Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dekker's "Thr3e" - Pelagianism Alive and Well

I have to admit it: I'm a junky for the psycho-thrillers. Movies, that is, not books. I can tell you that watching "The Ring" in 2002 marked a coming of age for me and my movie-going experiences. So, when a friend told me about this Christian fellow, Ted Dekker, whose novel was made into a nail-biting thriller, I was intrigued.

The movie, Thr3e, was released in 2006. I recently had the opportunity to watch the film with friends on home video. Not that I'm a movie critic (nor is this blog devoted to such content), but I will tell you that from a purely entertainment standpoint, it's well worth the view. Low-budget, for sure, but behind the lackluster cinematography and screenplay, the plot alone is enough to keep one's attention. I have no doubt the book is equally worthy.

But, while the film is entertaining, the undertones presented by an outspoken Christian author are cause for viewer discretion to be advised. As the plot unfolds, we find seminary student Kevin Parson entangled in classic predicaments which force him to face his own sins and deepest secrets. Meanwhile, Parson is struggling to complete his doctoral thesis--a work on the nature of evil within man--which contains the theological message that viewers (whether aware of it or not) are asked to believe based on the story presented.

What the student, Parson, posits in his thesis soon becomes the reality of his life. (Warning: if you haven't watched the film and plan to, what follows may be a spoiler for you). The three main characters--Parson, his warm-hearted friend Sam, and the evil antagonist Slater--are eventually exposed as mere alter-egos of the skitzophrenic Parson. In the dramatic scene where the mystery is revealed, Parson's thesis is cited regarding the three (hence the title) natures that he argues every man contains: the evil, the good, and the moral creature struggling in between.

Had I not known of the author's professed faith, I would not have given the plot a second thought. It cannot be overlooked, however, that the Christian author Tim Dekker is offering his audience more than just an exciting plot. He is offering a statement on philosophy with deep theological implications.

Is man really entangled in such an epic battle? Are we torn within ourselves between the good nature and the evil? Scripture, church fathers, and historic doctrine all say no--and I humbly submit that I, too, deny an ounce of "good" in unredeemed Man. Man, outside of the redemption which comes through Christ, is not torn at all. There is no struggle. There is no epic battle of moral disposition. Man is, and has been since the fall, full of sin. "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Though Pelagius' heresy was identified and condemned at its outset in the 4th century, his teaching has permeated the Church, both pre and post reformation. Not only so, but his notions of a morally-torn man struggling against and capable to overcome evil has been the tune of countless religions in every culture throughout history. Indeed, the Spirit's work in the world is not merely to reveal Christ as perfect and good, it is also to convict men that they, contrary to popular belief, are quite the opposite.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who do you think you are?

A little over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned a statement (amid a much longer document) that stated his belief that all men are created equal. 55 other men put their signatures on the document, affirming that they, too, believed this and the accompanying statements that it supported. Do you know what was so equal about these 55 men? They were all white males who owned black people because they didn't see them as equal--which meant, in turn, they didn't see them as men.

The problem with the perspective of our founding fathers was not their self-image. They knew they were white. They knew they were males. The problem was the inherent value that they placed on these qualities.

In the last few verses of Galatians 3, we find Paul charging something very similar. His opponents, the judaisers, were not incorrect in their self assessment. They were indeed Jews. They were indeed freemen. They were indeed male. And, as an interesting tidbit of historical context, those three attributes comprised a common prayer for the Jewish member of a synagogue in the 1st century--not unlike (though not identical to) the haughty prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18.

The Judaisers were not wrong, however, in that they were Jews. They were male. They were freemen. They were wrong, however, in the ultimate relevance of these facts to the matter of their own righteousness.

However, this topic burrows far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms than mere social justice and racial equality. In the verses that follow, the first 7 verses of Galatians 4, Paul goes on to describe exactly what sort of equal playing field "we"--both Jews and Gentiles--are all on. Paul describes all of God's sons as once being children, and as children, likened to slaves. Under the guide of masters, children are held prisoner to the most basic of rules--such as the Law.

But Christ, born of a woman under the Law, redeemed us. The language is very reminiscent of Exodus 13, where firstborn sons belong to God and must be killed, that is unless redeemed by the blood of a spotless lamb. So, then, having been redeemed in similar fashion we are spared from death and reinstated our "full rights" as sons--nay, even heirs, as if to say firstborn sons. As a deposit of this inheritance--since, after all, we are sons--God sent the Spirit of His Son.

So, up to this point you may be thinking that all this amount to the very familiar doctrine of the atonement. Where does all that "burrowing far deeper into the theological and doctrinal realms" come from? Well, ask yourself this. In the description Paul gives in this text, is there ever a moment when we are not children, even before we are redeemed and given full rights as sons? As Paul teaches his readers the right view of their humble beginnings with God, he is sure to remind them that God foreknew them and redeemed them with purpose.

Moreover, the spirit of the sonship is not just a deposit. He is not just sent to help us live as heirs. He is not just sent to give us special powers and supernatural abilities as God's children. No, it is the Spirit Himself who actually cries "abba, Father." The Spirit is not sent to those who believe, it is sent to those to believe.

So, who do you think you are? Are you the religiously pious overly confident in your own righteousness. Are you the spiritually insightful one who found God and pursued Him with all your might? Are you the loving soul mimicking Christ as you try to bring Heaven to earth? Or, are you the child, born a child of God, redeemed by His son, and even given the very Spirit by which you cry out to your Father?

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Murder

"Check!" For most of us, anyway, this is probably the one command above all others that we can easily gloss over. Unless I've been deceived, there are no hardened, cold-blooded murderers in our Sunday morning class. So, why invest an entire study into this command? For starters, it's a twelve week course, so we have to fill it up somehow. But there are better reasons than that. Much better reasons.

First, let's get the academic debate out of the way. The King James translates this term "kill" only one time: this time. Elsewhere, the same term is rendered manslayer, murderer, or slayer. And, of course, most other modern translations are clear to use the term murder in this command. This command does not negate or contradict other scripture--scripture which commanded military conquest, capital punishment, or divine judgment. It is not a ban on killing. It is a ban on murder.

So what's the difference? All of the above--military conquest, captial punishment, divine judgment--entail the taking of a life at the command of God and for the preservation of His glory. Murder, on the other hand, is taking a life for our purposes. It's killing to meet solely our needs, our requirements, or to fulfill our rage. Quite simply, murder makes us into gods.

But here is the shocking truth. Each man causes death. Every man is a killer. But not every man is a murderer. Every man is a killer in one of three ways:
  1. 1 John 3:12 says Cain killed Abel, "Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous." When we kill out of envy or selfish ambition, we murder. When we malign, slander, or hate for such reasons, we are murderers.

  2. So, what if we reverse the motives listed in 1 John 3:12. Are we then no longer murderers? How many times throughout the history of the church have men killed, "because his own actions were righteous and his brother's were evil." Cain killed because he realized his own iniquity. But if we view ourselves as righteous, incomparably better than our brother, and thus kill, slander, malign, or hate him as a result, we are no less guilty of murder.

  3. What can we do then? We must become killers. We must take a life. But it is not our brother's. "We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). The follower of Christ will, in view of Christ's example, forfeit his own life for the sake of his brother's--in word, in attitude, or even in deed.
As I said: Each man causes death. Every man is a killer. Christ came into the world to destroy all wickedness and sin. But, much to the Jews' dismay, he murdered not one Roman. Stoned not one adulterer. Instead, he gave up his own life to be taken at the hands of such sinners. Therefore, in view of His sacrifice, "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1).

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Monday, June 1, 2009

A Christian's Response Part II: The Jewish Requirements for Maschiach

In my post last Friday, I introduced a topic that some of you may be very familiar with, and others may barely know as an issue: the Jewish requirements for Messiah (Maschiach) and, in particular, Jesus' failure to meet them to the Jew's liking. Read the full list in part one of this two-part post. As I very quickly addressed this list on Friday, there were three topics that I promised to address in a more lengthy response later. Well, it's later... and this is the lengthy response.

