Ligonier Ministries Blog

Ligonier Ministries
Ligonier Ministries
  1. The burning bush has been a significant symbol throughout the history of the church, and for good reason. In the account of Moses and the burning bush, we see God’s self-revelation. God appeared to Moses and provided an all-important disclosure: His everlasting, covenant name, Yahweh. The burning bush, as a symbol, signifies an encounter with the transcendent God and His divine revelation. The account of the burning bush is a story about the holiness of God. What happened at the burning bush was a theophany—a visible manifestation of the invisible God. Moses’ attention was caught by something mysterious. He saw a bush that was burning but not consumed. As Moses drew near to the bush, God spoke, telling him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). The ground was holy not because of the presence of Moses but rather because of the presence of God. It was holy ground because at that point, an intersection between heaven and earth occurred. God Himself appeared, through the manifestation of His presence in the bush. One of the church’s biggest problems is that we don’t understand who God is. But in that one revelation—the theophany in which God appeared to Moses—the transcendent majesty of God was partially unveiled. What had been invisible became visible through the theophany. Part of our problem is that when something is out of sight, it’s out of mind. But from time to time throughout biblical history, God manifests Himself to human eyes. God manifested Himself at the burning bush, and it was earth-shattering. We talk theologically about the transcendence of God and the immanence of God. On the one hand, God is not a part of the created order. He’s above and beyond. That’s what we mean by transcendent. And yet He is not remote. Aristotle thought of God as a do-nothing king who reigns but doesn’t rule. His god is uninvolved with the affairs of human beings. But God is not like that. He is immanent, meaning He is close by. He’s immanent in that He manifests Himself in the created order. He’s immanent through the presence of the Holy Spirit and ultimately by virtue of the incarnation of Christ. Scripture describes God as an all-consuming fire, which refers to His transcendent majesty (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). But He entered into communion with His creatures in the garden of Eden. In that original fellowship, prior to the fall, Adam and Eve delighted when God walked in the cool of the evening. They couldn’t wait to enjoy His presence. But after the fall, if there had been no grace from God, then there would have been only judgment, and we would be without hope. The whole Bible is the story of God’s stooping and condescending to His embarrassed, frightened, fugitive people who hide ourselves because we know that we are naked and are ashamed. And the first act of redemption in the Bible is that God stooped down and covered our first parents’ shame (Gen. 3:21). He covered Adam and Eve’s sin, fashioning for them tunics of animal skin. The redemption motif from Genesis to Revelation is a covering. It’s a covering because in our fallen condition we are naked before God. We’re unclothed, and we require a covering that is acceptable to Him. By nature, other creatures have their covering that was provided by God. Birds have feathers. Other animals have their hides. But we need artificial covers and clothing. That in itself bears witness to our universal need for a covering. Even in the Old Testament sacrificial system, the throne of God in the Holy of Holies was covered with blood, which represented covering the sin of the people. The New Testament speaks of exchanging our filthy rags for the righteousness of Christ. The imagery we get in the New Testament is that we are covered, we are clothed, with the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4:7–8; 2 Cor. 5:21). Another familiar story in the Old Testament is Isaiah’s vision of the Lord. Like Moses, Isaiah experienced the transcendence and immanence of the Lord: > In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: > “Holy , holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” > And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” > Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isa. 6:1–7) Whether this vision occurred in the earthly temple or in the heavenly temple, one of the pieces of sacred furniture was the altar of incense. The altar of incense symbolized the prayers of God’s people. And on the altar were coals, which God used to depict Isaiah’s unholiness. When Isaiah saw God lifted up in His majesty, he immediately became aware of the dreadful contrast between himself and God. He cried out, “I am a man of unclean lips!” He cried out because his eyes had seen the Lord of hosts. Isaiah realized who he truly was as soon as he realized who God is. He realized he was unclean. But we all, Isaiah realized, are filthy as well. And so to purify Isaiah for his mission, God dispatched a seraph to bring a burning coal from the altar and place it on Isaiah’s lips. It wasn’t for punishment; it was for purging. It was to make the unclean clean. Just like Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah must have been terrified by his experience. Augustine said self-consciousness carries with it an immediate awareness of one’s finitude. As soon as we are aware of ourselves, we know that we are not God and we know that we are subject to God. John Calvin said that we don’t really understand who we are until we understand who God is; we don’t first understand God until we encounter ourselves. Calvin goes on to say that in our fallen condition we tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We observe each other, and we judge ourselves according to earthly standards. We can always find someone who is more corrupt than we are, or at least who appears to be. But when we lift our gaze to heaven and consider who God is, then we are reduced to dread. We don’t measure up to the standard He demands. The Lord is holy, high and lifted up. He is a consuming fire. And if not for His grace, we would be consumed. This is still true for us today: if not for the covering of Christ’s righteousness, if not for the purging of our filthiness, we would be consumed. But God in His grace has condescended to make it possible for us to stand in His presence through Christ and live. What Moses experienced at the burning bush is what God’s people experience today: a holy, transcendent, all-consuming God who comes down to dwell with His people. He knows us.
