Friday, February 3, 2017

Unnecessary Silence

I took some brothers in the Lord to see Martin Scorsese’s Silence yesterday. You know you live in the middle of nowhere – or at least close – when you have to drive three hours and cross state lines to see a movie.

Warning: plot details ahead. Don’t read on if you plan on seeing the movie – which I personally wouldn’t recommend unless you’re going to discuss it in the context of the Bible and biblical theology with brothers and sisters in Christ.


MattZoller Seitz wrote: “‘Silence’ is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment...this is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don't like.’ It’s a film that you experience and then live with." This sums up how I felt about it. When I got home and my family asked if I liked the movie, it seemed impossible to answer.

Having discussed it with my brothers in Christ, however, I have a few observations. This post is as much the fruit of their meditation as it is mine.

The Christianity of Silence is Roman Catholicism. There are prayers (and rosary), absolutions and masses ministered by the priests, crosses and crucifixes, infant baptism, and…silence. Waiting for the voice of God to guide through the torment. One crucial thing is missing for the Christianity of Silence, and, I suspect, the Christianity of many living in the world today: the Bible was absent. God’s Word, by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the saints, is not present. It is no wonder God is “silent.” The means by which He speaks to His people is not used.

One of the most powerful parts of the movie for me personally was when Padres Rodrigues and Garupe meet with the underground church in the village of Tomogi. Rodrigues, in a narrative voice-over, compares the gatherings of these believers with those worshiping in the catacombs under the persecution of the Roman Empire. It is night, and the first meeting of the priests with the underground church. The believers offer food to the priests, who ravenously begin devouring it before pausing in embarrassment to realize they had not blessed it before eating. After a hasty prayer, they resume devouring the food. Then they notice that the lay leadership of the church is not eating. When the priests ask why the leaders aren’t eating, the elder Ichizo (who will soon be martyred on a cross in the ocean) responds, “it is you who feed us.” The food these believers – and all believers – desperately need is the Word of God, and Christ has given His Church both elders and gifted lay members who give this most needful food to His people by the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit.[1] The sacramental wafer without the Word rightly preached, taught, and understood, cannot feed the people.

Earlier in the movie, Rodrigues, still in Portugal, meditates on Jesus’ command to Peter as he prepares to journey to Japan. The padre only considers the phrases, “feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” He would have done well to go to the Book to discover what this means.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’
He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’
And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (John 21:15-19, N.K.J.V.).

How did Peter understand Jesus’ command to “feed” His “sheep”?

Believers have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2,3). The food is “the Word of God…the pure milk of the Word.”

The “silence” was unnecessary. “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). The Old Testament testified and revealed through shadows and symbols the Son of God. The New Testament reveals Him fully in His Person, His actions, His words, and the inspired apostolic word concerning Him. The Word is not “silent.” It gives us Jesus, our most needful Food.[2]

The Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible today, especially when believers gather to worship and fellowship through the preaching, reading, and teaching of the Word. It is sad when either 17th century Roman Catholic priests or believers today struggle with the silence of God because they are neglecting His appointed means of speaking and being present with His people.

Apostasy is a major theme of the movie Silence. Believers are tormented physically, emotionally, and psychologically in an effort to get them to apostatize. Rodrigues and Garupe even argue briefly over advising the Japanese believers to apostatize before the Inquisitor. In the end, Rodrigues is denied his own martyrdom and led to apostatize to relieve the torment of Japanese Christians. It is a horrible choice he is given, and a clear picture of the depravity of the fallen human nature.

Apostasy is a reality described in the Bible.[3]

In one sense, it is ubiquitous to this age between the Advents of Christ. In explaining His parable of the sower, Christ says, “the seed is the word of God…the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away [ἀφίστανται] (Luke 8:11,13).

Believers are called to examine themselves to rid themselves of that which may reveal them to be false confessors: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing [ἀποστῆναι] from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14). Notice the remedy is self-examination and the encouragement of other believers.

