The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor offers an accessible overview of Holy Week. This book would make a useful resource for families and a great gift for someone considering Christ. A free study guide is available.

Here are 7 reasons why I encourage our church family to buy and read The Final Days of Jesus:

1. Help with Harmonizing – Anyone who has closely studied Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John knows that at times it is difficult to see how the accounts fit together. For instance, compare the difference in wording of what was written above Jesus’s head on the Cross (John 19:19, Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38). Kostenberger and Taylor not only offer a harmonization, but they also give a wonderful explanation of how to read the gospel accounts responsibly and charitably (p. 19-20).

2. Parallel Gospel Accounts Brought Conveniently TogetherThe Final Days of Jesus is organized so that the Scripture for the events of each day is included in the text. Readers who want to read parallel accounts without flipping back and forth in their Bibles will benefit.

3. A Glossary and Reference Guide - If you are new to the Easter story, then simply the task of keeping track of the various Marys can send you over the edge of confusion. This is not to mention recalling who Caiaphas is or the Sanhedrin or Joseph of Arimethea. An alphabetized glossary and reference guide at the end makes it easy to look up anyone in the cast.

4. 21 Charts, Diagrams, and Maps – There is so much to “picture” when reading the Gospel accounts of Holy Week. Where did everyone sit at the Last Supper? Why was Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus who would betray him? Charts, diagrams, and maps provide resources that can quickly be reviewed.

The Final Days of Jesus (page 59)

The Final Days of Jesus (page 59)

5. Succinct Summaries – Kostenberger and Taylor blend depth and accessibility. Consider, for instance, their summary of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Peter’s denial of Jesus stands as one of the most poignant and memorable events that transpired during Jesus’s final day. One of Jesus’s closest friends, a man who hours earlier had sworn to stand by Jesus no matter what the sacrifice or cost, denies even knowing Jesus and abandons him in his darkest hour. Pathos drips from the Gospel accounts— the tragedy is palpable, and Peter leaves the scene a broken man.

6. The Most Important Question Ever Asked is Directed to the Reader at the End – The first 202 pages of The Final Days of Jesus all lead up to the most important question about the most important person who ever lived, “Who do you say that he is?”

7. Holy Week is The Most Important Week of the Most Beautiful Person – Christ is the only true King. He deserves all our worship. There is nothing we could imagine that we would want in a savior that we do not find in Him. Nowhere is the beauty of Christ seen more vividly than in the biblical accounts of Holy Week. Seize this opportunity to look deeply at our Savior. The remaining items in this list are only miscellaneous observations. But this is the heart of the matter. Let’s think deeply of Christ.

See also:

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Suffering with incurable cancer, J. Todd Billings points out that contemporary hymnals tend to have a far smaller proportion of laments than the book of Psalms does (Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ40).

While psalms of thanksgiving are wonderful, they are rarer in the book of Psalms than psalms of lament. Cherry-picking only the praises from the Psalms tends to shape a church culture in which only positive emotions can be expressed before God in faith. Since my diagnosis with cancer, I’ve found that my fellow Christians know how to rejoice about answered prayer and also how to petition God for help, but many don’t know what to do when I express sorrow and loss or talk about death. In some sense, this lack of affective agility in their faith is not surprising since our corporate worship has lost many of the elements that are so prominent in the psalms of lament.

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Suffering with incurable cancer, J.T. Billings points out that the way we see and interpret life must account for goodness and beauty as well as suffering.

J. Todd Billings is a theologian who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. In his new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Billings wrestles with the problem of evil and the question of why a good and all powerful God would allow suffering.

But Billings does not stop with the problem of evil. Even though he has cancer, Billings also points out that there is a “problem of good.” As much pain as there can be in this world, there is also so much beauty and goodness. The problem of good considers the questions, “How can we explain so much beauty?” Our worldviews must explain “goodness” as well as pain. Billings writes:

The incredible goodness of creation, including the hope in new life – – in a marriage, in children, in creation as a whole–exposed me to what some philosophers and theologians have referred to as the “problem of good.” I’ve reflected already in earlier chapters on the problem of evil. But there is a “problem” (if one does not believe in a good God) explaining the goodness in the world that goes far beyond the banal. “If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, where is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter? God’s creation is drenched with wonder and goodness: lush waterfalls and sandy deserts; children who can blow bubbles and wear crazy wigs: material bodies that can dance, play sports, and express sexual intimacy in the secure freedom of marriage. Who are you going to thank for it? If you have no one to thank, then you have not done justice to the “problem of good.” The beauties and delights of creation point beyond themselves; they cry out to thank someone–a Creator. Indeed, apart from the specific philosophical “problem of good,” Scripture indicates that God’s creation is not just good–it’s very good!

For the materialist (who believes that there is nothing more than random collisions of molecules) the problem of good is insurmountable. Is it really possible that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is the product of a mass of meat?

