Friday, April 24, 2009

We're Only Half Way Through Easter

Historically, the Christian Church has celebrated the resurrection not merely on Resurrection Sunday but has devoted an entire season of the year to feasting and merriment. This season known as "Eastertide" and "The Great Fifty Days" lasts for six more Sundays after Easter Sunday, culminating fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday. We already know how to celebrate a season of feasting: Christmas celebrations begin well before December 25th and last for a week or two after Christmas day. In the same way, we want our joy at the resurrection to be so deep, so overflowing, that it cannot be celebrated in a single day. The TRC Easter Festival is but a small attempt at re-learning and re-claiming our Christian heritage of festivity and gladness.

Christ is risen! Death is swallowed up in victory.
Christ is risen! Therefore, we must dance.
Christ is risen! Therefore, we must eat, drink, and be merry.

Come join us as we attempt to make an even bigger deal out of this reality that is truly too good for mere words.

The Easter Festival will be held on May 9th from 5:00-10:00pm. In an effort to keep things family-friendly, all the activities except dancing will wrap up around 8:00. The general outline of the evening will be:

Musical performances (during dessert)
Games and Activities (for the kids)
One Act Play

Tickets are $10 per individual, $18 per couple, and $30 per family, and TRC will donate all proceeds (after costs) to Care-Net.

Reservations can be made by contacting the Trinity Reformed Church office, 208.882.2300 or

Reservation deadline is May 2.


Hitchens and Wilson

Just finished reading through Is Christianity Good for the World?, the internet debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens, sponsored by Christianity Today, now published in book form by Canon Press. A very enjoyable read all the way through, and unlike many debates in which the participants clearly misunderstand one another and it gets tedious and annoying, this debate includes plenty of misunderstanding between the participants and the entertainment level remains high and I never found myself flipping through pages looking for the more interesting parts. The whole thing was well written, well delivered, and the short response format preserved the feel of an argument and dialogue. Below are some the key points from both of the debaters. I have more quotes from Hitchens since I was particularly interested in trying to understand his point of view. The first quotation from Wilson is I think the basic point of most of his responses. The second quotation is from the very last response from Wilson, and which I think is worth the entire book. Wilson's last installment not only answers Hitchens (yet again), but it also turns in a wonderful and humorous way to the glory of the gospel and the hope of forgiveness for Hitchens and all the world. The particular part I have quoted just made me laugh, and then I tried to read it to my wife (who wanted to know why I was laughing), and I couldn't make it through the paragraph without cracking up again several times in the reading. Anyway, here's what I got:

Christopher Hitchens: “I am not so much an atheist as an anti-theist. I am, in other words, not one of those unbelievers who wishes that they had faith, or that they could believe. I am, rather, someone who is delighted that there is absolutely no persuasive evidence for the existence of any of mankind’s many thousands of past and present deities.” (Is Christianity Good For the World? 12)

“It is this additional element in religious belief that I also find repellent to an extreme degree. One is quite literally commanded to love.” (13)

“Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral.” (22)

“I hope I may be forgiven for declining to believe that another human being can tell me what to do, in the most intimate details of my life and mind, and to further dictate these terms as if acting as proxy for a supernatural entity. This tyrannical idea is very much older than Christianity, of course, but I do sometimes think that Christians have less excuse for believing, let alone wishing, that such a horrible thing could be true.” (25)

“Your Christianity, in case you have not noticed, has actually made you a less compassionate and thoughtful person than, without its exorbitant presumptions, you would otherwise be.” (54)

“You believe that I owe this inner prompting to the divine, and you further assert that a heavenly intervention made in the last two thousand years of human history (a microsecond of evolutionary time) is the seal on the deal. You will have to excuse me when I say that I think such a belief is, as well as incredible, immoral. It makes right action dependent on a highly improbably wager on the supernatural. To state the case another way, it suggests that without celestial sanction, you yourself would be unrestrained in your appetites and careless of other people.” (61)

Douglas Wilson: “The difference between us is that I have a basis for condemning evil in its Christian guise. You have no basis for confronting evil in its atheist guise, or in its Christian guise, either. When you say that a certain practice is evil, you have to be prepared to tell us why it is evil.” (41)

“[If morality is a derivative of evolution,] Are you filled with fierce indignation that the koala bear hasn’t evolved ears that stick flat to the side of his head like they are supposed to? Are you wroth over the fact that clams don’t have legs yet? When you notice that the bears at the zoo continue to suck on their paws, do you stop to remonstrate with them?” (65)


