God the Peacemaker: A Review

God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom, Vol. 25 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) The apostle Paul said that God, through Christ, was pleased “to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20 NIV).  God is the great peacemaker who brings peace through Jesus’ death on the cross.  What exactly does this mean?  Graham Cole explores this theme in his 2009 publication, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings ShalomIn a word, this book argues that “atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming the barriers both to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation” (p. 229).

The first section of the book talks about God’s divine perfections and man’s deep imperfections.  The second section is a discussion of God’s remedy for man’s sin.  The final section is where Cole ties it all together by talking about peace, Christian living in light of the atonement, and God’s glory.  There is also an appendix which traces various views on the atonement (although it doesn’t really discuss the extent of the atonement).

I enjoyed this book because it goes a bit deeper into the doctrine of Christ’s atonement.  In line with historic Christian theology, Cole emphasized God’s love and justice which do not contradict, but come together in Christ’s work on the cross.  Cole also did a nice job tracing the Bible’s story line and how the atonement is at the center; he made it clear that the OT promises are fulfilled in Christ.  Of course, the book also talks about how Christ’s sacrificial death satisfied divine justice.

Although I didn’t agree with every single conclusion in the book, I don’t have any major criticisms of the it.  I do, however, wish Cole would have talked more about the cosmic shalom that the atonement brings.  He really only discussed the cosmic aspect in three or four pages.  Based on the subtitle, I was expecting a longer and more detailed discussion of the cosmic aspect.

Graham Cole’s God the Peacemaker is a helpful resource on the doctrine of the atonement.  To be honest, I think Louis Berkhof’s treatment of the atonement in his Systematic Theology is better, and George Smeaton’s book on the atonement is more detailed and comprehensive, but Cole’s addition to this topic is one worth reading as well.  It’ll help the reader better understand the significance of Jesus’ work on the cross, which certainly does bring peace!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Has The Passover Been Abolished?

It is a trend in some Christian circles and churches to host and celebrate Jewish sort of meals that are connected to the Passover.  You don’t have to look too hard online to see what I mean.  I suppose it’s one thing to watch a video or read a book to learn how Jews celebrate the Passover; it’s another thing to actually partake and make these Jewish meals part of church or Christian life.

In Reformed theology we say that the Old Testament’s “ceremonial laws are now abrogated” in the New Testament era (WCF 19.3).  “We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians (BCF 25).  There is firm biblical reason for this Reformed position.  Zacharias Ursinus comments:

That the ancient Passover, with all the other types which prefigured the Messiah which was to come, was abolished at the coming of Christ, is evident,

1. From the whole argument of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews respecting the abolishing of the legal shadows in the New Testament. “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.” (Heb. 7:12; 8:13.)

2. From the fulfillment or these legal shadows. “These things were done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (John 19:36. 1 Cor. 5:7.)

3. From the substitution of the New Testament; for Christ, when he was about to suffer, and die and sacrifice himself as the true Passover, closed the ordinance relating to the paschal lamb with a solemn feast, and instituted and commanded his Supper to be observed by the church in the place of the old passover. “With desire, I have desired to eat with you this passover, before I suffer.” “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:15, 19.) Christ here commands the supper, not the ancient passover, to be celebrated in remembrance of him. As baptism has, therefore, succeeded circumcision, so the Lord’s supper has succeeded the passover in the New Testament.

It may seem interesting and even spiritual to reenact ancient Jewish feasts and meals, but doing so is actually going back to the copies and shadows of the old covenant which is obsolete (Heb 8: 5, 13).  As Hebrews makes very clear, you can’t have the old and the new together – the old is fulfilled, the new is here, so don’t go back!  Or, like Paul notes in Galatians 4:9-11, for the Gentile Galatian Christians to go under the Jewish ceremonies and laws is the same as going back to their pagan religions!  Commenting on Galatians 4:9, C. K. Barrett said, “To go forward into Judaism is to go backward into heathenism” (see also Douglas Moo and F. F. Bruce on Gal. 4:9).

