Sermons

In our worship service we changed our public confession and declaration of God’s grace. Added, was the word Hallelujah. In its verbal form it is an exhortation to “Praise Yahweh…Praise The LORD.” Its verbal root הֹלֲל (Hallel), means praise, shout an acclamation! Coupled with the English transliteration, Hallelu (praise) – is “jah,” which is short for YAHWEH (Jehovah), According to Jewish tradition/theology, YAHWEH is the unpronounceable ‘personal’ name of God. It is too holy to pronounce. That’s how we derive its meaning as “Praise the LORD,” or “Praise YAHWEH.” Without the vowels, the consonants are: YHWH, which, because there are four consonants, is called a tetragrammaton, and was in perpetuity (Qere perpetuum) to be read with the name Adonai (also a biblical name, but not a ‘personal’ name). Other names of God are more of an ascription than a personal name. In Hebrew culture, it is the PERSONAL name of God that should NOT be pronounced, for he is too holy.

Interestingly, the root for shouts of praise to Yahweh, is the same for “madness & folly.” So disconcerting to philologists, they declare, though spelled the same, there are two separate roots (now even 3 if you allow for ‘shinning’ as a separate root). Why? The disparity! The disparate meanings are too chasmic, too different. But I think many get it wrong here. I think the Jew of the day heard the various meanings as coming from one root. But even if there are technically two roots (or three), the point remains. There are two very different meanings.

What are we to make of that? I think Calvin got it right when he put forth the ‘Sensus divinitatus,’ or the sense of divinity. He followed Scripture. With the creation of humankind, God imparted a sense of divinity, and because of it, we must trust; we must repose; in short, we MUST WORSHIP. It’s in our DNA. The question is: Will we wrap ourselves around the darkness or will we come to the light of Jesus Christ?

In the opening of Mark, we looked at the BEGINNING of the good news of Jesus the Christ. As with the opening of Genesis (which simply means the beginning), Mark’s gospel opens up with THE BEGINNING of the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life is another creation, another divine intent yielding another divine repose, “God saw that it was good.” Jesus INAUGURATED THE KINGDOM OF GOD. He brought it to earth. Not ideally, but really and substantially. Christ brought the beginning of the end. We are in the LAST DAYS of two parallel kingdoms. Soon Christ returns. Soon the end of the ages will be upon us, and God will come to judge the living and the dead. HALLELUJAH!!!

 

In Lutheran terms, a theology of glory has a strangle hold on the American church. We have gold crosses, gold ear rings, necklaces, and we are told that God has a wonderful plan for our lives. Oh, how partial truths grip the imagination of idolatry! In the cross God is hidden. He is humiliated, scorned, crushed, and defeated. With the shadowy promises of the good life, typologically fulfilled in Christ, the prophets called upon God to “rend the heavens and come down (Is 64:1)!” Through time the prophets knew their only hope was God’s intervention.

After 500 years of near complete prophetic silence, the heavens were torn. God did visit to save his people. But the rending was more than any ordinary human could do. He clothed himself in human flesh, so evil could the flesh of the Son of God, like the carnivore who sinks his teeth into his prey and rips the flesh in two.

But God also did his own rending. God came and died a sinner’s death. He violently tore the flesh of the Son of Man in two. It pleased God to scourge him, to open heaven’s door of violent judgment and pour out the vials and grapes of wrath upon his Son. The cross is offensive. It’s repulsive. And yet through its apparent opposite, this defeat of God, we find the victory of God; it is our salvation.

Now we are in the final waiting hours of all history. Soon the new creation shall appear in all its glory. The image of God will final its glorious expression in and through God’s holy people. God’s people once again cry out to God to “rend the heavens,” only this time he comes not under veil, hiding through suffering, but he mounts a stallion and rides with a sword in his mouth – The Warrior Lamb is returning to mete out divine justice. Are you ready? Are you anticipating? He is coming!

 

Demands, threats, and comfort all in one? Matthew has been hitting his readers hard on the demands of the gospel (gospel in the wide sense…more on that below).

Matthew 24:36-51 > we are to always be ready, or we will be caught unprepared and left behind…forever.
Matthew 25:1-13 > we are to persevere, or we will lack focus, and be left…forever
Matthew 25:14-30 > we are give due diligence, or we will be lax, and be left behind…forever
Matthew 25:31-46 > we are to render works of mercy in all areas of life, or we will be given our just deserts…forever.
 
Obedience is not a suggestion; it is demanded. The requirements are not partial; they demand our total commitment. So real and so total, if one fails to render such to God, then one will come under the terrible judgment of God.
 
Some say, these are unholy alliances; indeed, some say the threefold presence of demand, threat, and comfort cannot co-exist together. Luther felt that tension. He came very close to jeopardizing the UNITY of God. For Luther – the law kills … the gospel gives life. Other Christians have chosen a less antithetical approach to law and gospel. Those who go down that path – not recognizing substantial tension between law and gospel, threaten the COMFORT of God for sinners. We need, therefore, to make distinctions, in this case, a wide and a narrow sense. With GOSPEL (or the good news of God), its NARROW sense is pure DECLARATION AND GIFT. Scripture says, “While we were enemies, Christ died for the ungodly” (you and me!). In this narrow sense believers find THEIR COMFORT.
 
As the Heidelberg Catechism begins:
“What is thy only comfort in death and in life?”
Answer:
“That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who, with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me…”
 
So why are the elect threatened with judgment? I think NT scholar, Greg Beale, has stated things most succinctly:
 
“The elect remnant can be conformed to some degree to the spiritual anesthesia of an unbelieving community. But God delivers them from permanent identification with unbelief by shocking them out of their spiritual torpor through prophetic exhortations, which serve only to harden those who are truly apostate.”
 