As you might expect, the vast majority of the Messianic requirements held out by the Jews are not disagreeable for the Christian. After all, we do reference the same prophets. Now, before I begin, I do want to state that this article is very clearly pertaining to the specific set of Jewish requirements for the Messiah, and as such, does not represent the full scope of expanded Christian messianism. For more details on the three offices of "the annointed" according to Christology, read Who Else by Christ and also reference the Week 4 lecture of the Person and Work of Christ class.

Now, back to the topic at hand. The three most pivotal points at which Jews argue Christ fails to fulfill their Messianic requirements are these:
  1. To be a king in the line of David. You see, Christ was not actually a son of Joseph, and so His paternal lineage--the lineage through which tribal bloodline is established--cannot be linked to David.
  2. That Christ was not an observant Jewish man. There are many layers to this dispute: first, the Jewish position that there cannot be a God-Man. Second, the Jewish position that Jesus violated the Jewish Law.
  3. Finally, the position most vehemently defended by Jews, is that there is no place for a Messiah who comes, does part of His job, dies and comes back later to finish it.
The son of David...

First, let's address Jesus' lineage. I want to first point out that this objection was not developed as an argument until long after the establishment of the church. It was not an objection of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries. That is not to say, however, that later inspiration cannot be valid. The point which I believe is most notable is that in the time of Jesus, genetic recombination was hardly the measure by which parental lineage was tested. There was no paternity tests administed in DNA labs.

Jesus was given as a son to Joseph and Mary, raised in their household, and given every legal claim to the firstborn sonship without question of the seminal contributor (which is in fact a crucial part of the seminal view of original sin, but I digress). The point is that the definition of "son" was not dependent on genetic criteria. Jesus was in every way a son of Joseph. In Luke 2:23, Joseph accepted fatherhood of the boy by fulfilling the Law's requirement to consecrate his firstborn to the Lord.

And, if such irregularity in the passing of inheritance and bloodline is disagreeable, I would submit that God's purposes have been shown several times over not to follow man's tradition. Take Jacob, for example, who inhereted the blessing and promise despite the fact that he was not the first born--overturning the tradition of primogeniture.

Finally, perhaps in God's infinite wisdom, He did not provide a law of lineage. There was nothing in the Law that established an irreversible statute of paternity.

The Jewish God-Man

Where do I begin? I have already written much on the humanity and deity of Christ. I do not dare to think that I could convince a Jew of this point outside of the acceptance of such a mystery that comes--even for the most educated Christian--purely by faith. Let me simply point to previous works on the topic of the Kenosis. Christ the Mediator, An Attitude the Same as Christ, and We Beheld his Glory.

So, accepting that Jesus is God in the flesh, who emptied Himself by adding such limitations as the flesh, not out of weakness but out of love, we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was a man.

But, was He an observant Jew? If not, then He is a lawbreaker and can be neither the Jewish Messiah nor our Spotless Lamb. But Jesus did not break the Law. He broke the legalistic stipulations of the contemporary Jewish hypocrites, but not the Law of God. Reference Matthew 12:1-13 for an understanding of His so-accused Sabbath breaking.

The key to understanding this point is in realizing the difference between the Jewish Law and the Jewish Traditions that prevailed in the 1st century. In Matt. 15:1-3, for example, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law. But His defense, undeniably accurate, was that He had not broken any Laws, but rather, their traditions.

Jesus, in fact, taught that the Law had more to do with one's heart than with legalistic obedience. His teachings in the sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) actually expound on the Law making it even harder to obey, for many, by applying it to thought and attitude.

I would charge Jews to simply analyze their traditional view of Jesus. Read the accounts of Christ's life on earth (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Ask for yourself, where did He break the Law? Especially bear in mind that even the Jew's teach "Torah is not viewed as a literal document in Judaism. Rather, it is something that can be understood, read and interpreted on many different levels" (A Jew with a View).

The Second Coming

If you've been following along in any of the comment strings that have prompted me to write this post, you've seen over and over that there "is no place in Judaism for a Messiah who comes, fulfills part of the requirements, dies, and comes back to finish it."

This is, perhaps, the simplest to address and yet the hardest to explain. It is simple because I can simply say this: Christians do not teach that Christ fulfilled ANY of the traditional Jewish Maschiach requirements (except for His lineage). I believe the greatest misconception--no doubt spurred on by the many Christians who themselves do not fully understand Christology--is that Jesus was the Anointed (Maschiach) King of the Jews.

The Christian belief is that we await the return of Jesus to assume His reign--a reign that so closely resembles what Jews await in their Maschiach the parallel is undeniable. In fact, as I've stated before, I even ascribe to the position that ethnic and national Israel has a particular place of blessing in this new kingdom, and that Gentiles are in fact "grafted in."

So, as I said, this is simple to state but difficult to explain. It's difficult to explain because we must then delve into the purpose of Jesus first coming 2000 years ago. His first coming and claiming the title "Annointed" throws confusion into the topic because that term carries a specific connotation to the Jew... a connotation that Jesus did not fulfull. And yet, the term is nonetheless applicable.

If a Jew is to accept the term Messiah placed on Jesus, they have to accept the doctrine of a New Covenant, established in Jesus' blood. That He was "annointed" to the office of prophet and of priest FIRST, declaring and mediating a new covenant. That He will be anointed the earthly politcial ruler, the King on David's throne (not in Heaven but on Earth) at a later time, but that this fulfillment of prophecy is dependent on those prophecies that Jews have not associated with their Maschiach. The prophecies that foretold His first coming.

Too much needs to be said about the covenants and Christ's first coming than can be stated here. I must leave you waiting for yet another future article in which I will dive deeper into the covenant purposes of Jesus first coming.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

A Christian's Response: The Jewish Requirements for Maschiach

This post comes in response to a comment on a previous post, Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up, by a Jew with the charge that Jesus did not meet the full list of requirements for the Maschiach (Messiah). I asked and was given this list by Tabatha aka "A Jew with a View" and so I've decided to post it here with some brief commentary. In a later post, I will provide a more detailed outline of Christian Messianism as it relates to the Jewish criticism of Jesus' claims to the Messiah title, "Anointed One."

My comments here will be color coded:
Already met in Jesus
Promised at Jesus' return
Incorrect exegesis resulting in a false criterion
  • He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8-10)
    Realizing that Jews reject Jesus' lineage because he is not a son of Joseph, I will address this point in a later post, but for here, state simply that Christian theology accepts this as being met in Jesus.

  • The Moshiach will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
    This is the mysterious Kenosis, also rejected by Jews. However, I want to challenge the meaning of "an observant Jew." Observant of Jewish traditional legalism, or of God's law?


  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
    That's what we're waiting for!

  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
    That's what we're waiting for!

  • All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
    Unless, of course, you're a Sadducce :-)

  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
    According to Romans, it's the remnant that will experience this. Just as it was the righteous Remnant who God saved from exile in the Old Testament.

  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)
    In principle, I believe Christians agree with this. However, He will wage war to destroy the enemy before peace can be established.

  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
    Close, but not quite. This text does not promise a restoration for all of the cities of Israel, but rather We await the restoration of Jerusalem.

  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
    Umm... ok, I guess. Not one that Christians emphasize greatly, but probably goes hand-in-hand with the perfect peace that will be established.

  • The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot.
    That's what we're waiting for! The Temple represents God's glory on earth. Even though there's some difficulty around the presence of animal sacrifice in view of Christ's eternal sacrifice, but Dr. Constable gives a good description in his commentary.

  • He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
    What's left after judgment, yes.

  • Jews will know the Torah without Study (Jeremiah 31:33)
    Many view this as having happened, at least partially, with the indwelling. However, this, along with the following verse 34, will happen in perfection when we receive our resurrected bodies at His return.

  • He will give you all the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)
    Umm... ok, I guess. But, I do like John Piper's definition that the true desires of our heart are for God Himself.

  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9).
    That's what we're waiting for!

  • Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)
    Close, but rather we hold that He will rule over all nations Himself.

