Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Holy, Holy, Holy-Our January Doxology By Corrie Schwab

When I was a child, if you had asked me to sing a doxology I would have used the following words: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Thousands of English-speaking congregations around the world treasure this poem and sing it regularly. Yet the term doxology does not refer to these specific words; it simply means a brief expression of praise. The word is derived from the Greek doxa, meaning glory, and logos, meaning word or speaking.

Verse 4 from “Holy, Holy, Holy!” makes an excellent doxology. Note how the traditional words cited above urge God’s earthly and heavenly creatures to praise him: “praise him all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly host.” When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy!” we join the chorus of creaturely voices already singing God’s praise on earth and in heaven.

“Holy, holy, holy” echoes the refrain of the cherubim John saw in his vision of heaven, endlessly praising God from before his throne: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:1). Isaiah similarly saw a vision of seraphim before God’s throne crying “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3). These passages lend even more of their imagery to verse 2 of the hymn, which not only pictures the cherubim and seraphim worshipping God, but also refers to “all the saints … casting down their golden crowns before the glassy sea”—the calm-as-crystal sea John describes in front of God’s throne (Rev. 4:6).

John’s “twenty-four elders” who “cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev. 4:10) represent all the saints—that is, the complete church past and present, two-times-twelve suggesting the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. As Andy Styer explained in week 5 of his Revelation class, Revelation 4 reminds us that God is receiving the worship he is due right now, in heaven, by the whole gathered church and all the angels. So when we sing our doxology to God, this is the congregation we are joining.

And what do we join all God’s works in calling him? “Merciful and mighty,” and—most emphatically—“holy, holy, holy.” We tend to think of holiness as synonymous with righteousness, but it more properly refers to being set apart: a holy object is set apart from common use, and a holy person is set apart from common existence (including sin). To call God “holy” is to acknowledge his transcendence and his absolute superiority to his creation.

Finally, who is the God we are praising? Our God has graciously identified himself to us in his three persons, and so we take care to address our praise to the Trinity explicitly.

Posted on January 11, 2019 and filed under Purposeful Praise.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Mark 10:43-45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

Mark 10:43-45: But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[1]

If anyone in the history deserved to be served it was Jesus Christ. As the eternal Son of God, “by whom all things were created,” He warranted the respect of all His creation. [2] But Jesus did not come demanding His due. Instead, He washed feet, healed the sick, and lived in poverty. [3] But His serving did not end there. As the end of Mark 10:45 indicates, Christ died to save His people from their sins. [4] Christ’s death was intensely painful, but more importantly He bore the just wrath of God the Father so that we could approach Him in peace. [5]

Why does this matter? First, if you follow Christ, there is a clear command to grow to be like Christ. [6] You will never do it perfectly in this life. [7] But as people in Christ we can grow in the fruits of the Spirit to minister to our families, communities, and the world at large. [8] Perhaps you, like me, can begin by patiently listening to everything your spouse has to say before responding. But what if someone does not follow Christ? Can she or he borrow Christian principles without Christian spirituality? The Holy Spirit is needed to have the benefits of Christian living, and you cannot have the Spirit of Christ without Christ. [9] Christian disciplines without Christ are merely morals. But there is another important matter: Christ will return. [10] He will save His people and require His due from those who are not His followers. [11] Will you serve the Servant peacefully or be forced into submission?

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Colossians 1:15-20.

[3] John 13:4, 13-15; Matthew 8:16; Luke 9:58, etc.

[4] Mark 14:24; John 10:15, 11:51-52; Romans 4:25, 5:15; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 1:4, 2:20; Titus 2:14, 3:4-8; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:10, 9:28; Revelation 5:9, etc.

[5] Isaiah 52:13-15; Matthew 26:67; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:34; Matthew 27:46; Hebrews 4:14-16.

[6] Philippians 2:1-11.

[7] Romans 7.

[8] Romans 6; Galatians 5:22-23.

[9] John 14-16; Acts 2:38-39; Romans 8; Galatians 4:4-7; etc.

[10] Matthew 24:23-31; John 14:6; Acts 1:10-11; Revelation 19:11-21.

