Note: This summer I have the privilege of conducting an independent study with Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, professor of reformed liturgics at Erskine Theological Seminary as well as a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary. As part of that study, I will be reading a number of books related to our studies of Christian worship. I will attempt to post my summaries of those books as I complete them. Here is the first which happens to be the only full length book by Old on the list.
Themes & Variations for a Christian Doxology by Hughes Oliphant Old
Themes & Variations is a collection of essays built on the thesis that “doxology” may serve as the best foundation for a theology of worship. Old constructs this theology of worship around the “themes and variations” of epicletic doxology, kerygmatic doxology, wisdom doxology, prophetic doxology, and covenantal doxology. As the title indicates, the intent is less to construct a systematic theology of worship than to explore and suggest a more holistic biblical theology or worship. From the outset, Old explains that while he is working within the Reformed tradition of worship, he does not follow some of the later, more rigid hermeneutical principles of some but rather prefers Oecolampadius’ approach which insists that worship should be “according to Scripture” but not limited to explicit commands. This approach is appreciative of the entire scope of Scripture and open to the broad swath of literary genres found there as well as a liturgical theology that can be developed from more typological readings of its entire corpus. Thus, Themes & Variations seeks to offer thoughts and observations following this thematic and typological exploration of Scripture while considering how the historic church — and particularly the Reformed church and her forebears — has understood these themes and sought to put these considerations into practice.
By epicletic doxology, Old means the basic function of worship as “calling upon God’s name.” As an embodiment of the first simple acclamation of the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be Thy name,” this basic affirmation is the positive result of heeding the first four commandments of the Decalogue but particularly the third commandment prohibiting the taking of the Lord’s name in vain. All sorts of epiclesis are found in Scripture and appropriate for God’s people to offer, prayers of praise and adoration as well as prayers for help and mercy. Old suggests that the Old Covenant tetragram of YHWH which was a revelation of God’s saving and delivering power and intent has been replaced in the New Covenant by ABBA, the name of God as Father, who is preeminently the Father of the Lord Jesus, but in Him the Father of all who call upon Him in faith. Old points out that many of the epicletic prayers and hymns of the Christian heritage are built upon strong typological correlations between events in redemptive history and the present circumstances of those in need (e.g. the negro spirituals’ use of Exodus imagery and themes).
Kerygmatic doxology is worship based upon proclamation. This proclamation is based upon the deeds and character of God. Old examines the prolific praise of God in the Psalter, particularly the acclamation of praise found in the “Hallelujahs.” This acclamation of praise to God as savior and king has obvious royal and political overtones, and this becomes explicit in the New Testament where Jesus is declared to be the Christ, the Messiah, who was to come to set all things right. All the psalmic acclamations of the Old Testament become centered in the coming of the Messiah and upon His rule as God’s only begotten Son, the great and final Solomon. The Christian canticles and hymns of the church from the earliest days clearly reflect this realization that the sovereign rule and reign of God has now been revealed in Jesus and therefore Christian worship has always had royal overtones and a sense of regal dignity. Preaching has always been considered to be part of this doxology as the preaching of the gospel has always been the proclamation of Jesus as the King who has brought salvation to the world.
Wisdom doxology seeks to understand worship as the outworking of the prominent themes of word, wisdom, and logos found woven through the story of Scripture. While this has been a rather neglected aspect of liturgical studies, Old suggests that the great resurgence in the study of wisdom theology presents a wealth of material for willing liturgists to begin to integrate into their “themes and variations.” Old points out that the Psalms do not shy away from wisdom themes and often consider the law of the Lord or the fear of the Lord, and the personification of Wisdom as a fine woman to be sought after (from Proverbs) found its way into at least a few allegorical interpretations of the Song of Solomon. All of this wisdom doxology culminates in its most explicit formulation in the prologue of John’s gospel where the logos/wisdom of God is identified with God and has become incarnate. This incarnate wisdom of God continues to work within the categories of marriage and love by immediately being presented as the bridegroom come to his bride in the miracle at Cana. It is the study of wisdom theology that connects this marriage and feast theme with the final consummation pictured in Revelation’s great wedding feast of the Lamb. Wisdom doxology affirms that the study of the Scriptures in faith is itself worship, and preaching, in this regard, has often particularly flowered as it studied the Scriptures for typological and allegorical revelations of the wisdom of God. While the reformers for the most part preferred a rather toned down or tamed version of Scriptural exegesis (i.e. redemptive-historical), the study, preaching, and even singing of Scripture itself has always been a turn to contemplating the word as the revelation of the Word. The Eucharist has also been seen as the revelation of the wisdom of God in so far as it is a foretaste of that wedding feast and the sacramental communication of the bread of life to God’s people.
Prophetic doxology is the insistence on the holiness of God and therefore the requirement for His worshippers themselves to be holy. The prophetic literature is replete with condemnations of hypocritical worship, rites and rituals that are empty because the lives of the people carrying them out do not coincide with what the words and actions proclaim. This does not imply that worshippers must themselves be sinless, but it requires that sinners approach God in need of forgiveness (witness Isaiah). Old makes the simple and yet profound point that righteousness has to do with right relationships. To be righteous or just is to act lawfully toward all of those in one’s life. Fidelity to a spouse, care and discipline of a child, submission to authority, and care for the poor would all fall into this understanding of righteousness. Of course a right relationship toward God is preeminent and must be diffused throughout all of the others. And thus a prophetic doxology insists that the morality proclaimed by word and action in worship must inform and be implemented throughout the worshipper’s life. Old argues that this is what is meant by “spiritual” worship. It is not an opposition of material to immaterial, as though “spiritual” was merely non-physical, rather what is meant by “spiritual worship” is a fundamental ethical quality in one’s service to God. It is an honest seeking of right relationships (i.e. righteousness/holiness) because of God’s holiness and for His glory. Here, Old examines Christian art in this prophetic context, distinguishing between the iconography of the medieval and “high church” traditions and the protestant religious and illustrative art. Given the second commandment, this contrast represents a prophetic element of protestant worship in so far as it seeks the ethical purity of worship. He closes by pointing out how fitting the “giving of alms” is in Christian worship. It is a tangible declaration of this righteous aim: it responds to the holiness of God rightly and makes provision for the maintenance of the Church and the care of the poor.
Finally, Old examines worship as a covenantal doxology. The Scriptures clearly present the relationship between God and humanity in covenantal terms and even more so, this is done in the context of worship. The covenant was always affirmed and renewed when God’s word was read or declared, and it was often sealed with sacrifices and a meal. The praise of God’s people is also highly covenantal as it recites the faithfulness of God to His promises. Declarations of faith, oaths, vows, and prayers all serve as the human side of the covenant renewal as well (see his discussion of the use of the word sacramentum). As God is declared to have been faithful to His people, His people in turn declare their willingness and intention to be faithful to Him. At the center of this covenantal doxology is the Eucharist of course. Fulfilling the sacrificial and festal realities of the Old Covenant, and given the promises of God that included a salvific destiny for the whole world, a covenantal doxology is necessarily an evangelistic doxology. A renewal of the covenant is a renewal of the Christian Church’s missional identity and calling. This is simply because the love of God always spills out into love of neighbor. Old closes this final exploration with consideration of some of the more recent architectural trends in the Christian Church. Recognizing that worship space is itself a kind of liturgical theology, Old celebrates some of the modern attempts in church architecture which recognize the centrality of the word and sacraments but also the centrality of the covenantal people of God who gather together before their covenantal head. It is simply a fact that the acoustics, layout, and arrangement of people, furniture, and other accoutrements display a covenant theology of worship (or betray a sorry ignorance of the same).
This brief treatise is an excellent introduction to an understanding of historic Reformed worship. While Old does not go into many details (e.g. concerning the precise wording of prayers, the order of the liturgy, etc.), what has been presented is a suggested beginning and methodology to constructing a biblically Reformed theology of worship. More important even than answering all of the sorts of modern questions we may have about worship, Old has illustrated a method of inquiry into the biblical text (and historic practice) and examined five themes which wind together to form a center from which one may continue to study and explore how the people of God ought to offer their doxology.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Note: This summer I have the privilege of conducting an independent study with Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, professor of reformed liturgics at Erskine Theological Seminary as well as a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary. As part of that study, I will be reading a number of books related to our studies of Christian worship. I will attempt to post my summaries of those books as I complete them. Here is the first which happens to be the only full length book by Old on the list.
This Sunday is the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
The Christian Almanac records that June 29 is remembered by the Church as the day the apostle Paul was beheaded with a sword in the city of Rome. Some place his execution as early as 62 A.D. and others as late as 67 A.D. Nevertheless, from the earliest times in the Church, this day has been celebrated as a feast day in honor of both Paul and Peter, who tradition also remembers as being executed in the city of Rome. For many centuries, boys born on June 29 were given the name Peter or Paul, and more often than not, both names! In many ways Peter and Paul are remembered and honored as symbolizing the foundational figures of the Christian Church after Christ. Peter is remembered for his great confession of faith declaring that Jesus was the Son of God. He is also honored as a prominent leader in the early Church in Jerusalem and later in Rome. Paul, an apostle born out of due time, as he describes himself, is honored as the greatest early missionary. His ministry to the gentiles of the first century laid the foundation for an early church that would grow and fill the entire Roman Empire. Paul's pastoral efforts also gave us a significant portion of the New Testament found in the many letters he authored to the first Christians and which are still a major source of encouragment and instruction for the Christian Church today.
