Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Prophet, Priest, and King

Q. 23: What offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer?
Answer: Christ, as our Redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. (WSC)

The eternal Son of God became our redeemer to deliver us out of an estate of sin and misery unto an estate of salvation and glory. He became the mediator between God and sinful man. He is not our redeemer and mediator by nature, but by grace. As our redeemer, he fulfills the duties of a prophet, a priest, and a king. In the Old Testament, people were appointed to these offices by anointing (by the Spirit and/or with a ceremony using oil), and so Jesus is called the "Christ," which in Greek means the "anointed one" (as does the Hebrew word "Messiah.") He fulfilled the duties of these offices in his life on earth and he has continued to fulfill them in heaven.

God laid down the pattern for these offices in the work of the prophets, priests, and kings of Israel in the Old Testament. The prophets like Moses, Elisha, and Jeremiah delivered God’s word to his people, often did miracles which demonstrated God’s power and mercy, and interceded for the people. The priests like Aaron, Zadok, and Ezra received God’s word from the prophets and taught it, maintained the worship and holiness of God, offered the various sacrifices of the people to reconcile them to God, and interceded for the people. The kings like David, Asa, and Jehoshaphat received God’s word from the priests and enforced it, guided the people by it, delivered the people from their enemies, gave them peace in the land, and interceded for the people. Sometimes these offices overlapped. Melchizedek was both a priest and king, Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet, and David was primarily known as a king but was also a prophet (Acts 2:30).

Yet, all these men were themselves in need of salvation and all of them died. Their insufficiency pointed forward to one who would come and fulfill these tasks for God’s people and accomplish an eternal redemption. It was necessary that God himself come to fulfill these tasks. In fact, when Jesus was born, it had been hundreds of years since a prophet had prophesied and even longer since the last Davidic king had reigned. This increased all the more the sense of expectation among the people as they looked forward to the fulfillment of the messianic prophesies. Scripture prophesied that a man would come who would be a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-16), a king from the line of David (Is. 9:6-7), and a priest who would make atonement by his own death and who would make intercession for his people (Is. 53).

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Humanity of Christ

Q. 22: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
Answer: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her yet without sin. (WSC

Christ has from eternity been the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. At a particular time, he became man for our salvation. He did this without giving up his divine nature, but united the two natures in one person. This is one of the great wonders of the Christian faith. It is such a wondrous thing that from time to time some people have felt the need to tone it down, to explain that his physical body was an illusion or that he only took on part of man’s nature (e.g. a human body but not a human mind). But our catechism explains what God has revealed in his word concerning Jesus, that because we “share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” and was made to be “like his brothers in every respect” so that he might be our high priest and die on our behalf (Heb. 2:14-18). As a man, he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Therefore, his body was a true body, subject to the limitations of a human body. He took on a human soul, a “reasonable soul” (that is, a rational soul). He took on a human mind, will, and affections. He fully shared in our human experience, both in the outer life and in the inner life. When he suffered for us, he suffered in both body and soul (Matt. 26:38). He is able to sympathize with our weakness (Heb. 4:15). While he remained without sin, and thus did not experience inner temptation arising from evil desires, yet he did experience things like hunger, thirst, sorrow, and weakness, as well as the temptations of the world and the evil one.

He took on this human nature when he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:35, Matt. 1:18). As regards his divine nature, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, but as regards his manhood, he was begotten of Mary, of her substance. He was the promised offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), of Israelite and Davidic descent according to the flesh (Rom. 9:3, 5).

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Only Redeemer

Q. 21: Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?
Answer: The only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever. (WSC)

In the covenant of grace, God delivers his elect from their sin and misery by a Redeemer. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He did not become the Son of God by being born on earth, for God did not send him to become his Son, but “sent his only-begotten Son” that we might live through him (1 John 4:9, John 3:16). Jesus dwelt in eternal glory and love with the Father and the Spirit (John 17:5, 24). He has always been God. But it was for us, and for our salvation, that he became man around 4 BC. This incarnation was necessary for him to be the mediator between God and man and for him to offer himself as a ransom for sinners (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Having added to himself human nature for this purpose, he will always be both God and man.

It is very important to maintain both the union and the distinction of the two natures of Christ. His two natures are distinct but not separate. One heretical distortion of this doctrine, known as Nestorianism, is to divide Christ into two persons, which gets into biblical and theological problems really fast. Another heretical distortion, known as Eutychianism, is to combine Christ’s two natures into one nature, usually with the result that his humanity is divinized. But the book of Hebrews, especially 2:14-18 and 4:14-16, emphasizes the importance of Christ’s true humanity. The council of Chalcedon in 451 rejected both of these distortions as it articulated the biblical doctrine of Christ’s two natures in one person (you can read their definition here). Incidentally, R.J. Rushdoony named his organization after Chalcedon because of the implications of this doctrine, such as that no man or state can transcend its creatureliness and play God. Our confession of faith affirms the council of Chalcedon’s definition in chapter 8, article 2, “So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Thoughts on Pride Month

“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)

In his short letter, Jude wrote to warn of those who had crept into the church and were perverting the grace of our God into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4). One of the examples of judgment he gives is that of Sodom and Gomorrah. While Sodom had many sins (Ezek. 16:49-50), Jude identifies its practice of sexual immorality, and of unnatural desires in particular (cp. Romans 1:24-27), as causes for God’s judgment. These cities “serve as an example” that we might turn away from such ways.

The apostle Peter, in a similar passage, adds a positive example, that of “righteous Lot,” whom God rescued. While not everything Lot did was exemplary, he was exemplary in being “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)…” (2 Peter 2:7–8).

As you see sexual sin promoted, this month in particular, it is right and fitting to be distressed by it. It is not self-righteous to be repulsed by the celebration of homosexuality if you are also examining yourself and repenting of you own sins, being moved in both cases by grief and hatred towards sin and a love for God and his holiness.

Near the end of his letter, Jude exhorts his readers to be “building yourselves up in your most holy faith” and to “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20, 22-23). Aversion to sin and detestation of sin is compatible with mercy towards  those who practice it. Scripture exhorts us to both.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Are All Sins Equal?

There is a popular misconception out there that all sins are equal, that no sin is worse than another sin. Many Christians have picked this up from a misunderstanding of James 2:10, which says that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." But this verse does not mean that to break one commandment is to break every commandment. Rather, as the preceding and following verses explain, it means that to break one commandment makes a person a transgressor of the law and liable to judgment (James 2:9, 11). Apart from the mercy offered in Christ, the law demands perfect obedience. 

While all sins are the same in that they all violate God's law, are contrary to his character, and deserve eternal judgment, yet in other respects they are not the same. The Bible regularly speaks of sins that are greater than others (e.g. John 19:11, Ezek. 8:6) and which deserve greater judgment than others (e.g. Matt. 11:22, Luke 12:47-48). The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the biblical material on this point in the questions below (you can find them here with abundant, but not comprehensive, biblical citations). 

To believe that no sin is worse than another sin is an unbiblical concept. I believe many people hold to this idea with good intentions, but it often leads to bad consequences in practice and a superficial understanding of sin. A wise person knows how to evaluate sin and does not treat it all the same. In this way, not only is he able to address the sins of others more wisely and justly, but he also gains a better sense of the depravity of his own sins and a better sense of the mercy of God in Christ. 

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Question 150: Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
Answer: All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Question 151: What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
Answer: Sins receive their aggravations,
  1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
  2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
  3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
  4. From circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord's day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.
Question 152: What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?
Answer: Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserveth his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.