[11] Hebrews 9:28; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Matthew 1:22-23: The Greatest Rescue

Matthew 1:22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). [1]

Matthew 1:20-21 teaches that salvation in Christ brings God’s elect freedom from the darkest evil and makes them possessors “of the greatest good.” [2] How did the Lord make this great rescue possible? By becoming man—as the Old Testament promised. [3] The virgin birth shows that God keeps His promises, and that salvation needed to come through a sinless redeemer. [4]

The Gospel is the greatest rescue because our sins are so awful. [5] The reality that the Son of God had to become human to redeem humans shows how far we all are from perfection. [6] The marvel of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1 is our sins had separated us from God, and the Triune God rescued us. [7]

So what does the Trinity’s redemption mean for us? Christ’s work demands that all people believe in Him exclusively for salvation from their sins, put sin to death, and live as God calls us to live. [8] Only in Jesus can we be forgiven and spared from God the Father’s wrath and have the Holy Spirit to live as Scripture calls us to live. [9] Cry out to the Triune God of Scripture, because He will hear and act. [10]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 133.

[3] Hendriksen, Matthew, 133 and 143-144.

[4] John Calvin. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke Vol. 1. Trams. William Pringle. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984, 98-99.

[5] Romans 5:6-11. For background, please see Genesis 3:1-15; Romans 3:9-23; 8:7-8.

[6] Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, 98-99.

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10.

[8] Luke 13:1-5; Acts 2:14-40; Romans 6; Galatians 5:16-26.

[9] Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:1-2, 9; Ephesians 1:17; Galatians 4:4-11.

[10] Psalm 116; 1 John 1:9-2:2.

Posted on December 27, 2018 and filed under Treasuring God's Truth.

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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What Child Is This: All Hail the … Baby? - By Corrie Schwab

It’s easy to forget just how incongruous Christ’s birth must have seemed at the time. The long-awaited Messiah, the son of David, the king with angel heralds—introduced as a helpless infant sleeping in a feeding trough! And of course that incongruity pales in comparison to the paradox that this human child was God himself.

The question-and-answer format used in “What Child Is This” serves to revive our sense of awe and wonder at Jesus’s identity. Each verse juxtaposes signs of Christ’s majesty with signs of his humble position. I’d like to focus on the carol’s second verse, which is packed with meaning.

Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?

Mean estate means a humble, lowly, or impoverished condition. This phrase brings to mind Mary’s hymn of praise (the Magnificat), in which she glorifies God for singling her out for blessing: “he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:48). It also brings to mind Paul’s meditation on Christ’s humility: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7). (More on this later.)

Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.

In normal syntax, this sentence might run something like this: “Fear, Good Christian, because the silent Word is pleading for sinners!” The Word refers to Christ, identified as the “ultimate truth” sought by Greek philosophers—though they conceived of the Word as an impersonal force. In his very personal role as the mediator between God and his people, Christ pleads our case before God’s judgment seat (Rom. 8:34). And what does Jesus plead? He pleads for God to show us mercy because he (Jesus) has satisfied God’s law on our behalf. This is why, even as a speechless baby, the then-silent Word was pleading for sinners by his righteous life.

Christ’s accomplishment should inspire fear, in the sense of reverential awe of God.

Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you …

Going back to Philippians 2, “And being found in human form, [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8). Becoming human wasn’t enough, becoming a helpless baby wasn’t enough, even becoming a poverty-stricken, homeless baby wasn’t enough. Jesus came to endure the most shameful death imaginable.

And now we come to the answer to the question posed in the first line of this verse: the reason for Christ’s “mean estate,” the explanation for the incongruity of God the Word as a human baby destined to be crucified, is that he bore all these things out of love “for me, for you.”

Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

Our response is decreed by Philippians 2: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 9–11). In the last line of the carol’s second verse, as in the last lines of the other two verses, we urge creation to join this chorus.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Hearts

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Matthew 1:20-21: Not Heartbreak But Heart Rescue

Matthew 1:20-21: But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”[1]

Joseph was likely heartbroken: the woman he loved was pregnant and the baby was not his. Matthew 1:19 helps us see Joseph’s struggle as he wants to protect Mary and honor God’s design for marriage. [2] The angel’s message would have been a huge comfort to Joseph because he could still marry his love. [3] But Joseph’s marital bliss would take second fiddle in the orchestra of God’s redemption: this unexpected pregnancy would result in the Trinity’s people being saved. Bible scholar William Hendriksen teaches, “To be saved means a. to be emancipated from the greatest evil: the guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin; and b. to be placed in possession of the greatest good.” [4]

The good news that Joseph received is good news for all who believe in Christ. If Jesus is your exclusive means of salvation and forgiveness from sin you are liberated from the greatest evil and own the greatest good. You no longer need to live in guilt nor sin’s control. [5] You have everything you need to live as God has called you to live. [6] If Jesus is not your only Redeemer, then you lack the greatest good and are still enslaved to sin. [7] When people who say they believe in Jesus walk unrepentant in sin, they are returning to the slavery from which God freed them. [8] We all must pray to the Spirit of Christ, asking for help so that we can be rescued from sin’s heartbreak to have Christ’s heart rescue—either for the first time for salvation, or as sinning saints fleeing their former master.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 130.

