The Purpose and Practice of Marriage – Ephesians 5

marriage supper

(What is the Purpose of Marriage?   Here is a sermon I recently preached on the Purpose and Practice of Marriage.)

 

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33

 

Introduction:

A while back, a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook entitled “Dad, How Do You Like Your New IPad.” I got a pretty good laugh from it.    Let me describe it for you.  It is about a minute long clip that opens up on two adults, a daughter and her elderly dad, working on a salad in the kitchen.   The daughter asks the dad who is busy chopping up onions in the background if he likes his new iPad.   He likes it pretty well, he says.  She then asks if he has figured out how to download apps. However, just as she gets that question out of her mouth, he turns around and you can see that he is using the iPad as a cutting board.   He proceeds to scoop the onions off the iPad, rinse off the iPad in the sink and then stick it into the dish washing machine. The whole time the daughter just stands with her mouth wide open.   The dad looks at her standing mouth agape and says with a confused look of his own, “what’s the matter.”   It reminds me of when my daughter Jasmine was younger.   She is a pretty sneaky little girl. She somehow got a hold of my cell phone when I laid it down within her reach. Plop, straight into her mouth it went. She followed up that by using it like a hammer to beat on her toys.   I guess what I am trying to say is you can’t trust old people and babies with technology . . . just kidding.   What you see in these examples is that if you don’t know what a thing exists for, you will end up using it wrongly.   You may even break it.   To say it a different way, if you don’t know the purpose of a thing you will end up abusing the thing.

Marriage is an institution that so many people in our day do not understand the purpose of. If we were to take a survey among people in this room and ask what the purpose of marriage is, we would probably get back several different answers.   Our culture is so confused about marriage.   And this confusion is leading to a misuse, neglect, and abuse of what marriage is supposed to be. A few examples will show how prevalent this confusion about marriage has become.   A recent study done by the Pew Research Center has shown that after decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. When these people are surveyed regarding the role marriage plays in society, they reflect an attitude regarding marriage that shows why these marriage rates are lowering. The Pew Research Center finds a public that is deeply divided over the role marriage plays in society. Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Some 46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second.   As marriage rates are dropping, divorce rates remain still too high. According to an Enrichment Journal article on the divorce rate in America, the divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%. The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%. The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%.   During the time that marriage rates have been dropping, support for allowing two men or two women to get married has been increasing.   In 1989, 69-79% of Americans opposed allowing homosexuals to marry.   In 2014, 59% are now in favor.   Also add in the fact that according to a USA Today story, between 1990 and 2012, the percentage of unmarried couples living together more than doubled.   NBC news reported that by the time they’re 20, 1 in 4 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they’re 30, that ratio climbs to 3 in 4.

What does this all mean? To summarize, more people are living together instead of committing in marriage, too many people get married who will not stay married, and too many people think that marriage is something other than what really is.   When we do not know the purpose of something, we will abuse it.   Fortunately, God has provided us with the answer so that we can know about what the purpose of marriage is.   Please turn in your Bible’s with me to Ephesians 5:22-33.   As we look at this passage today, we will be drawing out two primary points.   We will first see the purpose of marriage is to be a physical, tangible symbol and sign that shows off God’s love for His people. And next, will see how this purpose leads us to rightfully practice marriage in our homes, community, and church. The purpose will lead to the practice.

Purpose:

Let’s begin by looking at the purpose of marriage.  But before we look at the specific purpose of marriage, let’s lay down a principle that should guide us whenever we are looking at the purpose for anything.   Two passages in particular help us with this principle.   Romans 11:36 says “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” And Colossians 1:16 says “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” The principle is this: All things are created by God through Christ and find their purpose in Him. All things exist to bring God glory. God burns with a white-hot passion to make his Glory known in the entire universe. Therefore, all things both good and bad exist to give God glory. Whether it is through the display of his wrath and justice on evil or the display of his mercy, grace, and love in all goodness, all things were created for God’s glory.   You and I exist to showcase God’s glory.   Marriage also was created by God to demonstrate God‘s glory.   This is the principle behind all things.

 

With God’s glory the ultimate purpose, how does marriage complete this purpose?   There are many secondary ways marriage brings God glory. These include operating as a tool to sanctify Christians, to overcome loneliness, and to provide for the procreation of the species but marriage’s ultimate fulfillment of its Godly purpose is listed here in Ephesians 5. As we look at this passage, you see two lines of thought moving about it. There is the very real practical instruction regarding husbands and wives given here.   But underlining all of this practical instruction is a larger glorious theme. You will see throughout this passage the phrases “As to the Lord” and “As Christ. “ These phrases occur 6 times in this brief passage.   All the practical instruction in this passage is tied to these phrases. We are to obey these practical instructions because they are done “as the Lord” or “as Christ” has. Verse 31 and 32 bring into clarity what this all means. Here in these two verses we are given what marriage primarily exists to accomplish.   Marriage exists to bring God Glory by being a tangible, visible, and living picture of God’s love for His people.   Marriage is a symbol.

 

All throughout the Bible, God uses physical acts or objects to act as visible signs to represent abstract and invisible ideas.   Children often have a hard time with abstract ideas.   For example, when teaching a child to add we often use blocks or toys.   Addition using only numbers with no corresponding concrete object like finger so toes to count is a very hard concept for a child to learn.   When reading stories to children, we use books with larger colorful pictures that often pop out.   This is also one of the reasons that movies and TV shows for even many adults have become such a popular way of imparting ideals and philosophies.   A picture is equal to a thousand words.   God throughout the bible has used visible signs to represent something else.   He used the rainbow to represent his covenant promise to Noah. God uses the sacrifices in the Old Testament to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. We have other physical signs such as circumcision, Passover feasts, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism.   These all represent far greater things than just their immediate application.   We see here in Ephesians that marriage was created by God to also be a sign or symbol.

 

Marriage is a sign to all the world of God’s love for His elect people.   Paul quotes Genesis 2: 24 here to explain this.  So like Paul let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see this picture at work.   This tour is going to be a quick fly over so we are not going to be landing on any one verse for an extended time.   There are however plenty of sources of information on these passages to help guide you in a deeper study on them.

Sit back and put your seat belt on as we take this biblical tour.   If you will look out your right side window, you will see first up on our tour of marriage in the Bible, that marriage goes all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis, God creates Adam alone.   None of the animals are a suitable helper to Adam, so God created Eve to be a companion to Adam. Genesis 2:24 describes this first marriage and how it relates to all others. This is the verse that the apostle Paul quotes:“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”   What we see in here is more than just the introduction of Adam to Eve.   We see that marriage is a gift and is itself an example of God’s love for Adam and all mankind.   Marriage from the beginning is tied up with the love of God.   Next, in Genesis 3, we have the temptation and fall of mankind.   In the fall, the marriage order is turned on its head as Eve takes the spiritual lead and Adam neglects his responsibility to lead his wife. Satan attacks marriage from the beginning. He knows it is to be a picture of God’s love so Satan attacks it. Adam and Eve fall. God gives out curses in this passage and explains that because of sin, child-birth will be harder and that marriage will also be tough. God also gives the promise though that it is through the birth of a child, in particular Jesus that all will be restored.

It is in Exodus that God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt.   God renews his covenant with descendents of Abraham at Mount Sinai by the giving of His law. This covenant ceremony is in many ways similar to a wedding ceremony.  The covenant is of course also alike a marriage.  This may be one of the reasons that in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, Marriage and family is protected strongly in 3 of the Ten Commandments. There are various laws in Deuteronomy protecting marriage, prohibiting adultery, and calling for the purity of virginity. God’s people are to abstain from sexuality immorality in part because our sexuality is to be a picture of the commitment of God’s church to be pure.  Also in Deuteronomy, we see the first indication that idolatry is like infidelity in marriage. Deuteronomy 31:16 explains to Moses that the Israelites will commit spiritual adultery.   They will break their covenant vows. Yet God will be true to his vow. This theme is picked up greatly in the later prophets.   What is certain here is that God’s love for his people is the ultimate marriage and for his people to follow other gods is for them to play the part of a prostitute.

The entire book of Ruth is a love story that beautifully showcases marriage as a picture of God’s love.   We see in the book of Ruth, God bringing into his covenant a woman who would not normally have been included. She is included by marriage. Marriage as a picture of God’s love for the nations is shown in the inclusion of this foreign woman.   Ruth of course plays a huge part in redemption history.   She is the ancestor of  David and more importantly Jesus.

In the books of Psalms and Proverbs, marriage is both praised and compared to God’s promises.   In perhaps what is the strongest example yet in our tour of the Bible is the book of Song of Songs.   This book is a poetic account of marital love, fidelity, and intimacy. The early Jewish rabbis taught that the book pictures God’s love for Israel. Early Christian writers took the same approach. One writer in the third century wrote a ten-volume commentary on Song of Solomon, telling how the book describes God’s love for Christians.

Finishing up the Old Testament, we come to the prophets.   It is here we that God’s love for his people and his people’s commitment or lack of commitment is compared to a bride and groom.   Isaiah 49:18 speaks of God clothing his people like a bride. Isaiah 61 continues this message of God clothing his people with beauty, dignity, and love like a bride.   Isaiah 62 includes this beautiful passage:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel also make frequent use of this comparison.   Chapter 16 of Ezekiel is lengthy but in beautifully poetic terms it says that even though we have all went after false Gods and committed spiritual adultery, God is a loving groom that calls us back to Him.   God calls people from among all the nations to be His. He will cleanse their sin and make them pure as a virgin bride.

