Monday, October 30, 2006

No King but Jesus

Being members of the catholic church means that we are seated at this table with all the Christians throughout the world. We are seated here with liberal Anglicans, proud Roman Catholics, mystic Russian Orthodox, fundamentalist Baptists, cranky Presbyterians, and all kinds of other splinter groups that name the name of Christ in sincerity and practice the sacraments of the Christian faith. This means two things: first it means that we need to have a greater love for our brethren in every church, and pray God’s richest blessings on them. But secondly it also means that we need to stir up a greater hatred for the compromise and weakness evidenced throughout the Christian Church, and we need to begin with ourselves. One of the calls of the Revolutionary War was ‘No King but Jesus!’ And the same declaration needs to be made in all of life now. We will not pay homage to money, we will not pay homage to politics, and we will not pay homage to some generic, faceless god of Jews and Muslims. Our king was crucified 2000 years ago, and this is the feast of his coronation, the feast of his enthronement. So come and eat; come and drink; come and declare the crown rights of King Jesus.


Mark 15: The Victory of the King of the Jews

This is the great Passover. Jesus is the house of God, the son and Israel of God whose blood turns the Angel of death away.

The Son of the Father
In 14:36 the “son of the Father” offers prayers in the garden. He cried out to God as “Abba” Father, and it is no accident that in the judicial proceedings that follow, Jesus is traded for Barabbas, a man whose name means “son of the father”. But of course the irony is that they came out to the Garden as though they were hunting a murderer (14:48) (when in fact they looked like armed thugs) and in the end a murderer is released to them. This “son of the father” is a revolutionary, a zealot, and Mark is portraying the High Priests and Jews as zealots and revolutionaries. And of course Jesus is crucified with thieves, being numbered with the transgressors (15:27-28). Here is God’s Son, Israel.

The King and the fools
This chapter and event can be presented as an enormous miscarriage of justice on many levels, but consider the fact of Pilot’s capitulation to these Jewish zealots and revolutionaries. The King of the Jews, the one who has come to establish peace and justice is being killed like a criminal, and the revolutionaries are being appeased and released. Pilot is a weak ruler and a fool. While knowing the truth, he cowers before violent men (15:15 cf. 15:9, 12, 16-20, 26). Even the location, the Praetorium, denotes the general’s tent or a palace or a seat of judgment. And the motif continues as Mark records three more attempts at mockery, all in some way testifying of the truth (v. 29-30, 31, 32). And this culminates with the centurion who declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” once again putting the truth in the mouths of the wrong people (15:39).

The House Desolate
We have considered how Jesus is the new temple and house of God. And here we see the final climax of that reality: when God forsakes Him, Jesus dies and the veil in the temple is torn from top to bottom. The murder of the Son is the great act that has finally driven God away. The reason the temple was defiled and destroyed in 70 AD is because Israel had already defiled the temple and destroyed it themselves some 40 years earlier. This is further emphasized by the fact that the temple curtain is torn in half. This is not merely the Most Holy Place revealed and accessed, but it is the Most Holy Place defiled, the temple spoiled and left desolate. Jesus is the temple, and therefore when Christ gave up the ghost, the veil was torn in half because the Spirit was leaving the temple.

Application & Conclusion
And this is the brilliant scheme of God to save and renew the entire world. God came down to destroy the works of darkness, to forgive our sins in this Great Passover, and then uniting us to Himself draw us up into the life of the Trinity. We would have done it differently, but God cannot be tamed. He bursts out of even the Holy of Holies, and now He fills and empowers His church with the resurrection life, the life of forgiveness and justice, the life of perfect freedom and glory. Jesus is Lord and King of all.


All the Saints

We have celebrated and will continue to remember All Saints Day and Reformation Day this week. And it is important to remember that these two holidays are not at odds with one another. It is not an accident that Luther posted his theses when he did. The Protestant Reformation was a cry for the saints, a plea for the priesthood of the plebians, the commoners. And while we are fully aware of how the church has splintered and fragmented over the centuries since, we must remain ever grateful for the faithfulness of a few men who would not back down from what the Scriptures taught. Nevertheless we must also remember the desire of the first reformers, the first protestants, to be catholic. They were not rejecting the catholic church, far from it. They were making all the ruckus because it had become clear that the Roman church had rejected the catholic church. This is what All Saints is; this is what Reformation Day celebrates: the cross of Jesus Christ, the atoning death of the one sacrifice which accomplished the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world, without which there is no catholic church; this is the ancient Christian faith once for all delivered to all the saints.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Catholic Reformation Day

This Sunday is Reformation Sunday, a day marking our gratitude to God for raising up Martin Luther and many other men and women after him who dared to throw tomatoes at the godless regime that had grown up within the Mother of us all, the Christian Church. In many corners of Protestantism this is a day celebrated as an equivalent to an Independence Day or worse still, a birthday, as though the great corpse of the Roman Church was finally dislodged and the pure Spiritual protestant church emerged all glorious and true. But for all our gratitude to God for Martin Luther, we must not forget what his own intentions were and the fact that the 95 Theses were posted on the eve of All Saints Day, the feast day of all those saints who gave their lives for the sake of the gospel. Luther's great protest, his burning of bulls and other generally outrageous behavior was not out of disdain for the Catholic Church but out of his great love for her. The Reformation from its inception was a cry for catholicity, not for sectarianism. It was a cry of loyal children for their dear Mother. Of course the legacy of both Roman Catholics and Protestant Catholics is neither glorious nor pure in this regard by any honest reckoning. But in the grand and humorous providence of the Trinity, the last five hundred years have been no mistake. Evil at points? Yes. Desperately wicked at times? Of course. A mistake? Absolutely not. The Reformation, like the Great Schism before it, is yet another way the Holy Spirit has been purifying and perfecting the entire Bride of Christ. And so as we come to celebrate Reformation Day, we do so with full recognition of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Souls Day on November 2nd, the feast of the martyrs and the feast of all the faithful. We celebrate the Protestant Reformation because it is yet another sign that God has been faithful and will continue to be faithful to His people. If it had been our Church, if it had been our planning and our scheming for the conquest of the world, it would have been far more boring, far more tame, and whole lot less messy. But the Triune God will not be boxed in by our little minds. He will not be hedged about with patrimonies and nationalistic powwows or sectarian ideologies or a pastor's fancy headgear. Our celebration of Reformation Sunday is a recognition of God's goodness throughout the centuries of the Christian Church in raising up faithful men and women who willingly gave up their own comfort, popularity, and often their very lives for the sake of the gospel. Our celebration of the Reformation is our recognition of God's faithfulness in every century to His people as the Church. As we seek to recover a culture of festivity and historic rootedness in the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church throughout the ages, we are seeking to celebrate the Protestant Reformation as Evangelical Catholics. And we invite one and all to join us, giving thanks to God for all of those who have come before and who God will still be pleased to raise up now and in the future, those who had the faith and courage to insist on the truth and authority of Holy Scripture and who had no qualms with giving pious sounding god haters a vigorous Bronx cheer.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Blessing From Flannery O'Connor