[3] Hendriksen, Matthew, 131.

[4] Hendriksen, Matthew, 133.

[5] Romans 6:1-4.

[6] 2 Peter 1:3.

[7] Romans 3:9-23; 8:5-8.

[8] Romans 6:15-23; Galatians 5:1-6.

Posted on December 20, 2018 .

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten: Praising God for the Mystery of the Incarnation - By Corrie Schwab

Near the close of the fourth century, a distinguished Roman official named Aurelius Prudentius chose to leave public life and spend his time writing poetry on Christian themes. The hymn we know as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is derived from one of these poems.

In this poem Prudentius meditates on the mystery of the incarnation and calls all creation to join in praise of Christ as eternal God, creator, prophesied savior, healer and miracle-worker, effectual sacrifice, victor over death, judge, and king. The hymn as we sing it today dwells on the same theme, though it has been heavily edited (not to mention abridged) over the centuries.

The first verse of our hymn emphasizes Christ’s nature as eternal God. “Of the Father’s love begotten ere [before] the worlds [planets—the universe] began to be” identifies Christ as the eternally begotten Son of God. The hymn goes on to call Christ Alpha and Omega, echoing Revelation 22:13: “I [Jesus] am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” By associating himself with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is asserting his deity—the history of the world is his story. By alluding to this passage and to Christ’s work as creator and sustainer of all things, Prudentius was explicitly rejecting the beliefs of the Arians, who held that Christ is not himself God but was rather God’s first creation.

The second verse, fittingly, focuses on Christ’s human nature through the miracle and mystery of his birth. (In a religious context, a mystery is something that we can’t fully understand, at least not yet.) The reference to Jesus revealing his sacred face is reminiscent of 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This, in turn, makes me think of God’s self-revelation to Moses, after Moses begged to be allowed to see God’s glory. Do you remember what God said? “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. … Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:20–23). Through the incarnation we can now experience the glory of God in Christ’s face.

The third verse draws together these two truths, Christ’s divinity and his humanity, by emphasizing that we’re talking about one person—“this is he”—who was anticipated by the angels and the prophets and merits praise by all creation now and “evermore.”

The fourth verse expands on this call to worship. Note all the entities that we are calling upon to praise Christ: “heights of heaven,” “angel hosts,” “all dominions,” “every voice.” And note what we are urging them to do: adore him, sing his praises, bow to him, extol him—loudly and “in concert” (all together)! When we sing this as a congregation, we’re getting a foretaste of the eternal heavenly worship we are destined to be part of forever: “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ ” (Rev. 5:13).

Finally, the hymn ends with a doxology to the Trinity, reaffirming Christ’s equality with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Numbers 23:19: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Numbers 23:19:

God is not man, that he should lie,

or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? [1]

If you have been following the past couple blogs you may have noticed a theme: God’s dependability. We are focusing on the Trinity’s trustworthiness because that truth has profound implications for life. If the Lord speaks the truth and sticks to that trust (as Numbers 23:19 teaches) then His children will receive His blessings, can trust His help, will dwell in eternal paradise with Him, and nothing can ever change that. [2]

How can we be sure about these promises? Because God has secured them with “his blood.” [3] Jesus was crucified so Hell-bound sinners (like me and you) can receive forgiveness for the sins we committed against the Holy God. [4] Romans 8:31-39 summaries the hope the Trinity’s trustworthiness gives us. May these truths lead us into praise and submission to our Savior: [5]

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture References will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Iain Duguid. Preaching the Word: Numbers: God’s Presences in the Wilderness. General Editor R. Kent Hughes. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 279-280.

[3] Duguid, Numbers, 279.

[4] Romans 5:8.

[5] Duguid, Numbers, 280.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Isaiah 41:10: Why Should I Trust God?

