“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
Thanksgiving is a holiday appointed for counting our blessings. On this November 23, in America, we are invited to celebrate and give thanks for the blessings of the year, which include:
The natural beauty of our nation;
Family and friends;
Peace within our boarders;
Freedom, including religious freedom;
Dedicated individuals who serve to defend our freedoms at home and abroad;
Opportunities for education and to pursue individual aspirations;
Generous citizens and residents;
Shelter, food, personal property and modern conveniences;
Faithful elected officials and civil servants; and
A Constitution and representative democracy, which have served our nation well over the course of her history.
These blessings are what the Lord’s brother called the good gifts from our heavenly Father. These gifts are not bestowed evenly throughout our nation, but on balance may we all agree that God in his providence has been very gracious to America over the course of her short history. These are indeed good gifts and worthy of our thanksgiving. However, as good as they are, these gifts are only transitory in nature.
Therefore, James also wrote of the “perfect gift” that is from above. This is our gift from the Father of His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin the world!” (John 1:29) It is the Father’s will that we all behold His Son, as Jesus himself said: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
Jesus was crucified, died and was buried for us, and He conquered the grave, sin, death, the devil and hell also for us. Thus our adoption as children of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life, all perfect gifts from the Father, come to us in and through faith in Jesus alone. These perfect gifts are not bestowed unevenly, but evenly for everyone who believes in Jesus.
Where do we look for the Son? He is not far at all. Jesus said “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) We have Jesus with us in His living Word and Gospel which “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). When we listen to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the voice of our Good Shepherd. Moreover, Jesus is present with us in the Lord’s Supper, as it is written:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:23-26)
Therefore, we have immeasurable blessings to be thankful for this year. Let us give thanks to the Lord for every good gift with which He has blessed us this year. And let us especially give thanks to the Lord for every perfect gift which we have in Jesus, our God and Savior. Amen.
“Christ is our cornerstone,
On him alone we build;
With his true saints alone The courts of heaven are filled.
On his great love
Our hopes we place Of present grace And joys above.
Here may we gain from heaven
The grace which we implore,
And may that grace, once given, Be with us evermore
Until that day
When all the blest To endless rest Are called away.
Oh, then, with hymns of praise
These hallowed courts shall ring;
Our voices we will raise The Three in One to sing
And thus proclaim
In joyful song, Both loud and long, That glorious name.” Amen.
Christ is Our Cornerstone, Text: Latin, c. 8th cent.; tr. John Chandler, 1806-76, alt.
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Phil and I talk about the “Bible Answer Man”…past and present…
Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…
1. The death of Charles Manson didn’t raise as many questions as normal about the eternal destiny of a dead celebrity. It was easy to send ol’ Charlie to the pit of hell, whatever you think hell is. I would submit that hell is separation from God and some folks will prefer it. As C.S Lewis said, hell is locked from the inside…
2. Some folks will be shocked that Lewis said that…because most people have never read Lewis…
3. People think hell is where bad people go…because they think they are good ones. Pride goeth before a fall…
4. All the sex scandals in the political and entertainment circles give the culture opportunity to preach a sort moral law to the offenders. Because the Gospel doesn’t follow those proclamations, nothing will change and both will remain defiled…
5. The fear of many in the church is that God’s grace is broader than they’re comfortable with…
6. Last week, I heard one of the popular prophecy wonks say that things are so close to the end that he may not have the opportunity to preach another update…and I laughed. It must be hard to come up with another end times angle week after week after week…
7. There are far too many of us that think God is pleased when we separate over doctrinal minutiae…
8. A sign of Christian maturity is comfort with mystery…
9. On the other hand if you’re not comfortable with mystery, you’re ok… the grace of God is broader than you think… Jesus saves…
10. Long time readers will know I loathe the “holiday season”…the Grinch was a rank amateur in my book. The cure I have chosen to get through is the study of the Incarnation, which is full of all the wonder the season lacks…
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
A month or two ago, I was sorting through some file boxes when I came across some notes on a course I taught on the Church Fathers at the University of Detroit (a Jesuit institution) in the mid 1980’s. A graduate level course, through the years it proved surprisingly popular, usually attracting 20 to 30 students. As it was held in the evenings, from 6:30 – 9:30, it was especially attractive to clergy who used it to fulfill the continuing education requirements of their particular church or denomination. As I looked among the papers, I found a class roster in which I had noted the affiliations of the clergy attending the class. There were four Roman Catholics (a Franciscan, a Benedictine, a Jesuit and a diocesan priest), two Anglicans, one Methodist, three evangelicals (one Southern Baptist and two non-denominational charismatics), two Eastern Orthodox priests, three Lutherans (two LCMS and a LCA cleric), and one lone Mennonite, with the remainder being lay people of various backgrounds.
