The Net Pastor’s Journal, Eng Ed, Issue 40 Summer 2021
A ministry of…
Author: Dr. Roger Pascoe, President,
Email: [email protected]
I. Strengthening Expository Preaching
Preaching Hebrew Poetry (Pt. 1)
Let me start this article by making some brief comments about poetic books and genre. While the book of Psalms is obviously the poetic book, a broader categorization would include much of the wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). Of course, by the same token, many of the Psalms could be classified as wisdom literature. So, there is always this crossover when categorizing books by genre. According to Kaiser, “approximately one-third of the Old Testament and a surprising mount of the New Testament are in poetic form” (My Heart is Stirred, in Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 86).
Looking at the broad category of O.T. poetry (i.e. including the wisdom books), these poetic books are usually categorized as “The Writings” (as distinct from the Law and the Prophets) and are located in the canon between the Torah and the Prophets. Thus, the structure of the canon recognizes their distinctive literary style and content. “The presence of these…books in the Writings makes a statement about their relationship to the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Prophets – they are neither Law nor Prophecy. In fact, their view of the world is quite different from that of Torah and Prophecy, even though they share many similarities” (C. Hassell Bullock, Preaching the Poetic Literature in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, ed. Michael Duduit, 293).
While the purpose and primary function of the Psalms always has been (and is) liturgical (songs of worship, lament etc.), their inclusion in the canon is surely our authorization to preach them, not just to sing them. After all, they contain very deep theology. They really do show that worship in music and in preaching are both appropriate responses to God.
Nonetheless, we need to be acutely aware that the literary style of the poetic books requires that they be exegeted and sermonized in a way that reflects their unique genre. They need to be interpreted and applied within the context of the whole Psalter and its theology. “The Psalter is…a book of praise proclaiming that God, as Creator and Redeemer, has given to Israel through the Torah, through the revelation of himself in history, the possibility of new life and a complete indication of how it is to be lived” (William Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 212, cited in Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 200).
The overall theme of the Psalms, then, is redemptive, focusing on God (the great King of his covenant people) and his historical acts of deliverance. As Graeme Goldsworthy writes, “The preacher needs to constantly bring his hearers back to this gospel-centered biblical perspective on God” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 201).
What, then, is the appropriate use of the Psalms for the Christian church? Clearly, they may be used in the same way that they were used in biblical times – viz. as a hymn book. As the response of the original audience was to praise God for his redemptive acts, so it is appropriate that our response should be the same. Both the N.T. writers and Jesus himself used the Psalms extensively (Psalms is quoted in the N.T. more than any other O.T. book – estimated at 350 direct and indirect quotations, citations and references) both as prophetic of Jesus and as a source of, and authority for, their theology. For example, Paul quotes the Psalms in Romans 3:10-18 to support his argument about the sinfulness of humanity (Goldsworthy, 199).
Obviously, the great theme of the Psalms is their messianic focus (on Christ’s death and resurrection) and their impact on the human race either for the salvation of the righteous or the condemnation of the wicked (as Psalm 1 indicates).
Now let’s turn to an examination of the genre of the Psalms as Hebrew poetry.
A. Types Of Psalms.
There are various types of Psalms, such as didactic (e.g. Ps. 1); messianic (e.g. Ps. 2); creation Psalms (e.g. Ps. 19); laments (e.g. Ps. 22); salvation history (e.g. Ps. 78); praise (e.g. Ps. 96). The greatest number are laments, although many Psalms fall into more than one category.
B. Their Rhetorical Purpose And Function.
The Psalms are Hebrew poetry and reflect the literary structure and devices associated with that genre. As Tom Long writes, “Every Psalm in the psalter eventually came to be a part of the collection of psalms that, as Patrick D. Miller, Jr., states ‘have functioned in the worship of the community of faith, Jewish and Christian, widely, extensively, and without break’” (Thomas Long, Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible, 44, with citation from Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Interpreting the Psalms, 20).