You can watch J. Todd Billings talk more about his book below:

See also:

Why Did God Allow Satan to Harm Job and His Family?

Hope: This is Just the Beginning of the Beginning

Why is God Harder on Job’s Friends Than on Complaining Job?

Hitting Hard Questions Head-On

9 Reasons Tim Keller’s Book on Suffering is Superb

Andy Naselli’s interview of John Frame regarding the Problem of Evil

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Heath Lambert gives some very practical advice to parents of young children about how to teach about what can be an awkward subject for parents

Dr. Heath Lambert serves as Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. ACBC is the largest biblical counseling organization in the world with certified counselors and counseling training centers in 17 countries. Heath also serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and their undergraduate institution, Boyce College where he has taught classes on biblical counseling and Christian ministry since 2006.

Heath is the author of the first book I recommend to those struggling with pornography, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace.

Heath is not only a counselor, he is also a parent. In the below video he shares some of the practical ways he and his wife teach their young children in age appropriate ways.

Parenting in a Hyper-Sexualized Culture from Radical on Vimeo.

Q: As a father, how do you shepherd your children in our hyper-sexualized culture?

The issue of how you shepherd your children in a hyper-sexualized culture is what keeps me up at night, quite literally. I have three kids: a nine year-old boy, a four year-old boy and a six year-old daughter. I walk into their rooms and pray for them almost every night before I go to bed. And there are many things I pray for them. I pray that they will love the gospel, will love the Bible, will walk with Jesus; yet the thing I pray for almost every night is that the Lord would protect them from this pornographic culture that has a bull’s-eye on their head. I think the first thing you have to do is pray for your kids. There are so many forces after our kids and we have no control over most of those forces. As far as ministering to our children is concerned, there are a few things my wife and I do. And I don’t think I have all this figured out, so ask me again in ten to fifteen years and maybe I’ll have something more to say. But, here are the main things we are doing:

First, we talk about modesty all the time. When we are in our house, we dress modestly. I am modest in our house, my wife is modest in our house and we make sure our kids are modest in our house. We do that on purpose not because we are being prudish, but because we want to occasion the opportunity to talk about the godliness of modesty—the godliness of being covered up. It’s a way to express care to others.

When we talk about modesty, it gives us a starting point.

Read more here.

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The Cycle of the BeatitudesWhen studying the beatitudes, it is helpful not only to notice a sequence to the beatitudes, but also a cycle. Give my artistic limitations, I need someone to illustrate the point. Submit to me an illustration by Saturday and I may incorporate it in Sunday’s sermon. Salvation is by grace, but if you help the sermon out with an illustration, there is surely some sort of blessing that awaits. Maybe I’ll give you a mint.

Nearly everyone notices the sequence of the beatitudes (Lloyd-Jones, Keller, Bruner for example). But Bruner, in Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, page 156) helpfully sees not only a sequence but also a cycle. A Christian begins empty (poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness). He or she is then graciously blessed by God and extends mercy, is pure in heart, and makes peace. Suffering, however, is inevitable for the Christian and soon enough the believer is knocked flat. Amazingly, persecution brings us back to the place of being on our knees and empty: crying out to God.

Bruner calls this cycle “the aerobics of discipleship.” He says that when he teaches the beatitudes:

I first draw a little stick figure on its knees and with its hands reaching up to heaven to represent the blessed poor; then a little stick figure standing up with its hands reaching out to the world to represent the blessed helpers; and finally a little stick figure flat on its back, with its hands reaching back up to heaven again to represent the blessed persecuted.

 He continues:

Altogether, I see in the sequence of Blessings the grace of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who picks up all who are down and sends them out in the world to pick others up, knowing this lead these very helpers, mysteriously, to be thrown back down in persecution and, so into need; from whence they will rise again from their knees to their feet, where they will again be knocked down and so on the rest of their lives – – the aerobics of discipleship.

I am sure that many of you will agree about two points:

(1) Bruner’s insight into the Beatitudes as they relate to the Christian life is excellent. We should not be surprised at suffering as though something strange is happening.

(2) My illustration of Bruner’s point is terrible. Surely you can do better. Let me know in the comments if you have an image. Or email me a picture and help all involved!

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The below video is by no means just for singles nor is it simply about the subject of being single. I’ll bet you will be encouraged by this if you take 15 minutes to watch it.

I heard Lizzette Beard at the  2014 ERLC National Conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” I continue to reflect on what she had to say and there are a couple of specific ways that her talk influenced my direction as a leader for our church. And, for the record, her influence wasn’t in reference to how we do singles ministry!

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Christ said his disciples are the "salt" of the world.Given that Matthew summarizes the response to the Sermon on the Mount by saying that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’s teaching (Matthew 7:28-29)- – and remembering that the Gospel concludes with Jesus saying, “All authority has been given to me (Matthew 28:18) – – any study on the Sermon on the Mount needs to consider the authority of Christ.

