RSS

Resurrection Life, Communist Life?

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…”

–Acts 4:32

+++[i]

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul rhetorically asks, “What do we have that we have not received?”

At the same time, in another context, Jesus says that it is better to give than to receive, and almost everyone who hears that phrase – not just Christians – will say that they like the sound of that…

And, yet, at the same time, look at what people do….

Are people generally oriented more around giving or taking? Does all the debt in our nation have anything to say about the matter?

And not only are human beings takers – and ungrateful ones at that – they are thieves as well….

Stealing, the 16th century church Reformer Martin Luther said, comes pretty naturally to us fallen creatures…

In his explanation to the 7th commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” Luther landed some real zingers. And he did not just have “petty” criminals in his sights:

“For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another’s property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor…to steal…is to be grasping…wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor…

He speaks of

…nimbleness and queer finances or dexterous tricks [which] take[] advantage of [one’s neighbor]”

And adds:

…[They] are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.

People are saying “check your privilege” a lot today – and not always for good reasons. At the same time, there is something to that, isn’t there?

More:

“…if all who are thieves, and yet do not wish to be called such, were to be hanged on gallows, the world would soon be devastated, and there would be a lack both of executioners and gallows.”

[…]

The “blue-collar” worker doesn’t get off the hook either… though here I’ll let you check out Luther’s Large Catechism later for more…[ii] 

Luther then sums up the problem as follows:

“…this is the commonest craft and the largest guild on earth, and if we regard the world throughout all conditions of life, it is nothing else than a vast, wide stall, full of great thieves…whoever can steal and rob openly goes free and secure, unmolested by any one, and even demands that he be honored…

So far Luther. So using one’s position of power or knowledge of what others don’t know to extract from them their time, their labor, their attention…

…and taking more of the winnings, the earnings, the pot, the “worldly success”, the “mammon”… than one should!

…perhaps all the while justifying what one does by insisting, for example, that it, is, after all, a “dog-eat-dog” world, that the buyer should beware… or that this isn’t really a “zero-sum” game…

How easy it is for us to fail to trust the Lord to meet our every need for daily bread!

And to steal, even in less awful ways… – sometimes even without thinking about it.

To not give credit where it’s due!

To take that cookie in the cookie jar!

To download that game from a pirate site!

To waste time on the internet at work!

To take money from others, intending to pay it back, and never doing so…

To show a lack of concern for… disrespect the property, the possessions, and the enterprises of others…..

And, also… to put another person in your debt through unjust means.

And this, frankly, is demonic.

We remember that the devil is said by Jesus to come to steal, kill, and destroy….

Stealing and killing, huh?

Well, if you think about it, the most extreme example of this abject selfishness and disregard for others – the apex of it all – is finally seen in stealing the life of another human being…

+++

What do I mean?

Well, not to confuse the commandments, but stealing and killing really are related aren’t they?

On the one hand, we say that for murderers “life is cheap” as the value, the worth, of his victim – and I’m not talking in a monetary sense here – doesn’t register…

At the same time, we also see that throughout human history – up until the more recent Christian eras at least – there are plenty of examples of evil human actions culminating in the act of stealing another life…

…taking another’s life from himself and others …precisely because it was valuable…

And I’m talking about state-sanctioned murder.

In the Western world, animal sacrifice was common in major city-centers until the time of Constantine.

But I’m not talking about that. I am taking about offering up another human being in sacrifice, in a desperate move to appease God… and to achieve His aid, favor and help…

…Or, more accurately, this is done for the false gods of one’s imagination.

All of man’s coveting and greed… and then his taking and stealing… climaxes in the fact that he realizes – even if only subconsciously – that, with all the evil he commits – the disrespect of parents, the hate, the lust, the greed, the lies, the coveting – he has a debt.

There is much that he owes…

Even those who don’t believe in a personal God will find themselves acting as if this is the case… because it is.

Hence we have Eastern notions like those of karma which, simply put, says that “what goes around certainly will come around”… even if it takes something like re-incarnation for this to happen. The piper will be paid eventually…

More secular people today might even explicitly say things that imply we have a debt that we owe to the universe, perhaps even how we have made “Mother Nature” angry….

And then, as people find themselves liking Christianity less and less, things that once seemed very strange – unthinkable even – start to happen…

For example, in California’s new mandatory ethnic studies program we see that it includes prayers to Aztec gods.

Somehow, Christianity has come to be seen as so oppressive to some people that they would now like to introduce gods into California public schools that will speed up Christianity’s replacement. Christianity expunged the Aztec gods at one point, and so it is only fair to do what one can to reverse the process.

Never mind, as Nathan Blake says, that the gods of the mighty Aztec civilization were worshipped by human sacrifice, which sometimes included the practice of torturing children to death…

Never mind that “[t]he Aztecs…were imperialists who enslaved and murdered the peoples around them, which made it easy for the Spanish conquistadors to recruit indigenous allies…”

Never mind that “[t]o mourn the demise of the Aztecs’s bloodthirsty gods is to take sides against the indigenous people sacrificed to those gods….”

What is going on here? It is the confusion that results when pagan ways are again sought in a Christ-haunted land…

As Cameron Hilditch notes, these folks are trying to “out-Christian Christianity itself, taking Christian concern for the downtrodden to the point of sympathy for the devil.”

Blake warns that “This curriculum also reveals a complacency about civilization; it forgets the demons that haunted humanity for so much of our history… it resummons, in name, if not yet, in fact, the demons that have haunted [us].”

And this is exactly right. One only needs to go to nations like Madagascar today, of the eastern coast of Africa, where the Christian faith continues to gain a foothold in more and more regions that previously featured animist religion, to see that this is the case…

Even many of the non-believers in a nation like Madagascar can see that the traditional religious beliefs there keep the people in bondage. Whether the people feel compelled to offer sacrifices to beings they understand to be their ancestors or animals spirits, they do so, ultimately, out of a spirit of fear…

I should tell you that Blake has a very hopeful answer to this fear, even when it reaches its worst levels. He exclaims that

“…the demons retreated as word of the resurrection [of Jesus Christ] spread, for He had conquered sin and death, by which man had been bound to the demons. Unlike the demons, He did not demand human sacrifice to earn favor, for He had become human to be sacrificed on our behalf…”[iii]

This is the true God!

The Aztec gods, of course, are no true gods but as the Bible says, they are in fact demons.

So, how did bringing demon worship into public schools become a priority for some Californians?

Simply put, by rejecting Christ, forcefully… or not so forcefully… by a thousand cuts – and infections – caused by life’s riches, cares, and pleasures…

By trying to take the world by force, even to the point of feeling they could steal it from God Himself…

+++

So, that is where things can lead.

That’s how bad it can get.

I hope we don’t keep moving in this direction, but it seems in some quarters that is indeed where we are going… and so perhaps that is a good word to tell you how you can be praying for our nation…

Back to Acts.

What we see there shows us a more hopeful picture – the opposite picture in a sense – doesn’t it? Where we, as they say “don’t love things and use people,” but the opposite: love people, use things.

True, right?

And yet, at the same time, maybe today’s Bible passage in Acts has us just a bit bothered too…

And now, after I started talking about the endgame of human sacrifice to secure divine grace and power, you might be thinking something like

“Well, I don’t think I’m currently on the road to throwing in my lot with Satan – but I’m not quite sure I get where this passage is going either… After all, it does sound a bit like communism…”

Well… it’s not communism though because Luke elsewhere in the book of Acts makes it even more clear that:

-this is wholly voluntary

-and people did not actually get rid of all their property (we see this in Acts 12 and the Gospels too: in John 19 as Jesus gives Mary to John),[iv]

-and the working poor, or “proletariat,” did not control the means of production…[v]

And so, with that out of the way, let’s perhaps make ourselves a bit more uncomfortable paying attention to some people who seem very eager to expand on and exult in the early church’s abundance and generosity described in our text!

Here are what some basically pre-communism commentators – from the 17th-19th century – had to say about this passage…

Ellicott states:

“The description stands parallel with that of Acts 2:42-47, as though the historian delighted to dwell on the continuance, as long as it lasted, of that ideal of a common life of equality and fraternity after which philosophers had yearned, in which the rights of property, though not abolished, were, by the spontaneous action of its owners, made subservient to the law of love, and benevolence was free and full, without the ‘nicely calculated less or more’ of a later and less happy time. The very form of expression implies that the community of goods was not compulsory. The goods still belonged to men, but they did not speak of them as their own. They had learned, as from our Lord’s teaching (Luke 16:10-14), to think of themselves, not as possessors, but as stewards…”[vi]

Barnes says:

“There can be no more striking demonstration of union and love than to say of more than five thousand suddenly drawn together that they had one soul! And this union they evinced in every way possible – in their conduct, in their prayers, and in their property. How different would have been the aspect of the church if the union had continued to the present time!”[vii]

Regarding the phrase “and had all things in common,” Gill pronounces

“that is, their worldly goods, their possessions and estates; no man called anything peculiarly his own; and whatever he had, his brother was welcome to, and might as freely take, and use it, as if it was his own….”[viii]

Kind of like when your neighbor comes over and helps himself to your refrigerator, I suppose![ix]

MacLaren points out that this account immediately follows a story of triumph over persecution in the book of Acts and states:

“…because persecution had driven them closer to God and to one another, [] the disciples [were] so full of brotherly love and of grace as Luke delights to paint them…. it was a triumph of the Spirit’s influence that the warm stream of brotherly love ran through so many hearts, knit together only by common submission to Jesus.”[x]

Matthew Henry nicely sums up, I think, the exuberance many of the commentators feel here when he proclaims:

“The greatness of the event raised them above the world, and the Holy Ghost filled them with such love, as made every one to be to another as to himself, and so made all things common, not by destroying property, but doing away selfishness, and causing charity. And God who moved them to it, knew that they were quickly to be driven from their possessions in Judea….”[xi]

The contemporary Bible commentator Craig Keener says that “[the history of the reception of this text] reveals various attempts to evade the text’s demands, domesticating them to fit one’s context…” (1028)

… but it doesn’t sound to me like these earlier commentators I just read – perhaps without communism to worry about – were doing too much domestication!

+++

“OK, preacher-man…” you might be thinking… “Don’t we know that communes don’t work? Isn’t this church in Jerusalem the same one that later on the Apostle Paul is taking up a collection for because they are so destitute?”

And what about Luther here too! He tells us that everyone needs to know that it is his duty, at the risk of God’s displeasure, to not deprive our neighbor of gain and to “faithfully [] preserve his property for him, to secure and promote his advantage, especially when one accepts money, wages, and one’s livelihood for such service….”

If the church starts doing these kinds of things we see in Acts, won’t Luther’s charge here be forgotten?

Won’t people just become dependent and even demanding?

Well, yes, that is human nature. And not only this, but:

People will always still be greedy. And people will still be lazy. And people will still covet. And people will still envy.

And some people who think this is a really good idea will also try to earn their way to God by doing good!

And some people will sometimes give off airs of self-righteousness as they prove how much they give up!

And, overall, people will forget that, above, all, Jesus commended the poor widow who only contributed a small coin…   

Nevertheless, does that means that we should totally avert our eyes from these passages?

Shouldn’t we want this kind of fire – shouldn’t we have these kinds of desires and even try to cultivate generous feelings and actions and programs in our churches – and also know that, ultimately, we are never going to be able to eliminate human sin and suffering?

Think about your own family members and the struggles that you have there – and yet the love and loyalty and acts of sacrifice that keep you strong in the midst of all of it.

Can we Christians, in our congregations, begin to see our brothers and sisters more and more as we might, for example, extended family?[xii]

I know. All of this is hard for me as well.

I confess, I have a lot of learning to do… This passage – and the reading I did on it – wasn’t easy for me to do… 

+++

I think that a commentator like Keener is largely right about our not wanting to deal with these passages.

We can acknowledge that when Luke puts this story in the Bible, he does indeed mean to say “This began to fulfill the prophecy of the prophet Joel! This is a harbinger of the true life, the resurrection life, that Jesus Christ has come to bring us!”

And we can intuit that Luke means to encourage us to, at the very least, be creative in the ways that we might continue along these lines, to think about “how, just how, might we be able to do likewise?….”

No doubt, if we were to think that we were to imitate every act that is recorded in the Bible, we’d be missing the boat… and find ourselves in trouble.

I don’t recommend you think that every story recorded in the book of Judges, for example, is prescriptive for the kind of life you should aspire to live. No, much of what is in that book is just descriptive – and gives us a lot of good indications about what not to do!

But I think there, in that book for instance, all of that is quite evident in the text itself – where Judges sums up matters by saying: “in those days, everyone did what was right in his own eyes…”, kind of tipping us off to what I just said… don’t do likewise!

Still, I don’t have any real indication that the book of Acts means to discourage us from the kind of zeal to share that we see here.

Earthly struggles though we’ll continue to have, nothing finally needs to take away from the joy – and even encouragement and inspiration – that this story might ignite in some Christians, or any Christian, depending on the circumstances….

And finally, I think we can say all of this while also acknowledging that Luke himself records that this did not last, that this kind of zeal and fervor – as admirable and good as it was – was not something that the church continued in… Sadly.

I think the old Lutheran commentator Lenski is right when he says it isn’t fair for us to imply that the early Christians were generous here only because their property was insecure because of threats from the Jewish leaders or because they just thought Jesus was going to return immediately and so did it. Also that the poverty that we hear about in this church later on in the New Testament is due to what Luke records here….[xiii]

+++

Again, Keener said: “[the history of the reception of this text] reveals various attempts to evade the text’s demands, domesticating them to fit one’s context…”

As you can see, I’m very sympathetic with Keener’s take here, and I think this text has a lot to teach us… – and at the same time, I think using the word “demand” here has the potential to be misunderstood…

Why do I say that?

Because I’d go so far to say that while we might be encouraged to do what Barnabas, for example, does – this isn’t really demanded of us.

Rather we see that a man like Barnabas is to be a model for us – even an inspiration for us! – but God also doesn’t mean to tie any heavy burdens on your backs here. Paul says that He loves a cheerful giver for a good reason!

I think it is important to say this today because there are more and more Christians, it seems to me, who are basically insisting that if one doesn’t give in exactly the way they think we should give – for this or that reason or historical reason – then one’s Christianity is suspect at best and false at worst.[xiv]

Again, I don’t have time this morning to go into detail here, but this is an important matter for us to keep in mind today too… We simply cannot accept thinking, teaching, like that.

So, how to close out matters?

Broadly speaking, we, of course, face two great dangers.

Envy, as well as a lack of compassion, even, yes, mercy… pity. Those twin evils cause the world to burn.

But our Messiah has come, has faced this world and conquered it, and is coming again…

And yes, it is true that when Jesus Christ sent His disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, the instructions He gave them specifically are not meant for all of us.

That said, in His Sermon on the Plain, in Luke 6, He did say more generally:

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys….”

+++

Man!

Well, certainly, the light that is in conflict with the darkness of our world comes in a limited and hidden way now, carried out by imperfect ministers and servants.

At the same time, how can we not get ready, even now, for the greater light which will dawn upon us?

How can we not start to show now that God’s way, His plan, His future… is different?

Maybe when I say this, you feel a little anger. Martin Luther said:

“When the preacher begins to preach concerning another life about which we should be concerned and for the sake of which we should not behave as though we wanted to stay here forever, then arguments and battles begin.”

That could be the case.

On the other hand, perhaps your feeling upon hearing this is not anger, but glad assent… while you also have some questions and confusion about what it means to be in but not of the world…

Maybe, like that man in the Bible said: “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief?”

Always remember Jesus does not break the bruised reed, snuff out the flickering wick, give a yoke which is heavy and burdensome….

This morning, your Lord does not mean to condemn you, but rather lead you into a deeper understanding of the love that He has for you and all persons….

That we might read these words from Acts this morning and take delight in the picture it paints!

Does this sound right to you, like it does to me, but you often just don’t know how to put it into practice? That is often me too… And I don’t know your circumstances, but I’ll make some attempts anyways…

What could you do to renew relations with family? Not only not “hiding from your own flesh and blood” as the prophet Isaiah puts it, but increasing the joy and love found therein?

Are you one who gives employment? What steps could you take to be even better to your workers …really assure them of their worth… and not just with words?

Are you blessed with good quarters or extra property? What ways could you be more hospitable to those you know around you who are in need?

A man I follow on the internet recently said “I began to truly listen and submit to those who suffered under everything I had earlier claimed was their own fault.”

Even when it sometimes seems like being a victim has become a badge of honor today – and even if we might want to clarify the kind of submission and reason for the submission of which he speaks – is it possible we might learn that we have not always been good at discerning what is oppressive?

And don’t forget what ultimately nurtures us and gives us strength to see this resurrection life that is coming!

Do you help plan worship? What could be done to enrich that worship?

In the architecture, the art, the arrangements, how could the proclamation of the Gospel be lifted up even more?

As God looks to extend His tent, what are some things I can do that would signal, herald, the greatness of God’s Kingdom to come?

Brothers and sisters, we know Christ!

May God’s house be made beautiful! (60:7) In this house of worship, and in all our houses!

May justice never be far from us!

As Isaiah says, may righteousness overtake us and go before us! (see Isaiah 59:9)

For, as He says “the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations”! (61:11)

May we always remember these words, which give salvation to all people… Even us….

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

That is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us!

Sin, death, and the devil have been defeated – your forgiveness, life, and salvation have been won! — and the final victory is yet to come!

May the Almighty and most Merciful God bless and preserve us…

AMEN


[i] Previous introduction that I changed:

“People of the Resurrection! This is a difficult verse for us, I think, and so one worth exploring!

As one commentator (Balge) compellingly puts it “We do not read of a generation gap, of class conflict, or of social cliques in the Jerusalem church. What we find is a people who are ‘one in heart and mind.’”

I have been digging into this topic a lot in the past week or so, and want to share with you all the things I have been learning from some of the great lights in the church!