We would do well to take heed to these demands and threats. They don’t make salvation by works; if by that you mean, earn it; rather, works DEMONSTRATE that true faith is in the heart.
As Luther said:
“Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.”

We have taken note of the future tense toward the end of Matthew. Regarding the kingdom, it is pointing to something that has not *yet* come. In chapter 25 vv. 14-30 Jesus speaks of the coming judgment. Some otherwise bible-believing preachers want to take a subpoint and make it the main, as if it were mainly about ‘stewardship’ of God’s unearned gifts, but the main message has to do with the rewards and punishments AT JUDGMENT. Yes, ‘the great Day of the Lord’ is the main focus. The seeking shepherd returns as the mighty warrior. He will bring his own into eternal joy, and he will judge those who have mocked his calling into ‘outer darkness.’

Some are concerned that salvation by works is presented here, though subtle, the gracious gifting of the talents indicates that what we have here is not salvation by works, but a salvation ‘that works!’ Or as bible scholar, Craig Blomberg,” states so beautifully and succinctly:

“Again, Jesus is not promoting salvation by works, but the demonstration of salvation by works.”

 

Matthew has been telling us about the Kingdom; it is like someone who found a rare pear; it is like someone who lost a coin, but now he switches to the future: Then the Kingdom of Heaven WILL BE LIKE… Why the change in tense from present to future? Answer: God is giving us a warning about the radical call to discipleship. The gospel – or Good News of God – is a great COMFORT to ears and hearts in need, but THIS COMFORT is the opposite of another kind of comfort, presumptuous comfort that comes from a half-hearted embrace. THAT kind of comfort is eternally dangerous, for it indicates a divided heart of allegiance, and God does not share his glory. Their comfort is one that allows two masters, but they are in delusion that God would share such purposeful dual citizenship. Even when they approach him, the use of his name is familiar, “Lord, Lord …” But he answers, “I never knew you.”

It would be a mistake to speak of the preparation as something that we do on our own. While much has been discussed as to the meaning of lamp oil (and from this I think it best left open), what cannot be allowed is a crass human effort that contravenes GRACE. This preparation, therefore, must be DEMONSTRATIVE in nature. In other words, such preparedness must be “evidence for” the regenerative work of God, not a true human prequel. Why the threats? I think the great biblical scholar Greg Beale has put it well:

“The elect remnant can be conformed to some degree to the spiritual anesthesia of an unbelieving community. But God delivers them from permanent identification with unbelief by shocking them out of their spiritual torpor through prophetic exhortations, which serve only to harden those who are truly apostate.”

Simply put, yes, God comforts. He comforts us sometimes when we think we are unrecoverable, unlovable; yet, the same God also challenges; he warns; he threatens, and this for our good. He knows what we need and when we need it.

 

Something has all gone wrong. Another shooting. At least twenty are dead. It’s tragic. But the human heart is tragic. We live in bubbles of self absorption. We intentionally hurt others. Sometimes this hatred, jealousy and envy spills over into the taking of another’s life. Micah, the prophet of God, has no other metaphor to describe our corruption than that of cannibalism (Micah 3:1-12). With Jeremiah, the prophet, “Our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9).

Jesus came to inaugurate a different kingdom, a different kind of engagement with each other. It was – and continues to be – a radical agenda. It requires a divine miracle. It’s a transference from one kingdom to another. Luther had a latin descriptor called, “incurvatus in se” (a turning in on oneself), and declared that Christ’s sacrifice enabled an outward, an ‘other’ focus, where empathy, compassion, kindness and truth prevailed. His kingdom, and accompanying call, even extends to one’s enemies!

Paradoxically, we should be slow to pursue our own honor and service, in part, because we seek to bestow honor on others. If you are looking for a life-changing message, a life-changing truth, you need look no further – it is Christ and him crucified, and the bestowal of an abundant life of service and honor toward others, because one is enveloped in the life of God.

Faith, hope and love remain. The greatest of these is love.

Does God commanding something, make it right? Would that not mean there is no possible EVALUATION that one can enter into, when evaluating? God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Would you have done that? Was the command a just command? This is a complicated inquiry, and I do not tackle that here nor in the message, but there is some truth here. God will not – indeed cannot – contravene his own nature. As difficult it may be to sort through this, it is a very, very, comforting truth.

Human ethics are grounded in that comforting thought, and so God can declare – “Be holy” because He IS holy. It all flows. It is an inner delight to know that the God of the universe affirms that our holiness will flow out of his. He becomes the lover of my soul. The one in whom I cannot be without. As CS Lewis described our longing for beauty:

“We want something…which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

Praise God that we are in possession of this longing, in that we have been UNITED with Christ, in his death, in his life and resurrection!

 

It’s a difficult concept: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s. What does it all mean? Frankly, I’m not sure. I am sure, however, that one must not let something…anything, get between you and Jesus; that much I do know. There seems to have been some sort of compromise in the issuance of coins between Israel and Herod (ultimately representing Rome). The Jews were able to pay some taxes with a coinage that did NOT have Caesar’s image on them, nor the jingle, “Tiberium Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” The rulers of the day sought to trap Jesus. They thought they had him in a corner, but instead of being check-mated, he revealed their hypocrisy. He asked for a coin, and they happened to have one on hand (the very thing they pretended to have scruples over). In effect, Jesus neutralized the graven image issue, and rendered his oft-quoted quip, “Render to Caesar…Render to God…”

Today, we are in danger of succumbing to a kind of nationalism that was present back in Jesus’ day. The Zealots wanted to overthrow the Romans and tried on several occasions. They failed miserably – eventually leading to Jerusalem’s destruction. There is no room in God’s kingdom for sharing God’s glory. As one of our members is fond of saying, “Salvation isn’t coming on AirForce One.” May we seek repentance and give God his rightful place in our lives.