Violence is the Answer

Gene Veith writes: "Darwin's theory of evolution challenged romanticism just as it did Christianity. Darwin showed that nature was not the realm of harmony and goodness that the romantics idealized. Rather, nature is intrinsically violent. The "survival of the fittest," the raw struggle for survival in which the strong prey upon the weak, emerges as the fundamental law of nature, accounting for the very origins of species." (Postmodern Thought, 37)

And I don't think this point can be made too frequently. On one level Darwin's theory is abhorrent for its arrogance and narrow-minded, materialistic fundamentalism. But on another sense, Darwinism is appalling because it is inherently violent. And that really is a substantial objection as well. Call it the teleological objection. Call it the moral objection. I object to Darwin because I object to senseless violence. I object to Darwin because I object to living in this world as though might makes right, as though the strongest, fastest, and smartest should be allowed to trample the weak and defenseless beneath them.

And of course faithful Christians have been pointing this out for years, but Darwin's theory essentially says that violence is the answer. It's the answer to how we got here, and if that is the case, it must necessarily be the answer to our own situations and challenges. But this means that the Darwinian gospel of violence is also an eschatology: the answer is violence.

But the only sense in which this is true is with regard to the cross of Jesus. That was the violent act to end all violence, and ironically it was in weakness that Jesus was made strong. It was the exact opposite of Darwin. The gospel is the declaration that the Weak One has not only survived but is overcoming the strong, overcoming the fittest. Because God has chosen the weak things of this world to overcome the strong, the foolish things of this world to overcome the wise.

And in that sense, we can look back and see the logic of the cross in history, a story of God's power being perfected in the weakness of His people, calling light out of darkness, children from barren wombs, leading nations through seas and desserts. And the story reveals an inversion of violence, just like the cross of Jesus. It implies a submission to injustice, suffering, and violence in full assurance of the justice and goodness of God.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Passover Eucharist

In many countries around the world, Easter is called Pascha, which means Passover. And in many of our prayers and hymns, we recognize that Easter is our Passover, our great Exodus event. But this meal reminds us of this fact as well. In the original Passover there was a lamb that was slain, and the blood was smeared over the door posts of every family’s house. Then the lamb was cooked and eaten in haste, standing up with sandals and a walking staff in hand. Passover was a sacrament which implied travel; it looked forward to salvation and rest but it was future. This meal is our Passover meal. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is pictured a number of times as the lamb that was slain. He is still the lamb that was slain even now, seated on the right hand of the Father in glory. And He feeds us with his own flesh and blood in this sacrament. In this meal, we partake of the lamb that was slain, the lamb whose blood covers our doors. That blood cries out to God for justice, and the angel passes over us. But we do not eat in haste. We may have our shoes on, but we are seated. We are at rest. We do not look for another land. We are being given this land. This is the great Passover feast, the great Exodus event in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the great victory, the great glory is that the land of promise has been turned inside out. Now the whole world is the promised land, and this meal is proof of that. And one last point: We should not fail to realize that our celebration of this Passover is not only for us but for the world. As Christians celebrate this Great and Final Passover here in Moscow and throughout the world, we are showing forth the death of the lamb. We are displaying the blood of the Passover Lamb, and the angel of death passes over. And as we do this, we are the New Covenant rainbow. We are the sign of God’s grace and mercy, and His promise not only not to destroy the world but to save it and to fill it with his knowledge and glory. So come worship, come eat, drink, and rejoice, in the lamb who was slain but now lives and reigns forever. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!


Good News for the World

Paul says in Romans that the resurrection was the declaration that Jesus is in fact the Son of God. He was declared to be the Son of God with power in His resurrection. The resurrection was God’s public service announcement that Jesus is King. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, our high priest, our king, the prophet of the Lord. Easter is the celebration of this fact. We are celebrating the fact that 2000 years ago, God proclaimed Jesus King of the World. But as you know, not everyone has submitted to the rule of Jesus. Every knee is not yet bowed, and not every tongue has confessed that Jesus is Lord. And that’s where you come in. If we understand Easter, if we understand the resurrection, then we know that the proclamation of Easter is the best news in the world. It’s good news when we know our failures. It’s good news when things have gone badly. It’s good news when we wonder how our children are doing. It’s good news when we don’t know what the future holds, when we are afraid, when we are worried. The resurrection of Jesus means that the worst thing that can possibly happen is for you to die, but Jesus will bring you back from that too. It also means that you are in the care of a King who cannot die. Your King will go with you and guard you in all things. And this announcement, this message is for the world. It’s for your children, your spouse, your parents, your roommates, your neighbors, your coworkers. This isn’t a private message, a personal cult. This reality is for the world, and it will affect the world one way or another. Everyone will one day come face to face with the resurrected Christ. So as you continue to celebrate the good news of our risen Lord, do so in prayer for your neighbors, in genuine hope for our city, for our nation. And pray that you might be used to speak good news to those around you. That the declaration that Christ is risen might not be some private, code word for us only, but that it might be good news for the world.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Exodus Weather

