Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. Penguin Books. 332 pages. 2014.
This is perhaps the best book on prayer that I’ve read, and I’ve read several. I’ve already read and discussed it with others on two occasions. Our discussions would move slowly, as there is so much rich material on prayer in the fifteen chapters in this book. This book will challenge you and your prayer life.
Keller writes that prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. He tells us that these two concepts give us definition of prayer and a set of tools for deepening our prayer lives. He tells us that prayer is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality. These will not happen every time we pray, but each should be a major component of our prayer over the course of our lives.
He writes of wanting a far better personal prayer life. As a result, he began to read widely and experiment in prayer. In his pursuit of a deeper prayer life, he deliberately avoided reading any new books on prayer. Instead, he went back to the historical texts of Christian theology that had formed him and began asking questions about prayer and the experience of God.
In addition, he made four practical changes to his life of private devotion. First, he took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. The second thing he did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between his Bible reading and his time of prayer. Third, he did all he could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, he began praying with greater expectation.
He tells us that prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against his glory. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life.
In looking at first of all what prayer is, he states that prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him. Prayer is both an instinct and a spiritual gift.
He writes that the primary theological fact about prayer is that we address a triune God, and our prayers can be heard only through the distinct work of every person in the Godhead. Prayer turns theology into experience. Through it we sense his presence and receive his joy, his love, his peace and confidence, and thereby we are changed in attitude, behavior, and character.
He looks at what Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin wrote on prayer, Calvin’s “rules for prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer”. He shares twelve touchstones by which we can judge the relative strength or weakness of our prayers for honoring and connecting us to God.
He writes of prayer as conversation, stating that if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.
He tells us that there are three basic kinds of prayer to God. There is “upward” prayer—praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself. He calls this the “prayer of awe.” Then there is “inward” prayer—self-examination and confession that bring a deeper sense of sin and, in return, a higher experience of grace and assurance of love. He calls this the prayer of intimacy. Finally, there is “outward” prayer—supplication and intercession that focuses on our needs and the needs of others in the world. He tells us that this prayer requires perseverance and often entails struggle.
He discusses the discipline of regular, daily prayer, stating that prayer should be more often than the classic once-daily “quiet time”. He believes that daily prayer should be more biblical, that is, more grounded in systematic Bible reading and study and in disciplined meditation on passages.
This is a book that you will most likely read slowly, as there is so much to consider about our prayer lives.
The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy by Timothy Keller. Viking. 272 pages. 2018
The Prodigal Prophet is quite simply the best book I’ve read this year. It offers many insights that I never considered about the small (four chapter) book of Jonah, and makes helpful applications to our current culture. Depending on your political persuasion, and stance on the current immigration debate, chances are you may not agree with everything he writes.
Keller tells us “The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour”.
An insight that I appreciated early in the book was the author’s comparison of Jonah’s story with Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. He tells us that the parallel between the two stories, which Jesus himself may have had in mind, is the reason that he chose The Prodigal Prophet as the title. Interestingly, both the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Book of Jonah, each have a cliff-hanger ending. Keller offers his speculation on Jonah, which I found to be helpful.
Keller tells us “Jonah takes turns acting as both the “younger brother” and the “older brother.” In the first two chapters of the book, Jonah disobeys and runs away from the Lord and yet ultimately repents and asks for God’s grace, just as the younger brother leaves home but returns repentant. In the last two chapters, however, Jonah obeys God’s command to go and preach to Nineveh. In both cases, however, he’s trying to get control of the agenda”.
The book of Jonah is divided into two parts – the records of Jonah’s flight from God and then of his mission to Nineveh. Each part has three sections—God’s word to Jonah, then his encounter with the Gentile pagans, and finally Jonah talking to God. One of the main messages of the book is that God cares how believers relate to and treat people who are deeply different from us. God wants us to treat people of different races and faiths in a way that is respectful, loving, generous, and just. Grace is another key theme of the book.
Keller takes us through the well-known story of Jonah and then applies it for us.
As I read the book I highlighted a number of excellent quotes. Below are 20 of these quotes:
- When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice.
- Jonah concluded that because he could not see any good reasons for God’s command, there couldn’t be any. Jonah doubted the goodness, wisdom, and justice of God.
- And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. Unless Jonah can see his own sin, and see himself as living wholly by the mercy of God, he will never understand how God can be merciful to evil people and still be just and faithful.
- The dismaying news is that every act of disobedience to God has a storm attached to it.
- The Bible does not say that every difficulty is the result of sin—but it does teach that every sin will bring you into difficulty.
- If we build our lives and meaning on anything more than God, we are acting against the grain of the universe and of our own design and therefore of our own being.
- Sin is a suicidal action of the will upon itself. It is like taking an addicting drug. At first it may feel wonderful, but every time it gets harder to not do it again.
- When storms come into our lives, whether as a consequence of our wrongdoing or not, Christians have the promise that God will use them for their good (Romans 8:28).
- You may sincerely believe that Jesus died for your sins, and yet your significance and security can be far more grounded in your career and financial worth than in the love of God through Christ.
- Shallow Christian identities explain why professing Christians can be racists and greedy materialists, addicted to beauty and pleasure, or filled with anxiety and prone to overwork. All this comes because it is not Christ’s love but the world’s power, approval, comfort, and control that are the real roots of our self-identity.
- Any identity based on your own achievement and performance is an insecure one. You are never sure you have done enough. That means, on the one hand, that you cannot be honest with yourself about your own flaws. But it also means that you always need to reinforce it by contrasting yourself with—and being hostile to—those who are different.
- Often the first step in coming to one’s senses spiritually is when we finally start thinking of somebody—anybody—other than ourselves.
- True love meets the needs of the loved one no matter the cost to oneself. All life-changing love is some kind of substitutionary sacrifice.
- To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.
- A God who substitutes himself for us and suffers so that we may go free is a God you can trust.
- With 20/20 hindsight, we can see that the most important lessons we have learned in life are the result of God’s severe mercies. They are events that were difficult or even excruciating at the time but later came to yield more good in our lives than we could have foreseen.
- It is only when you reach the very bottom, when everything falls apart, when all your schemes and resources are broken and exhausted, that you are finally open to learning how to completely depend on God.
- God’s grace becomes wondrous, endlessly consoling, beautiful, and humbling only when we fully believe, grasp, and remind ourselves of all three of these background truths—that we deserve nothing but condemnation, that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves, and that God has saved us, despite our sin, at infinite cost to himself.
- No human heart will learn its sinfulness and impotence by being told it is sinful. It will have to be shown—often in brutal experience. No human heart will dare to believe in such free, costly grace unless it is the only hope.
- Salvation belongs to God alone, to no one else. If someone is saved, it is wholly God’s doing. It is not a matter of God saving you partly and you saving yourself partly. No. God saves us. We do not and cannot save ourselves. That’s the gospel.
God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller. 2017 Viking. 395 pages.
Tim and Kathy Keller follow The Songs of Jesus, their excellent devotional book on the Psalms, which I read throughout 2016, with their new God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life on the Proverbs. The authors start out by reflecting on the differences between Psalms and Proverbs. They write that Proverbs calls us to study, to think, to learn the practical discipline of centering all our thoughts and actions on God. Proverbs is about how as believers we should live our faith out. They look at Proverbs as poetry, puzzle and pedagogy.
The authors tell us that Proverbs was written to be read and discussed with others, in particular older, wiser mentors. They suggest that readers use the devotional with a group of friends, and give helpful suggestions on a routine to follow:
- Choose one of more friends to read the devotional, each reading the same reflection individually on the same day.
- At the end of each reflection there is a question that helps you think more personally about how the teaching applies to your life. Write the answer to the question in a journal.
- Write answers to two additional questions about the day’s proverb(s) in the journal, unless your response to the first question has already included them. As an example, where in your life or the life of someone else have you seen this observation illustrated? How can you put this observation into practice—in thought, attitude, word, or deed?
- After completing your journal entry, pray the prayer at the end of each page. These short prayers are just “on ramps”—suggested ways to begin talking to God personally about what he is teaching you in his Word. You might want to put the prayer in your own words, and then continue speaking to him about how the particular Scriptural teaching should play out in your life.
- Then meet with your friends who are doing the same daily exercise as often as you can. Share your best insights, discuss them together, encourage one another to apply the insights to your lives, and report to one another on how your efforts are going.
The book is arranged as follows. The first weeks of the year examine the general teaching on the subject of wisdom in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. After that, the daily readings are grouped into sets of topics, enabling the reader to accumulate the various insights on a specific theme, piecing together the wisdom that the book offers on the subject.
For example, the reading for November 12 addresses leadership. The authors tell us that the most powerful kind of leader is one who uses his or her authority ultimately to serve the ones being led. The greatest leaders are the greatest servants. A probing question is “Thinking of the best leaders you have known, how have evident love and a servant heart been important to their effectiveness?”
The November 13 reading looks at what leaders do, specifically vision. They tell us that the best leaders are those who can paint a compelling picture of the future. A probing question is “Have you seen a leader cast a vision or paint a picture of the future in a compelling way? How was it done?”
This new devotional will be part of my daily reading for the next year.
Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller. Viking. 336 pages. 2016
This book is considered to be a prequel to Tim Keller’s excellent 2008 book Reason for God. The author wrote the book to bring secular readers to a place where they might find it even sensible and desirable to explore the extensive foundations for the truth of Christianity. He compares the beliefs and claims of Christianity with the beliefs and claims of the secular view, asking which one makes more sense of a complex world and human experience. He challenges both the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the belief that secular, nonreligious people are basing their view of life mainly on reason. He then compares and contrasts how Christianity and secularism seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.
Who is the book written for? The author states that if you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then the book is written for you. In addition, if you have friends or family who feel this way, the book will be of interest for you and them as well.
He gives us two reasons to read the book. The first is practical. He first states not whether religion is true, but only to make the case that it is by no means a dying force. The second reason is a personal one. He writes that if you are experiencing unquiet and dissatisfaction in your life, they may be signs of a need for God that is there but which is not recognized as such.
This is a weighty read, not one that you will read through quickly. Of the many topics that he covered, the two that I got the most out of were his discussions of identity and particularly the problem that morals pose for secular people.
The author includes a list of five books for further reading that will give readers a good overview of Christian beliefs presented in the context of most contemporary arguments for and against their validity.
This was one of the best books I read in 2016. Highly recommended.
15 Great Quotes from Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Tim Keller
- Belief in God makes sense to four out of five people in the world and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
- Only evangelical Protestants, among all religious bodies in the United States, are converting more people than they are losing. In the non-Western world the growth of Christianity is stunning.
- Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. Don’t stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and loving him for himself, not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come. That is the Christian view of satisfaction.
- Everyone looks to something for their meaning in life and whatever that is becomes their supreme love. And whatever is the object of your meaning and satisfaction ultimately controls you. You are never your own master, never actually free in the contemporary definition. Something else is always mastering you. Modern people are simply in denial about this.
- If there is no God, you will have to turn some created thing into a god to worship, and whatever that thing is, it will punish you with inner fears, resentment, guilt, and shame if you fail to achieve it.
- Christianity is the only religion that claims God gave up his freedom so we could experience the ultimate freedom—from evil and death itself. Therefore, you can trust him. He sacrificed his independence for you, so you can sacrifice yours for him. And when you do, you will find that it is the ultimate, infinitely liberating constraint.
- What is your identity? It consists of at least two things. First, it consists of a sense of self that is durable. Besides a sense of self, identity also includes a sense of worth, an assessment of your own value.
- What if we were created by a personal God and given a personal mission and calling? Then neither does the individual take precedence over the group (which can lead to social fragmentation), nor does the community take precedence over the individual (which can lead to oppression). What matters is not what society says about me, nor what I think of myself, but what God does.
- A Christian’s identity is not achieved but received. If you believe the Gospel and all its remarkable claims about Jesus and what he has done for you and who you are in him, then nothing that happens in this world can actually get at your identity.
- When we stop building our identity on career, or our race, or our family, or any other created thing and rest in God, the fears and drives that enslaved us recede, and we experience a new freedom and security.
- If I build my identity on what Jesus Christ did for me and the fact I have an everlasting name in him by grace, I can’t, on the one hand, feel superior to anybody, nor do I have to fear anybody else. I don’t have to compare myself with them at all. My identity is based on somebody who was excluded for me, who was cast out for me, who loved his enemies, and that is going to turn me into someone who embraces the Different.
- Secularism continues to lack even a rudimentary explanation of why moral obligation exists if there is no God.
- The Bible gives us the strongest possible foundation for the idea of human rights.
- Ultimately, nonbelief in God is an act of faith, because there is no way to prove that the world and all that is within it and its deep mathematical orderliness and matter itself all simply exist on their own as brute facts with no source outside of themselves.
- If he is what is claimed, and if he rose from the dead, then we have, as it were, a strong case not just that God exists but that he is the God of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. So Jesus himself is the main argument for why we should believe Christianity.
