Monday, April 23, 2007
God knows us completely. He knows our stories; he knows our failures, our sins. He knows it all. It’s sometimes tempting to think that because we all got up and took showers this morning and put on nice clothes that we are all gathered around this table because we are fairly decent people. It’s easy to think that God likes us because we’re somewhat likeable. But the gospel is clear: if we piled up all our best traits, and took fifty baths, and bought the most expensive perfume, and spent 50 years caring for poor people and sick infants, it would amount to a pile of manure and dirty rags. Paul says, if anyone had a case for boasting he did, and he counted it all rubbish; it’s nothing compared to the exceeding riches of the glory of God. Compared to God’s holiness and righteousness we are all poor beggars, covered in filth. God knew all our worst thoughts, our worst actions, our worst sins, he knew them all, and he still invited you here. This means that you are forgiven. This meal is the Eucharist, the thanksgiving. And the reason we are giving thanks is because we are here. How is it that we are here? How is it that a righteous and holy God let us within 100 yards of him? He has done this because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. You are washed. You are clean. You are healed. You are clothed as royalty, as sons and daughters of the King. So come with thankfulness. God knew you and all that you were; but God has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. So come eat and drink and believe.
Opening Prayer: Gracious Lord, you know that we like to talk about you a lot. We use lots of big words, and we are quick to deceive ourselves, thinking that knowing about you is the same as knowing you. Present yourself to us today, even now. That we may know you and the power of your salvation, and thus bear your Name and image in true righteousness and holiness, through Jesus Christ, Amen!
My Name Yahweh
Moses has just gotten in hot water with the elders of Israel and has brought his case before the Lord (5:20-23). God’s response is initially to tell Moses his name (6:2ff). Of interest here is the fact that God is not talking about mere knowledge of his name; the patriarchs use the name “Yahweh” throughout their narratives. Some modern critics take this to mean that an original (now lost copy of Genesis did not include the name Yahweh). But there is a simpler explanation in the text (v. 8). This means that there is some knowledge of Yahweh that will be new: the fact that he is a God who delivers his people and keeps promises (6:6-8). Yahweh is the God who redeems with “an outstretched arm.” Yahweh is the God of Exodus. God’s word does not seem to affect Israel’s view of Moses because of “shortness of breath” and “hard labor” (v. 9). And Moses asks God how his words will have any affect on Pharaoh if his own countrymen aren’t (v. 11-12).
The Family of Moses
We need to do a little bit of math here to understand the genealogy correctly. We know that God promised Abraham that his descendents would be in bondage for 400 years (Gen. 15:13). However, here in Exodus 6 we find that 400 years has not elapsed between Levi and Moses (vv. 16, 18, 20). If we add these years end to end we get 407 which some have taken to mean that this is merely a symbolic number. But the Apostle Paul gives us some inspired commentary on this chronology in Galatians 3, indicating that the 400 years should be reckoned to begin from the covenant made with Abraham (Gal. 3:17). If we estimate the chronology (not being sure exactly when people were born during their father’s life) we might estimate that Israel went down into Egypt proper about half-way through the 400 or 430 years (cf. Ex. 12:40-41). Based on Exodus 12, we must conclude that “bondage in Egypt” refers to the entire time Abraham and his descendents lived in the land as strangers under foreign domination (which would have been Egypt primarily).
Why this Here?
Many modern commentators have concluded that this genealogy is yet another evidence of scribal cut-and-paste sloppiness. “O shoot, we forgot about that bit… ah, just throw that in here.” But the context suggests that the writer of this text knew full well what he was doing when it was placed here. First, we know that this genealogy precedes the beginning of the heart of the “showdown” between Yahweh and Pharaoh. The genealogy makes sense here to introduce the main characters. Secondly, God has just declared who he is in terms of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (6:3-4, 8). The genealogy here clearly illustrates that for God to be Yahweh, the promise keeping God, the God who delivers his people, he must act now (it’s the fourth generation cf. Gen. 15). Notice also that this passage is concerned to record the “heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites” (v. 25). Also notice the redemption of Israel is not coming through the oldest sons of Jacob: Reuben and Simeon. It’s coming through a younger brother (remember Joseph), and it’s coming through the liturgical tribe. It’s not the royal tribe (Judah); it’s the tribe given the task of teaching Israel and leading her in worship.
