Posts Tagged Jesus Christ

Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

Mary Magdalene

As Holy Week begins, I completed some reading this morning in the Gospel of John. I focused on the empty tomb pericope that features Mary Magdalene so prominently. “Magdalene” most likely ties this Mary to the town of Magdala, which was a “strongly Hellenized site . . . five kilometers northeast of Tiberias” (R. Riesner, 37–38, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Performing a search revealed that there are twelve explicit references in the New Testament to Mary Magdalene:

Gospel of Matthew (NET)

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee . . .  (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb) (Matthew 27:56, 61).

Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).

Gospel of Mark (NET)

There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed (Mark 15:47).

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).

Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons (Mark 16:9).

Gospel of Luke (NET)

. . . and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out . . . (Luke 8:2).

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).

Gospel of John (NET)

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance (John 20:1).

Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her (John 20:18).

Another Woman

At times, people have confused Mary Magdalene with other women in the Gospels. In Luke 7, an unnamed woman enter’s a house where Jesus is located and anoints Jesus’ feet. In the pericope adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), Jesus forgives the sin of an unnamed woman caught in adultery.

However, Mark and Luke both inform us of Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus—he set her free from the possession of seven demons. She subsequently followed Jesus, even being one of the few present at his crucifixion and an eyewitness to his resurrection.

The Gospel of Philip

You can find out more about the history of the 1945 Nag Hammadi discovery and The Gospel of Philip here and especially here. Suffice it to say that these “other Gospels” (1) are not written by those whose names are attached to them, making them pseudepigrapha, (2) originate from the second century or later, and (3) were not received by the catholic (i.e., universal) church community not only because of their strange, sometimes unorthodox, and sometimes contra-apostolic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, but also because of their divergent perspectives on the Old Testament, creation, and anthropology. However, I would like to focus on its references to Mary Magdalene. The first mention of this Mary in The Gospel of Philip is found in context with two other Marys:

Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion.

The writing again refers to Mary Magdala as Jesus’ companion here,

Wisdom, who is called barren, is the mother of the angels.

The companion of the [savior] is Mary of Magdala. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].

The other [disciples] [64]…said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”

The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind person and one who can see are both in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, one who can see will see the light, and the blind person will stay in darkness.”

[The brackets] typically identify places in the manuscript where the text is unknown due to some kind of injury.

From this, people have surmised from these sayings that Mary Magdalene was no mere disciple of Jesus, but that she was his wife.

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest

In 2012 in Rome, Harvard University’s Dr. Karen L. King revealed a shocking document—a fourth century papyrus fragment—claiming the matrimony of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. With Dr. King’s credentials and backing, the fragment’s reveal sent shockwaves through academia and found its way into the public square as well. The Coptic text and a transcription is available through Harvard University.

Since then, the investigative reporting of Ariel Saber of The Atlantic has exposed the full origin story of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. The title “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” is followed by the subtitle,

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.

Saber’s work uncovered that the fragment is most likely a very recent forgery. Dr. Karen L. King agreed publicly following Saber’s published work. If you’re up for going further down the rabbit hole, you can find more related material via Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here and more recently here. Peter Gurry also commented on the matter in 2016 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

The Real Mary Magdalene Please Rise

While the story of this forged fragment made for great entertainment, perhaps a positive result may surface. Maybe we’ll allow the real Mary Magdalene to surface once again. Mary’s legacy has been clouded publicly ever since Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

Some have wondered why Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that the apostles have no problem making mention of women who play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel—Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Lydia, Damaris, and a number of other women who are described as devout. One thought is that Mary Magdalene passed away shortly after the resurrection. This can’t be proven. We are never told anything about her age or her death.

We are told three things about this Mary that should stick with any of us who depend on the glorious salvation of Jesus. First, this Mary was set free by Jesus from the darkest kind of spiritual oppression. She was demon-possessed. Sevenfold. We learn from this Mary that Jesus is strong enough to break the bondage of the darkest sources of spiritual slavery.

Second, we find Mary following Jesus to a place where very few of his disciples dared to follow—the cross. I am truly amazed at this. Matthew, Mark, and John testify that Mary Magdalene joined a few other women at the crucifixion. Keep in mind that the other women seem to have been related to Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not. It appears that John the apostle was the only member of the twelve who dared identify himself with the Christ of the cross. While Jesus would continue his fellowship with the other ten disciples after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was “ahead of the curve” when it came to denying oneself, counting the cost, and following Jesus wherever he went.

Lastly, Mark tells us that this Mary is the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Again, how amazing. Scholars have told us over and over again, that this element of the resurrection narrative—Mary, a woman, as the first eyewitness—is a criteria of the authenticity for the Gospels’ narratives. No first century author who wanted to be convincing and who wanted their movement to catch on would propose that there first eyewitness to the most important element of their story was . . . a woman. This would have been embarrassing, as indicated by the apostles’ reaction to the testimony of the women (Luke 24:10–11). The Gospel writers were clearly concerned with what really happened, with  communicating a historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, they wrote to evangelize and to make more disciples, but they were not doing so by being irresponsible or deceptive about what really happened. Additionally, I can’t help but also think that Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is a reward for her faithfulness to follow to the cross. After appearing to Mary, Jesus sent her to report to the disciples (John 20:17–18), and she proclaimed to them, “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first evangelist of the resurrection era.

This Holy Week, let’s lay to rest the Jesus-wife myth that has clouded Mary’s legacy and “resurrect” the real Mary Magdalene and her already impressive resume—a delivered, devoted, eyewitness, evangelist of Jesus Christ. Happy Holy Week.

