Monday, December 17, 2007

Grace and Christology

My time at Erskine Theological Seminary has been well spent. Several professors have made my experience very worth the time, energy, money, late nights, etc. But easily one of the "surprises" of my time here is Dr. Don Fairbairn. I say surprise only in the fact that I did not know him or of him until I was actually already here and getting ready for classes. Fairbairn is the Patristics professor at Erskine. I confess that I already had a predisposition for liking Greek and Latin and the early Church fathers, but Fairbairn has succeeded in impressing me on numerous occasions with his knowledge of the early church, his grasp of the theological-political terrain, and his ability to present and explain key themes and developments in profoundly understandable ways.

Perhaps one of the great blessings of Fairbairn is his ability to sympathetically present many of the practices, positions, and developments of the early church and yet remain wholly comfortable and thankful for his historic reformed heritage. This is one of the great strengths of all of my favorite professors at Erskine. They have the ability to appreciate, study, discuss, give the benefit of the doubt to, and even borrow from the riches of Christendom throughout the ages without feeling threatened, becoming discontent, and remaining thoroughly committed to serving the brothers and sisters right in front of them.

I've just finished Dr. Fairbairn's doctoral thesis which was published in book form as Grace and Christology in the Early Church published by Oxford University Press. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in early Christian studies and particularly those folks interested in such relevant issues as 'union with Christ', 'participation in God,' as well as the various paradigms for understand the nature of grace and the person of God. There is much here to digest, enjoy, and continue to study.

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The House of Bread for the Hungry

Each year at this time we remember the fact that Joseph was required to return to the city of his fathers for the Roman census. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem by order of Caesar Augustus. But this is not the first time Bethlehem has appeared in the Bible. You’ll remember that Naomi and her husband and sons left Bethlehem at the beginning of the book of Ruth. They left the city of Bethlehem because there was a great famine; there was no bread in the land. This is highly ironic because the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The “house of bread” had become empty and barren. This symbolism is pushed even further by the fact that shortly after Naomi’s relocation, Naomi’s husband and two sons die. Naomi has become literally barren. She has no husband and no sons. It is in the midst of that barrenness that Naomi returns to Bethlehem. Just after John the Baptist is born, Zechariah regains his speech and sings out, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” A similar phrase is used in the book of Ruth; at the height of Naomi’s barrenness, she hears that the Lord has visited his people by giving them bread. And of course the rest of the story bears this out to fullness. Naomi is given not only bread but a daughter and a son and a grandson. The same is true here: God raises up salvation and visits us in the midst of our barrenness. When we were powerless to do anything, he saved us. When we were lost and guity, he came and forgave us and declared his love for us. In other words, this is the house of bread, the true Bethlehem, where God feeds the hungry and the empty and the barren. What do you see in your life that is missing, that aches, that burns, and that you are completely powerless to change? What seems utterly impossible to you? This bread is God’s oath to you, it is his solemn word that He is the God who visits his people. He gives children to the barren. He has given a son to a virgin. For with God nothing is impossible.

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Third Sunday in Advent: Exodus XX.12: Sixth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, as we consider the sixth commandment this morning we ask that you would empower your word by the Holy Spirit. And wherever we have made any peace with sin and death, grant us the strength and courage to take up the fight. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Introduction
We consider the Sixth Commandment again this Lord’s Day, and in particular its application to warfare and unsolved murders. As we celebrate Advent, it is necessary to consider the Lord Jesus as the warrior who comes to destroy death.

The Priority of Living
Moses says that the prohibition against murder does not preclude lawful warfare (Dt.20:1). Not only will this warfare be permissible, but Yahweh will go with them into battle. This means that Israel may not be afraid because Yahweh will fight for his people and save them (20:2-4). Because this is the case, God does not need every able man. Men may return who have not yet dedicated their homes (21:5), eaten of newly planted vineyards (21:6), are betrothed and not yet married (21:7), or even fearful (21:8). This also implies the fact that warfare is for the establishment of peace and life (21:10). Those who have not tasted of those elements of life are sent home to enjoy them. Likewise a proclamation of peace is made to those cities which Israel goes to war with. These guidelines also make the significant distinction between combatants and non-combatants (20:13-14). There is also a distinction made here between the typological holy war that Israel engaged in to conquer the Promised Land and those cities that are far off which are more normative for us today (20:15). The priority of life is even revealed here in that the “utter destruction” of the nations of Canaan is required so that Israel may not learn their abominations and sin against Yahweh and fall under his condemnation (20:18). This protection of life is to extend to the rest of creation as well: Israel was not to destroy food-bearing trees during military campaigns and sieges (20:19-20).

Putting Away Innocent Blood
This love of and protection of life even extends to someone who has been found “slain” and it is not known who “killed him” (21:1). The atonement for this guilt is provided by the elders of the city nearest to the event (21:3). Moses says that when murder occurs it brings guilt not only on the one who performed the act but also on the whole land and the people (21:8-9). This is surely why Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to the Lord (Gen. 4:10). This establishes the fact that God has designed the world with more than one kind of gravity. This is the gravity of guilt. Guilt demands blood; and when humans do not accept the blood that God provides, they seek out other blood instead. A new heifer’s neck is broken by the elders in “living water” while they take an oath before the priests declaring their innocence of the matter (21:4-7). This oath includes the prayer that God would not “set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people” (21:8). This is at least one reason why Christians ought to be busy erecting a witness against various forms of legalized murder; we plead with God not to place the guilt in our midst.

Conclusions & Applications
As we celebrate Advent, we celebrate the coming of the Living One, the One who came to destroy sin and death. We celebrate the fact that our God has come with us into our warfare. Yahweh has come with us into battle, but notice that instead of only sending a few of us home, he has sent us all home to live. He has gone into battle alone in order that we may build homes, plant vineyards, and love our wives. When sin and the flesh and the devil were laying siege to our lives, our hopes, our world, Christ our King came as our champion, our hero to fight for us and send us home to live and rejoice in life. He came to chase away darkness and death. This is the gift of salvation.

But since God has won this gift of life for us, since Advent celebrates the gift of God’s life breaking into history, we need to remember what this life is for. Remember that Yahweh brought his people out of Egypt in order for them to worship him. Life is for worship. The Psalmist says “ I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord,” and “Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? (Ps. 118:17, 30:9). Or, “all my bones shall say, “Lord, who is like you…?” (Ps. 35:10). Murder fundamentally robs God of worship that he rightfully deserves. And when we refuse to worship, we are refusing to fully live, we are at war with life.

In an ultimate sense, Jesus our Champion sends us home to build His house, the Church, to rejoice in the produce of His vineyard, with wine at his table, and to rejoice in our families, in His family. In the midst of the sin and death and darkness that surrounds us, worship itself is an act of war. But ultimately it is a kind of defiance against war itself. Because God has come and fought for us, our warfare has ended. He sends us home to live, to rejoice in the gifts of life because he has removed the guilt of our sins. He has provided the blood, and therefore our guilt has been atoned for. God has not allowed the guilt of our sins to remain in our midst. Your sins are forgiven. Therefore go home and live and rejoice.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, you sent your Son to destroy the darkness of death and sin. You sent your light into the world in order that we may live. You have redeemed us and given us life. You are our champion, our defender, and our king, and therefore we declare your praise. We worship you, and we glory in your wisdom.

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Suicide vs. Martyrdom

Suicide, many have pointed out, is one of the most selfish acts a person can do. When a person takes their own life, they are not only despising God’s gift of life, despising God’s image that is in them, but they are effectively refusing to serve anyone else but themselves. They have decided that their own feelings, worries, hurts, pains, and suffering is the most important factor in life. At the same time, we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to grow up and die. We might even point out that Jesus had the power to prevent his own death; if wanted to he might have called down legions of angels to protect him. But this is the point: Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for sin. Jesus came to forfeit his life for the life of the world. Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin and grew up in order to destroy death. Suicide is retreat from life, an acceptance of defeat, a refusal to fight. The martyr, by contrast, also dies, but he dies still at war with sin and death. The martyr dies, but with the very blood she spills, she expects vindication and justification and resurrection from the Lord. Suicide is murder. It is self inflicted murder, and God hates it. But martyrdom is the call of every disciple. If you are a disciple, you have a cross to carry. Your cross may be health needs, financial concerns, family struggles, sins of the flesh, or a myriad of other possibilities. But your cross was designed specifically for you. It is exactly what you need in order to do battle with sin and death. But we are not called to this self-sacrifice, this martyrdom as though going to defeat. We are called to take our crosses as acts of defiance, acts of war, as soldiers who see that the only way to find life is to lose it, the only way to be great is to become the least, the only way to live is to die. Christ did not come on a suicidal mission; Christ came as a King who leads his people into life. And in order to secure life, he has even defeated death, even the death of a virgin’s womb.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life is for Worship

J. Douma, in his Ten Commandments, says that life must be understood fundamentally as for praise. Yahweh brough Israel out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage in order that she might worship him at the holy mountain. Pharaoh's genocidal dealings with Israel were not merely wicked in themselves, they were actions which resulted in fewer Israelites to worship Yahweh. Life is for worship. Living is for praise. Thus the psalmist, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord,” and “Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? (Ps. 118:17, 30:9). Or, “all my bones shall say, “Lord, who is like you…?” (Ps. 35:10). Murder is not merely taking the life of a human being; murder is destroying one who has the ability and calling to worship the God of the universe, to declare his wonders, to sing his praise. To (unlawfully) take human life is to rob God of worship and potential praise.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Homily: 2 Peter 3

Advent is a little bit of a mysterious season to celebrate. Historically, as the season emerged in the Christian Calendar there were two strands, one emphasizing joy and festivity and the other penitence and fasting. Interestingly, both of these emotions have continued to mark the celebration of Advent down to the present. Because of this some liturgical scholars complain and ask, ‘well which is it?’ But the idea that this season would be both joyful and yet filled with some penitence and some tension seems exactly right if we consider what it is we are celebrating.