 

If you thought homosexuality has caused God’s judgment…think again…think Scripture.

Recently, some prominent evangelicals have claimed that Katrina, and most recently Harvey and Nate, are judgments of God because of the sin of homosexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Because apostolic witness says that same-sex intimacy is evidence of God’s judgment ALREADY in motion; in other words, homosexuality isn’t ‘the cause’; it is ‘evidence of’ A PRIOR judgment (Ro 1:24-27). If we want this nation, this American experiment, or this church, to be turned around, we better start with a serious examination of the real cause(s) of God’s judgment. Jesus was castigated by the religious community for being “a wine bibber” (some thought he drank too much) and “a friend of sinners” (some thought he chilled with the wrong crowd). My sense is, if we want to turn things around, we should figure out what has caused the judgment in the first place. Is it formalism? Is it neglect of the poor? Is it our heartless and faithless marriages? Is it avarice? Is it our overall sexual indulgences, e.g., pornography, sex outside of promise, treating people as objects…an idolatrous nationalism? May God have mercy, and may we come under similar attack, as Jesus did, for the glory of God.

 

Life got you down? Maybe you need suffering? Maybe you need re-framing? Maybe not. Maybe you just need the presence of a friend. But suffering is not new, and this may be an encouragement.

More grumbling. Having just had a similar experience (Ex 15), they now (Ex 17) are faced with more lack of provision, and before we get too boastful, do keep in mind it was the third day with no water. There’s always a tension to keep in the Christian life. Here, we witness the experience of the present lack of provision (and we’re not talking a lack of money for vacation), and the past where God provided abundantly; hence, the issue was GOD’S FAITHFULNESS.

I’ve always said that God can handle our anger…our push back, but be prepared for a little push back from God. His GOAL, because he is all-good, is to make something beautiful…a trusting sentient creature who holds tenaciously to the premise that God provides, that God is GOOD, that God is ABLE.

Premises? That’s correct. Premises are important to the Christian faith, but a believer must have more than premises. He or she must have the transformational encounter with the inner being of God’s heart, and that comes through knowing (in the fullest sense of the word) him in Christ.

 

 

We NEED to see God work. We are NOT atom-like billiards, all independent, all self sufficient. The Triune God is an excellent example. My son, Daniel, asked me many years ago, after I had said that God created something out of nothing, “What was God doing before he created everything?” That was a very, very profound question, and the answer is equally profound: He was ENJOYING HIMSELF. When I say we NEED to see God at work, I simply mean that the text is abundantly clear – God knows this, which is why he intervenes – SO THAT we will know His Glory, SO THAT we will know HIM. Part of His Glory-cloud is his bountifulness – his benevolence and his beneficence, or if you will, his GOODNESS and HIS ACTS OF GOODNESS. God is a magnanimous giver. God is a gracious giver. He gives to the non-deserving and he gives LIBERALLY.
 
Our lives do not often look like we are the receivers of these blessings, and when things start looking like the opposite we GRUMBLE. Faith – in a good way – teases us forward, but we soon realize that sanctification is not complete, and like Peter, we sink. What are we to make of all of that? Don’t we have the resources as New Covenant people to walk by faith? Yes we do, and we should. The issue, it seems to me, is authenticity. With quick principled insight, we chide those Israelites, and many times they need to be chided, but from cover to cover we find phrases like, “SO THAT they will know that I am the Lord,” and “THEN they will know that I am the Lord, and will see my glory.” To be sure, sometimes these are in the context of a display of his power on unbelievers, e.g., Pharaoh, but other times its in the midst of his dealings with his bride, and he longs to have them see and know. I think, what I’ll call ‘super piety’, often misses these statements, and their meaning. I think Scripture says WE NEED TO SEE God’s work in our midst. God’s work is not ALWAYS revealed under ITS OPPOSITE, e.g., blessings thru suffering and tragedy. It is true that FAITH enables us to see when experience fails to part the curtain between the temporal and eternal (I believe there is a tension-filled already/not yet parting this side of glory), but THE HUNGER TO SEE is not wrong; indeed, its absence may reflect the sin of unbelief. God would rather have transparent honesty than holy formality. There is a biblical notion of Godly DISCONTENT.

 

We had the great honor and privilege of having Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Dr. Craig Blomberg, come and give us an overview of his book, “Can We Still Believe The Bible?” This is part 2.
 
There were many issues that could have derailed this event, beginning with the planning of it and right up to the minutes before it began! But it’s the latter that unfolded in chaos. We lost electricity on Friday, the night Dr Blomberg was to speak to area pastors, spouses and leadership. Electricians had been there all week as they tried to install wiring for our furnaces, which were to be installed ‘before’ the event (the old furnaces actually ‘blew up’ months before), and the electricians were having difficulties. It had something to do with the neutral wire. They were forced to tie in to old knob and tube wiring. Just to give you a sense of the challenge, knob and tube wiring stopped being installed in 1938 (ours was installed in 1928!). The electricians were from the Scottsbluff/Gerring area. At the end of the day on Friday, they went home. We were worried about a fire (the original building burned to the ground in 1907, one year after it was built!). It was like the Twilight Zone. Lights went dim, out, back on, and extra bright. Some lights exploded!
 
