Easter and the Fear of Hell (Boston)

Works of Thomas Boston, 12 volume hard cover set (Boston) Although many people mock the truth of hell’s existence, some people struggle with the fear of hell.  Some people are afraid of spending eternity facing a punishment in a place where there is forever weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s hard to think about suffering God’s eternal wrath against sin.  On this topic,  Thomas Boston does a great job explaining how the resurrection of Christ can drive away the fear of hell and give a great and joyful hope of heaven:

Hell is a fountain of fears. Sometimes the godly are above, sometimes under the fears of hell. It is terrible, the thought of being excluded forever the presence of God! “Who can abide with everlasting burnings?” When we look down to the pit, it seems hard to escape it; when we look up to heaven, our souls faint, lest we never get there.

But fear not: for Christ died; and if so, he suffered the torments you should have suffered in hell, as to the essentials of them. He was under the punishment of loss; God forsook him, Psalm 22:1. He endured the punishment of sense, even to drops of blood, and the wrath of God poured into his soul. Then God will not require two payments for one debt. Christ lives, he rose, and entered heaven as a public person; and therefore, believer, you shall as surely go to heaven as if you were there already, yea, the apostle says we are there already. Eph. 2:6, “We are raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” as our Head. Jesus lives forevermore; and therefore you shall be forever with the Lord.

“He has the keys of hell and death.” Suppose your father or best friend on earth had these keys, would you be afraid? But we may have more confidence in Jesus than in ten thousand fathers or even the mothers that gave birth to us. They may forsake us, and a mother may be found that will not have compassion on the son of her womb; but, O believer, Jesus has said, “I will not forget you,” Isa. 49:15, 16, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have carved you upon the palms of my hand, you walls are continually before me.” Though Satan be the jailor of hell, yet he keeps not the keys; they hang, believer, at the belt of your best friend.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 22–23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Behind Death’s Grinning Mask (Luther)

Many Christians for many years have been comforted by Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 NIV); [ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς – καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος]. I appreciate these comments of Martin Luther on Paul’s words:

It is a great thing that death, which is to others the greatest of evils, is made to us the greatest gain.

And unless Christ had obtained this for us, what had He done that was worthy of the great price He paid, namely, His own self? It is indeed a divine work that He wrought, and none need wonder, therefore, that He made the evil of death to be something that is very good.

Death, then, to believers is already dead, and hath nothing terrible behind its grinning mask. Like unto a slain serpent, it hath indeed its former terrifying appearance, but it is only the appearance; in truth it is a dead evil, and harmless enough. Nay, as God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of brass, at sight of which the living serpents perished, even so our death dies in the believing contemplation of the death of Christ, and now hath but the outward appearance of death. With such fine similitudes the mercy of God prefigures to us, in our infirmity, this truth, that though death should not be taken away, He yet has reduced its power to a mere shadow (Mt. 9:24) For this reason it is called in the Scriptures a “sleep” rather than death (1 Thes. 4:13ff).

The above quote is found in: Luther, Martin. Works of Martin Luther with Introductions and Notes. Vol. I. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915, p. 148.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Sum and Substance of the Gospel (Bavinck)

 One reason I always enjoy reading Herman Bavinck is because his discussions are so clearly based on Scripture.  I especially like those parts where he explains a doctrine by using his own sort of paraphrase of verses along with the Scripture references.  For example, this week I’m studying Christ’s ascension in sermon preparation.  So I turned to volume 3 of Bavinck’s Dogmatics where there is a good section summarizing the biblical and theological aspects of Christ’s resurrection and ascension; I’ve put it below.  I like it for further study but also because it’s quite devotional and edifying to read!

Bavinck wrote that the sum and substance of the Gospel isall about the Messiah, the Christ…

…who died and rose again. The cross was an immense offense—also for the disciples (Matt. 26:31). But for them that offense was removed by the resurrection. Then they perceived that Jesus had to die and did die in accordance with the counsel of the Father (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:28), and that by his resurrection God had made him a cornerstone (4:11; 1 Peter 2:6), Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), a Leader and a Savior (5:31), the Lord of all (10:36), the Lord of glory (James 2:1), in order by him to give repentance, forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 10:43; 1 Peter 1:3ff., 21), outside of whom there is no salvation (Acts 4:12).

Now taken up into heaven, he remains there until he comes again for judgment (1:11; 3:21), for he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead (10:42; 17:31), and then all things will be restored of which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets of old (3:21).

Similarly Paul teaches that Christ, though he was the Son of God even before his incarnation (Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15), was designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Then he received a spiritual, glorified body (1 Cor. 15:45; Phil. 3:21), became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17), the firstborn of the dead (Col. 1:18), who from then on lives to God forever (Rom. 6:10). Precisely because of his deep humiliation, God highly exalted him, giving him the name that is above every other name, that is, the name “Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11), granting him dominion over the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9), and subjecting all things under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25, 27). As such he is the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), seated at God’s right hand (Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 2:8), in whom the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col. 1:19; 2:9), who is the head of the church, prays for it, and fills it with all the fullness of God (Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:23; 3:19; 4:16).

