The Heroic Women of Jesus’ Ancestry

November 24, 2022

In the ancestry of Jesus, we find some really interesting women of faith:

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary the mother of our Lord.

One will notice that in a conventional genealogy we have such and ‘such begat’ or ‘the father of’…  In Matthews genealogy there is a twist and the reason there is a twist is that sometimes God works in unconventional ways. All these women have a story to tell, and they all faced some type of persecution in their lives. 

Tamar and Judah

Tamar was married to one of Judah’s sons and he died.  According to the law (levir practice) she was to have a surrogate husband.  She got a surrogate husband, but he wasted his seed on the ground so that she wouldn’t get pregnant.  God judged him and he died.  Judah decided that Tamar was not going to get the youngest son but lied to her… that when he grew up, he would perform by making her pregnant.  It didn’t happen. Judah lied to her.  So, one day she got dressed and pretended to be a prostitute so that she would ensnare Judah so that she could keep the line of her dead husband alive.  Judah fell into her temptation and Tamar took his seal and cord in waiting for his payment for sex.  Three months later she was found to be with child, and he was going to burn her to death. Tamar pulled out the cord and the seal and he admitted that he was at fault.   

Although it is against Leviticus to sleep with one’s father or sister-in-law.  The levir law is an exception and the law here is suspended so that it is not counted as incest:

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. Leviticus 18:15-16”

If Tamar who was a foreigner did not do this act, then the genealogy to David and then to Christ would have been broken.  Tamar was a very brave woman as she wanted her rights and by faith she fought for her rights before God and protected her husbands and her blood line to the next generation.  It is also very interesting what Rabbi Sacks says about Judah on this issue when he admitted he was in the wrong:

“This moment is a turning-point in history. Judah is the first person in the Torah explicitly to admit he was wrong.[5] We do not realise it yet, but this seems to be the moment at which he acquired the depth of character necessary for him to become the first real baal teshuvah. We see this years later, when he – the brother who proposed selling Joseph as a slave – becomes the man willing to spend the rest of his life in slavery so that his brother Benjamin can go free. (Gen. 44:33) I have argued elsewhere that it is from here that we learn the principle that a penitent stands higher than even a perfectly righteous individual. (Brachot 34b) [6] Judah the penitent becomes the ancestor of Israel’s Kings while Joseph the Righteous is only a viceroy, mishneh le-melech, second to the Pharaoh.

Thus far Judah. But the real hero of the story was Tamar. She had taken an immense risk by becoming pregnant. Indeed she was almost killed for it. She had done so for a noble reason: to ensure that the name of her late husband was perpetuated. But she took no less care to avoid Judah being put to shame. Only he and she knew what had happened. Judah could acknowledge his error without loss of face. It was from this episode that the Sages derived the rule articulated by Rabbi Rabinovitch that morning in Switzerland: it is better to risk being thrown into a fiery furnace than to shame someone else in public.” From https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/vayeshev/the-heroism-of-tamar/

(I also used jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/tamar-bible)

Rahab and Salmon

Rahab was another foreign woman in King David’s and Jesus’ genealogy and originally she was a prostitute.  Yet she had respect for the God of Israel and protected the spies.  God protected Rahab and she married some Jewish general and became a citizen of Israel.  The following is about the promise to Rahab:

“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. 19 It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.” 21 She said, “According to your words, so be it.” So she sent them away, and they departed; and she tied the scarlet cord in the window.” Joshua 2:15-21

Then later in Joshua it says:

“25 However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. Joshua 6:25”. 

Then in Matthew’s genealogy we have:

“Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Matthew 1:5”

The function of Rahab in the story according to Tikva Frymer-Kensky:

“Rahab has a special function in the biblical narratives of Israel’s existence in the land. When uncovering the men, she explains that she knows that God will give Israel the land (2:8). She has heard about the events of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) and the defeat of the Amorite kings Og and Sihon, and she declares (quoting from the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15; see v. 11) that “dread” has fallen on the inhabitants and that they all “fear” Israel (2:9). This is the message that the men bring back to Joshua. Rahab is thus the oracle, or prophet, of Israel’s occupation of the land.” Taken from jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rahab-bible

So, Rahab was a Canaanite and a prostitute which is a double whammy as far as social niceties go but because of her faith and by God’s grace she became an ancestor of Kings and princes.

Ruth and Boaz

Naomi was married to Elimelech, and they had two sons.  One of the sons was married to Ruth the Moabitess. Unfortunately, there was a famine and Naomi’s Husband and two sons also died.  She was left with nothing. She decides to go back to Israel, and she encouraged the daughters to go to their lands.  Ruth refused as the God of Israel was also her God.  This was a dire situation, and the situation was similar to Tamar and Elimelech’s family genealogical line was about to be cut off.  God intervened for Naomi and Ruth and the Davidic genealogical line was not cut off.

“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the LORD had visited His people in giving them food. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.” Ruth 1:6-13”

There was only one way for the line not to be cut off and that was that Naomi through her foreign daughter in law could be her surrogate and so it happened, and Boaz married and had children with Ruth.

Bathsheba and David

Bathsheba is the first Jewish woman by blood we actually meet, and she was originally married to a Hittite (a foreigner).  She was a pawn in David’s hand to satisfy King David’s lust.  She got pregnant and David tried to cover it up by getting Uriah to lie with his wife.  Uriah was too honourable so David sent him to the front line where he got killed.  David then took Bathsheba to be his wife. Judgement fell on David and the baby died.  Nathan the prophet confronted David about this and David’s repentance is found in Psalm 51:

“1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;

According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

And my sin is ever before me.

4 Against You, you only, I have sinned

And done what is evil in Your sight,

So that You are justified when You speak

And blameless when You judge. Psalms 51:1-4”

According to some Rabbinic writings Bathsheba was destined for David but he went about it the wrong way.  Bathsheba along with Nathan played an important role in setting up Solomon for kingship and hence the first Temple to be built for the God of Israel.  Even after David died there were those in court that tried to use Bathsheba for the usurpation of king Solomon’s position to someone else.

Mary (The mother of our Lord) and Joseph the stepfather of Jesus

Mary freely chose to be the receptacle for God taking on humanity through Christ.  Because of her obedience God’s salvation for the world became possible.  It is well worth quoting her song the Magnificat:

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.

50 “AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION

TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.

51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.

53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;

And sent away the rich empty-handed.

54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,

In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56

Mary was devoted to her God and our God.  She conceived as a virgin and King Herod attempted to kill her child.  She had to flee with Joseph to Egypt.  They only came back to Judah when Herod the Great was dead. In Islam she is also very important and there is even a chapter named after her ‘Meryem’.  In the Quran Mary faced persecution by some in the Jewish community for this miraculous birth:

“Later, after Jesus’ birth, Mary brought him to the temple. All of the men in the temple mocked her, except Zechariah, who believed in the virgin birth. The Israelites demanded to know how she could possibly have had a baby without a man, whereupon the Virgin Mary responded by pointing to Jesus who then spoke his first prophecy.” (Taken from simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_in_Islam)

Reflection on these women of great faith

God cares for the unwanted of society as an example in Isaiah it says:

“Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Reprove the ruthless,

Defend the orphan,

Plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Reflection

All the cards were stacked up against these women of faith.  They were helpless and society can at times have a blind eye towards the weak and helpless.  In this genealogy women were especially mentioned as they played a seriously important part for the coming of the Messiah into this sinful world.  It is also very important that in the background of the ministry of Jesus, the backbone that held Jesus’ ministry together was in fact women. This is not a man’s world; it is God’s world and women are just as important as men.  The majority of those in power in history have tended to be mainly men although there are exceptions such as Cleopatra and the Late Queen Elizabeth the Second.  The world is in a mess as we face lots of challenges.  Jesus cared for women that society cast aside, he cared for children, he cared for the sick and he cared for the foreigners (Romans and Samaritans as he taught against racism).  In fact, in Jesus’ life and works (his incarnation) we see a blueprint for an inclusive society. As jesus cared for the weak and vulnerable in society so we too should care for those less able than ourselves, this to me is also an extension of the Christmas story.  As Jesus reminds us later in his sermons that we ought to love God and our neighbour.  Our neighbour is ‘anyone.’

(Note:

The image of Mary I am using has been taken from:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary,_mother_of_Jesus

I am using it according to the creative commons law.)

An overview of the genealogies of Christ though the eyes of Matthew the entrepreneur and Luke the white collared professional

November 17, 2022

Have you ever thought about your own family background and where your roots are found?  In today’s world this is big business and with the advent of DNA testing one can find out even more. We all want to know where we are from as it helps us to build a picture of our identity and where we belong.  Sometimes when we read the news either from the papers or online it is sometimes the only good news we can find. However, DNA may also bring one bad news, perhaps one is related to a despot such as Hitler, Mussolini or even Ceausescu and Stalin. Perhaps sometimes it is better to keeps one’s ancestry at a safe distance.  Herod for example was half Edomite and he wanted to hide this from Judaism of the time so he destroyed the archives in which his ancestry could be found.

In Judaism genealogies are very important as they can show in the Old Testament if one is fit to be a priest or not or to be considered Jewish.  So then today we are going to ask the question why two different genealogies about Christ in two Gospels (both legitimate). Before we even consider opening the Gospels we need to be reminded how different Matthew and Luke are.  Matthew was a tax collector for the Romans but had also spent three years with Jesus and Luke was a doctor who could write a profound history. In one children’s encyclopaedia it says about Matthew:

“Saint Matthew is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Sometimes, he is called Levi. He was a tax collector before his decision to follow Christ.

In the New Testament

Among the early followers and apostles of Jesus, Matthew is mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and Matthew 10:3 as a publican who, while sitting at the “receipt of custom” in Capernaum, was called to follow Jesus. He is also listed among the twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve.

Early life

Levi was a 1st-century Galilean (presumably born in Galilee, which was not part of Judea or the Roman Iudaea province), the son of Alpheus. As a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic and Greek. His fellow Jews would have despised him for what was seen as collaborating with the Roman occupation force.

After his call, Matthew invited Jesus to his home for a feast. On seeing this, the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. This prompted Jesus to answer, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32)” (Taken from kids.kiddle.co/Matthew_the_Evangelist)

The same children’s encyclopedia says:

“Luke the Evangelist is said to be the man who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Irenaeus, Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome say that he was a friend of Saint Paul and a doctor, and that he accompanied Paul on some of his travels. These people also say that he was of Greek origin, from Antioch in Syria.

Modern-day scholars think that the person that wrote the two books was not the same that accompanied Paul. Paul had a theology that was special, and slightly different from that of other writers of the New Testament. The two books written by Luke never refer to this theology. Also, the name of Paul’s companion is never linked to writing the two books. The Acts of the Apostles often tell things about Paul which Paul does not tell himself in his letters.

Luke wrote about the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus in the Bible. Luke never said there were 3 wise men, only wise men from the east.” (Taken from kids.kiddle.co/Luke_the_Evangelist)

To sum up then these two Gospel writers one was a physician who was highly educated and the other was originally a tax collector for the Romans!  He would have been seen by his own people ‘worse than scum’ for collaborating with the Romans.  Having said that Matthew had some special qualities and in the Masters hand he wrote a beauytiful Gospel in which one of the geneologies is found. 

So how intelligent was Matthew to be a tax collector and what were their jobs?

Answer

“Tax farming deals in newly acquired eastern provinces in Asia Minor proved to be a highly lucrative source of income for the companies, which placed publicani in competitive positions with the appointed local governors of the provinces. Also, the exclusion of the publicani from the Senate opened up positions for them in the special courts, allowing them to weigh the limits and practices of government power.[1]

The actions of the publicani were fiercely criticised. They were accused of insurance fraud in delivering goods during the Punic wars, of excessive greed when collecting taxes in the provinces, of exceptionally cruel conduct towards slave labour working in the mines, and of fraudulent practices in trying to get rid of unprofitable public contracts. However, surviving literary sources are mainly based on accounts of senators, who were in a competitive position with the publicani. Still, the overall operation of the private contractors seems to have supplied satisfactory results for the management of the Republic.

The degradation of the role of private contracting coincided with the beginning of the rule of the emperors, during which the oligarchic power of the Senate had to give way for the autocratic rule of the Caesars, and a more centralised public civil service system replaced private contractors in implementing the most important parts of public policy. However, the order of the knights, to which the publicani belonged, formed the backbone of the population from which civil servants were recruited. Throughout history, the publicani, or, more precisely, their local henchmen, were probably best known from their minor local tax collecting duties in Roman provinces during the imperial era [3]

By New Testament times, the provincial people came to see the publicans chiefly as tax collectors. It is in this sense that the term is used in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. However, their role as public contractors, especially as regards building projects, was still significant.[citation needed] With the rise of a much larger Imperial bureaucracy, this task of the publicans, as well as their overall importance, declined precipitously. Evidence for the existence of publicans extends as far back as the 3rd century BC, although it is generally assumed[by whom?] that they existed at still earlier times in Roman history. Knowledge of a tentative terminus post quem is taken from the histories of the 1st century AD Imperial historian Livy.” (Taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publican)

In that sense Matthew was a businessman who knew the inner workings of the financial systems governed by Rome which included building projects.  From this point of view Matthew was probably one of the most educated disciples.

Luke on the other hand was a doctor and a friend of Paul’s.  When I say a doctor I mean a physician, someone who heals people.  He would have known all of the classics such as Plato and so forth.  Luke Greek is some of the most polished Greek anywhere in the New Testament bar (except) the book of Hebrews.  Matthew and Luke are like chalk and cheese; They were very different people.  Yet, Matthew and Luke had one thing in common Love for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Their personalities and their roots from my point of view are completely different but they created two genealogies of Jesus Christ.  We need to be aware of this when we start to look at these geneologies in closer detail.  We can learn a lot about the Lord Jesus because the genealogies are so different.  In Jewish circles genealogy is important to prove identity.  It is possible for example that Luke wrote to a Sadducee priest named Theophilus (See notes below (Taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophilus_(biblical)#cite_note-9)) Anyhow concerning Jesus identity Mark Matthew Mark Luke and John call Jesus the Son of God.  In Psalm 2 the King ‘The Anointed One’  was the Messiah and the Son of God:

  • The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah Matthew 1:1 …And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” Matthew 14:33
  • The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
  • the son of God Luke 3:38
  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

I find the above partial verses very interesting.  Matthew starts by stating the facts before the genealogy starts calling Jesus the Messiah. Matthew’s genealogy is very Jewish in style and was aimed at a readership of those who were Jews. Sticking the genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel was the appropriate thing to do.

Mark does not bother with genealogies as he was more interested in his Gentile readership, and it was all to do with action with a powerful first verse that the Son of God has broken into our space and time. For example Mark uses a lot of ‘ands’ in his sentences to join sentences which is really bad Greek but it gets the job done.  He also uses ‘immediately’ a lot.  His Gospel is a fast paced Gospel for the ordinary person on the street.

Luke on the other hand starts to build the evidence slowly and the genealogy does not come until chapter 3 which seems rather late but if he was writing to a high priestly Sadducee official this makes perfect sense.

John does not mess around with convention as for his point of view Jesus being fully Divine breaks into our time and history here on earth.

Matthew’s Genealogy

Matthew was only interested in getting the facts out in terms of salvation history for Israel. He breaks the genealogy into three time spans:

  • From Abraham to David
  • From David to the deportation to Babylon
  • From the Babylonian captivity to the advent of Christ

Matthew prefers to use ‘Father of’ instead of ‘son of’.  From my point of view this is one reason for the chronological direction differences in Matthew.  This way of doing the chronology also allows women to be included in his chronology. 

Luke’s genealogy

The time order is in reverse order from that of Matthew and he says, “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, Luke 3:23”

  • He starts from Joseph
  • He ends with before Adam as the Son of God

In Luke’s genealogy it is followed by the ‘son of ’.  It only reflects the male line of descendants

Reflection on the two chronologies.

If Luke was writing to an important priest in the Sadducee party to show the facts about Jesus, then this was a wise move from Luke.  He kept his genealogy within acceptable standards in the Jewish community

Matthew in contrast metaphorically throws an incendiary bomb into his work.  He is not afraid to mention women in his genealogy:

  • Tamar got pregnant outside of wedlock
  • Rahab was a prostitute (a foreigner)
  • Ruth was a Moabitess (a foreigner)
  • Mary was a virgin (Pregnant outside of marriage although she was a virgin)

We have two versions of the genealogy of Jesus, one that is safe for the standards of the day and Matthew’s genealogy which smashed the ‘safe boundaries.’

Reflection

Matthew and Luke were very different people.  Matthew who was a bit of an entrepreneur made deals with the Romans for his living.  A lot of Jews would have hated Matthew’s lifestyle and he would be seen by a lot as a traitor to his country.  As an extra thought Josephus too would have been seen as a traitor as (metaphorically speaking) he caved into the Romans but at the same time today, Jews and Christians will definitely use his sources for information about the destruction of the second temple.  Although Matthew was despised by his fellow Jews Jesus called him and changed him into a true man of God and that is why we have such a beautiful Jewish Gospel.

I think of Luke as ‘steady Luke’.  Luke was highly intelligent, and he was not one of the twelve disciples but a friend of Paul.  I read somewhere that Luke was possibly pleading for Paul when he was in jail in Rome.  Metaphorically speaking he had a safe set of cards and he knew how to communicate in a hostile world. We are privileged to Have Luke and Acts in our Bible written in excellent Greek of the Ancient world.

When I looked at how the two genealogies were formed, I could see two very different people which reflects on how the genealogies were put together:

  • Luke the white collared worker (medical doctor, lawyer and historian)
  • Matthew the entrepreneur. (He was good at making money)

As followers of Christ, we are much richer because of their individual contributions to the Church.

Notes

Jewish priest

Some scholars[9] point to Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem from 37 to 41. In this tradition Theophilus would have been both a kohen and a Sadducee. That would make him the son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas, raised in the Jewish Temple. Adherents claim that Luke’s Gospel was targeted at Sadducee readers. This might explain a few features of Luke. He begins the story with an account of Zacharias the righteous priest who had a Temple vision of an angel (1:5–25). Luke quickly moves to account Mary’s purification (niddah), Jesus’ Temple redemption (pidyon ha-ben) rituals (2:21–39), and then to Jesus’ pilgrimage to the Temple when he was twelve (2:46), possibly implying his bar mitzvah. He makes no mention of Caiaphas’ role in Jesus’ crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus’ literal resurrection (24:39), including an ascension into heaven as a realm of spiritual existence (24:52; Acts 1:1). Luke also seems to stress Jesus’ arguments with the Sadducees on points like legal grounds for divorce, the existence of angels, spirits, and an afterlife (Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead). If this was the case then Luke is trying to use Jesus’ rebuttals and teachings to break down Theophilus’ Sadducean philosophy, maybe with the hope that Theophilus would use his influence to get the Sadducees to cease their persecution of the Christians. One could also look at Luke’s Gospel as an allegorical (רֶמֶז remez) reference to Jesus as “the man called the Branch” prophesied in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12–13, who is the ultimate high priest foreshadowed by the Levitical priesthood.

Most, if not all, of the commentaries on the Gospel of Luke say the “Question about the Resurrection” pericope presented in Lk. 20:27-40 is the only account in Luke of Jesus confronting the Sadducees. It is true that Luke only mentions the Sadducees by name once but it is not true that this pericope is the only one concerning the Sadducees. The Parables about the Good Samaritan, the Unjust Steward, the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Wicked Tenants are directed to the Sadducees who controlled the temple establishment. These parables are about unfaithful priests. They are the wicked sons of Eli.[10][self-published source?]

All of the New Testament passages concerning alms and almsgiving, except one in Matthew, are in Luke-Acts. Therefore, these parables may be about alms, almsgiving and the proper use of the wealth controlled by the temple authorities. Luke’s criticism focuses on the use of these temple resources by the religious aristocracy for their own selfish purposes. This means that the religious authorities controlled tremendous wealth that had been in times past properly distributed to the people as part of the institutional form of almsgiving. The priests in these parables are unfaithful, dishonest and disobedient because, inter alia, they have not invited the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind to the banquet table. Once the office of the High Priest became non-hereditary, and available to the highest bidder, the institutional role of almsgiving was abandoned or reduced as the purchaser had to recoup his purchase price.[10][self-published source?]

A minority view[who?] identifies Theophilus as a later high priest: Mattathias ben Theophilus who served from 65 to 66. Note that Luke refers to high priest Joseph ben Caiaphas simply as “Caiaphas”.[11] Thus, the reasoning goes, Luke used this pattern when addressing Theophilus.

Gloom and Darkness Before the Rising of the Son (The state of humanity before Christmas time)

November 11, 2022

Before we embark on our programme of learning about Advent and Christmas time it is good to pause and think about light and darkness.  It is great to get up in the morning and the sun is shining. however here in Finland as we come closer to the Christmas it gets darker and darker.  When it gets dark where I live it is very dark. It is so dark that it is easy to fall into the ditch. Here in Finland in certain places we have wolves and bears.  When it is dark there are dangers. Darkness can be scary on certain people like to watch horror films. I personally don’t like horror films and I certainly don’t want to be scared.

When I was a child I lived in Cyprus. Cyprus is a beautiful island, and the sun shines a lot. However, if you stay in the in the sun too long you will get burnt. Part of the culture is for the ladies especially, to stay where it is cool inside the house.  the men tend to go to the cafes and drink coffee. The sun is very hot, and you can get burned. If you put sunshine through a prism one can see lots of beautiful colours.  Show my friends light and darkness are very different. Emotionally when we’re in the light we can feel positive about life. When we are in the darkness it can make us feel negative. I don’t know if it’s true anymore, but I do know but at one time suicide was a serious problem in Finland because of the dark.

John uses light and darkness in his gospel. It is very interesting that John started to write his gospel with in the beginning. The beautiful thing about is his start to this gospel is that jaune takes his readers back to genesis chapter one, the creation story! What is look at genesis 1:

“The Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Genesis 1:1-5”

This is an amazing story! So, there was darkness everywhere and there was no order for the world. After the material universe was created it wasn’t a place where we could live as human beings. If anything the the the universe was a hostile place for human beings. Something had to happen and God created but heavens on the earth on the first day.  It wasn’t just darkness anymore but there was light. So the first day hard both light and darkness.  capital God’s word is very powerful my friend. The impressive thing is that God spoke and everything was created. I once read something by Rabbi Sacks.  He said that the Jewish religion is a spoken religion other nations put more emphasis on the visual stuff such as idols and so on. There are some very powerful stories in the Bible and stories are made-up of words. So then in Hebrew aren’t in Greek culture words play an important part for philosophy and religion. Without words you can’t have an argument.  Just imagine a world without words people would have to mime Found it will take a lot longer to get ones message across. In both Hebrew and Greek culture word has an important meaning it is linked to wisdom. For Greeks the logos was wisdom and this is how the philosophers used to talk about it. The power of word and wisdom has played a very important part in western cultures.

For Johns Jesus is the Word, “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God on the word was God”.  We also need to realise that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. In theology Jesus is fully God and fully Man at the same time. Jesus is usually referred to as the eternal Son and he has always existed with the father and the Holy Spirit.  God sent his son into the world not that the world would be destroyed but by through the work of Christ the world would be saved.

In all the great religions of the world light and darkness are important motifs in explaining great spiritual truths. Before we move on we need to realise what some  great Christians have said about this world. This is a fallen world and people have turned their backs on God. The natural man wants to enjoy himself and this seems to be the most important thing sometimes. In today’s world the idea of duty has been thrown out with the bathtub. There was a time row when there wasn’t sin in the world when God created the garden of Eden. I’m not really interested if you take it literally or whether you take it as an allegory both have the same message. The world God created was perfect and God walked in the garden and he talked with Adam and Eve and they had blissful communication.  This was such a beautiful picture but it was ruined because of disobedience and lies. Do not think that Satan hadn’t a part to play in this fall. Satan took on the form of a serpent and he started to give ideas to eve and he just twisted the truth a little bit to make it look beautiful. He said that if you eat of the tree you will not die but you will be like God.  That’s what he’s good at he deceives. This is why he was cast out of heaven. There is light and darkness my friends and we have been called to live in the light by faith in Christ.

We cannot save ourselves, yet God didn’t give up on us even though creation was marred.  On that special relationship we had with God, that was broken all that time ago, and it was not the end my friends. It would take great courage from God to save us. God became a man he lived among us; he was crucified, he was buried, but death could not hold him down as he was resurrected. Our Lord Jesus was resurrected and in him we can also have eternal life.  God had a plan for us from before the foundation of the world.

I don’t know how election works and there are different takes on it from different theological points of view. On the one hand you have the calvinists who Who talk about the five points of Calvinism:

  • total depravity
  • unconditional election
  • limited atonement
  • irresistible calling
  • perseverance of the Saints

the main drive is to protect the idea of the sovereignty of God that God elects his chosen people.  Others say that it is up to you to make that decision and to become a Christian. For some Christians this takes away the idea of the sovereignty of God.

Karl Barth has got a completely different idea, that Jesus is the as the elect of God and he is both judge on the one who is judged so that we can have eternal life. 1000 words is quite a lot actually

let the theologians argue over these things because it isn’t my point to win an argument. I’m only interested in looking at light and darkness as these are important motifs for the Christmas story.

Why did Jesus have to come into this world in the first place?

It’s because of sin, it is because of darkness, it is because we turned our backs on God. Even though we turned our backs on God, God did not give up on us. We are God special creation and he loves us, This is why the Christmas story is so special. We’re going to drill down a little bit into light and darkness now and we’re going to look at the beginning of John’s gospel in a little more detail where these motifs of light and darkness are found.

The Deity of Jesus Christ

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5

Verse one

This verse tells us that Jesus is God and it is a very important statement. Some have said that Jesus is a God with a small g.  this is not the case the eternal son was one with the father.

Verse 2

The second verse says that Jesus was with God at the beginning and this excludes angels. Believe it or not angels are created beings just like we are. As a general rule of thumb the good angels reside in the heavens but still they are only created beings. Satan is only a created being.

verse 3

If you remember we read genesis chapter one earlier and John John is reminding us dodgy Jesus played a part in the creation of the world. The creation was perfect my friends because God said on each day that it was good. If God said that it was good then what does it exclude?

It means it wasn’t bad, it was good, it was perfect and this is our God my friends.  In the letters of John it tells us that God is love. The nature of God is perfect love. God through the Son proved that he was perfect love. As a loving father you may be willing to give your life for your child. As a human being would you give your life up for a tramp? Human nature tells me no. This is what God did for us while we were grovelling in our sins and in our lawless state on our way to hell, God became a man. The perfect Creator the perfect Judge, the holy and perfect God became a human being. If you lived in heaven, would you be willing to give it all up?  In our human and selfish state, I don’t think we would leave heaven, that is my opinion.  God however left heaven the place of light and came t oa place full of darkness and lawlessness to sdave us.

Verses 4 -5

Our communion with God was broken and even though as Bavinck puts it somewhere we were spiritually dead to the things of God we were as it were a ‘dead twig’.  Jesus title in the Gospel of John is ‘Light of the World’.

Reflection

This world is a mess and too many people live in poverty, sickness or in war situations.  If as humans, we cannot even take care of this world then how can we save ourselves from destruction.  I think you already know the answer to that question.  We are in dire straits and the only way this world can be saved is through direct intervention from the Divine (The Trinity).  When we think about this time of year leading into the advent period and into Christmas let us ponder where we as individuals stand.  Perhaps the person reading this blog is from another religion, no religion or agnostic.   All that I can say to you is that whoever you are, God loves you and he wants you to come into fellowship with him.  It is an invitation of love, pure love.  Pure love from God’s side is selfless love wanting only your good.  Even though I am exclusivist in my Christian faith it is because of my exclusivity that allows me to talk to people of other faith or no faiths in humility.  I am not any better than anyone else; God loves the wealthy and the tramps.  God loves the Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, atheist et al and the invitation is open to all.  Obviously, you might be from another faith and you might have an exclusive belief system that your religion is correct.  The truth is possibly the golden rule of loving ones neighbour is found in all of the great religions.  This Week we have started looking at this dark world.  We will continue looking at the Gospel and the Christmas story and picking various strands.  Thankyou for reading this blog. 

Let us build a house on a solid embedded rock and not on any sand

November 6, 2022

My apologies to my readers because I have not posted anything for a couple of Weeks.  The reason was that my computer gave up the ghost. I’m sure this has happened to a lot of people since computers came into the modern era.  So then in this connected world it can be so easy to lose ourselves with our digital friends.  We need to remember that when God created us, he created us in such a way that we didn’t have wires coming out of our heads.  Our Lord explains to us in the Sermon on the Mount the importance of our relationship with God and with our neighbours.  By God’s grace and mercy let us have our lives aligned in love with God and our neighbour. 

Today we are going to finish our series by looking at

  1. The narrow and wide gates Matthew. Matthew 7. 13-14
  2. A tree and its fruit Matthew 7. 15-23
  3. The two foundations Matthew 7. 13-29

Let’s begin by reading:

The Narrow and Wide Gates

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Comments

Tyndale the English Martyr says the following:

The strait gate is the true knowledge and understanding of the law,* and of the true intent of works: which whosoever understandeth, the same shall be driven to Christ, to fetch of his fulness, and to take him for his righteousness and fulfilling of the law, altogether at the beginning, and as oft as we fall afterward, and for more than the thousandth part of our fulfilling of the law and righteousness of our best works all our life long. For except the righteousness of Christ be knit to the best deed we do, it will be too short to reach to heaven.

And the narrow way is to live after this knowledge.* He that will enter in at this gate must be made anew: his head will else be too great; he must be untaught all that he hath learned, to be made less for to enter in; and disused in all things to which he hath been accustomed, to be made less, to walk through that narrow way; where he shall find such an heap of temptations, and so continual, that it shall be impossible to endure or to stand, but by prayer of strong faith.

(William Tyndale, Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, Together with the Practice of Prelates, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 120–121.)

So, then I would have missed this point which is very important:

” The strait gate is the true knowledge and understanding of the law, and of the true intent of works: which whosoever understandeth, the same shall be driven to Christ,”

As we already know from our regular Bible readings of this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus did not come to ‘abolish’ the law but to fulfill it.  The summing of the law is very simple:

  1. Love God
  2. Love your neighbour

Outside of Christ in our own strength it is impossible to please God because we have a lot of sinful baggage we carry on our shoulders. Just to make it easy St Paul gives us a whole list of vices that break the law of God:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 NASB

Which ones of these have we not done in our daily living?

These things (and others) we have inherited from the sinful world we have been born into because of the Fall.  This list excludes us all from the kingdom of God.  However, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus kept the law perfectly and through his death on the cross and the resurrection by faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit we can have eternal life.

The wide gate then is naturally an easy gate to follow and as human beings by doing these things in the worldly sense we could become financially well off at the expense of others.  I am not saying that every rich person has followed this way but I am saying that wealth is a great temptation and even our Lord warns about the trappings of mammon.

Our Lord while he was in this corrupt world kept the following and others perfectly:

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. “Galatians 5:22-23 NASB

Even when our Lord was dying on the cross he said, “forgive them for they know not what they do”

Our Lord through his life death and resurrection showed us perfectly how to live by faith because he live the narrow gate.  There is only one narrow gate, and it is the way of faith, hope and love. 

Before we move on to the next section the gates are a time for us to focus at where we stand before God or don’t stand.   It is not by good works that we are saved though, but good works flow from the Christian person ‘out of gratitude’, for what God has done for us already or putting it another way, works are the fruit of faith.  The disciple of Jesus having focused on their walk with God is now ready to focus on being aware of counterfeit Christianity within the Church.  In the following section our Lord gives his disciples advice:

A Tree and Its Fruit

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

Comment

William Tyndale begins by saying:

 Here Christ warneth thee,* and describeth unto thee those captains that should so blind the great multitude that they should not find the strait gate, and lead them the broad way to perdition. Note first, that though they be false, yet he calleth them prophets, which word in the new testament is taken for an expounder and an interpreter of scripture. And he saith, “They shall come to you,” my disciples.

(William Tyndale, Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of Prelates, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 121.)

Tyndale with his keen eye on the text makes a very important point.  These false disciples are called ‘false prophets.’  It means that these particular false teachers have not come from outside the church but from within (heresy).  Our Lord gives us some advice on how to spot false teachers:

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” Matthew 7:16

I think this is very good advice from our Lord.  Today we see in the Church the ‘rejection of holy living’.  I see people dangerously reforming the interpretation of the text.  The excuse being that ‘the world has changed and we need to change with the times.’ No, my friends our Lord says:

““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Matthew 7:21-23

In many churches the idea of holiness is thrown out that one can be a Christian and still practice immoral acts.  This is false teaching.  The Nicolaitans the precursors of the gnostics practised immorality and John in his book on Revelations wrote about their teachings.  As Christians we are called to love our neighbour no matter what their practices, but we are also called to hate the sin that is practised and through repentance purify the Church.  Some of the Churches have caved into this false teaching.  The reason why they caved in is because the Church has been willing to put people into positions of authority whilst not living to the standards of Scripture.  Those people became the future leaders who were able to vote at the synods for unholy objectives.  Corruption is rife. 

The corruption that was in secret has ebbed its way to the front.  What our Lord Jesus said here has come true.  What our Lord has said has come true over many centuries even to today.  We need to beware of false teachers in our midst and cut the gangrene away. 

So, then my friends we have learned many things along the way.  The beatitudes for me is the key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount.  The natural person needs to come to a realization that they are full of sin and that they cannot save themselves. By the work of the Trinity, we realize that God did everything for us.  God sent his Son the Lord Jesus into the world who died for us and rose again from the dead.  Jesus has opened a new and living way and through the Holy Spirit this spiritually dead stick can be born again to newness of life through the gift of faith. Our Lord finishes off by giving us two options.  One way leads to eternal life and the other way leads to eternal death:

The Two Foundations

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

28 When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:13-29

Reflection

  • There is a narrow gate and a wide gate
  • There is a firm foundation and a sandy foundation

Our Lord starts by getting us to focus on where we are spiritually.  Only then does he look at the false teachers in our midst.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law which is the opposite of lawlessness. Our Lord begins by giving us steppingstones to get closer to the kingdom of God.  Once through the maze of our own sin Christ takes us to look at our relationships with others. 

So looking back we have covered:

  • The Sermon on the Mount; The Beatitudes Matthew 5:1
  • Disciples and the World Matthew 5:13
  • Personal Relationships Matthew 5:21
  • Giving to the Poor and Prayer Matthew 6:1
  • Fasting; The True Treasure; Wealth (Mammon) Matthew 6:16
  • The Cure for Anxiety Matthew 6:25
  • Judging Others Matthew 7:1
  • Prayer and the Golden Rule Matthew 7:7
  • The Narrow and Wide Gates Matthew 7:13
  • A Tree and Its Fruit Matthew 7:15
  • The Two Foundations Matthew 7:24

No matter what denomination or no denomination I hope that you have gotten closer to the teachings of Jesus.  The next big celebration will be Christmas where we will be reminded about his incarnation.  When God became a man. We need to realize though these teachings are also part of the incarnation.  They are part of the incarnation because Jesus indeed was a real human being who lived a real life among us in this corrupt world.

The Golden Rule as a reflection for Asking and Seeking from God

October 23, 2022

We have already seen how our Lord wants us to pray in the Our Father:

  • Adoration; We give God the glory that belongs to him (Our Creator, the One who gave us life and redeems us and keeps us)
  • Confession; We confess that he is God, The Most Holy et al.
  • Thanksgiving; We continually thank God for all good things come from Him
  • Supplication; We make our requests to a Holy God through Christ.

The above is just some things about the prayer.  The prayer also has at the end about forgiving others.

The verses below I think are some of the most misinterpreted verses in certain churches that push wealth as important (on a pedestal).  That is a complete misfit of what the text is about. 

Let us begin by reading the text:

(Prayer and the Golden Rule)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12 NASB

The Word commentary, William Barclay and William Tyndale (Martyr for the English Bible) give us important explanations about the tenses.

Grammatical and contextual Points

Verse 7

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

The verbs to ask to seek and to know are in the present imperatives. 

These verbs should be interpreted as keep asking; keep seeking; keep knocking. Prayer is a continual thing, and it does not stop.   I can also mention that these verbs are also in the plural.  Jesus was speaking to his disciples and others at this event on ‘the mountain’.

The verbs will receive; will find; will open are all in the future tense. 

Verse 8

For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Receives, finds and knocks in this verse are in the present tense.  It is also in the singular

Verses 9-10

Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?

Here we have everyday objects in two different categories:

  • Bread and fish are staple foods in a fishing and farming village
  • Stone and snake have negative and opposite connotations are from my point of view found in the temptation story earlier on in the Gospel

Verse 11

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

Good and evil compared and contrasted in light of our creator and our evil nature.

Verse 12

The Golden Rule!

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12 NASB

My commentary on this section

God is our heavenly Father and in Christ our Redeemer and through the work of the Holy Spirit we as disciples are given advice for the nitty gritty daily living of our lives on the backdrop of the eschaton (The End Times).  God is love and this love principle of God’s goodness ought to also drive our walk with God (verse 12).  Even though we are evil, we still have the capacity to look after those under our care (verse 11).  So too God is indeed (Most Holy and Most Good) and he encourages us to live by faith and the motivation is love.

We ought to keep praying and asking God and by the Holy Spirit; By the incarnational life of Jesus on Earth; through the Holy Scriptures by God’s grace poured into our hearts and lives.  God will indeed answer our prayers.

There are prayers that God will not answer.  Those prayers that go against what we have learned through his Trinitarian teachings as found in Holy Scripture. Prayers that:

  • Feed our selfish ego (greed and money)
  • Revenge
  • Pride
  • And so, on

In summary then verse 12;

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12 NASB

Reflection

As Christians in our relationships, we ought to love each and every person and it is not always an easy thing to do.  In our prayers things can get in the way such as greed for monetary gain, pride, revenge et al.   Through prayer, reading and studying holy Scripture and spending time with others of the same mind, our hearts and minds are purified.  As each day goes on in our lives, we become more like our Master the Lord Jesus Christ; although fully God he became fully man and as the Prototype and Image of God in Him our reflection becomes continually more like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

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William Tyndale’s comments here if you are interested

First, note of these words,* that to pray is God’s commandment, as it is to believe in God, to love God, or to love thy neighbour; and so are alms and fasting also. Neither is it possible to believe in God, to love him, or to love thy neighbour, but that prayer will spring out there-hence immediately.* For to believe in God is to be sure that all thou hast is of him, and all thou needest must come of him: which if thou do, thou canst not but continually thank him for his benefits, which thou continually, without ceasing, receivest of his hand; and thereto ever cry for help, for thou art ever in need, and canst no whence else be holpen. And thy neighbour is in such necessity also: wherefore, if thou love him, it will compel thee to pity him, and to cry to God for him continually, and to thank as well for him as thyself.

Secondarily, this heaping of so many words together, “ask,* seek, and knock,” signify that the prayer must be continual; and so doth the parable of the widow, that sued to the wicked judge: and the cause is, that we are ever in continual necessity, as I said; and all our life [is] but even a warfare and a perpetual battle;* in which we prevail as long as we pray, and be overcome as soon as we cease praying: as Israel overcame the Amalekites, as long as Moses held up his hands in prayer; and as soon as he had let down his hands for weariness,* the Amalekites prevailed and had the better. Christ warned his disciples at his last supper, to have peace in him; affirming that they should have none in the world.* The false prophets shall ever impugn the faith in Christ’s blood, and enforce to quench the true understanding of the law, and the right meaning and intent of all the works commanded by God; which fight is a fight above all fights. First, they shall be in such number, that Christ’s true disciples shall be but a small flock in respect of them. They shall have works like Christ’s; so that fasting, prayer, poverty, obedience, and chastity, shall be the names of their profession. For, as Paul saith to the Corinthians, the angels or messengers of Satan shall change themselves into angels or messengers of light and truth.* They shall come in Christ’s name, and that with signs and miracles; and have the upper hand also,* even to deceive the very elect, if it were possible. Yea, and beyond all this, if thou get the victory of the false prophets, and pluck a multitude out of their hands, there shall immediately rise of the same, and set up a new false sect against thee. And against all these Amalekites the only remedy is to lift up the hands of thy heart to God in continual prayer:* which hands if thou for weariness once let fall, thou goest to the worst immediately. Then, beside the fight and conflict of the subtle sophistry, false miracles, disguised and hypocritish works of these false prophets, cometh the dogs and wolves of their disciples, with the servants of mammon, and the swine of thine own scholars: against which all thou hast no other shield or defence but prayer. Then the sins and lusts of thine own flesh, Satan, and a thousand temptations unto evil in the world, will either drive thee to the castle and refuge of prayer, or take thee prisoner undoubtedly.

Last of all,* thy neighbour’s necessity and thine own will compel thee to cry, “Father, which art in heaven, give us our daily bread;” though thou wert as rich as king Salomon. For Christ commandeth the rich, as well as the poor, to cry to God continually for their daily bread; and if they have no such need, then is Christ a deceiver and a mocker. What need I to pray thee to give, or lend me, that is in mine own possession already? Is not the first commandment, that there is but one God, and that thou put thy whole trust in him? Which if it were written in thine heart, thou shouldest easily perceive, and though thou hadst as many thousands as David left behind him, and Salomon heaped more to them, that thou hadst no more than the poor beggar that goeth from door to door; yea, and that the beggar (if that commandment be written in his heart) is sure that he is as rich as thou.

For first, thou must knowledge that thou hast received that great treasure of the hand of God. Wherefore, when thou fetchest an halfpenny thereof, thou oughtest to give God thanks in thine heart for the gift thereof.

Thou must confess,* also, that God only hath kept it and thee that same night, and ever before; or else be an idolater, and put thy trust in some other thing than God. And thou must confess, that God only must keep it and thee, the day and night following, and so continually after; and not thine own wit or power, or the wit or power of any other creature or creatures. For if God kept it not for thee, it would be thine own destruction, and they that help thee to keep it would cut thy throat for it. There is no king in christendom so well beloved, but he hath enow of his own evil subjects (if God kept them not down with fear) that would at one hour rise upon him and slay him, to make havoc of all he hath. Who is so well beloved throughout all England, but that there be enow in the same parish, or nigh about, that would, for his good, wish him to hell if they could, and would with their hands destroy him, if God kept him not, and did1 cast fear on the other?

Now, then, if God must ever keep it for thee, and thou must daily receive it of his hand (as a poor man doth receive his alms of another man), thou art in no more surety of thy daily bread, no, though thou were a cardinal, than the poorest is. Wherefore, howsoever rich thou be, yet must thou ever cry to God for thy daily bread. So now it is a commandment to pray, and that continually; short, thick, and oft, as the psalms be, and all the prayers of the bible.

Finally,* the third is, that we be commanded to pray with faith and trust; and that we believe in the Lord our God, and doubt not in his promises, unto which Christ induceth us with an apt similitude, saying, “If ye being evil can give good things unto your children, how much more shall God fulfil his promises of mercy unto his children, if they cry unto him!” He is better and more merciful than all men. Wherefore, seeing God commandeth thee to pray, and forasmuch as thou hast so great necessity so to do, and because he is merciful, and hath promised and is true, and cannot deny his own words; therefore pray; and when thou prayest, look not on thine unworthiness, but on his commandment, mercy, and goodness, and on his truth and faithfulness, and believe stedfastly in him. Moreover, whatsoever thou hast done, yet if thou repent and will amend, he promiseth that he will not think on thy sins.* And though he defer thee, think it not long, nor faint not in thy faith, or be slack in thy prayer: for he will surely come and give thee more than thou desirest, though he defer for thy profit, or change thy request into a better thing.

  All things, therefore, whatsoever ye would men should do to you, so do ye to them. This is, verily, the law and the prophets.

