In various ways and various times past, I have spoken to you on this blog under the shadow forms of blogger and in the hues of orange and white. But in these last days, I will speak to you in a new form at www.tobyjsumpter.com.
Hope to see you there.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
In various ways and various times past, I have spoken to you on this blog under the shadow forms of blogger and in the hues of orange and white. But in these last days, I will speak to you in a new form at www.tobyjsumpter.com.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
"If we loved children, we would have a few. If we had them, we would want them as children, and would love the wonder with which they behold the world, and would hope that some of it might open our own eyes a little. We would love their games, and would want to play them once in a while, stirring in ourselves those memories of play that no one regrets, and that are almost the only things an old man can look back on with complete satisfaction. We would want our children tagging along after us, or if not, then only because we would understand that they had better things to do."
Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, xii.
Monday, March 21, 2011
There are plenty of legitimate concerns with a season like Lent. Some people can only smell oppressive Roman Catholicism, works righteousness, legalistic burdens, scoring brownie points with God, competing for holiness, superficial-hypocritical spirituality, pharisaism, washing the outside of the cup, white-washed tombs, making a show of piety, and why would forgiven saints want to wallow in their sins for forty days anyway?
And in so far as people take up a Lenten observance with any of that in mind or in their hearts, I say to hell with Lent. God hates all of that.
But consider me an optimistic hold out for the benefits of reclaiming a joyful, faithful Lent.
Lent comes from the old English which means "lengthening," and it originally referred to the fact that the days were getting longer. It means Springtime. And I can't think of a better way of getting geared up for Easter.
In other words, Lent is the season that celebrates Postmillenialism. Postmillenialism is the name for the view of eschatology that says the story of this world is the story of God remaking this world into the garden-city it was always meant to be. Rather than planet earth bursting into flames and the rapture occurring just in time to medivac the last few faithful survivors into another dimension, the Bible teaches that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the down payment for the glorification of this world, this planet, this universe. The Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in order to re-create this broken paradise, and postmillenialism is one theological name to describe the basic gospel proclamation that Jesus wins and everyone might as well come along cheerfully. Whether it takes another few hundred years or thirty-thousand more years, the history of this planet will be the story of salvation, the victory of grace, and the vast majority of humanity will be saved. Hell will be a small, dark speck populated with a tiny band of gollums making love to their darkness.
In other words, the story of history is an enormous Springtime. It is the story of Lent, the story of days getting longer, the world getting lighter.
The darkest night in the history of the world was the night before Jesus was born, the night before the Light was born into this world. That night was the winter solstice of all human history. In Adam the world could only grow darker, but when the Light of the World burst into the world, it began to get lighter. And the last two thousand years are the story of this world getting lighter, the days getting longer, the nights getting shorter.
Lent means it's getting lighter. The Sun is risen, and the Light of the World is growing.
And this means that Lent is always a call to walk in the light as He is in the light. It is a call to cast away all the works of darkness, to cast away the shadows and to come into the light. Lent is a call to join the mission of this Kingdom of Light, the mission of being light and bringing light to this dark world. Lent celebrates God's victory over darkness and rejoices in the shadows fleeing away.
So far as people try to cover up their guilt with false pietistic fasting, they are only hiding in the shadows. In so far as people try to make a show of their piety through pharisaical fasting from Facebook and coffee, God is not impressed.
But in so far as Lent is a wonderful annual reminder that the Sun is up, and it is getting lighter, Lent is a call to come into the light, a call to hope, a call to struggle against sin, the flesh, and the devil. And in so far as faithful believers take up their crosses and cry out to God with tears and fasting and prayer, God will see in heaven and answer the cries of the weak and the broken. In so far as Lent is a cry of defiant hope, a battle cry that insists against all odds, against what seems impossible, against the patterns and habits and powers of this dark world, in so far as Lent insists that it is getting lighter, and that nothing can stop the Light, in so far as that is what we celebrate and renew year after year, that is good news. That is the wonderful gospel of Lent.
Lent means it is getting lighter. Lent means that the Sun is risen, and it will continue to rise until it bursts out at the last great Easter, when the saints rise up in glory like the Son.
