Archive for the 'Biblical Theology' Category

06
Apr
15

jesus, the logos, the word of god

Christianity is Christ.  A Christian is someone who has faith in Christ.  He has come to see the glory of Christ and to be enthralled.  The glory of Christ is all he is and all he has accomplished.  There are many facets to this glory and Scripture uses many images or better, concepts, to describe it but perhaps none is richer than that employed by John in the prologue to his gospel; for John, Jesus is ‘the Word’,  the logos, the Word of God.

Many have commented on John’s genius in employing this image. It was a word familiar to the Greek world of that time, particularly the world of philosophy and religious concepts.  The use of logos gives John a point of contact with this world, a concept bridge to more easily convey the gospel into another culture.  That being said, John’s source for logos is not Greek but Hebrew; like the other NT writers his conceptual and semantic source, as far as truth is concerned is the OT Scripture.  Revelation not human reason is his authority.

To understand the gospel meaning of logos we must begin with OT revelation for that is where John begins.  Or rather, where the Spirit begins, for the genius in revelation does not lie with John but with the Spirit who inspired both John and the OT writers before him, the same Spirit who providentially ensured that logos was a concept in the cultures surrounding, corrupted of course, and awaiting the light of the gospel to imbue it with its true meaning and glory.

John, in unpacking what he means by ‘the Word’,  begins as far back as revelation reaches; he begins in Genesis One.  There we learn the Word is…

a divine word

Speech is the expression of who we are.  Our speech, even in deceitful folks like us, reveals our hearts.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34; 15:18).  What we say is profoundly who we are.  In God, who cannot lie, his speech is the perfect expression of who he is. God’s heart and his word are one; what he says, he is.  It is this indivisible union between God and his word that John employs to express the deity of Jesus.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.

We should be in no doubt what John is saying in this climax building statement: he is saying as plainly as he possibly can what he goes on to confirm in a variety of ways  throughout his gospel that Jesus is a divine person (though actually John avoids the normal Greek word for divine, theios, because apparently it may be used for something  less than God and uses only the definite word for God, theos), he is God: the word was, the word was with God, the word was God.  Some of the building blocks of a full-blown doctrine of the trinity are being laid here and John traces the revelation to the opening words of Scripture, to Genesis.

In Genesis one, when all things were created, we read, ‘and God said…’.  Here, in this ‘said‘, John finds ‘the Word who will become flesh’.  

Greek ideas apparently suggested that a word, a principle of reason, or created knowledge  was involved in the basis of the universe.  But whatever vague ideas concerning origins may have been permitted by God to develop John is clear that the creative word is divine.  From Genesis onward nothing is more closely associated with God than his Word.  It is who he is.  In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as he which was with God in the beginning (Proverbs 8).  No doubt OT references to God’s word and wisdom inform this first primary assertion of John, that Jesus is the divine word.  He can fully reveal God for he is God.

In various ways this will find echoes throughout the gospel.  He is the unique Son displaying the glory of an only Son of a Father (1:14).  No one has seen God at any time but the Son who dwells in the Father’s side has made him known (1:17).  He is the Son who does what he sees his Father do (Jn 5:19), the Father whose divine glory he shared before the world began (Jn 17:5).

Again, John’s sentence at the beginning of the gospel makes it clear and cannot be improved on: in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.

the creative word

In creation ‘God said… and it was so‘ (Gen 1:3,6,9).  God creates, of this there is no doubt.  Yet, to be precise, it is God’s word that creates.  But this is not contradiction for God and his Word though distinct are clearly one.  Everything God does he does by speaking, by a word, by his Word.  Autocratic kings of the East spoke and their word carried absolute authority.  Here is kingly authority and power on another scale altogether.  God is the autocratic King of all things.  His word is fiat in all of creation.  It does exactly what he intends.  His word is never empty but always energetic and effective (Isa 55:11).  God’s word is limitlessly powerful.  It is powerfully active (Ps 29:3-8).  It is completely authoritative.  By his word the worlds were framed and that which had no existence came into being (Hebs 11:1; Roms 4:17).  He spoke and it was done.  He commanded and it stood fast (Psalm 33:9). God’s word always succeeds because God himself watches over it to perform it (Jer 1:12).  He is jealous for the honour and glory of his word.  Indeed, such is the value and esteem God places on his Word that he magnifies it above all his name (Psalm 138:2).   There is about God’s word, an authority and majesty that makes it sure and settled; it is invincibly established (Psalm 119:89).  The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of the Lord stands, endures, forever (Isaiah 40:8).  Why?  Because God himself endures forever.

Given language like this it is not hard to see the profound biblicity of John’s statement:  the word was with God and the word was God.  God and his speech are distinct but indivisible.  And Christ is this limitlessly powerful creative Word.  He is God’s agent in creation.  God created the world of this there is no doubt.  Yet it is Christ, the Word, that creates.  All things are made by him (Col 1:16; Hebs 1:3).  God plans, his word performs.

