Friday, January 29, 2016

Daily Reading, Biblical Theology, and Spirit-Given Exhortation

January 29. I read Psalm 29,59,89,149.[1] The apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 89 in his preaching of the Gospel. God’s covenant with David is actually a covenant with David’s Seed “according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3; 9:5). When we follow the apostles (who were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit) in “trying to persuade…concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23) we are walking a well-trod and ancient path. When we do this with fellow believers, we gift them with a whole Bible. Not just the four Gospels or the New Testament, but a whole Christian Bible. I rejoiced early yesterday morning to hear a fellow Bible teacher in this little town tell me the biblical maturity he’d seen in students who were beginning to grasp a whole-Bible Christian theology. Praise the Lord, and may the next generation of the Church know, preach, and obey the whole Book far more than us!

The covenants are the theological, God-ordained “glue” that holds the Old and New Testament together as the testimony of Jesus Christ. “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I).

I have found David My servant;
With My holy oil I have anointed him
With Whom My hand will be established;
My arm also will strengthen him.
The enemy will not deceive him,
Nor the son of wickedness afflict him.
But I shall crush his adversaries before him,
And strike those who hate him.
My faithfulness and My lovingkindness will be with him,
And in My name his horn will be exalted.
I shall also set his hand on the sea
And his right hand on the rivers.
He will cry to Me, ‘You are my Father,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.’
I also shall make him My firstborn,
The highest of the kings of the earth.
My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever,
And My covenant shall be confirmed to him.
So I will establish his descendants [lit., “Seed”] forever
And his throne as the days of heaven”
(Psalm 89:20-29).

Paul quotes this passage in his “word of exhortation” to the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.[2]

“Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. When He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance - all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’ From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus…brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him. And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus…David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He Whom God raised did not undergo decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:16-38).

Sunrise almost 3 weeks ago. The mountain (Cookes Peak) goes from shadow
to detailed definition in the full daylight (especially just before sunset). This is how
progressive revelation functions from the Old to New Testament.
God “found” David, and through the ever-living and ever-reigning Seed of David “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” Repent and believe in this Davidic King unto forgiveness and blissful eternal life before His Father.

[1] I try to read the Psalms daily in an x, x+30 pattern. Psalm 119 should have been in today’s line-up, but I save it for the 31st of the month and read it alone.
[2] Notice that this “exhortation” is not what we would call “practical” these days. It is pure biblical/covenantal theology. “Exhortation” is a work of the Holy Spirit, and it leads to the “increase” of the church (Acts 9:31). It causes joy (Acts 15:31). Remember Romans 15:4,5. This is the reason God gave the New Testament Church the gift of the Old Testament. This should be the substance of the Spirit-given prophecy in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:3).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise from Hebrews 1:10

“And [as is written in Psalm 102:25], ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands…’” (Hebrews 1:10).

I am thankful that all of creation is a testimony to not just a “Creator,” but specifically Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:10 is still the testimony of the Father concerning His Son, Who is one God with Him and at the same time personally distinct from Him. Now the Father uses the words of Psalm 102 as His testimony. In that Psalm, the Lord’s unchanging and eternal nature is contrasted with humanity’s temporary experience in this world.

“In the beginning God [the Father] created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said [the Word Who is God the Son]…” (Genesis 1:1-3).

“By the word [the Son] of the Lord [the Father] the heavens were made,
And by the breath
[the Spirit] of His mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3).

“…there is but one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

The Father’s “beloved Son…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:13-17).[1]

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 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. 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” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary
So that the water would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men”
(Proverbs 8:22-31).[2]

Jesus, the eternally divine God the Son, is the Mediator by which the Father created the universe. He is also the means by which the universe is maintained. This is not the main point of the Hebrews 1:10//Psalm 102:25 passage, however.

The main point of the text is to contrast Creator with creation, with His eternality and creation’s temporary nature.

