Agonizomai: October 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Diet of Worms
Today is Reformation Day. In light of this I am posting a reprise of a little devotional I wrote years ago. In celebration I have re-recorded the audio in a higher quality. Enjoy...


The Diet of Worms

Earthworms have a very exclusive diet. They eat dirt. That’s it. They extract from common soil all that is needed for the nourishment of their darkened little lives below ground. Light is anathema to them and, should one of them be caught in the glare of a flashlight when visiting the surface at night, he will dart for the cover of dirt as fast as his follicles can carry him.

If, from the title of this piece, you were expecting a scholarly work on the life of Martin Luther or the beginnings of the Reformation I apologize for misleading you. We may get around to the Reformation later, but by a circuitous route. For now, let us go back to considering worms.

I am struck by the similarities between these blind, light-phobic, dirt-eating little creatures and the Biblical picture of fallen mankind. Do worms eat dirt? Consider how fallen mankind diets delightedly and determinedly upon the unclean vanities of an existence in rebellion against God. Do worms flee from the light? Hear how fallen men prefer the pitch of darkness and will not come into the light at all. Are worms blind? Consider that the Word of God that uses metaphor to portray the nature of fallen man as blind.

Of course, it is forbidden in this day and age to associate worms with the condition of mankind. It is no longer considered acceptable in a post-modern church, where self-image, self-respect and just about self-everything-else has come to the fore. We are far too enlightened to allow that sort of “dehumanizing” description to distort the new picture of men as lovable, but wrong-headed little scamps who need to have their mistakes fixed up. Consider, for example that great hymn of Isaac Watts from 1707 entitled “At The Cross”. The first verse originally read as follows:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Since then, the old-fashioned “excesses” of diminishing the status of man and of exalting the Name of God have gradually been all but eradicated. Until we have now arrived at the place where we can regard the words of Watts as that sort of over-the-top hyperbole or false humility which was so typical of less enlightened times. God forbid that people today should be offended with such imagery and be encouraged to see themselves as worms!

Yet, when the Bible speaks of men as “worms”, it could just as easily be understood to be comparing them to maggots, which is an even less sympathetic symbol. Job’s friend, Bildad the Shuhite, covered the entire spectrum when he said, “Behold, even the moon is not bright and the stars are not clean in his sight; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”

But let us delve a little deeper. That great prophetic Psalm 22 which foretells the agonies and shame of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, upon the cross puts the very word into our Lord’s own mouth when He says in verses 6-7, “But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads…”

Yet it was your shame and mine that He was bearing. It was on our behalf that he was regarded as a “worm” in the place of we, the true worms. The Son of Man became a “worm” for the sons of man who are worms. Of course, this is all figurative. But, in using the term “worm” the Lord, the Psalmist, and the Spirit who inspired him actually meant to portray us as utterly corrupt, rather than simply as “naughty children” in need of a good spanking.

In reality, there is a far too inadequate view of mankind’s depravity pervading much of Christian consciousness in the modern age. And shepherds are doing neither sheep nor comers any favours if they fail to present the picture of their condition properly. Through fear of offending congregants or concern that the unsaved will be turned away if we tell them what God says about them in His Word, we have actually sown the seeds of our own downfall.

By our euphemisms we attract not penitents but patients. And we build not disciples but dependents. We are found not demarcating holiness but diluting it. For there is a godly order that must be followed by all who would strive to enter in at the narrow gate. They may not be brought immediately to the denial of all self, but they must be pointed to it from the very first. They must know the cost and count it. They must be shown what they truly are so that they will flee from it into the everlasting arms of their Saviour, and from there keep leaning upon Him. They must be set upon the road that leads to the utter loss of their own life so that Christ may live His life in them.

God will accomplish all that He purposes in those who are truly His. But woe to those who make their journey slower, who retard their sanctification by withholding and misrepresenting the truth and who, thereby, actually put stumbling blocks before them. In the name of false kindness and sensitivity they actually hinder the production of fruit. We must preach the truth in love, but only if we preach the whole truth is it truly love.

Early in the 16th Century, when Tetzel was making a mockery of salvation and holiness by selling indulgences on behalf of the Roman Church, he was doing no differently than when we, the modern church give people a watered-down gospel that circumvents the cross. We do this by failing to tell, in complete detail and unflinching honesty, what God’s Word says about how our own vile corruption makes the cross necessary.

In those times, it took a Luther, raised by God at just the right moment, to sow the seeds that would reset the course – a course that finally arrived at its own Diet of Worms. And what did this Luther say about our fallen abilities?
“If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learned Jesus Christ aright.”
When will we once more wake up to the truth of the gospel that makes man a helpless, unlovely, sinful, dreadful, disgraceful, perverse, stiff-necked, rebellious, profligate evildoer who is entirely dependent upon the grace of God to even know that he needs salvation, let alone be able to find it or live it? A proper understanding of this truth will serve to magnify the love and the Name of Christ. Continuing in failure to preach it will result in the further exaltation of God’s creatures, instead of the God in whom we all live and move and have our being.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reformation Day's Eve

No regular post today. Instead, here's a little reminder that tomorrow is Reformation Day. That beats "All Hallow's Eve".

For the words and an explanation of terms, follow this link

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Perspectives on Paul
[Cultural and Textual Contextualization]

If you are anything like me you will get a theological nosebleed from listening to this one from Dr. Thomas Holland, speaking at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It goes on for well over an hour (including question time) and a lot of it is way over my head, so I wouldn't blame anybody who reads my blog if they just gave it a pass.

Ostensibly the lecture deals with some fine points about what is known as "The New Perspective on Paul", and contains elements of seminarian and theological dispute that people like me are just not that familiar with, and not really equipped to fully understand. I didn't pick this one so much for the theological debate as for the observations it contains about how culture and presuppositions regarding the cultural milieu of certain writings can be used to misrepresent facts and draw wrong conclusions.