 

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A Response to Adam Lee at Patheos on Paul’s Resurrection Creed

In 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, we have what is perhaps the earliest, written claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

(1 Corinthians 15:3–8 ESV)

Below, I have included my response to an article posted by Patheos blogger Adam Lee’s article “Paul’s Resurrection Creed” from March 11, 2009. You can read it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2009/03/pauls-resurrection-creed/. I have also included some video resources that may be helpful for you this Easter season. Christ is risen! Praise the Lord!

Thanks for the article. I have some objections to your points. Cards on the table, I am a Christian. I believe in the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You say,

First of all, the way Paul describes the disciples is strange.

I have to object to this. It is most likely that this creed is not originally Paul’s, but a creed that predates him and his writing of 1 Corinthians. If you notice in the Scripture quotation you’ve listed above, Paul states that he received this. The composition of 1 Corinthians dates back to 54 C.E., as Dr. Daniel B. Wallace (https://bible.org/gsearch?sear… and most NT scholars would acknowledge. Therefore, if the letter itself dates to 54 C.E. and if the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 precedes the Paul and his letter, then we are looking at an extremely early creed probably produced within the year of Jesus resurrection and ascension. This is not hard to imagine as it would have been sensical for the early Christians to formalize an oral creed concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ and pass it around as they met in the temple and from house to house. Some suggest Saul/Paul’s conversion took place as early as 33 C.E. I’ll concede that it could be that Paul received this as late as the mid-forties due to the record of his interaction with the apostles in Jerusalem.

Second, you seem to not understand the nature of a creed. A creed serves to summarize truth in a compact and memorable way so that they could be committed to memory and easily recited. They helped in a day when most people did not have a copy of the Scriptures and even if they did, they may not have been able to read it. A creed was accessible everyone.

Your assumption about Peter not being among them places emphasis wrongly. Peter is recognized as “a leader among the leaders” with regard to the apostles in the NT. It is isn’t at all odd that the creed mentions him separately. Besides, Luke 24:34 affirms an appearance to Simon Peter.

A word search in the Greek New Testament reveals that ο δωδεκα (“the twelve”) appears 36 times, almost always referring to “The Twelve” apostles. When referring to the apostles, this is a formal title. Even after Judas dies and is replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:26), “The Twelve” is still used in Acts 6:2 and Rev. 21:14. It is clear from context that Matthias meets the criteria employed to replace Judas,

Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” So they proposed two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias (Acts 1:21–23 NET).

It is clear from this that Paul’s use of “The Twelve” in the creed that he had received is not inaccurate as you suggest. If anything, it suggests that perhaps the creed was created after Matthias was selected. It also is not inaccurate because “The Twelve” including Matthias were all eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ.

I’ll concede that the mention of the apostles seems to be redundant, but redundancy does not an error make. There are optional, reasonable explanations without assuming error. For example, the word “apostle” means “sent one” in its informal meaning. Some readers of Scripture may apply this to someone like Barnabas, who doesn’t appear to be a Jerusalem Elder, but who also isn’t one of the formal apostolic group. Perhaps, the creed is simply being redundant or making reference to the multiple appearances to this group. Again, redundancy does not an error make.

Your comment about the women may be your weakest point. Much ink has been spilled on this, and I am surprised that you even bring it up. The historical Gospel record of women being the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and to the resurrected Jesus is a criteria of authenticity because of the embarrassing nature of such witnesses in the first century world. Luke points this out in 24:11. Women eyewitnesses were not considered trustworthy. If this is a false or made-up account in Luke 24 or John 20, there is no way such a made up story would list women as the first eyewitnesses. No one would take the story seriously. Yet, these weren’t the only appearances. There were multiple appearances as the creed records. The Gospel accounts are confirmed by the criteria of embarrassment, and the creed’s authenticity is confirmed by its emphasis on who would have been considered the major eyewitnesses at that time.

You state,

We do not have five hundred separate, notarized accounts. What we have is one person, Paul, who says that five hundred anonymous people saw Jesus, giving no further details about their identities or the circumstances of the seeing. By itself, this is not strong evidence, just as it would not be strong evidence if I gave you a piece of paper that said, “One thousand people saw me do a miracle.”

We do have the account of Luke which states that the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days following his suffering. This is plenty of time for the creed’s proposition to have been realistically accomplished. No, you do not have the written accounts of 500 people, but you have the written accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, and really all of the NT authors are writing from the belief of a resurrected Christ because there is no Christianity without a bodily, resurrected Christ. Further, would you believe it if there were more accounts than already recorded in the NT? Would it really persuade you? If you gave me a piece of paper that said 1000 people saw me perform a miracle, I would simply ask for the names of some of these people. This isn’t that hard, especially if the creed, as is likely, dates back to the mid-thirties to mid-forties. Further, you are forgetting that the historical record of Jesus performing miracles during his life is thorough. His miracles are one of the contributing factors leading to his trial and death by crucifixion.

Finally, your handling of the term οραω is simplistic. Again, the creed is created to be memorable, so the repetition of the verb is expected for purposes of memory and recitation. Further, the physical act of seeing with the eyes is not outside the lexical range of this Greek verb. It is an exegetical fallacy to say that a term must mean such and such with no attention to context. The context for the creed are the experiences recorded in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. Take the two the disciples on the road to Emmaus for instance. To argue that these men did not physically see Jesus makes the story absurd. They are literally traveling to a town; they’re walking and talking.

To suggest that the resurrected Jesus was to the early church merely a mythical figure, a figment of their own imaginations and hopes, couldn’t be more foreign to the records we have. It is a misrepresentation of the earliest records of the believers of Jesus Christ. They really believed him to have physically and historically resurrected. Had he not and if they still continued to desire to follow him after his death, it makes much more sense that they would have continued to proclaim him as returning at some point in the future as the redeemer of Israel from Roman oppression. But they are devastated by his death as the disciples on the road to Emmaus detail in Luke 24. They are returning home after the Passover pilgrimage. Everything is over for them until Christ appears to them—bodily resurrected.

