Friday, April 30, 2010

And Some Helped Their Wish Come True

Besserman writes:

"For what Samuel Johnson said of readers of Paradise Lost -- 'none ever have wished it longer than it is' -- probably holds true for most readers of the Hebrew Book of Job. The Septuagint is only five-sixths the length of its exemplar, a disparity that was already noted by Origen in the third century, who observed that 'often four or three verses, and sometimes fourteen or fifteen' are missing from the Greek."

The Legend of Job in the Middle Ages, 38.


NSA Grads and Law Schools

Roy Atwood, dean of New St. Andrews College, reports that an NSA graduate has recently been accepted and decided to enroll in the Duke University law school. He writes:

I just received an email from one of our many gifted New Saint Andrews graduates who has been teaching at an ACCS school “back East” for several years and completed a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts at Duke University along the way. He has decided to head off to law school next year and was accepted at an impressive list of law programs at leading universities:

Cornell University
Duke University
Georgetown University
University of Minnesota
Northwestern University
University of Pennsylvania
University of Washington
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of North Carolina
Vanderbilt University
Washington & Lee University

Read the rest here.


Contrary to Nature

John Starke quotes from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote his brother in a new biography:

"If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament."


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus, Paul, and the People of God

I just listened to Kevin Vanhoozer's talk from the recent Wheaton conference, a dialog with N.T. Wright, and I recommend it to you. If you have the slightest interest in N.T. Wright and the conversation/controversy surrounding his reformulation of the doctrine of justification and how that should be received and evaluated by those of us in the confessionally reformed tradition, this lecture is a great place to jump in. Vanhoozer is particularly helpful and winsome for his sense of humor, but he very succinctly summarizes Wright's concerns, the concerns of his critics, and charitably offers his own take and makes suggestions for moving the conversation forward. So go give it a listen.

I also listened to Wright's chapel message given during the conference, and it is a typically encouraging and challenging word from the book of Ephesians. Listen or watch here.


William Blake's Job

Davis points out that one of great insights of William Blake found in his famous Illustrations of the Book of Job is the resemblance between God and Job.

Blake underlines this point in Illustration Number XVII pictured here. Above the picture runs the quotation from 1 Jn. 3:2: "We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as He is."

What is really cool is the fact that Job resembles God from beginning to end. This underlines the image of God, Job as Adam before God. But by the end, there is an implied eschatology to this image. Job is growing up into the glory of God.


Extreme Obscurity

"Such a diversity of opinions has prevailed in the learned world concerning the nature and design of the Poem of Job, that the only point in which commentators seem to agree, is the extreme obscurity of the subject." Bishop Lowth

Cited in The Legend of Job in the Middle Ages by Lawrence Besserman


Job's Resemblance of God

Ellen Davis closes her essay "Job and Jacob" noting that Job's maturation over the course of the book specifically has to do with an understanding of the concept of "blameless" as "capacity for obsession with the blessing of God." This idea of "obsession" is itself a kind of insatiable hunger. But this hunger in turn corresponds to God's own gratuity. God overflows with blessings for the hungry. And blessed are the hungry for they shall be filled.

According to Davis, Job grows up into this understanding. Through Yahweh's speeches to him, Job comes to appreciate God's overflowing nature. And this overflowing nature simultaneously insists upon God's goodness and freedom. But this "answer" doesn't leave Job unchanged. Rather, Job having seen God with his eyes becomes more like Him. He becomes more like His gratuitous, overflowing God in the double return of his possessions, but he continues this imitation of God in his generosity toward his children, even giving his daughters inheritances, relatively unheard of in the ancient world. Job is even gracious in his prayers, asking the Lord to forgive his three enemy-friends.

Receiving the blessings and bestowing them upon his children is the acceptance of great risk for him and for his family. Job knows that these blessings may also be ripped from him like the previous blessings. He knows that God's overflow is wild and untamed and free. And Job images this same kind of freedom, abandon, and gratuity. Job grows up to "at last resemble the God to whom he surrenders." Davis particularly notes that this reckless abandon of Job, including an inheritance bestowed on his daughters, contrasts with his former anxiety regarding his children. If previously he was a little too cautious, too fearful, offering sacrifices for possible sins in the hearts of his children, his piety now includes prayer for forgiveness for his enemies and has grown up into a generous abandon toward his children.

Without minimizing Job's initial piety toward his children, we might still recognize a maturity moving from only a negative piety (forgiveness for possible sins) to a more robust piety that includes both the negative (prayer for forgiveness) and positive (bestowing inheritances).


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blamelessness: Capacity for Obsession

Ellen Davis has a great essay in a collection entitled The Whirlwind, ed. by Stephen Cook, et al.