This is a short sermon, that no man need complain that he cannot,* for the length, bear it away. It is so nigh thee, that thou needest not to send over sea for it. It is with thee, that thou needest not to be importune upon master doctor, saying, ‘Sir, I pray you, what say ye to this case and to that; and is not this lawful, and may I not so do, and so, well enough?’ Ask thine own conscience, what thou mayest or oughtest to do. Wouldest thou men did so with thee? then do it. Wouldest thou not be so dealt with? then do it not. Thou wouldest not that men should do thee wrong and oppress thee: thou wouldest not that men should do thee shame and rebuke, lie on thee, kill thee, hire thine house from thee, or tice thy servant away, or take against thy will aught that is thine.* Thou wouldest not that men should sell thee false ware, when thou puttest them in trust to make it ready, or lay it out for thee; nor thou wouldest not that men should deceive thee with great oaths, swearing that to be good which indeed is very naught: thou wouldest not, also, that men should sell thee ware that is naught and too dear, to undo thee. Do no such things, then, to thy neighbour. But as loth as thou wouldest be to buy false ware, or too dear, for undoing thyself, so loth be thou to sell false ware, or too dear, for undoing thy neighbour. And in all thy needs how glad thou wouldest be to be holpen, so glad be to help thy neighbour. And so, in all cases, examine thy conscience, and ask her what is to be done, in all doubts between thy neighbour and thee; and she will teach thee, except thou be more filthy than a swine, and altogether beastly.

He saith here,* “This is the law and the prophets.” And he saith,* “Thou shalt love thy Lord God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind:” and, as Mark addeth, “with all thy might,* and thy neighbour as thyself. In these two commandments hangeth the whole law and the prophets.” And Paul (Rom. 13 and Gal. 5) saith, that “love is the fulfilling of the law.” And it is written, that “Christ is” the fulfilling or “end of the law.” To make all these agree, this thou must understand; that to love God purely is the final and uttermost end of all the law and the prophets.* To love thy neighbour is the end of all laws that is between man and man; as are, kill not, steal not, bear no false witness, commit none adultery, covet not thy neighbour’s wife, his house, ox, ass, maid, man-servant, nor aught that is his, &c. Christ is the fulfilling of the law for us, where we be imperfect; and when we break and repent, his fulfilling is imputed unto us. And this text, “This is the law and the prophets,” mayest thou understand as when Paul saith, “Love is the fulfilling of the law:” that is, to do as thou wouldest be done to, is all the law that is between thee and thy neighbour; and that according to the true understanding and interpreting of all true prophets.

William Tyndale, Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, Together with the Practice of Prelates, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 115–120. Taken from Logos Bible Software

The picture I used this Week for the blog was taken from: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/39/Washington_Allston_-Elijah_in_the_DesertGoogle_Art_Project.jpg/640px-Washington_AllstonElijah_in_the_Desert-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

““You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7; With emphasis on blasphemy

October 15, 2022

Today we are going to look at blasphemy and let’s look at the third commandment that Moses wrote down:

““You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” Exodus 20:7; from Olive Tree Software

 This commandment forbids blasphemy in the strongest terms.  Unfortunately, in our society most people don’t go to church.  If they hear the word blasphemy, they probably don’t know what it is or its meaning.  Even if the meaning was known, perhaps they still wouldn’t see the point in it because possibly they are atheists or haven’t thought about what religion is all about.  So, let’s begin by finding out what the English language has to say about it. 

Blasphemy and its root in English

Etymonline says:

” “impious or profane speaking of God or sacred things,” early 13c., from Old French blasfemie “blasphemy,” from Late Latin blasphemia, from Greek blasphemia “a speaking ill, impious speech, slander,” from blasphemein “to speak evil of.” Second element is phēmē “utterance” (from PIE root *bha- (2) “to speak, tell, say”); first element uncertain, perhaps related to blaptikos “hurtful,” though blax “slack (in body and mind), stupid” also has been proposed; de Vaan suggests a connection with the root of Latin malus “bad, unpleasant” (from PIE root *mel- (3)). In Old Testament usage the word applied to a more specific crime, against the reverence for Jehovah as ruler of the Jews, comparable to treason.”

In this section we can see that it is to do with slandering and speaking evil towards God our Trinitarian Creator.  Then below from the same page we are given a definition way back from 1895.  At this time Herman Bavinck was making a serious impact on Dutch society.

    “Blasphemy cognizable by common law is described by Blackstone to be “denying the being or providence of God, contumelious reproaches of our Saviour Christ, profane scoffing at the Holy Scripture, or exposing it to contempt or ridicule”; by Kent as “maliciously reviling God or religion”; and by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw as “speaking evil of the Deity with an impious purpose to derogate from the Divine Majesty and to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God.” [Century Dictionary, 1895]” Both quotations From; etymonline.com/word/blasphemy

Contumelious = (of behaviour) scornful and insulting; insolent. From Google search

Basically, blasphemy then is about:

  • denying the existence of God
  • Scoffing at Holy Scripture which tells us about God
  • Impious purpose using derogatory means to insult God and believers
  • To alienate people from the love and reverence of God.

This then is basically what blasphemy is about.  It happens every day in society as Christians are mocked and taken to court for their religious beliefs in the 21st century.  Blasphemy is serious and it shows how low our society has gone since the 1970s.  When I was a child in the 1970’s I used to think to myself:

 “Why are the shops closed on a Sunday?”

I didn’t really understand what the Sabbath was and why the Lord’s Day Sunday is so important (and I went to Church!).  The point is that the population moved away from God in their living.  In the UK and possibly in Europe too in all the countries that participated in World War 1 and World War 2, so many Christian men were slaughtered on the fields of Europe and around the world.  If one goes into various churches thought Great Britain one will see lists of the dead soldiers.  All Christian communities lost the heads of the families.  The man was important in the moral dimension of the family and hence the moral dimension of the morality of the country from which they came.   The UK lost its moral compass for the family, and this has led to ‘alternative families’ although in the first century AD in the Roman world slaves were also a part of family life.  For the Christian the family is made up of only husband, wife and children:

St Paul says:

“Marriage Like Christ and the Church

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

Family Relationships

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.

4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

9 And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9”

Using the World Wars as the moral compass we are now as a country a boat without a rudder, and anything goes.  Whether or not one is religious or not look at the facts how society has changed.  Don’t just blame the internet, the rot was already there.  We could have also looked at the French Revolution too for a lot of the root cause too.  Kuyper and Bavinck certainly thought so in their time.

So, when we look at blasphemy, please look at what is going to be said with some empathy.

Moving on from some basic ideas Herman Bavinck explains to us why blasphemy is so wrong.  Here are some Old Testament verses Herman Bavinck look at on page 190 of his Ethics:

  • Bavinck reminds us that in the Old Testament in the Law of Moses (Torah) blasphemy was punishable by death to the Israelite and the foreigner: (Lev. 24:15—16) (vv. 10-16; cf. Exod. 5:2; 14:23-30; 1 Kings 20:23; 2 Kings 18:19—-40; 19:10-18; Dan. 3:15).
  • Contempt for God Numbers 16:30
  • Forsaking God Isaiah 1:4

Contempt for God

30 But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” Numbers 16:30

This verse is in the context of Korah’s rebellion.  Perhaps they were looking for power.  We have this problem even today when people want to be number 1.  This is also one of the reasons that Satan was thrown out of heaven. 

Turning away from God (Forsaking)

Alas, sinful nation,

People weighed down with iniquity,

Offspring of evildoers,

Sons who act corruptly!

They have abandoned the LORD,

They have despised the Holy One of Israel,

They have turned away from Him. Isaiah 1:4

There are different ways of turning away from God. This is my summary:

  • Love for God and giving him worship which rightfully Belongs to God.
  • Love of neighbour (the image of God), Gods reflection especially the poor, widows and orphans.

After the Lord saved Israel, He made a covenant with them at Sinai.  The covenant kept on being broken through their history and therefore judgement came.

Blasphemy and the New Testament from the point of view of Herman Bavinck

Bavinck says: “In the New Testament to blaspheme is to appropriate what belongs only to God” and then we have this verse:

The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” John 10:33

Jesus was accused of claiming to be God (from the point of view of his critics).  They refused to accept him as the Messiah.  Bavinck goes on to say that they were blaspheming Jesus while he hung on the cross:

And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads Matthew 27:39

Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, Mark 15:29

St Paul before his conversion used to force believers to blaspheme so he could punish them:

6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6

11 And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. Acts 26:11

God saved Paul from his evil self and gave him a second chance:

13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 1 Timothy 1:13

Bavinck goes on to say that these blasphemies come out of the heart of people:

(Mark 7:20—23)

20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

This is the most serious blasphemy:

“To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to directly oppose the activities of God, whom one acknowledges and must acknowledge as divine. Blasphemy is an outburst of hatred against God and his world dominion because they conflict with the sinful human reality; it is demonic madness. Humans then declare that they are not beings who sin against God, but that God sins against them; they posit their worldview as higher than and superior to God’s, whose view is deemed to be unjust and unreasonable. This sin is committed in thought as well as words.” Blasphemy is thus not a mere denial of God’s existence, properties, and providence, but instead attributing to him the opposite: to deem God to be unjust, cruel, or the like, to mock his assumed holiness and love, and to represent oneself as much holier, wiser, and just.”

From Reformed Ethics volume 2; page 191; edited by John Bolt; Baker Publishing House

Reflection on Blasphemy

For billions of people God who takes on various shape and form in their cultures is seen as Omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient:

  • All powerful
  • Present everywhere
  • All knowing
  • The Ultimate Intelligent being who is responsible for the creation of all known reality

Even though this is a fact, God is slandered every single day!  Religious people and non-religious people need to get on with each other in the world.  This includes:

  • In the workplace
  • With the family
  • At social gatherings
  • In politics.

If a person slanders another person, they can be taken to court and be sued.  There are laws to protect the various religious groups in the UK but somehow when speaking about the Divine Reality, He God can be slandered and there is no comeback.   This has actually been the case since 2008.  The religious make of the UK changed in 2018 in which religion is now the minority view.  Most people are brought up without relgion somehow. This is an interesting graph from wikipoeadia:

From Wikipedia about religion in the United Kingdom

You can see that Christian Protestantism started a downward trend in 1939.  By 2018 the number of none-affiliates started to grow. Then in the 1970’s there is another sharp decline.  At one time shops used to be closed on a Sunday and this has changed.  Religion in the past played a major role in moral values but this is not the case anymore.  As we know marriages, divorces other types of family have been growing.  It isn’t a surprise that the laws against blasphemy were got rid of.  It doesn’t surprise me that same sex marriages have been on the up.  A large section of the British community do not take God very seriously.  With death of the Protestant Christian men from the two World Wars, I believe that the rot set in. 

Secularism on its own is supposed to give an equal playing field for the different interest groups.  Unfortunately, it does not take human nature into account.  Materialism in Europe and Britain has gone off the charts.  Greed has been rampant in British politics for a long time. Brexit was a smoke screen for this greed especially for those in power.  Religious values are all the time getting replaced by utilitarian values and in welfare terms each person has a price tag on their life.  So, if one is medically ‘not whole somehow’ then they have less money thrown to their upkeep.  It is not religious ethics that is doing this kind of thing.  In religion the human being has an innate value because each one of us no matter what is wrong with us has been a special creation.  Secularism and science working in tandem do not see the human being this way.   If one holds to the sanctity of life and all that this entails one is marginalised as ‘right wing’. 

Religious people seem to be under a lot of pressure at the moment and are ostracized for their faith.  They are ostracized for their views about the Sabbath, Sunday, blasphemy, heterosexual relationships being too narrow minded.  Religious people are not narrow minded but rather the opposite.  Their faith gives them stability in this turbulent world.  The Trinity gives us the bedrock for living in any society:

“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. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 John 3:16-18

Or Irenaeus’ great statement about our humanness:

Now man is a mixed organization of soul and flesh, who was formed after the likeness of God, and moulded by His hands, that is, by the Son and Holy Spirit, to whom also He said, “Let Us make man.”

(From ‘ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vi.i.html’)

Most people then speak out of ignorance about blasphemy.  Uneducated in the realms of Religious Education.  However, as believers we can say that when God created the world it was good.  The sin of Adam and Even sent humankind into a spiritual death.  We are the emissaries of a divine call.  We love God and we love our neighbour whoever they may be.  Christ died for the sins of the world because he loves the creation this includes reaching out to those alienated from God with the message of the Gospel by the Father and through the two hands of God; the Holy Spirit and the Son of God.

Scripture Index

Blasphemy and the New Testament quotations

(Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29)

39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads Matthew 27:39

29 Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, Mark 15:29

(Matt. 26:65)

65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; Matthew 26:65

(John 10:33)

33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” John 10:33

(Acts 18:6; 26:11)

6 But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6

11 And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. Acts 26:11

(1 Tim. 1:13)

13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 1 Timothy 1:13

(Rom. 2:24)

24 For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written. Romans 2:24

(Mark 7:20—23)

20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Mark 7:20-23

(Matt. 12:32)

32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32

(Mark 3:28-29)

28 “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— Mark 3:28-29

(Luke10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. Luke 12:10 12:10)

(10:26)

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, Hebrews 10:26

(1 John 5:16-17)

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. 1 John 5:16-17

Bavincks OLD Testament verses on Blasphemy

15 Corresponding to the number of years after the jubilee, you shall buy from your friend; he is to sell to you according to the number of years of crops. 16 In proportion to the extent of the years you shall increase its price, and in proportion to the fewness of the years you shall diminish its price, for it is a number of crops he is selling to you. 17 So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 25:15-17

2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2

23 Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. 24 At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. 25 He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. 29 But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Exodus 14:23-30

23 Now the servants of the king of Aram said to him, “Their gods are gods of the mountains, therefore they were stronger than we; but rather let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than they. 1 Kings 20:23

19 Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? 20 You say (but they are only empty words), ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 22 But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? 23 Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Have I now come up without the LORD’S approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’”’”

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah and Joah, said to Rabshakeh, “Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak with us in Judean in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me only to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you?”

28 Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. 29 Thus says the king, ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; 30 nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die.” But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:19-37

10 “Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? 12 Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?’”

Hezekiah’s Prayer

14 Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 2 Kings 19:10-18

15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15

30 But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” Numbers 16:30

20 For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Deuteronomy 31:20

4 Alas, sinful nation,

People weighed down with iniquity,

Offspring of evildoers,

Sons who act corruptly!

They have abandoned the LORD,

They have despised the Holy One of Israel,

They have turned away from Him. Isaiah 1:4

The Judge who was Judged In our place; Main emphasis on judgementalism and Matthew 7 verses 1-6

October 8, 2022

This Week we have two English Theologians namely Colin Gunton commenting on Karl Barth (my tutor in the final year at King’s College London and William Tyndale who was martyred for his faith (16th Century)

We sometimes take our freedoms for granted.  William Tyndale (the Martyr) reminds us that some freedoms such as reading Scripture is worth dying for.  At the end of this blog, I give his view on Matthew 7 verses 1-6.   Later on, we will also be looking at Matthew 7:1-6 and we will be considering what our Lord Jesus said about judging others (especially within the Christian community.)

What is judgment?

There are many definitions in the English language:

‘The ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion’ (From; dictionary.com/browse/judgement)

Actually, there are many definitions for judging and this one was the second meaning (from the above web site).  The definitions I have seen tend to be very simplistic and usually the word is explained in a positive light (making good judgements).  We know differently because a lot of the time we can get it wrong.  In life we make judgements a lot of the time from the perspective of how it can ‘make me look better’.  When a person goes for a job, there can be competition and if one gets the job there is a feeling of elation but not for the one who failed the interview.  Unfortunately, in this world some interviewees will cheat to put themselves in a better light, or the interviewers have already chosen the candidate beforehand (which is illegal, but I am sure it goes on).

In God talk we know that the Judge is God.  We also know that our Lord Jesus in Christian confessions is both fully God and fully man (which is what I believe as I am Trinitarian).  For example, John 1 says:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 From NASB Olive Tree software

In the passage we are going to look at Colin Gunton is going to explain Karl Barth’s Metaphor of Christ as Judge who was judged in our sinful place.  This is found in book four; volume 1 of the Church Dogmatics:

“That section of Barth’s Church Dogmatics has to be understood in the context of Volume IV as a whole. In it, the atonement—or reconciliation as Barth prefers to call it—is understood as the threefold action of God’s self-humbling, humankind’s elevation to true humanity and the mediating action of Jesus Christ as both God and man. In our section, Barth argues that God exercises his function of judgement by taking to himself ‘the lost cause of man’ (p. 3). That human lostness is itself understood in terms of the primary metaphor to mean that, after the manner of Adam in Genesis 3, ‘man wants to be his own judge’ (p. 220). We stand in judgement on our neighbour in the attitude which for Barth encapsulates human sinfulness. We want to be ‘godlike’ and to convince ourselves that we are in the right and everybody else in the wrong. In response to our demonic self-divinisation God refuses to exercise a like judgement of superiority, but instead himself undergoes the judicial process. But just as our victories are really defeats and God’s defeat on the cross really a victory, so it is here. The refusal to exercise judgement is the way by which the judge of all things does effect his righteous rule.

How is this exercise of divine judgement to be understood? First of all, by means of an apparent paradox: ‘to show His grace in the execution of His judgement, to pronounce us free in passing sentence, to free us by imprisoning us, to ground our life on our death, to redeem and save us by our own destruction’ (p. 222). The paradox, however, is resolved in a twofold way by, so to speak, unpacking and expounding the metaphor. We have already seen that one of the functions of metaphor is to reveal hidden features of the human condition by carrying over meaning from one sphere of reality to another, and so it is here. To understand the cross as a judgement is to hold that just as a court decides and so declares a verdict of guilt, so the cross lays bare certain aspects of our condition—for example, the pride of our standing in judgement on others. But it is not simply a matter of showing something to be so. Because it is the action of the eternal Son become man, it is also a redemptive action taking place at the heart of our lostness:

  The ‘for us’ of His death on the cross includes and encloses this terrible ‘against us’. Without this terrible ‘against us’ it would not be the divine and holy and redemptive and effectively helpful ‘for us’ in which the conversion of man and the world to God has become an event. (p. 296) The judgement of which Barth speaks is a kind of death sentence, the metaphorical but real execution of the sinner:

 For the fact that God has given Himself in His Son to suffer the divine judgement on us men does not mean that it is not executed on us, but that it is executed on us … That Jesus Christ died for us does not mean, therefore, that we do not have to die, but that we have died in and with Him, that as the people we were we have been done away with and destroyed. (pp. 294f) God exercises his justice by revealing our sin, by bearing it and by destroying its power.

Colin E. Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality, and the Christian Tradition (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 110–112.” From Logos.com

The reason I wanted to look at the metaphor of the Judge (our Lord) who was judged is because here in Matthew 7 Jesus talks about judging.  We find God doing something very special for us as Gunton says:

…the threefold action of God’s self-humbling, humankind’s elevation to true humanity and the mediating action of Jesus Christ as both God and man.  That is amazing that God humbled himself and this was the only way for humankind to be brought closer to God and this can only happen through Christ. Remembering that Jesus is fully God and fully human we now turn to Matthew 7 and read his special words on judging others:

1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:1-6

The basic meaning of judging and not judging is relatively simple to understand but there are a lot of things going on here in the text that we could miss.

  1. The basic meaning of the text
  2. Jesus our Lord the great Judge was judged in our place, and he is saying these words (Karl Barth on election)
  3. The log and the speck make me think that this example perhaps was taken from the carpentry shop in which our Lord probably helped Joseph. The Word commentary comments that the speck is really a piece of ‘saw dust’
  4. He talks about the ‘hypocrites’
  5. He makes a contrast between holy and unholy
  6. There is an indirect allusion to Judgement (‘tear you to pieces’)
  7. What we can learn.

Verse 1

Jesus here is talking to his disciples.  We know he is speaking to more than one person because there are plenty of second person plurals in the Greek.  Do not judge! literally in the Greek you(plural) do not judge! so you should not be judged (second person plural and future). 

These are important facts because it fits well with the beatitudes and the future state (heaven) that we will be in.  Although God as the Judge is not mentioned here, we have to accept that the text takes it as a given.

Verse 2

Our Lord gives us a warning that we ought to be careful what verdicts we give in this life.  We will not get away with a false verdict in the future state (eschaton). God is the perfect Judge, and his measure is always correct.  However as human beings we make mistakes many times.  For those in authority it is even more pronounced especially when someone goes to prison for a false verdict or even worse in some parts of the world the death sentence for a false verdict.  In our relations let us love God and love our neighbour and focus on love rather than finding fault with others.

Verse 3-4 the Log and the splinter (saw dust)

In this example of the log and the splinter Jesus Our Lord makes this example very personal.  The verbs switch from plural to singular.  Even in a very simple verdict such as a log and a splinter we personally can make serious mistakes. Before we can even sort out our brother or sisters’ mistakes, we need to first sort ourselves out.

Here we also see a great Jewish Rabbi (Our Lord) use hyperbolic language to make a point.  We know this because here our Lord is using metaphorical language.  A log is literally a beam of wood that is used for holding up houses! In contrast Our Lord also used the smallest (speck).   How can a log fit into someone’s eye? Obviously, it is nonsense.    The evaluation is made though our faults can be very big, and our brother’s fault can be very small.  Let’s be careful how we give verdicts.

Verse 5 (Hypocrite!)

The above word in the Greek is in the vocative singular.  It is singling out anyone who is judgmental and gives false verdicts.  

These are some verses earlier on in which the word hypocrite is used:

“So, when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:2

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:5

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:16 (verse taken from olive tree Bible software)

Up to this point our Lord does not point out who the hypocrites are but later on in the Gospel we find the finger pointing to the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were also those who were the religious leaders of Judah at that time.

This is why the beatitudes are so important for the believer.  The beatitudes hone in on our bad attitudes and values in light of the Last Judgement.

Verse 6 (the Judgement)

6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

This has all the features of Hebraic Parallelism as used in the book of proverbs:

  1. Do not give what is holy to dogs  
  2. do not throw your pearls before swine
  • or they will trample them under their feet
  • and turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

In Judaism dogs and swine are seen as unclean animals and they would not be eaten:

Holy and dogs are opposites and so are pearls and pigs

The judgement is that those who abuse holiness (the hypocrites face Gods judgement).

Reflection

Jesus our Judge

Jesus our Lord taught us about humility through his life’s work. Karl Barth and Colin Gunton shows us that the God of glory became a human being and died in our place on the cross.  O what humility from God! Our Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ is explaining to us about showing love in our relationships with other believers. 

The thing I like about this judging metaphor is that our Lord uses it from the world of carpentry.  Jesus our Lord was indeed a carpenter!

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” Mark 6:3

 Jesus takes this metaphor straight from his human world of work.  Our Lord probably mended some of those fishermen’s boats as well as roofs of houses such as the one that had a hole in it to let the paralytic down to be healed:

Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. Mark 2:4

Jesus possibly before starting his commissioning probably at the workshop, made beds, chairs and various fittings for his customers.

Pharisees

We need to be careful though, not all Pharisees were bad (Nicodemus).  When we look at this section, we need to read it in light of what has already been said.  Jesus our Judge lived out the beatitudes absolutely perfectly and his goodness took him to the cross on which he was judged for our sins! Karl Barth is certainly onto something here!

The meaning of the text

I agree with the Word commentary series because Jesus is not saying ‘don’t judge at all’.  It is talking about attitudes towards others that we shouldn’t be so arrogant but through love speak the truth.  However, there is a warning and we noticed there was also an allusion to the ‘Lord Day’ at the end of time.  Jesus will speak more of this later on in Matthews Gospel.  Judgement starts with the household of God (the Church).

Addendum

Anyhow I continued reading and I came across William Tyndale (The Martyr for the English Bible). This is what he says.  I’ve included his translation.  The truth is that the majority of the New Testament that came to be known as the King James Version (1611) was his work!

 “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; and with what measure ye mete, with the same shall it be measured to you again. Why lookest thou on the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and markest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Let me pluck out the mote out of thine eye, and, behold, there is a beam in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, pluck first the beam out of thine own eye; and then thou shalt see clearly to pluck the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

THIS is not meant of the temporal judgments;* for Christ forbade not that, but oft did stablish it; as do Peter and Paul in their epistles also. Nor here is it not forbidden to judge those deeds which are manifest against the law of God; for those ought every Christian man to persecute, yet must they do it after the order that Christ hath set. But when he saith, “Hypocrite,* cast out first the beam that is in thine own eye,” it is easy to understand of what manner of judging he meaneth.”

William Tyndale, Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of Prelates, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 112.  From Logos.com

The Greek Tyndale (Tindal) used was that by Erasmus.  This Greek was also the basis for the German Bible that Luther translated. If one wants to parse the personal pronouns of the Greek New Testament just follow the King James version.  Tyndale did a great job.  When, he translated it, it was not only for accuracy but that it would sound good too when it is read out loud.  The Finnish Bible too used Erasmus’ Greek. 

  • Roman Catholic Erasmus New Testament Greek          1516
  • Roman Catholic Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples New Testament  in French  1523
  • Protestant Tyndale translated New Testament in 1534
  • Protestant Agricola translated New Testament in 1548
  • Protestant Luther translated New Testament in 1522

Reflection

William Tyndale was murdered (1536) for his work on the New Testament and his beliefs.  His work and his legacy in the English-speaking world changed the world for ever.  It was because of his work that in Britain we have free speech.  Today it seems to be fashionable to attack Christian faith in the workplace.  The very freedoms that are taken for granted today came out of the Bible. 

The Third Commandment: How praying, Reading Scripture can Protect us from Dishonouring God’s Holy Name (Reflections from Herman Bavinck)

September 30, 2022

 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NAS

Here in this command, we are dealing with the honour of God’s name.  As believers we are ambassadors of Christ, and we are called to be holy and blameless in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  The truth is though, we fail time and again to live up to these standards.  For the believer it is very important to eat ‘humble pie’.  We are sinners saved by grace and there are these two natures in us vying to control us, have sovereignty over our life.  Christ said in Matthew 5 that true religion begins with ‘poverty in spirit’.  Only God can save us from our sins and that it is important to live the life of faith and by faith.  We realize that God created us, he redeemed us through Christ, and we have been given the Holy Spirit our Comforter and Teacher and Trainer in righteousness.  For Bavinck the fruit of faith (good works) is out of heart of gratitude for what God did for us first.  We love our Trinitarian God so let us keep the third commandment and honour his good name.  Today I will in the long run look at one aspect of this commandment; ‘cursing’.  I hope to give practical advice through this study to help us to walk the path of truth and thus honour God’s name by the grace he gives us on a daily basis.

It is amazing how Bavinck the Master Theologian speaks about the third commandment as he says:

“The First Commandment deals with the true God, the Second with the true religion, the Third with private religion, and the Fourth with the public (communal) exercise of that true religion.”  (From: Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, volume 2, page 180, Baker Academic)

If we look at his list very carefully:

  1. The True God
  2. The true religion
  3. Private religion
  4. Public (communal) religion

Here in the first commandment God starts by giving his personal name ‘the Lord’ in English translations. The second commandment rejects other gods as no gods.  This is a strict Monotheism. Bavinck somewhere else reminds us that God has other names too.  He points out that from the Christian perspective Father, Son and Holy Spirit are some other names for God too. (John Bolt the editor gave us a reference from E. Sartorius a Lutheran theologian from the 19th century which Bavinck cites). True Monotheistic religion has no place for any form of Paganism in which other gods are worshipped.

We then come to the third commandment the one that we have been looking at last time:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NASB (from Olive Tree software)

Bavinck here labels this commandment as ‘private religion’.  This commandment is about us as human beings at work, home, in marketplace, with friends et al.  God has said here that wherever we are and whatever we are doing we ought to show love to our Lord by not abusing his name.  Obviously, there are times when we are not so guarded about our beliefs and at these times it is so easy to fall into a trap and sin against God (even without realizing it).

Obviously, we are under grace, and we know Christ died for us, but have you also realized that it is even more serious for the Christian.  These laws are no longer written on stone, but Scripture says that the law is written on our hearts! Becoming a Christian only means that we have been brought into the Church.  This does not mean that as soon as we become Christians that we have reached perfection.  No, my friends it is a work that takes a lifetime and even when we have gone to heaven, Christ is still working on us.  As we grow older in the faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we start to become more mature.  Bavinck helps us here to realize where we could sin (with or without realizing it). 

For Bavinck there are five areas in which the third commandment does not allow:

  1. Cursing
  2. Swearing falsely
  3. Unnecessary swearing
  4. Blasphemy
  5. Any misuse of God’s name

Bavinck shows us that cursing is the opposite of ‘praying or blessing’.  In cursing there is usually sin and anger involved.  In his summary he also says:

“’ Instead of persons offering their wills to serve God, the curse uses God’s holy will for the service of our sinful will. Cursing is not praying that God’s righteousness may be revealed and shown, but demanding, requiring, charging God to punish our enemy.”

Bavinck is right.  It is so easy to curse and I’m sure we have all done it sometime in our lives.  I think various countries have different ways of showing their anger. In English speaking countries the ‘F’ word is very popular and the two fingered salute.  In actuality these particular words depending on the social criteria can mean both a curse and a blessing to the person who it is aimed at.  The two fingered salute came into being from the medieval periods when the bowmen of England would show their fingers.  If the French capture an English bowman, they would cut off his finger so he couldn’t shoot arrows anymore.  So, as a defiance on the battlefields it was customary to show two fingers to the French as a mark of defiance (From the time of Henry the 5th at the Battle of Agincourt).

(The two fingered salute= From: forces.net/heritage/history/did-agincourt-archers-really-invent-swearing-two-fingered-salute-v-sign

The F word origins = From: dictionary.com/e/origin-of-the-f-word/)

As believers we should refrain from this sort of language, but it is very difficult.  The reason it is difficult is, because it is so ingrained into society that no matter what job a person does, one is going to hear these profanities.  This is why prayer, worship times, reading the Bible regularly are very important. St Paul talks a lot about the importance of the renewal of the mind.  It is also very interesting that the Dalai Lama always seems to be very happy.  What is the connection?

Practical helps to overcome cursing and allied subjects

Prayer

Prayer helps us to think about issues outside of ourselves and it helps to build an inward attitude of empathy and love towards others wanting their good.  Whether we are religious or not we are all spiritual beings.  Believers talk about God and the soul whereas secularists would talk about a person’s psychology.  It is the inner person.

Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible has a purifying effect as the Holy Spirit speaks directly to us and changes us from the inside out.  Somewhere it says:

“For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33 From Bible Gateway; See also Hebrews 8 verse 10

Worship

When we worship whatever way, we do it, we give God his glory as the True Creator and Redeemer of our souls.  God is holy and to stand in his presence there has to be some reverence for God.

These are just some practical ways a believer through his/her Trinitarian faith can protect themselves from cursing.

Bavinck’s Scriptural Evidences on cursing

Our Master Theologian Herman Bavinck gives us a whole List of Scriptures on cursing that is found in the Bible.  In the first set of texts, it is God who is cursing.  In the second set various people have been given permission to curse for the honour of God’s name.  Thirdly we have the ‘imprecatory Psalms’ which are also quoted in the New Testament:

God Curses

  • Not all cursing is wrong. God himself curses humans (Gen. 3:16-19) and the earth and all it contains (Gen. 3:17),
  • sends the Flood as a curse (Gen. 5:29; 8:21),
  • God will curse those who curse Abraham (Gen.12:3).
  • God curses transgressors of his law (Deut. 28:15—68),
  • Israel and its blessings (Mal. 2:2),
  • everyone who does not remain in the book of the law (Deut. 28:58-60; Gal. 3:13), and whoever rejects Christ (1 Cor. 16:22).
  • The curse proceeds from God (Zech. 5:3-4),
  • God’s curse strikes home (Deut.28:15—68).
  • God can nevertheless instruct people to curse in his name: Moses (Deut. 11:26) and the Levites (Deut. 27) hold up before Israel curse and blessing.

Certain People Curse

  • People also can speak a curse in the certainty that God will confirm it: Noah curses Canaan (Gen.9:25);
  • Isaac blesses Jacob by cursing those who curse him (Gen. 27:29);
  • Jacob curses the wrath of his sons Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49:7)
  • Joshua curses the one who rebuilds Jericho (Josh. 6:26)
  • Peter curses Simon the Magician (Acts 8:18—21).

The Imprecatory Psalms

  • We must also understand the imprecatory psalms in this way (Pss. 69:23-29; 109:6—20). Both psalms are quoted in the New Testament (Acts 1:16, 20; Rom. 11:9).” (From; Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 181; Editor John Bolt; Baker House Publications)

Note Imprecatory is about invoking curses.

So then let us remind ourselves why we looked at cursing:

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

As I said earlier God’s name is taken in vain on a daily basis.  In Finland some swearing goes around with God’s name and also others such as the place of fire and sulphur (I do not want to actually write the word).  The UK has also got the same type of words. This particular chapter is actually called ‘The Honour of God’s name’.  In modern society it has become so bad that cursing has also led to murder in God’s name.  This is why for example Rabbi Sacks wrote the book, ‘Not in God’s Name’; Hodder and Stoughton. (I find it interesting that Herman Bavinck has written a chapter that is closely related to Rabbi Sacks.)   I can add to this that Scripture says that we were created in the image of God. Thus, if a person curses another person, they are cursing God’s image.  I Don’t think Bavinck mentioned this (I could be wrong).  From that point of view self-pleasing destructive cursing of another created human being is in a way cursing God directly.  As Bavinck said cursing is the opposite of blessing in the same way in earthly terms hatred is the opposite of love.  God is love so we ought to walk in love treating others as we would like to be treated.

Final Reflection on cursing

Cursing God directly or cursing another human being are both breaking this commandment.  Cursing God directly or his reflection (another human being); both are sinful.

In this world of sin, it is easy for a believer to break this commandment.  To the believer I would say Love God and love your neighbour as both these commands are closely related.  We ought to read our Bible regularly as this by the Holy Spirit purifies our inner being.  By praying regularly and spending time in God’s presence we are in the presence of Pure Love because John tells us that God is love.  Having regular fellowship with other believers also encourages us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  However, there are situations when it is impossible to have fellowship because of distances, illnesses and so forth so I am not pushing this.

Personal note

Bavinck has given us some serious food for thought and perhaps one day I will revisit these texts and look even deeper into this topic.  Alas, there are only 24 hours in the day and as a carpenter who having scrubbed undercoat of paint all Week, my energy is spent.  Yet I will return.  This Weekend I will be visiting my son in Helsinki as he is studying animation.

I am also really saddened with Hurricane Ian in which many people have been displaced or died.  Let us remember them in our prayers.

Part 1: Exodus;20.7; The Third Commandment: Learning to honour God’s Special, Personal name Trinitarianly

September 25, 2022

This Week we are going to look at the following verse:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (from; NASB; Olive Tree software)

This was taken from wikipeadia by Mohammed Moussa. (The link is in the Bibliography)

Our Christian traditional lives are lived in an untraditional world and sometimes we find that members of the Church are persecuted for their beliefs.  This commandment is important because God’s honour is violated on a daily basis.  Some people blaspheme God’s name unknowingly (lack of knowledge) others do it knowingly. Even believers who should know better from whatever Church do it and they know they shouldn’t.  This is the first part in a two-part series.  In the second part we will look at the teachings of Herman Bavinck.  The second part will come out either next Week or the Week after as I am also going through the Sermon on the Mount.

7 לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמֹ֖ו לַשָּֽׁוְא׃ פ Exodus 20:7

Taken from Bible hub: see Bibliography

Firstly

There are lots of things happening in this verse and although I am not a complete expert, I can say there are two verbs here working in tandem to show the seriousness of the LORD’s saying.   When I am commenting here, we need to realize that I am emphasising how English, and Hebrew are ‘not the same’. First, we have the qal.  It is in the active voice but imperfect.  In English the imperfect usually means as an action that isn’t completed or finished.  The qal in the Hebrew usually means incomplete action that can be in the past or the future or not even have a time stamp on it at all!

 In English “Imperfect” comes from the Latin imperfectus “unfinished”, because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. The equivalent Ancient Greek term was paratatikós “prolonged”. From wiki; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperfect

In Hebrew the imperfect can also mean something that happens in the future.  Here though the qal has a secondary use because of the (‘not’).  When it is used in a negative command ‘it is emphatic’. 

With the piel ‘will (not) leave him unpunished’ (is in an intensive form).

Notes

Emphatic = expressing something forcibly and clearly.  (from Google; Oxford languages)

Intensive = ‘unpunished’ This particular person who commits the crime has a price to pay no matter what.

The command with the qal and the piel verbs working together this way means that God is saying something very strong and everybody needs to listen.

Secondly

We have repeating words:

  • Not; The not tells us that this is a negative command.
  • Vain; we will look at this a little deeper
  • The LORD (Tetragrammaton); The general word for God ‘Elohim’ is not used here but God’s personal name. 

The meaning of vain in this context

The following has been taken (scanned) from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament for ‘vain’ in Exodus 20 verse 7:

“…This noun appears fifty-two times in the ot most often in Ps (fifteen times) followed by Ezk (eight times), Job (six times), Jer (five times, only in the adverbial phrase /ashshaw’ *‘in vain, vainly, to no avail,’ and always preceding the verb: 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15 (perhaps); 46:11).  The most familiar use of shaw’ is in the third commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”’ (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11).  Literally the sentence reads, ‘*You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God lashshaw’,” the same construction as noted above in the Jer passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.

That the primary meaning of shaw’ is *‘emptiness, vanity’’ no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that hebel ‘‘vanity”’ is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Psalm 24:4 may then be rendered, *‘He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.”’ Dahood (Psalms, I, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; 31:6 [H 7]; 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer

18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially. Not only are idols *‘deceptions’’ but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugar coat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14, Ezk 13:6-9, 23). The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) ‘‘in vain”’ will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the Lxx’s translation of /ashshadw’ as epi mataio “‘thoughtlessly.””

Bibliography: Childs, B., The Book of

Exodus, Westminster, 1974, pp. 388, 409-12.

THAT, II, pp. 882-83.

V.P.H”

(From: Theolological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; page 908; Victor P Hamilton)

The personal name of God

The Tetragramaton made up of y,h,w,h is a most Holy name in the Old Testament therefore I like to use ‘the Lord’. In Jewish usage they say Ha-Shem (which means ‘The-Name’).  When we read Genesis in the first creation story, we find Elohim used a lot but then later on God’s personal name is used.  So perhaps some of the liberal theologies that talked about E or P hadn’t taken into consideration the personal, religious depth of these Holy Scriptures of the Tanach / Old Testament (form and redaction criticism).  Here before us in these verses on the 10 commandments we have a covenant between the personal, living Lord God and Israel. 

A covenant and a contract are not the same thing.  A contract can be between two businessmen who strike a deal, and it is not personal at all.  For example, in the eyes of the Lord God, marriage is a covenant, and a promise is made before the Highest authority, our Creator.  This is not a business deal it is personal and it is done in sacrificial love.  In a business deal one is after profit in a covenant you are giving out of love for the other and death is the limit.

Reflection

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

When it says that we should not take God’s name in vain.  As we read earlier:

‘It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally’.

As believers within a Trinitarian framework, we should not take God’s name in vain.  God is described by many names in the Old Testament and New Testament.  I read somewhere (possibly Rabbi Sacks but I cannot remember where) that we live in a tradition in an untraditional age.  He was talking about Judaism, but this actually applies to Christianity and all the mainline religions.  This is a very powerful and true statement because society at the moment is taking secularism to its logical conclusion.  Although society pays lip service to the religions there is an onslaught of normalizing anti-religious values.  The human being for a long time in secular society has not been seen as having been created in the image of God but that humanity came to be through chance (evolution).  

Professionals from religious backgrounds are also being attacked through the changes in law.  One example is that if one takes seriously the Biblical teachings of a husband and wife (male and female).  If a teacher in class was to say he believes this, he/she could lose his job. There is a normalizing movement in the background going on and it is alienating the religious freedoms that were promised.  These promises came about originally in Europe because of religious persecution.

How can religious communities fight back against this normalizing.  For Christians we take the Bible seriously and we listen to the 10 commandments.  In this commandment we ought to be very careful how we use God’s name.  We believe in a personal God, and He has a personal name, let’s not abuse this name because this covenant we are in, is about love not power. 

Even though our faith is being trodden on; on a daily basis we are called to love our neighbour.  Our neighbour could be our enemy, but we ought to love regardless.  We need to remember as Paul said in Ephesians that we were also once alienated from God but by God’s gift of faith we were brought into the Church.  We do not stand in judgement over people with different lifestyles to our own but nevertheless we have a right to our opinions and ways of life too.

Next time we will look at Bavincks teachings on the third commandment.  This was a precursor because I felt it was important to look under the cars bonnet (figuratively speaking).

Bibliography

New American Standard Bible (Olive Tree Software)

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; part 1; page 908; Victor P Hamilton

Hebrew Old Testament; Exodus 20:7  (Olive Tree Software)

Links

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperfect

https://biblehub.com/interlinear/exodus/20-7.htm

https://uhg.readthedocs.io/en/latest/verb_imperfect.html#function

image of Sinai taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Sinai#/media/File:Mount_Moses.jpg

Worrying and its Antidote in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34

September 18, 2022

Worrying its definition:

‘to think about problems or unpleasant things that might happen in a way that makes you feel unhappy and frightened’

(From;    dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/worry)

Worrying its roots in old English, German, Dutch and Old Norse.

In Old English it has the basic idea of ‘strangle’:

c. 1300, wirien, “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat” (as a dog or wolf does), from Old English wyrgan “to strangle,” from Proto-Germanic *wurgjan (source also of Middle Dutch worghen, Dutch worgen, Old High German wurgen, German würgen “to strangle,” Old Norse virgill “rope”), from *wergh-, from PIE root *wer- (2) “to turn, bend.”

(From; etymonline.com/word/worry)

Whatever way we look at this word ‘to worry’, its connotation is negative for our state of mind and personhood.  If we dwell mentally too long on our negative thoughts, it will eventually destroy us.

Unfortunately, we all have examples of situations that have put pressure on us, not knowing what the future would hold.  I suppose it is the ‘not knowing’ whether or not we will land on our feet that causes these negative thoughts and feelings.  In 1974 when I was about 7 years old, I had a life changing event.  We all have life changing events, but I would like to share my story with you before looking at the words of our Saviour in Matthew 6 about worrying.

Episkopi and Limassol, Cyprus, 1974

Tranquil and peaceful Cyprus

As a two-year-old in the mid 1960’s my family moved to Cyprus.  I remember living in a caravan in the beginning, then in a wooden house (my father built) and finally in rented accommodation inside Episkopi.  I loved it there for many reasons.  At the Weekends for example I remember we used to go to the beach.  I couldn’t swim at that time, but I did walk into the sea as far as I could.  It was fun.  My two old brothers were there too.  I also so loved our garden that does not exist anymore.  I remember we had citrus trees, a tall tree we used to jump from.  We kept hens and rabbits.  Sometimes these small lizards would come into our house.  

Within the community there was a mosque which was an old converted Greek Orthodox Church (St Georges) with a minaret.   I went to pre-school and then to the main Turkish Cypriot school in which I learned to read, write, and do Maths.  We had a great time and also the odd fight outside of lessons.  I really enjoyed that school.  I had friends and one of my main friends was Ali.  In the village I had relatives too.  I remember as a child that I visited one of my uncles and I was shy of my aunty for some reason, so I went under the table.  This is my picture of Episkopi before 1974.  I did not know about the troubles of the 1960s.

War!

Just a picture from Pexels

However, one Summer this picture started to change.  Students were speaking of coming troubles and war.  Certain things happened for example I saw an aircraft fly very low over our school. Decisions were made that the men would defend our village.  They certainly defended the village and there were clashes between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.  In fact, bullets were requiting off our tin roof.   My dad told us to stay at home however my mum got worried, and my older brother went looking for my dad and he got lost.  I left the house afterwards and found my dad.  I told him everything and he set out to find my brother.  Soon afterwards the villagers got together and made a plan for leaving Episkopi and going to the North of Cyprus.  The next day we set off walking and we decided to rest in a house that was not completely renovated yet.  There was no furniture only concrete floors.  That night I slept on a concrete floor for the first time.  The next morning there were Greek Cypriot militia surrounding the house.  We were then commanded to get on this bus. (The bus had been sprayed with bullets and all the glass windows were missing for obvious reasons). 