Just one example is the misconception by certain Higher Biblical Critics in the last century about the nature of the Greek language that is found in the early New Testament Biblical texts. It was thought that the language was Classical Greek and they inferred thereby that certain words had meaning exactly corresponding to the classical meanings. But it turned out that the ancient authors were using the meaning of the Greek as employed by the Septuagint translators, which had been "Judaised" during the itertestamental period to make certain classical words fit Jewish concepts. So it was dangerous and wrong to proceed to pontificate about nascent Christianity without making such distinctions. Yet a whole generation of theological academia had plowed into this error willy-nilly.

Anyway, if you have the intestinal fortitude, here is something that speaks again to the need not only for textual context, but cultural context as well, in studying what people in the past believed and why they acted the way that they did. Enjoy...(if you can)...

New Perspectives on Paul - Dr. Thomas Holland

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Heb 1:10-12 - Christ - The Beginning and the End

Heb 1:10-12 Christ - The Beginning and the End

Heb 1:10-12 And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end."

This is from another of the psalms {Ps 102:25-27}. Psalm 102 is mainly a supplicatory psalm in which the psalmist laments his condition and the opposition of his enemies. It looks forward to the promised Messiah through expressing hope in God as deliverer of His people. In referring to Psalm 104 earlier the writer to the Hebrews made the point that Jesus was greater than the angels, from a psalm in which His godhood is clearly seen.

But here he is more direct in selecting a psalm which speaks of both the creative/sustaining and the judgmental powers of Israel’s deliverer. The inference is now to Christ’s position as the Alpha and the Omega - the beginning and the end. He not only laid the foundation of the earth (creation), but He will roll up the heavens like a cloth at the end of the age.

This is the Christ in Whom the Hebrews have professed belief. God Almighty, Creator and Destroyer of the universe; eternal and unchanging God. This is the God Who has spoken "in Son" to Israel, having already spoken in many and various ways through the prophets - the very prophets whom the writer is now quoting to them. Again, this is preparatory argument which will lead to dire warnings about apostasy. He clearly lays out what they themselves claim to have known and believed and thereby removes any excuse for them to entertain lesser views of Christ.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Orthodox Orthodoxy
Anything can become our idol. Even our theology, if we are not careful, can be the thing we bow down to in place of the Son of God Who died for us. That is because we can value even orthodox belief above God Himself. This is not endorsing postmodern relativism, but is, rather, a reminder that God alone IS completely orthodox - or, as the word implies "correct in doctrine" or "right in belief". All others err, usually in matters they themselves are blind to. I am a heretic in some areas, just like everyone else, and I need faithful people to tell me when I am.

Gleanings 16.108

Monday, October 26, 2009

Heb 1:7-9 - Christ - The Subject of ALL Scripture

Heb 1:7-9 Christ - The Subject of ALL Scripture

Heb 1:7-9 Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire." 8 But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."

More proofs from the Hebrews own sacred texts are given to reinforce to the Hebrew audience the unique and utterly "other" Person of Christ. This is preaching as it is supposed to be, which is why I called this letter a homily. All preaching takes the word of God and opens up Christ to the hearers from it. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of whom? The Word, which is Christ. The written word testifies to the Living Word. The letter of the word, made alive to the hearer by the Spirit, is made the food and drink that is the Living Word to the children of God.

So the writer gleans Christ from the scriptures and makes Him visible to those who have eyes and audible to those who have ears. Note that he preaches Christ exclusively from the OT. He doesn’t yet have the complete canon of the NT. His scriptures are those that were the scriptures of Christ Himself. All that he preaches to them is Christ, yet it is Christ revealed out of the OT. How much do today’s preachers mine the very words that Christ Himself, in human form, learned in order to see Himself as Who He was? How much OT preaching is there today? And when there is such preaching, how much of it discovers Christ to the hearers?

Would you believe that there are actually Christians today who think that the OT is obsolete? That it has been superseded? That it is no longer needed or relevant now that we have the NT? What appalling ignorance there is in our churches - even amongst our ministers! What neglect of such treasures! Two thirds of the entire Bible - fully two thirds of all that God has to say to humankind - is contained in the OT. Two thirds of His revelation of Jesus Christ is found there. Without this treasure much of the NT is just hanging out there without a foundation. How can we neglect these riches and, in doing so, cleave to a shallow and incomplete knowledge of our Lord?

But here, the writer hones in on the One who is the subject not only of his homily, but of all true sermons, then and since. Would we know God? Then we must know Christ. Would we know Christ? Then He must be revealed to us through the word by the Spirit sent from the Father and the Son.

Christ is in Psalm 104 not as man, but as Creator, through whom the world was made. Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to the glories of God’s handiwork. And in it is contained the phrase referred to by the writer, that He, the Lord, says of His angels (the work of His hands) "He makes (them) winds, and His ministers a flame of fire." {Ps 104:4} Again, the Septuagint translation is in view to the writer, for in Psalm 104, the Lord is rendered "kurion" and not "Yahweh" or "Jehovah". Undoubtedly, the translators were loath to transmit the unutterable tetrgrammaton into a pronounceable Greek form - and thus came up with "Lord" (kurion) where the Masoretic text unquestionably gives us "YHWH", which always refers to Jehovah God, and which is rendered in capital letters as "LORD" in the AV.

But what are we to learn from this? Only that to see Christ is to see the Father. They are indivisibly God. The Jehovah of Genesis and of the exodus is the Christ of the cross. We cannot, on the one hand, so distinguish the members of the Godhead that they become separate, independent beings - nor can we, on the other hand, so mix them together that they lose their personality or their functional differentiation. God said to Moses, "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one." {De 6:4} Jesus the Christ is Author, Creator and Redeemer. So seeing Him in a paean of praise and adoration such as Psalm 104 is not strange. Jesus is God.