The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller, Kathy Keller. Viking. 375 pages. 2015
I’m always excited to see a new book from Tim Keller. This is the second book that he has written with wife Kathy, the first being the excellent The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.
The authors write that theologians and leaders of the church throughout history have believed that the Psalms should be used and reused in every Christian’s daily private approach to God and in public worship. They state that we are not simply to read psalms, but are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God. The psalms are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God. The psalms are written to be prayed, recited, and sung—to be done, not merely to be read.
They tells us that most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. This book is a daily devotional that takes the reader through every verse of the book of Psalms in 365 days, with each devotional providing the reader with a daily reading from a psalm. It also gives the reader a brief meditation on the meaning of the psalm and a prayer to help the reader to actually use it in our heart and as a way to approach God. The authors ask us to look at the prayers as what they call “on-ramps,” not as complete prayers. They ask us to follow the trajectory of the prayers and keep going, filling each prayer out with personal particulars, as well as always praying in Jesus’s name (John 14:13).
They write that the book is structured so that it can be used in three different ways:
- The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm.
- The second way is to take the time to look up the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer.
- The third way is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then ask three questions and write out our own answers:
- Adore—What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
- Admit—What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
- Aspire—What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?
Once we have answered the above questions, we have our own meditation on the psalm. They state that we should then read the meditation in the book and incorporate its insights into our journal notes.
Lastly, we should turn our meditation—already categorized as adoration, confession, and aspiration—into personal prayer, using the provided “on-ramp” prayer as well. This will take us into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.
Watch Tim Keller’s two-minute video about the book here.
I’m using this in my daily worship. I encourage you to do so as well.
Timothy Keller is a best-selling author and Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan. This book is part two of his study of the book of Romans from the God’s Word for You series produced by The Good Book Company. In addition to the first volume on Romans, I’ve also read Keller’s books in this series on Galatians and Judges. Here is a link to the books that have been released to date, as well as those forthcoming that have been announced, such as Steven Lawson on Philippians: http://www.thegoodbook.com/bible/bible-study/for-you
These are wonderful books that are written for people of every age and stage, from new believers to pastors and teachers, this flexible resource is for the reader to:
- READ: As a guide to this wonderful letter, helping you appreciate the great gift of righteousness with God.
- FEED: As a daily devotional to help you grow in Christ as you read and meditate on this portion of God’s word.
- LEAD: As notes to aid you in explaining, illustrating and applying Romans 8–16 as you preach or lead a Bible study.
Romans 8–16 for You is designed to work alongside In View of God’s Mercy, Timothy Keller’s Bible study resource for small groups and individuals.
Keller provides an overview of what to expect from Romans:
“The first seven chapters explain the wonderful truths of the gospel: of justification by faith, of union with Christ, of salvation through Christ alone and not through our works…Then comes the second half of the book. In chapters 8 to 16, Paul is going to continue to answer a question he began to ask in chapters 5 to 7: How does faith in the gospel of Christ actually lead to change in real life?”
Each chapter of the book is divided into two shorter sections with helpful questions for reflection included at the end of the section. Keller quotes frequently in the book from Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott.
I listened to the audiobook version of the book read by Maurice England, my favorite audiobook reader if the book is not read by the author (which is always my preference). Below are my random reflections and take-aways as I listened to the book:
- How does faith in the gospel of Christ lead to change in real life?
- I would highly recommend that you read Derek Thomas’ wonderful book on chapter 8 How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home. Thomas calls chapter 8 the best chapter in the Bible.
- Chapter 8 includes 8:28, one of the best known and loved verses in the Bible: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good] for those who are called according to his purpose. This is a wonderful verse on the doctrine of God’s Providence. Another one of my favorite verses on that doctrine is Genesis 50:20, when Joseph says to his brothers: As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people] should be kept alive, as they are today.
- Keller writes that it is important to read verses 29 and 30, along with verse 28.
- Chapter 8 includes the “Golden Chain”: And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
- Keller states that for Christians, nothing can break the Golden Chain.
- If you are looking for more resources on Romans 8, check out John Piper’s Look at the Book: http://www.desiringgod.org/labs/all
- Keller discusses overcoming sin in our life and that it begins in our mind. He writes that a sinful mind is hostile to God.
- He quotes John Owen on mortification (killing) of sin and Sinclair Ferguson on the doctrine of adoption.
- He discusses the Holy Spirit’s assistance when we don’t know what to pray.
- Keller writes that one of the ways we show how much we love God is in how we react to adversity.
- Keller writes that chapters 9-11 do not fit with the previous 8 chapters or the following 5.
- Chapter 9 includes discussion about the difficult and controversial subjects of God’s election and hardening.
- In chapter 10, Paul discusses his fellow Jews rejection of the gospel and the Messiah, and as a result God offers the gospel to the Gentiles. The inclusion of the Gentiles was always part of God’s purpose.
- Keller writes that chapter 11 is one of the most difficult to understand in the Bible.
- There is still hope for the Jews. God has not given up on His chosen people. As a result, we should be evangelizing the Jews.
- Chapter 12 discusses the Christian’s motivation for living a Christian life and how our lives be transformed by a renewed mind.
- Keller discusses how we as Christians should view ourselves. That section reminded me of his small, but powerful book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.
- While chapter 12 looked at Christians relationships with others, chapter 13 looks at Christian’s relationship with the state.
- Keller looks at the stronger and the weaker brothers and the unity of believers in the church.
- Keller states that a way in which you can tell how well you understand the Gospel is to look at how well you love people despite their flaws.
- Paul’s (and our) evangelism is an offering to God for all He has done for us. His mission strategy was highly urban.
- Romans ends with Paul pointing to the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel.
- Keller includes an appendix on the sovereignty of God in election. He suggests using this material to start conversations on this topic with others at your church.
- Keller (along with Lloyd-Jones, Stott and D. James Kennedy) state that the credit and praise for our salvation is God’s, while the blame for those who are not saved is on those who are not saved.
Like he always does, Keller communicates in an easy to understand manner. This is a wonderful resource, and one that I can’t recommend too highly. It is excellent to read and study individually, with a group or it can be used to help you teach others.
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Timothy Keller. 10 Publishing. 48 pages. 2012.
Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and one of my favorite authors. He asks what are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God. In other words, if we trust in Christ, what should our hearts be like?
In this short book he focuses on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – 1 Corinthians 3:21 – 4:7. Keller writes that Paul shows that the root cause for the division is pride and boasting. That is the reason we cannot get along, the reason there is no peace in the world and the reason we cannot live at peace with one another.
I highlighted a number of passages in this book and would like to share some of them with you below:
- Up until the twentieth century, traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves.
- Perhaps I can put it this way: I think the image suggests four things about the natural condition of the human ego: that it is empty, painful, busy and fragile.
- Paul does not look to the Corinthians – or to any human court – for the verdict that he is a somebody.
- If someone has a problem with low self-esteem we, in our modern world, seem to have only one way of dealing with it. That is remedying it with high self-esteem.
- Paul’s approach could not be more different. He cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: he will not even judge himself. It is as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think – but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me – but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.’
- Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer.
- Paul is saying something astounding. ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think.’ He is bringing us into new territory that we know nothing about. His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ because this is nothing like our idea of humility. Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.
- Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself.
- True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.
- A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. The toes just work; the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.
- This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less.
- What we are all looking for, is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable.
- Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance.
- You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my résumé. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.
- Like Paul, we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.’ And he has said, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, and ‘You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased’. Live out of that.
The book includes helpful thoughts and questions for reflection.
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf. Dutton Adult. 288 pages. 2012.
I first read this book when it was published in 2012. Although I have read several books since about integrating faith and work, I have found this one to be the best on the subject. This was also the first time I heard of Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s (where Keller serves as senior pastor) Center for Faith and Work, something I would like to model in my community.
Keller writes that an objective of the book is to attempt to help illuminate the transformative and revolutionary connection between the Christian faith and the workplace. He encourages believers to think about our work through the lenses of a Christian worldview.
He states that the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers (primarily Luther and Calvin) argued that all work, even so-called secular work was as much a calling from God as the ministry of the monk or priest. Abraham Kuyper stated that work not only cares for creation, but also directs and supports it. The purpose of work in this view is to create a culture that honors God and enables people to thrive.
Keller discusses the concept of dualism, a term used to describe a separating wall between the sacred and the secular. It leads some to think that if their work is to please Christ it must be done overtly in his name.
He structures the book around the following three questions:
- Why do you want to work (why do we need to work in order to lead a fulfilled life?)
- Why is it so hard to work (why is it so fruitless, pointless and difficult?)
- How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?)
Keller tells us that God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work was not a necessary evil – as many people think it is – that came into the picture later. He states that without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness. We will not have a meaningful life without work, but we also cannot say that our work is the meaning of our lives. He tells us that if we make work the purpose of our lives – even if it is Christian ministry work – we create an idol that rivals God.
He states that work has dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place as his representatives. We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings. He tells us that work is our design and dignity and it is also a way to serve God through creativity, particularly in the creation of culture. We can see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, so we should conduct our work in accordance with the purpose.
He states that our daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped us to do it, no matter what kind of work it is. To be a Christian in business means more than what we would normally think (being honest, etc.), it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for our whole work life – and for the organization under our influence.
I highly recommend this theologically sound book for those interesting in integrating their Christian faith and work.
Romans 1-7 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (God’s Word for You) by Timothy Keller. The Good Book Company. 208 pages. 2014 Audio book read by Maurice England
This is Tim Keller’s third book in the God’s Word for You series, with previous books on Galatians and Judges having been released. The God’s Word for You series is a selection of verse by verse expository guides for specific books of the Bible that help the reader to:
• Read: insights and explanations that help you understand God’s word
• Feed: study God’s word in a devotional sense
• Lead: equip you to lead God’s people in opening up the Word
Watch the promotional video below of Tim Keller explaining the God’s Word for You series as well as each of his books in the series. The link also contains the schedule of future books in the series. https://www.thegoodbook.com/bible/bible-study/for-you
Keller states that this book is not a commentary but an expositional guide of the book of Romans, my favorite book of the Bible. He writes that it is a letter about the gospel that greatly impacted church leaders such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin and John Stott. Keller unpacks the message of the first seven books of the book, quoting from authors, pastors and theologians such as C.S. Lewis, John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, George Whitefield and Francis Schaeffer, among others. His book on Romans 8-16 will be released in the spring of 2015.
This book is appropriate for believers of all stages of maturity. It can also be read individually or studied as part of a group Bible study. The book is divided into twelve chapters that are each subdivided into two parts. Keller also includes helpful “Questions for Reflection” at the end of each section.
Romans is a great book, but it may also intimidate some readers. Keller addresses topics such as justification, the law, the comparison/contrast of Adam and Christ, sin, homosexuality, etc. in a theologically accurate manner, but in a way that you don’t have to be a theologian to understand. This book would be good for Christians of all levels of maturity.
The book includes three appendices:
• A detailed 11-page “Summary of Romans 1-7”
• “Identifying the Idols of the Heart”
• A few pages of Keller’s assessment of the “New Perspectives” on Paul
I listened to the audio book version, which was well read by Maurice England, one of my favorite audio book narrators.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is one of my favorite writers. I read everything Keller publishes, but what really got my attention about this particular book was the review of the book from Joni Eareckson Tada. As a result of a diving accident in 1967 Joni has been a quadriplegic. She has also suffered from breast cancer and chronic pain. I have seen her speak at conferences, read her books and very much respect her. When she reviews a book on suffering it gets my attention.
Joni writes: “The book is incredibly well researched, weaving timeless scriptures between salient observations of everyone from Camus to New York Times columnists. Yet it is impossibly personal – you can tell he’s a pastor. Keller has a way of taking the walking wounded by the hand and gently placing it in the Savior’s.” She writes that the book may be the most comprehensive book on the subject of pain and suffering. She states: “Tim Keller does a righteous job of showcasing to us, and to the world, that Jesus is worth trusting. Period. End of argument. After all, when they hang you on a cross like meat on a hook, you have the final word on suffering.”
Keller uses the image of a fiery furnace throughout the book. He sees suffering as something we all experience and something that refines us. We suffer because Jesus suffered. He writes: “In Jesus Christ we see that God actually experiences the pain of the fire as we do. He truly is God with us, in love and understanding, in our anguish”.
The book is in three major parts. The first is more theoretical and philosophical as it looks at pain, suffering and the problem of evil. In this part Keller looks at how other worldviews look at these concepts. He states that if you are currently suffering, or the wounds of suffering are still raw, you may want to skip the first part (for now) and go directly to the second and third parts.
The second part focuses on the Bible and suffering as he moves from the philosophical to the personal. Among other passages, he spends time in the book of Job. The third part of the book features six chapters on how to walk with God in the valley of suffering. He looks at six elements – weeping, praying, thanking, hoping, loving and trusting – that combine into one single action. The Epilogue offers a helpful ten point summary of the book. Throughout, Keller uses Scripture (the stories of Job, Joseph for example), and stories of those who have suffered (Joni Eareckson Tada, Elizabeth Elliott, for example).
