What is propitiation?

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in What is the Gospel?

What is propitiation?

Where do we find this word?

The word propitiation is found in a few different books of the New Testament:

[Romans 3:23-26] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Greek word hilastērion)

[Hebrews 2:17] Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Greek word hilaskomai)

[1 John 2:2] And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (Greek word hilasmos)

[1 John 4:10] In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (Greek word hilasmos)

(bold emphasis added)

What does it mean?

propitiation (n) prō-pi-shē-ā-shǝn- the act of gaining or regaining the favor of; in this case, a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor.

Why does it matter?

Read that definition again, and it should be crystal clear why it matters! The meaning of propitiation packs a heavy punch, a punch that is key to our understanding of the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. In this simple word, we see both the need for God’s wrath to be appeased (since our God is a just God) and the need for an atoning sacrifice to be offered (since our God is a merciful God).

Propitiation and the gospel

When we hear or read the word propitiation, we ought to be reminded of the gospel:

Propitiation reminds us that God is just. Sin is the high offense against a holy God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And because He is righteous, just, and good, God must not let sin go unpunished.

Propitiation reminds us that God initiates. Every single one us us is born dead in our sins (Ephesians 2) and without life. There is no one perfect. Because of this sinful nature, you and I cannot justify ourselves before God. We can try, but we will fall short, every one of us. God would still be a good God if He left us in this state, ushering each of us to suffer His righteous wrath. But instead, He provided a way out for us. He initiated by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus of Nazareth, as a propitiation for our sins.

Propitiation reminds us that God is loving and merciful. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—the only perfect sacrificial Lamb—was a willing sacrifice. In order for us to spend an eternity with our Maker, God’s wrath needed to be satisfied by a propitiation. That propitiation is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

“The wrath of God was satisfied”

Jesus did not merely deflect God’s wrath (like a helmet can deflect a baseball). Jesus absorbed it. All of it. For us.

This is the reason why, in that hymn In Christ Alone, we sing:

…on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

You see, to say that Jesus is a propitiation “by His blood” and “for our sins” is to say what kind of Savior He is to me—the kind of Savior that satisfies God’s wrath on a cross in my stead. And because this sweet Savior died and rose, you and I can have new life in Him. This is the gospel of God’s amazing grace to sinners.

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Gospel Series: Three Critical Truths about Redemption

Posted by on Apr 30, 2014 in The Gospel

Gospel Series: Three Critical Truths about Redemption
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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.

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“Redemption” is a rich word and perhaps somewhat unique among the great gospel words in our theological vocabulary, in that it’s a word that easily resonates with unbelievers. Some of our favorite stories, songs, and films are built around the themes of redemption. George Lucas, for example once said that the original Star Wars films were about the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. One of Johnny Cash’s greatest songs is titled “Redemption.”[1] Or, if you want an example a bit more highbrow, look no further than the character of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

None of this suggests, of course, that redemption in our cultural artifacts bears a one-to-one relationship to redemption in Christianity. There are very important biblical features of redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ that set it apart from all other redemption stories. But the widespread use of the word in our culture does indicate an innate recognition of the human need for forgiveness and hope.

Christians often use the word “redemption” in a broad sense, as a synonym for salvation. Think of phrases like “the history of redemption” or the four big events in the Christian metanarrative: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. But in the New Testament, “redemption” (apolutrwsiz) and the related words, redeem (lutrow), and ransom (lutron)– each belonging to the lutrwword group in Greek — carry connotations that are both richer and more precise.[2] For at its root, to redeem means to set someone free from slavery through the payment of a ransom.

In the words of John Murray,

“The idea of redemption must not be reduced to the general notion of deliverance. The language of redemption is the language of purchase and more specifically of ransom. And ransom is the securing of release by the payment of a price.”[3]

A full unfolding of the doctrine of redemption would show:

  • Our need for redemption (because of our bondage to the law, sin, and death);
  • God’s provision of redemption (through his eternal covenant and the gift of his Son);
  • Christ’s accomplishment of redemption(by his obedient life, his payment of a blood ransom in his sin-atoning death, and his victorious resurrection);
  • Along with all the fruits of redemption (including the forgiveness of sins, the gift of adoption, our inheritance as heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, the future resurrection of the body, and more).

But this isn’t a theology textbook and many good theologians have already done this work. (The above referenced work by John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, is a good place to start.)

Instead, I want to suggest three ways Scripture links redemption to our lives: with a story, a meal, and a forward-looking hope. My hope is that meditating in this way will foster not just deeper understanding of the doctrine of redemption itself, but especially richer worship of the Redeemer.

