I started preaching through Exodus a few months ago and just recently finished three sermons on Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. One of the major points I made over the last three weeks is that the miracle of the burning bush is not so much that a bush is on fire and not consumed, but that God reveals himself.
1.) God reveals his holiness in Exodus 3:1-10.
2.) God reveals his name in Exodus 3:11-22.
3.) God reveals his signs and says he will be with Moses’ mouth in Exodus 4:1-17.
God does all of this for Moses despite his disobedience. This is God’s grace towards Moses. Now in Jesus, God’s grace has come. In Jesus, God has revealed his holiness, his name, his signs, and his words. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s revelation in the burning bush.
Jesus is the Holy One
Mark 1:24: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.”
Acts 2:27: For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
Revelation 3:7: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”
Jesus is the name of God, and Jesus and the Father are one
John 8:58: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 5:17-18: But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 10:27-30: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Jesus is the sign of God and Jesus is the mouth of God
Luke 2:12: And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
Luke 2:34-35: And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Matthew 12:39-40: But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
John 8:28: So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
John 12:49: For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment–what to say and what to speak.
John 14:10: Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
A seminary friend, Eric Schumacher, turned me onto a series he did at his church where he asked the congregation to submit questions they had about the Bible. I thought this was a good idea because it helps me understand some of the theological and practical issues the people are wrestling with and it offers me an opportunity to address questions before the whole congregation. For a month we ran an insert in our bulletin asking people to submit their questions. We had about 25 questions turned in. I took the most frequently asked questions and turned them into a 4 week sermon series. The four questions I answered were these:
- Why Then the Law (Gal 3:15:29)?
- Is Assurance of Salvation Possible (Selected Scriptures from 1 John)?
- What Does the Holy Spirit Do (John 16:4-15)?
- What is Heaven Like (Revelation 21:1-22:5)?
If you decide to do something like this in your church, let me offer you three suggestions:
1.) While the questions submitted varied in scope, I wanted to answer questions that the Bible itself asks. I think it is important as Christians that we ask the questions the Bible asks and give the answers the Bible gives. Frankly, the Bible doesn’t answer some of our questions, because that’s not what it was written for. By answering questions the Bible asks you teach people to think more biblically.
2.) Unless you plan to preach multiple weeks on a topic there is just no way to cover everything. You have to be selective. It was a challenge to blend and synthesize the biblical material each week into one sermon. I could have easily preached 2 hours (even 2-3 weeks) on each of these topics. My suggestion would be to ground the sermon in one text, teach from it, and then bring in other relevant Scriptures. What I told the church is that these sermons would be topical-but-expositional in nature.
3.) Even though the sermons were based in one text or book, I found myself spending more time in study than I usually do when I preach through a book. Honestly, this series reminded me again why expository preaching is a benefit for a pastor and congregation. Each week you know what you’re going to preach and you have the ability to build each sermon on the previous week. Topical preaching done right is much more challenging than I thought.
Overall, I found myself really blessed by going through this series. Preaching this series firmed up some beliefs I already had and opened up new insights I hadn’t thought about before.
Several years ago I recommended commentaries for Matthew, but having preached through the book I would like to give an updated list. Some of these recommendations aren’t commentaries, but books I found helpful in my studies. Also, I realize there are many more books and commentaries out there, but these are the ones that proved valuable to me.
David Jackman & William Philip, Teaching Matthew. A short book, but a helpful survey of Matthew. If you are looking to get a broad overview of Matthew before teaching it; this would be the book.
David Garland, Reading Matthew. I read this book before and enjoyed it immensely. Reading it again proved just as helpful. The book is very beneficial when it comes to structure and theology. I highly recommend it.
D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. The book is a combination of two of Carson’s previous works on Matthew. Although his book is not a commentary per se, it provides good insights and has helpful applications.
_________ , Matthew. Carson’s commentary is part of the Expositors Bible Series. Carson does a great job of laying out the debates on difficult passages and gives thorough explanations to his own. His commentary was usually the first or second place I would check.
David Turner, Matthew. Turner’s commentary is part of the Baker Exegetical Series. I enjoyed using Turner’s commentary; however, at times it lacked some depth. Overall it is a good resource in tying together the book of Matthew to the rest of Scripture.
Michael Wilkins, Matthew. Wilkins’ commentary is part of the NIV Application Series. I was pleasantly surprised with his book. He was especially helpful on some application points. A condensed version of his notes for Matthew are found in the ESV Study Bible.