One of the main things I always remember about early church history are the accounts of how the early Christians took care of one another. A couple short quotes always stand out in particular to me. One, is the expression: “Those Christians – they’ll take anybody!” (“the socially objectionable classes” – Celsus). Another one of them is “look how they love one another!”

I am greatly challenged when I read these old words from the church father, Jerome:

“When you see people freezing outside the church in the frigidity of unbelief, without the warmth of faith, impoverished and homeless, lead them home into the church and clothe them with the work of incorruption, so that, wrapped in the mantle of Christ, they will not remain in the grave.” (ACCS, 211)

Or, from the 4th and 5th centuries, St. Augustine:

“[God] find[s] fault… with the fasts of the quarrelsome; he is looking for the fasts of the kindhearted. He is finding fault with those who oppress others; he is looking for those who give relief. He is finding fault with those who stir up strife; he is looking for those who set free…” (211)

Let’s not forget in the book of Deuteronomy 15:4, the Lord had said that “there need be no poor people among you, for  in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance he will richly bless you.” God’s blessing in the Promised Land is connected with the end of poverty.

And in our text from Acts this morning, right after hearing about how the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, we hear that there were no needy persons among them, as, from time to time

“… those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the salesand put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need…”

This isn’t a one-off event for Luke, the author of the book of Acts, which records the earliest history of Christ’s church. Just a couple chapters earlier, we read about something similar, where,

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

It seems these must have been heady days, and we see continued hints that something akin to this kind of activity continued throughout the New Testament. One thinks about how even though some theologians like to set the book of James vs. the Apostle Paul, both men seem agreed on the fact that the early Christians were those who believed possessions and status were almost an afterthought – and that a desire for both impartiality and charity more or less flowed like a steady stream from the early believers.

James, for example, writes…

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?…”

Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul, the champion of justification by faith, writes in the book of Galatians:

6But as for the highly esteemed—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritisma—those leaders added nothing to me. 7On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8For the One who was at work in Peter’s apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in my apostleship to the Gentiles.

9And recognizing the grace that I had been given, James, Cephas,b and John—those reputed to be pillars—gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do…”

“They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do…”

Again, as we saw from our Acts readings, this was a priority for early Christians…

It is said that one of the reasons for fasting – other than in order to discipline one’s own body so as to have it under control – is so that one might have more food to give to those who can really use it. 

One also notes that when Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the Good News, He often sent them out with the bare minimum in terms of materials goods. Furthermore, we learn that not only did Jesus rely mainly on wealthier donors to do His ministry, but that the Apostles themselves – like those we read about in the book of Acts this morning, it seems – basically had “a common purse” which they all relied on in the midst of their ministry… At the same time, we also should not think that just because they had “left everything” to follow Him that they had nothing… (Barnes: “They regarded themselves as one family, having common needs, and there was no use or propriety in their possessing extensive property by themselves. Yet even then it is probable that some of them retained an interest in their property which was not supposed to be necessary to be devoted to the common use….”)

We know that the Apostle John, for instance, had his own home, as this is mentioned to us at the crucifixion when Jesus says: “Here is your mother…”

[ii] “The same I say also of mechanics, workmen, and day-laborers, who all follow their wanton notions, and never know enough ways to overcharge people, while they are lazy and unfaithful in their work. All these are far worse than sneak-thieves, against whom we can guard with locks and bolts, or who, if apprehended, are treated in such a manner that they will not do the same again. But against these no one can guard, no one dare even look awry at them or accuse them of theft, so that one would ten times rather lose from his purse. For here are my neighbors, good friends, my own servants, from whom I expect good [every faithful and diligent service], who defraud me first of all….”

[iii] More from Nathanael Blake:

Against this, we must remember that the demons have been defeated. Around two thousand years ago, another empire, powerful, magnificent, and sometimes cruel, casually crucified a man. He was one of many it condemned, and with little thought. He had taught remarkably and even performed miracles, but He still died an agonizing, ignominious death.

And then something happened. He rose from the dead. Not as a ghost, not as a spirit, but bodily, with a heart pumping blood and lungs breathing oxygen. And the demons retreated as word of the resurrection spread, for He had conquered sin and death, by which man had been bound to the demons. Unlike the demons, He did not demand human sacrifice to earn favor, for He had become human to be sacrificed on our behalf.

This is a revelation that goes beyond making us moral, for it transforms our being. Before the perfection of the Divine Victim, moral remonstrances are both affirmed and humbled. We are, at best, like the blessed criminal crucified with Christ, acknowledging his own guilt and need for mercy even while rebuking his companion for reviling Christ.

Like that man, for whom civilization could no longer give anything but death, we may look to Christ’s promise of something better than civilization — the kingdom of heaven.

[iv] What does the Bible say about property?

Matthew Poole: “So far forth as might relieve the present necessities of believers; not that every one parted with all that he had, for that had taken away (at least) the use and force of the eighth commandment; for where there is no propriety there can be no theft.”

Well, the eighth commandment still matters though it would not if there were not property…

In this earthly life we are always going to need this thing we call ownership…(note Acts 12:12: houses were kept!)

At the same time, we ultimately should always regard all of our possessions as belonging to God. In this sense, when we think about tithing, we really should be talking about stewardship and vocation. How has God called me to most wisely use the blessings that He has given me?

Schnabel, 2012:

“Since the focus is on the sale of possessions, Luke does not describe an early Christian ‘community of goods’ but the enunciation of monetary assets for the sake of the poor” (182).

Earlier, he had pointed out:

“The statement ‘they held all things in common’… can mean that the believers sold everything they owned and pooled the proceeds (as the Essenes required their members to do). Or it an means that they remained owners of their property while being wiling to use their possessions for the common good. In view of the details given in 2:45 and 4:32-5:11, the second meaning is preferable.

In Qumran, the surrender of one’s property upon entry in the Qumran community was obligatory. The paradox that the members of the Essene community are said to contribute all their wealth, while they still appear to have retained private property, can be explained as follows: Jews in the ancient world did not regard the adjectives ‘private’ and ‘public,’ when related to property , as mutually exclusive as we do today. Property that an individual ‘had’ could be understood to ‘be’ both for the individual and for the group. Thus, ‘the donor offers the right of usufruct to another but retains the right of ownership,’ a concept that explains the practice of shared property at Qumran…” (181)

[v] Lutheran Study Bible: “Preview and foretaste of the restoration of Paradise-like conditions in heaven. God gives us property and resources for our neighbor’s benefit. The early Christians fully shared with one another, but not in the same way as the failed communist experiments of the twentieth century. Here there is no compulsion or involvement of the State – only believers are affected, and only goods are shared, not their production” (1840)

MacLaren, writing in the 19th century, also says “There is nothing of modern communism in all this, but there is a lesson to the modern Church as to the obligations of wealth and the claims of brotherhood, which is all but universally disregarded. The spectre of communism is troubling every nation, and it will become more and more formidable, unless the Church learns that the only way to lay it is to live by the precepts of Jesus and to repeat in new forms the spirit of the primitive Church. The Christian sense of stewardship, not the abolition of the right of property, is the cure for the hideous facts which drive men to shriek ‘Property is theft.’”

Schnabel, in 2012, writes: “Luke does not describe a community that denies the appropriateness of private property (as in a monastic order), not does he propagate a world-denying ‘communism of love.’ Rather, Luke presents a pragmatic ethics concerning possessions in which the needs of the poor took center stage. The motivation to see possessions and share the proceeds with believers in need was grounded in their concern for the poor, as well as Jesus’ teaching about not hoarding material possessions (Luke 6:30-36) but renouncing them (Luke 12:33-34)” (183).

[vi] Ellicot also states: “Here there was a literal fulfilment of his Lord’s words (Luke 12:33), a society founded, not on the law of self-interest and competition, but on sympathy and self-denial.”

[vii] More Barnes:

“One soul – This phrase also denotes “close and tender union.” No expression could denote it more strikingly than to say of friends they have one soul. Plutarch cites an ancient verse in his life of Cato of Utica with this very expression – “Two friends, one soul” (Grotius). Thus, Diogenes Laertius also (5, Acts 1:11) says respecting Aristotle, that “being asked what was a friend, answered that it was one soul dwelling in two bodies” (Kuinoel).”

[viii] Elsewhere, he writes: “Neither said any of them, that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; though he had a peculiar right unto them, yet he did not claim that right, nor insist on it, nor so much as speak of it, nor make use of his substance as if it was his own, reserving it for himself, or even disposing of it himself; but exposed it to the free use of the whole body, to enjoy it equally with himself…”

[ix] Later he states: “Neither was there any among them that lacked,…. Bread to eat, or clothes to wear, or any of the necessaries of life; which shows their great charity, and gives a reason why they were in so much favour with the people, because they took so much care of their poor; and this flowed from the grace of God bestowed upon them….”

[x] He also states:

“…the common feeling of brotherhood was stronger than the self-centred regard which looks on possessions as to be used for self. Thus they possessed as though they possessed not, and each held his property as a trust from God for his brethren.”

[xi] Matthew Henry also talks to us about some of the stand-out people the book goes on to mention, namely Barnabas, whose name means, “Son of Encouragement”:

“Here is one in particular mentioned, remarkable for this generous charity; it was Barnabas. As one designed to be a preacher of the gospel, he disentangled himself from the affairs of this life. When such dispositions prevail, and are exercised according to the circumstances of the times, the testimony will have very great power upon others…”

[xii] And you know, with family, you can’t get rid of them because… they’re family.

[xiii] See Lenski, p. 119. He goes on to actually assert:

“…this was due to the fact that the Herodian persecution scattered this first congregation to the four winds while famine and hard times set in and caused distress. What Luke describes is a fine display of Christian charity. The same motive is still active in the church today. Many rich still offer large sum, and the rest still bring their portion, and Christian need never waits long for relief” (119, 120).

He also adds:

“There were many beggars among the Jews. We meet them constantly… The believers had none. The model her given has been followed by the church since that time. Every congregation takes care of its poor and unfortunate, and we need not add how extensive the arrangements are for doing this work through entire church bodies in regular institutions. Even the world has learned something from the church in this line…”

Using all the resources on BibleHub.com, one will find that a number of commentators have a number of reflections on the this passage that seem like very good ideas. Some are supported by Scripture, and others are not. Here is a summary (along with many quotes)of some of the more “conservative” takes on this passage:

Already in 6:1 we are told about the widows being neglected in the daily distribution of the food (Acts 6:1)

Going along with the end of Henry’s comment just mentioned, Benson says that a lot of what happened during this time was extraordinary, and that much of this activity may have taken place because the church took seriously Christ’s words about the impending destruction of the temple; the invasion of Jerusalem. In other words, fear drove the giving more than the love Luke seems to be talking about.

(Cambridge Bible for schools and colleges: “With the words of the angels still in their ears (Acts 1:11), “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven,” the disciples were no doubt full of the thought that the return of Jesus was not far distant. Such an opinion spreading among the new disciples would make them ready to resign their worldly goods, and to devote all things to the use of their brethren. For so the spreading of a knowledge of Christ could be made the chief work of the whole body of believers.”)

Gill writes:

“…but they had all things common; which was what they were not obliged to, but it was a free and voluntary action of their own, and so is not binding on others; nor indeed is their practice to be imitated, in the direct manner in which they did it, for their case was peculiar. They were not only every day liable to persecutions and to have their possessions seized, and their goods confiscated; but they also knew, that in process of time, Jerusalem would be destroyed, and they could not tell how soon; and therefore judged it right to sell off their possessions, and throw the money into one common stock, for their mutual support, and for the carrying on the common cause of Christ….”

Ellicott:

“Sold them, and brought the prices.—Both words imply continuous and repeated action. It is possible that besides the strong impulse of love, they were impressed, by their Lord’s warnings of wars and coming troubles, with the instability of earthly possessions. Landed property in Palestine was likely to be a source of anxiety rather than profit, As Jeremiah had shown his faith in the future restoration of his people by purchasing the field at Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:6-15), so there was, in this sale of their estates, a proof of faith in the future desolation which their Master had foretold (Matthew 24:16-21).”)

Some, in fact, also argue that this kind of thing was necessary because of all the people from outside of Jerusalem who had come there for the Passover, found themselves believing in Jesus at Pentecost, and then needing this kind of arrangement because they were not as welcome to the typical Jewish hospitality… (see Acts 11:29: “The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea.”)

(Barnes: “They were from Parthia, and Media, and Arabia, and Rome, and Africa, etc. It is probable, also, that they now remained longer in Jerusalem than they had at first proposed; and it is not at all improbable that they would be denied now the usual hospitalities of the Jews, and excluded from their customary kindness, because they had embraced Jesus of Nazareth, who had been just put to death. In these circumstances, it was natural and proper that they should share their property while they remained together…”)

Barnes: “And laid them down … – That is, they committed the money received for their property to the disposal of the apostles, to distribute it as was necessary among the poor. This soon became a burdensome and inconvenient office, and they therefore appointed men who had special charge of it, Acts 6:1-2, etc…”

(Expositor’s: “As the community grew, the responsibilities of distribution increased, and to whom could the administration of the common fund be more fittingly committed than to the Apostles? The narrative indicates that this commital of trust was voluntary on the part of the Ecclesia, although it was marked by an act of reverence for the Apostles’ authority. The fact that Barnabas is expressly mentioned as laying the value of his field at the Apostles’ feet, may be an indication that the other members of the community were acting upon his suggestion; if so, it would be in accordance with what we know of his character and forethought, cf. Acts 9:27, Acts 11:22-24, Hort, Ecclesia, pp. 47, 48. There is no reason to reject this narrative as a mere repetition of Acts 2:44-45. The same spirit prevails in both accounts, but in the one case we have the immediate result of the Pentecostal gift, in the case before us we have the permanence and not only the vitality of the gift marked—the Christian community is now organised under Apostolic direction, and stress is laid upon the continuance of the “first love,” whilst the contrast is marked between the self-sacrifice of Barnabas and the greed of Ananias and Sapphira…”)

Some also rightly point out other passages in the New Testament that talk about more circumspect giving (2Thessalonians 3:10; 1Timothy 3:8), and so argue that eventually the church in Jerusalem comes to learn that “generous and general distribution was not the wisest method of accomplishing permanent good, and that here also a discriminate economy, was a necessary safeguard against abuse…” (Endicott)

(Pulpit commentary: “even at Jerusalem this bright vision of a paradise on earth was soon troubled by the earthly dissensions recorded in Acts 6; and the Christian community received a timely lesson that things good in themselves are not always practicable in an evil world, where sluggish virtues require the stimulants of bodily wants to draw them out and strengthen them, and where hypocrisy often claims the kindly offices which are due only to disciples indeed. Acts 2:44….”)

Others sum things up by saying that the precedent set here is not that we should strive for communal living per se – the disciples here were not in the same house but the same community – butrather that we should have the willingness to do whatever is necessary for the good of our Christian community, even as we also realize perfection in this area will not be obtained until heaven… (Cambridge Bible: “Each felt that he held his possessions only as a trust, and if occasion called for it, they were to be given up. Such love towards one another, Christ had foretold, should be a mark of His disciples (John 13:35). All those who have sketched a perfect society, as Plato in his Republic, and Sir Thos. More in his Utopia, have placed among their regulations this kind of community of goods which was established by the first Christians. In theory it is the perfection of a commonwealth, but there is need of perfection in the citizens before it can be realized. There can be no question that an expectation of Christ’s immediate return from heaven, acting along with the unity of thoughts and feeling, made these men willing to part with their possessions and goods, there being, as we shall see from the case of Ananias, no constraint upon them to do so….”)

MacLaren: “the distribution was not determined by the rule of equality, but by the ‘need’ of the recipients; and its result was not that all had share and share alike, but that ‘none lacked.’”

Cambridge Bible: “There were no doubt many who were not in need, and they of course lived on their own. The distribution was intended only for the needy, as widows, &c., and for those who could not otherwise support themselves while they took part, as many did, in the active propagation of the new faith. It may be, too, that some were deprived of the means of support because they had become Christians…”

In addition, as we see shown clearly in the book of Acts, none of this was compulsory,[xiii] it was voluntary, and God wants all of this to be voluntary and cheerful.

Finally, many commentators point out how there is no evidence that this kind of communal life happened anywhere else in the early church other than Jerusalem. (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “This was done by Jews, and by Jews only; who, when they embraced the Gospel of Christ, were informed that the destruction of their city, and nation, was at hand; and therefore they sold their estates before hand, and put them to this use; which was necessary to be done, both for the support of the Gospel in Judea, and for the carrying and spreading of it among the Gentiles: but is not to be drawn into a precedent, or an example in after times; nor is ever any such thing proposed to the Christian churches, or exhorted to by any of the apostles…..”)

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary – Alford:

“That this was literally the case with the infant church at Jerusalem, is too plainly asserted in these passages to admit of a doubt. Some have supposed the expressions to indicate merely a partial community of goods: ‘non omnia vendiderunt, sed partem bonorum, quæ sine magno incommodo carere poterant,’ Wetstein; contrary to the express assertion of ch. 4:32. In order, however, rightly to understand this community, we may remark: (1) It is only found in the Church at Jerusalem. No trace of its existence is discoverable any where else: on the contrary, St. Paul speaks [constantly] of the rich and the poor, see 1Timothy 6:17; 1Corinthians 16:2 [Galatians 2:10; 2Corinthians 8:13-15; 2Corinthians 9:6, 2Corinthians 9:7]: also St. James 2:1-5; 4:13. And from the practice having at first prevailed at Jerusalem, we may [partly] perhaps explain the great and constant poverty of that church, Romans 15:25, Romans 15:26; Rom_1 Cor. 16:1-3: 2Corinthians 8:9: also ch. 11:30; 24:17.

