Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesus' Triumphal Entry in Matthew and Zechariah

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry in Matthew and Zechariah
By Matthew Pickens

Matthew makes numerous citations of and illusions to Zechariah 9-14 throughout his passion narrative. This pattern starts on the first day of that narrative with Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Matthew records this event in 21:1-11. He begins by citing Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to go into the village, bring a donkey and her colt to him, and explain their actions to anyone who asks by saying, “The Lord needs them.” (Matt. 21:2-3) Matthew then tells us that this is to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet (Matt. 21:4). He cites:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
'Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Matt. 21:5)
Matthew is citing Zechariah 9:9 with a couple of changes. First, Zechariah opens this prophecy (Zech. 9:9-13) with an exhortation, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Matthew instead writes, “Say to the daughter of Zion.” What he does is amend his quotation by mixing Zechariah 9:9 with Isaiah 61:11b. The reason he uses Isaiah’s “say” instead of Zechariah’s “Rejoice” is to change the focus of the citation to an evangelistic appeal to unbelieving Israel, which is the original audience of his Gospel.

Second, Matthew omits “righteous and having salvation is he” from Zechariah’s prophecy. “Having salvation” is probably better translated in the NRSV as “victorious.” This explains Matthew’s omission of this line. While from the time of his baptism until his passion Jesus works many miracles in Matthew’s Gospel his true victory is achieved in his resurrection. Because that has not yet happened at this point in Matthew’s narrative he omits the line about victory. The same is true in the parallel text in John 12:15-16.

The whole passage and its connection to Zechariah 9 helps to stress several important truths about Jesus’ work. First, the primary import of Jesus entering the city while riding on a donkey is not to emphasize his lowliness but rather his kingship. Normally pilgrims traveling into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration would walk into the city. Jesus rides into the city as a king. Matthew explicitly tells us that Jesus does this in order to fulfill what the prophet wrote, “Your king is coming to you.”

Second, as Jesus enters the city riding on a donkey this tells us something about the nature of what he comes as a king to accomplish. He does not enter Jerusalem on a mighty war horse. This would show that he comes into the city intending to conquer or as a returning king who has conquered. Instead he comes on a donkey because the purpose of his kingship is to speak peace. Zechariah follows this verse by writing that Yahweh “will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off and he will speak peace to the nations.” (Zech. 9:10a-b) Jesus comes into Jerusalem as the King whose rule is from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:10c) but he does so in order to speak peace to all the nations.

Third, Matthew, by the line he omits, leaves us looking for how Jesus will also be the victorious king from Zechariah. The triumphal entry builds the anticipation of the ultimate victory that Jesus accomplishes in his death and resurrection. He comes as king to speak peace to the nations but he will only do this by first waging war against Satan, sin, and death and his method of waging war is by his perfectly righteous obedience to the Father in dying for the sins of his people. The songs of the pilgrims heighten this anticipation as they cite Messianic prophecies about the promised Davidic King, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9b citing Psalm 118) Jesus comes in the name of Yahweh, wielding the very power of Yahweh, and in his person Yahweh is present. Jesus comes having salvation and accomplishing it in the events that mark the end of his first advent with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Palm Sunday is a time where we draw our attention to Jesus as the coming and triumphant king who accomplishes peace, as, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Saved to the Uttermost

This post from Jay Adams had me thinking on the effects of definitive sanctification in the Christian life.

Saved to the Uttermost!
By Matthew Pickens

In his first letter to the church at Corinth the Apostle Paul gives us a very important list:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
Anyone else find themselves in this list of people? Anyone ever committed any sexual sins? Worshipped an idol like money, power, prestige? Unjustly gained something? Coveted what someone else has? Unfairly hurt someone’s reputation while they were there or not? Paul certainly thinks so, “And such were some of you!” (1 Cor. 6:11a) The sobering reality here is that Paul tells us that everyone on that list will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the wonder of the gospel is the past tense of our Christian life. Paul goes on to say, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11b) We need to understand the whole of what happens at the very beginning of our Christian lives. We are not only declared to be righteous (justification) at that moment but God actually makes holy (sanctification) as Paul says, “You were sanctified.” That is to say that anyone who is in Christ Jesus, who puts their faith in him alone for salvation according to God’s gracious promise, is not a sinner any longer.

In his letter to the church in Rome Paul describes this immediate sanctification as our dying to sin and being raised to righteousness (Rom. 6:1-4). When we were united to Christ in his death we died to the power of sin. It does not rule over us any longer. As we are united to Christ in his resurrection we are raised to newness of life, a new life that is dominated by the controlling power of the Holy Spirit. John Murray described this aspect of sanctification this way:
This means, therefore, that not only did Christ die, not only was he buried, not only did he rise from the dead, but also all who sustain the relation to him that baptism signifies likewise died, were buried, and rose again to a new life patterned after his resurrection life. No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.
This means that Christians can no more die again to sin than Christ can be crucified again. What happened to them when they were united to Christ was a one-time transforming event that moved them from the sphere of sin to the sphere of righteousness.

Now we do not mean by this that Christians are perfect. We know that we can’t even make it through a single day, and sometimes not even an hour, without sinning somehow. Paul goes on in the next chapter to describe that though his desires are for holiness he still finds that he does the things he does not want to and sins (Rom. 7:15, 18). What Scripture teaches us is that this sin that remains in us is not controlling like it was before we were saved in Christ. Francis Turretin noted, “when he [Paul] says, ‘sin dwells in him,’ . . . it is one thing to dwell, another to reign.” That reigning power of sin is broken in us when we were definitively sanctified in union with the crucified and risen Christ and now what happened at the moment we were saved is progressively realized through our whole Christian life as God continues to work out our salvation until it is perfected in glorification.