Isaiah 41:10:

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.[1]

Trusting God can be difficult. We do not physically see Him. When we pray we do not get audible responses. Why should we trust the Trinity? Isaiah 41:10 explains why. [2] The promise “I am with you” is the foundation we need to endure all of life and battle every temptation. [3] This foundation is trustworthy because the Lord Who spoke the world into being [4] promises “I will help you” in trials and tests. The reminder that the Triune God’s righteous right hand upholds us is a reminder of His “equity” and “fidelity . . . in persevering his people.” [5] Believers in Christ are to trust God because He is the faithful, true, and sure foundation for every situation.

But there is more: God is with us in the person of Christ. [6] When we embrace Jesus by faith as He is presented in the Gospel, we are promised that the Trinity “will never leave [us] nor forsake [us.]” [7] Why should we trust God? Because He is the just and faithful foundation Who has paved the way of salvation for us in Christ. [8]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Calvin. Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. 3. Trans. William Pringle. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co, 1981), 258.

[3] Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. 3, 258.

[4] Genesis 1-2.

[5] Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, Vol. 3, 259.

[6] Matthew 1:21-21.

[7] Joshua 1:5-9; Romans 8:28-39; Hebrews 13:5-6.

[8] John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 1:3-2:14.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Psalm 13:5-6: Faith’s Focus

Psalm 13:5-6:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,

because he has dealt bountifully with me. [1]

When you are troubled, where do your thoughts go? Does your mind focus on the situation? In the first four verses, King David repeatedly questions and cries out for God’s help. He sees his situation and asks how long the LORD “will hide [his] face from [him]” while his enemies overpower him. [2]

But David chooses to take his thoughts off his situation. [3] Bible scholar Derek Kidner teaches, “So the psalmist entrusts himself to this pledged love, and turns his attention not to the quality of his faith but to its object and its outcome, which he has every intention of enjoying.” [4] Christians do not hope in their ability to endure suffering, but in the One has been forsaken that His children may never be completely. [5]

Let’s go back the opening question: where do your thoughts go when you are in pain? Without the Triune God of the Bible, our best attempts to swallow pain are optimistic hopes for improvement. [6] Only in trusting in Christ’s perfect work for our salvation and forgiveness can we begin to have real hope in trouble. [7]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Psalm 13:1-4.

[3] Derek Kidner. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms. General Ed: D.J. Wiseman. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 78.

[4] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Vol. 1, 78.

[5] Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46; Romans 8.

[6] Psalm 16:4; Proverbs 1:8-19; Ephesians 2:11-14.

[7] Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:18-39, 15:13; 1 Peter 1:3

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel: It’s All in the Name - By Corrie Schwab

Since (at latest) the eighth century, Christian churches have been using a set of call-and-response chants known as the “O Antiphons” during the Advent season. Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering whether the O Antiphons come after the N Antiphons. But “O” in this case doesn’t signify a letter of the alphabet; rather, it’s a one-letter word that indicates direct address. Each chant addresses Christ using a title related to an Old Testament prophesy of the Messiah’s coming. For instance, the final chant begins with “O Emmanuel.”

The original seven Latin chants are still recited in Catholic churches during Advent, but many centuries ago five of them were converted into the hymn we know as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” with the verses rearranged to put Emmanuel first.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel” makes a great first line (and a great title) because it’s a play on words. Since Emmanuel means God with us, the first line is essentially calling on God-with-us to come to us: the answer is in the request. The name Emmanuel first appears in the prophesy of Isaiah 7:14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

The hymn’s second verse begins “O come, O come, thou Lord of might” and goes on to highlight Christ’s identity as God the majestic lawgiver. Lord in English (and the corresponding dominus in Latin) is usually used to translate two of God’s names: his title Adonai, which indicates his sovereignty and power, and his name Yahweh, which declares his self-sufficiency. The Latin version of our hymn actually uses the word Adonai. The prophesy in view, however, seems to be Isaiah 33:22, where Lord is a translation of Yahweh: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.”

The third verse calls Christ “Rod of Jesse.” Rod here means shoot or branch: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). But the English translation also lets us envision the rod as something that can physically beat down Satan’s tyranny. Jesse, of course, was King David’s father, so this title indicates that Christ is the heir of David, rightful king of God’s people. By referring to Jesse rather than David, though, Isaiah not only states that the Messiah will be David’s heir, but also suggests that he will be at least as important as David.

The fourth verse refers to Christ as Dayspring and highlights his role as comforter. Dayspring is a delightfully picturesque word for the dawn, and the rest of the verse reflects Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

The fifth and final verse begins “O come, thou Key of David,” and asks Christ to bring us safely home. Key of David refers to Isaiah 22:22, where Isaiah prophesies about God’s servant, a man named Eliakim: “I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” A further reference to the key of David in Revelation 3:7 makes it clear, however, that Eliakim prefigures Christ, “the holy one, the true one,” who has ultimate authority over who enters God’s house.

