive how anyone could survive such pain if they did not believe certain biblical principles.
How could a person survive if one did not know the gospel? How could one subsist if one did not accept the sovereignty of God? How would one function if one did not know the possibility of joy in suffering? How could one move forward without the hope of heaven?
There are some truths that mean nothing to a person who is gasping for existential air. When tears seem to flow continuously in your life, the nuances of the Trinity or the particulars of a certain end-times theory do nothing to comfort. However, other biblical concepts can walk a person back off the metaphorical or literal ledge when jumping seems so reasonable and appealing.
One night I sat down and wrote down all of these comforting theological principles as a personal creed. I began to realize that the Lord had embedded these individual truths in my heart that collectively constructed a narrative under which I could live during my Worst. This narrative gave me hope.
The road ahead of me is long and painful, but Christ has defeated sin and death through the cross. I can face reality and make this journey, because on the other side of the cross is the resurrection. In the same way that Christ rose from the dead, so too can my life emerge from the darkness into light. The gospel tells me that I cannot redeem myself; only Christ can heal and free my heart. My only hope is to trust him to do so. My tragedy has not disrupted the narrative of my life. My story remains God’s story, and that is a story of redemption.
By Mark Ross — 11 months ago
Matthew tells us that Jesus is the son of Abraham, by which he means not merely that Jesus is a descendant of Abraham, but that He is the promised seed of Abraham, the One in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18; 26:4). This “all nations” reach of the salvation that Jesus brings is very subtly introduced in the genealogy (Matt. 1:2–6) by mentioning four women: three of whom are gentiles (Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth) and the last of whom is the wife of a gentile (Uriah the Hittite, 2 Sam. 11:3). Then, after the birth of Jesus, we find that God has summoned gentile wise men by a star to come worship the One who is born the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1–12, alluding to Isa. 60:1–7). When it comes time for this King to begin His public ministry, it is done in “Galilee of the Gentiles” for it is an “all nations” salvation that He brings (Matt. 4:12–17, fulfilling Isa. 9:1–2).
The first verse in Matthew’s gospel tells us three important things about Jesus that sum up a great deal of what follows.
1. Matthew is about Jesus, the Christ.
Matthew is a book about Jesus “the Christ,” that is, the promised Anointed One of the Old Testament, the Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 2:2; Dan. 9:25ff; see also Matt. 1:16–18; 2:4; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 23:8–10). Matthew’s gospel continues the story of salvation revealed in the Old Testament and is, most appropriately, our doorway into the New Testament. Matthew repeatedly refers to the Old Testament, even writing in its style.1
Matthew is, however, more than just a continuation of that story; it is its fulfillment—a point that is made with great emphasis. Ten times Matthew points out that what happened in the life of Jesus is the fulfillment of what the prophets had spoken (Matt. 1:22ff; 2:15; 2:17ff; 2:23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). Similarly, there are ten miracles in chapters 8–9 that demonstrate Jesus has complete power to bring His people the healing and salvation promised by the prophets (Matt. 8:17, citing Isa. 53:4; cf. Isa. 35:5). Matthew highlights this by his distinctive way of reporting on Jesus’ miracles, “healing every disease and every affliction” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 10:1). It was not enough for him just to say, “every disease and affliction,” for he wanted to underscore that nothing could thwart His power—so, he repeats the adjective twice, “healing every disease and every affliction.” By the frequent use of the name “son of David” in connection with healings done by Jesus (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30), he shows that His kingdom is one of complete blessing and deliverance for His people. Truly, He is the anointed Servant (Matt. 12:18–21, citing Isa. 42:1–3), the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the fulfillment of all that the prophets foretold.
2. Matthew is about Jesus, the son of David.
Jesus Christ is also the promised son of David, the One whose kingdom would have no end (2 Sam. 7:13; Ps. 89:3ff; Isa. 9:7).