Monday, September 25, 2006
Ordination & Installation Service
Processional: (All Standing)Doxology
Celebrant: Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
All: And blessed be His kingdom, now and forever. Amen!
Celebrant: The Lord be with you!
All: And with your Spirit!
Celebrant: Let us pray: O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Hymn: Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire
Charge: Toby Sumpter, you have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God. Do not shun to declare unto your charge the whole counsel of God. Take heed to yourself, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you an overseer, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. We charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of your ministry. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses.
Celebrant: Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
Answer: I do.
Celebrant: Do you sincerely receive and adopt the doctrinal standards of this church, being set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith as amended and explained in our Constitution, as your own confession of faith, and as a faithful statement of the doctrine taught in the Scriptures?
Answer: I do.
Celebrant: If at any time you find yourself out of accord with any point in our Constitution or Confession, will you, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of these vows?
Answer: I will
Celebrant: Will you be diligent, with God’s help, to frame and fashion yourself and your household, according to the Doctrine of Christ; and to make both yourself and your household wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ?
Answer: I will.
Celebrant: Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of this church, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
Answer: I do.
Celebrant: Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord, unto whom is committed the charge and government over you; following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting yourselves to their godly judgments?
Answer: I do.
Celebrant: Do you now in the presence of the Church commit yourself to this trust and responsibility?
Answer: I do.
The Celebrant addresses the congregation
Celebrant: Do you, the people of the Lord, receive Toby Sumpter as a ruling elder in this church, commissioned to be a Minister of the Gospel among you?
Answer: We do, God helping us.
Celebrant: Will you uphold him in his ministry and submit to his leadership in the Lord?
Answer: We will, God helping us.
Celebrant: Let us pray: God and Father of all, we praise you for your infinite love in calling us to be a holy people in the kingdom of your Son Jesus our Lord, who is the image of your eternal and invisible glory, the firstborn among many brethren, and the Head of the Church. We thank you that by his death he has overcome death and, having ascended into heaven, has poured his gifts abundantly upon your people, making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry and the building up of his body.
(The elders lay hands upon the ordinand.)
Celebrant: Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Toby; fill him with grace and power and make him a ruling elder in your church.
Celebrant: May he exalt you, O Lord, in the midst of your people; offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to you; boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation; and rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant. Make him a faithful pastor, a patient teacher, and a wise councilor. Grant that in all things he may serve without reproach, so that your people may be strengthened and your name glorified in all the world. All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The elders extend the right hand of fellowship to the new elder.)
(All stand to sing)
You are God’s possession. He has purchased every one of you with the blood of Jesus, and He has placed the renewed image of Christ on your heads and named you with His name in baptism. But it is sometimes tempting to come to this table as the prodigal son returned to his father, believing that a place among the slaves would be most deserved. And yes God does own you, but that thought never crossed the mind of the Father of the prodigal son; the Father was looking for His son. He was looking and waiting for His son. And this is all to say that you are His sons and daughters. And He rejoices over you and he kills the fatted calf. This is that feast. This is the feast of forgiveness. So do not come in disbelief; your sins are forgiven. Rejoice and give thanks. You are the family of God; so come. You are the sons and daughters of the King; so come and eat.
Posted by Toby at 6:53 AM
Mark 12:1-17: Whose Image, whose property, whose fruit?
Here, Jesus begins speaking in parables again, signifying further judgment on the priests, the scribes, and the elders (Mk. 4:11-12). Jesus has just finished enacting judgment: the triumphal entry, cursing the fig tree, clearing the temple, and instructing His disciples to pray for its destruction. His authority has been questioned, but He has authoritatively answered their quibbling. Jesus authority is from John the Baptizer, who received his authority from heaven.
This story is not foreign to his listeners. Jesus is taking up a well known story from Isaiah 5 (cf. Ps. 80). But Jesus has told it all wrong. And His enemies feel the force of His words (12:12). We understand the parable as well as His enemies did (v. 12): the owner of the vineyard is God, and His servants that He sends to tenants of the land are His prophets. The tenants are the established Israelite authorities: the priests and Levites, the elders, and the scribes. What is the owner seeking? He is seeking fruit (v. 2). What do the tenants want? They want the inheritance (v. 7) which presumably is the vineyard. Therefore their plan, to some extent all along, has been to kill the heir. To wound and kill the servants of the Master is already to set the course.
This parable reminds us of the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard where Ahab is consumed with greed and lust for Naboth’s real estate. Through the instrumentation of Jezebel and her political manipulating, he kills Naboth and steals the vineyard. One of the striking things about this event is Ahab’s response when he is confronted. Elijah comes down at the word of the Lord and confronts Ahab, declaring his destruction and the destruction of his house. And Ahab repents! (1 Kg. 21:27-29) We often remember Ahab for his great wickedness (and that’s fine), but it should be remembered that he repented (of this sin, at least) and God forgave him. But notice the striking difference of the priests, elders, and scribes. Unlike Ahab, when they are confronted with their sins of murder and theft, they “sought to lay hands on Him”.
Not Regarding Faces
So they send some philosophers and logicians in to try to tape Him saying something treacherous, talking like a zealot—because that would take care of Him quick. Like Jezebel, they hope to manipulate the system so as to rid themselves of this pesky upstart. So they come to Jesus and address Him as a teacher, but not just any teacher, a teacher that doesn’t care (v. 14). We know you don’t care about anybody except for God. We know you don’t give a rip. But this is all the lead up, the set up for the pitch. They want to load Jesus up with a reputation for not caring about anyone which by their estimation should include Caesar or it will turn the people against Him. But Jesus shoots through their rhetoric. Notice that He seems to not be familiar with a denarius or the image of Caesar. We trust that Jesus was educated enough to be familiar with these basics, and so the “lesson” is for the men who have asked the question—as though this is a “no-brainer”. Whose image and inscription is this? The humor or irony in this question is what has come before: The priests and their groupies are afraid of everyone: they fear Jesus (11:18), they feared the people who followed John (11:32), and they fear the multitude that is following Jesus (12:12). And this is the very thing Jesus refuses to do: he does not regard the “face” of any man. And with a subtle bit of wit, Jesus asks, who’s face is this? I don’t remember.
Of courses they know because they do regard faces. And Jesus answers, speaking the truth: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. This is a question about taxation, and therefore this is a statement about private property. Just as Jesus has just indicted the Jewish Leaders of murder and theft, so He is demanding that those things which bear the image of God be rendered unto Him, and those things which bear the image of Caesar are to be rendered unto Him. Given the political and cultural climate of the era in which Jesus ministered and taught, it is unlikely that the people listening would have missed the force of His statement. Every faithful Hebrew knew that man was made in the image of God, but every faithful Hebrew should have also had some conception of the Fall and restoration of that image (Gen. 5:1-3). The promised “seed” would restore the image fully, but until then, the descendents of Adam and Seth would carry the “image” until God raised up the “Seed”. In this sense, Israel itself, as God’s Son (Ex. 4:22-23) collectively bears the image of God. This explains the faithlessness of worshipping idols; it was an inherent claim that the image had been restored before it actual had. Look, here it is! Christ is the Seed; He is the restoration of the image. In Him we are being conformed to His image, being changed from glory to glory.