I would encourage you to remember these two giants of the faith, two saints and martyrs who followed Jesus their master with such faithfulness and courage. Hebrews 12 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and it is a great comfort and encouragement that among that great cloud stand Peter and Paul, fathers and brothers in the faith, who now stand directly before God offering their prayers and praise. May God give us grace to follow in their steps, and may we honor them as mighty warriors of God.
The lessons for this Sunday will be Exodus 13:1-22, Galatians 3:23-4:7, and Luke 8:26-39.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
My son says that someday he will take a wife.
Not yet. When he is big.
He will need a job, he says. Because he will have to buy her lots of clothes.
He says that when he is big and takes a wife he will get in his car and drive away.
He says that while he is gone a bad man will come to his wife's tent.
(I guess he spent all his money on clothes.)
Anyway, he says that his wife will give this bad man some milk to drink.
He says that after the bad man falls asleep his wife will come and hammer a big nail into his head and he will die.
In The Love of Learning and Desire for God, Jean Leclercq describes the grammar studies in Benedictine monasteries: "During the Merovingian period, this teaching program was reduced practically to the psalms: and instead of beginning by the grammatical analysis of letters, then of syllables, words, and finally of sentences, the child is immediately put in contact with the psalter, in which he learns to read first verses, and then whole psalms." Leclercq goes on to clarify that this was more by necessity (for students who were not literate) than by design, but it is still intriguing to consider a grammar school curriculum centered on the psalms. It's been done before.
Monday, June 25, 2007
One of the things worth pointing out every so often is that the Bible’s sensibilities are not always what we might think of as holy or pious. For example, you will find the Bible using graphic sexual imagery to describe the immorality of Israel, or Paul says, concerning the Judaizers who were trying to get everyone circumcised, he wished they would cut the whole thing off. This means that while we must obey Scripture and not let any unclean thing come out of our mouth; we must not let Victorian prudishness substitute for Biblical standards.
Another example of this is found in one of the OT laws that required that when a man suspected his new bride to not be a virgin, her parents would be required to show proof of her virginity. They would show the blood of her virginity as a token of her purity and chastity. And if these tokens could not be produced, the new bride could be executed for her crime. One of the running themes in the story of the Exodus is Israel as the bride of Yahweh. God is coming to take Israel away to marry him, to enter into a covenant with Him at Sinai. But as we know from other places in Scripture Israel was not pure. Joshua tells Israel many years later to put away the idols they served in Egypt. Israel is not a virgin; she has not been pure or chaste. She has messed around with other gods. And this is one of the great glories of the Passover. When the Angel of Death comes God has every right in the world to strike down Israel along with all the other idol worshippers of Egypt. Israel is the unchaste bride, she has not been pure. But God in his great mercy and grace provides the blood; he provides the tokens of purity and chastity. He sees the blood on the doors, and he passes over. This meal is no different. This meal is not for people who have it all together. Who have never sinned, who have never failed, who have never seriously blown it. If you think you’re doing pretty good and haven’t really messed up, please leave now. This meal proclaims the Lord’s Death; it is a display of the blood of the true Passover. This blood, the blood of Jesus is our righteousness, our purity, our forgiveness. The blood of Jesus was shed for you and all your filth and all your sin and all the messes you’ve made. And God promises to see you in the blood and to call you his sons and daughters. This is the promise of the gospel to you; so come, eat, drink, rejoice, and believe.
Opening Prayer: Our Father, you Word is a great and powerful story. We do not know how it works, but you have determined to remake this world by the telling and retelling of this story. We thank you for Moses and Aaron, and we thank you for all of the faithful saints who killed lambs and smeared blood on their doors on that night some three and a half thousand years ago. We ask that you would teach us now by your Holy Spirit, that we would know you and your Christ and serve him more faithfully, through Jesus, Amen!
The Passover Is Kept
Moses commands that the elders “draw out” and “take” the sheep for their “clans” and for them to slaughter the Passover/Pesach (12:21). The instruction is to “touch” the blood to the lintel and doorposts of their houses. The word here is used in conjunction with several of the proto-Exodus accounts in Genesis: Yahweh touches Pharaoh for the sake of Sarai (Gen. 12:17), Abimelech is spared for not “touching” Sarah (Gen. 20:6), and he later forbids anyone to touch Isaac’s wife (Gen. 26:29). It is used a few other times, but only twice previously in Exodus where it occurs in the proleptic Passover in 4:25 and then as a foretelling of this final plague 11:1. This indicates that Israel is in this sense coming under this final plague, but rather than being “touched” by the plague, their houses are “touched” with the Passover blood. Notice that the safety of the blood is tied to the house/household. Anyone who goes out of the house is not protected by the blood (12:22-23). This law/ordinance is to be kept in all generations (12:24), and this Passover is to be their “service/labor.” Remember that Israel has been “laboring” for Pharaoh, but now Yahweh is enlisting their service. But instead of labor/service that is intended to shrink their population (remember Ex. 1-2), their “labor” is life-saving and preserving.
What Children Ask and Pharaoh Commands
God assumes first of all that their children will ask them about what they are doing (12:26). Children ask questions, often lots of questions. Those parents who despise these questions or refuse to spend time answering them are refusing to teach their children. But this also means that God delights in having odd things for children to ask about; in other words faithful parents should do things in order to be asked about them by their kids. The parents are instructed to rehearse the story of the original Passover and Exodus, how God struck Egypt and “delivered” the houses of Israel (12:27). The same word for delivered is used later to describe how Israel “spoiled/plundered” Egypt. Yahweh is the warrior who has fought and conquered Egypt, and He is taking Israel as his plunder. In the middle of the night, Yahweh comes and strikes throughout the land of Egypt, and it is so widespread that there is not a house which is not touched by the death (12:30). As we mentioned previously, there were probably some Egyptians who followed Moses’ instructions, but this verse indicates that there was still widespread disregard for the word of Yahweh. Notice that Pharaoh instructs Moses to do everything according to his “word” (12:31-32). His final request is that Moses would bless him which echoes what occurred between Jacob and the Pharaoh that Joseph served under (Gen. 47:7). This Pharaoh now acts like he knows Joseph (cf. 1:8).
Who Went and When
The text tells us that some six hundred thousand “feet of men” went out of Egypt (12:37). This description is probably a military designation, like “foot soldiers” (cf. Num. 11:21, Jdg. 20:2). A “mixed multitude” went up with them from Egypt which means that Egyptians went with them, and they ate the unleavened bread on their journey (12:38-39). They left Egypt after 430 years, to the very day (12:40). Remember Paul indicates that this period of time began with the covenant made with Abraham in Canaan (Gal. 3:17). It was on that very day that all the “armies of Yahweh” went out of Egypt (12:41, 51). This fits with the military designation of “foot soldiers” in 12:37. Finally, a last regulation is mentioned regarding the Passover meal: only covenant members are to eat it. This assumes first of all that this would be an issue, that is, there were foreigners, strangers, and other uncircumcised people in this “mixed multitude.” Yahweh says that there is to be one law for native-born and the stranger who dwells with Israel, if they want to eat the feast all the males of their household must be circumcised (12:44, 48). This final restriction on Passover is the basis for our practice of restricting participation in the Eucharist to those covenant members who have been baptized.
Conclusions and Applications
There is a huge emphasis on children throughout the entire Exodus narrative. It is the sons of Israel that Pharaoh attempts to exterminate, and it is the children of Israel that must go to the feast. Yahweh has done all of these wonders in order that his people may tell their children. And now Yahweh again gives instructions for passing on this story to their children. The Exodus story is the story of Yahweh fighting for the children. Israel must understand this. We do not live in a very different world. While we are not being directly persecuted by a tyrant (yet) we live in a culture that hates children. As Christians we are required to see the salvation that God has won for us as directly tied to our children. And it is not enough to *know* this; we must believe it deep in our bones. What we see here in this story is the command to tell stories to our children. Parents (and Fathers in particular) you are required to be reading and telling stories to your children regularly. They should be asking for stories, and you should be telling them. If you do not tell them the stories of God’s salvation and deliverance and goodness, the world will fill in the gaps. Tell stories. Tell the great stories, tell the funny stories, tell the glorious stories. Tell the gospel story. And if they are like any other child, they will want to hear the stories again and again. Faithful parents must be faithful story tellers. This is nothing more than imitation of our God, the God of our salvation.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Good and merciful God, you have saved us and cleansed and delivered us from the kingdom of darkness into your marvelous light. We thank you and praise you for this, and we thank you that part of that salvation means the salvation of our children. But recognize that this is all by faith, and that we must trust you and obey you. Therefore give us this grace, the grace to remember and to tell the stories of your victories in history in our lives that our children may grow up to know and love you all their days. We know that this is all of grace, all your kindness, and therefore we give you thanks for what you have already given and what you will give.