In Psalm 77, Asaph sings about the Exodus, and describes how the clouds poured out rain and thundered while the people of Israel crossed over on dry ground (77:16-17).

This helps fill out how Paul can describe the Red Sea crossing as a baptism (1 Cor. 10). Otherwise, you have a dry baptism because most of the Exodus texts emphasize the "dry ground" that Israel crossed over on. Only the Egyptians got "dipped" in water. But Ps. 77 describes the event as a great storm. The ground was dry enough for crossing, but it was apparently also raining.

Which of course scores a few more points for "sprinkling" Presbyterians. All of Israel was baptized in the cloud and the sea. Men, women, and children were all sprinkled by the Spirit-cloud of God's presence.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Updating the Links and Other Eastery Things

I've just run through my links and updated a few as well as deleted several that don't seem to lead to the relevant websites or blogs anymore. If I need to update your link or I have deleted yours because I didn't update it ages ago when you TOLD me, please feel free to drop me a note and I'd be happy to fix it. Easter Cheers.

Christ is Risen!


The Ocean of God's Victory

One of the ways that we can fail to believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to fail to see what has happened as a result of the resurrection of Jesus. Life is busy and complicated and it is frequently a lot like being afloat in the ocean. The way the water undulates and moves, it is not very easy to see where you are or how far you have come. You can feel lost at sea only a short distance from land. Similarly, the media, our families, politics, economics, the busy-ness of life, all of it can distract us from where we are in the big picture. What does it look like from the air? This table is what it looks like from the air. And the bottom line is that the resurrection of Jesus has changed the world. Christianity is the single greatest revolution that has ever happened in the history of the world. It will remain the single greatest revolution because it is God’s revolution. When Jesus died, sin died, the dragon was slain, death was conquered. We were set free. This is our Passover feast. This is our redemption, our freedom, our forgiveness, our life. There may be Nero’s and Hitler’s, economic crises and social calamities, wars and famines, disease and disasters. But these are the ten foot waves that move us in the ocean of God’s victory. The resurrection of Jesus broke the dam in the ocean of history and it’s all pouring out, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. And the glory of it all is that the current of the gospel, the river that is flowing out from that empty grave 2000 years ago, that river is a flood of thanksgiving. It’s the countless and growing millions who gather around this table to celebrate the resurrection. This is the first fruits of that marriage supper of the Lamb. This is the feast of victory of our God. Therefore let us keep the feast. Come eat, drink, and give thanks.


God's Revolution

We are celebrating this morning what we celebrate every Lord’s Day. We are celebrating the fact that two thousand years ago, our Lord burst out of a tomb that had been guarded by a regiment of Roman soldiers. We are celebrating this fact because it continues to be the fact that changes everything. The end of the story always matters the most. The end of the story always has a way of changing what has already happened. And the glory of Easter is that we know the end of the story now, and it changes everything. And I want to remind you now at the beginning of our service of three important things that it changes: First, if Jesus was raised from the dead, so will you as well. You will be raised up with the same body you’re sitting in right now. And if Jesus had scars from his cross, you will too. That scar from the cut you got in middle school, the gash on your chin when you hit the fireplace, the line from that surgery you had. Those are scars that you will never lose, only they will not be signs of weakness, they will be glorious badges and tokens of God’s goodness and power in your life. If Jesus was raised, and he was, then you will be raised. Secondly, all those who have died in Christ will be raised. And we confess this, but we ought to be reminded of the kind of God we serve. We serve the God of Easter, the God of Resurrection grace. And that means that we serve the God who overflows with grace. God is a gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. When we get there at the last day, we will not be mostly happy, mostly satisfied, mostly pleased. We experience God’s grace and kindness everyday and none of it will even begin to compare to the wisdom and grace of God that will be revealed. God’s mercy and grace will extend to a number that no man can count. His mercy is to a thousand generations and the resurrection will prove it to be true. Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus means that God puts everything back. God makes everything right. The resurrection of Jesus is our battle cry, our refusal to believe that sin and death have the last word because they don’t. The resurrection of Jesus means that God is right, and in Him we are right, and everything will be made right. That’s what we’re celebrating, that’s what we are declaring, and nobody can stop it. A pile of Roman soldiers got bowled over on that first Easter morning, and that will be the fate everyone else who tries to stop it. It cannot be stopped. The life of God has burst into this world, and it will not stop until our bodies and this whole world have been completely renewed by it.