The electricians returned early Saturday morning (they are not open on Sat), so that the 10am event opened to the public might roll out with some normalcy! We knew the event would take place. Everyone brought blankets, space heaters (but no electricity!), coats, and Dr. Blomberg was here! 🙂 But would he have PowerPoint? Would we be able to record the event? At the very last minute the electricians had to change the wiring so Dr. Blomberg could have electricity, and we would have a chance to get it recorded. We had to dismount the entire recording apparatus so that the recorder could capture the PowerPoint (the angle was all wrong), but more importantly, so that we could get power to it. We ended up with several outlets that the electricians managed to get power flowing. Then, I couldn’t find the SD cards! The introduction started, and my beloved wife sped home to find the SD cards. I were so worried about the wireless audio system that I failed to get electricity to the recording device! The recorder’s battery gave us 4 minutes of recording before its battery died, so part one was mostly lost. The event was a half hour late to start. We finally got electricity to the recorder that enabled us to get most of part 2.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “Let’s just get back to the church of the New Testament.” When I hear that, I can receive it hospitably, but another part of me responds, “You can have the 1st Century church; she was filled with troubles on many fronts, and I do not want to return!” The hospitable side of me understands the phrase to mean, “Let’s get back to the Apostolic Church, grounded in Apostolic belief and practice,” and to that I say, “Amen!” SIN is the missing variable in all utopias, and the church has spawned its share. e.g., cities on a hill, monasteries, and an array of others (I’m not against monasteries per se) . One great thing about our holy book is its realism. The failures from kings to apostles are there for all to see. And why is that? Answer: Because it is God who justifies; it is God who regenerates; it is God who sanctifies; it is God who glorifies. The last phrase is verse 3 of Romans 14, summarizes things nicely: “God has welcomed him.” The answer for a vibrant, disciplined, and healthy church is none other than the living in and through God’s acceptance. This alone truly stops bickering, backstabbing, slandering, and factions. God’s radical acceptance, and the work that cleared the way, is the reality on which all true growth and maturity rests.

 

Ruling Elder, Ed Wright, gives a message to CRPC on the close connection between the nature of faith and the exercise of faith, asking us, “Is a faith one does not plan to use, any faith at all?” The implied answer is: No. Faith by definition is active. As Luther would say: “We are justified by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone.”

 

There are a total of six commands (imperatives) in the first eleven chapters of Romans, five of which are found in chapter six. There are forty-nine commands in chapters 12-16. Clearly, Paul builds a system of ethics on what God has done for us in Christ. This keeps us from antinomianism (against, or without law) and legalism (codes of behavior). God continually calls us to become what He has declared us to be in Christ!

 

Thomas Schreiner is correct to point out that the running theme in Romans 9-11 has to do with Paul’s unyielding affirmation and his argumentation that God remains faithful, even as ethnic Israel did not – in mass – respond to the gospel. How is it possible? This is one of the biggest reasons I lean toward unconditional election. This would have been THE PLACE to usher in the FREE WILL argument, i.e., God remains faithful, because in man’s freewill he is rejecting their Messiah.
 
But his argument takes a different form. He accepts the burden of the challenge, but instead of a recourse to freewill, he speaks of an Israel within Israel, i.e., a remnant. It’s God’s election in and through he remnant that keeps God’s faithfulness intact. But perhaps more importantly is the notion of ‘foreknow’. Both in Romans 8:29 and 11:2 the text says that God “foreknows.” Foreknows what? The Arminian says that God foreknows THE FAITH of those who will believe, but this necessitates ADDING an entire phrase to the both texts that IS NOT there. Better to let the text stand as foreknowing THEM. I think the foreknowing spoken of here, is really, in essence, FORELOVING…those whom he foreloved. It knows no ethnic nor gender boundaries. Throughout the text of the OT, the word used for the deepest part of human relationships, i.e., sexual intimacy, is in the LXX, know – Abraham knew Sarah…Isaac knew, and so on and so forth. To foreknow, then, is to fore-LOVE.
 
Now divine election is not for the purpose to create an us/them mentality – “We’re elected not you.” This silliness needs to be separated from the delight in being set apart for a deep and abiding intimacy with God. The focus of election ought to be peace and comfort, not speculation or arrogance.

 

“Paul, have you lost your mind? I mean, when the text (Deut 30:12-13) forbids us to say let’s go up to the heavens, let’s cross the sea, it is simply saying GOD is ALREADY near, in his word, in his precepts. Furthermore, when you speak of righteousness that comes through faith, well, that just butchers the text of Deuteronomy. It clearly says that wisdom, which is the law of God, comes from doing and keeping, not simply believing! Paul, you are confused and a terrible interpreter of Scripture!”

Okay, so that’s pretty much what a Jew could tell Paul. But we need to keep in mind that the promise to Abraham PRECEDED the giving of the law and circumcision – it was the act of BELIEVING, then, that was the beginning of HIS promises. The law, which came 430 years ‘after’ the promise to Abraham, cannot annul the promises God had previously made – and BY believing…Abraham WAS RECKONED (or considered) righteous.

Some say Paul was involved in what theologians call ‘Pesher’ interpretation, whereby you (sometimes very creatively) render an interpretation that is not readily apparent on a first reading, and as interesting as that may be, I think Paul is leaning heavily on Abraham, and he sees FULFILLMENT of wisdom in Deuteronomy through God’s PRIOR dealings with Abraham. The identification of the WORD in Deuteronomy as CHRIST, resulted from Paul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus. THAT word, i.e., Christ, is given to us precisely because CHRIST DOES SOMETHING for us that we could not do for ourselves. He became the SIN-BEARER of our sins, so he could be the giver of OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!

