Saturday, September 29, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
“The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons.” (1 Cor. 10:20-21)
One of the ways we keep the first commandment is by eating here together and refusing to partake of the tables of demons. But it is easy to believe that people don’t do this any more. True, there are not literal temples of demons that you can go to today and offer sacrifices in, but we have just as many false gods today as ever. For many, the shopping mall is a temple to the demons of greed, pride, and vain glory. While Paul goes on to say that the earth is the Lord’s, he says the point is that we may not have fellowship with those who serve those false gods. You may not go shopping as a servant of the god Vanity. For others, health, fitness, and nutrition are their gods. They serve the idol of immortality apart from God, life by diet deities. They are constantly going after the latest nutritional, dieting, or medical crazes. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to care for the bodies God has given us, the modern infatuation with food, nutrition, fitness, and health is nothing but idolatry. You cannot fellowship with those idols; you cannot eat of that table of demons and then come here and act as though you will not provoke the God of the universe to jealousy. And there are plenty of other idols: lust for power, greed for money, coveting your neighbor’s wife, car, or job, all of it is idolatry because it refuses to recognize that the Triune God rules over all of those things and gives and takes according to his good pleasure. The only response to God’s wisdom and power and glory is thankfulness, gladness, and joy. And that is what this table is. It is the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving. So come now and put all of your idols away. Determine now in humble reliance upon the grace of God to break down all idols in your life. To leave none of them standing and come and give thanks.
Opening Prayer: Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit, we bow before you now as people who are members of an idolatrous culture. We have not served you and you alone, and therefore we cry out to you for mercy and grace. You are our life, our hope, and our salvation. Speak to us now, break us and remake us, that we might serve you and you alone. Destroy any idols that we are still clinging to or hiding in our hearts. Amen!
Calvin said that the heart of man is naturally a factory of idols. It is this natural inclination of fallen man that always resists the law of God. This is because the goodness of God is always the aroma of life to those who are being saved and the aroma of death to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:15-16). The issue is fundamentally an issue of worship. To those who have submitted to the grace of the Triune God, his word comes to us as life, health, and strength. To those who resist, his word is always ugly and repulsive. The issue is the heart of man. Yahweh’s word always comes to us in the context of salvation: “I am the Lord your God who brought out of Egypt…” Freedom is not doing whatever you feel like; freedom is living out the fullness of what God has created us for.
The Inescapability of Morality
There is no neutrality. People always serve a god. It is not whether a god will be served but only always a question of which god. The first commandment is the foundation of all of life. It fully assumes that there will always be a god or gods, but the Lord requires us to hold him in highest regard. But Moses explains this law in Deuteronomy explaining that this is a call to warfare. It requires that we make no peace with idolatry (Dt. 7:2, 5). This is what we call the “antithesis” that originated in the garden. This was the promise of warfare, and we are called to this no less than Israel (Mt. 10:34, Eph. 6:13-18). And throughout the Scriptures we see that the most potent form of warfare is worship. The way we are to wage war with all idols is through praises, prayers, the declaration of the Word of God, and the celebration of the sacraments.
Centrality of Worship
This is why worship is central to all of life. Lord’s Day worship is not a social club, something you should do if you have time, its convenient, or works into your schedule. The worship of God comes first: before God you may not place anything else. This comes down to submission to the Word of God. Paul says that when the gospel is preached, it is the voice of Christ speaking (Rom. 10:14). Christ says where two or three are gathered, he promises to be in their midst (Mt. 18:20). The pattern after the resurrection is that Lord appearing to his disciples when they are gathered together on the first day of the week (Lk. 24, Jn. 20:19, 26). Paul assumes later that the early Christians will gather together at least as often as the first day of every week (1 Cor. 16:2). John sees his vision of Revelation on the “Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). We are summonsed to appear “before God” on the Lord’s Day, and to refuse is to place something before God. This is the principle of ‘firstfruits’.
All of the Law
When the Lord says that we are to have ‘no other gods before me’, it also implies that all of life is ‘before God.’ Our entire lives are open before his face. There is no place or time that we can go to where our life is not fully disclosed to God (Ps. 139:7). This means every moment of our lives are either acts of submission and worship to the Triune God of the universe or acts of rebellion and treason. This is why James can say that if we stumble at one point in the law we have broken all of it (Js. 2:10). This is true of all of the laws but easiest to see with the first. If God is our God above all other gods then whenever we do other than what he requires we are putting another god above and before him. Clearly, to break any other commandment is to break the first commandment. But God claims all of us because he is determined to save all of us.
Conclusions and Applications
Recognizing God as God above all gods means that you are called to call on this God. Where are you struggling? What worries you? What are you mad about? You have access to this God and he is not deaf, dumb, or blind. Call upon your God. Stop saying that you will pray. Pray. Sing. Cry out. Call upon your God.