  2. Open Book is a podcast about the power of books and the people they’ve shaped. So far, Stephen Nichols has visited the libraries of R.C. Sproul, Derek Thomas, and other Christian teachers to encounter the books that have influenced their faith. Which special guest will join the podcast this time? Listen to the trailer to discover what awaits in season five. Get Ready for Season Five: The first episode airs next Thursday, April 25. Follow the podcast today so you don’t miss an episode. And share the podcast with a friend to join the discussion on your own favorite books. Listen to a new episode every Thursday in the free Ligonier app, where you can find all of Ligonier’s podcasts. Or search for “Ligonier Ministries” on your preferred podcast platform.
  3. Properly conceived as grounded in God’s own kingship, the Great Commission begins before humanity’s fall away from communion with God. On the sixth day, man was commissioned by God to fill and subdue the earth, and to rule over the creatures (Gen. 1:28). Accordingly, one might justly define the Great Commission as “ruling and subduing” the earth and its creatures—an understanding we will need to unpack. To be sure, the phrase “ruling and subduing” has deeply negative connotations in our modern world, filled as it is with memories of horrific tyranny and the abuse of power. Nevertheless, we should note that this commission was given before the descent into sin and misery, precisely within the context of man in union with God—that is, given to man as bearer of the image of God (v. 26), created both to fellowship with God and to mediate the blessed reign of God over all the earth. The theology here is twofold. First, Adam is to gather up all creation into the seventh-day praise and adoration of God—that is what it means to “rule and subdue.” He is charged to set apart (“sanctify”) creation increasingly until the whole earth is holy, filled with the abiding glory of God. Second, there is no blessing to be enjoyed, be it ever so marginal, that does not derive from the reign of God—that is the joy of what it means to “be subdued,” especially so after the expulsion from life with God. For this reason, we gladly teach our children that Christ executes the office of a king “in subduing us to himself” (WSC Q&A 26). The Great Commission bestowed upon Adam entailed that his kingship would be in the service of his priestly office, namely, that he would “rule and subdue” for the sake of gathering all creation to the Creator’s footstool in worship. The Sabbath consummation was the heart and goal of the sixth day’s commission. Once we understand the Great Commission as a function of kingship, we are in a better place to assess this agenda throughout the rest of the Old Testament. God’s reign is universal, and from the beginning, His plan of salvation aimed at all the families of the earth, never overlooking the fact that He “shall inherit all the nations” (Ps. 82:8). Here, the role of Genesis 1–11 as a prologue to Israel’s narrative cannot be overemphasized, for Israel’s own identity and sacred calling springs from this universal context and is ever determined by it. After the nations are scattered into exile from the tower of Babel, God calls Abram in Genesis 12, promising that through him “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This promise is later reiterated to Abraham: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:18; see 18:18). It is then vouchsafed to Isaac (Gen. 26:4), and then onward to Jacob as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 28:14). Coupled with this promise is the undercurrent of kingship. Abram had been promised that “kings will come from you” (Gen. 17:6), and a genealogy is followed that will blossom forth into the line of David. Eventually, through Israel, a king would arise to gather the nations back into the presence of God. Israel, moreover, was brought into covenant fellowship with God at Sinai in order to live as a priestly kingdom and holy nation (Ex. 19:6)—that is, to be a light unto the Gentiles. The parallel defining attributes priestly and holy must be understood in the sense of being set apart unto the Lord God for the sake of the nations; Israel was to be a mediator between God and the nations. This sacred calling had much more to do with being subdued than with subduing other peoples. Israel needed to be consecrated and sanctified—transformed into the servant of God for the sake of the world—to glorify God before the nations. Psalm 67, one of many psalms calling the gentiles to praise God, declares plainly that Israel had received mercy and even the priestly blessing so that God’s way would be known on earth, and so that His salvation would encompass the nations. Through Israel’s early period, however, “there was no king in Israel,” which meant “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). In other words, without one to incarnate God’s reign, Israel would persistently fall away into apostasy. Israel needed to be subdued before it could be a light unto the gentiles. Upon the installation of David as king of Israel, the Great Commission became a divine charge to a human king once more. Psalm 2, likely used during Israel’s coronation ceremony, is instructive on this point. In the midst of the raging nations, the Lord declares, “As for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps. 2:6). The king then professes the divine decree: > The Lord said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession“ (Ps. 2:7–8). The phrase my son draws us once again to Adam and to another facet