  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
    What's left after judgment, yes.

  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
    I agree. I am of the persuasion, based on Romans 10-11, that ethnic and national Israel will hold a position of higher importance in the Millenial Kingdom.

  • Nations will end up recognizing the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)
    And to Christ. Just before they're judged, yes.

  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10).
    Hi, I'm a gentile, and I believe in the Messiah :-)

  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
    Can't wait!

  • The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
    Close, but what Isaiah had in mind was not the Sanhedrin of Jesus' day. He clearly says, judges as in days of old.

  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)
    I agree. I am of the persuasion, based on Romans 10-11, that ethnic and national Israel will hold a position of higher importance in the Millenial Kingdom.

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In My Fathers House There Are Many Rooms...

This post comes in response to a question posed by Tabatha at AskScripture.com. Tabatha (a self-proclaimed Jew) writes:
There is, I seem to recall, a beautiful piece of writing in the Christian bible; I don't know all of it but it starts with, I think: 'My father's house has many mansions'...?

I've always liked it, though I don't remember where I first read or heard it. It would just be great to learn a bit about the full piece of text?

How do you interpret that first line?

Thanks for asking, Tabatha. I have to admit that I'm hesitant at first--knowing from our past exchanges that you're much more familiar with Jewish tradition than I--to add my commentary on this passage, but I trust that what the Lord has to say through this passage will not be hindered by my commentary. I hope, in fact, that He uses me to illuminate in a way that's glorifying to Him.

The passage comes from John 14:2, during what is called the Passion Week that led up to Jesus' crucifixion. Jesus had predicted his own death in chapter 12, to His own disciples' dismay. Then, in the scene that immediately precedes this text, Jesus then foretells that it will be the denial and betrayal of His own disciples that will lead to His death. Peter, specifically, says He will "follow" Jesus where He goes--which is of course, to death--but Jesus predicts just the opposite for Peter.

Now, we also know from the other parallel accounts of this occasion (the synoptic Gospels) that it was at this very meal where Jesus declares the "New Covenant" in His blood. This brings us, at last to the context of the house and the rooms. One of the clearest descriptions of the old and new covenants is found in Jeremiah 31:32, where God describes the new covenant in this way:
"It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"

Both covenants, New and Old are likened to that of marriage. God was a "husband" to Israel, leading them by the hand--an affectionate term. Likewise, the Church is called the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:32. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the covenant of marriage is modeled after God's covenant with His people, rather than that His covenant is modeled after marriage. (See The Nuptial Gospel for deeper discussion)

And so, at last I've laid the contextual groundwork for dissecting the passage of Scripture in question. In John 14:1-4, Jesus tells his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Although the Latin Vulgate and the King James versions both translated "rooms" as "mansions"--the better understanding would be "rooms." Literally, it's a dwelling place. But, whereas we consider a dwelling place to be it's own freestanding home, not so in the lower classes of this culture--such as the fisherman, carpenters, and so on. The custom practice was for a bridegroom to work during the year of his engagement on building a new addition, like a lean-to, onto his father's house. This would be where he and his new bride would live in the years after their marriage until, hopefully, someday he could begin his own family or inherit his father's house.

Jesus' message here to His disciples is that, though He is leaving them for a while, He is still their groom. He goes to prepare a place for them in the Father's house. Similar to the first covenant, which was established by the blood of a bull and mediated through Moses, Jesus here is giving a poignant metaphor for the love and care that is represented in the New Covenant, which He was about to confirm by His own blood (Luke 22:20) and would mediate Himself as our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-15).

And if He is departing temporarily, but remains their promised groom, then He certainly will return for them. That is the assurance He offers in verse 3. The eschatological meaning of this is still debated, but whether it is a pre-tribulation rapture that is in view, the descent of the new Jerusalem, or simply a metaphorical description of their reuniting at their own death, the end result cannot be mistaken. We will live in an everlasting loving relationship with God.

In the verses that follow, Jesus goes on to describe the mysterious relationship between Himself and God, their unity as one God-Head, and yet the distinction of Jesus as "the way" to the Father. For a more in depth look at this topic, refer to We Beheld His Glory, We Beheld His Glory Part II, Learning from the Kenosis, and Christ the Mediator.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Christians, Messianics, and Jews

I have been enjoying an exchange of thought and positions with a blogger who calls himself "A Jew with a View." The more I read about his "bouts" with the Messianic Jews, the more I tend to realize that Christianity thinks that a Jew is something entirely different than an orthodox Jew does. Nomenclature is the root of so many arguments.

First, I have to confess that I can understand and relate to several points he has made stating that Jews themselves define what Judaism is, and it excludes those who worship a man--even the God-Man. So, in other words, the prevailing argument is that Messianics are not Jews.

However, I would like to propose that what is meant by Messianics and Christians by the term "Jew" is not the same definition as what an orthodox Jew might mean, and as such, if we can dissect the issue there may be less of an argument.

Messianics (and all Christians who actually understand orthodox theology... probably an equally minor proportion as in Judaism) understand that what it means to be Jewish is to be an Israelite in covenant with the One God wherein, among many other facets, sins are forgiven by expiation through a sacrifice.

If in fact Judaism and Christianity can agree up to this point, then the key difference is not in whether a person follows Jewish interpretation of the covenant--or rather, an acceptable New Covenant as described by the Prophet Jeremiah--but whether their interpretation is in fact one Jewish interpretation.

At this point, it's prudent to point out that there is a varying viewpoint on theology even among those who call themselves Jews today--ranging from orthodox to apostate.

So, the fact remains that a few Pharisees (Paul & Nicodemus), a zealot (Peter), a Rabbi (Jesus), and several fisherman and carpenters who were all themselves Jews were the originators of this new, albeit unorthodox, interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures which undergird Christian theology and Christology. So, is the Jew with a View right in claiming that Messianics are not Jewish? That they have no claim to the name "Jewish?" I don't think so.

If by this point in reading this post you're entirely lost... I would encourage you to read up on the arguments made at http://ajewwithaview.wordpress.com and, if you are so inclined, join the discussion!

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Reflections

When I was growing up, Easter (and Christmas) was always a big holiday for our family, but Good Friday tended to be less of a concern. I suppose it stemmed from the fact that we saved religion for Sundays, or perhaps it was because we were Quaker and Good Friday is what those "other" sacrament-based religions did. For whatever reason, it wasn't until recently that Good Friday became a serious occasion for me.

Now, I'm not hear to discuss the deviations from the Jewish calendar and the Roman calendar, the variants on the day passover was observed according to the synoptics vs. John, or any other discussion on whether or not today, Good Friday, is exactly the day of the year Christ was crucified. It's not really about that. It's about setting aside a minimum of one day out of the year on which to commemorate what Christ did for us on the cross. We celebrate this occasion publicly so that others may see, and perhaps learn about this strange tradition, and hopefully ask us, "what's so special about today?"

God intends for us to use such commemorated events as a witness to His glory. "In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand'" (Deut. 6:20-21). The practices that seemed odd to foreigners in Israel opened the door for God's people to tell about His mighty deliverance, His mercy, and His love.

Likewise, I pray that someone asks me today, "What's so 'good' about Good Friday?" There's quite a story to tell. It's a story of God's deliverance from slavery we didn't even know we were in. His mercy to withdraw wrath we still can't even comprehend. And His love to do so while we were far from deserving it, or even desiring it.

So, as Christians, I urge you to not dismiss the significance and the holiness of a holiday such as this. There is a growing sentiment that the holiday itself is unimportant, and we should instead commemorate Christ's death every day, not just one. Well, there is honest intentions, I believe, in this teaching. Yet, it does defy what God decreed should be an effective and honoring method for sharing His truth with those who might not know Him yet.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

A Lengthy Response - RE: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up

If you've been following the comment string of my previous article: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up, you may have noticed an escalating string of comments from an anonymous reader. I admire the thought and clarity with which he/she has responded and I think there are valid questions raised worth addressing, so I have decided to create a lengthy response to the most recent comment in this new post.