The Psalmist feels this momentary existence in the world: “…my days have been consumed in smoke, and my bones have been scorched like a hearth. My heart has been smitten like grass and has withered away…He has weakened my strength in the way; He has shortened my days” (102:3,4,20). But he appeals to the God Who is not subject to this brief life. He is not part of creation, but is Creator. He is not aging through time, but is beyond time, Creator of time, and maintainer of the flow of time in its relationship with spatial reality. This is the Son, Who added humanity to His eternal Deity. The timeless One entered time. The Creator came into creation. We, in this short moment of weakness that we call life, appeal to this divine Son Who is Creator for all our help and salvation alone.

Looking toward southeast Arizona's mountain ranges
over the dust storms of the Lordsburg Playa.
And all that is around us exists to remind us of this truth, this reality, this relationship.

Praise Him with great praise.

[1] Christ as “firstborn of creation” doesn’t make Him part of creation. It makes Him both Source and Ruler of creation.
[2] I include this passage even though it is a poetic statement given by the personified Wisdom in Proverbs. It seems like it must in some way reflect the place of Christ in creation. The phrase “from everlasting I was established” does not endorse Arianism (modern Jehovah’s Witnesses), which states that there was a time when Jesus did not exist and a time when He was created. I affirm the eternal generation of the Son. He has always existed, and always existed as the only-begotten Son of the Father. There was never a time when He was not begotten, but has always been begotten of the Father. “In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, Who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him” (1689 Baptist Confession, 2.3).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:9

“…of the Son He says, ‘…You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions’” (Hebrews 1:8,9).

I am thankful for the Son’s passion for absolute truth and its application in judgment and righteousness – and that as a result of this the Father has enthroned His Son with a Spirit-filled gladness.

As the Father continues speaking of His Son in the letter to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit gives us the words of Psalm 45:7.

While in Hebrews 1:8//Psalm 45:6 the Father calls the Son “God,” in Hebrews 1:9//Psalm 45:7 the Father self-identifies as the God of the Son. Father and Son are both God. They are not two gods, for the Bible is abundantly clear that there is only one God. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. They are distinct Persons Who are both the one God.

A lot of people, including people who do not believe in Him or the Scripture which bears witness to Him, try to make statements about what Jesus is. They tell us that Jesus only helped people, affirmed people, never issued statements about sin or judgment, and was the very model of tolerance for today’s anything-goes society. However, the Bible – the only source for authoritative truth about Jesus – does not tell us of a Jesus Who looks exactly like the government-enforced tolerance of today. It tells us of a Jesus Who was zealous for the Law of His Father.

In the first sermon we have recorded from Jesus in “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 6:8] depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The Son, Who hates lawlessness (Hebrews 1:9), does not have a relationship with the lawless, and will not permit them in His royal presence in “the kingdom of heaven.” They won’t be there if they spurn the Law of God. Those who truly call Jesus “Lord” have a different relationship with the Law of God than the lost world: “…just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Romans 6:19).[1] Further, they have a different relationship with the world of the lawless: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘“I will dwell in them [Leviticus 26:12] and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate [Isaiah 52:11],” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

A day will come when the King Who hates lawlessness will separate pretenders out of His Kingdom: “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then [as it says in Daniel 12:3] the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:40-43).

Is this discussion only about Law – are we moving our Christianity into that hated camp of “Legalism” with all this talk of lawlessness and Jesus’ hatred of it? No.