Grant Osborne, Matthew. Osborne’s commentary is recent, but an excellent resource. It is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Series. The strength of this volume is the format of the series: introduction to each passage, detailed exegesis, and theology. I highly recommend it.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. France was one of the foremost scholars on Matthew. His work was invaluable on some thorny issues. France does a good job connecting Matthew to the Old Testament and provides a lot of helpful theology.
In addition to the volumes above, I read John Calvin regularly on Matthew. Below are some other commentaries I read (or have read), but not as extensively. They all helped at various times.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew.
Donald Hagner, Matthew: 2 Volumes.
Dan Doriani, Matthew: 2 Volumes.
Craig Blomberg, Matthew.
James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew: 2 Volumes.
Sinclair Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount.
I finished preaching through the book of Matthew this past Sunday. It has been a journey, a test in perseverance, and a blessing. There are so many insights that the Lord brought out to me as I prepared each week (many of which didn’t make it into the sermon). Perhaps the richest part of preaching through Matthew for me were the last three chapters. One of the highlights of these last three chapters is the way Matthew uses irony to bring out the message of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. What is irony? The dictionary defines it as: a literary technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or apparently stated. Below are some ironies that help bring out the glory of Christ and the folly of man.
- Matthew 26:31-35: The disciples are insisting that they will die with Jesus (and yet eventually abandon him); Jesus is the only one who actually dies (and never abandons anyone).
- Matthew 26:57-68: Jesus is accused of being a temple destroyer; the religious leaders are the real temple destroyers as they seek to put the true temple (Jesus) to death.
- Matthew 26:69-75: Peter swears before God that he does not know Jesus, as he denies Jesus who is God.
- Matthew 26:57-75: Jesus is silent, while Peter is speaking; Jesus is wrongly accused, while Peter is rightly accused; and Jesus is adjured by an oath to reveal his identity, while Peter evokes an oath to deny his identity (a disciple of Jesus).
- Matthew 27:3-10: Judas returns to the temple to find forgiveness from the priests and finds none; if he returned to Jesus who is the true temple, he would have found forgiveness.
- Matthew 27:15-23: Jesus is not the revolutionary; Barabbas is. Jesus is truly innocent; Barabbas is truly guilty.
- Matthew 27:15-23: Barabbas’ name means Son of the Father; yet it was the true Son of the Father (Jesus) who took his place so that the people could be set free. The crowds would rather have an earthly son who would only bring them temporal deliverance by the sword; rather than the heavenly son who would bring them eternal deliverance by a cross.
- Matthew 27:24-26: Pilate proclaims himself innocent; Jesus is truly the innocent one. Pilate washes his hands of the blood of Jesus so as to be innocent; it is only by the blood of Jesus that he can be made innocent.
- Matthew 27:27-31: Those who haughtily bowed down to him will one day humbly bow down to him. Those who mocked him as king will one day magnify him as king.
- Matthew 27:32-44: One Simon (Peter) fled Jesus; another Simon (Cyrene) walks with Jesus.
- Matthew 27:32-44: While the temple will be destroyed in 70AD, Jesus as the true-temple will not be destroyed but be delivered and raised on the third day. In order to truly save others, Jesus cannot save himself. As he hangs on the cross and suffers for us it doesn’t disprove his trust in God, but actually proves that he is the Son of God.
- Matthew 27:45-56: Jesus was separated from the Father, so that we would never be separated from the Father.
- Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15: The very ones worried about a hoax, concoct that exact same hoax. They create the very thing they tried to prevent.
- Matthew 28:1-10: The ones assigned to guard the dead, become like the dead at his resurrection. The one who thought he had authority over the grave (Pilate), has no authority over the one who was in the grave.
- Matthew 28:16-20: The one who seemed powerless on the cross and was handed over by the power of others; now by his resurrection has all power.
I had the privilege of leading our church in their first Good Friday service. It was a blessing. I preached from Zechariah 3:1-10. One of the main points I drove home was the idea of exchange. Below is a comparison I made between what we got and what Christ got at the cross.
- We got a clean turban; while Christ got a crown of thrones.
- We were clothed with clean garments; while Christ was stripped of his garments.
- We were given life; while Christ was given death.
- We were declared innocent, even though guilty; while Christ was declared guilty, though he was innocent.
- We had our sin taken away; while Christ received our sin upon himself.
- We were reconciled to God; while Christ was separated from God.
- We as the unclean, were made clean; while Christ the clean, was made unclean for our sake.
Martin Luther reminds us of this concept of exchange when he said:
Learn Christ & him crucified. Learn to sing to him &, despairing of yourself, say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine & have given me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not & have given to me what I was not.”
