Tuesday, March 31, 2009
"Give up? I would never give up," you may be thinking. And I believe you that you would probably never outright denounce Christ; yet, when we are feeling the struggle that faith creates in this life, we can become tempted to implicitly do what we would never explicitly do. In our exhausted and wearied state, we can forget that life is only found by way of the cross. As a result, we can become tempted to think that we can lighten the struggle by mixing a little bit of the world with our faith--that we can compartmentalize our faith between the Sabbath and the rest of the week.
But as we see in this text, Christ's sword of judgment is directed towards persons who fall prey to that lie. We must remember who we are in Christ and resist the temptation to compromise ourselves with the world. Instead of looking for comfort in the world, find your comfort in the one who has overcome the world, who offers you heavenly manna to nourish you along the way and promises heavenly life and rest to those who maintain their faith in Christ.
I have been told that the audio did not record, but you can read the sermon here.
The post is set in the context of letter correspondence and can be read here.
3) Throughout the history of revelation prior to the coming of Christ, Israel’s hymnody grew; new psalms were added at each significant phase of redemptive history (e.g., songs of captivity were followed by songs of deliverance, during and after the exile). It would be extremely odd, therefore, if, when redemptive history reaches its zenith, the covenant community’s hymnody would be silent for the first time ever. Of all times for singing to the Lord “a new song,” the day of resurrection is the time to do so.4) Not surprisingly, then, the songs sung by the redeemed saints, recorded in the book of Revelation, are never canonical OT psalms, and further, they are explicitly Christo-centric (not merely implicitly so). Either those songs are sinful to sing at all, or sinful to sing on earth. The first isn’t possible; the latter isn’t likely, because elsewhere in the NT the “heavenly pattern” is to be our conscious goal and pattern. We are to seek the things above (including, presumably, the heavenly praise).
Friday, March 27, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The church must become aware and continue to be aware of the influence that American culture and its free market economy has on it. The free market creates situations that often lead to the abuse of humanity by humanity. Wendell Berry spent much of his time discussing this problem in the essays contained in What Are People For?. He points out that our market driven economy, with its emphasis on technology and efficiency, is producing an urban society in which people are becoming devalued. He asks,
Is the obsolescence of human beings now our social goal? One would conclude so from our attitude toward work, especially the manual work necessary to the long-term preservation of the land, and from our rush toward mechanization, automation, and computerization. In a county that puts an absolute premium on labor-saving measures, short workdays, and retirement, why should there be any surprise at permanence of unemployment and welfare dependency? Those are only different names for our national ambitions, (p.125).
He quips that the economy and its emphasis on material expansion has led persons to gain from another’s loss and to not feel bad about it, but to rather view it as part of life. He thinks that this is violence. Where our society would never advocate or accept physical violence, such as murder, as being acceptable ethical behavior, we have little problem accepting acts of economic violence,
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not murder would be acceptable as an economic means if the stakes were high enough, it is a fact that the destruction of life is a part of the daily business of economic competition as now practiced. If one person is willing to take another’s property or to accept another’s ruin as a normal result of economic enterprise, then he is willing to destroy that other person’s life as it is and as it desires to be, (p.131-32).
All of this emphasis on economic development has actually resulted in much destruction, rather than progress, “The centralization of our economy, the gathering of the productive property and power into fewer and fewer hands, and the consequent destruction, everywhere, of the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community,” (p.128, emphasis in original).
At the heart of the issue is the consumerism that the free market has created, which it needs in order to survive. Berry states that the consumption is being done irresponsibly, and that it is not only the fault of those involved in the mass production of cheap, worthless products that are meant to only work for a limited time, but that all of us are responsible, “But our waste problem is not the fault only of producers. It is the fault of an economy that is wasteful from top to bottom—a self-indulgent consumptiveness at the bottom—and all of us are involved in it,” (p.127).
This problem of consumption has also radically impacted the church and how it functions in society. Ever since the religious disestablishment that took place with the inception of
This has also affected how people choose a church. They are smart consumers who look for a good deal, they want the most bang for their buck. So they shop around at the different churches to see which one is offering the best deal. The one that comes closest to meeting all their felt needs wins. What is resulting is that the churches are no longer separate from the world and reflective of the spiritual truth of the gospel and proper biblical ethics, they are now reflecting the world. They have become the world.
The organized church makes peace with a destructive economy and divorces itself from economic issues because it is economically compelled to do so. Like any other public institution so organized, the organized church is dependent on ‘the economy’; it cannot survive apart from those economic practices that its truth forbids and that its vocation is to correct. If it come to a choice between the extermination of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field and the extermination of a building fund, the organized church will elect—indeed, has already elected—to save the building fund. . . . but the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field can be preserved only by true religion, by the practice of a proper love and respect for them as the creatures of God, (p.96, emphasis mine).
