Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Focusing on the Correct Object

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  (1 Co 10:13)

I memorized the above verse several years ago as part of a discipleship curriculum.  Though pulled out of context for the sake of of instruction, the verse contains comfort that temptations are not insurmountable, and there is a wonderful promise of God’s faithfulness and care for us in the midst of temptation.  While individuals run to this verse for help in dealing with whatever might be working in them, the next verse indicates a broader application:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.  (1 Co 10:14)
How does the comfort in temptation lead to the warning of idolatry?  At face value it is an unnatural progression, but context makes it clear.

The verses under question are part of a section that begins at the first verse of chapter eight with “Now concerning food offered to idols….”  The Corinthians had opportunity to buy meat offered to idols for personal use, and Paul was offering his learned opinion on the matter as one “entrusted with a stewardship” (1 Co 9:17).  He instructs them concerning their freedom to purchase the meat with clear consciences, however the better course is to set the freedom aside so as not to cause stumbling to the weak, drawing from his own life among them as an example to be self-controlled in their Christian lives.  Paul then uses the wilderness wandering of Israel as an historical example from which to drive home his point.

There are several parallels between the elect of God who followed Moses out of the bondage of Egypt and the elect who followed Christ out of the bondage of sin: baptism of water, eating of spiritual food, drinking from the spiritual Rock.  Here the apostle goes on to explain that even though Israel had all these benefits, many fell along the way.
  • Idolatry (1 Co 10:7) – Exodus 32:4-6
  • Sexual immorality (1 Co 10:8) – Numbers 25:1-9
  • Testing (1 Co 10:9) – Numbers 21:5-6
  • Grumbling (1 Co 10:10) – Numbers 14:2; 29-37
In each case, the group succumbed to desires instead of believing the Word of the Lord and suffered the consequence of death.

The temptations faced by Israel were similar to those facing the Corinthian assembly.  Paul has already warned them in this epistle of immorality and grumbling, and wants to cover idolatry before venturing into the issue of testing wherein some were sick or had died for their disregard in the Lord’s Supper (1 Co 11:30).  By heeding correction and holding fast to the truth of God through the temptation, these believers could avoid the harsh discipline of the Lord awaiting them.

Temptations remain today for local assemblies of believers.  Some temptations are brought in by leaders who are not true shepherds but fierce wolves: their focus is on themselves. Other temptations are brought from outside because of their appeal for success in addressing whatever internal need has the immediate focus.  These same issues have occurred in the past and are nothing new, so take note that the apostle returned to his central theme:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (1 Co 15:1-5)
Keep the the focus, the central theme, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Solemnity in the Pastoral Office

For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach.  He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.  (Ti 1:7-9)

During the Reformation, Martin Luther responded to the Pope’s insistence that Lutheran ordination was invalid.  In the Smalcald Articles, Part III Article X, Luther agreed that Rome’s ordination authority might be acceptable, if the bishops rightly discharged their office and omitted “all comedies and spectacular display of unchristian parade and pomp.”*  Luther goes on to describe these bishops as
worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the Church, and, moreover, persecute and condemn those who discharge these functions….
A blistering description, but now ask yourself, “Am I reading a description of church authority in the sixteenth century or the twenty-first century?”  The descriptors Luther used for bishops abusing their office is equally appropriate in American Evangelicalism.

From Ed Young to Perry Noble, Chuck Pierce to Brian Houston, those who should be shepherds of God’s flock have increasingly promoted buffoonery in the name of Christ.  What has been for centuries recognized as a work to be approached with fear and trembling is once again trending in a dangerous direction—handed over to gifted, innovative communicators rather than faithful exegetes. The Word and worship of God is “packaged” to appeal and work toward the central theme of the preacher’s message.  Whether that message is derived from the text, from a desire for self-promotion, or from somewhere between, when theatrics drive the appeal, the gospel suffers.

Pastoral ministry is inherently a work of sober-mindedness (1 Ti 3:2).  He preaches not to appeal but to speak the truth of Law and the Gospel.  Paul told Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  (2 Ti 4:1-2)
Timothy was to be as faithful in delivering the message as the apostle had been.  Every preacher following Timothy has had that same commission.  Alistair Begg recently preached a message on this passage that addresses the solemnity and centrality of the office, along with the primacy of Scripture.  O, that pastors be as Isaiah and see themselves before a holy God bemoaning their sinfulness and need for cleansing; and gladly and joyfully remember the free, abundant grace of Christ that has cleansed them and preach what the Lord has so freely given.


