Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Psalm and the Sacramental Scattering

Do not slay them, lest my people forget;
Scatter them by Your power,
And bring them down,
O Lord our shield.
For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips,
Let them even be taken in their pride,
And for the cursing and lying which they speak.
Consume them in wrath, consume them,
That they may not be;
And let them know that God rules in Jacob
To the ends of the earth. Selah”
(Psalm 59:11-13, N.K.J.V.).

When we consider the frequency of the verb “forget” in the Old Testament, we learn a bit about it. After the Psalter itself, the verb שכח occurs most in Deuteronomy (covenant renewed after the passing of a faithless generation) and Jeremiah (old covenant broken, new covenant promised). Forgetting is a threat to members of the covenant – the Church. The Psalm prays that unbelievers be scattered and not immediately judged to counter covenant unfaithfulness (forgetting).

The presence of hostile unbelievers as they besiege the camp of believers is sacramental. I’m not saying it is a sacrament (there are only two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), but that it is sacramental (acts similarly to a sacrament). What do I mean by this?

The Westminster Divines describe a sacrament as that which makes clear “a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 27.1) and something to “distinguish them from those who are without” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 162). Further, sacraments confer a “grace” which is “the work of the Spirit,” which contains a “word of institution” or “promise of benefit to worthy receivers” (W.C.F. 27.3). Christ gives a sacrament “to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace the benefits of His mediation, to strengthen and increase their faith” (W.L.C., Q. 162).

Christ is the lone Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is also the eternal Heir to David’s throne (Luke 1:31,32,68-75; Revelation 22:16). The Psalms not only speak of Him (Luke 24:44), but as the inspired songs of the Spirit of Christ, they are the Son’s very prayers.

The Son, then, in Psalm 59, prays that the besiegers do not immediately find destruction, but are scattered. It is the Mediator-King’s prayer on behalf of God’s people. This scattering marks a difference between the Church and the world, since the work of Christ is not to scatter His people, but gather them (Matthew 24:31//Mark 13:27; John 11:52; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). The scattering of the besiegers also strengthens the faith of those in the new covenant, preventing their forgetfulness (Psalm 59:11).

The continual existence of the enemies of the Church (until the last Day) keeps the Church from lapsing into apathetic forgetfulness. For now, the serpent is kept from deceiving “the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war” (Revelation 20:8). In this Age, the Church is gathered and the nations remain scattered by the Psalm 59:11 prayer of the Mediator-King. He does not outright destroy them – otherwise we would be tempted to forget the covenant. The scattering of the enemies is our preservation.

The scattering of the enemies of the Church also serves the Gospel mission of this Age, for the Church is created in every generation out of these scattered enemies. “...when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). The Age will one day end. The continued existence of those who hate the Church is one way Christ preserves our faith (so that we do not forget our need for Him) and the means by which the Church is propagated (the Church grows through enemies converted). However, Christ (in Psalm 59:13) also prays for the coming Day of judgment.

Until that Day, we should regard the hatred of the world toward the Church as a gracious reminder of Christ’s sovereign defense and preservation of the Church (the Church outlasts every nation in history, no matter how mighty or determined to destroy the Church that nation is). We do not forget (hear the echoes of the “remembrance” from the Lord’s Supper, Luke 22:19//1 Corinthians 11:24,25) and therefore are held in the new covenant. The continued existence of those who hate us is Christ’s preserving grace to us.

“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24).

Rather than hand-wringing, give Him thanks and purpose to grow in faithfulness to Him and His mission (to see some from out of His enemies saved). Instead of scattering (a sign of judgment from the Mediator-King), let us gather in Him.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Two Ways Out of Joppa

A good woman had died. She is described in Scripture as “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9:36). Her fellow believers were of such faith, that after her body had been prepared for burial, they called for the apostle Peter to come from a nearby town to where they were – in Joppa, a town on the Mediterranean. Peter “arose and went with” the messengers who came to summon him. God uses the apostle to bring the woman back to life. As a result, “many believed on the Lord” (9:42). I’m struck by the contrast between Peter’s journey to Joppa and an earlier trip to this seaport in Scripture.

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).