1. A story

Redemption, in the Scriptures, doesn’t start with Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, as glorious and climatic moment as this is. Even in the New Testament, redemption was closely linked to another story deep in the memory of God’s people. Just think about the features of redemption we’ve already seen: bondage in slavery, liberation and freedom, the payment of a blood ransom, inheritance, etc.[4]

You don’t have to think long before remembering the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, that great paradigmatic saving event of the Old Testament. God’s people were enslaved in a land of darkness, but in faithfulness to his covenant, God stretched out his mighty hand and rescued His people, providing a covering for their sins, so He could pass over them while executing judgment on their oppressors, and finally give them an inheritance in the land of promise.

This story ran so deep in the consciousness of God’s people that the prophets returned to it again and again. This is especially obvious in Isaiah 40-55, as the prophet evokes all kinds of exodus imagery while calling Israel to fresh faith in the Lord their Redeemer who will lead them out of exile. And those very themes (and texts) get picked up again in the gospel narratives, as the evangelists skillfully present the story of Jesus in terms of a New Exodus, in which Jesus will pay Israel’s ransom through his own death.[5]

2. A meal

A second way Scripture links the doctrine of redemption to our lives is with a meal, the meal given to us by Jesus himself on the day before his crucifixion. This connection is slightly more round about than the one above, but there all the same, especially when we remember that the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper is itself an outgrowth of the Jewish celebration of Passover.

But you also can see the connection when you compare Jesus’ words of institution in that last Passover meal with his disciples with a previous statement He made about the purpose for which He came.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

The similar structure in the two passages is striking. Jesus came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. And then when Jesus serves His disciples the Passover meal, He says that the wine is His blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

And lest there be any doubt in our mind, Paul makes the connection explicit, reminding us that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). And this means that every time we sit at this sacred feast we do so in celebration of the true Passover, the new exodus, the full and final redemption that Jesus has purchased for us by death.

3. A forward-looking hope

But when we come to the table of the Lord, we not only look back, we look forward. When we remember the redemption story, we are to think not only of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt, and its fulfillment in the atoning work of Jesus. We also set our eyes on the future, as we wait with confident and expectant hope to the consummation of redemption.

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that we join the created order itself, in our waiting:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22-25)

And what is it we wait for? The redemption of our bodies. And how do we know it will happen? Because we’ve already received the first down payment, “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” (That’s surely one reason why Paul reminds us not to grieve the Spirit who has sealed us “for the day of redemption” in Ephesians 4:30).

And the presence of the Spirit in our hearts, prompting us to cry “Abba, Father,” assures us that we will one day join the heavenly chorus in the everlasting joy of extoling the Lamb who has ransomed us by his blood. May we, even now, join the worshipers around the throne and sing:

   “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

   for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

   from every tribe and language and people and nation,

   and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

   and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Notes


[1] Cash, of course, was a believer and the song shows it. But his music is so mainstream that I thought it worth mentioning among these cultural references to redemption.

[2] See especially B. B. Warfield, “The New Testament Terminology of ‘Redemption’ in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; reprint Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 2000), pp. 327-372.

[3] John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 42.

[4] Of course, the Old Testament concept of the kinsman-redeemer, best known from the book of Ruth, also shapes our understanding of redemption.

[5] See especially Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

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Gospel Series: Expiation, Good Friday and the wonder of the Cross

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 in The Gospel

Gospel Series: Expiation, Good Friday and the wonder of the Cross

Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.

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At my local church we have a Good Friday service where we nail a piece of paper with our sins to the cross. This event is symbolic of what Christ has accomplished for us. It is about more than just subscribing to our belief in the sufficiency of Christ finished work to cleanse us of our sins. It is about standing in wonder of what Jesus has done. Over the past few years I’ve come to really appreciate this service. In this service we are saying that we truly believe that Jesus has dealt with our sins on the cross.

As I sat in the service I was thinking about my past and how the Lord has worked powerfully in my life. As I did this the Lord brought freshly to my memory how He had brought me out of an addiction to pornography and anger. As I sat next to my wife with the sacrament in my hand, I was struck afresh at the wonder of the cross. I was struck by the beauty of Jesus finished work. Even writing about this, I’m getting misty eyed and thankful once again as I sit and write these words at a coffee shop while listening to worship music that exalts the Lord Jesus as King.