Advent is the season that leads up to the Feast of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord. But it is important to point out that the Church calendar is not elaborate play acting. We are not acting as though God has not yet come to us in Jesus. Rather, the Christian year teaches us how to pray and how to think and live as disciples. In Advent, we consider the many ways in which God has come to the aid of his people all culminating in the birth of Emmanuel. But as we survey these various comings of the Lord, it is immediately obvious that when God draws near it can be a terrible and exhilarating thing. When God comes to his people there is generally a good bit of fear and trembling. Even the “good guys” are fearful and filled with awe and wonder at the power and majesty of God. And the “bad guys” are usually not only terrified and ashamed, their wicked deeds are brought to light and they are destroyed.

Peter’s letter was written to first century Christians (probably Jewish converts in particular) who were being hounded by false teachers. These false teachers were probably various sorts of Judaizers, Jews who were pressuring Christians to cling to the old Jewish laws, temple, and the city of Jerusalem. But Peter warns these Christians of the coming “destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1-6, 12, 3:16). He has already insisted that the prophecies of Scripture are not of “private interpretation” and that the “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1:20-21). His epistle is meant to remind his readers of the prophets and the apostles (3:1-2). Likewise, Peter commends the writings of Paul to his readers (3:15-16). When Peter refers to the Scriptures, he includes the writings of Paul and very likely the gospels themselves. Given the historical context of this letter, the specific “prophecies” that Peter has in mind are those which foretell the coming of Jesus to judge Jerusalem (Mt. 24, Lk. 21, Mk. 13). And Paul wrote extensively concerning the Judaizers. The whole point of being circumcised and keeping ceremonial laws was to be able to draw near to God in the temple. Paul, Peter, and the apostles insist that baptism and faith in Christ is all that is necessary to draw near to God. And if King Jesus is planning to destroy the temple, turning back to that place is sure destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).

Peter references other great “advents” of the Lord (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, 2:4-9), and calls upon his readers to be steadfast in the promises of God even as they wait for the “promise of his coming” (3:4). He says that the destruction of Jerusalem will be rather like those events of fire and water. When God comes it won’t be easy, but if believers cling to the promises of God and keep the commandments of God in holiness and godliness (3:12), they will be saved. Even though heaven and earth will pass away, the word of the Lord Jesus will not pass away (2 Pet. 3:10-13, cf. Mt. 24:34-35). Therefore Peter calls upon his readers to be diligent to be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless (3:14) and to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (3:18). Since we have been brought into the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (3:13), we are to pursue living that life, making our calling and election sure (1:10).

Even though Peter is addressing a particular historical circumstance, his words have great bearing on our lives. We might apply his warnings and admonitions to our historical and cultural situations. Do not merely think that going back to the “good old days” will save you or your children. Do not think that our country is exempt from the judgments of God; America is not the “kingdom of God.” Beware of false teachers. These “wells without water” are political idols, celebrities, military might, and everything that promises greater security than the Word of God.

Advent is both a joyful and penitential season because when the Lord comes, he comes in glory and holiness. Our God is a consuming fire. God is at work building his house in you and in his church, and when the glory of God comes and fills the house, it consumes and tests the materials of that building (1 Cor. 3:9ff). Just as Peter called his readers to faithfulness to the Scriptures, keeping the commandments of the prophets and apostles, in steadfastness and purity, so too Paul promises that our works are tested and revealed by the fire of God’s presence. When God comes into the presence of his people in worship, when he comes in judgment in families, in nations, and in entire cultures, he destroys the wood, hay, and straw which can be burned up. But those who are faithful and build on the foundation of Jesus Christ will build with the silver and gold and precious stones which will endure to the end. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). All the advents of God are but small pictures of the Last Day, the great and final judgment where we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That will be a great and terrible and wonderful day. Therefore confess your sins, turn away from every sin, whatever entices you away from the grace of God, and rejoice in the sure salvation of Christ. Advent is a call to confession and repentance, and Advent is a call to believe the sure word of God that he is longsuffering toward us not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. That we may be found in him, not having our own righteousness but having the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ, all the glories of a life marked by the work of the Spirit. This is good news indeed.

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

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Fairbairn on Cassian on Christ

Don Fairbairn, in Grace and Christology in the Early Church, cites the church father Cassian's reponse to Nestorious, saying, "If it seems unreasonable to you that Mary could give birth to God who was anterior to her, how will it seem reasonable that God was crucified by men? And yet the same God who was crucified himself predicted, 'Shall a man afflict God, for you afflict me? [Mal. 3:8] If then we may not think that the Lord was born of a virgin because he who was born was anterior to her who bore him, how could we believe that God had blood? And yet it was said to the Ephesian elders, 'Feed the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood' [Acts 20:28]. Finally, how can we think that the Author of life was himself deprived of life? And yet Peter says, 'You have killed the Author of life' [Acts 3:15]. (p. 186)

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

God Became a Zygote

John Jefferson Davis, in his book Evangelical Ethics, points out that the incarnation of Jesus Christ has an important role to play in affirming the value of human life (p. 158). He points out that the Creed places the beginning of the life of Christ not at birth but when "he was conceived by the Holy Spirit." Likewise, he references Hebrews 2:17 which applies the efficacy of the incarnation to the fact that “in all things He had to be made like his brethren.” Many of the early Church fathers understood the significance of this in terms of their Christology. The early maxim was 'whatever is not assumed is not healed.' Thus, God became a zygote in order to heal all zygotes. God became a morula to heal all morulas. God became a blastocyst to heal all blastocysts. God became an embryo to heal all embryos. God became a fetus to heal all fetuses. God took upon himself the entirety of human nature from conception on. God became human to heal humanity. Thus, abortion, at any stage of pregancy, is an implicit attack on the incarnation.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Philosophical Water into Theological Wine

Nicholas Lash notes that the image Aquinas uses for the use of philosophy in service of theology is drawn from the wedding feast at Cana. Aquinas says: "Those who use philosophical texts in holy teaching, by setting them at the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but turn water into wine."

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Aquinas on Being

Thomas Aquinas, in his explanation of his doctrine of Analogy in Summa Contra Gentiles I.28, points out that "perfection" must be understood at least somewhat differently when applied to God than when applied to creatures. Yet, he recognizes that Jesus calls his disciples to nevertheless aim to close that gap (Mt. 5:48). Thomas says that the fundamental divide between how we would use the word perfect differently between God and creation is found in the fact of creation. Existence is itself the most foundational prerequisite for perfection, and because God has always, eternally existed (as opposed to all other things which had a beginning), He is by definition "most perfect."

I was initially a little skeptical about this description of God as "most perfect." Was he trying to put God and creation on some kind of continuum? But as I considered what Thomas is up to, it rather appears that he is trying to figure out how and in what ways creatures are like their Creator. He seems to conclude that the act of creation is where we find the first likeness of creation to its Creator. Because God created the world from nothing and thereby brought being from non-being, he has in the most basic sense made the world to be just as he is from all eternity. The gift of being is fundamentally a sort of likeness that all of creation has with God who always and eternally exists.

Thomas knows that in order for language to work it must find its origin and meaning ultimately in the person and life of God. Creation must be like God in various ways in order for words to have meaning. And he recognizes that in the most fundamental sense, a leaf is like God because it exists just like God exists. It participates in the life of the Triune God if only as a result of the Word of God which spoke and pushed certain nutrients up through the veins of a particular Oak tree and eventually burst out of some happy petiole on the end of some branch waving at the world. Existence is itself a wonderful gift, and it is the gift of being, tasting if only briefly what God knows in eternity.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Glad Hearts

We have said many times that this meal is a feast, a celebration of victory, salvation, and life. At this meal, the Lord Jesus gives us two elements: bread which is an every day sustaining sustenance and wine which is a special, royal, and celebratory gift. If the bread is the strength and sustenance for living, the wine is the joy and vigor for living. And the two go together. Not only does Christ give us life, he gives robust, vigorous life. He gives us his own life which is always overflowing. It’s no accident that throughout history there have been attempts to separate the two and only give the bread to the congregation. It’s dangerous to give the people the wine; wine makes people’s hearts glad. It makes them sing and dance and laugh. Satan does not want the people of God rejoicing before him. Satan wants the people of God to stay tamed and brow beaten and guilty. Satan wants God’s people to be timid and worried. But the Lord Jesus is a warrior who calls his people to his table to feast. And he says you need bread and wine for the battle. You need life and you need boldness. You need vigor and gladness. You need a heart that is overflowing with joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Our nation is filled with churches who celebrate this feast as infrequently as possible and when they do, they do it like a funeral as though Jesus were still dead and we were still in our sins and often enough they serve grape juice because they’re afraid that the Triune life might suddenly break out in their midst. No wonder the church is so weak and anemic. But we must not hold back. We serve the God of overwhelming life, the God who overflows with joy and invites us to his feast, into his gladness, and he gives us his life as the strength of bread and the joy of wine. Come and rejoice. Your sins are forgiven. God rejoices over you.