*  References to corruptions that were being practiced in the Medieval church.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Destroying Death and the Devil

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  (He 2:14-15)

The Father is Father, and is Unoriginate, for He is of no one; the Son is Son, and is not unoriginate, for He is of the Father.  But if you take the word Origin in a temporal sense, He too is Unoriginate, for He is the Maker of Time, and is not subject to Time.  The Holy Ghost is truly Spirit, coming forth from the Father indeed, but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by Generation but by Procession (since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness).  For neither did the Father cease to be Unbegotten because of His begetting something, nor the Son to be begotten because He is of the Unbegotten (how could that be?), nor is the Spirit changed into Father or Son because He proceeds, or because He is God—though the ungodly do not believe it.…  There is then One God in Three, and These Three are One, as we have said.

Since then these things are so, or rather since This is so; and His Adoration ought not to be rendered only by Beings above, but there ought to be also worshipers on earth, that all things may be filled with the glory of God (for as much as they are filled with God Himself); therefore man was created and honored with the hand and Image of God.  But to despise man, when by the envy of the Devil and the bitter taste of sin he was pitiably severed from God his Maker—this was not in the Nature of God.  What then was done, and what is the great Mystery that concerns us?  An innovation is made upon nature, and God is made Man.  He that rides upon the Heaven of Heavens in the East of His own glory and Majesty, is glorified in the West of our meanness and lowliness.  And the Son of God deigns to become and to be called Son of Man—not changing what He was (for It is unchangeable), but assuming what He was not (for He is full of love to man), that the Incomprehensible might be comprehended, conversing with us through the mediation of the Flesh as through a veil, since it was not possible for that nature which is subject to birth and decay to endure His unveiled Godhead.  Therefore the Unmingled is mingled; and not only is God mingled with birth and Spirit with flesh, and the Eternal with time, and the Uncircumscribed with measure, but also Generation with Virginity and dishonor with Him who is higher than all honor—He who is impassible with Suffering, and the Immortal with the corruptible.  For since that Deceiver thought that he was unconquerable in his malice, after he had cheated us with the hope of becoming gods, he was himself cheated by God’s assumption of our nature, so that in attacking Adam as he thought, he should really meet with God.  And thus the new Adam should save the old, and the condemnation of the flesh should be abolished, death being slain by flesh.

Gregory Nazianzen, On the Holy Lights, 39.12-13

Thursday, January 15, 2015

So You Want to Study the Book of Revelation

It seems that if you put ask any number of Christians in a room and ask which book of the Bible they want to study, one of the top answers will invariably be the book of Revelation.  We have a curiosity for things not yet fully revealed.  A mystery is presented and remains unsolvable, but we are unsatisfied with the texts and scenarios surrounding Jesus’ return and seek for more or better knowledge.  This aspect of human nature—to know the unknown—is a gift of God as the Solomon has said:
It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.  (Pr 25:2)
But there is a point at which we are to stop looking because it is unknowable and just appreciate the thing for what it is:
He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  (Ec 3:11)
The lack of knowability never stops us, however.  Like Eve, who was tempted with the promise “that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Ge 3:5), we press to gain more understanding of the deep mysteries, even though they are never revealed.

In an effort to help keep Christians from hitching their carts to the wrong end of their horses, I determined the best response to the above request is something like this:
Okay, fair enough.  How well do you know Genesis?
What am I getting at?  Know the beginning before jumping to the end.  You may say, “But I’m a Christian.  I don’t need to know that Old Testament stuff.”  Oh, really?  That would be like picking up a P. D. James mystery, opening to the ultimate chapter, and trying to understand what this Adam Dalgliesh character is uncovering.  You need the back story.  So, in relation to the study of end things, do you understand what happened in Genesis that needs to be wrapped up in Revelation?