She recognizes the textual parallels in the characters of Job and Jacob and specifically notices the description of both men as tam or "blameless". Davis suggests, following the Targum's rendering of Gen. 25:27 that this "integrity" is a sort teachability. Specifically, she suggests that it is a kind of obsession with the blessing of God. She traces Jacob's life from tricking his brother into giving him the birthright, stealing it and deceiving his father, and struggling with his father in-law for the blessing of a wife, he finally comes face to face with God, wrestling with Him and refusing to let go until he receives a blessing.

Davis applies this connection to Job and then based on her dating of the book suggests its applicability to post-exilic Israel, a nation still struggling, wrestling and the author hopes still obsessed with seeking the blessing of their God. Whether the dating is right or not, the application seems right.

On this reading, to be "blameless" is not in the first place a moral designation. It is rather the calling to seek the blessing of God, to search for God Himself, until He is found. Jacob finally sees God face to face, Moses speaks to God face to face like a friend, and Job eventually meets God and sees Him with His eyes.

These brief allusions all point to the ultimate "blameless" One, Jesus Christ, who is likewise obsessed with the blessing of God His Father. And this Jesus ultimately ascends to the Father and pours out the Spirit upon His people, blowing this calling wide open to all of God's people. All of God's people are called to be sons, called and re-created with capacities for obsession with the blessing of God.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Baptismal Meditation: Becoming Children Again

“Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:3-5)

One of the reasons we baptize babies is because Jesus told us to let the little children come to Him. And the reason the little children are to come to Jesus is not because they are cute and cuddly, but because they are the model citizens of the Kingdom. Jesus says that in the first instance it is not the children and infants who must grow up and learn to believe and have faith like grownups, but just the opposite: we must somehow figure out how to become young again and become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

But even here, when we say this and believe this, we can still end up like Nicodemus, trying to figure out exactly how we are supposed to get back into our mother’s womb.
What exactly does Jesus mean? How do we become like little children?

Perhaps the greatest story that illustrates what Jesus means is Israel after the Exodus in the wilderness. God had promised Israel a glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. He promised to go before His people and drive out the occupying nations, and to give His people cities and vineyards and blessings on every side. But Israel, seeing the giants in the land told God that He could not give the land to them. They are too big, we are too small. It’s just not possible, they said.

And so God said that since they did not believe His promises, since they did not believe His Word to them, He would not give them the land. Instead of bestowing the promised land on the generation that came out of Egypt, God said they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until a new generation had grown up and the old generation had died away. And this is what happened: over the course of 40 years Israel became children again. And the children inherited the land of promise. The children believed the word of God and crossed the Jordan. And they took Jericho like children, marching around the city until it fell down.

And this means at least two things. First, every generation is a death and resurrection. Every child is the human race reborn. Every new child is a family reborn. Every new child is parents reborn. The centrality of children in the kingdom of Jesus has to do with the centrality of the resurrection. The only way to get into the promised land is to find some way to cross generations. The only way to escape dying in the wilderness under the curse of God is to find a way to re-generate.

The problem is that even children grow old. In the flesh that we have inherited from Adam, even the new generation eventually becomes the old generation. And so we come back to the question of Nicodemus. How can we become like children forever? How can we stay in the regeneration? How can we stay young?

The answer is believing the Word of God. The difference between the first generation and the second generation was faith. The second generation believed the promises of God. They saw the giants and the fortified cities, but they place their faith in God’s promises to their fathers. It was not their faith that gave them the land of Canaan it was God’s grace and might. But they believed God’s word and crossed the Jordan and headed toward Jericho. It’s not that their faith was great. It was that they believed the Word of God and knew that their God was great.

And so James and Alberta, this is not an exhortation to try harder or to hold your breath or bear down. The exhortation is to believe God’s promises that the salvation of offered in Jesus is here solemnly promised and sealed to you and to your son by the Almighty God. And it’s pictured wonderfully in the baptism of an infant. How could this infant possibly save himself? He can’t. At this point, he is completely at the mercy of God. If this child is going to inherit the land of promise, God will have to carry Him in and give it to Him. And Jesus says: exactly. And He calls to believe.

So believe these promises, looking not to faith which is not great, but to the God who is great. And model this faith before Charles, teaching him to look to this same Great God who is giving Him life and forgiveness and the world in King Jesus.


Grabbers and Givers

James says that quarrels and fights come from our lusts, our covetousness, our envy. But this table is a standing witness and invitation to another way of life, another way of speaking to one another, another way of being family and being in community. And the fundamental difference between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom is the difference between grabbers and givers. Jesus said that whoever wants to find his life must lose it, and whoever loses his life for the sake of Jesus will find it. And to the one who tries to save his life, Jesus says that he will actually lose it. Grabbers are busy trying to save their own lives, grabbing for money, grabbing for power, grabbing for authority, grabbing for influence, grabbing for respect and blessing and love and happiness. And Jesus assures us that that is the best way to ensure that you never have any of those things. But the wisdom that is from above, the wisdom of the Spirit calls us to be givers. For God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. And God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. God is the Supreme Giver.