The New Testament also uses the term apostasy to describe that falling away that comes at the end of this age.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away [ἀποστασία] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart [ἀποστήσονταί] from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

In Silence, Inoue (the Inquisitor) uses a parable to explain to Rodrigues why Christianity cannot thrive in Japan. A daimyo, he explains, has four concubines whose jealousy and fighting with each other make him miserable. His solution: cast them all out of the house. Inoue explains these four concubines are “Spain, Portugal, Holland, England,” all trying to have their national “Christianity” take root in Japan. Japan, the man, has decided to cast them all out. Rodrigues responds, “our church teaches monogamy. What if Japan were to choose one lawful wife from the four?” Inoue states, “you mean Portugal” (Rodrigues’ country of origin). The padre responds, “I mean the holy church.” Beautiful moment – if only the priest meant not the Roman Catholic Church, but the biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bride, the only one who has the means of saving and healing from out of the nations through the Gospel entrusted to her. Sadly, it seems that Rodrigues himself doesn’t remain faithful to the Bride. Apostasy, ἀποστασία, has a cognate in the N.T. - ἀποστάσιον, a certificate of divorce (Matthew 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

The believers in Silence publicly apostatize under tremendous threat and distress. Sadly, many professing Christians today deny “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) just to remain popular or socially acceptable (politically correct). Many cannot hold to the faith even though they are free from the type of persecution depicted in this movie – the type of persecution experienced by many believers around the world today. For them, the only “gospel” is that God wants His people in this world to be comfortable and happy. The rest of the Gospel message – the hope, glory, and eternal joy on the other side of Jesus’ cross -  is a key point missing from their lives, and the movie Silence.

At one point, after baptizing a Christian couples’ infant, the wife asks, “we now? All with God, in paraiso?” Rodrigues attempts to correct her, “Paradise? Now? No. But God is there now, and forever. He prepares a place for us all. Even now.”

Later, as they are arrested, a Japanese believer whose new name at baptism is Monica (like St. Augustine’s mother) has to remind Rodrigues himself of this. She says, “Padre...our father...Padre Juan...said if we die we will go to paraiso.”

Rodrigues says, “Paradise, yes...”

Monica continues: “Isn’t it good to die? Paraiso is so much better than here. No one hungry,
never sick. No taxes, no hard work.”

The padre, reminded of this truth in his despair, agrees. “Padre Juan was right. There’s no work in paraiso. No taxes, no hunger. Nothing can be stolen from you. And there’s no pain...” He is almost forced into this confession by Monica, but its hope is not seen in the rest of his actions, words, and meditations throughout the movie.

The Scriptures, especially the Word of the New Testament, would have given Rodrigues a firm foundation in this vital theological truth. Believers are called to walk through this world with a hope, assurance, and longing for glory with Christ in heaven.

Suffering is to be expected in this world. It should not be a surprise for believers.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Only those who have starved themselves of this needful biblical meal, be it a 17th century priest or modern Christian engorged on prosperity and positivity preaching, will be shocked and unable to understand when difficulty for the faith comes. It is promised in the N.T., and the strength for it is found there.

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

The great Whore, Babylon the great, “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6), manifests under many masks, from the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the Reformation to Imperial Japan to today’s militant Islam to bestselling false teachers buying "souls of men" (Revelation 18:13) to many others.[4] “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12). The dragon hates the Church and seeks her destruction, one believer at a time, often through his deceitful puppet, Babylon.

How does the Church overcome in the face of such evil? “…they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11). Generation to generation of this Gospel Age, believers have suffered horribly for the faith and endured it by the hope of the promise of glory contained in the Word.[5]

His blood is our assurance now and forever. The Word of the testimony of Jesus Christ is not silent, and cannot be silenced. And this life, including the sometimes long moments of its end, are indescribably small compared to the glory waiting the faithful in eternity (this is Paul’s perspective – Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

And the silence of God? When the Psalmists beg God to speak in His silence (28,30,39,83,109), they themselves are never silent. They pray for God to speak, and then begin to remind their souls of His long ages of good faithfulness to His people in blessing and trial.[6] The Word is the answer to their prayer that God not be silent.

Run to the Word. Read it, pray it, sing it, preach it, teach it, think it, adore it, breathe it. God is not silent nor absent as long as His Word is your life. God is not silent.