In our congregation, we observe the Lord’s Supper every week. When we hold up the cup together, we hear Jesus’ words with that cup: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). We make a claim to the new covenant (and its promises) at the Table, a claim sealed by the blood of Jesus alone. One of those promises graciously frees us from our lawlessness: “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying [in Jeremiah 31:33], ‘“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 [in Jeremiah 31:34], ‘“And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”’ (Hebrews 10:15-17).[2] We do not preach legalism as the remedy from lawlessness. We lift up the cup, make a claim to the new covenant by faith, and rejoice in God’s promise to write His Law on our hearts by His Spirit and embrace the forgiveness from lawlessness which is ours by faith in Jesus Christ. Rejoice. “…to the one who does not work [deeds of the Law to earn salvation], but believes in Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks [in Psalm 32:1,2] of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account’” (Romans 4:5-8). This “blessing” is a covenant blessing. It is ours not because we obey the Law. It is ours because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. The other covenant blessing is that the Law is written on our hearts. Law-keeping is not an obligation that keeps us in covenant – only the Holy Spirit seals us in the covenant which is inaugurated by the blood of Jesus. Law-keeping is not a condition. It is a benefit, a blessing. In this new covenant, our lawlessness is forgotten and the Law is written on our hearts. That which the King hates is removed from those united to the King in a covenant that has all its conditions met by the King Himself. Praise Him with great praise!

This King Who hates lawlessness has, as a result of His faithfulness to the Father’s Law, has been anointed with the Spirit of gladness. This is part of the text from another of Jesus’ early sermons: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel…” (Luke 4:18//Isaiah 61:1; see also Acts 10:38). This Spirit produces a Gospel-purpose, a Christ-centeredness – and a God-given gladness.

We see this God-given gladness at least twice in the New Testament:
  • “At that very time [the Son] rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth’” (Luke 10:21).
  • Peter quotes Psalm 16 in Acts 2:25-31. He tells us that David “was a prophet” and was speaking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gives us this testimony of the Son concerning the resurrection: “…my heart was glad and my tongue exulted” (Acts 2:26//Psalm 16:9).

The Son-King’s hatred of lawlessness results in the Father’s eternal giving of His Spirit of gladness to the Son – and through the Son to those united with the Son by faith. With Jesus, let us love God’s Law by the Spirit He has given those who believe in Him. There is gladness here. Praise Him with great praise!
Looking toward Signal Peak from Tadpole Ridge,
Gila National Forest, New Mexico, U.S.A.

[1] “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Who 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 2:11-14).
[2] Notice that the Holy Spirit is speaking (present tense), though the writer of Hebrews is quoting Scripture over six centuries old. The Holy Spirit’s speaking through the text He authored is always now.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Shepherding in the Bible Study

“The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” (1689 Baptist Confession, 3.7).

We started meditating together on Paul’s letter to Titus during last night’s Wednesday night Bible study at our church. The first words, “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God” (1:1), led us fairly quickly into a discussion which dominated most of the 50 minutes we spent in active discussion.

“The chosen of God.”

This was a group of believers of varying degrees of maturity, age, and relatively small variation on the topic of predestination. As we considered the biblical data from various N.T. sources, I tried to be careful to keep the “cage fighter” in me subdued. This wasn’t a YouTube debate (I’ve actually never watched one and have no interest in doing so). This was a Bible study made up of people I love and respect. People I long to see firmly “established in the faith” (Romans 1:11; 16:25; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 1:23; 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:2,13).

This wasn’t a Sunday morning or evening service, where I speak from a text and don’t take questions during the service. This is Bible study, and there are often questions and discussion points suggested by members of the group. It always reminds me of Paul’s description of the gathering of the Church: “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). I used to not like meetings like this. I’ve come to delight in them and see them as a powerful place for the Spirit to work through His Word in and among His people.

As you have a discussion on a topic like election/predestination, it’s easy to ignore souls for the sake of establishing just how right you are. But this is the business of souls. And there is careful shepherding to be done in the gathering of souls, even in Bible study.

“The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him” (1689 Baptist Confession, 26.10). I assume “watching for their souls” is a reference to Hebrews 13:17, where congregants are commanded, “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” I don’t understand the “work of pastors” described as “the ministry of the word and prayer” and “watching for their souls” to be separate items. The Holy Spirit regularly brings congregants to mind, prompting me, I believe, to pray for them (sometimes at 4 a.m. on Monday mornings). But “watching for their souls” can happen during “the ministry of the word,” even during a Wednesday night Bible study.
“Watching during their souls” during “the ministry of the word” requires that challenging and historically divisive doctrines not be avoided (they’re attested to throughout the Bible, after all), but “handled with special prudence and care.”