Throughout the book there are ten “Life Stories” – personal accounts of people who have gone through incredible suffering, and trusted God. The accounts were researched and edited by Keller’s wife Kathy, and add a very personal touch to the book.
This is an important book on a subject that will impact all of us, because we will all go through seasons of suffering. My suffering has been because of others – Tammy’s brain tumors, the loss of my Mom in 1996, and my Dad’s illnesses the past year and a half. You may or may not have been through a significant season of suffering, but you will. We all do. This book is so good that it ties (with the Gospel Transformation Bible) as my top book of 2013.
Listen to Tim Keller being interviewed about this book by Colin Hanson on the Gospel Coalition podcast dated October 4: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-gospel-coalition/id270128470
Tony Reinke of Desiring God recently posted the 20 Quotes from Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. See the compilation of helpful quotes with their page numbers below:
~ 20 Quotes from Walking with God through Pain and Suffering ~
• “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.” (3)
• “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” (5)
• “In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” (26)
• “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (30)
• “While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” (31)
• “While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief was not to be eliminated but seasoned and buoyed up with love and hope.” (44)
• “Some suffering is given in order to chastise and correct a person for wrongful patterns of life (as in the case of Jonah imperiled by the storm), some suffering is given not to correct past wrongs but to prevent future ones (as in the case of Joseph sold into slavery), and some suffering has no purpose other than to lead a person to love God more ardently for himself alone and so discover the ultimate peace and freedom.” (47)
• “Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” (58)
• “But resurrection is not just consolation — it is restoration. We get it all back — the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life — but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength.” (59)
• “Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.” (77)
• “The most rapturous delights you have ever had — in the beauty of a landscape, or in the pleasure of food, or in the fulfillment of a loving embrace — are like dewdrops compared to the bottomless ocean of joy that it will be to see God face-to-face (1 John 3:1–3). That is what we are in for, nothing less. And according to the Bible, that glorious beauty, and our enjoyment of it, has been immeasurably enhanced by Christ’s redemption of us from evil and death.” (117–8)
• “The best people often have terrible lives. Job is one example, and Jesus—the ultimate ‘Job,’ the only truly, fully innocent sufferer — is another.” (133)
• “Christianity offers not merely a consolation but a restoration — not just of the life we had but of the life we always wanted but never achieved. And because the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight forever.” (159)
• “It fits to glorify God — it not only fits reality, because God is infinitely and supremely praiseworthy, but it fits us as nothing else does. All the beauty we have looked for in art or faces or places — and all the love we have looked for in the arms of other people — is only fully present in God himself. And so in every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.” (168)
• “Jonathan Edwards once said: ‘God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.’ It is not enough to say, ‘I guess he is God, so I have got to knuckle under.’ You have to see his beauty. Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to. It means to obey him because you want to — because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him. This is what C. S. Lewis grasped and explained so well in his chapter on praising. We need beauty.” (170)
• “Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.” (180–1)
• “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were good men, but they were still flawed human beings. David said that if anyone were to keep a record of our sins of hand and heart, no one could stand before God (Psalm 130:3). These three did not then deserve the Lord’s deliverance because of the perfect purity of their lives. God could walk through the fire with them because he came to earth in Jesus Christ and went through the fire of punishment they and we all deserve.” (234)
• “Look at Jesus. He was perfect, right? And yet he goes around crying all the time. He is always weeping, a man of sorrows. Do you know why? Because he is perfect. Because when you are not all absorbed in yourself, you can feel the sadness of the world. And therefore, what you actually have is that the joy of the Lord happens inside the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the uncontrollable weeping. The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.” (253)
• “Only in Jesus Christ do we see how the untamable, infinite God can become a baby and a loving Savior. On the cross we see how both the love and the holiness of God can be fulfilled at once.” (282)
• “Jesus is the ultimate Job, the only truly innocent sufferer.” (293)
• “The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that.” (304)
Courtesy of www.desiringgod.org
Over the past few months I have read three books by pastors on how they and their churches do ministry. Each of the books – by James MacDonald, Andy Stanley and Tim Keller – are quite different. Center Church is Tim Keller’s – Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City – book on ministry in an urban context, and it is his first book written specifically for pastors.
But Keller does not want this book to be considered “Redeemer’s model” that others should follow. He also does not want it to be a model for ministry or church planting. Rather, he would want those who read it to consider Redeemer’s thinking process and how they arrived at their particular theological vision (defined below).
This book can be a bit overwhelming. It is comprehensive and detailed in its 400 pages. I listened to the audiobook version which was nearly 23 hours in length, and it took me three weeks to finish it.
Keller states that there are four key themes in the book:
• The gospel is at its (city) center.
• The center is the place of balance
• The theological vision is shaped by and for urban and cultural centers.
• The theological vision is at the center of ministry.
Keller outlines a theological vision, which he identifies as “a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history”, that is organized around three core commitments:
• Gospel Centered – Keller maintains that it is critical for every new generation and setting to find new ways to communicate the gospel clearly and strikingly, distinguishing it from its opposites and counterfeits.
• City Centered – Keller maintains that every church, whether located in a city, suburb, or rural area must become wise about and conversant with the distinctives of human life in those places.
• Movement Centered – This has to do with the church’s understanding of traditions and how they affect the practical parts of a church’s ministry.
He begins by addressing the gospel, its content and exclusivity. He spends three chapters on what he refers to as gospel renewal, including a theology of revival and a critique of revivalism. He then looks at the importance of the city, and how to bring the gospel to the city. He spends a good deal of time on contextualization
in this section. He defines contextualization as “giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject
He then writes about the importance of Christians doing ministry in cultural centers called cities. Here he reviews in detail and critiques four models on how Christianity can engage the culture. They are:
• Two Kingdoms
I have to admit, my mind wandered a bit during this discussion. Keller states that to be a center church, the right balance of all four views is what we want to shoot for.
Keller writes about the church being an organism and an organization that has static and dynamic elements. Here he talks at some length about the missional church, defining and detailing the marks of a missional church.
Near the end of the book Keller writes about church planting, something his church has been very good at. He states that planting churches in the city is the best way to get the gospel to more unbelievers and the best way to revitalize dying established churches.
The book includes helpful questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, and would also be a good book for pastors, church planters, seminary students, church leadership teams, and theologically trained lay leaders. I can see the book being used as a seminary textbook at Covenant Seminary in the future. There is a
website that has been developed to accompany the book – http://www.centerchurch.com
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller. Dutton. 2011. 256 pages. Audiobook read by Lloyd James.
This book by Tim Keller, senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City is adapted from sermons he gave from the Gospel of Mark a few years ago. I listened to the audio book, well read by Lloyd James, who also did the reading for John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. This is Keller’s sixth
book, and it is again delivered in the clear, easy to understand, yet powerful and insightful manner of communicating the gospel that he is known for in his speaking and writing.
The book is organized evenly into two parts, each consisting of nine chapters, corresponding to the Gospel of Mark’s two halves. The first part covers Mark 1-8, which reveals Jesus’ identity as king. It is in chapter 8 that Jesus begins to teach that He, the King, will end up on the cross. As soon as Peter makes his confession, the book, like the Gospel, deals with the purpose of Christ’s coming. The second part, which covers Mark 9-16, reveals Jesus’ purpose to die on the cross.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and fastest moving of the four gospels. Mark was most likely Peter’s secretary and thus his gospel is almost entirely derived from the eyewitness testimony of Peter.
Each of the 18 chapters included in the book focuses on a particular theme. For example, the first chapter is entitled “The Dance”, the second “The Call”, the third “The Healing”, etc. Throughout, Keller uses illustrations from many other works of literature, such as Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” George MacDonald’s “The Princess and Goblin,” and his favorite author C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicle of
Narnia” series. There are many insights that Keller gives that I could share. The one that I choose is his parallel between Jesus calming the storm and the storm that Jonah faced.
Mark has deliberately laid out this account using language that is parallel, almost identical, to the language of the famous Old Testament account of Jonah.
Both Jesus and Jonah were in a boat, and both boats were overtaken by a storm—the descriptions of the storm are almost identical. Both Jesus and Jonah were asleep. In both stories the sailors woke up the sleeper and said, “We’re going to die.” And in both cases there was a miraculous divine intervention and the sea was calmed. Further, in both stories the sailors then become even more terrified than they were before the storm was calmed. Two almost identical stories—with just one difference. In the midst of the storm, Jonah said to the sailors, in effect: “There’s only one thing to do. If I perish, you survive. If I die, you will live” (Jonah 1:12). And they threw him into the sea. Which doesn’t happen in Mark’s story.
Or does it? I think Mark is showing that the stories aren’t actually different when you stand back a bit and look at it with the rest of the story of Jesus in view.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “One greater than Jonah is here,” and he’s referring to himself: I’m the true Jonah. He meant this: Someday I’m going to calm all storms, still all waves. I’m going to destroy destruction, break brokenness, kill death. How can he do that? He can only do it because when he was on the cross he was thrown—willingly, like Jonah—into the ultimate storm, under the ultimate waves, the waves of sin and death. Jesus was thrown into the only storm that can actually sink us—the storm of eternal justice, of what we owe for our wrongdoing. That storm wasn’t calmed—not until it swept him away. If the sight of Jesus bowing his head into that ultimate storm is burned into the core of your being, you will never say, “God, don’t you care?” And if you know that he did not abandon you in that ultimate storm, what make you think he would abandon you in much smaller storms you’re experiencing right now? And, someday, of course, he will return and still all storms for eternity.
Anytime would be a good time to read or listen to this wonderful book, but the Easter season would be a particularly rich time to do so.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller. Penguin Group. 288 pages.
2011. Audio book read by Lloyd James and Marguerite Gavin.
Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, a
church he planted in 1989. 80% of his congregation is single. This book had its
roots in the early 1990’s when Keller did a sermon series on marriage because of
the skepticism, fear and arguments that many of the singles in the church had toward marriage. He also wrote the book to share from his own experiences with his wife Kathy of 36 plus years. Most importantly he wrote the book to give a compelling vision of what marriage was designed to look like in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Keller uses the classic marriage passage in Ephesians 5 as his primary text:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,
having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)
A brief overview of each chapter follows:
Keller discusses Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, bringing Paul’s discussion into today’s context and demonstrating “why the gospel helps us understand marriage and how marriage helps us understand the gospel”. He lays out two of the most basic teachings of the Bible on marriage – that it was instituted by God and that marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ.
Keller shows how the sin nature resulting in selfishness necessitates the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in making the saving work of Christ operative in bringing two hearts to beat as one. He presents Paul’s thesis that all married couples need the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The work of the Spirit makes Christ’s saving work real to our hearts, giving us supernatural help against the main enemy of marriage: sinful self-centeredness. We need the fullness of the Spirit if we are to serve one another as we should.
Keller gets to the heart of what marriage is all about – biblical love. He discusses the relationship of feelings of love to acts of love and the relationship of romantic passion to covenantal commitment.
Keller addresses the question of what marriage is for – a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be – a new and deeper kind of happiness is found on the far side of holiness.
Keller talks about the power of truth, and the power of love, via affection, friendship and service, all in the context of grace, through which we can help each other on this journey.
This chapter is written by Kathy Keller and addresses gender roles in marriage. She discusses the Trinitarian roles and how they translate into gender roles in a marriage. She states that marriage is a place where the two sexes accept each other as differently gendered and learn to grown through it.
This chapter is about singleness and marriage. Here, Keller helps singles use the material in the book to live the single life well and to think wisely about seeking marriage themselves.
Keller looks at the subject of sex, why the Bible confines it to marriage, and how, if we embrace the Biblical view, it will play out in both the single life and in marriage. Keller looks at the realities and misperceptions of sex and the glory of it when it is practiced the way God designed it.
The book closes with a short epilogue with a helpful discussion on decision making and gender roles. Keller makes it clear that he will be looking at marriage from a biblical worldview. Early on, he defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Throughout, he points to Jesus as the center and meaning of life
and marriage. He shows that God created marriage to bring us closer to him and to bring us more joy in our lives. He does not minimize the difficulties, or the effort and hard work involved in a marriage, but gives a compelling case for marriage in this book that should be required reading for anyone married or considering marriage.
For additional resources related to this book, go to http://timothykeller.com/books/the_meaning_of_marriage/
Keller identifies a counterfeit god as “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living”. He states that the only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one.
Keller effectively uses stories from his church experience and Bible passages to illustrate his points in this book. He includes illustrations from the lives of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jonah and Zacchaeus.
He states: “Every counterfeit god a heart can choose – has a powerful biblical narrative that explains how that particular kind of idolatry works itself in our lives”.
Keller writes that a good thing has become a counterfeit god when its demands on you exceed proper boundaries.
Keller writes of “deep idols”. These are idols that are within the heart beneath the more concrete and visible “surface idols”. He states that sin in our hearts effect our basic motivational drives so that they become deep idols. Examples of deep idols would be power, approval, comfort or control. Surface idols are things such as money, our spouse or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment.