As I looked through my teaching notes, the familiar pattern of teaching such a course emerged. The first class was taken up with introductions, going over the broad outline of the course, handing out bibliographies, a list of required readings and, finally, the first week’s assignment – “Read the Didache with special reference to context, dating and the main theological themes of the document and prepare to discuss next week.”
When we gathered the following week, the first order of business was a pop quiz (of course), just to ensure that they had read the material. I was relieved, they had read the text. Moving on, I presented the “mechanics” of the text.
The Didache is one of the earliest written witnesses of the shape and conduct of the Early Church. The exact date of its writing, or perhaps more properly, of its compilation, is difficult to establish. The earliest date suggested is the mid 90s of the Christian era and the latest date being no later than AD 160. Portions of the text, such as chapters 9-10 on the Eucharist and chapters 11-13 on church order appear to have arisen out of Syria. The earlier section outlining the “Two Ways, of Life and Death” may have had its origin in Egypt, although it borrows heavily from Jewish wisdom literature of the time. There are some scholars who even see a connection with the Essenes at Qumran, but it seems more likely that this was simply the result of the Essenes and the early Christians using common source materials. The document itself was addressed to mixed Christian communities, that is to Jewish converts to Christianity whose communities also included gentiles who had come out of the vast religious mix of the Roman empire. The anonymous editor placed together in one small handbook a number of texts, derived from tradition, which he thought would be of benefit to new converts. Indeed, it became a very popular handbook in the early Church. The church historian, Eusebius, indicates that it might have once been considered for inclusion in the New Testament canon. Athanasius of Alexandria, over two centuries after its writing, still considered it to be useful for the instruction of catechumens and made mention of it in one of his paschal epistles.
After presenting the material on the background and dating, we moved on to the text itself and a spirited discussion of the Didache’s theological themes. This, in my mind, was the most interesting part of the class, not for what it revealed about the Didache, but what it revealed about those of us discussing the themes.
For the Mennonite, it was the simplicity of the manner in which the early Church was ordered and the morality and practical concerns of the “way of life” (chap. 1-6). For the Eastern Orthodox, it was the priestly language used in reference to the Eucharist and the Eucharistic prayers. For the Roman Catholics, it was the sacrificial images in the instructions on the Eucharist (chap. 14). The Lutherans countered with the manner in which Christ was present in the Eucharist (chap. 7-10). Our lone Southern Baptist pointed out the preference for baptismal immersion and indicated that it appeared to apply to adult baptism (chap. 7). The two charismatics were, of course, intrigued by what appeared to be the admission of prophetic utterances (chap. 11). The Anglicans, in turn, looked to the instructions on the election of deacons and bishops (chap. 15). On and on the discussion went…
As Paul Simon said, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.
Now, I was not surprised by this turn of events. I had witnessed it on numerous occasions. All the observations were correct, in their own way; and all the observations were wrong, in their own way. They were correct in that the Didache shows us the beginnings of what would grow and develop through the centuries. They were wrong in that we cannot fit that developed understanding back into a first or second century document. As I explained, in the Didache we are looking at The Beatles playing in the Star Club in Hamburg, not The Beatles recording Sgt. Pepper with George Martin in the Abbey Road studios. It’s a matter of development. We can only look to find the essential qualities which provide a common thread that reaches from “then to now” and, importantly, set aside our current systems or confessional understanding and allow the text to speak for itself.
So, we approached the text once again to look for the essentials and came up with the following list. You may find more essentials or fewer. You may even disagree with this list, but this is what our diverse group agreed upon at the time and I offer it for your reflection.
1. The early Church was concerned with, and defined itself by, moral probity. What you did and said in the course of your daily conduct was the proof of your faith.
2. To be a Christian and not to be involved in a Christian community would simply have been considered an impossibility by the early Church.