We have considered this morning how the good news of Jesus is the declaration that God is light, and that this Light has begun to shine in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and continues to shine in our life in the church for the world. And this light is getting brighter. This table is central to our declaration of this light and life. At this table, we hear the words of Life as we speak them to one another, we see this Word of Life in one another as we partake together, our hands handle this Life as we pass bread and wine to one another. This meal is a central way that God continues to manifest this Life in this world, and as we partake together, we are that fellowship, that joy, that Light for the world. But there countless churches that celebrate this sacrament who effectively cover the light by the inconsistency in their lives. And this is not the inconsistency of sin, this is the refusal to believe the gospel about that sin. One way to run a litmus test on this is to ask how you respond to sin. What do you do when the three year old throws a fit? What do you do when your wife makes a biting comment? What do you do when your husband is late coming home from work and the kids have run you ragged? What do you do when your coworker insults you in front of everyone? How do you respond when you are passed over for a promotion? Or you don’t get the bid? How do you respond to sin, to friction, to correction, to hardship? How do you respond? Walking in the light means refusing to freak out, refusing to be frazzled, refusing to be shaken, refusing to think that the world is crashing down. Walking in the light means remembering that Jesus is King, you are His beloved son or daughter, and there is absolutely nothing that can change that. But in that context, we can offer the other cheek, we can forgive again, we can let love cover it, we are free not to respond with evil. God knows our weakness and failures, and He is not worried. He invites us to dinner. We sin against Him, and He says, I love you. My life for yours. Go and do likewise.
John begins his first epistle insisting that life has entered the world, and that life means fellowship and joy and light (1 Jn. 1:1-5). Confessing sin is the life breath of Christian life. When you begin to live the Christian life, you repent and believe, and the only way to keep breathing is to repent and believe. And if you stop breathing, there is only darkness and death and separation.
Repentance unto Life
Repentance is preaching the gospel to yourself every day in every situation: the good news that Jesus is the Christ, our King who has come to set us free from sin, death, and Satan. And in the death and resurrection of Jesus, those powers were thrown down, we were forgiven, cleansed, and set free. We have been adopted as beloved sons and daughters, and therefore are united to Christ by His Spirit and share in His glory and righteousness and power. Repentance means turning away, turning around. Repentance means that if you were going left, you go right. If you were going upstairs, you go downstairs. If you were lying, you tell the truth (Eph. 4:25). If you were stealing, you cease, get a job, and save to have extra to give to those in need (Eph. 4:28). If there were corrupt and bitter words coming out of your mouth, you begin to speak words of kindness and edification and forgiveness (Eph. 4:29-32). Repentance means hating your sin from the bottom of your heart. If you are constantly apologizing for the same things with no measurable improvement, you are not repenting, you are just feeling sorry for yourself in front of other people. Godly sorrow is desperate for freedom and leads to salvation and joy (2 Cor. 7:9-11). People who are forgiven are set free. To go from darkness to light is to go from dead to alive. This is miraculous and it fills people with joy (1 Jn. 1:4). And if you’re going through the actions of repenting and asking forgiveness, and that is not resulting in fullness of joy, then you are not repenting. You are lying to yourself and others. And people who know the power of forgiveness are quick to extend that love and forgiveness to others (1 Jn. 2:2).
This is why a season like Lent should be both a profoundly joyful season and naturally evangelistic. If you are fasting in order to cover up your guilt, you are lying to God, and God hates your fasting. If your soul is hallow, and you are not walking in the joy of the Holy Spirit and you think giving up Facebook or Coke is going to help you, you are liar. Propitiation is a big word that means covering; it was the place where the blood was sprinkled once a year in the Most Holy Place. When we confess our sins, the promise of God is that our sins are forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:7-9). And it is God’s faithfulness and justice that does this cleansing, and this necessarily results in profound freedom and fearlessness and relief. Worrying about whether you will fall again or whether this will really work is another sign that you don’t really want out. Forgiveness makes you say crazy things like the Apostle John: “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). Forgiveness and repentance is a turning away from darkness and guilt and confusion toward light and fellowship and joy. Your days should be growing lighter, your fellowship should be growing tighter, and your joy should be filling up not draining out. If that is not happening, then you are walking in darkness and that is because you are not really confessing your sins, including the sin of not believing the promise of forgiveness. Confessing sin is how we wage war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. When people cease to confess their sins, they are refusing to fight. Being nice to sin is to already admit defeat.
