Further Response to Dr. Clark

I will respond to Dr. Clark’s post seriatim.

1. This qualification is well-taken. Olevian is his own man, and has many things in his background influencing his theology, of which one of the more important influences is Calvin’s teaching. This seems nuanced enough for anyone.

2. My argument is not really taking this form. I certainly do not mean to imply in the slightest that Clark has misread Olevian, as I am in no position whatsoever to judge on the matter, as Clark points out. All I really want to ask is this question: given Gaffin’s and Garcia’s interpretation of Calvin (not implying that it is true, merely positing that it is out there) as teaching union with Christ containing the duplex gratia, would Dr. Clark say that Olevian’s doctrine of the covenant functions for Olevian in the same way that Gaffin/Garcia say that union functions for Calvin?

3. It might be that Garcia’s answer to this question (and he would be in a better position to answer it: I have not read Venema’s thesis) would be that the entire thesis is really his justification of his differences with Venema’s analysis. I just throw it out there as something I could imagine Garcia saying. I am not implying that he would say it, or that it is necessarily a logical answer to the question.

4. I agree with Clark’s examples that they are examples of anachronism. However, is asking Calvin (historically speaking) about union with Christ and its relationship to justification and sanctification anachronistic? To me, it does not seem so.

5. I can affirm almost everything in what Dr. Clark says here in relationship to the distinction of historical theology and systematic theology. And I am also grateful that he addressed my concern regarding separating the two. I don’t have any problem with saying that HT and ST have distinct methodologies. My concern is that, ultimately speaking, truth is one. And I am (and I think Dr. Clark is also) seeking to honor that. That being said, the goal of HT, that of accurately describing the theology under examination, is not separated from describing any theology accurately, including Scripture’s theology. Is there such a distinction between HT and ST that there is not some overlap? When we come to Scripture, for instance, are we not engaged in accurately describing the theology of Scripture? When it comes to Scripture, HT and ST are both seeking accurately to describe Scripture’s truth. The problem here is that accurate description of a theologian (who is accurate to Scripture!) will also be an accurate description of Scripture. Of course, the methodologies of HT and ST differ. I do not mean to confuse the two. However, value judgments are inevitable. I do not believe that there is such a thing as complete objectivity. Of course there is absolute truth. However, our appropriation of it must be biased, hopefully by the biblical bias. We want to think God’s thoughts after Him, and His thoughts are the only true ones.

6. I don’t believe that I am transmuting “logically” into “temporally.” Let me explain what I mean: it seems to me that justification is grounded on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Sanctification is grounded on the righteousness of Christ infused into us. It is the same righteousness, but appropriated differently (although faith is the instrument in both). This is part of the reason why I want to say that they are simul (does Clark agree that Calvin is saying simul?). The infusion is not based on the imputation. Rather, they are simultaneously given (justification in its punctiliar manner, sanctification in its progressive manner). This preserves the distinction between them without saying that they are separated. Now, I would never accuse any of the WSC profs of saying that justification and sanctification are separated (contra the writers of A Faith That Is Never Alone). But it seems to me easier to hold them together if they are given simul. This is not the reason why I hold this belief, but rather a practical ramification of it.

7. In phone conversations with Dr. Gaffin, the way he put it to me was that the doctrine of justification itself is the same among the Reformed and the Lutherans, but that the context of that doctrine in the loci is distinct. I still wonder if rapprochement between WTS and WSC is not possible exactly here: covenant functions for WSC the way union functions for WTS. Both seminaries seem to agree that something holds justification and sanctification together. One says union and the other says covenant. I bet almost anything there is a way to come together on this.

8. Pedagogy does not define the ordo salutis. I agree with that. And it is important to remember. My point is this: if sanctification is logically dependent on justification, then why not treat justification first? Is it not good pedagogy to make the ordo docendi follow the ordo salutis? Does this not happen in almost every systematic theology which we possess? In a sense, we are talking about form and meaning. The form that Calvin’s Institutes takes means something. We know that the final edition of the Institutes was the result of great wrestling in the mind of Calvin to get the order and arrangement correct. That means, that in the mind of Calvin, treating sanctification first was the correct order for pedagogical purposes. Why? It seems to me that the Gaffin/Garcia model here can explain that. I would very much like to see Clark give an explanation for why this is.