(Almost as an aside, notice: for God, wickedness is the magnet for mission. Their exceeding wickedness is what God uses to bring the missionary, the command to “repent,” and salvation of that generation to Nineveh. Yes, the “nice” neighborhoods are filled with lost people who need Jesus, but God repeatedly speaks of the throne room of heaven echoing with the sounds of wickedness from notorious locales – Genesis 18:20; Ezra 9:6; James 5:4; Revelation 18:5. Sometimes He responds in His beautiful grace by sending a command to repent.)

Whereas Jonah, a “celebrity” preacher in his day (2 Kings 14:25), goes to Joppa to “flee...from the presence of the LORD,” the apostle Peter answers the call to Joppa for a cause seemingly even more hopeless than Nineveh’s spiritual deadness (Tabitha’s physical deadness). The result is an extension of earthly life for Tabitha and faith in Jesus Christ among many in Joppa. But that’s just a prelude to the real story: the fullness of God’s plan to save a people for Himself from out of all the peoples of the world, a plan going back to Genesis 9:26,26; 12:3.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.’ And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:1-8).

Peter then sees a vision while praying on the roof. The point of the vision? “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (10:15). How does God “cleanse”? He cleanses “hearts by faith” (15:9), regardless of the ethnicity, nationality, or sinfulness of those hearts. How does God bring that faith into lives so that their hearts can be cleansed? The sending of the preacher to proclaim “glad tidings of good things” contained solely in “the Word of God” (Romans 10:9-17).

After getting to Joppa, Jonah took a ship to go to (what was for him) the end of the world to escape God’s plan of salvation. Peter prayed to draw closer to God, and the doors to the fullness of the Age of the Gospel opened: “Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.’ Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, ‘Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?’ And they said, ‘Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.’ Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him” (Acts 10:17-23).

For Jonah, it was Joppa to “the belly of Sheol...the moorings of the mountains...the pit” (Jonah 2:2,6). For the apostle Peter, it was the joy of being instrument and eyewitness to God’s grand work to redeem “to God by [Christ’s] blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), in short, to bless “the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3; Paul calls this the Gospel in Galatians 3:8).

God got Jonah to Nineveh, and the result was the repentance of a generation (Nineveh would be destroyed by God’s judgment against their sin in the following generation). Peter, who himself had a history of running from God (Matthew 26:69-75//Mark 14:66-72//Luke 22:54-62), by simply going when God said “go,” got to see God “save the world” (John 12:47).

The Lord still says, “go.” Which way out of Joppa will you take, Church?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gog and the Lord's Prayer

I was going to read out 1 Chronicles this morning, and didn’t get very far.

“The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras” (1 Chronicles 1:5//Genesis 10:2, N.K.J.V.).

Having just finished spending most of the year preaching Genesis 1-12, these names were fresh on my mind. I knew a hung-over Noah had blessed Japheth not only with great numbers, but also a place in the tents of the covenant people of Yahweh (Genesis 9:26,27). But what about the rest of the family of Japheth, the ones who were not brought into the camp of the saints by faith? I know their story.

Ezekiel 38-39.

Revelation 20:7-10.

The peoples who do not enter the camp of the saints by faith will seek to destroy it by force. They will fail.

While reading the Ezekiel chapters again, I noticed a promise of God in the midst of it all. The Lord Yahweh promises to bring the unbelievers against His people (Satan and the nations only think they’re calling the shots) and then explains why He is doing it: “ that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes” (38:16).

The gathering of the nations against the people of Messiah, the Christ, is God’s providential answer to two things: a question and a prayer.

It is the answer to the question of the second song of the Psalter:
“Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.’
He Who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The LORD shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress  them in His deep displeasure:
‘Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion’” (Psalm 2:1-6).

They “rage” and “plot” so that they will come to know God (not savingly, but know Him as absolute Sovereign and Judge) and "so that" He will be made holy before them.

This antichrist(ian) gathering is the answer to the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9//Luke 11:2).

The citizens of the camp of the saints have prayed from the very beginning that God’s name be made holy. The answer from heaven to that fundamental and timeless prayer is the gathering of the nations to surround the camp of the saints, seeking their destruction. “ that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes” (38:16). The rallying of the nations against the camp is the granting of the First Petition, and the prayer of the First Petition results in the besieging of the camp.