In an item-by-item fashion, allow me to reply...
1. Christianity is not a divine religion. It is a political creation of the Roman Empire designed to control the Jews.
Yes, and Judaism is not a divine religion either, it's the syncretistic product of an Egyptian outcast fascinated with the Messopotamian mythologies and Semitic culture... fooey. To establish a pacifying religious figure-head amid the rebellious Jewish people may seem a plausible scheme of the Romans, until you consider: just how big of a threat were the Jews to Rome? Did they merit such an outlandish ruse? If they could pull off such a covert operation with such success that nobody diverted from the political line for centuries, maybe they should have dreamed up such a plan for dealing with the Visigoths?

What's more is the the Biblical writings don't support the notion at all. Yes, as mentioned before, it may seem appealing to invent a character such as Jesus who may pacify the Jews, but it's obvious from the beginnings of the Gospels that the Jews rejected Christ. If the intent in creating a false religion was to win over the rebellious Jews to follow their pacifist leader, would the gospels and Acts have portrayed Jewish rejection of Christ so clearly?

No, this is not a valid approach to history.

2. There is no place in Judaism for a messiah that does part of his job, then dies, then comes back and finishes the job.
Well, then it appears the Romans didn't do their research before defining this character that they invented, eh? Oh, sorry... I digress. We're on the 2nd point now. Right.

Could it also be said that there was no place in Judaism for God to make Abraham into a great nation... destroy it... and then do it all over again? Actually, my friend Anonymous, I agree with you. Inasmuch as Judaism had become by the 1st century more of a pattern of traditions than (as you called it) a "divine religion," there was no place in their tradition for a Messiah such as Jesus was and is. You are quite correct.

However, I believe what you may have been trying to say is that there is no place in the divine Hebrew texts (our "Old Testament") for such a Messiah. I confess that I'm not as well versed in Old Testament theology as I should be, so I won't dare venture into a passage-by-passage discourse of how each prophecy can be reconciled. However, I would like to submit that Hebrew writings were never very exact when it came to chronology and continuity (except in cases when they expressly aimed to be, such as Jonah's 3-day visit to fish gut).

By way of example, I'll offer two: first, Adam was told not to eat of the tree for, "when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Yet, he did not die... at least not "when" he ate of it. Secondly, consider David's anointing (Messiah) as King. In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed as king by the prophet of God and Saul is proclaimed to no longer be king. But, David is not king for another 30 years. He was king already, but not yet.

I will, again, reiterate my agreement with Anonymous that this sort of "already but not yet" messianism has no place in traditional Judaism. But it is nonetheless a hermeneutically sound approach to the Messianic prophecies.

3. There are 5 or 6 things that the Jewish messiah must do in order to qualify. These include (off the top of my head) - gather the exiles, build the temple, usher in an era of peace (perhaps preceded by a large war according to some people's interpritation)... and there are others I can't remember right now.
Ahh, and there lies the real issue. All of the items cited herein are a part of traditional Jewish Messianism. On these grounds, the earlier point that Jesus did part of His job, died, and will later return to finish it is actually misrepresented. Jesus did not do any part of this "job" according to the Jewish Messianism. He promised it. He predicted it. But he left every ounce of it undone at His death. In fact, it should interest Jewish readers that the New Testament writings from Acts through Revelation (especially Revelation) express a burning desire to see all of the traditional Jewish Messianic prophecies fulfilled.

However, Jesus' first trip to this terrestrial ball had other goals in mind. He was fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31 before Isaiah 11:6. Christianity does not claim that Christ has already fulfilled all of the Messianic roles. The chief difference in a Christian's present anticipation of a future Messiah and the Jew's present anticipation of a future Messiah is that Christians already know Him by name.
4. ...The Christian interpritation of the messiah involves supernatural stuff, the Jewish messiah is an emancipated empowered mortal human being who brings about real dramatic change to the real world...
How sad a prospect to think that God cannot accomplish the "supernatural." What do Jews do with the "supernatural" elements of their own cherished scriptures? Which is easier, to part the red sea or to raise a man from the dead? And, if you cannot trust that God really parted a sea, then why would you believe his promise to send a peacemaker in the future--mortal or otherwise?
Jesus was a great man... to be denied messiahship is not an insult, it is a great credit to him that he was a contender.
Ah, yes, just as it was an honor for Yahweh to be a 'contender' for the Israelite's worship, right up there with all the other gods... oh, wait, that's not how God thinks at all. "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8).

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jesus is Lord

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come to the study of His Lordship. The earliest creed of the church, recorded in Romans 10:9-10, is a simple three-word phrase that's rich with meaning. "Jesus is Lord." What does it mean to confess with one's mouth that Jesus is Lord? And, more importantly, what does it mean that Jesus is Lord?

First, a confession that Jesus is Lord is a statement of allegiance. Satan is god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2). But when we confess with our mouth that he is not Lord, Jesus is Lord, we defect from the rule of darkness and claim citizenship in heaven—in a kingdom that we eagerly await here on earth. We henceforth make ourselves outcasts. Surrounded by devout patriots in an evil dominion, we have confessed publicly that Jesus is Lord. We have no inheritance, no place, no citizenship in this realm anymore.

So, who is the Lord for whom we have abandoned all comforts to follow? Ephesians 1:20-23 gives the clear description of how total and sovereign His rule really is. "Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given," Jesus is in fact sovereign over Satan himself.

What's more, He is Lord over us all men as well. As we read on in Ephesians 2, we see the effect of our former allegiance to the kingdom of this age, that we were by nature objects of wrath. We were dead in that transgression prior to defecting to the Lord. So, by what means did we defect to Jesus' reign? God "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:5).

It is in this truth that we realize the fallacy of the misinterpretation of this verse, that we are saved when we "make Jesus Lord in our Lives." We do nothing to make Jesus Lord. He is Lord. The earliest creed found in Romans 10 is a humble confession that He is Lord. He is the Lord so powerful that He saved us while we were unable to save ourselves, unable to defect.

But praise be to God. By grace He has called us, and in faith we respond confessing, "Jesus is Lord."

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five Things Every Christian Should Know About the Kingdom of God

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come this week to Jesus' earthly ministry. I've been rather enjoying this week of preparation in the gospels, seeing anew the old stories I thought I had learned as a child. Of particular interest has been the topic of the Kingdom of God, and seeing as how I wrote a book on the topic, you might say I have a special fondness for it. This morning, let me share with you 5 things I think every believer should know about the Kingdom of God.

  1. It's within you.
    In Luke 17:21, Jesus says that "the kingdom of God is within you." Now, though Christ has ascended, the Spirit remains to rule in our own hearts. In the Kingdom of Eden, Adam was able not to sin (posse non peccare). Prior to the giving of the Spirit, men were not able to not sin(non posse non peccare). In the present age of the inaugurated Kingdom, His subjects are able not to sin as Adam once was. But, as we will see below, we await a final consummation of all the Kingdom promises when we will be not able to sin (non posse peccare).
  2. It's among you.
    An alternate translation of Luke 17:21 might rightly read, "the Kingdom of God is among you." In fact, I believe this translation is more likely what Christ meant as He spoke and what Luke intended to communicate. Remember, at the time Jesus spoke these words, the Spirit had not yet come. In fact, Luke's gospel places little emphasis on the coming Spirit, it's in John that we find strong teaching on the role of the Spirit. The Kingdom of God was "among you" when Christ was here because the King was here. How could they fast with the King present? Why were the Pharisees asking when it would come while their King was among them?
  3. It's already come.
    As I mentioned in the first point, the Kingdom has been inaugurated now. We live in an age of Christ's rule on earth unlike any in history. He is transforming His people via the sanctifying work of the Spirit to be conformed to His likeness. In this present Kingdom, with our sins now forgiven we can approach the throne of God confidently. In fact, for those who wait for "the resurrection," it, too, has also begun as Christ was resurrected so that He might be the first.
  4. It's yet to come.
    Christ spent most of His earthly ministry filling the role of a Prophet to Israel. As a prophet, His message was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. He taught His disciples to pray saying, "your kingdom come" (Luke 11:12). He warned them about what would happen "in those days" (Mark 13:17). Even after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, Paul wrote, "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there" (Phil. 3:20). There are numerous promises that we are waiting to be fulfilled in the final consummation of God's Kingdom on earth.
  5. It's the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven
    A little anticlimactic, I know, but I had to slip this little tidbit into the top 5 list so that no believer would be led astray by false dispensational teachings on Matthew's use of "Kingdom of Heaven." As Matthew wrote to his Jewish readers, he respected their reverence for the name of God and substituted the word heaven in it's stead. Be assured, Christ's message recorded in Matthew on the Kingdom of Heaven is one in the same with Mark and Luke's account of the Kingdom of God.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Religion and Relationship of the Atonement

As I think about the people I've talked to, heard speak, or read their writings on Christ's atoning works, I realize that there are distinctly two approaches to the cross, and most of us are dominated in our thinking by one or the other. Even when we hear one perspective dripping all over a message, we may filter it through our lens on the cross and apply totally different points. Neither perspective is wrong, and neither is fully right, but they're two sides to the same coin.