And here, He continues to give. But even this is just a heavenly glimpse into what the entire world is like. God gives everything away. God gives sunsets away like a madman. He throws snow and leaves and flowers around with abandon. He gives children and health and laughter and alligators and rainbows and steak and popcorn and wine and rest and work and kisses and violin concertos and dancing and stories and stars. And He gives them overflowing, over and over, day after day, again and again and again and again. We serve the Great Giver who overflows, spilling countless piles of grace and blessing and goodness on us and on our families.

And that’s what this is here. This is God’s grace pouring out, spilling out for you in Christ. And God says, do you get it? Do you understand how I love you? Do you see that I’m willing to die for you? Do you see that this world was made for you? That this universe is not only full of lakes and seas stocked with fish, this universe is stocked with my overflowing life. Do you see? Do you get it? But grabbers don’t see. Grabbers look around and all they see are a few crumbs on the floor. They look around and only see a barren wasteland. And God has designed the world such that grabbers get what they see. And when they see nothing but sand and cactus, that’s what they get.

But God has better things for you, and God reminds you here week after week that He is the Great Giver and He not only gives Himself to you here, but He calls you to imitate Him. Imitate Him here, and then go imitate Him out there. Be givers like Him. But the only way you can be givers like Him is if you believe Him, that you believe He is the Great Giver, and that He has given Himself to you and for you, and that He will always give, that there will never be a famine with Him. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice, and do not hold back. In this bread and wine see the reckless abundance of your God, and the only way to keep is to give it. Give it to your families, give it with your neighbors.


Justification is Resurrection

Every week Pastor Leithart or I quote the very end of Romans 4 when we declare the absolution. We remind you that God “has given his only son to die for you and has raised him for your justification.” Every week, we remind you and assure you of your forgiveness by pointing you to the resurrection of Jesus. You know that your God loves you because He sent His son for you. You know that this love cannot die, cannot be deterred by anything because Jesus was raised from the dead. Justification is resurrection. Paul says that when Jesus was raised, we were raised with Him. Your standing, your forgiveness is as sure and as real as the resurrected Jesus. If Jesus cannot die then you cannot be condemned. If death has no hold on Christ, sin has no power over you. But Paul knows and I know that you don’t always believe that. You look at your kids, you look at your life, you look at the challenges, the failures, the sin, and it looks big, it looks ugly, and frequently it looks insurmountable. And here’s the thing: It is insurmountable. Death is insurmountable. You can’t free yourself from it. Sin is death and death is inevitable unless we are delivered from it. But that is what justification means. Justification means that you have been delivered. You have been set free. You have been declared not guilty just like Jesus. When the rulers of that old world condemned Jesus to death and crucified Him, they did so accusing Him of blasphemy and evil and lies and insurrection. They accused Him of all kinds of wickedness, none of which was true. But at the same time, God laid on Him the iniquity of us all, so that He who knew no sin might became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. But when Jesus died He took our sins and failures and weakness, and He took it down into the grave where it was buried forever. And looking down upon His innocent Son, God the Father thundered from Heaven, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the declarative action that He was innocent. The way we know that Jesus was innocent is because death could not hold Him. And the good news is that He was not only raised in order to prove His innocence, He was also raised in order to enact our justification, our resurrection. This means that as you meditate on what the resurrection means during this season, one of the words that ought to come to mind with some regularity is forgiveness. Jesus was raised because He was innocent, and Jesus was raised so that you might be innocent, so that you might go free. The resurrection means that you are not guilty, that you have been raised from the dead, and your sins have been taken away.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Word as Sacrament

Word is as sacramental as the sacrament is "evangelical." The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word. And unless the false dichotomy between Word and Sacrament is overcome, the true meaning of both Word and Sacrament, and especially the true meaning of Christian "sacramentalism" cannot be grasped in all their wonderful implications. The proclamation of the Word is a sacramental act par excellence because it is a transforming act. It transforms the human words of the Gospel into the Word of God and the manifestation of the Kingdom. And it transforms the man who hears the Word into a receptacle of the Word and a temple of the Spirit...

-Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 33.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No Dragons for Tea

Pride is one of the great dragons every Christian is called to face and battle. But this dragon does not usually introduce himself as a demonic fiend asking to be friends. This dragon comes as an angel of light. He comes like Halloween inside out. The fiend comes in the guise of virtue, dressed up like friend, like a conscientious and pious old lady in a Flannery O'Connor story.

One example of this is in over analyzing and lingering on our own shortcomings and failures. When we have failed, when we have not spoken as clearly as we might like, when the end product is not as sharp or elegant or tasteful as we might have hoped, there is always room to learn, to grow, and to improve. Obviously if there was sin, confess it, ask for forgiveness, and repent. But learn the lesson and move on. If you could have said it better, made a better presentation, or prepared a better dinner, take a moment to note how you might improve in the future, take steps to remember (make a mental note or an actual note), then move on.