of the theology of the Great Commission. In a unique sense, Adam may be called the “first-born” son of God (begotten and made). Luke’s genealogy of the Messiah, for example, brings us back to Seth as “the son of Adam” then on to Adam as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38; see Gen. 5:1–3). As God’s “first-born,” then, Adam’s inheritance was as wide as his commission: the whole earth—for “the cattle on a thousand hills” and “the world and its fullness” are his (Ps. 50:10, 12). Adam possessed, in other words, the inherent right to rule and subdue all the earth on his Father’s behalf and for the sake of his Father’s glory. As redemptive history progresses, Israel then becomes, as it were, God’s second “firstborn” son. To be noted here, the Lord was quite particular as to the words Moses was to speak at his opening confrontation with Pharaoh: > Thus says the Lord: “Israel is my son, my firstborn. So I say to you, let my son go that he may worship me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn“ (Ex. 4:22–23; see Hos. 11:1). The final sign from God, celebrated annually at Passover, would drive that original revelation deep into the heart of Pharaoh. Returning now to Psalm 2, David, as head of Israel and by divine promise (2 Sam. 7:14), could be considered God’s son in a special sense, as he had evidently received the mantle of Adam as a function of his office. By his anointing, David inherited Adam’s role as “son of God” and king of the earth. “I will make him my firstborn,” God says, “the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:26–27). It is important to understand that only as the anointed king did David receive the promise to rule and subdue the nations. David’s commission was to spread the will and reign of God over the earth—his “enemies” were not merely political or personal, but the enemies of God, kings who had set themselves against the Lord and His anointed. In reality, however, the goal of subduing Israel would prove quite enough. Worse still, it was Israel’s kings themselves who led God’s sheep astray into perverse rebellion and heinous idolatry. The exile was inevitable. Yet, remarkably, within the context of Israel’s apostasy, God promised to raise up a Davidic Servant who would not only lead the tribes of Jacob through a new exodus but who would also be given “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). This same Servant, we go on to read, would suffer God’s judgment in bearing the sins of many, that as an exalted priest he might “sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:13–53:12; see 1 Peter 1:1–2). Having atoned for the sins of His people, this coming Messiah—the last Adam, the seed of Abraham, the true Israel, the greater David, the Suffering Servant, the Son of God—would ascend on high to reign from the heavenly Mount Zion, from the right hand of God the Father. Matthew 28, then, is but the embrace of the inheritance promised in Psalm 2. Yet this kingship is in the service of a priestly office, to usher us into God’s presence through the veil of torn flesh and shed blood. Through His outpoured Spirit, Jesus reigns to subdue and summon all creation to the adoration of His Father (1 Cor. 15:24–28), subduing us day by day ever more deeply that we might learn how to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
  4. We are pleased to announce that Ligonier has launched its online outreach in Bengali. Thanks to the generous support of ministry friends such as you, bn.Ligonier.org is Ligonier’s seventeenth dedicated-language website, providing a new online library of biblical teaching and discipleship materials to more than 270 million Bengali-speaking people worldwide. Bengali is primarily spoken in Bangladesh and the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal. In these regions, Christians number less than 1 percent of the population and face opposition for their faith. Bangladesh is an Islamic country, and Bengali-speaking Muslims are thought to be the largest unreached people group in the world. In West Bengal, Hinduism is the dominant religion. The reality of these demographics is what drove missionary William Carey to minister in this region and translate the Bible into Bengali, as well as other local languages. There remains a great need for Bible teaching to reach Bengali-speaking people. That’s why bn.Ligonier.org offers an online library of trusted teaching from Dr. R.C. Sproul and other gifted teachers, including translated articles on topics relating to the Christian life, the Ligonier Statement on Christology, and historic Christian creeds. Crucial Questions booklet titles are also forthcoming. All of these resources will be dispersed broadly through Ligonier’s new Bengali Facebook and Instagram pages. Please join us in praying that this teaching would help spread the gospel and strengthen current and future generations of the Bengali-speaking church. With the launch of bn.Ligonier.org, Ligonier is now actively developing sustained ministry in each of the top ten languages of the world, plus many others. This online outreach also contributes to Ligonier’s aim of developing the world’s most extensive library of discipleship resources that are true to the historic Christian faith. This global gospel outreach depends on the prayers and generosity of faithful donors such as you. Thank you for making it possible to translate, publish, and distribute trusted teaching in Bengali so that people in Bangladesh, West Bengal, and worldwide may know the holiness of our sovereign God and His saving grace in Christ.