Is an adequate knowledge of Genesis or any part of the OT necessary if we understand that Jesus came once to die for sin and will come again to right all wrong?  Genesis establishes the groundwork and lays the basis for everything that happens through the rest of Scripture, and Revelation gives the culmination.  We can look at the Bible as structured this way:

The Covenantal Arrangement of the Christian Bible  © 2005 Miles V. Van Pelt
Covenant Prologue Law Prophets Writings Covenant Epilogue
Genesis Exodus
Leviticus
Number
Deuteronomy
Judges
Samuel
Kings
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
12 Minor
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ruth
S of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Chronicles
Revelation
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Acts of the Apostles Paul’s Epistles
Hebrews
James
1, 2 Peter
1, 2, 3 John
Jude
   Covenant Covenant History Covenant Life   

OT order is that found in the Hebrew Bible.  By using this we can see how the major sections of all Scripture is united theologically with Jesus at the center as He spoke on the road to Emmaus:
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  (Lu 24:44)
By giving short shrift to the beginning (and even the middle), the end is treated more as a curiosity than the comfort of promises ultimately fulfilled.  Study the things concerning the end but in its proper place and time, having a foundation of where redemption history has been, so we might appreciate where and to Whom it goes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Heaven on Earth by Arthur A. Just – Book Review

I have been reading books on liturgy recently* to better understand both the history and theology of what should happen as believers gather together on Sunday.  Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of God in the Divine Service by Arthur A. Just, Jr. is a welcome addition to that reading list.  While Luther Reed and Frank Senn approach the subject more academically or scholastically, Just delivers the goods in a more pastoral and accessible style, desiring to impress upon the average reader the historic five-fold structure of liturgy, plus the Church Year and Hours, and how these draw from and point to Christ.

Because the liturgy is historic, the author establishes the theology of worship, then lays out how the early church structured their meetings drawing from their Jewish roots.  He then builds and includes the interconnectedness of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the gathering, establishing the practice and wisdom of when believers were brought into full table fellowship.  Following this are chapters explaining the two main parts of the Divine Service—Liturgy of the Word; Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper—and how the flow of the service moves throughout.  Finally, there is an historic view of how the liturgy changed over the centuries, pointing out both the medieval corruptions and Martin Luther’s corrections, and a proposal for how to approach liturgical reform today.

Each chapter was chock full of excellent material, but there were two chapters in particular that stood out.  The first dealt with the place of psalms in worship.  The psalter is both a songbook and a prayer guide.  Whether in a corporate gathering or individually isolated, these works of David, Moses, etc. beautifully express the whole of human existence and our Lord’s place within it.  What these men of God expressed is a fount of blessing for the Church as they recount the uncertainty of human circumstance, and concomitant emotions, alongside the certitude of divine promise and providence.  We can understand, then, why Jewish, Patristic, and Medieval saints were driven to memorize them and have them as part of their regular worship.

The other chapter that impressed me mightily dealt with the historic overview.  There I found a wealth of information to help any church group (not just Lutheran) understand how better to approach the entire subject.  Referring to those who desire to jettison liturgy for a more relevant worship style for cultural appeal:
Perhaps what is wrong is not the liturgy but those who do liturgy, their understanding, their commitment to it, and their execution of it.  The targets of liturgical renewal are the clergy and the congregation.  The problems are less liturgical and more theological, centering more in our anthropology and ecclesiology than our liturgiology.  What is wrong is not the liturgy but the culture; thus instead of constantly asking what's wrong with the liturgy, we should be asking what's wrong with the culture.  We should concentrate our attention on the renewal of of the culture through liturgy, not vice versa.  The goal of good liturgy is always the transforming of culture by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not accomplished if the liturgy is subject to the whims of the culture.  Untransformed by liturgy, culture effectively destroys that liturgy.  The Church becomes indistinguishable from the culture, and the Gospel is lost.  (264)
And for those wanting to make the liturgy more individualized for those gathering together:
In our individualistic society, where we all want to do things our own way, one of the worst things we can do in our liturgies is cater to all these individual tastes.  Variety does not solve problems; it creates them.  The reason people are bored with the liturgy is not because there is no variety but because what takes place in the liturgy is perceived to be insignificant.  (267)
The author writes from a Lutheran point of view,† but do not let that prevent you from investigating what is presented.  Whether or not your local assembly has a formal liturgy, this book will be of benefit in understanding worship, both personally and corporately.