It is God’s plan for the display of His glorious holiness before all the nations. Do not despair, but praise His holy name!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Image of God and Dominion

I meet Thursdays with a small group of men at a local coffee shop to discuss Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (1939). Last week we read the section on the image of God (imago Dei) in human beings. I was just a little irked that the Dutchman was very reluctant concerning the view that I personally hold: the image of God in man is primarily the dominion he was to hold over all creation.

He started out in his historical summary of the doctrine: “The Socinians and some of the earlier Arminians taught that the image of God consisted only in man’s dominion over the lower creation” (pg. 203). Yeah, I didn’t appreciate being lumped in with these guys.

Later, Berkhof – still seeming reluctant – discusses the reasoning why dominion is considered a possible aspect of the image Dei: “There is considerable difference of opinion as to whether man’s dominion over the lower creation also formed a part of the image of God. This is not surprising in view of the fact that Scripture does not express itself explicitly on this point. Some regard the dominion in question simply as an office conferred on man, and not as a part of the image. But notice that God mentions man’s creation in the divine image and his dominion over the lower creation in a single breath, Gen. 1:26. It is indicative of the glory and honour with which man is crowned, Ps. 8:5,6” (pg. 205). Honestly, the fact that the imago Dei and dominion are mentioned in the same God-breath should mean that the issue is profoundly settled, and that any discussion of the topic ought to start here and only very reluctantly leave! I’ll return to this in a moment, but I seriously wonder how Berkhof can say “that Scripture does not express itself explicitly on this point”?!

“To sum up it may be said that the image consists: (a) In the soul or spirit of man, that is, in the qualities of simplicity, spirituality, invisibility, and immortality. (b) In the psychical powers or faculties of man as a rational and moral being, namely, the intellect and the will with their functions. (c) In the intellectual and moral integrity of man’s nature, revealing itself in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. (d) In the body, not as a material substance, but as the fit organ of the soul, sharing its immortality; and as the instrument through which man can exercise dominion over the lower creation. (e) In man’s dominion over the earth. In opposition to the Socinians, some Reformed scholars went too far in the opposite direction, when they regarded this dominion as something that did not belong to the image at all but was the result of a special disposal of God” (pg. 207). Berkhof himself seems to have been influenced by this going “too far,” but at least he included dominion in his summation.

I’m not saying that the imago Dei is limited solely to dominion (I think Berkhof does a good job covering the other possibilities and their biblical basis), but consider it to be the scripturally primary and foundational aspect.

In the dawning days of the new creation, the second Adam gives His spiritual children a “Great Commission” (the new covenant version of Genesis 1:28). It is framed by the dominion He holds as the Man in perfect reflection of God’s image (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3): 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).

(By the way, the plural pronouns of Genesis 1:26 find their echo in the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 in the creation of a new humanity at the head of the new creation.)

Dominion is one of the foundational biblical principles behind the idea of “good news,” or Gospel: “How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).

The imago Dei in the second Adam is manifested in His absolute authority over all of Creation. He is “the ruler of 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 descendant of David” (the eschatological King, 22:16). Remember, too, that Jesus, sole authoritative Exegete of the Father (John 1:18), speaks constantly of “Kingdom” during His earthly ministry (something near 120 times!).

From the standpoint of a thoroughgoing biblical theology, dominion should be viewed as the chief aspect of the imago Dei. Humanity was to display the absolute sovereignty and reign of God on His eternal throne. We cannot think of ourselves without thinking of the King.

As I told the men last Thursday morning, the idea of the imago Dei is not just abstraction. Berkhof rightly touches on the moral/ethical implication when he says, “the doctrine of the image of God in man is of the greatest importance in theology, for that image is the expression of that which is most distinctive in man and in his relation to God” (pg. 206). He further points out that “the Bible represents murder as the destruction...of the image of God in man, Gen. 9:6” (pg. 205). I made the point to the men that how we define personhood and what our attitude is toward persons is determined largely by our doctrine of the imago Dei. What qualifies as “human” and how humans are to be treated is on the forefront of our society’s ethical identity crisis.