Keller uses an illustration about tennis player Chris Evert when discussing success idolatry. He states that the main sign that we have a problem with success idolatry is that we cannot maintain our self confidence in life unless we remain at the top of our chosen field. He states that our contemporary culture makes us particularly vulnerable to turning success into a counterfeit god. This idol cannot be just expelled, it must be replaced.
Keller writes that: “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic”.
In addition to personal idols such as romantic love, financial prosperity or political success, Keller says that there are other idols, idols that are harder to spot. These he refers to as “hidden idols”. They are not the idols of the heart, but of our culture and society. Included in Keller’s list of hidden idols is religion. This idolatry occurs for example when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing
with God rather than on God himself and grace. Other religious idols that he calls out are those that turn spiritual gifts and ministry success into a counterfeit god, as well as moral living itself.
Keller writes: “When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself”.
Keller says that there is hope for us if we realize that idols cannot simply be removed: “They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back, but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God”.
Keller states that it is impossible to understand your heart or your culture if you do not discern the counterfeit gods that influence them. Looking at Romans 1:21, 25, he writes that idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.
In discussing how we can discern our idols, Keller gives the following examples:
• What do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
• Look at how you spend your money.
• When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.
• Look at your most uncontrollable emotions.
Keller tells us that idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. Keller says that this is what will replace your counterfeit gods. He goes on to state that the gospel asks: “What is operating in the place of Jesus Christ as your real, functional salvation and Savior? What are you looking to in order to justify yourself? Whatever it is, is a counterfeit
god, and to make a change in your life, you must identify it and reject it as such”.
Keller includes a helpful list of idol categories in the notes section on pages 203-204.
This is a very helpful, practical book by one of the most influential communicators in the church today.
To hear more from Tim Keller, check out some of his classic messages on his podcast, available on iTunes.
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller. Dutton. 140 pages. 2008
Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) pastor Timothy Keller writes that his intention with this book is to lay out the essentials of the gospel. Thus, the book can serve as an introduction to the Christian faith for those who are unfamiliar with its teachings or who may have been away from them for some time. It has been written for both curious outsiders and established insiders of the faith, to those Jesus called “younger brothers” and those he called “elder brothers” in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Keller indicates that the foundation for his understanding of this parable was a sermon he heard preached more than thirty years ago by Dr. Edmond P. Clowney. He indicates that listening to that sermon changed the way he understood Christianity. Keller writes that the sermon is directed to the scribes and Pharisees who were listening to Jesus as he related this parable. He states that throughout the centuries the almost exclusive focus has been on how the father freely receives his penitent son. But he sees that the parable takes an extended look at the soul of the elder brother, and ends with a powerful plea for him to change his heart. Thus, the target of the parable is not wayward sinners, but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus teaches that both are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human
race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.
Keller walks us through the parable, providing fresh insights. Like John MacArthur, in his excellent book “A Tale of Two Sons”, Keller focuses on both brothers, not just the “prodigal son”. He concludes by saying that the parable abruptly ends without Jesus finishing the story. (In MacArthur’s book he speculates what the finish of the story was).
Keller states that the parable takes place in two acts:
Act 1 – the younger brother
Act 2 – the elder brother
He writes that Jesus uses the two brothers to portray two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment – through moral conformity and through self-discovery. The elder brother illustrates the way of moral conformity and the younger brother the way of self-discovery. Jesus’ message is that both of these approaches are wrong. His parable illustrates the radical alternative. He shows that the plotlines of our lives can only find a resolution, a happy ending, in him, in his person and work.
The parable contains three redefinitions. They are:
1. The redefinition of God
2. The redefinition of Sin
3. The redefinition of Salvation
I must admit that I was convicted by Keller’s description of the elder brother. I saw far too much of myself in this brother. Keller writes that by putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one.
Keller writes of three things that will lead us back to Christ:
1. The initiating love of the Father
2. The need to learn how to repent from something besides sin.
3. The need to be melted and moved by what it costs to bring us home.
I was moved by this statement from Keller: “If we say “I believe in Jesus” but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all”.
In explaining the importance of the local church, Keller writes: “I have explained in this book why churches – and all religious institutions – are often so unpleasant. They are filled with elder brothers. Yet staying away from them simply because they have elder brothers is just another form of self-righteousness. Besides that, there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place”.
In the final chapter entitled “The Feast of the Father”, Keller states: “Jesus tells us that both the sensual way of the younger brother and the ethical way of the elder brother are spiritual dead ends. He also shows us there is another way: through him. And to enter that way and to live a life based on his salvation will bring us finally to the ultimate party and feast at the end of history. We can have a foretaste of that future salvation through means such as prayer, service to others, changes in our inner nature through the gospel, and through healed relationships that Christ can give us now. But they are only a foretaste of what is to come”.
Keller’s book was published the same year as MacArthur’s. Though I was profoundly impacted by Keller’s book, I must admit that MacArthur’s book (my top book for 2008) impacted me even more. Both Keller and MacArthur approach the parable from some similar ways, but also brought some different insights. I highly recommend both books.
During 2010, I read all five of Tim Keller’s books, from his first, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, to this current volume, which has much in common with the first book. In fact, Keller has indicated that the parable of the Good Samaritan has profoundly shaped his thinking on God’s heart for the needy, and our call to generous justice.
The book is highly readable, written in Keller’s usual clear and accessible style. In this book, Keller takes of issue of God’s justice and guides the reader through a discussion of what justice means biblically and how we should apply it today. He begins with the Old Testament and continues through the teachings of Jesus and the epistles to show God’s concern for social justice. He realizes that the concept of “social justice” may mean different things to conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, but Keller wants us to focus on what the Scriptures have to say about the subject, not any particular political camp.
At a high level, the book is about two basic ideas:
1. God’s work of graciously justifying a person will inevitably result in the believer’s desire to be just and to do justice. If you are a Christian, you should have a growing desire to see justice done.
2. The idea of justice is not simply about equitable punishment before the law. It is also about giving people their due as beings made in the image of God. It includes everything from law enforcement to being generous to the poor.
Keller indicates that he writes the book for four kinds of people. Those people, and what he would say to each of them follows:
• Those excited about doing justice. He hopes that this group will get a more sustained commitment to doing justice through a growing in theological and spiritual maturity.
• Those suspicious about doing justice. He hopes that this group becomes more aware that what Jonathan Edwards says is true, namely that there is “no command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms…than the command of giving to the poor.”
• Those who have expanded their mission to include social justice. He hopes that this group would be more patient with warnings to not let a justice emphasis undermine a church’s work of evangelism and making disciples. He states that careful balances need to be struck.
• Those who think religion poisons everything. He hopes that this group will be able to recognize that much of their understanding of rights and justice has come from the Bible, and even to critique the church they have to use standards borrowed from Christianity.
Keller also briefly addresses the biblical office of the Deacon (the book is dedicated to the Deacons and Deaconesses of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, where Keller is the Senior Pastor). He writes that the office was originated to serve the poor, but has more recently tended to become treasurers and janitors. His first book sought to restore the office to its biblical roots.
Keller writes that there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace and his or her heart for justice and the poor.
Reading this book will most likely lead you to a greater interest in this subject, if not want you to get involved in correcting social injustice. Although you may not agree with everything Keller writes, you will most likely finish the book with some “big questions” in your mind, a few of which may be:
How do I respond to the poor?
How do I handle my resources?
What do I do regarding charity?
There is much to take in within this short book. It is a book that I will want to read again.
Galatians for You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading by Timothy Keller. The Good Book Company. 208 pages. 2013. Audiobook read by Maurice England.
The latest book by Tim Keller is the first in the new God’s Word for You series being published by The Good Book Company out of the U.K. The books are designed to meet the study needs of readers from new believers to long-time Christians. The books can be used to read for deeper understanding, to feed yourself devotionally and as a leader’s guide for a small group study. Keller will release Judges for You later this year.
Galatians is all about the gospel. Keller leads the reader through the book verse-by-verse. He makes it clear that the gospel is not just for those who are not yet believers but rather for every Christian each day. Consider this book a layman’s commentary on Galatians. It is written in an easy to understand manner and includes helpful “Questions for Reflection” at the end of each chapter. The six chapters of Galatians are covered in thirteen chapters in the book. Keller includes a short appendix on the recent debate concerning “The New Perspective” on Paul and justification. Highly recommended.
Not many people are going to get too excited when you talk to them about a book on the biblical book of Judges. However, many more people will tend to read such a book when it is written by Tim Keller. Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and one of the best pastors and writers in Reformed circles today. This is Keller’s second book in the new God’s Word for You series, the first being on the book of Galatians.
This book (as well as the book on Galatians), could be considered to be “devotional commentaries”. It is written for people of all stages of Christian maturity. It can be read simply as a book, used as a daily devotional, or with the helpful application questions for reflection included at the end of each section, used for personal or small group study.
The book’s subtitle can be summarized as follows:
Read: Points you to God’s greatest rescue
Feed: Helps you to meditate on God’s Word day by day
Lead: Equips you to teach the Bible to others
Keller takes the reader through the book of Judges, showing how the flawless God is at work in the most flawed situations and people. Among the sins we read about are deception, oppression, idolatry, murder, gang rape and apostasy. He discusses the similarity between our day and the period described in the book as:
“Our era can be characterized by the phrase ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’
He lists six themes or truths about God that the writer wants us to learn:
1. God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it, or seek it, or even appreciate it after they have been saved by it.
2. God wants lordship over every area of our lives, not just some.
3. There is a tension between grace and law, between conditionality and unconditionality.
4. There is a need for continual spiritual renewal in our lives here on earth, and a way to make that a reality.
5. We need a true Savior, to which all human saviors point, through both their flaws and strengths.
Keller as always, is Christ centered. He writes:
“Judges has only one hero – God. And as we read this as an account of how he works in history, it comes alive. This book is not an easy read. But living in the times we do, it is an essential one.”
Keller carefully explains the key points of each passage and offers helpful applications showing how the passages point forward to the work of Christ. They are shadows, but shadows that point us to Christ. He does this with Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. In regards to Samson, he writes:
“First, both Samson and Jesus were betrayed by someone who acted as a friend – Delilah and Judas. Both were handed over to the Gentile oppressors. Both were tortured and chained, and put on public display to be mocked. Both were asked to perform (though Jesus, unlike Samson, refused). Both died with arms outstretched. Samson prefigures Jesus’ triumph, at the cost of his own death, over Satan. As Samson killed many as he died, so it took the death of Jesus to ‘kill’ Satan, the unseen power of idolatry, and the power of death itself.”
Readers will be familiar with judges such as Deborah, Gideon, and Samson, who was the last of the judges mentioned in the book. A few other things that I highlighted as I worked through the book were:
• Keller writes that Judges is a book of grace.
• It is possible to have the gifts of the Holy Spirit without the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
• Your prayer life is the best indicator of your spiritual health.
• Keller’s view of women in church leadership. His view is that women should be able to do anything in the church that a non-elder (pastor) can do.
Keller concludes the book with a short appendix on the concept of a holy war.
I listened to the audiobook version of the book read by Maurice England, one of my favorite audio book readers. I highly recommend this excellent book to all.
The Skeptical Student (ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS SERIES) by Timothy Keller. Dutton Adult. Kindle Edition. 2012.
Popular author and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City Tim Keller writes:
“This essay is based on the first of a series of talks I gave in Oxford Town Hall in Oxford, England in 2012. A campus group asked me to speak for five nights to students – most of them skeptics – exploring encounters that Jesus Christ had with five individuals in the Gospel of John. I could not imagine a more exciting project. First, of course, these accounts reveal the core teachings of Jesus, and in a particularly dramatic and vivid way. But the conversations Jesus had with these persons were not merely about personal sins and specific religious practices. In these encounters we see addressed the big, “meaning of life” questions: Who are we, and why are we here? Why be a good person; why love instead of hate? What’s wrong with the world (Obviously, something is – you just have to look at the newspaper or in the mirror any given morning to be aware of that.) And what, if anything, can make it right?”
Keller continues: “So my aim in this essay, and in the subsequent ones in the Encounter with Jesus Series is to give the Christian answers to these fundamental questions by doing a close reading of several of Jesus’ encounters with various men and women. These are answers I believe we cannot live without”.
“The first encounter I want to look at is a subtle but powerful one with a skeptical student. It has lessons for those who are skeptical themselves about Christianity, and also for Christians who encounter skepticism from those who do not believe.”
Keller looks at Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel. He looks at Nathaniel’s problem, his need and his prescription.
As far as his problem, Keller indicates that Nathaniel is at least an intellectual snob, and maybe even a bigot. Nathaniel could not believe that somebody from a place like Nazareth had the answers to the big questions of our time. He then states that many people today view Christianity much like Nathaniel viewed Nazareth. They think “Christianity – been there, done that, I grew up with it, I realized early on it’s not for me, and I’ve made up my mind.”
Keller indicates that for those with that attitude towards Christianity, he believes they have two issues:
1. That kind of dismissiveness is always deadly. It absolutely kills all creativity and problem solving, not to mention any hope of a relationship.