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Second Sunday in Advent: Exodus XX.11: Sixth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you have given your only Son for the life of the world, and yet so often we complain when we have to wait a few extra minutes for dinner or become angry when our spouse or children do not conform to our expectations. You disrupted your eternal glory and honor and majesty by giving us life in Jesus Christ who was even murdered for our sins. Give us grace to hear your Word now, continue that great work which you have begun in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

Introduction
As we approach the celebration of the birth of the Life of the World, it is completely fitting to consider the Sixth Commandment which sets forth our duty to preserve and defend life according to the law of God.

That He May Live
Moses, in his exposition of the sixth commandment, calls Israel to erect cities of refuge for the protection of those who commit manslaughter (19:2). Manslaughter is defined by God as killing that takes place which was not occasioned by “hating the victim in time past” (19:4, 6). Thus the prohibition against murder means protecting the lives of those who may be in danger of being murdered (19:2-5). They are to build roads giving easy access to these cities of refuge (19:3), and as the land expands they are to add more cities as necessary (19:8-9). This command is also intended to protect the “avenger of blood” from committing murder (19:6). Finally, the sixth commandment requires that intentional, first degree murder is to be punished by death (19:11-12). This includes not pitying murders and being lenient with them (19:13). The prohibition against murder is the command to love and protect life.

Loving Life
Loving and protecting life means observing due process. Two or three witnesses are necessary to convict (19:15), and false witnesses must be held accountable for their lies (19:19). This means that a testimony may not be anonymous. God requires that false witnesses not be pitied, and that they receive equitable punishment for what they intended to do to their neighbor. At the heart of the prohibition against murder is the sin of hatred. Ultimately, hatred is the sin of hating life in some way. Proverbs describes a false witness as one who hates his own life (Pro. 29:24). This is what distinguishes intentional and unintentional murder as well as the punishment of false witnesses (19:4, 6, 11, cf. 19:19). Of course this is exactly what Jesus explains (Mt. 5:21-22), and John says explicitly that he who hates his brother is a murderer and does not have eternal life within him (1 Jn. 3:15). To have the life of God within us means loving our neighbor and giving up ourselves for their good just as Christ laid down his life for us (1 Jn. 3:16ff).

Conclusions & Applications
Hatred is ultimately a fashionable way of loving death. Proverbs says that those who hate wisdom love death, and those who sin wrong their own life (Pr. 8:35-36). Loving wisdom is the love of life; despising wisdom is the love of death. It is no accident that a culture that rejects the wisdom of God’s word is busy inventing ways to look like the Night of the Living Dead. The tattooing, piercing, everything black-torn-and-disheveled look is a cultural expression that results from the cultural guilt of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and popular ways oppressing of the poor, the weak, and the disabled. When people have blood on their hands they try to make it look cool. But we must love life.

Jesus said that the entire law is summarized as love of God and neighbor. The entire logic of the gospel is that reconciliation with God means the reconciliation of all things. If God has come down to us in all our grime, in all our sin, in all our weakness, then how can we not bestow this same kindness upon our spouses, our children, our neighbors, and yes, even our enemies (Mt. 5:43-48)? As you celebrate Advent, celebrate the great mercy of God in bestowing his life upon us in the person of Jesus. But God did not just come as a great “force.” God came to us with hands and feet, eyes and ears, and a mouth. He came as a crying infant. So much hatred and bitterness is built on a false sense of justice – if-I-don’t-who-will kind of justice – but God became a helpless baby for your justification.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and most merciful God, who has come to our aid and given us life through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we ask that you would make us people who rejoice in life. Teach us to delight in our children and families, grant us grace to love our enemies, and give us the love of wisdom which delights in your justice.

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A Theology that Dies

It has been said that theology always comes out your fingertips. Theology is not just a big word pastors and teachers use. Everyone practices theology. When you speak to your wife, you are practicing theology. When you drive in your car, you are doing theology. When you eat at your dinner table with your family, you are doing theology. When you teach and discipline your children, you are living out a certain theology. All of this is based upon the fact people are created in the image of God. We are all little pictures of God walking around in the world, saying and doing things that are either true and faithful representations of what God is like or false and slanderous pictures of our God. But this is made even more tangible in the Incarnation. As we celebrate the season of Advent, remembering that we serve the God who has come to his people, we are celebrating the God who came and dwelled with us as a human being, a God who took on flesh and blood in order that the image of God might be restored in us. In Jesus Christ we behold the glory of the only-begotten of God, fully of grace in truth. In Jesus we see the perfect image of God, we see and hear and touch the God of the whole universe. Therefore, you are without excuse. When you speak to your wife, as you dwell with your husband, as you teach your children, what kind of theology are you living? Is the gospel you are living cranky? Is the theology you are doing bitter? Does it complain? Is it lazy? Does it demand to be served? You are living out your theology. And God calls us to Christ-like service and sacrifice. God came to us as in weakness, as a baby, only to give his life away for his people, even to the point of death on the cross. You are called to this kind of theology, a theology that gives itself away, a theology that serves, a theology that dies.

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Eco on Aquinas on Origen

Umberto Eco, in his Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, points out that Origen's original motivation for proposing his allegorical hermeneutics was a defense of the Old Testament. Since the OT was attacked as being nothing but Jewish fables and traditions, Origen set out to show that the OT was the letter of which Christ was the Spirit. The New Testament was the unveiling of what the OT had always been about. Eco says that the real problem with Origen's system was its "nebula of all possible archetypes." For Origen, the Scirptures "were in the position of saying everything." It was the reduction of this "everything" by the descendants of Origen to three and then four senses of meaning that sought to give more rigid guidelines to faithful Scriptural interpretation. The four-fold sense of Scripture, far from being the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants interpretation of the un-enlightened medievals was an attempt to discipline and codify the basic hermeneutical committment of Origen that the Scriptures are all about Christ (cf. Lk. 24).

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Bad Chapter

My three year old son is sitting in a chair staring intently at the little book in front of him.

It's a pocket-size Webster's Dictionary.

He turns pages, he concentrates, and then closes the book and looks up at his mom and says, "That was a bad chapter."

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The End of the World Every Week

One of the great themes of Advent is the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. With the Church throughout the ages, we not only confess that the eternal Son came and became the man Jesus and was born of a woman, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, but that this same Jesus will come again with all his angels to judge the living and the dead, to raise up the faithful from the dead to everlasting life and to raise the wicked from the dead to release into eternal darkness and torment. In Revelation 19, St. John writes, “Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Supper of the lamb.” Likewise, St. Paul uses similar imagery in Ephesians 5 where he describes the love of Christ for the Church, his bride, having given himself up for her, he is sanctifying her by the water and the word in order that he may one day present his bride to himself without spot or wrinkle. The end of human history is pictured as a great wedding, a glorious wedding feast. Likewise, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast particularly against the Jews who thought that God had to keep them as his people no matter what. Jesus says that when the Groom’s closest friends refuse to come to his wedding, he extends the invitation to the whole world, whoever is willing to come (Mt. 22). All of this imagery makes it easy to understand why the Church has always understood the Song of Songs to be, at least in part, a typological picture of God’s love for his people, described in the language of the marriage bed, the joyful lovemaking of a bride and groom described as a feast. And of course one cannot speak of weddings without recalling that the first miracle of Jesus was to turn the water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Thus, it is no accident that Jesus has given us this simple feast to celebrate week after week. Here, he invites us to begin to partake of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb now. Here, he invites his bride to feast upon him, and he rejoices in his bride considering her to be without spot and without wrinkle. Here, your husband gives you wine (and not water, not grape juice); he gives you wine to make your hearts glad. This is the great wedding feast. Here, we enter into the end of the world. Here the Lord assures us of what is without a doubt sure to come. This is what we’re working toward. We’re working toward a great wedding feast. So come enter into the joy of your Lord.

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The God Who Comes

When God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, he commanded them to keep the Passover, to kill a lamb, eat unleavened bread, and prepare to the leave the country. Thereafter, God commanded them to keep the Passover feast every year so that they would not forget what God had done for them. When Joshua and the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they took 12 stones from the Jordan and set them up as a memorial of God’s great kindness to them. When God delivered the Jews from the plots of wicked Haman even when they were a foreign land, the Jews celebrated the feast of Purim so that they would never forget God’s faithfulness. When Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the first Christians knew exactly what to do, and ever since the Christian Church has met on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week so that we would always remember that we are here because of the resurrection. But historically, the Church has recognized the need to remember a lot of other things too. And following the pattern of God’s people of old, the Church has established numerous memorials in time: days and weeks and seasons in order to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and to call us to faith in this same faithful God in the present. As we begin the Advent season this morning, I want to particularly encourage parents to use this season and the church calendar throughout the year as an important opportunity to teach your children. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you minds. But do this through not only celebrating these days and seasons here at Church but do so with your families at home. Sing psalms and hymns as families, establish family traditions, and of course talk about the wonderful events that these celebrations point to. Parents cannot complain that their children are mesmerized by the world when they refuse to place before them a robust Christian culture. This is the season of Advent, we are celebrating the fact that we serve the God who comes to his people, who draws near to us, and who gives us life. How can you not celebrate such good news?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Obadiah: Big Brothers and Pesky Squirrels

Obadiah is the book for big brothers who gloat. The letter is address to Edom which is the nation of Esau. God has harsh words for the nation that stood by and watched their little "brother Jacob" carried off by strangers. They stood by and "rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction." They walked through the streets and tsk-tsked, and shook their pious little heads and pursed their holy little lips. Others thought they would help God with the judgment and cut down various Israelites fleeing from the hand of their conquerors. And those they did not cut down, they dutifully turned in to their captors. "Dad, here's the culprit."