The Greek Cypriot militia took us to (what I believe was the old Limassol football stadium).  The women and the children were at the edges of the stadium and the men were in the centre sat down.  I was feeling hungry and for breakfast I was given a very small triangular piece of Edam Cheese. My immediate family of the two younger brothers were the lucky ones.  One of my older brothers was already in England and was at Grammar School.  My other older brother was dodging the Greek soldiers with my dad trying to get to safety.  

Anyhow my mum plucked up her courage and was able to speak to a commander.  We got out on a fresh bus that drove us to Akrotiri airbase.  We were flown to the UK.  One of my uncles spent a year living in a tent.  Another one of my uncles was murder somewhere in the surrounding area of Nicosia.  He and a couple of other men were taken to a quiet area (small cave) and killed by grenade.  For many years no one knew where they were.  The bodies were discovered by a species of tree that does not normally grow in that particular area.  My uncle had eaten a seed and from his stomach grew a tree. This story made the news:

(From;    hurriyetdailynews.com/how-a-fig-tree-helped-to-identify-a-slain-turkish-cypriot-in-search-of-missing-persons-in-divided-cyprus-136986?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=how-a-fig-tree-helped-to-identify-a-slain-turkish-cypriot-in-search-of-missing-persons-in-divided-cyprus-136986&utm_term=post)

When we came back to England I went to school and for a couple of years I was drawing tanks and planes.   I was sad because my extended and immediate family broke up.  There are many conflicts around the world and there are many people who have lost homes, family members and so on.  In all of this we stayed alive and started to build our lives again.

However, things do not need to be as extreme as war.  Even in safe communities’ things happen:

  1. Losing a job
  2. Wife is going to have a baby and one has to get to hospital in a rush
  3. Paying the rent
  4. Having food on the table so that the whole family can eat.

We find ourselves all the time worrying about things.  At the time of Christ to the average age of mortality was about 35 to 40 years of age

(From; earlychurchhistory.org/daily-life/longevity-in-the-ancient-world/)

So, when we look at the Gospel of Matthew and our Lord Jesus is talking about worrying we need to take note and do our homework correctly. It is good to begin by reading Matthew 6 verses 25-34

The Cure for Anxiety

25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34  (NASB; From Olive Tree Bible Software )

Our Lord is concerned about the state of the believer’s soul, heart and being.  Not worrying is a practical outworking of the beatitudes.  There are certain things that we have learned about the beatitudes.

Without Christ we are lost separated from God. God meets us in our need and saves us from our sins.  The Holy Spirit works in our lives in such a way that we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. 

As our Lord says in verse 33, we are to; ‘seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’

Compare this sentence of our Lord to:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

From; Matthew 5:6

We have no control over bad things happening, but the key is in the state of our faith by grace.  The eschaton is the great equalizer.  When the Day of Judgement comes, we will stand before God on our own.  This is a fearful thing for the person who has denied their Creator any part in their lives here on earth.  Some faith is better than no faith.  Our Lord says many times ‘O you of little faith…’

I particularly like verse 26 because I live in the countryside, and I see a lot of birds:

  • Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:26

The thing is that here in Finland we have four seasons.  The birds are always in our garden finding food.  When we drive, we see lots of ravens by the roadside.  They possibly drop seeds on the road purposefully so that the husk of the seed can be cracked for food.

We then have King Solomon who was possibly the richest man in the world at that time. These God given riches however are trumped by lilies of the field that are more beautiful:

  • And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil, nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Matthew 6:28-30

Reflection

Bad things happen but in light of God’s word we need to live by faith and put our complete confidence in our Trinitarian God.  We have no control over life and death, yet earth is only half the story.  We need to remember that God became a man in Jesus Christ. He was crucified but now he is risen, and we put our hope in him.   The world does not understand God’s logic and to tell you the truth it goes against how the world sees things.

God can bless us with a long and happy life, but we should put God first in our lives and trust him completely.  Many in the world look for

  • Wealth and power because you are egotistical
  • Having a good reputation because it makes them feel good
  • Through competition beating a rival for the better job.
  • Having a wife/partner to serve you as a slave.

God doesn’t care about:

  • Your wealth and power because God sees your greed
  • Your good reputation because God sees your heart
  • That you are good at winning although you cheat
  • You are treating your wife/husband/ partner badly because you have no empathy.

Heavenly treasures are worth so much more:

  • Share what you have as Christ shared his love
  • A pure heart may lead to a good reputation.
  • Help the person next to you to reach new heights
  • Love your neighbour as yourself because on a bad day your neighbour may be helping you.

Although we have almost no control over suffering our eyes should be fixed over the horizon to the kingdom of God.  I had no control over my early years and the war in Cyprus yet by faith life goes on and into the eschaton where it really counts.

When the Infinite and Finite Meet at the Echo of Faith (Matthew 6: 16-24; Fasting)

September 11, 2022

Before we begin to unpack the meaning of these texts, I can see that Matthew has a concept of revelation worked into the text.  God the Father in the Trinitarian scheme of things cannot be known directly.  Yet God the Father is not inactive here but active through the teachings of the Son.  This is linked to the beatitudes.  God is interested in the state of our hearts but unfortunately the natural Man is only interested in his/her pride, selfishness and greed. 

When we read the above there is actually a contest going on between Jesus and the hypocrites.  Matthew in his Gospel names the hypocrites as the Pharisees and the Sadducees (See the eight woes in Matt: 11 (verses 13, 14, 15, 23, 25,2 7 and 29)).  In Judgement an intention inside the heart cannot be seen but God can see it. There is a battle going on here for the purity of true religion in second Temple Judaism.   Late on Matthew quotes from Isaiah.  I have quoted a little bit more for contextual reasons. Isaiah says:

13 Then the Lord said,

“Because this people draw near with their words

And honor Me with their lip service,

But they remove their hearts far from Me,

And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;

And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,

And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,

And whose deeds are done in a dark place,

And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”

16 You turn things around!

Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,

That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;

Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? Isaiah 29:13-16

So, then we can see that our Lord is saying that on the surface it seems to be true religion by keeping all the hundreds of laws and extra laws.  By keeping these laws, it puffs a person up ‘Look how good I am’.  This in that sense is a form of idolatry.  The reason is because the laws are taking the place of God.  The law was never intended to take the place of God.  Rather it ought to be taken in context of covenant and a personal relationship with The Lord (Tetragrammaton, Ha Shem, The Name).  The children of Israel certainly knew that they were in relationship as it says for example:

1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:1-3

Commentary on Matthew 6 (16 – 18)

16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Verse 16 – 18

The phrase ‘as the hypocrites’ is found in various forms in chapter 6’:

6:2 ‘as the hypocrites do’

6:5 ‘Like the hypocrites’

6:16 ‘as the hypocrites’

Fasting religiously can be a good thing, however if the state of the heart is misplaced then it is a very bad thing. Here in this verse our Lord is saying that they want to be noticed for their outward appearance.  Perhaps ‘the ordinary people’ will somehow put them on a pedestal in some contorted way. Perhaps these hypocrites will get some type of earthly reward; praise, honour, money.  The reason why they are hypocrites is that the heart is a billion miles away from their covenantal God as Isaiah says.  Jesus our Lord says basically that the true believer doesn’t make a big thing out of fasting.  They fast but they don’t show it.  They seek God’s love.  The disciple will get a reward, but our Lord doesn’t spell out what the reward actually is.  From previous work we have done in the beatitudes I feel that this would be linked to the eschaton.

Commentary verses 19-24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so, then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:16-24

True treasure is not kept in the world, but it is kept in heaven.  Moths eat clothes and rust can destroy beautiful objects.  Thieves break into house to steal ‘things of worth’.  However, our Lord makes the point that this is not real treasure.  Verse 21 caps it all!

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Then Matthew uses light and darkness as a metaphor.  This also relates to the state of the heart when our Lord makes the comparison of the ‘the light that is within you’.

It boils down to the fact that we cannot serve God and wealth.  This also points to the state of the heart.  Our Lord knew what he was talking about.  For example, Satan tested our Lord with all the kingdoms of the world:

Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:8-11

Reflection

In everything we do our Lord is interested in the state of our heart before a Holy Trinitarian God.  Fasting when coupled with prayer can bring a clearer focus in our worship of God.  Fasting means that we say ‘no’ to a basic need of human survival.  It is an action that says God’s kingdom is more important than anything this world can give us.  I have to say I very rarely fast.  Working as a Carpenter I like my energy and it would be a sacrifice for me to do such a thing.  However, the door is open to anyone to fast to get closer to God. (I have to say though, if you decide to fast and you have underlying health conditions seek medical advice from your doctor.) 

I also need to say that I am not standing in judgement over any religious group.  I am only bringing out the meaning of the text from Matthew’s perspective.  It isn’t only the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  We need to begin by looking into our own inner being to find lots of evil things going on.  The work of salvation through the Holy Spirit takes more than a lifetime.  There is the Pharisee and the Sadducee in all of us. 

Prayer and fasting can help us to find these dead bones that are in us and help us to be more like Christ.  Be wary though, this process will take us into the eschaton and then some more!

General discussion about the 10 Commandments with reflections from Herman Bavinck part 1

September 7, 2022

Bavinck the master theologian is going to take us on a road map of the 10 commandments. However, what I have learned about the numbering of the 10 commandments is different in Judaism, Catholicism and Lutheranism and then we have the other traditions too.  As well as Bavinck over a 150 years ago, this problem has been pointed out also by my former lecturer the Late Richard Coggins (In His commentary on Exodus).  The 10 commandments in Hebrew were known as the ’10 words’. Coggins pointed out that in key passages there are situations where the 10 commandments could have been used.  Instead in the Old Testament we have ‘silence’.  In the Christian traditions however the 10 commandments through the centuries has played a fuller part in the formation of the Christian society.

In the Christian traditions of the 10 commandments, it starts here:

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3

According to Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs says that in Judaism the first commandment is:

 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Exodus 20:2 Judaism it starts here:

Why the difference Rabbi Sacks says:

“There was a fundamental disagreement between Maimonides and Nahmanides on the status of the first sentence: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Maimonides, in line with the Talmud, held that this is in itself a command: to believe in God. Nahmanides held that it was not a command at all. It was a prologue or preamble to the commands.[4] Modern research on ancient Near Eastern covenant formulae tends to support Nahmanides.”

(From rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/yitro/structure-good-society/ (I usually do not include the https on the front because I want to keep the structure of my blog.  It is enough however if you wish to follow the argument)).

By no means is the 10 Commandments a dead subject.  From a Jewish point of view there is a covenant between God and Israel.  The first sentence links the identity of God to the redemption of his people from slavery.  It is in the context of the relationship that the 10 commandments make sense.

Bavinck and the first commandment (first word)

understanding the grammar (Before me; before my face; in my presence)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3

Bavinck is going to look at the commandment in closer detail.   Below we have the LXX, NASB and the Mosoretic text.

  • 3 οὐκ2 ἔσονταί1 σοι (θεοὶ ἕτεροι3) πλὴν4 ἐμοῦ5. 
  • 3 You shall1 not2 have (any other gods3) before4 me 5
  • 3 לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃ Exodus 20:3

(On the Greek text of the Old Testament with reference to Exodus 203 I have added numbers so that you can follow the word order. You also need to remember that one reads Hebrew from right to left)

“There will not be for you other gods before my face.” Page 122

After the translation of this verse, he quotes Abraham Kuyper:

“This commandment implies: Let God be God; do not assault him in his being, but live only for him, under him, and through him.” (From Page 122)

From my point of view this was a good translation as it takes the preposition ‘al’ which can mean different things in various contexts

Herman Bavinck researched the above text and then he looked at some translations of it.

My own research for fun in Google translate gave us:

As a preposition depending on the sentence, can have a wide range of meanings:

עַל Can mean about; to onto; upon; above; by; towards; toward; unto.

Bavincks final verdict on the translation was influenced by the LXX ‘before me (πλὴν ἐμοῦ)’

The Hebrew using ‘before my face’. 

Before this conclusion however he looked at some other translations:

Jacob Alting and Nicolaus Gürtler translate this as “except before my face”—that is, my Shekinah), my Son, whereby the Son is included under the prohibition of Deuteronomy 5:7 along with the Holy Spirit. “

(The wording above gives the impression that the Son and Holy Spirit are part of the ban.  This is not the case.  The editors notes (John Bolt)clarify that the subject of the discussion is on the grammar and not the trinity, page 122)

Bavinck interprets; “Before my face” is nothing more than “in my presence” (cf. Ps. 27:8; Exod).

The Master |Theologian gets the precious nugget from the Gold Mine, which is ‘in my presence’.  Bavinck also pointed out that even some other scholars preferred to use ‘except for, עַל ’.  Bavinck however felt that ‘before’ was a better translation and I agree with him on this.

Bavinck also gives us some references to other parts of the Scriptures for ‘before Me’:

Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Genesis 11:28 (The word presence is the Hebrew word face)

But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered strange fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron. Numbers 3:4 (The word ‘before’ in the first sentence is ‘face’ in the Hebrew)

Thus, Bavinck shows that the word ‘face’ can be translated as ‘before’ and ‘presence’ in its customary Old Testament Hebrew usage.

The prohibition on the gods

At the end of page 123 Bavinck moves on from the presence of God to His relationship to the other gods who are not real gods. It is interesting that he says that the people should not have other gods in their hearts or hidden from other people. God is present everywhere.

When commenting on the other gods Bavinck writes:

“Other gods” may mean “others” and also “strange ones” (Ps. 81:9; Isa. 42:8).”

I think this sentence needs unpacking as the Editor John Bolt in the notes certainly has given us some key words. 

Let us begin by looking at the above quotations:

9 “Let there be no strange god among you;

Nor shall you worship any foreign god. Psalms 81:9

8 “I am the LORD, that is My name;

I will not give My glory to another,

Nor My praise to graven images. Isaiah 42:8

Anyway, in this section John Bolt the Editor of the Reformed Ethics gave us three words from the various translations of the Old Testament.

The LXX uses ‘’ theoi heteroi.  It means other gods but heteros is very strong.  It means completely different other (chalk and cheese different or.  St Paul used the word Heteros when he was having a shindig (argument) with the ‘Judaizers’– those people forcing Gentile Christians to be circumcised.  Peter got told off as well Galatians 16).

So then, God’s Word is very Strict, and Bavinck brings this out from the translation.  Israel has been commanded to worship the one God YHWH.  When I use the Tetragrammaton (God’s name) I will refer to him as ‘The Lord’. This is because as well as respecting Jewish believers who use Ha Shem ‘The Name’ for the Tetragrammaton, I feel in today’s Church God the Father is not honoured enough and sacred religious language is being trampled on.  As believers let us show respect to our Trinitarian God who is blasphemed in the media on a day-to-day basis. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton

This is a very Holy Command and God’s people are expected to live to this high covenant. Unfortunately, even though the Prophets in the Old Testament warned again and again of following foreign gods.  A lot of ordinary Israelites failed this command. In the siege of Lachish for example when Sennacherib attacked the Israelite city one can see some candle sticks that were taken as booty for the king.  In other words, some residents of Lachish were worshipping foreign gods.

Idols:

Document 27 for example in ‘The Bible in the British Museum’; pages 60-64; By T C Mitchell. the picture below shows something:

The editor writes:

“To the right the defeated inhabitants are led out by Assyrian troops, some of whom carry braziers or incense stands, perhaps from unorthodox religious rites.”

This is a graphic image of the first of the 10 commandments being broken and the aftermath of God’s judgement on the people of Lachish. Sennacherib made a graphic representation of this victory to milk his pride.

Reflection

From my point of view the Ten Commandments have universal value. It is an important part of Christian teaching.  I have to say though that at the time of the Second Temple when Christ walked this earth, the Ten Commandments were more important in Judaism than today.  The Lord, our Trinitarian God ought to be respected and we ought to put all of our idols of materialism, selfishness, and pride far away.  We also need to remember that these two commandments can be summed up in two.

  • Love God
  • Lover your neighbour as yourself

God wants us to come into his presence and the language of ‘face’ for ‘presence’ is very intimate and covenantal.  However, we need to remember that although there is intimacy there is ‘respect’ and God is Holy and in a sense we need to respect this and perhaps tighten our own language to show this respect.  We also need to remember that we stand before The Lord who created the whole universe and humankind.  We respect our leaders but how much more should we respect The Holy One, The Lord who gave us life and brought us into a covenant relationship through the Son by way of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Guarantor who takes us into the very presence of God, The Holy Spirit.

Background discussion of fasting (The precursor to the Sermon on the Mount on Fasting)

August 30, 2022

Why do people fast?

In this section we are going to look at some non-religious reasons and then religious reasons with a general overview of what the Bible has to say about fasting.  This is a precursor to a later blog in which I look at what Jesus taught about fasting.

There are many reasons why people fast. People fast for many different reasons, religious reasons and non-religious reasons.

For non-religious reasons a person might fast because they want to lose weight.  I do this usually when I get a little too heavy for comfort and this is usually linked to 10,000 steps per day.

Another reason might be that they have to lose weight for medical reasons. It may be that they need to focus about something important in the family.  An example of this could be a particular type of diabetes and fasting can help to even reverse this disease.

Then we come to the religious reasons, the reason might be that you want to get closer to God.  Ordinary people who go to church for example may fast seeking an answer from God for something.  Perhaps a new church building for the congregation.

Many People fast observing a religious calendar such as Lent in Christianity or Ramadan in Islam.

 It can also be more personal for example, someone that want to pray for a big decision going to happen in their life such as marriage and one needs God’s wisdom.

It could be for example in Buddhism or another religion in which for meditation reasons one fasts for a period to clear one’s mind.

Whatever the reason why someone fasts there’s usually a reason. Fasting in a sense also has something to do with sacrifice. We all like our food, we all like to eat so by fasting a person is denying themselves the very basic stuff needed to live. An extreme case of fasting is when a prisoner decides to go on a hunger strike possibly for a moral reason. There are also Buddhist monks who have fasted near the end of their lives. They know they’re going to die pretty soon so they change their diet, and they literally dry themselves out from inside out. In other words they start the mummification process while they’re still alive. Anyhow as a general rule of thumb when a person fasts, they usually sacrifice something in order to reach something else.

General Introduction to Bible teaching on Fasting

C. Robert Marsh (Holman Bible Dictionary; page 478-479) says that there are three areas we need to look at:

  • The normal fast is the abstinence of all food as in Luke 4,2 but this does not mean Jesus didn’t drink water.
  • There is the absolute fast in which one does not eat or drink.  This fast does not usually last for more than three reasons for the obvious reason of death. Acts 9:9
  • The partial fast is the restriction of food but not complete abstinence.  Daniel 10.3

Marsh goes on to say:

“Fasting is the laying aside of food for a period of time when the believer is seeking to know God in a deeper experience. It is to be done as an act before God in the privacy of one’s own pursuit of God (Ex. 34:28; 1 Sam. 7:6; 1 Kings 19:8; Matt. 6:17).

Fasting is to be done with the object of seeking to know God in a deeper experience (Isa. 58; Zech. 7:5). Fasting relates to a time of confession (Ps. 69:10). Fasting can be a time of seeking a deeper prayer experience and drawing near to God in prevailing prayer (Ezra 8:23; Joel 2:12). The early church often fasted in seeking God’s will for leadership in the local church [Acts 13:2). When the early church wanted to know the mind of God, there was a time of prayer and fasting. (C. Robert Marsh)”

Marshes references:

(The following references have been taken from the Olive Tree Bible App; NASB)

28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And  he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. Exodus 34:28

6 They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:6

8 So Elijah arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:8

17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:17-18

5 “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? Zechariah 7:5

..

10 When I wept in my soul with fasting,

 It became my reproach.

11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,

 I became a byword to them.

12 Those who sit in the gate talk about me,

 And I am the song of the drunkards.

 13 But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time;

 O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness,

 Answer me with Your saving truth.

14 Deliver me from the mire and do not let me sink; Psalms 69:10-14

..

23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty. Ezra 8:23

..

12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

 “Return to Me with all your heart,

 And with fasting, weeping and mourning;

13 And rend your heart and not your garments.”

 Now return to the LORD your God,

 For He is gracious and compassionate,

 Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness

 And relenting of evil. Joel 2:12-13

..

2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. Acts 13:2-3

..

1 “Cry loudly, do not hold back;

 Raise your voice like a trumpet,

 And declare to My people their transgression

 And to the house of Jacob their sins.

2 “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,

 As a nation that has done righteousness

 And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.

 They ask Me for just decisions,

 They delight in the nearness of God.

3 ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?

 Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’

 Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,

 And drive hard all your workers.

4 “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.

 You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

5 “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?

 Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed

 And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?

 Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?

6 “Is this not the fast which I choose,

 To loosen the bonds of wickedness,

 To undo the bands of the yoke,

 And to let the oppressed go free

 And break every yoke?

7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry

 And bring the homeless poor into the house;

 When you see the naked, to cover him;

 And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn,

 And your recovery will speedily spring forth;

 And your righteousness will go before you;

 The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;

 You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

 If you remove the yoke from your midst,

 The  pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,

10 And if you  give yourself to the hungry

 And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

 Then your light will rise in darkness

 And your gloom will become like midday.

11 “And the LORD will continually guide you,

 And satisfy your desire in scorched places,

 And give strength to your bones;

 And you will be like a watered garden,

 And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;

 You will raise up the age-old foundations;

 And you will be called the repairer of the breach,

 The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. Isaiah 58:1-12

Reflection

What we have learned today is that people fast for various reasons.  In religious circles people usually fast to connect with a ‘Greater Reality’.  At this point I said greater reality because in Buddhism the question of the existence of God is not an important question, yet it still has some type of transcendental idea such as Nirvana.  In the other religions God and the gods depending on one’s tradition fasting plays some key role to be close to one’s Creator somehow.

In Christianity fasting is very important not only in the traditions such as Lent and other times but also from the teachings of the Bible.  We can see that prayer and fasting can go hand in hand.  Marsh reminds us that people fast because they are seeking an answer from God or that they want a deeper relationship in God.

In these verses we also see prayer and fasting clearly linked to morality.  If one prays and fasts but closes their eyes to the needs of others such as widows, the hungry, injustice in the community then God will not listen or answer such prayers.

I think the late Rabbi Sacks understood the moral dimension to fasting:

“Next week in the Jewish community we’ll observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year. We’ll spend the whole day in synagogue, fasting, confessing our sins, admitting what we did wrong, and praying for forgiveness.

Something like that seems to me essential to the health of a culture. Often we see things go wrong. Yet rarely do we see someone stand up, take responsibility and say: I was wrong. I made a mistake. I admit it. I apologise. And now let us work to put it right.

Instead we do other things. We deny there’s a problem in the first place. Or if that’s impossible, we blame someone else, or say, it’s due to circumstances beyond our control.The result is that we lose the habit of being honest with ourselves.

” (Taken from rabbisacks.org/archive/the-age-of-greed/)

God’s Will on Earth as in Heaven

August 15, 2022

This week I’ve fallen ill with Corona, but I have to say I’m so thankful to God that I’m still here.  So many people have died and suffered.  Since it started that we should count our blessings, that we’re still here in that sense.

It’s an interesting thing that happens to you when you get Corona.  The fact is that you are put into isolation, but it also hurts your family as much as it hurts you it’s not a very nice feeling.  The truth is that wherever your family is they are also in isolation from you even if they have freedom to walk anywhere, they like because of the bond of love.

Usually, I live in the countryside and the forest, but my son is going to go and study in Helsinki, so we had to find a place for him to live.  So, we went down to Helsinki, and we found a place for him, and he’s going to start his course very soon in animation and then OK, when I came back on the train, I didn’t think anything about it.  We were going to go for a second trip down to Helsinki to give a soft landing and lo and behold that particular morning after a corona test, I had caught corona.  I believe I caught it whilst we were on the train or in Helsinki (From the first visit)

I’m thankful to God for these little blessings such as the injections I had previously because it means that it hasn’t hit me as hard as some people have been hit.  The only symptoms I really had was a headache and blowing my nose.  I haven’t really felt weak or ill or coughing myself to death just had a couple of nights so there was not so much sleep.

Why am I saying this?

Well, the truth is bad things happen to people who have faith and bad things happen to people who don’t have faith it can happen to anyone and everyone no one person is an island.  At this juncture, I want to remember that all those things come from our Creator, God.

At this point, most religions agree that there is a Creator who gives good gifts too.  Within the Trinitarian definition Father, Son and Holy Spirit God the father cannot be seen.  The only way that we know anything about the Father is by the two hands of God, as Irenaeus would say, through the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, Jesus points beyond himself in the Lord’s Prayer when he starts with our Father, or in John 17 when Jesus talks to the father in the Great High Priestly prayer, John 17.

So, then what is prayer?

I want to start with a general definition. I will keep it very simple that even a child could understand it.

My definition is:

  • Talking with God.

When you have a conversation with a with a person there are certain things that you have to take for granted that the person, you’re talking to is a human being, although nowadays I’m sure that there are people that talk to robots. When you talk to a human being, another person, let’s say it’s your mother or your daughter, or your son, or your brother, or your sister.

There’s an assent that that person is important enough to talk to.  There’s a family bond of affection. Even with a complete stranger there is a mutual respect.  These basic things that we actually learned in the family before we went into the big wide world.  I will use myself as an example, When I was a child, I remember that I spent a lot of time with my mother and my brothers in Cyprus and we had a great time.  I remember once when we were still living in a mobile home, we were having some food outside probably over a fire or something and it was nice family time. For fun I wanted to see how far I could throw my voice and I threw my voice.  My dad laughed about it.  Made jokes about it and stuff it was a great time.

I was protected I didn’t really know what was going on around me.  In actuality, there were Greek kids in that village as well, but I never actually met a Greek kid in the village, which is really sad. The political atmosphere for dialogue between the two communities was poisoned at that time.  I remember going to preschool for a year and I was just learning some basics I was really enjoying this day school thing. It was great fun and then the year after I started to go to a proper school and I started to mix with other students and I remember even though I was about 7 years old that basically I got on with some people and I didn’t get on with other people, just like family members.

But now there is an extension it’s moved from just the family to in a sense a reflection of the community and then later on obviously I eventually left Cyprus because of the war and the troubles, and I grew up in England, I failed school because of parental marriage breakdowns and stuff which affected me.

Eventually I went back to college and got to university, and I did everything I should have done a bit earlier on in life but throughout that whole time, I wonder how many conversations I had with people, how many friends I made, how many people didn’t like me a lot and that’s something about us.

We need to communicate with others; Who is the most important Person in the whole of the universe that we should communicate with its God.  God is the one who created us.

I think about my parents realized that they have lots of faults, I have lots of faults, there’s no one who is perfect.  Only God is perfect.  So, what better place and what safer place can there be but in God’s arms?

Who loves your soul?

Obviously, I take a Trinitarian view, but in in general any human being can call upon God no matter what religious background or no religious background at all. Anyone can call on God 24/7 is open doors.  The Lord’s Prayer also as well, although it’s in Matthew’s gospel.  ‘The Our Father prayer’ was nothing new by the time of Jesus, we found Jewish manuscripts within other Jewish traditions but basically explains The Lord’s prayer, nearly verbatim so all the different components that have, have always been there.

Our Lord decided upon these particular components found in the Lord’s prayer.  So that’s what we’re going to be looking at, we need to remember that conversing with the Ultimate Creator is a privilege. 

When we come to the Lord’s Prayer in Christ, and we’ve got rid of some of the baggage (wrong inner attitudes and intentions) before we even start praying.  We are then ready to pray as Jesus is going to teach us how to pray.

As Christians, you have probably read the Lord’s Prayer thousands and thousands of times, or you have recited it on many occasions.  What I’m asking you perhaps (and myself as well) we need to come back to the Lord’s prayer in humility and let’s see what we can learn together.  Let’s see what we can reason together with the Lord’s prayer and spend time at the feet of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Lord says:

9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:9-15

From NASB

Luke’s version:

2 He answered, When you pray, say,

Father, may your name be hallowed;

your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 And forgive us our sins, for we too

forgive all who have done us wrong. And

do not put us to the test.

From; 1989 Revised English Version

(updated New English Bible)

The general feel of the prayer

First, the object of Prayer is God the Creator (Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, invisible God)

Secondly, we notice that our Lord speaks in the first-person plural (such as; we our)

The term Father used in the various religions

Bot Judaism and Christianity have used the term, Father.  Judaism uses the term metaphorically and perhaps in the Lord’s prayer it could be interpreted as metaphorical for it is for all intents and purposes a Jewish prayer.  Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi while he on earth.

Islam

In Islam the use of Father is discouraged because they want to emphasize the complete separation from the Trinitarian view.  A chasm forms that God cannot be touched:

“Unlike in Judaism, the term “father” is not formally applied to God by Muslims, and the Christian notion of the Trinity is rejected in Islam.[65][66] Even though traditional Islamic teaching does not formally prohibit using the term “Father” in reference to God, it does not propagate or encourage it. There are some narratives of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in which he compares the mercy of God toward his worshipers to that of a mother to her infant child.[67]

Islamic teaching rejects the Christian father-son relationship of God and Jesus, and states that Jesus is a prophet of God, not the Son of God.[65] Islamic theology strictly reiterates the Absolute Oneness of God, and totally separates him from other beings (whether humans, angel or any other holy figure), and rejects any form of dualism or Trinitarianism. Chapter 112 of the Quran states:

    Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (Sura 112:1–4, Yusuf Ali)”  From (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_the_Father) As it says in this quotation Father is not a prohibited term although it has been discouraged.   Concerning the Lords Prayer Taymaz Tabrizi writes:

” The prayer although widespread in Christianity, has historically been absent in Muslim rituals for the most part yet some Muslim traditions purport that it was recommended and perhaps even recited by the Prophet Muhammad albeit in an altered version that would befit Qur’anic theology.”

He then quotes an old version equivalent to the Lords Prayer.  If you look at it very carefully one can see parallel to the Matthean version:

“Abī al-Dardā said: I heard the messenger of God (s) saying: if any of you or his brother is suffering from anything, then he should say:

O Lord God who is in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your decree is in heaven and the earth,

As your mercy is in heaven,

Forgive us our sins and trespasses,

You are the Lord of the good folk,

Send down a mercy from your mercy,

And a healing from your healing upon this pain so that it may be healed”

From (bliis.org/essay/lords-prayer-islam/#ftn3) Taken from The Lord’s Prayer in Islam

By: Taymaz Tabrizi; January 13, 2018

In some of the Eastern religions the term Father is not a problem

Sikhism

The Guru Granth consistently refers to the creator as “He” and “Father”. This is because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender. Since the Granth says that the God is indescribable, God has no gender according to Sikhism.[73]

God in the Sikh scriptures has been referred to by several names, picked from Indian and Semitic traditions. He is called in terms of human relations as father, mother, brother, relation, friend, lover, beloved, husband. Other names, expressive of his supremacy, are thakur, prabhu, svami, sah, patsah, sahib, sain (Lord, Master).[73]

Hinduism

In Hinduism, Bhagavan Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 9, verse 17, stated: “I am the Father of this world, the Mother, the Dispenser and the Grandfather”, one commentator adding: “God being the source of the universe and the beings in it, He is held as the Father, the Mother and the Grandfather”.[62] A genderless Brahman is also considered the creator and Life-giver, and the Shakta goddess is viewed as the divine mother and life-bearer.

These quotations have been taken from the Wikipeadia:  (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_the_Father)

So then whatever tradition one is from here in Matthew’s text God is called Father but in Islam he has been interpreted as Creator.  We are talking about the same God who made the whole human race. 

Commentary

  • ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Luke 11:2
  • ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Matthew 6:9

Here are the two opening versions.  Jesus Talks to his disciples and begins by showing them where all good things come from. Matthew’s version puts the emphasis on the Father ‘we’ all the disciples share.  Forget about interpretations of ‘daddy’ the word ‘hallowed’ (holy) dismisses that. Judith Lieu warns us of this danger as well in her Luke commentary, page 89.  Christianity can learn both from Judaism (Father as Metaphorical) and Islam (God is Creator a warning for Christians not to abuse the term Father). We can only come to the Father through the Son.  If we try to come to God on our own merit, we will be burned up in judgement.  We should always keep the respect (The fear of the Lord in front of us)

As we read above boundaries are set.  Hallowed is a form of the word holy.  Holy is about separating the religious from the non-religious.   The utensils found in a temple, church, cathedral or other institution is always to be used for that particular purpose.  One does not take the communion cup and drink beer from it in the local pub.  This is sacrilegious and an abomination.  No, my friends in the same way God is Holy and separate from his creation though creation relies on Him for its very existence.  

We are also to keep God’s name Holy.  I can understand why in Judaism Ha Shem is used ‘the name’.  As Christians we feel completely liberated because of what the Son has done for us.  We are liberated but does that mean that we should use the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) which is a very holy name in Judaism.  I’m thinking about the ethical issues around these things.  Because The Church and the Synagogue separated a long time ago, we seem to forget that Paul for example did not stop seeing himself as Jewish.  We ought to respect the background of the Apostles as much as the written word they gave to us.  If we really want to foster Christian love in the world; Are we practicing in such a way that helps to build bridges.

  • ‘Your kingdom come.  Your will be done,  On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
  • Your kingdom come. Luke 11:2

We have spoken about the fulfillments of the eschaton (end of the age) a lot.  It is at the heart of the Lord’s prayer.  An alignment of God’s will, will take place in the whole of Creation from the heavens to the deepest recesses of the earth.   We are supposed to pray and live this. Luke has the shortest and most direct version. Luke takes it for granted that God speaks from heaven to every situation and perhaps his Greek readers appreciate more directness in his Gospel.

  • ‘Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6:11
  • ‘Give us each day our daily bread. Luke 11:3

Moses new that obeying God was more important than eating bread and sustenance.  Jesus here has purposefully put God’s will before food.  Bread was seriously important, and this idea possibly comes from the ‘Manna’ in the wilderness.  The people needed to be fed day by day but doing the will of God was not at the forefront of their minds.  We too need to learn from the Lord’s prayer to seek his kingdom first and then our needs indeed will be met. 

  • ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]  14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:12-15
  • ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” Luke 11:4

We have come full circle on the Lord’s Prayer.  As I said earlier God’s name is sacred.  Here in these closing verses of the prayer we see the Father as Judge.  The Father will judge according to the measure that we can forgive.  Did not Jesus himself forgive his persecutors from the cross? 

Sin or debt?

Luke uses the word sin (hamartia) missing the mark.  This is a more natural words to use for Luke’s Greek readers; (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamartia). 

Matthew uses debt (opheiletēs) this is about meeting obligations.

I think both can be used but ‘debt’ for me has a more personal usage.  You owe a debt to a person whereas if you sin it relates more to you and is impersonal.  In both meanings a wrong has taken place and there needs to be forgiveness. Our Lord expects us to forgive our fellow brothers and sisters.

Transgression or Temptations

I think in Luke’s version ‘temptation’ is not the best word to use. We do not test God but God can test us. 

Dictionary definitions

g3986. πειρασμός peirasmos; from 3985; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity: — temptation, x try.

AV (21) — temptation 19, temptations 1, try 1;

1. an experiment, attempt, trial, proving

A trial, proving: the trial made of you by my bodily condition,

since condition sewed as to test the love of the Galatians

toward Paul (Cal. 4:14)

B. the trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy

1. an enticement to sin, temptation, whether arising from

the desires or from the outward circumstances

2. an internal temptation to sin

a. of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert

Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand

3. of the condition of things, or a mental state, by which

we are enticed to sin, or to a lapse from the faith and holiness

4. adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and sewing to

test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness

(. temptation (i.e. trial) of God by men

1. rebellion against God, by which his power and justice

are, as it were, put to the proof and challenged to show themselves

(This has been taken from the Olive Tree enhanced Strongs dictionary)

Reflection

I think as we have looked at the Lord’s Prayer, we need to be mindful of who’s company we are in.  Our Lord Jesus has been carefully teaching us about our own limitations in our attitudes and intentions.  This prayer also teaches us about morality that we are not only individuals, but we are part of God’s Holy Society.  We are called by God to love one another and to look out for the needs of one another.  The question do we do this? The truth is a lot of the time we only look out for our own individual needs.  God has very high standards and we cannot meet them.  Only by grace can we come before the throne of God and we can only stand by what Christ has done for us not what we have done for him.

However, the Sunday School acronym ACTS fits all the pieces together for us

  • A = Adoration
  • C= Confession
  • T= Thanksgiving
  • S= Supplication (asking)

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13 14 NASB

Lasering Our Motives and Intentions Before Prayer Time (Matt. 6;1-8)

August 6, 2022

Today we are going to start looking at prayer.  Where do we begin?   In our understanding of God there is a Creator who made heaven and earth. We have a Father in Heaven who loves and cares for us and through the life, work, death and resurrection of Christ the Believer can be drawn into a meaningful relationship with God.  This is my premise. 

There are those who prefer the comparative route of understanding religion, the idea that ‘all roads lead to Rome’ (universalism).  I am not of that school as I believe that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world in Christ through the gift of faith.  This does not mean that Christianity cannot have a meaningful dialogue with other religions.

Christianity can have dialogue because other religions also have their own particularity of beliefs and doing things differently.  Precisely because we are different, we can discuss about God and the Infinite.  It would be very boring if all humans held the same views, believed the same things, and agreed on everything.  This way of living would not be much different to the Cyborgs in Dr Who, in which they all had the same agenda. This to me is the problem with comparative religion because they emphasize sameness to such an extent that religion becomes a spaghetti junction.  I like spaghetti but not as a belief system.

So then we are talking about prayer with a Christian understanding to it. However, the Bible is clear that God has created all of us and anyone can call on God for help. Whether a person is a Christian or not they can call on the name of the Lord and be saved from their distresses. Prayer in its purity is universal but unfortunately because of the Fall our prayers can be ineffective because we ask for things from a selfish and greedy heart. 

Our Lord Jesus in this part of the sermon as a spiritual surgeon teaches us about our attitudes to God, others and ourselves.  What our Lord Jesus is going to say is going to hurt our pride, as he shows the ugliness that can be found in the human soul. As a masterful surgeon using the latest technology, he will cut through all the evil and makes us like diamonds gleaming in the light of the Son.

As before we will use the beatitudes as a mirror to understand this section of the Sermon on the mount.

Matthew 61

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

Before looking at the above verse I think it is good to have a definition of religion:

Definitions of religion

  • A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
  • The service and worship of God or the supernatural.
  • Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.

(merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion#synonyms )

There are hundreds of definitions for religions, but the basic idea of a religion is what we can do for the divine object that we worship. 

Jesus turns this idea on its head, and he shows us that there is nothing that we can do for God.  Actually, God has done everything for us.

We sinned and ruined God’s creation which he Loved.  To bring creation back into balance and to save us from Hell (Complete separations for God):

  • God became a man to reach out to us
  • God the Son died on the cross so that we could be saved
  • God the Holy Spirit fills us with Himself
  • God brings us into his eternal glory.

A proud and selfish person cannot accept these premises as he/she wants to reach heaven in his/her own power and volition.  The big I replaces God, and he/ she is so arrogant that they reject this premise!

When we look at verse one, our Lord shows us that there is something in our character that wants to be in the Hot Seat; that we are the centre of attention.

Anyhow let us continue with our commentary

When we read this section, one has to remember that God sees our our attitudes and intentions and God knows us better that we know ourselves.

Verse One

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

So, then there is a universal rule that God taught us here. Why do we go to the church or another place of worship? What is the driver in our soul and wants us to be seen as perfect? If the driver in us is some form of pride in our own strength this is as rubbish in God’s eyes and we certainly wont, get any reward in the eschaton.

Verse Two

‘2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.’

When a person gives to those in need, the question is; What is the motive?

Only God really understands the motives for giving.  It may be that one gets street credibility ‘ah look at what a good fellow he is.’  Actually, the giving maybe for selfish reasons to get even more honour instead of giving through high intensions towards a needy human being.

Verses three four and five

‘3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.’ 5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners  so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. Matthew 6:5

I think our Lord is saying that when we give, let us give as though God is watching us.  We can do things on the quiet.  God loves his creation and people.  We ought to also love creation and our neighbour so that we are in line with his teachings.

Our relationship with God is not dependent on what others see.  Our relationship is between our heavenly Father and us.  It is the relationship that is important, anything extra is just baggage that needs to be thrown away.

Verses six and seven

6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.

So, God commands us not to be on show with our many words so that we can get ‘praise and gifts’.

Unfortunately, those who get gifts and praise a lot of the time have been done through evil motives.  We see this in the news on a daily basis where some people would like a little help from the government.  It is corruption but one can find corruption even in a church or another place of worship.  I remember the story of Jesus driving out the money dealers and merchants from the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  Some religious organisations are very rich and there could be a person at the top who rakes in all the money.  It is also a danger for the local Church or other religious institution.

Verse Eight

‘8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’

So then in the previous verses our Lord Jesus gave us a lot of pitfalls for us to fall into. We do not need to rake in:

  • Dirty money and wealth
  • Dirty gifts with dirty motives
  • Dirty praise from selfish pride
  • Dirty ambition and one pretends to be an angel of light but is an angel of greed
  • Dirty glory by getting praise through a false image of oneself.

I’m sure that I have missed somethings out, but we need to do soul searching of our actions in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Reflection

What our Lord taught here in these verses is about seeing into the dark recesses of our souls.  Holy Communion is a time to weed out some of these corrupt attitudes that stains us.  We need to consider prayerfully how we approach our heavenly Father.  No one is perfect and perfection comes over time and into the eschaton.  However, these teachings can gauge the morality of the society we live in at the macro and micro levels. How?

  • In yourself
  • In your local church
  • In your local organizations
  • In your workplace
  • In your area
  • In your political party
  • In your local government
  • In your national political parties
  • In your national government
  • In your international organizations.

Our Lords teachings are like a laser, and it cuts through to the marrow of the problem.  So my friends, let us judge ourselves fairly and through prayer so that in Christ we become more holy and precious to our Trinitarian God daily.

Addendum

A lot of things I have mentioned show a lack of morality in our society.  Unfortunately, people are looking out for their own interests at the cost of the neighbour.  I am still reading the book Morality by the Late Jonathan Sacks.  The more I read it, the more I realize how low our civilization has come.  Let’s see if we can start to live as ambassadors of heaven and begin to bring God’s goodness back into this fallen world.

You Have Heard It Said… Matthew 5 21-48

July 22, 2022

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses the above saying 5x:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ Matthew 5:21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; Matthew 5:27

“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘ YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ Matthew 5:33

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ Matthew 5:38

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ Matthew 5:43

The form of the sentences

  • The Formula (You have heard it said)
  • The quotation (from the Law)
  • The commentary

This would possibly be the same form that rabbis used when discoursing.  (I need to check this up).  Even if it isn’t the case modern Bible commentaries follow this type of format.  The quotation and then naturally with the commentary.

The grammar

In the root ‘to hear’ and ‘to say’ are both in the aorist and plural.   He was speaking to his disciples and not just one disciple.   In the saying ‘you have heard it said’, the main verbs are in the aorist or passive aorist.  It seems to be a formula that introduces something very important from the Law.

General description of the formula ‘You have heard that it was said’. 

In every verse of this found here in Matthew the grammar is the same.  This is understandable as it is just the flow of the Gospel story.

 And I say to you…

I found this interesting and it validates what I said earlier about the form of speech Jesus used was a traditional rabbinic ways of speaking about the Law and explanations:

“the second half of the comparison used by Jesus, ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, “but I say to you” (in all six antitheses: vv 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, and 44), involves an authority that is alien to the spirit of the rabbis—especially, of course, where the new interpretation seems to stand in tension with the direct statement of Scripture. The rabbis, who never would pit their views against Scripture, preferred to support differing interpretations by appealing to other earlier representatives of the rabbinic tradition. Jesus’ remarkable use of the “but I say to you” formula is to be explained by his identity as the messianic bringer of the kingdom (Hengel points out that the element “to you,” which gives each antithesis the tonality of a kerygmatic statement, is lacking in the rabbinic parallels [TRu 52 (1987) 376]). It is the Messiah’s interpretation of the Torah that is finally authoritative.”

From Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, pp. 111–113). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

Our Lord as the Messiah and the King of Israel relied on his own authority.  There would have been many interpretations but for the disciple it is the Lord’s understanding of it that counts as it is the true understanding (Trinitarian revelation). Jesus did not do what these Rabbis did by finding earlier quotes from past teachers.  Our Lord as the second Person of the Trinity had the correct interpretation through divine access to the original and deeper spiritual meaning.

What is our Lord doing?

In each section after he says ‘You have heard it said’ he then quotes from the First five books of the Law.   It is interesting that there is only five.  My question is, did Matthew choose 5 as symbolic of the five books of Moses.  I don’t know the answer to that. 

Our Lord is taking examples from the Law and giving it a twist that brings out the real meaning behind each saying through ‘but I say to you’.  We have seen that the beatitudes are mainly spiritual and hence our lord is taking us deeper into the text and how it ought to be interpreted.  Perhaps using our Lords method, we could also build on this for ethical decisions. 

In a scientific way our Lord is taking the moral object and then having interrogated through the beatitudes, he explains the meaning to us.

Let’s now look at the first saying in more detail:

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. Matthew 5:21-26

The law from the 10 commandments is very basic.  If one murders, one is guilty before the law courts.  This is the same as in British Law or any Western Law. Murder is murder.  However, our Lord brings out some steps in this law.  We can see them

  • Anger with the brother = guilty before the court!
  • Saying ‘good for nothing’ to one’s brother= guilty before the Supreme court!
  • Whoever says ‘You fool’= guilty enough to go into the fiery Hell

Why such strong sayings from our Lords mouth?

God is the giver of the law.  It is God who is the Creator of the universe.  Our Lord then takes us into the Second Temple Institution (before it was destroyed in AD 70). Jesus says:

” Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,”

We know what the two great commandments are, loving God and loving our neighbour. We cannot love God if we do not love our brother.  This is an impossibility.   God will not accept anything less.  These are standards that would test any religious and non-religious institution to its limits.

Jesus our Lord continues by saying:

“25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”

Hmm when I look at the context, I ask myself who this ‘opponent’ is.  I feel that the opponent here would be God.  I also feel that the prison would be hell.  This is a prison with no key because the price cannot be paid.

In a sense we are all prisoners locked up in our sin but what is impossible with us is not impossible with God.  Christ died on the cross so that we could be released from this prison. 

So, then Matthew seems to emphasize close relationships whereas Luke seems to emphasis Judgement

“Christ Divides Men

49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?

57 “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? 58 For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, so that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I say to you, you will not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.” Luke 12:49-59” (NASB)

Reflection

The kingdom of God is Here and with the eyes of faith we know that the next time our Lord comes will be a time of reckoning and judgement. 

What have we learned?

Positively

  1. We need to love our neighbour.
  2. We need to keep in step with our Lord’s sayings and be ready to forgive
  3. We shouldn’t hold grudges and sort things out while we still can.

Negatively:

  1. Hate has dire consequences
  2. If we do not forgive, we should expect the same from God
  3. Holding grudges pulls us down and away from the Kingdom of God

Following in the steps of Christ in our strength is impossible.  But Jesus died on the cross for us and in Him our election is sure through the gift of faith and its fruit of good works.  Pertaining to salvation it has all been done by God.

  • God came down to earth in the incarnation
  • Christ is the High priest who mediates for us
  • Christ is the sacrifice for us
  • Christ by the Holy Spirit brings us into the Trinitarian life through the resurrection of Christ.

All we need to do is confess him as our Lord and believe that God the Father by the Holy Spirit raised him from the dead.  We in our strength can do nothing to please God.  After we have been saved good works flow from gratitude for what He has done for us.  By faith gratitude flows by remembering our neighbour whoever our neighbour might be.

‘Autonomy Hits the Big Time and Duty was put on the Backburner’ What does this mean for Society?

July 21, 2022

Autonomous reason hit the big time now people wanted to put Jesus Christ onto the back burner.  This really did happen as the traditional doctrine of the atonement and allied subjects were replaced by the logic of reason. In fact, no religious tradition has escaped unfazed with the march of the new ideas.  The adventure of secularism in some ways has paved the way to more freedoms but on the other hand it has let loose old-time boundaries in Science, Ethics and Aesthetics.   In some cases, we have lost parts of our humanity through data.  We are not people anymore.  We are in fact data.  If we are out of work and want to make a claim, we need to show a number.  If we are ill, we have to show a number.  Even if we are dead numbers are still used.

Science on its own (with the wrong type of ethics and aesthetics) can be cold as it is the driver behind a lot of advances in our society. Yes, on the one hand we have more so called ‘rights’ but on the other hand we have lost our individuality and are more like a person inside a Picasso art piece.

In some of these theories, Man wants himself to be autonomous from anything outside of himself this includes morality. Man, thinks can make his own decisions and make good decisions about ethics.

However, there are many arguments, On the contrary, I mean:

  • who made the nuclear bomb?
  • Who made the wars?
  • What about deaths and pestilences?

Human autonomy also has serious problems when it comes to ethics and I think it is refreshing that we have the Master Theologian Herman Bavinck 150 years later, after he wrote this book that went into some library somewhere and only was discovered recently that he can give us fresh advice about how we ought to live as Christians.

The 10 Commandments are not a dead subject, and it never has been.  As I said earlier in one of my other blogs on in Matthew’s gospel, that even though the ceremonial law was done away with the moral law is always there the two Commandments love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul, and strength and its parallel on the horizontal line love your neighbor as yourself are the summing up of the 10 Commandments.  Herman, Bavinck does us a favour when he goes through each of these 10 commandments, explaining to us what it actually means, explaining to us how the Christian man by faith is supposed to live this life.  Autonomy doesn’t work.  It’s only through freedom in obedience that works that gives us a true ethic that can actually protect our neighbour as well as ourselves. 

I bought a book while the Late Lord Sacks was alive and, in that book, he explains to us that we went from ‘We’ to ‘Me’, ‘I’.  (Morality; John Sacks; page 77) Obviously, the rot in society set in a long time ago.  We know exactly when this malaise set into our society.  One of the big philosophical ideas was done by the work of Kant with his categorical imperative.  There is a section in my late professor’s book from KCL (Colin E. Gunton; The One the Three and the Many; pages 114-119) As Gunton says the big problem today is that in culture; science, ethics and aesthetics have been ripped apart!   Herman Bavinck was warning us about these things over a 150 years ago. 

As Herman Bavinck is closer to the time of these so-called great ideas in Western Culture it is very helpful to go down Memory Lane.  Obviously, I take a Trinitarian position, but I think Bavinck’s Ethics Book 2 speaks to Western Culture now in the 21st century!  Even if you do not believe in God or hold another view, you have to agree that something is seriously wrong in Western Culture.  We have forgotten how to be truly human and to be a real person.  Perhaps through John Sacks, Colin E. Gunton and Herman Bavinck, they can help us to find our way in a broken society. Anyhow as you can see, I have received my second volume of Ethics by Herman Bavinck so I will be focusing on his writings.

So, we can pick up where we left off.  In the last blog we are reminded that ‘Duty’ presupposes ‘Law’.  This then become a minefield in the scholarly world.   We proved this in our last blog.  Herman Bavinck also proved to us that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.  This raises all sort of questions for the Christian. Some theologians put all the emphasis on Gospel and go as far to say that the Old Testament has been superseded (Heresy).  Others put all the emphasis on law at the expense of our Christian freedom in Christ.  Before Herman Bavinck even looks at the 10 commandments he goes into the minutest details of precepts and councils and adiaphora.  

  • What we have to do (precepts)
  • What we ought to do (counsels)
  • The area of actions that are outside of ethics such as touching one’s beard. (adiaphora)
  • Do duties collide?

(The above are found in volume 2; Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck chapters 13 and 14; pages 1-89)

This has been a minefield since the Reformation including Protestants and Roman Catholics.  I am just mentioning this, but I will not go into detail because it isn’t such a hot issue for ordinary Christian believers.  I am more interested in the nitty gritty of why the 10 commandments are important to the Christian community.  There is indeed a relationship between the law and the Gospel, but it would be nice to understand why this relationship is so important.  For Reformed Christians they hold a tension that it is by faith through our Trinitarian God that we are saved and because we are indebted to what our Lord Jesus did for us the fruit of this is good works (loving in a practical manner our fellow human neighbour no matter who they are.) the list above are underpinning questions Bavinck answers before he goes into the 10 commandments proper from page 119. 

Reflection

Our society has become more individual based and our relationship to one another is not emphasized as much as it ought to be.  In the newspapers I read recently that Boris the prime minister should have gone to a Cobra meeting (to do with the heat wave) but instead he was a British fighter jet enjoying a once in a lifetime experience before he stops being prime minister.  We all have to make moral choices and perhaps it is sometimes a good thing to reflect on the relationship of the Gospel to the law.  As Christians we know that decisions, we make here will determine what happens in the eschaton on Judgement Day. 

I would go a stage further and say that no matter what our background; Do we not have a duty to our neighbour as they have a duty to us.  What should have Boris done? Should he have gone for a joy ride or spent time thinking about human lives?  What moral choices do you make on a day-to-day basis, where you live and who you spend your time with? (Friend and family)

Whatever we believe we are under some natural law (the law of nature).  For Christians the natural law goes back to the creation of Adam and Even.  If you do not accept this story, you still are under the natural law (the law of nature) because you are a natural being.

These first two chapters I have to say have been a rather dry subject (but necessary for any theologian).  After the ‘collision of duties’ and the ‘classification of ‘duties’ we will find ourselves in part A ‘No Other Gods, no images.’  I am getting excited about this as we return to our Creator and find out what he expects of us.

What is the relation of Jesus to the law and hence our relationship to the law and duty.

July 13, 2022

Today I’ve been thinking about when Jesus said that our righteousness has to surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  These are actually incredible words because If we think about it Jesus had many run ins with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and they were always trying to trip him up.  Yet Jesus said, your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Nicodemus was also a Pharisee he was a Pharisee that actually believed in Jesus, secretly, that he was the Messiah.

Now the question is:

How can our righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees?

The Pharisees and the Sadducees kept the law absolutely perfectly, and they even made a fence around it so that it would be impossible to break the law when our Lord and saviour grew up in a place where the Temple, the Second Temple, was still around also there was a place in the desert where people worshiped God, because for them the Temple in Jerusalem had become unholy.

In that sense the New Testament isn’t only important to Christians but it’s actually important to Judaism as well.  At one point, Christianity is a critique of Judaism in a particular form.  Perhaps one of the problems of Judaism at the time of Jesus was that the rabbis and the priests and so on may have come to a place of pride because they were so important to the functioning of the Temple that perhaps the logic was, they were more important than the ordinary person in the street.  From that point of view, Jesus can be seen as the great equalizer in Judaic society.

The truth is that what Jesus taught was so radical that it changed the whole ancient world and brought in a new religion, Christianity.

So, the question is.

What was so radical about what Jesus taught?

I think Jesus got behind the action. This is a very important point this is why the Beatitudes are so important.  This is why the Beatitudes are the key to understanding Jesus’ teachings.

It is true that the Pharisees and the Sadducee’s were able to keep the law absolutely perfectly.

They were perfect on the outside, but Jesus looked beyond the outside.

He looked at what is within the human heart.

On the outside, you can be pretend to be Mr Goody 2 shoes but on the inside, you can be somebody completely different.  Jesus revealed the hypocrisy that was going on in human beings universally.

This teaching of Jesus is a lot bigger than the Pharisees and the Sadducees, It is a bit lot bigger than Christendom.  It’s a lot bigger than any political system.  The teachings of Jesus hints at what it means to be human and how we ought to live our lives.  Jesus cuts through all of this. Surface social perfection and doing good things where people can see what you are doing.  He cuts through all the way through to the soul and what it is that makes a person tick.

The thing is that some Christians tend to put the emphasis on grace and that the law was done away with.  This is a misreading really. The main thing that was done away with is the ceremonial law.  The 10 Commandments stay effective forever, is part of the moral law.

So, then what was done away with the death and resurrection of Jesus was the ceremonial law where animals had to be killed regularly so that we could have our sins forgiven and this was done by the priest.

The big problem was that in AD 70 the actual Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and Judaism itself had an identity crisis and this is when, in a sense, the rabbis went on a particular Road.

But for Christian Judaism, I don’t think this was such a problem because the death and resurrection of Christ meant that there was no physical Temple that Jewish Christians had to rely on.

Looking at a commentary on Matthew here I read the following:

“The larger context of the verse (e.g., the grace of the beatitudes) forbids us to conclude that entrance into the kingdom depends, in a cause-effect relationship, upon personal moral attainments. The verse is addressed, it must be remembered, to those who are the recipients of the kingdom. Entrance into the kingdom is God’s gift; but to belong to the kingdom means to follow Jesus’ teaching. Hence, the kingdom and the righteousness of the kingdom go together; they cannot be separated. And it follows that without this righteousness there can be no entrance into the kingdom.”

(By Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, p. 109). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

I can see from the Beatitudes that God searches not only, cause and ‘effect but he also searches deeper than that, the ‘intentions and attitudes of the soul’.  Hence because of the Fall we need Christ to bring us into His holiness and glory. 

The same writer continues:

“Only an interpretation of the present pericope such as this is compatible with the bearing of Jesus toward the law throughout the Gospel. These words do not contradict what is said elsewhere in the Gospel nor do they involve a misunderstanding of the ministry of Jesus. Although they unmistakably reflect the idiom of the Pharisees, and to that extent may be misleading if taken literally, they make a valid point concerning Jesus and his attitude toward the law. The words may not have been adequately understood at their first hearing, but in retrospect, given the whole sweep of events recorded in the Gospels, their meaning would have become clear to the early Church. The evangelist is of course delighted to seize these sayings and incorporate them into this discourse on the righteousness of the kingdom. His Jewish-Christian readers needed to know—especially in the light of repeated counter-claims—that the pattern for righteousness taught by Jesus reflects the true meaning of the Torah, and thus that the Torah in its entirety is preserved in and through the ethical teaching of the Church”

(By Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, p. 109). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

So, then we as believers have a true understanding of ‘righteousness’ by following the teachings of Jesus.  By faith we follow our Saviour and by faith one day we will meet him in the Celestial City for all eternity.  Matthew is an amazing book, and it blows away a lot of our misconceptions away.

Reflection

My reflection on the Sermon on the Mount has slowed me down in my writing because I realize how little I actually understand.  Thus, I have been reading some background stuff to get up to speed.  At the same time, I have started book two of Herman Bavincks Ethics and he is actually going to go through all of the 10 commandments.  He begins by looking at duty and in his introduction, he has shown us the pitfalls of the new philosophy through the eyes of Kant.  Actually, Bavinck looks at Matthew’s Gospel for the Trinitarian ethics which goes against our Culture.  I’m sure that I will feed his teachings into the Sermon on the Mount!

Nevertheless, I can say that at the time of Christ the world was a melting pot of various cultures.  This is what is happening to the world today.   There were many streams of thought at the time of Christ and our time is very similar.  They had powers and authorities and today we have powers and authorities.  When Jesus said these things, it was before the Second Temple was destroyed.  Jewish Christians also worshipped in the Temple as Judaism and Christianity at that moment in history did not go their separate ways.  With the destruction of the Temple this changed.  Christians were being persecuted by the powers of the age.  The destruction of the Temple was from my point of view a cataclysm that would change the world forever.   For Christians today the Temple of God is the Church.  We do not need a building to worship in.  The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His resurrection was enough to bring us into the presence of God through the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are blessed.  Judaism has also survived the destruction of the Second Temple and flourished, and the synagogue has played a massive role in this.

The word duty is not found a lot in the Bible.  In the Bible it is found in about eight books in the Old testament and once in the New Testament (NASB, exhaustive concordance).  Herman Bavinck said the same type of thing on page 7 of his Ethics volume 2.  He actually said that duty in the Dutch Bible is really only found in the Dutch Psalter. However, he explains something very important to us:

“Duty presupposes Law.”

This then leads Herman Bavinck to raise the more important question:

“What is the relation of the believer to the law?” (Around page 7 of his ethics).

However for this piece of writing I can ask the question:

“What is the relation of our Lord Jesus to the Law?”

Then this would lead into Bavincks question.

So then as we can have seen in Matthew, Jesus said in Matthew that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.  As Bavinck says, when it came to the Judaic law Jesus was very conservative. 

“Jesus says no word, nor performs any deed to abolish the law.”

Bavinck then goes on to say,

“Jesus demands a righteousness that ‘surpasses’ the Pharisees.” 

As we have seen from the Beatitudes that Jesus ‘gives an internal spiritual explanation of the law.’ (Around page 7 of his ethics).  Righteousness (δικαιουσυνη) is an attitude of the Kingdom of God. 

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”(Matthew 6:33; Olive Tree, NASB Bible)  Bavinck reminds us of how Jesus describes  this ‘righteousness’ through the use of metaphor:

Being clothed with wedding garments

 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he *said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14

Jesus family are his disciples

“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50

God’s will is revealed in the Law and the Prophets

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Matthew 7:21

And again

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

Jesus starting point is the Law

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17

Again,

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

Again,

 “On these two commandments depend on the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:40

Summing up Bavinck on Duty

We need to take Jesus’ words very seriously on righteousness and there is a direct correspondence between ‘righteousness’ and our understanding of duty.  Duty carries in itself the idea ‘that we must do the right act’. When we dive deeper into the text there are other verbs that point to this ethical necessity:

 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17

The phrase above ‘He had to’ οφειλω.

Or again in Vines Dictionary

“Behoved dei (1163), “it is necessary,” is rendered “behoved,” in Luke 24:46; RV, (that the Christ) “should” (suffer). Dei expresses a logical necessity, opheilo, a moral obligation; cf. chre, Jas. 3:10, “ought,” which expresses a need resulting from the fitness of things (Trench, Sec. cvii). Luke 24:46”

Reflection

Jesus’s teachings of the kingdom of God necessitate Holiness and the truth is that no person on this earth in their own strength and will can make themselves perfectly holy.  Jesus dis not lower the bar on the law.  In fact, Jesus did the opposite.  It is only when we realize that we cannot be Holy in our strength that we realize that we ought to humble ourselves before a Holy God. This is the starting point, by faith through the work of the Trinity that we can even have a sniff of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ teachings engenders humility something that deals with pride in people. Dare I say it! The pride that is found even within our own being. So then let us come to Christ in humility confessing Jesus as Lord, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead and through his atoning work as The True High Priest, and once and for all sacrifice, that we may walk into the heaven-lies as beloved children of God.

Jesus’ relationship to the Law and the state of the Human Heart

June 19, 2022

Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

At the time of Christ, the world was in movement and flux, and we know that there were many thriving religious communities thinking about the end times.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have shown us this to be the case.  There are many verses in the Bible especially the Pauline epistles that on the surface look like they are anti-law. Jesus was certainly not against the law but rather he was the fulfilment of the law.

We need to remember that there are various aspects of Jewish Law.  There is the ceremonial and the moral.  The 10 commandment and the moral law will never change but the other laws became obsolete.   I am not doing very well in explaining this, but Herman Bavinck certainly looked at this detail.  It is important for us to look at the nature of the law as this will influence how we look at Jesus our Lords interpretation of the law.

From this point I want to cover an earlier blog because it has direct importance for our understanding of how Jesus perceived the law.

We cannot always see everything; The legal people of Jesus time completely missed the point; We also need to humble ourselves

When we look at the content of the law Bavinck mentions the three branches:

1.       Ceremonial

2.       Judicial

3.       Moral

He hits the nail on the head when he says that the law has not been abolished but fulfilled.  Bavinck ebbs the Bible when he says:

 “The shadows vanish when the body is present. What was merely a type in the Old Testament is now exactly what is completely spiritualized and realized. The form has changed; the essence is the same. All sacrifices and priests culminate and find their full realization in the one sacrifice and in the one high priest, in the same way that all the prophets and Davidic kings find their purpose realized in Christ.” (From Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; page 222)

Digression

I’ve just completed writing my commentary on Hebrews 7 and 8 and I can see Scripture from their imbibed in Bavinck here. From https://weaver1hasonline.international/

The reality of the law is here through Christ.  Heaven has broken into this earthly shadowy world.  The earthly tabernacle, the Levitical high priesthood and the sacrifice are only shadows of the reality.  If you read Hebrews chapters 7, 8 and 9 you will see this to be the case.   The prophets and the Davidic kings are correct as well.  In the book of Hebrews there is a shift of accent who the messiah is in light of the Prophets and the Psalms (Royal, Messianic Psalms).    We find this pattern in the quotations of the Old Testament in the argument of Hebrews.  (My own opinion is that Apollos wrote Hebrews) So, the whole Law in the Old Testament including the ceremonial, judicial and moral law finds its realization and fulfilment in Christ. (Page 222).

God and the Moral Law

Having said this when Bavinck talks about law from this moment it will be about the ‘moral law’.   This should not surprise us as he is writing his Reformed Ethics.  Focusing on the moral law Bavinck finds three types of interpreters in scholarship:

1.       “According to some this law is based solely on God’s will: something is good only because God says it is good.

2.       For others the law is based entirely on God’s being.

3.       And for a third group the moral law is based partly on God’s nature—such as the first table of the Decalogue—and partly on God’s free will, as is the case with needing to celebrate the Sabbath on the seventh day, the prohibitions of polygamy and theft, and so on.”  (Taken from page 223 of Reformed Ethics)

So, then we will find out whether or not the law is based on:

1.       God’s will.

2.       God’s being and or not

3.       God’s nature.

Sometimes what looks like a dispensation such as Hosea marrying a prostitute or Moses killing an Egyptian.  I think this covers aspects of ‘God’s will; What God allows.  They are only examples.  Herman is just giving us an outline he is not giving reasons why these things happened. (From Page 223). ’These and more are interesting facts, but Bavinck does not go into detail as he is moves on to the relationship of Law to God’s being (nature).

What Bavinck says about Gods Nature and Gods Law page 223

The law is unchangeable because God in his nature is unchangeable.  Bavinck explains the law is spiritual and he gives us some references as well.  He starts from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and also quotes St Paul and Psalms.  As well as these we can take into account (which Bavinck he also quotes):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt 22.37)

Both Jesus and the faithful followers of Christ see the law as spiritual.   Matthew chapter 5 is cited, and this is correct as Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (verse 17 for example.  This reference is mine and is not found on page 223).

Bavinck then give us some examples of what this content of the law actually means, and he summarizes this:

“Nothing, then, can be added to it (the law) or taken away from it (the law), because the law orders us to love God and our neighbour, which is everything and includes everything.” (Page 223)

So, then we are to be perfect just like our Heavenly Father.  So how does the law work?

In Bavinck’s own words concerning the law:

“(a) all prohibitions include their opposite as a commandment, and vice versa—divorce is prohibited, so chastity is commanded.

(b) under the heading of a Virtue or vice all corresponding items are included—for example, the commandment to honour one’s parents encompasses love and obedience, including those toward other authorities.

 (c) with an external sin, its source and cause are also condemned—for example, the prohibition against murder includes anger (cf. Matt. 5:22; 1 John 3:15) and even the pretence of anger (cf. 1 Thess. 5 :22).” (Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; page 223)

So, who can keep the whole law without sinning?  The answer is no one.  Bavinck understands the nature of the law that it includes aspects also that are ‘unwritten’.  This is a very important point.   With the interpretation he gives all have failed to reach the perfection of the law.  The Master theologian shows that here isn’t a single man on earth except Christ could fulfil this law.

Old Reflection

On content of the law Bavinck has managed to capture the essence of what the law of God actually means but I wonder why he didn’t tackle the question of how we can approach God’s presence under such heavy circumstances.  I think he will probably do this in section of his book in ‘Converted Humanity’ which he will, but I think the beatitudes’ are seriously important for the believer.  Especially the fist one of Jesus’ sayings:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 NASB

If you actually go through all the sayings of Jesus in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 one comes to a realization that no ordinary person will ever reach these standards.  When we come to God, we need to realize that we are spiritually dead (running on empty).   Jesus gives the oracles of God and according to the Law we are all locked up in sin.  Our best is never good enough.  This was a seriously bitter pill for the pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes to swallow.  However, we should not point the finger just at them this includes all of us whoever we are.  This was difficult for the Pharisees and Sadducees because as far as they could see, they kept all the written laws.  I actually think they did but then a bombshell hit; This also includes all the laws that were unwritten!

We have all sinned and for Christians there is only one way, Jesus Christ.  In Jesus God became a man, lived among us and died on a cross. On the third day by God’s Authority, he conquered death.  We can only approach God if we first realize we have done wrong and ask God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit for forgiveness.   Jesus is at the door of your heart.  Making Jesus Lord in your life means taking on a new way of living.

Mini reflection

So, from my point of view essentially for Jesus the essential interpretation of the law ought to be spiritual rather than ceremonial.  When we look at the beatitudes, we see a staircase into the Divine Presence.  We need to realize in our selves there is essentially nothing that is good enough to allow us into God’s presence.  The prophets emphasised humility before a Holy God on the other hand those who practised the law and the ceremonies got puffed up with self-importance.  Jesus pointed out the pharisees and the Sadducees because they were the (spiritual) religious leaders of the day.  For me giving a 21st century twist on the pharisees and the Sadducees; we see them in every walk of life trampling on those who are needy and giving bad advice on how to best serve God and relating to their neighbours.

Jesus our Lord was purifying the essentials when it came to the law:

  1. Love towards God
  2. Love towards the neighbour

As I read somewhere else in Herman Bavinck that Faith is the root and good works flows from this by grace. 

We are now ready to go back to Jesus’ sayings:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18

As I said earlier Jesus interpreted the law as spiritual.  What does Calvin have to say about this?

[The Following has been copied from The Ages Library]

<400517>Matthew 5:17. Think not. With regard to the perfection of his life,

Christ might justly have maintained that he came to fulfill the law: but here

he treats of doctrine, not of life. As he afterwards exclaimed, that “the

kingdom of God is come,” (<401228>Matthew 12:28,) and raised the minds

of men with unusual expectation, and even admitted disciples by baptism,

it is probable, that the minds of many were in a state of suspense and

doubt, and were eagerly inquiring, what was the design of that novelty.

Christ, therefore, now declares, that his doctrine is so far from being at

variance with the law, that it agrees perfectly with the law and the

prophets, and not only so, but brings the complete fulfillment of them.

There appear to have been chiefly two reasons, which induced him to

declare this agreement between the law and the Gospel. As soon as any

new method of teaching makes its appearance, the body of the people

immediately look upon it, as if everything were to be overturned. Now the

preaching of the Gospel, as I mentioned a little ago, tended to raise the

expectation, that the Church would assume a totally different form from

what had previously belonged to it. They thought that the ancient and

accustomed government was to be abolished. This opinion, in many

respects, was very dangerous. Devout worshippers of God would never

have embraced the Gospel, if it had been a revolt from the law; while light

and turbulent spirits would eagerly have seized on an occasion offered to

them for entirely overthrowing the state of religion: for we know in what

insolent freaks rash people are ready to indulge when there is any thing

new.

Besides, Christ saw that the greater part of the Jews, though they

professed to believe the Law, were profane and degenerate. The condition

of the people was so decayed, every thing was filled with so many

corruptions, and the negligence or malice of the priests had so completely

extinguished the pure light of doctrine, that there no longer remained any

reverence for the Law. But if a new kind of doctrine had been introduced,

which would destroy the authority of the Law and the Prophets, religion

would have sustained a dreadful injury. This appears to be the first reason,

236

why Christ declared that he had not come to destroy the Law. Indeed, the

context makes this abundantly clear: for he immediately adds, by way of

confirmation, that it is impossible for even one point of the Law to fail,—

and pronounces a curse on those teachers who do not faithfully labor to

maintain its authority.

The second reason was, to refute the wicked slander which, he knew was

brought against him by the ignorant and unlearned. This charge, it is

evident, had been fastened on his doctrine by the scribes: for he proceeds

immediately to direct his discourse against them. We must keep in mind

the object which Christ had in view. While he invites and exhorts the Jews

to receive the Gospel, he still retains them in obedience to the Law; and, on

the other hand, he boldly refutes the base reproaches and slanders, by

which his enemies labored to make his preaching infamous or suspected.

If we intend to reform affairs which are in a state of disorder, we must

always exercise such prudence and moderation, as will convince the

people, that we do not oppose the eternal Word of God, or introduce any

novelty that is contrary to Scripture. We must take care, that no suspicion

of such contrariety shall injure the faith of the godly, and that rash men

shall not be emboldened by a pretense of novelty. In short, we must

endeavor to oppose a profane contempt of the Word of God, and to

prevent religion from being despised by the ignorant. The defense which

Christ makes, to free his doctrine from slanders, ought to encourage us, if

we are now exposed to the same calumnies. That crime was charged against

Paul, that he was an apostate from the law of God, (<442121>Acts 21:21)

and we need not, therefore, wonder, if the Papists endeavor, in the same

manner, to render us odious. Following the example of Christ, we ought to

clear ourselves from false accusations, and, at the same time, to profess the

truth freely, though it may expose us to unjust reproaches.

I am not come to destroy. God had, indeed, promised a new covenant at the

coming of Christ; but had, at the same time, showed, that it would not be

different from the first, but that, on the contrary, its design was, to give a

perpetual sanction to the covenant, which he had made from the beginning,

with his own people.

“I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts, and I will remember

their iniquities no more,” (<243133>Jeremiah 31:33, 34.) f370

237

By these words he is so far from departing from the former covenant, that,

on the contrary, he declares, that it will be confirmed and ratified, when it

shall be succeeded by the new. This is also the meaning of Christ’s words,

when he says, that he came to fulfill the law: for he actually fulfilled it, by

quickening, with his Spirit, the dead letter, and then exhibiting, in reality,

what had hitherto appeared only in figures.

With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ

has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a

devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice

of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect to

ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it

was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more

fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from

ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of

shadows: for, when we see their full effect, we acknowledge that they are

not vain or useless. Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred

tie between the law and the Gospel, which many improperly attempt to

break. For it contributes not a little to confirm the authority of the Gospel,

when we learn, that it is nothing else than a fulfillment of the law; so that

both, with one consent, declare God to be their Author.

So then I also found it interesting that there is a quotation from Jeremiah:

“I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts, and I will remember

their iniquities no more,” (Jeremiah 31:33, 34.)

Reflection

As far as Jesus’ teachings are concerned Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and by faith, we have had God’s law ‘written on our hearts’ by the Holy Spirit.  There is nothing here external about the law as it has been written onto the tablet of our hearts.  The truth is we were dead twigs and the Holy Spirit brought us back to life that we can once again worship a Holy God.  The Sermon on the mount drills down into the intentions and attitudes of the human being and shows the filth of fake worship towards God.  Jesus also gives us the remedy that by believing in Him and obeying him, through the beatitudes by the Holy Spirit we can once again worship in Spirit and truth.

Jesus said to his disciples;”You are the Light of the World.” What does this actually mean?

June 9, 2022

Our Lord and Saviour explains to us his disciples that we are the light of the world. Our question today is; How are we the light of the world? I hope to answer this question today through some references from both the Old and New Testaments.

You are the light of the world

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Chiasms also exist throughout the Old Testament.

Jeff A. Benner wrote:

“As Hebrew poetry is written much differently than our own Western style of poetry, many do not recognize the poetry which can cause problems when translating or interpreting passages written in poetry.

Approximately 75% of the Hebrew Bible is poetry. All of Psalms and Proverbs are Hebrew poetry and many other books, such as the book of Genesis, are filled with poetry. The reason much of the Bible was written in poetry is that it was originally sung and stories that are sung are much easier to memorize that when simply spoken. There is much more poetry in the Bible than most realize because most people do not understand it.

The most common form of poetry in the Hebrew Bible is parallelisms, which is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways.”

[From: ancient-hebrew.org/poetry/about-hebrew-parallelism-called-chiasmus.htm]

It shouldn’t surprise us that our Lord used Chiasms in the Gospels especially in the Sermon on the Mount.  Last time was saw that light is a powerful metaphor in religions of the World.  After God created formless matter He then spoke:

“The Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 Genesis 1:1-5”

John’s Gospel is also interesting because he builds on the above motif:

“The Deity of Jesus Christ

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5”

Then in the I Am sayings Jesus says the following:

“Jesus Is the Light of the World

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12”

When we read Jesus’ sayings on his disciples being the light of the World.  We need to remember where we came from in the Sermon on the Mount.  Before Jesus said these words, he taught us what his disciples are supposed to be through the beatitudes.   We see a direct correlation with Jesus who is the genuine, real, only, Light of the World.  As disciples of Jesus, we share this light with Him as we walk the walk of faith in complete trust and obedience by grace.  There is a direct correlation between light as a metaphor and the moral walk with God.  There is a direct relationship on How Jesus lived and how the disciple are supposed to live by the Help of the Holy Spirit. We can go on there is a direct relationship with the death and resurrection of Jesus and so on.

When Jesus came, he did not do away with the Old Testament. He is the Fulfillment of the Old Testament.  God’s Moral litmus test cannot be reached by any human in their own capacity. This is what we already learned in the Beatitudes.  The other sects in Israel at the time failed the litmus test of the beatitudes.  It is only when one lets go of one’s pride and allows God to be in the driving seat through grace, faith, attitude and the enabling by the Holy Spirit who can bring a dead twig back to life.  We were the dead twigs my friends but by God grace we were made alive to follow our Saviour.

However, I just want to return to the saying about the disciples being the Salt of the Earth.  Salt is also a metaphor in other religion, but I just want to focus on the relations of salt to light in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

The salt and light metaphors are saying the same thing except:

This structure is composed of two parallel parables. The former is negative, and the latter is positive. Readers are expected to become the latter one.

[From; bible.literarystructure.info/bible/40_Matthew_pericope_e.html#14

I think the work of Hajime Murai from the Future University Hakodate is very interesting because he has used IT to try to trace all of the chiasms in the Bible. If I did that by reading it would be an impossible task.]

I think the work of Hajime Murai from the Future University Hakodate is very interesting because he has used IT to try to trace all of the chiasms in the Bible. If I did that by reading it would be an impossible task.]

Reflections

Scholars say that the world is made up of science, ethics and aesthetics.   Obviously, God who created the universe is the greatest of artists, ethicists and artists and we can only be a pale image of the genuine thing.   In Christ however we are under the shadow of heaven and our home is not of this earth.  Even as Abraham believed God and he left his home we too in the same manner hope to reach the same city ‘made without hands’.

Scripture is full of Truth Goodness and Beauty.  Our Saviour is the greatest of artists and teachers who through his beautiful words prepared a path to heaven itself for us to walk.  Let us walk this Trinitarian path to the Father by ‘the Two hands of God’ (the Son and the Holy Spirit (a saying by Irenaeus that Professor Gunton liked to quote while I was at kings College London))

The Teleological Argument and Herman Bavinck

June 5, 2022

Objections to the teleological argument

Bavinck saw that there were scholars who denied the teleological grounds and purpose of creation:

“First of all, materialism asserts that there is no purpose in things, and the teleological interpretation of nature must give way to the mechanical one. Pantheism, moreover, affirms that the presence of order and purpose in the universe gives us absolutely no warrant to posit the existence of a conscious, intelligent cause since, both in the case of the individual human and that of the world as a whole, the unconscious functions with more wisdom and certainty than conscious reflection and deliberate calculation. Finally, Kant raised the objection that this argument at most leads to a world-shaper not to a World creator” (pages 82 to 83)

Bavinck Replies to these objections

In this section Bavinck answers the objectors firstly through Jewish Christian writings.  After this he will show that the Ancient Greek Philosophers held to idea that nature has purpose.

The Jewish Christian World view as found in Scripture

Bavinck the Master Theologian begins by turning to Scripture and here we see that there is purpose in Creation:

Genesis 1 shows us that God gave creation a purpose and ‘it was good’:

The Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day.

14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Genesis 1

We then have Wisdom calling out to us!

“Does not wisdom call,

And understanding lift up her voice? “Proverbs 8:1

All things belong to Christ:

“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

As believers in Christ God’s purposes are working themselves out in His love every day:

“28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

The ancient Greek philosophers

Here are some Greek philosophers that Bavinck points to who actually used the teleological arguments.

  • Anaxagoras
  • Socrates
  • Plato
  • Aristotle

At this point he just gave these names as a matter of fact.  If you want to follow this through you can read the notes below taken from Wikipedia.  I included the notes here though for those who wanted to know what the Greek philosophers were thinking.  

In his argument Bavinck reminds us that purpose can be seen in such things as:

  • The seasons
  • Water temperature
  • Fertilization of Plants
  • Blood circulation
  • Organisms such as the hand or the eye

We could go on with his examples, but he says that Homers Iliad could not have come into being by chance.  This means other things too.

Before continuing into Bavinck and his view on Darwin’s natural selection arguments.  We need a basic idea of what it is.   In a nutshell:

“Darwin proposed a theory of the survival of the fittest by natural selection. The fittest, healthiest members of a species survive, and their characteristics become a part of the character of the species.” (From scandalon.co.uk/philosophy/teleological_mill_darwin.htm)

This theory of evolution has been a bomb shell as it gives a reason not to believe in a deity.  Having said that I don’t think even Darwin envisaged this and how this idea of the ‘fittest surviving’ could lead to the atrocities committed by Germany in WW2. 

The Nazis milked Nietzsche’s idea of the “Superman” for themselves:

“The Italian and German fascist regimes were eager to lay claim to Nietzsche’s ideas, and to position themselves as inspired by them. In 1932, Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, received a bouquet of roses from Adolf Hitler during a German premiere of Benito Mussolini’s 100 Days, and in 1934 Hitler personally presented her with a wreath for Nietzsche’s grave carrying the words “To A Great Fighter”. Also in 1934, Elisabeth gave to Hitler Nietzsche’s favourite walking stick, and Hitler was photographed gazing into the eyes of a white marble bust of Nietzsche.[23] Heinrich Hoffmann’s popular biography Hitler as Nobody Knows Him (which sold nearly a half-million copies by 1938) featured this photo with the caption reading: “The Führer before the bust of the German philosopher whose ideas have fertilized two great popular movements: the national socialist of Germany and the fascist of Italy.”” 

From en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influence_and_reception_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche

Following this recipe of the Superman deifies Man as ‘divine’ and gives him control over the elements.  Whenever man is made divine the world runs into serious problems. 

However, we also need to remember that natural selection was never a new idea.  The Greek philosophers of Ancient Greece looked at its philosophical implications and was rejected by Aristotle, one of the greatest minds of the ancient world. Aristotle fell on the teleological side of natural selection:

“   So what hinders the different parts [of the body] from having this merely accidental relation in nature? as the teeth, for example, grow by necessity, the front ones sharp, adapted for dividing, and the grinders flat, and serviceable for masticating the food; since they were not made for the sake of this, but it was the result of accident. And in like manner as to the other parts in which there appears to exist an adaptation to an end. Wheresoever, therefore, all things together (that is all the parts of one whole) happened like as if they were made for the sake of something, these were preserved, having been appropriately constituted by an internal spontaneity, and whatsoever things were not thus constituted, perished, and still perish.

    — Aristotle, Physics, Book II, Chapter 8[7]

But Aristotle rejected this possibility in the next paragraph, making clear that he is talking about the development of animals as embryos with the phrase “either invariably or normally come about”, not the origin of species:

    … Yet it is impossible that this should be the true view. For teeth and all other natural things either invariably or normally come about in a given way; but of not one of the results of chance or spontaneity is this true. We do not ascribe to chance or mere coincidence the frequency of rain in winter, but frequent rain in summer we do; nor heat in the dog-days, but only if we have it in winter. If then, it is agreed that things are either the result of coincidence or for an end, and these cannot be the result of coincidence or spontaneity, it follows that they must be for an end; and that such things are all due to nature even the champions of the theory which is before us would agree. Therefore, action for an end is present in things which come to be and are by nature.

    — Aristotle, Physics, Book II, Chapter ” From en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection

Darwin Summarized his ideas on Natural Selection:

   “ If during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their organisation, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to the high geometrical powers of increase of each species, at some age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each being’s own welfare, in the same way as so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterised will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance, they will tend to produce offspring similarly characterised. This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection.

    — Darwin summarising natural selection in the fourth chapter of On the Origin of Species”

From en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection

Natural selection is not the problem.  It becomes a problem when the theory is used to deny the existence of God.   We are now ready to turn to Herman Bavinck and think about what he has to say.

Bavinck says that the initial characterization of Darwinism was one of substitution.  Substituting purpose for cause.  This brought to the fore how important teleological views are. As Bavinck continues one of natural selections goals was to explain how things worked (‘functionality of things’). ‘Matter, force and motion’ fails to explain everything rather direction is needed too.  As Bavinck says, ‘direction is inconceivable without purpose.’ The latest research around the turn of the century ‘Teleology and causality certainly do not exclude each other’.

Bavinck goes on to say that there is also room for the teleological world view for ‘mechanical causality’.  However, Bavinck warns that trying to explain ‘all phenomena’ found in our world would be a serious mistake.  There are limits then even for teleology. Teleology can be used for:

  • Matter
  • Metabolism
  • Conscious
  • Mental

However, Bavinck explains to us that not all intelligentsia agree with teleological arguments but rather there are those who try to disprove teleology.  

Bavinck points to a scholar from 1900 Von Hartmann who took the opposite view to teleology. ‘Instinct’ as ‘an unconscious lack of cogency’ is argued by Hartmann.  However even in the product of instinct it still points to a preconceived purpose.

Bavinck makes the point that even if teleology points to a World-shaper this is going in the right direction.  {With the context I think Bavinck may mean World shaper = One who forms creation from something already there instead of ex nihilo (the Christian view of God the Creator.  I’m not 100% sure at the moment)} There are other objections but on a practical level:

“Everything here depends on the presence of purpose in the world.  Once this is established the existence of consciousness of a Supreme Being are implied.”

Reformed Dogmatics; Herman Bavinck; Volume 2; page 83

Reflection

Darwin could not see the big picture on how the world works and how his natural selection fits in.  Sad to say, the idea of ‘natural selection’ when divorced from the existence of a Creator put Man in the driver’s seat. This ideology led to the Holocaust tempered with anti-Semitism. 20 million Russians also died because of Stalin.

When the Creator is denied something else has to fill the vacuum and we know from human history that death and destruction follows. 

With teleology a relational harmony takes place between God and nature; between the Creator and creature.

With God as Creator, ethics is tempered by God’s revelation from Scripture and nature that the world has purpose and reason to exist.

Bavinck reminds us that by God’s grace the world runs.  The world is not an accident and as custodians of nature here on earth we have a responsibility to put God in his rightful place by better taking care of the natural world.

Notes on the Greek Philosophers and the Teleological argument

Anaxagoras

(Taken from ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaxagoras)

“Anaxagoras brought philosophy and the spirit of scientific inquiry from Ionia to Athens. According to Anaxagoras all things have existed in some way from the beginning, but originally they existed in infinitesimally small fragments of themselves, endless in number and inextricably combined throughout the universe. All things existed in this mass, but in a confused and indistinguishable form. There was an infinite number of homogeneous parts (ὁμοιομερῆ) as well as heterogeneous ones.

The work of arrangement, the segregation of like from unlike and the summation of the whole into totals of the same name, was the work of Mind or Reason (νοῦς). Mind is no less unlimited than the chaotic mass, but it stood pure and independent, a thing of finer texture, alike in all its manifestations and everywhere the same. This subtle agent, possessed of all knowledge and power, is especially seen ruling in all the forms of life.[d] Its first appearance, and the only manifestation of it which Anaxagoras describes, is Motion. It gave distinctness and reality to the aggregates of like parts.”