First, there is the religious thinker. Theologically minded and committed to analyzing doctrinal nuances, the religious thinker is quick to identify the liturgical beauty of Christ's death. Typically this is flows from a modern mindset, very scientific and ordered. We see definite links being built between the sacrificial requirements and Christ's death. We find significance in the semantics of God's holiness, righteousness, justification, imputation, propitiation, etc. The religious thinker is able to explain the unquestionable validity of our justification by faith according to the religious codes that God Himself has established. And he's right.

Next, however, is the relational thinker. Emotionally guided and driven by the reality and impact of God's love, the emotional thinker finds solace in the wonderful act of mercy and grace that God bestowed on us in order to adopt us as His children. Typically this flows from a post-modern mindset, very compassionate and socially minded. We see emphasis placed on the suffering of Christ, the magnificent sacrifice of God to send His only son, and the heart-melting love story that the Gospel narrative unfolds. The relational thinker finds it impossible to contain his passionate response of love to the Father who first loved us. And he's right.

I've heard it said that "Christianity is not about religion." That's a relational (post-modern) fallacy. As our society swings more and more toward an outright hatred of religion and absolutes, I want to emphasize that Christ died to satisfy the very absolute realities that God had set up in His religious Law delivered through Moses. The substitutionary and sacrificial aspects of the atonement are meaningless without the context of the Law.

Yet, the power of the Gospel doesn't end there. In fact, we must remember why the Law itself was ever bestowed upon Israel, "it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:8, emphasis mine). God is not bashful of the fact that He wants to relate to men and women at the deepest level of emotion. He shares His emotions with us in His word—love, joy, anger, and sadness. There is deep emotion and desire for relationship (note, His desire is not a need born out of weakness as the human desire often is) that surrounds Christ's atoning death. Without the expiation and reconciliation that comes through the cross, the religious context of the atonement is also meaningless.

Doctrine is nothing without grace, and grace is nothing without doctrine.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cosmic Child Abuse: The Atonement Under Attack

In his book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian McLaren introduces a not-so-new concern about the atonement as his fictional character observes the atonement calling it "divine child abuse." McLaren, however, is not necessarily the front runner of this position. Steve Chalke has openly defended the atonement as "cosmic child abuse" in his papers and the book The Atonement Debate. The fact is, this line of logic does not stop with abandoning merely the idea that God intended to inflict His wrath of Christ, but leads many thinkers on the path toward total denial that God would have wrath in the first place.

I would submit to you that not only is this logic unbiblical and heretical, but it leaves one with a host of unanswered questions. Why do we commemorate and revere Christ for His death after all? How can one adopt the Christian faith in a true sense and deny the very reason for Christ's death? Can you really "follow Christ" with merely a set of moral imperatives and "love thy neighbor" ideologies? Is it true, as the world has tried so desperately to affirm, that Christ was merely a good man whose death bears no theological ramifications that would dare to impose a set of propositional truths on our convenient world of relative reality? Will we profit the human race if we can but succeed in defining God according to our ideals—with no wrath, discriminatory judgments, or sovereignty over this world?

In my last post, I posed the rhetorical question "Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?" The answer, if Mclaren and Chalke are to believed, would be nobody at all. But, praise God that we can see plainly His plan in scripture to redeem His people by the very intentional means of substituting His son in our place to expiate the Father's wrath.
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Not only that, but the plan was not a mystery to the Son. This cannot be considered child abuse as the Son fully understoods the will of the Father when he emptied Himself in order to carry out His purpose.
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." — Matthew 20:28
Substitution is at the heart of what the atonement means. It is the very reason that Christ can now be king over an everlasting kingdom (Heb. 1:3). It is the perfect fulfillment of God's plan, not the ugly mark of some disgraceful temperament that we should be ashamed to proclaim. God is rightfully wrathful. He is just and righteous in His judgment. I find it rather laughable that the flawed, sinful human would render judgment on the legitimacy and fairness of God's own judgment.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?" — 1 Corinthians 1:18,20

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?

As we reach the mid-way point in our series on The Person and Work of Christ, we are at the pinnacle of Christ's past work: Atonement. Sadly, however, the very need for an atonement has been abandoned by some in exchange for a much less offensive picture of God. Without a proper understanding of Why the atonement was required, we can never fully appreciate What the atonement was and is. The seemingly "unfriendly" attributes of God—His wrath and justice—cannot be denied without also defaming His glorious love and mercy.

There are four bases on which the full beauty and praiseworthiness of Christ's work of atonement rests. Ironically, the first two are anything but beautiful. The first basis for an atonement is the existence of sin itself. Even this core principal of the Christian faith has been dismissed of recent by pastors who desire to preach a less offensive gospel. But, my friends, we cannot preach a gospel that is altogether unoffensive to a people who offend God most severely. Without an understanding of sin, who needs an atonement anyway?

Second, I'm afraid, is even far less popular than the first: God's wrath. The Biblical truth that God is wrathful toward sinners is a fundamental basis for the atonement and crucial in understanding the splendor of what Christ did for us. As far back as Genesis 2:17, "when you eat of it you will surely die," we see God's ordained retribution for disobedience. Nahum 1:3 assures us that, "the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished." Elsewhere we read, "the wages of sin is death," (Rom. 6:23) and a host of other verses that I couldn't even begin to count or cite. The fact is, as surely as you and I have sinned, we deserve to have God's wrath executed upon us, causing eternal death and torment in total separation from Him. If there were no wrath—no imminent punishment for sin—then who needs an atonement anyway?

Third, and often overlooked, is God's righteousness. Not only does God possess wrath, but He possesses wrath in tandem with a perfect righteousness that requires His justice be fulfilled. He cannot dismiss the verdict, death. He cannot merely brush off and forget the wrongs we have done. I refer to this as "grandpa in the sky" theology, or GITS, as I've come to call it, somewhat tongue in cheek. God's wrath and His righteousness (i.e. justice, see BSL - Righteous) together exclude any option of an acquittal. He will not simply lighten up in order to help some failing students pass. He will not write pardons just to boost his popularity. God will prove Himself to be a righteous Judge. If He were to abandon strict justice, then who needs an atonement anyway?

But finally, just as it seems all hope is lost, the fourth basis for an atonement is equally as certain as the first three: God's mercy. In His mercy, God determined a plan by which our sin, His wrath, and His righteousness could converge in one act of mercy on His children and provide a means for our salvation. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (Rom. 5:21). After all, without God's mercy, who could be atoned for anyway?

Over the next two weeks, I'll be diving deeper and deeper into the aspects of the atonement. I pray that through a greater appreciation for what Christ did, we may develop a deeper sense of worship for who He is.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Else but Christ?

I have been reviewing miles of commentary and articles published on messianism and messianic prophesy and have found an amazing amount of varying theories. Most pertinent to the Christian faith is the messianic beliefs of God's covenant people, Israel, at the time of the appearance of our Christ, Jesus.