The writer of Hebrews says that the church gathered together in worship constitutes Mt. Zion, the city of the Living God, a heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22). In Ephesians Paul says that we are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (2:19). In other words, the Christian Church is a new city, a new kind of political and social reality. This means that among other things, the Christian Church is concerned with cultivating a distinctly Christian culture. This does not mean that we are supposed to retreat from anything and everything that non-Christians do or say or wear. God created the world full of all sorts of treasures: computers, cell phones, automobiles, clothing, television, music, and electricity, among many others. But as Christians one of the things that we confess is that sin has cursed our attempts to use these gifts wisely, and that only in Jesus Christ can we take dominion and rule as God intends. This means that Christians must take dominion by thinking through how they rule with these gifts and recognize that we cannot just copy whatever the god-haters around us are doing. There are many practical applications of this. Do you rule your television and movie consumption such that you are bringing edifying, true, and lovely stories into your home? Or is the television ruling you, constantly telling you lies about sex and beauty and happiness? Are you ruling the clothing you buy and wear, using it as a means to serve others? Or are you longing to look like the loose women in the magazines who despise the marriage bed which God says is holy? Is your computer a means for service to your family? Or do you spend hours staring into that blue screen, wasting your time in pointless chat rooms, or looking at pornography, all the while ignoring your children, brothers and sisters, and parents. Paul says in a slightly different context that whatever you do whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God. The church is a new polis, a new city, a new family, and here at the center is the worship of the Triune God. This affects everything. You are not first and foremost an American. You are first and foremost a Christian. Therefore put away your idols; put away your sin. We are ascending into the heavenly places now. So come, worship the Lord.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
The Christian Almanac records that on June 22, 431 A.D. the Third Ecumenical Council began in the city of Ephesus, on the west coast of modern day Turkey. This council was called to deal with yet another controversy related to the nature of Christ. One of the central debated points was whether or not Mary, the mother of Jesus, might be rightly called "Theotokos," that is, the "God-bearer." The term was not meant to imply that the second person of the Trinity originated with Mary, but rather, it asserted that Mary truly bore in her womb God in the flesh. It insisted that from the moment of conception, the person of Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Nestorius and his followers taught, on the other hand, that the person of Jesus was merely human until a certain point when God came to dwell within him in a unique way. Cyril of Alexandria, following in the footsteps of Athanasius the Great, contended for the orthodox faith by insisting that the person who was born of Mary, lived a perfect life, died on a Roman cross, and rose again on the third day was really and truly God in the flesh, the second person of the Trinity incarnate. Jesus was not merely an inspired or God-filled man; he was God as a man. He was Emmanual, God with us.
We often look back on these controversies and wonder why they matter that much. We get confused with all the foreign sounding names and dates and places. But we must recognize that these great events mark God's faithfulness to His people, the Church, preserving for us the gospel of grace. If Jesus the man was anything less than God himself, then how can we be sure that God is really for us? How can we know that we have really been reconciled to God? Thanks be to God for faithful men like Cyril of Alexandria who clung to the Scriptures and refused to compromise with those who preferred reason and logic and philosophy to what the Word of God clearly taught. May God give us the faith to do the same.
Our lessons for this Sunday will be from Ex. 12:21-51, Gal. 2:15-21, 3:10-14, and Lk. 7:36-50.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
There was a question in a post below about referring to baptism as an "anointing." I re-post my reply here:
There's a lot that could be said about this (see Peter Leithart's "Priesthood of the Plebs" for an extensive study), but in brief, I was thinking about some of the following: Jesus was anointed in His baptism by the Holy Spirit (Acts. 10:36-37). The Scriptures also say that we have been anointed (2 Cor. 1:21, 1 Jn. 2) and generally refer to Christians as kings and priests (1 Pet. 2:5-10, Rev. 1:6), that is, bearing offices that presuppose anointing. While the Holy Spirit is obviously tied to this anointing, the NT generally associates the Holy Spirit with baptism (Acts 2:38, Tit. 3:5). I would also argue generally that since the name "Christ" means "anointed one," and to be baptized is to be baptized "into" Christ (cf. Rom. 6:3, Gal. 3:27), all who are baptized are covenantally joined to the "Anointed One" and thereby share in His anointing.
Our text today commanded the Israelites to keep the Feast of Passover as a memorial. This memorial feast included both a meal and a display of blood. It is no accident that when Jesus commanded his disciples to keep this meal, he said ‘do this as a memorial of me.’ Of course it is often translated “in remembrance of me” which is OK, but it obscures all that is taking place. When Israel celebrated the Passover, they were to eat and remember that Yahweh was their Savior and Defender who fought for them, but the blood on the doors of their homes meant that God would remember them. He promised to see the blood and “pass over” them and not destroy them. This is our Passover feast. Here we have the body and blood of the true Passover lamb, a male without blemish. Here we remember that in the death of Christ, we are covered, and God has sworn to remember us and to pass over us and our families. That’s why we celebrate this meal as a feast. This memorial is not a memorial like a funeral. This memorial is more like an anniversary celebration where a husband and wife openly celebrate their commitment and love for each other; they celebrate in order to remember what God has done and look forward to what God will do. The same is taking place here. Yes, this meal points back to the cross, but it also acts here and now to remind God that we are covered in the blood. That is a cause for rejoicing. This meal is the feast of God’s covering of our sins, dealing with our sins, forgetting our sins. What have you done? Where have fallen? Where have you failed? Come eat and drink and God promises to remember Jesus. We are reminding God that we are covered, we are forgiven, and God has promised to remember. He has promised that when he sees the blood he will turn away his wrath and pass over us. So come eat, drink, and keep the feast. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.
Baptism is a ritual death. The apostle says that everyone who has been baptized into Christ Jesus has been baptized into His death. We were buried with Him through baptism. When Jesus died, everyone who has been baptized died with him. This is glorious because of course all we have done in baptism is put a little bit of water on the head of someone. If we look back at the story of the Bible from the Garden of Eden and the Sin of Adam and Eve, we will remember that our first parents were excommunicated from the presence of God, sent out of the Garden of Eden and cherubim were stationed at the entrance of the Garden with a flaming sword guarding the way. The only way someone could get back into the presence of God would be by going through that sword. Thus, one way we can tell the story of the rest of Scripture, is that Scripture is the story of trying to figure out some way to die without dying. Actually, God is constantly coming up with ways to show this very mercy and grace to his people. He allows access to his presence through the blood of substitutes; he allows sinners to draw near through covenant representatives. He shows mercy on the children born into covenant households. But Paul says that the ultimate reason why we have died with Christ is so that we can be raised in the likeness of his resurrection, so that we may walk in the newness of life.
Paul goes on to say things somewhat oddly. He says that we are no longer slaves of sin and that he who has died has been freed from sin. Just as death no longer has dominion over Christ so we are to reckon ourselves who have died with him in baptism to be dead to sin. We who were formerly the slaves of sin are no longer slaves but free because we have died with Christ. But then Paul immediately exhorts the Romans not to let sin reign in their bodies. He says not to obey sin (as though it were your master); do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness. Rather present yourselves to God as alive from the dead and instruments of righteousness. This sounds odd at first. We are tempted to ask, ‘so which is it, Paul?’ Are we dead to sin or not? But this is the covenantal reality that is hinted at throughout Scripture and realized in the person and work of Christ. The grace of God to us and to our children is that we have found a way back into the presence of God; we have found a way to die without dying. Our covenant head went ahead of us back into the garden and he was killed by the flaming sword of the Cherubim. But God raised him up from the dead, and all who are in him are counted as having died and been raised as well. But this grace, this gift and favor of God must be received with faith and thanksgiving. And this leads to Paul’s exhortation. You cannot receive the gift of death and resurrection and then live as though you haven’t died and rose again. The very nature of this gift is that it must change you and you must change. And these two things are not at odds. Baptism is the promise of forgiveness and cleansing and righteousness. But this promise must be received in faith. This means that you, the parents, and all parents here who have baptized children under their care are responsible to raise their children in this death and resurrection life. This baptism means death and resurrection. And therefore you must teach your son to live like a freeman. He is no slave to sin and unrighteousness, and therefore he must fight sin and wickedness all his days. This is a great gift; this is nothing but the kindness and grace of God. Therefore receive this gift now with faith and thanksgiving, and live like it is true every day of your lives and raise your son in this nurture and admonition: the nurture and admonition of the death and resurrection of the Lord. Do not let sin have dominion over you: for we are under grace.
Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious Father, we are your servants, and we bow before you now. We are gathered here to be instructed by you; give us your marching orders. Direct our paths and gives us the strength and courage to obey, through Jesus Christ.