A Response to Dr. Clark

Many thanks to Dr. Clark for taking the time to respond to me. There are some very helpful clarifications there of what he was trying to accomplish in writing his book. I am still left with a few questions that I would like to lay out there.

1. I agree that there is very little substantive difference between Calvin’s duplex gratia and Olevian’s duplex beneficium. This is not all that surprising, since, as Dr. Clark notes in his book, Olevian was Calvin’s student.

2. What is Dr. Clark’s definition of “substantive interaction?” He makes the claim that Garcia did not substantively interact with Cornelis Venema’s thesis. At the very end of page 11, and going through page 14, Garcia at least interacts with Venema’s thesis. The question is: does this qualify as “substantive?” Added to these pages, the footnote on page 34 may be added, which clarifies for us the relationship of Venema’s thesis to Garcia’s thesis. Given the crowded nature of theses on Calvin, my impression was that Garcia gave as much time to Venema as to anyone else. Not even Lillback or Armstrong receive more attention than Venema. Garcia was generally favorable to Venema’s thesis, while allowing that further development of various aspects of Venema’s thesis was possible.

3. I do not think that my question concerning union with Christ, justification, and sanctification is anachronistic. I think it genuinely is something that Calvin was dealing with. And in saying this, my motivation is to ask what Calvin believed, not to try to find some antecedent for my favorite theologians. Instead, I am asking the question in this way: is Gaffin correctly understanding Calvin? Is Garcia correctly understanding Calvin?

4. I am not so sure that it is a good idea to separate historical inquiry from systematic theology. We can distinguish them. However, compartmentalization of the two is not healthy, in my mind. This is the field of my thesis, by the way. The separation of the two enterprizes is not something that the Reformers would have done. They dance happily among the various theological disciplines (which only we, in our post-Enlightenment state, have separated) with almost no awareness that they have crossed the boundaries of disciplines. They engaged in historical theology in order to prove their systematic theses. Their systematic theses were historically conditioned. Both were grounded in exegesis and used in polemics against Rome, the Anabaptists, the Lutherans, and later on, the Socinians. All of this had profound practical ramifications for the Christian life. Why is it a good thing to cordon off historical theology from systematic theology? I know that this is how historical theology is done today. But should it be done this way?

5. What places in Calvin support the claim that union is an a posteriori explanation of how one comes to faith in Christ? My original question was whether justification and sanctification can be considered temporally distinct in view of the simul in Calvin’s Romans commentary. I do not feel that this question has been answered.

6. I would agree that the structure and doctrine of justification itself in the Reformed world of the 16th and 17th centuries is precisely the same as the Lutherans. It is in this sense that we can speak of a pan-Protestant doctrine of justification. However, it seems to me that the relationship of justification to other doctrines (like covenant and union with Christ) is where there are differences between the Reformed and the Lutherans. Would Dr. Clark agree with this assessment?

7. Why did Calvin treat sanctification before justification?

A Book Review of Scott Clark’s Book on Caspar Olevian

Dr. Clark invited me to read his book a while back. So I bought the book and read it. And I’m very glad I did. It is very well-written and very well researched. I say I am writing a book review. However, it must not be thought that I am any sort of expert in the field of historical theology. I write this post very much from the perspective of a student learning from a professor, not as a colleague. It is available here.

I really have almost nothing to criticize about the book. Clark first explores the historical context, debunking a number of curious myths about the Reformed faith in the 16th century (such as saying that the Reformed were in positions of power throughout Europe during this time; rather, most Reformed folk were aliens and strangers). Clark sets Olevian firmly in the historical context of 16th century Germany. His importance is often overlooked, and it is somewhat startling to read that “the Palatinate of this period cannot be fairly interpreted without Caspar Olevian” (pp. 20-21). Of course, he is (justly) famous primarily for being one of the two main authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. However, his theology is not so well known. Lyle Bierma has written an excellent study on Olevian. However, Clark’s study is by no means superfluous, as Bierma himself acknowledges. Indeed, Clark’s study moves beyond Bierma in placing Olevian’s covenant theology in the context of his entire theology.

Olevian was a humanist (in the Renaissance sense of the term, a linguist) who was well-educated in the classics (chapter 3). He brought this training to bear on his theology in his methodology, not in an anti-Protestant rationalising movement (pg. 41). In other words, scholastic humanism influenced how he did theology, not so much what he actually said. In so doing, he functions as “a transitional stage in Reformed orthodoxy between the earlier stages of Protestant theology and the more highly developed dogmatic theology of the seventeenth century” (pg. 73).