Notice how Moses ties so much of this commandment to children and descendants. We are not to give our children in marriage to those who worship other gods (Dt. 7:3-4). This is based on the fact that God has made us his special people (7:6), and this is not for anything in us but because of his promises and because he is a covenant keeping God even to a thousand generations (7:9). A direct application of this law is that God’s people must not give their children to those who do not worship the Triune God; we must not make a covenant with them (7:2). It is the myth of neutrality which insists that education can be neutral or “tolerant” of all religions. Exceptions make bad law. This also means that it is not enough to merely homeschool or send your children to a Christian school. You are called to be training soldiers.
Moses also calls us to fearless obedience (7:11-15, 17ff). Christians for far too long have been cowards and sheepish about the claims of Christ. When we see the giants of our day whether they be politicians, military prowess, movie stars, celebrities, or merely public opinion, we are commanded by God to remember what he has done to Egypt and to all those who have stood against him in the past. Christ must reign until all of his enemies have been made his footstool. This is why the Son of God appeared: to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). Therefore worship the Lord; give him thanks and praise: you are called to war with all idols. “For the faithful, wars will never cease.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, teach us wisdom. Give us the mind of Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may wage war against all idols, and that we might teach our children to do the same. Forgive us for whatever peace we have made with sin or any kindness we have shown to idolatry. Teach us to hate sin. Teach us to despise idols.
Throughout Scripture we are told that God is the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth. This means that we serve the God of armies. The Triune God is the God who is at war with all sin, all wickedness, and all idols. And this means that not only does God hate all sin, but He hates all workers of iniquity. And he calls us to the same. We serve the God who destroys idols and idol worshippers. But so often modern people believe they have no idols; they believe they are idol-free because they did not bow down before a statue or burn incense to an image. But this is just what idols always do; idols do not introduce themselves as idols. They do not introduce themselves as demons or competitors to God. Idols always introduce themselves with lies. Idols always introduce themselves as family values; idols come in the form of conservative politics. Idols appear in the form of angels of light. They often come disguised as things that are not of themselves evil. And this is why it is always offensive to attack idols. Whenever Christians commit themselves to breaking down the idols of their culture, they will always face resistance. And usually the louder the protest is, the more fierce the devotion to that idol. Therefore Christians must both commit themselves to tearing down everything which exalts itself against the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Every idol must come down. And Christians must commit themselves to this even in the face of the whole world telling us that we are crazy, intolerant, ignorant, fundamentalist, backwards, or whatever other name they come up with to show their disapproval. We do not serve public opinion, we do not serve the polls, we do not serve the media, and we do not serve their godless agendas. We serve the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and all other gods can go to hell.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
One of the common claims of “converts” to Rome and Constantinople is that they were seeking real unity. They wanted perhaps the unity of the universal church in all of the world, the unity of worship practice, the unity of authority in the bishops (and/or the pope), the unity of history, the unity of tradition, and perhaps others.
But what I don’t get is why they had to “convert” to get any of those things. Actually, I would insist that I already have them all right now, and I’m still a Presbyterian.
St. Paul says: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:1-6)
As sure as there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all, there is only one Church. The unity of that one church rests in “bearing with one another in love” and preserving it through the “bond of peace.” It simply is not true that this unity is found in one person apart from Jesus Christ. It does not say that this unity is based on letterhead, a central office, or some other human invention. It says that this unity exists in the fact that God is one, that there is one faith, and one baptism. I’m very sorry that various individuals have divided over the centuries. I’m sorry Paul and Barnabas did it in Acts 15, and I’m sorry that Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople (and the incompetent messenger of the Pope) had their falling out in the 11th century. And yes, I’m sorry that Luther and Leo X couldn’t have kept on better terms. But divisions between individuals do not in fact divide Christ, anymore than they actually divide the Holy Trinity. They are ugly blemishes, signs of remaining sin, and inconsistent with the confession and sacramental union of the church, but in fact when Joe Christian gets up the next morning his duty is to love God and neighbor. That is the unity of the one church. As far as I’m concerned, as far as it depends upon me, I’m in full communion with the universal church.
But what is particularly annoying is that the other thing that many “converts” are after is disunity. They are trying to divide the body of Christ. They want to disassociate themselves with lots of stuff they don’t approve of. They do not want to be united to flaky Charismatics. They do not want to be associated with cranky southern Presbyterians. They do not want to be connected to homosexual bishops, praise choruses, doctrinal ignorance, biblical illiteracy, petty divisiveness, and a whole host of other ugly stains that are currently defacing the dress of the bride of Christ.
But the fact of the matter is that they have merely run around the house and haven’t really left the building. Sorry, friends, you still have brothers and sisters doing stupid things. Your “conversion” got you no closer to heaven and no further from hell.
But what’s at the heart of this is a false notion of unity. I insist that unity is not and cannot ultimately be grounded in the letterhead of some church in Italy or the Patriarch of Constantinople. All unity has its roots in the doctrine of the Trinity. Unity is personal. The “oneness” of the Church is to mirror the oneness of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. The unity of the Trinity is the archetype of all real unity. For all the yammering about unity in the “person” of the Bishop or the Pope or the Archimandrite of Buffalo, the refusal to love and honor the person standing right in front of them is nothing but ideological idolatry.