The Fellowship of Repentance
The end of confession is fellowship. But fellowship doesn’t make all differences evaporate. Some differences can be worked out rather quickly (days or weeks), others can take longer (years, resurrection), and still others are not necessarily bad. In fact the body of Christ is full of glorious differences. But without fellowship, differences will collide and clash. But when our differences are woven together in love, they create a harmony instead of a dissonance.
Our great temptation in a sermon like this is to hope that someone else is listening carefully. But Jesus calls that hypocrisy. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Mt. 7:3-5). The principle is that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. But the flesh loves to blame shift and try to insist that the other guy walk in the light first. Confessing our own sins first, removing the log from our own eye first means taking responsibility, bearing the shame, claiming the fault. This shouldn’t be a fake show of piety, but Christ-like love and compassion, gladly suffering for the sake of others.
Taking responsibility for our own sins and weakness teaches us humility and compassion for the weaknesses and sins of others. When you know how unlovely your own heart is, you can love the unlovely around you, even those closest to you in all of their weakness and shame. This is what the body of Christ is supposed to do more broadly anyway (1 Cor. 12:23). This means helping one another obey, supporting one another where we are weak. Individualism teaches us to hold back and let our brothers crash and burn, but love teaches us to reach out and gently bring our brothers in for a safe landing. Because we have an Advocate, we can be advocates (1 Jn. 2:1); He is the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2).
This morning’s sermon is on confession of sin and the true freedom and joy of forgiveness. One way to frame what we believe as Christians about the cross and sin and forgiveness is that Christians are and must be firm believers in miracles. Sometimes Reformed types have thrown around the word “cessation” to describe how certain miracles may have been peculiar to the first century Apostles. While all orthodox Christians believe that the New Testament canon was a unique first century event (there are no new Scriptures being written), the word “cessation” certainly carries with it a ton of extra freight that does not do justice to the New Testament apostles themselves or with the testimony of the vast majority of the history of the Church. But even more importantly than that is the central proclamation and insistence of the New Testament that in the life of the Church, through the powerful working of the Spirit in the lives of men and women and children, through the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen, and the love and fellowship and gifts of the Spirit in the saints, God changes lives. God turns bitter wives into thankful, joyful wives. God turns disobedient and rebellious children into obedient and respectful children. God turns angry and unfaithful husbands into loving, faithful husbands. God raises up the lowly, God gives grace to the failures, God raises the dead. And we gather here every Lord’s Day to testify that this is true. Jesus died so that this might be true, and He was raised to accomplish it. So here at the beginning of our gathering, put away your unbelief. Put away your doubts, your fear, whatever impossibility you are nurturing in your heart. The original impossibility was creation itself, but light burst out of the darkness. So put to death your unbelief.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn. 1:5)
Friday, March 11, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Reformation is exciting. Recovering the treasures of our fathers and grandfathers in the faith is encouraging and heartening. And one of those great treasures is the Church Year.
Many believers in many different denominations and traditions are recovering the Church Year. While there remains a good deal of caution among Protestants regarding the lingering connotations of abuses from medieval Roman Catholicism with the Church Calendar, Presbyterians are celebrating Advent. Baptists are describing the richness of Lent. Christmas and Easter, the two "High Holy Days" of American Christianity are receiving even more thoughtful and robust celebration.
And while I would want to be counted among those who share some concerns, I am also supportive of the overall project. On the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule time, keeping track of days, months, seasons, and years. In the New Covenant, we are not under those rulers any more. This is because we have been seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. In Christ and by the working of His Holy Spirit, the promise that was made to Abraham that his descendants would by like the "stars of the heavens" has been fulfilled. In other words, we are no longer under the sun, moon, and stars because we have been enthroned with Jesus in the new heavens of the Church. We have been made kings and priests to our God. In Christ, we are the new rulers of time.
And keeping time is inevitable. There will be rhythms, there will be names, there will be holy days. The only question is what will they be? Will our "high holy days" be 4th of July, Super Bowl Sunday, and Memorial Day? Or will our lives be tuned by the life of Christ and the work of the Spirit in history?