We speak the truth, but we do so in love: “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15,16). Notice the inter-connectedness: “…speaking the truth in love” leads to growth in Christ, which leads to a properly-functioning church (“the whole body”), which leads back to more “growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” It’s a circular growth to loving speech to growth to loving speech, etc., all in Christ and from Christ. How? Read 4:11-13. Christ-given “apostles, and…prophets, and…evangelists, and…pastors and teachers.”

Shepherding souls in the Bible study. It’s my fleshly pride that wants to conquer all intellects and show them the unparalleled superiority of my Reformed Baptist doctrine. It’s my calling from above, though, to lead them to the Scriptures, encourage their Spirit-given insights into the text, gently correct errors, prayerfully seek words of explanation of difficult ideas witnessed to in the Bible, and to guide the group meditation through a time of Christ-empowered growth and love. The latter is far more to be preferred. I want them to go away longing for more of the Word and having caught a glimpse of its power and beauty.

Shepherding souls in the Bible study. It drives me personally deeper into the Scripture and convicts me anew of the indispensability of prayer in this act of leading the Bible study.

Lord, help me handle the text and all the glorious doctrine that pours out of it “with special prudence and care,” mindful of the beautiful souls you have created and redeemed.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:8

“But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom…’” (Hebrews 1:8).

I am thankful that the One Who came to us was God Himself.

The phrase “But of the Son” borrows the verb “he says” (λεγει, lit., “He is saying”) from 1:7 (it’s provided in our English translations).

Who is the “He” speaking? You have to go back to verse 1. It’s “God.” He is speaking (presently) concerning His Son. When God addresses His Son in 1:8, what does He call Him?

“O God.”

“God,” when addressing His Son, calls Him, “O God.”

Does this mean there are two gods? No.

“Hear, O Israel, The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The rest of the O.T. underlines this truth again and again (it’s the major theme of Isaiah). The Son affirmed this confession while on earth (Mark 12:29). The apostle Paul does, as well (1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 1 Timothy 2:5).

There is one God, but the Father is God and names the Son to be God. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father – why would the Father be presently speaking of the Son otherwise? They are two Persons, but are one God.

Hebrews 1:8 is an amazing verse. I rejoice that the basis for this proclamation isn’t something new or innovative. The Father’s quoting Psalm 45:6, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to speak of the Son. It’s thoroughly Trinitarian, and it’s built from Old Testament Scripture. God is unchanging and remains as He has always been. This is, in part, what it means that the Old Testament is about Jesus (Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:39). This is Paul’s understanding of the whole Bible when he says reading the O.T. without Christ is being veiled; that veil is only removed in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

The whole Book’s about the Son Who is eternally God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…no one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1,2,18).

This eternal God the Son has taken His eternal throne, fulfilling the Davidic covenant. Psalm 45 echoes the truth of Psalm 2 (I’m indebted to O. Palmer Robertson’s book).

From the eternal throne of God the Son comes that for which every human longs: justice and righteousness. We seek it in our own confused wisdom and reasoning, for we attempt to achieve it without its only rational Source – God. But when we make any attempts toward righteousness through legislation and judiciary, we are only echoing (in a poor way) the Law of God (Romans 2:14-16). We cannot totally suppress it, though all humans apart from Christ are actively and continually attempting to do so (Romans 1:18). The harder we try, the more the inconsistencies will tear our little play-group into meaningless chaos.

From His throne, however, the scepter rules with nothing but perfect righteousness. There are no errors in judgment. Its determinations are those of absolute holiness. And they are in utter accord with the revealed righteousness of God in the Bible. The Father has given all judgment to His Son (John 5:22-30).[1]

The Son does nothing wrong, and so the Book which about Him bears this stamp of perfection, as well.

Praise Him, for the Father is declaring Him to be God, anointed Him to be King, and all the divine Son-King does is right.
Big Hatchet Mountain fading with the light.