Unity is personal, organic, and ultimately consists in the communion of the Godhead through the Holy Spirit. This personal unity is one of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. That is what we see in the Godhead. The Father does not ask the Son about his paperwork. He doesn’t ask about the pedigree of his ordination, whether he has the right letters before or after his name. The Father and the Son love one another and are bound together in the unity and loyalty of the Spirit.
It is that same Spirit which the apostle Paul insists binds the church together. The same principle of unity which binds the Trinity together is the principle of unity in the church.
In Holy Baptism, you put on Christ, you were united to his person through the Holy Spirit, you were anointed with His Spirit and called upon to be Christ to the world. This is the renewal of the image of God in humanity, and this means that if you want unity, if you want one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, it’s standing right in front of you. It’s the widow who lives upstairs, it’s the neglected government school kids running around on your street, it’s the prisoners in your county jail, and it’s the jerk who keeps parking in your space at work.
Jesus has harsh words for those who refused to see him in the sick, the naked, the hungry, and the imprisoned. ‘In as much as you did not do it unto the least of these, you did not do unto me. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.’ I fear that many, caught in the grip of an idea, in the name of unity, are doing nothing more than busying themselves with stupid controversies in order to ignore the Christ standing right in front of them. And they have the audacity to claim they are seeking unity. I don’t buy it. They're nothing but sectarian anabaptists with icons.
You want to show me the catholic faith? You want to impress me with an ancient and glorious tradition? Why don’t you go find a widow to care for, an orphan in distress. Or, even better, maybe you have a wife or a few small children begging for some attention, some love, some discipline. Maybe you should send your mother some flowers, write your father a letter bestowing honor upon him. Wash some feet, do some dishes, take out the garbage, take up your cross: that’s the ancient catholic faith. That’s the unity of the Trinity, the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.
And let me just add a final note for anyone who may read this who is Roman Catholic or Orthodox. I would encourage you to do the same: Love God, love your neighbor, and please take no offense at all the new baptists running around in your church.
I posted this a while back and then this a few days after that, but apparently it's necessary to go over this issue a bit more.
The most important reasons for not converting to Rome or Constantinople or Atlanta or Houston or Moscow have nothing to do with icons, apostolic succession, sacraments, or liturgy. The reason you shouldn't convert is because you are required by God to love your neighbor as yourself. John says, 'how can you say that you love God whom you have not seen if do not love your neighbor whom you have seen?'
The fact of the matter is that most people who end up "converting" do not do it because they have been actively involved in hospitality, serving at the local soup kitchen, evangelizing their neighbors, and volunteering any extra time they have to assist the deacons at Church. People who convert are not generally busy giving themselves away. People who are taking up their cross daily, people who are dying to themselves, don't have time to ask stupid questions like, "Am I really in a true church?"
Who is your neighbor? What's his/her name? How many children do they have? Where do they work? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their needs? If you're having trouble sleeping at night because you think there mightof, shouldof, maybe ought-to-of been a processional, robes, incense, a bishop with a big hat, or some such nonsense, you don't understand the gospel. You're busy tithing all manner of mint and dill, and you haven't even begun to understand the weightier matters of the law which are justice and mercy and faith.
People need to realize that the weightier matters of the law are not apostolic succession, old liturgies, or paedocommunion. Love you neighbor and stop your whining. Take up your cross and learn how to die. Stop bowing down to that idol in the mirror.
Monday, September 17, 2007
“O LORD, You know; remember me and visit me, And take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In Your enduring patience, do not take me away. Know that for Your sake I have suffered rebuke. Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” (Jer. 15:15-16) Jeremiah writes these words in the midst of God declaring judgment on Jerusalem. Jeremiah is pleading with God to have mercy on those who are repentant, those who turn from their sins and the sins of their fathers. And he cries out for God to remember, and he enacts his love and loyalty to the Lord by finding his words and eating them. He rejoiced over the words of God, and reveled in the fact that he was called by God’s own name, the name Yahweh of Hosts. In the New Covenant it is no different, it is only better. Here at this feast, having heard the word of God read and declared, we sit down together eat the word of God and rejoice in the word of God. This means that we’re rejoicing in all of the word of God, not just our favorite parts, not just the easy parts, all of it. By eating here we are declaring to God and to one another that his word is our life, and that man does not live by bread alone. And this is even more truly the case because, like Jeremiah, we are declaring that we are not our own, we have been given new names in baptism, and we are now called by the name of God, the name of Jesus, our King. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God, and that Word, the entire law, the entire Old Testament became flesh and dwelt among us, and He gives us his body and blood for our joy and nourishment. So come eat, drink, and rejoice.
Opening Prayer: Our Father, so often the things that we need to learn the most are the things that we hear all the time. Those things which we think we know and understand are the ones that we are sometimes actually far from really getting. Protect us from blindness now, open our eyes and ears, empower your word now by your Holy Spirit.