The non-establishment of this community elsewhere may have arisen from the inconveniences which were found to attend it in Jerusalem: see ch. 6:1. (2) This community of goods was not, even in Jerusalem, enforced by rule, as is evident from ch. 5:4 [12:12], but, originating in free-will, became perhaps an understood custom, still however in the power of any individual not to comply with. (3) It was not (as Grotius and Heinrichs thought) borrowed from the Essenes (see Jos. B. J. ii. 8. 3), with whom the Apostles, who certainly must have sanctioned this community, do not appear historically to have had any connexion. But (4) it is much more probable that it arose from a continuation, and application to the now increased number of disciples, of the community in which our Lord and His Apostles had lived (see John 12:6; John 13:29) before. (The substance of this note is derived from Meyer, in loc.)”

More Barnes: “As every man had need – This expression limits and fixes the meaning of what is said before. The passage does not mean that they sold all their possessions, or that they relinquished their title to all their property, but that they so far regarded all as common as to be willing to part with it if it was needful to supply the needs of the others. Hence, the property was laid at the disposal of the apostles, and they were desired to distribute it freely to meet the needs of the poor, Acts 4:34-35.”

And

“Religion does not contemplate, evidently, that people should break up all the arrangements in society, but it contemplates that those who have property should be ready and willing to part with it for the help of the poor and needy…”

[xiv] Now, we do note that in Romans 13, the Apostle Paul says “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…”

And so, there is a sense that Christians should see themselves as having a metaphorical debt of sorts. Their duty…responsibility, obligation before God is to love their neighbor!

And here, some might reason: if Christians have a duty to love their neighbor, that means it is not unreasonable for me to expect that I will receive love from other Christians.

And that is right. But note also, there is a poison pill here: This can easily become they owe me this. I deserve that…

And this can get ugly.

Even as, as we saw earlier, the exploitation that Luther talked about early on is also very ugly!

Again, and again the Bible speaks against bribes, false scales, and exploitation… not paying people enough and things like this – for example. Having a real lack of compassion.

One challenge here is that while sometimes it is not hard to determine what is good, and what is equitable… fair and reasonable…. other times it is much more difficult…

And yet, it is too easy for us to depend on that second part, where, more often, we should simply error on the side of generosity…

And here, the Bible does not just speak to the rich, but the poor also. We all have the duty, the responsibility, to care for our neighbor…  the Bible talks more in terms of responsibilities than it does rights

And not only this but the Bible, if we let it, will often shock and offend us in the way it works. For example, while slavery was not in Eden, God permitted slavery not only in the Old but the New Testament!

Therefore, when Christians freed slaves in the ancient church, they didn’t encourage any to rise up like a demanding Spartacus, but rather did so by buying slaves from their masters –yes, by compensating the slavemasters who had the power of life and death over them! – and then setting them free….

Was this the move of people who were weak in faith – or perhaps strong? And what about the Christians Paul wrote to who owned slaves? Don’t answer too quickly….

Does anyone’s neighbor, for example, have the “right” – should they think that before man and God they have the right – to all the things they feel they “need” which have not been granted to them due to “inequitable distribution”?

I submit that one cannot maintain that the Bible says “yes” — even if the world insist that to reject this is to embrace simply a different kind of slavery…

No. No – not at all….

Perhaps, instead, like in the Old Testament, God is calling someone to lend to them without interest, or even to take them on as their own long-term worker…[xiv]

No, it does us well to note that as regards these responsibilities, these go beyond “not doing harm” to one’s neighbor. God did not just rely on what we might desire in our heart to give in charity, but He also established, for example, gleaning laws, lending laws (vs. usury) and other laws protecting the weak and poor…

Some of these things we can do too… in line with passages like Romans 14 in particular, we can agree together that this or that thing based on this or that biblical principle it is a good thing to do…  But stuff like this as regards the particulars can never really be a “thus saith the Lord”…. Even as, if things are imposed on us that we think are grossly unfair, we may or perhaps should still be willing to put up with quite a bit…

(I get being a Christian Democrat or a Social Democrat or Socialistic Christian (note what gets modified and what is primary here) but Christian Socialist or Democratic Socialist — I just don’t think the Bible would support that…given that socialism and communism are basically synonyms when one digs…)

We should think long and hard… be quite prayerful… about just what it means for Christians to be “salt and light…” for Christian yeast to work dependably, yet perhaps slowly, through the dough of this fallen world…

We remember that we are first and foremost those who appeal for mercy, not what we are owed… In fact, when the Bible speaks in terms of us “holding God accountable” – it is to His promises.

Promises of His to show us compassion and mercy, not promises to give us what we deserve…

And so we beg, we plead, we implore… Not demand.

Even as, yes, we also pray for Him to vindicate us and save us from those who treat us — and Him and His word — wrongly…

Even here though, this desire is to be tempered with Christian compassion… God does not want us to ever be full of resentment for the way that others have treated us, but to be full of the love of God

Ideally though, it would be nice if we didn’t have to harp on about our own individual “rights” so much….but if all of us could instead learn to be those who would advocate for others on their behalf….

As they, in turn, would advocate for us…

How willing are you to *help* in that way… even if it isn’t always seen as help?… On behalf of your neighbor….

To put it bluntly, in spite of everything else that I’ve talked about this morning, we also don’t give into false God’s that lead to demands, and then taking, to stealing… and then, inevitably, to desperation, and, I am guessing real guilt, that ultimately leads to what the state of California is doing…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

If you haven’t checked out my academic librarian blog before…

…please consider doing so today:

Do a little bit of wring there off and on, along with another academic librarian who goes by the name Lucian Minor.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 7, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Were You There When They Crucified the King? Yes.

Pilate’s Gospel

+++

“Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” –John 19:21

+++

Here in America, we love to celebrate the individual, don’t we?

On the one hand, this seems like a good thing: Who could disagree with striving for a genuinely deep care and concern for the dignity of each human being created in the image of God?  

On the other hand, when most Americans hear about “celebrating the individual” they are probably thinking more along the lines of individual people pursuing whatever it is they feel will make them happy in the moment…

And here, we immediately face a problem: What is guaranteed to hold all of the powerful persons… the “opinion-makers”, the “stars”, the “captains of industry”… in check?

Who says: “Wait, there are good and bad ways to live! There are some limits!”? 

An appreciation of…

…and a raising up of the individual…

…will not end well if those individuals do not learn that they are not God, that they must, in fact, put chains on their passions, desires, appetites…

Or else be chained…

+++

How can an aggressive individualism not be the death of any people?…

Won’t the state be forced to enact more laws to counter the chaos, and then when challenged, say like Pilate “What I have written, I have written….”?

And yet, at the same time, there is still another problem here:

The Bible informs us that even the governors of the earth… its kings… will not be fettered… will not bow to a Higher Power, a Higher Law.

Psalm 2 reads, after all:

Why do the nations conspire[a]
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”

+++

And do you see how this all relates to[i] why the Jewish leaders want Pilate to change what he wrote on the sign about Jesus?…

Why do they want this?

Yes, it is because they are filled with envy; they hated Jesus, and rejected Him, wholesale. The One who had turned their world upside down was going to pay!

And Pilate saw this as the Jewish leaders caused him some pain too. And so he had written on the sign above Jesus, in three languages no less, “The King of the Jews”.

This, yes, ultimately ironic comment seems to have been made in order to get a bit of revenge against the Jewish leaders for putting him in a bad situation…

As the commentator Lenski puts it:

“[The Jews] had forced Pilate to crucify Jesus as a king. Very well then, they should have him on the cross but only as a king, their King. Let all the world read, ‘The King of the Jews’!”

And Pilate’s action was painful for them.

It, as the kids say today, triggered them…[ii]

And the deepest reason for that is this:

Ultimately, if Jesus was who He said He was, what would that say about them? Mean about them?

…who they understood themselves to be?

Well, the hard truth is that their reaction was just further confirmation that they were spiritual rebels.

And an even harder truth is that they exemplify the very real spirit of spiritual rebellion that lies in the heart of all of us…

Jesus had told them that they had been given their office by God… that they sat in Moses’ seat. And yet, He also said, time and again, that they had not done as they should have.

They had not submitted to the truth.

And again, here, they are a sign for us:

No one wants to be humble…. To submit….

So, what are the things about Jesus that are true that we do not want to be true?

Perhaps more than we think…

+++

According to our old Adam, our sinful nature, we are all utterly opposed to the truth of Jesus Christ….

I distinctly remember a moment when I was overseas, teaching in Slovakia. It was an amazing two years, and I want to put in a good word for the Slovaks, whose way of life made a deep impression on me as an American.

Nevertheless, I remember witnessing men and women bustling about in a city there, and having a rather arresting thought:

People, proud and independent, strolled about as if little gods, seemingly masters of their universe…

And I was reminded of this again when I recently read about a man named Rich Bordner, “a high school teacher with 15 years’ experience, from the inner city to the suburbs.”

In the article, we see Bordner make a striking claim: “Students in every context, he says, have a common way of understanding the world…”.[iii]

And how do they, empowered further by American education, understand the world? Some quotes from this article:

“You can tell that Bordner loves his students. He listens to them. Carefully. Intentionally. And in getting to know his students, he’s discovered that virtually all of them see themselves and everyone else as autonomous, self-deciding, self-determining centers of their own meaning and truth…. It’s “not just the secular kids”

More:

“….Most of all they share a “really aggressive individualism.” They’re “sold out” to it. They’re dogmatic on it… It’s in their homes, perhaps best exemplified in Disney movies of late, all of them focused on someone casting off some false self and becoming who they really are…. So it’s, “I am my own. I define myself. Period. Full stop.” If there’s “some kind of limit to your self-expression,” as Bordner put it, then you’re not doing right. You’re not authentic. You’re not being you…

… “My body doesn’t determine my sex. I do.” I am not my body. I can’t escape it, but I won’t let it define who or what I am. I define myself.” Period. Full stop…. we own our own worlds. We define them. We rule them. In effect it says we’re all gods….  “No one but I can decide what sex I am. What I have spoken is true, because I have spoken it. You must agree and comply with what I have spoken. If not, I brand you a bigot, worthy of being fired, shunned, canceled, boycotted … .”

Such is Bordner’s report. The author of the article, Tom Gilson goes on to add:

“This is what gods do. They build and shape worlds, they control them, they decide what is moral and immoral, and they mete out punishment and rewards accordingly…

Of course we Westerners are far too sophisticated to create gods by our own hands, made of wood or stone, inert, motionless, unable to hear or speak. We have active gods instead. Our gods have voices (our own). We still manufacture them, but that’s okay. We are gods of our own worlds, each one of us. We have power and authority to make ourselves gods….I do not mean that anyone actually thinks of himself or herself as a god. The deception is way more subtle than that. It persuades people that it’s just an ordinary, human, and even moral thing to have such authority. “You have a responsibility to be yourself.” We don’t realize how culturally conditioned that is, or how strange, wrong, or even inhuman it would seem in other times and places….”

Gilson ends:

“….Of course, Christians through the centuries have always found ways not to submit fully to God’s reign. (I’m talking about myself here, you must know.) This is just today’s version of an ancient tendency. Very ancient: “You will be like God,” as Satan said to Eve (Genesis 3:4). Today’s version is just as wrong, just as deadly, but much more carefully buried in a culture’s message of what seems right and good and ordinary.”

How will a world of such gods fare?

If things continue as they do, how can this not end in a frightening competition perhaps unlike any we’ve ever seen?

+++

Who are we really?

Again, we are rebels; a sinful race, as can be readily determined by comparing our lives to the 10 commandments.

What this article illustrates, more than anything is simply that we are quite capable of suppressing the truth about ourselves.

And not just the kids….

Especially in the West, with our technological prowess, our political achievements and the variety of leisure activities we enjoy, it is quite easy to forget God, not give Him much time in our day….

To feel like we basically have things figured out, that life is pretty good, that we are, in a sense, almost like little gods ourselves.

So what if death is coming for me – I mean, probably (people are working on solutions to that problem, by the way, too!)?

So what if there are others who need religious crutches to obtain security and meaning in the world? I’m doing pretty good…

We can be quite good at suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. At thinking that the great “I am” describes me and not God…

And some of us, full of raw vigor, can evidently even remain quite psychologically healthy even in the midst of such rebellion…

+++

Ironically, how different is Jesus – God the Son Himself! – from all of this!

Prior to our Gospel reading for today, the Jewish leaders bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate.

Let’s listen in on a few key scenes:

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

+++

Picking up on events later:

Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally”, we are told, “Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified….”

+++

If anyone could have aggressively defined Himself, asserted Himself, it was the surely the very Son of God….

But instead, as we read in Philippians,

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

The author David Bentley Hart, in his 2009 book Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, talks about the profound impact of this scene with Pilate…

The actions of the Son of God here, he says, show us how He changed the whole world…

Christianity was not revolutionary in a political sense, but it brought change that was not “merely local, transient, and finite.”

It was, he says, “a complete revision of the moral and conceptual categories by which human beings were to understand themselves and one another and their places within the world.” [iv] After all, in the ancient world, the legal and social distance between the powerful and the poor was quite pronounced even though among the Christians, “[m]en of high attainment—literate, accomplished, propertied, and free—had to crowd in among slaves, laborers, and craftsmen, and count it no disgrace….”[v]

I’d say we see this most strikingly in stories of the Middle Ages where King and pauper became one at the communion rail, as both bowed before the real King to receive the body and blood of Christ…

Hart says that the scene with Pontius Pilate shows us this great contrast.

You see, in the ancient world, Pilate would have been one of the greatest and most exalted of men, atop “the great cosmic hierarchy of rational powers” which “descend[ed] from the Highest God down to the lowliest of slaves…”

He would have been “a little nearer to heaven than to earth, and imbued with something of the splendor of the gods…”

And Jesus? He was as the lowliest of slaves, “no natural claim whatsoever upon Pilate’s clemency, nor any chartered rights upon which he might call; simply said, he has no person before the law…”

So according to the world, he didn’t count…

And yet, as we sense when we read the Gospel, Jesus is the figure in the picture who “enjoys perfect sway over life and death”, while the other, Pilate, “no longer belongs even to himself…”

Even so, when Jesus is brought before Pilate a second time, according ears of a person in the ancient world, a question like “Where do you come from?” and a statement like “I have power to crucify you” would have made clear that Jesus Christ, compared to Pilate, was no one at all…

Jesus Christ’s answers to him would have seemed like madness, “the comical impudence of a lunatic,” as Hart puts it…[vi]

But do you see? It is not Jesus Christ who is not of sound mind, it is Pilate.

He is on trial. We are on trial.

Finally, allow one more quote from Hart here to argue for Jesus’ profound impact upon all people…:

“…I have to assume, however, that most of us today simply cannot see Christ and Pilate in this way. We come too late in time to think like ancient men and women, and few of us, I hope, would be so childish as to want to. Try though we might, we shall never really be able to see Christ’s broken, humiliated, and doomed humanity as something self-evidently contemptible and ridiculous; we are instead, in a very real sense, destined to see it as encompassing the very mystery of our own humanity: a sublime fragility, at once tragic and magnificent, pitiable and wonderful. Obviously, of course, many of us are quite capable of looking upon the sufferings of others with indifference or even contempt. But what I mean to say is that even the worst of us, raised in the shadow of Christendom, lacks the ability to ignore those sufferings without prior violence to his or her own conscience. We have lost the capacity for innocent callousness. Living as we do in the long aftermath of a [Christian] revolution so profound that its effects persist in the deepest reaches of our natures, we cannot simply and guilelessly avert our eyes from the abasement of the victim in order to admire the grandeur of his persecutor; and for just this reason we lack any immediate consciousness of the radical inversion of perspective that has occurred in these pages.”[vii]

I hope that makes some sense to you. And yet… what is happening here, among our people, today?

In fact, the noble kinds of compassion and patience encouraged by Christian faith is increasingly being used against Christian faith itself…

…which is identified with the forces of oppression.

And if you are one of Christianity’s victims, your status is now being “politically weaponized” as people put it today

…as those in the victim’s place assume the role of Pilate…

…and, even if unintentionally, drag us all back into the callousness of the ancient world again…

One wonders if Coliseum games can be far behind…

+++

Oh, the depths of humanity’s corruption!

How very much should we all distrust ourselves!

And how we should be aware of our desire to live by our own righteousness – even before God Himself!

“God, I’m good right? Have I not been good enough?”

We should fling ourselves before God’s mercy, everyday….

All must confess their rebellion.

Too strong a language, you might think?

No, it’s not.

Because in spite of the gas lighting you get from the “men of science” and beyond, the fearsome beauty that we see in the creation testifies to its Creator – and our Judge.

And Christianity, in particular, is true and sure and proven.

It is made sure in the hearts of men by God creating faith in them through the loving power of His forgiveness-life-and-salvation-bringing, history-telling-and-making words, making plain and testifying in particular to the One who was to – and has – come.  

This is what distinguishes what we call the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit from other religions’ claims of “self-authentication”.  

While all men, including Christians, struggle with doubts, no one can claim that God has not proved this message to them, particularly because of the relentless fact of Jesus’s fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies we hear today…

Given the presence of miracle claims that are said to authenticate the teachings of other religions, God has lifted up biblical prophecy – and prophecy-fulfilling miracles like the resurrection in particular – as those things that demand most forcefully that His messengers be paid attention to…

…even as all persons, again, are still culpable before God when they have not witnessed or heard of these kinds of things…seen any miracles or heard any Christian preaching (Romans 1)…

+++

The true miracle is that from these sinful masses that perpetuate the sin and rebellion, God builds His church.

He calls people out… men and women everywhere believe when and where it pleases Him!

We are even told that one Roman centurion, who can probably read the Latin and Greek at least, can stand by the cross and can see… and can say “Surely He was the Son of God!”

This sign proclaiming “the King of the Jews” – this “Gospel according to Pilate” if you will! – was a great testimony![viii]

The sign spoke to Jews… (the Aramaic)

To the political class (Latin)…

And to business class and traders throughout the world at that time (Greek)….

And, as we know from all the history which followed, many from the Jews, the Romans, and the Greeks and beyond, would go on to believe in Jesus…

Just as Jesus had predicted in John 12:32: “….when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself….”