Olevian’s covenantal theology depends on his trinitarian theology (chapter 4), since “the covenant is nothing more than a way of describing the relations which obtain between the triune God and his people” (pg. 74). In this chapter, Clark deals with several theologians in order to set the context for Olevian’s theology.

Calvin is included, of course, since Olevian was one of Calvin’s students (pg. 84). It is in this chapter that Clark addresses Calvin’s doctrine of mystical union. It is here that I would have some questions to ask Dr. Clark. First question: if Books 3 and 4 of Calvin’s Institutes “focus on (sic, ‘the’) Holy Spirit’s work in uniting sinners to Christ and sanctifying them in the church through the means of grace” (pg. 83), and given the use of the word “simul” in Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans (see Mark Garcia’s book, pg. 135) to describe the simultaneously given sanctification and justification, to what extent is Clark willing to say that sanctification is the result of union, but justification is not?

Chapter 3.1.1 of the Institutes clearly says that nothing of what Christ did is of any value to us unless we are united to him. This includes what Christ did for our justification. Without union, no justification, in other words. Can we really say that there is a time lapse in between justification and sanctification? I confess to having a hard time with this. Is it true that the infusion of the grace of sanctification happens “subsequent to justification” (pg. 83)? If this is so, then why did Calvin treat sanctification (chapters 1-10 of Book 3) before justification (chapters 11-18)? It would seem to me (and this point is not original with me; I believe that Dr. Gaffin first suggested it to me) that Calvin did this because of a polemical rhetoric against Rome’s claim that justification encouraged license. Calvin’s point is that it doesn’t matter which order you put them in because they are simul in union with Christ. Of course, 99.9999999% of sanctification occurs after justification. But the beginning of it is given at the same time as justification, so that justification and sanctification are distinct, yet inseparable aspects of union with Christ.

I think I have read Clark saying somewhere that the order is logical, not temporal. Fair enough. However, it seems to me that such language almost inevitably results in temporal thinking, much like the order of the decrees when discussing supra- and infralapsarianism. How can one talk of temporal order in the decrees of God, which were all determined in eternity (simul)? Yet the debate between the two positions almost inevitably resorts to temporal language. Of course that is eternity, and this is time. Nevertheless, I think it is best to speak of justification and sanctification being given sultaneously in union with Christ. I don’t have any great quibble with Westminster West’s way of putting it. I’m sure that they would affirm that one cannot be justified without at once being sanctified. True justification is inseparable with true sanctification. The difference is that milli-second…

It seems to me that what union with Christ does for the Westminster East folks, covenant does in this book. Covenant is what joins together the duplex gratia in Olevian’s theology (according to Clark, pp. 139-140). I wonder if this might be the place where Westminster East and West might be able to meet: is not union with Christ an integral, nay, definitional part of the substance of the covenant? If so, then there might very well be a place where they could meet together and agree.

The Church

My previous post on this section of the Joint Statement is located here. I dealt with both sections on the church, since they need to be taken together. I still think that is necessary, since the main point concerns the visible/invisible church distinction. We must be careful on this point, since retractions are sometimes necessary.

That being said, these two sections are not above criticism. As I said before, although the visible/invisible church distinction is affirmed, the waters are muddied when he says, “the historical church generally corresponds to the visible church.” The matter would be much better put this way: the historical church consists of members of the visible and invisible church in time as they are on earth. My point I raised before about the eschatological church being fully visible is also helpful here. For members of the invisible church who are alive today are surely part of the historical church. That is why I find this statement unhelpful. To me, it still makes me think that the historical/eschatological is being confused with the visible/invisible. I do think the two distinctions are confused in RINE (see especially page 74 where Doug says that the historical/eschatology preserves the necessary distinction made by visible/invisible- it does no such thing!) and in Doug’s 2002 AAPC conference lectures where he talks of tipping over the visible/invisible distinction on its side so that it is temporal. The former distinction is diachronic, while the latter distinction is synchronic. Both distinctions are valid (is anyone denying the validity of the historical/eschatological distinction? If not, then why have a separate section denying such a denial?) and fully biblical. But they are different distinctions.