Last week we closed by considering two sinful responses to the law. One was the “woe is me” syndrome which perpetually dwells on inadequacies and failures, refusing to believe the word of forgiveness. The other was the “middle school girl” syndrome which keeps all the rules to a “T” but doesn’t know what she’s doing or what’s going on. The common element between both of them is the failure to see the grace and love in the law. Remember the rebellion of Israel after the Exodus and before the giving of the law. The fact that God “goes through with it” is nothing but grace and mercy.
One thing that should be noticed is that these Ten Words are the words that God speaks directly to the people of Israel (20:1). This also explains more of the previous chapter. The word for “thunder” is actually the same word for voice (19:16, 19, 20:18). When God speaks it sounds like thunder (cf. Jn. 12:29).
The Law as the Five Books of Moses
Since we are Christians we come to the law through Christ; in other words, Christians are not in exactly the same position as the Israelites at the foot of Sinai. So before we look at the text, we need hear what Christ says about it. One of the first things we notice about the New Testament commentary on the law is that it is not just these 10 Words (Decalogue). The Law is the entire corpus of the books of Moses, the Torah (Lk. 24:44). This means the law includes things that are not directly commands (e.g. Mt. 12:5, 23:23, Jn. 1:45,). The Law can also refer to the Psalms (Jn. 10:34, 15:25). And the Law and all the Old Testament Scriptures are ultimately about Christ (Lk. 24:27). The law of God is not just rules and regulations: it is a way of life, a character, discipleship, even a cultural outline. Jesus says that the weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faith (Mt. 23:23). He also says that all of the law and the prophets are summarized by the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-40).
Law and Grace
As we come to the law, we need to remember that the New Testament also makes a big deal about the contrast between law and grace. There are at least three ways of understanding this distinction: Historically, the time of the law ended when Jesus came (and finally when Jerusalem was destroyed) (Jn. 1:17, Gal. 3:25). The Law can also be seen as covenantal badge of the Jews which separated them from Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-18). This middle wall of partition has been broken down. This means that the ceremonial laws, cleanliness laws, sacrificial system, as well as the specific civil applications of the law are no longer binding. Finally, the New Testament teaches that those who remain in their sins remain under the law, while those who cling to Jesus have entered the New Creation, the world of the resurrection, the state of grace (Rom. 3:9-26, passim). This means that we don’t apply the law as though we lived 3,000 years ago, as arrogant Jews, or simply generic unbelievers who don’t know Christ. The law is spiritual, Paul says, and therefore we must keep it as Spirit-filled sons and daughters of the King. In this sense (and others) Pentecost fulfills the giving of the law. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be enabled to will and to do according to his good pleasure, to keep the law, to walk in liberty.
Conclusions and Applications
The law is grace and life to those who see Jesus as the end of the law. Jesus says that all of the Scriptures are about him. Paul tells Timothy that all of the Scriptures are God-breathed and useful.
The preface to the Ten Words is God’s claim to be our Lord, our God, and our Redeemer. This claim has not changed, but been finally, fully revealed and fulfilled in Jesus who is our Lord, our God, and our Redeemer.
Lastly: This story of deliverance-wilderness-Jethro-mountain has occurred once before in the story of Moses. Now Israel has followed their head. The same story is retold in the life of Christ, particularly emphasized by the gospel of Matthew. Jesus is the greater Moses who leads us out of bondage, makes us his covenant people, and brings us into fellowship with him. And to be in fellowship with God demands that we live in fellowship with our neighbors.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we love your law: it is good, true, and altogether lovely. Teach us to walk in your ways in such a way that we would learn wisdom and have the mind of Christ. Give us hearts of deep thankfulness and gratitude for all of your Word.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham is called to a strange land far from home where he is given the entire land of Canaan. Abraham is given the deed of the land, but of course, God says that it will be hundreds of years before the land will look like it is his. But Abraham understands that ownership begins with worship. He understood that dominion begins with prayer. This is exactly what Abraham does; all through his life he moves all around his new property building altars and worshipping. At those altars, Abraham takes portions of his new land and places them on the altar to be consumed with fire for Yahweh. It is over 400 years later, when the descendents of Abraham return to the land to begin the conquest in the book of Joshua. But we should not fail to notice that several of the key battles in Joshua occur in the very places were Abraham built altars and worshipped hundreds of years before. Not only that, but the beginning of the conquest is marked by the circling of the city Jericho with blasting trumpets and shouts of praise to the Lord. When the city falls, it is offered up to God as a sacrifice, completely consumed in fire, and many of the other cities in Canaan are the same. Mt. Sinai is a picture of this same reality: the mountain is a gigantic altar, covered in smoke and fire, and the voice of thunder and trumpets. When Israel conquered Jericho they were re-enacting Abraham’s altar worship, they were re-enacting Mt. Sinai at Jericho. And the lesson is the same for us today. Jesus has already told us that every square inch of heaven and earth belong to him and therefore to us. Therefore, we are called to take dominion just as Abraham did many centuries ago; we take dominion by worship and sacrifices of praise. This means that worship is conquest, worship is warfare, worship is dominion. Just as Jericho fell to the thunderous sounds of marching feet, shouting voices, and a blasting trumpet, so too, what we are doing here is no less effective. Therefore sing out as though your voice was engaged in battle, shout out your responses, and say Amen! in unison at the close of our hymns and psalms. We are come to a mountain that cannot be touched; we are come to the presence of God which is a consuming fire, a thunderous storm cloud, and in the kindness of God we have been invited into storm, into that battle. So come, worship the living God.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Buried in the notes below in the outline from my sermon this last week, is the observation that the priesthood is based on the concept of the "firstborn son." Israel is called Yahweh's firstborn son and because Pharaoh refuses to release him, Yahweh strikes down Pharaoh's firstborn son. Based on this tenth plague and the Passover event, God claims all of the firstborn males of both man and animal in all Israel. They are all to be consecrated, made holy to him, because he passed over them and slayed the firstborn of Egypt. Later, in Numbers, God explains that instead of taking the firstborn of Israel, he is going to take the tribe of Levi to be the ministers of his house. Thus the priesthood is based upon the consecration of the firstborn of Israel which (in turn) is based upon the fact that Israel as a nation is Yahweh's firstborn son.