But it's exceedingly easy to invite the dragon over for tea. It's easy to put a little leash on the cute fella and lead him around with us for several days or weeks or months or even years. And we remember and regret, remember and retell, remember and bring it up over and over again, constantly whipping out that little mirror checking ourselves out, all in the name of humility or weakness. But that serpent is poison. That dragon is hunting for your soul. Learn the lessons, confess the sins, and then move on.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grace to Stand In

Forgiven people should be the most humble people. But humble doesn't mean groveling-in-the-mud people. Humble means that you know your standing before the God of the universe. Humility is standing in the presence of the Father, united to the Son, in the power of the Spirit.

But the frequently forgotten part of this is the fact that when we stand in the Son before the Father in the love of the Spirit, we suddenly realize that we are welcome. We suddenly know without a shadow of doubt that we belong there. It's the place we most feared, most dreaded, the place that seemed so far off. And yet when we stand there, and we have honestly confessed our sins and heartily asked for forgiveness, there is only grace.

And this grace is grace that commands us to stand. Grace does not hold us down. Grace does not leave us on the floor begging. Grace is something that we stand in. Grace lifts up the head of the humble and meek. Grace causes us to stand, and this kind of humility stands in confidence. We stand in the presence of the Triune God of the universe, the God who knows all, the God who sees all, the God who welcomes us into His presence.

Forgiven people should be the most humble people, but this humility stands up. This humility is fearless. The humble man knows with every fiber of his being that this is where he belongs. And you've finally come home. So believe the gospel: you are forgiven. You are free.


Monday, April 19, 2010

The True Mass

There has been a glorious instinct throughout the history of the church to use the Great Commission at the end of the liturgy to remember what the Lord Jesus calls us to. We are not merely done at the end of the worship service. We are divinely dismissed and sent out. We are commissioned. We have been summonsed here by the King to receive His orders, to renew our allegiance to Him, to feast with Him and be assured of His care of us, and to receive His blessing. And then we are sent out to carry out His mission in the world. In the ancient church the liturgy ended with the pastor saying, “Ite, missa est,” which means, ‘Go, you are dismissed or sent out.’ But it was this final phrase ‘missa est’ that eventually morphed into the name of worship known today in Roman Catholic churches as “mass.” The name of the service came to be called by its final words, the declaration that the people were dismissed, sent out. And this recognizes that the entire service is a “missa est;” the entire service is a dismissal or better, a commissioning, a sending out. We are gathered here week by week in order to be scattered, in order to be sent by our King into the world. We gather here to eat this one loaf and drink this one cup to be strengthened in the body and blood of the Lord, in order that we might be broken and given for the life of the world. You are coming to this table now in order to be sent back out to love and die for your wife. You are being fed at this table now by the risen Christ in order to be sent back into the world to respect and honor your husband. You are being nourished here by your heavenly Father that you may be sent out to love and nourish your children in the Lord. You are all being gathered here in order to be sent out to be Christ to your neighbors, to your roommates, and to your enemies. This is the mass, the true mass, the sending out, the commissioning of your King, our Lord Jesus. So come: eat, drink, and then go.


Wisdom that Waits

In Matthew 28, Jesus famously declares that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This answers the temptation in Matthew 4 where Jesus was offered all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if he would only fall down and worship the devil. Jesus refused the devil’s offer and responded by insisting in the words of Scripture that we are only to worship the Lord and serve Him alone. Jesus not only said this, He did this. And because He did this, He became the heir of all things. As has been pointed out many times, Jesus exemplifies for us patience like no other. When Jesus tells His disciples that the way to greatness is through becoming servants, that is not a backhanded way of dismissing the desire to be great. Jesus wants to be great, and He wants His people to be great. But He insists on true greatness. And so He refuses the devil’s offer, waiting for it all to be given. We need to grow up into this kind of wisdom, this kind of patience. Whether its gifts we want given or situations we want to change: Whether children, whether a spouse, whether a job, whether the salvation of a neighbor or a loved one, whether political turmoil, whether sickness, whether wars, whatever. There are any number of ways to grasp after good and noble things before they have been given, any number of ways to be fearful or frustrated when circumstances are difficult or painful. But authority comes to those who serve; true glory comes to those who die. But notice how the authority of Jesus works. The authority and glory and nobility of Jesus is shared with us now. The disciples themselves were coming off a week of epic fails, a week of denials, hiding, and fleeing from their Master. And Jesus is commissioning them not because they are great and noble, but because He has been given all authority and glory. Authority and glory gives and shares and bestows, and Jesus sends us in our weakness, in our fumbling and stumbling ways. The Lordship of Jesus is our authorization to go, to work, to love, to live, to be the bearers of the gospel, evangelists in every sense of the word in every area of our lives. And so we are commanded to go, go with His glory, the glory of His resurrection; go in His authority, in His name, and wait on Him. Wait for Him to give all good things, wait for Him to subdue our enemies with His grace, wait for Him to raise us up to glory.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Blessing Meaning Cursing