I would ask this question: is it legitimate in any way to say that members of the visible church who are not elect are not part of the church? How else can the visible church be described but as a church that seeks to measure up to the invisible church? Contrary to FV claims, this does not result either in denigration of the church, or in Baptistic thinking (unless the FV wants to take the unprecedented step of accusing non-paedo-communionists of being Baptistic). We do not believe in regenerate church membership for the visible church. That is the essence of Baptistic thinking. What is different about us is that we believe in regenerate membership of the invisible church.

An Unoccupied House

Matthew 12:43-45


The human heart will always be occupied with something. There is no such thing as an unoccupied house. Take this for an experiment: think about the parking lot just outside the church. Think about the cars parked in it. Think about how large it is. Now don’t think about it. Can you do it? Can you think about nothing? It isn’t possible. Our minds will always be occupied with something. However, if I were to say to imagine the parking lot in your mind, and imagine the cars parked in it, and think about its size, but then tell you now to think about your own house, and how many bedrooms it has, and how many bathrooms, I would imagine that you can do that. The point is that if we want to stop thinking about something, the only way we can do that is to start thinking about something else. The solution is not to think about nothing, because that is impossible. If we even try to think about nothing, what we will find out is that we are thinking about the fact that we are trying to think about nothing. This principle is vitally important for helping us to understand what Jesus is saying in this parable.

Jesus had in fact cast out a demon from a person. Therefore, Jesus had the perfect visual illustration ready at hand to teach His disciples what He meant about the house. There were people who were listening who wanted to avoid commitment entirely. They did not want to commit to Jesus body and soul. Instead they wanted to wait in judgment until they could find out whether Jesus would do what they wanted Him to do, or be the kind of Messiah they wanted Him to be. So then, if Jesus was casting out demons, bringing the kingdom of God with Him, then He was demanding a perfect submission and total commitment. Jesus proves that point by telling us that everyone’s heart is committed to something.

Jesus has just finished telling us what kind of Messiah He is, and that He is greater than Solomon in wisdom and greater than Jonah in the prophetic office. Plainly that is a call for commitment on the part of those who hear what He has to say. He condemns those who do not respond, saying that those who heard the lesser lights earlier in history will rise up to condemn those who do not respond right now, when the greater Person is present.

Now what Jesus is telling us is the consequence of what happens to those who have heard the teaching of Jesus, but will not respond. They are like an unoccupied house. And unoccupied house is an inherently unstable building. We know that very well here in North Dakota. Things start to go wrong when a house is unoccupied. Cracks start forming in the walls, in the basement, in the ceiling. It is difficult to stop the bad effects of extreme cold and heat when no one wants to spend the money to do so. Eventually, unoccupied houses start falling apart. They are unstable. Of course, abandoned farmhouses out here wind up being targets for unlawful activity in drugs particularly. This is a very close analogy to what Jesus is saying. A person can have a demon cast out of them, but if the Holy Spirit does not then immediately take up residence, then the fix was only temporary, and the demons will be back.

What exactly happens? Well, the demon leaves a person, and starts wandering. It doesn’t find very much hospitality anywhere else in the world, and so it starts talking to itself. The NIV leaves out a word that is actually really helpful. The NIV has the demon saying, “I will return to the house I left.” What the text actually says is, “I will return to my house, which I left.” The demon thinks of the person as his own personal house, belonging to him. And that is true. If a demon is cast out of his house, but the deed to that house still belongs to the demon, then he will be back. The deed has to change hands. The only one who can buy that deed is Jesus. He has bought many deeds with His own blood. Has He bought yours? Is yours even for sale to Jesus? Or are you wanting to keep you house unoccupied? The consequences of having Jesus throw out a lot of junk in your life but not take up residence is that the heart is not changed. Earlier in the text, we learned that only a good heart can produce good fruit. An unoccupied house cannot produce good fruit either.

When the demon comes back the second time, it is a whole lot worse, since he brings back a whole lot more demons with him. There’s obviously room for more. And an unoccupied house is an open invitation for demons to come back. We might think that a house that is swept clean and put in order will be immune to demonic attacks of this sort. But Jesus’ point is that that is untrue. What exactly does “swept clean and put in order” mean? I believe that it simply means that a person is seeking to be a moral person without the power of God residing in him. Benjamin Franklin once tried to do this. He tells us about it in his autobiography. He made a list of all the moral virtues he wanted to improve on in his own life, and he also made a list of all the moral failings that he wanted to correct. He thought he would work on one of them at a time. So, for a period of several weeks or months, he would work hard at improving that particular virtue, or at lessening that particular vice. He would have some superficial success, a partial success. However, the minute he moved on to the next virtue or vice, the progress made in the first virtue would reverse itself. In other words, he was trying to sweep clean his house and put it in order without God in his life. Nowhere in this whole process did he seek the Lord’s help, or ask Jesus to live in his heart by the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to do. Morality is the result of the Holy Spirit living in a person. There is no other way to achieve it. To try to live a moral life without the Holy Spirit is like trying to hold water in a broken well.