You can continue to choose not to believe in the resurrection of Christ, but it is a bit disrespectful to suggest that what Paul, The Twelve, and the early Christians were really trying to say was that they wanted Jesus to be alive so badly that they imagined visions of such a reality. When the clearer explanation and intention of these early Christians is that he really did raise from the dead, making multiple appearances for 40 days.

Find out more about Easter and Jesus’ Resurrection here: http://www.exploregod.com/resurrection.

Habermas on the creed: http://youtu.be/7QDCnYwJv6M.

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Give Us the Word This Christmas

The Word of the LORD in Jeremiah 

While studying and teaching the book of the prophet Jeremiah early this year in the student ministry, I discovered a little volume entitled A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah by Andrew G. Shead. It was quite the read. Shead set out to examine every instance in the book in which a reference to the “word of God” was made, and then he proposed  a theology for the word of God in Jeremiah and to some extent compared this a theology for the word of God in the whole of the biblical narrative. In Jeremiah, the word of God is a, if not the, primary theme. Just consider here the frequency of use demonstrated in the following chart:

דְבַריְהוָהַ or “Word of the LORD” in the Prophets

 

Total Hits

Hits per 1000 Words

Isaiah

12

0.47

Jeremiah

63

1.89

Ezekiel

57

1.89

Daniel

1

0.10

Hosea

3

0.83

Joel

1

0.69

Amos

3

0.99

Obadiah

0

0.00

Jonah

3

2.77

Micah

2

0.94

Nahum-Habakkuk

0

0.00

Zephaniah

2

1.76

Haggai

5

5.42

Zechariah

13

2.68

Malachi

1

0.76

The chart demonstrates that the “word of the LORD” construction makes frequent appearances in the writings of the OT prophets (there are also other phrases that could be examined, but were not included here for the sake of brevity). The top five frequencies are found in Haggai, Jonah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and lastly Zephaniah. It would be interesting to do theology of the “word of the LORD” for each of the prophets in order to discover the similarities and unique traits throughout the prophets. Daniel’s one use of the construction is interesting to this study as it refers to “the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet” (Daniel 9:2).

To summarize Shead—and hopefully do justice to his good exegetical work—the phrase “word of the LORD” is specifically the message of God, which is found in the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; 26:20; 36:10; 51:64). The “words of Jeremiah” are also “the words of God” (1:9; 15:16); however, when the singular is used in the phrase “word of the LORD,” a specific message with a powerful purpose is indicated. At times in the prophet’s writing, it is as if the “word of the LORD” becomes a person and accomplishes his purpose. It is not too much to say that the “word of the LORD” is the main character of the book of Jeremiah.

The prophet “consumes” the words of God (15:16), and they become to him his delight and joy. The words of God, which contain the message of God, sustain Jeremiah in his lonely, lonely work as the prophet to whom no one would listen. It sustains him so deeply that he could say, “I have not run away from being your shepherd, not have I desired the day of sickness. You know what came out of my lips; it was before your face” (Jeremiah 17:16). Isn’t it true? Judgment was coming upon the people of Judah; they would not listen. Jeremiah had the message of God; yet, he was alone in listening to it. Although he wept at the hard-heartedness of his own people, the word of God sustained him. The message of God became the anchor of his soul, his delight, his joy. Further, although true listeners, like his friend Baruch, were few and far between, he had to proclaim the message. In Jeremiah 20:9, he says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” He could not suppress or stuff the message of God deep inside so that it never came out of his mouth; he says it was like a fire, burning him up from the inside—he had to open his mouth so that the “flames” could exit and fulfill the purpose of the message of God.

It is to this I would like to turn our attention—the purpose of the message of God in the book of Jeremiah. I find this very powerful, and again, I credit Shead for setting me on the path to discover this insight. Remember that I said earlier, it is as if the “word of the LORD” is a person, the main character, in the book of Jeremiah. I may say further that it is a warrior, sword in hand, to either tear down what needs to be destroyed and/or to build up what must be sustained or rebuilt. The “word of the LORD” is fierce and entirely sovereign in its ability to accomplish this destruction or construction. No one could stop it. No one could prevent it. We are informed of this purpose very early in the book, at the calling of Jeremiah, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9–10; cf. 31:28 ESV). The prophet Jeremiah would speak the words of God to the people of Judah, from the greatest to the least, and through these words the message of God would destroy and/or strengthen.

The Word of the LORD beyond Jeremiah

Now, let us take what we have learned about the “word of the LORD” or the message of God from the prophet Jeremiah, and consider the rest of Scripture. For example, think about the creation of the world. Do you remember how it was that God created the world?

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.  And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.  And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.  And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 1:3–2:3 ESV).

God created all things by the power of his word. His word “built up” the creation. Perhaps there are some differences between the theology of the word here in Genesis and what we observed in Jeremiah; however, I think it is a mistake to miss the similarity that where the words of God are found, the message of either destruction or construction is also found. Consider the sheer power of the word of God. His word has the power to brings new things into existence, to give life. In light of this, consider the potential power of the word of God in your life. Are you submitting yourself to the destroying and constructing power of the message of God? To the preaching, to the study, to the reading, to the internalizing of the word of the LORD? Surely, we all have things in our lives that need to be destroyed by the message of God. Surely, we all have things that need to be built or strengthened in our lives.