Holy Saturday Homily: Luke 24:13-35

Opening Prayer: Pour out your Spirit upon us, O God, pour out the Spirit of Jesus on us, that we might see Him and know Him in the Scriptures. Amen.

We can’t see Jesus. Sometimes my son reminds me of this fact. We serve a King that we can’t see. Jesus is absent; He’s not here. And that’s particularly startling in some ways when we come to Easter, when we come to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. When it comes to declaring to one another and to the world that He is risen, that Jesus is alive, it can seem a little awkward when He’s not here.

And there is an important sense in which this reality will not change until Jesus returns, until the great and final resurrection. That will be wonderful and glorious, and it is exciting to imagine what that will be like, what it will be like to see Jesus, to walk and talk with him. Of course that is part of what we long for when we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. We long to see Jesus, we long to be with him. We long to walk and talk with Him. But then we’re celebrating Easter. We’re celebrating Jesus alive again from the dead. And He’s not here for the celebration.

But our text in Luke suggests that there are different ways for Jesus to be absent, different ways for Him to be missed. And Luke’s point is that the problem is not just that we cannot see Jesus. The problem is not merely with Jesus being absent. It’s not merely a question of proximity or presence. We sometimes think that if Jesus were here, if Jesus were only closer, then we would see Him. He’s just too far away, we think. But that’s not really true. That’s not true because sometimes he’s right in front of people and they don’t recognize him. Sometimes he walks along with them and talks with them, and their eyes are restrained so that they do not know Him.

The story is of course fascinating, ironic, but also somewhat troubling. Jesus apparently overtakes these two disciples who are leaving Jerusalem. Their hopes have been shattered by the events of the last couple of days. It is the third day since these things have happened (24:21). And now there are strange reports of visions and angels saying that He is alive, but no one has seen Him (24:24). The problem is that no one has seen Jesus alive. Apparently this has all been too much for these two disciples, and they are leaving. No one has seen Jesus; they will not nurse false hopes.

And notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for leaving Jerusalem or for not recognizing Him. He rebukes them for not believing. Their problem is fundamentally a problem of faith. He says that their problem is that they don’t believe all that the prophets have spoken (24:25). And Jesus gives the two disciples a Bible lesson so that they might know what to believe concerning the Christ (24:26). Jesus starts at the beginning and works his way all the way to the end, from Moses, through all of the prophets, and all of the scriptures (24:27), showing how the Messiah was to come, suffer at the hands of wicked men, and then enter into His glory (24:26). The problem with the two disciples is that they have not been reading their Bibles correctly. They have a faulty hermeneutic.

Jesus says that they have been slow to believe what the prophets have spoken, slow to believe what Moses and all of the Scriptures taught concerning the Messiah. They can’t see Jesus right in front of them because they can’t see Jesus in the Scriptures. They can’t believe the reports of the angels and visions because they have not believed the words of the prophets. They have heard the words, they have read and sung the words, but they have not believed them. And of course it’s all the more painful to read this episode knowing that it is Jesus Himself who is explaining all of this to them. He is the one showing them Himself in the Scriptures. But that’s strange; that’s really troubling. Why not just shake their shoulders and look in their faces and tell them? Why does Jesus point away from Himself? Why does Jesus allow them to walk with Him and not see Him? Jesus is there, and yet He is not there for them. Would Jesus do that to us? Would Jesus walk and talk with us and point us away from Himself?

They draw near to where they are staying and convince Jesus to come with them (24:29). It is evening, and they invite him to fellowship with them, to eat and rest with them. And of course it is finally in the breaking of the bread that their eyes are suddenly opened and they recognize Jesus (24:31). But perhaps the most troubling thing about the story is that He immediately vanishes (24:31). Just as they finally see Jesus, He disappears. Just as they see Him, they do not see Him. What is Jesus doing? When He was with them, they did not see Him, and He pointed them to the Scriptures, and then when they finally see Him, He’s gone. When He was there they did not see Him, and when they finally saw Him, He was not there.