*  Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy; Frank C. Senn, Introduction to Christian Liturgy and Christian Liturgy.
†  Dr. Just is professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mercy in Judgment

Many times over the centuries, the God of Scripture has been considered a capricious, vindictive, despotic monster for His actions against sinful actions.  Those stating these descriptors weigh actions of judgment against Jesus’ instruction that God is love and wants to reconcile the world to Himself and us to each other.  The disconnect appears to be insurmountable.  What naysayers (and many Christians) overlook is that God never executes judgment beyond what is necessary: the effects are direct, never extending beyond the intended object—unless we choose to ignore the warning and remain in harm’s way.

The Lord had begun a series of plagues against the nation of Egypt for the way they had treated His people Israel.  The first four that came upon the Egyptians caused great annoyance and discomfort, but otherwise did not harm any living creature save for the frogs, gnats, and flies that were God’s instruments.  The fifth plague, however, was severe and killed all the livestock, and the sixth was personally painful as boils came on man and beast.

It is the seventh plague to which we might turn our attention.  In preparation, God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to tell him:
For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.  For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.  But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.  (Ex 9:14-16)
Pharaoh was exalting himself above the people of Israel, and God was going to make an example out of him and his people.  Notice that the plagues had been measured in order to teach all of Egypt a lesson they would never forget, because Pharaoh was too proud to admit his rightful place before the Almighty God.  Even now, though, the coming plague had with it a measure of mercy, so that the hail would not do more damage than was intended.
Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.  Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them.  (Ex 9:18-19)
Remember that the Egyptians’ livestock had all died in plague five.  Evidently, enough time had gone by to allow the replenishment of livestock through purchase or trade.  So as not to inflict damage to the new livestock or any person, the people were given clear warning to bring them to shelter.  This plague was designed to affect only the crops and trees—two food sources—yet even in this the Lord showed mercy because only a portion of the crop was damaged because the rest had not come up yet.
The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.  But the wheat and the emmer were not struck down, for they are late in coming up.  (Ex 9:31-32)
Some Egyptians listened to Moses’ warning and brought their slaves and livestock into shelter, while the rest stubbornly ignored it and suffered loss of life, bringing trouble on themselves.  The plagues were having their desired effect: the former recognized and believed in the God of the Hebrews, trusting in the word of the prophet; the latter were hardened and chose to cling to their own gods to their loss.

In each plague the Lord was merciful in judgment in order to show the people their sinful ways and show Himself as Lord of all.  He desired that they all (not just the children of Israel) might exalt the Lord.  Indeed, a mixed multitude of non-Hebrews left with Moses for the Promised Land (Ex 12:38), choosing to identify with the God of Israel who had won a great victory.*

Scripture mentions varying responses that God has toward sinful acts.  Some he deals with harshly and suddenly, while others appear to receive of a reprieve for the initial act but detailing the damaging consequences.  Do the varying punishments mean that God is capricious?  No, it means He knows more than we do both of the immediate situation and His grand work of providence.  What we do know is that the Creator of all is patient beyond measure
The Lᴏʀᴅ is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.  (Ps 103:8-10)
with the end that all might repent
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  (2 Pe 3:9)
It may be difficult to understand why a righteous God would be so patient with wicked mankind and not destroy them immediately, but then we each only need to look at ourselves and be thankful that He was, else would also be my fate.  Not all will believe that Jesus is the Passover lamb slain for their sin, but for us who do, ponder with grateful adoration and awe that we are now in Him.


*  This group was admittedly problematic.  At one point in the wandering, they led the grumbling against Moses (Nu 11:4), however some, like Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kennizite, were wholly faithful to the Lord (Nu 14:6, 24, 30; 32:12).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mourning a Love Lost

The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to me, saying,
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    I remember the devotion of your youth,
        your love as a bride,
    how you followed me in the wilderness,
        in a land not sown.
    Israel was holy to the Lᴏʀᴅ,
        the firstfruits of his harvest.
    All who ate of it incurred guilt;
        disaster came upon them,
               declares the Lᴏʀᴅ.”  (Jer 2:1-3)


The Holy One of Israel takes the relationship between himself and his people seriously.  In the above, YHWH is looking back to an early time in Israel’s history when the people were redeemed and delivered from bondage (De 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18).  He describes that time as full of love and devotion as a bride for her husband in the way they followed the Lord.*  He opposed whomever attempted to use or turn the people for his own desires.  At this time, however, the nation had turned its back on God, so that he asks, “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?” (Jer 2:5)  He then goes on to identify symptoms showing their forgetfulness and neglect.