All of this is particularly interesting because of all that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Edom surely saw the hammer falling on little brother Jacob, and if this is from the hand of Yahweh, why can they not do their part? This is the national/corporate version of the big brother who nods approvingly as he watches his little sister marched off to the bedroom for her 'just desserts.' Perhaps he even adds some pious remark about why it's wise to obey mom and dad otherwise things like this happen. And if the parent has read Obadiah, the little boy will find that it's his turn next.

God requires loyalty even in the midst of his judgment. Even when the judgment is just and deserved, the response of the faithful is to identify with God's people even when they are getting the worst of God's fury. As David said, "Please let us fall into the hand of Yahweh, for his mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man" (2 Sam. 24:14). It's one thing to be thankful that you did not fall, but all the holy-speak is a show of false piety. God promises greater blessings for little brother Jacob.

The ecclesiastical version of this is refusing to rejoice when God's judgments fall on various portions of his church. When God sends the blight of sexual perversion upon portions of his church, the faithful response is not, 'see? told you so.' The response is to fear God, obey his commands, and plead for his mercy on all of us. When a denomination seems to have a knack for making foolish and mind-bendingly ridiculous decisions sort of like that pesky squirrel that always seems to run towards your car, the temptation is to merely mutter something about 'stupid is as stupid does.' But that simply will not do. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Pro. 24:17).

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Some of you have been asking about the recent hub-bub surrounding the release of the film "The Golden Compass" (to be released on Dec. 7th). Many Christians have expressed a very reasonable concern with the books (and now the movie) because Philip Pullman, the author of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy has openly declared his opposition to all things Christian. He stated plainly in one interview: "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief... Mr. [ C.S.] Lewis would think I was doing the Devil's work." I have not read any of the books yet or seen the movie, so the following thoughts are based upon reading several interviews and articles from what I would consider thoughtful and trusted sources.

First, anyone who openly sets out to undermine the basis for Christian faith has set themselves up against God and is therefore an enemy for the sake of the gospel. It is important that we insist upon the antithesis between light and darkness, good and evil, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. At the same time there have been many pagans who hated the God of heaven who created good and beautiful things. An atheist cannot consistently produce beautiful things, but God gives grace where he pleases. And sometimes he gives creativity and beautiful innovation to those who are far from him. Consider the fact that it is the line of Cain in the early chapters of Genesis who first create musical instruments, jewelry, and develop the arts and animal husbandry. While surely the God-fearing line of Seth did make some glorious inventions and discoveries, it is revealed to us that there was a renaissance-like emergence of the arts in the family line that had decidedly turned against the face of God. Similarly, there are a number of great civilizations that arise outside the covenant people of God throughout history, centers of cultural and industrial development that God's people inherit only later on. This often seems to be the pattern of God's working in the world: he gives gifts to those who hate him in order to pile burning coals upon their head and so that when they are gone his own people may inherit them.

Secondly, we must insist as Christians who serve the true and living God, that the only way for a story to work is for it to borrow or steal from the Christian story. In order for there to be character, story development, tension, release, and all of the wonderful things that go into an engaging and imaginative story, it must follow many of the basic contours of God's own creation and story. While Pullman has self-consciously set out to subvert that story, as an atheist he cannot present any counter story without descending into nonsense. If the world really is a series of chemical reactions then his story is no more meaningful than a couple of bubbles in the ocean. In an evolutionary universe, nothing means anything. But Pullman obviously understands that words have meaning, stories can be told in wonderful and winsome ways, and that there is such a thing as good and evil. While he openly sets out to subvert the Christian God and his Church (and this apparently becomes more and more explicit throughout the Trilogy), as the reviewer in the First Things article (see link below) points out this only serves to lesson the wonder of his story, and ultimately he has to borrow many basic Christian themes. As the reviewer says, despite all the 'God-killing' motifs, Pullman actually ends up with an "almost Christian trilogy."

Finally, one of the themes that shows up in several interviews with Pullman is his bitterness towards what he sees as a Christian rejection of this material world we live in. Of course this is entirely inconsistent with Pullman's strict materialism which doesn't believe that there is anything going on here but chemicals and atoms floating around and bumping into each other. But happily, I would suggest that Pullman appears to be critiquing something worthy of critique. He criticizes Lewis and Tolkien for envisioning a heaven which is some sort of escape from this world, and he insists in one interview that "this world where we live is our home." While it is completely incoherent for Pullman to suggest anything of the sort -- in his worldview he has done nothing more meaningful than burp and hiccup a few times -- I would suggest that he has identified one of the great failures of the Christian Church. Whether or not he is right about Lewis and Tolkien, in many ways we have failed to recognize that this world is the world that the Lord Jesus intends to make our home. After all, Jesus said that he came to save the world and that the meek would inherit the earth, and not some other far off heaven. The prayer that we pray each Lord's Day is for the kingdom of heaven to come down and impress its reality upon on our world. The vision of John at the end of Revelation is that of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and being established here on earth. Related to this is the centrality of the doctrine of the resurrection. We confess our faith each week in the 'resurrection of the dead', and this means that we believe we will get our bodies back even after we have died just like Jesus did. This means that the life we live now, the jokes and stories we tell, the feasts we celebrate, the psalms we sing, and that feeling in our bellies when we've laughed really, really hard, all of that has meaning and will continue to be part of us forever. We will not rise from the dead as spirits with harps looking for a vacant cloud to float on for all eternity. This world was made to be ruled and glorified, and if the stars and planets are any indication of God's design, it would not surprise me in the slightest to find that there are more worlds to rule and explore after this one.

So what does all this mean? Should we or should we not read the books and go watch the movie? I would highly recommend that you do two things: First, don't be shrill. There are lots of emails going around about how these books (and the movie) will damage your children for life. But Pullman lives in God's universe, and he borrows generously from the treasures of God's story. If one of your friends reads one of the books or sees the movie don't banish them to a hot and lonely place. As Peter Leithart points out in one of the links below, the movie version in particular appears to be somewhat more innocuous than the books. Regardless, parents should make sure they are discussing these things with their children and winsomely encourage them to have a cynicism about all this stuff. Pagans are boring. But secondly, I would suggest that you have a lot of better things to do with your time than sort through the ins and outs of an atheist's attempt to undermine our faith. For instance, I would suggest that you read the Lord of the Rings again, then make sure you've gone through C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy at least three or four times. It gets better with every read. Of course there's the Chronicles of Narnia, and when you've gotten those stories deep in your bones, it's probably time to start the Lord of the Rings again. You also need to tell jokes and read stories by P.G. Wodehouse. You need to sit around the dinner table as families and sing psalms and laugh and then sing a few more psalms and laugh a little more. We're building a Christian culture here, and frankly there's a lot of work ahead of us. This world is our home, or better, this world is becoming our home. Through sin, we have been estranged from all the goodness for far too long, but God is giving it all back to us in Jesus Christ. So enjoy a glass of wine, plant a garden, sing some Psalms, laugh around the dinner table, and have a second helping of dessert. God is good, and Philip Pullman knows it deep down in his dark little heart.

I found the following links helpful in thinking about some of this. I thought you might too:

Here is blog page with a collection of interviews with Pullman.

Here is a balanced and thoughtful review of the books from the magazine First Things.

Here Peter Leithart has a few comments on the movie and gives three cheers for Hollywood.

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The Other People that Live in My House

My wife and I are increasingly aware of the fact that we do not live alone. There are other people in our house. They have moved in sort of gradually it seems, making their presence known in various ways over the last number of months and years. The thing is that I think we would be OK with having other normal, decent people living in our house. We're generally very easy-going, hospitable, and welcoming sorts of people. The problem is that we do not have normal, decent people living in our house.

We have savages living in our home. The other people living in our house are completely and unapologetically uncivilized. They have come from the deepest, darkest jungles of some undiscovered continent, and they live in the bedroom across from ours.

One of the people that lives in my house left our dinner table to use the restroom last night. This, in itself was not particularly distressing, and I was happy to encourage this sort of civilized behavior and excuse him. But this person disappeared back into the recesses of our home and after a number of minutes did not appear to be coming back. All the indications were that he had fallen into the commode or been sucked into one of the numerous heating vents.

All was silence; all was darkness.

When my wife pointed out this peculiarity, I began calling for our missing housemate. After a moment or two more, the silence was broken by the announcment that he had completed his mission but had accidentally 'got some' on his foot. This was a little concerning, but we assumed that this was getting worked out and that he would be back momentarily. But the moments continued to pass with his seat being vacant. Finally, and fearing the worst, I ordered him to appear. His scampering feet could be heard coming down the hall for several seconds before his beaming naked body emerged from the hallway. The savage that had left the table some time earlier, fully clothed, reappeared wearing only a Lightening McQueen loin cloth and holding a bandaid in one of his hands.