This helps make sense of the fact that Yahweh calls Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation in Exodus 19. Since the whole nation is God's firstborn son, the whole nation is a priestly people, a holy nation.
But I think this "firstborn" business actually reveals a great deal about what it means to be a priestly people. In the ancient world and in Scripture, the firstborn son was shown a great deal of attention, care, and finally bestowed with a double portion of his father's inheritance. So often, we just assume that ancient people were weird. "They just did those sorts of things," and we think nothing more about it. Or we say, "yeah, in the old days it was important to keep up the family name," but that's only half true.
Actually, the idea was that the firstborn son was the one that was given the task of carrying on the mission of the father's house. The firstborn son was shown so much attention, so much care because it rested upon his shoulders to continue what the father had started and what his father before him had done, and his father before him, and so on. The reason the firstborn son was shown such attention and care is not because God sanctioned favoritism, but because every wise father, boss, pastor, coach, etc. knows that in order to pass on certain skills, abilities, and priorities, time must be spent with the heir. It was never meant to be a sort of favoritism; it was meant to be the opportunity for the father to pass on his mission and work to the son. The firstborn son was bequeathed the great responsibility of keeping up and advancing the house of his father. And the double portion of inheritance was the material means of carrying that mission out, not to mention caring for the father and mother in their old age.
Thus when it came to Israel being called Yahweh's firstborn, this was the immediate call of Israel to begin training under Yahweh's care, to begin training to join the Father's mission and to take up that mantle on behalf of the Father. Thus, for Pharaoh to deny Yahweh's request to allow his son freedom to serve him, was for Pharaoh to threaten the house of Yahweh. It was not merely an assault on Israel but an assault on Yahweh, the Father of Israel. It was to denounce and dishonor the mission of Yahweh in the world.
For Israel to be called out of Egypt as the firstborn son of Yahweh, was for Israel to be called up for training in the house of Yahweh. And this is exactly what the book of Exodus is about. Following the giving of the law, Exodus 25 begins the instructions for building God's house. The book of Exodus is about what it means to be the firstborn son, and in particular, the firstborn son of Yahweh. But this also means that the call to be God's firstborn son was not divine favoritism; it was God's way of showing the world what his mission is in the world. The firstborn son was no better than the other sons (other nations), but in order for the Father to pass that mission on successfully, it was necessary for one son (Israel) to be shown that special care, attention, etc., so that the firstborn son might have all the resources necessary to take up the responsibility of carrying on the mission of his father's house in and for the world.
From this angle, it is clear what priests are called to do. To be a priest or to be a priestly people is to be trained in the ways of the household of the father in order that when the son comes of age, he might take on the mission of the father and work in the world on behalf of the Father. Of course for Israel this meant that He (Israel) was called to a ministry of reconciliation with the nations. Israel was called to teach the nations, serve the nations, and eventually, call the nations to join Israel at the table in their Father's house.
We’ve said many times that this table is not for good people. This table is for sinners; this table is for those who know they need the grace of God. If you are baptized, you are welcomed to this table. It is a free gift of God, something you did not earn by memorizing Bible verses, saying the right answers, or being good. This is what it means to be justified, freely accepted by God only for the sake of Christ. But this table does not leave us alone. It does not leave us in our sins or make us comfortable with them. Sinners cannot come into contact with the God of the universe, who dwells in unapproachable light, and not be changed. And one of two things must happen: you must come in faith believing that God will deal with you, and through the course of your days and weeks, God shows you your sins and you confess them and forsake them completely. Or else, you come in unbelief thinking that you can hide your sins, that God does not see your secret sins. But the life of God is fierce and like opposite forces of a magnet either you must go or your sin. People who continue to clutch at their sins refusing to let them go become hardened and bitter and eventually their sin finds them out. But those who come in faith knowing that they are sinners who need the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they come with joy, knowing that at points it may hurt or be painful, but God is good and merciful and kind. Therefore come, eat and drink and believe that God is dealing with you here, and do not be surprised when he does.
