Sunday, October 11, 2009

Did father Abraham really have many sons?

Well, if you grew up in a Sunday School like I did, you probably already have an answer for that. Of course he did, and many sons had Father Abraham, too. But, being the antagonist that I am, I have to ask: what does Scripture say?

In our study of Galatians, we find ourselves this week in the latter half of chapter 3 where Paul makes a startling statement about this Abrahamic lineage. Whereas Paul's Jewish opponents in the church would have been firmly rooted in their belief that their descent from Abraham warranted their higher importance in God's view, Paul has a new revelation for them. "The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).

The promise, specifically that of inheriting the aptly deemed "Promised Land," was given not to many children of Abraham, but to one. In the words of the Apostle Paul, God had in view just one of Abraham's seed that would inherit the land as promised. Now, Paul was no amateur Bible scholar, either. The Hebrew does indeed support the singular use of this term. So what do we make of it?

By contrast, of course, the Jews would quickly recall Moses' words in Deuteronomy 32:46-47. At this second reading of the Law, the young nation was promised that if they obeyed fully they "will live long in the land." That was the promise, after all. God swore on oath to give Abraham's seed the land of Canaan. Now, here they are at the border of the land and God promises them that it will indeed be theirs... on one condition. Obey fully.

But this kind of agreement, Paul points out, is not consistent with the idea of a promise. It's two-sided and conditional, and put in place by a Mediator. "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one" (Galatians 3:20). God is one and in His promise it was He alone who would ensure the inheritance. So, is there conflict here? Does the Law as stated above contradict the promise?

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!" (Galatians 3:21). In fact, there was one person who pulled it all off. By the Law, one man did obey fully. He did fulfill the Law--every letter. He did earn His inheritance just as God had promised. Christ, the God-man! Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham and begotten of the Father, inherited the land according to the promise.

"Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7). By faith, we are not only adopted, saved, forgiven, justified, and made pure for presentation to God. We're made into the very image of Christ. We are "clothed" in Him. All the perfection that He accomplished is imputed to us, and in so multiplying the person of Christ by imputing Himself onto His people, God is making Abraham's one seed as numerous as the sands on the seashore.

As the song goes: "Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them..." Are you?

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 19, 2009

He Stinketh: My Thoughts on Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis

A bit harsh, I know, but the joke was too easy. I'm the type of guy that cannot resist an open opportunity at humor. He left himself wide open for it, though. If you've ever read his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith you would undoubtedly remember the sappy application drawn from Martha's comment on her four-day dead brother Lazarus, "He stinketh" (Luke 11:39 KJV). Bell's reaction to this two-word phrase is uncomfortable at best. By uncomfortable, I don't mean theologically awry, I mean that to read it made me feel so awkward just hearing his words in my head that I would have preferred to get a wet kiss from my great aunt than to continue on in the chapter. What "stinketh" in you, Rob Bell? Let's start with your exegesis and go from there.

But, as I mentioned, it's more the humor afforded by the situation that I'm enthralled with, not necessarily a hatred of the book. I have, in fact, a love-hate relationship with this book and with Rob Bell's theology. I have enjoyed his communication style, his illustrative ability, and many of the contextual insight's he's offered, which often came as just tangents rather than main points. Although, given the "hate" side which I'm about to describe, I do intend to check his sources before holding to tightly to the facts he's presented.

So, that said, would I recommend this book to others? To be honest, probably not. So, is Nick just jumping on the bandwagon with all the other staunch traditionalists and defenders of orthodox doctrine? I hope not, but I have to ask... what's so wrong with orthodoxy? If you've read with interest Velvet Elvis and came away with a sentiment of disgust for the "old" way of the reformers and for the guard dogs of doctrine in conservative academia today--then you've proven my point. That being the likely reaction of readers is precisely why I would not recommend this book.

Bell seems to introduce a notion that our theology and doctrine are ever changing, evolving, and being reinvented by each generation into something better and more applicable to life. It's a notion that, by the way, wreaks of open theism and a distinctly Darwinian understanding of progression.

As evidence for his views, Bell offers Jesus. Who else? In His sermon on the mount, He repeatedly said "You have heard it said... but I tell you..." repealing the traditions and--according to Bell--evolving theology. The conclusion, then, is that we are to likewise be "binding and loosing," as he calls it, in an ever-changing exploration of theology.

The failure point of this conclusion is that Jesus was not taking part of a linear process of morphing theology. He was opening blind eyes to see anew the beauty and truth in the dry, old scriptures of such practitioners of orthodoxy as Moses and David, which their teachers and pharisees had so ignorantly missed. Jesus was not spurring on some evolutionary process by which we improve our relationship with God, He was rectifying a wrong understanding of God with timeless scripture penned by men long forgotten.

What I caution readers of Bell and other emergent leaders like him is this: to accept these teachers' charge to "re-examine" scripture and take a fresh approach to theology is indeed encouraged... so long as you don't begin with the demand that this "fresh" exploration cannot possibly lead to the same conclusions that it once led Edwards, or Calvin, or Augustine, or Paul. It is pure arrogance, born of Darwinian mindset, that tells us we are at a pinnacle of truth today which was unattainable in generations past.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jewish God-Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, May 29, 2009

A Christian's Response: The Jewish Requirements for Maschiach

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In My Fathers House There Are Many Rooms...

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

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

How do you interpret that first line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Christians, Messianics, and Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jesus is Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Else but Christ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Abba Father: The Cry of God's Humble Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christ the Mediator: the Westminster Confession of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

We Beheld His Glory - Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

1 Peter 2:4-8 - The Chosen Cornerstone

In this passage, Peter uses a combination of metaphors as well as Old Testament quotations to show us (1) who Jesus was and then (2) who his readers, and all of the Church, is as a result. Let's begin with the identity of Jesus:

• Though rejected by men, Jesus was shown to be chosen with a purpose (verse 4; see also Matt. 21:33-44; Acts 2:22-35)...
• To be our High Priest, consecrating us in order that we too
can make spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (verse 5; see also Hebrews 8:11-14)...
• And to be the cornerstone, providing a pattern and foundation upon which the rest of the Church would be built (verse 6; see also Ephesians 2:19-22)...
• Of which he is the Savior, and the "one who trusts in Him" is saved by faith (verse 6; see also John 3:16)...
• From the wrath of God Himself and no other (see context of quote in verse 6 and 8 - Isaiah 28:14-19; 8:12-15).

I find it very important to realize the God-centric emphasis from beginning to end of this section. As I look through Scripture seeking instruction, truth, etc. I find constant reminders that God wants us to begin by acknowledging His supremacy. Here He begins by reiterating that Christ was His chosen one, and concludes letting us know that He is the one who judges. No one else can be compared to God. No one shares His powers to justify, to sanctify, and to judge.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Head, Hands, Heart... What's the 4th one?

Ok, so maybe Justin and Chelsea are going to be the only ones that get the joke, but whenever I try to list the metaphors for the Church from memory, I end up saying the 4H pledge.

This Sunday, we're going to go through as many metaphors as we have time for. The New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself, were incredibly adept at using imagery to communicate their point. So much so that literature classes often still use Biblical examples for a technique called a "Word Picture."

The metaphors are much deeper than what's on the surface, however. Examples of the Church as a building, for example, were intended to have a very significant and powerful reference for 1st century Jews thinking of their sacred temple. The bride metaphor reveals beautiful truths about the Old Testament laws for marriage and, in turn, reveals God's intent for our own marriages today as well.

Let's see how many we can come up with. What are some of the metaphors for the Church that you can remember... and what do you think they mean?
(Post 'em here)

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