Hosea the prophet makes this point even more clear because God uses Hosea’s life and marriage to deliver this point. Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who will cheat on him and get herself sold into sex slavery. Hosea though loves his unfaithful wife and buys her back from prostitution. God uses this living picture to show that God loves and redeems sinners through Christ.

The Old Testament is clear. God’s love for us is compared to marriage.  Entering into the New Testament we are again greeted with this picture.   Jesus’ first public miracle is at a wedding. He institutes his blessing on the wedding and begins his ministry celebrating marriage.   Jesus also over and over refers to himself as the Bridegroom. He points the Old Testament promises of God to save his people and to love them. Jesus uses this marriage them all throughout his ministry and sermons.    Jesus is the ultimate groom who lays down his life to love his bride. Finally in Revelation of  we are told of the marriage supper of the Lamb.   It is His second coming that Jesus’ union with his people, the Church will be completed and celebrated.

And this concludes our tour of the Bible and we arrive back to our passage in Ephesians 5 now after having gone through the entire Bible.   We have seen that marriage is used extensively as a picture of God’s love for his people. We see this fully illustrated in the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ for his people.   This lines up exactly with what Ephesians 5 says.   In fact, Ephesians 5 goes a step further. God’s love is not just compared to marriage but true marriage here is compared to God’s love. That is the reason that God’s love throughout the bible is compared to marriage is because marriage itself is supposed to be a display God’s love.   Marriage exists to be a picture that we can witness in our lives and the lives others.   Marriage shows us the love of God for his people.     This is the primary mission of marriage.

We see in this passage that Jesus does 6 things for His bride, the Church.  Verse 25, Jesus loves His bride. He gives himself sacrificially also in verse 25. He sanctifies and makes pure the church  in verse 26. He presents her to the Father proudly in verse 27. Finally in verse 29, Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. This is that amazing grace and amazing love we sing about. This is what our marriages are meant to be and meant to point to.

If Marriage’s purpose is to point us to the love of God in Jesus, then knowing this will inform our understanding of the practice of marriage.   Again, the picture shows us the practice.

The Practice of Marriage:

 There are several things that knowing the purpose of marriage will lead us to understand.   We now know that marriage is about more than just romantic feelings.   It is a picture of self-sacrifice and commitment.   Marriage is also exclusive, that is it is only between one man and one woman. Today this part is under attack  in our country.   Marriage however is only between two people of the opposite sex.   It is the union of a bride and a husband, not a husband and husband. Nor is it mean to between three or more people.   Marriage is clearly defined in the bible this way both in the Old and New Testament.

Two objections are usually given here. The first objection is to say that Jesus himself did not forbid homosexuality or homosexual marriage.     This objection really misunderstands the nature of scripture and overlooks what Jesus does say about marriage. The argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality presumes that the rest of scripture are not the words of Christ. Jesus and the Holy Spirit co-exist in the Godhead and have been in perfect and eternal communion from eternity past. It is Holy Spirit – God Himself – who inspired all of the Bible, including epistles like Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy where homosexuality is addressed. Secondly, as already mentioned on our tour the Bible, Jesus in the Gospels does address marriage frequently.   He points to the same passage in Genesis that Paul uses here in Ephesians to say that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The second objection regarding marriage that some people make is to point to those in the Old Testament who had more than one wife.   To answer this objection we must be able to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive texts.   For example when we go to a doctor with an illness, the doctor first diagnoses and describes our sickness to us.   He then proceeds to prescribe for us a medicine to cure the sickness.   Descriptive texts in the Bible merely describe the way things were.   They are not necessarily commandments or even models for us to follow.   The Bible describes a lot of things.   The Bible does not sugar coat things either. It describes the Old Testament kings and prophets, warts and all.   Prescriptive texts on the other hands are commands for us to follow.   We see that marriage in the Bible time was under attack just as today.   God warns the people that if they marry many wives they will face many bad consequences.   And often the Bible describes how this disobedience and distortion of marriage leads to the downfall of many great people including King Solomon.

The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.   It is a permanent institution that is to endure during the life of the bride and groom. Malachi 2:16 says that divorce is violence.   Marriage is established by God and what God establishes should not be broken by man.   We do not have time to go into all of the teachings on divorce today but needless to say, divorce is never a good thing.

Because marriage is a picture of God’s love, it is fitting that marriage occurs all around the world.   People from all nations marry.  All nations are able to see this picture of God’s love.   Marriage as an institution is not just limited to Christians though its message is decisively Christen.   Christians however should seek to only marry believers. Single Christians should not become unequally yoked with a non-Christian.   Charles Spurgeon says this “When husbands and wives are well yoked, how light their load becomes!”   This is so true.

            Because Marriage exists from the beginning,  it is not primarily or even secondarily a political institution. The government’s involvement should only be limited to acknowledging what God has already declared marriage to be.   No Senate, House of representative, President or Supreme Court can change what marriage is.   They can try all they like but calling something marriage that can not be marriage does not change what is not marriage into marriage.  It is not up to popular vote.   Nations, politicians, and voters who seek to challenge God’s definition will ultimately face judgment for their distortion of God’s picture.

And lastly and as personal application for us today, our marriages as Christians should reflect the love of Christ. This love will reflect to our spouses and from there the world will see displayed in our marriages God’s grace. This points us to the very practical instruction in these verses.   This instruction is commanded by our Lord but has gone out of vogue in our current times.

We see from this practical instruction that because marriage is a picture of Jesus’ love for His church, husbands are love their wives sacrificially overlooking weaknesses and imperfections.   Just ask Jesus laid down his life for the Church, husbands are called to sacrificial love.   Just as Jesus sanctifies and makes the Church pure, husbands are watch out for their wives purity. They are to protect their wives spiritual life.   Husbands and men, this means first putting away all sexual immorality and lust from your own lives. You cannot protect the purity of your family and wife if you are looking at pornography in your private time.   Nothing will kill a marriage quicker than sexual immorality.   And the sad fact is that there are men who go to church every week yet go home and look websites that distort the beauty of the sexuality that God has given us to use within the confines of marriage.   Men or women if you are caught up in this destructive behavior there is hope, forgiveness, and cleanliness in Christ.   Repent and put your faith in Him. You also need to seek help by contacting other godly men if you are man or other godly women if you are a woman.  To repeat, husbands you are to guard the purity of your wife.  This means that husbands also lead their wives to follow Christ.   Husbands are to be the spiritual leader in their home.   You wife should not have to drag your butt out of bed on Sunday morning to get you to go to  church. You are the one who should be leading your wife and your family into a closer relationship with Christ.

Wives you are called submit to the loving leadership of your husbands. Just as the church submits to Christ, you are to follow your husband’s leadership. Submission is not welcome in our current culture but yet it is what God calls you to.   This is not a weakness as many may think. Christ himself is an example of submission. The night that he would be arrested and crucified, Jesus while gathered with the twelve disciples washed his disciples’ feet.   The Bible says He did this knowing full well that He was the king of the universe.   Jesus was also able to submit to the will of His father because he was motivated out a love for Him. Wives out of love for the Father and for your husband, you can submit to your husband knowing that you are the daughter of the King.

Wives and husbands pray for each other.   Wives and husbands keep the marriage bed undefiled. Wives and Husbands lead their children.   In all of this, we display to the world and to each other the love of God.

 

Conclusion:

So in conclusion all of this points us back to the savior who is full of grace and mercy, a savior who bought his bride at a great price, a bride who often plays the part of a prostitute  caught in adultery.   The church is made up of people who do not deserve the love of God yet he willfully sacrificed all for their sake.   Marvel at the love of this Savior.   Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that perfectly recounts his love

“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”     That is the picture that marriage is meant to be. May we all submit to that love and may all of our marriages beautifully display that picture.

 

Hitler’s Children: The Sins of the fathers

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’                                                               –Numbers 14:18

 

HitlersChildren

I have always been interested in history and have read quite a lot on World War II.  For some reason other another, perhaps because the war happened years before my birth, I had never given much thought about any one who would be related to the Nazi leaders being alive today.  That was until the  other day when on netflix, I stumbled across a documentary entitled “Hitler’s Children.” The documentary focuses on five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices.  This film is emotionally gripping in so many ways.   As I watched it I could not help but be moved as these people struggled with the desire to love their parents or grandparents as is natural for anyone and the hatred of all that these same parents, grandparents, and uncles had done.   One such lady,Monika Hertwig,  tells about when a viewing of “Schindler’s List”  she came to the complete realization of the monstrosity of her father, Amon Goeth.  She had a panic attack while in the theater and felt like she was going to die if it got any worse.

While watching the film, I could not help but think about several themes from the Bible.    God’s Word has a way of dealing with the intense needs of our world.  There are two themes in particular that I want to pull out from the Bible that kept flooding into my mind as I watched this documentary

1.  The first theme I thought of was how we are all under the shame of our ancestors and share in this guilt.  In the beginning, when our first ancestors began a cosmic rebellion to their Creator’s authority and sovereignty by disobeying His command, they began a projection of guilt and sin that carries on to this day.  They believed a lie and this lie gave root and bore fruit in all the sin and shame that fills our world.   We are all born in this sin.   Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  The horrors of the Nazi atrocities did not just begin in the 20th century but they were born all those years earlier in the garden when Adam and Eve decided that they knew better than God what was right and what was wrong.   The sins of our father Adam then are replayed and repaid through out all generations.   Alas that anyone would claim not fair that they should share in this guilt, Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned.”    It is not as if you or I had been the one in the garden we would have done in any better.   We would have then done the same thing.    We are guilty.   God is just, Numbers 14:18.     I think this is part of the reason we recoil so much at the Nazis.   We watch as a whole nation of people are sucked into an evil philosophy and wonder how they could have allowed themselves to become that way.  The truth is that if not for the grace and restraining power of God, our hearts in our natural state are capable of doing unspeakable horror.