The disciples recall the whole conversation, the whole walk, His explanations of the Scriptures, and they know that He was with them. He was speaking to them through the words of Scripture, He was showing them Himself in the prophets, and it was finally in the breaking of the bread that He was made known.

And even there, the disciples draw our attention to the breaking of the bread. In one sense of course, their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus when He gave thanks and broke the bread, but the disciples themselves draw attention to the fact that it was in the breaking of the bread, that they knew Him (24:35). The breaking of the bread was not merely a time marker i.e. that was when it happened. The breaking of the bread is something more like a key to the explanation. The breaking of the bread was how they saw Him, it was the means by which they finally recognized Him.

But why does Jesus point away? Why does Jesus point away from Himself to the Scriptures, and why after He has gone, do the disciples remember the breaking of the bread? Why does the resurrected Jesus only seem to want to show Himself elsewhere?
Sometimes the post-resurrection elusiveness of Jesus has been a cause of theological slipperiness. Maybe the point of the resurrection really is more about an idea than a fact, some have wondered. Maybe Jesus seemed to be raised from the dead, but who’s to say if it was really a bodily resurrection? If the resurrection was so true, so real, why did He leave so quickly afterwards? Seems kind of convenient to have the Ascension so fast after the resurrection. And when Jesus was actually around, He wasn’t really Himself. He’d show up randomly, walk through doors, and then vanish without a word. If the resurrection was so real, so true, so glorious, if Jesus really did burst out of a tomb with His body all alive, all vigorous, why was He so elusive? Why when disciples were troubled and sad, did He point them away from Himself? Why didn’t He just speak up? Why didn’t He stay around for a few more years just so it all got documented really well? Was Jesus shy about the resurrection? And many critics of the Christian faith have suggested this very thing. And other, confused and troubled Christians have been sometimes been willing to waffle on the resurrection for these very reasons.

Why does the resurrected Jesus point away from Himself? Why does the Resurrection look somewhat fleeting, somewhat hidden, somewhat shy?

Perhaps part of the answer has to do with what is coming, what is next in the story of redemption. When the Scriptures declared that the Messiah would suffer and enter into His glory, part of that glory is the beginning of a new ministry that points away from Jesus. The cross was His moment in the spotlight, but the resurrection was the beginning of a transition from His moment in the spotlight to the ministry of the Spirit. And so Jesus points away from Himself. He points to the words of the prophets, the work of the Holy Spirit. He points to the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, and the work of the Spirit. He doesn’t introduce Himself, He doesn’t stay around very long, He doesn’t look every disciple in the eyes and reintroduce Himself. No, He points away from Himself. He points them to the Spirit.

Later in the chapter Jesus does appear to all of the disciples, and again eats with them and fellowships with them. But once again He immediately points them to the Scriptures (24:44-48) and then tells them that they will be the witnesses of these things but to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, the power from on high, the gift of the Spirit (24:49). After the resurrection Jesus points away from Himself, He points to the Scriptures, He points to the Spirit. John the Baptist had pointed away from himself and said that there was One coming who was mightier than him, and it was Jesus who was then baptized and the Spirit came upon Him. But now Jesus is doing the pointing, and He’s pointing at the Scriptures and pointing at His disciples and telling them that they are about to be endued with power from on high.
And of course Jesus did pour out His Spirit at Pentecost, and that Spirit has become the main character in the story of redemption. The Holy Spirit has become the center of God’s work in this world, and this work takes place in the Church, in you. And of course John’s gospel dwells on the fact that this Spirit is the presence of Jesus with us. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus. But Jesus still points away from Himself. He points to the Scriptures, He points to the breaking of the bread, He points at you, His beloved people as His presence.

And in that sense it is highly fitting that we should be celebrating the resurrection some two thousand years later, that we should be declaring that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and He not be here. It’s resurrection style to point out where the Spirit is at work. It shouldn’t be surprising that we can’t see Jesus at this moment right in front of us. He’s pointing away from Himself, pointing at the Scriptures point at the bread broken, the wine poured out.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus wants us to look where He’s pointing, Jesus wants us to see the work of the Spirit. Resurrection Life is fairly obsessed with the work of the Spirit. Resurrection Life knows the work of the Spirit because it has experienced it first hand and can’t stop pointing out where it’s working now. Look over there, the Spirit is making that person new. Look over that, the Spirit is feeding the hungry. Look over there, that’s the Spirit empowering the Scriptures and showing us Jesus. Look there, in the breaking of the bread, there’s the Spirit of Jesus giving Himself away again.