The cross was the absolute shame of man: it was reserved for slaves, traitors, and the lowest of the low…

But to be lifted up is also to be glorified, and so hence the cross becomes Christ’s throne.

For there He reigns, as prophesied in Isaiah:

13Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted. (Isa 52:13).

+++

We are not self-sufficient.

We are not the Creator.

We are not the ones who can save ourselves on earth or for heaven.

The greatest teacher of Lutheran pastors in the 19th century C.F. W. Walther said:

A preacher of the Law must make a person distrust himself – even in the smallest things – until his dying hour and keep him confessing that he is a miserable creature, with no record of good deeds except those that God has accomplished through him” (Law and Gospel, 151)

That is the truth. And that is specifically why, as the Apostle Paul writes…

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

You selfish little god – do you realize that God has taken away all your sins, all the evil that is within you?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Yes, because you were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3), and that is where your old Adam died and the new man you are in Christ rises with Him…

Remember who you are. Remember how you are defined.

You are baptized!

And do you see that even now, even in this very moment, because of His work on the cross, He declares you righteous and holy before Him?

Behold:

Your King.

Amen


[i] No, it is not identical with. Such relatively “unbridled individualism” was not a thing in that day.

[ii] [The content of the sign] was “Pilate’s psychological revenge on the Jewish hierarchy for forcing his decision” (Tenney, 181)

This was Pilate’s way of saving face, showing some courage.

The Jews were stung by this because it was embarrassing for them to have someone said to be their King executed, and as a common criminal to boot.

 “When the priests read this title, they were exceedingly displeased; because, as it represented the crime for which Jesus was condemned, it intimated that he had been acknowledged for the Messiah. Besides, being placed over the head of one who was dying by the most infamous punishment, it implied that all who attempted to deliver the Jews should come to the same end. Wherefore, the faith and hope of the nation being thus publicly ridiculed, the priests thought themselves highly affronted, and came to Pilate in great concern, begging that the writing might be altered. But he, having intended the affront, because they had constrained him to crucify Jesus, contrary both to his judgment and inclination, would not hear them, but rejected their application with some warmth, and with that inflexibility which historians represent as part of his character.” — Macknight.

[iii] Article from Tom Gilson, published on February 6, 2021:

[iv] More: When all is said and done, the pagan critics of the early church were right to see the new faith as an essentially subversive movement. In fact, they may have been somewhat more perspicacious in this regard than the Christians themselves. Christianity may never have been a revolution in the political sense: it was not a convulsive, violent, or intentionally provocative faction that had some “other vision” of political power to recommend; but neither, for that reason, was the change it brought about something merely local, transient, and finite. The Christian vision of reality was nothing less than—to use the words of Nietzsche—a “transvaluation of all values,” a complete revision of the moral and conceptual categories by which human beings were to understand themselves and one another and their places within the world. It was—again to use Nietzsche’s words, but without his sneer—a “slave revolt in morality.” But it was also, as far as the Christians were concerned, a slave revolt “from above,” if such a thing could be imagined; for it had been accomplished by a savior who had, as Paul said in his Epistle to the Philippians, willingly exchanged the “form of God” for the “form of a slave,” and had thereby overthrown the powers that reigned on high. David Bentley Hart, here: https://copiousflowers.com/2020/01/13/heirs-of-a-culture-that-sprang-from-peters-tears/

[v] They begin to realize, he tells us, “something like a real community of souls, transcendent of all natural or social divisions….”

[vi] “And the picture’s asymmetry becomes even starker (and perhaps even more absurd) when Jesus is brought before Pilate for the second time, having been scourged, wrapped in a soldier’s cloak, and crowned with thorns. To the ears of any ancient person, Pilate’s question to his prisoner now—“Where do you come from?”—would almost certainly have sounded like a perfectly pertinent, if obviously sardonic, inquiry into Christ’s pedigrees, and a pointed reminder that, in comparison to Pilate, Christ is no one at all. And Pilate’s still more explicit admonition a moment later—“I have power to crucify you”—would have had something of the ring of a rhetorical coup de grâce. Christ’s claim, on the other hand, that Pilate possesses no powers not given him from above would have sounded like only the comical impudence of a lunatic….”

[vii] David Bentley Hart, here: https://copiousflowers.com/2020/01/13/heirs-of-a-culture-that-sprang-from-peters-tears/

[viii] Bible Hub: “This was the common Roman name for an inscription of the kind, which was meant to give information of the crime for which the sentence of crucifixion had been given.” So the notice, or placard, was a typical thing for an execution: it listed the crimes of the condemned.

Beasley-Murray writes: “Eusebius, H.E. 6:44, relates how in the reign of Marcus Aurelius a Christian named Attalus was led round the amphitheatre in Lyons with a tablet attached to him, on which it was written, ‘This is Attalus the Christian’” (346).

Interestingly, Bruner considers that Pilate may have even had the beginnings of faith, even as he says initially he “may have meant  his sign….as an anti-Jewish joke (“Here’s your King you stiff-necked people!”). He even calls it the “Gospel of Pilate”: the title “means that Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture’s central promise – the messianic, royal ‘One Who is Coming.’” (1100).

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 5.

Sadly, still needed.

 

+++

In Steven Paulson’s Luther for Armchair Theologians (2004) and also page 84 of A Brief Introduction to Martin Luther (2017), we read the following:

“Luther said, Jesus is not only a sinner, but he became a ‘curse for us’. On top of that he ‘has sinned or has sins’. Moreover, Jesus was ‘sinner of sinners’ and ‘the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner’. And in near madness (were forgiveness itself not at stake) Christ became sin itself. If your trust lies elsewhere, such as in logic’s fundamental principle of ontology (that a thing cannot have one attribute and its opposite at the same time), then Christ who is sinless and sinful at the same time must be rejected.”

I was particularly interested in the “has sinned or has sins” part, particularly because in this recent edition of the Scripture First podcast, Paulson says that “Luther says ‘when Jesus confesses [the sin], he does it.'” *

Is that true? Well, by following Paulson’s footnote to Luther’s Great Galatians commentary, helpfully reproduced by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller here, we can in fact read the following from the Reformer:

“Is. 53:6 speaks the same way about Christ. It says: God has laidon Him the iniquity of us all. These words must not be diluted but must be left in their precise and serious sense. For God is not joking in the words of the prophet; He is speaking seriously and out of great love, namely, that this Lamb of God, Christ, should bear the iniquity of us all. But what does it mean to bear The sophists reply: To be punished. Good. But why is Christ punished? Is it not because He has sin and bears sin? That Christ has sin is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Psalms. Thus in Ps. 40:12 we read: My iniquities have overtaken Me; in Ps. 41:4: I said: O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against Thee!; and in Ps. 69:5: O God, Thou knowest My folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from Thee. In these psalms the Holy Spirit is speaking in the Person of Christ and testifying in clear words that He has sinned or has sins. These testimonies of the psalms are not the words of an innocent one; they are the words of the suffering Christ, who undertook to bear the person of all sinners and therefore was made guilty of the sins of the entire world.

Therefore Christ not only was crucified and died, but by divine love sin was laid upon Him. When sin was laid upon Him, the Law came and said: Let every sinner die! And therefore, Christ, if You want to reply that You are guilty and that You bear the punishment, you must bear the sin and the curse as well. Therefore Paul correctly applies to Christ this general Law from Moses: Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree. Christ hung on a tree; therefore Christ is a curse of God.

And this is our highest comfort, to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins. When He is beheld this way, He easily removes all the fanatical opinions of our opponents about justification by works. For the papists dream about a kind of faith formed by love. Through this they want to remove sins and be justified.” (bold mine)

Initially, when I read that, I wondered if the Radical Lutherans supporting Paulson might be right, and that what I had said before was false:

“A big question about this debate — in the minds of Radical Lutherans, at least — is whether a special degree of latitude is being offered to Martin Luther that is not being offered to Steve Paulson. I’d contend that that is most definitely not the case…”

I even wrote this to my pastor: “Not sure how I missed that [quote] before, but having a really, really hard time thinking anyone can say Paulson is going too far now. Ugh.”

Then, however, I thought about it more, and wrote my pastor back the following morning:

I don’t know — I suppose I should be reading Luther in context of all the rest he says, which would, perhaps, suggest that all this is by imputation…

In other words, when Christ is said to “[have] sinned or [have] sins” it means that when the Holy Spirit speaks in the Person of Christ in the Psalms and says things like “O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against Thee!” or “O God, Thou knowest My folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from Thee” He is really taking on our sins, taking them into our own body, and then basically saying — while enduring all of this and the law’s attacks in perfect trust — “Father, give to me everything that you would have given them ; what their sins deserve. They are mine.

Paulson, of course, is determined to take matters further and focuses on the cry of dereliction…

And he doesn’t, it seems, let Luther stop him here as he seems he feels he must, for some reason, “out-Luther” Luther, who says speaking on Psalm 51:

“[T]hat expression, ‘My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ is similar to blasphemy against God, but it is not blasphemy. If, therefore, we were to say that Christ had been made the blasphemy of God, as some translate that passage from Deuteronomy (21:23), ‘he who is hanged is a blasphemy of God,’ or, ‘he who is hanged is an insult of God,’ of which Jerome makes much in his treatment of Galatians, then we would say it in the same sense as that statement (Gal. 3:13), ‘He was made a curse and sin,’ that He felt the blasphemy, the curse, the sin in Himself without the blasphemy, without the curse, without the sin which, in us, was a blasphemy that blasphemes, a curse that curses, a sin that sins. To such an extent was Christ plunged into all that is ours, as it says in Ps. 69:10 and Rom. 15:3, ‘The insults of those who insult you fell upon Me’” (bold mine)

Feeling better now.

Still am, but the turmoil I felt last Friday did convince me to tweet this out yesterday (notice all the likes! — not):

I think that is completely true and justified.

In like fashion, that meme that I made last Good Friday (above) was justified.**

As were the four posts that came earlier in this series as well…

As were all the recent conversations with Matt Garnett as well about the dangers…

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-the-pop-wing-of-the-lcms-is-denying-the-gospel/id761150893?i=1000502684611

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/last-time-your-faith-pop-lutheranism-your-faith-on/id761150893?i=1000503432111

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/beware-those-who-feel-need-to-popularize-sound-doctrine/id761150893?i=1000509002036

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/1517-luther-as-the-og-postmoderist/id761150893?i=1000511420118

Thank God for Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

FIN

 

 

*In the podcast it is made clear that since we are the ones who do not trust in God’s promise — believing Him to be forsaking us — Jesus Christ Himself takes this sin on His lips, confessing it, and so does it (i.e., commits it).

Paulson wrote more about this in his 2011 book. The following quotes were originally compiled by Pastor Jordan Cooper:

“[Jesus] wants to take your sins and leave it to no one else; so he sins against the Golden Rule.” (Lutheran Theology, 103).

“When Christ took sin by association, he not only transgressed the law, but placed himself “under an evil lord.” (Lutheran Theology, 104).

“Here Paul’s point is exact: the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among sinners as an exception to the rule. Law as “blind lady justice” executes its judgment regardless of race, color, creed—or divinity.” (Lutheran Theology, 104).

“Christ comes to believe he was guilty.” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

“Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin.” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

“Fifth, Jesus could not seem to stop himself once this sin began rolling downhill, not only did he confess our sins as his own (and believed it), but he proceeded to take on every single sin ever committed in the world: “I have committed the sins of the world” (“Ego commisi peccata mundi”).” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

For more on this, see this post here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/04/24/the-popularity-of-steven-paulsons-adaptation-of-luthers-theology-part-2/

** There is no doubt that this is an extremely difficult and hard-to-understand topic. Jesus would certainly not be displaying a lack of faith if indeed the Father had forsaken Him… while God is omnipresent, because of the sin Jesus takes on in His body, the Father’s presence in terms of His comfort really does goes away, and Jesus basically asks “Why?!” — even as in doing this He in no way shows a lack of trust in God but just asks a really good question [perhaps, the person of the God-Man had chosen not to have full knowledge here according to His Divine Nature, and hence, had not seen this moment coming…

 

 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

The Proper Distinction Between Sanctification and Justification

Talked with Matthew Garnett about a great Ash Wednesday sermon from Pastor David Petersen.

In podcast form:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/8205772-the-proper-distinction-between-sanctification-and-justification

On You Tube:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Flee Corrupt “Authenticity” and Come Into the Light!

Rousseau: the individual is good ; society corrupt…

 

“…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”

– John 3:21a

 

+++

In the book of I John, the Apostle John says

“…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

And in today’s reading from John we also hear this:

“…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”

So, how do you live by the truth?

How do you come into the light?

You might be thinking: “Well, just look at the Gospel for today!” It contains, after all, the most well-known and perhaps greatest Bible verse ever – which has to be relevant!: John 3:16, what some people call “the Gospel in a nutshell”:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

And we know from elsewhere in the Bible what the Apostle Paul says about the Gospel:

It is the power of God.

…so let the lion loose!

Amen to all this!

Over the years the verse John 3:16 has always been very special to me… In my church growing up, we chose our own confirmation verse, and John 3:16 was my confirmation verse.

When a person hears and receives the Gospel of Jesus Christ, everything changes. He now identifies with Him….

As Jesus’ little lamb, wanting to sidle up to his Shepherd and stick close, he begins to understand words like these from the Apostle Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

All this said, what might be some reasons why people don’t hear and begin to understand the significance of these Bible verses for themselves personally?

Our reading from this morning’s Gospel admittedly seems to give a clear answer here:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil…”

+++

How do we see this today?

Well, in our own context, here in early 21st century America, it helps to keep in mind that the Bible is still difficult to completely ignore here, and there are in fact a lot of liberal theologians…

These are people who don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God – and yet many find a lot that they like in a Gospel like John’s…

They just interpret it differently they say!

So for them, in the Gospel of John for example, it is not so much that God is saying that when we believe in Jesus we receive salvation from sin, death, and the devil…

Rather, believing and our own actions go hand in hand, as we try to be good, as we choose to be good…salvation comes… As one puts it, “To love God is to be saved. To love anybody is a significant step along the way…” (Frederick Buechner)

If grace comes into the picture here, it is not about God’s radical action which is received in faith, like the child with the trick or treat bag who simply receives the goods… (as they are by that gift transferred from the Kingdom of darkness to the His own Kingdom…)

Rather, it is about how we cooperate with grace, which is like a fuel, by our own choices and our own power…unto salvation.

So, when they hear that “…whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”, ultimately, for them, things will go something like this:

“It is by the power of human beings that they are able to choose the light like Jesus chose the light… and reveal themselves to be the truly good ones, the children of the light…”

So, they would say, in this text from John this morning, God is, in part, saying that He is showing us to be the good people…

The people who have exercised the divine spark from within them… the ones who God helps, saves, are those who have helped themselves and others as well….

+++

How might these folks look at Christians who trust that the Bible is the Word of God?

Well, they might have some real sympathies for these hopeless traditionalists… Some might even wistfully say that they wish they could have their simple faith.

Others, of course, would be less well-inclined…

…others among us who, for example, have very, very little knowledge of the Word of God…

…even if they certainly have formed their own very firm views about what it means to be a good persons and to live righteously in the world… ideas which clash with the Lord’s…

To be sure, they have heard some things about Jesus that they can’t not be impressed with. But what they have heard only makes them think more and more that it is not they, but traditional Christians, who, in a sense, “love[] darkness”…

Why might some think this?

Because, at bottom, they have a different story than the one we find, for example, in the Nicene Creed.

They believe folks like traditional Christian believers have simply not been true to themselves… and have not began to reach their full potential…

…because they are under the sway of, and are even being controlled by violent patriarchal systems…

…they are immature and lack real courage because this kind of external power, and not something like the good “inner child” within, is what shapes them and forms them.

Misshapes and deforms them, they say…

Finally, in the end, Bible-believers are certainly a problem because – ever fearful as they face the challenges of the world – they will lash out and try to control others – at the very least implying that the Bible should apply to everyone!

…that things like the 10 commandments should apply to everyone…

…or, even worse, think that it is good that “Christmas and Easter are national Holidays in America and why shouldn’t it have a privileged place?”, etc.!

These traditionalist Christians don’t understand that fear is what drives them, but that is certainly the real explanation.

They hold these violent views because they too have been formed by violence!

And violent oppressors all, it is now how they keep their privilege, their status, their power, their control… and their own external practices which comfort them…

“These are not children of the light,” they say, “but those who are mired in fear and darkness…”

And as society continues to change, and those on the “right side of history” rejoice in such changes, these children of darkness – if they refuse to be awakened and converted – will get exactly what they deserve, what the writer Rod Dreher has called “the law of merited impossibility”:

“[The kinds of persecution you are concerned could happen] will never happen, and when [they do], you bigots will deserve it.”

And many of those who feel these things, being Americans, would no doubt consider themselves to be some kind of Christian as well!

Who are “progressing”…

In truth however, their “becoming more Christian” actually means becoming less Christian….

+++

How did we get to this point?

Where Christianity could conceivably be understood in this way?

A lot of this has to do with the idea of authenticity…

The word “authentic” is used a lot today.

We have a sense of what people mean by it.[i] Authentic people are interesting, creative, and their outer life and inner life are one… “If you’re gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk…”

I remember that during the days of my confirmation, in the late 1980s, the influence of punk music was huge. And these folks placed a heavy emphasis on authenticity… with those who were deemed insufficiently authentic called “posers”….

Getting caught up for today, one of my teenage sons explained to me that to be authentic is to be original, real, and to show “legitness”…

Sometimes, the idea of being authentic might not seem terribly complicated, but there is a lot to it really…

There is, for example, a certain philosophical understanding here that often comes into play: being authentic finally means being free from the influence of external authorities – who so often are unreliable – and being true to one’s self…

And how did we get to this point?

Let’s do a short history: there was a shift from the importance of a notion like “sincerity” to this “authenticity”….