Therefore when Jesus tells His questioners to render unto Caesar and to render unto God, perhaps one of the central demands, Jesus is making is that they hand over the people of God. He is implying, to some degree, that these Jewish leaders are Pharaoh, enslaving God’s people and refusing to allow them to worship their God.
Conclusion and Application
This passage has a lot to do with property. Who does the vineyard belong to? Who lays claim to its fruit? Who’s people are you? Who are you to be rendered to? One of the lies that confronts us in this culture is the lie of autonomy; the lie that people are completely unfettered and therefore deserve to be free just because. But this is an irrational claim. Men, women and children do not have a natural, inherent right to be free. They are dust. Rather, it is the image of God in man that demands justice. It is the ownership of God that compels us to give freedom. But slavery is inescapable: the only question will be, ‘who is your master?’ Whose image and inscription do you bear? Slaves have always been branded by their masters, and it is no different in the Church.
You have been set apart in your baptism, in baptism, you were anointed, christened, made to be an image of the Messiah. And at that time: The Name of the Triune God was placed upon. Therefore you are now free from everything that restricts you from faithful worship of God. That bondage has been broken for ever, and you have been summoned to bear the image and name of God with all honor.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
What are you praying for? What are you expecting any minute now, any day now? The Bible teaches very plainly that God uses the prayers of men, women and children to accomplish His ends. God used the prayers of Abraham to heal Abimelech and save Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He used the prayers of Isaac to open the womb of Rebekkah. He used the prayers of Moses to save Israel from the wrath of Yahweh. He used the prayers of Hannah to bless Israel with Samuel. God used the prayers of David to defeat the enemies of Israel. God heard the prayers of Jesus and the Apostles and healed and restored many people in Israel. And the Bible no where gives any indication that prayer has ceased to work the same way as it always has. Prayer is standing in the great assembly and court room of God as a member of the royal priesthood and prophets and prophetesses pleading our case before the Master of the Universe. So what are you praying for? Proverbs says that Yahweh hears the prayer of the righteous and James agrees, saying that the prayer of the righteous man avails much. And that the saints have not because they have not asked. How should things be different in your life? What needs work and fixing? Start praying for it now. And imitate the prayers of Scripture, particularly paying attention to the prayers of the Psalmist. Pray fervently, with every ounce of strength you have. Jesus sweat blood He prayed so hard. Call out to God, cry to Him, argue with Him, plead with Him, present Your entire case to Him. Of course He is God and He knows all things: But He is your Heavenly Father and He delights to give good gifts to His Children. Our reluctance and half-hearted praying is a Trinitarian heresy; it’s hyper-Calvinism fit for deepest pit of Hell. You serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who has stooped down to be with His people. And when we do not pray, when we do not seek His face, and wait expectantly for Him to hear and answer, we scorn the Incarnation, we scorn the Father, and we do not believe that the Spirit who is in us, is waiting expectantly to perfect our prayers to the King.
Posted by Toby at 6:50 AM
Friday, September 22, 2006
The Church as Body and Building
We know that the Church is a divine institution. In fact it almost seems sacrilegious to even call the Church an “institution”. The Church is just the Church, and the New Testament analogies fall largely within the categories of architecture and anatomy. The Church is the Body of Christ with Christ as the head, and the Church is a new Temple building with Christ as the chief cornerstone. One analogy seems to emphasize the organic nature and diversity inherent in the Church while the other stresses the permanence, stability, and unity of the structure. The temptation has always been to lean toward either one or the other conception at various points in history. In many ways these analogies reflect the simple reality of both one and many within God’s people. But consider how these conceptions might be reflected on issues of discipline. A more organic/anatomical leaning church or theologian would probably tend to be more flexible and forgiving to lapsed Christians who denied the faith and/or sacrificed to the emperor during persecutions in the early centuries of the Church. Other tendencies might be that ceremonies (while important) might vary to some extent, and polity/government/authority may be conceived of in broad terms, a succession of offices of leadership flowing down from Christ and the apostles. A modern ‘anatomist’ would be fairly catholic, liberal minded, perhaps emphasizing things like open communion, the inherent goodness of diversity, perhaps celebrating doctrinal development, and stressing lifestyle piety and morality. On the other hand, the 'structuralist' –the church or theologian with a more architectural view of the Church—might see apostasy with an eye more toward the damage caused to the church, generally considering repentance with more skepticism. These might also emphasize the details of ceremony, the mechanisms of spiritual transformations (e.g. the sacraments, and other sacramental rites), and doctrinal purity. A modern ‘structuralist’ might tend to emphasize things like apostolic succession, the longevity and significance of doctrine and dogma, and the inherent authority of the Church. Notice that with these two tendencies there is also an inherent picture of healing: the ‘structuralist’ sees deviation as an automatic problem and one doesn’t tend to reuse old materials. The ‘anatomist’ assumes difference in the body and a more natural self-healing mechanism in cases of harmful deviation with the necessity of amputation or surgery only in extreme circumstances. Where the problems are real or lethal, one hopes for the pessimism of the 'structuralist' approach, but where problems are perceived or transitory one hopes for the patience and optimism of the 'anatomist'.
Of course having both of these principles explicit in Scripture indicates that the two are equally necessary conceptions of the Church. And we can see that no one church has only tended in one direction. Most traditions of the church have leaned in different directions on different issues. While we might point out that the East has leaned toward the anatomical picture of the church and the West has leaned toward the structural picture of the church, exceptions abound. One view may be that Protestantism has been an attempt to steer a middle course, certainly not without failings. But the earliest reformers and protestants were Christians who felt the weight of necessity to be connected to the Church of Jesus Christ and His Apostles and yet the simultaneous obligation to preserve faithful practice and doctrine. These tendencies are witnessed in the tendency for some traditions to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit while others underline the centrality of the work of the Jesus Christ, the Son. Other segments of the Church have accentuated freedom while others have stressed the proper forms. And the list could go on an on. But the fact that this discussion has been around since the time of the apostles is encouraging. It means that this is a constant part of the conversation. The on-going call of the Church to be the Church means living, worshiping, thinking and arguing with an awareness of these two realities that the Church is called to reflect.
Posted by Toby at 7:27 AM
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Fibonacci Poetry and Covenantal Streakers
The following are a few thoughts generated by my Old Testament class last week. Naturally, beginning with Genesis, there had to be some discussion of Genesis 1-2 and what the Biblical answer is to Evolution and more generally, modern science.
Dr. Schwab, the Old Testament professor at Erskine, graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He earned his Master of Divinity and his PhD there, doing his dissertation on the Song of Solomon. His presentation was quite good, drawing somewhat (or heavily as the case may be) from Meredith Kline’s Images of the Spirit, Schwab outlined the biblical world as created to be the throne and glory of God. He demonstrated that throughout Scripture, light and fire and clouds are the glory that surround Yahweh, and that the thrones or habitations of this glory (e.g. the tabernacle and temple) were designed to mimic and display that glory. And in a glorious climax, Schwab point out that Genesis 1 is also designed to picture the cosmos as God’s dwelling place, His house and throne.