2.  Watching this documentary, I also could not help but be reminded that while we are effected by the sin of others and we do have real guilt in our sin,  the good news is God has made a way to remove that shame and guilt.  We are not our parents.   We do not have to bare the shame of Adam.   We do not have to continue the path of destruction that came before us.    One particular scene in film that moved me was when the grandson of Rudolf Hoess traveled to the concentration camp where his grandfather had been commander.   While there you could see the pain on this grandson’s face and the shame he carried.   He was invited to speak to some young Jewish teenagers who were also taking a tour through the camp.  They were curious why he was there and some were bothered by his presence.   It was an elderly man, a Jewish survivor of the camp, who changed the entire scene.  He walked up to the grandson of the man who had tortured him and shook his hand.   This holocaust survivor looked him in the face and said to him, “You didn’t do it.  It was not you who did this.”    There was a certain relief that filled this descendent of the Nazi.   You could see in the weight lifted right off of him.     This scene from the documentary while emotional is a small picture of something more grand.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”                                      – Ezekial 18:19-20

What Ezekiel wrote in the above passage gives a sense of relief.  The guilt of our ancestors does not have to carry on with us.   The children do not have to remain in punishment for the sins of their fathers.  If only they will live in righteousness.    But that is the problem isn’t it.   The above passage only gives hope to those who live in righteousness.   But we know this, that we are not righteous.  It brings us no hope.    However there was one who did live righteously.   His name is Jesus.   He lived without sin.  He did not deserve death but instead should never have suffered.   However, for our sake, Jesus was made to be the unrighteous.   Jesus took upon himself the same shame, guilt, and sin that pervades our world.   He took it upon himself so that we may be forgiven.   “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

Jesus did that for us and he calls us to repent of our sins and to put our complete trust in Him.   He did it out of love for the unlovable.   One day for those who have been saved, who repent and put their faith in Christ,  we will stand in front of the Father and when we think of the sin and shame that we deserve He will say to us,”You did not do it.”    He will say that because the sin we committed was placed on Jesus and in its place we carry the righteousness of Christ.   The cycle of guilt and shame has been broken.   The guilt of the fathers and sins of the sons of those saved by Christ are no more.

 

As I finished the film, I prayed for these five people that they may find the beauty of the gospel.

” For my father and my mother have forsaken me,but the Lord will take me in.” –  Psalm 27:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed Assurance

blessed-assurance_t
What if a church member came up to you  and shared that they were doubting their salvation or were wanting to be assured that they were saved?  Other than scripture, one tool that I would use would be to walk through what the 2nd London Baptist Confession has to say about assurance. Using this tool, I would begin and end by pointing to the gospel as the only message that has the power to save and give assurance.

Following along the format of the 2nd London Baptist Confession which you can read in full here , I would first let this person know that assurance is a real and true thing. We can have assurance of our salvation and that it is a good thing to have. Article 1 on the chapter of assurance in the Confession states: “. . .yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.”
Knowing this, I would then try to probe with questions to see if the person is able to articulate the gospel. Jesus is the one that saves and therefore we must place our complete trust in what He did on the cross, in his resurrection, and what He does in us. The gospel is the foundation of assurance. There can be no assurance where the person has not experienced the life changing power of the gospel.

Secondly, I would point out that there are basically three ways that God gives us assurance. The primary way is by staying focused on the object of our faith. This once again comes back to the Gospel. We do not save ourselves; salvation is the work of God. This means that we can be assured because God has promised salvation to those who have repented and put their trust in Jesus. The second means of assurance is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Bible says that “the Holy Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the Children of God.(Romans 8:16)” The Holy Spirit does this by convicting us of sin and moving us to good works. We also have the internal witness that our faith is truly in Christ. The third means is related to the second in that the Spirit moves us to bear fruit(Galatians 5:22-23). We should examine our lives and be able to see where we have been changed by Christ. Do we desire righteousness more than sin? Are we growing in maturity and in the love of Christ for the things that Christ loves? Our works do not save us but they are the result of salvation. If we do not see these fruits than that may be cause for concern.

Thirdly, I would point out that we may at times lose not our salvation but our assurance. Grievous sin in our life can cause the Spirit of assurance to leave us. Christians will not remain in sin but we can fall into it at times. Sin can cause our hearts to lose the assurance we once had. We should repent and turn from this sin(Psalm 51:12). Sometimes, however, God may withhold assurance to cause us to seek after Him. He does not do this out of spite but out of love so as to motivate us to thirst for Him. God however will never leave us completely alone. And with much diligence and searching, God rewards us with the object of our search, Himself.
Assurance then should be sought after and cherished. Jesus must be the focus of our faith. He is the one we trust in, not a prayer that we have prayed or a walk down an aisle. We can only have assurance of salvation if we have truly repented and placed our faith in Jesus.  Then we can be assured:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

 

How to become a Christian? The Gospel in Four Words

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The Gospel can be stated using four words: God, Man, Jesus, Response. Let me unpack each of those words briefly and you will understand the Gospel and how to become a Christian.

God: It all begins with God. The Bible in its first verse (Genesis 1:1) says that “In the beginning, God created. . .” God is the author of life and creator of everything we see. He is not only creator but owner of everything. Job 41:11b says” Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Because God is creator and owner, He determines the purpose of everything and everyone. God is also Holy and commands us to be Holy. Leviticus 19:2 God created us to be Holy and to live in relationship with Him. The word “Holy” has a lot of meaning but it essentially means that we are to be pure and free from evil. This leads us to the second of the four words.
Man: Mankind was created by God and thus are His. God revealed to Man how they should obey him. God’s commands can be summarized in two commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. People however since the creation have not obeyed. Beginning with Adam and Eve people have rejected God’s ownership and commands. The Bible says that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Sin is disobedience to God. Sin also separates us from God. Isaiah 59:2 says “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Since God is the source of life and all that is good; separation from him leads to destruction and evil. The Bible says what we earn with our sin is death. (Romans 6:23). If you look around at the world or watch the news you can see the effects of sin everywhere. But the effects of sin don’t only affect our life in this world, Sin also will be judged by God. Just as everyone will die, they also will be judged after death. (Hebrews 9:27). Everyone has sinned and has lived in rebellion against God. This punishment is a terrifying thing because God is a just and holy God who cannot and will not allow sin to go unpunished. God however also loves, which leads us to the next of the four words.
Jesus: God loves us and thus wanted to make a way to both punish sin and forgive us. God decided to take the punishment sin upon himself in our place by sending His Son, Jesus to live and die on the cross (John 3:16, Romans 5:8) Jesus was born, God in the flesh. He obeyed God’s law and lived a Holy life free from sin. Yet ,He chose to take our sin and punishment upon himself and die. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus to be sin even though he did not sin, so that we might become righteous. He did this as 1st Peter 3:18 says by suffering in our place so that we might be forgiven by God. The prophet Isaiah prophesized that this would take place years before Jesus would come. Isaiah said “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus however not only died but defeated death by rising from dead. Jesus did this so that we might have a right relationship with God and this demands a response.
Response: Our response to the good news that Jesus died for our sins is to turn from our sins and to put our faith in Jesus. Romans 10:9 says it this way, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We realize the evil in our hearts and the rebellion that we have against God’s commands. We then throw ourselves at His mercy and accept the gift of salvation that is offered in Jesus. Becoming a Christian is not about trying to do more good things but is about trusting in what Jesus has already done in our place. We respond to the Gospel by faith. This is not a blind faith but a trust in the reliability of Jesus. We can trust Jesus because he loves us and because he did rise from the dead. When we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God places on us the righteousness that Jesus earned and removes the guilt and shame of our rebellion and sin. One of Jesus’s followers, Paul wrote that when someone trusts in Jesus, they become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are forgiven and will have eternal life. Jesus said in John 5:24. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
How does one become a Christian? Admit that you are a sinner deserving of judgment. Believe in your heart in what Jesus did on the cross. Confess and make Jesus Lord of your life.

If you have responded to the Gospel today, send me a message and I would love to follow-up with you.

Jesus Never Ducked the Truth (Thoughts on Duck Dynasty and Mark Driscoll)

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As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. Luke 11:53-54

  People often think of Jesus as a mild-mannered man not wanting to offend anyone.   Luke in chapter 11 tells  a different story.   Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a pharisee.  The pharisees were the leading religious and political figures of the Jewish day.     An invite to a pharisee’s house was as Joe Biden might say a “big deal.” Jesus wasted no time getting to the point during his visit.  He poignantly called out the pharisee and his guests for their sins.  His honest words rang like insults in the ears of his hearers.  “Fools, white washed tombs,  hypocrites, and brood of vipers” where some of the words that Jesus had for the pharisees and scribes.  Today we might say Jesus was a bit uncouth.   He was frank and to the point.   It’s hard to imagine how you might feel if your invited dinner guest begin to compare you to a murderer before the food had even had a chance to settle in your stomach.   Talk about indigestion.  Yet Jesus loved these people.  It was his love for them and their followers that motivated him to call out their sin.   

And then as Jesus left that dinner party, the pharisees plotted their revenge.  They were constantly on look out waiting for the opportune time when Jesus would slip up and say something.   They were like a rookie journalist hoping to make his big break by catching Jesus with a hot mic saying something under his breath.    Jesus was wise to their game though.   Yet, He would still answer their questions with the truth.   I imagine that every time that Jesus answered one of their questions in a way they didn’t expect, it would leave them jaw-dropped and infuriated.  He continued to call  sinners to repent while lovingly warning them of hell.   The pharisees eventually had enough and  conspired to kill Jesus.  