The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us the following:

“In earlier times[, maybe up to a couple hundred years ago in the Western world at least,] a sincere person was seen as someone who honestly attempts to neither violate the expectations that follow from the position he holds in society, nor to strive to appear otherwise than he ought to.”[ii]

For the early-nineteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel though, “[i]n the condition of sincerity, the individual is uncritically obedient to the power of society—a conformity that for Hegel leads to subjugation and a deterioration of the individual…”

One way that modern notions of “authenticity” are unlike the old ideas of sincerity, then, is that within authenticity there is, at the very least, the implicit idea of challenging the practices of one’s wider society or perhaps even one’s social circles, being true to who you are within – and what you feel is right….

And that, of course, is not all bad… We do need people who believe that they are called to effect good change in the world, to not simply “go with the flow,” but to sometimes call into question the “status quo,” as they say, and to try to, at the very least, work to make course adjustments here and there in “the system”.

That said, this view, arguably, is not only very widespread today, but it often is deeply misled, not being held in check with God’s Word in any sense.

And revolution, not reformation, is the cry…

+++

So how did all of that happen? I think the author Meic Pearse gives us a nice summary.

2003 book.

 

First, he tells us why obedience is the cardinal virtue among “premodern” societies:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

Next, we hear about how the Western world and beyond has, in fact, come to be under Christian influence:

“….what the [Lutheran and then Protestant] Reformation did achieve was a long-term stress on the idea of integrity and inwardness that has become a leading feature of Western culture and which remains long after the religious motives which thrust it into prominence have been discarded by an ever-more-secular society. Its diffused, secularized form has become the inheritance even of the historically Catholic regions of the West so that it is today a key differentiation between “the West and the rest.” (54)

As early as the beginnings of the 1600s, he says we detect the shift to the secularized form he mentions: “The first shift had[, in the wider society,] radicalized traditional morality by internalizing it; the second shift radicalizes interiority and discards traditional morality…”: “The psalmist’s ‘truth in the inner parts / …wisdom in the inmost place’ (Ps 51:6) gave way to Shakespeare’s ‘To thine own self be true.’” (57)

One last shocking paragraph:

“Because stress on interiority had long been part and parcel of moral discourse under the first shift[, popularized by the Reformation], it was possible for advocates of the second shift to borrow its language and to sound more ‘moral’ than those who opposed them (because they were [the ones who] were more ‘honest,’ less ‘hypocritical’ and so on)—even as they cut loose from morality as traditionally understood. In the Romantic worldview of Rousseau, the individual is intrinsically good, while society is evil. For him, there is no question of people needing to put ‘chains on their own appetites’ but rather to break the shackles that society imposes on individuals: ‘Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.’ It is society that drags people down into badness; so the way to a better individual is by freeing them from the ‘chains’ of social constraints—and letting them be ‘true to themselves.’ By the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such thinking had spread beyond the narrow circle of intellectuals and been absorbed by the wider middle classes; it was beginning to affect popular thinking about morality….” (58)

Now, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day – people like Nicodemus – believed in traditional moral codes in their full rigor.

And so, when Jesus talked to him about coming into the light and not hiding in darkness: the idea was twofold:

Not only will God’s children embrace me, God’s Gospel incarnate in human flesh, but they will embrace me as I fully am, as the One who fulfills God’s Perfect Law, that is, who is the embodiment and fulfillment of traditional morality

…living life as it is meant to be lived to the full.

+++

Again, we find ideas that intellectuals came up with to help us get away from this kind of thinking… like Jean-Jacques Rousseau did in the mid-18th century…

Those ideas have basically come down to us today, further mutated…

And so, the world has more ammunition in their war against teachings like this:

“…Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Now, don’t misunderstand: even if it is fought against, deep down, this knowledge about our accountability before God is inside each person.

And even from a purely worldly perspective, people very much grasp the idea that evil is often done in darkness… when no one else is watching. And that we often want that darkness to be made known…

And then, of course, it gets personal, for all people… when we are involved.

“Why do people point out these hard and inconvenient truths to me? Is it, at some level, a real attempt at tough love, to correct me in love? Or is it all about ‘owning me’ and stroking their own egos?”

All of us, including the non-Christians, have had these kinds of experiences…

But the unbelievers will basically go on to reason in this kind of way:

“Yes, I am not perfect, but why should I ever think for a minute that I am really a bad person in any sense? That there is any real ugliness to me? That I am not good enough? That I am not enjoyable or a burden to be around? That I have habits that really warrant such abuse from others? Whatever wrongs I have done, after all, are outweighed by the good I seek, do…”

I mean, how much, they reason, should any innately good person, any good-hearted person, be expected to take?

After all, we all know that all it can take is just one insensitive comment from the past, brought to remembrance, that was made to us…and we are liable to be filled with anger, wrath, or maybe, even, fall into despair…

And we human beings do then become fearful… And want to lash out at the evil oppressors who do not see how attractive and good we are, how excellent out potential is….

Because you see, for them and their reasoning, human nature is basically good!

Their Gospel is this:

“You are basically good! – it’s only society that keeps you in its chains through its tendency to not only not appreciate you, but to abuse you in subtle ways. So resist its norms and values – the external authorities who cling to the importance of notions like tradition, hierarchy… their beloved “status quo”….

…and embrace your inner self, your inner child! Be who you are!

And if we all come together as equals and just bring our true, authentic selves, we can make this work! We can enter into a social contract, and agree….

Because we are good persons….”

This is what our “Old Adam, ” when he’s not living in the sewer at least (which he also does), wants to believe.

But the hard truth, again, is that we are most definitely not good…

We are not those, who, by nature, reach for what is good.

For the light…

No. Because “Only One is good… God alone.”

+++

Does it matter how much I or you say that though? It seems, after all, that this Kool-Aid has been consumed by one and all!

We are Americans after all!

And so, in general, we all of course want people to be free: politically and otherwise! We like the idea of the 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said “Now, with God’s help, I shall become myself…”[iii]

But let’s look at our text yet again this morning, with what we just learned in mind…

“…Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God….”

In John 3, Jesus is telling us that we are flesh but that we must be born of the Spirit. This is really just another way of saying what Paul said in Ephesians 2:3: Before the grace of God, we were, by *nature*, “children of wrath…”

This is why we must be born again, or, perhaps better, “born from above” by the One who is from above, through water and the Spirit…

And then we see that…:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved….”

!!!

Those whose eyes are opened to see what the Bible is saying here realize that it is saying that human nature has been corrupted. We, by nature, in our deepest parts, have become evil!

Adam and Eve were created very good. Then, however, they partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which God told them not to do… and they realized that they were naked.

That they had cut off God.

They ran.

They hid.

They covered themselves.

This is what we do from the true God as well…

The Lutherans, following St. Augustine, realized that if we were to truly understand and live by the Word of God this could not be ignored. And hence, as we read in the 1580 Book of Concord…

“Reason and free will are able to live an outwardly decent life to a certain extent. But only the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born anew [John 3:5] and to have inwardly another heart, mind, and natural desire.” (FC SD II 26).

In the 16th century, when the notion of sincerity still held sway, people knew of the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reasons…

Now however, when modern notions of authenticity hold sway, more and more people are doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Again, this is because, deep down, regarding human nature, sins attract man more than Christ. “In truth, they hate him because he opposes what they love…” (Baumler, 56)

Oh, they might convince themselves, lie to themselves, that they love Jesus…

But what they are really clinging to is a Christ of their own imagination… who is more in line with their “authentic” selves… (see 2 Cor. 11:4).

+++

And so, because of this, to come into the light means to seek heaven on earth.

Glory now.

Utopia now.

“We can do it. We are the change we are looking for…”

And really, they are left with nothing else. This is the only hope they have…

They are the ones who are good, who fight the evil… the one’s oppressing themselves and others…

They were born free, and they will not be put in chains!

They will reach for the light!

Not even the limits of God’s creation itself will oppose them! Keep them down…

It’s just a matter of good people who can lead and do perhaps a bit of social engineering…

Why all this?

Well, there is a reason people reach for Utopia, and its important for us to realize this…

It is good to think about people from the world over – men and women – living in harmony with one another. After all, what did we also hear Paul say today?:

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

It is good to dream of a time where we work with the creation, and do not need to ever be fearful about losing what we have, what we know, what we love.

When swords are beaten into plowshares, justice flows like a river, we join in joyous song and dance, and blessing and bounty are known by all, in the Light of the Lamb that reigns upon His throne!

Remember, those in your lives you might think about as sappy or bleeding hearts are longing for something what we should see the wisdom and value in as well!

Amen?

+++

And so, even as we warn others of Utopian thinking, we must also recognize the very human desires that many have – and assert, that it is indeed good when we can make improvements!

After all, as Paul says today:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These acts testify to God’s love in Christ, because, really and truly, they are God’s love in Christ…

And we must know and remember always that our Lord is the best Person available to both break down the wrong thoughts and desires we have and to bring us healing…

Again we are not good…

He is the only One who can break us down and put us back together, so that our truth and light seeking really are this, and not deception…

We all need to take to heart our Psalm for this morning:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Do not embrace the one who masquerades as an Angel of Light…

In other words, do not flee the Real Light, but repent!

Brothers and sisters, may you be never fleeing from that Light, hating that Light

…but always living in repentant trust.

Walking in the light, as He is in the Light…

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] It seems to have originally been used to describe a real, original document – and not a forgery, for example – but now the range of meanings has expanded.

More quotes on the topic of “Authenticity” (also note the Wikipedia article on the topic, and especially the summary there of the views of Sartre):

“The concept of authenticity has been explored throughout history by many writers, from ancient Greek philosophers to Enlightenment authors, to existentialists and contemporary social theorists. The social barrier to achieving authenticity (or self-realization) was emphasized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), who argued that personal authenticity is diminished by the need for the esteem of others in societies characterized by hierarchy, inequality, and interdependence. According to Rousseau, authenticity is derived from the natural self, whereas inauthenticity is a result of external influences.

The existential philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) said that authenticity is choosing the nature of one’s existence and identity.”

From here: https://philosophynow.org/issues/92/The_Limits_of_Authenticity

….

“Another decisive factor in the development of the ideal of authenticity was that it emerged together with a distinctively modern conception of the self. This is visible in the work of Rousseau, who argues that the orientation toward life that should guide the conduct one chooses should come from a source within. This led to questions about inwardness, self-reflection and introspection, many of them addressed in his Confessions (1770). When the space of interiority becomes a guiding authority, the individual must detect and distinguish central impulses, feelings and wishes from ones that are less central or conflict with one’s central motives. In other words, interiority must be divided into what is at the core and what is peripheral. In this picture, the measure of one’s actions is whether they spring from and express essential aspects of one’s identity or whether they come from a peripheral place.

Such a conception of the self exhibits decisive parallels to the tradition of “religious individualism” that centers religious life on the individual and stresses the importance of inwardness and the introspective examination of one’s inner motives, intentions and conscience. Investigating the characteristics of the modern subject of inwardness, Foucault (1980: 58–60) suggests that “it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface.” For Foucault, confession—the look inward to monitor one’s interior life and to tell certain “truths” about oneself—has become a part of a cultural life, reaching from religious contexts to psychological therapy. The radicalization of the distinction between true and false interiority has led to new possibilities; inner states, motivations and feelings are now increasingly thought of as objectifiable and malleable in different contexts.

Rousseau also adds that acting on motives that spring from the periphery of the self, while ignoring or denying essential aspects of one’s self, simply amounts to self-betrayal and annihilation of the self. Rousseau’s The New Heloise (1997 [1761]) emphasizes this aspect by showing how the novel accentuates the significant costs and the potential self-alienation involved in suppressing one’s deepest motivations. But, in addition, in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau argues that, with the emergence of a competitive public sphere, the ability to turn inward is increasingly compromised, because competitive relations require intense role-playing, which Rousseau calls an “excessive labor” (Rousseau 1992 [1754]: 22). The ongoing instrumental role-playing not only causes alienation, but ultimately inequality and injustice, since it destroys the immanent moral understanding with which, according to Rousseau, humans are hard-wired. Social life requires identification with social roles, but because role identity is determined by other people’s normative expectations, role-playing leads to a tension that might be understood as a matter of politics more than anything else (Schmid 2017).”

“Whereas sincerity generally seems to accept a given social order, authenticity becomes an implicitly critical concept, often calling into question the reigning social order and public opinion. In Rousseau’s optic, one of our most important projects is to avert from the social sphere and to unearth what is truly us underneath the ‘masks’ that society forces on us. But when authenticity comes to be regarded as something like sincerity for its own sake (Ferrara 1993: 86), it becomes increasingly hard to see what the moral good is that it is supposed to bring into being.”

“…Feldman (2014) argues in favor of abandoning the ideal of authenticity because it builds on confused assumptions about the self, the value of one’s “gut feelings” in revealing one’s values, and the supposedly corrupting influence of the “external” social realm (for a critique of this position, see Bauer 2017; Ferrara 2009)

However, one might argue that this only becomes a problem if one thinks of authenticity as entirely a personal virtue. In other words, there is only a clash between morality and social life and being authentic if the “true” self is regarded as fundamentally prone to anti-social behaviour. But many thinkers at this time understood human nature as fundamentally disposed toward beneficence, so that evil was seen as arising from socialization and upbringing rather than from deep drives within the human being. For instance, Rousseau holds that certain immoral characteristics are immanent in man but were produced by the dynamics of modern society, which is characterized by a competitive way of relating to others and striving for acknowledgement in the public sphere. Rousseau thus externalizes the origins of societal evil and alienation from the original nature of man. The undistorted self-relation of natural man inspires sympathy and considerate relations with others, sensitive to “seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow-man, perish or suffer, principally those like ourselves” (Rousseau 1992 [1754]: 14). In somewhat the same way, economic theorists of the time supposed that unregulated markets are self-correcting, as human beings are naturally inclined to engage in mutually advantageous commercial activities (Taylor 2007: 221–269). On this view, authenticity does not amount to egoism or self-absorption. On the contrary, the prevailing view seems to have been that, by turning inward and accessing the “true” self, one is simultaneously led towards a deeper engagement with the social world. This is why Taylor (1989: 419–455) describes the trajectory of the project of authenticity is “inward and upward”.”

“Yet others have based their criticism of authenticity especially on the emergence of a pervasive “culture of authenticity”. Cultural critics have argued that the ostensible “decline” of modern society might not primarily be a result of economical or structural transformations, but as the outcome of an increasingly ubiquitous ideal of authenticity. Before we turn to these critiques, it is helpful to understand how the ideal of authenticity became so widespread. First, we should mention that Rousseau’s work, made a significant contribution to the popularization of authenticity. Indeed, some argue that authenticity can be seen as a “keystone” in Rousseau’s work, giving unity to his reflections on sociality, political order, and education (Ferrara 2017: 2). Particularly The New Heloise (1997 [1761]) was enormously influential, with at least 70 editions in print before 1800 (Darnton 1984: 242). This dispersion of the ideal of authenticity into popular culture was further strengthened by several factors. For instance, a wide array of intellectuals of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century had embraced the idea of authenticity, and even radicalized it by resisting established codes and publicly defending alternative, “artistic” or “bohemian” modes of life.”

Both J. Farrell (1997) and Rossinow argue that the New Left emerged partly as a reaction to traditional American liberalism and Christian existentialism, replacing the negative concept of “sin” with “alienation” and the positive goal of “salvation” with that of “authenticity”. Confronted with what they understood as alienation that “isn’t restricted to the poor” (Rossinow 1998: 194), New Left activism reached beyond civil rights to moral rights and attempted to bring about a recovery of a sense of personal wholeness and authenticity by curing the institutions of American society.

To be authentic is to be clear about one’s own most basic feelings, desires and convictions, and to openly express one’s stance in the public arena. But that capacity is precisely the character trait that is needed in order to be an effective member of a democratic society (Guignon 2008: 288).

From here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authenticity/

….

“To understand Kant’s significance as a precursor of postmodernism, Hicks looks at Kant’s prominence on the broad horizon of the Enlightenment, whose most influential thinkers were sustained by the rationalist hope that the use of reason would be transformative of life. The advancement of science and the growth of knowledge were to lead to progress, prosperity, and perfectibility. Nowhere is this eighteenth century optimism more dramatically shown to be problematic than in the writings of Rousseau. Hostile to the very science with which most of his contemporaries were infatuated, Rousseau challenged the faith in this wonderful engine of progress in a “Counter-Enlightenment” critique of reason that had an important influence on Kant (24ff.). Not only do we not need all that we can obtain by dint of our reason; but the multiplication of wants in the wake of the application of our inventiveness leaves us dissatisfied and dependent, at odds with ourselves and incapacitated for living well. “As the conveniences of life increase and luxury spreads the virtues disappear; and all this is an effect of the sciences and the arts.” Thus was Rousseau intent on showing the problematic features of living with the strategy of progress.  It is a measure of his importance that this attitude remains with us today in that blend of influences from which postmodernism derives its peculiar appeal: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.”

From here: https://www.stephenhicks.org/2021/03/08/professor-steven-sanders-review-of-explaining-postmodernism/

[ii] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authenticity/

It continues: “However, by the time of Hegel, the ideal of sincerity had lost its normative appeal. Hegel polemically refers to sincerity as “the heroism of dumb service” (Hegel 2002 [1807]: 515) and launches an attack on the bourgeois “honest man,” who passively internalizes a particular conventional social ethos. In the condition of sincerity, the individual is uncritically obedient to the power of society—a conformity that for Hegel leads to subjugation and a deterioration of the individual (Hegel 2002 [1807]; Golomb 1995: 9; Trilling 1972). For Hegel, in the progress of “spirit”, the individual consciousness will eventually move from this condition of sincerity to a condition of baseness, in which the individual becomes antagonistic to external societal powers and achieves a measure of autonomy. Hegel shows this clearly in a comment on Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, a story in….”