He is God incarnate and He is God the eternal Son. Even so, He is not the Father, nor yet the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, as God He is due all praise and worship - exactly as the psalmist does in Psalm 45 where he makes the Christ to be the Son of God - not by earthly generation, but by eternal generation.

Psalm 45 is the source of the author’s second citation here - as it says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." {Ps 45:8-9}

Ostensibly beginning as a song of praise to the king of the time, it quickly becomes clear that Psalm 45 is a prophetic psalm from start to finish. In verse 2 we see that this King is "fairer than the sons of men" (v.2), and is a "Mighty One" personifying truth, humility and righteousness (vv4-5). So, when the psalmist comes to verses 6-7 it is clear that this is not an earthly king of whom he speaks. It was not a great secret that the Christ was to be Son of God. It was believed and professed by the church that Jesus was this Christ. So this prophetic psalm which the religious Jews of the day would have understood to be speaking of Messiah is perfect ammunition for the writer to the Hebrews in his desire to set Jesus Christ apart from, and above, all of His creation - including angels.

In prophecy He is clearly described as God, yet as being God to whom God speaks, and of Whom God recognizes an achievement involving the love of righteousness and the hatred of evil. This may have been somewhat cloudy to Jews in the time of the captivity, when they looked ahead towards a more complete revelation - but it ought not to be cloudy to the church. The One of Whom this speaks has come and fulfilled all righteousness. To see and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is to profess having seen and understood His work, and the benefits of that work.

Those Hebrew professors who were in danger of retreating to the old time religion (in whole or in part) were being reminded that the profession they had made was grounded in the reality of this Jesus, Who is God incarnate. If this is true, there can be nothing but dire warnings and eternal consequences for any that draw back, as we shall see in chapters 6, 10 and 12.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sermon of the Week
The Great White Throne Judgment

This sermon was delivered by Steve Lawson at the Resolved 2008 Conference. Steve is the pastor at Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, AL and the pricipal of New Reformation Ministries

This one deals with a very tough subject that has often been avoided by liberal and postmodern preachers. But such things are avoided only at the peril of both preacher and congregation. And though the subject matter here is dreadful and sobering, Dr. Lawson does not fail to hold forth the gospel of the hope that is in Christ alone. You will want to find a comfortable place to sit and maybe get the beverage of choice ready before starting this one, because it runs to just over an hour.

The Great White Throne Judgment - Steve Lawson

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No Salvation Apart from Knowledge - Hargrave
Here's Dr. R.A. Hargrave again. I don't want to overdo him at the expense of others (I posted something of his only a week or so ago) but this is relevant to a personal experience I had very recently.

I was at a men's retreat a while ago for a couple of days. There was a lot of good stuff there under the general topic of "Counting the Cost". But I met an old fellow congregant of mine and got embroiled in some heavy conversation about the Word and the Spirit and how they work in both believers and unbelievers.

Part of that conversation was his belief that the Spirit can work quite apart from the Word in unbelievers. He cited Watchman Nee and how he supposedly ran across some people who didn't have Bibles but who were believers anyway. Apparently the Spirit had shown them Jesus without the Word.

A lot of us have heard similar stories - such as the tribe that had no contact with the civilized world, but when a missionary finally arrived the tribesmen announced that they knew the truth about God providing a Savior and had been waiting for someone to arrive and tell them His name.

Is such a thing possible for God? I suppose so, for nothing is impossible with Him. But is it the way we are told that He works? Is that the witness of the Old and New Testaments? Or did God make Himself known by the word preached? Was knowledge necessary for the apprehension of Christ? Knowledge such as Who He was, what He did and why? And does the Spirit work in any way other than to reveal Jesus Christ through the proclamation of His person and work?

Well in this short video Hargrave makes the point that "There is no salvation apart from knowledge." I happen to agree with him. And I think it's very dangerous to go down the road of believing that God saves people absent the means He has appointed to the task.

Hargrave's main thrust isn't exactly the same as mine. He is juxtaposing emotionalism and knowledge, whereas I'm juxtaposing numinous infusion and knowledge. But we're close enough.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Heb 1:5-6 - Christ - Is More Than An Angel

Heb 1:5-6 Christ - Is More Than An Angel

Heb 1:5-6 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you?" Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son?" 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God’s angels worship him."

Now the writer brings out of the very writings that the Hebrews always held sacred those passages that speak of the incarnate Son. This is because what was known as "Moses and the Prophets" (but which included the whole of our OT Canon) was unquestionably authoritative to them. He eschewed quoting Paul or Peter or Luke - though these inspired writings were probably around at the time.

He starts with {Ps 2:7} and adds {2Sa 7:14}. The first citation was, on the face of it, simply a familiar attestation of Israel (the Son), declaring that it would be victorious over its enemies because, in opposing them, the nations were opposing the Omnipotent God Who was with them. The second is ostensibly a prophecy about Solomon, given to David through Nathan on the occasion when David expressed a desire to build a permanent home for the ark in Jerusalem.

These passages can be and were read by all manner of men in Israel precisely in the ways indicated - and they still speak that way to those who read them apart from the illumination of the Spirit of God. But Jesus, upon Whom the Spirit dwelt without measure, undoubtedly saw Himself everywhere spoken of in the writings - for He had put Himself there by writing history, and by inspiring the authors to record what He put into their hearts and minds concerning Himself. This is the nature of the mystery that was hidden from the ages waiting to be (fully) revealed when Christ came.

I’m not saying that just because Christ came and lived and died then all men can now see what God had hidden in plain sight. I’m saying that for those who are in Christ Jesus, the same Spirit that embedded these treasures in the record also reveals the spiritual relevance of them to the heart of faith in this present age. The Spirit has been given to the church in a unique way and with the full ammunition and context of the actual, historical life of He of Whom it speaks.