2. By despising Christianity you sever the living taproot to what are probably many of your own core values.
Later, Keller writes: “Every other religion and philosophy says you to do something to connect to God; but Christianity says no, Jesus Christ came to do for you what you couldn’t do for yourself.” He goes on to say: “Christianity is about God coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, to find you. That is the truly radical and unique truth that Christianity has contributed to the world.”
Keller writes the first important aspect of Nathaniel’s story is the problem of pride and contempt. The second aspect is that he has a deep spiritual need. The third aspect of his story to examine is the prescription Jesus gives him to meet his need.
Keller writes: “Though most spiritual seekers start their search afraid of disappointment, Jesus says that he will always be infinitely more than anyone is looking for. He will always exceed our expectations, he will be more than we can ask for or imagine”.
The 10 e-books that will make up the Encounters with Jesus series are a great value at just $1.99. This particular one includes an excerpt from his latest book Every Good Endeavour.
Tim Keller writes that The Encounters with Jesus Series is an attempt to look at the big questions that each of us needs to answer, simply in order to live our daily lives. Who are we as human beings? What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with the whole world? What, if anything, can put us right? Unless you have some working answers to those questions you really cannot decide what things are worth spending your life on.
In this, the third eBook in the series, Keller will focus on one question in particular, What can put us right? The right question is, Who can put us right? And the answer, Christians believe, is Jesus. So let’s look at him.
Keller looks at a passage from the Gospel of John, which tells the story of Jesus and his relationship with two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. Early in chapter 11, Lazarus is called someone whom Jesus “loved.”
Below are some of the passages I highlighted as I read through this short book:
• The Gospel account tells us that Lazarus became extremely sick and his life hung in the balance. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, but before he arrived, Lazarus died. When Jesus finally came to his friends’ home, all were in mourning, and Lazarus’ body was already in the tomb. What Jesus did next is one of the most famous incidents in history. It is also one of the most revealing, showing us not only who Jesus is but also what he came to do.
• Martha comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Just moments later, Mary comes out and says the same thing, verbatim. Two sisters, same situation, exactly the same words. But strikingly, Jesus’ responses are sharply different.
• Now these radically divergent responses by Jesus are more than simply a counterintuitive curiosity. They point not only to Jesus’ profound relational wisdom, but to an even deeper truth about his character and his identity.
• And this account shows us dramatically what the New Testament says elsewhere propositionally: that Jesus is both truly God and fully man. Not just God, disguised as a man; not just man, with an air of deity; but the God-man. His encounters, first with
• Martha, then Mary, show us he is both God and human.
• These claims have always posed a great challenge for readers of the Gospels, and never more so than in our current day. Most acknowledge the beauty, power, and uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching. There is, therefore, a strong desire to portray Jesus as one wise religious sage among many. But nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian minister John Duncan (and later twentieth-century author C. S. Lewis) taught that Jesus ‘assertions of divine identity make that proposition impossible. The founders of every other major religion said, “I’m a prophet who shows you how to find God,” but Jesus taught, “I’m God, come to find you.” This means we can’t look at Jesus as only one more religious teacher supplementing the world’s store of wisdom. He was either a conscious fraud, was himself deluded, or was in fact divine. Duncan called this a “trilemma.”
• Jesus then demands a radical response of some kind. You could denounce him for being evil, or you may flee from him because he’s a lunatic, or you can fall down and worship him for being God. All of those reactions make sense; they are consistent with the reality of his words. But what you can’t do is respond moderately. You must not say to him, “Nice teaching. Very helpful. You are a fine thinker.” That is simply dishonest. If he’s not who he says he is then his thinking is deeply distorted and flawed. If he is who he claims to be, he is infinitely more than just a great thinker. Jesus says to us, in effect, “You have to deal with my claims. If I am wrong, I am inferior to all those other founders who had the wisdom and humility to not claim to be God. And if I’m right, I must be a superior way to find out who God is and what ultimate reality is. But I am certainly not equal to all others.”
• We should reflect on the fact that no major religion has a founder who claimed to be God, though some small short-lived cults have had them.
• Historical scholarship shows us that a fast-growing body of people, insisting they were faithful to Jewish monotheism, nonetheless began to worship Jesus as the one True God.2 What kind of life would Jesus have had to have led to do what no other person in history has ever done—convince more than a tiny percentage of unbalanced people that he is the Creator and Judge of the universe? What kind of person must Jesus have been to overcome the profound resistance of Jews to such preposterous claims? The answer is, he would have to have been like the incomparably beautiful human being depicted throughout the New Testament.
• When Jesus meets Martha we indeed get a glimpse of his deity and power—he’s God. But that doesn’t explain the totality of who he is. The very next moment, he breaks down sobbing beneath the weight of Mary’s grief and in the shadow of the grave. You would think that if a person were really divine, he wouldn’t be that emotionally exposed, but he is. Here you have deity joined to human vulnerability. His love pulls him down into weeping. Despite his claim that he is the resurrection and the life—that he is God—he responds to Mary in this way because he is fully human as well. He is one with us. He feels the horrific power of death and the grief of love lost.
• What you have in Jesus Christ, then, is something that is pretty hard to believe, and even harder to describe.
• He is God but also absolutely and totally human.
• Jesus gives Martha what we could call “the ministry of truth.” That is what she needs most at that moment. He sort of grabs her by the shoulders with truth. “Listen to me! Don’t despair. I’m here. Resurrection. Life. That’s what I am.” Because of his divine identity, he is high enough to point her to the stars. Then, when he gets to Mary, he gives her what we could call “the ministry of tears.” That is what she needs most at that moment. Because of his human identity, he is low enough to step into her sorrow—with complete sincerity and integrity—and just weep with her.
• It is this paradox—that he is both God and human—that gives Jesus an overwhelming beauty. He is the Lion and the Lamb. Despite his high claims, he is never pompous; you never see him standing on his own dignity. Despite being absolutely approachable to the weakest and broken, he is completely fearless before the corrupt and powerful. He has tenderness without weakness. Strength without harshness. Humility without the slightest lack of confidence. Unhesitating authority with a complete lack of self-absorption. Holiness and unending convictions without the lack of approachability. Power without insensitivity.
• Jesus is raging against death. He doesn’t say, “Look, just get used to it. Everybody dies. That’s the way of the world. Resign yourself.” No, he doesn’t do that. Jesus is looking squarely at our greatest nightmare—the loss of life, the loss of loved ones and of love—and he’s incensed. He’s mad at evil and suffering, and even though he’s God, he’s not mad at himself. What does that mean?
• First, it means that evil and death are the result of sin and not of God’s original design.
• He knew that if he raised Lazarus from the dead, the religious establishment would try to kill him. And so he knew the only way to bring Lazarus out of the grave was to put himself into the grave. He knew the only way to interrupt Lazarus’s funeral was to summon his own. If he was going to save us from death he was going to have to go to the cross, and bear the judgment we deserve. That’s why when Jesus approached the tomb, instead of smiling at the prospect of putting on a great show, he was shaking with anger and had tears on his cheeks. He knew what it would cost him to save us from death.
• God looked into our world—the world he made—and saw us destroying ourselves and the world by turning away from him. It filled his heart with pain (Genesis 6:6). He loved us. He saw us struggling to extricate us from the traps and misery we created for ourselves. And so he wrote himself in. Jesus Christ, the God-man, born in a manger, born to die on a cross for us. Behold who Jesus is, how he loves you and what he came to do.
Also included is an excerpt from Keller’s latest full-length book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, an excellent book that I highly recommend.
The Wedding Party (ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS SERIES) by Timothy Keller. Dutton Adult. eBook. 2013.
In December 2012 Tim Keller started the Encounters with Jesus Series in which he look at the big questions we are all bound to answer in life: Who are we as human beings? What is wrong with us? What, if anything, could improve us? What would put us right? I am beginning with stories from John’s Gospel in which people came literally face to face with answers to these big questions. “The Wedding Party” is the fourth entry in this series.
The New Testament Gospel of John contains some of the richest encounters with Jesus ever recorded. In this essay, Keller indicates that he wants to think about how Jesus came to put things right. More pointedly, What did Jesus come to do?
This encounter involves a wedding feast. John 2 tells us that Jesus, his mother, and some of his disciples had been invited to a particular banquet in the town of Cana.
Below are some of the passages that I highlighted in this short book:
• Weddings and wedding feasts were simply a far bigger deal than they are today. Each wedding was a public feast for the entire town because marriage was about the whole community, not merely the couple. At the same time, it was also the biggest event in the personal life of both the bride and the groom. This was the day they came of age and became full adult members of their society. It is no surprise, then, that ancient wedding feasts went on for days—a week at least.
• And with this background we are able to see that our text opens abruptly on a great disaster.
• Perhaps just a day or two into the festivities the family simply ran out of wine, the single most important element in an ancient feast. Essentially, the party was over.
• Now, the key to understanding this event is the last verse. This was not called merely amiracle but a sign. A sign is a symbol, or signifier, of something else. Jesus did not have to exercise his power in this situation, but he did. And when he chose to do so, it became “the first of his signs through which he revealed his glory”—his true identity—to others.
• What did this act signify about what Jesus came into this world to do? Let’s break that down into three questions: What did he bring? Why did he have to bring it? And how did he bring it?
• We’re not going to be taken out of this world into heaven but heaven is going to come down at the end of time to renew this world. Every tear will be wiped away. In essence, everything sad is going to come untrue. That’s what he came to do.
• Jesus Christ says, “I am the Lord of the Feast. In the end, I come to bring joy. That’s the reason my calling card, my first miracle, is to set everyone laughing.”
• And here we should remember that the failure of the wine supply was more than a mere embarrassment. Imagine how deep the humiliation can be if you’ve let your family down in a shame-and-honor culture. We don’t understand that dynamic very well today in the individualistic West. But these young people were facing certain public shame and guilt. Jesus Christ rescues them from all of that. And by employing the jars normally used for ceremonial washing, he is saying that he has come into the world to accomplish in reality what the ceremonial and sacrificial laws merely symbolized.
• Consider the possibility that your success in life is just a big fig leaf. Consider the fact that in the end it will never be enough to cover up what you know is wrong with you.
• Something is weighing heavily on him. And then he lets us know what it is. He says, “My hour has not yet come.”
• Mary says, “What a disaster. They’ve run out of wine.” To which Jesus says, “Why are you telling me this? I’m not ready to die.” What?
• But what is Jesus thinking within himself? Why does he connect a simple request for wine with the hour of his death? Well, think of the symbolism. The miracle is a sign of what he came to do. If the shame and guilt of the bride and groom represent the sins of the world, then what does the wine represent in his mind? What is missing from the picture that’s necessary to turn the shame to joy? We know because he creates the wine in the jars for purification and cleansing.
• In this statement it’s as if he were looking far away, past his mother and past the bride and groom and past the whole wedding scene. He’s seeing something else. He’s thinking, “Yes, I can bring festival joy to this world; I can cleanse humankind from its guilt and shame. I have come into the world to bring joy, but, oh, Mother. I’m going to have to die to do it.”
• And so let’s paraphrase what he is saying one more time: “Mother, for my people to fall into my arms, I’m going to have to die. For my people to drink the cup of joy and festival blessing, I’m going to have to drink the cup of justice and punishment and death.” So here is the answer to the final question. How is Jesus going to bring us our joy? By losing all of his. By leaving his heavenly existence with his Father. By leading a lonely, misunderstood life. By going to the cross and dying in our place.
• But we see here that he did not come to tell us how to save ourselves but to save us himself. He came to die, to shed his blood, to take the cup of curse and punishment so we can raise the cup of blessing and love.
• Most people, even a lot of people who profess faith in Jesus, believe that he came primarily to live as an example. And in that reading, you’re supposed to find God by trying to be like Jesus. If he came as an example, he would be like every other founder of every other major religion. They all came to live and to say, “Here’s the way to salvation; this is the way to God.” But Jesus Christ came and said, “I’m God come to find you. I don’t come to show you how to save yourself. I come to save you and do what you can’t do for yourself. I come to live the life you should have lived, yes, but also to die the death you should have died in your place.” Jesus came to be a savior, not an example. He came primarily to die.
• By choosing the ceremonial jars, Jesus was signaling something that the Book of Hebrews expounds at great length: that Jesus fulfilled the whole Old Testament sacrificial system.
• If Jesus Christ is who he says he is—the creator of the universe, come in flesh—then what we really have on the cross is God himself coming to earth and paying the ultimate price of himself. He doesn’t make us pay; he pays the debt. Some have called this “the self-substitution of God.”
• First, every time God chooses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also shows us how he sees us. If he is like our bridegroom, then if you give yourself to Jesus in faith it means he must really delight in us.
• Do you know what the bride looks like to the bridegroom as she walks down the aisle? She wears the most beautiful garments and jewels, and when he lays his eyes on her, he is absolutely delighted in her. And he wants to give her the world. How dare Jesus Christ use a metaphor like this, evoking this powerful human experience? Could it be that he loves his own like that? That he delights in you like that? Yes, he does. How different would your life be if you lived in moment-by-moment existential awareness of that?