"I hope this one will be a girl and have a fierce Old Testament name
and cut off a lot of heads."

HT: My brother: Jesse


Monday, October 23, 2006

Greenville Pastors Fellowship

I just stumbled on to this. I haven't attended any of these meetings, but it looks like a great opportunity, and I look forward to being able to attend in the near future. I also added a link to this site on the side bar.


A Table for Traitors

This table is for all of God’s people, and it is important to note that is even for those whom God has invited but who later reject him. While there are many examples of apostasy in Scripture, one of the greatest is certainly Judas the betrayer of our Lord. While it is ambiguous in Mark’s account, Luke makes it more clear that Judas ate the Lord’s Supper with Jesus and the other apostles even though Jesus knew what Judas was planning to do. John indicates that at some point during the meal Jesus gave Judas a piece of bread and after that, Satan entered Judas. This is a glorious meal, a meal of grace and blessing, but it must never be forgotten that we are communing with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe who knows the thoughts and intentions of everyone in this room. And you cannot fool Him. If He knew His own betrayer at His table 2000 years ago in an upper room in Jerusalem, you better believe he can see hypocrisy at any and every table in the world that invokes His name and presence. And the same warning applies. There are some false sons in the pale of Christendom, as the old hymn says, and there are some traitors in the ranks, but woe to those who think they can fool the God of all the earth. Woe to those who despise the goodness of God and clutch their vain idols of stone and wood. Remember, Peter and Judas both failed. Both of them failed miserably. But there is nevertheless a monstrous, horrifying chasm between them. Peter failed, but when the cock crowed he knew his sin and repented with tears. And while Judas later regretted his actions to some extent, we do not know of any repentance and all the indications are that he went down to the grave in self pity and loathing and darkness. All of you come; all of you eat. And do not eat in fear or dread, but consider this the cock crowing, and whatever sins you have been hiding, whatever sins you have been ignoring, whatever sins you have been clinging to let them all go now. Lay them down. Repent and place your trust in Jesus whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. And in repentance come in full faith, in full joy, in full confidence. This is your salvation, even Jesus, the crucified and risen savior.


Mark 14:32-72

We saw last week that Jesus is building a house in the fellowship of healed lepers, a house of God where the true sacrifice of His blood is shed for the remission of sins. This new house of Yahweh is the house of Israel that will be protected by the blood when the Angel of Death passes over. Jesus is keeping the Passover with his disciples.

The Garden of Gethsemane
Gethsemane means “oil press”. This reminds us that Jesus is the anointed one. We are told that Jesus goes to a garden in John’s gospel, and that is how we know that Gethsemane was a garden. It must not be forgotten that the first great betrayal in human history occurred in Eden, a garden on a mountain, and here, the last Adam is being betrayed in a garden on a mountain. The roles have been switched though: Jesus is the faithful, new Adam being betrayed by the old Adam (Judas). This presents the true nature of Adam’s first sin (and all sin). All sin is the implicit or explicit desire to kill God. Notice that after the actual betrayal there is a naked man running away in the garden; this is yet another echo of Eden where a man is fleeing in shame.

Prayer in the Garden
Jesus’ prayer here in the garden reveals a side of Christ that we have little witnessed to this point. If we look back at the gospel of Mark, Jesus is clearly pictured as a healer, a teacher, a scholar, a prophet, and a king, but here we see Jesus praying intensely. We are seeing God the Son as a human pleading with God the Father. This is a striking picture. Recall Jesus words to his disciples when they could not cast the demon out of the man’s son (Mk. 9:14ff). His response was “O faithless generation!” One is almost tempted to say, what about now Jesus? What about now? But this is not faithlessness in any way; instead it is faithfulness that turns to God in the darkest moments. And it is faith that both pleads with God and submits to His wisdom and grace. But consider this also a true reflection of the Trinity. Too often we mentally picture the Trinity like a ‘souped-up’ yin and yang. But the god of Eastern religion is a faceless force, impersonal energies ebbing and flowing in eternity. But we serve the Tri-person God, a God who in Christ pleaded with God the Father.

With Swords and Clubs
It is highly humorous and ironic that this mob comes out to fetch Jesus armed to the teeth. What were they thinking? Who are the robbers here, Christ praying in a garden or the mob with torches (ala John’s gospel) and swords and clubs? Of course one of Jesus’ disciples happens to be armed, and we are told in John’s gospel that it was Simon Peter who actually cut the ear off the high priest’s servant. It’s always an interesting study to see how the different gospels emphasize different aspects of the story: in this case, Matthew’s gospel emphasizes Jesus’ rebuke of the one who struck off the servant’s ear. John’s gospel tell us who it was (Peter), and Luke records that before they went out to the Mount Olives, Jesus had instructed his disciples to dress for travel and carry a sword, giving a plausible reason for why Peter was armed in the first place. Of interest to us is the fact that Mark gives none of these other details, but alone records the urgency of the disciples fleeing from the scene. Matthew does mention that the disciples fled, but Mark alone describes the young man who flees naked into the shadows. Mark is showing us the sheep being scattered, the temple being torn down.