But does this not mean he is a created being who made everything after he himself was previously made by God?  The Genesis ‘and God said’ should sufficiently guard against this.  God’s breath (the Spirit) and his creative word (the Son) are not created things separate from God but part of who God is, integral to him.  Yet, John further guards against the misconception that the word is created, by adding, ‘without him was not anything made that was made’.  He is not created, rather he creates all things with no exceptions. Thus in Christ, the Word of God, is all the fullness of God.  He dwells in the bosom of the Father (God’s word is precious to him) and has told him out.  It is the Father’s intention that the Son (the word) be honoured and glorified and in this God is himself glorified (Jn 17:1).  He is the one who does all that the Father does and is all that the Father is (Jn 5, 14).  Father and Son are one.  God and his Word are one.

God’s word in the beginning is manifestly good; it creates the fecundity of life.  In the creation week life burgeoned in every realm of the earth by the Word: God said and it was so.  It  seems that the first expressed word of God in Genesis  is, ‘ light, let there be’.  Life and light those great and good gifts of the Creator come through his Word.  Of that same Word, now revealed in Jesus,  John says, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men‘.  Now, however, the emphasis will be on spiritual life and spiritual light.  Jesus comes as the light of the world through whom, though a man walk in darkness he shall receive the light of life.  The Word who has life in himself will give life to whomsoever he will.  He comes full of grace and truth and of his grace we have received grace upon grace.  He is the one who will not fail (it is folly, as we have seen, to speak of God’s Word failing).  He is the divine Word who is established and watched over by God himself, who will endure forever.  Biblical images or better, realities, intersect, morph and mould as they seek to do justice to the one whose glory is the glory of the only son of the Father.  Jesus is the unified, true, perfect and complete expression of the Father.

the incarnate word

All the above discussion presupposes the Word, though God, is distinct within God and has distinct personality.  In fact, since John’s Word is a man on earth, Jesus, we know it goes much further.  Thus we confront John’s brave, bold and unambiguous language, ‘the word became flesh and lived (tabernacled) among us‘.  The Word who was God and was with God in the beginning became human.

Here is a concept utterly repugnant to fashionable sophisticated thinking.  Greek thinking saw matter, the material universe,  as something essentially base.  God could have nothing to do with it.  He is pure spirit and could not contaminate himself with grubby matter.  If he created he must have done so through secondary intermediary created forces (demi-urges).  But John will have none of this.  The Word was God and the Word became flesh.  By using the word ‘flesh’ John was deliberately choosing a word that conveyed the stark uncompromising reality of the incarnation.  God became the very thing all tasteful cultured educated people found inferior and gross and hoped one day to escape, unpalatable flesh; the spiritual became material.  The logos was not some impersonal creative force but a divine person who became a human person.  Even the Jewish theologians do not seem to have anticipated this.  Whenever, I hear folks say we must adapt the gospel to make it palatable to our current generation or it will die out I think of just how essentially counter cultural so many aspects of the gospel was at its inception: God manifest in flesh is one huge example.  The ‘truth’, was not tied up in philosophy and clever human reasoning; it was found in a man who was the perfect expression of all wisdom and knowledge, of God himself, for he was God.

The Word became flesh.  The Son became human.  The glory seen to the eye of faith was the glory of an only Son of a Father.  But that, perhaps, is a topic for a future post.

02
Mar
15

sussing the sermon on the mount

It seems that The Sermon on the Mount has a negative press in large segments of evangelicalism.  Some insist it is pure law and its purpose, like the Mosaic Covenant, is only to kill (Lutheranism and variants of it).  Others also see it as law but think its primary focus is to instruct believers during ‘the great tribulation’, a so-called period between the expected ‘rapture’ and ‘revelation’ of Christ (dispensationalism). Both viewpoints tend to create a fairly dismissive approach to the sermon.  Certainly both undermine what seems to me to be the self-evident positive intention of the sermon which is to instruct those who belong to God’s Kingdom how to behave for God’s glory in a fallen world.  In the words of the Sermon:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16 | ESV

I wish to argue that in describing life in the Kingdom its message is for believers today ( for we presently are part of Christ’s inaugurated Kingdom. Matt 11:11,12,26; 12:26-28; 13; Acts 8:12; Roms 14:17; Col 1:13).  Further, we should not approach the sermon negatively for while it stresses continuity with the Old Mosaic Covenant which must not be downplayed equally there are discontinuities that are equally vital and raise it massively above the Sinaic covenant of law.

Context

Context is of course king in interpretation; it rules everything.  Firstly, we must understand the sermon then  within the narrative of salvation-history.  The Sermon on the Mount has a complicated place in terms of salvation history.  Clearly with the arrival of Jesus, the long expected salvation has arrived; promise is giving way to fulfilment.   The ‘law and the prophets were until John ‘; in Jesus the Eschaton (promised End-time salvation) arrived (Matt 11:13; Lk 16:16; 7:18-23).  The good news is that the arrival of the kingdom is imminent (3:1) for its King,  Messiah, the eschatological Prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19; Acts 3:17-26; 7:37), has arrived.  He will be all Moses was and so much more.