Over the past two weeks I’ve preached on Matthew 19:13-20:16. Because our Bibles have chapter and verses breaks, we tend to view 19:13-30 as one part, and 20:1-16 as a separate part; however, this is one long narrative.
In the first part of the passage we find Jesus’ conversation with the man who wanted eternal life. The Bible tells us he was rich, young, a ruler, and overall a good guy (cf., Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). From all appearances he had it all. In his attempt to gain eternal life he asks Jesus, “what good deed must I do?” This man thought that by doing something good he could get something from God. His idea of eternal life was based on exchange or merit, rather than grace. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. Jesus’ words do not imply that one can earn salvation by keeping the law, but are meant to show the man that he isn’t really a law-keeper, but a law-breaker. The man argues that he has kept all these commandments. The man had done many good things in his life and believed that his own goodness entitled him to something from God. But when confronted with the call to give away his wealth and follow Jesus, he left sorrowful. Jesus’ challenge to the man revealed that he loved his money more than God. In other words, he loved his money more than Jesus (God in the flesh). Therefore, in actuality he had broken the first and most important commandment of the law (you shall have no other gods before me, Exo 20:3).
Having heard Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler, the disciples logically ask, “what about us?” The disciples did forsake all for Jesus (cf., Matt 4:20). Jesus assures them that they will be rewarded accordingly, but also quickly warns them not to misunderstand God’s grace. In some sense, the disciples are like the rich young ruler. They were asking Jesus to look at their goodness. Jesus’ warning to his disciples in this parable is that God’s grace is not conditioned on your hard work or goodness, but is freely given according to his sovereign grace (cf., Matt 19:23-26).
Too often we are tempted to think that our goodness earns us something before God; because our mindset is framed according to our own sense of goodness, rather than God’s definition of goodness (which is perfection). When we define goodness according to ourselves we will always use it to justify ourselves and will always view God as unfair. Yet, the gospel teaches us something entirely different. The gospel is never good news until we first hear the bad news. The gospel reminds me that God is fully justified in sending sinners to hell. The fair thing for God to do is to pour out all of his judgment and wrath against us. God does not owe us anything; he doesn’t even owe us the opportunity to hear the gospel. But what God does for us in Jesus is that he seeks us, saves us, and gives us everything that is his. Jesus becomes my sin bearer; he takes my punishment upon himself at the cross. Jesus is the true rich young ruler who gave up his home in heaven and became one of us. Jesus is the perfect law-keeper, who always did the Father’s good will. In Jesus we find perfect goodness; and when we trust in him we get all of his perfect goodness to stand before a perfectly good God. The gospel is not what we must do for God, but what God has already done for us in Christ. Logically, this means that true change happens in our lives when we stop believing the lie that we need to do something for God, but instead start believing the truth of what God has already done for us in Jesus. Satan’s primary way to destroy us is to tempt us to forget what God has done for us in Jesus and to get us to believe that our acceptance before God is based on something other than Christ’s perfect righteousness.
And so, what is it you are still depending on for your salvation? Have you fled to the Lord Jesus Christ? If you have fled, do you continue to flee to Christ as your only hope, your only salvation, and as your only source of satisfaction?
As I recently finished up another sermon for this week, I realized there are certain books that I could just not do without in sermon prep. Besides the Bible itself, I seem to consult these tools most often as I prepare. Below is my toolbox.
Bibleworks. I’ve used this tool since my junior year in college. It has been a phenomenal exegesis program. Practically does all the work for me, but you still need Greek and Hebrew skills to maximize its capabilities.
Synopsis of the Four Gospels. I find myself in this book a lot more since I’m preaching through Matthew. Even if I wasn’t preaching through Matthew, I am always teaching in some venue or another from a gospel account that requires me to check this book.
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. This book has been a gem since it came out in 2007. The NT is full of OT quotations, references, and allusions; and this book is the perfect help in thinking through how the NT writers used the OT.
New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. A very helpful resource for any type of study. The real plus of this volume is that it gives individual book overviews and subject studies from a biblical-theological perspective. I have also benefited greatly from the introductory articles.
Calvin’s Commentaries. There are few complete or almost complete commentary sets on the Bible. Calvin’s is one of the few. I like to read what other pastors say about a passage. Calvin is one pastor that has said something on just about everything in the Bible.
There are other resources I use, such as individual commentaries, surveys, background studies, and biblical-theological resources; but these five I frequent weekly–even daily.
What’s in your toolbox?