My point: we need to become aware of this problem so that we do not perpetuate the evils of society in the process of trying to offer the only solution for evil. The church is to be separate—it should be a place of truth in the world. I am by no means advocating socialism or communism (which are fraught with evil of their own), but I am advocating that the church see herself and her mission as separate from any particular culture in which she finds herself, and therefore, fight to keep herself as unstained as possible. The church in
Monday, March 23, 2009
Fill the sails of your hearers' souls with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer, and they will trust him as their Sanctifier, and long to see his fruit in their lives. Fill their minds and imaginations with a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ in his person, and the flock will long to be like him. Impress upon their weak and wavering hearts the utter competence of the mediation of the One who ever lives to make intercession for them, and they will long to serve and comfort others, even as Christ has served and comforted them. (78)The point is that it is only Christ-centered and saturated sermons that can feed and nurture faith in the souls of believers.
Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ. (76, emphasis in original)In the quote above, we find Gordon's four failed alternatives to Christ-centered preaching: 1) moralism; 2) How-To; 3) Introspection; and 4) Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War. I found his comments concerning all the categories enlightening, but especially the fourth. In his discussion, Gordon does an excellent job of laying out a clear and easy to understand perspective of preaching that corresponds to the spirituality of the church, or the Two-Kingdom theory--that there is a distinction between the city of God (the church) and the city of man (culture).
Gordon argues that preaching should be done in light of keeping the two kingdoms separate and realizing that preaching is attached to the city of God and not the city of man. He supports this position with two main arguments. First, he makes a Natural Law argument that preaching that is devoted to commenting on what's wrong with our culture and what ought to be done to improve it either by individuals or even worse by the coercive power of government is wrong because it is out of step with the nature of our country. The beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic is that they created a form of government founded upon a commitment to liberty. So important was liberty to them that it was more important than any good thing that individuals or a coercive federal government could force on persons.
The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. . . . The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others. (85, footnote 14)In addition to this Natural Law argument, he second argument is biblical-theological. He notes that many in our churches love to live in imagined and self-made worlds of good guys and bad guys, and to think that they are part of the good guys. The problem with this is that Genesis 3 instructs that in Adam, we are all sinners and revolt against the reign of God and that each of us, therefore, prefer our own wills to the will of God. The Bible goes on to teach us that now we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2) and are utterly incapable, in and of ourselves, of changing our situation and our behavior. This inability is also true for government. The government cannot change us or rescue us from our revolt; education cannot enlighten our darkened minds; not even the church can deliver us from our darkened understanding that considers our own way better than God's way; and surely coercive human governments cannot cure souls. The only answer is Jesus: "Only the God-man, the last Adam, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice and present intercession at the right hand of God, can rescue any of us from our revolt," (86).
Because his words are so clear and helpful, here is a lengthy sampling:
So the one inadmissible thing to a culture warrior (that cultual change is out of our hands) is the basic subtext of everything the Bible teaches.Preaching that is biblical and apostolic will only be recovered through an enduring commitment to Christ-centered, expository proclamations of scripture to the church--not to the culture. There is a proper place for laws and government, but not as the answer for man's rebellion against God's rule and his perishing in sin--people need Christ. So give them Christ!
The culture warrior refuses to acknowledge that true and significant cultural change can happen only when the individual members of the culture have forsaken their own self-centeredness, and have revolted against their revolt against God. Worse, the culture warrior assumes that coerced change in behavior is desirable--that if we can pass a law that outlaws sin, this will somehow make people and culture better (when, in fact, we just become more devious and learn how to evade detection, adding deception to our other sins). Culture warriors are not content with the two legitimate ways in which humans may exert influence on the behavior of others; through reasoned discourse and the power of example. The power of example is too costly and too slow, and besides, we don't wish to be around unbelievers much anyway. And reasoned discourse is beyond the capacity of most of us today; most could never explain convincingly to another why one behavioral choice is wiser than another. So we resort to coercion: using the coercive power of the government to enforce external compliance to the ways of God.
Such a view is so contrary to everything the Bible teaches that its prevelance must be accounted for as a kind of blindness that is due to misplaced partriotism. . . . The particular blindness of the culture warrior is that he permits himself to think God is pleased by coerced behavior; by requiring people to say "one nation, under God" even if they do not yet believe in God (which strikes me as an instance of taking the Lord's name in vain). The culture warrior's religion and his patriotism are in conflict. His Christianity teaches him that God is not pleased with mere external confession of insincere religious faith; but his patriotism just cannot accept the fact that his culture is movinging in directions of which he disapproves.
. . . Haven't we already had a historical experiment that is precisely what the culture warriors want? Wasn't ancient Israel a nation whose constitution demanded obedience to the revealed laws of God, and didn't its executive branch use coercion to attain such obedience? Did Israel not, effectively, have the Ten Commandments in its courthouse? Yet which prophet ever had anything good to say about the nation? Indeed, as Jesus and the apostles more bluntly put it, which of the prophets did they not kill? If theocracy didn't work in Israel, where God divinely instituted it, why do people insist on believing it will work in places where God manifestly has not instituted it? (86-88, emphasis in original)
Vigor and grace beget vigor and grace. . . . A man in daily contact with say Johnson or Dante, or whoever his chosen seer may be, with their vigor, their wit, their imagery, their deep sense of the world's tragedy, their struggle to turn it to account in terms of beauty or truth or behavior, will inevitably catch from them something of their sense, their feeling, their intellectual and spiritual thrust, which is bound to assert itself in the quality of his own expression and his ministrations.So today I took his recommendation and spent some time at a local bookstore reading some verse.
