Jesus’ life was bathed in the language of the Psalms. Yet, when Jesus quotes Psalm 31 He doesn’t quote it exactly. Instead, He says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46). And so, Jesus’ dying moment was one of trust in His Father. Jesus trusted as He taught us to pray (“Our Father in heaven…”—Matt. 6:9-15). Jesus trusted as He brought a way for us too to go to the Father (Jn. 14:6).
And so we see that Jesus who cries out in despair—trusts God. And we see He laid His life down. Jesus committed Himself into the care of His Father and said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30) and breathed His last. Jesus was in control of His life, and He laid it down. The fact that no one took His life from Him but that He laid it down also implies that He is able to “take it up again” (Jn. 10:17).
It is because Jesus trusted God His Father in His life and in His death, and because He freely laid His life down, that we have access to the Father. Jesus makes a way for us by being the perfect sacrifice. Jesus always perfectly trusted God.
So, through Jesus we can have God as our Father. We can go to Him in prayer as Jesus taught us (Matt. 6:9-15). We don’t have to be anxious like unbelievers because we know that we have a heavenly Father who knows all that we need (v. 32). And we can be assured of our Father’s love and care for us because He loved us so much that He sent Jesus (Jn. 3:16).
On the cross Jesus cries out and quotes from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have Thou forsaken me?!” This is especially pungent because Jesus, unlike all other humans, did not deserve to be forsaken.
Jesus’ forsaken cry comes at the end of three hours of darkness (Matt. 27:45). This is in great contrast to other momentous occasions in Jesus’ life. At Jesus’ birth the star led the way and angels announced His arrival (Lk. 2:8-14). At Jesus’ baptism the heavens were torn open and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At Jesus’ transfiguration “a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him’” (Mk. 9:7).
“But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8’He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'”
—Ps. 22:6-8 (Matt. 27:35-44)
It is hard and painful to think of Jesus being mocked. And yet He was mocked and mocked ruthlessly. Jesus was mocked by the chief priests, the scribes, the elders (Matt. 27:41), by robbers (v. 44), and by soldiers (Lk. 23:36).
It didn’t stop there, though. The condemned would be crucified naked. The cross was an instrument of shame as well as pain. Much of the mocking that Jesus underwent occurred as He was vulnerable and stretched out on the cross.
The Righteous One becomes the Rejected One. The Great Exchange took place, the righteous for the unrighteous. Barabbas goes free and the beautiful Savior is bludgeoned. So in Barabbas’ deliverance, we see our own.
Psalm 22 has an amazing amount of parallels with Jesus’ experience on the cross on Good Friday. It says he is surrounded by rough enemies that want to harm him (v. 12), he is attacked by their words (v. 13), he is exhausted and close to death (v. 14), he experiences fatal dehydration (v. 15), his hands and feet are pierced (v. 16), his bony frame is exposed (v. 17), and his garments are divided and cast lots for (v. 18 cf. Matt. 27:35).
Reading this Psalm you almost expect David to say something close to “Father, forgive them” because the account of Jesus’ crucifixion is foreshadowed so many times (see also Ps. 69:4, 9, 21). Instead, in somewhat of a parallel passage to this Psalm and in great contrast to Jesus, David calls for God’s burning anger to overtake his enemies (69:24), he pleads that God would “add to them punishment upon punishment” (v. 27), and that they would be “blotted out of the book of the living” and “not be enrolled among the righteous” (v. 28).
Messiah Jesus instead Himself receives punishment upon punishment, His life is blotted out, and He joins the unrighteous on a cursed cross (see Is. 53:9 and Matt. 27:38) to save His enemies, those who are far from Him. Jesus is the perfect lamb of God, the lamb without blemish, that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19).
Jesus purchased His people (Jn. 6:36, 39; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). He showed God’s amazing love (Jn. 3:16; 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16). He brought justification to all who would place their faith in Him (Rom. 5:18) by dying for their sins, in their place (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Is. 53). He absorbed the wrath of God (1 Jn. 2:2). He became sin and made all who trust in Him the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He canceled debt (Col. 2:14). He brought reconciliation (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22). He defeated Satan, sin, and death and brought victory (Gen. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15; Col. 2:11-15; Heb. 2:14; Is. 53).
Jesus knew no sin, yet He became sin. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the Old Testament and New Testament (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, the salvation that Christ brings through His work on the cross brings not only appeasement from wrath but also entrance back into the true Promised Land, the Garden of Eden. So, “the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross,” as Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert say. The New City Catechism says, “Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good” (Q. 26).
Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18), it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.
Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can. So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.
Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.” Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,” it does gives us clear things that we are to do.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.
First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).
The subject of church discipline is a difficult but important one. Many things must be understood regarding church discipline if we are going to faithfully carry out the task that Jesus has given to His Church.