So did you belong on that list from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? Rejoice that the gospel means you aren’t there any longer! You may still commit sins but God promises that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those you are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) Sin once reigned in you but now you are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In all things Jesus saves you to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25)!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Abortion and Healthcare Reform

I try not to post many things here on political issues but this one does need to be noted.  I'm sure everyone is aware that both chambers of Congress passed bills on healthcare reform and the President signed it into law on Tuesday.  As you may be aware, there are provisions in the bill that would require qualified plans to cover abortion on a separate policy, which has the ultimate effect of leaving room for your tax dollars to subsidize abortion.  President Obama also signed an executive order stating that federal funds will not pay for abortions, however those orders do not have the power of law and if raised in court the order will be overturned.  Al Mohler has an excellent post on this whole sad subject.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some miscellaneia

Here are an assortment of things for this week.  First, Crossway has posted their Summer/Fall book catalogue for 2010.  There are some good looking books on here by Piper and some edited by Carson worth getting excited about.  There's also a book coming out on B.B. Warfield's theology that looks pretty valuable.

Second, L. Roy Taylor has put a brief paper up in outline format on the strengths and weaknesses of our system of church polity in the PCA.  I think that he makes a lot of valuable points here and the encouragement at the end is one we should give a hearty "Amen" to.

Third, here's a good post from Ron DiGiacomo, a ruling elder in the OPC, on the place of deduction and induction in presuppositional apologetics.  This is pretty valuable to read because the false accusation that is often heard from classical apologists is that presuppositional apologetics rejects the use of logic in favor of simply asserting presuppositions or first premises.  This is certainly not true as anyone who has read more than the first few pages of Van Til, Frame, Bahnsen, Oliphint, or Edgar could see.  However it is good to see how a transcendental argument for God's existence (transcendental is a far better term for Van Til apologetic method than presuppositional) should be built using deductive and inductive reasoning without a Christian framework.  The last part of that sentence is important because when we set the Lord Jesus apart as holy in our minds before giving an answer to those who ask a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15) then we find that even the method of our apologetic will start from a Christian foundation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Day Late

Here's a post from Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) about what evangelicals can learn from Patrick (who can be associated with more than reasons to drink).  He recommends a biography on the Irish evanglist too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Eternality of God

Lately I've been working through James Henley Thornwell's collected writings.  Thornwell was an early-mid 19th century Southern Presbyterian who might have been the single most influential theologian in organizing the Southern Presbyterian Church after the Northern church separated from them.  He died shortly before the Civil War.  Here's a wonderful quote from him about how meditating on God's eternal life leads us to worship:

We deny to God beginning of life or end of days; we deny to Him succession of thought or change of state; we deny to Him the possibility of age or decay; He is neither young nor old. Beyond these negations we cannot go, but these negations impress us with the conviction of transcendent excellence. They assert an absolute immortality which surpasses all power of imagination or of thought. Time with its remorseless tooth destroys everything around us; kingdoms rise and fall; generation succeeds generation to the regions of the dead; trees wither and face and perish; the mountain falling cometh to naught; Nature herself waxes old and is ready to vanish away, but the Eternal God remains fixed in His being, the same yesterday, to-day and forever. His years fail not. He is always the great “I Am.” Eternity is a mystery, but it is a mystery which shrouds and covers unspeakable glory. How delightful to think in the midst of universal change and desolation, that there is one Being who liveth and abideth forever – one Being who, when the heavens shall be rolled up as a vesture, the sun blotted out, and the moon and stars bereft of their brightness, can lift His awful hand and swear by Himself, “Behold, I live forever!” Before the earth was, or the stars of the morning sang together, or the sons of God shouted for joy, Jehovah was. Were all the creatures annihilated by a single blow, and the void of nothing to take the place which is now filled by a teeming and joyous universe, Jehovah would still be. Above and beyond time and all its phenomena, He is untouched by its changes and disasters. Eternity is His dwelling-place, and “I Am” is His name.” (James Henley Thornwell, The Collected Writings, Bedford: Applewood, 1:193-4)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More denominational news

Here is an update on the special synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church dealing with the issues at Erskine College and Seminary.  There will be more following from the Aquila Report on this.  Keep them in your prayers.

Second, a new Lutheran denomination is being formed in the United States for congregations that are splitting from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the national assembly vote in August to allow those in committed same-sex relationships to serve as pastors.  We should be praying for our Lutheran brethren who are separating from the denominational affiliations they know out of faithfulness to their Lord Jesus and also mourn and pray for those caught in the error of calling sin "not-sin" that they would repent.  More from the Aquila Report.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some miscellaneous items

You can get some more free audio books from Christian Audio.  Right now you can get John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.  Go here to see the details.  Also they are offering a sale on all Piper and Bonhoeffer books for just $4.98 each.

Here's an interesting blog post at Reformation 21 on the most commonly broken vow.

It's usually worthwhile to click on the clearance tabs for various Christian bookstores every now and then.  Right now WTS Books clearance includes Roland Murphy's Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature and the edition of the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God with essays by Mark Dever and Sinclair Ferguson for 50% off their usual prices.  Both books are excellent.

Finally, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church is having a special General Synod to address the issues at Erskine College and Seminary.  These special Synods are very rare and show that they have a lot of concerns with what is going on there.  You can read more about the Synod and the issues that they're addressing in this note from the Aquila Report.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Today is the 29th anniversary of the death of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher.  Justin Taylor has some thoughts and links.