Socrates and the pre-Socratics

(From ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Socrates_and_the_pre-Socratics)

“The argument from intelligent design appears to have begun with Socrates, although the concept of a cosmic intelligence is older and David Sedley has argued that Socrates was developing an older idea, citing Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, as a possible earlier proponent.[13][14][15] The proposal that the order of nature showed evidence of having its own human-like “intelligence” goes back to the origins of Greek natural philosophy and science, and its attention to the orderliness of nature, often with special reference to the revolving of the heavens. Anaxagoras is the first person who is definitely known to have explained such a concept using the word “nous” (which is the original Greek term that leads to modern English “intelligence” via its Latin and French translations). Aristotle reports an earlier philosopher from Clazomenae named Hermotimus who had taken a similar position.[16] Amongst Pre-Socratic philosophers before Anaxagoras, other philosophers had proposed a similar intelligent ordering principle causing life and the rotation of the heavens. For example Empedocles, like Hesiod much earlier, described cosmic order and living things as caused by a cosmic version of love,[17] and Pythagoras and Heraclitus attributed the cosmos with “reason” (logos).[18] In his Philebus 28c Plato has Socrates speak of this as a tradition, saying that “all philosophers agree—whereby they really exalt themselves—that mind (nous) is king of heaven and earth. Perhaps they are right.” and later states that the ensuing discussion “confirms the utterances of those who declared of old that mind (nous) always rules the universe”.”

Plato and Aristotle

(Taken from ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Plato_and_Aristotle)

Plato’s Timaeus is presented as a description of someone who is explaining a “likely story” in the form of a myth, and so throughout history commentators have disagreed about which elements of the myth can be seen as the position of Plato.[15]: 132  Sedley (2007) nevertheless calls it “the creationist manifesto” and points out that although some of Plato’s followers denied that he intended it, in classical times writers such as Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, and Galen all understood Plato as proposing the world originated in an “intelligent creative act”.[15]: 133  Plato has a character explain the concept of a “demiurge” with supreme wisdom and intelligence as the creator of the cosmos in his work.

Plato’s teleological perspective is also built upon the analysis of a priori order and structure in the world that he had already presented in The Republic. The story does not propose creation ex nihilo; rather, the demiurge made order from the chaos of the cosmos, imitating the eternal Forms.[22]

    Plato’s world of eternal and unchanging Forms, imperfectly represented in matter by a divine Artisan, contrasts sharply with the various mechanistic Weltanschauungen, of which atomism was, by the 4th century at least, the most prominent… This debate was to persist throughout the ancient world. Atomistic mechanism got a shot in the arm from Epicurus… while the Stoics adopted a divine teleology… The choice seems simple: either show how a structured, regular world could arise out of undirected processes, or inject intelligence into the system.[23]

    — R. J. Hankinson, Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought

Plato’s student and friend Aristotle (c. 384 – 322 BC), continued the Socratic tradition of criticising natural scientists such as Democritus who sought (as in modern science) to explain everything in terms of matter and chance motion. He was very influential in the future development of classical creationism, but was not a straightforward “creationist” because he required no creation interventions in nature, meaning he “insulated god from any requirement to intervene in nature, either as creator or as administrator”.[15]: 204  Instead of direct intervention by a creator it is “scarcely an exaggeration to say that for Aristotle the entire functioning of the natural world, as also the heavens, is ultimately to be understood as a shared striving towards godlike actuality”.[15]: 171  And whereas the myth in the Timaeus suggests that all living things are based on one single paradigm, not one for each species, and even tells a story of “devolution” whereby other living things devolved from humans, it was Aristotle who presented the influential idea that each type of normal living thing must be based on a fixed paradigm or form for that species.[15]

Aristotle felt that biology was a particularly important example of a field where materialist natural science ignored information which was needed in order to understand living things well. For example birds use wings for the purpose of flight.[24] Therefore the most complete explanation in regard to the natural, as well as the artificial, is for the most part teleological.[25] In fact, proposals that species had changed by chance survival of the fittest, similar to what is now called “natural selection”, were already known to Aristotle, and he rejected these with the same logic.[25][26][27][28][29] He conceded that monstrosities (new forms of life) could come about by chance,[30][31] but he disagreed with those who ascribed all nature purely to chance[32] because he believed science can only provide a general account of that which is normal, “always, or for the most part”.[33] The distinction between what is normal, or by nature, and what is “accidental”, or not by nature, is important in Aristotle’s understanding of nature. As pointed out by Sedley, “Aristotle is happy to say (Physics II 8, 199a33-b4) without the slightest fear of blasphemy, crafts make occasional mistakes; therefore, by analogy, so can nature.”[15]: 186  According to Aristotle the changes which happen by nature are caused by their “formal causes”, and for example in the case of a bird’s wings there is also a final cause which is the purpose of flying. He explicitly compared this to human technology:

    If then what comes from art is for the sake of something, it is clear that what come from nature is too […] This is clear most of all in the other animals, which do nothing by art, inquiry, or deliberation; for which reason some people are completely at a loss whether it is by intelligence or in some other way that spiders, ants, and such things work. […] It is absurd to think that a thing does not happen for the sake of something if we do not see what sets it in motion deliberating. […] This is most clear when someone practices medicine himself on himself; for nature is like that.

    — Aristotle, Physics, II 8.[34]

The question of how to understand Aristotle’s conception of nature having a purpose and direction something like human activity is controversial in the details. Martha Nussbaum for example has argued that in his biology this approach was practical and meant to show nature only being analogous to human art, explanations of an organ being greatly informed by knowledge of its essential function.[25] Nevertheless, Nussbaum’s position is not universally accepted. In any case, Aristotle was not understood this way by his followers in the Middle Ages, who saw him as consistent with monotheistic religion and a teleological understanding of all nature. Consistent with the medieval interpretation, in his Metaphysics and other works Aristotle clearly argued a case for there being one highest god or “prime mover” which was the ultimate cause, though specifically not the material cause, of the eternal forms or natures which cause the natural order, including all living things.[citation needed] He clearly refers to this entity having an intellect that humans somehow share in, which helps humans see the true natures or forms of things without relying purely on sense perception of physical things, including living species. This understanding of nature, and Aristotle’s arguments against materialist understandings of nature, were very influential in the Middle Ages in Europe. The idea of fixed species remained dominant in biology until Darwin, and a focus upon biology is still common today in teleological criticisms of modern science.

A general Introduction to Light as a metaphor in the religions of the world.

May 29, 2022

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Before we start to delve into the depths of the above verses let us first have a general discussion of light.

The world of light until the 19th century is not the same world we live in today.  We take it for granted that electricity keeps the lights running and this is generally clean.  I remember the time as a student teacher we had a trip to the British Museum, and I held a clay oil lamp in my hand that was thousands of years old.  It was very smooth, light and beautiful to look at. So then where there was light, there would have been smoke and the smell of burning.  Most ancient cities were set on a hill or a tell and the surrounding country sides would have had small villages.  It would be interesting to envisage coming up to one of these cities at midnight.  Even though the houses would have had oil lamps burning, the cities at night-time would have really stood out. Jerusalem sits on a hill, and I think it is quite possible that Jesus may have used it as an object lesson for his hearers from where he preached. Matthew says it was a mountain, but Luke says:

“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, Luke 6:17”

What about how light is used as a symbol generally?

Light is one of the most powerful motifs in the religions.  Light is a universal phenomenon that touches all of life on this earth. It is no wonder that all the religions use light as a metaphor for aspects of divine realities.  At the level of God as Creator there can be real discussion among the religions.  Obviously when it comes to the particulars of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and other religions we go are separate ways.  Every religion has a right to their own belief systems.  Liberal theology which tries to talk about religion ‘evolving’ have made a categorical mistake and it is disrespectful to all religions because it does not respect their exclusivity.  The exclusivity comes from the concept of the Divine Infinite breaking into our space and time.  As a devoted follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are blessed to have the Bible, the word of God which reveals the True Word (Logos) of God to us.  Let us hold onto our exclusivity but still love our neighbour (which we may or may not agree with).  The following are quotes from World Scripture; A comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts;  pages 380 through to 383:

In the following section I have taken some passages that were prepared by world experts on the religions:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

Judaism and Christianity” Psalm 119.105

“The truth has come, and falsehood has vanished away. Surely falsehood is ever certain to vanish”

Islam Quran 17.85

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.

The parable of His Light

is as if there were a Niche,

and within it a Lamp;

the Lamp enclosed in Glass:

The Glass as it were a brilliant star:

Lit from a blessed Tree, _

an olive neither of the East nor of the West,

whose oil is well—nigh luminous,

though fire scarce touched it.

Light upon Light!

God guides whom He will to His Light:

God sets forth parables for men, and God

knows all things.”

Islam. Qur’an 24.35

“Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars nor the lightning—nor, verily, fire kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shines; everything shines”

Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 5.15

“It is wonderful, Lord! It is as if, Lord, one might set upright that which had been upturned, or might reveal what was hidden, or might point out the path to one who had gone astray or might bring an oil lamp into the darkness so that those with eyes might see material shapes.”

Buddhism. Udana. 49

“The holy Preceptor by the Word lighted a lamp;

Thereby was shattered darkness of the temple of the self,

And the unique chamber of jewels thrown open.

Wonderstruck were we in extreme on beholding it—

Its greatness beyond expression.”

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Bilaval, M5, p. 821

“The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. 36 If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.” Luke 11:34-36

“The Atman is the light:

The light is covered by darkness:

This darkness is delusion:

That is why we dream.

When the light of Atman

Drives out our darkness

That light shines forth from us,

A sun in splendour,

The revealed Brahman”

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 5.15-16 (Note: Brahman ins the ‘Unknowable’ e.g.  God)

The candidate obtains this mystical light

after long hours of waiting, sitting on a bend}

in his hut and invoking the spirits. When he

experiences it for the first time, it is as if the

house in which he is suddenly rises, he sees far

ahead of him, through mountains, exactly as if

the earth were one great plain, and his eyes

could reach to the end of the earth. Nothing is

hidden from him any longer; not only can he

see things far, far away, but he can also discover

souls, stolen souls, which are either kept concealed in far, strange lands or have been taken

up or down to the Land of the Dead;

Native American Religions.

Iglulik Eskimo Shaman Initiation

“Those who believe will stand alongside [the Prophet], their light streaming on ahead of them and to their right. They will say, “Our Lord, perfect our light for us, and forgive us!”

Islam. Qur’an 66.8

Reflection

Jesus is the True light of the World and all who come to him will be saved:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

Then in Matthews Gospel he says the disciple are the ‘Light of the world’. 

 “You are the light of the world…”; Matthew 5:14

Let us then ‘walk in the light’ by Faith in Christ following our Light House.  The One who is our compass into everlasting life.  The True Light has broken into our space and time.  Jesus our Lighthouse lived a holy life, died on a cross and was resurrected, giving us the same hope of eternal life; as disciples we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit who will guide our ship through the many storms of life and to the eternal safe harbour. All people no matter what background, no matter what religion or no religion are invited to follow Christ:

“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” Romans 10:9-13; NASB from Olive Tree Bible Software.

The Great Chef says that at the eschaton ‘everyone will be salted with fire’

May 22, 2022

What does this mean?

No life can survive without salt!   If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see that lots of animal’s such as the Alpine Ibex lick salt.   One example I saw was the Alpine Ibex climbing the concrete water dam to find their salt.

The thing about salt is that if you have too much, it can kill you.   But if you don’t have enough, it can kill you as well.   So, it’s very important for life itself.   Salt is very interesting because if it’s too much of it in some region, you’ll notice that those areas where there’s too much salt that all life is dead.

There is no life where there’s too much salt yet.  The oceans have got plenty of salt and the oceans are absolutely thriving with life.

It doesn’t surprise me that many religions and cultures around the world use salt in their in their everyday rituals and things.

In today’s discussion, we’re going to begin by looking at salt in general, from the Old Testament and find verses and see what we can learn.

After we’ve done that, we’re going to look at what Jesus means when he says that we are the salt of the earth.

The covenant of salt

….jtsa.edu/torah/a-covenant-of-salt/

…en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_in_the_Bible

“The role of salt in the Bible is relevant to understanding Hebrew society during the Old Testament and New Testament periods. Salt is a necessity of life and was a mineral that was used since ancient times in many cultures as a seasoning, a preservative, a disinfectant, a component of ceremonial offerings, and as a unit of exchange. The Bible contains numerous references to salt. In various contexts, it is used metaphorically to signify permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value, and purification.”

Let us begin by reading some texts on salt from Matthew, Mark Luke and John:

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:42-50

Discipleship Tested

25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:25-35

Commentary starter

Salt is mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Matthew

In Matthew we learned about the beatitudes.  Matthew focused more on the inner life of the believer and ended with the objective effects of what it means to follow Christ.

Mark

Mark is a lot more about the judgement of God and here everyone ‘will be sprinkled with salt’.  Salt here is a metaphor in which the disciples and those who are not disciples will be tested which includes a metaphor of hell:

 ‘[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]’

Luke

Luke is writing in context of the disciples being tested. How committed are we in following Christ?

Reflection

The Judgement of God begins with the Church, and we are to be ‘salted by fire’.  Will the fire burn up all our so-called good works? Or will the salt of the Gospel enhance and taste God’s good work in us by the Great Chef.  How will we fair on the Day of Judgement, on the day of God’s wrath?

Digging deeper

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13

Jesus is talking directly to his disciples, and he says that our walk with God ought to be ‘spicy’.  The opposite of spicy is ‘not spicy’.  As believers in Christ how spicy are we for the Gospel?   My point of view is that we need God’s grace working in our lives to really spice things up and bring more souls into the Kingdom of God.

Do Pets Go To heaven? Dealing with the death of our pets.

May 14, 2022

Will Leo our Pet rabbit go to heaven at the Eschaton?

This week we lost a pet Rabbit. His name was Leo and we had him for about seven years.   I have to say that Leo has taught me a lot about love and compassion.   I’m not one of these people that believes that animals don’t have sentience.   I believe that animals were created by God. I also believe that there are animals in heaven. 

And why do I think this? 

Well, for example? 

Elijah was taken to heaven by a chariot of horses and animals, obviously in the Bible had a certain amount of intelligence. For example, when God commanded a donkey to speak to its owner, or the owner would have been killed by an Angel, or the time when the Ravens were commanded to go and feed Elijah. So, animals are very very pecial. Now for a lot of people they want to know if their pet is going to heaven. 

My own personal opinion is that I actually believe that pets can go to heaven.   I never really thought of it that deeply, but when you’ve been working with a pet and you’ve taken care of them and they’ve been your friend. And you see them every day and you do things with them. The thing about Leo was that he was bilingual. We spoke two languages. We spoke in Finnish, and we spoke in English. 

Every day I used to cut very fine apple for him because he wasn’t well and I’d say Leo,

“Where could the apple be? Where could it be?  He got really excited, and he would run around looking for it. He just he just ebbed with intelligence. 

But the main question today is: 

Is Leo in heaven?

Is there a possibility that Leo is in heaven?

Is there a possibility he’s going to be here after the resurrection at the end times? 

My conclusion is actually yes. 

I actually believe that animals, pets, especially, Comeback. It’s actually an indirect route in Scripture But I think that it’s a very interesting route. 

The first place I would probably start is before the Fall. One group God created the heavens and the earth We saw that.   When he created each part, he’d said that it was ‘good’. It was good. It was good so from God’s perspective when he created everything, it was good. It wasn’t bad. And I think that it’s important to start here even after the Fall. The world still gives us our food. It rains for us. 

You know, lots of good things come to us from the earth. So, it’s still good within some Christian traditions. It seems to be a little bit gnostic. 

What I mean is that when it comes to the material world, there’s a negativity about the material world that that it’s somehow bad. Just because there was a fall Doesn’t mean that everything is bad, they’re still good there. 

Now it is the case that. The main the main people Group that are going to find this salvic salvation or are believers who believe in Jesus Christ Where does that leave the theater? 

The theater that where we live the theater is our world. We’re on the stage and each of us has to play a part. I got some information from Herman Bavinck in his volume four of the reformed.  In there, after we’ve had our salvation, and that work is concluded. 

Even the world itself, the universe itself. Will be renewed. The world itself is going to be ‘born again’. 

It’s going to be regenerated. It’s going to be renewed. if the world is going to be regenerated and renewed, what does that actually mean? 

What a boring place it would be if there weren’t any animals. You know after the eschaton and we’ve gone to be to live with the Lord. My main drive really now is to go through that section of a Bavincks writings And to think about how creation is going to be re renewed. 

Obviously, it doesn’t directly say that Leo is going to be in heaven but if the whole world is regenerated.

Anyhow, the main thrust now is going to be to go through that section, and you might find you don’t have to read the whole section, but I just need to dig deep into what he actually says. 

I’m going to look at the verses a lot more closely than usual. The reason I’m going to look a lot more closely is because I want an answer to my question. Is Leo going to be with us in the resurrection? 

And that that to me is an important question. And I think that there are lots of people who’ve been thinking about other pets going to heaven. I have to say that the church doesn’t want to give any sort of answer to that sort of question for me it’s a very, very important question. 

My pet rabbit or our pet rabbit has brought me to the conclusion that animals have got lots of love and empathy and they’ve got a lot of feeling power. They have soft logic, but they also show filial love and devotion to their masters (good masters). 

Humans have hard logic. That’s why in a sense that we were created the image of God. The reason why this world ended up in a mess is because of the fall because of sin; Because we’re selfish, we put ourselves first, but it was never meant to be that way. 

Leo and the New Creation

In the end of time what will happen to this world and all the creature in it?

There are two extreme views:

  • The world will carry on the way it has forever
  • The world will be completely destroyed and replaced by a new one.

Scripture rejects both these views and is somewhere in the middle. 

  • The first view builds on the work of Aristotle into the present age.
  • The second view presumes that there is nothing worth salvaging in this world.

Both these conclusions are wrong, and we need to follow through what Scripture says.  The argumentation that I will be using is found in the Reformed Dogmatics volume 4 written by Herman Bavinck.

At the Eschaton of the Day of Judgement, Scripture is very graphic and there will be perishing but not complete dissolution of the elements.  This second part we will touch on later but not yet. Let us consider some verses:

20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner,

To set free those who were doomed to death, Psalms 102:20

4 And all the host of heaven will wear away,

And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;

All their hosts will also wither away

As a leaf withers from the vine,

Or as one withers from the fig tree. Isaiah 34:4

6 “Lift up your eyes to the sky,

Then look to the earth beneath;

For the sky will vanish like smoke,

And the earth will wear out like a garment

And its inhabitants will die in like manner;

But My salvation will be forever,

And My righteousness will not wane.

7 “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,

A people in whose heart is My law;

Do not fear the reproach of man,

Nor be dismayed at their revilings.

8 “For the moth will eat them like a garment,

And the grub will eat them like wool.

But My righteousness will be forever,

And My salvation to all generations.”

9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;

Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.

Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces,

Who pierced the dragon?

10 Was it not You who dried up the sea,

The waters of the great deep;

Who made the depths of the sea a pathway

For the redeemed to cross over?

11 So the ransomed of the LORD will return

And come with joyful shouting to Zion,

And everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy,

And sorrow and sighing will flee away.

12 “I, even I, am He who comforts you.

Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies

And of the son of man who is made like grass,

13 That you have forgotten the LORD your Maker,

Who stretched out the heavens

And laid the foundations of the earth,

That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor,

As he makes ready to destroy?

But where is the fury of the oppressor?

14 The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking. 15 For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name). 16 I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” Isaiah 51:6-16

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

18 “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing

And her people for gladness.

19 “I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people;

And there will no longer be heard in her

The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.

20 “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,

Or an old man who does not live out his days;

For the youth will die at the age of one hundred

And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred

Will be thought accursed.

21 “They will build houses and inhabit them;

They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

22 “They will not build and another inhabit,

They will not plant and another eat;

For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people,

And My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands.

23 “They will not labor in vain,

Or bear children for calamity;

For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD,

And their descendants with them.

24 It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD. Isaiah 65:17-25

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth

Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD,

“So your offspring and your name will endure.

23 “And it shall be from new moon to new moon

And from sabbath to sabbath,

All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD.

24 “Then they will go forth and look

On the corpses of the men

Who have transgressed against Me.

For their worm will not die

And their fire will not be quenched;

And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” Isaiah 66:22-24

Bavinck makes the point that ‘abad’ (to perish) when used on its own never means an absolute destruction of the substance of the world.  Indeed, when it comes to the judgement of God Hell does not only mean being separated from their creator but that they will live with this ‘ever conscious torment’.  The soul and spirit are not destroyed. 

He then looks at the word ‘create’ (bara).  He makes the point that it does not always mean ‘God creating from nothing’ (ex nihilo).   Bavinck then gives us a set of single verses:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. Isaiah 65:17

20 You have seen many things, but you do not observe them;

Your ears are open, but none hears. Isaiah 42:20

7 Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isaiah 43:7

16 “Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals

And brings out a weapon for its work;

And I have created the destroyer to ruin. Isaiah 54:16

18 “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;

I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners,

19 Creating the praise of the lips.

Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Isaiah 57:18-19

Activity for the above verses

Perhaps you should find every reference ‘to create’ in the above verses and see how they are used.  In the verb ‘create’ one can see ‘create’ is used in other contexts that do not have ex nihilo (out of nothing) as the driver of the verb.

Reflection

I find it interesting that he chose the Hebrew verbs ‘to create’ and ‘to perish’.

We found out that God does not always create out of nothing.

We also found out that when God Judges and works in the affairs of humans it never means the complete annihilation of substance but rather ‘purification’.

The master Theologian continues to explain that even when the world of Noah was destroyed by water, it was the corruption in the world.  In the same way when we look at the destruction of the world by fire it is a purification, and we are created new, but we haven’t lost our soul, but it has been transformed through a resurrection body.  Corruption needs to put on incorruption.  We as the human race needed to be purified first and through repentance and faith we are continually being purified by the Holy Spirit. 

According to Bavinck ‘the physical world’ will also be born again ‘regenerated’.  Through the death and resurrection of Christ in the end even the physical theatre in which we live in will be born again.

So, Bavinck wrote:

“For that reason, it also frequently alternates with planting, laying the foundations of, and making (Isa. 51:16; 66:22). The Lord can say (Isa. 51:16) that he begins the new creation by putting his word in Israel’s mouth and hiding them in the shadow of his hand.

In the same way, the New Testament proclaims that heaven and earth will pass away (Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10; 1 John 2:17; Rev. 21:1), that they will perish and wear out like clothing (Heb. 1:11), dissolve (2 Pet. 3:10), be burned with tire (3:10), and be changed (Heb. 1:12). But none of these expressions implies a destruction of substance. Peter, for example, expressly teaches that the old earth, which originated as a result of the separation of waters, was deluged with water and so perished (2 Pet. 3:6), and that the present world would also perish, not-thanks to the divine promise—by water but by fire. Accordingly, with reference to the passing of the present world, we must no more think of a destruction of substance than (we would) with regard to the passing of the earlier world in the food. Fire burns, cleanses, purifies, but does not destroy. The contrast in 1 John 2:17 (“the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever”) teaches us that the first statement does not imply a destruction of the substance of the world but a vanishing of the world in its present, sin-damaged form. Paul, accordingly, also states very clearly that the present form (to oxnua, to schema) of this world passes away (1 Cor. 7:31). Only such a renewal of the world, for that matter, accords with what Scripture teaches about redemption. For the latter is never a second, brand-new creation but a re-creation of the existing world. God’s honour consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin. Just as anyone in Christ is a new creation in whom the old has passed away and everything has become new (2 Cor. 5:17), so also this world passes away in its present form as well, in order out of its womb, at God’s word of power, to give birth and being to a new world. Just as in the case of an individual human being, so at the end of time a rebirth of the world will take place as well (Matt. 19:28). This constitutes a spiritual renewal, not a physical creation.”  (From Reformed Dogmatics; Herman Bavinck; page 717; Translated by John Vriend; edited by John Bolt.)

In Christ God became a man and he died for us so that we might live.  This was a physical death, but he also had a physical resurrection.  When Jesus returns, it is a physical return.  Our election proceeds from the ‘the first born of the elect’.  Our election is ‘in Christ’ as Ephesians puts it.  As Karl Barth would put it ‘the Judge (God) was judged (God was judged) in our place’.  It so follows that Jesus is the true ‘image of God’.

The great reversal is taking place in human history.  When God created the earth, it was perfect.  Sin came into the world through the agency of Adam and Eve. However, God being rich in mercy and loving his ‘own creation’ came into this world to make things right.  Humans can be born again “regenerated” but in the end creation itself will also be purified and made perfect again. 

My own opinion

When God had created nature which included plants, animals, and humans he said that ‘it was good’.  This to me is a baseline for salvation.  God didn’t say that creation was bad, no he said it was good.  Recently our pet rabbit died and yes, I believe he has a soul:

“Every living thing has a soul, but humanity is special because God breathed into Him

10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? “Job 12:10

Animals can show filial devotion to their masters.  Archaeologists all over the world have found animals buried with their masters throughout human history.  I know why that is.  The masters and their pets had a true bond of love and affection.

With these evidences, I believe I will see our pet rabbit again.  

Creation groans for the end times when it will be born again even as we as believers can be born again by the Father sending his son and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The Walk of Faith and the Paradox of Suffering in the Beatitudes

April 24, 2022

When we read John Calvin on this verse near the beginning, he starts by saying “We can fight Christ’s battles on no other terms than for the majority of the world to be risen up in enmity against us, and to be our persecutors, even unto death.”

This Sermon is for the followers of Christ.  As a general rule of thumb and more the world hates the Christian message. Calvin reminds us that:

 ‘Satan as the prince of this world will never stop arming his ranks in a frenzy to assault the members of Christ.”

We need to remember even way back in the book of Job it was Satan who was accusing Job of evils.  This same Satan is also the one who tried to force the hand of Jesus to worship him rather than God!

Calvin goes on to tell is about 1 Peter 3:3. However for the sake of context I have quoted some more:

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ will be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:13-16

Calvin goes on and he uses the ‘I repeat’ that means he is pressing the main point home:

“I repeat what I have just said, that all who wish to live a godly life in Christ are liable to persecution; Paul’s testimony applies to all the faithful alike (11 Tim, 3.12).”

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:12-13

Calvin goes on to say:

“As throughout this life the way of the godly is most miserable, Christ duly lifts our thoughts to hope for the life of heaven.   Christ’s paradox here is vastly different from the commentaries of the Stoics, where men are told to be satisfied in their own judgement, and each to decide on his own happiness to empty imaginings, for he establishes it upon the reward of a future hope”

As we said earlier in another blog Martin Luther King junior who practiced peaceful protest became a target for doing the right thing.  Every human being has been created in the ‘image of God’.  We see this concept and truth attacked from many sides. When John Calvin penned these words, the world was in full movement and flux and many people died for having a separate confession about reality.  Calvin reminds us that this persecution of the Church is a staple diet of the world.   There is so much evil in the world at the moment; death and destruction in Europe for silly stupid reasons. 

We need to remember that the God we serve is a God of love.  Anyone who purports to be flying the Christian flag and openly murders innocent people is an ‘anti-Christ’.  There have been many anti-Christs throughout the centuries, and we have them even in the 21st century.  They may pretend to be Christian but by murdering innocent people they show themselves to be doings Satan’s will.  Let us love and be willing to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves in this way we follow the teachings of Christ. 

Reflection

Interesting that for the word righteousness Vine says:

“Righteousness dikaiosune (1343), is “the character or quality of being right or just”; it was formerly spelled “rightwiseness,” which clearly expresses the meaning. It is used to denote an attribute of God, e.g., Rom. 3:5, the context of which shows that “the righteousness of God” means essentially the same as His faithfulness, or truthfulness, that which is consistent with His own nature and promises; Rom. 3:25, 26 speaks of His “righteousness” as exhibited in the death of Christ, which is sufficient to show men that God is neither indifferent to sin nor regards it lightly.”  (From Vines dictionary; Olive Tree Bible software)

I come to the same conclusion as Calvin that the follower of Christ who lives the way of Christ is going to suffer.  There is an alignment of the righteousness and the follower of Christ.  It is in Christ that as Paul would say we are justified.  It is precisely for this reason that the prophets suffered.  They suffered because they aligned themselves in obedience to God’s word. 

I can think of Isaiah:

“1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,

The whole earth is full of His glory.”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” Isaiah 6:1-7

God has high standards, and in our strength, we cannot reach this standard.  Grace was given to Isaiah as his lips were purified.  Coming to the conclusion of the beatitudes we see steppingstones. We realize that all the goodness we have stems from the work of Christ. 

As Bavinck would say the natural man would reject this way of doing things.  The natural man wants to do things in their own strength and prove how strong they are.  On the surface it might look like righteousness but dig under the surface and one can see that it is fake righteousness.  True righteousness has roots coming from God’s grace.  Fake righteousness has its roots in self-empowerment.

Christ turns the values of this world on its head and shows how ugly they are:

 In fact, the follower of Christ’s city is in heaven.  The Christian is happy because he can see beyond the horizon.  This world is not our goal we are not interested in amassing wealth here.  True wealth is spiritual not material.  The legacy of the follower of Christ is to share love to all and sundry.   

The values of the world maybe:

That one is proud that he pays his taxes on time; You are a proud successful businessman who in reality only thinking about how good you are; You have achieved everything by your own wisdom. Or you are poor and jealous of someone who has the latest things, and you want the same.  It maybe that that person only cares about themselves.   

The examples above are probably not very accurate as I used a wide brush stroke here, but the main point is that the beatitudes for the follower of Christ is a mirror that can help weed out the sin in our lives.  As followers of Christ, we realize that we are completely dependent on God for our daily living.

The natural man and the follower of Christ look through completely different spectacles.

As Calvin used the word paradox in relation to Christs teachings.  It does look like a paradox that we are called to be happy and the way to be happy is to critique selfish empowerment.  At the end we are also to rejoice in our sufferings!  

No believers are not sadomasochists who like to inflict pain on themselves for enjoyment’s sake.  No, my friends; What we have here is a meditation to make us true believers in Christ. The small word ‘shall’ have been used a lot through these happy sayings.  We look beyond the horizon to Christ, to our redemption:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12”

Reflection

This brings us to the end of the beatitudes but from my point of view this is the very key to understand all the teachings found within the Sermon on the Mount.  This has not been an easy ride theologically, but I hope as a follower of Christ you have grown in the grace of Christ as we become by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit more genuine in our faith.

If you are not a follower of Christ, I hope that the beatitudes have given you an appreciation to what Christ is actually saying and I hope one day that you too could follow in the steps of Christ.

{For the writings of John Calvin I used his Harmony of the Gospels translated by A.W Morrison; pages 172-173; WM. B. Eerdmans publishing house}

Easter Special

April 13, 2022

These events happened before the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans.  Up to this point, Jesus had been preaching for about three years.  Jesus’ popularity grew over this time and there were many who were jealous of this.  This would be the last time that Jesus would visit Jerusalem.  The next time will be at his Second coming.  These narratives found at the end of the Gospels are referred to as the Passion narratives.  They are central to the Christian message. 

By reading the Apostolic Writings of the New Testament in general they all point to these events. 

Before Jesus was actually captured, he told his disciple that he would be crucified:

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” Matthew 26:2”

It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of the leaders wanted Jesus dead because he revealed the religious corruption that was going on.  Under Roman occupation these corrupt leaders could make a large profit.  However, if there were riots this could alter their game plan:

5 But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.” Matthew 26:5

Jesus had now reached Bethany about six days before the Passover.  He visited the house of Simon the Leper.  If Simon was a leper then according to purity rules Jesus ought not to have been there and then on top of that a woman comes in and anoints Jesus with very expensive perfume.   She anointed Jesus head with oil.  Jesus took this as a sign for his burial whilst the disciple were more interested in the cost of the perfume:

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. Matthew 26:10

Jesus corrects the disciples’ assumptions:

12 For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Matthew 26:12

Judas on the other hand was a thief and his devotion to Jesus was not genuine although later on he commits suicide:

14 Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. 16 From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. Matthew 26:14-16

The seed for Jesus’ crucifixion had been set.  Jesus and his disciples are now to celebrate the Passover for the very last time until Jesus returns.

The original Passover is about God saving the Israelites from Egypt and bringing them to a land of milk and honey.  The Passover lamb’s blood in the original story was put on to the door of every Israelite house.  When the angel of death came to such a house, He would Passover that house and they would not be affected with the death of their firstborn sons.  This was not the case for the Egyptians who lost many first-born sons up to Pharoah himself (His son).

For Christians this Passover would take on meaning.  The original Passover lamb saved the Israelites from the death of their firstborn sons.   For Christians Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’ (Passover lamb).  Jesus’ death means that the second death of eternal judgement would Passover us and not affect us in any way.  So, it should not surprise you that Passover and Easter are in some way forever linked.  This Last Passover meal is a new covenant in Jesus’ blood. 

God has made various covenants with his people along the way but in a way this covenant is the seal of the covenants.

•          The covenant with Noah

•          The Covenant with Abraham

•          The covenant of Moses

•          The covenant with David

•          The seal of the covenants, Jesus’ death and resurrection

As we already said this covenant was instituted at the last Supper:

“The Last Passover

20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” 22 Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 And He answered, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24 The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” 25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus *said to him, “You have said it yourself.”

The Lord’s Supper Instituted

26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31 Then Jesus *said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ 32 But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35 Peter *said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too. Matthew 26:20-35”

You will find this in all mainline churches at Holy Communion.   Christianity is a religion of remembering, when we look back to what our Lord did for us.  Jesus died at the cross that we might have eternal life.  Jesus told us to remember him through the act of drinking wine and breaking bread. 

Different denominations have various takes on this, but I don’t want to get bogged down with the details.  For myself I believe that Jesus is present through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is about our union with Christ. 

I found this on the internet:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_with_Christ

Various churches place emphases on what this union is.  The following has been taken from the above wiki page:

Roman Catholic

Traditional Roman Catholic theology centres the union with Christ in a substantial sense on the unity of the institutional church, past and present. “The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head.”[7] Christians, according to Roman Catholic theology, are united to Christ through the sacraments.[8]

Medieval conceptions of union with Christ were influenced in large part by mysticism, such as in the preaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard applied the concept of bridal love in the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs to a “mystical union” with Christ, wherein Jesus was bridegroom & the worshipper/church (humanity) was His bride. In this conception, Jesus’ love for humanity was manifested in his sacrifice on the cross, something that was reenacted everyday in the Eucharist. In medieval mystical union theology, the sacrament of the Eucharist was the foremost conduit with which humanity found union with Christ.

Reformed

In Reformed theology, union with Christ is understood to be a comprehensive category that runs through the entire doctrine of Salvation.  John Murray observes: “Union with Christ is a very inclusive subject. It embraces the wide span of salvation from the ultimate source in the eternal election of God to its final fruition in the glorification of the elect.”

Sinclair Ferguson distinguishes six categories of union with Christ. Union with Christ is federal or covenantal in the sense that Christ’s obedience is accounted to believers. It is carnal or fleshly in the sense that Christ became incarnate and thus became one with humanity. Union with Christ is also a faith union in which by faith Christians depend on Christ for nourishment. It is a spiritual union because Christians are united to Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is an extensive union in that Christians are united with Christ in everything he has done, including his life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session. It is finally a union of life because Christ lives in Christians, and he is visible in their lives.

As a step in the order of salvation, union with Christ was seen by John Calvin to be the basis for both justification and sanctification. Alister McGrath notes that while Martin Bucer suggested that justification causes (moral) regeneration, Calvin argued that “both justification and regeneration are the results of the believer’s union with Christ through faith.”

Evangelical

Some Evangelicals see union with Christ as a discrete stage in the “order of salvation.”[13] The evangelical theologian William Shedd comments “The impartation of Christ’s righteousness presupposes a union with him.”[14] Robert Dabney, while avoiding deification, said that the bond of the union is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[15]

Eastern Orthodox

Eastern Orthodox theology emphasizes the incarnation as the starting point for our union with Christ.  “In Christ God becomes one with us in order to make us one with him; he stooped to take our nature, in order that we might be restored to become partakers of his nature.””

The Wiki continues and speaks about the Scriptural basis for Union with Christ:

“12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:12-21”

In these Scriptures we have the rationale why God had become man.   Paul’s writings became a bulwark against the gnostic heresies of the early centuries. Having said that there are many who would deny the humanity of Jesus.

It is interesting what Irenaeus says in his Against Heresies:

“7. Therefore, as I have already said, He caused man (human nature) to cleave to and to become, one with God. For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless man had been joined to God, he could never have become a partaker of incorruptibility. For it was incumbent upon the Mediator between God and men, by His relationship to both, to bring both to friendship and concord, and present man to God, while He revealed God to man. For, in what way could we be partaken of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God. Those, therefore, who assert that He appeared putatively, and was neither born in the flesh nor truly made man, are as yet under the old condemnation, holding out patronage to sin; for, by their showing, death has not been vanquished, which “reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” Romans 5:14 But the law coming, which was given by Moses, and testifying of sin that it is a sinner, did truly take away his (death’s) kingdom, showing that he was no king, but a robber; and it revealed him as a murderer. It laid, however, a weighty burden upon man, who had sin in himself, showing that he was liable to death. For as the law was spiritual, it merely made sin to stand out in relief, but did not destroy it. For sin had no dominion over the spirit, but over man. For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, Romans 5:19 and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. Thus, then, was the Word of God made man, as also Moses says: “God, true are His works.” Deuteronomy 32:4 But if, not having been made flesh, He did appear as if flesh, His work was not a true one. But what He did appear, that He also was: God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore, His works are true.” From AH 3.18:7

Reflection

So, then my friends at this time of Easter let us share the love of Christ to all.  Jesus died so that we might live.  Jesus died so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with God. The Last Supper is seriously important to all Christians.  No matter what denomination one belongs to Easter is very important and the climax is the last Supper with the thanksgiving meal (Eucharist= thanksgiving).

Unfortunately, sometimes because of the disputations instead of love there is hate…

The Eucharist has been interpreted in different ways.  For Protestants transubstantiation is a problem. The original Aristotelian logic made a differentiation between substance and accident.  So, for Protestants to actually say that the eucharist turns into the actual body and blood of Christ is anathema. Having said that even though I don’t agree I have to say that it probably developed this way as a refutation of Gnosticism which denied that Jesus was a real man. 

As Christians we ought to focus on loving God and our neighbour especially the invisible Church.  It is by faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit that we have access to our Father in heaven. 

The Bible teaches that we stand by the gift of Faith.  I don’t actually think that God cares about what denomination a person belongs to.  God sees the person He created who is living the life of faith.

Anyhow originally the Church may have met in synagogues that accepted the Apostolic teaching and, or, or both in people’s homes.  It was free flow and while the Apostles were alive, the Apostles were ‘The New Testament’.  When the Apostles died off the Christians who were left realized how important their writings were and put it together as what we now call the ‘New Testament’.  We also need to remember that the Holy Spirit has never left the Church; The Holy Spirit is our Comforter and teacher who points us to Christ and to our eternal home in heaven.

So, we have covered:

  • some passages from the Gospels surrounding Easter
  • The importance of the union with Christ
  • Christian theology in various denominations around the Eucharist
  • Irenaeus and his theology of recapitulation by his own words
  • The importance of empathy for other views on the Eucharist taking the historical contexts into account.

As well as loving those who are our brothers in Christ, the love of God should go out to the whole world.  As a Religious Educator I noticed that Passover, Easter and Ramadan actually converge this year:

Easter Sunday,17 April 2022

Pesach Friday, 15 April 2022

Ramadan Friday, 1 April and ends in the evening of Sunday, 1 May 2022

Happy are the Peacemakers because in the Eschaton they will be known as the Children of God

April 9, 2022

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

In the last beatitude the pure would see God.  In this beatitude Our Lord is going up a level and he explains to his disciples that with this new ‘Happy saying’ they will be called ‘sons of God’.  Sons should be all inclusive for women too. Many of Jesus’s disciple were women and Saint Paul said in Galatians that there is neither male nor female.  In the Kingdom of heaven men and women are equal.  Anyhow before I dive into this beatitude, I want to think about the importance of peace makers.  I can think of some from the top of my head. 

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Gandhi
  • Martin Luther King
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Dalai Lama
  • Bishop Tutu
  • Greta Thunberg (Global warming that affects all of us)

Peace making comes at many different levels and God loves genuine peacemakers.  I’m not speaking from a salvific point of view but generally.  When God created the world ‘It was good’.  When He created Adam and Eve ‘it was good’.  The moral order of the family was set in place one man and one woman, and they were told to be fruitful.  We were created in the image of God and what does that actually mean.  For me Jesus as the Logos is the prototype image of God.  From the teachings of our Lord, we learn about the importance of loving Good and our neighbour. 

What is the opposite of peace?

It is war!

Jesus was the ultimate peace maker and I find it very interesting that Gandhi a Hindu studied the teachings of Christ which helped him to put together his ethic of love to fight British oppression in India. 

It doesn’t stop there; Martin Luther King Junior then studied Gandhi and using the ethic of Love fought for equal rights for people of colour and all people. 

I could go on people of peace attract other people of peace for example did you know that Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama became good friends?

In Christianity, peace is a very important concept.   First of all.   There are scriptures that refer to God as the God of peace and in this beatitude, we find that the peacemakers are going to be called the Sons of God.

Sometimes when you make peace, you have to in a sense, there’s some sort of war I don’t mean physically but in various forms.  So I’m just going to go through a few people that have shown the quality of peace:

In making peace Muhammad Ali, for example stood up against the American government because he did not agree with the Vietnam war and he had his world title belt that he won fair and square taken away from him.   Although after he did his time in prison, he got his belt back.

Then of course you have Gandhi who had the philosophy of ahimsa. The idea that you’re not allowed to hurt any living thing, and he lived at the time when Britain was in charge of India.   Using the concept of ahimsa, he was able to defeat the British and expel the British peacefully

Following in Gandhi’s footsteps, we have, Martin Luther King And he used the ethic of love to fight for the civil rights movement and it’s interesting that sometimes people who stand up for doing the right thing and are peaceful people usually sometimes end up being persecuted or killed.

Then we have Nelson Mandela who spent many years in prison he realized that peaceful protest is more powerful than the use of violence and he got rid of the apartheid system and became the First South African president and I have to say that I think John Calvin is the is the best one because it’s very simple and it gets to the point.

So it begins like this:

“Blessed are the peacemakers.  He means those who have an enthusiasm for peace and as best they may avoid all quarrels and also those who take pains to settle.  The dissensions that break out between others being agents of peace to all ready to stifle hatreds and rivalries, this is no light declaration.  The result is that each wishes to have everyone in his pay to fight on his side that we may not then depend on men favours.   Christ bids us to look to the judgment of the father for us.  He is the God of peace.   He reckons us among his sons as we work for peace even though our efforts do not please men. To be called has the same force as to be reckoned. “ (This is from.  Calvin’s New Testament commentaries, new translation. Translated by Morrison. Edited by TF Torrance, on page 172) 

I looked at four  commentaries about this particular verse in the Sermon on the Mount.

The four were:

  • by John Calvin (above).
  • William Barclay
  • Doctor Martyn Lloyd Jones commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Jamieson Faucet and Brown (Olive tree Bible software)

The reason I liked Calvin’s the most is actually because it gets to the point.   It’s very, very simple and he tries to get to the meaning of the text.   The modern commentary was actually invented by John Calvin.   He was the first to write Bible Commentaries in a scientific manner.   When we look at the text in the New Testament, we have to ask ourselves the question:

  • Do I have the real meaning of the text?
  • What did it mean to those who first heard those words?

What is important is what Jesus meant by these words.  It is not what I think Jesus meant by these words.   It can be very difficult sometimes to get to the meaning that the writer wanted us to understand. There are two keywords that explains all this (eisegesis and exegesis):

The first word (eisegesis)suggests this; You read your own biases into the text.  In this situation the text becomes gobbledegook (a myth, not true, false). It’s not reality.

Exegesis, on the other hand, means reading out of the text what is there. The text is actually telling you what it’s saying.   So, when we’re looking at this particular beatitude that Jesus gave there isn’t a really lot to go on.

So, this is why I think that here Calvin is actually better than William Barclay et al.  It just gives you the basic meaning. So then let’s start looking at it in a bit more detail and find out what we can learn.  I just want to look at the reflection of Calvin on this after we said basically what a peacemaker is.