Opening Prayer: Blessed are you, almighty and everlasting God, for you spun the worlds into existence out of nothing by the power of your word. Blessed are you, our Father in heaven, for you have given us this word which is for our health and strength and life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
As we mentioned last week, Sinai has been the destination all along because it was the promised sign of God to Moses. We also need to remember that the aim of the Exodus has been to make Israel the servants of Yahweh. This is seen from a number of angles: Israel is Yahweh’s bride coming to marry him, Israel is Yahweh’s army coming to meet the commander. All of this is summarized in the idea of covenant: love and mission. Israel has come to Sinai and will be here for nearly year (Num. 10:11).
This scene portrays this covenant renewal scene as a wedding: Moses is the “minister” going between the people and the Lord. It is important to note that this marriage is not based on some sort of mutually agreed upon contract. Yahweh is the savior, the redeemer, the lord of the covenant. This is the basis for making and renewing the covenant with them. We should also note that this is a renewal and glorification of God’s previous covenant with Abraham not something entirely new or different. The basis for the covenant relationship is the fact that Yahweh has destroyed Egypt and brought Israel to himself on eagles’ wings (19:4). Salvation is the basis for the “Therefore if …” (19:5). Not the other way around. This is the way real love works and is displayed in a wedding. No bride or groom suspects the other of legalism for taking vows. Nor does anyone think anyone is earning anything when they take or keep their vows. That’s just what love looks like. Ironically, there is a kind of legalistic heart that seizes on the fact vows by themselves don’t make marriage. There are at least two kinds of legalisms here.
Kingdom of Priests
Israel’s role as a nation is to be priestly, holy to God (19:6). We noticed that this same point was made back at Passover where God claimed all the firstborn (13:2, 11-16). But remember Israel as a nation is Yahweh’s firstborn son; if Pharaoh does not release Yahweh’s son, Yahweh will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn (4:22-23). It is this consecration of the firstborn on behalf of the entire nation which leads both to the general priesthood of Israel and the specific priesthood (Num. 3:12). It is helpful to think of priesthood in terms of the role of the firstborn son. The firstborn son was (and is) a great treasure because it ensured that the family line would continue. To the firstborn was given a double portion of the inheritance because with it he would be called upon to build and keep up the house of his father. This is precisely what is taking place with Israel: Israel, as the firstborn of Yahweh is being called upon to build and keep the house of Yahweh. But being the firstborn over the house also means that this priestly duty implies mediation, caring for and honoring the father while teaching others how to as well. Priests face both ways. This is both love and mission.
This episode seems somewhat strange in some respects. Why does Moses go up and down so many times? Who are the priests that suddenly show up (19:22, 24)? The scene itself seems so surreal: a mountain covered in a thick cloud, thunder and lightening, the threat of death to those who cross the boundaries, the long winding of a horn. It feels intense, overwhelming, even confusing. But this seems to be the point: Israel is not dealing with a distant deity in the far reaches of the universe, but neither is she dealing with a tame, rational, or simple god of sunshine and daisies. Yahweh is God Almighty, creator, redeemer, and therefore lord. It is his great compassion and love and mercy that redeem and save his people, but it is a fierce mercy, a terrifying love, a deep, black darkness of compassion. This is not to imply that God is fickle or schizophrenic. It means that God is high and lifted up. God is to be feared. God is to be loved. And God is to be obeyed. God is not to be trifled with. God is not to be trifled with by disobedience, trite worship, or hiding in the forms of liturgy or formality.
Conclusions and Applications
We are coming to the law of God in the Ten Commandments. It is always tempting to run one of two directions when such a topic comes up: Embrace despair and the “woe is me” syndrome, constantly doubting and fearing. Or, the other sinful inclination is the enthusiastic “middle school girl” syndrome, who busily scribbles down all the right answers without hearing a thing. You are called to faith: faith in the God who justifies and the God who sanctifies. This is a call to faith both with regard to yourself and your neighbor. And the writer of Hebrews reminds us to fear and obey: God is a consuming fire.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: We give you thanks, Almighty God, that you have chosen to reveal your greatness and wonder to little children. We thank you that you have purchased us with the blood of Jesus and that no one and nothing and snatch us out of your hand. At the same time we ask that you would teach us to fear you as we ought and to obey your commands. We know that you hate complacency, and therefore we pledge ourselves hate it too. Since you have made us your holy ones, make us faithful priests in our homes and community.