[1] “Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it” (Second London Confession, 26.11).
[2] The Bible is “the true center of Christian union,” and “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I).
[3] While the word “apostasy” is not used, the apostle John’s warning describes the state of salvation of these who leave: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:18,19).
[4] Sadly, the tortures Inoue Masashige, the “Inquisitor,” oversaw concerning the Christians (Japanese and Jesuit alike) – drownings, burnings, beheadings – were torments the Roman Catholic Church (and some Protestants) had been inflicting on Protestants in Europe for the previous hundred-plus years.
[5] “…it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased” (Second London Confession, 1.1).
[6] Near the end of the movie, Rodrigues, now living as Okada San’emon, a man with a Japanese name with a Japanese family, hears the voice of Jesus say, “I suffered beside you. I was never silent.” I am reminded of Isaiah 53:7//Acts 8:32,33.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Omnipresent in a Manger

After finishing Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology a month ago with my Thursday men’s theology reading group, we’re planning on starting John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion early next year. Along with trying to memorize Hebrews 10:4-10, I’ve been studying the Institutes in my “personal” study time.

I came across this passage in the Institutes today: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then He was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in His immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that He was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, He willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet He continuously filled the world even as He had done from the beginning” (2.13.4).

At least two Scriptures point us to the Son’s omnipresence (note that both of these are direct quotes from the Lord Jesus):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that [as it says in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15] by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18:15-20).
“…the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Of course, the Son is present with His covenant people by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) and “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). But He is also, because He is “God of God…very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “in this Trinity none are before or after another, none is greater or less than another…equal to the Father as touching His Godhead” (Athanasian Creed), omnipresent as God. We attribute to God omnipresence, and therefore, since the Son is fully God, we must attribute omnipresence to the Son.

We may stumble over this confession, especially during Advent, as we consider the mysterious wonder of the eternal, divine Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1,2,14). How could the Son be omnipresent and yet in a body dwelling as one of us among us during the years of His earthly life? How can the New Testament, after His ascension, locate Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21)?

Why is this strange? If we confess the Son to be fully God, are there not lessons from the Old Testament to learn about His omnipresence? God, Who cannot be contained in space or time, manifests His glorious, Personal Presence in places like the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament. No one believes Him to be located solely between the cherubim, or solely even on the throne in Heaven. Just as God was manifest between the cherubim and yet omnipresent, the Person of God the Son is manifestly present in His human nature/body, and yet as God is omnipresent.

As Stephen preaches before his martyrdom: “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says [in Isaiah 66:1,2]: ‘“Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?” says the Lord, “Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?”’” (Acts 7:44-50).

Hercules Collins, a 17th century Baptist pastor, gave his congregation a teaching on the Son’s omnipresence. After speaking of Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pastor Collins writes: “Q. 46. Is not Christ with us then until the end of the world, as He has promised? A. Christ is true God, and true man, and so according to His manhood is not now on earth, but according to His Godhead, His majesty, His grace and Spirit is at no time apart from us. Q. 47. Are not by this means the two natures in Christ pulled apart, if His humanity be not wherever His divinity? A. No. Seeing His divinity is incomprehensible, and everywhere present, it follows necessarily that the same [the Son’s divine nature] is without the bounds of His human nature which He took to Himself, and yet is nevertheless in it, and abides personally united to it” (Orthodox Catechism, 1680). 

This Advent, as we adore the baby in the manger, let us worship in awe at the reality of the omnipresent God the Son.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Reflect

“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:44-49). We usually limit Christ’s explanation of “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” to the phrase “Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead.” I think, however, that Jesus included the global, Spirit-empowered witness in that explanation. The saving work of the Christ and the power of that work to re-orient the world to a radical, eternal Christ-centeredness and submission is also part of the story of the O.T.

I used to say, almost tongue-in-cheek, that when you had finished doing everything Jesus commanded and teaching other disciples among all the nations to do the same, you could study and debate the Revelation (or Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, etc.). It seems to be time to add an additional statement: when you’re done witnessing “to all the nations” concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness found in faithfulness to Him, and how that is taught in the whole Bible, then you can talk politics. When you’re done strategizing on how to get others out there, looking for unreached corners of your own counties, giving as much as you can to fund the going of others, the purchasing of outreach materials, praying exhaustively for the mission (2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-6), using the digital world for outreach, etc., then you can worry over and battle and (sigh) throw insults and whatever else for the sake of the control of the city of man…if you can find Scripture backing up such an enterprise and approach.