  5. No text of Scripture speaking to discipleship deserves more attention than the Great Commission. That commission, or commandment, is given to disciples (Matt. 28:16) to make disciples (Matt 28:19–20). And Jesus gives the how: Christian baptism and biblical teaching. Before a parent does anything to discipline a child, he does well to pay attention to Christ’s plan for making disciples. Christ’s discipline must characterize our homes. That surely involves the discipline of children in the terms we often think (Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15–17), but it also demands much more of parents. Without a thoughtful reading of Proverbs in the context of the whole of Scripture, we can (and often do) fall into behaviorism, a secular psychological approach that views human learning as merely a matter of conditioning responses. But Christ teaches us that we and our children are more. We have hearts, spiritual centers of our being, from which our behaviors flow (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:33–35; 15:10–20; Luke 6:43–45). The Bible also teaches that our hearts are born in corruption (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12), thus the members of the family—both parents and children—ultimately need to have their problems solved from the inside out. That brings parents back to the Great Commission. The fundamental need of discipleship is a new heart cleansed from sin. Only Christ can accomplish this work. The Lord, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, declares, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, . . . give you a new heart, . . . and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25–27). The connection to baptism in the Great Commission is obvious. Whether someone affirms credobaptism (believer’s baptism) or paedobaptism (infant baptism), everyone agrees that baptism is something done for you, not something you do for yourself. It’s an outward sign pointing to the necessity of the Spirit’s work. Christian parents must know this: no true discipleship comes apart from heart change. The starting place of discipleship for our children can’t be separated from baptism. With the expectation of the Lord’s working a heart change in their children, parents can then proceed to the work of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Again, this is not mere behavioral conformity in young children. Parents rightly discipline their children with appropriate consequences for disrespect, unjust violence, sexual immorality, theft, lying, and discontent; and such will also include the word of reproof (Prov. 29:15). But the law also has a God-centered first table (the first four commandments, Ex. 20:2–11). Parents must embrace the “all I have commanded you.” That includes Christ’s call for unwavering loyalty (John 14:6; Luke 10:27) along with self-denial and love for others (Matt. 16:24; 22:39), the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12), prioritizing spiritual over material prosperity (1 Tim. 6:17–18), and church-centeredness (1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:22). Discipling in these areas is not mere rod and reproof, but fostering self-restraint, cultivating wisdom, seeking opportunities for service, encouraging of risk-taking, comforting in discouragement, reorienting when misguided, and granting rest. In the training of the Twelve, Jesus incorporated each of these as an aspect to His program. It was not one-size-fits-all. Instead, it involved situational and circumstantial mindfulness of the capacities, sinful tendencies, commitments, and conversion of those whom He was training up in the way they should go. That’s a lot to ask from parents. Realistically, it’s more than they’re capable of on their own. But God has graciously supplied for what they lack in His church. Holistic family discipleship means a radical church-centeredness that prioritizes the ordinary means of grace: the preached Word, prayer, and the sacraments (as well as church discipline). A father who does not prioritize church for his household is depriving those in his care of the life-giving Word and a blessed space for sanctification. He makes a mockery of all the “one another” commands of the New Testament in letters to the churches. Whether he does so because he’s too lazy or too “wise,” he should know that he has no right to hope for blessing for himself or his family through separation from the godly. By his choice, he’s producing something less than a disciple of Christ, who loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:2, 25). Of course, no church is perfect, but some churches are better than others (Rev. 2–3). A reasonably well-chosen local body with corporate worship on the Lord’s Day provides both baptism and the preached Word, as well as numerous occasions to serve God and neighbor, to die to self, and to have priorities redirected. Through Christian education, the whole family will hear truth from additional voices saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). Sunday fellowship helps those attempting to walk with Christ in this world feel a little less crazy and makes discipleship feel a lot more normal. Discipleship came as a corporate command, and it’s best fulfilled in a corporate context. The spiritual discipline of life in the church is not the only part of family discipleship, but it is the most essential.