Before the Sanhedrin
While they have great difficulty holding a judicial trial of the Lord, the one accusation that Mark records is that Jesus promised to destroy the temple and build another “made without hands.” As we have seen, Mark has made it abundantly clear that this is what Jesus is doing even though we’ve not seen it stated explicitly until this point. But the description is intriguing and should remind us of the book of Daniel yet again where Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar his dream concerning the image which is destroyed by a stone cut out without hands that grows up into a mountain that fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:34ff). In an interesting parallel, once again it’s the wrong people declaring who Jesus is with the greatest clarity (cf. 1:24, 34, 3:11, 5:7).

Notice also it is ultimately Jesus who says what is necessary to invoke their guilty sentence. And he repeats what he has already told his disciples: he will ascend to the Ancient of Days in the clouds of heaven, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 7:13, to whom is given all power and dominion, a universal kingdom which will have no end. The high priest’s reaction is doubly significant. First, it is slightly humorous that he speaks as though he was getting somewhere with his witnesses (v. 63-64). Secondly, his actions are sacrilegious and prohibited by the law, for the high priest was explicitly prohibited by the law to tear his garments (Lev. 10:6, 21:10). This is an ironic action given what he is saying; he is enacting blasphemy even while accusing an innocent man of it.

The sign of having torn clothes is used throughout Scripture for those in great distress. It accompanies the death of loved ones and those who have barely escaped death (usually with bad news). But given the ceremonial context (the high priest’s action) we should remember the fact that torn clothes were the uniform of lepers (Lev. 13:45). Given the fact that we have seen Jesus’ actions in the temple as a leprosy inspection while dining with a healed leper (Simon) in Bethany, this imagery is hard to ignore. The high priest is a leper, but more importantly, their leprosy is not some ceremonial detail they have forgotten. Their leprosy is their rejection of Jesus. The rejection of the Messiah is their uncleanness and rejection.

Conclusion and Application
One of the hard but glorious things about the story of Jesus’ betrayal and conviction is the fact that meanwhile Peter is busy denying Jesus. This is a terrible, horrible sin, but the glory of it is that Jesus knew. Jesus knew that the flock was going to be scattered and that they would be made to stumble (14:27-30). Jesus knew that the house had to be broken down before a new one could be built. Remember Peter’s name means rock. And remember that God is still building His house with us today, and he’s using problem people like us, problem people like Peter. Therefore do not be haughty; be thankful and grow in grace.


You are Here for Prayer.

You are not here to be given a spiritual massage. You are not here to be entertained. You are not here to go through certain rituals or say certain words for their psychological side-effects. You are here for prayer. This means that you are here as priests and priestesses offering spiritual sacrifices for the salvation of the world. This means you may not bring any idols in here. Leave them all behind. Money cannot save you; it is lifeless paper and metal. A good reputation cannot save you; men grow old and die. Sex cannot save you and your body cannot save you; it will one day be dust. Politics cannot save you; God turns the heart of the king like rivers of water. Cast your idols down; repudiate them all; scorn them, and offer pure incense before the Most Holy Place. Gathering here for prayer also means that you are entering the council chambers of the King to be enthroned as kings and queens judging the world in righteousness. This means you cannot come in here with petty disagreements and quarrels with brothers and sisters. Do you not know that we are judging angels? Put your pettiness down and be enthroned here in the Kingdom. Finally, we are prophets and prophetesses giving counsel to God, speaking on behalf of the world, pleading with God like Abraham of old. This means you must come with confidence. You may not stand there muttering words apologetically as though you don’t belong here. You may not mumble the ancient and glorious mysteries of creeds and Psalms as though you’d rather be somewhere else. Because if you would rather be somewhere else, I would like to ask you to kindly leave now. Rather, we are entering into the Holy of Holies now; come with confidence, come with exuberance, and come with faith. Sing out loud like every song is for the world because it is. Shout your “amen’s” as though you would have God act and perform all that He has promised because you would. Pray the prayers with all the passion and faith you can muster as though God is listening to your every syllable; because He is. Listen to the Word of God read and preached as though He were speaking directly to you, as though your very life depended on every Word; because it does. Feast at His table with hearts full of thanksgiving as though the bread and wine were all of the energy and life of God made palatable for you; because it is. So come and worship. You are here for prayer.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Sister and Brother


The Architecture of Bread and Wine

We’ve talked about houses some today, and that in Jesus Christ, God is rebuilding a new house for himself to dwell in. We are that house, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, this meal is the hammer and nails of the project. Evangelism and baptism are the selection of the building materials, the reading of scripture and the declaration of the Word of God is the cutting and shaping of the timber to fit into the house in the right lengths and angles, and here at this table were being set in place. But you need to remember that we are all just blocks of wood. Pieces of wood don’t stand up on the shelves at the building supply saying ‘pick me! Pick me!’. And you certainly didn’t trim yourself to the exact right fit in the house. We didn’t do anything. God is the builder of His house; he picks the materials and he fits us into the house perfectly. And this table is proof that you’re in. You may have a sordid past; you may have sins that you are very aware that you are still fighting with and struggling against. The Christian life is a long term project. Think about our passage today and all the discussion of someone betraying Jesus; and the declaration that all of his followers will be made to stumble. But Jesus isn’t worried. You must confess the sin now, even now, and remember that God has already chosen you, and He has placed you here at his table in his house. You may be thinking what about this sin and that other sin and that one time when I… And He says to you, I don’t remember. You are my son, you are my daughter. And all of my children are righteous, clean and pure. This table is God’s grace to you, God’s favor, the proof that he has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. And that means, he doesn’t remember.


Mark 14: 1-31: Jesus the Housebuilder

Mark’s gospel is now drawing to its climax. Remember that Mark is concerned with royal themes. We’ve talked about the political/royal dimensions of the word gospel; we’ve also considered how Jesus’ teachings and parables are marks of a Solomonic king. But remember there has been a great deal of secrecy from the beginning of Mark only somewhat eclipsed by the declaration by Jesus that he will be betrayed and handed over to the Jewish leaders to be killed and raised from the dead.

Passover and Leaven
Notice the irony of it being Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the chief priests and scribes are plotting to kill the Son. The disciples are preparing for the feast in one way (14:12ff) while the Jewish leaders are preparing in another way (14:1-2). Remember that Jesus has warned his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod (8:15). While these are perhaps not the exact same folks, it is plausible that there would have been some overlap. When the Jewish leadership should be getting rid of their bad leaven, they’re cultivating it.