Here is an excerpt from "Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness" by John Donne:
... I joy, that in these straits, I see my west;What a beautiful presentation and application of the gospel.
For, though their currents yield return to none,
What Shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection. . . .
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
Look Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.
So, in his purple wrapped receive me Lord,
By these his thorns give me his other crown;
And as to others' souls I preached thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
Therefore that he may raise the Lord throws down.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Although I often lose track of what is happening in the world during March Madness, Ligonier Ministries is hosting its 2009 National Conference right now and this year they have added a new feature. You can watch a live webcast for free, see here for details.
Here is the rest of the schedule:
4. Steven J. Lawson – The Holy One of God: The Holiness of Jesus
(Friday, March 20, 9:40 – 10:40 a.m.)
The disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ referred to Him as “the Holy One of God.” In doing so, they said something not only about His character, but also about His relationship to the Father. In this lecture, Dr. Lawson will look at what the Bible teaches us about the purity and sinlessness of Christ.
5. Alistair Begg – The Breath of the Almighty: The Holy Spirit
(Friday, March 20, 11:30 a.m. – 12:35 p.m.)
The third person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the one whom Job refers to as “the breath of the Almighty.” His work includes conforming believers to the holy image of Christ. In this lecture, Dr. Begg will look at the person and work of the one person of the Trinity whose very name includes the adjective “holy.”
Questions & Answers
(Friday, March 20, 2:30 – 3:25 p.m.)
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. Steven Lawson, Dr. Alistair Begg, Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. Moderated by R.C. Sproul
6. Thabiti Anyabwile – Cosmic Treason: Sin and the Holiness of God
(Friday, March 20, 4:05 – 5:05 p.m.)
The sinfulness of sin is not grasped in our day because the holiness of God is not grasped. Sin will only be understood for what it is when God is understood for who He is. In this lecture, Rev. Anyabwile will explain the true sinfulness of sin in the light of the holy and pure character of God.
7. D. A. Carson – A Holy Nation: The Church’s High Calling
(Friday, March 20, 7:15 – 8:00 p.m.)
The history of redemption reveals God calling a people out of the world to be a holy people. In this lecture, Dr. Carson will examine why God has called His people in both the old and new covenants to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and he will explain what this means for us as believers today.
8. Robert Godfrey – Wounded for Our Transgressions: The Holiness of God and the Cross
(Saturday, March 21, 8:30 – 9:40 a.m.)
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is the universal problem faced by all men, a problem requiring a solution man cannot provide. In this lecture, Dr. Godfrey will examine why the holiness of God required an atonement for sin and how Jesus fulfilled that requirement for us.
9. Derek Thomas – Be Ye Holy: The Necessity of Sanctification
(Saturday, March 21, 9:40 – 10:30 a.m.)
According to Scripture, we are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Yet our Lord calls those who have been so justified to a life of holiness. In this lecture, Dr. Thomas will explain the importance and necessity of individual sanctification as well as the means God has provided for it.
Questions & Answers
(Saturday, March 21, 11:25 a.m. – 12:25 p.m.)
Dr. Donald Carson, Dr. Derek Thomas, Dr. Robert Godfrey, Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile Moderated by Dr. R.C. Sproul
10. R.C. Sproul – A Consuming Fire: Holiness, Wrath, and Justice
(Saturday, March 21, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.)
There have always been those who have argued that a truly holy God could not or would not consign anyone to eternal punishment. Such, they say, is inconsistent with God’s love. In this lecture, Dr. Sproul will explain why the holiness of God is not inconsistent with eternal punishment of sin, but in fact requires it.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
T. David Gordon has recently come out with a new book Why Johnny Can't Preach. Gordon wrote this book while on his deathbed with cancer. Thankfully, his cancer has gone into remission. The premise of the book is that there is a lot of bad preaching out there because ministers do not know how to read or write well anymore.
According to Gordon, the title is taken from some earlier published works, Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do about It and Why Johnny Can't Write: How to Improve Writing Skills. Gordon says that the theological corollary of the lack of these two fundamental skills manifest themselves in bad preaching, since preaching is essentially the product of these two activities.
Gordon suggests that these problems have developed because of the influence that the new image based and electronic media has had on American culture since World War II and how they have altered average Americans' sensibilities compared to the typographical media age.