 

The notion of hell can be like fitting a square peg in a round hole; the contemplation of those whom we know and love, in hell, can tear us up from the inside. But if we’re going to let the text speak, then we must place our faith in the already/not yet trajectory, whereby the future portrays God’s people rejoicing in the just judgment of God, “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just…” (Rev 19:1-2). In faith, at the end of the ages, we believe evil will be revealed in its fullness, and God’s people will rejoice in the fury of the lamb’s wrath.

But what about in the interim? If Paul is a safe guide (and we presume he is) then like the geysers of Yellowstone, redemptive longing will find its way through the prospect of God’s judgment, and we will do everything in our power to prevent the prospective judgment of God from becoming a full-orbed reality, i.e., I will become all things to all that I might gain/win those for Christ. Indeed, in pondering hell, we might find ourselves “could wishing” to take their place. Yes, hell is ‘that’ bad. The nineteenth-century Lutheran scholar, Isaak Dorner, said that what we witness in Paul’s longing to “become cursed,” is: “a spark from the fire of Christ’s substitutionary love.” Following Dorner, the great Scottish theologian, James Denney, comments on Paul’s posture:

“There is a passion in it more profound even than that of Moses’ prayer in Ex 32:32. Moses identifies himself with his people, and if they cannot be saved would perish WITH THEM; Paul could find it in his heart, were it possible, to perish FOR THEM.” (emphasis mine).

So even with the allowance of the ‘COULD WISH’ of the imperfect tense of Paul’s verbiage (Ro 9:3), it is clear: Paul longed for the salvation of those whom he feared lost to the point of enduring their punishment. In that longing, Paul reflected the spark from the fire of Christ’s suffering. The coming suffering of those heading for destruction should prompt us to do no less. If it does not do this, then we have not truly pondered the reality of hell. The church needs to get to the highways and byways and seek the lost for glory of God (Luke 14:23).

 

Union with Christ…produces a walking with Christ (Ro 8:13) that demonstrates a “putting to death” of sinful passions and behavior. The natural life of a Christian is a supernatural life. The Spirit who brings about our union with Christ, is the same person who energies this new-found life in Christ. It is relational; it is intimate, and it flows out of our ‘adoption’ as ‘sons and daughters’ of God. The Holy Spirit bears witness, not just to Christ and his work, but it bears witness TO OUR SPIRITS that we are children of God (Ro 8:15-16). As Calvin said, “He alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him…,” which produces a “sweetness…of the divine goodness.” This is nothing less than a vibrant and dynamic personal relationship, which I think helps explain why God created us male and female; marriage testifies of this divine life (Eph 5). “Abba” is a transliteration from the Aramaic, and while some have said it equates to ‘daddy’, it is better understood along the lines of “Father, my dear father (Murphy, via Schreiner),” which is the “cry” of the believer’s heart.

 

Romans 7 has caused theologians great consternation, and yet no consensus exists. For some, the bondage of Romans 7:15ff are simply filled with too much bondage for them to describe a believer in Christ. For others, they are directed to believers and reflect a focus, perhaps a hyperbolic portrayal, of the Christian life.

That being acknowledged, the three uses of the law are generally acknowledged, with the first use as that of driving home to our awareness the fact that we are law breakers. It heightens sin and reinforces the sinfulness of sin in our awareness. As a theologian of the cross, I stand with Luther on this – God first ‘attacks’ us. He calls us out and brands us as are before Him without His Christ. We are covenant breakers.

But he attacks us for yet higher purposes. He brings us to despair so that we might be naked and stand before him as we ‘truly are.’ Luther says we must imitate God, and we too must call things as they truly are. And for what higher purpose? To give Himself to us in His beloved Son, Jesus the Christ. He envelopes us IN His Son, so that He can call us something different, something beautiful – something in whom there is NO CONDEMNATION! (Ro 8:1). God’s end goal is to give us Himself. He took our condemnation; He took our sin. And now to call something what it truly is – is to declare those in His Son ‘Not guilty’. There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Hallelujah!!!

 

What does the normal Christian life look like? Has the dominion of sin been broken? Was Paul using hyperbole in describing the Christian battle, or was he speaking as a pious Jew who lacked power and was therefore in bondage to sin and the law? Was Paul utilizing the ‘historical present’ in Ro 7:14-25 or was he really speaking in the present as the Apostle? Does the statement in Ro 7:14 of “being sold under sin” conflict with Ro 6:2 of having “died to sin” and Ro 8:2 as having “been set free from the law of sin and death?”

 

The Apostle Paul grounds all the imperatives (commands) in the indicatives (what God has done on our behalf). In one sense we could say the maxim is: “Be who you are,” but as several theologians have said, it’s probably more accurate to say, “Become what you are becoming,” e.g., Dunn, Kasemann, Moo and Schreiner. Thomas Schreiner hit the nail on the head when he summarized the Biblical worldview of Paul as: “The outworking of the imperative in everyday existence reveals that the indicative is truly operating. Without the gracious work of God as a priority, any attempt to carry out the imperative is doomed to abysmal failure or misguided self-worship.”

 

Carolyn Haeffelin brings us the Word of God.

 

There is a literary move by Paul in Romans, and it has to do with the phrase: in/with/through “the Lord Jesus Christ.” New Testament scholar with new commentary on Romans, Michael Middendorf, cites the great exegete and bible scholar, CE Cranfield, who said regarding the placement of this phrase, that it “is scarcely accidental.” The phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” is found in Romans 1 and 15 & 16, and Middendorf said these function as “bookends.” These bookends direct our attention to the INNER part of Romans 5,6,7 and 8, where the same phrase gets injected with great force – both numeric force and strategic force. What do I mean by this?