[iii] As I wrote a couple years ago:

“We… appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?…”

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 15, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Were the Freedoms Americans Sought Always Only a Pipe Dream?

We can put it in a biblical context, but what happens next, outside of that?: “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself…” (Kierkegaard)

 

+++

As I was thinking about the topic of authenticity this morning (for some real rides, read this, this, and this), I thought about the old article that follows about Christian colleges wanting to welcome all, and realized that I never put the content up on this blog, but had only alluded to my posting it elsewhere.

So below I am re-posting that article: Facing Hostility, Can Some Christian Colleges Boldly Continue to Welcome All?

Here are the lines I was thinking about, which is are really giving me pause now:

1)      As traditional Christian thought and practice loses hold in Western culture, [the Christian] college/university will nevertheless hold to its right to “self-determine” (actually, the right to be who it, by God’s truth and grace, knows itself to be – along with the church of which it is a part).*

2)      To this island in the storm of a fallen world, it a good and noble desire to say “all are welcome” – and the true, pure and lovely hope is that all persons, in line with common Western and American sentiment, would be able to freely express themselves and become the selves they wish to be – even as this hope cannot be fulfilled in all situations.**

You might in particular wonder about that second part — what I mean is that we, ideally, as American Christians in particular, want people’s consciences to be well-formed and to be free to do the right thing without having to stand up to the government to do so on the one hand and without being coerced by the government to do so on the other hand….

That is why I wrote, in this more recent post

We… appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.

Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!

Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!

And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.

What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?

A bit naive? Perhaps yes… One need only consider this paragraph from Meic Pearse:

“The codes of morality which, throughout history, have upheld social order and fended off primal chaos from Cathay to the Congo and from Cuzco to Catalonia, have all emphasized external acts: those that are to be done, and those that are not to be done. In most religious codes, salvation (or a better karma next time around) was accorded to those who did well, damnation (or perhaps reincarnation as a slug) to those who did not” (52, Why the Rest Hates the West, 2003).

So… keep the above in mind as you read the re-published article below…

+++

How Christian colleges and universities in America can continue to be faithful to their calling – and continue to influence our society – is a very interesting question and will be more so in the years to come.

Traditionally, many Christian colleges were founded in large part explicitly to serve the purpose of Christian education.  This describes the colleges and universities of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, of which I am a part.  Initially, the primary purpose and goal of these schools was to prepare pastors and Christian educators, and this goal was not realized apart from a liberal arts education.  Others not pursuing those vocations could attend, but the schools were not geared towards them.

In the later years of those schools, the mission became more general (we won’t go into the details about the various reasons given for this): provide a good education for the broader church (and beyond, if others would like to come) with the goal being a good Christian liberal arts education.  In even more recent years, the emphasis has shifted yet again to more vocationally-based education, with, for many, a corresponding effort to attract non-Christians into the schools.

Of course there are some in the secular world, the truly “liberal-minded” (historically labeled affectionately as “noble pagans”), who see the great value of these institutions.  Lutheran cultural guru Gene Veith recently writes that “A major secular educator, David Coleman, spent some time at Wheaton College, which taught him that Christian colleges have an important part to play in American higher education.” Veith then points to Michael Gerson’s article on Coleman, quoting the following:

The point, [Coleman] told me, is not “merely their right to exist.” It is their “animating values that are precious to higher education, and inescapably so.” The first he describes as “productive solitude,” which is both characteristic of the spiritual life and “important for academic growth.” The second he calls the “reverent reading” of shared texts, which allows “different minds to act on the same problems.” Many modern academic settings, in his view, “now don’t share a single text” studied across disciplines. And this is a problem, because learning “relates to powerful, haunting language held in common.” The third comparative advantage of religious education, according to Coleman, is the determination to be a “safe haven for body and spirit.” Modern student life often involves “abuse of alcohol” and “premature, reckless sexual encounters.” Noting Dartmouth’s recent campus ban on hard liquor, Coleman offered: “Maybe it is time to construct stronger norms.”

And yet despite Coleman’s encouraging words, Gerson’s article also does talk about the moves of several institutions – “called to serious ethical reflection and capable of serious moral preening” – who have moved to deny recognition to student groups “that use conservative religious beliefs on sexuality (and other issues) as a criterion in choosing officers”.  Of course, on the opposite side of the fence, many Christian colleges and universities are being asked – or pressured to – allow for groups where LGBTQ[….] causes could be advocated.

Serious ethical – and yes, political – reflection is certainly needed here, and this is something that I, as a servant of a Christian university, have had to do myself.  It is with this in mind, that I offer for consideration the following theses for Christian colleges and universities who want to both honor Christ and welcome all.  I think that is extremely important that they boldly advocate for the rights they should have in their own homes, as genuinely private institutions. 

Students who have choose to attend distinctly Christian colleges and universities have a right to hear it emphasized that…

1)      As traditional Christian thought and practice loses hold in Western culture, their college/university will nevertheless hold to its right to “self-determine” (actually, the right to be who it, by God’s truth and grace, knows itself to be – along with the church of which it is a part).*

2)      To this island in the storm of a fallen world, it a good and noble desire to say “all are welcome” – and the true, pure and lovely hope is that all persons, in line with common Western and American sentiment, would be able to freely express themselves and become the selves they wish to be – even as this hope cannot be fulfilled in all situations.**

3)      It is a fact that all colleges and universities – not just private or religious ones – are more or less consciously taking deliberate steps to indoctrinate students into a specific and limited range of acceptable ways of understanding the world.

4)      Therefore, in spite of any claims to the contrary, academic and intellectual freedom are never absolute things regardless of whether one is in a secular, private, or religious setting.

5)      Speaking sociologically, whatever one’s beliefs about the world, it is human nature to either directly or indirectly shun and stigmatize contemporary voices who promote certain views that one and one’s community determine to be “out of bounds”.

6)      Traditionally, private or religious schools have had the freedom to teach and practice their beliefs as they saw fit – their belief and practice have not been considered “out of bounds” but within the bounds of the law, itself admittedly influenced by Christian notions.***

7)      In their efforts to take a stand, make their voices heard, and influence the culture that they inhabit, private or religious schools have the freedom to directly or indirectly – through artistic, didactic, or political means – confront contemporary voices that promote certain views determined to be “out of bounds” – for their community, and beyond, as determined necessary.

8)      Because the form of toleration that some Christians in leadership positions have practiced can be interpreted as capitulation, a lack of courage, or inconsistency, the reasons for this tolerance should be made explicit and explained.

9)      “If you love something, you let it be free”.  Unlike other religions, our Kingdom is “not of this world”, and therefore Christian love – the Church’s love – as it is expressed in the world, begets a political tolerance which bestows “the right to be wrong”: in one’s heart of hearts, the beloved is absolutely free to reject the Lover.

10)   On earth this means Christians, while still holding to critical norms in their churches and other institutions, should not only eschew physical force and practice forbearance, but can seek to understand – and sympathize with insofar as possible for them (i.e. without sin) – the unbelieving beloved in her search for identity, security and meaning.****

11)   Ideally, Christians gain and share knowledge about the cosmos not only because they are curious or gain control by doing so, but also because knowing, teaching, and living in accordance with what is true, pure, just, lovely, commendable, etc. is one way to serve one’s neighbor in love.

12)   Their Christian college/university desires that all would know Jesus Christ and His love and can only continue in this mission if it sees itself more as an extension of the church, or, one hopes, holds firm to what it might currently be: a mild expression of an earthly kingdom of sorts, ruled by Christians as best they can in fallen world.

13)   Their Christian college/university must be vigilant about running its household, in accordance with who they are.  Neither can the “spirit of the age” nor the “customer” always be right for them – open and collegial conversation must always exist in a context where kind but forceful intellectual opposition and attempts to gently correct can be provided.

Please let me know what you think.

+Nathan

Notes:

* When it comes to how we see political matters today I think we can say, among other things, that “a good society is a society that makes it easier to choose to be good.”  Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable.

**For “true, pure, and lovely” see Philippians 4:8.  The concepts of ”individualism” or “autonomy” do not necessarily need to be understood in a secular way, but in fact can be argued to have Christian origins (see p. 9 of this paper: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/146/).  It is a particular feature of contemporary Western nations, i.e. liberal democracies, that, all things being equal, most desire that persons should be allowed to freely express themselves and become the types of selves they wish to become.  That said, all should recognize that they also believe there are things that are better left unexpressed and selves better left unwished.  Therefore, realistically, given the realities of human nature, this hope is an ideal that in many particular cases will be unattainable.

*** The freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and religion, for example, have been widely allowed in the West and particularly in America (even as there are limits on behavior and certain activities that cannot be participated in, or that are circumscribed only to particular times and places)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 12, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Can Jesus Believe in Us?

 

“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”

– John 2:24-25

+++

When it comes to believing in Jesus, man or mankind is, as we say, a “mixed bag”.

We see this in today’s text: On the one hand, people see Jesus’ signs and believe in His Name![i]

And yet, we are told, knowing what was in “man,” Jesus does not “entrust Himself to them,” or perhaps better (going by the original Greek text), Jesus “was not entrusting Himself to them…”

What does that mean?

One commentator, well-known among conservative Lutherans, tells us that the faith we see here among the crowds is one “which Jesus could not accept…” (Fraanzman, CSSC, 89).

That sounds quite worrisome. Is that the best way of putting the matter?

Another solid Lutheran expositor, after stating that here in this passage we see “weak faith, fickle faith, misapplied faith…” goes on to state the matter rather starkly:“There are hypocrites in our churches” (Baumler).

Maybe we start to feel a bit like the disciples at the Last Supper… “Lord, is it I?”

Finally, one commentator (Pate) confirms our worst fears, explicitly stating that we are not dealing with true believers here in any sense…

“…in John’s gospel, belief in Jesus based merely on signs is not genuine faith (cf. v. 18). Consequently, in a play on words, the text says that Jesus did not believe in the crowds because he knew their hearts were fickle (vv. 22-25).”

Maybe he is right?

Maybe these people aren’t even real Christians in any sense?

Well, one thing is for sure: our text for today certainly makes clear that Jesus knew what was in man. “Jesus… could read people more accurately than a doctor can read physical symptoms in diagnosing an illness,” as one puts it (Tenney).[ii]

That said, if that is a good way of looking at the matter, what kind of an illness are we dealing with here more specifically?

Sin in general to be sure, but what else can we learn?

+++

Sometimes, when you are reading the Bible, you can pick just a sentence or two out of the text and the meaning will still be pretty clear to everyone who has even the most basic background knowledge about human life….

For example, the gist of John 3:16 is not very hard to understand:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…”

But what about our text for this morning?

Well, here is some good advice: what do or did your teacher tell you about reading more difficult passages of text? Well, if you are confused by a word or sentence, sometimes a dictionary might help but sometimes you can just keep reading on…and it might make more sense…

And if you can’t readily read the rest of the Bible in a timely fashion to help you put this in a wider context, you can at least read the rest of the book of John!

So let us consider some more of the words from the Gospel of John for a moment…

In chapter 6, after Jesus feeds the five thousand, we read this:

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (6)

These people rightly made the connection between Jesus and the predicted Prophet (big P) from the Old Testament! And on the one hand, it sounds like these folks were putting their trust, their confidence, in Jesus, doesn’t it?

And yet, for what end? They wanted Him to fit their own earthly-minded expectations and agendas… Their hearts were set upon the things of this world, earthly politics in fact… More specifically, they wanted Jesus to act on earth to make their lives easier and more pleasant!  

If we read on, it gets even clearer a few verses later when Jesus explains why the crowd continued to seek Him out:

 When [the crowd] found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval….”

We see what is going on here. While many of these people want to follow Him, they would do so in accordance with their own reasons and purposes, with their own primary concerns in mind… not Jesus’s…[iii]

Why is this the case? In chapter 3, through His conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, we get a clue as to just why Jesus’ goals are so different from ours and what this means:  

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.”

The one who comes from above, from heaven, is above all.

He certainly is above us fickle men and women. Contrast that statement I just read with this rather arresting one, which I recently saw in an opinion piece:

“When lawless actors set fire to a courthouse or vandalize a national monument in the name of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, it doesn’t differ much from a rioter wielding a cross and a Bible as he storms the Capitol. Both could be considered religious extremists; they just worship different gods — neither one the true God. Violence and tribalism are the natural result of false religions that prize the temporal over the eternal.”[iv]

Now… maybe the woman who wrote this is right about all of these people and their “God”? That the people involved in things like this must not have faith, in any sense, in the true God?

This brings us back to our original question then, doesn’t it? Is the text we are looking at – “but Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them” – saying that none of these people have true faith?

“Maybe…” some of us might feel inclined to say…

After all, what kind of person believes that God might come to earth and just make everything easy for them?

Perhaps giving them land blessed with all manner of bounty and prosperity? Flowing with “milk and honey” like the Promised Land of the Old Testament?

And perhaps even being willing to fight with them against their opponents en route to, of course, establishing a more just and peaceful society?

God on their side!

Who’d believe this?

I’ll tell you who – Jesus’ own disciples.

Remember when the opponents of the Jews, the Samaritans, would not welcome Jesus into their village because he was going to Jerusalem? And James and John said “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

Do you recall that right before Jesus ascends into heaven – after He has defeated all of our most important enemies (sin, death, and the devil) through His death and resurrection – his disciples all gather around him and ask him:

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

So perhaps, after all, some of the people from these crowds discussed in our text today really did believe Jesus was the Son of God

…and yet also believed that He was the One come from God who would restore the Kingdom of Israel and make everything awesome on earth now….

Meanwhile, the One who is above all is talking about carrying crosses…

+++

Some today seem to be missing the boat as well, don’t they?

One might think about those who, believing that America is basically a Christian nation – something I certainly do not think they are wrong for thinking – nevertheless go on to not only imagine “taking the country back for Jesus” through political means…[v]

…but also insists that America in particular – and Israel to a lesser extent – are the main characters right now in God’s purposes for the world… and that one should find one’s own place and ultimate meaning in just this story of American destiny…

Here, perhaps, God and country become fused in a sense, as one’s identity as an American becomes just as important or even more important than their identity as one who is saved by the blood of the Lamb.

And here, America – not the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures!becomes the central locus of God’s plan!

We don’t want “Nationalist Christianity” as my friend Matt Cochran puts it, which would be a form of Christianity modified by nationalism.[vi]

Patriotic as we should be, we should never want, as one has put it, “Christianity wrapped in an American flag”….

Our real citizenship, after all, is in heaven, through God’s most-favored nation! That is, His trans-historical and trans-geographical church, both militant (we on earth) and victorious (those in heaven)!

Truly, the Bible is directly opposed to any form of Christianity which basically puts words in God’s mouth that are not there. Listen to what Jesus says in John chapter 7:

My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

When people assert that God says He has a special plan for their own nation or political program… it is not hard to see how it might be a little bit difficult for them to be able to hear Jesus say these kinds of challenging things!

And even more challenging I think for all Christians is this: the Greek philosopher Aristotle was not wrong to say that man is a political animal, but none of that means that the act of passing laws – and making sure that those laws are enforced – should ever become our main focus…

Even for the person who is called to deeply enter into the political arena – and perhaps some of you are – the proclamation of the Gospel, John 3:16 stuff, should always still be our main focus…[vii]

+++

Now please don’t misunderstand what I just said here…. In spite of all the ways that the idea of “God and country” can go wrong, Christians in American do need to be more courageous in their political involvement!

…that is, in strongly loving their nation, their people. Politics should be one way this is done!

But as we know, many in the secular world today would seek to leave the impression that not only “Nationalist Christians” but all Christians are dangerous religious extremists – obsessed with oppressive “power” and “dominion”.

These people should be kept away from school boards, newsrooms, college campuses, political offices, or even just political conversations.[viii]

But we can’t do this, flee responsibility like this!…[ix]

After all, even as we expect to be “strangers and exiles,” regardless of what kind of government we live under (democracy or otherwise)!

  • We also must know we should always uphold the notion of objective truth, knowing that there are things that are intrinsically good and beautiful…
  • And while we know that a non-Christian nation or state is also legitimate and to be respected, God nevertheless desires all men, even kings, to come to faith….
  • And so of course we also desire more and more to bring “society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love,” as one church body puts it![x]
  • And yet, we also know that ultimately only God will deliver on true justice, when He comes again to judge the living and the dead…

So, it seems Christians, even those least inclined to political activism, will always have some impact on culture and politics… As one cultural commentator, Kylee Zemple, wisely put it:

“If we love God, love our neighbor, and wish to steward our resources and lead our families well, sitting on the sidelines of the political and culture wars is really not an option. Contrary to [the] assessment [of some], [this] isn’t about making ourselves more culturally comfortable; it’s about being consistent in our beliefs and doing what’s right.”[xi]

+++

So, indeed…

Like John the Baptist did with Herod who unlawfully married his brother’s wife – we should be more than ready to speak to the world not only about God’s Gospel, but God’s Law as well…[xii]

Again, while it might be true that the devil ultimately wants to destroy the Gospel above all things, not allow it to be preached….

…do you think the devil would really lead people in earthly government – at least these days – to do a full-frontal assault on the Gospel… the message that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come to earth to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil by His glorious cross and resurrection?

Why would he not rather try through earthly powers to undermine God’s law, without which the Gospel makes no sense? For it is the law that shows us our need for the Gospel![xiii]

The devil ultimately wants the Word of God to make no sense, at least when it hits everyone on the surface and produces an initial reaction…

He wants them to say:

“Christianity says you need forgiveness for what?! For that?! Are you kidding me?! Why would I even listen to anything they have to say then?….”

So we must keep speaking the truth, both God’s law and His gospel

…to remind people of the truth of God as their Creator and Redeemer.[xiv]

You may have heard the phrases “you can’t legislate morality” or “politics is downstream from culture”. Whatever truth there may be to these statements, it is certainly more true to say “the law always teaches….”