The Letter to the Hebrews further adds to this profile the unique idea that Christ, the Son, who with the Father was the Creator of all things, was also appointed “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2; 2:8) by the Father and designated eternal high priest (5:6; 7:17). But for a short time, in order to attain this destiny, he had to become lower than the angels (2:7, 9), assume our flesh and blood (2:14), become like us in all respects except sin (2:17; 4:15), and learn obedience from the things he suffered (5:8). But thereby he also sanctified, that is, perfected himself (2:10; 5:9; 7:28), and was designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek (5:10). This, accordingly, is the sum of the things of which the Letter to the Hebrews says that we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (1:13; 8:1; 10:12). He who is the liturgist of the heavenly sanctuary (8:2), a high priest, therefore, who is at the same time the king whose throne is established forever (1:8), who is crowned with honor and glory (2:9), subjects all things under him (2:8), and is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them (5:9; 7:25; 10:14).

The Apocalypse, finally, loves to picture Christ as the Lamb who purchased us and washed us by his blood (5:9; 7:14) but also as the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who with the Father sits on the throne, has power and honor and glory, even the keys of Hades and death (1:18; 3:21; 5:12–13; 19:16). Clothed with such power, he rules and protects his church (2:1, 18; etc.) and will one day triumph over all his enemies (19:12f.).

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 423–424.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Resurrection as Hoax?

I read this book last year and really appreciated it: Jesus and the Logic of History by Paul Barnett.  Recently, as I was skimming through it again, I found the following section where Barnett helpfully talks about the resurrection of Christ and the various theories of it (e.g. the disciples stole the body, Jesus wasn’t really dead but revived in the tomb, or that they crucified the wrong person by mistake):

The view held by many contemporary scholars, that the disciples were subject to some kind of visionary experiences, is hard to accept.  Two people sharing one bed seldom have the same dream.  The proposal that between five and six hundred people on twelve or so separate occasions over forty days had the same visionary experience is extremely unlikely.

In any case ‘resurrection from the dead’, a Jewish concept, literally means, ‘standing up in the midst of corpses’ (anastasis nekron).  A resurrection which was not bodily is self-contradictory and has ben likened to a circle which is square.  The various subjective or visionary theories of the resurrection are culturally contradictory.

Here’s how Barnett ends this section:

There is only one serious alternative explanation.  It is that the disciples stole the body and proclaimed Jesus to have been raised from the dead.  In other words, it was a deception, a hoax.  A number of objections may be raised against this hypothesis.  Apart from the unlikelihood that the perpetrators would call a gospel based on deceit the ‘word of truth’ and repeatedly call for truthful behavior among believers, such a theory is difficult to reconcile with subsequent apostolic history.

Through the pages of the New Testament we are able to trace the ministries of Peter, James and Paul, the leaders of various mission groups, from the time of the resurrection to their martyr-deaths.  This is a period of about three decades.  It is implausible that all three would have maintained the deception throughout those years and then gone to their deaths without exposing a hoax.  Moreover, there was more than a little friction between these men.  Had the resurrection not been true, it is likely that one or other of these strong personalities would have broken ranks to expose the others.

Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Battle Belongs to God! (Wright)

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative I mentioned this book a few years ago: The Mission of God by Christopher Wright.  Since it is an excellent resource, I’ve used it again from time to time in my studies.  This morning while studying the “nations” theme in Luke 24:47 (…repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations… NIV), I ran across this great reminder:

“God’s battle with the gods is an essential part of God’s mission.  God’s mission is the blessing of the nations.  And the blessing of the nations must ultimately include ridding them of gods that masquerade as protectors and saviors, but are actually devouring, destroying, disappointing deceptions…..”

“The battle and the victory belong to God. …By putting our emphasis again on the mission of God, not on human mission, we preserve the right biblical perspective on this matter.  For we need to be clear that in the Bible the conflict with the gods is a conflict waged by God for us, not a conflict waged by us for God.”

“To be sure, the people of God are involved in spiritual warfare, as countless texts in both testaments testify.  However, it is assuredly not the case that God is waiting anxiously for the day when we finally win the battle for him and the heavens can applaud our great victory.  Such blasphemous nonsense, however, is not far removed from the rhetoric and practice of some forms of alleged mission that place great store on all kinds of methods and techniques of warfare by which we are urged to identify and defeat our spiritual enemies.”

“No, the overwhelming emphasis of the Bible is that we are the ones who wait in hope for the day when God defeats all the enemies of God and his people, and then we will celebrate God’s victory along with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  Indeed, in the company of heaven we already celebrate the victory of the cross  and resurrection of Christ, the Easter victory that anticipates the final destruction of all God’s enemies.”

“God fights for us, not we for him.  We are called to witness, to struggle, to resist, to suffer.  But the battle is the Lord’s, as is the final victory.”

C. J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 178.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015