So, if we need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to live within us, then what should fill our hearts? What should occupy our minds? Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” Notice several things about this verse. Firstly, Paul does not tell us to think about what we thing is true, lovely, admirable. Rather, he tells us to think about what actually is true, lovely, and admirable. God does have something to say about what is beautiful. He tells us in creation what is beautiful. What is beautiful in creation has order, harmony and complexity to it. Let’s all face it here: a straight line can be beautiful, I suppose. However, it is not really all that complicated. However, a flower has unbelievable complexity, and yet it has order to it as well. It has a pattern. You can tell that it is a flower. You can only do that if it has a recognizable pattern. We can even tell one kind of flower from another kind of flower. That is because each species of flower has a recognizable and distinct pattern to it. And yet scientists have not been able to unlock all the secrets of a living organism, so complex is it. Harmony refers to the fact that something beautiful has agreement in all its parts. For instance, a magnificent painting will not have clashing colors. A beautiful piece of music will not have unresolved dissonance, notes that clash. That leads us to the second thing about Philippians 4:8 that we should notice. And that is that we should think about such things. The word there means to contemplate in a deep way, not merely to take a brief look at it. We should fill our minds with such things. This is the reason I am spending so much time on Philippians 4:8 in a sermon on Matthew. Paul tells us what should fill our minds, and that the peace of God consists in these things. All too often, we settle for far less to occupy our minds. We fill our minds with trifles, and with entertainment. Entertainment is not always bad. However, too often, it is not noble, pure, right, true, and lovely, but rather dirty, impure, false, and ugly. The point is that there are things that are truly beautiful, such as creation. These things tell us much more about God than entertainment does, if the entertainment is bad. It takes a bit more work to appreciate something that is complex. But the effort is always worth it, since it makes us grow and stretch. This idea has many many applications. But we must first remember that the Holy Spirit is the only answer to demonic possession. Now, demon possession is rare today. It is much more likely that we will create our own idols to live in our hearts, rather than actual demons, though that is still possible. But when the Holy Spirit does live in our hearts, He is wanting us to think about what Paul says. Ultimately, we should fill our minds with God. He is the most beautiful person who can fill our minds. He is orderly, complex, and filled with harmony. Contemplate God and His creation. This kind of orderliness is not the same that is describing the unoccupied house. The unoccupied house seeks to think about nothing, whereas this kind of orderliness is actually the positive thing that you fill your house with. Then there will be no room for demons or idolatry. For God will be your all in all.

Mark Horne on Turretin and Merit

On page 85 of A Faith That Is Never Alone, Mark Horne quotes Turretin in order to prove that no merit of any kind was operative in the Covenant of Works. Unfortunately for Mark’s argument, he leaves out pactum merit, as he does time and time again. He also leaves out half of the Turretin quotation. Here is what Mark includes:

Thus, Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice (p. 712 of volume 2 of the IET).

However, Mark left out the second half of the sentence, which goes on to say precisely what Mark will not allow anywhere in his theology:

although (through a certain condescension) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense because it ought to have been, as it were, the foundation and meritorious cause in view of which God had adjudged life to him).

Notice Turretin’s qualifications. None of this matches up to strict merit, either of congruity or condignity. However, it can be called meritorious according to the covenant (pactum). It is not once (contra Horne) but at least twice that Turretin calls Adam’s obedience merit according to pact. Turretin explicitly states that Adam’s obedience would have been a meritorious cause of his obtaining life, understanding “meritorious” according to the terms of the covenant.

A Reminder

Just a quick message to Doug telling us where we are. There are currently two posts of mine for Doug to answer. One is in response to his pole-axing that occurred over the issue of union with Christ, and the other is my post on the decrees.

Light Posting Recently

My apologies to my readers for hardly posting anything in the last two weeks. Sermon preparation has been a bit brutal. It is difficult to prepare on an entire chapter of Daniel at a time. Every commentary I read has been quite prolix so far, and I really cannot split up any of the chapters except chapter 2 so far. I hope to start posting again regularly next week.

