Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:4

“…having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:4).

I am thankful that the Son is not mere messenger.[1] He is the eternal Son of God, one of three divine Persons Who are personally distinct yet at the same time are one God.

Why is the Son’s superiority to angels the first apologetic to which the writer will commit lengthy ink (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit)? The same reason most of the New Testament letters are written: to address error in practice or confession.

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day -  things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head [Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:10], from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) - in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:16-23). I include this long quote to show that the heresy Paul is fighting is not Gnosticism (some people see Gnosticism on every page of the New Testament, though the text itself doesn’t explicitly speak of this belief-system). The heresy is a Judaizing heresy, like most we encounter in the New Testament. The transition from the old covenant (and all the man-made traditions which had been attached to it) to the new covenant was not easy for the New Testament generation. The very first Church Council (Acts 15) had to address it.[2] This Judaizing heresy apparently included “the worship of angels.” What could this be? We don’t see any examples described for us of this sort of worship in the New Testament. Granted, there are innumerable examples of idolatrous worship in the Old Testament, but surely the Jews of the New Testament were no longer idolatrous, were they?

I think they were. But their idol was a little more difficult to battle.

Let’s look at three interesting passages that reveal something about Jewish thinking in the first century A.D. relevant to our meditation today:
  • “…you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:53).
  • “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator [Moses], until the Seed [Christ] would come to Whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19).
  • “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty” (Hebrews 2:2).

We see in Matthew 23:16-22 that there was a tendency among first century A.D. Jewish worshipers to make actions of devotion on lesser things (gold instead of temple, offering instead of altar, temple instead of the temple-Dweller, heaven instead of God and His throne). I believe that’s what’s behind this angel worship: their idol had become the Law by this time (and their interpretations/traditions attached to it), and since angels were part of its revelation to man, angels received adoration.[3] This is why it was important for Paul to attack angel worship in the Church in Colossae, and why the writer of Hebrews wants to be exceedingly clear that Jesus is infinitely greater than angels. Law-worshipers worshiped the angels who brought the Law; Jesus is not just an angelic messenger, but is the Son Who is eternal God.[4]

This is the seventh day of Christmas (swans a-swimming day), and as we continue to remember the coming of the Son into the world, let us make the connection between His humiliation (which began at the incarnation) and exaltation. The only proper response is worship and allegiance.

Because of Jesus’ humiliation from the incarnation to death on the cross, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10,11). This is the same point the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has just made: this Son Who is God’s final Word, the Mediator of creation, the One Who came down to earth to make “purification for sins” (1:4), is now the One Who is seated at the highest place of authority in the heavens and earth. Praise Him with great praise, Him Who is infinitely greater than the angels!

“Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to Him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creatures” (1689 Baptist Confession, 22.2). Praise nothing less than God Who is Trinity. As result of His eternally divine nature, worship the Son.

Angels themselves do not permit any to worship them (Revelation 19:10; 22:8,9).[5] They recognize the Creator-creature distinction. They are creatures. Magnificent creatures with power and glory beyond our current comprehension. But just creatures. And creatures are not to be worshiped.

The eternal Son, however, has because of His birth, life, atoning death, resurrection, and ascension, has received a name – CHRIST (God’s anointed serpent-crushing Seed-of-the-woman King of all heaven and all earth). And at that name, let us worship.
One Lord's Day morning earlier this year, I
saw this in the sky over the front yard: a hole in
the clouds permitted the sunrise (behind me)
to shine through. Remarkable.