Christians are free to celebrate any of these civil or cultural holidays, but our freedom is most fully realized in grateful worship and praise. The church calendar, understood rightly, is just a way of organizing our worship, a liturgy for time. Just as it is permissible, even necessary for pastors or worship leaders to decide which hymns to sing at which point in the service, when to confess sins, when to remind people of their forgiveness, etc., so too the church calendar is a way of organizing our prayers and songs and praise.
While I might throw out any number of provisos, let me just mention one here: If you are new to the church calendar and you think it's a good idea, your temptation is to jump into the deep end with your clothes on without taking swimming lessons. Or to change the metaphor, there tends to be a "cage stage" for most new ideas. The new idea is your brand new hammer and everything looks like a nail. So the encouragement is to wade in from the shallow end. So for example, if you just realized that we just began Lent, good for you. But don't freak out and swear off the next three days of meals in an effort to "get caught up" or make your kids give up cookies and candy for the next six weeks so they can suffer with you. That only teaches your kids that you are erratic and headstrong, and it will probably frustrate and confuse them more than anything. Maybe just start with reading through an entire gospel with your family over the next six weeks. Find some hymns and psalms that focus on the coming of the Messiah and His sufferings and death on the cross. Read a biography of a saint, a martyr, or a missionary, and think, pray, and discuss what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
We've encouraged our folks to consider various avenues of ministry or evangelism. Spend some time befriending some folks at a local nursing home, invite your neighbors over for dinner, look for an opportunity to share the gospel with an unbeliever. Start small, start genuine. Don't stress about the details. And as you use these days and weeks and months and years to celebrate the forgiveness and freedom you have in Christ, your traditions will grow up like glorious memorials. And that's really what we want: we want the life of Christ plastered all of our lives.
And here are some resources for thinking through the church calendar as well as Lent in particular:
Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church Joint Statement on Holy Days
Is the Church Year Biblical? By Jeff Meyers
The Season of Lent Guide by Elliot Grudem & Bruce Benedict
Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan
Lenten Meditations by Randy Booth
Several of these and more are available here at Cardiphonia.
Monday, March 07, 2011
The arrival at Mt. Sinai is the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises. Given the challenges that Israel has faced, it is also a sign of God’s great grace and favor.
This scene portrays this covenant renewal scene as a wedding: Moses is the “minister” going between Yahweh and Israel, His bride (19:3, 8, 20). This covenant renewal is the renewal of the covenant made previously with Abraham (Gen. 15). The basis for the covenant relationship is the fact that Yahweh has destroyed Egypt and kept His promises (19:3-4). He has brought Israel to Himself on eagles’ wings (19:4, cf. Dt. 32:11). Though foreign armies will later be described as eagles (e.g. Dt. 28:49, Jer. 4:13, Ez. 17:3ff, Hos. 8:1), in this instance it refers to Yahweh’s host, His glory cloud army of men and angels (13:18-22, cf. Ez. 1:3-14). This Exodus-Salvation is the basis for the “Therefore if…” (19:5). This is the way real love works and is displayed in a wedding. No bride or groom suspects the other of legalism for taking vows. Nor does anyone think anyone is earning anything when they take or keep their vows. That’s just what love looks like.
Precious Treasure and Kingdom of Priests
If Israel obeys Yahweh and guards the covenant, Israel will be His “precious treasure” (19:5), and this is repeated when the covenant is renewed (Dt. 7:6, 14:2, 26:18, cf. Ps. 135:4, Mal. 3:17). This call to “guard” the covenant reminds us of Yahweh’s call for Adam to “guard” the garden. The covenant is not something earned; the covenant is the gift of God’s love, the gift of a holy fellowship, a marriage bed (Dt. 32:11). David and Solomon both refer to their “precious treasures of kings” (1 Chr. 29:3, Eccl. 2:8). Israel is Yahweh’s treasure, His royal plunder, His inheritance. In the Septuagint, this word is translated as “elect,” and the NT writers pick up this language: Christians are God’s elect, His chosen ones, “holy and beloved” of God (Col. 3:12). Our English translations get closest to this where Paul says that Christ gave Himself for us to “redeem” us and to “purify” us for Himself, His own “special people” (Tit. 2:14), and Peter does this as well (1 Pet. 1:2, 2:4, 2:6, 2:9). In the immediate context of the Old Testament, Melchizedek and Jethro form the most concrete examples of priests: both are foreigners who bring the blessing of God and share bread with God’s people. And a kingdom of priests is to be a “holy nation” (19:6, cf. 19:10, 14, 22), and this means to be in a safe place, in a secure relationship to their God, one another, and the nations around them: plenty of bread and blessing for all.