As God to Pharaoh
The text indicates after the genealogy that it’s at this time that this same Moses reminded God that he was not a good public speaker (6:28-30). But Yahweh responds by saying that he has made Moses God to Pharaoh (7:1). Yahweh said something similar when Moses protested that he was not a good speaker. Yahweh told him that he would be as God to Aaron his brother who would speak on his behalf (4:16). The set up is a little different here, and Aaron is described as Moses’ prophet. But Moses is said to be God in both of these cases. Clearly, Moses is not becoming Yahweh himself, but Moses because of his interaction with and knowledge of Yahweh is being made God to Aaron and Pharaoh. From this angle, this should remind us of Adam in the garden. He was created in the image of God. Additionally, Adam enjoyed perfect communion and interaction with God. His communion with God was so perfect that he could be said to be God to the world. Perhaps this is what the Psalmist refers to in Psalm 82 when he refers to the “children of the Most High” as “gods.” Thus, Moses is a picture of righteous image-bearing, the image restored. He does this because he knows and speaks with Yahweh.
Conclusion & Application
Jesus is called the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) and the “express image” of His person (Heb. 1:3). And Paul tells us that in Christ, we and the whole creation are being renewed and remade. In particular it is that image that must be renewed, and therefore this is what God has predestined us to: to be conformed to the image of the new Adam, the Lord Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But how are we conformed to that image? By knowing God in Christ (Jn. 17:3, 1 Cor. 2). And the NT ties this “knowing God” to imaging God (Eph. 3:19, 1 Jn. 4:7-8). Therefore we may rightly say that God has made you God to the world. This is not a call to some kind of arrogant, power-tripping lifestyle. This is actually a call to a ministry of redemption through dying. And in fact, the apostles over and over again insist that we have already died (Rom. 6:2-8, 2 Cor. 5:14, Col. 2:20, 3:3, 2 Tim. 2:11). That means that this is a call to faith. Moses didn’t have a great job, telling the most powerful man in the world that he was going down. We are all called to die to one another. But this should come as a great joy in this season as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. For if God has raised him from the dead we know that God will surely raise us up as well.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God and Father, we thank you that in Jesus Christ we have died. And we thank you that because you raised him from the dead, you have also raised us to newness of life. We thank you that in Him, we have been called this ministry of reconciliation, a ministry of redemption. Grant us grace to know you, to know your Christ and him crucified, that your fullness may dwell in us that we may be present you truly to the world.
Throughout the Scriptures and particularly in the prophets it is abundantly clear that God deals with his people covenantally. And the basic conditions of this covenant are that God promises to bless faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the obedience that flows from it and he promises to curse unbelief and disobedience. This week we have witnessed yet another horrific tragedy in our nation, this time on the campus of Virginia Tech. We are not inspired prophets, and therefore we are not called upon to make particular judgments or declarations regarding particular people or events. Yet, this is an opportunity to consider tragedy in general, and it will not do for God’s people to respond by shrugging their shoulders and acting as though everything that happens in this world is a grand, inscrutable mystery, sort of like being confused and astonished when a wine glass shatters after being thrown to the ground.
We are a nation full of millions of Christians and we are a nation which supports a multi-billion dollar pornography business, a nation that has slaughtered millions of unborn children, a nation that celebrates the perversion of homosexuality, and the list goes on. We must recognize that Christians are keeping all of these industries and perversions running. And Christians are holding memorial services for this week’s tragedy praying together with Muslims and Jews and Buddhists, praying to some idol in their imaginations. Surely there are faithful Christians affected by these events, surely they will cry out to the Father of our Lord Jesus, and they will be comforted. But Allah will give no comfort, the god of the Jews cannot come near, Buddha is dead and buried, and the god of the dollar bill is deaf to all their pleas. Jeremiah says, “O Lord are not your eyes on the truth? You have stricken them, but they have not grieved; you have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return. Therefore I said, surely these are poor. They are foolish…” (5:3-4) When a nation on this earth is full of people called by the name Christian and they are simultaneously participating in all manner of idolatry, perversion, and violence we cannot act confused or surprised when disasters and tragedies begin to afflict them. This is the biblical pattern; sin will be judged; God is not mocked.