Yet we cannot, nor would we wish to, deny that there is a very real contemporary context for these OT passages. In Psalm 2 Israelites of the 9th century BC would have no trouble seeing Israel and Jerusalem and their present earthly king in all the references contained there. And in 2 Samuel Chapter 7 it is quite clear to contemporaries of that time that Solomon and the earthly line of David is spoken of. In fact, there is specific mention within the prophecy of what God will do "if he (the seed) commits iniquity".

This sort of duality is ever present in OT prophecies. Not only are there parallels between Christ and Israel, but between Israel and the church and between Israel and the individual believer. There is virtually no end to the latent imagery, metaphor and typology on both spiritual and economic levels. Christ Himself is everywhere prefigured in the writings, as Jesus Himself showed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. {Luke 24:27}

So it is hardly surprising that the writers of the New Testament looked for Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures and saw Him all over the place. These two passages are cases in point. In retrospect, and with the aid of the illuminating Spirit, it is not difficult to see Psalm 2 as being all about Jesus Christ; it is a prophetic Psalm. On the other hand, the 2 Samuel passage contains elements that are solely applicable to Solomon and his descendants (the mention of sin, for example), and elements that apply both to Solomon and to Christ.

The Hebrews writer, desiring to distinguish the Lord of Glory from a mere angel, or even from all other prophets, has begun to argue his case. The angels are in fact spoken of as the "sons of God" {Job 1:6,2:1,38:4-7, Ps 29:1,89:6} in the OT. But none is spoken of as the begotten son of God. All these others were creatures - they were created and called sons in that sense, because their existence derived from Him, through that means. But the Eternal Son was never created. He is without beginning or end. He is Alpha and Omega. He is of the same substance as God - is, in fact, of one substance with Him.

So the Son of God is related by eternal generation, meaning that "this day" is the eternal day - the unchanging “nowness” of eternity. It can also be taken to refer to the incarnation of the Son in time into human form. Along this latter line, the second citation from 2 Samuel does not imply that the incarnate Christ will become a son to God - either by being born in the flesh, or by adoption as we saints are - but that He will conduct Himself as only a true son could, being the perfect image of His Father in thought, word and deed. To quote the various translators of the writer to the Hebrews, the incarnate Christ is "the exact representation, the express image, bearing the very stamp of His nature, the very image of His (God’s) substance."

The reference in verse 6 is from Ps 97:6-7, which is taken by the writer of the homily to be a prophetic psalm of the revelation of God in His Messiah, and is why the command to worship follows the pronouncement that "all the peoples see His glory." We ought not to be confused by some translations that say "Let all the gods worship Him." The original Hebrew word is "elohiym," which is indeed the plural for god, but which is also used of angels. In fact, the translation of the OT known as the Septuagint expressly uses the Greek word "aggeloi" (angels) in this psalm to render the original Hebrew "elohiym".

Whatever the details hold, the overall thought of the writer is that Jesus Christ is Messiah and that he is "God with us" - not man alone, not incarnate angel, either before or after His resurrection. He is eternal Son come from the bosom of the Father and returned thereto, more gloriously revealed than before, co-deity and fully worthy to be adored and worshiped.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet Grace - Roxylee

My good friend and sister in Christ, Roxylee, has come up with another beautiful work - this time based upon Romans 8. What a treasure she is. Please visit her site here and let her know if this song has blessed you.

Sweet Grace - Roxylee

Exceedingly sweet and gracious
Is the gospel of our Lord
He causes me to trust in Him,
Eternal, glorious Word

Who chose to call me to his side
Before all time began
The riches of his mercy
Who can understand?

Sweet grace, irresistible grace
God frees me and keeps me in Him
He banishes fear by His awesome power
And breaks all the bondage of sin

His covenant is lasting
And every promise true
You will receive salvation by faith
If He is calling you

Your heart will leap with joy to see
When He unveils your eyes
The Word will come alive so real,
You can’t deny

Sweet grace, incredible grace
God frees me and keeps me in Him
He banishes fear by His awesome power
And breaks all the bondage of sin

Jesus, our good shepherd
Leads His people in the way
We will assemble joyfully
Before His throne one day

Living in the realm of grace
Redeemed and Spirit sealed
Hearing, by the Word
Incarnate truth revealed

Sweet grace, astonishing grace
God frees me, then keeps me in Him
He banishes fear by His awesome power
And breaks all the bondage of sin

Exceedingly sweet and gracious
Is the gospel of our Lord

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heb 1:3-4 - Christ - Is How God Magnifies His Name

Heb 1:3-4 Christ - Is How God Magnifies His Name

3-4 he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Speaking of Jesus, the writer makes sure that his readers hear who Christ is. He is not an angel. He is not just a man. He is the very Creator of all things Who at this moment, and even when He walked the earth, upheld all things by the word of His power. This phrase, "word of his power" is loaded with meaning. The power of the logos is the means by which God effectuates both existence and events. God speaks and it is so, as we find repeatedly in Genesis. Unmistakably, then - and especially to a Jewish audience - the writer is identifying the Son as God. He is simply using a Hebraism, stating the first part of the verse in a new way in the second part. Hebrew writers did this all the time. "God is good; His mercies endure forever." "Jesus the incarnate Son is the exact representation of the Almighty God; when he speaks it comes to pass, as in the upholding of the universe." And nobody could dispute the fact that the universe was certainly holding together.

But it was this same Almighty God, manifested in Son, who was himself the One that suffered and died as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He was the perfect, the true, the only effectual sacrifice for sin. The purification, the catharsis, the expunging, the cleansing of this pestilence to which all men are enslaved - namely sin, which is rebellion and lawlessness arising from disbelief in the Name of God - was made by Him in His life and death. This was accomplished in history. Note that purification was made - it does not say that purification was made possible. This has implications for what we believe, but this is not the place to expand upon that.