The scene itself seems so surreal and strange: a mountain covered in a thick cloud of smoke and fire (19:18), thunder and lightening (19:16), the threat of death to those who cross the boundaries (19:12-13), the long winding of a horn (19:13, 16, 19). It feels intense, overwhelming, even confusing (19:20-25). But this seems to be the point: Israel is not dealing with a distant deity in the far reaches of the universe; Yahweh is God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and therefore Lord of Israel. It is His great compassion and love and mercy that redeemed and saved His people, but it is a fierce mercy, a terrifying love, a deep, black darkness of compassion. This is not to imply that God is fickle or schizophrenic. It means that God is high and lifted up. But God is also putting Himself on the line, bestowing all that He is, and calling Israel into His love, into His glory, into His fellowship. And the only reasonable response is fear and love and glad obedience. To obey is to walk in that glory, in that love.
In the New Covenant all of this is heightened: But this time the fire of God has fallen not on a mountain that can be touched but on God’s people at Pentecost (Acts 2). We have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and the warnings are just as fierce: see that you do not refuse Him who speaks for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:18-29). But this is not a menacing threat from a distance. This isn’t a command to keep a bunch of impersonal rules. This is because our Kinsman-Redeemer has come for us and delivered us from Egypt and every Pharaoh; Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant has brought us to Himself on eagles’ wings: He has “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father…” (Rev. 1:5-6). Which is proof once again that God keeps His promises (e.g. Is. 40).
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" Says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD's hand Double for all her sins. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken…
O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young…
To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?" says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
This coming week we begin Lent. During Lent we don’t pretend to be lost and unsaved or despair of our salvation. Lent is an annual reminder of what is always true of the Christian life. It is an annual reminder that we must press on. Because of the wonderful gift of Christmas and because of the first Easter in Christ, we must press on toward our own Easter. Because we have been born again by the Spirit in our own Christmas-covenant, our own Exodus-salvation, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. We must not doubt in the dark what was true in the light. Remember who you are, remember the glory of the Lord, remember God’s love and grace. Remember God’s promises. Because God has not forgotten.
We have met our God most directly, most clearly in Jesus Christ. Who is God? Who is the Triune God? Who is our God? Our God is the One who was born of Mary, anointed with Spirit, crucified on a Roman cross, and resurrected on the third day. Our God is the God who does not consider it robbery to be God, but freely gives that status away (Phil. 2:6). Calvin and other Reformers sometimes referred to this as God “accommodating” Himself to us, lisping for our frail human souls, but John says that the Word which was from the beginning was the true and glorious revelation of God, that which was seen and heard and touched (1 Jn. 1:1-3). But this means that we serve a radically humble God. But what does it mean that God is humble?
Humility & Unity
Paul’s central exhortation is to let the same mind which was in Christ be in us (Phil. 2:5). What is that mind? It is the mind that gladly gives up what is rightfully yours. The text is wonderfully chiastic:
A. Form of God (2:6)
B. Likeness of man (2:7)
C. Humbled himself; obedient to death (2:8a)
D. Death on a cross (2:8b)
C’. God exalted Him; God gave Him a name (2:9)
B’. Every knee will bow (2:10)
A’. Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (2:11)
Humility is Confident and Brave
Notice two things: First, Jesus did not give up His deity. He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. It was not lie for Jesus to claim to be God. It was not grand theft for Him to claim that title. But notice secondly, that it is because it is His that He can make Himself of no reputation. In other words, it is the certainty that Jesus has that He is God that allows Him to freely take on the likeness of man. It is God security in Himself as Lord that allows Him to take on the form of a servant. Or from the other way around, it is great insecurity that refuses to risk reputation. It is uncertainty that refuses to serve. The humility of God rightly reckons what is true, what it would not be robbery to consider as true, and in that security and certainty gladly takes risks for the sake of others. In other words, humility is confident and brave.