So what must our response be to all these things? First, we must cry out to the Triune God to have mercy and compassion on those who were affected by these events to give them comfort and peace because we worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the God of all comfort. And we must ask God to have mercy on us as a nation and plead with Him to grant us reformation. Secondly, we must reject all syncretism, every attempt to water down the Christian God. We are Trinitarians. We worship God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. All other gods are idols. Finally, we must insist that sin always ruins lives and reject all Darwinian psychobabble that tries to find the ultimate causes of these events in psychological evaluations. Sin is the problem with this world, and unconfessed and unrestrained it always ends in sorrow, darkness, and death. And therefore we must begin with ourselves, confessing and forsaking all that we have added to our nation’s plight, all that is contrary to the Word of God, every way in which we have broken covenant and not lived by faith.
This morning we have considered the importance of the fear of God. We here at Holy Trinity often emphasize the festive nature of this table, the great joy that we should have in fellowship here with one another and with the Lord, the head of this table. But mingled with this deep, robust joy, must also be a hearty fear and reverence of God, especially here. Paul says in 1 Cor. 11: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” So what is our response to this warning? Our response must always be faith. If you know that there is sin in your life, if you know there are things you need to make right with another brother or sister, or some sin you need to deal with, repent of the sin now. Put it down, tell God its name, and ask him to forgive you, and determine to make it right by God’s grace. This warning is not a fencing of this table. If you are a baptized Christian you are summonsed to this table, your place is set. But Jesus is here dealing with us, and therefore fear. Do not come here believing that this is some ritual to trifle with, but come here with believing hearts, know that God is good and that he is ministering his grace to you now. And as you do so recognize that this is God’s goodness to you. The fear of God always drives us to joy because we know that God is good and his mercies endure forever. Some come eat, drink and rejoice with trembling, repent of your sins and come. You are God’s people, and he rejoices over you.
This is the Second Sunday in Easter. The Resurrection is something so huge, so marvelous that we can’t help but continue to celebrate even after all the chocolate and candy has been taken down in the grocery stores. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the gospel, and therefore it is central to all that we are and do. But it is not enough merely celebrate the fact that Jesus came back from the dead (though we must do that). We must also understand what the resurrection means. The resurrection means that our sins are forgiven and we stand before God with a clean conscience (1 Pet. 3:21). Therefore you may not hold grudges against your parents, your spouse, your children, or neighbors. Since you are free before God, you are called to give and bestow the freedom of forgiveness to all others. The resurrection also means that you are declared righteous before God (Rom. 4:25). This means that for all the faults God could justly hold against you, he has determined to only see you through and in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore you must go and do likewise: determine within yourselves that as God has been merciful to you, you will be merciful to others. As God only sees you in Christ and is pleased with you in Him, so you too are called to look upon one another and see one another in Christ and therefore be pleased and thankful for each other. This is the meaning of resurrection: all things have been made new. Therefore live in this newness. Every unforgiving thought, every bitter or resentful sentiment is to claim that Jesus is still in the grave, that he did not rise, and that God has not forgiven you. But Christ is risen.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Perhaps you've heard already, but Douglas Wilson has replied to Sam Harris's best selling book "Letter to a Christian Nation." Wilson's reply is "Letter from a Christian Citizen" and promises to be a worthy rejoiner to the conversation.
More information can be found at www.letterfromachristiancitizen.com.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
My daughter is small. She has been breathing the air of this planet for a little over eight months, but she is still small. She crouches on her feet like a catcher. Her eyes study her fingers like machines far below maneuvering through the waves rippling in the carpet. Then without warning her legs begin to straighten and she stands up. Her eyes are wide as she looks over at me, almost asking what has happened. I shrug my shoulders and smile. She looks down and back up somewhat astonished with the fact that she is not falling.