Well, that basically where it ended in the coffee shop the other day, but I’ve been thinking about it further since then, convinced that I was missing something obvious and more basic to the discussion. I think I found it today while splitting some firewood for kindling in the backyard this morning.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule...’” (Genesis 1:26).  Perhaps more foundational to the doctrine of imago Dei is not what it is, exactly, but the fact that it is fact as a result of the proclamation of God. There needs to be a logocentric point at the base level of any consideration of this doctrine, I would think. The creation of God’s image in humanity at creation and the new humanity in the new creation is Word-based. When we are Word-centered, thinking God’s thoughts after Him, seeking to obey what He has commanded, aligning our relationships according to His revealed will, and viewing everything by a Word-created worldview, we will most accurately embody the imago Dei in this life. Merely exercising dominion, having morality, self-aware intelligence, respect for our bodies, existing in community (Berkhof didn’t mention this one, but I’ve read it in later 20th century systematic theologies), or any other option in the discussion of this doctrine, are all worthless unless they grow out of the presence of Scripture alone. “God said” must be the ground of our self-understanding as the imago Dei. As the apostle Peter said, “you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). It comes through the Christian community: “...this is the word which was preached to you” (1:25). The imago Dei is the presence of that Word which is God’s.

The imago Dei is introduced by its ground, “God said,” not just in the Scripture, but in truth (for the “Word is truth,” John 17:17). It is not subject to our manipulation, our redefinition, our opinion, or our preferences.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Her Children Rise Up and Bless Her

“But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26).

I love this verse. I love it more and more as I get older and fall more and more in love with the Church.

Here’s Martin Luther’s comment on this passage: “...this heavenly Jerusalem which is above, is the Church, that is to say, the faithful dispersed throughout the whole world, which have one and the same Gospel, one and the same faith in Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same Sacraments. Therefore understand not this word ‘above,’ αναγωγικως, of the triumphant heaven; but of the militant Church on earth. For the godly are said to have their conversation in heaven, Philippians 3: ‘Our conversation is in heaven,’ not locally, but in that a Christian believeth, in that he layeth hold of those inestimable, those heavenly and eternal gifts, he is in heaven. Ephesians 1: ‘Which hath blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.’ We must therefore distinguish the heavenly and spiritual blessing from the earthly. For the earthly blessing is to have a good civil government both in commonweals and families; to have children, peace, riches, fruits of the earth, and other corporal commodities. But the heavenly blessing is to be delivered from the Law, sin, and death; to be justified and quickened to life; to have peace with God; to have a faithful heart, a joyful conscience and a spiritual consolation; to have the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the gift of prophecy, and the revelation of the Scriptures, to have the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and to rejoice in God. These are the heavenly blessings which Christ giveth to His Church. Wherefore Jerusalem above, that is to say, the heavenly Jerusalem, is the Church which is now in the world...the new and heavenly Jerusalem which is a queen and a free-woman, is appointed of God in earth and now in heaven, to be the mother of us all, of whom we have been gendered, and yet daily are gendered. Therefore it is necessary that this our mother should be in earth among men, as also her generation is. Notwithstanding she gendereth by the Holy Ghost, by the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, and not in the flesh” (from lectures at the University of Wittenberg in 1531, first published 1535).

The Church on earth is a heavenly institution, for its members receive identity and benefit from above. It is the result of our union with Christ, Who is at the right hand of the Father. This accomplished work – our being made part of the heavenly Church currently on pilgrimage down here – should remain an encouragement to us as we continue along the Way:
  • “...God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
  • “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
  • “ have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22).

On my run yesterday I followed a new trail up a ridge. It was steep, and the barely-there trail was lined with cat-claw. When I finally made it to the top, a long stretch of the trail was still very muddy after a rain a week ago. The sludge stuck to my shoes, making running feel like clomping. Didn’t matter. The 360° view was exhilarating. I could see the townsite where I live two miles away from a totally different perspective. I could count distant mountain ranges in a few seconds all around. Beautiful. Exertion, scratches, and weighted down by mud...didn’t matter. The view from the top made me feel like I was flying.

Biblical truth on our heavenly estate ought to be received by faith. We should remind ourselves of it often (like the self-talking “O my soul” of the Psalmist). It should become our worldview.

The Church used of God the Holy Spirit to birth you through the Word and Sacraments has a heavenly address. “Her children rise up and bless her” (Proverbs 31:28). Well, we are risen. Where's the blessing? May it be so. It’s easy, popular, conformist, and natural to our flesh to criticize and hate on the Church (ignoring the fact that we are her children – our criticism makes us look very foolish since it reflects on us). Change your vision and speak transcendent truth over and about the Church. Is it possible that this would cleanse her of the clinging mud more effectively than our sarcasm, grumbling, and skepticism (since when is it good for us to be in agreement with the evaluation of the world)? I have found that most of the things that irritate me about the Church can be traced back to my own prayerlessness, lack of faith, lack of love, pride, etc. Tripping over my eye (Matthew 5:29), dark-eye (6:22,23), plank-in-the-eye (Matthew 7:3-5), you know.