Calvin Finishes off by saying this, “that we may not then depend on men’s favours.  So, we shouldn’t look at doing your boss, a favour, or whoever a favour, what’s important, Calvin says, is Christ bids us to look to the judgment of the Father, it’s what God wants us to do.   It’s not what other people want us to do for as he is the God of peace, He reckons us among his sons as we work for peace.  To be in a sense, to be a true image of God.   One of those characteristics is actually to make peace, even as God makes peace.

The greatest example of that is when Jesus died for us so that we could have peace with God.  He reckons us among his sons as we work for peace even though our efforts do not, please men.  Yeah, being a peacemaker and doing what God wants us to do is going to please very, very few men.   People, should I say for example.

When we talk about the 10 Commandments that God has given which is for everyone at all times.  A lot of people kind of accept those.  This causes problems, so we’re going to have problems to be called has the same force as ‘to be reckoned’, Calvin said. Yes, so we are reckoned to be as children of God.

It means the same thing and I wonder what it says in the Greek.   I’ll have to look at that a bit later on.

The Judaeo-Christian ethic is that we should love God with all of our heart with all of our mind and all of our strength and as a general rule, the natural man who hasn’t seen God’s goodness is only interested in himself and pleasing himself.   A lot of people nowadays they don’t want anything to do with God. They just want to go their own way doing their own thing, living the way that they want.   For example, marriage is thrown out with the bath water.   Sad to say, for example, in places like London Knife crime is very, very prevalent.  There’s a mood in large chunks of society that life isn’t worth very much.   if a person gets stabbed by another young person and they die (that isn’t seen as a problem).  There is no Fear of God, there is no sense of duty.   Let’s look at some people who have spoken about peace in the world.

For example, in the USA Martin Luther King when he was around at the marches and the civil rights movement.  He was assassinated for doing the right thing and it’s a problem that comes right into the 21st century where people think that if you’re white, you’re better than blacks, and if you’re black, you’re better than whites.   Bruce Lee went against the current of racism; In one of his interviews, he was asked if he was Chinese or if he was American.   Bruce Lee said, “I’m a human being.  It doesn’t matter about what colour you are, what race you are under the Sun we’re all the same. “  We’re human beings and we should treat each other with the dignity that everyone deserves.

For the Christian; God created us in his image.  We’ve been created in the image of God.  We are very, very special.  We are sacred but unfortunately, the world doesn’t actually always see that.

Some people choose to interpret this particular beatitude only in a churchy spiritual way and internalize peace making from within and the objective reality is lost.   That it only means making peace with God within you the struggle inside you.

But I don’t agree obviously I accept the spiritual but people like Martin Luther King has shown us that it has practical life changing elements for the real world outside the Church

After we’ve become Christians and we’ve learned how to do this walk with God because of God’s grace. We come to a position where we can actually take part in the world and start to try to bring peace by the help of The Holy Spirit; Peace with people and peace with God.

It’s a very objective thing.   It’s something that that can change the world, save lives and then also bring people to know Jesus Christ as we know Jesus Christ as well the ultimate peace with God.

All the commentaries failed me when looking to this beatitude, but they gave me clues.

I found it very interesting that William Barclay reminded us about the word Shalom can mean a peace but has various meanings.  Peace means not only be “freedom from all trouble” but it can also mean “enjoyment of all good.”

So I did a bit of research and I went to the Wikipedia on shalom.   Barclay is right and It can mean that as well because it’s used in everyday greetings for health and everything but it still didn’t answer my question:

  • What Jesus means by peacemaker

And lo and behold, I went to Matthew chapter 1012

Let me just tell you a bit a little bit about the context:

Jesus has chosen the 12 disciples and he sent them out to the House of Israel.

And they’re going to greet everyone.  This is what Jesus says in one of the verses with me paraphrasing, he says.  “As you enter the house, give it you’re greeting.  If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace but if it is not worth of it, take back your blessing of peace.

And then a bit later on:

Jesus talks about the persecution that the believers are going to face in the future.   

Now it’s very interesting that when we look at the Beatitudes in Matthew Chapter 5 verse nine and verse 10, one is about making peace and the next one is about persecution and in Chapter 10 from verses 5 all the way through to verse 23 the same order is followed.   When disciples do peace-making, they are going to face persecution and I think that’s probably the best way to interpret that particular beatitude.

Why did I use the word shalom?

You need to remember that Greek was the prevalent language around the Middle East at the time of Christ.  Even the Old Testament was translated into Greek known as the Septuagint (LXX as the abbreviation for the Septuagint (meaning 70 ‘the Seventy Elders’).  It is a fact that the Apostles favoured the Septuagint to that of the Hebrew at the time.  Scholars think that Jesus actually spoke Aramaic a local dialect! 

Reflection

If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a peacemaker.  ‘Love changes everything’.  God sent his only Son into the world to open the way for us to walk into God’s Kingdom.  Being a peacemaker is not an easy task spiritually or objectively.   The hard example of this beatitude for us is in Matthew chapter 10. 

External links for further general reading:

Martin Luther King and Gandhi links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi

A Messianic-Jewish interpretation of Matthew 5 verse 9

https://www.biblestudytools.com/cjb/matthew/5-9.html

One of the prerequisites to stand in the Presence of God is to have a pure heart not an unclean one. How is this even possible?

March 27, 2022

As we’ve gone through the Beatitudes you will have noticed that we started from a very earthly foundation and one by one we’re getting closer to the presence of God So, in verse 3, for example, was it all the poor in spirit for those of the Kingdom of heaven?

We realize that in ourselves we cannot save ourselves.  We’re completely dependent on God and then the beatitudes go through our attitudes one by one towards God and towards our neighbors.

Last time we looked at mercy, the concept of mercy, but it’s important that we show mercy.

Today we’re looking at the be attitude, which is the following, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”  The only one who has really ever been pure in heart is actually our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ because no sin was found in him.  Then as we get closer and closer to Christ and through repentance and trust in Christ, our thoughts and our intentions become purer and purer until eventually we meet the vision of God where we become more like the image of God.

The true image of God is obviously our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who became fully human.

So that we too could Become truly human.  So, to be truly human is actually to be in a close walk with God.

This happens in many ways.  Although God is the Creator, and we are the creatures.  God sent his only son into the world to die for us.  Jesus didn’t do anything wrong.  He is our true example that we need to follow.

Anyway, what does this beatitude actually mean?

Let’s look at it a bit closer. Blessed; all that means is happy. It’s a very Scriptural thing actually and is found in the Old Testament in various places; “Blessed is a man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” (Psalm 1)

What’s the opposite of wicked?

It’s being pure being holy doing the right thing in God’s sight.  Do we do the right thing in God’s sight?

‘Pure in heart’.

What’s the opposite of pure in heart? It is having an unclean dirty heart.

Then Jesus says “the pure in heart they shall see God”. The word ‘shall’  is put in the time frame of the future tense.

So, at the end of time at the eschaton we shall indeed see God!

In what contexts have humans ever seen God?

I think it’s good just to have a look at the Old Testament and see what the old.

Testament says, and the best place to start is actually before the fall.  Before the fall, Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned yet, and basically that God would speak with them every single day;  they saw God every single day as a friend.  Although he was their creator He was their friend.  But then sin came into the world, and they had to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Well basically they wanted to be like God.  Perhaps I should have said become divine.     

In that state, there can only be judgment, and there was judgment on them, and since then we have not been able to walk in any garden with God.  That’s not the only place we can talk about seeing God.

In our fallen state, we can’t see God face to face because we will be destroyed by judgment because God is completely holy. Moses was granted the privilege of seeing the back of God.  He was allowed to see the back of God and that’s the closest man has ever got to seeing God in his situation which happened after the fall.

Seeing someone is very, very personal.  For example, if you go to visit your mum and dad or maybe a relative or a friend, it’s a very special time for meeting those sorts of people and it is with God as well. Yes it is Mothers Day in the UK today (27 03 2022). (Mum when you are reading this Happy Mothers Days!)

We have this hope that one day we’ll be going home to heaven, which is where our real home is.  It is very interesting that in the Garden of Eden there were two trees.  There was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which Adam and Eve actually ate from, and then they realized that that they didn’t have any clothes on.  There was also the Tree of life.  Now if they had eaten of the tree of life, They would have stayed in a sinful state for all eternity.  It  is an act of mercy that God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden.  Even though he kicked them out of the garden, he made sure they had clothes and that was the first sacrifice.  God actually made the first sacrifice, not humans.

This is a hope that we have in the future that after the day of judgment and how things been we have a hope that we will see God.  We’re only able to see God because of what Jesus has done.

It’s only in Christ and in his work at Calvary that we are actually able to see God and the Book of Hebrews says that we’ll be able to walk boldly to the throne of Grace.  The temple on the Earth was only a shadow of the real thing anyway.  The real temple is actually in heaven.  Are you excited to see God?

How do you feel about that that you’ve lived on this earth all these years and you’ve not been able to see God literally? Actually then one the  believers by faith we will see God.  He has a place prepared for us through what Jesus has done. 

To be. Pure in heart also means that we have to live holy and godly lives, and it’s not always easy.

But there’s lots of things that tempters, testers, and sometimes we fall.  We we need God’s grace to put us back on the road. And it’s a daily thing.  I suppose this is what pilgrim’s progress reminds us. In that  story you know that he is on this on this road, and then these different tests come to test him.  Satan and his cohorts would like him to leave the road where he’ll face destruction but God keeps hold of him right up to the end.

Analytic Reflection

This section is not my work but I have taken it from (Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary on Matthew 58)

“ 8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God—Here, too, we are on Old Testament ground. There the difference between outward and inward purity, and the acceptableness of the latter only in the sight of God, are everywhere taught. Nor is the “vision of God” strange to the Old Testament; and though it was an understood thing that this was not possible in the present life (Ex 33:20; and compare Job 19:26, 27; Isa 6:5), yet spiritually it was known and felt to be the privilege of the saints even here (Ge 5:24; 6:9; 17:1; 48:15; Ps 27:4; 36:9; 63:2; Isa 38:3, 11, etc.). But oh, with what grand simplicity, brevity, and power is this great fundamental truth here expressed! And in what striking contrast would such teaching appear to that which was then current, in which exclusive attention was paid to ceremonial purification and external morality! This heart purity begins in a “heart sprinkled from an evil conscience,” or a “conscience purged from dead works” (Heb 10:22; 9:14; and see Ac 15:9); and this also is taught in the Old Testament (Ps 32:1, 2; compare Ro 4:5-8; Isa 6:5-8). The conscience thus purged—the heart thus sprinkled—there is light within wherewith to see God. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with the other”—He with us and we with Him—”and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us”—us who have this fellowship, and who, without such continual cleansing, would soon lose it again—”from all sin” (1Jo 1:6, 7). Matthew 5:8 “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him” (1Jo 3:6); “He that doeth evil hath not seen God” (3Jo 11). The inward vision thus clarified, and the whole inner man in sympathy with God, each looks upon the other with complacency and joy, and we are “changed into the same image from glory to glory.” But the full and beatific vision of God is reserved for that time to which the Psalmist stretches his views—”As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Ps 17:15). Then shall His servants serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads (Re 22:3, 4). They shall see Him as He is (1Jo 3:2). But, says the apostle, expressing the converse of this beatitude—”Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Matthew 5:8 (Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary on Matthew 58)

Reflection

Luke does not touch on this beatitude.  Having said that it is indeed a core teaching in the New Testament. For example:

“A New and Living Way

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:19-25 NASB; Olive Tree Bible Software”

Verse 19 tells us that we will enter the ‘Holy Place’.  Verse 22 tells us that ‘our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience’.   What took Apollos the writer of Hebrews (I believe he wrote it) takes a few verses to explain Jesus explained it in one short sentence.  Our Lord indeed was a great teacher. The Holy Place is the innermost and most Holy Place in which God resides. The High Priest only entered the holy place once in a year.  I read somewhere that on the hem of the garments they had bells.  They had bells in case they were struck down for disobeying God so that they could be pulled out:

   (I pulled the following from the internet. The link is there but you would have to add ‘https’ to the front of the address for it to work)

“… alternating golden bells and pomegranates that were sown to the bottom hem of the long blue outer robe over which the EPHOD and Breastplate were worn.

We were told earlier that that the purpose of these golden bells was so “The High Priest would not die” while he was serving in the Tabernacle.

These dangling bells were much more than decorative jewelry.

In the Temple era, a rope was tied to the ankle of the High Priest when he went into the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

“A chain was tied to the feet of the High Priest, when he entered THE HOLY OF HOLIES, so that if he dies there they will take him out, SINCE IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THERE… Then there is joy among the higher and lower beings. If not, they were all in sorrow and all knew that their prayer was not accepted.”-Zohar Vol. 16 Emor, Section 34. Yom Kippur, Par. 251.

Now I was told that while the High Priest was engaged in his purification rituals, the common priests who were standing outside the Sanctuary would be on high alert always listening for the steady jingling of the golden bells.

If that jingling STOPPED for a considerable amount of time, they would assume that the Lord had probably killed the High Priest due to some breach of protocol.

Then, they would pull him out of the Holy of Holies with the rope that was attached to his foot.” (Taken from  //messianic-revolution.com/e39-2-what-was-the-purpose-of-the-bells-attached-to-the-hem-of-the-high-priests-robe/ )

Anyhow I want to bring this blog to a conclusion.  I want to wish all Mothers everywhere a Happy (UK) Mothers day!

Negatively judgment will be merciless to one who shows no mercy James the Lords brother continues “…mercy triumphs over judgment.” “James 2:13 NASB

March 19, 2022

We have all sinned and gone astray from God yet one of the chief characteristics of God is to show mercy:

“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.” Exodus 34:6-8

 In a court of law if you have been shown mercy then perhaps you have been set free even though one deserved a harsher sentence:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

And negatively it could be:

“For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. “James 2:13

I’m using James here because James was the Lord’s brother and the leader of the Jerusalem Church before he was executed.

If any religion (including Christianity) lacks mercy as part of its primary teachings, then it will hurt a lot of people.  Jesus is the prime example of showing mercy in that he was going to die a cruel death on a cross so that in Him we could walk to God’s throne.  Mercy is something that all humans are able to do but for some reason things such as pride, greed, hunger for power, ambition, and many things get in the way, so we do not reach our true human potential. 

Jesus was well aware of the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23

As you can see with the various quotations that mercy and justice cannot be separated.  The religious and political leaders of the day in Jesus’ society in a sense are like leaders in our own time.  You can get the good, the bad and the ugly doers.  Mercy is not only a major characteristic that God has.  We ought to remember that we have been created in the image of God and we too as humans have this natural universal characteristic.  Do your local and national leaders exhibit and prove compassion in their daily lives?

If they don’t have this, then vote for people who genuinely care about fellow human beings.  Are the needy people in your locality being cared for or are funds being channeled into their own bank accounts be new corrupt laws?

I’m not making any political claims for this or that party, but I think Jesus’ teachings on mercy hits right at the core of how we ought to live before a Holy God.

Let us now dig deeper into this beatitude.  We have already learned a lot through looking at some key texts:

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

Last time we looked at how as we go through the beatitudes, we get closer and closer to God:

Vines Definition

“Merciful eleemon (1655), “merciful,” not simply possessed of pity but actively compassionate, is used of Christ as a High Priest, Heb. 2:17, and of those who are like God, Matt. 5:7 (cf. Luke 6:35, 36, where the RV, “sons” is to be read, as representing characteristics resembling those of their Father). “ Matthew 5:7

 ( From Vines Dictionary; olive Tree Bible software)

Interpretation

‘Blessed are the merciful’

‘Merciful is an adjective’ but even in the Greek it has the definite article ‘the’.

Blessed + the + merciful are all in the plural so Jesus is saying to all of his disciples that we ought to be actively practicing mercy even as he was a prime example of this.

‘Will receive (obtain) mercy’

This is a verb, and it is in the future plural tense.  The actions we do today will have eschatological significance when we stand before the throne of God. 

Jesus is our prime example:

“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17

Reflection

Christianity is a religion of mercy.  If the Christianity, you have met does not practice mercy and compassion then it is not Christianity but some cheap fake element of Christianity.   

God himself is merciful and Jesus being the Son of God became our Passover lamb and died for us so that we too could have eternal life.  We live by faith in the covenant that Jesus made with his people (The Church). Jesus practiced mercy and if we follow in his footsteps we too ought to follow in his footsteps.  When we walk this walk and show mercy, we become closer and closer like Jesus.  We also get closer and closer to God’s own heart. 

For me the period of lent is more about thinking about what Jesus did for us at the cross.  When I think about mercy it makes me think about these events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ and this is our hope that one day he will come back for his disciples from all ages (The invisible Church = believers from the past, present and future).  Jesus for Christians is the ultimate example of Mercy.  I realize that in my walk with God I have only just begun but by the Holy Spirit we are brought closer and closer to be with Christ for all eternity.

What does Jesus mean about hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

March 12, 2022

I have lost count how many times I have read the Sermon on the Mount but the closer I look at it the more I am humbled by Jesus’ teachings.  I just want to recap and then reflect on it with you before moving into verse 6:

    3 “ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  The subjective internal world of faith Level 1 3 Starting from the destitute soul    
  4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Level 2 Coming to a realization of how destitute we are before a Holy God  
  5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.  Level 3 Realization of destitution fosters humility before a Holy God  
  6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Level 4 One is now ready to be taught by a holy God    
  Where your faith has an impact on the objective heaven and earth
  7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.    Level 5 Before showing mercy you were shown mercy by a Holy God    
  8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Level 6 In Christ for the first time you start to see God in a new light  
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.      Level 7 Making peace is an extension of love. Congratulations you have received your passport are called children of God.  
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:3-12Level 8 You are now on the spiritual front-line moving in enemy territory working for Gods Kingdom

Reflection: For me Heaven is as real as earth.  The invisible is as real as the visible.  The greatest minds of human wisdom and knowledge have grasped this idea.  Judaism certainly grasped this idea that there is an infinite as well as finite space and time ruled by an Intelligent Being (God). Without questioning God’s being and just believing that he is as it says in lots of places:

28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;

And to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:28

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;

Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

24 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

Joshua 4:24

Within the framework of Judaism that Jesus was walking in the tradition starts with faith as a given fact.

As Christians in Christ, we are inheritors of this faith walk.   We did not come to a place of hungering for God’s Kingdom; We are on a pilgrim’s journey.

Jesus started teaching us from where we are from the subjective internal world of faith.  We realized that before a Holy God our soul is completely destitute and is completely reliant on God’s grace.  Having Come to a place of realizing how destitute we are before a Holy God this has fostered humility within our being standing before a Holy God. It is only now that we are ready to be taught by a holy God.

Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it.  We know the summary as well that we are to love God and to love our neighbour.  A lot of people (politicians and ethicists for example) don’t realize that there is a relation between loving God and loving the neighbour.  We see this in the 10 commandments that one is to love God and his neighbour.   The 10 commandments gives us a boundary to work with for society.  However, what have politicians and the general public done.  The Golden rule has been elevated and God has been written out of the script. 

This to my mind is the reason for ending up with a dysfunctional society.  Society has said no to God and the effects of this has been horrendous on human activity up to the nuclear bomb (mutual destruction). 

Truth for a lot of people is relative because the measuring stick is humanity (anything goes). 

Let us now begin to look at Jesus’ saying below:

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6

There are some basic commodities that we need to survive.  Water and bread are two such basic commodities.   Jesus is the perfect example of this.  He was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and Satan only tested Jesus when he was at his weakest.  Let us look at what actually happened:

“1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” Matthew 4:1-4”

We can imagine being in this deserted area.  According to Barclay the rocks are the right size and shape to look like loaves of bread!   So, Jesus having fasted and sought God’s will we have Satan come up to him and talk about bread!  Jesus gives us a priority lesson.

If you were going to choose between what the body needs, and God’s will; which comes first?

We need to go shopping my friends for our food.  We need to follow Jesus’ example and learn to pray.  When we pray God will answer us from heaven.  Let’s not forget that after the temptations, angels served Jesus because he didn’t even probably have enough energy to come back to civilization.   

Let us pray daily like Jesus did.  Let us find places in which we are alone with God.  There comes times and places in our lives when we hit a dead end.  The situation looks impossible, and it is impossible but by being faithful to Christ a way opens up and our prayers are answered.   

Reflection

This Week I used Scripture to interpret Scripture (The first test of Christ). As believers we belong to Christ.  Jesus being the Son of God had a perfect relationship with the Father.  Jesus is the perfect example for hungering and thirsting after God.  What did Jesus do?

  • Jesus prayed
  • Jesus fasted
  • Jesus read Scripture
  • Jesus walked in step with his and our Heavenly Father

Praying should be like bread to our spiritual well being and reading Scripture like water quenching our spiritual thirst.  Let us live by faith walking close to our Master the perfect example of how to live the life of faith. Don’t forget Jesus in his humanness needed help to come down the mountain (my view). So then my friends let us stay in step with Jesus and we have the hope that one day he is coming to take his bride (The Church)

…for the gentle (meek) ‘shall inherit the earth.’  In the end times: What earth?

March 6, 2022

Today I am doing more experimental theology.  

The theme is about the future theatre in the eschaton (end times) what type of earth we are going to inherit as believers.  It is not a clear and cut topic.  Namely over the years some scriptures have actually confused me.  An example of this is the Lord Jesus in the Beatitudes said the ‘The meek (gentle shall inherit the earth)’.

On the other hand, there is a Scripture that says the earth is going to be destroyed with fire (2 Peter 3 10).  Where do I start?

On top of this:

  • Some scholars say this world will continue the way it is (evolutionists)
  • Other theologians say this present earth will be destroyed and a new heaven and a new earth will come down
  • Bavinck says the truth lies between these two points.

For me this is an experimental line of inquiry and I believe Herman Bavinck will help me get to the truth.   

Before I even start, I think we need to remind ourselves that:

  1. When God created the heavens and the earth (It was good).  At this stage before sin entered into the world everything was good.  The material universe was ‘good’
  2. There was a Fall Adam sinned.  Adam’s sin not only affected the human race, but it also brought a Fall to the human creation (and the universe)
  3. Regeneration of the human race happened through Christ.
  4. Where does this leave the earth, the theatre in which humans live their life; the earth’s habitats, its animals that Adam was supposed to take care of, our pet rabbit Leo!

The fact is that in theology without realizing it perhaps there has been some gnostic influence that see creation (the material universe as bad!).  Is God a liar?

No! God is not a liar; so perhaps we need to think about the regeneration of the world in some way.   Does the Bible talk in anyway that the world would be regenerated or ‘born again’ Anyone who has pets must also wonder where their pets fit in this grand scheme of things.

There is also another problem that having a negative view of the material universe means that for many people the importance of saving this planet ends up on the backburner (This is a mistake). 

We will be looking at Reformed Dogmatics; by Herman Bavinck; translated by John Vriend; edited by John Bolt; pages 715- 724; printed by Baker Academic.

Creation’s renewal

After the Last Judgement and the banishment of the wicked from the world then creation will be renewed.

There will be many signs before the Judgement. Here are some references:

“29 “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Matthew 24:29”

“10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10”

“13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13”

“1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1”

Here we can see very harsh things being said about the world, destruction and fire. Bavinck goes into this a little later on so we will also wait before doing exegesis on Peters text.  On the one hand our Lord says that we will inherit the earth but on the other hand Peter talks about the destructive use of fire on the elements.  There are no contradistinctions although our understanding of the issues have now become rather fuzzy!

Concerning the regeneration of the world there are various standpoints.  As Bavinck writes:

“In this expectation of world renewal, Scripture assumes a position between two extremes. On the one hand, many thinkers—Plato, Aristotle, Xenophanes, Philo, Maimonides, Averroes, Wolanus, La Peyreére, Edelmann, and Czolbe among them— have asserted that this world is destined to continue in its present form forever. On the other hand, Origen, the Lutherans, the Mennonites, the Socinians, Vorstius, the Remonstrants, and a number of Reformed theologians like Beza, Rivetus, Junius, Wollebius, and Prideaux believed that the world would not only be changed in form but also destroyed in substance and replaced by a totally new world.”

Within many Christians there is a popular notion nowadays that this present world will be destroyed (annihilated).  For me this view does not hold any water.  It is interesting that when God put Adam in the Garden of Eden there were two trees.  There is continuity with the Garden of Eden with the tree of life (found in Genesis and Revelations) being mentioned again:

“And he showed me a river of the water of life, [a]clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of [b]the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve [c]kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” 

We can also think about the creation as good.  There is continuation between Genesis and Revelations not complete annihilation.

Bavincks view is that this annihalation is not Scrptural and on the surface the ones that look like complete destruction are not.  He gives us the following references:

“26 “Even they will perish, but You endure;

And all of them will wear out like a garment;

Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. Psalms 102:26”

“4 And all the host of heaven will wear away,

And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;

All their hosts will also wither away

As a leaf withers from the vine,

Or as one withers from the fig tree. Isaiah 34:4”

“6 “Lift up your eyes to the sky,

Then look to the earth beneath;

For the sky will vanish like smoke,

And the earth will wear out like a garment

And its inhabitants will die in like manner;

But My salvation will be forever,

And My righteousness will not wane. Isaiah 51:6”

“16 I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” Isaiah 51:16”

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. Isaiah 65:17”

“22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth

Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD,

“So your offspring and your name will endure. Isaiah 66:22”

Concerning the above passages Bavinck says that” In the first place, the description given in these passages is much too rich in imagery for us to infer from them a reduction to nothing (reductio ad nihilum) of the entire world,”(page 716)

These are some important points but then he also takes us into some key Hebrew words and how they ought to be interpreted.

The Hebrew word ‘abad’ the ‘perishing’ of ‘heaven and earth’:

“…the entire world, Further, the perishing (abad) of heaven and earth (Ps. 102:26), is explained by the fact that they will wear out like a garment, be changed like clothing, wither like a leaf, or vanish like smoke (Ps. 102:26; Isa. 34:4; 51:6)”

Bavinck then looks at the verb ‘to create’ ‘bara’:

“’[Bara’]… certainly does not always mean creating something out of nothing but frequently denotes a divine activity by which God brings forth something new from the old (Isa. 41:20; 43:7; 54:16; 57:18).”:

e.g:

“20 That they may see and recognize,

And consider and gain insight as well,

That the hand of the LORD has done this,

And the Holy One of Israel has created it. “Isaiah 41:20

“7 Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isaiah 43:7”

“16 “Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals

And brings out a weapon for its work;

And I have created the destroyer to ruin. Isaiah 54:16”

So then he finishes off in the Old Testament by saying bara is used in various contexts such as

  • Planting
  • Laying foundations
  • Making

Before we move in to the New Testament we need to say that there are certain premises we need to remember.  The main Scripture the Apostles and early Christians used was the Old Testament and a lot of the time it was the Septuagint (LXX in Greek).  The Apostles did not have a New Testament at hand to use.  The Apostles interpreted the Old Testament by the help of the Holy Spirit and the reason God had given them. 

To sum up there is continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and this is why in later centuries Marcion was seen as a heretic because he wanted to throw the Old Testament away!  The key word here is ‘continuity’

On page 717 Bavinck goes through some verses that prove:

“Accordingly, with reference to the passing of the present world, we must no more think of a destruction of substance than [we would] with regard to the passing of the earlier world in the flood. Fire burns, cleanses, purifies, but does not destroy.” From page 717

So let us look at some of these references:

18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:18

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Matthew 24:35

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10

17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:17

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1

In verse 11:

A perishing like an old garment

11 THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN;

AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT, Hebrews 1:11

In verse 10 below

  • Destroyed = perhaps the word dissolve is a better translation than destroyed:
  • Burned as the word ‘up’ is not in the Greek.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10

Note; λύω luō ; a prim. vb.; to loose, to release, to dissolve

Verse 12 below

‘changed’

12 AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP;

LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED.

BUT YOU ARE THE SAME,

AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END.” Hebrews 1:12

His conclusions for this section are:

“Only such a renewal of the world, for that matter, accords with what Scripture teaches about redemption. For the latter is never a second, brand-new creation but a re-creation of the existing world. God’s honour consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin. Just as anyone in Christ is a new creation in whom the old has passed away and everything has become new (2 Cor. 5:17), so also this world passes away in its present form as well, in order out of its womb, at God’s word of power, to give birth and being to a new world. Just as in the case of an individual human being, so at the end of time a rebirth of the world will take place as well (Matt. 19:28). This constitutes a spiritual renewal, not a physical creation” page 717

He has a lot more to say, but “…Still these comments do not do complete justice to the New Testament hope of future blessedness” (page 718)

Reflection

The aim of today was to think about the world we are to inherit as Jesus said.  I am not saying this is the only way to interpret the text, but Bavinck has certainly convinced me that it is.   Even as believers are renewed ‘born again’, the earth itself will be renewed and it is in that new earth that we inherit.   Humanity a lot of the time want to be like God! They are not. Many wars have been fought over the centuries and billions of lives have been lost. Today the theatre (world) in which people live out their personal stories is in danger of destruction. Will we ever learn that:

The way of love is better than the way of pride and selfish motivations. Although humanity is guilty of the greatest sin (Turning their back on God and making themselves to be gods). God did not give up on humanity but even in the garden God gave humans skins to Adam and Eve to wear. Since then God has worked through history and sent his Only Begotten Son to die on a cross as a way to bring salvation to us. The root cause of destruction on this planet is the human race but through Christ this is being rectified.

Matthew Chapter 5 verse 5; Is meekness weakness as Aristotle thought or is it a powerful force to be reckoned with in the Teachings of Jesus?

February 25, 2022

So, last we found out that the intentions of Matthew and Luke were not the same.  One focused on compassion while the other on holiness.  For the time being I will focus on Matthews Gospel first. 

Reminder and discussion

To remind ourselves again, Matthew started his beatitudes by speaking about the quality of being poor in spirit and those who mourn.  These qualities are qualities that a lot of head strong citizens would reject straight away.  After all who in their right mind would take on these weakling qualities.  Let us reflect on this:

The opposite of poor in spirit is to be full of pride and that one in their own strength without the need for outside help can do very well.  It is true that these sorts of people can become very rich and wealthy but that doesn’t mean that they will be ‘happy’.  To get to the top of the food chain they probably walked over people, knocked them metaphorically speaking out of the way.  This sort of living can have serious detriments to one’s psychological and spiritual health.  As Christians we follow the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus.  In Christ by the Holy Spirit our minds and reasons for living left this road for a road of love.  Our consciences day by day get better and better until we finally meet our Lord.

From poverty of spirit, we realize that God had to become a man and to die in place of us at the cross.  God the Son who is pure love had to take on human flesh and to die in our stead.  Who is this Trinitarian God?  He is the God that spoke, and the universe was created.  The God who breathed into Adam and made him live.  The God who became Adam’s friend and walked with him in the Garden. 

What did God get in return?

Adam and Eve who turned their backs on this friendship and wanted to take on divine status by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  We as human beings individually and corporately have also sinned.  Yet God in his love for us by the Holy Spirit shows us what our sin did. 

Coming to a place to see how much our actions have hurt Him and his creation in Christ he gives us a second chance and God’s Kingdom is within our reach by His gift of grace by the Holy Spirit!

We mourn because we have seen the destruction and death, we have caused in our own lives but also the destruction caused in the world.  God does not come to us with a punishing road but on the contrary in Christ we have real comfort.

As come closer to God through Christ by the Holy Spirit the scales from our eyes metaphorically speaking fall from our eyes. The next step on this road is humility, gentleness and meekness as Matthew says:

5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Meekness in the real world can be looked down on as a quality:

“Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

5. the meek] Psalm 37:11. “But the meek shall inherit the earth.” See note Matthew 5:3. Meekness is mentioned with very faint praise by the greatest of heathen moralists, Aristotle. He calls it “a mean inclining to a defect.” It is indeed essentially a Christian virtue.”  From  https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/5-5.htm

God’s way of seeing this quality is quite different:

3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Numbers 12:3

This is an absolutely amazing statement but in the context of humility this is what God said about Moses!

“4 Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So, the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said,

“Hear now My words:

If there is a prophet among you,

I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision.

I shall speak with him in a dream.

7 “Not so, with My servant Moses,

He is faithful in all My household;

8 With him I speak mouth to mouth,

Even openly, and not in dark sayings,

And he beholds the form of the LORD.

Why then were you not afraid

To speak against My servant, against Moses?”

9 So the anger of the LORD burned against them, and He departed. 10 But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous… Numbers 12:4-10”

The world might see humility as a weakness, but God sees humility otherwise.  We can see that our Lord took this saying from the Psalms:

“11 But the humble will inherit the land

And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Psalms 37:11”

Let us take a definition of Meekness then:

“The quality or state of being meek: a mild, moderate, humble, or submissive quality” From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meekness

On this website someone posted the following:

“While studying scriptures I had been reading in the Bible (KJV) where meekness is a quality of a Christian. I wanted to know how this characteristic fits my person. I understand after reading this definition it aligns with the Bible as the quality of a believer in Jesus. In Ephesians 4 the writer is the apostle Paul speaking to the gentiles about the unity of the spirit of Christ: 4:1-2 I therefore the prisoner of the Lord beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith us are called, With all lowliness and meekness.” The unity of the spirit of Lord Jesus teaches believers to walk in this manner in the spirit of humility, meekness with patience bearing others burdens in love to one another.” From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meekness

When looking at meekness, gentleness, and humility then we see that the context is in ‘love’.  If love as found in the first and second great commands is not the driving force, then it is not the type of meekness that Jesus is speaking about. Meekness has to be grounded in the love of God and our love for each other.

The world probably has counterfeit types of meekness.  There might be a post for a better paying position, so they pretend to be submissive.  once they get into that position perhaps, they start to boss others around with an air that they are better than everyone else.  

Moses was not like that.  He loved his people and on more than one occasion was willing to take God’s judgement on himself to save his people.  He was a prayer warrior.  He wasn’t perfect and sometimes he wasn’t very gentle and in his earlier day he murdered an Egyptian soldier our of rage for what was happening to the Israelites in captivity.  In the long run however, God saw the potential in Moses and made him leader. 

Reflection.

When the Holy Spirit reveals to us our sin it brings us to a place of mourning. God shows us how our wrong doings have hurt God, our neighbour, and the world that we inhabit.

Through this poverty and mourning we can only fall flat on our face before a Holy God, and we are grateful for the love by the Spirit he has poured into our lives.In the eschaton even now, (end times) we enter the kingdom of God.  Now we mourn but, in the eschaton, we will laugh with joy of happiness before our Lord.  We now walk in humility, but the promise is that in the eschaton we will inherit the earth.

To sum up, the believer now and in the eschaton:

  • Will enter the kingdom of heaven
  • Will be comforted
  • Will inherit the world

Why do I speak about the end times?

The reason I speak about the end times is because in the second part of the main beatitudes the tense is ‘future’.  The future is something that hasn’t happened yet but will take place.

I could also speak about ‘what Land’ they will inherit.  Herman Bavinck in his Reformed Dogmatics; Volume 4; around page 719 gives us somethings to think about. However, I will save this for another blog because he goes into a lot of detail, and I have now run out of time.

So then what is your understanding of meekness?

Meekness is a quality that very few people have.  From a world perspective it can be seen as a weak and low quality. 

As Christians we ought to follow the example of Christ.  Jesus was Meek but he certainly was not weak especially when he stood up to the leaders of the time and even turned over tables in the Temple area in Jerusalem.  Meekness is a state of being that God values.  When we stand before a holy God we are standing before Majesty.  As Christians the driving force of meekness was not weakness but rather genuine love for God, his neighbour and dare I say it love of enemies for them too to come to know the Saviour and taste this love.

The Two Emphases of Matthew and Luke on the Compassion and Justice Of God in the Sermon on the Mount

February 19, 2022

I have been asking God for wisdom when looking at our Lords teachings.  The SM (SM = Sermon on the Mount) are some of the most profound teachings for living the life of faith.  I was asking my self the question why is the mood and feeling of the SM so different in Matthew and Luke whilst it is the same teaching?

I think that this is a very important question.  The greatest preacher who ever lived was God who became a man in the person of Jesus Christ yet in this recorded sermon by Matthew and Luke, they are so different.  As I was typing and pondering these thought it dawned on me that for example; there can be two people who hear a sermon, but each person will pick something different out of the same sermon and interpret it differently, yet it was the same sermon!

Jesus gave a sermon and there were two people who heard or read about it (Matthew and Luke).  They walked away with different interpretations, but the husk of the sermon is still the same.  This is the main reason I felt it important to try to pick out some salient features from these two Gospels.  When I have completed picking out the salient features I will continue going through the text.

The Salient Features of the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew writes over 111 verses on the Sermon on the mount.  Luke writes about 25 verses and then Luke at the end of his beatitudes adds the woes.  So, the question for me is; What is driving these writers to write so differently on these passages?

I just recently acquired a commentary on Luke’s Gospel by one of my University Lecturers Judith Lieu.  It is the best answer I have found so far as she writes:

“That God is rich in compassion is fundamental to the OT (Ex. 34.6); whereas Leviticus had called for holiness (Lev. 19.2), and Matthew for perfection (Matt. 5.48), in likeness to God, for Luke the divine norm is to be compassionate. This means – v.36 should be taken with vv.37-38 not to judge, or condemn, but to pardon and give in abundance. Again there is no reflection on the certainty that God will judge, nor on the circumstances in which judgment is necessary. These are not maxims to be applied generally without discrimination; they explore what it means to say love your enemies, and, in a world where reciprocity was the norm which bound some together and separated others, explore an alternative model of relationships.” (From the Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; page 52 Epworth Commentaries)

As Dr Lieu says Compassion is fundamental to the Old Testament:

6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; Exodus 34:6

Dr Lieu also quoted Leviticus 19.2:

2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Leviticus 19:2

It is interesting that she chose these two passages because I got an email from the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust in which Rabbi Sacks reminded us of some important things here:

    “Ex. 34:6-7

This passage became known as the “Thirteen Attributes of God’s Mercy.”

The Sages understood this episode as the moment in which God taught Moses, and through him all future generations, how to pray when atoning for sin (Rosh Hashanah 17b). Moses himself used these words with slight variations during the next crisis, that of the spies. Eventually they became the basis of the special prayers known as Selichot, prayers of penitence. It was as if God were binding himself to forgive the penitent in each generation by this self-definition.[1] God is compassionate and lives in love and forgiveness. This is an essential element of Jewish faith.

But there is a caveat. God adds: “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.” There is a further clause about visiting the sins of the parents upon the children which demands separate attention and is not our subject here. The caveat tells us that there is forgiveness but also punishment. There is compassion but also justice.

Why so? Why must there be justice as well as compassion, punishment as well as forgiveness? The Sages said:

 “When God created the universe, He did so under the attribute of justice, but then saw it could not survive. What did He do? He added compassion to justice and created the world.”

    See Rashi to Genesis 1:1.

This statement prompts the same question. Why did God not abandon justice altogether? Why is forgiveness alone not enough?”

So then compassion and holiness are important things that God is really interested in and from my point of view it shows how these to lines of theology; namely compassion and holiness work together.  So then let us now look at the next two quotes from Dr Lieu:

Matthew says,

48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Luke says,

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Luke 6:36-38

Reflection

So then Rabbi Sacks and Dr Judith Lieu have taught us two important strands found in the Old Testament (The late Rabbi Sacks) and the SM (Judith Lieu).   I have a lot of respect for these two profound teachers of the Bible. Anyhow for me this is a profound and accurate answer for understanding the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and why they seem so different on the surface.  So then perhaps as I continue now in the Sermon on the Mount, we needs to take these differences in our stride and our walk of faith. 

Next time I will return to the Sermon on the Mount and start to inquire with what our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ wants us to understand.   

I feel that we are now armed with the keys to the SM.  We will be able to unlock these spiritual truths and grow closer to our Lord and Saviour and also have more compassion for our neighbours no matter what their background, race, religion et al.

I hope that you will follow me on this quest for finding Gods Truths about Himself, the Trinitarian God that we worship.

The Sermon on the Mount; The Poor and those who mourn (In this blog I will use ‘SM’ for Sermon on the Mount)

February 13, 2022

These three chapters take us to the heart of Jesus teachings, and it is so much more than just ethics and living a good life.   Before we start, I want to look at the structure of these chapters.  The late Graham Stanton in his class notes to us (1993-1994 King’s College London) showed us that Matthew writes 111 verses on the SM (SM = Sermon on the Mount) whereas Luke writes a measly 30 verses. 

Below when looking at the various themes of the SM one can see straight away that Matthews order of the teachings and that of Luke do not follow a chronological order.  You can see this by looking at the verse orders from the notes.  From my my notes on the Harmony of the Gospels I also learned that the Didache (The Teachings of the Apostles) has a very early date (scholarly consensus ad 50 -70!) and this writing seems to know Matthew!

Didache 3. 7 But be meek, since {the meek shall inherit the earth.}

Ancient Christian Writers; volume 6; Translated by

James A Kleist; page 17;   The Didache can also be found at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-lightfoot.html

However here the reference is 3 12. 

IS THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT RELEVANT FOR THE 1990’s?

1 THE ORIGIN, STRUCTURE AND PURPOSE OF MATTHEW’S SERMON

(i) The SM as the first of 5 impressive discourses:

5-7; 10; 13; 18; (23) 24-25 (NB 26.1)

(ii) Matthew’s SM has 111 verses. Luke has a shorter Sermon in chapter 6

with (30) verses most of which are found in Matthew’s SM.

Luke 6                                    Matthew 5-7

beatitudes                                        20b-23                                  5.3-12

love of enemy                                 27-36                                     5.38-42

golden rule                                       31                                           7.12

not judging                                       37-38                                     7.1-2

splinter and beam                          41-42                                     7.3-5

tree & its fruit                                 43-45                                     7.16-20

Lord, Lord                                         46                                           7.21

house & the storm                         47-49                                     7.24-27

(centurion’s servant)                     7.1-10                                    8.5-13

Matthew has expanded considerably the Sermon from Q – a collection of

sayings of Jesus shared with Luke.

(iii) The structure of Matthew’s SM:

Narrative opening 5.1-2

I Prologue 5.3-16

II Central Sections: 5.17 – 7.12 (law & prophets)

1. Preface 5.17-20

2. 6 antitheses 21-43

3. 3 religious practises and your father’s will 6.1-18 (During prayer and fasting)

4. New attitudes to God (6.19-34) and neighbour (7.1-12)

III Epilogue 7.13-27

Narrative conclusion 7.28-29

NB 7.12 as the climax and the Lord’s prayer 6.9-13 as the centrepiece.

Matthews Purpose:

Is the SM for crowds or disciples?  for Christian believers or for

all?  ethics without Christ? – Son of God

For Matthew the nations are to be ‘discipled’ and taught to observe

the commands of Jesus (28.18-20)

The words of Jesus in the SM are to be heard and obeyed: 7.24-29!

(These notes above were giver by Graham N Stanton in class)

We have touched on some very interesting themes.  The consensus of scholars is that Mark was the earliest (Ad 66-74).  However, we find a reference in the Didache dated at ad 50 -70 quoting Matthews Gospel.  These scholars who honestly have argued for Matthew to be later use the internal logic to come to a mysterious other source that all the Gospels used, namely Q.   This throws a spanner in the works for the Q theory.  I’m not a Q expert but perhaps Stanton was correct to hold to Matthew being the earliest Gospel.  If it is the earliest or not the earliest doesn’t really matter because it is Scripture (God’s word in written form)

Lets move on:

From the above image you can already see that there are stylistic differences to how the beatitudes were presented in both Matthew and Luke.  Luke builds a picture of what the scene was like before Jesus started to teach his disciples (The writing in white).  Whereas Matthew was more interested in the content of the teachings (colourful writing).

When we look at the pronouns in the two Gospels you can also see stylistic differences.  They both put the pronouns in the plural, but Matthew preferred the third person plural pronouns and Luke preferred the second person plural pronouns.  