So if the pharisees treated Jesus this way, how shall his followers expect to be treated.   Jesus explained what to expect in John 15:18-25

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

It’s simple, if the world hated Jesus then they will hate his followers.   The way they treated Jesus is the way they will treat us.  This has been evident throughout the history of Christianity.   From its struggle  under the Roman rule to present day in places like Syria and China, Christians have been and are still persecuted for their faith.

In America where I write from, Christians have enjoyed a great amount of freedom.   However, it does seem like that freedom is under attack.   Which brings us back around to the first passage.   The pharisees watched and waited for Jesus to slip up.  They also asked him questions hoping to provoke an answer.  Two recent cases provide excellent examples of Luke 11:53,54.    

The news explodes yesterday that after an interview and profile in GQ magazine, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was going to be suspended from the hit show.    What was his crime?   When asked about his opinion on homosexuality, he gave it.   Some of have said that his response was a bit uncouth while GLAAD cried that he was offensive and hateful.   Phil Robertson paraphrased from the Bible while listing what he thought were sins. This included homosexuality, adultery, bestiality, and drunkenness.  A&E, the television network that Duck Dynasty airs on, under pressure from gay organizations put out a statement saying they were going to suspend Phil from the show indefinitely.   Then came the media storm.  Everyone and their brother has an opinion on the situation.  There have been several good posts from some leading Christian thinkers on the situation.  Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a blog piece entitled “You Have Been Warned”, came to the conclusion:

So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.

Anyone who had watched the show or knows anything about the Robertson family knows that they are conservative Christians.  It should have been no shock to anyone that Phil Robertson would think that homosexuality is wrong.  And yet here we are.   It is sad that in America with its rich history influenced and shaped by great Christian thinkers like John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, that paraphrasing the Bible would be considered a public offense.   To be fair A&E has every right to broadcast who they want or to not broadcast who they want.   However, the day may be coming that speaking out against homosexuality will be considered a hate crime.

Returning to the scripture, its easy to see how the world when it is confronted with Christians living a godly life will not like it.   Just as the pharisees plotted against Jesus for speaking out against sin, the world will do the same to us.   You can also be sure that the world will be waiting and watching for Phil Robertson and family to slip up. 

Which brings us to another lesser known but still widely blogged about story.  A pastor that I have often enjoyed hearing preach through podcasts and the like, Mark Driscoll was caught in a “scandal.”   Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle.  He is also a popular author and speaker somewhat controversial for his uncouth style and directness. (I personally appreciate his directness and willingness to tackle tough questions)   He went on a radio show back in November expecting to discuss his newest book.   While on the radio, the host accused Mark of plagiarism.  The blogosphere exploded when more accusations of plagiarism followed after the radio show.    Because of Mark’s bold stance against homosexuality, feminism, and biblical manhood, it seems like many came out of the woodwork to attack him.  After a month-long investigation into plagiarism by Tyndale House Publishing, they released a statement.   The initial accusation by the radio host was considered unfounded as Driscoll had properly cited in his book the source of his argument.   However, it was found that an internal publication for Mars Hill had mistakenly left out a citation in some sermon notes.   Mark also released a statement publicly apologizing for the mistake and promising to correct it.  In reality, the whole thing was blown way out of proportion.   I appreciated Mark’s willingness to own up to a mistake but this was not the big scandal that some were making it out to be.   Instead it looked to be as if some were once again looking for Driscoll to trip up and fall.

Both stories are slightly different with different lessons to learn.   In one, Driscoll did make a mistake.  I think his story serves as a warning that when Christians speak boldly upon anything, there will be plenty of others looking to take them down.   It means that Christians have to live above reproach.   We also like Driscoll  must be willing to own up to mistakes and work to correct them.  Christians are not perfect and nor will they be until Christ’s return.   Christians  need to be willing to accept apologies and to give grace especially over innocent mistakes. We need to be graceful to fellow Christians when they fall.  We also need to be willing to show that same grace and mercy to everyone around us.

The Duck Dynasty story goes to show that ultimately it is not the fact that Christians are imperfect that the culture finds offensive but it is the message of Christianity that they can not stand.   The world doesn’t need for someone to make mistakes to try to destroy them.  This culture is increasingly becoming offended by the Bible message.   While the verdict is out on whether Duck Dynasty will continue as a show with or without Phil, the time is coming and is here when anyone who speaks out about sin will be considered a bigot and hateful.   The world will be waiting like the Pharisees waited for Jesus to say something offensive.   Like Jesus, we must not be afraid to speak the uncouth and politically-incorrect truth.  In a culture where the only sin is to say that there is sin, the Christian message is going to be offensive.  Christians in America will have to learn to live with courage, speaking the truth in love

 

Jesus, Philemon, and Illegal Immigration

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Yesterday evening Democrats in the U.S. Senate pushed through a budget bill to the disappointment of some Republicans.  The bill according to The Daily Caller included a loophole that would allow illegal immigrants to acquire welfare benefits. The bill also imposes cuts on retired military members’ pensions.   Sen. Jeff Session(Alabama Republican) along with other Republicans were unsuccessful in offering  amendments to the legislation that would have used money saved from closing the illegal immigrant welfare loophole to keep from cutting military retirees’ pay.   It seems to border on treasonous to put welfare benefits for illegal immigrants above keeping the promises made to people who have served this country honorably.  That said, this bill is just a microcosm of the larger illegal immigration debate.

How should Christians view the debate?  Should Christians be pushing for the current immigration reform bill going through congress that offers amnesty.    What does the Bible have to say in regard to this?   The Old Testament is filled with verses written to the people of Israel teaching them to treat immigrants well.  In Exodus 22:21 it says “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”   Deut. 10:19 says “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  What does the word “Sojourner” and how does it apply to the current situation?

Jame Hoffmeier in his book “The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible”  provides  an understanding of the word, Sojourner.  The word is used for “a person who entered Israel and followed legal procedures to obtain recognized standing as a resident alien.”    There actually is another Hebrew word used to refer to people who did not have legal recognition.  The bible would describe these people as “foreigners.”    Understanding the difference in terms will lead to a better understanding of what the Bible has to say.

Hoffmeier comes the conclusion that

“Illegal immigrants should not expect these same privileges(of citizens or legal immigrants) from the state who laws they disregard by virtue of their undocumented status.  The bible clearly distinguishes between the status of a legal alien and a foreigner, and one consequence is that there really is a difference between the legal standing of a present-day documented alien and an illegal immigrant.” (pg 156-57)

This confusion among terms has often been a problem for those calling for Amnesty.  Dr. Russell Moore, a former dean of my seminary and current president of ERLC, has been one such person pushing for illegal immigrants to receive amnesty.  In one of his blog posts , he wrote that, “our Lord Jesus himself was a so-called ‘illegal immigrant.'”   Well certainly if it is the case that Jesus was an illegal immigrant than we must give some credence to the idea that our immigration laws need to be changed to allow for amnesty.    The problem with this statement by Moore and others is that it fails to distinguish between legal and  illegal immigration

It also fails on another point.  When Moore refers to Jesus as an illegal immigrant he is referring to when Joseph and Mary fled the region of Judea when Jesus was an infant.  Mark Tooley in writing for the American Spectator explains:

“(W)hich Egyptian immigration laws did Mary and Joseph violate when they fled there to protect the Baby Jesus from a murderous King Herod? Neither Scripture nor non-canonical sources reveal any such violations. Joseph, Mary and Jesus remained in Egypt until Herod was dead, when they settled in Nazareth. They were essentially temporary religious refugees who fled persecution.  Besides, if both ancient Judaea and ancient Egypt were under the Roman Empire, was moving from one to the other an act of “immigration,” much less “illegal”?”

Thus  Jesus was far from being an illegal immigrant.   Pointing to the fact that Jesus moved from one region of the Roman Empire to another does not equate to the act of illegal immigration today.

There is an area of the Bible which may have more to say about this rather than trying to paint illegal immigration into the  Christmas narrative.  The Epistle to Philemon is a letter from Paul written on the behalf of a fugitive slave or bond-servant, Onesimus.  Paul had met Onesimus possibly in Colossae and had shared the Gospel with him.  Onesimus accepted Christ as his savior and had become a useful brother to Paul.   Paul however sent Onesimus back to Philemon.    Paul wrote Philemon to encourage him to receive Onesimus as a Christian brother and to forgive him for any offense that his abandoning Philemon had caused.  Paul even offered to pay for any expense that Philemon may need.   Without getting into the issue of slavery and all that it entails (It may make for a good blog at another time, however.  Doug Wilson in his book Black and Tan does an excellent job trying to discuss the issue of American slavery and the Civil war though it is not without controversy.), the Epistle to Philemon provides an excellent biblical case study for our understanding of the Christian response to illegal immigration.

While Onesimus was not an illegal immigrant, his status as a runaway slave would put him in a similar situation. We notice from this letter that there are several things that Paul does.  First of all, he shared the Gospel with Onesimus.  Paul did not treat this man with any less dignity or respect than any other person.  He cared for him deeply because he shared the love of Jesus with him.  Paul considered him a Christian.   Christians when they come into contact with immigrants, illegal or otherwise, need to remember this.  ( My wife is a legal immigrant and so it is especially important to me that we get this correct.)   Christian love and charity is to be shown to everyone.