Rise up, Church. Look up, Church. Walk upward, Church. Let this become your worldview, manifesting itself through your speech, attitudes, and actions.

This is freedom, for she is free. Paul and Luther (merely echoing Paul) speak truth.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Choking on the Psalm

“O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.
And my soul is greatly dismayed;
But You, O LORD - how long?
Return, O LORD, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?
I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.
Depart from me, all you who do iniquity,
For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my supplication,
The LORD receives my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed;
They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed” (Psalm 6:1-10).

Me. My favorite topic. That’s how I consistently want to read the Scripture – through the interpretive framework of the most important person in the universe. Me, me, me. Then I get to verse 8a, where the Psalmist says, “depart from me, all you who do iniquity.” My first instinct is to think of all those workers of iniquity I’d like to banish from my presence. Nasty sinners. Mean people. Insensitive grumps. Ignorant Philistines. That’s the instinct. My self-centered, self-righteous, foolish, and sinful instinct. Because even as I try to pray this phrase as my own, I hear a much more authoritative Voice speaking these words...

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; [as it says in Psalm 6:8a] depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:15-23).

Oh. This isn’t my Psalm. It’s my Lord’s song and prayer. A Psalm of David, the prophet of the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 2:30,31). Now I have to go back and re-read the Psalm, hearing my Master and Savior pray it in the long dark nights between dealing patiently with the needy and slow-to-believe. I have to hear His voice as He is hounded by the religious proud in their schemes. As He is rejected. Condemned. Scorned. Shamed. As He receives the cup – my cup (the one place I can say “me” is in the deserved wrathful dregs) – from His Father. As the Father rejects Him because of my iniquity, my lawlessness.

It’s not my song. It’s His.

“Return, O LORD, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (6:4,5).

And because it’s the song of His perfect, sinless, beloved Son, the Father hears the prayer and there is a third day, a resurrection day, the Lord’s Day.

“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7).

He sang the song, and He was heard. Hallelujah, He was heard!

“For the LORD has heard the voice of My weeping.
The LORD has heard My supplication,
The LORD receives My prayer” (Psalm 6:8b,9).

In the midst of this is the command to “depart from Me, all you who do iniquity.” When the Lord quotes it to His disciples, He says, “you who practice lawlessness” (those whose religion is the twisting, perverting, ignoring, and breaking of God’s Law).

The Psalm teaches us that the resurrection is an announcement of judgment against the enemies of the risen Christ. He will give command that His angels remove the lawless from His Kingdom (Matthew 13:41), for He hates lawlessness (Hebrews 1:9, quoting Psalm 45:7).

Lest this “Lord’s Prayer” become a cause of deep grief, beloved...

...remember the blessing: “But to the one who does not work [for his salvation], but believes in Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David [in Psalm 32:1,2] also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’ Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say [with Genesis 15:6], ‘faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He Who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:5-12,23-25).

...remember the great purchase: “...our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus...gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13,14).

...remember the covenant with every lifting of the cup (for the cup points to the blood of the covenant, Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25): “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying [in Jeremiah 31:33,34], ‘“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,” says the Lord: “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:15-25).

Ah, the daily reading of the Psalms for this sinner: taking a big, deep breath to sing it out loudly from a self-centered heart, only to have the words get caught in my throat, choking on the Psalm, as I realize the Lord prayed them concerning me, the sinner, and then to realize that in the Father answering this petition from the Son through resurrection, I have life, too. It is beautiful beyond art and infinitely wiser than merely human words. It is gracious beyond what even the most perfect me I can imagine could ever deserve. It is the barest of tastes of how the days of eternity will be spent, for “in the ages to come He [will] show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

He is good, and His merciful covenant-love endures forever and ever and ever...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pentecost and Baptists

The deepest, most impactful, and assured fellowship with God through His Son has always occurred in the context of His Word. Reading it, meditating on it, and teaching/preaching it has always brought me into intimate fellowship with God (through the Person of His Holy Spirit) and other believers. This is perfectly reasonable since the Author of the Word indwells the believers who read that Word.