It is no secret to most Christians that the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus' day were anticipating somewhat of a prominent political and military leader to arrive, overthrow the imposing power (Rome as it were), and re-establish the Davidic throne, borders, etc. This is clearly the root of much of their skepticism that we see depicted in the Gospels. But, knowing this fact, are you keenly aware of why they believed so? Or, more importantly, why are we believers so convinced of another picture of the Messiah?

Jewish messianism is rooted most fundamentally on Daniel 9 as the lens through which other messianic prophesy is viewed. Daniel 9 describes the Lords anointed as just the political leader we described earlier. Likewise, texts such as Isaiah 9:6 seem to support this view. So, where do we get off thinking there's another interpretation?

First, it is of chief importance to realize that the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (namely, to have a king on the throne) is only one aspect of the Messiah promised to Israel. But, I also want to stress that the Jewish anticipation of an Anointed to take the throne and rule assertively was not at all wrong, as some have thought, but merely incomplete and out of sequence.

Before the Davidic covenant, God promised Israel a future prophet. This future prophet would be like Moses. Deuteronomy 18 tells us that He will speak the very words of God (verse 18) and failure to heed those words will invoke judgment from God (verse 19). With that in the background, consider then how often Jesus says in Matthew, "You have heard it said... but I say." He quotes Moses and the Law, offering new revelation and illumination into the Word of God.

Then, in the Davidic covenant, there is evidence that the true fulfillment of the covenant could only come from God incarnate. Who else could sit on the throne forever. As Peter exegetes in Acts 2, "David said about him: '...because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.'... I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne." Consider also the Isaiah 9:6 passage mentioned earlier: "His name shall be... Mighty God." Who else could this Messiah be but the God incarnate Jesus Christ?

Finally, Christ was anointed not only as king and prophet, but as priest. Hebrews chapters 4-9 detail the splendor of God's plan to make the old covenant obsolete with a new high priest who no longer has to sacrifice for Himself. Only by the permanent sacrifice of Christ can our sins be truly forgiven forever as God had promised in Jeremiah 31. By what means could this promise have come true under the Old Testament Law?

But as I mentioned earlier, the Jew's anticipation of a ruling king is not wrong, merely incomplete. The Son will return to take His throne. In that day, Israel will see and believe. God has reserved for Himself a remnant. In a sense they are correct: their Messiah is yet to come, we simply (by faith) have had the privilege of a sneak peak.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

I'm going to go ahead and admit it: I love Wikipedia. Although I'm not always assured of it's accuracy, it offers an excellent resource for a cursory introduction to any topic, as well as cited resources where one can find primary research. I was digging on the subjects of Christ this week (which, by the way, offer great examples of how the world in wiki-collaboration will defame Christ and distort the truth), when I stumbled upon this article: Jewish Messiah Claimants.

In a word: fascinating. First of all, of the five so-called messiah claimants prior to Jesus, two were emperors who would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for political reasons. There is no evidence to support that these men were believed to be, or believed themselves to be, the Jewish Messiah in the covenant sense. Next, Judas son of Hezekiah was himself in the royal family of Judah and would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for similar political reasons--to emphasize his claim to the throne of David. Finally, Asthrongs and Simon were men of more humble origins, yet their claim to the title "Anointed" was nonetheless political. As they endeavored to lead their Jewish brethren in rebellion, they needed to make strong claims to their authority. What better way than to profess a direct anointing of God?

It should be clear to you by this point, if it was not already, that the term Messiah has not always born such a weighty religious definition as it does in modern context. It has gained a more mystically slanted definition in today's culture as a direct result of a widespread misunderstanding of the term's application to Jesus, and of course, a widespread misunderstanding of who Jesus Himself is.

If you continue down the list of claimants in the Wikipedia article, you'll soon realize that in fact nearly all of the men listed were leading a rebellion of some sort. In order for their plot to succeed, they would need the trust of the people. What better way to trust the people than to call yourself by the same title as the ancient kings?

So did any one on this list really mean "Messiah" in the way we think of the term? Were any of them ever thinking of themselves as more than a temporal king or leader of Israel? Did anyone on the list actually use the word mâšîah to mean the ultimate fulfillment of God's covenant? Well... there was this one guy. You know His name. Jesus!

That's right. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah, was and is the Anointed in a unique way. "Anointed" became a political term in Judea because of the implication of kingship, but Jesus knew that He was Anointed as much more than that. He is King in the line of David. He is the prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and even greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6). He is our high priest, even greater than Aaron (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Abba Father: The Cry of God's Humble Children

In my spare time, I've been working on a second book—one that will take much longer than the first to compose and even longer for me to dare to publish. I've tentatively titled it, "Thy Will Be Done," as a follow-up to my last book, "Thy Kingdom Come." The theme of this book will (Lord willing) be about living life as ambassadors of a totally sovereign God. During some of my recent times of reflection and study, I've come to appreciate and understand new perspectives about the Abba cry that I felt led to share. Consider it a pre-release preview.

There is no shortage of proposals put forth on the real meaning of "Abba" in the New Testament. Some have considered the term to mean little more than father, while others believe it renders a more intimate meaning, a sort of Aramaic form of "daddy". The exegetical task is formidable, with a mere 3 instances of the term found in the whole of the New Testament. Here's what we do know:
  1. In all three instances, the term Αββα is immediately followed by πατήρ (patēr, or father)
  2. It is derived from Aramaic, whereas patēr is purely Greek
  3. Although similar in meaning, patēr is not a direct translation of abba, which indicates there is additional significance in abba beyond just "father."
  4. Most importantly, in all three instances, the use of the word abba arises out of a humble and submissive heart. In Mark 14:36, Christ is submitting (with pain and turmoil) to the will of the Father for Him to suffer. In Romans 8:15, Paul explains how we as believers cry out to God in the context of fear and suffering. And in Galatians 4:6, Paul describes the believer's confession that he/she deserves nothing under the Law, but is made alive in Christ alone.

So, what does this tell us? The abba cry is indeed a cry! This is not the gentle coo of a son resting peacefully in his father's arms. This is the cry of a toddler getting his first shot at the doctor's office, screaming in pain and looking at his father who stands by watching. Innocent and ignorant of what is truly in his best interest, the child is confused and terrified.

How can he just stand there watching his child in pain? "Dad," the son cries out, "make it stop!" But he won't. Can this be love? "Can this really be what's best for me?" the toddler might ask (if a toddler could reason... bear with the analogy).

After all, isn't that what Christ Himself cried? "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me." How often do we cry that? We pray for things that we do not understand. Lord heal me. Lord find me a new job. Lord bring my loved ones to repentance and salvation. "Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).

Are we much different? Just a few verses following the abba cry in Romans 8, Paul continues, "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26). Here we stand in the midst of a fallen world, enduring pain and suffering for God, all the while knowing (just as the toddler knew) that our Father is fully capable to make it all stop in an instant. "Abba! Help us! Oh, Lord, won't you make it all stop!"

But we already know the answer. "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening" (1 Peter 4:12). So what do we pray for in times like these? How do we groan to our Abba Father? I don't know. The Spirit knows.

This is the picture of the life we live as ambassadors of the sovereign King. We struggle to understand His power. We cannot begin to understand His will. Yet as Christ cried out to God, His sweat even turning to blood under great distress, He submitted Himself humbly to the will of the Father, and so must we.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

In this week's class, as I had somewhat expected, the discussion of Christ's humanity led directly to the question of whether or not it was possible for Christ to have sinned. The Impeccability Doctrine (for those of you who may not be familiar with the debate) hinges on the dilemma that if Christ could have sinned, then we are at risk of implicating His divine nature in sin as well, and yet if he could not have sinned, then how was He truly tempted? It's no trivial matter and one that is hotly disputed in the study of Christology.

Could Christ have sinned? No. How can we know? We know today that He could not have sinned becayse we know today that He did not sin. Confused? Allow me to explain.