Matthew is keen in his narrative to point out the parallels between the story of Messiah and Israel. For Messiah recapitulates in his life the experience of the nation.  Like Israel, Jesus is God’s son who finds protection in Egypt.  He leaves Egypt (Matt 2:15) and after baptism (the Red Sea cf. 1 Cor 10:1) is in the wilderness (3:13-4:1).  There, like Israel, he is tested (ch 4:1-11).  In ch 4:18-22, the twelve are chosen, the new eschatological Israel.  Israel in the wilderness journeys to the mountain, Sinai.  There, on that mountain, the covenant of law is given via Moses to the people.  In Matthew, the first event after Christ’s desert testing and choosing of twelve is the sermon on the mountain.  Matthew’s point is clear, Jesus is the new Moses, the new law-giver, the new Ruler of Israel.  Time will reveal just how new and radical this new law, new era, new Ruler, the Mediator of a  new covenant, really is.

Continuity

Yet it is not the radical aspects that are initially stressed but the regular.  Consciously taking the ground of the Prophet who was to come who would be like, but superior in authority to, Moses and who would succeed, support, yet surpass him, Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17c-20 | ESV

Jesus, like John before him, has been preaching the good news, the gospel, of the kingdom of God (Matt 4:23).  Both proclaim its arrival in him, the Messianic King.  Its arrival is evidenced in his overthrow and expulsion of all that is evil (Matt 4:23-25; Deut 33:50-55; Lk 7:18-23) in the land and by instruction for the eschatological Israel, the disciples, how they should do so in their lives (5-7).  We should note that the gospel here is the arrival of the rule of God.  It is God’s will being done on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10). This shows clearly that we cannot divorce gospel from obedience as some wish to do today; to do so creates a false dichotomy.  To call indicatives gospel and imperatives law is a Lutheran distinction without biblical warrant and leads to confusion.  The rule of God by its very nature implies imperatives.  Thus the Sermon on the Mount is a snapshot of Kingdom obedience in this present age (the sermon assumes a fallen world, a rejected Messiah, and not-yet-perfect sons of the kingdom).  It is life in a not-yet-fully-conquered eschatological Canaan (Deut 33:50-55).  Life in Canaan involved a restatement of the law, the deuteronomy, without obedience to it all would be forfeit.  Jesus lays down the same dynamic in the sermon; hearing and doing is the way to inherit the land or earth, to realise the eschatological Kingdom, and to prove to be a son of the kingdom (7:15-27).

In the Kingdom,  the time of fulfilment has arrived.  The first thing Jesus is anxious to establish is the positive relationship between the old and the new.  He wishes to make clear the continuity between ‘the law and the prophets’ and the eschatological (promised End-time) Kingdom.  His principal point is that the old is not slighted or disparaged in any way in the arrival of the new.  He has not come as some iconoclast or subversive who disdains the past.  The new does not disparage the old, it is its denouement.  Christ does not abolish the old, he does not oppose it, he fulfils it; in the new the old is accomplished.  All that the old was about, all it aspired to and anticipated, finds its fulfilment in the new.

In the realised Kingdom the old is neither disparaged nor diluted nor dismissed.  It is dignified, deepened, and discharged.  In the new covenant the perpetuity of all the old stood for is guaranteed (Ex 12:14; 31:16; Roms 3:31).

Discontinuity

Yet, even in this clear statement of continuity a signal is given that continuity will not be a wooden literal conformity to the old.  The key word is ‘fulfil’.  It, or semantic  equivalents, is often used in the NT to describe the inaugurated kingdom.  Only a study of the many NT texts that discuss fulfilment give us a full picture of what fulfilment looks like and these present fulfilment in a kaleidoscope of ways.  We cannot expect fulfilment to be found in its full clarity here in this sermon for Jesus is addressing people before the cross, resurrection and Pentecost.  Further, he is addressing Jews who until his death and resurrection must live under law (as Messiah did).  Thus we have references in the sermon to presenting oneself to the Sanhedrin, leaving gifts at the altar, etc.  Any competent hermeneutic must make allowances for this historical ambiguity.  Yet, even here, in this incipient description of the Kingdom, and elsewhere in the gospels (Matt 9:17; Mk 7:19), we discover that fulfilment does not mean facsimile and realisation isn’t replica.  Post-resurrection every aspect of the law and every prophecy is still honoured and fulfilled but NOT necessarily literally.  The NT writers give us the spiritual principles for interpreting both the law and prophets, for both the law and the prophets were prophecy, bearing witness to Christ and the coming kingdom, principles first taught by Jesus himself (Matt 11:12;Lk 24:27,44; Jn 5:39; Roms 3:21).  Prophecy by its very nature is provisional. It is also opaque.  Fulfilment or accomplishment, as noted above, takes place in a rich diversity of ways that often the initial prophecy merely hinted at.  Shadow gives only an outline, a silhouette of what is real and substantial (Col 2:17; Hebs 8:5).

