Everyone wants better. No one wants change.

Jonathan Fields:

People want a better economy, but nobody’s willing to share in the financial hit it’ll take to get us back on track.

People want better schools, but nobody wants to rock the system, the unions, the teachers, the role of parents.

People want lower health care costs, but nobody wants to endure the changes to medicine, law and bureaucracy it’ll take to get it.

People want lower insurance, but nobody wants to adopt the changes in lifestyle and behavior that’ll drive it.

People want to be thinner, healthier and happier, but nobody wants to own actions it takes to get there.

People want lower gas prices, but nobody wants to radically shift their consumption patterns.

People want homeless brothers and sisters off the street, as long as it’s N.I.M.B.Y.

Everyone wants to own the result, nobody wants to own the process.

Read the rest here and add:

People want to go to heaven, but nobody’s (well, few are) willing to walk the narrow path of daily repentance from sin and faith in Christ alone.

How many animals will save my soul?

Yesterday I highlighted the common confusion that surrounds the place and meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices. So what did they mean? What did they accomplish? Three crystal clear answers are provided in Hebrews 10 verses 1-4.

The OT sacrifices shadowed good things to come (v. 1a)
Try to think of your most cherished and precious religious activity. Maybe it’s singing God’s praises, maybe it’s the prayer meeting, or preaching, or fellowship, or the Lord’s Supper. How would you feel if someone came along and told you, “Hey, that’s just a pale shadow of what we have got in our church.” You would probably feel a bit hurt and offended, and it might even make you say, “Well if there’s one church I’m not going to, it’s yours!”

However, that’s what the Apostle was saying to the Hebrews. He told them that the things they treasured and cherished most were only pale shadows of what the Christian Church was now enjoying. He was not saying that the New Covenant Church was practicing a different religion to the Old Covenant Church, but rather a higher, fuller, and brighter form of the same religion. He was saying that Christ’s saving shadow lay over the OT, but that if they came over to the New Covenant Church, they would see the One who cast the shadow.

Or to put it another way, holding on to the Old Testament sacrifices was like stopping at a signpost that said, “Grand Rapids 100 miles” and calling it home. The Apostle was saying, “The OT sacrifices pointed you in the right direction, but come all the way home! You’ve followed the signposts pointing to good things to come. Great! But as the good “thing” has now come, don’t stop short. You’ve enjoyed the saving shadow; now come and bask in His saving sunlight.”

The OT sacrifices never saved anyone (vv. 1b-4)
1. They could not perfect anyone (1b):  The same sacrifices were repeated endlessly year after year. But they never (not past, present, future) made worshippers perfect. They provided ceremonial cleansing (qualified them to take part in the Tabernacle and Temple rituals and ceremonies). But they never made anyone “perfect,” which means “to bring to completion.” They had the limited usefulness of allowing Israelites to draw near to God physically – granting access to the camp and it’s Tabernacle – but they could not go further. They could not bring people to “completion,” to the intended end of nearness and fellowship with God.

2. They could not pacify the human conscience (2-3): If the sacrifices had ever cleansed the conscience, the worshipers would no longer have felt guilty for their sin, and they would have stopped offering the sacrifices. The fact that they continued to offer the sacrifices proved that they were still conscious of unforgiven sin that broke communion with God. The annual Day of Atonement, which seems to be especially in view here, produced a specially painful conscience in many Hebrews. When it came round every year, the burden of unforgiven sin felt heavier not lighter. The perpetual repetition of the sacrifices proved the ineffectiveness.

3. They could not put away sin before God (4): The Apostle tells us that however many gallons of animal blood was poured into God’s presence, not one sin was ever washed away by that tsunami of blood. Not one. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Moral defilement cannot be removed by an animal. (Ps. 51:10, 16f; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 50:8ff; Isa 1:11ff; 66:1ff; Jer. 7:21ff; Hos. 6:6; 14:2; Amos 5:21ff; Mic. 6:6ff). There is a great gulf fixed between animal sacrifices and human beings. It’s so disproportionate. As the Apostle reminds us three times: animal sacrifices cannot take away sin (Heb. 10:1, 4, 11). Even if every animal in the world was sacrificed for me, not one of my sins would be washed away.