I'd like to begin by reducing the debate to it's core. To posit that Christ could not have sinned on the basis that He was God assumes the fact that God Himself is impeccable. So I ask: why is God unable to sin. As I consider the truth of His sovereignty, it's become more and more troubling to me to resolve that He cannot sin simply because He is moral. Can some outside moral structure of existence impose upon God the limitations of His action? As gravity dictates our abilities as humans, is God dictated to be sinless by some moral order of the universe? No.

This view is known as voluntarism, which is a deeply entangled term that can have many implications. For this topic, I simply mean to present that God is sinless because God has willed to be sinless. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, determined and willed according to His good pleasure to be sinnless, moral, faithful, and the host of other communicable attributes that we identify in God.

As we consider this, the question of Christ's impeccability becomes invariably clear. Could Christ have sinned? No. Why? Because God the Father ordained it. In the same way that He ordained that the pharisees would reject Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that Rome would Crucify Him, God ordained Christ to be sinless.

Now, as surely as we recognize this exhibition of God's sovereignty we must also recognize the mysterious reality of compatible free will. Inasmuch as we each have the genuine choice of what to eat for dinner tonight, that choice is no less real to us in the present despite the reality that God already knows what we'll eat. In the same way, Christ's temptation was no less real to Him during His life on earth. In fact, to all of creation—Jesus' human form included—the impeccability doctrine was yet undecided prior to Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. However, to the only God the Father, it most certainly was. He was not sitting on the edge of His seat for some 30 years, hoping like mad that His plan would come true. No, the sovereign Father says:

"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is
still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please" (Isaiah 46:10).
So, what can this possibly mean for us? How can I take this philosophical proposition that appears to be nothing more than an extension of the age-old free will debate and actually apply it to my life? First, take heart: we have a mediator who was indeed tempted in every way we were. Not only that, but rejoice in the confidence that we have. The child of God is predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the Son, not because he can stand sinless in his own power, but because "the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). This power of God has been evidenced for us in Christ's life that He might be the firstfruits among many brothers: the second Adam, our glorious Head.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christ the Mediator: the Westminster Confession of Faith

In my continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, I come to this—perhaps the most comprehensive and clear description of the Hypostatic Union:
"The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. " (Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII.II)

Where do I begin! Well, I suppose I'll begin by saying, "no, I'm not a Presbyterian." That said, I do respect the work of the learned men of England from 1646, but that should not implicate me in agreement with their every statement. Which ones with which I differ is a topic for another time.

Let's begin with the first clause. I have spent the past three weeks writing about Christ's deity and the implications of Christ's deity. However, in this first clause of the confession's statement about Christ and the hypostatic union, we see clearly the cost of taking on human nature: infirmities. Not merely servanthood, but a weakness not worth comparing with God's omnipotence. Not merely sickness, but mortality. He did not, however, take on the sinful nature that is the weakest part of us all. How?

Christ's link to Adam was broken. Being made of the substance of Mary, He was not conceived of Adam (Joseph). Whether you believe in seminal or federal original sin (or have no decided position), one thing is certain: sin is passed on via the male of our species, a necessary contributor to each new person... except for Christ.

Finally, at the heart of the Hypostatic Union, these two natures were joined "without conversion, composition, or confusion." Without conversion: neither nature was modified to fit the other. Without composition: the natures did not combine in such a way so as to compose a new nature. Without confusion: the two natures did not blend together, each taking attributes of the other. Jesus was both fully God and fully Man.

So, what does this mean for us? In short, it means that when we read that we were called to emulate Christ, we should first understand that we were called to emulate God. However, the truth does not end there. See, it was not until the New Testament, when God was revealed in the flesh as Christ, the Son, that He commanded His followers to imitate Himself. We aren't called to the impossible task of imitating the Almighty God the Father, but the prototypical man Jesus Christ. In imitating Jesus, we reflect God's glory on earth as He did. Jesus lived His life as a man—learning as we do, feeling as we do, and even tempted as we do—and yet was without sin, the exact representation of the Glory of God (Heb. 1:3). That is a model we can follow if we face life as Christ did—a student of the scriptures, devoted in prayer, and submitted to God's will.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Attitude the Same as Christ: Learning from the Kenosis

I read an article this week related to the topic at-hand: Jesus is Fully Human, from the Desiring God blog. In it, the author walks through a simple progression of concepts from the simplest to grasp to the most profound. Jesus had a human body. Jesus had human emotion. Jesus had a human mind. And finally, Jesus had a human will. While the mystery of the last statement is certainly an inviting topic for anyone seeking a stimulating whirlwind of thought and study, I don't want to move on too quickly from the first. That God Himself would take on a human form is, second to Christ's death on the cross, is the most astonishing manifestation of His love we could ever imagine.

Theologians often use the term "kenosis," and while I don't want to puff myself up with fancy vocabulary and 5-dollar words, the roots of this term should be meaningful to us all. the Greek κενόω (kenoō) means to empty out, like pouring out a pitcher until it's entirely empty. It's a total dispelling of all that one has. Christ emptied Himself in order to be found in the likeness of a man so that He might die the death that we deserve.

But how did He empty Himself? What is it that emptied Christ of His equality with the Father and His glorified state? Not the subtraction of a divine nature, but the addition of a human one. Subtraction by addition... much in the way that adding new paint on top of the Mona Lisa would empty it almost entirely of it's value.

I must give credit for this "Emptying by Adding" interpretation to Gerald Hawthorne, professor at Wheaton College who has published commentary on Philippians. To affirm that Christ was emptied of His deity is called the Kenotic Heresy. Scripture and Church History both affirm that Christ is both fully God and fully Man. So, what does that mean for us?

First, your attitude should be like that of Christ. He sacrificed so much to be our savior... to be our God who would tabernacle among us. What can we withhold in our worship? What do we have that we do not owe Him?

More than that, what excuse do we have as we continue to fail in our obedience to God. Living in His totally human nature, albeit not sinful nature, but nonetheless susceptible to temptation in every way that we are, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, resisted temptation entirely. He was not spared from sin because He was God. No, indeed He endured by the same strength that we now have available to us through the indwelling Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

Peter offers a daunting charge for all of us, yet it was not Peter who charged it first. Inasmuch as we have been called, we are called to this: perfection.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth'" (1 Peter 2:21-22)

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

We Beheld His Glory - Part II

In my last post, I discussed the deity of Christ and His praiseworthiness as such. As believers, we find so much joy and inexpressible awe before God at His good and perfect plan to take on flesh for our sake. But, this linchpin belief of Christology is often at the center of Satan's attack and the world's attack on our faith in the very God who saves us. Why is Christ's deity under such scrutiny? More so than the doctrine of scripture, the mere existence of God, or even the seven-day creation, the world seeks to deny that Christ was God in the flesh.

The reason is simple: If Jesus was God, then we must believe what He said. Christ brings a simple message that God is in control. Christianity is a faith of submission, of confession, and of reliance upon one that shows us for who we really are. "If we can but show that Christ is not God," the world says, "then we can continue to be god to ourselves."

To receive Christ is to cast out the tattered being that we are and accept from God the promise of redemption by His power and not of our own. How distasteful to an enlightened people! How humiliating a thought to a society that has evolved from ape to this higher being. How ridiculous a discipline to deny one's self in light of all we as men are capable of.

That's certainly what the Jews must have thought in their seemingly "perfect" execution of the religion they thought was Judaism. But Stephen told them what Christ revealed, "You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts... you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it" (Acts 7:51-53). When Stephen looked to heaven he declared aloud what he saw: Christ with God as the eschatological Son of Man figure from Daniel 7. It was a convicting statement that, if they were to believe Christ, would require that they admit their frailty and failures and humbly ask forgiveness. Instead, they found murder to be an easier resolution.