Like drama, the literary function of Psalms is to appeal to the emotions and imagination. They evoke a deep, internal response that goes beyond the rational. “Poems change what we think and feel not by piling up facts we did not know or by persuasive argumentation, but by making finely tuned adjustments at deep and critical places in our imaginations.” Long gives the example of Psalm 42:1 “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after you, O God.” The condensed words expand in our minds into a huge picture and then the Psalmist relates that picture to our spiritual reality, that is, our relationship to God (Long, 45).
The Psalms speak to us not only at the deeply intimate, devotional level (e.g. in our prayers and meditations on God), but also at the very practical experiential, pastoral level (e.g. in funerals, weddings, celebrations, sicknesses, hopelessness etc.). They speak with contemporary freshness and relevance at these occasions but also with traditional formality and repeatability. “The fact that the Psalter contains psalms of anger, abandonment, and despair affirms not only that such emotions occur in the life of faith but that such experiences are repeated, predictable, and expected. We have been this way before” (Long, 46).
C. Their Rhetorical Structure.
The form of Psalms is condensed, concise, and intense (as poetry is intended to be) and their use of words is different from other literature (as poetry is intended to be). As Robert Alter points out, “poetry, working through a system of complex linkages of sound, image, word, rhythm, syntax, theme, idea, is an instrument for conveying densely-patterned meanings, and sometimes contradictory meanings, that are not readily conveyable through other kinds of discourse” (Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, 113, cited in Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms, 47).
Probably the main rhetorical structure in the Psalms is that of parallelism. So pervasive and important is parallelism in the Psalms, that McQuilkin recommends that we “use parallelism of Hebrew poetry to gain insight into meaning…The distinguishing mark of Hebrew poetry is a correspondence in thought, or parallelism, between one line and the following line; or between one section and the following section” (Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible, 199). To put it another way, parallelism is a literary device in which the poet gives us part of a line (A), and then gives us the next part of the line (B), in such a way that the content of (B) has some connection to the content of (A). This connection is done, primarily, in three ways:
1. Synonymous parallelism - similar thought in (A) is repeated in (B) with no significant addition. For example:
a) Ps. 73:1, (A) Truly God is good to the upright… (B) To those who are pure in heart.
b) Prov. 1:20, (A) Wisdom lifts her voice in the street…(B) She lifts her voice in the square
c) Gen. 4:23, (A) Adah and Zillah, listen to me… (B) wives of Lamech, hear my words
d) Luke 1:46b-47a, (A) My soul praises the Lord… (B) And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
2. By antithetic parallelism - thought in (B) is contrasted to or opposed to the thought in (A). For example:
Prov. 10:1, (A) A wise son brings joy to his father… (B) But a foolish son grief to his mother
Prov. 15:2, (A) The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable…(B) But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
3. By synthetic parallelism - thought in (B) extends, advances, adds to, makes clear the thought in (A). For example:
Ps. 22:2, (A) O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer… (B) And by night, but find no rest
Isa. 55:6-7, (A) See the Lord while he may be found…(B) Call upon him while he is near (55:6); and (A) Let the wicked forsake his way…(B) And the unrighteous man his thoughts (55:7)
Each of these forms of parallelism is evident in, for example, Psalm 1. The characteristics of the godly person are advanced by synthetic parallelism in verse 1, and contrasted with the unrighteous person by antithetic parallelism in verse 2. The Psalm then proceeds to unfold a powerful picture of the righteous person, who is like a tree planted by the water etc., in contrast to the wicked person, who is like chaff that is easily blown away. The space given to describing the righteous is so much greater than that given to describe the unrighteous, that the psalmist thereby indirectly discloses his viewpoint as to whom we should be like, a viewpoint which is made explicit at the end of the Psalm.
In summary, Long points out, “The rhetorical effect of the poetry of the psalm, then, is to create two contrasting spheres of activity in the awareness of the reader or hearer. One sphere is filled with frenetic, desperate, directionless motion which quickly fizzles. The other is still, steady, calm, rich with the quiet and strong action of the wise person reflecting upon Torah. An effective sermon on this psalm may well be one which not only describes this contrast but also recreates its visual and emotional impact in the hearers” (Long, 51).
D. Their Literary Devices.
Let me point out just two:
1. Symbolism – e.g. Prov. 11:22, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout … is a beautiful woman without discretion.”