As I was sitting in the pew thinking about all of this, I was struck afresh at the doctrine of expiation, namely how the Lord has carried away our sins as far as the east is to the west, as the Psalmist describes in Psalm 103:12. Perhaps you think, “What does this have to do with me, Dave?” It has everything to do with you friend. I grew up in the church, was saved at a young age and started ministry while I was a teenager. The Lord has been very kind and gracious to me. I grew up in a family of Christians and come from a long line of Christians. Yet, I wonder for us who’ve been a Christian a long time or grown up in the church, when was the last time you were struck with wonder at the cross?

Perhaps today you are like me and have a thousand things going on in your life. Yet, you only really have one true need and that is Jesus. Only Jesus can carry away your sins through His finished work. Only He can remove and deal with the penalty and punishment of sin. He does that through His finished work where He took upon Himself our sin. Through His finished work, He takes our sin upon Himself and credits His righteousness to our account. The wrath of God is satisfied in the substitionary work of Jesus Christ. Through Him we are forgiven and made new. Oh, friend don’t you see how glorious this is! As a Christian, you are no longer under the penalty or punishment of sin! You are as the Bible teaches, a new creation in Christ. You have a new identity in Jesus! You gather in a new community, the Church centered on Christ. These precious gospel truths are awe-inspiring, glorious in scope and truly ought to cause one to bask at the grandeur at the wonder of the cross.

Maybe you’ve gone through a lot of different things like I have. I don’t know where you are in your walk with God. Being a Christian a long-time I know that it is all too easy to walk through the motions. It is easy to lose your wonder and awe of the cross. You don’t mean to do this of course it just happens as life crowds everything out, until at last you’ve lost your awe and wonder of the cross. Friend today I pray that the Lord Jesus would stir your affections to the wonder of the cross. I pray today that you would see yourself as you were before you were saved, as a sinner lost, twirling in the wind until the Good Shepherd spoke your name and you heard His voice, bidding you to home to Himself which resulted in you coming home to Him.

As I sat after taking communion on Good Friday I basked in wonder at the cross. As we sang the wonder of the cross, I sang it as for the first time, even though I’ve sang it many times over the years. Yet, I sang it all the while with new vigor as unto the Lord. The Lord has carried away our sins. He no longer remembers them because He has removed them as far as the east is to the west. That truth ought to cause us to bask in wonder at the cross. It ought to cause us to worship Him for the sufficiency of His work. I pray today the Lord would stir your affections afresh for Himself with the result being that the mercies of the Lord would become new and fresh to you. Then you’ll not only grasp the truth of Good Friday but also of the resurrection and Easter. We don’t have just a victorious Savior, Lord, and King, but a triumphant King who has defeated death and the grave, and who is even now our exalted King, High Priest, Intercessor and Mediator before the Father. This Savior, this King, this Priest is coming back to rule and reign over the throne of David. Let the people of God rise up in worship by standing in awe and wonder at the sufficiency of His work. Hallelujah to the Lamb who was slain, and is yet returning.

 

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Gospel Series: The Trinity and the Gospel

Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 in The Gospel

Gospel Series: The Trinity and the Gospel

Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.

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There is a lot of buzz on the Internet these days about the Trinitarian nature of Christianity. Is the doctrine of the Trinity true? Is it important? Is it essential? For many Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity is given very little thought. We affirm it to be true, but we fail to recognize its importance and its implications for the gospel and all of life.

However, Don Stewart reminds us:

It is important that people have a correct understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity since it is an explanation of the nature of God. The Christian needs to know exactly who God is in order to have a proper understanding of the one they serve.

Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University, adds further comment: “Our beliefs and practices all presuppose the Trinity, but that presupposition has for too long been left unexpressed . . . and taken for granted rather than celebrated and taught” (The Deep Things of God, Crossway 2010)

The doctrine of the Trinity is crucial because it reveals who our God is and is revealed in the pages of Scripture to show the inner workings of God’s nature, attributes, and personhood.

Here are a few examples:

The Father sends the Son

God the Father sends God the Son into the world as a propitiatory sacrifice on the cross. This means that He absorbed and appeased the Father’s just wrath against sin and extends mercy to repentant sinners.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
(Romans 3:23-26 NKJV)

On that note,

The Incarnate Son is the God-man

The reason that the Son is able to provide this substitutionary atonement is because He is both God and man. Only the God-man can conquer sin, Satan, death, and the powers of darkness. In His glorious resurrection, we have new life.