Is church discipline culturally acceptable? Many people may say that church discipline is not acceptable now; however, that is not the question. There are many things that are not acceptable to our cultural but that does not make them right or wrong. The cross is not acceptable, it is foolishness! Yet we must never deny it. The question is rather: “Is it biblical?”
So, is church discipline biblical?
Yes. Although, if you search for “church discipline” in your Bible it won’t return any results. But the teaching is there. It is found in both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.
Church Discipline in Matthew 18
In Matthew 18, we see the fourfold process of church discipline. It has been said that this passage is “severely practical as well as ruthlessly idealistic,” and so it is. So, this process, though used in formal church discipline, has practical insight for more common issues within the church as well.
If there is unrepentant sin, we are to first go to the offending party one on one and try to work things out on that level (Matt. 18:15-16). If we have not resolved the problem at that point, second, we are to go with one or two others (v. 16). Third, we see if the person does not listen, we are to tell it to the church (v. 17a) but if he or she is still impenitent then, fourth, he or she is to be treated like those outside of the church, i.e. excluded from communion (v. 17b). The next couple of verses talk about the authority that God has entrusted to the church, His representatives on earth.
Church Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5
Paul is adamant that he does not want the “so-called brother” to have community with the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). Perhaps the three other steps of the church discipline process happened or perhaps they did not for whatever reason, that we cannot tell, but we do know that there certainly are times when it is appropriate to exclude people from church fellowship. The case in Corinth was clearly one of those times. Thus we see that the passage is not necessarilyprescriptive, unlike the principals laid down in Matthew 18, but descriptive. That is, Paul is writing a letter to tell the Corinthians what to do in that context at that time.
Putting Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 Together
I conclude from the two passages briefly looked at that pastor/shepherds and the church as a whole are to use biblical loving wisdom in each church discipline case. There is in fact no “cookie cutter mold” for each case but simply overarching principals to be applied to each different situation.
For instance, there are many passages that seem to reference church discipline besides Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but some of them look quite different (Acts 8:17-24; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Jn. 9-10). Many of Paul’s letters deal with discipline and correction yet they look very different depending on the situation. Paul was always pastoral and wise in the way that he handled each situation (cf. Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 4:2).
Look, for example, at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter… have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him” yet “warn him as a brother.” It is unclear what exactly this looked like in practice but it seems to me that it is a different approach to that in 1 Corinthians 5.
What I conclude then, is that church discipline is an important and clear teaching from Scripture. It, however, is not always as clear exactly how it should look in the local body in each specific case. So after we boil down all we have seen in these passages what are some overarching principals to keep in mind? (1) Keep the matter as private as you can. (2) Church discipline is done as an act of love to keep the individual from damning sin. (3) Church discipline should always be done with gentleness and love though that is not to say without boldly calling the erring person to repentance. (4) If unrepentance continues the person must be removed from the church. (5) Church discipline is ultimately done for the glory of God. We desire that Jesus’ bride be pure and holy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27).
I believe we see from the collective passages that reference church discipline, that there is no exact formal that most always be followed. There are, however, principals laid down and a clear call to practice church discipline whatever each individual case might entail. Thus, in evaluating church discipline cases we do not simply have a list of sins, some warranting discipline and others not. Rather, we look at the witness that the person has before a lost world. We ask, Are they defacing the name of Jesus?
Jonathan Leeman talks about “A Gospel Framework for Understanding Discipline.” I think he gives a very helpful approach. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, have been given the “keys to the kingdom.” The local church and the leaders within that church have been given the serious task of administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things give credibility to the genuineness of one’s faith. In the same token, church discipline is the church removing that affirmation. It is the church formally denouncing the person’s faith. Thus, as Jonathan Leeman rightly says, church discipline is “driven by a single question: does the church still believe an erring member is really a Christian, such that it’s willing to continue declaring so publicly?”
The Manner and Motivation of Church Discipline
How should we approach church discipline? We must do so with much gentleness and humility (1 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 10:1; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Phil. 4:5). We must remember that we too are sinners, we are not above the very same sin they are being disciplined for. That is why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And then he says, “Keep watch on yourself.” Why Paul? (we ask), “Lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We, you and I, are not above sin, any sin, and we should not act as if we are. As Paul says elsewhere, let the person that thinks they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
We must remember that the goal in church discipline is restoration. We want those living in sin to repent and once again join the fellowship. If they do repent then we, as the church, must cheerfully welcome them back (I think of the prodigal son here). Notice, that after Jesus teaches on church discipline in Matthew’s Gospel he teaches on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).
We may not have an exhaustive how-to-book on church discipline but we are given principals that can and indeed need to be applied in each individual case. We, as the church, are God’s representatives on earth and so we must seek to have His church be holy and filled with true followers of Christ. Therefore, as is warranted by the situation, we must practice the steps outlined in Matthew 18, though of course with appropriate Christian sensitivity.