Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Sons of God

I've been thinking about the idea of "son of God" for a paper I'm working on. Genesis 5:2 says that Seth was begotten in the "likeness" and according to the "image" of Adam, and we know that Adam and Eve were made in the "image" of God and according to his "likeness." So just as Seth was the son of Adam, so too, Adam was the son of God, and Luke says this in his genealogy (Lk. 3:38). Of course it should be pointed out that to say that Seth and Adam are sons of God is not to suggest that they are eternally begotten, ontological sons of the Father in the way that the second person of the Trinity is.

But the thought that occurred to me (which others have probably also noticed) is that given this status of Adam and Seth and (by implication) the descendants and generations that follow in Genesis 5, the most straightforward reading of Genesis 6:2 in reference to the "sons of God" who intermarry with the daughters of men, is that these "sons of God" are the descendants of Adam and Seth, the original "sons of God." I know that many people have suggested that the "sons of God" are Sethites based on the fact that the judgment falls on humanity and not others, but I'm suggesting that the "sons of God" are Sethites because Seth was himself the son of God because Adam was. I think the judgment on humanity (rather than angels for example) suggests the same thing. But if Seth is the son of God because he is the son of Adam then Seth's son must be too and his son and his son and so on. When we arrive in Genesis 6 it's difficult to think of anyone else when the phrase "sons of God" is used.

For the record, I know that one interpretive possibility in Genesis 6 is to understand the "sons of God" to be angels or demons of some kind, and in defense of this reading, the giants ("nephilim") and the mighty men of renown that show up on the scene at the same time are pointed out. In principle, I have no problem with affirming that at some point(s) in history angels/demons and humans interacted sexually. Given all of the mythologies (e.g. Ovid) wherein gods copulating with humans figure so prominently and Jude's reference to angels who did not keep their proper domain but gave themselves over to sexual immorality and went after strange flesh (like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah), I think it very probable that such a thing has happened and that strange, mutant humans have been born. I have no problem with that. And I think it probably did happen. At the same time, I'm more and more convinced that this is not what is being referenced in Genesis 6, or it's at least not the principle event that mankind is being judged for.


Justice, Resurrection, and the Eucharist

We have considered the themes of justice and the resurrection this morning. One of the meanings of this table is peace. The peace offering in the Old Testament always included a meal in the presence of God. This table is that peace offering all grown up. Here we celebrate in the presence of God what Adam lost many centuries ago. This means that this meal is the celebration and proof of the justice of God. You are the justified ones who are covered in the blood of Christ; you are “right” in God’s eyes and therefore you are welcome to fellowship with him in his presence. Here at this table we celebrate something which God has promised to fill the whole world with. And you are called to believe this. How can God make peace in your family? How can God heal the hurt, the bitterness, the sickness? Ultimately we know that we’re still going to die. But God has called us here to this table to celebrate the restoration of all things now, to celebrate peace and justice now, and to celebrate the resurrection now. This is the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection. We celebrate resurrection life here and now because we believe that God will fill this world with this life. Therefore as you eat this meal, you are not only affirming that this is true, but you are also pledging yourself to live like you believe this with every ounce of strength in your body. Eating here means that you will live out there with the full expectation that Greenville will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Eating here means that you will live out there expecting your neighbors to trust in Jesus and serve him. Eating here means that you fully expect miracles to happen. We serve the God who raises the dead who has made all things new. So come, eat, drink, rejoice, and believe.


Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Phil. 3:1-4:9: Deeper Justice

Opening Prayer: Good and Gracious Lord, we bow before your presence now and plead with you to give us the words of life. We are hungry, and we are your children, and therefore we plead with you to feed us. We know that you delight to do this and therefore we thank you now for the good food of your word that you have set before us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

The Church is called to be a different kind of community in this world. We are called to be a heavenly community, the embodiment of the “kingdom come” in this world. A kingdom always means that there is a king, and if there is a king there is a justice to be served. We are called to learn this maturity in our thinking (3:15).

