Sunday School with J. I. Packer, Part 4
In this next part of the lesson, Packer moves to the New Testament, exploring that factors that give unity to the collection of books in the New Testament. The fundamental and all-comprehensive principle the unifies the New Testament is the Lord Jesus Christ
. . . Son of God incarnate, who lived, died, rose, reigns and is returning. He is the center of the horizon. He is the one who occupies all our attention, holds our attention, and shapes what should be going on in the minds and lives of his disciples in just the same way that the projection in the theatre fills the horizon of your vision. You look, and everywhere that you look the picture that is being projected is coming through to you. Jesus Christ, for the Christian, is to be like that. The whole New Testament says so.Themes of the New Testament
. . . In all 27 New Testament books this is the perspective, and he is at the center. He’s central for every Christian. He’s central for the people of God, who in the New Testament are called the church. . . . He’s central, in fact, in importance for the world even though the world doesn’t know this; but the truth is, as is said at the end of Matthew’s gospel, that all authority has been given to him in heaven and in earth. That is to say, he is ruling in the cosmos in his Father’s behalf. He is the channel through whom the providential action of God governing his world takes place. He is the Lord of the world who everybody ought to be worshipping, and meantime, his people on earth are on mission all the time--on mission, sent out--to make known the knowledge of Christ, the knowledge of the way things really are in this world. “Go and make disciples of all the nations,” said the Lord Jesus. And Christians, every day of their lives--that’s you and me, of course--we are to understand that that’s at the very heart of the job that we’re meant to do.
And we are to remember that one day this world’s history will finish; one day the cosmos as we know it will come apart. That’s unimaginable, but that’s what’s going to happen. I think that the best way we can begin to imagine it is to contemplate this thought: There’ll come a moment for everyone who’s alive in the world the way that we are today sitting in this room, and you patiently listening to me--all our environment, human environment, local environment,--all of that will just be gone; and you and I--if we’re the terminal generation, or whoever is in the terminal generation--will be conscious of one thing only: that each of us as individuals on our own, isolated individuals, we are before the Lord Jesus and accounts have to be settled. It’s called a day of judgment.
- The fulfillment of God’s purposes through Christ.
What are God’s purposes? Restoration is the word that fits. The world went out of shape as a result of human sin, which put humanity out of shape straight-away because human nature was set in the mold of the transgression into which Adam and Eve had fallen . . . and the world itself . . . was cursed by God. . . . Things aren’t the way that they would have been if man hadn’t sinned, and they aren’t the way they’re going to be when God restores the cosmos. The New Testament says that that’s what he’s going to do through our Lord Jesus Christ. The restoration will bring in a state of affairs in which the people of God are altogether all praising, all enjoying, all in fellowship with Christ and with each other, and all . . . more exuberant and ecstatic about it than words can tell, because they know that this glorious state of being goes on forever. It’s pictured right at the end of Revelation, when, in chapters 21 and 22, one hears of the city of God coming down from God to this world. What’s being talked about, I think (from other passages in the New Testament), is a total restoration of this world--this world order--in some way; and the city of God, a place of fellowship. . . is now with Christ . . . in a place of supreme joy and fulfillment. This is God’s purpose being fulfilled, and it means glory, in every sense of that word, for God’s people.
- The fulfillment of God’s promises.
All of this, in detail, was foretold more-or-less clearly in the Old Testament, and Paul, at one point, makes a big deal of the fact that in Christ and through Christ . . . all the promises that God has ever given about his intentions, purposes, undertakings, for his people in this world are now fulfilled. Do you know this word from Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 1? “All the promises of God find their yes in him. . . .” Then he says, “that’s why it is through him that we utter our ‘Amen’ to God for his glory. And it’s God who establishes us with you in Christ,” Paul continues, “and he’s anointed us, he’s put his seal on us, and given his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” that in due course every promise of God is going to be fulfilled for each of us.Here Packer mentions Mark Dever's book, The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, which I reviewed here, because he believes the title, with Promises Kept in large letters is "exactly right."
- The fulfillment of God's patterns.
[These are] patterns that God gave in action to show his people what was going to be done when Jesus Christ came to fulfill the promises and the purposes of the Father who sent him. Christians have a name--it’s a traditional name--for the patterns. We talk about types, and the study of types is typology. . . . A type is a pattern in action which in due course gets replaced by something better than was there before, but the pattern remains the same.Some examples of Old Testament types (or patterns) that are fulfilled in the New Testament:
- The offices of prophet, priest and king. In the New Testament, Christ fulfills the patterns of those offices.
This is his threefold office of our Saviour. That means he’s a better prophet, a better priest, and a better king than any that the Old Testament knows--better, because of what he brings.
. . .[T]here’s a typical redemption in the Old Testament: God saving his people from slavery in Egypt. For us, too, there’s slavery. . . .We’re slaves of sin and slaves of the devil, who, at the moment, is the ruler of this world. . . . But the Lord breaks in and redeems us. And for centuries, Christians have been picturing the Christian life as comparable to the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. . . . Well, that’s how the typical redemption becomes a picture of what we call the antitypical reality of spiritual redemption in Christ. And that which occurs in Christ, or through Christ is greater and more glorious than that which occurred when the pattern in Old Testament times.
- Sacrifices. In the Old Testament, there are
. . . sacrifices which include the shedding of blood for the atoning of sin. This is a pattern of reality which the New Testament picks up and highlights. Yes, there has to be death in order to atone for human sin. It has to be a substitutionary death, and the Lord Jesus died it. Blood was shed. “Without shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” That’s specifically in Hebrews, and that’s paraphrasing what those sacrificial rituals, carefully described in Leviticus and Numbers, in particular, are also saying. This is a pattern that was fulfilled in Christ. This is the meaning of his death in pain and shame on the cross.