[1] These statements where the Son judges just as the Father judges take us into the next step of Trinitarian theology: perichoresis (interpenetration, or, more poetically, the mingling dance of the divine Being). The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. The Father is fully God (not a third) and the Son is fully God (not a third), yet they are distinct Persons. Both Persons are 100% God, but eternally retain individual Personhood in their co-possession of the divine Being. That’s right. Just as you were thinking you had a grasp of the Trinity, we turned it up a little. Mystery remains mystery.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:7

“And of the angels He says,
‘Who makes His angels winds,
And His ministers a flame of fire’”
(Hebrews 1:7).

I am thankful that the servants of the heaven from which the Son reigns are themselves created beings which display His beauty, awesomeness, power, and glory.

The writer now quotes a Psalm. He has no intentions of belittling angels in his inspired efforts to exalt the Son above all.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers (Psalm 104:1-4).

This word paralleled with “angels” is “ministers” (λειτουργος). “Minister” is used to describe civil rulers, Paul, Epaphroditus, and the exalted Jesus Himself. The verb is paralleled with fasting (Acts 13:2) and financial support of needy believers (Romans 15:27).[1] They, in their power, are not rulers. They are supporters.[2]

The Psalmist is trying to capture for us the mysterious strangeness of angels. C.S. Lewis does this, as well, in his science fiction book Perelandra (1943). God has put on Venus an Adam and Eve, and the book describes their temptation and victory over that temptation (with the help of a human being who presents a race who made the wrong choice yet was redeemed by the second Adam). At the end of the book, two angels attend the throneroom of the newly-successful Venusian Adam and Eve. These two beings then attempt to find an appearance that doesn’t drive the human being mad: “The very faint light – the almost imperceptible alteration in the visual field – which betokens an eldil vanished suddenly. The rose peaks and the calm pool vanished also. A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be poured over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. ‘Stop it…stop it,’ he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the field of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations. ‘Look then on this,’ said the voices again. And he looked with some reluctance, and far off between the peaks on the other side of the little valley there came rolling wheels. There was nothing but that – concentric wheels moving with a rather sickening slowness one inside the other. There was nothing terrible about them if you could get used to their appalling size, but there was also nothing insignificant. He bade them to try yet a third time. And suddenly two human figures stood before him on either side of the lake. They were taller than the Sorns, the giants whom he had met in Mars. They were perhaps thirty feet high. They were burning white like white-hot iron. The outline of their bodies when he looked at it steadily against the red landscape seemed to be faintly, swiftly undulating as though the permanence of their shape, like that of waterfalls or flames, co-existed with a rushing movement of the matter it contained. For a fraction of an inch inward from this outline the landscape was just visible through them: beyond that they were opaque. Whenever he looked straight at them they appeared to be rushing towards him with enormous speed: whenever his eyes took in their surroundings he realized that they were stationary. This may have been due in part to the fact that their long and sparkling hair stood out straight behind them as if in a great wind. But if there were a wind it was not made of air, for no petal of the flowers was shaken…their bodies, he said, were white. But a flush diverse colors began at about the shoulders and streamed up the necks and flickered over face and head and stood out around the head like plumage or a halo. He told me he could in a sense remember these colors – that is, he would know them if he saw them again – but that he cannot by any effort call up a visual image of them nor give them a name…the faces surprised him very much. Nothing less like the ‘angel’ of popular art could well be imagined. The rich variety, the hint of undeveloped possibilities, which make the interest of human faces, were entirely absent. One single, changeless expression – so clear it hurt and dazzled him – was stamped on each and there was nothing else there at all…what this one thing was he could not be certain. He concluded in the end that it was charity.”

I appreciate this lengthy creative meditation on the nature of angels because it is so unlike “the ‘angel’ of popular art.” The hero of the story then asks the angels, “do I see you as you really are?” The angels respond that “only [God] sees any creature as it really is.” Good stuff.