You can hear a good interview with T. David Gordon by the guys at the Reformed Forum here. I highly recommend listening to this interview, because he has as much to say to laypersons in the pew as he has to say to ministers in the pulpit. For example, Gordon mentions that the effect of the new electronic media is that it has created a culture that does not take things very seriously, but Christianity is terribly serious because it deals with the consequential things of life. The electronic media, especially T.V., does not deal with the consequential things of life, and on the rare occasion that it does, it deals with it inconsequentially. As a result of our living in a culture of indifference to the significant things of life, we miss (both ministers and laypersons) the consequential realities of life and of the scripture that deals with those consequential matters. Since the Bible confronts persons with the consequential things of life--sermons should confront persons about these significant realities. Tragically, the preachers of our day seem to be conforming their preaching to our inconsequential culture, and thereby, abdicating their opportunity, privilege and calling to be an alternative to it and to help their congregations alter their sensibilities and live in antithesis to it.
The bottom line: the media has shaped the messengers and those hearing the message. I highly recommend everyone (minister and layperson) reading this book, or at least listening to the interview.
If you are interested in getting the book, the guys at Westminster Bookstore have made it available for $5.99 (plus s&h).
The guys over at Mongerism Books have a special offer until March 25, 2009 where you can get the book for FREE if you buy $25 worth of books and type "Why Johnny Can't Preach" in the customer notes at checkout. See here for details.
For other resources on this subject, see:
- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
- Gregory E. Reynolds, The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures
- Interview with Gregory E. Reynolds on "Preaching in an Electronic Age" also done by the guys at the Reformed Forum.
- Gregory E. Reynolds, "Preaching and Poetry: Learning the Power of Speech" in Ordained Servant, April 2007
- Gregory E. Reynolds, "Preaching and Fiction: Developing Oral Imagination" in Ordained Servant, March 2007
- Gregory E. Reynolds, "The Wired Church" in Ordained Servant, June/July 2007
- A. Craig Troxel, "Why Preachers Should Read Fiction" in Ordained Servant, March 2007
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Rev. Noble Samuel, who is Pakistani by birth and now serves as minister at Heston United Reformed Church in West London, U.K. has recently learned otherwise.
A Christian minister who has had heated arguments with Muslims on his TV Gospel show has been brutally attacked by three men who ripped off his cross and warned: ‘If you go back to the studio, we’ll break your legs.’Read the rest here. [HT: James Grant]
There are Christian brothers and sisters around the world facing the challenge of maintaining their faith in the face of persecution. As all in the church are united to the same Christ, we share in each others joys and trials. One way for us to live out this unity is to pray for our suffering brothers and sisters. To this end, I would encourage you to become more informed about the persecuted church around the world, by going to the website for Voice of the Martyrs.
Q. Who made you?The use of the catechism provides a simple and effective way to ground believers of all ages in the Christian faith. For more information on why we should catechize, see this month's feature article at the OPC website, "Why Catechize?," which is a slightly modernized reproduction of "A Preliminary Discourse to Catechising," by Thomas Watson, which is taken from his Body of Divinity (a collection of 176 sermons on the Shorter Catechism).
A. God made me.
If you have not used the catechism before and are interested but don't know where to begin, then here are some suggestions:
1. For young children: First Catechism (for other helpful materials for children and parents see Great Commission Publications)
2. For adolescents and adults: Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms and the Heidelberg Catechism
Sunday, March 15, 2009
So often today we are told that a faithful walk with Christ results in earthly blessings, and that the problems we face are the result of our being out of accord with God. However, that is a lie and is the opposite of the teaching of the gospel--and it is the opposite of the teaching of Revelation 2.8-11.
The faithful church is a persecuted church, and the persecuted church is a suffering church; but the suffering church is a triumphant church for she suffers and conquers in union with her Lord who maintained his witness unto death and was raised to life before her. The hope of the church is found in the person, work and promises of the risen and exalted Christ who is the first and the last, who died and came to life, and who awards the faithful with the crown of life. In Christ, there is nothing on earth or in heaven for us to fear.
Christ's story is our story. And as he conquered through humiliation, suffering and death that led to resurrection and glorification, we too, wage a warfare of humiliation, suffering and death that leads to our resurrection and glorification in Christ.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Have you ever wondered what this looks like in everyday life? Then read this . . .
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
You can read the sermon here.
(Update: I found out today that the audio did not record, so there is no audio available for this sermon.)
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS)
Novum Testamentum Grace (NA27)
Biblia Sacra Vulgate
You can view the text without signing in. However, there are more advanced search features available for registered users. If you're a like me and don't know German, then you can use Google Translate to translate the web page into English.
[HT: Shaun Tabatt]
Monday, March 9, 2009
When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers. The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.
More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.In addition to the main article, there is a link that takes you to an interactive chart that compares the answers from different faith traditions on questions concerning Hollywood, homosexuality, politics and prayer. One notable question that I will highlight here is "Do you believe there are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong?". Among Evangelicals, only 51% said that they completely agree that there are.
As I read the article and the chart, there were two major things that stood out to me. First, I am not represented in the article. In the different groups that are listed there was no group representing confessionally Reformed Protestants--there wasn't even a conservative Protestant group. Once again, it would appear that the only two options are Mainline Protestants and Evangelicals. But why don't you fit into the Evangelical group you may ask. Well that leads me to the second thing that stood out to me.