Unfortunately, for all of Dr. Kline’s insight and scholarship in this, Dr. Kline is also the originator of what is called the “Framework Hypothesis”. On this reading of Genesis 1, the creation narrative is a highly developed poetic device which only intends to picture the world in three tiers, and these tiers are “framed” by the days 1-3 running parallel thematically with days 4-6. The first three “days” are merely the spheres: heaven, earth, seas, and the last three days are the filling of those spheres with their proper rulers: Sun, Moon and Stars, birds and fish, and finally animals and man. In other words, Genesis 1 is not intended to describe the actual sequence or time involved in the work of creation but rather merely an extravagant spatial demonstration.
Now just so I’m being fair, it is quite true that I was a bit taken with this hypothesis a number of years ago. For about a year between my senior year of high school and the first half of my freshman year in college, I found this theory appealing and fascinating. But I repented!
But the real unfortunate thing is that all of Kline’s (and Schwab’s) insights on the tiers, the spheres, and symbolism can stand perfectly good and worthwhile without the conclusion that the “days” aren’t days. Why pit history and poetry against each other? Why undermine the very argument for the reflection of God’s glory by assigning meaning to words foreign to the text and context? Sure, we might point out that Gen. 2:4 uses “day” in a more general sense, but all through Gen. 1 we’re told how long these days are: they consist of one morning and one evening. It’s the context that determines that day means a week in 2:4, and it’s context that determines that a day means 24 hours in 1:2ff.
One of the interesting things about this is the fact that Dr. Schwab pointed out that he came to the text of Genesis 1 with the mind of an engineer. He was an engineer for a number of years before turning to theology, and he explained that he comes to this text with engineer’s questions. And that’s not all bad, but the story is telling. A poet would come to the text of Genesis 1, see the lovely parallelism and symbolism and never doubt for a moment the historicity of the poem, because every real poet knows that poetry is not an escape from the world, but an intensification of reality. Poetry is reveling in the real world with all of its oddness and peculiar ways. But the engineering mind comes to the text notices the poetry and immediately doubts the historicity of the text. And this is a very radical misunderstanding of the nature of symbolism and poetry. The implicit claim is that metaphor is empty. When the Lover says, “My love is like a red, red rose” it will not do for him to explain to his love that when he is speaking poetically he does not mean to be making any claims about whether roses are really red or whether or not there really exits a plant called “rose”. It will not do to say that all the poem is meant to express is the poet’s feelings/intentions of love. Of course that may be the main thrust, but if there is no such thing as red or roses then his metaphor is about as helpful as a glass hammer.
Or take the lines “And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep” from the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. Surely Frost means to say more than simply the distance he plans to travel before going to bed. But he certainly doesn’t mean less than that. Otherwise his poem is meaningless (or at least the last two lines are).
I have a theory of my own that there is a strain of Gnosticism running through some of the circles of the Reformed world that have embraced the Framework Hypothesis. Just to be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of being 3rd century heretics. Nor am I accusing Kline, Schwab or anyone else of heresy. I would be happy to worship with these and the many other dear saints that hold these views. However, what I am suggesting is that there are some similarities in thought between the Framework guys and some of the Gnostics. First, there is a disparagement of creation, and particularly the creation of time. While the Framework folks are not openly denying the goodness of Created matter, they are devaluing the importance of the creation of time: the day, the week, months and years which is ultimately a disparagement of the sun, moon and stars which is a disparagement of matter. Time is part of the created order. Time measures the movements of the burning, whirling bodies of heaven. And how we organize and spend our time is a direct response to the way God has designed the world. Will we live in conformity to His creative pattern or will we turn His poetry into a quadratic equation and mince words until it’s all a big charade with no actual binding force for anyone?
The other strain of Gnosticism is the prioritizing of thought or sentiment over physical reality. This is what their fibonacci poetry does, confusing words with numbers, as though words are merely meant to demonstrate values and dimensions. They do that of course, but they do more than that as well.
Finally, what I find highly interesting is that often the most ardent supporters of the Framework business are also enamored with a dispensationalism-lite, imagining “intrusions” of grace and law popping up here and there running around through the covenants like a couple of streakers at a baseball game. And to top all the fun off, they are usually quite satisfied with an amillienial eschatology because hey, it’s all gunna burn anyway. All the pieces seem to fit: a timeless creation meant only to reflect a greater reality above and beyond and a story with intrusions from the heavenly realm sputtering along like an old beater, waiting for the Last Day when we can leave it all at the junk yard and get whisked up to Elysium—er—I mean—heaven with the other 3 faithful saints.
And as I said before, I say all this with love for these brothers and sisters: just some thoughts and observations and feedback is welcomed.
Posted by Toby at 12:19 PM
Sunday, September 17, 2006
This is a covenantal meal. This cup is the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus, and this bread is His body for you. Every week when we gather here you are renewing covenant with your God. A covenant is an agreement with stipulations and blessings and curses which flow from obedience or disobedience. And this meal is a covenantal victory meal, this is tasting the first fruits of salvation and grace and blessing. Because of Jesus, God already accepts us as covenant keepers in the midst of our sins, in the midst of our trials and struggles. God invites us to the feast of the New Covenant as though all of the terms and requirements of the covenant have been kept. Because they have. And that only leaves one thing for you to do. Jesus says, “This is the work of God: that you believe in Him whom He sent.” So come and believe, eat and believe, drink and believe, and rejoice because God has already accepted your works.
Posted by Toby at 6:06 PM
Mark 11: Royalty, Authority and Faith
The Kingdom of God is established in the person and work of Jesus Christ: not ceremonies, not traditions, not good intentions, and not even right theology.
The Triumphal Entry
In this event Jesus is consciously fulfilling prophecy. Zech. 9 foretold of the coming King of Israel who would come riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey, who would fight the enemies of Israel and how Israel would be saved. A colt is a young male horse or donkey and a foal is just another word for a young member of the horse family. The whole context is obviously royal: Jesus sends his disciples, gives orders to the owners of the colt, and is decorated and hailed as a king. The shouts of the people are drawn from Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.” Psalm 118 is a victory psalm which celebrates an event where God has delivered Israel from her enemies just as He delivered Israel from Egypt. The one who comes in the name of Yahweh is “blessed” perhaps because he brings tidings of victory, or perhaps he is the one who actually accomplished the victory. But at the very least, the name of Yahweh is reason enough, because the victory has come from God.
Cleansing the Temple
Others have noticed the similarities between Jesus’ actions toward the Temple and the instructions for priests in Leviticus regarding leprous houses. When houses were infected it was necessary for the priest to come and examine them first (Lev. 14:33-38). Then the priest would return and see if the leprosy was still there, growing or receding (Lev. 14:39ff). Upon the second examination, the priest would make a declaration of whether the house was unclean or not. In our text, Jesus begins with the initial examination (Mk. 11:11), and then he returns to reexamine the house and declares it unclean (Mk. 11:15-18). Notice also what the priests, scribes and elders ask him: By what authority are you doing these things? (11:28).