Leprous Houses
Jesus is found “laying” in Simon the Leper’s house here in chapter 14. This particular word for “laying” is used several times at the beginning of Mark describing sick people. Simon’s Mother in Law was “laying” in her house sick with a fever in chapter 1 and the paralytic was “laying” on his bed when his friends let him down through the roof in chapter 2. Later in chapter 2 Jesus is “laying” at a feast with Levi and other tax collectors and sinners. This parallel is yet another indication that feasting and eating is part of Jesus’ identification with and ministry to the lost, the sick and the outcasts. Of course being in the house of a leper or (presumably) one who formerly was a leper is itself stigmatizing enough. Bethany is where Jesus as been staying the entire time of his teaching in the temple (11:1, 11-12), and perhaps he has been staying at Simon’s house for much of this time. Although we know that he spent at least some time in Mary, Martha and Lazarus’s house prior to this (Jn. 12:1-2). This would create an interesting parallel where Jesus is staying in the house of a cleansed leper while performing the inspection of the Temple according to the regulations for leprous houses in Leviticus.

Anointing the Head
Notice that the woman who anoints Jesus’ head parallels the widow who gave all that she had to the temple (12:43-44). But Jesus’ reaction is entirely different. If we remember that Mark’s gospel has pictured Jesus drawing a new Israel to himself then it is not too difficult to see these parallel stories pointing to the fact that Jesus is himself taking upon himself the status of the temple. The widow woman has been manipulated and/or robbed of her lively hood by conniving scribes, but this nameless woman has anointed the true temple that is about to be destroyed and rebuilt (14:58). John’s gospel indicates that this was the second time an incident like this had happened. It had occurred once (6 days before the Passover) prior to the triumphal entry where his feet were anointed (Jn. 12:1-8). But the anointing itself is another indication that Jesus is himself the new house of God because this is precisely how the Tabernacle was dedicated and consecrated (Ex. 40:9, Lev. 8:10).

The Widow’s Blood Money
Judas is betraying Jesus out of concern for money. Notice the ruckus is all over wasting money, but Judas has no problem taking money in exchange for Jesus. This of course proves that Judas didn’t give a damn about the poor people. And John’s gospel makes this clear. John tells us explicitly that Judas wanted the money for himself because he was a thief. The final proof of this is the fact that Judas is being financed by Temple money, money given by the widow who gave all that she had. This adds yet another layer to Jesus’ rejection of the Temple. Its destruction is being financed by widows. While there are many different kinds of trouble makers in the Church, we should recognize that greed and envy top the charts, and usually the trouble makers make their “concerns” known in the name of some high principle like caring for the poor and needy.

Another Triumphal Entry
When Jesus is asked about preparing for the Passover we see a very similar scene to when Jesus sent disciples for the donkey prior to his entry in to Jerusalem (11:2ff). One way to see this parallel is as a fulfillment of His enthronement. He came first as a king riding on a donkey amid shouts of acclamation, and now he is coming to the city once again as king to eat a royal banquet with his subjects (14:22ff). Another angle is to see the first entrance as a type of this second entrance. Jesus is king, but his enthronement is not like the kings of this world. His enthronement is in a meal with his disciples and his betrayal, death, and finally his resurrection. This would add to some of the temple imagery as well. Jesus came the first time in the garb of a king and symbolically condemns the temple and prophesies its destruction. Jesus comes a second time and enacts a sacrificial meal with his disciples signifying the arrival of a new temple where His blood is shed for many (14:24).

The Temple’s Destruction
While Jesus and his disciples are on their way out of the city to Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples that they will stumble in fulfillment of a prophecy from Zechariah. Consider Zechariah 12-14 where Jesus is quoting from (Mk. 14:27 is from Zech. 13:7). The passage is apocalyptic and certainly not an easy read, but it is clearly seen that there is simultaneous destruction and redemption of Judah taking place wrapped up in the event of the Pierced One (12:10) and the Shepherd who has been struck (13:7) and this event will establish Yahweh’s rule over all the earth (13:9). Remember this is the same book that Jesus has only recently signified in his entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9). Given the close identity with Jesus and his actions with the Temple, it is not too much of a stretch to see Jesus’ own death and resurrection as the beginning of the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, and it will result in Yahweh’s house being cleansed and purified (Zech. 14:21).

Conclusion and Application
From Creation to the end of the world, it can be argued that God’s main objective has been to build a house for himself. God is a house builder; this should give hope to us.


Grace like an Old Familiar Poem

Every week we are called out of the world into the presence of God and having rejoiced in that privilege we are reminded of our sins and failings, and we are called to confess them before moving on with the rest of the service. The confession of sins is not here so that you can save your sins up throughout the week and then deal with them here and now. This confession and absolution is not a better or more effective confession and absolution than the promises of God in Scripture to all those who confess their sins wherever and whenever they are convicted by the Spirit of God. But then some will wonder, if it’s no different than confessing your sins and believing God’s declaration of forgiveness on Tuesday, why do it here in the Lord’s Service on Sunday? The answer is that we are called to continually confess our sins and turn from them. When you are in the car and you have sinned confess it and turn from it; when you are in the kitchen and you have sinned confess it and turn from it. And when you come here to worship the Triune God with the church universal we must be reminded of our need and duty of confessing our sins. What if you can’t think of any sins that you need to confess? Then use the moment of silent confession to ask God to show you sins that need confessing. Finally, when I declare that your sins are forgiven, you must know that this is not some power resident in me or any other minister. When your son or daughter sins, you as parents after the sin has been confessed are authorized to declare that their sins are forgiven. Every Christian is authorized to pronounce the forgiveness of God to any other person who has confessed and forsaken their sins with all honesty and faith. But just as God has established authority in the home, he has also established authority in the church. Ministers do not have any more spiritual hocus pocus than the next believer, but we are called to lead. We are called to declare the Word of God; we are called to guard the Word of God and to call you, the people of God to believe it. So do not come to this confession with doubts or mechanical formalism. Do not say these words while thinking about the dishes in the sink at home or the baseball game on television or the papers piling up at work. Speak these words like an old familiar poem, like an old song that reminds you of many years gone by, like a story your grandfather or great grandfather used to tell. This is the good and ancient gospel, that in Jesus Christ sins are forgiven. So come believing the Good News of grace.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Shalom of God