Humility is Obedient
Notice that central to humility is obedience (Phil 2:8). Humility is not wishy-washy. Humility is not apathetic. Jesus humbled Himself and obeyed. Humility reckons what is true, and then gladly accepts orders. Jesus was so certain of who He was and what was to come that He could obey even to the point of death and even to the point of a cursed death on a cross. Humility is confident, and humility is obedient. This means that humility doesn’t give in to easier routes; humility isn’t a push over. When Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem, that was humility not a stubborn streak.
Humility loves Glory
Hebrews say that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame of it for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2). That joy was the glory of sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. That was the joy of being exalted and given the name above every name. But this isn’t merely a means to an end. The humility of God on display in the incarnation was not a onetime exception to the rule. The humility of God revealed in Jesus was a display of God’s eternal humility: God’s eternal confidence, God’s eternal obedience and sacrificial love, God’s eternal glory. In other words, even though the incarnation and death and resurrection were a onetime historical accomplishment, those events reveal the kind of God we serve, the God who humbles Himself for the sake of others. God “esteems others better than Himself” (Phil. 2:3). In other words, God’s glory is His humility. It’s the glory of God to be a God who gives up reputation, who serves, etc. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is a lamb that was slain on the throne.
And notice how Christ’s humility is related to the goal of unity and mission. It is that confident, obedient humility that is glorious and is glorified.
Humility in this community:
1. Differences of background, personality, gifts, etc. : Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory. Roommates, Exams, Grades, Finances, Beauty, Intelligence, etc.
2. Differences in the churches, teaching style, emphases: Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory.
Humility at home:
1. Some of you will be going home: Humility is confident, secure, obedient, sacrificial, and revels in the glory at home, with your parents, with old friends, at your home church, in the challenges.
Humility on Spring Break:
1. Humility is confident and secure. You know who you are in Christ, and what He has called you to.
2. Humility is obedient and sacrificial. It is the height of arrogance to disobey the King.
3. Humility sees the glory in the cross.
Agur’s proverbs continue here in sets of four. He comes as a climax to the book of Proverbs which frequently lays out wisdom in the black and white, sin and righteousness, wisdom and folly. Agus says he’s a fool and stupid, he second guesses himself. He agrees with the rest of Proverbs but encourages us to allow for exceptions.
30:21: For three things the earth is perturbed, yes, for four it cannot bear up
The word for “perturbed” may mean quarrel or trouble (Gen. 45:24, Job 3:26); it may also refer to trembling and fear (Ex. 15:14, Dt. 2:25). This same trembling is promised to Israel if they break covenant with the Lord (Dt. 28:65). This is the panic of a war camp under a surprise attack (1 Sam. 14:15, 28:15). It can also refer to an earth quake (2 Sam. 22:8, Job 9:6, Ps. 18:8, 77:18). The command to “be angry and do not sin” is the command to be “perturbed” but do not sin (Ps. 4:5). The word is only used one other time in Proverbs to refer to the “ragings” of a fool (Pr. 29:9).
The earth is not able to “bear up” because of this trouble, quaking, raging. The word for “bear up” is related to a very common word that means “lift up.” This form can mean “acceptable, bearable, or swelling.” Given the fact that the image here is of the “earth,” the translation “bear up” seems right. The image is of the earth on the verge of collapse. Given that these four things are people, the point is that these kinds of “ragings” have enormous consequences are not minor or little. These are acts of folly that can cause great trouble in the world.
30:22: For a servant when he reigns, a fool when he is filled with food.
Here the servant is probably a member of the king’s cabinet, another subordinate official who has usurped the crown (Gen. 24:2, 1 Sam. 27:12). If the king is supposed to be a rock, a steady leader for the stability of his people, a revolt causes great tumult in the earth. The seizing of glory and power is rarely a good sign, and rarely are those who do so prepared for the task. Frequently, rebels who oust tyrants merely establish more tyranny or worse. People who are not ready to rule, who are suddenly given great power and authority frequently abuse it.