Jesus’ words are also fitting. He quotes from Isaiah (56:7) which is a prophecy which describes how God will accept the prayers and worship of outcasts because of the presumption and wickedness of His people. He also quotes from Jeremiah (7:11) which is a prophecy of the coming destruction of the temple. This again fits with the “unclean house” motif: the house is unclean and needs to be torn down. This also sheds light on Jesus’ actions. The “den of thieves” language and the overturning of tables is not a condemnation of selling things in the Temple per se. It is a condemnation of mere formalism. Israel chanted “the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh” as though it were a good luck charm, all the while stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, and worshipping other gods (Jer. 7:4-10). Israel goes out like a gang of thugs and then returns to Yahweh’s house to divide the spoils. Given the Isaiah passage, Jesus may also be rejecting Israel as the family of God. Jesus is accusing Israel of “breaking and entering” (Heb: “parats”). They’ve been worshipping all the other gods of the world therefore this is not their house: they’re trespassers; they’ve “broken in”. Notice that Jesus’ actions are meant to disrupt the work of the temple: without the ability to buy animals, sacrifices cannot be offered. Jesus is the end of all sacrifice.
The Withered Fig Tree
The fig tree is Israel (1 Kg. 4:25, Joel 1:7ff, et al). Throughout the Old Testament, the picture of an Israelite man dwelling under his own fig tree is the image of Israel at rest, Israel under the blessing of God. And Israel as a whole is Yahweh’s fig tree which he dwells under and from which He seeks fruit. The fact that this fig episode sandwiches the episode concerning the temple is no accident. Israel has been examined (v. 11), found wanting (v. 13), cursed (v. 14), and disrupted (v. 15ff). But if that image is not clear enough about Jesus’ intentions, Jesus gives us another: “this mountain” (11:23). Jesus is not just randomly giving a moralistic lesson about prayer. Jesus is talking about praying for the Kingdom of God to come and for all of the other kingdoms to go (particularly Israel). “This mountain” is Israel. It may refer to the Mount of Olives in particular (11:1). But it is more likely, given the context, that he is referring to the temple mount, Mt. Moriah (cf. 13:1-3). Remember that the sea is also a picture of the gentiles throughout Scripture. Yes, believe when you pray; but pray in and with the will of God and forgive those who wrong you (v. 23-26).
Application and Conclusion
Where does Jesus get His authority? From the same place John the Baptizer got his: heaven. So where do you get your authority? Where do we get our authority? Our authority is also from heaven: God’s Word from first to last. Buildings and vestments are not authority. Nor does apostolic succession, covenantal succession or any other kind of succession automatically bestow the authority and blessing of God. The blessing of God bestows succession. The blessing of God bestows buildings and glory and beauty, but it’s never the other way around. Lively faith in the Triune God is the truest and mightiest authority in the world (11:23-24), and it enthrones us as kings and priests to our God.
Scripture says that “love covers a multitude of sins”. It does not say that it might or that it could. It says that it does. This means that if we are not regularly covering sins, then whatever we have, it certainly is not love. Our love for our brothers and sisters must be so great that we will do everything in our power to forgive, forget and cover over the blemishes of others. This begins with our attitudes: A firm commitment to this means that we must think the best of everyone. Paul says that love “hopes all things”. This means that it is a Christian duty to tell the story, shedding the best possible light on all people. Your mission as a Christian is to make everyone else’s reputation as good as possible. This is at least one meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember the words of Christ: But if you do not forgive, neither will your father in heaven forgive your trespasses. You will be judged by the standard with which you judge. And if you are picky and critical, then God will be picky and critical of you. And God knows that on even on one of our very best days, he’d have more than enough to condemn us all. But thanks be to God: in His great love, He has covered our sins. Therefore go and do likewise.
Posted by Toby at 6:04 PM
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Holy Trinity Weekly
Today, September 14th, is Holy Cross Day or Holy Rood Day in England ("Rood" is the medieval English word for "cross of Christ"). This day is also called the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross or the Triumph of the Cross and commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was built near the sight of Christ's crucifixion and burial. St. Helena, the mother of Constantine (the Roman Emperor who converted to the Christian faith and gave the religion a legal standing in the empire), is remembered for the discovery of the site in 325 after its destruction around 200 years previously. This feast day is in some ways related to the events of Good Friday, but where Good Friday is traditionally a somber remembrance of our Lord's passion and our own sins and failings, Holy Cross Day is a festival rejoicing in the victory of the cross, and in particular, Jesus' own words declaring that when He is lifted up, He will draw all people to Himself (Jn. 12:32).
A Collect for Holy Cross Day:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The sermon text for this Sunday will be Mark 11. The lessons for the day will be Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8, Ephesians 6:10-20, and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
Posted by Toby at 8:48 AM
James and John ask Jesus, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” And Jesus says, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And they say that they are, and Jesus responds, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized.” (Mk. 10:37-39)
We’ve considered the glory of God this morning, and the fact that everything belongs to King Jesus. While the disciples were apparently envisioning the glory of heaven, or the glory of some man-made kingdom, Jesus immediately thinks of His impending death. For Jesus, His glory is His death. And this seems rather strange. Isn’t His glory His resurrection? Isn’t His glory His ascension and rule in heaven? And perhaps they are to some extent, but Jesus immediately considers His death and points out James and John don’t know what they are asking for. And we would do well to ask ourselves the same question this morning: Do we know what we are asking for when we ask God to glorify His church, to glorify His name on the earth, for His kingdom to come? Do we know what we are asking for? I think we often think of Edenic pasture sides, perfect little children with tear drop eyes, and eternally moderate weather. But Jesus sees the cross as His glory. Are you able to drink this cup? Do you understand the baptism that you have been baptized with? Do you understand that we are drink the death and sufferings of the Christ? Do you understand that you have baptized into the death and sufferings of the Christ? And do you understand that this is glory? This is how you are to rule, not as the gentiles who lord it over them, but as Christ, serving and giving His life as a ransom for many. One other aspect of this glory is the concept of being weighted down. On the cross Jesus was weighted down with the sins of the world which in one sense is the most inglorious thing in the history of the world. But this is simultaneously the most glorious thing in that Jesus was completely innocent. You are drinking the sufferings of Jesus; you are drinking the cross of Christ. But this is your victory, this is your glory: that the Lord of Glory bore your sins and the sins of the world. And in a mystery, we do this as a memorial before the face of God, bearing up the weight of the world and reminding Him of His promises to save and bless the world through the blood of Jesus our Savior.
Posted by Toby at 8:47 AM
Mark 10:17-52 Intense Loyalty
This text is about the coming to grips with what God wants from us, what His claim is on our lives. We’ve talked about the fact of the Kingdom; that this kingdom was a declaration of doom to all other authorities. Herod wasn’t stupid for having all the babies killed. Jesus really is a threat. But He is a completely different kind of threat.
Jesus began by discussing marriage and family and children. This is Jesus’ call to discipleship. If you will be citizens in my kingdom, don’t divorce your wives. Jesus in effect says: Love them, bear with them, forgive them, and lead them sacrificially, as I am leading you. Next, you need to get off your high horse. You are not special. You need to come as children recognizing your weakness, recognizing your ignorance, and cling in faith to what has been revealed. And don’t get proud about that either. This prohibition by the disciples reminds us of their prohibition of the rogue exorcists in 9:38. If they are not against me, they are for me, Jesus has said. And the parallel here is quite strong. While children certainly are descended from Adam and bear those signs, they are some of the quickest to believe and obey. Relatively speaking, they follow with much more ease than a 60 year old man, set in his ways. Children are not obviously against Jesus; therefore they are “for” Him, especially if their parents are bringing them. While nothing is ever guaranteed by the parents’ faith, the family is the normal means of nurturing faith (1 Cor. 7:14ff).