Now in what sense did this Eternal Son Who created the worlds and Who was Himself God become superior to angels, who are themselves created beings? Was he ever actually inferior to them? If so, in what sense? We must wait for the next chapter before this becomes clear. {see Heb 2:9-10} For now, the writer is embarking upon a long argument, supported from the Hebrew Scriptures, proving that Jesus was not an angel - a created being. Obviously, for him to spend time here establishing this fact ought to draw our attention to its importance for the Jews of the first century.

Not only is the natural man resistant to the idea of God becoming a man, but the Jews were particularly vulnerable to being scandalized by the idea of their long awaited Messiah becoming a lowly peasant, who was rejected by all the leaders of the nation, ultimately dying a shameful death as a criminal. Alongside this tendency there were the nascent seeds of Gnosticism, which would fit well into the mindset of the Kabbalah. Gnosticism spoke of secret and hidden knowledge available only to the initiated, which would reveal complex hierarchies of angelic beings called demiurges. This sort of heresy threatened the early church and grew in influence well into the second century. Much of the New Testament’s teaching is devoted to refuting this growing heresy, which affected not only the Jewish brothers, but also the Gentile believers.

Jesus was not an angel. He was not a creature. He was not a man who became an angel because he "earned" it through some sort of life of merit. He wasn’t graduating on the eternal evolutionary spectrum to a higher form of life, like the Father and the Son of Mormon theology. Something did happen - something unique, and something about which the powers of darkness never cease to invent twists and corruptions that will mislead people. The aim is to prevent belief. But a close second priority is to induce wrong belief, leading to ineffectual witness.

What is going to be explained here is the incredible passage of the Son from heaven to earth to heaven again - and all that was accomplished by this unendingly glorious series of events that unfolded out of the eternal purposes of God. The Hebrews needed to be reminded of this because, like all the saints, their faith was constantly under attack. The liar and murderer will never rest from tormenting the saints until he is put away forever. All saints need to be reminded of the gospel constantly. The gospel is not to be preached solely to unbelievers. It is also for those who believe. It is, in fact the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes (literally "is believing") {Ro 1:16}. I speak here of the fullness of the gospel, the deeper and more mature aspects, which include a growing understanding of this very "journey" of Christ, and its ramifications from eternity to eternity for all of God’s creatures, men and angels included. The deeper the understanding of what has been revealed, the richer the potential for living it out.

We spoke briefly in the commentary on the previous verses about inheritance. In that context it was about how our inheritance is indissolubly linked to Christ. Apart from him we have no inheritance. In him we inherit all things because all things are His and He is ours. {So 2:16-17} Some commentators link that reference to the one in verse 4, making them one and the same. I tend to agree that they are aspects of the same thing but the previous reference is to "all things" and this is specifically in reference to "His Name". It is a Name that no one can read but Himself, {Re 19:12} yet it is the Name written on the white stone of victory that no one can know, except the one who receives it. {Re 2:17} It is a Name that is more excellent (surpassingly, infinitely more so) than mere "messenger" or "angel." It is a Name that belongs only to the Son of God, Who laid aside His glory in order to take it up again, having wrought salvation for lost men through His blood.

What is that name? Every believer knows it. Do you? It is the name that encompasses all the glories that God purposed, displayed and accomplished in the Incarnate Son. Grace, redemption, mercy, love. It is also a Name by which all will be judged - by which the reprobate will be confirmed as condemned and damned eternally, to the glory of God. It says Author, Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Emmanuel, Almighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Judge of all the World. It is an infinite and eternal Name to which is attached all the meaning and glory that these things convey. Thus it is known only to He who is infinite and eternal - yet is made known to those who are in Him, and He in them. And it will be made known in increasing revelation to His finite saints forever and ever.

So how was this inherited? It was inherited by Jesus, the God-man where much of what it represented had formerly belonged to the Eternal Son. But by his actions in redemptive history through his taking unto himself a human nature forever, unspeakable glories, untold and ravishing glories have been revealed for all of creation to witness. Had God not come, he would still have been loving and merciful and gracious - just not visibly, to undeserving human sinners. (Remember, there is no redemption for fallen angels.) These virtues existed eternally in God, but by exercising them in his creation in the Person of Christ they are inherited visibly by the God-man. Something more of God is manifested in Christ than was apparent to his creatures beforehand. So, as Son of God incarnate, He emptied himself of his glory - but when His work was finished, He inherited and took up a greater glory in the eyes of His whole creation because of what He had accomplished. Thus, the incarnation and the redemption were manifested firstly for the glory of God, and to that end and purpose for the benefit and enjoyment of men.

{As a footnote for the sake of right theology, God never changes. He cannot be increased or added to. He doesn’t learn new things. He doesn’t grow in any respect. He is infinite, complete and perfect as he ever was and will be. But He desires that His name be glorified and that He be enjoyed by His creatures, and the incarnation-redemption-atonement increases for His creatures the visible extent of that glory, that they may appreciate, adore, worship and enjoy Him the more.}

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Archaeologists Find Joseph-era Coins in Egypt
Here's an article from "The Jerusalem Post" which is self explanatory. You can listen by selecting the link at bottom or read by selecting this link. The audio is read by a computer generated voice, but it is listenable.

What attracted me to the post was my knowledge that, in the past, the great scientistic and secular archaeological machine has variously declared that:

  • There WAS no Joseph
  • He was never in Egypt
  • He could not have been a ruler there
  • Egypt had no coinage
Well, if this find proves to be true then they'll have to sweep this one under the rug and conveniently forget prior erroneous claims without actually retracting them. That's just about par for the course with scientism.