The Word of the LORD Incarnate

Now, Christmas is fast approaching. It is the time of year during which we often think afresh about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. May I suggest to you that at the incarnation the “word of the LORD” truly and actually becomes a person? Consider the words of the apostle John, “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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5 ESV). And again, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14 ESV). The same word that spoke the creation into existence, from which came all of life, and the same word that speaks to the people of God throughout the history in order to tear down and to build up, this same word has now become a person. John writing later in his first epistle teach us that, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He came to destroy sin and death, and he accomplished this through his cross. He also came to build. He is building his church, and as the Creator and now Savior, he builds new life through his resurrection, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ironically, the personified Word, Jesus Christ, who came to destroy and to build up would accomplish these ministries of the “word of the LORD” by he himself being destroyed and built up, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19, 21–22).

Father, Give Us the Word This Christmas

Dear Christian—are you believing the “word that Jesus had spoken”? Dear sinner—have you submitted yourself to the destroying and building power of the message of God in the holy Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ? Are you in the word and in the Word? Everyday, we must allow the message of God in the gospel to be preached to us that our hard heartedness may be destroyed and that new life and obedience may be strengthened and built up. This word is the most powerful thing there is; we must subject ourselves to it. I pray that this Christmas season would be a reminder to you of the great lengths to which God has gone in his love and glory to engage the world with the power of his word.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top Ten Reasons Our Kids Leave Church – 3. They Got Tired of Pretending

Marc ends his previous post on “finding better feelings in other communities” with these words:

When they leave home, they realize that they can be “spiritually fulfilled” and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because…

3. They got tired of pretending:

Then he explains what he means by the weariness of pretending:

In the “best life now”, “Every day a Friday” world of evangelicals, there’s little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a stead[y] diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s great plan for your life” has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be “hap-hap-happy all the time”. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites” [brackets mine].

The idea that the Christian life is somehow a pathway to successful and prosperous living and a life in which you will be finally and fully comfortable and happy could not be further from the truth. This is a lie. A person only needs to read the Gospels and consider the life of our Lord Jesus to find that the way of Christianity is the humble path of the cross-shaped life. Resurrection only follows death. The Christian life is one that will cost you everything. It is only in this life in which we spend our lives for God that we find that he has indeed given us all things. On the other hand, the world is always searching for and never finding. And so some so-called evangelicals in an attempt to woo the world toward Christ, have forsaken the true gospel for a luxurious, false gospel. Young people who have an ounce of discernment take a glance at the Scripture and immediately pick up on the contrast that they see in the life of the Lord Jesus and his apostles as compared to some of the evangelical churches of our day. At some point, they either search for something deeper within the Christian faith, concluding that there must be more to it than this, or they “stop pretending” as Marc concludes.

Again, there is a sense in which I agree with Marc here; however, I feel like he again is missing a deeper issue. I feel that his worry is misplaced, or at least that he doesn’t say enough about what we should do. The local evangelical church’s response to this has to be twofold I think: (1) Teach and understand the doctrine of salvation that begins with the new birth, and (2) teach your church about proper ecclesiology between the young and the old, especially in the context of being a covenant member of a local church. At the heart of what real evangelicalism is, we find the doctrine of the new birth or regeneration. The thought that I as a pastor have to somehow manufacture a congregation in which there is no hypocrisy so that none of our teens get upset and “stop pretending” to be Christians is far-fetched and beyond my human ability. The answer to hypocrisy in the church as well as the answer to what happens when I see hypocrisy in the church is the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation. If a teenager has truly experienced the new birth, then he or she WILL persevere in the faith. The new birth is from the Holy Spirit (John 3) and the New Testament presentation of salvation is that the Spirit’s aim is to complete it (Romans 8:26–30). In the teen that witnesses hypocrisy in the local church, the Holy Spirit is present teaching that teen about things like we find in Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9–11. Not only this, but also the Spirit humbles the born again teen to consider his or her own hypocrisy. To go further, there is a test here for the young person, especially if they sense that they observed hypocrisy in an older saint. I recall teachings in the Pastoral Epistles that should cause pause to the young person who is quick to judge an older saint. I am not saying that what the young person observes as hypocrisy is not hypocrisy, but rather I am rather suggesting caution and humility to be practiced. Certainly, the apostle Paul calls the local churches to judge those who are within their assembly (1 Corinthians 5–6); yet the spirit with which we proceed in such a case should be one of humility, not arrogance or some threat of separation because “I’m tired of pretending.” The body of Christ is a family of sinners redeemed by grace. We eat the Lord’s Supper at a table of grace. Let’s seek to redeem and restore with humility through proper discipline and grace. For the young person to threaten and then actually walk away because he or she is “tired of pretending” reveals more about their own faith and ecclesiology than perhaps it does about their local church.

Just imagine for a moment the “I stopped pretending” young person’s response to God should he ask him or her about his or her reasoning for leaving the local community . . . “they were hypocrites, and I was tired of pretending.” I don’t think that is going to hold up well. IMO, that response will burn like wood, hay, and the like. Our young people (and all of us mind you) need a developed understanding of church membership and commitment to a local body. I’m speaking from what I see written in the Scriptures, especially as I begin a study on 1 Corinthians. Imagine being a member there! Plenty of hypocrisy-accusations to go around. Yet, the idea that leaving the local community is a valid option for any real Christian is absurd. No, the apostle along with the Corinthians sought to grow in grace and in this thing called the Church. I’m also speaking from experience. It was not long ago that there was an “exodus” of people from my very own local church, many of them probably claiming some level of discontent and some making accusations of hypocrisy as they headed off to other local churches that will surely be void of such hypocrisy (cue laughter). What I am discovering is that those who left revealed more about their poor ecclesiology and understanding of local church membership than they did about some kind of impenetrable hypocrisy that they supposed was present and that God was too weak to do anything about. Let be said and done in the local church this way, “rejoice in hope, endure suffering, persist in prayer.”  Let it be said to the young person who is “tired of pretending”: Stop pretending. Be a real Christian. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and glorify God in your local assembly. Keep going. Endure. Persevere. If you do, you’ll see God work, and you’ll witness hope spring up in your midst.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

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How Gospel Conversations with 7th Day Adventists Led to Research about Michael, the Archangel, as the Pre-Incarnate Christ and to . . . John Calvin? What?!