I asked this person what he was doing. With utmost seriousness, he explained that he had procurred a bandaid for his foot so it would be OK since he had gotten some on it.

I can't make this kind of stuff up. We live with this native and his sister, and they do these kinds of things all the time. This kind of stuff is way better than comedy central. The really fun part is that these people have conspired together, and the forecast is that they will soon outnumber us.

I can hardly wait for the chaos.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Observing Times

I noticed in the first lesson this morning from Dt. 18 that one of the practices of the surrounding nations that the Israelites were to utterly reject was that of "observing times" (18:10). I was reminded of Gal. 4:10 where Paul is concerned for the Galatians since they are observing "days, months, times, and years."

The word in Dt. 18:10 is often translated "practice divination" or "soothsaying," referring to practices which involved studying entrails, blood, various liquids, or signs or omens to have knowledge of otherwise hidden information. Interestingly, the word for this in Hebrew is related to the word for "serpent." Apparently scholars aren't really sure what to do with that connection other than to point out that "diviners" sometimes make hissing noises like snakes. Leave it to academics to give us that gem. It seems far more likely to me that there is a deep relationship between the Serpent and the various practices of trying to tell the future.

While I couldn't find any direct connection, it certainly seems possible that what Paul is getting at is the fact that fanatical (legalistic) religious observation actually becomes a kind of superstitious divination at some point. The same word is used several times in the gospels and in Acts to refer to the actions of the priests and Jewish leaders "watching/observing" Jesus (and later Paul) making sure he's crossing his t's and dotting his i's according to the rabbinical traditions. The fanatic/soothsayer says that if you don't keep such-and-such requirement exactly and perfectly then this, that, and the other thing is sure to befall you. In other words, superstitious observances are always based upon explicit or implicit claims to hidden knowledge.

Anyway, Paul may very well be warning the Galatians about this sort of neopaganism, observing days and times like a bunch of soothsayers, hoping they don't step on any cracks and keeping clear of all the black cats in the neighborhood. Paul calls that living in bondage under the old elements. And since he's obviously talking about the Jewish calendar, he's claiming that after Christ, the Jewish Calendar is no better than a bunch of pagan divination rituals.

Finally, the picture is of my daughter, and while it isn't really directly related to this post, I did mention a serpent, and I really just wanted an excuse to show off her fearlessness.

Seed of the Serpent, meet Seed of the Woman.

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Looking Backward and Forward

This is the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Next Lord’s Day is the beginning of Advent. Some of you are already preparing for your family Advent celebrations, and beginning the following week, we will begin having Advent services on Wednesday evenings. Advent dwells particularly on the themes of God’s coming. It remembers that God has come in judgment and salvation in the past in events like the Exodus. God came to the aid of his people through raising up particular judges and kings and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies. When the people sinned, God came in judgment on Israel and Jerusalem. God came in salvation returning the exiles from Persia through the decree of Cyrus, and God finally came in the incarnation, being born of young virgin woman. God came at Pentecost and gave birth to the Christian Church through the Holy Spirit, and God came in judgment once again on Jerusalem when she rejected his Messiah, and the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 A.D. To celebrate Advent is to celebrate the fact that God has come again and again in history and of course in the fullest sense, God has come to us in Jesus Christ, the God-man, Emmanuel, God with Us. To dwell on all of these comings is to gird ourselves with strength for our battles, our enslavements, our exiles, and our failures. If the Lord of the Covenant has come again and again to the aid of his people and raised up a horn of salvation, he will surely come again for us. He will come at the end of all human history and raise us up in new and glorious bodies to live and glorify him forever. That is glorious, but we are called to live in faith now. And this means living before God fully expecting for him to come and act in our lives, to come and save us from our sins, deliver us from our follies, and rescue us from our enemies. This meal is one of those Advents. Here our God promises to be present. He assures us that we are forgiven, that we are his, that he fights for us, and that he will win the victory. As we finish the last Sunday of Pentecost, it is fitting to look backward and forward, remembering that it is the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost to be God with us at all times and in all places, and it is this same Spirit who feeds us here with the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God who is perfecting us, sanctifying us, conforming us more and more to the image of the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased. So come and feast, you are the sons and daughter of the Triune God, and you are most welcome.

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Last Sunday of Pentecost: Exodus XX.10: Fifth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Father, we are in need of your teaching, your instruction, and your direction. We do not know how to honor our parents as we ought, and we recognize that this is because we have not honored you and your church as we ought. Teach us how to bestow honor on those fathers and mothers you have placed over us; give us hearts that are ready and willing to accept your instruction. In the name of Jesus your Son, Amen!

Introduction
We considered last week the fact that the first “father and mother” are God and the Christian Church he has placed us in. Secondly, these foundational authorities establish the legitimacy of a number of other formal authorities: civil, educational, business, and many others informally. Recognizing that all of these authorities require our honor, it is necessary to consider what honor is and how it is bestowed.

Honor
The word “honor” is synonymous with “glory” which means to make heavy and weighty. Abram comes out of Egypt “very glorious” with silver, gold, riches, and livestock (Gen. 13:2). This can refer to the severity of natural disasters like a famine (Gen. 12:10) or evil things like the wickedness of Sodom (Gen. 18:20). Jacob’s eyes are said to be “heavy” with old age (Gen. 48:10), and Moses says that his mouth and tongue are too heavy to speak well (Ex. 4:10). Pharaoh’s heart is hardened or perhaps “weighed down” would be a better translation (Ex. 7:14 et passim). Some of the plagues on Egypt are described as heavy (e.g. 8:20, 9:3, 9:18). Strikingly, after Pharaoh has “glorified/hardened” his heart and Yahweh has sent “glory-plagues” upon Egypt, Yahweh finally asserts that he will get “glory” over Pharaoh in the victory of the Red Sea (14:4, 17-18). The priests are given heavy vestments of “glory and beauty” (Ex. 28:2). While the glory of God is something beyond us, God over and over again embodies his glory through natural disasters, supernatural events, riches, and people. In the NT, honor means price or worth: Jesus has no “honor” in his hometown, and he is sold for the “honor” of 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 27:6-7, Jn. 4:44). The honor that the Church ought show to widows includes financial support (1 Tim. 5:3-16). Honoring is the act of seeking to embody another’s worth.

Giving and Heeding Instructions
Honor is built into parent-child relationships because of the Trinity (Jn. 8:49, 54). Jesus says that he honors his Father by knowing him and keeping his word (8:55). Jesus honors his Father by obeying his commands: for he came not to do his will, but the will of his Father (Jn. 5:30). But Jesus applies this to his disciples saying that the Father is glorified in the Son when they ask for things from the Father in the Name of the Son (14:13). In other words, because the honor that the Son bestows upon the Father is principally being the Father for the world (14:9-11), it becomes the Father’s honor to bestow gifts upon those who ask things in the name of His Son. This is also why teaching and learning are significant parts of the parent-children relationship. This is evidenced in the Proverbs (Pr. 1:8, 10, 15, etc.) and in the relationships we noted last week in Elijah/Elisha and Paul/Timothy. Instructions are not limited to verbal commands and exhortations. Instruction includes the host of lessons we teach with our actions. We noted previously that the “image and likeness” of God was evidence of God’s intention for Adam to be his son. This image and likeness is being renewed in us, fallen creatures. The apostle encourages Christians to be imitators of God as dearly loved children (Eph. 5:1), he encourages them to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1, Phil. 4:9), and he encourage them to imitate each other, striving for like-mindedness (Rom. 15:5, Phil. 2:2, 20, Heb. 6:12, 3 Jn. 1:11). Imitation always occurs; it’s just a question of who you are imitating. The fools on television and in the magazines who tell you to “be different” mean that you ought to shop in their stores like everyone else. Godly instruction and imitation also establishes the biblical pattern of tradition. Christians ought to love and cherish biblical tradition (cf. apostolic tradition, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14). Thus, children must obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Paul’s exhortation suggests two things: first, Children need to know that their obedience to their parents is counted as obedience to the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:5-6, cf. 1 Pet. 2:13). Children must obey their parents as obedience to the Lord, and rebellion against that authority is rebellion against the Lord. Secondly, in the Lord establishes limitations on all authority. Because your allegiance is to King Jesus, if a lawful authority instructs you to disobey Jesus, you must not (e.g. Acts 4:19-20).

Conclusions & Applications
Children need to be taught to honor their parents, and this is not an act of selfishness. Teaching children to honor and obey their parents is teaching them how to honor and obey God. Refusal is rebellion. This means teaching obedience that is immediate, complete, and cheerful. Fathers, in particular, you need to teach your sons to honor their mothers. It is notable that at least twice the order of “father and mother” is reversed most probably to emphasize this very fact (Lev. 19:3, 21:2). The fact is likewise reinforced by the civil penalties for rebellion and cursing one’s parents (Ex. 21:17, Dt. 21:18-21). It’s not as if cursing or disobeying mom is any less offensive than cursing or disobeying dad. This means holding doors, standing when a woman enters the room, saying ‘yes ma’am’, waiting for mother to sit down before sitting, waiting for mother to eat before eating, pushing in their chairs, etc. It’s not enough merely to not openly rebel or curse your mother; the weight of glory must be lived out; their worth must be embodied.