Philippians on the Mind
The entire book of Philippians is concerned with the mind, thinking, remembering, considering, etc. (1:3, 10, 27, 2:2, 3, 5, 19-20, 3:7-8, 15-16, 4:2, 8). Overwhelmingly, Paul exhorts the Philippians to be of the “same” or “one” mind with one another and with Christ (1:27, 2:2, 5, 2:20, 3:15-16, 4:2, 8). We should also notice that this “mind” is not opposed to the body. While Paul struggles with whether to remain in the flesh (1:21ff), it is clear that his hope is in resurrection from the dead (3:10-11). Central to this is the fact that Christians are citizens of heaven (3:20). Heavenly citizenship means hope in the resurrection of our bodies (3:21). The hope of resurrection means both that this life does not matter and that it matters greatly. On the one hand, Paul relegates all of his Jewish righteousness to the landfill (3:5-8), and he is content in all circumstances (4:11-12). On the other hand, Paul is striving for something in this life, to be conformed to the death of Christ (3:10); he is pressing toward a goal (3:14), and it matters how people walk (3:16, 4:2). Notice also Paul’s concern for justice (3:9). Stoics, determinists, evolutionists must ultimately resign themselves to an unjust world. But Paul’s concern for justice is founded in the fact that Jesus is king (2:11ff) and his hope in the resurrection (3:9-10). The resurrection radically alters our conception of justice: if this life is all that we have, then we are tempted to care too much or too little (apathy vs. legalism). But Christ says to bless those who persecute, blessed are those who are persecuted, and give your tunic to whoever requires it of you. When sin and death entered the world, a Deep Justice was introduced to begin to combat it, but the law cannot save us from death. We need a justice that can deliver us from the grave and bring us back into the presence of God. We need the Deeper Justice found in the resurrection of Jesus.

A Grateful Kingdom
The resurrection of Jesus is our sure word that justice will be done. This is why Paul is so full of joy and thanksgiving (1:3, 18, 26, 2:16, 3:1, 4:4, 10, 4:18). Paul can rejoice in prison, when wicked preachers preach out of spite, and in thick and thin because the resurrection is true. The model for this mind is Christ (2:5ff). And Hebrews tells us that Jesus went to the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). This “in between” is given to us to teach us to “press on” (3:12), “reach forward” (3:13), “walk” (3:16-17), “eagerly wait” (3:20), “long for” (4:1), and rejoice in all of it (4:4). Paul says that we are to be so full of gratitude that our gentleness is known to all (4:5). We are to be known for gentleness. The word “gentle” means patient, long suffering, fair, equitable, gracious, kind. Gentle doesn’t mean being a wimp. We are to be gentle because we trust in our King. This is why verse 8 is so important. This verse is usually taken as only a prescription, but given the context it would probably fit even better as an explanation of the command to rejoice. Why are we to rejoice? The word translated “meditate” could just as easily be translated “count” or “reckon.” We are to count all the noble things, the just things, the pure things, the lovely things, the good reports, the virtue, the praiseworthy. We are to keep accounts of all the blessings of God. We are to meticulously keep track of them. We are to be so consumed with all of “these things” that we cannot but rejoice. This is the mind of Christ; this is the like-mindedness we are to strive for. And we can only do this in light of the justice of the resurrection and the promise of the kingdom (3:9-11, 20-21).

Conclusions & Applications
Remember the deeper justice: In a church this size there will be numerous opportunities to hold grudges, to be bitter, to keep accounts about what someone said or did or whatever. But remember that you’re still going to die. We put no confidence in the flesh: your PhD, your income bracket, your reputation, your theological prowess, your nice figure or pretty face: it’s all rubbish. You may not say, “I deserve…” That is the justice of the law, but that kind of justice is only damning. You’re still going to die. The resurrection means that now justice is possible, but it’s only possible through Christ and the resurrection.

Remember Paul’s context. He’s writing from jail with the real possibility of execution hanging over him (1:13-14ff). Yet Paul sees nothing but opportunity. The Christian mind looks for excuses to give thanks because it is utterly convinced that God will put it right. Therefore, make your requests to God and do it with thanksgiving (v. 6) and do not worry; do not be anxious. Trust your King. Pray thankfully. And make sure your conversation reflects this kind of thankfulness even while seeking to correct or critique. Do not lie (about the resurrection) to God or your neighbor.