The Rich Man
The rich man comes running (v. 17). While some have wanted to say that Jesus use of the law here is only in order condemn or convict the man, Jesus does not question the man’s response, but rather “loved him” (10:21). What we might notice is that all of the law that Jesus quotes is largely our duty towards our neighbor. The final test is whether the man will follow the law in terms of duty toward God. God doesn’t ask everyone to sell everything and follow Him. But sometimes he does.
Jesus explains to the disciples how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom. This is astonishing to some degree simply because the OT speaks about how material prosperity is normally a blessing from God for obedience (Gen. 20:14-16, Josh. 22:7-8, Ps. 112:1-3, Prov. 3:16, 8:18, 14:24, Is. 61:6). Of course there are just as many passages speaking about the potential dangers of riches, but the disciples’ reaction is forgivable if only for the fact that this man was a covenant keeping Jew. He was faithful; he showed himself to be wise and honest. These characteristics would seem to imply that his riches were a blessing from God (and perhaps they were!). But all of our possessions are God’s. Everything we have is a gift to be used for how ever long God deems right. Our attitude must always be that of Job (Job 1:21). This is why we tithe; this is why we keep the Lord’s Day. We give these tokens back to God in recognition that it is ALL His.
Notice that Jesus calls the disciples “children”. This is particularly significant given the fact that Jesus has said that all of his disciples must become like little children (v. 15). Notice also that Jesus gives a rather silly example of how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom. A camel going through the eye of a needle is quite humorous, and something that children would most likely enjoy. Of course, Peter points out that they have given up everything, and Jesus assures Him that this is right and good, and that they will be repaid everything along with persecutions and eternal life (v. 29-30).
The Road to Jerusalem
Here Jesus repeats for the third time what His plans are concerning dying and rising again. This is the first time He is not greeted with outright confusion or rebuke, but the response is still less then brilliant. James and John ask to be seated on His right and left hands in His glory. And of course Jesus’ response is to ask whether they have been listening. Do they know what His “glory” is going to be? They say yes, but the reader is left wondering. And given what we know, we understand that Jesus’ “right and left” point at least immediately to those who will be crucified with Him. But Jesus does not deny their request outright, he rather reminds them once more that service is the way to greatness (vv. 42-45). Notice too, that Jesus uses the word “ransom”. The same word is used in the Septuagint throughout the Old Testament to refer to the redemption of people and lands that were in some way enslaved or “owned” by someone else. This is the way the disciples are to rule in the Kingdom of Jesus: they are to give their lives as ransoms. They are to imitate Jesus, redeeming many from slavery.
The chapter ends with Blind Bartimaeus. This story has several connections with what has occurred over the entire chapter. First, Bartimaeus means “son of Timaeus” and “Timaeus” means something like honor or riches. In particular though, the root of this man’s name can refer to “something purchased”, or the “price of someone or something”. And given what Jesus has just said, that He plans to be a “ransom” for many. Bartimaeus is immediately held up as a shining example. Bartimaeus is “son of a slave”. This of course seems all backwards. The Kingdom is for citizens, right? Who are these citizens? Jesus is teaching his disciples to expect that the kingdom will be filled with these rejected, outcast, and enslaved ones. Secondly, notice Batimaeus’ manner. He just starts yelling. He begins yelling at the top of his lungs and the people standing around him are incredibly embarrassed. But he keeps yelling. He has no self-image that he is trying to protect. He has heard that Jesus is coming, and that is all he needs to know. So he yells, and he keeps yelling. Bartimaeus is acting like a small child. He knows what his problem is; he knows that he is completely helpless; and so he cries out to Jesus without another care in the world. Finally, remember that Bartimaeus threw aside his garment and then stood up and approached Jesus. Bartimaeus was a beggar, and it is more than likely that this cloak was everything that Bartimaeus owned. And he knew that nothing else mattered. In contrast to the rich man, Bartimaeus gave up everything he had to follow Jesus. Jesus declares that it is Bartimaeus’ “faith” that makes him well. And while he is completely free to go or do whatever he wants, Bartimaeus decides to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem (10:52 cf. 10:32-34) which shows us that he understands.
Conclusion and Application
God calls us to intense loyalty: all that we are and have must be placed in the service of the King. We live in the monarchy of King Jesus. And as we give all of it up to Him, He gives it all back to us (v. 29-30, cf. Achan: Josh. 6:19, 8:2). Living by the law of first fruits is practical Postmillennialism.
The word glory (in Hebrew “cavod”) literally means “heavy” or “weighty”. To glorify something is literally to make it weigh more, to make it heavier, to make something or someone substantial. Often, in the ancient world this is what literally happened. People “glorified” the king by bringing their riches to him. Kings and nobles were “glorious” in this basic sense by how heavy their bags were with gold and riches. And the opposite is true. When the glory departs, when something becomes ‘ichabod’, it follows that it has become “light” and “flimsy”. It has lost its substance; it is not something to be reckoned with. When we gather to worship we are entering into the Triune fellowship. We are entering into the eternal dance of the Father, Son and Spirit where each is giving up himself for the others, bestowing glory upon the others. It is important to point out that we are not adding glory to God, when we “give Him glory.” Rather, in Christ, we are adding all that we are to the glory that already exists. In other words, giving God glory means agreeing and declaring that everything is already His. To give God glory is to say that all riches, all honor, all substance of life and being are already found in Him. When we say “glory to God in the highest” or “All glory, laud and honor…” we are ascribing to God ownership, lordship of everything. There is a sense in which we are in the Triune Life every moment of every day of our Christian lives by the power of the Spirit and that is how we may rightfully say that we bring glory to God in our families, work, and recreation. But the Bible teaches that in worship, we are gathered up into the heavenly Jerusalem in a unique and powerful way. In a way that expresses and joins the glory of the Trinity that does not happen in family devotions or a personal prayer time (as good as those things may be). But the wonderful and mysterious truth is that in worship we cannot change God by adding or taking anything away from Him. But wonder upon wonder, God accepts our affirmations of His lordship and then turns and bestows His glory upon us. We surely cannot change God, but in the very act of worship, God is surely changing us, bestowing His glory, His weight, His substance upon us. God, the great King, comes and serves His people, as though we were kings, as though we were nobility. For Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
Posted by Toby at 8:42 AM
Monday, September 04, 2006
Educating for Worship
[The following is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote for Veritas Press' forthcoming Omnibus III. This excerpt was published in the recent September edition of the Veritas "epistula" e-newsletter.]