The article seems to make distinctions within the different Protestant groups according to a piety gap that defines the different sides of the culture wars, "Its about gay marriage and abortion and stem cells and the family." However, the article suggests that in the middle there is a softened version of Evangelicalism developing. But what is interesting to me is that in addition to the role of politics and ethics, the article identifies an "Evangelical" style of worship that marks Evangelicalism, which is really more a matter of aesthetics. It is not theology, practice and piety that defines Evangelicalism (according to the article) but politics, ethics and aesthetics.
The irony to me is that an article about religion is establishing religious identity based on anything but religious belief. Being a confessionally Reformed Presbyterian puts me outside their categories. My religious identity is based upon my theology, piety, and practice as summarized and outlined in the Westminster Standards. Neither Mainline Protestants or Evangelicals share those standards. There are more options than those provided in the article--so if you don't find yourself there, as I didn't, know that there are others like you.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Friday, March 6, 2009
In the vision of Daniel 7, world history is set forth (similar to Daniel 2 and the vision of the statue that is alluded to in Rev. 1.1-3) and shown to be under the control of the Ancient of Days. He is this great judge figure enthroned in righteousness and fire--this is a picture of God himself, ruling and reigning and who calls the kingdoms of man (his enemies) to account for their rebellion and wickedness. The kingdoms of man stand before his throne, are judged, and stripped of their dominion.
Yet, after this judgment there is another who comes and is presented before the throne of the Ancient of Days. This figure is described as a son of man who comes with the clouds of heaven. This is not any man, this is a heavenly man. And this son of man is not judged but given a kingdom--an eternal kingdom with everlasting dominion. His kingdom will rule forever and never be defeated. This is the messianic king, receiving and ruling over the eternal Kingdom of God.
In Revelation 1, John alludes to both of these visions together by describing Jesus as the son of man, but also as the Ancient of Days. Jesus Christ, then, is the divine, messianic King ruling and reigning over the Kingdom of God forever, and which will never be defeated.
And this is true of Christ now. This is not some far off distant truth that will only become reality in the future at his second coming. He is the glorified, divine, eschatological king, now. And in this role of divine eschatological king, he no longer rules as he did in his earthly ministry. Christ did not become a king, but was born a king. But his kingdom rule did not play itself out according to Jewish and even Gentile expectations. Kings were to be victorious through battle and were to subdue their enemies through superior military might. Yet, Christ overcame his enemies not through a display of military might, but through his death and crucifixion on the cross. Christ waged the warfare of humiliation, love and the cross.
But in Revelation 1, we find that this is no longer the case for the divine eschatological king, for now in his resurrection and ascension, he rules as a victorious warrior who is bringing his judgment to his enemies. Revelation 1.16 describes him as now having a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth and a face like the sun shining in its full strength. The imagery of the sword alludes to Isaiah 11 and 49, where one who is the royal stem of Jesse that will be full of the Spirit who will rule in the name of God in righteousness and faithfulness. He rule is characterized as striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and as having a mouth like a sharp sword. His rule has two purposes: 1) to bring salvation to his people (consisting of both Jew and Gentile) and 2) to conquer his enemies to bring victory to his persecuted people.
The imagery of his face shining like the sun alludes to a combination of Judges 5.31 and Daniel 10. The main idea behind the symbolism is that of victorious warrior. In Judges 5, the song of Deborah is recorded celebrating God's victory on behalf of his languishing people through Jael. The end of the song says, "Thus let all your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength. So the land had rest for forty years." The result of God's victory was salvation from bondage and rest in the land from all her enemies. And those who are on God's side and part of God's victory are described like the sun when it comes out in full strength--this is what the victorious Israelite warrior who rests in God's victory is described.
Later in Daniel 10 a figure comes to Daniel, to once again give him revelation from God that is supposed to encourage God's people in the midst of their affliction. And the content has to do with God's ultimate victory over his enemies. This one who comes and delivers the message is described as having a face like lightening, wearing linen girded with gold, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and body like burnished bronze and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. At the sight of this figure, Daniel collapses and is told by him "Do not fear," (once again, sound familiar?). This one is described as being in a great cosmic battle that is raging behind the scenes of history, of which history itself is a part. And at the end of the struggle, he is ultimately victorious, and all his people will share in that victory and the salvation and they will "shine like the brightness of the firmament." The victorious warrior is described as having his face like lightening and his victorious people too are described as shinning like the firmament.
The point here is that Jesus, as the son of man whose face shines like the sun, is the victorious conquering king who is putting down his enemies and bringing his people to salvation. Christ as the divine eschatological king rules as a victorious warrior bringing history and his enemies to their appointed end, as well as, ushering in eschatological salvation for his people as he consummates the new heavens and new earth. He is the divine, eschatological king, who is a victorious warrior, who is bringing the judgment of God to his enemies and salvation to his people.
It is this conquering, divine, eschatological king and warrior-judge that speaks to us in the Book of Revelation to comfort us in the midst of the battle, to call our attentions to the heavenly perspective of our current ordeal, and to warn that his judgment is coming. What better hope can be found than in being found to be in union with this Christ by faith, for those who are shall shine like him as they share in his victory. He is presently, now, exercising his messianic rule.