My son explains to me that Jesus is NOT God, but that they are friends. My son continues to expound Christological heresies while his small bottom swims around in his oceanic dinner chair. He's a cute heretic. I cite the song "Praise God" (the Doxology) as proof for my argument that Jesus is in fact God, explaining that the Son became Jesus and was born by Mary. He's skeptical, and continues to run with the friendship argument. After one more attempt I inform him that he's wrong and that he must accept that Jesus is God. This is the domestic version of conversion by the sword. My voice indicates that the only acceptable response is "yes sir" and he cheerfully acquiesces. Yet another victory for Christendom.
My daughter used to be in the living room. She was there when I looked last. That was five seconds ago. She crawls. She crawls proficiently. But she is not a sprinter. I'm not sure why she's no longer in the living room and no where in sight. A moment later my son arrives with the missing piece of the puzzle. More to the point, he's holding the missing piece under the arms and carrying her manfully through the house. She has a look on her face that is a cross between very pleased and terrified. She loves her brother. He's her hero. If she were a teenager, posters of her brother doing all sorts of masculine things would decorate her walls. He would be smashing bugs and ants in one picture. In another he would be gallantly riding his stick horse ("Galloping Jack") down the hallway waving a sword and shouting insults at his villainous enemies. Felicity spends most of her days playing next to and following her brother from toy to toy.
"Read the one about plucking the children's eyes out!" My son loves the Proverbs. After he heard Proverbs 30:17 there was no going back. Actually, now every time we pull the Bible out, he wants to hear his favorite verse. It really is a fascinating proverb: "The eye that mocks his father and scorns obedience to his mother will be plucked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by baby eagles." It's sort of like the Circle of Life. Only not. Of course it's one thing for a child's eye to get the brunt of disobedience, that's pretty wild. But it's another thing entirely for the Holy Spirit to explain exactly what will happen to it. A raven will get it, and then, apparently having made a covenant with a local eagle family, will drop a snack off at his favorite, local eyry. My son knows a good story when he hears it.
Friday, April 13, 2007
When God gave the creation or dominion mandate to Adam, the command was five-fold: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over all the animals. In other words, our calling as men and women is to see the world as our calling. We are called to find a patch of the earth and claim it for King Jesus. The early explorers had the right idea, even if they applied it somewhat haphazardly. We're called to look at the world and find something wonderful, something amazing, something that blows our minds and imaginations and dig in.
If rocks amaze you, then give your life to studying, ruling, and subduing rocks. If words rock your world, then give your life to studying, ruling, and subduing words, languages, and stories. If numbers put the sparkle in your eye then give your life to studying, ruling, and subduing numbers and equations. The world is our treasure hunt. God said to Adam, "Look, there's this river that flows out of this garden, and parts into four heads a little ways down. Down that one river there is gold and precious stones, and the other one goes to this amazing land called Africa, and those other two... well, I leave those for you to explore."
It's so easy for vocation to become only a duty, only a chore, and only a utilitarian means to an end. I have a family I must feed. I have a mortgage I must pay. I have children in college. But these are less than the calling that God has given to us. We're actually called to our vocations for his glory and our fulfillment in him. And it's because he has promised to bless us and make us fruitful in our labors that we *get* to feed our family, that we *get* to build and pay for homes, and that we *get* to send our children out into the world to be trained, educated, and equipped to join us in taking dominion. God has loaded the world with treasures, and he's given us a treasure map in his Word. And he has said, "Go on, get busy."
Monday, April 09, 2007
This meal like all of our worship is filled with the declaration of the gospel, the declaration that Christ is risen, Jesus is Lord. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he met two of his disciples on the road on the first day of the week, and there he explained to them why it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die. These two disciples on the road were doubting, hurt, and confused. They had hoped that this man Jesus had been the Messiah. This scene is humorous because of course who they are talking to. One wonders if Jesus had trouble holding a straight face through it all. There in front of them was their beloved master explaining why he had to suffer and die and be raised on the third day. But it was not until Jesus broke bread with them at the table that their eyes were opened and they saw that it was their Lord with them. This meal is where the risen Jesus promises to meet us. But he does not meet us without effecting us, without challenging us. He too, meets us veiled in the forms of bread and wine and this thanksgiving. He meets us, explains that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die and rise again. And therefore his words are simultaneously a blessing and a challenge. He says to you here week after week declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Do you believe this? Then you must know that I am in the business of changing you. I am dealing with you here. So come eat and drink. Come and believe.