For many, Adolph Hitler was the conservative, “family values” politician. Hitler passionately cared about the German family. He argued vehemently for rights of common workers, he spoke out against the so-called “liberation of women” from their callings in the home, and he encouraged a community culture that welcomed children and large families. Nazi papers, movies and educational curriculum consistently encouraged sexual fidelity and chastity, and they honored the responsibilities of mothers and wives in the raising of children and supporting their husbands. Hitler furthered his claims of defending the sanctity of the family through his suppression and execution of homosexuals throughout the war. Gypsies were another people group generally known for their immorality and less-than-orthodox lifestyles. These Hitler likewise suppressed and persecuted in various ways, gaining respect from the average German family. When Hitler came to power, his economic policies dramatically improved the nation almost overnight. Jobs were created largely through efforts to mobilize Germany for Hitler’s plans of expansion. Highway systems spread through the country to enable quick transportation of troops and supplies. Factories and technological plants sprang up in months, producing weapons, supplies, food, clothing and, of course, all the Nazi literature and media central to educating the masses in the Nazi program. The famous Volkswagen Beetle also appeared on German roads at this time, encouraging and allowing the common German man the freedom of economical travel. While Hitler outlawed all trade unions and every other political party, he silenced a great deal of dissidence with prosperity. German workers were given holidays and vacation time, plenty of work produced plenty of income, wives were encouraged to be home-centered, new schools and educational programs revitalized education and gave many opportunities to the children and youth of Germany. These family values, this sort of successful conservative progress, looked to many like a new Christian Germany emerging from the ashes of the liberalism of the previous fifty years. Hitler was also outspoken against communism, the atheistic political program of the Soviet Union. Hitler claimed to have a high regard for the right of private property and many basic, everyday freedoms. Hitler and the Nazi Party seemed to Germany to present the way of progress and rebirth. Ever since the First World War, Germany had suffered terribly from economic depression, political indecision and infighting; here at last, Hitler and the Nazis presented a unified and confident alternative to liberalism and socialism.
Recognizing all of these supposed “blessings” of Adolph Hitler as ruler is important for pointing out how the Christian faith dramatically diverges from Hitler. As we have seen, Hitler’s plans were larger than just some idea of “struggle.” Hitler believed that in, addition to pure blood, the next most necessary provision for progress and evolution was Lebensraum or “living space.” In order to win the fight, to prevail in the struggle, Germans needed bigger backyards. This necessity justified the expansion of German borders. It was the greater good of progress and freedom for the Aryan race that warranted the invasion of France, the annexation of Austria and the lightening warfare (or Blitzkrieg) that conquered a number of other eastern European countries within days. It is important to point out that the Scriptures also teach that the Kingdom of God will expand. In fact Jesus sent his disciples into the whole world, to every land and people, to make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them how to live like Christ. In other words, King Jesus has sent His people on a mission of world conquest. But the significant differences between this world conquest and what Hitler imagined are in the method of conquest and the reason for conquest. Where Hitler believed that a pure race of Aryan peoples would subjugate all the inferior races of the world and use them as slaves, like so many cattle, the Great Commission of Jesus sends His people into the world to declare the good news of salvation to every land and race. In fact, faithful ministers of the gospel are declaring that there is only one pure-blooded man, and His name is Jesus, and He shed his blood for all the nations of the earth to make them pure and blameless before God. Where Hitler lifted up Aryan blood and condemned the nations of the world, we lift up the perfect blood of Christ and proclaim the salvation of the world.
This story of Hitler’s “wooing” of Germany also serves as a solemn warning to American evangelical Christians. Given that Christians are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of “family values” and “conservative politics,” we must recognize the slippery slope of following strategies like voting for the “lesser of two evils.” One of the most important ways we must protect ourselves and our descendants from the temptation of seeing politics as our savior must be the determination that all reformation begins in the Church. Faithful worship results in honest, joyful living before the face of God, and honest, joyful living is what results (eventually) in economic blessing, political stability and peace. Germany bought the lie that they were completely backed into a corner; they believed that Hitler really was the only way out. But Christ has promised that we are part of a Kingdom against which the gates of Hades will not prevail (Matt. 16:18).
And so here you are in high school in the 21st century. Why are you in school? Why are you reading this page? Why are you reading Mein Kampf? You may be wondering these very things yourself; or perhaps you are quite sure it was your teacher’s fault or that your mom or dad “made you do it.” But let me offer you an even more meaningful reason. You are studying and reading this book because you are training to be a faithful worshiper of the Triune God. Hitler was absolutely right: education’s central purpose is to train young men and women to be the most useful subjects of the kingdom. However, he was terribly wrong for believing that any amount of struggle–however heroic–would amount to anything in the blender of Fate. He was terribly wrong to believe that Germany, a plot of land in central Europe, was the pinnacle of civilization. In the end, all his dramatic posturing is like watching a small child wrestling in a sandbox with his eyes closed pretending to be doing deadly battle with some unseen foe. God looks down from heaven and laughs; He holds in scorn all those who set themselves against His Anointed. But we do well to consider: What is the chief end of man? What is the greatest calling of every subject of the Kingdom of God? Your central purpose from beginning to end, first to last, your greatest task and privilege is the worship and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This being the case, the central purpose of education is the training of Christian worshipers. The reason you are reading this essay is so that you might chant, sing, clap, pray, kneel, raise hands, listen, eat, drink and shout with understanding, reverence and joy to the end that the God of heaven and earth will send justice like summer rain and mercy like a downpour on the earth. The reason you study math, science and art is so that your imagination will be filled with wonder and awe at the Creator of the most mind blowing project ever: the world. And whether you are learning to read music or playing an instrument, whether your hand is holding a pencil or gesturing in the theater, you are training yourself for the warfare of worship. You are teaching your body gratitude; you are teaching your soul thanksgiving. There is hardly an adequate evaluation of your progress, but the best grade you can receive is the outworking of a thankful heart. If you have truly learned Algebra, if you have mastered the story of Western Civilization, if you can tell me the names of the constellations that whirl about our heads, then you will do it with laughter in your voice, you will do it with joy in your heart and gratitude in your bones. Worship is the point of learning because worship is the point of life. And worship is the point of life both because this is the chief honor of every faithful subject in the Kingdom of God and because it is the head of many waters, the council chambers of the King of all the earth. From the world gathered at the table of the Lord issues the great judgments of the King.
Hitler’s world is the story of eternal collision, unending struggle and violence. In that world blood and genes are the fundamentals of life, and pure Aryan blood is Hitler’s absolute best. But the Christian story scoffs at the small-mindedness of German nationalism even as it scoffs at American imperialism. The Lord of Heaven derides Hitler’s arrogant racism and sickening genocide as much as He abhors the slaughter of the unborn in our own country. But this is all the inevitable end of evolutionary thought. If the world is a galactic mosh pit, then bigger is better, might does make right. However, history tells the story better. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. And the sons of God are welcome at His table. The gospel declares the pure and undefiled blood of Jesus Christ, whose blood purifies every nation of the world. Hitler was right: pure blood will conquer the world. But ironically (for Hitler) that blood is the blood that was shed by an innocent Jewish man two thousand years ago. The sons and daughters of the Most High are family through the blood of Christ and are therefore invited to the family meetings. The Christian faith encompasses all of life, visible and invisible. Forgiveness cleanses the soul, and fruit proceeds out of the heart. In a mystery, the visible and invisible mingle and mix. In a wonderful glory God adopts us into His family with water and faith, He feeds us with His word and bread and wine. And we bless one another with words and smiles and hugs. Joy makes bones strong, and wisdom gives long life. We live in the world that God made, a world where heaven and earth touch, for we have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God. In Christian worship we ascend into the throne room in heaven to ask the Father for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Fate speaks, destiny beckons and all of the scrapings of Hitler are like sand in the wind. But the Lord speaks, the Triune God beckons and the prayer of the righteous man avails much.