The refrain at the end of each verse switches from addressing Christ to addressing Israel (i.e., God’s people): “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” Again, calling Christ Emmanuel reminds us that he is already with us even as we ask him to come. Indeed, the season of Advent brings into sharp focus the already-not-yet state of our Christian life: we anticipate Christ’s second coming even while we remember how he already arrived and redeemed us, just as we long to fully experience God’s kingdom even while we know we’re already living in it.

And what gives us assurance that Christ will come again and fulfill all the promises about him? It’s in his nature—in his very name.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Hearts

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Lamentations 3:24-26: Stability

Lamentations 3:24-26

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

            The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul who seeks him.

            It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the Lord. [1]

As we continue studying Lamentations, we continue seeing how to have true stability. Lamentations 3:24-26 teaches that when God is the object of our hope, we have a sure foundation for life. [2] When the Lord remains the focus and security for our lives, we have abiding hope. [3]

But setting our hope on God is an incredibly difficult thing. [4] I do not know about you, but red lights can be frustrating for me: I do not like waiting for something I did not plan on. How can I, or you, expect to put my hope in God when something so small can so easily derail our focus?

Sincerely thank God that in Christ we have the perfect sacrificial Lamb. [5] Jesus never misplaced His hope, even when facing the cross. [6] Because Jesus endured, we also have hope for enduring trials and growing to make God our hope. [7] As we mature in faithfulness to God, we will see more of how He gives us stability. [8] Refusing Christianity is to refuse the Almighty’s stability that produces endurance in all kinds of trials. [9] Christians: in your pursuit of faithfulness to grow in hope, do not take the world’s counterfeit hopes that lead away from true hope. [10] Non-Christians: please consider what you hold on to for stability—if it does not have the backing of the Triune God Who created you, how long will it keep you stable?

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Calvin. Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5. Trans. John Owen. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1981), 408-409.

[3] Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5, 409.

[4] Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5, 409.

[5] Hebrews 8-10.

[6] Luke 22:42.

[7] Hebrews 4:14-17.

[8] Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5, 410.

[9] James 1:2-5.

[10] Ephesians 2:11-13.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Hearts

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Lamentations 3:21-23: When Grief Strikes

Lamentations 3:21-23:

But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

            The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

            they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. [1]

You may know, or even be, someone who strikes at God when grief strikes. After all, God could have prevented your pain, right? Lamentations gives us a window into the Lord’s view of suffering. This poem is written with the destruction of Jerusalem in mind. [2] If you have ever lost everything you could empathize with Lamentation’s author. But when grief strikes the author, he healthily acknowledges it while bringing to memory the hope he has in God. [3] If the lamenter focuses on his situation, he will slip into despair and rage against his only hope: the Triune Lord. [4] The Father’s “incomprehensible and wonderful kindness” in ordaining our weaknesses and circumstances to develop love for Him is our hope in “despair.” [5]

 But there is more. Do you know that God laments over the world’s brokenness? [6] He lamented enough that He went to the cross to deal with it. Christ’s sufferings ensure that His children will not eternally suffer. [7] The Son’s sufferings rescue us from despair so that we can grieve realistically and healthily. Embracing the Trinity found in the Bible is embracing hope for all circumstances.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] The Reformation Study Bible. General Editor R.C. Sproul. (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 1131-1132.

[3] John Calvin. Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5. Trans. John Owen. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1981),

[4] Calvin, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5., 406.

[5] Calvin, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. 5., 407.

[6] Ezekiel 18; 23 and 32; Psalm 34:18; John 11:35.

[7] Romans 8.

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Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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1 Thessalonians 2:13: Self Help Recovery - By Charles Fox

1 Thessalonians 2:13

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 

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If you prowl the aisles at Barnes and Noble, or, if you prefer virtual shopping, the pages of Amazon, or even if you watch day-time talk shows, you will be repeatedly confronted with our culture’s passion for “self-help” books and programs. The fact that everyone is sooooo aware they need help at all is indicative of the reality of sin in both individual lives and our culture. The cultural message, in contrast, is one of petulant independence and self-sufficiency, which we know is just wishful thinking. Self help appeals to us, we like it, it serves our pride. We want to do it all ourselves, because, as another blind cultural assertion asserts, rearing its ugly head, we want to believe that everything we need comes from within, and we can trust our own personal strength and moral compass. Human culture is committed (call it enslaved) to self-help, which is a story whose real title is, “Humanity Serves up its Own Demise.”