Yet Paul’s love for Onesimus did not excuse the situation.  Onesimus had wronged someone and was illegally away from where he was committed to be.  Paul then sends Onesimus back to Philemon.   There are a lot of questions as to the exact nature of the slave situation for Onesimus but we can imagine that for Onesimus it would probably have been financially and politically better to be with Paul than to go back.  Yet, Paul sends Onesimus back.  ( There does seem to be some intent by Paul for Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a bond-servant any longer.  Phil 1:15-16 “(O)r this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservantbut more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”)

This passage fits in with teaching of Romans 13 that calls for Christians to be obedient to the rightful authorities.  It also gives good reason for illegal immigrants who have been converted to return to their home countries willingly.   This is a hard teaching but yet is in full accord with the Bible.  It would also be just then for the government to enforce its immigration laws.   There are great many reasons why this should be the case.  For one, it would be unjust to those who immigrated legally to give amnesty to those who did mot.
Lastly, from the book of Philemon we notice that Paul did not just sent Onesimus back empty-handed.  Paul was willing to pay for any expenses that Onesimus might need.   Christians should be willing to help illegal immigrants return to their home country.   Christian charity can help provide resources that an illegal immigrant might be lacking in order to help them return safely.    Christians in the home countries of the illegal immigrants must be willing to receive their brothers and sisters back with open arms.  They may also push for political reforms in their own governments.

To borrow a phrase that I don’t really like, the “Socially Just” thing to do for  Christians is to obey immigration laws.  They should not call for rewarding those who have broken them.  Christians should obey the laws of the land if they have been rightfully put in place.  There may be times when Christians must disobey laws in order to obey God but the immigration laws as they are do not rise to this standing.

To summarize, arguments that try to squeeze illegal immigration into the Christmas narrative are uncalled for.   The Bible encourages Christians to obey the rightful authorities.  When one becomes a Christian, their faith pushes them to repentance.   This repentance will entail that Christians who have broken immigration laws will attempt to obey them.   Christians have no moral duty to push for the breaking of immigration laws.  Christians do have the duty to treat all people with dignity and to share the gospel with everyone they may come in contact with.   The case for amnesty and rewarding those who have broken our laws is not one required from scripture.

The Color of Christmas

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Social Media erupted into a firestorm over a recent segment on Fox New’s in which on-air host Megyn Kelly declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white.  Accusations of racism and ignorance flew from all corners of the web.  Kelly later released a statement saying that her remarks were meant in jest and had been blown out of proportion.   What was kind of lost in the hype was that Kelly’s statements came as a response to an article from Slate by Aisha Harris titled, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.”  The main thesis of the article is that the common depiction of Santa Claus as a chubby old white man is unfair and makes kids of other races feel unwelcome.   Harris writes, “Two decades later, America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?”   This of course led to the Fox News segment in which Kelly proclaimed that Santa Claus is white.  She went even further and asserted that Jesus was white too.

What the whole controversy boils down to is nothing identity politics and racism.  Why does it matter what race Santa Claus is?   It matters because people have been told so long that they must identify with the color of their skin.   For Mr. Kringle not to be the same color as you is a tragedy.    It means that black children are not supposed to look up to and identify with white people .   It means that white people must have a Jesus who is blond hair and blue eyes.   The idea is that if your hero is not the same race as you then they can not really be your hero.  This is the message that is being sent.   It is why Black support for Barack Obama has remained close to 95% while anyone who criticizes him is a racist.   We are taught that we are nothing more than the color of our skin.  It is a far cry from MLK’s dream of content of character over appearance.

So what is the truth?  The truth is that St. Nicholas, the basis for the figure of Santa Claus, was a Greek Christian and bishop.  He was known for his faithfulness to Christian orthodoxy and was one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.   In one story, St.Nicholas was so fed up with those teaching heresy that he punched one them in the face.   Of course, he was also known to be fond of children and for giving gifts.   According to a recent survey of his skeletal remains, he was “of average height and slender-to-average build. He was 5 feet 5¾ inches tall.”   Over time the stories of St. Nicholas combined with Dutch and Germanic mythology to form the figure of Santa Claus.  This Santa Claus is a portly white bearded man in a red costume driving a sleigh powered by reindeer.  Therefore, while historically St. Nicholas was a Greek Christ-following heretic puncher,  our image of Santa Claus came to be dominated by the culture of Dutch, German, and England.  It is no wonder than that the depiction today of Santa Claus is a white man.

     What about Jesus?   The Discovery news website gives a quick glance at how our modern depiction of Jesus came about.   A faithful depiction of what Jesus actually looked like though is hard to nail down.  The Bible does not spend a lot of time answering the questions that our modern society may have.   It does not give a detailed account of Jesus appearance.   There are many reasons for this including the fact that Jesus’ purpose did not depend upon his appearance.  Jack Wellman in an article on Patheos does a pretty good job of describing what the bible has to say about Jesus appearance.

“Isaiah described Jesus as looking like an ordinary man and that there nothing special in His appearance that would make Him stand out.  Isaiah described Him in 53: 2b “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”  He wouldn’t fit in well with the prosperity preachers on TV.  He wouldn’t make a popular itinerant preacher today.  He wouldn’t be getting millions of hits on YouTube.  This is because Jesus was not especially handsome and there was “nothing special in His appearance that would make Him stand out” which matches with the many New Testament references of Him easily slipping through the crowds.  He was not desirous to look upon nor had no beauty (in the Jewish vernacular this means that He wasn’t handsome).  Jesus’ humanity made Him out to be no different looking than any other man of the day.  Otherwise, we really don’t know what Jesus looked like other than He was an ordinary looking man, that He was strong and extremely physically fit and that He was able to blend in with the crowds very easily. “

Jesus therefor would have looked like a typical Jewish man from Bethlehem.   This means that skin color wise he was  not white nor black.  He would have been dark-haired, brown-eyed with tan skin.    That said, the Bible does not focus on this aspect.

This brings us back around to the premise of the whole debate.  The truth is important.  What is not important is that we must have a Jesus who is the same color as us.   The Bible teaches that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile.   The color of our skin is ultimately unimportant.  Christians identity is not about our race.   There are, have been, and will be Godly men and women of all races.  Revelation 7:9 gives a beautiful picture of our future.  “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”   In heaven, there will be people of all races and colors.

This also means that we can celebrate people of all colors.  We can look up to great heroes in the past who were of different skin colors than ourselves.    Early in Christian history, North Africa played a vital role.  St. Augustine was one such African.  He played a crucial role not only in the history of the church but in the history of the west.  His contributions to European and American political and cultural thought are foundational.  White protestants can look to St. Augustine as a vital hero without having to think of him as a white man.  Black people can also look back at white men who helped led the charge against slavery and count them as heroes.

What does this mean for Santa Claus?  It means that children of all races can have fun and dream of Santa and his reindeer coming to visit them without worrying that he is depicted as a jolly white man.  There is nothing shameful about having a hero who is not the same race as you.
Which leads us to the final and most important fact.   People of all races can look to the historically factual and true Jesus as their savior even while he is not the same color as them.   Jesus does not need to be white to save white people.  He does not need to be black to save black people.  The truth is that a Jewish tan-skinned man is the savior for all people.   He is the ultimate hero for all races.

Ideas have Consequences

The other day I posted on my Facebook page a link to a blog that was pointing out the dangers of the “Prosperity Gospel” and of a few false teachers.  You can check out that blog here.      The purpose of my posting the blog on my Facebook was to point out that the “Prosperity Gospel” is really no Gospel at all and Christians should stay away from this teaching.   The Apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 2:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

There is much information on the danger of the “Prosperity Gospel” available.  Shai Linne a Christian Rapper does a thorough job of explaining it in his song “Fal$e Teacher$.” As bad at the “Prosperity Gospel” is, that is not my primary purpose in writing this post.  Instead it is the responses to my Facebook post that have inspired this writing.  One person responded to my FB post with this comment:

I preached part time for almost 10 years. The last thing that would occur to me, was to claim that MINE was the true interpreatation of the scriptures. . .
Remember: Muslimes are convinced enough that THEIRS is the truth, that they blow themselves up

This response is not really out of the ordinary and if you look at the comments on the blog itself, they all say similar things.  There seems to be a spirit today among the culture that views anyone who makes a truth claim with suspicion.   It is this post-modern philosophy that has invaded every aspect of culture and discussion.  As bad as the “Prosperity Gospel” is , it is post-modern philosophy that is far worse and that actually allows preachers like Joel Osteen to flourish.

So what is post-modernism? Here is a video that takes a quick look at it.     The video is really too brief but does make a good point that a definition of postmodernism is hard to nail down.   Dr, Henry F. Shaefer, a 5 time Noble prize nominee and renowned physical scientist with specialization in quantum mechanics,  gives a simple definition and addresses the problem of Postmodernism:

Postmodernism is one of the more influential forces in universities in North America and  Western Europe in the early years of the twenty-first century. . . Without the time to discus ts historic and cultural origins (e.g., Jacques Derrida), suffice to say that postmodernism hold to an epistemology of skepticism.  Postmodernism believes that humans are hopelessly subjective and unable to say anything meaningful about reality. . .  Postmodernists maintain that our senses cannot be trusted to accurately represent reality; and reason is a Western cultural construct that gives little insight into the actual nature of things. Given these presuppositions; such scholars hold that insistence upon any version of reality is an effort to subjugate and marginalize others. All assertions of so-called truth are thinly veiled efforts to dominate others.

This explains why people react so harshly when someone makes a truth claim.   The same person on my FB post also made this comment comparing the calling out of false teachers with the incorrect popular understanding of Galileo and the inquisition:

“But, you must be right: Your interpretation (whatever that is) is the TRUE one. . . the other 400 plus denominations are just blind idiots!
Being certain of something, does not make it the truth. There have been many splats from people who just didn’t believe in gravity. Galileo was almost burned at the stake because of people who were certain.