• Second, deal with the present by looking to the future.
• Years ago I heard Edmund Clowney preach a sermon on this text. He was reflecting on the fact that in the midst of all the joy of that wedding feast, when others were drinking wine, Jesus was in a sense tasting the bitterness of the death that lay before him. But we don’t have to do that. Dr. Clowney put it something like this: “Jesus sat amidst all the joy of the wedding feast sipping the coming sorrow so that today you and I who believe in him can sit amidst all this world’s sorrow sipping the coming joy.” We can have enormous stability because of the coming joy, the Lamb’s party. Every time you participate in the Lord’s Supper by faith, you are getting a foretaste of that incredible feast. Even if right now you are in the midst of sorrow, sip the coming joy. There is only one love, only one feast, only one thing that can really give your heart all that it needs, and they all await you. Knowing that, you have something that will enable you to face anything.
Also included is an excerpt from Keller’s latest full-length book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, an excellent book that I highly recommend.
In this essay, the fifth volume in The Encounters with Jesus series, Keller writes that he is going to look at the most foundational aspect of a relationship with Christ—faith. Below are some of the passages I highlighted as I read this short book:
• From the first part of this passage we learn that Christian faith is both impossible and rational.
• What I am saying is that, in our current state of flawed moral and spiritual sensibility, no one has within themselves the ability to produce vibrant faith in Christ.
• Faith is, therefore, impossible for anyone without outside intervention or help.
• But for now I’d like to pull back and make the larger point this narrative shows us—that belief in the person and work of Christ does not come naturally to anyone. Some theologians call this “inability.”
• We all have deep layers of prejudice working against the idea of a holy God who can make ultimate demands on us. And if you won’t acknowledge that, you’re never going to get close to objectivity. Never.
• With Christianity, we’re all in that very position. When it comes time to decide whether its claims are right or wrong, you have at least some vested interest in them being wrong. But you don’t get to recuse yourself; you can only look at the evidence. Therefore, I’d like to suggest some ways to deal with this dilemma. First of all, doubt your doubts. Be skeptical of your own skepticism. Why? Because you realize that you are not completely objective.
• So, to take seriously at least the possibility that it is true, why not consider praying? Why not say, “God, I don’t know if you’re there but I do know what prejudice is like, and I’m willing to be suspicious of it. Therefore, if you are there and if I am prejudiced, help me get through it.” Break the ice with Jesus—talk to him. No one has to know you are doing it. If you’re not willing to do that, I suggest that you’re not willing to own the prejudice that we all start with.
• But a lot of people have the opposite problem: They are actually overly anxious about faith. They are not too confident in their doubts—they are too upset about their doubts. In the end, just like the first group, they are making the mistake of relying too much on themselves.
• They don’t see what this passage teaches—you aren’t capable of belief without outside help, without intervention by God, without Jesus coming to you and speaking to you, as he speaks to Mary in all of her consternation.
• See, Mary didn’t believe until Jesus met her and helped her.
• You will need his personal help, too, so ask him for it. In fact, if you are very concerned about finding faith in Jesus, that might be a sign that he is already helping you.
• The other thing we see in this passage is that faith is rational. It is critical to recognize this, because we have just spent time showing that faith is not simply a rational process—it is a supernatural and personal encounter with Jesus himself. But while Christian faith is much more than being rational, it is certainly not less than rational.
• By this I mean that faith is based on evidence, and right before us we have some of the most important evidence the Bible offers us.
• Why weren’t they waiting to see a miracle? Hadn’t they seen him do enough miracles that they could expect him to come up with one more big one?
• But nobody—Jew, Greek, or Roman—believed God would raise an individual from the dead right in the midst of history.
• Put that all these factors together and you’ll see why, for first-century Jews, the idea of Jesus’ resurrection simply wasn’t conceivable. Despite all his predictions, it was just too incredible for them to believe or even to wish for.
• The Gospel accounts of the resurrection do not show the disciples expecting the resurrection at all.
• My question to you, then, goes like this: If you are a typical modern person, you have a worldview that insists that a bodily resurrection of a truly dead man, with his fatal wounds still visible, is simply impossible. Now imagine what kind of evidence you would need to knock down your doubts, to shatter your presumptions regarding this event? What kind of evidence would you need in order to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, resurrected from the dead? Whatever that evidence is, you can reasonably conclude that they must have had something like it. And if that’s so, the evidence that convinced them and brought them to faith might be enough to convince you too.
• Faith means certainty about what you can’t see. And so compelling evidence, evidence that engages rationality, is one of the greatest boosts to Christian faith.
• There is in this passage another significant piece of evidence that these resurrection accounts are not made up. Who is the first eyewitness? John the Gospel writer tells us that the first eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ was Mary Magdalene, a woman. And all Bible experts and historians will tell you that in those times women could not testify in Jewish or Roman courts. In those patriarchal cultures, a woman’s testimony was considered unreliable and so inadmissible as evidence. This means that if you were fabricating an account of the resurrection in order to promote your religion or your movement, you would never, ever make a woman the first eyewitness. And yet, in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection are women. The only historically plausible answer to why women are in the account at all—why the men who wrote these accounts would put women in when their testimony was considered unreliable—is because it must have happened.
• So faith is rational. But it is not only rational. You cannot get all the way to real faith through reasoning alone, yet faith is not less than rational either. You cannot get all the way to faith with reason alone, but you can’t get to real faith without it.
• Because mature faith is an act of a whole person, so your intellect has to be committed as well as your will and emotions.
• So faith in Christ is impossible, and it is rational. There’s one more thing to learn here. Faith comes by and in grace. In every way, faith is grace-filled.
• Real faith is always personal. If you only believe that Jesus died to forgive people in general for their sins—but you don’t believe that Jesus died for you—you aren’t taking hold of Jesus by faith. You haven’t heard him call you by name.
• At the moment Mary realizes Jesus is alive, and he sends her with the message, “Go to my brothers and tell them . . .”—in a sense she becomes the first Christian. Why? Well, what’s a Christian? A Christian believes that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. A Christian has had an encounter with that risen Christ. And at this moment Mary is the only person in the world of whom those things are true.
• Jesus could have easily arranged for anyone to make the first messenger. He chose her. And that means Jesus Christ specifically chose a woman, not a man; chose a reformed mental patient, not a pillar of the community; chose one of the support team, not one of the leaders, to be the first Christian. How much clearer can he be? He is saying, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. My salvation is not based on pedigree, it’s not based on moral attainments, raw talent, level of effort, or track record. I have come not to call those who are strong, but to call those who are weak. And I am not mainly your teacher but your savior. I’m here to save you not by your work, but by my work.” And the minute you understand that, the minute you see yourself in Mary Magdalene’s place, something will change forever in you. You’ll be following the first Christian.
• You see, the text is not just telling us that grace is the cause of our faith, but it is the content, too. If you believe that Jesus was a great teacher and you believe he can help you and answer your prayers if you live according to his ethical prescriptions, you are not yet a Christian. That’s general belief but not saving faith. Real Christian faith believes that Jesus saves us through his death and resurrection so we can be accepted by sheer grace. That is the gospel—the good news that we are saved by the work of Christ through grace.
• Real faith connects you to Christ, not just for salvation from the penalty of your sins, but for an ongoing love relationship with him.
• There’s one last thing that is helpful to learn about faith from this passage. No two people come to faith in exactly the same way.
• You have to admit you are a sinner. You have to believe he died in your place. You have to rest in his work rather than your own good works. You must commit your life to him in gratitude for his finished work. But there are so many ways in to this faith.
Also included is an excerpt from Keller’s latest full-length book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, an excellent book that I highly recommend.
In the first five essays of The Encounters with Jesus series, Tim Keller indicates that he has sought to address—from the life of Jesus as depicted in the New Testament Gospel of John—some of life’s biggest questions.
He states that as we read about these interactions, a question still presents itself: how can we encounter Christ today? In the final five essays of the series he will seek to answer that question by looking at pivotal events in the life of Jesus as they are presented in the New Testament gospels.
Below are passages I highlighted as I read this short book:
• Let’s look first at how Jesus’ public life was launched. Two events happened back-to-back to prepare him for the single most world-changing career in history. In three of the four Gospels, these incidents—Jesus’ baptism and his subsequent temptation by Satan in the desert—are presented together, and I believe this is for a good reason.
• Outside of the crucifixion itself the baptism of Jesus is the only event of Jesus’ life mentioned in all four Gospels. It is crucial. But only here in Matthew is the temptation scene recorded in detail. And it is important to recognize how the baptism and temptation are connected tightly by the single word “then.” God spoke words of powerful assurance: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. “Then” is almost “therefore.” And this is a fact of life, as well as of spiritual life.
• So here’s the order: God’s love and power, then evil, temptation, wilderness, terrible hunger and thirst. That little word “then” is an amazing word. It is almost like Matthew is trying to tell us, “Read my lips: No one is exempt from trials and tribulations. In fact, this is often what happens to people God loves very much, for it is part of God’s often mysterious and good plan for turning us into something great.”
• The Western world has largely rejected this dimension of evil that the Bible gives us, and as a result, we, like Job’s friends, are always underestimating—and
• The Western world has largely rejected this dimension of evil that the Bible gives us, and as a result, we, like Job’s friends, are always underestimating—and sometimes misdiagnosing—the power of evil in our lives. For example, deep down we cling to the simplistic idea that if we are good, life will go well. Yet if there are demonic forces, it stands to reason that true goodness and godliness would actually attract and stir up those powers to attack. And that is just what we see here in the baptism and temptation account.
• To believe that moral goodness will result in a good life is also a simplistic understanding of God’s purposes for us.
• Well, when the Bible speaks about our encounters with supernatural evil in life, it uses battle language. And if you don’t know where the attack is going to come from, or if you underestimate or mischaracterize the enemy, you’re likely to lose the battle. So if we do know what’s out there and where it’s coming from, how do we face it without being overwhelmed? Let’s consider what the text of Matthew 3 indicates. It tells us that to face true evil we need to answer three questions
• Who is the enemy? Where is the front? What is our best defense in this fight?
• First of all, Who is the enemy?
• What the Bible says is that evil is both natural and supernatural, that evil is both inside of us and outside of us, that evil is both individual and socially systemic.
• Historically there have been two main rivals to the Biblical view that try to explain the nature of evil. On one end you have dualism, which says there are equal and opposite forces of evil and good in the world. Reality fundamentally rests upon the clash between these two forces, which will go on battling until the end of time, or even eternally. That means that there’s absolutely no triumph possible. God is not really any more powerful than Satan. That’s what I mean by dualism.
• The other philosophical approach to evil is monism, or pantheism. This view goes to the other extreme and claims that all reality is One. Everything is part of God, God is everything, and therefore everything is ultimately one with everything else. Individual selves, in this view, are something of an illusion
• Evil and suffering, then, are not eternal and undefeatable, as in dualism. They don’t really exist—so we could say they are an illusion.
• It is interesting to observe that modern secular culture regards evil in a rather fragmented, incoherent way, borrowing from both of these views
• You may find it interesting that Christianity gives you neither dualism nor monism. Instead, it gives you something you may see as slightly more plausible than you did before: an actual devil.
• Maybe you think that the idea of the devil is a primitive idea, a belief for simple people. I have been arguing—and I would respectfully suggest—that if you are trying to explain the world without the existence of the devil, it is you who are being spiritually and intellectually naive.
• Now, let’s get more practical. If we know who the enemy is, the second question to consider is, Where is the front? What does the Scripture tell us besides the fact that there is a devil? It tells us where the main front is, the main point of attack.
• And that’s Satan’s main military goal—he wants Jesus to lose the certainty, the assurance of God’s full acceptance, of his unconditional fatherly love.
• Now if that is Satan’s main front of attack, how does he seek to accomplish this with us? To begin with, he wants to keep you from believing Jesus is really the Son of God and Savior of the world.
• What God was trying to get us to understand is this: Jesus is not just a good man who by word and example tells us how to live. Nor is he merely a heavenly king who came to destroy all evil in one stroke. As we have seen, evil is deep within us. And if he had come to end all evil on the spot he would have ended us. Instead, he is a king who comes not to a throne but to a cross. He comes to be tempted and tried, to suffer and die. Why? So that we can receive God’s love as a gift.
• And so, if we rest in Christ’s work for us, we can be adopted into God’s family by grace (John 1:12). It means that we can know that we are also God’s beloved children, and that—in Christ—we are well pleasing.
• Success and failure in our work neither puffs us up nor devastates us. We are not driven by unhappiness over our looks, or our status—we are not deflated by criticism as we were before. Our self-image rests in a love we can’t lose.
• But for those of us who know in principle that we are adopted, loved sons and daughters, Satan wants us to slide back into a self-image based on our moral performance, our goodness and efforts.
