Loving God’s Law

Psalm 119:97 O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
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The law is a revelation of God’s character. It reveals the holy righteous character of God. Theft is not wrong primarily because it will hurt another person. Theft is wrong because God is not a thief. Adultery is not wrong primarily because it causes damage to families. It is wrong because God is always faithful. When we who are created in his image steal or commit adultery, we are misrepresenting God. We are lying about the character of God.
One reason that the Psalmist can say that he loves the law of God is because the law reveals the character of God and he loves God. Naturally if he loves God and has God as his father, he will love that which reveals his character. He will want to live in such a way that speaks only truth of God. And the only way for anyone to have this love of God is for God to take out the wicked God-hating heart and replace it with a heart of love. This is only possible by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit made possible by Christ’s death on the cross. The Spirit will write love of God on the heart of the believer. This love for God will result in the love of the law of God.
Unfortunately many speak about God’s commandments in ways that don’t reveal a love for them. For example, some see that God has spoken against sodomy and because they can’t argue themselves past the clear meaning of scripture, they will begrudgingly accept it as God’s command. Yet they will still think the biblical punishment for it is too harsh.  Some are egalitarian in mindset but see that there are clear scriptures that forbid a woman to preach so they begrudgingly hold to these texts. Because they can’t wiggle out of a few texts, they will like a lawyer only hold to the strict letter of these few commands while looking for loopholes anywhere they can find them. Rather than embrace and love the sexual design that God has for men and women because it reveals something of his character, they will halfheartedly follow only the texts they can’t escape from. These maybe signs that the heart has not really been changed. These could be signs that we have not really started to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

Review of Doctrine that Dances

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There are several ways to teach a subject but the different approaches can be summarized as “tell them how” versus “show them how.”   In Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Robert Smith relies heavily on the latter to instruct pastors in the importance of doctrinal preaching. His style of writing uses a lot of metaphors and pithy quotes to compare preaching to dancing and escorting. This brings an original approach to a book on preaching that when it succeeds, it hits a home run but when it doesn’t succeed it strikes out, leaving the reader unsure of what the metaphor really was meant to convey.

Summary

 

Robert Smith Jr. serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching. He formerly taught Christian preaching at The Theological Southern Baptist Seminary as well. He is obviously well versed in preaching and one gathers right away that the style of the book will be similar to a sermon. The reader can almost hear the writer preaching the material of the book in the way that he uses metaphors and pithy quotes and proverbs. Smith says that the book is about doctrinal preaching and handling the word of God in such a way as to bring joyous praise and glory to God. He works to drive home the importance of doctrinal preaching while at the same time providing various definitions of preaching from people through history before finally settling on his own definition. He summarizes his definition as “transformation through Christ.” Doctrinal preaching “is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith employs two larger metaphors to define doctrinal preaching and to build the rest of the book upon, an exegetical escort and a doxological dancer.   He hangs the major themes of the books on these two metaphors. First, the role of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to be able to escort the hearer into God’s presence for transformation. One of the major themes of Smith’s book is that the text must be first interpreted correctly by the preacher and then internalized by the preacher. The preacher must sit under his own preaching. After having done this, then the preacher can exegete his audience and bring the text to bear upon them so that they will be confronted with the truths of scripture.

Smith says that the exegetical escort must rightly divide the word of God. He says that the sermon must come from the text and not imposed upon it. He says that doctrinal preaching will keep three focuses in mind, apologetics, polemics, and catechism. The exegetical escort will work to establish what the correct teaching and doctrine by arguing from the scripture while fending off false teachings and nourishing the sheep.

The second big theme of Smith’s book is that preaching must be balanced between the intellect and the emotional, the mind and the heart.   He drives this point home with the doxological dancer metaphor. He shifts from content to style of delivery and back with this theme. The doxological dancer “is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.” The doxological dancer internalizes the message for himself. He exegetes his audience. He then he can now deliver the message in such a way that his audience is moved by the content and delivery of the sermon.

He uses analogies of songs and also speaks of the history of African Americans to help drive home the importance of making the sermon dance. He says that you “Begin low; Proceed slow; Rise higher; Take fire; When most impressed Be self-possessed; To Spirit wed form, and Sit down in a storm.” He reminds the preacher that the gospel of Jesus Christ should not be boring. The preacher is escorting the people into the presence of the Lord and this should cause us to rejoice. It should change us. The audience is concerned with the “what”, the “so what” and the “now what” so the preacher must be able to answer these questions in a way that causes the listener to exalt God.

Another big theme for Smith is preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he uses a metaphor of jazz improvisation. He argues that a preacher must have internalized the sermon so well that he is not glued to the manuscript but is free to go as the Spirit leads. He does not diminish the importance of preparation because he has already spent ample time speaking about sermon prep. However, he is very adamant that the preacher must trust God through his preparation and especially in the delivery of the sermon. Finally, Smith ends with reminding the reader that preaching God’s word faithfully will have an effect upon the preacher and his listeners. The preacher should preach so that his listeners will be motivated to take that message to their neighbors, communities, families, and friends.

Critical Evaluation

Smith is obviously an accomplished preacher and is masterful at telling stories. He uses that to good effect in this book. As said in the introduction, he seems to lean on showing how rather than telling how. That is, he relies heavily on applications of his points from metaphors, pithy quotes and parables. For some readers, this style may take a little getting used to.   He doesn’t give clear and delineated points as in other instructional books but instead seems to flow from thought to thought seamlessly. This approach provides a good example of how a sermon can flow however it left me wishing for him have been a little clearer. His two big metaphors are the linchpin of the entire book. So we will begin with looking critically at them.

The exegetical escort fits his style of showing and not just telling. An escort comes along side someone and ushers them to where they need to be. Smith drives home the point that the preacher must sit under his own preaching first. This is especially helpful for a young preacher. The preacher cannot lead his people where he has not first been. This means that the preacher must spend time in the study preparing for the sermon. But he must also spend time in prayer embracing the sermon as well. He says that “If the preacher exults in the Lord in the prayer room and study, the channels will be open for the preacher to motivate the hearers to mutually participate in the exaltation of God in the pulpit.” He says that the three lines of public ministry, preaching, teaching, and administration must be undergirded and propped up by the three lines of private ministry, prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.

In the second metaphor, Smith describes preaching as doxologically dancing. This metaphor is not as strong as the prior. This is partially because Smith wants to keep some things undefined. He says that the mystery of doctrinal preaching makes it hard to define. Because of that he speaks in a lot of metaphors and parables. While this at times can be his biggest strength it also can be the biggest weakness. There was an entire chapter on jazz improvisation that made things muddier. I was never quite able to grasp exactly what point the metaphor was supposed to be making. He spoke of call and response during the sermon but outside of African American churches, there may not be must experience of this kind of back and forth during the sermon.

The doxological dancer is one who presents the sermon in a way that matches the content. This is helpful in acknowledging that we must engage our audience with emotions and examples that match the content of the text. Our delivery cannot be boring. Smith is very critical of those would preach in an unattached way. He also seems to suggest that for the Spirit to move there must be spontaneity. He in particular was not fond of liturgical worship styles because he says they keep God at arm-length. Those of us who hold to a more liturgical worship style believe that God has commanded certain things and certain ways that worship must be done. I think we must be careful to not over associate the movement of the Holy Spirit with spontaneity lest we become impulsive and disorderly.

While disagreeing with Smith on liturgical worship, he makes an important point about trusting in Christ while delivering the sermon. We must not be so full of pride that we think we must have complete control of every single second. Sometimes God uses our pauses or forgotten thoughts to drive home a previous point to the audience. God may bring to mind something that had not been thought of during the preparation but would be appropriate during the delivery. We cannot be so beholden to a manuscript that we become glorified readers. The challenge is to trust God in the delivery.

Equally important is the fact that we cannot assume that our hearers know the biblical stories. Smith says that in a previous generation, you might have been able to assume that the listener could fill in some of the details or backgrounds in more familiar passages. But he says that it is important that preachers not assume and instead to go ahead and provide that context. Secondly, we cannot assume that our listeners understand theological terms such as justification and sanctification. We must work to drive home these terms by illustrating them in terms that our listeners understand. He points to the example of Christ using parables. We also see this in what he calls the “biographical snapshots.” That is the bible uses narrative to place us in the story alongside the characters where we learn the doctrine that God is teaching us through them.

One danger that Smith points out is that preaching cannot be devoid of grace. He said that Paul always taught theology of grace before the theology of works. The gospel gives us the power for the works. I think we must be equally careful not to miss the role of God’s law to act as a mirror driving us to Christ. The commands of God are meant to be obeyed and our disobedience has created the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The law drives us to Christ and Christ empowers us to obey the law. There are ditches on either side. To focus on duty without position is to miss the Gospel and leave people dead in their sins. To focus on position without duty neglects one of the purposes of the Gospel, our sancrification.

Smith strongly points out that preaching is to be both to the mind and the heart. God’s word is not something to be merely assented to but it must be loved and obeyed. The preacher cannot be happy to only appeal to the intellect but must engage the emotions as well. I do wish that Smith would have shown better how to engage the heart as well as the mind. I also wonder if this might be a false dichotomy. Does not the mind engage the heart? Are they really separable? Obviously Smith means that the preacher must engage the emotions through the use of illustrations and other tools that make the passage hit home. He says that the use of hymns and stories help drive the doctrine to the heart in a way that other language cannot.

 

Dr. Smith’s unique style showcases what he is trying to drive home. He uses stories, music, illustrations, and quotes very well. This is at times where the book shines. Not coming from a similar background as him, it was interesting to see how he drew from his heritage to drive home the points. It is good to engage with cultures and traditions that one is not normally familiar with. Smith’s stories from slaves and their adoption of music to showcase their struggles were very interesting. Smith’s background here adds to preaching books a viewpoint that is not often found in them. I found some of the sources of his quotes a little questionable, however. Not of all of them were from orthodox preachers or theologians. But never the less I appreciated this viewpoint.

Conclusion

Robert Smith gives a good reminder to preachers that their task must be to honor the text of God’s word and to connect it with his hearers. The preacher must let the scripture define the doctrine and then present it in such a way that it moves the listener. Doctrine ultimately must drive our living. Smith gives many examples of this throughout and even ends the book with two sample sermons putting into practice what he outlined in the rest of the book. The preacher must be an exegetical escort ushering his people into the presence of God. The preacher must worship God in preaching. The preacher in this case is a doxological dancer embracing the doctrine in praise. If the preacher can accomplish this he will ensure that the audience will turn around and preach the sermon in their homes, at their jobs, and in the barbershops.

Yeshua is Yahweh

(This is the second article in a series responding to Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries and other Sacred Name/Hebrew Roots Movement cults. You can check out the first article here.)

 

“The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates. “ [i] – Dr. Bruce Ware

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Denying the biblical doctrine of the trinity is a fatal flaw.   As I wrote in yesterday’s article, to deny the Triune God is to create a false god who has no power to save.   Yet this is exactly what cults like Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries do. Specifically these cults attack the deity of Christ making him out to be a created being. They also deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Paul Washer says “You mark my words: Whenever a cult attacks Christianity, the first place they’re going to go is they’re going to attack the deity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; is that not true? They are going to attack His deity.” By denying the deity of Christ they have undone the work of the atonement.   Because humans have sinned against an eternal God they owe an eternal penalty. Therefore, “it is necessary that a God-Man should pay” for sin, since, “no one can pay except God, and no one ought to pay except man.”[ii] To deny the full deity and humanity of Christ results in a savior who cannot satisfy the full wrath of God on the cross.

In this article, I will begin examining scriptural evidence for the trinity.   There is no way that in a short article here I can even begin to scratch the surface on this glorious doctrine. There have been many works written by authors far more capable than I on this topic. I would encourage curious readers to research the issue further knowing that ultimately we will be spending eternity growing in knowledge of God yet we’ll never fully plumb the depths of glorious richness of God. We are but finite creatures attempting to explore the infinite, transcendent but personal Triune God.   We will in this article attempt to look at two aspects of the trinity: 1. The absolute commitment to Monotheism in the scripture. 2. The evidence for the Deity of Christ.

Those who teach heresies such as Arianism (The belief that Christ is a created lesser being), Pelagianism (the denial of the inherited sinful nature of humans), and those who fall into other errors such as antinomianism often neglect to do the work of systematic theology.   That is they fail to take into account all that scripture says on a particular topic. The work of systematic theology is as Doug Wilson says is to” remember while reading one text what you learned while reading the others. The best kind of systematic thought brings all of the Bible into every text.”[iii]  Cults seem to have an aversion to taking all that scripture has to say about a particular topic and synthesizing it into a thought out and reasoned doctrine.   Instead they narrowly focus on one particular verse(s) and misuse it as the foundation of their belief. The doctrine of the Trinity takes into account all that the scriptures say about God.   Thus it will be important to see what scripture says about both the unified oneness and diversity of God.