Posted by Toby at 11:46 AM
I've been snickering about this for the last few days
Epitaph for an Explorer
By Ogdan Nash
Tiger, tiger, my mistake,
I thought you were William Blake.
Posted by Toby at 8:09 AM
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mk. 10:14-15)
We’ve said before that this is a table for the children of God. You can’t come to this table as an adult, all consumed with the cares and worries of this world. You must come with the faith of little children, trusting your heavenly father. But we should also simply recognize the literal reality that this is a table for the children of God because we are a church full of young children. There are almost as many children under the age of five as there are adults over the age of 18. And of course some of you are there in the middle. But the point is that these children are welcome here at this table and throughout this service because Jesus says that they are. Of course, we must be faithful parents. We must instruct them and they are obliged to obey us in the Lord. It is good and right that they should be learning to sit quietly and listen to take part in various parts of the service. But we must remember that the way they come here to Jesus is a model for how we are to come here to Jesus, “for of such is the kingdom of God.” This is also an encouragement to us: the noises of children in our service is not an unfortunate byproduct of covenant theology. The noises of children in our midst is a glorious testimony to the faithfulness of God as well as our obedience in bringing our children to Jesus for His blessing. Of course, teach your children to sit still; of course, teach your children to be quiet at the appropriate times and considerate of other worshippers. Of course, teach them to sing the songs we sing here week after week, and to say the simple responses in the service week after week: teach them to worship with us. But remember, they are children, and Jesus welcomes them here as children. Therefore believe God and rejoice.
Posted by Toby at 8:08 AM
Mark 10:1-16: Marriage, Divorce and Children in the Kingdom
Jesus has coming declaring the Kingdom of God. We know from Mark’s introduction that Jesus is the King, the Messiah of this kingdom. But this reality is being slowly unfolded for Israel and the disciples. That the Messiah must suffer and die and be raised up is a radical center for this kingdom, and we should expect that this will have ramifications for the rest of Kingdom Life.
Starting with the Obvious
All of Scripture is God’s authoritative Word. It is authoritative on every subject it discusses and is discusses every subject. This fact is established in Creation itself, indicating that God is sovereign and rules over everything. His opinion matters about all the details: how you decorate your house, how you keep your checkbook, and what movies you watched last night. And not only is God’s authority something that extends in space, but it is also something that extends throughout time. What is right or wrong on Tuesday is still right or wrong on Wednesday and Thursday. And what is true and certain on Sunday at Church is still true and certain throughout the week. This means that no amount of supposed scientific progress will ever undermine the Word of God. God already knows all of the questions and all of the answers; He’s aware of all the details and therefore we can trust Him, especially when it comes to marriage and children. But we are really good at getting truth wrong. We do this by isolating our thoughts from our actions (Js. 1:22ff) and we do this by replacing words with actions (Rom. 2:17ff).
Starting at the End
“…[W]hoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” We see here that while the Kingdom of God is an objective, public, and political fact, it is nevertheless not automatic. While it assumes jurisdiction, it never assumes blessing. Everyone is liable; no one is automatically in. The fact that Mark takes us directly from Jesus’ instructions on marriage to this incident with children is important. Given the fact that Jesus was teaching and then he was asked a question about divorce (10:1-2) and this event is followed by people bringing their children to be blessed, we can surmise that Jesus was teaching on some aspect of the institution of the family. As we seek to obey Jesus, we must first distinguish between “childishness” and “childlikeness”. The former we are to deplore (1 Cor. 13:11, Prov. 22:15); the latter we are to imitate (Mk. 10:15). An example of the former is the 38 year old youth pastor with a goatee and earring, trying desperately to be “relevant”; an example of the latter is the simple delight of a child raising his hands during the Lord’s Prayer or shouting “Amen!” with enthusiasm at the end of a hymn. Just obey. Just believe. Just follow Jesus. Sin is the great complicator; and sin doesn’t make sense. “The human heart is a factory of idols...Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Says John Calvin. “…the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments…” (WCF 24.6) But these are always steps away from the childlike faith we are to have with God. If God says to do it; do it.
Marriage and Divorce and Remarriage
Books have been written on this subject and there is some disagreement even among Bible believing Christians in the details. But the basic outline is simple. What God has made into one, let no man separate (10:8-9).
1. First, it is important to point out that divorce is possible: there is no such thing as “spiritual” marriage. Divorce really dissolves marriage. This also means that cohabitation, even for 30 years, is not marriage. There is no such thing as “married in the sight of God.” It is fornication and more akin to the ancient practice of men taking concubines.
2. Secondly, we must recognize that divorce is only morally allowable in cases of porneas (Mt. 5:32). This is a Greek word basically meaning “sexual immorality” and can refer to adultery, sex prior to marriage (Deut. 22:20-21), and desertion (1 Cor. 7:3,15). Paul also instructs Christians who are living with unbelieving spouses to remain with them as long as they are “willing” to do so, or “pleased to do so” (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Certain levels of abuse would qualify a believer to lawfully divorce his/her spouse on the grounds that the offending party is not “willing”, but this is to the end that we are pursuing the “peace” of God (1 Cor. 7:16).
3. Thirdly, where divorce is permitted, it is not necessary; Christians should always hate divorce just as God does and seek to avoid it as far as it depends upon them (Mal. 2:16). The assumption however, is that in these cases where it is morally allowable to divorce, it is also lawful for the innocent party to remarry.
4. Fourthly, we should also distinguish between civil and moral law or between sin and crimes. While under the Old Covenant it was a crime and a sin to commit adultery (for example), covetousness is not/cannot/should not be a crime. Nor has sin been committed every time a civil law is broken (e.g. Acts 4:18-19). Divorce was lawful under the civil code of Israel, but it was no more morally righteous than now (Mk. 10:4-5). Those who divorced for any reason are required under the moral law to repent of that sin and remarry their offended spouse, if possible, or remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10-11).
5. Fifthly, death or remarriage make full reconciliation impossible (Dt. 24:1-4, 1 Cor. 7:39) and in such cases the offending party must make all efforts to restore the relationship as far as possible and then (in my opinion) he or she is free to remarry.
6. Finally, we should note that those who divorce their spouses unlawfully and remarry both commit adultery themselves and cause adultery to be committed. The sin of unlawful divorce multiplies further sin very quickly (Mk. 10:11-12). We should also remember the way these particular sins affect children.
Conclusion and Application
Apart from evangelical faith in Jesus Christ born, suffered, dead, buried, resurrected, and ascended, marriage and family is like hitting your finger over and over again with a hammer. You cannot get this right without faith and childlike trust in the crucified Messiah. It is a cruciform marriage, a cruciform dining room table, a cruciform work ethic, cruciform child rearing, a cruciform marriage bed, cruciform thoughts in your head, cruciform words in your mouth, and cruciform actions with your body. Jesus is Lord.