The transition from ‘the law and the prophets’ to Kingdom fulfilment is essentially  the transition between the old covenant and the new covenant where again we observe continuity and discontinuity.  The continuity between the covenants is clear in Scripture; the law that the Mosaic Covenant demanded, in the New Covenant is written on the heart (Jer 31:31-34).

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:31-34 | ESV

On the one hand the demands of the law transfer in essence from one covenant to the other and so the old is upheld in the new (continuity).  But in another sense, the covenant involves significant and far reaching changes.  In the new covenant, the eschatological covenant, all sins are forgiven and the law, previously written on tablets of stone, is now written on the heart (cf 2 Cor 3).  This makes it a superior covenant (Hebs 8:6-13).  Elsewhere we discover it means a new life, a new heart, and the indwelling, empowering Spirit (Ezek 11:19; 16:60-63; 36:22-38; 37:1-28).  Unlike in the old covenant, God is known by all and not a few (Jer 31:34).  The old was merely a pallid reflection of this massively more glorious reality (2 Cor 3:7-11); the moon to the sun.  The Sermon on the Mount assumes this new covenant relationship; God is assumed to be known for he is addressed as Father, a distinctly gospel relationship (Matt 5:16, 6:1,4,8,9,16,26,32 etc).

It is within this unique historical context and this tension between continuity and discontinuity in fulfilment that, ‘for truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished’ must be understood; in the new the old is treasured even as it is translated and transfigured.  It is this treasuring or valuing of the law that Jesus deals with next.  He says, ‘Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven’.  Jesus, in the sermon demonstrates the truth of this.  The Pharisees, feeling the human impossibility of the law, and having with the scribes assumed responsibility for teaching the law, interpret it in ways that make it less demanding, less onerous.  They found ways to water it down and to circumvent its demands.  It is these he addresses when he says, ‘you have heard it said’.  The scribes and Pharisees ‘relaxed’ the import of the law. Of course, they were not the last to water down God’s commands, many teachers of the church have done so over the centuries, in fact, it is the temptation of all.  In fact, I suspect much of the present clamour to insist we are not ‘under law’ is just another manifestation of this impulse; for many it is not an attempt to make clear that we are not under law in the sense of not under the mosaic covenant as a way and rule of life (as is certainly the case) but that we are not under any kind of command or rule at all.  The suggestion of being under the authority of another and having to obey commands of any kind our egalitarian and self-determining generation finds objectionable.  Yet this sermon makes clear that such commands do exist as does the rest of the NT (Matt 28:20; Jn 15:14; 1 Cor 14:37; 1 Tim 4:11; 1 Jn 5:3; 1 Cor 7:19; 1 Tim 5:21; Gals 6:16).

Jesus,  by contrast (but I say unto you) gave the law its full weight. He shows it calls for a righteousness beyond that which the scribes and Pharisees taught and displayed.  He brought out that murder was not simply physical killing but an attitude of heart; he demonstrates in the sermon the spiritual depth of the law.  Indeed, he takes the commandments of the law and gives them a breadth and depth that transforms them into commandments that flow from himself; he is the Prophet that Moses anticipated who would succeed and supersede him (Deut 18:15-19; Acts 3:19-26), the King-Prophet Law-giver (Ezek 37:24-28).

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Deut 18:15-19;

It would no longer be the Ten Words of Sinai but the law of Christ (Messiah), something of richer value and full revelation.  And what is more, what he teaches he lives in his life; he is par excellence the one who ‘does them and teaches them’ and who therefore has the moral right to be ‘ called great in the kingdom of heaven’.  He in all ways magnifies the law and makes it glorious (Isa 42:21).  Jesus is the scribe who ‘has been trained for the kingdom of heaven and is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  Matthew 13:52 | ESV

Thus, whatever we mean by being no longer ‘under law’ what we do not mean is that the life of godliness and holiness which the law required is in anyway less under the gospel.  If anything ‘fulfilment’ aspires to a godliness beyond what the law, certainly in letter, required.  It involves, among other things, loving your enemies and laying down your life for them, turning the other cheek, and going the second mile; it involves living like and identifying ourselves with a rejected Christ and reflecting the graces of our Heavenly Father (Matt 5:11, 38-48)

Conclusion

Thus the Sermon on the Mount models for us, at least in embryo, how the OT law is fulfilled in eschatological Kingdom living.  All that the law and prophets reached for is accomplished in the Kingdom. Yet, I repeat, there is no wooden continuity.  We can and should go back to the law and, as with all Scripture, find it profitable for understanding many aspects of Christian doctrine concerning Christ and his work.  Equally it is profitable for training in righteousness, but, and this qualifying preposition is very important, only if we understand it through the prism of redemptive history, only if we grasp its metamorphosis in Christ.  If we fail to do this we will soon become enslaved to the OT law and begin to live as OT Jews (as some advocate we ought).