2. Figures of speech. How do we know when the poet is using a figure of speech and not speaking literally? Let me give you three criteria:
(a) There is a mismatch between the subject and predicate – e.g. “God is our rock.”
(b) The predicate attributes to the subject actions that are not possible in the real world – e.g. “the mountains clapped their hands.”
(c) The poet is giving dramatic emphasis, heightened feeling, memorability. Types of figures of speech include simile, metaphor, parable, allegory, irony etc.
In the next edition of this Journal, I will turn from the analytical and theoretical analysis of the Psalms (i.e. the structure of the Psalms) to the practical by investigating certain aspects of preaching poetic literature.
II. Strengthening Biblical Leadership
“The Ministry Of Reconciliation, Pt. 1: The Reconciliation Of All People” (2 Cor. 5:18-21)
This is a continuation of my series on biblical, pastoral leadership based on Paul’s exhortations in 2 Corinthians. You can read the other articles in this series in the following editions of this Journal, in this order: Spring 2013, Summer 2012, Summer 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Spring 2021.
Having expounded various fundamental aspects of pastoral ministry - confidence in ministry, the nature of authentic ministry, and the motivation for ministry - the apostle Paul now relates all of this to us at a practical level. Notice the following observations…
1. The Ministry of Reconciliation Applied to Us (5:18a). For those who have been transformed into “new creations in Christ” a whole new era has dawned, “The old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (5:17b). And the source of this massive, historic transformation is God himself - “All this is from God…” (5:18a). The One who brought all things into being at the original creation is the One who re-creates believers into “new creations” in Christ. Just as the work of creation was God’s alone, so the work of re-creation is God’s alone, effected through the agency of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5; Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12).
But it doesn’t stop there. Additionally, not only did God re-create us into a brand new image in Christ, but He also “…through Christ reconciled us to himself” (5:18a). Our re-creation by God in Christ necessarily leads to our reconciliation to God himself through Christ. The two ideas go together – our re-creation by God and our reconciliation to God.
Thus, reconciliation is part and parcel of being made new creations in Christ, for once we are made new, we receive new lives that are consistent with the life of God and, thus, reconciled to God. Sin is no longer a barrier to that relationship. That sinful nature that made us enemies of God, sons of disobedience etc. (Eph. 2:1-3), has been put to death and we have been raised up to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Our relationship to God that was formerly irreconcilable (viz. sinful creatures vs. a holy God) has been reconciled to God through Christ’s death (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:13).
Though man is responsible for fracturing the relationship in the first place through sin, God is all-powerful and all-loving and, in a past eternity, conceived the plan of redemption so that, through the death of his Son, “He might be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). The One who sovereignly created us has also sovereignly re-created us (Eph. 2:10) and reconciled us to himself (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21).
2. The Ministry of Reconciliation Committed to Us (5:18b-19). Having been made new creations in Christ and reconciled to God through Christ, He “gave us (committed to us) the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18c). Those who have been reconciled to God have been given the enormous privilege of “the ministry of reconciliation...” Our reconciliation to God through Christ becomes the basis and thrust of our ministry. Only those who have been reconciled to God are given this ministry of reconciliation, by which we declare the message of reconciliation so that others are enabled to be reconciled to God and to one another.
This, in a nutshell, is the ministry which we have been given and to which we have been called. This is the treasure that is born by and in earthen vessels. This is the glorious new covenant ministry, a message of reconciliation to God, “…that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself…” (19a).
Paul now expands on 5:18. God not only acted “through Christ” (i.e. Christ was the agent of reconciliation) but God also acted “in Christ” in this reconciling work - i.e. God was one with Christ in it; what Christ did, God did. The act of reconciliation was a united act of the Trinity, whose members are always one in thought, purpose, and action.