The fact is that “The <<human>> heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9.) If we select some “inner voice” as our authority, we will produce a life of utter selfishness and deceit. The best we can hope for is that somehow, if we’re lucky, we won’t hurt others in our pursuit of helping ourselves.

In contrast, however, Paul commends the believers at Thessalonica, thanking God, because of the voice they choose to follow. Paul is rightfully exultant because these faithful hearers of his message (the gospel) received the Truth “as it really is, the word of God.”

So, let’s go back to Barnes and Noble. We turn the corner into the Self-Help aisle, and the Bible is sitting on the shelf. We open it, and we realize that this isn’t just “Truth” as an abstraction. The words in this book are direct from the manufacturer, the Living Person who made you, and created the entire cosmos; the One who understands your real needs and failings. These words are not mere opinion, but God himself is speaking the words you need to hear because they are the words God wants you to hear. His words are deliberate, specific, personal and powerful. Paul makes it clear that this powerful word is “at work” in you. The help that comes from God is not from within you, but it is help from God himself. Instead of promoting change from somewhere within the heart of a sinner, God’s words transform us with a purpose. With his word, God himself uses his might and wisdom to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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2 Timothy 3:15-17: Navigation Our Cultural Soup - By Charles Fox

In preparation, read 2 Timothy 3 – the whole chapter

2 Timothy 3:15-17: And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Antifa, Border walls, Caravans of illegals; this is the Alphabet Soup of difficulties that will confront you no matter which news source you choose these days. Division, Election fraud, Fake news; we are bombarded with an endless assault of concerns and threats from a cacophony of voices and experts and pundits and celebrities clamoring for our attention and trust. The voices are urgent – the call to action is unmistakable, and we need to choose – NOW! Our natural tendency is to take sides, somewhere, and align ourselves with what we consider, “The Voice of Sense,” which tends to be, as often as not, politically driven and as variable as the tides. Certainly parties and interest groups tend to have a general alignment, and many solutions suggested have merit and deserve consideration. Nevertheless. it is dangerous to put our confidence in political parties and causes which focus on symptoms and behaviors, but not the cause.

In our passage, Paul is instructing Timothy how to navigate through life, because, “in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1) His advice to Timothy has two sides; Paul reveals to us the true cause of our world’s difficulties, and a guaranteed solution to navigate and overcome those difficult times when they come.

To examine the ways that we as Christians should live faithfully in the midst of human culture is an issue that would break the bounds of this simple blog, or even a dozen blogs. Summed up in a phrase, our call includes upholding justice and truth in a world of sin, deceit, and selfishness. Our passage indicates that doing so comes with a challenge; “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We can expect this because our world’s problems can’t be solved through headlines or legislation. Personal and cultural salvation are found in a life transformed by Truth and light, but we live in a world committed to the darkness.

The Bible explains why the times are difficult; and the painful focus is the wickedness of the human heart. Verses 2 through 9 present a massive litany of human sins; heart attitudes, really, that are at the core of every social ill; people who are lovers of self and money, proud, disobedient, treacherous, avoiding the truth, lovers of pleasure to mention a small part. The list is devastating, but it rivets us on this glorious truth; we can’t solve cultural ills through new programs or laws through parties or social reform. (Although getting those right is helpful and as people of faith, we are called to pursue what is called primary justice – establishing right (just) relationships between people.) The solution comes through the transformation of the hearts of men and women through the power of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ! No election will ever make anything great outside of the truth and justice, and renewed life, found in being united to Jesus by faith.

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This is the message that Paul uses to encourage Timothy. He says that Timothy should, “continue in what he learned and firmly believed… the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Those “sacred writings,” which Paul goes on to describe, are “breathed out by God” himself. And at this triumphant blast, we must pause.

God breathed! There are numerous pieces of nearly infinite depth to consider here; let’s ponder three. The first is that the Word of God, the Bible, is inspired by God. God himself, out of love for us and earnestly desiring that we understand his plan and know who he is, expressed himself through his prophets and apostles with the exact words and message he intended. Second, the word of God is profitable in penetrating and transforming ways so that any person who listens and obeys will be equipped for every good work. All that you need, all that the world needs, every answer to every sorrow and ill can be found in God’s Word. In the shifting and unsteady waves of public discourse, we are like a tempest tossed skiff, but the Word of God is the anchor that holds in the solid soil beneath the water, providing us with a solid confidence that we will never be able to find in political causes or in any other source of authority. The third is a powerful mystery; God’s Word has power because, alive and active, the Spirit of Christ dwells within the Word and indwells us when we feast on His word. The Spirit is the power of God who fills us and makes us alive and capable as we trust and act. This is the power we need to overthrow the headlines and bring hope in troubled times.