They have the appearance at times of fire. The seraphim of Isaiah 6 are literally “fire serpents.” In Daniel 7, “a river of fire was flowing and coming out from before [the Ancient of Days]; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him” (vs.10). They are like “bolts of lightning” in Ezekiel 1:14. In 2 Kings 6:17 Elisha is protected by invisible “horses and chariots of fire.” The appearance of one of them causes Daniel to fall down as dead (8:17,18; 10:7,8,16).[3]

Despite their wondrous glory, angels are still just creatures. They are spiritual beings on a level of this creation comparable with nothing else. But they are just creatures. They are no closer to God-likeness than we are, for God is infinitely greater and higher than anything in His creation. For illustration, something with a hypothetical 2 on a hypothetical “Glory Chart” is quite a bit less than something with 1,000,000 on the Glory Chart, but neither compares to something that is infinitely glorious (or, more accurately, something that is Glory Itself and the glory of the 2 and the glory of the 1,000,000 are analogous and derivative).

Praise God, for He has created these beings not just as messengers, but has made them to be “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). They are servants of the covenant and the covenant people in Christ. Their power and beauty point to the greater power and beauty of the messages of God they were created to bring, and their glory and spiritual transcendence is merely a pale reflection of the infinitely Greater Who is their (and our) Creator. Praise Him with great praise!
Fire season, 3 1/2 years ago.
Fires bring alterations to the sky that grab the attention.

[1] In Hebrews, it maintains its sacrificial background in 10:11.
[2] Daniel 10:13,20 describe a parallel between earthly battles and warfare in the spiritual realm. Mighty angels battle in the spiritual realm, and their battles parallel real events on earth – God is, after all, called “LORD of hosts” some 229 times in the O.T. The “hosts” are not just heavenly armies, but earthly armies, as well. He governs the movements of both. The invisible/spiritual reflects the visible/earthly. Similarly, the letters of the glorified Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation are written to “the angel of the church” (1:20; 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14). Do churches have angels? I tend to think these are the pastors (remember than “angel” means “messenger”), but the Daniel example keeps me from being too dogmatic about this hypothesis.
[3] John’s falling down before the angel to worship in Revelation isn’t because he is an idolater; these beings are so overwhelming in their glory and message that we – creatures made to worship the infinitely Greater – are involuntarily moved to bow (19:9,10; 22:8).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise in Hebrews 1:6

“And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,
‘And let all the angels of God worship Him’” (Hebrews 1:6).

I am thankful that all creation, from the highest to the lowest, is called to worship the Father’s appointed King Who came into the world as one of us.

I explained the idea of “firstborn” yesterday in a footnote, but will mention it again. It’s worth marking in your Bibles so you can find it next time someone tries to tell you there was a time Jesus didn’t exist and was created (birthed) by God in time. Psalm 89:27 parallels “I shall make Him My firstborn” with an appositional phrase, “the highest of the kings of the earth.” The biblical concept of “firstborn,” when applied in the Davidic covenant, is enthronement language, not generational language. Let the Bible teach you how to read the Bible.

God sent His Son into the world as completion of His eternal plan, but also the story line started in Genesis 1-3. Two verses give us a simple overview:
  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule…’” (Genesis 1:26).
  • “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this…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 3:14,16).

Man was created to reflect the image of the Triune God by ruling (reflecting His sovereignty). Man broke God’s Law, making Him ineligible to represent God’s reign (the lawless cannot represent the Law or the Law-Giver). The serpent-crushing Seed of the woman was promised to come and bring an end to the works of the enemy who brought the temptation to break God’s Law. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

It’s the ninth day of Christmas. Incarnation is still an appropriate and worthy meditation.

The Incarnation was warfare. The Incarnation was restoration of the imaging of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation.

The baby in the manger is the ultimate irony. Understatement. Paradox. Mystery.

In our discussion of Hebrews 1:4, we considered the biblical data on the idolatrous worship of angels. Today we consider the right order: the angels commanded to worship the Son.