When Jesus jumped up from the grave, He immediately began pointing at the work of the Spirit, the Scriptures, the Eucharist, His people. Look, He says, I’m right here. And He calls us to believe. Don’t be slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the Scriptures, slow to believe in the Christ proclaimed there. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the least of these His brethren. Don’t be slow to see Jesus in the woman next to you, the child in your lap. Because the warning is that if you can’t see Jesus there, you’ll not notice when He’s standing right in front of you. You wouldn’t notice if He was walking and talking with you. Because part of the declaration of Easter is that He is. He is standing right in front of you. He’s sitting right in front of you. Part of the triumph of Easter is that the Risen and Ascended Christ has poured out His Spirit in us, in His body, in the Church. When Paul says that we are the Body of Christ, He is not just trying to come up creative sermon illustrations. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; we are the presence of the Resurrected Jesus as we gather around His Word and around His Table. We are the witnesses of His sufferings and death and resurrection. We are the proof of the resurrection. Jesus points at us. He points at us in our weakness, in our trials, in our suffering, in our hardships, in our pain. Jesus went to Jerusalem for the joy that was set before Him, and then in glory He pours out the Spirit upon us and says, now you do it. Now you go to Jerusalem in joy, now you take up your cross and follow me.

And so in one sense we cannot Jesus, but in another sense, Jesus keeps pointing at His Word, pointing at the breaking of the breading, pointing at us, and He says there I am, I’m right there. I’m here with you. I am with you always.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we give you great praise and thanks that you have raised Jesus from the dead. We thank you for the glory of the resurrection which is the glory of the Spirit, your powerful working to bring life from the dead, to turn sorrow into dancing, your determination to recreate this world, and undo every evil, and put everything right. Give us grace that we might walk in the Spirit, that our lives would be walking proofs of the resurrection, that as Christ points at us, we might more and more evidence the life of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, in whose name we pray, who died but now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, unto ages of ages. Amen!


Monday, April 06, 2009

A Eucharistic Holy Week

As we prepare for Holy Week, meditating on the final days of Christ leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection, we want to do so from the point of view of this table. Every week, we enact the death and resurrection Jesus here at this table. We take the body and break it; we take the cup and pour it out. And when we have all participated in that life giving death, we stand up alive and joyful with thanksgiving on our lips ready to live that life in the world again. Every week we are broken and poured out here and raised up to new life and sent out to live in the newness of that life. But this all takes place in the context of joy and thanksgiving. This meal is commonly called the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. And that means that fundamental to our Holy Week celebration is joy and thanksgiving. When we see the horror of the betrayal of Judas, we not only see the evil, we see God turning evil into good. When we see the faithlessness of the disciples, we see God faithfully preparing them to be his ambassadors to the world. When we see the wickedness of the high priests and elders and scribes and Pilot, we see the wisdom of God turning darkness into light. When we see the pain and suffering and shame of the cross, we see the glory of God revealed for all the world to see. We see in Christ’s brokenness and suffering the life and glory of the world. And all of that is taken up here in this meal. So come and eat and drink the gospel so that you can celebrate the gospel. Come eat and drink Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, so that you can remember properly. Come, eat and drink and rejoice in the goodness and wisdom of God.


Palms for Kings

Today is the last Sunday in Lent and commonly referred to as Palm Sunday, celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Following the service this morning we have palms for the kids to take home with them in celebration of this glorious feast. And of course we have spent a good bit of the last number of months talking about the church calendar and marking our days and seasons according to Christ. But it’s important to say again and again, that we are not under these days; we are not enslaved to these days. Paul says that we may not live as though we are still under regulations like that. We are not under the days; the days are under us. We have been raised with Christ, and we are called to seek those things which are with Christ, to seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We are not under days; the days are under us. In Christ, we have all been made Lords of the Sabbath. We are priests and kings with Jesus, and we have been granted dominion of time. So why do we celebrate days then? Why do we celebrate Lent? Why do we celebrate Good Friday and Easter? Because we get to. It can look or sound holy to make up lots of rules about not touching or eating certain things, and Paul says it can have an appearance of wisdom. But it really has no value against the indulgence of the flesh. The answer to fighting sin is living like kings, living like you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Because it is. The answer is taking up your sword and slaying your members on the earth which still serve the lusts of the flesh. And so we celebrate days not because we are under them, but because they are now under us. It is a sign of our kingship, a sign of our rule, a sign of the victory of Christ over all time and space. It’s proof that Christ has disarmed all the principalities and triumphed over them. And our days and seasons are opportunities keep working on our victory dance. This is our warfare, our joy, our victory over sin and the flesh and the devil. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and you are called to follow Jesus to the cross, remembering that the joy that was set before him is the same joy that is now set before us. So wave the palms proudly after church, kids. Jesus has made us kings.


