Friday, September 30, 2016

Person of Life


The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of the living beings” (Ezekiel 1:21).
The Holy Spirit is “rivers of living water” (John 7:37-39).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
The Holy Spirit is “the seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2).
The Holy Spirit “the breath of life from God” (Revelation 11:11).

The Holy Spirit is the “breath of life that made a pile of dust into “a living being” (Genesis 2:7), and, by the preaching of the Word, “came into [a dead people], and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).

Of the resurrected Jesus it is said that “the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

We will read that “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live(Romans 8:13).

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17).

The Holy Spirit is true life, eternal life!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transformed for Worship and Communion

I’ve been leading an early Tuesday morning theology reading group for several months now. We’ve been thinking through L. Michael Morales’ excellent Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? In this post I’d like to summarize his teaching on the offering of Leviticus 1, then take that idea further for application to our experience as worshipers and disciples of Christ here and into eternity’s fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.

The Whole Burnt Offering Is An Ascension Offering (Leviticus 1:3-17)
·         As we’ve been reading Morales, he has repeatedly told us that the most foundational offering of the Old Testament worship system is not, as it is translated in our English texts, a “whole burnt offering.” It’s true that the offering is totally consumed on the altar, but a pile of ash is not the final state of the offering. The rising smoke is the goal of the offering.
·         All three sections describing this offering end with the same refrain: “…a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (1:9,13,17).
·         In this offering, the worshiper would select the animal, bring it to the Tabernacle, press his hands on it (identifying with it), kill it, dismember it, and give the pieces to the priest, who would burn it all on the altar. Since the sacrifice represents the worshiper, it pictures the complete dedication of the worshiper to God. The animal (a representative substitute for the worshiper) is transformed from flesh into a different state which is imitative of God’s symbolic presence (the cloud): the worshiper is able to rise up to God through this offering.
The Imagery Behind the Burnt Offering
·         The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” is העֹלָ, from the verb העָלָ (“ascend”). In fact, the same word translated “burnt offering” can even be translated “going up” steps (Ezekiel 40:26). The emphasis of the word is not on the burning, but on climbing up to the altar to put the sacrifice on it and the rising up of the smoke heavenward.
·         In 1 Kings 10:5, the queen of Sheba admires Solomon’s kingly court, his wisdom, but also a curious phrase translated several different ways:
o    “…his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord” (English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
o    “…his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord” (King James Version).
o    Eugene Peterson (b. 1932), in his paraphrase of the Bible, brings all the ideas behind this word together: “…the elaborate worship extravagant with Whole-Burnt-Offerings at the steps leading up to The Temple of God” (the Message).
o    “…his stairway by which he went up to the house of the Lord” (New American Standard Bible).
o    “…the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord” (New International Version).
o    “She saw the steps by which he went up to the house of the Lord” (New Life Version).
o    “…the burnt offerings Solomon made at the Temple of the Lord” (New Living Translation).
o    “…the beautiful stairway that led up to the Eternal’s temple” (the Voice).
·         The burnt offering in Genesis comes in two places:
o    Noah’s sacrifice to the Lord on top of Mount Ararat after the Flood (Genesis 8:20).
o    Abram’s sacrifice to the Lord on top of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22).
o    The two precedents to this offering are on mountaintops. We have to keep this in mind when we see the offering instituted in the liturgy of Israel. The altar is a bridge between earth (the worshiper) and heaven (the domain of God).
·         The section of the Psalter with the Songs of Ascents (מַעֲלָה) also enforces this idea (Psalms 120-134). The pilgrims would have sung these songs on the ascent to the Temple to offer ascension (burnt) offerings (עֹלָה) to the LORD. Again, it’s all about going to where God is.
·         There is a connection between the ascension (burnt) offering and prayer: “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples”
(Isaiah 56:7).
·         The burnt offering is a symbolic ascent to where God is – the worshiper ascends to God through the sacrifice.

The LORD has appeared in a cloud, representing His glory (Exodus 16:10; 40:35) and the manifestation of His Word (Exodus 19:9; 33:9).

The animal is transformed from flesh to smoke (Leviticus 1:9,13,15,17) on the altar, and the smoke of the offering would rise up, mingling with the pillar of cloud above the dwelling tent/tent of meeting, symbolizing the transformation of the worshiper into that which God is, fit for His presence and communion/union with Him.