As I noted earlier in this series of posts, currently I am preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. Our time on Sunday mornings is limited so I am also making my study notes available. Bear in mind that these are simply my notes and are not particularly well organized and certainly not edited. Some of the material is technical. Previously I posted my notes on the Kingdom of Heaven and Matthew’s use of inclusio / bracketing.

Authority (ἐξουσία /exousia) – “The right to control or govern over” (Louw and Nida).[1]

Matthew concludes the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:28-29) by observing that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’s authority. This summary statement demonstrates that a great deal of attention should be given to what is meant by Christ’s authority. Ultimately we will see Jesus’s incredible yet true claim that his authority rested in Himself and was not derived like that of the Scribes.

But first, we should consider the reaction to Christ’s authority. Matthew’s gospel says that the on looking crowds were “astonished.” The word translated “astonished” means to be so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed.[2] My paraphrase is that those who heard the Sermon on the Mount were “blown away.” It helps gauge the level of the crowds astonishment at Jesus’s authority to observe how the word translated “astonished” in Matthew 7:28 is used by Luke in Acts 13:12. In Acts 13 when a man is struck blind after opposing the early church. Luke gives the following account.

 [4] So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. [5] When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. [6] When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. [7] He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. [8] But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. [9] But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him [10] and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? [11] And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. [12] Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (Acts 13:4-12 ESV)

 Luke uses the same word to describe the astonishment of the on looking Sergius Paulus, “a man of intelligence,” who had summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear the Word of God.

In reading the Gospel of Matthew, we begin to be astonished with Jesus’s authority even in the way that Matthew presents Christ leading up to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel:

  • Begins by tracing Jesus’s genealogy demonstrating that he is the culmination of the whole flow of the Old Testament.[3]
  • Continues by showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy[4]
  • Brings Moses to mind by showing how both Moses and Jesus were threatened as infants (Exodus 2:1-10, Matthew 2:16-18).[5]
  • Emphasizes that Jesus comes out of Egypt like Israel
  • Leads up to the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus’s victory in the wilderness.

As the Sermon on the Mount begins, Jesus goes up on the mountain. Matthew’s Jewish readers would have seen a parallel between Jesus going up on the mountain and Moses who went up on the mountain to receive the 10 commandments.[6] As noted above, Jesus has already been paralleled with Moses in that both their lives were threatened as infants (Exodus 2:1-10, Matthew 2:16-18).

Further, the idea of Jesus sitting down with people coming to hear him teach also stressed his authority. Jesus opens his mouth – there is a split second of suspenseful silence – and Jesus begins to speak.[7]

In the content of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s authority expressed itself in several ways.

  1. Christ spoke as the authority rather than appealing to policies. Notice his repeated use of the saying, “Truly I say to you” (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν/ amen legō humin) (5:18, 6:2, 5, 16, 25, 29) and “But I say to you” (ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν) (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 42) – Jesus’s use of these two phrases demonstrates how he took a posture of unique and divine authority. The latter phrase, “but I say to you,” appears six times as noted and is used in each case to clarify the meaning of the law and to show how the scribes and Pharisees had missed the heart of the matter. Recognizing Christ’s bold assertion of his authority allows us to dispense with any nonsense that Jesus was merely a great moral teacher.[8]
  2. Jesus insisted on a radical internalization of biblical principles. Whereas the scribes focused on behaviors, Jesus focused on the heart: (Matthew 12:33-37/Tree and Its Fruit, Overflow of Heart, 19:16-22/Rich Young Ruler).
  3. Jesus applied truth in fresh ways that made sense in contrast with the arbitrary standards of the scribes. One example would be the matter of healing on the Sabbath and the Pharisees failure to give priority to the weightier matter of mercy (Matt 12:1-14). It’s like NFL rules where they are so caught up in defining a “catch” that it no longer describes a catch. Jesus said “I am the rule” – – not the NFL and I tell you the heart of the matter.

The emphasis on Jesus’s authority continues to the end of the Gospel.[9] In Matthew 8 Jesus authority is referenced in both his exchange with the centurion and his rebuke of the storm. Even the wind and the waves obeyed him (Matt 8:27)!

In Matthew 9:8, the crowds are amazed that such authority was given to men.

By Matthew 10:1, Christ begins to share authority with the disciples.

Matthew argues for the authority of Christ by emphasizing the phrase “something greater.”[10]

In Matthew 12:3-4, Matthew implicitly says that Christ is greater than David.

In Matthew 12:5-6, Matthew says that Christ is greater than the Temple.

In Matthew 12:42, Matthew says that something greater than Jonah is here.

In Matthew 12:43, Matthew says that something greater than Solomon is here.