Anointing and Antichrists

In 1 Jn. 2, the apostle addresses "antichrists" and his reasoning sounds a little strange when he turns and says, "but you have an anointing from the holy one and you know all things" (2:20). He goes on to describe the lie of believing that Jesus is not the Christ, and that those who deny the Father and the Son are "antichrists" (2:22-23).

While clearly part of John's point is the content of what these people believe, (i.e. that Jesus is not the Christ and therefore not the Son of the Father, etc.), it seems that he may also have other things in mind, particularly since he addresses the "anointing" of his readers.

"Christ" of course means "Anointed One", Christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah. To be an anointed one is to be a priest, a king, a prophet, to be marked with a symbol of the Holy Spirit for authority, to carry on a mission of God in the world. Of course all of that comes to fulfillment in Christ upon whom the Spirit comes to rest and remain upon Him. But it doesn't stop there. The Spirit is poured out on the Church at Pentecost, and all of God's people are anointed. As Jesus was anointed in his baptism, so too the promise of the Holy Spirit is promised to those who repent and are baptized (Acts 2).

And all of this means that Christians are mini-Christs, miniature messiahs. We are all anointed with the same Spirit. But this also means that to deny the Messiahship of Jesus is to deny our own messiahship. To deny that Jesus was the Anointed One is to forfeit that same anointing for ourselves.

Thus to be 'antichrist' is not merely an active denunciation of Jesus; it is also a self-malediction. If Jesus is not the Christ, then neither are you a christ. If Jesus was not anointed with the Spirit, then neither are you. To be an "antichrist" takes on a sort of literal fulfillment in the bodies of those who were once marked as "with us," those who had been anointed and yet went out from us (2:19). To go out from the church, to walk around denying that Jesus is the Messiah, is to become a walking object lesson. His anointed has become an un-anointing, an anti-anointing.

It's interesting then that this verse is sometimes used by those who want to downplay the objective, covenant realities of the Church. "They were not really of us" is taken to mean that there was no connection really even though they may have pretended for a time. But it would seem that there's much more than that going on. These christs have not merely left revealing that they were not really christs. Rather, they have left and turned their anointing into an anti-anointing. They have turned their baptisms into anti-baptisms. They do not leave as though nothing has happened. They leave, revealing their true loyalties, but their allegiance to the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (2:16) is their profession of faith as "antichrists." Their denial of Jesus as Christ and as Son, is their own forfeiture of their own status as christs and sons.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Proverbs 26:8-9

8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling Is he who gives honor to a fool.

The next proverb continues to build on similar themes, principally the danger of fools. Giving honor to a fool is the overarching theme (26:1), and sending messages, giving proverbs, etc. are ways in which we honor fools. This was the opening warning of this section as well (Pr. 26:1). Remember the word for honor is the same for glory or riches. To consider a fool weighty, trustworthy in any way is dangerous, destructive, and absurd. To honor a fool is to only encourage him, to pay him for his folly, and this occurs by giving him tasks, paying him too much attention, believing him more trustworthy than he is. To honor is ultimately to treat someone like a king, and a king is someone who should be trustworthy and wise. A king is also a ruler as we have seen. Honoring a fool as a king is to give a fool authority and power for destruction. This points to the real horror of actually having a fool as king.

Remember that Prov. 25 was all about the glory of kings (25:2ff, 27-28). 26:1-12 is all about dealing with fools, but Solomon says that the real issue comes back to not honoring fools. Perhaps part of the contrast is between those who “conceal” and “search out” matters and those who have everything given or refuse to search. A number of the warnings in 26:1ff have to do with not giving fools certain honors. Part of the point of glory is the necessity of searching for it, working for it, etc. The process of getting glory is a significant part of being qualified to handle it.

The word used for sling here is not used anywhere else in Scripture. The word is MARGEMAH. The root is RAGAM which means to kill by stoning (e.g. Lev. 20:2, et al), and this points to the point of the proverb. Binding to the stone into the “stoning thing” may be suggesting that the stone cannot be released and it will fly around until it hits the one swinging it. The proper thing to do with a fool is to fling him far away. But honoring a fool is keeping him around longer than proper, and the longer he is around, the more dangerous he is.