Some of you need to start honoring your parents by confessing the sin of not honoring them. Remember Achan (Josh. 7:19). Perhaps you have dishonored your parents by rolling your eyes, disregarding their counsel, or just skating by, barely avoiding trouble. Remember that God requires you to esteem them highly; honor means glory and weight.

Finally, we need to recognize that God does not put any exceptions in the Fifth Commandment. Honoring (with faith in the God who sees) is actually the way that God bestows honor. Glory is reciprocal; it shares in the glory of the Trinity.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and glorious Father, we bless you and glorify you now. We proclaim that you are holy, just, good, and true. We ask that you would teach us to honor our fathers and mothers as you teach us to honor you. Do this for your glory and honor.

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Building toward the End

We’ve considered over the last couple of weeks the fact that our modern casual dating culture is a perversion of the gospel and that part of reestablishing a Christian culture of love and marriage is the reestablishment of real parental authority and guidance in this realm, particularly by fathers. But these are enormous steps to take, and as any builder knows, you cannot just show up to the job site and order a house to be built. If you want a house to look a certain way, it takes months of preparation, laying the foundation and ordering what you’ll need for the next phase, then framing it out, and making sure you have crews getting ready to wire it and lay the plumbing. Likewise, a parent cannot suddenly take their teenager aside one day and say you’re not allowed to date and by the way I’m in charge. The parent that feels the need to do this has already failed. He has shown up to the job site while the builders are just finishing up, and he ordered two more bedrooms and a bigger basement. The time for figuring out basement size and number of bedrooms is at the beginning not the end of the project. So also, the work of parenting daughters and sons during the last years they spend in your home is something that builds on many years of faithful preparation. In other words, you should begin teaching and training your children now for what you want them to be like then. It won’t do to say that you ‘just want a nice basement and don’t bother me with the details please’, and then get upset when your car doesn’t fit in the garage. What Godly parents want later must be thoughtfully and prayerfully taught and prepared for now. If you want your daughter to trust you when it comes to finding a spouse, you must teach her to trust you all the way up to that point. If you want your son to have the wisdom and courage to choose and marry a godly and virtuous woman as his wife, you must train him to be growing in that kind of wisdom and that kind of courage now so that he will have it then.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Constitutional Christianity

While the Constitution is clearly pluralistic to some extent, insisting, for example, that there be no religious test required to hold office in the federal government, there are still points at which the writers of the Constitution allow their Christian bloomers to show.

Of course there are generic references to the "Creator" and the "Almighty" and "blessings" which many religions would have no difficulty with, but there are at least two places in particular where Christian practice and faith are explicitly assumed. Interestingly, both have to do with our reckoning of time.

First, it's fairly interesting that Sunday is explicitly recognized as a day off by the Constitution. A president has 10 days to consider a bill presented by Congress, Sundays not included. This is clearly a Christian sentiment, as it does not except Saturdays (for a Jewish president) or Fridays (for a Muslim president).

Secondly, the reckoning of time is measured from the birth of Christ, Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord." While this may seem rather insignificant and mundane since that method of reckoning was so pervasive and universal, the fact of the matter is that this is the Constitution of our country. This is Constitutional language that affirms time to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. While the Constitution is far too generic and pluralistic for my tastes, there are still these two explicit references to specifically Christian doctrines.

In affect, the framers of the Constitution recognize the high feasts of Christmas and Easter. By reckoning Sunday a day of rest, the Lord's Day is implicitly honored, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection each week. And by reckoning years from the date of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation is implicitly honored and recognized as the beginning of the kingdom of God, the birth of God's Son as King.

All of this, it must also be pointed out, is entirely consistent with the prohibition against the establishment of religion by the federal government. The First Amendment cannot be construed to be mean something inconsistent with these Christian assumptions enshrined within the original document itself.

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Parish Life at Baal Peor

While doing some background reading for Ps. 106, I reviewed the story of Israel at Baal Peor (Num. 25), the Moabite shrine that probably looked a lot like a modern day strip club. As the wrath of God broke out against Israel in the form of a great plague, Moses called the judges together and told every one of them to "kill his men who joined himself to Baal Peor" (25:5). Of course Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the High Priest, gets out his spear and does a little shishkabob action with a particularly brazen Israelite and his Midianite whore. As a result of Phinehas' zealous actions, God's wrath is appeased, and the plague is turned away.

There really are a number of fascinating elements of this story. But the bit I thought interesting was the fact that the judges actually had rosters to look over. Each judge had a directory to go through to check on all the men under his care; the guys on their lists that had gone down to the Baal Peor Strip Club were to get whacked by order of Yahweh.

This is the parish model of accountability and ministry at work. In a parish model of ministry, the elders are called upon to take responsibility for particular people and their families. The elders are not merely collectively responsible for all these people, in some generic sense. When this happens, and the elders collectively are responsible for all the people collectively, the result is often that no one is responsible for anyone in particular. Rather, each elder ought to have a roster of particular names, ages, marital status, addresses, blog sites, and perhaps other pertinent information and be faithfully shepherding those particular households.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving

My son and I were sitting at the table this morning talking about the day ahead of us. I tried to explain a little about Thanksgiving, and how we celebrated in order to give thanks to God for his many blessings. I told my son that I was very thankful for his mother, his sister, him, and the two siblings that his mother is carrying. Then I asked him what he is most thankful for.

Without missing a beat, he said, "really sharp swords."

Hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Blessings to all.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Wilson, Wilkins, and the PCA

Just to make sure we're getting this broadcast as far and wide as possible, I'd like to draw your attention, dear readers (all three of you), to the proceedings currently taking place in the PCA.

This denomination (along with a number of others) has recently studied a subject matter referred to as the 'Federal Vision', largely condemned it, and now is in the process of seeking to apply these findings to those pastors and elders in their denomination they believe to be holding these aberrant views. There is of course nothing wrong with carefully studying an issue, deciding that it is outside the pale of a particular confessional heritage, and then judiciously applying those findings to particular people, circumstances, etc. The problem comes when an issue is NOT carefully studied, the so-called proponents of said teaching are not contacted or asked for clarification, a report full of ambiguities and bizarre conclusions which does not accurately describe said teachings of said proponents is passed in the name of 'justification by faith', and then certain Mohicans in the denomination get out their war paint and tomahawks and go after these so-called proponents having already decided what they believe, how false, bad, and horrible it is, and whooping at the top of their lungs with fingers in their ears demand that they recant or leave.

In typical Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is the body that holds ministers accountable for their teachings. On this particular issue, one of the ministers under scrutiny is Pastor Steve Wilkins from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The Louisiana Presbytery has been asked on TWO occasions to examine Pastor Wilkins, and TWICE the presbytery has not found him guilty of any aberrant views contrary to the Confession (WCF). The first time another presbytery sent an overture requesting the examination, and the LA Presbytery voluntarily complied. When that exam yielded a not-guilty verdict, an appeal was made to the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA (their highest court of appeal), and the SJC asked the LA Presbytery to conduct another examination on the grounds that the first exam was not sufficiently documented and did not carefully follow the proper procedures. The LA Presbytery complied with this SJC directive, re-examined Pastor Wilkins, and again found that there was "no strong presumption of guilt" in the teachings of Pastor Wilkins.

Now this re-examination report, meticulously documented and complying with all the proper PCA procedures was just fine except that the LA Presbytery did not come up with the correct answer. Now, the SJC has ordered the LA Presbytery to appear in court to answer the charge that they did not do their job properly in examining Pastor Wilkins. That is, because there is a "strong presumption of guilt" with regard to the teachings of Pastor Wilkins, they have not been diligent in preserving the peace and purity of the church. In other words, while there has been no trial of Pastor Wilkins, the SJC is proceeding to take matters into their own hands. What is so unfortunate (and sub-biblical) in this situation is the fact that these proceedings are beginning with the presumption of guilt.

If you have not already seen the recent volley of posts by Douglas Wilson, they are well worth checking out. Beginning here, just start working your way through the posts that follow.

One final comment with regard to why I/you should even care about all this. I have never been a member of a PCA church, but my wife grew up in the PCA, we both attended and graduated from a PCA sponsored Christian School, and I have many good friends in that denomination. In general, all Christians should be concerned about the 'goings-ons' of our brothers and sisters, we ought to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. In this case, we have brothers and sisters who are near-kinsmen in Christendom, Reformed Presbyterians who claim a similar heritage, similar confessional standards, and a like-mindedness on many significant issues facing the Christian Church today. If the PCA goes through with this trial, and in whatever clinically sterilized, moved, seconded and passed sort of way they come up with, they actually force Pastor Wilkins and/or his presbytery out of the PCA without an actual hearing and fair trail (which is virtually impossible now), a great travesty will have passed for justice. All Christians should be concerned about this sort of miscarriage of justice, but all Presbyterians should be particularly concerned about this sort of fiasco. Secondly, as Wilson suggests, it is important to point out the injustice as it is happening for the benefit of not only those involved but also everyone else watching this happen and/or letting this happen. Finally, Pastor Wilkins and many of the saints at AAPC are my friends, and it is apparent that there are far too few people out there, especially in the PCA who are willing to actually associate with these brothers, even when it is a matter of requiring simple justice.