Before we dig into much further let’s provide a definition of what is meant by the trinity. Matt Perman gives a succinct definition:

“The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God. “[iv]

The doctrine of the trinity does not teach that there is more than one God or that God changes forms to become a different person. There are three eternally distinct persons who are the one true God; one God in three persons.   This doctrine is not a contradiction but might best be called a paradox or an antinomy. JI Packer says an “antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable.” In this case the principle that there is one God and yet there are three persons is an antinomy. Packer again explains that in an antinomy both principles must be accepted. He says “What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.”[v] Ultimately, we must remember that we are finite and will never be able to get our heads fully around the nature of God, yet we must believe what God has revealed about himself in his word.

With these concepts in mind let’s look at the scriptural evidence for the trinity. First, we will look to the scriptures and find the principle that there is only one God.   Deuteronomy 6: 4 famously says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”   This verse is called the Shema Israel taken from the first two words in Hebrew. There a couple of important things to notice about this verse. First of all, we notice that the verse makes it clear that the LORD (Yahweh in the original language) is one. There is a complete commitment to monotheism in the scriptures. Yet secondly, in this verse there is also a clue to the trinity. In the Hebrew language, the word translated as God is Elohim.  John J. Parsons explains

“The name Elohim is unique to Hebraic thinking…The masculine plural ending does not mean “gods” when referring to the true God of Israel, since the name is mainly used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular (e.g., see Gen. 1:26). However, considering the Hashalush HaKadosh (Trinity), the form indeed allows for the plurality within the Godhead.”[vi]

There have been some who however have argued that the plural ending of Elohim should be taken as a plurality in majesty and thus  should not be taken to mean any more than that. Either way,  the crux of the argument for the trinity is not limited to an element of Hebrew language.   The main reason I am highlighting this word is to show that the idea of a plurality within the Godhead is not foreign to the Hebrew language.

Let’s return to looking at the argument for the belief in one God. Isaiah 43:10 says

““You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.

Notice that in this verse that God declares that there are no other gods formed before or after him. Contrary to Mormonism[vii], the Lord is the only God who has ever existed or will exist. This eliminates polytheism. If one reads through Isaiah or any of the prophets,you see how God rejects any notion of  equal or lesser gods. Isaiah 44:6 makes this clear “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God is the creator of all things.  Notice also that the Lord is called Redeemer. God is savior of his people. Again, Isaiah 45:18 “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens   (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!):“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”   God alone made everything. Unlike Gnosticism which had God creating angelic beings who then formed the earth, Isaiah teaches that God formed the earth and made it.

The New Testament continues this theme of one God. 1 Corinthians 8:6a says “yet for us athere is but one God”.   Ephesians 4: 4-7 again speaks of one God:” There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Just as the prophets dismiss the existence of idols and false gods, Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4 says “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. “

The scriptures are clear that there is only one God. This one God is the creator and sustainer of all things. There are no idols or lesser gods who exist.   There are none who were God before Him and none who will be after.   God has always exists and will always exist.   God is the redeemer and savior of His people. Finally, let’s look at one more thing that God says about himself:

Isaiah 42: 8 I am the Lord; that is my name;  my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

Isaiah 48:11 “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

Notice what God says here: He defends his name and says clearly that He will not give His glory to another. He will not allow another to be worshiped or praised. There is only one God and to him belongs all worship, praise, and glory. The 1st commandment is that we shall have no other God’s before him. And the 2nd commandment is that we shall not worship idols or anyone other than God. In Isaiah, God again makes it clear he will not share his worship or name with another.

So to quickly recap: There is one God who created all things and who is savior and redeemer alone. This one God is to be worshiped alone and He does not share his glory with another. There are no other gods before after him. To worship any other than the one true God is to commit blasphemy and to break God’s law. God is a jealous God for his name and glory.

Now we will turn quickly to Jesus. Let’s look first at the Old Testament to see what it says about the Messiah. In light of the discussion above about God not giving his name or worship to another, this should raise our eyebrows and cause us to consider what the scripture is saying about the Messiah.   Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah and he had this to say in Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Wait a minute, this son whose shoulders the government will rest upon shall be called … Mighty God.   But it doesn’t stop there.   We see in Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 tells us that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14.  We see then that the Messiah was to be called “Mighty God” and “God with us.”

One of the most common titles for Jesus in the New Testament is Lord. 1 Corinthians 8:6 which said that there is one God also says that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.   Philippians 2:9-11 says this about Jesus: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Jon Bloom explains that this passage speaks very clearly about the deity of Christ.:

To see just how breathtaking this statement really is, we must understand what Paul has in mind here. He is quoting the LORD speaking through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed
 all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.

Whenever the name LORD is printed in small caps in this English translation, it means the NAME: YAHWEH. For ancient Jews (and conservative modern ones), YAHWEH was the Name of names; so sacred that they would not speak it nor would they write it in full (they left out the vowels: YHWH). YAHWEH was the Holy One of Israel.

As a Pharisee, Paul knew this text very well. He knew exactly what he was saying: Jesus of Nazareth is YAHWEH. Pause and feel the weight of that statement. Paul once approved of the execution of those who claimed such things. He would one day die for proclaiming it.[viii]

Jesus receives the name of God. He is worshiped as Lord. He is called the redeemer and savior. Furthermore, we learn that Jesus created all things. Colossians 1:16-17 says” For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”   The scriptures teach that God alone created all things and yet they also teach that Jesus created all things. Lastly, in Revelation 22:13,  Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

To summarize, we have seen that the scriptures teach that there is one God who is uncreated yet who created everything. This one God is redeemer, savior, and Lord. Every knee will bow to Him. This one God does not share his glory and worship with another. We have also seen that Jesus receives worship and glory. Jesus is called Lord, Redeemer, savior, creator, and eternal.   The scriptures are clear that there is one God and that Jesus is God.

There is much more that can be said about Christ Jesus.  While we have focused on the divinity of Jesus we must not neglect that in the incarnation, God the Son took on human nature.  Jesus is fully God and yet fully human. Joel McDurmon writes:

Since Christ is both fully man and fully God, a correct understanding of His Incarnation corrects errors on two fronts: those who would diminish His deity and those who would deny his true humanity. The former run into the error of seeing Christ as only a man: a special man, perhaps, but only a man, nonetheless, and therefore, unable to save man from depravity. The opposite error is the subject of my book: the denial of Christ’s humanity. This scenario reduces Christ to a phantom of human imagination. He may be a “god,” but since this god has no historical manifestation, then he suffers the fate of all the gods of human history: he is relegated to mythology. More importantly, since this alleged god cannot reveal himself in history, then it is left to man—each individual man—to define this god as they like.[ix]

Christians believe that there is one God and three persons. We have uncovered the identity of one of those persons in this article.  In the next article, we will take a look at the other two persons of the trinity. We will look at the personhood of the Holy Spirit and of the Father.  We will see that each person is equal and fully God and yet there is a hierarchy in role among each of the persons.

 

 

 

[i] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005).

[ii] Scott Horrell et al., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2007).

[iii] “Joy to the World,” Blog & Mablog, accessed December 8, 2015, https://dougwils.com/s8-expository/joy-to-the-world-2.html.

[iv] “What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?,” Desiring God, accessed December 9, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity.

[v] J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Americanized edition (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2012).

[vi] “The Hebrew Name for God – Elohim,” accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Elohim/elohim.html.

[vii] Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man who obeyed the gods before him and that we can become a god ourselves one day.

[viii] “Jesus Christ Is YAHWEH,” Desiring God, accessed December 11, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-christ-is-yahweh.

[ix] “Baby Jesus and Freedom: Implications of the Incarnation,” The American Vision, accessed December 11, 2015, http://americanvision.org/3858/baby-jesus-and-freedom-implications-of-the-incarnation/.

 

Yahweh’s Restoration Movement Cult and the Trinity

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Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote “False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.”[i]   Old heresies once declared anathema by Christians, every so often are brought out, dusted off, and repackaged into some new cult.   Doing street evangelism and abortion ministry, I’ve recently come into contact with some of these various cults. A couple of things that most if not all cults have in common is a redefinition of God and a works-based salvation.

A New Old Heresy

One such cult that I’ve recently come into contact with is a group that calls themselves “Yahweh’s Restoration Movement (YRM).”   They are a small sect of what is often called “The Sacred Name Movement” which in turn is an offshoot of the “Hebrew Roots Movement” which developed from the Church of God (Seventh Day) in the 1930s. The movement was influenced by Joseph Franklin Rutherford who named the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult which has a long line of false prophesies including the false prediction that Christ would return in 1925.[ii] The Sacred Name Movement is essentially a cross between 7th Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They advocate for the use of the sacred named of God (Yahweh) and the use of Christ’s name in Hebrew.   They put such an emphasis on pronouncing these names “correctly” that salvation is dependent in part upon getting this correct. This is humorous when one realizes that there are several different sects arguing over the correct pronunciation which disagree with each other. You can find some that say that Christ’s name must be written and pronounced as Yahshua while others may say Yeshua , Yehoshua, Yahushua, Yahoshua, Yaohushua, Y’shua or Yahshuah.

While it may seem harmless enough to debate over how to properly pronounce the name of Christ in Hebrew even though the New Testament was written in Greek, these cults have other more dangerous beliefs. They reject the Christian and Biblical doctrine of the Trinity while claiming that the Trinity is an invention of the 4th Century. They reject the eternal divinity of Christ rehashing the Arian heresy that Christians decidedly dealt with in the Nicene Creed. According to the website of the “Yahweh Restoration Movement” they believe that “The Son was created by the Father.”[iii] They believe that Jesus is a lesser being than God though they would claim that he is the Messiah. To deny the eternal divinity of Christ by making him into a created being thus denying the trinity is to fundamentally get wrong the revealed nature of God. To get this wrong is to get God wrong. It ultimately results in a created false god leaving those who hold these views to be relying on a god who does not have the power to save.   Ironically, while these cults are so intent on getting the name of God right they completely get wrong the nature of the one whose name they are so worried about.

So how can we respond to these cults? I will be writing a series of articles on this blog looking at the scriptural evidence for the eternal deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Of course, Christians for almost two thousand years have been writing on the doctrine of the Trinity and yet this glorious doctrine still provides rich blessings for us to explore as we will never plumb the depths of the knowledge of who God is even in eternity. For the remainder of this article, I will provide a brief response to two challenges that these cults make towards Christianity regarding the trinity.

Those who hold to the views of YRM claim that the doctrine of the trinity is a pagan invention that the Church plagiarized into its beliefs during the 4th century. Again from the YRM website, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it… From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity.”[iv] In a recent conversation I had with a YRM follower, I was told that it was not until 381 AD that the doctrine of the trinity was created because the early church fathers never taught the teaching of the trinity.   There are two basic accusations being made here:  1. Christians stole ideas from Pagans and 2. The Ante-Nicene (Pre-Nicene) Church Fathers did not teach the Trinity.   We will deal quickly with each below.

Christianity Stole from Pagans?

It is quite the internet fad today to argue that Christianity plagiarized from Pagans. The story usually goes that there were ancient Roman, Egyptian, or Middle Eastern Cults that all had gods who were born of virgins, were crucified, died, and were resurrected. Some usual candidates identified to have been copycatted by Christians are Mithra and Iris. Tektonics has an in depth article detailing the fallacies in this accusation regarding Mithra and Christ.[v] To summarize, the comparisons between these ancient mystery religions and Christianity are not even close. For example, the claim that Mithra was born of a virgin are false. Mithra was believed however to have been born out of a rock. Mithra was not crucified but was believed to have killed a bull. The more one studies these pagan religions the quicker one finds that any similarities are completely superficial.