If you’re talking/posting more about the President, President-elect, or any other politician serving in the city of man than you speak of Jesus, and you claim to follow Him, you need to repent. Everyone else is talking about these briefest of flashes in world history; you have been given the message of the forever-King, His works, and His commands. Why would we waste a single breath or keystroke on those who are only distractions from eternity?

Not to be crass, but under the old covenant, while Israel was still wandering the desert, part of the Law of Moses even told them how to dispose of their personal bodily waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-14). It mattered because “the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you.” If the toilet door wasn’t shut on the LORD for some privacy, do you really think your blog is yours, Christian? Or your social media accounts? Or anything?

I started with the red letter recorded by Luke. Moving on to the good doctor’s sequel, let’s consider the red letter in its beginning.

“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’” (Acts 1:1-8). I think it both fascinating and germane that, after Jesus “over a period of forty days” spoke to them “of the things concerning the kingdom of God,” they ask about a restoration of “the kingdom of Israel.” Any preacher or anyone involved in communication of information and events to a church can relate to this disjunct between what was said and what was heard (or not heard). “Forty days.” I do find it comforting that the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh, Who “by the Holy Spirit [had] given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen,” had to deal with the same issues as a preacher in a small pulpit or the poor soul charged with making announcements.

So I’ll say again: if you claim to follow Jesus, and He has commanded that you be part of proclaiming Him to the entire world, why is He less than 10% of what you say, write, re-post, echo, think, adore? I guarantee there is still a “remotest part” in your town, beloved. We’re not done yet.

Earlier I mentioned something I often say about the Revelation or “end times” obsessions. I’m certainly not done teaching new disciples to obey everything Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20), and I’m nowhere close to obeying Him adequately myself, but I want to look at a chapter in the Revelation to finish this post out.

“…‘I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.’ These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth [Zechariah 4:11-14; 2 Corinthians 2:17]. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies [2 Samuel 22:9; Psalm 97:3; Jeremiah 5:14]; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying [1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10]; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood [Exodus 7:20; Revelation 16:4], and to strike the earth with every plague [the Revelation, describing the final Exodus event, references “plagues” often - 9:2; 15:1,6,8; 16:9,21; 18:4,8; 21:9; 22:18], as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them [compare with 17:6]. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city [Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21] which mystically is called Sodom [Isaiah 1:10] and Egypt [Galatians 4:21-31], where also their Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days [compare with “forty-two months,” 11:2, and “twelve hundred and sixty days,” 11:3; see also Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Luke 4:25; Revelation 12:14], and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth [Esther 9:22]. But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet [Ezekiel 37:5,10]; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Revelation 11:3-12).

Quite the tapestry of other Bible passages, isn’t it? I’ve taught through Revelation three times (not in the same venue or time slot), and am fighting a temptation to do it again. I’m not satisfied with how I’ve taught it, and can’t find anyone who teaches it in a way that seems (to me) to match the purpose of the Holy Spirit in inspiring it. It’s about an unveiling of “Jesus Christ.” It’s supposed to be a blessing to the one “who reads” it, along with those “who hear the words of the prophecy.” This is a corporate worship (“church service”) setting. The Revelation is something we’re supposed to “heed” (1:3). Yet it’s taught as information about events (past, present, future) on a geopolitical level. Nations are the focus, not Jesus. After just a cursory reading of the above passage from chapter 11 and noting a few of the Old Testament (or even New Testament) cross-references, my conviction that we don’t understand “prophecy” is only growing. True, I am an amillennialist, which means (now that I’ve put a label to it), many readers will automatically check out, but I believe the Revelation describes the work of Jesus Christ in His Church in this last age of the world (the Gospel Age) using only Old Testament quotes, allusions, and echoes. What if you had to write a newspaper article about a current event, but could only cut-and-paste from a history book to do it? Or, to make it more like the Revelation, you could only cut-and-paste from an art history book and several classic poets to do it? Just as Jesus taught from “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” concerning His saving work and the spread of the message of that work throughout the world, Revelation is a capstone to the Bible in that it does exactly that. It takes “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” and weaves a complicated, dramatic, powerful series of tapestry-images that we will only grasp if we are living a New Testament life with New Testament thinking and New Testament goals in New Testament ways while growing in our understanding of Old Testament passages and how they point to Jesus. To re-allocate Paul, “brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14).