Opening Prayer: Almighty God, too often we consider these glorious gospel truths with dull hearts and glazed eyes. But here in the mystery of the resurrection you displayed your righteousness and your plan for the whole world, the entire cosmos. Teach us now, meet with us now, challenge us, change us, and overcome our every excuse, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Resurrection Sunday is the high feast of the Christian calendar.
Christ is Risen therefore Jesus is Lord
Paul describes the gospel declaration here at the beginning of the passage emphasizing that what took place is “according to the Scriptures” (15:3-4). This is what was promised from the beginning, and Paul summarizes this preaching in the phrase “Christ is raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:4, 12). When we declare that Christ is risen we are declaring the simplest gospel. In fact, this is the first thing we mean when we say that Jesus is Lord. For Jesus to be Lord, he must in fact be Lord of all. There cannot be anything that can hold Christ under its sway. The greatest enemy; the fiercest foe and strongest power in the world, is the power of death. But when we say that Jesus is Lord, we mean that he is Lord of even life and death. He is the Lord because he is the only one can both lay down his life and take it back up again. When we declare that he is risen we declare that he is Lord of life and death, and if he is lord of life and death, there is nothing he is not Lord of. He is Lord of birth and pregnancy, the Lord of childhood and education. He is the Lord of employment and marriage. He is the Lord of our computers and cars and clothes. He is the Lord of our homes and communities. He is Lord of all.
All are Raised or None
Paul addresses the doubts of some in the Corinthian church about whether there will be a resurrection of the dead (15:12). He is clear that either Jesus is raised and therefore all will be raised, or if there is no resurrection of the dead then Jesus did not rise from the dead (15:13, 16). You cannot have one without the other. This is like wanting pregnancy but no children or children without pregnancy. The two are mutually dependent: if you have one, you must have the other. This is like wanting the sun but no sunlight, or thinking that you might be able to have sunlight without the sun. If you do not have one, you cannot have the other. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus means the resurrection of the dead, and the resurrection of the dead can only be true if Jesus rose from the dead. And furthermore, if Christ did not rise then the gospel is empty, our faith is empty, we are liars, and we are still in our sins, and we are the most pitiable of all men (15:14-19). Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are a bunch of lying, sorry losers.
Christ must Reign
The question of course comes, why is Christ waiting so long to raise us up along with all those who have died. What is Jesus doing before the “end”? He must reign, Paul says, until He has put all enemies under his feet. Jesus is destroying all of his enemies, until he comes to the last enemy which is death itself (15:25-26). He goes on to describe the resurrection, and he gives us glimpses of what the resurrection is like, but he summarizes the effects of the resurrection by saying that “corruption” does not “inherit incorruption” and therefore we shall all be changed (15:50-51). And when this corruption puts on incorruption, when this mortality puts on immortality, the saying will go out, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (15:55). Paul says that the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (15:56-57). Paul is not only talking about the end of human history; he is talking about Jesus is doing now. When Jesus took his life back up, when his Father raised him from the dead, and Jesus ascended into heaven, he sat down at the right hand of the Father to reign and rule until every enemy has been put down, until every sin has been put down. This is the victory, the immortality and incorruptibility that we taste and share in now. This is why Paul concludes that our “labor is not in vain in the Lord.” If the resurrection is true, then we will be changed. Our enemies (sin, death, Hades) will be put down through the reign of Christ in history and in our lives.