Further, the scope of reconciliation now broadens from “us” (5:18) to the world – “that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself” (5:19a). The reconciling act of God in Christ had in view making possible not only the reconciliation of “us” (5:18) but also the reconciliation of “the world” to himself. That Paul is referring to the world at large is reinforced by his use of the pronouns “their” and “them” (i.e. the world) in contrast to “we” and “us” (5:16, 18) - “…not counting (reckoning) their trespasses against them” (19b). This is not universal salvation (see my article on 2 Cor. 5:14-17 in Issue 39 of this Journal) but the universal scope / availability of reconciliation – past, present, and future. In the past, God provided and completed the only basis for the reconciliation of the world to himself, viz. through and in Christ and his finished work on the cross. In the present, God is now reconciling to himself all people who receive his offer of salvation and reconciliation, viz. elect believers. In the future, God will reconcile all things to himself at the end of the age, “according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10; cf. Col. 1:20).
In summary, the argument in 5:18-19 goes like this: God has savingly “reconciled us (who are new creations in Christ) to Himself (5:18a) and, consequently, He “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18b), which is “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses to them and (to emphasize the point) has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation” (5:19).
Those who have actually been reconciled are given a new covenant “ministry of reconciliation” (5:18b), which is declared in “the message of reconciliation” (5:19b) This is a commitment by God to us - He has entrusted to us this message, this word, of proclamation. That’s our ministry! The good news of reconciliation that God accomplished in and through Christ on the cross, He has committed to us to proclaim. Clearly, the implication is that our ministry is a ministry of proclamation that has the same scope as the work of reconciliation itself - namely, universal.
3. The Ministry of Reconciliation Declared by Us (5:20-21). “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We plead / implore (“you” is not in original) on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” (5:20). We who have been experientially, savingly reconciled to God through Jesus Christ are his “ambassadors for Christ” in this ministry of reconciliation.
So, how is this ministry of reconciliation to be carried out? It is carried out in the same way as an ambassador carries out his duties. An ambassador is a diplomatic representative of the government or ruling monarch of his country, which he represents in another country. He communicates the position or wishes of his government or monarch to the government or monarch of the country to which he is sent.
We are “ambassadors for Christ.” We are his representatives in the world, authorized to speak his message on his behalf. We are his voice in the world, “God pleading (making his appeal) through us…”. When we, as ambassadors for Christ, fulfill our ministry and proclaim the message of reconciliation by pleading with people to be reconciled to God, it is, in fact, God who is speaking through us, because we speak his message as disclosed in his Word, with his authority, empowered by his Spirit.
The preaching event, then, is equated by Paul with the actual words of God! When we faithfully declare the message that has been entrusted to us, God is actually pleading with people through us. This is incarnational preaching, preaching that embodies the truth and manifests God himself through us. Ministry is not something that is detached from us like a job. Rather, it is integral to who we are; it is part and parcel of our personality, character, behaviour, and nature. That’s why the declaration of what God has done in and through Christ is such a personal and passionate thing.
Thus, when we preach, we actually “plead / beseech / implore…”. We don’t just speak as in a lecture or a conversation; we plead with people as if their life depended on it, for their lives do depend on it. “We plead on Christ’s behalf,” speaking and acting as his authorized ambassadors to the world, “Be reconciled to God.”
The word “plead / beseech / implore” carries with it the connotation of urgency, passion, concern, persuasion. That must be the character of our ministry, declaring a message which lost people desperately need to hear, the urgency of which is dictated (1) by the brevity of the time available to believe it; and (2) by the prospect of judgement that will fall on those who refuse it. So, our ministry responsibility is to tell people how they can be reconciled to God, namely, through the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Christ on their behalf (5:14-15).
Although the thrust of this paragraph is our declaration of reconciliation to unbelievers (cf. 5:11, 14-15, 19), nonetheless, God’s own people need this message of reconciliation as well, not just lost people (see 6:1-2). God's people need to be constantly reconciled to God, not because they lose their salvation, but because they lose their fellowship, their communion with God by acting, speaking, and thinking in ways that are contrary to his nature and character. God’s people sometimes backslide and don’t live like Christians. We enable such people to return to God and progress in their sanctification by proclaiming a message of reconciliation to them on Christ’s behalf.