• If you think of your identity and heart as an engine, you could say there is a kind of fuel that powers it cleanly and efficiently—and a kind of fuel that is not only polluting but also destroys the engine. The dirty fuel is the fuel of fear and the need to prove yourself. Or the need to be needed by someone else. Or the need to express yourself fully and without restraint. There are many “fuels” that motivate us to live for a time—but only one fuel is clean and will not lead to weariness and disappointment. And that is God’s love for you. Any other fuel will become demonic. It will obsess you or at best merely let you down. Whenever you’re running your life on those fuels, Satan’s got you where he wants you.
• The one thing he does not want is that God’s words “You are my beloved child” become the fuel of your life and heart
• Finally, we must consider the question, What is our best defense in this fight?
• Our best defense in the fight against the influence of Satan’s lies is generally not the production of incantations but the rehearsal of truth.
• Jesus uses the Scripture every time he is assaulted by the devil.
• What the heart trusts, the mind justifies, the emotions desire, and the will carries out.
• If Satan can get you to consent with your mind to a God of loving grace but get your heart to believe that you must do X, Y, and Z in order to be a worthy, loveable, and valuable person, he will be most satisfied.
• Now I have to ask you: If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did not presume to face the forces of evil in the world without a profound knowledge of the Bible in mind and heart, how could we try to face life any other way?
• Third, we must not naively detach the temptation from the baptism. Satan comes to Jesus because he has been commissioned—empowered by God for a mission.
• We have one more resource for this spiritual warfare. And it is right before us in this passage—it is Jesus himself.
• He is there to help us face the reality of evil, both inside and outside ourselves. So as we fight Satan’s lies in our hearts, and his works in our world, let’s rely not only on the Word of the Lord, but also on the Lord of the Word.
Also included is an excerpt from Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, an excellent book that I highly recommend.
The Two Advocates (The Encounters with Jesus Series) by Timothy Keller. Dutton Adult. 42 pages. 2013
This is book seven of the 10-part e-book The Encounters with Jesus Series which is now available as a full-length book entitled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. I’ve enjoyed reading the short e-books, priced at only $1.99, and also featuring an excerpt from one of Keller’s latest books.
Keller writes: “In the first five essays of the Encounters with Jesus series, I showed how the lives of everyday people were changed forever as they interacted with Jesus. Yet how can we encounter Christ today? In the final five essays, I am seeking to answer that question through five more events in the life of Jesus as they are presented in the New Testament Gospels.”
There is much to treasure in this short book. Here are some of the passages that I highlighted. I would encourage you to read the full-length book entitled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions.
• When we think of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples, we normally think of the Last Supper in that upper room where they celebrated Passover. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us a great deal about the Supper, the Gospel of John never mentions the breaking of bread or the drinking of wine—it doesn’t talk about the meal at all. Yet John gives us more information than anyone else about what happened in that room on that night. John provides us with what has been called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, a long three-chapter address followed by a majestic prayer that takes up another chapter.
• While he touches on many subjects and topics, there seems to be one theme that is most prominent.
• But Jesus speaks of the Spirit in certain ways that would have been extraordinary to them. First, he says that the Spirit is not merely a force, but a person.
• Second, Jesus says that he will be leaving and this person will be coming.
• In one sense he will be gone, but in another sense his presence will remain, mediated by this person the Father is sending.
• So who is this person? Jesus calls this person “another Advocate.”
• This name is different in nearly every translation. The old King James Version calls him “Comforter,” while other translations render it “Helper” or “Counselor.”
• The Greek word in this case is the word paraklete. It means to come alongside in order to support. Now perhaps you notice some tension here. To call someone is forceful. It is active, not passive. You are pointing him or her toward a truth or toward a goal. You aren’t just talking, or even asking—you are pressing toward something. And yet to “come alongside” means to be sympathetic, to be in a relationship, to stand in someone’s shoes. This word is a union of prophetic challenge and priestly support.
• But we must notice also that Jesus calls the Spirit “another Advocate” or counselor. Who, then, is the first Advocate?
• So Jesus is the first Advocate, and the Spirit is the second.
• And I want you to know that in this word—advocate, counselor—we have the key to understanding not only Jesus’ work on the cross but also the Sprit’s work in our hearts. Indeed, I’d argue that unless you know that Jesus was the first Advocate, you won’t understand the work of the Holy Spirit as the second Advocate at all. This is the solution to the problem Jesus saw in the upper room that night—men who after three years of instruction and intimacy still did not understand his work or know him deeply.
• But Jesus, by calling himself our Advocate in the upper room, is showing us that his death was a more radical act than that. The first thing the term implies is that there is a bar of justice somewhere—a kind of universal, divine court before which we all stand.
• We can’t escape the fact that we know there is a bar of justice somewhere for all of us.
• This is what the Bible teaches, that we all stand judged. There is a standard for our lives that we must all deal with.
• So deep down we know that this bar of justice is there, just as the Bible tells us it is. And we know we are in no condition to stand before it alone.
• When the Bible says Jesus is an advocate, it assumes the existence of that bar of justice and the fact that we must deal with it, must stand before it. That’s the first thing this word advocate implies.
• The second thing it implies is that Jesus
• Christ is not primarily an example of moral behavior (though he is), nor primarily a loving supporter (though he is that, too). Those things would be helpful, but on their own they would fall short of what we need. If that bar of justice exists—and our consciences bear witness to the fact that it does—then we need a true Advocate.
• When Jesus goes before the Father he is not actually asking for mercy for us. Of course it was infinitely merciful of God to send Christ to die for us, but that mercy has now been granted, so Jesus does not need to beg for it.
• Jesus Christ can say, in effect, “Father, my people have sinned, and the law demands that the wages of sin be death. But I have paid for those sins. See, here is my blood, the token of my death! On the cross I have paid the penalty for these sins completely. Now if anyone were to exact two payments for the same sin, it would be unjust. And so—I am not asking for mercy for them; I’m asking for justice.”
• Every other philosophy and every other religion in the world essentially looks at life like the scales of justice.
• When you put your faith in Jesus, when you say from the heart, “Father, accept me because of what Jesus did,” then Jesus’ work on the cross is transferred to your account. Now the law of God demands your acquittal. That is why when John calls Jesus our Advocate, he also calls him “The Righteous One.” This phrase suggests that when God looks at you, if you are a Christian, he sees you “in Christ.” In yourself, alone on your side of the scale, you are a sinner; but in him you are perfect, just, beautiful, and righteous. You’re lost in your Advocate.
• Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That means that just as Jesus was not personally sinful but was treated as sinful and punished on the cross, now we who believe in him, while not personally righteous and perfect, are treated as righteous, beautiful, and perfect by the Father, for Jesus’ sake.
• So what is the job of the first Advocate? It is to say before the Father, “Look at what I’ve done. And now, accept them in me.” Then what is the job of the other Advocate, whom Jesus promises to send them—the Holy Spirit? It’s clear now that we will never understand the work of the second Advocate until we understand the work of the first.
• The first Advocate is speaking to God for you, but the second Advocate is speaking to you for you.
• Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus keeps saying that the job of the Spirit is to take all the things Jesus has done on our behalf—all the things that the apostles had still not yet grasped—and to “teach you” and “remind you” and enable the apostles to finally understand all that Jesus had taught them about his saving work (John 14:26).
• Theologian J. I. Packer has taught that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is much like that of a floodlight. If you walk by a building at night and it’s floodlit, you say, “Look at that beautiful building.” You may not even see where the light is coming from. The floodlight’s job is not to show you itself but to show you the beauty of the building, to throw all of its features into relief.
• Though he is “the Spirit of truth,” he does not merely teach and inform us; he calls us to live according to what he is telling us. He convicts us and challenges us (John 16:8–11). He says in effect, “You are a sinner—are you living with the humility and dependence on God that results from that fact? Yet you are also righteous in Christ—adopted and accepted into the family. Are you living with the boldness and freedom that should accord with that fact? Are you as free from the need for worldly power and approval and comfort as you should be?”
• He argues with us, he exhorts, beseeches, and entreats us (all good translations of parakaleo), to live lives in accordance with the accomplishments and realities of Christ’s love.
• In other words, right here and now, through the Holy Spirit, you can see Christ and know his presence and his love better than the apostles could in that moment in the upper room.
• It’s the job of the second Advocate to argue with you in the court of your heart, to make the case about who you are in Christ, to show you that you’re rich. And it’s your job to listen.
• How can you listen better? That’s a big subject, but if you are a believer, then the Holy Spirit will do his work as you use the “means of grace”—reading and studying the Word by yourself and in community, prayer, worship, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If you don’t use the means of grace you are not giving the other Advocate scope to do his work.
• Christ gives us true things to think about that overcome the darkness of this life, while the world can only say, “just hum loudly and look away.” Also, the world’s peace is an intermittent peace, and Christian peace is constant, because the world’s peace is based on circumstances.
• So that is what Jesus was telling his disciples in the upper room. This was his lifeline to those who had failed him in life and would change the world after his death. “Believe in me and receive the Spirit. Listen to him about my infallible case and he will give you an infallible peace.” Whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual descendant of those disciples, these words are meant for you as well.
The Obedient Master (The Encounters with Jesus Series) by Timothy Keller Dutton Adult. 108 pages. 2013
This is book eight of the 10-part e-book The Encounters with Jesus Series which is now available as a full-length book entitled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. I’ve enjoyed reading the short e-books, priced at only $1.99, and also featuring an excerpt from one of Keller’s latest books.
In this, part VIII of the series, Keller writes: “In the first five essays in this series, we studied examples of men and women who had life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ in the flesh—encounters that decisively answered the big questions of life for them. But how can we encounter Jesus as those in the New Testament Gospels did? How can we experience the same effect? Those same Gospels give us the answer. They show us that Jesus was not merely a great teacher and healer but someone who came to rescue us from evil and sin. He did this through his temptations and sufferings, through his death and resurrection. In this second set of essays, we are looking at these events.”
There is much to treasure in this short book. Here are some of the passages that I highlighted. I would encourage you to read the full-length book entitled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions.
• But Jesus’ experience in that dark place was not really an interlude between events of higher and more significant dramatic action. Something happened there that begs for a deeper explanation. There is perhaps nowhere else in the Bible where we get a more penetrating look at Jesus’ own inner life and motivation and what he experienced at the end of his life.
• First I want to examine the magnitude of the pain Christ experienced here. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each find a way to tell us that Jesus’ grief and sorrow were enormous, well beyond even what we would expect at such a moment.
• As he is on his way to pray, a darkness and horror comes down on him beyond anything he could have anticipated, and the pain of it makes him feel he is disintegrating on the spot.
• What is the reason, then, for the magnitude of Jesus’ agony and horror before his death? The answer is, this was a different death than anybody else ever faced before or since.
• In the Bible “the cup” does not refer so much to a civil penalty as to God’s own judicial wrath on injustice and evildoing.
• The reason that Jesus Christ did not die as gracefully as later Christian martyrs is because none of them were facing the cup. When Jesus himself speaks of “the cup,” it shows he knows that he is facing not just physical torture and death; he is about to experience the full divine wrath on the evil and sin of all humanity. The judicial wrath of God is about to come down upon him rather than upon us.
• What would that judicial wrath feel like? It is the torture of divine absence.
• The essence of sin is “I do not want to have God in my life.” And the heart of God’s judgment is to give us what we have asked for. There truly is nothing fairer than that—and nothing more terrible.
• Yet Jesus’ predicament was worse than even that, for he began to experience not merely the absence of love but the presence of wrath.
• So why the magnitude of the agony? Because Jesus Christ was not simply dying as any other person would die. He was in perfect communion with the Father and was losing that communion on our account. And as our substitute, he was receiving the judicial wrath of God
• But why is it particularly important that he experiences that foretaste so greatly now, before the moment of the Crucifixion? The answer gets at a part of Christian doctrine that is often overlooked or misunderstood but is deeply consoling.
• When Jesus went to the cross, he took upon himself the punishment for sins that we deserve and that he didn’t. That is what has historically been called his “passive” work: He received the penalty for our disobedience to God’s law. As a result, we who believe in Jesus are free from any condemnation for those sins.
• But passively absorbing punishment is not all Jesus did for us. During his entire life, and preeminently here at his death, he also fulfilled the positive demands of the law of God as well, which has been called his “active” work. Jesus not only died the death we should have died in order to take the law’s curse for us, he also lived the great life of love and fidelity we should have lived in order to earn God’s blessing for us. No one ever loved God with his entire soul, mind and strength—no one ever loved his neighbor with perfect, full, sacrificial love—except Jesus. What does a life like that deserve? It deserves God’s highest blessing, praise, and honor. It deserves God’s full love and delight. And because Jesus not only fulfilled the law of God passively but actively—in our place, as our substitute—it means not only that he got the penalty we deserved, we get the reward from God that he deserved. It’s an astonishingly thorough salvation, with grace piled on top of grace.
• And so, when he goes to the cross for us after this experience in the garden, he goes with vivid firsthand knowledge of what will happen. And that makes Jesus’ action the greatest act of love to the Father—and to his fellow human beings—in the history of the world. No one ever faced suffering like this in order to love, and so no one ever loved like this.