Indeed, If we place ourselves under the OC in any sense (as Reformed folks come uncomfortably close to doing by making the law a rule of life) then we shall soon find ourselves struggling with  assurance of salvation, having a slave-mentality to obedience, and feeling constantly wretched by our failure before its demands; we shall fall from grace (Gals 3:1-3; 5:1-4; Roms 7; 8:14-16).

The law, as Jesus speaks of it in the sermon, was the Old Covenant (not every biblical command as many insist) addressed to man in the flesh (Roms 7:1-6), but we are in Christ, new covenant believers, in the Spirit and not the flesh (Gals 3,4; Roms 8; ).  We serve in the new way of the Spirit and not the old ways of the flesh.  God’s commands do not come to us as a letter that kills (as the law did) but, by the Spirit, as words of life.  This is where Lutherans and some who follow their law/gospel dichotomy go so very wrong. They insist on approaching the imperatives of the Sermon on the Mount and indeed any biblical imperative (those from the OT understood through the prism of Christ and redemptive history) as if they carry old covenant conditions, that is, as if they, the hearers, were still in the flesh.  Little wonder they are viewed so negatively.  Little wonder they kill.  The flesh hates God and hates any command he gives (Roms 8:7,8).  The flesh always wriggles and squirms at anything that smacks of commandment.  But Christians approach every command from God from the standpoint of faith.  They hear every command as the voice of the Spirit and rely on him to enable.  The Spirit causes them to rejoice in the command.  It is after all an expression of God’s good, acceptable and perfect will.  They rejoice where it exposes sin they need to rout out (Roms 8:13,14) and rejoice for the light it sheds on the will of God for the regenerate, Spirit-filled life, finds that will not burdensome but a delight; what God commands the renewed heart covets (Ezek 11:9,10; 36:25-31;Psalm 1:2; 199:47,48,127).  The great need is to approach the sermon through Christian eyes, to hear it with spiritual ears.  When we do this it is not a law that kills (it cannot, for believers are already dead) but as words leading into life (Jn 6:63; 12:49,50; Roms 8:6, 10,13).

In fact, if we place ourselves in any sense under the OC of law (whether as a weapon to kill or a rule for life) we shall find ourselves dismayed for we will soon discover that not only are the demands of the Old Covenant beyond us because of our sinfulness they are also beyond us because the conditions required to keep them no longer exist.  There is no temple, no sacrifice system, no levitical priesthood, no cities of refuge etc.. The Old Covenant was morally finished at the exile, dispensationally finished at the cross, and had its final nails driven into its coffin at the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of all that was integral to covenant-keeping (Hebs 8:13).  It is gone, and gone forever: yet it lives on in the only way that matters, in the gospel, in the new covenant (Deut 30:4-14… a description of the eschatological new covenant Israel.  Cf.  Roms 10:5-16; Roms 8:3,4).

It is from this perspective we must approach the sermon, as new covenant life in Christ.  To be sure, only when the Spirit is given and full gospel status is understood will what before the cross is sometimes considered hard and difficult to bear (Matt 19) be understood as an easy yoke and light burden unlike the old covenant of law (Matt 11:28-30; 1 Jn 5:3).  But these post-Pentecost eyes and ears are ours.  We, of all people should approach the ethical demands of the sermon and other Biblical instruction in righteousness  as they are intended, not as an impossible law to crush and condemn but as a Kingdom lifestyle to affirm and embrace.  To look at the sermon is to see Jesus and the desire of every believers heart is to be like him.  In and through gospel realities this is possible.

To walk and run the the law commands
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands
But better news the gospel brings
It bids me fly and gives me wings

Finally, I should point out that the sermon is about Kingdom living.  If we want to find out how we may by grace enter the Kingdom and the source of  the empowering grace to live Christlike within it we must look elsewhere.  Here the good news shows us the blessed life of the Kingdom.  We must read on in the gospel to discover the good news of the cross and resurrection.  But we must never think there is something sub-Christian about this sermon, something essentially  legalistic.  Rather we read it remembering the words of the resurrected Christ to his disciples before returning to heaven.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 | ESV

 

 

 

 

31
Dec
14

all things new

all things are new

The NT is clear that there is a relationship of promise and fulfilment between the OT and the NT; what is promised in the old is fulfilled in the new. Fulfilment implies both discontinuity and continuity.  However, we should note that when the NT discusses aspects of continuity hard on its heels is normally a stress on discontinuity (Cf. Roms 5:12-21).  The reality is the NT writers are far more anxious to stress the ‘newness’ in fulfilment than the similarity; for them the new eclipses the old.  Indeed the very fact of ‘newness’ (we speak of a New Testament which is a  reference to the biblically referenced ‘new covenant’) suggests there is something, imperfect, inadequate, inferior about the old; the new renders the old passing and obsolete.

Some NT writers like John scarcely mention continuity at all.  After all if the ‘new’ has as its focus, basis and heart, a divine person, the Word who was with God and was God and has become flesh, then here is glory without parallel.  Here is something that was never here before,  the glory of the only Son of his Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). 