We have just passed the Peace with one another, and now we are sitting down at the meal of peace. This is the victory meal of the Lamb, the feast that celebrates the end of enmity, the end of warfare, the end of conflict. And we symbolize that by greeting one another in peace just before coming here. Paul condemned the Corinthians for having divisions in the body at the Lord’s Table, and by greeting one another we are displaying that there are no divisions. We are in communion as we celebrate communion. You see, we cannot eat here if there are divisions out there. This would be like taking your wife out for an anniversary dinner and inviting another woman to join you. The kind of sick feeling that image should conjure up is the very kind of feeling you should have at the thought of being out of fellowship with a fellow believer and then coming here. Adultery, spiritual unfaithfulness is not accepted here. It doesn’t fit; it’s sickening; and Paul says that it eventually leads to death. But this is a meal of peace; it is the fulfillment of the Peace Offering of the Old Covenant. It is the Shalom of God. And the glory of it is that as we declare this peace through this meal, God is actually enacting this peace out in the world. The declaration of Christ’s death is the declaration of peace to the world. So come eat, come drink, this is your peace with one another, this is your peace with God, this is your peace that passes all understanding. It is Jesus declaring Peace to you because Jesus gives Himself to you.


Mark 13: When Will These Things Be?

This passage and its parallels in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 24-25 and Luke 21) are very often misinterpreted passages. We have simultaneously become biblically illiterate, and have imbibed a great amount of popular ‘end times’ theology without discernment.

These Things
The disciples are clearly asking a question about a particular event: the destruction of the temple. They want to know how they will know it’s happening (the sign of its occurrence), and they want to know when it will happen (v. 3). They are not asking about the end of the world (the return of Jesus, the final resurrection and the final judgment). And Jesus very clearly gives them instructions regarding these basic things. There will be religious and political strife, wars and rumors of wars, and many will claim to be messiahs. The disciples will be persecuted and Christian families will be torn apart. But there will be a great desecration of the Temple, and when that happens, Jesus instructs his disciples to run (vv. 14-18). If they run, the implication is that while it will be hard, they will escape the worst of it (vv. 20-23). Then a great cosmic event will occur which will be like the old heavens collapsing, and the Son of man will be seen coming in the clouds of heaven. All these things will take place during the generation of the disciples (vv. 30-31). This is why it is most important for them to watch (vv. 33-36).

The Abomination
Jesus tells His disciples that the “abomination which causeth desolation” which Daniel foretold will appear in the temple during this time as well (Dan. 11:31, 12:11). While it is a little difficult to follow Daniel’s prophecy in every detail as he appears to be sketching an apocalyptic vision of the last few hundred years of Judaism, it is clear that the abomination interrupts the regular daily sacrifice and probably also includes some mandate to allow gentiles in to the temple or to at least sacrifice unclean animals on the altar or to other gods or all of the above. Regardless, it is some kind of abomination performed which empties the temple. It is a wickedness that causes the Spirit to leave (cf. Ez. 10:4-18, 11:23, 43:4-5).

The Sun Darkened
These couple of verses and the one following are perhaps the most difficult for moderns to understand biblically. In an age where science has been enthroned as god, and one which even many Christians pay homage, it is difficult for us to imagine what this could mean other than the science fiction novel it seems to present. But this is because we are biblically illiterate. Isaiah 13 presents very similar images regarding the destruction and end of Babylon. The text is very clearly not referring to the end of the cosmos. People are not dying from global freezing or a gigantic asteroid or stars exploding. They are dying from the effects of war (cf. Joel 3:9-21). The collapsing solar system is a repeated motif throughout Scripture that indicates the destruction of a great city or nation (e.g. Ez. 32:1-8, Joel 2-3, Mic. 3). Remember, the sun, moon, and stars are rulers (Gen. 1:16-18).

The Son of Man Coming
This verse has also been a stumbling block for many Christians who want to read this passage in a straightforward way (e.g. about the temple) but just can’t reconcile “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of glory.” This just sounds like the Second Coming to our biblically illiterate and sensationally conditioned minds. But this promise is also language echoing a prophecy found in Daniel. Some of the problem is the ambiguity of the Greek and Hebrew words that can mean either ‘coming’ or ‘going’ depending on the context. But Daniel 7:13 makes it clear that the destination of the Son of Man is not earth. He is coming to the Ancient of Days to receive His authority and power and dominion. In short, what Jesus is foretelling is His own enthronement, His ascension to the right hand of God, the Father. What do kings do from their thrones? They judge. And the first judgment of Jesus, enthroned as King of the world is to judge His own household (cf. 1 Pet. 4:17). The disciples will know and see that Jesus has been enthroned by the fact that the Temple is destroyed. This view that much of the NT apocalyptic language refers to events that took place during the generation immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection, is usually referred to as “preterism” (as opposed to “futurism”—the view that we are still awaiting for these prophecies to be fulfilled). This is the only view that really makes sense of the command to watch and that promise that Jesus is coming quickly and soon. He did come quickly; He came within 40 years and destroyed Jerusalem and not one stone was left on another.

Conclusion & Application
Some have concluded that since these prophecies have already been fulfilled they can hardly have much significance for us any more (except for maybe confronting the ‘end times’ hysteria). But this quite mistaken.

First, we should remember that the very same God who covenantally cursed the Temple and destroyed it, is the same God we serve today. While God will not desolate the Church as a whole, individual churches can turn their worship into abominations and be left desolate and destroyed.

Secondly, the fact of these events occurring some two thousand years ago indicates that we live in the new age, the new world, the new heavens and the new earth. John saw the holy city coming down out of heaven, and that is what we continue to pray and work for.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!