Declaration of Final Plague to Pharaoh
At the end of chapter 10 we had what sounded like parting words between Moses and Pharaoh, but evidently there were a few more or else what follows in 11:1-8 came before that. 11:8 gives us the actual exit of Moses from the court of Pharaoh for the very last time. Thus Moses warns Pharaoh of the tenth and final plague (1:1, 4-8). Notice that as God announces this final plague he instructs his people to prepare to ask their friends for silver and gold (11:2, cf. 3:22). The text emphasizes that women are asking for these riches. Several things should be noted here: These are Egyptian “friends/neighbors” that the Israelites are asking treasure from. Later, this will be described as Israel “plundering/spoiling” the Egyptians (12:36). This is of course a very unique sort of “plundering”: the Israelites are given favor/grace in the eyes of the Egyptians and Moses is considered a very great man (11:3). But remember that this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in Scripture (Gen. 12:14-13:2, ch. 20, ch. 26). God has set a pattern deep in the narrative of Scripture of enslavement then freedom, death and then resurrection, oppression then blessing. But resurrection always comes with blessings. God doesn’t merely deliver his people; he delivers them with blessings besides. The justice of this “plundering” must be seen in the Biblical principle of the “bride price” (Ex. 22:16-17). We also see this principle at work in Gen. 24:22, 53 and in Gen. 31:14-15. The justice of God demands the protection and provision for women. And this pattern is likely explicitly referenced in 11:1. The word “completely/altogether” in 11:1 should probably actually be translated “daughter-in-law/virgin-bride” (cf. Lev. 18:15, 20:12). Pharaoh will dismiss/send out his bride like Abraham dismissed Hagar (Gen. 21). Finally, Moses then foretells the last plague on the firstborn and predicts that all of Pharoah’s servants will come and bow before him and ask him and all his people to leave (11:8). Notice too that Moses leaves in anger. Moses of course knows what God’s intentions are, but this does not conflict at all with his commitment to his part. God also reiterates his intention to harden Pharaoh’s heart in order to display his wonders (11:9-10).
Institution of the Passover
At the beginning of chapter 12, the instruction for Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread are given. This deliverance is going to be so big that God says it will change their calendar. This deliverance and the feast they are going to hold will be the beginning of their year from now on (12:2). The instructions are to take a lamb per household and if the household is too small, two households should share a lamb “according to the number of souls” and “according to the number of mouths that will eat” (12:4). This means incidentally that children were expected to take part in this memorial meal. On the tenth day of the month the lamb was selected (12:3-5). Then, on the fourteenth day it was slaughtered in the evening, its blood was put on the door posts, and the flesh was to be eaten (12:6-10). They were to be dressed for travel during this 14th day activity (12:11). This fourteenth day begins in the evening (12:6: “between the evenings”, cf. Gen. 1). This fourteenth of the month was also considered the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:15, 18-20). This week long feast is to begin and end with a “holy convocation” which consists of eating and resting (12:16). Of course this first day holy convocation is to be a memorial feast commemorating the fact that Yahweh is passing through the land, striking down all the first born, and executing judgment on the gods of Egypt (12:12). Given the “bride” language and the reoccurring “feast” language, this feast is Yahweh’s marriage feast, his wedding feast, and no wonder Pharaoh does not want for this to happen.
Conclusions & Applications
Greatness is a Gift – There is just one passing reference to Moses being highly esteemed in the eyes of the Egyptians, but we need recognize that many Egyptians probably put blood on their doors (12:38). The entire story goes from Moses seen as an outcast and rebel to a great man in the eyes of all. This kind of “favor/grace” is a gift of God. This is just the way the world works. And this is why we can be so ready to lay our lives down. The flesh wants to grasp for greatness, but faith serves and obeys and waits for it to be given.
Husbands – We see here that the Exodus is in some ways the deliverance of Yahweh’s bride from an oppressive suitor or exploiter. Yahweh comes and fights for his bride, and delivers her with gifts and the bride-price, money for her security and protection. We have noted before that the Scriptures are not Gnostic when it comes to how husbands are to love their wives. This includes food, clothing, and sex (Ex. 21:10). When Israel was whoring after other gods, Yahweh came for her again and again. When we were still in our sins and enemies of God, Christ died for us. The pattern over and over again is that we are called love in order to bring about blessing. Therefore husbands love your wives so that they may be lovelier. Wives, respect your husbands so that God may bless them and make them great in the land. All of you, love your neighbors, your friends, and your enemies. This is the gospel.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Merciful God, we thank you that you did not leave us in our sin, you did not wait for us to become lovely or respectable, but in your infinite mercy you became man and suffered and died for us in order to make us your lovely and noble bride. We praise and thank you for this inestimable gift, and we ask that you would enable us to live by this same grace in our families and homes, in our work place, and in all of life.
It is necessary that Christians take time occasionally to remember how God is blessing them. And as a church it is important to do the same. It is worth noting how greatly God has blessed us over the last year as a church. In the last 12 months God has basically doubled our numbers, he has given us a number of new covenant children, he has provided this new building for us to worship in, he has provided for us financially, and blessed us with a growing community that is characterized by hospitality, joyful worship, and faithfulness to the Scriptures. We have just celebrated our first wedding together a couple of weeks ago. We have had a number of baptisms, and numerous opportunities to serve one another and others through meals, work days, and other events. This is God’s blessing to us, and we must be grateful. In the midst of these blessings we need to recognize several things: First, we should expect for God to continue to bless us. The promise of the gospel is that Jesus has been declared king of heaven and earth. It is all his, and therefore the success of the gospel in Greenville, South Carolina is sure. Secondly, we must expect to face opposition. Whenever God blesses his people there are those who become envious and jealous and want a piece, and when their grasping results in nothing, their envy turns to hatred. We must also recognize that the gospel is always the stench of death to those who do not believe. Finally, as God continues to grow us and bless us, there will be growing pains within the body. This is normal; this is to be expected. The question is always, how will we respond and how will we prepare now to respond faithfully. This takes us back to the beginning. God is blessing us. Therefore our response must be gladness, joy, and a deep, profound gratitude. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Therefore put away your pride, your discontent, your envy, your ungodly anger, and all evil. God is blessing us here and now; so come, worship the Lord.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We hope you are well, and that this summer finds you sipping large glasses of sweet tea, lathered in sunscreen, and enjoying the spiritual blessings of barbeque and Frisbee.
Through the painstaking efforts of several folks, there is now a slide show with a number of pictures of Resurrection Ball 2007 which can be found here.
For those of you who were unable to attend or somewhat suspicious of what a 'Reformational Boogy' might look like, please follow the link and enjoy the scenery. Also, feel free to forward this link to friends and family who may be interested. Remember: Resurrection Ball 2008 is only nine months away.
Lastly, there is a brown, button-up men's suit vest that is hanging in the Sumpter's closet. It was found after the Ball. If this belongs to you or one of your loved ones, please contact Toby Sumpter for ransom details.
In our Risen King Jesus,
Toby Sumpter and Tim Collins
Lohmeyer points out that Jesus words and actions in the temple cleansing scene are both strange and revolutionary. First, the portion of the "temple" that Jesus cleanses would hardly have been considered the temple proper in the first century. Most Jews would have viewed the court of the Gentiles as a compromise and/or syncretistic bone tossed to the pluralistic culture they were living in. Thus, for Jesus to go there and call it "God's House" is rather startling. Secondly, Jesus insists that God's house be called a "house of prayer." This is from a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7, and thus it is not a particularly original concept, but again, given what the temple was for (i.e. sacrifice and ritual cleansing), Jesus' reference suggests a transformation of the house of God. Notice too that Jesus' actions (e.g. knocking over tables, driving out the merchants, etc.) disrupt (at least momentarily) the sacrificial system. Both his actions and words suggest that there is coming a new way to be ritually clean and a new way to have one's sins forgiven. It will no longer be found in the other precincts of the temple where various washings and sacrifices occur. Instead, it will occur in the court of the gentiles where people gather for prayer. Thirdly, the rest of the quotation from Isaiah is that God's house will be a house of prayer "for all nations," and this is particularly important for the location of these actions. Jesus is acting like the Court of the Gentiles is the center of the Temple, and renaming it God's "house of prayer for all nations" indicates that Jesus is ushering in the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Not only will there be a new way of ceremonial cleanness and purity, a new avenue for the forgiveness of sins, but this way will be opened not only to the Jews but to all nations.
Far from this scene being a moralistic parable about not selling stuff at church or the greed of the first century priesthood, this story is the revelation of God's purpose to rebuild and transform his Temple, to make a new house, a house of prayer for Jews and Gentiles where all nations can be forgiven, cleansed, and made holy.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
In our passage this morning, we noticed that Yahweh insisted that both young and old should go to the feast of Yahweh (Ex. 10:9), and Pharaoh understood easily that this meant the “little ones” (10:24). The covenant family of God is made up of young and old, male and female, and this means that all of them must go to the feast of Yahweh. And Paul says in 1 Cor. 10 that what was true of Israel is true of the Christian Church. All of them were baptized in the sea (not just the adults) and all of them ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink (not just the healthy adults), and the drink came from the Rock that followed them. That rock was Christ. Therefore this is the pattern throughout Scripture: God deals us through the covenant, and this means that he wants all of us, young and old, male and female. And he invites us to the feast, to the spiritual food and drink which is Christ. Therefore, first we invite you to be baptized, take upon yourself and your children the sign of the covenant, the promise of the gospel and then you are invited to this table, to the feast, you, your sons and daughters, your grandsons and all your little ones as well as your grandfathers and grandmothers. Whether young or old, whether male or female: for we must hold the feast to the Lord. This is none other than the overwhelming mercy and grace of God; we don’t deserve it. We’ve done nothing to make ourselves worthy. And that’s the point. The gospel is grace. It’s not about how old you are; its about the goodness of God, the gift of God. It’s all about Jesus. Put down your unbelief, your worry, your fear. And come, worship the Lord.