This is summary of what we’ve read throughout these first 140 pages of Morales. I want to take this idea and imagery further now. Or rather, I’ll let the apostle Paul do it.

“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written [in Genesis 2:7], ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:42-53).

The transformation of the sacrificial animal (a substitute for the worshiper) from flesh into smoke, which rises up to the cloud that represents God’s presence, is a foreshadowing of the reality for all believers in Jesus Christ at the resurrection. We will be changed into that which is fit for the presence of God, something eternally compatible with His nature. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:22-24).

This Spirit-transformation is a process seen in this life, as well:
·         “Jesus said to her, ‘…an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’” (John 4:21,24). Worshipers were not to seek out a physical place (Jerusalem or Mount Gerazim in Samaria), but were to become as God is – Spirit-indwelt beings to worship a God Who is Spirit. Transformation unto communion. Notice, too, the Trinitarian nature of this passage (the Son speaks of the Father seeking those who will worship Him through the Spirit).
·         “…if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:13-17,28-30). The parallel between these two paragraphs is informative to our transformation. In the first, the Spirit leads us to mortify our earthiness unto being heirs of the Father along with the Son; our inheritance is God’s glory in Christ. In the second paragraph, God is using all things providentially to accomplish His purpose for us, which is conformity with that which the Son is, the very glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4,6; Hebrews 1:3).
·         “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17,18).
·         “…beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:2,3,18-21).
·         This is also the understanding of the apostle Peter: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:2-4). This conformity with God unto communion with God is not just a function of worship in the Bible; it is reflected in the ethics of the Bible for the covenant people. Peter himself quotes this principle from the Old Testament: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One Who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written [in Leviticus 19:2], ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
·         And the apostle John: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

The representative transformation of the worshiper into that which is able to mingle with God in Leviticus’ foundational sacrifice is the eternal goal of our salvation in Christ Jesus.[1] It is a process that has started for believers in Jesus Christ in this life, as seen in our worship and our ethics. We are becoming as Christ, the image of the glory of God, is, so that we may communion with the Father in the Son by the Spirit. “This union is closer than what joins a man to himself.”[2]

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For [as it says in Isaiah 40:13] who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or [as it says in Job 41:11] who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 11:33-12:2).

[1] “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever” (1689 Baptist Confession, 8.6). Those worshipers of Leviticus 1 who offered the ascension offering by faith received “the virtue, efficacy, and benefit” not of the offering of the animal, but of what they imaged: the work of Christ. By faith the worshiper who offered the ascension offering was being transformed in Christ (represented by the sacrificial animal the worshiper presented and put his hands on) by the Spirit (the transformation into smoke on the altar) for communion with the Father (the mingling of the smoke and pillar of cloud).
[2] Robert Letham, Union with Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), 99.

Friday, September 9, 2016

How It's Supposed to Be

We normally offer a class on world missions for our children on Wednesday nights while the adults are in Bible study. This last week our teacher was on vacation, so the children were in with the adults. We were on the second week of James 5:13-20, discussing elders, anointing the sick with oil, the connection between sickness and sin, confession, prayer, and turning the wayward back to the truth. The time began with a cappella singing of Psalms 7 and 67 (from the ARP Psalter, one of the best out there).

After dismissal, I heard something that is one of those magical moments in ministry. While everybody was standing around talking (mostly focused on the adorable one-year-old girl telling a story in the corner), a boy asked his dad, “what did pastor mean when he said…?” I didn’t hear the rest of the question, but I didn’t need to. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work.

“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ…fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18b-21; 6:4). The outflow of the Spirit-filled gathering of the Church is the training of the children by fathers. And, as Proverbs 1:8; 6:20; 31:26 shows, the mother also teaches the children “the Law” (תּוֹרָה) – not her own Law, but the Law of her God she had been taught by her parents.

That same Law commands the fathers to teach the children (Deuteronomy 4:9,10; 6:7; 11:19; see also Psalm 34:11; 44:1; 71:18; 78:3-8; Isaiah 38:19), but also assumes the children are capable of participating in the faith-life of the people and will ask the meaning of the things that are done in a household organized around faith in God (Exodus 12:26,27; 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20,21; Joshua 4:6,21). This is what thrilled my heart Wednesday night: the Scripture was acted out in a mostly-hidden moment. It was normal, it was right, and it was good to see the Spirit work according to His Word.

This is how it is supposed to be.