Jesus said: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” This means that you cannot come here clutching at idols in your wallet in your back pocket, your purse or mentally fondling the numbers of certain bank accounts, salary statements or the results of last week’s stock exchange. But you may say, I don’t have any money, I barely have enough to pay all my bills. How could I possibly be serving money; I barely have any. You bow before god money when it consumes your thoughts and worries. The litany of homage to god money is: how am I going to pay this bill? How are we every going to afford that? If only we made this much. If only my husband had this job. How come they have this, that and that other thing! That’s so expensive, that’s so expensive; that’s so expensive. I can’t afford that. Stop it now. Mammon is an idol, and it is just as lifeless and powerless to save as the paper it is printed on, the metals it is minted with and as ethereal as the internet huffing and puffing of numbers and values. The Triune God is our savior; he is our deliverer; he is our rock and stronghold. Perhaps God has blessed you with much, then give thanks and be content. Perhaps God has blessed you with little, then give thanks and be content. Homage to god money begins with worry and discontent about finances. And where you are concerned, cast your cares upon God, because He cares for you. He cares for you. And those bits of paper and metal are lifeless and dead. They do not care for you. So be consumed with the power and majesty of the Triune God who is mighty to save. And repent of your worry, discontent, and greed. As we go to confess our sins this morning, I want to encourage you to particularly consider these particular sins and I exhort you to lay these down at the feet of your Master and ask Him to replace them with faith, gratitude and a deep contentment.


Friday, October 06, 2006

A Few things

Watched Babette's Feast not too long ago. This is a beautiful, gloriously understated celebration of the good life, the good life of self sacrifice, following Jesus, loving our neighbors, and good food. Watch it in English. Then watch it again with English subtitles so you can understand the words of the songs. It's originally in some Scandinavian tongue. Do it.

I read 1984 by George Orwell this week. This classic little horror story tells the tale of futile passion, a scraping for life and beauty, damned and eclipsed by the all knowing, all powerful society of Big Brother. While the novel is not happy or cheery in any meaningful way, Orwell writes with a driving fascination, a hopeless desperation that is hard to put down. Redemption is pictured in the illicit sexual love of the protagonist and a cobelligerent which appears to be running quite parallel to what Leithart says Lawrence was up to in some of his work.

One of the most annoying elements of modern scholarship is our tendency to assume mass ignorance on matters that we feel intellectually superior concerning and to assume mass intelligence on matters that we feel morally superior concerning. Consider an example: It is concluded by some that early Christians added or deleted particular words or phrases from original manuscripts of Scripture because of their racial/ethnic prejudices (e.g. conscious dislike for Jews). We perceive ourselves as morally superior, and therefore their commissions or omissions are devious and thoroughly premeditated; no chance they just missed a word or meant a very slight clarification. Consider another example: It is concluded by some that since ancient Hebrews were stupid (that's the technical scholarly term) they wouldn't have noticed that some passages of Scripture repeated previously told events, occasionally told events out of chronological order, and weren't good in math as their early genealogies add up to a very young world irreconcilable with our modern convictions. So ancient peoples are stupid and brilliant. Get it straight. And don't confuse the two. Ever.


The October Classic

For whatever it's worth (which really isn't much) I'm calling a Subway Series with the Mets beating the Yanks in 7 games.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

3 Rivers and Catechism

My son is standing in the living room, a helmet on his head and shield and sword between his hands. He's staring intently into the space in front of him. Not seeing the lamp and table, the fireplace or the arm chair or sliding glass door which form the mosaic background of his field of vision. He is still and staring into the space as I walk into the room looking for my book. It's sitting in the space, in the field, down at the feet of the armchair where I left it last night. I squeeze past the knight staring intently and reach down and pick of the book. "Watch out, dad, there's a monster." I pick up the book and back slowly away. "Where, son?" "He's right there," he motions with a wave of his sword. I nod my head, "Good work, son, you get him." As I turn to leave the room, the relative silence is punctured with the sputtering spittle of oral sounds coinciding with the lethal advances of the knight's plastic sword. I smile with gratitude as I walk back down the hall. My home is once again safe, and I can rest securely knowing that my son is growing up a fighter, a cobelligerent in the cause.

I walk into our bedroom and my son is sitting up intently on the edge of the bed. My computer is steering a story of images and sounds on its final approach in search of the runway of rolling names and dates, the inevitable Farris wheel. The movie ends and I ask my son what he thought. He looks up, "It was a bad movie, dad." Slightly surprised, I ask him why. "There was bad guys, dad, and big, pig monster." "What happened to the bad guys?" "They got dead." My son's favorite movie right now is Bambi. I'm not really sure I understand. His last love, 101 Dalmatians, has only recently been eclipsed, and neither Toy Story or Madagascar seem to be able to compete, even though he's occasionally in the mood. Our old VHS version of Bambi is also in terrible shape. It flickers between black and white and color from moment to moment and the sound is kind of fuzzy. But my son sits on our bed, wiggling around with eyes on the screen. His body doesn't ever come to a complete cessation of movement. His hands poke and scratch, his legs flop and he routinely rolls to one side or another peer out among blankets and pillows, smiling, laughing and repeating his favorite lines like a litany. But Princess Mononoke was a bad movie. He watched intently just like usual, but he said it was bad and he didn't want to watch it again.

He's sitting at the dinner table and his spoon is on the floor again. I look at him and he looks back at me questioningly. I give in. I give him his spoon and give him the ultimatum. Eating resumes. A moment later, I hear a clink and thud. My son looks at me; I look at him. I ask him about our arrangement, what were the terms of the covenant? He repeats back that he wasn't supposed to drop his spoon. I ask him what happened, and says, "It, it, it went by itself." He pleads his case like an experienced trial lawyer. I pantomime, and ask him, "Did it go, bounce, bounce, bounce, aaaaahhhhhhh! off the table?" River laughs with smiling eyes and nods eagerly. I retrieve the spoon once more and repeat my instructions to be careful. The rest of the meal is fairly uneventful. Most of the food is making it most of the way into the proper orifices. There is conversation, there is communion, there is fellowship. And it's only at the very end of dinner that I hear the old familiar clink and thud and turn to see my son leaning half way out his booster seat examining the utensil down below. "What happened?" I ask. He smiles and springs his hand across the table "bounce, bounce, bounce, aaaaahhhhhhh!" and mimics the jumper's fall.