The witnesses. Two of them. They speak with authority and power. The world hates them. I believe they represent the Church in the Gospel Age. You, Church, are called to proclaim the divine and personal Truth (John 14:6) in the power of the Holy Spirit to a world that absolutely hates it.

Why two witnesses? Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15 (see also Matthew 18:16; 26:60; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28). It took at least two for righteous condemnation in judgment.

The function of the two witnesses is to facilitate God’s judgment.

You are talking about who’s right and who’s wrong in the politics of the city of man, when you are called and empowered to walk through Ninevah warning, “yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), and offering the only hope: “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9). That generation of Ninevah wasn’t saved by a smear campaign against the king. Or by advocating replacement of that king. It was saved by proclaiming judgment and commanding repentance.

When Paul was speaking to Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea (A.D. 52-58), and the procurator’s wife, the apostle spoke “about faith in Christ Jesus,” which included “discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:24,25). Yes, it “frightened” Felix. Yes, he sent Paul away. But Paul, called to be a witness as much as we are, Church, did his duty “before the Lord of the earth.” He didn’t speak civic policy or political theory with Felix. He proclaimed the greater Kingdom and its greatest King. This is what Jesus said would happen (Matthew 10:16-20//Mark 13:9-11//Luke 21:12-15).



I took this picture a few nights ago looking out one of the back windows of the house, roughly facing southeast. Sirius is high in the picture. Brightest star in the sky. Part of Canis Major, the dog running with the hunter Orion across the winter night sky. Yet Sirius is not the brightest light in the picture. A bit less than 300 yards away from me is a barn. When the moon is casting its light, the metal roof of that barn is a bright trapezoid-looking shape that immediately catches your attention. That dog’s been chasing the hunter across the sky for all of human history, but a bit of metal roofing in a cattle field easily outshines it. You're not supposed to be a superstar or an announcer for a superstar (a celestial dog chasing Orion across the sky); you're an "adequate" (2 Corinthians 3:4,5; 2 Timothy 3:17) means of reflecting a greater light. Reflect the greater Light, Church. In the darkness, don’t echo the words (spoken or digital) of the darkness. There is only one Light. Reflect.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What If Santa...

Friday night we gathered to go caroling in our little town's historic downtown. I had my Santa hat on, and am still growing the gray beard out longer and longer. One of our church members asked, "have you ever considered playing Santa?"



It is a secret ambition. I want to be Santa when I grow up. Of course, I love the story of Nikolaos of Myra and his punching Arius at the First Council of Nicea (A.D. 325). I despise anyone lying about my Jesus, too, though it has not come to that original Santa Claus' action.

It got me thinking yesterday: what if our American icon Santa Claus had the spirit of Nikolaos of Myra? What if, when children sat on his lap for pictures, all he could do was speak Scripture?

What follows is entirely tongue-in-cheek, friends.
















Monday, December 12, 2016

The Tale of the Serpent-Slaying King

This is a story I have told twice lately in teaching the saints; I want to share it here, too. It is a beautiful and powerful tale, and, like all the best tales, is true.

On Wednesday evenings, we’ve been learning about God’s teaching concerning “Christ” in 1 Samuel. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but is the Greek translation (Χριστός) of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (מָשִׁיחַ), which means “Anointed One.”[1]

Prior to 1 Samuel, only the priests had the title “anointed one” (Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:22). Late in Israel’s Period of the Judges, however, there was a woman named Hannah who desperately wanted a child. She prayed to the LORD, and He gave her a son named Samuel. When the boy was weaned, she brought him to the high priest to be raised in the service of the LORD. Upon leaving her son, Hannah prayed a prayer of thanksgiving (1 Samuel 2:1-10).[2] At the end of her prayer, she prophesies of a great new work of God with His people - the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One would not just be a priest, but also a King: “He keeps the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail. Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, the Lord will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed [מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah] (1 Samuel 2:9,10).[3]

Let’s look at three who held the office of God’s Anointed One (Messiah/Christ).