Archaeologists Find Joseph-era Coins in Egypt

If the flash player does not work for this file click this link and it will open in your native mp3 player.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Heb 1:1-2 - Christ - Eternal Son Incarnate

Heb 1:1-2 - Christ - Eternal Son Incarnate

Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

The testimony that this is written to the Jews is found in the reference to the historical record of God’s dealings with Israel, which they so carefully preserved and revered. God chose their nation from among all the nations of the earth not because they were mighty or strong or large, but because of their insignificance. As Paul says in 2Corinthians, "we have this treasure in jars of clay that to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." {2Co 4:7} The same principle applied to the chosen nation as applies to the chosen church.

The sheer constancy and the dazzling diversity of God’s communication to Israel in the past is nothing short of stunning. Having chosen Israel, He delivered them out of Egypt with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand, in mercy. Note the mercy. They were never to think that any of their deliverances or victories, nor the vanquishing or destruction of their enemies was due to themselves. Israel was the recipient of grace and the agent of His will, and its citizens were supposed to think of themselves in that way.

And what better preparation could there be for the acceptance of the Deliverer Himself? If Israel had not largely trodden upon every vestige of God’s blessings and ignored His repeated admonishments, corrections and chastenings then they would have been found humbly waiting in eager expectation for their Messiah. But only a remnant was so found. And it is to this remnant in his present age that the writer to the Hebrews addresses himself with a letter that continues to admonish, correct and chastise.

The treatise begins with a recapitulation of the gospel, putting Christ firmly at the centre not only of church history, but of all history, including and especially that of the Jews. The writer holds forth Jesus, the Eternal Son, through whom the world was made and to whom all things belong forevermore. This "Jesus," this Son proceeded forth from the Father, in whose bosom He is. He is the utterance of Godness in a form intelligible to humanity, because He is fully human. This is the Living Word of God, mystically and eternally linked to the recorded Word that preceded and followed Him in time. He is the Word of which the Word testifies.

All of the history given to the Jews and which the writer now invokes to their memory was written by God, through the inspiration of the Spirit and about the Eternal Son. The written Word’s purpose is to point to Jesus. For the Jews of history it pointed forward in time, and for the church it points backward in time - but whichever way it points it is all about Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, given for the atonement of the sins of His people, and to be their righteousness through faith.

And the Author and personification of the written Word stepped onto the stage of history in what the readers of this letter understood as “the last days”. And so they are. This age, heralded by the death and resurrection of the Christ, is the last age before His coming in judgment, and to restore all things.

We indeed have both the luxury and the difficulty of seeing all of this in the perspective of transpired history, and with the clarity of a completed canon of scripture. But what we gain in perspective in one way, we lose in perspective by not understanding the Jewishness of the church. Everyone who was ever in the church is and has always been a Jew; some by birth and some by adoption. Salvation is of the Lord, yes - but it is of the Lord through the Jews and to them.

Spiritual Israel existed in the history of the Jews and it exists in the church. All those who believe in the Christ and receive Him are spiritual Israel. They are the remnant - a principle found in the world, the nation of Israel and even the professing church - a stub, a leftover, a reserve kept by God; a testimony to His saving and keeping power, and not to the piety, holiness and efforts of those He is saving.

So God has, in these last days spoken to Israel literally, "in Son" (ἐν υἱῷ). This phrase means more than that God spoke "through" His Son (though He did that, too) - but that God spoke in the whole incarnation and life of Christ, including His every word and deed. It was all communication. It was all declaration. It was all representation. It was everything that God had been, was and would say to man about Himself on this side of the judgement. The New Testament writers applied and interpreted the gospel, but never added to what God spoke in the Person of Christ.

But what does it mean that this Christ was appointed heir of all things? Why heir, if He was creator? Why did He need to inherit what was already His Own? What changed? And the stunning response is that the incarnation happened. This creator, this Eternal Son, set aside his heavenly glory and came and lived a completely human life upon the earth, starting with conception and birth. He never ceased to be fully God, but He added to His Person the full nature of our humanity. He became the second Adam, so that he could perfectly represent those He came to save.

And all those He saves are eternally and indissolubly joined to Him. He is in them and they are in Him. To man, He represents God and to God He represents redeemed humanity (made up of His church). But having lived as a man and utterly fulfilled the Father’s will, He has inherited as the head of redeemed humanity, by His obedience unto death (even death on a cross) all that is God’s. Do you see the difference? All things are ours (who belong to Christ) and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.

There is no change as to His eternal ownership of all things as God, but added to that is now the co-Heirship forged by Him as man on our behalf. We are His inheritance. And He is ours. He is both Son of God and Son of Man.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon of the Week
The Word Did Everything

The following sermon was presented at a Reformation Festival Service - November 9, 2008 by Michael Haykin. Dr. Haykin is Adjunct Professor of Church History and Spirituality at Toronto Baptist Seminary. He maintains some very interesting church history audio files and sermons here and here.

It sort of fits in with the Hebrews theme because it is all about the accomplishment of the Word, mainly in the book of Acts. What He addresses is the Word preached - the gospel disseminated - the truth proclaimed. My comments in Hebrews are more about the Living Word who proceeded forth from the Father - like an utterance. But Messiah was such an utterance as never happened before or since. It was God uttering the Eternal Son (and In Him proclaiming Himself) into creation for the purpose of the recreation of a people by redeeming them from the wrath of God.

But the Written Word testifies to the Living Word, and so we find comfortable parallels and commonalities. I leave the reader/listener to figure out what they are.

The Word Did Everything - Michael Haykin

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Decisional Regeneration
Know your church history. Know the old stuff and the more recent. Knowing the old stuff from the First Century puts the gospel and epistles in context and helps to correct some things we hold onto that are mere traditions. Knowing medieval and Reformation history will help to understand what can happen to the faith if it is not grounded upon the Word. Understanding 18th and 19th Century history will help to see how we have come to where we are in much of North American Christianity, following the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the rise of Cartesian philosophy. 