Conclusions and Applications
We believe that Jesus is king and 2000 years ago, he burst out of a cave that was blockaded by a gigantic stone and a guard of soldiers. We believe that Jesus is Lord of life and death, heaven and hell, and he will reign until every enemy is put beneath his feet. Therefore you must live in this world expecting God to do marvelous things. We live in a broken world, where sin’s effects are ravaging our communities, our families, and friends. It will not do to throw up our hands and say, “I can’t change” or “he/she will never change.” “This is just who I am” or “that’s just how they have always been.” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That’s a lie. If Jesus is raised, then the dead will be raised. If Jesus is raised, then God changes and will change this world. Every enemy will be put down. Every enemy will submit. We serve the God who “who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17). And God declares the same to us. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And he is out doing battle on your behalf. He sees the hard-hearted riffs in your families, he knows about the sins you battle, he knows about the struggles you have with your friends, and how lost your neighbors and family are. He knows their condition better than you, and he says to you, “I am the resurrection and the life.” I am the resurrection. I burst out of a grave 2000 years ago, and I am Lord of all. There is no hard heart that I cannot break, there is no family rift that I cannot heal, there is no sin that I cannot forgive, there is nothing that I am not Lord of. Corruption must put on incorruption, mortality immortality. The greatest enemy, the hardest one, was death. And Jesus took it down and we mock it in the victory of Christ: O Death where is your sting?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, our master, our King, and our God. We cast aside every doubt, all unbelief, and every excuse for why we cannot be changed or why you will not change those we love. You are the resurrection and the life. No one stays your hand, no one can tell you no. Therefore we worship you and glorify you in your resurrection. And we plead with you to change us into your image more and more. Make us people of faith, people who look for and expect the mighty working of your grace in our lives and in the lives of our neighbors, families, and friends. Go before us, for you are our Lord and King.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked -- But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. (Is. 53)
We went down to Charleston Tuesday and Wednesday this week. We visited Folly Beach Tuesday afternoon, stayed the night in the tent at St. James' Island State Park, and spent Wednesday exploring the historic city of Charleston.
Interestingly, the Palmetto Tree is the state tree of South Carolina. SC is the "Palmetto State." The Palm Tree is prevelant down near the coast (I've only seen a couple up here in Greenville). The story goes that some general during the early days of Carolina settlement defended the shores of Charleston with a battery built out of Palmetto trunks. Apparently, they work so well that during one battle canon balls were actually deflected off the trunks of these hearty trees, the canon balls were promptly retrieved and faithfully shot back at the enemy. It's all history after that I suppose.
I suggested in the sermon on Sunday that at least one layer of meaning in the waving and strewing of palm branches during the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was the Feast of Booths where Israelites built make-shift tents out of big leafy branches and palms. The Feast was meant to recall the wilderness wanderings, reminding Israel of how God had preserved them between the deliverance from Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land. Palm Sunday seems like a fitting corollary to that Feast where Christ as the son of David enters to destroy and rebuild the temple in his own body; he comes to rebuild the tabernacle, the booth of David in his own death and resurrection. Palm Trees are of course famous for their residence at every desert oasis picture you've ever seen. A Palmetto Tree reminds us of the garden while we are still in the wilderness.
Palm Sunday reminds us in the midst of treachery, in the midst of the trials of life, in the midst of the Passion of life of where we are going, the Promised Land ahead of us, the Promised Land even brought forward in time (to use NT Wright's phrase) to us here and now.
As we remember and celebrate our Lord’s death this Good Friday, I want to remind you to RSVP for the Resurrection Ball next Saturday, April 14th. If you have already done so, I salute you and thank you.
To wet your appetites and spur you on to love and good works, let me tell you that we are excited to be having Kathy and the Leftovers as our live music for the evening. This Old Time band consists of a fiddle, old time banjo, guitar, banjo uke, and bass. Kathy and the Leftovers won first place in the UpCountry Folklife Festival back in 2003 and their fiddler won first place in the fiddle contest at the same festival.
Furthermore, we have Mr. Blake Saunders hailing from Bristol, Virginia down to call our dances for the evening. For those of you wondering how Trinitarian Christians “boogy down,” this courageous man will be calling such dances as the Grand March, the Virginia Reel, the Gay Gordon, the Pat-i-cake Polka, and the Fairfield Fancy, with a waltz or two thrown in for good measure. We plan to do a few of the dances twice so that you can have the satisfaction of enjoying a dance and not just learning the steps.