Saul held the office first. After being anointed (1 Samuel 10:1), Saul faced off with Nahash, king of Ammonites (11:1-15). The name Nahash means “serpent” (same word used in Genesis 3). God’s anointed king over His people faced off with the serpent-king. Saul was ultimately rejected from the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ because of his disobedience to God (1 Samuel 15:22,23).[4]

David held the office next. After being anointed (1 Samuel 16:13), he faced off against Goliath, the giant “clothed with scale-armor” (17:5) - a serpent-warrior. David could not stay in the office of God’s Anointed One/Messiah/Christ because he aged and died.

Jesus of Nazareth holds the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ finally and forever. Saul and David were anointed with oil, representing the Holy Spirit.[5] Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism.

Compare these two passages about David and Jesus’ anointing. First, David: “…Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him… and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Second, Jesus: “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:16,17// Mark 1:10,11//Luke 3:21,22//John 3:32-34). David, whose name means “beloved,” goes through a visible rite (anointing with oil) which represents his being given the Holy Spirit upon entering the office of God’s Anointed King. Jesus, pronounced “Beloved,” goes through a visible rite (baptism) and receives the Holy Spirit upon entering the office of God’s Anointed King.

Like Saul and David, Jesus, after being anointed into the office of Anointed One/Messiah/Christ, faces off against the serpent (Matthew 4:1-11//Mark 1:12,13//Luke 4:1-13). Jesus does not vacate the office because of either disobedience or death, since He is perfectly obedient to the Father and, though He “was dead,” is “alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18).

God’s Anointed One/Messiah/Christ defeats the enemy of God’s covenant people, the serpent, fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘…I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise Him on the heel’”
(Genesis 3:14,15).


We know this theme is important because it is counter-balanced on the other side of the Bible from Genesis 3 in the Revelation (chapters 12 and 20).

Christ “must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Q. 30. How does Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executes the office of a king,
in subduing us to Himself,
in ruling and defending us,
and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.

-          Baptist Catechism, by Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)

It is a great tale. And it is true.

Remember the basic saving confession of Christianity: “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Confessing “Jesus as Lord” is not an empty statement. Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5), the One Who “overcame and sat down with [His] Father on His throne” (3:21), the One Who is named “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), and is “the root and Offspring of David” (22:16). It is the voice of the Holy Spirit through believers (1 Corinthians 12:3), given by God the Father for His universal and eternal glory (Philippians 2:11).

Believe in Him, and give Him glory as King. It is your “Great Commission,” Church: “Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
hitchhiking along NM-9.






[1] It’s become popular in the last decades to emphasize Hebrew words in Christian devotion/worship, but notice that the New Testament doesn’t attempt to bring the Hebrew word “Messiah” into its language of Greek (outside of John 1:41; 4:25, where its meaning is explained). God’s work in the New Testament to today is beyond a single people’s language; the Lamb has “purchased for God” with His “blood men from every…tongue” (Revelation 5:9). God is not on a Hebrew-is-holy trajectory. I would put the use of “Yahweh” in this category, too. The N.T. doesn’t attempt to render this name (it approximates its meaning in Revelation 1:4 with “Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come”); Jesus Himself, in fact, commands us to address God as “Father” (Matthew 6:9). This peppering Christian worship with Hebrew (by non-Hebrew speakers) is akin to the language snobbery of 1 Corinthians 12-14 or the Roman Catholic Mass being in Latin (when the people had ceased to speak or understand Latin).
[2] Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) echoes much of Hannah’s prayer.
[3] In the same chapter, “a man of God” prophesies to Eli, the high priest, about the corruption of his sons. Through the prophet, the LORD says, “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed [מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah] always” (1 Samuel 2:35).
[4] Even after being rejected by God, David continues to refer to Saul as “the LORD’s anointed,” or Messiah/Christ (1 Samuel 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Samuel 1:14,16).
[5] “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). For Saul and the Holy Spirit, read 10:1-16. For David and the Holy Spirit, read 1 Samuel 16:13.