William Henry Green suggests that the euphemistic use of the word "bless" to mean "curse" running through the prologue (1:6, 11, 2:5, 9) is actually drawn from the more casual use of the word as departing farewell. To "bless" in this sense is to say "goodbye" and leave someone behind (Gen. 31:55, Josh. 22:6). Green says that this is what Job feared his sons may be doing while feasting in their houses. They may have been feasting and forgetting God, leaving Him behind. They may have dismissed God in their hearts.

While this seemed initially like quite a stretch to me. I realized that we actually do this in English. The word "goodbye" contains the word "good" in it, and yet we are not afraid to use it in rather harsh or derogatory ways. An enraged and jealous spouse may slam the door on her unfaithful husband shouting "goodbye!" And though she uses the word "good" there's nothing cheery about it. We see the word BARAK, and simplistically get hung up on its usual usage and meaning. But we do the same thing with the word "good." We use sarcasm and intonation and facial expression to frequently mean the opposite of what our words actually "say."


Monday, April 12, 2010

Baptismal Mediation: The Kingdom as Gift

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life… For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:4, 23)

Paul seems to be summing up at least part of his point here at the end of chapter 6. As we have already noted today in the sermon, Paul is drawing off of a number of Exodus categories in this passage, and similarly, we noticed that Paul is calling Christians to offer their bodies as weapons of righteousness, calling Christians to embrace their vocation as the armies of God. When Israel marched out of Egypt they plundered them. They marched out of Egypt as triumphant victors. The slaves and peasants marched out of Egypt having destroyed the greatest civilization in the world at that time.

How did this great army carry out this conquest? How was Egypt destroyed by these hosts? They slaughtered lambs, smeared the blood on their doorposts, and ate this sacrificial meal dressed for travel. And these unconventional battle tactics were preceded by the Israelites watching an old man with a stick take on the great Pharaoh of Egypt. How was freedom won? How was this victory secured? It was given as a gift.

Paul is still thinking about the Exodus when he says that the wages of sin is death. He has contrasted slavery to sin and service in the army of Christ repeatedly, and he uses the word wages here to describe slavery to Pharaoh. The word for wages is literally the rations of a soldier. Remember John the Baptist exhorted the soldiers that came for baptism to be content with their wages, and the word is used widely outside of Scripture specifically in military contexts.

The question for Paul has everything to do with armies and warfare. Who’s your Lord? Which army are you in? Recall that the Israelites arrived in the wilderness and promptly started longing for the wages of Egypt, the food in Egypt, the rations of slaves. But what has happened to Egypt? What has happened to the Egyptians? They have died. The wages of Egypt is death. The rations of a slave-master like Pharaoh are death.

And notice the sharp contrast: You can slave away for Pharaoh and his empire and end up dead under a pile of hail or at the bottom of the Red Sea. Or you can watch and see the deliverance of God and march out of the land as a victorious army. The gift of God is life and freedom and glory forever. You can watch and see how frogs infest the enemy land, how darkness falls on the enemy, listen and hear the cries of the bereaved, those who have lost their firstborn in the land of the Egypt: all given, all gifts of life. You can slave for one master and die or you can make dinner with a lamb and cover your house with his blood. The rations of Pharaoh are death; but the spoils of Yahweh are life and glory and freedom forever.

John, you mentioned to me that you have named your son very purposefully. In addition to having family significance for you, the meaning of his name is significant. Jonathan means “God’s gracious gift” and Reich means “kingdom.” As you well know, these two ideas and themes go so well together, and the Exodus is one example of that. But Paul insists that this is what baptism means. Baptism is our Greater Exodus in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If Israel marching out of Egypt through the sea was a great deliverance and salvation, Paul says baptism is more so. If Pharaoh and Egypt were shattered in the Exodus, in the death and resurrection of Jesus sin and death and Satan were overthrown and undone.

And that is what Easter is all about. That is what the gospel is all about. Freedom and forgiveness and new life is not earned or manufactured in any way. It’s all gift, it’s all grace. And as the Israelites were told to look and see God’s great deliverance, so too, you must teach your son to see Jesus and His death and resurrection as salvation and freedom and life. This season of Easter is a time of reveling in this victory, and every baptism is a mini-Easter, a Great Exodus. God is here freeing your son from service to the enemy and enlisting him in the hosts of King Jesus. Jack is being given the gifts of life and glory and freedom. And therefore, John and Beth, remind him of this continually. Remind him that he is a soldier of the kingdom of God. He is to renounce all allegiance to every Pharaoh and leave Egypt far behind. And teach him about the joys of the Promised Land. Teach him how to find the biggest, juiciest grapes and how to take down the greatest giants in the land, three at a time.