Did we mention the Hors d’oeuvres, Psalm singing, hearty homebrewed beer, and sweets to keep your spirits light? Bring your children, your parents, your siblings and friends, this event is for the whole family of the Triune God.
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Monday, April 02, 2007
In Zechariah 14, the prophet foretells that after Yahweh comes to be King over all the earth and after he judges many of the nations, those whom he spares will come from all of the nations and celebrate the Feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles. This is that Feast of Booths. This is the Feast that celebrates the harvest, the ingathering of all the produce of the world. Here we rejoice before the Lord with our families, hearing the Word of God read and declared. One of the things that this indicates is that we are celebrating as finished what is not yet done. We are celebrating the end of the harvest, but as we look around at the world, it is clear that there is much to be done. Jesus says that the fields are white for harvest, and yet looking at the state of the world, it is clear that the harvest is not yet done. But we eat here celebrating the fact that it will be. Because Jesus has been made King, every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to his Name. But this is also the celebration of the completion of our faith. He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Christ Jesus. You are eating your perfection here. You are celebrating your faith perfected. How is this possible? It is possible because here Christ gives himself as our righteousness, as our life, as our resurrected and perfected life. Therefore do not fear what will come. This is the Feast of Booths, the Feast of the harvest, the Feast of the completion of God’s promises. This is God’s promise to you that all that is true of Jesus will be true of you. Do not doubt; only believe.
Opening Prayer: Almighty and Everlasting God, you who sent your Son in our likeness, to become King of the World, to inherit the nations of the earth, grant us your Spirit now, your kingly Spirit, your Spirit of wisdom and discernment which is able to judge the difficult things of life. Give us this royal and kingly Spirit now, that we might be instructed and filled with all knowledge and wisdom that we may be equipped to rule in our homes and communities as sons and daughters of the King. For we prayer in the mighty name of King Jesus, and Amen!
Today is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the first day of Holy Week. While Lent is the season that looks forward to and prepares for the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is also fitting to consider our own lives our weakness and our need for continual repentance. In this final week, we turn our full attention to last days of Jesus before His death and resurrection. Our lessons today point to the fact that what we are celebrating in this week is not the defeat of Jesus but rather the triumph of Jesus. While we remember that it was for our sins that Jesus died and that he did truly suffer for us, we must remember too that he went willingly for the joy that was set before him. What was this joy that Jesus foresaw? It was the joy of enthronement, the joy of kingship (Is. 45:22-23, Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus came to save the world, in order that the world might swear allegiance to Him.
The Mount of Olives
This is the not the first time in Scripture that a king has come down the Mount of Olives, been greeted by crowds proclaiming his kingship, and entered the city of Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 15ff records the flight of David after Absalom’s rebellion, and David’s subsequent return following the battle. While we know that David left the city barefoot and weeping (15:30), the circumstantial evidence points to the fact that David rode a donkey back into the city (2 Sam. 16:2). Jesus is not unaware of this story and historical significance. Entering Jerusalem like David after his rejection, underlines Jesus’ own rejection. Sure there are plenty of people greeting him, wishing him well, but there are probably just as many fair-weather friends as there are loyal subjects. The chief priests and Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus (Jn. 11:53, 12:10). And we know (and the disciples should know) that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die. The whole scene is full of irony: the people are proclaiming Jesus their king and we know all along that he’s going to be killed in a few days. Riding down Mount of Olives on a donkey is thus a symbol of a rejected King, of treason. Jesus is in effect saying, “I am David whom you have rejected.” And in the parallel accounts we know that at least some of the people recognized Jesus as the “son of David” (e.g. Mt. 21:9).