Joint Statement by WTS and Professor Enns

Joint Statement by WTS and Professor Enns

July 23, 2008

The following statement is being posted per the instruction of Rev. Charles McGowan, Chairman of the Institutional Personnel Committee.

The administration and Prof. Peter Enns wish to announce that they have arrived at mutually agreeable terms, and that, as of 31 July, 2008, Prof. Enns will discontinue his service to Westminster Theological Seminary after fourteen years.

The administration wishes to acknowledge the valued role Prof. Enns has played in the life of the institution, and that his teaching and writings fall within the purview of Evangelical thought. The Seminary wishes Prof. Enns well in his future endeavors to serve the Lord.

Prof. Enns wishes to acknowledge that the leaders of the Seminary (administration and board) are charged with the responsibility of leading the seminary in ways that are deemed most faithful to the institution’s mission as a confessional Reformed Seminary.

Prof. Enns expresses his deep and sincere gratitude to the Lord for his education and years of service at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Past statements and documents

Statement of the Board – May 23, 2008
Official Theological Documents – April 24, 2008
A Communication to the Westminster Seminary Community – April 10, 2008
Message from the Board of Trustees– March 29, 2008

The Sign of Jonah

Matthew 12:38-42


When I was working at Cracker Barrel, there was a man working there who liked to talk about philosophy. He had a belief that is very common to today’s culture. He said that he would only believe what his eyes and ears told him. He would never believe anything by faith. This philosophy is not new. Even in ancient Greece, the Epicureans believed the same thing. Of course, if all you could believe was what your eyes and ears told you, then God was automatically left out of the picture, since no one can see God. These are the same kind of people who will try to say to God on the Day of Judgment, “You didn’t give me enough evidence to believe in you.” Of course, they think that they will be the ones sitting in judgment on God, rather than God being the one to judge them. They are a lot like the Pharisees that come to Jesus to ask Him for a sign.

There is a rather intense irony here, since Jesus had just performed a sign before their very eyes. He had expelled a demon from a man. The arguments of Jesus to the effect that it had to be the power of God, because Satan was not stupid and would not be fighting against himself carried no weight with the Pharisees. So the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign. They see Jesus do a miraculous sign, then walk up to Jesus and ask Him for a sign. Ironic indeed.

Jesus’ response is rather remarkable. Of course, Jesus had just finished calling them a brood of vipers. So calling them another name was not so difficult for Jesus to do. He calls the Pharisees a wicked and adulterous generation. Now, by the term “adulterous,” Jesus means unfaithful to the revealed faith of the Old Testament. You might remember that one of the main metaphors for idolatry in the Old Testament was the idea of spiritual adultery, committed by the wife of God, the people of Israel. The entire book of Hosea expounds this idea in great depth. Israel was like Gomer, Hosea’s wife. So Jesus is simply continuing the tradition of the OT prophets in calling the people adulterous, which is of course a call to repentance.

Now, what Jesus is saying is that there is sufficient evidence already. If people are then saying that there is not enough evidence, then that is proof that no amount of evidence would convince them of the truth. Jesus’ miracles were not for hire. They were not for impressing people just for the sake of impressing them. The miracles all had a specific purpose in bringing glory to God and for healing people who were sick. They were never simply for display.

The sign that Jesus says will be given them is the sign of Jonah. Now, this is a miraculous sign. Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, and Jesus being in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights, and both of them coming out of that situation, that is miraculous. As we have been seeing in our morning sermons on Daniel, there is a relationship between the type and the antitype. The type is a pattern that happens earlier in history that looks like something that happens later in history. This only happens in biblical revelation. Jonah was a prophet who went to preach to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, and was a wicked city. Jonah went there only under duress, since he did not want the citizens of Nineveh to repent and be saved. After God sent a whale to swallow him up for three days to knock some sense into him, he finally went to Nineveh to preach his message of judgment. Jonah has the prize for the shortest sermon in existence: “40 more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” That’s all he said in the entire city. He was never a willing prophet. And yet look what happened to Nineveh. The whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes, and so God did not destroy them. The point, then, is that a one sentence sermon was sufficient for the people of Nineveh. They did not need a miraculous sign. They only needed the Word of God, because it was God’s plan to save them by that means. Notice how much God can do with so little. And yet the Pharisees had much more information. They could hear Jesus whenever they wanted. They could see Him healing people right and left. They could see demons being driven out of people. And yet, they would not repent. Therefore, the people of Nineveh would rise up (the word here is the word for resurrection) on the Day of Judgment and condemn them. One would expect people with so much evidence to believe their eyes and ears. But if the Holy Spirit does not change a person, then that person will not be able to believe. Belief, then, is not a matter of seeing and hearing. It is a matter of the Holy Spirit changing a person from the inside out. We saw last week how the tree needs to be good if the fruit is to be good. So here also, outward evidence will not convince anyone whose heart is hard.