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
(Romans 10:9 NKJV)

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily
(Colossians 2:9 NKJV)

The Holy Spirit and the New Birth

The Holy Spirit is given to us through Christ and is actively responsible for the sinner’s new birth in Christ (regeneration) and life journey unto holiness (sanctification).

not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit
(Titus 3:5 NKJV)

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you…”
(John 16:7 NKJVJesus speaks of sending the Spirit)

The Trinity and the Gospel

Therefore, the Biblical gospel message of God’s grace toward sinners is initiated by God the Father, accomplished through God the Son, and is applied by God the Holy Spirit. There is no work of salvation apart from our Triune God. This Triune nature does not bring confusion but clarity to the gospel that we believe and proclaim. Rather than be a source of controversy it should, when properly understood, fill us with joy.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
(Galatians 4:4-7 NKJV)

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Gospel Series: The Incarnation and High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in The Gospel

Gospel Series: The Incarnation and High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.

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Explanation Hebrews 2:17-18

Several of the earliest controversies and key battles in Church History were over Christ’s divine and human natures. One of the classic texts to explain why Jesus Christ had to become fully man, so that He might perform priestly service before God on man’s behalf is Hebrews 2:17-18. Christ’s priestly ministry propitiated or turned aside—God’s wrath against man’s sin. The classic explanation of this doctrine was given by Anslem of Canterbury nine hundred years ago in his towering work Cur Deus Homo which means “Why God Became Man.”

Speaking of the payment that must be made for man’s sins, Anslem wrote:

“It could not have been done unless man paid what was owing to God for sin. But the debt was so great that, while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same person must be both man and God. Thus it was necessary for God to take manhood into the unity of his person, so that he who in his own nature ought to pay and could not should be in a person who could.”[i]

Anslem of Canterbury gets to the heart of what the writer of Hebrews teaches in Hebrews 2:17: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.” The Old Testament priest represented God before man, which was why the high priest was garbed with glory and honor (Ex. 28:2). The high priest’s apparel gleamed, to portray the righteousness’ of God before the people of God. The high priest represented God before man, which is why the high priest word an ephod of gold, upon which were fastened twelve stones, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex. 28:9-12).

The purpose of the incarnation is that Christ as the God-Man might bear His people’s names upon His shoulders. As the true high priest, Jesus Christ is garbed in His own perfect righteousness, which He now presents on behalf of His redeemed people. Jesus went forth as the minister and representative of His people, offering His own precious blood—His divine and infinitely valuable life, which alone atones for the debt of not only man’s sin, but the sins of the world.

The work of Christ was one of turning aside God’s wrath against man’s sin. Christ’s work of propitiation gets to the reason why He was born into the world, so that by His death as the God-Man, He might break the hold of death on sinners, and set His people free through the Cross and resurrection. While this explains the first and second reasons why Christ had to become a man and die, Hebrews 2:18 gives the third reason, “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Jesus is able to help His people in whatever circumstances they find themselves because He suffered in His people’s place on the way to the Cross and on the Cross dying for their sins. The fact that Christ has done all of this is proof of His full humanity, in that “he himself has suffered when tempted.” Christians often associate Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the desert, but there Jesus was afflicted with great hunger and the temptation to accept the crown without the Cross. While these were great temptations, Jesus overcame them all. As a result of Jesus temptation and suffering He knows what His people are going through whether they are struggling with a variety of temptations or going through hard times. Jesus knows what it is like to go through hardship because He endured the sins of humanity in the Cross. Jesus the High Priest over His people has real sympathy and compassion for what His people are going through.

Some people think Jesus didn’t know the full range of human experience because He wasn’t a sinner. This questions whether or not He can have full sympathy for sinners. Far from Jesus knowing less than His people do about temptation, Jesus knows far more about temptation than His people do because He endured it to the point of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane where He felt the weight of man’s sin in preparing to die on the Cross for the sins of humanity.

B.F. Westcott is correct when he observes: “Sympathy with the sinner in his trial does not depend on the experience of sin but on the experience of the strength of temptation to sin, which only the sinless can know in its full intensity. He who falls yields before the last strain.”[ii]

Jesus has real and knowledgeable sympathy with those who are tempted, which is why the Scripture say, He is able to help His people. Jesus is not “just like us.” Jesus is the Redeemer, and His people are the sinners in need of such a champion. Jesus work is hardly impersonal or mechanical, it is heartfelt and sensitive. Jesus felt nails as they were driven into His hands and feet so that He might rescue His people from the power of death. The quality of mercy of Christ’s work is intimate, personal, and knowing. This intimate, personal and knowing work calls His people to love Him as a Savior who has gone to such lengths to know His people in the midst of their trials, to have the fellowship of suffering even as He calls His people into the fellowship of His suffering.