In his “A Ready Defense”, Josh McDowell outlines four basic fallacies that people often commit when linking Christian accounts with mystery religions:

  1. Combinationism or universalism – This fallacy basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D., amalgamating them together, and saying that they are a coherent belief system from which Christianity borrowed. Many of these religions evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span. To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one when those beliefs weren’t necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.
  2. Coloring the Evidence – Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian-type language to describe a belief – and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. In reality the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism that the Christian “counterpart”.
  3. Oversimplification – Many critics will find thing such as a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.
  4. Who’s Influencing Whom? – This error happens quite often. It consists of assuming that because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition since that religion’s founder lived first. The problem is that Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions adopted Christian symbology and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. This can usually be discovered by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn’t recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated.[vi]

These claims then that Christianity aped pagan beliefs are ridiculous and unfounded in history. Any similarities have been grossly exaggerated.  In particular there are no ancient religions that have one God in three persons.  Let us supposed for a moment however that there were closer similarities than what we already find. What would that mean? Walter Martin wrote in  “The New Cults: “In order to find out if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, we do not look to see if it resembles paganism, but to the bible, to see if God teaches it in his word. Pagans also believe in the concept of God. Does this mean that God must not be true? Pagans sleep. Does that mean sleeping is wrong ? We must not dismiss an idea merely because it is held in common with those whom we may not approve.”[vii]

Church Fathers and the Trinity

Scripture is our authority and to it we must look for our beliefs because it is the very word of God. It is in the scriptures where we will find the doctrine of the Trinity. I plan to write a follow up article to this one where I will show from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. However, I will finish this article by addressing the second accusation that the doctrine of the Trinity was not taught by the early church fathers prior to the 4th century.

I will provide some quotes from a few of the church fathers. There are plenty more quotes to be found and read but these few will surely put to bed the notion that the trinity was a 4th century invention. You will notice that these early church fathers spoke of the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit using language reserved for God. The use of Trinitarian language is evident from the beginning of Christianity. Here are just a sample of quotes:

Mathetes 130 AD – “the holy and incomprehensible Word the very Creator and Fashioner of all things. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him the immortal One for them that are mortal” Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, ANTE Vol.1 pp.63,65

Polycarp 150 AD “Wherefore also I praise Thee [the ever-truthful God] for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” – Epistle of the church at Smyrna Ch.14 ANTE Vol 1 p.92

Ignatius of Antioch 117 AD “We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passable body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts,” -Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7

Notice how this next quote refutes those who deny the divinity of Christ and those who would say that Christians borrowed from the Greeks and their idle tales:

Tatian the Syrian 170 AD “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man.” – Address to the Greeks, ch. 21 ANTE Vol 2 p.149

Melito of Sardis 170-177 AD “The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages.” Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13

Clement of Alexandria 190 AD “I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father.” – Stromata, Book V ch. 14 ANTE Vol.2 p.970

Tertullian 205 AD “”The connection of Father and Son, of Son and the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] makes three who cohere in a dependent series. And these three are one thing; not one person.” – Against Praxeas ch.25

“The Son of God is identical with God. The Spirit of God is God.” – Against Praxeas ch.26

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (Adv. Prax. 23, PL 2.156-7).

 

In Conclusion:

To deny the trinity is to deny the very character of God.   It is to deny who God is and thus to make an idol for oneself.   It is an old heresy repackaged in a new cult. Yahweh’s Restoration Movement and its sister sects ultimately reject the real Christ and diminish the glory due the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have briefly looked at two fallacious arguments put forth by these heretical groups. The doctrine of the trinity was taught and believed by the early church. Because of the Arian controversy, the church convened a council to deal with this heresy in the 4th century but the teaching of the doctrine predates that council.   Not only does this teaching predate that council it can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.   In the next article in this series, we will examine the scriptures to see what they say in regards to the Trinitarian nature of God.

[i] . “There Are No New Heresies — New Thought Isn’t New | AlbertMohler.com,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/03/30/there-are-no-new-heresies-new-thought-isnt-new/.

 

[ii] “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Many False Prophecies,” CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed December 7, 2015, https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-their-many-false-prophecies.

 

[iii] “Is the Messiah Yahshua a Lesser Being or Is He Yahweh?,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.yrm.org/onenessqa.htm.

 

[iv] “Astonishing Bible Truths That Your Church Never Taught,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.yrm.org/astonishingtruths.htm.

 

[v] http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.php

 

[vi] “Are There Pagan Origins of Christianity?,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.comereason.org/pagan-origins-of-christianity.asp.

 

[vii] Walter Martin, The New Cults (Santa Ana, Calif: Vision House Pub, 1980).

 

One Kingdom Shall Remain

US-JUSTICE-GAY-MARRIAGE

Today, the United States Supreme Court followed up its past few days of foolish rulings with another tyrannical and unconstitutional order declaring that homosexuals have a “right” to “marry.”  . The Court since its beginning increasingly has given itself more and more power. They have in the past ruled that a black person was a piece of property and that there is a right to murder children in the womb.  In the past few years, they have usurped the legislative branch by rewriting laws to uphold the immoral and unconstitutional Obama Care.   Today, they have attempted to usurp the marriage foundation. The Justices that make up this Court are illegitimate claimants to the magistracy.  But they are not alone in their complacency.  They are just another piece in the puzzle of a  bloated federal leviathan. This is all, of course, reflects a nation of greedy, selfish, and immoral people. John Adams once said, “W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The United States of America is a crumbling empire bent on self-destruction. Its government is in crippling debt. It promotes the destruction of life in the womb, killing its future. It celebrates sexual perversions that cannot create life and will only bring lasting ruin.  This can seem like a despairing and heart wrenching time for Christians. No doubt many will be tempted to turn to predictions of the rapture for solace.

11650738_10152997006133526_677169778_n(These predictions never pan out of course.)
The Bible ,however, can provide us with greater hope than failed predictions of a getaway car even in the face of a rebellious and tyrannical government. Daniel 2 speaks of a kingdom that has come which will outlast all empires and nations. America may linger on for a few years. God may grant us repentance and full restoration. Or America may ultimately collapse. But, Daniel tells us while interpreting a dream that ” And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure. (Daniel 2:44-45)”

the-statue
In Daniel’s time, this was a future prediction speaking of the coming of Christ.  With the coming of Christ in the manger, this vision became reality.  In Luke 11:20 Jesus says,” But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus was clear, the Kingdom of God has come. And it will break into pieces all kingdoms and bring to an end those who oppose Christ and his Lordship.  If the United States continues on in its rebellion, it too will be broken into pieces but Christ’s kingdom will remain.  Daniel inspired by the Holy Spirit tells us that this is certain and true.  That is to be our hope in this time. Our response in this time needs to be one of repentance and obedience. Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that “all authority in heaven and ON EARTH” is his.   We are to go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matthew 28:19).   Our hope is not found in courts, governments, or the Red, White, and Blue.   We need to be in the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and towns proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  We need to put all of life  under the sure authority of God’s law-word.   The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins for sure.  However, it is much more.  It is the good news of the Kingdom of Jesus.  This King brings forgiveness and transformation to those who repent and put their trust in him.  This King has his good and perfect law for all aspects of our life, including civil government.   We have one King and He is Jesus (Revelation 19:16, Isaiah 9:6).   We proclaim him and pledge allegiance to Him alone.

The 6th Commandment- Hold Back the Slaughter

(The following is a transcript from a sermon I preached on May 31, 2015)

A month and a half ago, Pastor Tony told me that he would need me to preach today. As you know Pastor Tony has been going through a series of sermons on the 10 Commandments.   He told me then that I was free to preach the next sermon in the series or whatever sermon God had instructed me to preach. At the time he initially asked me, today was supposed to be the 8th commandment, Thou Shall Not Steal. However a few Sundays back, Pastor Tony felt God leading him to take a break from the series for a sermon on Romans 1 and then the next week for special sermon for Mother’s day.   This change meant that instead of the 8th commandment, this week’s message will be about the 6th commandment. Pastor Tony and I have both seen God’s hand at work in how this has fell into place. God has gifted me the opportunity to share with you a passion from my heart and quite frankly from God’s own heart. I pray that God will use me today to awaken our hearts to obey God’s commandment to Hold Back the Slaughter.   Let us, pray. (Pray)

Please turn in your copy of God’s word to Exodus 20:13 and Proverbs 24:11-12.   And as your turning to these passages I want to give by way of introduction a reminder regarding God’s law.   First, God’s Law was given as a gracious move on God’s part after rescuing the Israelites from slavery. It is an act of grace that he gives believer’s his word and expectations for their life as his covenant people. God’s commandments are truly meant for our benefit and not our harm. Secondly, we must always remember that we cannot be saved by law keeping. Ephesians 2:8 &9 tells us that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it is not our own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works.   The Law never was meant as a way for salvation. It was never given that power. Let me repeat, we are saved, justified, made right with God by his total grace through faith.   Now having been saved, we are now set apart or sanctified to good works.   If anyone is in Christ he is a new Creation. We have been recreated and now enabled by The Holy Spirit to keep the commandments of God.   So if the law was meant for salvation what was it given for?  1. The commandments point us to our need for a savior. They are like mirror that reveals our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves. 2. They are given to restrain evil. One way they do this is by providing to the magistrate or rulers the standard for what constitutes a crime and the prescribed punishments thereof.   3. The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.

As we look now to Exodus 20:13, I want us also to remember that Jesus summarized all of the Law in Two Commandments- Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind. And Love your Neighbor as yourself.   These two summarize all of God’s law.   The 10 Commandments though in a way are summaries too.   They act as chapter titles or a table of contents for the rest of the law.   Therefore to fully understand each commandment we need to keep in mind both how they fit into Christ’s summary and how it in turn they are broadened and defined in the rest of God’s word. One thing we see is that each commandment often has a negative or forbidding aspect and a positive or commanding aspect. We also see that the commandments are not just concerned with outward obedience but also the condition of the heart.

That said let’s read our passage. Exodus 20:13 :“You shall not murder.”   Aright that’s pretty easy to figure out, let’s all go home. Seriously, while containing just four words, this commandment when fully understood should drive us to our knees in repentance and then on further to action.   I want to briefly share with you first a theological foundation to this commandment and then transition to a specific implication and application for us as Christians in a culture of death.

First let’s look to the theological foundation for this commandment. To do that, we begin of all places in the beginning. Genesis 1:1 tells us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We then see throughout this chapter God speaking forth into the darkness and by his words creating.   The Earth, Sun, the moon, the stars, fish and birds, plants and animals are all created by God speaking them into existence.   But on the sixth day, God does something different. He forms a person from the dust of the ground and breath’s life into him. The Genesis account gives the briefest of mention to the fact that God created the stars. The vast expanse of the heavens is almost seen as an afterthought.   But the Bible, spends a great deal of more time on the creation of people. In fact it gives an account in chapter 1 and then turns around and gives a more intimate account in chapter 2 on the creation of Adam and Eve.   There is something personal about how God forms man and breathes life into Him. We are told here in Genesis that God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. We are all created in the image of God.   What does this mean? Not wanting to bore you with the many definitions, I am going to give you what I have come to believe through my studies this to mean. “Being created in the image of God” means that we are made to be his representatives on earth. We are to operate as his image or ambassador. In Genesis, the first humans were commanded to subdue the earth, to take dominion of it. We are to do this in God’s name as his image bearers.  Thus our lives have value as we are created to be God’s representatives.

I want to look at a few more passages here that drive home the point that God has created us and formed us.   God’s Word says that He personally made each one of us. Speaking personally of Jeremiah, God says in  Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Before we were even conceived God had a determined to create us.   We also see God’s choosing and purpose for Paul before he was born in Galatians 1:15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:13,16 “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb… Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” And in Job we read “Your hands shaped me and made me… Did You not clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life.” Isaiah the prophet writes “This is what the Lord says—He who made you, who formed you in the womb. “   And again in Job, “Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One form us both within our mothers?”

God has determined to create us and give us life. He formed us in the womb. Life is a gift from Him. And as Job tells us “In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” Job 12:10.   If God gives us life and makes us in His image, then it is He alone who has the right to determine what to do with that life. In fact it is his prerogative to decide when to give life and when to take it.

However in the garden of Eden we see that the Image bearers Adam and Eve did not believe God. They were willingly deceived into believing a lie.   They believed the lie that they could be not just image bearers but God themselves. They could cast aside the name they were supposed to rule in and instead attempt to reign in their own. What follows shortly after is that their son Cain again claims a right reserved to God alone and he kills His brother, Abel.