What injustice is there in your life? Have you been mistreated? Is there sickness? Are there divisions in your family? Is it financial, emotional, or physical? Jesus is not dead. He was raised from the dead for our justification. This means that we are called to live now in the joy and confidence of complete vindication and access into the presence of God. Let your gentleness be known to all. Trust in your King. The Lord is near; he is not far away. And he knows what he is doing. Therefore give thanks and rejoice always. He will raise you from the dead.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and gracious Lord and Judge, in your goodness you have always come to the aid of your people. You always hear them when they pray, you are always near, and you will always fight for us. We rejoice now in the life you have given us, the journey that you have called us to, and for all of the good things you have piled high around us. Guard us and defend us in this in this peace, and may we always bestow this kind of grace and peace and justice upon those around us. We trust in you and believe that you will raise us up from the dead.


What are their names?

Our Lord said that the Second greatest commandment was the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself. This is well known, but it must be reiterated in every age because of how quick people are to erect barriers and excuses for their lack of faithfulness. So let me remind you that your neighbor is the one who lives next door to you. You neighbors are the people who live across the street, next door, and perhaps upstairs or downstairs from you. It should also be pointed out that the command to love your neighbor is not merely a prohibition against doing them harm. You have not fulfilled this command simply because you have not stolen anything from them, gossiped about them, or attempted to firebomb their house. You have not loved them merely by ignoring them. And the commandment has no qualifications. It does not say to love your neighbors when they are friendly to you. It does not say to love your neighbors when they are nice looking or are your same age, race, or income bracket. It does not say to love your neighbors only if they are nice to you. The commandment is to love you neighbor period. And if you needed a special invitation, the Scriptures elsewhere require Christians to love their enemies and to bless those who persecute them. This means that you are required to love your neighbors even if they hate you and have repeatedly told you so.

So, what are their names? How many children do they have? Where are they from? What do they do? What do they hope to do? What are their needs? How can you help them? How can you encourage them? How can you befriend them? How can you be grace to them?


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Father and Son

Donald Macleod points out that the Trinitarian Father and Son relationship is the archetype of the same human relationship. This insists that there is something fundamentally the same about a Father and his Son. The eternal Sonship of the second person of the Trinity is part of the basis for insisting upon the homoousion (“same substance”) expression. The Son is the exact representation and substance of the Father. Nor can the Father continue to be the Father apart from the Son, and likewise the Son is not the Son without the Father. They are same and yet their difference is simultaneously necessary. As an archetype of the human father and son relationship, this suggests that faithful fathers must see themselves in their sons. And sons must see themselves in their fathers. To put it more precisely, fathers must see themselves as their sons, and sons must see themselves in an important sense as their fathers. They must also see themselves as mutually dependent upon one another and mutually dependent in their role as father or son. This means that just as Trinitarian theology must always hold the three and the one together: the homoousion concept along with the relationship of Father to Son (one and two at once), so too, human fathers must understand themselves as their sons, for example treating their sons as they treat themselves. And at the same time, it is incumbent upon fathers to be fathers and sons to be sons for both coexist. Thus, as many have pointed out, all filial/paternal breakdowns are ultimately Trinitarian heresies, careening toward Arianism or Tritheism on the one hand or Sebellianism and Unitarianism on the other.


Monday, July 02, 2007

To Leaven or Not To Leaven

Throughout the history of the Church some congregations have celebrated this meal with leavened bread and others with unleavened bread. We are not told explicitly in the NT which sort of bread God requires and therefore we believe that Christians are free to choose. We know that leaven can represent malice and envy (1 Cor. 5:8), but Jesus also says that the kingdom of God is like leaven which works through the entire loaf (Lk. 13:21). So which is it? The answer of course is, yes. Leaven means growth and maturity, but growth and maturity is not an automatic blessing nor is it neutral. The question is always what is growing? Is it cancer or a tumor? Then it needs to be cut out. Is it good muscle and strong bones? Then we can rejoice in it. And sometimes leaven needs to be got rid of not because of any inherent evil but because you’re growing up. Children give up pacifiers and diapers. Older children don’t hold their parents hands when crossing the street. Young adults leave their parents and marry and begin families of their own. And parents let their older children go into the world. These are good and healthy transitions if they are done with thanksgiving and obedience to God.