There is also a suggestion here that honor ought to be used strategically (Pr. 18:16, 21:14). Honor is a weapon. But folly “binds up” honor and makes it useless and dangerous. The overall action of giving honor to a fool is itself also in view. Rather than flinging a fool far away, giving honor to a fool is a way of keeping a fool around. As we have seen previously there is just as much warning to those who interact with fools. Paul makes a similar point in 2 Cor. 11:19 when he addresses the way the Corinthians “put up with fools gladly.” They think they are wise, but the way they put up with them is itself a form of “bondage” for all the problems fools bring, including getting struck in the face (2 Cor. 11:20). In this context, the “fools” Paul is warning the Corinthians about are others who are preaching a different Jesus than Paul (cf. 2 Cor. 11:4). Notice again the theme of being messengers.

9 Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Here a proverb is likened to a “thorn” or “bramble.” It can also mean “hook,” and either way it’s sharp and can stick a hand. A proverb is meant to be sharp and pointy, but a fool is like a drunkard who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Perhaps there is also a suggestion again of danger here. Literally, it’s a thorn/hook “going up in the hand of the drunkard.” The implication may not only be the danger of harm to oneself, but also the danger it poses to others. In some contexts the word is used as “fetters.” Here we may have almost an exact parallel to Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 11 about fools bring people into bondage.

This is the second time Solomon has described a proverb in the mouth of fools. In 26:7, it was pictured as the victim of a hunt. Remember too that the word for proverb is MASHAL, and its verb form means “to rule” (e.g. Gen. 1:18, 3:16, 45:8, etc.). But the noun form is a “dark saying, a riddle, a proverb” (Pr. 1:1, 6, 10:1) and can also refer to “prophesying” (e.g. Num. 23:7, Job 27:1, Ez. 17:2, 24:3). In the curses of Deuteronomy, God promises to bring all sorts of horrors upon Israel if they are not faithful, and one those curses is for things to go so badly with them that they become a “proverb” among all the nations in their exile (Dt. 28:37). Israel will become an object lesson for the nations, a riddle. The verb and noun meanings converge in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shout of a ruler among fools (Eccl. 9:17).

Waltke suggests that in the ancient world the people most likely to be drunkards would have been fairly rich: nobles, princes, kings. All of this reminds us again of the “glory of Kings” and the great dangers of folly in the court of a king and foolish kings. To put a proverb in the mouth of a fool is to give a fool a kingly calling. To put a proverb in the mouth of a fool is not only to give him something dangerous, but to also put him in charge of everything.

Remember too that the “proverb” finds its fulfillment in the gospel, and the image here is of someone getting their hand pierced. The structure of the proverb suggests that the center upon which the principle turns is the connection between a drunk and a fool. But the parallel between the thorn in the hand and the proverb in the mouth may still stand. So what if we inverse the proverb? What if a proverb is put in the mouth of a wise man? David himself was a king who found himself surrounded by dogs, the congregation of the wicked, who pierce their victim’s hands and feet (Ps. 22). In 26:11, fools will be likened to dogs as well. The wise who have proverbs in their mouth run the risk of having their hands pierced. Ruling well runs the risk of suffering. Of course Ps. 22 itself alludes to Christ who is the Wise King, Wisdom incarnate who speaks in riddles, parables, and proverbs, and his hands are pierced by the fool-dogs who encircle him. And all those who follow him run the same risk. The apostles repeatedly speaking about sharing in the suffering of Christ, takin up into themselves the sufferings of the Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:5). Perhaps this is why there is also a repeated emphasis on sharing in the sufferings of Christ and glory. Pursuing the glory of kings means participating in the sufferings of kings.

This also makes more sense of Paul's logic in 2 Corinthians. He describes the gospel as "foolishness" and the ministry of evangelists and apostles as a ministry of "fools," and this is probably because they are being treated as fools. They are suffering like Jesus, their hands are pierced like his, as though they were all drunks and fools. And yet this is their glory, this is the wisdom of God, the great and wonderful riddle of God.

Epilogue: As we discussed this in the study this morning, Peter Leithart also pointed out that this matches up with the accusations against Jesus that he is a disobedient son, out of his mind, and a wine bibber and a glutton. Jesus is accused of being a drunkard and a fool, and his hands are pierced. And if they have accused the master of this, they will of course also accuse his disciples of the same. Being wise always runs the risk of being mistaken as a fool, a drunk, and insane. Proverbs are dark sayings, riddles, and difficult to understand, and to the foolish they make no sense and sound ridiculous.