I’ve wondered about Acts 2:39 several times over the years. What did it mean that “the promise” (the Holy Spirit) was not just for the elect from the Jewish people, but their children, as well? I had always suspected it to be connected to Paul’s “Jew first” statements in Romans (1:16; 2:9,10). There was a sort of “priority of opportunity” for the Jewish people in relation to the Gospel because of their history with the covenant God all the way back to Adam, Seth, and so forth. However, the other day I was listening to some fellow believers (I was running, they were podcasting), and one of them alluded to this passage as a defense for pedobaptism. It was a good podcast – I appreciated their emphasis on the similarities between Reformed credobaptism and pedobaptism. But hearing this passage read aloud by someone else helped it “click” for me.

The inclusion of the “children” in this passage isn’t because they were to receive the “promise” through their parents, but because of who they were: old covenant Jews. Peter is teaching them that, under the new covenant, their children’s old covenant sign (circumcision) wasn’t going to be valid. They needed the new covenant sign and seal, baptism.

“Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language...Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in of Israel, listen to these words...let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus Whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized...’” (Acts 2:5,6,14,22,36-41).

Basics. Who’s speaking? Peter (2:14). To whom is the apostle speaking? Old covenant Jews. He is not speaking to the Church – it is the Church which is speaking (not just Peter, but all those who had received the Spirit, 2:4,7,11,15). He is speaking to those still living under the old covenant. Under the old covenant, those male “children” had received the sign of that covenant at eight days old (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:1-3). Peter, in his Pentecost message, teaches discontinuity between the old and new covenants in regard to the sign.

While under the old covenant the “children” would have been included in the covenant by a sign administered to them on the eighth day of life, the new covenant required repentance prior to the administration of the covenant (Acts 2:38; the repentance is the result of the effectual call of God, 2:39, which manifests in a believing reception of the Word, 2:41). Baptism follows effectual calling, believing reception of the Word, and repentance. This is a discontinuity between the old and new covenant, and so Peter tells those who had an old covenant understanding that their “children” would receive the “promise” not in virtue of their being “children” (“circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel,” Philippians 3:5), but as a result of effectual calling resulting in reception of the Word, repentance, and baptism.

Children are included in Peter’s exhortation because they had received the seal of the old covenant (circumcision), but now needed to receive the new covenant seal (baptism), which came through a reception of the Word resulting in repentance.

So, the Jews and their children (under the old covenant) and Gentiles (“all who are far off,” 2:39) all come into the new covenant the same way, and that way is not as they came into it under the old covenant. Peter is teaching discontinuity.

Hear the Word of Christ. Believe. Repent. Be baptized, and enter the new covenant community of the Holy Spirit.

Peter, when he addresses “you and your children” in Acts 2:39, is not speaking to Presbyterians. He is speaking to old covenant Jews who need to understand the differences between the old and new covenant signs and how/when they are received. He’s telling them they need to become Baptists (I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek, but only partially) – hear, believe, be baptized.

Another thought came to me on this run. Presbyterians pose the question to Baptists about our children. If they aren’t “covenant children,” are they no different than the children of unbelievers? How horrible is that? Under the old covenant, children had covenantal status, but under the new they’re just run-of-the-mill pagans? How is the new covenant an improvement if this is true? Under the old covenant, of course, the circumcised were still required to hear, believe, and obey the Law when they reached the “age of accountability” (the existence of which I have no trouble affirming, cf. Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:15,16). We Baptists assert that the “children” of the new covenant are spiritual children, since the covenant is not bound to one ethnicity (extended family), but all peoples.

What about the biological children of Baptists? Yes, they are unregenerate until they hear, believe, and are baptized. Do they have an advantage over children of unbelievers? Yes, and there’s a New Testament category of person who is comparable: the old covenant Jew.

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1,2). Does this “advantage” make them part of the new covenant? No. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28,29).

The children of Baptists have an advantage in that they are made familiar from an early age with the Word of God (an advantage the children of unbelievers do not have). “...from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The status of Jews in the New Testament informs us about the status of unregenerate children of believers. They know of God and the Word, but are not yet reborn.