God’s deeds and word
They did not say, “Where is the Lᴏʀᴅ
    who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
    in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
        in a land that none passes through,
        where no man dwells?”  (Jer 2:6)

The priests did not say, “Where is the Lᴏʀᴅ?”
    Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
    the prophets prophesied by Baal
    and went after things that do not profit.  (Jer 2:8)
The people had forgotten the place from which they had been redeemed, the plagues that gained them release, and the steadfast love of the Lord as he watch over and cared for them through the 40 years of wandering.  Somewhere along the way, the mighty deeds became passé.   Not content to dwell on the goodness of God and his continuing, bounteous care for them, the people chased after what the surrounding nations were offering.  As a result, they defiled what God had freely supplied and became an abomination through their pursuits.

One might think that though the general populace might lose sight of their Lord, those who care for the holy teachings of God would surely pay close attention, but this was not the case.  Priests disdained the holy things.  Proclaimers of the Law spoke with the authority of false gods, not the only true God.  Service for the Lord was replaced with service for self.

In effect the nation had thrown off their God for another.  What had been their glory was retained in name only but trampled underfoot as worthless.  Instead of continuing to be refreshed at the fount of blessing, the people went after the new and different to satisfy a longing only able to be satiated by faith in their God and Savior.

Their rightful position
Is Israel a slave?  Is he a homeborn servant?
    Why then has he become a prey?  (Jer 2:14)
Israel was an elect nation with an exalted position.  They had received the Law, the promises, the blessings in order to be a light to the nations as they reflected the glory of God; yet now the nation was a shadow of its former self as they have been ravaged.  The people had brought this condition upon themselves as they sought earthly solutions for a spiritual problem.  They forsook the Lord and no longer feared him as they once had, even pretending to not have gone after false gods when the evidence was all around.  They lusted for new gods and now wanted to wriggle free being discovered in their idolatry.

God’s discipline
Why do you contend with me?
    You have all transgressed against me, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ.
In vain have I struck your children;
    they took no correction;
your own sword devoured your prophets
    like a ravening lion.  (Jer 2:29-30)
The Lord attempted to correct his children.  He loved them and did not want to see their ruin.  Instead of seeing the paths of uprightness as the ways of life, they are viewed as shackles from which to gain release.  The robe of righteousness is exchanged for a harlot’s garment to chase lustily after the things of the world and then claim innocence of any wrongdoing.

Their indifference
If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him
    and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me? declares the Lᴏʀᴅ.  (Jer 3:1)
Israel had played the harlot and been discovered.  Now they were expecting the Lord to just accept them back, shrugging off severity of their sins and damage done.  The Northern Kingdom, Israel, had performed idolatrous acts before the Lord and were carried off for their iniquities.  Judah had seen this and in their indifference had done the same, knowing the consequences, making their acts of rebellion more repugnant than their conquered brethren.

God still cares about these things
While reading this passage, I was thinking on the state of God’s people, the American church, today.  The similarities are striking: little or no remembrance of the wondrous deeds of our Lord, the disregard for faithful teaching of Scripture, a burning desire to apply the world’s methods in Christian worship, and flippantly thinking that our corruptions do not matter so much.  Much incorrect and invalid teaching is found in pulpits today.  Worship practices border on or overstep the line into the grotesque and barbaric.  There are several websites that can point you to specific examples.

Parachurch ministries are equally guilty.  TBN has a network full of bad teachers.  Beth Moore has been around awhile and still mishandles the Bible.  A newer questionable women’s ministry has arisen—IF:Gathering, whose next annual videocast is being actively promoted through evangelical churches.  Their stated purpose is
We exist to gather, equip and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose.
This sounds all well and good, but at least two ladies involved with the ministry—Ann Voskamp and Christine Cain—are known false teachers.  Where is the discernment?