Thus I want us to see four things about Murder:

  1. Murder is an attack on the image of God and thus truly an attack on God himself. It is an act of war against God the Creator of the Universe.   We understand this when it comes to ambassadors of a nation. Ambassadors are given referential respect in the nations that they are sent to. To attack imprison, threaten, or worse kill an ambassador of a nation for most of history was seen as not just an attack on that person but an attack upon the nation He represents. In 2 Samuel David sent representatives to a nation who has just lost its king. The new King saw them not as the delegation of honor they were meant for but as a threat. This new king shamed the delegation by cutting off their beard and shredding their clothing. David saw this an act of war against God’s people and went to war.    Murder and unjust violence against a fellow human is an act of war against God.   David again acknowledged this in his Psalm of repentance. David whom had stolen a wife and committed murder acknowledge that this was first and foremost a crime against God.
  2. Murder is a crime against God and man. It therefore is a capital crime. The state has been given the responsibility of being an agent of wrath upon those who kill. Christians should not oppose the death penalty for murder because God has prescribed that very thing. Exodus 21:12 12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
  3. As I said above, the law is not just content to deal with outward conformity but it has our hearts conditions in mind as well. .   Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.     Hate in your heart toward another person created in the image of God is a sin against God.   And while God has not given the government the responsibility to punish people for their heart “hate crimes”, he has promised a sure and just punishment for an unrepentant person full of hate.
  4. The 6th Commandment is not just a prohibition but it also entails upon God’s people a responsibility to defend life. God’s people are to protect the less fortunate. We are to seek to justice. You can’t read through the prophets of the Old Testament without seeing the concern for life and justice.   We are to love our neighbor as our self.   We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus tells us to even love those who hate us and pray for them who persecute us.

There is so much more than can be said here but I want to turn now to a particular implication of this commandment for today. Having now laid down a general understanding of this command I want us to look at our passage in Proverbs and see how it applies for us as a church today. Proverbs 24:11-12 says “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”

I recently watched a video from the end of the Second World War.
The Americans after having defeated the Germans and liberated the residents of the concentration camps made sure those residents of Dachau and other towns were forced to confront the horrors of the concentration camps. According to Harold Marcuse, in his book “Legacies of Dachau,” after the liberation “a group of Nazi elite was forced to tour the Dachau crematorium on May 8 1945.” There they were made to look at the naked, emaciated bodies of the innocent victims of Nazi barbarity, piled up in the mortuary room right next to the gas chamber. Young boys in the Hitler Youth were brought to the camp and forced to look at the corpses on the Death Train.

Just a short distance from these concentration camps, the German people had went about their business in the towns. They went to work, raised their children, listened to music, and even went to church while a hike a way Jews, Gypsies, blacks, and other unwanted people were forced into death champers and slaughtered.

As you watch the video footage of these Germans hiking up the five miles to the liberated camp, you can see that they are woefully unprepared for what they are about to see.   Many of them look like they are just out for gentle stroll through the country side. They have smiles and pep in their walk.     But as they were marched through these camps, their faces change.   The smiles are gone and replaced with tears of pain and outrage.

According to Peter Wyden, in his book “The Hitler Virus,” a few of the Dachau notables, who were forced to view the corpses, fainted. Some cried and many shook their heads. Most of them turned away, eager to avoid the scene. Afterwards, they were heard to whisper, “Unglaublich!” (Unbelievable)

The practice of bringing German civilians from nearby towns to the concentration camps after they were liberated was started by General Walton Walker who ordered the Mayor of the town of Ohrdruf and his wife to visit the Ohrdruf labor camp after it was discovered by American troops on April 4, 1945. After their visit, the Mayor and his wife returned home and killed themselves.

What a gruesome and horrible scene. The German people had long heard rumors or even know about what had happened in those camps but they refused to acknowledge it.   They lived in a culture of death and pretended like nothing was wrong.   And we look back today wondering how that could have happened in a modern society in enlightened Europe.

How could they have allowed that to happen?   My question is How Can we allow the same thing to happen.   Just an hour down the road from this church building, Tuesday through Saturday, people go into a building and pay someone to slaughter their child.   Every year 4,000 children are taken to the butcher by their own parents here in Kentucky.   We are living in a Holocaust.   Every year in the US, 1.06 Million Children are killed. Since 1973 there have been almost 58 Million children killed in our nation.   Every day 2600 babies are murdered by the very ones who are supposed to love them.   And we would ask the Germans how they could allow such a thing to happen. How can we allow it to happen?

Since I can’t take you on a physical tour of the facilities in Louisville and Lexington, please allow me just a minute to describe for you the procedures that they do at these facilities. I have taken the names of these procedures straight from the website for the abortion death camp in Louisville called EMW’s womens surgical center.    Please listen as to what happens day in and day out at this place in Louisville.

EMW’s Abortion Mill does both medical and surgical abortion. Let’s begin with the surgical abortions: The first procedure is called :.

D & C (Dilation and Curettage): within first 12 weeks
The abortionist uses a dilator or laminaria to open the cervix. Laminaria are thin sticks from a kelp species that are inserted hours before the procedure and allowed to slowly absorb water and expand, thereby dilating the cervix. A suction device is placed in the uterine cavity to remove the fetus and placenta.  Then the abortionist inserts a curette (a loop-shaped knife) into the uterus. The abortionist uses the curette to scrape any remaining fetal parts and the placenta out of the uterus. After suction, the doctor and nurses must reassemble the fetus’ dismembered parts to ensure they have all the pieces.

D and C

D & E (Dilation and Evacuation): within 13-24 weeks after last menstrual period
The fetus literally doubles in size between the 11th and 12th weeks of pregnancy. Soft cartilage hardens into bone at 16 weeks, making the fetus too large and strong to pass through a suction tube. The D & E procedure begins by inserting laminaria a day or two before the abortion, opening the cervix wide to accommodate the larger fetal size. The abortionist then both tears and cuts the fetus and uses the vacuum machine to extract its remains. Because the skull is too large to be suctioned through the tube, it must be crushed by forceps for removal. Pieces must be extracted very carefully because the jagged, sharp pieces of the broken skull could easily cut the cervix.

09_weeks-03_medium

As for the Medical or Chemical abortion. They use:

RU-486 (Mifepristone): within 4-7 weeks of the last menstrual period.
Also called “the abortion pill.”
This drug interferes with levels of progesterone, a hormone that keeps the fetus implanted in the wall of the uterus. The woman is prescribed Mifepristone and then Misoprostol (Cytotec) is taken two days later at home. This medication causes the uterus to contract, induces labor and expels the dead fetus. A follow visit may be required if the baby is not expelled, at which time a woman has a 5-8% likelihood of needing a surgical abortion to complete the process.

This happens not an hour from our church.   People take the precious life that God has gifted them with and have it destroyed.   Moms and Dads who are supposed to care about their children will have their child ripped limb by limb.   This is our Holocaust. These are Kentucky’s children being killed, children who should grow up to make a difference in this world.   These mother’s and father’s will not experience the changing of the first diaper, seeing the first smiles, hearing the coos, and watching their child grow. These children will not experience learning how to walk, clumsily falling down just to get back up and do it all over again. These children will not hear the sound of their mother’s voice saying I love you. They will not say their first words, da da or mama.   No these children will not do any of that because they will have been murdered by their own parents.   And far worse is that for the most part the church, the bride of Christ has set back and done very little.

A Christian Philosopher Francis Schaeffer once said ““Every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying, “Open by the permission of the church.” Wow that is tough to hear.   But in many ways it is true.

For one many of these people who are going to the mill in Louisville claim to be Christians. Many of them go to churches and sing hymns.   I’ve even been at there one Saturday and had a man who brought his daughter for an abortion tell me that He was a minister after he threatened to beat me up.


Secondly, for most we have relegated this to a political issue.   We have bought the lie that this is best fought in the senate or Whitehouse.   Because of that too many preachers have been afraid to speak to this issue.   Thirdly, for many we have just become too apathetic or resigned to defeat.   There are a lot of excuses we give to keep from doing anything “I don’t want to get involved.” “It’s none of my business.” “I might make enemies if I say something.” “It’s too much trouble.” “I’m too busy to take the time.” “I’ll leave that job to the professionals.” “Someone else will take care of it.”

Excuses will not do.   Proverbs 24: 11-12 tells us Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer a christian preacher put to death by the Nazis for speaking out said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”   And the bible agrees with Him.

Our work being biblically mandated and sovereignly ordained, we are called to be salt and light in a darkened, and defiled world; we are commanded to care for the fatherless and bring justice to the oppressed and preyed-upon. We have been exhorted to expose deeds of darkness, and destroy speculations raised up against the knowledge of God. We are exhorted to rescue the weak from death, snatch the falling from flames, and hold back the stumbling from the slaughter. We are to be against the world, for the world.   So what is the answer?

Supreme above all philosophies, all isms and ideologies, is the fullness of the Gospel of God; (that God himself stepped down into human history as Jesus Christ, conceived in the womb of a young unmarried woman who did not choose to be with child or plan on being a mother, to live a sinless life before wicked man whom he came to die for, and redeem from the just wrath of God against sinners. It is the will of God that all men might come to know Him, and in the fullness of time, Christ Jesus has made this possible). The Gospel above all else possesses the capacity to mobilize human action, motivate moral behavior, and mandate consistent compassionate social justice. It is the answer to all of societies ills and injustices. It is the bulwark against an ever increasing inhumanity of man against man. It is the Gospel alone that will end human oppression and redeem mankind from the dominion of evil powers and sinful man. It is the wellspring of love, hope, and joy. The actual foundation for justice. And the real answer to abortion

We have been given the weapons of God to take down all strongholds.   The Gates of Hell cannot prevail against the Church.   We have the power of the Gospel.     Paul says it is the power for salvation.

We have to begin dealing with the excuses. Each of us need to look at the fullness of the gospel and repent. We need to repent for our apathy. Repentance will involve us turning from apathy and doing nothing to being what we are called to be, salt and light.

We need to reclaim a culture of life.   Our world is a culture of death. It celebrates abortion and all types of sexual perversions that are incapable of producing life.   We who are in Christ have been given life.   We are being empowered to keep God’s commands which bring forth blessing.   We have to put to death in us the idea that children are a curse and not a blessing.   My brother has 5 children and I can’t tell you the number of well meaning people who have asked him if he knew what causes children.   Our culture looks at having children as strange.   Test yourself, if you are of the age where you can have children and you are married, What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about having another child? Is it money?   Is it Oh No , what would we do.   I am not discounting the importance of providing financially. But our first concern should be whether it is God’s will that we have children. We should think about what God would have us do.   I am grateful that our church does celebrate children.   But there is more we can do.   We need to educate them in the Lord.

We all need to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.   We have wonderful and great news.   How often do we share that news with others around us?   Do your friends and coworkers see in you a transformed life? Have they heard from you the glorious truth of the gospel? Sharing the gospel is not just for the pastor, it is all of ours blessed responsibility.

God has gifted us as a church with many different people with many different talents and skills.   We can use them to God’s glory and to end this evil on our land called abortion.   God has gifted some of us to be teachers and principals. How can you use that vocation and skill to fight abortion? How can you be used to make a difference? There are teenagers every week who go to the clinic who have abortions. They need to be told the gospel. They need to be called to repentance.   God may have placed you where you are to make that difference.

We have people who maybe God has gifted with good business skills and know how to use their resources wisely. Maybe you can contribute by buying tracts, drop cards, signs, cameras, ads, or a host of other resources that can be used to stop abortion.   We need people who are willing to give of their resources to help unexpected mother’s who are seeking help instead of an abortion.   We need someone whom we call when a mother leaves the abortion clinic having changed her mind but needs help. We need people willing to adopt a child, to give them a loving home and family.

Many of us have Saturday Morning’s off or any other mornings for that matter and I know we like to sleep in. But there are children dying. God can use you driving to Louisville to hold a sign for a couple of hours.   You can pray there and reach out to plead with the woman going to murder their child.   Just this week, we saw a couple change their mind after having been pleaded with by Christians.

Maybe you can’t do that because of health reasons or job situation but you can write letters to politicians, post on facebook, and do a host of other things from your home.   The opportunities are almost endless here. But we must act.

I’d like to close today with two quick stories.

The first is of the early church. They were persecuted and lived with many fearing for their lives. They had been sent by Jesus into a dark world.   In the city Antioch where they were first called Christians, abortion and a host of other evils were rampant.   People would not only abort, they would throw their unwanted babies out into the street to die if they were born.   People with disabilities were mistreated.   It was a culture of death.   This ragtag band of believers there worked tirelessly under threat of death to take in these unwanted children. One of the first Christian documents outside of the Bible, speaks out against abortion.   These Christians suffered and many died.   But God used them.   They transformed that city.   Eventually the whole of the Roman Empire would succumb to Christian influence.   The gladiator games where people were put to death for other’s enjoyment were ended. Christianity transformed Europe and led to the foundation of our country.   This was all by God using Christians working with the power of the gospel. They rescued those going to death.

A second story is told from a German man who lived during World War II.

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene. “

Irvington Baptist Church will we be like the Christians in Antioch who we willing to suffer unto death to rescue those who are to being taken away to death or will we be a church who just sings songs louder over the cries of our unborn neighbors are stumbling to the slaughter.

Let us Pray.

Man’s law vs God’s law – It’s a Riot

All eyes are on Baltimore, Maryland this week as dangerous riots have broken out this week in response to the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police.
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But in case you haven’t been paying attention here is a sample of headlines.