Opening Prayer: Open your Word to us now, O God, come down and be near to us in the glorious power of your Spirit. Wherever our hearts are hard or defensive come and overwhelm us with your goodness and mercy. Hear our cries and come to our aid. Speak to us now: heal us, renew us, and strengthen us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
That you may tell your Son and Grandson
This chapter opens with God’s reaffirmation that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of his servants (10:1). The reason he has hardened these hearts is for God to show his signs and so that Moses will be able to tell his son and grandson the “mighty things I have done in Egypt.” So that you may know that the God who did this was Yahweh. The plagues and signs reveal the God who did this great judgment as Yahweh. The implication is that no other God could have done this; it has Yahweh all over it. This is because Yahweh is the Lord of Creation and he saves and delivers his people, making a difference between Israel and Egypt. God does wonders so that they can be talked about, and in particular that they can be talked about to our children and grandchildren.
Locusts and Faithful Worship
Remember we were told after the hail storms that only the flax and barley were struck but that the wheat and spelt would come later since they were late crops (9:31-32). So when God sends locusts there is a “residue of what is left” and whatever has grown up out of the fields (10:5). But the plague will also include the fact that they will fill the houses of Egypt (10:6). At this point, Pharaoh shows the first sign of compromise. While he’s sworn falsely previously (second/fourth/seventh plagues: 8:8, 28, 9:28), here he actually seems to be offering a compromise prior to the plague. He knows that the word of Moses is true. Yet Pharaoh’s offer shows his evil intentions; he is only willing to have the men go and serve Yahweh (10:11). Remember the initial request from Pharaoh was a three day journey into the wilderness to hold a feast to Yahweh (5:1-3). Does this imply that initially there was no intention to leave Egypt permanently? No (10:9). At the heart of this contest and battle between Yahweh and Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt is not a geographical squabble. It’s a matter of a culture and way of life: will Israel serve Pharaoh or Yahweh? Will they worship Pharaoh or Yahweh? For Israel to worship Yahweh completely unhindered is to undermine the rule of Pharaoh. And if only the men go, Pharaoh still has his finger on their lives (i.e. their wives and children). The locusts come up over the whole land (10:13-15). Pharaoh calls this affliction “death” (10:17), and when Yahweh takes the plague away, the locusts are blown into the Red Sea (10:19). This all previews what God will bring to Egypt: death in the land, to be followed by drowning in the Red Sea.
Darkness and Faithful Worship
Following the pattern we have seen, these plagues strike the land and then heavens. This darkness is “able to be felt” and “thick.” The first description may simply refer to the fact the Egyptians had to “grope” around like blind men in order to get around (cf. Dt. 28:29). The second description means “calamity” or “gloom.” Remember that these plagues are a “de-creation” of the Egyptian world, an unmaking of their world, and therefore, here at the end of the plagues, it is fitting that we should have arrived at the very beginning: separation of light and darkness (Gen. 1:2-4, cf. Ex. 10:23). This is an indication that Egypt/Pharaoh is at the end; there’s nothing left for God to unmake. Also, this fact should not escape us when we see “darkness” associated with so many of the later prophecies in Scripture (Is. 8:22, 59:9, Jer. 23:12, Joel 2:2, Zeph. 1:15). Darkness goes back to the original primordial darkness before at the dawn of creation, but darkness also will ever after point to the last straw before God strikes the first born of Egypt and buries their armies in the Sea. This deep darkness means that God is on the verge of finishing them off. Notice that here too, Pharaoh tries to make a bargain with Yahweh, a compromise. But the issue again is worship unhindered. If Pharaoh can set some small regulation concerning the worship of Israel, he still has a final say, final review (10:24).
Conclusions & Applications
Our Little Ones: This chapter has the running theme of children and grandchildren (10:2, 9, 24). God has done these wonders in Egypt and Scripture is full of God’s signs that we are commanded to tell to our children and grandchildren so that they know Yahweh. This is why Christian Education is so important. Parents also have responsibility to teach their grandchildren. Secondly, when we gather for worship, it is with “our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters… for we must hold a feast to Yahweh.” This is simply a logistical fact that ALL of Israel did worship Yahweh, but it is also an indication of the nature of Yahweh: this is what he wants. Therefore rejoice in this atmosphere of worship because our God does, and do not hinder your children from worshipping: by acting like they don’t/can’t worship, by refusing to discipline them so that they can worship.
Complete Obedience: Think about how tempting it would have been for Moses to “take what he could get from Pharaoh.” He had the chance to take the men to worship Yahweh, and then even the little ones (10:24). Why didn’t he take what he could get? He was committed to complete obedience. Partial obedience is disobedience. This was the sin that Saul who twice slightly altered God’s word for his convenience (the sacrifice: 1 Sam. 13 and sparing of Agag: 1 Sam. 15). Partial obedience is disobedience: telling part of the truth is lying. The bigger issue is the necessity of worshiping God with complete freedom. We may not compromise to make anyone happy. The IRS, the President, Supreme Court, Congress, or United Nations do not regulate our worship: only the Word of God does that.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Almighty God, you have done wonders in our midst. You performed signs and wonders in the midst of our fathers in Egypt, you did wonders when you conquered the land of Canaan and when you raised up kings and prophets. And in the fullness of time, you sent forth your son born of a woman, born under the law. This is your great wonder. But you have done wonders in our lives as well, O God. You have forgiven our sins, you have taught us your word, you have washed us in baptism, and you continually feed us by your word, spirit, and at your table. O God, grant that we might continually tell of your wonders to our children and grandchildren, and give us complete obedience, to obey all the way.
In Romans, Paul exhorts the Christians to give to the needs of the saints and to be given to hospitality (12:13). I want to point out that God is already blessing us richly in this area (and yesterday’s wedding was a prime example of that), but I want to encourage you to do so more and more. We are not merely to “give” to the needs of the saints, but the word means to “fellowship in” or “share in” the needs of the saints. The word “hospitality” literally means the “love of strangers.” We are to share the needs of the saints and be given to loving foreigners and strangers. The word “given to” is actually from the root word which means to persecute. Think about Paul in the early chapters of Acts persecuting the Christians traveling from city to city looking for Christians. That’s how Christians should be toward loving strangers and foreigners. Christians should be constantly looking to help and serve the saints but also pursuing the strangers and foreigners in our midst. This means of course that we should look for opportunities to love those outside of the faith, but we should also remember that there are many literal foreigners and strangers in our cities. The upstate has an enormous Hispanic population in particular; these are strangers and foreigners. Paul says that you should be out finding ways to love them. When there are visitors in worship, there should be a stampede of God’s people inviting them for lunch, dinner, and finding out if there are other ways to love them. Of course I do not mean that you should be rude or overwhelming, but your temptation is to assume that someone else has already invited them, already spoken to them. A refusal to share in the needs of the saints or to show love to foreigners and strangers is a rejection of the gospel. When you were strangers and aliens, wandering far from the kindness of God, when you were illegal immigrants in this world that belongs to the Triune God, and you deserved nothing but the wrath and curse of God, Jesus died for you, forgave your sins, and seated you at his table. Therefore go and do likewise.
Psalm 45 is a wedding psalm. It was composed for a royal wedding. And even though this a song, a poetic celebration of a marriage, there are several exhortations that can be drawn from it. But first, just a general point about our celebration today: As most of you know, D--- was baptized last Sunday along with the children that are under the care of D--- and M---. In keeping with that baptism, this wedding today is an act of repentance. Repentance simply means “turning.” D--- has turned from a former life, and he has now submitted himself to King Jesus. And this means that he, like all of us, has begun a life of continual repentance, a life of studying God’s Word and seeking to submit our lives to the rule of Jesus. One of the clear teachings of Scripture is that the marriage covenant is how God intends for men and women to dwell together as family. There is tons of confusion on this issue in our day, but this is simply the fact that at the creation of the world God established the pattern that when a man and a woman were to come together they were to leave their families and become one flesh, and there was to be a public covenant established. There are two reasons for this: first because a public covenant is enforceable. When two people make promises in public, those who hear and observe the covenant promises are called upon to witness the vows and hold them accountable. In our day especially, where far too many men take advantage of helpless and unprotected women, it is absolutely necessary that Christian men honor and protect women by marrying the woman they want to be with. Secondly, there must be a public covenant of marriage because this best reflects the gospel. Paul says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This means that every couple is always preaching a gospel. Every husband or live-in boyfriend is always proclaiming something about Jesus; the only question is what are you proclaiming? Are you proclaiming a false or heretical gospel that Jesus is a coward who is afraid of commitment and is just in it for cheap thrills? Jesus came and died for his people, his bride. He committed himself to us even to the death and he secured our salvation and has promised publicly through his death and resurrection that he will never leave us. And that is what we are doing here today. D--- and M---, you are publicly declaring the gospel today in your words and actions. You are saying that Jesus is King and he has come and given himself to us in his death and resurrection, and therefore as his servants, you are giving yourselves to one another, to die for one another, to sacrifice for one another, and that you will never leave or forsake one another until God has parted you in death.