My son is in armor again. His helmet has a face guard that leaves a small slit for the eyes.
"Amy got me this helmet, dad." He's pacing up and down along the side of the bed.
"That's right, son."
"She's a good lady, dad."
"Yes, she is, son."
"I fight bad guys, dad."
"That's good. What else do you fight?"
"I fight dragons and monsters and bad ladies and bad guys."
"What does the bad lady do?"
"Her lips drip honey."
"What do you do when you see a bad lady?"
"What I do?" I haven't asked him this part before. I tell him the story of Joseph and how he ran away from the bad lady.
"Run away." He nods.
"In the beginning..." I begin.
"God made heavens and earth." He finishes.
"Who is the ruler of the day?" He's swinging his sword around and making exploding sounds.
"The sun!" He exclaims.
"Who is the ruler of the night?"
"The moon!"
"And the....?" I'm sitting at the table that serves as my desk. My head is turned. He's marching up and back stabbing the air.
"The, the, the... stars!"
"What did God tell Adam and Eve?"
"Do not eat the fruit."
"What did the dragon say?"
Playing the part he nods his head and speaks in his nicest and most reassuring voice, "You can eat the fruit."
"What did Adam and Eve do?"
"They ate the fruit."
"And what happened?"
"They were nakey-buns and they died." It's hard to explain to a two year old that Adam and Eve were naked before this and yet it was only afterward that they seemed to notice it. My son loves being naked, and doesn't really understand why it would be a problem. So that's why it only comes in here. He knows they did not obey God.
"But what did God do for them?"
"God made clothes!"
"And God promised to kill the dragon. Who killed the dragon?"
"How did he kill the dragon, son?"
"Died on the cross, and rose from the dead, and, and, and..." His voice grows to a slight cresendo, "and now he's alive!"
"Where is Jesus now?"
"In heaven."
"What's he doing in heaven?" My son is sitting down now, tugging at his helmet absentmindedly, one of his legs is twitching, kicking in and out. I turn back to look at him, and he looks up, smiling.
"Destroying all his enemies."

I'm really very grateful for my son. He's just two years old, but he very capably tells me the story of Noah and of Moses. He knows about the bread and wine at worship and regularly, he can be heard exclaiming from the back row, "He broke it, mom!" or "Memorial!" It's hard to want to tame such exuberance; it's hard to argue with such imagination and joy, such a militant, childlike faith.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Couple Poems

Finding I 85

Lights turning, bobbing, pointing
Fingers in the dark, two by two
Scrambling toward destinations
Wiping sleepy condensation:
Migrating herds in commuter formation


When I heard your name
I thought of martial art techniques and
Pictured an arboreal conquistador
Crouched, woven in sylvan banners
Perfectly still: coming without observation
Hands flayed, robes streaming behind
Spreading your wings over the world

And when I saw you enormous,
Flying through ancient trees like
A Japanese dragon enveloping
Landscape, salt sown in the earth,
Reaching with powerful hands
Our electrical wires, I said
The Kingdom of God is like Kudzu.


Baptismal Meditation

Baptism is very much like a wedding. There is a giving away and a receiving. There is a covenant being established before witnesses. And there is a sign of that covenant: in marriage, men and women often exchange rings and here at baptism, a person is marked with the sign of water in the Triune name. In both, something is significantly different after the ceremony than before. In marriage, a man and woman have become one, and in baptism God claims men, women, and children as his own and unites them to His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. But just as a marriage is not guaranteed success by having a perfect or beautiful wedding, or making sure that the man and woman really, really mean it when they make their vows, so too, baptism does not guarantee smooth sailing with God simply by doing the right actions or saying the right words. Baptism no less than a wedding is the establishment of a covenant, and that means that there are stipulations. If one is obedient to those requirements then blessing follows, but if one is disobedient there is only hardship and trouble. But of course no one follows after God without sin, this is why the central and foundational act of obedience we are called to is faith. Therefore, as you bring George here to baptized, I exhort you, Joffre and Kimberly to have faith not in this ceremony as an end in itself, but ultimately in the words, actions, and person of Jesus Christ. He is salvation. As you raise George through all of the situations of life, do it all in faith, and do it, nurturing the faith that Jesus says is already resident in these little ones. Faith is obedience to the covenant, and faith will always be blessed. You can rest in Jesus because He is taking your son into His bride, the Church. So believe the promises of God, and trust in Him.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Eucharistic Meditation

Paul tells us that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. And He goes on to quote Genesis, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:25, 31-32). In a very real sense the intimacy and communion of the marriage bed is a shadow of real communion and real intimacy with our God here at this table. Historically, the Church has understood that one way of reading the Song of Solomon is as an allegory of Christ and His bride, the Church. When we are poor lovers here, how is it any surprise that we are poor lovers in our own marriages? It’s a great mystery, Paul says, but he’s primarily talking about Christ and the Church! This is where the mystery of communion, intimacy and real satisfaction lies. It is no wonder that in every culture, the greatest evils often stem from sexual immorality. All of our sexuality is a mirror of our communion with God. A culture that despises the loveliness of the banquet of God will necessarily despise the beauty of the marriage bed. So do not fall prey to any of the pervasive errors of our day. Do not think you can eat both from this table and dabble at any other tables in the world. That’s adultery. You have one husband, Jesus Christ. Neither must you think that this table is relatively unimportant and that the less often you partake the better. That’s prudish and selfish. You are invited and admonished to come, to come week after week. Regular communion is part of true intimacy. And all of this must flow out into our lives. Christ says to you in the words of Song of Solomon, “I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!” (Eccl. 5:1).


Mark 12:18-13:2: Jesus, the Kinsman-Redeemer

All the indicators are that these conversations are taking place in the Temple. Jesus returned to the temple in 11:27 and it appears that Jesus continued there teaching until he leaves in 13:1 (cf. 12:35). He has talked with and judged the “priests, scribes and elders”, dealt with the Pharisees, and now he turns to the Sadducees and finishes off the scribes and then leaves the building.

The Sadducees and the Resurrection
We should remember that as far as 1st century theologians go, the Sadducees are the liberals. This is front and center with the fact that they want to argue about the resurrection, perhaps the central point of contention (12:18). Extra biblical sources indicate that the Sadducees were also some of the wealthiest Jews and readily compromised with the various political authorities of the day in order to keep up their lifestyle. We should notice however, that the Sadducees are both asking a theological question and using a completely absurd example.

