Archive for February 2014

Daddy Died—Promises that Abraham Believed

February 14, 2014

a funeral message for the father of a friend:

Daddy’s going to die someday. And for two of you today that day has come. Daddy died. We think, we know that we are going to die, we ourselves are going to die. But we think, not now, not until Daddy has died. As we know, it doesn’t always work that way— sometimes we die before daddy dies. But today, two of you come with your families, to this grave, because Daddy died.

And what can we say in the face of this reality, what is there to talk about beside this grave? It’s hot, but I want to read to you from the book of Hebrews chapter 11, verses 17-19

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, and he that had received the promises offered up his one and only Son. Of whom it was said: That in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead…”

We could talk about faith, about Abraham’s believing. But my question is— what gospel did Abraham believe? What is the gospel, what is the good news for us now, standing here at this grave and with Daddy dead? What are these promises that Hebrews talks about?

We know that there was a promised land. I find it interesting that in Genesis 23, right after the chapter about Abraham and Isaac on the mountain, we see Abraham buying land to bury his wife Sarah. And when Abraham himself died, that grave, that burial place was the only part of the promised land that Abraham owned. And when Abraham died, his two sons Isaac and Ishmael came to bury him. And so we remember that God promised Abraham not only the land but many children.

But is that all there is to the promises? Is that all the gospel Abraham knew? Is that all the gospel we know? It’s hot, but I want you to see two other promises here in this text. One is the promise in v 19: counting that God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead. Abraham knew about resurrection. Abraham believed in resurrection. The gospel is about resurrection.

Not today, but the day when Jesus comes, there will be a resurrection from the grave. Both the elect and the non-elect will be raised. At that resurrection day God will demand from us a righteousness, a perfect righteousness, a divine righteousness, a righteousness we do not have and cannot earn or produce…we need to receive it by grace. This righteousness is not grace changing us on the inside. This righteousness is Christ’s death for the elect to satisfy God’s law for all the sins of the elect. This righteousness we receive by God’s imputation, and not because of our faith.

The resurrection day which is to come will not be good news for the non-elect. But for the elect it will be, because Jesus Christ did a work of righteousness, and the merit of that work is in time imputed to the elect so that they will stand perfect before God at the resurrection day.

So what are the promises Abraham believed? Not only land and many children, but resurrection. But not only resurrection, because there is a resurrection to nothing but second death. Let me read Hebrews 11 verse 18 again: “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The promise Abraham believed is not only that he would have many children, not only that Isaac was his elect seed, his one and only, and that Ishmael was not. The promise was about one specific child of Abraham, about one particular descendent of Abraham, the promise was about Jesus Christ.

Abraham (as far as I know) did not know his name, but Abraham did know that there was one child, one seed, who was coming to do a work of righteousness for the elect. Abraham did see the need of that perfect righteousness, and he did trust God’s promise to bring in that righteousness. “In Isaac thy seed shall be called”. Yes, Isaac is the seed of Abraham. Yes, Isaac’s children are God’s firstborn son, God’s national seed. But IN Isaac there is to be one seed, one child, and that human person is named Jesus. Jesus is not only God now; Jesus is also human now and Jesus was raised from the grave because Jesus had completed that perfect work of righteousness which God had promised to Abraham.

Are you elect? You will never know, unless and until you believe this gospel that Abraham believed, trusting in the seed of Abraham and his perfect work of righteousness for the elect. Hebrews 9:27-28 “And it is appointed unto men once to die but after this the judgment. So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of MANY; and unto THEM that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

It is not just Daddy who is appointed to die. All of us are going to die, unless Jesus comes back before then. After we die, it’s too late to believe the gospel. After we die, we must all wait for the day of resurrection, for the day of judgment. And on that day, the question will be: do we have a perfect righteousness? Have our sins all been taken away?

What is the gospel for us, for today, for right here and right now? The gospel is that Jesus has taken away some sins. Some will die in their sins, but the good news is that others will die without sins. Why? Why do the elect die WITHOUT their sins? Hebrews 9:28 says it’s because Christ died WITH their sins.

Listen to the gospel again! Christ was handed over to death, delivered, offered TO BEAR THE SINS OF MANY. Christ died because he was imputed with all the sins of the elect. But Christ no longer bears all the sins of the elect. Christ did something only He could do—He put away these sins, He bore them away, He took them away, He paid the full price for all the sins of all the elect.

Jesus Christ is no longer imputed with these sins. Hebrews 9:28 says He shall appear. Christ rose from the grave. And when Christ rose from the grave, He was no longer imputed with the sins of the elect. Christ had by His death satisfied for all those sins. All the sins of the elect, past and future, were then non-imputed to Jesus Christ.

This is the gospel. Not that you are going to die. Your death is no gospel. But the death of Christ for the elect, that is the gospel. Christ the seed of Abraham died for Abraham and for all the seed of Abraham.

Mark McCulley

If We Remove the Ceremonies, and We are United to Christ, Then the Law Is Our Friend?

February 5, 2014

Ephesians 2: 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, in order to create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 in order to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is not dividing the law from its curse, or saying only that the curse has been abolished. What has been abolished is “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances”. In some sense, the law itself has been abolished. Paul speaks in Ephesians 2 the opposite of the way he would have to speak if he thought that curse and law were two different things.

While the Reformed distinction between law and curse lays the exclusive emphasis on the law in Romans 3:31, Paul’s point in Romans 3:31 accentuates the curse.

While the Reformed distinction between law and curse lays the emphasis on the curse in Ephesians 2, the emphasis in context of Ephesians 2 is the law itself.

The law is not our friend but our enemy, because we are sinners. The one and only way that the law is now our friend is Christ’s death by law to the law for the sins of the elect.

“For I through the law died to the law” Galatians 2:19

Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “

Ephesians 2:15 teaches that the law is the instrument of condemnation and death. The emphasis is on the code, the “commandments expressed in ordinances”. Instead of separating out the curse from the code, Paul actually writes of the abolition of the commandments themselves. This can be seen from the statement itself, and also from the context which speaks of the joining of jew and gentile into the body.

It is impossible to maintain that only the curse itself is that which divides the two groups, since both are under the curse equally. No, the curse divides God from humans. What stands between jew and gentile is the law itself, the code, the covenant mediated by Moses.

Think of the parallel in Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The “record of death” against us is the same as the “legal demands” against us. It is difficult to see how the law and its curse can be separated, when the Apostle integrates them together in this way. It is the demands which are hostile to us. Colossians 2: 16 goes on to say: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”

It is more than the removal of the curse that the law-work of the cross achieves. The cross brings about in some sense the abolition of the law itself. Nobody has to do anymore what the Mosaic covenant commands to be done.

The familiar moral/ceremonial distinction was often used by Roman Catholics against the Reformers, when the topic was justification by imputation vs justification by our law-keeping. Calvin would not allow the Romanists this distinction in order for them to say that only some kind of our works were not a condition of salvation. Calvin ruled out all of our works (even “works of faith”) as having any part in our justification.

The curse does not attach to the ceremonies. Rather, the ceremonies picture the way out from the curse. If you say that “law” in these texts is only the ceremonies, then you have ceremonies that damn rather than ceremonies that prefigure Christ and the cross.