First, D---, the Psalm begins with the groom. It says that he is fairer than all the sons of men, that there is grace upon his lips, and that God has blessed him forever. You need to understand this day, your wedding day and every day that follows for the rest of your life as God’s blessing you. Today, God is singling you out and exalting you above all the men here present and pouring grace on your lips. What is this blessing that God is bestowing upon you? A wife. The Apostle Paul says that the wife is the glory of the husband. From this day forth, M--- is your glory; she is your crown. And this leads to the next point in the Psalm: Gird your sword upon your thigh. Ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness. And your right hand shall teach you awesome things. This day is a call to battle, D---. Today, you are being coronated; you are being crowned and made a king. Your crown is M---; she is your glory. Therefore, as a king you are called to battle, to rule and reign. So gird your sword upon your thigh, ride forth because of truth, humility, and righteousness. And your right hand shall teach you awesome things. Pursue truth; pursue humility, and pursue righteousness. How must you do this? Not by just winging it, not by just guessing but by immersing yourself in the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy, one of the laws for the kings of Israel was to read the Scriptures daily. You are a king, you have been anointed in baptism, and now you are being crowned with the glory of your wife. Therefore gird your sword upon your thigh, the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God and your right hand will teach you awesome things. How? It will teach you awesome things because you are fighting with it. You are called to do battle with your flesh, with all sin, with every attack of the evil one. You are called to defend your wife and your children from sin and evil, and you are called to teach them to do the same. Finally, the Psalmist says that your scepter is to be one of righteousness: love righteousness and hate wickedness. And you must do both. In order to rule your home in righteousness, you must hate wickedness and you must love righteousness. The root of this wisdom is found in the way Jesus taught his disciples to rule: by serving and laying their lives down for others. This is the kind of rule and authority you are being given, D---. Not the kind that barks orders or makes demands. You are being given an authority and rule that dies, that serves, that sacrifices time, energy, and comfort for the blessing and welfare of your wife and children.
M---, the Psalmist then exhorts the bride to incline her ear, to listen, and he commands her to forget her people and leave her father’s house. This is a general exhortation to leave your past behind. Do not leave it in bitterness; do not leave it with a hard heart. Simply receive what God is giving you now with a thankful heart. Rejoice in his goodness to you, give thanks for his mercy and blessing, and cling to your husband. And the Psalmist says, so shall the king greatly desire your beauty. Because he is your lord, worship him. Obviously this does not mean that you are to worship him as we worship God; given the context, it could easily be translated submit yourself to him, respect him, honor him. This is what Paul explicitly says elsewhere. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands… This is your glory, M---. You are D---‘s glory, and your glory is your submission to him. You are exhorted here to submit yourself only to his man and no other; you have left your father’s house and there is no man that you must submit yourself to but this one. This is a great glory and great protection. D--- is your king and your defender; he is your lord. And this is exactly what Peter says that wives are to adorn themselves by submitting to their husbands, even as Sarah did to Abraham by calling him “lord.” This is God’s way of adorning you, glorifying you, and this is why your husband will greatly desire your beauty. Your glory, your beauty, your adorning is your submission to your husband. And the Psalmist says that people will entreat you with gifts and seek your advice and council, and you will be a royal daughter, all glorious in your palace.
And so we have gathered here today with gladness and rejoicing, and we trust that instead of your fathers, your sons shall be made princes in all the earth, and that God will make your name, the name H--- a praise in all the earth. Not because you have some kind of ego problem or you’re power tripping, but because we believe the gospel. Jesus is King, our sins are forgiven, and we have been seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We have all been made kings and priests to God forever. And all authority and power has been given to Jesus in heaven and earth, and in Him, it has been given to us. Therefore gird your sword upon your thigh and ride forth in majesty. You are a King today and forever; you are a Queen today and forever. D---, glory in your crown, for she is your glory. M--- glory in your King, for this is your glory and your beauty. And may the name H--- be known for truth, humility, and righteousness for a thousand generations.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
While it is clear that the cross is the telos of the life of Christ, Athanasius' understanding of the Fall, the "death" that now permeates human life and society, seems to suggest that the incarnation itself is the beginning of the death of Christ.
He says: "Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, he surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father... This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection... For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power. (2.8-9)"
To be sure, all through this section Athanasius is also talking about Christ's actual death on the cross, but I've just highlighted several of the places where he seems to almost conflate the incarnation and the cross. This would seem to have some implications for some of the current discussions regarding the imputation of Christ's active and passive obedience. Here we have at least one formulation which seems content to see no dichotomy between the two.
"Upon them, therefore, upon men who, as animals were essentially impermanent, He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked -- namely, the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as he does, though in limited degree, they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise. But since the will of man could turn either way, God secured this grace that He had given by making it conditional from the first upon two things -- namely, a law and a place. He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise would be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. (1.3)... God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word...the grace of their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law [i.e. death] provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. (1.5)"
Just briefly, notice how clearly Athanasius affirms that God bestowed all kinds of grace on Adam in the garden prior to the Fall. The image of God is called "mercy" in another place and here he continues to emphasize this gracious relationship. Secondly, I find it interesting that Athanasius refers to humanity as being in "union with the Word." Of course the Pauline literature is full of union with Christ motifs, and here Athanasius clearly understands our first parents' state as being essentially the same. It appears that this union is primarily the means by which mortality/impermanence is held at bay in humanity but the transgression of God's law breaks this union (covenant?) and thereby leaves death to work havoc in the sons and daughters of Adam.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
My son wants to go for a walk. C'mon, Dad, he says, let's go to the place where the dead people are buried. I nod and we take our leave of the apartment. Our apartment complex is next to a shopping center which used to house a grocery store called "Winn Dixie" witnessed by the fact that there are fifteen or twenty old grocery carts down by the creek behind the building. It looks like when they heard the store was closing they tried to make their getaway and got lost in the woods. Either that or a few of the neighborhood kids were taking rides down the sloping paths leading to the creek. Amidst the jumbled mess of rusting shopping carts, one can clearly make out the Winn Dixie signatures in several places.
This grocery store was converted into a fitness center a few years ago apparently, and now people go there to sweat. I'm sitting on the other side of the fitness center in a new coffee shop. Just across the street from the apartment complex, nestled in the corner of the fitness center and its vast slab of asphalt, guarded by three or four Oak trees is a small graveyard. The cemetary is surrounded by a small wall of stacked stones which the red ants have claimed as their domain, swimming around the rocky moat in their endless, industrious procession. There are probably fifteen gravestones sticking out of the ground in the Hawkins Cemetary. There is a wooden sign that stands outside the hallowed ground, proclaiming this family name, and one more recent memorial marker indicates the names of two of this family, one of which was actually buried somewhere in Texas. Except for this one recent memorial stone, there are two or three gravestones on which faint names and dates can be deciphered, marking the burial places of a Hawkins and his first and second wives who all died in the late 1800s.
So I sit in one corner of the cemetary and my son sits in the other. Someone has set up a couple of slabs of stone to resemble something of a seat, and so we oblige these nameless benefactors and we sit. My son explains to me that there are people buried beneath the stones. I ask him what will happen to them. He says that Jesus will raise them up and give them new bodies. Then what will happen? He says that the ones who love Jesus will get to be happy. They'll build stuff and play with their toys. I nod. And what about the ones who don't love Jesus? He says that they will go to the bad place.
Now my son wants to play a game. He suggests that he will be David and I will be Goliath. There are plenty of stones on hand, and my son is not much for pretending niceties. After I have received a pebble to the head and (dutifully) fallen to the ground, he cuts my head off with his stick and explains that I have to stay there until Jesus comes back.
After a few moments, he realizes that this might take a little while so he says that I can get up. I ask him what we should do next. After a moment, he says that he will be wicked Saul and the bad men and I can be Stephen. I'm beginning to see a pattern to these stories: rocks and people getting hit with them. But I oblige him. And the first martyrdom is re-enacted in the Hawkins Cemetary before a crowd of shiny SUVs. I ask my son what happened to Saul after he was hurting the people who loved Jesus. He says that Jesus told him to stop. But after he did, some of the people were still scared of him.
My son turned three yesterday. He loved his birthday, he tells me. What was his favorite part? Chuck E. Cheese. What was his favorite thing at Chuck E. Cheese? It was the slide, he says, and he invited all the boys to play with him. The "slide" was the playland-like series of tunnels that the kids could walk/run through which had a slide on one end. Apparently, he had begun systematically inviting the other boys to begin playing with him. Of course they were already doing that, but that didn't stop him from just making sure they knew they were invited.