Matthew 21:23 demonstrates that the issue of authority continues to be central in the Gospel of Matthew:

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’”

Finally, Matthew concludes his gospel with Jesus’s assuring his disciples that all authority has been given to him and that he charges them to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

See William Barclay’s chapter on the Authority of Jesus. I have not yet interacted with it extensively.[11]

One of the challenges are day is that Christians too easily accept the authoritative presuppositions of the academy without evaluating them. We need to be unapologetic in saying that we accept Christ’s authoritative Word. For more on this subject, see Alvin Plantinga’s essay, Advice to Christian Philosophers.[12] That essay concludes:

 Christian philosophers must be wary about assimilating or accepting presently popular philosophical ideas and procedures; for many of these have roots that are deeply anti-Christian. And finally the Christian philosophical community has a right to its own perspectives; it is under no obligation first to show that this perspective is plausible with respect to what is taken for granted by all philosopher, or most philosophers, or the leading philosophers of our day. . . In sum, we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.[13]

************

[1] A common word, “ἐξουσία/authority” is found 102 times in the Greek New Testament.

[2] The word for astonished is “ἐκπλήσσομαι/ekplēssōmai”: “to be so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed” (Louw and Nida). It is found thirteen times in the Greek New Testament (Matt 7:28, 13:54, 19:25, 22:33; Mark 1:22, 6:2, 7:37, 10:26, 11:18, Luke 2:48, 4:32, 9:43; Acts 13:12).

[3] R.T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 168.

[4] See “Fulfill” on page 5.

[5] France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, 187.

[6] Ibid., 18; W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: In Three Volumes, International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 23–93.

[7] Regarding the beginning of the sermon, Bonhoeffer made an incredible observation in a footnote – that the warrant for his exposition is the phrase, “he opened his mouth.” Bonhoeffer wrote, “Even in the early Church this point was emphasized. Before Jesus speaks there is a pause – – all is silent for a moment or two.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, ed. Irmgard Booth (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 118, fn 1 .

[8] John R.W. Stott, The Message on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter Culture, ed. John R.W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), 212–215.

[9] Occurrences of ἐξουσία/exousia in Matthew are found in 7:28, 8:9, 9:6, 9:8, 10:1, 21:23, 21:24, 21:27, 28:18.

[10] France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, 189.

[11] William Barclay, By What Authority? (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1974), 78–110.

[12] Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers (With a Special Preface for Christian Thinkers From Different Disciplines),” n.d., https://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/advice_to_christian_philosophers.pdf.

[13] Ibid.

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Calvin on the sensus divinitatis (or sense of the divine):

There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty . . . Therefore, since from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no household, that could do without religion, there lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity inscribed int he hearts of all.

Someone may object that non-religious households exist. But it would be easy enough to demonstrate that these apparently non-religious households are ordered around some object whether it is sports, entertainment, power, or materialism. As Bob Dylan said, “You’ve got to serve somebody.”

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That’s Why I’m Fighting Him

Chris —  February 25, 2015 — 2 Comments

One of my favorite parts in Lewis’s Prince Caspian is a part where Peter is having a dual with an evil king.

At one point, there is a break in the fighting. The dual isn’t going Peter’s way, and his brother Edmund says, “I say, Peter, you can beat him can’t you.” And, Peter responds, “Well, that’s why we’re fighting him. To find out.”

Lewis’ point here was that part of the adventure of the Christian life is that we don’t know how every particular dual will come out. That’s why it’s an adventure.

There are no guarantees about how a particular matter in your life may be resolved. The adventure is in continuing on for Christ, even when things look bleak. But, never forget this. Christ the King will win in the end.

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Lights Out by Chad CramerChad Cramer has written a a book for parents of young children that offers practical and theological help for helping children overcome a fear of the dark.

Parents whose children are afraid of the dark have a couple of options. One choice would be to expose the inner workings of the monster industry so that your child realizes that every fear of the dark is really a fuzzy friend. The video at the end of this post is one resource available online if you choose that strategy.

And – – if the Monsters Inc. system works for you – – well, use it. Having said that, the more theologically minded parent may want to consider using Chad Cramer’s book, Lights Out!: Helping Your Kids Overcome Their Fear of the Dark. Cramer combines the biblical basis for theological insights (such as “God sees everything”) with practical tips for teaching children those important truths about overcoming a fear of the dark. One of Cramer’s ideas is to use games such as a Hide and Seek to remind children that even though we can hide from one another we can’t hide from God. He understands how to teach children. The book is full of Bible references. There are many ideas in this book.

Even as Cramer focuses on the subject of children who are afraid of the dark, he provides a model for how parents can think through many different parenting issues. He has a number of appendices that suggest different teaching techniques for parents regardless of whether the children are afraid of the monsters industry. Indeed, the added value of this book is the best part of all. It models how to think both theologically and practically about an every night issue.

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