And going along with this, and tying it in with the concerns many are expressing today, I read this the other day:

As long we remain on this Earth, Christians will be assailed as bigots and nationalists. This evergreen dynamic of Christians being not “of the world,” but striving to be faithful while they’re “in it,” is way bigger than… America. Don’t confuse true believers who rightly fight for both faith and freedom as Christian nationalists. They’re just Christians.”[xv]

Speaking specifically to our context I’d disagree slightly, and insist that because they are “just Christians” – and because they are Christians first and Americans second…

they can’t not be Christian nationalists (not Nationalist Christians where the word “Nationalist” modifies the word “Christians”!) in some sense!

determined as they are to love God and neighbor in all places…

and starting first at home…[xvi]

+++

And yes, we should always remember that even though life is not about less than this, it is also about more than protecting and treasuring the earthly gifts that God has given us…

Our greatest treasure is the Gospel, and so let’s flee back to the book of John.

Again, the text we have been discussing has to do with people believing in Jesus’ Name but Him not entrusting Himself to them.

And as we’ve already looked at the problems with the faith of many in the book of John, there is one more case we should look at where things really go sour…

In John 8 we read this:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

And it all goes downhill from there! Amazingly, these people believe in Jesus in one moment, and turn on him in the next!

See that not God’s grace but their nation… their national identity…. their genetic heritage… all of a sudden took center stage… (note John 1:12-13)

Those were the kind of roots they ended up being devoted to above everything elsenot the critical Gracious Promise of God’s Messiah, passed down through their fathers[!] in the Scriptures!

They had faith in Jesus for an instant – and then it was gone![xvii]

And we should realize here that because of this, not only their own souls would be lost! Men and women such as these would take others with them to hell as well…

And more… it is not only those who totally lose faith who cause the little ones to stumble and cause others to blaspheme the word of God!

It can be us who believe too!

We believe but how important is it to us that our faith be strong?

We know God but how important is it to us to know Him more, and above all others?

Our Lord, after all, is the One who desires that all persons – those from all nations – be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth!

Do we believe this? Does it make us care?

How can it not?

For when people the world over – from all tongues, tribes and nations! – hear the Word, in the right times and places, the Lord is determined to – and will – bring people to Himself!

Do we, deep down, want to find ourselves in those plans… to know that He is the One indeed “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will?”[xviii]

+++

Alright…

If you are feeling rather discouraged… maybe even disobedient… rather disappointed with yourself this morning, don’t despair…

I’m sure the disciples may have been feeling pretty glum also when Jesus, almost as a casual statement, said to these no doubt believing men:

…You then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…”

Ouch.

A lot of people have what we might call superficial, inadequate, undependable, problematic, fickle, misapplied, and downright weak faith….

Oh, they believe, but to a very strong degree they believe in Jesus for their own purposes… not for His purposes…

Well, welcome to the club!

But what an excellent Savior we have…

Even if Jesus has not entrusted Himself to you, given Himself more fully to you, none of that means you do not have forgiveness, life, and salvation to the full.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us “He is faithful when we are faithless”. His determined loyalty to us and His love for us through thick and thin is not fickle like mans’!

And we can also be thankful that Jesus does not depend on human approval – especially ours!

He certainly won’t be shy about confronting us and taking us on… just like He did in many of those texts we saw in John’s Gospel today. (John 6 and 8) We have His attention and are in His sights![xix]

Finally, even as He might not have much to work with… even as so much of our sin chokes out the faith that God gives and intends to give… He does indeed continually choose to depend on untrustworthy people to get the job done…[xx]

Just ask Saint Peter!

Here is the one guy who gets things right vs. the crowds and their fickle faith (see John 2 and 6) – “Lord, to Whom shall we go – you have the words of eternal life” – and yet, Jesus still can’t even trust him to stick with Him!

Denial three times…

Even Peter… weak faith…

+++

Our problems, no doubt, will continue.

Christians will probably even continue to fight one another on opposite sides in wars, as “nation [rises up] against nation” …

But those who know their Lord well will also learn to appreciate the answer that the O.T. saint Joshua was given when he asked God’s messenger: “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

…he was told: “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”

This is a lesson it seems it is very, very hard for us to learn on earth.

Would Jesus side with a Russian?

A Chinaman?

A globalist?

Someone from that race?

A communist?

An SJW?

An American?

Or a white supremacist?

Yes.

The One from above will forgive them…

…and raise them above…

…and entrust Himself to them, as He will us

Let our faith grow! Let our usefulness increase!

Let Jesus believe even in us!

And come quickly Prince of Peace – and save us from ourselves!

Amen

 

 

Image: https://chocolatevent.com/2018/08/19/chocolate-vents-quote-of-the-week-you-cant-believe-in-god-not-believe-in-yourself/

Notes:

[i] Lenski says that the real issue here is that the only basis for faith that those believing in Him had were the signs, or miracles, that he had performed. While “faith may well begin by first trusting in the signs,” he says (see, he says John 5:36; 10:37, 38; and 14:11), “the signs and the Word belong together like a document and the seals attached to it… the seals alone eventually amount to nothing…”

He says “The signs so establish the Word that all who began and who now begin with the Word and then accept the signs attain true and abiding faith. The ‘many’ in Jerusalem still hung in the balance with such inadequate faith as they had” (223).

He also points out that while the Gospel of John talks about signs “which he was doing” or “kept on doing” we are to understand “that Jesus wrought a goodly number of such signs” and yet John only relates certain select miracles… (224)

Fraanzman’s take is interesting, and worth considering: “Believing is more than seeing signs and being somehow drawn to Him who performs them. Jesus knows what is in man and knows that the stance of the sympathetic spectator is not the stance of faith…” (89, CSSC) I do not take this to mean that the sympathetic spectator is less likely to find himself getting active and involved in some way though than a strong believer in God’s Word.

Maybe the crowds reasoned like the man born blind that we learn about in John 9:

30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

[ii] And “the prelude of these verses (23-25) is introductory to the three typical interviews in chs. 3 and 4: Nicodemus the Pharisee, the Samaritan woman, and the royal officer at Cana.” (46)

[iii] Not much later, we read this too:

“…the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

[iv] From: https://thefederalist.com/2021/02/23/stop-smearing-christians-as-christian-nationalists-just-because-they-value-both-faith-and-freedom/

Certainly sometimes the more vigorous political activist types of people who also claim faith in Christ almost seem to be using God as a pretense for their own goals… their own politics…

And they are intense and wonder why you aren’t as intense. They might even question the Christian faith of those not so intense in their convictions about matters like race or nationalism… and their confidence that their own takes on current world events and happenings are true. That, no doubt, is unsettling.

And when you see people attacking shop owners and burning down buildings, or you see a man raid the nation’s capital wearing a furry hat with Viking horns…You certainly might be one of the persons inclined to question the faith involved here!

At the same time, perhaps things are often not quite what we think they are either. Here is one rather arresting example:

https://fencingbearatprayer.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-sacredest-place.html

[v] This quote comes to mind: “Where Christianity is used as a cudgel to claim legal, political, or cultural privilege over other memberships in society, rebuke is necessary…” At the same time, is it wrong to hope that Christian holidays would be recognized nationwide? On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with one religion in America holding pride of place. See this other message I gave: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2020/10/19/should-the-church-repent-for-not-calling-america-to-repent/

[vi] http://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=1765

[vii] At the same time what this means is that, ideally, laws should indeed facilitate this preaching…

[viii] See https://thefederalist.com/2021/02/23/stop-smearing-christians-as-christian-nationalists-just-because-they-value-both-faith-and-freedom/

[ix] As far as American Christians go these days at least, I think we can really say – perhaps somewhat indicating our naivety about all of these matters* – that “Christians [just] want to be free to follow their own [beliefs]”** as much as “followers of secular religion want their beliefs written into law” (Zemple).

Even as we also rightly don’t feel we can just be content to keep things to ourselves….

*It is hard to think critically about the past and present significance of something like “blasphemy laws” for instance, when we are occupied with the attacks at the Christian way of life which come at us fast and furiously:

“Oh, you Christians don’t want gender propaganda forced on your kids in schools? You’re a bigot who wants religion written into law. You want Supreme Court justices who value life even in the womb? You’re a hateful theocrat. You think Big Tech and bureaucrats rigged an election that will result in your rights being infringed, so you fly to D.C. with your family and your flags? You’re a Christian nationalist.” https://thefederalist.com/2021/02/23/stop-smearing-christians-as-christian-nationalists-just-because-they-value-both-faith-and-freedom/

We are always thinking defensively in our current context, thinking about how we can avoid being hated by the world.

**I think it is more appropriate for nations to have this kind of attitude. As C.S. Lewis, also quoted in this article by Zempel, puts it: “[The right kind of] patriotism… is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves.

[x] https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xv-the-christian-and-the-social-order

[xi] https://thefederalist.com/2021/02/23/stop-smearing-christians-as-christian-nationalists-just-because-they-value-both-faith-and-freedom/

[xii] Of John the Baptist, one Roman Catholic writer points out:

“St. John the Baptist…. stands as somewhat of an oddity among Christian martyrs in that he preceded Christ in death. He also didn’t die as a direct result of his faith in Christ, nor was he asked to deny Christ. Yet he is reckoned as a Christian martyr by the Church. Why should this be?

St. John the Baptist died not because he refused to deny Christ but because he refused to deny the truth, and ultimately this boils down to the same thing. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Anyone who proclaims truth proclaims Christ. Anyone who denies the truth denies Christ.”

I’d add that we don’t know how John confronted Herod about marrying his brother’s wife. He very well may have done in privately, and not thundered specifically against Herod in public. In any case, fat amount of good it did him here!

[xiii] Sometimes people think that if Christians tone it down a little bit… the world will be more likely to listen to them.

Now, one should always certainly be wise about how one seasons one’s conversations with salt, but I believe this view, at its core, is very misled – at least, insofar as it is saying that we should not be eager for circumstances to arise where we can “get to the meat”.

I think this view is misled.

[xiv] And as one writes: “From the Prophet Jeremiah’s insistence to ‘seek the welfare of the city,’ to an insistence on natural law morality that serves the common good of all, to Martin Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology, Christian political theology is inextricably bound up with the development of the separation of powers, the rule of law, constitutionalism, and human rights….” https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2021/01/73711/

[xv] https://thefederalist.com/2021/02/23/stop-smearing-christians-as-christian-nationalists-just-because-they-value-both-faith-and-freedom/

[xvi] As Matt Cochran puts it:

“At it’s core, Christian nationalism is a political philosophy that involves putting your own nation ahead of others—just as any other brand of nationalism is. However, because it is informed by Christianity, it changes many of the how’s and why’s behind that priority.

For example: Whereas some forms of nationalism have people putting their nation first because they believe it superior to every other nation on Earth, Christian nationalism has people putting their nation first because it’s the specific nation into which God has placed them. Effectively, it’s the same reason we prioritize our own children over others–because they’re ours and we have a special responsibility to them. As Jesus told the Canaanite woman who beseeched him as king of Israel, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.”

And this kind of modified priority brings another important implication along for the ride: Whereas some forms of nationalism view other nations as consumable resources for one’s own, Christian nationalism does not–anymore than caring for your own children means a freedom to exploit other children. We know that citizens of other nations have been called to serve their own country ahead of others just as we have, and we ought to respect that calling. Simple adjustments like this can make a huge difference to one’s national priorities—and limitations.” http://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=1760

More, from another post of his:

“Christian nationalism is merely men who are both Christian and American rejecting the religious neutrality of the 20th century and acting according to both of those identities at the same time in the public square.”

More: “[Will] Christian nationalism will end up resulting in some degree of national Christianity? This may come as a surprise, but yes; I think it will. Does this therefore mean we must avoid it at all costs? No; absolutely not.

If you’re looking for an invincible political ideology that will never fall to corruption, your only option is to wait for the eschaton. Politics corrupts. Always. There is no nation that will last forever. There is no political ideology that fits all circumstances. There is no earthly authority that will not be abused and misused. As life changes, Christian nationalism in America will fail–just as it already failed once in the past, resulting in today’s multiculturalism and globalism…”

http://matthewcochran.net/blog/?p=1765

[xvii] Their faith should have been like a seed planted firmly in good soil – or, if you will, like a nail driven into a board – but this seed or nail of their faith was quite easily uprooted by Satan…

[xviii] Jesus has told us the world is going to hate us for the right reasons… let’s not give them wrong reasons to hate us as well!

This said, given Jesus’ words here, I am perpetually surprised at how much so many seem interested to hear what Christian have to say….

[xix] This kind of a thought makes me think about what a student recently wrote in a paper about her re-ignited faith:

“In the new testament I enjoyed that the class went into more depth into the followers of Jesus Christ. I learned some new information about who Silas was, and what a loyal and helpful person he was. I learned that John was the only disciple who was not murdered for his faith. I like to think about how one day in heaven we will get to meet these followers and hear their stories firsthand. I want to know it all their stories, for even the ones we may not know about.”

How blessed are we to know God?  Why me God indeed?

[xx] Lenski: “He says that to the six disciples Jesus had already selected He had “fully entrusted himself; from the many at the festival he held aloof, formed no closer union with them as being people who were really committed to him.”

The verb is imperfect and so “was not trusting himself,” “i.e., waiting to see what the faith of the ‘many’ would prove to be…”

“All”: “This is a sad word… for it means that among the ‘many’ Jesus found not one with whom it would have been safe to form closer contact…”

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 7, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Shine Christian Shine: Fulfilling God’s Glorious Law

 

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

–2 Cor. 4:6

+++

In the Nicene Creed, the church says this of Jesus Christ:

“God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…”[i]

This is what we see today in the transfiguration, isn’t it?

He is revealed to be the Son of God – or maybe better, God the Son – as through this eyewitness account in the Gospels He indeed rises upon the world like the sun….

And we now, in this time and age, embrace in faith His glorious brightness – though it often be concealed beneath things like the cross, like water, like bread, like wine, like simple and humble words…

And we too then, Jesus says, are the light of the world (Matthew 5), as we walk in the Light that He is and He brings! (I John 1)…

Peter even says we are “partakers of the Divine Nature!” (2 Peter 1:4)

How different this is from what we hear about in the Old Testament!

There, after all, what stands out and looms large?

I don’t know about you, but I think many will say – and not without good reason! – Mount Sinai![ii]

As the Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Galatians, because of Israel’s sin, they needed to have a tutor, a pedagogue, a “child-leader,” given to them, meaning the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai…[iii]

And interestingly, as our Epistle reading this morning tells, us, this important moment of God’s people receiving the law and being put under its tutelage was represented by the veil that covered Moses’ face…

It appears that for many years in the desert, when Moses would spend time with God in the Tent of Meeting, his face would, mysteriously, shine with the light left by the divine presence… At the same time, that “glory…began to fade as soon as he left the divine presence” as well… (Murray J. Harris).[iv]

And in our Epistle reading for today, Paul appears to be saying “that the reason for Moses’s veiling or masking his face was not so much to prevent the Israelites from being dazzled by its brightness (cf. Exod 34: 30,31) as to prevent them from continuing to gaze in amazement [un]till his face had totally lost the brilliance of the reflected glory (cf. v. 7) (Murray J. Harris).”[v]

And Paul is saying that all of this represented the reality of the law, the tutor, the pedagogue, or “child-leader”…

Its glory was fading away…

You see, even those who trusted in the Lord’s promise… who put their faith in Him and His promise of the Messiah[vi], could not help but be left wanting more, living under the pedagogue as they were!

There was always something ultimately unsatisfying and incomplete about living under the law…

And not only this… Mount Sinai also could bring not only a lack of satisfaction but a kind of terror as well… it brought a cloud, a darkness of sorts, and thunder… condemnation…

And this went not just for those among God’s people who did not believe, but believing Israel as well!

As the presence of sin remained even in believers, there was always very prominently in the background that terrifying word that God had voiced to Moses: “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

As one man put it, “Truly seeing God as He is, in the fullness of His glory, is more than mortal man can tolerate…” (Isaiah 6:5).

Think about it: even though Moses talked to God as one would a friend in the temple, even he – the greatest of God’s prophets! – was told at one point that he could only see God’s backside…by hiding in the cleft of a rock and watching God’s glory pass by him…

And, again, when the face of Moses was transfigured by the divine presence, he at times veiled his own face so the Israelites could not gaze upon it…

But now, in this morning’s Epistle, we see something different: we hear about “God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Now, with Christ, God in human flesh, all of His followers – not just Moses! – are not only able to look on His face and not be destroyed…

…but “we all, with faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord….” (see Chrysostom, ACCS, 223)

+++

And why is this the case?

It is because Jesus Christ, above all, reveals to us clearly the true heart of God… His true character… and we can now see what that means for us!

Even if it is true that “No one has ever seen God,” (I John 1) meaning God the Father

…Jesus Christ, God the Son, teaches us that through Him, the Father gazes upon His children with great joy and tenderness… The book of Zephaniah says that He even sings over them like a mother to her children!

This should take our breath away.

And the God-Man Jesus Christ reveals this to us by His life precisely because He loves all of God’s words…God’s commandments… He is the One who lives life as God intended, without sin!

You see, the Law of God breaks us but it didn’t break Him.  

And His fulfillment of the Law on our behalf and death on the cross for our sins makes it so that we have peace with God…

That we might, somehow, get a sense about what He really thinks about us… how He really feels about us…

And this is the ultimate glory of the Gospel that chases away the Law’s condemnation!

So when the promise comes in human flesh and is received in faith, the veil is removed and our need for the tutor or pedagogue of the law – which aimed to drive home the truth of what love looks like… what love really is[vii]fades away as it should…

And the old Adam in us can continually die and the new creature in Christ, the new Adam, arise day by day – increasingly without fear!

This happens as we see more and more that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only good beyond our imagination… but the law that He fulfilled on our behalf as well…

What do I mean? Is that really true?

Well, we can confidently say that it is not only the Gospel that makes us expect good from God, but also that “the law… want[s us] to…. expect good from God…” (Luther (ODE, 195)

+++

Even as the law wants us to expect good from God, for those who don’t believe the Gospel, they remain under its condemnation.