It seems to be that Luke focused on the nuts and bolts of the teachings of the beatitudes and wanted to make these teachings more personal.  Matthew however is giving us the nuts, bolts, roof and side paneling of the Gospel.

GOING DEEPER

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven Matthew 5:3

“…Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20b

Here we see a difference in style, but they are saying the same thing.  Here in Matthew Jesus’ teachings are more formal and emphasises the psychological (in spirit).  A new attitude has to start from within a person’s mind and soul.  God has to bring the realization of the kingdom of God to the mind and heart of the person.

Luke is saying the same way but in a more informal way for perhaps those who do not have any rabbinic background (the commoner, the poor.). Luke write,” you who are poor”. 

We are all different in our temperaments.  There are those who are book worms but there are also those who are more feeling full and emotional. In God’s Kingdom the Gospel is open to every type of person no matter who or what they are.  We need to come to a realization that before God we are sinners and that we cannot help ourselves.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Luke 6:21

The order between Matthew and Luke have now changed.   In Matthew the ‘hungering comes after the mourning’.  So here we are focusing on:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

“…Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh”. Luke 6:21b

These notes didn’t really tell me a lot, but Vine said Matthew uses the more general word for mourning whereas Luke uses a stronger word weeping (for the dead). From expository Dictionary of Bible Words; W E Vine; page 87

Then we also have the other two words, comforted and laughing.

I kind of agree with Judith Lieu that Luke’s Gospel is more interested in the socio impact of Luke’s teachings.   We have only looked at these two verses, but we can already see differences in style.  From the Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; pages 51-52; Epworth press

Reflection

As disciples of Jesus, we need to pray and meditate on his words.  The beautiful thing that we have seen is that Matthew is giving us a deeper incite into the new attitudes that are found in the Gospel.  Luke is saying the same thing, but he is interested in the nitty gritty of the everyday life of the follower of Christ.

When we think about poverty, the reality of poverty is that it brings the person in it to a point of helplessness.  Poverty means there isn’t enough food on the table.  It means that one cannot go on holiday and have the ‘best things life has to offer’.  Poverty in that sense is a type of prison that stops people from reaching their dreams.  An effect of poverty is to indeed crush the spirit.  Both Matthew and Luke are correct on how they look at the poor.

Luke is also correct because God has commanded his church to care for the poor and the orphan, the needy whoever they are. Compassion and mercy are an integral part of Jesus teachings. As James reminds us the outflow of our faith ought to some how show in the real world (fruit of the Spirit).  When I was reading Herman Bavinck in his reformed Ethics, he said that the root is faith, and the fruit are works. 

We have all sinned before God and we all need to find forgiveness for our sins.  We cannot save ourselves but, in these verses, we see Jesus giving us a blue print for some core new beautiful attitudes through the act of repentance that can bring us into a true and liberating life through obedience, by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Notes KCL lessons from Graham N Stanton
  • Didache 3. 7 But be meek, since {the meek shall inherit the earth.}
  • Expository Dictionary of Bible Words; W E Vine; page 87
  • Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; pages 51-52; Epworth press

Notes

Notes on mourning and weeping from Olive Tree

Matthew Gospel

g3996. πενθέω pentheō; from 3997; to grieve (the feeling or the act): — mourn, (be-)wail.

AV (10) – mourn 7, wail 2, bewail 1;

to mourn to mourn for, lament one

Lukes Gospel

g2799. κλαίω klaiō; of uncertain affinity; to sob, i.e. wail aloud (whereas 1145 is rather to cry silently): — bewail, weep.

AV (40) – weep 39, bewail 1;

to mourn, weep, lament weeping as the sign of pain and grief for the thing signified (i.e. for the pain and grief) of those who mourn for the dead

to weep for, mourn for, bewail, oneNotes

Matthews Gospel

g3870. παρακαλέω parakaleō; from 3844 and 2564; to call near, i.e. invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation): — beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort(-ation), intreat, pray.

Luke’s Gospel

g1070. γελάω gelaō; of uncertain affinity; to laugh (as a sign of joy or satisfaction): — laugh.

AV (2) – laugh 2;

to laugh

The prelude to the Sermon on the Mount. 

January 29, 2022

Why did the Sermon on the Mount take place?

What led to the Sermon on the Mount for it to take place?

What was the feeling within the Jewish communities in Galilee?

These are important questions before we move into the greatest sermon ever preached. It is the greatest sermon because in it are the words of life from Christ himself. Remember that the Apostles only gave witness to Christ, the One who can take away the sins of the world; The true Lamb of God that takes away our sins. This is the One who spoke these words of life or death.

In the middle of a foreign powers occupation of Galilee something big was going to take place something much bigger than anything in world history.  This event had started, and a part of this event would mean great Rome would crumble and fall as Daniel had prophesied.  In the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament indeed there had been many deliverers such as Moses, the Judges even the Maccabees but these deliverances did not last.  In the past deliverances a lot of the time had been at the edge of the sword.  How would this time of God’s visitation be any different?

You may have watched in the past some Jesus films and perhaps they try to show the Galileans craving and cramming to see Jesus.  This is partly true.  Even today one sees rock stars getting lots of adoration, but I have to say it is not the same!

  • First of all, a rock star cannot save you!
  • Secondly Jesus preaching brought about a spiritual awakening to the truths of Holy Scripture. 

Here before the Jewish nation and Gentile nations was the Messiah and the expectations of salvation would be turned upside down and inside out.  There was a time in world history that Jewish and Gentile Christians were brothers and sisters but by the time of Justin Martyr there was hostility between the Church and the Jewish community.  We know this because St Paul raised money in Corinth and the local churches and sent the money to Jerusalem to help the Jewish Believers there. 

These are important questions.  It is wrong and a great sin to hate Jews which culminated in the Holocaust.  The root of hate towards the Jews can be traced all the way back to Martin Luther and it ended with Adolf Hitler:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism

As Christians we must remember that Jesus in his humanity was Jewish.  We must remember that Jesus taught us to love our neighbour no matter who they are (enemies or friends!).

From Olive Tree Bible software.

Let’s begin by looking at Marks Gospel:

35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. Mark 1:35-39

Mark

35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.

Here we see that Jesus had a mission from God.  When he got up early in the morning it was still dark.  While everyone was still sleeping, He was praying and communing with God the Father.  Luke says ‘when day came’ but he didn’t go into any details.

36 Simon and his companions searched for Him;

Peter and his companions couldn’t find Jesus straight away!  Obviously, he disappeared while they were still asleep. 

37 they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

What an anti-climax!  ‘Everyone is searching for you’.  ‘Everyone’ means the crowds.  They were hungry for God’s word.  Jesus’ preaching was different because it touched the core of the human being, their person-hood, their soul.

38 He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”

Here it says may preach. The word ‘may’, isn’t found but the use of ‘hina = ‘in order that’ and the ‘I may preach’ is in the subjunctive form. 

Luke’s version has a stronger intention.  He uses ‘δέω= bound’.  It is much stronger. 

https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/deo

Stylistically there is a difference, but the meaning is the same.  Jesus has a purpose from the mandate of heaven ‘for that is what I came for.’ 

The mandate from heaven was for Jesus to preach that the kingdom of heaven was here now, live on earth, die on a cross, be resurrected and open the doors of salvation to the whole world through and in him.  This mandate started from a backwater of the Roman Empire and the world would never be the same again. 

39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. Mark 1:35-39

Galilee was actually according to Josephus a very productive area.  It has a large lake that has a record of being a freshwater lake below sea level (the lowest in the world!).  There were cities and towns on both side of the lake and I can imagine Jesus jumping in boats and crisscrossing the lake on a regular basis preaching the Gospel. 

While doing this ministry of preaching his Apostles were learning how to preach.   The rest of the New Testament is an explication of these teachings that have now changed the world.

REFLECTION

Let us walk in love towards everyone.  Every human being including those who lost their life through abortion were created in the image of God.  Love can take on various forms, but it ought to show respect towards the other person no matter who they are.  This can be difficult at times as some people pull away from society and do atrocious acts.  We can still show love and follow Jesus’ example by praying for them that God’s will, God’s kingdom could also break into them and change them inside out by the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus was a man who was driven by the mandate of heaven.  He was preaching in those cities because out of these cities many people would repent and become children of God.  2000 years later and here we are still preaching the same Gospel Jesus taught.  Jesus was special because while he walked this earth, he was like a mirror that showed people exactly what they were.  They came face to face with their sins.  It is by grace that we are saved.  We cannot save ourselves.  We are helpless.  How helpless is the human race?  The human race is completely helpless before a holy God and God started this plan from the time of the Fall of the earliest human beings found in Genesis. 

Next time as we go through the Sermon on the Mount you will face a mirror that shows you your true self.  My friends we have all turned away from God.  As we look at the sermon on the mount we will be faced by the true ugliness of sin.  We will also be faced with the opportunity to follow Christ into the celestial city. 

Jesus Calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him

January 22, 2022

In today’s world, what is it like to be a student or an apprentice? 

First of all, in many parts of the world, as soon as one can speak children are sent to kindergarten and the learning starts.  By the end of the course students are spat out to become the future workforce.  It is a conveyor belt that keeps the taxes coming in.  Along the way a sorting happens and the less able end up being the janitors or no job and those who pass their exams the future leaders. It is very formal and a lot of the time the wrong type of people get the best jobs.  It is a very impersonal system and a student to be a student has to be registered and have a number in the register.

The disciples who Jesus called became the Apostles and through them the work of the Gospel has gone out to all the world.  There was nothing special about these Apostles.  They were hard working fishermen.  The Gospels of Matthew and Mark use the word ‘immediately’ quite a lot.   In Matthew Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”. Matthew 4. 19 In Marks Gospel Jesus says, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 4. 17

Jesus also called James and John but in these two Gospels we see our Lords agenda for these students.  Jesus used language that they understood.  However, did they really grasp what ‘fishers of men’ was actually about?  They were our Lords students, and they probably didn’t understand it completely, but they trusted our Lord.   They didn’t have any paperwork from the local college and no formal training, but Jesus was taking them under his wing. 

These are the very basics, and we can see what the agenda was for their future.  They were to reach out to people with the message of the Gospel.  However, in Luke’s Gospel we are given more detail about the Apostles callings.  We will see that when they had been in Jesus’ presence, they could feel their sinfulness more acutely in the presence of our Lord’s pure holiness. 

Anyhow let us now read Luke’s version:

“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signalled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” Luke 5:1-11

In Matthew and Mark, the focus is on our Lord and the disciples.  We are given the very important bare facts.  Our Lord wasn’t just walking alone along the edge of the Lake.  No, Jesus was a popular preacher, and he had a connection with the crowds.  The crowds and the disciples could here God’s words being spoken.  If for example, we were in Jesus’ shoes; in this situation we certainly would have felt intimidated and claustrophobic!  Our Lord found a quick fix in this situation and with the help of Peter (Simon) he jumped into his boat.  He could teach them God’s word and also have room to breathe from a boat.

We don’t know why but perhaps our Lord has a relationship with these disciples.  Our Lord was possibly a carpenter (a supposed son of a carpenter, Joseph (a god-fearing man)).  Perhaps in the family business he was asked to fix the boats. These are hypothetical questions, but in this story, there was a bond of trust between our Lord and the disciples.  Peter said in verse 5 ‘Master we have worked hard all night…’  Peter and the other fishermen were tired.  When your tired you are less likely to listen to someone giving you advice or commanding you.   This is what the Lord did.  He gave a command to the disciples to go fishing again and see what happens! These future disciples were listening to the holy words falling from the mouth of the Logos (‘The word’ John 11). 

On the other hand, it might have happened that as they listened to the word of Christ they were moved in spirit and felt the shock and awe of heaven and realized that they were in the presence of the greatest teacher who ever walked this earth.  Either way or both ways they threw the net into the water and the catch was a big one!  Peter and the other disciples felt and tasted their sinfulness in a serious acute manner.  Nothing was going to stop God’s plan of salvation for the world.  Even in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve got kicked out because of their sin. Although they were judged for their sins God still clothed them.; “NASB 1977

And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  Genesis 321   Perhaps this was the first sacrifice, and the sacrifice was made by God to clothe Adam and Eve.  Perhaps this was a picture of what was going to happen three years later at the cross. 

Reflection

What can we learn about our own spiritual state before the Lord Jesus?

As a follower of Jesus, you are not on any conveyor belt to please the whims and fancy of any government.  God loves you individually.  The Trinitarian God created you and he cares about the state of your soul.  In the texts Peter sometimes does what the others are only thinking.  What did Peter say to our Lord?

“But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken” Luke 59 Peter and the other disciples realized that they were in God’s presence.  The moment of the spiritual walks begins when we realize that we are ‘poor in spirit’.  We realize that before God’s presence we are completely helpless only then can God start to mould us into the conformity of the Son.  After this confession, it is only then that Jesus says to the disciples:

 “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”  Luke 510 

It is so easy sometimes to be over awed by a teacher and become fearful.  At the time of Christ teachers probably beat their students if they didn’t learn something.  A good teacher takes care of his/her students, and he/she is able to build a rapport with the students that is positive, friendly and respectful.  These disciples were in the presence of the greatest teacher to have ever walked the earth.  He understood everything about how things worked, biology, physics and chemistry as the Logos he was responsible for the very creation of the world.  What an amazing teacher they had and what amazing feats they ended up doing by the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The image used was taken from:

Jesus farewell to Nazareth and Mission Impossible to Jerusalem

January 16, 2022

Jesus moving away from his hometown and into Galilee part 1

Like Moses our Lord had to go through a Wilderness experience only to come out of it in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The world would never be the same again and the gates of salvation would be opened up to the whole world.  This world-shaking event would not happen through the use of swords, siege engines, political intrigues et al.  No my friends it was going to happen through the prince of peace.  In other words, this world changing event would happen through God’s love for his creation.  This world changing event would happen through humility, even to the point of our Master dying on a cross.  Let us read about the beginnings of this ministry even before the first disciples were called.

Matthew:  Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; Matthew 4:12

Mark: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

Luke: And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding districts. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. Luke 4:14-15

John:   After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. John 4:43-45

After the tests that our Lord went through it is recorded that Jesus went into Galilee.  We have the same story in all four Gospels, but they used different verbs for the movement of Jesus.  This is very interesting because by following these various emphases we get a better picture of the intention of Christ:

  • In Matthew Jesus ‘withdrew’ into Galilee   This emphasizes is on sadness of Jesus (John’s arrest)
  • In Mark Jesus ‘came’ into Galilee   This emphasizes Jesus coming into Galilee, and we have a perfect tense in ‘fulfilled’.
  • In Luke Jesus ‘returned’ to Galilee in the Power of the Spirit.  This seems to emphasis that Jesus has been in Galilee before but this time it was different.  Having been through baptism and the tests Jesus was in Galilee to do God’s work, and nothing was going to get in the way of this divine plan.
  • In John Jesus ‘went forth’ into Galilee: Seeing himself as having a prophetic role even as John had. He was received in this region as a full-fledged Prophet. 

This is a very important event as it is recorded by all for Gospel Writers.    Although Jesus being human like the rest of us.  He felt sad that John had been arrested.  John knew that when Jesus came his ministry was going to take a back seat.  Jesus this time came to Galilee in fulfillment of what God had said to previous prophets of the Old Testament.  This time was different Jesus came in the power of the Holy Spirit and this meant that God’s kingdom was now ushered in through the work, life, death, and resurrection of the promised Messiah.    Jesus was on fire for God’s will to be done and he preached everywhere. 

In our spiritual walk with God perhaps we too have very large decisions to make.  We need to follow the example of Christ.  We ought to seek out more time to pray in quiet places listening to the voice of God and to find out what his will is for our lives.  However, God has given us guiding principles we ought to stay in:

  • Love God
  • Love our neighbour
  • Live by faith by God’s grace and trust him in everything.  For some people they are looking for the ‘Mission Impossible’. 

It may be that you are a person searching out God’s will.  You may have been called to do mission impossible, but you may have also been called to be faithful in your local church and do boring things like putting chairs out.   We all have a place in God’s will.  If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord and you are faithful, it means you are already in Gods will.  In God’s will through Christ, we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in the direction he wants us to go.  Some of us have faced martyrdom for the faith others of us will be called to put chairs out on a Sunday.  In the household of God, we are both in the will of God.   Don’t fret too much about the future as Jesus said you are better dressed than the lilies of the field!

Reflection

In this story we see that Jesus made ‘the big decision’.  He would never live in Nazareth again.  By the Lake of Galilee and from the surrounding area Jesus would call his seventy disciples and his 12 Apostles.  The next three years these chosen boys would become men of God and by the Holy Spirit the world would never be the same again.  Some would live a long life such as John, but others would have a quick execution under the corrupt despots around that area.  Jesus knew the heart of the Father.  Jesus’ face would be set like flint to Jerusalem and death on a cross. We know this to be the case for the heart of the Gospel points to death on a cross and the resurrection. 

The Temptation of Jesus and our walk with God

January 9, 2022

Here we find the true identity of Jesus as he passes all the trials that prove Jesus to be the Son of God, the True Messiah and the Kings of all kings:

5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

and

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:1-11

Last time we looked at the baptism of Jesus and his identity was made public that indeed he was the Son of God.  One also needs to remember that John was seen as a Prophet, the forerunner to the Messiah coming.  It is John the Prophet who validated Jesus’ identity.  It was time now for our Lord to go into the barren wilderness to be with the rocks and the snakes.  It is unfortunate that Jesus’ testing times are seen as temptations.  In English ‘temptation’ has negative connotations.  The Greek certainly favours ‘test’.  The meaning certainly does carry ‘Temptation’ as “to make someone want to have or do something, especially something that is unnecessary or wrong:” (From https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tempt)

Satan was indeed trying to knock Jesus off the narrow track of God’s will.  In that sense it is a temptation.  Temptation as ‘a feeling to be naughty’ is not there.   However, it is also a test.  Our Lord and Saviour was keeping in step with the Father at every twist and turn.  These were real tests.  Notice that Satan only came to our Lord Jesus when he was at his weakest point physically.   

We need to remember that Satan wants to destroy God’s work as he is an accuser.  Satan was jealous of God and that is why he got kicked out of heaven in the first place.  In the Fall, he led Adam and Eve up the garden path thinking that they too could be like God.  This is spiritual warfare my friends.  We need to take note of Job too when he lost his family, and everything was taken from him.  In any warfare there are casualties, and it was time for John the Baptist to go to the other side and sleep with the beloved saints.  A holy and righteous man who prepared the way for the true king of Israel, the Messiah, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Having done his work at the baptism we find straight after this story he would be arrested by those evil leaders under the control of Satan.  Nothing can get in the way of God’s will.  There would be other times that Satan would come to lure Jesus away from his path.  The road was set God’s will would unfold no matter what happens, and the flood gates of salvation would break into this world through the death and resurrection of Christ. 

We now turn our attention to the three tests that our Lord overcame.  Jesus Passed the litmus test of devotion to his Father, Our Father who is in heaven…

In the book of Hebrews in our last series, we saw that as believers we ought to live by faith and trust.  In this story we see a prime example of how faith works through the most difficult of situations from the life of Christ our Lord.  In each of the tests Satan says, ‘If you are the Son of God’.  Satan was attempting to feed a seed of unbelief into Jesus that he was not the Messiah, he was not the Son of God.  He was attacking the human side of Jesus, looking for a crack.  Notice that throughout this testing Jesus did no miracles and proved that he was the man of God, the Messiah. 

TEST 1

“If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”

Jesus was hungry, he had not eaten for forty days or nights and then his first attack is to do with food!  William Barclay said that in that hot desert there are rocks that look like small loves of bread.  This was an attack on Jesus’ hunger pangs, but Jesus proved that faith is a lot stronger.  Jesus always prayed, he always found quiet places to pray.  This was Jesus’ The desert was a Temple of Prayer for the King of Kings.   Jesus was being tested on his humanity and Satan was picking on the lowest points just like he did with Job.  By asking Jesus to turn stones into bread, Satan was asking Jesus to do a divine act but if this happened it would be an act of disobedience to his heavenly Father.  An act of disobedience from the Son of God would be a sin. 

TEST 2

5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

and

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

In this attack Satan was attacking Jesus’ personal security and the Trinity itself.  Here we see Satan attempting to Force God the Fathers hand to do something against the Divine Will by saving Jesus’ life.  Jesus’ answer makes this very clear.  In the story as a whole Satan is referred to as the tempter πειράζω, He was goading not only Jesus the Son of God but also his heavenly Father.  When Jesus said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”  The word here is ‘ἐκπειράζω’ (put to the test).

TEST 3

8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”

Here we see the true nature of Satan, the jealous Satan.  Satan had influence over the whole world, and he was wallowing in the delusion of his controllability to the extent that if Jesus would bow down to Satan and worship him.  This is a cheap barter.  God had commanded that every human is to keep the first command ‘Obeying and worshiping only God’.  We need to remember that the Trinity was involved in the creation of the world and before sin entered everything was ‘good’.  In a twisted way he was attacking the heart of God ‘the Love of God’ for his creatures.  God became a man to save us.  This is real love. 

Satan offered a warped short cut to free people from their bondage to sin, in actuality, I don’t know what would have happened if Jesus caved into this request.   Jesus again did not sin but stayed faithful to his Father.

The Aftermath (Satan leaves, angels look after Jesus and John the Prophet is imprisoned)

11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:1-11

11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

At the end in this text Satan is referred to as διάβολος the ‘devil’ the slanderer.  Angels came to look after Jesus because he was too physically weak after this test.  Perhaps these tests were preparing him for the cross.  Let us not think too much about Satan but rather let us focus our life of faith on prayer and getting closer to our Heavenly Father. 

Postscript

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In the book of Kings, we have the story of Elijah.  In the story Elijah defeated by God’s hand the prophets of Baal.  The ordeal brought him to a place in which he asked God that he would die.  Elijah ‘was spent’:

Then Elijah said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:14

John the Baptist was taken prisoner, Jesus’ cousin, and Jesus too ‘was spent’.  A place of loneliness, feelings of abandonment… In English we may sometimes say ‘we had a desert like experience’ in which we cannot find or feel God close.  Jesus experienced all these feelings of abandonment too.  Our Lord did not give in, he found his sustenance through his prayer and devotional life. 

Questions

Explain to yourself what the three tests were.

What aspects of Jesus’ humanity did Satan attack?

Looking at the example of Jesus; Why should we pray regularly?

Reflection

As believers and for that matter as human beings we will all face desert like experiences.  We need to remember that if we truly trust in Christ, we are not alone.  In prayer we get closer to God and by the Holy Spirit and through his Word Jesus our Lord we can find a place of refreshment and divine community.  We are not alone, and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. 

This test proves beyond a shadow a doubt that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  He was revealed at the baptism, and he went though the litmus trials being proven to be the Son of God.  Jesus defeated Satan’s taunting through Jesus’ human life, Although Jesus is also fully divine, he did not rely on his divinity but his humanity to defeat Satan the accuser.  When God became a human being, he was obedient even to the cross and death on a cross.  Yet three days later he came back to life.   This story is a precursor to what Jesus would do in the future.  So much pain and suffering but our Lord walked the walk of faith, and he did the talk of faith to the very end.  As believers in Christ, we too will go through trials.   Let us stay faithful to the end even as our Lord stayed faithful to the end.

Note: the image was taken from wikipeadia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temptation_of_Christ#/media/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness(J%C3%A9sus_tent%C3%A9_dans_le_d%C3%A9sert)-_James_Tissot-_overall.jpg

Jesus Baptism and His Fully Divine and Human Identity

December 27, 2021

We are now on the verge of the new year, and I have decided not to move on from Hebrews to other parts of Scripture. Over Christmas time, we were reminded that in Jesus we see God taking on human form. In other words, Jesus was not a pretend man but a real man. Yet in another sense he is fully God and Fully man. We accept this by faith. Not much is said about Jesus apart from when he was 12 years old until he turned 30! John was sent in the tradition of the Prophets, and he prepared the peoples hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was baptized by John the Prophet in order to fulfil all righteousness. We know the story; Jesus was baptized and at this public ceremony The Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove that landed on Jesus while God the Father spoke of Jesus being his beloved Son. Here we have a picture of the Triune God:

Matthew 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17


Mark 9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11Luke 21 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. 22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

As you can see this story is found in all the three of the synoptic Gospels. All three Gospels talk about the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. This is true also in John:

32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34”

There is a fourfold public agreement on the offices Jesus was called to do. As we saw in the Book of Hebrews Jesus is Prophet, Priest, King and the ultimate sacrifice for our sins as well as being the 2nd Person of the Trinity, so that we can have eternal life.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

The Greek text here is moving very fast and the verbs are either in the present or the aorist. The aorist does not exist in the English language, but it is an event that is punctiliar. It happened and that is it.

Verse 13

Jesus coming from Galilee (present tense). He is already there by the river Jordan. This event is happening and being recorded on the spot.

Verse 14

John the Baptist felt so unworthy that he tried to prevent Jesus’ baptism because he felt it should be the other way around. This event was a lot bigger than John because it was a sign to the world that Jesus indeed was sent from God. Jesus is God’s message to the world.

Verse 15

The rationale for the baptism is that God had planned this from eternity. This moment has historical significance for God’s justice and righteousness.

Verse 16

As soon as Jesus came up from the water ‘immediately’ God spoke. God’s authority rested on Jesus. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove has a fourfold lock on it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have all verified that this took place. In any law court of any time and place this evidence would be taken as fact that it actually happened. Obviously the character of the witnesses ought also to be looked at. In any case they were willing to die for Jesus. This would validate the facts even more.

What about the character references of these Apostles:

  • Matthew (Levi): Martyred about 60 AD by being staked and speared to the ground. Preached the Gospel in Ethiopia (Africa) and was killed for questioning the morals of the king.
  • Mark (John Mark): Was dictated to writing the Book of Mark. Martyred – dragged to death.
  • Luke: The Physician. Wrote Luke and The Acts. Was hanged on an olive tree.
  • John (The Beloved) (son of Zebedee / brother of James) : Natural Death The only apostle who did not meet a martyrs death. Banished by Roman Emperor Domitian to Isle of Patmos where penned Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Was later freed & went to preach in Turkey and died at 100.

(I got this information from “…csmedia1.com/thexenaproject.org/week-01-how-the-disciples-died.pdf”)

Jesus has his vindication that indeed he is the Son of God. He is then sent to be tried and tested in the desert like Moses and Elijah were.

THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION

Historically something was happening at the time of Christ in the area of Israel and the surrounding districts. The time was ripe for the Messiah to come. I think one of the main questions would be:

What would the Messiah be like?

We do know that the dead see scrolls looked for a powerful leader. We know there was a cultus that was an alternative to the Temple of Jerusalem with serious washing facilities discovered by archaeologists!

https://www.britannica.com/place/Qumran#ref259042

This does not surprise me because the Romans chose corrupt leaders to do their dirty work for them. Herod is a case in point and then his children took his place. Part of this Judaic community opted out of this decadence for simple obedience for the God of Israel. They knew that the Messiah the true king of Israel would come into the world to save them. From a Christian perspective they looked in the wrong place. They looked for a powerful king who would trample their enemies into the ground.

Jesus did not come into the world as this powerful king who would trample their enemies into the ground. No! He was the ‘prince of peace’ born outside of any comforts and shared an area with the farm animals in a shed sleeping inside the feeding trough for the animals. How humbling how different to human logic. God’s logic is always greater than human logic as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians.

Jesus was indeed the Messiah:

7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:

He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,

Today I have begotten You. Psalms 2:7

And then again in Isaiah

1 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold:

My chosen one in whom My soul delights.

I have put My Spirit upon Him:

He will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1

How do we know this?

Only look at the story of King Saul and king David. Saul was the people’s choice. He was tall, good looking and he could fight.

Look at David! He was but a youth but had a heart to obey God. When he made mistakes, he would repent and be sorry for his sins.

Moses as well is recorded somewhere that he was the humblest man in all the world even though he was a leader.

REFLECTION

From what I have said Jesus is indeed the king of Israel and the world. Jesus was there at the creation of the world with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus did not come into the world with all of the regalia but rather the opposite. He humbled himself to sharing space with farm animals and died on a cross like a common criminal. This is seriously humbling. Yet death could not hold him and he was resurrected from the dead which gives us hope in the face of death that we too can be resurrected like him and live forever in God’s presence.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord

December 10, 2021

God-pleasing Sacrifices

15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honourably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Benediction

20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. 24 Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.

25 Grace be with you all. Hebrews 13:15-25

As well as loving God we also ought to love one another as Christ commanded.  Let us also stay appreciative to the fact that while we were still in our sin Christ died for us and in his resurrection, we have the certain hope of eternal life by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 15 and 16

15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We ought to praise and worship God in season and out of season.  This is not only dependent on our feelings but it also dependent on the objective historical truths that Christ died and rose again from the dead.  This gives us certain hope for our salvation.  A correlate of this is to share our love in practical ways as well by sharing with others from what we have.  As Bavinck would say, the fruit of faith is works. (See his Reformed Ethics volume 1).

Verses 17, 18 and 19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honourably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.  19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Again, Apollos commands the believers to obey their parents. Don’t go against the grain by being negative towards their leadership when there is no reason.  We also have the correlate of the importance of the leaders who are expected to conduct themselves ‘honourably’ in the office that they were chosen to be in.  Even Apollos talks about being restored to the Church!  We can see lots of prison sentences going on in the background.  Perhaps Apollos at times was also taken away from the Church by force (By the authorities).

Verses 20-21

20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Near the end Apollos gives a blessing to these believers in Jesus Christ.  He finishes with an Amen.  But I am asking, why it has come now near the end of the letter but not the end.  Perhaps Apollos finished his writings and he forgot to mention Timothy.  I don’t need to know the reason because this is such a fantastic and beautiful benediction.  

‘Now the God of Peace’

This is an interesting phrase.  As you know the style of the book is not Pauline, but the theology certainly is.  The term ‘God of peace’ comes up in other Scriptures:

Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:33

Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Then the idea of ‘Shepherd’, Peter uses this:

25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. 1 Peter 2:25

It is also found in Isaiah:

11 Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses.

Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?

Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, Isaiah 63:11

The Eternal Covenant

3 “Incline your ear and come to Me.

Listen, that you may live;

And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,

According to the faithful mercies shown to David. Isaiah 55:3

In verse 20 then we see a picture of the Trinity directly or indirectly.  We have God the Father of love and peace sending his Son the great Shepherd of the Sheep into the world to reconcile His church to the eternal covenant by the blood of Christ.  In one of the references in the Old Testament we see the Holy Spirit in the Midst of His people. 

Because of verse 20 then when we reach verse 21 the Church is equipped to do God’s will because of Christ:

equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:21

Notice the ‘Amen’ (so be it! / Let it be!).

Apollos however wanted to add some extra stuff to his letter.  Like we sometimes do by saying PS.

Verse 22

In this verse Apollos reminds his readers that he wrote this magnificent treatise as a ‘brief letter’:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Hebrews 13:22

As we have gone through this letter, you would have noticed that these believers were going through various trials and prison sentences.  To hear that Timothy is out of prison would have been a great encouragement for these believers.  Not all the leaders were dead.  The batten of the Gospel of Hope and life was being passed down from generation to generation:

Perhaps Paul was dead at this time by beheading, (Roman form of execution for Roman citizens) but Timothy and Apollos as faithful witnesses continued to spread the Gospel:

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Hebrews 13:23

Those in Italy greet the Church to whom Apollos was writing (Perhaps Jerusalem (my view)):

Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Hebrews 13:24

Verse 25 ends with the blessing of grace.  This is also found in the Pauline letters:

Grace be with you all. Hebrews 13:25

For example:

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18

Reflection

We have now completed reading and studying the book of Hebrews.  It is an incredible piece of literature in the New Testament that is artistically and theologically a masterpiece.   From my point of view there is only one Gospel, but it can take on different forms.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four Gospels written by four different people but influenced by one Holy Spirit.  For me Revelations is not just an Apocalypse following the Ezekiel tradition, but it is also explaining to us the authority of Jesus and what he did for us at the cross and it’s working out in human history.  The book of Hebrews is also about the Gospel message, but it takes a form of high Alexandrian Greek.  The message is the same and spells out who this Jesus is and those who reject the message reject God’s offer of salvation (although for humans it is a mystery because our understanding is finite). 

Here you have some Jewish Christians being persecuted for their faith.  Apollos writes into this situation, and he starts by placing the God-Man Jesus Christ at the heart of the Trinity:

“In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” Hebrews 1:2-4

  • Not anyone can sit at the right hand of the Father except the Son. 
  • He is also ‘greater than the angels’
  • ‘He is greater than Moses’
  • Although he is God, he took on human form as a real human being and humbled himself on the cross
  • Jesus is the High Priest in the heavens the earthly one is only a shadow
  • Jesus is the Perfect High priest the earthly ones only stay in place for a short period.
  • Jesus’ priesthood is like Melchizedek’s that lasts forever.
  • One sacrifice of Christ is all that is needed.  In the Temple animals needed to be sacrificed all the time.
  • We have a choice to choose Christ or judgement.

Thanks for taking the time to follow this blog.  I have enjoyed writing it and I get pleasure when I see people taking God’s word seriously.  Before moving onto a new Biblical project, the book of Hebrews gives us a question to ponder.

Who is Jesus?

But also, who is Jesus to you personally as a human being?

The Nature of Jesus

At this time of year with Christmas just around the corner John’s Gospel explains to us the nature of the Christmas story:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5”

John starts from the ‘beginning’ (creation). Jesus was actively involved in the creation of the world with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Before the Fall the creation is described as ‘good’.  God loves his creation so much that in Christ there is a renewal through faith.  We have a choice with the help of the Holy Spirit, light or darkness.  People cannot comprehend the message because they are spiritually dead.  Christ came to save this lost humanity. 

who is Jesus to you personally as a human being?

We are sometimes blinded by our own self centredness.  Christ’s message goes out to the whole world.  In the book of Hebrews, we are all confronted by the message of Jesus.  Do we continue walking along our own path and end up nowhere or do we in Christ return to the lover of our souls.  Every religion and every person will be confronted by this message and they and us will have to make a decision about the Gospel message.  As Christians we are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ.  When an ambassador goes to a foreign country that particular country will look at the way the ambassador lives.  As ambassadors for Christ let us be ‘living letters’ to those who meet us.  Unfortunately, a lot of the time we are anything but ambassadors!  We are not perfect but we are being made perfect in Christ Amen.

We have confidence in Christ because he is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever! Hebrews 13.7-14

December 5, 2021

Confidence is a very important word.  We use the word in our daily lives.  When we set the alarm at night-time, we are confident that we will hear it the next day.  In order to go to work we confidently put the key into the ignition.  When we switch the power on our phones, we confidently expect it to run.  However sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we had planned.  I was confident that my Windows 10 home edition would work but unfortunately, I spend a few days trying to make it work. 

Spiritually this raises important questions, and it leads to an ultimate question; Do I put confidence in myself or in a higher power? (Namely God) The book of Hebrews has a lot to teach us about where we put our confidence.  Here are some snippets:

  • Hebrew 36  If we hold fast our confidence
  • Hebrew 416 with confidence to the Throne of Grace
  • Hebrew 1019 We have confidence to enter the Holy Place
  • Hebrew 1035  Do not throw away you confidence
  • Hebrew 136 So we speak confidently

Let us now look at this week’s text:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.  11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:7-14

At first glance one might think there are various topics here and they don’t seem to jell together.  Commentators may ask what has leaders to do with Jesus being the same in time sequences in the following verse?

Verse 7

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

The ‘remembering’ here is in the imperative second person plural (Greek).  Apollos isn’t asking the believers to look at the conduct of their leaders.  No, my friends it is a command.  A lot of these leaders probably did not make it to old age.  Later on, we find out that Timothy is going to be released from prison.  What about Paul?  Tradition has it that he was executed.   James the Lord’s brother was according to Josephus also executed even though he was completely innocent.   How do your leaders stand out in the Church from the 21st century?  How can a person follow a leader that isn’t following the example of Christ in their everyday life?  No one is perfect but Scripture does give us a standard for leadership in the Church.   The New Testament stands on the authority of Christ and his Apostles.  The Apostles have been asleep for many centuries now, but we do have their writings as a guide by the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives us this continuation with the early church and the Apostolic standards.

Verses 8 and 9

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

Verse 8 is one of the most beautiful verses in the New Testament and because of its beauty we may miss the hay from the trees.  Taking the verse on face value it is an encouragement that Jesus is always the same.  He is in heaven interceding for us and we can take encouragement that his teachings do not change over time, but they are the same.  

Verse 9 is completely opposite, and we can spot the teachings of these capricious teachers a mile away.  The ancient Greek gods could change their minds on a whim so too these false teachers can teach false doctrine and change their meanings on a whim. 

However, we are certain and 200% sure that the teachings of the Bible have not changed for over 2000 years. 

Before we move on, I can simply say that this whole section touches on false teachings about food.  Perhaps somehow these false teachers were linking food to salvation somehow.   We need to remember that James in the book of Acts wrote a letter to all the churches stating that the only food Christians ‘jew’ or gentile was not to eat was food with the blood still in it. 

Verse 10

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Apollos reminds us that the tabernacle we eat from gives no right to these earthly officials.  The earthly tabernacle is only a shadow of the real one.

Verses 11 – 14

.  11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:7-14

These animals pointed only to the real sacrifice of the True Lamb of God.  These animals were sacrificed outside of the camp.    In that way the great sacrifice of Christ happened outside the city gates of Jerusalem.   Anyone hung on a tree was seen as cursed.  Jesus took our curse on himself so that we could be found holy and blameless before a righteous God.  As Jesus took on our curse which was a reproach against him, we too as his followers may we take on some of this curse, by living holy and blameless with this hope burning in our souls that one day we too will be before the celestial city gates. 

Reflection

Faith is a gift as we cannot save ourselves.  God is for us because Jesus is for us.  Jesus became a curse so that we in Him can be found righteous.  The road we walk is a walk of faith, full of appreciation in our hearts for what Jesus did for us.  Apollos teaches us to live this life confidently in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  If any of your leaders tell you anything different to take you away from Christ, then they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  

Personal note on the blogs

I would have finished this blog earlier, but my computer died.   In this digital age we need to stay faithful to Christ with computers and without computers.  If Apollos was around today, I wonder how this beautiful letter may have been written. 😊

The Materialistic Gravy Train and the Great Deception that can cost a person their soul.

November 10, 2021

Money and wealth is something that a lot of people crave for.  They somehow think that it will make them happy and content.  Sadly, this is not only an idea in the world but it has also infiltrated the Church.   I remember writing about the abuse of wealth in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics:

https://hasan-godtalk.blogspot.com/2021/01/do-you-love-money-or-god.html

As Christians let us be rich towards God and our neighbours walking by faith in Love.  Our text today is Hebrews 13. 5-6

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,

“THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.

WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” Hebrews 13:5-6

This is Apostolic teaching and that should suffice for us to accept God’s word.  However, we are going to go deeper and look at the source of this wisdom which flows from the teaching of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  Our great teacher has quite a few things to say about riches that come in various guises:

Matt. 6:19. Do not lay up for your

selves treasures upon earth, where

moth and rust destroy, and where

thieves break in and steal.

Riches do not last but rather they can turn our hearts away from our Saviour. 

Matt. 13:22. And the one on whom

seed was sown among the thorns, this

is the man who hears the word, and the

worry of the world, and the deceitful

ness of riches choke the word, and it

becomes unfruitful. Mark 4:7, 18, 19;

Luke 8:7, 14.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Riches here are spoken of as deceitful. Deceitfulness is a deception. 

Vine says:

Deceitfulness apate (539), “deceit or deceitfulness” (akin to apatao, “to cheat, deceive, beguile”), that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence, is said of riches, Matt. 13:22; Mark 4:19; of sin, Heb. 3:13. The phrase in Eph. 4:22, “deceitful lusts,” KJV, “lusts of deceit,” RV, signifies lusts excited by “deceit,” of which “deceit” is the source of strength, not lusts “deceitful” in themselves. In 2 Thess. 2:10, “all deceit of unrighteousness,” RV, signifies all manner of unscrupulous words and deeds designed to “deceive” (see Rev. 13:13–15). In Col. 2:8, “vain deceit” suggests that “deceit” is void of anything profitable. Matthew 13:22

I think that wealth is a great deception.  A person could have the latest cars, houses, boats, mistresses.  It is a bubble and is not real.  It goes against the fruit of the Spirit, and it is in direct opposition to God who is True and Pure Love.  The wages of sin is death.

Matt. 16:26. For what will a man be

profited, if he gains the whole world,

and forfeits his soul? Or what will a

man give in exchange for his soul

You were created in the image of God and you have a soul.  In Christ we have real value.  You have heard of the ‘rat race’.  Some choose to be rats and they will deceive in order to get rich.  This road leads to a spiritual death.  It means lying and cheating which is in contraventions to what God teaches.

Matt. 19:23. Truly I say to you, it is

hard for a rich man to enter the king

dom of heaven. 24. And again I say to

you, it is easier for a camel to go

through the eye of a needle, than for a

rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Having looked at the verses above Jesus’ metaphor of a rich man going through the eyes of a needle is very true.  The reason for this is that the person is focusing on this world, on themselves, on their ego, on their earthly god (idol). 

Our Lord’s teachings in the Gospels continue:

Mark 10:23. How hard it will be for

those who are wealthy to enter the

kingdom of God! 24. Children, how

hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Mark 12:43. Truly I say to you, this

poor widow put in more than all the

contributors to the treasury; 44. for

they all put in out of their surplus, but

she, out of her poverty, put in all she

owned, all she had to live on.

Luke 12:19. “And I will say to my

soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid

up for many years to come; take your

ease, eat, drink and be merry.”. 20.

But God said to him, “You fool! This

very night your soul is required of you;

and now who will own what you have

prepared?”, 21. So is the man who lays

up treasure for himself, and is not rich

toward God.

So how can we be rich towards God?  If we have followed the teachings of Hebrews, we already know the answer as it is living by faith and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Let us not make ourselves an idol of greed but rather let us become free through obedience to God.  Let us not fixate on wealth as our Lord says:

33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:33-34

Our Lord had a lot to say about riches and having the right attitude towards them.  They are an easy snare for the human being to fall into.  The Apostle spent three years with our Lord and even St Paul disappeared for a few years learning about Christ’s Way before he set off on his ministry.  It is on this foundation, Christ’s teachings that we can start to interpret wealth and how it ought to be used. 

The Apostles teachings

In this section we are going to look at what the Apostles thinking is about riches and wealth.  When we have finished you will see that they follow directly from the teachings of Christ.  When the Apostles use Christ’s teachings it is directly into the contemporary life of the Church.  Here I am defining ‘contemporary’ in terms of the relationship of the Apostles to the early Church.  We are also contemporary with the early Church because we have the same Holy Spirit and He is the glue that binds all Christians (The invisible Church) to Christ by faith.

Apostles Teachings

I used http://qbible.com/ to get the following references below.

1 Timothy 6:9

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction”

Greed destroys a person from within.  What type of destruction can there be?

If a person can have anything they want, then ultimately the destruction of the soul.  However, there are many levels along the way.

Desire to be rich at any cost can make a rat in character

Wealth can make someone’s ego become an idol where they think they are better than their neighbour.

Temptations that can ruin a person are manifold; alcohol dulls the mind, secret relationships can break families apart,

Affording the latest luxuries can make a person fat.

Wealth can make a person even more selfish

The self becomes ‘a god’. To be more precise a person has more power to do what they want and are prone to fall into the trap that Paul warned about:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21

1 Timothy 6:17

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy

Wealth and riches of whatever type is a great deception, so we need to be aware of its dangers. 

49.1TM | 1 Timothy 6:18

Instruct them to do good to be rich in good works to be generous and ready to share

True happiness is found through faith in Christ.  When one releases the burdens of greed and self-centredness then one starts to live a new life.  We can become soul rich because we put God first.   God created all that is good in the first place and all we are doing is like the prodigal son ‘returning home’.

51.HBR | Hebrews 11:26

considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward

Moses put God first and he was known as the most humble man on the earth.  He wasn’t rich but his life is celebrated all around the world. 