Three months ago, over a third of our church participated in Unlock 2013: Asking God to Open Hearts in DFW. I had the privilege and opportunity to lead this ministry and all of our Unlock Workers that consisted of an evening VBS, a free meal, prayer groups, sports camps, lots of organizing, administrating, and publishing, evangelism teams and prayer stations in the streets and parks of Dallas, and now – follow up for discipleship. We had over 620 gospel conversations with folks in Dallas, and we’re excited to evangelize more and become better equipped at discipleship. This whole thing launched out of a renewal that is taking place at our church to grow by worship, prayer, conversion/the new birth, and discipleship as opposed to the ever popular mantra of “Hey, come to our church because we now have the latest, biggest, and best programs.” We want to worship, pray, and proclaim the gospel and watch the Holy Spirit work in power.

As our teams were out in the streets and parks, some encountered 7th Day Adventists. Honestly, I did not know much about the Adventists. After having done some research, I will suggest that their openness to prophecy and the authority that they give to the writings of Ellen White are troubling. Also troubling is their inability to see that the Law was entirely fulfilled in Christ, including the Sabbath. Their position on the Sabbath leads them down strange roads as expressed in this recent article from Ted N. C. Wilson, the President of the Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventistworld.org/issue.php?issue=2013-1009&page=8.

Is Michael, the Archangel, Jesus Christ?

During my research on the 7th Day Adventists, I came across a very interesting view on Michael, the Archangel, that I had never heard before. They believe that Michael, the Archangel is another title for Jesus Christ. Michael means “who is like God.” Archangel could mean, “highest ranked angel,” or “ruler of the angels,” or “chief of the messengers.” Context must help with the interpretation. Let me be entirely fair, they DO NOT believe that Jesus Christ is or ever has been an angel. They believe that Michael when mentioned in Scripture is NOT an angel, but it is Jesus Christ, the ruler of the angels. Now, whether or not such an interpretation is plausible will take more thought and work on my end. My initial judgment is that such a view is confusing rather than clear, and we do not ever have the New Testament writers clarifying this for us. In fact, Michael appears in the New Testament, and in my opinion, it becomes more clear in those passages, that Jesus Christ and Michael are two separate beings.

It is also very interesting that this study led me to a place, or a person rather, whom I did not at all expect to meet on this journey . . . John Calvin. One Adventist author referenced John Calvin’s commentary on Daniel in support of his view. I couldn’t believe it! I surely thought he was mistaken. So, I looked up the reference myself, and here is what I found:

Commenting on Daniel 10:13, Calvin writes, “He adds next, ‘Behold! Michael, one of the chief leaders or princes, came to strengthen me.’ Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people. But as this is not generally admitted, I leave it in doubt for the present, and shall say more on the subject in the twelfth chapter” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 253).

Commenting on Daniel 12:1, Calvin writes, “By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church. Whichever be the true meaning, God was the preserver of his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son, and because the angels are under the government of Christ, he might entrust this duty to Michael” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 368-69).

He seems uncertain about the whole thing really. Calvin also writes in his 65th lecture, which followed the above quotation, “As we stated yesterday, Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defence of his elect people” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7012 & Hosea, XIII, page 369-70).

I could . . . not . . . believe it. It’s not that I sense orthodoxy is at stake if someone holds to such a view, especially as expressed here by Calvin. It’s just a thought that I had never heard of until recently, let alone a thought that I have entertained. Yet, many of us would identify the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Christ. I am not so sure about that now, but I once held to that with no problem at all, and I still don’t think such a belief is too big a deal.

My curiosity continued. I wanted to see if Calvin maintained this belief all the way through the New Testament. So, I picked up his commentary on Jude, where Michael is mentioned again. Here, Calvin’s tone was different on the matter,

However, when you read Calvin’s commentary on the epistle of Jude, he mentions no connection between Michael and Jesus Christ, and in fact, I would say that there is no way that Calvin sees Michael as another title for Jesus in Jude 9, “That Michael is introduced alone as disputing against Satan is not new. We know that myriads of angels are ever ready to render service to God; but he chooses this or that to do his business as he pleases. What Jude relates as having been said by Michael, is found also in the book of Zechariah, ‘Let God chide (or check) thee, Satan.’ (Zech. iii. 2.) And it is a comparison, as they say, between the greater and the less. Michael dared not to speak more severely against Satan (though a reprobate and condemned) than to deliver him to God to be restrained . . .” (Me commenting on Calvin Commentaries: Hebrews, I Peter, I John, James, II Peter, Jude, XXII, page 439).

So, it seems that something happened in Calvin’s understanding of Michael, the Archangel, between his writing on Daniel and his writing on Jude. I looked at Hebrews to see if he said anything about it on Hebrews 1, where Christ is taught to be superior to the angels, but I did not find anything. I have not yet checked his comments on Revelation 12, where Michael is mentioned once again. I am not sure what exactly catalyzed the turn around. An interesting ride though. Thanks Mr. Calvin.