There is nothing in the past that matches this.  Here God is introducing something breathtakingly new.  In the past God had spoken in shadows but now he reveals himself in his Son, he reveals himself in full glory, as he really and truly is, for to see the Son is to see the Father. 

No man has seen God at any time but the Son who is in the bosom of the Father has declared him (Jn 1:18).

And so John writes, with radical discontinuity, ‘the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (Jn 1:17).  Of course, in one sense there was grace and truth in law, after all the law was God’s truth and it did make gracious provision for sin, but John will brook no rival with Christ.  When the true light shines all lesser lights disappear.  He, and he only, is the way, the truth, and the life (titles some may have conferred on law).  He is the fulfilment that eclipses the promise, the new that replaces the old so that the old gladly says, ‘he must increase and I decrease’.  Thus when John the Baptist’ s disciples see Jesus they rightly leave John and follow Jesus; the new had come (Jn 1:35-44).

And it is the ‘newness’ in Christ, the ‘fullness’ that resides in Him that John invites us to receive, the irrepressible joy of eternal life, which is nothing less than shared fellowship with the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom he sent.

water becomes wine

Ch 2 makes this new joy to be found in Christ clear.  It is Jesus first miracle.  He is at a wedding in Cana.  It ought to be an occasion for joy as weddings are.  But the wine, a biblical symbol of joy, had run out.  All they had were empty stone water-jars kept for ritual purification.  Judaism was redundant.  The old had no joy to give.  It was lifeless, powerless, joyless.  Mere ritual.  Only in Jesus could new wine be found and wine that was (paradoxically) better than the old.

His mother knew this.  Instinctively she knows the solution lies in Him. She tells the servants to follow his instructions and entreats her son.  But she is mistaken, for it can be no longer be as a mother asking her son she must beseech but as one who asks her Lord for he is now anointed for his messianic mission and it is as Messiah she is inviting him to act.  Here she can only entreat on the same basis as everyone else; she must come apart from blood relationship and acknowledge him as Lord.  She must come not as one who gave him birth but as one born again through him; one who has received him, believed in his name and been given the right to be called a child of God.  And so he addresses her as ‘woman’ (a title of respect) but not ‘mother’.

His time to be revealed as Messiah had not yet come but Messiah is full of grace and out of that fullness all receive.  He commands the empty jars of (empty) Jewish ritual to be filled with water and served to the guests.  The water flowed as a fully matured wine.  Judaism was powerless to bring up for joy, fullness of joy, lies not in the ritual water of the old but in the rich wine of the new; it lies in Christ.  This is his glory.

John at every point stresses this newness that lies in Christ.  In him will be found a new power, through a new baptism, the baptism of the new covenant, the eschatological  baptism in the Spirit (in 1:33,34).  In him will be found too that eschatological life, the life that Ezekiel saw when dead bones lived, new life in the Spirit (Jn 3:3-10).  In him, God finds a new dwelling place on earth, a tent or temple, where his glory is not hidden but revealed (1:18;  2:19-22).  In him, a new centre of worship is created, a new sacred space, for in his ascension men will worship neither in Jerusalem, Gerazim, nor Mecca, but will worship in spirit and in truth through Christ (4:19-26).

In Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new.  Day by day believers live in this newness.  Each day the Spirit of the risen reigning Christ bubbles up inside us like a fresh mountain spring, living water, refreshing, renewing, re-invigorating, realizing within us the life of the living triune God.  Filling and flooding our hearts with Christ.  We know even in troubles, especially in troubles, what it is to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The old is gone: the old self we once were; the old sin we once served; the old master who once duped us; the old world we once loved that hates us.  All are broken cistern that hold no water… empty jars that contain no wine.  The new is come.  In Christ we daily live and have our being.  We look to him and in Him have everything.  Every day is a celebration of all he is.  Every day is Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. We belong to the Eschaton.  The Fulfilment.  The rich wine of New Creation.

Each day belongs to the new, not just January the 1st.

14
Feb
12

genesis… a simple introduction

I am writing a short (very short) introduction to each book of the Bible for a Church Bible exhibition.  Each summary should be accessible to the average 13-year-old (though it is intended for adults).  I aim to have an opening paragraph that is comprehensive if terse and then a further paragraph or two (if necessary) unpacking the first.  Here is my first unedited stab at an intro to Genesis.  I feel it is a little longer than I would like.  Any helpful criticism on content, style etc would be appreciated.

Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible.  Unsurprisingly, it means ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’.  It tells us about the origin of the world, of humanity, of evil and suffering in history, and it tells us too about God’s promise to resolve the problem of evil and how he begins to do so in human history. 

In Genesis we discover that God made and arranged all that exists.  He is Creator-King of the universe.  Humanity is God’s greatest creation made to resemble and represent God in creation.  Tragically humanity chose to rebel against the Creator – choosing self-rule rather than God’s rule.  Much of Genesis is an account of the developing evil in humanity as the inevitable outcome of this choice and showing how human evil led to God’s judgements on humanity in various ways.