And that did not just begin to be true when Jesus came. It was true throughout the Old Testament as well. That’s why in chapter 10, as in so many other places, the Apostle turns to the Old Testament (Ps. 40) to prove his point! 

The OT sacrifices reminded of sin (3)
In fact, far from removing sin, the sacrifices reminded of sin. Every time they were offered it was like a reminder alarm going off in their consciences. “This is what you deserve. This is the danger you are in.”

On the annual Day of Atonement the High Priest confessed all the sins of the nation. So many thousands of sacrifices were offered then and at the Passover, that channels were actually constructed to carry the gallons of blood from the altar to the Brook Kidron. And at the end of the annual Atonement Day, the High Priest came out from his once-a-year visit to the Most Holy Place and said, “That’s it, you don’t need to come back next year or ever again!”

If only!

No, he came out and all that could be said was “See you again next year.” The sacrifices were a powerful reminder of sin, but, in and of themselves, they were powerless to save. If any Israelite ever asked a godly priest, “How many animals will it take to save my soul?” the answer would have been: “It is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. Look in faith to the coming Messiah that these sacrifices point us toward.”

That’s why the Apostle here turns from animal bodies (Heb. 10:1-4) to the precious and perfect body of Christ (v. 5), and His one perfect offering that perfects us, pacifies our conscience, and puts sin away (vv. 11-14).

One body. One sacrifice. One priest. One salvation. It is finished!

Some Faulty Theological Arithmetic

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James Hamilton is a superb book in so many ways (and only $7.69 on Kindle). If I recall, I think John Piper said that it was one of very few books that he read all the way through without putting it down. Given that it’s 640 pages long, I would have starved if I’d tried that. However, it’s certainly a compelling, and even an exciting read. A terrific amount of work went into this book, and every serious student of the Old Testament should get it and read it (often).

One of my greatest joys in reading the book was an early paragraph that seemed to clearly state that Old Testament believers were saved by grace through faith in a coming Messiah.

Even though members of the old covenant remnant lived before Jesus, saving faith for them was explicit trust in the promises of God. The promises of God began in Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. Many of the Old Testament’s promises concern an anointed Redeemer, who came to be referred to as the messiah, whom God would raise up to accomplish the salvation of his people. So even though Old Testament saints did not know that the messiah would be named Jesus, grow up in Nazareth, and so forth, in the words of Genesis 3:15 they heard God promise to raise up a man who would save them. Faith came by hearing, and they trusted God to keep his word [57].

At last, I thought, a modern Old Testament theology (it covers the NT too) that does not present Old Testament salvation as a confused mixture of mere theistic faith + works + sacrifices. Here we have a Christ-centered view of Old Testament salvation, in line with the historic Reformed, Presbyterian, and Baptist confessions.

Or do we?

The Levitical system operates only by faith: Israel must believe that Yahweh really is in the tabernacle, that he really is holy, that sin and uncleanness really do make it dangerous to be near Yahweh, and that the prescribed sacrifice really will atone for sin. All of this must be taken on faith [68].

Hmmm: “The prescribed sacrifices really will atone for sin?” Surely some mistake? Let me read on….

The Levitical system only works if the worshiper believes that Yahweh is in the midst of the people, believes that he is holy, believes that sacrifice must be offered for cleansing, and lives in a way that corresponds with these beliefs (e.g., Lev. 15:31; 22:9) [110].

O dear, we seem to be back to theistic faith + works + sacrifices again. Maybe (hopefully) I’m reading this wrong. Then a few pages later…

The regulations set forth in Leviticus are a judgment, and they make it possible for people to substitute animals of sacrifice that will be judged in their place, that they might be saved [114].

Well, now I’m totally deflated. We’ve gone from clear Messiah-centered faith in Genesis to a confused muddle in Leviticus.  We’ve gone from Christ + Nothing = Everything (HT Tullian), to Works + Ritual + Theism = Everything. Please someone tell me that I’m adding this up this wrong.

I’m still recommending Hamilton’s book (highly). I’ve learned more about the Old Testament from this book than any other I’ve read in the past 5 years. But I do want to flag this unfortunate confusion, a confusion that seems to be shared by another 600+ pager, John Sailhamer’s epic and excellent work on the Pentateuch (see Is Moses in heaven? How?).