Are all American churches corrupt?  No, but one wonders how small the remnant of the faithful might be.  In my county of 215,000 residents, I continually see churches attempt to mimic popular, trending tactics promoted elsewhere in the country.  The faithful churches go largely unnoticed, but they can succumb to deception by actively or passively endorsing ministries like those I note above, which eventually undermine and erode sound doctrine.

God’s continual call to fealty
In Jeremiah 3:12 and following, God has the prophet proclaim a call to return.  He desires for his chosen people to repent of their sins and be restored to their rightful place as sons that he might be a faithful shepherd to them.  The New Testament church has received the same call.  In Revelation 2-3, John is told to write messages to churches in various states of decay.  Something is amiss in most of them: Smyrna and Philadelphia do not receive a corrective.  The church in America (and Western Civilization?) is in a similar place: we have left our first love; we allow aberrant teaching; we have tolerated the woman Jezebel; we are apathetic.  Jesus still calls for his people to repent—empowered by God to do the first works; to hold fast; to put away false teaching and complacency.  He remains faithful to receive us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Quieting Fear in the Sinner; Inciting Fear in the Righteous

The Lᴏʀᴅ is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them.
The Lᴏʀᴅ preserves all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.  (Ps 145:18-20)


If [God] frightens the sinner and the person who is remaining in his sins, he carries him into despair and rejection of hope.  But if he blesses the righteous man, he weakens the intensity of his virtue and causes him to be neglectful of zeal as one who has already been blessed.  For this reason he has mercy on the sinner, but frightens the righteous man.  “He is fearful,” [scripture] says, “to all around him,”* and “The Lord is good to all.”†  “He is fearful,” [scripture] says, “to all around him,” and who would these be but the saints?  “For God,” David says, “who is glorified in the counsel of saints, is great and fearful to all around him.”  If he sees someone fallen, he extends a hand of kindness.  If he sees someone standing, he applies fear.  This, too, belongs to righteous judgment.  For he causes the righteous man to stand fast through fear, and raises up the sinner through kindness.  And do you want to learn of his timely goodness and severity that is useful and suited to us?  Pay careful attention in order that the greatness of the thought may not escape your notice.… He says to sinners, “If your sins are like scarlet, I will make [them] white as snow.”‡  And he changes the darkness into light by the change of repentance, and puts an end to so great an abundance of evils by the voice of his goodness.  To the man who walks in righteousness he says, “Whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!,’ is liable to the hell of fire.”§  He applies such severity to one word, and measures out so much liberality to so many sins.

Severian of Gabala, On Repentance and Contrition, II.13


*  Psalm 89:7
†  Psalm 145:9

‡  Isaiah 1:18
§  Matthew 5:22

Friday, January 2, 2015

Giving Glory Where It Is Due

Have you ever wanted to shout in triumph for how the Lord works?  King David has a similar desire in the words of Psalm 21.  Considered by some to be a song of battle triumph, this psalm has been called a Te Deum on the king’s return* as David extols YHWH for His working in the king:
O Lᴏʀᴅ, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
It was through the Almighty’s enabling that salvation had been gained, and David desired to express his overflow of gratitude and praise.  He does not stop with the expression of praise but explains how the Lord has provided to merit such laud:
  • Answered prayer (v. 2) – given him his heart’s desire … not withheld the request
  • Prosperity (v. 3) – meet him with rich blessings … crown of fine gold
  • Life (v. 4) – you gave [life] to him … length of days
  • Honor (v. 5) – glory is great … splendor and majesty
  • Blessing (v. 6) – most blessed forever … glad with the joy of your presence
  • Contentment (v. 7) – the king trusts … he shall not be moved
All these the king has received according to the Lord’s goodness, and because they have been received, they can be dispersed to all in whom the king desires to show favor.