Since we have Christ, the Passover Lamb, and his final sacrifice, we don’t need to sacrifice animals, have altars, celebrate Jewish ceremonies, feasts, Passovers, and so forth.  Instead, we celebrate the Lord’s death by blessing and sharing bread and wine like he told us to do until he comes again (1 Cor. 11:23ff).

The above quotes are found in Zacharias Ursinus trans. by G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 440.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Christian Sacrifices

  I’ve appreciated this “sleeper” layman’s commentary on Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews by R. T. France (Hendrikson: Peabody, 2001).  The comments are short, sweet, biblical, and practical.  For example, this week I’m studying Hebrews 13:15-16, where the author talks about how Christians should offer up sacrifices to God through Christ.  Here are some of France’s comments.

“Verses 9-14 (of Hebrews 13) have focused on the distance which has now developed between the old sacrificial regime of the temple/tabernacle and the new Christian place of exile ‘outside the camp.’  These comments, together with the teaching of chapters 9 and 10 about the inadequacy of the Old Testament sacrifices and their eclipse now by the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, might suggest that a Christian church may now safely forget about ‘sacrifice.’  Not at all, says our author!”

“Animal sacrifices are now obsolete: Christ has offered the only atoning sacrifice which we can ever need.  But there are other types of sacrifices for us to offer, not as a means of obtaining God’s grace and forgiveness, but in simple thanksgiving for the salvation we have received.”

“The first [sacrifice] is praise, the sort of ‘spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God’ which 1 Peter 2:5 calls for, and which is further defined there as ‘proclaiming the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9).  For the lips that ‘confess his name’ cannot but speak of the saving acts which his very name denotes (especially in its Hebrew form Yahweh, the living God, and the name of Jesus, the Savior).”

“But secondly there is also the sacrifice of doing good, without which any claims to Christian faith is a sham (James 2:14-26).  ‘Doing good’ (v. 16) is very broad, but the author links it more specifically with ‘sharing.’  Here he uses a word (koinonia) which we often translate by ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion,’ but which in the New Testament is very often used with a more directly financial and material sense, and that is the focus of the ‘good works’ called for in verse 16.”

As with all commentaries, you probably won’t agree with every point France makes, but overall the commentary is well worth having.

R. T. France, Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews, p. 214.

shane lems

No Fishing Allowed

Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross... Every Day I enjoy fishing. In fact, my three boys and I recently returned from a camping trip on which we caught a handful of trout up in the general area of Mt. Rainier, WA.  So this illustration Jerry Bridges referred to in his book The Gospel for Real Life caught my attention.

The verse Bridges is talking about in the following quote is Micah 7:19: [You will] hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (NIV).

“Notice the forceful verb, ‘hurl,’ that Micah uses.  The picture is of God vigorously disposing of our sins by hurling them overboard.  He doesn’t just drop them over the side or even pitch them overboard; he ‘hurls’ them as something to be rid of and forgotten.”

“The picture here is of God eager to put away our sins.  Because the sacrifice of his Son is of such infinite value, he delights to apply it to sinful men and women.  God is not a reluctant forgiver; he is a joyous one.  His justice having been satisfied and his wrath having been exhausted [through Christ’s work on the cross], he is now eager to extend his forgiveness to all who trust in his Son as their propitiatory sacrifice.”

“He hurls our sins overboard.  What a picture of the way God treats our sins.  Corrie ten Boom, a dear saint of the last century, used to say, ‘And then God put up a sign saying, “No fishing allowed.”’  Why would she say that?  Because she knew that we tend to drag up our old sins, that we tend to live under a vague sense of guilt.  She knew we are not nearly as vigorous in appropriating God’s forgiveness as he is in extending it.  Consequently, instead of living in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness through Christ, we tend to live under an overcast sky of guilt most of the time.”

We have to memorize the verse and remind ourselves of this gospel truth often: God hurls all our iniquities into the depth of the sea (Mic. 7:19).  He doesn’t hurl some of our sins into a shallow pond, but all of them into the depths of the sea.  That is good news!

Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 62.

rev shane lems

sunnyside, wa