“Huge fires set across Baltimore as Freddie Gray rioters torch city, loot stores and injure fifteen police officers as violence rages into the night and local politicians are left turning on each other .” – Daily Mail

“Baltimore Rioters Threatening ‘Anybody… Who Was Not African-American”- CNN

“‘Police Violence’ on Blacks ‘Far More Shameful’ than Baltimore Riots” – News Busters

“Police: We failed to get Freddie Gray timely medical care after arrest”- CNN

“New reports of looting as Baltimore mayor under fire over ‘destroy’ remarks, response to riots”- Fox News

The liberal response tends to be to condemn social injustice and perceived racism within the system, siding with the rioters.   The conservative approach tends to condemn the lawlessness of the rioters thus siding with the police. What however is the appropriate response?   Here are a couple verses to think about:

Isaiah 10:1 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression

Exodus 23:1-3 You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

Judges 21:25 In those days …everyone did what was right in his own eyes

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

The problem is both in the system and in the individual.   We as a culture have rejected God’s rule.   We rebel against His law. Instead of God as our highest authority, we have decided to be an authority unto ourselves. We are a people who worship idols, do every type of sexual perversion, hate our brothers, have greedy and covetous hearts, dishonor our parents, neglect our children, and elect people who approve of all the previous to be our leaders. We have individuals who reject God’s commandments and a government which does the same.   This inevitably leads to injustice.

Instead of a government of laws that upholds God’s rule we have a government of man’s rule.   GK Chesterson once said ““When you break the big laws you do not get freedom. You do not even get anarchy. You get small laws.” We get a ton of small laws.  When we break God’s commands we don’t get freedom, we get enslavement.    When we set up ourselves as lawgiver, we get law upon law upon unjust law.

Looking now at Baltimore, we see that the blame goes to both sides. We area people who are rebellious.   We have a government which makes unjust laws.  Rebellious people rebel against the unjust laws.   The police, made up of people with sinful hearts, are tasked with cracking down and enforcing these human laws.   In the process, some police act as a law unto themselves as well. This leads to more injustice and more rebellion.   There is enough blame to around.

The gospel is the answer.   God sent His son to live a Holy law-fulfilling life. He willingly took upon himself the shame and guilt of our rebellion. God was pleased to put on Christ the punishment that we deserve.   Christ died as our substitute. He defeated death in his resurrection. He therefore ascended to heaven, to the throne, where he reigns as priest and king.  We need to repent of trying to be a law unto ourselves.   We need to repent of our disobedience.   We need to lay down our arms and quit our war against God.   He will then enable us to live Holy law-fulfilling lives as well. He will enable us to govern our lives by His law. We will then reform ourself as an individual, our families, our culture, and our government.

Paul says of God’s law in Romans 7:12 “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.”    God’s law in the whole of the Bible is just.   It is good for both individual and for our government.   Psalm 19 says that God’s law is perfect.   God is concerned with justice.   He has revealed in His word what the true and just path is.  As long as we as individuals and as a nation refuse to have Christ as Lord, we will see more of Baltimore.  The answer is not lawless rioting nor is it tyrannical government.   The answer is submitting to Christ.  The answer for Baltimore, Ferguson, the United States, and the world is the gospel. May we embrace it.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

(The following is a book review of  Christopher Wright’s  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.)

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In the second century A.D., Marcion of Sinope was rightly declared a heretic for rejecting the Old Testament scripture and declaring that the New Testament had a different God than the Old. Unfortunately in our current culture, there are many who have adopted a subtle version of this heresy. Many in the contemporary church have a very low view of the Old Testament, and tend to somehow think that Jesus came to do away with it. Christopher Wright makes it clear in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament that far from coming to do away with the Old Testament, Jesus comes from within the Old Testament framework.   The Old Testament provides the background for so much of Christ’s teaching and mission. Yet it does more in that Jesus came to fulfill and uphold all that the Old Testament taught.

In reading the Old Testament, we are reading the very words of God. As Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable…(2 Timothy 3:16-17).” The Old Testament contains the commands of God, the mission of God, and the promises of God. These are the words Jesus read. These are the stories, songs, and commands that Jesus memorized. Wright says that, “In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.” This is the thesis of Wright’s book. The more we understand the Old Testament the better we will understand Jesus and the more we understand Jesus the better we will understand the Old Testament. Wright works to show this through how the Old Testament story, promises, and mission find their completion in Christ. Wright also shows how Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man is based upon revelation found in the Hebrew scripture. Lastly, Wright shows that far from coming to abolish the Old Testament commands and ethic, Jesus comes to uphold and re-establish those commands through Christ’s own ethical teaching.

The Hermeneutic

Before digging into each of Wright’s chapters and main points, it might be helpful to say something here about the hermeneutic that he uses.   While this book is not on hermeneutics per sey, Wright, as do all theologians who write books, uses a hermeneutic principle as he interprets the scriptures. Wright dismisses allegorical schools of interpretation that would seek to spiritualize the words of the Old Testament. He does, however, acknowledge typology, though he does have some reservations about how typology has been used in the past. He says that typology has been abused in the past by those who would seek to find a type in every passage or story of the Old Testament. For Wright, to use typology properly is to understand “Christ and the various events and experiences surrounding him in the New Testament by analogy or correspondence with the historical realities of the Old Testament seen as patterns or models.”

For Wright, the Old Testament is not primarily “a promise box full of blessed predictions about Jesus.” It is a story from real history with promises that only make sense in relation to that history. Wright’s hermeneutic will be firmly grounded then in historical grammatical interpretation. However, it is not historical-grammatical interpretation alone but historical-grammatical in light of redemption history. Therefore for Wright, “first of all, we must affirm whatever significance a particular event had in terms of Israel’s own experience of God and faith in him.” That is the grammatical-historical part of the hermeneutic. And for the redemptive historical aspect Wright says, “Second, however, we may legitimately see in the Old Testament event additional levels of significance in the light of the end of the story—that is, in the light of Christ.”   Thirdly for Wright and possibly the most important aspect is that “the Old Testament event may provide levels of significance to our full understanding of all that Christ was and said and did.”

Much more could be said about the hermeneutic used but that would fall outside of the scope of this review. It does seem to be a healthy correction to both those who would over emphasis typology or allegory and those who would see no typology. One should be careful however that this correction does not go too far in the opposite direction. The entire Bible ultimately has God as its divine author. He has seen the beginning from the end. We also know from Peter’s letters that the Old Testament human authors were writing down things for our benefit.   Wright seems a little hesitate for example to say that Genesis 3:15 refers specifically to Jesus, though he says that it ultimately finds its completion in Christ. This hesitation to see this as a direct reference to Christ seems to be unfounded in light of God as the primary author of all of scripture. That minor critique aside, let us now turn to each of Wright’s main points.

Jesus and the Old Testament Story

It makes sense that Wright would begin his look at Jesus with what is often called the Hebrew gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. Many people skip the genealogies but Matthew had a purpose in starting his account with one. Matthew wants to show that Jesus did not just show up on the scene out of the blue. Jesus is the one who all of the Old Testament was anticipating, the Messiah. This genealogy therefore shows that Jesus has a legitimate claim to this title. In recounting this lineage Matthew is also recounting the story of Israel. “So when we turn the page from the Old to the New Testament, we find a link between the two that is more important than the attention we usually give it. . . The Old Testament tells the story that Jesus completes.”

Wright then recounts the story of the Old Testament.  Central to this story are the covenants. Wright seems to deviate from traditional covenant theology, in that he does not see an Adamic covenant. He doesn’t spend a lot of time at this point, so it is hard to tell if he is rejecting the implied “covenant of works” in the Garden of Eden or the idea of a post-fall covenant with Adam that is the beginning of the “covenant of grace.” It not being his main point to come up with a complete covenantal theology, it will be too difficult to supply a full critique for this review. Wright’s main point is to show that Adam sinned in the garden and man fell. God does show grace to Adam and Eve in supplying a covering for their bodies and promising that the seed of the woman would defeat the serpent.

Skipping forward to the Abrahamic covenant, we see part of what may be called Wrights secondary thesis for the book.   “The main point of God’s promise to Abram was not merely that he would have a son and then descendants who would be especially blessed by God. God also promised that through the people of Abram God would bring blessing to all nations of the earth.” A theme of Wright’s writings in other books and clearly in this book is the mission of God throughout the Bible. God chose Israel so that they would be a blessing to all nations. Jesus’ mission then is tied to that blessing.

The story of the Old Testament is tied to this election of Abraham and his descendents. Wright rightfully sees that the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works but one of grace. God had saved his people from slavery and chosen to enter covenant with them as a nation. He would be their God in relationship with them. “It is important to see that this covenant was based on what God had already done for them. God’s grace and redemptive action came first.” Their obedience to law did not allow them to enter the covenant but was to come from response to God’s grace. This obedience would enable them to complete their mission and calling to the nations. Israel was often reminded that while they were chosen it was not because of anything in them but because of God’s love and purpose.

But we see that the people did not and could not live up to this mission. They fell into sin and idolatry. Even after periods of great blessing through the kingdom of David and Solomon, the people did not remember their commitment. God who had a concern for justice within the society, sent prophets to call His people back to Him and remind them of this commitment. Wright makes several points about this concern of God for justice and righteousness.

God’s moral concern is not only individual (though the masses of individual stories show that it certainly does claim every individual) but also social.” God evaluates the moral health of society as a whole, from international treaties to market economies, from military strategy to local court procedures, from national politics to the local.

These same concerns show up in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. We also see in the New Testament that in fact the death and resurrection of Jesus was a victory over all authorities.

At the cross Jesus defeated all the evil forces that bind and enslave human beings, corrupt and distort human life, and warp, pollute and frustrate the very creation itself. That victory is an essential part of the biblical “good news.” And applying that victory to every dimension of human life on earth is the task of Christian mission.

Jesus comes at the end of this Old Testament story. The people of Israel had failed to live up to their mission. They had been taken into captivity and now brought back into the land. However the people were still not fulfilling this purpose.   They were still under the rule of the Romans.   The New Testament opens up with Jesus into this story.

Jesus and the Old Testament Promise

Having gone through the Old Testament story leading to the birth of Christ, Wright now turns his attention to going back through that story and pulling out major themes and points of contact with Christ. The first aspect of this is to pay attention to how Jesus fulfills the promise of the Old Testament. Again going back through the beginning of Matthew, Wright highlights five scenes from Jesus’ childhood and how Matthew claims that all these events fulfill scripture. In using this fulfillment theme, “Matthew clearly wants his readers to see that Jesus was not only the completion of the Old Testament story at a historical level, as his genealogy portrays, but also that he was in a deeper sense its fulfillment.”

How does Jesus provide this fulfillment? Are these texts mentioned by Matthew direct prophecies of Christ or does Matthew have something different in mind when highlighting these texts? Wright shows that these texts in their original context do not seem to be prophecies on the surface. Instead it seems that Matthew is working back from events that happened in the life of Jesus to certain texts in which in light of Christ they contain a deeper significance. Wright follows his hermeneutic mentioned above to show that the Old Testament events are in some way types but also that they point forward to a greater promise and fulfillment.   This section was very helpful in seeing, for example, how Jesus could fulfill something such as the text of Hosea.

He is not suggesting that the Hosea text was a prediction. His point is simply that what God had done for his people Israel—in fact the greatest thing God had done for them—had its counterpart, even in a purely physical sense, in the life of Jesus.

Continuing, Wright explains that what makes the the exodus and the return from exile so important to the Old Testament story is that even though they in and among themselves were awesome examples of God’s grace in history, they were more than that. “Both events were utterly saturated in promise.” This promise is what Jesus is fulfilling. All of the Old Testament points forward to the promise of God beginning in the garden and continuing through Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets. This promise, according to Wright, is more than prediction because unlike a prediction, a promise involves a relationship. This promise to make of Abraham a great nation so as to bless the entire world is fulfilled in Christ. Again coming back to Wright’s theme of mission in the Bible, the promise is to fulfill this mission.

Wright is very helpful in clearing up some misconceptions people have about the Old Testament. He points out that salvation has always been by grace in both the New and the Old Testament:

Some people have the idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the Old salvation is by obeying the law whereas in the New it is by grace. But that sets up a totally false contrast. In the Old as in the New, it is God who takes the initiative of grace and calls people to faith and obedient response.