Second Sunday in Easter: Rom. 6:1-23: Justified to Life

As we celebrate the season of Easter, we ought to be asking what the resurrection means for our lives. Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus that we ought to live like we truly have been brought back from the grave.

Reckon Yourselves Dead
Paul begins by grounding our Christian identity in baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-11). This means “knowing” (6:3, 6, 9) and “believing” (6:8) and “reckoning” ourselves united to the death and resurrection of Jesus (6:11). This is a question about facts and what is true. Paul says that this has everything to do with Easter. Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, so that we should walk in newness of life (6:4). This means being united to the likeness of His resurrection (6:5), that as He was freed from death, we might also be free from sin (6:6-7). And this means that we are alive in Christ (6:8-11). Paul says that we must know this, believe this, and reckon it true. We died with Christ, and we were raised with Him.

Who’s Your King?
But Paul develops these points with a number of allusions to a very specific story. He says this reckoning has everything to do with who your master is. He says: we should no longer be slaves of sin (6:6). We have been set free (6:7). Just as death is not Christ’s master (6:9), we are to reckon ourselves free from sin, not obeying its lusts (6:12). The great slavery/freedom narrative of the Bible is the Exodus, and Paul goes from passing through the water (6:3-4) to insisting repeatedly that this means we are no longer slaves of Pharaoh but now servants of God and of righteousness. To “present” your members (6:13, 16, 19) is to be stationed for service, to stand in the presence of a king (e.g. Gen. 45:1, Dt. 10:8, 1 Sam. 16:21). This is the same word used to describe Israel standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai after the Exodus (Ex. 19:17). Like the children of Israel, Christians must present themselves to the Lord “as being alive from the dead” and not present themselves to any Pharaoh (Rom. 6:13). Our “members” are clearly our bodies which are to be offered as sacrifices to God (Ex. 29:17, Lev. 1:6, 12, cf. Rom. 12:1-2). And as we offer them as sacrifices, they are to be “instruments,” literally ‘weapons/armor of righteousness’ (1 Sam. 17:7, Neh. 4:11, Rom. 13:12). As Israel marched out of Egypt as Yahweh’s hosts, Christians are to take up their weapons and armor as the army of God.

Turning from sin must always include turning towards righteousness, leaving Egypt and going in to the Promised Land. And this kind of repentance is for life. But we must be freed from sin in order to repent. Jesus came proclaiming this forgiveness (Lk. 4:18), Paul is proclaiming forgiveness in Rom. 6, and we are authorized and commanded to carry on this mission in the world (Lk. 17:3-4, Col. 3:13).

If what Paul says is true, then Christians should be growing more and more alive. We should be characterized by life. What is life? What is it to be alive? This means walking in the Spirit, listening and obeying the Word, and then dreaming big. So frequently we are so preoccupied with Egypt that we miss the Promised Land right in front of us. But Christ is risen, and the whole world is before us.

The resurrection means endless possibilities. It means creation restored, and it means humanity offered life as God always meant it to be. We were made for this.

1. Lead your family in loving God and loving His world. Lead them by loving the particular parts of God’s world that were made for you. Find those spots and dance in them. And love your people and dance with them.

2. Lead your family in enjoying God and enjoying His world. Lead them by being consumed with thankfulness for what you have been given: forgiveness, family, gifts, five fingers on each hand, peanut butter and jelly, and a wife to kiss. Lead your family in laughter. Be the first to laugh and the last to stop.

3. Lead your family in resting in God, and share that rest. Lead them by serving your wife, surprising your family with gifts and outings, and share the peace of Christ with those still in Egypt. Peace is unity, affirmation, and forgiveness.


Fruit of Holiness

“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Rom. 6:22).

In this verse we have yet another couple of references to the Exodus story. First, Paul says that we have been set free to become slaves of God. The entire Exodus narrative is built on this contrast. Who do we belong to? Who is our master? Who is our Lord? Yahweh comes to Pharaoh and says, ‘let my people go so that they may serve Me.’ And Pharaoh says, ‘no, I am their lord, and they serve me.’ It is a contest of “lords.” Another way this is illustrated in Exodus is in the question, whose house will Israel build? In the beginning of Exodus, Israel is building Pharaoh’s house, building his cities with bricks, but after Israel is freed to serve Yahweh, they are freed to build His house, the tabernacle. The second half of Exodus is all about building Yahweh’s house. Israel has become slaves to Yahweh, and this is why Paul says that we are slaves of God. This is also why Paul immediately thinks of holiness. Holiness is all about access, drawing near to God who is all holy. The tabernacle is God’s presence with His people, God with Israel.