[1] This is what the word “angel” means: messenger. It means this in the Old Testament Hebrew word (מלאך) and the New Testament Greek word (αγγελος). In fact, the English word is just a cognate borrowed from the Greek.
[2] It’s still a danger today with those Christians who would read the Old Testament other than in the light of Christ as revealed in the New Testament, and those who would build a modern society of laws based on the old covenant civil code.
[3] I think this is what’s behind the phrase “the tongues…of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1). It’s Hebrew, the language in which the Law of Moses was given. This has a role to play in the greater section 1 Corinthians 12-14 and the tongues controversy, but that’s a tale for another day.
[4] This is a germane point in today’s world because of Islam. In the same passages which condemn Trinitarian theology, Jesus is also relegated to being mere messenger of Allah: “Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not ‘Trinity.’ Desist: it will be better for you, for Allah is One Allah. Glory be to him (for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all things in the heavens and on earth…they disbelieve who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity, for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to Allah and seek His forgiveness? For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Christ the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the Messengers that passed away before him...” (4.171; 5:72-74, Yusef Ali translation). The Muslim Jesus is less than Allah (certainly not of the same divine essence from all eternity), and is in equal status with other supernaturally-given messengers.
[5] Human messengers do not permit this, either, if they are truly messengers of God (Acts 10:25,26; 14:11-15).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:3

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:3).

I am thankful that to see God, I need only to look to the Son. When I look at the Son, my spiritual sight is then drawn to the Father Who sent His Son (John 1:18; 14:9). When I look at the Son, I do so by the Son-given Spirit Who also inspired the Word which reveals the Son. Glorious Trinity! The “doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him…religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to Him alone” (1689 Baptist Confession, 2.3; 22.2). Praise Him with great praise! If 1:1 is the Old Testament, then remember that 1:2 is the God’s final all-sufficient Word the Son in the New Testament. There Jesus is revealed to us fully, and He is all we need to see to see God. We also learn how we are to live and the people of the Son. Praise Him for this full life in the glory and nature of God!

I am thankful that He “upholds all things by the word of His power.” The Son as mediatorial Creator is not a single past-time event. It is continual. Nothing exists outside of the unceasing creative power of the Son Who is the Word of God (Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-3). He, being fully God, is infinitely greater than this entire universe. I remember reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time long, long ago. The goal of his work as a theoretical physicist was to construct a picture of “a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do.”[1] Nothing new there. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) also believed in an eternal creation, making creation the Absolute instead of any Creator. The apostle explains it this way a few centuries later: “…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, Who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:20-25). The response to an unimaginably large and complex and varied creation is to be utterly awed by the Absolute and infinitely greater Creator… to “honor Him as God” and “give thanks.” Praise Him with great praise, for all that is exists derivatively from the One Who is Being. Not only that, but if the Word of God Who is eternally One with God continuously creates this universe, what can His perfectly-inspired written Word do in our lives by the power of the Spirit He has given us?

I am thankful that He has fully accomplished the “purification of sins.” This is the sixth day of Christmas (“geese a-laying” day), the sixth day celebrating His coming. The Son is the Law-Giver.[2] All of us have violated that Law. He came to this world to pay the penalty for the lawlessness of His people (Matthew 1:21). Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin (1 John 3:5). This Good News is built on the foundation of God’s speaking in Hebrews 1:1. The Fall, the Law, the sacrifices for violations of that Law, the Promise of a final Prophet, Priest, and King…all of these are in the revelations God made to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (1:1). And this points to my infinitely-heavy debt to God for violating His Law. He is worthy of praise in the Big Story and in my personal Small Story, for He is the Resolution of my greatest problem: lawlessness before the Law-Giver.

I am thankful that when I consider the power and authority over the entire universe, I rest in the fact that He is also the One “Who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). The more and more I read the Book, the more and more I see His absolute sovereignty revealed to us. It is on the first page, where being made by the plural Him in His “image” and “likeness” is immediately followed by the decree “let them rule” (Genesis 1:26) – His image is sovereignty. It is on the last page, where “the root and the descendant of David” (Revelation 22:16) is prayed to (showing His divinity) with the supplication, “come, Lord Jesus” (22:20), and is the Source of all we need, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (22:21).[3] He is sitting down at the highest place of authority in the universe. He is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet (Ephesians 1:21,22). He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). The resurrected Lord tells the eleven on that hill in Galilee, “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth(Matthew 28:18). Resting by faith in this truth is the greatest praise I can offer Him this day.
Antelope on the run.