The example is taken from the Kinsman-Redeemer provision in the law. Because the promises of God were tied to the land of promise and to particular families, God made provision such that if a man died childless an heir could be raised up through the nearest kinsman (Deut. 25:5-10). The story of Ruth and Boaz is the great example of the provision of this law. The Sadducees are using this provision to show what they consider to be the absurdity of the resurrection. But it should be pointed out that while in the abstract we might be able to imagine a situation like the example the Sadducees have come up with, the most likely reason why a situation like this would arise is because this fictional woman is being neglected, abused, and taken advantage of (cf. Gen. 38).

Jesus’ answer may be taken in a couple different ways, but the point is that Jesus takes God’s identity with the patriarchs as proof of the resurrection (12:26). This is strange since the patriarchs are dead, but He insists that this proves that God is the God of the living. How does this work? Often, great emphasis has been put on the present tense of Jesus words, claiming that Jesus is saying that God is the God of the patriarchs now, but again, that doesn’t help since they are dead now. What is far more likely is that Jesus is proving the resurrection by the promises of God to the Patriarchs. The God of Abraham and Isaac is the God who promised him the nations of the world and raised his son Isaac from the dead in a figure—which Abraham believed to be fully within God’s power (Heb. 11:19). And the God of Jacob is the same God who took Joseph, the beloved son, down to the grave of Egypt and then raised him up to become the life of Israel and the nations of the world. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God who surely and completely fulfills His promises. And in order to be faithful to the patriarchs God performed resurrections, and it is the same God who will and must fulfill His promise to everyone who has died believing the promises of God.

The Scribe, their Teachings, and their Doings

The Scribe comes, following on the question of the Sadducees, and “perceiving that he answered them well” (v. 28), and he asks about what this faith looks like. He and Jesus agree, and Jesus answers that he is not far from the Kingdom. But following this observation, Jesus goes on to discuss the teachings and practices of the “scribes.” First the discussion of their teachings is strange. What is Jesus’ point raising the question: how is the Messiah both David’s Lord and his Son? And why do the people respond gladly? It may be that Jesus is addressing some of the concerns that have already been raised by the Pharisees and Sadducees. David has a master, a lord that he submits to (responding to the Pharisees), and this master is the promised Messiah who is also David’s descendent, a son who is enthroned at God’ right hand, fulfilling His promises (responding to the Sadducees).

And Jesus continues His discussion by giving a warning about particular scribes (12:38-40). First, we should notice that Jesus doesn’t mind generalizing about a class of people, even when an exception to the rule is near at hand (e.g. 12:34). Secondly, notice in particular their habit of devouring widows’ houses and the very next scene where Jesus and his disciples witness this very thing taking place (12:43-44). While this woman is often held up as an example of piety, Mark Horne argues convincingly, that this isn’t Jesus’ point, and both Jesus’ previous warning and Jesus’ immediate response following confirm this. Jesus leaves and immediately begins talking about the destruction of the temple. The last straw is the fact that this religious establishment is being funded on the last pennies of widows. And Jesus’ words of condemnation remind us once more of the levitical judgment against leprous houses. The final act was to break the house down, throwing all the stones down. This is the very thing Jesus accused them of at the first, and now He has seen it with his own eyes: the temple is a ‘den of thieves’.

Conclusion & Application
This portion of our text forms a very nice, simple chiasm with female victims on either side and the greatest commandments and the promised Messiah at the center. And this is no accident: The gospel is the story of a man coming for his bride only to find that she has been grossly unfaithful and is now suffering for her sins by being abused and mistreated and enslaved by fathers and brothers and other suitors. But completely undeterred, the man offers his own life for the life of his bride, and he dies giving up his life for her, giving up his reputation, becoming her kinsman-redeemer. This is the gospel that you are the Bride of Christ and that he has redeemed you though you were barren and unfaithful. And you are called to respond, hearing these words gladly (12:37, cf. Prov. 3:24). David has a Son who is also his lord and master, and His name is Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!



In the modern day there are many attacks leveled at the Bible. But one of the most common is that the Bible is chauvinistic. The Bible, it is maintained, subjects women to abuse and approves of demeaning their status in the world. But not only do the feminist alternatives prove this ridiculous, the Bible itself contradicts this accusation over and over again. Let’s consider just two specific points of application:

First to the girls and women: You are called to the great and noble task of feminine godliness. You are called to this task in the face of the frenzy of worldliness. The world is taunting and shouting at you from all sides trying to make you believe that God is an old fashioned fool. The world wants you to believe that God despises your beauty. But these are lies from the evil one, and you must not listen to them. You must believe the Word of God and every bit of it. Peter exhorts you wives to submit to your husbands because this is incorruptible beauty. He says not only to adorn your bodies, but to adorn the hidden person of your heart with a gentle and quiet spirit because this is most precious in the sight of God. And to you girls who are not married yet, you also are claimed by God. He knows what is beautiful; fashions come and go, magazine covers wrinkle and fade, but the loveliness of a Christian woman is like gold in the eyes of God.
To the rest, men, fathers, and brothers, I exhort you to recognize the nobility of a godly Christian woman. Feminine godliness is precious in the sight of God. It is a stone worth months and years of your income. Are your wives and mothers waited on like the queens that they are? Do you take opportunities to bless them and do you speak highly of them to your children? Fathers, are your daughters full to brim with your affection and love? Men you have the opportunity to picture the gospel every day in your interaction with your sisters, wife, or mother. Are you a picture of Christ defending, protecting and loving your mother, your sister, your wife? Or are you a heretic, proclaiming a gospel of neglect and abuse?
Our aim should be to pour on the honor, pour on the love until the critique goes the other way. We want the Bible criticized because it over indulges women. We want the reputation of Christian men to be slandered by the accusation that we spoil and fawn over our women. This is because the gospel is rich and full. Jesus Christ did not short change anyone; his blood was not cheap. Our salvation was expensive, but Jesus loves his wife, the Church, and God the Father, loves his daughter in law so much that He gave his Son for her life. There is no higher view of women than the Christian gospel.