Now, I’m not trying to enter into debate about this with my pedobaptist brothers and sisters. We haven’t resolved this between our “tribes” in four centuries, and I don’t expect an anonymous and insignificant blogpost to change the status quo. But, last week, a Presbyterian quoted a passage, a Baptist heard it, and a light came on for the Baptist concerning that very passage. And the Baptist finished his run pretty excited about his confession. God is good, and His Church is beautiful (even in her differences).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mealtime Meditation on Madison

“So, I read James Madison’s first inaugural address today.” That was my offering to the family at dinner last week. That led to speculation about what exactly Dolley Madison saved when the British invaded Washington D.C. in 1814...well, that’s what the wife and children discussed. I contributed a few thoughts about Dolly Madison snack cakes. It was a productive discussion. The family figured out it was a portrait of George Washington. The snack company went out of business a few years ago.

The “Father of the Bill of Rights,” in that inauguration speech, didn’t say was three pages long (brevity, the best sort of politician’s speech). But the fourth president of the United States of America still managed to describe the foundational ideals that guided him, including religious liberty: “Assuring myself, that under every vicissitude, the determined spirit and united Councils of this nation, will be safeguards to its honor and its essential interests, I repair to the post assigned me, with no other discouragement, than what springs from own inadequacy to its high duties. If I do not sink under the weight of this deep conviction, it is because I find some support in a consciousness of the purposes, and a confidence in the principles which I bring with me into this arduous hold the Union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people, as equally incorporated with, and essential to the success of, the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with the rights of conscience, or the functions of religion so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction...the source to which I look for the aids which alone can supply my deficiencies, is in the well tried intelligence and virtue of my fellow Citizens, and in the Councils of those representing them, in the other Departments associated in the care of the national interests. In these my confidence will, under every difficulty be best placed; next to that which we have all been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future” (March 4, 1809).

Prior to the ratification of the Bill of Rights, then-U.S. Representative (Virginia) Madison wrote against taxation of Virginians in support of religious congregations. The tax he opposed was mandatory, even though the citizens could designate which church was supported by the monies. After seeing the persecution of Baptists in Virginia by the established church (Anglican), Madison remained consistently opposed to any civil involvement in religion, be it supposedly positive (financial support of the church) or negative (government oppression of particular religions). “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe...we maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance...if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body...the preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants” (“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” June 20, 1785).

The fruit of this conviction became foundational to this nation a few years later: “The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution... Congress [this was back when the government and the people knew who made the laws in this nation] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances...” (“Bill of Rights,” ratified in 1791).

While we should all be thankful that religious liberty was a conviction of Madison’s, it certainly wasn’t new: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also” (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 21.2 – the Baptists eliminated the clause found in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 which called upon the civil magistrate to be involved in maintained order, unity, and discipline in the churches).

Neither is this conviction concerning religious liberty an old one: “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, 17).

Religious liberty. May it continue in this nation and spread throughout the world in the generations to come. This is, I believe, the apostle Paul’s chief concern as he tells the church to pray.

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1,2a). Sometimes we stop there in our reading, interpreting Paul to mean that we pray for civil leaders either for their own sake or for the good of the nation. What the apostle says afterwards should refine our understanding of his command to pray.

“ that [what follows is the reason for the command to pray] we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (2:2b-7).

We pray for civil leaders so that we may lead a peaceful life, but even this is not the end of Paul’s reasoning (his concern isn’t for our comfort). This peaceful life is for the sake of the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “all men.” The same God Who has ordained this in the current Gospel Age is the One Who calls preachers, missionaries (apostles), and teachers to proclaim Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:1-8 is about religious liberty for the sake of missions/evangelism.

The apostle closes out this section by returning to his original command in a tidy book-end: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (2:8).

Religious liberty. We pray for it and work for it, not primarily for our own personal freedom, but for the sake of the spread of the Gospel to those who have yet to hear it proclaimed. Our primary motivator for advocating religious liberty is the desire of “God our Savior” to have Christ, the “one mediator...between God and men” proclaimed everywhere.

This also means that if we aren’t focused on missions and evangelism, we are wasting this most rare and precious of freedoms.

Keep it at the forefront of your prayers, Church. Work hard at preserving it as your birthright and inheritance, U.S. citizens.

By the way...after telling my kids about religious liberty, they tried to discuss the War of 1812 and I tried to tell them about snack cakes. Seriously. Someone's got to be the adult.