The Book of Revelation opens with a self-disclosed revelation from God to his church--and its principal author is the resurrected and reigning Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the author, declares to the church the will of God for their salvation from the heavenly perspective, in order to aid and guide the church into faithful perseverance as pilgrims living away from their heavenly home. Using language that hearkens back to Daniel 2 (see previous post), Jesus sets forth in Revelation the unfolding of human history that will be brought to its eschatological completion according to Christ's good pleasure. Until that time, there is a battle of cosmic proportions, raging behind the scenes of history that is bringing itself to bear on history. As such, as the victorious and conquering Christ puts his enemies down, his enemies will manifest their hatred of him and his rule by pouring out their own wrath upon the church.
For the church to bear up and persevere through this battle, Christ reveals to them what they need to know. But the real thrust of his prophetic ministry here is not in foretelling historical events to the church, as much as, it has to do with his forthtelling how the church is to live and respond to the coming affliction. And so there is a blessing attached to the reading and hearing of his words--specifically when the reading and hearing are attended by obedience to what he says. So on the Christian Sabbath, Christ calls the apostle John up into the heavenly places and delivers an audible message to the apostle that he in turn is to write down and deliver to us!
But Christ is not just any prophet and this is not his first time to reveal, or witness to, the will of God; according to verse 5, Jesus is the faithful witness. In his earthly ministry Jesus was the eschatological Word who came and dwelt with his people in order to testify of grace and truth and to make the Father known (John 1.1-18). The prophetic ministry of Jesus was basically twofold: 1) he disclosed the blessing of salvation that God was procuring for his church; and 2) he discloses the coming covenant curses for failure to repent and believe.
As Christ fulfilled this calling he came under much opposition and tribulation at the hands of evil and wicked men. But Christ did not back down and give in to the pressure to stop testifying--and that faithful testimony was then sealed with his death on the cross. Jesus' testimony in a nut shell was that he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14.6), and that everyone who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3.16); yet, his testimony led to the cross and the grave.
Revelation 1.5 goes on to say, however, that Christ did not remain in the grave, because in addition to being the faithful witness, he is also the firstborn of the dead! His faithfulness led him to more than just the cross and death--it led him to resurrection! He is the firstborn of the dead. "Firstborn" tells us that he is not the only--but the first--to be born from the dead. There are others that he will resurrect from the dead as well. His testimony is not negated by his death, but rather confirmed. It is only by way of death that one enters the glory of the resurrection. This is what it means for him to be the faithful witness who died and rose again--that in his testimony one truly finds life; not a better earthly existence--but true, resurrection, glorious, heavenly life! The one who speaks to us gives us words of life.
However, as a prophet, Jesus is also a guardian of the covenant who brings God's covenant lawsuit and speaks of the coming covenant curses. For example, in Matthew 21.44, Jesus alludes to the prophecy in Daniel 2 to tell the pharisees that because they oppose him, they are in opposition to the Kingdom of God itself. And as the prophecy in Daniel 2 foretells of the Kingdom of God as pictured by a great stone that crushes all competing kingdoms of man, so they too will share in the defeat of the Gentiles and be crushed by that same stone. In the context of the passage, it is clear that Jesus is that stone. The result of the pharisees' opposition to Christ is that they will not inherit the blessings of the kingdom, but instead will receive the curse of the covenant and be cut off from its inheritance. So the one who brings words of life because he himself received the curse of the covenant on the cross and was raised back to life, also brings words of judgment that call for repentance and faith. In Revelation 1.7, his prophetic words include not only the possibility of judgment, but the certainty of the coming judgment that had been foretold from Genesis 3. In his heavenly prophetic ministry, Christ is the mediator of God's words to his church and to all mankind of both the blessing of life and the curse of death.
The hope of the church and world, then, rests in the life and words of this divine, eschatological prophet. If you struggle to believe that there is a coming eschatological judgment of God, then look at the cross, for that judgment has already begun. And if you struggle to believe the promise of eternal life, then look at and listen to the resurrected and glorified Christ, for in him that life has already begun. The only means for the church to endure and persevere faithfully through the trials of faith is found in the one who embodies the realities of both the curse and the blessing--we must give heed to his words.
(There will be more on this theme of Christ's heavenly prophetic ministry in Revelation 2 in an upcoming post)
Thursday, March 5, 2009
"A great image. Here is another reason why the biblical Gospel call is the great embarrassment of what goes under the name of "Christianity" in the modern world: it doesn't fit the assumption that God is there to make you happy and full. Instead, only as we suffer like Christ will we be glorified with him (Rom. 8:17). But that doesn't sell very well in the marketplace. It won't bring lots of people in. And it sure doesn't fit our ideas of "God's wonderful plan for my life."
For more on the theology of suffering, see the feature article "Called to Suffering" by Theodore Georgian here.