I hope to return to this subject tomorrow and ask, “What did the Levitical sacrifices really do?”

Update: Thanks to Jim Hamilton for some clarifications below.

CK2:16 Ten Myths About Calvinism

Download here.
This week’s guest on The Connected Kingdom is Dr. Ken Stewart, who is Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Intervarsity Press recently published Dr. Stewart’s book Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Tim  and I spoke to him about the Old Calvinism about the New Calvinism and about what the even newer future Calvinism may look like. Here is a table of contents pointing out some of the highlights of our discussion:

  • 1:30 – Overview of the ten myths about Calvinism
  • 9:35 – Purpose and audience of the book
  • 11:00 – Our polarized movement; who has the inside track on explaining and articulating the Reformed faith; too many Calvinist authorities
  • 14:47 – Clarification on Calvinistic brands
  • 16:15 – Did we blow the Rob Bell situation?
  • 29:06 – Theological accountability and Gospel Coalition
  • 31:42 – Fault lines in Calvinism

There is lots of interesting food for thought in this podcast!

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Optical illusions and theological realities

I’m not very good at optical illusions. I can look at the black and white picture of that elegant lady in the feather hat for hours and not once can I get it also to look like a haggard old lady in a shawl. And do you remember that craze for pictures that were made up of thousands of little pictures? Apparently if you looked long enough, or de-focussed your eyes enough, a big picture eventually appeared from the confusion. Well I could look for hours and blur my sight until it hurt, yet still without any big picture emerging. And my annoyance only increased as everyone else got the big picture with such evident delight!

But that optical illusion illustrates one way of connecting the Old Testament with Christ. The New Testament enables us to look at the thousands of seemingly disconnected parts of the Old Testament in such a way that at last see a “big picture” of Christ emerge from it all. That’s a wonderful experience, isn’t it! And when we come across preachers and writers who are able to show how the whole Old Testament connects with Christ and climaxes in His appearing, our souls rejoice, don’t they! And it’s no optical or theological illusion either. It’s exciting truth. It’s delightful reality.

The drama of redemption
Sidney Greidanus points to how Donald Miller likens God’s design in redemptive history to a play.

As a playwright works into the earlier scenes of his play certain ideas which are only per­plexing at the time they are introduced, but which are made clear as one looks back to them from the standpoint of the climax, God was working into the earlier acts of the drama of redemption elements which, when re­capitulated in a higher key in Jesus, received a clarity which they did not have in their original setting…Because God progressively works out his redemptive plan in hu­man history, the New Testament writers can preach Christ from the Old Testament as the culmination of a long series of redemptive acts.[1]

However, sometimes in the desire to connect Old Testament history with Christ, to show that Christ is the end or the culmination of that history, the little pictures of Christ that make up the big picture can sometimes be overlooked. 

Carrots, bananas, horses
Let me go back to the optical illusion to explain what I mean. Look closely at the little pictures again. What do you see? Well usually it’s just a bunch of unrelated and irrelevant items. For example if the big picture is of George Washington, the little pictures may be images of carrots, bananas, horses, computers, books, etc. None of the small pictures on their own relate to or connect with George Washington. It’s only when they are viewed as part of the big picture that they bring us to George Washington. 

And, unfortunately, that’s how some people view and use the Old Testament. They see Christ emerge from the picture at the end of Old Testament history (and that’s good), but they do not see him in all the little pictures. They are only so many carrots, bananas, etc.

For example, some see all the Old Testament priests as pointing forwards to Christ’s priestly work; and they do that. Some see all the Old Testament kings as pointing forwards to Christ as King of all kings; and He is that. But is Christ only seen at the end of these long lines of priests and kings? Does He only emerge from the picture when we look back with New Testament eyes? Sometimes that’s the impression that’s given.

But where does that leave Old Testament believers? Did they simply put their trust in Moses’ sacrifices, Aaron’s priesthood, and David’s monarchy?

No! By faith they saw the coming Messiah pictured in the Mosaic sacrifices, Aaron’s priesthood, and David’s kingdom. They saw Christ in the small pictures. True, they only saw Him in shadow form; but shadow implies at least some light, doesn’t it!

[1] Donald G. Miller, The Way to Biblical Preaching, (Nashville, Abingdon, 1957), 134.