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Brothers, Knock it Off

In our NT lesson this morning (2 Thess. 3:1-15), Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to withdraw from brothers who are disorderly, and he seems to be particularly concerned with those who do not work to provide for themselves and their own families. He says to withdraw from them, note those persons, and do not keep company with them. But Paul says, “Do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Paul says that there has to be a category for dealing with erring brothers. Paul says there will always be those who are brothers who must be separated from and admonished to faithfulness. Different churches have applied this principle in different ways, but we must recognize that this is here in the Scriptures. In our eagerness to embrace the catholicity of the church, we must not ignore those passages (like this one) which plainly exhort us to not fellowship with those who do not walk according to the apostles’ traditions. What are the apostles’ traditions? They are the inspired writings and teachings of the apostles found in the New Testament (2 Thess. 3:6, 14). As we gather around this table, we must recognize that we are not the Lords of this table. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ, and it is by his authority that we exhort other brothers who gather at this table to stop killing their babies. We exhort others at this table to stop ordaining homosexuals. Others, we exhort to stop praying to images and statues of the saints and our Lord. Others, we exhort to end their abominable worship; stop singing those stupid songs and learn to fear the God of the universe. To still others we command them to stop stealing from their employers, to stop cheating on their wives, and to quit being harsh to their children. This is not meant to dredge up your sins and make you feel guilty as you come to the table; if you have suddenly remembered an old sin, of course you must confess it and forsake it now. The point of all of this is that the unity of the Body of Christ does not mean that we treat all brothers the same. It is right and proper to acknowledge the brotherhood of all Christians, and it is this very fact that requires us to admonish some in the family to quit being rude at the table. It requires us to admonish some in the family to knock it off. And having done so, we are invited to the feast as God’s true sons and daughters. So come: eat, drink, and rejoice.

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.9: Fifth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we come now to submit ourselves to your word. We recognize that we are part of a culture that has significant authority problems. We shirk our responsibilities as authorities, and we are quick to rebel against lawful authorities that you have placed over us. Teach us to submit to you and your Word hear so that we may learn both how to lead and how to follow. Through Jesus our King, Amen!

Introduction
Where the first four commands are clearly related to our duties toward God, the fifth commandment is a transition commandment. It connects the first four to the last five commands. The requirement to honor father and mother is not limited to individual families but also serves as the foundation of all human authority established by God.

God as Father
The foundation of honoring our human fathers is found in the fact that God is our Father. We considered in the Third Commandment that honoring God’s name as Father means submitting to his fatherly chastisements. But this was the way God always intended for the world to work: Adam was created to be the son of God (Lk. 3). This means that God always intended for Adam to ‘grow up’ to be more and more like Him. The promise of a “seed” is a promise for God to raise up another “son,” another Adam. This promise continues to be reiterated in God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs. We have noted previously that the Exodus itself is based upon the fact that Israel was Yahweh’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:22). Later, God promised to be Father to David’s son (2 Sam. 7, cf. Ps. 89:26). Isaiah recognizes this (Is. 63:16, 64:8), as does Jeremiah (31:9). Malachi specifically likens the honor of a human father to the honor due to God our Father (1:6). Thus, while Jesus brings this point home, it was not really a new idea. Yet, it is he who makes the aim of the OC the reality of the NC. Paul says that it is specifically the gift of the Spirit that makes us sons of God and enables us to honor God as Father (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).

Other Fathers
But it is not enough to merely note that God is our Father and then we have human fathers to honor as well. God has designed the world to work under his rule through lawful authorities. These authorities are fathers and mothers which God requires his people to honor. While it is difficult to distinguish family fathers from these ruler-fathers, in the early history of Israel, the whole logic of the Covenant is that Abraham is our father by virtue of covenant loyalty (i.e. faith) (Rom. 4:16-18). Abraham and all of the “fathers” of Israel were not merely fathers by blood (though that was often the case). They were fathers of Israel by faith, meaning that they were God-appointed rulers and teachers of Israel and were to be honored as such. This begins to emerge more explicitly in the era of the kings: Elijah is the father of Elisha (2 Kgs. 2:12). Servants call their master/king “father” (2 Kgs. 5:13). Isaiah calls kings “foster fathers” and queens “nursing mothers” (Is. 49:23). Elisha is considered the father of the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 13:14). The prophets being called father suggests that the office of prophet/teacher in Israel was considered a “fatherly” office. Thus, much later, Paul describes his relationship with Timothy similarly to Elijah and Elisha (cf. Phil. 2:22, 1 Tim. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:2). Paul says that he and Timothy came and ministered to the Thessalonians as nursing mothers and exhorting fathers (2 Thess. 2:7-11ff). Paul says that the Corinthians have many instructors but few fathers in the faith (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul extends this in other directions as well when he encourages Timothy (and other young ministers) to exhort older men as fathers in the faith (1 Tim. 5:1).

Mother Church
We have noted before that Jesus makes many radical statements concerning father, mother, brother, and sisters. When his family comes to see him while he is teaching, he apparently ignores them and insists that those who submit to His Father in heaven are his family (Mt. 12:50). Elsewhere Jesus says that he came to divide families (Mt. 10:35). And perhaps most disturbing of all, the Lord says that if anyone does not hate his father, mother, children, brothers and sisters, and his own life, he cannot be his disciple (Lk. 14:26). We know that Jesus is not setting aside the Fourth Commandment because Jesus elsewhere explicitly appeals to the Commandment (e.g. Mt. 15:4, 19:19), and the Apostle Paul also plainly affirms the Commandment (Eph. 6:2). Yet, the sharpness of Jesus words cannot be set aside. Jesus insists that His family comes first; his family has priority over all other families. Paul teaches this same idea when he says that the Christian church is the Mother of us all (Gal. 4:26) in contrast to the old Jerusalem in bondage (without the Messiah) which John also calls the Mother of Harlots (Rev. 17:5). The Scriptures insist that the Christian Church is the family of God (Eph. 2:14-15, Gal. 6:10).

Conclusions & Applications
The command to honor father and mother applies first to our heavenly Father and to his Bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. It is not an accident that in an era where the Church has been considered negligible, the biological family has quickly fallen apart. This means that gathering as the people of God is central. This also means that you need to cultivate a delight in being around each other. You are family: act like it.

Honor is not merely nice sentiments. Jesus says that honoring parents has a lot to do with money (Mt. 15:4). Paul explicitly commands Christians to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). In the same context Paul exhorts Christians to bear one another’s burdens, restore brothers in sin, and not to grow weary in doing good. This means helping with meals, caring for children, helping brothers out in hard times, correcting, teaching, and receiving all of it with thankfulness and gratitude.

None of this should be taken to imply that your own families are not part of this broader family. Honor your Father and Mother: bless your wife. Honor your Father and Mother: discipline and love your children. Honor your Father and Mother: respect your husband.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we honor you now as our Father, and we bless you for giving us new life through your Son and in your bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. Teach us to keep your commandments as we honor you and your people.

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Fathers and Daughters

In Numbers 30, Moses explains that while a woman is still in her father’s house in her youth, she remains under his authority. He is her head. Moses explains that this means that if she makes a vow and her father hears about it, he may legitimately give his blessing to her vow or annul her vow. If her father hears about the vow and does nothing, he de facto gives his blessing to it. This specific law regarding vows establishes a larger principle that a daughter while she remains under the provision of her father’s house is under his authority. One of the most important vows a young woman will make will be the decision of whom she marries. This means that the traditional portion of a wedding ceremony where the father gives his daughter away is not just a nice, sentimental thing to do. It is in fact based upon the ancient wisdom and word of God. A father is called upon to guard, protect, and defend his daughter until he gives her away in marriage to a man that he has come to trust and respect. The father is called upon to ratify or veto his daughter’s desire to marry a particular man. This of course flies in the face of the modern Disney gospel that says teenage girls need to follow their hearts and Dads are usually old, dowdy cranks. While this is itself a slander on every faithful Christian father, it is also ultimately a slander of our Gracious Father in heaven. The gospel of Grace is that if our Heavenly Father numbers the hairs on our head and clothes the flowers of the field, how much more so will he provide for all our needs and more. Likewise, human fathers are called upon to imitate our heavenly Father. They are not called to replace our heavenly Father, but they are called to set an example that mirrors his grace, his wisdom, and his goodness. This being so, daughters, you are called upon to honor your fathers, respect them, trust their counsel, and ultimately submit yourself to the guidance of your fathers in cheerful obedience; this is not tyranny, this is the grace of God.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Father

I'm sure this has been noticed many times before, but it occurs to me that a man going around calling God his Father in Israel had to have been considered to be making an implicit (or explicit) claim to be Israel's king. The covenant that God made with David was the explicit promise of God saying, "I will be his father and he shall be my son..." (2 Sam. 7:14). Later, the Psalmist envisions this reality in the inauguration of the king of Israel (Ps. 2:7), and according to Ps. 89, to be the son of God, to be the firstborn of Yahweh, is to be the highest of all the kings of the earth (89:26). I've noted before that the title "son of God" was not first and foremost a claim to deity but had all of the OT weight of the callings of Adam, Israel, Solomon, all come to fulfillment in the true Son. But it goes the other way too of course. When Jesus calls God 'my father' and teaches his disciples to pray 'our father', he is speaking as though he is the son of David, the king of Israel and the king over all the kings of the earth. Likewise, for disciples of Jesus to pray 'our father' is implicitly to claim to be royalty; it is to claim to be sons of David, a nation of kings who rule over all the other kings of the earth.