It seems that claiming the one is correct or knows the truth about a particular instance is the same as wanting to burn others at the stake.  It does seem to be as Shai Linne says in the rap above, “The only heresy today is to say that there is heresy.”

Jerram Barrs, professor of Covenant Theological Seminary summarizes the 4 ingredients of Postmodernism:

1. Postmodernism says that nothing can be known by reason. Reason is inadequate.  There is no objective truth.  this concept, of course, dovetails with the popular opinion, held long before the introduction of the term “postmodernism,” namely “You have your truth and I have my truth, and that is all that matters.

2. One logical consequence of postmodernism is the rejection of authority.  Postmodernism believes there is no book, no idea, and no social structure that could command or deserve respect.  If there is no authority which engenders respect, then all styles are equally valid.  No art is better than other art; there is no high culture.  This follows the conviction that there is no measure against which we can evaluate such things.

3.  For Postmodernists there can be no transcendent or binding commandments.  No one has the right to tell another person what to do.  The individual becomes the moral authority.  Again, this resonates with the popular idea that long preceded postmodernism, namely “Who are you to give me instructions for my life?”

4.  A fourth consequence of postmodernism may be practical idolatry.  Though persons no longer have truth to provide meaning, they sometimes hunger what me be called, “Idols of the mind.”  Certain individuals may thus be inclined to believe almost anything, no matter how irrational it might appear.  In fact, some may not even ask the question, “Is it reasonable?”  If people have no objective values to direct their lives, they often demand idols for their wills.  People usually live for something, whether it be achieving respect, making money, or being successful; and it may control their lives.

 

These four aspects explain a lot of the problems in the western world and especially America today.  Since there is no objective truth and no sense of authority the culture begins to unravel.   Things that were once considered perverse and immoral have become the norm.  In California, a recent law passed that allows students to use what ever gender bathroom, changing room, and shower they decide that they want to use.  In past decades, this would have been deemed unthinkable but in a world where there is no such thing as truth, anything goes.  The abandonment of truth leads to the abandonment of authority.  This rears its head as the president and congress increasingly overstep their constitutional bounds or in the case of illegal immigration they refuse to do their duty to execute the laws of the land.

Postmodernism eventually leads the way for the prosperity gospel to thrive.  As reason and authority are thrown out the window, the pseudo-spiritual preaching of the prosperity gospel can thrive as an “idol of the mind.”  Joyce Meyers can talk about receiving direct revelation from God that supersedes the bible and people will not bat an eye.   Joel Osteen can be wishy-washy about Jesus as the only way to God on a national news program because people do not want an exclusive truth claim.  It is why people who do not even listen or follow the prosperity gospel get upset when it is criticized.   Postmodernism is the Zeitgeist of America.

It then becomes imperative on Christians to find a way to stand for truth in a world that hates truth.  In world similar to the book of Judges in which is was said of the people that they did what was right in their own eyes, it is imperative that Christians stand firm in the truth and only seek to do what is right in the eyes of God.   Dr. Barrs gave a lecture on evangelism in a postmodern world.  In conclusion, I will post his lecture here.    May God give us eyes to see the truth and courage to stand for it.

 

Beard Wars: 2 Samuel 10

 beard

BEARD WARS: 2 SAMUEL 10

On May 1, 2013, relations between Bolivia and the United States took a sour turn. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Bolivian president Evo Morales was expelling from the country the U.S. Agency for International Development whom he accused of conspiring against his government. “’Surely to think that you can still manipulate us economically, politically — those times are past,” Morales said at May Day celebrations in La Paz, according to the Bolivian national news agency.”1 Those within the United States responded that the Bolivian people will be the ones hurt by removing this aid organization. Whatever the outcome, the lack of trust between the two governments will have to be overcome to return to better diplomatic relations. This news story is reminiscent of other recent events involving soured relations between countries. In 2009, North Korea ordered weapons inspectors to leave the country.2 This had the effect of ratcheting up war rhetoric and putting the Korean peninsula on high alert ever since. War was the result of Iraq’s expulsion of weapon’s inspectors in 2003.3

In each of the above cases, mistrust led to the expulsion of diplomatic teams, the erosion of diplomatic ties, and in the case of Iraq led to war. The Bible tells a similar story in 2 Samuel 10. In this chapter, the Ammonite King, Hunan listened to lies that caused him to spurn the good efforts of David which led to a war that would prove God’s provision over his people, Israel and be the beginning of King David’s fall into sin.

Chapter 10 of 2 Samuel is a transitional text. It ties the highs of God’s promise into the setting of the low’s of David’s fall. Bill T. Arnold says of chapters 9 and 10, “We have seen that Yahweh’s covenant with David in chapter 7 is the ideological mountain-top of 2 Samuel. Now with these chapters we come to the point at which the book begins its gradual descent into the valley.”4 Kenneth Chafin writes that,“the account of the Ammonites was incorporated into the story of the succession to David’s throne because it provides the setting for the story of David and Bathsheba.”5 While the story does provide the setting to David’s fall, it also provides the antithesis to the previous chapter in which David shows kindness to Saul’s descendent. “The present story serves as a significant foil to the previous episode. In both narratives, David is shown expressing compassion and generosity toward individuals from the region of Gilead whose royal forebears had recently died.”6 The chapter works then as a transition from the heights of David’s reign to the depth of his sin while showcasing the sovereign provision of God to protect his people and keep his covenant.

The chapter begins with the death of the Ammonite king Nahash. The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot by his incest with his younger daughter. The Israelites were commanded in Deuteronomy 2:19 to avoid conflict with them when the Israelites took the promised land. They lived east of the Dead Sea and Jordan. “From Jerusalem to Amman was a journey of about fifty miles.”7 They had been enemies of Israel’s king Saul and several commentators have speculated that Nahash may have shown David kindness when David was a fugitive wanted by Saul.8 Robert Bergen concludes that “Israel had previously defeated Nahash in battle and David had apparently maintained a peace treaty with the Ammonites that recognized Israel as the superior party.”9 After the death of Nahash, David sought to show kindness to the new Ammonite king and son of Nahash, Hanun. “The present chapter stands out in sharp contrast to the account in the preceding one of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. They are parallel in that each records David’s seeking to return a kindness to a son for the sake of the Father.”10

When the head of state dies, often those countries with close diplomatic ties will send delegates to give condolences and show concern. David did just that. There is no hint of malice or evil intentions in his sending of delegates. The response that the delegation receives is not what David would have expected. Hanun makes several mistakes in this passage but the first mistake is to listen to the lying advice of those around him. The Ammonite commanders or princes begin to put doubt in Hanun’s mind with carefully crafted questions. “The purpose of the two questions asked by the Ammonite leaders is to cause hostility and destroy confidence between David and Hanun.”11

George Buttrick points out the similarity between these questions in 2 Samuel 10:3 and the account of the serpent in Genesis. “Almost word for word with the bad counsel noted above was the lying witness of the serpent in the Garden of Eden concerning God’s attitude toward the covenant agreement with Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden fruit. . . How tragic the consequence of misapprehending God’s commitments!”12 It seems to be the ploy of Satan to convince people that what is good is actually evil. In the garden, Eve believes the lie that God really is trying to keep her from something good. She believes the lie that causes her to mistrust God’s command. This is the lie that Satan still uses today to convince people that what is right is wrong and that what is wrong is right. Hanun in this passage believes the lie and attributes evil to God’s servant, David. Chafin says that “it shows how war can be started over nothing more than an unfounded misunderstanding. What is true of nations applies equally to families and to churches.”13 This is more than a simple misunderstanding however because Hanun chose to believe a lie. This unfounded belief started the Ammonite war just as in Genesis when an unfounded belief started the conflict between man and God.

David had chosen to show kindness to Hanun just as David had chosen to show kindness to Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan in 2 Samuel 9. The response of Hanun could not be more different than Mephibosheth. Gordon Keddie points out that “this contrast is instructive in that it illustrates graphically both the way that God deals with men (i.e., he is slow to anger and rich in mercy) and the differing ways in which men respond to the Lord’s dealings (i.e., acceptance versus rejection).”14 God has chosen to show kindness to man but man often responds like Hanun to David’s kindness.

Far removed from the culture and time of David, Hanun’s next actions almost seem comical. He seizes David’s men, whom he had sent in good faith, and shaves off half of their beard and cuts their garments at the waist leaving them exposed. “Even if they seem on the face of things to be more like practical jokes, the reality is that in terms of of international relations they are tantamount to acts of war, because they deliberately set out both to humiliate another nation before the world and to violate its integrity in some way.”15 In Jewish and Middle Eastern history the actions of Hanun are far from comical. “Hanun’s treatment of the men would have desecrated the men’s bodies, their clothes, and their national mission. . .Except for the performance of certain religious rituals (Lev 14:9; Num 6:18; Ezek 5:1) or to express profound emotional distress (ezra 9:3), Israelite men always wore beards. To remove an Israelite male’s beard forcibly was to force him to violate the Torah (Lev 19:27) and to show contempt for him personally.”1617

When David heard about the humiliation his men suffered at the hands of Hanun, he certainly was angry. He made sure though to take care of his men by having them stay at Jericho until their beards regrew. He saved them the dishonor of returning home humiliated. God shows the same tender care towards his servants. Many of God’s witnesses will be mistreated by the world but God will uphold the honor of his servants. God will respond accordingly to protect his people.

In what is a “duh” moment, Hanun suddenly realizes that what he did made David angry. “The metaphor that they used had to do with odor and means that they realized that what they did ‘smelled.’ Yet rather than attempt to rectify their mistake and make peace, they hire soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zoba to help them face David.”18 This is Hanun’s second mistake. When he realized that David was upset and that the two peoples were on the brink of war, Hanun could have reached out to David. David was known for being a merciful person and perhaps Hanun could have avoided war. Yet, Hanun decided to add injury to insult by heading out to war.