[1] Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), x.
[2] “…Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver” (1689 Baptist Confession, 19.3).
[3] Jesus as Fulfillment of the Davidic covenant is a massively important and relevant doctrine that I’ve only really awakened to in the last few years. He is identified in the first words of the New Testament as “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1), and, as I cited above, He is identified according to the Davidic covenant on the last page of the New Testament. The Davidic covenant is invoked in one of Paul’s earliest works (Romans 1:3) and one of his latest (2 Timothy 2:8). It is relevant because Christians are so obsessed with the earthly rulers and powers that I fear they spend very little time resting in the only eternal King and His current absolute power.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:2

“…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2).

I am thankful that the Son is the final Word. “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I). While 1:1 spoke of the Old Testament, 1:2 speaks of the New Testament, which gives us the direct sun which caused the shadows of the Old Testament. We now see clearly. Through His apostolic writers, the Holy Spirit has given us a Word all-sufficient and adequate for “these last days.” He has provided all we need, and is with us as we open the Book together to grow in knowledge of the Son to the glory of the Father. Praise Him for His Christ-centered plan (thank goodness it’s not about me) and provision!

I am thankful that this Son is Inheritor of all. It’s all His by right. They thought they would take His kingdom by killing Him (Matthew 21:38). Ah, but the Father has given all things into His ever-living hands (John 13:3), including authority over all flesh (John 17:2). And – I can scarcely begin to consider it – as children of God in Christ, we are called co-heirs (Romans 8:17)…I fear thinking too much on this lest I fall into foolishness, but I am confident it is a hope worth perseverance and endurance (read here for some thoughts on the Table and our sharing in His sufferings as co-heirs). Praise Him for His rightful ownership and authority over all, for He is just and wise and good!

I am thankful that this remarkable creation I love so much is not the result of blind, cold natural law or exceedingly improbable chance, but of a Person, the Son (John 1:3,10; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16,17; Hebrews 1:10). Being made through the One Who would be declared Christ, I like to say that creation is Christian. Here, though, the Holy Spirit tells us that the Father created time through the mediation of His Son: “…through Whom also He did make the ages [τους αιωνας]” (Young’s Literal Translation). He is the eternally divine Person Who is Master of all ages and moments: “All things come to pass unchangeably and certainly in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, Who is the first cause. Thus, nothing happens to anyone by chance or outside of God’s providence. Yet by the same providence God arranges all things to occur according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or in response to other causes” (1689 Baptist Confession, 5.2). See also Psalm 139:16; Daniel 2:21; Acts 17:26. Time and history are the result of the Father’s creation according to His perfect plan through the continual mediation of His Son, Who is the goal of time and history – including my small apportionment of that time and history. How could I not praise He Who alone is worthy? Every beat of the heart in my chest, every second that passes on the clock, He owns. He purposed it, made it, and destined it to bring Him ultimate glory. Be in awe, grow in your faith, and praise Him with great praise!
Cottonwood gold reflected in Bear Canyon Reservoir.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:1

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways…” (Hebrews 1:1).

I am thankful God speaks. Who He is and what He demands from His creation (for demanding is His absolute right as Creator) is not left to our imagination or speculation. He reveals Himself and teaches us how to understand all that He has made and done. His speech is a graceful stooping down from the infinite to the finite, from the eternal to this moment. Praise Him, for He speaks.

I am thankful God has preserved a people for Himself through the long ages past. They were just as messed up as we are, Church, but He preserved them and spoke to them and worked through them. To paraphrase Malachi 3:6, He is the One Who does not change. Ever. Because of that the “fathers” were not wiped out (even though they deserved it). And because of that we are not wiped out (even though we deserve it). He is steadfast and faithful, along with being good and gracious. Praise Him Who does not change as the faithful Preserver of His people.

I am thankful that when God spoke through the ages, He used flawed human beings from among His covenant people to give us a providentially arranged and Christ-centered Book without any error or inadequacy. The weird stuff’s there on purpose. So is the challenging stuff. So are the long lists of names and numbers. It all fits together describing His plan to sum up “all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things in the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). I love that plan because it’s far beyond what I can imagine. He “can do all things,” and “no purpose” of His “can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). He has spoken, and it’s perfectly about Christ. Praise Him for pointing us to His Son through the long ages past.