It is very clear that God is blessing us immensely. In a little over a year we have over doubled in attendance, we have celebrated and are about to celebrate a number of baptisms, and not only that, but we have been counted worthy to undergo significant tribulations as well. This past summer was not uneventful for many of you. This means that God is at work here at Holy Trinity, and we must respond in gratitude. One of the challenges that faces growing churches is the fact that we are dealing with numerous different people from different backgrounds and with different assumptions, customs, and most importantly, different kinds of sin. Many of you are new to the faith, perhaps it is new to you because you were just born in last few months or years, maybe it is new to you because you have just recently believed. For some of you the Christian faith is old hat, but faithfulness and discipline is something that is new to you. You have always believed, but you have never been faithful. And for others, you have been Christians for many years and your challenges are different. You are tempted to be proud or tempted to make peace with what you consider to be “little” sins. But this is the point: God is blessing us. God is blessing us. And this means that before anything else you need to commit yourself to gratitude, thankfulness, a deep sense of awe and wonder. And let that spill out into everything. It is the root of bitterness which grows up and defiles many, but the words of blessing and thankfulness give strength to the bones. Yes, we have a great deal of work to do. Yes, at any moment things could go terribly wrong. But this is always the point: God is blessing us. He’s pouring out his goodness on us. Be thankful. Sing Psalms. Rejoice around your tables. Set a beautiful Sabbath feast. God is blessing us. Rejoice in this blessing; this is the joy of the Lord. And the joy of the Lord is our strength.
In many churches communion is celebrated very infrequently, maybe once a year, quarterly, or perhaps monthly. But in the early church, “breaking bread” as the Lord’s Supper was often called, is what the people of God did when they gathered together. And the apostles instructed that they gather together at least weekly on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (1 Cor. 16:2). In fact in the early chapters of Acts we are told that Christians were gathering together and celebrating the Lord’s Supper daily (Acts 2:46). When many churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper, they do it like a funeral. All they can think about is the cross, the death of Jesus, and all of their sins. And the pastors often times spend time poking them in the eye before inviting them to the table warning them that if they are really bad and have sinned, they might want to reconsider. Make really, really, really sure, they say, you are discerning the Lord’s body otherwise you might eat and drink judgment on yourselves and remember the Corinthians who died! Soon everyone in the congregation is searching frantically through their memories and consciences, wondering if they are worthy, wondering if they should abstain, wondering if they will drink condemnation on themselves if they partake. If the Lord’s Supper is so dangerous and sad and morbid, the less we partake the better. But this is to get the whole thing upside down and backwards. The early Christians celebrated this meal often and they did it with “gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46). How could they do that? Didn’t they know they were sinners? Didn’t they know that Jesus comes in judgment at this table? Yes, we are sinners, and yes, it is certainly true that Jesus is the Lord of this table and he comes as judge in our midst while we eat and drink. But this is the good news of the gospel: this table is for sinners, it’s for losers, for failures, for everyone who knows they deserve the guilty verdict. This table is for those who recognize that the “righteous ones” are those who cling to Jesus in faith. This is what justification by faith is all about. It means believing that because of Jesus, God has put your name at this table and come with gladness and singleness of heart. So come and believe.
Opening Prayer: Our Father, we thank for giving us your word, and we thank you that your word has become flesh in Jesus Christ. We ask that you would be near to us now by the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us, correct us, rebuke us, and train us up that we might reflect Jesus in all that we do and say. Through Jesus our King, Amen!
Remember that God’s initial sign to Moses was that he would return with the people of Israel to worship at that mountain where God originally appeared to him (Ex. 3:12). That it is where the people are going after the Exodus. God’s first “sign” was a promise, and this is an indication of what all signs are.
Moses’ father-in-law is the priest of Midian (18:1). Moses greets his father in-law with great respect (18:7ff). While many commentators puzzle over whether Jethro worshipped the God of Israel, it seems very plain that he did. First, Moses married his daughter (remember Joseph married the daughter of a priest in Egypt). Secondly, Moses surely knew that the Midianites were distant relatives, descended from Abraham from his second wife Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Just as Abraham had sought out a wife for Isaac from distant relatives and Jacob had fled (and found a wife) with distant relatives, so it is likely that Moses had similar aspirations. Thirdly, if in the off chance, Jethro really was not yet a worshipper of the true God, after this story, he surely is (18:10-11). We know that Moses had brought his family back to Egypt with him prior to the Exodus (4:20), but apparently he had sent them back to his father in-law at some point during the Exodus because they return to him now. Notice how Jethro is a striking contrast to Amalek (also a distant relative of Israel, a descendent of Esau). Jethro offers offerings and sacrifices to God, and Aaron and the elders of Israel eat bread together “before God.”