However, woven through the dark narrative of the progress of evil and its consequences we have another narrative.  It is a narrative of hope.  God is not only judging evil he is putting in place a plan to save humanity and creation.  The very humanity that has brought death and destruction will be used by God to bring life and blessing.  How is not fully revealed in Genesis but the building blocks are put in place.  In particular, God chooses to work through one man and his descendents to bring blessing to the world.  The man is called Abraham and his descendents are the nation we call Israel.  God’s promise to Abraham is expressed in these words,

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 2 “I will make you into a great nation,
   and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
   and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
   and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
   will be blessed through you. (Gen 12:1-3)

We meet Abraham and some of his immediate descendents in Genesis but it will be many centuries, many generations and many Bible books later before we discover how God fulfils this promise in the person called Jesus.

06
Dec
11

the psalms – experiences of ot faith realized and resolved in christ

The Psalms are the expression of faith in Israel.  They reveal the complexity of thoughts and feelings that were the response of faith to the experience of life  in the old covenant.  Moreover, they gave individual Israelites the language and thought-forms to express and interpret their own experience according to faith.  If they express the faith of the godly in Israel then it goes without saying that they express too in many ways the faith experience of the true Israel, the Messiah; the Psalms are in large measure the words of Christ, his prayers and petitions.

In fact, I would argue, it is only in Christ that the anxieties, perplexities and apparent enigmas of faith voiced in the Psalms find their resolution.  Without their fulfilment in Christ the Psalms remain a kaleidoscope of confused and apparently contradictory faith.  Thus, in the words of the theologians, the Psalms are ultimately Christotelic – they find their goal and resolution in Christ.  Christ not only experiences the Psalms but he explains them; the disconnects of faith in the Psalms are integrated in him.  Little wonder the NT again and again cites or alludes to the Psalms as it tells and explains the story of Jesus; the Psalms expound Christ and Christ expounds the Psalms.

The Psalter opens with the ‘blessed man’ who meditates day and night in the law of the Lord and prospers in all he does.  But such a man did not exist – until Messiah.  He is the ‘blessed man’.  He is the fully obedient man, the submissive one, who ‘delights to do your will O God’ (Ps 40); the man who has God’s law within his heart (Ps 40:7).  He is the true man of Ps 8, the ‘son of man’  made for a little lower than angels for the suffering of death now crowned with glory and honour, the man to whom God has subjected the world to come (Hebs 2).  (Adam was never a ‘son of man’ though Israel was (Ps 80:7).  And so ‘son of man’ is Christ’s chosen title for himself, the true man and true Israel – a title of humility with overtones of glory. Dan 7:13)

And he is a ‘true man’ who truly suffers for he lives in a fallen world opposed to God.  The Psalter is full of the cries of innocent sufferers, the righteous who suffer unjustly for their covenant faithfulness and bring their complaint to God in belief, yet dismay, for, if the covenant is true, why should the righteous suffer (Ps 73) rather ‘in all they do they should prosper (Ps 1).  Yet, mystery of mysteries, even Messiah suffers.  He is hated and despised  because of his loyalty and zeal for the Lord – the reproaches of those who reproached the Lord fell on him (Ps 69).  Shame, burned deeply in his soul (Ps 44:15) and isolating loneliness was his lot in obedience withering his soul (Ps 102).  Some who are so tried find deliverance in life but many do not.  Such is the experience of the godly sufferer in Psalm 22.  Others trusted and were delivered but he was not; he lay in the dust of death.  He knows what it is to make unrequited pleas for deliverance.  He knows, as no other, the forsakenness and forlornness of soul of one whose loud existential  ‘why’ echoes around the empty and pitiless heavens.   The language of this Psalm and many others that express the suffering of the godly is the language of the Christ. In Messiah, this suffering will be fully experienced and ultimately explained. It is the language on his lips on the cross (Mk 15:34).  Yet in all this harrowing there is no failure of faith.  He knows that when tested no fault will be found (Ps 17).  Even in death, in faith he will cry ‘it is finished’ and commit his spirit to the one who judges righteously.  His faith in death awaits and anticipates resolution.  If we wish to see the interior of the one whose self-given title was ‘son of man’ and who was made in all points like his brothers and tested as they (apart from sin) then we must bathe our minds in the cries of those who suffer unjustly in the Psalms.

Even the weight of sin and its consequences expressed in many psalms find their echo in Messiah.  We must be very careful here.  He had no sin to confess but as the sin-bearer, the one who was ‘made-sin’ (2 Cor 5) he knew only to well what the crushing weight of sin entailed.  The sins that overwhelm him seem more than the hairs of his head (Ps 40; 38:4).  He knows what it is to have the wrath of God sweep over him and lie heavily upon him (Ps 88) and what it is to be cast off and rejected and know God’s full wrath against him (Ps 89).  Note well the wrath-bearing!  The green tree enters into the same judgement (burning) as the tree that is dry (Ps 52:8; Lk 23:31).  Indeed this Psalm explores another theme.  It is not simply the enigma of wrath against a righteous sufferer, it is wrath against God’s ‘anointed’ (Ps 89:38), wrath against the Messiah, the appointed King.