Now, there is a difficulty in understanding the sign of Jonah, since Jesus was not in the grave for 72 hours. Jesus went into the grave on Friday afternoon, spent all day Saturday in the grave, and then came out of the grave on Sunday morning. Why then does Jesus say that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights? There is more than one answer to this question. James Montgomery Boice believes that Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday, so that Thursday afternoon, Friday, and Saturday were the days and those three nights that corresponded were the three nights. However, I think there is a simpler explanation. Jews counted part of a day as a whole day. And oftentimes they would even say “day and night” when what they really meant was a calendar day. So Friday, Saturday and Sunday counts as three calendar days, even though it wasn’t a complete 72 hours. There is another example of this kind of reckoning of days in the book of Esther. Right before Esther goes before the king to request the salvation of her people, she tells the people to fast and pray for three days and three nights, the exact same expression that Jesus uses here. Then the text says “on the third day” Esther went to the king. So that was not a full 72 hours either, and yet it is called three days and three nights. So the sign of Jonah is the resurrection. Jonah had a metaphorical resurrection. Jesus had an actual resurrection. The ironic thing is that after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, the Pharisees still did not believe in Him! They clamored for a sign. Jesus gave them a sign. Ultimately it is the best, most convincing sign of all, and yet the Pharisees still tried to say that the disciples stole away the body, despite the fact that over 500 people had seen Jesus alive before Jesus went into heaven! So the Pharisees are asking God for a sign out of unbelief.

Jesus tells us that there are two examples of people believing God on far less evidence than the Pharisees had available. The first example is the Ninevites, which we have already explored. They went from complete rebellion against God to repentance on the evidence of one single sentence uttered by an unwilling prophet. Obviously, Jesus is greater both in His person, being God and man in one person, and also being greater in His message, which proclaimed the coming of the kingdom. And yet the Pharisees would not believe.

The other example is that of the queen of Sheba. All she heard was a rumor that Solomon had great wisdom. That is all she had to go on. Yet, she went to go hear Solomon on that slim evidence. Jesus has much greater wisdom than Solomon, since Jesus is Wisdom incarnate in the flesh. And yet th Pharisees would not believe in Him.

There are many lessons for us in this part of Scripture. The first lesson is that we must believe in Jesus. We must tremble if we think we do not have enough evidence. We are deluged with evidence of Jesus Christ. We have the whole Bible to show us Jesus! No, we cannot see Jesus right now. But seeing Jesus does not guarantee that we would believe in Him. The Pharisees saw Him, heard Him, saw many miracles, and they hated Jesus. Do not think for one moment that seeing Jesus is necessary for believing in Him. Jesus told Thomas that people are blessed when they believe in Jesus without seeing Him. Faith, after all, is not sight. We will one day see Jesus, for we shall be like Him in the resurrection. But we are not like Him now, and so we must believe in Him without seeing Him. It is the only way to believe in Him.

Secondly, we must not worry about trying to overwhelm people with evidence so that they will believe. Just present the simple Gospel. Don’t make it complicated. Oftentimes just showing people what God has done in your life is evidence enough. God can use the most imperfect performance to accomplish His goal. He used Jonah’s preaching to rescue an entire city.

Thirdly, the resurrection is a tremendous sign. That is the one sign that Jesus gives people as evidence. The resurrection is of tremendous power in showing people what Christ has done and how necessary it is to believe in Jesus, and what evidence there is for the truth of Christianity. There are so many witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. And those witnesses were willing to die to be able to say that Christ was risen from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then why would the disciples be willing to die for what they knew was a lie? But, as Paul says, if Christ is not risen from the dead then we are still in our sins, and there is no salvation at all. The Christian faith is utterly dependent on the resurrection being true. Every creed says that Christ was resurrected from the grave. One cannot be a Christian and deny that Christ has risen from the dead.

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