But, I do not wish to conclude this thought with the harsh convicting power of Christ that damns those hardened in unbelief. We do well to recall who it was that presided over this rage-filled murder of Stephen: the young Saul. As we see evidenced in Saul's conversion, the power of Christ is not merely the power to judge, but the power to save. Jesus is Lord! By His power—the almighty power of the only true God—Jesus saves us! Praise Jesus for being God. Amen.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We Beheld His Glory

As we get ready this week for the second installment of a 9-week course on "The Person and Work of Christ," I've been working very hard to consider not only the theological and doctrinal study of Christology, but also to see the truth anew and reconnect with the deep impact it had on me in the times when God first revealed Himself to me in scripture. There comes, I'm sorry to admit, a staleness to knowledge when we disconnect it from it's implications. I'm thoroughly enjoying a new discovery of how profound this simple truth really is: Jesus is God!

Jesus is God! He is the one and only omnipotent God, full of mercy and faithful to His covenants. He came down, took on our desperate condition in order to "tabernacle" among us, and suffered the worst of our physical and spiritual depravity as He suffered on the cross—all because of His faithfulness (and not ours) to fulfill His covenant.

Jesus is God! He is exalted with the names of God alone: Theos, Lord of Glory, Son of Man, Son of God, Beginning and End. It is praiseworthy for us to recognize Jesus, not merely as a man, but as God. The world wishes to pay lip-service to the Christ by some seemingly well-intentioned acknowledgment that He was a good teacher or an exemplary model of loving sacrifice, but how can anything less than the glory He is due be anything more than insulting? He is God!

Jesus is God! As we consider this fact and continue to renew our commitment to the Gospel day after day, let's stop to consider that through Christ and Christ alone we can behold the glory of the one and only true God. Not only that, but we also glorify God through meditation and proclamation of God the Son:


"every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Person and Work of Christ

Over the past few weeks, I have been traveling around the Midwest, visiting various family members to celebrate Christmas together (which explains the long break since my last post, sorry). In between driving, dinners, and Christmas cantatas, I spent several hours preparing for my next class: The Person and Work of Christ. Coupling this study with the message of the Christmas season has been a true joy.

The Son, 2nd person of the Trinity, came into human flesh. In his lecture on the Apostles Creed topic "suffered under Pontius Pilate," Dr. Albert Mohler described that not only did Jesus suffer on the cross, but His very incarnation was suffered for our sake. For God to become Man is a sacrifice that we should not quickly forget. Mohler went on to say that many people have died martyrs, but only one was born one: Jesus Christ.

But, as is fitting given the setting of this holiday season, we will start this Sunday, the first class of the series, at the beginning. However, praise God that Jesus' beginning was not in the manger. No, in fact, John makes it very clear in John 1 that Jesus was not created (begotten of the Father, yes, but not created by Him). Instead, quite the opposite: "Through him all things were made" (John 1:3).

From His eternal existence to His deity, humanity, roles, atonement, and future works... we will study over the coming nine weeks the Person and Work of Christ, the Son of God. As we study the single most scrutinized and publicly defamed character of world History, I hope that we may honor God in this course by holding "firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught," and that as a result those taking the course will be emboldened to "refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). To recount a previous question posted on this blog by anonymous, I pray that I my split these doctrinal hairs responsibly and in accordance with God's word.

(Audio mp3 lectures will be posted weekly here.)

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

1 Peter 4:7-11 - Love That's Out of This World

This Sunday we'll be studying a small passage from 1 Peter that follows-up on the last lesson, Christ's Vindication. When you read the Bible in snippets, as most people do, you sometimes fail to find the connectivity and lose context from the topics that led up to the text at hand. That is the case with this text. Taken by themselves, they're very helpful instructions for day-to-day living as a loving Christian. When linked to the concepts of Christ's second coming and the much-prophesied days leading up to that event, this text becomes all the more poignant.

In prep for this Sunday's lesson, I've been reading Mark 13. I've just been pondering what these times will feel like. What it would be like to live in a day where being a Christian was an open invitation to discrimination, ridicule, torture or death. Sadly, many places in the world are already in this state of existence. If we take Mark 13 literally, I believe all places on earth will one day present this same unfavorable climate for believers.

I'm reminded of an observation that one of my friends made many years ago. The husband of a professional child-birthing coach, Chip cited Romans 8:22 and commented that every minute of labor, the mother-to-be thinks it's the worst pain she's ever had. Then the next minute, it's even worse. He then added his observation that the generations of mankind have been the same way. Every generation there are preachers that talk about how awful and sinful our generation has become, and therefore conclude that the end must be near. I cannot think of a more crystal-clear way to understand this metaphor.

So, are we in the last days? As a mother in labor, we may certainly feel that this generation is the worst the world has ever seen. Maybe the next will top it, who knows. What we do know is how Scripture tells us to deal with the ever-increasing pressures against our faith and difficulties of this world, and it's not to worry or speculate. It's to love!

We are told in this passage and elsewhere that our love should be out of this world... literally. It should come from the strength of God. Which is convenient because as I read the instructions in 1 Peter 4:7-11, I'm struck at how unable I am in my own strength to accomplish it. But, so God may be praised, He empowers us to live in loving community so great that it's out of this world.

By God's strength, we're to face the adversity this fallen world has for the Church with open hospitality, taking care of brothers in more dire need than us. We're to take on an attitude of love toward others, which will cover the rough edges that our sin one-to-another creates. We are to serve one another and speak to one another as though we were representing God to them—the God of mercy and love who has poured out His grace on His elect.

Because after all, Christ for whose name we suffer will be vindicated, the first born among many brothers. "To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:11)

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

1 Peter 3:18-22 - The Rocky Gospel

For three straight weeks in our class we've been studying various forms of the meek, submissive, and suffering aspects of Christian living. If the story were to end there (candidly speaking) I'm not sure how much appeal the God of ages would have for me. The Apostle Paul, I dare say, would agree with me. He wrote, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor. 15:19).

The way Peter frames the passage we'll study this week, 1 Peter 3:18-22, reminds me of the dramatic set-up for all 5 of Rocky's great come-backs. Submit to authorities, Submit to one-another, even be prepared to suffer when you don't deserve it... and then WHAM... "put to death in the body but..." (drum roll please) "... made alive by the Spirit."

From there, we see some unique perspectives on salvation that have historically been de-emphasized in today's evangelical circles. First, a comparison of the New Covenant ordinance of baptism to the Old Testament flood. The suffering and submissive nature that Christ took on ultimately resulted in the death of His flesh, as it will also in ours. But, more than the inevitable physical death, we're called to put to death our own sinful flesh, which we symbolize with baptism. In Genesis 6, water destroyed the wickedness of creation. In Romans 5, we read that water symbolizes the destruction of sin in our own flesh.

Next, with that comparison in view, Peter then explains that our salvation is from Christ's resurrection. Where we as evangelicals typically emphasize the atoning death, we must be careful not to neglect the salvific significance of Christ's resurrection. Even though our bodies will die, we will be made alive in the spirit. The life that Christ's atonement makes possible was actually initiated in His resurrection, making Him the firstborn among many brothers. 1 Corinthians 15 expounds on this truth in detail, telling us that our new bodies will be like his in nature.

It is only with this understanding of death to our sinful bodies that we can understand the relationship of suffering to sinlessness made in 4:1. Once again, on this same basis, Peter encourages his readers in 4:6 that even those who have died awaiting Christ's return have died in the body according to judgment but will live, as He did, by the spirit.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Who's the boss?

Our passage this coming Sunday is the dramatic conclusion to Paul's tyrade about his own authority in Christ. Here's where he finally lays it all out there and tells it to their face, right? Paul says to his rebellious children, "by God's power we will live with Him to serve you" (2 Cor. 13:4)

... In the famous words of Scooby Doo, "Whaaaaaaaa?"

C'mon Paul, where's that "kick 'em into shape" authority you're supposed to have? This Sunday, we will take a closer look at the authority that God gave the Apostles, and that He gives today to leaders in the church. Why is authority granted? How should it be administered. Reflection on Christ's own exhibition of His power on earth reveals a lot. Considering the failures of other would-be authorities in Bibilical history will also be a fun exercise.

Despite the disdain for authority that we have in our flesh, we need to come to God's Word in passages like 2 Corinthians 13 with an attitude of submission and understand the God-honoring reasons for authority.

See you Sunday!

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