He also points out that there is a conditional element to this promise that requires our response. God’s promise requires our faith and obedience. Wright drives home that our response is vital. He does not mince words.   Our faithful obedience is necessary. However, Wright should note that part of what makes the new covenant so glorious is that it enables what the old couldn’t, our faith and obedience. In Christ, we are transformed. We are justified not by any of our merit but by Christ’s faithful obedience.   We are imputed his righteous obedience. Jesus fulfilled the obligation that we could not. He also however enables us with the Holy Spirit now to respond in faith and obedience. God then fulfills the promise and demands of the covenant. This does not in any way diminish our responsible to respond in obedient faith.   It does however provide the way that this is even possible.

One further note on the promise from Wright’s view is important to highlight.   Wright does an excellent job of explaining the nature of the land promises in Jesus. Using the story of a father who in the days before the invention of the automobile promises his son a horse when he turns twenty-one, but gives the son a newly invented automobile instead, Wright tries to show that the promises in Christ are expanded and better than what could be imagined in the Old Testament.   While the analogy is not perfect there is truth to the fact that in Christ the promises are expanded and better.   One point of contention is that in the book of Hebrews, it seems to say that Abraham and those in the Old Testament were aware that the promises were larger than just a promise to a plot of land in the Middle East. The question that always arises is: how much did the Old Testament saints understand about the promise? A good case based upon statements from Jesus and other New Testament books can be made that they knew more than what we often want to allow that they knew.   That said it is important to see that instead of a plot of land in the Middle East, the meek now inherit the earth.   The promise is not limited by national boundaries but all of the earth belongs to those in Christ.

Jesus and His Old Testament Identity

Next, Wright continues into the book of Matthew to Jesus’ baptism. Here the voice of God proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. Wright now moves to answer what it means for Christ to be the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Messiah. Going again through the Old Testament we see that each of these titles have precedent. Sonship of God is something said of both Israel as a nation and of its king.   The king in particular enjoyed a son-like relationship with God. He was a representative of God’s rule and was required to be obedient to the divine King. This idea of sonship is also linked to the idea of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah. This link is especially prevalent in Jesus. Jesus is the representative of God. He is the King and he is the obedient servant. “Similarly, obedience was the link with the allusion to Isaac, as the one willing to be sacrificed, even as the only son of a loving father.” Kingship, servanthood, and service are built into the calling of Jesus.

Wright looks at this sonship theme in four ways. First he sees how the parent-child relationship actually works in Israel’s society. Next he shows how the metaphor undergirded the covenant concept. Third, he shows how sonship generates hope and expectation. Fourthly, Wright sees that idea is broadened and given eschatological flavor. This leads us to see that Jesus as the Son of God is one who represents Israel. Where Israel failed at being this Son, Jesus is God’s true son who would succeed in completing this mission. Wright also correctly points out that “(i)n an eternal sense, of course, Jesus always was, is and always will be God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.”

More can be said about this chapter but I would like to quickly highlight an excellent section of it. Some have argued that Christians should not be involved with politics. They argue from both a faulty view of eschatology and from a faulty of view of Christ’s mission.

But for the present it will be enough to say that if Jesus had intended only to talk about a purely spiritual revival in an otherworldly framework with no relevance to the seething politics of his day, then he went about it in a very strange way. So many of the words and actions of Jesus were so challenging to the political authorities that they executed him as a political threat. But to argue that because he did not preach violent politics he was therefore uninterested in politics at all is absurd. Nonviolent is not simply nonpolitical—now or then. No, the difference between Jesus and his contemporaries was not that he was purely spiritual while they were political (a modern kind of dichotomy that would probably not have made much sense in Jesus’ world anyway). The problem was that his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God in the present did have profound political and national consequences for the old order of Jewish society that were too radical and final for its leaders to tolerate.

Jesus indeed was political and the gospel has implications for all aspects of life. Jesus being the Messiah King has enormous practical applications that Christians should be working through. We will see in the next two chapters how this works out in Christ’s mission and ethical teaching.

Jesus and His Old Testament Mission

We have seen how Jesus comes within the historical story of the Old Testament, how the Old Testament promises of His coming, and how the Old Testament provides the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, King, and Son of God. Now we are at what is the heart of Wright’s message. We are now looking at why Jesus came. What was his mission? This mission is tied up in all of the previous chapters. It is what the story, promises, and identity point to. We see that each of these things are tied up in the expectations of the Messiah. To be sure there were some expectations that had developed during the inter-testamental period that were unfounded, but there were clear expectations set forth by scripture.

Again Wright points out that the mission is tied to the covenant and mission of Israel. Israel was to be a nation of priests and kings for the rest of the world. In Israel’s faith and obedience the rest of the world was supposed to marvel and give glory to God.   But further than that, the scriptures declare that the nations would stream to Israel and its God. Thus the goal of the Old Testament is world missions. It is a turning back of sin and a recreating of the world in righteousness.   It is a restoration from the fall. All people and even nature itself was awaiting this mission. Wright explains that Israel was awaiting its restoration and the ingathering of the nations. This was seen in eschatological terms as the final great act of God, the Day of the Lord. This was what the kingdom of God was all about.

Jesus’ mission is launched by John’s mission “to identify, through his call for repentance and baptism, the remnant of Israel who, by responding, was destined for cleansing and restoration as the true, eschatological people of God.”   Wright says that

The fact that Jesus accepted and endorsed the ministry of John the Baptist and launched his own ministry on the foundation of John’s shows that Jesus also saw his own mission in terms of the fulfillment of the great expectations of the restoration of Israel. If John was the one who had been sent to prepare Israel for its eschatological restoration by God himself, then Jesus was the one who had been sent to accomplish it.

There was something deep about Christ’s coming. We then see that Jesus preaches that the kingdom is at hand and is here. This means that the promises from the psalms of restoration had entered in history. We then see in Christ’s death the atonement for sin and in the resurrection the victory over it. Christ then tells his disciples that authority in both heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Jesus is not just King over some nebulous spiritual realm. He is Lord and King over all reality. He then tells his disciples to take that good news worldwide.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were to bear witness among the nations of God’s saving and redeeming rule. They failed but Jesus the true Israel and Son of God did not. Now in Christ we are fulfilling this mission.

Jesus was launched by a revival movement for the restoration of Israel. He himself launched a movement for the blessing of the nations. Jesus, therefore, was the hinge, the vital link between the two great movements. He was the climax and fulfillment of the hope of Israel and the beginning of the hope of the nations

This is incredibly good news. Sin can be forgiven and lives changed. Through this gospel, individuals, families, cultures and entire nations can be changed. We are called to a part of it.

Sometimes our eschatology hinders this. A pessimistic view of history and the future can lead people to see themselves as just holding on until being rescued out. Dispensationalism with its view of a secret rapture has led many Christians to avoid being salt and light in a real way in the culture at large. Why bother polishing brass on a sinking ship? Premillennial views miss this glorious picture of the kingdom of God. They miss the message that Jesus brought that in Him the kingdom of God had actually come. The promises of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets were coming true in Christ’s day. He was bringing the kingdom then and not at some later date. Amillennialism also fails on this same part. It misses the progressive growth of the kingdom into victory promised throughout the Old Testament and in Jesus’ teaching. Ultimately it is the Postmillennial view that accurately sees this thread of mission and victory woven throughout scripture. The Postmillennial view has always been such a great fuel for missions.   No wonder the period that we often call the Greatest Century of Missionary advance was also the time in which the Postmillennial view was the dominant one.

Jesus and His Old Testament Values

We have seen how the Old Testament provided the story, purpose, identity and mission of Jesus. Jesus had come to fulfill the mission of Israel to be a light to the nations. He did this through perfect obedience and by being a sacrificial atonement for the sins of His people. Through Jesus those who were far off are now made near to God.   Those born genetically Jewish and those born genetically Gentile are now in Christ united together as the true Israel of God. They are now called and enabled to continue the mission of Christ. Jesus commands his followers to share the good news of the gospel of the kingdom by making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching these new disciples to obey all that he commanded.

Wright now turns to these commandments and shows that Jesus’ commands are not a new or different law than what was revealed in the Old Testament. In Matthew, Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Wright here does not go into a complete exposition on Matthew 5 but does make it clear that Jesus is not ending the requirements of the law. Greg Bahnsen wrote a complete exegesis of this passage. He says in “Theonomy in Christian Ethics, “fulfill” should be taken to mean “confirm and restore in full measure”. Wright’s view is similar.[1] Wright says that Jesus taught the validity of the law and made a point to correct misapplications and notions in his opponents. Christ in his teaching thus is restoring the full measure of the law.

In fact the nations are described as waiting for him to bring the law (Torah) and justice (mishpat) of God to them. In other words, the Servant has the task of making real to the rest of humanity the whole package of ethical values and social priorities that God had entrusted to Israel. Being a “light to the nations” includes this moral teaching dimension as well as the extending of the saving light of the covenant.

Wright explains that Jesus is not concerned merely with outward conformity to laws. This is not new to the New Testament, because in the revealing of the law in the Old Testament we see that God is concerned with “the whole shape of a person and society, the inner drives of the heart, the direction of the walk of life. “

It is important to realize that our justification and right standing with God does not come by our obedience but by the grace of God. Our obedience is only made possible by this grace. “The repeated command is to obey God’s laws wholeheartedly, since that is the way to life and blessing for a people who have already experienced God’s redemption.” The law is and never was a way to salvation. It is intended to show how those who are redeemed live.

Wright works through several motivations for keeping the law that Christians have. First as said above, obedience flows from gratitude for grace—in both Old and New Testaments. Another powerful motive is that the law is for our own benefit. The assumption behind this kind of motivation is that God, as the creator of human beings, knows best what kind of social patterns will contribute to human well-being.” God’s law used lawfully is good and protecting of life.   Living by God’s commands will generally bring benefit and happiness. A society built around these commands will generally prosper while a country in disobedience will find judgment.

The reality of God’s rule cannot be spiritualized into heaven (now or later) or privatized into individuals. Of course, it does have spiritual and personal dimensions, which are fundamental also. We are called to submit to God’s reign in our individual lives. But the term itself speaks of the aligning of human life on earth, in all its dimensions, with the will of the divine government of God. To pray “may your kingdom come” is to pray “may your will be done on earth as in heaven.” The one must produce the other. . .To enter the kingdom of God means to submit oneself to the rule of God, and that means a fundamental reorientation of one’s ethical commitments and values into line with the priorities and character of the God revealed in the Scriptures. The point of being Israel and living as the people of Yahweh was to make the universal reign of God local and visible in its whole structure of religious, social, economic and political life. It was to manifest in practical reality what it meant to live, as well as to sing, “the LORD reigns.”

Wright cannot be accused of having a truncated view of the gospel.   The Gospel saves sinners and souls. The Gospel does not stop there though. As people are saved their lives are changed. This change will naturally work itself out into every area of life. More can be said of this positive view of the law for the Christian life but the interested reader would be encouraged to seek out more along this work in the writings of Greg Bahnsen, RJ Rushdooney, or Gary North.  You can find must more at Chalcedon, The American Vision, and Apologia Radio.

Conclusions

Wright’s work here is an excellent introduction to Jesus through the Old Testament. There is not much to be critical of. Wright’s theme of mission through the Bible is refreshing as is his view that the law of God is still applicable today.   Of course there will be exegetical work to do to see where in the New Testament we are told that some parts of the law, i.e. the ceremonial aspect have a changed application in Christ. Work will need to be done to see what part of the law was a shadow of Christ such as the sacrifices. Another refreshing theme of Wright is that he has a whole life perspective of the gospel.   The gospel will have impact on economics and politics along with our spiritual lives.

One area that Wright could improve on is to be very clear about is the doctrines of grace. It is not that he does not acknowledge grace through faith alone but one can never overestimate the value of this doctrine. The biggest area of improvement is the lack of footnotes or endnotes. He does have a bibliography at the end but it would have been helpful to be able to track his research along with him.

Overall the book provides good insight into why Christians are to be the people of the book, both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus without the Old Testament is not Jesus. His mission, identity, and ethics get lost when we neglect to see how he comes into the Biblical story with its promises. This teaching is vital today in which Jesus is often ripped from his context to support all manners of evil. Wright is correct, the better we understand the Old Testament the better we understand Jesus.

[1] Bahnsen Greg, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd Ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 67.