Hanun turns to his neighbors for help. He hires soldiers and mercenaries from the Syrians. “Especially powerful is the kingdom of Zobah (also known as Aram-Zobah), which is the dominant political power of southern Syria during this time. Located to the extreme north of the Promised Land, Zobah probably extended from the northern Beqa Valley in what is modern Lebanon east of the Anti-Lebanon range to the north of Damascus.”19

David in turn sends his great general Joab to defend his kingdom from the Ammonites and their hired help. David did not go out with his army. This one little fact will lead to a great problem for David in the next chapter.  It is not completely clear from the text that this particular occasion is the exact one that caused David to fall but it certainly will set the precedent for the next chapter in which David will stay home from battle and fall into adultery and murder. Sometimes by avoiding the hard battles in life, one can put themselves onto the path of temptation. Avoiding the hard responsibilities of Kingship is the one thing that set David on the way of sin.

Even while David is at home, his best general is leading the battle and more importantly God is with is people. Joab first leads his men out to face the Ammonites at the front of the Ammonite city but this put him into a predicament. One half of the Ammonite/Aramean army had come up from behind Joab. Joab faced forces on both sides. “He did not panic in the face of the formidable odds, but strategically deployed his forces so as to allow for flexibility as the battle progressed.”20

Joab deploys half his forces towards the front and places his best soldiers in behind to fight the hired Arameans. If one side of the battle where to go badly, forces from the other side would turn and join in to help. Not only did Joab show himself to be a great strategist but Joab also showed himself to be a man of faith as well. In verse 12, Joab gives three commands to his soldiers. They are to be strong, fight bravely for their people and for the cities of God.21 “Joab’s third statement to the troops suggests that for him this battle was ultimately a religious conflict; it was a tangible expression of Israel’s commitment to the Lord.”22 Joab then puts full trust in God as he says “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” Bill Arnold says that “effective servants in God’s kingdom will exhaust their resources and energies doing whatever they can, while acknowledging that the fruit of their labors is ultimately in God’s hands. Or as someone has said, saints pray as though the outcome depends solely on God and work as though it depends on them.”23

God is with his people as he always is. Joab and his men rout the hired thugs from Syria and the Ammonites seeing their help flee also retreat into their city. For whatever reason, Joab and his men did not press the advantage and lay siege the Ammonite city but instead returned home. Hanun still did not learn his lesson however but regroups for another battle. Again they bring in hired men to fight. This time David when he hears of these rumors of war, leads his army out across the Jordan to Helam. And once again God is with his people. David and his army kill Shobak the commander of the Aramean army. This brought fear into those hired by the Ammonites and they sought peace with David.

The chapter ends with the Arameans unwilling to help the Ammonites continue their war. “This meant that the consolidated Israelite tribes had subjugated the powerful Aramean states to the east and north, and secured control over the main trade routes that connected Egypt and Arabia with Syria and further afield.”24 Bergen points out that though this small chapter was begun by the evil acts of men it had the effect of bringing about some completion to God’s promise. “David’s apparently unsought victories against the Aramean coalition had the desirable effect of greatly expanding Israel’s influence over the territories north of Damascus, thus helping them fulfill the Torah promise first given to Abraham.”25

This seemingly strange incident brought about by mistrust had the effect of securing territory that was first promised to Abraham. It is here that the passage becomes a part of the larger story of the Old Testament. The books of Samuel “present a theological history of Israel, evaluating Israel’s past in light of the covenant relationship established in Deuteronomy.”26 God had begun a covenant as far back as in Genesis by promising Eve that one of her seeds would crush the serpent (Gen 3:15). God then reestablished that covenant through Noah and then through Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would become a mighty nation that would bless the entire world. God promised Abraham that those who blessed him would be blessed and those who cursed him would be cursed (Gen 12:3). God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled first though the nation of Israel before finding their ultimate completion in Jesus. In 2 Samuel 10, God is true to his promise to curse those who curse Israel.

This chapter is also set inside the covenant promises to David. “The significance of these events must be seen in the context of the flow of redemptive history and not merely in terms of the fleeting political situation in a corner of the Near East 3,000 years ago.”27 In 2 Samuel 7, God pledges to David to make one of his sons reign forever as king. This covenant with David is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant. Greg Nichols in his book on covenant theology writes concerning the Davidic covenant that “the principle partaker is King David, Gods righteous servant. As with the Noahic servant covenant his royal posterity participates as beneficiaries of this pledge. As with the covenant with his righteous servant Abraham, Christ is its ultimate heir and partaker.”28 This covenant with David is a promise to kingship forever. “God pledged permanent rule to David. He swore to him that his dynasty and kingdom would abide in perpetuity. . . His pledge concludes with David’s ultimate heir, the Christ, who will reign on his throne forever.”29

William Schneidewind says that this covenant pledge to David becomes one of the ruling thoughts and documents for the Israeli people. “The Promise to David was a constitutional text. That is, it was an idea and also a text through which Israel would define itself as a nation, as a people, and as a religion. In this respect, it functioned something like the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence.”30 2 Samuel 10 and the Ammonite War sets itself within the context of the covenant. God had declared that he would be true to his people and even though enemies would rise against God’s people, God protected them.

Yet 2 Samuel 10 leads into 2 Samuel 11 and David’s fall. David who had been the recipient of the great promise would fall into sin. This in turn points to the need for a greater fulfillment of the covenant to David. Someone greater than David would have to come. As time would progress, the nation of Israel would fall into sin and fracture in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel would be defeated and eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah would too fall into sin and be taken into exile. The temple would be destroyed and the earthly reign of David’s sons would end. “The destruction of these institutions precipitated something of a constitutional crisis during the Babylonian exile.”31 God however was faithful through this time. “He kept his promise in spite of sin. . . He kept the dynasty intact in spite of the sins and plots of evil men and women. Eventually the dynasty came an end when God judged Judah for their sin. This created a tension that he psalmist laments. . . This created expectation and hope. God’s people waited for the day when God would keep his pledge to David.”32 This waiting and hoping would reach its zenith at the beginning of the New Testament when God himself would break into human history and fulfill his covenant. “The New Testament identifies the Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. It certifies his identity as the son and heir to David. It confirms God’s faithfulness to this pledge. It affirms its fulfillment in the coronation of Christ on the throne of David by his resurrection and session at God’s right hand.”33

Back in 2 Samuel 10, God is shown protecting his people, keeping his promises, and ultimately in spite of the attacks by Hanun and the eventual sin of David preparing the way for the ultimate fulfillment of his covenant promises in Jesus. “Israel’s defeat of Ammon and the Arameans indicates the Lord’s intention to preserve the honour of his name and the integrity of his people. He notes when his disciples are abused. And the same unjust persecution and affliction which achieves in the believer an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”34

2 Samuel is not a passage that receives much attention in sermons. The almost comedic strangeness of Hanun’s actions in humiliating David’s men will seem foreign to most. Yet the passage calls to the reader to respond. God extends his offer of kindness through Jesus who fulfills the covenant promises. Some will respond like Hanun by believing the lies about God. Also like Hanun, “outside of Christ, the godless will sit besieged in their own [city] of the Ammonites, fearful of the pending judgement but unwilling to change their ways.”35 The passage ultimately calls for a response to God’s goodness through the gospel. The gospel demands an answer. George Keddie concludes correctly that “the fall of the Ammonites presages the ultimate victory of the Lord and calls for a response to the gospel now. Now is the day of salvation, the day of the Lord’s kindness, the day in which Jesus Christ calls to you to come to him, that you might have eternal life.”36

1 Emily Alpert, “Bolivia, Angered by Kerry, Says It Is Ejecting U.s. Aid Agency,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2013. http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-bolivia-kerry-ejecting-usaid-20130501,0,2165962.story (accessed May 2, 2013).

2 Malcum Moore, “North Korea Expels Un Nuclear Inspectors,” Telegraph (UK), April 14,

2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/5155821/North-Korea-expels-UN-nuclear-inspectors.html (accessed May 2, 2013).

3 Hamza Hendawi, “Weapons Inspectors Leave Iraq,” Associated Press, February 11, 2003.

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500257_162-544280.html (accessed May 2, 2013).

4 Bill T. Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel: the Niv Application Commentary from Biblical Text– to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2003), 518.

5 Kenneth L. Chafin, Preacher’s Commentary – Vol. 8- 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 295.

6 Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (USA: Holman Reference, 1996), 357.

7 Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 245.

8 Arnold, 520 and Chafin, 295

9 Bergen, 357.

10 Gordon J. Keddie, Triumph of the King (2 Samuel) (Welwyn Commentary Series) (Welwyn Commentaries) (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1993), 82.

11 Roger L. Omanson and John E. Ellington, A Handbook On the First and Second Books of Samuel (New York: United Bible Societies, 2001), 2: 804.

12 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume 2) the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1957), 1095.

13 Chafin, 295.

14 Keddie, 81.

15 Keddie, 81.

16 Bergen, 358.

17 Buttrick, 1095 “Herodotus has an interesting parallel to this incident in the story of King Rhampsinitus’ treasure house. A thief who is trying to recover for burial the exposed body of his dead brother makes the guards drunk, and while they are torpid with wine, he shaves the right side of their faces as an additional insult.”

18Chafin, 296.

19 Arnold, 520.

20 Baldwin, 246.

21 Keddie, 87. “The cities of our God is probably a reference to the trans-Jordanic territories of Israel, through which the Arameans must have passed on their way to Ammon, and which might well be lost to Israel should they lose the battle.”