*Update* I recently discovered – and I think that this was news to me – that John Calvin did not write a commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. Most with whom I have spoken or whom I have read state that he simply ran out of time in his life to write said commentary. This news then caused me to inquire as to what was the final word of John Calvin on the issue raised in this article; that is, which was written later—his commentary on Daniel or his commentary on Jude? One may assume that Calvin wrote his commentaries in order, working his way from the Old Testament into and through the New Testament. However, this is not what we find when we search the dates as recorded in Calvin’s commentaries. According to page lxxv in his introductory material to his lectures and commentary on the book of Daniel, Calvin signed a letter that included his provenance and the date, which were Geneva, August 19, 1561. He did the same for his commentary on the Catholic Epistles, which included the book of Jude. His provenance and the date for this writing were Geneva, Jan. 24, 1551. This means that what John Calvin wrote about Michael, the Archangel in Daniel CAME AFTER what he did or did not write about Michael, the Archangel in Jude. Therefore, the conclusion I think we must draw from the matter at hand is that John Calvin did indeed believe that “Michael, the Archangel” was another title for the second person of the Trinity. Calvin believed that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was also the “One like God” who is also the “Captain of the Angelic Messengers and Host.” Although, let it be clearly stated here that John Calvin DID NOT believe that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was a created, angelic being, but rather the commander of the angels. In holding his position here, he does not succumb to the Arian heresy that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Calvin believed in the eternality of the Son, that he has no beginning and he shall have no end.

In my opinion, I think that Jude should be most informative to our understanding on this matter. First, it seems odd that after the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity such a title would continue to be employed. Second and more troubling, the Michael of Jude seems sheepish in his confrontation with Satan. If this is indeed an angel, I can completely understand his deflection to have the Lord rebuke Satan. However, it is difficult for me to comprehend a post-resurrection and ascension Christian writer reflecting on an event in the Old Testament in such a way that paints Jesus Christ in such a way. Now, I said difficult, not impossible. I can see how some may point out that (1) this is an event in the Old Testament and historically preceded the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, and (2) we observe Jesus Christ, even in his incarnate state, in his encounters with Satan and with spiritual warfare appealing to the word of God and to the Father through prayer and fasting. This reveals the inner fellowship and relationship of the Triune God with a common mission and a common glory as well as the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus as the second Adam, as the faithful Man. So, it is not impossible for us to understand Michael in Jude the same way that Calvin understands Michael in Daniel. Thus, I conclude that — hey — I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea. Yet, I can understand how someone may arrive at such a position. I am not ready to embrace it, nor do I think that there is any benefit in embracing it. I still think that it breeds more confusion than help for whether “Michael, the Archangel” is another title for the second person of the Trinity or not, whether it is a title given to him to emphasize his leadership over the angelic host or not, it remains true regardless that all creation is under his authority. He has been given this by the Father, and a special title is not necessary for this truth to be true.

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn over all creation,

for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him —

all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers —

all things were created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things

and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15–17).

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

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From Lament to Life: Remembering the Cost and Hope of the Incarnation

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

(Matthew 2:16–18)

While perusing the Facebook newsfeed one day this December, I noticed a link that a friend had posted from Crossway Publishers that described a dramatic poetry reading from Pastor John Piper called The Innkeeper.1 As I listened, I began to realize where the story was headed, and I discovered two reactions in my soul—first, I was surprised that I had never considered the powerful implications behind the text of Matthew 2:16–18, which is quoted for you above; and second, I was determined to take a deeper look at this text, which has led to the writing of this article in the December 2012 edition of the ScoCaster.

Matthew 2:18 is the fourth2 Old Testament (OT) passage quoted in Matthew’s Gospel, which indicates that the writer establishes early on that he intends to interact heavily with the OT as he writes about the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. I tend to agree with Blomberg and Hagner on the reason for Matthew’s oft quoting of the Old Testament, “Again, in Matthew’s perspective Jesus is understood as summarizing the whole experience of Israel as well as bringing it to fulfillment.”3 For example, the previous paragraph quotes Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea is referring to Israel’s experience of the exodus out of Egypt. Like Israel, Jesus too would be called out of Egypt.

Moving to the primary text of this article, Matthew 2:16–18 paints a grim scene. As we recite Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story this year, we should not skip over this part. The passage can be divided into two parts: (1) The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem and (2) The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah.

The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem

Remember, Herod was not the the first to order the slaying of young Hebrews. Do you recall what happened in the days of Moses?4 Remember how Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to execute the male Hebrew children? The Hebrew midwives feared God (Ex. 1:17) and refused to obey the command of the king of Egypt. Though I am not sure that I can be certain, I wonder if the Hebrews in their oppression began to remember the promises of God to their fathers, believed that God may send a deliverer to them, and therefore, the midwives feared and obeyed God rather than Pharaoh because they were waiting for a deliverer? We do know that the people of Israel began crying out to God for help (Ex. 2:23–25). In the face of tragedy, God sovereignly raised up Moses in the midst of Egypt to deliver his people from bondage.

The wrath of Herod fueled by his wounded pride brought great tragedy upon the town of Bethlehem.Apparently, it took place nearly two years after Jesus was born. As indicated in 2:16, Herod had calculated the number of years based upon the previous information he had received from the magi, and in calculating the number, he calculated a raw expression of his rage. Every male child two years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region was mowed down to the grave by Herod’s soldiers. Can you imagine being a parent in Bethlehem at that time? No warning. No refuge. The life of your child taken away—and perhaps your own—because you were the town that made room for the Deliverer. A tender population of your town wiped out because you sovereignly became associated with the Son of God. Bethlehem was not a booming metropolis. Estimates during the reign of Herod suggest that approximately one thousand people populated the town, from which we may gather that possibly “twenty boys would be born in two years, and several of those would have died in infancy.”5 However, even though we are only talking about the slaying of a dozen or so young boys, the tremors of tragedy reach deep into the context of a small town. The whole town feels it, and whether directly or indirectly affected, such a thing became part of everyone’s story. The history books have no record of Herod’s attack upon the children of Bethlehem, but God did not forget and chose Matthew to remind us of the price Bethlehem paid for its association with the new born King.