But the last connection is in the word “fruit.” We should not miss the fact that the tabernacle is the palace of the Kingdom of Israel, and the entire nation of Israel camps around that palace like a great city. But that city is meant to be planted in the Promised Land. In one sense, we should see the tabernacle as the down payment of the Promised Land, proof that God is really going to give it to them. If God has pitched His tent with the tents of Israel, they know that He is in this with them. He will not stop marching until He comes to rest in the land of promise with His people. And that land is full of fruit: vineyards they didn’t plant, cities they didn’t build, and fertile with life.

This meal is the center of our community. Here in worship, our King meets with us. Here Christ is enthroned on our praises. This is the palace of our King, but the Church is the great city that spreads out, encircling this palace. And here at this table, you are given the fruit of holiness, the firstfruits of life with God in this world forever. When the spies came back from Canaan, they brought back a great cluster of grapes. They brought back a portion of the Promised Land with them. Here at this table, we have a portion of the Promised Land. Here is a bit of bread that was made here on the Palouse and some wine made from grapes grown in this world and fermented by human hands. And this is just the beginning. This is proof and down payment of the whole thing. Christ is risen, and he must reign until all of his enemies have become His footstool. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice.


Seeing Jesus Alive

In Luke 24, there is a famous episode where Jesus meets two disciples leaving Jerusalem brokenhearted and disappointed that Jesus is dead, not recognizing that He is the one talking to them. Jesus rebukes them by asking why they don’t know their Old Testament better. Don’t you know that the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die and then be revealed in all His glory? The point is that His disciples don’t recognize Him in the flesh because they did not see Him in the Word. If they knew the story, if they knew how to read their Bibles, they would know that Jesus was supposed to die and be raised again on the third day. Rather than leaving Jerusalem in disappointment, they would be waiting expectantly for the news that His tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive.

If Jesus rebuked those disciples for what they should have seen in the Old Testament, how much more so are we held accountable for the entire Bible which includes the actual record of the resurrection of Jesus? But we still do this. We do this as we read history, as we hear current events, or perhaps as we look at our own lives and families. We read history and it seems to be a story of failure. We hear about current events, and we are tempted to despair. Or perhaps your own life and family seems unfortunate or regrettable in various ways. And when people seem a little too optimistic or cheerful, we are quick to ask, are you the only one not paying attention? Haven’t you noticed what has happened in the church? Haven’t you noticed what has happened in DC? Haven’t you noticed the immorality all around us? But the response of the Risen Jesus is not, “Oh really? Maybe I should tune in to CNN a little more often.” Jesus points us to His Word, and He calls us fools. Fools read the world as though the world is a straightforward story. Fools read politics and economics and cultural trends as though they are what they seem. Foolish Christians only see sin and failure in their own lives. And Jesus says that we are fools because we are slow to believe His word. You don’t need another newspaper, another radio talk show host, another breathless report about what is going on in Jerusalem.

You need to see Christ. And first of all you need to see Christ in His Word. You need to see Christ in Moses and all the prophets and all the Scriptures. And when you see Christ in His word, when you see Him there, you will look up and see Him right in front of you. You will see the story of history and the story of current events and the story of your own life as the story of Jesus’ sufferings and glory. You will see Jesus enthroned in glory sending forth His Spirit and filling this world with His glory, putting all His enemies beneath His feet. To miss this story is to miss the resurrection. It is to act as though Jesus is still in His grave.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Good Friday Homily: My Song is Love Unknown

[Update: the link has been fixed, 12.9.10]

Here's a recording of my homily from Good Friday. Some of you asked about it.

It's under Trinity Reformed Church, entitled "My Song is Love Unknown."

Thanks to Jamie Soles for the idea for this sermon in his song "Glory and Beauty" from his album Memorials.


Monday, April 05, 2010

God Back: Celebrating Eastertide

Happy Easter to one and all. Christ is risen!

I trust that your Eastertide celebrations are off to a good start. Hopefully you've put some plans together for the next 40 or 50 days.

Historically the Church has celebrated not just one day but an entire season, remembering and reveling in the fact that when Jesus rose from the dead, death died. Sin and guilt and death have been rendered powerless, and the new life of the Kingdom has invaded this world.

We've decided to do gifts in our family this Easter Season. Every Saturday night for the next 7 weeks, we have gifts for the kids, and Jenny and I have a few things for each other as well.

Maybe you could mark Eastertide with several extra dates with your wife? Maybe take the kids to the movies or bowling or maybe something as simple as the McDonald's playland? Or maybe you should push yourself creatively. Write poetry. Make music. Paint. Dance. Eat chocolate (more than usual, I mean).