An interesting and important (to me) question now arises: from where is the writer quoting in 1:6b? There's no clearly identifiable Old Testament passage that matches this phrase. Some of your Bibles with good footnotes may say that this is a quote from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The H.C.S.B., for example, says in a footnote, “DSS read Rejoice, you heavens, along with Him, and let all the angels worship Him.” I earnestly appreciate the thoroughness, but this English translation is not literal. 4QDeut32 echoes the Masoretic text (the Hebrew text we use for our Old Testament translations): “…worship Him, all you gods [אלהים].” The LXX (the Greek translation of the O.T.), however, does have the phrase “let all the sons of God worship Him” (προσκυνησατωσσαν αυτω παντες υιοι θεου). The phrase “sons of God” is used for both the covenant people of God and angels in the Old Testament. However, a few lines later, we read “let the angels of God strengthen themselves in Him” (ενισχυσατωσαν αυτω παντες αγγελοι θεου). The best option is that the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has taken the verb and direct object of one line and the object of the second line and brought them together: “Worship Him…all angels of God” (προσκυνησατωσσαν αυτω… παντες αγγελοι θεου).[1]

Regardless, God gave the command that His angels worship Him. They did at the birth of the eternal Son of God as a human being once upon a time: “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’” (Luke 2:9-14).

The angels did not stop worshiping Him: “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth…then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing’” (Revelation 5:6,11,12).

And, along with these mighty and glorious beings, I worship Him, too.
Mexican golden poppies...a tiny glory hidden by a remote desert highway.

[1] The early Church used the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) often, since Greek was spoken throughout most of the Roman Empire. As I always say, the Holy Spirit is free to paraphrase His own material. We are not.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Thankfulness and Praise from Hebrews 1:5

“For to which of the angels did He ever say,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You’?
And again,
‘I will be a Father to Him
And He shall be a Son to Me’?”
(Hebrews 1:5).

I am thankful that the Son is not only greater than the angels, but 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” (Ephesians 1:21).

Today’s verse in Hebrews draws upon the Davidic covenant and the Christ as complete fulfillment.

The first quote is from Psalm 2.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You
Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware’”
(Psalm 2:7-9).

Paul uses Psalm 2:7 as an explanatory text for Christ’s resurrection (Acts 13:33). From Christ’s resurrection to His enthronement at God’s right hand should be seen as one great movement – from the lowest state (in the place of the dead) to the highest state (“…at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:3). The sonship described in Psalm 2:7 is not biological reproduction. Read the Psalm. As often happens in the Bible, ideas are often explained by parallel passages which function as apposition. In this case, 2:6 explains what this sonship reference is; the LORD proclaims, “as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” The begotting of 2:7 is enthronement language.[1] The eternal Son, through the work He accomplished in His life and atoning death, is anointed (“Christ” in verb form) as absolute King. Remember the creation of humanity in God’s “image” and “likeness,” and that this imaging and likening was dominion (Genesis 1:26). This image was tainted on the day humanity rebelled against God (we wanted to reign independent and autonomously instead of reflecting His sovereignty). The eternal divine Son, Who came and lived as the second Adam, was faithful in obedience to the Father. So He reigns as the absolute, perfect “image” and “likeness” of the Father, ruling over all.

The second quote in Hebrews 1:5 comes from 2 Samuel 7:14//1 Chronicles 17:13. The relationship between “the LORD and…His Anointed” (Psalm 2:2) is revealed to be that between a Father and Son. This is not just about governance, but eternal relationship. The Father and Son shared a love from all eternity past (John 17:24). The Father and Son shared a glory from all eternity past (John 17:5). This love and glory is now displayed in the Kingdom rule of the Son for the eternal glory of the Father.

Praise Him, for the eternal Son, because of what He accomplished in life and death as one of us, is now revealed to be God’s King of kings and Lord of lords for the subjecting of the nations (Psalm 2:8,9; Revelation 2:26,27; 12:5) and eternal glory of the Father.
The desert rat on his throne, content to let the King of kings reign over all.

[1] The same understand is revealed in Psalm 89:27, where “I shall make Him My firstborn” is explained by the line, “the highest of the kings of the earth.”