The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah

While the life and experience of Jesus in Matthew seems to have some parallels with Moses’ day, Matthew 2:17 reveals to us that Matthew primarily has in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, which are then quoted in 2:18. Jeremiah 31:15 is the exact reference here. Remember, Jeremiah lived during the tragic days of the Babylonian captivity and the fall of Jerusalem. Besides a brief period of revival and reform under king Josiah, Jeremiah faithfully and painfully proclaimed the word of God to idolatrous Israel. However, Jeremiah 31 is a rare chapter filled primarily with hope of restoration following the captivity. In verse 15, the message of hope digresses for just a moment because the Lord hears the lament of Ramah, the weeping of Rachel as her children are led through the town into captivity. Ramah was a town located approximately 8km north of Jerusalem. Interestingly, Bethlehem was located about 7– 8km south of Jerusalem and was located along the same road,6 even so Matthew’s parallel between Ramah and Bethlehem is more than geographical—it is social, emotional, and theological. Blomberg further highlights the appropriateness of Matthew’s connection between Ramah and Bethlehem—they were both towns familiar with sadness and suffering.7 There is also one more thing that draws these two towns together—Rachel. Rachel was thought to have died and been buried near Ramah (1 Samuel 10:2) while Jacob and his family were on their way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35.16–21).8 Therefore, these two towns have a connection in biblical history, both being marked by the weeping Rachel, the mother of all Israel. Returning to Jeremiah 31, Rachel was heard weeping over her children as they were taken away into captivity to Babylon. She struggles to be comforted even by God’s promise to restore her children. Thus, Matthew once again sees Rachel weeping for her children in 2:16–18 when he compares the pain of the Babylonian captivity to the ruthless slaughter at Bethlehem. This is a fitting comparison, for where else could he have gone but to the darkest period in Israel’s history to describe the pain and mourning of the families of Bethlehem?

From Lament to Life

Just as there was suffering in the midst of the grand promise given by God and proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah, there was suffering in the midst of the fulfillment of that promise when the Son of God became incarnate. Consider the words of comfort given by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah to the weeping Rachel:

The LORD says to her,
“Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears!
For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded. Your children will return from the land of the enemy.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
Indeed, there is hope for your posterity.
Your children will return to their own territory.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
I have indeed heard the people of Israel say mournfully, ‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke.
You disciplined us and we learned from it.
Let us come back to you and we will do so,
for you are the LORD our God.
For after we turned away from you we repented. After we came to our senses we beat our breasts in sorrow. We are ashamed and humiliated
because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’ Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children. They are the children I take delight in.
For even though I must often rebuke them,
I still remember them with fondness.
So I am deeply moved with pity for them
and will surely have compassion on them.
I, the LORD, affirm it!

(Jeremiah 31:16–20)

The proclamation of hope and restoration is accompanied by the future repentance and turning of Rachel’s children back to the Lord. God sent them into exile due to their idolatry and rebellion against him. But what are we to make of Bethlehem? Why the slaughter? We know why Judah was taken away into Babylon. But why this tragedy upon Bethlehem? Ultimately, I don’t know. Evil happenings in our world escape the reaches of human reason much of the time. Yet, I do know that they do not escape the reach of my all-knowing God, and I do take comfort in him because of this.

I feel that there is also one other possible explanation (perhaps among many)9 that may speak to us about this tragedy in Bethlehem that accompanied the glory of the Lord’s birth. Bethlehem sovereignly became associated with the Messiah. Which causes us to ask, what does it mean to be sovereignly associated with the Messiah? What a wonderful thought for meditation this Christmas season. Listen to what Dale Allison writes,

Jesus is literally sympathetic; that is, he suffers along with others. His identity as God’s beloved Son (3:17; 11:25–30; 17:5) does not render him immune from agony or despair. He is, on the contrary, especially subject to misfortune and pain: in Matthew’s story, Jesus suffers far more than anyone else. The savior is the innocent victim writ large. Now for those who believe in him, there is surely something reassuring in this. One recalls Heb. 4:14–15 and 5:8, where Jesus learns through suffering and so can sympathize with human weakness. Suffering shared is more easily endured. And as in Hebrews, so in Matthew: the principle has become christological. It is not just that one does not suffer alone, but precisely that one suffers in the company of Jesus, God’s Son. This must mean that the divinity does not remain aloof from suffering, for God knows the Son (11:27) and the Son knows suffering. If the Son is a person of sorrows, acquainted with grief, his Father must likewise be likewise beset by grief and sorrow. This does not, to be sure, do anything to unravel the mystery of iniquity. It does, however, put God on the side of the hapless Rachel weeping for her children, and on the side of the disciples tossed grievously to and fro by persecution. And perhaps that thought matters far more than any rational apologetic.10

Matthew knew very well what it meant to be sovereignly associated with Messiah—it meant he would take a journey from lament into life. You see when Jesus called Matthew to follow him (see Matthew 9), he would have been best described as a publican thug, barred from the temple and the synagogue because of his sins and treason against his own people. However, there is good reason to think that at some point, Matthew developed a heart for God (how else did he know so much of the Old Testament?!). Yet, the religious scene of his day did not allow him to seek God. Then, Jesus comes along and says to him, “Follow me.” Matthew perhaps did not know what was in store for him at that point, but as he followed Jesus, he surely came to realize that to be associated with Jesus meant a life associated with Jesus’ suffering but also with his glory.