Why do the people begin cutting down leafy branches and in particular “palm branches” (Jn. 12:13)? This is not a random ritual; it was originally instituted by Yahweh for the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths (Lev. 23:40). This seven day feast was an annual mandatory camping trip for all of Israel to remind them of their sojourn in the wilderness before they were given permanent homes (Lev. 23:43). The Feast took place at the end of the harvest of bread and wine (Dt. 16:13-15). The people were specifically required to “rejoice before Yahweh your God for seven days” (Lev. 23:40). Nehemiah picks this same feast back up when the city of Jerusalem is being rebuilt (Neh. 8:13ff). We are told there that Israel had not celebrated this feast for some 900 years (8:17). It is also explained that that the branches were cut down for the purpose of making the booths in which they were to live for the week (8:15). Again, the feast is kept with “great gladness” (8:17). The Feast of Booths was a reminder of when they had no permanent home or land, and it is celebrated at the end of the harvest of the produce of their permanent land. Every time they reaped the produce of the land, God reminded them of when they had no land. Thus the Feast of Booths is a celebration of the Promised Land, of permanent blessings, of harvest, of home and peace and completion, of dwelling in the land securely. But why would the people begin this pseudo-Feast of Booths right before Passover (Jn. 12:1)?
Booths and Resurrection
The clue seems to be in the commentary in John following this event. John tells us that these crowds accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem are doing so because of the fact that He had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Many of them were witness of the fact that Jesus had raised Lazarus up, and John says that they “continued to bear him witness” (12:17). They were going out to meet him because he had performed a resurrection. The key seems to be found in Amos 9. There Yahweh promises the utter annihilation of Israel. He will hunt them in every way and in every place until they are completely destroyed (9:1-4ff). But in 9:11 the writer suddenly declares that “in that day” Yahweh will raise up the “booth of David.” Where did these people come from? Who are these people? This is Israel raised from the dead. That is the only explanation. If Israel is utterly destroyed and killed, the only explanation is resurrection. And now if Lazarus has been raised, then this David, this son of David is Yahweh come to rebuild the Booth of David. And if he’s building a “booth” he needs leafy branches and palm branches for the job. The irony of course is that for Israel to be raised, Israel must die. Lazarus was a foreshadowing of things to come, but Jesus himself is Israel. And therefore Jesus will be the one the Father utterly destroys, and in so doing, the booth of David will be rebuilt, and Israel will be planted in the land forever, to continually enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Conclusion & Application
We are celebrating this same reality today. This is the God that we serve. We serve King Jesus who has come in our place, to secure our place. He is the son of David who has been betrayed. He has been driven from the city, and he was even killed. But this could never have been the end of the story because the Word of God cannot be broken. Our King has come to give himself for us that he might be given the Name that is above every name that at his name every knee should bow and every tongue swear allegiance to the glory of God the Father. We are called to faithful allegiance.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Almighty and merciful Lord, give us loyal hearts as we celebrate your triumph in Jerusalem. And give us courage to face whatever cross you give us believing with full assurance that you will not leave us in the grave but raise us up and plant us in the land.
We believe that God is giving reformation to his church in this nation. And central to this reformation is cultivating a culture of celebration and joy, what we might call Sabbath living. Because we are so utterly amazed at the goodness of God, because we are so thankful and grateful that Jesus has saved us and cleansed us and given us new life, we cannot help but sing Psalms. We cannot help but dance. We cannot help but revel in all of the good gifts of God: our spouses, our children, good wine, marinated steak, laughter, stories, and poetry. The world is our banquet, our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. This is the kind of culture that true evangelical, gospel believing faith produces. And we are seeing the beginnings of it here and in pockets all over this country. But as we pursue this, you must be aware that there are plenty of people who would like to see nothing better than for our attempts to fail. And one such faction of nay-sayers are those who accuse us of gluttony, drunkenness, and being unwise with our Christian liberty. First, we must recognize that our own Lord Jesus was accused of being a wino and a glutton. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that faithfulness would elicit this accusation from some. At the same time, we know that the only reason that accusation is funny is because it was not in any way, shape or form, true. And thus, secondly, we are called to the same standard as the Lord Jesus. As we cultivate a culture of celebration, a culture of joy, and culture of Sabbath living, we must do so constantly on guard. We are being watched, we are being studied. Let your joy be overflowing, let your gladness be honest and sincere, but give no place to overindulgence, and give no opportunity for any of their accusations to stick. The Scriptures clearly say, “Do not be drunk with wine in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”