St. Paul says that the Incarnation is a scandal, a stumbling block to the wise men of the age. And this is still true. The Incarnation is a scandal because we are saying that the Infinite has fingers and toes. We are saying that the Eternal was born and died. We are saying that the Omniscient became man and had eyes and ears with human limitations. But this isn’t just scandalous for the philosophical wonks who don’t think that makes sense. This isn’t just offensive because it makes logicians’s heads hurt. This is offensive because we are claiming that at the center of the world, one man did it right. At the center of human history God became man and was a perfect toddler. He went to school and grew up pleasing God and man. This Man spoke perfectly, walked perfectly, laughed perfectly, dressed perfectly, ate perfectly. The perfect, glorious God became man, and lived life with perfect glory. This is a stumbling block because it offends man’s pride. We don’t mind admitting that we’ve made a few mistakes here and there, and hey no one’s perfect, right? I’m just a sinner, saved by grace. But the Incarnation is the renewal of God’s claim on everything. He made it all; it’s all His; and He knows how it’s supposed to used. And He did in Jesus. The incarnation is not only scandalous because God became human (though, that is true), but it is also a smack in the face because we are human. But Jesus is Lord of all. He is Lord of your kitchen sink; He is Lord of your bathroom. He is Lord of your car stereo; He is Lord of your tool box. He is Lord of your job; He is Lord of your recreation. He is Lord of your computer; He is Lord of your eyes and hands and thoughts. The Incarnation is this offense, and therefore we must embrace it and we must not be surprised when others are offended. Jesus is Lord.
Posted by Toby at 8:05 AM
“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:49-50)
Throughout the history of the Church, this meal has been considered a sacrificial meal. Sometimes this has caused confusion, and sometimes people have been mislead by the teachings of careless men. But nevertheless Scripture is clear that this meal is the meal which celebrates the last and final sacrifice. It is the body and blood of our Lord for our salvation. It is important to point out that we are not performing the sacrifice again, as though Jesus could die again. His resurrection has secured his life and death cannot have him ever again. But His death continues to give us life, we who have not yet been raised up like Him. This is the communion, the koinonia, the fellowship in the body and blood of Jesus which we share in. It is the salt which gives us our flavor. And it also works as the fire of God, testing and trying our deeds. The Corinthian church was condemned by Paul for their rivalries and competitive spirits. Jesus has likewise exhorted the disciples in our passage today to be servants of all and have peace with one another. Salt means peace in this case. This is the meal of peace. This meal is a memorial before God the Father that He is at peace with us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This meal is a memorial that we eat before each other declaring to one another that we are at peace with each other. That’s the whole point of the passing of the peace before this meal. Finally, this is a declaration to the world of the Lord’s death until He comes. This is a declaration, an olive branch extended to the world, an offer of peace for their salvation. Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.
Posted by Toby at 8:04 AM
Mark 9: Sufferings and Glory
Introduction and Overview
This chapter puts a lot of emphasis on the disciples. He chooses three to witness the transfiguration (9:2), they don’t understand what he means by the resurrection (9:10), the disciples cannot cast out the demon (9:18, 28-29), his disciples still don’t understand Jesus’ words about his coming death and resurrection, they are confronted for disputing about greatness (9:34), they are concerned about other miracle workers (9:38), and finally Jesus warns his disciples about people and body parts that cause sin (9:42ff) and exhorts them to have peace with one another (9:50). Putting all of this together, it’s quite likely that some of the disciples believed they had been exalted to some higher position than others. Some had witnessed the glory of Jesus and others had failed to cast out a demon. And this supposed greatness seemed like enough to even forbid others casting out demons. Rivalry is emerging in the ranks of the disciples but all in a quite ironic way: they don’t understand what they are pushing in line about. They don’t understand that Jesus is pursuing death (9:10, 32).
If chapter 8 was the center of the book of Mark, the hinge upon which the book turns, chapter 9 is the second beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Here Jesus is claimed as the “beloved Son” by the Father just as in chapter 1:10-11, and while the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned, we can recognize the cloud as the glory cloud of the Spirit (Ex. 24:16). The event reminds us of Moses’ “transfiguration” when he returned to the camp of Israel with a glowing face (Ex. 34:29ff). Peter’s suggestion about building the tabernacles is probably related to this fact. He knew that the glory cloud came down off Sinai and filled the tent of meeting, and thus perhaps the same thing would happen here too (Ex. 40:34). The connection to Elijah may also be the exposure to God’s glory (2 Kgs. 2:11). We should also think of Stephen’s face before he died (Acts 6:15ff). This indicates that the transfiguration should not be viewed as a revelation of the deity of Christ, but rather the true glorification of humanity.
The Demon that Won’t
The Transfiguration is obviously also a kind of preview of what Jesus’ glory will be like. This being the case, the absence of Jesus and the ministry of the disciples is also a preview of what it will be like when Jesus is in His glory (the way things are now). The kind of life that Jesus calls his disciples to is a life of faith, prayer and fasting (9:23, 29). In our excitement to recover a culture of feasting and joy, we must not neglect the disciplines of prayer and fasting. We live in a culture that cannot understand going without food. But throughout Scripture, we see examples and hear exhortations to this kind of sanctification. When we pursue this in faith, looking to God to deal with us, He blesses His people and sanctifies them. We should also notice that Jesus returns from the top of the mountain to find a faithless Israel, rather like Moses returned and found Israel worshipping a calf. In this case the father is weak in faith and the disciples have not given themselves to prayer and fasting. Jesus addresses himself to this “faithless generation” (9:19) which reminds us of the generation that fell in the wilderness because of their unbelief.
Suffering and Loyalty
There are a number of things we could consider about the final half of the chapter, but I want to focus on just two themes. Jesus continues to bring up suffering, death and resurrection (8:31ff, 9:9, 12-13, 31, 35, 43ff). The final promise of the passage is “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” Jesus is calling his disciples to be “living sacrifices.” Their saltiness, their potency is found in their willingness to be servants, receiving and nurturing children, and cutting off their weaknesses (9:43-48). The Christian faith is for people with the stomach to perform surgery on themselves. But the reason that all of Jesus’ disciples must be willing to suffer is that this is how Jesus will be glorified. And it displays our loyalty (9:40-41). The Transfiguration flowing right into the demon possessed son is the gospel wound up together. It’s the Son in glory coming down out of heaven to suffer under the power of evil, with many plots to kill him, and finally conquering evil in death (9:26). And finally being raised up to a new life of freedom (9:27). The disciples are deaf and blind and mute like the men that are being healed by Jesus, and yet the Father says, “This is my Son, hear him!” (9:7)
Conclusion and Application
Jesus is not a stoic. He did not come to earth to bestow happy feelings and the Zen to just “go with the flow”. Jesus came to be king. He came to be glorified. He came because He wanted to save the world from sin, conquer Satan, and establish a kingdom that would never end. And He did. But it’s important to remember that when Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first…” He isn’t saying that’s a stupid desire, or “You shouldn’t want to be first.” The Christian faith isn’t for people who want to lose. It isn’t for people who are apathetic about life, the world or good things. The Christian faith is for people who want power and authority. It is for those people who are hungry for honor and glory. It’s for people who want to dig riches out of the earth, and send people into the outer galaxies of the universe. The Christian faith is a universal claim, the claim that Jesus is Lord. But the point is that Lordship doesn’t come through bossiness or ego trips. You were baptized, Paul says into Jesus’ death, and that’s a glorious thing. As many of you that have baptized into his death are partakers in His sufferings. But these sufferings are for your glory and for your honor. The way up is down. The way to life is death.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!