Moses and the Judges
The next day Moses apparently goes about his daily task of sitting before Israel morning till evening to hear the disputes between the people (18:13-16). Notice that this overturns the reluctance of Israel to have Moses as their judge early on (Ex. 2:14). We imagine petty lawsuits were not unusual for a people with such complaining as we have seen. Jethro says that this is not good, and it is wearisome for both Moses and the people (18:17-18). Instead of sitting before the people all day, Jethro suggests that Moses stand before God for the people (18:19). Notice that besides judging, Jethro suggests teaching (18:20). The designation of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens is probably not meant to be understood in a strict literal sense. Understood strictly and applied to the estimated population, one estimate said that there would have been over 78,000 judges! These units are probably military terms (e.g. Num. 31:14ff, Dt. 20:9) which designate particular family units (perhaps thousands is tribe, hundreds is great-grandfather and down, fifties is grandfather and down, and tens is the immediate family or something along those lines cf. Dt. 16:18). It should be pointed out that there were already “elders” in Israel (cf. 18:12). The “elders” were already part of Israel’s identity when Moses began his ministry in Egypt up to the present (3:16, 12:21, and 17:5-6). Later the “elders” and “judges” will be spoken of as coexisting (e.g. Dt. 21:2, Josh. 8:33, 23:2). But what Moses is doing is appointing “rulers” who will “judge.” This is most likely the office of “judge” found in the book of Judges (cf. Ruth 1:1). This is a civil office, but at the same time, there is a general principle here that applies to all forms of government: in the multitude of counselors there is safety (Pr. 11:14, 24:6). This basic wisdom is what was built into the “checks and balances” of our civil government; the same is at work in Presbyterian church government. We have households, elders, pastors, presbytery, and council which are all layers of accountability, wisdom, and counsel. This explains both why we have church officers and why we consider church membership important (Acts 20:28, Heb. 13:17).
Judge as Savior
Biblically speaking, a judge is not merely one who decides what is right or one who rules; he is one who rules in such a way to deliver and vindicate the one who is right. Yahweh is the judge who will deliver the righteous out of Sodom (Gen. 18:25). Moses is accused of being a judge because he is seeking to defend Israel from mistreatment (Ex. 2:14). Later, it is the “judgments” of Yahweh that deliver Israel out of Egypt (6:6, 7:4). Throughout the book of Judges, judges are raised up to deliver Israel. Thus, Israel understands that a judge is like a mini-king, one who fights for his people and delivers them (1 Sam. 8:20). Judges are shepherds (1 Chr. 17:6). They are to condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (Dt. 25:1, 1 Kgs. 8:32), but notice (as this plays out in history) who the righteous ones are. Who are the righteous? The “righteous ones” are the ones who are God’s covenant people. They are righteous because they cling in faith to their righteous God. This is what it means to be justified by faith. This is what it means to stand before the throne of God faultless. ‘Jesus is Lord’ means he is Lord of our sin.
Conclusions and Applications
Rulers are normally men. This does not mean that women never serve in positions of leadership (e.g. Deborah, etc.), but it means that when men are being faithful, men will lead.
One of the other lessons of this passage is that of honor your father and all those in authority. Jethro is a priest of Midian, but throughout the passage, he is referred to as Moses’ father in-law. All authority is ultimately an extension of the basic command to honor father and mother. Our culture does not understand this and has openly rebelled against this for many years now. It is something that we must teach our children; but it is ultimately something which we must embody to our own parents.
Lastly, one of the easiest places to offend or be offended is in the area of advice and counsel. Take advice and give advice carefully. In a covenant community, there will be many opportunities to disagree or merely have different ways of going about things. Submit to one another in love. Be quick to listen to advice; be slow to give advice unless asked.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that you have adopted us and made us your children and that you are our father. We honor you and praise you as our first father, and we thank you that in Jesus you have no favorites, but you are well pleased with all of us. Teach us to honor all those in authority and to teach this to our children faithfully.
The fifth commandment requires the people of God to honor their father and their mother. This commandment is the foundational principle of all family and community life. It requires that you honor your heavenly Father, for example, even as Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.’ This extents to all those lawful authorities that God has placed over you; not only your physical, familial fathers and mothers, but you are, by extension, required to honor all elders, rulers, judges, teachers who are over you. But this means that not only must you do this faithfully, but you must teach your children to do the same. And you cannot have it both ways. You cannot talk bad about your mother or father and then be surprised when your children don’t obey you right away. You cannot have a bad attitude about a teacher or pastor or elder and then be surprised when your children do not respect them either. Many families in the grip of an idea transfer from church to church trying to find someone they feel they can really submit to, really respect, and then they wonder why when their children are grown they leave the church. We taught our children better than that, they say sadly. But no, their children learned the lesson being taught. The lesson was only submit, only obey, only honor when you want to. And if you don’t agree, go somewhere else. If you want your children to obey, to submit, to honor those in authority, begin by doing it yourself. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, and do not roll your eyes at them, do not dishonor them by ignoring their wishes. Men, honor your fathers. Tell them how much you respect them; tell them how you appreciate what they have done. That is bestowing honor. Children, the Lord requires you to honor your parents. Do not say “but mom” or whine or complain; learn to say “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” and obey right away, all the way. Learn this lesson now because there are many grown ups who still act like foolish little kids.