We use leaven in our communion bread perhaps for many reasons, but one of them is because we want to emphasize the growth of the kingdom, the promise of the gospel. The gospel is not merely clinging to old things or wishing we could get back to some better time. The promise of the gospel always takes us forward. In this meal you are eating mature bread, fermented bread and mature wine, fermented grape juice. This is the life of the kingdom, and the kingdom is not done. It’s growing. And it will grow until it fills the whole earth. Some come, eat and drink, and trust that God knows what he’s doing. He’s growing us up; so trust him.


Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 13:1-22

Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your great wisdom. We thank you that you have given us your wisdom here in your Word and that you promise to impart that to us through the Holy Spirit. Teach us now as we consider these things, and give us grace to know you, love you, and serve you more faithfully. Through Jesus,

All That Opens the Womb
The chapter opens with instructions about the “sanctifying” of the first born of Israel (13:2: lit. “every firstborn that opens every womb”). First, we should understand this term “opens the womb” to refer to “firstborn.” In order to understand the point of this, we must go back to the fact that Yahweh has already declared that the nation of Israel is his “first born son” (4:22). The fact that Pharaoh has oppressed his firstborn son is central to why Yahweh has struck down the firstborn sons of Egypt (4:23). But Yahweh says that the firstborn are now HIS, they are to be “sanctified” to him. What does this mean? This becomes explicit later when God reiterates that the firstborn are his (Ex. 22:29-30, Ex. 34:20). This is essentially the beginning of Israel’s priesthood. Later, the Levites are taken as substitutes for the all of the firstborn sons of Israel (Num. 3:12-13, 40-51, 8:19). Here Yahweh explains explicitly that all the firstborn became his when he struck down the firstborn of Egypt and sanctified the firstborn of Israel (Num. 3:13).

We should note that the heavy emphasis on firstborn males goes back to the beginning. The reason males are focused upon is because it is Adam’s sin that cursed humanity. The first firstborn son was Cain. For God to come and bring judgment on all of the “Cains” of Egypt and Israel is for God to begin to rectify the sin of Adam/Cain. Cain was a murderer who was sent away into the land, away from the presence of God. God is coming after this new “Cain” who is oppressing Yahweh’s righteous son (“Able”). If God is judging Cain and defending Able then God is preparing to bring Israel back into communion with Him. We see this in the fact that when God “sanctifies” the firstborn of Israel they are marked out as his “holy ones.” God has not only spared them; he has made them holy. If they are holy they have been made acceptable to God and can come back into his presence. Holiness means access to God.

Feast of Unleavened Bread
We need to remember what leaven means. Biblically speaking, leaven symbolizes growth. Ridding themselves of leaven is ridding themselves symbolically of the life and culture of Egypt. Leaven is not bad in itself, but God requires us to get rid the old leaven when it has become old or infested with sin. Once Israel is out of Egypt she will be free to make new leaven, leaven from the new land and new life God is giving her.

Notice the contrasts of service/labor: Yahweh is bringing Israel out of the house of “labor” (13:3), and now they are to “serve this service/labor at this labor” (13:5). The people are again instructed that they must teach their children while they keep this service of unleavened bread (13:8). Notice that they are to put this in the first person (“when I came out of Egypt…” 13:8). This liturgy remained largely the same throughout the generations of Israel. Passover/Unleavened was to be celebrated as a reenactment. This means that parents were not only to instruct their children about what God has done in the past but also explain its personal significance to them. Verse 9 says that this feast will be a “sign” on their hands” and for a memorial “between their eyes” so that the Lord’s law/torah may be in their mouths. Literally, they are to keep this ordinance at its appointed time “from days to days” (13:10).