• But, as we have been saying, it is not enough to say this was only the greatest act of love in history, it was also the most astounding, perfect act of obedience to God.
• To the first Adam he says, “Obey me about the Tree and I will bless you”—and he didn’t do it. But to the second Adam he says, “Obey me about the Tree and I will crush you to powder”—and Jesus did. Jesus is the first and last person in history whoever was told that obedience would nonetheless bring a curse.
• But remember that Jesus did not just die the death we should have died; he lived the life we should have lived.
• First, Jesus in the garden is an unparalleled model of integrity. In the dark, with nobody looking, knowing that he is called to do the hardest thing anyone has ever done, Jesus still does the right thing. He does the same thing in the dark and in private that the next day he will do in full view. Let me ask you—are you the same person in the dark as you are in the light? Are you the same in private as you are in public? Or are you living a double life?
• Second, this is not only a great model for integrity, it is a great model for prayer. The most astounding thing about Jesus is that he is, at the same moment, both brutally honest about his feelings and desires and yet absolutely submitted to the will of God.
• He’d prefer to avoid the plan of salvation, saying, “I don’t want to do this.” There is no cover-up. And yet at the same time he says, without hesitating, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” The basic purpose of prayer is not to bend God’s will to mine but to mold my will into his.
• Third, in the garden we have a tremendous example of patience with people.
• So Jesus is a great model of how to live, pray, and relate to people. But if Jesus is only a model for us, then he is no encouragement—for he is too good. No one could live up to his standard. But Jesus came not just to be a model but a Savior. He changes us on the inside so that we can be slowly but surely made over into his image. He does not just tell us how to live; he gives us the power to live that way.
• Look at him here in the garden, doing all this not just as an example but as a substitute, in your place. Knowing that makes his suffering personal—to you. It can give you a new ability to face your own trials, to rid yourself of crippling self-pity and lack of resolve.
• When you believe in him you are not just forgiven but beautiful to God, righteous in Him. Now how do you deal with criticism or failure? We should not look at who we are in ourselves but at who we are in him.
• If we really understood how God regards us in Christ we could take disapproval and failure in stride.
• If this suffering did not make him give up on us, nothing will. So Paul can essentially say, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:38–39). The Lord says, “I will never leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
• I know people who have said: “I would follow Christ, but I do not think I can keep it up. I do not trust myself. I think he’d get tired of my failures.”
• This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. This is the only love that can’t let you down.
• And if this love of active obedience is an active reality in your life, you will be a person of integrity; you will be a person of prayer; you will be kind to people who mistreat you. If you have this love you will be a little more like him.
Throughout the book Keller offers helpful quotes from Jonathan Edwards.
The Father and Son (The Encounters with Jesus Series) by Timothy Keller. Dutton Adult. 35 pages. 2013.
This is the ninth e-book in Tim Keller’s The Encounters with Jesus Series, which is now available in a full-length book titled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. I highlighted a number of passages as I read this short book, and wanted to share them with you below. I’d recommend that you read all of the e-books, or the new full-length book.
- Most religions teach, in essence, that we can be saved if we follow their founders’ words. But Christians believe we are saved not primarily by following what Jesus said but by believing in what he did. We are saved not by what we do but by what Jesus has done.
- We come to the very last action of Jesus Christ on earth—his ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven—and it may be the most puzzling of them all. First, of course, the ascension was puzzling to the disciples who witnessed it. It was perhaps the most visually unexpected of all the miracles they had seen firsthand.
- And for us, the question is not so much “What happened?” as “Why did it happen?” What difference does it really make for the state of our souls and for how we live?
- The ascension, when understood, becomes an irreplaceable, important resource for living our lives in the world—and it’s a resource no other religion or philosophy of life holds out to us.
- First, what is the ascension? It is not simply Jesus’ return from the earth to heaven. It is a new enthronement for Jesus, bringing a new relationship with us and with the whole world.
- Let’s start by thinking about what the ascension is not. The ascension is not simply Jesus leaving the surface of the earth. It’s not so much about him going into the heavens but rather into Heaven
- The point is that ascension to a throne is not defined by a change in physical elevation (though that happens in the ceremony) but rather a change in legal status and relationship.
- The elevation in space symbolized the elevation in authority and relationship. Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.
- But at the ascension Jesus leaves the time-space continuum and passes into the presence of the Father.
- The ascension doesn’t mean the loss of his intimacy, his leadership, and his advocacy; it means the magnification and infinite availability of all of these.
- To put this in theological terms, Jesus is now (from heaven) “actively engaged in the continuation of his mediatorial work” all across the globe. He is still our prophet, teaching and instructing us with his Word, but now he does it everywhere through the Holy Spirit. He is still our king, but now he guides and directs his entire church through the spiritual gifts he gives his people (Ephesians 4:4–16)—gifts of leadership, service, mercy, teaching, administration, and giving. And he is still our priest, counseling and supporting us, but now representing us before the very face of the Father.
- In both Matthew 26:64 and Acts 2:33–36 the Bible says that in the ascension Jesus went “to the right hand of the Father.” In ancient times, whoever sat at the right hand of the throne was something like the king’s prime minister, the one who executed his kingly authority and rule in actual laws and policies. And so this is saying that Jesus ascended to begin his reign.
- But now, at the ascension, as the risen God-man, he begins his job as heavenly head of the church, and now he rules over all other rulers and powers—indeed “over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:21–22). He does this especially through the work of the Holy Spirit, work that Jesus laid out in detail to his disciples the night before he died (John 14–17).
- It also means he is ruling over and controlling all of history toward its final goal, in which the church, the new people of God, are finally and fully liberated, and, along with them, the whole world is renewed (Romans 8:18ff).
- To put it simply, Jesus is directing a cosmic transition plan—one that will bring about a new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17–25).
- So that is what the ascension is. But what does this mean practically? How does it affect how we live our daily lives? It means a lot—more than we can recount and explore here. But let’s consider three important things.
- First, the ascended Christ is a Jesus available for loving communication and fellowship.
- St. Augustine said it like this: “You ascended from before our eyes and we turned back grieving, only to find you in our hearts.”
- Because Christ is ascended we can know his presence, actually speaking to us, actually teaching us, actually pouring his love out into our hearts—through the Holy Spirit.
- But the ascended Christ is not only sublimely personal; he’s also supremely powerful. He controls all things for the church, and therefore you can face the world with peace in your heart.
- Ephesians 1 is saying that the man who died for you is now not only at the right hand of the divine throne but he’s there as the Executive Director of history, directing everything for the benefit of the church. If you belong to him, then everything that happens ultimately happens for you.
- Jesus’ ascension was not merely a great honor for him, but it also was for us! He went to heaven to get things done for our good.
- The man who died for you, who still has the nail prints in his hands—the signs of his suffering for you—is in control of everything at the right hand of the Father. Can you relax? Are you anxious? Are you feeling you can’t keep everything going; you’ve got to keep all these balls up in the air? Then you don’t believe in the ascension or you’re not using it as a resource.
- Finally, the ascended Christ guarantees that you can know you are forgiven, accepted, and delighted in by God the Father.
- Do you have the kind of communication and fellowship with the ascended Christ that the Bible says is available? Do you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your Savior controls all things for you at the right hand of the Father? Do you have the unsinkable joy and self-image that comes from understanding Christ’s intercession at the right hand of God? Jesus Christ went to the right hand of the throne to be our prophet, priest, and king. He is our intimate, our leader, and our intercessor—on a cosmic scale. Do you know him as friend, advocate, and king? If you want to live and die with the same kind of power that Stephen had, draw directly on the doctrine of the ascension.
This is the tenth (and final) e-book in Tim Keller’s The Encounters with Jesus Series, which is now available in a full-length book titled Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. I highlighted a number of passages as I read this short book, and wanted to share them with you below. I’d recommend that you read all of the e-books, or the new full-length book.
- The essays in the first half of this series have looked at people who encountered Jesus personally and had their lives completely changed. That raises a question—can we encounter Jesus today and have our lives changed as dramatically?
- As we have previously stated, the Christian gospel says that we are saved—changed forever—not by what we do, and not even by what Jesus says, but by what Jesus has done for us.
- That is why in later essays we have looked at some of these key events in his life. For it is only in seeing and understanding these events that an acquaintance with Jesus as a teacher and historical figure can become a life-changing encounter with him as our redeemer and savior.
- In this final essay I want to consider the story of the annunciation—the angelic announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah.
- I want to examine closely Mary’s response to the message of the angel, for in some ways Mary is like us. She has not met the earthly person of Christ, and neither have we. But she receives a message about him. It is basically the gospel message, describing who Jesus is and what he will do. And Mary responds in a wonderful, moving way. In her shining example, we get crucial insights about how we should respond to all the things we have been reading about Jesus in the first nine essays of this series.
- What do we learn from the angel about who Jesus is? The message calls him the Son of the Most High.
- So there is a promise that this child who is about to be born will not just be a political or an earthly king, but will have a kingdom that will last forever. Indeed, the strong implication is that he is more than a mortal human being.
- Now we are being told that this supernatural, eternal being will come into the world through a miraculous birth. And so he will be called the Son of God—not merely because his character will bear a strong resemblance to God’s, but because the very divine nature of God is going to be implanted in Mary in physical form. And therefore the one to be born will be perfectly holy, absolutely sinless, and will live forever as a both divine and human person. It is an utterly astounding statement. And an elegant and concise summary of what has come to be called the doctrine of the incarnation—that God became incarnate when the Son of God assumed a human nature and was born, in the flesh, into the world.
- A second thing we learn about him is that his name is Jesus, which means “God who saves.”
- Every founder of every other religion comes to the world as a human being; none of them would ever claim to be God.
- But the Bible says Jesus is the way of salvation; he comes not just to show you how to live but to live the life you should have lived and even die the death you should have died for your sins.
- And already this message makes it impossible to say that all religions are basically alike. In many circles in our society it is almost a rigid orthodoxy to insist on this.
- But the argument that Christianity is fundamentally the same as all the rest simply will not work. On nearly every page the New Testament makes claims about Jesus that are astonishing, claims that no other religion would ever make about anyone.
- So you either have to say that Jesus Christ is, as the Bible claims, the unique Creator God who has come in the flesh, which makes Christianity a better revelation of God than other religions—or you have to say that he was wrong or lying, which makes him and his followers a worse revelation of God. But Christianity can’t be a religion just like the rest.
- Every religion, even those that appear more inclusive, makes its own unique claim. But Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him. The annunciation pushes the exclusivity of Jesus right in our face. It demands a response and shows us there is a lot of hard work to do.
- What makes her great? It is how she responds to God and his message. She does four things.
- The first thing Mary does is think. She uses her powers of reason. She ponders the evidence, weighs the internal consistency of the claims, and concludes that it is true. And if she can do that, we must be willing to use our reason to weigh the Christian message. She starts by thinking, and so must we.
- The second thing Mary does is to express her doubts openly. She says to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
- Honest doubts, then, are open to belief. If you are really asking for information and good arguments, you might get some.
- If she had never expressed a doubt, the angel would never have spoken one of the great statements in the Bible: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 ESV).
- The more you are willing to express doubt honestly and humbly, the more you bring up your honest questions, the further you, and the people around you, are going to get.
- The third thing Mary does is surrender completely. Yes, eventually this does have to happen.
- Jesus himself tells us to “count the cost” of discipleship (Luke 14:25–33). But I’m afraid many people want to negotiate the cost rather than count it. That is, they are willing to give up things, but they won’t give up the right to determine what those things are.
- In some fashion you have to say what Mary said when you give your life to Christ. Your heart must say something like this: “I do not know all that you are going to ask of me, Lord. But I’ll do whatever you say in your Word, whether I like it or not, and I’ll accept patiently whatever you send into my life, whether I understand it or not.” In other words, you simply cannot know ahead of time all the things God will be asking you to do.
- So what did it mean for Joseph and Mary to accept the Word of the Lord, to say, “We embrace the call to receive this child. We will accept whatever comes with it”? What did it take for them to literally have “God with us” in their midst (Matthew 1:23)? What does it take to be with him? This text’s answer is courage. And a willingness to do his will, no matter what.
- There are many places in the world now where, if you are a professing Christian, you are going to be walking in Joseph’s and Mary’s shoes. New York City, for example, is a long way from being a traditional, moralistic small town. And yet Christian belief sounds just as incredible and implausible to many friends in New York as the angels’ story sounded to Mary and Joseph’s friends. If you are open about your Christian faith in whatever social circles or professional networks or vocational fields you are in, a lot of people just won’t understand, and you won’t be able to make them understand why you are the way you are. In many cases your reputation may suffer.
- If you really want Jesus in the middle of your life, you have to obey him unconditionally. You have to give up control of your life and drop your conditions.
- So the fourth thing you need is community. Mary does not appear to understand what is going on until she goes to see another believing sister, and they talk together, worship
together, and speak together.
- Mary was a nobody who became greater than everybody, simply because God came to her and she responded in the humblest possible way. She reasoned, she doubted, she surrendered, and she connected with others. You can, too.