The irony of the gospel is that God's wonderful plan for you life is suffering that leads to exaltation and glory. Despite what our flesh tells us and what we see on TV by the "Health and Wealth" charlatans, the two are not opposed to one another.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Over at the ESV Bible Blog, Crossway is making the new ESV Study Bible available for free online at their website for a limited time from March2 through March 31, 2009. All you have to do is go here and create a login and password.
The editor states at the beginning that he realizes there is a certain amount of risk in attempting an exchange like this, and so he has sought to "minimize the heat and concentrate on the light." To this end, he assures the reader that "Fesko and Gaffin are engaged in a gentlemanly debate and have each agreed that the other's presentation is fair in its argument and honest in its representation of the other's view."
- The Risk of Serious Debate
by Gregory E. Reynolds
- A Tale of Two Calvins: A Review Article
by John V. Fesko
- A Response to John Fesko's Review
by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
- Covanant and Salvation: A Review Article
by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
- Using BibleWorks 8
by Arthur J. Fox
- Using Bible Works 8 with a Macintosh Computer
by G. I. Williamson
Confessional truth, it seems to me, has always been arrived at in just this way, through thoughtful, respectful discussion within the bonds of the trusting and loving fellowship of the visible church. Until an ecclesiastical formulation—or perhaps understanding of what has already been formulated—is arrived at, every ear ought to be open, carefully listening. So let's take the risk of debate together. I have no dog in this fight, just lots of esteemed fathers and brothers in the faith seeking to disciple the nations in the truth of Scripture. Let us commend one another's work for consideration, especially when we disagree.
Monday, March 2, 2009
An English farmer, Alec Garrard, has spent the last thirty years (and is still not finished!) creating a model of Herod's Temple during the time of Jesus. There is a nice gallery of 19 images that show the different aspects of the model to help one see the breadth of his work. The model is very helpful for getting a visual aid for reading the New Testament. Mr. Garrard has also published his research for the model in a book,The Splendor of the Temple.
they are related to the Word of God and our subordinate standards . . ." However, one of the features that I really like about the report is that prior to critiquing the novel proposals concerning the doctrine of justification, the report first puts forth a clear, positive biblical/confessional understanding of justification that has been the historic position of the OPC and the Reformed tradition.
In the justification debate that is currently taking place, one of the major areas of discussion relates to the relationship of justification and sanctification. I have included below a very helpful summary of this relationship from the OPC's "Report on Justification."
Now, since I am pulling this section out of the broader context, let me include a helpful footnote from page 58 (Report)/28 (Booklet) that is meant to help the reader know that in the discussion of justification and sanctification, it is progressive sanctification that is specifically in view and not definitive sanctification:
It is important to note here, and to keep in mind throughout the discussion thatHappy reading. If you enjoy this section and would like to read the whole thing (which I highly recommend) the OPC has bound it and made it available for the low cost of $7.50 here. As the report says for itself I reiterate here, "In the interests of maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, the peace, and the unity of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the report is commended to you for study."
follows, that the term “sanctification” here is being used in its traditional Reformed sense of a progressive, inward work of God’s Spirit making believers holy. This is the meaning used in the Westminster Standards: “Sanctification is the work of God’s
free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and
are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC 35).
Some recent Reformed theologians have also spoken of a “definitive sanctification,”
indicating, with an appeal, e.g., to Rom 6:1–7:6, the believer’s once-for-all deliverance from being under the enslaving dominion of sin to being under the lordship of Christ and enslaved to righteousness; see John Murray, “Definitive Sanctification,” in Collected Writings, 2.277–93; and idem, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (1957; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 202–28. This idea is not directly under discussion here. (emphasis mine)
2. The Inseparability of Justification and Sanctification (pp. 59-63/28-30)
This quotation of WLC 77, though focusing upon the differences between justification and sanctification, also states that these blessings are “inseparably joined.” Gainsayers have constantly attempted to show the incompatibility of the biblical doctrine of justification with a genuine interest in the moral life. The apostle Paul already confronted and answered such
objections. Immediately after laying out the doctrine of justification in Rom 3–5, Paul faces his detractors: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (6:1). Shortly thereafter, Paul asks a similar question: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (6:15). In Galatians, one can again hear the challenge of the gainsayer in the background: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13). Does justification, with the grace and freedom that it bestows, make one indifferent to, or even encourage one to despise, the concern for holiness? Paul’s answer is “By no means!”94 (Rom 6:2, 15).
Part of the reason why this is true is rooted in the doctrine of union with Christ. Before the WLC and WSC address the saving blessings of effectual calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification, they affirm the union with Christ true of all believers (WLC 66; WSC 30). WLC 66 states: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are
spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Union with Christ underlies justification and sanctification and the other saving blessings, as WLC 69 goes on to explain: “The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his
mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.”
Scripture teaches this doctrine that we are justified and sanctified in union with Christ and that, correspondingly, justification and sanctification manifest that union. We are “justified in Christ” (Gal 2:17). In regard to sanctification, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Significantly, both of these passages just quoted fall in contexts in which Paul answers objections that his doctrines of justification and sanctification are incompatible. Justification and sanctification flow out of the same union with Christ. The one who is united with Christ must enjoy both justification and sanctification.