What good would it do to entreat people to be reconciled to God if the basis and means of their reconciliation were not made known? So, we not only plead with them to be reconciled to God (i.e. to experience saving reconciliation), but we also explain to them the basis on which they can be reconciled – namely, because “for our sake He (God) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Those who are new creations in Christ and are savingly reconciled to God, do not have their sins charged to their account because their sins are charged to Christ’s account (cf. 5: 21). God made the sinless One (cf. Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5) “sin for us…”. In other words, the justice and wrath of God on account of our sin was vented upon Christ instead of us. He was our substitute. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28).
Notice that it does not say that God made Christ a sinner or sinful. No! As Philip Hughes puts it, “to conceive of Christ as sinful, or made a sinner, would be to overthrow the very foundation of redemption, which demands the death of an altogether Sinless One in the place of sinful mankind. But God made Him sin: that is to say that God the Father made His innocent incarnate Son the object of his wrath and judgement, for our sakes, with the result that in Christ on the cross the sin of the world is judged and taken away” (Philip Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, 213).
Just as Christ did not become a sinner or sinful, so we do not become righteous. Rather, we “become the righteousness of God in Him.” Divine righteousness is attributed to us. We receive his righteousness and are declared righteous (i.e. justified), but we do not become righteous because we are still capable of sin and do sin from time to time. Notice that our righteousness (and, thus, our reconciliation to God) is “in him.” We are wrapped up in him, identified with him in his death and resurrection. Our life is in him. Our hope is in him. God sees us perfect in him - “as he is so also are we in this world” (1 Jn. 4:17). Nonetheless, as far as our standing before God is concerned (as opposed to our state which may vary), we are viewed in, and have been credited with, “the righteousness of Christ,” so that we are no longer subject to condemnation because we are “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Christ was the only one who could make reconciliation with God possible, for He alone was the sinless One who alone could offer the only sacrifice for our sins that would be acceptable to God (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Only a perfect man could take our place, since the life of another imperfect sinner would not satisfy God’s holy demands, for God demands the death of sinners - “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Only someone who lived a sinless life and needed no reconciliation Himself could and did willingly offer His own life as our substitute before God – He took our place, died instead of us and for our good, namely, that we could be reconciled to God.
He became sin for us, the purpose of which was that “…in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The exchange is thus complete. He became sin for us and we become righteous in him. This is what is sometimes called the double imputation. Those who receive this message of reconciliation have their sins imputed to Christ (He became sin for us by paying the debt of our sin at the cross) and his righteousness imputed to them (we become the righteousness of God in him), the benefit of which is that we are viewed by God as perfect in Christ. As Peter puts it, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sins and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Rom. 4:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Pet. 3:18). This great exchange made it possible for God to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
So, it can be seen, that the basis and means of our reconciliation to God is the substitutionary, self-sacrificial, atoning death of Christ on the cross, which death made it possible for sinful human beings to have their sins washed away (expiated) and stand before God forgiven and justified as new creations in Christ.
This is the wonderful transformation that the gospel affords. This is the gospel in a sentence. This is the basis and means by which God has made the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel, possible – namely, by the substitutionary death of Christ. What a message we have to proclaim! What an exchange we have to offer! No wonder we must, as “ambassadors for Christ,” plead with people to receive it!
This, then, is our pastoral ministry, “The Ministry Of Reconciliation: The Reconciliation Of All People” (2 Cor. 5:18-21). It is our responsibility as preachers of God’s word and leaders of Christ’s church to declare this message. The message of reconciliation which has been applied to us (5:18a) and committed to us (5:18b-19), is to be declared by us (5:20-21). Are you preaching this message? Do others through your ministry know how to be reconciled to God? Are others being reconciled to God through his Son as a result of your ministry?
III. Sermon Outlines
Title: Learning from Jesus, Part 1, Defeating Temptation (Matt. 3:13-4:11)
Theme: To defeat temptation, we need to be armed with he Word of God
Point 1: We need to be prepared to face temptation
1a) … by submission to the Word of God (3:13-15)
1b) … by the anointing of the Holy Spirit (3:16)
1c) … by the affirmation / blessing of God the Father (3:17)
Point 2: We need to be prepared to resist temptation
2a) Satan attacks God’s proclamation and provision (14:3-4)
2b) Satan attacks God’s power and protection (14:5-7)
2c) Satan attacks God’s purposes and plans (4:8-10)
Related Topics: Pastors