Books of 2014

It is now January 8, 2015 and I realize this should have happened a week ago but I wanted to take a look back at 2014.   2014 was at times stressful but for the most part it was a pretty good year.   It saw the birth of my second daughter, Arriana Liberty Spurgeon.   I also said goodbye to one church family and ministry position and hello to another. God being always faithful also provided for my family this year even when times seemed tight.  I am thankful to have been able to spend another year with my wonderful wife.   I also was able to complete another year of school work at Seminary.   Studying Hebrew this past semester was stressful but God is good.    In 2014, I was also able to read some great books, a few of which challenged some positions that I had held.    Therefore, I wanted to devote the rest of this blog post to highlighting some of the best books I read in 2014 along with pointing out a few places where some of my theological positions either changed or were clarified.  So without further ado here is my Top Books of 2014 List:

book coverindex

This year I found two books to be very helpful in thinking through student and family ministry.   The first book “Perspectives on Family Ministry”  is compiled and edited by Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   If you are not familiar with the “Perspectives”  books, they are are a series of books put out by B&H Academic that cover a wide range of theological topics from different viewpoints.   Each book typically has three or more authors who write about the topic and then critique each others position on the topic at hand.   They are excellent little books to help get a basic understanding of the different arguments.   I had not really been aware that there was much of a debate about youth ministry and the need for family ministry.  This book presents three different ways or strategies for engaging families in ministry and how that relates to youth or student ministry.   While you can read for yourself and discover which view you think is most biblical,  in my opinion the main thing is  we as the church need to do a better job engaging, training, and leading families to minister to themselves and others.   Parents are the ones given the primary responsibility to raise and nurture their children in the Lord.   One of the authors contributing to the perspectives book, Voddie Baucham Jr, also wrote a book entitled “Family Driven Faith:Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God.”  This is a wonderful book that challenges parents, fathers in particular, to take responsibility in raising their children for God.  Baucham says that “Our primary goal for our children is that they walk with the Lord.”    This means taking an active role.   Parents need to be spending time in the word of God with their children.   “If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.”

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History is one of my favorite subjects especially American history.   I  enjoy reading about the founding of America up through the War between the States, the Civil War.  There is a nice series put out by Mark David Ledbetter called “America’s Forgotten History,” that I recently discovered.   Ledbetter is a libertarian and he writes a series of histories following the founding of America up through the 20 Century from this perspective.  He works to show the way that America has went from a simple Republic devoted to individual liberty to the bloated government leviathan that we have today.  Mark David’s best work is the second volume which covers much of the history leading up the the Civil War.  He is forthright about writing from the libertarian perspective.  It is refreshing to see a historian being upfront about any bias or worldview they may have.  The series was self-published at first as a Kindle ebook but has since been picked up by a publisher. You can still get it for very cheap on the Kindle.  A few criticisms that I have are that the author seems to downplay the religious understanding leading up to the founding and also seems to conflate all New Englanders with the Puritans.  Thus when Unitarian beliefs take over much of the once Puritan universities, Mark David does not do a good job of distinguishing between the two.  I would highly recommend reading this and supplementing it with work done by others especially Rousa Rushdoony.

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Two books  that I found helpful in motivating and thinking through evangelism were J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” and John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad.”   Both of the books are excellent in providing a clear biblical foundation for evangelism.  Some have criticized Calvinism because they think that belief in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation can lead to a lack of motivation of sharing the gospel. Packer works to “show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks.”   Belief in the doctrine of election under-girds us as we evangelize.  We can be confident in the fact that God can overcome any resistance to the gospel.    God has chosen to call a people to himself and thus we do not need to trust in our own abilities to preach the Gospel.   We can be confident that the power of the Gospel will prevail.   Piper reminds us that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”     Again we are motivated out by a love for God that moves us to love others.

This confidence in the sovereignty of God along with a study of God’s word this past year has led me to come to hold a Post-Mill view of the end times.   I won’t have time in this short post to go into what all this means but in short Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.  There is much more that could be said here but I will leave that for another post.   An excellent resource for this view is www.PostmillennialismToday.com.   

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The last two books I want to mention are ones that has helped clarify my position on politics and ethics are “Lectures on Calvinism” by Abraham Kuyper and  “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg Bahnsen.   Kuyper’s book is excellent in applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life.   Kuyper is famous for saying that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  I’ve always held to the belief that our nations leaders should seek to follow and obey God. However, I was somewhat inconsistent on how this was worked out. Which brings me to the conclusion as Bahnsen excellently defends, that God’s law as revealed in the scriptures first in the Old Testament and then clarified in the New are to be the standard by which all people and nations should conform.   God moral and civil laws are binding still today and should be upheld by our leaders.   God will judge all people and nations by how they obey his commands.  Bahnsen does an excellent job laying out the case of what is called Theonomy.   He answers every objection that I have heard mentioned.  Again I will have to leave a discussion of theonomy to another post.

There are several other books I could mention but I wanted to keep this post pretty short.   I mainly wanted to highlight some good and/or interesting books that I had read this past year and recommend them to you.  I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store.   May you be blessed this year by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

 

The King Has Come

ST-christmas-star-2011

Introduction:  Several weeks ago you went into the attic or basement, searched through all the mess so you could spend the day after Thanksgiving fiddling with tangled cords, ladders, and frosty the snowman decorations.  The end result was going to be marvelous. Clark Griswold would be proud as you plugged in the lights expecting a glorious light display to be the envy of the neighborhood. Except one of the lights was out and so you had to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out which one it was.   You spent weeks looking for the perfect gift fighting off traffic to all the stores, only to find out that your brother bought the same gift. Then there are the office parties, the kids’ musicals, the in-laws and the outlaws. Wow, no wonder Elvis sang Blue Christmas.   Then just as all the anticipation leading up Christmas was building the Holiday came and went before you could even blink your eyes.   The vacation is over and you’re back to work on Monday.  For many people the days after the holidays can also be blue.   Do a quick internet search for post-holiday blues and you will find a ton of news articles addressing this “condition”. WebMD.com, the popular panic-inducing website that can convince you that your headache is a brain tumor, even has it listed as a medical condition. Thanks to a psychology professor in the United Kingdom there is an even official clinical-sounding name: acute post-bank holiday depression syndrome. Something tells me if you call in sick with that excuse Monday you might also come down with “acute looking-for-a-new-job syndrome.” So Christmas is over… now what?   I want us to look at what followed the first Christmas for the cure for the post-holiday blues. We will be able to see how the birth of Christ either brings much celebration or much sorrow.   As you read Matthew 2 you will see three things: A King has Come, A War has been Waged, and The Victory is Certain.

Matthew 2: 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

  1. The King Has Come

The first thing we see in this passage is the birth of a king. Contrary to the Christmas song “We Three Kings,” the wise men were not kings, but priests or court advisers similar to Daniel in the Older Testament. They were probably from Mesopotamia, the region of ancient Babylon. These men had seen the signs in the stars and being from the region of ancient Babylon they may have been aware of the prophecies of Daniel regarding the messiah.   They thus came looking for the birth of a king. Notice they don’t ask Herod if a King had been born.   They were certain that a king had been born. They were only uncertain on the location.   So which king were they looking for and why is the birth of this king so important?   To get this answer we need to go back to the beginning.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   Then on the 6th day He created man and woman.   Genesis 1:26 says He created them in His image.   This little phrase “In his image” also called “the imago Dei“ packs a powerful punch but what exactly does it mean? For centuries, theologians have debated precisely what it means to be “the image of God”. On one hand it means that human life has dignity and we reflect something of the nature of God in our lives. Some recent scholarship has helped shed some light on the phrase. Comparing this phrase to other Ancient Near East documents we find the concept of “image” to be about representation.   The one bearing the image of a king or ruler is given authority as a representative of the king.  The “image of God” in Genesis is probably best thought of as God designating or calling human beings to be his representatives or agents in the world. The Image of God involves royalty and representing God’s kingship over the creation.   And that is what we find in Genesis 1.   God makes man in His image so that they can take dominion over the creation.  They are to be his royal representative in the world. However in Genesis 3, Man rebels against God and decides instead of being the loyal subject and representative of God, Man would rather be God himself.   Man disobeys God and in the process distorts the purpose of his creation.   Instead of ruling as God’s vice-regent, Adam and Eve give in to sin and thrust all of humanity into enslavement to sin.   The world is given over to a curse so that sin and Satan will rule instead.   In Genesis 3 as God gives out the punishment curses to Adam and Eve, he also makes a promise that one day, the seed of the woman will defeat the serpent.

The story unfolds in Genesis and evil reigns in the hearts of men.   God however continues to promise that one day evil will be defeated and creation restored.  God is in control and evil will not win.  God makes a promise with Noah to save him from the flood.   He then makes a covenant with Abraham that one day his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand.   There are not many things more beautiful than some of the beaches in the Philippines where my wife is from.

Most beautiful Philippine wallpaper The ocean water is a clear blue that just enticingly invites you to dive in. The trees are green and ripe with coconuts exactly like what you image when think of a tropical paradise.   And the sand…. pure white.   It’s like a post card. Some of the beaches here in America are beautiful as well.   Alright who’s up for a beach trip? My only complaint about the beach trips I have taken is that it never fails that someone wants to bury me in the sand.  I must look like someone just begging to be buried up to my neck in sand.  Here is a picture of one such trip many years ago. me at beach

It makes for a cute picture but the problem is you are digging out sand from all parts of your body for weeks.   Just after I pull the millionth grain of sand out of my hair there is another in its place.  Abraham is promised a number of descendents more numerous than the grains of sand.  What a promise!

God keeps his promise to Abraham and a great nation of people are descended from him.  Israel is told that they are to be a nation of priests.   In 2 Samuel, God promises one of the descendents of Abraham, David, that one from his family will reign forever . God says to him “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Thus the promise of a coming King was continually made over and over again to the people of Israel.   God constantly pointed the people to one whose coming would defeat sin and bring in a kingdom of peace and glory forever.  Psalm 2 in particular reveals that God’s anointed will be given dominion over all nations and peoples while the rulers of the earth are warned to follow after this King or be crushed.

Even with these promises the people of Israel fell into sin and idolatry throughout the older testament.   God sent prophets to warn them that they would be punished for their sin.  Even in the midst of the message of judgment, the prophets also foretold of a king to come who will set things right.    Isaiah, one of these prophets, has this beautiful passage foretelling of the king.

Isaiah 9:6-8 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The prophets call Israel to repent go unheeded however and Israel is taken captive to Babylon because of their sins.   But even in captivity God does not forget his people and continues to promises them a coming King.   The prophet Daniel, one of the few who were faithful and obedient to God, was taken captive to Babylon.   In the book of Daniel, God reveals much about the coming king.   Here are just a few instances of the promise to Daniel of the coming King:

Daniel 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,

Daniel 4:3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.

Daniel 7:14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’

Daniel was also given a vision that revealed exactly when this King would come. In Daniel 9, the exact amount of years is given for when the Messiah will appear. These prophesies build and point toward to this King who would save his people from their sin and who would bring Joy to the world. Then the Older Testament ends. And the years count down.

And now we are back to Matthew 2.   The wise men are here and looking for a King.   The timeline given to Daniel has come to a head.   The King, the anointed one, is born.   And with the King comes the dawning of the Kingdom.  Kingdom is the primary theme of the book of Matthew.  It is also the major theme of Jesus’ teaching as well.   The term “Kingdom of God or heaven” occurs twenty-four times in Matthew , fourteen times in Mark, thirty-two times in Luke, twice in the Gospel of John , six times in Acts, eight times in Paul, and once in Revelation .

What then does the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven mean?   First of all the Bible everywhere assumes that our Father is sovereign over the universe but this is not the concept the “kingdom of God” has in mind. More precisely, the kingdom of God refers to the visible, universal submission to His reign. As we have already stated , Adam’s sin plunged mankind into rebellion against its Creator. Yet the Lord’s prophets predicted a day when all creation would again recognize Yahweh’s authority and bow the knee to the appointed king.

The Jews however didn’t understand what this kingdom meant.   They were looking for a political and military leader who would establish a country with borders and armies.    Mark Rushdoony does an excellent job of explaining the Kingdom of God:

“Man cannot see the future, only the present and, to a limited extent, the past. He thus envisions the future within the limitations of past experience. It is no wonder the Jews expected a very political and Jewish kingdom, given their centuries of experience with a Davidic king in Jerusalem.   Unfortunately though the prophesies God gave his people pointed to the coming King being something much greater than just an earthly kingdom, the Jews including the disciples had a hard time understanding the kingdom as something more.

The Kingdom of God and its King Jesus would not be limited by the past-bound assumption of Jewish thought. His Kingdom would not be a Jewish state confined to borders on a map, but a heavenly government, a godly order. Jesus would not merely usher in religious reform. His work was to destroy the work of Satan, to crush the serpent, to atone for sin as the Lamb of God, and to bring men of all nations from darkness to light. Jesus came to do more than bring restoration and blessing to Jews. He came to bring salvation to all. Israel was always meant to include people of all nations. Jesus came to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile, to reconcile men of all nations and tongues to God. The kingdom of God would stretch over the entire world.