22 Bergen, 360.

23Arnold, 522.

24 Baldwin, 246.

25 Bergen, 361.

26 Arnold, 26.

27 Keddie, 87.

28 Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology—a Reformed and Baptistic Perspective On God’s Covenants (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2011).

29 Ibid.

30 William M. Schniedewind, Society and the Promise to David: the Reception History of 2 Samuel 7:1-17 (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 3. This is a good insight by Schniedewind who mainly uses historical-social critical methods.

31 Schniedewind, 4.

32 Nichols

33 Ibid.

34 Keddie, 87.

35 Keddie, 87. The word cities has been inserted by the author of this paper for the word Rabbahs. Rabbah was the city of the Ammonites that the Ammonite army retreated to after being defeated by Joab.

36 Ibid, 87.

Jesus had a wife?

Did Jesus have a wife? Last week, the news was a buzz with headlines claiming that Jesus did have a wife. What was the source of all this controversy? Harvard professor and researcher Karen King unveiled an ancient papyrus fragment with the supposed phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” Of course like happens every few years, the media latches on to a new controversial claim about Jesus and spreads it like it is the Gospel. Unfortunately, for the media, once one takes a moment to read the claims, the whole issue is really more TV script than scripture. For the sake of those who don’t have the time to research the issue on their own, we will lay out the issue starting with looking at the papyrus itself and then moving on to look at the person by behind the controversy Karen King.

What you need to know, first of all, is that the whole news story relies on a recent “discovery” of a fragment of worn papyrus reportedly from the 4th century. The fragment is smaller than a business card, and appears to have been torn from the middle of a page in a primitive book, written in a southern Coptic dialect. Its owner, who does not want to be made known publicly, does not know where it was found. It contains just eight broken lines, scrawled in a crude Coptic hand. Much of it is ineligible. However, Harvard Professor Karen King could translate a couple of fragments of sentences in which they are alleged to say, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife`” and later “she will be able to be my disciple.” Several scholars have debated as to whether the writing itself is a forgery.  In fact, two out of three authorities originally consulted by the editors of the Harvard Theological Review expressed doubts on its authenticity.

There are many issues for one to consider when looking at this discovery. First of all, the background on how the fragment was first discovered is unknown. This does not mean right away that the artifact is not certain because many original archeological artifacts have had similar histories, but it does lend some doubt to the origins of the document and makes it hard to place the document in context. Speaking of context, this might be the real crux of the situation. Without knowing where the document comes from, there is no way of knowing exactly what the fragment is saying. So much of translating documents from ancient languages into English is knowing the context of the writing. Unfortunately, eight broken lines are not nearly enough to go on. We will never know the purpose behind the writing. We cannot even be sure that the text is talking about the Jesus of Christianity. Jesus was a common name at that time akin to the name Joshua. To have a fragment of a sentence on a fragment of a paper referring to the name Jesus once does not give us any evidence to go on.

Much of what will be said of the document is speculation. Even if the papyrus is speaking about the biblical Jesus it is still impossible to know the context of the phrase “my wife.” Some have speculated including Karen King that the text is itself a translation of a Greek text from the second century which was possibly a gnostic text. How King could know that it is a translation from an earlier text which we do not have any evidence for is anyone’s guess, but supposing it is authentic and from a second century gnostic text, what does that tell us? Not much that we do not already know about gnostic texts. Gnosticism was an ancient religion born out of Platonist and paganism ideas. Gnostics were not uniform in belief but consisted of different sects. However, most gnostics taught that matter and the material world are evil and that only through a secret knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge) that one can find their inner divinity and escape this material world. Because Gnostics had no real historical tradition of their own, they latched on to the histories of other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. Teaching that they had a secret knowledge, Gnostics sought to find approval in their teachings by writing books in which they claimed authorship from the Disciples and other known religious authorities. The early Christian church was very concerned over the confusion this would bring to the world and therefor many of the very early church fathers wrote arguments against the gnostic heresies. Even the apostles Paul and John wrote against some of the proto-gnostics in their epistles, which are now a part of the Bible. Paul was especially worried about people going around presuming to teach a different message than the true Gospel of Jesus. Paul warns in the letter to the Galatians that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” The early church worked hard to make sure it was known that the Gnostic writings were not scripture and were not written by the disciples. The church was right because, for instance, the Gospel of Thomas was not written until at least a hundred years or more after Thomas the disciple was already dead. If this brand new fragment were to be a gnostic text, then it too would not be considered true by the first Christians and would be another example of gnostics trying to leach onto the Christian religion. Once again, there is no way of really knowing if this new text is from a gnostic source or not without more research into the origins of the text.

Suppose though for an instance that this fragment of a fragment is not gnostic and is from an authentic source on the Biblical Jesus, what does that mean to us? It actually means very little. Jesus himself taught in the Bible about his wife. That’s right, Jesus has a wife, and he talked about her.

“And Jesus said unto them, Can the friends of the bridegroom fast, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” – Mark 2:19

Jesus often referred to himself as the bridegroom. John the Baptist also spoke of Jesus as a groom to be married.

 “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” – John 3:29

So who is this bride of Christ? The book of Revelation reveals this bride.

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. … And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” – Revelation 21:9-10.

The bride of Jesus is none other than the Church. Paul explains this best when Paul gives his instructions for how husbands and wives should live.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” – Ephesians 5:22-33

Marriage itself is a picture then of the love that Jesus has for his Church. This is why the definition of marriage between one man and one woman is so important. This is why divorce, sexual immorality, adultery, and homosexuality are incredibly evil. Marriage is meant to be an example of sacrificial love and when marriage is not honored, it reflects poorly on the sacrifice of Jesus. Divorce is not just the tragic ending of a love story here on earth, but it is direct blasphemy against the cross of Christ. Christ’s love for the church is a marriage covenant that will last forever and ever. Therefor, if this papyrus is, in fact, a true document, then it really is not saying anything different than what Jesus has already said in the scriptures.

Lastly, we will look quickly at the person behind the discovery and controversy, Karen King. King is the holder of the oldest endowed chair in America, the Hollis Chair of Divinity. It was established in 1721by Thomas Hollis, a Baptist and wealthy Englishman. The position was originally established to be for a theologian with sound principles. “That he should be a man of solid learning in divinity, of sound, or orthodox principles, one well gifted to teach, of a sober and pious life, and of a grave conversation.” This meant that the person should hold to official Christian principles which according to Hollis were Reformed Protestant principles. The chair’s first occupant, Edward Wigglesworth, had to swear allegiance to the Medulla Theologiae, a Calvinist theological manual by William Ames. However, just as Harvard would leave behind its puritan founding, this chair too would be given to those who did not hold the principles in which it was established. Karen King is the current occupant of this professorship, and she also does not hold to orthodox Christianity. She has spent most of her career focused on gnosticism and feminism. Among her writings are:

Gnostic studies: Revelation of the Unknowable God (1995)

Revelation of the Unknowable God: With Text, Translation, and Notes to NHC XI, 3 Allogenes (1995)

Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism (Studies in Antiquity & Christianity) (2000)

What is Gnosticism? (2003)

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (2003)

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (2003)

What Is Gnosticism? (2003)

The Secret Revelation of John (2008)

Albert Mohler in a recent blog explains best that the reason for King’s interest in this new fragment is her desire for heterodox gnosticism.

“King . . . reject(s) traditional Christianity, and (she) clearly prefer the voices of the heretics. (She) argue(s)s for the superiority of heterodoxy over orthodoxy. In the Smithsonian article, King’s scholarship is described as “a kind of sustained critique of what she called the ‘master story’ of Christianity.””

King ,like others liberals, has an ax to grind and will look to any source she can to try to overturn Christianity. Many people want to get rid of Christianity and turn to gnosticism for several reasons. Some hope to find a more feminist centered message there. Others like the teaching of gnostics which says that since the body is evil but the soul is good, then anything we do with our bodies does not really matter. Therefore according to gnosticism we are free to behave sexually anyway we want. Whatever the reason that most want to tear down Christianity, the core reason is rebellion against God. This rebellion has so clouded their eyes that someone who holds one of the most prestigious chairs in the academic world, will put out shoddy academic and research work if it will further her agenda.

In conclusion, the news media’s sensationalist controversial news story is really nothing to get worked up about. The controversy is over a piece of paper that may or may not be from the fourth century that may or may not have writing that is authentic and may or may not mention Jesus of the Bible and may or may not be an original teaching on Jesus. While this is certainly interesting for an archeological and historical perspective, it is not the least big troubling theologically. What we can be sure of however, is the Gospel message delivered to us from those who knew and lived with Jesus. The Bible is the most well attested and historically verifiable document on Jesus. When it comes to the four gospels in the Bible and the epistles to the Churches in the Bible, we do not have to rely on fragments of fragments. “Significantly, in comparison with other ancient documents, the New Testament materials are embarrassingly rich. There are almost five thousand manuscripts of part or all of the Greek New Testament, eight thousand manuscripts in Latin, and a thousand additional manuscripts in other ancient versions.” In addition to these manuscripts of the New Testament, there are countless quotations of Scripture in the writings of the early church fathers. “In fact, it has been said that if all the New Testament manuscripts were destroyed, the text of the New Testament could still be restored from the quotations made by the church fathers.” We can be sure that we have the authentic teachings of Jesus Christ. Will there be more hooplas in the future over more supposed discoveries? Yes, those who have an ax to grind will constantly try to find some way to overturn the rich biblical record on Jesus. However, if we pay attention and do good scholarly work, we will find that the Bible is always true and trustworthy. Don’t be fooled by fragments of truth and lies, read the Bible to find the complete truth on Jesus the savior and his wife.