Jesus suffering means that He is able to help His people and understands all of what they are going through. Whenever God’s people encounter difficult circumstances or trials they have a sympathetic and merciful High Priest who hears when His people cry out to Him. Understanding Jesus as High Priest ought to be a great encouragement to God’s people that they can turn to the Lord in prayer in whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

One of the major aspects of Jesus High Priestly ministry is His ability now to save His people. His ability to save them means His people can trust Him, knowing that death will bring them no harm, but bring them to Jesus. His people can trust Him for today, knowing He knows and understands any and all present temptations and struggles. Jesus is able to help His people, by praying for them at the throne of his Father in heaven and by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts, giving them strength that is of Him. This is why Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). Despite all of Paul’s many trials, it was with knowledge of Christ’s personal power that He could declare: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, became like man to be a total Savior, sufficient for the whole range of their need. How hollow, then, ring the world’s complaints against God. People are saying all the time today, lamenting in this world of Woe, “Where is God? Why doesn’t he do something?” Meanwhile, He has done everything indeed, more than ever they could ask or imagine. God has entered into man’s world. He has walked through the dust of this earth. He who is Life has wept before the grave, and He who is the Bread of Life has felt the aching of hunger in His belly. He has taken the thorns that afflict this sin-scarred world and woven them into a crown to be pressed upon His head. He has stretched open His arms in love, that the hands that wove creation might be nailed to a wooden cross. Then He rose from the dead, conquering all that would conquer His people, setting His people free to live in peace and joy before the face of God.


[i] Anslem of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, in Eugene PR. Fairweather, A Scholastic MiscellanyAnselem to Ockham (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), 176.

[ii] B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 59.


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Gospel Series: Gospel Service

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014 in The Gospel

Gospel Series: Gospel Service

Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.

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For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matt 20.28

“…serving God as a grateful response to the gospel is the calling of every Christian.” Nate Palmer

Gospel service comes in two parts. First, in gospel service we recognize Christ as the servant who came before us and gave Himself sacrificially on our behalf. This comes with a caveat. When we read that Matthew 20.28 says, “..but to serve” we are inclined to think that Christ primarily serves us. Yes, he did come to serve humanity. Yes, he did serve the disciples whom he led and feet-washed. But primarily Christ serves God the Father. Christ’s service to His Father takes priority.

When Christ fed the 5,000, he did not do so to serve and appease the hunger of man. He fed them to demonstrate that He is the bread of life. But what does being the bread of life mean in context of John 6.35-40. Read this passage with new eyes.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Just like the manna that came down from heaven to the Israelites in the wilderness, Christ is sent down from heaven as bread for the people. This bread comes as service to God. It’s life giving bread from God the Father. Christ primarily came to serve God the Father. He came to do God the Father’s will. In feeding the 5,000 He serves God first. When the people saw the miracle of feeding 5,000 they called Christ the Prophet to come into the world. Later Christ reminds the disciples that His coming is because of God the Father’s sending.

When Christ saw that the people wanted to make Him king, He retreated to the mountain. Historically mountains are a place where people go to meet with God. On a mountain God appeared to Moses. On a mountain Israel approached God in fear and beheld His glory. On a mountain Elijah felt the presence of God. Guess what? Christ retreated to the mountain to commune with His Father. He met with God.

Christ’s first priority has always been to do the will of His Father. When men wanted to king Him, he retreated to continue following His Father’s will. Christ served as His Father wished, loved as His Father instructed, and suffered as His Father thought necessary. Christ served His Father first. Let that take hold in your brain because we live in a world that expects Christ to first serve us. He doesn’t. He first serves His Father. Christ is not our genie. He’s our God.

Secondarily, gospel service drives us to respond to Christ’s obedience of the Father by being obedient to Christ. 1 Cor 4.1 says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” We should embody gospel service so well that everyone around us will know we serve Christ. Can you imagine it? You walk into the gas station you frequent, holding the door for people as they come in or out and letting others in a rush go in front of you in line. Because of your servant-hearted disposition over time, the cashier discovers you serve Christ. You drop off cookies at the Fire Station near your home and the firemen discover over time that you serve Christ. You offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn while you are out mowing yours. He discovers you serve Christ. You stop to help a mother of four small children in a suburban that is stalled out as the front car at a signal light. Everyone else moves around but you get out and help move this monstrous vehicle. She discovers you serve Christ.

When we demonstrate gospel service we build a platform to deliver gospel truth. You earn a right to tell others about the manifold love of God and the humbling service of Christ, which resulted in Christ dying and rising from the dead.

[Gospel Service] first appeared at http://www.jtcochran.com/

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