3. Baptism in the name of the Trinity was the normative rite of entry in the early Church.
4. Individual and corporate prayer, fasting and alms giving were part of the normal rhythm of life in the early Church.
5. The Eucharist was normative Christian worship (likely followed by an agape meal) in which all baptized members participated. In addition to anticipating Christ’s return in the future, the Eucharist provided the assurance of Christ’s presence in the elements of bread and wine in the present “now”.
6. There was an ordered ministry of deacons and bishops (overseers) in local Christian communities that stood along side itinerant “apostles and prophets”. All in leadership (local or itinerant) had to prove themselves by their conduct, speech, humility and manner of life. Seeking any financial gain immediately disqualified one from such a role.
7. Finally, the Didache is all about the Church – how individuals relate to the Church, how the Church is ordered, and how we relate to one another within the Church.
The Didache is a short document. You can read it for yourself and it will take you all of ten minutes. I would, however, encourage you to read it “outside yourself”, that is, like a postcard from another age that you’ve discovered in the attic, only to be surprised when you realize the postcard is addressed to you. Then find your own essentials…
Remember, O Lord, your Church.
Deliver it from every evil and perfect it in your love.
Gather it from the four winds,
sanctified for your kingdom, which you have prepared for it.
For yours is the power and the glory forever.
Let grace come, and let this world pass away…
(Didache 10. 5,6)
Everlasting God, our maker and redeemer,
grant us, with all the faithful departed,
the sure benefits of thy Son’s saving passion
and glorious resurrection,
that, in the last day,
when thou dost gather up all things in Christ,
we may with them enjoy the fullness of thy promises;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever
The Report of the Guard
11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.
- “While they were going…” v.8 “so they departed” – The Christian is always to be going – and as it shows in v. 9 Jesus will meet us along the way.
- “Some of the guard” – who drew the short straw to have to go deliver the bad news? How would you like to be that guy?
12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers
- What does scripture say about the love of money?
13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’
- Is this not a tragedy? – they cannot accept the truth and will both deny and cover it up.
- From an apologetics point, this does prove that the tomb was empty.
- Think a
bout this – they are asking the guards to take responsibility for what could be a capital crime. Compare this to the Philippian jailer who was ready to kill himself when he thought that the Apostle Paul had escaped his prison.
- But it is funny that they must come in and confess that even though their job was to guard a dead body the lost him.
14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
- What is going to be told to the governor? That the guards were paid off or they were incompetent?
15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
- “And this story…” Which story? The Resurrection story? No, the “someone stole the body” story.
- To which day = this day? The day Matthew is teaching – 33 to 67AD – for 34 yrs this story was going around – well it is still going around.
The Great Commission
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
- Now the 11 = Judas was already gone.
- Galilee is in the north – the crucifixion took place in the south. They had to believe the women and travel. They went by the direction and the testimony of women.
17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.
- Is the “they” in 17 referring only to the 11 of v 16 – or is “they” comprised of more? Did the women go?
- How did they worship him? Compare to your puppy who comes and sits at your side, licks your hand – just because he knows that you love and provide for him. Even down to the ball he plays with.
- “Some” = more than just Thomas.
- At this point, what is there to doubt? This is why we are commanded not to forsake the assembly of ourselves together. We have all doubted at times, but we help each other overcome that doubt as God speaks and works through the church.
- Not going to church is dangerous.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
- How much is ALL authority?
- Heaven and earth = All everywhere.
- Jesus is the mighty king, our risen savior – victorious – crucified – and risen Lord gives us the great commission.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
- Go therefore – as you are going – along the way, to the post office, to the market, at your job etc – be making disciples.
- A participle vs an imperative.
- What is a disciple other than a Christian? How do you make Christians? Through both water baptism and teaching.
- I have heard people try to make the distinction that you are first a believer and then you develop to a disciple. I don’t see how this is possible – it is usually brought up to get around the claim that Jesus is teaching baptismal regeneration… which he is.
- This is also the institution of Christian baptism – and… the answer to “what about the thief on the cross?” He died before Jesus instituted Christian baptism.
- Note that baptism is in the name of the trinity.
- Important here is Jesus’ recognition of the trinity.
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- What is ‘all that I have commanded’? Simply, be a Christian.