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Psalm 1:5-6: Consequences

Psalm 1:5-6:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish. [1]

The previous blogs on Psalm 1 have been aimed mostly at Christians—calling them to guard their minds and live consistently with their calling from Christ. Let’s play Devil’s advocate: what happens if people do not to train their minds to follow God’s Word and live fruitful lives? John Calvin argues that those who disregard Psalm 1’s instructions will lack happy lives and face destruction. [2] Calvin teaches clean consciences from Christ are the key to true and enduring happiness, despite life’s promised troubles. [3] Further, while the wicked may seem to escape God’s wrath, and succeed in subduing their consciences, they will face the Triune God’s judgment. [4]

Why would you not want true happiness and justification? If you are an unbeliever you can cry out to Christ as your only Savior and way to God. [5] By trusting Christ as your sole means of forgiveness you will grow in holiness, develop in seeing every trial as a joy, and have access to heaven. [6] Christians: when we fail to abide by Psalm 1 we are living as if we do not want the gifts Jesus bought us with His blood. Holy Trinity, in your mercy please help all of us grow in love for you.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Calvin. Commentary on the Book of Psalms: Translated from the Original Latin, and Collated with the Author’s French Version, Vol. 1. Trans. James Anderson. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1981), 7.

[3] Calvin, Psalms, Vol. 1, 7.

[4] Calvin, Psalms, Vol. 1, 8.

[5] 1 John 1:9.

[6] James 1:1-5; Revelation 21:1-8.

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Psalm 1:3-4: Faithfulness

Psalm 1:3-4: He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

       that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

       In all that he does, he prospers.

       The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away. [1]

Psalm 1 serves as a guardian Psalm, with verses 1-2 calling people to walk on God’s path and guard their minds. [2] Verses 3-4 picture people on Christ’s path as “a luxuriant tree, ever blooming.” [3] The fact that this tree is “planted” shows God’s intentionallity and care of the tree. [4]

But the defining character and difference between the tree and the chaff is fruit. Charles Spurgeon teaches, “fruitfulness is an essential quality of a gracious man.” [5] If we claim to follow Christ, we must persevere in His way, not merely assent to His teaching. [6] May we who serve Jesus drink from His streams of grace, and be faithful where we are planted.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted somewhere else.

[2] Derek Kidner. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms. General Ed: D.J. Wiseman. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 47 and 48.

[3] The Reformation Study Bible. General Editor R.C. Sproul. (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 739.

[4] C.H. Spurgeon. The Treasury of David, Containing An Original Exposition Of The Book Of Psalms; A Collection Of Illustrative Extracts From the Whole Ranger Of Literature; A Series Of Homiletical Hints Upon Almost every Verse; And Lists Of Writers Upon Each Psalm In Three Volumes, Vol., 1: Psalm I To LVII. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Pub, 1876), 7.

[5] Spurgeon, The Treasure of David, 7.

[6] Bruce K. Waltke. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 286-287. See also James 2:14-26.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

Psalm 1:1-2: Guard Your Mind

Psalm 1:1-2: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. [1]

If you wanted to protect your house, one measure you might take is to hire a guard to stand outside your door. Psalm 1 functions as a guard at the front door of the Psalms, warning that we must embrace God’s truth or face “ultimate judgement.” [2] The three negatives in verse one warn against departing God’s ways, and verse two reflects the importance of absorbing “Scripture as a whole” to stay on the LORD’s path, off the way to destruction. [3]

Because Psalm 1 is God’s truth, ignoring its instructions leads to condemnation. [4] Minds that reject Scripture are doomed. [5] The “law” in verse two is the whole system of God’s teaching and faithful living. [6] The consequences for disregarding the Bible’s covenantal law by the power of the Holy Spirit are catastrophic for believer and unbeliever alike, though true Christians are spared from eternal damnation. [7] Therein is the issue: we all fail! Our only hope is to cling to the one who faithfully lived out Psalm 1: Jesus Christ. If we trust in Him as our only means of forgiveness from the Father’s just wrath, then we can grow in His counsel, maturing in His way, as we await the day when we will sit with Him in glory. [8]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Derek Kidner. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms. General Ed: D.J. Wiseman. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 47.