Well, here's to River: May you always slay the dragons and the giants, and may you have many more years of faithfulness.
When Moses first goes before Pharaoh his request is that Israel might go three days journey into the wilderness in order to hold a feast/festival to Yahweh (Ex. 5:1-3). The general request for the freedom to go out of the land is resubmitted a number of times, but this specific request (to feast) is made again at the onset of the eighth plague when Pharaoh asks who will go. Moses insists that it will be young and old, sons and daughters, and flocks and herds that will go to hold the "feast to Yahweh" (Ex. 10:9).
Interestingly, the next "feast" we witness in Exodus is the feast of unleavened bread and the Passover. In the narrative, it seems that since Pharaoh has not allowed Israel to go into the wilderness for the feast, Yahweh has commanded his people to hold the feast in Egypt. This was of course one of Pharaoh's early compromise suggestions (8:25-27), but Moses insisted on leaving the land of Egypt because the sacrifice/feast would be an "abomination" to the Egyptians.
As it turns out, to hold the feast to Yahweh in the land of Egypt is not merely an abomination to the Egyptians but it results in the destruction of the first born of Egypt. It was not merely an extraneous nicety for Israel to worship a "three days journey into the wilderness"; it was for the safety of Egypt. For Israel to feast/sacrifice/worship Yahweh was for Yahweh to draw near, and the very presence of Yahweh is life and freedom and blessing for his people but judgment and death and destruction for those who do not know Him. An abomination is something "devoted for destruction" (hb. "herem") (e.g. Dt. 7:26), and thus in a great twist of irony, Israel does hold their "abominable" feast in the land and then the land is utterly destroyed.
Of course all of this has important ramifications for Christian worship. For Christians to be worshipping in any land, to be keeping the feast (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1), and to celebrate the Eucharist is to endanger the native inhabitants. In fact, "herem" is itself the term used for Israelite holy war which resulted in the "utter destruction" of many cities in the land of Canaan during the conquest (e.g. Josh. 6:17). But the archetype of this holy war was the Exodus, the conquest of Egypt, in which Yahweh fought for Israel while she held a feast and worshipped Yahweh. Christian worship is holy war; it is the feast to which the Triune God promises to drawn near. Therefore all who are not of God's people are in danger. This means that there must be conflict; and worship is the center of this struggle.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Today is Trinity Sunday, and therefore it is exceedingly fitting that we should be performing a baptism on this day. In Matt. 28 where Jesus commissions his disciples to go into the world and make disciples, he tells his disciples how to make more disciples. He says to baptize people and teach them to obey all that he has taught them. For almost two thousand years the church has been obeying Jesus’ command. The Christian Church began as a tiny band of disciples, people who witnessed the risen Lord and recognized that God had declared him to be king of heaven and earth. Ever since, the church has been a great army marching forward. And as we go, when we meet people, we come with the gospel, a royal proclamation which declares that God has raised Jesus from the dead, our sins are forgiven, and Jesus is now King. Our orders are to make this declaration boldly, and when people submit to the rule of Jesus, they are to be baptized and taught all that Jesus commanded.
Also notice that Jesus says that these new disciples are to be baptized “into” the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another way of saying this is that you are getting a new name today. When you are baptized, you are being renamed. Baptism is a kind of anointing with water. In one sense, when people are baptized they are being anointed, taking on the name Messiah, Christ. Your new name given in your baptism is Christ or Christian. But what Jesus specifically says is that the name given is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your new last name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your last name is Trinity. Of course when someone gets a new name it is when they join a new family. When a woman gets married, she leaves her family and takes the last name of her husband, joining a new family. When a child is adopted, she receives a new last name identifying who her new family is. Likewise, to be baptized into the Name of the Trinity, is to be adopted into the family of God, the fellowship of the Trinity.
Notice that this passage also includes the command to teach. Disciples are to be taught to keep the things that Jesus has commanded. As we have already noted, baptism is submission to the rule of Jesus. Submitting to the King does not mean that you understand everything or even that you know all that this king requires of you. Submitting to King Jesus means that you regard him as your lord and master, and in principle all that you are belongs to him. And this is why new subjects of the king must be taught. This means both that Christians must teach new Christians and that new Christians must be willing to be taught. You witnesses here this morning will swear a vow in moment that you will uphold these new disciples in prayer and teach them. You who are being baptized will swear vows which indicate you are submitting yourself to King Jesus and will be taught by him and his disciples.
This is a glorious day. It is glorious because it is the Lord’s Day, and we will go and worship our great God in a few minutes together. It is glorious because this is Trinity Sunday, and today we glory in the Trinity of our God, the fact that our God is a community, a fellowship, a family, a dance of glory, and love, and goodness. But this day is glorious because we have the privilege to obey Jesus’ words here today. We get to see the Trinity at work here in our midst today. In just a moment the Trinity is going to adopt several new children into his family. This is the gospel: that we who were formerly not of God’s family have been brought near by the blood of Jesus. Our king took upon himself what we deserved for our sins, and therefore we have been brought near to God and adopted into his family.
It is without controversy that the Church has always confessed (since Nicaea officially) that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity incarnate. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. He is the eternal Son begotten of the Father before all worlds, very God of very God.
Nor does modern doubting scholarship worry us when it fumbles about with Bible verses, explaining with a slight blush and a pre-pubescent voice cracking in the microphone of academia that enlightened Christians don't *really* believe all that rubbish about the virgin birth, God of God, Light of Light, and the resurrection.
Yet, I wonder if it worries some evangelical Christian scholars, anxious to keep the orthodox faith firmly fixed to the ground with all the corners nailed down in all the right corners. On this note, it seems like one example of this over zealousness can be seen in reading "eternal, begotten Son" into every title of Jesus. It seems like the old hammer and nails problem. To be sure, all of those titles have that reality woven into them *because* the incarnation is true. But there is also the fact that many of the Messianic titles have a huge baggage train of meaning and connotations which ought not be left in the dust of our high Christology.
One specific title is "Son of God." The concern of course is that if "Son of God" does not mean "second person of the Trinity become man" then how can we defend this doctrine. Aren't you giving your rifle to the enemy and asking him to shoot first? First of all, loyalty to Scripture is never conceding any ground; nor is it in any way compromise. If Scripture uses terminology in a certain way, and we have come to use terminology differently then we would do well to make sure that our terminology is at least consistent with Scripture and consider whether we would do well to change our terminology or at least specify our definitions carefully. Secondly, my contention is *not* that "Son of God" doesn't mean "second person of the Trinity become man." My suggestion is rather that it meant a good deal many other things first, and while it surely had this implication in the salvific purposes of God, it did not come to hold this meaning in its fullness until the resurrection.
Of course all of the gospel accounts were written after the resurrection, so evangelical scholars want to know what the problem is. My only point is that there is a rich theology of "sonship" deep in the story of Scripture that cannot be ignored or forgotten. When the gospel writers name Jesus as the "Son of God" surely they have in mind the God-ness of Jesus, but that is wound around and through a rich panoply of other images and motifs. Consider Adam as the first son of God (Lk. 3:38), Israel as son of God (Ex. 4:22-23), and the promise of the Davidic covenant where God promised that David's son would be his own son (2 Sam. 7:14).
For the gospel writers and first century Jews to declare Jesus to be the Son of God was first to declare him to be a new Adam, a new Israel, and the Messianic King. Of course part of the promise is that this Messianic King will be Yahweh come to save his people (e.g. Mal. 3, Jer. 23:3-6), but even here this One coming is coming as King to save and remake his people.
Again, just to guard against the heresy hunters, the concern is not to down play the ontological deity and eternal pre-existence of the eternal Son. Nor am I suggesting that "Son" is any way a problematic term with which to refer to the second person of the Trinity. My concern is to make sure that we are reading with the eyes of a full-orbed, Biblical (and particularly Hebraic) mindset that recognizes deeper implications for the title Son of God. For the New Testament to declare Jesus the Son of God is to declare him King. It is to declare that the Davidic covenant has been kept, and the resurrection declares this even louder (Rom. 1:4). It is to declare that He is the faithful Adam, the perfect image of God, the righteous ruler of the garden, the keeper of God's sanctuary, and God's Elect One for the salvation of the nations -- as Israel was intended to be. Of course no mere human could ever be any or all of these things perfectly (as the Old Testament so clearly illustrates). Only God himself could come and be and do all these things for us. But to immediately run to the Nicene doctrine of Christ is miss the typology, to miss the weight of this title. Yes, it is God-the-Son who has come to be with us in the flesh, but he has come to be King.
Of course liberal scholars are probably quick to emphasize this fact too, but then they conclude that this literary motif finds its reality in the emotional high that it gave the disciples and how it gives various people existential feelings of self affirmation. To which conclusions I humbly give the fig. No, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God means that the gospel is a royal proclamation, a declaration of the Lordship of this King, the forgiveness found in his death and resurrection, his conquest of this world, and the final judgment which will come when the kingdom is handed over to the Father. Yes, this king is God himself, it is Yahweh who has come to us in the flesh. In this sense, Jesus is the Son of God more fully and truly than any other could be. But this reality is not an otherworldly affirmation of an ontological truth that does not mess with any one's hair.