In addition to the doctrine of union with Christ, the idea of the ordo salutis makes clear that justification is prior to sanctification. This is not priority in the sense that one is somehow more important than the other. Neither is it a temporal priority, strictly speaking, for there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified. But while justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other that cannot be reversed.
Minimally, Scripture teaches that sanctification is not incompatible with a justification that comes by grace alone through faith alone. Paul, for example, after acknowledging the objection to his doctrine of justification in Rom 6:1, goes on to explain (6:2–7:6) that in fact those who by faith in Christ are united to him in his death and resurrection and so are no longer slaves to sin now live in newness of life, offering up their bodies as instruments of righteousness. Paul is clear that the grace of God in Christ that justifies also sanctifies and does not nullify sanctification, as the Reformed tradition has consistently affirmed.
Beyond this minimal perspective, however, Scripture and the Reformed tradition have made a stronger affirmation. It is not simply that justification is compatible with sanctification, but also that justification is necessary for sanctification. Reformed theologians have expressed this conviction in various ways. Calvin, for instance, when explaining why justification, “the principal
ground on which religion must be supported,” must be given such great care and attention, writes: “Unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared.”95 Turretin comments: “Justification stands related to sanctification as the means to the end.”96
These claims rest upon solid biblical and theological considerations. Christ’s words in Luke 7:47, in regard to the sinful woman who anointed him at a Pharisee’s home, are on point: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” The fact that this woman loved much was the proof that her many sins had been forgiven. If her love was possible apart from the forgiveness that comes in justification, then Christ’s appeal to this evidence loses its force. Without the experience of forgiveness, there is no love; where there is love, one can be sure that there has been forgiveness. Perhaps Paul’s most powerful statement of this necessity of justification for sanctification is Gal 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Both Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin perceived the profundity of what Paul writes here, connecting Christian liberty, and thus justification, with sanctification.97 Earlier in Galatians, Paul has argued that it is only through justification by faith in Christ that one receives freedom—and thus Calvin rightfully calls the doctrine of Christian liberty “a proper appendix to Justification.”98 Following Paul’s lead, Calvin reflects upon why the Christian’s freedom, far from discouraging good works, in fact enables them. He writes:
“Being constantly in terror so long as they are under the dominion of the law, they are never disposed promptly to obey God, unless they have previously obtained this liberty”; and later: “How can unhappy souls set themselves with alacrity to a work from which they cannot hope to gain anything in return but cursing? On the other hand, if freed from this severe exaction, or rather from the whole rigour of the law, they hear themselves invited by God with paternal
lenity, they will cheerfully and alertly obey the call, and follow his guidance.”99 For Calvin, no one can hope to begin pursuit of the good works that God requires, nor in the way he requires, apart from the peace of conscience gained only in justification.
Also relevant to note is the relationship between faith and works. As discussed above, faith is unique and thus distinct from works. But the Westminster Standards also teach that good works are never absent where faith is present. Though WLC 73 wishes to emphasize that faith justifies as an instrument and not in any other way, it does speak of “those other graces which do always accompany it” and “of good works that are the fruits of it.” Likewise, WCF 16.2 states: “Good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.” According to the Standards, therefore, good works must always accompany faith. Good works are the fruit and evidence of faith (though faith is not the fruit and evidence of
Paul affirms these truths in passages such as Gal 5:6, where he speaks of “faith working through love.” Likewise, James emphasizes that any genuine faith will be accompanied by works: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). James also connects faith and works a few verses later, while giving faith the causal priority: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (2:22). In this context, James shows that Abraham’s justification by faith (2:23; Gen 15:6) issued forth in good works, illustrated by his obedience in offering up Isaac many years later (2:21–22; Gen 22). In this connection, we may note that there is no dispute in doctrine between Paul and James on justification. Though there
have been differences among Reformed theologians on the particular exegetical details of Jas 2, many of them have effectively demonstrated the doctrinal concurrence of these two apostles. Any apparent disagreements between them (arising particularly from James’ statement that justification is “not by faith alone” in 2:24) are the result not of contradictory theologies, but of their intent to address different issues within the church and their different uses of the term “faith.” As J. Gresham Machen succinctly commented, “The faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending.”100 Even mainstream biblical scholars, with no particular interest in defending the overarching doctrinal unity of Scripture, have recognized this point.101
94 Paul’s phrase, me genoito, “strongly deprecates something suggested by a previous question or assertion” and “expresses the apostle’s abhorrence of an inference which he fears may be (falsely) drawn from his argument” (see Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 3d ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1900; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976], 79).
95 Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.1.
96 Turretin, Institutes, 2.693.
97 See, for example, Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1957), 333–77; Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1–5.
98 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.1.
99 Calvin, Institutes, 3.19.4–5.
100 J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History
(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 238–39.
101 For example, Luke Timothy Johnson writes of Paul and James: “Despite the remarkable
points of resemblance, they appear not to be talking to each other by way of instruction or correction. Rather, they seem to be addressing concerns specific to each author.” See The Letter of James, AB, vol. 37a (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 64.