This brief bit from Mark Keilar (found on Lane Chaplin's YouTube channel) gives a hint as to how Finneyism made the end of the Second Great Revival into a damp squib, and corrupted the methods of gospel presentation down to the present day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hebrews - An Introduction

Hebrews - An Introduction

Who Wrote it?

This letter was written by an educated believer with an intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was written to Jews by a Jew. There are arguments for attributing this letter to Paul, Barnabas, Apollos and even Priscilla - but in the final analysis, the second century church was obliged to conclude that "God knows who wrote it" and to leave it at that.

This letter, acknowledged by Clement, as stated below, was eventually "lost" to the Roman church until about the third century, when the church admitted her mistake and received the text from the Eastern brothers, who had preserved it all along. (This was obviously before the doctrine of the infallibility of the church and the Pope took hold. Popes did not become infallible when speaking ex-cathedra until much later)

When Was It Written?

Since this epistle was referred to by Clement of Rome around the turn of the first century it can confidently be dated no later than about 90 AD. However, since it deals with matters near and dear to the heart of Judaism, and no mention is made of the destruction of the temple (which took place around 70 AD) many have made the case that it was probably written in the 60sAD at the latest.

Why Was it Written?

The occasion of its writing was probably due to a number of factors, including:

1) the first flush of conversion and the excitement of the radical spiritual experiences surrounding the initial coming of the gospel were waning.

2) the anticipated return of Jesus seemed to be delayed and some were disappointed by this.

3) though a sect of Judaism, and therefore accepted as a licit religion by the secular authority of Rome, Christianity was becoming more and more distinguished from Judaism and, as such, was in the cross hairs of persecutors who regarded it as different and illegitimate, due to its crossing of social barriers and outspoken rejection of all other gods, including the Emperor.

4) Christianity demonstrated itself to be so radical a departure from the Judaisitic form of observance that some Jewish converts were taken aback, and others were somewhat nostalgic for all the ritual observances that their unconverted friends and relatives still "enjoyed".

Stay tuned - the new study begins in earnest on Monday Oct 19th

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tomorrow - Hebrews. Be There, Be Square...

Tomorrow we'll be easing into Hebrews with a short introduction. Then, on Monday, if the Lord tarries, we'll be off and running on a journey that will take us through to next May. That's a whole 'nother decade, gentle readers and listeners.

The format will be the same as always: Mon, Wed, Fri - posts on the current series; Tue, Thu and Sat - something interesting which may or may not be germane to the current study; Sun - "Sermon/Lecture of the Week" or a "Blast from the Past".

So fasten your seat belts and hang on for the ride...vroooom, vroooom!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Celebrating Our 1,000th Post

Yes this is Agonizomai's 1,000th post (give or take one or two) since the blog first started. We're celebrating with the fireworks display. If you pay careful attention you can hear some of my Japanese listeners celebrating in the background. [/wink]

Monday, October 12, 2009

How Deep the Father's Love
I am a bit of an old curmudgeon and have a predilection for my traditions, yet I do find this Stuart Townsend song to be one of the few modern songs that utterly buckles my knees and moves my heart towards Christ. I cry every time I play it.

The doctrine within it is solid and the thoughts are so near to my own that I am ministered to with every hearing. It's a song I WANT to sing along with no matter how I feel at the moment. Townsend rightly includes Christ's death AND resurrection and firmly asserts the substitutionary atonement in simple words that are pure Biblical truth.

This is what the writer to the Hebrews is trying to remind them of - God's surpassing love in Jesus Christ and the supreme, finished and everlasting sacrifice that He came in order to be.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blasts from the Past
Faith - The Sole Saving Act - William G.T. Shedd

Two of my favourite verses from the gospel are Mark 10:18 and John 6:29. Both of these verses are relevant in one way or another to the upcoming series on Hebrews. Here they are from the ESV:

Mark 10:18 And Jesus said to him (the rich young ruler), “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." It looks like a pretty simple statement of the face of it, but considering the context there is far more to it than first appears. Irony, hidden truth, poignancy and multi-level meaning are all there.

John 6:29 Jesus answered them (the people following after him who had asked what they should do to be doing the works of God), “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” For years I passed over this one without actually taking it in. Then I got it.

But I won't steal William G.T.Shedd's thunder in the sermon that follows.

Faith - The Sole Saving Act - William G.T. Shedd

Friday, October 09, 2009

There's Going to Be a Great Day

As Monty Python would say - "And now for something completely different." Here is a 1943 recording of the charming Dinah Shore singing "There's Going to Be Be Great Day". This is posted as part of the pre-Hebrews theme of reminding us that people in prior times had motivators and pressures that we can't always fully appreciate. And if we have trouble with something this close to our own era, we will need to be even more careful with stuff that goes back 2,000 years.

This was produced during World War II before fortress Europe was breached by the Allies, and the year my Mom and Dad were married. It's hard to conceive of the state of mind of people in those days. Certainly North Americans were more disposed to Christianity back then, and the pressures of war inclined many to think more of their mortality and of God, their Maker than they may otherwise have done. And the topic of this song is about final judgment and justification by faith. But I have no idea whether it was entertainment or preaching - whether it reached out to a pious and faithful populace or was itself merely sentimentality produced by the extraordinary stresses of the time.

What were the stresses in the time that Hebrews was written? What was the state of the society? What pressures were bearing upon the Jews, the Christian Jews and the church as a whole? We may not be able to know infallibly, but we ought at least to bear the questions in mind as we study.

I'm not saying this "modern era" song is a hymn, or that it is doctrinally sound - nor even that the artists were necessarily genuine Christians. I'm not saying that they were glorifying God, and there is certainly no mention of Jesus Christ. But if I had been a Christian alive at the time, I would have taken what I could from this, thanked God, and moved on with more hope.