It was after all the claim of Octavian to be the son of God. Caesar claimed to be the son of God. Was this a claim to divinity? Surely. But was it an ontological claim about his eternal pre-existence? (Of course our Christology should not be based on what pagan emperors meant, but these cultural contours cannot escape our attention when we consider all of the other royal implications of the title resident in the Scriptures.) Therefore, when the the New Testament affirms that Jesus was the Son of God, we have to at least allow for the possibility that what is meant is a serious attack on the emperial aims of certain Romans. The title "Lord" was certainly meant to be this very thing. To claim that Jesus was the Son was to claim that Caesar was not, and therefore not the rightful ruler of the world, the proper Lord of the empire. Caesar is a pretender to the throne. Rather, Jesus is the Son of God and as such is this world's rightful King, Emperor, and Lord. And all the others who claim this supremacy are traitors and pretenders to this one true throne.
Lohmeyer suggests that the "strong man" in the gospels (e.g. Mt. 12:29, Mk. 3:27) is Jesus. I have always understood these parabolic sayings as refering to Beelzebub or the demonic forces of evil that Jesus has been doing battle with. I've thought that Jesus is himself the "one" who enters the strong man's house, binds him, and then sets about plundering the place. Lohmeyer's comment is only made in passing, but his assumption seems to be that the "house" in question is the Temple, and therefore the "strong man" of the house would be Jesus, the Lord of the Temple. The context has to do with the authority of Jesus' battle with evil spirits and demons, whether he is doing this by the power of demonic forces or by some other power (namely the Spirit of God). If Jesus is in fact the strong man, I guess the implication is that Beelzebub must come bind him if he's going to have hope of plundering Israel.
I don't know; my instinct is to stick with Jesus as the plunderer. Any thoughts?
In Proverbs it describes Wisdom as a woman who has set a table for all those who seek her. Wisdom says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” That table is here. Here you are learning wisdom by giving thanks week after week. One of the things that we are seeking to build is a covenant community characterized by joyful Sabbath living. This Sabbath living starts here at the table of Wisdom, the table of Thanksgiving and joy where God invites us to his banqueting table and rejoices over us, his people. But because we have been invited here on this day, we keep this day as a feast day in our homes and with one another. We cannot leave this place and go back into the world as though this day is like all the rest of the days of the week. This is the Lord’s Day, the day on which God has met with us, assured us of his love and blessing, and feasted us at his table. That is why many of us seek to have our best dinners Saturday night or Sunday afternoon or evening, as a reflection of this feast, a recognition that God has blessed us with forgiveness and salvation, this covenant family, and so many other good things. We set out our best dishes and linens, chocolate and wine, all the best of what God has blessed us with. Because God feasts us here, we cannot help but go and live out this Eucharistic joy in our homes and families. While the Lord’s Day is the pinnacle of our week and worship at this table is our center, our entire lives should be characterized by this Eucharistic joy, this thanksgiving joy. This is the feast of wisdom. You cannot work like a godless pagan because you have rejoiced at the table of the Lord. You cannot snap at your children or harp on your spouse. You have feasted with the Lord. You cannot hold grudges or cling to bitterness; Jesus rejoices over you. This is of course nothing but the kindness and blessing and grace of the Triune God. And this is how the Triune God plans to overrun the world with his mercy and grace: people coming to this meal in faith, trusting Jesus, and rejoicing in Him. This is the wisdom of God. So come, eat and drink, and give thanks.
Opening Prayer: Almighty and Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We glory in your Trinity, in the exceeding wisdom and glory that fills your eternal dance. We come before you now as your people, your sons and daughters, and we ask that you would pour out your wisdom and understanding upon us. We ask that you might teach us in order that we might worship you more faithfully, praise you more fully, and glorify you more thoroughly. Even though we know we can never plumb the depths of your glory and wisdom, and that we can never adequately give you thanks, we know that you are pleased with our feeble attempts and therefore we are bold to ask you for more. Amen!
This is Trinity Sunday the beginning of the second half of the Christian Calendar. This is important for us to emphasize because knowing who God is enables us to know who we are. The Triune God is brilliant in wisdom and understanding; Paul says he can’t get enough (Eph. 1:8-9, 17-19). We know that the wisdom of God is preeminently displayed in the persons and work of Jesus. John calls Jesus “the Word” –that is the wisdom of God. In Proverbs 8, God’s brilliance is displayed in creation. We also see this in Job (38-41). God’s wisdom is creative, skillful, and understanding.
Fear and Thankfulness
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Paul associates fearing and honoring God with being thankful (Rom. 1:18-23). Knowing God and not suppressing the truth results in wisdom and thankfulness. The psalmist associates these as well: serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling (Ps. 2:11). Godly fear recognizes that one is surrounded by mercies and therefore worships (Ps. 5:7). Fearing God means glorifying God and praising him (Ps. 22:23). Godly fear recognizes that God is piling up good things for his people (Ps. 31:19). Those who fear God see his salvation near to them for the glory of their land (Ps. 85:9). The fear of God gives thanks for forgiveness of sins (Ps. 103:11-12). The fear of God sees God’s covenant faithfulness even in the food they eat (Ps. 111:5). The psalmist even comes out and says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and therefore God’s praise is forever (Ps. 111:10). The fear of the Lord is the kind of worship and praise that cannot end. Again the psalmist says, “Let all those who fear the Lord now say ‘His mercy endures forever!’” (Ps. 118:4). Godly fear gives thanks for other people who obey the word of God (Ps. 119:74). Again, those who fear the Lord, bless the Lord (Ps. 135:20). Those who fear the Lord are those who hope in his mercy (Ps. 147:11). The fear of the Lord is a deep kind of thankfulness to God. It recognizes everything as mercy, everything as an altar for praise, everything as an excuse to worship.
Applications: The Wisdom of Gratitude
The Trinitarian life is a life full of thankfulness. The reason that God is all wise and full of the depths of understanding is because the Trinity is all-thankful. The Father gives glory to the Son and the Spirit and Son gives glory to the Spirit and the Father and the Spirit gives glory back to the Father and the Son. The wisdom of God is the fundamental thankfulness of God, the persons of the Trinity rejoicing in the others. God can’t stop being thankful. The Trinity delights eternally in itself, and this delight overflows in creation. And the Trinity continues to delight even in the midst of sin and wickedness.
Gratitude teaches us loyalty. When we are grateful for what God has given we receive these gifts and seek to use them carefully and protect them. If creation is true then everything is a gift. Therefore receive it as such, treat it like a gift. What if the most wise person in the whole world said that they knew exactly what you need and would give it to you? Even if it was a rock, if you truly believed that this person was the wisest person in the world, you would guard that rock with your very life. As it turns out, the wisest person ever does know exactly what you need and he gives it to you every day. Be loyal to your life, to your faith, to your family, to your house, to your car, to the food on your plate, not with a pagan kind of grasping and clinging but with the kind of exuberant joy that sees it all as a gift from your faithful heavenly Father. Then remember that thankfulness uses the gifts as they were meant to be used and cares for them. Thankfulness pulls weeds, confesses sin, and disciplines her children.
Secondly, gratitude protects the ability to be grateful. Gratitude makes decisions that will provide for future opportunities for thankfulness and praise. The thankful heart takes steps to prevent occasions of ingratitude. If you are prone to pettiness when you are hungry, sleepy, or in certain weather, take steps to stop it. Why, because thankfulness wants to be thankful. Related to this is the fact that thankfulness is hungry to understand more in order to be more thankful. When we see trees, their leaves and the way they stretch up into the sky we are thankful, but when we learn that the cells in those leaves are doing a phenomenal dance that turns sunlight into sugar, we should be all the more amazed, all the more thankful. Thankfulness seeks to know more and understand more in order to be more thankful. Your personal prayers should be getting longer if only for the growing list of things you are grateful for.
Thankfulness is not bitter, does not complain, and it is not petty. In fact the best defense is always a good offense. If you would do battle with bitterness and complaining, you must begin by being thankful. This is why worship is warfare. We are not a polite social club meeting here on Sunday mornings hoping to help each other be decent people. We worship here, offering up our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving because the Bible teaches that this is how God will conquer this world. Witness Jericho, Jehoshaphat’s armies, and the book of Revelation. Therefore worship here, believing that God is using your prayers, songs, and joyful celebration of his meal as the battering ram to bring down the principalities and powers, every haughty thing that exalts itself against our Lord Jesus. This is Trinitarian wisdom; fear God and give him thanks. And this is central to what we are called to take to the nations, trying to figure out ways to make more people thankful to God.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: All majesty, glory, praise, and adoration be to you O Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. We bow before you and we worship you. You are God and there is no other. You are wisdom and there is no other, and therefore we rejoice in you and in your goodness. Blessed be the Father. Blessed be the Son. Blessed be the Holy Spirit.