Jesus came to do more than bless Israel: he came to bless a new, enlarged Israel, all those made part of the covenant family by the grace of the heavenly Father. The blessing was not limited to those of Jewish blood but it was, as promised to Abraham, a blessing to all nations of the earth.”

The Lord’s chosen king is the Messiah, Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians incorrectly believe that His kingdom has nothing to do with the present, something that comes only at “the end of time” with great natural disasters. Attempts to see the Kingdom of God as only a future event are mostly the product of a late nineteenth century.

“The Gospels tell us the Kingdom is to be sought in our lives, to be received now , that a man in Christ’s day could see it and enter into it, and that it is found among us. . . Other passages refer to the Kingdom as a progressive, developing fact. The Lord’s Prayer petitions “Thy kingdom come,” whereas we are told that “the kingdom of God is come” and that it is on earth and in heaven. Many of the parables regarding the Kingdom describe it in terms of the growth of a seed, tree, or yeast that develops over a period of time.”

His second coming is the consummation of His present reign, for He actually inaugurated the kingdom of God during His first advent. There is no denying that many references to the Kingdom are in the future as well. It is described as existing at the end of the world and after the final judgment. The angelic messenger told Mary it would have “no end” and the Epistles refer to it as “an everlasting kingdom” that is “forever and ever.” We Christians are the heralds of this kingdom. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we bear witness to our King, and through our obedience the Father will call people to worship Him. Thus, His kingdom increases in its visibility.

“God is greater than man’s mind can imagine. The Kingdom of God described in the New Testament is far more glorious than the one pictured by the Jews and even by Christ’s disciples. It is all they imagined but in a more extensive power and glory.”

When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to ask for God’s kingdom to come. It is easy to pray a laundry list of requests for health, safety, and other provisions. But how many of us spend time in concentrated prayer that all peoples would submit to God and obey His Law?

The king was born and the wise men knew it. But we see in our passage that so did the enemy.   Sometimes it seems when read some of the stories in the bible that the enemy is more aware of the implications of Jesus coming then the others.   We see here that King Herod knew the implications of Christ’s coming and thus a War was Waged.

II. A WAR IS WAGED

Herod, interestingly enough was not a Jew but an Idumean, a descendant of Esau by ancestry.   But because of his connections with Rome, Herod was appointed “king of the Jews,” though his command was not secured until after a series of military victories which was consummated by the capture of Jerusalem in 37 B.C. One of his chief accomplishments was the remodeling of the dilapidated Jewish temple, a project which was not completed until A.D. 62/64, only a few years before that temple was destroyed by the providence of God.   Even though he started work on rebuilding the temple he also built many monuments to his own name.   He was a ruthless dictator.   Other than being called Herod “ the great”, which one wonders if he didn’t give himself that name, he has also been called “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis”,”the evil genius of the Judean nation”, and one who was “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition”.     There was a saying that it was better to be Herod’s swine than his own son.   Indeed, He killed three of his own son’s including one just 5 days before his own death.   Herod also gave orders that upon his own death several well liked citizens of Judah were to be executed so that if the people would not mourn his death they would still mourn none the less.   When we come to Matthew 2 we see that Herod continues to act in the same evil way.

The wise men come to Herod speaking of the king to come.   Herod’s own officials know the prophecies and yet Herod seems to think that he can destroy and defeat God’s anointed one.   We see here that enemy of God understands what the coming of Jesus means.   It means the end of the rule of evil.   See Herod was ruling by his own wisdom and not by God’s.  He knew that the coming of Jesus would mean the end of his rule.   The coming of Jesus means that sin, darkness, and rebellion will rein no more on this earth.   The coming of Jesus meant that a new authority was here and that Jesus must be obeyed.

As the Kingdom comes, darkness puts up a fight. It is a failing last-ditch effort.   Herod first tries to be sly and cunning but ultimately reveals his true evil in putting to death the children of Bethlehem.     Matthew in verse 18 points to a prophecy of Jeremiah which shows that amount of sorrow felt by the evil of Herod.   We will look a little closer at this prophecy in a bit but for now we will see that the coming of Jesus brings war.

And the war continues even though Jesus has already defeated the enemy on the cross.   The enemy has been trying to wipe out Jesus ever since.   And if the enemy cannot wipe out Jesus, the enemy will lash out at the Church.   Why is this?   Again, the enemy fights because the coming of Jesus means something.   It means that Jesus is King and must be obeyed.   This means that all nations, all governments, and all rulers are answerable to Jesus. The early church knew this. One of the earliest creeds of Christians was “Jesus is Lord” which means Caesar is not.  They refused to bow to human rulers and the enemy hated this.   We need to reclaim this understanding of the Lordship of Christ. Abraham Kupyer says it this way “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This means that the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Christ affects all aspects of our life.   Our faith is not something that we just have at church or in the privacy of our homes.   Jesus doesn’t just want an hour on Sunday morning.   He wants 24 hour devotion 7 days a week.   This means that God’s word should rule our lives Sunday to Saturday.   God’s word affects how we work, how we raise our families, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, what we watch, what we think, how we vote, how we think about marriage, love, life, and so forth.

In our culture just as then this is a dangerous message.   Why?   Because the human heart wants to rebel against God and wants no part in his rule. So our culture tells us we can practice our religion if we just keep it to ourselves.  If you watch the news often you will notice politicians have recently started using a new phrase and stopped using an older phrase.   President Obama along with others has started using the phrase “Freedom to worship as you chose” instead of “free exercise of religion.”   It may seem like these are just interchangeable but they are not.   The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs even in the public realm.  Worship on the other hand is seen as essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen’s thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China’s have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.   But it is this change of wording and thus meaning that is gaining acceptance in our culture.   You are free to believe what you like but keep your trap shut about it.

Here is the thing however, our King Jesus was not quiet and we as Christians are not commanded or allowed by Him to be quiet. Jesus is Lord over all people and governments.   The early church knew this and so did the Roman emperors and that is why they put them to death.   Yet the early church did not give up or give in. They remained strong and eventually it was the Roman Empire which fell and Christianity reigned supreme.

Again, the reason that Herod wants to kill Jesus is the same reason that the enemy is trying to shut up Christians today.   The reason that atheists want to take down the Ten Commandments at the courthouse and remove the nativity display is not because they have a problem with stone displays or a cute baby in a manger. If the nativity was nothing more than a cute baby in a manger then we would see them everywhere. The problem is the cute baby didn’t stay a baby but grew up and demands obedience from the entire world.   The cute baby is king and has given His law in the Bible and demands that all live by it.   All governments and people are commanded to obey and follow God. And the enemy is rebelling against that.

This leads us to our third and last point. The Victory is Certain.

III.   The Victory is Certain.

The victory is certain because our God is sovereign over all things and all of history.   Look at our passage again. We see four ways that God’s sovereignty is shown. First, God is in control of nature.   The wise men saw the signs in the heaven and the star that pointed them to the birth of Jesus.  Our God controls the heavens.  It is nothing for him to put a new star in place.  It is nothing for Jesus to control the winds and the waves.   All of creation is at his control.   Secondly, God even controls dreams. We see from this passage that both the wise men and Joseph were warned in dreams.   God has complete control over dreams.   That is a pretty cool thing to think about.   There are even stories today of people in closed countries who have not had access to the gospel having dreams where they are told to seek out a missionary.   You can do an internet search and there are several recent articles about Muslims in Iraq or Iran having dreams where Jesus appears to them and tells them to seek out a missionary. God is sovereign and in control of dreams.

Thirdly I want you to notice in this passage how many times that Matthew writes that something happened to fulfill scripture.  Matthew growing up as a devout Jew was very familiar with the scriptures.  He is writing his Gospel for a Jewish audience to show them how Jesus is the promised Messiah. So Matthew often works to show how the events of Jesus life fulfill the Old Testament Scripture.   We see then that God is sovereign in that all the circumstances of this story have been planned out by God way in advance.   In particular look at verses 14 and 15.   Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt and Matthew writes that this fulfills what the prophet said, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”   This is a very interesting phrase.   It comes from Hosea

Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him; and, though I loved him, I suffered him to be a great while in Egypt; but, because I loved him, in due time I called him out of Egypt.”

Hosea is referring of course to the time when the people of Israel went to Egypt to escape a famine and  became slaves.   You will remember how Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and took them to the Promised Land.   So exactly how is this verse in Hosea a prophecy about Jesus.  Kevin DeYoung explains:

“How can Matthew say this flight to Egypt fulfilled the words of the prophet Hosea when the two events seem connected by no more than the word Egypt? How can this possibly be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy? The first step toward understanding Matthew’s purpose is to look more carefully at the word “fulfill.” The Greek word is pleroō. And it simply means to fill up. That’s what Matthew is at pains to demonstrate–that Jesus was filling up the Old Testament. Sometimes this meant very specifically that the Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s birthplace would be in Bethlehem and Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem. There you go. That’s fulfillment. But fulfillment can be broader than that. It can refer to the filling up of the Old Testament; that is, the bringing to light what previously had been in shadows. And this is what Matthew has in mind.

So what exactly is Jesus fulfilling, or filling up in Matthew 2:15? Jesus, as Matthew correctly understands the situation, is filling up the redemptive historical purposes of the nation. In other words, Matthew can claim that this Hosea passage, which talks about the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt, is fulfilled in Jesus, because Jesus is the embodiment of Israel.”

This is important because it shows the sovereignty of God in History. This means that all the events of the Old Testament, the history of Israel, ever detail happened as God planned so as to point to Jesus.   God is control of the smallest detail.   Nothing is outside of his reach.   And because of God’s sovereignty over History we can be confident that the victory over evil is more than sure.

Fourthly, God is sovereign over his enemies.   They think they are raging against him. They think they are sneaky and wise. They think their plans catch him off guard.   But they are nothing more than pawns. For every move they make God is ten ahead of them.   See first how Herod’s plan to kill the infants again fulfills scripture. Verse 17 says this fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah. Look at the prophecy of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:15- 17; 31-34 Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Thus says the LORD “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD. . .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,  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. For 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.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor 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.

Even the evil put forth by Herod points to the glory of Jesus. Even though there was great sorrow due to Herod’s evil there would be great rejoicing because of the King.

Herod tried to destroy Christmas but yet the birth of Christ still brings joy.   It is as the Grinch found out when he tried to destroy Christmas.  It can not be defeated.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded glad!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

The enemy cannot defeat Jesus. But Jesus does defeat the enemy. Notice how in verse 19 it simply says “when Herod died. “   The enemy is defeated in this story and it is simply an afterthought.   We know from history that Herod the great died from a horrible disease and it was a painful violent death.   A recent article describes his death: “More than 2,000 years after Herod the Great succumbed at age 69, doctors have now settled on exactly what killed the king of ancient Judea: chronic kidney disease complicated by a very uncomfortable case of maggot-infested gangrene of the genitals”

Evil met its match. God is sovereign and thus the victory is secure.  This is good news.  The birth of Christ brings real joy to the world.   A savior is born and his kingdom shall never end.   The good news is that not only has Herod been defeated but Satan and sin have been defeated.   The good news is that God has made a way for people of all nations to be a part of the Kingdom of God.   You and I are invited to the Kingdom of God and this is a kingdom without end.

So as we close there are really two responses to this message.   Will you be like the wise men who bowed their heads in worship of the King of King?   Will you submit to the Lordship of Jesus? The Bible says to enter the Kingdom of God you must be born again.   You must repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ.   Will you be like the wise men?

Or will you be like Herod?   Will you see the King of Kings and determine that it is a threat to your own self-rule? Will you decide that you prefer to be king and you will continue to rebel?

Finally if you are already a part of the kingdom of God then know that this is a kingdom that will never be defeated.   This does not mean however that things in this life will always be rainbows and bubble gum. In fact many have been called to lay down their lives for the kingdom.   When the book of Revelation says that we will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony it is referring to the testimony of many whose heads were cut off and lives ended.   Yet these saints stood strong believing that the Kingdom of God would one day fill the entire earth.   They knew that God would use their sacrifice.     And God still calls us to sacrifice and living full on for his Kingdom.   We are not called to be the last outpost of a retreating army waiting on the rescue ship to take them out of this world.   Instead we are sent to be the army taking the battle to the world.   We do this not with weapons of this world but with the word of God and the weapons of the Spirit. God enlarges the kingdom through us as we share the gospel with our coworkers, as we teach our child about the love of God, as we help the helpless and speak out against evil.   And the Bible promises that these efforts will be honored by God as the Kingdom grows.

This is what Christmas is about. The Joy of Christmas is not over even though the Christmas lights have been taken down and the songs have stopped playing.   The Joy of Christmas continues all year.

The King has Come, the War has been Waged, and the Victory is Sure.   Will you be born again today?