Ok, most think of Lordship salvation from the point of view of the believer. Can we have Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord? But I want to direct our attention to Lordship salvation from the divine perspective. And when we do that, the great theologian, Nygren, said, “All the old tyrants – Wrath, Sin, the Law and Death – are cast down, and we become Christ’s and live under Him in His kingdom,…” Some may not agree with exactly how Nygren lays this out, but we do find these themes in Romans:

Romans 5 > condemnation
Romans 6 > presence of sin
Romans 7 > curse of the law
Romans 8 > body of death

Do you see the difference in focus? It’s all about what God has done! At the cross, our LORD Jesus Christ took care of our relationship to: condemnation (Ro 5), sin (Ro 6), law (Ro 7) and death (Ro 8). That’s a divine perspective on Lordship salvation! Hallelujah!!

 

One of greatest contributions of Christianity to the world has been the ineradicable dignity of humankind as the image-bearer of God. Just as it was no accident that science grew from the fertile soil of a Christian worldview, likewise, international law was given its impetus from a Jesuit who was compelled to affirm the inherent rights of others, i.e., non-Christians, for they too possessed inherent dignity. Without doubt our greatness stems from this wonderful truth. Christians ought to be those who walk with head held high, yet at the same time, engage the world in fervent mutual servant-hood (Gen 1 & 2). This dignity was imparted by a royal king who reigns and rules from his sovereign throne, who engages history, predicts history, and this because he controls history, i.e., go to Galilee (Mat 26-28). God is a speaking God, and Scripture is a direct result. Therefore, we have been given a directive to bring this revealed knowledge of Him to a lost and dying world that – contrary to Senator Bernie Sanders – stands condemned before the tribunal of God. Jesus Christ is the only liberator; he is the second Adam, who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Lay everything aside; find him whatever it costs you – you will not be disappointed!

 

Why the cross? Why the death of the God-man? Questions such as these have been grappled with since the beginning of Christianity. On the one hand, we have a judicial system whereby arguments are made as to the ‘state of affairs’ and a judge (or jury) weighs the merits and pronounces judgment. If guilty as charged, a sentence is given. On the other hand, during a non-criminal, yet moral failing, humans can ‘forgive one another’. Certainly if we can, and God is of a higher order, then why can’t God merely say to us – “You are forgiven?” Let’s be clear, according to Scripture, none of us can forgive ourselves, let alone another. To be sure, we humans do ‘Let bygones be bygones’. We can choose not to hate and to communicate acceptance in spite of the wrong – but to truly forgive, is something that no human being has the authority to do. What we have in God is the marriage of the judicial and the personal, so that when God forgives he truly does, and he does so on the merits and the compliance of justice by means of the sin-bearing lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!! After his resurrection, Christ meets with his disciples and ‘breathes’ on them. The word translated as ‘breathe’ is what is known as a hapax legomena – words that occur only once in the Greek New Testament (the language the Scriptures were originally written). In the Septuagint – a group of 70 scholars who translated the OT into Greek (since that was the common language of the day), has this word, and when we look there, it is found in two very conspicuous places. When God created Adam (Genesis 2:7) and when God told Ezekiel to gather up the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The breathing then is connected to the original creation and a prophetic dynamic; both instilling life into the lifeless. It is here that the meaning of the text should be gleaned. Pentecost is upon us and by his breath, his recreating breath of regeneration, true eternal life is breathed into his bride, the church. We now are the walking tabernacle/sanctuary of God.

 

The hour has come. But how are we to understand that ‘hour’? Is it literal? Is it metaphorical? Is it a little bit of both? Are there layered meanings? I think, like the meaning of the gospel itself, it is rich in metaphor, yet grounded in historical particulars. Of course what comes to mind first is the cross; surely The Son of God had this in mind as he brought to a conclusion his teaching of the disciples and headed to Golgotha. But there’s more. It’s the hour of his glory: his death, his resurrection, his ascension and the implementation of his rule and reign, i.e., marked by the sending of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will bring to remembrance; he will instill ‘the obedience of faith’, so that his bride will be transformed, even as she eagerly awaits his return!

 

The Apostles’ Creed says that Christ descended into hell. The PROBLEM? The earliest manuscript that has that particular phrase is from the fourth century, and it really wasn’t fully, universally and authoritatively accepted until the 9th century (functionally accepted the 6th – 8th century). The MEANING? That is a harder nut to crack. It depends on several factors. Are you talking the original framers of the creed (which were not the apostles, and we really don’t know who), the early church, Roman Catholics, Protestants…? Yes, it gets complicated. The verse in 1 Peter 3:19 is the main stay for the theology of Christ’s decent, but it is not really clear what nor to whom Christ proclaimed. Was it to the powers of darkness, only the people during Noah’s arc-building or to all who lived before Christ? Did the proclamation contain an offer to accept Christ, since they had never heard of them? All of these questions the church has grappled with, and I will not pretend to have all the answers. Some of the reformers took a ‘reader’s response’ approach and interpreted Christ’s descent into hell as that of undergoing divine retribution in our place. What IS CLEAR is that Christ is Lord and his proclamation entail the heralding of such good news!

 

It’s not mentioned explicitly in the text of John 14:1, but we know what’s coming: Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and a discouraged (lost?) faith on the part of the disciples; yet Jesus’ command was firm – “Let not your hearts be troubled.” I think bible scholar Frederick Dale Bruner is correct to translate it, “Let not your hearts be TOO troubled.” Those coming events would have been excruciating. Unphased by events is not holy living; it’s denial. Christians don’t deny reality; they live in it through the experiences by the power of the Spirit. That being said, what is the impetus for not living or wallowing in our troubles? As Peter said, it having TASTED OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD!