[3] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48.

[4] Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:8, etc.

[5] Proverbs 1:1-7; John 14:6.

[6] J.E. Hartley. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Vol. 2. Eds: R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Logos Bible Software, 403-405.

[7] Matthew 7:21-23; Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:5-8; Matthew 12:33-37; Hebrews 3:12-19, etc.

[8] Philippians 1:6; Revelation 22:1-5.

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James 1:22: Please Verify

James 1:22: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [1]

 Good security guards require people to verify that they are who they claim to be. A major way to know that someone is a Christian is that he or she lives according to Scripture. [2] If we identify with Christianity but fail to obey God’s Word, we lie to ourselves and deny ourselves the opportunity to grow in Christ. [3]

 While works do not save,[4] their enduring absence in people’s lives is condemning. [5] James 1:22 specifically warns that “[t]heology must lead to practice; faith must lead to deeds (2:24).” [6] You cannot claim to follow Jesus or truly know Him if your life is not submitted to His Scripture. [7] All of us struggle and fall. [8] The Trinity helps us repent and grow in His likeness. [9] Do not hesitate to come to Christ, as a struggling but growing saint, or for the first time in conversion.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Daniel M. Doriani. Reformed Expository Commentary: James Series Eds: Richard D. Philips and Philip Graham Ryken. Testament Eds: Iain M. Duguid and Daniel M. Doriani. (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2007), 51.

[3] Doriani, James, 51. See also 1 John 1:5-10

[4] Romans Galatians 2:11-21, Ephesians 2:8-10.

[5] Luke 6:46-49; Romans 2:13, 3:21-28; and James 2:14-20. For some individuals that may qualify as exceptions please see Luke 23:39-43 and The Westminster Standards: The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism. (Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications, 2011), The Confession, Chapter X, section 1.

[6] Doriani, James, 51.

[7] 1 John 2:1-17.

[8] Romans 3:9-23; 7:21-25.

[9] The Westminster Standards: The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, and the Shorter Catechism, chapter XIII.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Romans 13:14: Transformed

Romans 13:14: But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.[1]

John Murray teaches that to properly understand Romans 13:13-14, we must understand Romans 6:1-10, because Christian conversion leads to change. [2] When people become believers, they are transformed by God’s glory. [3] The Trinity’s transformational work equips Christians to move from evil and become more like Christ. [4]

Further, Romans 13:13-14 “is what the Bible urges upon everyone.” [5] These verses call Christians to continually grow to be like Christ. [6] They also plead with those who do not believe to be dressed in Christ’s righteousness by trusting that His life, work, and resurrection purchased forgiveness for His children. [7]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Logos Bible Software 6. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Murray. The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition And Notes Vol. II. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co. 1965), 170.

[3] Romans 6:4.

[4] James Montgomery Boice. Romans: The New Humanity, Romans 12-16, Vol. 4. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books a division of Baker Book House Co, 1995), 1719.

[5] Boice, Romans, Vol. 4, 1719.

[6] Murray, Romans, Vol. II, 170.

[7] Isaiah 61:10, 2 Corinthians 5:21

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Ephesians 4:29: Well Worded

Ephesians 4:29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. [1]

 We easily see the “do not” in this verse, but there is much more than a negative. Paul commands believers to “edify” each other, which is “to carry [each other] forward” using words of “grace, comfort, advice, and everything that aids the salvation of the soul.” [2]

 Imagine how different life would be if words were aimed at benefitting souls. No generic well-wishing or simplistic sympathies, but genuine, timely communication pointing people to Christ. How do we know Paul wants people to see Christ? The best way to give grace and build someone up is to be used by God to help make Christ the centerpiece of their life. [3] Further, Christ alone had perfect speech, [4] the speech we should emulate. [5] Accordingly, if we want eternally meaningful interactions, we must speak in ways that highlight and “imitate” Christ. [6] Christians: are our words life giving or life taking? Christ-less hearts (in people who have not trusted Christ to forgive their sins) communicate corruption rather than grace. [7]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society, 2016). Logos Bible Software. All Scripture References will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Calvin. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians. Trans. William Pringle. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co, 1981), 300.

[3] John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 1:3-6, 2:1-10; 1 John 4:7-21.

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5, 3:8.

[5] Ephesians 5:4; Colossians 3:8; 3:16; 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

[6] 1 Corinthians 11:1.

[7] Matthew 12:34.