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Happy Sabbath

The Fourth Command reiterates the command to “remember” several times. In the OT this meant remembering the great redemptive acts of God in creation and the Exodus. In the NT, our Memorial is the Eucharist. In the Lord’s Supper we perform a “Remembrance” of the even greater act of redemption in Jesus. In the death and resurrection, Jesus both remade the world and brought us out of the greater Egypt. This is why the first prayer of the Eucharist begins, “Remembering our Lord’s life-giving passion and death…” The Sabbath command is to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. We are gathered here to keep the fourth commandment, to remember the re-creation of the world and the great and final Exodus out of every form of slavery and bondage. But we are not only to remember, but to remember to keep it holy. “Holy” is one of those Bible words that people often say but rarely think about. Holy is what the Cherubim cry out around the throne of God, Holy is what the people of God were to be, and Holy is where God’s special presence is promised and to be protected and guarded. This Eucharist, this thanksgiving is one of those places where the Lord has promised to be present. Here we are entering the Most Holy Place. And just as the priests of old were required to keep themselves pure and clean, so too we must not assume that this meal is something common, a snack with Jesus. This means that whatever uncleanness, whatever sin has gotten on us we need to confess and forsake. This is why we confess our sins at the beginning of the service every week. And you have confessed and you have been forgiven; therefore let us keep the feast with joy and sincerity. Rejoice before the Lord, remembering that you were once slaves in Egypt, but now you have been made free lords and ladies. You are the royalty of the Triune God, and you are welcome at his banqueting table. And the Lord of the Sabbath says to you, ‘Happy Sabbath!’

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.8: Fourth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we are assembled here before you in order that we may rejoice in your goodness, in order that we may rest in your provision. Teach us to delight in your Sabbath, to rejoice in the great rest that you have won for us and to enter into that rest even now. Feed us now by your Word and Spirit, through Jesus Christ, Amen!

Introduction
Last week we investigated the Old Covenant Sabbath principle which was not only a day, but included feasts and years and was a continual sign of the covenant, a sign of forgiveness, release, freedom, provision both for Israel and ultimately the world. The New Testament shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Sabbath, and when he died and rose again, he remade the world and gave us an even greater Sabbath.

Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus has a number of run-ins with the Jews on the issue of Sabbath keeping. One that is mentioned by several of the gospel writers is the grain eating incident (Mt. 12, Mk. 2:23ff, Lk. 6). Jesus explains that it is lawful for he and his disciples to eat the heads of grain because David and his men at the showbread of the tabernacle. He concludes by insisting that the ‘Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Far from this being an incident where Jesus is bending the Sabbath laws, Jesus is in fact fulfilling and revealing the full meaning of the Sabbath. David and his men were on the run from Saul (on the Sabbath) and were likely preparing to defend themselves. David asks the priest for the Face Bread, the ‘Bread of the Presence.’ David tells Ahimelech that his men are holy and therefore may eat of it (1 Sam. 21:5). This means that David’s men had probably taken a Nazirite vow which gave them a temporary priestly status. Thus if David was a ‘lord of the Sabbath’, this primarily refers to the fact that he has access to the sanctuary and to the holy bread. Jesus is in effect saying that he and his disciples are free to eat heads of wheat on the Sabbath because they have access to the holy place and to the holy bread. The implication is that the Pharisees are like Doeg the Edomite and King Saul, plotting to kill Jesus and his disciples.

The Sabbath in the Gospels
The grain eating incident is followed by Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. Jesus says that it is lawful to heal and to do good on the Sabbath (Mt 12, Mk. 3, Lk. 6). This of course fits with the Sabbath pattern we saw last week where God expects his people to forgive debts, give rest and provision to the land, animals, and strangers. He explicitly appeals to these provisions when he heals a woman with an unclean spirit and likens it to loosing an animal to pasture (Lk. 13:10ff). He also healed a man of dropsy on the Sabbath likening it to pulling an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath (Lk 14:1). John also records a couple of Sabbath healings: a crippled man (Jn. 5:9ff), a blind man (Jn. 9).

Sabbath in the New Testament
Paul has a number of references to Sabbaths and observing days, etc. In Col. 2:16, Paul exhorts the Christians not to allow anyone to judge them for food, drink, new moon feasts or festivals or Sabbaths. Paul is likely dealing with Judaizers here as he does else where, and he says that Christ is the fullness of the gospel (Col. 2:9-10). There is nothing missing or lacking in their salvation; they were even circumcised in their baptisms (2:11-13). In this context, Paul says not to allow anyone to say they are lacking or incomplete. In Christ the old Sabbaths all died and were nailed to the cross with all the other laws (2:14). Christians are not required to keep the seventh day Sabbath, neither are we bound to the precise application of the law (e.g. making fires on the Sabbath, gathering manna, etc.). Romans 14:5-9 is similarly concerned with Christian Jews and Gentiles loving one another. Some Christian Jews were observing the old feast days and Sabbaths, and Paul says that Christians are free to observe them or not. He says the issue is thanksgiving and loving one another (14:6, 17-18, cf. 13:8). Paul has a similar point to make in Galatians. The issue is the conflict between Judaizers and Christians. Paul says that submitting to the Judaizers is turning “back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world,” and a chief sign of this was the observance of days, months, seasons, and years (Gal. 4:10). Paul is not against having a calendar per se; the point is that he is adamantly against living like the Messiah has not come and remade the world (cf. 6:15).

A Sabbath Remains
Hebrews says that a Sabbath remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). While we recognize that the exact regulations for this law were for a particular nation and time in covenant history, the Fourth Command remains in force. The center of this command is the requirement not to neglect coming together as God’s people (10:25). While God’s people are free to gather at any time any day; the Lord’s Day is the New Testament pattern in honor of the resurrection, the day of the new creation. At the center of this gathering is entering the holy place in the power of the Spirit to partake of the Bread of the Presence and the wine of gladness. As Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, so we have been made lords of the Sabbath and given access to drawn near in full assurance of faith (10:19-22) to partake of the altar (13:10) and to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (13:15).

Conclusions & Applications
Sabbath keeping means having access to the Holy Place and to the Holy Bread. And therefore it means worshipping God together with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. If the Lord’s Day is our Sabbath, our release, our celebration of freedom and forgiveness then we need to do all we can to make it special: dressing up for worship, working on the songs during the week, look forward to the Sabbath with your children. Make worship a big deal by singing with gusto, saying ‘Amen!’ with vigor.

We have Christian Worship at the center of our New Covenant Sabbath observance. That feast flows out into the rest of the day and ultimately our entire lives. In the New Covenant, God’s people have been raised to positions of authority; we are the Sun, moon, and stars of the New Creation. We have been given authority over the days, seasons, and years. This means that in some non-Christian cultures it is impossible to have the day off on Sunday. In the early church Christians gathered late at night and early in the morning to worship. As our society returns to a semi-paganism it may be increasingly hard to keep the Lord’s Day as a feast day, but it should be our aim, our goal, what we are working toward.

Differing families will work out the details of their Sabbath cultures in different ways. Some families will decide to have certain guidelines to direct the family culture. There is freedom here, but the central goal of God’s people needs to be rejoicing before the Lord for his goodness and resting in Christ.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and Gracious Father, we give you thanks and praise that in your infinite wisdom you have remade the world and given us access to the garden. You have placed us as kings and queens in your new Eden, the Church, and you have given us access to the Tree of Life. This is the great and final Sabbath that we partake of each Lord’s Day, and we ask that you would give us deeper and more vigorous experiences of this life that we might be your ministers of Sabbath freedom, Sabbath forgiveness, and Sabbath joy both here and throughout this community and the world.

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Dating and the Gospel

In Ephesians, Paul calls upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. One of the implications of this is that marriage is always a picture of the gospel. It is either a good picture or a bad picture, but marriage always pictures the gospel. This means that the steps leading up to marriage are part of this picture. The story of the Scriptures can be told as a great love story, a romance, a courtship, the story of a faithful, courageous and noble man who woos, courts, and marries his bride. And because we live in a culture that despises the gospel, it should come as no surprise that marriage is under a full scale assault. It is attacked on a number of different levels, but one of the most insidious attacks is at the level of preparing for marriage. The prevailing winds of dating, hooking up, going out, getting together, whatever you call it, is a lie and slander about the gospel we proclaim. Does God just play with his bride? Is the Lord Jesus just dating around? Does the God of the universe single out his bride and say, hey, this isn’t really serious, we’re just casually dating? Of course there have to be ways for a man and a woman to meet and determine if God would have them marry. But we cannot watch our young people casually date and hook up with numerous people over a number of years and then we wonder why over half of marriages in our nation end in divorce. We train our young people that marriage is basically a game of musical beds, and then we wonder when they don’t understand commitment. We train them to think casually, and then we’re shocked when they act like it. But if marriage is a picture of the gospel, if the love between a man and a woman is meant to be a glorious picture of salvation and grace, it cannot come as a surprise that so many covenant children grow up and connect the dots. Being a Christian is just a casual relationship, Jesus is just a sometime boyfriend, off again, on again. No big deal. This approach to love and marriage is essentially Arminian and Pelagian, and we ought not be surprised when it grows up into a sub-orthodox theology and ultimately produces the fruits of apostasy, heresy, and divorce.

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