 

Many Christians walk around in shame. They feel the sting. Scripture has instructions for slaves and masters. In our history many Christian theologians attempted to justify slavery as an on-going institution established by God. How archaic and backwards is that!? As believers we must not hide our head in the sand; indeed, when looked at historically (the church was a persecuted lot and in no position to offer any comprehensive vision for social order. The church was birthed in real history, sin and all), contextually (trajectories point to sin as a cause of slavery, and implied adjustments, e.g., Onesimus and Philemon), biblically (slaves were to fear God, which meant an allegiance to God first, and such entailed their persecution) and socially (the elimination of slavery came from within Christianity), then I think we can determine slavery’s origin is to be found in the disruption of sin, and that any guidance for slaves within Scripture was patterned after the example of Jesus Christ himself, i.e., he was willing to undergo unjust treatment for a more holy allegiance, i.e., God.

 

God loves backdoors; he loves side windows; he loves to show up just when you think it’s over. But why? Is God just a trickster? Does he just love to play mind games? No. He takes sin seriously, and its capacity for unbelief is filled with enormity. To counter it, he must come through the back door. To render unbelief impotent, he must come in utter weakness and defeat. And he has done so through the cross.

 

What kind of evidence is needed to support the claim that Jesus has risen from the dead? Some, e.g., Hume, Sagan, would aver that one would need ‘extraordinary evidence’ to support the ‘extraordinary claim’. Without jumping into that debate, if we assume such (one of the problems is defining terms, which Sagan never did), then it would seem the criterion could be met and the tables turned. No other explanation makes much sense, e.g., stolen body by either Jesus’ followers (why do that?), or by Roman authorities (just show them the body), wrong tomb? (again, just show them the body) and legend (would you die for a myth through deception?).

Furthermore, from the threads of Scripture, the resurrection WAS ITSELF the ‘extraordinary evidence’ for previous ‘extraordinary claim’ that Jesus was God, who could forgive sin (Rom 1:1-4)!! But is probabilistic reasoning equal to faith? No. Scripture portrays faith as a gift of God whereby I trust (enthrone as God) Christ to be the person he said that he was, and the work he said he would do. It is essentially a relational dynamic within the context of revealed truth pertaining to the person and work of Christ. https://vimeo.com/213436183

Who is the servant in Isaiah? With purposeful ambiguity, yet with sufficient clarity, the answer is complicated. However, when all the data is analyzed the servant-redeemer (Is 50, 53) holds the most prominent place and has the greatest explanatory power. Without doubt, the servant is literal and collective Israel, but who also exemplifies traits that invite the wrath and judgment of God. Israel as ‘servant’ is blind and deaf (Is 42:19-20). Furthermore, Jesus as servant ‘counters’ the very attributes responsible for the displeasure of God. He has ears that were not given over to rebellion (Is 50:5); and yet, he undergoes a persecution (Is 50:6) that is redemptive (Is 53). All in all there is more than one SERVANT in Isaiah. As mentioned, the most prominent (Jesus) now has a tongue given to him by God that knows how to speak and sustain with a word those who are weary (Is 50:4)!!

 

In what was most likely a vision given directly by God, Ezekiel is taken to a valley full of “very” dry bones. God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Mindful that unburied bones indicated God’s curse, Ezekiel safely responded, “You, know, Lord.” God put his fearful prophet to the task of prophesying, and he commanded these bones to assemble, acquire flesh and skin, but the question still remained unanswered, “Can these bones live?” Recapitulating the original act of Adam’s creation, God BREATHES LIFE into these fleshly warriors. The ongoing continuous presence of HIS Spirit is the mark of the new covenant.   Can I be sure of my destiny? Short answer is: Absolutely! But after establishing that tremendous truth, which is based on the ‘reckoning’ of the righteousness of Christ, there’s even more!! Between now and our glorious end, there are the moments where suffering abounds, and Christians are never to be in the mere mode of ‘waiting’. To the contrary, God’s great work of transformation is taking place – creating a Christ-like character that will shine in glory forever and ever. This transformation produces hope in the here and now, for God has poured out his love, i.e., seen in the self-sacrificing act of Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

 

Not quite to the level of Abbott and Costello, nonetheless, the interrogative (who?, what?, how?…) in the healing of the blind man in John 9:1-41 is a literary feat yielding a harvest as to the identity of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the ‘who’ of Jesus never gets asked, until …

 

Can I be sure of my destiny? Short answer is: Absolutely! But after establishing that tremendous truth, which is based on the ‘reckoning’ of the righteousness of Christ, there’s even more!! Between now and our glorious end, there are the moments where suffering abounds, and Christians are never to be in the mere mode of ‘waiting’. To the contrary, God’s great work of transformation is taking place – creating a Christ-like character that will shine in glory forever and ever. This transformation produces hope in the here and now, for God has poured out his love, i.e., seen in the self-sacrificing act of Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

 

Those in Israel seeking righteousness were instructed – by God – to look to Abraham. Unfortunately, a culture within Israel had a romantic view of Abraham. From Jubilees 23:10 it was said of Abraham that he , “…was perfect in all his deeds…” Ironic, isn’t it, that such could be said of man who out of fear, pimped out his wife Sarah as his sister? In Romans 4:1-3 Paul tackles the Abraham issue, showing from Scripture that he was “declared or reckoned” as righteous when he believed, which was before he was circumcised. Believing, then, is the medium of God’s reckoning, not law keeping.