And we see this clearly in our reading for today…

Here the Apostle Paul talks about a veil covering the hearts of the Israelites when they hear Moses read, and, then, he later goes on to even say this:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…”

The Israelites, God’s chosen people, considered as unbelievers!

What is Paul getting at here when he speaks of the veil covering their hearts?

Well, when Paul tenderly talks about them – his fellow countrymen – in Romans 10, he says this:

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness…”

Paul is saying here that many of his brothers according to the flesh, that is the children of Israel, were relying on the law as their security blanket, their ticket to blessings in this life and the next life….

For them, the old covenant, the Scriptures, was not that which first and foremost spoke of a Messiah who would forgive them their sins!

And the law was certainly not that which first and foremost left them condemned, revealing their sin and leaving them naked before God!

Not at all.

And because of this, they could not see Jesus Christ as the One who by His perfect life and innocent death became “the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4, NASB).

Just what does that mean? “The end of the law for righteousness”?

Again, it means that many never perceived the true goal of the tutor, the pedagogue, the “child-leader”.

To explain a bit more here, in the Greco-Roman world of the Apostle Paul, a pedagogue, or child-leader, was a slave, a “guardian-slave,” who accompanied a schoolboy—a schoolboy who would also one day be the heir of that slave’s master—in order to make sure that he got to where he needed to go.

In other words, Paul is saying that the law was to function as a pedagogue, a very limited role: the pedagogue was put in place to make us pay attention to what God’s will is and what He wants to teach us… where He wants to lead us

The goal of the pedagogue was to make sure the child got to where he needed to go.  

Ultimately then, the law would drive home the realization that God’s purposes are good… and hence, that God is good and we are not… leading us right into faith in Christ…[viii]

But rather than recognizing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who perfectly fulfills and embodies the law while we do not – much less that He fulfills the law on our behalf – Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters, he says, had a zeal, but without knowledge.

They, like many a human being, saw their hope as “getting right with God through this veil that makes them see the law way as the way to a right standing with God…” (Vallesky, 57)…

+++

Now, we might be tempted to say “How foolish those Jews were!” To miss Jesus and the Good News He brings!

In many ways though, this makes sense doesn’t it?

Isn’t it easy for us Christians too to see how people could fall into this trap?

After all, on earth, are not the results of good actions we take often the way that we attain success, status, and favor regarding our relationships with others?

And even win their approval and affection? 

Now, on the one hand, it is true that the world’s ideas of “good actions” are not always God’s… with many undermining the law of God more and more these days….

For example, throughout the book of 2 Corinthians where our reading comes from today, we see that Paul’s opponents were claiming to be self-sufficient… and this kind of thing is something that has now overwhelmed the age that we live in…

More or less thinking that they, like God, call things into existence and define themselves and their worlds[ix], people, like Paul’s opponents, seem more eager than ever to deceive, use craftiness and trickery, ready to do anything to get their way…. where the “ends justify the means…”

But.

But, at the same time, on the other hand, they also still cannot get away from the fact that when it comes to their individual relationships with family members or just people that they want to know and be connected with, they know – yes, they know… even if they suppress this truth – that they basically need to act in accord with the law of God in order for things to go well…

We do this all the time on earth. Everyone, for example, even criminals, realize the wisdom of the second table of the 10 commandments…

The 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid said:

“[m]oral indignation is evident even among those, who, like robbers, have little active regard for the common good. Gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just, and resentment for injury only because it falls short of justice. All these natural sentiments presuppose the idea of justice. Property rights likewise depend on it” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 1997, p. 117)”

Intelligent people know that it is neither right nor useful – to say the least! – to dishonor one’s parents, kill, commit adultery, steal, slander, and even, to some degree, live life desiring what everyone else has…

And yes, most everyone in the world other than very relatively small numbers of people throughout the world, — particularly in the Western world – find it unthinkable to not believe in a Higher Power who is responsible for the world we know…

In sum here, regarding God’s commandments, they know that if they can avoid doing those things the commandments prohibit, life will generally go better for them.

They will not just have the “face that only a mother could love,” as people used to say, but the respect of others…

At the very least, in order to secure the confidence of others, they want people to think they are following these commandments!

Even if they aren’t…[x]

But note what is happening here. They think this…

“If I choose to exercise my freedom to follow those commandments in the world and others appreciate that I treat them with that respect, they are generally going to approve of me….

Therefore, the same must be true about God…

God should reward me! I deserve to be rewarded!”

But this, Paul shows us, is wrong…. Such people are not really free, and do not really understand love.

Remember what Paul said about his own race?:

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness…”

This is true of all those who do not know and embrace the Gospel!

They remain in bondage!

Outwardly good though their actions might be, their desires are still corrupt!

There is darkness, and not light…

As Romans 3:23 puts it: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

+++

They are both in and of the world.

And, remember, this world is passing away…

And this brings us back to our Scripture reading today, where we hear that the law was a “fading splendor”…

Why does Paul say this?

Again, it is because here on earth the ministry of death is certainly not God’s final or ultimate word!

If that were the case, none of us would be saved!

We could only try to do, do, and do some more…. and the goal would never be accomplished.

The target would never reached – for all human beings were never meant to use God’s law to try and climb a ladder to God!

….much less to do so with intentions and motives and desires as imperfect… even twisted… as ours!

The law only tells us what is good and must be done.

It provides no power for us to do it!

This is why, for the sinner on earth, the law is only and must only be weak or a “fading splendor”…

It is, again, because in the light of the Gospel we see the law’s temporary need….

How?

Well, when we truly understand the wisdom of the gospel we see that Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death fulfilled for us the law that we love but could never fulfill on our own.

He loved the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, strength and mind.

He loved His neighbor as Himself.

What the law was weak to do – because of our sin and stubbornness – the gospel has done for us, and so now, the law of God lives in our hearts and we have begun to desire to walk in it…

This means, that unlike the unbelieving, a veil no longer covers our hearts and we are no longer in bondage to sin…

and no longer under the law’s condemnation!

For we see that Paul also talks about the how where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom….

+++

So, what is this freedom really?

What is Paul ultimately getting at here?

He is saying this: it is only free people who will shine as the image of God, and who will therefore reveal the face of God….

Again, all of this relates to the tutor’s, the child-leader’s, pedagogue’s “fading splendor”, surpassed by the Gospel.[xi]

I’ll tell you though, there are some that would tell you I am not properly distinguishing the Word of God…. I am not going far enough, they would say.

They would say that the law and the gospel, for example, “are exact opposites. One destroys ; the other creates.” 

I’d respond though, with the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther, by saying that the law kills us because of sin, not because it is the law.

In fact, as I have been trying to demonstrate today, both the law and the gospel reveal the character of God!

The main ideas of this text are really not that complicated.

Paul is just saying that the letter which brings condemnation is God’s law, and the Spirit that brings freedom is God’s gospel, and that the latter is more glorious and superior.

Again, the former – that is the law — because of the sin that inheres in us, does indeed destroy us. The problems in us are what make the pedagogue weak, and what ultimately makes it fatal to us…

That makes it break, kill, and condemn us.

The gospel on the other hand – the message that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification — is what really gives us life.

Joy.

Peace.

Again, the difference does not so much lie within the law and gospel as it does us…

The law tells us what to do, in God’s love, and the gospel tells us what God, in love, has done for us.

That is indeed a critical difference. But at the same time, note that both are rooted in the love of God, which is kind, compassionate, and merciful.

In fact, the law even demands that God’s people be merciful, even loving their enemies…

For both the law and the gospel are good, eternally good, in fact. God’s moral law simply becomes a part of us when the gospel changes things.

It is just like Jeremiah said!:

“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”[xii]

The freedom which is a light to all is gained when, living in Christ, we know this….

The real freedom and light comes in knowing of this true love that only the Gospel can make us understand… 

Being those who are no longer trying to use the law when it suits us and to rationalize why we are good and attractive people to others and God, we are no longer “under the law” (Gal. 5:8)…

We are simply those free men and women who joyfully walk in it… who joyfully call ourselves slaves to Christ and His glorious future and not to sin!

And so now, just like Jesus Christ fulfilled the law in His own life, it is fulfilled… embodied, in us! This is why Paul will write just before our Epistle reading today, for example, that:

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

And we are those letters, who, as Paul says, are gradually being transformed into the likeness of God… We are like Moses’ shining, but we have the full glory of the Gospel… and so the glory that we have surpasses that even of Moses!

This indeed, is the glory of the love of God working in and through us to which the law always imperfectly pointed us to…

We saw it perfectly in Christ.

And it is now being perfected in us.

This is finally why Paul here, while focusing on the Gospel, also points out that the law is glorious…. It is glorious because it condemns everything in sinful man that is seen in us but is not seen in Jesus Christ…

And really, much to the surprise of many – sadly – this is right in line with the kinds of things that Martin Luther said…

+++

Martin Luther is known to be a preacher of the Gospel, and sometimes people have the impression that he thought that the law was somehow less than good…

Certainly not something we should expect good from!

(one theologian very popular among sophisticated Lutherans today even says that the law is a nasty and disposable tool)

… but nothing could be further from the truth!

For Luther, note that:

  • “[the law] is satisfied and fulfilled if it is loved”
  • “the purpose of all laws is love”
  • “[love] agrees in all things with the law”
  • “[love is] the essential meaning of the law,”
  • “all the commandments of the law depend on love.”[xiii]

As my own pastor puts it, echoing Luther:

“….when we speak of the law being fulfilled in eternity, it is not that it is like a bucket that has now been filled and we can move on to something else, but a stream that continues to flow throughout eternity, for love and the fulfilling of the law, i.e. the [Ten Commandments], are in effect, the exact same thing[xiv]

Frankly, I’m not sure where a lot of these modern Lutherans are getting their information or if they even read Martin Luther in order to understand him! [xv]

Again, Luther does not say these things because He is trying to stand before God by the power of his own goodness and good deeds!

No.

Rather, he believes this:

Because one is justified by faith in Christ, one knows him or herself to be God’s own precious child… and wants to bring glory to Him by embodying the law — the law of love seen perfectly in Christ! — which brings goodness to all![xvi]

As Luther would put it, the cross shows us that “Sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved; they are not loved because they are ‘attractive’”….[xvii]

And so here, of course, God becomes attractive to us as He made us attractive to Him!

And if we get this, we are much like those disciples on the road to Emmaus who said “Were not our hearts burning within us when he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24)

I’ve got to come back to Jeremiah again, one more time….

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

24but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

So, finally, what does this all mean?

It means we are not those who are left with the word:

“you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

We are instead those who repeat what Jesus said to Philip:

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).[xviii]

…and say “Amen!” This is it!

Shine Jesus shine, indeed.

And therefore, let the Christian shine as well, as we reflect His light.

And this light will never be done away with, never fade away! (see Lenski, 928)

Amen.

 

Image: https://goodnessofgodministries.international/2010/09/07/the-magnificent-calling-ye-are-the-light-of-the-world/

Notes:

[i] More: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”

[ii] Certainly yes, they had the great Promise of the Messiah who would overcome sin, death, and the devil – first revealed as far back as Genesis 3:15, with Eve told that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head, even as Satan would strike His heel…

[iii] As Bible reveals to us, also because of man’s sin, they needed to reminder of who they were and whose they were! Who they were created to be!

[iv] As the book of Hebrews tells us, it is the new covenant that is permanent in every way (Heb. 13:20), while the old covenant was destined to be outshown by the new as the sun outshines the moon (Murray J. Harris).

[v] Originally, when Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

[vi] These were the ones who understood that the main point of the Scriptures, even for the Old Testament saints, was the precious promises of the Messiah, as Paul explains in Galatians 3 and 4. The Old Covenant was not really defined by Sinai, even if Sinai was a big part of it. Paul says here in 2 Corinthians 3: “ But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away…” but such words also remind us that some of God’s chosen people did hear, understand, and believe as well….

[vii] Even as it provides no power to fulfill that love

[viii] From a past sermon: “In Paul’s time, in the Greco-Roman world, a pedagogue, or child-leader, was a slave who accompanied a schoolboy—a schoolboy who would also one day be the heir of that slave’s master—in order to make sure that he got to where he needed to go.

In other words, Paul is saying that the law is a pedagogue, whose role was very limited: the pedagogue was put in place to make us pay attention to what God’s will is and what He wants to teach us… where He wants to lead us.

More specifically and historically, Paul is saying that for Jews to be ready for the Messiah, one needed the “pedagogue,” or family slave, to basically force us see who and what is true and good – and what is good is certainly good for us and all our neighbors

Again, the pedagogue was needed in order to help God’s people to see that who He is and what He sets up, what He commands, what He decides to punish, etc. is simply and unapologetically good.”

[ix] Article from Tom Gilson, published on February 6, 2021:

“Rich Bordner, a high school teacher with 15 years’ experience, from the inner city to the suburbs. Students in every context, he says, have a common way of understanding the world….

You can tell that Bordner loves his students. He listens to them. Carefully. Intentionally. And in getting to know his students, he’s discovered that virtually all of them see themselves and everyone else as autonomous, self-deciding, self-determining centers of their own meaning and truth…. It’s “not just the secular kids” ….Most of all they share a “really aggressive individualism.” They’re “sold out” to it. They’re dogmatic on it… It’s in their homes, perhaps best exemplified in Disney movies of late, all of them focused on someone casting off some false self and becoming who they really are…. So it’s, “I am my own. I define myself. Period. Full stop.” If there’s “some kind of limit to your self-expression,” as Bordner put it, then you’re not doing right. You’re not authentic. You’re not being you…

… “My body doesn’t determine my sex. I do.” I am not my body. I can’t escape it, but I won’t let it define who or what I am. I define myself.” Period. Full stop…. we own our own worlds. We define them. We rule them. In effect it says we’re all gods….  “No one but I can decide what sex I am. What I have spoken is true, because I have spoken it. You must agree and comply with what I have spoken. If not, I brand you a bigot, worthy of being fired, shunned, canceled, boycotted … .” This is what gods do. They build and shape worlds, they control them, they decide what is moral and immoral, and they mete out punishment and rewards accordingly…

Of course we Westerners are far too sophisticated to create gods by our own hands, made of wood or stone, inert, motionless, unable to hear or speak. We have active gods instead. Our gods have voices (our own). We still manufacture them, but that’s okay. We are gods of our own worlds, each one of us. We have power and authority to make ourselves gods….I do not mean that anyone actually thinks of himself or herself as a god. The deception is way more subtle than that. It persuades people that it’s just an ordinary, human, and even moral thing to have such authority. “You have a responsibility to be yourself.” We don’t realize how culturally conditioned that is, or how strange, wrong, or even inhuman it would seem in other times and places….”

….Of course, Christians through the centuries have always found ways not to submit fully to God’s reign. (I’m talking about myself here, you must know.) This is just today’s version of an ancient tendency. Very ancient: “You will be like God,” as Satan said to Eve (Genesis 3:4). Today’s version is just as wrong, just as deadly, but much more carefully buried in a culture’s message of what seems right and good and ordinary.”

[x] Furthermore, even some non-Christians, some pagans, are readily able to recognize that the 10 commandments are connected to something everyone knows exists but struggles to perfect: love…

We know, deep down, that if you love someone you treat them in accordance with the second table of the 10 commandments. You don’t kill them, commit adultery against them, steal from them, or lie about them.

These days, people increasingly are just not convinced that they should act this way towards everyone — and not just the ones they value and want to keep relationships going with.

And most people, at least in their mind, don’t want to fully close the door on the idea of a relationship with God.

Therefore, in many ways it might seem perfectly reasonable for fallen man to conclude that all of this stuff we have been talking about is how they win God’s approval.

[xi] First of foremost, Paul is talking about the overriding significance of the message of grace, the Word of the Gospel!

Martin Luther put it quite beautifully when he said this…

“Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all His good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying: “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine;” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am his. (Songs 2:16) This is what Paul says: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ;” victory over sin and death, as he says: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15:56-57) [..]”

Words like this might make a person fall in love. The love songs that made everyone feel so alive and hopeful in the 1980s might make just a little sense again…

Still, not everyone liked what Luther was saying here. The Dominican inquisitor of Cologne, Jacob Hochstraten, for example, took aim and said this:

“What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make the soul… a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes the most chaste of men a pimp? As if Christ does not take the trouble… to choose…. a pure and honorable lover!  As if Christ requires from her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and her other virtues!  As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity and of Christ with Belial were possible!”

But Luther persisted…

“Sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved; they are not loved because they are ‘attractive’”….

Don’t misunderstand. Luther is not saying that Christians can sin with abandon and not fear losing their faith and salvation. He is saying that God’s grace is persistent. And that we always live from grace. And that repentance is not just what happens at the beginning of the Christian life, but that grace is always needed.

And it saves even the failing Christian…

This, really, is the key to life.

To love.

To light.

To shining….

[xii] More context:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to[a] them,[b]
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

[xiii] Also:

“the love of the law” is synonymous with “the fulfilling of the law”

[xiv] Lenski: “What was granted only to the highest minister of the old covenant and in a transient outward way is granted to all of us in the New Testament in a permanent, inward way.” (Lenski, 948)

[xv] The man who said “the love of righteousness and the hatred of iniquity: that is, the fulfillment of all laws.”

[xvi] Because the one who looks to and depends on Christ who embodies and fulfills the law on our behalf is forgiven and made God’s own by His perfect life and innocent death!

[xvii] Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (post 95 theses).

[xviii] Web article: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). When Jesus walked this earth, His glory veiled, we could look Him in the face. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). On one brief occasion, Jesus’ glory was revealed in this world, at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2). Interestingly, Moses was there, speaking to the glorified Lord, face to face (Matthew 17:3).]”

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 28, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Is Steve Paulson’s Theology Driving 1517 Legacy Off the Cliff?

Conversation with Matthew Garnett this morning.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 6, 2021 in Uncategorized