David then addresses his words to the king and what he will deliver to his enemies:
  • Discovered (v. 8) – Your hand will find out all your enemies; … those who hate you
  • Consumed (v. 9) – as a blazing oven … swallow them up … fire will consume
  • Destruction (v. 10) – You will destroy their descendants … and their offspring
  • Failure (v. 11) – Though they plan evil … though they devise mischief, they will not succeed
  • Dread (v. 12) – put them to flight … aim at their faces with your bows
While going through this psalm in my reading, I was struck by the fact that David never refers to himself as the recipient of all the Lord’s blessings, nor as the instrument of vengeance on the enemies: all references are third person.  David wants to remove himself as the individual benefactor and judge, but whoever holds the office of king can rightfully consider himself in the same light, assuming he walks in the light of the Lord.  As well, this psalm is looking forward to David’s promised Son:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever.  (2 Sam 7:12-16)

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.  I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.  (Rev 22:16)
Messiah will establish the throne forever as the builder of David’s house and only legitimate heir.  It is the Lord Jesus alone to whom the words of the psalm sufficiently apply and in whom is the ultimate fulfillment.  Only God Himself who can accomplish both the promise and realization.  Understanding this, David completes the psalm the same way he begins—with glory to God alone.
Be exalted, O Lᴏʀᴅ, in your strength!  We will sing and praise your power.
I leave the last word with Theodoret of Cyrus from his Commentary on the Psalms:
Not for being lowly is God exalted, nor does He receive what He does not possess.  Instead what He possesses He reveals, so it was right for the psalmist to say: Your exaltation is revealed in Your ineffable power, which we shall continue to celebrate and sing, recounting Your marvelous works.  (21.13)


*  J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, Kregel, 232

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It All Points to Him

Psalm 19 is divided into three main sections, each describing an aspect of the divine law being proclaimed.  The psalm can be outlined this way:

Law of Creation (1-6) The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their measuring line goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Law of Moses (7-11) The law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lᴏʀᴅ is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lᴏʀᴅ are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lᴏʀᴅ is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lᴏʀᴅ are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
Law of Grace (12-14) Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lᴏʀᴅ, my rock and my redeemer.

David gives a three-step description of how he knows who and what God is and what that means for the life of faith.  Theodoret of Cyrus comments on this psalm:
Blessed David in this psalm teaches men the harmony between these [divine laws]: firstly, the one the creator preaches in creation; then the one given through Moses, instilling a greater knowledge of the creator to those willing to attend; after that, the law of grace, perfectly purifying souls and freeing them from the present destruction.
Commentary on the Psalms, 19.1

These sections build from one to another.  As we take in the functioning of creation in its precision and recognizes there is someone or something keeping order.  From there, God’s law revealed through Moses and the prophets supplies details of that someone: there is a Creator, and He wants us to know of Him.  Though the revelation is marvelous to mankind, even this is not sufficient for David.  Beyond all that the Scriptures had within them—those things in which we could delight—still there was an understanding that more must be coming.  The Law is good, but David recognized his own shortcomings.  There was a universal need yet to be met, one which the psalmist longed to have applied to himself and, by extension, all who love the Lord.  We who love the Law know that it only reminds us that we are sinners.  We desire a permanent atoning sacrifice and a firm declaration of God that the guilt and condemnation is removed.

You may be thinking, “That sounds like an outline of Romans,” and you would be correct. Paul uses similar logic:

Law of Creation For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  (Rom 1:19-20)
Law of Moses Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  (Rom 3:19-20)
Law of Grace There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  (Rom 8:1-2)

All that God has made and revealed declares who and what He is and where we stand in relation to Him.  A sufficient guilt-bearer and intermediary were required to reconcile God and man, and only Jesus, incarnate God, could provide a full satisfaction.  There is nothing more than to believe on that saving work and heap adoration on the source of salvation, as Paul put it:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    For who has known the mind of the Lord,
        or who has been his counselor?
    Or who has given a gift to him
        that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.  (Rom 11:33-36)

I end with Theodoret’s closing comments on Psalm 19:
[David is saying,] “I long to enjoy … presenting my soul to you completely free from blame.  On receipt of pardon from you for my past failings, may I offer to you everlasting hymn singing, giving my unwavering attention to your sayings.”… By way of supplying a finale to the psalm, he called him Lord insofar as he is maker and creator, and redeemer insofar as he frees us by the regeneration of holy baptism* from our former perdition, redeems us from enslavement to the demons, and bestows on us incorruptibility and immortality.  The psalm includes both former and latter subjects: it instructs us firstly on creation and providence; in the middle on the Law; and finally on grace.  Now, the New Testament provides these goods.
Commentary on the Psalms, 19.13-14


* Theodoret was a firm adherent of baptism as a means of grace.