 

Jesus’ style was filled with a variety of communication modes. He exhibited hyperbole, satire, conundrums, tensions, directness, indirectness, parables, stories, and the list could go on. Here, on the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells his disciples to let their light shine, but then he seems to say hide your good works. How are we to understand these seeming conflicted statements?

We apologize for the framing of this video. A button was apparently bumped, which shrunk the frame size.

 

Conundrums continue as we witness the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes in history. Smoke arises from the kilns (furnaces) after destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (Ge 19:28), and God’s smoke arises from the kilns on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24), where he is ratifying a covenant-treaty with Israel. How is this riddle solved? In short, it is solved by bringing together God’s twofold witness on the Mount of Transfiguration and Golgotha. In the former we get a glimpse and foretaste of God’s full divine presence and favor, which is then contrasted with the fury and outpouring of God’s wrath on Golgatha. In the former we behold brilliance, glory and overwhelming power. In the latter we see weakness, submission and apparent humiliation. Given sin, there is only one path glory – that of suffering, humiliation and apparent demise.

 

After declaring the Law to be DURABLE and RELEVANT, Jesus begins to ‘contrast’ HIS authority with what they have heard had been said to them concerning various issues, e.g., love, lawsuits, insults, etc. Jesus’ use of the ‘adversative’ (but), has troubled bible scholars til this very day. Indeed, one will search in vain for ‘hating your enemies’; to the contrary, they were to love their enemies, e.g., Exodus 23:4-5; Job 31:29-30; Prov 24:17-18. A clue seems to be Jesus’ phrase ‘You have heard’ and not ‘It is written’. The Jewish people had a long oral tradition, and it was to this ‘bantering’ around the meaning of the law, where the ‘hate the enemy’ was probably derived. We see a lot of hyperbole in Jesus’ communication style, e.g., giving cloak and tunic would make one naked! That being said, something of non like-manner response is called up on from God’s people, when they encounter insults and the like. There is no casuistry (rule book) whereby every scenario can be laid out is a goal. We are to love our enemies; we are to suppress the initial impulse to meet aggression with aggression. The good of our enemy is to always be before us. This entails SELF CONTROL and is the mark of true manliness and spirituality.

 

Understanding the Sermon on the Mount is not easy. There are over 35 different interpretations, but most boil it down to eight or nine. Jesus’ relationship to the law was a concern; after all, crowds were following him and liking what they heard. However, he spoke with what seemed to be a self-appointed authority, “You have heard…but I tell you” and he even implied a Messianic self awareness, i.e., “I have come…” Bottom-line, Jesus did not come to ‘set aside’ the Law, but to FULL-FILL all that the Law truly means; he opened the pedals of the flower to its blossoming purpose! Jesus’ relationship to the Law, then, was one of fulfillment (v. 17). He also affirmed the Law’s durability (v. 18) and then finally, Jesus affirmed ethical relevance for the Law (v. 19).

 

Matthew and Luke seem to emphasize diametrically opposed notions. Luke the earthly poor and hungry, and Matthew the spiritual poor and spiritually hungry. Who’s right? Is Matthew? Is Luke? Are both? Are neither? The best approach to date seems to be BOTH. The poor are those who find themselves in situations whereby they experience poverty, brokenness, want, but who also trust in the Lord. Likewise, the rich, who sit under the eschatological WOES of God, are those who seem to have forgotten God and who ascribe to themselves a kind of law-giving status. They often mock God and abuse others. https://vimeo.com/home/myvideos

 

Christianity turned the world upside down. But how? Some have said by ‘inverting values of honor’. Instead of the strong and powerful, God through Christ comes in weakness, comes in vulnerability, submits to ‘the state’. He is judged by humanity; we put him (God) to death on a cross, but little did we know, it was the most egregious violation of justice – by us – that God used to save us. This is what Paul in part is getting at when he speaks of “the foolishness of what was preached” that saves those who are called and believe. Both the Greeks and Jews scoffed at this ‘inversion’ of power. To them, such was inherently weak and shameful. But God through Christ takes the plunge into human history and bears its scorn, ridicule and judgment, and thereby, he saves it! Soli Deo gloria!

 

Nearly 750 years later, Matthew connects the dots of prophecy. During the writing of the book of Isaiah, the identity of the Davidic ruler, the Servant and the Messenger all had contemporary options. Some have argued for only one possible identity, a future option, i.e., Jesus Christ, while others advocate double fulfillment – one contemporary, e.g., Hezekiah, Isaiah, their children, etc., and another that is future, which would be Christ. Still others say the contemporary options during Isaiah’s time were foremost on the people’s mind, but were ambiguous. All came up short up short, i.e., Ahaz, Hezekiah, et. al., but the important lesson from contemplation of contemporary options was to establish a pattern that pointed to yet another who would actually fulfill those roles, and that person is Jesus Christ.

 

We don’t often think of a lamb as a warrior, and nature confirms that suspicion. Lambs are helpless. God wants us to scrap our sensibilities on this one. He has his own lamb. Yes, it is silent as it goes to its sacrifice, but the lamb’s eternal status follows other apocalyptic surprises, like a city with no need for a sun. Why? Because the lamb is its lamp! God’s lamb is of another dimension, and as such, it blows away all our preconceived notions. NOW, the lamb is a warrior and he is waging battle, but his consummation of victory, his kingly parade, comes later. NOW he hides even as he reveals. No apparent rule or reign here we surmise. Don’t be one who is surprised at the end of history. Join the lamb, and be on “the right side of history!”