A fool filled with bread is parallel to the first “trouble” in the sense that there is a situation that does not seem natural, does not seem just, or safe. Just as it is frequently unwise to allow hot headed captains to become the next king, a fool with a full belly is like a drunk with a full tank of gas. Instead of nourishing wisdom, instead of being a blessing (Pr. 3:10, 12:11, 14, 20:13), fullness here is a curse. Recall that previously Agur has referred to the curse of “fullness” (30:9, 15-16).
30:23: A hateful woman when she is married, and a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.
The theme of usurpation and events that are unsafe continues here with a “hated woman” when she becomes a “lady.” The masculine form for the word for “married” means “husband” or “lord” and can refer both to marriage and to rule or authority. And it seems likely that both are in view here. A hated woman is an unloved woman, and love exactly what she wants and needs. This is the opposite of a “virtuous woman” who is a crown to her husband (Pr. 12:4).
A maidservant succeeds her mistress by becoming one of the king’s concubines. This is the scene in Gen. 16 where it seemed like a good idea initially for Abram to conceive a child through Hagar, but Sarai knows that this is a mistake after Hagar has his child (Gen. 16:4). Whether intentionally or not, the crossing of loyalty and trust and intentions is too complicated to avoid even the appearance of usurpation. A more devious maidservant may seduce a husband in hopes of displacing the wife. And if that wife is the queen, the maidservant is not only grasping for security but also power (cf. 1 Kgs. 11:19, 2 Kgs. 10:13).
In all four of these instances there is a breach, some break with the usual process, order, etc. And they seem chiastically arranged:
A. A servant who reigns
B. A fool filled with bread
B’. A hated woman married
A’. A maid who becomes queen
In the first and last, power and authority are taken up by those without power and authority, and in the middle two, physical and emotional satisfaction is provided. The first and last perhaps represent psychological desire whereas the middle ones represent physical desires.
The earth is shaken when these things occur, and it seems safe to say that is usually a bad thing. However, it is striking how the gospel accomplishes all of these things. In the gospel, God has become a servant so that He might become Lord over all, and in Him all of His servants reign. In the gospel, fools are filled with bread. The church was a hated and scorned woman who has been loved by a faithful husband, and the maidservant has become a queen. And it is this gospel that has “turned the whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6). While these reversals can be terrifying and create great upheaval, by the working of the Spirit they can be for the blessing of the world.
In the context of Proverbs, Agur’s wisdom is perhaps a warning, a cautionary tale (e.g. watch out for servants, fools, hated women, and ambitious maid servants), but it may also be the wisdom of the gospel that recognizes how God works: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, Abraham and to his seed forever” (Lk. 1:52-55). Or Paul puts it this way: “If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:18-19). And this seems to be what Jesus is calling His disciples to in the gospel: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:26).
In other words, grasping for power and authority and satisfaction is always dangerous and tumultuous, whether by kings or slaves, but God loves to show His glory and wisdom and power in the weak and foolish and unlikely.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
I don’t even believe the sky tonight. Like I haven’t seen those fake blues and whites swirled and streaked on some impressionist’s canvass before. It’s a little too obvious. The colors are childish. The blues are too happy and sparkly, and the white is bright, and the grays and blacks came straight out of a carton of Crayola crayons. In fact the whole thing looks colored for a Hallmark card. These clouds are stock clouds from a children’s coloring book, puffy in the middle, complete with silver linings, stretching out in completely predictable patterns.
If you ask me, it actually looks like someone scraped the ceiling of the sky. The whole world tried to drive into a parking garage and the sign clearly said Clearance 8’ and whoever was at the wheel just kept on driving and peeled parts of the roof off and now there are stars peeking through the brand new skylights. Where there is still a bit of roof left, it crumpled, leaving uneven strips of cloud metal running warped toward the horizon. Obviously these clouds really were lined with some sort of silver, and now pieces of that are poking through like a set of old, bald tires.
But it’s getting dark now, and the light is falling. And I can’t really remember what I saw. Just fading images of a blue field plowed up with tiny, shining seeds here and there as though a careless farmer had a hole in his pocket. Or maybe it was a blue beach dotted with sand crystals while foaming tides like searching hands try to pull the earth into the deep. But I can’t remember now, and it was all so fabricated and unbelievable and childish.
Which is why I will be just as surprised and incredulous tomorrow night and every night.