There's Going to Be Be Great Day - Dinah Shore (1943)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Calvinism - A Theology of Thanksgiving
This is an excerpt from a post made by the redoubtable Steve Hays over at Triablogue. I regularly read the stuff from the team over there, but I don't interact with them because they are way above my pay grade. But this particular post struck me as something needing to get out to people in the lower reaches of the atmosphere of Reformed Blogdom, so I took this extract and recorded it for the podcast. I hope Hays doesn't mind because, if he does, then I'm dead meat.


Calvinism - A Theology of Thanksgiving - Steve Hays


"Before I delve into the specifics, I want to make a general point. What is Calvinism? Calvinism is a theology of thanksgiving. It’s also a theology of hope.

God wrote the whole story of the world. Brought all his wisdom and goodness to bear in writing the story.

God didn’t outsource the story of the world to hack writers and script doctors. God doesn’t rely on an essay mill for his material.

I don’t trust the devil to write any part of the story. We don’t trust sinners to write any part of the story.

Do you really want Genghis Khan to have a hand in writing part of the story? What if you’re one of his victims? Do you want to be the victim of his authorship? Do you want to be a character in his twisted narrative, where he decides your fate? Where his values dictate the shape of the narrative?

However you cut it, we live in a fallen world. A world with evil men and evil events. Whose values do you want shaping that story?

A Calvinist thanks God even for the villains because we trust God to know what he’s doing. Either way we have evil. It’s not as if the world of the Arminian or open theist or universalist is a painless world.

Now, it’s easy to thank God for the nice things, the pleasant things. It takes an act of faith to thank God for the hard providences.

Still, Calvinism cultivates a spirit of thanksgiving. It fosters an expectation in which we seek, and hope to find, in this life or the next, the good in whatever God has purposed. Sometimes his wisdom is evident, at other times–inevident.

His wisdom is inevident to the degree that you can’t fully appreciate a story until you know the end of the story. And we haven’t read the ending yet. You and I are not at that point in the story. We don’t know how it all comes out.

We know that God wins. And we know that his people win. His win is their win. We know the bad guys lose.

But why any particular thing happens the way it does can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight. The emerging pattern can only be perceived in retrospect.

Like reading a good book. You don’t know, as you read the story, where it’s going. The story raises many questions. It’s only when the novelist ties up all the loose ends that you can look back and appreciate all the preceding events.

So we live in hope. For a theology of thanksgiving is also a theology of hope. They’re two different perspectives on our position in time. Hope looks forward while thanksgiving looks backward.

The alternative to a theology of hope and thanksgiving is a theology of suspicions and recrimination. Someone who’s consistent with this outlook views God the way a juvenile delinquent views his old man. On the one hand, he wants dad to get off his back. Stop meddling in his life. Itches for the freedom to do his own thing.

On the other hand, he likes having dad around just in case he gets in trouble with the law and lands in the paddy wagon. Dad is generally a nuisance, but you should keep him on speed-dial just in case you need him to drive down to the pokey and bail you out.

The delinquent doesn’t love his father. Rather, he loves his freedom. But he loves to have his father available in a pinch."


The above is a partial quote from this post by Steve Hays at Triablogue.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sermon of the Week
John 3:16 Set Free
I've spoken before in passing about how certain scriptures are tortured and misused. For example, I have mentioned 2Peter 3:9 and Rev 3:20 elsewhere. Here's another much abused text.

It's hard to blame sheep for the latter-day "tradition" that attaches to this verse. But it is not hard to blame those who claim to be shepherds, and who maintain the error by reinforcing it from their pulpits.

In this short sermon Joseph Losardo of the Bread of Life Fellowship takes aim directly at what modern Christian mythology has done to this verse. Be warned - the exegesis is technical and the word "Greek" (O horrors!!!) appears numerous times. So do Greek words and references to Greek grammar. To those who are all but convinced that God wrote the Bible in English, that most favored language, and that the matter is forever settled in the heavens by that fact, there is no help for you. Except that God should open your eyes.

But for those who understand that not only was the New Testament written in an ancient language called Koine Greek, to people who lived in a particular situation, and with a certain world view - then hopefully the flexibility of mind exists to be free of the bondage of mere tradition and open to hear what the text actually says. It takes work to understand what the text is saying. It takes work to hold that text against the background of its authors and original hearers. But the reward of work is wealth, my friends - the sort of wealth that the world cannot give. Enjoy Joseph Losardo speaking to this very well known text.

John 3:16 - Set Free - Joseph Losardo

The Text:

John3:16 οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them...

Albert Einstein was a Jew. He was a Jew who knew both the Old and the New Testaments. At various times he seems to have been an atheist, a theist, a deist, an agnostic, a panentheist and, perhaps, even a Perls-Jungian Gestaltist. Whatever his view of creation, it does not seem that he ever embraced Jesus Christ as His Savior - so he was never a Christian, as far as we know. But that doesn't mean that he did not have insight into the heavier questions of life, including the philosophical and theological ones.

In the following representation of what is purported to be a true incident from Einstein's schooldays we see the truth about the nature of God being attacked by the teacher (who was undoubtedly an acolyte of the spirit of his age) and being defended by a small boy who understands the nature of purity and the impossibility of a good God being the proximate cause of evil, even though we live in a world where evil plainly does exist.

I won't go on to argue the case in more detail. I think this little scene necessarily falls short and leaves stuff out. But the nature of God as to His goodness was known to the Jews back in the first century and before, just as it was to this Jewish boy in the late 19th century. It was because of their heritage - because they had the writings and were linked to the history of which the writings spoke - and the Jews knew that God was good and merciful and faithful - and that God hated the evil which men did, even though He permitted it.

The first century problem in the Jewish sectors of the church wasn't about the goodness of God - ALL agreed on that, Jew and Gentile alike. The problem was to do with the "goodness" of man. The problem wasn't even about the love of God in providing a sacrifice - it was about the SUFFICIENCY of that love in the form of it's sacrifice, once and for all. The upcoming Hebrews study comes to grips with this problem.