I suppose now that Rachel may still be weeping for her children to return to the Messiah. However, perhaps there is also hope stirring in her soul because from afar she saw the birth of a new covenant, she saw Messiah conquer the enemies of her soul, and now she awaits repentance and revival as God promised to her.

What is it to be associated with the Messiah this Christmas? Is it not to believe in him and be saved—the glory of salvation? And is it not to willingly suffer with him and for him in a dark and unbelieving world? Is it not as Paul said, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29)? At the close of The Innkeeper poem referred to above, the Lord Jesus responds to Jacob’s tears of sorrow and faithfulness with the following,

“I am the boy
That Herod wanted to destroy.
You gave my parents room to give Me life, and then God let me live, And took your wife. Ask me not why The one should live, another die. God’s ways are high, and you will know In time. But I have come to show You what the Lord prepared the night You made a place for heaven’s light. In two weeks they will crucify
My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I Will rise in three days from the dead, And place my foot upon the head

Of him who has the power of death, And I will raise with life and breath Your wife and Ben and Joseph too And give them, Jacob, back to you With everything the world can store, And you will reign for evermore.”

This is the gift of candle three:

A Christ with tears in tragedy And life for all eternity.

May the love of Christ cause you to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer this Christmas and beyond as you follow Jesus to the cross and into glory.

 

 

1 You can find the dramatic reading of The Innkeeper on the web here: http://www.crossway.org/blog/ 2012/12/video-john-piper-reads-the-innkeeper/.

2 Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 8. John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do with You, (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 155– 56. MacArthur writes, “We know that Matthew knew the Old Testament very well, because his Gospel quotes the Old Testament ninety-nine times. That is more times than Mark, Luke, and John combined.”

3 Ibid., 10.

4 Read Exodus 1:1–2:10.

5 Richard Thomas France, “Herod and the Children of Bethlehem,” Novum Testamentum 21, no. 2 (1979): 98–120, ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed December 6, 2012). France does a wonderful job discussing the literary features and historicity of Matthew 2:16–18.

6 Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 9.

7 Ibid., 10. Also see Isaiah 10:29 and Hosea 5:8.

8 See also Ibid., 9.

9 See Dale C. Allison, Jr., Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 251–64. Allison wrestles with the problem of evil as it is represented in the Gospel according to Matthew. He thoroughly discusses how Matthew seems to attribute responsibility for evil happenings in the world to various sources or explanations.

10 Ibid., 264.

 

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Radical Christianity: To Be or Not to Be? (Introduction)

I have been and continue to gather insight from a wide variety of folks concerning the topic of Radical Christianity. My next series of blog posts will consider and evaluate such a label. The reason for such an inquiry is personal really. I (think) that I want to be labeled as such; that is, I want to be the opposite of apathetic, indifferent with regard to my faith commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church. However, being the opposite of apathetic is not really enough for me; I want to be “on fire” for Christ and his mission. He has given his life for mine, and I want to give my life for his glory and mission. But as you can see, I (as well as many others, I think) struggle to really say what a Radical Christianity looks like. I have some more specific thoughts, but I do not want to give them away just yet—you’ll have to stay tuned.

The term “radical” can have a positive or negative connotation depending upon how the term resonates within a person. I visited one of my favorite sources in order to get a formal definition of the term. Here’s what www.dictionary.com had to contribute:

rad·i·cal

There are other glossary options under the “noun” heading, but all of them are very similar to what has already been stated.

–adjective

1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.

2. thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.

3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

4. forming a basis or foundation.

5. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.

–noun

9. a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles; extremist.

10. a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.

I did edit the definition so as not to include unrelated glossary options (e.g., Mathematics, Botany). Here is another source, The Oxford American Dictionaries:

rad·i·cal

–adjective

1. (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough : a radical overhaul of the existing regulatory framework.

  • forming an inherent or fundamental part of the nature of someone or something : the assumption of radical differences between the mental attributes of literate and non-literate peoples.
  • (of surgery or medical treatment) thorough and intended to be completely curative.
  • characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive : a radical approach to electoral reform.

2. advocating thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party : a radical American activist (parentheses mine).

  • (of a measure or policy) following or based upon such principles.

3. of or relating to the root of something (several examples from Mathematics, Language, Music and Botany are listed).

4. [usually as an exclamation] informal very good; excellent : Okay, then. Seven o’clock. Radical!

–noun

1. a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims (parentheses mine).

I find the definition of the term “radical” to be very interesting and provocative when applied to Christianity. In one sense, it calls for thorough upheaval of tradition; in another sense it calls for an extreme return to foundational principles.

I recently listened to Max McLean’s dramatic rendition of Martin Luther’s historic Here I Stand speech at the Diet of Worms in Worms, Germany on April 18th, 1521. As an evangelical, I am a child of the Reformation—whether I like the entirety of that label or not. It appears that Luther’s mind, heart and actions were radical—he took the risk of challenging corruption within a religious tradition and called for a return to what he saw as foundational to Christianity.

Fast forward to our time and the state of the Christian Church. How has this radicalism affected the universal Church, the local church, and the Christian life and practice of individual believers? Positively? Negatively? Does our apathy and indifference need to be cured by radical commitments and actions? What is the relationship between on fire radicalism and some kind of Church or local church authority? Can the two co-exist? If so, how? Is the Church the place for radicalism? Or is the world the place for radicalism? Or both? Is radicalism too American rather than something distinctly Christian? As you can see, I do not want to restrict the idea of Radical Christianity to individual practice alone, but also as it is attached to and affects the Church. Nothing we Christians do affects only our own selves.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. May it lead each of us to a heart that is loyal to the one true God, to his people and to his mission.

In Christ,

Rex

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