Of course celebration of resurrection life should also include looking for ways to share life, give life. At Trinity, we have an Easter Festival each year with games for the kids, a big feast, dancing, and various forms of singing and entertainment. We've also made this festival a fundraiser for the local Care Net crisis pregnancy center. We want our celebration of the resurrection to be something that blesses our community.

My wife has a number of Easter-ish items out these days: flowers, a twisted wreath of thorns from our Rose bush, of course lots of jelly beans and chocolates, and a few picture story books recounting the passion and resurrection. One story book is a word for word retelling of the passion and resurrection from John's gospel artistically rendered in silhouettes, very tastefully and thoughtfully done.

Anyway, when my two year old sees that picture book she frequently grimaces slightly and with a concerned look on her face says, "God died." Sometimes she'll even go on about it a little. "God died.... Oh... hurt... Oh... died...," her face showing concern and her intonations sinking sadly with the weight of the words. Sometimes she gets to the rest of the story on her own, but sometimes we have to prompt her for the punch line. But then what happened? What happened after God died?

It's fun to watch her face light up as she remembers, and then matter-of-factly states, "God back." Which translated means that God came back from the dead. God came back. God is back. Occasionally, she toddles through the room and glancing up at the book, she nonchalantly reminds herself and the rest of the listening room, "God back."

Which is what Easter season is all about. Easter is all about living and proclaiming the fact that God is back. Back from the dead, back in fellowship with us, taking back this world with His grace and mercy.

So fill your glasses with something to warm and gladden your hearts, and share that joy with your people. God is back.


Waking Up in a Strange but Familiar Place

In one of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pevensie children are whisked away to Narnia from England, and they show up in a land that they do not at first recognize. There are some castle ruins and orchards and a stream, but as they begin to explore there are a number of odd moments where things look strangely familiar. An object that belonged to one of the children, a wall in the same place as one they remembered, and as these little curiosities grow, they suddenly realize that they are at the old castle Cair Paravel where they had reigned in their last adventure, only now it’s been over a thousand years.

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, at the close of Paul’s great description of the resurrection and our hope, He says: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” And I think the Narnia story is perhaps in some vague way what the resurrection will be like. Instead of finding ruins, we will awake to glory. And instead of some kind of grave danger, we will awake to the Return of the King. But I do think that what Paul means here is that our labors here and now will not be forgotten or finally destroyed. Though the Lord tarry for thousands of years beyond our lifetimes, the hope of the resurrection is the hope in part that we will one day walk around on these Palouse hills and see the glories that the Spirit began in our day.

This meal itself is in some sense and insistence of this. In a mystery which we do not understand, the Holy Spirit feeds us with the body and blood of the risen Jesus every week as we break this bread and share this wine. But this means that the body and blood of Jesus are being sown into us, into our lives, into our actions and words. In other words, the resurrected Jesus is here. And He is giving Himself to us and to our children and grandchildren. And even if we couldn’t believe that our lives will be worth much, that our lives will be remembered, you can and must believe that the life of Jesus in you will remain. The resurrected life of Jesus in you is working out God’s purposes in this world here and now.

And one day, we will wake up in a strange but familiar place full of glory and beauty, and don’t be surprised to find a hill that you once walked on, a church you helped to build, music you wrote, art painted by a friend, and maybe even an enormous library with an ancient dusty basement that looks strangely like Pastor Leithart’s home library. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice.


Resurrection for the World

Jesus did not rise from the dead in order that you could go to heaven when you die. He could have accomplished that without rising from the dead. If the point is merely going to heaven or having some kind eternal, happy existence then Jesus could have gone straight on up to heaven from His death, with no need to rise from the dead.

No, the resurrection of Jesus occurred so that we might rise from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead so that this entire world might rise from the dead. Jesus came healing, befriending, casting out demons, and exposing all evil, violence, and oppression, and this was not just a big show to prove that He was really God. He was really God, and He was really God come to bring the Life of God to the world. Healing, feeding, building a community of love and sacrifice, this is the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and Jesus rose from the dead in order to make that life fill and renew this world.

This world was plunged into death in Adam’s sin. The earth was cursed when Adam sinned, and all relationships were marred with sin and guilt. But when Jesus burst out of that tomb two thousand years ago, the earth began to heal. While God had promised that Adam would return to the dust in death, Jesus went down into that dust, undid the curse, and came back out of the grave in glory. While God promised enmity between man and woman, Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden, and assured her that all was being made new. And finally, when Jesus returned to heaven, He did so to heal our broken relationship with the Father of all glory.

Behold, I make all things new, Jesus said. And behold, it is completely and wonderfully true. So as you greet one another today and throughout this season, say frequently and joyfully: Christ is risen. This is not just an announcement. It is the blessing of all blessings. It is our hope, our certainty, our joy, our glory. Christ is risen: all is being put right. Christ is risen: death where is your sting? Christ is risen: let all the nations come and worship Him. Christ is risen: let the wicked be scattered and flee. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.