Unleavened Firstborn Sons
The thing that ties the sanctifying of the firstborn together with the Feast of Unleavened bread seems to be this theme of a “sign on your hand and a memorial between your eyes” (13:9, 16). These are to be the ongoing “law” (cf. 13:9) that Israel keeps in their mouths. It also includes a confession of faith that “with a strong hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt.” Notice that the “you” has become an “us” in 13:14, 16 (compare 13:9). Thus, Yahweh has redeemed his firstborn son Israel by “passing over him” and therefore Israel is to remember this by doing the same: “you will cause to pass over everything that opens the womb for Yahweh” (lit. 13:12). The word translated “dedicate/set apart” is just another form of the word that was used to describe Yahweh’s passing through the land of Egypt (cf. 12:12, 23). (Note: this is not the word “pesach,” the specific word for “Passover.”) They are to “cause to pass over” everything that “opens the womb” from the young of the animals; the males are for Yahweh. The offspring of donkeys are to be “ransomed” with lambs and those they do not “ransom” they are to break their necks (13:13). “All the firstborn of Adam” are to be ransomed also (13:14). The instructions will be made more explicit later, but every firstborn of man and animal belonged to Yahweh. Unclean animals (like donkeys) were substituted with lambs (13:13) as were children (13:15). Holy people are to live holy lives.

Notice that God directs his people in order to secure their deliverance. Even during one of the greatest acts of salvation God recognizes that his people are likely to turn back in disbelief (13:17). Israel went up out of the land of Egypt “by fives/fifties” (13:18). Yahweh goes before Israel in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This is the same Yahweh that appeared to Moses in the burning bush. God is with his people.

Conclusions and Applications
Remember that the Old Testament is the story of Jesus (Lk. 24:27). Jesus is our Passover lamb, the ransomed-only begotten son for God’s firstborn son, Israel. This is the glory of God’s story. Thousands of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, people were acting out the gospel, telling their children the gospel, believing the gospel in hope. This is the God we serve, the God who tells the story from the beginning to end, a story that displays his power, his goodness, and his mercy. So teach your children this story. We ought to make a big deal out of the salvation God has won for us in Jesus: celebrate the Lord’s Day, read Scripture and sing together regularly, and talk about all the time. Just be thankful for all of the good gifts of God. This is holiness. You are a royal priesthood.

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

Concluding Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that when you saved us you not only took our sins and dealt with them on the cross but that you also made us your holy people. Enable us to live holy lives not like the hypocrites who think they will be rewarded for their show. But enable us to live faithful lives in joyful obedience.


Praying Heaven Down

For far too many Christians prayer is a last ditch effort. When all else fails, they pray. But this is fundamentally a form of hypocrisy and unbelief. Does God rule the world perfectly? Has Jesus Christ been raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father? Does the prayer of the righteous avail much? The Scriptures over and over again declare that all of these things are true. Our God is not a stoic hermit in the sky, isolated from our lives and the history of this world. Our God has become one of us in Jesus Christ. He was tempted in all ways like us and understands the frailty of human life. He experienced all of the pressures and challenges of life though he was without sin. And now this same God-man is in heaven and there he is our advocate with the Father; he is our defense attorney, our lawyer, our constant defender. And the Scriptures say that He ever intercedes on our behalf. What we do here in worship is centrally an act of prayer. Our songs are prayers, our readings and sermon are before God and in his presence and therefore prayers, our prayers are prayers, the Lord’s Supper is a ritual action which pleads the blood of Christ before God for us and for the world. All that we do here is prayer before the throne of Grace. If this is the center of our world, if worship is the most important thing any Christian can do (and it is), then our lives must be characterized by prayer. If you only pray when things get tough, you are a hypocrite and a coward. But God gives more grace. Drop your unbelief now, drop your hypocrisy, repent, and come and worship. Come and enter into our prayers now and then go and live lives characterized by prayer. Only then can we begin to approach perhaps what the apostle meant when he said pray always and on all occasions; pray without ceasing. Prayer for a Christian is like breathing. It is your life, your strength, and your comfort. And God promises to hear, and to answer for your good and His glory. So come, worship the Lord.