Friday, January 12, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47–49)

He praises and approves the man because he had said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And yet, shouldn’t have Jesus rather found fault in him? Surely not; for the words are not those of an unbeliever or one deserving blame, but praise. How can you say that? Because Nathanael had considered the writings of the prophets more than Philip. For he had heard from the Scriptures that Christ must come from Bethlehem, and from the village in which David was. This belief at least prevailed among the Jews, and the prophet had proclaimed it of old.… And so when he heard that Jesus was “from Nazareth,” he was confounded and doubted, not finding the announcement of Philip to agree with the prediction of the prophet.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John

[Nathanael] knows that God alone searches the heart and gives to no other man the ability to know the mind. He is probably thinking of the passage in the Psalms, “O God, who tests the hearts and inward parts” [Ps 7:9; see also Ps 139:1–3]. The psalmist assigns this special quality too to the divine nature alone, taking the position that it does not belong to anyone else. Therefore, when he realizes that the Lord saw his suspicion while it was still turning around in his mind in voiceless whispers, he immediately calls Him “teacher.” Already entering eagerly into discipleship under Him, he confesses Him to be Son of God and king of Israel who has the properties of divinity. As one who is well-instructed, he maintains that this One is certainly God by nature.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cutting a Musical Covenant

Illustration of Asa destroying the idols, in the Bible Historiale, 1372.
 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around. (2 Chr 15:14–15)

Over the weekend, I read a piece by Peter Leithart entitled “Musical Oath.” The setting is Asa’s reforms in Judah after receiving a word from the Lord through the prophet Azariah, the son of Oded. Asa showed himself to be a good king—cleaning up the idolatry (removing altars, high places, altars, and images), rebuilding cities, and relying on the Lord to defeat the Ethiopians (2 Chronicles 14). The prophet came to Asa with the promise of God’s peace and favor if the king continued to follow faithfully. This he did by further cleaning up idolatry, restoring the altar to its rightful place, and calling the people before the Lord in Jerusalem.

With the background set, we turn to the gist of Leithart’s article. As a result of all the Lord had strengthened the people to do, they returned sacrifices and an oath as part of the worship. It is here that a connection is made concerning the oath and how it was offered. Per Leithart:
Verse 14 says that they made the oath “with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with horns.” Music expresses and enhances the joy of the occasion (v. 15), Judah’s joy in their own oath-taking and God-seeking, their joy in the fact that God allows Himself to be found.

But verse 14 indicates a more intimate link between music and the covenant oath. They swear to Yahweh with a fourfold sound – voice, shouting, trumpets, horns. It’s a musical covenant-making.
Let that sink in a minute. What the people of Judah offered in response to all the Lord’s goodness and provision was not a lighthearted musical ditty; neither was it a raucous, triumphalist fight song. What they offered up was an oath, a solemn declaration, “to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.” This was an intentional and determined desire by the people to follow the Lord according to His laws and commands with the result that “He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.” What is our goal for Sunday singing? Do we desire to simply set a proper atmosphere for the experience, or are we intent on holding fast to His revelation and expectation?

One cannot help but wonder whether or not we understand the serious nature of our Sunday morning music. To that end, I leave you with Peter Leithart’s closing remarks:
Think of that next time you open your mouth to sing at church. You’re not just expressing your joy in the Lord, though you are doing that. The music doesn’t exist only to enhance or elicit joy, though it does that.

Your singing is an oath-by-sacrifice, a commitment of body and soul to seek the Lord with everything you’ve got.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Ro 6:9-11)

And stretching forth slowly his right hand, which seemed both to tremble and to rejoice, John baptized the Lord. Then his detractors who were present, with those in the vicinity and those from a distance, connived together, and spoke among themselves asking: “Was John then superior to Jesus? Was it without cause that we thought John greater, and does not his very baptism attest this? Is not he who baptizes presented as the greater, and he who is baptized as the less important?” But just as they, in their ignorance of the mystery of the divine economy, babbled about with each other, the Holy One who alone is Lord spoke. He who by nature is the Father of the only begotten (who alone was begotten in unblemished fashion) instantly rectified their blunted imaginations. He opened the gates of the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing him out right there as the new Noah, even the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck. And he himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son,”—Jesus, not John: the One baptized, and not the one baptizing; the One who was begotten of me before all time, and not the one who was begotten of Zechariah; the One who was born of Mary after the flesh, and not the one who was brought forth by Elizabeth beyond all expectation; the One who was the fruit of the virginity which he yet preserved intact, not the one who was the shoot from a sterility removed; the One who had his encounter with you, and not the one brought up in the wilderness. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of the same essence with me according to what is unseen, and of the same essence with you according to what is seen, yet without sin.

Gregory Thaumaturgus, On the Holy Theophany, or Of Christ’s Baptism