I am thankful for the artful and exquisite tapestry of the Bible, which is narrative, poetry, wisdom, law, and vision. He is the Artist. As if creation wasn’t enough, the magnificence of His Book delights the soul. I’ve spent the year reading Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness to my children. Finished last night. Tears came to my eyes on the last pages because of the words of a dead father to his eldest son through a letter…what moved me wasn’t words invented by Peterson, but the Scripture those words echoed. The astounding, heart-breaking, soul-healing, mind-training Art of the Absolute. Truth so beautiful and eternal. Praise Him for this.
Snowy mid-November scene on my commute...I never get tired
of seeing His handiwork on my daily drive!

Friday, December 11, 2015

The King, His Kingdom, and His Power

On the Lord’s Day nine days from now I’m speaking on the Davidic covenant from Romans 1:3, so I’ve been thinking about the importance of David in the Gospel. From the first chapter of the New Testament (Matthew 1:1) to the last (Revelation 22:16), God’s promise to David and its fulfillment in Christ is a massively important theme for the Book.

When we think about the Davidic covenant, I’ve usually limited my thinking to the King Himself.[1] Especially during this time of year, the Advent season, we read the promise of Gabriel, messenger of God, to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

Who was the king under the old covenant, and Who is the King under the new covenant?

David → Jesus Christ

Yesterday, meditating on the Davidic covenant, I began to think about the further implications beyond the King Himself.

Where was David’s throne under the old covenant, and where is the new David’s throne under the new covenant?

Enthroned in earthly Jerusalem → Enthroned in heavenly Jerusalem

While David reigned on his throne in the earthly Jerusalem under the old covenant (1 Kings 11:36; 1 Chronicles 23:25; 2 Chronicles 6:6; Jeremiah 3:17), the King of kings reigns on His throne in the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12; 21-22).

What was David’s kingdom under the old covenant, and where is the new David’s kingdom under the new covenant?

Reigning over Israel & Judah → Reigning over heaven and earth

During the regency of David and his son Solomon the boundaries of the kingdom expanded to the range promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:18; 1 Kings 4:21). But this was the old covenant. As Christ is infinitely greater than David, and the heavenly Jerusalemite throne is infinitely greater than the earthly Jerusalemite throne, so, too, is the new covenant kingdom exponentially greater than the old covenant kingdom.

The new covenant kingdom is not limited to a single nation, a single people-group, or a single piece of real estate. The new covenant kingdom is “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Why? Because that’s where the citizens of the kingdom are. They are from out of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) on earth. They are counted in heaven.

The “gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, Who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:1-3), is the same Gospel which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16). “The Jew…and also…the Greek” is a Pauline concept which means “all people groups.” The King is Jesus Christ, Seed of David. His throne is in heaven. His kingdom is over all of heaven and all of earth, and His loyal subjects are found scattered in every corner of the earth and enthroned in heaven. In the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul reminds us that the Gospel of the Son of David, the King, is the Gospel that is God’s very power. The power of His reign is the proclamation of His Gospel, not the strategies and means of worldly power. It is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed by His Church everywhere. And until we re-learn this lesson, Church, we will continue to see our power and influence get smaller and smaller.

Your efforts to rebuild the kingdoms of David, Solomon, and Constantine will fail, because each of these would be a pitiful, small, Gospel-denying step backwards.

It’s about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Imagine if our efforts, financial support, energy, and speech were thrown behind this evangelistic global mission as much as it is behind the little political games and conspiracies of the world system!

The Gospel, and nothing else, because it’s the means of the power of the King of kings throughout His all-encompassing Kingdom. Return to your Bibles, Church! Read the whole Book, Church! And repent. It's all bigger than you think it is, and the power is simpler (and mightier) than you think it is.

[1] The Davidic covenant is described in 2 Samuel 7:8-16; 1 Chronicles 17:1-14; Psalm 89:26-36; Acts 2:30. There are many, many other passages I could cite, as well, but these are the foundational ones.