This is one of the bonds of unity within the Bible: typology holding together the preparatory era in which God was teaching his people the patterns; and then the era of fulfillment, the era in which the Lord Jesus comes and everything that the patterns pointed forward to is fulfilled and realized in a perfect form, which doesn’t ever need to be adjusted. This is God’s last word to man; this is the final truth; this is the final reality that we need in order to draw near to God in true worship and fellowship. The Lord Jesus, the living Lord, who made atonement; who fulfills this whole role of prophet, priest and king; who is the mediator of the new version of--the true version of--God’s covenant with man, he is right at the heart of everything. He fills the whole horizon. And that is Christianity.
- The offices of prophet, priest and king. In the New Testament, Christ fulfills the patterns of those offices.
- The fulfillment of that to which God's propositions pointed.
In the New Testament, there is a magnificent and amazing theology of prepositions. What I mean by that is just about everything that’s to be said about the Lord Jesus is conveyed by the use of the following prepositions: through, with, in, and then two prepositions, one of which means literally into, and the other means upon.
Jesus is the one whose shed blood gives us pardon of our sins, justification through faith, acceptance into God’s family so that we are his own adopted children. This is our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, and what he has done; and what in his glory, as our intercessor, he still does.
But he’s not remote; he is, as I said earlier, the living Lord who, by his Spirit, makes himself present with each of his people, and walks with us, and sustains us, and gives us strength always, even to the end of the world. It’s a fellowship: fellowship with Christ as an abiding dimension of Christian life.
. . . [I]n the New Testament, Paul, constantly; John, in all three of his letters; and the Lord Jesus himself as his words are recorded in John’s gospel, all talk about life in Christ, or, when Jesus talks about it, life in me. “I’m the vine, you’re the branches. Abide (or stay put, as it’s most vividly expressed) stay put in me, and I will stay put in you.” You’ll live in Christ and your life will be a case of “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” a phrase from Colossians chapter 1, of course. What does that word in mean? It doesn’t mean absorption, as if, like they say in Hinduism, when you get into God, you as a person are dissolved away and cease to be. That’s the Hindu and Buddhist idea of nirvana. No, it means union--union whereby you, the person you are, are drawing life from the Lord, and the Lord is pouring life into you, and you are covered by his representative ministry as your representative before the throne of God. That’s what’s in view. It’s a relationship of a particular kind, and it’s hard to find any kind of human analogy. I don’t know how to illustrate it except in terms of the Lord’s own illustration: he is the vine, we are the branches.
- Into and upon
Then there are two more prepositions. One means into, and it’s the preposition that in Greek we use for going into a room, so that if you’ve gone into the room you’re now there. The other preposition is upon, so that if I lift this Bible and then put it down upon the desk which holds it up, I have done what this second preposition expresses: down on so that which goes down on something is henceforth resting on it. That’s the meaning of this word. . . . Well, those are the prepositions that are used in evangelistic contexts in the New Testament. (All the writers use them.) They’re the prepositions used for extending your arms--the arms of your heart to receive and embrace Christ, and then to rest your weight (the weight of your hopes, the weight of your daily living) . . . on him in the sense that you say to him and you mean it, “Lord Jesus, I cannot get on without you. You must hold me up.” And that’s the exercise of faith which brings people into Christian life, in the first instance, and that is also the exercise of faith which we who live our lives in Christ are to be making every day of our lives, so that we are, in fact, living, as they say, in dependence. . . on the Lord.
At this point Packer is running out of time, so he very quickly runs through some of the rest of what he planned to say.
The book of Hebrews
. . . [Hebrews is] a letter in which every point, right up to the final details of the application, is made by exposition and application of Old Testament scripture, demonstrating how the Christian reality fulfills it and is better than the Old Testament original was. There’s a better covenant, founded on better promises, a better sacrifice, a better priest than any of the Aaronic priests, a better country than the promised land in Palestine. . . . Everything for Christians is better.The four gospels
Packer shows how each gospel reveals
different aspects of the glory and significance of the Lord Jesus as these qualities are displayed in the ministry that he fulfills.
- Matthew: Jesus as king, as the Davidic king setting up the kingdom.
- Mark: Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.
Mark proclaims the saviour has come, and Mark has constructed his gospel so that when you read it, it comes across as a journey to the cross. Right from the get-go, Jesus is on his way to the cross. Why? Well, because that’s where salvation is won.
- Luke: Jesus as healer.
Luke, telling his story, is particularly interested in focusing on the way in which Jesus changes human lives . . . . Jesus, the perfect man himself, transforming the human lives of other people.
- John: Jesus as God in person.
The incarnate Lord--he’s the incarnate Lord--God, come in the flesh. So, where Luke stresses Jesus’ perfect humanity, John stresses Jesus’ full divinity--incarnate divinity. Where Luke had exhibited Jesus in the stories as the transformer of human lives, John exhibits him as, quite simply, as the live-giver.
So it’s Christ in all the scriptures; and it’s discipleship in all the scriptures; and it’s the work of God perfecting his church, his own people, in all the scriptures; and there you have the internal unity of the Bible in itself. And you stand back, and you marvel at the wisdom of God, and you can’t wait to do some more Bible study and inspect more closely this glorious product of divine wisdom celebrating the divine saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.