James 1:10

and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation because like flowering grass he will pass away

Wealth can be a humiliation because one only thinks about their own bank balance, so he thinks.  The selfish man is only around for a time and then there is the judgement

James 1:11

… its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away

Pursuing God and his ways brings real wealth which will not fade. 

James 2:5

Listen my beloved brethren did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him

As Bavinck said somewhere the ‘fruit of faith is works’.  It was a big mistake for Martin Luther to call this book ‘straw’.  James the Lord’s brother was the leader of the Jerusalem Church and according to Josephus he was murdered by jealousy and hate. 

We have a few more verses below if you care to read.

James 2:6; But you have dishonored the poor man Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court

James 5:1; Come now you rich weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you

James 5:2; Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth eaten

Revelation 2:9; I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan

Revelation 3:17; Because you say I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked

Revelation 18:3; …mmitted acts of immorality with her and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality

Revelation 18:15; The merchants of these things who became rich from her will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment weeping and mourning

Revelation 18:19; …ourning saying Woe woe the great city in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth for in one hour she has been laid waste

This was just background reading.  Money and wealth in itself does nothing.  At the end of the day, we ought to be good stewards of what God has given us.  A person may have inherited his wealth or became wealthy through good business transactions.  This is not a problem.  The problem is the Fall.  When the Fall happened in the garden of Eden it was to do with Adam and Eve wanting to become their own sovereignties without being dependent on God.  They thought that they could be like God!  This is a natural state of people that we want to be in charge, and we think that wealth can make us happy.  It is the great deception.  If we want to be truly happy, we need to watch our attitudes and perceptions.  It is a great temptation for many a politician to be wealthy and famous and some will lie and cheat to end up at ‘the top of the pack’.  This is sad because all a politician is, is a servant of the people.  Unfortunately, if you watch some politicians around the world, you can see and feel the pride that ‘they have made it’.  They have made it for the gravy train of riches, but little do they know that God’s judgment like a massive Juggernaut train is coming towards them full throttle and it may cost them their soul.  

So from the background reading we understand a little bit better what Apollos was on about:

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,

“THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.

WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” Hebrews 13.5-6

Don’t strain for wealth but be happy with what you have.  Love for God is better than love for money.  I liked Donald Guthrie’s comments here:

Contentment means more than passive acceptance of the inevitable. It involves a positive recognition that money is relative. In support of this view, the writer quotes from the Old Testament

And again, on the Old Testament quotation he says:

The writer’s intention is to show that contentment should be based on the character of God, especially on his unfailing presence. As this promise had been a great support to the Israelites faced with the hardships which preceded their entry into the promised land, so the readers of this letter could take their stand on the same promise.” (Tyndale New Testament Commentary on Hebrews; Donald Guthrie; pages 269-270)

Reflection

Materiality, wealth and riches in itself is not a problem.  The problem is with us humans having faulty attitudes on wealth and riches.  We so easily get fixated on wealth that we end up deceiving ourselves.  From that point of view Satan doesn’t need to do anything.  This seed of greed and self-sovereignty already resides in us from the Fall.  Jesus’ teachings are vital for us so that our attitudes and faith are realigned vertically up towards God and horizontally towards our neighbour.  A proper understanding of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 is a good place to start. 

What advice can I give you.  I’m not your judge.  God loves you and in Christ we can see the great deception for what it is.   This is a very serious topic in the Bible.  As Christians and for that matter Muslims and Jews are expected to love their neighbour and show great hospitality and love. 

So then let us follow the teachings of the Book of Hebrews, the teachings of Jesus and of the Apostles on this great subject Amen.

Let us love, show hospitality, empathize with the needy and honour Marriage!

November 6, 2021

Today we are going to look at some reasons why Apollos wrote Hebrews but not Paul.  We also need to remember that in theology it is within a Pauline school of theology but written in a High Alexandrian Greek style (Philonic style).

We then move on to look at some of the ethical material in chapter 13 namely the first four verses.

Background to Hebrews 13

We have shown and proven using probability that Apollos is the most likely contender as the writer of the book of Hebrews.   Some have argued that the style in chapter 13 has changed.  Yes, the style has changed to being more Pauline like.  Perhaps the reason for this is that Apollos was part of this Pauline school.  Throughout the whole of this letter, we have come across Pauline ideas, and this should not be a surprise.  Apollos in this last section switches to giving advice on how believers ought to live.   In Orthodox traditions Apollos was one of the seventy elders and he was bishop sometime in Corinth.  He may also have been Bishop at Izmir (Smyrna), Caesarea (An archaeological site between Tel Aviv and Haifa) and other places.  Some have also contended that Paul must have written this letter because Timothy is mentioned:

When Paul is writing formally to other churches, he has in a couple of places written ‘our brother’.  However, in other places (more informal perhaps at the end of letters or to Timothy Himself) he calls him his child or son.  There are about 23 references to Timothy in the New Testament

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Hebrews 13:23

This to me would not make sense because Paul usually refers intimately about Timothy more like a ‘son’ than a brother! Having said that the Church had a special place for Timothy in their affections.  He indeed was a special brother, and it was not unusual for Timothy to team up with Paul or Silas.  There are possibly many instances of Timothy teaming up with other members of the Church.  The writings we have are a snapshot of what was going on. Below are some references to Timothy:

For this reason, I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Corinthians 4:17

Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.

Romans 16:21

10 Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am. 1 Corinthians 16:10

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia:

2 Corinthians 1:1

Bibliography

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges; THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS; VEN. F. W. FARRAR, D.D., F.R.S.; Farrar, F. W. (1893). The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, With Notes and Introduction (p. iii). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Logos.com

(The introduction in the above commentary explains a lot how Apollos could have been the writer and the evidence is very compelling that Apollos wrote it.  Farrar also shows how the Pauline ideas are found in the book of Hebrews but it has an Alexandrian and Philonic style, this includes his vocabulary and choice of words.)

Summary

The writer of Hebrews was a man who was from the school of Paul. At the same times he was a writer that wrote in an Alexandrian style.  His style in the Scriptures is pure originality and we can be grateful to have such a masterpiece of writing in the New Testament. According to tradition he was one of the seventy elders, and this gave him God’s authority to command the Church to live godly lives.

COMMENTARY

Let’s read the first six verses:

Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. 4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. 5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say,

“THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID.

WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?”

Verse 1

Let love of the brethren continue.

The word used here is φιλαδελφία (Philadelphia).  It is brotherly love.  Brotherly love happens within the family (God’s people the Church).  This word is not the same one as used in love of neighbour by Jesus:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:43-47

In this section Jesus uses the word ἀγαπάω (agapaō).  Basically, Jesus commands us to love everyone.  When Jesus preached, he preached in public to everyone.  The situation of Hebrews is different in the sense that this letter was only addressed to a close-knit congregation (s).  Then again Jesus uses agapaō in the High Priestly prayer:

I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. John 17:23

I am not making any deeply theological statements here, but I am saying that in the Greek language they use a variety of words for love whereas in English we use one word to cover a plethora of meanings.   

Verse 2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Obviously, Apollos is referring to this situation:

Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. Genesis 18:1-8

So, the key words are love and hospitality.  Hospitality is something that believers should just do and it is even commanded as it is here.  Apollos goes a stage further that we ought to think about ‘strangers’.  We do not know who they are but it may be that they need help.  Perhaps they don’t even have any food and are hungry.  How far would we go out of our way to help some one who is in need? (Or not in need but a friend).

Verse 3

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

So, our three key words are love, hospitality, and now empathy.  

At the end of this chapter, we see that Timothy was in prison and he had only recently been released.  We have also seen it near the end of chapter 10:

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Hebrews 10:32-35

Over the centuries things haven’t changed that much.  Innocent people still get thrown in prison from various situations.  Let us remember too those who are suffering through no fault of their own and are languishing in prison.  We ought to remember even those who have been thrown in prison because of what they have done so that they can come to faith in Christ.  God works in mysterious ways and we don’t always know what the outcome is going to be.

Verse 4

So up to now we have had Love, hospitality, empathy and now honour.

4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Hebrews 13:4

Marriage in the UK usually lasted a lifetime, but the laws were relaxed in the 1970’s and it got easier to get divorced.  The following link shows different religious groups and some dovorce rates:

https://divorce.lovetoknow.com/Divorce_Statistics_by_Religion

This is a sad state of affairs because God is love and those who divorce have decided to break their vows.  I’m not standing in judgement, but it does show that we live in a dysfunctional world and the Fall is very much evident.

As in the early church (such as Corinth) there were believers married to unbelievers; believer married to believers but in all of Paul’s advice marriage was important.  For example, believing couples were commanded to pray for each other 1 Corinthians 7. 5.  When reading chapter 7 Satan is also mentioned in verse 6 (lack of self-control).  We can see that in marriage the old fallen nature and the new nature are at odds.  Prayer is very important because when we pray even for our partners and children it build God’s empathy in our hearts.  Love is the glue that holds a marriage together so it does not surprise me that Marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ and the Church:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33

Reflection

As Paul did in his letters; Apollos gave advice for faithful living in Christ.  In the first 4 verses we touched on some very important themes, so we ought to take these commands very seriously because they are indicators of how our walk with God is.

Apollos in these first few verses touched on

  • Love
  • Hospitality
  • Empathy
  • Honour

Where do we fit into this picture?

Do we love our neighbour whoever they may be?

Do we love those who have abused or wronged us in some way?

Do we have empathy for those who have had their freedoms taken away from them?

Do we respect marriage and the idea of marriage especially when it is a metaphor of the marriage of Christ and the Church?

Through out the book we had a feast of high Alexandrian Christian Theology, but Apollos is also concerned about our individual walk with God in the nitty gritty of daily life.  Hebrews is definitely part of the Pauline school of Theology written by a Master theologian namely Apollos.

The Time of the Great Shaking (Hebrews 12:25-29)

October 30, 2021

24 10 2021

Shaking

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:25-29

Shaking (The Big Idea)

In general, when something shakes things happen.  Cooks can shake liquids such as syrups and milk to make a milk shake.  At the same time volcanoes can shake and erupt and cause vast devastation such as Mt St Helens that destroyed much of the vegetation and houses from miles around. Shaking is a very good word to use in metaphors that are linked to judgment.   In the case of Hebrews 12. 25-29 ‘shaking’ is being used in terms of God’s judgements.  This is a more serious type of judgement because God controls the human spirit that lives on after death as well as physical life.  Shaking is used here in Hebrews 12 26 in terms of making insecure (Vine; see his comments in the Index)1a

Verse 25

‘See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking’.

The pronoun him is referring to God as the speaker.  The sentence is not very clear who the speaker is.  Some have suggested that it is Moses and Christ but after reading Hughes comments on this verse I take it to be God who is speaking (commentary on Hebrews: Philip Edcumbe Hughes; Published by Eerdmans; page 556 See index 1b)

This verse is telling us to take God’s warnings seriously.  Warnings have been given on earth and from Heaven (we will see this more clearly as we go through these verses).

Verse 26

26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” Hebrews 12:26

We have two references here that show God would shake the whole of reality (heaven and earth) Ex 19:18; Judg 5:4f

This verse seals any ambiguity of it being God who speaks.  I disagree with Luther and others who say it was Moses and Christ.  This places a wedge between the Old Testament and the New Testament when there isn’t one.   It might look good on paper, but it is a false interpretation.  Luther would have liked this interpretation because of what he thought about the book of James that ‘it is straw’.  Bavinck from the late 19th century and the 20th century corrects this notion.  Works are the fruit of faith, however works do not save us from our sins (See Index on Bavinck 1c )

Verse 27

This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.

This is going to be a big judgement! Why am I saying this?  There is only one previous time that God literally shook the whole earth and that was at the Judgement of Noah in which God destroyed most of the human race except one family; Noah’s family.

Verse 28

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;

Out lives are in Jesus Christ he is our lifeboat. As we walk by faith in God’s will, we are indeed in the presence of God for all eternity.

Verse 29

for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:27-29

This comes from Deuteronomy 4.24

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God”.  God loves his people and he will protect his people. He loved us so much that he sent Christ into the world to die on a cross so that we can have eternal life.

Reflection

We started by looking at Sinai and Zion and now this week Divine judgement on heaven and earth.   This is an exhortation to stay faithful to our Trinitarian Holy God.  I can’t think of a more serious issue for humanity that divine judgement as it will not be a pretty sight but a shock and awe sight in which our very souls are on the judgement table.

If we live by faith, then we are hid in Christ and it is a joyful event.  However, let us be like Abraham when he kept on praying for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.   In the end only one family came out alive and even then, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt.  Let us not look back on our old life.  Let us keep moving forward in the love of God by the gift of faith God has given us.  Let us love our neighbours whether they are good or evil to the very end as Christ commanded so that they too could be pulled out of the fire that is to come.

Bibliography

  • Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 10, pages 411-422 index 1c
  • commentary on Hebrews; Philip Edcumbe Hughes; Published by Eerdmans; page 556 See index 1b
  • Vines Greek New Testament words (Olive Tree Bible software)1a

Index

1a  Shook saleuo (4531), “to agitate, shake,” primarily of the action of stormy winds, waves, etc., is used (a) literally, of a reed, Matt. 11:7; Luke 7:24; a vessel, “shaken” in filling, Luke 6:38; a building, Luke 6:48; Acts 4:31; 16:26; the natural forces of the heavens and heavenly bodies, Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:26; the earth, Heb. 12:26, “shook”; (b) metaphorically, (1) of “shaking” so as to make insecure, Heb. 12:27 (twice); (2) of casting down from a sense of security, Acts 2:25, “I should (not) be moved”; (3) to stir up (a crowd), Acts 17:13; (4) to unsettle, 2 Thess. 2:2, “(to the end that) ye be not (quickly) shaken (from your mind),” i.e., from their settled conviction and the purpose of heart begotten by it, as to the return of Christ before the Day of the Lord begins; the metaphor may be taken from the loosening of a ship from its moorings by a storm.

“There is a danger of forgetting that the Bible reveals, not first the love of God, but the intense, blazing holiness of God, with his love as the centre of that holiness.” Hebrews 12:26

1b There is a difference of opinion concerning the identity of him who warned on earth and him who warns from heaven: is it two different persons that are meant or one and the same person? Theophylact, Luther, Moffatt, Héring, and Montefiore are among the many scholars who understand two different speakers to be intended, maintaining that the former refers to Moses, the earthly and merely human mediator of the law, and the latter to Christ, the Mediator from heaven of the new covenant. In the view of Aquinas and some others a contrast is intended between the angelic mediation at Sinai and the mediation of Christ (cf. 2:2 above and Acts 7:38). Many others, however, including Chrysostom, Owen, Bengel, Westcott, Spicq, and F. F. Bruce, contend that God is the sole speaker intended. Thus, Teodorico insists that what we have here is not a diversity of persons but simply a diversity of circumstances, expressed by the phrases “on earth” and “from heaven.” The correctness of this judgment is confirmed by the statement in the next verse: “His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised …,” from which it plainly follows that God is the sole speaker; for it was the voice of Yahweh, certainly not of Moses or an angel, that shook the earth at Sinai, and it is Yahweh again who promises yet one further shaking in Haggai 2:6f. We have here, in fact, the same kind of statement as is found in the opening words of the epistle, where God who “spoke of old to our fathers” is one and the same with him who has spoken to us “‘in these last days by a Son” (1:1f.).

1c Good Works as Fruit of Faith. In the third place, the Holy Spirit pro duces assurance in us by shining light on the minor premise (I believe) from our good works, as the fruit of faith.  Good works are fruit, a manifestation of faith (Matt. 21:43; Luke 8:15; 13:9), by which false prophets, etc., are recognized (Matt. 7:16, 20) and the goodness of the tree is known (Matt.7:17; 12:33). In the Gospel of John, the result of communion with Christ is to be set free from sin (John 8:32, 36), to distance oneself from sin (5:14; 8:11), to bear fruit (15:1-2), to keep the commandments as the expression and proof of love toward him (14:15, 21). And all those commandments of Jesus are concentrated in the great command of brotherly love (13:34–35; 15:12–13, 17). Similarly, we see this in the First Epistle of John: in the love that is born from faith in Jesus, we keep the commandments of God, which is the fruit and proof of our faith, of our being in God (1 John 2:3–6, 29). Whoever does right, is righteous, is born of God (3:6, 9) and is from God, while whoever sins does not know God (3:10). Doing righteousness consists especially of brotherly love (2:7-11; 3:10–11). Love toward God and love toward our brothers and sisters are correlative demonstrations of true love (4:20–21; 5:1-2). The latter is the sign that God abides in us (4:16), a sign that we are born of God (4:7). To have fellowship with God is “to walk in the light” because “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5; cf. 1:6). The entailment is clear: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1:7). Paul too is zealous about walking in the Spirit (Rom. 6), emphasizes sanctification, and describes faith as working through love (Gal. 5:6, 22). But he moves from faith to works, unlike John, who ascends from works to faith. James 2, however, says that faith without works is dead.284 That is also what the Reformed tradition teaches.285 But one cannot lean upon good works; absolute assurance cannot be deduced from good works, even though faith and election are manifested in good works.

Which mountain does your God (god) come from? A look at Mt Sinai and Mt Zion. Hebrews 12:18-24

October 22, 2021

Mountains are very salient things.  In many cultures around the world usually it locates some form of divinity.

In the localities around Israel are certain mountains:

  • Mount Sinai – Egypt, Elevation: 2,285 m
  • Mount Nemrut, Turkey, Elevation 2,134 m
  • Mount Olympus – Greece, Elevation: 2,918 m
  • Mount Carmel, Israel – Elevation:  525.4 m
  • Har Karkom (Jabal Ideid) – Negev desert in Israel, Elevation: 1 035

One of the oldest maps in the world was discovered in Iraq. 

Babylonian Map from Wikipedia

It reminds me of the time when I was at university studying the Psalms and we touched on the importance of mountains in the minds of the local communities surrounding them. On this ancient map scholars think that the triangles on the outer circle are mountains of the gods.

Anyhow today we are reading the story of two mountains in which the Israelites met with God:

  • Mount Sinai
  • Mount Zion

At mount Sinai God made a covenant with Israel that he would be their God and they would be his special people.  It is in this period of time that God commanded Israel to make a Tabernacle.  Basically, it was a mobile Holy Temple. Eventually the people of God would settle down and a promise was made to king David that his royal line would never end.  King David conquered Jerusalem and it became the capital city.  It was in the heart of king David to build a temple to God. The problem was that in God’s sight David had blood on his hands in the many wars that he took part in.  However, he did provide the timber and resources for King Solomon and on Mount Zion (The Temple Mount) the first temple to the God of Israel was built.

Scholars have suggested that the Old Testament in places leaned on the idea that no foreign army would ever conquer the Temple Mount.  Obviously, History tells us otherwise.  The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (587BC) and again by the Romans in AD 70. However things turned out; for Christians the real Zion is in God’s presence and it can never be destroyed.   God allowed the Jewish people to return and rebuild the temple.  It was rebuilt and the temple became fully functional again. Other things happened as well and eventually King Herod wanted to make his mark.  He modernized the Temple Mount, and it was a magnificent thig to look at.  We need to remember though that Herod the Great was a blood thirsty murderer. We know in the Christmas story how he slew ‘Rachael’s children’ ‘and ‘they were no more’.   If Kings David the greatest king of Israel and Judah had blood on his hands and was not allowed to build the temple; How does Herod stand before God? 

It doesn’t surprise me that some Israelites (Essenes) went into the desert to worship God.  They knew the abomination that was happening in Jerusalem. 

(Note:

I ought to read the Dead Sea Scrolls a little closer I’m pretty sure that this is possibly one reason to move to the desert.)

The real Zion is in Heaven.  Mount Sinai and the earthly sanctuaries in Jerusalem were steppingstones to the real sanctuary not made with hands:

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” Hebrews 12:18-24 NASB

There are two mountains with two stories. 

At mount Sinai the Law of God was given, the ten commandments and all the other laws.  The law was Holy but whether we are Gentile or Jewish we have all failed to keep the Law.  This does not mean the law was bad.  No, the law is good because it came from God, but apart from Christ no one could keep it perfectly.  The teachings of Jesus in Matthews Gospel show us this to be the case.  It is only when we realized that we are spiritually poor and helpless before God that we can start this walk of grace.  The good news is that Christ kept the law perfectly and in Him we can have eternal life.

Here we have two covenants in the Old Testament:

  • The covenant with Moses and the people of God
  • The covenant of David and the people of God

Jesus comes from the line of David and in Christ the ‘second Adam’ we have been recreated and found to be blameless before a holy God by faith.

Christ indeed is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses.  The law will always be good but only through the work of Christ; the Mediator between God and Man.  We also need to remember that at the Transfiguration of Jesus Moses and Elijah were present.  We had a glimpse into heaven itself and in this story, we see Christ’s Divinity.

There are those who would like to see the Old Testament to be forgotten and ripped out of the Bible.  This is what the heretic Marcion tried to do.  The Old Testament is beautiful.  This is where we see the creation of the world; the creation of Humanity; the Fall of humanity; the promised restoration of humanity; the coming of Christ into the world; That Jesus would save his people and bring them with himself into the real Zion in which we share in the life and communion of the Trinity.

Reflection

Just imagine you were standing at the foot of Mt Sinai; What would you be feeling?  You would be afraid and with your finite mind would not be able to grasp the big picture that God had in mind.

We are privileged because we are of the household of faith and as believers we can look back retrospectively and see what amazing things God has done for us!  Not only retrospectively but the here and now.  We can fall on our knees and worship God today whatever area in the world we are in. Whether we are on a mountain top or in the valleys, we can fall on our knees and worship God in spirit and truth.

Bibliography

A very old Babylonian map; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_Map_of_the_World

A translation of the Babylonian text; https://digitalmapsoftheancientworld.com/ancient-maps/babylonian-map-of-the-world/

The list of sacred mountains; https://youth-time.eu/sacred-mountains-homes-of-ancient-gods-2/

Sinai location;  https://www.google.com/maps/place/Jabal+Mousa/@25.7715142,28.3037876,1723995m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m9!1m2!2m1!1sMount+Sinai!3m5!1s0x1454855532dfc1cf:0x8f6d107a766ebf7!8m2!3d28.5362745!4d33.9697266!15sCgtNb3VudCBTaW5haSIDiAEBWg0iC21vdW50IHNpbmFpkgEEcGVhaw

Goal of love in discipline from the Father of Spirits; Hebrews 12. 4-11

October 16, 2021

The importance of Godly Discipline. Today the writer of Hebrews (Apollos, my point of view) is talking about discipline.  We have all faced discipline in our lives.  Perhaps you were a runner for your college or played football for your local team.  Discipline is important because it helps us to be the best that we can be.  Sometimes it may look like discipline, but it may be punishment.  Perhaps a person has an alcoholic parent who comes home and ‘beats the day lights out of their child’ or uses ‘psychological abuse’.  This latter one is not discipline and the person who inflicts such a thing on a loved one needs psychological help or even a prison sentence.  The goal and end result of discipline should be love.  As Jesus said:

9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?” Matthew 7:9 

This verses context is prayer and the golden rule.  The intention of any parent ought to be for the good of their children. So, our Lord Jesus shows us the importance and intent of the heart in relationships. So, let us not abuse those in our care but rather show love through our actions by the grace of God.  If one who is reading this is punishing rather than discipling, then there is a place for true repentance and to stop doing these things. We now turn to the passage that we are going to look at in Hebrews 12. 4-17:

A Father’s Discipline

4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,

NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;

6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,

AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birth right for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. Hebrews 12:4-17

Commentary

Verse 4

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;”

It is true that they haven’t yet lost their lives for Christ, but they are certainly suffering economically and even prison sentences.  We have seen some of this at the end of chapter 10.  On the other hand, One did strive against sin and he died in this godly endeavour but he took his life back up in the resurrection.  This is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:

  Did Apollos just mean their striving against sin or was he thinking about what Christ did?

I’m not entirely sure but we do know that Jesus is our great example, and the previous verse did say:

“For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3”

The Lord Jesus is our great example.  When Christ set his eyes on going to Jerusalem nothing was going to take him away from his goal of death on a cross and the resurrection. His discipline of prayer and walking the path of faith knowing that he was going to die.  Christ also knew this would open the gates of heaven that those who believe in his name would walk through the pearly gates too.

So how does our faith line up to Christ in fighting against sin?

Only you can answer that question for yourself.

Verses 5-6

and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,

NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;

6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,

AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

This seems quite harsh but as we said earlier the goal is love and to make us more like Christ.  It is worth quoting longer passages from the Book of Job and the book of Proverbs from which these references were taken from in the first place:

17 “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,

So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.

18 “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;

He wounds, and His hands also heal.

19 “From six troubles He will deliver you,

Even in seven evil will not touch you.

20 “In famine He will redeem you from death,

And in war from the power of the sword.

21 “You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,

And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.

22 “You will laugh at violence and famine,

And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.

23 “For you will be in league with the stones of the field,

And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.

24 “You will know that your tent is secure,

For you will visit your abode and fear no loss. Job 5:17-24

And then Proverbs:

11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD

Or loathe His reproof,

12 For whom the LORD loves He reproves,

Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom

And the man who gains understanding. Proverbs 3:11-13

This is very interesting. The reason it is very interesting is that in a way they remind us of the beautiful attitudes of the Happy sayings of Christ (in the beginning of the book of Matthew).  Both these quotations have the saying Happy is the man! Happy is the person!

When reading these verses, I think it sounds rather harsh to the ear.  However, with the background reading we can see that Apollos is giving his own beatific attitude lessons from two Happy sayings from the Old Testament.  Job is the oldest book in the Bible, so his Wisdom takes us to real ancient texts.  We need to remember that God is Creator, and we were created as humans to be in relationship with him.  How do I know this?  You know this too.  God was in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  They walked and talked to each other and before the Fall God and Adam were in perfect relationship.  Everything God created was referred to was ‘good’.  In Christ by faith and his work on the cross and the resurrection we are realigned with the Triune God.

Verses 11 -13

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

As you can see because you are in the Church, in the family of God that we are disciplined.  In any good family there is always discipline.  It may be that a person has about three siblings and they all have to go to their hobbies.  Mum and dad are driving crazily from place to place; preparing food; washing the laundry.  God in verse 11 is referred to as the ‘Father of spirits.’   This is a very personal touch because God cares for our souls in a very intimate way.  Discipline never seems joyful at the time, but the end result is that we are citizens of heaven and the Holy City, New Jerusalem.  Verse 11 finishes of with the saying ‘afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.’

Reflection

Apollos gives the Jewish believers a lesson about discipline from two of the Happy Sayings in the Old Testament.  He has taken us back to real old, ancient, holy, godly wisdom!  If we truly love to be children of Christ let us also walk by faith.  Living by faith means living inside the discipline of God.  We are disciplined by God by pure love because God is Love

The style in Hebrews 12 has changed from dogma to pastoral.  Here we see Apollos taking his theology and making it useful for the local church.  At the same time though we need to remember that throughout the book of Hebrews we see exhortations in piece meal.  This is no accident, Apollos has a pastors, teachers heart and he wants his congregation to be more like Christ.  His theology at places is also influenced by Saint Paul. 

Although the style has changed let us continue to live by faith and godly living.

Bibliography All references were from the NASB

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus; the Alpha and Omega, the Author and Perfector of our Faith; Hebrews chapter 12. 1-3

October 9, 2021

As we get closer to Winter the night starts to grow longer. However, every morning the sun comes up over the horizon and gives us some light.  As a spiritual lesson we can say that our faith gives us a preview of what is out of sight.  God in Christ is coming back for his children, and we will forever be in the Trinitarian presence of God. 

Verse 1A

Apollos has taken us on a wild journey of faith to the top of the mountains and to the flat plains.  The best is still yet to come! He is reminding us of all of these witnesses, and he uses a strange phrase, but it is very effective.  In the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, the word ‘cloud’ is a metaphor. When we think of a cloud it is something that is usually over our head. Perhaps by using this word the writer wanted to encourage the believers to stay strong in the faith. These witnesses lived by faith no matter what was thrown at them.  They believed and they walked the talk.  Perhaps I should have used ‘ran the talk’ because in these early verses in chapter 12, Apollos the writer uses a race analogy. 

Even as these Old Testament and New Testament witnesses were part of this cloud let us also follow in their footsteps on the road into God’s presence itself.

Verse 1B

“let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”

Every international racer has a goal, and he has to prepare for the great race.  You do not see many sprinters carrying a lot of luggage.  Weight slows a racer down thus there are not many larger racers.  The racer goes on a diet to lose as much fat as possible.  They practice every day and follow the doctor’s advice.  The day of the race comes they check their racing shoes.  The goal of the racer is to win that medal and fame.  The winner becomes famous overnight and the losers’ names go into oblivion.  That is how the world works but God does not work like that.

God is love and he has poured His love into our lives through the work of the Son our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  We have entered into an eternal friendship. We too have a goal but our goal is not fame or fortune which does not last, it is to be with Christ for all eternity through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the Fathers good pleasure.

The true race is a spiritual race.  Racers come and go, and they are like the flower in the garden that withers and falls and is not remembered anymore.  We grow old, fat, slow and then we realize that that was in the yester year. It does not matter how good a sprinter is, it is only at a moment in time and then the final curtain comes down.

We also have a goal in which moth and rust cannot destroy as Hebrews 12. 2a reminds us:

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,”.  What do we really fix our eyes on?

We ought to fix our eyes on Jesus because he is our Saviour and why should we fix our eyes on Jesus?  The rest of the verse explains this to us!

…the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

In the economy of the Trinity Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.  How Jesus must have suffered for us sinners. Remember Jesus is fully God and fully Man.  From his Divine side he would have seen ahead of time those nails being driven into his hands because of our rebellion and sinfulness towards God.  Yet Jesus also saw the prize.  The prize is not only that he sits at the right hand of God the Father but that he has enabled through his work to bring many sons and daughters with him into heaven itself.

The Writer then asks his listeners to consider the hostility Jesus himself faced:

“For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3

We get discouraged but the truth is that if anyone had a right to be discouraged, it would be the Son of God both in his divine and human nature.  Jesus sweated drops of blood, but he also went through the death penalty.  He was made a curse by hanging on a wooden stick.  No wonder that for a lot of Jews and Gentiles they would never consider Jesus as a Saviour.  We read this early in 1 Corinthians.

However, if we read verse 3 closely, we see an encouragement to stay strong in the faith:

“…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3

Reflection

There are many good reasons why we should fix our eyes on Jesus.

  • Jesus is fully God and fully human
  • He is greater than all the angels
  • He is greater that Moses
  • He is High Priest of the real Temple in Heaven
  • He is the One True Sacrifice (The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world)
  • You find your election in Him
  • Jesus loves you!

For me the Book of Hebrews takes us into the very throne room of God.  Let us be encouraged my friends to fall at the feet of Jesus for from him comes all the spiritual jewels that we could have asked for.

Notes

I got some ideas from John Calvin’s commentary.  His very sharp eye pointed out that ‘cloud’ was a metaphor.  I also enjoyed his description of the race.  The race motif I used however is completely my own.  The Bible I usually use is the NASB from Olive Tree Bible software

Bibliography

Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries; Hebrews 1 & 2 Peter;  Eerdmans; pages 187-189

Olive tree Bible software: NASB; especially Hebrews 12. 1-3

The Subject of Faith and the Perseverance of Faith no matter what Our End may be. An Overview of the Saints in Hebrews 11

September 30, 2021

Our examples of faith

In this chapter God has given us some great examples of faith.  As an overview I looked at the names of some of these faith warriors:

verses 1 -12

our faith or God’s faith or both

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah

verses 13-

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab

verse 32 list

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, Hebrews 11:32

As Paul wrote in Galatians that there is neither male nor female.  The topic of faith has no boundaries.  Let’s look at Paul talking about faith:

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:23-29

Verse 28 is the key verse for us:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” NASB

The reason I brought this up is because did you notice that at the end of each list of heroes a woman is mentioned.  This is because faith knows no boundaries.  We have all been saved by grace and by the gift of faith.  Rahab for example was a prostitute and she is also found in the genealogy of king David and our Lord Jesus.  Although the world scoffs.  For example, Abel had faith and then he was murdered because of jealousy. Enoch did not even taste death! However, these examples of faith looked beyond the natural eye and trusted God.  They were completely convinced in the truth and love of God that there is something beyond this life. 

For these examples there is no old and New Testament.  The old and new testaments are one tapestry and what links us to these examples of faith is the gift of faith itself in Christ.  Why do I say these things?  Apollos explains to us in the text so we ought to read it with our eyes open:

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16

Brothers and sisters, we have as a hope a heavenly place in God’s presence for ever! We need to believe this.  A lot of these examples of faith died hundreds of years before the time of the crucifixion and resurrection.  With the eye of faith however they saw the promises of God.  What about us.  We have seen the promises of God and we have historical, verifiable records that Jesus died and was raised from the dead.  We should be even more convinced about the truths of God’s word.  How convinced are of the truth of God’s promised in Christ? Would you put your life on the line like these ancient believers did?  Apollos gives us a taste of what they went through in  chapter 11:

32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:32-38

When one reads these experiences of these ancient believers, we ought to feel humbled.  We live fairly comfortably (in the West), and we can walk this walk of faith quite safely. Let us be thankful to God for what he did for us.  Apollos continues by saying:

 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

Believers, those who walk by faith are part of this tapestry of God. 

Reflection.

A lot of these believers by faith persevered under the most horrendous conditions.  They persevered to the ‘end’ whatever their end was going to be. Are we too convinced by the truths of the Gospel?  Are we convinced as believers about the promises of God?  In Christ God says yes to us and yes to life.  I sometimes wonder about the Jerusalem Church and what happened.  We do know though historically that the Jewish Christians left Jerusalem before it was flattened by the Romans in AD 70.  We owe these Jewish Christians a lot.  In the small time of Luke’s records in the book of Acts; St Paul, Barnabas, the twelve Apostles. These men were Jewish, and this faith went beyond the boundaries of ethnicity, gender, colour, social standing and every stratum of community. Let us not forget that Jesus was of very Jewish descent.  Christianity is not a religion of the West but of the Middle East. 

When we pray, we ought to be grateful for the channels God used for bringing life to his Church.  We ought to pray for everyone including Arabs and Jews.  In Christ there is no gentile or Jew! In Christ we love both. There is too much racism in the world and sad to say there is also racism in many religious institutions.   Let us also remember that the New Testament was also written by God fearing Jewish men.

This is me going on a tangent.  I suppose when you read some secular history from Josephus, one knows that James the Lord’s earthly brother was murdered in cold blood in Jerusalem.  As Christians today our roots are also from Jerusalem.  Jesus taught in the second Temple on the mount before it was destroyed.   The Church is made up of many nations and we are all one in Christ.

 I want to finish off by saying that sometimes a day can be grey and misty, but you still know the way to your destination.  On other days the sun might be shining, and you can see the way better. At other times, the sun might be too bright, but you still know the destination.  Christ is the way, and the world will throws obstacles in front of us but by faith we still know the way because Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life amen!

What is Real Faith from the point of view of the Book of Hebrews?

September 24, 2021

Last time we looked at the big idea of anaphora and how Apollos used it.  We also looked at the ‘faith’ statement and how it should be read.  Today we are just going to look at one verse:

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. Hebrews 11:3

The ‘world’, the theatre in which we live (and more ‘worlds’, ‘Ages’) is mentioned here and then we also have the seeing words; ‘seen’ and ‘visible’.  We also have the words ‘By faith’ which is what the believer is supposed to have.  There are a lot of things happening in this verse, a bit like an onion so figuratively speaking we need to unwrap the onion and get to the juicy truths of God’s word. So let us look at some of these layers:

  • Apollos’ use and understanding of world worlds.
  • Apollos’ use of visibility and invisibility

If one looks into a Bible encyclopaedia the word ‘world’ one can see many shades of meaning in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Dr R. Alan Culpepper pointed out in the Holman bible dictionary three areas for how the word world can be defined:

  1. “The whole created order
  2. The earth and its inhabitants
  3. The arena of Human activity”

(Holman Bible dictionary; page 1420; world; by Dr R. Alan Culpepper; 1992 printing)

So, the question is how Hebrews uses the word ‘world’ and worlds.  Here is a list of all the references in Hebrews:

Hebrews

world

2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:2

6 And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says,

“AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”

Hebrews 1:6

5 For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. Hebrews 2:5

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,

“AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH,

THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,”

although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. Hebrews 4:3

26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Hebrews 9:26

5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED,

BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; Hebrews 10:5

7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:7

38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

Hebrews 11:38

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. Hebrews 11:3

There are a lot of things going on in these verses, but we can seen that there is a strong doctrine of creation going on.   Our verse in chapter 11.3 can be translated as worlds or Ages.  God is the Creator and although we did not see the creation happen at the beginning, we certainly believe it.  Perhaps that is one layer of the onion ring

The other layer of our onion ring is this visibility invisibility thing going on in this chapter:

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. Hebrews 11:3

7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:7

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13

Having looked at these verses with the ‘seen’ motif is to trust God with our whole heart.  We cannot see the end from the beginning but God who is infinite can. 

The amplified Bible puts it like this:

Hebrews 11:3 AMPC

By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible. (From: https://www.bible.com/bible/8/HEB.11.3.AMPC )

The Greek word actually is aeon which has the ‘time’ motif linked to it.  However, I think Apollos may have also had a deeper understanding of creation.  The idea of ‘ex nihilo’ creation out of nothing.  At the time that Hebrews was being written a few hundred years before and after there was an idea that matter was always around. Aeons were emanations over vast distances of time that supposed to have brought about the creation of the world.  Obviously, Apollos disagreed with that but agreed with the Biblical idea that God said, and it happened. 

Faith is about trusting God even in adversity.  It is very personal.  We didn’t see God create the world, but we certainly believe that he did.  In the same way in our own lives, we ought to live with this attitude and ‘certain hope’ that we are on course to be in God’s presence for all time.  Who created time in the first place?  God created it with the times and the seasons.  Scientists today peer into the night sky and think about the big bang.  Various Christians have different views on this.  The physical sciences are important, but they cannot help us in our relationship with God.  Our destiny is linked to another point in time, a tiny star above Bethlehem. 

A system that denies God for me is a corrupt system.  For Irenaeus the Gnostics were mythologising and this had in fact infiltrated the Church, so he put up a defence of the Christian faith.  I think there are analogies to aspects of the philosophy of science.   Being science, it works from the closed world of cause and effect.  Of course, this has been a great thing.  We have discovered many cures for various illnesses, and we have sent people to the moon.  There is also a darker side to this we have learned to be more effective killers through new types of weapons, and we have learned how to watch and keep an eye on the population and ‘forcing them’ to follow the wishes of those who are world leaders.  

Reflection

On the surface our situation might look hopeless and with natural seeing we would be crushed under despondency.  With the theory of evolution, we would buy into the idea of ‘everything is an accident’ and our purpose in life is at the throw of the dice.  We have no control over the numbers or the outcomes.   As we get older, we see our friends and relatives and even ourselves start to fall apart and we go to see the doctor more often.  Then the curtain comes down in the final act, we die, and our remains are turned into manure or something like that.  Forget about the soul this life was it!

No, no my friends!

I cannot buy into this my friends.  In Christ we trust.  God had a purpose in creating us and the world.  The purpose was that we would be in fellowship with God for all eternity.  There are no accidents.  This life is a preparation for all eternity.  Forget about accidents and dice as God is in control.  Although we cannot see beyond our noses, we know that Christ went through all the bad things so that in him we have a seriously bright future.  We might indeed visit the doctor more often; we might indeed be thrown into prison for no fault of our own.  This life is a training ground for something big, much bigger that we can comprehend or think.  Our Lord the Son of God through whom the world was made is our reason for living.  God is love and if God loves us then by trusting him, we will indeed live forever.  Overall, I can honestly say that Apollos sees our situation with ‘confidence’:

but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:6

Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, Hebrews 10:19

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Hebrews 10:35

Although with the natural vision their situation might seem hopeless Apollos reminds them that these Jewish believers are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We might see our situation hopeless but please you too need to remember that you are citizens of God Kingdom too so trust in Christ and walk your life in humble quiet confidence.

Fun Activity

According to Hebrews how should we walk the Christian walk?

Explain and use examples from the text to prove your point

Apollos’ use of Anaphora in Hebrews chapter 11 and his use of ‘By Faith’ in this Symphony of Encouragement for suffering servants of Christ.

September 17, 2021

Hebrews is indeed the book of faith with the only general definition in the whole of the New Testament.  However, we need to be wary not to take the definition out of context.  Faith is about trusting God on a daily basis.  It is not a formula for getting rich and wealthy in the material sense.  Anyhow Later on in the book of Hebrews Apollos writes:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” Hebrews 13:5

Using Hebrews 11.1 as a pretext for material gain is out of the question!

Having said that Christ has lavished us with spiritual riches that this world cannot have except the Church.  In Christ by the Holy Spirit, He furnishes us with what we need in our onward walk to perfect holiness and to be in God’s presence for all eternity.  Even as Abraham had mountain and valley experiences, he stayed faithful to God to the very end, and we too ought to follow his example. 

So let us press forward in understanding the message of Hebrews.  I really didn’t know how to contextualize this powerful message in chapter 11, so I did some background reading and I found this:

“Each example in Heb 11:3-31 is united by means of anaphoric repetition of πιστει(at to the definition of faith in 11:1, which is also connected preceding exhortation to faithfulness in 10:19-39 by repetition of πιστις 10:39 and 11:1. To the definition of faith is added an assertion in 11:2 that people of old won God’s approval by their faith, and all of the examples 11:3-38 serve as proofs of the truth of this statement. Thus, the faith exhorted in 10:19-39 is the faith defined in 11:1 and the faith illustrated in 11:3-persuasiveness of this approach is increased by the implementation rhetorical techniques” (from JSTOR; JBL 107/2 (1988); pages 257-273; By Michael R Cosby)

Anaphora can be found in speeches and poems.  This example is from Martin Luther King’s speech:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

    My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,    From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”  (From the I have a dream speech; https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm)

So, the example above shows Martin Luther King using anaphoric style in his speech.  Apollos the writer used anaphoric style 2000 years earlier by using ‘By Faith…’ 18 times!  It is a rhetorical device to capture the listeners’ ear.  So to get a real feel for this chapter it would be a good thing to read it out loud and to put the stress on the first two words ‘by faith’.

We can also think about the context of Hebrews 11 as Cosby says in our first quote by Cosby:

“Thus, the faith exhorted in 10:19-39 is the faith defined in 11:1 and the faith illustrated in 11:3-persuasiveness of this approach is increased by the implementation rhetorical techniques”

(From; JSTOR; JBL 107/2 (1988); pages 257-273; By Michael R Cosby)”

As we were writing our commentary, we found out that Apollos wanted to encourage the believers who were suffering to stay true to Christ.  We then hit the definition and now Apollos illustrates the way of faith.  This is a powerful illustration to these Jewish Christians.  I can imagine being in the meeting where this letter was being read… ‘By faith…’. There are 18 ‘by faith’ sayings in this chapter and I am not planning to go through every single one.  However, it is important to get the main flavour of what Apollos is talking about.   Perhaps Hebrews 11 should be read like this to take into account the anaphoric use!

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Hebrews 11:3-7

When we start to understand the text, we then start to realize how beautiful this text was for the original readers. 

Reflection

My main aim this week was to answer the question of why Apollos would use ‘by faith’ in a single chapter eighteen times!  If you have read this blog today, then you can see how brilliant Apollos was with language.  We have also learned that the book of Hebrews was meant to be read out loud to the whole congregation.  So then even after 2000 years anaphoria is still being used in poetry.   Sometimes we hear great men such as Martin Luther King read their speeches but we don’t always see the brilliance they have in getting their message across. 

Living by faith is also about persevering in the faith.  These Jewish Christian believers were suffering but they persevered to the end.  How do we compare to these saints of old?

Fun Activity

Have a go at writing three verses of a poem using anaphora! 😊