Christ is the Davidic King of the Psalms.  He is the one anointed to bring God’s salvation (and judgement) to the nations (Ps 110:6; 22:27; 45:17).  The ‘blessed man’ of Ps 1 is the anointed King of Ps 2.  Against him the nations plot and rage in vain (Cf Acts 4:25).  In vain, because God has set his King upon his holy hill of Zion and he will rule the nations.  Yet, in Ps 89, this same Davidic King with whom the Lord had promised a father son relationship, whom he declared would be his firstborn over all the kings of the earth, and whom he had covenanted to protect and whose foes to crush, finds the covenant apparently renounced, his crown lying in the dust, and his enemies triumphant (Ps 89).  Is God unfaithful?  This is the besetting fearful doubt with which Satan attacks the godly in Israel seeking to rob them of joy and faith; it is the test of faith.

Only in Christ is the resolution.  The innocent sufferer of Psalm 22 may lie in the dust of death, his pleas for deliverance apparently unheard.  The messianic King may seem to have been abandoned to his enemies, his crown lying in the dust.  But God’s promises will not fail.  God is faithful to his covenant.  He is righteous and will deliver his righteous servant (Ps 18:43).  His fulfilled promise will eclipse all expectation for he will prevail over death itself.  And the innocent sufferer of Ps 22 affirms this.  In the dust of death he declares in faith, ‘ I will declare your name to my brothers and in the midst of the great congregation I will praise you’.   In the words of another Psalm, God will not suffer his holy one to see corruption but bring him into the light of life (Ps 16); deliverance from death would in Messiah take on a new meaning and hope (Acts 2:27).

It would be in resurrection triumph the righteous sufferer, Messiah would ascend the throne and hear the divine vindication and recognition, ‘You are my son , whom today I have begotten’ (Ps 2).  In resurrection he would receive the call to enthronement,  ‘sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies your footstool’ (Ps 110:1).  He would be the King-Priest exalted above all his enemies (Ps 18) , entering after victory in battle into the holy place in glory (Ps 24) commencing a reign that would have no end (Ps 110) and whose dominion will stretch from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps 72).   Indeed, it is then, in ascension, the greatest mystery of all would be fully revealed, when, ‘I shall be to him a father and he shall be to me a son’ would be understood as more, so much more, than merely Yahweh’s adoption of a Davidic King, rather it would reveal a truly Divine relationship – that he who was the Davidic ”son of David’ (Ps 132) and the Adamic ‘son of man’ (Ps 8 ) was in the fullest sense possible the Divine ‘Son'; he was in truth the ‘Son of God’. Here is the full resolution of the enigma of the Psalms.  This makes sense of the words of Ps 110,  ‘the Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’ (Ps 110) and Psalm 45, addressed to the Davidic King on ascension to the throne:

Ps 45:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. ​​​​​​​The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. ​​​​​​​Therefore God, your God, has anointed you ​​​​​​​with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

Thus, upon the resurrection of the Christ Paul writes:

Rom 1:1-6 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Total resolution awaits a future day – we too see not yet all things under the feet of man – we await the day of final and complete vindication, but like all who lived by faith in the Psalms, though with a clearer eye from a higher vantage-point, we see Jesus (his very human name) made a little lower than the angels because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, and with him we await the day when all his enemies become the footstool of his feet.  This is the Lord’s doing and it is glorious in our eyes (Ps 118:23).

This is a simple outline of the Christotelic nature of the Psalms.  In these weeks that precede advent I hope to reflect on one or two of these Psalms that reveal to us the human thoughts and feelings of the word who became flesh.

31
Jan
11

new covenant theology… and to a large extent my own theology

This link leads to an excellent summary of what is called ‘New Covenant Theology’.  Although, over the years, I read little of NCT when I ‘discovered’ it, I found it reflected fairly closely my own views.  I was raised a Dispensationalist and over the years read a fair amount of  Covenant Theology.  I found neither satisfactory yet felt both had important insights to give.  The architects of NCT had a similar journey.  It is therefore, perhaps, hardly surprising, that I find their and my biblical framework very similar.

I recommend you read the post.

06
Jan
11

does god care more for people or plants?

The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze.  If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it.  One that  deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people.  Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.

Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine.  It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition.  Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise.  But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it.  We are being told this is God’s main concern.  We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel.  The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.

Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here.  He well says,

Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.

Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else.  Read the story of creation.  The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth.  Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life.  Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation.  He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).

It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam.  The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).

When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man.  It is man he clothes.  Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found.  God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself).  God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).

Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity.  The rich images of OT relationship underline this.  He is a Father to Israel.  He is a Husband to his People.  He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon.  He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2).  It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).

The NT is exactly the same.   Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’.   The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’.  Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).

In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people.  Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels  but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters.  They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).

Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.

Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.

Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21.  What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides.  The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,

Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants.  That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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